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.

1 comment:

  1. i have heard that there is a whistle which helps u to keep dogs away. I had read this in amit sheth's book.