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For a few minutes less: running the Mumbai Marathon 2012

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Look for the Asterix reference at the tail end of post (Pic: courtesy zenitram.over-blog.com)

This is Part 2 of my Mumbai Marathon 2012 race report and continues from For a few minutes less: a race report from Mumbai Marathon 2012.

The First 7k

Somewhere in my pace calculations, I erroneously concluded that  5:50 was the goal pace for a 4 hrs 10 min finish. Perhaps 6 seconds/km is not significant to the seasoned runner but in my limited experience I’ve learnt that every attempt to run faster (than trained for!) in the first half has come back to bite me in the second half. So, my first running mistake was an arithmetic one. 🙂 In order to account for my extra mile of sprinting (and anxiety) before the starting line, I revised my pace – by a ‘generous’ margin of 5 seconds and stuck to a 5:55 pace for the first 5k.

It was the first race where I was in sole possession of last place — at the 10 meter mark. Having survived 45 minutes of anxiety, I was just plain relieved and happy. I told myself that I would overtake hundreds, most likely even thousands of runners – that pumped me up. At the 2k mark, my pal Jothi (here’s his race report) yelled an encouraging “catch-up”. I waved back knowing fully well that, with my revised goal pace,  I wasn’t going to catch up anytime soon. As I alluded to earlier, an important pre-race ritual had been missed – emptying the bladder. What started as a mental distraction soon turned into a physiological nag. Keeping a lookout for a Sulabh on the Marine Drive stretch, the first open one was sighted at the 7k mark. Turned out to be a quite a popular loo – the pit stop having cost me nearly two minutes.

7k to 21k

Maintaining an average pace of 5:56, I steadily overtook groups of runners. I slowed down going up the Pedder Road incline and, after reaching the top, went tearing down with long strides. I gained no more than 20 seconds but it was done to get the adrenaline pumping. Crossing the Bandra-Worli sea-link was fairly uneventful, especially compared to the 2010 edition. Somewhere between 15k and 20k, I overtook Rahul Verghese’s 5:30 pacing bus and Amit Sheth/Neepa Sheth’s 5:00 pacing bus. The latter was a high-octane peloton with several catchy slogans.

Gobs of Gu and Sacs of Salt

Whether it’s the first, fifth or tenth marathon you are running, if something ends up deviating from plan, it will only happen in the second half (most likely in the last 10k). I crossed the half-way mark in 2 hrs 5 min. It should have triggered a “going too fast per my revised goal” warning bell but it didn’t. In any case, it was too late to make any adjustments and my body and mind were in good harmony at this stage. I was so focused that I passed Ravi Venkatesan (a fellow BHUKMP runner) without noticing him. He called out and, for fun, I did a 20 second burst of reverse running while engaging in a short conversation. I recall thinking this guy ran a fast first half – that too in his first full marathon.

For all but two of my marathons, I’ve been carrying a Gatorade bottle and using Gu gels. The only change I made for SCMM2012 was to consume a gel every 5k (instead of 6k), so a total of 8 energy gels.  It didn’t feel like I overdid it so I’ll repeat this for the next race too.

After suffering severe calf cramps in the season’s first marathon (Hyderabad – Aug 2011), I used Endurolyte capsules (mostly salt) for the next race (Kaveri Trail Marathon – Sep 2011). They seemed to work because I didn’t cramp at this venue for the first time in 3 consecutive years! At the Bangalore 50k Ultra (Nov 2011), the Endurolyte tablets weren’t sufficient to stave off several bouts of calf cramps. My running experts told me that 5 capsules probably didn’t account for the hot weather. So I came to SCMM2012 armed with 8 endurolyte capsules.

The eventful second half

Shortly after passing Ravi at the halfway mark, I started feeling some niggles — in my quads and hamstrings. The quadriceps and calf muscle groups had made their presence (and displeasure) felt in many earlier marathons but the hamstring niggle was new. I popped some extra Endurolyte capsules as a preemptive measure, dropped my pace a wee bit – ran 20-25k at 6:00 pace and the 25-30k stretch at 6:04 pace.

Somewhere in the region of 32-33k, my right hamstring niggle morphed into a moderate cramp. All signs in the preceding 10k were pointing to this eventuality but I was still disappointed. If my marathons #1 through #4 were characterized by struggles with exhaustion and cramps in the final 10k, marathons #5 through #9 have been devoid of exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong – I would be plenty tired at the 32k mark but my energy meter still showed plenty of juice.  So my last 5 marathons have primarily been struggles against cramps – thank god for small mercies!

I stopped, did some general stretches and continued at a slower pace. I repeated this sequence and was it a wonder that my 30-35k lap pace was 6:40? Worse was around the corner. Close to 36k, my moderate hamstring cramp turned into a full blown cramp. As I passed a friend and fellow Bangalore runner (Sunil Chainani), I asked him if he had any miracle cure for a hamstring cramp (I had exhausted my supply of salt tablets by now). Of course a miracle cure was not to be (yet)!

I continued (my now familiar) ritual of running-walking-stopping-stretching. Somewhere in the 30-36k stretch, I passed fellow Bangalore runners (Sridhar  and Satsang) and Chennai runner Ridhima Suri. For a while, Sridhar, Ridhima and I were playing a cat-and-mouse game with each other. At the 38k mark, my fortunes turned. As I pulled under one of those green ‘oasis’ tents with cool water sprays, I asked a fellow runner if he had a pain spray. What he did have (and kindly offered) was a Volini pain relief sachet. I liberally applied the gel to my right hamstring and, on a hunch, also applied it to my left hamstring. 10 seconds later a miracle happened – the above Asterix visual is the best way to describe how I felt! Of course I didn’t attain superhuman strength but my cramped hamstring had been banished to some temporary jail and that, my friends, was superhuman enough.

I had 4k more of road to pound so I took off like a released torpedo. According to my calculations, I was definitely going over 4 hrs 20min but there was just a chance I could salvage a PB out of this race.  The 35-40k leg was negotiated with an average pace of 7:28 – probably would have been 8:30 without the Volini. For the final 2.5km, I finished strong with a 6:21 pace – the course ended up being 42.5km (not 42.2km). My net time turned out to be 4 hrs 24 min 3 sec – shaving 2 1/2 minutes from my previous PB at Auroville 2011.

Closing Thoughts

Notwithstanding my blunder-laced start, there were several positives to be drawn from my 9th marathon finish:

  • Did not run out of energy in the final 10k – revised goal pace mostly in the ball park.
  • Rebounded from my hamstring cramps creditably (thanks mainly to the benefactor at 38k)
  • Mentally a lot stronger in the final 5-7k than all previous marathons.
  • Salvaged a PB in spite of cramps, 2-minute pit stop, extra 300 m, extra mile of sprinting before race start.

The biggest open question I need to address for next season is cramps. This time it was hamstring, last few times it was calves, and before that it was quadriceps. What’s a sure training and race-day strategy to prevent cramps? (my next research area) And yeah, even if I figure it out, need to carry pain relief spray for sure.

For a few minutes less: a race report from Mumbai Marathon 2012

February 1, 2012 1 comment

Writing a post-marathon race report is a bit like [insert-metaphor]. Write it too soon and it runs the risk of coming out shallow and half-baked, wait too long and it might never see the light of day. A fortnight after completing Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), I’m right at the dangerous cusp. I often describe SCMM to my non-running friends as the Vaishno Devi for marathon aficionados – ‘nuf said!

I didn’t have a perfect race. If I did, a single tweet would have sufficed. As I recently observed in this blog post, one learns more from an imperfect race than a perfect one – hence this blog post. 🙂 I had a good and exciting race. What I didn’t bank on was that the excitement would start well before race start.

What if the auto-driver had arrived at my friend’s place on time. What if I had managed to catch the express train (instead of the slower local) from Kurla to CST. What if the security guards at gate #4 had allowed me to enter Azad Maidan without my bib. In the hour before race start, the three “what ifs” came together for a perfect storm of anxiety.  Not just for me but also for my friend Jothi. The underlying blunder had already been committed the previous day when I requested Jothi to pick up my race kit and bring with him the next morning.

Before race start

Reached gate #4 at 5:25 am. I knew it was a mere 15 minutes to the starting gun but I wasn’t freaking out just yet. However, I was feeling guilty for having put Jothi in a tricky predicament. After a series of phone calls between Jothi and me, Jothi rushed towards gate #4, only to not find me because.. he had been misdirected to gate #5. If Jothi had left my bib and timing at the baggage counter and tried to make it to the starting line on time, I would have totally understood but he’s too cool a friend (Here’s Jothi nonchalantly talking about the episode in his race report). It was 5:35am when Jothi told me to come to gate #5. I sprinted the 600 meter odd distance from gate#4 to gate #5. Jothi quickly handed over my bib/timing chip and hurried to the starting line while I rushed to the baggage counter. As I fixed the timing chip to my shoe, one of the baggage counter guys helped with my bib. In a moment of insanity, a calm voice within me asked the baggage counter guy “where are the restrooms?” He gave me an incredulous look and said “Sir, hurry to the starting line or you might miss the cutoff!”

Off to the races

Azad Maidan at 5:45am bore a deserted look.  I sprinted the 600m odd distance from the baggage counter to the starting line along with 4-5 fellow late starters. When my timing chip recorded its beep at the starting mat, the gun time was 5:52am. I was 12 minutes behind the pack, my running partner (Jothi) was a few minutes ahead but I visibly relaxed. Whew! I had made it – there was just a little matter of running 42.195km.

I took stock of my situation.  I reminded myself that this was my ninth marathon so the issue was less about finishing and more about my finishing time. Adjustments were needed to my running pace but how much? Before talking about my race day adjustments, a quick look at my training plan and the method behind setting a goal pace.

Training Plan Recap

I had been following Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 training plan. I picked an ‘Advanced’ plan instead of an Intermediate plan, not because I’m an advanced runner but because I wanted a plan which incorporated interval runs and a weekly mileage higher than what I was normally accustomed to. Of course I made changes galore to the plan. At the half-way mark, when I was supposed to run a half-marathon at goal pace, I ran a 50k (my first Ultra marathon!). During the three weeks of highest mileage (85k+), I ended up missing at least one middle-of the-week run with the result that those weeks became 60k+ and 70k+ weeks instead. A cold Hyderabad morning and recalcitrant lungs conspired for a DNF on my final  32k training run.

On goal pace and the inevitable adjustments

I used this popular goal pace calculator to set my initial goal. A common trait shared by all goal pace calculators is a disclaimer that reads something like this – “Of course these are estimates’ of what you can run. Actual results will vary depending on the course, the weather, if it’s your day or not and a myriad of other factors.” Thanks Sherlock! To give you a sense for how ridiculous these calculators can be, consider this! When I inputted my fastest recent 10k (a little under 48 minutes), the calculator spat out 3:45 as my goal pace. Which suggested that I could cleave a whopping 41 minutes from my PB – crazy! Psychologically, anything faster than 3:59 was irrational exuberance so I decided to train for a 5:40 goal pace FULLY aware that adjustments would be forthcoming.

I had known about the benefits of interval training for a while but this was the first time I incorporated into my training regimen. I missed a few long runs, a few tempo runs and several easy runs but I didn’t miss a single interval run. The other thing I did differently was to run all my weekday runs on the treadmill. This was driven by a constraint (early morning time paucity) rather than any deliberate strategy. As the Higdon plan recommended, a ran at least two of my interval runs as Yasso 800’s. Running most of my intervals (including the Yasso 800s) at 4:00 pace, albeit on the treadmill, gave me the confidence that maybe (just maybe! my goal pace was not terribly unrealistic.

In the final week of taper, as I broodingly looked at the “plan” vs. “actual” spreadsheet and see the numerous deviations and contemplated on the fact that my PB was 4 hrs 26 min, I decided that a goal finish of 4 hrs 10 min (average pace of 5:56) was a more realistic target.

The rest of the race report continues here…. For a few minutes less: running the Mumbai Marathon 2012


Pankaj Advani on learning from failures

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Pic courtesy topnews.in

At a recent TEDxIIMB event, I listened and watched as the billiards and snooker prodigy Pankaj Advani walked us through his accomplishments. He lingered on a photo that displayed his living room resplendent with glittering trophies. “These are just for the tournaments that I WON outright,” he stated almost nonchalantly.

The trophies for second and third place finishes were relegated to a backroom. No trace of arrogance, just matter-of-fact. He then surprised me with “Mom thinks the second and third prizes are not important but I don’t agree. They were incredibly important because I learnt something from each of those losses. I hated losing each of those matches and I resolved not to repeat it.”

I’m sure every sportsperson learns from his/her failures and the truly great gets extra motivated with each loss. Why am I filing this post under the “Running” category? How is it relevant to an amateur marathoner who’s not really gunning for a podium finish? It”s relevant because the amateur marathoner is motivated by a desire to constantly improve and move to a faster running orbit. By his reckoning, a “winning” race is characterized by his meeting his race goal (whatever he had trained for). A “losing” race has a whole range of characteristics – cramping, running too fast in the first half, hitting the wall at 35k, etc. In short, the regular amateur marathoner goes through a season of “losing” races before hitting pay-dirt on a “winning” race.

 

My Pre-2011 Marathon Running Era

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The T-shirt they gave to the finishers of Silicon Valley Marathon 2002

In 2002, I ran my first marathon – the Silicon Valley Marathon in San Jose. Finished in a respectable time of 4:32. After a 6-year hiatus, I resumed running after our return to India in August 2008. I had struck an optimistic note in Asthma, Bangalore and me… but deep in my heart I feared that my asthma would return, a case of when rather than if.

With the sword of Damocles hanging perilously close to my lungs in our first 100 days in Bangalore, was trying really hard to squeeze in a few runs every week. During one of those perambulating-around-the-apartment-complex runs, I was ‘spotted’ by ace Bangalore marathoner Ashok Nath. I say ‘spotted’ because he knew right away that:

  • I had it in me to be a distance runner
  • My form could use some improvement – my hands were open like a sprinter, instead of the lightly closed fist of a distance runner

After that chance encounter, Ashok persuaded me to register for the Bangalore Midnight Half-Marathon, a mere month away. With the most threadbare of training, I completed the Half-Marathon. A side effect of the half-marathon was my hooking up with an entire cast of rabid marathoners in Koramangala. The rest was history. Eight months later, I ran my second full marathon (and my first in India) in Srirangapatnam. It was an emotionally painful, slow and grinding marathon. However, the experience compelled me to return to Kaveri Trail in 2010 to make amends. The period between the two Kaveri Trail Marathons was quite eventful – a creditable showing at the Mumbai Marathon in Jan 2010 followed a month later by an un-ignorable case of “moderate” slipped disc.

Techies of the world: respect the L5-S1 disc!!!

Contrary to popular perceptions, “slipped disc” does not signal the end of an active and adventurous lifestyle. Slipped discs are neither caused by, nor are they exacerbated by, running. But they are to be respected and one does need to make adjustments to one’s life. The good orthopedist Dr. Srinivasan (of Malleswaram fame) assured me that if I religiously did a set of three exercises twice daily (before breakfast and dinner) I could continue with my worship of the running gods. Having stuck to this regimen 90% of the time in the past 21 months, I’m pleased to report that I’ve had only one episode of back pain (lasting around 4 days). Then there’s was also the little matter of resisting macho urges when it comes to lugging suitcases. For the other, more important, matter of resisting paternal urges to pick up the darling kiddos, a creative workaround thankfully presented itself.

I ended 2010 with four full marathons under my belt. In the next calendar year, I had doubled the count to eight, in the process logging a mileage of 2000 km for 2011.

My wife, in describing my last marathon of 2011, had this to say “Vishy just crossed the line from being plain-old-crazy to ultra-crazy”. Can’t really argue with that characterization but is there more to the story than mere craziness? Did I have a master plan? Had I become an endorphin-snorting marathon addict? How did I fare in those four marathons and what had I learnt? Stay tuned for the next post in this series – answers to those questions and some more.

My 8 year old weighs in on the barefoot running debate

January 10, 2012 2 comments

Pic: courtesy summerscurry.blogspot.com

Last Saturday, our 3rd grader had his annual school sports day. Since he had qualified for the heats in two categories (75 meter and 30 meter sprints), he was tickled pink and excited for weeks leading up to this event. Sadly, it was a low-key event with parents not being invited. When I went to pick him up, the first thing I noticed was that he was barefoot. As the sports meet was not over yet I was looking for body language clues on how he had fared. Besides flashing his usual gorgeous smile, there was to be no indication (I made a mental note that we need to play Charades more often).

As the line of 3rd graders walked towards the waiting parents, one of the kids turned to my younger son with “Your brother came first!” A few minutes later, a beaming S walks in to the frame and jubilantly announced that he had won the 75 meter sprint and came second in the 30 meter sprint. In one fell swoop, S had won more sports medals at school than the last few generations of Kurugantis combined.

For last year’s sports meet, S had trained for his runs with “spike shoes”. In a strange anti-climax, he ran his races in his regular canvas shoes because he “didn’t get time to change.” This year I advised him to just run in his canvas shoes since he had not trained with the spike shoes.

S couldn’t wait to tell us about his adventures in barefoot running. The story came out in breathless bursts on the drive home as he (and his brother) chomped down on 5-Star victory bars.

S: “I ran the first qualifying race with the canvas shoes. Came fifth but still qualified for next stage.”

Me: “Hmm…”

S: “I noticed a few of my friends running barefoot so I thought let me give it a try for the next race. I ran barefoot in the ‘semi-final’ race and came first. So I decided to run barefoot for the rest of the races.”

Me: “Interesting. So how was it running barefoot, S?”

S: “I LOVED it! I could grip the ground soooo much better, especially with all my toes! I’m going to run barefoot next year too. Can I run barefoot for the next 5k race too?

Me: (Clearing throat) “We’ll talk about your next 5k race later.”

S (chuckling a bit): “You know the best part about winning the 75m dash? …(continues) Beating AM, who was even wearing spikes!”

(AM is a good friend of S and they share a friendly running rivalry. Last year, AM had beaten S quite comfortably. On a coincidental note, AM’s father and I were classmates in Timpany School, Vizag circa mid-1980’s).

Back in November 2011, after reading The Once and Future Way to Run (by the legendary Christopher McDougall), I started giving serious consideration to barefoot running. Perhaps in the 2012 season, I thought to myself. Turns out my 8 year old has beaten me to it.

That one perfect drive!

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The Golf Omnibus - 31 tales from the green by the master

Following is an excerpt from PG Wodehouse’s A Mixed Threesome – one of many beautiful golf stories from The Golf Omnibus. The scene being described is that of the story’s protagonist (Mortimer Sturgis) executing that perfect golf swing. In the narrative below, the inimitable Oldest Member (who stars in many of Wodehouse’s golf stories) is speaking in the first person view and Mortimer Sturgis is speaking in the third person view.

A moment before he had surveyed his blistered hands with sombre disgust.

“It’s no good,” he said. “I shall never learn this beast of a game. And I don’t want to either. It’s only fit for lunatics. Where’s the sense in it? Hitting a rotten little ball with a stick! If I want exercise, I’ll take a stick and go and rattle it along the railings. There’s something in that! Well, let’s be getting along. No good wasting the whole morning out here.”

“Try one more drive, and then we’ll go.”

“All right. If you like. No sense in it, though.”

He teed up the ball, took a careless stance, and flicked moodily. There was a sharp crack, the ball shot off the tee, flew a hundred yards in a dead straight line never ten feet above the ground, soared another seventy yards in a graceful arc, struck the turf, rolled, and came to rest within easy mashie distance of the green.

“Splendid!” I cried.

The man seemed stunned.

“How did that happen?”

I told him very simply.

“Your stance was right, and your grip was right, and you kept your head still, and didn’t sway your body, and never took your eye off the ball, and slowed back, and let the arms come well enough, and rolled the wrists, and let the club-head lead, and kept your balance, and pivoted on the ball of the left foot, and didn’t duck the right knee.”

“I see,” he said. “Yes, I thought that must be it.”

“Now let’s go home.”

“Wait a minute. I just want to remember what I did while it’s fresh in my mind. Let me see, this was the way I stood. Or was it more like this? No, like this.” He turned to me, beaming. “What a great idea it was, my taking up golf! It’s all nonsense what you read in the comic papers about people foozling all over the place and breaking clubs and all that. You’ve only to exercise a little reasonable care. And what a corking game it is! Nothing like it in the world! I wonder if Betty is up yet. I must go round, and show her how I did that drive. A perfect swing, with every ounce of weight, wrist, and muscle behind it. I meant to keep it a secret from the dear girl till I had really learned, but of course I have learned now. Let’s go round and rout her out.”

I could wax eloquent about the sheer beauty of Wodehouse’s writing but that’ll have to wait for another day. The quintessential sporting truth in this story is that the amateur sportsman, every once in a blue moon, experiences that “moment of perfection”. If you’ve read the above account carefully, you’d have noticed that Mortimer Sturgis doesn’t really know how he hit that perfect drive. He’s trying his best to recall (& desperately hit the Record button in his brain) all the things he did right in pulling off that effortlessly perfect drive. The tragedy is that he might never hit a drive like that for the rest of his life.

I’ve been fortunate in experiencing two “moments of perfection” in two separate sports. Read on.

Perfect drive on hole #9 in Schaumburg

A disc golfer preparing to putt

A well-kept secret in USA is the sport of disc golf. For the uninitiated, disc golf (or “frisbee golf” as fondly referred by the non-puritanical) is a sport modeled on golf. Instead of metallic clubs and a ball, one uses different types of aerodynamically specialized flying discs (driver discs, approach discs, putter discs – you get the idea). Instead of a hole in the ground, you have a metallic basket with a receptacle and chains. Disc golf aficionados refer to regular golf as stick golf. Unlike stick golf, which require  large areas of water-guzzling well-manicured grass and legions of golf course designers, disc golf is one of the more environment friendly sports. A colleague and good friend (Gary Smith) introduced me to this sport in the fall of 1995. For the next three years in  Chicago I played disc golf every opportunity I got and, believe me, I created many opportunities as well.

As you can imagine, there’s an entire science behind the making of these flying discs. There are understable discs (that curve from right to left on a right-hander’s backhand throw), overstable discs (that curve from left to right on a right-hander’s backhand throw), beveled edges and harder plastic for driver discs, softer plastic for putter discs, heavier discs for windy conditions, you get the drift…

In the early days, my friend (Gary) had already invested in a complete set of flying discs while I was making do with a very light yellow-colored 99 cents Frisbee (bought from a K-Mart or a Walgreens). We were playing at a Schaumburg 9-hole course for the first time. By the time we reached hole#9, Gary had a comfortable lead and I was playing for — what else — pride. And then it happened. In a manner similar to Mortimer Sturgis above, I took up position and let it rip. And watched – with frozen feet and widening eyes – as the dainty yellow butterfly-esque disc soared majestically like a Jonathan Livingstone Seagull belying its humble plastic moorings and landed — a mere 10-feet away from the hole. Gary and our two other friends watched with dumb disbelief. It  turned out to be the only time I out-drove Gary that day — with my cheap, light and sub-optimal flying disc. Powerful emotions coursed through me.

Unreal 10k run on Feb 7, 2010

Three weeks after I had successfully run my third full marathon (and my first Mumbai Marathon), I resumed my short runs. Those days, most of my non-weekend running was done in the late evenings (when I generally tend to run faster) – on the concrete driveway around Raheja Residency. 7 rounds for a 5k, slightly under 14 rounds for a 10k. On that eventful evening, I realized after a few rounds that I was running faster than usual – my Garmin told me it was a 4:40ish pace but I wasn’t huffing (strange I thought!) I passed the 5k mark at 23:04 and that’s when it hit me. I had run my fastest 5k (as part of a 10k run) and I was not going all out – something special was afoot. I did slow down during my final 2-3 rounds but I still finished in an unbelievable 47:26 – beating my previous best by more than 2 minutes. There’s no danger of my repeating (forget beating) this performance in this lifetime. The high resolution Exhibits (A and B) below are courtesy my pal Dheeraj.

Garmin Forerunner 305: unreal 10k on Feb 7, 2010

Sustaining a 4:45 pace for 10k? No way I can repeat that!

Marathon #4 Race Report – Kaveri Trail Marathon 2010

January 16, 2011 1 comment

“I hate this damn course!”

“I’m never gonna run this again”

“It was a mistake to make this my first ever marathon.”

“I cramped at 31k and things only got worse after that.”

“Boy! It was really hot today. I ran this last year too but I’m not sure I’ll return next year.”

Post-race remarks from three runners (including myself) after completing the 2009 edition of Kaveri Trail Marathon (KTM). After swearing ourselves, two of us returned to the course on Sep 19, 2010. Meher (regular podium finisher on the Bangalore running circuit) achieved a PB timing of 4 hours 24 min. I came in at 4 hours 53 min – far cry from my 2002 PB time of 4 hours 32 min but I ended up shaving 22 minutes from last year’s KTM effort (my 1st marathon in India). All things considered, good showing and many positive things to take away.

First a bit about the course. Set in the historic town of Srirangapatnam (closer to Mysore than Bangalore), the trail starts right near the gate of the Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary.  The trail has a fairly heterogeneous running surface and by heterogenous I mean: soft dirt, small & medium sized pebbled surface, rocky, grassy, and a wee bit of gravely road. The trail is 10.55km long (up and down inclusive) so the half marathoners do one roundtrip while the full marathoners need to do the round trip twice. The route runs parallel to one of the canals of the Kaveri river (hence the name, duh!) for about 90% of the overall distance. It’s picturesque, rustic, and serene, lush green fields dotted with the occasional group of farmers tending to their crops, coconut trees casting their shade, and the flowing water body giving you company almost all the way.

Of course, a marathoner’s outlook towards the surroundings undergoes a sea change after the halfway mark. A bullock cart plodding at a leisurely pace and occupying 95% of the trail width is cute at the 5k mark but raises your hackles at the 30k when one is struggling to regain rhythm. With the advent of the morning sun (9am in Srirangapatnam = 1pm in Bangalore), the trail morphs to something else altogether. Calm and serene changes to hot, humid and desolate but wait… I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why did I return to KTM?

KTM 2009 was far from the crowning glory of my fledgling marathon running. It was a painfully grinding finish – the only thing satisfying about it was that I finished it. It would have been so much easier to just skip KTM but there were at least 3 reasons for not doing so:

  • Needed to return to exorcise my demons from last year
  • Seems a waste to run 1200+ km in a year and only run one official marathon
  • With a peer running group that runs 4-5 marathons and one ultra-marathon a year, I’d be excommunicated if I did only one (There, I confessed guys!)

Before the race:

My preparation got off to a disastrous start in February after being diagnosed with a moderate case of slipped disc. The good news about moderate is that no surgery is required. 3 weeks of complete rest followed by a lifetime of back strengthening exercise regimen – sounded like a reasonable tradeoff to me. After a 3-month break, I resumed running in June – tentatively first with low weekly mileage then quickly ramped up to my regular mileage.

July was a heady month as I racked up  a couple of 30k+ runs at a strong pace of 6:05. This heady rise was followed by a setback in August. I experienced classic symptoms of ITBS in my left knee after one of my long runs. I took the usual precautions for a few weeks (read “taking a break from running and regular icing and stretching” ) and tentatively resumed my training. I seemingly bounced back by doing a decently paced 30k run but the ITB pain never fully went away. As a result, my taper duration ended up lasting three weeks instead of two.

A tale of two race day weekends

The lead up to KTM 2010 was very different compared to the previous year. Last year was a mad dash in a convoy of Toyota Innovas — starting at 4am and reaching the race start a mere 5 min before the kickoff. I recall grabbing the bib from Shantanu, hurriedly pinning it on, stuffing packets of Gu gel in my left hand, and ambling off — the last among the group of 70-odd full marathoners. It also didn’t help that I had a tiff with the missus the prior evening. The problem with unresolved tiffs is that your mind plays and replays the conversation — like “how could she say that” and “how dumb was I to say that“. Anyway that was last year.

This year it was a family weekend at Mysore followed by KTM2010. We had reservations at the Royal Orchid in Brindavan Garden and a day of activities planned for Saturday. This was the main reason why the ITBS scare, a month before race day, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm too much — at worst, we’d have a great weekend in Mysore.

The Race

After my struggles holding a fistful of Gu gel packs at KTM2009, I got myself a Nike belt pouch which worked great for this year’s Mumbai Marathon. If you’ve read my Mumbai Marathon race report (Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010), I’ve discussed at length my continuous hydration policy. I wasn’t about to change that policy for KTM2010, well maybe tweak it a bit. During the final 10k at Mumbai Marathon, I was getting really annoyed because I only had diluted Gatorade to sip. I craved pure unadulterated water — the craving was probably compounded because I wasn’t carrying it.

I finally decided to carry two bottles – one for diluted Gatorade, the other for water. This strategy of alternately sipping these fluids worked brilliantly… until the 23k mark when I needed to refill the bottles. Lugging two full bottles on fresh limbs vs. tired 23k limbs can be quite different. I had paced myself extra slow for the first 21k for fear of triggering ITBS too early in the race. The heavy bottle syndrome was the first distraction my mind had to deal with – fortunately I addressed it soon enough. At the 25k water stop, I jettisoned the water bottle leaving me with the tried-and-tested Gatorade bottle. The 22-26k stretch was negotiated with some trepidation because my problems last year began at the 24k mark when I had succumbed to the temptation to..walk!

My experience running KTM 2009 gave me insight into the psychology of the unplanned walk. I had identified the rest-walks as the key reason for last year’s debacle and was determined to mitigate its deleterious impact on my race performance. The operative word was mitigate because I knew that the rest-walks were a question of when, not if. My strategy was to delay the inevitable ‘first’ rest-walk and play out the run-walk sequence for the remaining distance. As it turned out, I was able to push myself till the 29k mark before succumbing to my first rest-walk. And this time, my body had a legitimate (read “physical”) reason – the ITB on my left leg had acted up big time.

Dedicating the run

I dedicated this race to three special people.

  1. RB: RB is my first ever best friend – from my formative years at St. Xaviers Bokaro. We went our separate ways in 1983-84 – me to Visakhapatnam-Ranchi-Jamshedpur-US, him to Delhi and then Calcutta for higher studies. We reconnected in late 2009. Turns out he was afflicted by a series of severe joint-related and hard-to-diagnose illnesses that have kept him bed-ridden and home-ridden in Calcutta for most of the last 20 years.
  2. BTV: BTV is my batchmate and friend from BIT Mesra. Our paths overlapped again from 1998 to 2008 during my Silicon Valley days. Though BTV lived in Sacramento (100-odd miles from Silicon Valley), we’d still end up meeting at a mutual friend’s party every now and then. A week after celebrating his 40th birthday, BTV suffered a severe heart attack. He miraculously survived but stayed in a paralyzed/comatose state for weeks. The  recovery process (improvement in motor functions, sensory functions) has been long and slow — two+ years and counting.
  3. Binil Anthony: Binil was a great engineer/person in my team at Adobe. He was diagnosed with brain tumor in Aug 2009, underwent several treatments and procedures but ultimately passed away in Jun 2010. I met him exactly once – while he was convalescing after one of the treatments. The positivity and confidence he projected and the quiet strength I sensed from his mother were both inspiring and humbling.

Finishing the race

The final 10k in a marathon is the best time to have a series of internal soliloquy. As my ITBS pain intensified, that famous Lance Armstrong quote flashed by “Pain is temporary, quitting is permanent.”. “Yeah right. But this pain is bloody real, ok!” replied that other voice in my head. As I described in the Psychology of the unplanned walk, the first rest-walk duly arrived after the 29k mark and I resigned myself to a series of long walks interspersed with some short runs.

At times like these, one is reminded about the reasons for running a marathon, and more importantly, why one should finish. I thought of my friend RB (who’s been enduring and managing pain on-and-off for twenty years) and then thought of my other friend BTV (who cannot walk or even sit up straight without support for the past three years). The mind makes a quick silly comparison of the predicaments and screams at me “What are YOU complaining about?” Enough said. This thought served as a whip to my body and I resumed running. After the second or third rest-walk, I made a strange counter-intuitive observation – my ITBS pain seemed more acute when I was walking than when I was running! Sure – my running pace at this stage was pretty close to 07:00 so it was more accurate to call it ambling. Anyway, this observation gave an unexpected fillip to my flagging spirits with the result that my run-walk rhythm changed with the running duration becoming longer and my walks shorter.

As the countdown hit “7k more to go”, I got two more reasons to galvanize myself:

  1. A glance at my Garmin followed by quick mental math led me to conclude that I could finish under 5 hours if I maintained the current run-walk pace.
  2. Sudden realization that I had a full-fledged family reception committee waiting for me at the finish line – my two boys and my wife. Yea!

The final kilometers were thankfully eaten up without further mishap. Then I turned the final corner, sighted the finish line, and saw the bright red and orange color t-shirts of my boys — briefly considered making a glorious sprint (to which my body said “Nice try!”) and I was home.