When life gives you a ripped toe you make lemonade

For the uninitiated it must seem like an act of god that we barefoot runners don’t get injured more often… especially with all those glass pieces and strewn on the road, right?

Turns out no superhuman powers are required. Barefoot runners have no choice but to be aware of the running surface – innate survival instinct kicks in. Glass pieces and sundry sharp objects are easily spotted and evasive maneuvers executed.

What about soreness on the running soles? That can persist for a few days to a few hours (depending on how many barefoot miles you’ve put in already) but it’s NOT an injury! It’s “breaking in” your soles!

Analysis of road accidents in US revealed that a high percentage of accidents occur within a few kilometers from people’s homes. Apparently motorists are in a “lowered state of alertness” as they get closer home.. presumably resulting in careless mistakes. Tennis buffs might term them “unforced errors”.

I committed a similar unforced error on the morning of Sep 20, 2013 at Kaikondrahalli Lake. I had finished an interval run when I ran into a few running buddies who were just getting started. We began a slow ambling run – they were warming up and I was cooling down.

Bam!

Visualize your big toe (10 o’clock area) gently hitting the top end of a protrusion at a nearly parallel angle. That’s all it took for my first “barefoot injury” — seventeen months after I commenced my barefoot running journey.

The next 3 pictures were taken in the nurse’s office as she dressed my toe.

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The injury happened on a Thursday. I had to eschew shoes, wear chappals and get my dressing changed every other day. Within a week, my toe was looking like this (see below). With a regular bandaid on, I negotiated the Saturday long run without any mishap (I *did* use my 4mm huaraches).

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Running downtime due to injury: 8 days (or 3 runs).

The best was yet to come.

Next week I continued to wear chappals as I allowed my toe to get its fresh coat of skin. At some point I realized that this ‘wearing chappals to work’ business wasn’t too bad.

I was experiencing open toed freedom while walking to/from/in the office five days a week. I was already doing this over the weekend and for my runs. But extending this to the majority of my waking walking hours was heady stuff.

Gee! Now why didn’t I think of this earlier?

Hmm.. perhaps because people who work in offices are *supposed* to wear shoes?

I remember the first time I saw a SoCal surfer hippie in Yahoo’s Santa Clara office walking around barefoot. My jaw dropped! Then I saw him nonchalantly saunter into the restroom (still *barefoot*). Ew! was my reaction. Native and immigrant role reversal.

Years later in the Bangalore offices of Adobe, one of my initial observations was a high number of male engineers wore sandals to work. To me, it seemed ‘casual’. As though coming to work was not ‘important enough’ to warrant donning shoes. Why weren’t people projecting a ‘buttoned up’ persona? After all, clothes make a man, no?

Inertia, as they say, is a powerful thing. Conditioning and on what’s “proper” and what’s not) is also a powerful thing.

So what had happened? How did I suddenly become comfortable with the notion of “anything but shoes”  in a professional environment?

The truth was that it wasn’t sudden at all. In the past two years I had become comfortable being an outlier/maverick barefoot runner. So extending this new found ‘freedom’ to walking was a logical next step.

Walking around the office either in my 5 year old Puma chappals… or huaraches… or barefoot became the norm. A meeting with the Police Commissioner… could I get away with it? Yes I could. Meetings with potential partners… could I get away with it? Yes I could. VC meetings? Yes.  Friends and relatives’ weddings? Yes.

There was no turning back now. The chasm had been crossed.

When life gives you a lemon you make lemonade

When life gives you a ripped toe you stop wearing shoes

When life gives you a ripped toe you make lemonade

 

The runner’s elixir

Pic courtesy eusa-riddled.blogspot.com

Pic courtesy eusa-riddled.blogspot.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

The ritual

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

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

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

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

Pre-run routine

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

 

Made men of the mafiosi runner’s body

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

For all you non-Police fans out there, the above lyrics are from King of Pain (Synchronicity album). This post is mostly about pain.

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You start a marathon with your legs and finish with your heart.

Surely you’ve encountered this quote in some runner’s email signature. Let me break the bad news, sweetheart. It’s just a bullshit quote to oversimplify things for newbie runners.

Pic courtesy cartoonstock.com

Pic courtesy cartoonstock.com

If you’ve seen mafia movies like The Godfather, Good Fellas or Casino you know all about ‘made men’. What if I told you that the well-tempered marathoner is made of ‘made men’? Quick, say that tongue twister aloud three times without slipping!

The point is that a marathoner needs all parts of his body to cooperate and perform consistently if he want to be a regular marathon runner for years and years.

Cardiovascular fitness is the first order limiting factor on the path to marathon greatness but let’s leave the lungs and heart out of the current discussion.. for now. This one is all about muscles, tendons and ligaments.

1. Quadriceps
Easily the muscle that’s first put to the mafiosi test. Most first-time amateur marathoners will complain of killing quads sometime after the 30k mark. If lucky, it might just be extreme soreness. If not it might be cramps. Heck, sometimes you might not even know the difference. In my first marathon, my quads were killing me at the 22 mile marker and I got this bright idea to stretch. Ouch! Ten seconds later, I got an even brighter idea – how about bringing pain symmetry by stretching the other quad? Double ouch! The good news is that quads tend to be less of a problem after you run a few more marathons.

2. Calves
Just as you start feeling good about your quads performance after (say) your fourth marathon, bam! Your calves remind you that they are working their ass off too. Since the newbie runner usually doesn’t pay attention to early warnings, calves distress manifests suddenly in the form of severe cramps. Good news about non-severe calf cramps is that you can rebound reasonably quickly with the right stretching routine. I was felled by calf cramps on the hilly Hyderabad Marathon a few years ago but a helpful runner (and now pal) Suresh showed me a stretching trick that worked like a charm.

As the newbie marathoner graduates to the intermediate stage and strides along to a faster orbit, he discovers that killing calves can be more deadly than killing quads.

3. Knees
Oops. How did I skip to calves without talking about knees? If you’ve taken up long distance running late in your life OR are several pounds above your target weight OR don’t believe in the virtues of gym’ming, chances are Lady Knee Pain will pay you a visit.

The most common knee ailment is the ITB (IlioTibial Band), a thick band of fibers that begins at the iliac crest (curved border of the ilium – biggest bone of the pelvis) and runs on the outside part of the thigh until it attaches into the tibia (shinbone). When the connected muscles go out of whack (layman speak for “some muscles going weaker than others”), the ITB stretches beyond comfortable limits and .. (you guessed it) signals pain.

Fortunately the ITB is easily appeased. Drop your weekly mileage (or, better still, take a complete break), start stretching the concerned muscle groups and hit the gym regularly (focusing on squats and lower body workouts) and you’ll be back to running ways soon enough.

My own tryst with ITB occurred a month before my fourth marathon. Like clockwork, the pain would start around the 7k mark on my long runs and persist until the end, even lingering on for the next two days. I was forced to taper earlier than usual and, in spite of following the usual stretching and strengthening (S & S) recommendations, couldn’t stave off ITB during the race. I stuck to the S & S regimen and ITB has stayed away ever since.

4. Glutes

Years ago a friend described the glute as playing a sheet anchor role in the runner’s body. Hmm.. Really? Didn’t pay it any heed for most of my years as a runner. It just sits there and doesn’t bother you, right? Ok, so it enables us to sit for inordinately long hours while we indulge our Internet/TV addictions. When I heard one of my faster runner friends nursing a glute strain, I wondered how bad it really could be.

After one of my marathons last year (where I had pushed myself in the back half), I got a first inkling – kinda like that post-48-hours feeling after an injection in you buttock. Last month when I ran a solo marathon (on a humid morning) I got a second indication that my glutes weren’t particularly happy with me. As indications go, it was a rather polite one and it’s receiving due attention.

5. Plantar fascia

The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue (ligament) originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the toes. When the ligament gets strained, it results in tiny tears leading to pain and swelling – a condition called plantar fasciitis. This condition usually afflicts runners with flat feet or high arches, sometimes folks with a pronounced heel strike. Recovering from plantar fasciitis is frustratingly long, as some of my friends attest to.

I’ve either been incredibly lucky or my date with Dame Plantar is set for a date in the future.

6. Achilles

The achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the calcaneus (heel bone). The associated injury/pain is called achilles tendonitis – a chronic condition that occurs primarily from overuse. It tends to come on gradually over time until pain is constant and exercise or activity too painful to continue. The biggest cause of chronic Achilles tendonitis is ignoring early warning signs and pushing through pain.

Senor Achilles knocked on my heel a few month ago. Very politely, I might add. I’ve been listening intently ever since and have added suitable stretches to my regimen. You should too — a good friend’s recovery from this condition has taken more than a year and he rues not taking it seriously earlier.

7. Balls
No – not those. I’m referring to the balls of your feet. If you are NOT a barefoot runner, you’ll never have problems with the balls of your feet. Then again, you might have more problems with #1 through #6 but that’s a story/gyan for another day.. in the Barefootia category.

In closing…

Like the labors of Hercules, you will encounter pain at various points in your evolution as a runner. It might be two, three, or all seven labors but you must break through the pain barrier each and every time. Why? Because redemption lies on the other side.

Not all pain is significantIf it doesn’t kill you, it can only make you stronger. Reflect on what the preceding two statements mean to you. At the end of it all, when you become king of pain, each muscle group in your body would have become a made man and you can call yourself a mafiosi runner. Did I say end? By that, I mean that it’ll be the beginning of your next round of metamorphosis. See you on the other side.

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

Fridge Logic for Runners

Pic: courtesy Men's Running (May 2012)

Pic: courtesy Men’s Running (May 2012)

Over the weekend we stumbled upon “Magazines” in Koramangala. A charming store that stocks only magazines (mostly old ones) and comics. While this store had only opened a few months ago, the Church Street location has been open for over 40 years so clearly they are filling a need. The old me would have walked out with a stack of magazines but I’ve not been buying much lately. The May 2012 issue of Men’s Running (for the UK audience) made the cut.

The second most interesting article in the issue is titled Fridge Logic. The tag line is “Put the beer outside and the pizzas in the freezer, this is what the contents of a runner’s fridge should look like.”

The picture on the left is from the physical magazine (my Samsung Galaxy SII does a decent job with pictures but I’m too lazy to bother with the orientation). Anyway, here’s the list of 14 food items edited by Martin Macdonald.

  1. Whole Milk
    • Whole milk is an excellent basis for a recovery drink as it acts as both a rehydration fluid and also stimulates protein synthesis more than lower fat versions, meaning it’s best for recovery.
  2. Total Greek Yoghurt
    • The live bacteria cultures used to make Greek yoghurt have been studied in both digestive health and immunity with good results. It’s also a good source of protein and calcium.
  3. Eggs
    • Eggs are one of the most complete foods you can eat. They contain both essential fatty acids and amino acids along with a myriad of essential vitamins and minerals.
  4. Honey
    • Honey is a good source of high glycemic index carbohydrates for filling up glycogen stores post-run. Add some to a recovery shake for both taste and carbohydrate.
  5. Salmon
    • This could be any oily fish really, as long as it contains the high levels of the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that your body needs.
  6. Porridge Oats
    • Porridge oats are an excellent and versatile source of relatively slow digesting carbohydrate. They also contain soluble and insoluble fibre for gut health.
  7. Peppers
    • A red pepper has more Vitamin C than an orange. Having peppers with spinach can increase the absorption of iron dramatically.
  8. Spinach
    • Just ask Popeye, spinach is particularly high in iron and also contains other micronutrients, particularly micro minerals that are needed for many processes in the body.
  9. Bananas
    • Bananas are particularly high in carbohydrate for a fruit, but at the same time contain other beneficial compounds. Add these to your smoothie for extra energy.
  10. Tomatoes
    • Tomatoes are well-known for their high content of lycopene. Lycopene has been indicated in reduced the incidents of many cancers including prostate cancer.
  11. Butter
    • Butter is one of the best fats for cooking with due to its stability at high temperature. It’s a good source of a range of fatty acids as well as vitamins A, D, E and K.
  12. Strawberries
    • Strawberries not only taste good but are also high in antioxidants. Used in a post-training smoothie they will almost certainly aid in reducing your muscle soreness.
  13. Steak
    • Steak is the ultimate meat for a runner. If you could only have one type of meat, it should be steak. Steak provides plenty of protein, but also a load of easily absorbable iron.
  14. Sweet Potato
    • One of the best sources of starchy carbohydrate for general health. Not only that but its dark color indicates its phytonutrient content.

Vegan super athletes Scott Jurek and Rich Roll probably wouldn’t sign off on #3, #5 and #13. I found #10 (Tomatoes) to be a strange addition (especially for the touted reasons) but the remaining ten seem right on the money.

What do you (fellow marathoners) think?

 

A runner gets rid of a corn… and photoblogs the metamorphosis

Disclaimer: the pictures below are NOT for the squeamish.

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After 2nd 24-hour usage of the Scholl corn cap

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Believe me when I say “it does NOT hurt”.

 

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Almost done…

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Fresh pink skin whitened by salicylic acid

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In the end, everything has to die…

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Other side of the dead skin strip

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See that white blotch on right huarache? Result of 30km of foot pounding with corn cap

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After I cleaned things a bit. Slight bleeding at 5 o’clock thanks to my enthusiasm

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Not my ear. It’s the remnants of a corn cap after it’s been pounded on Bangalore roads for 30 km.

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View from the other side. I feel for it (really I do). Thanks Scholl.

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What a Scholl corn cap looks like “freshly worn”

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Great design. Stick medicated circle first, follow-up with SUV-style cushion.

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Remaining corn (right side) also showing signs of decimation

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Thin strip stubbornly hanging on. Do we need another cap?

 

 

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I guess we DID need another cap.

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So many shades…

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Corn cap after ‘regular’ usage – i.e. no running for 3+ years.

 

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The Middle Kingdom falling apart…

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Rudimentary jigsaw puzzle

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Operation DesertStorm nearing Baghdad

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A few days later.. last strip came apart during a weekend trip to the mall with the family. Nobody saw me taking this pic.

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Bye bye..

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We’re all good now.. barring a few furrows and some unrelated blisters.

Closing note: this is the first post I published from the MOST EXCELLENT WordPress client on Android.

The sacred cows of marathon running

[Editor’s Note: Two years ago, I wrote a list-based post – you are a long distance runner when.. Nothing spectacular but it sorta went viral on Facebook and I got my first official flattery (read “got plagiarized”). A friend saw my post neatly pasted on a friend-of-a-friend’s wall (let’s call him X – he’s a Chennai runner). When my friend commented on that thread asking for the source, X responded – “Somebody posted it on a Chennai runners list.” No attribution either to my original post or to the chap who posted on the Chennai runners group. The priceless comment came from a Bangalore runner acquaintance on the same thread “What’s the big deal? Vishy too must have picked up the list from somewhere on the Internet.” As someone who’s finicky about attributing every quote, tweet and picture, I was miffed. But I (uncharacteristically) resisted the urge to respond on the thread. The relevance to the post below? It just happens to be another list-based post so in case someone wants to flatter me again… hope they’ll read this preamble.] 

Pic: courtesy abtrenewal.wordpress.com

  1. Thou shalt wear a pair of ‘Drifit technology’ shorts and a tee.
    • If you are a female runner in India, substituting shorts with capris is (sadly) a safer option.
  2. Thou shalt use a suitably comfortable and cushioned pair of shoes. [1]
  3. Thou shalt use a pair of quick moisture wicking non-cotton socks, preferably with a cushioned sole. [1]
  4. Thou shalt use a judicious combination of Gatorade and water for all long runs.. and definitely on race day.
  5. Thou shalt use a suitably peppy playlist for those pesky ‘hitting the wall’ moments. [2]
  6. Thou shalt use Vaseline for all runs greater than 25km.
  7. Thou shalt use Gu energy gels every [x] miles (or [y] minutes) for some long runs.. and definitely on race day. [3]
  8. Thou shalt ingest Endurolyte tablets every 10km on race day.. especially when conditions are extra humid.
  9. Thou shalt use a headband to minimize sweat dripping into one’s eyes.
  10. Thou shalt use a waist pouch to carry the ‘essentials’ (energy gels, salt tablets, keys, phone). [4]
  11. Thou shalt wear a Garmin for all training runs and races. [5]
  12. Thou shalt wear a heart rate monitor.. especially if you have illusions of being an elite runner.
  13. Thou shalt carry a suitable amount of small currency bills.. especially on those long solo runs.
  14. Thou shalt wear a running cap and sunglasses for any run likely to extend beyond 9am.
  15. Thou shalt not run in the buff.
    • See #1. Though I read in Amit Sheth’s Dare to Run that athletes in ancient Greece would run totally naked.
  16. Thou shalt enjoy your running. [6]

Have I missed any sacred cows? Do let me know in the comments.

[1] This sacred cow has officially been in dormant mode since Feb 2012 – read upper body conspiracy and achieving terminal velocity for context. In another 5 months, I’ll know whether it can become extinct.

[2] This became extinct 10 years ago, midway through training for my first full marathon.

[3] This will officially become extinct starting next month’s Kaveri Trail Marathon. My last few months with a nuts+dates mix has yielded very satisfactory results.

[4] The waist pouch was jettisoned two years ago.

[5] Hope to jettison the Garmin for next racing season.

[6] Thanks to my friend Sunil Chainani for flagging this (previous) exclusion). This is the most sacred of all the cows – the day you stop enjoying your running it means that you’re doing something wrong.

 

What kind of runner are you?

Haruki Murakami (Pic: courtesy operatic.wordpress.com)

On the way I passed a few other joggers, about an equal number of men and women. The energetic ones were zipping down the road, slicing through the air like they had robbers down their heels. Others, overweight, huffed and puffed, their eyes half-closed, shoulders slumped like this was the last thing in the world they wanted to be doing. They looked maybe a week ago their doctors had told them they have diabetes and warned them they had to start exercising. I’m somewhere in the middle.

This is how Haruki Murakami, famous novelist and marathon runner, describes himself in What I talk about when I talk about running. You realize it’s a self-effacing assessment only after you finish reading his memoir. It reminded me that I’ve long wanted to create a catalog of the different types of runners – a diverse group that’s somewhere in the middle. Here’s a partial list:

  • Pic: courtesy runnerimg.com

    The let-me-tell-you-everything-that-happened-last-week runner who is

  • Definitely not the same as The Talking Runner (subject of next week’s post – The Talking Runner is a parallel to PG Wodeshouse’s Oldest Member and RK Narayan’s Talkative Man)
  • The Loner Runner
  • The listener-who-won’t-talk Runner
  • The Chic Runner
  • The I-run-so-I-can-eat-whatever-I-want Runner
    • Very different from I-run-so-I-am-a-finicky-eater Runner
  • The Group Runner
  • The Social Media Runner (who shares details of every single confounding training run)
  • The Social Runner (runs occasionally, rarely forgets to bring a camera and never misses the post-run breakfast)
  • The Bottle Carrying Runner (whether it’s a 30k training run or a race, you’ll never catch this runner without his trusty water bottle)
  • The Gear Toting Runner (iPod Nano, heart rate monitor, waist pouch laden with fluids, head and arm bands, shades and running cap, maybe even a running jacket)
  • (And of course) The Barefoot Runner

What kind of runner am I? During my Chicago running days (a scenic route alongside Lake Michigan from Diversey Street to Navy Pier — sometimes even upto Balbo Street), I was a Loner Runner and always had the Walkman preset set to  93XRT (rock station). Water fountains at regular intervals meant I never needed to carry a bottle. As I trained for my first marathon (training routes were Sunnyvale and Los Altos roads), I shed the Walkman but remained a Loner Runner.

My last 4 years in Bangalore have been low on solo running and high on group running — probably the single biggest driver for my increased monthly mileage and increased race participation. However, m solo running roots are very much intact  — still quite comfortable with solo 30k+ runs. My gear toting waxed in my initial Bangalore years and is now on the wane — currently at Garmin, sweat band and bottle for 20k+ training runs; cap and Gu gels get added for the race. My Social Media runner persona was probably at its peak in 2010 (Facebook’ing all my long runs and tweeting just about every other training run). Thankfully, that persona has undergone significant attenuation.

On a somewhat related note, I was really happy to read about Bubba Watson winning this year’s Masters. I loved this quote from his post-win interview “The thing is, golf is not my everything.”  That’s exactly how I feel about my running these days. I’m really enjoying running, hope I’ll continue enjoying it for decades to come but… it’s not my everything.

So what kind of runner are you?

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.

If Bollywood script writers were rabid runners…

Some movie titles might have turned out slightly different. Perhaps?

And the dialogue from Deewar could have been:

Amitabh Bachan: Mere pas golf trophies hain, tennis trophies hain… tumhare paas kya hai?

Shashi Kapoor: Mere pas Boston Marathon ka finisher medal hai!