Let the ass kicking begin…

squash_player_quoteSanta Cruz squash club (circa 1999)
It was my second year of playing squash seriously. ‘Seriously‘ doesn’t mean I was any good yet. I was at that rookie stage of a squasher’s evolution when I was constantly looking for easy winners (read “low percentage drop shots or optimistic boasts”). I had signed up for a squash tourney at the Santa Cruz squash club.

I have little recollection of the two games I played – quick embarrassing losses I’m sure.

On the bright side, I got to watch several great games. The standout memory (and the trigger for this post) was the matchup between the club pro (Alex) and a sturdily built bloke (let’s call him Blake since I don’t know him).

There was no danger of Blake being picked from a which one of these is a squash player lineup. This is not to say that he was unfit.

As the players warmed up with rails and crosses (and the occasional boast), it was evident that Blake had talent. There was an elegance and efficiency to his on-court movements that belied one’s cursory examination of his physical profile. But my money was still on the athletic squash pro Alex.

Game 1 score: 9-5

The game was close for the first 2-3 minutes. Blake had gotten Alex’s measure by then and started putting him through his paces. An array of accurately deep rails laced with a perfect blend of drop and boast winners. This was a pattern he oft repeated. And as though to remind Alex that this wasn’t his full armoury, he’d throw in a clinically precise edge smash winner… seemingly at will.

I watched Blake as he nonchalantly took his break, changed to a new tee and entered the court before Alex.

“Let the ass kicking begin”

This was the message on the back of his game#2 tee!!

The programmer in me wondered whether he had different tee shirts ready based on whether he won the first game.

I concluded that this was the perfectly appropriate”mind games” message to an opponent in both scenarios.

If it was a close first game that he had lost, the taunt could have inserted a doubt in his opponent’s mind. 

In this case, however, Blake was openly taunting Alex.. just getting warmed up buddy. I’ll now wipe the floor with you.

Blake then proceeded to do just that. Game 2 score was either 9-2 or 9-3.

Beyond the cheekiness and mind game evoked by Blake’s tee that day, the message stayed in my consciousness. 

Strangely my runner persona can relate to that message.

Like many amateur runners who will never be podium finishes (in the open category), my ‘opponent’ is me. The current me is constantly competing with the previous me. 

If I ran an FM in 3:48, great. Let the ass kicking begin.. to get to the 3:30 to 3:45 quadrant.

If I’ve run 75k multiple times, great. Let the ass kicking begin for a hilly 80k or a 24 hour ultra.

If Dr. George Sheehan can get his PB at 60 years, surely I can try my darnedest in my late 40’s.

Squash and the City

amr_shabana_squash_shotSerious runners are crazy people.

Serious squash players are no less crazy.

The crazy squash player I am thinking about is my friend. Sanjay (now a Princeton, NJ resident) was my senior at BIT Mesra and we became close friends during our years in Jamshedpur. Unlike my sporadic dalliance (2 years of squash initiation in ’90-’92 followed by a year in Chicago playing racquetball circa ’95 before hitting my ‘serious’ but disjointed stints between 1998 and 2005), Sanjay was far more devoted to squash.

As he moved from Jamshedpur to Clearwater, FL before settling down in the NY/NJ area, he managed to find a squash court and kept at it. I mean really kept at it.

When we visited the NY/NJ area in Christmas 2002, we stayed with Sanjay’s family in Princeton. His squashing had reached a level where he was beginning to challenge young bucks on the Princeton University club ladder. Coming finally to the crazy bit. His ‘local’ squash court was a whopping 75 min drive away – across state lines. And he would make it there at least twice a week.

Imran Khan was probably one of the reasons Sanjay squashed regularly at that remote club in Pennsylvania. Imran (from that land that produced two amazing squash champions with the same last name) was the club’s squash pro and Sanjay’s good friend.

During that trip I managed to catch a game with Sanjay. Predictably I got whipped. Later that evening Imran visited Sanjay’s home and the bulk of the conversation was on squash (obviously).

I’m sure I grilled him a lot but there was ONE insight that overshadowed everything else that came up. An insight that could catapult a rookie or a struggling C player on to the right path.

“At any point in the squash court, there’s only ONE right stroke to hit.’

Wow. You mean to say I shouldn’t debate between a rail vs boast vs lob in real-time as I approached the ball? And NOT change my mind last-minute?

Hmm..

So every grid position on the court is pre-computed for the ideal stroke?

More like a classical music score and less like jazzy improvisation?

As i reflected on it, it made sense. If you’ve seen professionals play those long rallies point after point, you’ll know this to be true too.

A ballet being played out between players seemingly in a preordained fashion. Rail-rail-rail-drop-rail or rail-rail-rail-rail-cross-cross-boast-rail-rail.

The script and patterns don’t vary much. What separates the very good player from the truly exceptional are things like: how quickly he recovers the T, how deep her rails are, how judiciously she uses the cross/boast/lob, how patient he is in going for the killer smash (or boast) only when the odds are just right. Of course having a few different serve variations and possessing the replicable ability to hit the edge can be key weapons in your arsenal but those come *after* you’ve taken care of the basics.

An uncluttered mind. A body dynamic trained to unleash the right stroke at every grid point. Ballet like a pro. Wait for the other guy to make a mistake or keep watching him until the positional odds tilt in your favor to go for the kill.

I finally understood how to play the game of squash. Too bad I would step into a court only once more.. 10 years later.

But lessons in sports carry over to life. Playing to a script, seeing the patterns, waiting for your chance, putting in those long hours of disciplined  drills, automaticity… These are all portable skills.

Thank you Imran Khan.

Stories related to this topic of training to a pattern:

[Closing note: this post had a gestation period of 3 yrs 10 months. I guess there is hope for the remaining 99 posts in my Drafts folder.]

 

 

 

Bangalore to Hubli: from agony to ecstasy

Shriram Revankar (the adventurer with his mom at the end of his journey)

Shriram Revankar (the adventurer with his mom at the end of his journey)

[Editor’s Note: My good friend and ex-colleague Shriram undertook an amazing trip last year. Shriram is a cyclist and a runner. He belittles his running but he’s blessed with natural abilities. With no training plan and just two long 30k runs under his belt, he knocked off a full marathon (Auroville 2011) in 3:55. But this post isn’t about his running abilities.. nor is it about his cycling abilities (of which he has plenty to boast about too). This is about his pain enduring abilities, sheer grit and stubbornness. His entire account is eminently worth a read – I’ve cherry picked the bits that serve as a “portrait of pain”.]

An 8 year old’s humble beginnings with a bicycle..

When I was an 8 year old child in Ankola, a quaint little coastal town in Karnataka, I had learnt bicycling the hard way. My father, in his late forties was my coach. The bicycle was about the same height as me, but probably weighed double my body-weight. My riding style was quite awkward. The left hand controlled the handle and the right hand tightly wrapped around the seat. My little painfully-thin and knotty frame bobbed up-and-down as I peddled in-and-out through the frame of the bicycle.  Manoeuvring the bicycle was not easy. I do remember suffering from persistent open wounds on my knees, shins, palms and elbows for a period of nearly a year or may be more. The poor bicycle did not fare much better either. It was a miracle that the bicycle survived my vigorous ‘half peddling’ through the monsoon hammered streets of Ankola.

Gentle beginnings with pain..

The primary issue was the pain at the buttocks. 

When the pain could no longer be ignored..

I kept on riding while my shoulders and butt kept on howling in pain. By around 12:15 PM more than seven hours after I left home, I crossed the midway point of that day’s ride… That stop was a big relief from persistent pain. Interestingly the most prominent pain, the butt pain, would cease as soon as I got off the bike. However shoulder pain would not go down by much.

The pain and the brain

It had been nearly 9 hours since I started my ride. Sun was hot and bright – but I did not notice either the sun or the heat. I had other things distracting me. How many ways can I talk about pain?! There are not enough ways. As my butt felt like it was in a blender, (sorry for being so graphic) I started supporting my weight on my legs and shoulders. Although my knees and thighs were up to the task, my shoulders were not holding up well.  Slowly the intensity of pain at the butt and the shoulders overwhelmed all my thoughts. The blunt pain just below the neck, underneath and around the shoulder blades was constant and excruciatingly gnawing.  It felt as if a heavy dumbbell got buried into my back and stayed-put and did not move even an iota no matter what I did. I pulled the shoulders in, pulled them down; pulled the chest in and hunched back. Nothing worked. It was a constant struggle.

I started frequent walks just to relieve me of the pain. The shoulders were getting increasingly worse because walking or resting made no difference to them.

After every break, getting going again became highly unpalatable. It took immense effort to climb back on the bicycle and continue the ride. I started noticing that the rest-breaks no longer helped me to get a break from pain. It felt like every riding episode started and ended with the same intensity of pain. It was as if I took no break. The breaks were of no help at all. My younger brother had already reached Hubli and was willing to come and rescue me if I asked for it. That put further dent in my resolve to bear the pain and continue. I was still quite far from my first day’s destination – Chitradurga. By that time I had completely forgotten my over enthusiastic early eagerness to go an additional sixty kilo-metres past Chitradurga, to Davanagere.

If you thought he was done talking about his pain on day #1, think again..

Other than a Google search of a few hotels in Chitradurga, I had not made any arrangements for the night’s stay. I wanted to reach there early while there was still sunlight. I thought that it would give me an opportunity to evaluate more than one hotels option. However the pain was unrelenting, brute-force speeding up was out of the question. I decided not to take breaks anymore – they were not helping. I started walking and bicycling. Every time I bicycled, I had to get down and walk again within a couple of kilometres. I really tried to extend my riding time to walking time ratio. The idea was to match the walking time with the up-hill stretches and the riding time with the flat or downhill stretches. The up-hills were not particularly harsh. It was just that on the up-hills I had to pedal relatively more compared to the downhill or the flat stretches. Not a deep revelation, but the “butt” equation was forcing me to minimize the number of ‘pedalling-s per kilo metre’. I could barely tolerate resting my butt on the seat; any further movement was sadistically cruel. I also rationalized that the ratio of walking speed to riding speed is the highest during an uphill anyway.

Did you know that the brain is the biggest muscle in the human body?

My democratic body was on complete non-cooperation movement, but my dictatorial brain was taking none of it. It was not letting any of these revolting body parts to make their own decision. At this stage I was ready to take any and all moral victories with great relish. If I could get a few more rolls while not pedalling, that was a win. If there was a stretch of shade that I could get under, it was a win. If I avoided a bump on the road, that was a win. It was getting pathetic and what made the situation ridiculous was the headwind. My whole strategy of uphill-walk; down-hill-ride had to be thrown out. There was a stretch where I was going downhill and I had to pedal as if I was going uphill. Given the state of pain I was in, this made it a real torture. Wikipedia says “it is a practice or act of deliberately inflicting severe physical pain and possibly injury” I think that description of torture matched my situation very well. J It is during this stretch of ‘not-reaching-Chitradurga-yet’, it became clear to me that my brain was the biggest “muscle” that was driving the ride and the rest of the muscles were but secondary.

Pain, music and Ibuprofen

During early hours of riding, I used to sit on the bike-seat and ride for a stretch of five to ten minutes. By the time I crossed Davanagere, I could bear to sit on my seat and ride only for two three minutes at a stretch and then I had to switch position. This was putting a lot of stress on legs and thighs.  My legs had been rock solid till then. They were supporting without complaint and helped in alleviating my butt, shoulder and upper back pain. However as I rode past Harihar, legs started cramping. I longed for some shelter by the road side where I can just lie down for a few minutes in the shade. There was no such luck!

From then on I had to stop favouring my butt, shoulder and back. The piercing pain was getting increasingly unbearable, but I had no choice. Slowly the legs stopped cramping. The riding speed or effort no longer had any bearing on pain or tiredness. So I started riding quite hard and fast for a few kilo metres and then walked for a 100-200 metres.  It was much better now. Soon I found out that no matter how short or long a break I took, it hurt with the same intensity as soon as I started riding. So I made the breaks very short, just enough to remove the edge of the pain and then ride again. I had taken with me some Ibuprophen (pain killer, fever reducer) tablets, but taking two of them had no effect even an hour after taking them. So I did not take them for the rest of the trip.

Uphills, downhills and headwinds

I left the shelter and continued my bicycling by 2:00 PM and immediately the pain returned with all its glory. My dictatorial brain made a special note of the fact that the pain paid no respect for all that heavenly rest! So it ordered me to take no breaks for the rest of the way. I started walking for a few minutes and riding bike for a few minutes. Uphill or downhill rides did not matter anymore. It all felt like uphill all the time. I attributed the lack of speed to severe headwind. Just as I was about to dismiss the headwind theory as a concoction of my tired mind, huge plume of some kind of a husk started pummelling my face and body. There was headwind after all!  

Victory at last!

still had about 10 kilo metres to go. The next half hour of ride through the streets of Hubli was uneventful, although I over stretched myself trying to follow my brother and mother, who were on a scooter. I did not know that they were trying to go well ahead of me because my mother wanted to prepare some ritualistic welcome for me into the house. Over exuberant me reached there along with them and then waited at the gate for my mother to get ready for the welcome. That gave my younger brother some more time to snap a few final pictures of the trip.

Amazingly the butt pain went away without any vestigial effects after the first night’s sleep. I had hurt my left knee while chasing my brother’s scooter during the last stretch. The knee healed in a couple of days. However the upper back and shoulder pain lingered for a few more days. I rested in Hubli for two days before heading back to Bangalore ……….by train.

The victorious protagonist with his mother and brother

The victorious protagonist with his mother and brother

 

James Gatlin – on competing with the fastest man in the world

James Gatlin, after winning the 100m race at the Diamond League in Doha

American sprinter James Gatlin, who’s just coming off a doping-induced ban, talks about competing with the fastest man in the world.

Interviewer: Is Usain Bolt unbeatable?

Gatlin: It’s like you watching for weaknesses of your opponents in a game like football or basketball. You watch them for what great athletes they are and study them. Watching Bolt perform great feats is awe-inspiring and breathtaking. But he is still human and breathes the same air I breathe and takes the same two steps that I take to get to the line. Just going out there with confidence and giving it everything to get from this line to that line is what I’m working on.

 

Gatlin highlights a point that’s true across many sports. Sustained brilliance by a sportsperson (think Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt) always begins with an era of awe-inspiring performances that catapult them to the top (I call this “Phase 1 of domination”) followed by an extended period where their opponents stop trying (they’ve been bludgeoned into submission psychologically) – I call this “Phase 2 of domination”. Eventually, a few competitors start internalizing on “if HE can do it, why can’t I?” which leads to the most interesting “Phase 3 of domination” — a phase whose duration  depends both on the incumbent champion’s mettle and the quality of the challengers.

 

 

The day Sarah Fitz-Gerald visited our squash club

Not how she looked in 2002 but what a "killer" and effortless backhand she had!

Gosh! It’s been at least 5 years since I last played squash. Not counting the 3 games I played at an off-site corporate event in 2009. I’m talking ‘regular’ playing (regular = at least 3 times a week). Sometime last year, I removed “squash” from my Twitter bio — there are only so many “hoping to get back to …” tags one can use.

Why did I remember my first sporting love, especially after I expunged it from my Twitter bio? I’ve started reading Haruki Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was(is?) seriously into squash. It makes sense of course — given his passion for running, swimming, marathons and triathlons. Truth be told, there’s an interesting squash-related post languishing in my Drafts folder for the past 3 months. I’ll even share the title because I’m hoping one of you will ask me to finish it soon — Squash and the city!

In the last few days, I’ve been reminiscing a lot about my squash playing days. My most regular playing stint was between 1998 and 2003 — the first year at Stanford (well before the courts and the program got really spiffed up with the hiring of Mark Talbott) and subsequently at Decathlon Club, Santa Clara. It was during the Decathlon Club playing days that I got an opportunity to watch Sarah Fitz-Gerald in action.

For the  uninitiated, a quick Sarah FG introduction. Winner of 5 World Open, 2 British Open titles, and 60 WISPA tour titles, Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald ranks alongside Michelle Martin and Heather McKay (fellow Australians) and Susan Devoy (New Zealand) as the sport’s greatest players. And what’s more, two of her major titles came after knee surgery. Fitz-Gerald was on an exhibition/promotion circuit spanning major American cities and our club pro (Jon Perry) managed to snag her for a day. She played against our club’s best male and female players (Atif Khan and Nicola Kelly respectively) and, of course, Jon Perry. After barely breaking a sweat, she talked about her training regimen, her (unsuccessful) efforts to make squash an olympic sport and ended with a spirited Q&A. Here’s what I remember from that evening:

  • Sarah Fitz-Gerald: I suppose she's shocked at a let/stroke call that went against her

    Watching a superior player toying with a lower-rated player is not always pretty but it’s different when you are watching a master at work! Sarah’s movement on the court was a combination of beauty and languidness. Add a dose of good old-fashioned Aussie humor between points and we had an entertainer.

  • Both Atif and Nicola managed a few points because… she let them! Nicola seemed a little overawed by the setting so she kept overdoing the backhand drop shot. Sarah would retrieve the drop with consummate ease and reply with a deep backhand rail. After the umpteenth time this happened, Sarah pointed (for the crowd’s benefit obviously) at the backhand front corner and said “That’s her favorite corner!” and “This is my favorite!” (pointing to the back left corner.
  • Before Jon and Sarah started their first game, Sarah wagered that Jon would have to “drop his shorts” if he lost on “love”. Jon agreed (did he have a choice?) I’m sure he fancied his chances to get at least ONE point, especially since it was championship scoring (game goes till 15 and you get a point even on your opponent’s serve).
  • There’s toying with an A level player and then there’s toying with an AA level player (PDF link) who’s the club pro!
  • The quality of Sarah’s game was breathtaking to watch. If I have to pick ONE shot that defined her, it was her backhand rail — precision power hits at ‘every possible height’ with (I guess you’d call this) ‘copybook’ backswing.
  • As she got inexorably closer to 15, it looked like Jon was getting more and more nervous. Jon lost the first game on “love”.
  • She let Jon sweat a bit before she announced “Okay! you can just drop your socks for the second game!” 🙂 A collective sigh of relief from everyone. Jon lost the second game too but I think she let him win a few points.
  • One of Sarah’s secret sauce: she used to train with the top male Australian squash players!

Lessons from Under the Banyan Tree

Pic: Courtesy Amazon.co.uk

R.K. Narayan is my favorite Indian writer. I don’t know who is second on my list… in any case it’s not germane to this blog post. Under the Banyan Tree is a collection of short stories, arguably one of his finest books. It was the book that made me go buy every other book R.K. Narayan had published (this was before the Amazon.com era so it required some old-school commitment).

In the past few years, I’ve had many occasions to remember Under the Banyan Tree usually when reading about sportspersons going through a “slump”. The story of Nambi, a gifted village storyteller, has much to teach us so let me walk you through the key excerpts.

A decrepit village, an illiterate story-teller and an enchanter..

The population used the highway as the refuse ground and in the backyard of every house drain water stagnated in green puddles. Such was the village. It is likely that the people of the village were insensitive: but it is more than likely that they never noticed their surroundings because they lived in a kind of perpetual enchantment. The enchanter was Nambi the story-teller. He was illiterate, in the sense that the written word was a mystery to him; but he could make up a story, in his head, at the rate of one a month; each story took nearly ten days to narrate.

On the nights he had a story to tell he lit a small lamp and placed it in a niche in the trunk of the banyan tree. Villagers as they returned home in the evening saw this, went home, and said to their wives, “Now, now, hurry up with the dinner, the story-teller is calling us.” As the moon crept up behind the hillock, men, women, and children gathered under the banyan tree.

Storytelling on an epic scale — as a many act play — narrated over multiple nights

He opened the story with a question. Jerking his finger towards a vague, far-away destination, he asked, “A thousand years ago, a stone’s throw in that direction, what do you think there was? It was not the weed-covered waste it is now, for donkeys to roll in. It was not the ash-pit it is now. It was the capital fo the king…” The king would be Dasaratha, Vikramaditya, Asoka, or anyone that came into the old man’s head; the capital was called Kapila, Kridapura, or anything. Opening thus, the old man went on without a pause for three hours. By then brick by brick the palace of the king was raised. The old man described the dazzling durbar hall where sat a hundred vassal kings, ministers, and subjects; in another part of the palace all the musicians in the world assembled and sang; and most of the songs were sung over again by Nambi to his audience; and he described in detail the pictures and trophies that hung on the walls of the palace….

It was story-building on an epic scale. The first day barely conveyed the setting of the tale, and Nambi’s audience as yet had no idea who were coming into the story. As the moon slipped behind the trees of Mempi Forest Nambi said, “Now friends, Mother says this will do for the day.” He abruptly rose, went in, lay down, and fell asleep long before the babble of the crowd ceased.

The light in the niche would again be seen two or three days  later, and again and again throughout the bright half of the month. Kings and heroes, villains and fairy-like women, gods in human form, saints and assassins, jostled each other in that world which was created under the banyan tree. Nambi’s voice rose and fell in an exquisite rhythm, and the moonlight and the hour completed the magic. The villagers laughed with Nambi, they wept with him, they adored the heroes, cursed the villains, groaned when the conspirator had his initial success, and they sent up to the gods a heartfelt prayer for a happy ending…

And so the enchantment continued. Month after month, year after year. It had to end someday of course. And it did.

On one of the full moon nights, with the village at his feet, Nambi paused after one of his sentences. He struggled to continue and he stuttered and he fumbled. He didn’t understand why the words, which normally flowed like a babbling brook, wouldn’t come out. He kept quiet for an hour waiting for something to happen. Nothing. The crowd gradually dispersed. He tried again the next day but was similarly tongue-tied. After spending a few weeks in meditation, Nambi gets the entire village to come listen to his “greatest story”.

Nambi’s greatest story

Nambi came out of the temple when everyone had settled and said: “It is the Mother who gives the gifts; and it is she who takes away the gifts. Nambi is a dotard. He speaks when the Mother has anything to say. He is struck dumb when she has nothing to say. But what is the use of jasmine when it has lost its scent? What is the lamp for when all the oil is gone? Goddess be thanked…. These are my last words on this earth; and this is my greatest story.” He rose and went into the sanctum.

The rest of his life (he lived for a few more years) was one consummate silence.

I thought of Nambi when Adam Gilchrist announced his retirement — after a test match in which he had missed 2 or 3 catches that were normally ‘regulation’ catches (by his standards at least). He took that as a sign that his reflexes had attenuated. I thought of Nambi again during Tiger Woods’s struggles (looks like he may turned the corner!), and most recently when Rahul Dravid announced his retirement.

 

That one perfect drive!

The Golf Omnibus - 31 tales from the green by the master

Following is an excerpt from PG Wodehouse’s A Mixed Threesome – one of many beautiful golf stories from The Golf Omnibus. The scene being described is that of the story’s protagonist (Mortimer Sturgis) executing that perfect golf swing. In the narrative below, the inimitable Oldest Member (who stars in many of Wodehouse’s golf stories) is speaking in the first person view and Mortimer Sturgis is speaking in the third person view.

A moment before he had surveyed his blistered hands with sombre disgust.

“It’s no good,” he said. “I shall never learn this beast of a game. And I don’t want to either. It’s only fit for lunatics. Where’s the sense in it? Hitting a rotten little ball with a stick! If I want exercise, I’ll take a stick and go and rattle it along the railings. There’s something in that! Well, let’s be getting along. No good wasting the whole morning out here.”

“Try one more drive, and then we’ll go.”

“All right. If you like. No sense in it, though.”

He teed up the ball, took a careless stance, and flicked moodily. There was a sharp crack, the ball shot off the tee, flew a hundred yards in a dead straight line never ten feet above the ground, soared another seventy yards in a graceful arc, struck the turf, rolled, and came to rest within easy mashie distance of the green.

“Splendid!” I cried.

The man seemed stunned.

“How did that happen?”

I told him very simply.

“Your stance was right, and your grip was right, and you kept your head still, and didn’t sway your body, and never took your eye off the ball, and slowed back, and let the arms come well enough, and rolled the wrists, and let the club-head lead, and kept your balance, and pivoted on the ball of the left foot, and didn’t duck the right knee.”

“I see,” he said. “Yes, I thought that must be it.”

“Now let’s go home.”

“Wait a minute. I just want to remember what I did while it’s fresh in my mind. Let me see, this was the way I stood. Or was it more like this? No, like this.” He turned to me, beaming. “What a great idea it was, my taking up golf! It’s all nonsense what you read in the comic papers about people foozling all over the place and breaking clubs and all that. You’ve only to exercise a little reasonable care. And what a corking game it is! Nothing like it in the world! I wonder if Betty is up yet. I must go round, and show her how I did that drive. A perfect swing, with every ounce of weight, wrist, and muscle behind it. I meant to keep it a secret from the dear girl till I had really learned, but of course I have learned now. Let’s go round and rout her out.”

I could wax eloquent about the sheer beauty of Wodehouse’s writing but that’ll have to wait for another day. The quintessential sporting truth in this story is that the amateur sportsman, every once in a blue moon, experiences that “moment of perfection”. If you’ve read the above account carefully, you’d have noticed that Mortimer Sturgis doesn’t really know how he hit that perfect drive. He’s trying his best to recall (& desperately hit the Record button in his brain) all the things he did right in pulling off that effortlessly perfect drive. The tragedy is that he might never hit a drive like that for the rest of his life.

I’ve been fortunate in experiencing two “moments of perfection” in two separate sports. Read on.

Perfect drive on hole #9 in Schaumburg

A disc golfer preparing to putt

A well-kept secret in USA is the sport of disc golf. For the uninitiated, disc golf (or “frisbee golf” as fondly referred by the non-puritanical) is a sport modeled on golf. Instead of metallic clubs and a ball, one uses different types of aerodynamically specialized flying discs (driver discs, approach discs, putter discs – you get the idea). Instead of a hole in the ground, you have a metallic basket with a receptacle and chains. Disc golf aficionados refer to regular golf as stick golf. Unlike stick golf, which require  large areas of water-guzzling well-manicured grass and legions of golf course designers, disc golf is one of the more environment friendly sports. A colleague and good friend (Gary Smith) introduced me to this sport in the fall of 1995. For the next three years in  Chicago I played disc golf every opportunity I got and, believe me, I created many opportunities as well.

As you can imagine, there’s an entire science behind the making of these flying discs. There are understable discs (that curve from right to left on a right-hander’s backhand throw), overstable discs (that curve from left to right on a right-hander’s backhand throw), beveled edges and harder plastic for driver discs, softer plastic for putter discs, heavier discs for windy conditions, you get the drift…

In the early days, my friend (Gary) had already invested in a complete set of flying discs while I was making do with a very light yellow-colored 99 cents Frisbee (bought from a K-Mart or a Walgreens). We were playing at a Schaumburg 9-hole course for the first time. By the time we reached hole#9, Gary had a comfortable lead and I was playing for — what else — pride. And then it happened. In a manner similar to Mortimer Sturgis above, I took up position and let it rip. And watched – with frozen feet and widening eyes – as the dainty yellow butterfly-esque disc soared majestically like a Jonathan Livingstone Seagull belying its humble plastic moorings and landed — a mere 10-feet away from the hole. Gary and our two other friends watched with dumb disbelief. It  turned out to be the only time I out-drove Gary that day — with my cheap, light and sub-optimal flying disc. Powerful emotions coursed through me.

Unreal 10k run on Feb 7, 2010

Three weeks after I had successfully run my third full marathon (and my first Mumbai Marathon), I resumed my short runs. Those days, most of my non-weekend running was done in the late evenings (when I generally tend to run faster) – on the concrete driveway around Raheja Residency. 7 rounds for a 5k, slightly under 14 rounds for a 10k. On that eventful evening, I realized after a few rounds that I was running faster than usual – my Garmin told me it was a 4:40ish pace but I wasn’t huffing (strange I thought!) I passed the 5k mark at 23:04 and that’s when it hit me. I had run my fastest 5k (as part of a 10k run) and I was not going all out – something special was afoot. I did slow down during my final 2-3 rounds but I still finished in an unbelievable 47:26 – beating my previous best by more than 2 minutes. There’s no danger of my repeating (forget beating) this performance in this lifetime. The high resolution Exhibits (A and B) below are courtesy my pal Dheeraj.

Garmin Forerunner 305: unreal 10k on Feb 7, 2010

Sustaining a 4:45 pace for 10k? No way I can repeat that!