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!
Ganesh Chaturthi (The Ganesha festival) is just aorund the corner (9th Sep 2013, Monday) and Mumbai is abuzz with the excitement it feels everytime its favourite elephant headed God arrives every year.
Here he is, ready and always watching! 🙂
On an early morning, for some unusual reason, the tide had not yet come in…and neither had the ferry. The gloomy, overcast skies made it depressingly surreal with people walking away into the distance to the end of the jetty that led nowhere – almost like disappearing in time…fading away… losing focus.
Had to have it in black and white to sum up the mood…the tense, heavy, brooding sky and the waves gently lapping the shores – as if waiting for something to happen.
Today’s Daily Prompt
Everytime I step out and look around, I find wonder in the infinite paradoxes that nature throws forward. Everywhere you look, chaos and order are intertwined like the veritable yin-yang. Two opposites, yet equally important in the grand scheme of things.
I tried to click something that would bring out this duality – the curve of the flower pot, a strong geometric presence amidst the chaotic fallen leaves, again offset by the linear progression of the plant growing upwards, in turn offsetted by the chaotic spread of colours.
As the dark clouds gather low,
A ruddy glow fills the night
The sentinel stands ready
Ever alert, out of sight
My daughter and my favourite guitar, both came to my life only a few days apart from each other, almost 9 years ago. They are companions to each other and of course to me!
…and the waves swirled,
on luminous shores of old.
Softly, the musky scent unfurled,
the tantalising sea of gold.
The radiant Ardbeg, a class apart 🙂
On a gloomy, rainy day,
Lord Magenta came fluttering by
to hold sway in the green tinted sky
for a split second before waving goodbye
Rekindled my love for photography today after ages 🙂 Having to brush the cobwebs and buckle up! 🙂
Here’s the pic for the day and alongwith it is my daughter… its Fathers’ Day!! 🙂 my little gift to her.
Click here to read the FIRST part
Day 3 – May 13th early morning
We were up at 3 am and hurriedly began to get ready for the climb up. Last night’s rain had again ensured a clear sky and we could see a myriad of stars twinkling away. It was a chill morning with the mercury a few degrees below 0 and armed with ear muffs and gloves, we began the steep climb up to Dzongri top.
The climb is a pretty tricky one as the route is steep and goes past scrub and loose sandy soil. As we slowly marched up and onward, dawn was starting to creep up, brightening the sky. The peaks of Mt Pandim and Rathong were beginning to appear on our left as we moved onwards.
It had been a pretty chill night and the path was strewn with a thick blanket of frost. The lesser peaks around us were also white with fresh snow from last night and it was a beautiful sight that was unfolding past us. Panting and wheezing, we manage to finally crest the ridge that leads onto the final narrow path that leads up to our final destination – Dzongri top.
As we reach the top, we stand in awe… witnessing the might of nature. In front of us stand the Kabru peaks, Mt Pandim, Mt Jopuno and Mt. Kanchenjunga. Its a 270 degree Himalayan special that makes me stand spellbound in the chill, bitter wind.
The sun begins streaking the mountain tops with gold as a sunning sight begins to unfold. A clear wondrously blue sky as the backdrop for the spectacular golden peaks all around us. We wait and watch it unfold and click photos as the peaks come to life. It been a sight worth savouring and the effort to be able to view this is soon forgotten.
As the sun finally rises in all its glory, we wait a while and then begin the walk down into the clouds and the ubiquitous sweet scented “sun-paate” bushes. Its been a memorable and extraordinary morning and one that we will cherish years on.
(Some useless info here : we were hoping to see the famous rosy pink peaks but were told by one of the locals that pink sunrises happen during October/November winter months only. The summer months give blazing gold sunrises. That obviously means I need to be back in winter to pay obeisance to the peaks again )
Day 3 – May 13th late morning
After having had a filling breakfast, we again packed our bags are prepared for a long march to Lamuney.
We moved out by 8:40 am, climbing up the hill on towards Kokchurong. The path leads up through scrub and unusual patches of desert like white sand. The terrain reminds me of the Scottish moors and its gently undulating all the way over and across the ridge onto the other side. Some spectacularly beautiful moors all around as we hungrily breathe in the scented alpine air.
The first hour of the walk is nice and easy with easy climbs and descents. Once we cross this beautiful, wild plateau, the first deep descent comes into view. Far below in the valley, you can see the gorge with a bridge across it. The descent needs to be made slowly and carefully (especially me with a bad knee) tracts are pretty steep and scrabbly and thanks to animal hooves, are a bit unsteady as well.
It takes quite a toll on your legs but after about 45 mins of descent, you are at the base where the trekker hut at Kokchurong awaits.
The forest around is amazing with a thick mist all around the deodars and unusual vegetation trailing everywhere. The clear stream cascades over the rocks as we step across boulders and across the bridge onto the other side.
The forest on the other side is even more amazing with thick yellow lichen encrusted boulders and gnarled tree roots giving it a mystical, almost Lord of the Rings like appearance. Its truly breathtaking and I begin expecting a troll to pop out at any time blocking our way!
After about an hour of reasonably easy walk, we come across a boulder strewn climb that is a bit difficult but lasts only for about 30 mins or so before it opens out into a wide sweeping valley where the cold wind suddenly swoops down on us.
This is actually the start of the pass that leads onto to Goecha-la and beyond. It is this very pass/valley that keeps going on and up through the majestic Himalayas.
In the distance we can see the Thansing trekker hut and a few camps but the amazing panorama of the peaks beyond is hidden behind low lying cold clouds that are looming threateningly.
We stop at Thansing to have lunch (which the cook has already prepared… they obviously being way faster than us!)
After an hour’s breather, we continue walking on towards Lamuney. This is the easiest stretch and is over and across very gentle slopes with mountain peaks around us shrouded in clouds.
Half an hour out of Thansing and the threatening clouds finally break. Initially its a shower of tiny hailstones but within 10 mins the wind picks up and it escalates into snowfall. We huddle under a rock and pull out our plastic ponchos and drape them over ourselves and our bag and hurry on through the alternating sleet and snow. After about half an hour, the snowflakes get bigger and denser and we are truly trudging through a medium scale snowfall.
Another 45 mins and we are at Lamuney. Lamuney does not have a trekkers hut and only has a kitchen which trekkers have to share with the cooks/porters if they do not carry tents. The kitchen was dark and smoky and over crowded but was a relief from the cold outside. Our feet and hands were chilled and we gratefully accepted the glasses of tea proferred around. We had reached Lamuney quite comfortably by around 4 pm and the snow continued to pelt the camp for the next 4 hours well into the night.
We had a quick dinner and somehow everyone found space to crawl over or under benches and tables and we all eased down to sleep.
Day 3 had been yet another eventful and fantastic day with us experiencing all kinds of weather and picturesque scenery… all unique and stunning in their own way.
Day 4 – the tryst with the legendary Mt. kanchenjunga
3 am and as always time to brush the cobwebs, step out of our sleeping bags and embrace the stinging, chill air. As we had come to hope, expect… and enjoy … the skies were clear again. It was a winter wonderland with shades of black, white and grey, as we began our hike up the first ridge. The fresh snow had made things very difficult with only the footsteps of the previous group (10 minutes ahead of us) as our only guide.
Here we are cresting the first rise with the Lamuney camp already left far behind.
We kept climbing up the next rise and as we reached its edge, the sun decided to show us its glory.
Having crossed the lip, a sublime sight greeted us – the golden peaks reflected in the gently rippling waters of Samiti Lake.
Struggling up the rise on the shore opposite Samiti Lake, the pass can be seen in its entirety, snaking from after Lamuney all the way through the Himalayas.
Beyond Samiti Lake, the going gets tougher, as we struggle through the snow up the increasing gradient, carefully stepping on rocks and avoiding getting our shoes wet! As the sun rises in the sky, our hearts soar to see the gigantic peaks appearing beyond the lip like an impenetrable wall.
Just the sight of these peaks gives us renewed energy as we strive on… (you can get an idea of the scale by seeing the size of the humans against the mighty mountains)
A Little panorama added in to give a taster
…To finally behold the magic of Goecha-la… the mighty awe inspiring Mt. Kanchenjunga and the surrounding stunning peaks!
Sadly the clouds were starting to creep in towards Mt. Kanchenjunga which forced us to take the decision to abort the trek to the final viewpoint BUT this is how it is in the great Himalayas…you can only have the privilege to be close to them when THEY want it, not when we do We decided to turn back from viewpoint 1 for multiple reasons… the risk of the mountain clouding over was too strong and also the fact that as the sun climbed in the sky, the fresh snow would start to melt, making the descent extremely treacherous.
No harm done though, it was mindblowing, spellbinding… unbelievable MUCH more than what we had imagined. Human nature being greedy as always though, we decided on the spot that we would do one better – pink sunrise in November at Goechala our next target
We turned around exhilarated and began our march back down the slopes … all the way to Tsokha.
We began trudging down the slippery slopes back to Lamuney where we would have a quick breakfast and then proceed to Kokchurong for lunch followed by a brisk walk back to Tsokha. Our target was to reach Tsokha before nightfall since the inclement weather could break anytime.
Here are a few pics of the same route back, looking different in the blazing sunlight
As planned, we moved back down past Kokchurong onto the less travelled route that led directly to Phedang. This was one weird route (and a pretty tough one at that) a really unusual forest that has the reputation of being haunted and also full of bogs. All I felt was that this was a truly narrow path through a dense, spooky forest which probably contributes to its reputation. It was also a pretty difficult route to take and after a pretty hard climb/descent, we finally came out at Phedang. From here on the going was easier… pretty ,much downhill. Finally, at 6:15 pm, we reached Tsokha.
A truly strenuous Day 4 finally ended.
Day 5 was pretty much a breeze as compared to what we had been through, and we were home and dry in Yuksom by 1:30 pm
Evening was spent looking around town (the coronation throne, Phamrong falls) and finally chilling with a nice hot water bath followed by an awesome booze party well into the night
All in all, we managed to finish the trek in excellent time (5 days) even with our mulish packloads… AND managed to enjoy every moment of it. The mountain gods were merciful and we had great weather all throughout.
Just a little side-note … I am also a smoker and I dd smoke at all altitudes, albeit sparingly – only about 3 cigarettes a day. It did not hamper (or improve) my performance in anyway but well… it was fun to smoke while in the driving rain with lightning streaking the sky
Our next target now – the incredible Green Lake trek… time to get back in shape again!!