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 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. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Books from the US trip

As with my previous trips, I picked up a bunch of books from my latest US trip.

No shortcuts to the top by Ed Viesturs
Gold in the water by PH Mullen
Showdown at Shepherd's Bush by David Davis
Maps and Legends (Reading and Writing along the Borderlands) by Michael Chabon

Chi Running by Danny Dreyer
Let me tell you a story by Red Auerbach and John Feinstein
Levels of the Game by John McPhee
Nobody's Perfect by Anthony Lane

AntiFragile by Nicholas Nassim Taleb
Maphead by Ken Jennings
Stiff by Mary Roach
Why We Run by Robin Harvie
How Soccer explains the world by Franklin Foer

Also picked up a few books on running incl. Yasso's, Bill Rodgers' and Amby's books

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Big Sur Marathon 2015

I had signed up for the Big Sur International Marathon 2015 ( mostly to experience the cheap thrills of getting a 3rd medal in addition to the two individual medals for each of the Boston and BSIM races.  Further I had never run two marathons less than a week apart. So that was another incentive.

Far too many people I know, had already raved about the BSIM route. And anyone who’s been marathoning for a while would know that Big Sur is perhaps the world’s most scenic marathon. Any one of the Bixby bridge or the scenes from the road to Hurricane point or the stretches before Carmel would qualify as a picture worthy of a photo calendar (unless you were born in the 70s-90s, you may not get this expression. A poor alternative to that would perhaps be “instagram-worthy”)!

I had been pondering my tactics for the Big Sur race post the race at Boston. As I had not exactly been gutted at Boston, at least from an energy system standpoint, I had been tempted to revisit my earlier plan for Big Sur – which had been to take it easy, take a camera and soak in the sights and generally have a good time. I spoke to two friends and my coach, all of whom warned me off the tough course and how difficult it was to run it, let alone run a BQ on it. I had been hoping to run a BQ at Boston, although it was unlikely I would use it for the 2016 race. I had begun wondering if I tried hard at Big Sur, if I could run, say a 3:08:45, which would give me a BQ.

All of these thoughts became moot, once I caught a cold around Thu evening. I swear that in all my planning, I had never considered falling sick before a race. That was to be expected though, after a wet race day at Boston and a reasonably hard effort, which must have taxed my body fat reserves, simultaneously with the expected lowering of immunity after such a long run. Even at the time of writing this post (2 weeks later!), I still have a voice which could fill in for a voiceover on radio. By Sat afternoon, I had a fever which kept coming and going and I was feeling miserable, since it meant I would now be lucky to finish the race. And my wife was concerned I might die or something.

I lowered my expectations to a 3:25 finish or so and decided I would run the 1st half in about 1:40 and then try and lose not more than 5 min in the 2nd half since the legs would be complaining about the steep hill towards the end of the first half.

Race morning was smooth and mercifully not wet, unlike Boston. I lined up right behind the elites at the start (Big Sur has a delightfully understated start). After the usual introductions and the anthem, we were off. Shockingly my right calf became tight after the 2nd km itself! I just shortened my stride and was fine after that. But this also meant I would not run too many sub-7:30 miles. After a fast first 4 km, I began to settle. I couldn’t manage the first 4 km well since the course is downhill and my breathing with a cold, didn’t help me judge effort accurately.

The first big test in the Big Sur is actually mental. At about mile 9, you begin to see the 2 mile long slope from mile 10 to mile 12 and it climbs about 500ft. You can see the entire road from the bottom right of your horizon to the top left and you can see some runners all the way. Brave is the man whose spirit doesn’t weaken a bit from this magnificent sight. And this is if you haven’t died due to the incessant headwinds from about mile 5 to mile 12 or so. It is not without reason that the highest point of the race is called “Hurricane Point”.

I did ok on this long stretch deliberately dropping pace but it wasn’t enough. After a breezy mile 13, my legs began to show some signs of the run on Mon. I never ran much faster than 7:30 min/mile after the 18 mile mark, mostly since Big Sur is a very unforgiving course. Arun had insisted that I sample the strawberries at mile 23 and I did. They were heavenly.

The respite from the course is provided by the breathtaking sights on the course, mostly to one’s left , as one runs. The Pacific coast, is a bit rocky but spectacular. Most runners spend significant amounts of time, taking pictures and selfies at several points. I didn’t.

There were also several bands which were great. I did focus mostly on the running. I was also keen to not get hypothermic at the finish.

Once I crossed the 24 mile mark, at which there’s another hill of almost 100 ft, I knew I would finish reasonably fine. But I ran gently till I was in sight of the finish line. Then one of my fellow runners and I, raced the last 100 yards or so and I held his hand as we crossed the finish line together.  I really loved this part of the experience. I finished in 3:31:56 and was quite delighted about it, as I didn’t feel awful at any point, even during the few instances when I was barely running uphill.  It might also have to do with the fact that I had few expectations from Big Sur, in the first place.

I quickly went to the B2B tent where I got my special jacket for completing the B2B challenge and the 2 medals. Over a quick round of refreshments, I caught up with some fellow B2B runners and soaked in their experiences too.

The race and post-race experience was phenomenal. While my quads were a bit sore from the hills, I was overall much better than I was after Boston.

I even managed to attend the post-race party and meet some incredible athletes, as well as imbibe some nice wine, thanks to the awesome organizers.

When I look at the B2B results, I see that 60 of the 71 athletes who were faster than me on net times in the B2B challenge, were faster than me at Boston. So there’s obviously loads to improve at Bog Sur itself. I am still surprised at my Big Sur finish. While my 3:17:11 barely put me in the top 20% at Boston, my Big Sur time put me in the top 5% at Big Sur. That may have more than a little to do with the fact that Boston has a higher depth, but still.

I am optimistic that I will come back and run Big Sur as a standalone race and train much harder. I know I can do better with fresher legs. Strangely all the hill training I did for Boston helped at Big Sur.

I was also looking at this experience to assess how I will react to ultras. It is humbling at this point to note that the answer is “not too well”.

There are a lot of thoughts in my head at this point, but for now, rest and recovery are top of that pile.

There are also some personal matters that need my attention. They’re part of the reason this post was delayed.

Till the next experience, here’s data from my B2B experience

Thanks to everyone who supported me on this quest.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cherry Blossom 10 miler 2015

One of the great joys of running (even as an amateur) is the opportunity to rub shoulders with elite athletes, often. Here's a longish version of my latest such experience, reinforcing that joy.

I had signed up to run in the Cherry Blossom 10 miler aka the CUCB in Washington DC, simply because I had read that it was a popular tune up race to the Boston Marathon and has a great history as a running event.

My friend P and I, reached DC after a rather painful bus ride, thanks to numerous jams on the highway from the New York Area to DC and went straight to the expo. We knew Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson (both Boston Marathon legends) were among other elite athletes making appearances at the expo. While Bill had left by the time we got there, Joan had just about begun her autograph signing session. We excitedly rushed to meet her after hearing one of the announcers tell us that her booth wasn't particularly crowded at that time.

It just so happened that I had finished reading Amby Burfoot's The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life, on the bus and Amby pays tribute to Joan as one of the athletes that have inspired him. We mentioned that to Joan and asked her to sign our bibs and I got her to sign the page that features her in the book as well. She asked us what time we were planning to run the next day. So we told her. I then asked her what she was planning. She then asked us whether we were from around there. While P said he's from New York, I said I was from India and that I was there as part of my journey to Boston.

She replied that she was running Boston too and she said we will see each other. She then told us that she was planning to take it easy the next day since she didn't want to leave all of herself out on the road. She asked where in India I was from. When I said Bangalore, she also mentioned that her mum served in the Red Cross in the war in Bangalore.

She then happily signed our bibs and my book.

There were several lessons from that encounter but none greater than the humility and simplicity that Joan just radiates. It wasn't a surprise that I ran my best ever time for ~10 miles* the next morn, having been pumped up from the encounter with Joan. To add to my joy, I discovered I was behind Joan by just 11 seconds :)

* The race course was truncated by 0.5 miles due to unrelated accident on the route about an hour before the race started. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Books from Blossoms, others

Thanks to some accumulated winnings from KQA quizzes (one of them in a book quiz won thanks to my super team-mate) over the past few months, I managed to buy the following from Blossoms today. Unlike my past few visits to bookshops, wherein I have floundered around, this time I enjoyed myself (also because I had more of budget than I have had on my previous visits!) thanks in part to two serendipitous buys.

The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester*
Bamboo Goalposts by Rowan Simons**
The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
Calcio by John Foot
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

* I can't believe I didn't know about the existence of this book. Everything I have read by Simon Winchester has delighted me. This general holiday sort of reading despite its historical nature should be fun too.

** Disbelief redux! The book documents the author's experience about trying to teach football to the Chinese. Considering I love the game, I should have at least known something like this existed. Anyways, never too late to learn. With this, I seem to have built a decent collection of books on Asian countries - Korea, Japan, China and on topics ranging from football to history and cultural obsessions. A book on running in Japan will soon join this collection!

The McEwan buy was largely due to a continuation of my monomania for McEwan's writing. I did find an expensive hardbound version of his latest book but passed it for now.

Foot's book (what a name for an author on football!) is just closure on a long pending wishlist. I had recommended the book to a friend a few years ago and have wanted to read it. Now is the time.

Duhigg's book is something I have contemplated buying for a while, but kept away due to lack of funds. However some recent conversations with some friends who spoke persuasively about it, drove home the purchase.

In other book-related news, a running buddy gifted 2 other books by Ken Follett - The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End a few weeks ago. I have begun reading the former, which is the 1st in a trilogy. Has been very interesting so far.

I have also managed to get Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha thru an opportunistic buy on Amazon Kindle.

As always, next to fresh coffee and new shoes, I guess nothing quite makes me quite as excited as new books :)

Have fun, reading!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Books in 2014

  1. Seeing what others don't by Gary Klein
  2. Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter
  3. Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald
  4. Hark! A vagrant by Kate Beaton
  5. Ingenious by Jason Fagone
  6. Shenzen by Guy DeLisle
  7. Jerusalem by Guy DeLisle
  8. Best Efforts by Kenny Moore
  9. Unbroken by Laura Hildenbrand
  10. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron by Jai Arjun Singh
  11. The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters
  12. If it's Monday it must be Madurai by Srinath Perur
  13. Calories and Corsets by Louise Foxcroft
  14. My Autobiography by Usain Bolt
  15. The Media Relations department of Hizbollah wishes you a Happy Birthday by Neil Macfarquhar
  16. Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham
  17. Which comes first, Cardio or Weights? by Alex Hutchinson
  18. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life - by Scott Adams
  19. Gulp by Mary Roach
  20. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande*
  21. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield*
I read fewer books in 2014 than I have in the last 5 years but I am happy to say that I loved every one of them, unlike in previous years. I read zero books for review's sake alone. While that meant I made no money from reading the books, the experience was wonderful in each case. Bolt's book was perhaps the weakest in the list above and Mipham's book didn't leave such a memory as the other 19 did but that's it. Admittedly there' a sports bias and more generically, a non-fiction bias but that's been a conscious choice.

The best book of the lot was not so easy to pick, given the rationale above. However Gawande's book pushed out Jai Arjun's & Fagone's in the end, since it has several overlaps with my current choice of a career and the influence of good health on it.

I am currently reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Adam Grant's Give and Take, among a bunch of others including Bryson's One Summer. There's a couple of Hitchens' books which have been partially read in the last 2 years which I will try and finish in 2015. So there's much to look forward to in 2015.

Wish you all a splendid new year. Let me know if you have any book recommendations from your own reading last year.

* Both these books were still being read at the time of making this post, but I am so far into them that it felt weird to include both in next year's list.