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.