All posts by Swetha

A mighty mermaid officially: My olympic distance triathlon experience

 

The fall: Wheeeeeeeee!!! I suddenly found myself skid on the road and fall off my bike on the highway. It was a Tuesday evening and I was out for a short ride-my last practice before the Olympic distance (1.5 km swim, 40 k bike, 10 k run) triathlon which was that following Saturday.   I was shaken up for a moment when a car pulled up behind me. Two concerned men came out and asked if I was fine. I nodded and asked him to check if my bike was ok. He lifted my bike and answered in affirmative. “Do you want me to call an ambulance? You are bleeding. I can drop you off somewhere?” he asked. I got up and saw that my right knee and arm were badly bruised. Not the first time, as 6 months ago I had fallen in the middle of a race and still reached the finish line in a strong manner.  Fortunately, there was no sprain so I decided to finish my bike ride and go home. Looking appalled at my statement, the 2 men reluctantly went ahead.  I couldn’t seem to clean off the wound once I reached my apartment which made me go to Palo alto medical foundation emergency care. After checking me thoroughly to ensure there was no sign of a fracture, the doctor cleaned the wound and gave me a go ahead for my upcoming triathlon which was the mermaid series triathlon.  “As long as you are feeling fine.” she said.

 

 Rest before the race: I rested for the next few days, applying antibiotic cream on the wound and wrapping it up with a bandage.  Maybe God wanted me to rest before the D day I thought.  I was a little tensed as doing an Olympic distance triathlon had been on my bucket list since last year. No way was I giving this event a miss. What would hurt more than the actual wound was not doing this event after training for it for months, ever since I landed in the USA.  I collected by bib on Wednesday evening as I examined the ingredients inside. There was a timing chip to be worn around the ankle, a small bib on the helmet of the cycle, a bib around the cycle and a bib for the tee shirt.  A wristband was tied around my wrist which was my entry ticket inside the transition area on race morning. “If you lose this band, take your ID card with you and the volunteers will give you another one on race morning.” said the race director. “Got it,” I replied.

 

Pre-race prep: Wearing my tri suit and partly my wet suit, I set off to Capitola beach on Saturday morning. My hubby and daughter accompanied me and were to hang out at the beach until I was done with my event. My race started at 7:20 am and the transition area opened at 6:00 am. It was chilly in the morning but the weather was predicted to be warm later that day.  The transition area was situated up Depot hill which was at least 800 m from the beach.  I assembled my bike, laid down my towel on the left side of the bike with things that I would need post my swim which comprised of my helmet, goggles, GU gels, shoes and T shirt.  Zipping up my wet suit, putting on  my cap and goggles, I set off to the beach.

 

The mermaid feeling: The Olympic distance participants were already assembled on the beach and taking a dip in the ocean which was unexpectedly warm. The sand on the beach was colder than the water, we joked with one another.  At the count of go, we set off. Entering the water, we began swimming our strokes. There were paddle boats and jet skis hovering around us in the ocean-volunteers who were to come to our aid in case any of us faced any difficulty. We were allowed to hold on to the boats, in case we were out of breath.  The ocean was a little choppy as compared to the other day when I had attended a swim clinic. Considering it was a full moon day, I wasn’t surprised. The other women (this was an only women’s event) were faster swimmers and went ahead of me. Initially I began to panic wondering if I was doing something wrong only to remind myself that the others practically grew up near the ocean and were probably swimming in the sea since childhood while this was only my 4th time.  I decided to just go with the flow, savoring every stroke against the mighty waves. At one point, I was the only one left as others had finished their swim. Having the entire ocean to myself was an incredible feeling.  By the time I got out, I glanced at my watch to see I had taken lesser time to swim a mile in the ocean as compared to the pool.  My legs felt wobbly as I ran to the transition area. The volunteers clapped and cheered for me all the way.

Transition one: The hardest part was to get out of the wet suit which is why body gliders are highly recommended. These are to be applied before putting on the wet suit and it helps in getting off the suit for your next division.  Slipping my tee over my head, buckling my helmet and putting on my shoes, I steered my cycle to the blue line where I was to mount my bike and ride ahead.

 

A hilly ride:  It was a rather steep hill that greeted me in the beginning which compelled me to get off my bike and walk it up to a point when I could start pedaling. The route was a tough one comprising of rolling hills all the way. It took us through some beautiful woods. Other fellow bikers kept egging us and cheering on saying “you’ve got it, you are getting there.” That kept me going and while coming downhill, I was extra careful as I did not want another fall.  It was a two-loop course where volunteers were cheering us throughout. While coming back I got a glimpse of the pristine blue ocean on the left. It was unbelievably a hot day which made the biking part quite challenging as we had to battle both the hills and the heat.

Transition 2: Dismounting from the bike and placing it on the rack, I popped a GU gel and went off to complete the last leg-the 10 km run.

 

The heat run: Brick training becomes an essential aspect while training for a triathlon as running even a measly 10 km post a 40 km bike ride becomes an arduous task. Thankfully I had practiced some brick workouts as incorporated by my friend cum coach Viv Menon which came in handy on the D day. It was a hill that once again greeted me in the beginning of the run.  The sun was out in full flow, exuding heat in a fierce manner. I ran past the cliff which overlooked the ocean below. Spotting the high tide waves and surfers, I longed to jump inside to escape the heat. However I had to keep going. While running, I spotted some of the Olympic distance participants on the way and found myself overtaking them. We hi-fived each other. The last lap towards the finish line was right on the beach. Running on sand in the middle of noon was no easy feat. However, the locals hanging out at the beach kept egging me on and I soon found myself crossing the finish line in style. I felt goosebumps on hearing the emcee announce saying ‘she’s from India, currently at Stanford and this is her first Olympic distance.’

The moment of joy: I was officially the mighty mermaid as the Olympic distance participants were called. It was such a wonderful moment having completed something  on my bucket list. The medal was carved in a shape of a mermaid and the most beautiful one that I had ever seen. For some reason, I was always intrigued by these legendary aquatic creatures since childhood.  It’s an old folklore that mermaids are associated with ill fortunes but this one managed to bring me a sense of accomplishment and immense joy as I posed with my country’s flag near at the finish line!

Vote of thanks: Thank you Viv! Don’t think I could have achieved this without your guidance and training! Aditya Sahu-another person who always saw potential in me even when I didn’t. Ashok- for always being supportive. Amit and Samara-for being there for me always.

What makes us stronger: lessons from the movie

Watched the movie ‘Stronger’ today: a film based on the Boston marathon bombings in 2013 and how it affected the life of Jeff Bauman. While standing at the finish line, waiting for his girlfriend who was just a few minutes away, 2 bombs explode, shattering lives, faith and hope. With both his legs being amputated, the story goes on to showcase Jeff’s struggles in building both his physical and mental strength through rehabilitation, fit enough to wait at the finish line for his girlfriend 3 years later after the unfortunate incident.
The movie incorporates an important lesson that ever person especially a runner/cyclist/triathlete can learn :
The willingness to live and move on even when faced with adversity.
Life doesn’t always follow the course that we want it to yet we must learn to move on.  When you are running a particular race/trail, the conditions may not always adhere to your expectations. You may feel like giving up in exasperation many a time. However what is important is to not get bogged on and find your way to the finish line with a smile.
Similarly with life, things may not always work out the way we want them to.  It’s essential to hold our nerve, feel every breath of ours that makes us feel lucky to be alive and embrace the gift called life!
Do watch it whenever it releases in India! A movie that will instill hope,  faith and makes you realize that adversities can make you ‘stronger ‘ ( pun intended) than crumble you!

A run on Friday the 13th

I was out for a short run today. There was a slight chill in the air and the colours of the fall were beginning to show on the trees.
The roads were quite empty and for a change I wasn’t carrying any music with me.  The route soon curved into a trail which I decided to venture into. I ran along the narrow pathway, noting the eerie silence of woods when I heard a sudden sound that made me stop immediately. It was the rustling noise of the leaves. I looked to see what it was and there wasn’t a soul around.
I continued running and once more heard that rustling sound again. As soon as I paused, the noise stopped. Strange I thought. I looked around warily but it was just me and the woods. As soon as I began my run, the rustling sound occurred again. This time I was determined to get to the bottom of this invisible intruder. I stood still for a few minutes.
Spotting a dark shadow near a tree, I crept towards it. Suddenly something jump up like a spring.  I screamed loudly only to find a minute later that this ghostly companion of mine turned out to be a bushy tailed squirrel. Feeling foolish yet shaken at the same time, I turned to finish my run.
On the way back I hit the roads again which were relatively empty. I ran past some quaint looking cottages. They had some pretty gardens and well manicured lawns. I suddenly caught sight of this deadly looking face with a hollow grin from the window. I shrieked loud enough for a cyclist to pause and see if I was ok. I trembled and pointed to that face only to find out it was a pumpkin carved with eyes, nose and a wide mouth. Halloween was just around the corner and every house invariably had some spooky decorations.
It was turning out to be a weird morning so I decided head home as soon as possible. When I reached my apartment, the front door was refusing to open as it was locked from inside. I decided to go to the backyard and enter through the patio door.  As I stood there, trying to open the back door with my key, a light breeze caused this rake placed in the yard to fall, making me Jump out of my wits at the noise.
After letting myself inside my apartment, I opened the front door to empty the garbage outside. Still shaken by the peculiar series of events , I was mulling over  a rather queer morning. Just as I was just about to enter my apartment, I heard a voice saying “hey how’s it going”. For the nth time that morning I was startled, only to come face to face with my neighbor. ” you look pale, are you ok?”. I nodded.
I was about to narrate my strange experience, when she said something that made me realize the reason for a rather spooky morning.
” Hey btw happy Friday the thirteenth! 😈
I was shook my head tracing back to my morning run. At least it hadn’t been a dream.

Entwined in a grape vine: The Napa Valley half marathon experience

It’s a very hilly route”, the lady at the expo told me apologetically. I was mentally prepared for it as I had heard a lot about the rolling hills at Napa. This was just a training run and I was hoping to go easy and finish it in an easy 2:20 or so. We had arrived a day earlier for the race. The two-hour drive from Stanford city gave us a glimpse of the scenic vineries albeit from a distance. Checking in to our rooms at the Best Western plus inn, we decided to just relax and catch a game of American football on TV. It was too late to do the wine tours so we decided to do them post the race the next day before heading back to Stanford.

The race was at 8:00 am and the start point was just 5 minutes from the hotel by Uber. Skyline park-where the race commenced was a huge area that overlooked some mountains and wineries.  There were stalls serving bananas and oranges before the run.   People were slowly assembling near the start point. They looked a carefree lot who were out there to enjoy the experience instead of stressing about pace and time. While I was doing my stretches in the holding area, I overheard a few people discussing the route and comparing it to the grueling San Francisco half marathon and the Big Sur terrains. “Gosh it’s pretty hilly. You will be fine only if you have trained for it.”

I decided not to let that bog me down and averted my eyes to the hot air balloons that were cruising down the valley.  As a little girl, I loved watching balloons and seeing them float away-no boundaries, no direction-like free spirits they would wonder, basking in the light breeze that would carry them where they were destined to go.  It was almost 8:00 am and the announcements had begun.

Starting with the National Anthem, they went on to introduce a rather special guest for the day. One of the runners amidst us namely Dean was hit by a truck while he was cycling in North Carolina. He was paralyzed waist down and after a year of treatment, he was here at Napa to conquer the hills along with his doctor, the truck driver who had hit him and whom he had the large heartedness to forgive and befriend.  Hearing this story, I felt goosebumps as I glanced in admiration at Dean who waved to the crowd. It required immense strength to run a hilly terrain but even more to be able to forgive someone who almost landed you on your death bed.

 

After the countdown, we began our run. An incline greeted us within the first 100 metres. It was not going to be an easy route, I thought. Besides, the heat was already setting in, making me feel thankful that I hadn’t worn my jacket or leggings. I had plugged in some retro music besides my usual EDM that would keep me going on a daunting terrain. More slopes greeted us as we were surrounded by the lush green vineyard on both sides.  It seemed tougher than any other route that I have run on. By the 4th km, I felt drained as these slopes sapped my energy levels. Looking around for some inspiration like I normally do at events, I spotted an old though a strong looking lady who as cruising along in an effortless manner. Deciding to keep her as a pacer, I dutifully followed her. She seemed to be comfortable on a hilly terrain, probably a local who has run her practice runs on this same route.

At the 13th km mark, I spotted some horses galloping away in the ranch. Seeing their free-spirited stature seemed to help in my momentum as I cruised along.  The sun started beating down hard. Back in India, it was more humid than hot unlike here where the heat was raw and brutal- probably enough to make a barbecue out of you.  My ‘pacer’ was still in sight and 15 km were already done.  The volunteers guided us at every juncture and there were Gu gels and water every 2 miles.

 

I observed a lot of hefty people overtaking me on the hills emphasizing the fact that one’s body weight had not much to do with speed if their training was strong and adequate enough. Personally, I have seen people with a good amount of flab able to clock terrific timings which attributed to their lung capacity or in technical terms the vo2 max.

 

At a couple of points, the slopes resembled a tsunami where we literally had to look up to them. Some runners decided to walk on those while I jogged up slowly with the intention of getting done with the heat and hills. I was told that a bottle of wine would be gifted to us at the end of the run long with the finishers medal. The thought of the red wine bottle waiting for me at the finish line was enough incentive to pace up my strides, overtaking my ‘pacer’ in the process. At the 18th km however, I was horrified to see the road turning uphill which left me wondering if these hills would ever end.

Gathering all my reserve, I kept going, trying my best to not let the awful heat get to me. I ran and ran till I crossed the finish line in a surprisingly decent time of 2:10:17. I collected my medal, my bottle of red wine, posed with my Indian flag and rushed back to the hotel.

It was now time to be entwined in the grape vine this time in a more relaxed manner as compared to the pounding amidst the hilly contours of the vineyards in the morning.

A lesson from the hills

We were at sequoia national park on Sunday (September 3rd) which was famous for its giant sequoia trees. It was a long hike downhill to see the gigantic trees and we were told it would take twice the amount of time to come back to our original spot which was an uphill route.

Towing along with our 3 year old daughter in a pram, it seemed like an arduous task considering it was a trail and the weather didn’t exactly lend its support considering it was a hot day. Having a deadline of just an hour to reach our bus which included photo stops added to the challenge.

The runner in us made us break into a run and we cruised downhill wheeling down the pram eager to see the sight of those majestic trunks. It was a breeze as we whizzed past other tourists who gaped at us in awe. After a few clicks, we made our way back towards the bus!

It was literally an uphill task as we jogged back. Considering it was at 6000 ft elevation, it was no joke. Puffing and taking a little walk breaks, we put in immense effort to run up those inclines.

During our unexpected hill repeats, I couldn’t help draw parallels of the uphill and downhill running to life. Coming down or falling in the eyes of others was so easy I thought. It just takes a harsh word, an insensitive gesture or a moment of insanity. It’s amazing how one negative action tends to wipe out all that positive deeds and sticks out like an ugly head of a vicious serpent. Reminds me of the snakes and ladder game where one bad move makes you glide all the way down to bottom.

It takes a lot more effort to climb back to glory or replenish your tarnished image. When you go uphill, you struggle with those aches and pains in your calves, trying to normalize your breathing as your lungs feel as though they are about to burst. It’s indeed a struggle which makes it worthwhile when you reach the top and look down at your journey. It’s requires a lot of tenacity and courage to face up to challenges to make it to the top or earn that equity among people. Just as it’s easy to destroy relations, it’s as difficult to build back the camaraderie.

We soon reached the top with 3 minutes to spare. I looked back down at the trail and thought that nature never ceases to amaze me with its humbling lessons. For a runner, these hill repeats act as not only as a teacher but also a reminder of life’s analogy!

Happy teachers day everyone!

Global MRR: The perfect home run -the san Francisco giant race half marathon experience

It was Thursday evening and the eve of the Ganpati festival.  My eyes were burning as though they were on fire and my body felt like it was in flames. Apparently, the hill running on Wednesday afternoon at 3 pm did not agree with me and it appeared as though I was coming down with a viral. I lay on my couch, thinking about an event that I had signed up for. It was the San Francisco giant race on Sunday-August 27th. I wasn’t planning to race this one, considering the fact I had already raced in 3 events ever since I landed in the USA. It was just a fun run where one gets to enjoy San Francisco city and finish inside the AT&T stadium which was the home for the San Francisco Giants baseball team

 

I woke up on Friday morning and celebrated the festival by calling my friends from different nationalities over.  The entire day was eventful though I couldn’t get the necessary rest as my body demanded. I popped an antibiotic pill after consulting my doctor as I began to feel the pain in my throat. I woke up on Saturday morning to find that the fever had miraculously vanished albeit I was still feeling a little tired. Collecting my bib from San Francisco and being privy to a conversation to runners who emphasized on the joy of running, I came home to entertain another set of guests for Ganpati. I finally managed to catch my sleep for 3 hours before doing my Visarjan in the evening.

 

I decided to take the event light and easy, after all not every run is to be raced. I woke up on Sunday morning only to be greeted by my menstrual cycle. Just as my fever had subsided, my body was fatigued by those menstrual cramps. Yet my spirit was undeterred.

 

I reached the AT&T park where runners were already huddled up, chattering and clicking pictures. The crowd appeared less competitive than the one at the San Francisco half marathon and it was evident that people were just here to enjoy themselves, going by their body language.  It was 6:30 am and unexpectedly warm, quite unlike the San Francisco weather that greeted me 3 weeks before when I was here for the double road race event.

 

I stood there at the start line listening to a series of announcements by the emcee but one particular one caught my attention. “Whenever you feel down and tired, think about those undergoing some sort of treatment at the hospital and run for them.” I will remember that, I told myself. The half marathon and the 10 k race started at 7 am. It was initially a little crowded and I had to wade through the sea of runners. I looked around at the tall buildings and the streets of the big city. At the 3rd kilometer, I felt the pangs of tiredness. The antibiotics were wearing me down, so I slowed down my pace and mentally prepared myself to just cross the finish line even if it took me 2 and a half hours.

 

The route took us through the pier as we got a glimpse of the serene Pacific Ocean. We ran along the fisherman’s wharf and Crissy field which overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge.  I reminisced the double road race which was conducted here 3 weeks ago when the weather was pretty chill.  I was burning the roads back then and today it looked like it was payback time for them. It didn’t help matters as the sun was fierce that morning and I had to keep stopping due to the menstrual cramps.

We took a U turn and got a view of the iconic golden gate bridge. I noticed how the foreigners stopped in the middle of their run to click selfies with the bridge without a care in the world about their timing. We came out of Crissy field and the heat had become unbearable by then. I felt like a fool overdressed in my attire of inner and leggings while only a singlet and a pair of shorts would have sufficed, given the conditions. It made me me look like an Eskimo running inside a desert. We soon encountered a hill, probably the 4th one in the route and on the right side of the cliff, we could see the calm blue sea below. We came down and ran along the ocean. At one point, I noticed that it was covered by smooth brown sand and the sight for some reason reminded me of the song “Mushkil bada yeh pyar hai” from the Bollywood movie Gupt. Beginning to hum that song, I ran ahead.

 

There were water stations at every 2 km thankfully and cheer leaders who were wearing colourful outfits and cheering from the side lines. I smiled and waved to them which made me forget my battle with the sun. It began to get hotter and hotter. It felt like running inside a microwave oven and I had to keep pouring water on my head. I soon spotted the 2:15 pacer at the 17th km and decided to stick with her to distract myself from the heat.

 

Through the streets of San Francisco, we cruised getting closer to the place where we started off. Giving a hi five to the cheer leaders, we soon reached the Mile marker which said 12 miles. Just 1 mile to go which was 1.6 km approximately! I was eager to finish strong inside the stadium.  I gathered all my reserve and ran ahead with the pacer just a little behind me and it was a phenomenal feeling finishing inside the AT&T park -the home of the San Francisco Giants! People on the stands were cheering for us, making us feel like champions. Crossing the finish line in a surprisingly decent timing of 2:15, I collected the medal which was instantly handed over by the volunteers.

I felt a familiar rush of jubilation and adrenalin rush-that unmistakable runner’s high! Suddenly feeling a little weak from all that excitement, I sat down for a while which prompted a couple of concerned volunteers to come up and ask me if I required any medical assistance. I shook my head stating it was just plain fatigue due to my menstrual cramps.

 

I walked around the field, did my stretches and posed with the Indian flag. There were counters with volunteers who were giving out protein bars, fat free chocolate milk, bananas and chips. Apparently, they were even giving out free beer which I had to skip considering my condition, and I got into an uber to reach home.

The giant race was not a run that I raced. Yet it made me feel elated as I realized the real essence of running for fun. It would have been much more enjoyable if only the weather had been better. I watched the runners around me-people came there to have fun, bask in the runners’ spirit and just enjoy themselves.  Something that one can learn from. It may not have been my best timing but hey! Who was complaining! I finished inside the stadium of the giants and ended up going home with a strike rate! Pun intended!

 

A spiritual encounter

I had accompanied my American neighbor on a hill run at the dish area behind Stanford. It was 3:00 pm in the afternoon and quite hot being the peak of summer. The daunting slopes did not make it easy added to which I had forgotten to pop a gu gel which I usually do before my long runs. I was also unusually tired this week due to some added work load. Besides my mind was a little aghast by a few recent instances that thrived on a lot of negativity. Nevertheless I decided to brave the heat and the hills with just a bottle of water in my hand.

I asked my friend to go ahead, not wanting to deter her pace, stating that I would meet her once I was done with the loops. Agreeing, albeit in a reluctant manner, she went ahead. Unfortunately I also forgot to carry my music which was usually my ally when it came to tackling tough terrains. There was practically no shade and the slopes were getting steeper. After a while my calves and quads begin to ache as I cruised up the inclines. Taking a sip of water I diverted by mind and looked around at the dried savana grass and the view of the distant mountains.

The battle between my mind and my body continued as I staggered up those slopes cursing myself for not having my energy bar before I left home. I wished I had my earlier trainer from the army who usually dosed out the right motivation to complete an arduous training session. During such moments I tend to offer a silent prayer which I did today in the hope that faith would help me move these unrelenting mountains. I paused for a minute , bent down to stretch and ease my calves from tightness.

“Are you alright?” I looked up to see a man of Indian origin looking at me in concern. I was pleasantly surprised to see an Indian at the dish area especially at this hour. I nodded in affirmative.

“I saw you struggling. Maybe you should take some water”, he said, gesturing to my water bottle that I was holding.

I took a sip.

“Better?” He asked with a smile.

I said yes and looked at him curiously. He had a kind face with rather large ears, big eyes and a toothy grin. Slightly plump in his build, he was wearing a green tee, black tracks with sports shoes.

“Maybe you should walk for a while before you continue running”, he suggested. Considering this was turning out to be my off day for a run, I agreed. “Are you from India?” I asked him.

“Yes and no”, he stated. I looked at him baffled.

“I used to stay in Mumbai but have come to the Bay Area for a short purpose”, he replied

“Oh really?”, I exclaimed, delighted to see a mumbaikar. ” I am from Mumbai too.”.

” I know. ” he smiled flashing his toothy grin again. I wondered how he knew and just for a minute I had an inkling that I had seen him somewhere or maybe he had one of those familiar looking faces.

“Which part of Mumbai”, I asked.

“Prabhadevi.”

” I used to stay in Colaba.” I said. “so you are here on work?

He smiled without answering as he continued walking. “I suppose you are a student at Stanford university. Must be tough managing academics and your running?” He asked

Now life was certainly tough here as there was no domestic help-a luxury I was used to back in India. Doing all the household chores, managing a 3 year old daughter, studies and training was exhausting altogether.

I shared my thoughts with him and said, “Maybe the fatigue caught up with me today. Probably that’s why I am having an off day. ”

He looked at me for a while.
“You are battling multiple things when the only battle at this time should be with that inner voice which wants you to quit. Just go up till there and come back”, he said pointing to one stretch.

I looked at him surprised as these were the same words my earlier trainer from the army used in order to motivate me to get my workout done for the day.

I instantly ran up to the point and suddenly my legs felt stronger. On his encouragement I went up to the point 3-4 times and I found myself conquering those inclines.

” You are a fighter and you have it in you to fight out tough situations. You don’t need me to tell you what to do”.

I looked at him and felt that familiar feeling of seeing him somewhere but dismissed it again.

“Thank you” I told him.

“I didn’t do anything. “, he said. “It was all your effort. Remember, whenever you are in difficulty, always believe in yourself and tough situations will become easy. Sometimes we tend to mull over things that are not significant at all. You don’t have to curse yourself for forgetting to have an energy drink or your music.”

I gaped at him wondering how he knew. “H…h.. how…?” I stuttered in surprise.

” I know everything Swetha. Don’t you recognize me? I thought you would when I said I am from Prabhadevi. You have visited me several times. Anyways convey my regards to Amit and Samara.”

I stood there feeling a sudden shiver despite the heat as I felt my arms prickling with goosebumps.

“Wh… who are you”, I stammered . He flashed his toothy smile again and suddenly the sun shone brightly at that time.

I heard my neighbor calling out to me.

“Swetha, I was waiting for you at the gate, didn’t find you. Hope you are ok?” She said

I turned back to see that man gone. I looked around frantically wondering where he was.

“Hey are you ok? You seem pale “. She expressed with concern.

“That man…where is he?” I said faintly

” I don’t see anyone here”, she said. “Come , let’s go. ”

Still shaken by what happened at the hills, I went home and opened my apartment door. I saw a sudden ray of bright light falling on a small idol on my table.

I stood there transfixed as realization dawned on who that stranger on the hills was… I glanced at the date and calendar and realized that the most important festival in Mumbai and other parts of India was just a day away……

I stood there transported back to my city as chants of “Ganpati Bappa Morya” played in my mind…

It was Ganesh Utsav time…

A dream come true

It was buzzing with energy at Azad maidan. Small puddles were present on the roads due to the rains the previous night. The weather was as pleasant as the camaraderie that was exchanged between the runners at the start line. As the race flagged off, I glanced at my favorite sportsperson standing on the stage before I took off on my run.

Cruising through Flora fountain, I found myself in front of 2 iconic landmarks. The majestic Gateway of India and the glorious Taj Mahal palace and tower stood facing one another, holding their own in terms of their splendor. Sail boats bobbed up and down the restless Arabian Sea as the sky and sea portrayed different shades of grey.

Monsoons tend to bring out a bewitching charm about the city and entices me under its spell. Like Dorothy from ‘The wizard of Oz’, I whizzed away into the lanes of colaba causeway- my regular haunt to shop for those exquisite pieces of accessories.

The presence of cafe mondegar didn’t hurt either as I smiled thinking about the beer post the run. Cruising past vivanta Taj, I took a U turn towards the road which led to marine drive. As I reached NCPA, I gazed at the coastline of Mumbai with the buildings in an arch. “It could probably give San Francisco bay line some stiff competition”, I thought. Queens necklace as it’s popularly called, always manages to make me gape in awe. I looked at the waves crashing against the wave breakers almost as though they were recognizing me from the past. “Yes you know me “, I told them. ” I have run past you several times. ”

I recognized familiar faces, smiled and waved. Passing by the Intercontinental Hotel, the mighty Mantralaya, I soon spotted the finish line which was just 100 m away. It was a perfect 21.1 km just how a half marathon race distance should be.

I was waiting to embrace the finish line and friends post the run. However something strange was happening. I couldn’t get past the line as an unseen force appeared to be holding me back! I was trying to push my feet forward but could not move an inch- making me feel as though I was fighting a current while swimming in the ocean. I looked around to see others breeze past the finish line with ease. “Strange”, I thought. “My feet appeared to be stuck on the ground. I couldn’t have hit the wall just a few cms from the finish line.. I looked around and called to fellow runners in a desperate manner!

Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me hard… “swe.. what happened? You were shouting. ”

I sat up and found myself looking into my husbands face. I looked out of the window to see the Stanford courtyard staring at me.

“It all seemed so real- running in my favorite city in a route that I knew so well. My own backyard.” I thought wistfully.

I mentioned this to my hubby who grinned and said “Swe you were dreaming about running the IDBI Federal Life insurance Mumbai half marathon!”

I looked at the calendar this morning which said August 10th. Just ten more days to go….

 A

Global MRR- From ‘Tri’ying to ‘Tri’umph-the Santa Cruz triathlon experience

The Icebreaker: It was half past seven and a rather foggy morning at Santa cruz which was just an hour away from Stanford. We were at Cowell beach for an open water swim clinic-a session where one is taught some skills for swimming in an ocean and is usually conducted couple of weeks prior to a triathlon  event. The sea looked cold, grey and intimidating quite contradictory to the vision I had of it which was a shade of pristine blue basking in the warmth of the sunshine.

I looked at it uncertainly wondering how I was going to enter such forbidding waters. I turned to my husband and daughter who had accompanied me on this little journey. “If you don’t feel like entering the water, we can just chill and hang out”, my husband told me.

Doing an open water triathlon was always on my bucket list. This swim clinic was a golden opportunity to see if I had the potential to swim amidst the waves and overcome the mental block I had towards sea swimming. Being a certified diver I had explored the underwater world several times in the past and have one pool triathlon to my credit. However, I knew it was not the same thing.

My fears were soon dispelled as I saw more people at the clinic who were practically sailing in the same boat. After a brief round of introductions, we wore our wetsuits and were asked to get into the water. Being from India, I was used to warmer waters and the sudden cold wave took me off guard which made me gasp and splutter. Some reassurance on the part of my instructor put me at ease and I soon found myself befriending the waters, swimming a decent distance of 350 metres.

Ocean vs pool: Though I was swimming in a pool regularly, the ocean was a different ball game altogether. Firstly, there was no visibility unlike the case in a pool where you could get a clear view of the floor. A pool comprises of 2 closed ends where one can pause to catch their breath which is not there while swimming in an ocean. Also, one is likely to lose direction in the sea if not careful which is quite unlikely in a pool. Currents and tides pose a challenging factor and can drain one’s energy completely which are not present in a pool.

By end of day, I had fallen in love with the experience which made me sign up for the sprint category. “If this is your first open water, I recommend you start with the sprint distance and then gradually migrate to the Olympic distance.” I was told to which I readily agreed as I was of a similar thought process.

After getting some inputs on the transition process that takes place during a triathlon, I went back home a happier soul, gearing up for my first international open water triathlon the following week.

The D day: We drove down on Saturday afternoon to Santa Cruz.  Mounting my bike in a ford SUV, we managed to get to the city in one piece and checked into hotel seaway inn which was right opposite Cowell beach and close to the transition area. After collecting my bib from the sports basement centre, we headed out to one of the restaurants along the beach, hung around for a while and went back to get some rest.

Transition assembly: I had to be at the transition area by 6:45 am to assemble my cycle in a place assigned as per my bib number. I put out my t shirt, running shoes and a small bag which contained items that I would need post my swim like a gu gel, etc. All participants were given red wrist bands which had to be worn, otherwise we weren’t allowed into the transition area. This was to ensure security so that our bikes wouldn’t get stolen. After assembling my bike, I set off to the beach and put on my wetsuit over my tri suit. Wetsuits are highly recommended as the water temperatures tend to dip quite low. The colour of the cap is assigned based on the race category and wave time. My wave time was at 8:30 am and I was in good time to get a warm up swim in the ocean. This was essential as it helped me acclimatize for my main swim during the event.  The waves were friendlier this time and I couldn’t wait for the race to start while I stood there chatting with a few locals who had done a few triathlons prior to this event.

Mermaid feeling: It was 8:30 am and we were asked to pass the timing mat. I was called back stating that my timing chip was missing as the mat didn’t beep when I passed through. I looked at my ankle in dismay and was almost in tears when the volunteers hushed me towards the race director-Mike. Being a kind-hearted person that he was, Mike immediately reassured me by noting down my bib number and asked me to go ahead with the swim. He had notified the volunteers stating my timing chip was misplaced which meant I would only get the overall time and not the split timing per division. I thanked him profusely and went into the water. By the time I was mentally down, but I kept pushing through the waves. Incorporating a free style stroke, I swam through the waves and soon forgot about my worries. There were enough volunteers on their paddle boats, ready to usher out anyone in difficulty. The day before I had seen some sea lions swimming in the same area and was wondering if I would have their company this morning. Unfortunately, they were nowhere in sight and it was just me and other fellow triathletes.  I reached the shore and scrambled out of the water. My hubby and daughter were there so I gave them a quick hug, removed my swim cap, goggles, wetsuit, dropped it off with them and ran towards the area where our bikes were placed.

T1: It was a good 500 m from the beach and this was counted as a part of the swim time. So, I literally ran barefoot all the way to the bike area, put on my t-shirt over my tri suit, helmet and goggles. Mounting on my bike, I peddled my way through a breathtaking course.

 

Biker’s thrill: An incline greeted us at the start of the course and we could hear the volunteers daggling their little bells shouting, ‘lower gear, lower gear’. Bringing my bike to a lower gear, I pedaled up slowly before I got on to a relatively flat course. On one side was a spectacular view of the sea shore, the cliffs and the sea gulls perched on a rock. On the other side were pretty houses with trimmed gardens that reminded me of those cottages I read about in Enid Blyton tales while growing up. There were several twists and turns and I had to take my eyes off the scintillating view of the sea to focus on the course. It was a 10 k loop and since I was doing the sprint distance, I had to do 2 loops of this course. I watched the other participants whiz past me shouting ‘left’ which was an alert given lest they collide unnecessarily with the cyclist in front.

T2: After finishing the second loop, I got off my bike, wheeled it back to the stands, took off my helmet and goggles, gulped down a gu gel and prepared myself for a 5 k run.

 

Brick run: I call this the brick run as my legs felt like bricks as soon as I got off my bike. They wobbled like jelly and even doing a measly distance of a 5 k was a challenging factor. Brick workout is highly recommended for those training for a triathlon as the transition from a bike to a run is the toughest part. Despite doing a few brick workouts, my legs felt numb. It was an incline which greeted us initially and since music was not allowed in such events, I had to distract myself by admiring fellow runners and the visual treats of the sea and sand below. Being a person who finds it tough to run without music, I held my nerve as I cruised through the 2.5 km loop 2 times before I embraced the finish line in style.

The reward: I was elated when the medal was handed over and beamed with pride. I thanked the race director once again for his large heartedness and got my overall timing of 2:03. I lifted my cycle and the Indian flag much to the amusement of other participants as they looked on smiling. Basking in the glory of my first international open water triathlon, I looked back at the ocean and reminisced the surreal experience all over again. I had certainly made a new friend by breaking mental barriers. It is said ‘minds are like parachutes, they work best when open’. I was glad that I opened my mind as I was certainly riding high from this experience and couldn’t wait to embrace more of such incredible ones in the upcoming year! I have miles to go before I leap so intend on doing a few more sprint triathlons before I migrate to the Olympic distance.

Vote of thanks: Personally, want to thank Viv Menon for his constant guidance and Aditya Sahu-both who have encouraged me to keep at it. Also wanted to express my thanks to my mentor Ashok Someshwar who has always boosted my confidence levels.

 

Guidelines :

  1. Body glide needs to be applied before putting on a wet suit as it helps one get in and out of it easily.
  2. Ear plugs are recommended during a sea swim as the water tends to get into the ears and could cause some kind of bacterial infection at times.
  3. Helmets need to have that CPSC sticker without which you will not be allowed to participate in events in the USA.
  4. Ensure that your bike is thoroughly serviced to avoid a flat tyre and chain breaking.
  5. Do not compete with others even if they are going faster as the race is with yourself and not others.

 

 

Global MRR-Double delight-the 8 k double road race experience

Double road race! For a runner, these words sounded as tempting as a double fudge sundae. I had heard about this concept from Bob Anderson-founder of the Runners’ world magazine when I met him at Stanford campus.   “It’s a race which is divided into 2 halves”, he said. “You run one distance, take a break for a certain period of time and then run the second half of the distance again. The challenging aspect is the part where you need to prepare your mind to run again after a break. Both timings will be added and that would sum up your timing of the total distance run.”

 

Bob had conducted double road races all over the world and was looking to do one in India. There were several distances ranging from 8 k (5+3 k),15 k (10+5 k) to 20 k (15+5 k). I decided to do the double 8k which was being held at San Francisco close to the iconic Golden gate bridge. There was also an individual distance of a 5 k and 3 k available and I decided to drag another person along as she was keen to do a 5 k and take baby steps towards running.

 

Bib pick up: The bib collection took place on the same day between 6:30- 7:30 am near the start point which was at Chrissy Field in San Francisco. It was a 40 minute ride from Stanford.  We reached the location at around 7:10 am. A chill gust of wind greeted us as we got out of the car. Treated to a generous spread of lush green grass, the view of the Golden gate which was partially covered with mist, the morning couldn’t have been more beautiful. Small tents were placed on the field where the bibs were being handed over.

 

Bob was there at one of the counters and greeted me with a warm smile. “All set?” he asked. I nodded and returned his smile. We collected our goody bags, pinned our bibs and placed the bags in a counter where volunteers kept a hawk eye on our belongings till we finished the race.  The 5 k run was scheduled for 8 am and we soon gathered near the start line.

The route revelation: At the count of 3, we were off. It was partly on the trail and partly on the road. The path was surrounded by greenery on either side. There was a lake on the right and I looked at the still body of water. It appeared so calm and serene, almost like a sheet of grey placed amidst the green patch of land. The pathway curved right, giving way to the roads. Volunteers were stationed at the 1.5 km mark and it was heartwarming to see 3 little girls sweetly holding out glasses of water. Giving them a pat on the back, I continued running around the field and got a glimpse of the golden gate bridge. After a while I spotted some ducks standing on the fields and basking in the blissful weather. I glanced at them in a fascinated manner as the entire lot made a pretty sight on the green carpet with their webbed feet and elongated beaks. It was cloudy and the overcast sky had set in a mystical sort of gloom on the entire city of san Francisco. Coming across another turning and curve, the route brought us back to the trail. Volunteers stood at different points guiding us in a flawless manner.  I soon crossed the finish line, completing my 5 k in 27 minutes.

The break: This was the first time where I was not handed over the medal after crossing the finish line as I had another leg of the race to be completed. I walked around the field and did some cool down stretches. There was a 45 minute break for those running the double road distance while the 5 k runners received their medals. I spotted Bob and went over to him. He was in conversation with some elite runners and introduced me to them. I was awed by their humility and friendliness. Despite their accolades and achievements, they were warm and appreciative about others’ efforts towards running-a trait that I admire in people.

 

The second leg: It was time for the second leg which was the 3 k. Now the distance by itself was not daunting. However, the fact of having to run after a break created a sense of lethargy especially since I had given it all in the initial 5 k run.  A lot of people whom I knew found it tough to run once the rhythm was broken. I wondered how I would fare considering that my legs were still tired. I decided to focus on the beauty of the route which was again a mix of trail and road. I ran by the lake and took a different turn this time, passing through the tufts of grass soaked in the morning dew. After a slight turn, I found myself on the road, going around the field where I took a U turn and entered the trail zone again.  My legs were pounding by this time and I felt like sprawling on the grass. I decided to run the last km with my heart and crossed the finish line in 15 minutes. I looked in disbelief when I saw that I had fared better in the second leg of the race. The beautiful medal was handed over and I eagerly grabbed it just like a child grabbing a candy bar.

 

There was a lucky draw happening and winners were gifted with a free DVD of Bob’s journey as a runner. I was thrilled to be amidst the lucky few. I thanked Bob for a novel experience and an opportunity to run through a beautiful route. It may just be a 3k on paper but it certainly wasn’t easy running post a break when all you wanted to do was just laze around after your first run and bask in the glory of having put your best foot forward.

An interesting concept undoubtedly and I looked forward to doing a few more of such double road races during my one year tenure in the bay area. Bob was hoping conduct one of these in India and I certainly hope it reaches the Indian roads.

 

After the customary pose with the medal and the Indian flag, I rode back home happily reminiscing the run. It had been equivalent to having a double sundae only this time the calories were burnt instead of being piled on!