Friday, February 17, 2017

Used books on Amazon

I have bought quite a few used books from Amazon in recent times. They've all been titles I haven't been able to get locally. While they haven't been cheap, they've been cheaper than the corresponding Kindle titles. The other redemption here is that I got some bonus Amazon pay points for using earlier Amazon coupons. So I didn't spend much of my own money

Nul Points by Tim Moore
Do not pass Go by Tim Moore

I have read French Revolutions by Tim Moore before and loved it. Am hoping these are fun reads too.

Friday, February 03, 2017

More book-buys

After going nuts with a series of low priced buys from the Google Play Store* last year, I have furthered the mania this year with a set of not-so-low priced books from Amazon, thanks to some coupons  - most of which came from the dear wife and one from a generous colleague.

TED Talks: The Official TED guide to public speaking (Kindle)
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh
A Lifetime in a Race by Matthew Pinsent
The Hidden Life of Trees
The Worst Journey in the World
Annapurna: The first conquest of an 8000m peak (Kindle)
The Hair of the dog and other scientific surprises
Merckx: Half Man Half Bike

*these were what I got from the Play Store
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
The Road to little dribbling by Bill Bryson
The Ocean of Churn by Sanjeev Sanyal
The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2017

My 28th event of marathon distance or over, was a bitter-sweet experience.

While I was handing over my bag at the baggage counter, I realized that my Garmin had somehow managed to discharge itself before the start of the race, despite being fully charged the prev night. I decided I'd run on feel. It wasn't a major concern and I have dreamed of doing this for a while now.

I was in good shape to run close to 3:10 if all went well on raceday and 3:15 if something went wrong. Since I had landed on Fri, I had treated the news of the cold wave in Mumbai with some amusement since SCMM has almost never had cool weather on raceday. So I expected it to pass.

While AJ and I warmed up, I knew it was going to be a warm day as I was already sweating at what must have been around 7 min/km pace during my warm up.

The race start was a bit dodgy and the organizers could have done a much better job of handling the corrals and almost none went into the marked B, C, D areas and everyone just rushed into A.

I started very conservatively and had only effort to guide me. There were a bunch of people who I know, run around the same pace, who were all ahead of me but within sight. That helped.

At the 9.6km mark or so, I got confirmation of my first time check as the elite HM runners were on their way to the finish and 43:31 was the time on the lead vehicle's clock. The next time check happened at the 21.1 km mark when I went thru in 1:35:18. So far, so good. I was looking forward to doing a mild negative split or worst case, even split. My left knee which has been a bother for a while now, began causing a minor gait change from around the halfway mark but I wasn't too concerned as my pace was on target. At around the 30km mark, I began to feel mild cramps from my butt all the way to my calf in both legs and began slowing down. The only saving grace was that unlike last year, I didn't walk for even a moment during the entire race.

If you see my relative position in the race, I stayed in pretty much the same overall position till about the 30km mark. Thereafter 5 people overtook me if the timing data is to be believed. I finished in 3:26:12 as per the official time, although I thought a few more seconds should show up as lag b/w my getting to the mat and the elapsed time. I don't really care as 3:10:01 is as unsatisfying as say, 5:40:00 to me if I step out to race today in an event I have run since 2004. Some minor consolation/major sobriety check is provided by my AG top finishers - the 3rd of whom finished in 2:53:50! I am quite pleased for the talented and hard working Nanjundappa in particular, as he finally broke 2:40 in a full marathon at Mumbai! The studly Henrik Westerlin ran 2:49, although he too ran a +ve split. A bunch of other known runners had incredible runs, incl. the ridiculously good Mahesh Londhe, who I saw for the first time at the Ultra this year. And then there were the runners from Shillong, who looked so good running smoothly. On a warm day, all these guys went sub-2:55! And then a bunch of my AG toppers from prev years all suffered much like I did, to varying degree. Some credence to the argument that it wasn't just me.

My BIG takeaway is that I can now run a sub 3:30 marathon w/o a watch, which is a nice ego-massage but my weakness against the heat persists.

Chop wood, carry water.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Bibliomania 2017

I have discussed the concept of a Benevolent Billionaire (BB) here. Turns out that my world is not short of them at all. One such BB gave me a coupon to Blossom Book Shop and I recycled some of my business books. And then, I promptly went nuts...

The Property by Rutu Modan
Life by Keith Richards
Getting Things Done by David Allen*
The Hindus by Wendy Doniger
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
Awakenings by Oliver Sacks
What If by Randall Munroe
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

* is the 1st business book I have bought in a while. I got tired of trying to find books to fit my budget and finally picked the first thing in my sight.

2017's reading is already off to a good start since I finished the Modan book :) Now to do something with the other 364 days of the year. Happy New Year to you, my dear reader...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books in 2016

2016 wasn't a great year in reading. These are what got read in 2016.

  1. And Then One Day by Naseeruddin Shah
  2. Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger
  3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  4. Achieve the Impossible by Greg Whyte
  5. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  6. 26.2 Marathon Stories by Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson
  7. The Groaning Bookshelf and other stories by Pradeep Sebastian
  8. Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit
  9. Faster by Michael Hutchinson
  10. Originals by Adam Grant
  11. Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
  12. Still Fooling 'Em by Billy Crystal
  13. The Extra Mile by Pam Reed
  14. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
  15. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  16. The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley
  17. Mindset by Carol Dweck
  18. The Ocean of Churn by Sanjeev Sanyal
  19. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  20. Anywhere but home by Anu Vaidyanathan
But I feel somewhat better in that I enjoyed 19 of the above 20 books. For the first time in my life, I didn't turn to books when my mind wasn't quite alright, despite having the time to do so. I am hoping that 2017 is better and I have already bought Gaiman's "The View from the Cheap Seats" to start the year off on a bright, cheery note. With the exception of No. 4 perhaps, almost every other book above, is worth a general audience. I knew some of the content of No. 20, thanks to reading the author's various columns in newspapers and perhaps wouldn't have read it, if A hadn't given me a free copy. Still, the writing is very accessible.

No. 3 affected me strongly since I had read Kalanithi's popular piece in a Stanford publication, before he died. If you read it and I recommend you do, you'll see what a rich, dense personality Paul was. Bless his soul.

No. 6 is an outstanding coffee table book with a tonne of interesting facts about the marathon and some lovely writing by the author duo.

No. 16 is the best book I read in the year. The sweep of topics is dazzling and the writing is audacious. Occasionally did I find myself wondering whether the author was being a bit too sure of himself. It is quite a read and I'd strongly recommend it to anyone with an open mind and willingness to be challenged.

No. 17 is extremely relevant to me personally and professionally. Good read although the voice on the audiobook I heard made me wish I had read the paperback.

No 18 was a surprise buy thanks to a Google Play Books sale. Thoroughly enjoyable narrative with a lot to chew on, lending heft to the argument that history is written by the victors. For someone who isn't a history buff, but is happy to find alternative perspectives, this is a refreshing take on what we think is the history of the world around us.

I discovered Adam Grant a while ago before Originals became a bestseller and Sheryl Sandberg's association with him drove him into the mainstream, thanks to Give and Take. But I had put my reading of it on hold since I had gifted my copy to a friend. I just managed to finish it now. Unconventional book. Worth a read and in my opinion a lot more relevant and enjoyable than Originals.

I used a variety of formats to consume my books - Paperbacks, Google Play, Audible and epubs in some cases. The Audiobooks helped push my reading ahead when I slackened.

How was your year in reading?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bangalore Ultra 2016 - 75K

I have been waiting for the Bangalore Ultra for a year now. Walking out of last year's race was a decision that has nagged me. So I had set myself a minimum goal of completing the distance, even if it meant walking all the way. Little did I expect that I'd end up quite a bit of that.

I had had the chance to repay my pal Anil by driving him to the race venue and back as partial payback for his favour at CIM and M2B in the last few years.

I have completed several runs of 30+ km this season, thanks to the prep for Malnad Ultra incl. a practice marathon at Lalbagh on my own 2 weeks ago, which had given me some sense of what'd happen in the heat. I was quite confident of my training to get thru 50 km at least. I was hoping to complete the race in about 7:30 hours, since I knew I could get thru 50km in 5 hrs, aerobically.

This year, the 75km started at 6 am which meant an extra hour in the heat for all of us. I went thru the first lap in 2:15 or so, 5 min faster than last year. I thought I was slowing down and deliberately dropped stride length in the 2nd lap and still ended up with a slightly faster pace and went thru the marathon mark in ~3:50. I had a fig each at the 25, 35 and 42 km mark and expected to feel hungry by the 50km mark, based on my practice runs. I had one banana at about the 40 km mark.

I also had a piece of ginger at the 35km and 40 km mark, in order to preempt nausea if any. I had drunk the electrolyte drink (Enerzal) at every 4-5 km. I had not drunk much water to avoid any chances of hyponatremia. This is exactly what I have done in training.

Encouraged by the time at the marathon mark, I had a peanut butter sandwich at about 44km. This didn't seem like a bad idea at the time. However by about 52 km or so, I was feeling quite bloated. I asked the medical tent for help and they gave me a Pantodec which did the job of removing the gas in about 30 min. However by the time I made the turn on my last lap, my lips were dry and I was feeling thirsty every km. I stopped again at another medical tent and they recommended I lie down for a bit and drink some more water and electrolyte. I puked a bit when I had 1 glass of electrolyte. One of the medical team then called for a senior who checked my tongue and concluded I was severely dehydrated and asked me to drink 2 glasses at once, lie down and wait. In about 2 min after doing this, I puked everything I had in the last 2 hrs or so, incl the PBJ. The medical team was quite spooked and despite my reassuring them that this (puking) is something I have done before and that I was not feeling nauseous, they gave me an injection to prevent nausea (and hence more vomiting). After about 45 min of this and some dark comedy (the doctor crashed on a scooter while trying to rush to the aid of someone who was in medical distress at a different location), I finally left the medical tent. By then several fellow runners had stopped to enquire if I was fine and then carried on.

I ended up walking almost all the remaining distance except for a jog for the last km and finished in a little under 10 hrs. It is more than sobering to see 50km in ~ 4:50 hrs and the remaining 25km in almost the same time. But I'll definitely take it ahead of last year's DNF. There are a few positives - I didn't have any GI issues, pre or post race (although the PBJ leaves a big unanswered what-if about what may have been, during the race), no cramps (I did have some tightness in the right hamstring which I kept trying to get rid off by stretching a few times) and no falls during the run. One thing to note is that walking 25km, esp on a loop course, even if it is 12.5km and back isn't easy (although Praveen Arora makes it seem ridiculously easy - he did ~90miles in 24 hrs, walking ! ) I have improved zilch at running in temps above 25 deg C, despite logging enough mileage in the last few months. I am really happy that I have one less thing to worry about next year - having never gone thru 75 km in one go.

Thanks to RFL for another splendid event. I shall be back again.

Thanks to a lot of people and congratulations to several extraordinary athletes at the Ultra, incl my friend and partner, A who breezed thru his 50K. I was telling A and some others who asked that the run was unforgettable in a sense I didn't want.

P.S. As a sort of postscript to the Ultra, I went to Blossoms the day after, exchanged some old books and promptly bought Oliver Sacks' On the Move, which is a wonderful read, thus far

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Malnad Ultra 2016 - 50K

From the moment, Anand, the race director contacted about an event he was planning to organize in the Western Ghats, sometime in Nov 2015, I have been quite excited about running in the event. The race that he meticulously planned with a great team backing him, came about last weekend.

I was chicken to run anything longer than 50 km since I have other events in this time frame, esp the Bangalore Ultra, whose ghost haunts from last year. Before the Cauvery trouble derailed KTM, I was looking at the FM at KTM in Sep, the Malnad 50K in Oct, the 75K Bangalore Ultra in Nov and the FM at SCMM in Jan. Before the Bengaluru Marathon changed its date from the announced date of 23rd Oct, I had also planned the FM there too.

Now that KTM has got pushed to Nov, I had no events from the TCS 10K in May. My training had also suffered some interruption due to dengue in July. I had trained quite hard for the Malnad Ultra doing repetitions of the Nandi Hills loop as well as several runs over 30km, some of it on trail surfaces. The way I saw it, the event had twin challenges - esp after A had done the routee recce, elevation gain and surface. Nandi Hills took care of the elevation change and I did some repeats of the Cubbon loop on my long runs as well as Thu runs where I ran only about 16 km on some days in the last few months. I thought I was adequately prepared and based on my training runs and some other hard runs such as the Ooty Awareness Run earlier this year and Javadhu last year, I felt that a sub-5 hr finish was possible. Little did I know how off I would be.

The night before I travelled to the event, my scooter got hit by a bus, which caused significant damage to the scooter and mercifully zero damage to me, except my wallet due to what I will end up paying for the repairs. The latter really messed with my head as I set out for the race as I am not exactly flush with funds and any accident where you are the victim leaves you feeling violated.

Some snafu on the transport connection at Birur didn't exactly calm my nerves. I have spent so much time discussing the pre-race events since one'd mindset during the race can get influenced by events outside of the run itself. The weather was quite warm the day before the event and I had even spoken to Anand, on behalf of several people who felt we could start the race perhaps an hr earlier than the scheduled 9 am, to avoid some of the heat. However too many things were set and once we got to the pre-race dinner, we could see the difficulty with shifting times and the start time was unchanged.

On the race morning, most of us who were at a resort named The Last Resort, were first ferried in the wrong direction by a driver as confused as the rest of us but were rescued by another alert driver in a bus in the opposite direction. This actually provided some comic relief since we had over an hr's buffer to the race start time.

I had taken muesli from home and ate it on the bus while we went one way and then the other. Once at the start, all we had to do was wait for almost 45 min to the start. Before that, we cheered the 80K and a few 110K runners who passed the 50K start. A looked good as he gently went by.

Our race began about 10 sec ahead of time!

I caught up with A, checked how he was feeling and then went on my way. Sampath J (distinguished from Sampath Kumar who won the 80K) kept asking me about my target time. I had no specific time I was willing to disclose but I wanted to pace the run on effort. Besides Anand's suggestion on treating the event as a run and not a race, was still fresh in my ears. There were no prizes after all and all finishers got the same medal.

Sampath J (SJ) and I ran together for about 6km or so, having lots of conversation. SJ is a very fast runner, who I have run with several times in the past and is great company, since running isn't necessarily his primary interest (he does treks/mountaineering at high altitude quite often and is also a member of an Ultimate Frisbee team). At that point we had passed all but one of the runners we had seen at the start. All of the runners ahead of us had been estate workers, most of whom were doing their first runs, perhaps over half marathon distance. When we hit the first uphill, I continued and was a bit surprised to see SJ drop a bit behind. At this point, I had only one runner (also an estate worker) ahead of me. I passed him too at around the 7.5 km mark. When I got to the 9.5 km mark or so, I was the first runner at that point and the water stop wasn't ready with pre-mixed electrolyte. Kieren (the boy who's already a legend in Indian running circles, also the running manager for the 80K and 110K events) was trying to be apologetic, but I stopped him and told him I was really in no hurry (esp with Anand's suggestion still fresh) and I understood what went behind getting these things going. I mixed my own drink (and would so at every water stop till about 32K) and then carried on. By the time I left the water stop, the bald estate worker had caught up, but then he needed a stop too. I realized I had spent over 30 seconds at the stop.

From then till about the 16km mark, when we came to what had been announced to us as one of the highlights of the race, the Summit, I saw no other runners. On the path to the summit, I saw what appeared to be a tourist in a white t-shirt (who I now know as Tapas), given how he was walking leisurely on the narrow path. As I got closer, he turned back and I was surprised to see he had a bib on, one for the 50K! At this point, I made a move since I knew I couldn't make any move on the steps to the Summit and quickly went past him. I was the first guy at the Summit and since that was a mandatory checkpoint, I was also informed by those making notes of our bib nos of the same fact. From this point on, I was told the same at every stop till I finished! I must confess that till about 40k, when I asked the water stop volunteers if they knew someone was ahead or how much behind me the next runner was, I didn't really check if someone was close or not. All the info was just fed to me by enthusiastic volunteers/photographers. I met SJ on my way down from the Summit and hence knew I had < 1km on him. I slowed just a bit b/w 17K and 21K since I was keen to not be caught soon, since the hard running up the slope had caused me to hyperventilate. At the halfway mark, a photographer stopped me since he wanted to take pics! I must admit I was simultaneously flattered with the attention and nursing mixed feelings about slowing down for pictures. Soon after the half marathon mark, I tripped on a stone on the trail and fell face down. My bib ripped from the safety pins, my left knee (already dodgy!) hit the ground and one of the safety pins caused a bruise across my chest*. I picked myself up and after checking that I hadn't broken anything and had suffered only minor bleeding on the knee, I continued. The left quad began to spasm a bit from that point on, since the knee had suffered a direct impact but at that point it wasn't much of a bother, esp if I slowed a bit. I also realized a bit later that I had dropped the piece of ginger (I had kept one handy to avoid nausea during the last segment or post-race) during my fall.

When I checked the elapsed time at the 25K mark, ~2:21 hrs, I knew that I'd be challenged to hit my 5 hr mark since the last 5-6K finish was uphill. It didn't bother me then as I wasn't really checking splits every km. At about 22-23 km, we had to go on a loop of the estate and one of the boys who was at the water stop before the one he was supposed to be, ran with me for about 2km and ensured I didn't lose my way or any time trying to decide which way to go. After about 6 km, I got back to the point where he had met me. He chatted with me for a bit and told me he was finding it difficult to hold that pace. I told him it must be because he hasn't trained. Almost everyone who talked to me on the course asked me where I was from incl this boy.

After this loop, I asked the water stop volunteers if someone had passed after me. They told me that just 1 runner had done so. That gave me anywhere between 3-5 km on the next runner. I didn't know if it was Tapas or SJ. I was expecting it was SJ since he's fantastic downhill and I don't know Tapas.

When I encountered a rather steep hill at the 29km mark or so, I began walking almost without hesitation since my left quad was hurting and left adductor was threatening to pull, like it had during SCMM. Walking helped a bit. The next segment was more forest than coffee estate and at about the 32km mark, I had my only moment of real confusion and agitation on the route since there was an unmarked fork, but with someone manning it. There was the parent of one of the runners and I asked him which way to go. He asked me if I had done the hill. I had no clue since I had run up and down several hills all of which looked similar - typical coffee estate slopes. He reassured me that if I had run a hilly loop of ~6K to get there, I had covered it and I should take the path downhill from the fork. Moments later, my Garmin which showed 32.7km at that point (my Garmin had been drifting by about 0.1-0.2km every 10km and was ahead of every race marker except at the 18km mark, where it was just 0.24 km ahead) vs the race marker of 32km and I was quickly placated. This juncture also provided an emotional high since a bunch of villagers heartily clapped for me and almost everyone at that water stop (it was one of the major food stops on the course) cheered for me. I was back in the forest at this point. Other than monkeys, some of which seemed to heckle me at some point, I saw a doe which provided another moment of hilarity. It darted across my path, just before a hairpin bend only to meet on the path on the other side of the bend and then darted back to where it had just crossed me moments before. It is useful to remember that most animals are as surprised as you are when you see them in the forest, especially if you chance upon each other. I had been hoping that I didn't see any cobras on the route and was glad when I reached the finish line without seeing a single cobra. However at several points, I was startled by various items which seemed like snakes to me. One such item was a portion of a silver coloured cement sack, which had sunk into the ground and glistened just like a snake's skin does. For someone already expecting to get spooked, this was one such!

There was another moment of anxiety at some point between the 35-36 km marks when I came upon what seemed to be a fence identical to the one I had seen about 2 km before. I thought I had missed a turn and ended up in a loop of 2 km. I decided to be more careful about looking at markers at this point but needn't have worried since the next marker at 38km showed me all was well. From there till the 40km mark, I could see the water stop at the 40km mark, since it was located on a beautiful section of the course, by the side of a water body, in an almost dream-like setting with calm water on one side and a neat path on the other with ready refreshments. An ambulance came from behind me at this point and in response to my query told me that the next runner was perhaps 5 km behind, since none was to be seen. Still, I expected to get passed before the finish as I only wanted to survive without incident. I haven't forgotten that I have puked during or after every one of my 50K events. Strangely I have not puked on my training runs of over marathon distance incl a 50k I did on the road last year. While the photographer at this point was very encouraging, my legs weren't feeling great, since both quads were cramping, resulting in some adductor pulling once every few hundred meters. And they weren't relenting even if I walked, however slow. While I felt a bit disappointed, since I had led till this point and was sure I would get passed in the next 10km as I was walking, I also knew that if I was suffering, it was likely that some of my fellow runners were too. My goal then was to try and finish running. So I'd save my legs up till the last km or so, by walking and then running to the finish.

I realized at some point on this section, that I didn't even cross the marathon distance under 4 hours. I was looking at a finish in ~5:30 hrs, since I was walking at about 15min/mile and I had ~6 miles to go. At about 44 km, I began seeing and hearing vehicles above and I knew in about 2 km, I would be back on the road, when the surface wouldn't be a challenge. Once I hit the 46 km mark, I began running a bit, since I hit something of a flat/downhill section which felt odd since I didn't remember much about the first few km, but they were certainly not uphill when I had run down!

At about 48 km, I actually looked behind and saw that there was no one behind me. The ambulance came by and confirmed that fact. All I had to do was continue. There's enough photographic evidence of my walking and suffering on this last section as I think the photographers had little to keep them occupied :)

In the last km, I could actually see a lot of vehicular traffic in the distance and several people on the road incl. some people on a motorbike were taking videos of my running and encouraging me to the finish.

Once I was within sight of the finish, I ran the last 100m or so, trying to get a good finish line pic and everyone waiting there cheered the first finisher!

For the record, I finished in 5:19:21 hrs.

My first reaction was one of relief. I quickly drank about half a litre of curd, since my wife had gone sightseeing and taken my bag (with my food) with her. After recovering, I spent quite some time conversing with several people all of whom wanted to know various things about training for the event and my life in general, incl. why we were all in an event which had no prizes/rewards of the monetary variety !

I remember some things from the event with mild bewilderment - I had exactly 1 gel (the one that came free for all participants) and that too at the 40km mark or so. I had only the electrolyte drink at every water stop, except one. I had 3 dried figs, each about 3-4 km apart, starting from around the 29km mark. That's pretty much the only nutrition I had during 5 hours. I can't remember exactly but this is perhaps the first time I have finished first in any running event at this distance. It is also one of the few times I have actually run in an event with a moustache :)

It is difficult to describe my exact feelings about the event. It is easily the toughest run I have done but it also ranks amongst the most beautiful routes. The sense of calm and isolation on the trails is something I would pay for. The fact that I have mostly recovered from the run in ~48 hrs is proof of how much good trail running is, for the body. The Malnad Ultra is a fantastic advertisement for all that and much more.

Thanks to everyone who made the experience memorable - the volunteers, fellow runners and local people who cheered for everyone and some who even joined for a few km.* I actually saw this only well after the race when I took off my singlet after the run