The Cult of BHUKMP

[Editor’s Note: It’s been almost four years since I started running with (and became part of) the BHUKMP cult. I never got around to writing about BHUKMP, aptly described as a “cult” rather than a group. The name itself is an acronym for the six races that every member should strive to run in a single season. BHUKMP = B_angalore Midnight, H_yderabad, Bangalore U_ltra, K_averi Trail, M_umbai, P_ondicherry/Auroville. In this post, the cult attempts to outline its core ideologies in the form of “Thou shalt…”].Multiple references to Dandi should clue you on to the fact that it’s a dominant part of the cult’s psychic rhythm. The Dandi Way shall be the next post in this series.]

Thou shalt get out of bed before sunrise at least ONCE a week.

Thou shalt save the Friday beers for Saturday.

Thou shalt run at least a 24k Dandi every Sat morning

Thou shalt run the 30k Dandi run every Sat morning.

Thou shalt run Dandi even if all other BHUKMP’rs have gone out of town for a BHUKMP run and you couldn’t.

Thou shalt be considered a member if you join the group on a Dandi run at least once and share your life story.

Thou shalt be very pissed off if, after having made the effort to run Dandi, one misses being in the group photo at Cubbon on account of being too slow!

Thou shalt recruit anyone running alone on Dandi route.

Thou shalt brood over the Dandi group photo after missing the Saturday run.

Thou shalt feel an extraordinary sense of pride at running more than a half marathon distance every Saturday and treating it like a simple morning run!

Thou shalt always runverse with fellow BHUKMP’rs except perhaps at the races.

Thou shalt DNF only under extenuating circumstances..

Thou shalt DNF and earn the right to judge the DNS (Did Not Start).

Thou shalt run the Comrades at least once before you die or you CANNOT die.

Thou shalt run a full marathon every month.

Thou shalt cherish the after run breakfast, talk about it in runversation and, if needed, fight to get your choice of restaurant agreed.

Thou shalt not feel shame in demanding new members to treat the group in expensive places.

Thou shalt focus only on having a good time but will end up having a good timing at times.

Thou shalt not judge the slow runner… or the elite runner.

Thou shalt not discriminate based on religion, caste, creed or choice of footwear (or lack thereof).

Though shalt always obey The Village Elder bechara elder group se bahar ho gaya hai.

Thou shalt not be judgemental about *crazy*. Crazy is a continuum, not a point.

Thou shalt use a Garmin. Or not.

Thou shalt overcome and hope to RUN (not run/ walk/ stroll) 10 kms.

Thou shalt WALK all the races if you are incapable of joining the Sat Dandi run.

Thou shalt write stupid posts in the group even if you are not able to run with them every Saturday in the hope that you don’t get thrown out of the group.

Thou shalt know the difference between the tank and the TANK.

Thou shalt either measure time or distance, but never both together.

Thou shalt strive to run/walk faster or further.

Thou shalt strive to stay (or catch up) with the peloton.

Thou shalt NOT, even for once, think about stealing fellow runner’s huaraches.

Thou shalt win a podium position and treat the group to breakfast!

Thou previous evening shalt the run even if drunk Thou got.

Thou shalt get more & more people addicted to the madness called running…

Thou shalt promptly post to your blog, the contents of the crowd-sourced FB post that you started 🙂

Thou shalt never forget “what happens in BHUKMP/Dandi stays in BHUKMP/Dandi” or else…

 

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!!

 

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

Pic: courtesy tumblr.com/Google Images

Pic: courtesy tumblr.com/Google Images

I missed the marathon season’s closing race Mumbai Marathon aka the ‘Kumbh Mela of Indian Running’. Wish I could claim credit for that moniker but no.. it was a Gandhian from Hubli — barefoot ultra-marathoner extraordinaire Vishwanathan Jayaraman (VJ) — who coined the term. I keep learning amazing new things about VJ. Apparently he was a chain-smoker until 13 years ago. At this year’s Mumbai Marathon, fifty-year old VJ finished in 3 hours 36 minutes!

But this post isn’t about VJ 🙂

Our Facebook running group is awash with posts and pictures. After all, the pilgrims had just returned from Kumbh Mela with PBs, sightings/photo-ops/autographs from running legends like Fauja Singh and Haile Gebrselassie. A few of my friends  cramped close to the 35k mark which prompted my friend (RV) to post the following:

Ok. Now that the glory is wearing off, here’s a question. What’s the deal with this 30-35k range? Three of us (HM, SS and I) got cramps. Any insights?

If you’ve run more than a few marathons, you’d have learned that preventing cramps is a multi-variate regression problem… as the ensuing informative responses to RV’s question will show. By anonymizing the names and making this thread public, I’m striking that balance between public good and privacy (or so I’d like to claim). Read on.

HM: I have two profound insights. I did not eat a banana on Thu 17th -> Sun 20th mornings. Always do before a race or long run, but just plain forgot. And the goli soda man was nowhere to be seen at the 21-22 km mark. That would have fixed my salt level. Joking aside, our salt levels are in a pretty fine balance, and we’re creatures of habit, so it’s possible even something as small as this could have a tipped a cramping sequence after X distance.
But really, with cramps, who knows for sure?

RG: This is what I had found on net from different sources. Muscle and liver stores around 2000 calories for a trained athlete as glycogen, for avg person it takes around 2000 calories to run 30-35K. Means glycogen is depleted by 30-35Km and “glycogen depletion” is knows to cause muscle cramps as safeguard mechanism by body. May you can experiment by eating banana or dates during and hour before the run (both worked for me very well). PS: I’m a programmer and not a nutrition expert, so take my advice with caution.

RDC: The cramping’s probably from sodium depletion which is a danger in hot temps and generally happens around the 3 hr mark. People susceptible to that usually take salt tablets with them.

HM: Yup, that’s generally the process, and the cause, but good training plans and reasonably careful diet and health habits are designed to address that. You can work to successfully lower your risk and nail all the systemic factors down, which I think many of us do, anyway, or try to do. There’s always the chance an imponderable will still get you — just don’t let those get into your head, is all.

RV: Interesting. Some of the things I changed this time are (a) did not have carb loaded dinner, but had a carb loaded lunch the previous day-did not want undigested food with the inevitable low sleep levels (b) did not take salt – no sodium (c) did not eat banana – no potassium. I did take a gu gel at 21k mark, hydrated well with plenty of water and had those energy drinks in between. I assumed that the sodium and potassium salts would be taken care of in the gel and energy drinks. Looks like it did not happen.

SC: Salt tablets help – every 5-6 km – I have had this problem in most runs….also if someone coming in from the US then get Crampease tablets.

SS: Cramps usually happen to me towards the end of every race despite my fueling and hydration strategy. My only strategy to not get them is to not alter stride, run little faster and finish . 
For scmm, i ate banana before the run. During the run, I had dates at 9k, 18k, 26k and 2 more times. Sipped on Gatorade throughout. And Water alternatively. Cramp happened around 35k. Finishing the race, vomiting happened. Examining the contents- found no dates. Only water and Gatorade. Vomiting subsided only after a few hours after sipping on salted lemon juice. May be i will switch gatorade with lemon soda and see what happens?

SC: SS – the vomiting could be due to low BP – did you also feel a bit giddy – if so then lie down and get someene to raise your legs and get lots of salt.

NK: If it is not because of lack of salts, water, or calories, then the reason (which applies to most of us) is disruption of muscle coordination and control due to MUSCLE FATIGUE. You just need to strengthen your muscles. Only running is not enough. Cramps used to happen to me earlier if not during the race then definitely after the final sprint to the finish line. They rarely happen now as I train more and now that my muscles are stronger and flexible to be used to the pace and distance that I subject them to.

NK: And about the vomiting…. I always retch (and vomit at times) for a few minute after sprinting to the finish line as I have suddenly put in all my reserves. It happens because the blood flow from the intestines and stomach suddenly drops and is directed to the moving muscles and heart. This can make you feel nauseous and cause your stomach to heave out whatever is in it because it cannot continue to digest it. 
Some see it as a badge of honor. SS: I would say it only shows that you have put in considerable effort for your 1st marathon and done it in an excellent time.

SS: Low bp could be a problem. It is normally at the lower end. I did lie down every 100m on the way back to hotel. Btw, had salt from a nearby macd’s but threw that up as well. From long lemon salt combination is the only solution that has worked for me. Something to do with the acid-base balance perhaps.

NK: agree with you. My upper calves are weak. Recurring location for cramps and post race stiffness. Should try strength training. Vomiting does not bother me ad much as people around me though  since I know how to stop it with my magic solution – lemon and salt.

HM: + 1 for strength training. Cramps used to happen to me a lot on 60km+ bike rides in 2008-’09 and even shorter distances before that. Once I began regular gym work through ’09-’10 the problem vanished. In ’11 I did a bit of yoga, which also helped.
I do less of both strength training and yoga than I’d like to, for sure. And I know both have been proven to help.

SC: SS – have plenty of experience with both low BP and cramping – build up salt intake as a habit and try to drink extra fluids for the 72 hours prior to any long run.

SR: In all my previous Mumbai marathons I got cramps after 30k, but not this time. In fact this time, I had the most comfortable run ever. Some of the things that I think might hv contributed 1. Ate 1 big banana at 4am on race day. 2. Drank lots of water on Saturday 3. Drank about 1L Gatorade and ate salty oranges on the route. 4. Had three GU gels 5. Stretched for 5 mins after every run from 29th Dec until SCMM. In fact I did stretch after marathon as well and my muscles are much less sore than earlier.

AK: My theory which I researched and worked is, we lose 1litre of water every hour (sweat with salt/pottasium). Every 20 minutes energal or water(with salt) helps in avoiding cramps in my view. It worked really well for me. I managed splits with just 6minutes between 1st half and 2nd because of this I guess.

CK: do 5 consecutive dandi run of 32+ before any marathon; you will not feel any cramps.

SS: Interesting: lemon is acidic but not lemon and water: http://www.godsdirectcontact.com/vegetarian/ch/aa.htm

My marathon discography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pic: courtesy mtv.com

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

For a few minutes less: running the Mumbai Marathon 2012

Look for the Asterix reference at the tail end of post (Pic: courtesy zenitram.over-blog.com)

This is Part 2 of my Mumbai Marathon 2012 race report and continues from For a few minutes less: a race report from Mumbai Marathon 2012.

The First 7k

Somewhere in my pace calculations, I erroneously concluded that  5:50 was the goal pace for a 4 hrs 10 min finish. Perhaps 6 seconds/km is not significant to the seasoned runner but in my limited experience I’ve learnt that every attempt to run faster (than trained for!) in the first half has come back to bite me in the second half. So, my first running mistake was an arithmetic one. 🙂 In order to account for my extra mile of sprinting (and anxiety) before the starting line, I revised my pace – by a ‘generous’ margin of 5 seconds and stuck to a 5:55 pace for the first 5k.

It was the first race where I was in sole possession of last place — at the 10 meter mark. Having survived 45 minutes of anxiety, I was just plain relieved and happy. I told myself that I would overtake hundreds, most likely even thousands of runners – that pumped me up. At the 2k mark, my pal Jothi (here’s his race report) yelled an encouraging “catch-up”. I waved back knowing fully well that, with my revised goal pace,  I wasn’t going to catch up anytime soon. As I alluded to earlier, an important pre-race ritual had been missed – emptying the bladder. What started as a mental distraction soon turned into a physiological nag. Keeping a lookout for a Sulabh on the Marine Drive stretch, the first open one was sighted at the 7k mark. Turned out to be a quite a popular loo – the pit stop having cost me nearly two minutes.

7k to 21k

Maintaining an average pace of 5:56, I steadily overtook groups of runners. I slowed down going up the Pedder Road incline and, after reaching the top, went tearing down with long strides. I gained no more than 20 seconds but it was done to get the adrenaline pumping. Crossing the Bandra-Worli sea-link was fairly uneventful, especially compared to the 2010 edition. Somewhere between 15k and 20k, I overtook Rahul Verghese’s 5:30 pacing bus and Amit Sheth/Neepa Sheth’s 5:00 pacing bus. The latter was a high-octane peloton with several catchy slogans.

Gobs of Gu and Sacs of Salt

Whether it’s the first, fifth or tenth marathon you are running, if something ends up deviating from plan, it will only happen in the second half (most likely in the last 10k). I crossed the half-way mark in 2 hrs 5 min. It should have triggered a “going too fast per my revised goal” warning bell but it didn’t. In any case, it was too late to make any adjustments and my body and mind were in good harmony at this stage. I was so focused that I passed Ravi Venkatesan (a fellow BHUKMP runner) without noticing him. He called out and, for fun, I did a 20 second burst of reverse running while engaging in a short conversation. I recall thinking this guy ran a fast first half – that too in his first full marathon.

For all but two of my marathons, I’ve been carrying a Gatorade bottle and using Gu gels. The only change I made for SCMM2012 was to consume a gel every 5k (instead of 6k), so a total of 8 energy gels.  It didn’t feel like I overdid it so I’ll repeat this for the next race too.

After suffering severe calf cramps in the season’s first marathon (Hyderabad – Aug 2011), I used Endurolyte capsules (mostly salt) for the next race (Kaveri Trail Marathon – Sep 2011). They seemed to work because I didn’t cramp at this venue for the first time in 3 consecutive years! At the Bangalore 50k Ultra (Nov 2011), the Endurolyte tablets weren’t sufficient to stave off several bouts of calf cramps. My running experts told me that 5 capsules probably didn’t account for the hot weather. So I came to SCMM2012 armed with 8 endurolyte capsules.

The eventful second half

Shortly after passing Ravi at the halfway mark, I started feeling some niggles — in my quads and hamstrings. The quadriceps and calf muscle groups had made their presence (and displeasure) felt in many earlier marathons but the hamstring niggle was new. I popped some extra Endurolyte capsules as a preemptive measure, dropped my pace a wee bit – ran 20-25k at 6:00 pace and the 25-30k stretch at 6:04 pace.

Somewhere in the region of 32-33k, my right hamstring niggle morphed into a moderate cramp. All signs in the preceding 10k were pointing to this eventuality but I was still disappointed. If my marathons #1 through #4 were characterized by struggles with exhaustion and cramps in the final 10k, marathons #5 through #9 have been devoid of exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong – I would be plenty tired at the 32k mark but my energy meter still showed plenty of juice.  So my last 5 marathons have primarily been struggles against cramps – thank god for small mercies!

I stopped, did some general stretches and continued at a slower pace. I repeated this sequence and was it a wonder that my 30-35k lap pace was 6:40? Worse was around the corner. Close to 36k, my moderate hamstring cramp turned into a full blown cramp. As I passed a friend and fellow Bangalore runner (Sunil Chainani), I asked him if he had any miracle cure for a hamstring cramp (I had exhausted my supply of salt tablets by now). Of course a miracle cure was not to be (yet)!

I continued (my now familiar) ritual of running-walking-stopping-stretching. Somewhere in the 30-36k stretch, I passed fellow Bangalore runners (Sridhar  and Satsang) and Chennai runner Ridhima Suri. For a while, Sridhar, Ridhima and I were playing a cat-and-mouse game with each other. At the 38k mark, my fortunes turned. As I pulled under one of those green ‘oasis’ tents with cool water sprays, I asked a fellow runner if he had a pain spray. What he did have (and kindly offered) was a Volini pain relief sachet. I liberally applied the gel to my right hamstring and, on a hunch, also applied it to my left hamstring. 10 seconds later a miracle happened – the above Asterix visual is the best way to describe how I felt! Of course I didn’t attain superhuman strength but my cramped hamstring had been banished to some temporary jail and that, my friends, was superhuman enough.

I had 4k more of road to pound so I took off like a released torpedo. According to my calculations, I was definitely going over 4 hrs 20min but there was just a chance I could salvage a PB out of this race.  The 35-40k leg was negotiated with an average pace of 7:28 – probably would have been 8:30 without the Volini. For the final 2.5km, I finished strong with a 6:21 pace – the course ended up being 42.5km (not 42.2km). My net time turned out to be 4 hrs 24 min 3 sec – shaving 2 1/2 minutes from my previous PB at Auroville 2011.

Closing Thoughts

Notwithstanding my blunder-laced start, there were several positives to be drawn from my 9th marathon finish:

  • Did not run out of energy in the final 10k – revised goal pace mostly in the ball park.
  • Rebounded from my hamstring cramps creditably (thanks mainly to the benefactor at 38k)
  • Mentally a lot stronger in the final 5-7k than all previous marathons.
  • Salvaged a PB in spite of cramps, 2-minute pit stop, extra 300 m, extra mile of sprinting before race start.

The biggest open question I need to address for next season is cramps. This time it was hamstring, last few times it was calves, and before that it was quadriceps. What’s a sure training and race-day strategy to prevent cramps? (my next research area) And yeah, even if I figure it out, need to carry pain relief spray for sure.

My Pre-2011 Marathon Running Era

The T-shirt they gave to the finishers of Silicon Valley Marathon 2002

In 2002, I ran my first marathon – the Silicon Valley Marathon in San Jose. Finished in a respectable time of 4:32. After a 6-year hiatus, I resumed running after our return to India in August 2008. I had struck an optimistic note in Asthma, Bangalore and me… but deep in my heart I feared that my asthma would return, a case of when rather than if.

With the sword of Damocles hanging perilously close to my lungs in our first 100 days in Bangalore, was trying really hard to squeeze in a few runs every week. During one of those perambulating-around-the-apartment-complex runs, I was ‘spotted’ by ace Bangalore marathoner Ashok Nath. I say ‘spotted’ because he knew right away that:

  • I had it in me to be a distance runner
  • My form could use some improvement – my hands were open like a sprinter, instead of the lightly closed fist of a distance runner

After that chance encounter, Ashok persuaded me to register for the Bangalore Midnight Half-Marathon, a mere month away. With the most threadbare of training, I completed the Half-Marathon. A side effect of the half-marathon was my hooking up with an entire cast of rabid marathoners in Koramangala. The rest was history. Eight months later, I ran my second full marathon (and my first in India) in Srirangapatnam. It was an emotionally painful, slow and grinding marathon. However, the experience compelled me to return to Kaveri Trail in 2010 to make amends. The period between the two Kaveri Trail Marathons was quite eventful – a creditable showing at the Mumbai Marathon in Jan 2010 followed a month later by an un-ignorable case of “moderate” slipped disc.

Techies of the world: respect the L5-S1 disc!!!

Contrary to popular perceptions, “slipped disc” does not signal the end of an active and adventurous lifestyle. Slipped discs are neither caused by, nor are they exacerbated by, running. But they are to be respected and one does need to make adjustments to one’s life. The good orthopedist Dr. Srinivasan (of Malleswaram fame) assured me that if I religiously did a set of three exercises twice daily (before breakfast and dinner) I could continue with my worship of the running gods. Having stuck to this regimen 90% of the time in the past 21 months, I’m pleased to report that I’ve had only one episode of back pain (lasting around 4 days). Then there’s was also the little matter of resisting macho urges when it comes to lugging suitcases. For the other, more important, matter of resisting paternal urges to pick up the darling kiddos, a creative workaround thankfully presented itself. [Update (Sep 2012): Discs don’t slip suddenly. Really.]

I ended 2010 with four full marathons under my belt. In the next calendar year, I had doubled the count to eight, in the process logging a mileage of 2000 km for 2011.

My wife, in describing my last marathon of 2011, had this to say “Vishy just crossed the line from being plain-old-crazy to ultra-crazy”. Can’t really argue with that characterization but is there more to the story than mere craziness? Did I have a master plan? Had I become an endorphin-snorting marathon addict? How did I fare in those four marathons and what had I learnt? Stay tuned for the next post in this series – answers to those questions and some more.

Bengali Mumbaikar takes the long way home

Pic: courtesy ekmarathimanoos.blogspot.com

Soumya Banerjee (my friend from University of Houston days) returned from Boston to India 10 years ago – a period which we can term the “first wave” of reverse brain drain. Very few of my Indian-American friends returned that early so he stands out. It’s thus fitting that he’s the first profile being published in the new R2IProfile category. Here we go with the email interview…

Q: How long & where did you live in US? When did you return to India?
A: 10 years. Lived in Houston (Grad school + 1.5 years) and Boston

Q: Why did you return?
A: The company I worked with (Sapient) was setting up an office in India. Had a casual conversation and took a flight over. Wife (Priti Dhall) stayed back in the US for a year and then she also moved. Meeting in London stops being romantic after a few months.

So clinically speaking it was the job. Also important is the fact that we always thought we would move back some day. (America was never our country)

Q: Which Indian city did you move to and why?
A: Delhi, since 3 of the 4 guys setting up the office were from Delhi 🙂 Moved to Mumbai after 7 years in Delhi.

Q: Apartment, villa or independent home? How did you arrive at this decision? Did you move all/part of your household belongings?
A: Apartment (one floor of a 3 floor house). Only two of us, did not need a HOUSE. Also at that time Gurgaon was not developed and did not have that many apartments. We moved with six suitcases of stuff. Rest we left behind.

Q: How do you rate your return to India on a scale of 1-10? [10=love the place/should have moved earlier, 1=hate it here / plotting my return back to USA)
A: 10

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely love about India since you returned?
A: In no particular order…

  • Career growth
  • Ability to travel and see the country
  • Family being close by

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely detest about being in India?
A: In no particular order…

  • Roads in cities
  • Chalta hai attitude
  • Encounters with corruption

Q: What are the 3 things you miss most about America?
A: See below:

  • Food 🙂
  • Silence
  • Not being involved in every family decision/trip

Editor’s Note: Soumya is currently working on an online education startup (Attano) targeting Indian students. If you meet Soumya in person, you’ll find that, far from the brevity of his email responses, he’s a voluble and engaging communicator with an insatiable wanderlust. For evidence of his wanderlust, I present you Exhibit A – Genesis (photo blog of his travels in India). Soumya’s dear wife (Priti) meanwhile is accruing karma points for several generations of Banerjees and Dhalls through her dedicated work on CanKids India (a support group for children with cancer and their families).

R2I Profiles – Launching a New Category

My WordPress dashboard stats tell me that a lot of organic traffic comes from folks searching for “nris returning to india” or “indians returning to bangalore”. When I started this blog in 2008, this was the primary target group I had in mind. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that we moved to Bangalore from SF Bay Area when our kids were 5 and 2.5 and that our kids are attending school at NPS Koramangala (a CBSE board school, not an International/IB school). You may have also noticed that most of my posts in the second year are categorized under Settling Down instead of Returning to India.

Sure – I’ve written about how we picked schools for our kids, our escapades with the drivers and of becoming one with the Bangalore traffic. But that’s merely one perspective. What if you are considering Hyderabad or Delhi/NCR because you have family there? What if your older kid is 10 years and you are wondering if you’ve waited too long? When to keep a cook and driver? and when not to? When does it make sense to send your kids to a CBSE school vs. an international school? Answers to these questions can only come from the hordes (yes “hordes”) of Indians with heterogenous profiles who have returned before and after us.

Without further ado, I present to you R2I Profiles (short for Returned-To-India Profiles) – a new category that shall feature interview-style posts with other folks who have made the bold (or foolish) move back to the motherland. Stay tuned! (Hopefully not for too long)

….

And the posts have started to come in…

The Three Bubbles Revisited

When I wrote The Three Bubbles back in Oct 2008, the perspective was biased around cushioning the India landing. Clearly the 3 bubbles represent a fairly minimalistic view of life. If one were to just shuttle from the “living bubble” to the “working bubble” via the “commuting bubble”, there’s a strong likelihood of slowly going mad… unless you are one of the workaholic types who’s all-consumed by work. For the rest of us, a fourth bubble is what the the joie de vivre doctor ordered.

The fourth bubble is an activity you do at least once a week, usually on weekends, and is something that delivers large doses of joy, pleasure, and exhilaration. Physical pain may be a side effect sometimes but..(heck) it would have been worth it. Lest the hyperactive imagination of my readers go off in strange directions, let me cut to the chase and elaborate on what I’m talking about 🙂

Pranshu Gupta (buddy and ex-colleague from Yahoo who returned to Delhi in 2002) spends weekends offroading his custom-fitted Jeep up-and-down steep ravines and sloshing through muddy swamps on the outskirts of Gurgaon. For company, he has 8-10 other folks vying with each for bragging rights on offroading adventures, jeep modifications and towing equipment. For a taste of what these guys do with whinnying machines, check out Offroading in Behrampur/Gurgaon.

Soumya Banerjee (who returned to Delhi from Boston in 2001 to start Sapient’s India operation and is now working on a startup in Mumbai) is a thoroughbred wanderlust who doesn’t let a single weekend go by without exploring yet another picturesque part of India. After experiencing the best of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (during his Delhi days), he’s now busy exploring Maharashtra and the southern states. For photographic evidence, check out his travel blog at Soumya.org – be warned! the travel bug might bite you.

Manjula Sridhar (a budding entrepreneur and endurance athlete who returned to Bangalore from Silicon Valley) has a menu of endurance activities to choose from every weekend – from running to cycling to “Lost-style” adventure competitions. I kid you not! This gal chalks up cycling and running miles like…well… I don’t know what to compare her with. As though this were not enough, she’s also a trained martial artist and she teaches karate. Clearly she has conquered time.

Sridhar Ranganathan (serial entrepreneur and good friend who moved to Bangalore ~ 7 years ago) does not miss his Sunday morning round of golf at the KGA links for anything! His golf handicap is steadily getting better I’m told but I strongly suspect he’s sneaking in an odd round during the week as well (there! that’s how rumors are started).

Ajay (my colleague who moved from San Diego to Bangalore 3 years ago) gets his weekly dose of adrenalin by playing several games of squash at his apartment club house.

When we moved to Bangalore ~ 2yrs ago, I had grim forebodings that my dormant asthma might flare up (see Asthma, Bangalore and me) so I had to choose a physical activity wisely. My choices narrowed down to squash (which I absolutely LOVED) or running (which I kinda sorta liked in a bursty irregular way). Running eventually won out because there were no squash courts within reasonable driving distance. Boy! Did I get lucky or what? I was introduced to a rabid Koramangala/HSR running gang and before I knew it, had run ~ 1200 km in 2009 – completing my second and third marathons (see Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010) were merely a side effect.

The Three Bubbles will keep you nice and cozy during your initial year (a ‘necessary’ condition in The Art of Returning to India) but I now believe that it’s the fourth bubble that’s the high-order bit (‘sufficient’ condition) in staying-put for the long haul.

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