Monthly Archives: January 2018

Swetha Amit- Snakes and Ladders

A chubby little girl who enjoyed good food, Swetha was more of a Bookworm in her School and College Days. Venturing out to play Hide and seek and Lock and key with her friends was as far as she went in Sports. Incessant teasing about being fat led her to find solace in food as she further retreated into books due to her confidence taking a severe beating. Being diagnosed with PCOD (polycystic ovarian disorder) with hormones playing havoc in her Teens didn’t help matters either. 😔

In 2008 post marriage, Swetha got hooked on to gymning courtesy her Marathoner husband, Amit. Weight training sessions alternated with Cardio and some diet changes brought a miraculous transformation in her physique giving her a new found Confidence. Despite Amit’s best efforts, Swetha was not inclined to Road Running. After all, that would mean giving up her enjoyable Saturday night parties and ushering in Early morning Sunday long runs 😕. Marathons were better left to Amit while she managed just fine with her convenient 20- minute Treadmill Run.

However, Fate had something else in Store. In December 2010, Swetha was hospitalized after severe bouts of vomiting and high fever having consumed something dodgy at a wedding. She was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, lost a lot of blood and was very weak. Hitting Rock bottom, she regained her strength and even overcame the loss of several friends who drifted apart during this phase.

The fighter in her rose as she decided to build back her strength through Running. Swetha decided to run 21k at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) in 2012. She also quit her job as Counselor to take a break and find her true calling. Hubby Amit as well as her Trainers provided her with the much needed support throughout. She went on to effortlessly finish her very first HM in 2:03 and the Runner was truly born. 2012 turned out to be truly special as she even found her calling as a journalist. 😎

Swetha went on to do many more running events that year. Eventually she even did her first Full Marathon, again at the SCMM in 2013 finishing in 4:59, realizing the FM was more mental game rather than physical strain.

Thereafter in 2013 Swetha and Amit decided to start a family. Once again, the tides turned when she was diagnosed with Ulcers yet again in her 8th month of pregnancy 😒. Fortunately; despite loss of blood and strength, due to timely medication she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Samara in April 2014 🤗. In fact, she even went back to running within a month and did a 10K in June 2014 😮.

It was another new beginning for the new mother as she struggled to juggle her responsibilities at home and work whilst trying to stay fit, what with a demanding newborn to take care of. After an unsuccessful stint trying to make things work with a couple of nannies, they finally asked their parents for support. Of course, this was a major shift from the Nuclear to Joint family Set up. There were obvious clashes at the beginning between the two generations though they did manage to resolve their differences eventually. Thankfully Amit, proved to be Swetha’s staunchest supporter yet again. 😊

From 2015 Swetha went on to do several events and even won podiums in a few of them. She was introduced to the Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) community by Ajit Singh in April 2015 when she did her first Bandra-NCPA Run with them. Here she met some like-minded people and the MRR monthly runs brought back some sanity into her otherwise chaotic life. 🙂 MRR got her to leave her cosy corner in Colaba and explore greener pastures in places like Aarey, BNP and salt pans of Mulund giving her a whole new perspective towards her beloved Mumbai City.

Bagging the role as one of the ambassadors for Puma and the IDBI Federal Life insurance Mumbai half marathon 2017 was the icing on her cake. With her daughter growing up and support from family, things finally became smoother until another challenge cropped up.

During this period, Amit was looking for a break in his career to realign his goals and gain more clarity in his career pathway. It came as a bolt from the blue when he got admission at the Stanford Business School. After discussing, they decided to take this opportunity and go to California for the year. Of course it was an exciting prospect but at the same time daunting, in terms of settling down in an alien country along with their 3-year-old with no help or support.

An Open mind helped Swetha take advantage of this golden opportunity. She decided to make the most of the time there and enrolled for some writing courses in Stanford in order to further sharpen her journalistic skills 😊.

Signing up for varied types of Races, exploring different terrains, indulging in outdoor Cycling, and even getting into Open water swimming; Swetha made sure she enjoyed all the things that she didn’t get to do in India. She even managed to do her very first open water sprint triathlon there in 2017. 😎

Initially being an avid gymner helped Swetha while training for Half Marathons. Her training schedule included thrice weekly Runs- Speed Intervals, Tempo and Long Runs alternated with Strength training and Cross training. As Running increased, Swetha neglected strength training and paid the price with her left ankle injury 😓. During Full Marathon training this was rectified as she focused on Boot camp training including plyometrics and loads of core strengthening.

Currently in the US her focus being Triathlons, her fitness regime is even more intense. It consists of 3 days of swimming, 3 days of cycling, 3 days running- speed intervals, tempo and long runs as well as upper and lower body strengthening. 😌

Swetha advises Newbies to make sure they enjoy their fitness regime be it Zumba, cross training, sports, running; whatever makes them feel good. She states Consistency is the Key for getting successful results. Increasing the intensity slowly is the key to avoid hitting that wall. Whilst training for Marathons, take it slow instead of going out too far too fast. She equates strength training to Karna’s kavach-kundal that helps prevent injury 😎.

Swetha also vouches for investing in a good shoe after getting gait analysis done as well as ensuring you replace worn out shoes which could cause injury. Lastly, she advises that one should always listen to your body. Rest is as important as workouts if not more. Avoid workouts during Ill-health instead of trying to be a Hero. Another lesson that she learnt the hard way when she landed up in Hospital due to self-neglect. 😫

Life seems to have come a full Circle as Swetha has once more learnt to run her Races purely for enjoyment with no time pressure whatsoever. Furthermore, some of her detractors have even come around to asking her for fitness tips 😁. Soon enough it will be time for them to fly back home to their beloved Mumbai. When life gives you lemons, Make Lemonade; after all it’s all in the attitude dontcha think? 😊

The Christmas double run: The 15k double road race experience

The double road race is an interesting concept introduced by Bob Anderson-the founder of the Runners’ world Magazine where the distance is split into 2 races. For instance, if it’s an 8 k double then participants would have to run a 5k race, take a break for 45 minutes and then run the 3k race. The total time of the 8k will be a sum of the 5k and 3k timings.

 

Sounds easy, right? Not quite as Bob said it was more of a mental thing than the physical distance. Imagine running your heart out however small the distance maybe. When you sit down and relax, the thought of having to run another distance sounds daunting as you are beginning to feel lethargic. Your senses tell you to just go back home and laze around on your sofa and catch your favorite movie on television.

 

Deciding to end 2017 in a challenging manner, I opted for the 15k double. It was split into 10k and 5k races and the sum of the timings of these 2 races would be the total time for a 15 k. It wasn’t a great start to the morning as I ended up getting my menstrual cycle.  I landed outside a church at San Juan Bautista which was basking in festive celebrations as it was just 10 days before Christmas. It was an hour away from Stanford where I resided.  Some runners had already assembled, adorning red Santa hats and some interesting looking costumes. I looked down at my black and grey outfit wondering what in the world prompted me to dress up in such dreary colors which stood out like a sore thumb amidst the resplendent reds and greens.

 

It was sunny and predicted to be a windy day, so much that some of the parks were shut in anticipation of a tree fall causing injuries to walkers or hikers. At that moment, a gale of wind blew across the area knocking down one of the stalls much to everyone’s aghast. It was soon restored to normalcy and we gathered near the start line.

Last time I did the double race in August, the weather aided my pace and I had achieved a PR.  I was hoping to run hard in this one and end the year with a bang.  I started off at a stupendous pace of 5:05 especially since there was a downhill at the very beginning. Big mistake! Whenever I started fast, it has considerable affected my long runs, a lesson I never seemed to learn.  By the 4th km, I was drained which prompted me to take a walk break. Just as I was finding my rhythm, I was greeted this heavy headwind that pushed me backwards.

 

I was running on this road with barren land on both sides which accentuated the headwinds to blow with all their might. Looks like I was not the only one hoping for a PR, I thought. Just then an old looking hefty runner ran past me. “Crazy, isn’t it”, she said referring to the wind. I nodded as I struggled to fight against the wind which in turn slowed my pace down. Around the 7th km, the sun had come out in full force and a few inclines greeted me.  I sighed and just kept my rhythm while the volunteers in Santa hats were egging us on. At the 8th km, I overtook the hefty runner and ran with all my might, eager to get out of the heat. Besides, wearing black certainly wasn’t helping my condition.  There was a huge incline leading up to the finish line which prevented me from doing my customary sprint. Nevertheless, I finished in 61 minutes and plonked myself on a chair feeling disappointed. “Hey, take it easy. You just got your chums. Give yourself a break.” My inner voice told me.

 

I sighed and looked around. Several people were complaining about the headwinds. So, they were affected by it too, I realized. I looked at the row of pacers and cursed myself for not starting out with the 1:30 pacer. I could have started with him and maybe gone ahead in the last 2 km which was my strength whenever I started a run at an easy pace. It was time for the second leg of the race and this time I stood near the 1:30 pacer at the start line.

 

The entire race felt like playing in a test match where if the first innings’ score didn’t live up to the mark, there was always a chance to make up in the second innings which was what I was hoping to do in the 5k run. It wasn’t going to be easy, considering it was 11:00 noon and the sun was up shining brightly. I noticed that half the runners were wearing either singlets or sports bras while I was wearing a full sleeved jacket. I started with the 1:30 pacer this time and ended up overtaking him in between. As I turned at the 2.5 km mark, he jokingly pointed to me saying he will catch up with me. Giving him a thumbs-up sign, I ran strong, praying that the GU gels would do their job. At the 4th km mark, I suddenly noticed the pacer catching up with me and I quickly increased my pace and ran as though I was running for my life, in this case to salvage my pride.

 

I could spot the finish line and prodded up the incline and crossed the finish line in 29 minutes. I heaved a sigh of relief as I received my medal and sat down on the grass. The 1:30 pacer came up to me and said, “good running”, giving me a hi-five.  After chatting with Bob, I rushed back home feeling a little down.  Dejected that I had messed up a good race and was almost in tears much to my husband’s surprise.

 

I sat on the couch the entire afternoon trying to cheer myself up with a good book. Santa must not have wanted any sullen faces before Christmas eve as I got a pleasant surprise that evening. Opening my mail, I checked my results on the page and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was 4th in my age category with my timing being 1:31.

I shared this with my husband who said “See! I told you that the conditions were not easy! Still you ran a good race!

 

It was a good end to 2017 and silently wowed to crack a sub 1:30 in my next 15k race which was in January 2018. Was Santa listening?

The Sweetest run-My experience at the Hot Chocolate run

Who would pass up at the chance to have hot chocolate and fondue post a race? The very thought enticed me into signing up for America’s sweetest run-the hot chocolate run. It was a 15k  which made it an ideal distance for a Sunday long run without necessarily having to do the grueling half marathon, which made me wonder why there weren’t more  15k races held.

The event was held at Golden Gate park in San Francisco, one of the most scenic parks in the city with some incorrigible inclines enough to challenge your lungs. I had run here earlier during the San Francisco half marathon in July and recollected huffing and puffing my way up these deadly slopes. Yet that didn’t deter me from aiming for a sub 1:30. I had kept up with my fitness regime even during my Christmas vacation at Hawaii, thanks to a 24-hour gym and a pool at the resort. Besides I made sure to stay away from those sumptuous Christmas goodies ensuring that my waist line remained intact which resorted to me munching on salads much to my husband’s aghast. I felt lighter and fitter as I left for the event on Sunday morning.

It was a 40-minute drive to San Francisco state parking from where the participants were to board the shuttle buses that would take them to the park. Shuttle tickets were to be bought in advance online.  Reaching the park at 6:40 am, I had 90 minutes to kill before my run commenced at 8:10 am. It was a huge area with stalls selling the hot chocolate merchandise. I sat down in one of them suddenly tired from the travel. I had woken up at 4:30 am to catch an uber from my home at Stanford at 5:15  and catch the shuttle at 6:00 am.

I could see a sea of purple streaming across the green grass, some of them being 5 k runners making their way to the start line as their race started at 7:15 am. I sat down observing people around me, a past time that I enjoyed if I wasn’t scrolling down my smart phone scanning for the latest news. Some of them were chatting gaily with their groups while some sat on the benches trying to relax themselves before the run.

It was soon time for my race as I slipped into my designated coral. Doing my warm ups, I braced up to give this run my best.  It was initially an uphill that greeted me followed by a number of downhills as I managed a steady 5:30 pace. I was going strong, passing by a pond with ducks swimming, some tufts of green grass and a windmill.  My watch showed 27 minutes once it touched the 5k mark. Not bad, I thought.

The next 5 km was at a gradual gradient and could not keep up the pace that I wished to. The pace kept flip flopping between 5:40 to 5:50. It was a beautiful route and we passed by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The sun was not out that morning yet so the sea had a silvery appearance to it as it washed its foamy waves on the sandy shores. I turned and stared at the view before I crossed the 10k mark making my watch buzz as it displayed 57 minutes.

I was on track and all I had to do was keep a 6:00 pace for the next 5 km. I was going strong till 11km until fatigue overpowered my legs. To my dismay, it was a continuous uphill from thereon with only one small downhill.  I noticed other runners walking around me and decided to adopt the 10 seconds walk method. It worked and my legs no longer felt like jelly that was being heated to a pulp. Just 2.5 km I told myself, clenching my fists in determination and glancing at my watch fervently like that rabbit in Alice in wonderland which kept saying “I am late I am late’. The pace had slipped to 6:30 making my eyes pop in horror. No! I cried to myself. Not when I am so close to my target.  At that moment, I came across one of the aid stations which were serving marshmallows. I grabbed one greedily, popping it into my mouth and the sudden sugar rush upped the pace to 5:55.

Reaching the 14th km mark, I noticed 1:23 flashing on my watch and the uphill seemed to be never ending. The sub 1:30 was still within my grasp if I kept at a decent pace. The inclines were not going to make it easy but I will show them who is boss, I thought fiercely. After all I needed something to celebrate with that hot chocolate drink post the run. I wasn’t going to race at any more events for a while as the remaining events were trail runs where no person with a reasonably sane mind would want to take nature to task.

My legs were crying in pain reminding me of a similar feeling at the 36k mark during the standard chartered Mumbai marathon in 2013. I ignored them and kept going. It was one thing to run at a good pace on flat courses and another on grueling steady inclines that coiled like a snake, ready to raise its slimy head at any point. Fortunately, it was the caricature of the hot chocolate cup that greeted me as I neared towards the end of my run spotting the familiar arch to the finish line.

Hurrah! It was 1:29:49. Was expecting to finish in 1:27 but considering the terrain, I was thrilled at the outcome. Collecting the spectacular medal which was huge and shaped in the form of dark chocolate, I thought this was an ideal one for that famous runner’s bite post a race. Trudging long the park, I made my way towards the tents which were given out finisher mugs in blue color to the participants. Hot chocolate, fondue, marshmallows and cookies beamed out of the cup as I gulped the drink, saving the rest of the goodies for my 3-year-old daughter.

No doubt it had been a sweet start to the year but the course was far from being sweet. Probably that’s what made me relish the hot chocolate even more without worrying about the calories for once. I was glad of having run a good race as it would be a while before I put those legs of mine to torture.