Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Marathon Man Feat of Endurance

7.09 p.m. 25th September 2011 will forever be etched in the memory of Rajesh Vadgama a.k.a Raj, because that is the precise moment when he crossed 100 kms at Marine Drive, Mumbai. His friends and supporters running alongside him and waiting for him at NCPA erupted in a thunderous applause reserved for the high and mighty sportsmen – people who have won the world or Olympics titles or achieved monumental feats of endurance. There was no sign of exultation from him, just a casual walk down to the end of NCPA inwardly soaking in the pleasure and joy of having completed a mammoth 100 kilometres in 15 hours.

The last lap of 5.1 kilometres was a joyful one as all his supporters had decided to run alongside him on that last lap. The lap started casually as were the previous ones, but since it was late evening, the Marine Drive promenade was packed to the rafters with families and children and elderly people all coming down for a casual stroll down the Marine Drive. Since he had to run in a straight line in order not to cramp badly, we had Sameer, Roshni, Ganesh, Milton and others shouting and waving to people to step aside for a few seconds for the running cavalcade to pass through. It was a majestic and magnificent feeling to be running alongside him that last lap as it was in the previous laps. Since he had to run 5 kms in the last lap, it was decided to run upto 2.5 kms and make the return leg to NCPA the home stretch to glory. Taking few walking breaks in between as advised by Dr. Ashish Contractor of the Asian Heart Institute, the final stretch of running started somewhere after the Jazz by the Bay restaurant. With barely 500 metres to go, Raj upped the pace to about 6.5 minutes per kilometer making all of us running behind him to suddenly scramble up for pace amazed at the man’s endurance, mental strength and determination. It was a moment of pure joy and triumph for him and all of his supporters. Triumph of mind over matter, man over the elements of scorching heat, humidity, tiredness, pain and sheer distance. A distance that will daunt an ordinary human being, running 100 kilometres in the sultry climate of Mumbai is no mean feat. Originally it was planned to do the distance in 12 hours, but as the day wore on and the sun beat down mercilessly, it was evident that running 100 kilometres in 12 hours would have been a daunting task in the humid climate of coastal Mumbai. But neither Raj nor any one of us had even an iota of doubt that the man will not finish the distance that he had set out to cover in the early hours of that Sunday.

The quest for glory started at 4.00 a.m. outside the Borivli National Park gate in Borivli east where about 10 runners had doggedly woken up at unearthly hours of 3.00 a.m. or thereabouts and travelled to Borivli to start the tryst with destiny alongside Raj. The run started precisely at 4.00 a.m. along the Western Express Highway and the plan was that runners could come in and join along the route. The route that was chosen for this event was the western express highway upto Bandra causeway and then via Cadell Road, Shivaji Park, Prabhadevi, Worli Sea Face, Haji Ali, Babulnath, Marine Drive upto NCPA and thereafter multiple of NCPA to Mafatlal Swimming Pool and back until the 100 kilometres were over.

So we had the indefatigable Bhasker Desai starting alongside Raj at BNP along with Hemant, Milan, Gayatri, Dr. Sharma, Unmesh, Nachiket, Sanjay Kasle and few other runners. Running at an earmarked pace of 7.30 minutes per kilometer, the group reached Goregaon check naka at 5.05 a.m. where they were joined by Sunil, Priyankar, Beena, Anjali, Atul Tuli and Milind Soman. The early morning motorists were probably bemused to see this crazy lunatic bunch of people getting up at unearthly hours on a Sunday morning to hit the roads running. It was decided not to take any of the flyovers, so running along the highway, the group ticked off one milestone after another along the highway, places we remember only as auto or cab destinations, such as Chakala, Airport, Vakola, Kalanagar etc. Alongside the runners there was a support vehicle laden with water, Gatorade and refreshments like bananas, chikkies, dates etc. Since it was a humid morning the runners were consuming water regularly. Ashok joined on the highway in order to take photographs along the route. His vehicle and the support vehicle was driving along in tandem with each other.

The first set of runners from Borivli were to get off at Mahim, a distance of 23 kilometres for a fresh set of legs to take over from there upto NCPA. It was decided that the fresh set of runners will wait at outside the St. Michael’s Church at Mahim at around 6.30 a.m. The running group was expected to reach Mahim around 6.40 a.m. and a 5 minute halt was scheduled here. The running group reached about 6.42 a.m. and instead of waiting immediately left via the Cadell Road. The runners waiting at St. Michael’s Church scrambled up to join him and the running group which took him to Mahim then left for their respective homes, satisfied with their morning accomplishments. However there were a few runners who continued running even beyond Mahim. There were more than 10 runners who joined from Mahim – Kavin, Zubin, Kaushik, Dhanraj, Apurva, Apurba, Ashwin Jain, Sripad, Suresh Negi, Qureshi, Amit & Neepa Sheth etc.

The wait which was scheduled for Mahim was taken at Shivaji Park. The ambulance from Asian Heart Institute also joined at Mahim. Also joining at Mahim were the duo of Varun Joshi on his bike and Mike behind him taking photographs along the way. Manish Rahul, Bijay Nair, Unnikrishnan Nair & Francis joined in at Sidhivinayak Mandir bringing in divine intervention of the Gods to bless the runners.

The support vehicle was stopping every 2 kms in order for the runners to refresh themselves. By the time the group had reached Haji Ali the sun was in and already streaming down though it was not very difficult at this stage.

The group reached NCPA at the expected time of 9.00 a.m. by which time 40 kms was done with. Few of the runners who came from Mahim exited at this stage while few such as Kaushik, Zubin continued their spree in marine drive also.

The idea was to do multiple loops of Marine Drive from NCPA to Mafatlal Swimming pool and back along the Marine Drive promenade which was a distance of 6 kilometres. However, it turned out to be more than 6 kilometres and slightly less than 7 kilometres.

Meanwhile, Puneet Chawla, Mani, Srinivas & Rohit had also arrived at NCPA with fresh supplies of water and refreshments, A water stall was placed at the Mafatlal Swimming Pool end with Ganesh and Shyam T as the initial set of volunteers. The water stall at under the marine drive flyover could not be set up immediately because we did not have enough volunteers. Luckily by the 3rd loop or so, Mrs. Raj and her family friends decided to set up the stall at beneath the flyover. Before the event, hectic preparations were on to procure the supplies and co-ordinate and here people like Puneet Chawla, Pramila Pai, Mani, Srinivas & Rohit Bansal were of immense help in arranging for ice-box, ice, water & refreshments.

Fresh set of legs were coming in at each loop with Sunder, Aishorjyo, Rohit, Srinivas joined in the loops as it was increasingly getting hotter and brutal as the sun kept climbing up. Milton, Giles, Varun, Venkat & Usha came in later loops as did Anand, Ashwini, Vikas and his friend. Manish Rahul & Kavin who completed the leg from Mahim to NCPA came in later for a second round of running along with Manish’s wife Ami. Khushro Patel came in at Mahim and also at NCPA during late evening in order to provide cheer and support to Raj. Ganesh, Chetan, Subra Shyam, Swami & Jitendra were doubling as runners as well as volunteers manning the counter at Mafatlal Swimming Pool. Abbasi did a couple of loops in the morning session and then came back to an evening session as well. He was of great help in procuring items from nearby places for Raj. Venkat brought in the weighing machine and immediately started weighing Raj and some other runners at the end of each loop to determine weight loss, if any. He also brought in a delightful sprayer which was used to spray cold water on their return to NCPA. Scientific, methodical and innovative approach to running.

If the afternoon session was proving to be brutal, Savio de Souza, the renowned marathoner and now came on the scene like a messiah and immediately took charge of Raj and helped him with proper stretching routines at every stop. Meanwhile Dr. Ashish Contractor of the Asian Heart Institute was at the site early itself and constantly taking care of Raj and exhorting him with the proper pace, right time to take a walk, encouragement etc. He was on a bicycle throughout the day as were a couple of other volunteers.

As the day wore on, and the loops kept getting completed one after another and the sun beating down relentlessly on the marine drive promenade which had no tree cover whatsoever, the determination of Raj never relented even for a second. There was never a thought that this was an impossible task. Raj never had a grimace on his face even for a second. In fact all throughout the run from BNP onwards there was a perpetual smile on his face as if he was relishing this challenge all through.

The volunteers at both ends i.e. NCPA and Mafatlal Swimming Pool were keeping track of the times and keeping the water bottles filled in with Gatorade, putting them inside the ice, peeling off the oranges, slicing the water melons etc. all to ensure that minimal time is lost in the turnaround at the loop ends.

As the evening wore on, the sun started setting down into the Arabian Sea, it was certain that he was going to miss the 12 hour deadline that was set for completion of this mammoth event. The crowds started swelling on the Marine Drive promenade for evening stroll It was around 6.30 p.m. when he embarked on his last loop of 5.1 kms, this time accompanied by all the runner friends. Since the crowd had by now risen to alarming proportions, and it was absolutely essential that he be given space to run and that too in a straight path, Sameer, Roshni, Ganesh, Milton and few others took it upon themselves to clear the path ahead, shouting and beseeching pedestrians to stay on the sides. The crowds thronging the Marine Drive were witness to a grand spectacle of a marathon man completing a feat which very few Indians have achieved so far.

What was heart-warming and endearing was the best efforts put in by everybody that day to make Raj’s 100 kms run possible. From the people who co-ordinated and helped with the logistics such as Puneet Chawla, Pramila Pai, Srinivas, Rohit, Mani to all the runners who ran alongside him, many of whom completed their longest ever mileages ever that day, to volunteers like Ganesh, Shyam, Jitu, Swami, Giles to front runners like Sameer, Roshni etc., coach Savio de Souza, Dr. Ashish Contractor, Venkat etc., everybody put their best feet forward to make this event a success – all this reflects on the love and affection that people in the running community of Mumbai have for Raj. There were a couple of runners who had completed their early morning mileages, yet were there during the evening hours to lend support for this event. Ashok and Ganesh were to leave after a three hour sojourn, yet they remained until the very last lending full support to the group. Even the few drivers who had come with the runners assisted in the group event.

Meanwhile another story was being played on the same day at the same route: that of Apurba Dass, the man whom we affectionately call as Marathon Monk. He started from Mahim with the group, but before that he had already run a few kilometers from his house to Mahim. He was going through the entire route from Mahim onwards alongside Raj, which was to somewhere around 90 kilometres. Somewhere during the day, he probably decided that he would also notch up 100 kilometres run that day by adding another 10 kilometres. Since he was planning to run the Navi Mumbai barefoot half marathon scheduled for 6th November 2011 he also decided to do a barefoot running on the hot pavement of Marine Drive which he did with no pain whatsoever. All though the day, Apurba kept the pace for which he is famous for and not showing any signs of tiredness whatsoever, he completed 100 kilometres a little before 8.00 p.m.

Monumental feat of endurance by two of our best running buddies in one day – Raj & Apurba.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kaveri Trail Marathon 2011 - Weather Benign

Well, Kaveri Trail Half Marathon bloodied me last year, since it was my first ever trail marathon and I cramped badly from 13 kms onwards and came home battled and bruised in 2.35 hours. That was last year, 2010. So I was determined to go back to the Kaveri trail and do a better performance than last year. It was not a revenge but this is what all marathoners do, I believe, when they don’t get a good performance in a particular track, they go back and try to do better.

With that intention in mind of doing better this year, I dutifully registered for the Kaveri trail marathon as soon as it opened. But before the registrations itself, we had done the group train bookings for more than 10 persons from Mumbai There is a great camaraderie in travelling together for marathons, as I have experienced since last year. We get to exchange notes with other runners during the journey and believe me all we runners talk about during the train and air journeys is nothing but running all the time. In Hyderabad, we had Kavin as our official host being a telugu spokesman for the group. In Bangalore and Mysore we were lucky to have Srivatsan and Vikas as our language hosts. More of that later.

In August, I had done the Hyderabad half marathon in a time of 2.27 hours in a beast of a course. Since I knew the Kaveri trail I was sort of mentally prepared as to what to expect this year from the trail. The trail remained the same, only the weather behaved better this year compared to last year. I wanted to do better than last year’s time of 2.35 hours, no other expectations of a personal best half marathon.

The train group dwindled to about five members being myself, Anand, Milton, Hari & Manoj. Srivatsan & Bhasker were flying separately. The 24 hour train journey took its toll on us despite having a third a/c accommodation. The train from Bangalore to Mysore however was a beautiful journey, only 2 hours, comfortable seating and quality food was served in the Shatabdi. Srivatsan joined us at Bangalore and immediately made us comfortable with his language skills in Kannada, talking and negotiating everywhere. At Bangalore station, we also met facebooker Panneer Selvam, he was doing a full marathon.

Since we were arriving into Mysore by mid-day on Saturday and the bib collection was at the Young Island resort that day itself, I had requested Ashwin to help us out somehow and he graciously agreed to keep our bibs at the resort on the race day itself. However, Vikas, a local Mysore boy was also travelling to Mysore from his work arrangements that day and he readily agreed to collect our bibs from the resort. He was also running a 10km at Kaveri, so that was indeed a great help as we were saved the tiring journey to the resort on the Saturday. It was a great help to have the bibs and chips on Saturday itself as we were able to pin the bibs on the tees and also fix the chips on our running shoes, saving last minute botheration at the race venue. He also invited us to his house to be his guest. Later that evening, we went to the famous Dasaprakash restaurant and gorged on some delicious local snacks. Besides, Anand & Bhasker made provisions for post race tipple. The dinner at Ginger hotel was also quite sumptuous and delicious.

We had, again through the help of Vikas, arranged a vehicle to pick us from the Ginger in the early hours on Sunday in order to take us to the venue and bring us after the run and also ferry us to the Mysore railway station. So everything was in place for the race day.

Since all of us had already tied the bibs to the tees and fixed the chips on our shoes, we decided to leave the hotel for the race venue at 5.00 a.m. The race venue was about 12 kms from the hotel. Bhasker’s event the full marathon was to start at 6.15 a.m. followed by the half marathon at 6.45 a.m. We reached the venue comfortably ahead of the race time and set about meeting other runners from Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and other places, notable being Ashok Nath, Suneela Katikala, Suresh KP, Sujit Kolke, Pramod Pai, Rupal Shah etc.

Bhasker set off with other full marathoners exactly at 6.15 a.m. to the sound of a conch horn. While the half marathoners gathered nervously at the start, many eyes were looking upwards at the skies to detect any signs of impending harsh sun and also probably seeking the blessings from the upper reaches for a safe and comfortable marathon. The half marathon started exactly at 6.45 a.m. with the sub-2 hour runners positioned ahead of the others.

I started cautiously by ensuring proper footing at the start and also not stumbling upon other runners. A couple of runners badly twisted their ankles in their anxiety to get going which made me nervous. I was coming out a bad ankle week with only one run during the week on Wednesday, a gingerly done 4 kms and so was testing the ankles to gauge their performance. Feeling comfortable I upped the pace after the initial kilometer. Saw Srivatsan surge ahead as also Unmesh & Sujit who was wearing a VFF. Around 3 kms I started developing stomach cramps which was unusual because I had never experienced this before and that too so early in the race. I thought back to what I had eaten, whether it was too much and started weighing the reasons for abdominal cramps. Then I immediately cut the pace and started breathing deeply and kept at it for about 3 kilometers during which time the cramps slowly went away.

The sun mercifully kept away during the initial stages and feeling the cap which I was wearing to be more of a hindrance to me, I immediately removed the cap and hooked it around my right hand which was also holding the water bottle. I was taking a swig of water at each kilometer and more also in between because there were plenty of water stations provided by RFL along the route. Each station was also equipped with bananas, oranges, biscuits, and medical aid.

I reached 9 kilometers comfortably during which time the water canal was on the left side of the runners. At 9 kilometers, there was a short bridge and a gradual climb but with full of gravel stones so one had to be careful at this stage because the full marathoners and also some of the half marathoners were returning back from the 10.55 kilometers mark. After 9 kilometers the canal came on the right hand side of the runners, but it was shorter in width than on the left hand side.

I reached the turn off point at 10.55 kilometers comfortably and turned without any stoppage whatsoever feeling strong. Started the return journey feeling strong and navigated the downhill at after 11.0 kilometers carefully. From 11.0 to about 14.0 kilometers I was going very strong by overtaking other runners and getting into a ritual of reining in the runner just ahead of me and so on I overtook many runners. Also during this stage, I was careful because last year at this point, the calf cramps started hurting me badly. Luckily the sun was still behind the clouds though the humidity was a factor. For Mumbai runners humidity was not a threat as we are used to running in extreme humidity.

In the meantime came across runners from RFL, DM & Facebook on the opposite sides so hollered out to Sahine, Gopal, Bhasker, Milton, Panneer Selvam and others. Srivatsan was pacing himself just behind Milton, so I thought there is going to be an interesting battle between the two.

From 14.0 kilometers onwards, I thought I should take it easy until 18.0 kilometers and then give it all out effort. In hindsight I feel that I should have kept the momentum going at this stage. The sun started peeping out at around 18 kilometers but would immediately go away behind the clouds probably doing recompense for its last year’s brutality. At 14 kilometers Bhasker passed me on his second leg and despite my hollering out, he was in a trance like state, determination furiously writ large on his face. So much was his focus that he missed out all our cheering and encouragement at the second lap.

The going became slow and steady in the last 3 kilometers and started pushing it through in the last couple of kilometers to come home in a time of 2.25.22 hours. The time was an improvement of 10 minutes over last year’s time.

Met Ashwin Bala at the mat followed by Arvind Bharati who was doing the announcements. Gracefully acknowledged the medal hung around my neck by a volunteer.

Before me the stalwarts Milton Frank, Srivatsan, Anand, Unmesh had already arrived. So we waited for Bhasker to arrive and since we were expecting him to come in less than four hours, Srivatsan & Anand took off their shoes and Milton with his shoes went into the track to bring him home. They met him at 500 metres distance, a little disoriented from his fall at 41 kilometers due to wrong direction given by a local. But the champ that he is, Bhasker immediately put stride in his legs and sprinted down to a first position in the veteran category in a time of 3.57.58 hours. Earlier Milton frank was declared the third place winner in the men’s veteran half marathon. Later on, Rupal Shah came in fourth in the women’s half marathon in veteran category.

So, RFL Mumbai runners again struck gold at a running event and this is becoming like a welcome habit these days. After the fantastic show at Hyderabad, this was another superlative performance at Kaveri Trail Marathon.

After tending to Bhasker’s bruises, we all dutifully went to the Young Island resort to have our post race carbo loading as well as collect the prizes for the podium finishers. Prize collected to a tumultuous applause and brunch taken, we headed back to the Ginger to refresh ourselves and indulge in the post race tipple.

All of us were travelling to Bangalore in the same Shatabdi train before dispersing our different ways by air or train or staying back. Bhasker was in his elements during the train journey and provided ample entertainment to the passengers as well as the ticket checkers who were in splits at his repartees.

Myself and Milton travelled together in the Udyan Express accompanied by a brick kiln distributor and a garment trader. While the brick guy was in shudh Hindi, the garment trader improved his English and Milton his Hindi by conversing with each other.

The most crucial element in this year’s event was the benign weather at least for the half marathoners. The full marathoners did bear the brunt of sun’s fury for some time, but then again it was playing hide and seek behind the clouds.

The arrangements by RFL were fantastic as usual with ample food & water counters, timely on the dot start, timely prize distribution etc. Kudos to A3 gang of Arvind Krishnan, Arvind Bharati, Ashwin Bala along with Nikhil and his team for this superb organization.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

2.45 hours Feet on the Street

Had been doing 2.30 hours run on two consecutive sundays - 2.27 being the half marathon race at Hyderabad on August 28 followed by a 2.30 hour run last sunday at the Bandra-NCPA group run. So, decided this run today would be a 2.15 hour run in preparation for next sunday i.e september 18, kaveri trail half marathon. There are so many group runs going on nowadays in Mumbai that it is getting difficult to say no to friends. That being the case set out on a 2.15 hour feet on the street run today at Aarey Forest. The weather was quite good in the early morning with some welcome showers also in between. Navigated the hill first itself and thereafter it was rolling hills all the way. Found Hemant at about 3 kms into the run and he decided to stick with me. True friend that he is, we both stayed together until almost the very last. He was doing a 3 hour run and going very steady, neither too fast or too slow, good rhythmic pace! We decided to stick to the flats rather than go for the hills so set about discovering new routes. We did find one towards the Aarey Diary which was a good road, nice overflowing tree cover and latter part it sloped downwards. Once we hit the main road, the roads were pathetic. 1.30 hour done i took a 5 min walking break and then around 2 hour mark,we came across a shop - quickly purchased one litre of cold water and refilled our bottles as well as drank some and splashed some on the head, face. 2.20 hours done the sun was out now, but not too difficult to run. Hemant left me at this stage as his car was parked up the hill and his route to the top would take him to 3 hours. I decided to go uptp 2.45 hours, but the last 20 minutes was like difficult. Perhaps running alone at this stage was the factor. Took about 3 minutes walk here and crawled to the 2.45 hours mark. Did not get a rickshaw so had to walk another 1.8 kms before i got another bottle of water, took rickshaw and went home.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Heel Cord

Dr. Ruth Heidrich

Amazing story of 76 year old Dr. Ruth Heidrich, cancer survivor for nearly 30 years, a triathlete, senior olympian and also most importantly a vegan athlete. She recommends a full vegan diet is sufficient for runners and also triathletes. Having survived cancer without undergoing chemotherapy and being cancer free for nearly 30 years and also multiple winner in marathon, triathlon including ironman events, that does bring some major credibility to having a vegan diet plan. Her story is told here

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bandra-NCPA run - Sunday, 4th September 2011

About 30 runners turned up today as against 43 that had confirmed both on RFL and FB. It was a very windy run today throughout the run and at some places the winds were very strong. I don’t remember such a windy run ever on this route, despite the route almost skirting along the coast. The humidity was not such a factor today because the winds were drying you up but at the same time forcing you to work harder. As usual we started in batches with the slower runners moving up ahead before the faster ones. Varun Joshi & Kavin were planning a 30kms run today in preparation for the Vasai-Virar marathon on 18th September and they along with Ronak did an extra loop of the Carter Road before joining us. Few runners started from Khar road – Kaushik, Unmesh, Dhanraj, Santosh, Sanjay etc. This run was falling in the middle of Ganesha festival – so we expected to see many Ganesh pandals along the way – the one opposite Bandra talab had so many trophies kept there, probably won by them as prizes in the best pandal competition, but everywhere we could see only the ad hoardings, not the idols themselves. Only at one place i.e. opposite Shivaji Park could we see the pretty looking Ganesha smiling at us from inside.

Giles Drego was going slow to ensure that all the runners from behind were taken care of in terms of knowing the route etc. Only when he was sure that they were all okay and knew the route that he sped ahead somewhere around Worli. We went through the Annie Beasant road instead of taking the Worli sea face road because of the huge winds. Stopped for taking a water refill at Haji Ali juice centre. By then the flow of runners from the opposite had already started – saw Sameer coming that way. Navigated the Pedder road incline comfortably – yesterday I had done the dreaded killer at Aarey forest comfortably, so was feeling doubly happy for that. Mani and myself had thought of taking the diversion i.e. the hill after the Kemps Corner flyover and come out of Malabar Hill, but he went ahead as he was to do only 15 kms and so that project awaits another day.

I had planned to do a 2 hour run today since I had already done a 2.30 hour (well, almost) run at Hyderabad last Sunday, but decided to finish the course at NCPA which became about 2.30 hours. At Marine Drive, it rained heavily for precisely 2 minutes, after which the winds increased its intensity as if angry at the rain gods’ intrusion at what was its day today morning. We could see lot of muck thrown up at the Marine Drive promenade from the sea – there could have been high winds at the bay, perhaps a couple of days earlier.

The Mumbai marathon training season is fully with us as many runners did 20+ runs today – Ashok, Sameer, Manoj, Varun, Kavin, Ronak etc.

Thanks to everybody for coming today and welcome to the newcomers today – Sanjay Padmanabhan, Shyam, Kshitij Sharma, Sebastian Schuller (whom we will be sorry to miss as he is leaving for Germany in a couple of weeks).

Next run on Sunday, 2nd October 2011.