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Conquering Morgan hill: The South Bay Duathlon experience

             

Run-bike-run! Sounds like fun, right? It sure is if you don’t mind your legs wobbling like jelly at the end of it and when I say jelly I don’t mean the mouthwatering dessert that you see at those fancy tea parties. It means that they feel like a pile of bricks tumbling down in an earthquake.

March was considered the start to the triathlon season in California and I decided to inaugurate mine with an Olympic distance duathlon event organized by USA Productions-one of the largest west coast based event production companies that organize endurance events. The venue was at Live Oak school, Morgan Hill which was about 50 minutes away from Stanford. The event began at 7:05 am and participants had to be there an hour prior to set up their stuff at the transition area.

It was still dark when I arrived and I could see several strong looking triathletes setting up their bikes and bags in the transition area.  I set up mine and stood there shivering in the cold despite having worn an inner warm clothing.  I looked around at the friendly folks who were laughing and joking with one another. They made it a point to include me in a couple of their jokes which helped in easing those bouts of nervousness that had suddenly consumed me like a dark spell. “I didn’t bring my other bike as I am still not comfortable with it.” Said one guy. “Then you should ride more often on it to get comfortable. What say?” he looked at me laughing and I grinned.  The ambience was certainly that of an easy going one, a far cry from the seriousness that I expected out of high performing athletes. I decided to relax and walk around for a bit before the start of the first leg which was the 10 k run.

While talking to one of the volunteers, I discovered that this wasn’t an entirely a flat course and that the bike course had one steep hill.  I cringed my face as my hill cycling was at its worst. Running up the hills was a far easier feat than peddling those wheels up the slopes.  I offered a silent prayer to Lord Ganesha to help me complete this event without any obstacle. Fortunately, there was no cut off timing for this event as the organizers strongly believed in the spirit of participation more than anything.

The first leg 10 k run: The weather was quite chilly and an ideal one for someone to aim for their personal best. However, the thought of having to bike 40 k and run another 5 k post weighed on my mind as I paced myself cautiously like a chicken which had just hatched from its egg and was exploring the world for the first time.  While the other women sprinted from the word go, I paced myself sensibly.  It was 2 loops of the 5 k course and we passed through some cherry blossoms, mustard fields and green mountains in the vicinity. The entire sight reminded me of Switzerland and clippings from those famous Yash Raj Films.

The mustard plants transported me back to the song “Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam” from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. I suddenly heard a bell and looked up surprised only to see a volunteer jingling one to encourage participants instead of a demure looking cow wearing a cowbell on its neck like it was shown in the movie. I smiled and shook my head at my idiosyncrasies and ran ahead.  Before I knew it, I had completed one loop and was on my second loop.  I saw some cyclists whizz past me like a whirlwind. So, some of them were on their second leg now, I thought, making me marvel at their finesse and athletic abilities to sprint their way through each division. Probably enough to give me an inferiority complex making me wonder what a tortoise like me was doing amidst these cheetahs. However, living in the Silicon Valley for 8 months taught me one thing-never give up even if the odds are against you and hold your head high irrespective of what you do. When I heard the volunteers shout “you go gal”, “you are my hero”, “you got this one”, I revived my spirits, overtaking a couple of runners as I crossed the mat in 59 minutes.

T1: Ideally, I had to just put on my helmet and glasses and wheel my bike towards a point from where I could start cycling. However, a momentary confusion and getting that clarified from a volunteer costed me 3 mins.  I mounted on my bike, ready to rock the roads. “Have fun”, a volunteer shouted. I nodded smiling. That’s what I was here for right? To have fun.

40 k bike: Residing in Stanford campus gave me ample scope to navigate around on a cycle whether it was to go to my classes, library, gym or just buy groceries and carry them on my bag pack. Quite an adventure by itself and a pleasant change from being coped up inside a car especially since I was prone to car sickness.  The rainy weather had Stanford entire winter had made it challenging to clock mileages outdoors so all those long hours on the bike were spent indoors on the wahoo kickr trainer.

It was lovely to be back outdoors especially since the weather gods had decided to be nice today.  It was 5 loops of an 8 km course and a picturesque one, making it hard for me to tear my eyes away from the postcard like surroundings and focus on the road ahead.  Volunteers stood at every juncture, directing us in the right manner lest we get lost.  The roads were perfectly divided with cones to separate the regular traffic from the event course. Feeling the fresh breeze on my face, I cruised ahead taking in the fields and the green carpet of nature that had cascaded on either side of the roads.  Everything was going fine until I reached that gigantic hill near the dam. Oh boy! This looked deadly as I lowered my gear and peddled up. After a point, fatigue took over my legs, prompting me to get down from my bike and wheel it up. A couple of concerned cyclists and volunteers asked if I was ok to which I responded with a cheerful nod till I reached a point where I could mount my bike again and cruise on the roads like a free spirit. One loop done and four more to go. With every loop, my legs were getting stronger barring that ugly hurdle which probably costed me at least 5-7 minutes of my cycling time.  I had finished 40 km in 1:50, a significant improvement from my previous timing of 2:05, all thanks to my coach’s training.

T2: It hardly took a minute to remove my helmet and glasses and hit the roads again with my strides.

Third leg 5 k run: My legs felt numb. Wait a minute! I felt like a ghost on a run, almost invisible until I heard a few cyclists egg me on shouting “you go gal”. Alright so I hadn’t turned into a spirit but why did I feel like I had no legs.  I looked down to see that they were still in one piece.  In my mind, they felt like a 2-story building crumbling down in a natural disaster. A gulp of electrolytes handed over by the kind volunteers restored life back to them. By now the sun was up and glaring down at us. I felt the cyclists whizz pass me-the sprint category participants and each of them had a word of encouragement for me, making me feel as though I was on a quest to break a world record.  “never give up, you can do it, you are almost there”, were the words I heard till I reached the finish line.  The last 5 k was in 33 minutes as I plonked myself on one of the chairs after collecting my medal.

Breakfast was being served and I grabbed a couple of oranges, a bowl of blueberries and half a muffin as I was famished. There was provision to check our finish timing at the timing kiosk if we entered our bib number. I was pleasantly surprised to see 3:29:31 when I thought it would be somewhere around 4 hours. Compared to international timing, it was pretty mediocre but for an Indian who is from a non-athletic background, I was elated as I had performed better than expected.

It doesn’t matter if you are the last, it doesn’t matter if you re slow but what matters is you finish like a champion holding your head high, strong enough to lift your bike which has been your ally throughout this journey!

A special mention to all the volunteers at this event and without their support, I wouldn’t have reached the finish line.  Take a bow USA Productions for a well-organized event. A big thanks to my coach Viv whose constant guidance helped me grow strength to strength.

Lata Alimchandani- Live Life Neeru Size

This sprightly 60-year-old young girl took up Running only at the age of 55. Lata was always physically active throughout though sports were fairly limited to Kho kho et all in school in those days. Post marriage, she ran her own boutique and made quite a name for herself designing wedding outfits. She travelled from Kashmir to Amritsar, Delhi and finally moved to Mumbai. Business and family jaunts would regularly have her traveling abroad. On one such occasion, she was detected with Brain Tumour for which Lata had to undergo Surgery. Fortunately, everything worked out perfectly and she was up and about within no time 😇.

Post-Surgery, when she was living in Bangkok; early riser that she was, she would regularly head to the close by Garden for stretching when loads of youngsters would be returning back from Discos. There she learned Yoga and continued to practice the same for 4-5 years. Always eager to learn new things, she also took up Aerobics later in Mumbai.

Encouraged by her Aerobics friends, she did her first running event- 10K at the Pinkathon in December 2013. At the time, Lata was clueless about Marathons thinking that everyone ran as a group starting and finishing together 😁. In fact, she ended up carrying her timing chip since she didn’t know that the timing tag had to be attached to her shoe and her timing wasn’t recorded at the Pinkathon 😑.

All gung ho, she decided to do her very first Half Marathon at the SCMM in January 2014. She convinced her husband to register her through a Charity Bib as she did not want to lose out on precious time. She went on to do a 25K during training and finished in 2:10 despite her shoes giving her trouble during the Race.

This was followed by another HM at the Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon in February 2014 where Lata stood fourth. Subsequently, it was at the IL&FS 10K where Lata tasted sweet success and got her very first Podium. Elated, she was literally jumping up and down with Joy 😁. Of course that was followed up with several more podiums practically all over the place as she soon became a familiar face on every Victory stand.

Subsequently, she went on to do about 60-70 events including several 10K, HM, FM besides track events at the Masters; both Domestic as well as International. Having qualified for Boston, now Lata is training for the World Masters as well as Asian Masters and also wants to complete the World Majors- 6 major international marathons at the earliest.

Not being Social Media savvy, Lata only learned about Mumbai Road Runners from Sunil Shetty. She got connected with MRR in 2015 when she enjoyed the monthly Bandra-NCPA run with them. She was delighted to be awarded in the Best Female Veteran Runner Category subsequently at the MRR Awards in 2016 when she got to meet and interact with several other Runners 😊.

Initially, Lata would train Solo thinking no one can teach you Running. She felt all she needed to do was run more than the required distance during practice. Later, she connected with Sunil Shetty and other Puma Brand Ambassadors and went on to be mentored by different Marathon Coaches. However, Lata continues to adapt her own training plans giving far more importance to Strength training. She believes that one should always Listen to One’s Body and Run or Race accordingly.

Lata follows follows a 3-4 days Run schedule followed by post run Stretching and Strengthening besides 2 days of Strength and Functional Training though now she gives less importance to Weight training. She keeps trying to do different things and enjoys dabbling in variety. She is highly inspired by the Labor Class who run and says that they manage to find time to work out despite their heavy work load 😎.

She advises that one should always be active keeping the mind occupied so as to keep aches, pains and illness at bay. There is always so much more to do besides just plonking down in front of the TV. This way you will always be healthy and happy.

Lata loves her Running-centric Life which has given her so much Respect, Adulation and Admiration. She still cannot believe when people message her saying that she is an Inspiration.

On a lighter note, Lata states that she has told her most ardent supporter- her Hubby that he must arrange a Marathon after her death when he is to give away all her medals and trophies. After all, what better way to be Remembered and Cherished by fellow Runners 🤗.

The Double delight:My first US podium experience

Good things come when you least expect it.  I landed up at the Palo Alto Bay lands nature reserve with the intention of enjoying a run by a trail and experience my last double road race of the season organized by Bob Anderson-founder of Runner’s world magazine. Little did I realize that I would be rewarded or should I say awarded.

The concept of a double road race is where a distance is split into 2 races. For instance, if it is a double 8 k, runners run a 5 k first, take a break for 45 minutes and then run a 3 k. Now once someone is done with running a certain distance, it’s always challenging to run the second leg of the race especially after a break.

The venue was just 15 minutes away from Stanford and I landed there nice and early, admiring the sight of some migratory birds and the marshlands around.  After collecting my bib, I chatted with Bob for a few minutes, trying to understand the route. The weather was nice quite chilly and I walked around for a bit, clicked some pictures and eventually started my warm ups. A good number of people had assembled, some familiar faces that I recognized from the previous double road race events.  Despite their age, most of them looked strong and sturdy enough to give the younger ones a run for their money.

The race commenced at 8:30 am. I decided to follow Bob and test my pace. Now Bob who had turned 70 recently was a 3:30 full marathon finisher.  Gathering all my reserves, I put my best foot forward and ran like there were hound dogs after my life.  I kept Bob within my eyesight as we entered the trails surrounded by a carpet of green on either side.  It was a 2.5 k loop and at the turn, he gave me thumbs up which boosted my spirits. After 3.5 k, I was drained and paused for 10 seconds before I took off again. It wasn’t entirely a flat course and the gradient probably took a toll on my legs for running at a fanatic pace. I eased out and decided to focus on finishing strong instead of exploding my lungs.  5k was done in 27 minutes and I plonked on the ground catching my breath.

The past 2 months hadn’t been easy as I had injured my ankle at the gym sometime mid-January, causing it to swell to an extent that it appeared as though a golf ball had been tucked into my ankle bone. Doing my speed and tempo runs had become a challenge for a couple of weeks. After a lot of icing and stretching, I resumed running albeit with a moderate pace, enough to take me to the finish line. The viral bout which started February end and the relapse the previous week added fuel to the fire and certainly didn’t make things easier. Nevertheless, I kept persisting to build back my strength.

I grabbed a couple of oranges and a few raisins placed on the refreshments table before the next leg began.  The 3 k was scheduled to start at 9:45 am and I decided to replenish my muscles in the meantime. Just as we all gathered near the start point, I ended up getting into a conversation with a few people. A lady was doing the 100-mile event in a couple of weeks and it was quite intriguing to hear about her schedule and training plan. Doubly inspired, I geared up for the 3 k and once again I decided to trail Bob. Oblivious to him, he ended up becoming my pacer. At the 1.5 km mark, the thumbs up again from him spiked my energy levels and I cruised the 3k course in 16 minutes.

Collecting my medal, I hung around for a bit chatting with Bob and some other runners, one of them who was a triathlete. Soon we were immersed in a discussion about the upcoming triathlons and duathlons when I suddenly heard my name being called out. I looked up curiously and to my surprise, I had come 3rd in my age category.

Wow! My first podium in the US! I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. It was a privilege to receive the winners’ medal from Bob who said there was a remarkable improvement from my first double road race in August 2017. “You were running fast today”, he said which was a huge compliment as I stood there beaming like a student who had received an A grade report from her teacher.

Glancing at both my medals, all those thoughts about me being a useless runner which had haunted my mind last 2 months, were dispelled instantly. Most importantly I realized that the minute I decide to go to an event with the intention of just merely enjoying it, that’s when I ended up doing my best. I looked around at the cherry blossoms and the flowers blooming in their full glory while going back home. Spring was already on its way and it felt like a new beginning!

 

 

 

 

 

MRR Aarey 10K Run

The Aarey Training run took place on Sunday 18th of March 2018 and was an awesome training run.

The neither the humid weather nor sweat could dampen the enthusiasm of 100 plus odd runners who joined for the training run.

Runners began to assemble at the designated start point by 6 am but the event started around 6:15 am as it was dark and the roads are not in good condition. The training started with warm ups by Muffadal followed by the explanation of the route to the runners present who had to do two loops of New Zealand hostel route by going a little ahead till the junction. The route would be helpful for runners who wanted to do training. The weather was humid outside but it was cooler inside the forest which made it easier for runners.

The runners covered distances from 5-10 kms, some even covering 16 kms too.

Pictures of today’s run have been uploaded. Thanks to Rodman and Kartik Iyer for being the photographers for the day .

Ms. Seema Bhavani from the #SaveAarey Group joined us for the run and was a pleasure to have her with us on the training run. She distributed the green ribbons to runners for wearing it and running to support Aarey forest. Also a pledge was taken in the end to save Aarey Forest.

Last but not the least, thank you to all the runners who came for the training run. Hope you guys enjoyed running the in the green lunges of the city, Aarey forest.

See you in the next month 5-10 k training run.

Here are a few comments by runners on running inside Aarey and what it meant to them and why the forest should be preserved for posterity.

Shilpa Shyamsunder Bharadwaj

Our first time in Aarey today Amar & I.
This place was absolutely surreal with cattle huts, pond with birds, green fields on either side where the sun was slowly peeping out which have been common to us as kids maybe.
We loved the experience & want it to stay that way. We also felt horrible when we saw on one side far away full of concrete buildings and realized how Stark!!! 😔
So, we breathed good, quality air and thank you MRR for this lovely opportunity.
#SaveAarey #LoveAarey #SupportAarey

Rajeev Bharadwaj

Fresh air.. dense forest.. diverse variety of trees n plants.. amazing chirping birds..oxygen levels highest in the city.. picturesque meandering roads.. peaceful surroundings..!!
Infrastructure is needed fr d city.. so is THIS FOREST COVER. Shud b preserved..!!🌲🌱🌴🌳
Lets raise our voice..! Every voice counts
#SaveAarey #savetreessavelife

Pulkit Singh

It was a real good experience, running in the lungs of Mumbai and the site where I saw construction activities made me feel bad.

Arshad Patel

I explored many routes in Aarey today. Such a calm and quite place with fresh air, mesmerising sounds of birds, abundance of oxygen, variety of trees. No doubt development is required but not at the cost of this beautiful aarey.
#SaveAarey

Harshad Nerurkar

Thank you for arranging today’s training run. I run in Aarey few times because it gives runner all kinds of running exposure; trail run, hill run, roller coaster roads, bad roads etc etc and yet you are still in Mumbai. You dont need to go out. Though today humidity was high with experiencing profuse sweating, still you dont feel tired as you run through lush green nature. Its little more safer to run here rather than roads in Mumbai.
And you are not running alone.
I guess it is ideal location for Yoga and training runs.

Mufaddal Hararwala

Running in Aarey firest is heavenly bliss, it puts you in a trance and you feel like gliding on and on. The mesmerizing dense jungle on either side and the cool brezze and birds flying in distance as the sun breaks out slowly and early morning mist with the rays of sun filtering through the canopy of trees fills heart with deep pleasure.

Deepak Soni

Always such a bliss running in Aarey… Addicted to Aarey…
#AareySpring

Sujeet Sanzgiri
I usually run in Aarey & have taken part in the couple of runs organised by Aarey tigers…This was my first run with MRR and first time that I tried the NZ hostel incline and did it twice…Thank you so much to MRR & Aarey tigers to organise such runs…Aarey is the best place to run in Mumbai…the forest…the trees… they help you so much…thanks to them it’s so pleasant there…that you don’t even feel like you are in midst of the Mumbai city…We are just lucky to have Aarey here…hope this luck never runs out…#Save Aarey

Amol Pednekar- Be The Change

This young boy from Sawantwadi was one of three siblings born to Middle Class working parents. Amol’s father worked in the Health Department while his mother was a teacher. A happy childhood spent in the beautiful Konkan region with the major focus being on studies and scholarship for the bookish roly-poly young lad. Amol went on to do B.E. from the Walchand College of Engineering, Sangli followed by MBA at the MET Institute in Mumbai. Whilst enjoying his Hostel and Bachelor life with not enough home cooked meals the kilos continued to pile on 😑.

Once settled in his job he married Dr. Prachi, a Doctor who works in the ICU at Bhaktivedant Hospital. Soon they were blessed with a beautiful little girl, Sara. As work and home responsibilities increased, his health continued to be neglected until finally realization dawned on Amol as the weighing scale showed that he had almost hit triple digits in 2014 😥. Too embarrassed to enroll in a Gym, he immediately bought a Treadmill and started using it diligently walking for 20 minutes on alternate days. Slowly his efforts started paying off as the kilos slowly started to melt away 😃.

Amol enrolled for his very first Running Event at ICT where he completed 7K in 50 minutes. That’s when he had a major shift in mindset and felt free for the very first time. Watching other older Runners passing him by as he too overtook other slower runners gave him that special Runners High 😊. He ended up doing back to back 10K at the Khushi Awetism Run as well as the Mira-Bhayander Run.

Catching sight of several Runners in the lovely green Mumbai Road Runners t-shirts, he found out about this wonderful group on Facebook. Soon it was time for this solo Runner to join this lively Running Community. During 2014-2015 Amol diligently started going for the monthly MRR Run. He would join from Dadar and run all the way to NCPA covering a distance of about 15K. In fact his very first HM was also at the monthly Bandra-NCPA Run 🤗. The best part was the social interaction with other Runners getting much needed inputs and information. In fact, it was through MRR FB posts that he realized he just might be suffering from an ITB injury approaching a Physiotherapist at the correct time. That’s when he understood the importance of Strength Training to support Running.

In November 2015, Amol connected with Prashant Pankaj and Niyat Anjaria on the Net. These likeminded local Solo Runners got together and the Mira Bhayander Runners (MBR) group was born. The motley group of 3 grew to 200 within a year, further growing to 600 within 2 years.

MBR has grown quickly into one of the biggest groups within a very short time span 🤗. The monthly picturesque Mira-Bhayander Long Run has soon become one coveted monthly event. MBR Gang also conduct Boot Camps, Awareness Camps, Kids Events etc so as to encourage all kinds of physical activity and not just restrict it to Runners.

The goal is to inspire more and more people to be healthy and happy as well as increasing Running Awareness in the MBR Area 😊. MBR also sponsors several underprivileged speedsters in a bid to empower and enrich their lives. Currently, all these initiatives are completely managed on the basis of Individual Contribution by the members. Goes to show that when your heart is in the right place, everything does have a tendency to fall in place for you to make a difference 🙂.

Amol did his first official HM at IDBI Federal Life Insurance Mumbai Half Marathon in 2016 finishing in 2:50. He quickly followed that with participation in about 8-9 more events that year. With regular training Amol got his PB of 2:14 at the SCMM in 2017. Unfortunately he ended up getting a Ligament tear due to Overtraining 😫. Deciding to take the Conservative route, he rested for about 6 months despite being advised for 3-4 months break by the Doctor. During this period, he chose to volunteer and help others pursue their individual goals instead 😎.

Amol completed his Marathon Training Course from ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and became a certified Marathon Coach in order to further their goal. He has founded Xponential Fitness, an endurance training academy to create awareness and help Runners and Beginners. Through this new initiative he has started taking sessions on Fitness, Running & Marathon preparation at Running Summits and different Corporate Sessions as well training Kids and Marathon Runners.

He usually follows a 3-days Run and 2-days Strength training schedule with 1-2 days of Uncompromised Rest Days. However, while training for an event he runs 4 times a week including Speed Interval or Hill Run, Tempo Run, Short Run and Long Run. Of course all this takes a backseat in case of any Injury and all focus is totally on Rehabilitation ensuring sufficient Rest and Recovery.

Amol ends on a note advising Newbies- “Don’t pursue running with Legs & Lungs but pursue it with your Heart & Soul. If you do so, I promise you- it will lead you to places you could never dream of. It will take you on a journey to discover the deepest part of your life, the parts that you never knew ever existed.”

When the going gets tough-The Santa Cruz half marathon experience

March 4th, 2018 could have been a memorable date in my life as I was initially supposed to the iconic Napa Valley marathon which would have been my 2nd full marathon after 2013. Fate had other plans as I decided to focus on triathlons in the bay area and shelved my plans for the 26.2 miler. The lack of company for the training runs was another reason as doing those long distances all by myself was quite daunting. So, I signed up for the Santa Cruz half marathon which was scheduled on the same day and it was just an hour away from Stanford.

Recovering from a mild bout of viral, I wasn’t exactly at the peak of fitness when I stood at the start line.  Nevertheless, I decided to take this as a training run and began doing my warm ups facing the calm waves of the Pacific to my right. This was Cowell beach where we would be finishing and the same place where I had finished my triathlon a few months back.

It was an uphill from the word go, as it was in many other races that I had done in the past. Hills were quite synonymous with the bay area and such races made you forget the very existence of a Garmin or words like pace, timing, cadence, heart rate, etc. It was just humbling to reach the finish line in a strong fashion and cherish the moments of actually finishing a race-a phenomenon that was diminishing these days.

 

The route was a beautiful one as we ran along the cliffs overlooking the pristine blue ocean and the foamy waves that kissed the sandy shores in a teasing way. The gradual uphill made my legs wobble after a point. I took a sip of water that was mixed with electrolytes, hoping to revive those stiff legs which seemed to be cursing me for putting them through another torture. I could just imagine them talking to one another and saying things that would make my ears burn.  “Another Sunday wasted in such torture when I could have actually caught up on my forty winks.” One leg would say to another and the reply would be like “Oh well same here. I don’t know what prompts this crazy woman to run every Sunday and trouble us. We are not getting younger.”

 

The roads gave way to trails with some gigantic slopes that resembled the neck of a dinosaur. The sun was shining fiercely and the trails were covered with pebbles and puddles as a result from the rains the previous week. It appeared as though the sun was taking revenge on the rains for having dominated the entire valley.  At the 7th km, it felt as though I was running inside a microwave oven. No shade, no respite and the sun hit my eyes so badly that I had to close my eyes for a few minutes, making it feel as though I was sleep running.  I poured water on my head, letting the cold-water trickle down my face as I trudged  slowly on the never-ending hills and trails.

I have had better days when my legs were sturdy enough to carry me through tough terrains. The blisters on my feet made me pause for a minute and it felt as though someone had cast reins on my legs, controlling my movement, like those horses which were pulling carriages.  I didn’t have my music with me either to pep me up during this run. At this moment, I recollected the words of my old trainer who always stressed on using the core to run when your legs and hands would give up. He would always give us those vigorous exercises that would strengthen our core to such firmness that it could give an iron rod some stiff competition.

Fortunately I continued doing those exercises and it came in handy. Using my core, I ran ahead bearing the brunt of the blistering heat as my Garmin ticked away those miles. By the time I reached the road which was just 5 km to the finish line, I felt drained as though someone had sucked all the energy levels from my reserves. The entire route reminded me of a race that I had done in India-the Kundalika river marathon, which was a grueling route of hills and heat.

I heard one of the volunteers saying, “I would end up looking like this had I run this route”. My face had become so withered that it looked like burnt toast from an oven.  It was 100 m downhill to the finish line which ended on the sands of Cowell beach.

I grabbed the medal and plonked on the sand, listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The sky was streaked with the rays of the sun and at one point it looked like they were white lines connecting it to the ocean. It had been a badass day with the weather and route being unkind. I remembered the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I held my medal proudly celebrating my 24th official half marathon and 14th medal on the 4th of March. A fantastic 4 finish! I might not have earned my personal bests in these races but what I did earn was a great deal of self confidence and awareness of the fact that such routes would only make me tougher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dish without the spoon: A taste of Stanford running club

When you are in Stanford, not getting a taste of the dish is like visiting San Francisco and not visiting the Golden gate bridge. When I say Dish, I am not referring to a creamy pasta or those sumptuous puddings, but the recreational area behind Stanford campus which is popular for its hiking and running trails. Being a habitat conservation, it is used for academic research and the dish itself is a radio telescope that is still in use.

When Leland Stanford arrived in California in the mid 19th century, he told his wife that these hills in yonder would make a fine race course and that’s how the dish race commenced as a tradition of the Stanford running club.

Being a runner and a Stanford student, I could not afford to miss this run even if was just a measly distance of 5.2 km. The fact that there was no medal given at the end of run didn’t bother me either.  Having been in this prestigious campus for last 8 months, I have run in the Dish in the past.  The hills are so steep that it makes the fittest want to resort to a walking stick to get past these grueling inclines.

The race was scheduled at 9:00 am and for the first time I could cycle to an event-an advantage if the venue happens to be in your backyard and when there is provision for bike parking.  So here I was assembled at the start point as I watched other runners doing their warm ups and stretches. It was an uphill right from the word go, an incorrigible one which kept getting steeper and steeper, my lungs feeling as thought someone had sucked all the oxygen out of them.  I could hear the heavy breathing and panting by even the sturdy looking runners which sounded like a breathing of a dragon, reassuring me of the fact I wasn’t the sole victim of the hill’s brutal treatment.

 

It was a continuous climb and as we went higher, we were blessed with the panoramic views of the bay at a distance and the golf course which a green carpet spread in acres. The day was rather peculiar as 2 forces of nature seemed to play tug of war with one another. The sun shone fiercely making me want to discard my jacket while the wind blew with all its might and the icy breeze made me cling to my jacket. Shaking my head at their childish play, I focused on the scenery around me, watching the tufts of grass swaying and the mighty dish which we would be running past soon. Just then I heard a mother talking to her daughter, cajoling her that they were on an adventure, every time the daughter felt like giving up. “How far mom”, she said in a resigned manner. “Oh, just look at that dish honey”, the mom replied. “ That’s where we are going. There is magic there.”

I looked at the dish for the second time-gigantic and semicircular in shape, standing haughtily as it knew that this area derived the name by its presence.  It reminded me of a space ship, a magical device that could transport you to a place in yonder! Magic! That’s it! What I needed! If I could make it up to the dish, it would all be downhill from there.  Gathering all my reserves, I kept the dish in sight, eager to get close to this magnanimous object, edging closer and closer. The winding slopes coiled like a serpent which I chose to ignore until I found myself face to face with this magical object. I jumped in joy, increased my pace and off I was on a downhill which felt like coming down on those slides at the park which my 3-year-old daughter immensely loved.

Overtaking a few runners, I cruised all the way down, my feet suddenly finding wings. Was it the magic of the dish? Maybe! I spotted the arch in the vicinity with the volunteers cheering for us.” That’s what I call a strong finish”, a lady yelled at me as I waved back and crossed the mighty arch! I was home! The 5.2 km felt like a 10 k run,-such is the toughness of the dish.

It’s certainly not sweet but salty with a tinge of sourness which is worth as it caters to the runner’s appetite of getting a taste of the Stanford running tradition. They saying goes “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”

Valentine run with nature: The golden gate trail experience

A sight of the golden gate bridge is always a treat to the eyes. Probably the reason why I keep signing up for running events at San Francisco. Most courses take you either on the bridge or close enough for runners to click their selfies and flaunt it on social media.

The Golden gate bridge trail was yet another opportunity to get a glimpse of this architect wonder and also run amidst nature.  I started at 6:30 am from Stanford to reach Marin county by 7:45 am as my half marathon race was scheduled at 8:15 am. The start line was at Rodeo beach, the only point where I would be at sea level as I gazed at the mountains above. I tried to calm my nerves d by averting my gaze to the waves before the race director did his countdown.

From the word go, it was uphill throughout, getting steeper and steeper as we made our way through the unpaved terrain of rocks and sand.  A proper trekking trail, I thought, making me wonder if I should have invested in a pair of shoes designed specifically for trail running.  There was no way anyone could run on this unless they were mountain goats or conditioned their body to such trails from their childhood.  I decided to discard my watch and just enjoy this date with nature.

 

I noticed some of the runners carrying a small backpack and they were huddled in groups.  At one point, one of the runners told another girl to go ahead if she wanted to. “It’s fine”, she said.” It’s just my training run. I will wait for you.”  Running may be a solo sport but it’s important to stick to your pack in times like these where the going gets tough.

As I ventured higher, the climb was getting steeper and at one point, there were actual steps which we had to tread on cautiously.  My mind couldn’t bear to think what would happen if we lost our balance and rolled down the hills. I shuddered and scolded myself for ruining such a beautiful date. The setting was perfect I thought, looking at the blue skies and cascade of greenery all around.

Reaching the first aid station at the 6-km mark which was stocked with fruits, nuts, pretzels, water and cookies, I grabbed some raisins and ran ahead. Greeted once again by a continuous spiraling slope, I decided to walk up instead of expending my reserves especially on a sunny day like this. A lot of people seemed to be on my page as they walked up this hill. Getting into a conversation with a few other runners, I learned that this trail was apparently on their bucket list. One of them drove down from San Diego which was a 9-hour drive to San Francisco. The conversation steered towards the importance of enjoying such tough terrains rather than stressing on pace or timing.  I stopped to get a few pictures of the pristine blue Pacific Ocean, below.

At the 9th km mark, the ascent gave way to a flat pathway and my strides, overtaking many runners who were still huffing and puffing.  I turned into the woods and entered winding muddy terrains at the edge of the mountain. There was a steep fall on the right and I tried to focus on the route ahead instead of looking down which would have led to a heart attack otherwise.

I stopped at the 12th km mark to get a picture of the Golden gate bridge. What an incredible sight of the bridge surrounded by clear blue waters! The view from the top was worth this arduous climb.  I continued running and at one point overtook many more runners.  At the 14th km, I grabbed more raisins, refilled my water bottle at the aid station and continued cruising on this road less traveled.  One more ascent greeted me at the 16-km mark along with dirt roads which prompted me to walk up again till I reached a point where I could continue my strides.

I was close to home, I thought. The muddy pathway gave way to the roads and I soon spotted some cars parked on the road. The sun was up shining in its splendor which prompted me to gulp more water as I trudged along. My legs now felt like a jelly pulp ready to be eaten by hungry hounds. I paused for a moment, tired out from the run when I heard a voice behind “Hey not now. Just a km to the finish line.” I pepped myself to keep going up the slope and go down again only to embrace the finish line and the medal garlanded around my neck.

 

I plonked myself on the grass and stared at the skies above. I was in one piece after this grueling run, so thank you, I mouthed to the heavens above. I recollected the number of times in the past where I kept telling myself that never again would I go through such torture. Yet I never listened to that inner voice which was always telling me to quit! It was worth the sweat, blood and tears. Especially when you go back home and look at a stronger reflection in the mirror!

It had been worth it. Besides its not too often that you get a taste of nature’s splendors along with an iconic marvel! An invigorating date was what I needed with nature, especially since it was just a few days before valentine’s day!

 

Rahul Agrawal- Flab to Fab

A Logistics Businessman, originally from Indore, Rahul moved to Mumbai in 2001. What with the move, a bulk of his time went in setting up his new business and settling down in the Thane Suburb. The long hours of work, untimely meals leading to poor eating habits as well as total lack of exercise led to a major weight gain. Reality hit badly in 2006 when Rahul woke up to the fact that he had bloated up to 100kg with a 42” waist L. That was the much needed wake up call.

In 2006, when the Agrawals moved to their new home in Hiranandani Meadows at Thane, Rahul started going to the Gym regularly. Henceforth, he decided to exercise regularly in the Gym including running on the Treadmill and Weight training. With this regular regimen of Gym and mindful eating he reduced his weight to 73kg within the year 😎.

In November 2007, there was an advertisement by the local Talwalkar Gym. They were offering a 10 week Training program by which Beginners were assured entry for Registration at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) in January. Rahul enrolled for the same and that’s when he met his future Mentor K Haridasan Nair J. He went on to finish his first HM in 2:15 at the SCMM in 2008.

Rahul and other friends formed a small group named Masthane and continued the same training regime for the next 2-3 years. Rahul fondly remembers those days when Marathon was a very new sport and unlike today there were hardly any events. Running season use to start 3 to 4 months before SCMM and used to end with SCMM. In fact, it was only in 2011 that Rahul did his first outstation Marathon at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM).

Then onwards, Rahul started training for his first Full Marathon at the SCMM in 2012. He finished his first FM in 5:08 in 2012 and went on from strength to strength achieving a PB of 4:12 in FM later at SCMM in 2016. Meanwhile, he continued doing several HM’s in the interim achieving his HM PB of 1:53 in the process at Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon organised by HERWA in December 2015 😊.

In 2012, Rahul was introduced to the Mumbai Road Runners by Bijay Nair. He liked the idea of all the Mumbai Runners coming together once a month to run and have fun. Also, the yearly MRR Awards Night post the Mumbai Marathon was one big Dhamaal event that he looks forward to eagerly. Today MRR is one of the biggest Running community of India helping so many runners realize their dreams 🤗.

In 2013 besides running in several more events, Rahul did his first 50K Ultra Midnight Run from 12 am-6 am along with Hari Sir. Under his able guidance, Rahul did 73K in his first 12-hour event at the Shivaji Park Mumbai Ultra in 2014. He considers Hari Bhai as his Friend, Philosopher and Guide and was the first student when Haridasan Nair formed his own running group “Runtastics Dilse” in 2014.

Although Rahul shies away from calling himself as an Ultra runner, he has done some serious distances. He has done Shivaji Park 12 hour Ultra in 2014, 2015 and 2016 running distances of 73K, 77K and 80K respectively. This was followed 100K at the Bangalore Ultra in 2015 and 24 hours Bangalore Ultra in 2016. He has also done 12 Hour IDBI Fed Life 12 hours Stadium run in 2016 and 24 hours Stadium run in 2017 where he clocked 131K. He still considers the 54K Ultra marathon done in Silvassa in 2016 as his toughest run due to extreme heat and steep inclines 😱.

Rahul also enjoyed playing the role of pacer for the very first time at Pinkathon in 2015. One which Rahul relished and went on to pace at several more events like Satara, HTHM, Indore, IDBI Fed Life Half marathon etc.

The best part was when the entire family joined in the fun and started to run 🤗. Radha, his Nutritionist wife and biggest supporter joined him in running in 2011 SCMM. Though now she is more into cycling rather than running; she has run all the editions of Mumbai marathon since then. Their daughter Urvi did her first 10K at Pinkathon Thane followed by her first HM at Tarblazer in 2017 while their son Pranjal has done couple of 4K Runs at HTHM.

Rahul trains with the Runtastics under K Haridasan Nair Sir following 5-days a week schedule. It’s a mix of Strength training as well as Stretching on two days and speed intervals as well as hill training on two days followed by Sunday long run. Rahul says that more than the run it’s the group and meeting with friends he looks forward to every morning. What better way to start the day 😁?

It has been more than 10 years that Rahul has been running Marathons regularly. Even today, he feels that as Recreational Runners, we should not focus too much on timings. He advises Newbies to enjoy this beautiful sport. According to him apart from running equal importance should be given to Strengthening and Core exercises. One should increase the mileage gradually and choose events wisely whilst giving a good amount of time to recover.

He says Running for him is like Nirvana that gives him opportunity to be with himself. It’s the most wonderful gift he has got from life which he will cherish forever 😁.

 

 

 

MRR Race Rating for January 2018

The Skechers Performance MRR Race Rating for January 2018 is out. It is the first rating for this year. Valsad City Half Marathon takes pole position followed by Tata Mumbai Marathon and Vadodara International Marathon in that order.

Where TMM dipped severely this year is in the post race (quality of refreshments on offer). Vadodara also suffered on that same count. Perhaps if they can improve upon that factor, then people would rate it higher.