All posts by Swetha

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.

The run by the Pacific Ocean: The Monterey bay/Big Surprise half marathon

I usually do not do back to back half marathons. However the course the Monterey Bay half marathon or the Big Sur half as it’s called, received such phenomenal reviews that I could not pass a chance to miss this one especially since I was in the Bay Area for only a year. It was scheduled on November 12th, right after the Golden Gate half marathon on November 5th.
Seeing the video of the course which was along the Pacific grove was too tempting to miss out. I signed up for it and drove to Monterey Bay which was about 1 hour and 49 mins from Stanford, with my husband and 3 year old daughter. Staying at Monterey Bay Marriott which was the host hotel of the event was convenient considering the start line was just 5 minutes away. The bib collection was right across the hotel and after collecting the bib, we headed off to explore the Monterey Bay aquarium which was both child and adult friendly.
There were several aquatic species and it was interesting to observe them in their domain. A large lake was present where kids were allowed to touch some of these salt water wonders.  After grabbing lunch of some grilled salmon at the local cafe, we headed to pebble beach and Carmel by the sea where we got a glimpse of the mighty waves in their splendor. We returned by 5 pm, grabbed an early dinner and hit the bed early as I always believed in a good sleep of 8-9 hours prior to the race morning.
The event was scheduled to begin the next morning at 6:50 am and the holding area was divided into several corals. Each coral was designated with a separate start time. The area was bustling with runners and warm ups. Slowly one by one, the corals started to move and I soon found myself crossing the start line.
I decided to adhere to the race manual where instructions to avoid headphones was stated clearly.  Despite this, I noticed a few people carrying music with them.  I also decided to avoid looking at my Garmin watch, bracing myself for one of the most scenic runs.
I ran through the streets of Monterey which were rather hilly. There were people playing music at different points as we cheered and clapped for them. I saw a couple of folks holding cut out posters of Jelly Fish and some interesting placards with motivational lines. After passing through a tunnel, I soon climbed up a steep incline leading to a street with an array of restaurants and pubs. After a few more climbs, I finally came face to face with the pristine Pacific Ocean.
 
Sparkling in the sunlight, this mass shade of blue made quite a pretty sight. It was delightful  to see the ocean merged with the sky and specks of white puffs floating above. On closer look, one could see these white puffs took the shape of seagulls as they flew above calling to one another in high shrills.
What a mesmerizing sight! I gazed in delight at nature’s wonders staring at the rock formations in the sea and the alluring waves crashing against them.  The sea of runners were no match for this sea of blue that was cascading in greater volumes.
The course was certainly hilly but with such a marvelous sight, any hint of fatigue was bound to evaporate.  The presence of volunteers added to the charm and it was a sheer delight to see drummers on the way, their arms moving in rhythmic action as they motivated the runners to go ahead with great fervour.
It was time to take a u-turn and move closer to the sea to bask in the glorious view once again.  Hearing the sound of the waves was so soothing that I was glad to have left my music behind.  The sun had now come out in full flow, as I continued running along the marine area, the fisherman’s wharf to the finish line where large number of volunteers stood cheering for us.
I was surprised to finish in a decent timing of 2:10, especially since I certainly wasn’t planning on racing this one.  Some runs need to be pure without adulterating it with technicalities of pace and time.  It’s important to run for yourself and in a place so invigorating that your joy knows no bounds.
 
After receiving the medal, I checked out the breakfast which was a fine spread of chocolate milk, peanut butter cookies, bananas, strawberries and bagels!  I just grabbed a chocolate milk and headed back to the hotel to gear up for a drive to a Big Sur.
It took about 39 minutes from the hotel as we took in the scenic course of the Big Sur marathon which was scheduled on the last Sunday of April every year. The route looked daunting with its winding slopes and heady winds. However its magnificent view of the ocean on one side made up for the grueling terrain which was probably the reason why it enticed several runners to run this one.
Beautiful courses are tough ones  yet the challenge seems worth it as one gets to bask in the bewitching and enchanting sights offered!
The Monterey Bay/Big Sur half is certainly one of the most scenic runs and one course which makes every participant proud of the fact that he/she is a runner!

The Mad Hatter Run-Dedicated to MRR

Random browsing on Facebook made me stumble upon this interesting event which was called the Zombie Halloween run hosted by Coastal trail runs.  It was apparently an event where one was supposed to wear Halloween costumes and run in the scenic Hellyer part at San Jose, a place which was less than an hour away from Stanford.  Runners are known to be a crazy lot and it was this little eccentric nature that takes us to the finish line even under the most trying circumstances. Wearing a costume only added to the fun element as my mind started racing through the several possibilities of what I could wear.

Fortunately, in the USA where Halloween was a big thing, I was spoilt for choices.  After a lot of deliberation, I decided upon the costume of the mad hatter-the character from Alice in wonderland.  I was somehow fascinated with most of the characters of this classic as they were a little weird and exhibited their tinge of madness that often evoked a smile. So here I was wearing a black and white outfit, matched with white gloves, a stick, a hat with rabbit ears which gave it an interesting tinge of the March hare, a horrendous long blond wig added and a walking stick.  Since the race began only at 9:15 am, my husband and daughter decided to accompany me to the event.

Reaching the venue, I was dismayed to see the other runners dressed in their ‘normal’ attire. Was I the only one to be dressed in this manner? What if I stuck out like a sore thumb? “Let’s go back” I told my hubby. “I am not getting out of the car like this.” “Oh, come on Swe, this is not India but USA. People just won’t care. Just come out and collect your bib. You have worn costumes run with our Mumbai road runners gang. What’s the issue?”  Reluctantly I stepped out and walked towards the start point where the bibs were being given. It was a beautiful park with a pond in the middle and ducks floating on it gaily.  It appeared to be a popular spot for running considering the number of runners doing their rounds and they hadn’t necessarily registered for this particular event.

I was greeted with smiles and comments like “great costume” as I collected my bib. I let out a sigh of relief as my daughter, myself and my husband basked in the beauty of the surroundings. We watched the runners come in and some of them had dressed up as bees and super heroes. It was gratifying to see children dressed up as little princes and princesses as they geared up for the 5k run. There was a full marathon, half marathon and a 10k run as well and I was participating in the latter. Running a half marathon in that fanciful costume seemed too daunting a task to complete.

At 9:15, we set off after the race director gave his go. It was a 1.5 km around the lake before we dashed off into the woods.  The course was a little muddy with a good number of inclines. I passed some shrubs and trees on the way, taking over a group of women dressed as nurses.  The course soon gave way to a trail with blades of grass as we approached the aid station serving energy drinks and water.  We had to go up that one more hill before we took a u-turn at a point.  So up I went and took a u turn and came gliding down the trail.  I passed some morning walkers with their dogs and was half afraid that my costume would agitate their pets. It didn’t thankfully and instead I was met with wide grins and compliments. The sun was up and about and I was more than halfway through the run.

The trail reminded me of the one that Alice runs through in the story while searching for the rabbit. She stumbles upon this tea party hosted by the march hare and the mad hatter which was me in this case. I looked around and chuckled at the thought of having a tea party in the middle of a trail and dismissed this thought away, focusing on reaching the finish line.  The muddy pathway soon gave way to the tufts of green grass towards the big arch where our medals were waiting for us. Crossing the finish line in 60 minutes, I was surprised both at the timing and for having finished 5th in my age category.

Considering that I wasn’t even in a proper running attire, I was quite pleased with the outcome. With my hubby and daughter, who had a ball watching the ducks, I sat down and took in the breakfast spread of bananas, bagels and cookies. We were told that the best costume prize would be announced and soon the race director asked us all to line up in one row. I was thrilled to be one of the prize winners and got to choose a gift which was a purple color water bottle-something that is always handy for runners during their long mileages.

Thanking the race director for the prize and a well-organized run, I went home happy, elated and a little mad -traits that personified the mad hatter.

 

I was a little wistful about having to miss the Halloween run of the Mumbai road runners this year, being in the USA. However this run more than made up for it as I proudly dedicate it to my family of runners back at home in India-the ever’green’ Mumbai Road runners! (pun intended)

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!