I’m racing, not running!


Progress is linearly proportional to one’s efforts but results often come in cycles. – several wise men

Coming off a 22-month streak, the 2013-14 season was looking rather normal. KTM in Sep followed by 75k Ultra in Nov and finish off with SCMM in Jan.

I had come within flirting distance of sub-4 times in a few training FMs and finally did a 3:55 (or thereabouts) in Apr so was flush with confidence, optimismghg and expectation.

KTM 2013

ktm_2013_barefoot_flyingCame really close to a DNS (Did Not Start) thanks to a judgement lapse on the preceding Friday – carbo-loading at a non-regular eating joint (Rajasthani Rajdhani at that) was not a smart thing after all. Curd with jeera powder until Sat evening brought parity to proceedings. It was a trail run and I had prepared myself mentally and logistically to dart into the bushes. Fortunately, a final pre-race checkin to the loo brought glad tidings and I was mentally & physiologically re-centered.

In 5 years at KTM (and 2nd time barefoot), a first half of 1:55 was easily my most aggressive start. My ‘two Cocojals per FM’ strategy seemed to be working – for a change, cramps wouldn’t be the culprit this time around. The payback for my unsustainable first half pace was an undramatic and inexorable slowing down. I finished in 4 hrs 9 min. A highly respectable time for KTM but I was gunning for a lot faster. I’d be back (I promised myself).

Ultra 2013

The urge to run my second 75k ultra started immediately after I finished the 2012 edition. I was mentally a lot stronger. Physically too, with a lot of consistently high mileage weeks, weekends and months. Thanks to Sir Gaunker‘s tried and tested nutrition strategy for ultras, ragi was going to be my primary fuel. What’s more, Rajaram’s wife very kindly agreed to prepare the ragi pudding for my race. Meanwhile Rajaram was registered for the 100k and in the deepest vein of purple form that season.

ultra_2013_dawnThe Bangalore Ultra’s starts are always magical. 5am with darting flashlights and a jumbled formation of runners tentatively making their way forward. The conditions ensure that no one takes off at 10k pace.

The usual banter with Nari and Vasu (who deserve a post on what makes them uniquely crazy) continued till the 6.5k hydration point. As I exited, something clicked in my head. An inner voice said “I’m racing, not running!” and I instantly knew what to do. If this scene needed to be picturized (and I was the director), I’d show the protagonist’s eyes narrowing, focusing in a William Tell manner seeing *just* the apple on his son’s head and set off in a copybook stance of an elite Kenyan runner.

Nari and Vasu dissolved into the gray and off I went. To run my race. It was the first time I had turned on my ‘game face’. A face, a mode, an attitude that stayed with me for the remainder of the race.

I completed the first (25k) loop in 2.5 hours. I knew it was too fast so (after briefly feeling good about it) I consciously slowed down a tad bit. I finished the 2nd loop in 2 hrs 45 min. My Bhukmp compatriots noted my in-the-zone running with a range of comments. Nari said “Man! You are going fast” (with a tone tinged with concern). I passed Chandra at the 18k mark. I had not seen him because he was on a bio break. He yelled out to me “Hey, you want to break Sunil Menon’s course record?” There was no danger of that of course. Sunil’s (last year’s winner) time was 7.5 hours. Chandra (who finished 2nd behind Sunil in 8 hrs 15min) was probably afraid I might better his Bhukmp record 🙂 Until the start of the 3rd loop I actually thought I had a shot at it.

Hari observed “Did you realize you just had your best FM time?” He was right! I had crossed the 42k mark in 4hrs 5min.

ultra2013_on_podiumThe 3rd loop pulled back proceedings thanks to my tactical error in the first loop. I had forgotten that my Cocojal stache was only at the starting point aid station (and not at the midpoint) so my first Cocojal dose came at the 32k mark (thanks to Rajaram’s generosity). At the start of the 3rd  loop, I traded my 4mm huaraches with 10mm Puma slippers. The footwear change was by design but things started going awry soon thereafter. With the spectre of cramps looming in my mind, it was only a matter of time before my calves obliged. I had my best stroke of luck that day – this happened 100m from the medical/physio van. Chandra, who had amazingly caught up despite a painful bout of plantar, helped me to the physio. A 5min massage by Physio Peter changed the game again. I felt good as new so off I went again. A bit more circumspect this time. On my final turnaround (with a mere 6k to go), I got a 2nd massage from Peter (for proactive good measure) and finished in 8 hrs 38 min. In 2nd place. Winner that year was Mumbai’s talented ultra runner Abbas Sheikh (in 7.5 hrs).

SCMM 2014

After landing in Mumbai airport, I recall Nari asking me about my target time and my reply was “I don’t know but I was definitely going for it”. What was *it*? I would find out on race day. I took the “racing, not running” mantra to my final race too. At Azad Maidan (about 10 min before the gun), broke away from my group after exchanging some pleasantries and made my way to the starting line. Time to picturize again people… that same purposeful narrowing of the eyes. No William Tell but a killer this time. A killer moving through the crowd with each step taking him inexorably towards his victim. I was slotted in the B corral but I didn’t stop when I reached the front rows of B. The absence of any policing merely confirmed what was already in my head. I kept walking until I reached the first few rows of the starting line. I was probably rubbing shoulders with runners who would finish in the Top 10 but I didn’t care. I was running *my* race and I was expressing intent (to myself) in the most aggressive way possible.

To end proceedings, here’s a brief race report I shared with my gang after returning to Bangalore.

Dear friends,
Had a fantastic race. Ravi made the mistake of asking for my story at the airport last evening and he got the VERY detailed account. Here’s the short version:
Two words: very satisfied.

I didn’t want to squeak in for a sub-4 finish but blow past it – goal largely achieved. First race where I didn’t cramp – 2 cocojals did the trick. I had visualized them as my two six-shooters. Emptied the empty one at the 7k mark, second one was downed soon after the halfway mark. Strategy to go close to 5:00 pace for *as long as possible* paid off.

Decision to run barefoot (as opposed to huaraches) was vindicated and the only time I gazed balefully at the asphalt was on the final few kms of Marine Drive. Great BF-friendly course barring 3 stretches where asphalt was very coarse – the last Marine Drive stretch (where Jugy/Sunil cheered us) and the only time I wished I had the huaraches. Did “catch-back” with Pankaj and Bahuja at 3 different points – I surged ahead each time – Pankaj ko motivation diya hoga since he surged past me in the last 700m 🙂

Played cat-and-mouse game with Vaishali between 21k and 39k. She was super-focused but I couldn’t resist a very brief conversation. I was not sure how to tackle the Peddar hill (apparently I had forgotten Nandi Hills) so I asked her. Pat came the reply – “Don’t walk, increase arm swing, drop stride”. I followed the good lady’s advice and remained untroubled.

First race as “Veteran”, first FM race with the analog Titan Edge (glanced at it maybe 4-5 times). 5:11 in the 1st quarter, 5:12 in the 2nd, 5:21 in the 3rd and 6:00 in the 4th.

Overall rank: 159, category rank: 23. Can’t really complain. Thank you – oh running gods! It finally all fell into place. The sub-4 monkey off my back.

Closing note: This post entered my Drafts folder on Nov 4, 2014 so a gestational stay of 23 months 🙂

KTM 2013 race report

Somewhere between 21 and 42.

Somewhere between 21 and 42.

There are two kinds of runner bloggers. The one who hits Publish within 48 hours after the race ends. The other who’s perpetually playing catch-up to God_alone_knows_what and may get around to hit Publish before next year’s race. Surely you know which kind I am.

KTM 2013 was the fifth consecutive year I was running the course. It was the second year in a row I was running barefoot.

My race report can be pithily described using a cricketing metaphor. Imagine Virendra Sehwag in the form of his life. He arrives at Multan (where he has previously hit a triple century) and proceeds to eat some street food two days before the test match and falls sick. He somehow regains fitness by match time (after Viru-ki-mummy sends him a pick-me-up formula via Pushpak Vimana), opens for India, gets out on a 74 and India go on to win the test.

Scratch. That. Entire. Metaphor. Thingy.

It’s not an accurate description at all. Sorry. That means I’ll have to subject you all to the longer version.


Sep 13, 2013 (2 days before race day): I wake up to a mild headache.  I never let that mild start fool me.  I knew that mild would become moderate and then severe… and after giving me the severe treatment for several hours, it would eventually leave in the evening. I had stopped taking painkillers for several months so no respite could be expected from that quarter. Say goodbye to Vitamin I – that’s another post marinating in the Drafts folder for almost a year now — sorry you’ll have to wait some more.

I didn’t let the headache bother me. After all, KTM comes around only once a year. Lunch time approached and the headache was predictably vacillating between moderate and severe but no problem (been there, done that). My original plan was to gorge on the Krishna Kafe unlimited lunch thali but office and meeting locations meant I was stuck in Indiranagar. The Plan B decision (to attack the Rajdhani thali) was made rather rashly. In hindsight, it was rash because the food is rich to begin with, I don’t frequent it much and I don’t have a 100% satisfaction record. By the time I was done with the meal, the ghee-laden food had triggered a grim foreboding of things to come.

By evening my intestines formally registered their protest.

Great. Just great.

Fortunately for me, I’m married to this awesome woman.

When I get alarmed, she doesn’t get alarmed (it also works the other way around but that’s a different story and might even be disputed).

She promptly put me on an Ayurvedic food-as-medicine diet and my intestines demonstrated dramatic improvements in the next 24 hours. By Saturday  evening, I had turned off the distress signal to my car pool running partners. On the other hand, playing multiple loops of crackers.. water… plain rice with turmeric  in small doses isn’t exactly the epitome of carboloading but hey first priority was to stave off DNS (Did Not Start).

Race morning

The drive to the venue was uneventful. I had a very mild headache but nothing alarming. I had prepared and brought along The runner’s elixir but was rather circumspect on what to do since my stomach wasn’t exactly in the pink. I figured consuming half the usual dose was the safer option. About 20 min before race start, I needed to go. To the you-know-what-where. It was the first nearly-fully-normal-you-know-what.

Whew! As I walked back from the loo to the starting line with my running buddies, I realized that the mild headache had also departed. It was a sign. A bloody sign that “all was good”. Sure my glycogen levels could have been higher but if somebody had told me on Friday night that I’d feel like this on Sunday morning, I’d have kissed that person.

Going for it

This was the first marathon I was running without a Garmin (except my very first when I just wore an analog watch). I just told myself to “go for it”. I NEVER go for it. The absence of the Garmin (I think) makes it easier to go for it. No pace to look at periodically so just go with the gut (I mean lung feel). Got off the blocks faster than I ever did. I would realize at the 10.5km mark that I was averaging a pace close to 5:30. I reached the HM mark in 1 hr 53 min. There was no way I could sustain this pace for the second half but I was nevertheless pleased with my aggressive push in the first half.

Somewhere close to the 9km mark (just before the incline), I ran into Juggy. He yelled out “Are your feet enjoying the course?” And I replied “What a course! What a course! unbelievable terrain this time! I’m LOVING it!”

It was absolutely true. I was LOVING it! You see.. The weather gods had finally smiled on KTM. Or, using an exam metaphor, KTM mata had set a very easy question paper this time. It had rained a few days ago.. considering the softness of the ground, it was perhaps many days of rainfall. A barefoot runner could not have asked for a better terrain than KTM 2013.

The Half Monty

I don’t remember when the half monty idea came to me. Was it months ago or weeks ago? It was definitely part of the plan and this is how I executed it: I overtook Dharmendra about 50 meters before the turnaround (only reason this happened was because he had run an ultra in the mountains the previous weekend!), took off my tee and sopping wet sweatband and dropped them both on the grass. Whipped out the spare headband and I was off for the home run.

It was the first time in my life I was running bare bodied. It was exhilarating. The gentle breeze constantly drying the sweat — it literally felt like air-conditioning had been turned on at a comfortable setting. My Half Monty stunt was not lost on my friends and fellow runners.

I had planned to use sunblock but it slipped through the pre-race anxiety cracks. I would suffer with painfully ticklish sunburns for two days but hey… it was all worth it! I did NOT suffer on race day!

The eighth thorn

If you’ve been running barefoot on trails long enough you know that a thorn or two doesn’t pose any problem. In fact, if you’ve been adept since childhood to prise out thorns using safety pins, the thorns are even less daunting. For some odd reason, I counted thorns that day. Maybe it was because I wasn’t wearing the Garmin so I needed to count ‘something’? Your feet proprioception gets reasonably developed to differentiate between that small sharp pebble pain (which goes away in a few seconds) and the thorn pain (that won’t). At the precise moment I extracted the eighth thorn from my foot and threw it away (it was close to the 33k mark), a half-marathoner was nearby and, watched the fluid movement, she visibly gasped. I wish I could have verbalized that it really doesn’t hurt that much. And not for long anyway. Our feet are quite tough. Really.

Getting chicked

I had steadily slowed down in the last 10k. No cramps but energy levels were low. I chided myself a few times for my idiotic decision to eat at Rajdhani’s but didn’t indulge in any self-pity. At the 36k mark, I could sense the onset of calf cramps so I slowed down and did the pain spray treatment a few times.. to stave off the nasty cramp. Somewhere between 40k and 41k mark, I distinctly heard the sound of huarache sandals. Without turning back, I yelled out “Is that you, Shilpi?” Sure it was.. she had caught up. Unlike me, she was having a stronger second half. She ensured that I stayed with her for another kilometer before I urged her to speed off for a very strong finish. There’s no shame in being chicked. Even less so when it’s one of your friends. And far less so when she’s the second fastest female finisher.

As for me? I finished in 4 hrs 9 min 16 sec. I had shaved off 15 min from my previous PB but, more importantly, my previous best showing at KTM was 4 hrs 32 min so much to be pleased about. Thank you KTM. I really enjoyed your hospitable terrain. See you next year.


Looking ahead to KTM 2014

To be continued…

My marathon discography


I completed my 12th marathon yesterday (and my 2nd Ultra). It finally made sense to create this discography post.

#1 Silicon Valley Marathon (Oct 2002) – 4 hrs 32 min

#2 Kaveri Trail Marathon (Sep 2009) – 5 hrs 15 min

#3 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (Jan 2010) – 4 hrs 45 min

#4 Kaveri Trail Marathon (Sep 2010) – 4 hrs 53 min (Rank: 38)

#5 Auroville Marathon (Feb 2011) – 4 hrs 26 min (Rank: )

#6 Hyderabad Marathon (Aug 2011) – 4 hrs 31 min (Rank: 47)

#7 Kaveri Trail Marathon (Sep 2011) – 4 hrs 29 min (Rank: 31)

#8 Bangalore 50km Ultra Marathon (Nov 2011) – 6 hrs 11 min (Rank: 17)

#9 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (Jan 2012) – 4 hrs 24 min (Rank: 274)

#10 Auroville Marathon (Feb 2012) – 4 hrs 45 min (Rank: 33)

#11 Kaveri Trail Marathon (Sep 2012) – 1st barefoot – 4 hrs 46 min (Rank: 26)

#12 Bangalore 75km Ultra Marathon – 50km huaraches + 25km shoes (Nov 2012) – 9 hrs 45 min (Rank: 7)


Pic: courtesy mtv.com

P.S. The above list only includes official races. For completeness (at least for now), listing training runs above marathon distance.
  • 43km training run (Oct 2010)
  • Solo marathon inside Osmania University (Jul 31, 2012)
  • Marathon with Pankaj & Praveen in Bangalore (Aug 14, 2012)
  • 57km training run with Praveen in Bangalore (Oct 7, 2012)