Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Run To The Moon 100k

Of Performance and Perceptions

That's a strange opening line for a report on a 100k run, you reckon. What's perception got to do with a 100k run, what's it got to do with running from 1am to noon, what with running on a 1km road, with being tired or happy at the end, with feeling positive or negative - EVERYTHING! Perceptions Matter.

 

These are strange quarantimes - "getting positive" is the most negative thing and I have been trying to find excuses to not "fatten my curves".

So, ever since the lockdown began, I have been running alone on a long 1km road (4th cross road, to be precise) behind my home.


The Kanyakumari to Kargil virtual run (#KANKAR >> report here) helped build the mileage, 2 weeks of over 200km+ mileage. I had continued with some steady 40km+ runs during the subsequent weekends.

 

NEB Sports used the KANKAR template for a moonshot, quite literally - a relay virtual run, all the way to the moon and back! During a casual chat with the NEB Boss, Nagaraj, I offered to run a 100km as a #GiantLeap to finish the Run To The Moon (RTTM). 


RTTM is a 31 day challenge, where runners get to contribute between 2.5k to 10k per day for 31 days. The overall mileage (from the 14000 participants) adds up to the distance between Earth and the Moon (… and back… to home quarantine, of course). The event is raising more than 14 lakh rupees towards supporting Support staff of various sports departments.

 

As the D-day, 18th July, neared and cases rose, the lockdown rules started to get stringent. Perceptions Matter. I'm covidientCubbon park or Nandi hills as possible locations for the 100k were considered and dropped. My initial plan was to run the 100k on empty (with no calorie intake), this plan I dropped too.

 

So I decided to run in the comfort of my locality, a 1km stretch of road, quiet with low traffic, small elevation, up and down, 50 times.

Perceptions Matter - I decided to start early, to give me the comfort of having done significant distance before 6am.

 
1AM to 5AM

The early hours felt like I was on the moon, there was no human in sight!! Running up and down and stopping only to be a “Super Spreader”. No no, not the virus, the Peanut Butter on Brown Bread, my top of the hour snack. I kept to a steady pace of about 10kmph. Perception-related challenges in my current job kept my mind busy. In 4hrs, I had covered about 40kms, some stray dogs as spectators. By 6AM, still running alone, I made 50kms in 5h:03

 

Perceptions Matter. The idea of this run, was also to show “the art of possible” so far as fitness is concerned, during these “unprecedented times”. In an attempt to get as many involved, I had short Covideo streams updated on Instagram (follow me on @ultrabhat NOW) and FB.

 

By 7AM, this got a few runners from my side of town to drop by and provide support and cheers. The runversations, selfies and pics slowed things down a bit, but was very refreshing. Thanks for coming!

This 2 hour slot was the busiest. My kids came to visit and wanted to run a bit with me. By 9 am, I was done about 73kms.

 
9AM to 12 noon Finish

Perceptions Matter, but Performance, perhaps more!

By 9AM, there was no more fanfare. I was alone once again, this time I had the sun for company for the remaining 27kms. I was still running steady – walking the short uphill every loop, but running the rest. But just as my energy was waning, Shreya brought me curd rice (I sent her back for seconds).

 


Then I had Santosh and Shilpa come back again by 11am to pace my last 13 km or so. My Dad and another runner, Naveen joined my swelling support crew. My kids got on their bikes and we polished off the last few laps in style.

 

Pic credits: Ramesh, Naveen

While I get back to worrying about Perceptions and Performances during my work week, I’m happy to have rediscovered my Passion over this weekend!

 

Not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured counts.

 

If you still want some counts, the stats are on Garmin Connect (https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/5253339689), I particularly liked the Heart Rate vs. Elevation

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Lockdown Dairies

How I engaged the physiological (stomach), the physical (my body), the mental (my brain) and the metaphysical (my soul) during these lonely times.

On March 21st, I waved my family a double good-bye, with both hands, little did I know I would spend the longest time away from them, ever – 72 days. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, I went into a transformation, while he grew a beard, I grew a Mohawk!
As the goalpost of their return kept shifting from Lockdown 1.0, to 2.0 and so on, I took up multiple “projects” to keep myself engaged.

The Physiological – “that which is related to the physical upkeep”

For most of my basic requirement of food, I relied on my mom, lunch was the only time when I would get to talk to them. I ate there and brought home the sambar for my rice + egg burji dinner. But I did a few experiments in the kitchen – including baking a banana cake for my 40th birthday! The pic does no justice to how good some of these tasted!


The Mental – “that which is related to the brain”

The easiest project was to pick up a popular series such as the “Family man” (talk about irony here) and binge watch. I admit, I got a prime membership and watched 6 episodes, mostly out of curiosity. But dropped it, when I saw how easy it was to get hooked to this.

I then tried to learn the Vishnusahastranama, got till about mid-way. But I completed 2 certification programs for a data mining course. It did come down to the wire during the 2.5 hours exams that I had to endure, right down to the last question to decide if I would cross the line. In the Dhoni style, I hit the last ball for a six! Binge learning, way better than binge anything else!

The Physical – “that which is related to the body”

I took a long break from running after the Bengaluru Ultra in Dec, nearly 10 weeks of ZERO mileage. Just when I was getting back to running, COVID hit us. 

Not the one to take “lockdown” as an excuse, I continued to run responsibly – alone and in a 1 km stretch of a road that goes nowhere, near home. I put in mindless runs of 5km, 10kms, 30 mins or 1 hour runs just building an aerobic base. It was too early for me to take part in the quarantine backyard ultra – a great concept in these times, details here.

But when NEB sports and Sunil C came up with the Kanyakumari-Kargil relay run (#KanKar), I was ready. The plan was simple – each member of the Indian team for the 24h and the 100k runs as much as she or he can, each day from 21st of May. You log the mileage, the total team mileage for the day is marked on the Indian map, from Kanyakumari, all the way up to Kargil. The goal was to complete this 3815kms in 15days, to get the sponsors to contribute to charity. Each day of early finish, will get more money into the charity pot.

Of the 22 runners who began, the cyclone Amphan, the over 40 deg plus weather in Delhi and the seal down orders in Mumbai, meant no running for a few of our athletes.
Namma Bengaluru had no such issues – the evening downpours ensured that the mornings were cool till about 8AM or so. I was looking to log some consistent mileage, my wife and I decided that 30k should be doable. From day2 onwards, I stuck to a routine – wake up at 4:15AM, start the run at 5, run for 2.5 hours or so, 25kms. Notably, all my runs were done
  1. In the 1 km long road, up and down 12 times each morning
  2. In about 2:27mins to 2:40 mins
  3. In the same set of singlet and shorts (washed immediately under the shower to rid of the Novel C19)
  4. On an empty stomach, only sipping from a 1 liter water bottle once every 4kms
  5. While passing a set of morning walkers and runners - with a nod, or a wave or a good morning!


The evening “recovery” run was almost always 6k, somedays I ran a couple of kms more. En-route, I logged my best weekly mileage ever at 223kms. As we approached Kargil, well before schedule, on the 10th and the last day, I decided to take it up a notch, ran a 4:15 full marathon distance, again on empty, same loop, same singlet, same “hi”s and “hello”s!

My mileage count for the 10 days
Leaderboard
May 21
May 22
May 23
May 24
May 25
May 26
May 27
May 28
May 29
May 30
Manoj
307
12
32
34
31
31
31
32
31
31
42

What was truly remarkable was the fact that my injuries did not flare up, especially the high hamstring injury that has been irritating me since the last 24hr run in Bangalore. My recovery was fantastic. I continued to have early dinners, slept as early as I could, sometimes as early as 8:30PM, this must have helped the rejuvenation. More importantly, I enjoyed every single run, barring a few patches. I told my sister one day “there will be difficult days. To do the right thing on a day when you are not totally up to the task, is what endurance is all about.”


… and finally,

The Metaphysical – “that which is beyond the physical, of the soul”

The truth is – I missed my family. And there were days of a weird sadness. But thanks to these “projects”, I pressed on, going from one distraction to the next. But what gave me most joy, was this one. Inspired by my friend, P, who drew a mural on her wall at her home in the bay area, I decided to give a go to draw my kids portrait on their room wall. I tried a few things, lots of innovative hacks, youtube vidoes, photo prints on transparencies, but eventually drew this with charcoal. They haven’t seen this yet.

After 72 days, they will be back tomorrow, the look on their faces will touch my soul.

Hope this has touched yours too.
Stay strong, Stay safe. Remember, now you got to wash your hands before you dig your nose! Cheers!


Update 12/06/2020:

Friday, December 27, 2019

Stumbling upon the Joy of Running Bengaluru Ultra 2019


For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - Shakespeare, Hamlet Prince of Denmark

2019 has been a weird year of sorts for my running. I got PBs in 24h, 50k Ultras and many intermediate split best times too. I became a running coach and a motivational speaker. But somehow I “feel” I haven’t been enjoying running as much as I did in my past. And then, I read “Stumbling upon happiness” by Dr. Gilbert (blog title inspiration! and all italics sections in the post are from the book). Awesome book, I will try to take you through my recent Ultra marathon Bengaluru journey with excerpts from the book.

I was the ambassador of the Bengaluru Ultra, so I was of course automatically signed up. But I was thinking I would be “happy” to race this fast flat ultra easy distance, after all, I had gone past this distance many many times this year.


Prospection and Emotion


Prospection can provide pleasure and prevent pain, and this is one of the reasons why our brains stubbornly insist on churning out thoughts of the future. But that is not the only one. People find it gratifying to exercise control. We all steer ourselves toward the futures that we think will make us happy, but what does that word really mean?

In Part II of the book, “Subjectivity,” Dr. G tells you about the science of happiness. The word happiness is used to indicate at least three related things, which we might roughly call emotional happiness, moral happiness, and judgmental happiness.

Happiness, then, is the you-know-what-I-mean feeling.


And talking about judgmental happiness - Our remembrance of things past is imperfect, thus comparing our new happiness with our memory of our old happiness is a risky way to determine whether two subjective experiences are really different.

Comparing with the Possible

Dr. G says we derive support for our preferred conclusions by listening to the words that we put in the mouths of people who have already been preselected for their willingness to say what we want to hear.

Exactly, both D and Ath agreed the previous weekend; that I was in perfect shape to run a low 4hour for the 50k! I listened to the words that I put in the mouth of this preselected sample, lol!

The bottom line is this: The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye (ear) has agreed to look (hear) for what the brain wants.


So basically, my brain has tricked me by “filling in memory” of my last ultras to making me believe I will be happy. 

That when people make predictions about their reactions to future events, they tend to neglect the fact that their brains have performed the filling-in trick as an integral part of the act of imagination.

The details that the brain puts in are not nearly as troubling as the details it leaves out.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the gritty details of running an ultra that are so salient to us as we execute them were not part of our mental image of running it, when we imagined it a month earlier, but what is surprising is how surprised we are when those details finally come into view.

Yes. After having completed the first 2 loops 12.5kms each, in 60mins and 64mins, the legs start to feel like they have lead inside them. How could I have not remembered this feeling from before; What *was* I thinking?


Looking Forward to Looking Backward

The psychological immune system defends the mind against unhappiness in much the same way that the physical immune system defends the body against illness.

A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad enough to do something about it. So, I ploughed on, slowly, rationalizing that will still get me to finish in under 4.5 hours!

This is profound: we will feel better soon as we begin to discover facts that support this conclusion (“I went out too fast for the 2 loops, didn’t I, Ath?”), but the process by which we discover those facts must feel like a discovery and not like a snow job. If we see ourselves cooking the facts (“If I phrase the question just this way and ask nobody but Ath, I stand a pretty good chance of having my favored conclusion confirmed”), then the jig is up and self-deluded joins jilted in our list of pitiful qualities.

Net-net, don’t try to cook this feeling, sitting on your couch on a Sunday morning. You gotta be out there to “discover” the facts.

Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends. (and, if I may dare add – not running 50k ultra marathons!)

Let me now try and explain the run itself, but first, a caveat.

Explanation robs events of their emotional impact because it makes them seem likely and allows us to stop thinking about them. Oddly enough, an explanation doesn’t actually have to explain anything to have these effects—it merely needs to seem as though it does.

Outside Looking In

Experience and our awareness of the Experience are generated by different parts of the brain. Apparently, it is possible – at least for some of the people some of the time – to be happy, sad, bored, or curious, and not know it!!

Was I happy when I finished, and not know it??

So when Sunil asked me as I was crossing the finish line (clock reading 9:12:52AM, 4:42hrs after the start), the world’s most familiar question “How are you?”, did I not know my own heart?

Go to your bosom;
Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know. – Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

The Way We Weren’t

Where do I go from here?

The fact that the least likely experience is often the most likely memory can wreak havoc with our ability to predict future experiences.

Apparently, the way an experience ends is more important to us than the total amount of pleasure we receive—until we think about it.

We show a pronounced tendency to recall the items at the end of the series far better than the items at the beginning or in the middle.

Because we tend to remember the best of times and the worst of times instead of the most likely of times, the wealth of experience that young people admire does not always pay clear dividends.

You will remember feeling as you had expected to feel, and not as you had actually felt.

All convoluted - the problem with this error of retrospection is that it can keep us from discovering our errors of prospection. Our inability to recall how we really felt is one of the reasons why our wealth of experience so often turns out to be a poverty of riches.


Reporting Live from Tomorrow

I quickly cancelled my plan to run from Bangalore to Mysore the next weekend, and rationalized why I should not run the Chandigarh 24hr run and by extension not be on the national team again.

The Inescapability Trigger

We are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than of the things we’re not (and more likely to achieve the positive view of a bad experience than of a very bad experience).

The show will go on, and in 2020, I will continue to lead you to mindless long posts, I am stuck to running, and if have come this far, you are stuck with my posts!!

May you soon stumble upon “Happiness” in 2020

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Bangalore Hash House Harriers BH3

As published in the website https://www.blefakegs-blog.de/en/a-heady-run/
A Heady Run
A unique group in the city of Bangalore brings together beer and running for a heady experience.
Author: Ganesh Vancheeswaran
Pictures: Hash House Harriers – Bangalore Chapter
Every month, Manoj Bhat heads out to some place on the outer fringe of the sprawling metropolis of Bangalore. He is going on an excursion. At a pre-designated spot, he meets several others who have come on the same excursion. But it is an excursion with a difference. Soon, Manoj starts running along with several other men and women. Some others opt to walk. The runners and walkers move at a comfortable pace; nobody is in a hurry. Their trail is rough and uneven, and takes them through fields, farmland, slushy patches and wooded areas. Midway, there is a pit stop, where they are served water and fruits.
Upon reaching the end of the trail, they reach for bottles of chilled beer to slake their thirst. Soon, the entire group assembles there. Many of them grab beers; others have soft drinks. Snacks are distributed. The group forms a circle and the banter starts. Anecdotes from the run are narrated, jokes are cracked freely and a lot of leg-pulling happens. Mock charges are hurled at some members of the group, who then have to defend themselves. And all through this, the air crackles with laughter and mirth.
Welcome to the world of hashing – a world of fun, fitness, beer and the outdoors.
A worldwide movement
Way back in 1938, a group of British soldiers (and possibly, some expats too) began meeting once a week in the Federal Malay States (now Malaysia) to run for health and fitness. They modelled their run on the old British game of Hares and Hounds, which involved ‘hares’ laying trails through the outback and ‘hounds’ following those trails while running. The soldiers named their group ‘Hash House Harriers’ for the building in which they were living. It is unlikely that they knew that their early runs would spark off a passionate global movement called hashing and that hash chapters would spring up in several cities across the world.
The Bangalore chapter of the Hash House Harriers (HHH) was set up in 1991. It is, like all other chapters, headed by a Grand Master (GM). Helping him is an organising team known as the mis-management team.
The great outdoors
Hash runs are organised once a month. People from all walks of life meet at a pre-designated spot just outside the city and start running (or walking, if they so wish). They follow the trail laid out by ‘Hares’, who are members of the mis-management team. On the Hares falls the critical task of scouting for a new route every month and laying the trail with chalk. But just so that the hashers don’t take them for granted, the Hares lay false trails too. It is common for eager frontrunners (outrageously called ‘Front Running Bastards’ or FRBs) to go up a steep incline and cut through some woods, only to fix a board marked ‘X’. This brings them to a hard stop and the belated realisation that they have spent a lot of energy going nowhere. They are then forced to switchback, return to the proper trail and then follow it again. Trails usually are between 6 and 8 kms long. But an FRB who takes a few wrong turns could end up running an extra 3 or 4 kms.
Abnash Singh, GM of the Bangalore Chapter of the Hash House Harriers, says that false trails ensure that the runners do not reach the end point much ahead of the walkers. He says, ‘’We are particular about offering good trails to the hashers. Though all our trails are rough and cover uneven territory, they have to be clean and safe. We have men, women, children of all ages running; ensuring that they have a good hash experience is very important.”
Earlier, the Chapter used to have fortnightly runs. Over a period of time, participation dwindled to the 10s and 20s. The runs started feeling jaded perhaps, because some trails were being repeated and the runs were being held too often. Then, they started holding runs once a month. Participation picked up, because the longer gap and the fact that the hares could pick a different trail each time, brought back the element of freshness and interest into hashing.
Hashing started off as a movement that put fitness at the core of the activity; so, most of the early hashers were serious runners. In time though, it has evolved into a fine blend of fitness and fun. Many hashers are in it because they love the outdoors and want to meet interesting people. Chandra Mouli, who goes by the hash name Organraiser, says, “We hashers have abundant fun amidst nature. For those few hours, we simply let our guard down and be ourselves. We are not judged for who we are, how we dress or what we say.’’
The fact that these runs/walks are not competitive is a major attraction. Which is why, many hashers bring their elderly parents and little children along. Abnash says that they have hashers from the age of 5 to 75.  Everybody is free to finish the trail at their own pace. Several hashers, who used to be eager runners in their youth, have switched to walking for reasons of health or advancing age. Nimou Nilakantan, one of the earliest hashers of the Bangalore chapter, recalls, “I used to be a very good runner in my youth. But after a knee surgery, I was forced to stop running. I returned to hashing as a walker.”
Love for the outdoors is a common thread binding all hashers together. The chance to leave behind the frenetic life of the congested city and escape to the countryside is a compelling attraction for them. In the days when this city was smaller, hash trails used to start 10 or 15 kms from the city centre. But rapid expansion of this metropolis has pushed the trails farther and farther away from mid-town. Many hashers travel 30 or 40 kms from their homes to the starting point of the trail. But they don’t mind it. Some come by car (car-pooling is encouraged); others come on their motorcycles.
A few members say that hashing has toughened them and spurred them to take up high altitude trekking and long-distance running, such as marathons and ultra marathons.
Hash runs are not restricted to the city’s outskirts. Once in a while, the group heads to a hill station for a couple of days. In the recent past, hash runs have been organised in Gandikota, Kotagiri and Horsely Hills, all of which are a few hours away from Bangalore by road.
Frothy times
And then, there is the beer. At the end of every trail, cold, refreshing Kingfisher beer awaits the hashers. Most adult hashers are beer lovers; many of them easily put away several cans of the brew in one sitting. For them, there can be no hashing without beer. Indeed, it is tricky (and futile) to try figuring out what is more important to a hasher: the run or the beer. Which is why, the hashers can’t decide if they are runners with a drinking problem or drinkers with a running problem! Much of the raucous fun and laughter that ensues after every hash run can be attributed to the beer.
Kingfisher has been sponsoring beer for hash runs since the inception of the Bangalore chapter. This association has remained intact for 28 years! On the other hand, Big Basket is the official food and logistics partner of the HHH.
Hash lore
The Hash House Harriers have their own nomenclature, rituals, conventions and songs – perhaps in a nod to military tradition, since the founders of the club were soldiers. One of these conventions is to give every member a hash name. Hash names are funny, irreverent and often ribald. They are drawn from some characteristic of the person or his/her background. Chandramouli was named Organraiser because he was an event manager many years ago. Manoj Bhat is Phatphatiya, because he used to come to the run venues on a Royal Enfield motorcycle. Her habit of walking with her umbrella unfurled got a female hasher the name Shady Lady.
While adults members of the club are called ‘hashers’, children are aptly referred to as ‘horrors’. Newcomers are Virgins. The Grand Master of the chapter is Pervert Producer.
After every run, the hashers and horrors gather in a circle that is presided over by the Grand Master. The hares are invited into the center of the circle and feted for a job well done. The hares down their drinks and bask in the appreciation, while the rest of the group cheers them lustily. Later, the offenders (those who flout any hash convention) are asked to sit on a large slab of ice as ‘punishment’. Putting your hands in your trouser pockets, using your mobile phone or indulging in cross-talk when the circle is in session – all these qualify as offences. So do competitive running and excessive off-trail shortcutting. Virgins too are made to sit on the ice as they are grilled about their personal and professional details.
And then, there are hash anthems, as also songs for several occasions – including birthdays of members.
********
I am sitting at a long table with about 20 hashers at The Bier Library, a pub that opened a few months ago in Bangalore. This is one of the monthly pub meets of the HHH. My drinking mates are a motley bunch. I say hello to a wine store owner, a printer, a contractor, a data scientist, an employee of the World Bank, three anesthetists and a few more, whose professions I forget.
As the beer flows, bonhomie rules. Ribald jokes fly over the table. Some of the more docile members of the group become targets of good-natured ribbing. The Pervert Producer is busy ensuring a steady flow of food and drink. From time to time, raucous laughter erupts, shaking up the guests seated at the next table.
Watching them, I realise what a wonderful way of life hashing is, how it has turned strangers into friends and how much it means to the hashers.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Malnad Ultra 2019



Getting back to the trail after a long time, allow me to mix it up some components with some Chautauqua.
Thomas, Susheel Tomal and I ran down the last stretch to the finish line in tow, crossing the line with the clock reading 16:24, nudging the photographer to get a shot. Somehow the ultra runners in the queue behind the finish line didn’t seem to acknowledge. They just stood there, no cheering, nothing. Ok. Then we went up the stage to take some more pics. That’s when someone asked if we had done 1 loop, we said, "No, we finished 2". Then it dawned on them, that we had indeed finished the 100k and then, there was some applause. For most of them in that line, they had changed their goal post from finishing the run to organizer-bashing, complaining about the 30k loop marking, and focusing on getting the medal and not being branded as a DNF (the dreaded Did-Not-Finish).
Missing the woods (coffee estates?) for the trees (markings?), eh

The course

Due to some last minute exigencies, the course had to exclude CafĂ© Coffee Day estates this year. Laying a virgin course especially when it was raining like it was, is a huge challenge. I’m glad the Anand and team pressed on, and didn’t call it off altogether.

The start and finish was at Maskalmardi estate, a 50km loop to start with, over 2000m of climbs and then 2 loops of 30k each with about 1000m of climbs. My general plan was to finish the 50k section by lunch time, then the first 30k section before it gets dark. We had arrived at the estate a good 1.5hours before the start. At 4am, we had taken a shuttle bus ride from Ballavara to the start point. Navin, Sampath and I found a temple near the start point to lie down and stretch our legs, and then went into the wilderness for the big job!

In the last week, I had completed 4 sessions with a physio, trying to get my iliopsoas and ischial spine (sitting bone) to relax – injuries I had been carrying since my last 24h run. Given the inconsistent nature of these injuries, I wasn’t sure how long I would last on the trail. I brought out my most expensive piece of wardrobe – my full tights, for the extra support.

We started off well, within the first 2kms my injuries started talking. But in an Ultra, these things come and go. I kept a steady cadence, but the slushy trails, the climbs and the slippery downhills slowed everyone down considerably. I took 3.5hrs for the first 30k. Somewhere around the 15k or so, Sampath blazed past shouting “guess who”. He took the 50k in 4:45 at first place! The only runnable stretch was the ridge, with some spectacular views. 

I kept the company of a Swede Thor for a bit and we exchanged some running stories, then he got ahead. By the time I got back to the ridge, I was staving off some mild cramps as well. I borrowed a bottle from Opendro and some salt tablets from Deepak, bumped up some salt intake to help ease the cramps. I got back to Maskalmardi estate (with my Garmin showing 47.5k) at 12:45PM.




I picked up some gels and my own sipper from the baggage tent. I was hoping to get some solid food in, and limped down the steps, but lunch was not ready. I grabbed a couple of boiled eggs and was on my way.

Course markings

Just as I was about a km into the 30k section, I saw the race leaders back tracking! They were an agitated bunch – complaining, swearing, lots of negativity, about the markings that just kept looping, apparently. I said I will follow the course, even if I must loop all day. I simply believed that the organisers would have marked it alright. Then brimming with confidence, I went on ahead, found the right trail (with help from some volunteers who were now taking their place at their designated place to direct runners). But still managed to loop twice around a 2k section. The 30k loop was (admittedly) marked without much time or resources to audit.


There was one other place, when we got to the 56k aid station (with 54k showing on my Garmin) where I met runners who had done as less at 48k!! I was trying to stay on the right course, knowing I need to get there again when it would be dark. The 30k loop has a stretch of about U-turn of 3.5k on road, allowing to interact with a few other runners (who were again complaining!!). 

The markings were very confusing:
  • ^ and <- both="" but="" go="" in="" meant="" most="" places.="" places="" some="" span="" straight=""> meant “go left”
  • In some places the arrows were on the far side of the trees, and not visible when you are running in the correct direction
  • In another place, there were arrows going both right and left. What it meant was “First go left, do a small loop, then when you come back to this place, go Right”. Yeah, right!!
  • One other place, the arrows just led to a stream and then nothing. It meant “back track 1km, then you will see an arrow going right”

Anyways there were still enough uphills and one very slippery downhill to navigate. Some short runnable sections. My cramps, injuries and all else had settled down and I was keeping steady cadence. By now, Thomas – a 25 yr old from Chennai & Susheel – a 32yr old Navy from Bihar were keeping me company.
We spotted some boars & deer on a couple of occasions.

We finally got back to the road, a point 200m from the start. But we still had to take a 4km loop before we finished. There were some volunteers who led us on this loop, down to a pond, then back steep up to an inspection bunglow, back on road and to the start/finish point.

Aid stations, Food, medical, rest areas, etc.

Back at the start point, by 6pm, 80kms done, I picked up my headlamps, some more gels. I again tried to look for some solid food, gobbled some quick bisi bele bath and coffee and got back on the trail, for the last loop. The aid stations had enough water, but almost nothing useful to eat - just oranges and biscuits. Thankfully, I was sustaining myself with Gels and didn’t worry much. Most aid stations had an electrolyte drink, but the mixing was not consistent.
Medical was only at the start/finish point, there could have been some sprays in the aid stations, but not sure.

Weather and other elements

At the first aid station on the 30k loop, the three of us regrouped again. It was great to have company in the night section. I got lost more than once & if it were not for Thomas, would have just looped around. Susheel had long walking strides and ensured that we were keeping a steady pace. Thomas and I jogged the flats and downhills and caught up with him as he led us on.

We navigated the entire course, my legs were now on auto pilot. We came to the final road section and I insisted that we do the 4k loop as well. My Garmin was only showing about 97k and I wanted to at least get to a 100k. And we of course have to do the entire course, the runners conscience doesn’t permit otherwise. So we crossed the broken bridge (again!) and made our way towards that treacherous uphill. But this time, the markings were off, there were no volunteers at the turn off point and it looked like the course was cut short. We reluctantly jogged some more took a U-turn and made our way to the finish line.

Finishers medals!!!

Or the finishers belt buckle. To compensate for the marking fiasco and for the difficulty of the course, the organisers had decided to hand out 110k belt buckles even if you had only done 1 loop or 80k. And guess what, there was line of these runners, just waiting to pick up their (undeserved) medals. Who cares that there was still a good 8hours to go and only 30k to do, let’s just get that 110k belt buckle, that should be enough to brag about?

Back in those days, about 10yrs back, when we used to train in Cubbon Park, running folklore had it that the lap wouldn’t count, if you didn’t touch the Cubbon park gates, as you took a U-turn. To this day, when I run in Cubbon, I touch those gates. Running is a means to an end, sadly, the end seems to be social media bragging rights for a few.

As for me, I checked off a few boxes – ran without my injuries flaring up, got back to trails after a really long time, managed 16hrs on my feet.

I almost took a one-year sabbatical from running, about a week before this race, to bring back some balance into my life. But thanks to my family (once again!) I was still able to gang up with my BHUKMP pals for this trip and totally enjoyed it.
Each run is a gift, each trail, each step is – feel the gratitude!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon 2019


Life has been coming back one full circle for me and I’m pressing the RESET button – career, coaching, parenting-wise. Yesterday, running got added to that list.

I crossed the finish line in 4:00:01 – the first time I had gone under that timing was at Hyderabad marathon in 2009 and the last time over that timing was in Mumbai in 2012! – RESET

The race day came with a general overhang of challenges. Non-stimulating work has been a part of this for a while now. Although I had good training block a month into the race, over 100k per week, my last 2 weeks were far from ideal. Headaches and stomach bug forced me to take an entire week off, the week leading into the race felt sluggish.

But the race eve perked me up. My last session at Asics Running Club as a coach, my band of coachees giving me all the positive vibes. The rest of the day was all about Kipchoge’s super human, 1:59:40.2 at the Ineos 159 Challenge. No Human is Limited, indeed!

Regardless, I had decided to race aggressively this time around. I have had enough of holding back in the first half and struggling in the second. I might as well be aggressive on the first half and be prepare to struggle in the second. I had a 1:28 half marathon finish on a tough course 3 weeks back, a strong 3:12 40k a month back and I knew I could push a 1:30 to 1:35 for the first half and still run strong. That was the plan!

Contrary to my usual tapering, I did not do any stretching before this race. I did not carb load specifically, there were no pre-race jitters either. As for sleep, I think I am oversleeping quite a bit these last few months.

At 2:30AM as I left home riding my bike, I felt my toe fingers crushed inside my compression socks. I dismissed the idea of going back to change my socks. At the baggage counter, I toyed around with the idea of keeping or discarding my calf compression sleeves. I finally kept them on, because its easy to stuff my gels in them. I was also running in my non-compression shorts. I have been known to be lousy with my choice of running wardrobe in the past. Will these choices come back to haunt me?

Race day morning was good, I quickly found my rhythm. Just as I was getting out of the stadium, coach Shreyas overtook me. His plan was to run a 1:35 for the first half and we both stuck together. I was running well and clocked some steady 22:xx 5ks. I had had a gel before the race start (and beet juice) and downed another gel at 12k. Things were on target, I stopped for a pee break at 18k and lost sight of Shreyas who went on ahead.

One of my coachees, Sandeep, passed me close to the stadium, about 5-7 mins ahead of me, into his second loop.
I wasn’t feeling the best, but came under the 21k arch with the clock showing 1:35

As I climbed a small uphill in front of Vidhana Soudha, the first signs of cramps appeared. I reduced pace, but pressed on, till GPO, then took my first stretching break at 24kms or so. From then on, it was a story of a struggle. At one point, on Cubbon road, as I stood to relax a cramping thigh, I had 3 ladies looking on. 
I gave a live demo of how a cramp comes.

A lot of runners passed me – some a quick wave of sympathy, others trying to egg me on. I tried my best to run as much as my cramp would allow, tried not be disheartened, tried not to judge myself based on this one bad day, tried to still keep a smiling face.

It’s tough. I don’t know why I still do it.

Some feedback I received in subsequent days from running buddies & well wishers:
  • Work on strength
  • Given my height and reasonably high cadence, the area to improve could be from improved hip flexion and therefore a longer stride length
  • Focus on overall nutrition (not just race day) and put on some weight