(Originally intended to be published in September 2015!)
Its now been a month and a half since I completed the course that has been a distant dream to me ever since I can remember. To give you a better perspective, my love for the mountains goes back more than two decades, probably back when I was turning into a rebellious “eigh”-teenager (yep I was 18) looking for something to take me away from monotony into the Shangri-la that I had read about.
The wistful thinking and longing to explore wondrous lands finally found release in my first year of Architecture when I managed to save up some money and moved out solo on a shoestring budget to the mysterious lands of the North East during the college vacations. The actual experience was the clincher for me…the very sight of the grand snow capped Himalayas was quite simply love at first sight. I knew then, that I had found my calling, that nothing would keep me away from them for long.
Time went by and although I felt satiated by regular trips and treks to the majestic massifs, there was always this inexplicable gnawing inside…the burning desire to climb the stairway to heaven…to view the world from above. I could only imagine the splendor that would unfold below me…to be one with the sky, the closest one could feel to flight. And so, the seed was sown … a seed that grew gradually until it had turned into a deep rooted desire.
The thought simmered all through the years while I worked to try and get myself settled and secure the future, not only for me and my wife, but also for our daughter. As professionally and financially we got more stable, our daughter proved to be (still is and forever will be) a real charmer and I loved watching her grow and being with her all the way through. By the time she turned 4, my desire to be with the mountains suffered another setback. I was diagnosed late with an auto immune disorder – Uveitis, and by the time anything could be done, my eyes had progressed into full blown cataract with the steroid use bringing on glaucoma. I have been used to setbacks so despite this being a tough period, my loved ones supported me and amazingly I pulled through with the surgery regaining about 70% of my eyesight. What that reminded me was that I should not let my dream go and should instead start re-focusing and get back in shape … who knows what tomorrow may bring!
A few years further on and finally I was ready to begin in earnest. My immediate target was to improve my stamina and lose some weight. Squash at the club turned out to be a blessing…and I was soon enjoying the hours of practice and the long matches on court. Fitness improved and I also lost 7 kilos in 2 months. However after a year and a half of playing squash, i noticed my chronic knee ligament (from an injury when I was 16) start to flare up. I realised that my competitiveness would not allow me to play squash just to paddle about a bit…I would always strive to get better, and this would lead to possible deterioration of the knee beyond salvage. It was then that I thought that perhaps distance running would serve me better – improve my stamina, endurance and my lung capacity. As it turns out, it was the right choice and I fairly quickly settled into being able to do half marathons reasonably comfortably. This was also followed by a couple of moderately tough treks and a minor summit in Uttarakhand that helped build confidence.
A few months later, I was able to run my first marathon, which was quite an achievement for me. Just a couple of days after the run, as I sat wondering about my next challenge – wanting to do an ultra, a realisation struck me…in the madness of trying to become a better runner, I was losing the bigger picture! I went on to the HMI NIM and ABVIMAS websites and found out that 39-40 is the maximum age to do the Basic Mountaineering Course. This year (2015) I would complete 40, and this really was it. There was no more time left to prepare…I had to register now or it would be never. I called up NIM and HMI but was informed that courses were full for months and it wasn’t very likely I would get enrolled this year. That left ABVIMAS where I was relieved to find that I could enroll and was pretty much assured a seat. Around end of Feb 2015, I sent out my form and I was confirmed by around end of March via email. FINALLY, I had taken the step that I had always wanted to and now there was no turning back. I chalked out a plan to get myself in shape with important milestones set up. This would not be easy as I had to work on my upper body, overall stamina AND endurance…but the very challenge and the thought of finally being able to do “IT” was enough to push me on an adrenaline fueled punishing schedule.
The final few months flew by and before I knew it, July was looming. My flight tickets had been booked in advance and on June 28th I finally flew off into the unknown…excited and intimidated in equal parts. Only time would tell if my training had been good enough to overcome my physical disabilities.
Yesterday was Nov 14th (2015) celebrated as Children’s Day and Hindustan Times (alongwith sponsors) came up with the interesting idea of having a festival for children which would wean them off television and mobile phones and allow them to participate in various workshops and activities.
The event, titled #Happifest (located at the MMRDA grounds in BKC) is scheduled to run over 2 days – Saturday and Sunday (Nov 14 and 15) and has different activities planned for both the days. I went for the first day with my 11 year old daughter to see if the event was as good as I was hoping it would be.
Let me summarise the positives and negatives first, after which you can read the details below
A very interesting set of workshops that most children will find fun and informative. (dance, music, photography, composting, gardening, frozen science, art)
A lot of activity on stage, keeping things constantly energised
Interesting adventure sports for kids to explore – ziplining, rock climbing, Burma bridge.
A radio station for kids where they can try their hand at being RJs.
GoCheese had sponsored a group of kids form an NGO to enjoy a different set of activities, which was a real nice gesture.
Nothing other than the radio station is air conditioned, so the 12 noon start/activity time is insane. It shoudl have begun by 3/4pm and gone on till 10 pm.
Barely any shade in the seating tables at the food stalls.
Overpriced food and extremely over priced water.
For those not used to mobile toilets, it could be a tad difficult to adjust.
There is no “free”/drinking water publicly available and you are encouraged to buy the expensive water bottles. However I did find a water filter which was tucked away and not easy to find. Definitely not a fair business practice.
#Happifest has an entry ticket of Rs.250 per head which can be booked online or at the venue itself. My booking on BookMyShow.com did not go through, so I had to purchase tickets at the venue which was pretty quick… not much crowd at 12:30 in the afternoon (not surprisingly since 12 noon in this heat is not really a good time to venture out!)
Here comes the biggest negative from my side…for an event scheduled to start at 12 noon in the blazing 37-38 degree celsius heat, I had expected it to be within air conditioned tents but surprisingly it was all open air with no air conditioning to speak of, with everyone scrambling to get into whatever pitiful shade the tents and partitions provided. While adults could handle this, I’m not quite sure its a good idea to have kids baking in this unseasonal heat wave.
After initial reservations about whether to carry on or turn back, we decided to go for it since we had come all the way anyway! The cap I always carry made it bearable while my daughter had her wrap around scarf thingy (sorry I’m not very good with the fancy names women’s clothes go by) As we moved it, we were lucky enough to find that the only place that was air conditioned – the WeKids Radio station, was beginning registrations! Since me and my daughter have always had a love for music/public speaking, it was a no-brainer that we would head off to try our hand at being an RJ.
This for me is the coolest stall on the grounds… registration is Rs.500 (for the child only not the adult) and in return you will get a professionally mastered recording of the RJ show that you did. The child can choose from three scripts – Me and My Cool Life, Interview with Father and Interview with Mother. The radio station is run by Shantanu Joshi – the hindi voice of Mickey/Spongebob et al and he does a great job at explaining the microphone and voice modulation. I would highly recommend this … me and my little one absolutely enjoyed it.
By the time we were done, it was 2:30 pm (after about an hour in the A/C studio) and we went off to grab something to eat. There are a number of food stalls selling interesting food stuffs, Pita Burgers, Delhi Chaat, Macaroons, Belgian waffle, Noodles, momos, Pizza, Greek Yogurt and water bottles as well as cold drinks (only Rio cans) Now this is the second negative about the festival. The food is not exactly cheap with everything in multiples of 50, with probably the Cheese Pizza being the most value for money priced @ Rs. 200 + 50 for 2 toppings. The worst is the compulsion to buy water bottles that are overpriced at Rs. 50 each!
Also beware – food coupons are different from water coupons, so if you have bought food coupons factoring in the water bottles, you will have to shell extra. You also cannot return unused coupons for cash and will have to spend them all, so only buy the amount you need.
The entire left bay of the area is divided into four large tents that are colour coded with seating areas between each tent for parents to sit and wait. Various workshops are conducted inside each of these tents with the tickets available at tables/counters just outside each tent. The workshops vary in price from Rs.150 to Rs.250 and most are value for money. Each workshop area does have adequate large fans to at least make the heat bearable but making sure the child and parent come dressed for summer will also help a lot!
The central bay is the area for food stalls, while the right bay is reserved for various stalls that display wares from trinkets to children’s quizzes to education to toys. My daughter found a stall where she got a #MonsterHigh doll (@ 25% discount) – Ghulia Yelps, which was pretty rare and insisted I mention it in my entry for like-minded kids searching for such “deals”!
Crowning the ground is the main stage which had various dance performances throughout the day, from Kidzania dancers to professional dancers, kids and many more. To the left of the stage is a covered area which houses the portable toilets for men and women and to the right is an adventure sport area which has some very interesting installations, such as the rock climbing wall, the zip line and tight rope walking/Burma bridge. There is also a lane beside it where kids can try their hand at Segway rides.
Back to our session, my daughter did 3 workshops – fantasy creatures (which she loved) , Shutterbug (which she did not much enjoy… it was mainly explaining about the camera modes and nothing about creative photography… perhaps that’s all it was supposed to do!) and the final one was a Junior Sherlock workshop where the presenter explained about fingerprints and investigative techniques and then had the kids investigate a mock crime scene.
The workshops are all of an hour long duration and begin from 3pm till the last one which begins at 7 pm. The weather starts getting cooler by around 4 pm and that is the time I would recommend getting to the festival. There are a lot of interesting workshops, some that took my fancy are the one about Composting, Gardening, Frozen science (freezing things using liquid nitrogen and other crazy stuff) and another about learning to understand music beats and move according to it. There is also a Yoga with Moms workshop , which I obviously was not qualified or interested in!
That pretty much covers all of it, I will not be going on Sunday since I have prior commitments, but I would definitely have gone for a couple of hours in the evening to attend some music workshops for later.
All in all, I would recommend this, but just about. Its definitely a nice idea but the execution could have been better and the pricing SHOULD have been lower for all things in general.
I was thinking of making the title something dramatic…something like Wannabe Marathoner : No More…but it could easily be construed as me being a runner no more which was unacceptable! Whilst continuing to type on, I realised that I will always be a wannabe, always a learner…someone who will always find ways and means to improve, much like my philosophy in life. So perhaps the title is probably stuck forever! (unless of course by some miraculous twist of fate I turn into an elite runner…or of course pigs learn to fly, which seems more likely anyway!) Enough faffing about, let’s begin my account of my first ever Full marathon.
Having done a few Half Marathons and not really having particularly distinguished myself in any of them (always a mid to back-midfield runner) I was toying over the category to register in for the SCMM 2015 (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon) For those unaware, this marathon is the pride of Mumbai, mayhap of all of India in the sheer numbers and talent it attracts as also the fanfare and crowd support and of course the flavour that is uniquely Mumbai. The route is also amazingly scenic, going through many important landmarks of Mumbai.
Back in January 2014, Tapan and I had experienced the atmosphere of the SCMM for the first time. We had been walking towards the start point (Azad Maidan) from Churchgate station and had encountered people cheering, bands and dancers going at full blast and a number of people shuffling on by on the road. It felt amazing to see so many people gathered there to cheer runners who thoroughly deserved the cheers. We had then decided to come back next year and run in the Half marathon and be part of the actual run rather than the Dream Run carnival.
Cut back to August and as I hovered over choosing half or full marathon, I debated and discussed with Tapan. his mindset was that we should try and better our speed rather than the distance, while for me both went hand in hand. I have always had the tendency to throw down the gauntlet and then train to be able to accomplish it. If I do not set myself tough goals, I do not realise the best in me. after spending a day thinking over it, I registered for the Full marathon, deciding that my goal was set and I would now work towards achieving it. Tapan went on and registered for the Half Marathon…either way, we were both set to be part of the “real” run.
October end 2014
During one of the speed interval training runs for trying to set my fastest HM time in the prestigious ADHM (Airtel Delhi Half Marathon), I felt discomfort in my right heel. It pulsed, at times fading while at others returning with some ferocity. I checked online (yep usual self-diagnosing medical syndrome) and was very scared that I may just have brought Plantar Fasciitis onto myself. I was not ready though to diagnose myself so easily with plantar since a few tests to check my plantar muscle strength turned out to be quite positive. ie – I always knew my toes were quite strong and just could not believe how I could get plantar. I have awkwardly shaped feet because of which since childhood perhaps I have been using the toes much like an ape does…being able to grab hold of an lift objects off the floor comfortably and thus flexing and exercising them since many years unconsciously. Without having really found an answer to the pain, I decided to rather ease my training and slow down.
November 2014 – An Important lesson
This was the month for the ADHM where I was determined to set a new PB. After a week of easy very very slow running, I decided to again ramp it up a bit. After another speed session, the pain was back with increased intensity. This time I spent longer researching the pain and found that my dependence on my right leg to preserve my weak left knee could likely be causing my right foot to land awkwardly. Additionally my shoes had been minimal which meant that there was no support or cushioning. So my finger of suspicion pointed squarely to this enlightening article I dug out – Subtalar joint pain can mimic Plantar Fasciitis!
This was quite a revelation and I started working on trying to increase the flexibility of my joint and began analysing the way my right foot landed. I consciously did exercises to make sure my right foot landed straight. It seemed my foot was leaning toward the right, so I consciously made sure it would point inwards. I practiced it while walking, sitting, exercising and started doing slow runs. There was no major relief but there was definitely some relief after doing the mobility exercises and sleeping with balm on the ankle and ankle support.
The big day was soon upon me and although the heel was still painful, I had no choice but to go out and put my money where my mouth was. ADHM came and went and I surpassed my expectation … finished in 1 hr 59 mins which was much better than my expected 2 hr 5 mins.
As always while the medal was great, as was the timing, the consequence was increased heel pain that would haunt me for the coming month!
This was to be my main month of endurance training but my fear of injuring the heel (which was very slowly getting better) meant I had to really drop my training down and only run sporadically, that too very slowly and small distances. Added to this was the fact that my daughter’s holidays were around the corner which meant a nice XMas holiday trip for the family. The month was almost a total washout in terms of training but I did mange to do something good – I bought myself a pair of support and cushioned shoes with enough time to break them in. (FYI I bought Kalenji shoes with the 42 Km distance tag)
And so the holiday came and went with only an 8.5 kms run on Jan 1st. With only 2 weeks to go, the penultimate week was very important. I had never ever run more than 32 kms in practice or otherwise, and although I did think that I was strong enough (thanks to my stair and slope work over the past few months) I just was not confident I could cut it. So, as always I tried to make the best of this week and in hindsight, probably overdid it a bit!
That week began on a Sunday with the Powai half Marathon, which I did alright – 2 hrs 10 mins on a course with a few slopes. Not a great time but pretty good considering it was my first 8 k + run after a month!
I then ran 23.84 kms on Tuesday along the undulating course at the Borivli National Park. this was an exercise in being super slow with a mix of running and walking – the aim being to build up the slow twitch muscles and also mentally prepare myself for willing me on to run on tired legs after taking intermittent walk breaks.
The same objective continued after a day’s gap with a 25 kms run on the same course on Thursday.
The final long run was on Sunday…it was to be an almost race day simulation with the first half run at tempo pace till HM distance after which I would slow down and take run/walk breaks till I reached 30 kms. Thanks to a bit of distance miscalculation I actually ended up doing 30.69 kms which did exhaust me especially as I ended by 11:30 am under an unforgiving sun.
The last week before the build up saw me doing 4-5 kms slow walks and then a 15 km slow run on Wednesday and finally an 8 k slow walk/run on the previous day just to make sure the legs were good enough for the next day.
Needless to say I ensured I did a lot of core exercises and massaged myself as and when I could to make the legs sprightly.
THE BIG DAY
Finally the big day…it actually started off on a comedic note with the driver not having arrived and me having to wake him up and get him to rush! So while I was originally supposed to reach comfortably on time, I started off 40 mins late from home! Luckily the roads were all empty and we made decent time to reach about 15 mins before the start. Turns out the queues were so long that the start itself was pushed back by 10 mins! By the time I snaked past the sea of runners, the clock showed 5:48 am as opposed to the scheduled 5:30 am start and without any real thought I was on my way.
My plan was to run the first half at a decent pace without being too fast so that I would have enough time in the last half to take a lot of walk breaks. The intention was to finish between 4 hours 30 mins and 5 hours with the operative word being FINISH!!! Within the 2nd-3rd kilometre itself I realised this would not be one of those days where the weather Gods would be smiling on me. I was already sweating and I had not even begun to motor. I immediately re-assessed my targets and decided to settle for a 4 hr 45 mins finish as an optimal time. This meant that I needed to do 10 K in 1 hr 2 mins, with the HM in 2 hr 8-10 mins to give me enough leeway.
Unfortunately, being cautious meant that I ended up losing a few minutes which meant I finished my 10 K in 1 hr 4 mins. Carrying on the trend of caution, my HM also slipped a bit and I crossed the halfway point in 2 hrs 13 mins. I then tried to put in some more speed till 25 kms and I was successfully maintaining the same pace but around the 26-27 km mark, my left knee started throbbing as did my lower back. The lack of practice and core exercises was coming back to haunt me, so I had no choice but to slow down even further.
At around the 27.5-28k mark, I actually considered throwing in the towel as the 4:45 min buses just zipped past me. That was quite disheartening, cos at that time I was well on target and this seemed like a bitter blow. Probably the bus “drivers” were keen to finish 3-4 minutes faster than their advertised time or perhaps their gun time was a few mins earlier than mine…whatever the case it was quite frustrating.
So, do I quit?
No one would really bother and I could make up a thousand excuses anyway, no one would be the wiser. Perhaps this was what it meant “hitting the wall” … maybe I had gone in harder than I should have or maybe the climate was hotter than what I expected… or maybe it was all three. I then thought that if I was anyway harbouring thoughts of quitting, it meant my finish time was not important, so I might as well enjoy a nice 300-400 metre long walk, sip water, munch on jaggery (I was feeling hungry too!) and maybe just walk till the end. 14-15 kms seemed a bridge too far.
The jaggery however maybe worked wonders (I cannot explain my renewed sense of purpose any other way!), and I realised with a jolt that I was almost at the 30 K mark while I had just been running/walking and pondering over my next move. I looked at my watch and then began calculating and realised that I was still in with a remote chance of a 4:50. Alll I needed to do was run for 400 odd metres, walk 100 and then repeat the cycle. I should still be able to do a km in around 7-7.5 mins. So I set off again, with my brain telling me to just get to the 33 km mark cos after that it was all in single figures. Those 2.5 kms were pretty difficult…I kept looking out hopefully for the distance markers that seemed to be stretching out with every passing kilometre but just like everything else in this world, the wait did end. The 33 km mark was the prettiest one to my addled brain. I drenched myself, popped in some oranges, steadied myself and renewed my assault. From here on I was determined to set targets along the road ahead and run till there, walk while counting till 15, then resume running to the next target.
On came the infamous Pedder Road slope but curiously I think my frame of mind at that time was such that I was like an automaton – only focusing on 200-300 metres running, 50 metres walking… repeat. Slope or otherwise it pretty much felt the same! By the time I had begun the turn onto Marine Drive after Babulnath, it was 37.5 kms almost. Of course the 4.7 kms remaining seemed like 47 kms, but I was only focused on continuing my mechanical walk run, repeat process with a look at the watch at every km marker. By around 39 kms, I realised that 4:50 was no longer possible BUT I could just about scrape through under 5 hrs. So that became my new target and that was one I would just not let go come what may.
In order to not put myself under pressure in the last km, I decided to push harder and faster during my run stretches to save a few seconds with every effort push. I was constanttly calculating furiously which probably helped my brain stay focused and away from letting tiredness take over. Add to it the fact that my Garmin had conked out around the 36 K mark so that meant I had to do continuous math to predict my final time and thus dictate my next km target. I wanted to keep 10 mins for my final km, so I worked really hard in km 41 and was very happy when I saw I was at 41 with 10 mins to spare (That’s the ONE target I did keep!) I then decided to run the usual 200 metres- 50 metres… until I saw the 500 mtrs remaining marker. I tested my legs, weary but ready to put on one final push. All systems go for a 300 metre dash is what I thought as I could see the VT (CST) station in the distance. It looked like the big Gothic monolith was looming forbiddingly against the blazing sky… quite opposed to the beautifully lit up masterpiece in the morning when we began the run! Ah how perceptions change over a few hours!
I intentionally kept my eyes focused on it and kept running until the bend straightened out and with the markers showing 300 metres on the left, I could SEE the finish line and everyone knows that actually seeing the finish line is the greatest boost one could ever have! All thoughts of stopping to walk vanished as I decided to go all the way without a break. I could see the clock above and I could see that I was inexorably close to the 5 hr mark. As I reached the final metre I knew I was well inside the 5 hour target and I even found the inclination to raise up a victory sign before I crossed the line.
I had done it in 4 hrs 57 mins…not my best but my lack of elation and also the fact that I could walk easily to the medal counter meant that I had definitely not given it my all. Yes, I was tired but I instinctively knew that I had not paced myself to my limit for fear of cramping or falling sick. Prudence had taken me to the finish line, but it was not the optimal result. With mixed emotions I walked around for the next 2 mins, collected my medal, saw the winners being felicitated and then moved off for home.
It had been a tough run but my lack of practice and then subsequent over training and lastly my inexperience meant that I have lots of room to improve. That’s probably a good thing now in hindsight but I reckon all of Sunday I was just relieved to have got the monkey off my back!
This has been a very long post already, so I shall continue in my next post about what I did learn while on the way to my first FM. There were many curious points and counter points about timed running vs running without gadgets… discussions about hyped races, discussions about various events and their lack of facilities… within one year I have seen the running scene in India from a lot of viewpoints and I will post my own thoughts on the matter in the coming few posts. I will also post about my analysis about what went wrong during my run and what I should watch out for. There were many others this time who also got it wrong, either because the climate got too hot too quickly or perhaps they did not train enough or probably went too fast or too slow. (this even includes a handful of ELITE athletes who did a rare DNF!! that’s probably unheard of…at least for me!)
That’s it for this loooooooooooong post …Many many thanks for reading…to whoever bothered to reach the end!
(Disclaimer: Except the sunset pics, none of the pics have been clicked by me and are not my property. I have used a number of pics clicked by the Mussoorie HM guys and its full credit to their photographers. The intention is to portray the beauty of the race and not my skills at photography, so I do not lay claim to any of them… and they are all fantastic clicks)
I was fortunate to have run the Mussoorie Half Marathon on Saturday the 1st of Nov 2014 as it was pretty much as near a perfect run as I can hope for! This was the third edition of the run and the first running this year of a new course that led along the ridge from Mussoorie to Dhanaulti. This was expected to be an extremely tough course and I’m glad to say, it was true to its word!
Before I get any further with the race details, I would like to thank whoever it was that mentioned this lesser known Half Marathon on a discussion involving which was the toughest hill half marathon in India. The general consensus is the Satara Half Marathon but that is probably because it is so well known and because it has a prize money which draws elite runners. I have been on a quest to do all the toughest hill runs in India and thus, it was without hesitation that I registered for this awesome run. (one of the best decisions I have made in a while!)
The Registration fee was a paltry Rs. 500 and that included a t-shirt, post run snacks (bananas and biscuits) and a manual timing certificate. This year the medals were only for the top 3 finishers in all categories 5k, 10k and 21k men and women. (Apparently last year the registration fee was higher and a medal was included… but I cannot be sure about that since this was my first run here)
Event details (bib pickup times, mela schedule etc) can be found on the event website – http://mussoorierunners.com/event-details-and-history/
Now onto the experience … 🙂
Oct 31st Friday
I reached Jolly Grant airport in the afternoon and caught a pre-paid taxi till Mussoorie (cost Rs. 1600) The taxi raced manically with its horn blaring through the dusty Dehradun streets, populated by insanely adventurous drivers who love honking and overtaking at the slightest possible opportunity. I have seen this insane driving around Rishikesh all the way till Joshimath, so I think I can safely conclude that this is a common Uttarakhand problem! No one seems to have patience in this state! After a torrid 45 minutes of sensory annihilation, we finally escaped Dehradun and started out on the outskirts and up the slopes to Mussoorie. For a seasoned Himalayan traveller like me, the green hills do not provide anything exceptional…on the contrary they suffer from the same problem that every hill town in India does – haphazard development leading to ugly concrete structures perched sporadically along their sides.
After a total of about 2 hrs and 10 mins, up winding slopes and switchbacks, we finally reached Mall road and I was dropped off near the point where the road forks off leading to Woodstock school. I called up my friend and fellow runner from Mumbai – Amar, and found that he was still about an hour away, so decided to tuck into a quick lunch while I waited.
It was about 3:30 pm when Amar and I met at Mall Road and began the walk to Woodstock school gate for the race packet pick-up. The school is 3 kms from this point and the altitude keeps rising as we go further eastwards. After about 40 minutes of hauling our bags and ourselves over the slopes, breathing in the rarefied air and dodging the insane drivers, we finally reached the school gate. Steve Luukkonen, the P.E. teacher at Woodstock School, is the driving force behind this run. He is a runner par excellence and an awesome, ever-smiling host! He was distributing the race packet personally and answering the queries we had.
Steve incidentally has been the winner on both the previous occasions on the earlier route. This year was a new route and would be the first time the Half marathon would officially be run. Steve explained that the run would begin from the gates of the HANIFL centre, one km further up the road, so we went walking ahead to recce and make sure we knew what awaited us the next day. Running up the initial slope from the start point literally took our breath away and we knew tomorrow would be a real test. As we walked back and passed the school gates, we saw a couple of guys taking selfies with the Libyan flag draped around their shoulders. They waved a hello to us and we got talking. Both were friends, pursuing B Tech in a university in Dehradun and had been practicing for the event by running up slopes near their college. One of them was a Libyan – Walid, while the other was a Keralite – Vinod. We wished them luck and as the sun set spectacularly at the back, we parted ways.
We decided to walk back to our hotel – Club Mahindra to help us acclimatise better and that was probably a smart move. The walk back was pretty demanding as it was 5 kms from the HANIFL Centre and the fact that it was perched high up on Gun Hill meant there was a steep slope and a long flight of stairs to negotiate before we finally tumbled into our rooms around 7 pm. We were absolutely tired and after some coffee and freshening up, decided to have a quick dinner and turn into bed asap. Dinner begins from 8 pm onwards and we were the first in the restaurant … quickly ordered dal, palak paneer and rotis and somehow got it all down without falling asleep at the table! By 9, we were back, and within a minute of getting to bed I was asleep .
Nov 1st Saturday
We woke up at 4 am, got refreshed, had some badam milk and coffee and were ready to start marching. By 5 am, we were out of the room and marching down the Gun Hill slope to meet Saurabh at the junction of Library Chowk and Mall road. The lights of Dehradun glittered in the distance and the early morning sky was pretty clear and chill as we marched rapidly toward HANIFL Centre. After an hour-ish of brisk walking, we were at the centre by 6:15 am.
The place was already bustling with Steve marshaling his troops along. A desk was quickly brought out for registration check-ins and runners were quickly and efficiently cleared out as per the distance chosen. Everyone was in great spirits and very friendly, and we met with and chatted up quite a few folks. The facilities were perfect – plenty of water, ample toilets and a spacious luggage cloak room.
the start line was 100 metres down the road from the HANIFL Centre while the finish was right at the Hanifl gates, so we crossed the finish before we even began! A lovely sunrise peeked over the plains in the distance as we got ready to begin.
A total of 65 runners had registered for the Half Marathon, of which it seems 37 (or 38) actually turned up. Me and Amar (Ranu) were the only runners representing Mumbai, and I also bumped into a friend of mine, Shishir Gupta from Delhi, who had recently done the Leh Half marathon…he would be a good judge of whether this marathon did stand up to the test of difficulty! As we waited for the final (on the spot) Registrants to come on down to the starting line, we spied bib number 332 and got this cool pic together
Steve belted out a few final instructions :
– throw the paper cups on the road, a vehicle will sweep past (do not chuck them over the road side)
– Make sure you turn around the mid-way point and ensure your bib number is recorded (no timing chips for this run)
– enjoy the run
All sensible advice… here he is “dictating” terms at the Start Line.
At about 10-12 mins past 7 am, we were off and running with Steve leading the way. As an aside, it was incredible to see a bladerunner (bib # 343) in the lineup (you can see him in the pic above right at the start) competing in an incredibly tough run. His name is Prakash Sodhi and he fought hard and completed the run with a superb time of 3:29. A true victory of the spirit and I am fortunate to have known him through this run. I hope to meet him again next year and run with him!
Everybody zoomed off down the short slope and then virtually raced up the steep slope, leaving poor me struggling at the back of the pack, slowly enjoying my way up, taking in the sights. The first slope after the start line is steep, although its not an insanely steep slope as it seems, and can be negotiated, IF one keeps his breathing regulated. It does take a toll on the legs and well, that’s the story for pretty much the entire course! there was a water station aorund the 1.5 km point and then another at the 2.5 km point. You can see the slopes from the route elevation at the end of the blog post and can also see my lap breakup times.
The first couple of kms take you around a curve that is in shade and then finally open out on the other side around the 2.5 km water station into bright sunshine. The route there on largely continues in the sunshine for pretty much till the halyway point and back, which ensures the chill factor at the start is not really felt. (the temperature at the start must have been around 11-12 degrees celsius) Thankfully there wasn’t much wind, which meant that once warmed up, we actually enjoyed the lovely sunshine and the cool temperatures!
There in the pic above you can see us, the “turtles” bringing up the rear of the runners. (even the bike dude seems to be looking at us quizzically) To my right is Tara Kaplan, an amazing lady, she is the nurse at the school, a superb, strong runner (who never stopped during the entire run!) and an absolute gem of a person. She was my running partner during the run, and it was thanks to her that I did not feel tired at all! In fact, its thanks to her that I enjoyed the tough run more than I have enjoyed any other run! I did not even know how the time went by and we had already reached the turn around point! My eternal gratitude to her for her company.
The long downslope (3-4 kms) after the torrid upslope from the start-line (which was also 3-4 kms) is a relief and great fun. You can see the downslope all along our back (which obviously became the upslope on the way back) Around the 5 kms mark (I think) the road turns around and opens up a vista where the Himlayan range is usually visible, except that on our race day, the clouds had already come in and closed the mountains up.
The final 3 odd kms to the turn around point were also a painful upslope, but I finally managed it happily and wasn’t all that tired! Enroute we ended up overtaking a few of the early rabbits at our steady pace which meant that I was not likely to finish last! 😀
After the turnaround point, its a pretty similar grind back and the real test begins around the 15-16 km mark where the steep slope begins. I tramped on till the 17.5 km point and finally decided to take a long-ish break to rest my strained muscles! Tara however was as strong as ever and she disappeared into the distance without needing a single break while I manfully marched on.
…and finally after some serious effort in the ending stages (there was a half kilometre upward spike slope before the final km) I was at sight of the finishing line in 2 hrs 33 mins. A total of approximately 6300 feet of elevation climbed with the minimum altitude being 6700 feet and the max being approximately 7600… a seriously tough half marathon ended very satisfyingly in 20th position.
Post race, we all gathered at the HANIFL lawns and I gobbled down bananas and Parle G biscouts and a lot of water. That’s where I heard the news that the Libyan runner – Walid, who had been running really hard and well, had severe breathing trouble and collapsed due to the lack of oxygen, which led him to be taken away by ambulance. his partner, Vinod though finished strongly in 3rd place.
I forgot to mention this but we spoke to Shishir at the end, and he confirmed that this Half marathon was indeed tougher than the Leh HM. He said that the Leh HM had only 2 real sectors of slopes while the majority was a gentle slope/flat run. the only issue there was the low oxygen which could be overcome if you stayed there for a week and acclimatised well. This HM though was much tougher with its constant and extreme elevation changes at altitude. So he rates this as much tougher than the Leh HM…and I will be trying this out myself next year and reporting back.
The winner Nate, from new Zealand, set an absolutely stunning time of 1:25 which was obviously a course record and probably one that will stand for quite a while!
Before I sign off with this report though, I would like to extend my thanks and a special mention to the incredibly enthusiastic cheerleaders at the water stations, whose screams of support (audible from half a kilometre away) were like a beacon of hope guiding me to the promised land (rest!).
At the finish line, the starting sequential trio again! The promising runner Saurabh Singh from Agra who had been our companion at the start ended up 4th and was bitterly disappointed not to have got 3rd… missed out by a few seconds! Amar finished 14th and Manish, on my right finished a few seconds ahead of me in 19th.
As promised earlier, here is the route map and elevation and below it, the link to the Garmin race stats.
A few other awesome pics of the run below…hope many more Mumbai runners come along. Tara was wistfully hoping to have more female runners, sadly there were just too few and none from out of station. Hopefully our Mumbai ladies will join up and enjoy this truly fantastic run.
Not a long post this one, its just to make people aware of something that is crystal clear to me.
To start with, let us get to social media – I use it to connect with like minded individuals who appreciate our world and nature like I do. I seek no fame, no appreciation and NEVER any likes! The only reason I share my posts on social media is for people to read them and I hope it helps them. I talk about my experiences, but they are not “selfies” – they are a log of precious thoughts that some may appreciate.
So before we go further, if you guys have bothered to read below the first few lines, then please note, I do not want a “like” to this post. It does not make you any less my friend. It just means your interest is different from mine…and that is perfectly alright! We are all born different, so there should never be any need to acknowledge or applaud a writer or a mountaineer – cos we are very selfish. We do it to experienc ethe world and what it has for us, to pen down our pexeriences. Perhaps for a runner it would be different – the cheering crowds would possibly make him go that few milliseconds faster, but a mountaineer has no point to prove to anyone! So, if you loved what I wrote, message me instead and say you want to experience the magic of nature…likes are irrelevant.
If you have got through the above lines, I thank you (yea I can be difficult at times! ask my wife)
So what do i Find similar between the two?
– A pure distance runner does not care for what people think. He/she breaks his/her own mentally set PBs.
– He/she actively ENCOURAGES others to go beyond their limits and is unselfish. (its rare nowadays in this world of Garmins and Endomondos!)
– He/she loves the world and tries to clean up any garbage/nonsense enroute.
– He/she never really cares abot running conditions – we are made for hardship. We accept that we are fortunate to be able to do what we do 🙂
– He/she NEVER gives up…not if we have a 103 degree fever or a swollen leg. Even if we have to crawl, we WILL.
– He/she is mad/eccentric and is sure we have a licence to go mad, come what may (consequences) at least once a year (that’s balancing practicality as we get older!)
-He/she never thinks age is EVER a factor. We do our best and believe we can beat anyone! BUT when we get beat, we have the courtesy and the grace to acknowledge, congratulate and befriend the one who beat us, why? cos the man/woman deserves it! We know to fight hard and at the same time RESPECT those who are awesome!
– Whatever group one may form, running is individualistic. That’s the same as mountaineering. The only way for peopel to get together is to have mutual respect and ability and then assist each other. If anything, mountaineering is way less forgiving than distance running!
– Lastly… we NEVER miss a chance to be with nature – why? cos the world as we knew it as a child is no longer the same … and the world we will know in 5 years time, will be as alien as Mars.
Runners and Mountaineers never give up. We reach the top – not for ego. Its for pushing ourselves to something we never thought possible… and for seeing such unbelievable sights and have such experiences that we never thought we could have.
The world is a fragile and remarkable place and there are many who would destroy it. We have very little time and lots to do.
From someone who has tasted blood, take it from me… the world looks heavenly from the top – I would easily curl up and breathe my last there, rather than come back to this incredibly callous, dog-eat-dog cauldron of desire that is the modern world.
As is often the case, there has been a hiatus since the last post. Guess its the usual laziness that always creeps into amateur bloggers! However, I decided that it was indeed high time I got the writing back onboard simply because Season 2 has already begun for me and I need to make sure I document everything for posterity, where I will probably look back and read my posts with great amusement at what went through my mind as a newbie! 🙂
The photo above shows the assortment of cool looking medals that race organisers have been kind enough to bestow upon the runners. They mean a lot, as each of them associates itself with myriad memories – the route, the weather, the location, the runners, friends made, the agony, the sweat and most of all, the one unifying factor, the ecstasy of sprinting across the finish line satisfied with your effort. No doubt, most of the medals will degrade and get corroded within a short span of time, but their memory will forever remain. Sometimes I do wish the organisers would take a bit more money but make sure they give out quality medals that would last! but well…guess its in tune with the modern world where everything is so fleeting, so transitory… and THAT is why I must make sure I keep a record, for those times when I one day sit back and read through what I felt and fondly remember my struggles and the effort I put in pre-run to achieve what I finally did!
Yep, that above was my first ever run in an organised event. As I have mentioned in some post a long time ago, I got into running for the sole purpose of increasing my fitness to become a successful mountaineer. From the Goechala trek in Nov, and this run on return, me and my perpetual partner Tapan, decided to stick with it and test ourselves beyond the 10K mark. (Our very first registration had been the 6K SCMM Dream Run…and that too with trepidation!) Its here that I must reflect on the nature of the human mind (or at least my mind!) … 6 kms run had seemed a huge mountain to climb for us when we registered but when we did our first EVER run in the last week of October, in National Park, we set a target of 6kms to begin with… just to see how impossible it truly was. What was euphoric in the morning (successfully having run 6k) turned disappointing in the evening! THAT’S the brain for you (at least mine!) – once a certain target gets achieved easily, it wants to reach the next – push itself and the body to its limits.
We did not really run much after that; most of November was spent in Darjeeling/Sikkim, on the high altitude trek which we did spectacularly easily (so yes, those 2-3 runs prior to the trek of 6 kms DID help)
When we came back, I saw the ad for Mumbai Daud and with the (as always) incredulous Tapan (“will we be able to do it?”) registered for the 10K. We did about 3-4 practice runs along the route, with only one run of 9k and then came straight for the event. We finished in a decent time of 1 hr each…but to us it seemed to be a bad time since we saw others running faster than us (yep, the naivete of newbies) – we thought we should have done better, but could not really figure out where to improve. The obvious conclusion was that we just did not grit our teeth hard enough and pump ourselves dry…so we decided to aim for breaking our 1 hr barrier.
10K races aren’t THAT easy to come by and with school holidays etc, there weren’t too many on offer or ones that we could do (we had missed the November start of the season and most of December runs) Also we were only looking for runs in and around Mumbai – which aren’t that many!
To cut a long story short, the 1 hr barrier stayed intact, and kept taunting me for quite a while. Around came Matherun, and Tapan actually DID break the barrier by 3 seconds! He did a 59:57, while I did not have a very good run and took a bit of a tumble on the way down and ended up with a 1:07, which was mainly due to me being conservative and not knowing how much to push for – since it was the first time I was running up such inclines!
The next real opportunity we got was the Puma Urban Stampede in Mumbai at BKC – flat course and a team run (2 X 10 relay) This was where I was determined to break the barrier; I have this weird mentality that when solo, I tend to not really push myself but when in a team which depends on me, I give it everything I have (and then some!) I decided to take the first leg and told Tapan to take the anchor, since he was much faster than me. I did my fastest 5 K by pushing hard in the beginning, but around the 7 k mark, I started feeling the burn. I also wasn’t aware of how much time had elapsed since my GPS tracker was unable to pick up consistent GPS. I was thus relying on mental (approximation) math to pace myself. Around the 8 km mark I was really flagging, being mostly on my own with a few runners ahead of me, and a few quite a distance behind me. I was cursing the route and swearing that there was something wrong and it was more than 10 K, when a lady smoothly glided past me. That brought me back to my sense…I observed her running and realised, she was looking absolutely effortless, and THAT’S when it struck me what I was doing wrong! I was the proverbial dinosaur trying to pound my body into trying to speed up but I was paying no attention to my kinestetics! She was your typical glider and I saw her cadence (speed of footsteps) was much faster and way more economical than mine…and I decided to ape her style. That was pretty much the magic pill! As I shortened my stride and improved cadence, a surge coursed through me and I could see I was getting much faster already! I kept gliding on (OK, honestly it was still pounding cos I do not have that grace) and as I turned toward the last 300 metres I could see the time on the clock and it still wasn’t 1 hour…the clock was around 58 mins odd…and so I raced….sprinted for all I was worth … all that existed for me was to get there before the hour mark, whatever the toll on my body. That worked wonders and I crossed the line at 59:02 and handed the baton to Tapan, exhausted and yet ecstatic 🙂
After that came the best Half Marathon I have yet run (OK I have only run 3!) – the Kihim/Alibag beach HM. This was a new challenge, since I obviously now had gone past my immediate goal of a sub 1 hr 10K… now I wanted to test myself with a 21 K run. The location was beautiful, the climate was superb and the run was on the beach with the gently lapping waves and a full moon race start at 5:30 am. It was truly a lovely run and Tapan finished in 2:13 while I reached home in 2:17, which wasn’t too bad for my first ever HM.
Sadly, that was almost the end of a very short first season for me…there was only the pathetic Surat Night Marathon, where the climate wasn’t very good and I did the 10 K in 1:01 but spent the remainder of the time cursing the horrid organisation and telling myself to never come back again for this.
The season ending run was another HM in Delhi in March at the Buddh Intl Circuit which I desperately wanted to run on, given my undying love for Formula 1!
The race start was a little late and the track also had its fair share of inclines, which meant that when the sun came out, with no trees for shade, everyone got baked, making the run a battle of attrition. I finished this HM in 2:23 which was disappointing as compared to the first one but was pretty good given the track and climatic conditions. I must mention here that the sun beating down and drawing out litres of sweat meant that our faces were caked with salt crystals! as were our clothes! It was a veritable salt fest, but for the privilege of running on the track where my beloved F1 cars roared, I would do it all over again!
So at the end of an eventful Season 1 for me, there are a lot of lessons learned. I am listing them down below – stuff that I have experienced on my voyage of self discovery to becoming a better, stronger and fitter runner. maybe It will help others avoid the mistakes I made and help them get stronger quicker.
1. After both the HMs, I had problems in the Gluteus Medius on the right side and the left knee (old injury) swelling up again. I realised that I was relying too much on raw grit and determination (and some physical prowess) and not giving any thought to strengthening the right muscles! after a lot of research and many helpful posts by fellow runners, I settled on a program of core exercises to strengthen the hips and the abs. This has been really helpful and as I write this today, I have done my most difficult HM to date (OK its only my third one but it still is MY toughest one!) and have had no Gluteus problem at all!! 😀
2. Another imp thing I realised was when I had a shin splint scare after I recently raised my mileage to more than double my usual, and also started running slopes everyday. This made me focus on exercises to strengthen the calves and the tendons, and doing so has been the greatest boon for me! Within a short span of time, it has given me a marked increase in my ability to tackle slopes and be able to push off more powerfully off the forefoot with less effort than before. It has improved my balance and my fore foot strike and has finally helped me “glide” (ok still not gracefully but I am on the right track!) This is a wonderful videdo – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tHXkt5JZMc and I have incorporated a lot of these in my daily routine twice a day.
3. Till now I have always been lazy about bounding up the stairs. Since the last 10 days I started doing it twice/thrice a day (I do 144 steps in about 1 min 14/16) it has made my muscles much stronger. How this has helped is in my ability to be able to get the muscles to recover back to full strength after just 10 seconds of rest (useful when you are going up unending slopes) and its also helped me tremendously in being able to put in a sprint anytime I like during the run (whether it be to overtake traffic or to get across a bunch of runners in a group jogging slowly and blocking the path)
4. I have also realised that climatic conditions and humidity make a huge difference and that it makes more sense to bide your time, strengthen yourself during the hot, humid months with long endurance runs and realistic tempo runs rather than getting frustrated when you cannot achieve your PBs. Yep I learnt it through experience when out of frustration I would try to push hard, lose form and end up getting swollen knees or hurting myself and thus losing training and having to start back all over again. With patience, I can see the development and nowadays I have stopped really bothering about the time per lap. I just do what I enjoy and do short interval bursts to run alongside a rickshaw or bike/car up slopes – just for the heck of it. Its great fun when you manage to keep up with their speed and see the surprise on the faces of the drivers 😀
FINALLY, my GOALS
Very simple – I have adopted a simple mantra that for me is achievable. I will do all kinds of 10K and 21K runs in as many places as I can (its nice to travel and run!) and note down the times. I will then run them again the next season and beat all my last year times by 10% every year 😀 This I believe is a realistic goal and its good enough to excite me for the upcoming season that I will catch for the first time from its beginning!
To be or not to be that is indeed the qt! I am torn between trying to run a Full marathon in SCMM 2015 or just going for the easier/surer option of an HM. I have to make my decision quick since the registrations will begin shortly!
Today, during the run, I was fortunate to meet the 2:45 pacer – Kanishk who was the first person to actually be positive and suggest that I should go for FM since he was able to do it within a few months of starting out, and believed I should be able to do it too.
I think I most likely will go for it – hell, isn’t mountaineering all about challenging your body and your mind? I cannot call myself a wannabe mountaineer if I did not have this confidence in me! so its looking like my first SCMM with a medal will be my first ever FM! 😀
While departing, I leave you with a picture of my first summit that I did in May 2014 – Pangarchulla Peak (its like a 10k run in terms of summits) but its my first and Im proud of it. Onto more difficult pastures! after all the mind is a terrible thing to waste!
Check out our times and running schedule on this brilliant site designed by Tapan – MADVISION
Once again I have lapsed into my old writer’s block and have done precious little since the last month. I am now back with my long pending update on the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (hereon known as SCMM) 2014.
Carrying on from last time, after the adrenalin rush and sense of achievement of the Mathe-Run, it was time for a different challenge. The SCMM was round the corner (19th Jan 2014) just a week away; but there was no real excitement since it was only going to be the 6KM run. When we had registered in August/September 2013, we had never run anything at all, and whilst we had wanted to go for 21 KM, we were thwarted by the fact that SCMM required some online timing certificate/proof to be a timed runner. Having nothing in hand, we decided to opt for the 6KM, which we had felt would be enough to test us.
Now, after having done a couple of 10K runs, the Dream Run did not feel appealing at all, however, we were glad to be part of the spectacle and were curious to soak in the atmosphere of the biggest run in Asia.
SCMM DREAM RUN ROUTE MAP
Come Jan 19th, Sunday, and all roads and trains led to CST (formerly known as the VT station) Our run was to begin at 9 am, and we got off the train at Churchgate at 8:15 and proceeded towards CST. The carnival like atmosphere began the moment we stepped out of the subway. Across Eros Cinema, was a group of dancers with loudspeakers blaring “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” There were throngs of people lined along the barriers cheering on the runner who were streaming in a steady line from Marine Drive (these were the 21K runners who had begin early in the day from Bandra Kurla Complex) There was music and colour all around and it was fantastic!
We walked briskly to the holding area at Azad Maidan and entered from the Bombay Gymkhana side. Outside the entry, was a huge crowd of people in various costumes, carrying banners, flags, and shouting slogans. It was like a human tide throbbing and pulsing in myriad hues! As we entered Azad maidan, we saw a stage surrounded by the crowd. People who were dressed in special costumes based on their causes, were taking centrestage and describing what they were involved with.
In the distance, a group of school kids were playing lezim, while others were banging on their drums. A short while later, the huge crowd started surging through a narrow exit lane onto the main road leading to CST. The start point would be the BMC building and DN Road junction.
As we got closer to the start point and the start time, the sound of the drums got louder and faster until it was a thumping beat that threatened to make everyone rush headlong onto the road…and in a few seconds, the entire throng was off.
We weaved our way through the walkers and slower runners and which was quite a lot of fun and definitely something you do not get to do in many marathons! 🙂 By the time we had turned round till Eros Cinema, we were almost at the leading pack. Running down Churchgate, and then left at Not Just Pizza By The Bay, we moved onto Marine Drive. Hardly had the sounds and music of the dancing group at Eros subsided, that we now had a band across the road playing a song from Rock on 😀
That got our hearts pumping again and we moved on faster down to Oberoi (now the Trident Hotel) where we took a U-turn onto the other side, running along the sea. A brilliant experience, seeing the sea on your left, the Walkeshwar skyline in the distance, a whole bunch of people cheering and bands performing on the promenade! This was the most amazing thing about the run…music stations and bands were stationed at close intervals and everytime you felt like flagging a bit, you got a fresh dose of adrenalin pumping through 🙂
Tapan left me just a short while after the Oberoi Hotel turn and raced ahead while I slowly picked up my speed as I reached the 4.75 km mark at the Marine Lines flyover. This was the ONLY part that wasn’t flat and even then the climb is not that difficult or extensive. Climb the flyover and then its an awesome race down the incline (which unfortunately got thwarted for me as a group of runners were clustered all across the road and chatting and sauntering across) I waved out cheerily and slowed down to avoid any mishaps and then after I touched the bottom of the flyover, began the final sprint to the end which was opposite the Metro Cinema.
It was a fantastic end to a fantastic experience … a true carnival that has so much life and so much character that it has to be one of the best run experiences worldwide!
To anyone who has never run and to all experienced runners, this is a run you MUST do. The atmosphere, the sheer energy…will ensure you will never forget this!
As I close my memories of the run, I finally remember that I have not mentioned the time at all…it was that kind of race, where you ran hard but enjoyed it so much that time was secondary! I did the 6k in 32 minutes while Tapan did it in 31 minutes. This was our fastest 5/6K run to date and we both enjoyed it thoroughly!
I must also mention here that there is no medal for the Dream Run finishers, however the 21K runners get a brilliant/unique medal and I have my eyes on it for next year 😀
Check out our times and running schedule on this brilliant site designed by Tapan – MADVISION
UPDATE : I have finally put up the map of the route as well and have coloured the various sectors as per their difficulty. I hope this is useful to others running this next year.
Its now been quite a few days since I last updated the blog. I definitely have had the time to do so, just been a bit lazy cos there is just so much to write! A couple of important events/runs have happened during my hiatus and whilst my practice runs had not given me much hope, both the runs have gone off better than expected! So, let’s go back a few days in time to where I left off with the 2nd entry.
After the 10 Km Powai Run on the 5th of Jan, next one up looked quite daunting. It was a trail run over the unpaved red soil roads of Matheran, India’s most environment friendly, pollution-free hill station (no vehicles are allowed here) This of course means that there are numerous horses and the omnipresent red soil kicked up by their hooves! So much so, that the leaves of the trees by the main paths are permanently caked in a thick layer of red.
A few photos of Matheran
Initially, we were quite unsure on whether we should take the plunge and register for it. The tough terrain – a few number of steep uphill sectors interspersed with long stretches of continually inclined grades, all along unpaved roads that had stones and rocks strewn about, was initimidating to newbies like us. Yet, we decided to take the plunge, and I am very glad we did it – its been the most enjoyable (and toughest) run we have had yet.
Fast forward to Jan 10th night – we caught the last train from CST to Karjat and got off at Neral at around 2 am. Walked off briskly to the hotel closest to the station (Hotel Rahi) booked in the cheapest room and in the company of a couple of mosquitoes and one cockroach, sat down to have homemade grub asap and then doze off.
Curious point here -> all hotels at Neral and Matheran have an unusual timing. You can check-in after 10 am at whatever time, but the check-out time is 9 am!! Pretty early and even more so for us, who went off to sleep at 3 am only to wake up at 7, get showered, have breakfast and rush to check-out and head up to Matheran.
We reached Matheran at 9:45 (it takes about 20-30 minutes from Neral) and first checked into the MTDC Hotel that is near the entry point at Dasturi Naka, which was where the race would flag off – thus maximising the time we could get to sleep. 😀
The race flag off was about 10 feet away from our room, so that was one job well done! We then moved off to the market to reconnoiter the route we would be running the nest day and also head off to the Library where the bib and t-shirts were being distributed.
As we moved along up the incline just a few 100 metres from the start line, it became obvious that we were in for a gruelling time. 15 minutes of walking later, we were grinning at each other, wondering why we signed up for this! Finally after about 20 minutes of walking up, we reached the market and the library. The bib distribution had been delayed, so we decided to stroll around till Charlotte Lake and double back up to the market. A few pics of Charlotte Lake below…
After lunch we returned to the Library and picked up the bibs from the group of extremely friendly and enthusiastic organisers – Mr. Paresh Pimpale and Mr. Shyam Lata – experienced runners themselves! They explained the route to us and informed us that we had 175 runners in total tomorrow divided among the 10 km and the 10 mile run. Seeing the small field of dedicated runners, I was absolutely sure that I would end up last 😀
The route led out from the market and this bit made us feel more relaxed since it was about a kilometre downhill and then came up to Pande Road which was yet another gradient upto the Polo Ground! We would have to do 1/3rd of the Polo Ground and then return the way we had come. Whilst the first 5 kms seemed quite daunting, the second 5 kms did look good and gave us hope that if we survived the first half hour, we would do it.
Long walk back to the hotel room, checking out the trail and making a mental note to be careful while coming downhill and not get our ankle twisted on a loose rock! Had a quick supper and went off to sleep early.
Woke up at 5 am on race day, all pepped up. Matheran market was 2.5 kms away and anyway there was no tea or coffee stall open this early in winter! The earliest one was at 7:30 am that too at a canteen close to our room.
Matheran Tip : Make sure you carry a mug that can boil water so that you can make yourself tea or coffee in the morning!
Guzzled loads of water, had salted peanuts, did the trip to the washroom to clean our stomachs and we were ready by 7 am. The 10 milers began running by 7:45 am while our turn came at 8:00 am on a cool morning. (surprisingly it was not as chilly as we expected it to be)
As is the norm, we began from the back of the field (it always feels better psychologically, to overtake rather than get overtaken!) Our training up the Kanheri slope came in use as we maintained a constant pace up the slope – ensuring we took small steps to propel ourselves up. We finally crested the demonic starting slope making decent time and finally eased out as the flat stretch of the market came in sight.
Tapan sped up while I was not yet confident of my ability, and thus kept up a slow pace to make sure I conserved my energy. In hindsight, I should have pushed ahead but well, that’s something now marked in my mental notebook for next year 🙂
After the market was the slight downward incline that allowed us stretch our legs a bit before the next daunting incline of Pande Road. I forgot to mention that when I had begun down the long slope after the Library, the leading African runner came loping across from the opposite side with complete nonchalance! Quite incredible the sheer grace and speed at which these natural runners run, makes the marathon look easy! They are truly super human. The leader did go on to finish the run in an incredible time of 31 minutes!
Back onto my run, and as I struggled up the slope to the Polo Ground, I met Tapan coming down (he had just done the Polo ground turn and was on his way back) I pushed on, did the turn around (which was approximately the half way point) and then gathered myself afresh for the second half which I was looking forward to.
As I began down the slope of Pande Road, I was still circumspect since I have always been pretty clumsy and was deathly afraid of twisting my knee or ankle! I then came along into the market and while running the flat stretch, I estimated that since I only had about 2-2.5 kms remaining with most of it downhill, I could charge ahead. It felt brilliant to finally power up and gallop across, a truly exhilarating feeling as I raced faster than the trotting horses with my feet feeling great against the soft red sand that was acting as a superb cushion. I was unaware how many guys I overtook but I felt just brilliant and absolutely energised!
I had to control myself as the next stretch involved a downward slope but as always I was uncertain of my flat feet and had to slow down. After that I came across a 100 metre section of a mild slope up, after which was the section I had been looking forward to – the demonic incline that I had hated so much and would be my best friend on the way back 🙂
I stretched my legs and began pumping down but as I turned to the right on the final slope section, I could see many loose stones, some pried loose by the runners who had gone by and I slowed down a bit fearing the worst. Unfortunately just as the slope was ending, I did indeed trip (yep that’s me!) but luckily, having been prepared for myself to fall over, I did not hurt myself too badly. Lost about 10 seconds, dusted myself off and began the final push up the incline to the finish line.
I eventually ended up with 1 hr 8 minutes while Tapan did it in 59 minutes 59 seconds which was incredible! What was even more incredible was that our estimates of the previous night were almost spot on! I had estimated myself finishing in 1 hr 10 mins while I had thought Tapan would finish in 1 hr (he finished in 59 mins 59 seconds which was just 1 second off!! BEAT THAT!) I could have probably done 1 hr 6 minutes but well this was still way better than I expected.
It felt brilliant to be awarded the medal at the end of the race – this is one medal I will cherish! What felt even better was that I was definitely not the last to cross the finish line and had done reasonably well. When the results came out, we realised that Tapan stood 15th while I stood 26th! This was way beyond what I hoped and I can safely say that my first Trail Run was the most satisfying run so far 🙂
My next blog entry will be about the next run we did – the biggest marathon in Asia – the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, fondly referred to as SCMM. This was a totally opposite run to the Trail Run – it is run on smooth tarmac roads through the most picturesque parts of Mumbai.
In the next blog post I will write about that experience, followed by a comparison and analysis between all our runs and what we have learned from them.
Thanks for reading! 😀
If you are a beginner marathon runner like me, the greatest curiosity you are likely to have is “How much time do all the experienced guys take?!” or “Maybe I can run, but am I good enough to compete?”
If you are one of those who is running solely for keeping yourself fit without looking to take it to the next level, then honestly, you should not be thinking about distance covered vs running times at all. It should just be a nice, comfortable, constant pace for the target duration (20 mins? 30 mins? one hour?) If however, you are curious and (like me) have searched in vain for the “magic” answer to standard running times, then here is a quick overview from whatever I have gleaned from my research.
a good time is between 17 minutes to 25 minutes
an average/decent time is between 25 to 35 minutes
Anything beyond that is a laid back time and if you wish to end up in the upper half of the field, you should start pushing yourself.
a good time is 32 minutes to 47 minutes
an average/decent time is 48 minutes to 1 hour – 10 mins
Anything beyond that and you will be in the lower half of the field
I haven’t personally experienced this yet (my first half marathon coming up in Feb) but I do know that anything between 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes is a good time.
In general, as a thumb rule, running times of between 6 and 7 minutes per km are decent mid level times while anything below 6 minutes per km will start pushing you up into the top bracket of the runners. 🙂
To put things in perspective, in the recent Run Powai Run marathon, we had 2664 runners for the 10 km run. My time of 1 hour 15 seconds put me in 510th place, while Tapan’s time of 56 mins 44 seconds put him in position 339. The winner had a time of 32 minutes! 😀
I would say you should not worry too much about setting times too early. Keep them in mind and perhaps look for miniscule improvements, but the important thing is to ENJOY running. In the beginning, I probably pushed too much, or maybe I was just exercising beyond my abilities; but for me, my initial runs used to feel like a chore that had to be done!
Luckily I persisted with it and read up about others’ experiences. I changed my running style, my habits, my nutrition and actually started enjoying my runs. This started to help me perform better and now I actually look forward to my runs! 🙂
A MOMENTOUS DAY – SLAYING MY DRAGON!
Today was a great day for me…there is this daunting slope – the final approach to Kanheri Caves, that I had alluded to in my previous post. It was the insurmountable dragon for me and after having tried 4-5 times previously, I had shied away from it. Since the last couple of days I have just begun using ankle weights to improve my runs and today I decided to retry this monster WITH my ankle weights.
I had decided that I would just not give up, come what may and would rather take small steps and go slowly rather than stopping. (but then I have said this on all previous attempts and have always failed) This time to my shock and surprise I managed to run all the way up without stopping! In fact right at the end, I was even able to sprint for the last 50 metres, which was such an amazing feeling for me!
It is these small pleasures that make marathon running worthwhile! 🙂
From tomorrow I will begin a daily log of my practice leading up to the 21 km Kihim/Alibag beach run. I will mix the daily schedule with any other thoughts or info that comes to my mind.
The countdown has begun for the Sunday 10 KM Mathe-Run and I’m already feeling the excitement 🙂
This is the beginning of my diary of experiences about how and why I began running long distance and how I (hopefully) ended up being successfully able to complete an ultra marathon (yea, I know I have high hopes!)
I am 38 years of age (39 in April) so I’m no spring chicken but thankfully I am reasonably fit thanks to playing squash regularly. I’m 176 cms and weigh between 66 to 67 kilos (the weight changes daily dependent on the exercise/effort put in)
I dislike doing weights at the gym or at home (which means I do NOT do any lifting at all) but I love playing squash and have at least an hour long session thrice a week.
IN THE BEGINNING
I have always been in awe of the great Himalayas and have always dreamt of getting as close to them as they would allow. One of the treks I loved and had always wanted to do was the Goecha-la trek (Khangchendzonga base on the Indian side) From reading up on various trek reports, it was quite obvious this would not be easy. So, in order to build endurance, me and a couple of friends (who formed our group heading to Goechala – Tapan Naubagh and Digvijay Singh) decided to run at least 5-6 kms.
Thus began our passion for long distance running (that we had always felt was beyond us!) Digvijay unfortunately has since then backed out, but me and Tapan are still at it, looking to improve every week.
Since we aren’t exactly serious athletes (and have work commitments) we had to look at setting up a program for ourselves that would not be time consuming and would also be flexible (dependent on us) Finding a coach and doing proper training was ruled out since I personally have family commitments which I prioritise over all else and Tapan has a strong commitment with his beauty sleep. 🙂
So, we began reading through various blogs and looking at tips that other experienced runners had posted. A lot of motivational stuff and in the end of October, 10 days before our trek, we were ready to throw the gauntlet and accept the challenge.
We had one major advantage, the National Park of Mumbai is not very far from where we are, which meant that we had a lovely, natural, pollution and traffic free environment to help our baby steps into the world of marathons.
I remember the very first time we aimed for 6 kms and huffed and puffed our way to 5 kms with me and Tapan clocking 39 minutes, and Digvijay doing a jog, walk till he reached the end.
Whatever the case we were chuffed, cos we had actually done it! After patting ourselves on the back, we decided to come back in 3 days time and run again.
The next couple of days were a bit of an agony on the knee and calves (especially my left knee which has had a history of swelling up thanks to a ligament injury I had 22 years back) However after 2 days of the muscles tightening and then easing in, we were back on the 3rd day, determined to take on the challenge.
This time, Digvijay was determined and he shot off like a bullet, clomping away with his big feet. Tapan and me stayed together for 2-3 kms after which he sped off while I kept running at my pace panting along. At around the 4 km mark, Tapan overtook Digvijay and completed the distance. I gasped my away across till the end – my time being the slowest by far among the three of us. I clocked 5 kms in 38 minutes! while Digvijay put in 36 minutes and Tapan did it in 35.
Again we were all still very proud, I was very happy that I had done it yet again, whatever the time and that I might just be ready for the trek 🙂 There is of course always the easy way out for the ‘senior’ members like me – always blame it on the age 😉 Tapan is 28 while Digvijay is 24 so its easier to console and pep yourself (although Im aware that age has NOTHING to do with how well you run)
We did another run before the trek in which I set a time of 35 minutes and came in second behind Tapan and just before Digvijay and I was sure then that I could do the trek. To Tapan and Digvijay’s credit, they managed to go all the way up the steep incline of Kanheri, while I just could not manage that non stop.
The trek was successfully completed by the three of us and we were back to Mumbai in November. As expected we had the usual cooling period of about a week but then we decided that we should continue our distance running form and should try to run in a 6k marathon. So, me and Tapan went ahead and registered for the biggest marathon in Mumbai and the biggest in Asia as well – The Standard Chartered Marathon… but in the littlest category – the 6KM (Dream) run. We wanted to participate in the 21 k run but they demanded a previous timing certificate that meant we were effectively nixed.
As we began running more often, our times started to show quite an improvement. We were also now able to run 5-6 kms with reasonable ease and that meant we were looking at increasing our distance. While we were pondering this, the Mumbai Daud came up as a Godsend 😀 It had a 10K run… a distance which seemed achievable and both of us discussed long and hard and then finally decided to go for it.
The problem was, it was the second week of December and the run was on XMas day! which left us with only a week to prepare without us ever having done anything beyond 6 km! (even that had been done just once)
It was then that we started becoming serious and began preparing in right earnest with mixed stamins and endurance runs.
Finally in the Mumbai Daud on 25th December 2013, we finished with a reasonably creditable time of 1 hr 09 seconds (Tapan) and 1 hr 19 seconds (me)
Tapan stood 95th while I stood 101st 🙂 – out of a total of 330 odd runners. For rank beginners with barely a month’s running experience, this was a terrific start and boosted us up massively.
After the Mumbai Daud, just as the New Year came across, we did our 2nd mini marathon – Run Powai Run. Me or Tapan will be writing up a detailed report about it very shortly and I will post the link here. In short, the Powai route was quite undulating and had a lot of slopes up and down, which meant it tested our leg muscles much more than the Mumbai Daud. We were not really expecting a great time… this is what happened.
Tapan had a spectacular run and finished with a time of 56 mins 44 seconds while I had a conservative run (I had a squash tournament in 3 hours post run) … still I managed to beat my previous best, albeit by only 4 seconds! 🙂 My time was 1 hr 15 seconds
As I close this chapter, its the night of 7th Jan and our next 10K run beckons – the Mathe-Run to be held at Matheran (a beautiful hill station close to Mumbai) on the 12th of Jan.
We are trying to prepare for it to run better than before, hope this time I can post a 57 minute run which will make me very very happy indeed! 🙂
So this brings you upto scratch with who we are and our experience level (or rather lack of it!) We are experimenting and learning things our way and are keeping track of what has helped us and what is improving or spoiling our runs.
From the next chapter onwards, I will talk less about the races but will focus more on the technical aspects and what difficulties we faced, how we overcame them, and what plan we followed.
wish us luck, our aim is to do an ultra marathon in a year’s time (among other milestones of course!) 😀
Till next time!!! cheers!