Of quadrants and boring race reports


It’s written that while progress could be happening linearly, results come only in cycles.

The Bhagawat Geeta says one should act without thinking of results. Of course I buy this aphorism but internalizing it is only the first step. In the weeks leading to the race (as more and more things fell into place), my mind kept flashing boring race report.. boring race report..

What is a boring race report? Err.. something like this.

I kept chiding myself but the infernal thought just wouldn’t go away.

There was no escaping thoughts of quadrants either. The world’s best finish their races in the 8th quadrant. Breaking into the 7th quadrant has captured the public imagination in a manner reminiscent of Bannister’s & Landy’s pursuit of the sub-4 minute mile.

India’s better amateur marathoners are clustered in the 12th quadrant training feverishly to break into the exalted 11th (sub-3hour) quadrant.

What about late bloomers who took up marathon running in their 40’s? The 15th (sub-4hour) quadrant is their exalted target. I got there 4 years ago, following which I wrote this very boring race report.

My target was to break into quadrant #14.

2013-14 was my season of results. It was a season where my pre-race form was running a marathon-every-month and completing most under 4:15. I ran the Kaveri Trail Marathon in 4:09 (bettering my PB by a whopping 17 minutes. Two months later, I ran 75k Bangalore Ultra in 8:38, a good 70min faster than the previous year. Two months later I was rubbing shoulders with the amateur elite at the starting line of SCMM and psyching myself with “I’m going for it.. I’m going for it.” Throwing caution to the wind, I sped away. The course got its revenge but not before I had eked out a 3:48 (a further 21min improvement).

The law of averages had to catch up. And it did. Tumultuous few years at the startup grind meant my running had reduced to “maintenance mode”, just sufficient to run either the KTM or the Bangalore Ultra. The 2016-17 season, while it provided a purgatory of sorts to my startup sacrifices, was all about an old friend (asthma) moving in and refusing to leave.

Things started to change from May 2017 when I began a Ayurveda-Siddha treatment for asthma. I signed up for the Malnad 80k, trained mightily and had an eminently satisfying race.

It was the first time I had managed to sustain a structured 5-day running plan. I wondered if it was the start of another cycle.

3.5 months to go for Mumbai Marathon. Hal Higdon’s advanced 5-day running plan was picked without any hesitation. It meant I’d miss out on our group’s Saturday long run and replace with (mostly) solitary Sunday long runs. But it felt like I wanted to do it.

In my enthusiasm to minimize plan deviations, I followed up Malnad 80k with two 30k ‘recovery’ runs next two weekends. My glutes, who’d been beating a low-intensity grumbling protest during my Malnad training, broke into a full-on mutiny.

A friend and running coach was consulted. After reproaching me, his advice was to avoid fast runs and runs-longer-than-one-hour until my glute strain fully went away or I could do 20-30 squats without discomfort. He probably meant and instead of or but hey.. sometimes you have to customize expert advice.

The glute strain never went away. Icing daily, sometimes 2-3 times daily but I’d be darned if I was going to diverge from the plan too much.

Playing a cat-and-mouse (run-ice-recover) game on a 5 runs per week regimen was a delicate affair but I pulled it off. Weekly mileage divergence was minimal (See left), Saturday pace runs were on target, some Sunday long runs were done faster than expected.

Two weeks to go and I did something I’ve never done before a race. Got a deep tissue lower body massage. An intense 45-minute session rhythmically punctuated by (ow-ow-ow.. ow-ow-ow..) left me feeling that all the knots and aches had been ironed away by the physio’s work (and my suffering).

That feeling lasted all of 2 hours. In any case, there’s no reason to believe the massage did me any harm.

My hydration strategy was unchanged from previous years: one Cocojal bottle before race start, second between 21 and 24k and water rest of the time.

Nutrition strategy? After years I decided to go with gels again. Unived (not Gu) gels. But I deliberated at length on the number and frequency of gel intake (I was this thorough during my first FM in 2002).

Three days before race day and my glute strain miraculously went away. I was thrilled of course. Yet another sign (I told myself) that the race would go my way.

There was a brief grim foreboding that this glutes business was a red herring and I might run into a completely different challenge. But I brushed it away. It was a time for positivity. And mental reinforcement.

It was also a time for visualization. Something I did with full earnest. Me with my game face. Ticking off the km’s, quaffing off gels at 2,8,14,20,26,32,38. I pictured myself decelerating on the inclines and accelerating on the downhills. I even visualized myself talking to my ‘inner tough’ on Peddar Road.

And yeah – I was using a borrowed Garmin for this race.

The Race (finally)

The plan was to start with the 5:10 target pace and make adjustments as needed. I meant to set the Garmin display to Average Pace but got mistakenly set to Current Pace. Fortunately the 1km lap pace popup bailed me out. In the first 5-6km, I was averaging close to 5:15 and it felt right.

Crossed the HM mark in 1:50 still feeling good. The glutes were behaving, the Unived liquid nutrition at planned intervals (alternating between Mandarin Orange & Expresso) was working great, hydration on track. The everything-going-per-plan feeling lasted all the way till the early 30’s.

The timing site reminds me that my average pace (until 29k) was  5:16 – well within my target range. By the time I finished, the average dropped to 5:28. In the final 13.2k, my pace had slumped to 5:54.

As is widely known, what separates the boys from the men is how the final 10k are negotiated.

To tell you how I disintegrated in the last 10km, I must first tell you about cramps in the final 10k, my jaani dushman [Hindi for arch enemy].

A few years ago, after numerous experiments, I figured that my fool-proof formula for staving off cramps was 2 Cocojals and Endurolyte capsules every 7-10km (range accounts for humidity).

For some strange reason (which I’ll unpack shortly), I had 4 Endurolyte capsules with me but didn’t start ingesting them until it was too late.

In my pre-race planning, I had convinced myself that my body chemistry had ‘evolved’ to the point where I didn’t require Cocojals and Endurolyte tablets. Cocojals were the recent addition so I had to keep those. Endurolyte capsules were deemed no longer essential and thus didn’t figure in my elaborate visualization ritual.

I’ve thought long and hard as to why I muted such an easy-to-execute insurance policy. I think I got complacent because of the 5-day running plan (something I had never been able to stick to previously). In my head (and based on crowd-sourced wisdom), high mileage along with  >3 runs per week equated to an effective cramps-avoidance strategy.

But I did carry 4 of those capsules in my pocket just in case.

Somewhere between 30 and 32k, my AEWC sensor threw up an early alert. I popped one capsule.. and since my stupidity quickly dawned on me, I popped a second a few km’s later.

The Peddar Road stretch was negotiated gingerly with a predicable drop in pace but no mishap occurred.

The first calves cramp hit me at 37k. Aggressive stretching for a minute fixed matters but I resumed in a race preservation mode. I consumed the remaining 2 salt tablets acutely aware that it was too late. At the 39k mark, I got a second bout of calf cramps and this time my foot also cramped. It took longer to stretch out of these cramps but I resumed after 2 minutes.

Quadrant #14 was safely out of reach but I wanted to get as close to my PB as possible. No more cramping but I couldn’t increase my pace in the final 3k and finished 2 minutes slower than 2014.

Aquashoes: a Rs 499 shoe meant for snorkelers but we Indians have found another use

Two SCMM races with shoes. The next two barefoot. This year I trained and ran with the Aquashoes (snug fit and makes for a softer landing than the huaraches).

However, last 10k my toes got really cramped and uncomfortable — a situation I anticipated and planned to just take off the Aquashoes and run barefoot. Sadly, my soles weren’t feeling particularly loved and up to the challenge (4mm’s are just that – 4 mm’s) so I decided against introducing a new problem.

Glad I did the experiment but I doubt I’ll return to TMM 2019 with Aquashoes.



Made men of the mafiosi runner’s body


I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

For all you non-Police fans out there, the above lyrics are from King of Pain (Synchronicity album). This post is mostly about pain.


You start a marathon with your legs and finish with your heart.

Surely you’ve encountered this quote in some runner’s email signature. Let me break the bad news, sweetheart. It’s just a bullshit quote to oversimplify things for newbie runners.

Pic courtesy cartoonstock.com

Pic courtesy cartoonstock.com

If you’ve seen mafia movies like The Godfather, Good Fellas or Casino you know all about ‘made men’. What if I told you that the well-tempered marathoner is made of ‘made men’? Quick, say that tongue twister aloud three times without slipping!

The point is that a marathoner needs all parts of his body to cooperate and perform consistently if he want to be a regular marathon runner for years and years.

Cardiovascular fitness is the first order limiting factor on the path to marathon greatness but let’s leave the lungs and heart out of the current discussion.. for now. This one is all about muscles, tendons and ligaments.

1. Quadriceps
Easily the muscle that’s first put to the mafiosi test. Most first-time amateur marathoners will complain of killing quads sometime after the 30k mark. If lucky, it might just be extreme soreness. If not it might be cramps. Heck, sometimes you might not even know the difference. In my first marathon, my quads were killing me at the 22 mile marker and I got this bright idea to stretch. Ouch! Ten seconds later, I got an even brighter idea – how about bringing pain symmetry by stretching the other quad? Double ouch! The good news is that quads tend to be less of a problem after you run a few more marathons.

2. Calves
Just as you start feeling good about your quads performance after (say) your fourth marathon, bam! Your calves remind you that they are working their ass off too. Since the newbie runner usually doesn’t pay attention to early warnings, calves distress manifests suddenly in the form of severe cramps. Good news about non-severe calf cramps is that you can rebound reasonably quickly with the right stretching routine. I was felled by calf cramps on the hilly Hyderabad Marathon a few years ago but a helpful runner (and now pal) Suresh showed me a stretching trick that worked like a charm.

As the newbie marathoner graduates to the intermediate stage and strides along to a faster orbit, he discovers that killing calves can be more deadly than killing quads.

3. Knees
Oops. How did I skip to calves without talking about knees? If you’ve taken up long distance running late in your life OR are several pounds above your target weight OR don’t believe in the virtues of gym’ming, chances are Lady Knee Pain will pay you a visit.

The most common knee ailment is the ITB (IlioTibial Band), a thick band of fibers that begins at the iliac crest (curved border of the ilium – biggest bone of the pelvis) and runs on the outside part of the thigh until it attaches into the tibia (shinbone). When the connected muscles go out of whack (layman speak for “some muscles going weaker than others”), the ITB stretches beyond comfortable limits and .. (you guessed it) signals pain.

Fortunately the ITB is easily appeased. Drop your weekly mileage (or, better still, take a complete break), start stretching the concerned muscle groups and hit the gym regularly (focusing on squats and lower body workouts) and you’ll be back to running ways soon enough.

My own tryst with ITB occurred a month before my fourth marathon. Like clockwork, the pain would start around the 7k mark on my long runs and persist until the end, even lingering on for the next two days. I was forced to taper earlier than usual and, in spite of following the usual stretching and strengthening (S & S) recommendations, couldn’t stave off ITB during the race. I stuck to the S & S regimen and ITB has stayed away ever since.

4. Glutes

Years ago a friend described the glute as playing a sheet anchor role in the runner’s body. Hmm.. Really? Didn’t pay it any heed for most of my years as a runner. It just sits there and doesn’t bother you, right? Ok, so it enables us to sit for inordinately long hours while we indulge our Internet/TV addictions. When I heard one of my faster runner friends nursing a glute strain, I wondered how bad it really could be.

After one of my marathons last year (where I had pushed myself in the back half), I got a first inkling – kinda like that post-48-hours feeling after an injection in you buttock. Last month when I ran a solo marathon (on a humid morning) I got a second indication that my glutes weren’t particularly happy with me. As indications go, it was a rather polite one and it’s receiving due attention.

5. Plantar fascia

The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue (ligament) originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the toes. When the ligament gets strained, it results in tiny tears leading to pain and swelling – a condition called plantar fasciitis. This condition usually afflicts runners with flat feet or high arches, sometimes folks with a pronounced heel strike. Recovering from plantar fasciitis is frustratingly long, as some of my friends attest to.

I’ve either been incredibly lucky or my date with Dame Plantar is set for a date in the future.

6. Achilles

The achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the calcaneus (heel bone). The associated injury/pain is called achilles tendonitis – a chronic condition that occurs primarily from overuse. It tends to come on gradually over time until pain is constant and exercise or activity too painful to continue. The biggest cause of chronic Achilles tendonitis is ignoring early warning signs and pushing through pain.

Senor Achilles knocked on my heel a few month ago. Very politely, I might add. I’ve been listening intently ever since and have added suitable stretches to my regimen. You should too — a good friend’s recovery from this condition has taken more than a year and he rues not taking it seriously earlier.

7. Balls
No – not those. I’m referring to the balls of your feet. If you are NOT a barefoot runner, you’ll never have problems with the balls of your feet. Then again, you might have more problems with #1 through #6 but that’s a story/gyan for another day.. in the Barefootia category.

In closing…

Like the labors of Hercules, you will encounter pain at various points in your evolution as a runner. It might be two, three, or all seven labors but you must break through the pain barrier each and every time. Why? Because redemption lies on the other side.

Not all pain is significantIf it doesn’t kill you, it can only make you stronger. Reflect on what the preceding two statements mean to you. At the end of it all, when you become king of pain, each muscle group in your body would have become a made man and you can call yourself a mafiosi runner. Did I say end? By that, I mean that it’ll be the beginning of your next round of metamorphosis. See you on the other side.

Related post: Cramps in the final 10k of a marathon – what gives?