Once India's fastest quarter-miler, Dharun Ayyasamy can barely complete a lap now without the risk of fatally injuring himself.
"Mudiyala. Energy eh ille [I'm not able to run. I barely have any energy]," he says on Monday after finishing second in the 400m hurdles heats at the Inter-State Championships in Chennai. "I feel very tired. My hamstring and glutes were tired after my warm-ups," he adds.
He, however, did not run in Tuesday's final.
Dharun landed in Chennai last week, after an exposure trip in Turkey, and drove straight to a hospital. He was running a 102-degree fever throughout the 36-hour journey and was diagnosed with rat fever. "I haven't even heard of something called rat fever," he says. The 25-year-old was put on drips and administered a course of antibiotics.
Dharun did not take his antibiotics on Sunday since "it will be tough to run with them in my system." He was actually advised to not run but Dharun wanted to give it a shot. At the very least, he wanted to run the heats, he says, while battling to catch his breath. He eventually concedes he's a little dizzy and sits down on the track.
Illnesses and injuries are no strangers to Dharun. He suffered a stress fracture in his shin bone, back in 2019. "I had two options given to me then: either undergo surgery or run with pain. I chose to run with pain because I would have missed at least nine months if I had opted for surgery," he says.
The decision to not go under the knife has had a detrimental impact on his career. The fracture has gotten bigger and the fear of hurting his shin each time he leaps past a hurdle has crept in. " "I took another X-ray three months ago and the crack in the shin bone is bigger than before," he says.
He won silver in the 400m hurdles in the 2018 Asian Games, now he can barely jump but that hasn't stopped him. "I can feel the pain each time I jump over a hurdle. But I can't do anything about it (laughs)," he adds with a wry smile.
It also meant that his workload had to be aptly managed. While his compatriots hurdle thrice a week, Dharun does it only once. He steers clear from explosive training and plyometrics. On most days, the Galina Bukharina-coached runner trains alongside the 400m team at the national camp in Trivandrum.
The fracture has led to another complication: he now has a calcium accumulation on his shin, which has formed a visible bump. Dharun has covered it with a coat of black tape.
"They will cut it I think and scoop out the calcium deposit on top of it. Once they remove the calcium deposit, the blood supply will return and the fracture will heal," he says, adding that he is likely to finally opt for the surgery.
The last 18 months have been tough on Dharun. He was diagnosed with coronavirus twice, despite never leaving the camp, and the injury continued to hamper his training. From clocking a PB of 48.80s in 2019, he finished Monday's race in 52.99s.
But he still believes he can find his form. "I only ran that no (smiles). I have the belief that I will run 48.80s again," he says.
"But yedho onnu mathi mathi vandhutu irruku [some or the other injury or illness affects me] right before competitions. Seri, evvalalo pathachu, idhuvum pathuruvom [I have overcome so much, I am sure I can get past this too]," he says with a genial smile.