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.



Achieving terminal velocity


Pic: courtesy northallertoncoll.org.uk

This is Part 2 of an unfolding story on barefoot running. It continues from It’s all a vast upper body conspiracy!

Two months later…

After my strange out-of-the-body-voices-in-my-head experience on Nov 13 2011, you’d think that my life would be altered for ever. Not quite. I still continued to blog about social enterprises and impact investing. I continued my training runs for Mumbai Marathon 2012. I was having trouble sticking to the grueling (5 days a week) running regimen of Hal Higdon’s Advanced plan. Life went on.

I would be lying if I claimed to not think about the night of Nov 13. Did it really happen? And “what” exactly happened? Was it a case of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s be aware of yourself mantra gone awry? Or had I discovered my personal version of a Being John Malkovich portal? Let’s go with the latter speculation for a moment. Assuming I had indeed discovered a portal into my head or body, what did I want to do about it?

Should I just pretend that nothing out of the ordinary happened on Nov 13? Or should I try to recreate the environment and conditions for a repeat ‘performance’?

Hmm… This ‘performance’ was reminiscent of a seance (of which I’m strictly going by my seance specialist cousin’s vivid descriptions decades ago). Instead of external ‘spirits’, I had internal ‘voices’? These inner voices raise other interesting questions. If I heard the voice of the pulsating brain (the one I dubbed ‘Hippocampus’), was it different from my ‘conscious brain’?

“Too much ‘quiet time’ on my damn hands. What I needed was a nightly dose of trans-atlantic mind-numbing conference calls!” I scolded myself.

After a week’s rest, I resumed my training plan for Mumbai Marathon. Uncharacteristically, I missed one long run and had at least two bad weeks (bad = running < 25% of target mileage). After a disastrous pre-race start, I still managed to shave two minutes off my personal best. Many lessons but at least I managed a PB.

Four down. One more to go. Completing Auroville Marathon on Feb 12 would make it “five in a season” and ten overall. Of course I wasn’t planning on ‘merely completing’ it. I wanted to make amends for squandering perfect conditions at Mumbai. Moreover, last season’s PB was at Auroville 2011 where I ran my first ever negative splits (2:14 / 2:12).

Ultra-marathoner legend Scott Jurek running with a Taramahura Indian (Pic: courtesy talesofarunner.wordpress.com)

Born to Run

Just about every runner I know (and some non-runners) has read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. I won’t tell you about the book — chances are you’ve read it already. If you haven’t, go ahead and read the reviews on Amazon and you’ll be hard-pressed NOT to buy the book right away. Unless you are as weird as me. Even though I wanted to read it, it just hadn’t  become a big enough priority for me in 2011. In fact, I still haven’t read it. But I hang out with enough runners to know the gist of the book.

Still. As though McDougall divined that there were entire legions of runners intrigued enough about the barefoot running movement (yes – 2011 was definitely the year when it acquired the status of a ‘movement’) but hadn’t yet bothered to buy/borrow the book, he wrote this seminal article on New York Times – The Once and Future Way to Run. Go ahead, read it. Fifteen minutes of your time and it won’t cost you a dime.

If you still haven’t read that article, may I urge you again to read it?

Okay. Now that you’ve read the article, I’d like to share the key points that resonated with me. For someone who’s spent the better part of two decades building/evangelizing technology products and being a gadget freak for most of those years, it might be a bit paradoxical to confess that I’m a bit of a minimalist. I can listen to Philip Glass for hours without getting bored. I also like listening to the didgeridoo drone. I think you get the drift.

Running appealed to my minimalist streak. Team sports require several other people. Individual racquet sports (squash was my  passion before running) require at least one other player. A runner needs just one person to show up – himself. The running gear is also minimal – shoes, sweat band, and a Garmin. What if I didn’t even need shoes? That is the essential possibility that excited me. What if?

The second aspect that excited me was that barefoot running might just be the one best way of running. By best, I mean the “most natural and most efficient way” which automatically implies minimizing proclivity to injuries and maximizing longevity. McDougall’s article links to an Alberto Salazar interview two years ago where he opines about The one right way:

There has to be one best way of running. It’s got to be like a law of physics. And if you deviate too much from that – the way I did in my career – it can be a big handicap. Dathan can’t be a heel striker and expect to run as good as the best forefoot runners. You can be efficient for a while with bad form–maybe with a low shuffle stride – but eventually that’s not good for your body. It’s going to produce tightness and muscular imbalances and structural problems. Then you get injuries, and if you’re not careful – if you don’t take care of the muscular and structural issues – the injuries can put you into a downward spiral.

This article probably did the most to strengthen my impulse to try out barefoot running. Had I read McDougall’s book, maybe I’d have got there sooner? Who knows!

But I still had the season’s last marathon to run so I wasn’t going to attempt any tomfoolery before that.

Barefoot Ted at Auroville 2012 (Pic: courtesy aurovilleradio.org)

Barefoot Ted at Auroville

Ted McDonald (popularly known as “Barefoot Ted” since featuring prominently in McDougall’s book) is an independent athlete committed to re-discovering primal natural human capacities and encouraging others to do the same.  Having spent the last 7 years focused on mastering barefoot long distance running, BFT now focuses on sharing his insights through coaching clinics and speaking engagements. Other relevant links: BFT’s bio page and the sandals company he founded – Luna Sandals.

BFT’s talk on race day eve was highly anticipated… and he didn’t disappoint. The good folks at Auroville recorded his talk and it’s accessible via this Aurovilleradio.org page.

He expectedly took several digs at shoe manufacturers but the funniest one was a visual which I’ll try to reproduce with words – Let’s say you picked up a glass of water to drink and, for some strange reason, your hand misses the mouth by a few inches. The shoe manufacturers would solve this problem by designing an elaborate bidirectional motor system that could move your elbow by a few inches. “Err.. how about just making a slight manual adjustment to your arm movement?” BFT quipped.

Crowds thronged to hear Barefoot Ted outside the Visitor Center (Pic: courtesy aurovilleradio.org)

There were a few questions from the audience on the best way to ‘transition’ to barefoot running. BFT’s recommendation was to start by ‘going bare’ before eventually switching to minimalist footwear. The rationale for ‘going bare’ first is that there’s no better way for the soles to provide feedback to the brain. Moreover, it’s nearly impossible to have bad form when running barefoot (ever tried landing barefoot on your heels?)

Anand Anantharam, co-founder of Barefoot Runners Foundation of India, was (at least partly) instrumental in getting Barefoot Ted to visit India. He reminded the predominantly Indian audience that “It has not been THAT long since we Indians were running around barefoot, including many in the current generation. So we have a lot less to ‘unlearn’, in stark contrast to the American and European runners.”

As I trooped behind the long snaking line of runners waiting to wolf down the pre-race pasta dinner, I wondered what tomorrow would bring. An opportunity to race – of course. An opportunity to push the body and mind to its limits – of course. Thoughts of ‘personal bests’ are best left ‘unthought’ but I haven’t quite evolved to that level yet.

To be continued…

For a few minutes less: a race report from Mumbai Marathon 2012


Writing a post-marathon race report is a bit like [insert-metaphor]. Write it too soon and it runs the risk of coming out shallow and half-baked, wait too long and it might never see the light of day. A fortnight after completing Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), I’m right at the dangerous cusp. I often describe SCMM to my non-running friends as the Vaishno Devi for marathon aficionados – ‘nuf said!

I didn’t have a perfect race. If I did, a single tweet would have sufficed. As I recently observed in this blog post, one learns more from an imperfect race than a perfect one – hence this blog post. 🙂 I had a good and exciting race. What I didn’t bank on was that the excitement would start well before race start.

What if the auto-driver had arrived at my friend’s place on time. What if I had managed to catch the express train (instead of the slower local) from Kurla to CST. What if the security guards at gate #4 had allowed me to enter Azad Maidan without my bib. In the hour before race start, the three “what ifs” came together for a perfect storm of anxiety.  Not just for me but also for my friend Jothi. The underlying blunder had already been committed the previous day when I requested Jothi to pick up my race kit and bring with him the next morning.

Before race start

Reached gate #4 at 5:25 am. I knew it was a mere 15 minutes to the starting gun but I wasn’t freaking out just yet. However, I was feeling guilty for having put Jothi in a tricky predicament. After a series of phone calls between Jothi and me, Jothi rushed towards gate #4, only to not find me because.. he had been misdirected to gate #5. If Jothi had left my bib and timing at the baggage counter and tried to make it to the starting line on time, I would have totally understood but he’s too cool a friend (Here’s Jothi nonchalantly talking about the episode in his race report). It was 5:35am when Jothi told me to come to gate #5. I sprinted the 600 meter odd distance from gate#4 to gate #5. Jothi quickly handed over my bib/timing chip and hurried to the starting line while I rushed to the baggage counter. As I fixed the timing chip to my shoe, one of the baggage counter guys helped with my bib. In a moment of insanity, I coolly asked the baggage counter guy “where are the restrooms?” He gave me an incredulous look and said “Sir, hurry to the starting line or you might miss the cutoff!”

Off to the races

Azad Maidan at 5:45am bore a deserted look.  I sprinted the 600m odd distance from the baggage counter to the starting line along with 4-5 fellow late starters. When my timing chip recorded its beep at the starting mat, the gun time was 5:52am. I was 12 minutes behind the pack, my running partner (Jothi) was a few minutes ahead but I visibly relaxed. Whew! I had made it – there was just a little matter of running 42.195km.

I took stock of my situation.  I reminded myself that this was my ninth marathon so the issue was less about finishing and more about my finishing time. Adjustments were needed to my running pace but how much? Before talking about my race day adjustments, a quick look at my training plan and the method behind setting a goal pace.

Training Plan Recap

I had been following Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 training plan. I picked an ‘Advanced’ plan instead of an Intermediate plan, not because I’m an advanced runner but because I wanted a plan which incorporated interval runs and a weekly mileage higher than what I was normally accustomed to. Of course I made changes galore to the plan. At the half-way mark, when I was supposed to run a half-marathon at goal pace, I ran a 50k (my first Ultra marathon!). During the three weeks of highest mileage (85k+), I ended up missing at least one middle-of the-week run with the result that those weeks became 60k+ and 70k+ weeks instead. A cold Hyderabad morning and recalcitrant lungs conspired for a DNF on my final  32k training run.

On goal pace and the inevitable adjustments

I used this popular goal pace calculator to set my initial goal. A common trait shared by all goal pace calculators is a disclaimer that reads something like this – “Of course these are estimates’ of what you can run. Actual results will vary depending on the course, the weather, if it’s your day or not and a myriad of other factors.” Thanks Sherlock! To give you a sense for how ridiculous these calculators can be, consider this! When I inputted my fastest recent 10k (a little under 48 minutes), the calculator spat out 3:45 as my goal pace. Which suggested that I could cleave a whopping 41 minutes from my PB – crazy! Psychologically, anything faster than 3:59 was irrational exuberance so I decided to train for a 5:40 goal pace FULLY aware that adjustments would be forthcoming.

I had known about the benefits of interval training for a while but this was the first time I incorporated into my training regimen. I missed a few long runs, a few tempo runs and several easy runs but I didn’t miss a single interval run. The other thing I did differently was to run all my weekday runs on the treadmill. This was driven by a constraint (early morning time paucity) rather than any deliberate strategy. As the Higdon plan recommended, I ran at least two of my interval runs as Yasso 800’s. Running most of my intervals (including the Yasso 800s) at 4:00 pace, albeit on the treadmill, gave me the confidence that maybe (just maybe! my goal pace was not terribly unrealistic.

In the final week of taper, as I broodingly looked at the “plan” vs. “actual” spreadsheet and saw the numerous deviations and reflected on the fact that my current PB was 4 hrs 26 min, I decided that a goal finish of 4 hrs 10 min (average pace of 5:56) was more realistic.

The rest of the race report continues here…. For a few minutes less: running the Mumbai Marathon 2012

Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010


Half-marathoners covering the Worli sealink (Pic: courtesy sulekha.com)

If you’ve not read Part 1 of  this 2-part series (My Road to Mumbai Marathon 2010), the short version is this – “a case study in how to train well for a marathon for 4-5 months and then nearly blow it all in the final week before race day”. Anyways, this is part 2 – how I fared on race day, what kind of tricks I played on my body, how my body got its revenge back, and the banter I carried on with a fellow Bangalore runner for more than half the distance.

An hour prior to all my long training runs, a Clif Bar (Crunchy Peanut flavor) was my energy bar of choice. Since I started my morning a good 2 hours prior to start time, I consumed an extra bar.

Race start to 6k

Experts recommend the race day strategy as follows – run the first 21k at your target pace and the second 21k by feel. Sounds simple, right? By feel is meant to capture the sum total of vagaries of race day that make it different from all your long training runs. A change in city, weather, start time, what you ate during the last 24 hours, how well you have tapered, are all factors that determine the outcome of the second 21k because the body starts giving you feedback – i.e. whether race day conditions are favorable (or not). My original target pace was 6:02 min/km which translates to a finish time of 4 hours 15 min. I felt this target pace was justified by the fact that I did a 32k and a 34k distances at 5:56 pace in my final training month. With my body not in the best possible shape, obviously I needed to reduce my pace — the tricky part was by how much. So my modified strategy was to start with a 6:15 pace for the initial 5k, see how the body felt and alter pace accordingly.

It was a foggy morning on Marine Drive, I felt surprisingly good in the first 2k, took that to be a good sign and gradually increased my pace. It’s so easy to get carried away during the initial 5-10k and it takes incredible discipline to ‘rein yourself in’. By the time I reached the 5k mark, I realized that I was doing a 6:06 pace – faster than I planned. Started slowing down and at the 6k mark I was in for a pleasant surprise – ran into fellow Bangalore RFL runner Jothi Padmanabhan.

6k to 28k

It wasn’t clear at first who was happier to see the other. We had both participated at the Kaveri Trail Marathon (Sep ’09) – I finished that race (in 5 hrs 15 min) whereas Jothi had bailed out at the half-way mark. Hence, by recent form, I was the ‘better’ runner. Jothi said something on the lines of “Man! if we run together for most of the distance, I think I’ll have a good finish time”. I gave him my sob-story-in-a-nutshell (how I had trained really well with a target pace of 6:02 but with an infection, cold, cough, jetlag, etc. wasn’t feeling particularly strong) and said it was 5k-at-a-time and thank-god-I-have-you-for-company. With the right amount of banter, we plodded on, periodically glancing at our respective Garmin watches as we managed to keep a consistent average pace (6:08 at the 10k mark to 6:10 at the 25k mark). The crowd of runners just ahead of us were very raucous initially — especially in the stretch where the half-marathon runners were running in the opposite direction — they’d recognize many of their buddies and excitedly shout words of encouragement. We wondered how long their enthusiasm would last. Jothi pointed out a hoarding for the L&T South City (yeah Bangalore real-estate). At some point between the 15-20k stretch, a few packs of elite runners overtook us (at a gracefully fast clip). We were surprised to see a lone white man in the midst of the first pack of Kenyan & Ethiopian runners (our reaction was circa “White men can’t jump”). Much later, we saw the white man & a few other Kenyan runners resting — apparently they were pacers for the elite runners! Did I mention Jothi & I running together was really working well? I held his water bottle while he chowed down on some biscuits. He held my bottle while I refilled my bottle with electral and helped myself to Gu Energy Gels. Talking of Gu energy gels, the other tweak in my strategy was in the frequency and number of gels I consumed. My training call was to consume one every 8k  which works out to 4-5 gels. Since I didn’t carbo-load heavily in the preceding 48 hours, I figured I needed to compensate so I took my first gel at 5k and reduced the distance frequency to 7k which made it a total of 6 gels. In the final analysis, this was a good adjustment I had made.

We crossed the half-way mark where we experienced a mild case of pandemonium – an overlap zone where large numbers of 1/2 M and Full M runners were all jockeying for position. Since many runners were walking, this turned out to be an interesting obstacle course section – fortunately no mishap occurred. Much earlier, on Marine Road, we caught several glimpses of the Worli-Bandra Sealink – we were  impressed and were looking forward to crossing it on the way back. At the 23k mark, as the Sealink came closer, Jothi commented – “this is where the men will separate from the boys”. As if on cue, the 9am Mumbai sun began smiling on all the runners. I’m sure all the Bangalore runners (spoilt by pleasant year-round weather) would agree with me that the sun was smirking instead of smiling. The 5.6km stretch of the Sealink started approximately at the 24k mark. Any gradients on a marathon course are to be respected (especially if you haven’t incorporated hill training into your regimen). Many runners were walking on the incline (this is the stretch where I first saw Sunil Chainani of the Bangalore Hash Harriers – he was just ahead of us and we overtook each other several times for the next few km). We continued running but reduced our pace because, as Jothi wryly reminded us “only 18k more to go”.

Somewhere in the middle section of the bridge, it started feeling like an anti-climax. Sure – we were running on top of one of India’s engineering marvels and the views of the vast open sea and the Mumbai landscape were enjoyable for a few minutes but there was this little matter of running 42km. Was it unreasonable to expect some semblance of a breeze? I distinctly remember reading (in my school geography books) about sea breeze during the daytime and land breeze during the nighttime (or was it the other way around?) The bridge was the most desolate section on the entire course – understandable (because it’s normally off-limits for pedestrians) but it still hurt. (Sigh) If only one of the 3 rock bands we saw in the first 5k had setup their stage on the bridge… Of course, most shocking was the absence of  water stations on the entire Sealink stretch of 5.6km and even the 3km following it. Much has been written about this glaring omission [TOI story and Tanvir Kazmi’s blog].

I personally did not suffer due to this omission and there’s a good reason for it. First a quick primer on two hydration strategies used by marathoners. For one type of runner, hydrating every 3-5k (sometimes even 10k) seems to be sufficient.  For the second type of runner, continuous hydration is preferred. Years ago, while training for my 1st marathon, I learned that my body’s delicate chemical balance demanded a continuous hydration strategy. Anything less would result in a severe bout of headache. For all my training long runs, I would carry my trusty bottle (with a sipper) filled with 50% gatorade 50% water. Depending on the distance, route & group vs. solo type of run, the refilling tactic would vary. In solo training runs in US, refilling was a simple matter of locating the right gas-station close to the half-way mark. In Bangalore, refilling tactics ran the gamut – official water-stops during RFL-organized long runs, Gatorade/water reserves in one of our group’s cars – Pankaj’s Red Dragon, Strang/Rakhi’s Gora-Gadi or Shantanu/Ankita’s Suzuki Swift. Special thanks to Ankita who manned the “water car” on numerous ‘Dandi runs’ even when she wasn’t running herself. When I ran my first marathon, I ditched my bottle on race day since there were water stops every mile (which I believe is a standard for most, if not all, International marathons). Kaveri Trail Marathon (aka “KTM”) was a different matter altogether. Water stops were few and far in between and, Electral-spiked water was more infrequent. Since I knew about the water stops before the race, I carried my Gatorade+water bottle which served me well for the 1st half of the race. There were 2 major blunders I committed at KTM. Blunder #1: I ditched my bottle at the half-way mark thinking I would manage fine with the water stops. Blunder #2: I first started walking at the 24k mark (my mind was weaker than my body at that point). Having learned my lesson from my KTM blunders, I carried my bottle all the way till the end (refilling it diligently with water or Electral at every water stop). Thus, while the vast majority of runners were mouthing curses at the SCMM organizers on the Sealink, I was relatively in a more benevolent mood.  The sun wasn’t making it easy but compared to the 35-42k stretch, this would appear like a piece of cake.

As we started going downhill (final 1k of the Sealink), Jothi said he’d slow down a bit so I pulled away ever so slightly. I would next see him at the 40k mark.

28k to 33k

I descended the bridge, made a left and started looking anxiously for the water stop (I had downed my bottle in anticipation). It took 1-2k more of plodding before I hit upon the water stop. At the 30k turnaround (where I think we crossed a timing mat), I caught sight of Meher and Nari (both fellow Bangalore runners) approximately a minute ahead. Meher (who regularly wins podium spots in Bangalore running events in the Open Women’s category) is an excellent runner. We’ve run many training runs together. During most of 2009, she was significantly faster runner than me. In my final month of training, I ran faster than her in a few tempo runs and one 30k+ runs. While we were both gunning for a 4 hrs 15 min finish time, her target was backed by many months of consistency and, more importantly, a better training plan, not to mention the experience of running Mumbai the previous year. So when I saw Meher, my irrationally optimistic brain’s reaction was “Not bad! all things considered I’m doing pretty well if I’m merely a minute behind Meher”. As I introspected on this weeks after the race, I realized that this was a sign I was already going too fast — I should have reduced my pace still more to account for Mumbai weather and my non-peak condition. But… let’s say I had run at a slower pace for the first 30k, there was still no guarantee that I’d have fared better in the final 12k.

My pace predictably reduced with each passing kilometer. In the 30-35k stretch, I averaged 7:26. As my Bangalore pal Rohit correctly notes in his Mumbai Marathon race day report, the crowd support during this stretch was particularly amazing. After drinking a mish-mash of Gatorade, water, Electral, and Gu energy gels for 3+ hours, you start to crave for something else. I’ve never been more excited to see peeled oranges – I feverishly reached out for them from the outstretched hands of 2 Mumbaikar Samaritans. I am not exaggerating when I say that those oranges were the most delicious things I ever consumed. God bless those Mumbaikars!

The sun wasn’t bothering me in an overt way even though it was clearly getting warmer and warmer. The operative word being overt. With the lessons from KTM still fresh, I had trained my mind that I would not think about the sun. I also told myself that running 34k in Vijayawada (with the last 45 min in the sun) counts as preparation — even though it was the winter sun (yes – Vijayawada does have some cooling in Dec-Jan). The temptation to walk was getting stronger and stronger but I resisted. But what does resist mean? It merely means that I slowed down my running but did not walk. It does not mean that I was running faster than Chand Ram or any of future legions of fast walkers. I remembered my friend Strangway’s words after KTM it doesn’t matter whether you run or walk until you start walking. But why was it so important that I not walk? or at least delay walking as much as possible? Because once you start walking, your mind concedes a BIG point to the body. What was previously a muffled and barely audible voice from the body making appeals such as “Err.. could we stop here for a minute?” to “Hmm… are we there yet?” to “This is really getting monotonous, I say”, the body’s inner voice gets a major fillip. The tone changes to “Aw come on! You’ve run a good kilometer since the last walking break. I NEED another break”. This is the slippery slope story that I personally experienced at KTM between the 24k mark and finish line.

Virtues of carrying your own bottle
I’ve already talked about the primary value of carrying your own bottle – especially for runners requiring continuous hydration. The lesson from my 2nd blunder at KTM 2009 was that the bottle serves yet another important role in the mind-games between the body and the mind. During the end-game miles of a marathon, the mind and body constantly joust for control of the runner – so every little thing can make a difference. The virtue of carrying your bottle till the end (and keep it refilled of course) is that it completely eliminates at least one less excuse. The body’s voice cannot sigh like this “If only you had taken one more swig of Electral at the last water stop, I could have…” or “I think I’m dehydrated so let me walk until the next water stop”. Don’t know about other runners but this certainly worked for me. Eventually I got sick of the warm water/Electral mix but there was always the option for one more sip.

33k to Finish Line

Somewhere at the start of the race, we saw three yellow jerseyed guys sporting “100 marathons club”. Somewhere close to the 33k mark, one of these guys (a man probably in his 50’s) overtook me. He then turned around and gave me an encouraging smile. I smiled back. Several minutes later, he overtook me again – he flashed me the same encouraging smile (presumably he had stopped for a break and restarted). When this happened a third time, I couldn’t help wondering whether I was having my very own Groundhog Day moment.

The dreaded Pedder Road hill incline was now upon me. Since I had done no hills training during the past year, there was a healthy amount of apprehension and respect for hills. I managed to run the Sealink incline without walking but the kilometer stretch of Pedder Road was a different matter. The good folks at Active Network advise you (in this article How to tackle Hill Training) to make friends with the hill. I did indeed make friends with the hill. I’ve said enough about “running slowly but don’t walk”. Desperate times call for desperate/conservative methods. I walked the entire stretch with no shame whatsoever. The walk energized me and I felt a second wind coming. Sadly the second wind was to last a mere 2 km (until the 37k mark) after which I hit the famous marathoners’ wall.

During the last 5+ km, everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. The triumph of mind over body (which was my story for the last 24 hours and the first 37km) seemed to have turned on its head. I was reminded of a squash player’s quote: “Mind says move, body says #$#$ off!” I was still running… Sorry, did I say running? I meant plodding along at a snail’s pace. I kept trying to step on the proverbial gas pedal but nothing was happening. I was running on EMPTY. No more glycogen stores! No Gu energy gels or oranges or Electral or chilled water was going to turn things around. I just had to keep going. The good news in all this? Well, at least I was not cramping — as that would taken out whatever little joy I was still experiencing so close to the finish line.

The 40k marker came up and I heard a familiar voice behind me cheerfully yelling “Final stretch Vishy, three Queens Park rounds!” It was my race buddy Jothi who had apparently found his second (or third) wind. He overtook me at a gentle clip but his cheerful words egged me on. My legs still wouldn’t respond – they stuck to their robotic pace — the pace which they had decided was suitable for survival. Jothi’s Queens Park reference was to the 700+ meter dirt track in our home ground (Cubbon Park). When I finally did cross the finish line, my Garmin watch informed me that I had run 42.55k (a good 0.35k above the regulation distance). I had finished, I had survived and I was NOT a mess. I went looking for my buddies.

There is always the possibility that I didn’t run or complete the marathon and the above writeup was simply a figment of my imagination. To dispel that possibility, here’s a screen-grab of the official result (well, technically even this could be faked in Photoshop I suppose – so you’ll have to take my word for it):

My timing at Mumbai Marathon 2010

For my readers who skipped my highly verbose description above in the hope of seeing something pithy at the end, the table below conveys my race day story albeit in crisp clinical terms (I had set my Garmin for 5k auto-laps):

Mumbai Marathon 2010 Lap Distances

My Road to Mumbai Marathon 2010


4 hrs 45 min 12 secs. That’s the total time I took to complete the regulation distance (42.195km) of Mumbai Marathon 2010. It was the 3rd full marathon I participated in & successfully completed. The time was 13 min shy from my personal best (Silicon Valley Marathon in 2002). I was 7 years younger, weather was near-perfect and the race organization was flawless so perhaps not an apples-to-apples comparison. Compared to my disastrous performance at the Kaveri Trail Marathon in Sep 2009, I suppose I did pretty well in shaving 30min. But is this the right way to evaluate my ‘performance’? Is running marathons merely about constantly exceeding your PB (personal best) times? No and no.

2009 was the year where I clocked the most running miles ever in my life – 1100 kilometers. During the last 5 months of 2009, my Garmin Forerunner 305 and RunningAhead tell me that I ran 740 km. Mikc Clothier (my 1st marathon coach) would have been proud with the way I stuck to my running plan. Sure – I could have added interval running and weight training to my regimen but heck.. I’m not claiming perfect preparation. In the end, I’d rate my preparation for SCMM2010 a solid B(+). The reason I didn’t give myself an A(-) is because of the final (taper) week.

The final 2 weeks before race day (aka “taper”) are arguably more important than the prior 2-3 months where runners cram in progressively higher weekly miles. The taper weeks are all about allowing the body to recover from the series of weekend long runs, drastically reduce the number and duration of the scheduled runs, stick to a well-accustomed-to-body diet, take extra care in hydration, and tuck in a LOT of hours of sleep. It’s almost akin to fattening the pig before the slaughter. In fact, most runners gain some weight during the taper weeks making them feel distinctly uncomfortable and anxious.

While there’s no mention in marathon training manuals about trans-atlantic business trips and falling sick, it’s safe to assume that they are clear NO-NO’s during the final 2 taper weeks. Alas! Fate dealt me a tough set of cards when a business trip got scheduled in the final week. 3 days in Las Vegas and 4 days in San Francisco would get me to Mumbai in the wee hours of 16th morning – approximately 27 hours before the race start. A different person may have weighed the odds and concluded that there was too much risk in attempting to run on 17th morning. But I’m a delayed binding kinda-guy so I didn’t abort plans to be in Mumbai on marathon weekend.

Week before race day

Las Vegas is my least favorite American city. Too flashy & artificial for my liking and, most importantly, after you get accustomed to a decade of mostly smoking-free public areas in Northern California, it feels suffocating here. Anyway, I wasn’t here for sightseeing. I had come to attend several business meetings and check out the latest technology trends at CES 2010. By the morning of Jan 10, I was back in familiar territory — San Francisco. I needed to run the final 16k taper run so changed into my running gear shortly after I reached the hotel. At 11am, it was still quite foggy and the air was nippy so I dashed back to my room and put on an extra layer. Since I’d stayed at this hotel during my previous two trips, the running route was already figured out. Headed down Nob Hill towards Embarcadero, then turned right at the water front and keep running for 8k which took me past the ball park — I turned around the Cirque de Soleil encampment. I didn’t have any target pace for this taper run so I started fast, then gradually slowed and finished 16k at a 6:02 min/km average which, coincidentally, was my target pace for Mumbai. The 2km steep climb back to the top of Nob Hill was satisfying (I was thankful for wearing that extra layer). The rest of the day passed uneventfully with no grim foreboding of the week ahead.

Sometime on Monday evening, I developed an itchy feeling in the throat which gradually turned into a mild sore throat. No panic yet! Increased my fluid consumption significantly (juices, tea, even the ghastly chamomile kind which I normally avoid). Started gargling every few hours also. I’m usually not renowned for such proactive measures but this was a special week after all. Tuesday morning rolled around and mild coughing had begun and the sore throat had gotten worse. Still no sign of a cold and that gave me a great deal of hope. The hope started getting dashed by Tuesday evening when my voice went nasal. I spent Tuesday & Wednesday evenings at my sister’s place in Cupertino and she plied me with liberal and regular doses of miriyala kashayam (the family’s age-old answer to stop the common cold in its tracks). On Wednesday evening, I headed to Santana Row in San Jose for dinner with buddies/classmates from BIT Mesra. On the way out, I dashed off a quick pessimistic email to my marathon training buddies — something on the lines of my prospects of running at Mumbai are looking bleak. The food and conversation at Maggiano’s was excellent and, after hearing me complain about my throat, my friends suggested a cognac would do a world of good. Since I’d sworn off spirits since Aug ’08, I hesitated a bit but then acquiesced because… after all it was a special week and I needed a multi-pronged strategy to quell the barbaric germs. I returned to my sister’s place with a fresh dose of good vibes, downed more miriyala kashayam, and read some very encouraging emails from Shantanu and Meher. Game still on! I woke up Thursday morning feeling quite rested but with a finely progressed cold. Realized belatedly that my biggest blunder during the final taper week was that, far from increasing my sleep average, I had reduced it to a measly 5 hrs.

24 hours before race start

Under normal conditions, I use Afrin (a nasal spray) a few hours before the plane starts the descent and it almost always works. When I have a cold, all bets are off. Both the descents (to Frankfurt Airport & Mumbai Airport) were highly painful experiences where I felt my brains would explode through my ears. As I waited at the baggage claim area, dazed and confused (but no longer in pain) is how I’d describe my condition. Got into a prepaid taxi and woke up my dear friend Dheeraj (it was ~ 3am) who gave directions and I reached his Powai flat by 4am. Slept for 7 uninterrupted hours, skipped breakfast and had a delicious early lunch with the Vasishths. Then took stock of my situation.

  • Cold: much better but needed periodic bouts of nose blowing.
  • Throat: still sore but vastly improved.
  • Cough: still nagging though subdued. The cough syrup I had picked up from Rite-Aid (DelSym) was a complete dud. Damn! why didn’t I pick up the tried & tested Benedryl?

Dheeraj (my dear friend from Bokaro Xaviers days) examined me with a bemused look. The top question on everyone’s minds (including me) was whether I would run tomorrow. Maybe he saw my determined & stubborn look and thus decided not to lead with “Are you NUTS to even think about running?” We were discussing whether I should see a doctor. I was cagey since it would be a tad bit inconvenient if the doctor were to ‘strongly recommend’ that I not run. D convinced me that it was an excellent idea (I think he was afraid that my wife would come after him if something bad were to happen to me). So off we went to the nearby doctor’s office. A very quick examination by the lady doctor (who was also accompanied by her 5 year old son – since it was a Saturday et al you know) and the verdict was “bacterial infection”. Not really a surprise but I asked her if I could start the antibiotics course the next day (after the marathon). Her reaction was the biggest surprise. She said “by all means, run the marathon. You just have an infection, a cold and a lingering cough. You run the marathon with your legs, right?” She said I must have 2 doses of antibiotics, cough syrup as needed, and for good measure, she threw in a Paracetamol to be taken at night so I’d wake up ‘fresh’. Oh yeah, lady! My kinda doctor! You can imagine what this doctor’s visit did to my spirits.

Watched a bit of the India vs. Bangladesh cricket match, had an animated discussion on religion, spirituality and atheism with D and C (D’s wife). It was the second time I was hearing “Once you finish reading Richard Dawkins, you will become an atheist”. A paperback edition of Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” traveled back to Bangalore with me (courtesy D). Who said atheists aren’t evangelists? 🙂

Early sumptuous dinner with D & C and I hit the bed at 9:30pm. Tossed and turned… 1 hour later.. tossed and turned…1 hour later… finally slept.

Race day morning

I had kept alarms for 5 different times but woke up at the first beep itself. Nervous energy – can you tell? Took a cab to Ghatkopar station at 5am. The place was bustling like a Sunday marketplace. Rupees 7 ticket to VT station in 2nd class – can you believe that? There still are some things in India that have defied inflation! The train was full but managed to find a seat. Spotted several fellow runners including a large group of half-marathon runners that got off at Dadar station. Reached VT by 5:45am and gradually met up with most of the Bangalore runners in front of the baggage counter in Azad Maidan. The most important person I met before race start was Shantanu — who had picked up my bib and timing chip the previous day (thanks again Shantanu! you saved me 2-3 valuable hours on Saturday). The usual banter and nervous anticipation as the race start time of 6:45am slowly approached.

Considering how wordy this post has already gotten (and how long it took to get this far), I’ll finish the highlights of my actual running in a subsequent post.

(Feb 14 Update: race day ‘report’ covered in Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010)