Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sugar, Mighty Sugar and the California International Marathon

Shetal & Shridhar's Sonnet
The alarm went off at the preset hour
And the body dragged itself out of bed;
Coffee, muffin, Gatorade and shower
Ere, like a sheep, to the bus it was led.
Huddled against the cold in a warm bus
With two who were doing their first such race;
Such courage from them! Totally wondrous!!
Just plain joy and eagerness on each face
As they took the first steps on the journey.
The long miles went by slowly but surely,
Their attitude as upbeat as could be.
Even late, with legs tired and achy!
Such sterner stuff these heroes are made of!!!
To them my running cap I do now doff.

It was 10 a.m. Saturday (Dec 2) morning and I was somewhere in between Selene's silvery caresses and Apollo's call to arms when the phone rang. The part of me listening to Apollo was wondering whether Rajeev Char had left for Sacramento. He was to run the California International Marathon the next day.

The phone rang. It was Rajeev Char, on his way to Sacramento, asking me about the 50K I should have been running in Woodside instead of lying in comfort on my bed. I informed him about my eventful Friday evening and night and the fact that I had gone to bed at 3 a.m. with no chance of being able to get up at 6 a.m.to get ready for my race.

I suddenly had an inspiration! I asked him to register me for the marathon the next day and told him that I would be up there by 5 pm. I was out of the bed like a flash! I had a purpose now!! Time to gather my running gear and hit the road.

On the way there, I realized that it would be a cold morning the next day. I stopped in a bike store in Davis and purchased leg warmers. I reached the downtown Holiday Inn at 5 p.m. as promised. Shridhar Rajan, a friend of ours from our Muscat (Oman) days, was attempting his first marathon the next day. A 2006 Team Asha runner, Shetal, who had to be taken off to ER around mile 24 of the Silicon Valley Marathon in October, was also attempting her first marathon.

We trooped off to a nearby mall, ate dinner and were back in our rooms by 7:30 pm. We set all our gear out on the table and went off to sleep around 9 p.m.

The wake-up call came too soon. I would have liked another hour in bed but that was not to be. Early walking around with the leg warmers made me leave them behind. The 4 of us were soon on the bus that would take us to the start (near Folsom Dam). We reached around 6 a.m. and decided to remain on the bus to keep warm.

Pradeep Das found us just before the start. We were carrying his bib number and chip. The gun went off promptly at 7 a.m. Rajeev and I had decided to run with Shridhar and Shetal. Pradeep and Vineeta Singh ran with us on and off through the race.

We had a party out there! I was distributing sugary ginger cubes and mango slices and we were availing of all the eats at the aid stations - oranges, pretzels. The first Half went by uneventfully for Shridhar and Shetal. We ran it in 2:45 i.e. crossed the Halfway mark at 9:45 a.m.

It was around mile 16-17 that Shridhar started feeling the effects of low sugar. Both Rajeev and I had forgotten to carry money with us and were unable to buy cans/bottles of Coke for Shridhar and Shetal. I suddenly saw a diner on the right. I darted inside, grabbed 15-20 packets of sugar and was soon forcing 6-7 of them down Shridhar's throat! 10 minutes later our man was on a roll. His energy level was up and he looked more cheerful and ready to take on the last 9-10 miles!

Shetal started experiencing Achilles pain around mile 20. I had her do a few exercises by the side of the road and they seemed to help her a bit.

Both of them showed tremendous courage and determination. The initial cold had now been replaced by a beautiful Fall day, cool and sunny. Rajeev and I were making sure that the 2 of them were taking in enough electrolytes.

The 4 of us got separated around mile 21. I decided to stay with Shetal while Rajeev went ahead with Shridhar. The last 5 miles were spent walking. Everytime Shetal tried to run, the pain got worse. So walk our way to the finish we did in 6:16!

Flat soda or raw sugar - wonderful when all is lost and you need to jumpstart your race! I've used it in numerous races and watched its effects on another runner this time around.

In my next ultra I'm going to carry packets of sugar for the much needed boost I know I will need in the middle and waning miles.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Running On Fumes

Most of us know what that phrase means.

I spent the days from Nov 9-Nov 15 in Mumbai where I had to go suddenly owing to my Mom's health problem. She is fine now. I spent 5 nights and 6 days with her in hospital and did not get much running done.

My 3 runs probably totaled 10-11 miles. The first run was about 3 miles, the second between 4 and 5 while the final one was about 3 miles again. Mumbai is one of the most polluted cities I have ever visited. Breathing was troublesome at best and running extremely hard.

My title "Running On Fumes" is a tongue-in-cheek comment about the fumes, i.e. pollution, in Mumbai.

The longest run I've ever done in Mumbai is 26.2 miles when I ran the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 0n January 15, 2006. That was a hard race made easier by the fact that I ran it at an extremely slow pace - I was running with 3 beautiful women and they pretty much gave up after 20 miles and walked the rest of the way back. We finished, almost last, in 6:50! The roads had opened up 4.5 hours into the race and the organizers had run out of water and had ceased to even bother to send more out for us slow runners. The heat, in mid-January, was oppressive and the pollution and the exhaust from the cars going past us was too much for the 4 of us.

A few pictures below. The first one show the Start area. The second one was taken right alonside the Marine Drive flyover. It shows the early miles (around mile 3). The right side of the road is how we returned to the Finish. The bridge, on the way back, was at about mile 24.5.



I had nothing but admiration for some of the locals who had signed up for the Full and were trying to keep pace with the 4 of us in the waning miles sans water and gels of any kind. It was apparent that the heat and lack of food had gotten to them - they would walk/run for a few hundred yards and then sit by the roadside to recover. They followed this pattern all the way to the finish. Testament to their fighting spirit!

Owing to my deviated septum (I'm having surgery for it in a few weeks) breathing these days, while running, is more or less hit or miss. Most days it gets hard to get a full breath in everytime. There are those days, few and far between (last evening was one such run!), when everything is in sync and I'm firing on all cylinders. That's when I feel like the old days are back - when I could maintain a 6:45 min/mile pace for a 10K (42:11 in June 2004)!!

The pollution in Mumbai seems to compound my problems tenfold. Each of those 3 runs was different. The first one, right after a 30-hour plane trip, felt OK. The breathing was off and the heat was palpable. The second one, a few days later, was better - breathing OK and heat not that bad. The last one though was simply horrible - the evening smog caused a pain in my chest and I felt uncomfortable all through.

People in India are not very exercise minded though that seems to be changing gradually in urban areas. There was this one person who, when seeing me approaching me on one of my runs, pointed at me and asked "Marathon?". So cute!! A person running on a crowded mid-day road (vehicles will not make way for pedestrians; that's how it is out there!) is weird and not a sight they are accustomed to.

I'm glad to be back and to be able to run long miles in air that's clean(ish) and pure. Blessed California!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Run safe out there.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Helen Klein 50 Mile run

This ode is dedicated to Anil
Who ran the race of his life yesterday;
Powered on, he did, up every small hill,
As under 10 hours he ran that day.
I managed to stay with him for a bit,
But he was too fast for my aching feet;
I knew he was not one to ever quit:
I have never seen him admit defeat.
Boy! He must have had a fantastic race
For he spent many minutes in the john
And yet ran it in sub-12 minute pace!
His long training paid off - it was spot-on!!
There is no one prouder than me today:
My friend triumphed in his latest assay.

Anil Rao qualified to apply for the 2007 Western States 100-mile run 10 days before the application deadline. I am so proud of him. He trained hard through the summer and early fall, even running a 50K alone, on a bike path similar to the one in Helen Klein, in 5:20!!

Rashmi, his wife, kept informing me of his progress. It was a foregone conclusion that yesterday was his day as far as going under 11 hours went. The final question was how much under! Apparently he had stomach problems after 35 miles, necessitating a couple of calls from Mother Nature! In spite of that, he ran the 50 miles in 9:44. What a day he had!

He and I, as seems to be the case with us at Helen Klein, missed the start again. Last year we were late by almost 10 minutes. This year it was only 4 minutes or so. We decided to run the first 3-4 miles without stopping. They went by in a flash. We passed a lot of runners we knew or had gotten to know on our way up to the start (on the levee). Karen was one of them - she was running the 30K.

We finally walked for a few minutes around mile 4 and then started running again. We ran the first 10 miles in 100 minutes and realized that it was a bit too fast. We had, in the meantime, come upon Barbara Elia and her friend Dale, and spent the next mile or so talking with that legendary woman. What an amazing athlete she is. She never seems to stop. After her Rio Del Lago triumph, she ran the Tahoe Triple the weekend after (4:45 for the marathon on the third day) and then Ann Trason's Dick Collin's 50-miler the weekend after. Whew is all I can say.

A few miles later (around mile 11 or so) we met up with a runner named Nicole. She asked us if walking was worth doing. It was her first 50-miler. We both advised her to walk, if not every 5/10 minutes then every 20 minutes. Anil eventually took off on his own around mile 13. I met him briefly at the 15 mile water stop and then after the turnaround at mile 24 for me (mile 26 for him). That's how well he ran!

I ran with Nicole for a little while and then took off on my own. The miles from 20 to 30 were bad for me. My breathing went awry (I'm being operated on for my deviated septum on November 15th) around 2 hours into the race and my right foot had started hurting by then.

I still made the turnaround in 4:36, 14 minutes faster than last year. I met Padma and Rajesh around mile 26.8 (mile 23.2 for them) and informed them that the turnaround, in spite of what the sign at the previous water stop said, was closer than they thought. This was 5:06 into the race i.e. 12:06 p.m.

The 50K came in 5:59.

I met Rashmi, Anil's parents and my parents in the Goethe Park aid station. I got some much needed Tylenol from Rashmi and Sarita (Rajesh Agrawal's wife) and this proved to be the best move I could have made (in addition to starting Coke from the turnaround point, i.e. I lived on Coke for the last 25 miles).

This is where, for the first time in all the races I have run, I asked myself how badly I wanted a goal (for this race it was to finish in under 10). The answer was a resounding "WANT IT BADLY". It is like some switch, hitherto in the OFF position, had been switched on to fire up the turbines. I got first hand proof of Dr. Tim Noake's Central Governor Theory. Muscles and reserves I had not known existed were suddenly brought into play. The miles from 31 to 50 were spent in "flying". My pace was all over the chart - some periods of 8:00 mins/mile , some 8:45s, quite a few 9:30s, 9:45s and 10:00s. Most of them were in the 11:00-12:00 range.

My Garmin Forerunner 205 worked like a charm. The mileage was spot-on and that was indeed a big comfort. At any given moment I knew exactly where I was with respect to the Finish. I was constantly doing recalculations about my possible finish time and I had come up with a 9:45 finish. I eventually finished in 9:49. Close enough.

This was the second ultra where I experienced nausea. In this case it was probably the Ensure (2 bottles) fighting with Coke!

How different every race is! How much the richer I am for having run it! How much I get to learn about my body and, more so, my mind! How confident I am at the start of being able to acquit myself well! How I never think a single negative thought, testament to my having learned to manage my blood sugar well! How the amazing mind is able to summon up courage when it is needed the most!!

This was the last race of the year for me and I gave it my all. I am a happy camper. I ran it 23 minutes (almost 30 sec/mile) faster.

Chihping Fu, after running last weekend's SV Marathon in 3:34, ran a PR of 8:58 here. Nicole finished in 10:59:52!! With only 8 seconds to spare!!!!!!

Congratulations to all of you who were out there yesterday, be it the 30K, the 50K or the 50-miler.

Happy trails.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

My favorite Race Director



I first met him last year (Nov 2005) at the END of the Helen Klein 50 mile (my first 50 miler) run. The start had been a bit chaotic and I had not had the chance to listen to him talking before the start of the race.

I finished in 10:12 and was lounging around when a friend pointed out Norm and Helen Klein. I walked up to him and thanked him for a wonderful race. The volunteers were top grade as were the aid stations.

Opon hearing from him that he was the RD of the Rio Del Lago 100 mile run, I promised him that I would come back in 2006 and run it. I fulfilled that promise last month.

Anyway back to Norm. There were 7 of us running the race that day, 6 in the 50 miler (Anil, Kiran, Padma, Pradeep, Ganesh and myself) and Anu in her first 50K. Anu had finished at 3:10 p.m. (8:10 for the 50K) and Anil, Pradeep and Ganesh had finished soon after me. All of us were worried about Padma not making the final cutoff. We knew that Kiran, her hubby, was running with her.

That's when I approached Norm again about Padma possibly not making it back by 7:00 pm (final cutoff of 12:00). I was REALLY surprised (and elated) when Norm told me that it did not matter how long she took to get back to the School provided that she had made the last cutoff at at 3:45 p.m. at mile 36.84 (he informed me she had!).

We started celebrating loudly when Padma and Kiran rolled into the School at 7:20 p.m. Norm rounded us up soon after and sang an Indian (Hindi) song for us. That's when he told us about his Indian friend, years and years ago in the 60s, who had taught him the song.

I met him again at the end of my second 50 miler, the American River 50, on April 1, 2006. I ran the last mile with Carol Cuminale and her friend and the three of us trooped into the finish area together. Unfortunately the announcer, Norm Klein, could not read my race number. In order to help him see it, I jumped up and down a few times on my way to the finish. That caused him to remark "Runner # jumping up and down like a monkey". I had just stepped across the finish line when I heard him call out my name on the PA. He called me over and told me he wanted to make up for not announcing my name as I crossed the Finish. You know how? He sang 1 line of another Indian song for me. What an amazing man! That's when I walked away promising him that I would see him next in RDL.

My decision to do the 100-miler was not yet firm. It firmed up after the Miwok 100K on May 6. I sent in my race entry and that sealed the next 4 months of training as far as I was concerned.

I spoke with Norm in July. The cheque had not been cashed and I wanted confirmation that I was indeed running the 100. He confirmed receiving my cheque and we talked for 10 minutes. I enjoyed that conversation thoroughly.

RDL was a total blast. Norm's briefing the day before was typical Norm. He is an amazingly caring person. His gruff exterior hides a heart of gold. He honored me and my crew by posing for a group picture with us.



I had sent in my HK50 miler entry the week before RDL. I duly received confirmation form Norm. In his own handwriting, he had written across the top "Rajeev, Good job at RDL. See you in November". That moved me no end.

After AR50 I remember reading about Norm Klein. That's when I realized that he was a legend in the Ultra running community. He had changed the face of the Western States 100 in his years of directing that race.

The ultimate compliment was this comment I found in a document about the Himalayan 100-mile Stage Race:
"Mr.Pandey is the Norm Klein of India !.
Excellent organization even in the worlds of the Himalayas."
Cathy Tibbetts, Journalist, USA ID # 27

Norm is the benchmark all RDs measure themselves against or are compared with!!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's A Poetic Runner without his poems?

I can write poetry on demand. I love to rhyme and find it very easy to do so. The Muse is constantly with me and I'm enjoying her company. Whether my poems are good or not is not for me to decide. I love to write them and often go back and read them months later to see if they still read well and have the "flow".

Here are a few written over the past 3 years. Some deal with running, some deal with love and some deal with other subjects yet again.

The Warrior
The body is like a child being led:
Doing all that it has been asked to do.
The truth is that we fight with our head,
Even more so when life starts to unglue.
The race is long, six miles after a score,
And it will take all you have to finish;
Much courage you will need, then a bit more,
For the demons of self-doubt you banish.
Trust in the training that got you this far,
And in that Rock that lives in all of us;
So believe in you as you go to war;
You are an Army of One: The Dauntless.
Look within you for courage and you'll find
It's limitless, much though it may be mined.
(Inspirational poem for a few friends running a marathon)

The Last Frontier
Wow Daddy!
How many stars are there in the sky?
Gladly, child, gladly:
More than meets the naked eye.

A small telescope will show
Many a fainter one.
Each is, I will have you know,
A ball of gas, just like our Sun.

See those seven just over there?
The ones shaped like a plow?
That's Ursa Major, the Big Bear;
Dubhe, its brightest star, is on the prow.

Look at that one there will you?
That's Orion, the famous hunter,
The one that Artemis slew.
Isn't his belt of stars a wonder?

Orion's faithful dog, Sirius, is below:
That bright one there that stands out;
It's white, unlike our Sun that's yellow;
Ever following Orion on his nightly route.

Grow up, my dear, and look up always,
For there is where we must next head!
Humans will set the skies ablaze,
As among the stars our species we spread.


St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre
(24 Aug - 17 Sep 1572)Like a dragon's breath on a morning frosty,
The fog moves along the banks of the river;
The city's flesh begins to creak and shiver,
As it blankets all in its white charity.
Moving along on feet unseen and ghostly,
It covers the island, sliver by sliver;
Like the becalming hand of a care giver,
It soothes the city's brow, oh so so bloody.
O would that it could beshroud the sordid past
With its impenetrably thick, milky mist;
Hide from our view the unforgivable deeds:
Man against man, killing to the very last.
Kindness and love having now ceased to exist;
Brothers all, driven solely by vengeful needs.
(St. Bartholomew's Day massacre started on Aug 24, 1572 and lasted until Sep 17, 1572. In those 25 days, over 70,000 Huguenots (French Protestants) were killed in Paris).

The Queen
Inside the determined breast
Where the heart does beat,
Separating you from the rest,
Where talent and genius meet.
You are your own monolith
In the face of sheer adversity.
Look inside at that strong pith:
There lies the courage of an army.
Go out and conquer them all
Who know not yet about you.
Your immense talent will enthrall
And give them pleasure anew.
The storm may rage outside but you will be serene;
They will be the adoring public and you their Queen.


Your Eyes
There is an imp of mischief
that dances
in your beautiful eyes;
Closer and closer, with
bonds of love,
to you my soul he ties.

There is an angel of mercy
that flies
in your heavenly eyes;
Keeping alive this
injured soul which,
without you, ever dies.

There is a person of timidity
that cowers
in your soulful eyes;
Looking for help
from my spirit to
get off the floor and rise.

There is a child of innocence
that plays
in your gorgeous eyes;
Calling out to
the child in me to leave
the world to the wise.

There is a queen of passion
that rules
in your lovely eyes;
Daring me
to show my love which
I've tried hard to disguise.

The FightDown, ill and feeling like warmed over death;
Intense pain, wracking every aching pore
With every struggling, wheezing, labored breath,
Testing the very limits of my core.
My feet will up and I will surely move!
Nike will reach out and lovingly bless
The damp forehead that has a thing to prove
And a desire to feel her caress.
Like a new bride running to her lover,
My body will move towards the Finish;
I will not hide nor will I seek cover;
Instead, my utter resolve I'll unleash
And climb that mountain of Pheidippides,
Even if I've to crawl on bleeding knees.
(I wrote the above, wracked by fever, 3 days before the Mumbai marathon in January, 2006)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pheidippides and the great Marathon myth

Ask most runners who are training for their first marathon or have run one or more 26.2 milers, they will readily tell you about how Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 21 or 25 miles (depending on whether one takes a northern or southern route back to Athens), announced the Greek victory and promptly fell dead, apparently from exhaustion.

How many of you know that this is a myth that has become legend now?

Pheidippides first came to the attention of the rest of the world in Herodotus's "The Histories". Herodotus, known as the "Father of History", wrote his seminal work (around 440 BC) as a means to record the Greco-Persian wars.

What brought about Darius's attempted conquest of Greece in 490 BC is the subject of a later blog. Suffice to say that his Persian army, under the command of Datis and Artaphernes, landed on the plains of Marathon.

As soon as the Athenians, pioneers of a new form of government (demoskratos or democracy), heard of the landing on the beach near Marathon, they dispatched an "expert" runner, one Philippides ("son of a lover of horses"), to Sparta. He was a hemerodromoi (alternatively imerodromou) or an "all day runner". Such runners were generally in their early twenties but Philippides must have been older, possibly in his late twenties, since he was labeled an "expert". While he was hurrying to Sparta, the Athenian army started the 20 mile tramp to Marathon.

John Foden and his team, after researching Herodotus's book, came up with a possible route for the run. The following passage appears on the Web site of the modern yearly race, the Spartathlon, run in memory of Philippides' run:

For twenty four consecutive years, the Spartathlon athletes have followed the route John Foden and his team defined in 1982 when they experimented in running from Athens to Sparta.

It is based on Herodotus’ description of the Athenian ‘Imerodromou’ or messenger who arrived in Sparta the day after he departed from Athens and also on well known historical events of that time. It has, therefore, been considered the nearest route to that which Pheidippides must have followed.

Briefly, Miltiades’ messenger started out of Athens on the ancient Iera Odos, or “sacred road,” up to Elefsis.

From there he followed Skyronia Odos, a military road on the slopes of the Gerania mountains, and traveled through Isthmia, Examilia and Ancient Corinth.

He went on to Ancient Nemea, thus avoiding the Epicratea of Argos, as it wasn’t in alliance with Athens, and he continued along the mountains between Argolida and Arcadia.

He climbed the Parthenio mountain (1200 meters), where he encountered the God Pan.

Descending the mountain, he continued in the direction of historical Tegea, one of the locations mentioned by Herodotus in his account about Pheidippides. He proceeded south toward Sparta.

Upon his arrival in Sparta, he completed 1140 “stadia,” which equaled 246 kilometers.

What a journey it must have been!! Armed with a short sword and courage, he covered the 150 miles in about 36 hours. His run was to be in vain though. The Spartans were in the midst of a 9-day religious festival, the Carneia, during which they were forbidden to go to battle. They promised to set out for Marathon as soon as the festival ended, 4 days after Philippides' arrival. They asked the Athenians to stall the Persians until they arrived.

The poor man returned to Athens as soon as he could, relayed the message to the disappointed Athenians, and proceeded the 20 odd miles to Marathon.

The Athenians and Persians had faced each other for 5 days before the historic battle broke out. The Persian army, according to various historical sources, numbered anywhere from 200,000 to 600,000. Current estimates, based on the number of ships used to transport the army and the presence/absence of cavalry, puts the number at between 18,000 and 25,000 soldiers. The Athenians probably numbered less than 10,000.

Again, suffice to say that the Athenians were victorious. The Spartans, who arrived a few days later as promised, counted the Persian dead on the battlefield. More than 6000 it was said while Athenian losses were only 192. That's right. Only 192.

The Persians, who had fled back to their ships, decided to sail down the coast to Athens and sack the city. The Athenian army, upon hearing this, ran, armor, shields, spears and swords and all, back to Athens and were there by dusk (the battle having ended around noon). It was this run that inspired Frenchman Michel Breal (on the Olympic committee for the first modern games in 1896 and a friend of Baron Pierre de Coubertin) to propose an event called the marathon for the 1896 games (fittingly it was a Greek shepherd, Spyridon Louis, who won that first race in 1896).

Coming back to Pheidippides (later Greek historians evidently did not like the association with horses and changed his name to Pheidippides), it is certain that he did not run back to Athens to announce victory nor did he die there.

It was Plutarch (46-120 AD i.e. almost 500 years after the famous battle) in his "On the Glory of Athens" who wrote about a runner, one he called either Thersippus or Eukles, making the fatal run to Athens. It was Lucius, a hundred years later, who associated that run to a runner named "Philippides".

Pheidippides was certainly one of the greatest runners we know of. He must have been an amazing athlete, for he ran 490 kilometers (more than 300 miles) in a span of 3 days.

The word marathon is classical Greek for fennel. The fields of Marathon, where the fateful battle took place, must have had an abundant growth of the fennel plant. It must have been a fragrant battle for sure!

The 1908 London Olympics had the marathon start outside Windsor Castle and finish in a stadium in front of the Royal box. This distance was 42.195 kms. or 26 miles 385 yards. In 1921 the International Amateur Athletics Association (IAAF) standardized this as the distance for a marathon race.

If you are interested in learning more about the struggle between the East and the West and how it goes back to the days of Darius, his son Xerxes, the Spartan king Leonidas and the Athenian statesman Themistocles, I highly recommend Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland.

Happy trails.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run


What feats the brave mind is capable of
That the body, unwillingly, completes!
It schemes and everything else stems thereof:
Gifts of the corporeal self it browbeats!!
Ere the self had awakened, it began:
The long race to top all long foot races;
Miles enough to upset a pre-race plan
And put stress on long and drawn out faces.
So it went, all day and night, on the edge,
Living anxiously, cutoff to cutoff;
The final dusty miles making me dredge
The dark, murky depths of my courage trough!
Then it came in all its glory, the Sun,
To adorn my crown once the miles were run.

I never let the spark within me fade. I watched it all through the race, like an unbiased observer. I noticed it flicker a couple of times but it never lost intensity, buffeted as it was by storms that promised worse. I never needed to cup it to shield it from the winds.

What an amazing race this was. It promised to bring me physical pain. It did. It threatened to make me emotional. It did. This was the first race that made me cry after finishing.

The sight of my support crew, the most amazing in the world, made me choke up after running across the finish line. They had stayed up all day and all night, taking turns to support this nutty friend who was out there on the trails attempting his first 100-mile race.

Anil, Rashmi, Rajeev Char, Renuka, Sunil, Renu, Arul, Gayathri, Anu and Arun Sharma – I owe you this race.

Pallavi, Sam and Padma – thank you for showing up to see me finish.

All you folks out there who called me to offer encouragement – thank you!

Thursday, Sep 21

Anil and Rashmi showed up in Anu’s place in the evening to help me make my drop bags. After much thought we decided that I would use only 4 drop bags, one each in Rattlesnake Bar, Auburn Dam Overlook, Cavitt Middle School and Willow Creek. The Rattlesnake Drop bag contained 1 Ensure for my outbound trip in the morning. Each bag contained gels, Sports beans and Tylenol. The School bag contained a change of clothes and new socks.
I had put my Petzl headlamp and Fenix flashlight in the Auburn Dam Overlook drop bag.
Friday, Sep 22
I woke up around 8 a.m. and was on my way by 11 a.m. I wanted to beat weekend traffic on its way to Sacramento and beyond. Lunch was in a Mexican restaurant on the way.
I reached Orchid Suites at 2:15 pm. Checked in and promptly drove the 5 miles to Cavitt Middle School. I picked up my race packet and a race sweatshirt. After having my blood pressure and weight taken, I spent time socializing with Carol Cuminale, Chihping Fu and a bunch of other runners. I met Carmela Layson (coached by the Zombies) and introduced myself to Jakob Herrmann.
Norm finally got up on a table and delivered his pre-race talk. He talked about the trail work they had done over the past couple of weeks and about how he hated to have anyone quit during the race.
After the talk I went down the street to eat in the Chinese restaurant I had eaten in last year after the Helen Klein 50 miler (my first).
Back to the hotel it was where I spent some time getting my race stuff ready. I hit the sack by 9:30 after setting my alarm for 4:00 am
Saturday, Sep 23
I finally woke up at 4:30 a.m. Put on the coffee and went to the bathroom to shave and shower. Had my bagel with peanut butter around 4:50 a.m. and then spent the final 30 minutes taking care of last minute stuff. I left the hotel at around 5:35 a.m. and was in the school by 5:45 a.m. I realized that I would need the flashlight for the first hour or so.
Luckily the drop bags were still in the school. Armed with my Fenix, I was soon on my way at 6 a.m. with the rest of the racers.
The first few miles were spent warming up. I started with a 7-8 minute walk that soon turned into a shuffle that turned into a walk at every small climb. I soon found myself at the first aid station (Twin Rocks, mile 4.15) at around 6:50 a.m. Right on target.
Soon after I found myself running with Carmela. I asked her if she would like to run from there on out with me and she agreed. That was indeed the best thing I could have done. Carmela was cheerful and happy to be running her first 100.
We waltzed through the early aid stations, past the Power Plant and then onto Cardiac Hill. I don’t know why but this hill was the toughest one for me, even tougher than the feared K-2 which came later on. I could not breathe (exercise induced asthma the past 2 years) and the heat was getting to me. I had neglected to pick up ice in my bandana in Rattlesnake and I regretted the oversight.
Carmela was wonderful, asking after me up the climb and offering advice. We soon crested the hill and proceeded to run along a canal to Maidu. I finally availed of some ice and from there on, the bandana was what saved me from any further heat-related discomfort.
The next stop was the Auburn Dam Overlook (cutoff time of 12:40 p.m.). We made it OUT of that aid station by 11:40 a.m., a full hour before the cutoff. I had my Ensure again and then onto the dusty descent down to No Hands bridge (mile 26.68).
Just a quarter mile out of the aid station, Carmela and I came upon one of the teen runners who had fallen and was looking disoriented. Her forearm had swollen up. We encouraged her to go back to the aid station and seek medical help. All she could do was cry and keep talking about how much she wanted to finish the race. Poor girl.
We reached No Hands soon enough and were out of there in a shot. It was on the first climb up K-2 that we met Jakob. He joined the party and away we went up the next 6 climbs and false summits. I swear Cardiac felt worse than K-2!
We met Don and Gillian at Cool (mile 29.84) along with Anil and Rajeev Char (from my crew). I had another bottle of Ensure and off I went, following Carmela and Jakob on the 7-mile Olmstead loop.
Was this section dry and dusty! It reminded me of the Masai Mara in Kenya (I went there last year). Dry grass, belt of green trees, dry grass, belt of trees ... all the way to the horizon. Not a cloud in sight and lots of dust on the trail. This is where I made the wise (for me at least) choice of walking most of the loop. I reasoned that I would run more once it got cooler i.e. after 5:30 p.m. or so. That saved the day and the race for me. Carmela and Jakob seemed to like the strategy and we came to Knickerbocker Hill aid station (1.6 miles from Cool) where we got some more ice and Coke. We soon spotted Don coming towards us from the Cool station and he encouraged us to hurry through the Cool station (mile 36.9) and back to No Hands (mile 40.35).
My right toe was throbbing from banging against the front of the shoe by now. I decided to suck it up and wait until Cavitt School (mile 67) for a change of shoes.


The trip down to No Hands (pic above) was not down K-2 but along a slightly more circuitous but way less steep trail. We did not loiter long in the aid station and were soon wending our way up to the Auburn Dam Overlook station (mile 44.29).

I spent about 5 minutes in Auburn Dam. Sat down and took a good look at my toe. I changed the lacing pattern to prevent the foot from sliding up the shoe and left with my first pacer, my buddy from my days in Muscat, Oman, Rajeev Char. The run to Maidu. 1.5 miles was along a canal. We caught up with Carmela in the Maidu aid station and the 3 of us ran the next mile to the top of the Cardiac Hill descent. We had just started descending when we heard Gillian’s voice “I’ve come to join the party”. The 4 of us were soon making our way down the difficult slope.

After the descent, they soon disappeared. In the meantime, Jakob caught up with us. I decided to power walk as much as I could. Judging by the mile markers passing by at every 0.5 mile interval, Rajeev Char reckoned that we were doing 16 min/mile pace. Great going is what I told myself. I felt like I could maintain that pace forever!

We passed Carmela and Gillian in a few miles. We quickly went through Rattlesnake Bar (mile 55.09) and then onto Horseshoe Bar (mile 57.02). A few hundred yards from Horseshoe Bar my phone rang. My crew members and the next pacer wanting to know how far I was. Rajeev Char handed the pacing reins to Arul and off I went into the dark with Arul and Jakob in tow.

I had traipsed into Horseshoe Bar with a 56 minutes advantage on the cutoff. I lost half of that in the next 5.86 miles! The trail to Twin Rocks was one of the lousiest trails I have ever negotiated. It had been bad in April, during my muddy AR50, and it was worse Saturday night! Footing was treacherous and I could not build up any kind of rhythm.

Along one of the smoother sections, we passed Barbara Elia who was doing her 300th ultra that day!

The Twin Rocks aid station (mile 62.88) could not come soon enough. I knew that the section back to the school was very smooth and would pick up my spirits again!

Sunday, Sep 24
Sure enough, I was back in groove, power walking with Arul and Jakob. Arul was quick enough to spot a 2.5-foot rattlesnake that was directly in my path, 5 feet ahead. Had I not been alerted, I think my race would have ended at mile 66. Another mile and we were making our way down the slope to the school.

I had another bottle of Ensure, got out of my shoes and into a fresh pair of socks and my running Tevas. Anil and I left the school around 1:05 a.m., 25 minutes ahead of the 1:30 a.m. cutoff.

A half mile up, I realized that the sandals would not cut it for 34 miles! Anil graciously offered his Brooks Addictions (same as mine but a half size larger) and was I glad that I took up his offer! The rest of the race was spent in relative comfort i.e. an almost pain-free right foot (loose shoes+Tylenol!).

Jakob had taken off ahead of us with his pacer.

A couple of miles out, we realized that we had missed a turnoff somewhere. Luckily we could see lights behind us, including Barb Elia’s green flashlight. We retraced our path and found the trail opening we had missed. We soon passed Barb and a few others and from there on, both Anil and I, especially Anil, were extra vigilant about trail ribbons and chalk marks.

We soon passed Folsom Dam Park (mile 70.08) and the Negro Bar (mile 72.83) aid stations. The next cutoff was Hazel Bluff, at 4:40 a.m.

3:50 a.m. saw me in a portable toilet, 1.8 miles from Hazel Bluff (mile 77.33). I was out by 3:58 and told Anil that we had to run in order to make the cutoff. Walking would not cut it. I led the way, flying down the trail at between 8-9 min/mile. About 10 minutes from the aid station, we spotted Don who informed us that the station was less than 10 minutes from where we were. I knew I would make the cutoff then! Incredibly Rajeev Char was there, just a few hours after pacing me. It looked like he did not get much sleep but had decided to come and cheer me! What amazing people!!

I was out of the aid station by 4:20 a.m. That meant that I had until 8:35 a.m. i.e. 255 minutes to cover the 12 miles out and back to Hazel Bluff. I walked the next section to the Willow Creek aid station (mile 80.79). We made it there by 5:20 a.m. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous by now and little did I know that it would get worse before it got better!

We were informed by the volunteers there that we had to make it to the turnaround point (at Mountain Lion Knoll, 2.86 miles away at mile 83.63) and back, a distance of 5.72 miles, by 7:00 a.m.! We passed Chihping on his way back to Willow Creek and he urged us to make the turnaround point as soon as possible. It was like someone had lit a fire under my butt.

I started running again and settled into a good rhythm. Anil and I made it to the turnaround point and back again to Willow Creek (mile 86.47) by 6:50 a.m.! On the way to Mt. Lion Knoll, we caught up with Jakob and his pacer. On the way back to Willow Creek, we hooked up with Carol Cuminale and her pacer, Karen Hanke.

My nausea was preventing me from eating or drinking anything. I subsisted on water only. At Willow Creek we met up with Arun Sharma, my next pacer. On the way back to Hazel Bluff, we caught up with Sarah Dillingham and her runner George Miller. Sarah gave me the “Magic Pill” i.e. Pepsid AC and that seemed to work for a while.

I finally made it back to Hazel Bluff (mile 89.93) by 7:45 a.m. i.e. a full 50 minutes before the final cutoff. I could relax now! This is where Anu, my final pacer, joined me for the trip back to the school. She carried a bottle from which I sipped flat Pepsi now and then.

All through the night I had been worried about Carmela’s progress and her cutoffs. Don had given me good news about her every time I asked him so I knew that she was making the cutoffs. I was happy for her. She was fighting as hard as anybody out there on the course and she deserved to triumph.

A few miles out of Hazel Bluff, Don and Carmela passed us. I was walking a lot by then. I was so overjoyed for Carmela. She looked like she had gotten her fourth or fifth wind and looked great when she passed us. She went on to finish in 28:36! Way to go Carmela!

Adding to my nausea was the slightly tender state of my right Achilles tendon. I pretty much power walked from Hazel Bluff to Folsom Dam Park (mile 97.18). I arrived at that last aid station, 3.1 miles from the Finish (at mile 100.28), at 10:04 a.m. I left it at 10:06 a.m. with my crew members urging me to try and break 29 hours!

I ran for a couple of hundred yards but felt that my Achilles was not responding as I would have liked it to. So I started walking. Walked the next 0.5 miles until we turned left onto a trail. This is where I decided to gave it a last shot. I changed my foot strike a bit, to more forefoot, and tried it for a few hundred yards. I felt good so I upped the speed and continued to run the next 0.75 miles with Anu behind me, hot on my heels. We soon espied Carol and Karen, walking up the slope leading to the levee. Anu and I soon passed them and started running again on the levee.

Having run on the levee for the Helen Klein 50 and during AR50, I knew the last part to the school like the back of my hand. I could see a curve up ahead beyond which I knew was the descent down to the school. I decided to walk for a couple of hundred yards before making the final push.

Just before the left turn down to the school, I looked at my watch. It read 28:36 (10:36 a.m.) I looked at Anu on my right and asked her “Do you think anything is going to prevent me from finishing in under 29 hours now?” and laughed. She laughed too. I said “Let’s go!” and took off like the proverbial hare.


The last 0.25 miles I covered at sub-7 pace. I burst past my crew members and past the race clock which recorded 28:43:43 as my finish time.

Anu followed me into the school and I looked at her and all my crew members behind her and I could not stop the tears. Tears of gratitude at having such loving friends. Tears of relief at having made the cutoffs. Tears at having arrived at the destination of a journey I had started a year ago.


Thanks to Norm, Helen and all the smiling volunteers for a fantastic race. Volunteers are the heart and soul of ultra-running.

(Chihping finished in 27:57. Carmela in 28:36, Carol in 28:47, Jakob in 28:54 and George Miller in 29:15. Amazing athletes all!!)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

La Vita E Breva (Life Is Short)

"Life is short... running makes it seem longer." (Baron Hansen)

This journey of mine started many, many years ago. It will, hopefully, reach its first waypoint in 3 weeks.

I have always loved sports. In my pre-teen and teen years, I played cricket for my High School. I went on to represent my college and the first company I worked for. I captained my company's 'B' team in the cricket league in Muscat in 1993 and 1994. Ah! Those days!!

I finally quit smoking in Sep 1991 ("Sep 9th to be precise" as Thomson and Thomson, from the famous Tintin comics, would put it) and took up running in order to control weight gain. Those first few steps are shrouded in the mists of memory but I remember experiencing pain in my chest after only a quarter mile. The years of smoking had taken their toll on my lungs. I persisted for a few months before finally giving up, unable to conquer Anterior Tibial Stress Syndrome, the fancy medical term for pain in the front of my legs i.e. "shin splints".

I moved to Muscat, Oman in April 1992. I started running on the stretch of sand shown in the pictures below, as a way of warming up before getting into the water to swim.



The first photo is of the beach looking to the left while the other one faces to the right. The total width was not more than 0.2-0.3 miles. It eventually got to the point where my interest in swimming diminished and my need to run grew exponentially. I was soon running on the roads in Muscat, mainly in the evenings, right after work, around 6 p.m.

Those were heady days (not that it's not heady nowadays!). Discovering the "Runner's High" and not realizing that there were millions others around the world who were addicted to the same high. My eyes finally opened to the realization that there were many scores of others who experienced exactly what I felt when running after reading Jim Fixx's "The Complete Book Of Running". It was eerie how his description of what he felt while running matched mine completely.

I would be the only one running out there on those roads. This mania soon had me in its grip and I would run anywhere from 5-7 miles daily. For days on end. No thought of resting once a week. I remember one stretch where I insisted on running for almost 29 days straight before granting myself a day of inactivity.

My first race was a 5K on the Muscat Intercontinental Beach. I remember a short, thin young man doing 20m wind sprints before the start of the race. He went on to win it in 17 minutes or so. I probably took about 30 minutes to finish the race. My progress was rapid from there on out. I entered a couple of more races in Oman, including a 15K that I finished in 72 minutes, before returning to the US in Mar 1995.

I believe in my heart of hearts that I have more endurance than speed. Nothing over the past 15 years has even come close to making me doubt that belief. The Rio Del Lago 100, whether I finish the successfully or not, is a waypoint on this running journey.

I feel most alive when I run. The longer I run, the more I get in touch with my innermost fears, desires, strengths and weaknesses. I have never run more than 62 miles in one go. The last 38 miles will be fun to experience. Will I experience what so many others have? Intense self doubt? Intense desire to quit?

I hope I can conquer those demons of darkness and emerge into bright sunlight on the other side.

Am I nervous? Not even a little bit. Au contraire, I am champing at the bit. I want to take on this test of all tests, this beast of all beasts. A race that will test my will and determination and motivation and mettle and resolve and courage like no other.

As someone said about ultras - "They are where you reach down inside you for courage and discover that there is no end to it - your courage is limitless". I want to look into my ocean of courage and not be able to see bottom at all.

Do I have doubts that I may not finish? Am I not human? It is only the fool that feels no fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the act of continuing despite fear. I am not scared of the distance. I am not scared of failure. I am only scared of having this chance taken away from me, either before the start or during the race, by an injury or a mishap. I am keeping my fingers crossed these last few weeks.

I've come a long way baby! (apologies to Virginia Slims)

"Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible." (Doug Larson)

"Tough times don't last but tough people do." (A.C. Green)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dealing With Injuries - I

The Achilles Lament
Help! Help! It's my Achilles
That's hurting when I run.
Will you help me please,
To make my runs more fun?

The legendary Greek fighter,
Vanquished Hector, a Trojan.
My tendon, getting tighter,
Is what I fight on every run.
I know there's hope for me:
Some of you have been there.
I'm truly at a loss, all at sea;
Help me please, if you care.
Like Achilles, I don't want it to defeat me,
I'll do anything to cure it, whatever it may be
.

All of us, at some time or another, elite or not, have suffered some sort of a running/sports related injury that ends up making us take time off from the activity that we love.

Over the years, starting in March of 1996, I've experienced most of the common injuries that afflict runners. Stress fractures. Stress reactions. ITB. Shin splints. Tight hamstrings. Tight hip flexors. Tight quads. Achilles tendonitis.

How did I deal with them as they happened? It was always tough mentally. Not being able to run made me feel like I was missing a vital part of my life. I have, however, learned to read about and study the injuries in order to prevent them from occurring again. This has not only benefited my running but also that of the runners that I helped in my role as coach of Team Asha.

ITB
This was the injury that caused me the greatest emotional suffering. I had discovered Utopia in running. That was a land where nothing ever went awry. Until the day it all came crashing down around my ears. Pain on the outside of my right knee. A PCP advised me to stop running since he had diagnosed my problem as Chondromalacia Patella. No help there. He was busy trying to reduce insurance costs instead of helping me.

A physical trainer in my gym turned out to be my savior. He correctly diagnosed it as Iliotibial Band (Friction) Syndrome. Even after resting a couple of weeks (I was going out of my mind by then at not being able to run), the pain returned in as little as half a mile of running. I knew that this injury was not going away in a hurry and that I would have to tackle it head on.

I set about learning about ITB. Diligent stretching, biking and strengthening exercises eventually got me back to running in 4 months. I also had custom orthoses made and it is safe to say the ITB has not been a problem since I started wearing them in 1997.

Achilles Tendonitis
Acute Achilles tendonitis in my right foot sidelined me for 2 weeks in early 2002. By this time I had become an expert in diagnosing my problems and taking corrective/preventative measures to prevent their recurrence. I started on a program of strengthening my Achilles tendons with specific exercises. These exercises are described here and shown pictorially here. Did they ever help! AT has not really bothered me since.

Stress Reaction
A stress reaction in my left shin sidelined me for 3 weeks in early August 2003. I biked like crazy (including spinning classes) to keep my fitness up. I went on to run my marathon PR of 3:37 a couple of months later, up in Victoria, British Columbia.

These days I prefer to run at least once a week in a pool. This form of running has been prescribed for injured runners, of all levels, as a way of keeping their running fitness up. I tend to do speedwork in the pool. These workouts are so different from any running you will ever do, even on a trail. Absolutely non-impact but still able to tax the body and keep it on its toes. David Holt has a good Web page on pool running.

Over the years I have learned to ask the following questions about injuries, both mine and those of others (in my capacity as a coach the last 4 years):

(a) Did the pain come on suddenly? If so, are your shoes old? How many miles do they have on them?

(b) Knee pain? Just started a running program? 8 times out of 10, strengthening the quads will eliminate the pain

(c) Pain in the front of your shins (Anterior Tibial Stress Syndrome)? Strengthening by walking on one's heels will do the trick

(b) Are you landing on your heels when you run? Not advisable. Heel landing causes the body to brake the forward motion, leading to a slew of problems. Switch to a midfoot landing.

(c) So what did you do differently in the past few weeks before/while/after running?

(d) Ankle/arch problems? Loosen your shoe laces in order to permit the inside arch to have more room to do its stuff. Try lacing your shoes so that the foot does not slide forward. This lacing method (for people with narrow heels) is the last illustration (Lock Lacing) on http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/lacingmethods.htm

(e) The pain is where? Please check if any of the connecting muscles are tight. For example, these days, when I feel a bit of tightness in my Achilles tendons, I know that it's because of a slightly tight ITB which, in turn, is tight because of tight quads or tight hamstrings or glutes. Ergo, fix the source i.e. the quads or the hams or the glutes.

R (Rest) I (Ice) C (Compression) E (Elevation) are still valid in order to deal with injuries. They are not everything though. If the root cause is not tackled, the injuries might surface again. It is important to address the cause and to eliminate any problems caused by biomechanical imbalances brought on by an imbalance/tightness in musculature on the two sides of the body or from using the wrong kind of running shoes etc.

Core strengthening will go a long way in helping one run better. There are numerous sites out there that describe such exercises but my personal favorite is here.

Stretching regularly also helped me over the years. As did the use of a Foam Roller.

The following are resources for identifying and addressing some of the common running problems:

* http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/
* http://www.smiweb.org/massage_clinic/guides.html
* http://www.instantanatomy.net/sitemap.html
* http://www.drpribut.com/sports/spsport.html

To be continued ...

Monday, August 14, 2006

24-Hour Run

Rashmi, Rajesh Agarwal & Sarita, Arul & Gayathri, Kalyan, Mohan, his Dad and Satyavati, Shalmali and Vidyamani, Anurag, Arpana, Dinesh, Anu & Raj, Vandi, Suchu, Anju, Antara, Meghana, Naina, Trisha, Nishad, Malhar, Sameer, Shaunak, Aseem, Sandhya Mohan, Deepak & Aruna, Abhijeet & Anjali, Arun Simha & Sowmya & Vibhas, Anil, Shekhar, Sunil & Renu, Rajeev & Renuka Char, Anu Mayuran & Ganesh Pattabiraman, Venkat Kalkunte, Kaarthik, Pavan, Kasturi, Pragati, Samanvitha.

The names of all the people who showed up on the tracks in West Valley College in the 24-hours that Anil and I spent between 7:15 a.m. Saturday and 7:15 a.m. Sunday.

To say that Anil and I were moved would be an understatement. This outpouring of support and love was incredible. Most of them shared one or more laps with us. We are indeed blessed to have such friends on our team.

Friday, August 11
I left work early to pick up Nishad, Anu's son, from his school. Anu and Raj had left for Santa Rosa around 2 p.m. Anu was doing the Half Aquabike (1.2 miles swim, 56 miles bike) on Saturday. I was spending the night in her home. Vandi, along with Anu's dad, stepmom and the twins (Antara & Meghana) came over in the evening. We watched a Hindi movie, Iqbal, until 11:30 p.m.

I just could not sleep that night. It had nothing to do with nervousness. I think the room I was in was unusually warm in the beginning. It finally cooled down once I opened the windows. The dogs were restless too. They woke me up at 4 a.m. with their pattering down the stairs in order to go use the backyard.

Saturday, August 12
I finally called Anil at 4:30 a.m. to ask him if he minded starting an hour later, at 7 a.m. He agreed and that's when I finally got an hour or so of uninterrupted sleep.

I was at the tracks by 6:35 a.m. By the time Anil arrived and we moved all our supplies from the cars to the tracks, it had become 7:10 a.m. We posed for a couple of photographs (Rashmi was the photographer) before starting at 7:15 a.m. on the dot.

We were not bothered about total mileage. Our purpose behind the whole endeavor was to (a) learn what it felt like to be on the move for a day, (b) experiment with different foods and drinks along the way, and (c) find out how to keep awake during the wee hours of the morning.

We learned a lot along the way.

Anyway, we used my Timex Ironman watch (100 laps) and Anil's watch (100 laps too) to keep track of the laps. Since almost 95% of our running was in Lane 8, where 4 laps equalled 1.12 miles, it would be relatively simple to multiply the eventual number of laps by 1.12 to get the total distance. We wound up doing 218 laps for a total of 61 miles

Every 100 laps, our plan was to reset the watches and start over again.

The first hour went by in a flash. Rashmi, Anil's wife, took off right after we started to go and get us coffee. She came back around 8 a.m. with coffee and eventually left around 9 a.m. for a root canal. Brave lady!

Rajesh Agarwal was the first one to show up, around 8:45 a.m. He gave us company until 11:45 a.m. Along the way we talked about his upcoming first Ironman race in Ironman Canada. He is a very strong athlete and I am sure he will do very well.

The scripting could not have been better had we employed professionals to write the story of our run. Arul showed up promptly and he ran with us from 11:45 a.m. until 3 p.m. Those 3 hours were the hottest. A slight breeze, now and then, helped us cool a bit but we relied primarily on our Cool Off bandanas, partially filled with ice, to keep our necks cool. They worked like a charm. Before we knew it we had finished a fourth of our run! Rashmi, around 1 p.m., had brought us pasta and soup from Pasta Pomodoro. I could not eat much at all because of the heat. I put the pasta into a cooler for later consumption.

We had decided to try Clip2, an energy drink supposed to help ultra runners. We mixed Succeed salt tablets (350 mg of Sodium per S!cap) and Cytomax with the Clip2 and kept drinking that concoction pretty much through the day and for the better part of the night. Now I know what to use for Rio Del Lago!

Around 4 in the afternoon, Vidyamani and Shalmali, runners from Team Asha 2005, showed up to offer their support. Vidyamani ran a few laps with us. They finally left around 6 p.m. In the middle Mohan, Anu's brother, showed up with his Dad and stepmom. They were on their way back home from a day spent in San Francisco and they dropped by to check up on the 2 nuts!

What a day Anu had! She swam the 1.2 mile swim in an awesome time of 52 minutes. Her 56-mile bike ride, which included long stops at every aid station AND a semi-nasty fall off her bike, was completed in 4:33. She too will do very well in her upcoming Half Ironman in Miami in November. She brought coffee before heading home to shower and relax a bit before returning.

The late afternoon was much more comfortable. We could feel the temperature dropping perceptibly. The breeze had picked up a bit too. This is when Vandi, Suchu and Anju showed up with all the children - Antara, Meghana, Nishad, Malhar, Sameer, Shaunak, Naina and Trisha.

Around the same time, Anurag and Arpana (2005 runners) showed up along with a 2006 runner named Dinesh to log miles on the track. The husband and wife ran just over 12 miles in total while Dinesh did 10. The track was beginning to get crowded! It was a great boost to our spirits. We had been looking forward, especially during the noon to 3 p.m. period, to the cooling off of the day and, when it came, it felt so good!

The ladies left around 7 p.m. with the children. This is when Anu came back to spend some time with us again. Rashmi brought us dinner around 8 p.m. Simply the most fantastically tasty pizza from Cicero's!! We loved it so much that we asked Mohan, who was planning to come to the tracks around 9 p.m., to pick up a couple more.

By now there was starting to be a steady stream of people coming and going from the tracks. A co-worker of Anil's, Aseem (also part of Team Asha 2006), brought more ice for us and was with us for about an hour. Sandhya Mohan (2005 team) stopped by to offer encouragement. Deepak and Aruna dropped by too. Abhijeet and Anjali showed up and spent many hours with us.

Shekhar Hemnani showed up around 10 p.m. and was with us until almost 2 a.m. Sunil and Renu spent a few hours with us. Rajeev Char and Renuka joined the party around 11 p.m., straight from the Toyota dealer where they bought a brand new Camry. They were there till just past 1 a.m.

Sunday, August 13
Anu Mayuran and her husband Ganesh brought us beer around midnight. I chugged down a warm Gordon Biersch Marzen before resuming the laps.

Anil had been bothered by a swollen right foot all evening. He finally decided to chuck his shoes and run in his socks the rest of the way. He put on flip flops in the early hours of the morning (around 2 a.m.) after we decided to walk the rest of the hours until 7 a.m.

I took off my shoes and put on Teva Wraptors (a trail running sandal of all things!) for a few hours. My original intention had been to try them in RDL in the latter stages of the race (after 80 miles). They seemed to work quite well. I will try them out a few more times in the remaining days before the race. I was starting to feel a bit sleepy by now. I popped a NoDoz as did Anil. I think it worked. I had to pop another one around 4 a.m. in order to conquer the last wave of sleepiness.

Venkat, Anju's husband, got us well needed coffee at 2 a.m. We had been joined by Kaarthik, Kasturi and Pavan by then. They left around 4 a.m. Right around 2:30 a.m.Pragati, having flown in on Friday after 2 weeks in Tuscany, joined us. She gave us much needed support until 5 a.m. Venk left around 3 a.m. Kaarthik, Shekhar, Pavan and kasturi left soon after. Sam and Anju showed up around 4 a.m. It was thus Pragati, Sam, Anju, Anil and I who formed the cavalcade around the track from 4 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. Anju left around 5:30 a.m.

Sam, Anil and I welcomed daybreak at just past 5:45 a.m. The sky gradually lightened as Helios chased Selene back into her boudoir.

Anu brought her cheerful and bubbly personality to the track at 6:15 am. We decided to stop the laps at 6:30 a.m. We then spent the next 20 minutes cleaning up and carrying our stuff up the steps to our cars. We were about to leave at 7 a.m. when Vidyamani, Shalmali, Abhijeet and Anjali showed up with cameras and a Finish line banner.

Both Anil and I posed in front of the banner while numerous photographs were taken.

It was a hungry and happy throng of people that sat around Anu's dining table at 7:45 a.m., eating the delicious breakfast Anju, Gayathri and Arul had made for us.

How fortunate Anil and I are that we have such loving people in our lives. They give so selflessly that it humbles me and makes me realize that the world is filled with more loving and kind people that most people think.

Running round and round on a track for that long is hard on the body. My right arch hurt as did the outsides of both my knees (ITB pain). I hope that RDL will be a different story altogether.

Did Anil and I have any problems mentally? Nary a one. The longest we had spent on our feet in a race was the 17 hours in TRT 50. We were confident of being able to spend an additional 7 hours without any worries whatsoever.

Running on trails is so much more fun that I look forward to Rio Del Lago and know, deep in my heart, that I will have fun doing it. Whether I finish the race or not will not be something I will worry about. If I finish, so be it. If not, so be it too. Que sera sera.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Yasso 800s

I started serious speedwork in Jan 2001. My then coach, Tom McGlynn (http://www.focusnfly.com), used to put me through the paces with hard workouts. All that labor paid off in 2002, 2003 and 2004 when I ran Personal Bests from 5K all the way up to the Marathon.

It's been 2 years now since I stopped doing any sustained speedwork. I decided, a few weeks ago, to restart.

This time around I decided to forego traditional VO2Max & Lactate Threshold (LT) workouts. Instead I chose to test the efficacy of something I had heard and read about last year.

Yasso 800s is what the repeats are called.

The first workout was 2 weeks ago. I decided to start very conservatively. 4x800 was what I was going to do. It was a hot Tuesday afternoon. I had a friend do 6x400 while I did my workout. My splits were a rather hard 3:40, 3:39, 3:39 and 3:40. I had deliberately chosen 3:40 as the target marathon time. I don't believe I am in that kind of shape but I can always think big can I not?

There was a hiatus of 1 week before my next workout, this past Tuesday. I decided to 4x800 again at 3:30 pace. This time around, the workout was a lot harder. My splits were 3:31, 3:30, 3:29 and 3:28. Curiously enough, the hardest part was not the last few meters but the section from 200 to 300m. Very strange.

I want to try and run the Helen Klein 50m in a time that's at least 60 minutes faster than the 10:12 I did last year. I also want to try and run the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Dec 3 in under 3:50 if I can. It's been some time since I've run a sub-4 hour marathon and I have lost confidence in my ability to do so of late. This is because I decided to devote most of last year and this year to running ultras at the back of the pack.

Stay tuned about the Yasso 800s.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tour de Peninsula

Last night my friend called me and asked me if I wanted to accompany her, her husband and her 10 year old son in the annual Tour de Peninsula bike ride today. They were planning to do the 33-mile ride.

I had planned to do between 30 and 40 miles anyway so I agreed. I reached Redwood City at just past 8 am. I parked in a K-mart parking lot, about a mile from the start.

The first thing I did was to go and register for $40. I soon found my friend and her family in line to start. We were among about 150 odd cyclists making the 9 am start. Starts were in waves (I think), with the first people having gone at 8 am. We were soon off. After the first mile her husband took off with her son and she and I brought up the rear.

The course was hilly. The first major hill, a mile long one with an average grade between 7-9%, was up Ralston Ave. We crested soon and found her husband and son at the first aid station on the top of the hill. I chomped down a Powerbar and drank some water. I also used the port-a-john and we were off again.

Ralston Ave becomes Polhemus Road on the other side of I-280. The descent down Polhemus was a blast. We soon made the turn onto Crystal Springs Road, a mile long climb (3-5% grade) up to the South entrance to the Sawyer Camp trail. The rail had been closed for the race and it was a blast negotiating turns at 16-18 mph without having to worry about any oncoming traffic, on foot or otherwise.

We were soon at the other end of Sawyer Camp, 6 miles from the South entrance and onto Skyline Blvd. We went 280 again and onto the descent back to the South Gate of Sawyer Camp trail and beyond. The descents were so enjoyable. I reached speeds in excess of 40 mph today on some of them.

We were soon biking on Canada Road. Made a left turn up Edgewood for the last climb of the race and then it was a breakneck descent again for the next mile. A few more miles and we made the turn into Sequoia High School for the finish.

We finished the race at just past 12 noon. 3 hours for 33 miles. Not bad.

Her husband and her son came in about 15 minuts after us. Her son is an amazing athlete! He biked 40 miles (he added another 7 miles AFTER finishing the race) in his first ride of anything over 15 miles. What an kid!! He is indeed his mother's son. She has done 6 marathons and 1 50K. She is currently training for the Miami Half Ironman.

After eating of some of the goodies in the finish area and picking up my T-shirt, I got on the bike with the intention of adding a few miles before going home.

Few miles? It turned out to be another 17 miles!!! I got back to my car with the odometer reading 50.09 miles! Holy smokes!! I sure am obsessive about these large numbers am I not???

My legs were not feeling as good as they had the Sunday before but they did not feel all that bad either. A good sign I should think.

Anyway, all of this biking is surely going to help me next month when I attempt to finish my first 100-mile run (Rio del Lago, Sep 23-24).

We shall see.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Running Obsession?

Do I have a running obsession?

Someone read my last post and e-mailed me in private. They wondered if my life lacked balance i.e. was running dominating it too much? Even though I replied that I had ample balance in my life, the question got me thinking.

Running Is Life. Everything Else Is Just Waiting.

How beautifully someone put it long ago. I read it many, many years ago and it stuck in my mind. Whoever wrote that felt like I do. I wake up in the morning and I start to plan when and where I'm going to run. How much. With whom. Even work pressures do not dominate my thoughts like running does.

I wait everday to be free again, to feel my body warm up with every passing step, to feel my breathing settle into an even rhythm, to feel my muscles move fluidly as I power up a hill, to spend an hour alone with my thoughts and my feelings ...

An obsession? Maybe.

Let's examine it some more.

In the early 90s, when I started running really long distances in Muscat, Oman, I used to go for weeks and weeks without rest days. Friends of mine can attest to the fact that I would be unavailable for any kind of activity between 6 pm and 8 pm which is when I would do my daily runs. If I were unable to run that day for some reason (rare but it did happen occasionally), I would be irritable and crochety. I used to schedule life around running.

Obsession? Sure.

These days I am wiser and more "balanced" about my running. If I miss a day or two, I am more rational about the loss of the workout. I realize, and correctly so, that the rest will do me a world of good. I no longer schedule life around running. If there is a run on the cards for that day, I will slot in in when I can.

Obsession? Probably not.

I used to be paranoid about missing a run for fear that I would gain weight. There were days when I would feel tired, from not having recovered enough from prior workouts, but would still head out for the daily 5-8 miles. It's a wonder that I did not have a breakdown between 1993 and 1996.

Obsession? Certainly.

I HAVE gained weight. All of 10 lbs in the past 2 years. Some of it muscle. Some of it fat. So what? I do still look in the mirror and notice only that which is ugly - a small roll of fat around my midriff. So what? I have my running and my biking and my swimming to help me control weight gain but I often neglect to exercise protion control. That should explain the roll of fat. Nobody is perfect. Right?

So am I obsessive about running? Probably not.

Thinking about all of this has made me realize that my current increased involvement with running has to do with new goals and new horizons that have opened up in the past year. Like a child who is taken to a brand new playground, I am fascinated by the new vistas I see spread in front of me. My horizon has expanded from 26.2 miles to almost infinity. There is no limit to how far I want to see or how much I want to travel.

THAT is what has re-energized my running. THAT is my obsession! Running as a means to explore these new lands. Lands here, of course, being synonymous with areas of my mind, my personality and my being that I am discovering like never before. Lands called Determination, Persistence, Commitment, Motivation and Equanimity. Equanimity to accept a DNF with the same feelings as a Successful Finish.

I still read a lot. I still listen to music. I have this new interest called Blogging! I still write poetry. I still compose complex puzzles. I'm happier than ever before.

My life DOES have balance.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why Do I Run?

The texture of the early morning dew,
Under my naked feet as I traverse
The green meadow that stretches out of view,
Is so sensual, it moves me to verse.
What would I do were I to lose running?
Denied the simple pleasure of motion,
My soul would wither, like a vine ailing
From a pestilence its youth does sicken.
The spirit would droop, the will to live flag,
Days would go by in utter agony;
Long, motionless hours would seem to drag:
Not a fate to wish on an enemy.
So every panting breath I now treasure,
Each step spent running I now hold dear.

I have often thought about this question over the years.

I though I knew the answer 15 years ago when I quit smoking. I took up running only as a means of weight control. For a year I ran the same 2 mile route 4-5 times a week. It was only when I increased the distance to just over 5K that I started feeling the effects of what people refer to as The Runner's High. More about what may be responsible for this feeling here on Scott Dunlap's blog. I was hooked.

These days, after almost 15 years of constant running, I have come to realize that it is more than mere endorphins or anandamide in my brain that compel me to put sole to earth and cover long distances. Here are some thoughts. Would love for you people out there to add your own experiences.

The Horizon & Nature
Running is about using one's own power to achieve something.

All human actions have "horizons". Man's desire to explore resulted in that first pair of feet that went past the edge of the forest or across to the other side of the valley. It is in our questing nature to see what lies over the far line dividing the Sky from the Earth.

Running is as elemental as it gets in our need to take on Nature mano-a-mano. No mechanical aids. No fancy gadgets. Just the strength in our legs, the desire in our hearts and the motivation to fuse those two together.


Master & Commander
Above all else, it is a journey, a voyage of discovery.

Like Columbus, I too set out, at the start of every run, not knowing what gales will batter my spirit or what waves will crash against my frail body. All I leave with are the strength of my body and of my mind. On that journey I will encounter ferocious storms that will sap strength. On that journey I will encounter beautiful islands that will lift my spirits. I am my own Master and Commander. I am a sailing crew of one.

I will come out of the ordeal stronger, both in mind and in body.

Running Is Life
Every tribulation that we take on in life makes us that much stronger. Running symbolizes life for me. Running teaches me how to live life as it should be lived - with enthusiasm, courage and an "always-can-do" attitude.

I used to advise the runners I coached about how running and life are interchangeable. The lessons learned from one are entirely applicable to the other.

Many lessons has running taught me. How tough I am. How frail I am. How beautiful Earth is. How fortunate I am to be able take on Nature and yet be a part of it. How naively confident I am at the start of a 50-miler or a 100K. How proud I am at the end of having conquered yet another summit. How blessed I am that I am part of a larger community that feels like I do.

Monday, July 31, 2006

50-mile bike ride

I was a happy camper Saturday. I had done my first 50-mile bike ride in almost 3 years. Why did it take so long? I have no idea. All I can say is that I was elated because biking has always helped my running and the fact that I was in good enough shape to do a 50-mile ride 3 weeks after starting a bike ride every weekend was great news.

I started at 11:15 am from home. The first few miles were spent warming up. I had chosen to go a circuitous route to get to Foothill Expressway. A slight detour into downtown Mt. View was needed in order to give Arul (he and his wife were running the SF Half marathon the next day) my small digital camera. That mission accomplished, I got back onto Foothill Expwy only to make a pit stop in the Bicycle Outfitters. I bought an awesome looking Castelli biking jersey that I promptly put on (the one I was wearing went into the back pocket of the new one).

On the bike again. I had already put in about 15 miles by now. I decided to make a left turn onto Arastradero Rd this time instead of the usual left turn on Alpine Rd. A few small hills later I found myself in a Jewish school/synagogue complex looking for a water fountain. I filled up both my bottles and started up Arastradero Rd. again.

That road soon ended on Page Mill Rd. I made a right turn and headed up the hill towards El Camino Real. My aim was to find a gas station so that I could buy some food and Gatorade or Powerade. I found one and was soon happily munching away on peanuts and drinking Powerade .

A mile from home and the odometer showed 41 miles. I decided to circle the block a few times to take it to 45 miles. Very soon the goal became 50 miles which necessitated a bigger block! When I got off the bike at the end, the cycle computer showed 50.18. Way to go Rajeev.

Biking helps strengthen quads in a hurry. Next week I want to tackle hills. I will most likely head up Highway 9, take a right onto Skyline and follow it to Page Mill. Down Page Mill and then back home via Foothill again should give me a good hill climb and substantial mileage.

3 Hour Night run

Boy! Was this fun!

Anil and I had decided to run 2-3 hours on the tracks in Saratoga as our "long" run. We chose Friday, July 28, as our day.

I had gone with Anu to Redwood Shores for her open water swim. By the time she and Rajeev Char finished the swim, it was about 8 pm. I decided to eat dinner, around 8:50 pm, in an Indian restaurant called Das Prakash in Santa Clara. I reached home around 9:25 pm. I promptly put on a pot of coffee and spiied on the hot brew while chacnking on my e-mails. I hit the road at 10:15 pm and reached the tracks around 10:25. Anil showed up 10 minutes later.

We started running at 10:45. 10 laps counterclockwise, 10 clockwise, 10 counter ... The miles piled up. Around 9 or 10 miles Anil suggested that we run "faster" (10 min/miles) for 3 laps, slower for 2, faster for 3 laps as in order to get in some tempo running. Off we went. I wound up running the last lap at around 7:30 pace. 2 laps slow were followed by 3 laps fast again, with me doing the last 200m in 6:55 pace. Whew!

We finally called it a "night" :) at 1:45 am, exactly 3 hours and 13.85 miles later. Our aim had been to find out what it took to run past our usual bedtime. We discovered that keeping awake would not be a big problem.

The nice thing is that we will have plenty of light, in the form of moonlight, during our 24-hour run the weekend of Aug 12. We intend to start at 6 am on Saturday and run till 6 am on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Farinelli

Years and years ago I watched a movie named Farinelli purely by chance. It made an impression on me. Not because the movie was exceptional but because of the voices emanating from the throat of the central character, the eponymous Farinelli, who was a castrato. They sounded almost surreal.

Farinelli, born Carlo Broschi, was one of the greatest castrati singers of all time. He is reputed to have had a range of a more than 3 octaves. That is phenomenal! I aspire to sing and I know what it takes me to go up one octave!

He was a contemporary of one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period of Western Classical music, namely Handel. In fact there is a story about how he sided a faction that had put up a rival opera, to Handel's, but which failed in spite of Farinelli, with his by then great fame, throwing his weight behind it.

Pope Leo XIII banned castrati from performing in the Church in 1902. I have heard a scratchy recording of the last castrato, one Alessandro Moreschi, and he is very good.

I can only imagine what Farinelli must have sounded like! This is where time travel would have been awesome! Of course I would then listen live to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn!!

Speaking of Beethoven, there is this amusing anecdote I heard long ago about that man's awareness of his own greatness AND his place in history. He had handed sheets of music to a conductor who, after looking through, said, "What is this? Music? I don't understand it!". To this Beethoven is reported to have replied, "Don't worry. Just play it. It's not meant for you. It's meant for a later generation."!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

... were Paradise enow

The title is from Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat:

A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread-- and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness--
Oh, wilderness were paradise enow!

How beautiful!

I'm excited, as I am every year for the past 4 (with a gap in 2003), about my upcoming trip to the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. They have a saying in Hawaiian about Maui, "Maui No Ka Oi". It means "Maui Is The Best". How true.

I made my first trip to that beautiful island in my first year as coach of Team Asha, in 2002, to run the Maui marathon. I had a hard time with the heat and intense humidity that year and ran a miserable 3:59:26. I was miserable not because of my time but what I went through just to finish in under 4 hours. At the end I almost felt like I had been put through a wringer.

Team Asha opted not to go to Maui in 2003. We went up to Victoria, BC (Canada) the following year and I ran my marathon PR there. The Perfect Race I called it.

We went back to sunny and magical Maui in 2004. This time I had made sure that the Team had been made to train under a hot sun (I made them run their 20/22 mile runs on a trail without any shade, starting at 8 am). I ran 10 minutes faster in 2004 (3:49) and felt great all through the race. I even stopped for 3-4 minutes to visit a port-a-potty along the course!

2005 was a strange race for me. I had run the Wine Country Half in Napa earlier that year (my Half PR of 1:37 was run in the same race in 2004) in July and had suffered exercise-induced asthma in the latter stages of the race. I did not recognize it as such then. In the Maui marathon, I started slower than usual. I remember passing the 7 mile marker in about 63 minutes, just before the 4 mile rolling section of the course. This section proved to be my undoing. The mounting heat along with the asthma meant the end for me. I walked all the uphills starting around mile 10 and my race went south form there. I finally crossed the finish in 4:32, one of my worst races ever!

Back to Paradise now. One of the most beautiful sights in Maui is Haleakala, from the vista point along the highway from the airport in West Maui. This is probaly one of the largest shield volcanoes in the world. It is approximately half the height of the tallest and largest shield volcano in the world, the majestic Kilimanjaro that towers over the Serengeti in Tanzania. In my 3 trips to Maui I have never been to the top to view the legendary sunset. Haleakala means "The House Of The Rising Sun". What an apt name for the mountain.

Maui is one of the youngest of the 132 islands that make up the Hawaiian chain of islands. This chain is the result of the continental plate, the Pacific Plate, that the islands are on moving across a "hot spot" in the earth's mantle. This "hot spot" or plume of magma created the islands as the Pacific Plate moved northwest. The Hawaiian islands are mountains in an undersea mountain range called the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. These islands were formerly known as the Sandwich Islands.

The plume is currently centered just east of the Big Island (Hawai'i). Kilauea has been active since 1983 because of the "hot spot". The youngest of the Hawaiian islands is currently under the surface of the ocean, 18 miles southeast of the Big Island. Under 3200 feet of water, Lo'ihi will probably break the surface of the ocean in a few tens of thousands of years and either become a new island in its own right or join up with Kileuea as part of the Big island.

The Earth is an amazing place is it not? A place born out of one of the most violent events in Nature is Paradise now!