Wednesday 18 May 2016

The comrades marathon and a message from the emperor

The comrades marathon and a message from an emperor !

I sit in my office today, 18th May 2016, a mere 10 days before Comrades and listen to a Lindsay Perry / Brad Brown webinar.

It is the last webinar  before  Comrades and I hang on to every word of advice.

I know that I want to run my personal best.  I want to finish this race in a good comfortable time.

I want to go through the day without worrying if I will finish the race.  

I know I can't run out too fast at the start nor must I run out too slow.

The internet is overflowing with pacing chats.  Each one telling me what is the best half-way time for my target finish time.

Some charts get me to the half way slightly faster than the other charts.

I know that a slight mistake of going out too fast will cook my goose in the second half.

But what is that "slight error".

Which is the perfect pace ?

Who can simply look though all my data and look at my life over the last 5 months and divine the perfect plan for me ?

Who can look into the future for me and know what will happen to me on Comrades day and then come back to the present and then tell me how my day pans out and tell me what I should tweak ?

Who is going to give me the message that will lead to salvation ?

Is the messenger coming ?

Kafka wrote a story about an all powerful emperor who on his deathbed sent an all important message to a lowly wretched citizen.  

The lowly wretched citizen is aware that the emperors message is tremendously important and is meant ONLY for him.

The message is given to the emperors most trusted courier and the courier is on the way.

The story as translated by Mark Harman goes like this :

A Message from the Emperor

The emperor—it is said—sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed.

The emperor bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words.

The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other.

But the crowds are so vast; their dwellings know no bounds. If open country stretched before him, how he would fly, and indeed you might soon hear the magnificent knocking of his fists on your door.

But instead, how uselessly he toils; he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to cross the courtyard and, after the courtyard, the second enclosing outer palace, and again stairways and courtyards, and again a palace, and so on through thousands of years; and if he were to burst out at last through the outermost gate—but it can never, never happen—before him still lies the royal capital, the middle of the world, piled high in its sediment.

Nobody reaches through here, least of all with a message from one who is dead.

You, however, sit at your window and dream of the message when evening comes."

As I listen to the pod casts and look at the pacing charts, I too realise that the message isn't going to come.

No one is going to tell me what my perfect pace should be.

No messengers are going to come through !

I have to close my eyes and look within myself and find the beginnings of an answer !

It is only on race day that the final answer will evolve.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

For Franz Kafka, the Comrades Marathon and a Cup of Soup

For Franz Kafka, the Comrades Marathon and a Cup of Soup !

The thing to do in these last couple of weeks before Comrades is to sit and meditate upon the Comrades day strategy.  

The thing to do would be to come up with plans A, B and C.  The 3 plans would signify the ideal, the acceptable and then the bare minimum.  

This is easier said than done.

This is easier said than done because by simply making a mistake in plan A, I could make attaining plan B and C close to impossible.

Comrades’ does not treat fools lightly.   I know.  I’ve been there.

It is possible that my plan A is just that marginally out of reach, say 1 minute too fast over the first 20km which would cause me to blow up so terribly at 70km that not only would plan A be out of reach but also compromise plan B and C.  

I like to break up Comrades route into different Compartments.  It’s like different rooms.  You enter each room through a gate, run through it and then enter another room through another gate.  

There are then, 5 rooms and 5 gates:
1)    0km to 18km (Start to Umlass)
2)    18km to 40km (Umlass to Inchanga)
3)    41km to 52km (Inchanga to Hillcrest)
4)    53km t0 70km (Hillcrest to Pinetown)
5)    71km to 89km (Pinetown to the Finish)

If I don’t enter the first gate at the right speed, I can’t make it to the second gate at the right speed.  If I don’t enter the 2nd gate at the right speed, I can’t make it to the third gate at the right speed and so on and so forth.

So if Plan A has to work, I need to start at the beginning.  I can’t decide to do my best only after reaching 71km.   And I'm not skilled enough to change gears like some people I know.
By 71km, I know that my goose is cooked.

I know that 95% of the people make the mistake of going out too fast.  I understand. By running just that 45 seconds/km too fast in the first half you blow up your race and suffer in the second half.
 I get it.  I understand the concept.

But how in the world can I know the exact speed which is ideal for me this year?  I don’t train on the Comrades route. My training is different from last years. I’ve grown wiser and more foolish because I’m a year older.

A thousand variables have changed such that I cannot with any degree of precision decide the exact extent of my ability.

I am too much of a novice to plan this with precision.

Should I enter the first gate with plan A in mind, knowing well that a badly planned plan A will cause me great grief?  
And if I start the race with Plan C, I’m completely done-in, because if things go wrong, there is no back-up.  I'm feel I'm not skilled enough to start with plan B and then adapt to plan A.

I am plagued with doubt.

I find myself in what I would call a Kafkaesque situation!

It is as, they say, a situation of nightmarish complexity. It is as they say, a situation which is bizarre and almost illogical.

“Before the Law” is a parable contained in a novel “The Trail” written by Franz Kafka.  

The parable goes like this :

“Before the Law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the Law.

But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment.

The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on.
“It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.”

At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside.

When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”

The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the Law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside.

There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests.

The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet.

During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the Law.

After many years he no longer has much time to live. Before his death, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question, which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper.

He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.

The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.”

“Everyone strives after the Law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?”

The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”

So on 29th May, as I stand on the starting gate.  I need to decide, if I have the courage to enter the gate as per Plan A or not.  
I cannot wait for another year, I cannot wait for a life-time.

I want the pleasure of finishing Comrades with the luxury of having more than a few minutes to spare.

I want the luxury of walking into the International tent and meeting my friends and sharing a cup of soup with them while a medal hangs around my neck.

I’ve finished 4 comrades and have never had the luxury of having that soup.  I just make it to the finish with a few minutes to spare.

I don’t want to grow old and weak and then be told by the gatekeeper, "Amit, you were once capable of running Comrades in time enough to enjoy your cup of soup,  and watching the final gun go-off.  
You were capable of running fast enough to not be in that life-and-death situation of making that final cut-off that you found yourself in each year.
You simply had to have the courage to enter the start gate at the right speed.
The gate was meant for you and now it is closed.”

I cannot but try.  This is the year.   This 2016 entrance gate is mine.

I’m going in.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Comrades and Math

Keep your eyes on the stars and feet on the ground : Theodore Roosevelt 

Since the last couple of days my friend Iqbal is trying to convince me that I'm a much faster runner than my past results suggest. 

He asked for my champion chip number and pulled up my split times from the Comrades 2012 and 2014 down runs.  He pointed out that I ran far slower in the first 17.5km of the race than I was capable of running.   

We discussed my best marathon and half marathon and 10k times from the last 9 months and he plugged them into Norrie Williamson's comrades finish-time predictor. 

I also pulled out my log books from 2012 and 2014 Comrades down-runs and analysed the volumes and the distances. 

I re-read all the Bruce Fordyce advice.  I re-heard all the pod casts from Lindsay Perry and Brad Brown. 

I memorised the Comrades route profile.  

I memorised all the ups and the downs on the route.  

I poured over the pacing charts and the prediction tables. 

I've looked at the chats and the diagrams.   I've calculated the split times and the half way times and the cut-off times. 

I've seen the proofs and the equations.  

I've analysed and theorised. 

And now I simply feel tired and sick.   This is too much analysis and information. 

And I realised that I might have become Walt Whitman's learned Astronomer.   

I might be missing the beauty and mystic of the stars for all the math. 

Walt Whitman wrote a wonderful poem about sitting in a classroom and listing to a learned astronomer explaining astronomy.   

The Poem is called,  "When I heard the learned Astronomer" and it goes like this :

"When I heard the learn'd astronomer, 

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, 

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, 

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, 

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 

Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, 
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars." 

I suddenly realised that I have now been sitting In the Comrades Marathon lecture-room,  reading proofs and figures and Columns and looking at diagrams and route elevations and I too have become tired and sick. 

I suddenly realised that I'm missing the Beauty of this race by getting bogged down by the charts and the figures and the predictions. 

The glorious uncertainties of Comrades can't be predicted.   They are by their very nature,  unpredictable. 

The Comrades day unfolds in magical ways and our responses cannot be predicted nor planned.  

The magic of Comrades cannot be analysed with charts and figures and predictions.   

Astronomy cannot be fully enjoyed with figures and columns and charts.  Astronomy can perhaps best be enjoyed by looking at the stars.  
Comrades cannot be enjoyed with an obsession on data. 
Comrades is best lived, on the road, on the day. 

I now await the glorious uncertainties of Comrades day. 

I now await the majestic mystery of Comrades Day.