A first at the Moab 240
By Henry Howard
Aum Gandhi will be the first runner to represent India in the Moab 240, which starts Oct. 7. The 238-mile race in Utah features nearly 29,000 feet of climbing.
His emergence as an ultra runner is similar to others who find the sport. He embraced running as a way to deal with life and work stress on the mental side, while improving his fitness and losing weight on the physical side.
Now, he shines brightly on the trail. And that is another change that running has provided for Gandhi, who admits being pessimistic in the past. He also writes about the importance of positive energy in endurance sports.
It was an honor to interview Gandhi, who has competed in other endurance events including 72 hours at Across the Years, the Zion 100-miler, the Transrockies Run 2022 and a 120-hour event he did to raise money for a charity.
Here’s the interview with Gandhi, a Merrell Trail athlete:
Question: Tell me about the why/when and how you got started with running. Did you start in school or later in life?
Answer: I started running four and a half years ago for mental health reasons. I started running during a time when I was working long hours in a civil engineering job, my family was struggling, and my relationships were falling apart along with my sense of person. I needed an outlet. Growing up, I wasn’t a very athletic kid. Although I played outside like the other kids, I generally grew up in a very sedentary environment. When it came to fitness, I was overweight and unhealthy.
Question: How did that transition to ultra running?
Answer: Ultra running came in 2020, when the pandemic happened. I was preparing to run my first marathon and then everything shut down. I have been hiking and thru hiking since 2019. During this time, I jumped on to the trails to give trail running a shot and committed to my first 100-miler in July 2020. This was before I even did my first ultra and that race was in April 2021, the Zion 100!
Question: What is it about ultra distances — especially 200+ mile races that inspire you? Isn't a 100-miler enough? 😁
Answer: A 100-miler is definitely not enough. I think when you get out there and build more of yourself through adversity, you discover just how strong you really are. My personal desire to find out just how far I can go keeps pushing me, as well as my desire for selfless service. The 200-mile distance inspires me because multi-day races are such an immersive experience. They take days as opposed to just one weekend, so you really buckle in for a journey instead of just an experience.
Question: Chicken or the egg question — were you a naturally positive person who found ultra running, or has ultra running given you a more positive outlook?
Answer: Growing up, I actually suffered depression from an early age. Throughout my teenage years, I was a very pessimistic person. I tried to dial that to the other extreme and force positivity in my early adult years, but that obviously backfired, too! I think ultra running has helped me find a balance in understanding the lows in life but having a genuinely positive outlook.
Question: You have had a few DNFs (Did Not Finish), including one in from May. What did you learn from those experiences that will help you at Moab and beyond?
Answer: I have three DNFs this year alone - the Antelope 100 (Mile 64), Jungle Ultra (Stage 4 of 5), and the SAMO 100 (Mile 22). From Antelope, I learned to separate a good injury from a bad injury when I suffered a fall on slickrock and hurt my hamstring. With Moab in October, I decided not to take the chance and push to finish the race. With SAMO, I had a food bug and learned how nutrition can change with weather (it was incredibly hot). With the Jungle Ultra, I simply made the call to stop to save my life. Another two to three hours in the rainforest and I would have hit the SOS button. I have absolutely zero regrets with all three!
Question: You are the first runner to represent India at the Moab 240. Are you a native of India? Tell me about your connection and what it means to represent the nation.
Answer: I was born in California, but my parents emigrated from India in the 80s and 90s! I am an immigrant and I have been back to visit my mom’s family many times throughout my life. My identity was always trying to find the balance between my Indian heritage and being an American. If you ask me, I’d say I’m an Indian-American. I’m proud of my heritage as an Indian and I am very excited to be the first person on paper at the Moab 240 to represent India. The message is loud and clear: "Hey India, time to sponsor your amazing athletes to come out and play internationally!” I am far from the strongest or most talented athlete, but my position gives me the privilege to be able to relay that message.
Question: What is your proudest achievement to date, and why?
Answer: My proudest achievement to date is my summit challenge of Mt. Pisgah in Oregon. I summited Mt. Pisgah (3 miles out and back, 1000 feet of gain per loop) 54 times to raise money for Richstone Family Center, an organization dedicated to treating and preventing child abuse and trauma; strengthening and educating families; and preventing violence in families, schools, and communities, and see how much elevation I could gain. I got about 174 miles and 55,800 feet of gain in 120 hours. More importantly than that, we raised almost $6,000 for my chosen charity. I’m proud of the moment because there was no race, only my friends (shoutout to crew chief Brandon Stutzman and snack chief Ashley Sharpe), myself, and the mountain.
Question: What do you want other runners to know about pushing their limits, finding what's possible?
Answer: Just start! Show up every day. You may wait years before you see big results, but I promise you will see them if you just show up every day, no matter how ugly it gets. You have the strength to do big things.
Name: Aum Gandhi
Hometown: La Palma, Calif.
Number of years running: Four years
How many miles a week do you typically run: About 50 miles a week.
Point of pride: Selfless service.
Favorite race distance: Anything multi-day.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Burritos with good pico.
Favorite piece of gear: “A hard tie between the MTL Long Sky 2s and the Agility Peak 4s, both Merrell trail shoes.”
Who inspires you: “My friends, my mom (the original endurance athlete), and the kids of Richstone Family Center.”
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Last Breath by Future from the Creed 2 soundtrack
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Just send it.
Where can other runners connect or follow you: • Instagram: @theaumgandhi