Monday, April 2, 2012

Team EnduroLimits: Hiccups and Reassurances

This blog has moved to; i am however, pasting it here as well for anyone who logs in here by force of habit.

"Oh, crewing?! I know crewing. When you are running at Brazil-135 or thereafter at Badwater, I run ahead of you and keep teasing you so that you run faster and finish in the least possible time," said the nth person I was speaking to. "Well, not exactly." I interjected. What you are talking about might be included in pacing by expanding the definition of pacing, but this is not crewing. Pacing is a small part of crewing. Crewing is much, much more." "Oh yes! I know," this person went on. Obviously my interrupting him had not been taken too kindly. "Now shut up and listen." That was my mind ordering me. "Oh yes! I know," he repeated "Even when I am not running with you, I will still have to be with you as a part of the race. Only, I will be sitting in the car till my turn to run with you comes again. We'll be in a group, won't we? I'll be a party. How many people in the crew?" "Six" I answered since I was asked, struggling to not say one hundred and ninety so that it would sound like a nice, big party that this guy wanted. "Oh, Great!! This should be fun. You pay for the trip to Brazil and the US, right?" By now, I was desperate to get off the phone. I had answered n-1 calls before this and it took all the patience that I had to politely round off the conversation and end the call. Everything was telling me to hurl the choicest of abuses and hang up.

The passage above is a general description of the calls I got in response to an earlier blog post of mine where I had asked people interested in crewing to contact me. (So disgusted was I by the phone calls that the few emails that came in also did not get answered.) Finally, realization struck that those who might be good crew weren't going to call. a list of 12'ideal teammates' was drawn up and they were contacted. Eight of them accepted, four declined. There hasn't been a need to approach another four in place of those who declined. There are one or two persons on the list; just that I have been too caught up with other things to call them up and get them on board. The crew of eight is, for now, a team of nine. It was decided that the name of my blog was best suited as the name of the team. So Team EnduroLimits it was. The members are:

Kavitha Kanaparthi (Crew Chief)
Brijesh Gajera
Anand Venkatraman
Nikhil Shah
Yogesh Chavan
Sandeep Srivastava
Vivek Prasad
Rajesh Vetcha
Vishwas Bhamburkar

My job is the easiest. I do what I do everyday, which is run long distances, climb stairs and (maybe I should get down to listening to some teammates after all) go to the gym, cycle, and do yoga. During an event, I start running at the start line and do not stop moving till I have crossed the finish line.

Once the tam was in place, began the real challenge. The stages of team development as described by Bruce Tuckman - forming, storming, norming and performing all played out perfectly. That was expected and wasn't the challenge at all. The challenge was to sft through the nervous energy and the emails and to find a method in the madness. As emails flew thick and fast about everything, the website, my blog, the functions of the team, allocation of responsibilities, the IT strategy, setting up group emails, setting up documents et al, we were also learning about crewing - all of us. Expectations were being revised, newer aspects were being introduced and, to use management jargon, the KRAs (Key Result Areas) for Team EnduroLimits were being defined. In the midst of this, the idea of doing a 200k to start off the training sessions came up. Originally scheduled for the 10th of March, we decided to postpone it.

Cut to 20th March, 2012. The run was on, scheduled to start on the midnight of the 23rd and had a time limit of 48 hours. There were going to be only two crew members, Nikhil and Yogesh, as also Kaustubh and Kiran, but since the latter two were not a part of Team EnduroLimits, they were not included in the calculations for the training run and how it would go. After all, the run had to be about the performance of Team EnduroLimits and so, taking Kiran and Kaustubh's contribution would not give us a proper report of the performance of Team EnduroLimits. As I spoke to Kavitha, she told me to enjoy the run. Both of us were of the opinion that a 200k was a near impossibility. Even a 100k was far-fetched. A 50k was more realistic. Again and again I had to keep telling myself that I had to enjoy the run witout looking at the distance.

As the run started, I ran the first 50k, crawled the next 50k and called it quits at 106k. Why? Simply because we made a lot of mistakes, expected, unexpected, forced and unforced. It was a new team. And out of that new team, only Yogesh and nikhil were crewing for me. Neither of them had any prior experience of crewing. I relied on them the way I would rely on an experienced crew, forgetting completely that they were doing this for the first time. Increased salt intake right from the start (so that even if we forgot later, it wouldn't cause me any trouble) saw me battling stomach issues at around the 50k mark. Not having enough rest (the concept of rest in course of a 200k ultra is very different from rest during a marathon) saw me struggling to keep up with even the minimum pace required and not having coolers with us in that heat ensured I had boiling water and energy drinks. I quit at the 106k mark when I realized that I had run the latter 50k on just about 4 liters of total fluid and my continuing like that would only invite a total collapse.

On the other hand, a lot of things worked out fantastically well. There were regular updates on the run. I was being given feedback from team memners who were not running so had the advantage of a detached viewer. There wasn't one dull moment during the entire run. Nikhil christening me 'Running Baba' who wouldn't talk, but would only give my blessings to fellow runners, Yogesh's dirty jokes, Kiran's embarassment when I pointed out things which were blasphemous due to misprints and the general chatter with Kaustubh made the run a great one.

Team EnduroLimits might be new, but we're learning fast. The errors of this run will not be repeated. The run was a test for the crew. Their commitment to the team is very visible. So is the willingness to learn. And the humility to accept that mistakes were made.

The internal discussions of the team will certainly make for a juicy blog post. But that remains an internal discussion and is not open for public debate.

This brings me to the end of this post. The next one will be a report of the 100-miler at Thar which I attempt on Friday, 6th April.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jai Ranchhod, Maakhanchor!

Haathi, Ghoda, Palkhi, Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki!
Radhe Krishna, Gopal Krishna. Gopal Krishna, Radhe Krishna!
Govind Bolo Hari Gopal Bolo.
Jai Ranchhod!

Four chants that were playing in my mind all through Saturday evening right up to Sunday morning.

No, I haven’t turned religious all of a sudden. God hasn’t suddenly found a place in either my heart or my life. I am as much of an agnostic as I used to be. I continue to try and be an unapologetic atheist. But in spite of all this, these chants reverberated through the night and through my mind as Vishwasnathan Jayaraman (Vishy), Piyush Shah and I ran through the night from Ahmedabad to Dakor.

Let me start at the beginning. Around mid-February, Piyush had called and spoken of doing a 100k run. I had at that time refused as both of us belong to different running genres. He believes in running fast. For him, the time in which he completes a marathon is what matters. I am the polar opposite. I run to enjoy my runs. Timing simply does not matter to me. Okay, the only exceptions would be completing racess within their cut-off time. And going by the cut-off times for the various races, especially ultras that I have planned through the year, doing a 100k in about 12-15 hours is quite okay. That is the pace I keep. Piyush, on the other hand, goes for speed. His aim would be to do a 100k in less than 9 hours. And so, I chose to opt out of running the 100k with him. But he told me that he had no issues with running at my pace and that is how the 100k was finalized.

I recalled that people walked upto Dakor and logically extrapolated that since I had not heard/read about theDakor pilgrimage for the past quite a few months, it would be due sometime in the future, sooner rather than later. Asking a few friends, I got to know that the Dakor pilgrimage was undertaken to coincide with Holi. 7th March, Holi. 3rd March, just 4 days earlier, Saurday. Seemed perfect. Tents would have been set up by volunteers which would offer water, tea, buttermilk, snacks, full-meals…the works, so the dependence on someone else to provide us support would not be needed. After speaking to Piyush, who, having a religious bent of mind, whole-heartedly supported the idea of running to Dakor from Ahmedabad, the route too was more or less finalized. A quick check on confirmed the route and the distance too stood at 104 kilometers. (This distance would go up by another 8kms since we would start from Sabarmati Ashram, run to Vastrapur, the original starting point, and run beyond.)

As both, Piyush and I put it up on Facebook, Vishy called to ask if we were indeed serious about running the route and the distance. Of course we were, and the same was reiterated to him. Vishy asked how much time I expected it to take. 12-14 hours, I told him, which, on hindsight, was my first mistake. I should have said 18-20 hours – that would have seen us running and enjoying the run instead of running against time, which I absolutely abhor. Vishy confirmed and was in Ahmedabad on Saturday morning.

Vishy is a Gandhian and so a visit to Sabarmati Ashram was definitely on the agenda. When he went there, he got to know of the all-religion prayer that was held in the evening till 6:30pm and so he suggested we start the run to Dakor thereafter. So 6:30pm was going to be the start time.

Piyush and I reached Sabarmati Ashram at about 6:20pm. The all-religion prayer was over. Before we started the run, we thought a few photographs at Sabarmati Ashram were called for. As we took pictures and were chatting along, Vishy mentioned the plan to run from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, or the other way around, follow the route of the historic Dandi March and reach the destination (either Dandi or Ahmedabad) on 2nd October to coincide with the Mahatma’s birth anniversary. He said he had been discussing this with Jagdish Damania. I told Vishy that while I was part of the discussions with Jagdish, I had made it clear that I was like a horse with blinders on till July-August, 2013. Till then, my only aim was BR-135 and Badwater and beyond. (The ‘beyond’ is a card I hold very close to my chest; to be revealed later as things fall into place.) And therefore, I told Vishy, if I had to be part of the planned Dandi run, the plan would have to be for 2013. Vishy retorted that even if tough, Badwater was mindless running whereas running in the footsteps of the Mahatma was much more purposeful.

To each his own, I guess. For me, BR-135 and Badwater are and will be dreams that I hold very dear, even if they get dismissed as mindless dreams by the world.

As we started out, Vishy said that I should pace. My idea was to get to Dakor, finish the run with a smile and get back to Ahmedabad in time for Vishy to catch his train to Hubli. Yes, my plan had enough of a buffer to include a visit to the temple. And for Vishy to take a shower before he boarded his train.

About an hour and a half after we started, Piyush’s GPS showed us having done about 13k. Vishy’s calculation concluded that we were too slow and wouldn’t make it in 14 hours. Piyush told Vishy I was capable of running faster. My saying that we were on track did not cut any ice. Nor did my saying that I had a 200k run planned for the next weekend and going too fast during a 100k and burning my muscles wouldn’t be a good idea for me. From Vasna to Vishala to Narol Circle, there was a constant mental tug-of war. Piyush and Vishy were trying to go fast, trying to set the pace for a sub 12:00:00 100k, and I was pulling them back. Vishy was deciding a pacing plan of running 7k and walking 100 meters or so. Even as I doubted its sustainability, I for sure was not going to be a part of such a plan. If I did, I would have to wish my 200k goodbye.

During this time, I was feeling thirsty after every few minutes. This was probably the result of my not having hydrated very well through the days leading up to the 100k. But it wasn’t a problem yet. Hydrating myself (over-hydrating myself, actually) while on the run would do the trick nice and proper. I started to take a sip after every few steps and gulped down water whenever we stopped. A little after Narol Circle, we passed a restaurant which had chances of cold water.

I told Vishy and Piyush that I was stopping for cold water. They chose to run on. Four glasses of chilled water, a loud burp and a broad smile (at everyone in the restaurant) later, I was back on the Ahmedabad-Baroda Highway, running a little faster to catch up with Piyush and Vishy.

As I ran, I saw something just about 15 feet ahead of me, headed directly in my direction. Not having the time to think, analyze and then react, I darted to the left. The thing that was coming towards me seemed to jerk, tilted to my left and continued coming towards me. In the split second before there was contact with my body, I realized it was a bike which had skid and was out of control. I needed to get out of its way. I tried going further to the left but by then the front wheel went between my legs. Then I saw stars. The moon. A million suns. And billions of blistering blue barnacles. When I cam around, I was clutching my stomach and my family jewels had taken a direct hit. The pain cancelled out any plans that might have otherwise formed to teach the rider of the bike a lesson. Then the stench of country liquor hit me. Both the guys on the bike that had dashed against me were dead drunk and probably hadn’t even realized that an accident had taken place and that they were now lying horizontal on the road.

I limped away, doubling over with pain at every step. This was the end of my 100k. No way I could make it to Dakor, some 80 kilometers away. I stopped and slowly straightened up. Felt better, even though the pain was excruciating. A few steps and I threw up. Violently. Feeling weak, but with the pain having reduced substantially, I walked, hoping Piyush and Vishy had stopped for me. I needed to tell them that I was quitting. They were nowhere to be seen. As I walked, I started to feel better. They say, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. As I felt the pain subsiding, I started to run towards S.P. Ring Road, where I was hopeful of Piyush and Vishy waiting for me. My run lasted 100 meters. I tottered off the road, bent over and puked again. Then I walked. All the way to S.P. Ring Road. A couple of hundred meters before it, Piyush’s wife came in the car searching for me and told me that Piyush and Vishy were waiting for me at the circle.

As I met with my fellow runners, I recounted what had happened. Vishy remarked that I had a shocked look on my face. I was told that the car would now onwards tail me. I would be lying if I said I was unaffected but yes, I was hurt that in spite of I having met with an accident, there wasn’t even the cursory offer of abandoning the run, or anything even remotely to that effect. Not then, not later. In fact, even when mentioning about the run, the reference to the accident was fleeting. Be that as it were, the accident happened around the 20-25k mark; it is best to leave it there and move ahead.

I declared that I would complete the run even if it took me another 20 hours. We started running. A little further down on S. P. Ring Road, we came across a tent for the pilgrims walking to Dakor. The volunteers left the tent and came up on the road to welcome us to the camp. As we went in, we had water. Then we were offered ‘laddoos’. My stomach having emptied itself not too long ago, I had one, then another. The volunteers made tea for us. Some tea, goodbyes and off we were to cries of ‘Jai Ranchhod!’

We ran for the next 5k; running interspersed with walking whenever the pain made running unbearable. A right turn at Hathijan and we were on State Highway 3, headed towards Khatraj Chowkdi. At the first camp, we stopped again. Cold water, halwa and tea were served so lovingly by the volunteers. Having had our bit of carbo-loading, we set off again – to the next camp.

As we ran, there were people dancing to music blaring from loudspeakers. As we approached them, I broke into a dance. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the volunteers of that camp and after dancing with them, they took me to their camp and insisted that I could not leave without having some refreshments. Over tea and snacks, the volunteers asked if we planned to run all the way to Dakor. I replied in the affirmative and smiled – a smile to indicate that no more questions were welcome. I was told that it was indeed rare to find such faith in the Lord. Discretion being the better part of valour, I chose to keep quiet. I am sure my real intentions would not have gone down very well with the volunteers. I did not tell them that I was agnostic, that I was trying to be an unapologetic atheist. I did not tell them that my only intent behind running this distance was to prepare for the 135 mile race at Brazil and thereafter, in the USA. I did not clarify that Ranchhodraiji, Dwarkesh, Krishna, Kanhaiya etc. did not mean anything at all to me; that I couldn’t care less if I was running from Jharsuguda to Tikkerpada. I definitely did not want to risk telling the volunteers anything of this.

I asked what the distance to Dakor from that point was. I got six different answers starting from 55kms to 85-90kms. The correct answer was, “I do not know.”

Piyush had gone ahead. Since he did not dance, the volunteers perhaps had not shown an interest in him, allowing him to run on. Vishy and I started running after the customary ‘Jai Ranchhod!’ we passed a group singing ‘Govind Bolo Hari Gopal Bolo’. Since I was walking-running, the group would catch up, I would sing a bit along with them, then run forward, wait for them to catch up and repeat. Somewhere Piyush slowed down and we caught up with him.

A little distance ahead, some volunteers were offering buttermilk. That sounded yummy. Buttermilk with copious amounts of salt (our insurance against cramps further up in the run) was exactly what we wanted. Piyush tried to warn us against having buttermilk after sunset but his explanations fell on deaf ears. By then, Vishy and I had had three glasses each.

All recharged and ready, Vishy got impatient. He wanted to finish the 100k in 12-13 hours, visit the temple and reach back to Amedabad. I for one, wasn’t in a position to run at Vishy’s desired pace. Running a little distance would cause the pain from the accident to flare up, reducing my run to a walk. Two, even if I was able to keep pace wit Vishy, I doubt if I would have since a 200k was being planned for the next weekend and I would not have wanted my legs to be burnt out before that. Vishy couldn’t go ahead since he did not know the route. And the deadlock continued.

Somewhere during this time, Piyush’s wife and brother-in-law, Gopal, were joined by other family friends, paving the way for the 100k run to be converted into a 100k picnic. The two vehicles would go ahead, stop at some well illuminated camp and as we reached there, photographs would get clicked followed by tea, homemade snacks and sweetmeats, biscuits, wafers, etc. before we set off again to cheers of ‘Jai Ranchhod’ and ‘Jai Shri Krishna’.

As we continued ahead, we overtook a group chanting, ‘Radhe Krishna, Gopal Krishna. Gopal Krishna, Radhe Krishna’. Vishy took up the chant, I gave him company. It set the rhythm for the run and even if temporarily, took my mind off the pain. By and by, we reached Khatraj Chowkdi. Dakor was 41kms away, said the signboard. Less than a marathon. The temple, our end-point, was just 38k away. From Khatraj Chowkdi we walked-ran till Mahudha Chowkdi. Dakor was just 26kms away, said the milestone.

We halted for a tea break once again. Tea of course, and snacks too followed. From there on, I walked. Any attempt at running caused the injured part of my body to start hurting. The pain, spreading to the innards of my stomach caused a groundswell of nausea which threatened to envelope me completely. Determined as I was to complete the 100k, the only option before me was to walk. Walk slowly when the pain became overwhelming and increase the pace whenever possible.

With 19k to go, Piyush said he would go ahead and wait at the turn for Dakor. Vishy and I continued walking. Somewhere near the milestone which said Dakor was 16k away, Vishy and I both felt having something to eat, biscuits maybe, would be a good idea; it would give a solid energy boost. The support vehicles were not there; they had gone to Dakor for the morning ‘Darshan’; to have a glimpse the Lord as soon as the temple opened its doors. But our wishes did not go unanswered. Right ahead by the side of the road stood two persons, offering pilgrims tea and biscuits. I took a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits. Vishy took just a packet of biscuits. Out of sheer habit, he then put his hand into his pocket, fished out cash and asked, “How much?” One look from both of them had Vishy profusely apologizing for his blasphemy.

We walked on. I decided to quit as I completed 100k. The pain was increasing and there was no point in being brave and doing an additional 10-12k. As that was decided, Vishy too decide to run the last 8k. A little ahead, the person walking a couple of hundred feet ahead of us limped to the other side of the road and sat down o the wall of a bridge over a culvert. As we passed by, he told us, “As we keep getting closer, it seems to keep going further away.” We smiled at him. This is exactly how the last few kilometers feel at every event.

As we continued ahead, Piyush’s family friends drove up. They were done with their prayers at the temple and were on their way back to Ahmedabad. They offered us some more snacks, then a ‘laddoo’ each and after assuring us that not too much of a distance was now left, they drove off.

Near Alina crossroads, about 10k from Dakor and 2k away from my finish point, we reached a young man struggling to take his foot out of his shoe. As the foot came out, Vishy and I both got severe goosebumps. The poor guy’s foot was completely covered in blisters. Blisters o blisters. Blisters below blisters. Blood blisters. You name it and it was there. We asked him if he needed help. He looked at me, and said in a voice full of determination that only 10k was left and that he’d do it.

We continued ahead. Vishy asked if he could take off and run to the finish. I answered in the affirmative. Vishy said he would ask the car to wait for me at the milestone which said 8k to Dakor and I could finish my run there. After what seemed like a never ending walk, I saw the milestone and the car. I got in, my 100k done and over with.

We drove to Radha Talav where Piyush and Vishy joined us, finishing their run. After washing the salts off our bodies, it was time to head to the Ranchhodraiji Temple. I wasn’t going to go in. I said so, but the look on Piyush’s and his brother-in-law’s face made me change my mind.

The temple was closed when we went in. Some tradition where they keep closing the temple to the public and open it for a little while only to close it again. As we waited there, Vishy was feeling giddy. He stood at the side taking the support of the wall. The door of the temple opened. The crowd surged forward. Vishy and I got pushed in; got pushed out of the other door. That was that. I did not even get to see the idol.

Piyush Schumacher took over thereafter. And since I felt scared to be inside a car that was being driven like it would put F1 out of business, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. When I woke up, we were in Ahmedabad. That was the 100k run from Ahmedabad to Dakor. Jai Ranchhod!

  • I will do this run again next year. I might take 16 hours compared to the 15 this year. But I will stop at every tent, dance with the volunteers, take in the atmosphere and have a much better time.
  • The run is not about speed. In fact, it is not about running at all. It is about enjoying the atmosphere. Imagine going to the Carnival in Rio and then commenting on the quality of the material that the dresses of the dancers is made of… or going to the La Tomatina in Spain and evaluating the quality of the tomatoes that are used… if you evaluate the run, you’ll be missing the woods for the trees. This run is about enjoying the atmosphere.
  • Lastly, when I got hit in the nuts, I made a bolt for Dakor. Does it make me an engineer?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Thoughts That Run Through My Head When I Run

It all began with a comment during the Nilgiris Run in December last year. “You know, when you run, your feet fall like this.” Kavitha said this while gesticulating with her palms facing downwards to show how my toes pointed outwards and away from the other foot. “No wonder you pull the ligament in your hips on the long runs.”

I tried to smile and summarily dismissed what I had just heard as something unworthy of even second thoughts. And so rested matters.

But its different with Kavitha. She just says something, points things out and lets it be. She doesn’t nag; she simply expresses her opinion and that’s it. And because she doesn’t irritate me into agreeing with her point of view, it doesn’t give me the opportunity to dig my heels in, let out a howl of protest, take a firm decision to not do what I am being told to do or throw other such tantrums. I don’t know if Kavitha has come across the magic formula to deal with a difficult person like me but on hindsight, she somehow manages to get me to do her bidding without shoving it down my throat. And I guess that’s how things will remain till I find a way out of this situation – of somehow drawing Kavitha into an argument, digging my heels in, letting out a howl of protest, taking a firm decision to not do what Kavitha tells me to do or throwing other such tantrums. Having said that, I must admit it feels nice that I have the freedom to do what I want, even if my Chief of Crew doesn't necessarily agree with me.

Upon joining boot camp, I had a brain overcast with thoughts as I ran. The disaster that the past year was, the runs that weren’t, the DNF at Hyderabad, the personal issues to tackle head-on, the professional problems that needed to be addressed, the running related matters that had to be taken care of, my social activism…the list was endless, the problems to be sorted out all queued up. The first few runs would be on a full mind and I knew I would feel quite light (at least not feel as weighed down as I was feeling) at the end of the first week’s run.

Ten minutes into the run, my mind stopped and the legs continued running. Why was I running? Certainly not to run away from problems. Certainly not to find solutions to the problems I was facing. And as I ran, I realized I was once again running for all the wrong reasons. I realized there was no celebration of running in my runs anymore. And there and then, at that very point, I decided that running would be nothing if it wasn’t a carefree trot. Running would be nothing if it weren’t a source of unbridled joy. Running would be nothing if it weighed me down with the problems that weighed me down when I was not running. And if at the end of each and every run, my mind did not say “YIPEE!!” to me, I was running wrong and needed to check my premises. Finishing strong was something I had heard, finishing with a smile was something I strived for.

As if on cue, the sun threw off its blanket of darkness and emerged on the horizon. Was that a sign? No, not really. The practical me did not believe in such old wives’ tales. Then the sun winked at me and smiled. A smile that turned it all pink which gave way to a hue of orange. Okay, so that was a sign after all.

I had been so busy looking at the sun that I wasn’t looking at the road at all. Not the best of things to do while running on the highway, so I looked at the road. Then I looked down to see the road where my feet were falling and all I could see was my paunch. The road simply wasn’t visible. Maybe, I should invent a contraption like a bar which could be attached to my head. The bar would have a mirror at one end and when I looked into the mirror, I would be able to see my feet exactly where and how they hit the ground. Right then, I stumbled and almost went flying. Thanks to all the gymnastic moves I had seen on TV, the Akshay Kumar and Jackie Chan movies I had seen and memorized, I did a double sommersault, a half twist, a backflip and landed on my feet, saving myself from a fall. After that, all that kept playing in my head was ‘Humpty Dumpty…’

On the second run, the cold brought back memories of the Nilgiris Run. “You know, when you run, your feet fall like this.” Kavitha said this while gesticulating with her palms facing downwards to show how my toes pointed outwards and away from the other foot. “No wonder you pull the ligament in your hips on the long runs.” I bent over my paunch to look at my feet and made an effort to see that fell straight. It felt strange; something new. No, it wasn’t painful at all. Just strange, new and different. So I continued to run that way, watching every step. Then it started to pain. The lower back. But of course it would. What else was to be expected if a person, while he was running, bent over his paunch to look at his feet and ensure that he got them to fall straight? Then I realized I must also have looked extremely stupid running while bending over my paunch to look at my feet… And if that doesn't sound embarrassing enough, I was struck by even higher knowledge. That I did not need to see my feet to get them to fall straight. I just needed to consciously place them straight as they came to touch the ground.

And I continued running, always conscious that my feet landed straight, straight, straight.  The next few runs went by in the same way. I was conscious of my feet falling straight. The soreness in the ankles also made me conscious; so long as it did not pain, it was okay but I needed to keep a watch.

This went on for about two weeks after which I only needed to check once in a while that the feet continued to fall straight. Never disappointed, I would now try increasing my pace, I thought.

In between this and in course of the run, some thought was spared for serious issues like where to pee. The importance of this cannot be overstated, especially if the run passes by places like public conveniences that are missing or are closed, a railway overbridge with electricity cables passing under it, the Gujarat High Court, a civil hospital, etc. I have already blogged about it in detail earlier so I will not dwell further on this.

However, after I blogged about it, I couldn’t help wonder how akin I was to dogs who marked their territory and their route and sniffed their way back home. Then I thought about dogs in general, how they lived a dog’s life, really, their mindsets, their outlook, their philosophy, etc. A dog’s philosophy towards life??? Yes, a philosophy which suggested, “If you cannot eat it, if you cannot play with it, pee on it and walk away.” What a wonderfully cool philosophy to have! Damn! If only I could live my life that way some day. He who said, “It’s a dog’s life” probably did not know his ass from his elbow and therefore, did not know what he was talking about.

During all these runs, I have realized that my mind is a superlative DJ. There is a song that is always at hand for any situation. If I trip, "Humpty Dumpty" starts to play on its own. On days when it is chilly in the morning and people are sitting around bonfires, my mind automatically starts to play “We didn’t start the fire”. On days when I cannot think of anything, I think, “Why this Kolaveri Di”. Emerging from yet another man-dog face off, I always find myself singing, “Who Let the Dogs Out”. I could go on and on…

Of late, I have started to not just think, but use logic as well to give my puny brain some exercise. Before reading further, let readers be warned that theoretically, when a person runs, the blood supply is more to the legs than to the brains and so the logic may be quite… well… illogical. (And actually, I now have a logical reason for the way I behave – its all because of the ultraruning I do.) No wait, I’ll leave that for the next post. So that's something to look forward to. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Quadro12 Project

I had to do something which would go beyond just my race, my timing, my qualification for this or that, my other this and my other that. Somewhere, running had become something to do because my role model did it. And running had to be fast because the guy who started running with me could now do sub-4:00 marathons while I still struggled to do a sub-5:00.

The fun of running had been lost, and running had become a chore to be done, a job to be completed. Everywhere I saw, everyone who was running was running a comparative run and it all boiled down to my race, my timing, my qualification for this or that, my other this and my other that. The descriptions about enjoying a race were negligible; it was all about competition. Competition with self, competition with others, competition with the virtual running buddy, competition to keep up, competition to not be left out and every other what have you!

Maybe I was the odd man out. Maybe I am the only one who runs because I enjoy running. Maybe I am the only one to who company, conversation, and all those things which are completely unrelated to running matter a lot.  But like everyone else, I too would want my breed of runners to increase. 

I was very sure I did not want it to be a mentoring program because knowing I am basically a back of the pack runner, it creates unnecessary hassles when the runner one is mentoring starts running at a faster pace and after exactly 5 training sessions, begins to believe that the mentor is good for nothing because she or he is slower. I thus wanted a ‘cross the line and get on with your life as I get on with mine’ kind of a program.

I have already sounded out Brijesh about this and have told him that I wanted to take this forward as something of significance to be achieved in the course of the year, more or less in course of the next 12 months, give or take.

Brijesh, of course, will along with me, be taking this forward, trying to involve and create a core team of 12 people; however, everyone who reads this can take this forward individually as well and let us see how we can build up on this.

The Gist:
12 Core Team Members (Team Quadro12) Cumulatively do 12 Ultras. Each having their own 12 (for want of a better word) mentees. Crossing the Finish Line at 12 Marathons. All runs will be for 12 different causes. Winners all 156 of us. (12 Core Team Members and their 12 mentees each.)

The Plan:
We, the 12 core team members will each help 12 different mentees cross the finish lines cumulatively at 12 different marathons. So we will technically have to look for at least 12 different marathons that each of us 12 core team members will need to run with 12 mentees. And 12 different charities can associate with us for raising funds as we do this.

The Modus Operandi:
The primary focus has to be on persons who are the most unlikely candidates for running marathons. School children, senior citizens, persons with lifestyle diseases for whom, running and completing a marathon will be akin to a lifetime achievement. I have already booked a domain name, and as soon as we tie up all the loose ends, the site can be up and running. I feel the website should feature the candidates, their story, their photos (before/during/after), their progress as the training progresses, training tips, various guides, motivation in the form of stories, videos or whatever.

The candidates will have to fill up a form which we shall put up on the website once we launch The Quadro12 Project. They will also have a choice of selecting their mentors from Team Quadro12; however, the mentors will have the right of first refusal.

In case you feel you are up to this kind of masochism, either as a mentor or a mentee, do get in touch with Brijesh or yours truly or leave a comment with your contact details; either of us will surely get back to you. 

This is just a concept note that has been finalized. I hope this is an organic program which grows with time and takes its own shape as it grows.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Running Woes & Solutions.

Six days of Boot Camp are over. 

My last post was about me coming out of hibernation, starting to run again and my joining Boot Camp. Nature, which seemed to have been at war with me the past couple of months had of late ceased hostilities allowing me to thaw a bit, took my coming out of hibernation as a personal affront and sent back the cold with a vengeance. The mercury plummeted and with minimum temperatures hovering at about 5 degree C, running in the morning was definitely and most certainly out. My spring threatened to last just a day, making way again for winter. 

Well, if nature could play tricks, I could be obstinate. Taking full advantage of me being the boss, I decided that afternoon was a good time to run. Starting at 11:30am, I decided to stick to my route of the first day, which would ensure a 30-32k run. This would be my route every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Sundays, the same route could be extended to make it a 50k+ run. Monotony would not set in, I believe, because there are quite a few other long runs and events planned throughout the year. 

As I started running, the dog attack was instant. Only this time, the dogs on the street were not the problem. It was those in cars, on two wheelers, those driving rickshaws. Tolerating the snide comments peppered liberally with expletives, I ran on. What was the point in reacting anyways? At about the 10k mark, I was flagged to a stop by a girl on a two-wheeler. She asked me what I was running for. "For whom, you mean?" "Yes." "For myself." "No, no! I mean to ask, what is the cause you are running for? AIDS, Communal Harmony, National Integration..." "AIDS I do not suffer from, last month's blood donation confirmed that. I am an unapologetic atheist, so the question of communal harmony doesn't arise. As for national integration, I have run to 3 states in one run, so that would count as regional integration rather than national integration, no?" (Which reminds me, I have to speak to Kavitha about rechristening 'Nilgiris 100' to '3 States Ultra' because Nilgiris 100 sounds quite insipid... but for now, let me get back to the post.) "See Sir... what is your name?" she asked. "Vishwas" "Okay, Sir" I wonder why she asked my name if she wanted to continue addressing me as 'Sir'. "I am an intern with Radio Mirchi." Was that a euphemism or maybe, a warning which actually meant, "Stop your buffoonery and answer my questions seriously" I almost asked her, stopping myself just in time. "Are you training for something?" she asked. "Yes," I said, "The event is a 30/50/100 mile run in the desert in Rajasthan organized by Globeracers. Starting in Pokhran, close to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, the race will run through salt flats, cenotaphs, sand dunes and rocky terrain. It is a tough race to say the least. And given that the race is being held in April, when the temperatures would be in the 40s, we're looking at a potential suicide mission. I will be doing a 100-miler there. "Umm... Sir, there was a marathon in Ahmedabad recently. That was of 40 kilometers." "42.2k" I interrupted her. Ignoring the correction, she continued, "Here you are talking of running for 100 kilometers." "No," I interrupted her again, "I am talking of running for 100-miles. That is 160 odd kilometers." "That is quite some distance, even to travel in a car. Are you sure it is possible to cover such a long distance on foot?" she asked. "There are just about six 100-mile finishers in India and you are speaking to one of them. She then was curious about the time it would take. "About 7-8 hours?" Obviously she knew zilch about anything even remotely connected with running and she did not mind her ignorance being fully on display. "I would be happy if I am able to do a sub 30:00, which is completing the race in less than 30 hours." "What???!!! You mean you will run for 30 hours at a stretch???" "Yes. That is how the race is. Such races are called single-stage races." At that point she decided that she was talking to a complete nutcase. She asked for my phone number and said that she'll get back to me. With that, she left. Needless to say, she never called back. 

The remaining run of 20-22k went by as expected. Snide remarks and jeers, peppered with expletives since i was encroaching on what was essentially their space by running on the road. But that apart, there were two major issues I had to contend with. The first major problem I had to deal with was handling hydration. I wasn't carrying water with me and so had to stop at every about 2k for water. The second problem was that of honking by impatient drivers. The honking gave me a splitting headache. I just smiled to myself - I could say, tongue firmly in cheek, that people in Ahmedabad were quite horny. However, since I couldn't change the situation about the honking, I would just have to either grin and bear it, or I would need to run in the morning. 

Realizing that it was much better running in the morning, the cold notwithstanding, the next runs have been early in the day. It is still freezing cold for me but the running manages to thaw me out, making things bearable. So at about 5:00am, while most of the city is still sleeping, I leave home. I do not carry a light though reflective strips on the front and back of my tee-shirt take care of the safety angle. (Talking of the tee shirt, it is a bright canary yellow tee with green sleeves with Shivaji Park Marathon Club emblazoned in red on it on the front and back - it is a very high-visibility tee-shirt. I need to check from Yogesh if they have these tees in stock and if they don't, I might consider flicking a couple of them from Yogesh).

Running into the darkness, getting enveloped by it and not being able to see a thing around me paradoxically leads to clarity of thought. By now, my legs know the entire route and know what to expect and what to be alert for and at what places. 

The dogs have quietened down. They realize that this runner is crazy, one who only seeks passage and has no intention of usurping their territory. The dogs realize that even if they do not give me the rights of passage, I shall take it in any case. They realize that honorable compromise is much better than absolute defeat; the dogs get to retain their ego and I get my passage. 

My running and my thoughts, both get interrupted at 6 places in course of the run. Since the stops are inevitable, I have designated 6 specific places. Let me explain. 

I tend to drink lots of water on waking up. And as I begin to run, the water demands to be unloaded. Some 15-20 minutes after I start running, I come across a wall on the other side of the road which has painted on it "Urinating not allowed here". My take is that defiance early in the day boosts confidence. So I go right ahead and do my thing. From the stink, I can assure you that a lot of people share my sentiment on defiance. Public conveniences are not very easy to come by in Ahmedabad. People probably want to raise a stink about it and they seem to be doing so very effectively. I add my contribution to it. 

Having contributed to a social cause, I run ahead where I come to a public convenience. Don't get taken in by the name. It is for the public, definitely, but opens at the convenience of the caretaker. And the caretaker believes that no sane person would want to use the loo before 7:30am, so the loo remains closed when I want to use it. Right next to it is a hoarding exhorting people to strive for a Green Gujarat. There is a small plant close by which I have adopted. I propose to nurture it back to the best of its health with a regular dose of urea, water and other salts. 

Then, a little before Sola Overbridge, there is an open field which I make full use of. I have had thoughts of borrowing from what I have seen at the Bandra-Worli Sea Link during SCMM and have given a thought to climbing the overbridge and doing my thing right from top of the bridge onto the railway tracks below. Then, I have also thought about the electricity lines that might be passing from under the bridge. A news item in the next day's newspapers screaming, "Runner Electrocuted While Peeing From Overbridge" with me as the protagonist certainly doesn't appeal to me and so I have refrained from doing that. 

Running ahead, I reach the Gujarat High Court where my bladder begins to nudge me again. I do not know whether peeing on the compound wall of the High Court would invite 'pee'nal action or worse, contempt of court, so I hold my bladder till I cross the premises. Immediately next to it is the compound wall of the Sola Civil Hospital. Difficult as it is to hold on, I debate my choices: should it be the wall of the High Court and risk legal action or should it be the Civil Hospital which will put lives of other patients at risk? I decide to somehow hold on and keep moving ahead. Right after the Sola Civil Hospital is the Gujarat Medical College (or some such name). By the time I get here, my brain is, for want of a better term, totally pissed off and I let loose on its compound wall. 

I run further and stop for water at the 12k mark. There is a proper facility there and I am back to being a well-mannered gentleman. I am sure everyone will appreciate that the earlier actions are necessitated by lack of facilities. Then, a little past the turnaround point, I go into the bushes. Once done, it is a comfortable run back home. 

Maybe the next time I meet an intern from a radio station and she asks me what I am running for, I should reply, "For having public conveniences every one kilometer on the highways. That will perhaps give my running a cause, legitimacy, sincerity and maybe even popularity. Won't it?

Talking of causes, my next post in the coming couple of days should be about The Quadro12 Project

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back to Boot Camp

The winter is drawing to a close, its final efforts at getting a grip on the thermometer and squeezing the mercury down coming to naught. The sun’s rays seem stronger now, the days now seem to have started feeling good enough to sustain life again. It is time for me to come out of hibernation.

Sunday went by, lived like an absolute dream of a couch potato. Waking up at 8:00am, I joined my mother at a chai ki kitli just as she was finishing her 8k. (The fact that I was able to venture out at 8:00am and have survived to write about it is indication enough for me to come out of hibernation.) Then we went to have a little something for breakfaswt at the roadside opposite IIM. One more tea, then another. A maska bun. An omlette, no two. Hot Maggi Noodles with egg in it. That seemed like breakfast enough for me.

Came home checked Facebook intermittently and channel surfed till lunch. Channel surfing with potato wafers for company. That done, a sumptuous lunch. Then the Sunday afternoon siesta – what started as a reward for my long run has come to become a matter of right and the only exception to this is when I am running all through the weekend. Evening went off in a jiffy; for dinner keema samosas, fried chicken and lots of ice-cream. You may stop smirking right now; I had decided that I was going to come out of hibernation the next day, start running again and all the fat reserves that I had accumulated around my equator and elsewhere would come in handy.

Come Monday morning and the alarm dutifully went off at 4:00am. After pressing the snooze button twice thereafter, I changed the alarm time to 5:30am and went back to sleep. If you have ever tried to wake up early after a long hiatus, you would appreciate my behavior and understand the importance of that extra sleep.

When the alarm went off again at 5:30am, I was all set to restart my training. To ease into training, I chose to use the Hal Hingdon Marathon Training Schedule for Novices. It was a Monday and I clearly remember the schedule said Mondays were for stretching and strengthening. I stretched long and hard in bed. I also did some strengthening – in this case, my resolve to start training from Tuesday. In about 15 minutes (which included cooling down and relaxing after the training session) I was done. There! Without even realizing it, I had begun my training; I had just got myself admitted into Boot Camp.

Practically almost all of the day went by in planning out things. From afar, running an ultra seems quite easy. It is. One just needs to build on the stamina, start running and not stop till one is done. But this holds true only till the time the runs are limited to a maximum of 100-miles and are part of an event where everything else is taken care of by the organizers and there is no requirement of a crew. Anything beyond this distance and the amount of planning that goes into each run is almost unimaginable.

As the planning that was put into motion a few weeks back has begun to crystallize, there is a need to take a relook and tweak or change whatever components showed signs of degenerating into potential problems. With planning necessarily including BR-135 in 2013 and subsequently, hopefully Badwater 2013 the areas that will need immediate, constant and focused attention are that of crew, long runs, website, sponsorships and products.

(a)   Crew: While more or less the entire crew from last year will continue, there will be about an 80% addition to the number. Last year, we had absolutely no margin for error. We knew that one person taking ill or one person for whatever reason, not being able to make it would have put the entire team in jeopardy. To eliminate this, the plan is to have a team of about 10 people. Looking up people’s profiles, gauging whether their mindset will work and whether they will gel as crew, speaking to them to see if I am comfortable with them crewing for me, asking them if they want to crew for me and should they agree, asking Kavitha, my Crew Chief to take over. Having spoken to a few friends in my running circle, we’re looking at others. (In case you feel you want to crew and that we might have missed out on you, this should have you getting in touch with us. Fast.)

(b)   Long Runs: When one is preparing for 2 single-stage races of 135-miles (217.3k) each, one of them christened the toughest foot race on earth, the importance of long runs in the entire scheme of things cannot be overemphasized. The plan is to do a total of about 15 runs of a 100 miles and above in the run up to BR-135 in January, 2013. Planning these runs becomes absolutely delicate since there are a number of factors that go into the route being decided. The distance, elevation, descent, weather, availability of resources (which will be needed to be sourced in course of the run) etc. will lead to further planning on the logistics – type of vehicle, supplies to be carried, shoes, change of clothes and a whole gamut of other things. Very fortunately, I have the best Crew Chief I could have hoped for. With her around, with her in command, all I need to do is focus on running. Any problems, if in the unlikely event that they reach me, I am confident will be taken care of by Kavitha.

All this apart, I also plan to include in the 15 runs mentioned above, my participation in some 6-7 single stage 100-mile running events which should stand me in good stead when I put up my candidature to be a participant at Badwater 2013.Trying to fit those runs in along with the practice runs, ensuring that the schedule must provide for enough days of rest and recovery can only mean one thing – lots and lots more planning.

(c)    Website: The “You must understand, Mr. Bhamburkar, that running is not cricket and you are no Tendulkar” comment still rankles. But it is true; even in Ahmedabad very few would know about me. I certainly am not one who will go to the media asking them to give some coverage to my achievements. Nor am I the type who will network with scribes and ten subtly put something of this sort in. I am of the opinion that if what I am doing is good enough, the media will cover it. If not, so be it. And if the media does not cover despite it being good enough only because they did not know about it, then the journalistic capabilities need to be questioned. And if despite it being good enough to be covered, they don’t cover it only because I did not network with them, then their journalistic ethics need to be questioned. I don’t run for getting written about, so is it my loss if I don’t get written about?

A case in point is the report on the 100-miler at Bhati Lakes. Practically every edition of TOI printed it, except Ahmedabad.. And the person who finished the race second was from Ahmedabad. Isn’t this a reflection on the Times of India?

I have often been asked not to be so reclusive, to liaise extensively with the media, that media coverage comes with its benefits. But my first meeting in this regard with a member of the fourth estate proved to be a colossal disaster. “Sure, Vishwas. I think you’re doing great. Keep in touch regularly and once we develop a close rapport, we will make you.” “What? Make me? You mean you’ll write fictitious articles about me running, running fast and winning and all that blah?” no, no! of course, we cannot write fiction, but we can definitely write about you and the races you have run. The regular coverage can make you.” “Oh great! Okay, I’ll back on this.” My left foot I’ll get back. Thank you very much, but I’m better off alone.

But having said that, I understand that one does need some kind of visibility. If I am one among only six 100-mile finishers in India, I need to let it be known. Else I face the danger of hearing the Tendulkar comment again. But since I choose not to lie prostrate before the media, I need a separate channel. So a website. Yes, it is unconventional. Harnessing the power of the internet can make for great visibility if successfully done. The challenge here would be to find the way to developing a successful model in a dynamic, ever-changing medium. (Running a 100 miles and more is also not conventional. In its own way, a 100-miler is also a dynamic, ever-changing medium. If I could succeed there, I have reasonable chances of success here.) I have already registered the domain name and that was the easiest part. The content and actually building the website is what will take much longer and will have to be done after great deliberations. It is a work in progress. I am hopeful that my friends, especially my online friends will help once the site is up and running.

(d)   Sponsorships: Paucity of sponsorship saw my plans for 2012 getting completely derailed. Nothing thereafter has changed, really. However, as I look towards 2013 and the plans that are being put in place for it, I realize that sponsorships are going to be a crucial element which will bring the plans to fruitition. But then, the sponsorship will have to be dealt with a sense of responsibility and moderation. And ethical issues too have to be dealt with. For example, do I approach a telecom company which seems willing to loosen its purse strings quite easily and take more than is needed? Or do I try to get only what I need from sponsors who find a fit with running?

(e)   Products: The more I do long runs, the more aware I become about the unique requirements in small things which, if not attended to can bloom into major disasters later. Running ultra distances brings forth requirements which the regular products may not be able to satisfactorily fulfill. One thus needs to design products which are slightly different from the products used by regular runners. An Accelarade + Gatorade mix works wonderfully to take care of mineral requirements of my body on long runs. The desert caps that are available become very claustrophobic with the fabric covering the nape being so close to even your eyes. I am in the process of designing a hat that would effectively take care of this problem. I know the cuts I make to my running shoes, the places from where I get rubber scooped out to make them more comfortable. All of these are cases in point that products designed by actual users would be far more user-friendly than the ones designed by those with theoretical knowledge. I will thus need to have products that gel with me, my style of running and will fulfill the requirements that are important to me as an ultrarunner.

This also presents the opportunity for me to design products, but for that I will need a sports company which believes that their products can be improved upon by less mortals like the actual users. Till now I have not seen anything that will give me much hope. But it does not mean I will stop trying; the search continues.

All of this took up almost the entire day. I remembered the blog one of my online friends had sent a link to, which warned that if one was planning to run Badwater, I would have to apologize to everyone in advnce, kiss my social and family life goodbye and every waking minute would have to contribute in one way or the other towards making BR-135 and Badwater races where I am able to give my best. On day one, it looks as though the article was written very optimistically, or the situation here in India is very different. In the evening, I met Vishal, my training buddy cum pace setter. Vishal doesn’t run (though he has been promising to train and do a marathon someday). He said we’d meet at 5:00am the next day at IIM Crossroads, about 3k away and training would begin in right earnest. Vishal is on his cycle and as we chat while I run, he slowly increases the speed of his cycle. Not surprising, since if we slow down, he loses his balance. I know this works for me; after all training in this manner has seen both, my endurance as well as my speed go up phenomenally. There was such a lot to do, I got back to working on plans.

By the time I finished everything, it was past 12:30am and the alarm for 4:00am had been set. I dozed off immediately, only to be rudely woken up at 4:00am by the alarm. As I got out of bed, I jogged my memory and thought over all the marathon training programs that I had gone through on the internet. I couldn’t remember a single one which offered me a Tuesday off. So having jogged my memory, it was going to be running for me. And Vishal would be on his way; I did not want to stand him up on Day 1 of training.

At 4:45am since Vishal, had not texted to say that he was on his way, I picked up my cellphone to realize that he had texted at night to say that he wouldn’t be able to make it.  He also said this should not be an excuse for me not to start training and asked me to go and run.

I took a good hard look at all the long runs I had in mind – training runs as well as events – and decided that if I had to do about 15 long runs of 100 miles or more before 2012 was out, I simply could not afford the luxury of easing into training. I had to jump off the deep end and somehow swim till I was able to get my feet to touch the bottom (and hopefully with the head above the water).

Those who go through training theoretically would find this blasphemous; I however had no qualms in doing this as I have always believed that theory is a good tool to explain failure and success only gives rise to new theories. So first day of actual training by running and we decided that we were off for a 30k.

I started running. From home to IIM Crossroads and from there to Keshavbaug, taking a right to Judges’ Bungalows. A little ahead and I turned right again on to Sarkhej-Gandhinagar Highway. As I continued to forge ahead, a dog who had finally found peace a couple of months ago from a runner intruding into his territory every morning saw me invading his fiefdom again. Not taking very kindly to this, he charged at me, fangs bared. (For those who don’t know, dogs live to sink their teeth into my flesh. I have been bitten 6 times by strays and so now a dog bite is something that happens every once in a way and is nothing to worry about. Just meet a doctor, take a few injections, wait for a couple of days for the wound to heal and you’re ready to take on the world again.) As the dog charged fiercely to guard its territory, I chose to take it head-on. Leaving the highway, I charged at the dog. For a split-second, I thought I had made the wrong decision as the dog continued to charge towards me, now with its army materializing out of nowhere. There was no turning back now and I continued to charge, growling too for good measure to tell the dogs in their own language that I too meant business.

The dogs chose to retreat. After making sure that it was not just a tactical retreat to get me to lower my guard, I was back on the highway and running. (Though surely a little rattled at the thought of the results had the dogs decided on an all-out confrontation.)

A couple of ks ahead at the start of the Sola Overbridge, another dog showed his resentment and began barking to drum up support. I stopped and dared the dog in Hindi and Gujarati (since I did not know the medium of communication of the dogs). The dog stopped barking and I continued my run up the overbridge.

Once the flyover was behind me, I decided to see if I could increase my pace a bit and sustain it. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was able to hold a faster pace. In no time, I had crossed Gota Chowkdi and continuing to run further ahead. About 5k ahead, I was at Vaishnodevi Circle, the turn around point. I had presumed that the run back was going to be a drag. This stretch I knew would be a walk-run; more walk, minimal run. I actually outran my knowledge. Taking a walking a break of about 100-200 meters every 4-odd kilometers, I was back home with more of running and very little walking. About 30-32k done.

The only trouble I face is one of my own making. With a paunch that has taken full advantage of my insistence on ‘no dietary control’ coupled with negligible training in the last couple of months, it is difficult to run. A belly bouncing away to its own beat when I run doesn’t make for very comfortable running. At some points during the run, I almost had to hold onto the gut to stop it from bouncing away. Guess dietary control takes over in a big way and all those crunches too have to be done. But from experience I know this is a discomfort I will have to live with for a maximum of two weeks after that, things will flatten out and the running will be smooth.

This would now be the routine. A 30-32k on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and a 50k+ on Sundays. I will be doing easy runs for the next two weeks after which the concentration on pace will go up. Of course, climbing those forty stories – first ten floors walking, the next ten running, the ten thereafter sprinting and finally walking up ten floors to cool down, continues. As does doing crunches. And of course, the dietary control – till I lose the flab at least. Am I going overboard, doing too much? Well, the title itself makes it clear that this is a boot camp.

I am reminded of my New Year’s Resolution – to have a thin body and a fat bank balance. With this kind of a schedule, I seem to be on my way to achieving the first part of my resolution; if I stop this and get back to work, I just might be able to achieve the latter part.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lost & Found: The Joy of Running

As I sat reminiscing about what had brought me so close to quitting running; what was it that had changed, why did running – something that used to give me such unbridled joy – suddenly become so repulsive that I almost quit?

As I pondered, I looked at every aspect, even reading my own blog posts – past ones till the last one – to try and read between the lines, to try and see if there was some hidden meaning. I peeled away layer after layer to reach the core of the problem, so that the process of rectification and subsequent complete healing could begin from there. Things suddenly started to get clear. And as they got clear, they appeared more and more stark; and as they got starker, they hurt the eye and the soul more and more.

I realized my repulsion to running came from issues not related to running. Back in 2007-8, before I started running, I was your typical ‘young MBA with a career on the fast track’ type of a yuppie. Someone who took great pride in always being busy, not having a social life and generally trying to prove to the world and more importantly, to one’s peers and contemporaries, that I was ‘arriving’. I used to smoke. And it was vulgar smoking. I used to smoke because I enjoyed it. But I used to smoke Marlboro Lights because of the brand. And of course, one did need those pegs in the evening to round off the day.

I was living it up, life was good and I was truly running (pun unintended) the rat race. A not so pleasant side-effect of it was my waistline grew to 42” and the weight reached 97kgs and looked all set to cross a 100kgs. It was during this time that a friend was diagnosed with diabetes, high BP, cholesterol, heart trouble, the works. And I got scared, more by the restrictions it put on him.

The next day saw me at the gym. After the weight and measurements were taken, a workout schedule sent to be prepared, lecture on healthy eating and all that blah was done, the action began. I got close to the machines and was going to do that manly stuff like pumping iron et al. But me trying to do a benchpress (with the lowest weight possible with the svelte, sexy, PYT observing the oodles of fat rolling over and dangling off the edges of the bench did not for a pretty picture make. Sorry, understatement. It was downright obnoxious and nauseating. I saw the look on the PYT’s face so I know. For sure.

Thereafter, going to the gym was out. So what was the next best thing I could do? Swimming was out; I knew I’d look like a beached whale. Cycling was out too, and more out of pity for the poor cycle. After contemplating various other impossibilities like martial arts, gymnastics, etc. running was what it was. Fat people are seen on the road, so that was a comfort factor. No one had seen me walking/running before, so people wouldn’t recognize me. That was a comforting thought. I could run in an area where no one knew me, so that was good too. Actually in more ways than one, I did not start running for the right reasons. I started running because I had no other choice.

But as I ran, I began to slowly accept it. As 200 meters every two days increased to a 2k everyday and more, the compulsion became a choice, a choice I consciously made till it turned to love, till it became a passion.

Running offered me all that I wanted and all that I could want. It became my time alone with myself. Devoid of thoughts when the mind began to go blank around the 8k mark, I learnt to live with myself. I learnt how to, as a friend aptly put it during an email exchange, make partial sense of a nonsensical world. Running would be the answer to all my problems. It gave me all the time I wanted to think, it gave me an opportunity to unclutter my thoughts and more often than not, running would help me arrive at solutions related to non-running issues.

Running encouraged me to be free, to break away from the shackles of the regular, to break away from the bondages of habit. I was not restrained by space. I could run anywhere I wanted, whichever part of the city or out of it. I was not restricted by time. No one stopped me if I ran late in the mornings, early in the afternoons, late in the evenings or even in the dead of the night. I need not have had a fixed route. I could turn anywhere I wanted, run on a different route everyday or I could just pace up and down a particularly small stretch till I was done. Some days I would run slow, some days I would run fast. Some days I would run long and some days I would run far. Some days I would not run at all, I would just walk. And on some days I would run-walk. I could run on a beach, I could run up and down mountains and hills, I could run in the desert and if I ever gathered the guts to overcome the cold, I could run on snow too. I did not need to run only on the days I was working in town, I could run when I was on tour, I could run when I was on a holiday and I could run for all of the above reasons and circumstances as well as none of them.

Running offered me all the freedom that I chose to take. And the most important thing was that I was running for myself; I was not running for anyone or anything else.

So then, what happened that pushed me to the brink of quitting running? Exactly the same issues that had pushed me into running had begun to take root here and that was pushing me out of it. It was… no, it is getting all too technical and no one but no one seems to be running for themselves anymore. Everyone runs for just one inanimate, abstract concept – time. Pick up any account of running from the past year or so and chances are it’ll talk of just two things – distance and time and the various permutations and combinations thereof. One hears of all kinds of suffering that they have endured while running. There’s talk of dehydration, nausea, hitting the wall, ITBS, cramps, etc. etc. etc. or tough route, trails, tarmac, hills, sand, heat, humidity etc. Rarely, if ever, do I hear of anyone recounting what fun they had chasing their own shadows, no one talks of running faster than the plane flying overhead. No one speaks of the scenery that becomes visible as the sun rises. As the sun rises, all one hears are statements like, “Oh! Sun is up already, unless we cross kmX in the next 10 minutes, we’ll have to deal with hydration issues later.”

And no sooner does one cross the finish line than he gets to hear, “Shucks!! Missed a sub 4:30 by just 28 seconds!” “Cramps at the 26k mark screwed my chances of a sub 4:00.” “Man! I cannot believe I just did a sub 5:00.” No one but no one talks of how the run was. No one talks of what they saw. Because no one saw anything. Everyone was simply running for that inanimate, abstract concept called time. I can bet that almost no one who ran SCMM this year looked up at the building on the right (on the left when coming to the finish line) at Flora Fountain to see the heads looking down at us marathoners who were running not for themselves, but for time.

There are some amongst us who run to qualify, Boston or Comrades or what have you. But apart from those few, all of us essentially remain also-ran runners. And for a certain A to feel that G’s timing of 5:53:22 against T’s timing of  5:53:39 makes G a superior runner reminds me of an incident from my hostel days while in college. We would take a bath once a month because that was very convenient to us. A hostelmate used to consider himself more hygienic than us because his body used to get so itchy in 27 days that he had to have a bath.

I have been fortunate to also have done a 100-miler last year. And when I think of it, or when we who ran that run talk about it amongst ourselves, all we can think of is how we lay down bang in the middle of the trail for a nap at night, the sleepwalking, the lakes which looked beautiful with the rising sun, the dense green forests of the Aravalis, etc. Time just doesn’t figure, because we were running for ourselves, not for time.

And thus, it is a conscious decision to not run races anymore in a competitive spirit and try to be one-up among the last of the also-rans. I am not going to race. I am not going to be bothered about my timings. I am not going to keep a count of how many kilometers I ran. I am not going to have a set route to practice everyday, these, hills, those flyovers, those underpasses and that bridge. I am not going to look at training charts and do fartleks, hills, interval training and all that blah which makes running technical and takes the fun of running out of it. I am not going to run to be a part of yet another rat race. I got into running and was able to successfully get out of one rat race; I do not want to find myself trapped and running another.

I am going to run to enjoy myself. I am going to run because I want to run. I am going to run where I want, unshackled by space or locations. Regardless of whether or not I need to, I will not run to prove anything to anybody. As this friend of mine said yesterday during our email exchanges, “I love to run and I know I will not stop till I cannot go on any longer.”

As said earlier, it is a conscious decision to not run races anymore. Yes, I’ll be there for a few marathons – but those will mostly be to meet up with friends from all over that I have made while running. And maybe I’ll take another friend’s advice and start a ‘last minute bus’ at these races. Though I have serious doubts as to whether I will officially be allowed to be a ‘last minute bus’.