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! 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Non-premium rush...

On a rather rushed visit to Blossom's, bought

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

Ended up spending a little more from my pocket to supplement the coupons I redeemed. Blossom continues to get unaffordable with very few books below Rs. 200. I think the owner keeps raising the floor price for books by Rs. 50 every 6 months or so. While that mayn't be a bad thing for his survival, I keep wondering when it will exceed my purchasing power :( 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Coaching for running events in Jun-Sep 2015

Some of you may remember my excited announcement in Mar about my partnering with Athreya to coach runners from mid-May. Well the time has come.

This Sat (23 May 2015), Athreya and I will host a general Q&A about our coaching at Cubbon Park. We plan to meet at 7 am at Queen's Park in Cubbon Park. If there's no issue in our assembly and most people are fine, we might just move to the bandstand (very close to the high court) at Cubbon Park if needed.

We think the session will last about 1 hr. We will each spend 15 min or so discussing by turns - my Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge and his sub-4 finish at the Bangalore Ultra and then start the 30 min Q&A.
We plan to start batches for Hyderabad, KTM and other races in the Aug-Sep period. Batches for events in Oct and beyond will start later. 

We invite anyone who is interested in getting coached by us in this timeframe (regardless of whether you plan to run events or just on your own) to attend. It does not matter if you have never run before. In fact we would encourage beginners/would-be beginners to attend.

Although this isn't a closed session, we'd prefer if you mailed runningcoach@outlook.com and confirmed your attendance so that we have a sense of the attending numbers.

We look forward excitedly to this weekend.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Update on CNF fund raising

I am quite happy to share with you that my campaign to raise funds for CNF yielded about $1500. While this is 25% of what the entire program needs, this is still big enough to make a dent, to paraphrase Steve Jobs.

Thanks to everyone who supported the effort. It really brightens up a lot of lives including mine.