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!

Aarey Forest Run 2017- Race Day information.

The race is nearing and excitement increasing…. This is a hilly route with steep inclines and is tough and challenging at the same time, so be prepared, plan well and enjoy the race….

 

Let’s have a look at the route and some race info you should know!

Assembly Time: 5:30-6:15am

How to reach:

From Powai: Stop at the entrance to the Guest House gate, volunteers will guide you. It is approx. 1 km to start point.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir//19.1448052,72.8773752/@19.1450149,72.8768468,20z

From WE highway: Stop at the Old Toll Naka, our volunteers will guide you. It is a 2 km walk to New Zealand Hostel.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir/19.1651442,72.8616298/19.1650327,72.8616244/@19.1648722,72.860633,18z

Alternately proceed to the Guest House gate and park there.

Car Parking: We encourage you to Car pool. There is ample Car Parking around the area, Car parking at your risk. Please do not carry any valuables. We also request you not to block traffic and ensure that you park without blocking the road or other cars.

 

Baggage Counter: There are 2 Baggage counters available at the venue, Sudhir Prabhu & Team can be reached for assistance. You will be given a token, please retain this token with you and collect your baggage after the race.

 

Warm Up & Cool Down:

Warm Up Sessions& Post Run Stretches will be taken by Dr Anuja Dalvi – Pandit and her team from Live Active. There is also a One on One Session which will be conducted

Water Stations:

There are 2 water stations along the route for 5K &10K and 1 for 3K which will cater to your Hydration & Energy drinks requirements. Dylan DePenha & his team can be reached for assistance.

 

First Aid Station: Every water station has a First Aid Box and there is an Ambulance from Fortis Hospital, our medical Partner in case of any emergencies.

 

Medals: When the race is done, collect your Medals from Deepa Raut & team

Snacks Counter: Post race Snacks will be served in the New Zealand Hostel cafeteria against a tick on your BIB. Shashin Rao & Team can be reached for any assistance.

 

About the route:

It is set in the hilly Aarey Forests amidst Nature at its best with beautiful trees, rare species of birds, insects, etc and the challenging inclines. There are Motivators along the way to ensure that you keep putting the next leg forward and enjoy the run while challenging yourself.

The roads at Aarey while paved is uneven and has severe potholes in certain sections. We advise caution and urge you to be careful. This is route is not one where you can achieve your personal best PB!

First Aid is available at the Hydration counter and volunteers are there along the route.

 

Race Timings

 

10K Timed Race

Start Point: New Zealand Hostel

Start Time: 6:30 am

Route: Move towards Gamdevi Mandir turn and run back to New Zealand Hostel (Volunteers will be along the route to guide you) Take a second loop and come back to New Zealand Hostel Finish Line

The 10k race starts with a quick right and then left onto an incline. This is followed by a downhill section. You will run straight across the first junction and proceed past the hydration station and take a right. You will approach your turn around point and go back to the start. You will do two loops.

Route Map: 2 Loops

5K Timed Race

Start Point: New Zealand Hostel

Start Time: 6:40  am

Route: Move towards Gamdevi Mandir turn and run back to New Zealand Hostel for the Finish Line(Volunteers will be along the route to guide you)

The 5k race starts with a quick right and then left onto an incline. This is followed by a downhill section. You will run straight across the first junction and proceed past the hydration station and take a right. You will approach your turn around point and go back to the start.

Route Map:

 

3K Fun Run

Start Point: New Zealand Hostel

Start Time: 7:00 am

Route: Move towards Unit 16, turn around at the Tree and come back to New Zealand Hostel Finish Line (Volunteers will be along the route to guide you)

The Fun run starts and heads left downhill, at the end of the hill you will take a right and once you go ahead another right. You will follow the road until you come to a tree in the middle of the road (Unit 16) and turn around from there back to the start.

Route Map:

 

Please refer to the maps for the Fun Run, 5K & 10K route:

Do smile while you run and wave out to our volunteers, cameras would be flashing at you at different points. Fast and Up & water will be available at each water station,

Though it is the rainy season and the weather maybe cool, Request everyone to hydrate adequately before the race. Please ensure you stop if you are not able to run and have any difficulty. Do not throw away the water bottles provided at water stations, dispose them at garbage bins provided at each water stations and along the route.

Our volunteers are waiting to support you. Please holler out to them during your run.

Post run please do wait for cool down stretches and a Mega Click – Show me the love moment (group photo) and finally enjoy the Breakfast organized at the New Zealand Hostel cafeteria.

Running in the Forest of Aarey

It’s a forest out there, deep dense and wild, with many  unique trails and a main road cutting through it and plenty of  inner roads to enable anyone to explore the corners of Aarey,  a running hotspot for the running fraternity of Mumbai. Especially for runners who stay in Andheri– Borivli belt, for them it’s their backyard where they just take in the fresh air, the crispy coolness, pollution free atmosphere, scenic views and enjoy the lush forest with views of egrets flying by and the rustic charm. The terrain is hilly covered by thick forests with dense undergrowth, grasslands, emerald green fields of paddy, smoking ponds, cattle sheds, “tabelas” and the Aarey milk factory tucked in between.

Aarey Forest, the green lungs of Mumbai, home to some of the oldest trees in the city is a lush green patch covering 3000 acres in the suburbs of Goregaon. With a wealth of more than 20000 trees, it supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna- 76 species of birds, 86 species of butterflies, 13 species of amphibians, 38 different types of reptiles, 19 spider species and 34 different types of wild flowers.

It’s a place where adivasis, the original inhabitants have been staying for centuries, connected to the urban lifestyle but still keeping their traditions alive, co-existing with nature and co-habiting with leopards that roam these parts. Leopards are not a danger for runners, but these adivasis  have to be alert as leopards are active in the night, but they know very well know the ways of the jungle. I have heard runners spotting leopards here who say that leopards never attack standing humans, leopard being a shy elusive creature, but it’s my dream and fantasy to come face to face with this creature or at least spot it a distance. Running with the leopards or maybe beat them !!!

Technically it may be called Aarey, but the fact is that its directly connected to the Borivali National Park. So it’s actually a part of this 100 square km urban jungle in the world, and we Mumbaikars are blessed to have this piece of heaven to experience and enjoy. For runners, it’s especially a big blessing to run in this only urban jungle in the world, experiencing the wild on the run. A trail that starts from Aarey, in 30 minutes leads directly into Borivali national park and touches the massive Vihar lake, a kind of back door entry. Cyclists and trekkers enjoy this jungle trek along the periphery of Vihar lake deep inside Borivali national park.

Before the advent of the running culture in Mumbai, Aarey was known for its Aarey milk factory with sophisticated machinery to produce milk and cheese. Also it has Chhota Kashmir, a boat club with a nice lake to do boating and a massive garden nearby.

But after the running boom started somewhere around 2005 onwards, running inside the Aarey Forest has become a totally soothing experience. Whilst running through this beautiful patch of nature, you pass along winding roads flanked by 150 to 200 year old tress and see the gentle sunlight filtering through as the first rays of the sun pierce the white mist. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes and balm for the soul. Yes, misty mornings at their best and wonderful to see the darkness slowly fade away into light. This early morning thick mist and the freshness of dew invigorates and refreshes. The best moments are when it’s just starting to be bright, the gentle mellow morning light, the mist and the jungle and the amazing greenery all round put a joy in your heart and a spring in your stride as your feet burn the tracks.

The typical scent of the wild woods, the rich flora and fauna forming a rich tapestry, trees covered with creepers and wild red flowers blooming create ideal settings to make anyone feel like just running forever. Actually it’s better to say that anyone would feel like gliding and floating here, not very fast but at a pace where you could really get one with this lovely jungle and feel its beauty and sounds and aromas.

Over the years, I have seen hundreds of runners in a trance here, totally enamoured by this perfect natural setting to enjoy ones runs, a blissful expression on their face. It’s a place where you just feel connected and relaxed and de-stressed and fall into a beautiful, graceful rhythm as you run, something like floating, gliding or rolling, deep inside your own thoughts, in your own zone, your legs having a mind of their own turning over in a rhythmic fashion to the tune of nature. Very soon you might find a deep sense of deep calm taking over you, a “Zen” kind of feeling, as you find yourself wafting through at a pace that is meditative and gentle. Aarey is a kind of place where you might not want to set a pace to run, but allow your legs to just roll over as fast or slow as they feel like.

It’s during rainy season that Aarey turns even more enchanting, turning a deep dark shade of green with ponds and streams dotting the landscape and the smell of mud and earth filling you with delight, to make your run more worthwhile. The landscape totally transforms during rains and the forest becomes much denser where you cannot even see the forest floor. When it rains heavy and you run here, it will be an unforgettable experience and you will feel totally refreshed, the times when you feel you can and would love to run on and on and on and never stop as fatigue won’t even touch you. Feeling the rains lashing against your face, drenching you totally, putting a new energy and the fabulous thick jungle all around are the perfect ingredients for a sweet memorable run.

The best part of running over here is that there are many quaint trails to explore, with plenty of inner roads, some narrow winding clearings in woods leading to some hidden mesmerizing spots. As a runner, it provides a great opportunity to explore these many corners of Aarey, tucked away from civilization, deeply enticing remote and virgin tracts. Running can be more fun when you set out to discover new trails here. Even people running here for years totally look forward to uncover a new trail and experience a new running experience. There are sweet spots here where you can get a perfect sunrise and the sun slowly comes up over the hills in the near distance and the deep valley below is carpeted with greenery.

The more popular of such trails is the NZ hostel route with a tough incline leading through Gaodevi mandir and Chhota Kashmir. It touches the main road connecting the highway on one side and Marol and Powai on other. One end it touches Chhota Kashmir and at other, it leads up the slope to Forest rest house. This Forest rest house slope has a charm of its own, with its own distinctive flora. From the top you can look down on the jungle and the road cutting through it.

For people who race and prepare for ultra-marathons such as Comrades, marathons such as Mumbai and half marathons such as Satara,  Aarey is a perfect place to train as the terrain is undulating with elevations ranging from gentle to steep, a perfect place to do hill training. Hill training is what builds power, strength and speed and lung capacity, so while some routes are rolling, there are some pretty steep inclines where you can test your mettle and challenge yourself to become a better runner. You can hardly find 250 metres of straight, flat path in Aarey Forest, It is undulating territory throughout.

Many running groups train here regularly and other groups make it a point to come at least once in a month or two to train here, as the inclines and slopes offer the perfect opportunity to do so.

All said and done, if you want to run free, with glee, in abundant nature, and truly experience the joy of running where it’s meditation in motion and the runners high takes over, Aarey is the place that offers this slice of running heaven. It’s in the heart of the concrete jungle, but you will feel you are running far away in a different place where your heart is on song and your spirit is free and running becomes your connection with peace and tranquility.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

A spiritual encounter

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

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

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

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

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

I took a sip.

“Better?” He asked with a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which part of Mumbai”, I asked.

“Prabhadevi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you” I told him.

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

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

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

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

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

I heard my neighbor calling out to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Ganesh Utsav time…

A dream come true

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Guidelines :

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Happy f’RUN’dship day!

Being strangers at the start
Distance initially draws us apart
As the run commences with a bang
The camaraderie begins to grows its fangs!
Mile after mile it develops slowly
With  small talk or a word so lovely
So lonely long distance running can be
Exchanging a smile, gives that glee.
What a wonderful way to break the ice
To make a fellow runner feel so nice
With the distance so daunting in the sun
The chatter chatter makes the run easy and fun!

When the finish line is not so far

Plans are made for breakfast and bar
More room for talks and laughter
To improve the rapport even further.
Running being a common interest
A bond is naturally formed at its best
Strengthening further as the days go by
It’s not a rapport that will easily die!
Be it in India or around the world
Runners tend to give their word
A promise that one is not forgotten
Even if they hit rock bottom!
Friends should be made for a reason
Not for treason or a season
A pal who stands by you so tall
Unlike the withering leaves in the fall!
There is no community such as the runners group
That’s gives you relationships and a troupe
Making you rejoice and celebrate
Discovering the joy that running can create!
A special event today
Makes it easier to say
Happy f’RUN’dship day
To all of you as hey!
You definitely keep the blues at bay!

Global MRR Running the better half: The San Francisco 2nd half marathon

It’s a badass route!” I was told at the expo of the San Francisco half marathon.  “You will be considered as a tough runner if you get through this one.” I looked at the guy behind the information desk quizzically with raised eyebrows as he pointed to the route map of the 2nd half marathon which was supposed to commence at 7:30 am. There was the full marathon, the first half marathon which started at 5:30 am and the 2nd half which was what I had signed up for. Since I would be travelling from Palo Alto in the morning, I had asked him for logistics to reach the start line.

You can ask your Uber guy to drop you off at 1st and mission street. From there, you will find shuttles to take you to the start line which is quite far off. You will be finishing your race at the same point where your uber drops you off.” I got my queries answered and went back home with a queasy feeling, hearing about the elevation profile.

It had been 4 months since I did an event-my last one being the Pune women’s half marathon on March 11th 2017 which was a slightly hilly route. The months of May and June hadn’t had mileages to boast about although I had continued my fitness regime diligently. Mental fatigue of moving from my comfort zone was nagging me albeit it was only for a year.  I decided to work on my running after coming to Stanford which I did within 3 days after landing here. I resumed my speed workouts, hill repeats in the dish area- located straight ahead of Stanford avenue, which had some deadly inclines. I also had to juggle time between my creative writing course and taking care of the household chores myself as I did not have the luxury of domestic help like I did in India…..

The next day morning, I left home at 5:15 am as it was a 40-minute drive to San Francisco. The shuttles to the start line were functional between 6-7 am. It was a beautiful foggy drive to the start line which was located inside the golden gate park. The woods in the mist made quite a pretty sight and it was quite chill, making me glad that I had worn my leggings and inner wear to keep me warm. There were buses which were segregated according to the bib numbers and runners with those allocated bib numbers could leave their change of clothes or bag packs inside. They could later collect their belongings post the race.  Waves aka corals were allocated as per the bib numbers as well and each wave had a designated time to the leave the start line. I was allocated in wave 4 and my race was to begin at 7:45 am.

I observed a lot of runners doing their warm ups and stretches. Some were scantily clothed making me marvel at their tenacity to bear the cold while others were wearing full arm tees and leggings. I spotted a few Indians who were discussing about their last years’ experience. The race soon began…

The very first km greeted us with an incline. The course took us amidst the redwoods of the golden gate park. What a treat it was!  It reminded me of the scenes from the fantasy adventure movies I grew up watching. The sight of the mist and the greenery looked surreal. The weather was pleasant as the elevation took us higher and it felt like running inside a hill station. We passed by a vast lake and the logs of wood in the water body resembled crocodiles, making my eyes widen for a minute before I realized my eyes were playing tricks with me. The inclines were never ending and at the 8th km, I ran by the finish line of the 1st half marathon, watching the runners cruise to the finish, in style. The course saw me through the conservatory of flowers and narrow pathways which soon opened out into the city lanes. The first half of the race was over.

 

By now, the sun had come out, probably realizing that it was being rude not to greet the runners and decided to beam down in a bright manner. The temperatures suddenly soared. I decided to ignore the heat and focus on my music and the streets of San Francisco. “It was a great way to see the city,” I thought, taking in the quaint houses, the cafes and the rolling roads which felt like going on a roller coaster ride. I noticed a lot of foreigners slowing down as the heat became unbearable. Fortunately, the volunteers present at regular intervals proved to be a blessing. For a while there was no shade which prompted me to pour water on my head.

It was nice to see a wonderful crowd support. The young and old stood on the roads, giving each and every one of the runners a hi five. That smile and a cheer motivated me to keep going. It was interesting to see some witty placards with sayings like “You are a badass runner. Finish like one. The rolling course continued till the 18th km. I soon found myself running beside the azure blue Pacific Ocean, glancing at the sparkling waters in admiration. The heat was fierce by now. “Just 3 km to go”. I thought to myself.

I noticed a band playing as we took a turn, giving them a thumbs-up for their enthusiasm.  I noticed more placards on the way which said, “You cannot quit now, people are watching you.” I arrived at the Bay bridge and was running strong, determined not to let the heat get to me. Despite the fact I hadn’t run a 21 km in 2 months, I was glad that I did not hit a wall in the 19th km like I usually do at times. The beauty of San Francisco was enough to demolish the psychological walls and soon arrived at the 21 km mark as my Garmin buzzed, showing 2:07.

The finish line was nowhere in sight. I seemed to keep going and for a minute wondered if this was a 22 km race.  Finally, I saw that familiar vibrant arch studded with balloons within a few metres and sprinted. I crossed the finish line as my Garmin showed 21.59 km in 2:10. The course appeared to be almost 600 m longer as it was displayed on the Garmin watches of many of the other runners, much to their indignation.

After doing some stretches, I collected my medal, stood in line to be clicked by the photographer as I proudly posed with the Indian flag! The snack counter served some water, bananas, fruits and some chocolate wafers.

As I sat in the cab on the way home, I reminisced the run. It was a challenging course with grueling terrains and brutal heat in the second half. It was certainly not a PB route but one that will make you feel like a badass runner!!

 

Guidelines for this race:

  1. As mentioned it’s not a PB route, so don’t go with high expectations. However, if you do manage your pb, well and good.
  2. It can get extremely windy and chill in san Francisco especially in the mornings. If you are running the 2nd half marathon, kindly wear a disposable jacket which will come in handy in the first half and which can be discarded in the second half when it gets hot.

3. It’s a hilly course so ensure that you include hill repeats as a part of your training plan       if you have signed up for this race.

 

 

  1. To reach the start line of the 2nd half marathon, take a cab to 1st and mission street in San Francisco and from there the shuttles will take you to the start line.

 

  1. If you are carrying any belongings, you can leave it in the buses which are assigned as per your bib number. They can be collected at the finish line post the race.

 

  1. It’s a beautiful route and one can be assured of enjoying the golden gate park and seeing San Francisco city!!