Monday, July 24, 2017

Arigato Japan - Our trip to Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima

We took the plunge in the middle of chaos of bringing up 2 young kids and decided to squeeze in a trip to Tokyo (a long pending ask by my dear friend R). R&R were fantastic hosts. We got back and put all scraps together to create this scrap book. Let me know if it tells you the story!

Friday, July 21, 2017

PB at Bengaluru 10k 2017 - The tougher 10k

Bengaluru 10k on Jul 9, 2016
A PB effort at a 10k distance
A saga of a fast start,
a faster middle,
a blistering last 2k, and
a sprint at the finish
to get 6secs inside my previous best.
Finished in 39:01

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nandi in my backyard

I picked up "Why we run" by Bernd Heinrich and if the title does not already ask enough questions, there is "How does a grown up man convince himself to spend money and precious time to run himself half to death..." - a question that I ask myself multiple times, as I embark on a 8 week high volume, back-to-back weekend long run journey to my next 100km race.

So, like a mad man, I run around my neighborhood, in loops of 8k to 14k and a lot of mathematics to make up my weekly long runs of 30k, 36k, 40k and so on. But the 50k ones are the ones that matter.

And coincidentally, my house happens to be this exact same distance from this hill that I grew up looking at, on a clear day, on the horizon - Nandi Hills.

If you have read my Malnad Ultra report from last year, you know I have done this a few times now. But this year, when I google mapped "home to Nandi hills" and used the "walkin" option, it showed me an interesting back route. I have hashed with the Bangalore Hash on trails off this route on numerous lazy Sunday evenings. I tried this once early this year (including the "downhill biking trail" to the top) and got hooked!

I ended up running this route twice in 10days. First time on a Saturday morning, staring at 4am, finishing on top at 9:20, turning around immediately, putting my thumb out for a lift. Getting dropped off at the Nandi turn off point on the highway, back home by 11am.

On Ramzan holiday, I repeated this, only this time, I reached the top in 5:30, ran back to the highway turn-off to complete a 72km training run in 7:50mins. Took a "DVD bus" back to the city. And this came within 48hrs of finishing a fast paced 40k run on Saturday, on a mentally weak day.

En route, I get multiple quizzical looks, gestures, inappropriate comments. On rare occasions I get a good one, that shoots bloods into my head... must have been after 68k or so, close to noon, hot sun, this car slows down on the opposite side of the road, a guy sticks a thumbs up outside the window, then his head appears and he checks with me, if i need water...

I can do without the water and even food - I pack my camelbak quite optimally for these runs. On the 72k, I managed to do away with even the idli break, carried oatmeal in stead.
I refill water at a chai shop over some niceties with the chai shop owner, at the 33k mark. There are plenty of villages with water tanks to pour water over my head to keep it cool.

All this begs the question that we started with - Why?

As Prefontaine put it, "A race (or a training run) is like a work of art that people can look at and be affected by in as many ways they're capable of understanding". Yes, the key to appreciation is in the understanding.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

TCS World 10k 2017

In case you came here wondering if I ran this - Yes, I did. I ran the 2017 edition of the running festival of Bengaluru 10k, in a personal best time of 39:07
However, despite a good strong finish, with negative splits, I am somewhat unhappy about missing a podium finish. I finished in the 4th place in my age group, yet again, making this an agonizing 3rd consecutive 4th place finish in the last 3 10k races that I have participated in.

Happy about:
  • Of course, the PB - faster by 26secs from last years' 39:33
  • My sister coming out to support me today, a long drive from Mumbai, sleepless nights notwithstanding. She shouted out over the din of traffic at CCD at the start and then at the finish. Thanks!
  • Staving off a challenge from D from the 7th km on, sprinting the last 200m to beat Ath to the finish line
  • Negative splits, some tremendous amount of grit to stay on pace and finish the race - I had (like on all my tempo runs) to overcome lots of voices in my mind to stop and let this be
  • I made up 13 positions in the last 750m to finish within the top 50 overall
Unhappy about:
  • A third 4th place finish, this time the gap to the podium as narrow as 7 secs!
  • About not being to use the race day adrenaline to translate to race day performance
  • Somewhat wavering focus. Only when I saw D over my shoulder, did I pick up my feet again to push pace
  • Pre race breakfast, perhaps a bit too much - oats and 2 large bananas, heavy-ish feeling for the first km or so
Pics courtesy Marathon Photos & Geeks on Feet

 The push in the last few hundred meters will remain in memory for a bit...
 It was tough to take on Ath in the last 50mts or so, both of us were bent over and gasping for dear breath, when my sister walked across the barricade to check on us at the finish line.

I am glad its over and I can now get back to focusing on podium of those longer runs. Wish me luck!! 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Tirupati by steps

The week that was:
I passed one of those age-wala milestones earlier this month. Shreya and I were planning to climb the steps up to Tirupati temple for a while now. Her being in Chennai presented a good opportunity to do this.

There were many pieces that were falling in place in our general personal-professional mosaic, and when things cleared a bit my week looked like this:
·         Tuesday – 350k Bullet ride to Chennai
·         Wednesday – Rest day!
·         Thursday – 150k ride to Tirupati, Darshan, ride back
·         Friday – 350k Bullet ride back
·         Saturday – Train to Chennai
·         Sunday – Return with family back to base

Don’t rationalize this itinerary, I had to do the bullet ride, and a chance to do a bullet ride with my dear wife on my birthday to Tirupati was worth the effort of the yo-yo week.

Tirupati temple visit climbing Alipiri Steps

There are plenty of information on various website out there, to help you plan the climb.
What they don’t tell you:
  • There is no “Information Desk” at the bottom of Tirumala (the start point of the Alipiri Mettu). Be prepared to get bits of information from security, luggage handlers, auto drivers, et al – and only in Telugu – use a lot of “Ekkada undi”
  • If you need your bags to reach the top, you have to check them in at the start of the Alipiri Mettu. The security is tight, you will not be allowed to check in if there is metal, etc. My saddle bag, with some bike spares did not make it through. In any case, once you check it in, you will have to collect it once you reach the top and then stove it in lockers in another counter. Budget for time and effort for this.
  • If you do not need your bags (worked for us), you need to deposit luggage at Bhodevi guest house, where there are lockers provided, free of cost. But we were harassed for ID proof photocopy, and insisted for Aadhar card (yeah, it is outside bounds of Supreme court). Be prepared to walk about half a kilometer to the guest house (in the heat, with the luggage) from the Alipiri mettu start point.
  • The bike and car parking is also near Bhodevi complex, near the bus stand
  • You can use footwear, but I recommend against it, purely for spiritual reasons
  • You don’t need to wear a lungi or dhoti. Shirt and pants are perfectly fine – all the way
  • Free lunch is served at the temple complex between 11am and 3pm only and then later in the evening
  • And the big one – Once you are done with the climb and reach the top step, you have to walk on a carpeted footpath till there is no more footpath left. Then you have to a BUS! Yes, you heard right, you have to wait for a bus to take you to the start of the queue to enter the temple. These buses are run by TTD and made to look like chariots!
  • You still have to get into a queue (special darshan queue for padayatris). Be prepared for long waiting time (in our case, we entered the queue at noon and were out after the darshan by 4pm. But could have easily been longer.
  • There is no free transport back to the Alipiri gate

In his book, The Power of Habit, Duhigg talks about how the cue-routine-reward cycle. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

I have spent enough time on my bullet for the reward to be a craving, which is hard wired in my basal ganglia.
I went into auto mode, it was delight simply to get out the jackets, the saddlebags, the gloves. I checked the oil levels & tweaked that accelerator cable to be sure, didn’t want a repeat of that Chennai ride when I jammed cams-rocker-tappet, all for the lack of engine oil.

I started by 5, the roads till Mudbagal could easily take much more power and more speed. Of course, even having a high beam would have helped.
My intermittent fasting ensured that I could skip breakfast and ride all the way. It felt good to get an eventless ride and I quite enjoyed it. The euphoria continued the following morning. With S on the pillion, we took to good roads from Chennai and cruised along. 

One stop for breakfast, and we reached Alipiri gate in about 3hours.
But with no information kiosk at the gate, we first parked, changed, then checked in into the transportable baggage counter, then walked to the bhodevi complex, then ran around for the photocopies, then locked our bags in.

By then time we hit the first step, I was already sweating profusely and was already 8:45 or so. The first 2000 steps were the steepest and went up one hill, and then it plateaus, get into a bit of a valley, then climbs a bit more. TTD can do with using the public address loud speakers to narrate stories about the Lord.

We reached the TTD temple complex (the end of the carpeted footpath) in about 3hours. By noon, we found our way through well marked directions via Padayatri special queue. By noon, we entered a “compartment”, after having to deposit our phones. We were offered hot bisi bele bath inside. Although the notice board outside the coupe said that the estimated time for exit was 4pm, we were allowed to continue into the temple by about 2. When the queues join near the inner sanctum, we were all squeezed like sardines.

Those 10secs or so that you get the darshan as you walk in the sanctum made good all that we had to endure to get there.

In the melee, I had lost one of our biometric tickets – 3 ladoos loss!
We picked up our phones, got into private taxi that got us back to Bhodevi complex. You can’t be in Andhra and not have Andhra meals. We ate our fill of rice and pappu before we turned back to Chennai. The last 50kms of the ride was messy, dusty, trafficy and in the night. All that time we lost in mis-information could have made the finish a lot sweeter.

I totally loved the ride back.

In the end, it was a mix of adrenaline, romance, divinity, lowdowns & sweat – a snapshot, summing up the last 37 years!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Overnighter at Rishi Valley

At the end of my Ultra running season last year, Ranga put up a suggestion in my running group BHUKMP to do an overnighter at his alma mater – Rishi Valley School. Nested in Madanapalle near Chitoor, amidst stony hills, the lush green 400 acre campus seemed like a perfect outing for the kids.

The morning duties takes much longer with the kids, we left mid-morning. Although the roads were good, the 150+ kms seemed to take forever. It was brutally hot, we managed to reach the campus just in time when the rest of the folks were headed to the campus mess for lunch. We had simple, but delicious and healthy lunch, seated cross legged on mats and low tables. The lunch was tastefully prepared.

The guest house was earthy and cool, perfect for resting after the drive and meal.
In the evening, the entire gang headed to the nearby Cave Rock hill overlooking the campus for a hike. Rishi valley is nested in the middle of a few hills – Cave Rock hill, Rishi Konda, Peddu Konda and Horsley Konda. We decided to take the stroller along for a bit for my daughter, with my one year old on a sling. Within a few mins, we had to lose the stroller due to the tough terrain. Soon enough, my daughter tripped over a stone and refused to take another step.

So we climbed then, with my son on the back and my daughter on the front clinging on the superdad. Cheenu, who studies in the school, was our guide for the trek.

We had company of a friend’s mom who at 70+ climbed the hill wearing a saree. Its only after you climb the peak that you get to know the difficult part is getting down!!
Thick dry thorny shrubs were all we could get for support as we scrapped our behind on sliding rocks. Balance was precarious as we shifted kids from hand to hand and the sling from front to back. We missed the “cave” of the cave rock on the way down, but made it down in one piece.

The evening was spent in listening to one of the teachers talk passionately and answer a whole lot of questions on life and philosophy of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the founder of the boarding school.

The highlight of the next morning was breakfast of Ragi Idli & vada sambar (mini vadas floating in sambar that goes with Idli) for breakfast at the student mess. Coming after a forgettable, hot and exhausting run up to Horsley hills made it doubly delightful. While some chose to go to the nearby sliding rock, others decided to take a shorter trek to Horsley hills via the pipeline route.

Overall a fantastic outing – a first trek for my little one!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 – year of the salad

Somewhere by the end of last year, I took upon myself to keep a tab on my weight. Sustainable weight reduction is perhaps a bigger benefit to better running, than form correction / gear / training or any other. Runner or not, who doesn’t want to rid of that excess fat.
Now in the eleventh hour of my intermittent fast, not sure if a food post is the best way to keep my mind off the rumbling in my tummy. Nevertheless, I will try to share my diet journey.

Step 1 – Measure

I was new to this whole calorie counting thing. When I started, I had no clue what a 20 calorie or 2000 calorie meant. No idea of how much I was eating. My sister is a dietician and she gave me some Diet 101 advice to start with – eat more frequently, reduce portion size, have protein for recovery, drink plenty of water, yada yada. I guess I only followed the “eat more frequently” part of the advice.

When I grew more impatient, she put me on to a diet log – MyfitnessPal App. You can’t improve what you cannot measure (remnants from a six sigma training?). A brief on the App itself. It is fantastic – simple to use, database with many Indian foods to search and add. Personal tip – if you are eating home-cooked food, look for home-cooked options in the database. If you don’t find something you are looking for, try its Tamil name. You can also scan bar codes on food labels to add directly. It also gets you to set goals based on your profile. Nowadays though, after ArmourUnder bought them, the ads have gone up.

It’s a great first step because now, you get a feel for the calories. Give yourself 4-6 weeks of logging your meals & snacks in, and it gives you a fair idea of how you are doing. To begin with, I made guesstimates on my portion sizes. Things didn’t seem to add up. It finally took a kitchen scale, to convince me that I was over eating by about 10-15%. It’s funny when you put your rice on the weighing scale before you add it to your plate, but you will get over it.
Ok, you probably don’t need all that to tell you that you are over eating. What next?

Step 2 – Substitute
This is the fun part – how to have the cake and eat it too.

Like you, I don’t like to compromise on my eating. But at dinner time, when the app says, I have 200 calories left to keep it under my goal, you have put to put on your thinking cap. This is approximately how the numbers stacked up for me –

Morning coffee with biscuits 200
+ Breakfast 650
+ Lunch 850
+ Evening coffee with biscuits 200
+ Dinner?? – 300 (??) = 2200 target

A snack here, some nuts or a sweet? and dinner was deep red. Well, I did add my calories burnt via exercise, but despite that, I found it challenging to meet my daily goals.
I made 3 major substitutions over the next few months with almost no change taste or prep time or effort or energy levels
  1. No added sugar (save 100 calories)
  2. White rice to brown rice (save 200 calories)
  3. Replace dinner plate to a smaller one. Reduce portion size, but get more helpings if needed

I moved from 3 biscuits to 1 with coffee (sugarless) in a smaller cup. I was eating more whole foods – fruits and nuts. I began to eat less “out of a pack” or processed food. Began to look at the label (while continuing to scan the barcode for the app) a lot more.
The initial success – of being able to keep my race weight was motivating enough to try more.

Step 3 - Discovering Salad

Vegetables and nuts started creeping into my diet gradually, a little here and a little there. The big leaps happened during my business trips to the US. US trips are easy to pick up that excess baggage. On one such trip, I decided to only eat healthy. I was already running high mileage and was talking about by diet experiments with all and sundry. Got some great advice from a vegan ultra runner while on a trail run in Texas. My options were limited to soups and salads, and I loved them. I didn’t miss rice.

Back home, I started out with salad as an evening snack to help cut down my dinner portion. A 6 or 7pm salad would conquer my tummy, leaving no space for dinner. Still, out of fear of hunger, I showed down that too.

Then I took that leap of faith. I increased my salad bowl, moved it to dinner time and cut my rice to just one small cup of curd rice. No diet without curd rice is sustainable. Of course, a little extra salad dressing helped.

I have some 30 ingredients that go in, at times. A bunch of veggies – tomato, carrot, bell peppers, cucumber, radish, beets, potato, broccoli or cauliflower, peas and corn. Greens – lettuce or spinach. Then there are sprouts, beans, Rajma, chick peas. Flax seeds, chia, walnuts or groundnuts, some raisins. For protein there’s Quinoa, Soya chunks and boiled or scrambled eggs. A mayo based dressing, vinaigrette, lime, honey, salt and pepper. All mixed with a spoon of coconut or olive oil or topped with cheese. It’s fun to try out different stuff. I try raw (food processor chopped) or steamed veggies, also baked sometimes. I sometimes start with a tadka, with some coconut for a simple Usli / Sundal.

Ps: the pic is just representative. I have not become a professional chef, not just yet.

I love the process, chopping, boiling, mixing it up and eating!!! Burp!

Step 4 – Intermittent Fasting
From food to no food
Somewhere along the way, I added a 24-hr fast to the fray. For a few months, I regularly did a water-only 24hr (actually 20 – 32hr) fast on Ekadashi, the 11th day of the moon, every fortnight. This was a challenge, I didn’t enjoy the headaches that came after about 20hours. I had to move around my running schedule to accommodate this. When my Ultra calendar got busier, the day long fast stopped.

I read about Intermittent Fasting (IF), the variation where you go 16hr fast, followed by a 8 hour eating window, everyday! The trick is to have an early dinner (by 8pm) and then skip breakfast, directly into an early lunch at noon. I started a couple of months back with 14-10, not willing to let go of my breakfast. But now, I skip it altogether. Most days, I have a bulletproof coffee – black coffee with coconut oil (no kidding, look it up) at around 10. I also manage to put in my morning runs on empty as well, with no noticeable dip in energy levels.

But I do eat almost all the time in my 8 hour window, more fruits and veggies, nuts and good fats. I am trying to get processed flour / maida out of the way. My wife has started fermenting vegetables, with lots of help from Ms. AR and now my sister is leading us into the baking world. I just baked my first banana-walnut cake with Wheat and Oats last week.

The thinking cap is being substituted with a Chef’s hat. My growling stomach has gone silent, now to ease into my last 3 hours of fast for the day!!

Have a filling 2017.