Category Archives: Race Reviews

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Guidelines :

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guidelines for this race:

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The run that I did not race: Pune Women’s half marathon experience

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)!!

Conquering Tiger Hill of the Western Ghats: The Tiger’s point Hill Challenge run

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Feeling surreal on foreign soil -The Baystate Half Marathon experience

Running an international race was always on my bucket list ever since I started running in 2012.  It was by chance that an opportunity presented itself through an unexpected trip to the USA. It was not exactly our planned holiday. However work beckoned my husband cum running partner to the east coast and we decided to eventually combine it with a short vacation. The runner’s bug in me prompted me to scan through the races scheduled around the time we were visiting and stumbled upon the Baystate marathon. Having received good reviews about being a well organised one, the Boston qualifier aspect only proved to be an icing on the cake. I immediately signed up, brimming with excitement of running my first international race.

My first step was to assemble the appropriate attire, considering it was the onset of winter and the temperatures were most likely to dip.  Suggestions from friends who had run international races came in handy as we set off to the other side of the world. Landing in Boston, we drove down to Lovell in about 25-30 minutes, where the race was scheduled.  We had booked ourselves at the Radisson hotel, Chelmsford where the bib collection was taking place. Shuttle services were also organised by the hotel to the start point of the race which was a 10 minute drive.

We had around 4 days to acclimatize and get over our jet lag. A short 5 km run, couple of days before the race enabled me to get a fair idea about the weather and my comfort factor in being attired like an Eskimo, quite contrary to my singlet and shorts back home in humid conditions.  The weather and the scenic colours of autumn were breathtakingly beautiful and I stopped to take a few pictures of the strewn leaves on the ground adorned by different shades of green, yellow and red trees on either side of the trail. Feeling good, I returned to the hotel to collect my bib later that evening. It was a well organised affair, offering a goody bag and a T shirt for all the runners. Overwhelmed by the fact that we had come so far to run this race, the volunteers were kind enough to present my husband with a T shirt as well, despite the fact he wasn’t running this one.

Now I had no strategy or plans for this race. My philosophy has always been to enjoy every run and not stress about the time.  As I stood waiting for the shuttle at the lobby, I got myself acquainted with a couple of runners from China and also a nice gentleman whom I was seated next to in the bus. They were all running the full and were aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was intriguing listening to their running and triathlon experiences while I narrated about the running culture in India and talked about the Mumbai Road Runners’ community.

The race for both the full and the half marathon was scheduled at 8:00 am and we reached the holding area at around half past seven. It was freezing and I decided to warm up a bit. I looked around in interest, watching runners from different cultures assembling at the start point. Some of us exchanged smiles and wished each other.  I soon found myself breaking into those strides once the clock struck 8. My feet felt numb initially due to the chill weather which of course was resolved once a few miles were covered. A lot of foreigners overtook me and I could only gape in admiration at their sturdy and strong strides. Though the course was said to be a flat one, there were a few inclines present right from the beginning. I looked around and noticed the dainty array of houses on either side of the roads. Photographers were present along with a good crowd of local folks who cheered us at different junctions. After a few miles, it started getting warmer as I noticed several runners discarding their gloves and jackets on the road. The colours of autumn gleamed in the sunlight and there was this vast lake to our right, depicting a glowing shade of sparkling blue.

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Volunteers were stationed at frequent intervals handing over water and gatorade which replenished our depleted energy levels. I felt myself cruising along the roads of Lovell and at one point was in tow with the 3:45 pacer of the full marathon before we broke into different directions. While the full marathon had pacers up to the 4 hour bus, there were none for the half marathon.  The sun began to come out in a strong manner at certain points which made me wonder for a minute if I was overdressed, only to be assured by that brush with cold air that I probably wasn’t.

When I covered about 12 km, I told myself that it was just 9 km more to go and decided to think this as a distance for ‘navrun’. ‘Navrun’ was a unique concept conceptualised by the Mumbai Road Runners as an ode to the Navratri festival every year in October of either running 9 km every day or doing different workouts for those 9 days continuously.

I was going strong until I encountered a breathing problem that was persisting me for a while which makes me feel nauseous and fatigued. It’s sort of a slight congestion of having phlegm in my chest- the one that you face when attacked by the common cold. Despite not having a cold, I would face this during my runs and was advised by my coach to see a doctor regarding this.

I paused for a few seconds and picked up pace. We were doing 2 loops of the same course and during the 2nd loop of the route; there were timers which displayed 1:40. I glanced at my watch which showed 17.7 km done. My eyes popped out wondering if I had really been going at that pace. By now the sun had come out in a fierce manner albeit there was no humidity which proved to be a blessing. I ran up the bridge and knew it was just less than 4 km to go. I psychologically tuned my mind to the home turf on marine drive in Mumbai and imagined myself to be near Chowpatty beach which was about 3.3 km till the finish point at NCPA.

For some reason I hit a wall a little ahead of the 19th km. My eyelids felt droopy depicting the jet lag I had been battling throughout the race. It felt like sleep running at some points until I derived some inspiration from a Chinese runner in the vicinity which kept me going.  It was a surreal feeling when I hit 21 km in less than 2 hours. Did I actually break the 2 hour barrier?? No pacer, no strategy, no planning. I just ran like a raw runner and actually achieved my dream on foreign soil. The medals were garlanded a little ahead of the finish line, where my husband and daughter were waiting for me.

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Excitement filled the air as I posed with the Indian flag. The best part about this race was the fact that there was a separate medal for those who bagged their personal best timing as well. So it was a treat to bag 2 medals in a race which is considered as one of the fastest ones in the USA. I also silently thanked the weather Gods and a thought took me back to all those runners achieving a sub 2 in humid conditions back in India. Kudos to them I thought as they were definitely a tough lot.

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Some of the learnings that I incorporated during this race was to ensure that I enjoy every run in the future, see a doctor the moment I land in India, include more mileage during my long runs and break the distance barrier of 21 km to prevent myself from hitting a wall.

The first of anything always bags a special place in your heart. My first international race at the Baystate Half marathon will always be special, not because of my personal best timing but the entire experience of running with people from different cultures was something which words cannot describe. Incredible?  Scintillating? Riveting? Maybe something more than that!

 

 

Learning on the run -The Bhumi India Run experience

September 11th,2016

There are times when you run for your personal best, probably a podium finish or on a tough terrain to move out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do something remarkable. However there are instances when you set aside your personal aspirations and decide to make a difference with your strides, where you end up learning something that humbles you as a person.

The Bhumi India run held at Bandra Fort this morning was one such event which was devoid of any timing chip and runners came together to run for a cause- raising funds for supporting education for underprivileged kids. When runner friend Bhavana Diyora invited me to be a part of this run, I gladly obliged. Incidentally, it also turned out to be an educational experience for me as a runner and a person.

It was a 10 k run and I had decided to go easy on this one, considering that I had been racing non-stop for the last 4 weekends.  The route took us through the scenic side of carter road, where we were treated to a splendid sight of the rocks and the pristine blue Arabian Sea on the left. On the right, we passed the luxurious Taj Lands end Hotel and super star Shahrukh Khan’s bungalow called Mannat usually thronged by the fans of the actor. It reminded me of the movie ‘Fan’ which I had recently watched on television. However not being a ‘jabra fan’, I didn’t care to stop to spread my arms and gaze in a starry eyed manner at this mansion.  I chose to focus on my strides instead.

It was a similar route of the IDBI federal Mumbai half marathon promo run which was held sometime in April this year. It brought back some fun memories as I recollected those friendly shouts to fellow runners across the road. The Bhumi India run had volunteers present at every nook and corner. They guided runners on the right track, clapping, cheering and ensuring that the vehicles do not cross our paths. There was a certain amount of traffic that morning due to the Mount Mary fair that was being held. Aid stations serving water and Tata Gluco plus were present at frequent intervals along with the photographers who were there to click our photos.

Now every time I decide to take a run easy, be it a race or a practice run, my mind is free from the pressure of timing which compels me to push whenever I felt like it. So after a while, I decided to increase my pace. The course consisted of a few inclines and there was one steep one at the 5 km mark. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed running up this slope, quite contradictory to my usual response towards hills where my eyes would widen with terror. Like a child playing on a seesaw, I smiled as I went up and down these inclines.

On the way back, I waved at some familiar faces and continued the strides. As we neared the 9th km mark, we were blessed with heavy showers, drenching us to the hilt.  The wet clothes weighed us down but not our spirits as we sprinted towards the finish line with the Garmin showing 57 minutes.  I was eager to go catch up with my runner friends and waited impatiently for the rains to subside. After collecting the medal, I met several of them and posed for the customary clicks which I usually term as ‘memoirs of the race euphoria’ i.e. memories of a good time at any event.  We collected our breakfast in a box which comprised of samosas and gulab jamuns, along with a packet of chips.

We headed towards the stage, from where we could catch the magnificent view of the Bandra-Worli sea link.  Some announcements were made and I soon turned my attention towards the dais as I recognised runner friend cum MRR admin cum an amazing writer-Bijay Nair’s voice on the mike. Listening to his journey was inspiring as he talked about his astounding transformation from being an overweight person to a fit runner that he is today. Also being from the naval forces, his speech held pride as he spoke about his upcoming book ‘#They INSpire’ where’INS’ depicted a tribute to the navy. The book consisted of enthralling stories of several runners who had battled against several odds in order to achieve the impossible which constituted their respectable position in the runners’ community today.

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After this, the stage made way for yet another awe inspiring runner-Satish Gujaran who is a 7 time comrades finisher. Comrades  is a race held at South Africa every year in the month of May and a test of human endurance where one was required to complete 89 km within 12 hours.

I had met Satish several times and found him to be a humble person despite his extraordinary achievements. I listened to him intently while he was narrating his transitional journey from being a chain smoker who could barely run 500 m to now a runner who runs a whopping distance of 89 km every year in South Africa.  He recommended the step by step approach for a runner while making a transition from a 5k to an ultra-runner and also stressed about respecting one’s body by doing the necessary medical check-ups on a regular basis.

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He went on to narrate a solemn experience of his friend-a runner from China who was extremely fit and yet met with a tragic end post a run.  In relation to this, he talked about the importance of knowing the art of dealing with emergency situations when a runner falls unconscious or when his/her heart beat stops. He also mentioned the importance of wearing a wrist band which carries one’s blood group and emergency number to be contacted during such grave instances.  As he concluded on a light note, I processed all that I had learnt post this event.

I have always believed that every run was a learning experience and a test of our physical and mental abilities. However the learning that I imbibed from the Bhumi India run was an enriching one with the speeches deeply ingrained in my mind as I came out as a wiser soul.

Incidentally this run was to promote education for the underprivileged section of the society and yet I realised how privileged I was to have educated myself this morning. No doubt the saying goes that learning indeed is a continuous process.

Thank you Bhavana for inviting me to be a part of this run, Bijay and Satish for your inspiring and informative speeches, volunteers for doing a commendable job and photographers for making our runs memorable.

Yeours’ truly an uphill task-The Yeour Hill run challenge experience

Hills have always intimidated me and it’s been an arduous battle trying to conquer them.  Despite doing the famous Satara Hill Marathon last year, I still could not get over my inhibition for inclines which prompted me to train harder under the guidance of my coach in the last couple of months.  When Vivek Soni- the organiser of Yeour Hill run challenge asked me if I would be interested in participating in the same, I immediately agreed. It was either a 15 k hill run or a 10 k run with obstacles. Unsure about the latter I opted for the former one which was scheduled on September 4th, 2016.

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Yeour Hills is situated in Thane district in Maharashtra and is highly recommended as a beautiful terrain albeit a tough one, by many runner friends’ who would often train there.  Now considering that the month of August had been a gruelling one, starting with the Durshet forest marathon, the IDBI federal Mumbai half marathon and the IIT Bombay monsoon run, I decided to take a back seat and bask in the beauty of the surroundings instead of pushing my heart rate beyond its limits. After all, I have always believed in the philosophy of not racing in all my runs and stopping to smell the roses once in a while.

A few days before the event, I was delighted to find that several of my runner buddies were participating in this run and one of them was pacing the 2 hour bus. Excited chats were exchanged about how we will all eventually get our sub 2 (every half marathoner’s dream) at least in this one. The D day arrived, commencing with a long drive to Thane along with another runner friend –Abhijit. We passed a gigantic Ganesha statue being carried in a truck for the much awaited Ganpati festival which commenced from the next day (Sep 5).  Considering this as a positive sign, I knew that I would survive the unrelenting hills. We soon reached the venue and eagerly caught up with some of our friends.

After a round of the warm up session, we headed towards the start line. The Sub 2 topic emerged again sending us into peals of laughter. Giggling like school children going on a picnic, we even talked about strolling up the inclines if we found it too tough to surpass them with our strides.

The start of the run proved to be a little shaky as I had accidently set my Vivoactive garmin on the swim mode and had to pause to set it right. Besides my ipod began to play some 90s Bollywood number instead of the electronic beats that I normally listen to during a run which had to be adjusted as well. Losing a couple of minutes, I sprinted to catch the 2 hour bus. I ran just a little ahead, thinking that even I lost steam; I would end up being with the rest of the gang. I slowly found myself going ahead and soon came across my first slope which I surpassed. ‘Not bad’, I thought as I continued my strides and soon spotted the majestic Upavan Lake to my left at the break of dawn.  This vast body of water was spread like a colourless sheet of tranquillity carrying the reflection of the sky above.  Just at that juncture I bumped into one our renowned photographers-Michael whom I greeted with a cheerful good morning. ‘You are fourth’, he said excitedly and I acknowledged with a thumbs up.

The course offered more rolling hills just as I had anticipated. ‘I can get through this’, I told myself. All those hill training sessions might as well come in handy now. At the 4th km, came the dangerous curve that men would usually rave about. Unfortunately I was no man and certainly didn’t appreciate curves especially since this one reminded me of that deadly 4-7 km stretch at the Satara Hill run. I decided to run up this one as long as I could before I adopted the walk-run method. After a while, I chose to walk a few steps and look around. The surroundings were an enchanting green as we were embedded between jungles on both sides reminding me of those hill station trips to Ooty and Kodaikanal I took as a little girl.

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As I came across more slopes, I gasped and stopped in my tracks. “What goes up will always come down”, my hubby cum running partner Amit told me. That was enough to set that fierce runner in me on fire as my feet cruised up those inclines and turned at the 7.5 km mark. There were aid-stations offering water and fast & up to replenish our depleted energy levels. On the way down, I caught sight and waved at several runners, smiling and cheering them. The downhill run is always a joyful ride, making you feel like a child coming down a giant slide.  From thereon it was no looking back till we reached the finish line which we crossed with our customary sprint in 1 hour 30 minutes, with me ranking 4th.

We headed towards the holding area to collect our medals and breakfast of idli, wada and chutney, an energy drink which was followed by a cup of tea.  Considering how all of us loved south Indian cuisine, these breakfast boxes were devoured like hot cakes. As our friends gathered, we ended up discussing the incredibly beautiful route and also the euphoric feeling that we felt on completing such a challenging one. Our mobiles greeted us with a message from the organisers about our race timing which was sent to us as soon as we crossed the finish line. The results and our ranking were mailed to us once the winners were announced. The promptness in this service impressed us as we thanked the organisers for giving us an opportunity to run amidst nature within city limits.

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No doubt, it was a daunting task having to conquer the hills as intimidating as that of Yeours’ truly (pun intended). But as I left the grounds, it was those memories of the mesmerising lake, jungles, laughter, photographs and elated discussions that continued to linger on my mind which left a grin on my face throughout the ride back home.

Nevertheless the battle with the hills continues…

Thank you Vivek Soni, Joints n Motion, Fast & Up, volunteers and photographers!