Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mirchi Duathlon 2016

I was a participant at the inaugural Mirchi Duathlon at Bangalore this morning. I had changed plans on Friday evening after having initially decided to not go. After a disappointing performance at the Goa Tri last month, where my team missed 3rd place by 15 sec due to my tanking on the run, I was reluctant to race since I haven't begun my regular running yet, with my current attempts at learning to swim 5 days a week. My swim coach had advised me to back off running since my body tightens up a fair bit after the run, despite foam rolling etc. So I have tamely done 3 runs a week, 2 of them in the evening to maintain some mileage till I resume my usual training from next week. When a friend, A2 called me about the event, I told him I had to first check with my teammate from Goa, S, who I had first approached and then apologized to saying I wasn't in shape. I am still not in shape, but A2's intent in attending the event was not to be a contender for the prize money. He wanted to know if I could team up with Sarvesh, a young cyclist. Once S said he didn't mind my chickening out earlier, I reluctantly registered for the event, having other misgivings about waking up on a Sunday morning, ditching my precious long run and driving for 2+ hours for a total run of 6 km.

I have left a post on the event page about several shortcomings in the event. So I will keep that out of this post. I will confine this post to the fun I had despite those shortcomings.

The event included a 3 km run, followed by 16 km cycling and ended with a 3 km run again. The run and cycle segments overlapped only at the start point and were done on different routes.

Since we got to the venue before most of the organizing team did (when we got there, the barriers were being erected and some of the volunteers were still getting their t-shirts before getting to work), I did a dry run of the run route to get to know the route profile. That helped me plan the pacing since I was perhaps the only one who did it. So I knew the start was uphill and the return was too. I also knew that one could see the competition at several turns since the route was out and back.

I started the first run segment with a clear idea of some mega studs in the fray, people I know are clearly better athletes than I am (and in at least 1 case, will ever be). I had told Sarvesh that I expected to run a 2-3 min deficit to the lead runners and even if he made that up (which he was likely to on the cycling segment), I would lose it again on the last segment. So he should just ride hard and safe and do his best, while I would try and do mine. At about the 2.5 km mark, I had managed to reel back 2 runners and that's how the first segment ended for my team - with us in 6th position or so. Sarvesh just destroyed his bike segment and delivered us into first place at the end of his segment, putting massive pressure on me to not let the team down, like I did in Goa. He said that I should have at least a 2 min buffer on the next team. I took off at a ridiculous pace with the sole intent of not conceding more than that on the last segment. When I hit the first U-turn, I could see the next participant coming out of the starting arch and he was about 200m behind me. So I had less than 2 min (~250-300m). After about a km I could see the 3rd runner too and he was catching up fast. Since I had seen him finish well ahead of me in the first segment, I knew he could catch up quickly. When I hit the 2 km mark or so, I saw N (who was then 4th and closing fast), easily the fastest runner in the field. His team was undermined due to some ill-luck on the bike segment. I was hoping he wouldn't make up the 2 min or so, I had on him in the remaining km. At the last U-turn, the one 250-300m from the finish, I saw that the 2nd runner was very close and began flailing my limbs all over in a desperate attempt to somehow not get overtaken by more than 2 runners. I had expected to get overtaken by the runner behind me by the finish since he'd finished right behind N in the first run segment, showing that he was a very good runner too. At this point I had to scream my way past some of the individual event participants who were finishing really slow and were in my way but didn't know it. Most of this shouting & flailing, in hindsight, was due to a mix of my being overwhelmed by the feeling of impending disappointment and frustration from letting my team down in what I term Goa redux. There was also the feeling I would end up shitting in my shorts due to a mix of excitement and hard effort under fatigue. This was undesirable on at least 2 counts - My team was going to lose positions as I finished and my finish line pic would have me in soiled clothes!

Due to a mix of good fortune and some teethgrinding, however, I still did get past the finish line in first place, mercifully in clean clothes! It is difficult for me to describe the day and what it means at this point - I got to see 2 splendid athletes among others, KKR and my teammate Sarvesh deliver great performances. KKR in particular, showed what a beast he is, providing a vivid illustration of anaerobic running after a monstrous bike segment. Sarvesh looked like he'd made a hasty trip to get some water from the cooler, when he gave the bib at the transition. As in, he looked a little out of breath, but he didn't look in any trouble! At least not nothing like someone who'd taken ~26 min to cycle thru 16 km thru a lot of messy traffic etc!

And of course, winning an event, mostly thanks to an extraordinary teammate, does wonders to the general mood. Running the 2nd segment faster than the 1st also enforces some faith in training and fitness in general. Discussing training, nutrition, books and life in general with a boy who's a little over half my age and an amazing teammate made for a good day in the life of a coach :)

Friday, March 11, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi is one of the most moving books I have read in my life or more precisely, listened to, since I consumed it in audiobook form, thanks to Scribd*.

It documents the journey of the remarkable doctor from cancer diagnosis to his eventual demise, almost entirely in his own words. The extremely well read and well adjusted author quotes frequently from philosophy, religion and poetry among others, getting close to the reader's heart in more ways than one. And he was a runner :(

It is quite impossible to capture the welter of emotions that I went thru as a reader, while getting through the book. One is struck by the seeming injustice of such a fine, hardworking neurosurgeon cut down so early. One is moved to tears by his acknowledgement of his own ambition and vanity and his courage to admit it. The author's sharp sense of humour is no less stirring. But above all, the author just melts you down by taking you thru his vulnerability, ... "But now I don’t know what I’ll be doing five years down the line. I may be dead. I may not be. I may be healthy. I may be writing. I don’t know. And so it’s not all that useful to spend time thinking about the future—that is, beyond lunch”... As Abraham Varghese says in a rather splendid foreword, "...“see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words...It is a gift...”

The book made me reassess and appreciate the value of my life. One is left feeling rather blank by this statistical injustice of a bright, extremely loveable doctor being taken away from this life in his prime. I am overwhelmed while putting the book down - There's such delight while being in the company of someone so smart and the simultaneous sadness of the loss of someone who brought so much joy to so many people and will continue to do the same for perhaps everyone who reads his story. And this is compounded by the fact that cancer has struck the lives of several people I know in recent times.

All I can say at this point is that you must read it if you can.

* Scribd has since made the audiobook unavailable in India

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Training for TCS 10K 2016 and other events

My friend, Athreya and I started Drava in May 2015 to coach runners. Check out our website for some details on our running and coaching. Since May 2015, we have coached several runners in groups (for companies) and individuals for events ranging from the 5K to 50K and beyond.

Our coaching is based on a runner-specific philosophy. We use approaches which work for the runner. So we coach people from 3 days a week to 5 days a week. Our runners in the last 6 months alone have run times ranging from 1:36 hours for a half marathon and 3:44 for a full marathon to 2:42 for a half marathon and 5:48 for a full marathon. We don't care whether you are fast or slow and want to run fast or slow. We care a lot about you being uninjured and happy while you are running. We aren't concerned with whether you want to run for a specific event or not. We have multiple trainees who are not training for any specific event. However it helps if you have a coherent goal - whether it is time bound or distance bound.

Our current batch of trainees are training for the following events
1. Auroville Marathon
2. Boston Marathon
3. London Marathon
4. Berlin Marathon

We have trainees around the world. So remote training is a possibility too.

We intend to commence batches for the TCS 10K event in Bangalore in May 2016, 16 weeks for which start from 25th Jan 2016. Do take a look at our site for more info on our coaching philosophy, fees and other details. There's also a link to a questionnaire for prospective trainees on our site. Please do fill it up if you want to explore training with us. One of us will get in touch with you soon after you have done so. We already have a few people signed up to start training with us for the TCS 10K and we have a limit on our intake. So if you are interested, do get going on having that discussion with us.

Happy Running!


SCMM 2016 FM

I can't tell you how much I was waiting for 17th Jan 2016. Well, not the race as much, but the time period that begins immediately after the race. Not as much like an excited schoolkid waiting for summer vacations but more like an Indian engineering college hostelite, heading for that railway station, after the close of a semester. Plain relief. When you reach that state, it is a good sign for a break. I had decided on a break, regardless of how my race went and have plunged into with earnestness - initiated by a certain Bruichladdich!

As I have whined/recounted here and have no plans of dwelling on it, the period from 16 May 2015 to 17 Jan 2016 has been more of an annus difficiles than an annus horribilis on the personal front. The SCMM FM was an extension of that. And it wasn't for lack of trying. I ran nearly 3000km in the above time period in the quest to set PBs or explore new ground. It is almost as if statistics were having their share of my time to restore parity for that amazing year of 2011.

Anyways, here is the summary from my race. I ran splits of 1:32:30 and 1:56:55 to end up at 3:29:25. I had planned to negative split and the first half had felt smooth and easy. I was raring to go and waiting for the Pedder Road climb to make my move. Except, the move never came. Sometime around the 30km mark, my adductors started cramping incredibly making it difficult to walk even, let alone run. After having consciously DNFed at 50K mark at the Ultra 75, I decided to not be effete and finish the race, even if it wasn't going my way. And it really hurt, even physically. I took 16 min for the last 2 km. I can walk faster than that. And this, after aiming for a worst case of a 3:10!

When A and I were doing our recovery run on Tue, I remarked that I was already faster than my race pace on Sun. C'est la vie.

I have tried to not beat myself up over the result since I am not exactly sure about why it happened. I have had calf and quad cramps before. I have never had adductor/hamstring cramps. I think there may be some contribution from the fact that I haven't been in a gym since June 2015 but then I did run faster at BLR FM. I have loads of time to remedy that.

I don't think a 3:05 or a 3:10 is as daunting as it seemed to me in Oct 2010 when I began aiming for my first BQ. I have no races planned till Sep 2016 when I will try KTM and then Nov 2016 when I will try the 75K at the Ultra. I haven't decided whether to do the FM of HM at KTM, but I know that I will want to be there at the 10th anniversary of both events. And there's some exorcism to be done at the Ultra anyways. I may run the TCS 10K but mostly to go see my trainees finish, than to chase a time. Targeting the ultra means I will run on a high mileage base with not much speed training like last year and that works well for me. I'd rather not change that. See what that "minor" tweak of skipping weights did in the last few months!?

What hasn't changed in this year, is the love and support of those who were involved with my training and life in general. Thanks to everyone involved. I look forward to more of the same in the future too. I would not exchange this for anything.

In the meanwhile, as the Zen parable goes, "Before enlightenment - Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment - Chop wood, carry water..." 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Books in 2015

Here's what I read in 2015. The initial spike was provided by a 6 week trip to the US. Books no 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23 below were read thanks to Scribd's awesome free plan*

  1. Marathon Man by Bill Rodgers (& Mathew Shepatin)
  2. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  4. The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn
  5. Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose by Sandy Balfour
  6. The Last Pick by David McGillivray
  7. Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall
  8. The Runner's Guide to the meaning of life by Amby Burfoot
  9. The Great Arc by John Keay
  10. My life on the run by Bart Yasso
  11. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski
  12. The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh
  13. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  14. The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  15. Still Fooling 'em by Billy Crystal
  16. Two Hours by Ed Caesar
  17. Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
  18. The Amateurs by David Halberstam
  19. Assault on Lake Casitas by Brad Alan Lewis
  20. Running and Being by George Sheehan
  21. Two Girls, One on each knee by Alan Connor
  22. How bad do you want it by Matt Fitzgerald
  23. Blood over Water by David and James Livingston
  24. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  25. Runner by Lizzy Hawker
Predictably enough running related books featured on my list. But the surprise interest was rowing which had me in a frenzy for a few weeks while I learnt about the US rowing teams in 1936 and 1984 and one famous Oxbridge conflict, all of which made splendid reading.

Unlike in previous years, I didn't have a clear favourite for my read of the year. Kahneman's book is so mind blowing that there's no way to describe it adequately. Switzer's book was so enjoyable that I was embarrassed about not having read it till I did. Keay's book is an ode to a bygone era of incredible simplicity and workaholism. Sheehan's book was so much fun reading as I am sure it will be for any runner. And of course, Ben Horowitz's book being the only business book I read this year, was fantastic as well and I was able to relate to it to a lot more having started my own firm. The Rosie Project came about as a result of Bill Gates' reco and I loved it. As you would have realized by now, I enjoyed almost every book I read this year and tried very hard to minimize reader's remorse. However I still wish I had read at least 5-6 more which have been unread/partially read for a long time. Am hoping 2016 will be a better year. It is sobering to see that Pollan, Bryson, Grant listed last year as partially read are all still unfinished :(

How was yours?

As always, wish you a wonderful new year.

*Let me know if you need an invite to a 60 day trial

Monday, November 09, 2015

Running and dealing with disappointment

One of those jokes from my childhood, which I first encountered, went like this. I was reminded of this in a rather painful way, last Fri when I had an extremely untimely encounter with it, so much so that I spent the first half of my Fri in bed. I was ok enough by eve, to attend a pasta party on the eve of my most anticipated race for the year, the 75K at the Bangalore Ultra.

But before that, let me tell you a little about my Full Marathon at Bangalore on Oct 19th. I had run a 50K from Bangalore to Nandi Hills (most of the way at least) on a self-supported run (self meaning my dear S drove my car, my friends A and AJ gave me company, etc) on the 2nd of Oct. After a good massage, I recovered well enough for raceday despite running another 20 miler the week after the 50K.

On the day of bib collection, my scooter skidded in front of the expo location and I bruised my knee. I shrugged it off and headed home. My dad had been sick that week and till late Sat eve, we weren't sure whether he had to be hospitalized. Eventually, he wasn't, but I slept only at 1 am that night. I slept in a different room that night and as a result, sometime in the night, I stubbed my right knee against a ledge. That left a painful bump below my knee. As I had done earlier that day, I shrugged that off too. Next morning, I woke at 2:45 am (yes! I slept only 105 min before a race and survived), did the usual routine and turned up at the start line, hoping to hit a 3:10. Manoj who had also planned a similar pace and I (and Shuveshek for some part) ran together till about 26K. We hit halfway in about 1:34 which in my opinion was not a good idea (even without the benefit of hindsight) since I don't do well in +ve split races. The route involved some rolling hills which one had to retrace in the 2nd half and by around 26K, Manoj and I separated since his calf was cramping. My knee bump had induced my right quad to function differently resulting in a slower pace due to an altered gait. Swallowing my ego, since I had treated this as a tune-up for the Ultra, I soldiered on to the finish, managing an AG 4th place, which worked as a salve to my ego bruise of missing a 3:10. I was looking forward to the ultra.

A lot of prep had gone into the ultra and I had trained hard to ensure I could hit my target of 7.5 hours. Actually, my own goal for the race was to break the course record of 7:14, since I believed I could run 7:03, which was basically 9 min/mile all the way. I had run a 50K, a 20 miler the weekend after that and the Bangalore Marathon, 2 weeks after that, all faster than that, giving me enough confidence in my numbers.

While driving to the race, I did remark to my wife, S that I had some pain in the chest, which seemed like gas, but nothing that was worth worrying about, since I have had that issue in the past on training runs, when I run much faster than my ultramarathon pace.

I did start very conservatively. The fact that we started in the dark at 5 am helped that objective since the trail was wet in parts and at several points, one could get poked in the eye by the bamboo trees if one didn't pay attention. I had some company from Jagmohan and then Sreenivas (the same person who ran some part of the BLR FM with me) for a good section of my first loop.

I was feeling rather buoyant esp when the sun came up and it was no longer necessary to hold the pace back since I could see ahead without a torch (that bloody torch had a snag which made it necessary for me to press down on the switch and hold it so, for it to shine!). When I turned around after the first lap, I told S that I was feeling good and wanted to check how I'd feel on the next lap. At around the 26K mark or so, my chest began to hurt as did my abdomen with what was clearly gas. I continued hoping things would get better, with moving about, you know!

By around the 39K mark, the pain was so much I had to pause and wonder if it was something else, since my left leg was not lifting due to the pain in the lower abdomen. I did ask Santhosh who passed me at some point if he had some ginger or something else for gas. He asked me to check with his support tent for ENO and carried on. At about the marathon mark, I began to drastically drop pace with every passing mile and my steps were no longer steady. I began to notice that my left foot was landing at an angle to the ground rather than land parallel to it, clearly indicating my gait was compromised. By about 45K, I knew that my chances of hitting 75K in 7.5 hrs were 0, as I was then running 12+ min/mile. I also had the thought that I didn't want to drop out of my race but then I had to choose b/w which of the 2 options - DNF or not running my target was going to be more disappointing in the short term (in the long term, nothing matters anyways!). I took the immensely painful decision to drop out. As I passed S before the finishing arch/turnaround, I told her I was pulling out at the 50K mark. I went to Santhosh's tent and got some ENO, which didn't work till much later :( I had nursed the thought that I would wait for about 10-15 min and if things got better, get back on the course. They didn't and I went told the organizers I was out.

For someone for whom running has been the path to happiness and a better life, it seems perverse that timing must matter that much, since all these numbers will be inconsequential in very little time, considering they shouldn't matter much to anyone but myself anyways. But we are who we are.

The 75K was a big step for me, in my plans to run the Comrades sometime in the future. And I do know that people have run Comrades with less prep and training than I put into my 75K. But I have a time goal for Comrades too, mostly since I can no longer afford to make expensive and self-indulgent overseas trips for running alone. That's one good way to ensure sobriety.

All that this means is that I have got to wait some time for hitting that goal. I am no stranger to waiting or being disappointed. I once read an elite athlete describe his career as one with more failures than successes. So he said one must learn to deal with disappointment more than anything else. Despite hitting a BQ in my first ever sub-4 marathon in May 2011, it took 5 races and 3 years before I got an entry into Boston in May 2014. Am hoping that the 7.5 hours for a 75K will come sooner than 3 years :)

My friend and now, business partner, A has described his year in running, in a manner true to his nature here. I would strongly urge you to read his post, just to get a different perspective on running and life in general. While my post has been cooking for a while, since I knew what to write about the Bangalore Marathon, I couldn't wrap it up till the weekend because of the 75K.

On to SCMM 2016 now, which is my end of season run. See you in 10 weeks 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New book buys

Truckers by Terry Pratchett
The Book of Duos by Ian Harrison
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I bought the first two from Blossoms thanks to some KQA coupons from the annual book quiz, most of which were due to some heavy-hitting by one of our team-members, S. The Book of Duos was bought due to a suggestion from my team-mate Sreekanth over a year ago. I bought the Pratchett since I couldn't buy anything to make up the balance of my coupon value. Buying Pratchett's books is easy. I just go and buy whatever book I don't have already. The last two were from credit card points, which is pretty much my only other way to buy books these days, thanks to a self-imposed austerity drive.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

4 years

This is my annual post on striking out on my own since Sep 2011. This time, unlike the last 2 years, I got working on it, well in advance.

The year since Sep 2014 has been very interesting. For one, I did add a footnote to one chapter of my life - the chasing the Boston Marathon one, which had gotten ticked off at around this time last year. I had enormous fun running the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, running the Big Sur Marathon, 6 days after the Boston Marathon.

Since then, I have embarked on yet another adventure of starting my own company, Drava along with my friend and fellow runner, A. We hope that it will make us both happier. My coaching gig continues to teach me more than I expected to learn as a coach. And some relationships built thru my coaching have just been incredibly fun and rewarding. They're the primary reason I continue to do what I do, now that my own goal is out of the way.

I have begun a couple of other assignments beyond my coaching, all of which allow me to make a living in the running universe. My writing however has diminished from the 2011 level. I am trying to make a comeback on the reading front and this year has been promising although the next 4 months will tell how that will end up, as I have over half a dozen books, read in part. Quizzing has almost vanished from my life this year, partly due to some overlap of running events on the dates of major quizzes, but also due to my teammate being out of country. And starting my own company has resulted in some petty tasks, once in a while, which results in schedule conflicts.

I was bringing this post to a close y'day and all I had to talk about was about running, a little about being married and some reading. However, the sudden news of the death of a cheery spirit I knew reasonably well from the world of running, a fellow bibliophile and someone who travelled enough to make the rest of us envious about her beautiful journeys, has made this moment rather sombre. While I wish her spirit more cheerful wanderings beyond this life, it has more than served to remind me that all of us have but one precious life. We might as well enjoy every day as much we can.

I am thankful to various generous spirits who have made mine wonderful.

If you got reading this far, let me know what's up with you...