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...

Monday, August 17, 2015

One of my favourite things to do in New York

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has several chapters spread across the city. For someone who doesn't even live in the city (or for that matter, in the US!) but loves books, the NYPL book sales are great fun, especially if you have a couple of hours to kill.

One such chapter of the NYPL with a regular book sale is the St. Agnes Branch, which is b/w 81st and 82nd Streets on Amsterdam Ave. Sales are on almost every 3 weeks or so. The sale books are to be found in the basement of the building. The counters are manned by wonderful, genial volunteers - quite a few of them members or former staff. I met one such friendly lady when I was there earlier this year and told her that it must rank among one of several, but little known pleasures of New York. I offered to post about it on my blog but it took me this much time to finally write it down. I would strongly recommend you visit the library and check out the collections. The rates are ridiculously cheap - with fantastic buys for $1-2.

Let me know if you are in the city sometime and manage to check out the sale. What I did was take a long walk around Central Park, shuffled across to the library, killed an hour or so, then got myself a coffee and then went back to the Park for another walk. Can't imagine a day better spent 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Javadhu Hills Ultra 2015 – race report and a few other things

The last time I ran over a marathon, it was at the Bangalore Ultra 2010. I had actually run from Pune to Lonavla as part of my prep for the 75K at that race but then a lot happened in late 2010 and the first half of 2011. I decided to not risk injury and stop at 50K in that race, since I had already planned to run the SCMM 2011 and then leave for my sabbatical, which eventually led to my first ever BQ. That's a separate story! (Actually I have a book draft on it, if you are interested. I am still looking for a publisher)

I signed up for JHU 2015 partly to test my prep for the Bangalore Ultra 2015, where I intend to run the 75K, but mostly because it was a trail race. The pictures from last year's edition were way too enticing (more on that soon). I managed to con my friend, Athreya (A) also to sign up. We did 3 training long runs (that's all we had time for)  - 2 double headers of Nandi and 1 visit to Mysore Road via Uttarahalli, all hilly routes. I also had more than 8 weeks of 45-50 miles each. I thought I was ready.

The race organizers are overflowing with enthusiasm. I mean it. If you stand next to one of them, you will get soaked in it. Don't take my word for it. Stand next to Peter and the rest of his CTC gang. A shower won't be enough to wash all that enthusiasm from them! They did a great job of everything from bib distribution to water stops to cheering to medal distribution and food. And this odd mention is mostly since they were partly the reason such a tough experience was bearable.

A and I had driven from Bangalore. We got to the venue early and killed time by reading books. We slept at the school, as did most of our fellow runners. I had gotten food for myself. So I didn't eat what the organizers provided. I finished my dinner by 7 pm. On race morning, I woke up at 2:30 am to ensure I could go the loo, without having to wait. That didn't go so well. So I tried again at 3. Same result. Body wasn't responding to a lack of coffee :( 1st error in race planning.

I had breakfast anyways and was ready to go by 4 am. A and I headed to the start and hung around till everyone else arrived.

The race started almost on time at 5 am. All of us had been asked to carry torches for at least the first hour since it was dark. At least a couple of runners ahead of us ran without them and seemed to do well anyways. I had taken my cycle head lamp which can be used as a torch but I had never run with it. Since I had to point the beam ahead most of the time, my shoulder began to strain by the 3rd mile or so. 2nd error in training. By the 5th mile, it was bright enough and I left the torch at the aid station and my shoulder promptly recovered. I usually don't carry a water bottle for my training runs. That also seemed to spoil my rhythm a bit but I can't say much since I did carry it on my 3 long runs.

I basically ran with A for most of the first 8 miles or so, after which he picked up a bit and I stayed behind at a pace I felt I could keep up till the finish. We had only just spoken perhaps half a dozen times till that point, which is why running with A is so much fun. So essentially it felt like a solo run. My aim was to run about 4:15 hours with almost even splits. I had decided so although the course profile was net downhill on the way back, since I wasn't sure how I would handle the increased temperature. One unexpected mishap was that I had packed my salt pills in my handheld water bottle's pouch but somehow some of them had melted as they had been soaked. So I was forced to consume the remaining lest they meet the same fate. Due to this, I delayed consuming my two gels by a bit. I was planning one each at 15K or so, while punctuating the time b/w them with salt pills. Since I was already getting some electrolyte thru the aid stations and now my salt pills, I held on to my gels.

I had a pleasant surprise in the form of my trainee, Edwin who took pictures along the course, sometime before the halfway mark. I gave him a quick high-five and carried on. Small world!

By halfway, A was about 2 min ahead but there were 3 other runners ahead (1 of whom turned out to be in the 75K but I didn't know that). I passed the closest one quickly after the halfway within a minute of the turnaround. Since the 2 lead runners had taken off real fast, I thought I might even catch one of them (I did catch the 75K runner on the return leg but that turned out to irrelevant) as I expected that pace wasn't sustainable. 

I also passed Murali, who was running the 25K and looked solid. 

I was actually singing to myself at the 20 mile mark. I had had the first of my 2 gels and it was clearly kicking in and my pace was good. I clearly remember the time on my watch at 2:39 hrs and some seconds for 20 miles.. And that's important because the next moment I was on the ground! I had hit a stone in the ground and stumbled. My knee bled a bit and I scraped some skin off my left palm. Since I had landed with my water bottle, I crushed it under my weight and it emptied. The gel sachet in my other hand also hit the ground and got all muddy. I felt awful at this point and took about a minute to assess damage. And then I resumed, a little shaken but reasonably ok.

At this point, the best part of my run happened. A man in a shirt and dhoti began running next to me. We began talking. Turns out his name is Mohan and he had competed as a polevaulter in Tamil Nadu before some motorist hit his calf/achilles tendon and put an unfortunate end to his career. Mohan kept up with me for about 2k. We discussed running. He asked me how many guys were ahead of me and what distance I was running. He asked me if that's what I did for a living. He explained he hadn't done much physical activity for almost 2 years. I recommended what he could do to ease back into running. Then he asked me to carried on. I did. He caught me later after having a hitched a ride with one of the many motorcycle borne volunteers. He then ran ~2K more with me. Then we waved me off. I later found out he ran with several other runners incl. Ramesh, who finished right behind me. I also pointed out Ramesh to Mohan as inspiration. Ramesh is supposedly 46 but as I told him, I think his birth certificate is fudged. He doesn't look a shade over 40! But back to Mohan. I told him that if he could keep up with me as he did with zero training, in 6 months he will be in good shape if he kept running regularly. I hope he does.

At around the 34K mark, my stomach began to hurt a bit mostly due to cramps having not managed my loo visit properly, and I slowed down. I washed myself a bit at the next aid station, esp to get mud off my knee and bottle and also refill the bottle. At the 40K mark, I felt good as I still had ~55 minutes to complete a 10K to hit my target of 4:15. All good. And then I came off the trail to hit open road in the sun.

My race just came apart within minutes of being exposed to the sun. My core function was impaired due to my stomach. I even tried dry heaving but clearly my digestive functions were ok but the core muscles were compromised. I had to suck up and walk most of the way to the finish. I did fret a bit to myself about the possibility that someone may pass me before the finish. Some kids on the way ran ahead of me and then a mom and her daughter gave me company for about half a km. I managed to jog a bit but at 12-13 minutes a mile, it is perhaps better to walk. So I did. I did have half of my 2nd gel sometime around the 40km mark as well and then threw away the remaining into the bin at the next aid station as I felt I couldn't digest much of it anyways.

When I was about half a mile from the finish, I began to pick up a bit since I knew my suffering was over. A few moments later I realized I had overshot the turn to the finish (this happened to multiple runners) by a bit. A few boys did point out the right way but I thought they were perhaps recommending a short cut! I turned back soon enough and ran to the finish line. My day was made when another boy casually extended his hand and presented a white lotus to me, just before the finish line!

As I finished, Peter gave me my medal. Turns out A (who had won, by finishing ~11 min ahead) hadn't received his medal till then! I told him that must be since he must have shocked the organizers by finishing so fast. I also found out as I settled down that A had paced Jim (who finished 2nd) from the 35km mark or so till the 47th km as Jim had begun suffering like I expected he would. While we chatted at the finish, Jim said A saved his race by dropping to give him company and ensuring he recovered from his dizziness. That's expected from A. I can't imagine him racing away while a fellow runner suffered.

I had a nap for about an hour at the finish. Surprisingly I couldn't eat for a bit as I had trouble swallowing. A got me water and I eventually got myself 2 idlis, taking almost 45 min to eat them.

When I look back at this activity on Garmin, I realize that even the stones on the route (which were quite painful to the underside of my feet - almost like a "tough love" treatment for plantar fasciitis) didn't slow me down as much as my "morning coffee related complication". I had emerged relatively ok with just 1 whole gel and loads of electrolyte on the course and perhaps just 1 litre of plain water. I did lie down for a few minutes when I finished but I wasn't reeling or anything.
Also, the course seemed a bit short but not one of the participants were complaining!

There's still lots of work to be done in preparation for the 75K in Nov, but I have time. I hope to do better soon.

In hindsight JHU was not as per expectations - but mostly in a "there's lots to learn" way. The race last year was run in Nov in wet conditions and the course looked prettier (and was much tougher apparently since the ground was wet and muddy and hence slippery). This year, it was warm and the stones on the course which account for perhaps 40% of the route, do make it hard to run on. Not planning for hot drinking water in the morning can really undo months of good mileage and training. If ever, you think you are suffering in a race despite training, know that your fellow runners will be hurting too! And never feel too sorry for yourself. There's always someone way more gifted but a lot less luck in life. Be grateful for what you have and run on.

I'll remember JHU for several reasons - the infectious CTC folks, the white lotus, Mohan, fellow runners cheering even while they were still suffering and of course the drums at the finish line! Until the next one ...

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Book Lust/List for 2015

I have used this category of posts over the past few years, mostly to avoid having to browse when I go to bookshops since I end up sinking large pockets of time, before crushing remorse sets in... NowI have this ruthless approach of pulling this post up, each time I want to shop and quickly checking if any of the books below are at the bookshop I am at. When they aren't, I just leave or so I think!

Books I want to own 
Running and Being - George SheehanTrain Hard Win Easy by Toby TanserThe Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinot
The Wonder of Whiffling by Adam Jacot de BoinotThirty phone booths from Boston - Don Kardong
Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport
Complete Surrender: A Biography of Eric Liddell
A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers
Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop (Paperback) by Bill Jones
Comrades Marathon - The Ultimate Human Race by John Cameron-Dow (Author)
Runaway Comrade by Bob de la Motte

Books I am happy to read (maybe I will buy them if I like them as much!)
Radioactive (a graphic novel about Marie Curie)
National Geographic’s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom
Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
The Night life of Trees
I am feeling lucky by Doug Edwards
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Self made olympian - Ron Daws
Marathon - Clarence de Mar
Corbitt - John Chodes
The Fast Men - Tom McNab 
The Olympian - Brian Glanville
Anything for a t-shirt  - Ron Rubin
First marathons - Gail Kislevitz
Running on Empty - Marshall Ulrich
Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,
Jim Crace's Harvest
Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go
Robert Macfarlane's Holloway
Skies Belong To Us by Brendan Koerner 
Silence (Endo)
OceanEndLane by Neil Gaiman
Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll & others
River Town by Peter Hessler  
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll
Tenth of December by George Saunders 
The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton 
Red Plenty by Francis Spufford 
Perfect Rigor by Masha Gessen
The Broken Road, Between the Woods and the Water, A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley
Free+Style: Maximize Sport and Life Performance with Four Basic Movements – by Carl Paoli
Something Greater than Gold (Eric Liddell) by Geoff & Janet Benge

After having used the 2014 post for more than half of 2015, I decided to make a  new post!