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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Malnad Ultra 2016 - Picture blog

Malnad Ultra was in held in great trails in pristine coffee estates. I had to put out the report before the photos came. But when they did come, they were so out of this world, I had to put out a photo blog. Many thanks and all credits to the wonderful photographers and their bazookas volunteering on the trail.
At the starting line

 The initial descent, with Shyam

Getting off concrete after 7k, with Amit & Shyam

Cruising through Rajagiri Estates

Sampigehutti Estate falls - watering down

Posing at the Summit of KathleKhan overlooking Bhadra reservoir

Feeling high after cheers from Byrekhan school kids

Shout out to the photographer

Lake at the edge of Bhadra - starting to get competitive?

Early evening, passing S at Dodkhan estate, moving into 3rd

Returning to Lalbagh Estate, still plenty of daylight

...and the finish, behind the leader, Ath

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pacing at SPBM 2016

Bangalore runners, many of my friends and their Facebook walls get into this mad frenzy during the annual running festival – The Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon, every year. This time though, I had committed to doing the Malnad Ultra, just a week before. There was no way, I was celebrating this festival.

The race director, Nagaraj Adiga, did not want me to miss out on the action. I volunteered to pace the slower runners. He let me pick, I choose the 5:15 bus. Pacing / Pacers are a common sight in large city marathons. The pacers have 2 objectives – 1. run at an even keel (or as per pre-published pace strategy) to finish +/-30secs from the time target and 2. Use experience to motivate runners to stick to pace and help them finish.

Adidas, one of the sponsors, was kind to sponsor shoes, shorts and tee shirts for the pacers. We were given specially designed pacer pack to hold a flag (with the target timing) off our backs.

Pacing in the GPS age:

I have seen pacers and used them as markers during my Singapore marathon way back in 2009. In those days, GPS was not as popular, many runners used the help of experienced pacers to finish in target times. Almost any runner has GPS, a watch or on a mobile. Most watches have virtual partner features, which is essentially a virtual pacer, doing a constant pace. So, what value does pacing bring to a runner.
I found out.

Almost as soon as I wore my pacer flag at the warm up area, I was approached by wannabe full marathon finishers. At the start about 5-10 of them stuck together and we started the bus. My plan was to stick to 7:30 pace all through. “Runeversations” happen mostly during the first half. I shared a few of my stories and tried to engage most runner in sharing theirs. There was a mix – mostly first timers, some well trained, some not at all, some afraid to go faster, others already too fast for their pace.

The Pacing Dilemma

1. Training truth vs race day morale
Being the slow bus, I had many runners who were inadequately trained. During the Q&A that was going on, it was difficult to say the hard truth “Train hard, race easy”, without affecting the morale of the runners.

2. Slowing down vs Pacer goals
During the later stages of the run (perhaps, when they need a pacer most), when some of them dropped pace, I could only egg them on, without slowing down my pace. I whish I could have slowed down, prodded them some more, and picked up pace. But alas, my pacer duties forced me to stick to my pace.

The heaviest casualty for my bus was during the Indranagar 100ft road. After that undulating stretch, I was left with just a handful of runners. Then a couple of them wanted to speed up. So, by the time I got to about 32kms, I was looking for new recruits, except one.
The course markings were off by about 500m, and I did some miscalculation at around the 36k mark, which got me running at a fast clip for a bit. This, however, helped me correct for the longer course.

Once inside Cubbon Park, I egged along a few runners to pace along for a strong finish. I finished with the clock showing 5:14:49 or so, on target!

It sure was a good experience and although I was running 3min/km slower than my marathon pace, it sure was tough. I am happy to have contributed in some way in the finish of a few fellow runners. For the first time, in over a decade, I completed a FM in over 5 hours!

And, on the third edition of Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon, here’s an open letter to the organizers, NEB Sports:

The Bengaluru marathon is very close to my heart, since it is in my city. A big thank you, for all the efforts in making this a great event. Having run the last 2 editions and pacing the 5:15 bus this time, some feedback from my side:

1. Route - On the return, the stretch from 100ft road turn (on old madras road) till Trinity circle was not good. Traffic was not blocked, we had one thin lane to run, traffic is heavy, fuming buses, etc. You should avoid this, by considering returning via Old Airport road to Trinity circle and then left turn into MG Road. That way runners will not need to cross Trinity circle (both while going out from MG road and then coming back).

2. Traffic - On some stretches (MG Road, Old Madras Road) traffic was not blocked on one complete side. We used only one lane on one side of the road. In most marathons that I have run, both India and overseas, traffic is CLOSED. No compromise. If you need to bring it up to Procam standards, you have to find a way to totally block traffic. Even in Marine Drive, Sealink, etc, the traffic is blocked for the whole 8 lanes. It is very uncomfortable to run when you have buses fuming smoke on the other lanes, accidents and shouting at traffic police is happening on the other side. Affects the morale of runners and leaves a bad memory

3. Aid stations - Much better than last year, where I did not find gatorade or electral for most of the run. This time electral was there for most part, except a few water stops towards the end. The bananas were not ripe. I loved the peanuts and chikkis.

4. Post run food - Bisibele bath was very spicy. Rava is not great on nutrition, Pongal and curd rice would have perhaps been better options.

I am happy to put my thoughts on the course planning for next year. I thought I should share my thoughts, since I am sure I will be heard :)

(ps: the feedback has already been responded to)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Malnad Ultra 110k Report

8th October, Saturday, I ran for 13h:45m to complete a distance of 110kms. First, some housekeeping stuff:

Total distance: 110kms
Trail type: 50k paved, 60k trail
Total ascent: 2850m

The course - Set in pristine nature, amidst coffee estates, unsuspecting mini villages, country roads and mud trails, Malnad Ultra is a dream Ultra marathon course. It includes never ending inclines (and declines), long ones, steep short ones, ones that top off with spectacular views, ones that curve into more inclines – all kinds of them. The symphony of chatter from all kinds of birds - the piercing peacock call in the morning to the chirping crickets in the evening and sometimes just the eerie silence at night. The shades of green – of coffee plants, of silver oaks, of vegetation draping the misty endless hills. The lasting memory is of the women and kids from the villages in loud cheer as the runners approached them, giggling, clapping, jumping up and down, what joy!

I folded my hands, closed my eyes in a silent prayer to Lord Krishna close to the “Summit”. Everything that you do, just faded away in front of such magnificent creation.

Excerpts from the Malnad Ultra Information Handout (loads of information in that one):

Average speed: 8kmph
Total time: 13h:45m
Rank: 2 out of 19 finishers
Split timings: Avg speed @ 30km 8.88kmph, @43k 8.9kmph, @80k 8.24kmph, @110k 8kmph

My own race - I had the perfect race.
Avoiding a Did Not Start (DNS).
My lead up to the start line was shuddered in uncertainty – my daughter needing hospitalization the previous week, slight delay in starting to Chickmagalur from Bangalore. I had to revert to plan B of riding a RX100 from Chickmagalur to Kemmanagundi on Saturday. I started at 3:30AM to cover the distance of 60km, it took me 2 full hours. I barely had time to peel off the layers of clothes, put the bib on, drop off my bags. A big shout out to Sripad, my cousin for helping me plan to get to the start…

The cheers of the 110k & 80k was getting louder at a distance, I reached the start point, still fumbling with my bib. I said a quick hi to Athreya and we were off.
I took the first available detour into the coffee bushes, for my  morning ablutions. When I rejoined the course, I was already DFL – Dead Freaking Last. I began passing runners one by one (something that I did for the next 14hours).

You will be saved the agony of a long post – I don’t remember much, it’s all mostly a blur even 2 days after, but for some highlights.

From the elevation profile, the course went mostly like this – 10k down, 10 up, 20 down, 10 up (to summit), almost 30 down to 80k mark, 10 up, 10 down, 10 up. The course gets you to Lalbagh guesthouse in 30kms, then loops a 50k course, then back up to K’gundi (30k).

My plan: My plan was to be easy for the first 30k to Lalbagh, be steady for the next 50k till Lalbagh (perhaps finish this in 12hrs) and then do what I can, in the uphill to Kemmanagundi.
I did not plan to take forced walking breaks, but had decided to walk all uphills; albeit briskly.

It’s good to have a plan, you need something to trash.
How wrong I was on the course reading. There was no 10 up, 10 down. It was just simple ups and downs, ups and downs, more ups and downs. But what was good was that the downs were runnable (unlike some of the steep downhills in the trails in the Cinderella trail run).

0-30km 6AM to 9:30AM
I just ran with a watch, the km markings were once every 2km (if you didn’t miss seeing them). I thought I was doing better than 10kmph speed. But only reached Lalbagh at 9:25AM; 3.5hours for the first 30km, I mentally prepared myself to finish only past midnight. I was slower than I expected, not according to plan.
By the time, I had eaten (while on walking breaks), 2 idlys, kesari bath and Khara bath.

30-80km 9:30AM to 3:45PM
This stretch was much better than plan and what set me up for my super amazing finish. Read on.
I don’t remember doing anything different. I had to stop once to stretch my thighs early on, at 35k. I slipped on a twig once, tripped on stones & uneven trail a couple of times, but luckily held my good.
There were long down hills, running a few kilometers at a time. I ran them steady, passing 2 ponds in the valleys. Then the long climb to the Summit. I passed Athreya in 1st place coming down, about 20mins behind him, with a few other 110k runners between us.

The Summit, overlooking the Bhadra reservoir was spectacular beyond words. I said a quiet prayer and carried on. I think I was there at the Summit by 11:45 or so, 6hours for 50km. Back on plan.
Photo credit: the wonderful photography team from Malnad Ultra

I took a detour into the DodKhan rest area to grab a quick Curd rice packet “to-go”, 56k or so. I polished off the yummy curd rice on the uphill in the next km or so. I loved the boiled eggs available on some water stops. Sadly, had to give the bisi bele bath a pass. At some point, I had so much food and cocoa vanilla in me, that my stomach went slosh slosh slosh, I had to STOP... eating.

The course led us to a serene lake, we run around this to the 70km water stop.
There something happened, my competitive side (very deficient side, that is) got switched on.
The volunteer there was making a note of bib numbers by category. I joked with him like in other water stops, but surprise surprise, I was 4th on that list. With only 70kms done, I had a long way to go.

Moving up to 3rd:
I caught up with Shaswath by 75k. He was doing good himself, going a tad slow on the uphills, but gutting it out. I was under severe mental pressure at this point – battling between not wanting to be competitive, but still wanting to be ahead of S. But I had settled into a good rhythm by now; breathing deep and steady, no specific niggles and happily no signs of cramps. I was having a salt tablet every hour and downing generous helpings of Cocoa Vanilla & Green Tea flavored energy drinks at each water stop.
Shaswath gave me a breather when he stopped to refill his bottle, I went past. Getting back to Lalbagh (80km), I was 3 mins ahead of him.
Photo credit: the wonderful photography team from Malnad Ultra

As I was getting into Lalbagh guest house, Himanshu in 2nd place was getting out of there, some 3 mins ahead.

80-110km 3:45PM to 7:45PM
I made a quick stop to pick up my head lamp at the baggage drop point at Lalbagh, picked up a boiled potato, poured water on my head (like I did at every water stop) and blurted out of there, sending my love to my family via Reena. At this point, with H (who had won the Bangalore Ultra last year) and Ath ahead of me, I was more concerned of S catching me up than me moving into 2nd place.

Moving into 2nd:
In about 5-6kms, H started getting to my sight. He was slowing, taking walking breaks on flats and running downhills. I was feeling strong enough to run some sections of uphills at this point. I was squeezing a few run paces in between long uphill walks.
I caught up, went past, acknowledge his greeting and never looked back.
Actually, I didn’t want to look back, to see how the others were doing. My goal was for me to finish strong. I never came into this race wanting a place on the podium. I brought back focus on what I needed to do, power walking the uphills, using the hills to rest the running muscles and vice versa.

Moving to the top:
At each water stop, I got updates that I was second and the closing gap with Ath. “10mins”, they said. But you know in India, 10mins can be anywhere between 2mins and an hour. I had no hopes (or wish) to catch up with Ath.
Some steep inclines later, I turned into the last 7km of concrete uphill road to the finish line. It was 6:55PM. By now I was running with my head lamp on for sometime now.
In that small pool of light, it was difficult to notice the uphills. I was feeling good and running some sections of the uphills as well, cutting corners, dodging headlights of oncoming vehicles.

The last 2kms slowed me down, it was bad potholed roads, difficult to discern the depth in the headlight. I missed a turn and went into the Bhadra sanctuary gate, but soon some people directed me back on track. As I stated up the last km, I saw a torch light ahead. Expecting it to be a volunteer, I shouted at that, to check if I was on the correct route.
When he turned, it was Ath. I caught up, he looked done, said he was giddy and had walked most of the last few kms. We walked together for another 200m or so. Then Kieran, the run manager and Reena ran back to us 100m to go. Kieran ran ahead to warn the finish line or our approach. Anand (race director)’s son trotted up with Ath. I held back an urge to sprint. It’s only fair that Ath takes the winning honors. I came in second, a few secs behind.
My race was over, you don’t need the 1st place to be on top.

A note of commendation and gratitude to the race director, Anand Adkoli and team, for bringing trail running to this paradise. A thank you to Gauri from activeholidays for providing me a bed for the night, so I didn't have to ride back to Chickmagalur that night.

So, how does one run these 100kms, all day runs?
There are no Short Cuts, I mean, NO short cuts. It’s a long 3 pronged answer:
  1. Diet – I have been cutting down on junk, no sugar, no flour. Salads (yummy ones) have long replaced rice for dinner.
  2. Exercise / training – All through this year, I have run. 5 ultra’s in all, finishing in top 10 in all of them. Many thanks to Shreya for tolerating my high mileage in the last month. On a weekend when they were away, I rode to Nandi hills, parked my bullet there. Starting running down at 4pm from Nandi hills, all the way to my house near RMV. Finished the 56k or so in 6hours. Slept a bit, woke up at 4am and ran back to Nandi. 56kms in 7hours. That was 112km in about 19hrs incl. sleep. Alone, self supported, along the highway. A week after my 12hour stadium run, I ran a tough 50k ultra (1800m ascent) in the US. The last 5weeks were 100k+ mileage, running in UAS campus from 8:30 to 11:00 everyday. You got to gut it out in training.
  3. Lifestyle – Lead a stress free life. Many thanks to my bosses at work for being supportive. At some point being spiritual takes the load off. I listened to Gitopadesham during training (thanks to Sripad)
 I feel blessed. Thanks for reading.

Receiving the finisher medal from Anand Adkoli, the race director

D's report
Ath's report

Monday, September 05, 2016

Cinderella trail 50k

Let us dwell on the alternative briefly
Just a week since I had run the 93k at the stadium run. I had taken a flight less than 12 hrs after the finish, with fluorescent compression gear showing from under my flight clothes. Drinking water by the gallon and stretching as much as the cattle class would allow. A week of hectic work, some sleep, lots of jet lag, the haphazard meals, and a week of missing the family.
While for some, each one of these is a valid reason why not to do it, for me, it was precisely why I wanted to. For the alternative - lying in my hotel room, shuffling through meaningless webpages, or even going out a exploring a bit - didn't seem like an option.
And so I naturally signed up for the Cinderella trail run, knowing that logistically, just getting to the start line itself would be victory for me.

 It was a beautiful trail, set in Oakland area in CA, full of redwood, oak  and Eucalyptus trees. And loads of climbs, about 5500' of it, in 2 loops of 13mi each and some to make up for the 50k.I stuck to my walk the uphills rule from my experience with the Golden gate trail - finished the 21k in 2:30 and then another 3hrs for the next 21k. The best part was the finish, of course. Despite all the mileage from the last week's ultra, I was running strong to the finish line.

I managed a 9th place finish overall (4th AG) in 6h:25m.

So what then is the alternate to this "insane obsession to running", to this "running away from it all". I am the frog in the well, not able to see beyond. Pray, if you do know a better alternative let me know, so I can not be on the roads all day.

Friday, August 12, 2016

12h Stadium Run 2016

I will not cramp at stadium run
I will run strong at stadium run
I will not cramp at stadium run
I will run strong at stadium run
I will not cramp at stadium run
I will run strong at stadium run

12h stadium run - A story of positive affirmations

Background and what I wanted to achieve

In all the years of running, I have never been truly free from cramps. The longest I was on my feet running was the 7.5hr at Pedernales trail last month. For me, the stadium run was a chance to push beyond, keep variables to a low and experience the joy of running beyond 8hrs.

If cramping was a result of an involuntary nervous stimulus, I wanted to change that. I relied on Pranayamas to relax and Positive affirmations.
Step 1: Know what you want (Toughest step of all - get help from and don't ask for too much, you know of the 12inch pianist, right?). For me I didn't want to cramp during the 12hr
Step 2: Make a simple, yet powerful affirmation "I will not cramp at stadium run
I will run strong at stadium run"
Step 3: Fake it, till you make it. Repeat it over and over, till you are truly convinced. I repeated it in some 3 time slots each day (mostly during my easy runs). I wrote it down about 25 times before I went to bed and 25 times just after for a fortnight.

And so, at 6am on that Saturday, 6 Aug, I turned up at the start line, with unfazed nerves. I was hoping to stay fresh till noon and then take the second half as it comes.

0 to 6hrs:

I was happy Navin chose to stay with me for most of this time. We stuck to a 25min run, 5min walk pattern, one salt pill at the top of each hour, one breakfast break (idly, kesari bath), lots of electral stops and one visit to the physio after 5.5hrs to stretch out the legs.

I had covered 46 - 42 - 37 laps or 18 - 35 - 50kms cumulative distance in 2 - 4 - 6hours.
By this time, I was in the 7th place, but feeling fresh as per plan. My race had barely started. The sun began to open up now and I was constantly pouring water over my head to keep things cool.
I tried to keep the focus on breathing easy, moving my arms & repeating my affirmations, whenever I was not chatting up with Navin, that is. I let Navin pace me and trotted behind for the next couple of hours.


The next 4 hours was a bit of a mystery. The sun wasn't going away but I only began to feel better. At 7.5hr, Navin & I went in for our second physio pit stop. Sweta from ProPhysios loosened things up and was God send. When we got back and the 8hr standing were announced, I had moved to 3rd place. Navin was in the lead and very unhappy about that unsustainable pace. He began to drop his pace and I carried on.

I had my second lunch of Pongal and Idly at 3PM. I surprisingly, kept good pace for this entire sun bathed fest. I took much smaller walk breaks, but slightly more frequently now.

And when the 10hr standing were announced, I was perched on top, with a thin 4 laps separating the top 3. Navin was prodding me to push for top spot, but I was not the one to change the goal post, not this late in the game. "I will not cramp at stadium run
I will run strong at stadium run". So I stopped for another long stretching session after the announcement.

With my daughter, Neha coming to see, for the first time, how her appa runs, I was more worried about making a bad first impression. I stayed sane and slow. I told Navin after 9hours that I was feeling very good.

I completed 39 - 37 - 31 laps or 16k - 15k - 12.5k in the last 3, 2hr splits. 

My entire family turned up at 5PM, I was still gobbling sandwiches and my walking breaks with no podium plans whatsoever. I went off the center track to run the last 3-4 times with Neha and Shreya. I had enough time to strike a deal with the photographer at the other end of the track to take this one for us. With 20mins to go, Santhosh who had always advised me to hold back, asked me to let go. I gave up a stretching break to just ice some stiffening quads.

The magical finish

"3 more minutes to go", Ankush announced over the mic as I crossed the line for the 230th time. I knew if I crossed the line once before the bell, the last one would count too. As I turned into the final bend, I sprinted like a mad man, past the line, for one last loop. I kept the pace, that smirk on my face, pushing through the other runners, giving it all.

After picking up the medal and the photo shoot, I checked my laps 232 in all, 92.8kms and a 3rd place, the beat that was playing in my mind "I will did not cramp at stadium run. I did run strong at stadium run".

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pedernales Falls 60k Trail Ultra

June 25-26, 2016

Ever done one of those open book exams, you are allowed to carry a book that you can look into while you answer those exam questions? I aced the Pedernales falls trail 60k Ultra “exam” last weekend lasting 7.5hours in Texas. My open book? – an veteran Ultra runner, Doug Long, he had answers to all Ultra questions.

Yet another short notice business trip > with date, location, ultra distance filters > Capt’n Karl’s Trail Series Just that, this one was 250mi, 5hr drive away and at 110 bucks, well over budget. I had resigned to not doing it. But Dallas has really boring paved trails, the prospect of getting away for the weekend and running my first night trail run nailed it for me – I signed up.

5+ hour runs have become my friends now – I added to the Nandi hill run, KP trek with a 5.5 hour run around Whiterock lake in Dallas & 2hr run around a Bob Woodruff park in Dallas the week before this run.

Come 5pm on Saturday, I had collected my bib, timing chip, bamboo tee shirt and took a quick nap in the back of my Jeep. I had plenty of camping equipment which a Dallas runner, Eddie had loaned out to me.

At the start line, I was trying to size up the fellow runners, about 100-125 of them, knowing immediately that a top 5 finish was out of question. The run started on dot at 7, the course was like a figure of 8, 30k each loop, to be done twice. Within a mile of the start, we had to wade through a duck pond, 2ft of water and slush. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected, within a few mins, the wet feeling ceased to bother me.

I was jogging along trying to find the right pace group to latch on to. I ran up to a couple of chatty guys, one too fast (amateurish fast) and another was slowing somewhat. Then a bare chested runner floated past at a fast clip, I let him go. Some distance later, while I was alone again, Doug emerged from the bushes, back on trail. There are somethings that can make you fast, but nothing like GI trouble, I figured.

While he was ahead, I started talking to his back, learnt that he was training for the Colorado 200 and had already done 24mi with 7000ft climb of hill training that morning. He signed up for this, so it could be his 100km training day! He did not have a target in mind and I able to keep pace easily as well. I had found my race partner… For the next 7 hours, he gave his longest interview yet.

The trail was beautiful, wooded, a mix of hard trail, sand, caliche, creek crossings and mild uphills. I tried to soak in as much for the 2 hours of daylight left. I learnt about Doug’s training, almost everything I do, multiplied 4 times. Long runs lasting 6-8 hrs, 3mi interval repeats, 3hour tempo runs!!

Question: How much is too much mileage?
Answer: No such thing

There was a water or aid station once every 3-4mi, I carried a 350ml bottle and some salt tablets on me. I did a quick pace check at the Polly Corol aid station, 11mi in approx. 1.5hours – seemed like the right pace.

The crimson rosy sky soon brought curtains down on the view of the trail. The crickets and toads were in full symphony. Then it got pitch dark, I let Doug lead and warn me of the loose gravel and rocks. I shifted my conversation from his back to his legs. In the circle of the torch light, those nibble legs set the rhythm.

Question: How does one handle races as long as 200miles
Answer: The first 100mi, just put that in, no time targets. The real race starts after the first 100mi. And do your best in the second half. Pretty much like Navin’s “split the run into 3 halves” advice.

We spoke about the mental aspects of running and he gave me an account of the mental degradation that sets in with sleeplessness & exhaustion at the end of such long races.

I spoke about running in India (yes, I said nice things about you guys), hashing in UK, he about his stints in Korea & Afghanistan. Towards the end of the first loop, my torch batteries died, I pinched the spare that Doug had carried. We finished the first loop, 30k in 3:20, took a 10min break and started out again, back to the duck pond.

Question: Do you watch your weight, do you diet?
Answer: Of course, you have to.

Sorry BHUKMPers, No cheese Masala Dosa. Doug is a vegetarian. But in the US, this means mostly a vegetable diet than a high-card India veg diet. My one-bucket salad dinner seemed to match his one pound spinach/day. Race day nutrition was mostly regular aid-station stuff (didn’t seem to eat much at the aid stations that day though). He was adding a mix of Tailwind + Perpetuem powder suspiciously into his water bottle. I was getting paisa wasool, eating Oreos, trail mix, watermelons and Burritos.

The moon was hiding behind the clouds, so no stars either. And for those brief moments when I stopped to take a leak, the torch switched off, the darkness was total. The legs trotting in the circle of light ahead was me was comforting. Occasionally, we passed a runner, exchanged courtesies and moved on. It was heartening to see strong girls fighting it out there, some ahead of us too.

Question: How do juggle family, day job and high mileage
Answer: Early to very early morning runs, start at 2am

Kids of 9 & 7 and an army career sounds way easier than my work-from-home-with-my-little-brats life. But really, there are no excuses. We both hoped to do this with our kids someday. I must have spoken for many miles about how much I miss my little ones.

Somewhere between the Wolf mountain and Polly’s Corral, I dropped my little pack of salt pills. Again, Doug came to my rescue. I had one last one at the water only station. We were at Polly’s Corral (30mi done) a little over 1am and at the last aid station by 2 or so.

And as if to validate the “if in doubt, run slower” mantra, we passed the 24 yr old who was leading us by over 5mi in the first loop. He was in serious trouble and limping every step.

In no real hurry to finish this thing, we kept to our steady pace right till the end. We stepped on the finish line together in 7:32.

In terms of fun and runversation, it will be difficult to beat this Ultra. Yes indeed, in the end, we only regret the chances that we do not take.

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

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?