Monday, September 05, 2016

Cinderella trail 50k

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 12, 2016

12h Stadium Run 2016

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

12h stadium run - A story of positive affirmations

Background and what I wanted to achieve

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

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

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

0 to 6hrs:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The magical finish

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

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pedernales Falls 60k Trail Ultra

June 25-26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Running up Kumara Parvata

About 17 years back, as a bunch of college kids in our 3rd semester of engineering, we had embarked on the toughest trek in the malnad region – Kumara Parvata (or Pushpagiri). We had stayed overnight at Shanivarsante, climbed the peak via the easier Somwarpet side. We camped overnight on the peak and down to Kukke Subramanya the following day. Memories of leech bites, the challenging rock climbs, water shortage remain solid, just like the mountain. And the aches, pains & muscle soreness of the next few days were epic stuff.

And after all these years, almost twice as old as that college kid, on Friday as I was winding up the last conference call for the week before boarding the train, the anxiety was palpable. It was all NT’s plan and he was a bundle of nervous excitement himself.
In about 34hrs, staying 22hrs on our feet, we trekked up to KP peak 4 times, twice from either side, some 14000ft (4500mts) of overall climbing. We walked up forests, loose gravel, scaled rocks and ran some of the 75kms distance in mostly good weather & some rain. KP welcomed me with an avalanche of memories from my previous 2 treks to KP. My last one was in 2006 - a team of 4, we had gone ‘To heaven and back’ from Kukke in 1.5days.

For those of you who know this trek and curious about the timings, some approximate stats (averaged from 2 trips).

(elevation profile map and distance from

Kukke to Girigadde (Up time 2hrs, Down 1.5hrs): This is the toughest section forest trail with steep climbs can get your heart racing – the climb down this stretch is also not kind on the thighs & knees.

Girigadde to KP top (Up time 2hrs, Down 1.5hrs): Loose gravel, not very steep, but not runnable. Exposed landscape till Shesha parvata, then some forest valley and one rock climb to the top. Few leeches but some killer bees on top.

KP top to Bidahalli check post(Up time 1:45hrs, Down 1.5hrs): 4 rock climbs. With Saturday night thunderstorms, the rocks were slippery and tough to navigate both ways. The foresty trail from there to the check post was divine. Thick foliage, damp ground, much less steep made some running possible. But it was swarming with blood suckers.

We stuck to a brisk walking pace for most of the uphill / steep downhill sections and jogged when it was favorable (some 10% of the trail). I set pace for most of the uphills while NT was ahead making sure we zigzagged downhill, when possible to save our knees.
We carried minimum gear. We had 2 lt camelbacks which we refilled at the checkposts.

For food, we packed a box each of palav (day1) and chow chow bath (day2) which we polished off on the KP top. We had salt pills (courtesy NT), Almonds & Nuts, dry fruit laddos, Protein biscuits & gel shots, which we munched at regular intervals. All easy to carry, keeping our load light. And of course, handful of salt for all of our wormy friends.

As we got down towards Girigadde from the top on those exposed hills, we had rains lashing us. We were both concerned about lightning strikes. As per first hand report of a trekker who had experienced this on Saturday, a few seconds before it strikes, hair on your skin stands up (due to the charge) and then one can see sparks overhead. If this happens, your best recourse is to lie flat on the ground (to avoid giving the lightning a good conductor it’s looking for) and pray hard.

Other trekkers did claim to spot a few snakes, but we didn’t have any sightings. No elephants, just some elephant dung for us.

All pics courtesy NT.

If that college kid could gaze ahead in time to this trip, I am sure he would have been impressed. Time to shift the gaze forward to the next 18yrs, you think?

Monday, May 16, 2016

TCS World 10k 2016 - A Report

Becoming a better runner

After my successful failures at SPBM and Bangalore Ultra last year, I was looking to get the joy back into my running. In Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Prisig, says “You want to know how to paint a perfect picture? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then paint naturally”. Borrowing that thought, to be a better runner, I decided to focus on the better part this year, and the run naturally.
And then with a young family, being flexible is paramount. I do 3 quality runs each week – an interval, a tempo and a long run. So when the Golden gate 50k trail run came along, I had my mileage behind me. I have built up towards a 40min tempo now. And no matter how good or bad my tempo days are, I end up doing anywhere between 9.6k to 9.8k, never a 10k.
I signed up for the TCS 10k, paying the huge registration fee - @ Rs. 125/km or Rs. 30/min of running, this is my costliest race. Little wonder why TCS world 10k is one of the richest races in the world, no kidding. I was hoping competition and race day fervor will get me under 40mins.
Barely a week before, we had returned from a family holiday in Tokyo, with lots of walking and almost no running.

Race day
The 10k had all the overheads of a marathon, except the distance was so much less. So there was carb loading (I surely over did that), sleep jitters, potty trotty, crowds, getting there, all that song and dance. It was a well organized run. I had no trouble getting out of the blocks from the ‘A’ corral.

Running blind
I knew I didn’t want to wear a GPS to keep track of my pace real-time. I do that with most of my training runs these days, in an attempt to tune into the internal sense of pace. In a wiff, I decided to not carry a stop watch either. It would just save me the trauma of mathematics while on the run – “ok, that is the 6k mark coming up, 22:58 on the clock, that is 3:5x mins/km… ok, I just passed the 6k mark, now the time is 23:40, the avg pace is…”. Who cares. In a 10k race, if you are in doubt, pick up your pace. The strategy for a 10k race is start fast, faster middle and even faster finish.
photo courtesy: Abhijith Rao
I must admit, during the run, I was tempted to ask a fellow runner or two, “Time yest-aaytu?” And a couple of times, when I felt that I was slacking, I picked up my legs.
The fun part was as I turned into the final 300mts stretch to the finish line. You turn out of Cubbon park and can see the large timer at the finish line. With no way to tell, if was under 40mins or over, I strained my eyes (yes, I should have been straining my legs) to see the first digit – 3. But with still some 250mts to go, I can’t be rest assured. Then I focused on the seconds – 05 and counting. Yes. I will get this under 40mins!
There is mixed opinion if running blind helps improve timings, but for me, I felt less bound, more free.
A runnersworld article on some experiments on this - I managed near even splits - Timing India link

The effort earned me an overall finish time of 39:33, 48th position in the Open category, 4th in my age group and a PB by over 2mins, worth the price, I guess.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Golden Gate 50k Ultra

6/Feb/2016 - 50k Ultra

I will make this one a picture blog (a.k.a shameless plagiarism). There was some deep Chautauqua on comparisons and on parenting that was brewing up. But it will have to wait for more inspiration.

I signed up for this trail run knowing that there was a 2200m elevation gain over the 50k distance. For the uninitiated, Nandi hills is a gain of 400m over 7.5k

Some steep 8-10% gradients, there was no running these. I just stuck to brisk walking using my arms a lot. (My trapezius ached the following morning more than my calves). I managed to even pass a few runners while on my walking breaks!

If were to explain the course, it would go like this...
But since I am being a lazy bum on this post, I pasted this from the "Best Bike Rides San Francisco" book.

You can also see this video taken by Phil Wright (he finished the half marathon in 1:45 or so)

As for myself, I ran the downhills quite strong, right till the very end. With spectacular views like these to behold, I totally enjoyed those downhill sections.
(This pic courtesy coastal runs - the organizers, from Sausalito, encountered once at about 24k and again at 44k or so.)

Some splits (for whatever it is worth) - 10km 1:05, 20km 2:10, 30km 3:09, 40km 4:27, 50km 5:28. Given that the course was run over 2 loops of 20k, with a 10k loop in between, the 20k-30k loop1 (59mins) is similar to 40k-50k loop2 (1:01). Not so bad, eh.

I finished in 5:28:33, coming in 10th overall and 3rd in my age category. This pic was taken by a teenager, Andrew, who hitched a ride from me from Stanford Univ and ended up winning the event.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

My dad, my pillion - ride to Udupi

Bullet Bhats (pun intended) 'coz we just did this last month - 850kms over 2 days riding at riding speeds of 80kmph over some winding roads.

My Dad is a wonderful father. Don't blame me if I bring in some of the parenting Chautauqua into this post.
It is quite a difficult line to draw, how much to hold on to, and what to let go. He has always had this balance figured out. He let us (me and my sister) make our decisions, to choose what was right for us and stand by those decisions, never once being over scrutinizing or over patronizing us. He let go, so important part of parenting.

I look around and find these hyper obsessive parents, forever (and I mean forever) deciding what's good for their children and what is not. The layers and layers of over protectionism seem endless, fuss about this, safe guard from that, firewall this, keep them away from that.

"We are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined.  It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.  We cannot forsake self-discipline and at the same time be disciplined in our care for another.  We cannot be a source of strength unless we nurture our own strength.  I believe that not only do self-love and love of others go hand in hand but that ultimately they are indistinguishable.” ~ Scott Peck"

So, when I asked him if he was up to riding with me to Udupi to attend a cousin's wedding, we deliberated about the timing and if it will cause unnecessary anxiety in the family. And then when I pressed on, he was pillion, that reassuring hand on my shoulder, like so many instances in my life.

The last time my dad rode pillion on a long ride was on my first long ride to Trichy, way back in 2005. Read this.

There was also the betaal (the vampire from Vikram & beetal) that had refused to leave my back. About 2 years back, I rode to Chennai (almost), unknowing to me at that point, with almost no engine oil. What followed was a seizure, towing, over haul of the tappets, rockers, some piston damage and serious dip in my confidence on my bullet. Thanks to some incessant spark plug issue, the beetal didn't leave my back since then. The only way to answer the question - take the leap, ride.

I slid in my tool kit with spares into the saddle bag, not wanting to hit into any electrical problem. We started at 6am. And right as we hit the ring road towards the highway, was that a missed beat?? The mist and fog hit us as we headed towards Yediyur. We stopped at Bellur cross for breakfast of idlys and heavy dose of nostalgia.

Next stop was while we were on Shiradi ghat, the bridge on the highway which had served as the starting point for the famous Yedikumeri railway trek back in my college days.
As we crossed the ghat section, I sighed a relief, now we were in tow-able territory, the betaal was still hovering around.
And electrical problems are like on a switch, one moment you are cruising, the next an abrupt stop; dead.

We reached Udupi at 1:30, rode straight with jacket & boots to our native village Brahma Vishnu Maheshwara Kaanangi temple. There was a function underway and we helped ourselves to some sumptuous traditional meal.

The next morning we attended the Nirmalya Puja at Krishna Mutt - a visual that remains etched in my memory. The wedding done, lunch and some packed food later, we were ready to hit the road once more.

We started at 1:30 and were home at 9, with a couple of breaks.

And somewhere on the well laid roads from Hassan, riding towards the full moon, in its glory, the reassuring hand on my dad on my shoulder, the beetal seemed to finally get off my back... in the most appropriate way, we put a "bullet" right through it.