The fall: Wheeeeeeeee!!! I suddenly found myself skid on the road and fall off my bike on the highway. It was a Tuesday evening and I was out for a short ride-my last practice before the Olympic distance (1.5 km swim, 40 k bike, 10 k run) triathlon which was that following Saturday. I was shaken up for a moment when a car pulled up behind me. Two concerned men came out and asked if I was fine. I nodded and asked him to check if my bike was ok. He lifted my bike and answered in affirmative. “Do you want me to call an ambulance? You are bleeding. I can drop you off somewhere?” he asked. I got up and saw that my right knee and arm were badly bruised. Not the first time, as 6 months ago I had fallen in the middle of a race and still reached the finish line in a strong manner. Fortunately, there was no sprain so I decided to finish my bike ride and go home. Looking appalled at my statement, the 2 men reluctantly went ahead. I couldn’t seem to clean off the wound once I reached my apartment which made me go to Palo alto medical foundation emergency care. After checking me thoroughly to ensure there was no sign of a fracture, the doctor cleaned the wound and gave me a go ahead for my upcoming triathlon which was the mermaid series triathlon. “As long as you are feeling fine.” she said.
Rest before the race: I rested for the next few days, applying antibiotic cream on the wound and wrapping it up with a bandage. Maybe God wanted me to rest before the D day I thought. I was a little tensed as doing an Olympic distance triathlon had been on my bucket list since last year. No way was I giving this event a miss. What would hurt more than the actual wound was not doing this event after training for it for months, ever since I landed in the USA. I collected by bib on Wednesday evening as I examined the ingredients inside. There was a timing chip to be worn around the ankle, a small bib on the helmet of the cycle, a bib around the cycle and a bib for the tee shirt. A wristband was tied around my wrist which was my entry ticket inside the transition area on race morning. “If you lose this band, take your ID card with you and the volunteers will give you another one on race morning.” said the race director. “Got it,” I replied.
Pre-race prep: Wearing my tri suit and partly my wet suit, I set off to Capitola beach on Saturday morning. My hubby and daughter accompanied me and were to hang out at the beach until I was done with my event. My race started at 7:20 am and the transition area opened at 6:00 am. It was chilly in the morning but the weather was predicted to be warm later that day. The transition area was situated up Depot hill which was at least 800 m from the beach. I assembled my bike, laid down my towel on the left side of the bike with things that I would need post my swim which comprised of my helmet, goggles, GU gels, shoes and T shirt. Zipping up my wet suit, putting on my cap and goggles, I set off to the beach.
The mermaid feeling: The Olympic distance participants were already assembled on the beach and taking a dip in the ocean which was unexpectedly warm. The sand on the beach was colder than the water, we joked with one another. At the count of go, we set off. Entering the water, we began swimming our strokes. There were paddle boats and jet skis hovering around us in the ocean-volunteers who were to come to our aid in case any of us faced any difficulty. We were allowed to hold on to the boats, in case we were out of breath. The ocean was a little choppy as compared to the other day when I had attended a swim clinic. Considering it was a full moon day, I wasn’t surprised. The other women (this was an only women’s event) were faster swimmers and went ahead of me. Initially I began to panic wondering if I was doing something wrong only to remind myself that the others practically grew up near the ocean and were probably swimming in the sea since childhood while this was only my 4th time. I decided to just go with the flow, savoring every stroke against the mighty waves. At one point, I was the only one left as others had finished their swim. Having the entire ocean to myself was an incredible feeling. By the time I got out, I glanced at my watch to see I had taken lesser time to swim a mile in the ocean as compared to the pool. My legs felt wobbly as I ran to the transition area. The volunteers clapped and cheered for me all the way.
Transition one: The hardest part was to get out of the wet suit which is why body gliders are highly recommended. These are to be applied before putting on the wet suit and it helps in getting off the suit for your next division. Slipping my tee over my head, buckling my helmet and putting on my shoes, I steered my cycle to the blue line where I was to mount my bike and ride ahead.
A hilly ride: It was a rather steep hill that greeted me in the beginning which compelled me to get off my bike and walk it up to a point when I could start pedaling. The route was a tough one comprising of rolling hills all the way. It took us through some beautiful woods. Other fellow bikers kept egging us and cheering on saying “you’ve got it, you are getting there.” That kept me going and while coming downhill, I was extra careful as I did not want another fall. It was a two-loop course where volunteers were cheering us throughout. While coming back I got a glimpse of the pristine blue ocean on the left. It was unbelievably a hot day which made the biking part quite challenging as we had to battle both the hills and the heat.
Transition 2: Dismounting from the bike and placing it on the rack, I popped a GU gel and went off to complete the last leg-the 10 km run.
The heat run: Brick training becomes an essential aspect while training for a triathlon as running even a measly 10 km post a 40 km bike ride becomes an arduous task. Thankfully I had practiced some brick workouts as incorporated by my friend cum coach Viv Menon which came in handy on the D day. It was a hill that once again greeted me in the beginning of the run. The sun was out in full flow, exuding heat in a fierce manner. I ran past the cliff which overlooked the ocean below. Spotting the high tide waves and surfers, I longed to jump inside to escape the heat. However I had to keep going. While running, I spotted some of the Olympic distance participants on the way and found myself overtaking them. We hi-fived each other. The last lap towards the finish line was right on the beach. Running on sand in the middle of noon was no easy feat. However, the locals hanging out at the beach kept egging me on and I soon found myself crossing the finish line in style. I felt goosebumps on hearing the emcee announce saying ‘she’s from India, currently at Stanford and this is her first Olympic distance.’
The moment of joy: I was officially the mighty mermaid as the Olympic distance participants were called. It was such a wonderful moment having completed something on my bucket list. The medal was carved in a shape of a mermaid and the most beautiful one that I had ever seen. For some reason, I was always intrigued by these legendary aquatic creatures since childhood. It’s an old folklore that mermaids are associated with ill fortunes but this one managed to bring me a sense of accomplishment and immense joy as I posed with my country’s flag near at the finish line!
Vote of thanks: Thank you Viv! Don’t think I could have achieved this without your guidance and training! Aditya Sahu-another person who always saw potential in me even when I didn’t. Ashok- for always being supportive. Amit and Samara-for being there for me always.
“It’s a very hilly route”, the lady at the expo told me apologetically. I was mentally prepared for it as I had heard a lot about the rolling hills at Napa. This was just a training run and I was hoping to go easy and finish it in an easy 2:20 or so. We had arrived a day earlier for the race. The two-hour drive from Stanford city gave us a glimpse of the scenic vineries albeit from a distance. Checking in to our rooms at the Best Western plus inn, we decided to just relax and catch a game of American football on TV. It was too late to do the wine tours so we decided to do them post the race the next day before heading back to Stanford.
The race was at 8:00 am and the start point was just 5 minutes from the hotel by Uber. Skyline park-where the race commenced was a huge area that overlooked some mountains and wineries. There were stalls serving bananas and oranges before the run. People were slowly assembling near the start point. They looked a carefree lot who were out there to enjoy the experience instead of stressing about pace and time. While I was doing my stretches in the holding area, I overheard a few people discussing the route and comparing it to the grueling San Francisco half marathon and the Big Sur terrains. “Gosh it’s pretty hilly. You will be fine only if you have trained for it.”
I decided not to let that bog me down and averted my eyes to the hot air balloons that were cruising down the valley. As a little girl, I loved watching balloons and seeing them float away-no boundaries, no direction-like free spirits they would wonder, basking in the light breeze that would carry them where they were destined to go. It was almost 8:00 am and the announcements had begun.
Starting with the National Anthem, they went on to introduce a rather special guest for the day. One of the runners amidst us namely Dean was hit by a truck while he was cycling in North Carolina. He was paralyzed waist down and after a year of treatment, he was here at Napa to conquer the hills along with his doctor, the truck driver who had hit him and whom he had the large heartedness to forgive and befriend. Hearing this story, I felt goosebumps as I glanced in admiration at Dean who waved to the crowd. It required immense strength to run a hilly terrain but even more to be able to forgive someone who almost landed you on your death bed.
After the countdown, we began our run. An incline greeted us within the first 100 metres. It was not going to be an easy route, I thought. Besides, the heat was already setting in, making me feel thankful that I hadn’t worn my jacket or leggings. I had plugged in some retro music besides my usual EDM that would keep me going on a daunting terrain. More slopes greeted us as we were surrounded by the lush green vineyard on both sides. It seemed tougher than any other route that I have run on. By the 4th km, I felt drained as these slopes sapped my energy levels. Looking around for some inspiration like I normally do at events, I spotted an old though a strong looking lady who as cruising along in an effortless manner. Deciding to keep her as a pacer, I dutifully followed her. She seemed to be comfortable on a hilly terrain, probably a local who has run her practice runs on this same route.
At the 13th km mark, I spotted some horses galloping away in the ranch. Seeing their free-spirited stature seemed to help in my momentum as I cruised along. The sun started beating down hard. Back in India, it was more humid than hot unlike here where the heat was raw and brutal- probably enough to make a barbecue out of you. My ‘pacer’ was still in sight and 15 km were already done. The volunteers guided us at every juncture and there were Gu gels and water every 2 miles.
I observed a lot of hefty people overtaking me on the hills emphasizing the fact that one’s body weight had not much to do with speed if their training was strong and adequate enough. Personally, I have seen people with a good amount of flab able to clock terrific timings which attributed to their lung capacity or in technical terms the vo2 max.
At a couple of points, the slopes resembled a tsunami where we literally had to look up to them. Some runners decided to walk on those while I jogged up slowly with the intention of getting done with the heat and hills. I was told that a bottle of wine would be gifted to us at the end of the run long with the finishers medal. The thought of the red wine bottle waiting for me at the finish line was enough incentive to pace up my strides, overtaking my ‘pacer’ in the process. At the 18th km however, I was horrified to see the road turning uphill which left me wondering if these hills would ever end.
Gathering all my reserve, I kept going, trying my best to not let the awful heat get to me. I ran and ran till I crossed the finish line in a surprisingly decent time of 2:10:17. I collected my medal, my bottle of red wine, posed with my Indian flag and rushed back to the hotel.
It was now time to be entwined in the grape vine this time in a more relaxed manner as compared to the pounding amidst the hilly contours of the vineyards in the morning.
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!
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.
- Body glide needs to be applied before putting on a wet suit as it helps one get in and out of it easily.
- 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.
- Helmets need to have that CPSC sticker without which you will not be allowed to participate in events in the USA.
- Ensure that your bike is thoroughly serviced to avoid a flat tyre and chain breaking.
- Do not compete with others even if they are going faster as the race is with yourself and not others.
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!
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- It’s a beautiful route and one can be assured of enjoying the golden gate park and seeing San Francisco city!!
The runners’ appetite in me often seeks to run on new routes and different terrains. When Sangeeta Lalwani of Freerunners sent me an invite to the first edition of the Pune Women’s half marathon scheduled on March 12th 2017, I immediately embraced this opportunity to run in the city of Pune.
Despite living in Mumbai for a good 11 years, my travels somehow seemed to have eluded this neighbouring city. This particular running event was a good chance to see Pune and meet some of my runner friends simultaneously.
I always believed that not all runs/events are meant to be raced. While you select a few that you want to race, others are meant purely for the enjoyment factor. Considering I had run hard both at Auroville (Feb 12th) and at Kundalika (Feb 26th), I decided to relax and take this one easy. Besides I had already commenced Maffetone training-a heart rate based running program where the long runs are done within your aerobic zone.
Amit and I along with Samara drove down from Mumbai and reached Pune in 3 and a half hours. We were in good time to collect the bibs, meet the organiser and chat with some runner buddies. We learnt that this event was one of its kind which had received full support from the Police and Military forces. Though it was meant for women runners, there were male pacers who would be pacing several timed buses. My eyes lit up when Sangeeta mentioned about the army band that would be playing during our run. Being an ardent supporter of our selfless armed forces, I eagerly looked forward to running past them the next morning.
It was quite chilly as I assembled at the start line the next day. The race was supposed to commence at 5:45 am. Greeting and chatting up with a few fellow runners, I learnt that it was quite a hilly terrain and that the 19th km especially had a deadly slope. Nikhil Shah from Runbuddies-the organisers of the Kundalika River marathon was present there as a 3 hour pacer. I jokingly told him that after running a grueling hilly terrain at Kundalika in the sweltering heat, these slopes would be a baby in comparison.
For the first time, I left my speakers behind, deciding to enjoy the route for a change and go easy. So I slowly railed behind the 2:15 bus. At the 2.5 km mark, I caught sight of the army band laying some peppy music as the men in uniform stood there cheering for us. My left hand automatically went up in a form of a salute as I ran past them, encountering goose bumps and a sudden rush of energy.
Being still pitch dark, it was gratifying to see volunteers on cycles holding out lights lest we fall down on our faces. I could hear the birds chirping and the darkness soon gave way to light as the sun’s first rays crept in. I could see the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology to my left as I went up and down the slopes. Basking in the beauty of the surroundings, I soon feel into a trance little realizing that I had overtaken the 2:15 bus and was soon nearing the 10.5 km mark.
Volunteers and photographs stood on the side-lines cheering and clicking our strides away. I gave hi fives to some of my runner friends, quite enjoying every moment of the run and at the same time kept checking my Garmin to ensure that I was within the heart rate aerobic zone. There were some gardens to my right which made a pretty sight with its bright green grass and pink flowers.
I soon crossed the late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam memorial which made me feel rather wistful. Being a big fan of his writings, I recalled how I almost came close to interviewing him but failed to do so due to his sudden demise. A noble, intelligent and a humble soul not to mention one of the best Presidents India ever had. My eyes turned moist as I looked ahead and decided to concentrate on the run for a few minutes.
I encountered the threshold point according to my Garmin at the 17th km mark which made me stop and walk for a bit till my heart rate normalised. I began my run again and encountered volunteers and fellow runners on the way who shouted ‘good going mam’. At the 18.5 km, I once again ran past the army band whom I waved to and derived a sudden adrenalin rush from.
As I kept going ahead, I caught sight of the ‘gigantic slope’ at the 19th km. A sea of orange (the colour of the event’s t shirt presented to every runner) had cascaded the slope. While many chose to walk this deadly incline, my hill training in the past refused to let me do so and up I went, taking short strides and swinging my arm upwards. As I descended down, I suddenly found that I picked up pace and sprinted that last 700 metres and crossed the finish line in a decent 2:10.
“Not bad at all” I thought to myself. Considering the fact, I had done heavy strength training the previous week (something that I would avoid before a race) and that I didn’t listen to music throughout the 21 km (something that would up my pace), it was a very satisfying run altogether.
Being a new kid on the block, this first edition of the Women’s half marathon was quite a success considering the huge turn out and being a well organised one. With water stations at regular intervals, getting to run in an army zone with full support from the Pune Police and Military forces, free registration and timing chips, resplendent Orange T shirts, a sumptuous breakfast, free stretching session by Celebrity Yoga guru Payal Gidwani Tiwari, this event was a runner’s dream.
As I drove back to Mumbai later, I pondered over my strong finish. I realised that the moment I decided to not push myself or stress on timing, I end up running well. I suppose it’s a psychological aspect for me as I don’t work well under pressure. I am probably like that wild horse which likes to run free in the meadows without its reins or without being pushed. Maybe I am just a free runner after all (pun intended)!!
As a runner, hills have always intimidated me with their gigantic steep slopes that leaves me gasping for breath. It’s almost like a cliff hanger situation battling between a deadly DNF (did not finish is every runners nightmare) and survival to the finish line. Despite their daunting stature, hills manage to lure runners to their abode, partly to bask in the beauty of the surroundings and partly to feel the adrenalin rush of taking up this challenge.
So when the first edition Tiger’s point hill challenge at Lonavala was announced by Team Runburn comprising of Kalyan Dombivali Runners (KDR), I was bowled over just looking at the images of the scenic beauty of the Western Ghats. “What a place to run”, I thought to myself and I immediately registered, albeit only for the 10 k since the Wipro Chennai marathon which I had signed up for earlier was just 2 weeks after this one.
The team was always prompt about their updates with regards to bib collection, race timing and stay options. While some chose to drive to Lonavala the day before and collect their bibs, my running partner cum hubby Amit and I decided to drive down on Sunday morning directly to the race.
Saturdays-the day before any race is usually spent in watching a move either in the theatre or on TV. That particular day I managed to watch 2-‘Dear Zindagi’ which makes you embrace life again (I made a mental note to embrace the hills the next morning) and ‘Lakshya’. The latter was based on the Kargil war where the Indian soldiers climb the daunting slope of Tiger Hill to assault an attack on the enemy. I decided to use this as a dose of inspiration as I closed my eyes for the night.
I was groggy and droopy when I woke up at 2:00 am the next morning. Managing to gulp down a peanut butter sandwich and munching protein bar on the way, we drove towards the hills, after picking up our runner friend Sunil Talwar on the way. We reached the venue by 5:30 am and collected our bibs from Vishwanath Iyer- our friend and who was also one of the organisers. It was biting cold and I was in half mind to get back inside my car and snuggle back to sleep. Friendly chatter with other runner buddies managed to lift my spirits as we wished good luck to the half marathoners who started 30 minutes earlier. The 10 km race commenced at 6:30 am. Feeling like a zombie still, I decided to take it easy and enjoy the route instead.
As the race flagged off, my strides magically quickened and we were greeted with an incline from the 700 m point onward. From there on began the battle with the slopes. ‘All those hill repeats better come in handy now’, I thought as the slopes seemed to steepen with every 500 metres. High knee, short strides, arms up, I marched up the slopes and looked up at the savana like grass on the sides glistening in the first rays of sunlight. It reminded me of the song ‘wada raha sanam’ from the Akshay Kumar starrer ‘Khiladi’ as I silently hummed the tune to myself.
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As I ran up these twists and turns, my thoughts traced back to those Tirupathi hills which I had visited last year and wondered what it would be like to run up those hills. I suppose my wish was being granted as I strutted up these slopes. “Boy, Satara is nothing” I thought. Satara Hill marathon was known for its grueling terrain and called as the ultra-half Marathon. Sufficient volunteers were present at regular intervals with water and enerzal ready in hand. After 3 km, the terrain glided up and down reminding me of a snakes coil. It was a beautiful route no doubt as we took in the pale brown mountains mirrored against the pristine blue sky with wisps of the dried yellow grass and green trees.
We soon turned at the 5 km mark and the first thought that struck me was what goes up eventually comes down. I smiled gleefully at the mere thought of gliding down those slopes. As I ran along, I caught sight of a few runner friends and gave them a thumbs up sign. As we finished 7 km, we began to descent downwards.
Now running downhill reminds me of those slides that we used to play with in those parks where we would slide down with squeals of laughter. We sprinted down those slopes with the cool breeze blowing on our faces. “This is so liberating”, I thought as my speakers played the number “My dream is to fly over the rainbow so high” by Yves Larock. At one point I spread my arms as though I was flying, much to the mortification of those drivers of the vehicles coming up those slopes who probably must have thought that I was some kind of a lunatic.
I continued running furiously and soon found myself crossing the finish line only to see my buddy Vishwanath Iyer say “Welcome to the podium. You are second.” “Oh wow” I thought. “Not bad considering the fact that I was going to sleep walk through the hills earlier that morning.”
We soon collected our medals and headed over to the stretch area where a physio guided us with our stiff calves post the grueling run. After our customary poses, we decided to grab a bite of the breakfast which served idlis, batata wada, chutney and banana sheera.
By now the half marathoners began to stream in and we stood at the finish line cheering for all of them. The laughter, animated chatter and energetic discussions about the route began. Apparently it was tough till 5 km and it was a terrain of rolling hills post that for the half marathoners. Instant comparisons were made with the Satara Hill run and many runners firmly stated that the Tiger’s point hill challenge was way tougher than the former, jokingly labeling it as Satara’s big daddy.
The prize distribution money took place and it was great to hear some familiar names announced as winners in the veteran and open category. Collecting my trophy and cash prize, we soon headed towards German Bakery for breakfast with a few friends. The celebration continued with more jokes till we drove down back to Mumbai.
As I looked outside at the roads, I wondered what was it we runners gained by waking up at unearthly hours in the morning and putting ourselves through a grueling terrain. The medal? Timing certificate? Adrenalin rush of having conquered a tough route? Overcoming our barriers? A chance to meet and pose with our runner buddies over a cup of piping hot tea? I suppose it was all that and more.
We may groan at the thought of running up those slopes but nevertheless it makes us feel like valiant soldiers having won a battle after conquering those hills. Similar to the movie ‘Lakshya’ where the armed forces flaunt the Indian flag on top of the Himalayan Tiger Hill. Only difference being that we runners flaunted our smiles and medals on the Tiger’s point Hill of the Western Ghats.
Thank you Team Runburn, volunteers and photographs for the great arrangements. Look forward to doing this event next year as well!