AHM 2016 - Mind, Body and Will

The Airtel Hyderabad Marathon was scheduled on 28th August, Sunday. I had registered for the half. 

On the previous day, I did not go for a run. I planned to take as much rest as possible. But I had some errands and ended up walking more than 6k and roaming in the city the entire afternoon. By evening, I was pretty exhausted by all the errands. For dinner, I had a bellyful of white rice which was my carbo-gorging (not loading!).  I planned to sleep early so that I could get up by 3:30 am. The cab was booked for 4:30am.

I went to bed by 10:30pm. I thought about the run in the morning and what would be my target. Though I was secretly hoping to do it in 2:21, my realistic plan for the run was 2:27. I had been thinking about my running splits and decided to scribble it on my left hand. It will serve me as a reminder if I am doing fast or slow, I thought.

I wrote:                    2k  -       15 mins
                                7k -        50 mins
                                10k-       70 mins
                                15k-       103mins
                                20k-       140mins
                                21k-       147mins                                               

(This picture was taken just after the run while stretching)

Typically, the night before a run, I do not get good sleep. Contrary to my previous experience, on that night, within a few minutes of lying on the bed, I was in deep sleep. Around 1:30pm or 2:00pm, I woke up, drank some water and tried to sleep. Surprisingly, I was feeling fully awake. I tossed around in the bed, unable to sleep any further. The 3-3.5 hours of sleep seemed enough. I just kept my eyes closed.

Around 3:40am, I got up and prepared myself. At 4:30am the cab came and I contacted 2 other runners, Dev and Amit who were car pooling with me. We reached the venue around 5:10am or so.

It had rained heavily in the night. So the early morning weather was cool. As usual, there was lot of light and music at the start area. There was a big crowd as well. The full marathon folks had already started at 5:00am and they were doing the loop around Hussain Sagar. We went to the hold area and were joined by the other RTP runners. Together, we took some snaps, did some warm ups and then there was a call for the line up as per different corrals. That is when we dispersed and I did not get to see any other RTP runner till the end of the run.

The run started exactly at 6:00am. I had a good plan. I started slowly. I was hoping that once the crowd thinned out I will pick up pace. But the crowd was huge. And it did not seem like thinning. All runners seemed very excited and but their speed was a slow jog. I also jogged along with them for the first hundred meters.

Hyderabad marathon is not known as the toughest city marathon just like that. The race starts at the benign and beautiful necklace road. But do not be beguiled by the beauty of start area. No sooner than you have covered even 500 meters, you meet the first of the several flyovers – the Khairatabad flyover. It is a small one, but it is a portent one. It tell us the shape of things to come.

By the time we reached the Khairatabad flyover, people had picked up speed. Most of the crowd ran past the first flyover briskly. Down the flyover, a sharp right turn takes the runners on the Rajbhawan road. I did 2k in about 13 minutes. I was running 2 minutes faster than my target and was happy. Around the 2.5k mark was the first water station. Some runners slowed down to take a sip. I continued my run.  

At 3.5 km, came the next hurdle. It was the Somajiguda flyover.  A flyover is never easy to run on. Though there is a downward slope after the upward incline, the thought of running up a flyover creates some hesitation in the mind if you are not used to it. But when you have to run, you have to. So, I persisted. The Somajiguda flyover gave way to the Punjagutta flyover.  By time the Punjagutta flyover forked and we reached the Banjara hills road number 3, we had covered 5k and yet another mental pressure was building up  just by looking at the steep incline of the road ahead.  The next 2 km presented a 50meter climb. It was difficult because it is a straight patch and you can see it. But since it was still early on in the run, most of the runners sped through. So did I. By 45 minutes since start of run, I had covered 7 km, ahead of my target by 5 minutes and feeling really happy about it. It was then I started dreaming about doing a PB (Personal Best). I clocked my Personal Best in 2012 at 2hr:22mins. At the same time, my mind started telling me that I need to walk a bit. I had not walked at all from the start. I told myself that there should be a water station in the next 500m to 1k where I can rest. So, continued running.

Around the 8k mark was a water station. I stopped and had water, grabbed some biscuits and banana. Then started running again. The next 1 km or so was still a slow climb. By the time I reached Jubilee hills check post, almost 9k done, the road flattened out and the running became a little easy. I took 65 minutes for 10k, still 5 minutes ahead of my target and still dreaming of my PB. I thought if I could maintain this pace, I will be able to do the run at 2:22 instead of 2:27 and just some extra push in the last leg will see me achieve my PB. But I was not aware of the things to come.

The downward incline continued. Again, my mind was begging me to walk a bit. It told me that I have 5 minutes lead. I can easily afford to walk for 1 minute. I kept repeating to it that I can slow down, I can run slowly, but I will not walk. This tussle went on for 3 more kilometers and after 13km, an upward incline presented itself.  The wicked mind, which was looking for excuses,  told me that you have crossed way beyond the halfway mark, almost nearing the 2/3rd mark. Now, as a treat to your body,  you should walk. In a moment of weakness, I succumbed to it and walked for about 100 meters.

Around the Hitech city junction, it is a sharp 100m elevation in about 1 kilometer till the mindspace junction. That is a killer. I slowed down, reduced my stride length and increased the cadence a bit. Luckily, the 10k runners had not reached that point yet and hence it was comparatively crowd free. I remember, the previous year, due to my slow run, by the time I reached Hitech city, the 10k runners were all over the place - the road, the water stations, aid stations and everywhere else.

I reached 15k in exactly 100 minutes, still 3 minutes ahead of target. I was still dreaming of a PB. Infact, I was thinking about a 2:20 finish!

Around that time, I had some more banana, a bit of water and some electrolyte – fast and up – and that was yuck!

The run from 15k to 17k was mostly downhill. I tried to make up my lost time in the mindspace hill by running faster in this leg, with longer strides. There were school kids standing beside the road and cheering all the while. It was really motivating!

Around 17k I could see the last big hurdle, the Gachibowli flyover. I had good time till that, at 1hr:53min. I ran steadily. The school kids were all standing on the flyover divider and cheering. Some of them extended their hands out and I touched them. It was invigorating. Around 17.5k, I felt a tightening in the right leg calf muscle. I was surprised. A runner is not a stranger to pain. I remember I have had pain in all over my body during my marathon preparation, from toes, to feet to heel, to ankle, knee,thigh, back, tail bone, you just name it. But this was different. But I never had such an experience in my last 5 years of running. I slowed down drastically, almost to a walk. Slowly, the pain subsided and again I started running. I knew the 3 minutes lead I had was slipping away. I had already lost almost a minute. Hardly would I have gone another 200 meters, again the front tibia and the calf muscles of both legs tightened. I saw a medical aid station and limped along, determined not to stop till I reach that. The aid station folks sprayed the pain killer on my legs and the pain subsided to a great extent. I resumed my running. But, just 2 minutes and 200 meters later, both legs cramped again. It was excruciatingly painful. I could not even stand. I was in the middle of the road and had to move to the edge of the road to sit down on the divider. The legs felt like dead lead. I was really afraid by now. My mind told me to give up. But I did not want to. 

I sat on the divider, massaging my muscles, thinking about the 1000km of running that I had put in before this run. I thought about the tremendous will power I had to use to quit smoking in order to run well. Now, the PB was a distant dream. Not only had I lost all the time I had gained, now the dread of a DNF was looking straight in my eyes. In fight between mind and matter, mind always wins. But here was a fight between mind and will. No one was asking the body what it wanted. Mind was gripped with fear and wanted to stop. Will wanted to continue. I summoned all the will power that I had and stood up.   

The runners who were passing along urged me to keep running slowly and not to sit down. I gathered myself and started running again. The muscle cramps were still coming in waves. Whenever the calves of the legs were getting tight, I slowed down a bit and then started running again. But the intensity of the cramp was reducing. So, I took it as a good sign. With renewed vigor, I pushed ahead.

By the time I looked at my time, I had taken almost 10 minutes for that 1 km. As luck would have it, around 19k, the cramps subsided completely. The PB was definitely not in the scene. I did not even know if I could meet my 2:27 target. It was 2:11 and I still had more than 2k to go.

Slowly and steadily I pushed along and entered the stadium. All the way, the kids were shouting - last leg, 500 more to go. And even after going 500m, they were shouting 500 more to go. That was frustrating. But I knew that they were instructed to shout like that. The last leg inside the stadium, for some reasons, seems very difficult. I reached the red running track of Balayogi stadium. It was less than even 100 meters now and I could see the finish line. But my ordeal was not done yet.

Just about 50 meters from finish, the body that was ignored all the while revolted. The cramps came back again with a vengeance. It was a sharp pain again, freezing me on the track. My face crinkled with pain. I simply stopped then and there and bent down.  My mind was happy to prove itself right. It was saying – look, I told you to give up. You did not listen. Now suffer. This is what you deserve. My will was just observing all that was happening, without passing any judgment at all. There were no thoughts of PB. There was no thought of reaching my target. It was just soaking in all the pain, the dream and the sweat.

A few seconds later, still writing with pain, I picked up my run and crossed the finish line. I looked up at the large watch put up beside the finish gate. It showed 2:30. I stopped the app on my phone that showed the actual run time. It was 2:26:13. In spite of the trials, I had managed to just beat my target. The will triumphed.

A few minutes later, my phone buzzed. I received an SMS from the timing company. It read a chip time of 2:26:59. 

Woohoo!!! I had beat my target by just 1 second! The feeling, priceless!

It was a journey from a dream to pain to finally happiness. It was a fight between the monkey mind, the obedient body and the indomitable will. Finally, the will triumphs!


Sandeep, Deepak, Vivek, Vasudha and other folks from RTP runners were already there, having finished their runs. We stretched, had the breakfast and then returned back.

Before I end this, a big shout out to Hyderabad Runners (HR) for organizing the AHM. This is the 6th year that they have organized the race and I have participated in 4 of these 6 years. Every year, the organizing team adds something new and the bars are being raised higher. This year, I especially liked the music bands, traditional dancers, tribal musicians and kids on route who were doing a great job of cheering and encouraging the runners. A huge Thanks to you all AHM Organizers, HR members and volunteers for the great experience!

Airtel Hyderabad Marathon 2016 – The Preparation.

This story starts on August 30th 2015. It was the last Sunday of August last year and it is the day of annual pilgrimage of runners at Hyderabad - the Airtel Hyderabad marathon. I had registered for the same enthusiastically, but my preparation was not good. However, having completed a half and a full marathon in 2012 and 2013 respectively, I was confident to complete this half. I did. But my time was dismal. It was dismal by my own standards - the standards of a slow runner. I had finished the half in 3 hours and 2 minutes.

While analyzing my run, I found that I was taking a lot of walk breaks in between. I was getting out of breath and was not able to sustain my runs for a longer period. Thinking more about it, it dawned on me that the reason could be my habit of smoking. Smoking impacts the lungs. It destroys the lungs and drastically reduces the capacity of lungs to hold and assimilate the oxygen from our breath to blood. And hence I was feeling breathless and had to walk every 500 meters or so. I still do not understand why I did not face this breathlessness in 2012 and 2013 when I ran the marathon.

As it happens after every run, I set up a few new goals for myself. One of them was to do a respectable time in the 2016 run. This meant that I had to practice regularly. I decided to do a 5k run almost everyday as a practice.  Apart from that, I also decided one more big goal for myself which would help me in running well – that was to quit smoking.

On 30th November 2015, I had the last drag of a cigarette and quit after being a smoker for 16 years. My trials and tribulations in quitting will be a story for another day! I was amazed with the results of quitting. In just about 3 days, I could run a loop of 2.5 kilometers without stopping. In 7 days, I was elated when I did a 5k run without a break! In about 3 weeks time, I was running 10k continuously without walking at all!

I kept my running rhythm going. By January, I set some new goals. I told myself, I will run 35 km a week. It will be 5k every day and since I will be taking 1 or 2 days rest in a week, I will do a 10-15k long run on Sundays. It was just what I have done till now. I did not do any other strength training or hill running or tempo runs.  

Here is my running chart from Dec 2015 till August 2016:

The year has been a good year of running for me. I have been running quite consistently and clocking 100+ km per month regularly. On August 26th, I completed 1000 km of running in this year and was looking forward to the half marathon on 28th. I had put in the effort, demonstrated progress and was confident on my ability to finish quite well.

In my training runs, I had done a half in 2 hour 30 minutes. So, I was confident that I will be able to better that. Secretly, I was hoping that I will get a PB by going below 2 hour 22 minutes that I achieved in 2012. 

The 3Ds

Dream Discipline Dedication

In a book that I read recently, there was this interesting idea. It said, to achieve something, you need these 3 things - A vision, discipline around it and passion. In other words, it could be called the 3Ds.

First D stands for Dream. It is the vision that you see of the future. Everything starts with a dream. Dream is the goal. It tells us where we want to go. But unfortunately, this world is full of people lying asleep, doing nothing with high dreams. So, dreams alone will not help you achieve what you want.

The next D is Discipline. It means rigorous practice, doing whatever is required, when it is required, at regular intervals, irrespective of whether you feel like doing it or not. For a designer, it could be a daily practice of your technical skills for an hour or reading on new design concepts for an hour and so on. This is like putting your whole mind and body into your goal.

But only those 2D 's are still not enough. You need a third D. It is dedication or passion. One has to be fully dedicated to the goal. No moonlighting. Dedication means bringing in your heart. But, if someone is dedicated, but not disciplined, the goal cannot be achieved.

Thus you need the 3D to achieve your goals. Do you have all the three?

Independence Day 2016

15th August, 2016: Today is Independence Day. 69 years ago, this day, India got its independence from British rule. Yes, we are politically independent, a democratic country. But like many other things in life, independence also has many layers to it.

So, the question to ask today is, are we truly independent? Today, we may not be governed by a foreign country. But we are definitely bound and governed by various personal habits that hold tremendous power over our life. Have we become independent of procrastination, anger, jealousy, greed, covetousness and laziness?

Have we become mentally independent from the shackles of fixed mindset thinking, from our limiting beliefs, from our fear and our insecurity?

Have we become independent of social evils like untouchability, dowry, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, female infanticide and gender inequality?

Are we independent spiritually, allowing good thoughts to flow in from all directions, accept the diverse religious beliefs, yet coexist peacefully.

The true meaning of independence is not only being independent in political sphere, but also being independent economically, financially, spiritually and personally.

We have to become independent in all spheres of life. To this goal we must strive. More than 100 years ago, Rabindranath Tagore’s  penned a poem that is quite apt for this day!

“Where The Mind Is Without Fear”

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

The Nonagenarian Runner

Running has many benefits. The physical benefits are well known. But the other day, a chance encounter with a person while running, made me realize what exactly running can do.
It was a little overcast morning. It had rained the previous night and the roads were still wet. Some of my running friends had gone for a 10K run around Novotel hotel and since I had started late, I was trying to catch up with them.
I reached the hitex exhibition grounds and was expecting that I will meet them. But they were not to be seen. I was in double mind. I was weighing whether to return back from there or to run alone. The morning was wonderful. The place was beautiful. But for me, doing a 10k alone is somewhat dreadful.
As they say, while in doubt, run! So, I kept running.
I saw him coming towards me in a red vest. He seemed about 80. His face had wrinkles and freckles, a sign of old age. But he looked wonderfully strong. He was straight and moreover, he was running!  He waved his hand towards me. When he came within audible distance, I said good morning. He stopped his run, came near me and asked me what. I shook his hand, wished him again and asked him his age. His hands were strong. He had well defined muscles. I was admiring his persistence and effort. But when he told me his age, I could not believe myself.
He said he was 94.
It was really inspiring to see someone running at that age. When I asked if I could run along with him,  he said some very profound words - You go on your way, I will go on my own. Do not keep your mouth open while running. Breathe through the nose, send it to the spine, everything will go away.
And he ran off slowly. I stood there pondering what happened. I forgot to ask his name or where he lived. Even I forgot to take the customary selfie. I turned around helplessly, looked back at him as he was going. On his red vest, it was written CHITTOOR.
Later that day, a runner friend shared this link about him.


Gratitude Rocks

This is my 100th post on my blog. So, here is a little tribute from me to all those who have moulded me into what I am today.

I am like a stone on the bank of a river. Many others stones come rolling along with the flow of the water. They lie at the bank for sometime. They do their duty. In their free time, they talk to me. They share their feelings and frustrations. They shape me a bit. I shape them a bit. Then, they move on. I feel like I am a historian. I am the custodian of their stories. The string of little moments spent with the different stones tell my life story. Grateful to all of them who have come in my life and shaped it.