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 🙂

Breaking a streak can be SO liberating

We are all prisoners of our own device. – Eagles

Streaks are wonderful things.

For the sports aficionado, it’s such things as consecutive games in which an NBA star has drilled at least one 3-pointer, consecutive years in which a tennis superstar has won at least one Grand Slam tournament, seven consecutive wins at the Western States 100. Pick any sport and you’ll be hard pressed not to find a phenomenal streak or two.

streak_imageThe amateur sportsman (and I’m talking mostly about my breed of long distance runners) has developed a proclivity towards participation streaks. A few examples below.

This is the 7th consecutive year I’m running in the Mumbai Marathon.
This is the 5th consecutive year I am running at the KTM.
This is the 200th consecutive day I ran at least 10km.
This is the 10th consecutive year I qualified for Boston.

Barring the last example (which is also a performance streak), the rest are great ‘feel good’ milestones.

Runners that pride themselves on similar milestones are probably bristling at my downplaying.

My point is that the difference between running a 10k for 200 consecutive days vs one who missed maybe 2 days (due to sickness or travel) is marginal. The consistency principle is established in both cases. Only difference is that if the latter runner wants to ‘claim’ the streak on social media, it comes with an inconvenient rider.

But we all worship streaks. And symmetries. And threshold breaking numbers like sub-4 and sub-3 marathon timings.

Just for the record, I do too.

A few years into my Bangalore running initiation, I learnt about a serious runner I’m our group (Bhasker Sharma). He had set himself a goal of 12 marathons in 12 months. At that time, I coudnt relate to it (I was too much of a newbie). Bhasker’s feat (chronicled here) inspired several runners to do the same. A Bangalore running group I know took up the challenge and completed with a great deal of gusto.

In mid-2011, as I transitioned to barefoot running, I was ready with my personal twist to the challenge.

My mental tag line was “Don’t be a mad runner, be a MAM (Marathon A Month) runner!” And why stop at 12 months?

The plan was simple enough: if a calendar month didn’t have a registered race, I would convert one of the weekend long runs to full marathon distance.

The madness began on Jul 31, 2011 in the Osmania University campus and would eventually end 22 months later.

Two KTMs, two 75K ultras, and one Mumbai Marathon were the races that spanned this duration but my best memories were from the non-race marathons.

  • 4th FM: at the 5k mark my huarache laces snapped so I had to continue barefoot on an unforgiving stretch of Bangalore roads. A highly animated political discussion with a runner friend in the middle hours distracted me sufficiently.
  • A 55k training run with an ultra runner friend. I was using Dr. Scholl’s callus patch for the preceding 48 hours and it was rather satisfying when a few layers of skin peeled away painlessly at the 45k mark.
  • Jan 2012: Thanks to a slipped disc relapse, I was in real danger of breaking my streak at the 6 month mark. Since I couldn’t run for a few more weeks, I swung into Plan B execution: walking. The weekend my buddies were lacing up for the Mumbai Marathon I laced up my old Brooks Adrenaline (yeah – the only run in my streak where I wore shoes) and *walked* our regulation Saturday long run route. Fortunately I had fellow entrepreneur (Tom Ansell) for company on this walking FM.
  • A 4:05 finish that included stops at several traffic signals. A month later missing a sub-4 finish by 30 seconds thanks to an impulsive jump onto the median at Sony World junction.. an act that triggered a bout of calves agitation and cost me valuable seconds.
  • A dream Sarjapur Road to Kanakapura Road run that ended in the scenic rolling hills of Pipeline Road in the company of Shilpi – a first sub-4 finish.
  • #20 (or #21) A tough grinding run in the company of Rinaz that ended in Domlur. All I remember, besides an excruciating lower back, was yummy idlis at Vishnu Thatte Idli.

Those were all the pleasant memories.

The last few FMs were noticeably different in that I’d postpone them to the very last Saturday of the month (unlike the first year when I couldn’t wait to convert a regulation weekend run into an FM). Nobody was forcing me to run these marathons so who could I blame but myself? It wasn’t just the lower back pain (which had become a factor) but something deeply pleasurable had turned into a self-imposed rhythmic monthly chore.

I recall attempt#23 (May 2013) vividly: I finished the usual 30k weekly distance in the company of my running gang. For the final 12k stretch from Cubbon Park to Koramangala, I fortunately had a friend for company – Speedy Sid. My back continued to bother me, I was sulking and even Sid’s funny banter wouldn’t cheer me up. I finally snapped at the 34k mark. I stopped running, turned to Sid and said “I’m taking a DNF”. It was one of the most liberating things I did in recent times.

*********

 

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 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)

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!!

 

The runner’s elixir

Pic courtesy eusa-riddled.blogspot.com

Pic courtesy eusa-riddled.blogspot.com

The Gauls go to battle against the hapless Romans after downing a swig of magic potion prepared by their druid Getafix. It doesn’t matter how heavily armed the Romans are or whether they got recent reinforcements from the nearby camp of Laudanum. They always get bashed to nothingness – sandals on the ground, Roman soldiers airborne and their strewn helmets being gleefully picked up by Obelix who, as we all know, possesses permanent superhuman strength because he fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby.

The pre-fight ritual of the druid preparing and doling out magic potion to the entire village is quite fascinating too. The feverish anticipation, the jostling, Obelix’s ridiculous attempts to pass off as ‘someone else’. I’m convinced that if Getafix had prepared a placebo every now and then, it would have made little difference to the fight’s outcome.

Ah! If only we marathoners had our own elixir that would give us superhuman strength..

Nah! That would be too boring – everyone would finish the race in tandem (think Asterix and the Olympic Games or was it Laurel Wreath?)

What we DO need is an elixir that fuels us for our long runs and builds an anticipation similar to what the Gauls feel on the eve of their fight. Thanks to Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run book, I’ve found my elixir. It’s what Jurek calls the Srawburst Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie: This smoothie combines the anti-inflammatory ingredients of pineapple (bromelaine), ginger, turmeric, and Flora Oil (omega-3 fatty acids). It’s a great daily postworkout drink, soothing aching muscles, and a terrific addition to your regular meals before your run on a long training day.

I’ve adapted Jurek’s recipe keeping in mind Bangalore’s fruit supply chain. While the original recipe says either frozen or fresh, I use only fresh fruit. A trip to Namdhari’s ensures procurement of *most* of the ingredients. Fortunately no need to climb trees in search of mistletoe!

Ingredients

Pineapple, strawberries, mangoes, banana, ginger, turmeric, rock salt, spirulina, soy milk. Jurek’s original recipe includes exotic ingredients (for India) like acai, goji berries, miso, edamame, flora oil, and blueberries. Recently I’ve started finding blueberries in a few stores though they are still too expensive.

The ritual

Barring races, Saturdays are my ‘long run’ days so the anticipation begins on Friday. What started off as yet another Jurek regimen to try and imbibe has acquired a Japanese tea ceremony life of its own. I now quote.. It is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture.

My ritual begins post dinner. The jazz playlist is selected.. cutting board and knife come out.. ingredients are lined up on the counter. The peeling, slicing and chopping begin.

  • First the pineapple. Slice the skin just right – not too fine, not too coarse.
  • Cut thin circular slices. Stow away 2/3 and use 1/3 of the slices for the smoothie.
  • If you don’t have Vitamix (or any equivalent fancy blender), finely chop the pineapple rounds.
  • Next up – strawberries. Select six of the reddest specimens and chop them up (after washing them of course).
  • Slice a medium-sized banana into rounds.
  • (In season) Slice and scoop out about 1/3 of a ripe mango. Make it 1/2 if you are a mango lover.
  • Peel a 1″ long ginger root, wash and finely slice.
  • Transfer all the sliced ingredients into the smallest of your blender sets. (I find that the small blends better than the medium one)
  • Add a spoon of turmeric powder.
  • Add rock salt (crushed or small pieces). Adjust quantity to taste.
  • Add a few spoons of dried coconut flakes (for some odd reason, I never seem to remember this ingredient).
  • (Optionally) add 1/2 spoon of spirulina powder. Ever since I stopped adding this, I’ve been enjoying my smoothie a heck of a lot more. Spirulina dominates too much (both color and taste).
  • Add 1/4 cup of soy milk. I use Staeta’s Natural which basically has no flavors. Alternatively, you can use rice milk, almond milk or any other protein beverage.
  • Utter your favorite incantations and blend the beauties to oblivion.
  • Pour into a tall glass, cover and store in fridge.
  • Your elixir is ready for the next morning.

Every now and then, I experiment with other fruits. Adding kokum juice gives a nice tangy taste. Grapes are ok too but makes the smoothie more chewy. Watermelon and cantaloupe utterly get dominated.

Pre-run routine

I wake up 45 minutes before my long run and I drink up my elixir before I brush my teeth. It’s fairly viscous so it takes me at least 5 minutes to down it all. You’d think the smoothie will be sloshing around in your tummy but you’ll be surprised how quickly it gets absorbed. Try it and let me know whether it works for you.

 

Why I’m running Kaveri Trail Marathon for the 5th consecutive time

There are races you run for your PBs. Boring sissy flat courses like the Dubai Marathon or vibrant city courses like Chicago, New York or Mumbai where the crowds energize and propel you every step of the way. Then there are tough ultras with steep climbs and treacherous terrains that will demand every ounce of grit from you – completing them is ample reward. KTM is neither of those type of races.

You run KTM because it tests you. You run KTM because it asks questions of you. Weeks after the race, you’ll still be searching for answers to “what exactly went wrong?” I mean, the course is rather innocuous, right? A rustic flat trail next to one of the Kaveri canals with just one (100 meter) incline. Some say the heat makes it potent. Others swear it’s the humidity due to the proximity to the canal. The course discoverer (Jugy) pithily says “It’s just the bloody course.” My theory is that the sheer desolation of the second loop strips you bare and your inner demons lie exposed — how you deal with them defines your race outcome. If you want to build character, run KTM.

Bib41008 If I ever had to audition for a Don’t mess with me role, I’d think of this moment (KTM 2012) — somewhere at the 4 1/2 hour mark when the ground had become so hot that I had to sprint 100 meter distances in a bizarre game of wheres-my-next-shade-oasis. It was not enjoyable. But it didn’t kill me. And that’s what matters.

KTM 2012 was my first barefoot trail marathon.  Compared to last season, I have a lot more barefoot mileage under my soles and a few less demons in my head. That, combined with the fact that this could be my last race at this venue, is making my heart beat faster as race day approaches.

 

Training runs and motivation

Toshihiko Seko (Pic courtesy whalesandwolves.com)

Toshihiko Seko (Pic courtesy whalesandwolves.com)

“Does a runner at your level feel like you’d rather not run today, like you don’t want to run and would rather just sleep in?” He stared at me and then, in a voice that made it abundantly clear how stupid he thought the question was, replied “Of course. All the time!”

The questioner? Novelist and marathoner Haruki Murakami. The elite runner? Japanese Olympian Toshihiko Seko. Seko represented his country in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. While he didn’t win any Olympic medals, his memorable wins include the Boston Marathon (1981 and 1987), London Marathon (1986), and Chicago (1986). I’ve seriously short-changed Seko’s accomplishments so must absolutely read Toshihiko Seko and Kiyoshi Nakamura’s Old School to truly appreciate his greatness — world records in the 25k and 30k distances that stood for 30 years is but ONE facet of his greatness.

I recalled the Murakami story today at 5:15am. After snoozing the 5:05am alarm, I was in a quandary. I had woken up with a headache. If it was the head-splitting variety, my course of action would have been easy – pop an Ibuprofen tablet and try to go back to sleep. It was the more annoying variety – the one that lingers all day irrespective of whether you rest, close your eyes or take an Ibuprofen.

I only run thrice a week – a tempo run on Tuesdays and an interval training run on Thursday and the long one on Saturday. Lately the Tue/Thu runs have become a bit unstructured. Sometimes I miss a Tue so Thu becomes a tempo, other times the interval run becomes a conversational easy-pace run with friends. I rarely miss both Tue and Thu. When that does happen, I notice it on my Saturday Dandi run. ‘Notice’ as in ‘struggle’. The sole point of the Tue/Thu runs are so I can enjoy the Sat long run (I’m not athletically gifted like my friend Pankaj who can just get up Sat morning and run like the Red Eveready battery). The Dandi ritual run needs to be written about. Someday soon.

Anyway, I had missed my Tue run due to the perfectly legitimate reason that I was working late Mon night. Hope you understand my quandary now. I mentally thanked Murakami and headed for my run. Did a warm-up round and followed up with a 4×800 interval drill. By the time I hit the third interval, an aching head was no longer top of mind. And yeah, the annoying headache was gone by breakfast. I suppose loha se loha cut-ta hai. The legendary Scott Jurek’s physician friend and fellow ultra-marathoner had once remarked Not all pain is significant.

It’s only apt to end this post with Murakami’s reflection (following his Seko interview).

Now that I look back on it I can see what a dumb question that was. I guess even back then I knew how dumb it was, but I suppose I wanted to hear the answer directly from someone of Seko’s caliber. I wanted to know whether, despite being worlds apart in terms of strength, the amount we can exercise, and motivation, when we lace up our running shoes early in the morning we feel exactly the same way. Seko’s reply at the time came as a great relief. In the final analysis we are all the same, I thought.

Closing Note: the Murakami story is from his running memoir What I talk about when I talk about running.

seko_arms_nakamura83a

Toshihiko Seko and coach Nakamura, after 1983 Fukuoka marathon
Photo: Nobby Hashizume
http://www.juanjosemartinez.com.mx/running.html

Meet Sir Gaunker: the modern era Ekalavya with a happy ending

Prerequisite reading for this blog post: the story of Ekalavya. If you are a Mahabharata neophyte or if you just have a terrible memory, this Wikipedia page will come in handy.. as also this trinetra.org.uk page.

Now let me walk you through an alterative Ekalavya mythology.

After Dronacharya said “Sorry! No can do”, Ekalavya didn’t sit around moping nor did he make a clay statue of Dronacharya and worship him with flowers et al. He just scoured the Internet.

Not our antediluvian Internet with boring touch tablets and sexy voice-activated Siri smartphones. Ekalavya’s Internet was completely thought-based – think Neil Stephenson’s Young Girl’s Illustrated Primer meets Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End. As he scanned the cosmos, Ekalavya hit pay dirt with a succession of stints with luminary gurus. Under the guidance of a succession of gurus, he kept mastering new skills. How to focus. How to relax. How and what to eat. How to train. How to invoke the elements and the astras to do his bidding — as an archer. In short, the perfect master plan designed to transform him into the perfect athlete (nay, archer).

By the time Ekalavya ‘graduated’ from the last gurukul, he had become — what he had set out to become — the best archer the world would ever see. There was one small problem. He didn’t want to fight anyone. He no longer wanted to prove anything to anyone. The path to perfection had burned to a cinder all his lower chakra desires.

What did such a man do?

He still wanted to see all the things he had mastered and ‘try out’ the powerful astras in his quiver. But he wanted no part of the M war that was soon to wage in his neighborhood. He created the world’s first reality game — what I’d like to call Ekalavya vs. Ekalavya. But that’s a story for a different day.

*************

Sir Rajaram Gaunker - "mehnat karte hai, toh fal milta hai"

Sir Rajaram Gaunker – “mehnat karte hai, toh fal milta hai”

Today’s story is about my friend and fellow runner Rajaram Gaunker. I christened him Sir Gaunker after he pulled off a stupendously awe-inspiring feat of running a full marathon in 3:24 (yes, that is three hours and twenty four minutes). Wanna know how crazy that is? This was his 2nd race at the full marathon distance. He timed 5:41 in his first marathon which he ran four years ago.  That’s an improvement of 2 hrs 18 min! If you measure your Personal Best (PB) improvements in terms of 15-min quadrants, that’s ten frikkin’ quadrants. Wow!

Okay. In case the enormity of this feat still hasn’t sunk in, let me state that this is INCREDIBLY rare. Sure — a lot of people keep improving on their PBs (most of my runner friends are in their 40’s or 50’s and they routinely improve on their PBs year after year). The quantum of improvement, however, is much smaller. Breaking the sub-4 barrier is the first hurdle (psychological and physical). The progress from 4:00 towards 3:30 is incredibly arduous.. and slow. Sir Gaunker blew past sub-5, sub-4, and sub-3:30 all in one fell swoop.

In the last few months, there were signs of Gaunker’s march to greatness. What was evident to all was that he had shed some serious kilos. On the Sat Dandi ritual runs (when he started reappearing regularly), a few of us noticed that he had gained considerable speed. While the Bangalore running fraternity had decamped to Mumbai for the annual Kumbh Mela, Gaunker snuck in a full marathon on training day. With no running partners to slow him, Gaunker posted a comfortable time of 3:43. He shared it on the group’s Facebook page with his trademark blend of nonchalant modesty. On the eve of Mumbai Marathon, most folks either missed the update.. or thought he was pulling a fast one.

Three weeks later, he scorched the field at Auroville with a third place finish – a trail marathon which starts at 5am and is run with a ghostly galleon of zig-zagging torchlights for the first 45-50 min.

The short version of his story on our group.. The emphasis is all mine.

I started my comeback with aim of sub-2 half marathon and sub 3:30 full just happened as side effect. few of the reasons I think which worked me are 1. moving to diet I had as child (mostly fish and vegetables – lost 17Kg weight because of that ) 2. Dandi runs of 30+ Kms, 3. Giving up on “supportive shoes” 4. strength/interval/tempo training.

Boy! Is that the mother of all side effects?

Choosing the right diet, strength/interval/tempo training and long runs — these are common ingredients to majority of the training plans out there. But giving up on “supported shoes”? Such blasphemy, Sir Gaunker. Tut tut tut. Runners with minimalist shoes are not supposed to run this fast. They are supposed to just enjoy their runs and motor along at a stop-and-smell-the-roses pace. And what’s more this kal-ka-chokra didn’t even have a renowned coach tracking and tweaking his every move. Nor was he following any acclaimed Run Less Run Faster regimen. What the $#%$% happened?

The music stopped. He was deluged by effusive words of awe and congratulations that would make proud a Robert Funk. The Dronocharyas and the Arjunas watched awkwardly from the sidelines. Behold the modern era Ekalavya.

And now… do read his longer (though still modest) account of his 5:41 to 3:24 marathon journey.

 

Jaipur’s Day of Shame

Yesterday was the 4th edition of the Ambuja Jaipur Marathon. My friends from Delhi (Strang and Rakhi) were eagerly looking forward to running the half marathon in Jaipur for the first time. Little did they know what kind of horrid hooliganism awaited them.. while they were running. Strang posted the following update on Facebook which should make any self-respecting Jaipur’ite bow their heads in shame.

Future Runners Beware!

Hooligans on the prowl at the Ambuja Jaipur Marathon…

With great expectations Rakhi and I registered for the Ambuja Jaipur Half Marathon. But came away injured, (Yes, Injured!), disappointed and utterly disgusted with the way the event was organized and the less- than-welcome attitude of the local men who, I now know, have no appreciation for an event like this, less so for the runners participating. What added insult to injury was the impunity with which these men were openly teasing, hooting, physically blocking the path of runners and forming groups that would then run alongside, passing all sorts of comments.  The police and security bandobast was woefully short on manpower to control an event of this magnitude.  Witnessing what was going on throughout the course, I felt, here was a disaster waiting to happen!

The half marathon event for the open category was to be flagged off at 07:00 a.m.  We were promised that traffic would be controlled along the route till 10:00 a.m. after which, runners still wanting to complete the course would have to do so in regular traffic flow. Fair enough.  But, and no surprises here, the start was delayed by about 30 minutes.

At about 08:45 a.m. or so my wife and I were running on the road that was supposed to be without traffic, the JLN Marg, when suddenly from behind I was hit hard on the head by a bus! I got hit from behind really hard and when I looked up at what hit me, this is what I saw. It was one of those small city buses which had men hanging out of its single door, sitting on the roof and also hanging from the grills at the rear. Hooting, eve teasing and where possible, driving as close to runners to obviously frighten and intimidate them, all the while laughing and seeming thrilled with what they were doing.  On the bus were men, some who had completed the 7 kms run and were still wearing their bibs and some wearing the white run t-shirt, and they seemed to be having the time of their lives! I am sure one of those hooligans hanging from the footboard took a swipe at me. Fucking cowards didn’t have the balls to stop and come at me even when I loudly abused the lot of them using the choicest of language. They just laughed, smirked, hooted and carried on. I’m sure, to trouble other runners.  I hailed a cop car that came up and narrated the incident. While narrating it, I witnessed at least three more over-loaded city buses pass by with men hanging from every possible hand-hold creating a scene.  Of course, if buses could do this with impunity, you can imagine how many bikers, three to a bike, were around having a great time at the runners expense.

Being a Republic Day Run, the event company had put up colourful balloons (national colours- orange, white and green) spanning the entire length of the 7 kms route (or maybe more but I didn’t notice). What I witnessed was appalling!  Groups of men who had completed their 7 kms run, all wearing the white run t-shirt tore down those balloons and then proceeded to jump on them and burst them right there on the road, all in the path of the runners! Banners, flags and anything else they could lay their hands on also were not spared. Such hooliganism!!!  Imagine negotiating through this shit! I even saw a photographer film this entire scene and hope he shares it with the organizers for them to never attempt such an event again.  Especially not in Jaipur!

The icing on the cake was when traffic was allowed to flow regularly, much before the 10:00 a.m. promised time. Not that they stopped those overloaded city buses which were on the roads way before 10:00 a.m. and whose sole purpose in life was to harass runners. 

I doff my hat to all the women who participated, especially the ones who were running alone and were seen as easy targets by these hooligans.  No way was I going to leave the side of my wife even for a second after witnessing and going through all this.  I feared for every woman.  And this when I saw groups of people (organizers???) wearing t-shirts that had “Respect for Woman” printed on the back.  

I obviously didn’t get to the finish line but a friend who did has another horror tale to tell.  But that’s his story, if he chooses to share.

Finally, after the 13 km mark, we decided to quit the run. We couldn’t deal with the terrible traffic conditions and the hooliganism. I thought Jaipur, a city on the world tourist map, would be welcoming and encouraging and take pride in an event such as this. How wrong I was.

So, if you’re a competitive runner aspiring to be in the top 50 or so, the roads are clear and hopefully safe for you but if you are a runner who runs slow, takes at least 2 1/2 hours for a half marathon and participates for the joy of running, beware of hooligans running amok and nobody giving a damn!

Rakhi and I are never ever running in Jaipur or any hic-town, again.

Follow-up comment from Rakhi on the FB thread: A very unfortunate and disappointing experience. And a harsh reminder of the grim reality of india. Do we wonder why Nirbhaya happened? I went to sleep last night asking Strang the question – how many thousands of Nibhayas may happen in a city like Jaipur where their sad stories go unnoticed and remain untold?