It’s been a good year for running

2015 Running bibs

Phew!

Trust the process. The idea was to run as much as I could, to be healthy and being fit right throughout. I think I have more or less achieved that goal this year.

On to the numbers. Last year, I had set myself a target of running 520 kms (at an average of 10 kms per week), and fell woefully short. So this year’s target was 260 kms (at an average of 5 kms per week). Although not consistent, I have run 507 kms this year. Out of which 130-odd kms have been while participating in events.

The net result has been that I’ve had a wonderful running year. I’ve travelled to some beautiful places (Cherrapunjee, Srirangapatnam) and made some great runner friends in different cities and in my own city of Calcutta. And most importantly, I’ve become a better and stronger runner.

I do wish I had been able to write more blog posts about how the runs are going. I especially wanted to write about my experiences of running in Airtel Run For Education 21k, Puma Urban Stampede 10k and the Tata Steel Kolkata 25k. Thanks to these events, I’m ending this year on a high. It was easier to keep myself motivated and run in these well managed events that were organised here in Calcutta.

All this would have absolutely not been possible without the camaraderie of the members of Kolkata Running Squad, and especially the guidance of Vernon Morais. Thanks guys! Somewhere along the way, EACH ONE OF YOU has motivated me and pushed me to do better. You folks are the best. ūüôā

Here’s looking to an even more wonderful 2016. Cheers!

Weekly Running Review – 8th to 15th Nov 2015

One of my plans with this blog was to document my journey towards my first full marathon.

However, I soon found out that rigorous training can lead to one feeling completely, and I mean *completely* exhausted by the end of the day. It is now only after a month of serious training that my body seems to have adjusted to the higher levels of energy required to get through the long days.

And hence, even though belated, here’s a start to what I hope will be a regular¬†feature: the weekly running review, in which I try and capture how I’m progressing.

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8th Nov (Sunday) – Long run. According to the training calendar that I’ve signed up for on RunKeeper, I was supposed to be taking it easy: 12.9 kms. This, owing to the fact that there had been a significant increase in mileage in the last couple of weeks. In fact, I had run two successive half marathons (21.1kms) on the previous two Sundays.

However, I’ve now started running in a group and I really do enjoy my long runs. And so, I decided to make it a hat-trick of half-marathons! This was one of my faster HMs and I almost clocked my Personal Best (PB). I ran a little slow at the start because I was running with a few new runners in the group who weren’t sure about the route that we had to take. Later, I ran¬†with another lady who is preparing for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. I went at a slightly easy pace so that I could run alongside her, but honestly, I was pretty glad I wasn’t pushing myself too much because it still was pretty humid.

  • Distance: 21.85 kms
  • Time: 2:23:26
  • Avg. Pace: 6:44 min/km

9th Nov (Monday) РThis was supposed to be a rest day. But the lure of a good breakfast was too much to let us stay asleep!

Unfortunately, no good breakfast places we know of open before 7:30. So, a couple of friends and I went to the lakes for a brisk 5 km walk. Of course, this was followed by a sumptuous breakfast, the details of which I shall keep to myself. ūüėõ

  • Distance: 5.38 km
  • Time: 56:12
  • Avg. Pace: 10:27 min/km

10th Nov (Tuesday) – Interval training day. The break-up was 2 minutes of quick running (10% faster than race day pace) followed by 60 second break. This was to be repeated 8 times. I was pretty satisfied by this, my second attempt at interval training.

  • Distance: 4.94 km
  • Time: 30:45
  • Avg. Pace: 6:13 min/km

11th Nov (Wednesday) – Diwali run! I was pretty surprised and enthused by the people in our group who had turned up even on Diwali morning for a run. Since we had pretty much decided that we wouldn’t be running the next day (to avoid all the pollution caused by firecrackers), we decided to do our ‘trick run’ on Wednesday itself. ‘Trick run’ is our trainer’s lingo for ‘cadence counting’. I was supposed to do a 82 count run (164 cadence). I think my running form needs correction, since although I was running at a higher cadence, my pace wasn’t particularly impressive.

  • Distance: 8.31 km
  • Time: 54:57
  • Avg. Pace: 6:37 min/km

12th Nov (Thursday) – Rest day.

13th Nov (Friday) – Boot camp. Started with a short warm-up run and proceeded to get our backsides kicked, as per usual.

“What the hell, it helps in the long run, right? And that’s all that counts. Quit complaining!”

  • Distance: 3.48 km
  • Time: 23:03
  • Avg. Pace: 6:37 min/km

14th Nov (Saturday) – Foam Rolling Recap. I had never imagined a foam roller could be so painful or so pain relieving at the same time. Trust me, there’s nothing like the kind of pain one feels when using the foam roller, especially if you’ve got shin splints the way I do. But yes, the trigger release that happens afterwards is worth all the pain. Onlookers will remain sceptical about the use of this innocent looking equipment, but I can vouch for all the knotted muscles that it has helped me loosen up. Recovery from long runs is way sooner when you use¬†these.

15th Nov (Sunday) РLong run. As per my RunKeeper training schedule, I was supposed to run 22.53 km. But when the mind has already made the decision to run a round figure, the 25 km mark was the obvious decision to make. We started early, at 4:30 AM and this required some adjustment to the pre-run eating pattern. To add to this challenge, there was no bread or bananas in the house. Silly me, for not having checked the previous evening. I improvised and finished half an energy bar and couple of almonds and walnuts.

The run went very well. I only occasionally¬†pushed myself for a faster pace. Also, I realised once again how much of a mind game long-distance running actually is. In the previous weeks, when I was targetting a 21 km run, I would start feeling cramps and/or fatigue after the 17-18 km mark. Today, since I was looking at a bigger target, I didn’t even stop to realise and 21 km went by without any complaints. It was only around the 22 km mark¬†that I started struggling.

I paused at two points during the run, at the 14 km mark and at the 22 km mark, to do a runner’s stretch. I wish I had taken a couple of extra seconds and stretched more, since it did actually help. At the 21.1 km mark, I realised I had finished the half marathon distance at a PB of 2 hours 7 minutes, a clear 10 minutes (!!) better than my previous PB of 2 hours 17 minutes at the Mumbai Marathon earlier this year.

Also, the last time I ran a 25 km run was at the Tata Steel Kolkata event last year, which I had finished in 2:59:29. Today, I had obviously improved and hit a PB here too! I think I can push myself for a better pace next Sunday, when I plan on running 25 km again.

  • Distance: 25.01 km
  • Time: 2:37:10
  • Avg. Pace: 6:17 min/km

The 9th Kaveri Trail Marathon – 20th September 2015

“Don’t try for your personal bests here, because it most probably will not happen,” said the race co-ordinator at the start line as we waited for the half marathon to start.

“No fear of that happening,” I mumbled to myself.

I was so confident of my inability to put in my best for this run because of two reasons. First was a basic problem: I’d barely run or trained since the Cherrapunjee Marathon back in July.

The other reason why I was sceptical about being able to put my best foot forward was that I’d barely slept in the 24 hours before the race. It all began on 18th September, two days before the event, the day I flew in to Bangalore from Calcutta. I had only slept a couple of hours before the early morning flight and so, slept like a log that Friday night. Come Saturday evening, I knew I was in a bit of trouble.

I hadn’t slept throughout the day and the expectation of the event was keeping me up at night. The event itself is held at the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary at Srirangapatnam, which is about 3 hours drive away from Bangalore.

I’d opted for the bus the event managers had organised which was to leave from Bangalore at 2:30 AM. I had no trouble at all in finding the bus but the drive does take too long and is tiring. In fact, I was so tired waiting for it to be 2 AM so that I could leave my friend’s house in Bangalore, that I almost contemplated not going for the event at all.

Once at the venue, I was again impressed with how smoothly everything was managed; my running bib and bag was given to me without any hassle, and I’d been a little sceptical since I was an outstation runner and could’ve collected these only on the day of the event itself. Handing over my bag at the storage area, I walked over to the starting point of the race just as dawn was breaking.

  

The half marathon started punctually at 6:30, half an hour after the full marathon had kicked off.

Like I said, I wasn’t expecting miracles to happen at this race. I was underprepared and under-trained. In my mind, I was going to use this as a starting point for my training for my first full marathon, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in January 2016.

And so, to get myself through what I thought would be (and was) a gruelling run, I set myself a mantra. I’d recently read about how repeating a mantra can be helpful, and so I decided that my mantra for the day would be “flow”.

FLOW.

The word had a magical effect on me. I usually pay a lot of attention to my form and maintain it religiously at least for the first couple of kilometres of a run, before exhaustion takes over. Somehow, repeating the mantra made me feel like NOT keeping to the form and just going through with whatever felt natural.

As a result, I was less tired by the time the first “wave” of exhaustion hit me, which usually happens around the 5-6 km mark and which is when I enter what I call my “zone”. Once inside the zone, I usually don’t need to break much either for a short walk or for water.

I don’t know whether it was purely because of the zone or because of the mantra, which by now I was repeating with every out breath, my zone lasted for about 10 kms.

Initially, I was only telling myself, my body, to flow. To not worry too much about form, to not hit the ground hard but to just “roll” along with every foot strike. But as I went along, I don’t think it was restricted to just my physical form. I could feel the breath and the energy flowing through me. And even when I did get a little tired, the stream from the Kaveri river which was gently running past me would remind me of my mantra.

It was a beautiful run, going past sylvan fields and dusty trails. I couldn’t help but smile as I’d spot a bullock cart. Although I’d initially planned on running without listening to any music, at the last minute before the run began, I switched on a classical music concert by Pandit Ravi Shankar which he had performed at the Kremlin. Listening to the strains of the sitar as I ran past the beautiful green countryside, spotting a farmer here, spotting a stray bullock there, was immensely satisfying, as it was much different than the usual runs that I go for in the traffic on city roads. I told myself that it was a good thing I didn’t back out of this run.

But eventually, the lack of training caught up with me. Around the 15-16km mark, my lower back started hurting and I could feel my right hamstring beginning to cramp. I walked till about the 17km mark, and then tried to run a bit, only to stop immediately because by now somehow both my legs had started cramping. I was hobbling along, to be honest.

Here, I must mention the excellently organised facilities. There were refreshments at regular intervals and these were well stocked with water, energy drinks, peanuts, glucose biscuits and even chips! There were also cans of pain-relief spray which helped me to get a move on and finally finish the race.

One very heartening thing to see was that most participants had taken to heart the organisers words about keeping the bird sanctuary clean; most of the cups of water were thrown away in the bins itself. This was the least we could do by way of thanking the Ranganathittu Bird Santuary officials who had agreed to allow use of the venue for the run.

We ate a good, hearty breakfast after the run and soon, the buses to Bangalore and Mysore were ready to take us back. Here’s where I encountered the toughest part of the day. Sitting in a bus, on that hot Sunday afternoon, after having run a half marathon and then walking and figuring out my way back to my friend’s place once I was dropped off in the city really got to me. I was tired and exhausted and needed to rest as quickly as possible.

I realised that the best way to participate in the Kaveri Trail Marathon is to come over a couple of days in advance and find accommodation at Srirangapatnam, or at least at Mysore. That way, the travel time before and after the run is reduced, at a maximum, to about an hour. The body can do with that kind of rest.

I finished the Kaveri Trail Half Marathon with a timing of 2 hours 40 minutes 38 seconds, which is almost exactly how much time I’d taken to finish the Cherra Marathon. Given that that was a more challenging run, what with all the uphill running, this was strictly an average performance in comparison.

But purely because I felt more connected with something inside me, thanks to the mantra, I’d rate this as a more satisfying run. 

  

Training Plan for 10-16 Aug 2015

The next running event that I will be participating in is the half-marathon at the Kaveri Trail Marathon (KTM) 2015.¬†This will be my first trail race and I’m really looking forward to running on new terrain.

KTM will be run on 20th Sep this year, which gives me little over a month to prepare. Around that time is also when I will be launching into my marathon training for next year’s Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, where I’ll run my first full marathon.

Needless to say, I need to start preparing.

Taking a leaf out of Andrea’s blog, I’m going to be posting my proposed weekly training schedule and will check back every week to see how well I’ve done. So, here goes the first of my training plans:

10th Aug (Mon) – Gym (Upper Body workout)

11th Aug (Tue) – 5 km fartlek run

12th Aug (Wed) – Gym (Legs)

13th Aug (Thu) – 7 km run

14th Aug (Fri) – Gym (Core workout)

15th Aug (Sat) – Rest day

16th Aug (Sun) – 10 km run

The big one

Having run a couple of half marathons, I think I’m now ready to attempt the big one. A full marathon.

And in this spirit of adventure and reckless abandon, I’ve signed up for the full marathon at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2016.

The race will be on the 17th of January 2016, which gives me six months to prepare. I have a couple of half marathons till then, and of course, I’ll be training myself separately too. 

No fancy stuff, I’m just looking to complete my first marathon in 5 hours. Well, 4 hours 45 minutes if I can really push myself.

Wish me luck!

The 2nd Cherra Marathon – 17th July 2015

What a treasure trove of experience and stories the Cherra Marathon has turned out to be.

I reached Shillong on Monday, 13th July and took in the sights and sounds of the hill station over the next couple of days. The trek down and back up from the living root bridges that I did on Wednesday, 15th July, were warm-up enough for me. My calves were positively lit up and in good condition, as I pushed myself to complete the 3km uphill trek in just under an hour.

The marathon related events started the next day, 16th July, the day before the run. The organizers had planned a preparatory run around Shillong in the morning for some of the runners, but they arrived 45 minutes later than the appointed hour, by which time I’d decided to go back. No sweat, because I slept for two extra hours, which eventually helped me because I’m usually unable to sleep much the night before the run.

Later in the day, I went to the Soso Tham Auditorium to collect my bib, t-shirt and goodie bag. The helpful volunteers handed me these and also gave me my pass for the pasta party that was to be held later that evening.

When I arrived half an hour early at 6 PM, the place was slowly filling up and I took the opportunity to speak to a couple of runners who were already there. It felt nice to meet people from Guwahati (Dr. Santanu Dutta), Chennai, Pune and Bangalore and there was a lot of good cheer and banter. I also happened to bump into a friend from Calcutta.

Once the pasta party got underway, we not only heard inspiring tales of some runners, but also got to know that the Cherrapunjee Marathon was supporting the cause of ‘Zero school dropouts in Meghalaya’. Another goosebump-inducing moment was hearing of the 30 differently abled participants who were going to attempt the marathon on wheelchairs!

After the dinner, I headed back to Traveller’s, the bed and breakfast place where I was putting up. Here, I met two other gentlemen from Bangalore who had flown in earlier that day. Since these two had already had the experience of running a full marathon, I spent a good hour chatting with them, asking them for tips and suggestions on how to go about my training. I learnt so much from them and I’m grateful to both, Girish Gopalarao and Mahesh Venkatachala.

The next day, the three of us set out at quarter to 5 in the morning to walk to the auditorium, from where the organisers had arranged for buses to take us to the starting point of the race. After an hour’s ride in the bus, we reached Mawkdok village, which is about 22 km before Cherrapunjee.

One by one, the events were flagged off, and what was good to see was that not only had the Chief Minister of Meghalaya come to flag off the races, but he also ran a bit of the distance with the participants.

The route itself was stunningly beautiful. Sadly though, we did not have any rain on that day and the sun didn’t hide behind the clouds for most of the race, making it a hot and tough run. As if the terrain wasn’t difficult enough! I should’ve realised looking at the route map provided to us that it was more or less downhill running in the first half, and then would loop back; meaning running uphill in the second, and physically and mentally tougher half of the race. I ran the first half pretty well, completing the first 10 kms in 64 minutes. It was after that turn that I really struggled, as did most of the other runners.

A note about the mistake that I made: I’d barely eaten anything before the run. I had just eaten half a protein workout bar. I had not found it in me to eat the dry sandwich that the folks at the Bnb had prepared for me. I felt the effects of running on an empty tank. Luckily, we got a banana at the halfway point and I wolfed mine down, which helped me regain some energy.

It was in this condition of a slightly empty stomach and uphill running that I found myself at the 17 km mark. Post this point, I started cramping in my right hamstring and had a little pain on the IT band on my left knee. A spray of Volini helped me push past these.

What helped tremendously at this point was coming across another runner from Calcutta in the last 2 km stretch. By now, I was just walking as quickly as possible, knowing that there was no way I could complete the race in the 2 hours 30 minutes that I’d set for myself. But a gentle tap on my shoulder, and watching a companion jog past, I somehow found the will power to push myself to run along with him for the home stretch. In fact, we shared stories about running back home in Calcutta as we jogged and that kind of helped to take my mind off the uphill climb (literally) that I was making.

I finally finished with a timing of 2:39:07, which given the fact that I’d not run a half marathon since January and had barely trained for this one, was pretty ok. Yeah, yeah. I know. I wish I’d trained and worked out in the gym, but hey, there’s always a next time.

08

Pace yourself

Shake off the sleep, get up on your feet, slow and steady steps. Don’t worry if you stumble a bit. Find your rhythm. Breathe. Finish the first third of the distance.

Having found your rhythm, learnt how to read the signs of the earth, the wind, the sun and the rain, go for it. Establish yourself. Power through this second phase.

In the third phase, exhaustion might catch up with you. Breathe. Focus on putting one step in front of the other. With a prayer on your lips and hope in your heart, finish the race strong and with a smile.

Pacing strategy for a marathon or metaphor for life?

Cherra Marathon, Meghalaya

So I had two holiday plans cancelled last month.

And as I was looking around to find a way to take a break, I chanced upon a Facebook page which announced a marathon happening in Cherrapunjee.

A run in the hills, during monsoons, and a potential first trip to the beautiful North East? Yes please!

So I have signed up for the half marathon and even though I haven’t run in a while, my target is to¬†complete the distance in 2 hours 30 minutes. With a month to go, I hope I’ll have enough time to train for this.

Here’s a link to the official website of the marathon.

My long-distance running journey

I guess I could really get philosophical about this post and ramble on for quite a bit.

So, I won’t.

I’m here because my friend Charul has done a splendid job this last weekend and run the TCS 10k in Bangalore. This, from a lady, who till a few months ago, by her own admission, couldn’t run for 5 minutes straight.

I’m inspired by her.

And I’ve decided I’m going to start blogging about my journey in the world of long-distance running.

So, tonight, I just put down the basics.

Hi! I’m Shekhar. I’m 32 years 7 months 18 days old. I weigh roughly about 60 kilos. I’ve been into long-distance running for about a little more than 2 years now. I’ve run in and completed the following:

In 2014:

TCS 10k Bangalore – 64 minutes

Tata Steel 25k Calcutta – 2 hours 59 minutes

In 2015:

Standered Chartered Mumbai Marathon – I ran and finished the half marathon in 2 hours 17 minutes

SREI Kolkata Marathon – I ran and finished the 15km segment in 1 hour 40 minutes

My next target is the Kaveri Trail Marathon to be held on 30 September 2015.

I train in Calcutta, which has a pretty humid weather. I usually run with my friends Harsh and Deepak, both of whom have only recently taken up running.