Thursday 26 July 2012

Idiots and the Tyranny of Goals, Log-books and The Comrades Ultra Marathon.

“So let it be written, so let it be done!” 
: From the Film “The Ten Commandments

I am tired of finishing Comrades with just a few seconds to spare.  Earlier this year, I finished the 12 hour race (43,200 seconds) with just 140 seconds to spare.  Not only does that become a stressful day but in addition, I have also to listen to the constant scolding from Neepa who wants me to run faster and keep up with her.  This is indeed, too much stress. 
I start Comrades in the H seeding (5 hour qualifiers).  On an average we lose 8 minutes to reach the start line which in-itself is a major handicap.  To the best of my knowledge, statistics show that 30% of the runners who start in the H seeding won’t make the final cut-off.
The way forward for me is obvious.  One does not need to be a brain surgeon to figure out that the best way to finish Comrades is to run fast...or faster!  I have known this fact for the last 4 years but each year, instead of focusing on speed and endurance training for Comrades, I get seduced into pursuing all sorts of other races around the world whose distance and timing aren’t the best stepping stones for a good Comrades day run.  Consequently I end up messing up my Comrades training. 
No more!!
This year, I have decided that I shall be seduced by only such races that help further my love affair with Comrades. 
The first step is to bring down my Marathon time and consequently improve my start seeding at Comrades.  I have decided to run a sub 4:20 marathon which would put me into the F seeding and drastically improve my chances of finishing the race (provided I do all the other requisite training).
So I have put a plan into motion!
I have decided to run the Amsterdam Marathon on the 21st of October 2012 and run a personal best time of 4:19 (My PB is 4:39). 
As any good businessman or for that matter sportsman knows...the best way to start achieving your goal is to write it down and then monitor one’s progress towards it.  For runners, it means choosing a marathon training program and keeping a log book. So on Sunday evening (22nd July) after having run 20k in the morning and with 13 weeks to go for Amsterdam, I sat and made my program and entered it into my log book.  The program covered all the days from the 23rd of July to the 21st of October 2012.
The first week starting Monday 23rd looked like so:
Monday 22
8k easy + Gym (legs)

Tuesday 23

Wednesday 24
125x8hill sprints

Thursday 25
12k easy + Gym

Friday 26
400x10 speed

Saturday 27

Sunday 28
22k easy

On Monday and Wednesday I managed to run as planned. (The Rest days have never been a problem). But when the alarm rang at 5:00am Thursday morning, I felt tired and fatigued.  I always listen to my body and so I switched off the alarm and slept until 8am. The 3 additional hours of sleep cured me and I woke up refreshed but with terrible guilt for having missed the 12k.  The log-book is a terrible tyrant!
My first work meeting was at 10:00 am and the second was scheduled for 12:00 pm.  As I drove towards the 2nd meeting, I happened to pass the Borivali National Park (a wild life sanctuary in the heart of Mumbai) where I occasionally run on the weekends. 
I could not resist!  I called up my client and requested him to delay my meeting by 3 hours in the light of some urgent personal work which had come up.  He agreed.  I asked Khwaja to drive into the park.  I asked him to stand guard as I changed into my Gym clothes (I have learnt to keep my shoes and a pair of running clothes in my car at all times). 
And I was the middle of a work the middle of the week.  I cannot recollect a happier moment in the near past. 
I quickly said a ‘thank-you’ to the Universe which gave me such a wonderful opportunity to Run!
The forest was incredibly beautiful now that the monsoons had arrived. Everything was lush green and there were small ponds everywhere.  It seemed quite different from how it seems to me in the early mornings.  There were fewer people and it seemed quieter.  Quieter, because I had stepped into the forest straight from the madness of mid-day Mumbai traffic. 
There were a few young lovers, sitting around on the benches, hugging and kissing and soon to be joining the ranks of Mumbai’s malaria infected.  I hoped that my constant motion would keep the mosquitoes away. 
As I ran, I realized that it was not my slavish devotion to the log-book plan that made me run in the middle of the work day.  This was more like a “call of the wild” thing.  Having recovered from fatigue with the 3 extra hours of sleep, I simply wanted to have my daily fix! My Time, alone with myself!
I thought about my obsession with my Goal of a 4:19 Marathon! I thought of my obsession with the Comrades Marathon. Is there any other way in life to set one’s target?  And what if I miss? Is the target realistic? Is the target achievable?
Different people have been known to set their targets in different ways.
I love a story once told by Osho about a King who loved archery.  
“Once, a King was passing through a small village.  The King loved archery; and was himself was a master archer.  All around the village he saw that on all the trees someone had drawn a bull’s-eye and had then shot an arrow exactly in the centre.  This archer had shot the bullseye every single time.   The King could not believe that in that small village there lived someone who was certainly a greater archer than himself.  The King himself was pretty good but even he was not always one hundred percent accurate. Once in a while he missed the target.  But here in this small village on the trees he saw circles and exactly in the middle an arrow.  Hundreds of circles on hundreds of trees and every single shot a bullseye.
The King said, “This is fantastic... even the best archer cannot manage this.  It seems so perfect.  I want to meet the man.” So he called the people and asked, “Who is the archer?”
They all laughed. They said, “Forget about him. He is the village idiot.”
The King said, “You don’t understand, You bring this man to me. His archery is perfect.  I have never seen so many arrows shot perfectly in the centre of the target”
The villagers said, “Your Highness, this man is the village idiot.  You don’t understand his archery. First he shoots the arrow and then he makes a circle around it. Naturally, he is perfect, always perfect.  And we have often tried to explain to him, ‘This is not the right way. First you should make the circle on the tree and then shoot.  In that way, one can miss.  This is the simple way, you never miss.”
As I ran through the forest, I thought about my ambitious target of a 4:19 marathon. Was this the best way to chase my target?
When I finished my run, I realized that I had run 14.5k instead of 12k.
And as far as my target was concerned, I knew that my arrow was already shot. 4:19 was a done deal! All I had to do now was to draw the circle around the target. All I had to do was train hard and show-up on the start line.
And I am no Village idiot...perhaps just an International one! 
Amit Sheth
International Ambassador: Comrades Ultra Marathon: The Ultimate Human Race.