Monday, October 30, 2006

On the RR50K course

Rocky Raccoon is actually the name of one the trails we ran during the race. The course was quite pretty, lots of greenery, and tree cover. Rains over the past week had left the ground free of some mulch. Parts of the trail are sand and the rain had helped make that harden in some parts. Most of the trails are laden with jutting out roots and one really needs to watch out to not trip here.

The aid stations were stocked with bananas, oranges, cookies, and water, powerade, sprite and flat coke. Some also had peanut butter. Santhosh partook of enough food at all the aid stations that he had to take a restroom break. To be fair to him, Gaurav and myself also loaded up at all the aid stations and at the end of the first loop, and lucked out not having to stop.

I hate my Camelback. It leaks. A Camelback is a small backpack which has a bladder that you can fill with any liquid of your choice, and a pipe coming out of it with a nozzle that you can suck on from time to time. What with a leaky nozzle which opened up like the very Ganges when I bent down, I had to put the nozzle in my mouth when I was forced to tie my shoe laces end of loop one. That clearly turned out to be a mistake, since my stomach was sloshing with the Clip2-Cytomax mixture I had in my camelback, and it left me nauseous the rest of the race.
All learning experiences of course, and I have to take mine back to REI.

The most important learning experience of course was that in all over 7 aid stations, I spent about 40 minutes hanging out at the aid stations. Even if I reduce that to 2min/aid station, I would have finished in 5hr:38min instead of the 6hr:04min with absolutely no extra effort. Plus end of first loop was such a long break and stomach-full-of-clip2-water, that I easily took atleast an extra 8-10min warming up again. Random inefficiences need to be addressed.

The Sunmart course is going to be very similar and all this experience hopefully will be of some use. However, the entire last loop (4 loops of 12.5 miles each in Sunmart) and maybe parts of the third loop will have to be run in darkness. Promises to be entertaining.

Huntsville: There And Back Again

Arvind Kejriwal was in town. Noted RTI activist from Delhi, heads Parivartan, Magsaysay award recepient ('06), Arvind is on a tour of the USA, and has been very successful in exposing many a case of corruption in the Indian government offices through the efficient use of the rather progressive Right To Information Act.

Santhosh and myself attended his very interesting talk and got a little delayed. By the time we picked up Ganesh and our dinner from Thai Kitchen it was just past 9pm. The drive from Austin to Huntsville is a little under 3 hours. Santhosh was in his elements and was constantly entertaining us with his thoughts on the moon and other desultory topics. Somewhere around Brenham, we did not connect from 290 to 105, and entered the red-neck town of Brenham. Here I'll refrain from placing blame, but Santhosh was navigating. Once we were in the town, Santhosh suggested we stop at a gas station and ask for directions to 105.

The gas station was deserted. Santhosh and Ganesh went in, while I was filling gas, and was promptly accosted by a rather inebriated gent (i.g.), who wanted to know what was in the cooler in our car, and if he could partake of it. I gently suggested to him that his tankard was rather full already, by a gesture of hand and an askance look, and further brought home the suggestion by locking the car and walking away. The i.g. then followed me to the gas station, and as I went in, he was distracted by the cashier, and promptly proceeded to ask him, the cashier, to part with some of his cash register contents. Fully conscious that we could be shot, we deliberated on what to buy and slowly made our way back to the car and left the gas station in one piece.

After much meandering through the town of Brenham, we finally got to 105, and even as we were picking up speed, we were stopped by a cop. I rolled down my window, but the cop insisted on walking around towards Santhosh's side, the door with the dysfunctional window. The cop asked us where we were from, and where we were headed to. When we said Huntsville, she wanted to know why we were going to Huntsville. By then we were all well into our granola bars and Santhosh's "to run a trail race" filtered through the granola bar, came out as "to run a trade race". Clearly not comprehending, the cop persisted, "Come again?". Santhosh, this time, "to run a train race". Now the cop gave up and asked me to step out of the car. I thought that meant a ticket, while Santhosh expressed to Ganesh his concern of getting to Huntsville in case I get arrested. The ever-persistant cop, again asked me what we were going to Huntsville for, and this time I explained with key words like race, running, marathon, and state park. It seemed to get across better, and she said, "Do you realise you were going faster than 60 in an under 60 zone?". I went on a long explanation about having gotten lost, and the interaction with the i.g. at the gas station. At which point the cop said drive safely, and sent us packing with just a warning.

The rest of the journey was mostly tame. Barring a few incidents of Santhosh flirting with the receptionist at the La Quinta Inn, and Ganesh and myself having to lug a spring rollaway bed up a large flight of stairs, we got to bed and lay down, and as the poet once said, let sleep pour over us in a healing wave, knitting the ravelled sleeve of care.

The return journey was no where as entertaining, but had its moments with Santhosh's song and dance routine (no legs), and an attempt to translate narumugaye. In all a rather memorable drive back and forth adding much to the charm of our first ultra-distance race.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pirates of East Austin

Post RR50K, we were to do a 12mile run on Sunday. All our half marathon folks were running the Texas Twister 10K on Sunday, and a decision was made to run 6 miles first, and then run the next 6 in the 10K and pace someone. What with holding the Rogue pirate flags, and it being the Halloween weekend, I decided to get some more pirate gear and run a pirate. A pirate bandana, a hat, an eye-patch and a sword were obtained. The fuel belt served as a band to hang the sword from, and it was all Yo, Ho, Ho, and a bottle of rum!

Immense joy comes while running in costume. All the runners, the cheering public, the volunteers directing the runners, the water stop folk, the cops on the course -- everyone says hello and wants to talk to you. Khushbu, having missed couple of training runs, was not very sure how the distance would go, and I decided to pace her at 12minute miles. We held our pace within a 5second error margin for all the 6 miles, and speeded up the last 300 meters. All the Asha folks had gathered either as runners or as part of the cheering staff, and everyone had a great race. Nivas with his 7minutes per mile pace, even came 2nd in his age group!

One should seriously consider running more races in different costumes. Lot of consideration and thought currently being given for a (warm weather) marathon dressed as Gandhi, with the dhoti, chappals, stick, glasses and hair (or the lack of it).

Rocky Raccoon 50K

At the end of it all, the realization that the 50 miler is possible was greater than the realization that today we were officially ultra-runners.

The day started out with some latino music being played to some fat men dancing with pretty girls on the hotel room TV. Santhosh with his late registration had some issues with gathering collectibles, and the race organizers asked him to finish early if he wanted his t-shirt (which he proceeded to do)! We had Joe's race plan -- go easy the first two aid stations (7.5 miles) and pick up speed for the next four (8miles to start + 7.5 miles again) and go with your body and legs for the final 8miles. Our version of going easy meant 12minute miles and picking up speed was supposed to be 10minute miles.

We did the easy bit according to plan, and then Santhosh took off. On a trail, with no mile markers, and continuously changing terrain, its very hard to hold a pace, let alone judge what pace you are holding. By the time we covered 5 miles to the next aid station, turned out we were holding 8.5 minute miles. Suicidal! -- with a better part of 19 more miles to go. After the first loop we had a rather long break, and I took a while to warm up from there and let the fast boys, Santhosh and Gaurav, go. Ganesh the smart guy, had already let the sub-9min-mile runners go earlier itself.

The second loop was fairly introspective. More on that, and interesting happenings during the race, and some pictures later on. I kept 12minute pace for three aid stations, and came back to a 10minute mile pace for the last three miles. As I picked up my pace to a sprint to finish in a little over 6 hours (6hr:04min), there was only one thought, I knew the 50miler come december, will be done.

Huntsville State Park is rather green and wooded and quite pretty. It has its moments when the lake sneaks up on you with its fall colored trees. As many had told us before, the terrain does have a lot of roots, so if you dont watch you step (which you can't for most of the race), or lift your foot high enough between steps (which may be hard towards the end in Sunmart), you are bound to trip and take a spin. But the 50K was not so debilitating and roots and logs were jumped over even as we were finishing. Easy to get emotional when you go these distances, but that not withstanding, immense affection and gratitude flows for the team for all the support and camaraderie.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The 6th week of Sunmart training

This week promised to be long, particularly the weekend. Following Chicago, and getting in late on Monday, a birthday for Gaurav was celebrated. Tuesday's 10miler got turned into 7 (giving respect to legs for keeping up in Chicago). Wednesday turned out raining and slushy. Many opted out of the quality workout. The workout was easy powerline 6mile loop, running the hills yes, but no running hard.

Running in a drizzle, right after a couple of days of showers is awesome fun. The leaves and grass are fresh and glistening, and according to Joe, the snakes are up and about. We didnt get to test the latter part of that, but we did finish the run with many a smattering of slushy mud all over our legs.

Following that, what with real sore legs, Thursday's run was skipped, while saturday's Rocky Raccoon 50k, in anticipation awaits.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A fine cold day in Chicago

It started off feeling cold, and finished feeling much colder; and yet the run was cold, not at all. With the rain Gods holding back for the duration of the race and more, it was a great day to be out there racing; sure can't say the same for the million and a half who were standing in the cold and cheering.

Chicago is always an electric experience, with its excess of 45000 runners ensuring absolutely no elbow-room all the way to the finish line; and its nearly two-million-strong chanting and cheering crowd ensuring that the mind prevailed over body through the length of the course.

What with changed plans and other such life-schemes, I landed in Chicago around midnight the night before, and was promptly greeted by a cold and rainy city. It was still cloudy and cold when I met up with Gaurav, Ganesh, Ani and Anurag at the startline. We warmed up fairly quickly, in about 2 miles, and the rest of the race went by in a breeze. I was pacing a little over 9 minute miles until mile 20, when I felt a twinge in my quads. What with the 50K race coming up next saturday, I decided to take it easy, and dropped to 11+ minute miles and finished with an average of an even 10 mi/mile (4h:22m:26s). The good part is that I shaved 8 minutes off my best time. Ani did far better, she took off a full hour from her best marathon time. Santhosh and Gaurav, our fast boys, were pacing others, so no PRs for them. Ganesh did his usual 4:40-ish, not sure if that was a PR.

For the past few long runs, I've been starting off with legs feeling like lead, and this sunday was an exception. Felt great start to finish, and there does not seem to be much after effects either. In all, a day and a race to remember.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

May as well run Dekker

Have added one more race to this season's list. Dekker 20K is on December 3rd, and instead of doing the 12mile run on saturday, have decided to do the 12.4 mile 20K race on sunday. Dekker is a very hilly, usually very cold, yet beautiful race. One of the best races in Austin. I've been running it 3 years in a row now, and its easily one of the "my-most-fun" races. There are parts of the course where you suddenly come across a lake with mist upon it standing in Miltonian melancholy, as patience did on a monument, and wonder if you hit the perspective vortex somewhere and are now in the Misty Mountains about to enter Khazad-dum.

Needless to say, its a race most loved, and I'm glad I will not be missing it this year.

The 5th week of Sunmart training

With the Chicago marathon coming up end of the 5th week, this week has been super chilled out. I did the easy 5mile run around IF. The wednesday hill-of-life repeats, started off with taking the short way down. Two repeats, and a long chat with Crash later, figured the hills were not going to help the going in Chicago. Today's 6mile run was shortened to 4miles, and saturday's 12miler looks all set to be shortened as well to 8.

With diwali coming up this weekend, and friends visiting Austin, also postponed the Chicago trip. Instead of leaving friday evening, have now pushed it out by a full day and am going saturday evening, running on sunday morning, and will be back in town on monday.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The 4th week of Sunmart training

The fourth week came and went by largely unchronicled. The quality workout was to do the Powerline loop, 6+ miles, with 5min-hard--3min-easy fartleks. The most interesting run of the week was the 24miler in Bastrop State Park. The terrain was fairly soft and mulchy, with some rocky surfaces and a few rolling hills thrown in. What with a long stop to eat dal, and rice, and banana chips, every 8 miles, the day turned out to be more a picnic than anything else. And then came a birthday, and with that came the wife, and the back to back 10 miler was promptly dropped from all plans! Situation clamoured for a change in priorities and reason prevailed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Races enroute to Sunmart

There are 4 races before we get to Sunmart. A road marathon, a trail 50K, a trail marathon, and a road half-marathon.

The first of them is the Chicago Marathon, on October 22. Chicago with its 40000 runners and 2million spectators, promises to be a lot of fun. Besides, close to 100 Asha runners are running it (from many chapters) and at mile 19.95, we have an Asha cheering booth. The atmosphere of such a race is so electric, its immense fun to be in it.

The second is the Rocky Raccoon 50K. This will be my first Ultra-marathon. It is set in Huntsville State Park, same as Sunmart. So it will act as a dress rehearsal for the big one. The plan is to test out all the gear, the hydration systems, and try to eat at the aid stations and figure out what is comfortable and what isn't.

The third is Motive half marathon. This is Austin's annual "fall" half marathon, runs along a fairly hilly course in North Austin. I've been running it for the last three years, and would not like to miss it this year either. The only deal is the day before the race, I am running 30miles in California, and then taking the evening flight back to Austin. Plus, according to schedule, I have to run 7miles before the Motive race begins, so that the entire distance including the race is 20miles. In all, does not seem like I can even hope to race Motive, more likely that I'll be able to walk it out.

The last race is Warda Cardiac-run Marathon. This is a trail marathon in a hilly setting. The plan is to run the marathon, and continue running until we hit 35miles. This marks our last long run before Sunmart. Having never run a trail race yet, I am fairly clueless how this will turn out. However, by the time of running this, we would have completed a longer trail race (Rocky Raccoon 50K).

Races are a fun way to train. Its been 8+ months since I ran in a race. Eagerly looking forward to these 5 races in fall.

Update (Oct 19, 2006):
Have added one more race to this season's list. Dekker 20K is on December 3rd, and instead of doing the 12mile run on saturday, have decided to do the 12.4 mile 20K race on sunday. Dekker is a very hilly, usually very cold, yet beautiful race. One of the best races in Austin. I've been running it 3 years in a row now, and its easily one of the my "most fun" races. There are parts of the course where you suddenly come across a lake with the mist upon it standing in Miltonian melancholy, as patience did on a monument, and wonder if you hit the perspective vortex somewhere and are now in the Misty Mountains about to enter Khazad-dum.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Gear unlimited.

The coolest part of Ultra-running is all the gear you get to play with. I just got my lights in the mail. When I started running, the only gear I had were my shoes. The first blisters and chafing brought on the dry-fit clothes and socks. Training alone brought on the fuel belt and then that was it for a very long time.

The ultra comes with its own set of additional gear. First off, you need to carry a lot of water. Not because you will need it in the run, its being prepared for getting lost and having to spend way more time in the trails than you planned to. Right now I have a hit rate of having gotten lost 3 out of 7 runs. That brought on the Camelback (in UT colors). The bag can hold 70oz of water, and has pockets to carry electrolyte/protein supplement drinks/tablets.

Then came the aspect of running in darkness. With the impending time change, and as winter sets in, our Wednesday runs are going to start in darkness, let alone end in it. Now I have a version of Sir Humphrey Davy's invention for the miners. A head lamp with 7 leds giving out green light! The whole thing weighs just 6oz. Plus a hand-held flashlight, just in case.

Then there are CLIP2s, and Succeeds, gaiters that Rajeev gave me... its gear galore. The good part is we are running a 50K race last weekend of this month, that is when all the gear and the fueling systems in race conditions will be experimented.

3 years and 30 races later...

Its been 3 years of mostly continuous road running. Ever since the summer of 2003. 1 1-mile race, 5 10Ks, 3 10-milers, 1 12-miler, 2 20Ks, 2 30Ks, 1 20-miler, 9 half-marathons, and 6 marathons. Three years and 30 races now. Going past the finish line has easily been the most addictive feeling of my life. It even beats Bridge.

All that is in the past. I ran the last of those 30 races 8 months ago. Over those 8 months while I sacked out and tried my hand at increasing my girth (with some success), all I did about my running was introspection. The details of that soul searching process is for a different post. However, the conclusion was it was time to do the next thing. Initially it looked most likely to be biking, Austin being Lance's city and what not. Briefly swimming was considered, and then images of gross ineptitude rose in front of the mind's eye and it was promptly relegated to later in life. In the end running was the easy winner, for the pure joy of the process. Again briefly, running to set a PR in a marathon was considered, and again relegated because Steve said, running an ultra is the easiest way to get a PR in a marathon.

After all that, and given the fantastic support structure to run the ultra in Austin -- the team, the coach, the trails, and Santhosh's unintentional humour, Sunmart 50M it was. The decision taken, the training started, and the legs still not hurting too bad, I can still say it has been a fun-filled journey so far... or in the words of Bilbo Baggins:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the hill where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The real first post

Started this blog today. This blog will now chronicle the tales of training for Sunmart, my first 50-mile race. Thanks to blogspot for allowing me to back-date my posts; I've arranged the stories of the first two weeks of training by the date of training. After the episode of finding the scenic way to the Powerline, the third week has been a week of absolute rest. In some future post, I'll add in stories of my running history.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lost in the shady grove

In the end, it was all because of Santhosh.

It was supposed to be a quality workout along the Powerline. Joe said "Run easy", up the Hill of Death and then we'll run the Powerline hard; 4 lengths. He then showed us a short-cut to get up the Hill of Death instead of going all the way to Sculpture Falls and come back. When I say showed, he told us where to cross the creek, and told us to follow the trail to run up the Hill of Death. Once we all gathered together, we crossed the creek, and at the very first fork in the road, we promptly did not care to realise it was a fork, left the good path, and comfortably ventured into uncharted territory. A few winding hills, add to it a couple of instinctively-wrong turns, and couple of clearings with multiple roads later, we were decidedly lost. Gaurav became Colombus, and Santhosh alternated between his evil laugh and the famed imitation of the grey wolf.

A lot of consternation and conversation later, including some merry moments (I climbed a tree to see if I could spot the direction of the Powerlines, and could only see the setting sun), we emerged at the other end of the Powerline having covered an easy extra 3 miles than what we had intended to cover. Later turned out, we had amidst all our following the not-taken-road, we had atleast covered the Shady Loop if not more, in making our way to the Moon Shadow. (Moon Shadow, incidentally is the top of the Powerline, so spake Joe's map.) The rest was tame, we did 3 lengths of the Powerline instead of 4, and came down the well trodden path back to Hill of Life and to a smiling Joe, who promptly said, "No matter how hard you try to mark any trail, you can never make them idiot-proof".

If you are wondering how it was all Santhosh's fault, it must have been, there is no other explanation.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The 2nd week of Sunmart training

57 miles. This week was the most we've run in any one week so far. Monday and Friday with its cross-trainings were promptly skipped, or glossed 0ver if you prefer that. Thursday easy run happened around IF, close enough to home and such. Tuesday, I did track workouts with the full marathon folks at the School for the Deaf.

Wednesday we were slated for Hill of Life (HOL) repeats. The HOL if you dont know it, has an elevation gain of nearly 400 ft. over a distance of half a mile; and if you try running it, it feels like you've come 10miles in those 10minutes of the climb. Joe said we are going down the longer way, and climbing the hill the short (0.5mi) way back; we do at least 4 repeats; we dont do more than 6 repeats. Santhosh promptly asked if he should do 6 repeats. Joe left it to us how many we wanted to do; and just said, "4 will achieve the intentions of the workout, any more you do, is to show off that you are 'the man'!". Needless to say, Santhosh did 5. (To be absolutely frank, I did 5 too. But the last one was accompanying Ani on her last repeat. )

HOL repeats were a lot of fun. I learnt an important lesson of hill running. DONT. The two laps when I power walked up the hill were faster than the two laps I tried running up the hill. Joe also demonstrated the fun way to skip down hills where you just let go, and the foot will find its way. Of course, all good in theory only.

The weekend I was in Palo Alto, and I hooked up with Anil Rao to run my 22miler. Anil and me go back a long way, to our training for each of our first marathons, back in summer of 2003. Since then Anil has run 10 ultras including 3 50-milers. He's running one more first weekend of November, and he was also planning a 22-mile run on Saturday. We met at Campbell Park where rest of the Asha SV team was also doing a 20-22 mile training run for the Chicago marathon. The 22 was fairly uneventful, except that Anil gave me a lot of information about what he and Rajeev (my coach) had learnt over time, in terms of nutrition etc. Later Rajeev also gave me some gaiters to cover the shoe while running in dirt. Sunday run was more nostalgic than hard. I ran in Rancho San Antonio, on the familiar PG&E trail and the upper wildcat trail. Covered 14miles and actually felt good at the end of it.

I am really looking forward to the next week when all we do is REST, after Wednesday.