At the start line

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

Neha Lodha – Beyond the Veil

The eldest of four siblings, Neha was born and brought up in a traditional Marwari family in Raipur, Chattisgarh. When her grandmother was detected with cancer, this young girl took on the household responsibilities so that her mother could take care of her ailing grandmother. Though always very active in her creative pursuits, Neha started focusing excessively on her studies at the cost of everything else. Therefore, after her 12th Board exam, when Neha wished to pursue Engineering her father recommended that she take up Commerce instead so that she could continue her creative endeavors. Heeding her father’s advice, she completed her B.Com along with a Higher Diploma in Computers.

Married at age 21 to Sameer Lodha in November 2000, she moved to Mumbai into an orthodox Marwari joint family set up much to the delight of her parents. It was a major cultural shock for Neha moving into a tiny 1 BHK flat from her spacious home in Raipur. After an unfortunate miscarriage, Neha was soon pregnant again. During her Pregnancy due to water retention & other complications her weight shot up from 54Kg to 84Kg leading to difficulties in even performing normal activities. In August 2003, Neha gave birth to her son Namit 😊.

Determined to lose weight Neha started going for swimming with a neighbor; Babita Didi, who took her kid for lessons at the Probodhan Thakare Swimming Pool at Vile Parle in 2004. However she discontinued the same after about 2 months considering the travel time.
Neha then switched to doing different activities like Yoga, Gymming, Swimming etc at the Holy Family Campus nearby.

Fed up off the constant change from Sari to Tracks, Neha ingeniously got a readymade sari with Velcro stitched from a local tailor in order to save her time in the Gym ☺.

In 2007 due to Sameer’s transfer Neha and Namit moved to Hyderabad and later to Belgium with him where she took up walking regularly. Neha started doing Yoga along with some fad Idli diet in Hyderabad and managed to get her weight down to 64Kg ☺.

Once back in Mumbai in 2008, Neha would indulge in High intensity Yoga and Aerobics for about an hour daily at the Step N Dance studio for about 3 years. This was also when encouraged by her supportive Hubby, she started a Toy Library having experienced a dearth of the same in the market ☺. For the first year, the entrepreneur couple shared the same office space with Sameer running his business during the weekdays while Neha ran her toy library on weekends ☺. Later, Sameer moved out to a new office space while Neha successfully ran her library till 2016 when she had to shut it down due to Building repairs 😔.

 

Every now and then whenever he gained weight, Sameer would run on a 2.5K loop close to home giving up intermittently getting into lazy mode ☺. In January, 2015 Neha decided to join him for the same. She managed to do the 2.5K loop in 25 minutes. Both of them registered for their very first 10K at the HTHM (Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon) in February. Practising on the same loop upto 7.5K Neha completed her first 10K in about 65 minutes while Sameer did his in about 59 minutes ☺. They followed that with running 12.5K at the BNP Endurathon in July finishing in about 1:30.

Connecting with other Runners, Neha did her first 15K with Niyati Sawant, Ann D’silva, Ritu and Varada Gokhale from Lokhandwala to Bandra where she met MRR Stalwart Coach Giles Drego. She started running with the Parle Panthers and with Jayraman Rankawat & Praveen Sah in JB Nagar.

An FB query led to Neha connecting with Manohar Rodrigues and Vijay Kamath who told her about MRR. In fact Neha did her first 21K at the monthly MRR Bandra-NCPA Run in 2015 along with Niyati Sawant and Rohan Joshi as they ran together egging each other on ☺. Interacting with other runners she made new friends and even ended up participating in a group dance performance at the MRR Awards night in February 2016.

Neha did her first HM (Half Marathon) at the SCMM in 2016 and first FM (First Marathon) in 2017 despite an ankle injury in November finishing in 5:15. However the Runs seemed to have started affecting her negatively and she wanted to quit. She tried consulting a nutritionist at the HEAL institute but later consulted Nutritionist Roopali Mehta referred to her by Anand from Parle Panthers. Roopali’s diet plan was a big help and Neha was back on track finishing Satara Hill Run in September 2017 in 2:07 improving drastically from her earlier timing of 2:28 in 2016 ☺. She also went on to participate in two editions of the Mumbai Ultra consecutively 😁.

So far, Neha had resorted to running mostly solo due to time constraints & family commitments. During the Satara trip, MRR Runners Ritu Singh and Babloo Tarwale convinced her to join the Road Burners group at BNP to train under Coach Daniel Vaz. Reluctant initially, her second visit had Neha signing up for 6 months training with Dan. She went on to do her practice run at VVMM (Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon) in December 2017 finishing her FM (Full Marathon) in 4:35. That’s when Tushar Pednekar convinced her to consider participating in the Comrades Marathon in June 2018.

After discussing with Sameer, she decided to take a call after her FM at the TMM (Tata Mumbai Marathon) in January 2018. Neha ran brilliantly throughout enjoying her run finishing in 4:14; unbelievably overtaking the 4:15 pacer Amit Kumar at the end, though her goal had been to finish in 4:30 ☺.
Now the next goal was well and truly set as Dan gave her an online training plan for Comrades. Unfortunately, she started experiencing middle toe swelling of her left foot. An MRI had her Physiotherapist advising her to skip the Tata Ultramarathon 50K at Lonavala. She went on to do the same through sheer grit later taking a break from running for a month indulging in Gym and Swimming instead.

Fortunately she was back on track and managed to finish her FM at Surat in 4:50 without any pain. Despite the backlash at home from her in-laws and extended family due to her long training hours as well as running attire Neha stuck to her guns. She went on to finish the Comrades Marathon in June 2018 in 10:44:54 thoroughly enjoying this fantastic carnival run to the very hilt ☺.


Neha has a few podiums to her credit like the AGF Swasth, Aarey Forest Run, Songs of Sunrise, Raipur Let’s Run Marathon etc, besides being nominated for the most improved female runner category at the MRR Awards in February 2018. She was also a Brand Ambassador and Pacer for a few events.

Currently she is training with Coach Daniel Vaz focusing on speed till TMM and later more on endurance for the Comrades Marathon in June 2019. She does strength training at the Gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday is Running Drills and Interval training with Melwyn Crasto at BNP. Thursday is Tempo Runs with Dan. Saturday is Rest Day while she does her Long Runs on Sunday. She will also inculcate 3-4 weekly yoga sessions 3 months before Comrades.

Neha advises Newbies not to go too fast. Instead of the “What Next” mode one must learn to enjoy the “Just Fun Run” mode. She states that one can go overboard with social media sometimes and it can get highly time consuming. She encourages new runners to take advice from Veterans. Last but not the least, Neha emphasizes on the importance of Yoga, Gym, Run and Nutrition. She signs off saying that correct Nutrition has helped her a lot especially in Recovery after her Long Runs.

A colorful Navaratri: My Navrun experience

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

NAV Run

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Comeback run on home turf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite its flaws it will always remain Mumbai meri jaan.

Chitendra Shetty- Kaala Chashma Rocks

The middle sibling amongst three brothers, Chitendra Shetty was born and brought up in Mumbai. As a child his only association with sports was his indulgence in local games like football, cricket etc. along with the other neighboring kids.

At age 45, sensing some discomfort, Chitu went for a health check-up and was diagnosed with high BP, cholesterol and sugar in 2011. This was despite being a teetotaler and non-smoker. Looked like the job related stress as a Safety Officer with the Central Railways had started getting to him 😓. The doctor put him on medications for the next 2-3 months and told him to start walking regularly.

Needless to say, Conscientious Chitu started going for hourly walks daily in the morning as well as the evening. He also started going to Mickey Mehta’s Holistic Gym over the next two years 6 days a week. In 2013 while visiting his younger brother Venugopal in Pune during Diwali vacation, Chitu joined him for a Run with Milind Soman and some other Pinkathon Runners at Magarpatta. On seeing him run 5K comfortably, Milind encouraged him to keep going and he easily completed his very first 10K 😊.

Then onwards, Chitu started running regularly twice a week and participated in his first timed Run at the Mumbai Daud in Borivali in December 2013 finishing in 54 minutes 😃. Following it up with another 10K at the Powai Run in January 2014, Chitu went on to do his very first Half Marathon (HM) at the Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon (HTHM) finishing in 2:02 😊.

As he started running regularly, in 2013 he attended training sessions with Darshan Divakaran and Ravi Kalsi at the Lokhandwala Running Club (LRC) for 2-3 months after getting his very first podium at the 6K organized by them 🤗. This was when he met MRR stalwarts and other runners like Suresh Pillai , Sunil Shetty,Sangeeta Shetty ,Ram Venkatraman, Girish Bindra, Giles Drego, Apurba Das, Ashok Someshwar, Raj Vadgama, Abbas, Inderpal Khalsa, Sharmila Munj, Beverly Mathews as well as Vishwanathan Jayaraman aka the Hubli Express who gave him much needed running related insights.

In 2014, Chitu Shetty and his Management buddy Abhijit Dube decided to their first FM at the Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon (VVMM). Fortunately for them, VVMM was postponed to December avoiding the October Heat and they finished in 5:05 😎. Meeting and interacting with MRR Stalwarts Sanjay Bhingarde, Breeze Sharma, Suresh Pillai, Girish Bindra etc prior to the race certainly helped.

Ever since, MRR is like family for this solo runner. Since May 2014 he has never missed a single Bandra-NCPA Run except when traveling or Running event.

In 2015 Chitu was the 5:30 pacer at the VVMM along with Punit Chandiwala 😎. This was one memorable event for him as they had Coach Daniel Vaz accompanying them for 37K. Dan kept them on track, controlling their pace, slowing them down and they went on to bring the Bus home on time helping BNP Runners Pawan Agarwal & Falguni Vora to achieve their targets 😊.

In February 2016, Chitu did his very first Ultra at the immensely tough Silvassa Endurathon 54 organized by Shashidhar Shankar. This one is essentially a training run for the Comrades Runners 😌. That 54K in the grueling heat was his toughest runs ever. Chitu ran the first 27K blindly following K Haridasan Nair who was pacing Girish Nair and Suresh Raman. The remaining 27K he ran with Leenesh Bhuleskar as Sunil and Sangeeta Shetty cheered them on. Fortunately for him, fellow runner and good Samaritan Mohan Jayraman drove him back to his Hotel, an hour away from the Starting point 🤗.

In 2016, Chitu got his first podium in 10K at Rajendra Tembe’s event- Keep on Running (KOR) where he stood second in his Age category.

Chitu completed 70K at the Mumbai Ultra in August 2016 and also got his HM Personal Best (PB) at the Navy Marathon finishing in 1:53:32 😎.

He was recognized for his achievements and was awarded the Second Runner Up Trophy in the Most Improved Runner Male Category at the Mumbai Road Runner (MRR) Awards for that year 🤗.

2017 began with a bang as Chitu got his PB in the FM at the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) finishing in 4:23 😊.

Chitu again started training with Asics Training Club Mumbai under Head coach Girish Bindra and Varun Singh Thakur learning new techniques but could not continue due to official commitments. Now days, Coach Girish guides him as and when required.

Chitu went on to participate and clock 80K at the Mumbai Ultra that year and went on to pace the 75K Bus in 2018 😎.

Another podium followed at the Alpha Trail Run in July 2018 where he finished his HM in 2:33 on the tough route.

Though Chitu no longer goes to the Gym due to time constraints, he makes sure that he does Power Yoga thrice a week for about an hour besides his half hour post run yoga stretches.

He runs 10K thrice a week though his days are flexible and does his long runs on Sunday. Usually Saturday evening, plans are made with buddies Girish Bindra, Dayanand Shetty and Pratik Jhunjhunwala regarding the distance and place of their long run the next morning 😁

Being a diabetic, Chitu makes sure his pockets are always filled and always eats and runs. He carries dates, jaggery, and energy drink preferring to run on the nearby Shivaji Park to NCPA stretch as the shops there are conveniently open 24 hours.

He advises runners to be careful whilst running on roads especially during speed intervals considering the ensuing traffic. Chitu states that one should always listen to your body making sure we run when enjoying and stop to walk whenever required; after we are all amateur runners and not professionals.

Tri tri tri till you are Ironman 70.3

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

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

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

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

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

September 9th 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running as a sport-a great teacher

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

Sonal Mishra- What’s in a Bib?

Born and brought up in Mumbai, the only form of Sports that young Gita Agrawal indulged in were the Catch n Cook games with her friends after school. Every once in a while, their Mother would take three girls for a walk from their home in Zaveri Bazaar to Nariman Point. Like many other families, they were brought up on good wholesome homemade food and either travelled by Bus or walked everywhere.

At 23, Gita met and got married to UP Brahmin, Rahul Mishra becoming Mrs. Sonal Mishra. Living in a big traditional joint family was a whole different ball game and Sonal got busy with cooking and myriad other household responsibilities hardly stepping out of the house over the next five years.

By 26, despite two unfortunate abortions Sonal was a mother of two beautiful girls- Rashi and Riddhi. The kilos had piled on thanks to her pregnancies as well as sedentary lifestyle and she weighed a portly 75Kg 😔. Diagnosed with High BP and Cholesterol at the time, her Gynecologist suggested that she start going to the nearby Borivali National Park (BNP) for daily 1-hour walks.

That’s when Sonal started going for regular walks wearing slippers and saris accompanied by her friend, Rita Jain. She met the dynamic Rashmi Singh Thakur, a vivacious lady was instrumental in inspiring and encouraging others to join in regular walks and exercise in BNP 😎. Soon Sonal joined the group and started enjoying her morning walks even more.

Having missed out on registering for the SCMM (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon) in 2003, the ladies decided to register for the HM (Half Marathon) in 2004. Flabbergasted, Sonal totally refused when 5 of them registered for the same. However; as D-day approached, she asked Rashmi if she could join them and run along as much as possible without a Bib. That day Sonal enjoyed her Run so much that when Rashmi started walking after 10K, she moved ahead jogging, slowly meeting different groups as she went along. Despite her non-running attire of a Mango-colored Silk Salwar-Kameez and Brother-in-Law’s borrowed shoes, she managed to finish her very first HM in 2:44 😎.

The following year the girl gang were back all dressed up in their coordinated White Salwar-Kameez as they all ran together eating, joking and having a blast finishing together in 2:45 😁.

In 2006 the other girls were no longer interested in participating in SCMM again. Luckily, Sonal met Kaushik Panchal and Mahadev Samjiskar who invited her to join them for the Race. On D-day she tagged along on the train with the bunch of 14-15 boys as they made their way to the starting point in Bandra. Sonal enjoyed the whole atmosphere particularly the free post run Coffee and Massage that they were treated to in Barista 😄. The same continued for the next couple of years with her timing improving to 2:30.

In 2010, the Nike Run Club (NRC) opened up another branch at the SAI grounds, near BNP where Coach Daniel Vaz would train the Runners. Since the very first day, Sonal was a Regular here. She met and interacted with many other MRR Runners and Stalwarts like Sunil Shetty here as well as when they all travelled together for Surat Night Marathon.

In 2013, Sonal joined Kaushik who was pacing the 2:30 Bus at the SCMM finishing in 2:26 that year. They discussed about participating in the FM in 2014 and Kaushik told her that they would have to train and finish the same within 6 hours. With just this thought in mind; clad in her usual Salwar-Kameez, Sonal attempted her very first FM at BNP the following Sunday carrying some Relispray, Halls and Spray Bottle 😒. She felt disheartened as she managed to complete the same in 6:05 that day.

Post this foolish gimmick, she started training with Kaushik in earnest. Unfortunately, when doing their training run of 35K in September, she had a fall after 16K but somehow managed to complete her Run.

All set for her first FM at SCMM she realized the morning of D-day that her shoes to which she had attached the RFID timing tag were stolen 😐. Though upset, she wore her borrowed old shoes and reached the venue hoping to get a replacement timing tag. However, with no success, she ended up starting 15 minutes late along with her friend, Kashmira Dave. Sonal still managed to finish her FM in 5:37, albeit without a Bib once more 😯.

When she read about the Mumbai Ultra 2014 posted by Sunil Shetty on the BNP group, she immediately wanted to do it. Since she hadn’t trained for it, Sunil forewarned her from participating. However; the prior day, this crazy girl decided to go and attempt the same from 7 am to 7 pm as she hadn’t registered for the same 🙄.

Sonal initially went along with Deepa Katrodia and later joined other Runners. Anand Kotiar ran along with her from 5 pm-7 pm while the rest of the BNP gang waited for them to finish. The Organizers were kind enough to support her as well with 4-5 volunteers waiting and handing her the Finisher Medal and T-shirt once she was done 🤗. She managed to cover a distance of 68K in those 12 hours. Needless to say her family was upset when she finally turned up as they were totally clueless about her crazy escapade 😮. There were mixed feelings amongst her BNP gang as well. Guess Sunday being her busiest day; the long hours being on her feet, working and rushing everywhere contributed in building her Endurance big time 🙃.

Later that year, Sonal who was suffering from major heel pain was diagnosed with Bone Spur. On being advised Surgery, she visited several other doctors and was alternately advised rest for 8 months.

In September 2015, Coach Dan organized a 50K ultra in Aarey. Just a week after she resumed running, Sonal decided to go and do 21K 🙄. Later, she decided to support her friend Kashmira who was attempting her first FM. The Duo ended up doing the same in 6:25.

Since July 2015, Sonal wisened up and joined the Road Burners for regular coaching by Daniel Vaz 😊. Despite her busy home and work schedule as a Salon Owner, with regular training, mindful eating and yoga she is now a sprightly 51Kg. Though it isn’t easy, she ensures she finds time for her training by cutting down on other social activities though she does not venture too far so as to save time. Her hard work was recognized and Sonal was even nominated for the Most Improved Female Runner Category by MRR in 2016. Ever since, she has around 30 podiums to her Credit in just the last three years itself, the latest being at the recent AFMC FM in August 2018 😎.

Her Current Training Regimen consists of:

Monday- Rest Day

Tuesday- Speed Intervals with Melvin at SAI (Sports Authority of India)

Wednesday- Varied Running Drills and Exercises with Manish Jaiswal

Thursday- Tempo Run with Daniel Vaz

Friday- Gym workout

Saturday- Workout with Sketchers/NRC

Sunday- Long Run

Sonal says that though Running requires a lot of hard work and dedication, if you really love something you will definitely achieve it. All you need to do is Keep Going. Don’t Give Up even if you have to take a Pause or Break. Just make sure you Restart and always Stay Positive. After all Nothing beats that feeling of being on Top of the World after your Run 🤗.

The golden gate pal

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vishwanathan Iyer- Train The Trainer

At the young age of 18, Vishwanathan Iyer accidentally became a teacher 😊. Having completed his HSC with fairly good marks, he was approached by two youngsters who needed guidance with Book-Keeping and Accountancy. By the time he graduated, he was a huge hit with more than 100 students 😎. Needless to say, Prof. Iyer went from strength to strength and his Heramb Coaching Classes became the go to place for the Commerce students in Kalyan E over the next 20 years. Unfortunately his busy schedule and 14-hour work days took a toll and soon he was not only obese but also detected with Diabetes 😔.

Spotting a running post on FB put up by his ex-student Pratik Shetty about time trials in May-June 2015, Vishwanathan got in touch with him. However, Pratik informed him that the batch was already full with no room for new entrants. Luckily, he was able to join their new batch in August even though he delayed by a week due to a prior family commitment.

On 9th August, 2015, Vishu woke up at 4 am; a feat he had never managed before 😁. All excited he reached the KDMC ground at 6 am, way before the reporting time of 6:30. That day, after a bit of stretching the Coach- Suhas Bhopi Sir asked him to jog 3 rounds of the 500m ground. Somehow he managed to do the same. This was followed by some stretching and 5 more rounds using run-walk strategy. He managed this humongous task almost walking and crawling rather than running 😌.

That evening his body was painful and stiff forcing him to move around like a robot. The next day was even worse but Vishu laughed at himself and kept at it realizing his poor body condition. The following week was a big struggle as he progressed from running 10 minutes to 60 minutes.

It took him a whole month to get to 5K. To be precise, on 6th September, 2015 Vishwanathan ran about 4.5K from Wilson College to NCPA with the MRR Gang. Thereafter he joined MRR Stalwart, Satish Gujaran who was there to motivate newbies at the Badlapur pipeline road and ran his first 6K 😎.

Thereafter despite the tedious journey from Kalyan to Mumbai, Vishwanathan tries to join in the monthly MRR Runs along with other friends. He also makes it a point to volunteer during the MRR Anniversary Run every year. Of course the Annual MRR Awards Night Bash is one party that just cannot be missed 🤗.

On 2nd October, 2015 Vishu did his first timed event at the Kurla Peace Run. A terrible event in all respects but he was happy to complete his first timed 5K in 40 minutes. He followed it up with his next 5K at the Mastek Run two weeks later finishing in 33 minutes.

In December 2015, he did his first 10K in 63 minutes at Daman managing to qualify for the SCMM 2017 🙂.

On 1st January, 2016 Vishu ran his very first 21K at the Badlapur Pipeline Road in about 3 hours. Unfortunately, like many novice runners; having gone too far too fast, he was hit with an ITB (Iliotibial band) Injury. After taking complete rest for 3 weeks he did his debut Half Marathon on 31st January at the Rutu Run, Kalyan. It was a disastrously painful run where he finished in 3:19 and lead to further exacerbation of his ITB 😓.

This was followed by a few rounds to the doctors and physiotherapist and had him out of action for the next 3 months. He felt especially guilty for having ignored senior runner Devendra Mane who had told him skip the Rutu Run due to his injury. Thereafter, he started training under Devendra and the duo started interacting more as both were Admins at KDR by then.

In June 2016, Dev floated the idea of professionally coaching people in running besides organizing marathons to Vishwanathan along with his college friend and runner Dhananjay Shettigar. Thus M/s RunBurn was born and their flagship event TPHC (Tiger Point Hill Challenge) was conducted at Lonavala in November 2016 😎.

RunBurn has grown successfully since with coaching being provided at Kalyan E, Kalyan W, Dombivali and BKC. They have already organized around 10 events in the last three years.

After running a few 10Ks and HMs in 2016, Vishwanathan focused and did his first SCMM in 2017 finishing in 2:24; a whopping 55 minutes improvement in a year 🤗.

Realizing the importance of Form and Endurance, he attended a 2-day workshop with Ash Nath in June 2017 and has been working hard to inculcate his learnings. In fact, he focused on running mostly 10Ks in 2017 so as to build endurance and improve his timings. He also got a chance to be a 10K Pacer at the Customs Marathon and Yeour Hill Challenge 😎. He finished on a high in December 2017 where he got his PB of 2:12 at the Jaipur HM, his best effort till date 😇.

Vishu paced again at the ICT Marathon and KOR in 2018. The highlight this year though was undoubtedly the Runtastics 6-hour Midnight Run on 7-8 July, 2018 where he completed his very first FM 😀. Now the goal is to concentrate and do his first timed FM at the TMM in January 2019.

Currently Vishwanathan is following a 4-day Run schedule with Speed Intervals on Tuesday, Tempo Runs on Thursdays, short easy Run on Saturday followed by Long Slow Distance Run on Sunday while doing Leg and Core Strengthening on Wednesdays and Fridays with an average mileage of 120-150K that will increase August onwards once FM training sets in.

Ending on a happy note, Vishwanathan says his recent sugar levels are normal and his BMI is also in the Normal range, as against the Obese category that he was in two years back. He is also much more mindful and has made changes to his lifestyle besides reducing his teaching hours 😊.

He advises Newbies to go slow focusing initially on 10K for atleast 2-3 months, improving their timing. Then moving on to HMs which they should focus on for atleast a year before graduating to FMs and Ultras. He says one should not forget the primary goal of running for health. Basically every runner should develop patience, transit slowly and let their body accept the changes gradually.

Vishu signs off saying, “Work for Endurance, Speed will happen for sure.”