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Finding Platform 9 ¾

November 29, 2015 4 comments

Strangely, the one moment that’s stuck inside my head from the Bangalore Ultra experience, has to do with a slice of orange, covered in slime and mud. It was the 43rd km of my first attempt at a 50K run. I had picked up the orange slice at the previous aid station, to be consumed for some desperately needed energy, after slowly swallowing drop-by-drop all the water that I had filled my mouth with. As luck would have it, I then half-tripped on the tricky forest trail, and the orange slice flew out of my hand to the slushy ground.

On a normal day, to any sensible human being, it would have been the simplest of decisions to not have anything further to do with said fruit. I consider myself fairly sensible most times, but this was not a normal day. I had already run longer that morning than ever before, fatigue was taking its toll, with 6Km+ still to go for the finish.  In an instant, my mind weighed the pain of going back a few hundred metres back to the aid station to get another orange (plus traversing the same distance back again to get back to my current position), against the prospect of ingesting the most unhygienic slice of fruit one could imagine. The next instant, a decision was made. All hygiene considerations went out of the window. When running an ultra, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

So that was my deep slice-of-life moment from my first ultra (sorry, terrible pun).

Once you have done a few marathons, the itch to go a few kms further and earn the tag of an ultra-runner is inevitable.  I have started being selective about the events that I want to run at. I like trail runs, and KTM is the sentimental favourite – I ran my first half-marathon there 4 years ago – so kicked off this season with that one. Next came the Ultra. The gorgeously beautiful bamboo forest in Hennur, where the Bangalore Ultra is held, enticed me into signing up for my first 50K there.

Didn’t do too much different training-wise after KTM, more or less stuck to my SCMM training cycle. Got in one 50K mileage weekend (35K on Sat+15K on Sun), plus a couple of other 40ish mileage weekends. We also had our 10-day Kenya vacation break which happened 3 weeks before the event, so it wasn’t the most ideal prep for an ultra. Nevertheless, I was really looking forward to D-day.

The atmosphere of an ultra run is a bit different from the typical marathon events like Bombay or Ultra2015_5Bangalore. Far less folks at the start line, to begin with. Many were attempting their longest distance that day, so I guess timing, PBs, etc. weighed much less on everyone’s minds. I found the whole mood be much more relaxed. On the course too, there was a feeling of camaraderie that I’ve not experienced in road races. Smiling faces, all the hi-fives and back-slapping as you pass each other on the course, made it a lovely experience. The upside of doing the 50K at the Bangalore Ultra is also that it is the “baby distance” of the day.  As I passed the 75/100K and the 24-hour runners purposefully ploughing away, looking serene & determined in equal measure, my task felt easier.

Was a bloody tough run, though. Trail runs are always a challenge. Here, overnight rain had made the route slushy, there were patches where one had to gingerly tread through on raised toes or heels to avoid slipping. The flip side of all that rain was that when the sun came out, it really started bearing down. The pleasantly cool weather at daybreak turned into a blazingly hot morning.

I was going well till about 2/3rds of my race, then the conditions began to get to me. My pace dropped, and as I entered the 40s,  had to really dig deep to maintain rhythm. When it came to the last 4-5 kms, I brought out the mantra that has served me well during my treks when climbing steep uphills at high altitude: put all my focus and energy into counting slowly till 200 as I ran, then walked to catch my breath for a slow count of 10. Rinse, repeat. That got me close to the end. Then somehow managed to get in a reasonably good kick for the last few hundred metres to finish strong. Exhilaration mixed with relief were the dominant emotions as I crossed the finish line.

The term “being in the zone” is sometimes used in athletic endeavours. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi offers a definition which comes close to describing the feeling. Flow, he says, is a state in which you “are completely absorbed in an activity. During this ‘optimal experience’ you feel “strong, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of your abilities.”

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For large swathes of time, in the lush setting of that bamboo forest on that November morning, I was totally oblivious to the effort of running or sometimes, even my surroundings. The lingering feeling, as I look for it in the recesses of my memory, is that of a pure, unadulterated joy.  It was like running on auto-pilot. Felt as if I was in the zone.

I’ve written earlier about how it took me a couple of years before running became an integral part of my life. To borrow a phrase from a fellow runner, it’s a bit like “finding the Hogwarts train platform 9 ¾” – you know there is something magical on the other side, but to get there requires a leap of faith.

After running my first 50K (and getting hooked on what I’m sure is going to be a lifelong affair with ultra/ trail running), I am blissfuly joyous at having found my Platform 9 ¾.

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SCMM 2015: A spectacular sunrise, coping with cramps, unforgettable memories

January 28, 2015 4 comments
Pic credit: Fellow SCMM runner Harshad Inarkar

Pic credit: Fellow SCMM runner Harshad Inarkar

The timing of that sunrise couldn’t be more perfect. You are almost halfway into your race, have settled into a steady rhythm, body nicely warmed up and cruising in auto-pilot mode. The darkness of the night slowly makes way for the break of dawn. Your senses are alive to the smells of the sea breeze and the crisp chill of a winter morning in Mumbai.

You find yourself running on the magnificent Bandra-Worli Sea-link, with its imposing architecture. On the one day in the year when the only sounds emanating from one of Mumbai’s most iconic structures, are the gentle tip-tap of running shoes on the tarmac, or of runners making small talk, exhorting each other to keep going. No braking, no screeching of tyres, no honking.

It’s all perfectly set up.

And then you see it on your right, an orange circle slowly rising above the skyline. As you traverse the length of the sea-link and head towards Mahim, it morphs into a golden yellow ball of fire, heralding a new day for a city which ironically prides itself as one which never sleeps.

With every year that I come back and run the marathon at SCMM, I’ve become more aware of and alive to savouring this majestic sight. 2015 was my fourth time at this event, my third marathon (I ran a half-marathon in 2012), and again fully lived up to its promise of memorable memories. Spectacular sunrises apart, it was, as always, a special feeling to run in the country’s biggest marathon event and my home city. Staying in Sion where I grew up, spending time with family & friends, forming new bonds. This has become a much looked-forward-to annual weekend ritual.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the 2015 edition was also my first real crack at a 4 hour marathon (I ran a 4:16:02 last year). A 4 hour marathon is a  kind of Holy Grail once you become a serious recreational runner (well, some would argue that qualifying for Boston is the Holy Grail, but that one is still in the realms of fantasy for me) . My training had gone reasonably well, and I was cautiously optimistic about race day. The only potential pitfall was exactly the same as last year – a work trip to Redmond the week before – which meant that I crossed 14000 kms over a 13 hour time-zone to land in Mumbai about 24 hours before the starting gun went off at Azad Maidan on the morning of 18th January.

Jet lag and the usual pre-race jitters kept me awake all night, but it didn’t seem to matter much. On race day morning, I was pacing myself to perfection. As it transpired, I ran the ideal race till 36 Km. Was tracking better than my pre-race plan on each and every 5K-split till that point. I felt really good, had a nice rhythm going.. had even crossed the dreaded Peddar road slopes without too much of a bother.

SCMM 2015 Plan vs Actual

But you know what they say about life happening to you while you are busy planning for it (also applies to running marathons in hot and humid mornings like the one at SCMM 2015). Just after turning past the corner at Wilson college and entering Marine drive, as I began to habour visions of breasting the finish line comfortably under 4 hours (chickens, counting, hatching…. yes, yes.. I know), my left quadricep, moody drama-queen that she is, felt like that was the point when she really needed some deep love and affection. So a case of bad cramps it was. Really bad. Grimacing, clutching back of left thigh and hobbling in pain kind of bad.

Now there are two ways that this could have gone from then on. One is what you see in those Youtube clips that folks keep posting all the time in running forums. The ones which end with Beethoven’s Fifth  playing in the background, as the heroic and courageous runner battles insurmountable pain and collapses in victory just after the finishing line, goal achieved.

The other way is what I did (which is why no one posts these kind of stories). True to type, I chose an icing+massage at the nearby aid station over pushing-through the pain (or trying to push through and end up not-finishing). This obviously cost me a few minutes, and while my leg felt better post-treatment, I still wasn’t confident enough to go for a final kick at the pace that I had originally planned. End result : 4:00:37.

So, the oft-heard cliché about the glass being half-full or half-empty, now had its perfect case-study. Quite a few of my runner buddies sent messages cheering me up, thinking that I would be crestfallen at having come so close to a sub-4. V, who had an awesome finish earlier – she smashed her previous HM best that she ran just 3 months ago at Bangalore, by a full 13 minutes – greeted me back at Sion cheerfully, but with a teeny-weeny hint of regret – it would have been the perfect day if I had finished 38 seconds faster, I guess.

All that empathy from everyone around felt nice, and also a bit amusing. I remember reading somewhere that race timings should be the last thing that determines one’s happiness, and I really couldn’t agree more. Got back to Bangalore  the next day and conversation with A1/A2 went something like this, hey appa.. heard you did some 4 hours at Mumbai, right? Cool. Btw, you need to fix the XboxLike, NOW.  

Keeps things in perspective.

Honestly, on that Sunday afternoon, I was just blissfully content in the afterglow of a special day. Running has filled my life with so much joy and happiness, and on days like SCMM, it truly feels like I am in paradise. You always carry back wonderful memories.. the banter and chatter at the start line, hi-fis with the  kids sporting their sunshine-smiles near Mahim church, the unending enthusiasm of the families (spanning multiple generations) handing out food and drink  on Peddar road, all the bands rousing your spirits along the way, treating complete strangers who are running alongside as kindred souls just because running a marathon together brings that special camaraderie… unforgettable. Above all, just the pure pleasure of running through the streets of Bombay in the kind of atmosphere that only SCMM offers.

And that sunrise. Man. Running on the sea-link and watching the sun come up like that. That moment alone will make every possible highlights reel of my life when I re-play that movie from my deathbed.

So here’s my take on the numbers. Ran my first 42 a couple of years ago, now this 4-hour marathon. 42 @ 42, 4 @ 44..  has a sort of a nice ring to it, no? Am  far, far fitter in my forties than I was in my twenties. More importantly, happier, healthier, and feeling more alive than ever before.  What more can one ask for from life?

Run joyously.

Categories: Marathon, Running Tags:

Remembering the Bengaluru Marathon 2014

December 4, 2014 2 comments

As the undisputed running capital of India, Bangalore, the city that I now call home, was long overdue to host a marathon of its own. So it was great to finally see the inaugural edition of the Bengaluru Marathon being flagged off on 19 Oct 2014.  Participation from the running fraternity was encouraging for a first-time event, with about 1000 marathoners and 3500 half-marathoners lining up at the start. Crowd  turnout along the route wasn’t great, but that’s understandable – it takes time for a city to take a marathon to heart. It’s taken Bombay ten years to make SCMM the premier marathon event in the country.

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I used to cover large sections of the marathon route during my regular training runs and it turned out that the route actually passed very close to where I live,  The weather gods  also benevolently decided to bless us with a cool morning, so it was a real pleasure to run past familiar places and scenes in gorgeous running weather. Overall, apart from some glitches on traffic management towards the end and an unfortunate fiasco earlier involving the lead runners, Bengaluru Marathon 2014 was an enjoyable experience. Hopefully, the event will grow to become one of the great city marathons, like the world majors.

Re-caping some highlights for the memory archive:

Finished with a PB of 4:05:58, 10 minutes better than my SCMM 2014 timing. Though I underestimated some of the elevations around the 26-30Km stretch, any race where you nail a PB is always a good one. This one was a fair result for the kind of training I had put in. Set me up to take a shot at a sub-4 SCMM in January 2015. Que sera, sera…

 

BM_Oct 19_ASC cheering1While the crowd turnout was not something to write about, there was a lovely surprise awaiting the marathoners at about the  halfway mark, after the 100ft road stretch in Indiranagar (the half marathoners U-turned back at Domlur, so they unfortunately missed out). As we came down the Domlur flyover  on to Inner ring road, was amazed to see hundreds of jawans from the adjoining ASC centre lined up on the road. For that entire stretch of over 3 kilometres (almost till Sony junction), these soldiers egged the runners on, clapping, hi-fiveing, calling out our names from the bibs with exhortations of ‘shabaash, himmat se’, etc.  It was an overwhelming, goosebumpy experience that got me all choked up, even as I tried to feebly appreciate their support.  Truly, a splendid gesture and a very special memory of this marathon.

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The Bengaluru Marathon also set a shining example and a high benchmark on waste management. Thanks to a couple of runners and a fantastic group of volunteers who were all passionate about the cause, a very effective mechanism to BM_Oct 19_waste mgtmanage waste during and after the run was planned and executed with exemplary precision. Re-usable glasses/serving vessels, non-disposable plates, segregation of food waste post-run, getting NGOs involved.. A stupendous effort, and a stirring message for a city that is grappling with an acute problem of overflowing landfills, and fast turning from a garden city into a garbage city.

Link: How the first Bengaluru Marathon kept pace with its waste.

Many valuable lessons here for not just other marathon events, but also for the city corporation. Kudos and hats off to everyone involved in this effort.

 

This marathon also put me in touch with some new running partners when I started running with the ‘Indiranagar Runners’ group.  Our long training runs on weekends kept both the motivation and fun levels consistently up. I believe that runners in general have an in-built ‘goodness-gene’ – they are nicer folks than the average guy on the street. And this group has definitely vindicated my belief. Its been great to get to know and run with a happy, fun loving bunch of runners and also genuinely nice people.

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Cheers, guys..I look forward to many many more fun runs, sumptuous breakfasts, and wonderful times together. Thanks for being there!

Categories: Marathon, Running Tags:

Rant: Runners and Others

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on the Bangalore Runners Facebook page about an issue that’s on every runner’s mind when they lace their shoes and set out for a run in our part of the world – street DOGS. Someone posted on the forum asking for suggestions on how to deal with the situation when a dog doesn’t take too kindly to a runner passing by. All runners have faced this at some time or the other, anyone who runs in this city will definitely relate to this issue. Given traffic conditions and work schedules, runners prefer to do training runs in the wee hours of the morning. While we happily trade off waking up to unearthly morning alarms with the prospect of running on traffic-free roads, the flipside is that this is also the hour when our canine friends are surprised by any human activity. They tend to be wary of anyone who’s seen as even a mild threat to their territorial hegemony (exacerbated by the fact that most of these fast approaching trespassers are also clad in fluorescent neon clothing and footwear).

While many single dogs are (in my experience) usually dis-interested, packs can get very terrifying. I had first-hand experience on a winter morning last year on how bad this can be, on Martoli road near the old airport runway. A group of 4-5 dogs didn’t like me disturbing their small talk, and started to bark/growl, then resorted to chasing and then finally began snapping at my heels. All that I had read and heard about how to react in these situations – don’t panic, don’t stare directly into their eyes, slow down, walk calmly, etc. – immediately went out of the window. Terror-stricken, for what was by far the longest minute or so of my life, I literally started sprinting and frantically looking back at the same time, shouting, even growling back at them. Of course, this made an already bad situation even worse. Some of the more aggressive ones began to lunge at me. Luckily I was carrying a water bottle, and used it to fend them off, and was fortunate to have got away without getting bitten. The incident happened on the 27th km of a 30K long run that day. Though I was quite tired at that point, I probably ran the fastest couple of hundred metres I have ever run in my life. If they hadn’t lost interest in me, my lungs would have surely popped out. The Garmin Connect activity tracker reflected my state – my heart rate readings had surged way above max HR level for those few moments. It was an incredibly harrowing experience, one that I will never forget. I get the chills even now when I go past that spot.

Street dogs are a real and serious issue to contend with, if you are a runner. So the question which was posed on the forum was a very relevant one. Expectedly, advice soon started pouring in. Stop running when you spot a dog and walk till ‘the danger zone has passed’ said some, others claimed that these canines can sense your vibes, so just continue running normally. There were suggestions on taking precautions like a carrying a stick (or a water bottle) to shoo them off in case the situation becomes tense. So and so forth.

But what was striking about the whole discussion was that every response basically reflected one core, underlying principle: dogs have the same right to live in these spaces as we humans do, and their reaction is natural because we are the one who’s seen as the intruder and a threat. No one, not one runner, said anything negative about them.

I grew up mortally scared of even neighbourly pet dogs, but managed to overcome my fear and am reasonably comfortable around them now. But I know that there are many runners who carry a pathological fear, for whom it is genuinely very distressing when they see a dog in their path while they run. There have been runners who have had similar experiences as mine above, I have friends who have been bitten too. But it was amazing to note that no one in that discussion cursed the creatures, or proposed that BMC should take them away, they should be put down, etc. There were many pleas by responders imploring fellow runners to not throw stones at them. Someone asked about using high-frequency dog whistles, but got drowned by a chorus of responses on how this can damage their ears, etc.

This level of empathy towards a fellow species which competes for our urban spaces with runners, and poses a real threat to life and limb at times, was very revealing. To me, it’s illustrative of how the running community sees its place in the larger scheme of things, the world around us.

Now, for my rant.

Another topic has produced many agitated conversations in Bangalore of late, among a far larger section of the population than runners: the renovation of key roads in the city under the TENDER SURE project. To quote, the Tender Sure project is all about getting the urban road right; about addressing the issues that have made Indian roads so notorious for their chaotic traffic , potholes, broken footpaths, overflowing drainage, poorly placed power transformers and their hanging, spaghetti tangle of electrical wiring and telecom fixtures.

Sounds great, right? What’s the problem then?

This. (emphasis mine)

In the hierarchy of road users conceived under the project, pedestrians are followed by cyclists and public transport, which is acknowledged as the necessary mode of sustainable mobility, and lastly private vehicles.

Aha!

These last few weeks have witnessed long pieces in the press, frustrated water cooler conversations… all whining about how as part of the renovation, footpaths are being widened by a couple of feet, with cycling tracks built in. How idiotic, is the refrain…did you see what they have done to St. Marks! The city is already a traffic-mess….how can they screw it up even more, goes the cry in anguish.

Err, excuse me… it is people like us who have caused this mess in the first place. As this bunch of people pointed out so simply and effectively, our urban traffic chaos is largely a result of “the absurdity of using a large car to move a single person”. Getting a couple of extra feet-width on the road for motorists is not a solution at all, all it does is make a larger part of the road clogged with traffic.

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“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it is a place where the rich use public transportation”- Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota.”

Sadly, it loks like we will remain buried under our own ignorance and apathy towards making this city a better place. Politicians have now  got involved, and we all know how that usually turns out.

So dear whiners, may you  continue to be stuck for longer and longer hours in worser and worser traffic jams. That’s entirely your choice, and you’re entitled to it.

But atleast stop whining, yaar.

Obviously, there is no data on how many of those who are griping over this are also runners or cyclists. I would want to think that it’s an extremely low number, if at all. Of course, I realise that this is a gross generalisation to make. (This is a rant, after all. 🙂 ). There are many friends I know who are not runners or cyclists, and believe in sustainable urban transport mechanisms. But overall, the narrow-mindedness of motorists in our city on this issue is appalling, to say the least.

Take a cue from the runners, folks. Sometimes, just sometimes, its good to look beyond our own noses, yes?.

End of rant.

 

 

 

Zola Budd, redux.. 30 years on.

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

zola_buddZola Budd was my first crush from the world of international sport. Ok, technically speaking, John McEnroe came before her, but let’s put that one down as an obsession and not a crush (by then, I was quite sure of my sexual orientation).

If you’re in your forties or older, her name will probably ring a familiar bell. Zola Budd’s anticipated clash with American Mary Decker in the women’s 3000m was the most hyped up contest during the build up to the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984.

As personalities, they were very different. Mary Decker, reigning world champion and regarded as the greatest distance runner of the time, was America’s darling and hometown favourite. She had to miss the Moscow games in 1980 due to the cold-war caused boycott, and an entire nation desperately wanted her to win her deserved Olympic gold medal this time. Zola was the shy, almost waif-like 18 year old barefoot running prodigy from South Africa, who had been hastily (and controversially) granted British citizenship to enable her to compete in the Olympics – South Africa was barred from all international sport those days because of the apartheid regime.

The race took place on a summer day in August, 1984 – thirty years ago, almost to the week. As it happened, it did live up to all the pre-event billing, but in a different sort of way. A New York Times article described what happened in a recap piece:

Before a screaming crowd of 85,149 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Miss Decker led for more than four laps of the 7 1/2-lap race. Then, on a turn, Miss Budd edgedmd
a foot or so ahead on the outside. They bumped for a moment, which happens often in this sport. Seconds later, they made contact again, and Miss Decker and her hopes went sprawling on the ground.

At a post-race news conference, a teary Decker declared, “I hold Budd responsible for what happened. I didn’t do anything wrong.”  Budd, initially disqualified from the race, was later reinstated to her seventh-place finish.  

Indeed, the image of an inconsolably weeping Mary Decker being carried out from the stadium by her husband, was one among the most enduring images from that Olympics.

Young readers may not be able to relate to this, but those were the days of no internet, no YouTube and a grand total of one (government owned) channel on TV. So watching endless replays at will wasn’t an option for us. Given the huge press that the incident generated, I did manage to see clips from the race a couple of times later on news bulletins and the like. In the throes of my teenage crush, I was of course, firmly convinced that Zola was not at fault. After an investigation, the authorities came to the same conclusion.
zb_mdBy all accounts, the incident also cost Zola Budd a possible Olympic winning finish. The stadium erupted with boos immediately after Decker fell down, Zola’s eyes welled up with tears, and she faded away in the race from then on. She said later that she did not want to win after what happened, fearing the expected hostile reaction from an emotional home crowd. She also maintained that she never saw footage of the race again.

 

 

Budd then trained to compete in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But just before the event, she was engulfed in controversy again, when African nations alleged that she had competed in an event in South Africa. Despite her claim that she had merely attended the event as a spectator, the Athletics Federation suspended her from the Olympic event. She did make an appearance in the 1992 games, this time representing her home country, which by now had been reinstated into the sporting fraternity after Nelson Mandela became President. However, illness hampered her performance, and she never won an Olympic medal in her running career.

After three decades, I read about Zola Budd in the news recently, and as you may have guessed, it was about another controversy at a running event. The Comrades marathon is one of the toughest ultra-marathon events in the world. Participants have to complete a distance of about 90km in under 12 hours, plus a number of timing cut-off points along the route, each of which runners must reach by a prescribed time, or be forced to retire from the race.

Zola_Pieterse,_2012_Comrades

Zola Budd (now Zola Pieterse), age 48, finished the 2014 Comrades in 6 hours, 55 minutes. She placed 7th overall and first in her age category, earning her a gold medal. She was however later stripped of her title following accusations that she did not display the required age category tag while running. As of now, Budd has challenged the decision, and is contemplating legal redress. In an interview, she said, “My whole athletics career has been plagued by politics and interference from administrators who are selective and do not apply the rules consistently.”

I’ve can’t but help wonder as to how one dramatic event sometimes alters the course for the rest of one’s life. While Zola Budd did seem to move on from 1984 and apparently made her peace with life, it’s funny that controversy somehow manages to rear its head in her life every now and then.

What if, I think.. what if there was no collision that August day, and Zola Budd had actually gone on to win the race that day. How would her life have turned out then..

But then, C’est la vie, I guess.

Here’s the video of the 1984 race. The pivotal moment comes after the half way point in the clip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joyous Running: The Year Running Became a Part of my Life

January 3, 2014 2 comments

<Very Long post. very self-indulgent too. You’ve been warned>

I ended my post on my first Full Marathon at Bombay (SCMM) in January last year with, ‘ I don’t know if I’ll ever run a FM again. Maybe I’ll shoot for a sub-4 hour goal, maybe I’ll be happy running only Halfs.. I really don’t know

After the last running season ended with the beautiful trail at Auroville in February (where I ran a half), my running spluttered and then pretty much came to a halt. Was out on travel during the TCS 10K in May, so there was no motivation to continue training in the summer. True to type, I said to myself. Cycling had always been the thing I really enjoyed, and I was happy with my daily commute to work and looked forward to the occasional weekend long rides. Running was soon consigned to the back burner.

WP_20130725_001Then the new season beckoned with the Kaveri Trail marathon at Srirangapatana in mid-Sept. My sloth-like training routine didn’t show much life, even after the arrival of a new pair of fluorescent cubbon park neon shoes that I was pretty kicked about. A calf strain also played its part, with even walking becoming a painful affair at times. Courtesy a couple of my friends (thanks, I & H!), got pushed into  a few weekend 10-15Ks, and managed to finish a half marathon at KTM a couple of minutes faster than my last year’s timing there.

By now, registrations for SCMM 2014 had opened, and I had bravely signed up for a FM again. I had run last year’s SCMM in 4:35, and picked a goal of cutting my time by 20 minutes for this year. 20 was an arbitrarily plucked number, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d do anything different to get to it. B, my running guide & mentor, was quite shocked to know that I ran my FM last year without having done a 100KM training mileage month ever (anyone serious about training for a marathon does a minimum of 150 – 160KM per month for 3-4 months). Like I wrote, I didn’t expect to finish last time – some inspiration, some luck, whatever.

Being the gracious and generous soul that he is, B diligently chalked out a customized 16-week SCMM 2014 training plan for me, with a sub 4:15 goal. Reducing over 20 minutes meant that on race day, I had to run each kilometre 30 seconds faster than last year on average, and do that consistently over 42.2 KMs.  B advocates a training philosophy known as ‘Run Less, Run Faster’. It involves 3 training runs a week, with each one focused towards a specific goal. Given my lazy disposition, there was no way I could’ve kept up with most conventional running plans which talk of 5-6 days of weekly running  (which is where the ‘Less’ in RLRF comes in). So this seemed like a good thing to try out. (RLRF also includes 2 days of cross training, but that’s a bit much for me).

The first week was a non-starter because we were on vacation in Sri Lanka at the time (did do a lovely beach run though). But since then, I have managed to stick to my training plan for the most part, give or take a few runs missed because of muscle strains or travel. More importantly, I haven’t missed a single long weekend run for the last 12 weeks.

Don’t how it happened, but somewhere along the way, something inside  clicked…. 3 years after I started, running has now become an integral part of my life.

In his cultish ode to barefoot running, Born To Run, writer Christopher McDougall talks about how the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico embody the spirit of joyous running, when running doesn’t seem like a draining, physical chore, but something that nourishes your soul.

578961_10151137838267636_1067457846_nI am undecided as yet on taking up barefoot running, but I looked at pictures of mine from last year’s Bangalore Ultra (left) and the one this time (right) – insignificant sample size I know,  IMG_1900 (2)but really illustrates the change I feel within.  Another trivial trend – till last year, when the morning alarm rang, I used to curse, find excuses to push my run to another day, etc. These days, I am usually mentally awake a few minutes before the alarm goes off, and love the silence and solitude of the morning as I get ready for my run.  I’ve also noticed that if I don’t run for a few days, I feel a bit low, get tetchy, irritable (V can attest to this). The surge of endorphins on a consistent basis is doing wonders for my life, in general.

For me atleast, Runners high is not a touchy-feely, feel-good myth. Running, these days, fills me with joy.

And like these things tend to happen, when you’re feeling good, serendipity gives you a little nudge too. Through a casual conversation, I was very lucky this season to discover Dr. G, who’s now my physio cum miracle-man. With his uncanny understanding of muscle and bone structure, Doc got me out of my perennial cycle of injury and rehab. He correctly identified that the root cause of all my injury problems was that I had abysmally low joint and muscle flexibility (the first time he made me do some stretching exercises, his quip was that it was like trying to bend a steel rod), which put an abnormally high strain on my joints, ligaments, etc, leading to injury.

Doc’s influence on my running has been almost talismanic. A week before the ultra, I developed a bad foot inflammation, wincing in pain when my foot pressed on the ground. Frantic phone call happened, some foot stretches were recommended. I wasn’t sure if I should risk further injury, but he told me to go and just run. Joyously. (Yes, Doc’s a barefoot runner too 🙂 ) And run, I did.

Goa River HM 2013Oh, and along the way, I ran my first sub 2-hour Half too, at the Goa River Half Marathon in December. Again, one of those serendipitous happenings. Goa was not on the Goaagenda at all this season, but a cousin was very enthu and suggested a few of us go run and also do a mini-vacation. The said cousin dropped out later, but V and me went ahead with our plans and had a great time (Joets in Bogmalo is highly recommended), with my entry in the sub 2-Hour Half club and a PB for V being the icing on a lovely extended weekend break.

So a year later, its SCMM time again. Based on my training runs, I feel good about beating my goal. Of course, it all depends on how things turn out that Sunday morning – the weather, how your first half of the race goes, etc. And the fact that I will be flying over the north pole across a 12 hour time zone to land in Bombay on Saturday will make it interesting too.

But here’s the deal. Whichever way it goes.. 4;15, 4:30, even if I have to hobble and pull out, whatever.. doesn’t matter. Really. At all.

Running is now an addiction. I’ll keep getting my highs.

Here’s to joyous running.

 

I have never, ever met an unhappy runner. Running makes you happy, it takes away everything. 

                           — Milind Soman, on barefoot running

 

After running a few marathons I can explain to people why I run. It calms me. I can’t imagine not having it in my life. It helps me to sort through things. It’s like stepping outside myself and getting a better perspective of who I am.                          

                           — Gail Kislevitz, columnist, Runners World. Author, First Marathons: Personal Encounters wih the 26.2-Mile Monster

Rambling on my Running, and a Day I’ll Remember

January 22, 2013 17 comments

I started running a couple of years ago as something that I was almost forced to do. The alternative theory is that running is the most boringly predictable urban lifestyle response  – buying a Bullet comes a close second – that people of my age resort to when mid-life crisis hits, but that’s another story.  Bangalore had an annual event called the Duathlon which involved a combination of running & cycling –  a 5Km run + 10km cycling category for beginners and a tougher 10Km run+20Km cycling  category for others. As an occasional cyclist, I was happy to sign up for the 20Km ride, except for the fact that it also involved 10Km of running – and I couldn’t run a few metres to save my life. No kidding.

The first practice jog around my apartment block (1 circle is approx. 300 metres) left me gasping for breath by the time I started the second round.  Cursing the organizers for not having a pure biking event, I steeled myself through a few more training runs, till I could manage about 1Km before my lungs and feet started out-screaming each other for an ambulance. Felt super thrilled a few days later when I completed the Duathlon (beginner category) and duly put it in the memory archive as my most significant life achievement.

Fast forward to the ending first. Last weekend, I went to Bombay, the city where I was born and grew up in and got married, where A1/A2 were born, the city that was home for the first 30 years of my life… and on Sunday, ran my first Full marathon at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. 42.195 Km in 4:35 hours.

48 hours later, still feels like a dream.

Long distance running is the last thing that someone like me would have got into, and more importantly, keep at. Physiologically, I’m not the right type. My history of wheezing impacts lung capacity which matters in any endurance sport.  While am very fortunate to not have weight issues, the flip side is that I have very poor muscle & bone strength that probably makes me prone to injury very easily. In the last running season, I struggled with knee issues. This time, I had a strained calf muscle a couple of weeks before the Kaveri Trail  Marathon in August, where I ran a Half marathon and turned it into a tendon tear that dogged my training through the next few months. It almost scuttled my plans for Bombay, till an intense week of physiotherapy in early December and a decent 34KM run at the Bangalore Midnight Marathon gave me hopes of taking a shot at the Full marathon in SCMM.  I’ve had more than one physio hint to me politely that I don’t have the legs for a runner.

Temperamentally, I’m a complete lost cause. As those who know me will vouch for, I am pathologically lazy, have perfected the art of procrastination into a science and seem almost wired to happily give up anything in life that takes some effort. Wherever things like tenacity, will and determination play a part, I tend to invariably not show up. And anyone who runs marathons will tell you that in the end, it all comes down to the mind not giving up.

On the morning of January 20th 2013, about 3 ½ hours after I started running my first Full marathon, I was ready to give up. It seemed like I had hit the  dreaded ‘runners’ wall’ at about 35KM.  I remember looking up, completely exhausted, cramping badly.. only to see the Peddar road up-slope & flyover looming ahead and saying to myself, this is it. You are not going to make it, let’s come back next year and see what happens.

Am not sure how I managed to break through that phase over the next few minutes… I remember the enthusiastic kids there lining up the street, handing out water and heartily cheering all the runners.. and feeling like how I couldn’t quit in front of them. I thought of the many times V has exhorted me to not give up (btw, she clocked her PB for the Half too, so a great day overall! J). The two women just ahead of me who were visibly struggling too, but kept plodding ahead and how I focused on just looking at their their shoes for a while. I tried to recall the many tips that B, my running mentor/role-model had talked to me on dealing with such situations. All of these helped, I guess.

Dad rocking chairI also thought of dad.  On an impulse, I had asked V to take a picture of his rocking chair just before she   left home for her flight on Saturday afternoon ( I left Friday evening to collect our race bibs in Bombay on Saturday, she stayed back for a day to help A1/A2 with their prep as exam fortnight is on).

Didn’t think much of it at the time, but spent a few seconds looking at the picture before I went for the race. On that Peddar road slope, I think that rocking chair played a part too.

When I crossed the finish line about an hour later wearing dad’s t-shirt and raised my tired arms, theSCMM image of that chair flashed again.

I don’t know if I will run a Full marathon again. Maybe I’ll get all inspired and shoot for a sub-4 hour goal, maybe I’ll stay true to type and be happy with running only Halfs. I really don’t know.

Whatever happens from now,  appa –  this one was for you.

Categories: Marathon, Running
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