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December 12, 2006

50 k in Sunmart

There I was at the start line of the Sunmart Endurance Trail Runs with the rest of the gang: the runners - Sanjeev, Gaurav, Santhosh, Ganesh and Vinod, the support team - Ashwini, Arvind and Roopa. It was a very cold morning and we were all dressed warmly. We pitched out chairs and bags in one of the huge tents Joe, our coach, had put up for the Rogue team. Soon it was 7 AM and the 50 milers took off. It was such a small group of people, less than 300 people! I waited in the tent area till about 7:20 and then we headed to the start line for my race. I was bundled up in tights, a full hands shirt under my new red Team Asha shirt, gloves, and ear band. About a 1000 people were running the 50k. A few pictures, some cheers and off we go.

The 50 k was split into 3 loops: the first was 10k, then two 20k loops. The first loop was an out and back trail. There were so many people on the narrow trail that it felt a little cramped and I was still not warming up enough. I kept going and met a bunch of people I had been training with on the loop. It was nice to see friendly, familiar faces and I was soon done with the loop. I ran up to the mat to record my timing; was surprised (and happy) that I ran quite fast and stopped by the tent to refill my Cytomax and other fuel. And was very glad my IT Band had not yet acted up.

As I started my second loop, I ran into the 50 milers who were returning after their first loop. I first met Joe, then Santhosh and was wondering if I would see Gaurav before the common trail ended. I was just turning at the fork when I saw Gaurav. I felt nice meeting them all and that added a spring to my step. I kept going. The trail was beautiful and the crowd seemed to have thinned out somehow. It was still cold but I was glad for the cold, it is so much more refreshing to run in the cold. I soon reached Amy’s crossing, the sissy water stop. Despite advice on the forum not to stop there, I briefly stopped and got an apple slice. It was yummy! I had never had an apple while running before and I loved it. So after the treat I started out on the boring out and back jeep road. The only thing nice about it is that you can see people for about 2.5 miles. I bumped into Joe, Santhosh and Gaurav again and met Vinod almost at the end of the out and back section. That gave me another kick and I kept going.

I had lost all concept of distance and had not bothered to find out exactly how the water stops were spread out, so was relying on my watch to figure out distance. The next couple of miles went by and then I started to feel my IT Band flaring up! It is funny how it always takes me by surprise. I know I have this recurring problem but its almost like I naively believe the problem will not surface when I am running. Well, so after all the initial surprise (and irritation), I had to figure out how not to get bogged down by people passing me. This again is silly. I know and understand intellectually that this is my race, I am competing with myself – my body and most importantly my mind. But it took me some time to get over a low that so many people were passing me. I tried walking, stretching and jogging but to no avail. My IT Band has decided to go on a strike! So I decided to enjoy the view and loved the part of trail by the lake. I soon got to the last water stop, which is about 2.8 miles from the start/finish line, and picked up some potato chips, banana and my new found love, an apple slice and kept walking. The trail was beautiful and winding and I was watching some 50 milers zipping past. It is such a nice sight to see someone running gracefully! I tried to think of the people at the start/finish line. Savi said she would be there with her friend, Sandhya and was game for running about 9 miles with me. I tried jogging again but my IT Band was relentless! So back to a walk. I was soon at the start area and saw the gang there! Itisha, Sharanya, Arvind, Arun, Ashwini, Venkatesh, Murali…wow!! This totally picked me up. Ashwini and Roopa fed me some boiled potatoes (yummy!) while Itisha filled up my bottle with Cytomax – was very touched with all the support. I checked about Sanjeev and Ashwini said he finished his first loop in 2:45, which sounded good to me! He was trying to make it to the 8.5 hour cut-off for 37.5 miles.

I started the last loop with a very positive frame of mind. I told myself I had finished close to 19 miles and felt quite good except for the IT Band of course. Sharanya was running with me. The plan was for her to run with me till mile 3 and then Savi would give me company. Their company was what kept me going in the last loop. Sharanya told me to try accepting the pain and then run with it but again, the problem was intellectual comprehension without a sincere attempt! I tried jogging but shooting pain refused to leave. So I just decided to walk as fast as I could. We kept chatting and walking and were soon at mile 3. Sharanya decided to accompany us for the rest of the distance, so it was now three of us. I was behaving myself and walking fast since there were two other people with me and I did not want to throw a tantrum, which I very well would have, had I been alone! Since it was the same loop as last time, I kept finding familiar trees and turns.

At one of the water stops, I realized that I had only 6 miles to go, ie, I was done with 25 miles. The thought that I had almost finished a marathon gave me quite a high! I tried running about 3.5 miles from the finish but could not keep it going for long. So back to fast walk. We were soon at the last water stop and I picked up my standard chips-banana-apple snack and took off immediately. I had decided not to spend too much time at the aid stations. Soon after, Joe passed me. He was finishing his 50 miler and I looked at my watch, wondering if he would make a PR / beat Joyce’s record.

Sharanya kept telling me to finish in style, i.e., running / sprinting for the last mile! I tried bargaining and we finally agreed on 50-100m! More walking and we are getting close to the finish. I soon saw Vinod heading on his last loop with Murali. That gave me a boost and I tried jogging. Soon we were at the turn, the final stretch. I saw Salil, Divya and Dwarak cheering me on and started running (at least that’s what I think…I might have been hobbling fast, who knows!). Soon I could hear Team Asha at the tent and also saw Moogi and Joe cheering me on. My vision was starting to get blurry, I could feel tears welling up! Savi ran with me to the finish and she was cheering me loudly. And just like that, we crossed the finish line…I had run 50 kilometers!! I was quite overcome with emotion. Hugged Savi and headed over to get my medal and blanket and walked to the tent to meet everyone. What an experience!

December 11, 2006

My first ultra-marathon

Our journey started on the 7th morning when Ani, me and Gau went to Houston to pick up our race packets. There was also a dinner there and we had a good time talking to the other runners who had come for the race. There was even a lady who had run a marathon in every continent.

We got to the hotel by 7:30 p.m. and prepared for the next day by creating packets that we could pick up and avoid spending too much time refueling at the starting point. We also prepared the clothing for each loop if the weather were to get warm and then cold towards the night again. We checked our lights and be able to run when it got dark. There were 4 loops of 12.5 miles each to complete the 50 miles. We had spare bottles so it could be filled out and kept ready when we came in for the loop. Part of our support team was also there to be there from the beginning.

We got to the park with time to spare and set up camp in the tent that Joe had set up the previous evening. We started the race at 7:00 a.m. and I decided to run the first loop slowly and try to make up the time in the next two loops to meet the 8-1/2 hr cutoff for the 37.5 miles I needed to meet to stay in the race. The weather was cold and quite nice for the race. I started strong and was running comfortably till mile 3. At this time my upper thigh and groin pain that has troubled me for the better part of the training on long runs started troubling me. From my previous experience it had only got worse over time whether I walked or run. It was also a little disappointing that the massages and visits to the chiropractor had only got me three miles. I took a Tylenol that I had packed on my fuel belt, I considered taking a couple, but decided against it since I had not had a lot to eat and I wasn’t sure if it will mess up my tummy since it was a long run. The pain subsided a bit in about 20 mins and I continued running till mile 8 with a niggling pain.

From then on the pain just kept getting worse. I finished the first 12.5 mile loop in 2 hrs and 45 mins. Our support crew was very excited to see me in such early time and ran up to greet me. I gave my fuel belt to refuel and also asked for my second Tylenol. I went to the loop marker and our ever efficient team had prepared everything for my second loop. I let them know that my pain was getting worse and was not sure how long I would last. I didn’t need to change since the weather had not changed one bit.

The second loop was extremely excrutiating as neither the pain-killer I took at the beginning of the loop nor the one I took in 6 miles gave even a bit of relief. I started debating if the damage I’m causing would be permanent and decided to call it quits when I got through the loop. It took me 3-1/2 hrs to get back a good 38 mins slower than the first loop. As I was finishing the loop I also met Joe our coach and just had enough time to tell him that I decided to quit. He looked at the pain in my face and gave me an understanding look and said that it was probably the best.

I gave my belt and bottle for refueling and completed my second loop and got back to the Rogue tent. I realized that inspite of my really bad loop the clock time was just 6 hrs 10 mins for 25 miles. Although, it felt bad giving up given the pain I had been running with for 22 miles I knew that the wise thing to do was to quit. The team consoled me that I had almost run a marathon and at the same time encouraged me to rest and try another loop. I sank into my chair and instantly started feeling better. I decided to complete the next loop no matter the pain and Murali and Arvind volunteered to wear my fuel belt so it put less preassure on my waist. I took the precaution of taking my lights with me although I had no idea of how long the next loop would take.

In the beginning, I walked the up-hills and ran the down-hills, but soon even that became painful and I just dragged my right foot along the course. Arvind offered me a shoulder to lean against and stretch every once in a while and the same course I ran briskly in a little over two and a half hrs took over 5 hrs to complete in the third loop. I had been out for 11 hrs 10 mins and went past the marathon distance covering 37.5 miles (60 km). I completed the loop and they removed my chip and asked me to go to the finisher area. Ani had finished her 50 km ultra and was waiting for me there. The sweet lady at the finish asked me to choose between an afgan blanket or a jacket and also gave me the finisher medal. I smiled and let her know that I didn’t finish the race and only ran 37.5 miles. She consulted with the other people in the stall and gave me the 50 km finisher medal.

I had finished what we set out to initially do and I was happy that I didn’t give up at mile 25. There are days when you run, but on my first attempt at the 50 miler I had survived.

I'm running to raise funds for the underprivileged in India. Find out more...

December 03, 2006

Warda: My second marathon in back-to-back weekends

I was very excited to run my second marathon in two weekends!! I remember earlier this year when I had run a marathon how I chilled out for weeks to come and here I was running a marathon a week after my last marathon and a half.

One issue with attempting the 50 miler was that I was supposed to meet the 37.5 mile checkpoint within 9 hrs (actually 8-1/2 hrs as I recently found out). I wanted to know if I could increase my speed to cover a decent distance at a good pace.

Warda was a great opportunity to try it out. It was kinda a family event organized by the owner of the Bull Creek Ranch (BCR) and his family and friends. It was the smallest race I have participated so far ~ 60 ppl. Some 15-20 were running the ultra of 50 miles and the rest of us were running the marathon. It was a 6.5 mile loop that we needed to do 4 times.

We drove to BRC in the morning. It was quite cold when the race started and at 7:00 a.m. the people running the 50 miles that day started off. We still ahd most of our winter gear on and though our race was supposed to start at 7:30 it did not start till 8:00 a.m. because some runners got lost on the 6 mile loop and needed to be put back into course! This was ofcourse band news for me since I easily get lost :), but things were not so bad. It was also the first race I started right at the begining which was funny. There were probably some 25 of us.

I tried running a little faster than usual and Doddi who is part of our training team was running at just the speed I needed to be. I just decided to track her as my pacer. The course was not as easy as I had imagined there were some really steep hills and rough terrain. Anyway, I was able to keep up a healthy 13 min/mile for the first 6.55 mile loop and actually finished ahead of Doddi. I also had my first fall in a sand pit in an abrupt right turn. At the end of the first loop as I was taking my layers off Doddi kept going and was up a little ahead.

I had a really nasty fall in the second loop and as I just brushed myself and ran on I could feel the area get warm and sting a bit. I had started bleeding at my knee and elbow. Anyway, I continued and at the end of the second loop as Doddi took a little break I went on a little ahead.

At this point I started getting a pain in the muscle connecting the upper thigh to the groin. This was the pain that had made it difficult for me to run any further after my 25k race at Huntsville. I tried walking some distance, but as in my previous experience the pain continued whether I walked or ran and I had to slow down quite a bit the next couple of loops, but still finished my race in 6 hrs 7 mins.

There is hope for me to yet meet the cutoff of 8-1/2 hrs for 37.5 miles in my 50 miler on 9th Dec.

I'm running to raise funds for the underprivileged in India. Find out more...

December 01, 2006

In search for home-base

We are moving back to India on Jan 20th ’07. We plan to work with development projects to get a better understanding of grass-root issues and also contribute towards solutions in our own small way.

Over the last few yrs we have been working on supporting developmental projects in India through Asha for Education and have visited a number of them. However, neither of us has lived for any reasonable period of time in a village and am sure are unaware of what it involves not being a guest for a couple of days, but living there.

Our attempt to move has brought many responses from "how are you going to earn a living” to “that’s wonderful” and many things I had not even thought of. On the whole our friends and family have been very supportive and many have come forward with contacts of their own in the field of development that we can contact.

Many of our friends have asked us questions in the past regarding our move back here are the most common ones.

Q: Why? A: Over the years we have become quite aware of the many issues that face the majority of the people in India. A good number of problems are not related to lack of funds, but attitudes and complex human dynamics. There are no doubt many people making an attempt to reach out to the underprivileged, but there is always space for two more. More importantly it just seems the most natural thing for both of us to do.

Q: How are you going to earn a living? A: We have both worked in the US for a couple of yrs and have saved enough for being able to volunteer for at least a year without worrying about how we are going to sustain what we do. At this time we just want to work on different issues to figure out what it is that we want to do before figuring out how to sustain it.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you see going ahead? A: This would be fitting in. It’s fine to contribute to a community and feel like you are helping, but as a respected social worker said, you can’t sustain something if you feel like you are making a sacrifice. The fact is we are also looking to find a place we will feel comfortable. This is the reason for the title too.

Q: What will you be working on? A: Not sure. Possibilities that presently interest us are education, village economies, organic farming and land reforms.

Q: Where are you starting? A: We are hoping to start working in Ananthapur Dist. Of Andhra Pradesh with a group called Timbaktu.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments and we will be happy to answer them if we know how.