Monday, November 09, 2015

Running and dealing with disappointment

One of those jokes from my childhood, which I first encountered, went like this. I was reminded of this in a rather painful way, last Fri when I had an extremely untimely encounter with it, so much so that I spent the first half of my Fri in bed. I was ok enough by eve, to attend a pasta party on the eve of my most anticipated race for the year, the 75K at the Bangalore Ultra.

But before that, let me tell you a little about my Full Marathon at Bangalore on Oct 19th. I had run a 50K from Bangalore to Nandi Hills (most of the way at least) on a self-supported run (self meaning my dear S drove my car, my friends A and AJ gave me company, etc) on the 2nd of Oct. After a good massage, I recovered well enough for raceday despite running another 20 miler the week after the 50K.

On the day of bib collection, my scooter skidded in front of the expo location and I bruised my knee. I shrugged it off and headed home. My dad had been sick that week and till late Sat eve, we weren't sure whether he had to be hospitalized. Eventually, he wasn't, but I slept only at 1 am that night. I slept in a different room that night and as a result, sometime in the night, I stubbed my right knee against a ledge. That left a painful bump below my knee. As I had done earlier that day, I shrugged that off too. Next morning, I woke at 2:45 am (yes! I slept only 105 min before a race and survived), did the usual routine and turned up at the start line, hoping to hit a 3:10. Manoj who had also planned a similar pace and I (and Shuveshek for some part) ran together till about 26K. We hit halfway in about 1:34 which in my opinion was not a good idea (even without the benefit of hindsight) since I don't do well in +ve split races. The route involved some rolling hills which one had to retrace in the 2nd half and by around 26K, Manoj and I separated since his calf was cramping. My knee bump had induced my right quad to function differently resulting in a slower pace due to an altered gait. Swallowing my ego, since I had treated this as a tune-up for the Ultra, I soldiered on to the finish, managing an AG 4th place, which worked as a salve to my ego bruise of missing a 3:10. I was looking forward to the ultra.

A lot of prep had gone into the ultra and I had trained hard to ensure I could hit my target of 7.5 hours. Actually, my own goal for the race was to break the course record of 7:14, since I believed I could run 7:03, which was basically 9 min/mile all the way. I had run a 50K, a 20 miler the weekend after that and the Bangalore Marathon, 2 weeks after that, all faster than that, giving me enough confidence in my numbers.

While driving to the race, I did remark to my wife, S that I had some pain in the chest, which seemed like gas, but nothing that was worth worrying about, since I have had that issue in the past on training runs, when I run much faster than my ultramarathon pace.

I did start very conservatively. The fact that we started in the dark at 5 am helped that objective since the trail was wet in parts and at several points, one could get poked in the eye by the bamboo trees if one didn't pay attention. I had some company from Jagmohan and then Sreenivas (the same person who ran some part of the BLR FM with me) for a good section of my first loop.

I was feeling rather buoyant esp when the sun came up and it was no longer necessary to hold the pace back since I could see ahead without a torch (that bloody torch had a snag which made it necessary for me to press down on the switch and hold it so, for it to shine!). When I turned around after the first lap, I told S that I was feeling good and wanted to check how I'd feel on the next lap. At around the 26K mark or so, my chest began to hurt as did my abdomen with what was clearly gas. I continued hoping things would get better, with moving about, you know!

By around the 39K mark, the pain was so much I had to pause and wonder if it was something else, since my left leg was not lifting due to the pain in the lower abdomen. I did ask Santhosh who passed me at some point if he had some ginger or something else for gas. He asked me to check with his support tent for ENO and carried on. At about the marathon mark, I began to drastically drop pace with every passing mile and my steps were no longer steady. I began to notice that my left foot was landing at an angle to the ground rather than land parallel to it, clearly indicating my gait was compromised. By about 45K, I knew that my chances of hitting 75K in 7.5 hrs were 0, as I was then running 12+ min/mile. I also had the thought that I didn't want to drop out of my race but then I had to choose b/w which of the 2 options - DNF or not running my target was going to be more disappointing in the short term (in the long term, nothing matters anyways!). I took the immensely painful decision to drop out. As I passed S before the finishing arch/turnaround, I told her I was pulling out at the 50K mark. I went to Santhosh's tent and got some ENO, which didn't work till much later :( I had nursed the thought that I would wait for about 10-15 min and if things got better, get back on the course. They didn't and I went told the organizers I was out.

For someone for whom running has been the path to happiness and a better life, it seems perverse that timing must matter that much, since all these numbers will be inconsequential in very little time, considering they shouldn't matter much to anyone but myself anyways. But we are who we are.

The 75K was a big step for me, in my plans to run the Comrades sometime in the future. And I do know that people have run Comrades with less prep and training than I put into my 75K. But I have a time goal for Comrades too, mostly since I can no longer afford to make expensive and self-indulgent overseas trips for running alone. That's one good way to ensure sobriety.

All that this means is that I have got to wait some time for hitting that goal. I am no stranger to waiting or being disappointed. I once read an elite athlete describe his career as one with more failures than successes. So he said one must learn to deal with disappointment more than anything else. Despite hitting a BQ in my first ever sub-4 marathon in May 2011, it took 5 races and 3 years before I got an entry into Boston in May 2014. Am hoping that the 7.5 hours for a 75K will come sooner than 3 years :)

My friend and now, business partner, A has described his year in running, in a manner true to his nature here. I would strongly urge you to read his post, just to get a different perspective on running and life in general. While my post has been cooking for a while, since I knew what to write about the Bangalore Marathon, I couldn't wrap it up till the weekend because of the 75K.

On to SCMM 2016 now, which is my end of season run. See you in 10 weeks