When a sacred bull got a beating

sacred cow (idiom):  something considered (perhaps unreasonably) immune from question or criticism

I’ve been a regular long distance runner for almost 6 years. For exactly 2 1/2 of those years (or 42%), I have been a barefoot runner. During my barefoot years, I frequently get asked “is the switch permanent?” My answer almost always is on the lines of “it seems to be working for me.. so I don’t see why not.”

In these years, the following sacred cow had been raised onto my living room pedestal: thou shalt run all your runs barefoot for the rest of your life because it’s quite obviously been good for you so far.

I was reminded of two conversations in this regard.

Conversation #1 (between a Chicago colleague and me circa 1995)

RR: “How’s that meditation class coming along?”

Me: “Great. I’ve been meditating regularly for about 40 days now!”

RR: “Nice! Keep at it.”

Me: (feeling that I wasn’t getting sufficient plaudits for my FORTY CONSECUTIVE DAYS of meditating) “You know, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a good habit so easily.”

RR: “Hate to break your bubble but it’s not hard to break a good thing. Do you know that I learnt and played the bansuri for 9 years and one fine day I just stopped?”

Me (bubble clearly pricked): “Oh!”

Conversation #2 (with a Bangalore runner on barefoot running, recidivism rates and articles of faith):

Me: “Among all the barefoot runners I know and hear about, there are exactly TWO who have returned to ‘shoes ways’. Surely that says something?”

Him: “Well, there’s anecdotal and there’s data…”

Me: “Do you have any data on recidivism rates? Who are the high profile BF’rs who returned to shod running?”

Him: “Bikila? Every Indian national level runner I met growing up in the 70’s? Every Kenyan and Ethiopian?”

Me: “Oh!”

Him: ” BFery is at least as much an issue of faith and unsubstantiable personal belief as it is about practicality – no religion easily admits apostasy and I don’t see how BF is any different – it’s clearly more about faith and individual experience than incontrovertible evidence from which general principles can safely be made. So recidivism rates per se won’t tell you much, just as apostasy rates among Muslims tells you almost nothing about whether Muslims actually have issues with their belief system. It’s the wrong metric to seek when you bring faith into the picture.”

******

The gang that ran (or walked) up and down Nandi Hills - Aug 10, 2014

The gang that ran (or walked) up and down Nandi Hills – Aug 10, 2014

Today was my third pilgrimage to Nandi Hills. My second Nandi Hills climb was almost a year ago. The first climb was negotiated with barefoot (first 18k) and Puma chappals (next 10k). The second climb was done entirely using my huaraches. As I chronicled earlier, tearing downhill and landing heavily resulted in severe calf pain. This time I wanted to do it entirely barefoot (so I could land lighter).

There was one catch though. I was nursing an injury in the inner ball of my right foot. For over a year, the 1 square-inch area had become toughened and the consensus diagnosis suggested a callus. It was harmless enough.. in the sense that it would only start hurting after 30k. There was another catch but I discovered it much later.

Clarity of mind

Clarity of mind is imperative. Not just for races, it comes in handy for your training runs as well. The only (sorta) goal I had was to run the first loop as hard as possible barefoot and negotiate the second loop with my Puma chappals. The chappals remained in MJ’s car –> I forgot to take his keys when I passed him -> and the rest was history.

The first loop

A wise soul (either Jugy or Sunil) had once said “don’t attack the hill from the base”. Remembering this, I ambled relatively slowly behind the pack. By the 3-4km mark, I was passing folks and I was definitely not wasted by the time I reached the top. I celebrated by hurtling downhill for 3km. No Garmin this time but I reckon I was going faster than last year’s 4:30. And yes, I was definitely getting superior traction and braking with the bare feet (compared to the 4mm huaraches). As the gradient became less steep, I slowed down and, with about 1k to the bottom, I only picked up my pace after a guy wearing a Messi tee passed me.

Craving for shoes

At the turnaround, I encountered the effervescently ebullient Nirupma who generously offered me all manners of snacks while regaling me with her exploits. She managed to reduce my gathering gloom but there was no way to wish away the Nandi terrain (THIS was the second catch – I had forgotten how terrible the terrain was). The first 4 km with its gnarly surface sprinkled liberally with gravel was particularly uninviting. I balefully looked at MJ’s car, cursed myself silently and headed back up. Not going for the second loop was obviously NOT an option. One doesn’t drive 60km on a weekend morning to run just ONE loop.

It’s confession time, people! In THIRTY months of barefoot running, this was the FIRST time I came down with a craving for shoes. It was not an evanescent craving. It first hit me as I negotiated the final few km of the downhill. The craving became stronger after I had enough of the damn road and starting walking (and running) on the parapet. As I passed Eka, I hopefully asked him if he had a spare set of sandals. Turns out he did but his car was 2km away and he wasn’t coming back for seconds. I must have cussed something godawful when Rinaz offered his shoes to me. I declined… but had he asked me one more time, I might have accepted. How bad was the craving? THIS bad! (replace the purple soda with shoes).

Redemption

MJ drove me to Nandi. He also turned out to be my guardian angel. After finishing his first loop, he decided to drive his car up the hill to pickup any stragglers who were inclined to skip the second downhill. As soon as he stopped his car alongside me, I mumbled something unintelligible, opened the door and grabbed my Puma chappals. The remaining 4km was a piece of cake

That Superman scene

Most runners today know that being a barefoot runner is not that hard. It’s usually the non-runners who perceive barefoot running as  some kind of masochism. On my third sojourn at Nandi Hills, I finally understood what they perceived. Why on earth was I running barefoot when it was so godawfully painful?

Thirty goddamn months and I hadn’t felt misery anywhere close to what I felt today. You recall that scene in Superman (or Superman II?) when he loses his superpowers, walks into a bar, tries to save a damsel in distress, cops it on the jaw and lips, and can’t believe that he’s actually bleeding!) I kinda felt that way. The barefoot superman had turned into a mortal.

***********

Have I recidivated to shod running? Or is the Nandi experience a prominent  notch on my bare feet signaling an inflection point to the next level of difficulty of The Great Running Game? Time will tell and this blog will chronicle. But first I will tell you about the disposable shoes theory, freshly minted in the windmills of the Nandi.

 

My first DNF and a Forrest Gump moment

Pic courtesy centives.net

Pic courtesy centives.net

Two days ago I had my first DNF in a full marathon. Considering the spate of races recently sprouting all across Bangalore it might surprise you to know that I *wasn’t* running in a race.

So where the heck was the FM course? It was on our group’s usual Saturday heartbeat long run course (we call it Dandi). On days like these, what I typically do is start 30 min before my buddies. By the time we finish the customary 30k, I’m left with just a deficit of 7k which I negotiate homeward-bound.

I must tell you that this wasn’t the first time I was running a non-race FM. For quite some time now, I’ve been running a FM every month. Since there are only 3 FM/FM+ races I run every year, the bulk of my recent FM running has been in non-race settings. There have been a few FM’s which I’ve run completely solo (this was one of them) but for the vast majority, I had the company of 1-3 of my friends for at least 30k. One of the cognitively difficult FM’s was Kaikondrahalli Lake (a few months ago) where I had to run 22 loops. Since I had jettisoned my Garmin last year, keeping track of the # of loops was a big challenge (I used 5 postits to represent sets of 5 loops).

So why was (am) I running a FM every month? That is answered in a different post ‘Don’t be a MAD runner, be a MAM runner’. For now, suffice to say that I’ve been doing it for a while now.

Now let me take you back to that scene in Forrest Gump.. That scene where Gump has been running for days (maybe months) and has hundreds of other runners following him. All of a sudden he stops running. Everybody behind also stop. Bewilderment on everyone’s faces.

Gump walks away… Presumably to resume whatever he was doing several months ago. Gump (or someone in the crowd) yells out to the followers “Go home! Just.. Go back!” Amidst murmurs and grumblings, the crowd breaks up and dissipates.

My first DNF was reminiscent of this Gump moment.

Instead of Gump’s following hordes, I had voices in my head. All these months the voices were largely in resonance.. Utterances on the lines of “Go go go” “Oh yeah.. This is fun” “First time doing xyz variant of an FM – that tickles me”.

The first inkling that something was amiss came close to the 33k mark. Sampath (our group’s Speedy Gonzales) was giving me company and, as we sipped deliciously sweet coconut water, asked how much more I had to go. I gave an approximate number (7km – the number I needed to run after reaching Cubbon Park).

Hmm.. 7km more after Cubbon?? It was strangely unsettling. I was surprised because I had been here before… like more than a dozen times. It wasn’t that I was running particularly fast. Sure – Young Sid and I did a pacey stretch from 6 to 16 but I wasn’t feeling particularly exhausted. No aches and pains from the usual suspects. The soles were a bit sore but they always were at this point (thanks to that pathetic excuse of asphalt near IISc and later near Sankey Tank).

It had to be the mind of course.

The usual “clarity of mind” was missing in action.

Ostensibly there were two contributing factors:

  • I was supposed to meet a friend (visiting from Mumbai) for breakfast at 9am. If I had to finish my FM, I’d have to postpone by 30 min. I was reluctant to because..
  • I had also promised my wife that I’d return home before 11am since we had some apartment hunting to do.

We are all prisoners of our own desires.

But only if we choose to.

If we choose differently, we can just up and walk out of the prison.

Which is what I did after I reached Cubbon Park. I called my pal, changed the rendezvous to a barefoot-friendly establishment and proceeded to walk the final 2km. DNF at 37km.

(Closing note: This post was 90% written using WordPress for Android)

The Cult of BHUKMP

[Editor’s Note: It’s been almost four years since I started running with (and became part of) the BHUKMP cult. I never got around to writing about BHUKMP, aptly described as a “cult” rather than a group. The name itself is an acronym for the six races that every member should strive to run in a single season. BHUKMP = B_angalore Midnight, H_yderabad, Bangalore U_ltra, K_averi Trail, M_umbai, P_ondicherry/Auroville. In this post, the cult attempts to outline its core ideologies in the form of “Thou shalt…”].Multiple references to Dandi should clue you on to the fact that it’s a dominant part of the cult’s psychic rhythm. The Dandi Way shall be the next post in this series.]

Thou shalt get out of bed before sunrise at least ONCE a week.

Thou shalt save the Friday beers for Saturday.

Thou shalt run at least a 24k Dandi every Sat morning

Thou shalt run the 30k Dandi run every Sat morning.

Thou shalt run Dandi even if all other BHUKMP’rs have gone out of town for a BHUKMP run and you couldn’t.

Thou shalt be considered a member if you join the group on a Dandi run at least once and share your life story.

Thou shalt be very pissed off if, after having made the effort to run Dandi, one misses being in the group photo at Cubbon on account of being too slow!

Thou shalt recruit anyone running alone on Dandi route.

Thou shalt brood over the Dandi group photo after missing the Saturday run.

Thou shalt feel an extraordinary sense of pride at running more than a half marathon distance every Saturday and treating it like a simple morning run!

Thou shalt always runverse with fellow BHUKMP’rs except perhaps at the races.

Thou shalt DNF only under extenuating circumstances..

Thou shalt DNF and earn the right to judge the DNS (Did Not Start).

Thou shalt run the Comrades at least once before you die or you CANNOT die.

Thou shalt run a full marathon every month.

Thou shalt cherish the after run breakfast, talk about it in runversation and, if needed, fight to get your choice of restaurant agreed.

Thou shalt not feel shame in demanding new members to treat the group in expensive places.

Thou shalt focus only on having a good time but will end up having a good timing at times.

Thou shalt not judge the slow runner… or the elite runner.

Thou shalt not discriminate based on religion, caste, creed or choice of footwear (or lack thereof).

Though shalt always obey The Village Elder bechara elder group se bahar ho gaya hai.

Thou shalt not be judgemental about *crazy*. Crazy is a continuum, not a point.

Thou shalt use a Garmin. Or not.

Thou shalt overcome and hope to RUN (not run/ walk/ stroll) 10 kms.

Thou shalt WALK all the races if you are incapable of joining the Sat Dandi run.

Thou shalt write stupid posts in the group even if you are not able to run with them every Saturday in the hope that you don’t get thrown out of the group.

Thou shalt know the difference between the tank and the TANK.

Thou shalt either measure time or distance, but never both together.

Thou shalt strive to run/walk faster or further.

Thou shalt strive to stay (or catch up) with the peloton.

Thou shalt NOT, even for once, think about stealing fellow runner’s huaraches.

Thou shalt win a podium position and treat the group to breakfast!

Thou previous evening shalt the run even if drunk Thou got.

Thou shalt get more & more people addicted to the madness called running…

Thou shalt promptly post to your blog, the contents of the crowd-sourced FB post that you started 🙂

Thou shalt never forget “what happens in BHUKMP/Dandi stays in BHUKMP/Dandi” or else…

 

Hungama in Manama: Eka Lavya’s vivid Mumbai Marathon 2014 race report

[Editor’s Note: Most race reports are a sequential recounting of the race, some more interesting than others. And then you have THIS race report. A vivid portrayal of the race (of course) but also a very humorous description of key events that occurred the day before the race. The author is Eka Lavya (his assumed name though most people have forgotten his real name). The ‘group’ in question is BHUKMP, of which I too am a member. Some people have recently referred to BHUKMP as a cult – can’t say I disagree. In future missives on this blog, yours truly shall try to shed light on the myriad cast of characters referenced in this post. For now, dim the lights in your room and settle down in your overstuffed couch as Eka transports you to.. Act 1 Scene 1.]

Lesson 1 : Never call hotel owner and tell him that his reviews in Trip Advisor suck
Lesson 2 : Having done that, don’t tell him you are providing positive reinforcement for his self-esteem by booking 20 rooms despite the reviews
Lesson 3 : Perhaps advancing the dosh for 20 rooms is a bit much, just to show you believe in him
We will come back to the hotel bit in a while.

Took the Indigo 1020 departure from Bangalore, and true to murphy’s law this was the only flight that got delayed that morning by an hour. Thankfully I caught Shantanu in the que-up for the previous flight and handed him my docs for bib collection. Met the guys at Moshe’s on landing in Mumbai, I had never been to this outlet though I was living quite close to this one for a while. The discussion at Moshe’s was mainly around logistics & room facilities with none of us having a clue as to where we were going to sleep that night, we were an optimistic bunch.

Bahuja had already started his marathon early that morning & was reasoning it out with the hotel management. Manama is apparently the capital of Bahrain, once called the Paris of the Middle East, which basically meant anywhere outside Saudi where Arabs could go to let their hair down. I had dozed off in the flight dreaming up images of camels, tents, belly dancers and hookahs , and was surprised to note our rooms turned out to be just a mirage, I mean all rooms, not just a few. The receptionist had a very simple explanation, he could not be blamed for someone entering the reservation in the computer three months ago as he did not know how to switch that on, the reservation was not written down in the fat register in front of him.

The conversation goes something like this…
Receptionist (He is wearing a jacket & tie btw): Saab humko computer nahi aatha, hamare upar kyun chilla rahe hain?
Rishi: Dekho… computer ke andhar trip advisor karke cheez hai, hum usme dekhne ke bhawajoodh Manama hotel me aaye (ends sentence with a definitive nod, like that’s supposed to seal the issue)
Chandra Katuri (bursting into the scene) This is not acceptable , computer operator ka naam kya hai?
Receptionist: Divya madam
Chandra: (in an impatient tone) Divya madam kidhar hai? uska mobile number abhi dho, she should get an immediate feedback of where she has gone wrong… (earnestly) so that it does not happen again.
Rishi: (now angry), Hum tripadvisor me likh dhenge
Receptionist: (blank stare, & a gentle, inquiring tone) Aap computer ka baath kar rahe hain …shayad?

We also had our little revenge by confusing the receptionist a bit- he had never seen anything like 20 guys hanging in the microscopic Manama reception making calls in front of him to other hotels like Trident and Vivanta to check for spare rooms; his exasperated look told me this was definitely new. Some of us finally found alternative, modest accos by evening, while Bahuja ultimately triumphed in snatching back most of the rooms; Rishi’s tripadvisor threat must’ve pushed the lodge-keeper bloke over the edge.

Meeting that night for dinner at Gaylord, we were a much relieved lot with the sleeping issues sorted out.. also managed to run into some Runners High folks at Gaylord who could not resist ribbing me about my milk supply for the next morning (another story from a different time, SCMM 2013, which involves someone blaming his tragi-comic running display on the quality of milk he had had that morning).

The line up the next morning that started together from the hotel clarified the BHUKMP hierarchy, broadly– Sid, Sampath, Pankaj, Vishy, Rajesh, and couple of others up ahead and out of sight – never saw them during the run; Shilpi, Amrita, Nari, & the two Chandras slightly ahead where I could see them from time to time, with Sanjay, Anjana, Gurmeet and I bringing up the rear.

I remembered my prayers in SCMM 2013 only at 30K after it was a bit too late, so as I crossed 10K I turned to pay my respects to Haji Ali in the darkness . This is a dargah built in the 1400’s for a saint whose coffin was dropped in the Arabian sea. People come here to pray for whatever (timing in my case) by tying a red thread to one of the pillars, I did not have time to do that during the run. I also turned a bit more to my left to nod my respects to the silhouette of Mahalakshmi temple. This is a crucial point on the race where one sees three places of worship – and finally a confirmatory prayer to please take care of me until 42.2K with a nod to the Maa Hajjani dargah in front of me as I was leaving this point.

This was a very important part of my race preparation – considering the previous few times when I had got mauled by this very course. (I was going at a pace of 10.7 Kmph and kept this up , it was 10.65 KPH by 31.5 K – as per timing info available for the 6 checkpoints between these two markers). I would also make a final petition at SiddhiVinayak at ~ 25K. Trust me, this was far more important than salt pills. I could almost sense Anjana running next to me in the darkness wondering what the hell I was up to, as I was looking backwards & fervently nodding my prayers.

Crossed worli sea face and entered sea link and got excited (as usual) seeing the numbskulls with equipment from marathonphotos.com. I tried to run away from the crowd and in erect posture, striding a bit higher than what was necessary hoping my huaraches would catch their attention. I also tried not to look directly at the camera as I did not want to appear too earnest.. just one click you buggers, against the sea link backdrop. I had tried this the last two times but these guys just won’t click me.. same story. While the last time I got zero photos of myself, this time there were a handful but all at the finish line, & no sea link. I will try harder next time or even stop and ask one of those jokers, screw the timing.

At 28K I was alone and suddenly Shilpi appears from behind. I couldn’t believe I had been ahead of her all this while, but the excitement was short lived, I fell behind at 34K. At the 35 K mark I crossed Haji ali back again, and realized my strength was waning & after this my speed slowed. Kalpana crossed me after this, the African elites at ~ 36K, as did Rishi, and finally Nari at 39K. By the time I finished my average speed overall for 42.2 had dropped to 10.01 kmph. So the last 8 K turned out to be real slow. But still I think my prayers were answered, I did far better compared to any other full that I had ever run – hopefully not a one off.

The scene at Leopold post run was something like this: Imagine Madiwala wholesale market with baskets of beer bottles in front of the screaming shop keepers instead of veggies. I got the feeling they had stopped printing bills and were just recycling them. No matter what table you sat in, or what you ate you got a bill of 10K for that table if it had enough people. But who cared, I was on a high even before I got in there, the beer was lovely, but a formality. We finally moved to Starbucks and then ate some more at Shivsagar at the airport before finally polishing it all down with strong filter coffees.

Here’s to Manama!!

 

Chappal mein pachattar – my first 75k ultra

[Editor’s note: Translation for my non-Hindi readers: pachattar is the Hindi word for the number 75, chappals are the Indian rendition of flip-flops, a colloquial reference to my 4mm huarache sandals. This post is a very belated race report of my first 75k ultra marathon in Nov 2012.]

Somewhere between 12.5 and 25k.

Somewhere between 12.5 and 25k.

Just a year ago, I ran my first ultra – a 50k distance at the Bangalore Ultra (Nov 2011). It was a particularly brutal rite of passage into ‘ultra’ territory. Brutal because a large chunk of the race terrain was through ploughed fields. Barring a few mountain goats and gazelles who pulsed their way to fast finishes with nary a missed step, the vast majority were falling like nine pins.

As ultra races go, 50k is the equivalent of a ‘bunny’ slope. If you’ve been running marathons regularly for more than three years, sooner or later you’ll think about the 50k. After all, it’s only 8k more than the regulation marathon distance. But what lunacy pushed me to upgrade my ultra distance from 50k to 75k in ONE year?

Two reasons. I had been running barefoot for about six months by the time this decision came around. As I wrote in quest for natural running form, getting faster wasn’t a 2012 goal. Not getting slower was implicit however. What I was increasingly noticing (after each long run and race) was that I was getting less fatigued. The strain on the knees that I’d invariably feel (either starting at the 22k mark or  closer to 30k) was gone. This was somewhat expected because the forefoot strike gets more work done by the calves and demands less of the knees. Changes in my post-run recovery were more dramatic. Previously I’d walk in the door trying not to look like see-what-the-cat-dragged-in and hoping the family hadn’t planned a pre-lunch outing (a two hour siesta was paramount to take the edge off my muscle soreness and fatigue).

In my post-barefootia metamorphosis, I would return from my long runs and be greeted by “Oh! Did you do a short run today?” Or I’d ask “Which place for weekend grocery shopping?” The afternoon naps were no longer necessary. When it became apparent that this post-run recovery magic was not a fluke (and in fact directly related to my new running form), I started thinking that 75k might be a distinct possibility.

But what about the nightmarish ploughed-up Ultra course? Then word started filtering in that the Ultra organizers were changing the venue. The new venue was an eminently friendlier course in the Hennur forest preserve. My friend Jugy who has an amazing knack of finding awesome trails (KTM course was his first high-profile find) also found this beauty of a course in Hennur. A 12.5k up-and-back trail through a forest preserve which made for a nice 25k loop. There was a fair bit of tree cover (maybe 60%?) and a smallish rocky section close to the turnaround.

Three rounds of golf

I had it all worked out in my head. It was not a 75k ultra I was running. I was just going to play 3 rounds of golf on a 25k course. There was the little matter of playing all three rounds in one day, that’s all.

How did I intend to get my body into the golfing mood? It had to start with the clothes selection of course. White tee for the first round, blue for the second and red for the third. Since I sweat like a pig, a change of sweatband was also part of the plan. The script really worked out. It’s amazing what a difference a change of tee and sweatband makes. Replacing a soaking drifit tee and sweatband was almost like taking a quick shower.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

The neat thing about long distance running is that one can have long conversations with fellow runners even during races. This is especially true for the ultra distances because you are running at a slower pace than most of your training runs, thus allowing for conversations without getting tired. A 5am start at Bangalore Ultra (and a 6am’ish daybreak) ensures that even the fast runners hold back in the first hour. We had reached the Ultra venue very close to start time so it was a bit of mad scramble.

In the process, we forgot to pickup the torchlights. My compatriots (Praveen – who was running 100k and Nari – who was also running 75k) ran back to pick theirs but I demurred, presumably because why add an extra 100-200m to an already long 75km? I quickly rationalized my decision with the light is not going to help with depth perception anyway so.. From a practical standpoint, I had to stick close to a runner with a torch. Stayed with Praveen and Nari for a bit but they seemed to be in a hurry so I hung back… and found a light meandering at a suitable pace. This particular light was from Bill Nash’s headlamp and Bill was more than happy to share his light. And thus began our conversation.

Maybe it was his Cal Berkeley t-shirt, his friendly demeanor, my natural impulse to engage in conversation, or the fact that we both were running a 75k ultra for the first time (possibly all of the aforementioned), the conversation flowed like we were sitting at a Dublin bar and downing Guinness from the tap. Bill (a Jet Airways pilot stationed in Kochi) talked about his life — his career, his college-going kids, his daughter who spent a year with him in Bombay during his first year in India, the camaraderie he shared with the Indian pilots and crew in Kochi, and a whole range of sundry topics.

Not to be outdone, I talked about my years in Houston, Chicago and Bay Area, of Bangalore and social enterprises and blogging. Before we knew it, we had crossed the 10km marker, daybreak had arrived and the turnaround point wasn’t far away. After consulting Bill’s Garmin, I realized I needed to slow down further. We said our byes and he surged ahead. Sometime after two loops, I realized that I had overtaken him – presumably when he was at a water stop.

Closeup of the huaraches

Closeup of the huaraches

Walk the path? or finish strong?

The second hour was probably the most spiritual segment of my ultra journey. We had descended into a dark forest at 5am and it was beautiful to see the forest reveal itself bit by bit and tread by tread as dawn broke. The sights and the smells. The undulating trail and the uneven ground. Beautiful vistas all around. Somewhere between 15k and 17k, crossing the friendly hordes of 50k runners (they had a 6am start) was fun, especially seeing some of the speed demons from our running group. The title of this post, Chappal mein pachattar, was coined when my friend Rishi yelled it encouragingly when we crossed each other at the 20k mark. The first loop was completed rather uneventfully in 2:45. The white tee was swapped for the blue and off I went for the second loop.

My footwear plan for the ultra was to negotiate the first two loops in the huaraches and decide (at 50km) whether I needed to upgrade to shoes.  In the first half of the second loop, Santhosh Padmanabhan (Bangalore’s well-known ultramarathoner, running coach and zenman) egged me on with an approvingly rhetorical “Walking the path?” He didn’t realize it but I’d be pondering on those words between the 40km and 45km markers.

Mentally and physically I was feeling strong. No complaints from the usual suspects (quads, calves, knees). The soles of my feet were a slightly different story. They were sore of course. Not painfully unbearably sore but I had to extrapolate how they would be after a further 25k.

Did I want to be a barefoot purist and complete the entire 75k in my huaraches? Or did I want to take the pragmatic approach of upgrading to ‘Business Class’ (shoes) and finish strong? What, in fact, was my top goal for this race? These were the questions I was considering.

One less-known fact is that barefoot walking is harder than barefoot running, especially on barefoot unfriendly terrain. My recollection of this fact turned out to be the clincher in my decision. Since I was power walking all the up-slopes, I’d have a fair bit of walking to do… a not-so-appealing a prospect with the 4mm sandals.

I would go on to finish the second loop in a decent 3:15.

Home stretch with Nari
As I neared the end of my second loop I crossed my friend Nari (who was about 1/2 km ahead. He asked whether I intended to tackle the third loop in my sandals. I replied in the negative and he nodded approvingly.

At the 60km water stop I passed Nari without realizing it. As I reached the 62.5k turnaround water stop, I wondered what the heck happened to him..

As I hydrated and picked up some oranges, Nari caught up. Physically we were in a similar place but his body language conveyed a dispirited mental state. And we BHUKMP’rs simply hate that state of mind.

It was no time for solitary brooding and plodding. It was time for a good old-fashioned runversation.. BHUKMP style. We did the math and reckoned that a sub-10 hour finish was clearly in the realm of possibility. With a target set, we set about crunching the km’s – walking the up-slopes, running the flats/down-slopes, and tossing drivel at each other all the way. We finished together in 9:45 min and it was a mighty fine and satisfying feeling.

Next year?

My first 75km ultra done and dusted but you know the weirdest thing? I felt there was still plenty of juice inside. Can’t wait for next year, I thought to myself.

 

For a few minutes less: running the Mumbai Marathon 2012

Look for the Asterix reference at the tail end of post (Pic: courtesy zenitram.over-blog.com)

This is Part 2 of my Mumbai Marathon 2012 race report and continues from For a few minutes less: a race report from Mumbai Marathon 2012.

The First 7k

Somewhere in my pace calculations, I erroneously concluded that  5:50 was the goal pace for a 4 hrs 10 min finish. Perhaps 6 seconds/km is not significant to the seasoned runner but in my limited experience I’ve learnt that every attempt to run faster (than trained for!) in the first half has come back to bite me in the second half. So, my first running mistake was an arithmetic one. 🙂 In order to account for my extra mile of sprinting (and anxiety) before the starting line, I revised my pace – by a ‘generous’ margin of 5 seconds and stuck to a 5:55 pace for the first 5k.

It was the first race where I was in sole possession of last place — at the 10 meter mark. Having survived 45 minutes of anxiety, I was just plain relieved and happy. I told myself that I would overtake hundreds, most likely even thousands of runners – that pumped me up. At the 2k mark, my pal Jothi (here’s his race report) yelled an encouraging “catch-up”. I waved back knowing fully well that, with my revised goal pace,  I wasn’t going to catch up anytime soon. As I alluded to earlier, an important pre-race ritual had been missed – emptying the bladder. What started as a mental distraction soon turned into a physiological nag. Keeping a lookout for a Sulabh on the Marine Drive stretch, the first open one was sighted at the 7k mark. Turned out to be a quite a popular loo – the pit stop having cost me nearly two minutes.

7k to 21k

Maintaining an average pace of 5:56, I steadily overtook groups of runners. I slowed down going up the Pedder Road incline and, after reaching the top, went tearing down with long strides. I gained no more than 20 seconds but it was done to get the adrenaline pumping. Crossing the Bandra-Worli sea-link was fairly uneventful, especially compared to the 2010 edition. Somewhere between 15k and 20k, I overtook Rahul Verghese’s 5:30 pacing bus and Amit Sheth/Neepa Sheth’s 5:00 pacing bus. The latter was a high-octane peloton with several catchy slogans.

Gobs of Gu and Sacs of Salt

Whether it’s the first, fifth or tenth marathon you are running, if something ends up deviating from plan, it will only happen in the second half (most likely in the last 10k). I crossed the half-way mark in 2 hrs 5 min. It should have triggered a “going too fast per my revised goal” warning bell but it didn’t. In any case, it was too late to make any adjustments and my body and mind were in good harmony at this stage. I was so focused that I passed Ravi Venkatesan (a fellow BHUKMP runner) without noticing him. He called out and, for fun, I did a 20 second burst of reverse running while engaging in a short conversation. I recall thinking this guy ran a fast first half – that too in his first full marathon.

For all but two of my marathons, I’ve been carrying a Gatorade bottle and using Gu gels. The only change I made for SCMM2012 was to consume a gel every 5k (instead of 6k), so a total of 8 energy gels.  It didn’t feel like I overdid it so I’ll repeat this for the next race too.

After suffering severe calf cramps in the season’s first marathon (Hyderabad – Aug 2011), I used Endurolyte capsules (mostly salt) for the next race (Kaveri Trail Marathon – Sep 2011). They seemed to work because I didn’t cramp at this venue for the first time in 3 consecutive years! At the Bangalore 50k Ultra (Nov 2011), the Endurolyte tablets weren’t sufficient to stave off several bouts of calf cramps. My running experts told me that 5 capsules probably didn’t account for the hot weather. So I came to SCMM2012 armed with 8 endurolyte capsules.

The eventful second half

Shortly after passing Ravi at the halfway mark, I started feeling some niggles — in my quads and hamstrings. The quadriceps and calf muscle groups had made their presence (and displeasure) felt in many earlier marathons but the hamstring niggle was new. I popped some extra Endurolyte capsules as a preemptive measure, dropped my pace a wee bit – ran 20-25k at 6:00 pace and the 25-30k stretch at 6:04 pace.

Somewhere in the region of 32-33k, my right hamstring niggle morphed into a moderate cramp. All signs in the preceding 10k were pointing to this eventuality but I was still disappointed. If my marathons #1 through #4 were characterized by struggles with exhaustion and cramps in the final 10k, marathons #5 through #9 have been devoid of exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong – I would be plenty tired at the 32k mark but my energy meter still showed plenty of juice.  So my last 5 marathons have primarily been struggles against cramps – thank god for small mercies!

I stopped, did some general stretches and continued at a slower pace. I repeated this sequence and was it a wonder that my 30-35k lap pace was 6:40? Worse was around the corner. Close to 36k, my moderate hamstring cramp turned into a full blown cramp. As I passed a friend and fellow Bangalore runner (Sunil Chainani), I asked him if he had any miracle cure for a hamstring cramp (I had exhausted my supply of salt tablets by now). Of course a miracle cure was not to be (yet)!

I continued (my now familiar) ritual of running-walking-stopping-stretching. Somewhere in the 30-36k stretch, I passed fellow Bangalore runners (Sridhar  and Satsang) and Chennai runner Ridhima Suri. For a while, Sridhar, Ridhima and I were playing a cat-and-mouse game with each other. At the 38k mark, my fortunes turned. As I pulled under one of those green ‘oasis’ tents with cool water sprays, I asked a fellow runner if he had a pain spray. What he did have (and kindly offered) was a Volini pain relief sachet. I liberally applied the gel to my right hamstring and, on a hunch, also applied it to my left hamstring. 10 seconds later a miracle happened – the above Asterix visual is the best way to describe how I felt! Of course I didn’t attain superhuman strength but my cramped hamstring had been banished to some temporary jail and that, my friends, was superhuman enough.

I had 4k more of road to pound so I took off like a released torpedo. According to my calculations, I was definitely going over 4 hrs 20min but there was just a chance I could salvage a PB out of this race.  The 35-40k leg was negotiated with an average pace of 7:28 – probably would have been 8:30 without the Volini. For the final 2.5km, I finished strong with a 6:21 pace – the course ended up being 42.5km (not 42.2km). My net time turned out to be 4 hrs 24 min 3 sec – shaving 2 1/2 minutes from my previous PB at Auroville 2011.

Closing Thoughts

Notwithstanding my blunder-laced start, there were several positives to be drawn from my 9th marathon finish:

  • Did not run out of energy in the final 10k – revised goal pace mostly in the ball park.
  • Rebounded from my hamstring cramps creditably (thanks mainly to the benefactor at 38k)
  • Mentally a lot stronger in the final 5-7k than all previous marathons.
  • Salvaged a PB in spite of cramps, 2-minute pit stop, extra 300 m, extra mile of sprinting before race start.

The biggest open question I need to address for next season is cramps. This time it was hamstring, last few times it was calves, and before that it was quadriceps. What’s a sure training and race-day strategy to prevent cramps? (my next research area) And yeah, even if I figure it out, need to carry pain relief spray for sure.