Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another barrier falls!!

Who says marathon is all about running. It’s all bloody mind games buddy, there is no physical activity involved in it, at least after 30 kms, But that is for everybody, for me it is the 22 to 30 kms that plays havoc with my brain. Post 30 kms i get stronger and more determined like a demon, well not exactly like Ravana but more like Ram possessed!!

Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2013 was my fourth full marathon and the 2013 edition was the 9th year in succession that i was participating in. A journey which started in 2004 with a bludgeoning, bedraggled 3.45 hours in the first ever half marathon with barely any practise and not having any concept of what a distance of 21 kms entails. Well 21 kms was daunting those days.

2012 was a relatively quiet year for me in terms of the number of events that i took part in, Auroville was more fun and adventure, while Ladakh was challenging in brutally tough conditions. A couple of smaller distances like 5K, 10K took place in between and there was a training run of 42 kms while Mumtaz Qureshi was attempting his first 100 kilometers and the first Ultra distance of 50 kms along with the Navi Mumbai runners but that was again spaced out throughout the day and not a continuous effort. But Vasai Virar Marathon was the game changer during the year. Last minute entry with barely any preparation for a full marathon to speak about, i still managed to carve out a huge 27 minutes slice off my previous best from SCMM 2012 to return in 5.07 hours when the conditions on the return leg of the marathon was brutal with sun beating down hard and massive traffic snarls along the route. It was a tough marathon to conquer.

Training for the SCMM 2013 was going as per schedule with the last long run of 31.74 kms on the last Sunday of December followed by a fast 21 kms on the first Sunday of the new year and a PB fast 10 kms on the second Saturday followed by a ferocious 5km on the Tuesday of the week before the marathon. All i had to do was another fast 4kms or so on Thursday but a debilitating back ache on Tuesday morning almost put paid my hopes of even starting the marathon. This had happened earlier also during the week before the Bangalore Ultra 2010 and i had recovered by Sunday morning, but there i had almost collapsed after doing 25 kms of the scheduled 37.5 kms. So there was apprehension in the mind and therefore i consulted a couple of my friends urgently soliciting their advice. Reema Agarwal and Raj Vadgama were the saviours as they immediately texted a few stretches to be done which i immediately set upon doing for the remaining days. But not much relief upto Thursday morning had me worried. The back was getting better but there were doubts in the mind as to whether i could survive the entire 42 kms without it giving away. Friday and Saturday were supposed to be complete rest days but i was out on my feet both days and standing for a couple of hours and more. The back was straining all the time. So the hydrating and carbo loading plan also went out of the window. But meeting friends especially upcountry runners on both days was a cathartic relief from the anxiety so i decided to start the marathon and see how the back holds as the kilometres unfolds before me.

So there we were, i.e. Bhasker, Raj, Aishorjyo and myself in the cab from Goregaon to Azad maidan, to meet and greet a few more thousands of like minded insane persons daring to run 42 kms in an unusually cold Sunday morning. The atmosphere at Azad Maidan was electric as usual with runners nervous with anticipation. All set we trotted to the holding area meeting more runners on the way and waiting impatiently for the gates to open. When the gates opened and we started proceeding towards the starting mat, Amar Sundar met me and we started discussing the music concerts in India. Imagine on a marathon morning with a few seconds to go for the start, we were talking about GunsNRoses, Deep Purple and all that rock bands.

It was 5.42 when i crossed the start mat and gingerly proceeded towards Flora Fountain. While it was cold before the start it took only a few kilometres for the body to get warmed up and i started feeling the sweat around my neck. On the way to NCPA i saw the 4.30 hour bus and thought of sticking with them but a few minutes later impatiently left the bus because i thought their pace was too slow. I wanted to put maximum miles in the bank before my back gave away or cramps started affecting me which was on the back of my brain based on previous year’s experience. On the marine drive i again chatted with a few runners while observing that only a couple of music bands were up and playing. There was one music band which was just setting up and to them i hollered “c’mon start the music”. Overall i thought the crowd mobilisation in the early hours and at the start was very poor compared to what we observed during the Vasai Virar Marathon which of course started late at 7.00 a.m. Probably the bitter cold was making marathon friendly Mumbaikars sleep a wee bit longer. The return leg of the Mumbai Marathon was reverberating with the multitude of Mumbaikars out in large numbers, wildly cheering, applauding, shouting, giving various things in neat order. People were out not only in tony Pedder road but also beside the slums of Worli and the bylanes of Mahim. It was a magnificent display of affection that Mumbaikars have for the marathoners in their maximum city.

Kemps Corner flyover and Pedder road incline was the first test for my back but thankfully it held together so i started ripping through to Haji ali but slowed down towards Worli by which time the half marathoners started appearing on the opposite side of the road. This year as compared to last year i decided to focus only on the road and not to look out for my friends mainly because most of my friends had graduated to the full marathon and also to conserve my energy. Reaching the Worli sea link, i went into a zone with pure adrenaline coasting me through. Srivatsan crossed me at the beginning of sea link and gently inquired whether i was on schedule to which i replied that i was ahead of schedule because the 4.30 hour bus was still behind me.

A couple of toilet breaks at the Sea Link behind the hoardings looking out into the Arabian Sea gave the much needed relief to the bladder because i knew there was no toilet until Worli sea face on the return leg. The sun was rising on my right under a mask of mist with the high rises on the background and the lolling fishing boats in the foreground. It was surreal Mumbai which we don’t see often. But running on the Sea Link is also boring because there was no crowd to cheer us and the photographers looked completely bored and were interested more in taking photographs of the sun rather than of us. There was one photographer who had lined up his tripod and to which i had beautifully balanced in the centre hoping to get clicked when at the last moment, he swerved the tripod in the opposite direction to catch a departing runner. Damn!!

20 kms done in 2.00 hours compared to 21 done in 1.59.32 at Vasai Virar marathon. At the Mahim Causeway i met Dr. Sharma whom i had met exactly at the same spot last year also when he had quit the race but this day he was looking strong. My weak zone begins from 21 kms onwards, but the back was holding good so i decided to take it kilometre by kilometre from there onwards. Upto 26 kms i did not realise that i was carrying three sachets of G.U. gel in my pocket and therefore immediately gulped one sachet. Last year the elite marathoners streamed past me by 25 kilometres and this day i had gone past 28 kilometres before they arrived and were gone in a few seconds. I could catch only a few names Kiprop, Kemboi, Ramaala, Tota and the women winner arrived in an absolutely fast pace followed by the others. In between Binning arrived with his Indian contingent. Their drinks station was separately arranged with their water bottles numbered containing their favourite drinks but unfortunately one volunteer fell badly while delivering the bottle to the elite runner. Fortunately the elite runner was not in the lead pack, otherwise it would have been Breaking News of the Day.

On the return leg of the Worli Sea Face i espied the 5.00 hour bus and was completely determined to not allow them to overtake me. From there it was a tough run with the back giving jolts of pain once in a while but i took only a few seconds’ break each time and started again on my journey. On reaching Haji Ali i saw Anand who should have finished the race by then, but he had pain in his right leg. He urged me not to stop and carry on to beat the 5 hour mark which gave me a much needed impetus to give it a mighty push to the finish!!

Pedder Road was conquered in a better shape than last year and so was the rest of the route. Another gel at 32 kms and at 35 kms the cramps started slowly on my right and left calf muscles. But a quick check on my garmin showed that if i did not take much walking breaks i was in with a chance to break the 5 hour barrier. So despite the cramps getting stronger and the calves pulsating more often, I started getting stronger and determined. By the time i turned into M.K. Road the cramps were badly taking a toll. At 41 kms i still had 11 minutes to reach the finish line so i said to myself, damn, come what may, i am going to succeed. At 500 metres to go banner, the right leg was twisting inside even as the left calf muscle was twitching in pain. Fortunately the back was okay and so was the upper body with no pain in the shoulders and arms. At 300 metres i again checked the watch and was sure to reach before 5 hours and in fact predicted would reach by 4.58 and it was 4.58.39 hours when i crossed the finish mat to be hugged by my oldest runner dear friend Veera. It was such a joy to see him at the finish line. So i completed my first sub- 5 hour marathon in another Personal Best time. Year on year i had carved out 36 minutes which co-incidently was the same margin last year as well.   

Few observations – the cramping is getting delayed every year and hopefully in a few years’ time i should not cramp until the 45th kms mark. So there ends another edition of Mumbai marathon and every year i think this will be my last full marathon, but you bet i shall be back next year as well!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Running on Empty

Just finished reading Marshall Ulrich's book "Running on Empty" - his story of love, loss and a record setting run across America. This guy is a true ultra marathoner nut in the sense that he has incredible feats under his belt like finishing Badwater Marathon 18 times, winning it four times, and then doing the Badwater route solo i.e. without any team, but only with all his supplies in a cart that weighed 200 pounds, Badwater Quad which is like utter crazy - doing badwater four times back to back. Who can attempt such crazy ultra running feats. His ultra running or rather his running started with the loss of his first wife to cancer when he used to run to escape the depression and thereafter running became a lifelong passion. He has also some mountaineering feats up his sleeve like summiting the tallest summit in each continent and also ascending the Mount Everest.

So it was to be a culmination of his running career by running across America, starting from San francisco to New York a total distance of 3063 miles in 46 days at the age of 57. The previous person to have covered America thus was a 27 year old Frank Gianino about 28 years ago. It involved Marshall running 2 marathons plus 10K every day across terrain and weather that varied from state to state from heat to cold, snow, rains and all. It led to a process of discovery within himself and brought his family close together. The daily travails of running coupled with diet, nutrition, injury, illness, exhaustion, plus the logistics of daily runs are not given in much detail but the reader can very comprehend what it must have taken for the crew to get this runner across America. At the beginning Charlie Engle who ran across the Sahara desert accompanied Marshall during his run but somewhere approximately half way through a fight broke out between the two and Charlie quit and then came to crew and there were recriminations with the original crew which included Marshall's wife. So it is a kind of an eye-opener as to what really transpires in all these multi day ultra marathons. Read it to see whether he manages to break the record of Frank Gianino. Nice read for running fans. There was a movie made out of it “Running America” but could only find a trailer on youtube for it. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Ran the last event of 2012 the MUSTRun 10K in December which was organised by the Bandra H West Federation. They had quite a few sponsors but the inside knowledge was that big sponsors were shying away from the event, probably due to economic recession. Anyway, the event is being held for the 2nd year and this year they added a half marathon to the 10K which started last year. The route was to pass through the western suburbs of Mumbai, starting from Bandra and going all the way to Santacruz before winding back to Bandra. The start and finish points were at different locations.

The added significance for me was that i had somehow coaxed my daughter Nikita to take part in the 10K race and she had agreed to come for the event. The race was to start at 6.10 a.m. but when we reached the venue we were informed that the start has been delayed by 30 minutes due to late arrival of the volunteers.

That was fine because much shouting, encouraging, back slapping followed with most of the Mumbai runners descending on the venue. The 5Kers started first and then we set off. The race started at Bandra Hill road, went to S.V. Road all the way to Khira Nagar in Santacruz went back to the Link Road all the way back to Bandra via Carter Road Promenade.

Since it was her first race, we started slowly and got into a run-walk-run mode early on itself and kept at it all along the route, walking for exactly 30 seconds and taking off again. i was not sure if Nikita would complete the entire 10K, but she started showing strength and determination to go the distance so i kept on encouraging her all the way. By around 6K i knew that she needed pushing and would definitely make it to the finish line. We kept at it but by 9K or so, she started showing signs of immense fatigue and was repeatedly asking me “how much more to go”. Finally we reached the finish line together in 1.21 hours but there was chaos as usual at the finish line. Later on we came to know that the distance was more by 1.6 kms so we had run 11.6 kms instead of 10 kms. Her 10K timing was 1.15 hours approximately.

The organisation of the race was chaotic with the distances mismatch for both the 10K and 21k categories. But it was a satisfying day for me and Nikita, although she was quite nonchalant about the whole thing and was probably wondering what the fuss was all about!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Vasai Virar Marathon - a tough one to conquer

Vasai Virar Marathon – a tough one to conquer

It was a late decision to run the Vasai Virar Marathon on October 14th. There were a few other commitments coming my way and by the time those commitments were cleared and i was free to run the Vasai Virar marathon, i guess the entries were closed. But thanks to Anand and Bruno Goveas who is the main organiser of the race, i got a late entry.

There were no butterflies in the stomach at the prospect of running a 42 kms race because i was intending to take this as a practise long run for the marquee event in January i.e. the Mumbai Marathon.

So bibs received the previous day we went by Raj’s car to the Viva College in Virar which was the starting point for the race. Alongside me were legends of running like Bhasker Desai and Raj Vadgama and young upcoming marathon runner Sandesh Shukla. Sitaram Meena another young and refreshing marathon runner was in another car.

Mani had arranged with his friend for a room near the starting point which was a blessing in disguise for us because we could refresh ourselves before starting off for the race as well as relax afterwards. The starting point arena was agog with activity befitting a city marathon with pandals, police barricades, scores of volunteers, announcements galore.

The race was to be flagged off at 7.00 a.m. but almost got off three minutes before itself in the enthusiastic melee surrounding the event. Ultimately it got flagged off at the right time and off were at 7.00 a.m. along the roads of Virar.

The first five kms wound through a village and it was amazing to see the number of people out on the streets cheering and rooting for us with all their might. People of all walks of life and all ages and many school children were cheering, rooting, shouting, exhorting the runners amidst a cacophony of live music, drum beats, bugles et al. The adrenaline rush was tremendous and never before in all the races have i encountered such a cheering enthusiastic crowd. The non-stop cheering just lifted our tempo and myself along with Sandesh were going at a fine clip of 6 minutes per kilometre with nary a struggle or effort. There were plenty of water stations along the road and the two flyovers were encountered on the way up was dismissed with the contempt that regular hill runners give to such flyovers.

Sandesh had set a target of 2.15 for the first half but we were well within that time limit passing through 21 kms in 1.59.32 seconds, a personal best for me and a first time that i had run that distance in under 2 hours. So one achievement already under the belt.

From 22 kms onwards the pace started dropping for me but Sandesh was going strong so i advised him to carry on nevertheless. A combination of heat and traffic started affecting the runners later on exacerbated by lack of water and medical aid in the latter part of the race. There was only sporadic cheering from now on, but whatever cheering brigade was there they were very enthusiastic and rooting for even one runner. It was very enervating to the tired legs. The traffic started getting denser and the heat was affecting the runners more at this juncture. I had one gu-gel with me which i thought i will take only at 37 kms when i need it the most. There was one gentleman who was providing glucon-d powder and it was like a manna from heaven. I got one small packet of parle-g biscuits at around 24 kms which gave me tremendous strength to push through another 3 to 4 kms comfortably. I was looking for a banana vendor along the way but looks like Vasai Virar is not a banana country because i could not espie even one such vendor along the route. But the people on the street were very friendly and encouraging and clapping for the runners along the way.

At around 35 kms i got talking with a young guy all of 16 who had run the 7 kms race and had come 22nd in the event. He was pretty enthusiastic about long distance running but i advised him not to overdo the stuff. The toughest part was between 23 to 30 kms but after crossing that milestone i was pretty damned sure that i am gonna finish and from the time on my watch, with a decent personal best. After 37 kms we again enter the village belt but this time the sun was beating down mercilessly though the traffic was negligible along this route. The only worry was water getting over but thankfully there  were many good Samaritans along the way providing water at exactly the right stage. Mulraj Gala came at around 38 kms and gave some cold water which was a great relief. Finally the end was in sight and ran down to the finish in a personal best time of 5.07.00 hours.

I would say it was a gruelling tough marathon due to a late start and not sufficient water on the return leg. More volunteers on the return leg and especially when the runners were finishing would have been great but i guess the organisers would improve upon it next year. Their heart was in the right place though and the sincerity was evident along the route. This is one marathon which i feel is going to grow by leaps and bounds in the future. .  .

So that concludes my racing calendar for the year having run 4 events only during the year, three of which were first timers.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ultra Marathon Man

Just finished reading "Ultra Marathon Man - Confessions of an All-Night Runner" by Dean Karnazes - an absorbing and overwhelming story of his early athletic prowess, loss of his sister to accident, his subsequent forays away from running for 15 years and rediscovery of running to running ultra marathons to running crazy distances and impossible feats like running the south pole marathon, running 199 miles non stop etc. His heroic attempt at running the Western States 100 miler and succeeding first time and the Badwater Marathon and failing first time have been very poignantly told. A very nice inspirational story with dollops of quotable quotes for keeping in one's mirror or desktop. The paperback edition has given details of his training plan, nutrition, strategy etc. at the end so that helps in people who are planning to run short distances like the marathon instead of crazy distances like ultra marathon and beyond. A must read for all running addicts. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mumtaz Qureshi conquers the distance - 100 kms

Mumtaz Qureshi and Apurba Dass two runners from Mumbai completed an arduous feat of running 100 kilometres across Mumbai and parts of Thane on Sunday, 8th April 2012.

Starting off on Saturday at 11.00 p.m. from the Bisleri junction at Andheri east on the western express highway, the duo started with Kavin, Atul Tuli for company alongwith Mahesh Gune on the bicycle. Mayank and Aishorjyo were on a car which was carrying supplies like water, Gatorade, bananas, oranges, wafers, boiled eggs, chikkoos along with ice. They ran the whole night upto NCPA in South Mumbai where they were joined by Anand. There was a brief half at NCPA for recouping supplies of water, refreshments etc. and then they started running back along the same route back to Sidhivinayak Mandir. At the Mandir, Mumtaz got the divine presence of his coach Giles Drego who joined him at Prabhadevi along with Mehamood Anwar. From the Mandir, they took a right turn to go past Plaza cinema, Tilak Bridge and Dadar T.T.

At Dadar T.T. which they reached in the early morning on Sunday, they were joined by Mani Iyer, P.V. Subramanyam, Jitendra and Kartik Suresh and here the second car with Mohan Kumar gave company. The second car was also similarly stocked with supplies. By this time the team were running at least 90 minutes late as per the scheduled chart and route map which was carefully planned and made into a nice little booklet by Vikas.

Running down the Eastern Express highway now, they went past Sion and Chembur where they were joined at Chembur by Kshitij Sharma, Sunil Gwalani, Haridasan Nair and a couple of their friends. Giles Drego was running barefoot on that day and being his coach, was constantly encouraging him and guiding Mumtaz. Apurba of course was an old hand at running 100 kms and this was to be his 4th 100 kms run.

I joined at Chedda Nagar, Chembur at around 6.30 a.m. when the weather was still okay and the sun was not out yet. By then the duo had already completed 50 kms and looking fresh as ever. Mani’s mother had got up at 3.00 a.m. on a Sunday morning to prepare a big tinful of delicious idlis with chutnies. This was savoured by the runners at this junction. There were also vadas, wafers, boiled eggs to carbo load for the runners.

Mani had arranged with few of his office friends to come at specified venues at specified timings with fresh supplies of lime juice, water, dates, Gatorade etc., and the first of his friends Pandarinath Savanur and Satyadev Singh came at Kanjur marg junction with fresh & cool lime juice.

The sun was out by then and early morning highway was replete with Sunday cyclists who were puzzled to see a bunch of runners determinedly running – one of them enquired what this was all about and when told that a 100 kms run was on, he said he would have joined the run for 20 kms but not for 100 kms. Mumtaz was looking good at this stage while Apurba was going strong with a good pace.

The lead vehicles were stopping at every 2 kms to give the runners refreshment which was required at this stage because of the heat and humidity. Mayank who was driving the car all night long expressed and got his wish fulfilled of cycling a while on Mahesh Gune’s cycle which refreshed him a lot from the all night stress. It was a good team work going all around.
When we entered Thane, Dinesh Langauni had come with a photographer from Thane Plus to click some pictures and he enquired whether we needed anything specific in terms of supplies and quickly went round and bought a block of ice. The pace had dropped by then because of longish stretches of road with very little tree cover or shade whatsoever along the highway.

When we entered the dreaded Ghodbunder road it was choc-a-bloc with traffic and the space for running was very less what with lots of construction activity going on in the beginning portion of the GB road. By then Varun Joshi had joined us on his bicycle after doing an arduous 60 kms the previous day at Kharghar. Swami joined somewhere along the GB road with Venkat Krishnan for company and he had fresh supplies in his car. So now we had three cars going along and Swami decided to keep the cars at 1 kms distance each because the conditions for running at GB were very tough to impossible. But impossible is not a word which runners understand so there they were running along at slowish pace but the breaks at each water station were getting shorter. There were again few gentle enquiries from people and stares from few others because it was past mid-day and people were probably wondering what we were upto.

Sridhar B came on GB road with lime juice water, dates and brought his mother along for blessings, which was very kind of him. GB road took its toll on the runners because coupled with the hot noonday sun, there was no tree cover anywhere along the road and the road was brutally climbing at few places and to top it all, macadam work was being carried out on one section of the road which was emitting hot fumes from the tar being burnt.

When the runners finally hit the Western Express highway there was relief all round but it was another 16 kms to go for the finish line. W.E. highway again teeming with traffic on a Sunday afternoon but the going was okay at this stage. There was a determination to complete the distance against all odds which prompted both Mumtaz & Apurba to keep going on their feet by taking short breaks.

Pramod Pai appeared somewhere along the Mira Road with fresh supplies of water and most importantly beer cans which was for savouring after the run. So now we had four cars along with the runners. Another of Mani’s friend Nitin More and his brother came at BNP gate with orange Gatorade. There was only 7 kms to go for the finish line and the urgency of the runners were apparent in the determined looks on their faces.

Finally at 4.30 p.m. Mumtaz Qureshi and Apurba Dass reached Aarey check naka at distance of 100 kms from the starting point at Andheri, a staggering 17 ½ hours on their feet. It was a feat of endurance of unparalleled proportions in the deadly heat of April in Mumbai. Both the guys had showed that they were made of steel and the grit, composure and determination showed by both the runners was worth emulating.

The support for this run was magnificient right from the planning stage to vehicles, supplies, co-runners, friends, well wishers etc. coming out to support them. It was a daring plan to run across Mumbai and parts of Thane, so the logistics were to be meticulous, which it was. Exemplary efforts by the entire team of support runners for this event.