My maiden half marathon run at the SCMM2013

I’ve been pretty lazy in my blogging of late. Have a couple of blogs partially written up but haven’t had the chance (or motivation) to finish them. Given the freshness of the just completed HM, I thought I might just do a quick write up and be done with it. My thought earlier this year was to do multiple 10k and get as close to the 50min mark as possible before attempting a HM. But when the registration opened, I was based out of Pune and the temptation was too good to resist. I decided to register and motivate myself to run the distance. While I continued to run over the past few months, there were only 3 instances where I ran a distance of at least 10k at a good speed. In short, I really did not try to keep a proper training schedule but just tried to run frequently, sometimes slow, sometimes steady, but never too fast. I just tried to run hard once in a few days. To gauge my preparedness, I ran 20.93 km early November , and managed it in about 1:52:31. Of course this was on flatland( multiple rounds of my apartment block), but I hoped that race-day adrenalin would power me that extra bit. Some unfortunate events and lots of food over the next couple of months meant I was anything but in shape for the 1st HM of my life. ( I ran the 25k during Bangalore Ultra 2010, but that was more of an exploratory participation where I took it really easy and only pushed myself for the last 5 km and finished in about 3:22:13). This was my serious attempt at running a HM distance at a steady pace.
Really devoid of serious race preparation, I ran 10k on Pongal day in about 54 minutes, and found the going a bit tough. Tried to follow a frugal eating pattern from the 16th accompanied by a heavy meal on the 19th evening, as a carb-loading exercise. On 17th night, I badly twisted my left leg, and hurt at least till I slept that night. The next day morning I decided to try out a short run after strapping up my left ankle, and was surprised I could do it without real pain. I kept working on the knee for the next day till the pain eased out a bit. No real work outs till the race morning, other than the travel to the World Trade Center Expo to collect my running day stuff. On the race morning, I felt comfortable enough to run without the crepe bandage. (Past experience has taught me that a crepe bandage or a supportive device helps protect the injured part, it tends to limit cirulation in other muscles, leading to cramps. – I knew my calf or hamstring would cramp earlier than usual if I strapped up my left ankle, so I gave it a miss).
I went to the venue along with a friend who was participating in the HM. Wanting to limit the weight I carried, I did not carry my phone. I was armed with 3 satchets of Gatorade , and a 1/2 liter sipper filled with Gatorade at the start, along with a satchet of GU Gel. I ran wearing my Go Green bike jersey to hold these things in my back pocket comfortably. I also carried an mp3 player for some musical distraction if required. The Garmin fever hadn’t got on to me as yet, and I used to run many regular road runs using the Endomondo app on my Nokia lumia 800.
I reached the front holding section (A) at around 5:10 or so after taking a loo break. There was serious chill in the morning, and at 5:25 or so , decided to head back to use the bathroom one more time before taking up my position.But the lines were too darn long, so I came back. I wasn’t desparate but considered it a precaution before starting the run, so as not to overfill my bladder in the middle of the run while trying to keep myself hydrated. But it was too late for that, and as I went back, I noticed that the holding lines were taken away by the organizers and C and B section folks had spilled close to the starting block. I coaxed my way into a position close to the starting block. So when the starting block was sounded off, it did not take me long to be free of folks around me. On the HM, the Sea-link emerges into view within a few 100 meters, and I think around the 1st km mark we reached the sea-link.The sea-link start was slighly uphill followed by a plateau and then followed by a slight descent onto Worli. I think by the time we were done with the Sea-link it must have been about 5+km and the early morning darkness had not yet lifted. But the 1st sign of spectators as we took the left turn from the sea link. Even though I did not have a timer with me, I was conscious of running close to 5min/km,possibly slightly slower. I was listening to songs on my mp3 player and roughly had an idea of the song lengths. I was running at a pace that needed me to push a bit, but not too much. I was simply basing it on my previous runs where I felt I had too much mojo left at the end of the run, and could push things a little bit in the early part of the race.
Once we crossed the bridge, it was all flat till we crossed Mahalaxmi and headed towards Malabar Hill.  The 1st stretch was a huge loop which ended at around the 9.3km mark. As I approached the U turn, I could feel myself tiring a little, I had emptied close to 1 liter of Gatorade by the time I crossed the 10km mark, and reached out for the GU gel that I carried with me. I kept sipping it for a while along with water for a while. I could sense myself slowing down a little. I decided to not take it too easy, and still tried to maintain a steady pace. But I could make out that I was slowing down as I could see that the number of people who were going past me had increased to more than a trickle now. I think as we crossed the Haji Ali area, I started cramping up a little, but still kept pushing on. When we reached the Peddar road flyover, I kept going up at a steady pace, conscious not to relax too much. I let myself go to the extent possible at the downhill after that. I think around the 16km mark, I was conscious of some serious cramping sensation on my left leg. I guess, the injury had forced me (automatically) to use up my calf and thigh muscles more to compensate for the injured ankle.I could feel my quads really stiffen up, and when I tried to look at my running, it was obvious I was no longer running with a balanced even gait. Whenthe 2nd uphill came ( I think around Walkeshwar) , I found it a task to push up without slowing down too significantly. When I started off the race, I was hoping to keep some mojo till the 16th km and try and accelerate after that, reasoning that even if I got exahusted by the 19th or 20th km I would just pull through, giving me the best chance of a good finish. But it was obvious now that it would be a struggle to simply maintain a good pace.
Somewhere near Haji Ali, I saw another barefoot runner overtake me. I think this was the first time on the day that I saw another barefoot runner. I didn’t meet anybody during the start of the run.
As I neared km number 18 , around Charni Road railway station, I realized that the number of people who were overtaking was swelling by the minute. And on top of that, there was this elderly gent, who seemed to be leading a group. Every now and then he used to run backwards, and I was shocked that I could not match his pace even when he was running backwards. My body started telling me to give up and walk for a while. But I knew that if I stopped for even an instance, I would stiffen up and would struggle to come back to even the niggardly pace I was managing now. A little further down the road, a young boy, maybe in his late teens or early 20s started walking, and I realized that my running pace was close to his walking pace. My thoughts went out to Manjula doing her 300 co-synchronous with my 1000k cycling effort, and her complaint of me, Open and Deepak racing past her.
As we ended the Marine Lines stretch, the km count went past 19 and we took the left turn past Churchgate railway station, I knew I was in the final stretch to VT, and tried to motivate myself. I put on my music player again, to try and extract some motivation and pump myself up using the beats. By this time, my left leg was a certified log. As I saw the mark that said 1000 meters to go, I forced myself to push up a little bit, and scanned the runners ahead to spot one slow enough for me to pace myself. Found one such person, who had overtook me about a km or two ago. I narrowed the gap between us and now 200m or so was left. As the final turn approached, I was scared to see the digital clock at the finish, thinking it would be well past the 2 hour mark. But to my surprise it showed a little more than 1:56. I summoned whatever strength I could and made one final dash ( if I could call it that – a speed that I would normally associate with a hopelessly overweight mass of protoplasm pushing ahead using its inefficient propulsion engine was today a sprint speed for me). As I crossed the finish line, I mentally eased out and realized I didn’t even have the strength to stand uup, made my way to the side and just lay down on my back for a few seconds to regain my breath.

Left leg stretched forward,dead straight

Left leg stretched forward,dead straight

Right leg ahead, bent at the knees

Right leg ahead, bent at the knees

As I got up, my lower body infrastructure, especially my left leg , had completely ossified. I made my way to the open holding area in Azad Maidan, trundled my way to one of the mobile restrooms. They had put these up on elevated platforms, and climbing up and down was a challenge. I came back, and decided to try and wait to see if I could catch a familiar face, I couldn’t. I met Chetan Bhagat (the author) sitting with a couple of other runners, I plonked down next to them and chatted for a few minutes. After that, I headed out slowly.
I got out of Azad Maidan slowly, and it was another major exercise to find my way onto VT station. There was one narrow lane and a huge crowd was headed in the opposite direction. By the time I figured out the way to the subway and reached the station it must have been well past 9. The train was quite empty, and met another runner who was getting down at Bhandup. He was 47 years old, and quite unhappy that his timing had gone down from 2:05 to 2:25 or so, with a sore knee. As is my wont, I advised him to try and transition into a barefoot runner.
My final timing was 1:57:23 with a gun timing of 1:57:30. There must have been a time differential between the start point and end point digital clocks, accounting for the difference. Hopefully I’ll train better for my next run, losing some weight, and getting into a better rhythm for longer runs. But at the end of the day, if someone had told me that I would finish my first HM in less than 2 hours, I would have taken it, so I do go home happy, my timing cribs notwithstanding.

It has been 3 days now, and I am still ‘limping back to normal’. A friend, Firoza shared the following video on Facebook,  I can’t emphasize how much I empathize with the folks in the video right now 🙂

Night riding tips

Before you read the following, please be warned that the following are essentially based on my experiences. Your experience might be slightly (or drastically) different, but a large part of my experiences and the experiences of my cyling friends seem to overlap. But in general, it helps if you ride regularly at night, its even better if you have regular ride partners that share your passion for night riding and match you closely in terms of riding speed.

Some pointers for a night ride:

  • Try and get as much sleep the night before the night you ride. If possible , knock off some sleep in the afternoon before you ride. It will help you stay fresh longer and ride longer with less sleep deprivation (Common-sensical point, but still worth a mention)
  •  Get used to riding at night *before* you get into a situation where you have to ride at night. Riding on a highway with nothing/nobody for company in pitch blackness, with only your headlight guiding you, interspersed by a speeding vehicle whooshing you by followed by extended periods of silence and darkness can be disconcerting, *especially* if you are not used to it. It can feel really creepy. Get used to it,you’ll actually learn to enjoy it.
  • Riding on Indian roads, you are never sure where the next pothole is going to come from. You might have been riding on 200km of awesome tarmac, and out of nowhere be greeted by a crater that would put the moon to shame. You have to stay alert while riding at night, at all times.
  • It is very difficult to get a sense of how fast you are going. During the day time you have a much better sense because of the surroundings. On a pitch dark night, on the highway where both sides are largely open, it takes time to get a sense of how fast you are going. You probably get it after some time, but the first time you ride at night, chances are , you may not be able to guess your speed. Over time, you probably get a sense of the speed by correlating your effort and the gradient and headwinds. A visual sense is tough to get , even after riding regularly.
  • Make sure you have powerful headlights with you, and a spare light for looking around, focusing on your tyre if you end up with a puncture , etc. Also ride with a tail light and be sure to wear a reflective jacket when you ride at night. You should have enough visibility in front to ride comfortably at a pace of 25kmph , preferably even a little faster.
  • I fell at night while riding alone at night on a road ( I believe the first instance of me riding a unlighted lonely road at night), because I misjudged my speed. Was probably going too fast when I pressed the brake and that resulted in me toppling over the handlebars ,thankfully with minor bruises. During the 600k last February (2012) in Bangalore, one of the riders (Nirmal Iyer) hit a speed breaker suddenly and fell down. He was bruised badly enough to have to call off the ride.
  • Between midnight and 5 am (sometimes 6) , it is very unlikely that you’ll have eating and drinking options on the road. Most places on Indian highways (at least in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) close at midnight , or 30 minutes past midnight. Make sure you eat and hydrate before midnight. Stock up a liter of hydrating fluid (Electral, Gatorade , whatever – choose your poision) before midnight. And make sure it lasts till the morning. Keep dry fruits , chikkis, chocolates or energy bars handy during this time in case you need nutrition.
  • The best part , of course is that the time from midnight to dawn is the best time to ride. There is very little traffic. By 2am most Truck Drivers will call it a day (or night ) and be parked at various pit stops. You’ll have the occasional Volvo bus whizzing past, but other wise , you have the road to yourself . Of course, there is always the danger that someone would lose control and run over you, but that danger exists anywhere, anytime, not just in the dead of night.
  • This is the time of the night when riding also requires least effort. I had rode a distance of 100+ km between 2 to 6 duuring the 400 brevet with just half a liter of water (no electrolytes). You can ride at a steady rhythm without exhausting yourself. The ambient temperature is typically at its coldest, and riding continuously actually helps in keeping you warm.
  • If you last the night, you’ll probably experience a high as dawn breaks. The sight of creeping daylight on you and enveloping your surroundings  as you whiz past on the highway is something that makes the experience of riding at night really really worth it.
  • If at all you end up being severely deprived of sleep , and somewhat dehydrated/exhausted from the cycling itself, beware that you can face any of the following
  1.  Hallucinations : I imagined riding on a narrow lane with steep ledges on both sides. At times I could not focus beyond 10-20 meters ahead. Imaginary people seemed to be crossing in front of me. Pretty whacky, and there is no way at that moment for you to realize that its virtual reality. Its like being high on ‘Bhaang’ – Reality and imagination weave a smooth co-existence. Of course its not helpful.
  2. Complete exhaustion due to lack of sleep – You just cannot go on. There was a time when I found it difficult to stand up. I tried to find a place on the side of the road which I felt was safe enough , and just swept a wide area with my torch to ensure there were no snakes crawling about and promptly slept on my back.

Notable memories from my cycling experiences at night

  1. Seeing a shooting star streaking past the clear sky as I rode between Ramnagara  to Bidadi.
  2. Zooming between Belgaum and Dharwad as dawn broke, assisted by good tailwinds, at the end of an eventful night.
  3. Riding in pitch darkness with strong crosswinds as I cimbed my way to Chitradurga in the dead of night, and windmills emerging in the distance, one at  a time, till you are staring at an army of windmills, all the while, struggling to grapple with the wind and riding steady.
  4. Riding a steady uphill between Vellore to Pallikonda after an exhausting night. On the way to Vellore we never realized the slope. On the way back, the slope wouldn’t let us forget it.
  5. Feasting on Omelettes at 4 am along with a gang of 4 other riders on our way back from Koratagere , again early Jan 2012.