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

MUSTRun 10K


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!!