All posts by Swetha

Lost in the woods

Lost in the woods
I was running on a trail. The redwoods were a magnificent sight and I was basking in the glory of running amidst nature. The organizers had asked us to follow the arrows marks and said that volunteers would be stationed at regular intervals.
I was soon lost in the beauty of the pristine green surroundings, the chirrup of the birds and the rustling sound of the leaves.  So much that I failed to keep track of other runners.
All on a sudden, I came to a halt. I seemed to have missed the arrow marks. Was I going in the right direction? Where were the rest of the runners?  I looked around frantically hoping to see someone who could guide me in the right direction.
I looked at the ground hoping to see an arrow mark somewhere as an indication of  where I was headed. All I saw were wild mushrooms. Beads of perspiration began to form on my forehead. I took out my phone and saw there was no signal. I almost cried out in despair. I ran up and down the pathway but I was clearly lost.
“Hey there, looking for something?”
I turned around to see an elderly lady dressed in a red t shirt and track pants.
“I lost my way.” I said almost in tears.
“Here. Have a sip of this”. She said handing me an energy drink.
“Where are the other runners? You see I was asked to keep track of the arrow marks but I couldn’t find them. “
“Relax. You will be fine.” She assured me.
“Are you running too?” I asked.
She smiled.
“Just go down that pathway and take a right turn. You will reach a road and if you follow that road, you will reach the finish line.”
I took a sip of the energy drink and listened to her instructions.
I looked at the direction she was pointing at just to get a vague idea about the path I was going to follow.
“Thanks” I said turning towards her. But she was not there.
“Hello. Where are you?” I called out.
Suddenly everything seemed still. The eerie silence in the woods was deafening. Confused I headed towards the muddy pathway and ran for a while before I took a turn towards the road.   Some volunteers were stationed there. They were dressed in white T shirts and shorts.
“Looking good.” they said as I paused at the aid station to take a sip of water.
“You know one of your volunteers was really helpful. I got lost she directed me this way.” Pointing to the direction where the woods were deep.
One of the volunteers looked at me strangely. “There is no one there”, he said.
“That lady in red T shirt…” I began.
“All our volunteers wear white t shirts. Not sure whom you saw.” he exclaimed.
I shivered as a gentle breeze blew at that time.
I soon reached the end of my run.
“Hello there, so how was your run?” The organizer asked smiling at me. I mentioned about the lady in red and he looked as perplexed as the volunteer.
“Well, we don’t station our volunteers there. That part of the woods carries some stories I hear.”
“Like?” I prompted
“Oh, we don’t want to scare you. Enjoy the breakfast.”
As I went home I couldn’t help but ponder about the lady in red.
Who was she??
Happy Friday the thirteenth! 😱

Lessons from Trail Running

Running imparts some interesting  lessons that holds forte in the long run. (Pun intended) Looking back at the events that I have done, there has been an interesting mix of trail and road running. While both courses have been challenging, I realize how trail running tends to enhance your mental strength a lot more.
Runs organized in a city have an enormous crowd support and volunteers stationed at every nook and corner.  Those placards with witty lines and loud cheers work as a marvelous booster. Enough to melt those fatigue spells and break down that infamous runner’s wall. You derive strength just seeing fellow runners by your side. Makes you realize that you aren’t alone in your journey to the finish line.
Trail running on the other hand does not always attract a large crowd. The loud cheer by the city crowd is conspicuous by its absence on these courses.  A chance of getting lost in the woods is pretty high if you do not follow the coloured arrow marks on these uneven terrains.
Nature’s trail presents a runner with some daunting inclines and harsh weather conditions. When you look around in despair just for that little motivation, you realize you are on your own.
Similar to life’s scenario where at times you are left to tend to your own troubles. People may not always turn up at your doorstep to pull you out of your woes. Such instances make you tougher and gives you the confidence to battle some really trying circumstances without having to depend on other folks.
The Gita emphasizes the fact that you come alone to this world and go back alone. Glad that the one year in US has taught me this. As the saying goes what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.

The birthday medal –my 3rd Olympic triathlon experience

Swimming 1.5 km in open water, cycling 40 km and running 10 km to celebrate your b’day may sound crazy to a lot of people. Not to a triathlete. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my 37thyear.

It is peak summer in California where temperatures soar up to 37 degrees Celsius. While it’s an ideal weather to swim and maybe bike, running can be a nightmare. Probably this was the reason why I tossed and turned the night before the event. The prospect of running at noon after a long distance on the bike sent panic signals to the brain.

Waking up at 3:30 am, I left home by 4:15 to reach Pleasanton which is an hour away from Stanford. The transition area  opened at 5:00 am. I racked my bike near the ‘bike out’ area-the point. Wanting to avoid running with my bike all the way, I chose a spot close to the mount point. People slowly streamed in and I began to converse with a few of them. There were experienced triathletes and it was inspiring to listen to their experiences. Before I knew it, it was time for the race. I slipped my wetsuit on and entered the lake for a warm up lap. The sun was up by now and the water felt warm. I was beginning to enjoy the feel of being inside water.  Due to the late arrival of the ambulance, the race started 30 minutes late. I floated on my back in the lake and waited for the announcers to begin the swim waves.

Swim: My wave began at 7:37 am. At the blow of the horn, I set off at a really fast pace. The lake was calm except for the occasional ripple of waves that was caused every time a few people swam next to me. We had to swim an entire loop and back. There were yellow and orange buoys placed and I remembered to keep them to my left shoulder.  The crew on their kayaks paddled around us to ensure that none of us had any trouble in water. With the sun beating down hard, it was a treat to be in water. I finished the swim and headed out towards the transition.

T1:By now I had learnt the art of getting out of my wetsuit, thanks to the few swim clinics that I had attended. So as soon as I got out of the water, I unzipped the wetsuit which I had worn over my tri suit and ran towards the bike racks. Slipping a t shirt over my head, clipping my helmet, I simultaneously slipped the wetsuit off my feet. Putting on my shoes, I wheeled my bike to the mount point, ready to hit the roads.

Bike: The course began with a steep slope so I immediately shift to a lower gear. It was quite an arduous climb and I couldn’t wait to hit the flat course which I soon did. I pedaled hard hoping to cut down the time on my bike. I whizzed past the freeway and felt elated until the 15thkm. It was at this point where another climb began. It was a gradual and continuous ascent. By now my heart felt as though it was going to explode. I took a sip of the energy drink from the bottle that was stacked in front of my bike. I continued pedaling hard not wanting to lose the momentum. To my surprise, I began to feel nauseous.

Now I have felt car sickness numerous times but this was the first time I felt like throwing up on the bike. What was going on? I paused to catch my breath before I pedaled again. Besides being hilly, I was greeted with headwinds. Boy! It felt like battling this unseen force that was preventing me from moving forward. I bent my body and placed my elbows on the handle bar, hoping to fight the winds while I kept going uphill. It was a scenic route of vineyards and farms. I came across some cows and goats on the way. The pleasant sight of the fields took my mind off the tough course. I kept pedaling with all my might beginning to pant. I took a deep breath and soon spotted the turnaround point. “It’s a downhill from here on”, a volunteer exclaimed.

By then I had depleted all my energy and could not go too fast downhill. Besides the headwinds weren’t helping either. On the way back, I saw a couple of cyclists fall. “Are you ok”, I shouted, bringing my bike to an abrupt halt.  “Yes, we are good”, they shouted back. I began pedaling again and was soon back on the freeway. Almost home, I thought. There was another hill coming this time and I slumped by shoulders in defeat. Hell no! I thought, ready to give up as my legs were screaming with pain at this point. “I promise you that this is the last hill”, a volunteer stationed at that point assured me. Defying the pain, I pedaled up and soon glided down all the way to the transition area.

T2: This went off really quick. I racked my bike, removed my helmet and set off on my run.

Run:I glanced at my watch and was close to attaining my personal best in this race. Little did I realize that it would be the worst run in my life. The sun was brutal at this point. I poured some water on my head. Initially it was on the road and I was going at a decent pace. The route soon turned into a trail. I was in for a shock. Pebbles, hills and heat-a lethal combination.  I tried pushing up those inclines but it was impossible in that terrain. As I took a U turn, I tried pacing up on the downhill section, only to end up twisting my ankle. What a nightmare!

I pinched myself to see I wasn’t dreaming. No! here I was in the real-life horror. I stretched my ankle and walked down the hill, the sound of the pedals swishing beneath my feet. I took a sip of the energy drink at the aid station. I was greeted with more hills and stones. By the time I finished one loop, I was exhausted. I had one more loop to go before I reached the finish line. I kissed my personal record goodbye. It was just a question of survival. I limped, walked and ran gritting my teeth. My mind and body had shut down by then. I felt limp by the time I reached the finish line and received the finishers medal of my 3rdOlympic distance triathlon.

Post-race: I plonked myself on one of those chairs placed in the volunteer’s tents and gulped some cold water. I glanced at the official timing. It was 5 minutes better than my first Olympic distance triathlon timing. This was a tough course and weather wasn’t aiding. Despite all this, I felt close to tears. A combination of exhaustion and disappointment. Then I slapped myself. Until last year doing an Olympic distance triathlon was a big thing for me. Here I was having completed my 3rdone and feeling like I have lost a loved one. Was I being greedy? Wanting something too fast too soon? On the way home, I pondered about it. There was a time that I would just embrace the finish line instead of the finish time. Maybe I should begin to do that again. I once learnt in ‘The art of living’ course that “Expectations reduce joy.”

In the meantime, I glanced at my medal. It was my 27thone and incidentally my birthday was on the 27thof June! I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

 

 

What it means to be MRR

It was on a hot sultry April morning in 2015 that I stumbled upon this vibrant group of runners, thanks to a runner friend Ajit Singh who invited me for the run.  “It is from Bandra to NCPA which happens every first Sunday of the month”, he told me.

I remember stepping out of the car at Otters club like a nervous teenager setting foot in college for the first time. Everyone seemed to know each other while my husband and I looked around hesitantly. Sensing our discomfort, a friendly looking guy wearing glasses came up to us and flashed a warm smile. “Sam”, he introduced himself and instantly put us at ease with his affable demeanor. He went on to explain about the route and the volunteer support at 4 different points.

It was for the first time in the scorching summer month that we clocked a 2-digit mileage. We reached NCPA impressed with the arrangements and the contagious enthusiasm of this group. What started off as a mere means to get our mileages going, resulted in long term friendships and an extended family of runners. Suddenly the number of people that we were interacting with grew overnight just like the beanstalk in the story of Jack and the beanstalk.

It’s been 3 and a half years since our first run and I can say that I am proud to be a part of MRR. Even the last one year when I been away from home, I have managed to stay connected with this community. Meeting people from different walks of life and learning about their background has been a humbling and exhilarating experience. With many people, I started off connecting as a fellow runner only to find other common interests that strengthened the bond even further.

People often ask me what it means to be a MRR. It’s a community that embraces and encourages all-irrespective of their time, pace and experience.  In one word-unconditional acceptance!

Happy Father’s Day

She stood on the podium. Her million dollar smile sparkled more than her medal garlanded on her neck. It had been a long and arduous journey. All those vigorous sessions had paid off.
She recollected those days when she was woken up in the wee hours in the morning to go cross country running. The rest of the world would be wrapped up cozily in their blankets, catching their forty winks. While she would be trudging up those trails and hills.  Her peers would spend their vacations by the sea while she would be sweating it away on those tracks in the blistering heat. How she hated him then.
He had made her cut her nails and hair short. Dressed in track pants and t shirts mostly, she blamed him for having her feminist etched away. While her peers would spend their days dressed in dainty skirts and perming their hair. “One day you will thank me for this”, he told her.
She remembered her first time at a race. “Look at the finish line and not at others. You are your only competition”.  He told her.
Years rolled by. She won some, she lost some. Yet his words echoed every time she went for a run. When she won her biggest race today, that line played again in her head, making her flash that toothy smile for the camera. She scanned in the crowd and looked for him. His proud expression said it all and her heart soared as she mouthed a silent “Thank you Dad”.
Happy Father’s Day!

Running is my yoga

I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders and got into a rhythm. My heart beat normalized and my nerves eased.
I passed a fountain and the sound of water gurgling sent a warm fuzzy feeling. I smiled despite the heat. I took another deep breath this time taking in the fragrance of the red roses. Never before have they smelt so good. I felt no pain, no stress. It was just me, myself and my strides.
Round and round, I circled the Stanford campus, whizzing past the palm trees and the football fields. Never before have they appeared so green and livid as they glistened in the summer heat.
I ran past cars and cyclists. All I could hear was my breathing.  I seemed to be gliding effortlessly and smoothly. My watch buzzed but I paid no heed to it. I seemed to be in a trance, intoxicated by an unknown force today that made my run so enjoyable. It was 4:00 pm in the afternoon and not the ideal condition to run. Yet it didn’t deter my spirits. My deep breathing reaffirmed my faith in myself to keep going. There was no music, no inner demons. It was just my arms and feet synchronized in a rhythm that I found inexplicable today. The flush of endorphins kicked in as I finished the last lap.
Never before have I felt so good. Yes some days it’s about just going for a run to detox your mind and ease those blues.
Running is therapeutic. In fact I would call running my yoga!
Happy international yoga day!

Running in a bubble:The bubble run experience

Running always made me feel like I was living in a bubble. At least for that short period of time. It was just me, myself and my strides. Free from all that anxiety and stress that accompanied with the rigmarole of routine life.

So, when I actually got a chance to run amidst some bubbles, I seized the opportunity. The municipality grounds at San Jose was hosting a 5 km bubble run. It was family and stroller friendly as well.  Along with my daughter and husband, I set off on a Saturday morning to have a blast! We saw several people lined up before the start line. They were released in small groups. Only after they crossed a certain distance, the next group was released.

Snow White land: The start line was filled with a white foamy froth. Puffs of bubbles whizzed away in the light breeze- a sight that evoked squeals from little kids. Adults forgot their age and basked in the joy of these giant bubbles as well. Jumping, catching the foam in our hands, we spent a good amount of time playing in the white sheet of foam.  Some of it stuck to our legs but later got evaporated as we moved along the course which was a barren land.

Apparently where were 4 points with different colored bubbles that were to greet us during the run.

In the pink of health: We were soon greeted by a pink foam. It reminded of the cotton candy that I often had as a little kid. The kind that was available by the beach where a rugged looking man would be selling it in his cart.  Except that this one would have tasted like soap unlike the original sweet one.  It sort of felt surreal being surrounded with pink bubbles.  Almost like one of those fantasy stories that I grew up reading. I half expected to see a unicorn standing on top of the foam. No such luck. It was just the volunteers working hard to spray the foam on the runners to ensure we had the time of our lives.

Our white T-shirt’ gifted by the organizers at the packet pick up was beginning to pick up stains.

Go green: The next stop was at a green foam. The shade was a light one, reminding me of the color of a cat’s eye. It also took me back to witch stories where a light green smoke would come of a big bowl when a spell was being brewed by them. We quickly moved on to the next one.

In blues: Being my daughter’s favorite color, her joy knew no bounds. She basked in the color of the sky. Indeed, the sky was the limit when it came to her fun quotient that morning.   Wading through the blue froth, squeals of laughter escaped her little lips. I couldn’t remember the last time I had so much fun.

Basking in the sunshine: The sun was out by now and what a perfect last stop. It was A yellow foam that greeted us at this juncture before we made our way to the finish line.  By now we were completely drenched.  Wading through the slush and foam made us look as though we had been out on a walk in the rain.

What a start to the weekend! Dashing through bubbles, getting wet and dancing in the foam, without a care in the world. We had certainly traveled back in time to become kids again. Life truly felt like a bubble this morning. It was only when we went out and called out for the uber, we realized, we were back into the real world as responsible adults once again.

 

Miles with smiles : A poem on global running day

Penned down something on the occasion of global running day.

When you run
You feel alive
Every breath of air
Makes you want to jive.

When you run
You battle the blues
Demons and inner voices
Soaking in joy and the morning dew.

When you run
You have a different view
The lens has changed
Of the world around you.

Trees seem to cheer
Birds chirp and sing
Flowers bloom in their glory
Nature treats you like a king.

When you run
You face the rain, wind and sun
Difficult as it may be be
It sure is a lot of fun.

When you run
you listen to your heart beat
On the hills and road you wander
The rhythm embedded in your feet.

When you run
You sometimes wonder why
Yet when you cross the finish line
You face the unmistakable feeling
Of the runners high!

When you run
You realize the journey is worthwhile
After all what is life
Without a few huffs and puffs
Without which you may end up being senile.

Happy global running day everyone! Keep those miles and smiles going.

Warrior on the run-the armed forces half marathon experience

They might call me crazy. I don’t blame them. Who else would travel 92 km in the wee hours of the morning in a foreign land, with just 5 hours of sleep? A runner of course. Yet this was no ordinary run. It was the armed forces half marathon, organized by the US armed forces inside the naval weapons station which was otherwise off-limits for civilians. Who would pass up such a golden opportunity to run inside an area that served as an ammunitions depot for several wars fought in the past? Not me for sure.

 

Concord is a city which is situated north east of San Francisco. It took about an hour and 20 minutes from Stanford during the day in peak traffic hours. Driving through the reserves, foothills and wildflowers, I reached Todos Santos Plaza, situated in downtown of concord. Registered runners had to pick up their running bibs and T shirt here. It was a beautiful area, surrounded with a lot of restaurants and shops. The park was picturesque with green lawns, rose bushes and a pretty fountain in the middle. People sat in the benches, munching a sandwich or sipping their coffee from the Starbucks joint in the neighborhood. I spotted the bib collection area and collected my packet. “The run starts at 6:30 am sharp. You might want to come at 6:00 am.” The organizers said. I nodded.

 

Usually runners face insomnia the day before an event. Mostly due to the fear that they may sleep through the alarm. I tossed and turned that night, dreading what may happen if I slept through it. With barely 5 hours of sleep, I left my place at 4:45 am and reached Concord by 6:00 am. The area was bustling with runners wearing colors of the American flag. Incidentally I wore a red t shirt that day so I managed to blend in with the crowd dressed in reds, blues and stripes. Some were doing their stretches and warm ups before their run while others were engaged in a friendly banter with their groups. I stood there and surveyed the crowd. The young and old were assembled there. I was surprised to see a good number of Indians as well and from their chatter I gathered it was their first run.

 

A loud voice boomed across the park asking runners to assemble near the start line. The national anthem was sung and the announcer thanked runners for showing up at an event dedicated purely for the armed forces. I felt goosebumps just being there, despite the fact I was from another country. I had great respect for the armed forces. Their ability to lay down their lives for the nation never ceased to intrigue and amaze me.

 

We started off the run sharp at 6:30. The weather was quite pleasant in the morning and it was nice to run the first 5 km inside the city. I slowly got into a rhythm and comfortable pace. However, the lack of sleep began to catch up with me and my eyelids began to feel heavy. Stopping at the aid station serving water and energy drinks, I splashed some water on my face and took a sip of the energy drink. Feeling much better, I entered the naval weapons station.

 

What a place! I gazed around the chain of small hills, surrounded with tufts of dried grass. If I didn’t know about this place being a weapons station, I could have easily mistaken it for a meadow. Spread in bountiful acres, the entire area took my breath away as I ran along the road. Some runners stopped to click pictures on their mobiles and I did the same. So, this was the place where ammunitions were stored. It made me wonder what this place would have looked like during wars. Just thinking about the secret codes and strategies devised here made me shiver. Feeling goosebumps prickling my tender skin, I was awestruck by the majestic splendor of this place. The sudden excitement dispelled my sleep and by now I was wide awake. My body refused to recognize any sign of fatigue just thinking about those selfless souls who had served their country with pride. How many sleepless nights would have been spent in fighting for their nation, I thought.

 

I saw a big hill approaching at the 11thkm. My stomach clenched into a nervous knot just looking at the intimidating slope. However, the view from the top made the arduous climb really worthwhile. I stared in awe at the sight of small green shrubs towered by dried grass and the illuminating sheet of grey clouds hovering above like a protective parent. It was one of those moments when I wished everything would just come to a standstill so that I could bask in this surreal moment forever. The quick footsteps of runners climbing up the hill brought me back to reality. The clock was ticking seconds away with every heartbeat of mine that was pulsating through my veins. It was a downhill for another mile and there was music being played just at the point when the slope descended downwards. The beats pepped the runners to help them recover from a vigorous climb and reach the finish line in a strong manner. It was just a few more miles before we were handed the finishers medal.

 

It was another incentive to run strong as this time finishers would be rewarded with the commemorative armed forces medal. Despite tiredness catching up with my legs, I continued going in a strong manner, aided by energy drink and gel. I reached a point which was just 2 km away from the finish line. A couple of men were running along with their dog. “Here boy here,” they beckoned to him when the dog came towards me. I smiled and waved saying “A good running partner.” The men grinned. My legs were almost giving up-a result of a stressful week and sleepless nights coupled with all the triathlon training. I kept going and soon heard the announcer’s voice. The finish line was just around the corner. Gathering all my reserves and clenching my fists tightly, I ran and ran until I crossed the finish line and was garlanded that precious medal.

 

I gazed at it in awe. Round and huge, the US flag along with the army bunker was carved on it. Humbled and exhilarated at the same time, I held it proudly while the official photographers clicked my picture. My body was now invaded by the famous runner’s high-a feeling of having completed a good run. I couldn’t wait to get back and share my experience with my family. It was an hour and 30 minutes before I would reach home. As I called for the uber, I realized that travelling 90 plus km back and forth was worth it. It isn’t every day that I get an opportunity to run in one of the most privileged area that has held a great deal of significance for the country. What made it special was the fact this run was just couple of days before the Memorial Day on May 28th!Wa

Running without music

Races banning headphones end up being a blessing to runners in many ways. Besides listening to sounds of nature, it enables you with the ability to be in tune with other people and their conversations that you inadvertently overhear and learn a lot from.

This happened at the Big Sur event on Sunday. The hilly course intimidated several runners prompting them to pep talk one another to get to the finish line in one piece.

At the 5th mile, I overheard a father-son duo engaged in a deep conversation.

“How much more?” Panted the son.

“Easy there. Take a deep breath.” The Father encouraged.

“I just have to finish this one. I am already dead. “

“You can. Just keep at it. You are doing great.”

“Dad! My legs are dead.”

“Buck up John. You got this one”.

“Dad what if I don’t? “

“You will son. Just keep at it.”

“Dad! If I don’t do this, my friends will laugh at me. I mean I will be the laughing stock on social media. “

Just then we paused at the aid station.

“Listen son. You run for yourself. Got that? The minute you run for other people, you are finished. “

“Dad but..”

“No son. You are a lot happier when you run for yourself. It’s about you! Run because you want to, not for your friends or anybody. The day you do that, you will be a much better runner. “

I took off from the aid station to cruise on those rolling hills. When I reached the finish line, That old man’s message still rang in my ears- “Run for yourself, You will be a happier person”.

What a profound message! In need of the hour where pressure of social media prompts people to push beyond their limits which ultimately robs the joy of running.

Unfortunately couldn’t meet him later but thank him for his inadvertent golden words. However his words will echo in my journey as a runner and triathlete forever!