Friday, January 31, 2014

SCMM 2014 - Half Marathon

Running a great time vs. having a good time

Sometime around the TCS 10K 2013, a running buddy H, himself a fierce runner, had suggested that some of us try and break 1:30 for a half marathon (HM) and also try and do that in Delhi later in the year. I had agreed to chase that goal. After all, I was in good shape and run the TCS 10K in a dead flat 41:00 mins but I had lacked the confidence to be able to do that in India. I have run thru the first halves of 2 separate races in under 1:31 in the US but running 1:30 in India is frankly out of my ballpark, at least I thought so. I am what I label a warm weather wimp. I just melt down in warm and particularly humid weather. While I had trained hard for the Chennai half on 1st Dec, I had an awful race, finishing in 1:41 and feeling even more terrible since my fastest trainee ever, till date also had a miserable race. I am not quite sure whether it was the 25 deg C weather combined with ~90+ % humidity contrasted with the sub 20 deg C weather we had run under for most of our training that hurt us or the rain which made it doubly difficult compounding the humidity issue. Whatever it was, I took a partially frustrated and partially driven by injury break of 3 weeks. I didn't run a step till 21st Dec to let my stress fracture in my left shin heal. That seemed to help at least for the first week before the familiar niggle was back. So I focussed on starting my base mileage for my planned race in May 2014, rather than train for Mumbai. So while I did run track, I ran target race paces rather than my interval paces or tempo paces. The longest run I did was a 17.5K in over 2 hours with one of my trainees at her pace. But I could see that this does help my aerobic base.

Unlike Chennai or Hyderabad, I didn't even do a practice 10K at race pace since I told myself SCMM wasn't a priority in this year. I had also promised myself to get a specialist to look at my shin once in Mumbai. I would take my decision on running SCMM HM hard once the specialist gave me some assurance that I wouldn't do long term damage by racing. My plan had been to run 1:45 so that I could retain my starting block for next year. That would so as there was no way for me to break into A and besides A starts only a few seconds ahead anyways. What I did in stead was to not run on Thu, Fri & Sat, which isn't what I usually do. That gave me loads of freshness in the legs although I did try and shake that off by doing some ill-advised scooter rides with my wife as part of her Mumbai-dekho trip. We also did a wonderful lunch at Moshe's with more of my trainees+friends+ex-colleagues. And then there was the visit to Gateway of India(GoI). It was while looking at some of the absurd pictures taken at GoI that I realized that for the 1st time in recent memory I was not thinking of my race. Usually I am so wired before races that I am bad company as my wife can vouch for, esp. from our Berlin trip. But this time i was determined to make up for being such lousy company by doing other things in the days leading up to the race. So we did see a movie (Dedh Ishqiya - which btw I strongly recommend if you like Madhuri Dixit and her dancing like I do) and walk around Mumbai, a fair bit.


The 1st thing I had done in Mumbai was to head to the specialist who said that an MRI would be needed for an accurate diagnosis but that I could run on Sunday taking care to back off, if I felt any pain. I told him how fast I have run in the past and that I wanted to finish in or under 1:45 although I wouldn't start at that pace.

The only other time I have started cautiously in Mumbai was in 2010 when I ran 5 weeks post-surgery.

Although I am a creature of habit, I tried 2 new things on raceday I would not recommend you try. I wore a fresh pair of shoes (although they were identical to the ones I trained in - Mizuno Wave Ronin 4s) and I had breakfast, partly based on Damian's advice about my Berlin race. I have never had breakfast before a half marathon before, since I don't feel the need. This time I did so, partly out of the realization that I would not get home before noon, having planned to meet my trainees, the last of who'd finish only around 11 am and partly because I had no major timing plans. So this food would not ruin any plans, mostly because there were no plans.

The race morning itself began a little comically. I forgot my cap at home at 4:30 am and when you ring your doorbell waking 3 people up 2 min after locking the door behind you, you know you are accumulating bad karma. And then I realized that my vaseline was also in Bangalore. Thankfully Mumbai wakes up early and I bought a small container just around the corner from the place I was staying at. I had had the foresight to carry enough change. I had realized my HRM was in Bangalore on Sat itself when I was laying out my race gear.

My rendezvous point with one of my trainees, S (who had booked a cab), was about a km from where I stayed. So I used it to warm up although it was about 45 min before race start time and hence not the best prep, but better than none at all.

Then I joined S who was accompanied by a colleague of his and headed to the race starting line. Once in the starting block,  I had loads of time to kill. I did a fair amount of stretching and drills. I even managed to take a leak. I also checked out a few fellow runners who were also raring to go incl one who was doing splits! A Caucasian runner and I shared a smile looking at this. And then we saw a bunch of 'VIP" runners descend into starting block A, driving up in their fancy cars. Also met up my specialist who was running too.

I started mostly on feel. There were a few runners who tried to keep up with me or run alongside but I picked up some pace on the sea-link uphill to get away from them or drop behind while they continued. 1 guy in particular tried drafting and I tried the Kiprotich routine of zig-zagging to throw him off while running hard. It worked.

Until I got to Pedder Road, I was comfortable since I had not had to breathe heavy at all. While getting up Pedder Road, I saw my pal & trainee S, who was clicking pictures and waved. I lost about 20-30 secs off my average going up but I more than made up for it, descending Pedder Road. This was also the time I gained some ground on few people who had kept up the pace. By this time, a runner in blue and another in yellow JSW Runner kit were in my sights. And they were much faster runners. So I tried to maintain the gap with them, barely ever looking at my Garmin.

Once on Marine Drive, I knew I had 5K to go but I had no idea whether my shin would hurt if I went faster and I knew that I had gotten thru 16K faster than last year and was quite happy with that. So I just stuck to the pace or just bumped it up about 5 sec/km - until I saw Damian.

This was the turning point in my race. Damian gave me such a shout with about 2.2 km to go that I was startled (partly out of respect for his stature as a sub-elite runner and that he would cheer me so and partly because I had not expected to see him cheering (I found out later that he had wisely pulled out from the full, due to a cold & infection)). That set my backside on fire (this was a km before one usually feels the adrenaline rush). I just took off and never looked up back.

In fact, the only time I slowed down in the last stretch was to call out to my fellow runner in yellow to try and finish together. He had after all run alongside for ~10km. Anyone who does that becomes a part of your life. I realized much later from the timings that he had indeed run faster than I did and his effort in the 1st half had slowed him down

And once the 1000m mark passes you, there's no holding back the adrenaline. I just smiled all the way to the finish line, while running sub-4:00 min/km for the last km (I neither smile nor run sub-4:00 min/km often!). I did see the race clock with about 200m to go and I knew I would go under 1:30 but it is only with about 100m to go that you can see the digits clearly and I was quite surprised. While my Garmin did tell me that I was well on course for a sub 1:30 even at the 18 km mark (the last I had checked), actually doing it is another matter altogether.

I crossed the finishing arch and was almost immediately overwhelmed with tears. It has been a hard few months of training (or not training!) and to get a surprise like this with so many things dogging your mind and to have it all flushed out of you at one magical moment, overpowers your system. Considering I have run longer before, I can't recall ever running with so much ease except at Ave (till mile 17). The last time I was overwhelmed was in 2005 when I ran my 1st marathon. Even when I ran my 1st sub 3:10, I was mostly bewildered. I was quite overwhelmed when I ran my 1st HM too.
This is what cyclists describe as "no chain". This is the only 2nd time this has happened in a race. If you see my pics from the race too, you will see me mostly smiling. I usually have the strained/pained look when I am racing. I am not sure whether that comes from exertion alone or a combination of exertion and the mental focus while suffering at peak effort. Even in training, I can't necessarily smile unless I see someone like Santhosh or Bhasker. I guess not having any expectations from the race helped. Whatever it is, I will take it.

Although I didn't need a humility check (my emotion being one of gratitude for so many things falling in place), my pal & trainee D, pointed out that last year, I ran 1:32:23 and placed 64th in the event. This year, I ran 1:28:56 and was 86th :)

Thanks to everyone who supported my run in ways they know and don't. More love to Mumbai. It adds to an already rich memory of running in the city. See the link below for race-data. I do wish that I had HR data to validate my "feel" post-race but I guess you can only get so much in 1 day. And someone on the train stepped on my white shoes on the way back but I am not complaining :( :)

On to the rest of 2014 now.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/432906504

2 comments:

manoj said...

The finish time, negative splits and the 2k split paces are conspicuously absent from the report...But that apart, liked the detailed report.

Amit S. Joshi said...

Lovely write up... All the best for the rest of 2014 :o)