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