Thursday, October 13, 2011

You Get What You Ask For

"You get what you ask for". Not that I don't believe it but how true it is was hammered into me during the incredible Spartathlon.

What an experience it turned out to be. I now understand why people go back to run it year after year whether they've finished it or not. I will be going back next year and the year after and subsequent years too (assuming I qualify to run it beyond 2013).

Let's start with the days leading up to the race. I flew to Athens a few days before the race to get over jet lag and get used to the heat and humidity there. Surprisingly, unlike last year, it was not very humid this year and it proved to be a saving grace for my race.

I picked up my race packet around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sep 28, and met a few people I know.

(75 Checkpoints, 75 drop bags if you like!)

Dinner that evening was with Mimi Anderson (she was the 3rd. woman overall), her husband Tim, their friend Bridget, Allan Rumbles and his wife and Matt Mahoney and his wife. They are all British and I know Allan from the GUCR earlier this year.

Friday, September 30
My Mom's birthday. She would have been 74 had she not passed away earlier this year in May. I had dedicated the race to her.

I got up around 3 a.m. in order to shower, tape my feet and eat breakfast. The hotel was across the street from the London Hotel from where buses were to depart at 6:00 a.m. sharp for the Acropolis. I went inside the hotel to use the restroom one last time and I met last year's winner, Ivan Cudin, there. I wished him good luck and found out that he had been ill the past 2 months and had not been able to train as he would have liked. He went on to finish 7 minutes faster than last year, in 22:56, and became only the 3rd. person ever, after Yiannis Kouros and Scott Jurek, to run the Spartathlon in under 23 hours! What an amazing runner he is - check out his picture later on in this post.

I found myself sitting near Mark Woolley, an Englishman who has been living in Malaga (Spain) for the past 20 years. He had run the race thrice before and finished once. He was hoping to even it with a finish this year (he did finish!).

The Acropolis was a beehive of activity. Runners from so many nationalities were swarming around taking pictures or videos and the air was thick with excitement intermingled with nervousness.

I met up with my British friends - James Adams, Matt Mahoney, Allan Rumbles, Peter Leslie Foxall (he was starting his 14th Spartathlon; he has finished the race 9 times!). I even managed to get a nice picture with them.

With my British friends before the Start. L to R: Philip Smith,
Matt Mahoney, Mark Woolley and James Adams)

I had to run off into the bushes at least 3 times in order to pee. A sign of things to come!

The race started promptly at 7 a.m. and the first mile was all downhill. My last 2 runs had been 5-milers on Monday and Tuesday. I had gotten rest on Wednesday but had climbed all the way to the Parthenon the day before to do some sightseeing.

The early miles felt wonderful. My legs were opening up and my Garmin showed me to be maintaining a pace between 9:45-10:00 mins/mile. The first urge to pee came around 7:45 a.m. Good! If correctly hydrated I pee around every 45-50 minutes. I ran off to the side of the road into a deserted lot to relieve myself. A minute gone right there. The first 2-3 hours I peed every 35-45 minutes.

We soon found ourselves on the Iera Odos, the road used 2500 years ago to make the religious trek to the festival in Elefsina. Lined with shops and buildings it would appear alien to an Athenian transported forward to the present.

We soon left Iera Odos and made the left turn onto Leoforos Athinon. I remember a Greek motorist shouting angrily at the policemen standing in the middle of the road. Traffic along this busy highway had been stopped to let the runners through and the motorists were irate at the prospect of waiting at the light for 10-20 minutes.

This road was probably the least attractive section of the entire race. Cars and trucks whizzed by belching exhaust fumes and it was a relief to branch out to the right, away from the busy road, onto a smaller road with much less traffic.

I had decided to put in 200 - 240 calories every hour. For the first 50 miles I had made use of just one drop bag, at Checkpoint# 13 (30 miles), in which I had put 8 gels. I was carrying 12 gels in my waist pack and the pouch in my hand bottle. I dutifully ingested 1 100 calorie gel every 30 minutes and it kept my blood sugar even. I had taken a salt tablet just before the Start and waited until 2 hours into the race to take the next one.

My initial plan had been to skip every other Checkpoint but it turned out that I went through all of them just to have my bottle either filled or topped up. These visits never took more than 10-15 seconds and I was very pleased with those rapid transitions. I needed every second - I had never run a 50-mile race in under 9:45 and here I was being asked to do it in 9:30!

The Half marathon point went by in 2:10 and it was starting to get toasty warm by now. We passed a factory and the road climbed a bit past it. This was around the 16 mile mark. We soon hit a stretch of the road that was beautiful. It hugged the coast with the Saronic Gulf on the left. The sun glinted off the water, ships went about their business and ahead of me I could see the coast stretching off into the distance. It reminded me a bit of the Big Sur marathon course.

I was still running well and had not walked at all. The road veered off the coast and started to see more traffic once again. It got very busy around the 25 mile mark as there seemd to be construction work up ahead. Before I knew it I had reached Checkpoint #11 (42.2K or 26.2 miles). 4:23 is what I took to run the marathon. I made it out of there 22 minutes ahead of the 4:45 cutoff. First part of the mission accomplished!

(Drinking a sports drink in the 26.2 -mile CP)

Pretty soon after the marathon CP the road got back along the coast again and started to rise up. This is where I walked for the first time, about 0.7 miles. As soon as it started to get undulating again I started to run and I ran all the way to the 30-mile CP, a checkpoint perched next to a hotel 60 feet above the ocean.

(30-mile Checkpoint)

My only drop bag in the first 50 miles was in this Checkpoint and it contained gels. I stuffed them into my waist pack and got out without wasting too much time. I had reached 30 miles in 5:09 and the 31 mile point came and went in 5:19. Not bad for a slow, old geezer like me! :-)

The road now wended its way a bit away from the ocean past homes and stores. It was really hot now and I was starting to slow down a tad. 30 miles in 5:09 is 10:18 mins/mile. The 40-mile CP came in 7:10 i.e. 10:42 mins/mile pace. I was still not worried for I had 10 more miles to do and a good 2 hours and 20 minutes to do them in though I did want to get to the 50-mile CP in 9 hours or under.

(Approaching the 40-mile CP in around 7:10)

I eventually rolled into CP #22 at 9:09 into the race.

Even though I had only 20 minutes before the Checkpoint closed I still decided to get a 10 minute massage for both my legs. I downed a chocolate milk and changed into Brooks Racer ST shoes. These weigh around 7 ounces and felt so comfortable once my feet went in. I started from CP #22 at 9:21 into the race and promptly got into a rhythm of sorts. Walking and running, when I could, got me to the next CP. I was not feeling all that great. My legs were starting to slowly deteriorate but I was determined to plod on.

I eventually got to the CP before Ancient Corinth and then past the ruins of Ancient Corinth into the next CP.

(Ancient Corinth)

(Ivan Cudin, the winner, flying past the ruins)

In and out of there in a flash, I set my sights on the next CP which was to close at 7 p.m. (12 hours into the race). My pace slowed terribly after this and I basically made it into the that CP at 7:00 on the dot! I still had half a bottle full of water and only 1.8 miles to go to the next CP. I blasted out of that CP and ran sub-7:30 mins/mile and made it to the next CP with 5 minutes to spare. It's noteworthy that I had now done a 100K in 12 hours during a tough, tough race. I was proud of myself.

That bit of fast running was the last I did until the CP where I stopped. My legs were really hurting now and I did not want to take a Tylenol just to make it from CP to CP for, deep down inside me, I knew that one of the Checkpoints ahead would be my last one i.e. I would reach it too late. CP #31 it was where I reached 11 minutes late. It was still open and one of the Race Directors, the one who had let me leave the previous CP 5 minutes after closing time, was there again. He was perfectly agreeable to letting me continue but I decided to stop just because I knew that I would be getting to each CP later and later and there was no purpose to subjecting my body to more pain when there was an infinitesimally small chance of anything different happening.

Back to Athens it was the next day and then the flight back to San Francisco on Monday, Oct 3.

So what did I learn from the Spartathlon?

(a) I am faster than I have given myself credit for recently. It's been a long time since I ran a race hard and the Spartathlon kind of forced me to do so. Had it not been for the increasingly frequent pee stops in the last 20-23 miles I would have reached the 50-mile CP in under 8:50.

(b) The race is hard but not unconquerable for someone like me. I will have to train harder and smarter to get to Leonidas's feet next year.

(c) AMAT VICTORIA CURAM - "Victory Loves Preparation". I will have to prepare really well in order to emerge victorious next year.

Now coming back to the first line in this blog - "You get what you ask for". Since applying for the race earlier in the year I have been talking just one kind of talk - I am so very grateful for being able to start this amazing race and anything I achieve will be far more than I could ever hope for. Just getting to 50 miles in under 9:30 will be wonderful. THAT'S ALL I focused on - 50 miles in around 8:45 or so.

Guess what I got? 50 miles in under 9:30 and then kaput! The brain had decided that that's all it was going to give me since I did not truly believe that I could run 100 miles in the Spartathlon in under 23 hours. I had violated my own first principle that I try to teach the people I coach - have belief in yourself and focus on the moment AND entire race..

(d) The biggest confidence booster was the fact that I DID reach 50 miles in around 9 hours. I know that I can reach the same point in next year's race, with good training and proper hydration management during the race, in 8:30 or faster. If I do so and my legs are still feeling good, my chances of making the Base of the Mountain CP with ample time to spare are very good.

Heartfelt gratitude to Tim, and Bridget (Mimi's crew) and, especially, to James Adams and Robert Treadwell for helping my crew navigate the maze that is Athenian roads in the first 50 miles and continuing to encourage me on repeatedly in the miles between 50 and 68.

Kudos to all of the volunteers, from the Race Directors down to the people manning the Checkpoints, for a fantastically run race. They made it easy for me to get in and out of checkpoints in a flash!

Onwards to the Javelina Jundred on November 12 now.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

3 weeks to the Spartathlon

In 490 B.C. Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta a few days before the Battle of Marathon.

My run starts atop the Acropolis, under the imposing but beautiful Parthenon, at 7 a.m. on Friday, September 30,

Here are the cutoffs every runner will try to stay under in order to advance towards the Finish:

Athens to Corinth ===> 81 km ===> 81 km IN 9.5 hrs
Corinth to Nemea ===> 124 km ===> 43.0 km IN 6.5 hrs
Nemes to Lyrkeia ===> 148.5 km ===> 24.5 km IN 4 hrs
Lyrkia to Nestani ===> 172 km ===> 23.5 km IN 4.5 hrs
Nestani to Tegea ===> 195 km ===> 23 km IN 3.5 hrs
Tegea to Sparta ===> 245.3 km ===> 50.3 km IN 8 hrs

The elevation profile is shown below.

The days will be hot and humid while the night could possibly see rain and cold. Last year it was sad to see some runners in nothing but shorts and singlets getting soaked to the skin, from the rain that hit for an hour or so, and getting hypothermic.

What do I hope will happen on Saturday, Oct 1? This!

From Tegea the road takes on the final climb of the race rising from 640 m (2,100 ft) to 975 meters (3,200 ft) in a distance of 22 km. The runners will pass through the villages of Kamari (196.8 km) and Manthirea (202.1 km) where the paved road twists and turns through an evergreen landscape that is visible almost as far as the eye can see. The final 28 kilometres to Sparta are almost all downhill descending into the Evrotas Valley. At the village of Voutiani (236.2 kilometres), the runners can clearly see their goal and after crossing over the Evrotas river bridge (243.5 km) the runners are met by local school children who will accompany them to checkpoint 75 and the finish line in Sparta the capital of Laconia (245.3 km).

The city turns out in force to welcome the athletes as heroes in front of the statue of King Leonidas. All finishers are presented with an olive wreath and offered a goblet of water from the Evrotas River, much as Olympian winners would have been honoured in ancient times.

To say that I am very, very excited is an understatement. The nervousness may, and probably will, come the night before the race but I am prepared for it. To be given the opportunity to start one of the hardest and most iconic of races is an honor I am humbled by. I worked hard last year, and again this year, to finish the 145-mile Grand Union Canal Race in the UK, races that have become my qualifiers for Spartathlon 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The plan, as of right now, is to run this race this year and in 2012. I may skip 2013 but friends who have run it before insist that it's like a drug - you cannot have enough of it. Having seen it for myself last year, during my crewing stint for Nattu Natraj, I kind of understand their assertion.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Running Far in the GUCR - Part Deux

Race: Grand Union Canal 145M Race
Date: May 28, 2011
Location: Birmingham to London, United Kingdom
Time: 41:30

In far London lay the big prize
Sought by ninety-two pairs of eyes.
Off they went with hope in the breast
That well they would fare in the test
And make it past the next sunrise.

Zeus looked down kindly from the skies
On the Will, staving off demise,
Which hoped to finally get rest
In far London.

Heard were many dejected sighs
As, for the fight, feet failed to rise.
The rest bravely managed to wrest,
From Nike, the Cup of Conquest:
Their dragons they'd cut down to size
In far London.

How similar this year's race was to last year's. Ergo the poem above, a rondeau, is similar in theme to last year's sonnet.

The biggest thing I learned is that I have to go back to the drawing board for my Spartathlon training. Just under 4 months left and I have to not only step it up but make a few radical changes. Que sera sera.

Thursday, June 26
I landed in London around 1:30 p.m. and soon found myself on the Piccadilly line making my way to the Euston Road station and a cafe near it where I was meeting a Facebook friend for tea around 3:15 p.m. It was raining when I emerged above ground but quickly found the cafe and made it there without getting very wet. The friend had been waiting since past 2 p.m. and had to leave around 4 p.m. for another appointment. We talked about a lot of things during our 40-minute chat. It was refreshing to meet someone who had no running background. It was also coincidental that the friend's neighbor was running the GUCR too. Small world!

Off I went to Euston Station and after asking about the fare to Birmingham I was faced with the choice of taking the next train, at 4:15 p.m., for the cost of UK Pounds 74 or wait until off-peak hours (after 7 p.m.) to pay a fare of UK Pounds 18. Not wanting to sit in a station for almost 3 hours I paid the higher price the result of which was a walk from Birmingham's New Street station to my hotel, Jurys Inn on Broad Street, in daylight.

I deposited my luggage in the hotel room and went downstairs to pick up water etc. from a store across the street. It was then off to Pushkar for dinner. By the time I fell asleep it was 2 a.m.

Friday, May 27
I woke up around 8 a.m. and went downstairs to eat breakfast. After breakfast I went up to shower after which I went out again to walk along the canal and up and down Broad Street.

I returned to the hotel room and found myself falling asleep just past noon. I woke up feeling refreshed around 2:15 p.m. After freshening up I went out to grab an early dinner. I ate dal and rice in an Indian restaurant. James Adams had sent a message to a whole bunch of us that he would be in a pub called O'Neill's around 4:15 p.m. The pub was right next to the Travelodge where we were to pick up our bib numbers between 5 and 8 p.m.

James was in the pub as promised and we hit it off immediately. He is a very talented runner, having finished the GUCR in 30 hours and change in 2008 in addition to the Spartathlon (twice) and Badwater. Very soon other runners were filing in. We eventually had a full table with Claire Shelley (she went on to win the Women's race the next day!), Allan Rumbles, Paul Ali, Mike Blamires, Jeremy Smallwood, George Fairbrother, Dino Illaria, Lindley Chambers, his friend Sue Albiston, James Adams, Gemma Greenwood, Sarah Hutton, Neil Bryant, Stuart Shipley and a few others.

I ate a couple of orders of French fries. We soon dispersed with Allan, James, Claire, Lindley, Sue and I heading along the route for a half mile or so to reconnoiter the course. It was back to my hotel room after that. Having slept the 2 hours around noon sleep was now hard to come by. I tried repeatedly but was forced to switch on the light and the TV often.

Saturday, May 28
I eventually gave up around 3 a.m. Needing to be up and about by 4 a.m. I did not see any benefit to lying around in bed until then. I quickly ate breakfast (milk and a chocolate croissant) and got down to the business of showering and taping up my feet. I finally left the hotel around 5:25 a.m. and made my way to the Start area on Gas Street.

(In the Start area. Photo courtesy of James Adams)

I met Sharon Weldon, Christian Hottas, Christine Schroeder, Keith Godden and a lot of other people I had come to know from my UK races from the past 2 years.

(Waiting to start the race. Photo courtesy of Christian Hottas)

Dick Kearn's race briefing was short. Something that stood out was "Please avoid painkillers. They take the pain away but leave behind the killer bit". Nice advice. Right after that we were off.

(0.2 miles into the race)

Start to CP#1 @Catherine de Barnes Bridge (10.7 miles)
My tentative plan was to make it to the first Checkpoint, at 10.7 miles, by 8:00 a.m. and eventually to 70 miles in anywhere between 14-16 hours (8 - 10:00 p.m.). That would give me a good springboard to try to go under 40 hours.

(Powering to the first Checkpoint)

(Less than a mile from the first Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of Gemma Greenwood)

The miles went by quite fast. I was talking to another runner and before we knew it we were at the Checkpoint. I reached at 8:03 a.m., downed a milk carton and left in 2 minutes flat.

CP#1 (10.7 miles) to CP#2 @Hatton Locks (22 miles)
The runner I had been talking to had gone on ahead and now I was all by myself. I took up a 25-minute run, 5-minute walk method that wound up working for me for the next 50 or so miles. The 25 minutes would go by almost unnoticed as did the 5-minute walk breaks. I was making good time.

(~ 13 miles from the Start. Photo courtesy of Gemma Greenwood)

It must have been about around mile 19 or so that I came upon a friend, Stephen Thomson, who had finished the 2009 Thames Ring 250M and last year's South Downs Way 100M race (where I had missed the 56M checkpoint because I got lost). He lives in Birmingham and he had decided to get a 20+ mile training run in along the same route as the GUCR just so he could encourage friends running the race. He ran with me all the way to the Checkpoint where his wife and kids were waiting for him. He wished me luck and I powered on towards the actual Checkpoint. Here too I was in and out fast, maybe a couple of minutes at best. I had reached the Checkpoint at 10:30 a.m. i.e. 4.5 hours into the race.

CP#2 (22 miles) to CP#3@Birdingbury Bridge (35.9 miles)
I continued to use the 25 Run, 5 Walk strategy. It was working so why not? I was still using a gel every 45-50 minutes in addition to a salt tablet every 2 hours or so. In addition to the milk I was drinking at every Checkpoint (I was getting it from my drop bag) I was also partaking of crisps, a few cookies here and there and roasted peanuts. This section is hazy in my memory. I was mostly alone and in a zone of sorts. CP#3 duly arrived at 1:22 p.m. (7:22 into the race).

I did sit down here for I wanted to eat some of the canal soup that Dick Kearn, the RD, had mentioned in his e-mails a few days before the race. The soup took about 5 minutes to be made so I busied myself by eating a few more crisps and peanuts. The soup was one of the tastiest things I had eaten all day. I texted as much to my friend, Anu Singh, and she cautioned me against eating too much in the feed stations. She remembered what had happened to me after gorging on a lot of food in the 70.5 mile CP last year!

CP#3 (35.9 miles) to CP#4 @Heart of England, Weedon (53 miles)
It was back to the 25+5 grindstone again. It must have been a couple of miles out from the CP that I hooked up with a runner, Per Hjorth, who was running the race for the first time. He was wearing a cute blue hairpiece.

(Per Hjorth in the Heart of England, Weedon feed station. Photo courtesy of Jonathan)

He and I were either together or within sight of each other for the next 80 miles or so. It was in Braunston that I helped a cyclist carry his bike up a steep set of steps that crossed the canal. Soon Per and I were at the steps that would take us onto the path that went up a moderately steep hill and to the other side of the Braunston tunnel. I ran up the hill all the way partly to use my quads, muscles that had lain kind of dormant all day, and partly to thumb my nose at the hill.

Back down to the canal it was again. Per and I talked about various runners that we knew and we soon arrived at the Norton Junction (48.3 miles). Allan Rumbles was here and we greeted each other. I went into the inn there to use their toilet facilities. The innkeeper was kind enough to fill my bottles with water and a pub customer even bought me a bag of crisps! You English people are the best!!!

I arrived in CP#4 at 5:38 p.m. i.e. 11:38 into the race. Back calculating I would hazard a guess that I passed 50 miles in around 10 hours 30 minutes. I again had some milk and left soon after.

CP#4 (53 miles) to CP#5 @Navigation Bridge (70.5 miles)
This section of the route goes over the second tunnel, the Blisworth tunnel (at mile 62.5), and involves over a mile of asphalt. I remember going over the tunnel with a couple of other runners and then making my way down the trail to the canal. In spite of having gone to the restroom at 48.5 miles the urge to go was back and as strong as ever. I used a pub on the lock by the canal. I remember coming out of the restroom and noting the Barcelona-Manchester United score (it was tied 1-1 then).

Back onto the towpath again. I ran+walked as best as I could until, with about 2-2.5 miles to the next CP, twilight set in. My headlamp was useless in that hazy light and I resorted to walking until it got dark. Once the lamp was switched on I discovered that the towpath was not in the best of conditions, making for treacherous, in my opinion, footing. So I walked all the way to CP#5 arriving there, with a chilly breeze blowing atop the bridge, at 10:19 p.m.

CP#5 (70.5 miles) to CP#6@Bridge 99, Water Eaton (84.5 miles)
After eating some baked beans and a few cookies and getting into slightly warmer clothes, i.e. my Polartec American River 50M jacket, gloves and my Lean Horse beanie, I was about to leave when Javed Bhatti showed up as he had promised he would a few days before the race. He is one of the nicest people I know - very supportive and encouraging. He and his friend, Fiona McNelis, offered to pace me for a couple of miles. Their company was more than welcome! I had texted Emily Gelder, who was going to pace me from 99.8 miles onward, that I would probably not get into CP#7 until after 7 a.m.

We ran some and walked a lot of the next 2 miles before they bid me adieu and turned around to go back and wait for Christian Hottas to show up at CP#5.

A really strange thing happened that put paid to my hopes of making it to 100 miles in around 25 hours. Every gel I ate instantly resulted in severe acid reflux. It would shoot up into my throat. This made it very hard to keep my caloric input going and, as a result, I was forced to walk along at a pedestrian pace.

Very soon I found myself walking along the towpath with Per Hjorth and Sarah Hutton. Sarah's legs were starting to seize up. I would stop now and then to pee and they would continue on and disappear around a bend. I would trudge on and eventually catch up with them only to have the cycle repeat itself some 30-40 minutes later. Our little train finally spotted the dim lights of the CP ahead in the distance. We made it there at 2:56 a.m. (20:56 into the race if you are still awake and keeping track).

I promptly asked for some hot chocolate, ate a lot of cookies and also crisps. I also asked the Anthony Taylor, the co-RD of the Thames Ring 250M, to wake me up in 20 minutes. I tried hard to sleep but with the sound of the generator behind me and the runners coming and going I was unable to sleep at all. I had now been awake for 37 hours straight. I left CP#6 around 3:23 a.m. Sarah had already left. Per was right behind me.

CP#6 (84.5 miles) to CP#7@Grand Junction Arms (99.8 miles)
This section was a long one. Per was ahead of me and I kept him in sight. He was walking at a pretty good pace and I must have been too for I pretty much kept the same distance between us.

Very soon the pre-dawn light brightened the sky and the darkness retreated with every passing minute. It was still cold and I was loath to take off my warm jacket lest I caught a chill. The phone rang around 6:00 a.m. It was Emily informing me that she and her friend, Clare Shobbrook, were in CP#7. She asked me if I wanted them to come to a point closer to where I was so I could rest. I gladly accepted their generous offer. I turned Data Roaming on in my iPhone and quickly looked up Post Codes (Dick had sent them to crewed runners last year) for meeting points ahead of me.

I met Emily and Clare around the 94.5 mile point and they promptly left me in the back seat of the clean car, whose floor promptly got dirty with all the canal dirt I brought in, to get some sleep. It was probably around 7:00 a.m. or so. I tried, unsuccessfully once again, to sleep for 15 minutes. I finally got up when they returned and starting walking again. Emily and Clare drove off to make their way to CP#7.

I reached the CP at around 8:53 a.m. I promptly gathered my toiletries and went off to the Grand Junction Arms pub's bathroom to use the toilet and freshen up. I felt like a new man when I emerged 15 minutes later dressed in fresh clothes all ready to attack the new day.

I quickly ate some beans, some more peanuts and crisps and, with Emily Gelder now by my side, set out to get past 100 miles and onto the Finish. It must have bee around 9:20 a.m. when we left CP#7.

CP#7 (99.8 miles) to CP#8@Springwell Lock (120.3 miles)
It was still not possible to run. Emily tried to get me to shuffle a couple of times but my heart and body were just not in it. So we walked. Very soon she and I came upon a runner who was sitting on a bench by the side of the canal. She asked after his health and quickly asked me to go ahead while she helped David. Very soon I could hear them talking and coming up behind me. David soon passed me. He and I were to play tag for the next 10 miles or so. He would go ahead and I would catch up and pass him. Then he would pass me. This made for an interesting morning in a beautiful part of England.

Emily is just one of the sweetest people you are ever likely to meet. Very, very helpful and supportive she was the best thing I could have asked for in those miles. She even massaged my legs 2-3 times between then and the Finish. I owe her the latter part of my race!

Clare met us around 105 miles and it was great fun to down a generic Red Bull during the small stop. It kind of settled my stomach but I was still finding it hard to run.

Emily asked me to go ahead. I started walking and it was soon after that I decided to try a small nap. I distinctly remember setting my watch alarm for 5 minutes hence and I actually got 4 minutes of deep sleep sitting on a step! I was instantly awake as soon as the alarm went off. The 5-minute nap had done me a world of wonders! I felt reinvigorated. Emily soon caught up with me and we surged ahead.

It must have been around 110-111 miles that I asked Emily if Clare would be kind enough to get me French fries. They had worked last year, around the same point in the race, and they were my last hope this time around.

Such coincidence that Clare agreed to meet us at the same place that I had eaten fries last year! Unfortunately traffic had slowed her down and she had not yet reached the bridge when we got there. Emily asked me to continue on and she would bring the fries to me.

It must have been right here that I attempted to run once again. Maybe the Red Bull had done its magic. Maybe my brain had woken up and decided that it was tired of walking. I was able to maintain a decent 10-11 minutes/mile pace for the next 1.5 miles or so. I kept looking back to see if I could spot Emily but she was nowhere to be seen. I kept moving on and suddenly she was by my side, holding a Macdonald's bag of fries! Manna from Heaven brought to me by my own angel - Emily! The fries revived me tremendously!

I soon started running, like I had the year before, at 8-9 minutes/mile pace and soon passed Per Hjorth and David who were walking together now, and blazed into CP#8 at 2:10 p.m. (32:10 into the race). I must have spent 5 minutes here having my bottles refilled and handing over my drop bags to Clare to take to her car. Clare were going to drive on to the pub at 127.5 miles.

CP#8 (120.3 miles) to CP#9@Hambrough Tavern (133.2 miles)
Emily was in Clare's car eating something and changing clothes so I took off at a sedate pace. Emily soon caught up with me. We ran along and walked occasionally and, about 2 miles from the Checkpoint, Emily and Clare talked. I immediately asked Emily to request Clare to order French fries for me. As soon as we reached the pub I went to use the toilet one more time. I came out to find the 2 beautiful women sitting outside enjoying their drinks and food. I quickly polished off the fries and a glass of wine. I was on the road again in 6 minutes or so around 6:45 p.m.

Just like last year I put the hammer down and started running fast. It must have been a few miles into the run that I suddenly heard my Mom, who had passed away the week before in India, start a conversation with me. I told her that I missed her and she talked about how she had given up on Life after suffering a fractured leg a few days before she expired. I asked her if she was going to be with me during the run and she replied in the affirmative. I powered on secure in the knowledge that my Mom was by my side.

I reached Bull's Bridge junction around 7:42 p.m. I quickly got onto the Paddington arm of the canal and continued to run. I reached the final Checkpoint, at Hambrough Tavern in Southall, at 7:56 p.m. I had my bottles refilled and asked Clare to tell Emily, who was still in the Tavern using the restroom, that I had left.

CP#9 (133.2 miles) to the Finish, Little Venice (145.4 miles)
I ambled along and Emily finally showed up about 0.75 miles into the run. I had decided, before she showed up, that the blister in my left foot that had been bothering me for the last 40 miles or so was getting too painful to continue running on. So it was going to be a long 12-mile walk to the Finish.

Emily and I walked along talking non-stop about Badwater etc. I will be crewing her next month in that iconic race. It must have been about 5 miles to the Finish when I got a text from James Adams asking me how far I was and that he was coming to meet us. True to his word he showed up with about 2.5 miles to go. Emily and James talked about this and that and I moved steadily on listening to their conversation. James left us with about a mile to go since he could take a bridge across to where his girlfriend, Gemma, lived. Emily and I moved on and before we knew it we were in sight of the Finish.

With about 300 yards to go I called Anu and she promptly put me on her speaker phone. It was gratifying to have Anu, Nishad, Malhar and the others listen in on my finishing yet another GUCR!

I was blown away by the times that the men's and women's winners had recorded. Pat Robbins broke his own record of 26:24 by running a phenomenal 25:37 while Claire Shelley finished in 30:00 even. Hats off to you both!!

Emily and Clare, who had picked up food and a bottle of wine for me for my post-Finish celebrations, dropped me off to my hotel, the Novotel, soon after the Finish. I was in bed by 1:00 a.m. and woke up early to eat breakfast before packing up and taking a cab to the airport. I was back home in San Jose by 6:00 p.m.!

I had wanted to go under 38 hours for this race. I finished 3.5 hours slower. I have to really rethink my Spartathlon strategy. More pain in the offing? So be it. :-)

Let me first start by thanking Dick Kearn and his amazing corps of volunteers. They were extremely helpful and caring. I thank you all for helping me finish this long race. You folks are awesome!

James Adams - a special shout out to you. You are an inspiration! I love your sense of humor and your amazing talent at running long, hard races. I am looking forward to meeting up with you again in Athens for the Spartathlon. Good luck in your run across the USA which you start on June 19.

(Clare, on the left, and Emily in the hotel lobby after my finish)

Clare Shobbrook - you are a doll. You did not even know me before the race but you went miles out of your way to help me. I am moved, very moved. You have a lifelong friend in the US!! Hugs to you.

Emily - what can I say about you? You are the most wonderful soul. I feel like you and I have known each other (in another lifetime maybe?) forever. What an amazing pacer you are. Caring and infinitely helpful. I am so looking forward to returning the favor when you start Badwater at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, Jul 11! A huge hug to you and lots of kisses. I am your #1 fan!!

Mom - this race was for you!

More GUCR info:

Friday, May 13, 2011

GUCR Bound

I am 2 weeks away from a quick trip to the UK to run the GUCR 145-mile race. I leave at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, land in London on Thursday, May 26 at 1:35 p.m. and start the race at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 28.

To say that I am excited is an understatement.

There is something about the UK that captivates me. I have now started 3 races there, the June 2009 Thames Ring 250M (I stopped at 183 miles), the May 2010 GUCR 145M (I finished in 43:22) and the September 2010 South Downs Way 100M (I got lost at 56 miles) and finished just one so you may well ask me what it is about the UK that draws you back there again and again. Maybe it was all the Enid Blyton books I read as a kid and which enamored me so much with the English countryside?

I am now one of the starters of the Ultra Trail South West race on June 23, 2012. Yes, I signed up for a race in the UK 14 months in advance!!

Back to the GUCR. I am hoping to finish in under 37 or 38 hours. Over the years I have come to realize that one race does not a year make (or break)! So if I do not finish in under 38 hours (or not even finish at all!) I will take it in my stride. Life is much more than a race or a goal. I do not define myself by achievements alone. I see myself as a person who starts an adventure, called the GUCR 145M in this instance, and has fun every step of the way. If the adventure ends early so be it.

Let's see what Memorial Day weekend has in store for me. All I know is that I will be running in good old England once more and that is one of the best gifts to myself!

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Spartathlon Journey - II

On the Rack on the Track
As I said before this Spartathlon training is long and torturous. :-))

Those Wednesday speed work sessions are hard! All of January, February and March I pretty much varied between 6 or 7x800m in around 3:30 pace.

In the middle of April I decided to throw in mile repeats. 2 weeks ago I did 3x1 mile @ 7:17, 7:10 and 7:04 followed by 2x800m (3:20, 3:04!). Last week I did 4x1 mile in times that were between 7:04 min/mile and 7:10 min/mile. It might just be too soon for the interval training to have a huge impact but I am hoping they will lend "wings" to my feet come September end. They do hold a sort of fascination for me though. The mind wants to find excuses to skip them but they do feel good once the first steps are taken on the way to the 800m or mile repeat.

Yesterday (Mon, April 18) I decided to do some hill repeats in lieu of my weekly 4-5 mile climb up Bohlman Road or Sierra Road. I chose a moderately hilly 4-mile out and back and ran fast twice of every steep slope along the way. The last slope, all of ONLY 0.15 miles long, was the steepest and my legs were complaining at the end of it. My breathing was the one to go before the legs. Maybe it's allergies what with all the pollen around and all that.

GUCR Bound
I leave for London on Wed, May 25. This year's GUCR promises to be totally different from last year's where I had the comfort of a 3-person crew. This year I am unsupported and I do have the added goal of wanting to finish in under 38 hours if I can. A new development from the middle of last month - I now have a pacer, a friend named Emily Gelder, who has offered to run with me from mile 1oo (the canal runs by the Kings Langley Rail Station). I will, in turn, be part of her Badwater crew later in July.

(Idyllic English vistas wait for me in Kings Langley and all along the 145-mile course!)

Emily and I spoke last month about Badwater. She loves coming over to the US to run races while I love going over to England! So much so that I signed up for the Ultra Trail South West 100M race (Jun 23, 2012 14 months in advance!! My way of helping UK's economy recover. :-))

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

C2M Freeze


Weaving around on TopaTopa trying to find the narrow switchback trail that will take me to the top. Snow and rain making it hard to see far ahead using just my headlamp. Hand torch in my waist pack 600 feet below me in the Aid Station. This is no longer fun. The waterproof gloves are wet from the inside! A little blister in my right toe is starting to irritate constantly. This is a training run for other races during the year and I am not having fun with incipient hypothermia and wet clothes. Time to drop and find the warm hotel bed tout suite!

I had finished this race last year in similar circumstances and felt comfortable calling it a day this year. My heart was not in it and the weather was not co-operating. The rain had come earlier than I had expected. Even then I had put spare gloves, a balaclava and a spare T-shirt in my backpack. The only problem, I realized later, was that I should have had a big poncho that would have covered my backpack and keep all my stuff dry. The gloves had not become wet but the spare T-shirt had!

The next time I run a wet race I will make sure I have a poncho stashed away in my backpack.

I hoofed it out of Ojai on the Saturday, 2 p.m. flight back to San Francisco and was watching a movie later that day with friends when a friend, still in Ojai, texted me that it was raining very hard there and she was praying for the safety of the runners up on the Ridge. I too sent some positive energy to all those runners.

I woke up the next morning to learn that that Chris Scott, the RD, had canceled the race at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and they had all spent the entire night making sure that the runners and the volunteers were safely off the trails and the Ridge. Kudos to him and his fantastic volunteers!!

Back to my GUCR and Spartathlon training now.

(Waiting to start the race)

(Circling the field)

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Spartathlon Journey - I

Weekly speed work sessions. Long weekend runs. 50 - 60 miles per week. I love running and I run 3 week micro-cycles of high, high & low mileage pretty much all through the year. Having a goal though, i.e. a race, to train for makes it very different.

There was a time when I used to be obsessed with training schedules and would feel low if I missed a session especially a long run. Age and lots and lots of miles under my feet have transmuted that obsession into something akin to an eagerness to experience running for running's sake. Every run, be it one where my breathing is labored (allergies/exercise induced asthma?) or a muscle or tendon is tight or one where I am floating with every sinew and joint in perfect harmony, is priceless.

This Spartathlon training is, I am slowly finding out, a double-edged sword. Some of that old obsession is creeping back in albeit slowly and I am fighting as hard as I can to send it back into the dungeons of my mind whence it escaped. The joy of being able to tread the same path trod on by Yiannis Kouros, Scott Jurek, John Foden and, probably, Phidippides is being counterbalanced by the fear of "failure".

The Spartathlon is a tough, tough race. It will take all I have, and a lot more besides, to get to 100 miles in under 23 hours leave alone finishing all 153 miles in 36 hours.

My training and my determination will not let me down. Of this I am very sure. Will my training and determination carry me to the Finish line in time? Of this I am not very sure.

The Ego, though, is insidious and rears its head to step into the fray. It is the Ego that fears "failure" and it is the Ego that forces me to get obsessive about the training.

I read something very nice on Catra Corbett's Facebook page:
Believing in yourself is an endless destination.
Believing you have failed is the end of your journey.

I have always believed in myself completely. That changed a bit after (a) my aborted Tahoe Rim Trail 100M effort in 2008 and (b) my inability to complete the 250-mile Thames Ring race (I stopped at 183 miles) in 2009. I was only able to put those "failures" in perspective with the help of friends and, eventually, my belief in myself and the faith that I had made the correct decision in that moment.

I wonder what Phidippides must have felt when he took the first steps on his journey to Sparta on that fateful morning in August or September, 490 B.C.? He probably had family in Athens, maybe a wife, children, parents, sisters, brothers or friends who might end up either dead or in slavery should the Persians vanquish the Athenian hoplites. What stress to run 250km under!

He ran to Sparta where the Spartans, in the middle of a religious festival called the Carneia, informed him that they would start out for Athens 4 days hence. Phidippides ran all the way back to Athens to inform the Senate that Spartan help was not coming immediately. The run to Sparta in 36 odd hours. The run back in 40 hours? 300+ miles in just over 3 days. What an uber-athlete he must have been!!

Back to my training. Last week I missed my Wednesday track session. Thursday was a beautiful day and I decided to do an impromptu track session on a levee near the office. I ran to the levee, a mile from the office, and paced out a half mile section on it. My first 800m was in an uncomfortable 3:17 (6:38 per mile pace, 22 seconds faster than desired).

The times for the 7x800m were 3:17, 3:20, 3:23, 3:26, 3:27, 3:31 & 3:19. On the track I get pace feedback every 200m and am able to make micro-adjustments to finish up between 3:27 - 3:30. The levee had no such markers even though I was wearing a Garmin. Garmin's paces lag by as much as 45 seconds at times and so I do not rely on Garmin's pace numbers. The next time I do a similar workout on that levee I intend to put markers every 200m to simulate the track.

Let me end with a poem I wrote last year during my Spartathlon crewing stint for Nattu Natraj.

The soft murmur of a caressing breeze:
Fleeting Time stands still. There is just music.
Of Life this is what the Soul wants and sees;
No moments gone. None to come. Just this tick.
Oh what a gift you have bestowed on me
Ancient Athens and your proud Parthenon.
Your people, your hills and your warm, blue sea.
Waiting for your embrace half a life gone.
As though in a dream barely remembered,
Whose faint images one so aches to hold,
You blend in with your tales I've told and heard.
You are sweet, alluring, proud, young yet old.
To the Soul the images have now gone
Of a blue sky and the proud Parthenon.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Spartathlon

September 30 - October 1, 2011

What a journey this race promises to be!! I have filled out the form, printed out the races I have done in the past 2 years and am planning to wire transfer the race fees late next week after mailing the form on Monday or Tuesday. Hopefully my application will be accepted.

50 miles in 9h 30 mins.
106 miles in 24h 30 mins.
153 miles in 36 hours.

These are the cutoffs I will be dealing with. That's faster than I have ever run a 100 mile race. I have one advantage that I "gifted" myself a few months ago - I crewed Nattu Natraj's effort in this race in September and got to witness the course for the first 93 miles up close. Karen Bonnett and I had the crewing down pretty good after the first few Checkpoints and all that knowledge will end up proving invaluable for me and my crew.

My journey to the start of this wonderful race, a start that takes place on the Acropolis under the floodlit beauty and grace of the Parthenon, promises to be filled with excitement, long training hours, painful speed work sessions and intense nervousness in the last few days leading up to race morning.




(James Adams, from the UK, finishing last year)

"The journey to 153 miles begins with one step" (with apologies to Lao Tzu). I took that step this week. I came up with a training plan of sorts. The plan involves 1 track workout a week in addition to 1 hill run (4-6 miles straight up on asphalt) and a long Saturday run followed by a shorter Sunday run every weekend. I plan to take 1 day off per week.

My first speed session of the year was yesterday (Thursday, Jan 6). I warmed up with 1.5 miles followed by 4x50m strides. The main workout was 6x800m which I ran in 3:51, 3:35, 3:26, 3:27, 3:23 & 3:26. Did the last 2 feel hard! My breathing was a bit labored towards the end and I did not feel as smooth as I did during the first 4 800s. My plan is to work my way to 12-14 800m repeats by August.

My air ticket and hotel reservations are done for my Memorial Day weekend Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR; 145 miles) in the UK. It was my finish in the same race last year that became the qualifier for the Spartathlon. Last year I ran the GUCR with just goal - to finish in time. This year I want to attempt to run in under 38 hours. Maybe 37 hours if I have a good race.

(Eric Nedervold- thank you for asking me to blog more often).

[The Spartathlon logo was "borrowed" from the Spartathlon Web site]