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!