Wednesday, November 22, 2017

You Reap What You Sow.



A month and a half ago, I had a thought that would prove to have catastrophic consequences on the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon race day.

It was my second-last week in the mountains that had been my home for the past two and a half years. I was moving back to the bedlam of life in civilization soon. My training cycle had been on track. Lark on thorn, snail on wing etc.

This was the thought-

“It’s just a couple of runs. How much difference can they possibly make?”

I was traveling down from the hills, and it was a 24-hour journey that would start early on Saturday morning and see me reach Gurgaon on Sunday morning. So I would miss my planned Saturday afternoon 11k and my Sunday morning 27k.

I look back today on that fateful weekend and it’s obvious. That’s when it all started falling apart.

In hindsight, I could have run those runs. The journey had a reasonable break on Saturday, and while mildly inconvenient, I could have planned the 11k in it. And I was home at around half past six in the morning on Sunday. There was nothing stopping me from stepping out except that single, stupid thought... That it wouldn’t matter.

You see, that thought wasn’t a thought. It was a domino. It was a snowball. It was a seed. It germinated. It grew. And by the time I saw it for what it was, it had cracked the edifice it was embedded in.

Oh, but I was all like ‘What-evs, man...’

On the Monday that followed, I raced the Territorial Army Half in conditions very similar to what we had in Hyderabad. Similar temperature. Similar elevations. And I ran it a minute-and-a-half faster than Hyderabad. It was a good tune-up. I raced again at the Starry Night Half on the subsequent Saturday, tempering effort a notch lower.

Having raced twice in the week, I decided to skip the next long run too.

How much difference could it make, right? You see what’s happening here?

The next week saw me back in the hills for my last few days there. Started the week without any trouble, and then...

Well. Let’s just say that was pretty much the end of anything that remotely could be thought to resemble a ‘plan’. Missed runs began to pile up with more regularity. Hardly any speedwork got done. And I quickly stamped out all related remorse with my gift for unimpeachable self-delusion. 

By the time it hit me, I was well past redemption. Three weeks before the race, I suddenly saw that this ADHM was going to be sub-par. And there was now nothing I could do about it.

I turned to the treadmill (this was also the period when the worst of the pollution settled over us like a pall), which had never quite been my friend, and ended the cycle halfheartedly with a bunch of short and easy trundles.

On race day, I was pretty sure of what to anticipate. And it was nothing good. All things considered, I think I did better than I should have dared to expect of myself... just about a minute-and-a-half slower than my PR.

In the days that have followed, the adage ‘you reap what you sow’ has stayed with me. The race results have been exactly what they should have been, given the amount of training done and the amount missed.

I have no one to blame for this except demonetization. Or Kejriwal. Because come on! It can’t be my fault, surely...

I have a few races lined up in the coming months. I’m looking forward most to running the half at Bombay in January, with an experimental half-cycle (basically starting again where I screwed up for ADHM and doing it right this time). Also the New Delhi 10k on 17th December should be fun. A PR there would be poetic, after this, though realistically I’m not going to catch up with Nell’s 36:54.

And I’m registered for a really long term Marathon goal. Frankfurt on 28th October next year will be when I next take a stab at Nell’s marathon time. Stay tuned for trite, pointless, irregular and nauseating updates on that. 

And finally, for no reason at all, this is a picture of a clown. 


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Numb and Number.



Numbers are a runner’s well-known friends.

Pace, cadence, heart rate, hangtime, elevation gain, calories burnt, steps taken, sleep logged... tech today comes with a lot of fluff to help one feel good about oneself.

But there are only exactly two which are essential. Distance and time.

At the end of it all, when one descends into the purity of a race, the only two which really matter are these. And they should tell you everything that you need to know.

Right?

Wrong.

It has been said, by Greek guy named Heraclitus, no less (so it has to be astute!)

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

Things change incessantly, and keeping track of such changes in the past is a sort of crutch for those of us who seek something in the future. Numbers are the vehicle.

Two things strike me immediately when I compare my races in 2017 so far, with those last year. 

The numbers are off.

One- My marathon at Boston this year, on a much tougher course, resulted in nearly the same time (a little slower) as Dubai last year, in much worse conditions.

Two- My half marathon at Hyderabad this year, on exactly the same course, however, resulted in nearly the same time (a little faster) as last year, in much better conditions.

That’s mildly confusing in the same way that volcanic lava is mildly tepid.

The first result loosely indicates an enhanced level of running fitness, while the second indicates that I might be on my deathbed. If I want to do anything worth shit in the target half marathon of the year in Delhi on 20th November, I must come down to Mother Earth.

Last weekend, for the fourth year running, I dumped my exquisite derriere into a large flying metal tube bound for the city of the Nizams. My intention being to cover the strangely mandated distance of  13 miles, 192 (and a half) yards on it’s roads, on foot, as fast as I could.

In accordance with established tradition, I trained very little for the race in earnest, getting volumes close to or below marathon training base at moderate to low intensities.

It’s Hyderabad in August. What do you expect? Doesn’t matter. Because what we got was exactly the opposite. Oh yes. Ask anyone. Hyderabad was uncannily divine this year. All overcast and drizzlebeset. Prompted me to reset my target time in the race from a 1:29ish to a 1:27ish (when weighed against last year’s 1:30:59) as I meditated upon it, the evening before. After all, going by Boston, I was waaaaay faster than last year.

Right?

Wrong again. Two for two.

Yes. I was faster, at 1:30:17. By 42 seconds. So my definition of ‘waaaaay’ was, well, waaaaay off. 



I remember the old days with fondness, when a single training cycle saw times over distances come down by minutes, even tens of minutes. Those days are gone.

From the numbers...Am I faster? Am I slower? Is immaterial. 

Am I happy? Am I disappointed? Dunno. It just is. I'm kind of numb. From the uncertainty.

Only two things are certain...


One- Nell remains elusive. I will throw myself into ADHM training and see if I can come closer this year to her half marathon time. I have reset my time plan to actually catch up with her. Realistically, It’s now probably going to happen in 2019.


Two- And this be a doozy. From now on, with the numbers approaching differential limits on my improvement curve, I’m at a place where every few seconds will have to be clawed and snatched and coaxed and seduced from the almighty clock.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Riding The Unicorn


This is going to be underwhelming, unlike most of my posts, which are undeniably epic.

Now that I've run the race of a lifetime, I feel strangely subdued by it. 

It’s been three weeks since I wobbled across the finish line on Boylston Street, 21 seconds away from even a PR, and no closer to having caught up with Nell than I was before.

While I cannot deny the disappointment I felt for not meeting my race goal, said disappointment is entombed beyond hope of retrieval under such a surfeit of joy that it’s barely there at all.

I did manage a satisfying 5k PR a couple of days before the marathon, and that , while just a consolation prize, is nevertheless quite enough to salve my runner’s ego.

But, more than that...

...There is the satisfaction of having been able to raise more funds than I thought was possible (given my crusty personality) for Action For Autism (www.autism-india.org).

Besides family and close friends who came forward with abundant generosity, I was overwhelmed by the altruism of people who were connected to me only by the common thread of running, some of whom I’ve barely met.

For passionate pursuers of an activity that is essentially egotistic in nature, it’s astounding how selfless the running community can be.

My gratitude is inexpressible, to those who supported the cause.

...And then, there is the race experience in itself.

Words fall short ( Yeah, like that has ever stopped me before...)

From watertight planning and organization, attention to detail, and immaculate execution, to the atmosphere on the course and in the city.

The camaraderie one feels with the best amateur runners in the world... microfriendships struck up on the trains and buses, at airports, on the street...

The brutally humbling stories one hears, of odds so immense, surmounted with such grace and grit, that they make one’s own journey to race there seem like child's play.

Small things, like free transit to anyone wearing a medal on race day on all forms of public transport... complete strangers walking up to shake one’s hand and talk  about the race because one is wearing the celebration jacket, in Chicago, a whole time zone away... 

In the most expensive race I have ever run, I mostly gained things money can't buy. (I did spend an unholy amount at the expo too, actually...)

This was Boston! The ride of the Unicorn. 



One has to try pretty hard to come away disappointed from such. I could try, I suppose, to spend some time on the usual innovative grumbling and moaning that is my trademark, but I’m afraid I have other things prioritized.

The first of which is Hyderabad, 20th August 2017.

I hope to lop off a good two to three minutes from the top of my last year’s 1:31 for the half on the entertainingly harsh course there. Give or take. I don’t know. There will be little in terms of actual training leading up to that race. Just unstructured, maintenance mileage and a marginally increased amount of strengthening.

I feel lighter and faster, despite recent evidence otherwise. Boston was a glorious pit-stop, but a pit-stop nevertheless. There's more to be done.

Monday, February 27, 2017

#26MILESFORAUTISM



Imagine, for a while, that you’re a mathematician.

This is difficult for me to do, math being my nemesis throughout my school years, but you, I assume, are smarter than me, that way...

So, you’re a mathematician.

Long, cryptic formulae written with a healthy mix of numbers and Greek squiggles make immediate and perfect sense to you. At a glance, you can see the underlying algebra in tile patterns and pine cones. You speak the language, spouting fancy terms like ‘cosecant phi’ and ‘radius of convergence’ and, you know, ‘the square on the hypotenuse’ or whatever.

This is not just your area of expertise, mind you...This is how your brain makes sense of the world.

So far, so good?

Now, abruptly (and diabolically), I pick you up and drop you in the middle of a bunch of, say...ballet dancers.

Whoa.

They’re all wearing these peculiar tights and hopping about while turning circles in the air and saying all this French stuff like brise and temps leve and sur le cou-de-pied , what-have-you...

And you with your plaid jacket and pencils and notebooks are so impossibly out of your element, so irreparably different... best case scenario- they ignore you. More likely, you are actually ridiculed.

We humans do not take kindly to those different from us.

Take heart, dear mathematician. Your ordeal is temporary. You can always just walk out and catch the first bus back to your mathematician friends, and go back to socializing over talk of indefinite integrals and asymptotes.

Unless...

... you’re the only mathematician...on the planet ... and it’s a planet that is just one huge ballet company! 

You’re born into it, you can’t learn ballet and, you can’t leave. Where would you fit in? How many friends would you have? Would you have a job? Find love? Be valued? The thing that sets you apart has no significance on this planet... People will forever be trying to get you to do plies and fouettes as a precondition to acknowledging you as a person

Welcome to the mind of an autistic person.

Granted, this is a bit of an extreme example.

But being different is an experience most of us tend to avoid, naturally organizing ourselves into cliques and clubs, gangs and groups, families, factions, races and nations, just so that we have around us, others we have something in common with.

This is how the human world is structured, tied together with types of social interactions that we take for granted. And this world does not quite fit people with Autism.

When you first meet her, you’ll probably see her as a typical 9-year old, probably with a doll under her arm, doodling on paper, humming a song to herself.

In all probability, she won’t acknowledge you, averting her gaze after a fleeting look, and you’ll think... okay, she’s just shy. Some children are.

You’ll say ‘Hello, Shravya’, and that’s when you’ll get the first indication that she’s different. Because in the rare event that she says anything at all, it’ll be ‘Hello, Shravya’ right back at you.

Shravya is autistic, and one of her symptoms is echolalia- a tendency to repeat back words and phrases said to her. Other than that, she talks very little. Using a language as a method of interaction, something blatantly obvious for most of us, is something her brain is just not wired to do. For her, trying to talk is like a mathematician trying to do pirouettes.

And this isn’t a rare, backwater condition. An estimated million people with Autism are added to the population every year.

No apparent causes.

No known cure.

Most will require care and support throughout their lives.

A few weeks from today, I will be running the 121st Boston Marathon. It’s my privilege to be able to use this opportunity to try to raise funds for Action for Autism (www.autism-india.org), a Delhi based non-profit that is deeply involved in autism related research, care, education and support. I hope some of those who read this will find it in their hearts to open up and donate generously to them. At the very least, please spread the word.

Donate at https://milaap.org/fundraisers/twentysixmilesforautism or http://www.globalgiving.org/fundraisers/26-miles-for-autism/


Monday, January 16, 2017

Bermuda-Triangled



The Bermuda Triangle, as many of you will be aware, is one of the most fascinating unsolved mysteries in the world.

A fairly large patch of the North Atlantic Ocean, this region has earned notoriety in popular culture as a sort of magnet for aircraft and ships headed for a less-than-ideal fate. Explanations ranging from alien spacecraft to lost continents to wormholes to freak geo-magnetic anomalies have been proffered on various occasions. It makes for very captivating entertainment tropes.

However, the most sensible explanation seems to be, simply a matter of statistics. The area is just a very, very busy place, with a large number of shipping lanes and air routes passing through it, and misfortunes within it are bound to happen every once in a while.

Shit happens... what can you do?

When put that way, the whole thing just becomes, well... ordinary. The glamour of the unsolved mystery vanishes with its solution.

After much contemplation of my inability to finish the Mumbai Marathon this past Sunday, I am thinking that I have been, to coin a phrase, ‘Bermuda-Triangled’.

Here’s what happened.

Since August 2015, I have been fortunate to have had a series of satisfying races... two good half-marathons at Hyderabad, one at Goa, another two at Delhi and a great marathon at Dubai.

In spite of a few minor molehill-sized bumps in the training progression (which I never fail to make mountains of) I have had little to whine about in the scheme of things.

The more things went well, the more the chances of things not going well crept up through the ranks, from possibility to probability to certainty. Buoyed up by a good-ish ADHM in November and blissfully ignorant of odds stacking up against me, I continued through some fairly haphazard and inconsistent training as race day approached.

In all honesty, I don’t recall what possessed me to even register for this one in the first place. With Boston looming in April, a January marathon leaves no window for a proper cycle of recovery, build-up, training and taper...

But register I did, and that figuratively placed the RMS Titanic at Southampton, on course for a jolly rendezvous with a certain innocent-looking iceberg.



I landed up in Mumbai with the usual concerns... training, nutrition, conditions, the Trump presidency, real estate prices, the depletion of the ozone layer... all credible excuses for a bad race were rehearsed to perfection.


But there are no excuses that can cater for what seemed to be a ton of wet bricks to the head, three-fourths of the way into the race.

Pain and fatigue aren’t strangers to distance runners. Running with and through them... that’s what we do...

This time, however, I couldn’t even take fifteen minutes of it.

I started conservatively, took my gels, stayed hydrated... did pretty much everything right. In spite of being spot on target pace for a 3:10 finish until just before the thirtieth kilometer, I sank without a struggle by the thirty-third. In that short duration, not once did it occur to me to man the fuck up and dig in.

Off came the bib. I thumbed a scooter ride from a good Samaritan and reached the finish in a fantastic time of 2:58.

It took many beers at multiple locations around the city over the course of the rest of the day to stop agonizing over the whys and the wherefores.

Much can be said after a DNF...

From a dismissive “Some days you just don’t feel it” to a long tirade of real and imagined reasons. The truth will lie somewhere between the extremes. To find it will, much like in the case of the Bermuda Triangle, remove the charm of the unsolved mystery. Sometimes it’s more fun not knowing.

All said, the experience taught me some profound technical, spiritual and moral lessons...

Haha. Just kidding. No it didn’t. I already know everything.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Long Run Anthem.

Yo DJ.
Drop that beat now.

Doomchickachickadoom
Doomchickadoom

Y’all ready to cringe?
Well, you clicked the right hyperlink!



THE LONG RUN ANTHEM. 


Christmas morning, I step out,
Wearing just my sexy pout,
(Also shoes, and shorts, and hat)
To put the Tiger in the Cat
The second mile is fun, and how!
In this mile I chase a cow.
At Mile 4, some dogs chase me,
There are many dogs (Well...three)
There ain’t much to see in 6,
Except this ugly pile of bricks.
8 Mile, I pause and think, “Ahem!
I’ll make like rapper Eminem,
As I run, to pass the time, 
I will make a horrid rhyme.”
Then, Mile 10, I turn around,
Out-and-back, so homeward bound.
12 and 13 really suck,
And I swear it’s cold as...um... a frozen duck.
When I reach Mile ten-plus-four,
Everybody walk the dinosaur,
16 went by, really slow,
By now, I was hungry, bro,
18, 19 come and go,
I’m like, “Gosh darn it! One mo’!”
20 miles in snow and slush,
All my muscles turned to mush,
Happily I stagger home,
To show for it, I have this...pome.

*Crowd goes wild.



Monday, November 21, 2016

Mirror, Mirror...



I read somewhere that speaking in obscure metaphors makes you sound smarter. So, well...

I think that the function of a race in the life of an amateur athlete is effectively that of a mirror.

When I say that, you may think I’m referring to a mirror's ability to reflect the truth. I’m actually being clever and referring to the exact opposite. A mirror will reflect one’s outlook, more than one’s look. Even the average cave troll sees good things when he stands in front of a mirror with optimism and hope in his malformed heart.  

Either way, I always see a greek god. Go figure.



Race results are reflections of training effort. They are what they are, but we can choose how we see them. In races, with exceptions, most of us step up to the start line knowing that we’re not going to actually win anything, in the generally accepted sense of the word ‘win’.

This puts us at an advantage, because it allows us to define our victories for ourselves. Hell, it allows us to pretty much take obvious, utter disappointment, shrug our shoulders, and shout “Success!”

I like to think that I have, after four years of relentlessly using the above method, become somewhat of an expert at self-delusion.

Yesterday, I ran the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in a time of 01:23:55.

On the plus side, unless my math is wrong (as it often is), this is 01 minute and 44 seconds faster than my previous personal best of 01:25:39.

On the other hand...I am also aware that this is 03 minutes and 55 seconds slower than my preposterous primary goal of 1:20:00, besides being 02 minutes and 04 seconds slower than Ms Nell McAndrew’s time over the same distance. I am aware that I may be quite close to the last PR I will ever clock. Progressively faster race times have been coming to me with happy regularity so far, but this, too, shall pass. I am aware that I was unable to summon the resolve to train as well as I wanted to, this time.

Still, I call it a resounding win. It’s not, I know! It’s ambiguous at best. But good luck trying to sell me on that :P

What I choose to see, is that I ran my heart out.

That I ran among good people.

That I ran in a city that looked beautiful in the morning, on a road that felt like a friend. 

That I asked my body for more, and it gave me more than I asked for.

That there was flow and pain and joy and rage and doubt and euphoria.

And that, at the end, I felt like a goddamn prince.

If you choose, that is what victory will look like, no matter what the numbers on the clock say.