Saturday, September 1, 2012

The SECOND 42@42 - Bootstrapper Run

Ok. So, I had no business finishing this run. I should have quit in the first hour itself. Six hours later, when I reached the finish line in an almost empty stadium, it was a tribute to determination and human ingenuity.

The first signs of trouble surfaced the night before when I took out my shoes to fasten the timing chip. I realized I had packed the wrong pair of shoes when I came from Bangalore to Hyderabad for the run. These were shoes that I had used a couple of years ago and they had outlived their running life. The ones that I am currently running in have the same make, design and colour so, apparently, I had picked up the older pair. It was too late to do anything now and even then, I was not unduly worried; after all, the worst I would get would be some more pain/cramps in my legs, what else could go wrong?

August 26, Race day, 4.45 am; 15 minutes before start: I had carried a banana that I had planned to eat before the start. As I took my first bite, I saw that the core of the fruit was rotten – completely black in colour. Fortunately, I had not swallowed the first bite, I spit it out and threw away the rest of the fruit. Even now, was not overly worried about this; most of the runs that I have done have been on an empty stomach.

The run began on time and I settled down in a slow easy pace, wanting to conserve energy for later. As a result of the slow pace, I was pretty much behind all the other runners. So much behind that when I reached the first water point, the water had been finished. This was not good. I had a long distance to run and I wanted to make sure I was well hydrated all through the run. Moreover, I have always trained with having small sips of water right from the beginning.

I planned to compensate for the water at the next water point two kilometres ahead. Next water point, same story. No water. By this time, I was feeling pissed off. Great excuse for me to just quit running and go back home. However, better sense prevailed. I fished out my phone and called up Murali, one of the organizers and a dear friend. I told him that there was no water at the first two water points and slow runners were thirsty. Murali had run a marathon Marathon at Chicago last year and had been severely dehydrated by the end of that run. He, I was sure, would understand my crib.

And he did. By the time I reached the next water point at the 6 km mark, word was already out. A very pissed and a very slow and a very thirsty Brajesh was coming the way; handle with care. In fact, as I tanked up, the volunteer there asked me if I had had my fill or did I want more? Did I sense sarcasm there or did that bloke really not understand that when you run, you cannot simply drink jugloads of water in one go?

I had not lost any time so far but my rhythm had certainly been disturbed. And my attention was now drawn to something else. Each time my right foot hit the ground, I heard a flapping sound. I halted for a moment to check but could not locate the source of the sound. I continued running and the flapping continued. My mind was now racing. The first thought that came to mind was of quitting. But then I thought of how empty the rest of the day would seem for me. Also, what about the loud declarations that I had made in front of my close friends? What would I go and tell them? That I had not even been able to finish 25% of the distance? The pendulum of my mind quickly moved to the other extreme. I will simply ignore the flapping and keep running. All the way to the end. Even if I have to discard my shoe mid-way, I will run. That was in the realm of fantasy.

However, the rational frame of mind was restored pretty soon and I thought that the best way forward would be to check for the reason for the flapping and take appropriate measures to address it. I stopped to give a closer look to my shoe and saw what had happened. The sole of my right shoe had separated from the upper at the heel and hence the flapping. The two components were still one at the toe end of the shoe. However, if no action were to be taken, the sole would separate from the upper in a matter of minutes. I needed something that would hold my shoe. And I needed it quickly. I saw a cigarette kiosk on the side of the road. It was around 6 am and naturally the kiosk was unmanned at that time. The owner had put on display empty packs of cigarettes that were hanging on a plastic twine. I had found my lifebuoy. With one hand I grabbed the twine and yanked it hard. It broke and display came crashing down. I took a sufficient portion of the twine and tied it around my shoe to hold the two divorced components together. With the sole firmly in place, I started running again. Looking back, I realize that I had not lost much time at all. The only halt where I had been completely stationary was once when I looked at the shoe and discovered the problem and second, when I sat down to fix my shoe with the twine.

By now I had reached the third water station. In between gulps of water I told Rishi, the stationed official, about my problem. Rishi, an active member of the Hyderabad Runners had been an inspiration and a friend for long. In fact, he had been one of the pacers in the Half Marathon last year. Rishi understood my problem and radioed ahead immediately. Barely a kilometre ahead, I had the big man Rajesh Vetcha anxiously waiting for me. Rajesh, as everyone who runs, knows, is the founder of Hyderabad Runners and is called Chief by us lesser mortals. I told Rajesh about my water misfortune and my shoe misfortune. He immediately offered to take his shoes off and give them to me. I did not even entertain that thought since wearing alien shoes could actually make it more problematic. But as I stood there talking to Rajesh, I was scanning the ground to see for something useful. I saw a long black piece – for the lack of a better word – rope – that looked exactly like a shoe lace. I quickly wrapped it around my shoe and took Rajesh’s help to firmly tie it around my shoe and almost immediately took off.

By this time, the darkness had completely vanished and we had joined the common route for both Marathon and Half Marathon. I crossed the first flyover and joined the crowd, grabbed a bottle at the next water point and got into my rhythm. Quickly reached the second flyover and before I knew, I had entered the rolling terrain of Road No 2 of Banjara Hills. At KBR Park, roughly 16 km into the run, I caught up with my childhood friend Sriram. Till about a year ago, Sriram had this mental block that he cannot run. After watching me run regularly for the past several years, he took his tentative first steps towards running and did his first event at Mumbai earlier this year with a half marathon. Now a regular runner, he had flown in from Mumbai to take part in the Half Marathon. For the next 15 kilometres or so, we ran together, side by side. The terrain was a continuous landscape of ups and downs, some gradual and some steep. Somewhere, it started raining. It brought a great relief by bringing down the temperature and making the weather more conducive to run. It also helped cool down the body……it was such a weird feeling with the insides still warm but the outside completely soaked. However, none of us were complaining. With the route so tough, the splendid weather and the rain were making the run tolerable.

At around 26 kilometres, my second shoe gave way. The same familiar flapping sound, the same separation from the heel. I did not miss a beat, I was in familiar territory. I started scanning the ground, picked up the first thing that looked like string and tied it around my shoe. It snapped immediately. I looked around some more but could not find anything else that was suitable. My mind went blank for a moment. By this time Sriram had also joined the hunt to find something and was shouting instructions at me. I just remember that he was saying something but not a word registered. Then, automatically, as if it was a routine daily affair, my hands started moving. They unlaced the shoe lace half way and then proceeded to wrap the length around the shoe, ending with a flower knot. I was up on my feet and running again. Time lost, probably one minute.

At the 30 k mark, the route for Marathon and Half Marathon separated. By this time, Sriram was a bit ahead of me and he waved at me as a sign of encouragement as we split. I waved back and then turned left. I was very close to the Pullela Gopichand academy – the highest point on the route. I was completely exhausted and my walk breaks were getting longer. Also, any uphill gradient, no matter how pedestrian, now looked like a climb of Everest. As I was struggling through this terrain, I heard a cheerful hello from a fellow runner who had caught up with me. He was from Shivaji Park Marathon club in Mumbai, wearing their trademark blue and yellow tee shirt. He was probably ten years older but obviously had more juice left in him than me. He started making small talk with me as we negotiated the terrain, walking the uphills and running the downhills. I tried to be as brief and polite as possible, clearly indicating that I did not have any strength left for small talk. And while I was rudely silent he kept pace with me, egging me on when I walked, proving to be a valuable companion in this lonely journey. It had stopped raining and the sun was up. We were still wet but it was hot, humid, tiring and morale breaking. As far as masochism goes, we were pretty close to the top.

The terrain had changed considerably. We were on the back roads; the surface was poor and ups and downs just kept coming. Soon we entered the Hyderabad University Campus, and the green canopy provided much needed relief from the sweltering heat. A couple of resident students decided that it was inspiring to see a salt haired weirdo attempting a full marathon. They started cheering and shouting as if I was the last man standing on this planet. For good measure, they even ran along for about ten minutes, cheering me at every moment. I noticed that my pace had increased even as I had a stupid grin on my face as a gesture of sincere appreciation. By this time I had got separated from my Shivaji Park mate, picking up pace. Very soon, I was on the highway, on the last stretch to the finish line. The last mile was unending. The stadium was nowhere in sight and no matter how long I ran, it refused to make itself appear in front of me. It eventually did and I told my brain that the end was near. We were going to survive. After another unending stretch, I was finally close to the finish. I heard the national anthem in the background and then saw the Governor’s cavalcade pass me by. I had missed the closing ceremony by a few minutes. Anyway, I entered the stadium and kept running towards the finish line. One of the volunteers joined me at the last stretch and some people on the other end of the finish line saw me coming. Very soon, all the people around me started cheering and clapping in a way that is reserved only for the people who bring in the rear, having spent an inordinate amount of time on the route. I got on a smile on my face, my fist in the air, eyes down in humility and crossed the finish line.

Six hours, two very justified opportunities to give up, a flustered start and a completely new meaning of bootstrapping. My second 42@42. The Airtel Hyderabad Marathon, 2012. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I did it

15 January 2012

Approximately 11.30 am.

Crossed the finish line.

After 5 hours and 43 minutes of being on the road, I have done it.

I have done the 42@42.

And survived.

Brajesh 1, Phidippides 0

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Last Long Run

December 18, 2011.

My last long run before the Mumbai Marathon in January.

And what a run it was.

We at Hyderabad Runners like running at different places for variety, fun and challenge. Sometimes the routes are flat, sometimes the course goes through some serious inclines that makes the run extremely challenging. Sometimes we run around lakes, sometimes in the middle of town.

This time, we ran at the airport.

Jet-setters will know that Hyderabad boasts of one of the best airports in the country – what is relevant here that it has a fantastic access road with well manicured lawns and shrubs with flowers of vivid colours all along the road. And when the company that runs the airport is hosting the run, they can make you feel like a VIP.

There was a team to welcome us and explain the route. Some of them ran with us too. There were cones kept at regular intervals indicating the distance covered; there were people manning water points and there was a sumptuous breakfast spread waiting for us at the end of the run.

The planned route was 31 kms long with options to turn back at designated intervals for people wishing to run shorter distances.

There were close to 40 runners at the start; we started running at 5.30 am in darkness against the traffic of speeding cars rushing towards the airport to drop off the passengers. The weather was just great – pretty cold while it was dark – cold enough to chill the finger tips as you ran. Soon there was light and since we were running eastwards, we saw this huge red ball of fire rise majestically in the sky and work its way upwards, shrinking in size and changing its color to a dazzling yellow.

I was one of the few who were running the full 31k and was the slowest within that group as well. Ran at a comfortable pace, enjoying the open space, the cool temperature and good music. This would be the last long run before the full Marathon on 15th January and wanted to make the most of it.

Finished the run in 3 hours 25 mins – had recently run a similar distance (alone) a few weeks earlier and that effort had taken me 4 hrs and 10 mins. No doubt the flat surface helped this time but a lot of credit for the increased speed goes to the co-runners who help you improve your performance without you even realizing it.

Though I was completely drained out at the end of the run, the best thing was that the recovery was pretty fast and all through the day I did not feel as tired as the last time.

There is still an untested 11km stretch that is going to test me in Mumbai but even if I have to walk the last few kilometers, I am confident of making it to the finish line.

How long do you think it will take me to finish the 42k? Take a guess and post it in the comments below. We will revisit these comments after my run.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The 30 kilometer milestone

Sunday November 27, 2011, 5.25 am.

Am standing on the road outside my house, dressed in my running gear, my ipod plugged on and my water bottle gripped firmly in my hand.

They are running a 10k around the lake and the Half Marathon in Delhi today so most of the Hyderabad Runners are away and there is no run organized today; I will be on my own without any SAG support, no one running with me, no one to pace me, no one to encourage me.

But that does not bother me; after all, for most of my running life I have been running alone and have survived. The daunting thing about today is that I will be attempting my longest run ever – 30 kms. So, in a way, today’s lone run is a blessing in disguise. There will be no mental pressure to keep up with the group; no pressure on me to know that I am keeping the early finishers waiting for me; I can run at my own pace and in the worst case scenario, if I have to quit at some point, I can simply hail an auto and go back home (I have already done such a thing once and mentioned about it in a previous blog).

I have already mapped the route on gmap-pedometer a day before and know the 15km point where I will turn back. To be on the safer side, I have decided to go further by a few hundred meters to a prominent T junction and then turn back.

I take the first steps and promise that I am not going to give up come what may. I will finish the 30k one step at a time no matter how long it takes. After all, I have done a 25k recently and this should not be too difficult.

I am running after about 10 days so the first few kilometers are really difficult, I am just not able to find my rhythm. There is uneven pressure on each of my legs and I am hobbling along, slowly and painfully. It is still dark and hence I cannot see the cloud cover but am sweating profusely in the first few minutes of the run. In any case, it takes me about half an hour to sort out these things and get into a rhythm after which I am able find my natural flow.

The first ten kilometers or so are all a gradual incline. Gradual enough to take it in your stride; inclined enough to keep you slightly out of breath. I can’t help but remember that this is the same route where, many months ago, my new shoes had given me such pain in my hip that I had not just quit running on that day but had also quickly changed my shoes to a new pair.

After the first 10 km of incline, I get to an isolated stretch of road where the gradient falls quite fast and brings me to more or less the same level as my starting point. There is also a cool breeze blowing that make the run very, very enjoyable. The road is isolated and I take a quick pee break and then run downhill till the end of the road that puts me on to a busy, polluted highway. I keep running, wary of the traffic and the increased noise levels, the good thing being that my turning point is not very far away.

I reach the half way mark in good shape. Have been running with discipline which for me means having the discipline to stop running and start walking every 7-8 minutes and then having the discipline to start running again after exactly one minute of walking. I turn back at the halfway mark, stop at a breakfast joint to buy a bottle of cold water, refill my sipper and start my journey back, mapping out the route mentally. I have an immediate incline to take care of followed by a straight and then the long gradual downhill. With every step I am getting closer to home and am feeling good that I will be able to fool my brain into submission and continue running the full distance.

On the way back, I meet a fellow HR runner who is on his way back home after his workout. He sees me, stops the car and we have a quick 5 second interaction. He shakes my hand, cheers me and says that he is impressed when I tell him that I am doing a 30k. I am quickly on my way again, very happy with this chance encounter.

The way back is uneventful and am thankful that my knees and shins are behaving. I do different things to break the monotony – take some walk breaks longer than a minute and at one place, considerably increase my speed for about 500m or so. Finally I am on my last stretch – the home run. My speed has dropped considerably by now and I am tempted to take more frequent breaks. I am now playing games with my brain; first promising myself to stop when I reach a particular up ahead in the distance but then keep running as long as I can after crossing that point.

Finally, 4 hours and 15 minutes after I took my first step, I am back from where I started. I have done it. I have run 30 kms and this is an important step towards the 42k day that is fast approaching. Tired, but happy, I post on my facebook page as I get into my recovery mode. I reward myself with a smoothie, a large breakfast and also apply lots of ice on my shins, ankle, calf muscles and the knees.

I sleep all day and then I sleep all night and on Monday morning, while I have recovered from the exhaustion, I am still walking like a penguin. Surprisingly, my legs mend themselves very quickly and am feeling pretty OK by Tuesday. Wednesday morning I venture out for a 30 min walk and put in some running as well to see how I feel.

I feel great and am already looking forward to this Sunday when the entire HR gang will be back and we shall run together. Will run a much shorter distance this time but will plan for a 35k very soon over the coming weeks.

For the first time, the 42k full marathon looks to be within my reach.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Old African Saying

If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.

One of the biggest positive influences on my running training has been my association with Hyderabad Runners.

If you want running to be fun, search out like minded people, create a google group and start running. Explore new routes and keep challenging the limits. Reward yourselves with a hearty breakfast at the end of the run

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Mighty Heart

They say all the running makes the heart bigger; endurance runners have been tested and have been found to have a biger heart than the average.

A big heart; a mighty heart.

No wonder, charity and long distance running go hand in hand.

Launched my own charity drive to raise money for Catalysts for Social Action - they work in the field of adoption. They work with adoption agencies and help place children, help in improving the conditions as well as the governance of adoption agencies and are also involved in advocating the cause of adoption to policy makers.

Have given myself a target of Rs 500,000 and the initial response from friends has been very encouraging.

I have created my own page on the website of the official charity partner and if you are reading this and want to make a donation from anywhere in the world, click the link below:

God Bless.
And Thanks.

The Speed of 9

Discovered yesterday that I am now able to run on the treadmill comfortably at a speed of 9 km/hour.

This was something that I was not able to do earlier.

So, looks like there is some benefit indeed of all this practice.