Saturday, March 16, 2019

Tuffman 24hr Run - Apna time Aayega

First, and from the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my gratitude (and if you have been here before, you know it’s a long post)
To Vishal for getting me past the line, that separates average and good
To Peter for being my extra hands and legs at the support station. I hardly needed to raise my eyebrows to get pampered.
To Hema, Pranaya, Aparna, Sunil, the Sunchasers team and all others on the course, who sent those good vibes, lap after lap.
To my family, for all their sacrifices, to support this mad man.

Early Jan this year, I began to train again for a likely trail race by the end of March. I was hoping mostly to keep my (now steadily increasing) weight in check. Then I got to hear that Tuffman was organizing a 24hr category in addition to their usual 12hr run. The stadium run in Chandigarh, promised a good weather. I confirmed that this was AFI certified and would be a qualifier for the upcoming World Championships. It was game on!

I had about 60 days to train and bring down my weight by a few kilos. I decided to keep a modest mileage, closer to 100k a week, peaking at about 120. I also stuck to intermittent fasting – early dinners & late breakfast. I started runching (runch = run before lunch) to squeeze in my workouts, to balance my work & family commitments. Everything was looking up till about 2 weeks before the event, then things changed.
It started with a bout of cold & congestion, 3 days off. Then with 10 days to go, Neha had a fall from a swing and need to spend 2 days in the hospital. I have been reading Travis’ book on Ultra Mindset and tried to replace the negative story with a positive one. The sleepless night in the hospital was good training to be on your feet through the night? Thank fully, both of these events were not as serious as they started out to be and things fell back to routine in the last week.

I had a target in mind – 200k in 24hrs.
I was also mentally strong and wanted to push through the bad patches during the race. There is a decisive moment in any exemplary race or performance where one has to take the leap of faith, to transcend beyond the physical. I wanted to learn to push myself when the question was asked of me. Little did I know, that the decisive moment would come 48hours before the race!

I had had an ACL surgery a long time back (more here) and then ruptured it again in a bike accident a few years back (more here - this is nice). I have learnt to live with it. On Thursday, 2 days before race day, I was biking home from lunch, failed to notice a road blockage, fell clumsily, twisted my bad knee. My old friend, the ligament pain was back. I sat by the road, in pain, and cried as I cursed my luck. In a moment I went from being 100% fit to 50%. I was only able to bend my knee through 60 degrees, no complete flexion or extension was possible. From my previous experience, I knew this be ok, but will take a week.

But I decided to take a chance, came home and packed, limping and depressed. My wife was upset I hadn’t told her sooner, was worried that I still wanted to go. At the airport check-in, I was asked if I needed wheel chair support.

Unlike Delhi stadium run, this time, I had planned to be at the venue a full day in advance. The organizers were kind enough to book a hotel near the stadium, I settled in. The race day morning, I was feeling ok, but still not walking right. There was no pain, but there was swelling. I hobbled to the stadium in the morning to collect my bib. I continued to keep my routine and be prepared. I put on my race kit in the evening, the compression tights held the knee and gave it some support. I was ok as I walked to the stadium, with my nutrition supplies and gear. I soaked into the excitement of the start of the race, as if this was only thing I would get off it.

Arun Bhardwaj, a seasoned ultra runner, the face of Tuffman, told me that morning, “Keep faith, Miracles happen”.

At the start, 6PM, I started jogging at the pace I was used to, as I warmed up, I felt I could keep it up. I upped the pace to my target pace. From then, there was no looking back, no knee injury to worry about. My son Navneet’s “Run Appa” wishes were echoing loud.

The weather was good through the night, and never got too cold. I had multiple change of clothes on this one and used the full wardrobe that I had carried. Although it took time to get to the loo, the big breaks (one at 4am, other at 7am) helped me get lighter, “halka karna”. It was a test of endurance to survive the music – the DJ had 5 hindi, English & Punjabi songs each and kept playing them in loops and at high volume. Thankfully, the music was off between 11PM and 6AM, I was able to concentrate better.

I completed 100k in 9:55 hours, by 4am, the best I have ever done for a 100k. I had kept the cadence of gels for nutrition and black coffee to stave off sleep. The 200 / 24hr is such a stiff target (did I say “stiff”?), that there was no room to relax, if I had started to walk from this point, I would have got only 80km, 20k short of target.

I had to keep running and of course my legs were in no shape to walk, but run, I could.
You have to convert negative narrative into positive ones. For me, the injury had done two things – it forced me to think of the now and not get ahead of myself, and two, since I could run better than walk, I was forced to keep jogging, even it was only a at a slow pace.

In 16hrs of running, I had completed about 150k, I was now comfortably in 2nd place. Binay was leading the race by over 5k and I knew I couldn’t catch up. At 10am, I began to feel good about myself. I took a break to have a parantha (bad idea, couldn’t gulp it down) and change from tights to shorts (10mins break and joints cooled down).

Peter had been my guardian angel – handing out my gels, keeping my coffee ready, drying out my sweaty clothes. He was Godsend and I can’t thank him enough. Remember, it is not only about doing it, but how you do it. The smile and poise adds positive energy and every single emotion amplifies in that setting (positive or negative).

So when the negative discordant note slipped in, between 2 – 4pm, it amplified. When I got back to the track, what was hidden under my leggings so far, was exposed. My injured knee was swollen up, in all glory, for all to see. We got a big slab of ice and rubbed the knee and the calf, as I sat down trying to eat my parantha. The next thing I knew, my calf turned as stiff as a tree trunk.

It was also feeling much higher than 32 degrees now. I got up from the chair, I could barely walk. My calf simply wouldn’t allow me to take a step more. I limped, and so did my positivity that had held me for so long. I had done 170k and had 5hrs to go and I was down to walking at 2-3kms per hour, precisely what I had done at Delhi. I was ready to quit, not being able to walk was a good reason to do so. What’s the point in hobbling to finish at 185k. Of course, I would never do another 24hr run.

Then He sent me Vishal. Vishal was my teammate at Asian Championship, a gem who routinely sacrifices his own race to pace others at the finish. He came alongside, walked with me for a couple of laps (we had plenty of time). He urged to me to try to run, “Na”, get some massage, ”Na”, get in a pain killer, “Nahi yaar”, try some relief spray, “teek hai”. It immediately relaxed the muscle. I was able to run-walk the next lap. Now Vishal was showing faith in me, which I had just lost myself. He motioned me to follow him. For the next 50 laps, all I saw was those slender legs ahead of me. I just looked down at the shoes and imagined them to be mine. I was afraid I would trip him, we were pace lining so close. We went lap after lap, stopping only for brief water or gel breaks. I was the lagam ka ghoda. I could do this all day!

After completing only 10k in 2hrs (19th & 20th), we needed a good hour or two to make up lost ground. The 21st hour, we put in 24 laps, do the math, 9.6km!! I was back on track and so was my positive energy, my calf and all else. The sun was getting down now, good conditions to run.

The last 2 hours is to be done with no pacing, I was told. Vishal took my leave, but left me behind a target. He said, if I managed another 7k in 42mins, between 4:40 and 5:22pm, I would be very comfortable in the end. That is 17laps, both my Garmin watches had run out and there was no clock on display either. But I wasn’t stopping for 17 laps. I counted down, held my running form, kept going for the next 42mins without stopping. When I got to 5:15pm, I had 12laps to go, to get that 200!

I slowed down drastically in the last 15mins, fighting an urge to stop and puke. I kept moving and eventually finished 497 laps. At 407m a lap (lane 2), I got past 202km, still in 2nd place.

I was feeling too woozy for any celebrations, the swelling in the legs (the flight back didn’t help) took 3 full days to subside. But you know what, there was neither pain nor swelling in my bad knee. When applied with a balm of family love and friends support, Running Heals!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How to set up your Garmin Forerunner for a marathon PB

You have trained hard for your race and getting ready for the D-day. My Garmin GPS is my trusted companion in all my interval and tempo training runs. It is my indispensable partner on my race day. The Forerunner provides many customizable features to help you race better. I am sharing a few here, to help you get to your PB. The settings are generic, but with TataMumbai Marathon (TMM) fever picking up, this post will be somewhat specific.

1. Pace thresholds

You can set up thresholds on your Garmin for max and min pace (in mins / km or mins / mile). When your pace goes over the max pace threshold or below the min pace threshold, your Garmin will give you an alert – a buzz.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Alerts > Add New > Pace.
Input your pace for Fast Alert and Slow Alert.

TMM is mostly a flat course, and therefore, for most of the race, you should be able to be in your pace range. Although, a negative split finish is desirable, I tend to slow down during my last quartile. If I am targeting a 5min/km pace, I would set my max pace at 4:50 and min at 5:20, to budget for a bit of slowing down.

If this is your first marathon, you can also use the Run/Walk Alert to follow a Hal-Higdon like method. Input the Run time and the Walk time. I recommend a 9min run + 1 min walk cycle for the race day.

As for Pedder road uphill, I recommend going with the heart rate threshold alert (below).

2. Heart rate (HR) thresholds

You can set up thresholds on your Garmin for max and min heart rate (in mins/km or mins/mile). When your pace goes over the max HR threshold or below the min HR threshold, your Garmin will give you an alert – a buzz.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > User Profile > Heart rate > Max. HR.
Input your Max Heart rate (if you know it. Else you can use 220 minus your age, for an approximation)

Setting the alert:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Alerts > Add New > Heart Rate.
Input the zone for High Alert and Low Alert

Going by the HR is one of the oldest techniques in the book. While I use this mostly during ultras, this is a great technique for first time marathoners, who have a “finish” goal. In order to sustain a marathon effort, you need to keep your HR between 60 – 80% of your max HR to be in the aerobic zone. I use the max HR threshold to tell me to slow down (or in case of Pedder road incline – to walk the uphill). But I find the min HR indicator also useful to pull up my pace during a long flat stretch or a downhill.

3. Virtual partner

You can race with a virtual partner, who runs at a constant pace that you can set. Typically, the virtual partner is set to your race pace target.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Data Screens > Add New > Virtual Partner.
Enter a pace or speed value.

On Race day:
Start your activity
Select UP or DOWN to scroll to the Virtual Partner screen and see who is leading.

This an optional setting, if you are inclined to see another view of how far ahead or behind you are compared to your race pace. It is like having your own personalized pacer. I prefer the pace thresholds (discussed above) to the Virtual partner. Go ahead, give it a try, see if you fancy it.

If you are having a bad day and you wish to stop all this, hold down the UP button and go to Settings. Scroll down to Smart Notifications and then select to turn them off completely.

4. Data Screens settings

The next few settings are crucial, because unlike thresholds, you use this almost all the time during your run. It is useful to track data (pace, average pace, HR, etc.) but what good is it, if you can’t access it easily.

Garmin FR935 allows you to change some of these settings even during your activity, without the need to pause the activity (a brilliant feature). But who wants to fiddle around with buttons (and affect your form) while you are trying to keep a steady rhythm.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Data Screens > Edit > Layout
Select 4 Fields Layout
Choose the Fields as per your preference.

Garmin allows for 2 split, 3 split or 4 split screens. And can toggle between 3 screens (either automatically or manually). I like to keep 2 screens – a Summary screen and a Lap screen.
In the Summary screen, I have Total distance, Total time, Average pace and Current pace
In the lap screen, I have Lap distance, Lap time, Lap pace and Current pace.


I keep current pace in both screens on the top right corner, so it’s easy to read at a glance. I set it at automatic toggle. Settings > Activities & Apps > Select Run > Select Run settings > Auto Scroll – On (Slow / Medium / Fast)

5. Auto-lap

Auto-lap feature allows to mark at a pre-set location (the start) or at a specific interval (distance or time).

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Auto Lap > Auto Distance > Set Distance

Why Auto-lap? As the course, the conditions and your pace goes a bit up and down, I like to keep a view on the average. As the race progresses, the overall average doesn’t give a good sense of the current pace due to base effect. A 5k split helps to keep track of the pace better. Also, I mentioned earlier, I slow down somewhat during the 3rd and 4th quartile of the race. I like to “bank” some time in anticipation of this. If I have made up a min in the previous 5k lap, I like to put it behind and start afresh for the next lap. I set the auto-lap for 5k and try to keep even splits.

6. Summary display / Lap Alert

There is an auto-alert when the auto-lap is triggered for a new lap. And the display switches for a few seconds to the Summary display / Lap alert. You can customize the fields displayed for this view.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Auto Lap > Lap Alert
Select Primary Field and Secondary Field as per your preference.

I like to set this to show the Lap total time and Lap average pace (for the just concluded lap). At 5mins / km, this should be in the vicinity of 25:00 per lap.

7. Backlight

The Garmin uses the Gesture sensor to switch the backlight on, when you turn your wrist to view the screen. For a longer race, (such as my recent 24h runs, when I put off the backlit to make my FR935 last for the entire 24hrs), I keep the backlight off, but for a marathon, especially, given the early start at TMM, I suggest you to retain the default setting.

8. Post-race analysis

Congratulations!!! By now, you have crossed that finish line.
Sync your activity with Garmin Connect for plethora of reports, of splits, pace, HR. During days after the run, I use this to analyze where I was strong and where I slowed. It helps me get better and also do some interesting infographics like this one.

Share the work out with your coach to work on your next PB!!

Ps: If you do have your own settings that has worked for you, drop in a comment to help others along!!

Ace the Race! Good luck for TMM!! #beatyesterday

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Endure and the 24hr Delhi Stadium Run

In the days after my coming last at the Asian and Oceanic 24hrChampionship (the bubble burst??), I wanted to give a better end to a good training season I have had this year. I spoke to the race director, for a place at the Delhi 24hr stadium run, although this was only 2 weeks after Taiwan.
Aparna (AC) immediately offered to crew for me, I vowed to not slack on planning. I drew up a pace and nutrition plan, solicited feedback, fine tuned it, and printed it out.

I ended up running 176.8km in the 24hr, braving the Delhi chills.

I also just completed reading Alex Hutchinson’s best seller of 2018 – Endure. The book is a well-researched compilation of the mental aspect of endurance. I was able to relate to a lot of findings in the book and I will try to weave my Delhi Stadium run along with some excerpts from the book (in italics).

Endure has 3 parts - Part I is about “Mind and Muscle”, Part II is on Limits and Part III is about Limit Breakers. I will use the section on Limits and draw a parallel to my own experience during the 24hr stadium run.


There is a lot of talk in Endure about the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. So when oxygen levels in the brain drop, the outcome is clear. We slow down.
I noticed this right as I was getting out of the Aerobridge at the airport – the Delhi air was as if I was in a smoking zone. The body got used to this quickly and I didn’t specifically feel the effects of pollution till after the run. But the congestion took a full one week, after the run, to get out of my lungs.


In ultra-races, relatively unsexy talents like the ability to scarf down prodigious amounts of calorie-rich food and keep running without throwing up are absolutely crucial. Scientists have traditionally figured that 60 grams an hour (about 250 calories) is the maximum amount you can absorb during exercise – a combination of glucose and fructose will allow you to absorb up to 90 grams.

I saw the pro runners stick to a meticulous fuel and hydration plan at the Asian championship. This time I decided to have my own. I had a nutrition plan consisting of Salt tablets, Electrolyte (135 cal), Water, Gels (110 cal) and Solid food (Banana - 60, Chikki - 230, Granola bar -100 & Date syrup -100) to be had every 2 hours, 750 calories.

My sister had baked the Granola bars with lots of love, dipped in Date syrup, it made delicious snack. AC was an excellent support, handing out my nutrition and water as per schedule – through night and day.

The Delhi 24hr Stadium run started at 7PM. I had taken the 8AM flight and went straight to the JLN stadium. I had chapatis for lunch and more chapatis in the evening. I had tried to get some sleep (in vain) in the breezy tents set up by the track. A sports event in the adjacent stadium with announcements over the mic did not help.

But thanks to AC and the nutrition plan, I never once felt food to be an issue. Despite the Gels I was having, I was able to stomach it, didn’t feel the need to throw up (like I had in Taiwan).


Voluntary dehydration” is the physiologic lag or deficit that results when sensations of thirst are not strong enough to bring about complete replacement of water loss, as in rapid sweating. In these cases, adequate fluids may have been ingested to satisfy the thirst response, but not sufficient to restore normal fluid balance (Greenleaf and Sargent, 1965). Fluid loss of as little as 2% of body weight increases fatigue and impairs physical performance (Lamb, 2002). It is common for athletes to lose between 2 to 4 kg of sweat during a game (Buskirk, 1977).

Though it’s effect on cognitive ability is largely unexplored, the few studies to date suggest that moderate dehydration, losses as low as 2% of body weight, can impair performance on vigilance attention, short-term memory, perceptual discrimination, arithmetic ability, visio-motor tracking, and psychomotor skills.

During prolonged exercise, you will use fat and you will use carbohydrate.  The chemical reactions involved in burning fat and carbohydrate produce two key by-products: carbon dioxide, which you breathe out, and water – which actually adds to the amount of fluid available in your body. Even more significant, your body stores carbohydrate in your muscles in a form that locks away about 3 grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate. This water isn’t available to contribute to essential cellular processes until you start unlocking the carbohydrate stores, so your body sees it as “new” water when it’s released during exercise.
Dehydration is linked to overheating, since it reduced the volume of blood available to shunt hear to your skin, and in extreme cases might even compromise your ability to sweat.

The importance of any underlying physiological signal depends in part on how your brain receives and interprets it. Swallowing small mouthfuls of water – too small to make any difference to overall hydration levels – boost exercise performance compared to rinsing the same amount of water in the mouth and then spitting it out.

The primary message is that, like oxygen, heat and fuel, the loss if fluids first makes itself felt via the brain. Thirst, not dehydration, increase your sense of perceived effort and in turn causes you to slow down. Eventually, the physiological consequences of dehydration assert themselves, increasing the strain on your cardiovascular system and pushing your core temperature up as the volume of blood in your arteries decreases.

Not that you shouldn’t drink when you have the chance, but that you shouldn’t obsess about it when you don’t. “It’s one less psychological crutch to hold you back from top performance.”


It is not so much the heat (or cold) but the perception of the heat that matters.

And it was coooold, easily in the single digits. I was under 4 layers at the coldest part of the night – thermals, skins, tee shirt and a sweatshirt. After about 8AM when the sun finally began to come out of all that smog, I pulled off a cameo act, changing my tee shirt on the go! The cold would come back again to haunt us in the final hours of the run. By this time, I was reduced to walking, hands inside my pockets for most.

Muscle (pacing)

Again, improving from the Asian Championship, I had very precise hourly plan for pacing. The target was to hit 206km in 24hrs – 23 laps per hour (lph) for the first 7hours, 22 lph for the next 7 and 20 for the last 10hours.

After 7 hours, at 63.6k, I was only 2 laps off target. I managed only 17 laps in the 8th hour, and 20 in the 9th, fiddling around for a distracting phone and bluetooth (to listen to some devotion) at 4 in the morning. The next couple of hours were good, but by the time I hit 7AM, I was 10 laps off target, 4 kms behind.

“Only”, you would say, but if you have gathered anything from the previous 2 pages of reading, you get a sense of the mind games. When the results came over the loudspeaker, Prannaya was at 116k, well ahead of anyone else. They weren’t announcing the position, so I had no idea how good / bad my 104km was.

I let the deficit slip another 15 laps in the next 2 hours, 14hours 121k I had mustered. Somewhere by now (can’t remember exactly) I went in for a 10min power nap, I was so groggy, I was swaying on the track and needed a short nap. I slept for 9mins under the watchful eyes of AC and Meena who were exchanging meaningful glances when I announced my of-plan sleep idea.

It’s all hazy from here on. For no specific reason, I was finding it difficult to keep lapping. AC was doing a fab job, forcing me to stay on my nutrition and hydration plan. She even had her family join in during the night to support.

With 10hours to go, I needed 80k to hit 200, but from 14 to 18hours, I had only added 26km, 146k in 18hours. Sometime after 16hours, I was told I was in 2nd place, “surprise, surprise”.  It gave me a fresh purpose to aim for. At half my age, Kannan was very close behind. I managed to keep a steady cadence and was trying to hit 20 lph.
pic credit: AC At 2:30PM, I stopped, sat down and had lunch. Prannaya joined me, he was well on track to hit 200km+.

I never went in for a physio stretch, but was doing the Morton stretch ( quite often.

I managed to stay ahead in second place till about 22hours and then gave up. The second place didn’t seem worth deliberate & audacious lane violation and this was the final nail.

Regardless, I was trying to keep happy throughout the 24 hours and my objective was to finish well. As far as the targets are concerned, I lost my focus between 14 and 20 hours. AC in her feedback rightly mentions the need to work on the mental aspect. Fatigue can, indeed, be central (brain fatigue) or peripheral (muscle fatigue).

Alex Hutchinson rightly says The end point of any performance is never an absolute fixed point but rather is when the sum of all negative factors such as fatigue and muscle pain are felt more strongly than the positive factors of motivation and will power.


It is reported that pain can be strangely satisfying to the highly motivated athlete. Getting fitter doesn’t magically increase your pain tolerance, how you get fit matters: you have to suffer – pain in training leads to greater tourniquet tolerance, and greater tourniquet tolerance predicts better race performance. It also seems you can get faster by simply training yourself to better tolerate or block out pain.
All pleasure is alike, as Leo Tolstoy might have put it, but each pain hurts in its own unique way.