Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I have missed running!

I am back! After more than 4 months of physical inactivity necessitated by an appendectomy in March (that was first not diagnosed, and then turned out to be a complicated surgery leaving me with recurring post-surgery mild aches), I ventured out around my neighborhood for a 1 mile jog. And it was so clear immediately to me that I have missed running all this time...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Chicago 2006 - what a high!

To get the statistics out of the way, I finished in 4:41:57 (a PR) -- averaging 10:45 min per mile. That gave me an overall place of 22,059 out of 33,633 finishers. In comparison, last year, I had run the same course in 4:46:15, finishing at 22,543 out of 32,868 finishers. So, I improved my time by 4:18, or by 9.85 seconds per mile. That there is a lot of scope for improvement in this department is shown from a rather humbling piece of data -- the median male finisher in US clocks 4:20 (as reported by the December 2006 issue of Runner's World). Another interesting fact obtained by doing simple math on some Chicago race results -- there were approximately 5 finishers every second around my time! Finishing a marathon may be hard but it is certainly getting less and less rare...

I did not meet my "stretch" goal of 4:35, not even my "should-be-able-to" goal of 4:40. But who cares? Everytime I think about how I felt during the run, it gives me such a high that these minutes and seconds do not hold any more significance than they should anyway. You see I was feeling really good in those most important last 4.2 miles. My last mile (which included a small hill) was 9:27, bettered only by a faster 9:23 at mile#15. When I saw the sign for the last mile, I was thinking "It has come too soon. I will now not have a chance to improve my time that much." About 600m must have remained after crossing the last (and the only) hill and I could not help but grin all the way in those last few minutes. I felt on top of this world. I raced faster and faster till the finish line came almost too soon. The party had gotten over too early.

4.2 miles earlier was when my upper shelf had gotten rid of any and all clutter. Up until then, experience and sound advice had told me to wait, wait and wait before thinking of accelerating. After all, every marathon race course is littered with stories of excruciating fatigue and pain in the last few miles, spoiling the whole experience of the previous many. It could get bad any moment -- the endorphin-infested brain may just succumb to the realities of the legs, both quads could suddenly start feeling like a plush mattress, the entire backside of both legs may ache like hell, any of the hamstrings could still cramp, the area underneath the right or the left knee may still suddenly start twitching. After all, all of this had happened some time or the other in the last few miles of my practice long runs.

I waited at mile#18 for something to happen in anticipation. Nothing. Mile#20, nope. Wait till mile#22 then. Oh yes, something is happening. But, luckily only the familiar urge to take a pee break (my third of the race). And after I had watered the wall in a relatively empty (but barely 10m away from the race course) area, I was feeling ever so light. The much rated "high" had struck. Bigtime. The feeling of feeling so good at this point in the race was extremely satisfying. The mind was free to let go completely. I accelerated and was able to finish the last 4.2 miles at an average pace of 10:12 min/mile. My spirits were high enough to think of and wish of a 9:30 pace but the body still had its limits.

Rewind a few hours to 4:10am. The alarm sounds. The first question to pop up in mind was about the temperature outside. That answer would have to wait till I got out of the hotel. The second thing was that the hindside of both legs felt a bit sore! Ouch, I thought, that is not too good. Did I walk too much yesterday? Anyhow, I somehow successfully ejected that worry out of my mind. It was time to get ready. I had packed the bag the previous night with two layers of clothing and another set for changing after the race. I donned my dark blue Asha shirt to which the bib with number 22657 had already been safety-pinned last night, then another layer on top and finally a sweater. Over my pair of split shorts were a pair of sweat pants. A headband to protect the ears and gloves to warm the hands rounded up the attire. I headed to the breakfast room where Asha coordinators had already arranged for a healthy breakfast to be served to the runners starting 4.30am in the morning. Had a bagel, a banana and some orange and grape juice. At 5.30am, it was time to gather up in the lobby to wait for the bus to take us to the start line in downtown Chicago. Our hotel was about 40 minutes away -- as all hotels close to the start line had already been booked way in advance. Here is a sleepy and cheery me with some of the other runners. Anurag looks like his usual jovial self.
As soon as we walked out of the hotel door to climb the bus, I tried to feel the weather. It did not appear too cold, no doubt because of my layers of clothing, because it was apparently sub 40F. The two buses carrying 70-odd Asha runners started from the hotel at 5.45am. (Friends and family members of runners were to be brought later by the bus at 7.30am or at 10am). Soon enough, we were in downtown and got dropped off by the bus. We made our way to the Asha tent in the "Charity Village". It was not raining, but the ground was still wet from the overnight rains. All of us huddled inside the tent and found ourselves a place to sit. Someone was eating a banana, someone fixing their clothes, but mostly people were preparing for the cold experience that lay ahead. The nicest part of the charity village was the abundant porta-johns in this park. I had to use them a couple of times -- it was cold.

At around 7am, folks got out to warm up and stretch, but by the time I got back from the Porta John, everyone was preparing to walk to the start line. So, I didn't get a chance to warm up or stretch. I assured myself that warming up would anyway be difficult in this weather, and that I will stretch when I reach the starting line. I was right about the first, and dead wrong about the second. A few of us slowly made our way up Columbus Dr. where 40,000 runners were lined up facing the start line. It soon dawned on us that it is too crowded to walk up to the desired location (around the 4:30 finish time group). We could barely move up to the 4:45 area. Five of us -- Abheek, Chakri, Mouli, Tharak and myself -- found ourselves a spot. There was barely room to stand, let alone stretch. I looked around. What an intoxicating atmosphere it was!. Runners of all shapes and sizes were there -- some with smiles and some with anxieties written all over their faces. Every minute or so, you could see sweats or gloves or hats flying as people tried to let go off the extra layers that they had gotten with them. I hung on to my white disposable jacket and pants, looking like an astronaut waiting to get into its space shuttle. I also managed to do some easy in-place stretching for a few minutes. I started chatting with someone who was doing her first marathon. Suddenly, a sweatshirt camedown flying at her face. She took it off her face and flew it somewhere else. Pretty soon, that shirt was outside the runners area where a few people were quick to grab it.

It was now 7:55am and we heard a voice announcing the start of the wheelchair race. Soon enough the runners were walking towards the start line (which was barely visible at this time). Suddenly, one of the five of us said that a restroom break would be nice. Each one of us somehow found the idea appealing, but we decided that it would be hard to find a Porta-John right now (we would have had to jump over the fenced area surrounding the runners to find a PJ). We decided to look for one after the start. I made a mental note of looking for a secluded place after the start -- previous experience had told me to look for an empty area instead of spending many minutes in the line outside a PJ.

Soon, it is 8:19am and we find ourselves crossing the start mat. I reset my watch. Barely 20m into the race, we are in a short tunnel. I see a couple of men lined up, peeing on the side, with their backs to the runners. No more encouragement is necessary. I rush to the front of the line. One by one, all four of my buddies do the same. So, here we are, 20 seconds after the start, all lined up with our backs to the sea of runners eagerly starting their races. I wish I had a picture of that.

We lose about 2-3 minutes in that luxury. As soon as we start running after that, I feel so much lighter and make a comment about it. I am feeling good, in fact so good that I almost feel as if someone is pushing me from behind (may be the wind was). The legs are just moving, one in front of the other, as if on a conveyor belt. Soon enough, mile#1 signpost comes. We take a 45s walk break (as planned). I am not feeling cold, and it feels like gloves are the only thing I need now. As we cris-cross through the streets of downtown, I try to recall how I felt in last year's Chicago run. All I can remember of the early portion of the run is that someone had said on seeing mile#10 "miles are just flying by". I blurt it out inadvertently, though softly. We are still only at mile#3...

We are maintaining a steady 10:30 minute pace when it is time to take the first Gu-gel. Chakri lets go of his tear-away pants and says that he is feeling so much less obstructed. I decide to do the same at the next water stop at mile#6. Meanwhile, Abheek wants another pee break. It is cold and he can't be faulted for it. He says that he will go in a corner and catch up with us. Maan, he catches up with us in less than a minute later. This bloke is quick.

Mile#6, I get out of my papery pants. It takes me some time to work them out of my shoes. I tell others to start running as I am taking too much time, and need to take Gu also. We lose Tharak at this time as he wants to stretch a bit. It takes me a couple of minutes of running before I catch up with the rest of the gang. We coast together till mile#10. I probe myself if I am still feeling that the miles are flying by. I am not. I feel that things are a bit more rushed than last time. But, I am not tired. In fact, my legs are feeling as light as ever -- the papery pants having been discarded, I am feeling a new sense of urgency in my step. Mile#12, it is Chakri's turn to look for a PJ. He is the more shy of all of us, and insists on either finding the perfectly secluded place or a PJ. None are in sight. He finally finds a PJ and asks us to go ahead. We promise to keep on the right and ask him to catch up with us. Unfortunately, I am never to see him again during the run. As we had run most practice runs together, I miss his company throughout the race.

Meanwhile, we see Kalyan taking pictures. I go to him and hand him my head band and my gloves. (I would come to regret taking off the gloves later.) We now cross the half-marathon marker. Timex on the wrist is showing 2:20:47. My "stretch" plan was to do 2:16 in this half. I figure that I lost 3 minutes in the first pee break. So, I assure myself that I am not that far off. The truth is that we had tried to make up a bit by running a bit faster (or at least I felt we were trying to make up) but were always plagued with doubts about how much faster to go at this stage of the run. My heart knew that 4:35 was probably not going to be today. It is funny how we fuss about 4-5 minutes in a marathon that lasts about 4-5 hours... Turns out that my splits so far are 24:47 (miles 1 and 2 -- forgot to set the split at mile#1), 10:43, 10:23, 9:52, 10:44, 10:49 (Gu#1 at mile 6), 10:18, 10:22, 9:50, 11:40 (Gu#2 at mile 12), 10:40 (mile#13). As it seems now, we are all over the place; unable to still find a running rhythm.

Immediately after the half-way mark, we lose Abheek. But, soon I find Chandu (Chandra Guntakala) and start running with him. Mouli is trying hard to keep pace with us but he is not used to this pace and we may have done him harm to encourage him to keep up with us. Anyhow, we take another side-of-the-wall break and feel light instantly. Chandu's Garmin Forerunner is so handy. He keeps uttering our speed as shown by it and we correct our speed if needed. We decide to keep a running pace of 10min/mile and take a 1 minute walk break at every mile. But we break that in the very next mile (mile #15) which we do in 9:23; though helped generously by a pleasing tailwind and a 100m long gradual downhill. Mouli graciously offers rotating the use of his gloves, and we accept. It was still cold. Mouli wants to slow down at this point, while Chandu and I want to go ahead. We take our 3rd Gu at around mile#16 and stretch a little as well. Thanks to Chandu for giving me a Gu gel at this point (as I had space to put only two packets in my pocket -- the rest I had asked Chakri to keep in his fuel belt). This mile costs us a 12:45 with the Gu and the stretch break. We are unable to pick it up in Mile#17 (10:46). Mile#18 is next, and we grab a packet of Gu being handed out for later. Chandu calls his wife to sync up on a potential meeting place and we are on our way after a somewhat extended walk break. I am still feeling good, but vaguely recall that it was in miles 18 to 20 that I had rapidly deteriorated last year. I think of letting go of my disposable white papery jacket. However, I don't, thinking that I may still feel cold later on. I know that I sweat profusely which when evaporating sometimes causes me to feel very cold. Besides , I think, jettisoning the weight may help provide an additional moral boost in the tougher miles to come. I also look at my watch. 3:15:04 for 18 miles. 8.2 to go -- can I do it in 1:20 (80 minutes)? Sounds tough, but anyway too early to think about these things. March on. Next two miles are 9:45 and 10:11. I look at my watch again and re-evaluate my condition. Mile#20 has passed and I am still feeling good. I finally let go my white jacket. The watch is showing 3:35. Can I do 6.2 in 60 minutes? Probably not, but may be in 65 minutes... Also, I suddenly feel hungry at this point. Remarkably, they are handing out bananas right ahead. I grab one and now need to look for water. I stop to tie my laces and stretch just a bit. As I am looking, Abheek spots us. Bugger. I had always thought that he was behind us -- he was actually ahead of us. However, this mistaken belief of mine had helped me unexpectedly: quiet a few of my walk breaks were done walking backwards. That gave my legs such a relief that I was always glad for it. Chandu, Abheek and I run for a couple miles together. To the right is a photo, courtesy a stranger by the name of Mark Draughn who tracked my email address later from my bib#! Boy, were we all focussed at this time.

I now want to go faster than the crowd would allow me to. Abheek is not feeling that great and wants to fall back. Chandu and I are still together. We are continuously weaving our way through the tiring crowds. Briefly, a thought flashes my mind as to how pathetic my condition was last year at this very stretch. This is closely followed by smugness about how good I am feeling this time around. The thought gives me an extra kick and I want to notch it up a bit. Chandu asks me how much. I say let us do 9:45 pace. We do it, but still take walk breaks. Chandu meets up with his family; while I ponder where Grishu would be. She was not there with the Asha Chicago gang that had shouted "Go Asha" between miles 19 and 20. The New Balance "final five" miles had already started and there are crowds on both sides of the road, cheering their hearts out. I had lost hope of seeing her or other Asha cheerers. I would not be looking for them anymore, I think, trying to focus. As it would happen, Grishu and I miss each other at mile#25 where she has been standing for a long time waiting for me.

We cross the bridge over Highway 94 and see a big sign with "Illinois Institute of Technology" written on it. We make our final turn into Michigan Ave. I just want to go as fast as I can at this point. Chandu is tiring a bit, but giving enormous support. The way he gets off running so quickly after a walk break is amazing. I take my own time to get into the rhythm. Not him. Amazing starter.

Mile#24 is where we take our final pee break. At this time, I tell Chandu what my heart really wants to do "let it rip". He coolly asks how much? I say, 9:30 may be... He says, let's go. We come across Sudarshan, run with him a bit, but continue on. By now, I am running with a seeming purpose. The crowds are just a sound to me, my eyes are focussed on the road and I am thinking of how I am going to weave through the crowd. My breathing is heavy but my legs are still cooperating. I want to go even faster but it feels like the body can only go this fast at this time. I am enjoying every bit of the run now, more than at any other time of the race. I now see the sign for mile#25. Just 1.2 to go, 4:30:16 in my watch. Can I make 4:40? I ask one push of my body. My spirits are soaring. My mind wishes I could do a 8min mile. But, inspite of trying hard, I have only done a 10min mile in the last few miles. I have to try harder, and I do. Chandu wants a walk break. Dejectedly, I take leave of him to go faster. I now see the sign for the last 800m and suddenly a small hill -- aha, this was the hill they thought will come. Too bad it has come now, I am forced to slow down. When I get over the hill, I retry to gain momentum, but soon the sign says last 400m. By this time, a broad grin has appeared on my face; and I try to sprint. The final turn is made to Columbus Ave and the 26 mile marker whizzes past me. I am running fast to the extreme right to avoid the crowds, with a broad grin on my face, looking up with the sound of the cheerers around me. What a magical moment this is...

Soon the finish line is here, I raise my arms in celebration, hoping that an official camera could catch me in this pose (it did not). I cross the mat, stop my watch which says 4:42 (see the leftmost picture below, I am towards the left and middle of the photo, in blue shirt, just stepping on the mat and stopping my watch). The clock time shows 5:02. I take several deep breaths, happy that it is over, and even happier that I am feeling good.
The fatigue immediately shows up. And a sudden cold pierces the body. I get my medal, get the mylar heatsheet, a banana and get rid of my chip. A broad smile still hangs on my face as I am looking for familiar faces, and Grishu, my wife, the most. She is nowhere around. I feel a great need to talk to someone. My body is shivering and my teeth are clattering. I am hungry too. They are giving out fig cookies. I take one and almost want to throw up (they are just too sweet). I grab a water bottle and look for exit to the charity village. Meanwhile, I see the lines of the official photographers and brave the cold to stand in the line, feeling smug that last year I was about to collapse at this time and did not want to stand in the photo line. Meanwhile, the photo just comes alright.
I head for the exit, a bit cross that there's not more to eat. Portland flashes in my mind, where there were donuts, bananas, oranges, grapes, cookies, and juices. In fairness, there were bagels here. But they seem too dry. I decide to exit the refreshments area. Suddenly, Kalyan spots me and takes a picture. God bless this dude!

I walk back to the Asha tent in the charity village, still shivering, eyes searching for a familiar face. Then I see Rajeev Char standing outside the tent cheering me. He looks so calm and assured that it did not seem like he has himself run even a mile. Besides, he is standing outside the tent in the shivering cold to cheer the finishers while everyone else is inside the tent. Hats off to you, Char!

Rest is the story of the celebration, the photos, the food, going back to the finish line to accompany the most blessed of souls -- Vivek, Chakri and Kalyan. And of course the high. It even makes me think whether it was all too good to be true, and I ask the inevitable question -- was I too conservative? The last few miles will be etched in my memories forever. Or at least until the next marathon... Will it be Chicago 2007, the 30th anniversary of the Chicago marathon, and my hattrick?

Here are a few more photos. Thanks to the Asha family, the coordinators, and the coaches, all of whom, so remarkably, are volunteers. May the most yearned of your wishes come true!

After the run, Chakri, Grishu and I joined Vivek at the finish line to meet the remaining runners.

Some of us pose at the Expo on Saturday,10/21/2006

At the expo, Grishu writes "Team Asha" in Hindi and Coach Raman writes the same in Punjabi.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Portland marathon memories

On a cool Sunday morning that was also the first morning of October 1st (as well as marked the festival of Dushehra in India) I started my first of the three races of the month. The previous day was spent in the expo in the Hilton Hotel. The day before was spent pretty much in Rupal's car journeying from San Mateo to Portland, first crossing the California-Oregon border, then caressing the western side of the Cascades in Oregon and ending with the beautiful sight of Mt Hood towering over North Oregon.

The theme of my run was Not Yet. Starting from the fact that this was not my "official" marathon (that honor goes to Chicago), I had deliberately planned to relax and soak in the atmosphere, more than to run a race. But the most carefully constructed of plans go awry when you are in the midst of 8000 people effusing adrenaline. However, once I had invented the theme of my run, it was easier to hold back -- despite feeling extremely good at around mile 4 and then at around mile 15. A long line in front of the porta johns arond mile 1.5 had separated me from my running buddy, Anurag, condemning me to running solitude that I had not known the whole year. Challenging my theme of the run was the urge to catch up with the bugger who was now about 5-6 minutes ahead of me thanks to the long line of losers who did not ease up before the gun went off.

I actually never caught up with Anurag. I did catch up with some of the other Asha runners on the way -- Chandu, Ram, Diana -- and got a chance to run with them for some period of time, in the process further decreasing the hope of ever catching up with Anurag. Not that it mattered, at least not for this run. I had a longish run with Diana until I felt that I am not getting my rhythm at that speed (now I know when one of my mentees says he can not run with the rest as the rest of us are too slow -- except that he says this at even 9 min/mile pace!) and had to speed up to feel less work for my body. Don't cry me a snob, as I only sped up by 45s or so, and it still made a difference to how I felt.

Coming back to feeling good around mile 15. It was actually the feeling of feeling good at mile 15 that made me feel really good, if you know what I mean. At that time, I really wanted to speed up, but managed to repeat the Not Yet mantra enough to postpone my speeding up to after mile 18. St John's bridge came and went and now we were descending from the bridge and entering the residential area to the other side of the Willamette. Mile 18 was finally here and for the first time in the race I did some mental calculations of what my estimated finish time would be at the current pace. It seemed like I would do 5:05 but if I could speed up a bit, 5hrs would be achievable. I decided to NOT speed up here and postponed the speeding that I had promised myself to mile 22.

Good thing that I did that. There was like a half mile long steep downhill around that mile that was taxing my quads. Usually I am the happiest person going downhill, but you run 22 miles and no matter what pace you are doing, your legs will feel it. So, instead of speeding up, I slowed down and started walking downhill to save the quads for another day. I saw Mandar dutifully waiting for Diana to join her for the last 4 miles or so; and wondered where my wife would be. As for Grishu, she had called me at around mile 20 and after I told her what mile I had just crossed, she exclaimed saying that I am pretty slow today and that half of the people have already finished. Yeah right!

Now I saw what seemed like (and was) Uma from about a quarter mile away. I felt so happy that I sped up a bit to catch up with her. Unfortunately, Uma was hurting in her right toe but was still bravely carrying on. It was great running with someone and so we finished together, going slow but strong in the last 3.5 miles, giving our chip a time of 5:15. The first few minutes after the end are pretty intense as well. It is funny how you can finish strong but feel so weak immediately after finishing. At Chicago last year I had made the mistake of looking down in the last 3-4 miles (thinking that I could focus more that way to help me somehow cover those long painful miles that have grown so much sweeter now as memories) causing me to feel dizzy and wanting to collapse after the finish line. Here, I did not want to collapse but for sure wanted to sit down with a thump and stretch out my legs. I mean it felt awful here too, despite the cookies and the cool orange juice and the bananas and the bagels... But, heeding the advice meant walking around. And for sure, the miserable feelings lasted only about 10 minutes. Now, with the finisher shirt, the medal and a mylar sheet around me barely managing to keep me warm, my pain sensations were easing and getting replaced with an unmistakable high that I have only experienced through running (no, I haven't tried Ecstasy yet). It is to be noted that this high is different from the high I get while running. The former is a self-satisfied feeling accompanied with quiet euphoria of something nice that you have just completed. The latter is more meditative high giving you a feeling that you can do whatever you want and are in the process of doing it. The former is celebratory and static, the latter more flowing and alive. The former more backward looking, the latter more in the present. Both feed off each other and I am grateful that I have the fortune to be able to experience them once in a while.

I can go on and on but I have another marathon to complete and you -- my hapless reader -- have more blogs to read and emails to delete. So, I will write the more useful list of lessons I learned from Portland. This is what I will and will not do in my next marathon.

  • I will not move around the day before the marathon. If I want to do sight seeing, I will go to the same place some other time. Instead, I will play cards, read poetry, eat bananas, watch movies, read email and listen to the coaches. Woof, that is going to be one busy day!
  • I will double my hydration in the days leading to the marathon.
  • I will double my carbs in the days leading to the marathon.
  • I will not run alone in the marathon. Faced with the choice of going faster or going with a fellow runner, I will choose the latter.
  • I will conserve until mile 18 at the minimum. The wise ones say that the real race starts at mile 18 and gets hotter at mile 22. If I have to show myself my mettle, it is in the last 8 miles.
  • I will eat by 8pm on the night before the marathon.
  • I will sleep really well in the week leading to the marathon Sunday.
  • I will take with me two pairs of contact lenses, two pairs of shorts, two shirts, two pairs of socks, and two SD cards for my camera.
  • I will not take any GU gel with me (I am flying this time to Chicago :-)
  • I will try harder to convince my wife to run with me the last couple of miles :-)
  • I will sign up myself and my wife for runner updates on cell phone.
  • I will eat a breakfast (as usual) on the morning of the race.
  • I will warm up and stretch before the race begins.
  • I will take my GU every 5 miles without fail.
  • I will go to the porta john before the race. If I have to go during the run, I will not stand in a long line, but will instead go behind the trees.
  • When it gets tough after mile 20, I will ward off negative thoughts. I will focus instead on giving the best performance I can. I owe this much at least to my fellow runners, coaches and Asha.
  • I will remember the high I will get after the marathon is over and use it to propel me to do my best during the race, esp. the last few miles.
  • I will start with a smile, run with a high, and end with a smile.
  • If I am not able to do that for whatever reason, I will not fret too much about it.
  • I will not lose the fitness gained from my training after the marathon. Letting go of this hard earned fitness will be a crime! I will slowly and wisely restart my running or channel my fitness into new activities like swimming or biking or gym-ming.
  • I will party my heart out the night after the marathon.
Chicago, here we come.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sept 13 - Tough 4x1 milers at tracks

The last time 4x1 mile repeats were held, I did 7:47, 7:30, 7:20 and 7:02. The relative speed in the last couple of miles was satisfying, but the large spread was indicative of the fact that I should have pushed more in the first couple. So, this time I was determined to do close to 7:30 repeats right from the start.

I made a mistake, and did not do that. Instead, I went overboard and did the first mile in 7:20 (I was feeling good). And the second one in 7:18. But the third mile brought out the consequences. I had aimed to hold 7:20 in the last two miles. That means a 1:50 400m lap. However, after the first lap (1:50) in the third mile, I was barely able to do a 1:52 in the 2nd lap, and while consciously trying to catch up in the 3rd lap I was still able to manage only a 1:55 in the 3rd (so 7 seconds behind for a 7:20 mile by now). Thanks to Rajeev who pushed me in the last lap I was able to do a 1:53 in the last lap to finish with a 7:25. But I was pretty spent by that time. The story was pretty similar in the last mile where the fast last lap helped counteract the time deficits of laps 2 and 3. I ended the last mile in 7:24.

Clearly, I pushed the limit here. Now that I know what it is, next time I do mile repeats, I will try a 7:30 in the first two miles and then see how I am feeling.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sept 9th - 22 miler at Sawyer Camp. Fun!

Yep, it was a lot of fun. The weather was excellent (about 60F) and I felt good throughout the run. I was late in the morning (started at about 7.45am) but kudos to Abheek, Pramod and Chakri for coming back for me after doing 1.5 miles one way. So, they were always 3 miles ahead of me in the run. As we were all doing 22 miles, I had finished 19 when they finished their 22. Anil Rao (who has graduated from marathons to 50 milers and 100 milers) was volunteering at a water stop and decided to give us his precious company as well. With music blaring out from the speakers of my Palm Treo, Abheek giving out puzzles, Anil telling us about his practice runs, and we talking about whether to sign up for the Big Sur marathon next year or a 50K, miles were, if not flying, passing by comfortably.

I finished in 4:01:40, which corresponds to 11 minute/mile pace. But I think I felt good and that makes all the difference in my confidence for the marathons ahead. I know that we took several ~2 minute breaks for either Gu or restroom or stretching and we were really running at an average of ~10.30 minute pace. The 1 minute walk after each mile is helping a great deal as well by letting us conserve our energies for the last few miles of the run. Bottomline, my morale is high going into October!

6-7 mile run at Rancho, Sept 4, morning

Ahh, I am blogging after such a long time. In the meantime, I have finished Napa half and San Francisco half, and the long runs have reached 20 miles. As the meat of the training is almost behind us, it will now be hard for me to even say that I blogged this year's run at all.

Anyhow, I have a new camera, and with it comes a new resolve to carry it along with me on the runs. That means getting comfortable to be able to carry a fuel belt. Thankfully, I can now say that I am now comfortable enough with a belt and some pouches bouncing slightly from my waistline....

Another reason to blog now is that this was my first (and I think last) morning run of the year :-) Why? Well, it was the first because I am not a morning person, and I always feel a bit tired and drowsy for the rest of the day if I run in the morning. Truthfully, it is not that bad, but I have just never tried it long enough for my body to get used to it. However, this was a labor day holiday and what better day to experiment (esp. if this was being followed by three social engagements back to back!)

I guess I should write a bit about the run itself. We started at about 6.45am and were back by 8am. Did the usual deer hollow route to fallen leaf and then up and down the wildcat trail (I think). There were 6 of us, five in the picture and one taking the picture. I would classify the run as easy because we mostly walked the uphill portions.

I did find that my sleep patterns got a bit messed up and as I did not follow up with the same ~5.30am rise every morning, somehow I found myself groggy for most of the next two days as well. So, I have decided that this will be my last morning run of this season. Mornings are beautiful, but I have to be willing to be consistent. So far, it is the evenings I can be consistent in. So, evenings it will be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

12x400 Tracks (Tough!)

It was that day of the week when you go out on the tracks and you know you will be working hard. Actually, I was doing really good on the first 9 400m laps. My splits were 93, 93, 93, 93, 95, 95, 95, 97, 97. In the 9th lap, I felt tightness in my left hamstring. And in the 10th lap, right around the 300m mark, I just felt a cramp in that same hamstring come over me. I just had to get on to the grass and stop instantly. That was terrible -- I tried restarting, but could barely jog back to finish the last 100m. Talked to Tony, who said that I should go slow but still do the laps. Thanks to him, I did do so while taking much shorter steps. So, the 11th lap was done at a crawling speed of 115 seconds. I guess because this was so slow, I was feeling really good in the last lap, but my stupid hamstring was not letting me go fast. I finished the last lap in 105 seconds; while I should have done that in 95 seconds.

Dear readers, make no mistake. I am not a speed buff. The numbers above are not meant to take the enjoyment out of running. In fact, the track workout is my favorite workout. It allows me to push hard. I just hope now that the hamstring gets back to normal soon!

Monday, May 29, 2006

May 27, 7 mile long run, Los Gatos Creek Trail

This was the first run of the year that I can call "long". I am glad that it went quite well for me. I did the right pacing, found Chakri to run along with me, and recovered remarkably easily (did not even feel like sleeping that afternoon -- a PR for me :-).

Clearly, the trick was to do the right level of pacing. Because when Chakri and I decided to let it loose in the last half a mile, I did feel the fatigue upon me. So, clearly the fatigue was there, it was just kept in control by pacing.

These were my mile splits: 11:25, 11:22, 11:12, 9:51, 9:50, 8:57, 8:10

I did feel side stitches after my first (and only) water break just before the end of mile#3. They were not that severe, and the fact that I was running slow helped me get over them. But, something for me to watch out for in the future long runs.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My first ever run as a mentor :-)

Okay, so I am a mentor of a running group (eloquently named 6.b :-)

We met on Monday, 04/24/06 at Charleston Park adjacent to Googleplex at 7pm. This was the route we took for our nice and easy 1.6 mile long warm-up run. We followed it up with a good session of stretching and strengthening exercises till 8.30pm. I can not help noticing how much more I am learning about the exercises this year than last... Simply because I have to teach this year, I am going over them again and again, while last year... well, the less said the better... Hopefully, I will avoid my lower leg injury this year by doing proper strengthening exercises regularly. And I hope my mentees will be better students than I was...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

It's time for 2006!

Stretching Session April 21, 2006
So, it is 2006 and the running season is back again. This time, I am signed up as a mentor, and a runner. It feels really nice to be back with the tremendous group of people I first met last year as well as to meet new folks. It is quite interesting to me -- not to sound snobbish or self-praising -- how such events attract certain like minded people having a certain above-average qualities of will, determination and perseverance. Onwards...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The marathon, as it feels after a few days

I wrote this in three parts:

Sunday, October 16th, 5pm
Wednesday, October 19th, 3pm
Tuesday, November 1st, 6pm

So, it has now been a week since the marathon at Chicago. Grishu and I are now in India and meeting up with friends and family and indulging in a mutual catch-up of our lives with them. In between, we are also trying to enjoy our vacation. Add in a couple of festival days, a few visits to relatives, a couple of get-togethers, a few shopping visits, a couple of lost days (for me) to common cold. You get the idea - “It’s been hectic” is an understatement. Nonetheless, there are always empty moments for all of us to savor for ourselves. Those moments of mine, more often than not, have been filled with fond thoughts of the minutiae of last Sunday’s run.

The week’s time since the run gives me some perspective. But first I want to recount the day’s details, for myself. So here it goes. The gang of runners got up at various times between 3-4am on October 9th, 2005 and most headed to the on-site restaurant where special arrangements had already been made to serve breakfast to the runners. This was yet another example of the excellent work by the Asha organization crew of Deepak, Renuka, Pradeep, not to mention the coaches Tony, Rajeev Char and Rajeev Patel as well as others who have done such an excellent job throughout the run and the training program. My hats are off to them.

The first bus left the hotel for downtown Chicago at 4.50am and we were there at the start time at 5.30am. In hindsight, we over-provisioned by about an hour. It was biting cold and I took out from my bag sweats and jeans that I had brought with me for the purpose of wearing after the run. The group then went towards the Charity Village where Asha-Chicago volunteers had arranged for an “Asha Tent”, where most of us crowded into (the scene was very much like a crowded railway compartment in an Indian train). At about 7am, we got up to take photos and started to walk towards the actual start line. I had already gone to the porta-john 3 times by now. We also did a small warm-up run and a very light stretch. By the time, we (Sankhya, Manish, Rajeev Patel, Anu, Lily and me) reached the 9min/mile speed starting area, pushing our way through the crowd, it was already 7.30am and the enormity of the event was dawning on us. Imagine the scene: 40,000 runners eagerly waiting for their turn to start, chatting, laughing and most certainly looking forward to the run with great energy and expectation. For me, I already needed to go once more. Rajeev, Anu, and Manish had already climbed the fence (that separated the runners from the spectators lining the roads) and lightened themselves up near a distant wall. I did the same though climbing the fence was tough. It was now 7.50 am. Everyone’s eyes rolled upward toward the three helicopters above us. CBS was covering us live for 4 hours, someone murmured. I don’t recall being nervous at all. I was in fact really looking forward to the start and feeling good. The legs felt fresh and the memory of the last really long run (23 miler three weeks ago) had almost completely faded. I was determined to start slow and then settle into a rhythm. Half lost in these thoughts, I realized that it was past 8 and the faster runners had already crossed the mats on the start line. Soon enough, it was our turn to roll. I think we must have crossed the start line mats at 8.05am. Rajeev, Anu, Manish, Sankhya and I were together. Very early on we had lost Lily, who obviously thought that we were going too slow J

The first mile was over in a jiffy. We did it in 10:31, including the 1 minute walk break (we were doing the 10/1 walk break). I learned that Rajeev was helping Anu to finish in under 5 hours. He was carrying a cell phone in his fuel belt which I used a couple of times to sync up with Grishu. In my next run, I am definitely carrying a cell phone myself… By mile 2, Rajeev wanted to take a leak. He caught up with us in another half a mile. One more mile, and now Anu and I wanted to take leaks. Then, Rajeev, showing very quick thinking, shoved us to the side as soon as one of our walk breaks started and asked us to take the leak right there, just behind some spectators on the side of the bridge. Manish and Sankhya waited. We realized that this is it. Its no point being shy, and we did the needful. I think it was only a minute and a half before we were done and could resume the run. I was feeling light and very good after that. All the runners were all still very close together and we were running a bit slower than the rest of them on the left side of the road. I was feeling social and chatted with a few fellow runners. Two of them said they had target times of 4:30 and I was feeling pretty good that they are still together with us (or vice-versa). The spectators were awesome and continued to make our run feel easy and fun. When I saw the marker for mile 10, I overheard someone saying to his friend “this is great. The miles are passing by in a hurry”. I could not agree more with him. I was feeling wonderful so far. Manish and I were now running together and a bit faster so we had lost Rajeev, Anu and Sankhya by now. Pretty soon, we caught up with KJ and Vignesh. They were going pretty easy and looked calm and like they had things under control. In the next 3-4 miles we would often pass them because they were not taking walk breaks, while we were. But otherwise, our pace was the same.

It was mile 13 and Manish wanted to do some stretching. We did that starting on one of our walk breaks and just took a longer break to do the stretches. After the stretches, we were both feeling better, though we were probably too fast by about 20s/mile in the first half. We finished the first half (13.1 miles) in about 2:20. The next 3 miles went smoothly too. The race so far had been close to perfect. Our GU and water intake was almost ideal. Our pace was comfortable but good. In fact, I remarked at mile 17 that if we were to be able to keep this pace, we can finish in 4:30. We could still see some people in the 4:15 pace group (supposedly) around us. The only caveat to our feel-good was that both of us could sense some fatigue at this time. In fact, Manish stressed on another stretching mini-session sometime around mile 18, which we did along with taking the normal walk-break. He felt better after that, but we both knew that things are going to get astronomically more difficult now. The next two miles however we still kept going at the same pace in between 10:20 and 10:50. Manish remarked that we can now for sure finish in under 5 hours (even if we walk). Some portion of my mind was toying with the idea of 4:30, and “4:40 at the worst”. Mile 20 was now past us and fatigue had definitely set in, in both the body and the mind. Manish wanted to slow down and take more walk breaks. A part of me wanted to speed up and sprint the next few miles. Sometime in the 21st mile, I therefore bade goodbye to Manish and thought of speeding up a bit. The reality was however not that kind. Fatigue was now firmly entrenched. I increased my intake of fluids and Gatorade. It was now time for me to resort to “dirty tricks” (as Galloway calls them) to keep pressing on and cover more distance under my feet. I started observing the upcoming landmarks and just focused on first reaching the landmark right next to me. The landmark could be anything: a huge banner, a turn, an exit in the freeway running to our left, anything distinguishable from a distance. It was Mile#22 and the mind was now being persistent in its efforts to slow me down and take more or longer walk breaks. I was starting to feel bad now and both of my legs were aching on the back side. While I never thought of quitting, I do admit to have thought that “This is no fun. This will be my last marathon.” I also saw people around me. About 3 in 4 people were considerably slow. Some were walking. There was the odd runner running unusually fast. Clearly, such runners knew the art. Then there were others still in groups and enjoying the run as it were mile#2. Well, I was not and was indeed hoping for it to end. When mile#23 ended, I thought of my 23 miler and was comforted by the fact that I was feeling better than my 23 mile long run that had gone horribly wrong in the last 3-4 miles. In fact the experience of the 23 miler three weeks ago did me in good stead. The last 4 miles there were really tough and I was determined to put on a better showing here in these last miles. My mind wanted me to stop and take more frequent walk breaks. I was however determined to keep pressing further. I met up with Pramod at this time who said he was injured and was going to walk the remaining portion (it was the 25th mile). I took leave of him and thought that at least I have no injury so far. I had felt a twitch above my left knee but that was gone. However, I was still very fatigued. I looked up and saw the 40K marker in the distance. That perked me up temporarily as I got determined to go strong until that. I also thought that that would the 25 mile marker too, and so started my walk break at that time. However, that was about 200m further and I realized my mistake too late. The 25th mile did finally end and it was the longest mile for me in the run. It was also the toughest. With just one mile to go, a streak of thought crossed my mind to completely ignore everything and just speed up. After all, there was hardly a mile left. I tried that, but soon had to scale back as another part of my mind said that it is as much as a mile, and I can speed up later. So, I just continued at the same pace. There was a small hill at around mile 25.7 that was obviously tough, but now the finish line was palpably closer. I was feeling a bit light-headed at this time but was looking for the 26 mile marker and the finish line. As I looked up, I saw a mass of spectators lined up for the last half a mile or so. There was a sharp right turn after which I saw the mile marker displaying “26” on the next (left) turn. I smiled to myself and as I took the left turn, I could also see the finish line. There was a very strong crowd in this stretch, but all hell had to break loose at this time. I put my head down, got more determined and speeded up to finish strong. I pressed the stop button on my stopwatch, and it showed 4:46:15 In hindsight, I could have started this burst a bit earlier. May be.

As soon as I finished, I started walking around. I was not feeling great or happy. I was glad it was over. There must have been pain written all over my face when I saw Srini, Sachin and Pavan. Sachin was smiling broadly. I took a cookie out of Pavan’s plastic bag and ate it. My problem was that I was feeling light-headed and just wanted to collapse right there. I just wanted to sit down with my legs outstretched. The feeling of light-headedness was contributing to the feeling of desperation of wanting to sit down or better lie down. However, we had been coached to keep walking for the first few minutes after the end of the run. And so we did. I collected the medal, my food bag and learnt that they were out of ice. There were long lines at the people taking official photos for “”. I was still not feeling good and did not have any patience to stop and wait in line. I was still feeling a bit hungry and quite a bit light-headed. Later I realized that the reason for this must have been my poor posture in the last few miles. It is still my guess but you see, when things started getting tougher around mile 20-21, I was no more looking up at the runners ahead of us or the crowds around us. In a bid to focus the mind and somehow feel more resolved and determined, I was mostly looking down may be 2-3 feet ahead of me. In hindsight, that was bad. In fact this was a bad habit of mine in the practice runs and I knew that I need to correct it but just could not during the training program. However, I never knew that it could even cause this light-headedness.

Anyhow, I was now regaining control of myself and started walking towards the Asha Tent in the charity village. I was a bit cross with Grishu that I never saw her during the run. After all, the day earlier we had meticulously planned out all the points where she was supposed to come and look for me. What happened to her, I wondered? Meanwhile, as I entered the Asha tent, I saw Rajeev Char, Madhav, Lily, Sachin, Pavan, Prasad and others who had already finished. Of all of them, I must say that Lily was sporting the broadest smile – and why not, she had turned in a stellar performance, finishing in about 4:25. Meanwhile, Grishu arrived at the tent, and before I could vent my anger at her; she started getting angry at me and explained to me how much she had to walk from one point to another and still could never see me. Whoa! “You are angry at me. I should be angry at you for not showing up anywhere?” After talking for a bit, we resolved the issue J The approximate times that I had indicated to her the previous day assumed that I would start only at 8:15am. I was assuming that the mass of runners meant that by the time I reach the start line, it would be at least 15 minutes after the first runner started. However, I had crossed the start line at 8.05am. Hence, it turned out that she walked to every agreed-upon point but reached about 10 minutes later than when I crossed that point. And meanwhile, she had to walk a lot because of the blockades done by the cops to manage the traffic. She must have ended up walking about 7-8 miles! Ahh, a lesson learned for both of us.

We were both in a hurry to go back to the hotel (remember, we were to catch the flight to India the same evening). So, we took a couple of pictures and left for the bus. By this time, I was feeling pretty calm and the dizziness had surely gone. My initial thoughts that I could have done much better than 4:46 were also slowly going away, as I made the mental calculation that I could have barely shaved 5-6 minutes if I had tried extra hard in the last 7-8 miles. What’s the difference between 4:40 and 4:46? Nothing. What’s the difference between injury-full and injury-free run? Lots. So, in the end I am quite happy with my timing.

Having now had the time to think over the run, I am now all gung-ho about my next one. I don’t know when I will do that. In the three weeks after the run, I have run just once – and only 2 miles. However, I hope that this will not be my last marathon. I have learnt too many things from this marathon to not use them for my next one. In that spirit, I will end with the key learnings from this run as well:

  • Reverse the splits. Here are my average speeds for 5-mile intervals. I wish I could reverse them...
    • 10:47 (miles 1-5)
    • 10:29 (miles 6-10)
    • 10:50 (miles 11-15)
    • 11:09 (miles 16-20)
    • 11:26 (miles 21-25)
  • Absolutely must run with a buddy in the last few miles.
  • Need to correct my running posture. Must look straight up and not down.
  • Read up on jokes and replay to yourself (or better still, your running buddy).

So, here I say good bye to my marathon training program. I'll be back, with a target of 4:30 under equivalent conditions. Thanks to all of you who cared about me in various ways throughout this journey. And a special thanks to that special person: my wife, Grishu.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wanted to write about the experience today in more detail, but leaving for india in an hour... Have fun everyone... See you in Nov.


Mobile Email from a Cingular Wireless Customer

It was a blast and it's over!

What awesome fun! The whole city of Chicago seemed to have come to the streets to cheer the 40,000 runners. I ran with Manish, Rajeev Patel, Anu, and Sankhya till mile 6, and with Manish till about mile 20.5. After that I was alone for the toughest 6 miles of my life. But I did it, and as the stats show, at not too bad a time.... Overall, I did 4:46:15 (unofficial time). Not too bad at all, and I think even though I was not happy with it immediately after the marathon ended (the second half for me was 6 minutes slower than the first), I am very satisfied with it right now. Despite the tough last few miles, I did fairly well in not slowing down too much I thought. But speed aside, a very very good run to be a part of. More later...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Good luck

Hi! learning how to blog from treo.
Big day tomorrow. go asha go!!! good luck to one and all :-)


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In hotel Holiday Inn at Hillside

In hotel now. Picked up the race packet (bib# 12823) yesterday at the expo. Energy is unbelievable at the expo and the hotel (where almost all the Asha runners are staying).


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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Last track workout before the marathon!

The 4x400 seemed easy today. However, not that much either, in fact I was actually wondering at one point as to how the heck did I ever do as much as 5x1 mile at some point in the training program...

The timings of the four repeats seem to be so meaningless now. But here they are just so: 1:28, 1:35, 1:35, 2:25. Tony wanted us to do the last lap at our marathon pace, without looking at the watch so that we get idea of the pace. 2:25 means a 9 minute mile which is much faster than my target marathon pace (10:40-11min/mile). But that is what three relatively hard laps do to your body and mind. You just can't slow down :-)

And so, Tuesday track workouts, I bid goodbye to you. You have given me special memories that I will cherish for long.

The talk by Dr. Clyde Wilson from SMI on nutrition followed the workout. It was well attended and well given, I thought. Thanks to Asha operations team for arranging this talk.
Countdown: 4:7:20:26 (days:hrs:mins:secs) before the marathon!
I can feel a bit of nervous energy starting to creep up on me...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Blogging by cell phone

In preparation for blogging on the go in Chicago, I am trying Google's blog-on-the-go service. This is the first post using my Treo!

Send-off party, what a blast!

Thanks a ton to Anu, Rajeev Char, Tony and Deepak (Rajeev Patel, where are you?) for the great send-off party to all the Chicago/SF/SV marathon runners. The turnout was impressive. Too bad Grishu and I had to leave early for a lunch. But we had fun for the two hours or so we were there, and seeing some of the pictures later, it seemed like we missed a lot more afterwards. Some of the posters were simply hilarious. Don't miss the following in Hindi! [To see the script, go to View -> Character Encoding -> Unicode (UTF-8) in your browser.]
ये पैर मुझे दे दे ठाकुर !

I love this group...