All posts by Swetha

Interview with MRR award winner – Pooja Varma

1.     How does it feel to win the MRR award?
 I’m elated! It was my most desired award and winning it was a dream come true for me.
2.Tell us about your association with MRR? 
I got associated with MRR around a year back after my Tata Mumbai marathon in 2018. I got to know about their monthly runs which are organized on the Mumbai marathon route. They have an amazing volunteer support as well. So, I started running with them since then. I have learnt a lot from this community.
Personally, I was weighing 79 kg few years back. Though I was working in the education field in a good post, I was very unfit and had breathing issues as well. My husband encouraged me to start running in order to lose weight. When I started, I was amazed at the results. My colleagues got encouraged and inspired towards running as well. So gradually I started participating in running events and there is no looking back since then. I am happy and humbled that I have managed to inspire many people to take up running and adopt this healthy lifestyle as well.
3.  What are your goals for 2019?
I am starting 2019 on a very positive note in spite of my debacle in the Tata Mumbai Marathon. I am looking forward to participating in fewer events as compared to last year.  I am focusing on mainly doing events that challenge me. This year I am taking it step by step and preparing for one event at a time.
4. How do think the running scenario in India can be improved? 
Firstly, we have to educate people about why running is important. As ambassadors, we have to set examples and encourage people to join us.  Especially women as they are reluctant to run or give importance to fitness. Running destresses me, keeps me positive and gives me energy to face the day ahead. I think this applies to most of us.

I got my PH

As 2019 dawned nice and bright, someone asked me what my running goals were for this year.

“To achieve my PH”, I replied promptly.

“PH?” asked that person with a quizzical expression. “What’s that?”

“Personal happiness”. I grinned and went on to explain.

The sheer happiness and enjoyment that I derive by completing an event irrespective of the distance is what I term as PH.

At one point I was chasing PBs be it in my running or triathlons. I kept glancing at my garmin feverishly whenever it buzzed at every km. There were times when I would come back from an event with a scowl on my face failing to cherish the scenic routes or the spirited atmosphere.

“How was your run?”would be met with a grumpy “I have done better” answer much to the chagrin of my partner. It got me reflecting back to the main reason why I took up running.

The runners high and the sheer kick of the endorphins is what got me hooked to the sport initially. Nothing can beat the adrenalin rush pulsating through your veins when you cross the finish line with million strangers cheering for you. No point running if I cannot derive joy from it, I decided.

Does that mean I criticize/ ridicule people who chase PBS or podiums? NO. Not at all.

As I firmly believe in the phrase “Different strokes for different folks”, I choose to respect people  for their goals and congratulate them for their achievements irrespective of the fact it may differ from mine and vice versa.

‘Live and let live’ is my motto.

Meanwhile I am just reveling in my newfound mantra as I look forward to some interesting events this year and as long as I live.

If I can feel the magic in every stride and in every mile without those tiresome niggles or injuries, I consider that my PB oops PH.

Next time someone asks me what my target is and how my run was, I hope to answer with this line “I got my PH”! #IamMRR

At the start line

The start line at any race is an interesting place as it gives you an opportunity to strike random conversations with strangers. Sometimes these little chats can end up changing your perspective towards life and be a recipient to several inspiring stories.
One such episode occurred couple of months ago at the starting line of the Ironman 70.3.
I was standing there observing people around me. Some were grim faced as though they were about to enter an operation theatre while others were cracking jokes and laughing their hearts out. It was at that time I noticed this lady standing just a few feet away. Our eyes met and instantly we exchanged smiles. Walking up to her I introduced myself and we eventually got talking about our reasons for attempting this grueling race.
“So, what’s your story?” I asked her.
“Well I used to be a really competitive runner. At one point, I was so obsessive about breaking timing barriers that it took a toll on me. I was asked to take it easy and that’s when I switched to triathlons. Recently I have been diagnosed with tumor and I wanted to attempt this Ironman race which has been on my bucket list.”
Taken aback, I was at a loss of words for a while.
“I..I..am sorry to hear this.” I finally managed to say. “I am sure you will make it to the finish line.”
“Ahh I hope so too.” She smiled. “I would like to enjoy this experience, something that I didn’t do earlier.” She replied with a faraway look in her eyes.
I looked at her and her face had a flurry of emotions written all over it. Regret? Remorse? Anxiety? Wistful? Maybe a combination of everything I thought.
As the horn blew, it was time to begin the race. I looked at the rising sun and offered a silent prayer hoping that this young lady would achieve her goal.
Neither did I ask her name nor did I see her after that. Yet I came out with a precious and a vital lesson that day. Probably more precious than the finishers medal.
It made me realize that there was more to life than just obsessing over personal bests or podiums. While its quite normal to feel thrilled about good performances, letting it get to our heads will cause nothing but misery and regret in the long run.
Life is an uncertain road ahead and as a certain filmy dialogue goes “Kya pata kal ho na ho.”

A colorful Navaratri: My Navrun experience

9 km 9 days 9 colors! Sounds daunting and exciting at the same time. While a lot of folks were honing their dandiya sticks or swaying to Garba, runners found a novel way to celebrate these 9 days. What better way to run a few miles every day wearing the appropriate color pertinent to that day? If it was too monotonous, one could opt to add variation to their workouts for these 9 continuous days.

NAV Run

Despite the fact that I barely landed in California after a whirlwind trip to India and despite the jet lag issue, the energy was buzzing high. From the first day, I was on the run literally speaking. After their workouts, runners had to post pictures of themselves in the particular color t shirt and write a few lines in relation to the color of the day.

 

For someone who had been focusing largely on triathlons, running had taken a back seat as I was busy working on my swim and bike. Running had received a rather step motherly treatment and this was a good occasion to revive my long-lost friend.

 

The first day was dedicated to a 9-km run wearing royal blue-a color that symbolized royalty and aristocracy. At the same time this shade being the color of the sky brought about a sense of balance as I realized that there were 8 more days to go.

 

The second day was again dedicated to a 9-km run followed by upper body strengthening adorning yellow. This was a color that was associated with optimism, youth, joy and sunshine. Being the color of lemons, it reminded me of the saying “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” The energy from this shade provided the necessary incentive to make the most of the given day and it turned out to be one where I achieved a double workout.

 

Day 3 was dedicated to green-the color that represents nature, growth, harmony and in other words a sense of balance. What better way to attain this than by cycling. Did 40 km. The sequence of continuous pedaling in a rhythmic manner felt like a harmony by itself, sort of a synchronized melody with nature and environment.

 

Day 4 was a color that was associated with moodiness and dullness. Grey was not a color that usually had me in high spirits which was why it was important to add a little variation to spice up things. The strength or ‘Shakti’ is showcased when your mind battles these inner demons to keep the spirits high. Ended up doing a 9-km run which was followed with a plank with my daughter seated on my back. It ended with taking a picture next to a bunch of red flowers.

 

Day 5 was dedicated to orange-a color that was associated with energy, enthusiasm, happiness and determination. Wearing this color created a sense of determination when you end up doing one of the toughest workouts and that which was essential for every runner. It was leg strenghthening day and at the end of it I was raring to go.

 

Day 6 was dedicated to white-a color associated with purity, peace and cleanliness. I personally identify with this color as it’s the meaning of my name. When your mind is pure and at peace, free from all the niggling doubts, you accomplish something really worthwhile. So, ended up doing a 9-km run.

 

Day 7 was dedicated to red-a color that symbolized action, heat, adventure, willpower and determination. The willpower and determination pushed me to do a 9-k run followed by 90 seconds plank. Such an action-packed workout generates heat and which was cooled down by doing a 1.5 km swim in the pool.

 

Day 8 was sky blue which was associated with stability, faith and freedom. Cycling gives that sense of freedom while core provided that stability. So, ended up doing 30 km cycling followed by bicycle crunches, leg raises and flutter kicks. Blue also produces a calming effect so ended up doing 9 sets of surya namaskars which soothed my nerves.

 

Day 9 was dedicated to pink-a color that represented care, compassion and love of oneself and of others. It reminded me of the saying ‘Love yourself first and everything else falls into place.’ Running and fitness helps to care for your mind, body and soul. Pink is also a color that represents our inner child so the 9-km run unleashed the inner child in me. Pink also represented sunset clouds which indicated that it was time to bid goodbye to this year’s Navrun edition which had come to an end.

 

Day 10 was dedicated to the selfless armed forces-our guardian angels who were sacrificing their lives so that civilians could get a good night’s sleep. It was the color of camouflage and patriotism just oozed out of our veins thinking about our jawans in adverse conditions.

 

It was interesting to see several participants express their interpretation of the several colors and how it reflected on their workouts. The energy was high this year with positive vibes flowing like a river. Participants kept supporting and motivating one another. It was an incentive to wake up every day in the morning, wear different colors and rush to run, swim or cycle. Every person inspired others to put their best foot forward. It was almost as though we were all swaying to the same tune from different parts of the world in a rhythmic manner that sure could have given a complex to the dandiya and garba dancers. 🙂

 

A hearty thanks to Mumbai road runners and especially to Bijay Nair for having come out with this unique concept. With the blessings of the Goddess, hope to see many more such successful editions of Navrun in the coming years. Jai mata di!

Comeback run on home turf

“What was I thinking when I signed up for the 21 km distance? I must have been crazy. I would have been better off doing the 10 km run.” These thoughts kept plaguing my head while humidity was busy sapping the energy levels from my body.

Having barely landed in India, hardly gotten over the infamous jet lag and just recovering from my ironman event couple of weeks ago, it must have been sheer madness to run a 21 km too soon. Or was it the exceeding levels of enthusiasm of a runner who hadn’t run on home turf for 15 months? I choose to believe that it was the latter.

I was finally coming home after being away for 1 year and 3 months. While I had run several races in California, what I missed there was the effervescent community of the Mumbai road runners, the hi fives, hugs and the lively chatter post a running event.

So Amit (my running partner cum hubby) and I had planned our trip in a manner where we could run the IDBI federal life insurance half marathon and attend the monthly run of the Mumbai road runners this time.

Brimming with enthusiasm on race morning and planning on taking the run easy, we walked towards the holding area at Jio Garden, BKC.

Greeting runner friends, engaging in animated chatter and catching up with them briefly-It almost felt like we had never left. The race began sharp at 5:15 am. Slowly finding our way through the sea of runners, we cruised the first few kilometers in a strong manner, shaking our shoulders to the the drum beats and waving to the iconic cricketer-Sachin Tendulkar at the start.

After the 6th km, the humidity levels took a toll on us. Feeling oppressive thanks to the weather Gods being so uncooperative, we slowed down. Just as our legs were almost giving up, we spotted an aid station that served enerzal, water and some bananas.

We stopped there to replenish our depleted reserves and continued. After a while we were forced to take a break again. It almost felt like our bodies were overtaken by an evil force that didn’t want us to run. Had we become shadows of ourselves? Dismissing these eccentric thoughts, we continued along the course. By the time we finished the first loop, we were drenched with perspiration.

Deciding to walk for a few minutes, we debated whether we should continue another loop. Being otherwise strong runners we thought an easy 21 km would be a breeze for us. However we had underestimated the fact that we hadn’t run in this sort of humid conditions for a really long time. While there was raw heat in California which we were used to by now, running in humidity was a different ball game altogether.

Deciding to get to the finish line, we adopted the run walk method and pulled along. While we didn’t have a great run, it still was one of the best days of our lives.

It was wonderful to see so many fellow runners enroute, chat with them and enjoy the experience of running in Mumbai. Great arrangements, foot tapping drum beats , relishing the delicious sheera served at breakfast, the post run photo sessions, chatting and laughing with friends are some delightful moments that we take back with us.

No doubt California may have its Golden Gate Bridge, scenic trails and panoramic views of the pacific. However there is something about running in the city of Mumbai, despite its humidity, pollution and crowd. The vibrant community? Friends cheering you on when you are looking for some motivation? The contagious energy? Not sure.

Despite its flaws it will always remain Mumbai meri jaan.

Tri tri tri till you are Ironman 70.3

Did I really finish Ironman 70.3? Wow. It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I keep pinching myself time and again to ensure that all this isn’t a dream.

A few years back I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing a triathlon. I was skeptical about open water swimming and had never sat on a road bike before. Running was my only claim to fame since I have been into this sport since 2012. However, whenever I would see those athletes in wetsuits jumping into the waves effortlessly  during a triathlon race, I would often visualize and hope that I too would end up doing this someday.

When I landed in the Bay area in 2017, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and embrace some opportunities here. It was in August 2017 when I tried open water swimming at Cowell beach at Santa Cruz, California. I remember gasping and spluttering as the waters were freezing here. Despite wearing a wetsuit, I took a while to acclimatize and ended up doing my first sprint distance with my head above the water. After which I migrated to Olympic distances. It was during this time, I decided to go for the kill and attempt the half ironman distance.

1.9 km swim, 90 km cycling and 21 km running. The distances were daunting but somewhere I visualized myself doing this. My heart wanted that ironman title really bad yet my head warned me about the long and tumultuous journey ahead. It certainly wasn’t an easy one. With bouts of self-doubt, dip in self confidence levels, a phase of burn out in July 2018, I almost gave up my dream. Yet like O Henry’s story, ‘The last leaf’, I still clung on to that faint ray of hope that maybe I wasn’t that far from my dream.  Before I knew it, I was attending triathlon training camps with Pacwest athletics team and open water swims with Team Asha. Both were a group of energetic bunch of people who pepped up my confidence levels and before I knew it, the D day was here.

Santa Cruz was just 45 minutes’ drive from where we resided. Reaching there on Friday afternoon, we checked into the ironman village which was right opposite our hotel. Collecting my bib, timing chip, t shirt, swim cap, I attended the athlete briefing where we were notified about the stringent cut off timings for each division. Nervousness began to seep in making me wonder whether I was jumping into a 70.3 too soon. This continued till race day morning even when I slipped my tri-suit on. “You will do great”, my hubby reassured me and so did a number of people who I met in the transition area. The journey was about to begin.

September 9th 2018

Swim: The swim cut off was 70 minutes. The 1.9 km swim was a rolling wave start which began at Cowell beach. It was a swim around the scenic wharf that was habituated by sea lions. Last year the organizers had to shorten the swim due to visibility issues. I hoped and prayed that the weather Gods were kind to us today. Clear skies and sunshine greeted us in the morning. As I stood in the 50-minute wave, I laughed and joked with people around me-a gregarious bunch who did not let the brand ironman bog them down. I was at complete ease when I entered the waters which were quite warm that morning. The challenging part of an open water swim was putting your head down and swimming. Unlike a pool, the inability to sight anything is quite daunting.  So, I imagined watching some corals, fish and manta rays while I swam around the wharf. I faintly heard the sea lions barking, probably cheering for us. The volunteers on the rafts steered us in the right direction and before I knew it I had finished a strong swim in 59 minutes. I exited out of the water and ran on the sands blowing a quick kiss to my hubby and daughter, right into the transition area.

T1.: The hardest part from swim to bike transition is getting out of my wetsuit. Thankfully there were volunteers to help me with this and they yanked my wetsuit off. I ran to my bike, took off my swim cap and goggles, put on my helmet, gloves and shoes. Popping a Gu gel, I wheeled my bike to the mount area.

Bike: I mounted my bike and  I set off  to have the ride of my life. It was a beautiful course along the coast that overlooked the pristine blue pacific. I had a hard time tearing my eyes of the scenery and focused on the hilly route in front of me. 2000 feet elevation along with headwinds was no joke. I was losing steam and just had 4 hours and 20 minutes to meet the cut off time. Gulping down Gatorade, I pedaled hard and reached the halfway point at 45 km. “You need to go faster than you got here. Catch the tailwind and zoom ahead.” A volunteer told me. I grabbed a banana, gel and Gatorade at the aid station and put my best foot forward. I took advantage of the down hills and used that momentum uphill chanting Ganpati bappa Morya. A mantra that I use whenever I am on the bike during my triathlon events. I always end up praying to the elephant faced God to get me through the ride without any obstacle, say a flat tyre.  When I reached the 80 km point,  I knew I would be home in time as the last 10 km was a flat course. Like a person possessed I zoomed past some cyclists all the way to the transition. 4:03 wasn’t a bad time for a hilly course and I was comfortably within the cut off time. Tears of relief poured down my cheeks as I knew the rest of the race was within my control.

T2: I usually do not take more than a couple of minutes to transition from the bike to a run. Unfortunately, I had trouble locating my spot which cost me a good six minutes. I rushed out as soon as I could and had 3 hours 10 minutes to complete my half marathon.

Run: I had run this course earlier in March 2018 at the Santa Cruz half marathon and knew what to expect. One third of the course was on trails and the rest were inclines. Besides that, I had to battle the brutal heat. Fortunately, my years of running experience came in handy and I used the walk run method to ease my heart rate during the first few miles. I estimated a 2:45 finish and kept my pace accordingly. After 90 km cycling, your legs feel wobbly and every muscle in your body is screaming with pain. I kept going, taking the necessary gulps and gels at the aid stations which were located every 2 miles. Before I knew it, I just had one km to go before I crossed the finish line. It was a downhill and I crossed a lot of runners, paused a few metres from the finish line, grabbed the Indian flag and sprinted across the finish line.

I did it! I was officially Ironman 70.3!! A smiling volunteer garlanded the medal around me and I looked up and thanked God. A dream finally coming true! What a moment! I felt like doing a victory dance around the beach but all I could do was plonk myself on the volunteers’ chair and gulp down an entire bottle of water.

I was famished, tired yet exhilarated after being on my feet for 8 hours! A journey that had been a tumultuous one but worth every minute. I have miles to go before I sleep and milestones to cross before I depart from this world. As my hashtag says I am a triathlete for life and this is just the beginning…

A big thanks to my coach and mentor Viv without whom this would have been impossible, Pacwest athletics team for their training camps, Team Asha who helped me with my open water swim, Amit and Samara for being a huge support. All my friends back home who were more confident than I was about achieving this glorious title!

Running as a sport-a great teacher

I watched him cross the finish line, his toothy smile evident from a mile. Clearly he was ecstatic about his run as he plonked himself on one of the volunteers chairs. Sweat trickled down his forehead and his face shone with a joy- a sort of child like glee as he toyed with the medal around his neck like a new found toy. He happily obliged the photographers.
I stood there observing this fascinating sight of unadulterated joy.  Something that I lacked recently considering my recent events which was followed with a frown on my face  after a momentary gaze at my watch.
As I looked at that old man intently, my eyes fell to his amputed leg much to my chagrin.  A nearby volunteer followed my gaze and remarked “Cheerful isn’t he? That’s old John for you. A fast runner he was. Regular in our events. Lost his leg in an accident and his speed but not lost his spirit.”
It was for the umpteenth time running reinstated an important lesson that day- to embrace the finish line more than the finish time. To replace that frown with a smile and  be thankful of my ability to run.  Running as a sport is a great teacher by itself.
Happy teachers day!

The golden gate pal

 

As I drove on the Golden Gate Bridge few days ago, I was reminded of an instance that occurred during the Golden Gate half marathon in November 2017.

The start line is a great place to get into a conversation with fellow runners. I started talking to a couple of ladies and in a few minutes we were chatting like long lost pals. It was unexpectedly a hot day quite the opposite of what one would expect in a supposedly winter month.

The race began and the route was a hilly one with about 1000 feet elevation and a good amount of trail. The heat wasn’t helping either and within the first few miles I was beginning to feel drained. Just as I was wondering about my ability to get through this run, I felt a pat on my shoulder. It was one of the ladies whom I was talking to at the start line. “Come on. You can do it.” She said.

Deriving energy from her words, I kept going strong until the 18th km. I suddenly stopped unable to take the heat when I saw her on the other side. She gave me a thumbs up. “You are going strong.” She mouthed. That motivated me to reach the finish strong after battling those trails, inclines and the incorrigible heat.

The instant camaraderie that you form with runners never ceases to amaze me. Within just few minutes of meeting them, they become your motivators and well wishers. A friendly gesture like this especially during a run makes a world of a difference.

With friendship day just around the corner (August 5th), this post was a good reminder of the friendly gestures shown by the members of the running community towards other fellow runners and even strangers who eventually become pals at the end of a run.

Lost in the woods

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

Lessons from Trail Running

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