Thursday, September 27, 2007

Preparing for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

This weekend we are running the Grand Canyon. Twice. Its called the rim2rim2rim. We start at the South Rim, run down the canyon walls to the Colorado river; then run up the canyon walls to the North Rim; turn right around, and run back down to the river; and finally, back up the canyon walls to the South Rim where we started.

We are 6, in this adventure. The usual four - Ganesh, Gaurav, Santhosh, and me - and Padma and Arun. Padma the meticulous has created a great document consolidating all information. This is what the elevation profile looks like.

Seems like we have an overall elevation drop and gain of 9675ft. split over 4263ft. on the south side over some 9+ miles and 5412ft on the north side over some 14+ miles, totalling to an overall distance of 46-47 miles. There are multiple water holes in the canyon (the various campgrounds), we just need to make sure that they do carry water at this time of the year.

The gorgeous views of the canyon promise to make this the run of a lifetime. Eagerly looking forward to this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pacing at the Rio Del Lago 100M

This was an easy run. It was meant to be part of my training. It was meant to be easy since I was running with folks who had already run 55 miles even as I just started. It was meant to be simple and flat -- not much elevation, nor altitude. But, NO, those reasons didnt make it easy. In fact, turns out that, matter not the reasons and justifications, no 45mile run is an easy run. This run was easy for two special reasons -- the two runners I was pacing, and the incredible crew that had turned out to support them.

The run, for me, began at mile 55, at the Rattlesnake Bar. After a hard time locating it (despite accurate directions from Anil Vaidya, and persistent phone support from Anurag), the never-tiring Rashmi drove me to Rattlesnake Bar aid station just as Anil and Rajeev got there. We negotiated a rather tricky 12miles back to the school through multiple ribbon-less forks. Lots of folks apparently got lost in this stretch, including Gary (one of our runners, Char was waiting at the school to pace him), who lost nearly 4 hours.

The scene at the school was incredible. Reminded me of the scene at the start/finish line at Sunmart. It was loaded with Asha folks (apparently they were only 12, but the excitement and entertainment made them seem like 40). This was nearly 67miles into the race, and the runners had a longer recovery break, and also changed gear for the chillier night. We were also joined by Mouli who would pace with us for the next 10miles.

Couple of miles before Hazel Bluff, I spoke with Cory on the phone. She was at Hazel Bluff and sounded very anxious. Apparently Alan had not checked in at Hazel Bluff, and had past the Folsom Dam station a very long time ago. One look at her face at Hazel Bluff we knew all was good, there was relief written all over her face. She told us that Alan had missed checking into that aid station and had gone ahead to the turnaround. Alan was having a very hard race being unable to keep anything inside him from very early in the run. The strong runner he is, he walked and ran through it all, and got to a strong finish.

Amidst much singing and joking, the next 10miles went by faster than the previous 12 (in the mind only, the clock told a different story). We arrived at the Hazel Bluff aid station to be greeted by more Asha folks. Some refreshment, light banter, trading Mouli for Chakri later, we moved out for the final 12miles out and back section. We managed a 10minute sleep in this section at a picnic bench, while Chakri watched out for the three of us. Spent minimal time on the turnaround and as we got back to Hazel Bluff, Nattu caught up with us. He had also gotten lost in the Rattlesnake-School section and had spent some time at the school aid station. Soon he had past us, the bridge, and missed the downhill towards the aid station and had set out charting his own course on the freeway shoulder. I ran behind him to get him back on course, while Rajeev, Anil and Chakri shouted out for him before he saw us gesturing and returned.

Swapping Chakri for Anu at Hazel Bluff, we sauntered our way back the last 11 miles, walking almost all of it until the last couple of 100meters into the finish. Anil seemed much stronger than at TRT, and Rajeev was fresh as ever. We met Chihping a little before the finish. We had first met him in the night at the turnaround and he seemed to be hurting really bad. But the new dawn seemed to have done its bit, and when we met him Chihping seemed to be his usual self. Of course this was his 5th hundred miler in less than 2 months!

Pacing is great fun. You get to run a fair bit, plus the crew also takes care of you, as they do the runners. Essentially you get the benefits of the 100mile runners while doing the work of a 50mile runner! Minus the buckle, of course!

I have to repeat this. As Asha runners, we are a privileged lot. I've seen this in multiple races. We are the envy of all other runners, for the crew we have. I've run a fair number of races without the Asha crew, and the difference is incredibly stark. Blessed are we to be running these mountains and these distances, but to be cheered and crewed by multitudes of Asha crowd is very heaven.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stevens Creek 50K -- blood blisters, DNF and other stories

Ran (well, started) the Stevens Creek 50K this Saturday. It was a good day to run to start with and slowly got hot as the day wore on. This race is a long standing tradition in the Bay Area and is free of charge. The volunteers are from the local Audubon Society, and any donations to the Birdwatchers of Audubon was welcome. I started the day with "lead legs" and slowly got into rhythm running with Anil the first 5-6 miles. Soon my plantars started hurting and I let Anil go ahead. Pushed and prodded my way slowly to the first aid station, as the feet continued to boil.

The next 10 miles were excruciating. Could barely plant my feet on the ground. Dragged ass all the way to the aid station. Took me 5:17 to get to the 20mile aid station. Over there, I pulled my shoes off, and discovered lots of blue spots which hurt when I touched them. Eventually I learnt they were called blood blisters. Decided right there to stop running, and go back to my tried and trusted Brooks. Something with the Montrails -- my feet dont like them.

While administering to my feet, I saw Beth Vitalis finish. She was zooming through the trails, and a subsequent examination of her feet revealed many rather nasty blisters. Its a happy feeling to be home and having hot food fully knowing that ideally I would have been struggling on the trail, and folks like Anil and Padma were still doing that.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Orwellian truths on how to write

George Orwell in 1946 published the essay Politics and the English Language lamenting the abuse of cliches in the English language.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Read the whole essay, its definitely worth the while of anyone even remotely interested in the language. Orwell summarizes his points with the following six suggestions to be followed when communicating in English --
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Link to couple more Orwellian articles -- Nonsense Poetry and In defence of P G Wodehouse.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Government fostered Inequality, or how the many go hungry feeding the few

Read about this rather interesting restaurant in this essay by Russel Roberts. If You're Paying, I'll Have Top Sirloin first appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 18-May-1995.
When you eat there, you usually spend about $6—you have a sandwich, some fries and a drink. Of course you'd also enjoy dessert and a second drink, but that costs an additional $4. The extra food isn't worth $4 to you, so you stick with the $6 meal.

Sometimes, you go to the same restaurant with three friends. The four of you are in the habit of splitting the check evenly. You realize after a while that the $4 drink and dessert will end up costing you only $1, because the total tab is split four ways. Should you order the drink and dessert? If you're a nice person, you might want to spare your friends from having to subsidize your extravagance. Then it dawns on you that they may be ordering extras financed out of your pocket. But they're your friends. They wouldn't do that to you and you wouldn't do that to them. And if anyone tries it among the group, social pressure will keep things under control.

But now suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners that evening across all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only 4¢. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact you won't just add a drink and dessert; you'll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine. Suppose you and everyone else each orders $40 worth of food. The tab for the entire restaurant will be $4000. Divided by the 100 diners, your bill comes to $40. Here is the irony. You'll get your "fair share." The stranger at the restaurant a few tables over pays for your meal, but you also help subsidize his. It all "evens out."

But this outcome is a disaster. When you dine alone, you spend $6. The extra $34 of steak and other treats are not worth it. But in competition with the others, you've chosen a meal far out of your price range whose enjoyment falls far short of its cost.

Self-restraint goes unrewarded. If you go back to ordering your $6 meal in hopes of saving money, your tab will be close to $40 anyway unless the other 99 diners cut back also. The good citizen feels like a chump.

And so we read of the freshman Congressman who comes to Congress eager to cut pork out of the budget but in trouble back home because local projects will also come under the knife. Instead of being proud to lead the way, he is forced to fight for those projects to make sure his district gets its "fair share."

Matters get much worse when there are gluttons and drunkards at the restaurant mixing with dieters and teetotalers. The average tab might be $40, but some are eating $80 worth of food while others are stuck with a salad and an iced tea.

Those with modest appetites would like to flee the smorgasbord, but suppose it's the only restaurant in town and you are forced to eat there every night. Resentment and anger come naturally. And being the only restaurant in town, you can imagine the quality of the service.

Such a restaurant can be a happy place if the light eaters enjoy watching the gluttony of those who eat and drink with gusto.

People who are overeating at the expense of others should be ashamed. That shame will return when others are forced to cut back too. This requires deep cuts and an end to the government smorgasbord where the few benefit at the expense of the many.

PS: Link to Roberts' essay from a friend. This and many similar essays were reprinted in the book The Libertarian Reader, David Boaz, Editor, Free Press, 1997.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pikes Peak -- up once, up twice, down!

Pikes Peak stands alone in all its vibrant bare majesty. From anywhere in the area, you see all other hills dwarfed by this tree-less peak. The website talks about this race with a respect I havent seen anywhere else...
"There’s a reason trees don’t bother growing above 12,000' on Pikes Peak. They can’t! Makes one wonder if trees are smarter than runners. Above treeline most runners take 30 minutes or more, some much more, just to cover a mile. What little air remains can’t satisfy the endless stream of zombies hoping only to survive
their next step—a death march right out of a scene from
Dawn of the Dead"

We got there on Friday, the usual four and our crew, Roopa. We had decided to do the Pikes Peak D-D-D-Double, which is Ascent (13.3 miles, 7000ft gain) on Saturday, and the full marathon (ascent and return) on Sunday. Padma was to join us on Saturday, she was doing the marathon on Sunday.

Finally, the key to our success on both days was the ideal pacing. We refused to run up the hill, and kept a very steady pace. I also discovered the low oxygen makes me talk continuously. Santhosh bore the brunt of my verbal diarrhea including songs from Disney movies...

The above was just one of the lot. The hill when paced carefully and walked steadily didnt offer much trouble. Also, we won the altitude lottery. Altitude sickness is like a toss of a coin. You either get into trouble or you dont. Padma got into so much trouble, at 12000 ft she could barely coordinate her walking. She was forced to (prudently) pull out at the treeline. The first day, we chilled out at the Summit for a while (14100 ft) and promptly got a headache. The second day was much better. The chart below gives an idea of the elevation and profile we were climbing.

In the end, it all worked pretty well. The ascent took us 5:14 and the next day the climb took 5:09 with 8:20 for the full marathon. Had to hold Santhosh back on the downhills and we saved our quads in the bargain. Gaurav, Santhosh and myself finished hand in hand, while Ganesh came tumbling soon after.

On the first day, Roopa deciding to do her long run, walked up the course up to Barr camp, and got down, covering over 15miles! A very interesting race, and a hard one at that. But it gets a lot more roadies (road runners) and is a little extra hyped because of that. If you are used to ultra distances, this one is fairly straightforward. Only trick is the altitude. If you get sick at altitude, then this is not the race for you. Either that, or you have to get there three weeks early and acclimatize to the place. This was the second of our series of four races. Two down two to go. Details on the other two will be up soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All in a day's work of an Indian MP

Parliamentary Research Services gathers statistics of attendance of our esteemed members of the Parliament and analyzes them. Take a look at their MP attendance analysis for the period 2004 to 2006. Many trends fall out, including the fact that parties with no stake in the ruling government (BJP, BSP) have the lowest attendances.

It's quite incredible, to see how the public money gets spent. Check out the daily agenda in the Loksabha -- I've picked yesterday, pick your own date, yesterday is one of the better days. Every single report being presented to the council, has time marked to make a statement showing reasons for delay in reporting it.
"Statement (Hindi and English versions) showing reasons for delay in laying the papers mentioned at (1) above."

The real irony comes from Aug 21st agenda. Check this out --
12. SHRI RAJESH VERMA and SHRI NIKHIL KUMAR CHOUDHARY to lay on the Table minutes (Hindi and English versions) of the 7th sittings of the Committee on Absence of Members from the sittings of the House held on 7 December, 2006.

Minutes of a meeting held in december 2006 regarding absence of members, is being presented in August 2007!!!

All this is the loksabha. The rajyasabha doesnt let anything out. Today's agenda is "government business". In the name of all that is sweet and pure, what else can they ever do?

SocialWatch India had an article back in 2003. Quoting from it --
Time lost on account of unruly behavior: The Lok Sabha lost over 60 hours to disruptions. The cost of Parliamentary transactions is currently estimated to be Rs 18,430 per minute. The loss to the public exchequer can be easily imagined. The only thing that can be said in favour of MPs is that the time lost due to disruptions was less in 2003 as compared to 2002. One can perhaps attribute this marginal improvement to the increasing media attention to disruption of Parliament and the mounting public displeasure over the way MPs are squandering public money. Decreasing number of sittings: For 36 years from the time of its inception in 1952, the Lok Sabha sat for over 100 days every year. In fact, it averaged 138 sittings in a year for several years and came down to 102 days in 1988. Since then, it has fallen to just about 80 days in a year. But the year 2003 saw a further decline- the Lok Sabha sat for only 74 days during the year.

Unfinished business-pending Bills: In Rajya Sabha more than 30 bills are pending, which include the bills pending for more than 10 years. This includes bills such as the Indian Medical Council (amendment) bill introduced in 1987. In the Lok Sabha, the end of every session during the year 2003 saw about 30-40 pending Government Bills. At the end of the fourteenth session, the number of pending Private Members Bills stood at 261.

Who will watch the watchdogs?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What price, our education system?

Today, Sep 5th, on Teacher's Day, spare a thought to the education of the children of India. For one fancy moment, imagine that we are not mired in the morass of an antediluvian British education system. If today, we were to invent an education system from scratch, unburdened of history, what would be its primary features? What does education truly mean? Is graduating from high school a measure of the quality of the education received? Or should a good education guarantee a successful life in a socio-economic sense?

Our current education system is often critiqued as one that "dims the diamonds and polishes the pebbles". Citizens, 'educated' ones, accept as a fact of life, that some kids are smarter than others. Is that really true, or is it just a reflection of a poor system which judges not too wisely? Forget examples of Gandhi and Einstein, each one of us are acquainted with at least one person who did not do well in school, but later was a success in life.

Our education system demands too much from the kids. First up, children need to be judged and judged well - read smart - to find opportunities to success in life. What can you say of a system which starts with the premise that one half will necessarily be judged unsuccessful compared to the other half? The system expects children to be good at everything in school to be judged smart. A child who isnt matching up to other kids in subjects on offer at school, but is excelling in painting and running, is deemed unsuccessful. You only need to talk to the child in question and you will hear, in marked diffident tones, "weak in math". How strong is a system which can make a child feel weak?

Which brings us to the essential question, "in the name of education, should we build on the strengths of a child, or as we do now, minimize his/her weaknesses"? Shouldn't the goal of our education system be, to create a body of strong citizens for the future, rather than a body of not-so-weak individuals? How can one uniform system be the solution to educate the children of a nation of billion individuals, with innumerable cultural, language, social, economic, and geographical differences? It appears to be a case of supreme ego (or 'fatal conceit', as Hayek would put it) to mandate one system of education upon the entire nation.

This is not to say that we do not need an education system. However, maybe it is time to revisit what should be the basis of that system. Quite likely that all the intellectual infrastructure the education system needs is the three Rs -- an abbreviation used from the 1800s, for 'reading', 'riting' (writing), and 'rithmetic' (arithmetic). The rest of the education system could then provide the atmosphere to foster the strengths of each child.

This Teacher's day, as we honor that important body of our people, who mould the minds of our future generations, let us give a thought to the how and why behind the moulding. Let us not condemn our children to mistaken notions of a vestigial system because we chose to turn a blind eye to its deep rooted ills.