Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Pacing Strategy for Malnad Ultra 2017

Over the last few days I have been getting enquiries on how to pace for the Malnad Ultra 2017. Given that I did this last year and have a fair sense of the trail and remember a lot(you can get a runner off a trail, but never a trail off the runner), I thought I should put it to some use.
The net elevation last year was 2850m, this year it is 3497m. It will be a tall order.

Distance (km)
2016 course for 110k
2017 course for 110k
Pacing strategy
M=7min/km, marathon finish = 5hrs (mins)
Down from K-top
M pace + 1.5min/km
Up to Summit
M pace + 2.5min/km
Down to Lalbagh
M pace + 1.5min/km
M pace + 1.5min/km
Up to Summit
M pace + 2.5min/km
M pace + 2.5min/km
M pace + 1.5min/km
Down to Lalbagh
Steep climb & down
M pace + 2.5min/km
Rolling up & down
M pace + 2min/km
Rolling up & down
M pace + 2min/km
Up to K-top
Rolling up & down
M pace + 2min/km

Legend (how to read the table): The ones in red and highlighted are for the 50k (also the course from last year). The ones only in red are for the 80k and the entire table for the 110k.
So, if you have been doing 5hr for a marathon, target 16.5hrs for the 110km. This gives a sub-total of 12hrs for 80km and about 7.5hrs for the 50km distances.
These are, of course, very aggressive timings and you should add rest times, eating times and budget for some slowing down due to running in the dark. Give yourself 2hrs or more, if needed to cover these.
Drop a comment, if you need specific information. I will try and help as much as I can.
That said, just go there and enjoy the run

Ps: I am not running it this year, and the course has changed this year, so please take this with a handful of salt (& enerzal, etc.)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Silverware shopping at SOW 2017

One rainy Sunday morning,
  • our dear friend wakes up in the middle of the night (read 3am)
  • to ride to some obscure location in the middle of nowhere (just because it's called NICE road, does not mean nothing)
  • to add his own little mountain dump (yes, single sachet wet wipes are his best friend on "crappy" mornings)
  • to run some random distance 21.1km (this is where Queen Elizabeth comes in)
  • with some random (or little) competition (the guy who beat me at my 12hr Ultra also beat me here).
In the end my Silverware shopping bag, looked more like a provision shopping - perfumes (for men and women, mind it), pad (not the iPad types, the kinds that come with a pen - also branded W*pro), liquid detergent, fabric conditioner, toiler soap, handwash, coffee mug, Deo (both spray and roll on) and light bulb!!!

Welcome to Spirit of Wipro half marathon 2017.

This race used to start from the Wipro Sarjapur campus when it started, and then moved to the Electronic city campus. Now they moved the "Spirit..." to the monotonous undulating concrete road some 20kms from civilization. I shouted out to Sampath (who led from the word go) and we spoke for 20secs, then he took off. I spoke to Brojen for another 20secs and then I took off. That was it, I ran alone for all of the rest of 88mins to finish second in 1:28:52

My second podium of the year, the first one coming after running a 100k, hopefully the next one will be a distance in between - bring on, Bengaluru Marathon.
Many thanks to Sanjeev and Gokul for helping out with the registrations as always!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Q&A on the 12hr Stadium Run 2017

Thanks for the overwhelming response to the FB survey asking for the questions you needed answered about my stadium run this year. With great difficulty I have shortlisted 4 questions (of the 4 asked 😉 ) to address in this post...

Q1: Would like to hear from you about the secret behind such enormous reserves of energy which sustain your pace for such long?

“One of the beautiful things about running is that it is direct and elegant. The formula is simple: put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t take much to figure out that if you want to improve sprint speed, you run faster. If you want to improve distance-running performance, you run farther.”
― Bernd HeinrichWhy We Run

The last 2 months, I bumped up mileage to over 100km a week, with back-to-back long runs during weekends. It helps to have Nandi hills in your backyard - You can read that post to give you a flavor of the training for this one. For me, I have to put in the miles to have the confidence to dig deep on the race day. 

Q2 (3,4,5?): What runs in your head? What are you thinking over these 12 hours? Is it only the end goal that keeps a runner going? Or is there a methodical thought process that works with the legs and the body?

The thoughts are really all over – the biggest ones are body sense (how you are feeling), the mathematics (how long / pace are you doing, what is the target left, etc.), the water/electrolyte & food intake.

Then there are many other thoughts – about family, friends, about life in general, about the gifts that God has provided. I even did a few laps chanting out “Hare Krishna” mantra. I also periodically did a few positive affirmations – about how strong I felt and how the cramps wouldn’t come.

Allow me to break it down:

6AM to 10AM 100 laps – 40k
The conditions were great, I had Santosh warn me about going too fast after about 3hours or so and I slowed down. I had my breakfast, set dosa rolled with chutney and had this on the track while on walking breaks.

10AM to 1PM  67 laps – 27k
It was beginning to get hot by now. 50k in 5hrs, 58 in 6 and 67 in 7. Some cramps were beginning to come now and I had worked myself a run-walk pattern, walking for about 50mts every lap. Sometime now, I told Santhosh I would try and walk for the next 2hrs to conserve some energy. He advised me to continue to run-walk. I decided to keep a pattern – run the straights and walk the bends. At the mandatory medical check, I was a 110 sugar levels & 90/110 BP.

1PM to 4PM 47 laps – 19k
The sun was at its glory during these few hours. I continued to run the straights and walk the bends (almost till the very end). And poured water on my head almost every other lap to cool me down. I did well to grab a plate, got some curd rice and eat while I walked. I added 3 loops with curd rice, before the race director, Nagaraj asked me to get the plate off the track!
I kept telling myself that I trained hard for this. There were occasional pulls and I went to the physio tent twice or thrice, told them specifically which area to stretch and was out within 5-7mins each time.

Q3. What were you telling yourself in the last few hours when your body is begging for rest?
4PM to 6PM 42 laps – 17k
I had gone back and forth about wearing my Garmin forerunner (GPS watch, for the uninitiated) for this run and finally decided to go with it (thankfully). The battery did a personal best as well – it lasted all of 12hrs! At 4PM, my Garmin showed 88km. Jaggi warned me that there could be a difference in the laps, the announcements were not too frequent to be relied upon. I checked with Nagaraj Adiga (the race director who never left the track) and he said I had 214 laps (~86k). To complete 100k, I needed another 36laps in 2hours – stiff target but doable.

So, the last couple of hrs were really very mathematical, counting down, making sure that the muscles were still relaxed. I did not want to get ahead of myself and kept to the easy paced run-walk routine. During this hour, my boss, Ravi had come over to cheer me. My family and my best pal, Tima joined at 5. Bobby informed me that I needed 16laps in the last 1 hour. Lap after lap passed, before I knew I had 6 more to do in 30mins. When I checked with 15mins to go, I was on my 249th. It was a surreal feeling, I looked skyward and ran the entire 250th lap, with my forefinger pointing up! I had this!

The next lap, I informed my co-runners on the track – Jaggi, Praveen, Santosh, Chandra, Mani, Vipul, Rahul, Apurba, that I had done a century. In the last few hours, it had become our combined goal. I pressed on, running the last 15mins for the podium. With still some 2 slots (and about 30 runners) yet to start the 12hrs, it could be a tough fight to the podium, although on this slot, I had secured the first spot.

And like last time, I pushed myself for the last few minutes to squeeze in just another lap. I finally finished 256laps, my Garmin showed 105kms in 12hrs. Cheers all around!

The morning after
The Sunday felt like you were the Indian team, waiting for the England vs. Bangladesh match result to see if you made it to the semi-finals. It was a close contest to the podium, and Gaaju was a worthy competitor till the 11th hour (quite literally). I managed to get to the 3rd place overall with a narrow 5 lap lead (now who is laughing at the dude who carried his lunch on the track?)

Q4. Don't you place key body parts like knee joints and feet let alone the heart under undue stress of running such long hours and over such a distance?

Only time will tell, better than any medical test or research. My first Ultra was a 78km run in 12:07 was ten years back. The report makes a good read, many points relevant even today - And since then, I have added another 25000kms on those knees, recovered from another torn ligament ( and added many personal bests.

I said this in my little “speech” while we collected medals on the stage, reiterating what Coach Beedu said when he flagged off our run, “What good is it to go to your grave, not knowing what your body was truly capable of achieving”.

I don’t know if we are over-doing it (talk about running the 48hr event). Not sure if all this will add years to my life, for now, it sure is adding life to my years.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Arigato Japan - Our trip to Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima

We took the plunge in the middle of chaos of bringing up 2 young kids and decided to squeeze in a trip to Tokyo (a long pending ask by my dear friend R). R&R were fantastic hosts. We got back and put all scraps together to create this scrap book. Let me know if it tells you the story!

Friday, July 21, 2017

PB at Bengaluru 10k 2017 - The tougher 10k

Bengaluru 10k on Jul 9, 2016
A PB effort at a 10k distance
A saga of a fast start,
a faster middle,
a blistering last 2k, and
a sprint at the finish
to get 6secs inside my previous best.
Finished in 39:01

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nandi in my backyard

I picked up "Why we run" by Bernd Heinrich and if the title does not already ask enough questions, there is "How does a grown up man convince himself to spend money and precious time to run himself half to death..." - a question that I ask myself multiple times, as I embark on a 8 week high volume, back-to-back weekend long run journey to my next 100km race.

So, like a mad man, I run around my neighborhood, in loops of 8k to 14k and a lot of mathematics to make up my weekly long runs of 30k, 36k, 40k and so on. But the 50k ones are the ones that matter.

And coincidentally, my house happens to be this exact same distance from this hill that I grew up looking at, on a clear day, on the horizon - Nandi Hills.

If you have read my Malnad Ultra report from last year, you know I have done this a few times now. But this year, when I google mapped "home to Nandi hills" and used the "walkin" option, it showed me an interesting back route. I have hashed with the Bangalore Hash on trails off this route on numerous lazy Sunday evenings. I tried this once early this year (including the "downhill biking trail" to the top) and got hooked!

I ended up running this route twice in 10days. First time on a Saturday morning, staring at 4am, finishing on top at 9:20, turning around immediately, putting my thumb out for a lift. Getting dropped off at the Nandi turn off point on the highway, back home by 11am.

On Ramzan holiday, I repeated this, only this time, I reached the top in 5:30, ran back to the highway turn-off to complete a 72km training run in 7:50mins. Took a "DVD bus" back to the city. And this came within 48hrs of finishing a fast paced 40k run on Saturday, on a mentally weak day.

En route, I get multiple quizzical looks, gestures, inappropriate comments. On rare occasions I get a good one, that shoots bloods into my head... must have been after 68k or so, close to noon, hot sun, this car slows down on the opposite side of the road, a guy sticks a thumbs up outside the window, then his head appears and he checks with me, if i need water...

I can do without the water and even food - I pack my camelbak quite optimally for these runs. On the 72k, I managed to do away with even the idli break, carried oatmeal in stead.
I refill water at a chai shop over some niceties with the chai shop owner, at the 33k mark. There are plenty of villages with water tanks to pour water over my head to keep it cool.

All this begs the question that we started with - Why?

As Prefontaine put it, "A race (or a training run) is like a work of art that people can look at and be affected by in as many ways they're capable of understanding". Yes, the key to appreciation is in the understanding.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

TCS World 10k 2017

In case you came here wondering if I ran this - Yes, I did. I ran the 2017 edition of the running festival of Bengaluru 10k, in a personal best time of 39:07
However, despite a good strong finish, with negative splits, I am somewhat unhappy about missing a podium finish. I finished in the 4th place in my age group, yet again, making this an agonizing 3rd consecutive 4th place finish in the last 3 10k races that I have participated in.

Happy about:
  • Of course, the PB - faster by 26secs from last years' 39:33
  • My sister coming out to support me today, a long drive from Mumbai, sleepless nights notwithstanding. She shouted out over the din of traffic at CCD at the start and then at the finish. Thanks!
  • Staving off a challenge from D from the 7th km on, sprinting the last 200m to beat Ath to the finish line
  • Negative splits, some tremendous amount of grit to stay on pace and finish the race - I had (like on all my tempo runs) to overcome lots of voices in my mind to stop and let this be
  • I made up 13 positions in the last 750m to finish within the top 50 overall
Unhappy about:
  • A third 4th place finish, this time the gap to the podium as narrow as 7 secs!
  • About not being to use the race day adrenaline to translate to race day performance
  • Somewhat wavering focus. Only when I saw D over my shoulder, did I pick up my feet again to push pace
  • Pre race breakfast, perhaps a bit too much - oats and 2 large bananas, heavy-ish feeling for the first km or so
Pics courtesy Marathon Photos & Geeks on Feet

 The push in the last few hundred meters will remain in memory for a bit...
 It was tough to take on Ath in the last 50mts or so, both of us were bent over and gasping for dear breath, when my sister walked across the barricade to check on us at the finish line.

I am glad its over and I can now get back to focusing on podium of those longer runs. Wish me luck!! 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Tirupati by steps

The week that was:
I passed one of those age-wala milestones earlier this month. Shreya and I were planning to climb the steps up to Tirupati temple for a while now. Her being in Chennai presented a good opportunity to do this.

There were many pieces that were falling in place in our general personal-professional mosaic, and when things cleared a bit my week looked like this:
·         Tuesday – 350k Bullet ride to Chennai
·         Wednesday – Rest day!
·         Thursday – 150k ride to Tirupati, Darshan, ride back
·         Friday – 350k Bullet ride back
·         Saturday – Train to Chennai
·         Sunday – Return with family back to base

Don’t rationalize this itinerary, I had to do the bullet ride, and a chance to do a bullet ride with my dear wife on my birthday to Tirupati was worth the effort of the yo-yo week.

Tirupati temple visit climbing Alipiri Steps

There are plenty of information on various website out there, to help you plan the climb.
What they don’t tell you:
  • There is no “Information Desk” at the bottom of Tirumala (the start point of the Alipiri Mettu). Be prepared to get bits of information from security, luggage handlers, auto drivers, et al – and only in Telugu – use a lot of “Ekkada undi”
  • If you need your bags to reach the top, you have to check them in at the start of the Alipiri Mettu. The security is tight, you will not be allowed to check in if there is metal, etc. My saddle bag, with some bike spares did not make it through. In any case, once you check it in, you will have to collect it once you reach the top and then stove it in lockers in another counter. Budget for time and effort for this.
  • If you do not need your bags (worked for us), you need to deposit luggage at Bhodevi guest house, where there are lockers provided, free of cost. But we were harassed for ID proof photocopy, and insisted for Aadhar card (yeah, it is outside bounds of Supreme court). Be prepared to walk about half a kilometer to the guest house (in the heat, with the luggage) from the Alipiri mettu start point.
  • The bike and car parking is also near Bhodevi complex, near the bus stand
  • You can use footwear, but I recommend against it, purely for spiritual reasons
  • You don’t need to wear a lungi or dhoti. Shirt and pants are perfectly fine – all the way
  • Free lunch is served at the temple complex between 11am and 3pm only and then later in the evening
  • And the big one – Once you are done with the climb and reach the top step, you have to walk on a carpeted footpath till there is no more footpath left. Then you have to a BUS! Yes, you heard right, you have to wait for a bus to take you to the start of the queue to enter the temple. These buses are run by TTD and made to look like chariots!
  • You still have to get into a queue (special darshan queue for padayatris). Be prepared for long waiting time (in our case, we entered the queue at noon and were out after the darshan by 4pm. But could have easily been longer.
  • There is no free transport back to the Alipiri gate

In his book, The Power of Habit, Duhigg talks about how the cue-routine-reward cycle. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

I have spent enough time on my bullet for the reward to be a craving, which is hard wired in my basal ganglia.
I went into auto mode, it was delight simply to get out the jackets, the saddlebags, the gloves. I checked the oil levels & tweaked that accelerator cable to be sure, didn’t want a repeat of that Chennai ride when I jammed cams-rocker-tappet, all for the lack of engine oil.

I started by 5, the roads till Mudbagal could easily take much more power and more speed. Of course, even having a high beam would have helped.
My intermittent fasting ensured that I could skip breakfast and ride all the way. It felt good to get an eventless ride and I quite enjoyed it. The euphoria continued the following morning. With S on the pillion, we took to good roads from Chennai and cruised along. 

One stop for breakfast, and we reached Alipiri gate in about 3hours.
But with no information kiosk at the gate, we first parked, changed, then checked in into the transportable baggage counter, then walked to the bhodevi complex, then ran around for the photocopies, then locked our bags in.

By then time we hit the first step, I was already sweating profusely and was already 8:45 or so. The first 2000 steps were the steepest and went up one hill, and then it plateaus, get into a bit of a valley, then climbs a bit more. TTD can do with using the public address loud speakers to narrate stories about the Lord.

We reached the TTD temple complex (the end of the carpeted footpath) in about 3hours. By noon, we found our way through well marked directions via Padayatri special queue. By noon, we entered a “compartment”, after having to deposit our phones. We were offered hot bisi bele bath inside. Although the notice board outside the coupe said that the estimated time for exit was 4pm, we were allowed to continue into the temple by about 2. When the queues join near the inner sanctum, we were all squeezed like sardines.

Those 10secs or so that you get the darshan as you walk in the sanctum made good all that we had to endure to get there.

In the melee, I had lost one of our biometric tickets – 3 ladoos loss!
We picked up our phones, got into private taxi that got us back to Bhodevi complex. You can’t be in Andhra and not have Andhra meals. We ate our fill of rice and pappu before we turned back to Chennai. The last 50kms of the ride was messy, dusty, trafficy and in the night. All that time we lost in mis-information could have made the finish a lot sweeter.

I totally loved the ride back.

In the end, it was a mix of adrenaline, romance, divinity, lowdowns & sweat – a snapshot, summing up the last 37 years!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Overnighter at Rishi Valley

At the end of my Ultra running season last year, Ranga put up a suggestion in my running group BHUKMP to do an overnighter at his alma mater – Rishi Valley School. Nested in Madanapalle near Chitoor, amidst stony hills, the lush green 400 acre campus seemed like a perfect outing for the kids.

The morning duties takes much longer with the kids, we left mid-morning. Although the roads were good, the 150+ kms seemed to take forever. It was brutally hot, we managed to reach the campus just in time when the rest of the folks were headed to the campus mess for lunch. We had simple, but delicious and healthy lunch, seated cross legged on mats and low tables. The lunch was tastefully prepared.

The guest house was earthy and cool, perfect for resting after the drive and meal.
In the evening, the entire gang headed to the nearby Cave Rock hill overlooking the campus for a hike. Rishi valley is nested in the middle of a few hills – Cave Rock hill, Rishi Konda, Peddu Konda and Horsley Konda. We decided to take the stroller along for a bit for my daughter, with my one year old on a sling. Within a few mins, we had to lose the stroller due to the tough terrain. Soon enough, my daughter tripped over a stone and refused to take another step.

So we climbed then, with my son on the back and my daughter on the front clinging on the superdad. Cheenu, who studies in the school, was our guide for the trek.

We had company of a friend’s mom who at 70+ climbed the hill wearing a saree. Its only after you climb the peak that you get to know the difficult part is getting down!!
Thick dry thorny shrubs were all we could get for support as we scrapped our behind on sliding rocks. Balance was precarious as we shifted kids from hand to hand and the sling from front to back. We missed the “cave” of the cave rock on the way down, but made it down in one piece.

The evening was spent in listening to one of the teachers talk passionately and answer a whole lot of questions on life and philosophy of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the founder of the boarding school.

The highlight of the next morning was breakfast of Ragi Idli & vada sambar (mini vadas floating in sambar that goes with Idli) for breakfast at the student mess. Coming after a forgettable, hot and exhausting run up to Horsley hills made it doubly delightful. While some chose to go to the nearby sliding rock, others decided to take a shorter trek to Horsley hills via the pipeline route.

Overall a fantastic outing – a first trek for my little one!