(Originally intended to be published in September 2015!)
Its now been a month and a half since I completed the course that has been a distant dream to me ever since I can remember. To give you a better perspective, my love for the mountains goes back more than two decades, probably back when I was turning into a rebellious “eigh”-teenager (yep I was 18) looking for something to take me away from monotony into the Shangri-la that I had read about.
The wistful thinking and longing to explore wondrous lands finally found release in my first year of Architecture when I managed to save up some money and moved out solo on a shoestring budget to the mysterious lands of the North East during the college vacations. The actual experience was the clincher for me…the very sight of the grand snow capped Himalayas was quite simply love at first sight. I knew then, that I had found my calling, that nothing would keep me away from them for long.
Time went by and although I felt satiated by regular trips and treks to the majestic massifs, there was always this inexplicable gnawing inside…the burning desire to climb the stairway to heaven…to view the world from above. I could only imagine the splendor that would unfold below me…to be one with the sky, the closest one could feel to flight. And so, the seed was sown … a seed that grew gradually until it had turned into a deep rooted desire.
The thought simmered all through the years while I worked to try and get myself settled and secure the future, not only for me and my wife, but also for our daughter. As professionally and financially we got more stable, our daughter proved to be (still is and forever will be) a real charmer and I loved watching her grow and being with her all the way through. By the time she turned 4, my desire to be with the mountains suffered another setback. I was diagnosed late with an auto immune disorder – Uveitis, and by the time anything could be done, my eyes had progressed into full blown cataract with the steroid use bringing on glaucoma. I have been used to setbacks so despite this being a tough period, my loved ones supported me and amazingly I pulled through with the surgery regaining about 70% of my eyesight. What that reminded me was that I should not let my dream go and should instead start re-focusing and get back in shape … who knows what tomorrow may bring!
A few years further on and finally I was ready to begin in earnest. My immediate target was to improve my stamina and lose some weight. Squash at the club turned out to be a blessing…and I was soon enjoying the hours of practice and the long matches on court. Fitness improved and I also lost 7 kilos in 2 months. However after a year and a half of playing squash, i noticed my chronic knee ligament (from an injury when I was 16) start to flare up. I realised that my competitiveness would not allow me to play squash just to paddle about a bit…I would always strive to get better, and this would lead to possible deterioration of the knee beyond salvage. It was then that I thought that perhaps distance running would serve me better – improve my stamina, endurance and my lung capacity. As it turns out, it was the right choice and I fairly quickly settled into being able to do half marathons reasonably comfortably. This was also followed by a couple of moderately tough treks and a minor summit in Uttarakhand that helped build confidence.
A few months later, I was able to run my first marathon, which was quite an achievement for me. Just a couple of days after the run, as I sat wondering about my next challenge – wanting to do an ultra, a realisation struck me…in the madness of trying to become a better runner, I was losing the bigger picture! I went on to the HMI NIM and ABVIMAS websites and found out that 39-40 is the maximum age to do the Basic Mountaineering Course. This year (2015) I would complete 40, and this really was it. There was no more time left to prepare…I had to register now or it would be never. I called up NIM and HMI but was informed that courses were full for months and it wasn’t very likely I would get enrolled this year. That left ABVIMAS where I was relieved to find that I could enroll and was pretty much assured a seat. Around end of Feb 2015, I sent out my form and I was confirmed by around end of March via email. FINALLY, I had taken the step that I had always wanted to and now there was no turning back. I chalked out a plan to get myself in shape with important milestones set up. This would not be easy as I had to work on my upper body, overall stamina AND endurance…but the very challenge and the thought of finally being able to do “IT” was enough to push me on an adrenaline fueled punishing schedule.
The final few months flew by and before I knew it, July was looming. My flight tickets had been booked in advance and on June 28th I finally flew off into the unknown…excited and intimidated in equal parts. Only time would tell if my training had been good enough to overcome my physical disabilities.
Not a long post this one, its just to make people aware of something that is crystal clear to me.
To start with, let us get to social media – I use it to connect with like minded individuals who appreciate our world and nature like I do. I seek no fame, no appreciation and NEVER any likes! The only reason I share my posts on social media is for people to read them and I hope it helps them. I talk about my experiences, but they are not “selfies” – they are a log of precious thoughts that some may appreciate.
So before we go further, if you guys have bothered to read below the first few lines, then please note, I do not want a “like” to this post. It does not make you any less my friend. It just means your interest is different from mine…and that is perfectly alright! We are all born different, so there should never be any need to acknowledge or applaud a writer or a mountaineer – cos we are very selfish. We do it to experienc ethe world and what it has for us, to pen down our pexeriences. Perhaps for a runner it would be different – the cheering crowds would possibly make him go that few milliseconds faster, but a mountaineer has no point to prove to anyone! So, if you loved what I wrote, message me instead and say you want to experience the magic of nature…likes are irrelevant.
If you have got through the above lines, I thank you (yea I can be difficult at times! ask my wife)
So what do i Find similar between the two?
– A pure distance runner does not care for what people think. He/she breaks his/her own mentally set PBs.
– He/she actively ENCOURAGES others to go beyond their limits and is unselfish. (its rare nowadays in this world of Garmins and Endomondos!)
– He/she loves the world and tries to clean up any garbage/nonsense enroute.
– He/she never really cares abot running conditions – we are made for hardship. We accept that we are fortunate to be able to do what we do 🙂
– He/she NEVER gives up…not if we have a 103 degree fever or a swollen leg. Even if we have to crawl, we WILL.
– He/she is mad/eccentric and is sure we have a licence to go mad, come what may (consequences) at least once a year (that’s balancing practicality as we get older!)
-He/she never thinks age is EVER a factor. We do our best and believe we can beat anyone! BUT when we get beat, we have the courtesy and the grace to acknowledge, congratulate and befriend the one who beat us, why? cos the man/woman deserves it! We know to fight hard and at the same time RESPECT those who are awesome!
– Whatever group one may form, running is individualistic. That’s the same as mountaineering. The only way for peopel to get together is to have mutual respect and ability and then assist each other. If anything, mountaineering is way less forgiving than distance running!
– Lastly… we NEVER miss a chance to be with nature – why? cos the world as we knew it as a child is no longer the same … and the world we will know in 5 years time, will be as alien as Mars.
Runners and Mountaineers never give up. We reach the top – not for ego. Its for pushing ourselves to something we never thought possible… and for seeing such unbelievable sights and have such experiences that we never thought we could have.
The world is a fragile and remarkable place and there are many who would destroy it. We have very little time and lots to do.
From someone who has tasted blood, take it from me… the world looks heavenly from the top – I would easily curl up and breathe my last there, rather than come back to this incredibly callous, dog-eat-dog cauldron of desire that is the modern world.
As is often the case, there has been a hiatus since the last post. Guess its the usual laziness that always creeps into amateur bloggers! However, I decided that it was indeed high time I got the writing back onboard simply because Season 2 has already begun for me and I need to make sure I document everything for posterity, where I will probably look back and read my posts with great amusement at what went through my mind as a newbie! 🙂
The photo above shows the assortment of cool looking medals that race organisers have been kind enough to bestow upon the runners. They mean a lot, as each of them associates itself with myriad memories – the route, the weather, the location, the runners, friends made, the agony, the sweat and most of all, the one unifying factor, the ecstasy of sprinting across the finish line satisfied with your effort. No doubt, most of the medals will degrade and get corroded within a short span of time, but their memory will forever remain. Sometimes I do wish the organisers would take a bit more money but make sure they give out quality medals that would last! but well…guess its in tune with the modern world where everything is so fleeting, so transitory… and THAT is why I must make sure I keep a record, for those times when I one day sit back and read through what I felt and fondly remember my struggles and the effort I put in pre-run to achieve what I finally did!
Yep, that above was my first ever run in an organised event. As I have mentioned in some post a long time ago, I got into running for the sole purpose of increasing my fitness to become a successful mountaineer. From the Goechala trek in Nov, and this run on return, me and my perpetual partner Tapan, decided to stick with it and test ourselves beyond the 10K mark. (Our very first registration had been the 6K SCMM Dream Run…and that too with trepidation!) Its here that I must reflect on the nature of the human mind (or at least my mind!) … 6 kms run had seemed a huge mountain to climb for us when we registered but when we did our first EVER run in the last week of October, in National Park, we set a target of 6kms to begin with… just to see how impossible it truly was. What was euphoric in the morning (successfully having run 6k) turned disappointing in the evening! THAT’S the brain for you (at least mine!) – once a certain target gets achieved easily, it wants to reach the next – push itself and the body to its limits.
We did not really run much after that; most of November was spent in Darjeeling/Sikkim, on the high altitude trek which we did spectacularly easily (so yes, those 2-3 runs prior to the trek of 6 kms DID help)
When we came back, I saw the ad for Mumbai Daud and with the (as always) incredulous Tapan (“will we be able to do it?”) registered for the 10K. We did about 3-4 practice runs along the route, with only one run of 9k and then came straight for the event. We finished in a decent time of 1 hr each…but to us it seemed to be a bad time since we saw others running faster than us (yep, the naivete of newbies) – we thought we should have done better, but could not really figure out where to improve. The obvious conclusion was that we just did not grit our teeth hard enough and pump ourselves dry…so we decided to aim for breaking our 1 hr barrier.
10K races aren’t THAT easy to come by and with school holidays etc, there weren’t too many on offer or ones that we could do (we had missed the November start of the season and most of December runs) Also we were only looking for runs in and around Mumbai – which aren’t that many!
To cut a long story short, the 1 hr barrier stayed intact, and kept taunting me for quite a while. Around came Matherun, and Tapan actually DID break the barrier by 3 seconds! He did a 59:57, while I did not have a very good run and took a bit of a tumble on the way down and ended up with a 1:07, which was mainly due to me being conservative and not knowing how much to push for – since it was the first time I was running up such inclines!
The next real opportunity we got was the Puma Urban Stampede in Mumbai at BKC – flat course and a team run (2 X 10 relay) This was where I was determined to break the barrier; I have this weird mentality that when solo, I tend to not really push myself but when in a team which depends on me, I give it everything I have (and then some!) I decided to take the first leg and told Tapan to take the anchor, since he was much faster than me. I did my fastest 5 K by pushing hard in the beginning, but around the 7 k mark, I started feeling the burn. I also wasn’t aware of how much time had elapsed since my GPS tracker was unable to pick up consistent GPS. I was thus relying on mental (approximation) math to pace myself. Around the 8 km mark I was really flagging, being mostly on my own with a few runners ahead of me, and a few quite a distance behind me. I was cursing the route and swearing that there was something wrong and it was more than 10 K, when a lady smoothly glided past me. That brought me back to my sense…I observed her running and realised, she was looking absolutely effortless, and THAT’S when it struck me what I was doing wrong! I was the proverbial dinosaur trying to pound my body into trying to speed up but I was paying no attention to my kinestetics! She was your typical glider and I saw her cadence (speed of footsteps) was much faster and way more economical than mine…and I decided to ape her style. That was pretty much the magic pill! As I shortened my stride and improved cadence, a surge coursed through me and I could see I was getting much faster already! I kept gliding on (OK, honestly it was still pounding cos I do not have that grace) and as I turned toward the last 300 metres I could see the time on the clock and it still wasn’t 1 hour…the clock was around 58 mins odd…and so I raced….sprinted for all I was worth … all that existed for me was to get there before the hour mark, whatever the toll on my body. That worked wonders and I crossed the line at 59:02 and handed the baton to Tapan, exhausted and yet ecstatic 🙂
After that came the best Half Marathon I have yet run (OK I have only run 3!) – the Kihim/Alibag beach HM. This was a new challenge, since I obviously now had gone past my immediate goal of a sub 1 hr 10K… now I wanted to test myself with a 21 K run. The location was beautiful, the climate was superb and the run was on the beach with the gently lapping waves and a full moon race start at 5:30 am. It was truly a lovely run and Tapan finished in 2:13 while I reached home in 2:17, which wasn’t too bad for my first ever HM.
Sadly, that was almost the end of a very short first season for me…there was only the pathetic Surat Night Marathon, where the climate wasn’t very good and I did the 10 K in 1:01 but spent the remainder of the time cursing the horrid organisation and telling myself to never come back again for this.
The season ending run was another HM in Delhi in March at the Buddh Intl Circuit which I desperately wanted to run on, given my undying love for Formula 1!
The race start was a little late and the track also had its fair share of inclines, which meant that when the sun came out, with no trees for shade, everyone got baked, making the run a battle of attrition. I finished this HM in 2:23 which was disappointing as compared to the first one but was pretty good given the track and climatic conditions. I must mention here that the sun beating down and drawing out litres of sweat meant that our faces were caked with salt crystals! as were our clothes! It was a veritable salt fest, but for the privilege of running on the track where my beloved F1 cars roared, I would do it all over again!
So at the end of an eventful Season 1 for me, there are a lot of lessons learned. I am listing them down below – stuff that I have experienced on my voyage of self discovery to becoming a better, stronger and fitter runner. maybe It will help others avoid the mistakes I made and help them get stronger quicker.
1. After both the HMs, I had problems in the Gluteus Medius on the right side and the left knee (old injury) swelling up again. I realised that I was relying too much on raw grit and determination (and some physical prowess) and not giving any thought to strengthening the right muscles! after a lot of research and many helpful posts by fellow runners, I settled on a program of core exercises to strengthen the hips and the abs. This has been really helpful and as I write this today, I have done my most difficult HM to date (OK its only my third one but it still is MY toughest one!) and have had no Gluteus problem at all!! 😀
2. Another imp thing I realised was when I had a shin splint scare after I recently raised my mileage to more than double my usual, and also started running slopes everyday. This made me focus on exercises to strengthen the calves and the tendons, and doing so has been the greatest boon for me! Within a short span of time, it has given me a marked increase in my ability to tackle slopes and be able to push off more powerfully off the forefoot with less effort than before. It has improved my balance and my fore foot strike and has finally helped me “glide” (ok still not gracefully but I am on the right track!) This is a wonderful videdo – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tHXkt5JZMc and I have incorporated a lot of these in my daily routine twice a day.
3. Till now I have always been lazy about bounding up the stairs. Since the last 10 days I started doing it twice/thrice a day (I do 144 steps in about 1 min 14/16) it has made my muscles much stronger. How this has helped is in my ability to be able to get the muscles to recover back to full strength after just 10 seconds of rest (useful when you are going up unending slopes) and its also helped me tremendously in being able to put in a sprint anytime I like during the run (whether it be to overtake traffic or to get across a bunch of runners in a group jogging slowly and blocking the path)
4. I have also realised that climatic conditions and humidity make a huge difference and that it makes more sense to bide your time, strengthen yourself during the hot, humid months with long endurance runs and realistic tempo runs rather than getting frustrated when you cannot achieve your PBs. Yep I learnt it through experience when out of frustration I would try to push hard, lose form and end up getting swollen knees or hurting myself and thus losing training and having to start back all over again. With patience, I can see the development and nowadays I have stopped really bothering about the time per lap. I just do what I enjoy and do short interval bursts to run alongside a rickshaw or bike/car up slopes – just for the heck of it. Its great fun when you manage to keep up with their speed and see the surprise on the faces of the drivers 😀
FINALLY, my GOALS
Very simple – I have adopted a simple mantra that for me is achievable. I will do all kinds of 10K and 21K runs in as many places as I can (its nice to travel and run!) and note down the times. I will then run them again the next season and beat all my last year times by 10% every year 😀 This I believe is a realistic goal and its good enough to excite me for the upcoming season that I will catch for the first time from its beginning!
To be or not to be that is indeed the qt! I am torn between trying to run a Full marathon in SCMM 2015 or just going for the easier/surer option of an HM. I have to make my decision quick since the registrations will begin shortly!
Today, during the run, I was fortunate to meet the 2:45 pacer – Kanishk who was the first person to actually be positive and suggest that I should go for FM since he was able to do it within a few months of starting out, and believed I should be able to do it too.
I think I most likely will go for it – hell, isn’t mountaineering all about challenging your body and your mind? I cannot call myself a wannabe mountaineer if I did not have this confidence in me! so its looking like my first SCMM with a medal will be my first ever FM! 😀
While departing, I leave you with a picture of my first summit that I did in May 2014 – Pangarchulla Peak (its like a 10k run in terms of summits) but its my first and Im proud of it. Onto more difficult pastures! after all the mind is a terrible thing to waste!