Indian American Aum Gandhi’s Road To The Moab 240

Aum Gandhi, Indian-American and professional athlete sponsored by Merrell, is a voice for positive energy and overcoming challenges in trail running and life. Gandhi will be taking on one of his greatest running challenges, his first 200-plus mile race, the Moab 240, which will be held in the mountains and deserts surrounding Moab, UT, on October 7 to 11, 2022. Gandhi will be the first person to represent India at this race and he hopes this will inspire increased trail running participation from the Indian community. For the following interview, I spoke with Gandhi about his trail running career, freelance writing, preparations for the Moab 240 and much more.

[PRO TIP: Want to learn more about 200 plus mile training and racing? Check out this article.]

[TAYTE POLLMANN] What do you consider as your greatest accomplishments in ultrarunning so far?
[AUM GANDHI] My greatest accomplishment in ultrarunning so far has been my summit challenge at Mt. Pisgah in Oregon. This was 120 hour, 1.5 miles each out and back with a 1,000 feet of elevation gain. I got out there and threw my first A-frame for the 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. I went the farthest I’ve ever gone but more importantly, raised $7K for Richstone and that was the largest fundraising I’ve amassed for the organization to-date.

[TAYTE] You are still fundraising for the Richstone Family Center. How did you become involved with this organization and what has been your inspiration fundraising for them?
[AUM] I originally met the Richstone Family Center outside of the ultrarunning circle in college – I did some civil engineering projects for them too. Because I know their team, kids and volunteers well, we reconnected in 2021 to raise funds for a 72-hour race. I decided to raise $2,500 for them through that race and ended up exceeding that amount and raising $2,600 total. I also joined Richstone’s ‘For the Kids’ campaign this year and my goal is to raise $25K through my scheduled races – the biggest race and fundraising moment being the upcoming Moab 240. I’m proud to be part of an organization that inspires kids and volunteers alike and impacts their lives in many ways.

Photo: Aum Gandhi.

[TAYTE] Could you describe the start to your ultrarunning career? When did you know that this sport was for you?
[AUM] I was always an un-athletic kid and obese until I was 18. While I progressed through different sports in college, I eventually got into running four and a half years ago. I initially got into it for mental health benefits and to help deal with struggles in life, along with working toward running my first 30 mins, 5K, and excelled from there. Two years ago, I ran my first 50K while training for my first marathon. I already had experience trail running and through hiking, so I’ve continued to work my way up in terms of mileage and challenges from there.

[TAYTE] What are some of your main motivations toeing the line at the upcoming Moab 240?
[AUM] One of my main motivations is fundraising for the Richstone Family Center. Aside from that, I’m motivated to test my personal limits – I’ve come a long way from where I started and want to see how much farther I can go. My other motivation is to get out there and be the most positive version of myself, while also giving back to the community at large. I’ve built so many incredible interpersonal relationships through these races and want to continue supporting those around me and spreading positivity. At Merrell, we spread positivity as an organization and want to bring that to the forefront.

[TAYTE] Earlier this year you were crewing for several runners at the Bigfoot 200. Could you describe your experience of crewing? How does this experience help you understand the challenge of 200 plus mile races? Do you feel it’s helped you (or changed your perspective) in your preparation for the Moab 240?
[AUM] I crewed and paced at Bigfoot 200 this year and did 100 miles on course crewing. I’ve both crewed and paced Bigfoot 200 twice and did the same at Moab 240 last year. It is harder to crew and pace because you’re trying to take care of yourself and your runners’ needs, but it is a rewarding experience as you get a sense of what you might need while racing yourself and draw from the experience of other runners out there and what they’re doing. The ultrarunning community is amazing and people are very open to sharing advice. Without this advice and experience, I would not be as confident performing in Moab 240 as I am now. It is my first 200 plus race, but I feel like I’ve been here before.

[PRO TIP: Learn more about how to pace and crew in my article “How to Build Your Perfect Ultrarunning Crew”.]

Photo: Merrell.

[TAYTE] Most people (and even many ultrarunners runners) have trouble comprehending 200 plus mile races. What entices you to race this distance?
[AUM] I’m enticed to race this distance to see how far I can go. I’m fortunate to have a lot of ‘why’s’ – doing it for selfless service and people going through hard times in life, both mental and physical. I want to use my position to give back to those people and what I’m going through in a 200-mile race is not real pain. Real pain is poverty, depression, mental health, etc.

[TAYTE] You’re an accomplished freelance writer. What has inspired you to be a writer in addition to an athlete and how has your writing inspired by your race travels?
[AUM] My writing journey dates to 11 to 12 years old. I started writing to have an outlet and became a freelancer a year ago. My writing is inspired by my travel and endurance sports, experiences and it’s not just an expression for me – it’s bringing positive energy and sharing stories with the world about the people around me and endurance sports. I want to share stories that I can help create from my experiences.

[TAYTE] You are a sponsored endurance athlete for Merrell. How did this relationship come about? What do you see as your main mission as a sponsored athlete?
[AUM] The crazy thing is my goal was never to be a sponsored athlete. While it is nice to have ambassadorships, I never walked into ultrarunning with that expectation. Merrell found me through my article, “The Importance Of Positive Energy In Endurance Sports,” as it was published on RunTri Magazine’s website. Merrell saw the article and reached out to me as our brand values align.

My mission is identical to Merrell’s – we’re all about inclusivity and joy and celebrating achievement while also making sure everyone feels comfortable in the outdoors. I was sedentary and not an outdoors guy and I see my main mission as being able to share my story as a non-athlete and someone who found trail running for mental health reasons. I want to continue encouraging others to get outdoors. At Merrell, I’m encouraged to be who I am and am grateful for the opportunity.

Photo: Aum Gandhi.

[TAYTE] Let’s talk about your preparations for the Moab 240. What is it like training for a race this long and how do you feel your training has prepared you? What are the main challenges you’re anticipating? What do you see as your strengths as an ultrarunner? What are your goals?
[AUM] Training-wise, I’ve built on top of the efforts I’ve already done like a 72-hour race and 120-hour ultra, to build volume and get out there and race. I emphasize mobility and double down on strength training. At Moab 240, you’re carrying gear up to 15lbs and aren’t moving as fast but also moving in more mountainous terrain. The weather is a mixed bag, and we are currently expecting a monsoon this year. This could be challenging so I’d advise participants to be prepared for every challenge and anticipate everything.

A strength of mine as an ultrarunner is my positive attitude – that is truly half the game.I’ve visualized myself getting to the finish line and believe that I can finish this race in my heart. I believe this: what you can do is control what you can control. By having a firm grasp on your attitude and mindset, you’ve won half the battle.

My main goals are to finish strong in under 100 hours, raise money for Richstone and represent India. One other specific goal of mine is – when things get hard, push harder.

[TAYTE] Where do you live and train? When did you move to America? Do you have experience with the trail running/ultrarunning scene in India?
[AUM] I was born and raised in LA and currently live in Orange County, where my training takes place in the mountains. My family emigrated to the States back in the 80s and 90s, and I’ve been back to India 6-7 times as my mom’s family is still there. My relationship with my heritage has evolved so much from identity crises as an immigrant kid: ‘too Indian to be American or too American to be Indian’ and there were times where I didn’t know where I belonged. As I’ve grown up, I’m embracing my heritage and am proud to be both an American and Indian American and the first on paper to represent India at Moab 240. The trail running scene in India is a small group for the international stage and there needs to be more awareness brought to these athletes. The big message is: have Indian athletes participate more on a national level!

[TAYTE] You’ve been outspoken about the importance of setting “big” goals, even if these goals have higher probabilities of failure. Could you talk about how you have embraced this attitude in the past and leading into the Moab 240?
[AUM] Leading into Moab 240, it is important to realize that these two mindsets can coexist: believing that you can finish a race, visualizing it while also recognizing there is a chance of failure due to the size of the challenge. There is a stigma on word ‘failure’, especially in the Asian culture where I grew up, and we’re told it is bad when you fail or lose. I disagree and say failure is a big part of success. If you set big goals, you’ll achieve big results. Jessie Itzler said, “put yourself in exceptional situations to do exceptional things,” and that’s exactly what I’m doing.There is no possible way that I won’t grow by toeing the line at Moab 240 – part of the battle is won by just participating. My general philosophy is to ‘fail big instead of win small.’

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