Call of the Asphalt


Election time in India. Everybody loves it. The poor love it because it’s “freebies time” and they get to vote out the politicians that didn’t come through for them (usually this meant anti-incumbancy but lately it’s gotten interesting). The non-voting middle class love it because it appears that the local MP candidate wants to listen to their gyan. The pundit and the media love it for obvious reasons.

What asphalt should look like - Atlanta

What asphalt should look like – Atlanta

I love it because of the asphalt.

I love it because freshly laid asphalt to barefoot runners is like a featherbed to Virendra Sehwag.

Who cares if it’s a one cm coating and only lasts till the first monsoon rains? I’m going to enjoy it tomorrow, the next Saturday, the one after.. and so on until one day it would have returned to the miserable god-forsaken gnarled and potholed monstrosity that is the rest of Bangalore roads.

Just in case you were wondering.. I’m looking forward to exactly a one km stretch on 80 feet road that has received some BBMP love. Actually, many more miles of Bangalore roads have received this facelift but the rest are not on our Saturday Dandi route.

The rest of this post is about how I got here.. By here, I mean waxing eloquent on a stretch of Grade C asphalt relaying on a Friday night?


My two year barefoot running phase has had an interesting journey. In the first four months, it was all bare BF. After cutting my teeth (or should I say toes) on the Kaikondrahalli Lake trail, I graduated to road running. By ‘road’, I mean the that is the Bangalore road. When the joy started getting squeezed out from my Sat long runs, I upgraded to huaraches. Thus began a 16 month phase where 75% of my running miles were on huaraches, the rest barefoot. From a triple jump running plan perspective, this meant I was running my tempo and interval runs barefoot (at the Kaikondrahalli Lake) and using huaraches for the Saturday long run and the races. Notable exceptions were the two Kaveri Trail marathons and one other road marathon (not race) barefoot.

What roads and pavements look like in Bangalore

What roads and pavements look like in Bangalore

It may not be evident but huarache laces wear off (ask me later what I mean by “wear off”) every 3-4 months. The last time it happened before a Sat run in late 2013, I procrastinated the relacing and decided to go barefoot. I enjoyed it so much that I did it again for the next few Saturdays. I was finding the hills (both up and down) a lot easier to tackle. I was landing lighter and certainly not missing the slap-slap sound of the sandals. I did the Nandi Hills pilgrimage twice and learnt some interesting differences between barefoot and 4mm huaraches, especially when one comes tearing down the hill.

After successfully negotiating the Bangalore Ultra 75km (50km in huaraches and 25km in 1cm Puma chappals), I had not made up my mind about Mumbai Marathon. I was strongly leaning towards barefoot but it wasn’t an easy decision. A low-intensity but nagging lower back pain (which I suspected to be a relapse of my slipped disc) took me to Dr. Gladson’s clinic. He correctly diagnosed that it wasn’t a disc relapse but that wasn’t the most interesting finding. He looked at the toughened section of my inner ball of foot and posited that it was caused by the difference in foot strike between the huarache and barefoot. He told me to choose “one” of them and stick to it.

I didn’t buy his theory entirely but it served as a forcing function. I chose barefoot for Mumbai. It seemed to be working far better for me in 2013 (compared to 2012), I was landing lighter and by corollary (or was it correlation?) I was cramping less.

Since mid-Dec 2013, I switched back to barefoot. My compliance has been 95% in this period – the last two weekends being the exceptions. The score currently reads 1379km (BF) vs. 2222 (4mmH) but the former is steadily gaining ground.


Walking on Fire


If you’ve been following my blog regularly, you know that the trail around Kaikondrahalli Lake (one among a handful of Bangalore lakes undergoing rejuvenation) is my home course. As with most construction projects in India, progress happens in fits and spurts. A 200 meter trail stretch would be dug up one day… and it would be several days before the next stage of road rolling would kick in. The result is that no two runs around the lake are ever alike. While this is true for both shod and barefoot runners, it assumes special significance for the latter. Had I developed a navigational memory of the 1.9km loop (and I had not) it would be completely useless for the next run anyway.

My five months of running at Kaikondrahalli Lake between Feb and Jun were the most rocky (pun intended). They were also the most fun. During one of the weekday morning runs I started using the ‘pendulum technique’ to avoid a 100 meter stretch that resembled a rocky fallow field recently ploughed by a tyro farmer. After a few oscillations, my friend Jugy (a seasoned marathoner with several 75km Ultras under his belt) joined me. With his characteristic calmness, he made light of the rocky stretch and urged me to run a ‘normal’ round. I navigated the stretch a bit gingerly and it turned out to be tolerable. The demons (once again) were in my head apparently.

Walking on fire – touted to be an inspirational and barrier breaking experience (Pic: courtesy

Fire walking has been practiced by many people and cultures in all parts of the world — as an act of self-purification, as a test of one’s courage, allegiance to a religious faith rituals, or simply as a rite of passage. In recent years, it is often used in team-building seminars and self-help workshops primarily as a confidence-building / barrier breaking experience. I’ve not walked on fire before but that morning in March as I slowly ran over the stretch of rocky trail, it felt like my personal fire walking ritual – a rite of passage to the barefoot running fraternity – a small but important barrier had been breached.

A few mornings later, I had Ravi Ranjan for company at the lake. Ravi started Ride a Cycle Foundation and, besides many feats of athletic accomplishments,  also started the iconic and growing-in-popularity Tour of Nilgiris. When he’s not racing his cycle up and down Nandi Hills like a man possessed, he runs. Predictably he’s a fast runner. As I kept pace with Ravi that morning, I ended up running the rocky stretch at a much faster (than usual) 5:20/km pace.  The barrier had been breached for good.


Stay tuned for the next post in this series – Running with Padmadapa.

Kaikondrahalli – a runner’s lake in Bangalore


Considering that I’ve run over 500km around the 1.9km loop of the Kaikondrahalli Lake (in the past 15 months), it’s about time I made a proper introduction. An introduction in pictures – from this Flickr set.

Disclaimer: the pictures are from May 8, 2012 and the terrain of the trail has significantly improved. All other views are reasonably the same.






















Time to pitter patter: my first barefoot run



It’s getting close to seven months since I switched to running barefoot. So far I’ve run 406km barefoot and a further 452km with huaraches over a total of 75-something barefoot running days. If you’ve not clicked that previous link, huaraches resemble Asterix-era Roman sandals with a 4mm sole. During this period, I’ve been nearly exclusive with my new footwear (barring 3-4 dalliances with Bata canvas shoes and Puma chappals – believe me they were extenuating circumstances).

When I wrote this post in June and followed up two days later with this one, I thought My Chronicles of Barefootia would proceed in a somewhat sequential way.


The season’s first race (Kaveri Trail Marathon) is exactly a week away so I figured I should at least write about my first barefoot run. The first is always special, ain’t it so?

Feb 18, 2012

Not my feet – mine look slightly cleaner after a trail barefoot run (Pic: courtesy

Usually I would give myself two weeks of downtime after I had run a marathon. But last season could hardly be termed usual by my earlier standards – I had run marathons 6 through 10 in a single season (within 7 months actually). Six days after Auroville Marathon 2012, I showed up at Kaikondrahalli Lake (my home court running venue – a 1.9km trail around a recently revived lake) – Barefoot Ted’s inspiring words at Auroville were still fresh in my head.

I kicked off my chappals, muttered something inane to the security guard and set off for the new season’s first run. Even though I had announced my intent to “experiment” with barefoot running, my runner friends (three  that morning) were still surprised and bemused to see me thus unshod.

I was surprised at how quickly the first lap was negotiated and rather uneventfully too. I was trying to not pay too much attention to what I was doing ‘differently’ – worried as I was about observer effect.

I needn’t have worried.

The first perceptible awareness was that I sounded very different – pitter patter instead of thud thud. It was no surprise that I was landing on my front feet. The surprising bit was how natural it felt. In my subsequent runs, I would realize the wisdom of doing more barefoot running (than minimalist footwear running) during the transformation phase – but that’s a different story.

It was only in the second lap that I allowed myself to notice what else was different. My gaze was lowered more than usual – clearly it was important to know where my feet were going to land next. I was getting slightly skittish as I got closer to gravely or pebbly terrain. A few ouch moments as I stepped on stones and pebbles of various sizes, shapes, and jaggedness – nothing major though my upper body’s reaction was a bit exaggerated at times.

I completed three laps at an average pace of 5:40/km. Pretty decent considering that my calves were not complaining even a wee bit but I stopped – didn’t want to push my luck.

Somebody asked me how I felt and I heard myself say “Like a BOY! like a CHILD!”

It wasn’t that my last few years of running were a sham. Far from it. But this notion of running “without shoes” added mischievousness and a greater sense of freedom to my psyche.

To be continued…