Monday 19 January 2015

The Cuckoo Plan : SCMM 2015

I had written down my Plan for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015:

“I just want One Mind.
I just want One Plan.
I just want One Goal.
I just want to run a 4:00 hour Marathon! 
Trust is the Supreme Daring!” 

I had advertised it far and wide!

Namrata, my daughter, and I had discussed the blog and its possible consequences.  Was it, she had asked, necessary to tell the whole world of my plans, so far in advance, especially when I was seeking a target that was so out of my reach?

The only danger with advertising ones target is the danger of failing to achieve it.  I have never been worried about failing publicly.  I’m a harder critique of myself than anyone else can be and so it does not bother me.

The advantages of advertising my target, on the other hand, surpass the dangers.  There is a possibility that my friends may be inspired by my target and push themselves as well.  Besides even if I fail, they will see me pick myself up and go at it again. And there is some good in that too.

I missed my 4:00 marathon target.  I held One-mind, One-Goal and One-Plan throughout the race.  I gave it my 100%.  I tried my best.  I did not make it.

The pace I held to make it in 4:00 was perhaps just too fast for my current ability.  This perhaps, caused me to miss, not only the 4:00 target but also the 4:10 mark, which I thought I was capable of.  But that is water under the bridge. One never knows what might have been.  There is no advantage in speculating what might have been.

The 4:00 target was missed and that’s that.

Did I fail? Well, Yes and No. 
Two issues are involved: Math and Emotion.

Mathematically there is no doubt that I missed 4:00. I ended up with 4:16:23.

But when I analyze it emotionally, I see it differently. 
In my first SCMM, I did not get an official time because by the time I finished, they had removed the timing carpet and even the finish-line clock.

For a long time afterwards, I improved as a runner but I started the Pacing initiative in India and started pacing the sub 5:00 bus.  Consequently I became a 4:58/59 runner.  Year after year, I simply finished in either 4:58 or 4:59.

In 2014 I decided that I would not pace and simply try and run fast. I tried to push my time (without the requisite training). I ended up with a 4:50. I was very disappointed but from that day on, I decided that I would train for pace. 

With this, larger frame of reference a 4:16:23 isn’t all that bad.

To go from 4:50 to 4:16:23, in one year, is pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, GOOD!  

It is my personal best and it does push me up on the 89km Comrades Ultra Marathon start-line seeding. Did I say, pretty Good?

Of course, I cannot deny that there is a part of me that feels sad at missing not only 4:00 but also 4:10.

The 4:00 target, in hindsight, was madness. A Bit Cuckoo! 

By all logical reasoning, it is madness to aim 10 minutes faster than what one is capable of. 
But since when has marathon running and logical reasoning gone hand in hand? 

So what was I really thinking? Was 4:00 ever possible?

In the 1975 movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson is trying to escape from a mental institution.  In one of the scenes he tries to pull out the drinking water trough and use it to smash one of the barred windows to escape. 

One of the other patients says, “Don’t be stupid, you can’t do that.” Jack replied, “Yes I can, anything is possible.”

Jack gives it everything.  He strains his hands, legs and back until the veins stick out of his neck.  But he could not move the thing at all.

They all said, “We told you that you couldn’t do it.”

Nicholson looks at them and says, “But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did.”

Was 4:00 impossible?

Yes, Perhaps it was impossible. But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did.


Tuesday 13 January 2015

Race Day Mantra!

Race Day Mantra!
When it comes to race day, I don’t keep my plans a secret.  I announce them to the whole world, way in advance.  I’ve been this way since I was a kid in school.  I used to always loudly proclaim that I knew nothing of the subject, that I had not studied and that I was probably going to flunk.  And then, true to my word, I would.  I hate to lie.

I haven’t changed.  Unfortunately with Running, I proclaim, that I want to do well, that I have trained hard, that I want to run a personal best but somehow on race day things haven’t panned out as planned.

I hope that this changes. So I announced to my friends, via my blog “Trust: The Supreme Daring” 

In the concluding paragraph of the blog, I wrote my Plan for SCMM 2015:

“I just want One Mind.
I just want One Plan.
I just want One Goal.
I just want to run a 4:00 hour Marathon! 
Trust is the Supreme Daring! ”

This, however, is easier said than done. 
Every marathoner knows that “when the shit hits the fan” our immediate thought is “What in the world am I doing here on a Sunday morning when I could be in bed instead?”

The thing with running a marathon is that the best laid plans fall apart when the pain sets in.  And I am very worried about how I will remain focused and concentrate on race day.  How will I stick to my One-Mind, One-Plan and One-Goal strategy?

I am searching for inspiration! 

The first thing to do is to accept that the pain will come and then make a plan on how I will deal with it.   
Daniel Brown wrote that, “It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you” 

A wise man has said that, “Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body will.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

I, as most people will attest, am not wise!

Normally, once my mind starts screaming at me to stop the insanity, I start to stop concentrating on the run and slow down. 

With SCMM 2015 just a few days away, I am filled with dread. I know that once again, my mind, my body and my character will be tested.

So I need a mantra to focus on.  I need to stay with One-Mind, One-Goal and One-plan. 
I need Inspiration!

I recently read a fantastic book, “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown.  It is a book about the sport of rowing, but it is also a book about Life.  It is one of the best books that I have ever read.

The book tells of an epic-true life journey about ordinary boys becoming extraordinary men. 

It is a story about nine young men from the State of Washington. It is about boys – farm boys, fishermen, and loggers – from extremely poor families during the great depression who shocked both the rowing world and Adolf Hitler by winning the gold medal in the eight-oared rowing at the 1936 Olympics. 

 “Rowing is perhaps the toughest of sports.  Once the race starts, there are no time-outs.  It calls upon the limits of human endurance.”
“When you row, the major muscles in your arms, legs and back – particularly the quadriceps, triceps, biceps, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, abdomicals, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles – do most of the grunt work, propelling the boat forward against the unrelenting resistance of water and wind.  At the same time, scores of smaller muscles in the neck, wrists, hands, and even the feet continually fine-tune your efforts, holding the body in constant equipoise in order to maintain the exquisite balance necessary to keep a 24 inch wide vessel on an even keel.”*

“The result is that the body burns calories and consumes oxygen at a rate that is unmatched in almost any human endeavor.  Physiologists have calculated that rowing a 2000 meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about 6 mintues. 
Pound for Pound, Olympic oarsmen may take in and process as much oxygen as a thoroughbred racehorse.

“The common denominator is overwhelming pain.  And what every oarsman comes to learn is that pain is a part and parcel of his sport.”
 “There is no place to stop and take a drink of water or a lungful of cool air.  You just keep your eyes glued on the red, perspiring neck of the fellow ahead of you and row until they tell you it’s all over....”


George Morry, was the coxswain, of the US team.  (a coxswain, is the member of the rowing team who sits in the stern facing the bow and his team mates and steers the boat, and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers.  He sets the strategy during the race by shouting out instructions and makes sure that the team rows in a synchronized fashion).  

George Morry came up with a mantra to help the oarsmen concentrate and focus on the job at hand.  

As they rowed, George Morry would shout: “M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B” over and over to the rhythm of their stroke. The initials stood for “MIND IN BOAT”. 

“It was meant as a reminder that from the time an oarsman steps into a racing shell until the moment that the boat crosses the finish line, he must keep his mind focused on what is happening inside the boat.”* “MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT”

"It was meant to remind him that his whole world must shrink down to the small space within the gunwales.”* “M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B”

“It was meant to remind him that he must maintain a singular focus on the rower just ahead of him and that he must focus on the voice of the coxswain calling out the commands."* “MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT”

Nothing must distract him – not the other competing boats, nor the pain in his muscles, nor the lack of oxygen in their lungs - nothing can enter the successful oarsmen’s mind for he has just one focus! "M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B”

And so, for SCMM 2015, I have a plan. Whenever I find my Mind meandering away from the race, I plan to chant my Mantra....MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT..

Whenever I feel my pace falling.."M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B”
Whenever I feel myself tiring..."M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B”
Whenever I feel uncertainty..."M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B”
Whenever I feel pain.."M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B”

For so many of us SCMM Runners, “THE BOAT” has come to mean so much more than we can express!  

My BOAT is not just my body. It is so much more. My BOAT is my love for running, it is my idea of pride and joy and respect for myself.  It is my test of my physical endurance. It is a test of my mental and emotional toughness.

It is my idea of growing from boyhood to manhood.*

By keeping my “MIND IN THE BOAT” on this one special marathon day, I hope that I might be able to push through my aches and pains and then for a moment I might enjoy a mystical moment of pride and elation and I even might, perhaps for a brief fleeting moment, find myself closer to God!...CLOSER TO GOD !!
Really???? God?????

I think I’m going a bit overboard here..Closer to God, might just be a bit too much!
I think that I will simply settle for a time that I can learn to run past pain, past discomfort, past exhaustion, and past the negative voices in my head.  

I will simply settle for a PERSONAL BEST..A 4:00 Marathon !!!

M-I-B..M-I-B..M-I-B !!  


Boys In the Boat : Daniel James Brown

The main protagonist of the story “Boys in the Boat” is Joe Rantz.  He life became a metaphor for those hard days of the great depression.  His mother had died when he was a child.  His step-mother disliked him. 

In 1929, when little Joe came home one day from school, he found that his whole family (Father, step-mother and her kids) were sitting in a car.  The car was packed with all their belongings.  His father told him that he was taking his new family and leaving and Joe was not to come along.  And then this little boy had to stay alone in the house, and find his food in the forest.   He subsists by foraging in the forest for mushrooms and berries and fishing for salmon in the river.  

Yet he manages to get through school, gets himself to college and into the rowing team.  At first he finds it hard to trust the other members of his crew on the boat.  And yet in the end, he becomes a crucial member of the crew. 

After writing my blog about the “Boys in the Boat” I got an email from Judy, Joe Rantz’s daughter.  Somehow, due to the miracle of the internet, she had read my blog.  To get a letter from her was one of the proudest moments of my life. 

I take the liberty of reproducing her letter.  I hope that all the runner for SCMM will find inspiration in her words!

My name is Judy Rantz Willman.  My father was Joe Rantz.  I just wanted to let you know how much it means to me that you have been inspired by "The Boys in the Boat".  

I know that all the Boys would have loved the fact that the story of their struggles is being a source of inspiration for people all over the world.  

I believe that it is desperately important that we all begin to look at our problems with a "how can I solve it" attitude instead of an "it's someone else's fault" attitude.  Bravo to you!

I would love to know how well you are able to hang on to MIB in your next run, and if you feel it has helped you.


Friday 9 January 2015

Trust: The Supreme Daring

One of my favourite movies is “The Last Samurai”.  It is a beautiful movie based in 19th Century Japan.  I love the movie because it’s filled with loads of samurai life-wisdom. 

Capt. Nathan Algren, (Tom Cruise) is an American army officer hired by the Japanese Emperor to help train his army.  The Emperor wishes to eradicate the ancient Samurai warrior class which, in his opinion, is hindering the westernization of Japan.  The samurai are led by their chief Katsumoto (Ken Wantanabe).  

Tom Cruise becomes fascinated by the samurai, their pure lifestyle, and their pursuit of perfection. He switches sides and ends up supporting the samurai against the Emperor’s armies. His change of heart is brought on, in no small measure, due to the gorgeously attractive lead actress, Taka (Koyuki).   

In one of the scenes, Tom Cruise is fencing (using a wooden sword) with a Samurai warrior who keeps beating him every single time.  Tom’s mind is not focused and so he loses each duel.  A large crowd has gathered to watch and are joyfully betting on the outcome of each round. 

Tom has a friend in the crowd, Nobutada.  As he gets whacked by the wooden sword again and again, Nobutada runs up to him, to give him some advice.
The following exchange takes place.

“Nobutada: Please forgive; too many mind.
Tom Cruise: (puzzled) “Too many mind?”
Nobutada: Hai, mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy – too many mind.
Nobutada: No Mind!
Tom Cruise (pretending to understand): No mind!”

The mantra of “no-mind” relaxes Cruise while at the same time increasing his “awareness” of his surroundings.  He becomes “present” in the “moment” and goes on to excel in the next duel.

Osho has always said that “No-mind” is the key to enlightenment.   I believe that every marathon runner has “No-mind”.  If we had minds we wouldn’t be doing this race!  But unfortunately that is not the kind of “No-mind” which the enlightened Masters refer to.

So I, like most mortals, have “too many minds”.   There is a mind, which tells me each night that tomorrow morning, I must wake up early and go for a run.   In the morning, another mind speaks to me and says, “It’s cold and dark out.  Why don’t you take rest today and run tomorrow instead”.  Later in the day another mind speaks to me and says, “Oh! You should have gone and exercised today morning. You’ve wasted the day.”....Too many minds!!

But now, race day is close at hand and I need to focus on race day performance.  It is now time to set race day targets.

I have set one of my minds on running a personal best!

Running a personal best is quite tricky.  To run a personal best is challenging because it means that one is setting oneself up to achieve something one has never done before.  It means that I have to go into a zone which I have never been in before.  Some amount of pain may be inevitable and I need to be prepared to hurt.  Being mentally prepared for the pain to come means I won’t lose courage when the wheels start to come off.

But I’m a pragmatic guy. I am too full of knowledge and not enough wisdom.  And as I said, I have too many minds. And so I wonder...must I not have a back-up plan?

If after a few kilometres, it seems that plan A is not happening, must I not have a plan B and then a plan C and perhaps even a plan D?  

So plan A is that I want to run 42.2 in 4:00
Plan B is to run it in 4:10 (helps with the 89km Comrades Ultra start-line seeding)
Plan C is to run 4:20 (a respectable time)
Plan D is to run sub 5:00 (to simply qualify for the Comrades Ultra Marathon)

Based on my current training and my half marathon time in November 2014 (ADHM) of 1:52, I believe that Plan B (4:10) is achievable on January 18th 2015. Besides, 4:10 would also be a personal best.  

But I also believe that for a personal best to really be a personal best, it has to be harder than what I have ever believed possible.  I can’t keep a target which is within my comfort zone. I must reach for the stars.  And I believe, wrongly or rightly, that a 4:10 is well within my comfort zone.   But is 4:10 really the “best I can do”? 

I have therefore come to the conclusion that my plan A has be out there, beyond the limits of the possible.   But as I plan to pursue a 4:00 hour marathon, I am very worried.  I am not a champion like Prefontaine who believed that “The best pace is a suicide pace”.  I know that going for a 4:00 and misjudging my pace and ability could be committing just that: Suicide!   Not only will 4:00 become out of question but even 4:10 might be lost. And so, I am plagued with doubt.

I know that I have devoted a huge amount of my time and body to this race.  I have trained as hard as I could.  I have done long runs, short runs, hill repeats, intervals and fartlek training.  I have followed a kick-ass training program. I have trained harder than at any point of time in my life, and then some.  I have tested myself on smaller runs, I have done race-pace training on smaller runs, I have done some race-pace running in the second part of longer runs.

But then there is still this nagging issue of all these other minds. They keep tormenting me. 

“Run a 4:10”, says one mind, “it will still be your personal best.”  “Just run an easy 4:20”, says the other. “Just qualify for Comrades with a sub 5:00”, says the third.

Too many minds!!  Must I take the leap into the unknown 4:00 or rely on the safe 4:10? 

I think that in all this mental confusion I have been overlooking one critical component. And that component is: “Trust”  

In the Kaivalya Upanishads the great Lord Brahma says that, “To experience the Ultimate Reality, one must take refuge in trust, devotion, meditation and yoga.”

And I, for one, see parallels between the search for the Ultimate Reality and my personal best!

Osho says that in order to gain the Ultimate all the four things (trust, devotion, meditation and yoga) are essential but the key is “Trust”.  One needs to start with Trust.  Without Trust nothing works.

I seem to have the devotion, meditation and yoga partially in place. Trust however seems to be the real issue.  I feel that there is a Trust deficit.  Do I have Trust in myself?

Osho says that, “To believe in what we can believe is not trust.  To accept what our intellect can accept is not trust.  To trust what can be supported by our reason is not trust.  
Trust is to agree with what our intellect is not willing to accept, what our reasoning is not willing to accept.  It is the possibility of what seems to be an impossibility. Acceptance of the impossible is trust.  This is why Trust is the supreme daring!

Trust is utter madness.  The very meaning of trust is that you take a quantum leap.  When all logic and reason has been exhausted, there you take a jump; where the road ends, there you take a jump.”

A 4:00 marathon is utter madness.  It needs a quantum leap of faith on my part.  I’m going to take that leap.  Trust is the only answer.  I have to Trust myself, I have to Trust my training. I have to Trust in the impossible.  Wisdom can only come existentially.

So what do I plan for Race Day? Will it be too many Minds or No-Mind?

“Too many minds” is too much noise. I can’t have that. “No-mind” is for enlightened Masters.  I can’t have that either. 

I just want One Mind.
I just want One Plan.
I just want One Goal.
I just want to run a 4:00 hour Marathon! 

Trust is the Supreme Daring!