Thursday, July 26, 2012

Running with the Kenyans

In episode 6 of Marathon Talk (currently my favourite podcast), Alex Vero - a journalist, was interviewed about his efforts to try and become a world class runner. Alex's documentary tracks his incredible journey as his personal bests fall as he gets fitter and faster while be begins to set almost world class half marathon times. Now take Alex's story - add a lot of simplicity, raw candour, add complexity in the form of kids, a wife and general mid-life existential crisis compounded by an innate urge to get better as a runner with occasional Kenyan flavoured humour and you get "Running with the Kenyans".

Adharanand (what a lovely name!) Finn's "Running with the Kenyans" is a sort of spiritual memoir in the running sense (if that makes any sense at all) and an ode to the good old world of "running your heart out", except that he was already a reasonably accomplished  athlete as a young man before what we call "reality" took over his life.

It documents  his seemingly reckless decision to uproot himself and family (3 little, delightful and occasionally bewildered kids included) and spend time in Kenya to run with the Kenyans. For those of you who have seen the documentary on Bekoji or read the article on the Robertson brothers in Kenya in Running Times, this is an entire book on something similar.

If you are a reader who doesn't run as yet, it is a sort of travelogue - except that the running destinations are all running related. I am sure by the time you finish reading, you will feel compelled to try running. But if you a runner, this book can be the catalyst to transform your running. It does not really give you a training plan or recommend

During the course of the book, Adharanand rubs shoulders with pretty much every elite name in Kenyan running from Mary Keitany to the Kiplagats to the Mutais as well as some of the legendary coaches - Canova as well Brother Colm (himself the subject of another documentary). Even the original muzhungu in Kenya, Toby Tanser whose books also document Kenyan running from a different perspective features in the book. And Adharanand brings us all their stories.

If you are the sort who reads Michael Palin's Himalaya or Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and is persuaded to run off to the mountains, then this book is positively dangerous for you in the same way that anything that makes you pursue true passion can be dangerous for you. Along the way, you'll learn about Sammy's legacy to Kenyan running and marathon racing in general, as well as how  Adharanand , Sammy & others celebrated G. Mutai's incredible run at Boston (I was crying when I read this - if you have seen Sammy run the Olympics and his duel with Kebede at Chicago as well as Mutai's run at Boston, you will know why). You will also be entertained how you could be a world champion in Kenya but still want someone's old Toyota! You will marvel at how a world-class Kenyan could still be milking her cows when not in training. You will chuckle with  Adharanand at Mike Boit's measure of a Kenyan runner's fitness while discovering what happens to the Kenyans who don't win the World Marathon Majors including the existence of a Kenyan cycling team! 

You really didn't know there was a black cyclist in the Tour de France, did you? Or who came up with the famous parable about how you better be running in Africa in the morning whether you are antelope or a lion, if you want to live. That is just one of many things that Adharanand's book will tell you, including a lot about yourself and not just your running.

True love must be pursued to be tested and this book is a testament to Adharanand's love for running. Of course like all good stories, the book uses Adharanand's preparation and eventual participation in the 'wild'# Lewa marathon as a thread which runs (no pun intended) throughout the book.

Read it with an open mind and be prepared to make some uncomfortable changes to your life make it more fulfilling.
For those of you who enjoy the book, Adharanand also writes for the Guardian and is now on their group of experts for the Olympics!
Follow him on Twitter

p.s. This review was made possible due to my pal, Ashwin Bala, who lent me his copy of the book.
# The term "wild" is not used loosely here. A helicopter tries to get lions off the course of the Lewa Marathon, as if the difficulty of racing against Kenyans wasn't enough!

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Self Defence for Women

I am as outraged as one could be with the spate of attacks on women in India in recent times. While I would personally like to inflict tremendous physical pain on the perpetrators and hopefully maim them while keeping them just about alive, here are some helpful tips for women in such situations. I think we underestimate the power of preparation and personally every woman who reads through this post should practice some of these moves at home.

Years ago, Reader's Digest published this article which discussed a set of 3 simple, but effective moves every woman should practice.
  1. The first one is the eye-poke. Basically you use your fingers (the forefinger and the middle finger) to poke the attacker in the eyes. Forget about whether they'd go blind. I don't think blinding someone should be your concern in such a situation.
  2. The second move is the seat-belt maneuver. You basically do the reverse of what you'd do to put on a seat-belt. You move your elbow from about waist-height to shoulder-height in one swift move. The elbow is a great point to focus your strength one. You will be surprised at how much damage you can inflict with surprise.
  3. The final move is a kick in the groin of the perpetrator with your knee. This should buy you enough time to get some help or at least run away to safety. I fully understand that sometimes you can't physically overpower someone but you can surprise most people.
So repeat after me - eyepoke-seatbelt-groinkick. Now go practice. Make sure anyone who tries to scare you even for fun the next time round, regrets the experience. I am sure with an increasing number of instances of women inflicting substantial damage on their attackers, there will be some deterrence if not reduction in such incidents.

For more resources on being prepared, click through and read each of the following links

This one has basic moves as well as a simple education on pressure points to inflict damage

Using Pressure Points 

Personal Safety for Women

The website Self Defence for Women has excellent links on such topics, in general. Do refer to it.

Sadly, I don't know any martial arts but I do know how to hurt people. For example, people don't expect other people to bite. If ever, you are in a desperate situation, don't hesitate to bite that other person, real hard. People get off with far less on grounds of self-defence. Concern for that person's well being is not your prime concern in such a situation. Save yourself.

And if you are a guy reading this, next time you hear about someone groping/harassing a woman, help the woman ensure the perpetrator can't stand up for a while, if not forever.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Training for Mumbai & Dubai Marathons

If you have been planning to train for the Standard Chartered Marathons in Mumbai(SCMM)/Dubai(SCDM) in 2013, here is some news

SCMM is on 20th Jan 2013. Registrations open on 19th July 2012
SCDM is on 25th Jan 2013. Registrations are open from 15th July 2012

There are 26.5 weeks to SCMM and about 27 weeks to SCDM.

Of course the next thing I want you to know is that I will be taking on people to train for that race in two batches (Mon-Wed-Sat or Tue-Thu-Sun) in Bangalore if you want to train in person.

If you are a newbie and want to start training, now is the time.

If you are an experienced runner, you could start when there are about 16 weeks to go to your race.

To repeat & rephrase something I said here,
If you want to run a half marathon, you need to have run a 10K in the last 6 weeks and have at least 12 weeks to raceday or have at least 20 weeks to raceday to start training from scratch.

If you want to run a marathon, you need to have run a half marathon in the last 6 weeks and have at least 16 weeks to raceday or have at least 24 weeks to raceday to start training from scratch.

Read this post to get a hang of how I go about things and then mail me at

I charge Rs. 13K for 12 weeks of training as of July 2013 for people who train with me in person. I train the group 3 days per week - Mon, Wed & Sat or Tue, Thu & Sun as you will know from my blog post. For people who train remotely the amount is different and subjective, based on level of engagement. I may give you a discount, extend the training period to 16 weeks (for no change in fees, etc) or not for some reason but that is entirely my decision. This no may change from time to time for various reasons including inflation. So be aware before you sign up.

Finally, fill this questionnaire up before we get started.
Update: Earlier this post listed the SCMM date incorrectly. That has been remedied now

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A quiz, another book

I have stayed away from most quizzes for a while now primarily due to demands on my time on weekends.
However due to the attractive prize-money at the ASHA quiz (about a week ago), I decided to participate, the entry fee (high by my current income standards, but below par for a normal corporate quiz) notwithstanding.
I also managed to get a legendary team-mate. However despite his best efforts, we came 5th in a final of 6 teams, which was a bit disappointing since we were 2nd in the prelims. Wish I were better and able to match my team-mate at least :(
Anyways I got a coupon for Crossword with which I finally bought a book y'day. I was quite appalled at the state of the bookshop at Garuda mall. The books are all over the place - no arrangement and mixing of fiction/non-fiction, and the catalogue didn't list at least 2 books I picked off the racks, etc...
Also found out that my Crossword membership seems to have expired (with no intimation from the chain of stores) which made me ineligible for the 20% discount :(
The book is Empire by Niall Ferguson, a title I had been planning to read for a while now, but not necessarily planned to buy.

I could barely find books which were priced below Rs. 300, which is quite a pity really, especially given that bookshops aren't necessarily thriving. After all, this store moved out of the expansive location on Residency Road (now occupied by Sapna).

Hope to read it soon, although I still haven't gotten around to reading Ferguson's other title, bought a while ago.


Friday, July 06, 2012

Landmark Sale 2012

As in the last few years, the quality of the books at the Landmark sale has been atrociously poor. They have resorted to putting exam/guide books on the Rs. 49 table. WTF?!

Despite that, I barely tried to control myself while picking up the following
The Epic of Gilgamesh (translated by KA Sandars)
Tales from the City by Armistead Maupin (the first book in the series)
The Amazing Maurice and his educated rodents by Terry Pratchett

I guess I will go back to the sale after a few days considering stocks keep getting replenished with newer books, but I have lowered expectations since I know that both Delisle and Sacco (apparently at last year's sale) are not on this year's sale :(


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Training for ADHM 2012

If you have been planning to train for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) 2012, the first thing you may want to know is that the race is on 30th Sep 2012 and not in Nov as it has been last year and some other earlier editions.

Of course the next thing I want you to know is that I will be taking on people to train for that race in batches only on Mon-Wed-Sat in Bangalore if you want to train in person.

There are 12.5 weeks to the race. If you want to start training, now is the time, regardless of whether you are an experienced runner or someone looking to run their first half marathon. If you are someone who has not even run a 5K before, then I would recommend you skip this race as the 12 weeks may not be enough to get into shape and race. You may of course be able to complete it, but I don't think you need to train with me if you just want to complete it.

To repeat something I said here,
If you want to run a half marathon, you need to have run a 10K in the last 6 weeks and have at least 10-12 weeks to raceday or have at least 16 weeks to raceday to start training from scratch.

Read this post to get a hang of how I go about things and then mail me at

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Benevolent Billionaire cometh

I had alluded in an earlier blog post as to how I needed a generous billionaire in order to buy books that I want, in the future. If current experience is a guide, it appears that the generous billionaire does indeed exist, but as an aggregate of several people.

First, unnamed buddy #1 (UB1) gave away the following books
The Armchair Economist by Steven E. Landsburg
False Economy by Alan Beattie
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King
The Media Relations department of Hizbollah wishes you a Happy Birthday by Neil Macfarquhar

and some more (incl. 2 books by Andrea Camilleri) I had to leave behind in Jersey City due to space constraints on my baggage.

Then UB2, gave me his coupon from one of the KQA quizzes last weekend since he didn't have time to use them living outside BLR as he does. I bought
 The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (a Booker shortlist entry from a few years ago)

I also bought Complications by Atul Gawande with my own hard-earned money.

Due to my own team's being in the finals of the Open Quiz in ASKQANCE, I managed to get another coupon which resulted in my buying

Bomb, Book & Compass by Simon Winchester

Now, wait a minute, haven't we heard that author's name on this blog before? The subject matter of the book seems to allude to China. Has Simon written 2 books on China? Your truly then took the above book and then compared its ToC with that of The man who loved China (also available in the same book shop for about 4 times the price of the used book!). Turned out to be an exact match. Looks like Simon's book was rereleased with a new title!

Also bought Scott Jurek's Eat and Run and Dick Beardsley's Staying the Course during my US trip. Also managed to pick up The Olympic Marathon by Martin and Gynn (an absolutely delightful book) which I had bought last year but hadn't quite laid my hands on, due to it being delivered to a friend's place after he left for India.

Thanks to V, I also acquired Running Anatomy by Joseph Puleo & Patrick McIlroy as well as Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Running by Lewis Maharam over the past few months.

And thus, we bring our book acquisition to a close for the first half of the year :) The book lust post is also updated now thanks to various acquisitions over the last 6 months.

I know you could do with not knowing how I got my books and perhaps just a book list, but a story is more fun than a list, isn't it?

Now to look for that heiress for the 2nd half of the year!

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