Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Running up Kumara Parvata

About 17 years back, as a bunch of college kids in our 3rd semester of engineering, we had embarked on the toughest trek in the malnad region – Kumara Parvata (or Pushpagiri). We had stayed overnight at Shanivarsante, climbed the peak via the easier Somwarpet side. We camped overnight on the peak and down to Kukke Subramanya the following day. Memories of leech bites, the challenging rock climbs, water shortage remain solid, just like the mountain. And the aches, pains & muscle soreness of the next few days were epic stuff.

And after all these years, almost twice as old as that college kid, on Friday as I was winding up the last conference call for the week before boarding the train, the anxiety was palpable. It was all NT’s plan and he was a bundle of nervous excitement himself.
In about 34hrs, staying 22hrs on our feet, we trekked up to KP peak 4 times, twice from either side, some 14000ft (4500mts) of overall climbing. We walked up forests, loose gravel, scaled rocks and ran some of the 75kms distance in mostly good weather & some rain. KP welcomed me with an avalanche of memories from my previous 2 treks to KP. My last one was in 2006 - a team of 4, we had gone ‘To heaven and back’ from Kukke in 1.5days.

For those of you who know this trek and curious about the timings, some approximate stats (averaged from 2 trips).

(elevation profile map and distance from coorg.xyz)

Kukke to Girigadde (Up time 2hrs, Down 1.5hrs): This is the toughest section forest trail with steep climbs can get your heart racing – the climb down this stretch is also not kind on the thighs & knees.

Girigadde to KP top (Up time 2hrs, Down 1.5hrs): Loose gravel, not very steep, but not runnable. Exposed landscape till Shesha parvata, then some forest valley and one rock climb to the top. Few leeches but some killer bees on top.

KP top to Bidahalli check post(Up time 1:45hrs, Down 1.5hrs): 4 rock climbs. With Saturday night thunderstorms, the rocks were slippery and tough to navigate both ways. The foresty trail from there to the check post was divine. Thick foliage, damp ground, much less steep made some running possible. But it was swarming with blood suckers.

We stuck to a brisk walking pace for most of the uphill / steep downhill sections and jogged when it was favorable (some 10% of the trail). I set pace for most of the uphills while NT was ahead making sure we zigzagged downhill, when possible to save our knees.
We carried minimum gear. We had 2 lt camelbacks which we refilled at the checkposts.

For food, we packed a box each of palav (day1) and chow chow bath (day2) which we polished off on the KP top. We had salt pills (courtesy NT), Almonds & Nuts, dry fruit laddos, Protein biscuits & gel shots, which we munched at regular intervals. All easy to carry, keeping our load light. And of course, handful of salt for all of our wormy friends.

As we got down towards Girigadde from the top on those exposed hills, we had rains lashing us. We were both concerned about lightning strikes. As per first hand report of a trekker who had experienced this on Saturday, a few seconds before it strikes, hair on your skin stands up (due to the charge) and then one can see sparks overhead. If this happens, your best recourse is to lie flat on the ground (to avoid giving the lightning a good conductor it’s looking for) and pray hard.

Other trekkers did claim to spot a few snakes, but we didn’t have any sightings. No elephants, just some elephant dung for us.

All pics courtesy NT.

If that college kid could gaze ahead in time to this trip, I am sure he would have been impressed. Time to shift the gaze forward to the next 18yrs, you think?

Monday, May 16, 2016

TCS World 10k 2016 - A Report

Becoming a better runner

After my successful failures at SPBM and Bangalore Ultra last year, I was looking to get the joy back into my running. In Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Prisig, says “You want to know how to paint a perfect picture? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then paint naturally”. Borrowing that thought, to be a better runner, I decided to focus on the better part this year, and the run naturally.
And then with a young family, being flexible is paramount. I do 3 quality runs each week – an interval, a tempo and a long run. So when the Golden gate 50k trail run came along, I had my mileage behind me. I have built up towards a 40min tempo now. And no matter how good or bad my tempo days are, I end up doing anywhere between 9.6k to 9.8k, never a 10k.
I signed up for the TCS 10k, paying the huge registration fee - @ Rs. 125/km or Rs. 30/min of running, this is my costliest race. Little wonder why TCS world 10k is one of the richest races in the world, no kidding. I was hoping competition and race day fervor will get me under 40mins.
Barely a week before, we had returned from a family holiday in Tokyo, with lots of walking and almost no running.

Race day
The 10k had all the overheads of a marathon, except the distance was so much less. So there was carb loading (I surely over did that), sleep jitters, potty trotty, crowds, getting there, all that song and dance. It was a well organized run. I had no trouble getting out of the blocks from the ‘A’ corral.

Running blind
I knew I didn’t want to wear a GPS to keep track of my pace real-time. I do that with most of my training runs these days, in an attempt to tune into the internal sense of pace. In a wiff, I decided to not carry a stop watch either. It would just save me the trauma of mathematics while on the run – “ok, that is the 6k mark coming up, 22:58 on the clock, that is 3:5x mins/km… ok, I just passed the 6k mark, now the time is 23:40, the avg pace is…”. Who cares. In a 10k race, if you are in doubt, pick up your pace. The strategy for a 10k race is start fast, faster middle and even faster finish.
photo courtesy: Abhijith Rao
I must admit, during the run, I was tempted to ask a fellow runner or two, “Time yest-aaytu?” And a couple of times, when I felt that I was slacking, I picked up my legs.
The fun part was as I turned into the final 300mts stretch to the finish line. You turn out of Cubbon park and can see the large timer at the finish line. With no way to tell, if was under 40mins or over, I strained my eyes (yes, I should have been straining my legs) to see the first digit – 3. But with still some 250mts to go, I can’t be rest assured. Then I focused on the seconds – 05 and counting. Yes. I will get this under 40mins!
There is mixed opinion if running blind helps improve timings, but for me, I felt less bound, more free.
A runnersworld article on some experiments on this - http://www.runnersworld.com/sweat-science/does-knowing-your-splits-help-you-run-faster. I managed near even splits - Timing India link

The effort earned me an overall finish time of 39:33, 48th position in the Open category, 4th in my age group and a PB by over 2mins, worth the price, I guess.