Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Golden Thread

The Golden Thread

On May 29, 2016, as I crossed the finish line of Comrades 2016, I felt a wave of relief and some amount of pride. 

However one of the first thoughts to enter my mind that very moment was about Comrades 2017. 

As I walked into the finish area and was garlanded with my medal, I thought: "If I come to comrades 2017 with the same amount of fitness that I did this year.. I won't finish. I better start training harder"

In hindsight that was so ridiculous.  I mean I had just spent a year dreaming about finishing 2016 and the minute I finished 2016, I was thinking about 2017.  

I came home after Comrades and rested for a month but all the time was spent time thinking about 2017.  I was waiting to start training again. 

I've been cross training during that month but I've been trying to get ready for Comrades as fast as possible. I push myself in the gym and on the spin cycle and am impatient but the results are slow in coming.    After 30 mins on the spin cycle I get off and walk for the next 30 mins with wobbly legs and I wonder..."When will the strength come. I can't wait." 

I do some dead lifts and wonder, "When will the benefits kick in, I can't wait"

I cannot wait to lose the weight I've gained in the last month and wonder when will I lose it. 

I started running a few days ago and cannot wait to reach a stage when I can do some speed and hill repeats and not feel buggered as I do right now. 

When will Jan come so that I can run SCMM & qualify for Comrades 2017 ?

When will I finish all the long runs for Comrades 2017 ? 

I also want to quickly get over with the aches and pains which are sure to come along the way.  I also want to get over with all the early waking up and eating right which has to be done. 

I want to quickly get to the part where I am super fit and ready. 

I want to quickly get to Durban and to the expo. 

I cannot wait for the year to go by so that I can stand again on the start line of Comrades 2017.    

I seem to have no patience for the process by which one goes through life.  

My eagerness to quickly breeze through the days and fast forward to June 4, 2017 made me think of a story that I had read.  

The author of the story, "The Magic Thread" is Unknow but it was retold by William J. Bennet : 
 "Once there was a widow who had a son called Peter. He was a strong, able boy, but he did not enjoy going to school and he was forever daydreaming.

"Peter, what are you dreaming about this time?" his teacher would say to him.

"I'm thinking about what I'll be when I grow up," Peter replied.

"Be patient. There's plenty of time for that. Being grown up isn't all fun, you know," his teacher said.

But Peter found it hard to enjoy whatever he was doing at the moment, and was always hankering after the next thing. In winter he longed for it to be summer again, and in summer he looked forward to the skating, sledging, and warm fires of winter. At school he would long for the day to be over so that he could go home, and on Sunday nights he would sigh, "If only the holidays would come." What he enjoyed most was playing with his friend Liese. She was as good a companion as any boy, and no matter how impatient Peter was, she never took offense. "When I grow up, I shall marry Liese," Peter said to himself.

Often he wandered through the forest, dreaming of the future. Sometimes he lay down on the soft forest floor in the warm sun, his hands behind his head, staring up at the sky through the distant treetops. One hot afternoon as he began to grow sleepy, he heard someone calling his name. He opened his eyes and sat up. Standing before him was an old woman. In her hand she held a silver ball, from which dangled a silken golden thread.

"See what I have got here, Peter," she said, offering the ball to him.

"What is it?" he asked curiously, touching the fine golden thread.

"This is your life thread," the old woman replied. "Do not touch it and time will pass normally. But if you wish time to pass more quickly, you have only to pull the thread a little way and an hour will pass like a second. But I warn you, once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again. It will disappear like a puff of smoke. The ball is for you. But if you accept my gift you must tell no one, or on that very day you shall die. Now, say, do you want it?"

Peter seized the gift from her joyfully. It was just what he wanted. He examined the silver ball. It was light and solid, made of a single piece. The only flaw in it was the tiny hole from which the bright thread hung. He put the ball in his pocket and ran home. There, making sure that his mother was out, he examined it again. The thread seemed to be creeping very slowly out of the ball, so slowly that it was scarcely noticeable to the naked eye. He longed to give it a quick tug, but dared not do so. Not yet.

The following day at school, Peter sat daydreaming about what he would do with his magic thread. The teacher scolded him for not concentrating on his work. If only, he thought, it was time to go home. Then he felt the silver ball in his pocket. If he pulled out a tiny bit of thread, the day would be over. Very carefully he took hold of it and tugged. Suddenly the teacher was telling everyone to pack up their books and to leave the classroom in an orderly fashion. Peter was overjoyed. He ran all the way home. How easy life would be now! All his troubles were over. From that day forth he began to pull the thread, just a little, every day.

One day, however, it occurred to him that it was stupid to pull the thread just a little each day. If he gave it a harder tug, school would be over altogether. Then he could start learning a trade and marry Liese. So that night he gave the thread a hard tug, and in the morning he awoke to find himself apprenticed to a carpenter in town. He loved his new life, clambering about on roofs and scaffolding, lifting and hammering great beams into place that still smelled of the forest. But sometimes, when payday seemed too far off, he gave the thread a little tug and suddenly the week was drawing to a close and it was Friday night and he had money in his pocket.

Liese had also come to town and was living with her aunt, who taught her housekeeping. Peter began to grow impatient for the day when they would be married. It was hard to live so near and yet so far from her. He asked her when they could be married.

"In another year," she said. "Then I will have learned how to be a capable wife."

Peter fingered the silver ball in his pocket.

"Well, the time will pass quickly enough," he said, knowingly.

That night Peter could not sleep. He tossed and turned restlessly. He took the magic ball from under his pillow. For a moment he hesitated; then his impatience got the better of him, and he tugged at the golden thread. In the morning he awoke to find that the year was over and that Liese had at last agreed to marry him. Now Peter felt truly happy.

But before their wedding could take place, Peter received an official-looking letter. He opened it in trepidation and read that he was expected to report at the army barracks the following week for two years' military service. He showed the letter to Liese in despair.

"Well," she said, "there is nothing for it, we shall just have to wait. But the time will pass quickly, you'll see. There are so many things to do in preparation for our life together."

Peter smiled bravely, knowing that two years would seem a lifetime to him.

Once Peter had settled into life at the barracks, however, he began to feel that it wasn't so bad after all. He quite enjoyed being with all the other young men, and their duties were not very arduous at first. He remembered the old woman's warning to use the thread wisely and for a while refrained from pulling it. But in time he grew restless again. Army life bored him with its routine duties and harsh discipline. He began pulling the thread to make the week go faster so that it would be Sunday again, or to speed up the time until he was due for leave. And so the two years passed almost as if they had been a dream.

Back home, Peter determined not to pull the thread again until it was absolutely necessary. After all, this was the best time of his life, as everyone told him. He did not want it to be over too quickly. He did, however, give the thread one or two very small tugs, just to speed along the day of his marriage. He longed to tell Liese his secret, but he knew that if he did he would die.

On the day of his wedding, everyone, including Peter, was happy. He could hardly wait to show Liese the house he had built for her. At the wedding feast he glanced over at his mother. He noticed for the first time how gray her hair had grown recently. She seemed to be aging so quickly. Peter felt a pang of guilt that he had pulled the thread so often. Henceforward he would be much more sparing with it and only use it when it was strictly necessary.

A few months later Liese announced that she was going to have a child. Peter was overjoyed and could hardly wait. When the child was born, he felt that he could never want for anything again. But whenever the child was ill or cried through the sleepless night, he gave the thread a little tug, just so that the baby might be well and happy again.

Times were hard. Business was bad and a government had come to power that squeezed the people dry with taxes and would tolerate no opposition. Anyone who became known as a troublemaker was thrown into prison without trial and rumor was enough to condemn a man. Peter had always been known as one who spoke his mind, and very soon he was arrested and cast into jail. Luckily he had his magic ball with him and he tugged very hard at the thread. The prison walls dissolved before him and his enemies were scattered in the huge explosion that burst forth like thunder. It was the war that had been threatening, but it was over as quickly as a summer storm, leaving behind it an exhausted peace. Peter found himself back home with his family. But now he was a middle-aged man.

For a time things went well and Peter lived in relative contentment. One day he looked at his magic ball and saw to his surprise that the thread had turned from gold to silver. He looked in the mirror. His hair was starting to turn gray and his face was lined where before there had not been a wrinkle to be seen. He suddenly felt afraid and determined to use the thread even more carefully than before. Liese bore him more children and he seemed happy as the head of his growing household. His stately manner often made people think of him as some sort of benevolent ruler. He had an air of authority as if he held the fate of others in his hands. He kept his magic ball in a well-hidden place, safe from the curious eyes of his children, knowing that if anyone were to discover it, it would be fatal.

As the number of his children grew, so his house became more overcrowded. He would have to extend it, but for that he needed money. He had other worries too. His mother was looking older and more tired every day. It was of no use to pull the magic thread because that would only hasten her approaching death. All too soon she died, and as Peter stood at her graveside, he wondered how it was that life passed so quickly, even without pulling the magic thread.

One night as he lay in bed, kept awake by his worries, he thought how much easier life would be if all his children were grown up and launched upon their careers in life. He gave the thread a mighty tug, and the following day he awoke to find that his children had all left home for jobs in different parts of the country, and that he and his wife were alone. His hair was almost white now and often his back and limbs ached as he climbed the ladder or lifted a heavy beam into place. Liese too was getting old and she was often ill. He couldn't bear to see her suffer, so that more and more he resorted to pulling at the magic thread. But as soon as one trouble was solved, another seemed to grow in its place. Perhaps life would be easier if he retired, Peter thought. Then he would no longer have to clamber about on drafty, half-completed buildings and he could look after Liese when she was ill. The trouble was that he didn't have enough money to live on. He picked up his magic ball and looked at it. To his dismay he saw that the thread was no longer silver but gray and lusterless. He decided to go for a walk in the forest to think things over.

It was a long time since he had been in that part of the forest. The small saplings had all grown into tall fir trees, and it was hard to find the path he had once known. Eventually he came to a bench in a clearing. He sat down to rest and fell into a light doze. He was woken by someone calling his name, "Peter! Peter!"

He looked up and saw the old woman he had met so many years ago when she had given him the magic silver ball with its golden thread. She looked just as she had on that day, not a day older. She smiled at him.

"So, Peter, have you had a good life?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," Peter said. "Your magic ball is a wonderful thing. I have never had to suffer or wait for anything in my life. And yet it has all passed so quickly. I feel that I have had no time to take in what has happened to me, neither the good things nor the bad. Now there is so little time left. I dare not pull the thread again for it will only bring me to my death. I do not think your gift has brought me luck."

"How ungrateful you are!" the old woman said. "In what way would you have wished things to be different?"

"Perhaps if you had given me a different ball, one where I could have pushed the thread back in as well as pulling it out. Then I could have relived the things that went badly."

The old woman laughed. "You ask a great deal! Do you think that God allows us to live our lives twice over? But I can grant you one final wish, you foolish, demanding man."

"What is that?" Peter asked.

"Choose," the old woman said. Peter thought hard.

At length he said, "I should like to live my life again as if for the first time, but without your magic ball. Then I will experience the bad things as well as the good without cutting them short, and at least my life will not pass as swiftly and meaninglessly as a daydream."

"So be it," said the old woman. "Give me back my ball."

She stretched out her hand and Peter placed the silver ball in it. Then he sat back and closed his eyes with exhaustion.

When he awoke he was in his own bed. His youthful mother was bending over him, shaking him gently.

"Wake up, Peter. You will be late for school. You were sleeping like the dead!"

He looked up at her in surprise and relief.

"I've had a terrible dream, Mother. I dreamed that I was old and sick and that my life had passed like the blinking of an eye with nothing to show for it. Not even any memories."

His mother laughed and shook her head.

"That will never happen," she said. "Memories are the one thing we all have, even when we are old. Now hurry and get dressed. Liese is waiting for you and you will be late for school."

As Peter walked to school with Liese, he noticed what a bright summer morning it was, the kind of morning when it felt good to be alive. Soon he would see his friends and classmates, and even the prospect of lessons didn't seem so bad. In fact he could hardly wait."

Next week I turn 50.  

Most of my life thread has already been pulled out. 

Why in the world am I wishing for another year to go quickly ?  

Why in the world should I want Comrades 2017 to come quickly ??  

Should I not wake up every day and squeeze the most out of it ?  

Must I not enjoy every training session to its full without the urgency to get to June 2017?  Must I not enjoy every rest day ?

The aches and pains are sure to follow. But should they also not be welcomed?  After all, some day when the thread runs out, they too will stop.  

Why not relish the good and the not-so-good that the year will bring forth ?

My Golden Thread was always rationed & its best that comes out of the ball at its predetermined speed.  

My days are and always were limited. It would be silly for me to rush through them. 

Trying to run fast during Comrades is a smart idea.  Trying to rush through my remaining days is silly. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The morning alarm

"We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are." : Max De Pree

These are probably the most motivating and true words that I have ever read.  

I try to assimilate them.  

Whenever I run, I think and  dream about what I wish to become. 

I continuously plan what I want to achieve in terms of my running.  

During my runs, my mind is making and remaking my future training strategies.  : I add distance to my long runs, I add more repeats to my interval training, I add elevation to my hill training, I add volume to my total mileage. 

I can see the glories that I will achieve for myself in my next race.  I can visualise my awesome performance. 

I decide that I will really train hard in the days and weeks and months to follow.  It will be blood and guts and grit and glory.  And I can visualise the awesome race that i will enjoy. 

These are normally my brave thoughts during and immediately after a run as I drive home. 

But the pivotal moment for me comes every morning when the alarm rings.    

I'm astonished that it's already time to wake up.  I'm convinced at that moment, that I really need to rest up.  
Rest, after all, is the corner stone of good training.  

In a split second, I quickly recalculate and come to the conclusion that I can go and run in the gym later in the day or I can add another run sometime during one of the remaining days of the week. 

I then switch off the alarm and go back to bed and then .... I continue to remain the man I am by continuing to be the man I am. 

Shakespeare spoke about a tide in the affairs of men.  
He said that if we take up the tide at the flood it leads on to great fortune. 
But if we miss that moment of high tide, we will remain stuck in the shallows. 

I don't wish to remain in the shallows.  It is Time! 

The alarm clock announces the arrival of the tide.   

I'd better wake up and smell the coffee.   

Yes, it is Time !

But first let me hit the "snooze" button, just for a bit. 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The arithmetic on the frontier of running

"The Arithmetic on The Frontier of Running".   

I need a few things to improve my running and I'm trying to make a budget. 

I've analysed my race performance and have come to the conclusion that the following things are absolutely essential for me to improve :

1) A treadmill.   

I've created a gym in my home and added quite a lot of stuff in there but more is needed. 

For many days and months I've been thinking that a treadmill is absolutely essential. 

Once I have a treadmill it will be easy to sleep-in so as to get my 8 hours of sleep and yet put in the run that is so necessary.   At other times, it will be easy to put in the 2nd run during the day even when I'm pressed for time. 

A decent imported treadmill should cost between ₹ 2,60,000/- and ₹ 5,00,000/-

2) A new Garmin:
I do own a Garmin. But I  think that my Garmin 310 Xt is too old.  I saw my friend wear the latest Garmin which gives the heart rate data without the need to wear a chest strap.  

I think the heart rate data is vital in being able to train well.

I haven't spoken to my friend Dinesh who imports them but I think that should cost around ₹ 24,000/- 

3) Sun Glasses :
My sun glasses have lately been fogging up during the rains.  I can't focus.    A good pair of new Oakley's need to be bought.              ₹ 10,000/-

4) Protein shakes & GU gels

The right food at the right time is bound to help. I can't cut costs when it comes to nutrition. ( ₹ 7000 a month ).  

I also need to take help on a continuous basis from a sports Nutritionist to get rid of the extra flab that I'm carrying. ( ₹ 25,000 onwards )

5) Shoes & Socks
My shoes and socks are all worn out after all that comrades training.    Good shoes are the cornerstone of good running speed. 
I need new ones.

And while I'm at it, perhaps some new dry fits t's and shorts will help as well. ( ₹10,000/- for shoes every 3 months ) 

6). A good personal trainer for the gym and one for running might help as well.  ( ₹'s : the sky is the limit )

These are my very modest needs.   Almost everyone who wishes to run well must probably need all of this: Of this I'm sure! 

But as I did my technical research about running in some sports and scientific journals, I came across a very interesting poem. 

The poem written by Rudyard Kipling was first published in 1886 and is called, "Arithmetic on the Frontier ". 

The poem is about the British fighting in Afghanistan in the 1800s.  

Kipling talks about the massive discrepancy of wealth and weaponry between the British soldier and the Afghan freedom fighter. 

The British soldier was educated, from the best schools, in the art of war and had the best weapons of the day.  

The Afghan had nothing but a ₹10/- rifle !

Kipling writes that for 7 years the British soldier trained at a great cost to learn how to fight.  About £300 per annum were spent for him to learn : 

"A great and glorious thing it is To learn, for seven years or so, The Lord knows what of that and this, Ere reckoned fit to face the foe ------
Three hundred pounds per annum spent On making brain and body meeter "

But a poor uneducated Afghan with a 10 rupee rifle (jezail)  brings down the £2000 educated British soldier. 

"A scrimmage in a Border Station -- A canter down some dark defile -- TWO THOUSAND POUNDS OF EDUCATION DROPS TO A TEN-RUPEE  JEZAIL (rifle)  -- The Crammer's (school's) boast, the Squadron's pride, Shot like a rabbit in a ride!  "

All the profound education and knowledge which the British soldier had was of no use against the poor afghan who could strike hard and shoot straight. 

"No proposition Euclid wrote, No formulae the text-books know, Will turn the bullet from your coat, Or ward the tulwar's (sword) downward blow Strike hard who cares -- shoot straight who can -- The odds are on the cheaper man. "

So many of my friends don't need the things that I think are necessary to run. 

I've seen so many of them run without shoes or a watch. 

I've seen them run without a care in the world about the clothes they wear or about their protein or carb intake. 

They have never had a GU gel or an Isopure protein shake. 

They have never had a coach or a sports nutritionist help them. 

All they rely is on their hard work and passion and ability to push themselves. 
And they run like the wind !

So I've come to the conclusion. 

I don't need a new Garmin or new sunglasses or new shoes and socks and such.  All these things are superfluous. 

All one needs to run well and fast is courage and strength of character and hard work and the willingness to shed some blood and sweat and tears.  

I think this needs too much strength of character.

So I think, I'll just get the treadmill.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A few minutes to cut-off at Comrades

Earlier today I put up a picture of mine, running Comrades 2016 and described the 11 hours 56 minutes and 37 seconds I spent running towards the finish line as "temporary insanity".
I described it so in jest.

A friend on Facebook, Jane Anderson Bluegrace, then asked me the following question : "Tell us more about the feeling and spirit in that group around you as you all pushed to finish before the 12 hr "

I was taken aback by this extremely insightful question because it meant that Jane had given some deep thought to some of the most defining moments of the day for a sub 12.00 hours finisher.

The greatest personal growth that I have experienced for myself has been in that last one hour before the final comrades gun goes off.  

The time from 11:00 hours to 12:00 hours for a just-sub 12:00 finisher is spectacularly unique.

For people who finish the race in any time over 11:50, the last hour is dramatically different than for those who finish it in a time under 11:50.  

The experience of finishing comrades in its dying moments is unique.  

A 10:00 hour or 11:00 hour or 11:45 runner won't understand what happens at this, the every back end of comrades.
The champions cannot even dream of it, in their worst nightmare.

However let me not speak for all but only for myself.   I can only tell what I have felt and seen and noticed and experienced.  ( I also know that the experience of people running with a pacer bus will be completely different from what I have experienced )

So what follows is my personal experience and observation which may be quite different for that of any another runner.

I have finished Comrades 5 times, almost all of them in a time of around 11:55 +\~ a couple of minutes.

Each one of those races have been extremely hard on my body but more so on my mind.

I have in each instance reached the 11:00 hour mark with about 7k to go.   At that time the math is very simple.  If I can hold about 8 mins a km, I know I can finish the race.

This is easier said than done.

After running 80+ km on an extremely hilly terrain, it is extremely hard for a runner of my speed and ability to hold 8min/km.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the last 7kms in neither the down run nor the up run are flat.   There are small nameless hills in both.

With 7km to go I'm surrounded by hundreds of runners.   I can see that all of them are struggling in some way or another.

80km into the race a comrades runners looks a certain way.  An 80km run causes him to have a certain physical look which isn't found in a 21k or a 42.2k runner.

For one, he/she is wet with a combination of sweat and water.    This is mixed with a certain amount of salt on the skin.  But the mixture gives him/her a unique skin tone.

There is also the stench  of fatigue, an overwhelming look of fatigue which is apparent in the way people are moving.  Most heads and shoulders are drooping down.  Many are walking with their hands on their hips.    Some are moving ahead in really awkward postures.   Those capable of running have their strides reduced to a shuffle.

Ever so often I will notice some one cramping or limping or falling down.

But at the same time there is a palpable sense of urgency amongst the runners.    Everyone has been doing the math and they know what they need to do over the next hour.

I keep trying to keep moving.  Every few minutes I look at my watch and see the average pace and the actual pace.  

By now the garmin distance is off by almost 1 km from the official road marker distance.  It causes real heartache to see that the road sign says 7 km to go while the watch says 6 km to go.

Besides, it seems that the next km marker just does not come.  It seems it's taking forever for "7km to go" to turn to "6km to go".

The stress keeps increasing and the desperation is palpable all around me.  I know I need to hold 8mins/km.

The problem is that lots of people around me at that particular moment (with 7 km or 6km to go) will not make it to the finish.

I am extremely tired now  and tired people prefer walking.  And at this point at every little incline there is a tendency and a desire to walk.

The problem is that most people around me feel the same way (or it is entirely possible that I might be only noticing the people who feel that way) and since they are walking I want to walk.

But one cannot walk at 8 mins/km and walking any slower means a DNF.

This then, is the hardest part of Comrades for me.

The ability to push my mind and body to run when every instinct encourages me to simply walk.  The ability to push my mind and body to run when the people around me are walking is very very hard.

To give into walking at this point is the easiest thing in the world to do.   After all, aren't so many people around me walking?  They must know something. They must know that they can walk and make it.  And so i figure I too can walk.  I'm allowed to walk since all are walking !

But I also know this isn't true.  I need to move at 8 mins /km and at every walk my pace falls to beyond 12mins / km.  

The "average pace"  read out is slowly going to 8:00min/km.
At 8:08 mins / km, its a DNF and I know that my distance on the garmin is wrong and so I don't even trust this number anymore.

So I need to simply look at the "time of the day" and the distance on the road marker.

I know I need to run and not walk.

As the km go by, the math becomes more and more easier.   But even with 2km to go I see people who are walking and I know that they might not finish.

Even with 2 km to go I have seen people lie down on the road or cramp and fall.  How will they every finish ?

I have finished Comrades with less than 2 mins to go and I have know that hundreds of people ( or so I think ) just beyond the gate of the stadium won't finish if they are walking.

This then has been the biggest challenge for me in my 8 years of running Comrades.  The ability to keep moving in the last 7km.  The ability to resist the urge to walk when the clock is running out has been my biggest challenge.

Every bone in my body wants to walk because other people are walking but unless I run,  I know can't finish.

It is only in the last 3 years have I been able to overcome this.

My finish-time does not tell the story of my journey.

It is easy for a detached observer to think that I haven't improved at all.   It is an easy observation to make if one keeps my finish time in mind.

What is not easy to see is what has been going on in my mind.

For so many years I was destroyed in the last couple of hours of comrades.  I simply looked at people walking and I walked.  I didn't have the mental and physical ability to run in those last hours.

The math was always done. I always knew that to finish I need to run at least at 8 mins / km but I simply could not.  There was no lack of motivation. There was no lack of desire.
There was a lack of ability.  I would look at people walking and simply walk.

Yes, there are people who encourage you on the route. There are people who cheer you, who support you. There are fellow runners who want to wait for you, who would gladly carry you if they could , but one needs to be able to hang onto them.  One needs to have the ability to keep moving with a fellow runners who is slowing down to take you into the finish.

My problem was that I was unwilling to take their help because I wasn't in a mental or physical state to assimilate the positive energy that they were willing to share.  

I simply used to look at the people who had their hands on their hips and were walking.   I was always one of them.

The emotional trauma of not finishing Comrades has been enormous.  I came back after those DNFs and decided that I never want to be in that position again.

That is easier said than done.

I have struggled over the years but I have trained to the best of my ability.

In 2010 and 2012 my wife,  all but carried me into the finish. Without her I would have just walked.  She coerced me into running those last few km.

The last 3 years have been different  because i made it into the finish on my own strength.

In the last 3 years I haven't felt the fear of those last 7 km. I knew that in those last 7km that I was capable of  moving at 8 mins / km.    I had it in me to run when so many around me were walking.

The finish time does not tell this story of the intangible progress.

Unfortunately, past performance is no indicator of future results and this rule is nowhere more applicable than at comrades.

2017 is an Up run.   Normally ( historically & to the best of my knowledge ) a persons runs a down run slightly faster than an Up-run.  

I finished this 2016 down run in 11:56:37!
3 mins and 23 seconds short of the final gun.
Now, that is hardly a cushion!

Even as I write this, I can feel my blood turn cold at that thought!

So to conclude, "what does it feel like to be a runner in those last moments of Comrades ?"

I know that Comrades runners are a special brotherhood.   The last few kms and the last few minutes and seconds are the most emotionally stirring moments for those who finish and also those who do not finish.

The sights you see in those last few km stay with you forever.   The runner next to you is your brother or sister.  There is a special bond that you share with them.   But some will finish and some will not finish.   Some may help you & you might help some.
But many of your fellow travellers in those last 7km won't make it for sure and there isn't anything you can do about it.  

You can feel their pain as you run past them. You can see it in the way their bodies move and you can see it in the dazed look on their faces.

You run past them and you know they won't make it.  It is terrible.

I know how it feels to not finish.  I have been there.

I have also finished and felt the joy and ecstasy and pride of finishing this unique and awesome race.

I am indeed a lucky man to have experience both.    
A traumatic emotionally draining experience can add value and flavour to life.  It is not necessarily a bad thing to not finish.

But I'd always rather finish.

And come to think of it.  I'd rather not have all this drama in my life.

I'd simply love to finish a half hour earlier.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Slow runners @ Comrades

In support of all the slow runners in this world  !

People ask me all the time, "why do you run so slow ?"

It is a valid question.

After all, I've finished 5 comrades marathons and I've taken 11 hours and 50 + + minutes to finish each one of them  

What is often not appreciated is that going slow takes a special skill set.  It's not easy to go slow and yet finish on time.  To use every possible minute of the available time is quite an art.

To gain a better understand of this, One needs a special perspective on this "going slow" business

One needs A paradigm shift.

For real understanding to take place, One needs to think of running as love making.

Now, Love making takes skill.  Passion takes skill .
But Both love making and Passion require patience.
Loving well, requires time.

When one makes love, one needs to pace oneself.

What is the point of rushing?  Why should you be in a hurry to finish ?

It's the most absurd thing to rush through love making.

One needs to enjoy and relish every moment of the experience.

One needs to be slooooowwww.

One needs to make it last as long as possible. It is a skill which one needs to acquire and it is a skill which is hard to execute, Because One needs to take all the time in the world but yet come to the finish in the nick of time. That's a unique skill !!

One Starts with just the looking, then the touching and then the feeling !

One should spend an eternity simply kissing the curves and the hills and the valleys.   Exploring the curves and the valleys and the hills takes time and patience.  One needs to explore them with loving care.  Not a single inch of the landscape should be missed or ignored.

Beauty is something to be enjoyed for as long as possible and forever.

That is the philosophy One can and should apply to running.

Who wants to run Comrades  fast ?

Make it last for 11:56:37  !!
Now, that takes some skill and a whole lot of passion and a huge amount of strength  !!

Of course, spending all that time on the Comrades route leaves neither the time nor the energy for that other thing !

But that can be overcome.

All One needs, is a "tiny" sense of humour.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

New year resolutions.

New Year Resolutions. 

It was one of the coldest of nights that I can remember trying to sleep through.  

Aryan , Neepa , Namrata and I shivered through sub zero temperatures in a cold tent,  a few meters away from the Pangong lake, in the Himalayas. 

I spent a restless & sleepless night waiting for the dawn to break.  

Barry Holland has written that a Comrades runner measures his year as per the Comrades Calendar.   My year starts and ends with the Comrades marathon.  

My year had ended on the finish line of Comrades on the 31st of May 2016 and now I was on the cusp to the start of a new year.  

The time before the first run after Comrades 2016 is much like 11:59 pm on the night of 31 December.  It is a moment when one makes ones New year resolutions.  One ponders upon the year gone by but more importantly one decides upon all the things one wants to do in the years to come ahead.  One plans and dreams. ( unless one is already drunk ) 

The year to follow is especially special for me as  I enter the 50th year of my life.  It's a special landmark since I know that more years have gone and less remain.   Time is fleeting and fast. 

I struggled in bed, cold and shivering waiting for light to break.  I was desperate to step out. It had been 10 days since I had run Comrades and I could no longer hold back the urge to step out for an easy run. 

Finally as light broke, I stepped out of the tent, dressed in layers. 5 t-shirts, 2 full-length pants, 2 pairs of socks,  shoes, a woollen cap and a pair of gloves.  The camp site was desolate. No one in their right mind had yet woken up.   But the magnificent sight which greeted me was one which will stay embedded in my memory forever.   

A very faint glow of light bathed the top of the mountains in the very far distance .  The water of the Pangong lake was alive.  It was living and breathing.  

I quickly traversed the short few meters between our tent and the lake shore.   It was drizzling and the air was cold and freezing. I could see my breath as I exhaled and could feel the the cold crisp air as it entered my lungs. 

To my right stood majestic mountains.  The top of some were covered with snow while some were barren and shades of browns, greys, oranges and greens .  

There was some green grass at the waters edge but everything else was completely barren and covered with rocks. There wasn't a blade of grass visible on those mountains.   

The lake ahead of me, extended to the horizon and to territory controlled by the Chinese.  The water was shades of blues, greys, greens and turquoise.   It was the cleanest water in a lake I've ever seen.  

Wave after wave of crystal clear water dashed against the pebbles which lined the lakes edge. 

On the far left bank of the lake , the mountains were again clad in fog and mist.  The browns, greys, blues, oranges and white effortlessness blended into one another. 

The rarefied air at this high altitude made breathing quite an effort but I just wanted to run.   I knew that breath would follow breath. I just wanted to run. 

And so I ran ! 

I also knew I had to follow Neepas strict instructions to be back within an hour. 

The vast expanse of the landscape was overwhelming.  There was not a soul in sight. It was perhaps how our earth was before we showed up.   

The vastness of the lake, the mountains and the sky made me feel the infinitely smallness and brevity of my life.  

I ran some and walked some along the lakes edge.   

A half hour later I came across a large rock on the waters edge on which someone had spray painted the words "Live Pure".   Although this was an act of complete vandalism,  I could understand the vandals emotions.   It would be hard for any human to stand in these pristine surroundings and not ponder upon the meaning of one's life and its brevity.  One cannot stand in the midst of this magnificence and not ponder upon one's mortality.  One cannot but ponder upon the words "Live Pure". 

The local people of Leh and Ladhak have a tradition whereby they stack flat rocks, one on top of another.  One can see such rock sculptures all over Leh. The driver of our tempo traveller, Mr Nuwang, had explained to me that the locals held the belief that if they made such a stack of rocks in a particular location, they would be born in that area in their next life. 

I decided to make a stack of rocks on the river bank.  But I decided to make it as a mark of my love for my family.  I found and put the first large flat rock in memory of my father and then stack rocks on top of that to represent my love for my mom, for my wife Neepa, for my children, Aryan & Namrata, for my extended family and for our dog Lance. 

I stood there on the waters edge, closed my eyes and thanked the universe for the blessings I have been bestowed. 

I believe that I'm the luckiest man alive.  I've been blessed with wonderful parents, with a great education, with a fabulous family,  with great friends and a life filled with opportunities.  I've been blessed with good health. 

I stood there on the waters edge in that sacred environment and asked for some more blessings.  

I hoped that the universe will grant me the ability to use my 'free will' to make the right decisions for the remaining days of my life.  I wish to live my life in such a way that I can give back more than I have received and to live it in such a way that some day my children and family will remember me as a "good man". 

I want all children to have the things and opportunities that I want my children to have.  I want to generate enough resources for children at the Tata Hospital so that no child suffering from cancer remains without treatment. 

But while I was at it, I asked for one more  blessing... I prayed that I can be at the start line of Comrades 2017. 

The Comrades year is such a long year that one never knows how things will pan out.  Real life intervenes. One can never tell what the basket of life holds for each one of us: work and finance and health and study and all the other glorious uncertainties that unfold over the year.   One never knows if one will finally stand on that start-line but one must dream and desire.   I'm old enough to know that the sun does not always shine on each and everyone of our desires.  Sometimes dark clouds pour rain on ones dreams. 

An hour and a half later, as I walked towards my tent, I turned and took one more look at the mountains and the lake.  

The sun had not broken through the clouds but the peaks in the far distance were now bathed in sunlight.  It was still drizzling and windy. It was still brutally cold and overcast. 

But the first rays of sunlight had broken through over the mountains in the distant horizon and I could tell that the promise of light and warmth lay not in the too distant future. 

The cycle of life will always have all its seasons but one can and must always count on the sun's promise to break though in the end.  

I smiled at the thought.   

I too believe in the promise that my future holds.  I believe that I can be all the things I want to be: a good son, a good husband, a good parent, and a good human !  I can be the "good man" that I want to be.   

And as far as that one other personal desire goes,  I believe that I will come through in the days and months of training to follow. 

I believe in the promise that I will stand on the start-line of Comrades 2017.