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!

MRR Race Ranking as on 1st November, 2017

MRR Race Ranking as on 1st November, 2017 is given beside here. There were 5 new races added to the billboard in October. Dehradun Half Marathon comes in at joint 2nd, followed by Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon at 4th spot, Vodafone Coimbatore Half Marathon at no. 12, Mumbai Customs Half Marathon at no. 16 and Yeour Hill Half Marathon at no. 25.

Coimbatore rankings were going good and they would have made it to the top, but their toilet rankings were not so good, so they slithered down the ladder only for that factor. Mumbai Customs suffered due to the route mismanagement where they did multiple loops inside Ballard Estate which led to a lot of confusion amongst the runners. Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon did extremely well in all parameters. This being a big city race, it was a commendable performance.

Of the other events that were considered for rating, HDFC Bank Millenium City Marathon, Gurgaon got only 1 vote, ICICI Bank Starry Night Half Marathon, Gurgaon got 2 votes, Pune FLO Half Marathon – 9 votes, Lokmat Nashik Half Marathon – 4 votes, Surat City Half Marathon – 6 votes, Veterun Half Marathon, Pune – 3 votes, so these events could not be considered due to the very low responses. Hope the responses from these cities go up in the near future, because these kind of ratings are never done before and considering the exponential increase in the number of races being held every year in India, it will in turn help the runners only in choosing which race to take part in.

Our role in this rating exercise is only to collect the results, collate it and present it in a tabular form for easy understanding. The raw data is not tampered with, by us.

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.

Devendra Mane

As a youngster, Devendra was not really into any kind of sports in School or College. His sporting ability was pretty much restricted to Gulli Cricket. Going on to work in Sales and Training lead to frequent traveling. In 2008 his work-related Traveling increased drastically taking a toll on his weight and health. He pretty much ballooned up from a sprightly 68kg to an overweight 85kg 😯. During this phase, he experimented with Crash Diets like the GM Diet when he lost about 5kg in a week and ended up regaining the same and more when going off it. He soon realized that these short cuts were not going to work. 😑

Devendra’s father, Gajanan Mane, an ex-Navy man was an ardent walker even walking distances from Mumbai to Pune. A very well-known social activist in the field Leprosy Eradication, he has won many accolades from the Local and State government. 🤗

In 2011, Gajanan Mane decided to set off for a Multi-day walk to Ratnagiri covering a distance of 365kilometers in 8 days with the intention of spreading awareness about Leprosy Eradication.

That morning, Devendra decided to accompany his father for a distance of 3k till the Highway and bid him adieu for his journey. Returning home he realized he enjoyed the 6k walk tremendously and decided to do it regularly.

During the same period, Devendra’s Boss from AEGON Religare, Delhi who was a Marathoner came up with a Sales Strategy based on “Ultramarathon Man- Dean Karnazes”. Books of Ultramarathon Man were distributed to the Sales team. Basically they were to achieve a target of 150 crores over 3 months. Essentially it was taking inspiration from Dean who ran 50k daily for a period of 50 days. Similarly, they were to achieve their set targets just as Dean accomplished his mission. A contest called “The Biggest Loser” was also introduced wherein the person who lost the maximum weight would be awarded.

Inspired by the book, in November 2011, Devendra decided to take up his 6k walk diligently in order to achieve this goal. Plugging in his earphones, listening to music the Evening 6k walk became a daily fixture. He started enjoying this special time when he went into Switch off Mode. He ended up coming down from 83kg to 76kg over the next 3 months winning the Contest in the process. 🤗
He went on to lose another 6kg over the next 6 months getting fitter with proper exercise and nutrition.

At the time, Devendra stopped eating Sweets completely besides skipping Rice during Dinner. Running 4 times a week covering about 30k per week along with a day of Core and Strength training further helped in weight-loss. Having skipped Strength training lot of times due to boredom and suffering from an ITBS, he learnt it’s importance the hard way 😑 and now ensures he does it diligently.

In 2013 Devendra mentioned to a friend that he was contemplating doing 7k at the SCMM Dream Run in January. Since he was already doing 6k walk daily his friend said that he should do the HM instead. Obviously Devendra shrugged him off in disbelief but when he spoke to his Marathoner friend, Dhananjay Shettigar, he encouraged him to do so. Training over a period of 6 months Devendra went on to do his very first HM on August 15, 2012 at BNP finishing in 2:40 😃. However, this was more like a friendly run organized by Ram Venkatraman and Group and not a timed event. Thereafter he did several such other untimed events.

Reality hit hard when he was unable to register for the HM at SCMM in 2013 due to lack of timing certificate 😥. That’s when Devendra did his very first timed event, 10k at the Powai Run finishing in 60 minutes in 2013. He went on to do his first SCMM HM in January 2014.


Till then he was not active on social media and for over a year after that he had been a Solo Runner just like so many of us. It was only in March 2015 that he joined the Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) group on Facebook.

Connecting with Bijay Nair, he volunteered for the May 2015 MRR and went on to meet many other fellow Runners. On his way back home to Dombivli with Shashin Rao, he got to know about Gaurav Bharadwaj and the Kalyan-Dombivli Runners (KDR) group 😊. Devendra volunteered for the next KDR Run getting to know other local runners in the process. Thereafter he went on to do several HM’s, FM’s and Ultra Marathons. He also introduced many office, college and school friends to running. 😎

KDR, a motley group of about 10 runners who met and ran together fortnightly (2nd and 4th Sunday) has grown to more than 75 now. They have 7k Promo Runs on Dussehra and Diwali to encourage and inspire others to join this wonderful Free Runner Group. The enthusiasm has grown from about 75 runners at the first Promo Run to more than 1300 now.

Devendra gives all credit to MRR and in turn KDR for playing a huge role in improving his Running Form as well as Knowledge. They served as an excellent platform to interact with Senior Runners who shared their thoughts and clarified several doubts. 😀

In 2016, Devendra took a sabbatical in order to pursue his PhD. Meanwhile, he also did the ACSM Marathon Training course and became a Certified Marathon Coach. 😊

Along with friends Dhananjay Shettigar and Vishwanathan Iyer he founded RunBurn, a fitness events company. RunBurn is into arranging running events as well as providing coaching at Kalyan, Dombivli, and BKC. They have had low cost, well managed niche events including Tiger Hill Lonavala, Dombivli Pride Run and the Alpha Trail Run. RunBurn Academy is training more than 85 Runners including 30-35 newbies who will doing their very first Mumbai Marathon in 2018 having successfully qualified for it. 🤗

I

In 2016 Devendra moved on from racing to pacing. He has paced for 10K Runs successfully in more than 10-12 events. Now he wants to restrict to racing in 1 or 2 events while pacing and helping others achieve their goals in the rest. 😎

Currently he follows a training schedule of 4 days Running- Including Speed Intervals, Tempo Runs, Slow Runs and LSD (Long slow Distance), 1 day Legs Strength, 1 day Core/Stretching along with 1 non-negotiable Rest Day.

Devendra advocates setting small Goals. He does not believe in putting too much pressure on oneself as regards Running in different Events as long as one continues achieving the primary goal of Running to stay fit. He also advises going slow as too much too fast is a sure shot Recipe for Disaster while ending on a note stating, “It’s Fun to Run.” 😊

MRR Race Ranking as on 1st October, 2017

MRR commenced the race rankings from February 2017 and initially we are doing only all the races in Mumbai/ Thane/ Navi Mumbai area (including 10K ones) and all half marathons and upwards in other cities. Currently there are 32 races ranked in the list. The rankings as on 1st October, 2017.  This is first of its kind race billboard anywhere in the world.

DRHM Chennai grabbed the top spot a couple of months ago and is still holding on to it. Last month Airtel Hyderabad Marathon climbed to the 2nd spot. For September races, PNB Metlife Satara Hill Half Marathon jumped to a joint 3rd position whereas AFMC Half Marathon in Pune went upto a joint 6th spot.

Other new entrants in the list in September are MRR Aarey Race in 8th, Ladakh Marathon at 12th, Chennai Trail Marathon at 13th and Inner Strength Half Marathon, Chennai at 26th place.

Among the pure 10K ers, following are the top 5

  1. Bengaluru 10K challenge
  2. MRR Aarey Forest Race
  3. TCS World 10K
  4. Tridhaatu Monsoon 10K
  5. ICT Green 10K

Among the trail races, following are the top 4

  1. Jawadhu Hill Ultra
  2. Chennai Trail Marathon
  3. Alfa Trail Challenge
  4. Ruggedian Shivaji Raje Monsoon Trail Race

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!