Tuesday 25 August 2015

Free- Falling

Free Falling 

"Skydiving without a parachute 
Open to all directions 
And the longing for each direction 
Is destroying me". (Meir Ariel). 

I finished  the first 9 days of my triathalon training.   

They were pretty interesting days! 

Never have I felt so out of control. Never have I felt so out of my depth. 

Much like the poet, I did feel that I was skydiving without a parachute.  Free- falling was more like it.   

I felt the need to learn how to swim, I felt the need to learn how to cycle. I felt the need to continue my old routine of running and weight training.  

I felt pulled in every direction. 

I swam 4 times ( well, I splashed around in the pool to be precise).  I cycled 4 times (on the spin cycle in the gym to be precise), I ran 6 times and I did weight training 3 times.  

Occasionally, I even went to work. 

For the last few years, running had become second nature to me.  Running was my anchor. My life was organised around running.  

I could disengage my mind from running while I ran. Sometimes I solved work issues as I ran, sometimes I thought about my children, sometimes I thought about my finances, sometimes I thought about future runs, or about Comrades and on occasion, I even thought about lack of sex due to all the training.          

I spent a lot of time daydreaming about future runs and future training.   I thought about all the great runs I would enjoy in the future. 

And often times I didn't think at all.  I could simply zone out. 

But during almost all those runs, I didn't think about the actual act of running.  The legs and arms moved on their own.  I didn't have to coordinate much. The act of running had become second nature.  It just happened.  Running, like walking, is something we do instinctively. 

A lot changed in these last 9 days. 

Whenever I got onto the cycle, I had to think about cadence. I had to think about my heart rate.  I had to figure out the height of the saddle. I had to adjust the distance of the seat from the handle bar.  I had to think about my hands and legs and back and neck.  I had to keep them relaxed and keep them in form.  

I had to think about increasing or decreasing resistance  and I had to think about making large circles in my mind as I pushed the pedals ! 

It was the same when I jumped into the pool. 

I had to remember to keep my legs straight and not bend them at the knees. I had to remember to keep my head down and my eyes looking at the bottom of the pool. I had to coordinate the reach and the catch and the recovery.  

And most importantly, I had to remember to breathe. 

I had to remain present on the cycle and in the pool. 

Every time that I jumped into the pool or climbed onto a cycle, I had to focus on the act.  I stopped planning for the next day or the next week, the next month and the next year.  I had to forget all about long term goals.   I stopped day dreaming of the great Triathalons I would take part in, in some distant future. 

Even when I wasn't running or cycling or swimming or in the weight room, my mind was occupied with thoughts on how to schedule my daily life.    I was simply trying to plan each moment of the day.   I couldn't day dream about a half triathalon or a full time Triathalon.  I had to simply plan to survive each and every day. 

I need to train for two of the three sports almost every day.  I am not used to this.  Besides I have no skills in two of them. 

I haven't sorted out this new lifestyle.  

The day is still just 24 hours long and I still have to work for a living and I have to study math and physics and chemistry with Aryan.  I still have to go to work, travel for work and do all the things that need to be done.   

I also need to add hours to my sleep time because of the heavier physical exercise load. 

I continue to feel the pull of Comrades and running but I also feel the pull of this new adventure. I like jumping into the pool. I like the idea of leaning to swim. I like cycling. I'm waiting to get out on the road and dodging the traffic and the dogs and the potholes. 

I feel the pull of a triathalon.  

"Skydiving without a parachute 
Open to all directions 
And the longing for each direction 
Is destroying me". 

Yes I felt I was being pulled in different directions and yes I felt uncertain. I did feel like I was in a free fall. 

Except I don't think I was being destroyed. 
I remember a scene from the movie Forrest Gump.  As Forrest sits on the bench with a box of chocolates,  waiting for the bus,  a feather is being blown all over the place. It goes right and left and up and down.  The feather does not control the wind, it does not fight against the wind, it does not take a rigid stand against the wind.  It allowed the wind to take it on a journey. It allowed the wind to take it on a new adventure.  

The feather simply floats perhaps believing that existence will do what's best for it and take it wherever it's meant to go.   There was no point in planning for the distant future.   The feather was open to whatever experience the wind brought to it that very moment.  

I too am being blown around. 

But I have faith.  I have faith that, in time,  I will land in the place where I'm meant to be.

I cannot plan against so much uncertainty.  I must allow nature to take its own course. I need to remain focused on each and every training session without worrying what  the next session, the next week or the next month will bring. 

Like the feather, I must trust in the wind. I must trust in existence.

I am enjoying this journey.  

Free falling can be fun. 

Thursday 20 August 2015

Fruit Flies and their short life cycle

Fruit Flies and their short life cycle !! 

A couple of weeks ago. Aryan, my son, asked me, "Dad have you watched the cartoon movie 'Epic' ?".   I hadn't.  So he quickly pulled out his phone and showed me one scene which he had found  to be very funny. 

I watched the clip and was totally blown away with what appears to be dark humour but is actually quite profound. 

Two slugs in the forest ask the fruit fly a question, "Hey fruit fly, what's it like to have such a short life cycle?"

The fruit fly answers (in a very young child's voice) : "It's great mister . When I grow up, I'm gonna.......(as he says this, his voice becomes that of an adult , he keeps ageing at an astonishing rate.  One of his legs falls off and he uses it like a walking-stick to hold himself up, but he continues speaking) : ".......I wish i had done more with my life, sonny!  (he then keels over, falls down and dies ).  

All this takes place in 15 seconds. 

I was quite blown away when I saw this.   "I wish I had done more with my life , sonny !!"

This was a life lesson conveyed in less than 15 seconds.  

Made me think of my life span and what I doing with my limited time. 

So here is my goal: For many many many years I've been thinking of doing an ironman triathalon. 

When my brother in law, sanjay dalal did his first ironman two years ago, I was inspired. But didn't act. 

Last year I attended a talk by Dr. Kaustubh Radkar, the only Indian who has completed Ironman's on all the continents (13 of them and counting). Dr. Kaustubh is a successful young doctor in his 30s. Meeting Kaustubh,  had again inspired me but I had just kept thinking about it.  I never acted on the thought. 

Yes , I can run a little but I don't know how to swim freestyle and I cycle only like once a year.   So i knew that it would be a major task. 

I have to start not only from zero but from a place far worse.  As a kid, I taught myself to swim.  But I taught myself not only the wrong style (Breast stroke) but also the wrong technique.   It's very hard to do a triathalon while swimming the Breast stroke.  Anyway I don't even know that well.  I just know how to stay afloat.  I need to learn free-style. 
None of my endurance from running would transfer to either swimming or cycling. 

After I saw the fruit fly video. I realised that my time is also passing possibly as quickly as that of the fruit fly, it's just that I'm not mindful of it.   

So I've set a target. To do a half triathalon by August 2016 in England and then in 2017 to do an ironman in USA.  

Over the last two weeks I've started to act.  

I've since selected a swim coach and also requested Dr. Kaustubh to be my triathalon coach. 

I started with some spin cycling at my gym. I've also set up my bike on a trainer at home as advised by Dr. Kaustubh 

When I cycle at home or on the spin cycle at the gym, I realise that after 5 mins,  I slow down to a sedentary pace.    I think I start going at a speed much like the cycle man carrying bread for morning delivery or the dubba walla carrying lunch boxes. 

But at least those fellows are carrying a load of bread or tiffins attached to the sides of the cycle.   I feel like I'm carrying every piece of unhealthy food I've eaten for 49 years in the tires around my waistline.  49 years of carbo loading has had its effect.  

I cycle for about 30 mins before I'm drenched in sweat and clothed in fatigue. 

The Olympic triathalon has a cycling distance of 40km. The half triathalon has a cycle distance of 90k and the full has a distance of 180k. 

Right now I can manage about 16k and that too only in the safety of my home. 

I've also started my swim classes. 

The swim coach says that he will make me do drills once I lean to swim free-style. 

Until then he deputes a lifeguard to tutor me !!!   The coach won't deal with me at my present skill level. 

He won't deal with me !!! Me !!! He won't deal with me !!  I'm not good enough for his attention until I first learn the rudimentary stroke !!!!

I, amit sheth, 49 years of age, successful businessman, with 3 Masters Degrees , author of the bestseller, dare to run,  finisher of over two dozen marathons and ultra marathons, the brand ambassador and 4 time finisher of the 89km comrades ultra marathon , then find myself at one end of the pool surrounded by little kids,  who at their tallest can't measure up to my waist height.   

Once in the water,  by the time  I manage to reach 5 meters (as I struggle with my strokes and breathing)  these little kids reach the other end : 50 meters !!! 

At the end of every length I pause and think.  An Olympic distance is 1.5k of swimming. A half triathalon is 1.9k of swimming and a full triathalon is 3.8k of swimming.  And all that in open waters !! 

As of now I can't swim 5 meters in the comfort of a pool.    It gives me pause and my mind wonders if this is such a good idea. Seems like an impossible ask. 

When I finally reach the edge of the pool where the life guard is sitting. The kids have been there since ages, recovering and chatting around.  

Their developing vocal cords make me think of the little fruit fly's voice.  ( duh ! I know it was dubbed by a kid).  They speak with the same innocent voice of the baby fruit fly.  

But I on the other hand , actually feel like the old fruit fly whose legs have already started falling off ! 

As I catch my breath, I again wonder.  Is this an impossible ask ? Can I really learn to swim ? Will I ever learn the stroke ? Will I master the art of breathing ? Will I every learn the hand, leg and breath coordination ? 

Can an old monkey learn new tricks ? 

My mind wants to give up. The mind is always scared of the Unknown.  I feel safer on the road.  The familiar comrades training is where i know, more or less, what is coming at me. 

Should I give up in this, the very first week? 

The life guard asks everyone to take another lap.  The kids start to whine. They don't  want to do this.  

He threatens to call their moms who are sitting at the far end of the pool, busy staring at their smart phones 

"One more round",  he says.  The kids hesitate.  

I turn and take my first stroke. The kids allow me a 4 meter head start but then pass by the time I reach the 5th. 

The ripples of water, as they speed past me, hit me in my face.  I look up and their feet are dangerously close to my face.  I swallow water, lose my rhythm and stop.  I try and regain my breath and balance. 

I laugh at the ridiculousness of my position.  I think about the triathalon and the humongous task I face. 

But then, I think of the fruit fly and I wonder if my life is any different.  Time is fleeting for all !! 

And I know that it is now or never.  I need to do this now. I need to stay the course.  I never want to go down thinking I could have done so much more !

I take a deep breath and restart swimming, I decide to pursue the little champions who have surged ahead of me, I decide to pursue my triathalon dream !  

Friday 14 August 2015

The Wizard in our Life

The Wizard in our Life

Two days ago, I happened to be in my daughter Namrata’s room and noticed Frank Baum’s book, The Wizard of Oz in her library.

I felt a pang of pain in my heart because it made me miss my father.

In the last year of his life, my Dad couldn’t walk.  He could not eat or drink water or speak.  About 6 months before he passed away, this was one book of the two books he had asked me to fetch for him.

Although he couldn’t speak, his mind was extremely sharp and active and he would, with trembling hands, write down his instructions for me.

I remembered searching our library for the book and giving it to him.  My father was one of the most well read men I knew.  I wondered why he asked for this children’s book.  After all, he had read and reread, and built a library at home with hundreds of books on literature, history, religion and the arts and sciences.  

The book must have stayed in his room with the piles of other books he was always surrounded with.  After he passed away, somehow the book had made it way to the bookshelf in Namrata’s room.

I didn’t remember much of the story, except that there was one little girl Dorothy who was the main protagonist of the story along with the tin woodman, a scarecrow, and a cowardly lion and the wizard of Oz.  Beyond this I didn’t remember anything.

I wondered again.  Why did my Dad ask for it and did he really read it in those last months while he was still awake?

I read the book yesterday.

The story is very simple.  When a tornado rips through Kansas, Dorothy (a young orphan) and her dog Toto, are blown away to the land of Oz.  Oz was the name of a very powerful Wizard.   The locals (dwarf-like people called Munchkins) in the Land of Oz advised her that she must ask the Oz to help her get back to Kansas.  They said that he was the only one capable of helping her and Tito get back.

Dorothy had to travel to the Emerald city to meet the Wizard and en route, she and Toto, meet a Scarecrow (who believes that he does not have a brain), a Tin Woodman (who believes that he does not have a heart) and a Lion (who believes that he does not have courage).  

The Scarecrow decides to join Dorothy on her journey because he believes that the Wizard Oz would give him some brains, the Tin Woodman joins her because he believes that the Wizard Oz could give him a heart and the Lion joins her believing that the Wizard could give him some courage.

They face lots of dangers and hazards and obstacles on the journey to the Emerald city.

Throughout the journey the Scarecrow when faced with challenges and dangers exhibits remarkable intelligence while at the same time being totally unaware of his smarts.

They face several tragedies and each time the Tin Woodman exhibits remarkable empathy and love while at the same time being unaware of his compassion.

And every time they face mortal dangers, the lion shows remarkable courage and saves everybody’s life.

Yet all three are totally unaware that they possess in great measure within themselves that which they think they need: brains, love and courage.

When they finally meet the Wizard Oz they discover that he had no powers.  He was good man but no wizard and couldn’t help them at all.

“Can’t you give me brains?” asked the Scarecrow.
“How about my Courage?” asked the Lion.
“Can’t you give me a heart?” asked the Tin Woodman
And, “Can’t you help me get back to Kansas?” asked Dorothy.

But the Wizard was a humbug.  He had no powers.

But the truth which I realise as I read the book was that each one of them had the power within themselves to overcome all the obstacles.

The scarecrow always had a brain when faced with a problem that had to be solved.   The Tin Woodman, had a heart, he showed great love and empathy whenever he met someone who needed it and the Lion always had the courage to face his fears when confronted with them.
And finally, Dorothy simply didn’t know that she was wearing magic shoes.  Her shoes were all that she needed to get back home.

It’s been slightly over a year that my father left us.  I miss him every day.  Often times I wish he was around so that I could ask him a question and take his advice, especially when I worry about Namrata and Aryan.  All the years that he was with me, I never asked him for advice but his presence was what always comforted me.

One of the last notes that he wrote to me with his trembling hands was that, “I have many things to tell you.”
My dad never got that opportunity.

He couldn’t speak that last year and the abyss sucked us down so quickly that we never knew what hit us.  I will never know what he wanted to tell me.

But the truth is that in all the long years that I had the good fortune of having him with me, he never gave me any advice.....He always led by example. And perhaps he knew that.

And so on the day he asked me to fetch the book, he must have known that one day, I will wonder why he read this book in his last moments. I will wonder and then read it.

And then I will also know that when faced with doubt and uncertainty and obstacles that I too am enough unto myself.  That I have enough love and brains and courage to face all that life has in store.

And like Dorothy, I too have my magic shoes to take me home.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Greetings !


Earlier today at 5:00am I reached the Worli Sea-link to start a 23km run.   Actually, only my mind reached the Worli Sea-link. It seemed I had left my body back in bed.   

As I took the first tentative strides, I realised that I simply couldn’t move and within a few meters of starting the run, my wife Neepa, and our friends Chitra, and Suchita left me and ran ahead.

I was quite rested but it was simply one of those days when you don’t seem to find your legs.  I decided that there was nothing I could do about it but soldier on.   I knew then that it would be a long morning.

After a dreadfully slow 10km, I had reached Marine Drive. The early morning light had broken through and I had started noticing lots of other runners on the road. 

I was struggling with my run. My head and shoulders had slumped down. Suddenly at the last moment, I noticed a tall athletic looking woman run towards me.  In the fraction of a second that I noticed her, I thought that I vaguely recognized her as a friend from Facebook, but my brain was so overloaded trying to coordinate my leg movements that I couldn’t really spare any grey cells to try and remember her name.

But as she crossed me she raised her hand and shouted, “Amit, Vidhya Shah”.  I shouted back “Hi Vidhya” and High-Fived her.

I felt so energized by that. What a wonderful cheerful way to be greeted.  Suddenly it seemed that I had gained new energy.  My form improved and I could run again....at least for a while. 

I was so delighted that Vidhya greeted me. 

Her wonderful gesture, reminded me of the cheerfulness of the kids who stand alongside the road during the Mumbai marathon or the Comrades marathon or indeed any of the dozens of marathons I have run around the world.    It’s always the same with children.    There is a certain positivity in the way kids cheer for us when we run.  

They not only shout and smile, but also always put out there hand to high-five.  There is a sense of physical participation on their part in the race.  It’s almost as if they share their energy with you when they hold out their hands.

Adults standing alongside the road on race day also cheer, but there is a difference.  They clap and shout but seldom will they stand with their hand extended out to ‘high-five’ a random runner. 

I love the idea of greeting a fellow runner during the run.  It’s such a wonderful acknowledgement of kinship amongst people who share the same passion. 

Of course, on a focused run one does not necessarily have the wherewithal for an elaborate greeting.  But it’s not like I’m Usain Bolt and running a time trial at worli that my focus doesn’t allow me the luxury of sharing a small greeting with my fellow runner. 

And it’s not that I have to stop and shake hands.

Shaking hands is of course a beautiful gesture but its origins weren’t always so. 

There is a school of thought which believes that the idea of shaking hands originated in the West because hundreds of years ago people were distrustful of each other and shaking hands with the other was a way of showing that they were not concealing a weapon in their hand.    So shaking hands was a way of being assured that the other person wasn’t a threat.

In the East, people were even more cautious.  They wondered, “What if the other guy is left handed?” So people in the East started folding hands.  The idea here was to show that both hands are empty.

Of course, as time went by, we forgot the origin of this tradition and simply came to look upon it as a respectful friendly gesture.

But I digress. 

After meeting Vidhya I felt so good that the good cheer took along me for a good kilometre at a steady rate.  And then I hit upon an idea.

I decided that I would greet every single runner on the road irrespective of the fact that he/she made eye contact with me or not and whether I knew him or her.  I decided that I would say ‘Hi’ even if the other runner wasn’t looking at me.  If someone was running past me, I would greet him/her.

I felt that the only way I was going to run the balance 13km was to share in the energy of my fellow runners.

Within a km of meeting Vidhya, I meet the very elegant Mrs Krashani Naidoo.  She had a large smile on her face and she shouted, “How’s it Amit?”  Now, Krashani comes from South Africa and I have a special place in my heart for all my South African brothers and sisters.  I shouted back, “How’s it Krashani?” 

The cheer pulled me along for another km.

I then greeted Dr. Mala Kapadia and Dr Jasmine Shah and Suman Sanghai and Toral Khatau and Shibani Gharat and my dietician Roopali Mehta.

The cheer took me all the way to 18km. 

At 18km I met Sayuri Dalvi.  She was helping a fellow runner and consequently running at less than her usual pace.  So I got a chance to chat with her. That small chat brought me some more cheer and energy and I ran along.

But again, I digress. 

The point I was making is that it’s simply a wonderful idea to greet a fellow runner on the road.   One does not need to stand and talk or even high-five.  Just a small nod of the head or a small wave of the hand, a flick of the palm or a thumbs-up will suffice.  A small smile or a ‘Hi’ or a ‘good morning’ or “looking good’ is enough. 

A greeting simply energizes me.  Every time I greet or am greeted by a fellow runner, my posture improves and my stride improves.  I feel so much better. 

I finally ended my 23km run.  I said a silent thank-you to all the wonderful women I greeted along the way.  Their cheer carried me through.

Of course, the truth is that I also greeted all the men I passed.  But will you blame me if I can’t recollect any of their names? 

Ok, the truth is that I do distinctly remember one young man.  I was stopped during the run by Arun Cherian Thomas.  This young handsome man, shook hands with me and told me that he started running because he read my book ‘Dare to Run’.  He said he was inspired by the book to take up running.

I don’t know how far my book inspired Arun, but I know this.  After shaking hands with Arun, I had sprinted up the 1 km long walkeshwar hill.  

Sunday 2 August 2015

To be Brave

To Be Brave ! 

A friend of mine who is planning to run the 89km Comrades Ultra marathon called me to ask for some advice. 

Should he run the 2016 Down Comrades (so called because a greater part of the 89km road is downhill) or the 2017 Up-Comrades (so called because the greater part of the route is uphill ) ? 

He felt he might not be ready as early as 2016 for he needed more time to train but was yet considering 2016 because 2017 was an Up Comrades and he said that he was very scared of the hills.  

He felt he was better off attempting the race in 2016 although he wouldn't be totally prepared.   

He felt he wasn't, in his words,   'Brave enough' to face the Up Hill Comrades. 

I told him that I was scared of both the Down Comrades and the Up Comrades.    

He thought that I was joking and I didn't try to convince him that I wasn't.  

It's not easy to joke about Comrades. (Although it's very easy to joke about what happens to one during Comrades) . 

I told him he must come to run Comrades only after preparing well and not prematurely. He said he would think about that and see if he can muster the courage and be brave enough to do the Up run in 2017.             

I wished him luck and promised him any help which I was capable of extending.  

'Brave' is such an awesome word. It can mean all sorts of different things to different people.   

I tried to think of what it means to me.    

One of the bravest men I knew was my father.  My father never took part in a war or never really played any sport. 

He didn't take part in any political revolution or any mass agitation.  

He didn't climb mountains or swim across rivers.  He didn't put his life on the line for an idea or a dare. 

My Dad lost his father when he was 4 years old.  He must have faced so many fears.  He triumphed over them. 

He simply worked his way out of poverty.  As a young man, he travelled in the bus and the local train, put himself through business and law school. Along the way he married, started his own business and then put 4 children through higher education. He built himself a large prosperous business. He built himself a large house to live in and then spent the last two decades of his life doing social service in the field of education.  

He was always there for me and I always slept peacefully knowing that my father had my back. 

He must have faced so many fears but I never knew of them. He never let us see them. 

He was the bravest man I knew. 

To live a good honest life is bravery.  

Perhaps Bravery or Courage isn't one single act carried out on one single day but perhaps it is the way one lives ones life. 

Bravery in Running, for me,  is much the same.  

Is race day performance the only measure of our bravery ? 
Is it the only measure of our courage?

Is running through pain and fatigue on race day the only definition of courage and bravery? 

Is facing your demons on the Comrades Up or down run the only benchmark of Bravery ? 

In a small measure perhaps but certainly not in its entirety.   

I think Bravery is the commitment to wake up 6 days a week at unearthly hours to train for the race. 

Bravery is the commitment to step up and run whether it's raining or humid or hot as hell. 

Bravery is sometimes gritting your teeth and going through the pain of hill training and speed training and gym training and tempo running on days you really don't feel like getting out of bed. 

Bravery is the self control to eat right, to sleep right, to REST right, and to take the million small steps you take every day for a good part of the year to prepare yourself for that one special day.  

Our Bravery then isn't tested on just that one race day.   Our bravery isn't tested on the  comrades UP or Down Run or on the day of the half or full marathon. 

We pass or fail the test of bravery on every single day during the long march towards race day. 

Bravery is the desire to face our worst fears and stare them down. 

I am afraid of Comrades, both the Up and the Down. I am afraid of the Marathon. I am afraid of the Half-Marathon.

Can I still be brave ?

I remember my favourite lines from "The Game of Thrones"

Bran asks his father "Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?" 

His father replied, "That is the only time a man can be brave" 

And so after two long months of rest, as I begin training for a  new long season of running, I remind myself:

It is time to be brave !