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Backlogs including - Bullet through Kerala, Auromara 2010, The Great Tibetan Marathon photo blog

Monday, May 04, 2015

Running by the Bay

Business trips are great opportunities to explore virgin locales on foot. I particularly relish the surprise that a trail / course has in store for me. While I do manage a race or two (last one being an Ultra), on my last travails, however, in an aberration, I only ran trails recommended by my friends in the Bay area. I ran almost round the clock and that added spice to the spread.

Bay Trail @ 6PM

This course was recommended by the Hotel receptionist. She stepped out of the hotel lobby to point me to the side of the road from where I could start. I passed a few "Keep Out" sign boards, the course taking me on a hillock with a few of the Hamilton hanger & the bay beyond. Ran down the hill into the bay trail.

Los Gatos Creek Trail @ 7AM

 When I mentioned my weekend-long-run-itch to NJ in San Jose, he led me to this one. I ran around 11 miles on this trail while my friend biked. The trail was much longer than what my legs could carry me for those 1.5 hours.

Stanford Dish Trail @ 4PM

"A runner hasn't really run at Stanford until he or she has done the dish loop.", says the opening lines on the Stanford Running Club site. The trail on the foothills behind the famous Stanford Quad and offers great views of the entire area including the main tower.
If you survive the steep (really really steep) uphills, you do pass the two large satellite dishes, giving the run its name, pointed at whatever scientists look at. I got 150m climb in a short 5km loop. Now you know why I stopped to take pics!

Redondo Beach @ noon

So on the Martin Luther King weekend, I drove down to LA (and nearly into a Chevy Camero) and then up via the beautiful coastal CA1 highway with views of Big Sur and the coast. My hosts at Torrance SH & VS suggested the Redondo beach towards Manhattan Beach for a run. I picked a hot Saturday morning and drove down with VS who joined me for a the first half. The running path was broken near the piers with their food-courts and watering holes. And oh and we did rent a Surrey bike and biked on Huntington beach to top it up for the long weekend.

Baylands trail Sunnyvale @ 6AM

At 6AM on a virgin baytrail, with crickets for company and no one else, running on a bund with water on either side, it was eerie and I jumped a few times when some ducks (?) hustled in the bushes. At the end of the run, I did shout "yahoo", which is perhaps what my cousin SS who works for yahoo had in mind (the bright lights on the horizon in the pic below is Yahoo)

Guadalupe trail San Jose

This was a tad boring - it was an exposed trail, a creek running alongside, didn't run. The only reason I did this a couple of times was because it was way more appealing than the treadmill at Double tree Hilton!

SFO terminal

This was a bonus. Turns out my Garmin was while checking my baggage in - see how much my bags moved at the SFO terminal

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Je suis Cyclist

A short note on the title - In the days of limping to normalcy that followed this incident, I couldn't but help draw a parallel of this "traffic terrorism" to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. The below is my silent protest against how badly cyclists are treated in the city...

Quick update: The bad news - the only way to fix the tear of my torn graft is a second surgery. The good news, is, for now my surgeon has suggested to get back to running, the surgery can wait... for now!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Scorecard - Indian marathons vs. abroad

Over the last 5 years or so, I have managed to garnish my largely-Indian races with a few from abroad. While they have not been popular races, I have managed to squeeze in a 50k Ultra, 2 marathons, a half, a 6miler and a 100k bike race.

As has been the practice in the last couple of seasons, I include a shorter distance race during my marathon training. I missed a chance to race the TCS World 10k this year and then ran a below par 5k at the Urban Stampede. My progression in the Half marathon distances has not kept in sync with the full marathon Personal Best timings (PBs). The timing of 1:35 to win the Spirit of Wipro race in the 2012 edition was an aberration in a series of 1h:40m finishes.

And along the 16week training for the maiden Bengaluru marathon, I had a chance to score a personal best HM timing twice – once in India and once abroad within a few weeks of each other. A good op to stack an Indian marathon against an overseas one.

"Picking a "best" marathon can be like finding a good piece of chocolate in a sampler box of candies: you either take a plunge and pay the price for it, or you rely on someone else who has eaten a piece before" - anon

I will compare these 2 races keeping the details out to make it more generic for someone looking to compare an Indian race with those run abroad.
    • Burnham Beeches Half Marathon, in August 2014, in Berkshire, UK (BBHM)
    • Spirit of Wipro Half marathon, in Sep 2014, in Bangalore, India (SOW)

I will share my experience along a few KPIs for races
  • Cost & Ease of registration
Most Indian marathons are cheap, going from about $10 to about $25, barring one or two outliers. These races come with a race tee shirt, a timing chip, support on the course, medal, downloadable certificate & post-run breakfast. Some runs also have massage facilities that you can avail for free after the run.
A marathon outside can set you off by about $50 - $100 or more, you may have to also budget a few dollars for post run snack as well.

  • Pre-race fanfare

You cannot complain about fanfare when there is none. Both these were low key races, without an elaborate Expo (the sponsors and their paraphernalia). It made picking-up-the-bib a simple affair.
  • Conditions & Start time

Races in India are mostly in hot and humid conditions. Expect temperatures between 20-30°C, with average relative humidity of about 65-70%. Given these conditions, most races have start times that make breakfast seem like a mid-night snack. A 6am start for the SOW run, meant that my pre-race breakfast of oats, had to be eaten at an unearthly 3:30am or so.

Compare that to start times of 9:30 AM for the BBHM, with temperatures of 13-20°C. The start times allow for a relaxed breakfast and that all important potty. I got my money’s worth of the complimentary breakfast at Beaumont Estate, WIndsor and took a taxi to the start point.

  • Support on course - Water stations, medical aid, crowd support
Most marathons are well stocked with water, a sport drink and a fruit – and a mix of indifferent and engaged volunteers, both in India and outside. The smaller races that I have participated in abroad have the basic medical aid. The bigger races are a huge draw for support crowd. At BBHM, the route map had called out the local pubs for the support crew to hang out while cheering the runners. A thin line of supporters spread sporadically on the course, is all you can expect even in the biggest races in India.
  • Competition

I ran the half marathon distance in Aug at BBHM in 1:31:02 and was placed 65th overall in about 500 runners. At SOW in Sep, running the HM in 1:29:41, I came in 5th overall – about 343 finishers. Both these were personal best (PB) for me. While my sub-90 mins run received all the acclaim, this is at best an average performance for any race abroad.
The gap only becomes worse if you compare the best races in India (the likes of Mumbai marathon) to the top 5 marathons. Before we pat ourselves in the back for those podium finishes in the Indian races, we need to eat the humble pie – there is still a long way to go.
I did, however, like the gift voucher, deos & other goodies that came with the 3rd place (Open-Guest category) in the SOW run.
  • Post-race support
    • Nourishment

Indian races have decent post-run Indian breakfast which is included in your registration. If you have any specific preferences you should budget for it. Remind yourself to climb down from cloud 9, to find your way to the breakfast counter, then the medal counter & then baggage counter. These queues may take up more time than your racing time. At the finish line in the grounds of Caldicott school, there was literally no "free lunch" on offer. A sandwich / cake and a drink from the beeches cafe will set your wallet lighter by a few pounds (or dollars).
    • Medals / Certificates / Pics

Most Indian marathons give out a finishers’ medal; race pictures and timing certificates are big too. Every distance (5k, 6k, 10k, 21k) gets automatically upgraded to ‘marathon’. Don’t be surprised if you a well-rounded smiling group in track pants showing off shiny medals claiming to have completed the marathon in 1 hour. It is to be read as a 5k-marathon. The amateur photographers do an excellent job of uploading your pictures (watermarked and all) for you to download. Off late, they have been trying to monetize this as well.
If you are a ferrophile like me, when you run outside India, look specifically if the race fee covers a finishers’ medal. Most local races abroad don’t have any certificates / pics that you can download.

The idea of this post was to give a comparison of smaller races in India and outside. Hope this was useful. Some snippets on BBHM & SOW before I wind up this post (which was been in wip status for a record 77days!)

This was also a dress rehearsal for the Bengaluru marathon, I realized too late that I had left my socks behind. I had some gory toe nails to show off after the race. BBHM was my first race abroad for a Half marathon.

Mathematically speaking 2 half PBs is equal to 1 full PB, to find out, come back after in about a weeks’ time. (Yes. I mean it, the next update is before the next year)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Urban Stampede 2014

I have been running Urban Stampede quite regularly in the last few years. I have managed to keep a perception of being a fast runner in work circles and have found a place in the Corporate relay in this 4 x 5k relay race year after year.
While I have changed companies, the reputation has remained and with that, my place in the team. This year, (like last year) I was a part of the Dell ‘A’ team in the mixed category for the 2014 version on Aug 3rd. The two Racy Rai’s - Pankaj & Shuveshek in the team raised hopes of making it to the podium. Diversity has always been our weak link and this time was no different. It does call for a better effort in creating a culture of running in the organization to be able to sport a winning team. Wipro (my past employer) has moved leaps and bounds in this regard and are now very competitive in these races.

With Pankaj taking on the lead role and Shuveshek chosen to be the anchor, I was relegated to the third position after Sakshi.
The location for this year’s race was Bharatiya City – a gated community off Nagawara. As I rode to the venue, it was discouraging to see 10k runners running substantial distance on the dusty, polluted approach road. Especially with the real estate activity picking up on that section, the movement of trucks and buses ensured that the Sunday morning was not spared.
I entered the campus, hoping that the 5k runners do not have to brave these vagaries, but was proven wrong.
Siddharth Bahuja, a flier, had offered to pace both Pankaj and me. Pankaj finished in a respectable 22:20. I prepared myself to start with about 50mins on the clock. My turn only came at 58mins and with that timing, hopes of the podium evaporated, as the sun came out to add more grief.
I had asked Sid to stay just ahead of me to draft me from the head winds on the way out. In about 1km or so, we were out on the Thannisandra main road. Even if you somehow ignored the chaotic traffic on the other side of the road, it was impossible to ignore the long uphill sections. It didn’t help that you also needed to lose all momentum at the U-turn point.
It was the section between 2-4km that I lost the plot, perhaps the course-related issues were playing on too much on my mind. I mentioned to Sid post-run, that if were not for him, I would have stopped to take a breather. The time/km splits tell the story – 3:54, 4:08, 4:07, 4:08, 3:57
This was the 5th week of my 16-week training for Bengaluru marathon and served as a good time trail, to set goals for the rest of training ahead of me.

A 5k finish in 20m:13s will have to do for now. The Dell A team was placed 7th in the standings in the mixed category and I managed a 25th place overall for this lung bursting effort…

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Building a solid base for a season

My brief article made it to the RFL newsletter last month -
(Ps: it does have a national circulation, ok)

Allow me to begin with a story told by The Wall in many of his inspiring talks. Rahul Dravid says he likes to liken his formative years to that of a Chinese bamboo. I quote “You can take a Chinese bamboo seed and plant it in the ground, water and nurture that for an entire year. You will not see any sprout. In fact you will not see a sprout for 5 years. But suddenly a tiny shoot will spring from the ground. Over the next 6 weeks the plant can grow as tall as 90 feet. It can grow as fast as 39 inches every 24 hours. You can literally watch the plant grow. What was the plant doing in those 5 years, seemingly dormant? It was growing its roots. For 5 full years, it was preparing itself for rapid massive growth, With its roots structure, the plant could simply support itself for future growth. Some say that the plant grew 90 feet in 6 weeks. I would say it grew 90 feet in 5 years and 6 weeks.

Wait, I don’t mean you go dormant for the next 5 years, nor that you will take 5 years and 6 weeks to get to see results. But, even if it does take 5 years to build a base to what could be just 6 weeks of sheer brilliant running, then, it’s still worth it, isn’t it.

In reality, base building is not that hard, I find this phase the most enjoyable and most important before taking on stringent goals for the season. If you are a first time runner, give yourself a very gradual ramp up of mileage. You should begin by using the 2-1 or 4-1 run-walk pattern, where you run for 2min and walk for 1 minute. Ensure that you are able to hold a conversation (or run-versation as we call it in BHUKMP) during your running. Give yourself a week or two (of 3-4days of running) before you increase the running breaks or reduce the walking breaks.

For more experienced runners, while you are doing some weekly base mileage, it’s easy to get complacent. But do not compromise on 4-6weeks of easy paced runs. Get your weekly mileage up gradually, without any particular focus on pace. Use this time to focus on your running form, scouting for possible courses in your neighborhood for your tempo runs and intervals. It’s time for you to try out that new gear, shorts and skirts. Go shopping, find deals online to deck up for the season.

Easy runs are a good time to socialize with other runners. I love to explore the trails in the countryside running with the Hash house harriers during this phase. Setting up trails (or haring as it’s called at the Hash) is an excellent time-on-feet training.
Start planning your race calendar for the season and your training plan to get yourself prepared mentally as well.

At the end of the base building, you must be ready to set your goals for the season. Pick a race where you can do a time-trail to determine your current level of fitness and set goals accordingly.

To sustain injury free running for a long long time, building a strong base is a vital first step.

If you are still not motivated enough to make that investment, remember the bumboo, I mean… the Chinese Bamboo.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dream Runners Half Marthon 2014

(*my spoils from the last 2 months)

After last month’s Ultra marathon in the hilly bay area, to come back to sea level, to a flat course for a half marathon in the Bay in Chennai, was not the most inviting.

But Risky provided the much needed motivation to start, when he asked me to pace him for a sub-2 hour finish. I checked with the organizers – Dream Runners, if I could be the official pacer for the 2 hour bus, but it was too late to make add a pacer I suppose.

So, I got to the starting line, with no mileage in the bag, I had had only run twice since the Ultra. On the contrary, Risky was well prepared. Risky made his debut half marathon at the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon in 2012 and has been steady with the Run less Run faster program.

We started off in right earnest, at the 5:30 pace, but the humid Chennai weather caught up. Risky was not used to the conditions and had to stop to catch his breath. Before the end of 5k, we knew that the sub-2 was out of reach. There was a ray of hope for a good timing as we got into a rhythm near the U-turn.
But we were not able to keep the tempo and the second half was mostly me dispensing a lot of gyan.
·         Eat well, sleep well, hydrate well before the race
·         Have a good breakfast before the race
·         Race shorter distances to get to used to ‘racing’
·         Have realistic goals based on time trails or more scientific goal setting
·         Blah blah blah…

I finished in 2:28 mins and 450th in a field of about 1500 runners. When I signed up for this, I was hoping for a sub-100min to get a Personal Best, but that will have to wait some more. Personally, I am happy to have started running with this, its 16 weeks to the very promising Bengaluru International Marathon in October.

If you came here looking for a DRHM review, read on. Most of the good points were retained from the last year as well, where I finished in 1:47.
The Good:
·         The water stations were well stocked, great support, with water, energy drinks, fruit, medical aid, water sponges, water sprays, etc
·         Early start, started on time, with minimum fuss. A drone at the start taking pictures sent out wild cheers from the runners at the start line
·         Flat course, fast course
·         The medal (see the shoe medal in the pic?) is very lovely indeed
·         Breakfast was simple and functional (regular idly, vada stuff – good post race meal)
The not so good:
·         No crowd support – Chennai has never been a runner friendly city (weather, traffic starts early and is non-accommodative, lack of parks, stadiums, play grounds to run) and this doesn’t help the runners’ cause
·         Perhaps I finished late, the finish area was crowded, the was severe shortage of water in the finishing area

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Horseshoe lake 50k trail Ultra

Report of my first Ultra marathon overseas

I can’t help but get a little philosophical here, but what’s a report of a Bay area Ultra without a understanding a bit of the ups and downs.

You start strong, knowing you can take on any challenge. At some point, a reality hits you, it’s too steep, the going gets tough and despite your best efforts, you can’t run up that hill. You have to slow down.

The book, Road less traveled, begins with:
“Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult NO LONGER MATTERS”.

And then, when that hill comes, you just don’t climb it, you transcend it; knowing that it will not last forever; that a refreshing view, an inviting downhill, will bring you back to cruising pace. And soon enough, there will be more hills. By now, you are tougher; you know you have to take it one hill at a time, slowing down to briskly walking uphills and shuffling down hills.

Again from the book, “Benjamin Franklin said “Those things that hurt, instruct”. It is for that reason, that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.”

Then you begin to welcome the next hill, you see it as a walking break, when you pause and understand yourself a little more.
Reminding yourself all along; that you are in a good place, how beautiful the view is and just soaking in. In the end, when you cross that finish line knowing you gave your best, you will be duly rewarded…

In the 2 weeks that I spent in the Bay area, I was lucky to be a part of more than a couple of Ultra marathons. The easiest of them of them all was the one that I ran - Horseshoe lake 50k, the one where I knew where the finish line was.

I am inspired by stories of incredible resilience of the protagonists of the other “Ultras” and will pray that their races will also finish on a high.

The Horseshoe lake trail 50k
The Ultra starts at the Skyline ridge North parking lot, and winds up the Skyline Ridge, Long Ridge, and Russian Ridge Open Space Preserves. The majority of the course is along the Bay Area Ridge Trail with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Mountains. 

The seasoned Ultra marathoners of the bay area describe this as one the easier Ultras. With 1600m of climbing it was way beyond my league. To put it in perspective, Hyderabad marathon – arguably the most undulating marathon in India, has a total elevation gain of 350mts. Nandi hills, in the 7km of climb, gains 450mts or so. Even the famed Comrades 89km Ultra up –run gains only 1300m in 89k distance.
That explained the course record of 4h:35m for the 50k run.

Just getting to the start line posed logistics challenges. I had to travel across the globe a week before the race, drive in the US for the first time, drive 100miles to the race start.  A minor GPS glitch indicated the start point at no man’s land, I had to dig into some common sense to find the start point which was a parking lot, off a winding Skyline blvd road in Palo Atlo countryside.

My fortune cookie at the restaurant on Saturday evening prophesied that Green would be my color of the day. It did come true - Sunday started with a green race day tee, many many hues of green on the trail and a green second place medal.

I started off like I wanted to win it – ran the uphills and let loose on the down hills, the first two 5k splits were 5:31 and 5:34min/km, running some down hills at 20kmph. I took a longish break at the U-turn at 10k. I had to give up my speeding ways, when I nearly twisted my ankle sprinting down a hill. From then, I took to braking on the declines, exerting my quads. By now, the hills seemed daunting and I began to walk them.

At 22k, when I started cramping in my right Quads, I saw the great truth of bay area Ultras – Life is tough. And when the pressure of the finish line goes off, and you slow down, you enjoy the journey more. Although I had passed the horseshoe lake in the first lap, I only really saw it in the second. As I climbed higher and higher, the spectacular views opened up, the mist covering the towering pines as far as the eyes could see.

I sat down at the base of many of those gigantic trees to loosen up my thighs. The nod of the head, a “good job”, “you too”, exchange from fellow runners littered the trail.

By the time the second U-turn came, at 32km, I was welcoming the walking breaks that came with the climbs. 

With the average 5k pace progressively increasing from 6:06, 6:12, 7:34, 9:06, 8:54, 8:39, I completed the marathon distance in 5:10 The Ultra had to finish on a high, the last 8km was designed to do just that – climbing in excess of 250m, between 42-46k.

I survived the temptation to relax on the benches in the view points that offered great views of the skyline reserve. And also survived the rattlesnakes to finish on both legs in 6h:09m.

The effort earned me a finishers medal, one for the 2nd place in my age category and custom coaster for the Ultra finish.

Photo courtesy: Gene Dykes (who came in first in the 60-70 age category finishing 10mins ahead of me)

News of my running buddy, Dharam clocking 3:04 in another CA marathon, making the Boston Qualifier cut, coming in hours before I boarded my flight from SFO, seemed like a befitting end to a great 2 weeks in Sunny California!