Thursday, November 07, 2019

Malnad Ultra 2019

Getting back to the trail after a long time, allow me to mix it up some components with some Chautauqua.
Thomas, Susheel Tomal and I ran down the last stretch to the finish line in tow, crossing the line with the clock reading 16:24, nudging the photographer to get a shot. Somehow the ultra runners in the queue behind the finish line didn’t seem to acknowledge. They just stood there, no cheering, nothing. Ok. Then we went up the stage to take some more pics. That’s when someone asked if we had done 1 loop, we said, "No, we finished 2". Then it dawned on them, that we had indeed finished the 100k and then, there was some applause. For most of them in that line, they had changed their goal post from finishing the run to organizer-bashing, complaining about the 30k loop marking, and focusing on getting the medal and not being branded as a DNF (the dreaded Did-Not-Finish).
Missing the woods (coffee estates?) for the trees (markings?), eh

The course

Due to some last minute exigencies, the course had to exclude CafĂ© Coffee Day estates this year. Laying a virgin course especially when it was raining like it was, is a huge challenge. I’m glad the Anand and team pressed on, and didn’t call it off altogether.

The start and finish was at Maskalmardi estate, a 50km loop to start with, over 2000m of climbs and then 2 loops of 30k each with about 1000m of climbs. My general plan was to finish the 50k section by lunch time, then the first 30k section before it gets dark. We had arrived at the estate a good 1.5hours before the start. At 4am, we had taken a shuttle bus ride from Ballavara to the start point. Navin, Sampath and I found a temple near the start point to lie down and stretch our legs, and then went into the wilderness for the big job!

In the last week, I had completed 4 sessions with a physio, trying to get my iliopsoas and ischial spine (sitting bone) to relax – injuries I had been carrying since my last 24h run. Given the inconsistent nature of these injuries, I wasn’t sure how long I would last on the trail. I brought out my most expensive piece of wardrobe – my full tights, for the extra support.

We started off well, within the first 2kms my injuries started talking. But in an Ultra, these things come and go. I kept a steady cadence, but the slushy trails, the climbs and the slippery downhills slowed everyone down considerably. I took 3.5hrs for the first 30k. Somewhere around the 15k or so, Sampath blazed past shouting “guess who”. He took the 50k in 4:45 at first place! The only runnable stretch was the ridge, with some spectacular views. 

I kept the company of a Swede Thor for a bit and we exchanged some running stories, then he got ahead. By the time I got back to the ridge, I was staving off some mild cramps as well. I borrowed a bottle from Opendro and some salt tablets from Deepak, bumped up some salt intake to help ease the cramps. I got back to Maskalmardi estate (with my Garmin showing 47.5k) at 12:45PM.

I picked up some gels and my own sipper from the baggage tent. I was hoping to get some solid food in, and limped down the steps, but lunch was not ready. I grabbed a couple of boiled eggs and was on my way.

Course markings

Just as I was about a km into the 30k section, I saw the race leaders back tracking! They were an agitated bunch – complaining, swearing, lots of negativity, about the markings that just kept looping, apparently. I said I will follow the course, even if I must loop all day. I simply believed that the organisers would have marked it alright. Then brimming with confidence, I went on ahead, found the right trail (with help from some volunteers who were now taking their place at their designated place to direct runners). But still managed to loop twice around a 2k section. The 30k loop was (admittedly) marked without much time or resources to audit.

There was one other place, when we got to the 56k aid station (with 54k showing on my Garmin) where I met runners who had done as less at 48k!! I was trying to stay on the right course, knowing I need to get there again when it would be dark. The 30k loop has a stretch of about U-turn of 3.5k on road, allowing to interact with a few other runners (who were again complaining!!). 

The markings were very confusing:
  • ^ and <- both="" but="" go="" in="" meant="" most="" places.="" places="" some="" span="" straight=""> meant “go left”
  • In some places the arrows were on the far side of the trees, and not visible when you are running in the correct direction
  • In another place, there were arrows going both right and left. What it meant was “First go left, do a small loop, then when you come back to this place, go Right”. Yeah, right!!
  • One other place, the arrows just led to a stream and then nothing. It meant “back track 1km, then you will see an arrow going right”

Anyways there were still enough uphills and one very slippery downhill to navigate. Some short runnable sections. My cramps, injuries and all else had settled down and I was keeping steady cadence. By now, Thomas – a 25 yr old from Chennai & Susheel – a 32yr old Navy from Bihar were keeping me company.
We spotted some boars & deer on a couple of occasions.

We finally got back to the road, a point 200m from the start. But we still had to take a 4km loop before we finished. There were some volunteers who led us on this loop, down to a pond, then back steep up to an inspection bunglow, back on road and to the start/finish point.

Aid stations, Food, medical, rest areas, etc.

Back at the start point, by 6pm, 80kms done, I picked up my headlamps, some more gels. I again tried to look for some solid food, gobbled some quick bisi bele bath and coffee and got back on the trail, for the last loop. The aid stations had enough water, but almost nothing useful to eat - just oranges and biscuits. Thankfully, I was sustaining myself with Gels and didn’t worry much. Most aid stations had an electrolyte drink, but the mixing was not consistent.
Medical was only at the start/finish point, there could have been some sprays in the aid stations, but not sure.

Weather and other elements

At the first aid station on the 30k loop, the three of us regrouped again. It was great to have company in the night section. I got lost more than once & if it were not for Thomas, would have just looped around. Susheel had long walking strides and ensured that we were keeping a steady pace. Thomas and I jogged the flats and downhills and caught up with him as he led us on.

We navigated the entire course, my legs were now on auto pilot. We came to the final road section and I insisted that we do the 4k loop as well. My Garmin was only showing about 97k and I wanted to at least get to a 100k. And we of course have to do the entire course, the runners conscience doesn’t permit otherwise. So we crossed the broken bridge (again!) and made our way towards that treacherous uphill. But this time, the markings were off, there were no volunteers at the turn off point and it looked like the course was cut short. We reluctantly jogged some more took a U-turn and made our way to the finish line.

Finishers medals!!!

Or the finishers belt buckle. To compensate for the marking fiasco and for the difficulty of the course, the organisers had decided to hand out 110k belt buckles even if you had only done 1 loop or 80k. And guess what, there was line of these runners, just waiting to pick up their (undeserved) medals. Who cares that there was still a good 8hours to go and only 30k to do, let’s just get that 110k belt buckle, that should be enough to brag about?

Back in those days, about 10yrs back, when we used to train in Cubbon Park, running folklore had it that the lap wouldn’t count, if you didn’t touch the Cubbon park gates, as you took a U-turn. To this day, when I run in Cubbon, I touch those gates. Running is a means to an end, sadly, the end seems to be social media bragging rights for a few.

As for me, I checked off a few boxes – ran without my injuries flaring up, got back to trails after a really long time, managed 16hrs on my feet.

I almost took a one-year sabbatical from running, about a week before this race, to bring back some balance into my life. But thanks to my family (once again!) I was still able to gang up with my BHUKMP pals for this trip and totally enjoyed it.
Each run is a gift, each trail, each step is – feel the gratitude!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon 2019

Life has been coming back one full circle for me and I’m pressing the RESET button – career, coaching, parenting-wise. Yesterday, running got added to that list.

I crossed the finish line in 4:00:01 – the first time I had gone under that timing was at Hyderabad marathon in 2009 and the last time over that timing was in Mumbai in 2012! – RESET

The race day came with a general overhang of challenges. Non-stimulating work has been a part of this for a while now. Although I had good training block a month into the race, over 100k per week, my last 2 weeks were far from ideal. Headaches and stomach bug forced me to take an entire week off, the week leading into the race felt sluggish.

But the race eve perked me up. My last session at Asics Running Club as a coach, my band of coachees giving me all the positive vibes. The rest of the day was all about Kipchoge’s super human, 1:59:40.2 at the Ineos 159 Challenge. No Human is Limited, indeed!

Regardless, I had decided to race aggressively this time around. I have had enough of holding back in the first half and struggling in the second. I might as well be aggressive on the first half and be prepare to struggle in the second. I had a 1:28 half marathon finish on a tough course 3 weeks back, a strong 3:12 40k a month back and I knew I could push a 1:30 to 1:35 for the first half and still run strong. That was the plan!

Contrary to my usual tapering, I did not do any stretching before this race. I did not carb load specifically, there were no pre-race jitters either. As for sleep, I think I am oversleeping quite a bit these last few months.

At 2:30AM as I left home riding my bike, I felt my toe fingers crushed inside my compression socks. I dismissed the idea of going back to change my socks. At the baggage counter, I toyed around with the idea of keeping or discarding my calf compression sleeves. I finally kept them on, because its easy to stuff my gels in them. I was also running in my non-compression shorts. I have been known to be lousy with my choice of running wardrobe in the past. Will these choices come back to haunt me?

Race day morning was good, I quickly found my rhythm. Just as I was getting out of the stadium, coach Shreyas overtook me. His plan was to run a 1:35 for the first half and we both stuck together. I was running well and clocked some steady 22:xx 5ks. I had had a gel before the race start (and beet juice) and downed another gel at 12k. Things were on target, I stopped for a pee break at 18k and lost sight of Shreyas who went on ahead.

One of my coachees, Sandeep, passed me close to the stadium, about 5-7 mins ahead of me, into his second loop.
I wasn’t feeling the best, but came under the 21k arch with the clock showing 1:35

As I climbed a small uphill in front of Vidhana Soudha, the first signs of cramps appeared. I reduced pace, but pressed on, till GPO, then took my first stretching break at 24kms or so. From then on, it was a story of a struggle. At one point, on Cubbon road, as I stood to relax a cramping thigh, I had 3 ladies looking on. 
I gave a live demo of how a cramp comes.

A lot of runners passed me – some a quick wave of sympathy, others trying to egg me on. I tried my best to run as much as my cramp would allow, tried not be disheartened, tried not to judge myself based on this one bad day, tried to still keep a smiling face.

It’s tough. I don’t know why I still do it.

Some feedback I received in subsequent days from running buddies & well wishers:
  • Work on strength
  • Given my height and reasonably high cadence, the area to improve could be from improved hip flexion and therefore a longer stride length
  • Focus on overall nutrition (not just race day) and put on some weight

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Bull Run 2019

For a few years now, a fellow hasher and friend, Rajesh has been investing a lot of effort in putting together a good trail run for all us Bangalore runners in our own backyard. The Nandi hills climb by road itself is very popular with runners and bikers, but the trails are seldom taken.

Ever since I failed to qualify for the world championships, my running calendar is open. The Bull Run had to be moved from its original date in August, to this new date. I am on a high mileage diet anyways and decided to give it a shot.
Life has been good in general – looking forward for a 5X change in workload career-wise, but keeping the weekly mileage high as long as I can. I don’t think I’m improving much, but feeling a lot more confident about the runs. The week leading up to the run was no different, I had already put in 100+ kms last week and was not really “rested”.

The pre-race announcements were precise, 6:40AM start from a government school hostel. We were forewarned that the water stops / support would be sporadic and a hydration pack was recommended. I decided not to carry anything but 2 gels on me.

I reached the hostel (a.k.a the start line) by 6am and picked up my bib #5001. Rajesh gave us the briefing peppered with his usual dose of humor. I assumed that the route would be well marked, so skipped the minor (?) details. I knew we would get back to the hostel by 30k and would have to climb the hill by steps by 39k or so. The run started some 15mins late, it was cold and windy. Luckily, the 50k, 25k, and 8k runners started together. Otherwise, the drone camera would reveal the sparsely crowd of four 50k runners!!

The route started off with a run up to a nearby temple on top of a hillock – Lakshmi Narasimha swamy (LNS) betta and then you get back to the hostel in about 8k or so.

Ganesh (#5002) was the runner up last year, was looking to better his 6hour finish from last year. He took off in earnest behind the 25k leader. But he was looking for some company till about 30k, he didn’t want to get lost like last year. I caught up with him by 3k, my first impressions told me that I should settle for the second place here. Ganesh was faster at shorter distances. But when you do 200k runs, you are mentally better prepared for the grind.

The overnight rains had erased a few marking in places, we had to guess the right route a few times. We ran in sight of each other till about 25k. When we got off the trail to road, Ganesh led me on the wrong direction, with almost no marking, I assumed that it was right. Thankfully, the detour was equidistant from the start point. Except for some traffic, it didn’t make any change to either the elevation gain / loss or to the distance.

It got us past Nandi cross, I took a short break to down a gel here and made up a lot of distance in the next few kms over Ganesh.

I was doing consistent splits – close to 5min/km average and had covered 35k in 3:02. I finally got back to course by 30k and by this time was getting mad that no one in the water stations seemed to know the route. At 31k or so, when I had set myself to get to the hostel (a.k.a start line) again, there was a clear arrow on the road that got us to set off course for another 5k or so. I reluctantly followed this. It was a good trail section which wound up all the way to the LNS betta. Since this section was taken multiple times by most categories, it was difficult to make sense of the single / double arrows. The volunteers were also too confused to help and when you get this half-baked responses, you don’t want to trust them anyways.

Nevertheless, my Garmin held me in good stead, and I was able to do my own math to get back to the hostel with 38kms done. The Garmin FR 935 has a great feature, that it allows you to change settings during the activity, I was able to turn off auto scroll, HRM widget on the go, to save battery. I was low batt to start with, somehow thought it would last the distance (and it did!!).

When I got back to the hostel, I saw Ganesh already there and not going any further. He had ended up missing the detour to the temple and had decided to quit. I looked quickly for chikkis in vain, and carried on towards the climb that was coming up.

The less popular climb of Nandi hills is on steps, that take you up 400m or so of vertical gain in about 1.6km – brutal and quad smashing when it comes after about 40k. I started off in earnest and took 1 or 2 short pauses on the climb, but was doing it at about 20mins/km!!

I was done with the climb in about 4hours and was confident of a sub-5 finish, last 9k or so in an hour. But again, there were no markings on top of the hill to guide me back, lost sometime in asking around. I wanted to be sure that I try my best to keep to the route, even if it means I would have to do more mileage.

I started the descent on the road, but now the quads started to act up. I started to cramp, first on my calf, then my quads, but I refused to stop and stretch. I tried deep breathing, to relax and run through the cramps. It helped, and the cramps settled down somewhat in the next 3-4kms to the “C” point. From the C point, I was back on trail for the next 5km or so. It was fun to see the body extend itself during this section. I was somewhat slower but still in sight of 50k in 5hours. But given my course changes, the possibility of me having to go longer was a given.

Pics courtesy: Sportstatsindia

I kept to a decent pace and still managed to read a 49.5 in 5hrs and then ran the extra 1.5k to finish in a time on 5:10:xx

My previous best for a 50k with 2200m of climb was way back in the Golden Gate Ultra at SFO in 5:28, so this would have to be my personal best. Also, with the ultra-champ Sampath having clocked a 5:14 in the same course last year, this was also a course record!!

Rajesh quickly verified my timing and handed out the beautiful winner’s trophy and finishers medal. I grabbed a quick breakfast, mixed a protein shake and rode back home on my ‘bull’et, keeping a close tab on the speed-o-meter – didn’t want to be fined for over-speeding!!

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Dealing with failure


I was expectedly stiff and sore in a lot of places the night of finishing the 24h. Sleep is usually very difficult, with each turning and change in position needing multiple adjustments. My pelvic was still sore and wouldn’t support my legs. I improvised by tying two towels around my knee and pulled them with my hands to change position. But I slept surprising well, given the conditions.

The next day, I used one of the ubiquitous plastic chairs for support, as I leaned forward, supporting each step with my hands to move a bit. By evening, I was walking straight without the chair. The next day, I was riding a bike and managed a few beers with some friends, and a dinner with others.

I put my feet up for 4 days while I slept, but I simply could not shake off the feeling that I had failed. The mind rationalizes – “you gave it your best”, “your body was not there for that last one hour”, “you can’t plan for such injuries”. But each day, I cursed myself a hundred times, “I had missed a golden chance”. Kanan’s words while we were on track, kept coming back to haunt me “Accha mauka hai, bhaiyya”.

Feedback and way forward

I got a plenty of feedback (mostly solicited, some unsolicited) – try more food (close to 400cal / hr), was it too much caffeine (21 caffeinated gels), you need to put on more weight, more solid food, went out too fast (w.r.t the 10th hour for about 20 laps), was overwhelmed by the target – should have been more relaxed about it, etc. etc. I certainly chocked. I feel I could have done better in the enjoyment department, mentally. Physically, long strides during walking may have been a wrong idea, need to put some more time in the gym for some strengthening.

Comparison chart showing the hare and tortoise story – me in red and KJ in blue. (lap & distance credit: KJ)

These things were playing round and round, nothing really helped get rid of the feeling of dejection. I contemplated stop running these events, running altogether. A lot of what-ifs played about, I pulled myself out of bed one night, to see my splits.
But, I got here not expecting anything from running, not allowing myself to be bogged down by results and not making running another stressful rat race.

But again, I draw inspiration from the sexagenarian runners on the national Aussie team at Soochow. For now, I will take the advice of two wise men, who said - drink more beer and do some fun running! Cheers!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bengaluru 24h stadium run 2019

It was a beautiful race. I was shooting for an aggressive 216km in 24h. There was a lot at stake – a berth in the Indian team for the Albi, France World Championships in my 10th year of marriage. I was riding on the back of a good training block, lots of support – my wife, my family and from many many friends.

But I came copper, hung my head down, when the question was asked of me. I came short, mileage wise and more damagingly, in the mental aspect. I ended up on a stretcher after having completed 198km in the stipulated time. Here’s how it panned out.

The training was good for this one – I had kept the mileage around 100 – 120k per week, my longest run in training was deliberately limited to 50k to keep myself fresh. Except a cold a couple of weeks before the race, the build up was great.

I had my race strategy planned out – mileage, nutrition, gear, support crew (my wife, my dad and my ex-boss). The plan was to keep to complete 55k in 5hrs, 105 by 10, 150 by 15, 190 by 20.

6PM Saturday

At the start line, I felt raring to go, it was finally there and I looked forward to the challenge. I managed the night part well – by 6am I had done 298laps (119k), having passed the 100k mark in 9h:42m. These were mind boggling numbers and personal best timings for me.
Shreya had supported me through the graveyard shift, braving the cold. I ran a few laps in deep gratitude to Lord Krishna for this great life and opportunity. I felt blessed.

6AM to 12noon

In the Tuffman Chandigarh run, I knew I had slowed down inadvertently during this phase. I wanted to keep a good cadence this time. At some point after 10hours, I latched on to Sunil Sharma and Ullas – both much faster than me, to keep the rhythm going. And it had worked.

I went on to do 144k in 15hrs, and 160k in 17hrs. A couple of (actually 3) false long nature calls in the morning slowed the tempo down. By noon, although the sun was out, I wasn’t too concerned. I had run 166k – I remember telling Ullas, I had a 6hour marathon left to do. It was to be the easiest thing, I could run-walk this. But not quite.

12 noon to 3pm

This is where a lot of self doubt crept in. I had started to walk some parts of the curves, just to stave of general fatigue. In hindsight, I think this was a bad call. I should have picked up pace, if anything. I finished 21k in those 3 hours, so you would imagine I was on target. But mentally, I was turning into a confused heap. My crew – dad and Ravi were a great help – providing the massages, tolerating my demands and cheered me on.

3pm – Pain and Rain

By 3pm, my feet started to hurt, my psoas muscle was strained because of the extended stride during walking. My only recourse was to lean forward and managed a shuffle. Shuffle, I did. For the next 2 hours I stayed gritted on the track, all I could manage was a miserly 11k in 2 hours. I needed 7k in the last 1 hour to qualify. If only my feet had been a slightly ok, I would have pushed on. 

Hoping against hope, that I would somehow ease the pelvic pain, after my 21st gel at the start of the 24hour, I squatted down to do a Morton’s stretch. When I got up (slowly), my head was dizzy, I held on to a railing and spent a few minutes trying to get steady. When it didn’t improve, I decided to go to the tent and lie down. The writing was on that rainy wall – I stopped. This was the last boarding call for France, and I was not at the gate!

I may be reading too much into this, but all these bare chested younger legs blazing past me in that steady rain, has a message for me. It certainly has dimmed my self-confidence. My body was simply not there to give the chase. 
Did I need a shoe change, did I need to ingest more calories (I had consumed 21 caffeinated gels!!), walked more, walked less, relaxed more – I don’t know.

From being at second place till the 22hour, I slipped to #6 by the end of 24hrs. Some spirited running by Sunil and Pranaya got them podiums. Young legs of Kannan and Chander took them past the qualifying 205k to make the Indian team. My legs are getting younger, and I will catch up one day!

I had great support this time – special thanks to my wife, my dad, Ravi and to Meghana, Rohith (my cousin) Ramesh & Dr. Fleming (from my Asics run club) who helped me get on my feet after the race. The drama that unfolded at the support tent, post my finish was the only regret I carry. I gave some nervous moments to Nagaraj Adiga & Reeth, my parents (my mom was in tears) while they scrambled to get scissors to cut my socks, to get the doc who declared I had a steady pulse and normal BP and to get the stretcher that finally took me out of the stadium to the Uber.

Is this the last of the 24hr runs for me? Not making the national team is a good excuse to stop this madness. But, you know me better!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

TCS World 10k 2019 – the bells and whistles

Almost exactly a year back, I took a plunge into coaching, with Cult fitness, thanks to my dear friend Dharma. My stadium run in July got some attention and I signed up later with Asics & Garmin as their coaches for Bangalore. Asics Running Club (ARC) was inaugurated on Sep 15th with yours truly as a lead coach.
Although skeptical to begin with, my approach to coaching (as coaches) has changed drastically over the last 1 year and I’m truly enjoying my association with ARC and Garmin.

Asics is the sporting goods partner for all 4 major Procam runs in India and I was excited to be a part of the run up to the TCS World 10k. I was just getting back to running after the Chandigarh run earlier this year and I was happy to get back to some speed workouts. Although, I had about 6 weeks, I was hoping (and training for) a sub 39min. Most of the speed work were “comfortably – hard”, I wish they were more “comfortable” and less “hard”.

I was excited about the opportunity to get some branding for ARC and get more members added in. I had even (brashly) suggested that ARC Bangalore should lead the warm-up routine. In any case, the Expo is a good showcase for both Asics and Garmin.

Spanner in the works!

It was vacation time for my kids and we had to keep our 3 year cadence and had planned a holiday in Phuket 2 weeks before the event! Work-wise travel has come down a lot lately, but I was told to attend a sales conference at Bangkok, in the last week of the race! Back to back travel does take its toll.
My Bangkok travel meant that I had to miss the “Breaking Bread” event, a great opportunity to meet the elite field.
The Big Surprise was the call that came while I was in Bangkok – Procam had offered ARC to lead the warm-up indeed!!! It was certainly a great opportunity! 

I had to quickly put together a team of runners – 5 on the main stage and one each in 4 pods around the stadium!
I got 3 of my trainees to join, 2 coaches from Chennai & Hyd joined, 2 influencers made up the team. I threw in a proposal to my wife to join, and she willingly agreed. We were a team!

I landed in Bangalore with 30hrs to go, for the start of the 10k - a whole lot of excitement and nervousness – plenty to be done before I get to the start line! To add to the festivity, I had requested my dad to bring my kids to the stadium and baby sit them at the Asics Lounge, so they could experience some of this too!

That evening at the Expo, we were still sorting out our Bibs, our participation as a part of the Asics team was not communicated to Procam that was handling registrations! In the middle of that mess, we did a quick rehearsal of the warm-up routine. Many thanks to JBX who helped fine tune the drills!
In “Wear Sunscreen”, xxx advices you to “Do something that you are afraid of”. For me, this was that moment – I could have handed over the lead responsibility to JBX, but choose to do that one thing I was afraid of! In hindsight, I was glad I did!
We were told that our gear, the tee shirts, would be handed out at the arena.

Race day

0315 hrs: Wake up, shut the butterflies in the stomach, make sure you have all you need.

0400 hrs: Carry the half sleepy kids to the car and drive to the venue with dad and wife

0430 hrs: Co-ordinate with the Aditi from Procam (to take us to the main stage), with wife and kids (we were separated while I went to find parking), with the rest of my team (there are some 15 gates to the stadium to make things complicated), with Asics marketing (to get our tee shirts!) and my own heart (which was pounding to a tempo beat).

0450 hrs: Get into position, realize too late that the gear will not come on time. Handed out worn out Asics shoes to team members and an Asics windcheater to a team mate to conceal competitors logo! Get the mike and headset fixed and checked.

0455 hrs: Good morning Bengaluru!!!
The next 20mins, I had the time of my life. I had planned it in a way that the tempo increases towards the end. The initial nervousness made way for some adrenaline. It was a delight to see the stands full of runners repeating after you and humbled by the experience. As the tempo increased, the runners’ energy was rippling throughout the stadium in the twilight.

0514 hrs: We finished on time, some quick shout out reading ARC and we were ushered to the starting line. Shreya made her way to the Asics Lounge to join my dad and the kids!

0530 hrs: The flag waved the start of the race, I still have the 10k to go.
After the race was done, while interacting with members of my Club, I could only dwell on how far I had come – from being the “WANTED” runner to leading them on the main stage!

My 40:40 timing was eclipsed with some gritty performances (many Personal Best / PB) from my mentees:
Bama 1:24, Sneha 59:23, Abhi 39:20, Arun 54 PB, Ashwin 58:58 PB, Jeya 1:04, Karthik 52:00 PB, Madhu 49:00, Navneeth 1:05, Padyumna 58:22 PB, Sachin 57:47 PB, Sriram 1:04:24 PB, Vignesh 53:17 PB.

The Champions dinner later that evening brought down the curtains to a great event and an unforgettable experience for me and my family!!
(with the Tennis legend Sanchez at the Champions dinner)

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