All posts by Swetha

Conquering Morgan hill: The South Bay Duathlon experience

             

Run-bike-run! Sounds like fun, right? It sure is if you don’t mind your legs wobbling like jelly at the end of it and when I say jelly I don’t mean the mouthwatering dessert that you see at those fancy tea parties. It means that they feel like a pile of bricks tumbling down in an earthquake.

March was considered the start to the triathlon season in California and I decided to inaugurate mine with an Olympic distance duathlon event organized by USA Productions-one of the largest west coast based event production companies that organize endurance events. The venue was at Live Oak school, Morgan Hill which was about 50 minutes away from Stanford. The event began at 7:05 am and participants had to be there an hour prior to set up their stuff at the transition area.

It was still dark when I arrived and I could see several strong looking triathletes setting up their bikes and bags in the transition area.  I set up mine and stood there shivering in the cold despite having worn an inner warm clothing.  I looked around at the friendly folks who were laughing and joking with one another. They made it a point to include me in a couple of their jokes which helped in easing those bouts of nervousness that had suddenly consumed me like a dark spell. “I didn’t bring my other bike as I am still not comfortable with it.” Said one guy. “Then you should ride more often on it to get comfortable. What say?” he looked at me laughing and I grinned.  The ambience was certainly that of an easy going one, a far cry from the seriousness that I expected out of high performing athletes. I decided to relax and walk around for a bit before the start of the first leg which was the 10 k run.

While talking to one of the volunteers, I discovered that this wasn’t an entirely a flat course and that the bike course had one steep hill.  I cringed my face as my hill cycling was at its worst. Running up the hills was a far easier feat than peddling those wheels up the slopes.  I offered a silent prayer to Lord Ganesha to help me complete this event without any obstacle. Fortunately, there was no cut off timing for this event as the organizers strongly believed in the spirit of participation more than anything.

The first leg 10 k run: The weather was quite chilly and an ideal one for someone to aim for their personal best. However, the thought of having to bike 40 k and run another 5 k post weighed on my mind as I paced myself cautiously like a chicken which had just hatched from its egg and was exploring the world for the first time.  While the other women sprinted from the word go, I paced myself sensibly.  It was 2 loops of the 5 k course and we passed through some cherry blossoms, mustard fields and green mountains in the vicinity. The entire sight reminded me of Switzerland and clippings from those famous Yash Raj Films.

The mustard plants transported me back to the song “Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam” from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. I suddenly heard a bell and looked up surprised only to see a volunteer jingling one to encourage participants instead of a demure looking cow wearing a cowbell on its neck like it was shown in the movie. I smiled and shook my head at my idiosyncrasies and ran ahead.  Before I knew it, I had completed one loop and was on my second loop.  I saw some cyclists whizz past me like a whirlwind. So, some of them were on their second leg now, I thought, making me marvel at their finesse and athletic abilities to sprint their way through each division. Probably enough to give me an inferiority complex making me wonder what a tortoise like me was doing amidst these cheetahs. However, living in the Silicon Valley for 8 months taught me one thing-never give up even if the odds are against you and hold your head high irrespective of what you do. When I heard the volunteers shout “you go gal”, “you are my hero”, “you got this one”, I revived my spirits, overtaking a couple of runners as I crossed the mat in 59 minutes.

T1: Ideally, I had to just put on my helmet and glasses and wheel my bike towards a point from where I could start cycling. However, a momentary confusion and getting that clarified from a volunteer costed me 3 mins.  I mounted on my bike, ready to rock the roads. “Have fun”, a volunteer shouted. I nodded smiling. That’s what I was here for right? To have fun.

40 k bike: Residing in Stanford campus gave me ample scope to navigate around on a cycle whether it was to go to my classes, library, gym or just buy groceries and carry them on my bag pack. Quite an adventure by itself and a pleasant change from being coped up inside a car especially since I was prone to car sickness.  The rainy weather had Stanford entire winter had made it challenging to clock mileages outdoors so all those long hours on the bike were spent indoors on the wahoo kickr trainer.

It was lovely to be back outdoors especially since the weather gods had decided to be nice today.  It was 5 loops of an 8 km course and a picturesque one, making it hard for me to tear my eyes away from the postcard like surroundings and focus on the road ahead.  Volunteers stood at every juncture, directing us in the right manner lest we get lost.  The roads were perfectly divided with cones to separate the regular traffic from the event course. Feeling the fresh breeze on my face, I cruised ahead taking in the fields and the green carpet of nature that had cascaded on either side of the roads.  Everything was going fine until I reached that gigantic hill near the dam. Oh boy! This looked deadly as I lowered my gear and peddled up. After a point, fatigue took over my legs, prompting me to get down from my bike and wheel it up. A couple of concerned cyclists and volunteers asked if I was ok to which I responded with a cheerful nod till I reached a point where I could mount my bike again and cruise on the roads like a free spirit. One loop done and four more to go. With every loop, my legs were getting stronger barring that ugly hurdle which probably costed me at least 5-7 minutes of my cycling time.  I had finished 40 km in 1:50, a significant improvement from my previous timing of 2:05, all thanks to my coach’s training.

T2: It hardly took a minute to remove my helmet and glasses and hit the roads again with my strides.

Third leg 5 k run: My legs felt numb. Wait a minute! I felt like a ghost on a run, almost invisible until I heard a few cyclists egg me on shouting “you go gal”. Alright so I hadn’t turned into a spirit but why did I feel like I had no legs.  I looked down to see that they were still in one piece.  In my mind, they felt like a 2-story building crumbling down in a natural disaster. A gulp of electrolytes handed over by the kind volunteers restored life back to them. By now the sun was up and glaring down at us. I felt the cyclists whizz pass me-the sprint category participants and each of them had a word of encouragement for me, making me feel as though I was on a quest to break a world record.  “never give up, you can do it, you are almost there”, were the words I heard till I reached the finish line.  The last 5 k was in 33 minutes as I plonked myself on one of the chairs after collecting my medal.

Breakfast was being served and I grabbed a couple of oranges, a bowl of blueberries and half a muffin as I was famished. There was provision to check our finish timing at the timing kiosk if we entered our bib number. I was pleasantly surprised to see 3:29:31 when I thought it would be somewhere around 4 hours. Compared to international timing, it was pretty mediocre but for an Indian who is from a non-athletic background, I was elated as I had performed better than expected.

It doesn’t matter if you are the last, it doesn’t matter if you re slow but what matters is you finish like a champion holding your head high, strong enough to lift your bike which has been your ally throughout this journey!

A special mention to all the volunteers at this event and without their support, I wouldn’t have reached the finish line.  Take a bow USA Productions for a well-organized event. A big thanks to my coach Viv whose constant guidance helped me grow strength to strength.

The Double delight:My first US podium experience

Good things come when you least expect it.  I landed up at the Palo Alto Bay lands nature reserve with the intention of enjoying a run by a trail and experience my last double road race of the season organized by Bob Anderson-founder of Runner’s world magazine. Little did I realize that I would be rewarded or should I say awarded.

The concept of a double road race is where a distance is split into 2 races. For instance, if it is a double 8 k, runners run a 5 k first, take a break for 45 minutes and then run a 3 k. Now once someone is done with running a certain distance, it’s always challenging to run the second leg of the race especially after a break.

The venue was just 15 minutes away from Stanford and I landed there nice and early, admiring the sight of some migratory birds and the marshlands around.  After collecting my bib, I chatted with Bob for a few minutes, trying to understand the route. The weather was nice quite chilly and I walked around for a bit, clicked some pictures and eventually started my warm ups. A good number of people had assembled, some familiar faces that I recognized from the previous double road race events.  Despite their age, most of them looked strong and sturdy enough to give the younger ones a run for their money.

The race commenced at 8:30 am. I decided to follow Bob and test my pace. Now Bob who had turned 70 recently was a 3:30 full marathon finisher.  Gathering all my reserves, I put my best foot forward and ran like there were hound dogs after my life.  I kept Bob within my eyesight as we entered the trails surrounded by a carpet of green on either side.  It was a 2.5 k loop and at the turn, he gave me thumbs up which boosted my spirits. After 3.5 k, I was drained and paused for 10 seconds before I took off again. It wasn’t entirely a flat course and the gradient probably took a toll on my legs for running at a fanatic pace. I eased out and decided to focus on finishing strong instead of exploding my lungs.  5k was done in 27 minutes and I plonked on the ground catching my breath.

The past 2 months hadn’t been easy as I had injured my ankle at the gym sometime mid-January, causing it to swell to an extent that it appeared as though a golf ball had been tucked into my ankle bone. Doing my speed and tempo runs had become a challenge for a couple of weeks. After a lot of icing and stretching, I resumed running albeit with a moderate pace, enough to take me to the finish line. The viral bout which started February end and the relapse the previous week added fuel to the fire and certainly didn’t make things easier. Nevertheless, I kept persisting to build back my strength.

I grabbed a couple of oranges and a few raisins placed on the refreshments table before the next leg began.  The 3 k was scheduled to start at 9:45 am and I decided to replenish my muscles in the meantime. Just as we all gathered near the start point, I ended up getting into a conversation with a few people. A lady was doing the 100-mile event in a couple of weeks and it was quite intriguing to hear about her schedule and training plan. Doubly inspired, I geared up for the 3 k and once again I decided to trail Bob. Oblivious to him, he ended up becoming my pacer. At the 1.5 km mark, the thumbs up again from him spiked my energy levels and I cruised the 3k course in 16 minutes.

Collecting my medal, I hung around for a bit chatting with Bob and some other runners, one of them who was a triathlete. Soon we were immersed in a discussion about the upcoming triathlons and duathlons when I suddenly heard my name being called out. I looked up curiously and to my surprise, I had come 3rd in my age category.

Wow! My first podium in the US! I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. It was a privilege to receive the winners’ medal from Bob who said there was a remarkable improvement from my first double road race in August 2017. “You were running fast today”, he said which was a huge compliment as I stood there beaming like a student who had received an A grade report from her teacher.

Glancing at both my medals, all those thoughts about me being a useless runner which had haunted my mind last 2 months, were dispelled instantly. Most importantly I realized that the minute I decide to go to an event with the intention of just merely enjoying it, that’s when I ended up doing my best. I looked around at the cherry blossoms and the flowers blooming in their full glory while going back home. Spring was already on its way and it felt like a new beginning!

 

 

 

 

 

When the going gets tough-The Santa Cruz half marathon experience

March 4th, 2018 could have been a memorable date in my life as I was initially supposed to the iconic Napa Valley marathon which would have been my 2nd full marathon after 2013. Fate had other plans as I decided to focus on triathlons in the bay area and shelved my plans for the 26.2 miler. The lack of company for the training runs was another reason as doing those long distances all by myself was quite daunting. So, I signed up for the Santa Cruz half marathon which was scheduled on the same day and it was just an hour away from Stanford.

Recovering from a mild bout of viral, I wasn’t exactly at the peak of fitness when I stood at the start line.  Nevertheless, I decided to take this as a training run and began doing my warm ups facing the calm waves of the Pacific to my right. This was Cowell beach where we would be finishing and the same place where I had finished my triathlon a few months back.

It was an uphill from the word go, as it was in many other races that I had done in the past. Hills were quite synonymous with the bay area and such races made you forget the very existence of a Garmin or words like pace, timing, cadence, heart rate, etc. It was just humbling to reach the finish line in a strong fashion and cherish the moments of actually finishing a race-a phenomenon that was diminishing these days.

 

The route was a beautiful one as we ran along the cliffs overlooking the pristine blue ocean and the foamy waves that kissed the sandy shores in a teasing way. The gradual uphill made my legs wobble after a point. I took a sip of water that was mixed with electrolytes, hoping to revive those stiff legs which seemed to be cursing me for putting them through another torture. I could just imagine them talking to one another and saying things that would make my ears burn.  “Another Sunday wasted in such torture when I could have actually caught up on my forty winks.” One leg would say to another and the reply would be like “Oh well same here. I don’t know what prompts this crazy woman to run every Sunday and trouble us. We are not getting younger.”

 

The roads gave way to trails with some gigantic slopes that resembled the neck of a dinosaur. The sun was shining fiercely and the trails were covered with pebbles and puddles as a result from the rains the previous week. It appeared as though the sun was taking revenge on the rains for having dominated the entire valley.  At the 7th km, it felt as though I was running inside a microwave oven. No shade, no respite and the sun hit my eyes so badly that I had to close my eyes for a few minutes, making it feel as though I was sleep running.  I poured water on my head, letting the cold-water trickle down my face as I trudged  slowly on the never-ending hills and trails.

I have had better days when my legs were sturdy enough to carry me through tough terrains. The blisters on my feet made me pause for a minute and it felt as though someone had cast reins on my legs, controlling my movement, like those horses which were pulling carriages.  I didn’t have my music with me either to pep me up during this run. At this moment, I recollected the words of my old trainer who always stressed on using the core to run when your legs and hands would give up. He would always give us those vigorous exercises that would strengthen our core to such firmness that it could give an iron rod some stiff competition.

Fortunately I continued doing those exercises and it came in handy. Using my core, I ran ahead bearing the brunt of the blistering heat as my Garmin ticked away those miles. By the time I reached the road which was just 5 km to the finish line, I felt drained as though someone had sucked all the energy levels from my reserves. The entire route reminded me of a race that I had done in India-the Kundalika river marathon, which was a grueling route of hills and heat.

I heard one of the volunteers saying, “I would end up looking like this had I run this route”. My face had become so withered that it looked like burnt toast from an oven.  It was 100 m downhill to the finish line which ended on the sands of Cowell beach.

I grabbed the medal and plonked on the sand, listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The sky was streaked with the rays of the sun and at one point it looked like they were white lines connecting it to the ocean. It had been a badass day with the weather and route being unkind. I remembered the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I held my medal proudly celebrating my 24th official half marathon and 14th medal on the 4th of March. A fantastic 4 finish! I might not have earned my personal bests in these races but what I did earn was a great deal of self confidence and awareness of the fact that such routes would only make me tougher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dish without the spoon: A taste of Stanford running club

When you are in Stanford, not getting a taste of the dish is like visiting San Francisco and not visiting the Golden gate bridge. When I say Dish, I am not referring to a creamy pasta or those sumptuous puddings, but the recreational area behind Stanford campus which is popular for its hiking and running trails. Being a habitat conservation, it is used for academic research and the dish itself is a radio telescope that is still in use.

When Leland Stanford arrived in California in the mid 19th century, he told his wife that these hills in yonder would make a fine race course and that’s how the dish race commenced as a tradition of the Stanford running club.

Being a runner and a Stanford student, I could not afford to miss this run even if was just a measly distance of 5.2 km. The fact that there was no medal given at the end of run didn’t bother me either.  Having been in this prestigious campus for last 8 months, I have run in the Dish in the past.  The hills are so steep that it makes the fittest want to resort to a walking stick to get past these grueling inclines.

The race was scheduled at 9:00 am and for the first time I could cycle to an event-an advantage if the venue happens to be in your backyard and when there is provision for bike parking.  So here I was assembled at the start point as I watched other runners doing their warm ups and stretches. It was an uphill right from the word go, an incorrigible one which kept getting steeper and steeper, my lungs feeling as thought someone had sucked all the oxygen out of them.  I could hear the heavy breathing and panting by even the sturdy looking runners which sounded like a breathing of a dragon, reassuring me of the fact I wasn’t the sole victim of the hill’s brutal treatment.

 

It was a continuous climb and as we went higher, we were blessed with the panoramic views of the bay at a distance and the golf course which a green carpet spread in acres. The day was rather peculiar as 2 forces of nature seemed to play tug of war with one another. The sun shone fiercely making me want to discard my jacket while the wind blew with all its might and the icy breeze made me cling to my jacket. Shaking my head at their childish play, I focused on the scenery around me, watching the tufts of grass swaying and the mighty dish which we would be running past soon. Just then I heard a mother talking to her daughter, cajoling her that they were on an adventure, every time the daughter felt like giving up. “How far mom”, she said in a resigned manner. “Oh, just look at that dish honey”, the mom replied. “ That’s where we are going. There is magic there.”

I looked at the dish for the second time-gigantic and semicircular in shape, standing haughtily as it knew that this area derived the name by its presence.  It reminded me of a space ship, a magical device that could transport you to a place in yonder! Magic! That’s it! What I needed! If I could make it up to the dish, it would all be downhill from there.  Gathering all my reserves, I kept the dish in sight, eager to get close to this magnanimous object, edging closer and closer. The winding slopes coiled like a serpent which I chose to ignore until I found myself face to face with this magical object. I jumped in joy, increased my pace and off I was on a downhill which felt like coming down on those slides at the park which my 3-year-old daughter immensely loved.

Overtaking a few runners, I cruised all the way down, my feet suddenly finding wings. Was it the magic of the dish? Maybe! I spotted the arch in the vicinity with the volunteers cheering for us.” That’s what I call a strong finish”, a lady yelled at me as I waved back and crossed the mighty arch! I was home! The 5.2 km felt like a 10 k run,-such is the toughness of the dish.

It’s certainly not sweet but salty with a tinge of sourness which is worth as it caters to the runner’s appetite of getting a taste of the Stanford running tradition. They saying goes “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”

Valentine run with nature: The golden gate trail experience

A sight of the golden gate bridge is always a treat to the eyes. Probably the reason why I keep signing up for running events at San Francisco. Most courses take you either on the bridge or close enough for runners to click their selfies and flaunt it on social media.

The Golden gate bridge trail was yet another opportunity to get a glimpse of this architect wonder and also run amidst nature.  I started at 6:30 am from Stanford to reach Marin county by 7:45 am as my half marathon race was scheduled at 8:15 am. The start line was at Rodeo beach, the only point where I would be at sea level as I gazed at the mountains above. I tried to calm my nerves d by averting my gaze to the waves before the race director did his countdown.

From the word go, it was uphill throughout, getting steeper and steeper as we made our way through the unpaved terrain of rocks and sand.  A proper trekking trail, I thought, making me wonder if I should have invested in a pair of shoes designed specifically for trail running.  There was no way anyone could run on this unless they were mountain goats or conditioned their body to such trails from their childhood.  I decided to discard my watch and just enjoy this date with nature.

 

I noticed some of the runners carrying a small backpack and they were huddled in groups.  At one point, one of the runners told another girl to go ahead if she wanted to. “It’s fine”, she said.” It’s just my training run. I will wait for you.”  Running may be a solo sport but it’s important to stick to your pack in times like these where the going gets tough.

As I ventured higher, the climb was getting steeper and at one point, there were actual steps which we had to tread on cautiously.  My mind couldn’t bear to think what would happen if we lost our balance and rolled down the hills. I shuddered and scolded myself for ruining such a beautiful date. The setting was perfect I thought, looking at the blue skies and cascade of greenery all around.

Reaching the first aid station at the 6-km mark which was stocked with fruits, nuts, pretzels, water and cookies, I grabbed some raisins and ran ahead. Greeted once again by a continuous spiraling slope, I decided to walk up instead of expending my reserves especially on a sunny day like this. A lot of people seemed to be on my page as they walked up this hill. Getting into a conversation with a few other runners, I learned that this trail was apparently on their bucket list. One of them drove down from San Diego which was a 9-hour drive to San Francisco. The conversation steered towards the importance of enjoying such tough terrains rather than stressing on pace or timing.  I stopped to get a few pictures of the pristine blue Pacific Ocean, below.

At the 9th km mark, the ascent gave way to a flat pathway and my strides, overtaking many runners who were still huffing and puffing.  I turned into the woods and entered winding muddy terrains at the edge of the mountain. There was a steep fall on the right and I tried to focus on the route ahead instead of looking down which would have led to a heart attack otherwise.

I stopped at the 12th km mark to get a picture of the Golden gate bridge. What an incredible sight of the bridge surrounded by clear blue waters! The view from the top was worth this arduous climb.  I continued running and at one point overtook many more runners.  At the 14th km, I grabbed more raisins, refilled my water bottle at the aid station and continued cruising on this road less traveled.  One more ascent greeted me at the 16-km mark along with dirt roads which prompted me to walk up again till I reached a point where I could continue my strides.

I was close to home, I thought. The muddy pathway gave way to the roads and I soon spotted some cars parked on the road. The sun was up shining in its splendor which prompted me to gulp more water as I trudged along. My legs now felt like a jelly pulp ready to be eaten by hungry hounds. I paused for a moment, tired out from the run when I heard a voice behind “Hey not now. Just a km to the finish line.” I pepped myself to keep going up the slope and go down again only to embrace the finish line and the medal garlanded around my neck.

 

I plonked myself on the grass and stared at the skies above. I was in one piece after this grueling run, so thank you, I mouthed to the heavens above. I recollected the number of times in the past where I kept telling myself that never again would I go through such torture. Yet I never listened to that inner voice which was always telling me to quit! It was worth the sweat, blood and tears. Especially when you go back home and look at a stronger reflection in the mirror!

It had been worth it. Besides its not too often that you get a taste of nature’s splendors along with an iconic marvel! An invigorating date was what I needed with nature, especially since it was just a few days before valentine’s day!

 

Journey of the running legend-Interview with Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson boasts of 55 years of running, having started his journey at the age of 15 in 1962. In 2012, he ran 50 races to celebrate 50 years of running which is covered in the movie ‘A long run’. A desire to find more information about running and racing lead to his career in magazines. He is the founder of the Runner’s world magazine which he sold to Rodale press in 1984.  He also founded the Ujena Swimwear and a new concept of racing called the double road racing in 2012 where a distance is broken into 2 stages with a recovery break time in between for the legs.

Recently Bob turned 70 and he is in conversation with Swetha Amit, reflecting on his running journey, the concept of double road racing and his goals.

  1. So how and when did your journey with running begin? 

 I started in 1962. Initially I had a hard time running even a mile. Then when I started to run a mile, I slowly began to enjoy it and that’s how I fell in love with running. 

  1. You founded runners’ world magazine which is considered as a bible for many runners. How did that idea come about?  

I was running in high school and was quite a decent runner. At the age of 17, I wanted to run the Boston marathon and asked my track coach on how I should go about my training. He had no idea so I found some addresses of people who could help me with my training. I gathered all the information that I needed. One day on a track meet, I was telling my school pal about the information that I had collected and how I wanted to share it with others. I told him that I wanted to start a magazine and call it the distance runner magazine. That’s how it started and this was in 1966.

  1. From the time you commenced running, what changes do you see in the running culture? 

 When I first started running, it was looked upon as something that only a few people can do. In fact, when you were on the roads wearing those running shorts, you were labelled as an oddball. Running became popular only when Frank Shorter won the marathon in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. That brought a lot of attention to the sport. Today many people have taken up running . The fact that it doesn’t require complex skills like in the case of  Tennis or golf, makes it easier. All you require is to put one leg in front of another and you are good to go.  That’s the reason why I like it too. The accumulated knowledge in runners’ world helped educating people about the nuances in running. The more educated people got, the easier running became. Today I see women outnumbering men especially at races.

  1. You are also a pioneer of an interesting concept called double road races and you organize these events all across the world. Could you tell us more about how this idea was initially conceived and how has it been received by runners? 

 During one of our training runs, my son and I thought we should do something different. Initially we thought we would do a triathlon but then I am a terrible swimmer and not too comfortable on a bike. When we were brainstorming, we started to think about track meets where we do a mile first and then another mile. We realized that the second leg was more fun than the first one and that’s how the idea for the double road race commenced. Everyone had to run 2 legs of a particular distance where the first leg is longer than the second with a half time break in between.  When we initially tried it, a lot of people loved this concept and we have now done close to about 100 double road races in the world.

  1. In which countries have these double road races have been conducted so far?

 We have conducted them in Greece, Tokyo, Mexico, USA, Indonesia and Kenya. In fact, in Kenya we had a double half marathon starting with a 10 miler in the first leg followed by a 5 k. We had guys running at 1 hour 1 minute that too at an altitude which was incredible. We are looking to conduct these races in different places. It’s an interesting concept and one has to be mentally ready for it.

 

  1. Considering your experience in running, what advice would you give to all those who want to take up running seriously? 

 I think that anybody who is interested and really serious,  have to realize that there is a lot of training and dedication involved. You are as good as your training is.  Now training hard does not mean you have to do 100 miles every week. You can commit to running say 40-50 miles a week and have a goal that you want to run fast. It may take some effort but the rewards at the end are just unbelievable. Imagine running at a pace you never thought you could ever do. It’s an amazing feeling.

However, having said that I will warn people that running is addictive. Beware of it. That addiction should empower your life rather than getting in the way of your family time or job. It should be more of a positive addiction.

  1. Speaking of addiction, the ‘too fast too soon’ phenomenon is taking over where people jump distances wanting to achieve their long-term goals soon. What is your take on this? 

 It is very easy to want to jump ahead. Sometimes there is a tendency to want to move too quickly to a point where you get prone to injuries. Everything takes time like wine. So be patient. Start off first by building a base and then focus on working on your speed. Keep it fun. When you step out of that door and you begin to feel running is more like a chore, take the day off or just run slow or walk. I am also a firm believer in having 3-4 pairs of running shoes. It’s important that you don’t have the same strike to the ground that you would if you ran with only the same pair of shoes every time.

  1. Turning 70 is a special occasion and you are as fit as a fiddle. What keeps you going? 

 I am addicted to running and that’s what keeps me going. You know it’s actually interesting to be a runner when you turn 70 as you move into an entirely different age group. Now I am in the 70 plus age group and in a race, you don’t see too many people in this age category. I believe that age is just a number. Having said that, I do realize that things are different but I don’t make a big deal of it.  There are days when my legs feel numb which may not have been the case when I was younger. However, there is always a next day and I look forward to each day. I have only been 70 now for about a month and I am looking forward to doing  races that I have done earlier like the Carlsbad race in San Diego.

  1. What has been your most memorable race so far?

 By far, the most memorable race has to be the Boston marathon which I ran in 2013. You feel like a rock star while running that race as it’s a great course and you have a million people out there cheering for you. I ran the course in 3:32 when I was 65. Yes, it was a tragic incident as the bombings during that year caused quite a stir. 

  1. What are your plans and long-term goals? 

 You know I really want to continue doing things and turn people towards running.  This includes individuals of all age groups and from different countries. Running has transformed my life to a large extent and I want to do everything possible to capture people’s interest towards running.  At present, I am conducting Double road races. We are also doing a website called My Best Runs to encourage people to get into racing. If people don’t race then it could result in a tendency to not continue. A lot of people write continuously but do not publish. Racing is like publishing in the writing field.

I have run 50 races in 2012. To me that was too much and a lot of pressure. At present, I would say 15-20 races is a good number to target in a year. Look for those which have good courses. I personally enjoying traveling to races. The most important thing about running is the people. Its these people who make your journey worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Run amidst the Redwoods

Huddart Park was known for its scenic trails and magnificent redwoods. It wasn’t very far from Stanford, where I currently resided. Coastal trail runners, known to organize a lot of trail runs, had an event scheduled on January 21st. It was on the same day as the Tata Mumbai Marathon, the big daddy of all the races back in India. My friends back home were obviously running this one and I was missing out on all the fun that occurred during the time of this race.

 

I needed a dose of nature and signed up for the half marathon initially, a decision which I had to revert at the last moment. An unfortunate accident in the gym due to someone’s carelessness of misplacing dumbbells, caused an ankle injury. The swelling was to a great extent which resulted in me hobbling like an old woman, a far cry from the strong and sturdy runner cruising up those daunting slopes in San Francisco a few days ago. Nevertheless, a visit to the doctor and physio helped in bringing down the swelling. I was shown a few stretches to strengthen the weak area. There was no way I could do a 21 km on those daunting trails and requested the race organizers to downgrade my distance to a 10 k, which I could easily manage.

 

In another part of the world, my runner friends would be running one of the biggest marathons in the city amidst a huge crowd while I would be running in the solitary company of the woods.

I reached Huddart Park at around 8:00 am to collect my bib and hang around till my race started at 9:15 am. Those running the 50 k ,35 k  and 21 k had already started their run. At 9:15, the race director flagged off the run and I found myself cruising downhill into a single dirt road covered with big stones. Carefully, I treaded on them and ran past the shrubs effortlessly.  It was getting darker, the further I ventured into the woods.

 

Trail runs were something that I enjoyed as there was no pressure of timing or pace. I could just enjoy the scenic surrounds, click a few pictures and go slow as opposed to city runs where people run as though they were being chased by hound dogs.  2 km were already done as I began my ascent on those steep climbs which sucked the energy from my quads and calves. I decided to walk up and looked around at the tall redwoods that were shielding me from the harsh glares of the sun. Well lucky me! I spotted some wild mushrooms and decided to capture the images and also of the gigantic trees in the vicinity. Green ribbons were placed at appropriate places to guide runners in the right direction lest they get lost.

My watch buzzed when I reached the 5 km mark. Half the distance was covered. Woods always fascinated me as they were an essential part of my growing up years whether it was through the faraway series by Enid Blyton or those fairy tales of Hansel and Gretel or Red riding hood. I looked around, half expecting to see a wily face of a grinning wolf behind those trees. However, all that I saw were some squirrels swinging their bushy tails playing hop scotch on the bed of dead leaves. The sign board at the entrance did mention about deer and wildlife though. I kept my eyes and ears open just in case.

I passed a bridge and soon found a marker saying, ‘To the finish line’. Already? I thought in dismay at the thought of leaving nature’s abode. I quickened my pace as it was all downhill from there. My ankle seemed fine and I was cruising down like those seagulls that I had watched on the sea shore as they swooped down to pick up their titbits from the sand. The surface was uneven and no sane person would probably think of sprinting down this pathway. There is a moment of insanity that takes over the sane mind when it came to sports. I guess that was applicable to running as well as I ran down the hill. Anyone watching me would have believed that I was being chased by a bear, but no such luck. It was just me eager to receive my 12th medal in a hurry which I did as I crossed the finish line in style.

There were cookies, buns and pretzels offered as snacks which I avoided considering the health buff that I was. Strolling around the woods, I posed with my medal and made my way home to simple home cooked lunch as it was noon by then. The run certainly left a trail in my mind which prompted me to sign up for one more event in February…

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Survival at its fittest-The trail run experience

The Bay area was known for its bountiful trails and hills. There was no dearth of them as I browsed through the California marathon Calendar. The runner and nature lover in me was spoilt for choices as I looked at the images of some of the trail runs. I visualized myself running through the cascading brown meadows spread over acres which was enough incentive to click on the registration link.

It was a 25 km run that I had signed up for, probably due to realization that my legs were now ready to carry me further than 21 km which they were used to by now and probably bored. “Give us a little bit of challenge”, they seemed to say.  So here I was driving down to Calero Park at San Jose which was about 40 minutes from Stanford, where I resided. The race was scheduled at 8:00 am and the bib collection for these runs took place one hour prior to the run, on the same day. It was rather chilly and I huddled up in one of the tents after collecting my bib. I got talking to the race director, Troy who had been conducting trail events since 2009. “I am glad it’s not raining,” he said. “Otherwise I would have had to cancel it.” I further learnt it was more or less managed by him solely and he was looking for more volunteers.  As the runners began to line up at the venue, we were briefed about the course that we had to take.

There were only 2 aid stations and we were to follow the different colored ribbons and in some places, these would be absent. “Have faith in yourself and follow that one single road, it will get you through.” the race director mentioned. Nervousness began to creep in hoping that I wouldn’t get lost in these woods. There was no signal on my mobile phone and I offered a silent prayer to the almighty.

From the word go, dirt roads greeted us gently leading us to some never-ending inclines which forced even the strongest looking runners to walk up these dreadful slopes.  Muddy, rustic looking, interspersed with shrubs and grass, it was as pristine as it could get. I heard some of runners muttering “Didn’t know it was going to be so tough”, as they staggered up the hilly terrain. One couldn’t run on it for too long and walk breaks were involuntarily infused.  Deciding to treat it as a picnic, I prodded along the muddy pathway, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I remembered mentioning to my husband that morning saying that I would finish in 3 hours and be back home by 12 noon. It appeared that this was going to take longer than 3 hours considering the daunting route which had pebbles strewn about like bread crumbs.  No sane person would want to consider sprinting downhill unless they were ready to see their knees look like fried sausages tossed in ketchup.

At the end of the 5th km, I was almost ready to call it quits, rush back home and snuggle on the couch with a book. Just then I was greeted by a spectacular sight of the mountains glistening in the sun’s rays. I inhaled sharply, taking in the view as the sportsman spirit in me egged me to go on. ‘You are not here to quit’, a voice told me.

 

I noticed dried tufts of grass on either side as I ran along the narrow winding pathways. I caught a glimpse of a couple of runners at the distance and knew I was on the right track.  Following the ribbons, I soon found myself running down some of the slopes albeit with great caution as I wasn’t too fond of sausages.  Reaching the aid station, I refilled my bottle with water, grabbed some freshly cut fruits and set off on this jungle expedition after taking cues from the race director present there.

The pebbles on the ground reminded me of the Hansel and Gretel story wherein Hansel left a trail of them to find his way back home from the woods. At one point, it was just me and the sound of gentle rustle of the leaves, making me jump many a time half expecting to see a bear or a fox come out of its hiding and smacking my head later on for giving in to irrational fears and fantasies.  Soon I heard voices floating in the air and looked up to see a couple of horse riders galloping into the woods after giving me a smile that depicted partly sympathy and partly admiration.

This run was one of its kind unlike the ones in the city where you would feel the presence of volunteers with placards carrying quirky messages. This one was a test of your endurance and patient levels. I finally reached the start point, completing 21 km and was asked to do the 5 km loop to complete my distance. Survival instincts kicked in and I finally reached the finish line. “You are still running, right?” asked one of the volunteers asked line with a grin and I responded with a faint smile.

I tucked in some nuts and sandwiches that was displayed on the table as I was famished being on my feet for hours together. Nature has a way of humbling you, I thought as I grabbed my phone only to see there was no reception yet. By now my husband must have wondered if I had been attacked by wolves or something. I requested one of the volunteers to drop me off at a point where I could call an Uber.

Trail runs were as brutal and carnal as they could get. It’s about how you hold your nerve throughout and come out stronger yet humbled at the thought that nature always triumphs.