First 26.2 Miler Countdown: 2 (On your marks! Get. Set.)

The day is finally here! Well, just a day away.

I am excited as to what is gonna happen tomorrow. Some plans and numbers are going through my head but the target is pretty simple, to make it to the finish line.

I do not have any pre-race rituals or routines. I’m just keeping it easy for today, no hardcore training (I probably can’t even because of the runny nose). I went for a little walk just to clear my head where I listened to a Human Race podcast. My clothes are all set to be worn tomorrow. The race starts at 7 so I have to leave home by 5 to make it on time for the train station. Getting up early would be really challenging (because sleeping itself could be a little challenging).

Since it’s gonna be cold (around 10-12 degrees), I would be wearing three layers on the top and two on the bottom (excluding the inner wears). Gloves and head-cap would be an add-on to survive the cold.

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Close-up view
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A little creepy view

I am all set to take on what had started as a thought two months ago. It had been a nice experience documenting my journey. I am grateful for all who took the time out to have a look at my posts every once a while and appreciated my effort. Till then, let me go out for a run and I’ll be back with all the details 🙂

Wings For Life World Run 2017 – As it happened

Getting off the tram at 6:30 in the evening, I was making my way towards the event hub of Wings For Life World RUN (WFLWR) in Melbourne. With my earphones on, I had a decent 1.5k walk ahead of me before I would arrive at the grand party. I was thinking about my last year’s run in Taiwan in which I lasted for 18.24k.

You might be wondering about what’s with this LASTING thing! Let me tell you about it. There are a number of things that makes this race unique. One, it happens at the same time at multiple locations all around the world. Day or night, moon or light, runners all over the world are smashing it. From US of A (early morning) to Australia (late at night), people lift their asses up, assemble at the start-line and run their hearts out. Secondly, it is a race without a finish line. There’s no pre-defined distance that you have to run e.g. marathon/half-marathon/10k et cetera et cetera. AND HOW COULD THAT HAPPEN you might wonder? Well, it’s fairly easy. 30 minutes after you’re into the race, a car (aka THE catcher car) chases you down until you’re caught and the car is fast enough (at later times) to run down even the most enduring runners. It’s very similar to the lion-deer story, the difference being that the deer would DEFINITELY be killed (unless you run off the course leaving the organisers all puzzled up). And finally, the money raised through this race goes for the spinal-cord research injury and that’s why this race is often promoted as “running for those who can’t” and I can totally relate to it. I have had my share of injuries when I felt helpless that I can’t run. Thinking of those times and of the people who are suffering, there’s nothing better than this that I can do to support them in their treatment/recovery.

As compared to my last year’s WFLWR, this edition was quite different.  I was running in a different country (Australia) at a different time (9 PM, last year it was 7) in a different weather (cold, rainy and dark). However, there were other factors this time which can easily overshadow these minor mental setbacks. First and probably the most crucial was mine being running with my club-mates. In Taiwan, I made my way to the start line as a stranger to the crowd, paced myself up when I could and lifted myself up when I was experiencing downtime. But this year in Melbourne, I had “friends” with me at the start line, during all the pacing-up, slowing-down situations. Secondly, I was better trained at this point of time. At the start-line this year, I had 8+ week of training with me with my longest training run being 23k while these stats last year were 4 weeks and 15k respectively.

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Now that’s my HUGE running club. Can you spot me?

Based on these numbers and the racing atmosphere, I was hoping to get past the 25k mark in this year’s edition of the race. The race started pretty smoothly for me (and my mates). We did hold on to a constant pace of 5-ish i.e. 5 min/km for the first 7k (where the first refreshment station was located). It was an easy-paced part of the race with constant chit-chats about the terrain, about the training, about the highway on which we were running. After this mark, we were more or less divided into little sub-groups depending on the pace we could hold. I kept running with a friend till the 18k mark. While passing that, I felt confident and wonderful. Confident because my training was paying off and I could see it. Wonderful because I was witnessing a significant progress over my last year’s limit. Nevertheless without thinking much over it and before it could get over my head, I kept running, my goal to get to the 25k mark now seemed even more optimistic. It was only after the race was over, I realised that I also completed the half-marathon distance i.e. ~21k in 01:39 hours (my earlier best time was 01:57).

Some more time after the half-marathon mark, I eventually reached the 25k mark where I was more than happy about my running and the challenge I had undertaken. A thought crossed my mind: now you can simply walk as some of the other runners were doing, you’ve achieved your goal. Of course, that was the easier choice. Running at that point of time required more effort than usual, probably because I had never run that long a distance. But I was determined not to walk. My brain was thinking of other excuses: “you have a presentation tomorrow, haven’t you done enough already?” or something like “your shoelaces are really tight, you won’t be able to fix them quickly, so just take a walk, fix them, and walk some more comfortably” and finally “you’ve achieved your goal, take it easy now” I listened to these thoughts and carefully discarded them and focused on what I was doing while they were running through my head.  My pace was slower now but I didn’t mind it. I was still running. And then it arrived. Without a horn, without a flash, it passed me by saying a “thank you”. My race was over. I was actually glad that it was over. Why? Because it was freezing cold out there and I am not lying when my brain said I had a presentation the day after.

My Garmin (running watch) finally unfolded all the secrets as I hit the stop button on it. I had run 29.5k in 02:24 hours. The deer inside me had gone a significant distance. A big jump over the last year’s and a bigger target to nail for that of the next’s.

This run on strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/975961223/embed/f404f2d7167c7de938e06c357235696fff81d1bb

And this is my proud certificate:

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As it happened: Run For The Kids 2k17

My training for the Wings for life world run has been on for the past five weeks. I am not sure when I registered for the Herald Sun’s Run for the kids 2017 but I am pretty sure why I did it. It supports a great cause! It supports the kids at the Royal Children Hospital, Melbourne. It supports what I love selflessly. During the entire run, I made sure I high-fived every kid who was waiving their hands at the huge number of runners swarming by. And I loved their smile when our hands touched. It pumps me up and made me run faster than I thought I’d sustain.

RFTK runs on two courses: 14.3k and 4.8k (roughly 9 and 3 miles). I registered for the former one and considered it as a long run for my training schedule. During the past weeks, I made myself comfortable with the distance running 11,14,15 and 18k‘s respectively on my weekend long runs. Fortunately to me, I have a running club that lets me run with them when they do speed work. Thanks to them, I got a 5k PB last week, it boosted my confidence to run faster. With this training, I left home early in the morning to reach the venue on time. The weather had been shaky in the early hours but was relatively great later. Being living away from the city, it takes me around an hour to get to the start line. I changed into my running clothes in a public washroom while doing the thing. I was just in time to drop off my baggage and to get to the start line to stretch up before the countdown began.

My strategy was simple. Go easy for the first 10k, step into the next gear thereafter. I can’t have a sense of how many people were running alongside me but there were many. Or may be, many, many. Never in the race for once I ran with no-one along side me (It’s good and bad). The first lap was fairly simple with everyone running literally at the same pace. Then we entered a tunnel where my Garmin FR15 lost contact with it’s satellite for the next lap. On exiting, I got two lap-readings. One of 8:54 and other of 1:54. Definitely, it was crazy for doing these calculations but I was happy that it had snap out of it to get me the correct readings thereafter.

For the next 10k’s, I kept running at an easy pace. I checked with my watch time to time because I wanted to run a sub-50 10k (which I did). I met a fellow club runner (I recognized his singlet) and ran with him for some 4 k’s. We passed over a couple of bridges, ran alongside the huge Ferris wheel of Melbourne city, raced with the Yarra river. I made sure I was not letting myself go, just yet. I kept smiling at the volunteers who were doing an amazing work of scattering the enthusiasm throughout our minds. I thanked them for taking the time out of their lives to make sure the runners stay hydrated.

As the markers after 12k started coming nearer, I cranked my pace a bit. I saw someone wearing a singlet of University of Melbourne (my university) which really made me felt great however I was in no mood to have a conversation at that point. Being not familiar with the course, I was adjusting my pace according to the inclined roads and some steep slopes. Not too far into the uncomfortable zone, I found myself on the last bend (based on what spectators were shouting about, and also on the beep of my Garmin that it was 14k point), just one more track-lap to go, I thought to myself. Some of us sprinted, I joined them. Many of them beat me, I beat some of them. I crossed the finish line in just under 69 minutes which I was extremely happy about. I was expecting a 70+ finish time.

 

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Pose after the finish

 

Finishing up, I had some drinks and a free apple that the organizers had provided. It just made my taste buds go crazy. You can not hate a fruit after a wonderful run, take that from me. I have found the best tasting fruits (they were just normal fruits) after these long runs. I packed my bag and walked back to Flinders Street Station. On the way back, I saw two kids racing each other and their dad calling “Look at them! They are also running” pointing to the runners still underway. I told him that the older kid would probably run next year. I told him about the two courses and wished him luck before finally getting towards my train.

 

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People running their hearts out for the lovely kids.

I am definitively going to the next edition of the race 🙂

 

My first parkrun

Getting out early on a Saturday isn’t something one might prefer to do after a hectic week. But there are people who have been doing it! I didn’t know about it until I came to know about parkrun. It’s an internationally organised event in 14 countries (as of now). The idea is simple: a free, fun-filled, Saturday morning 5k run!

I registered for it perhaps in December but I couldn’t fit into my shoes on a Saturday morning until last week. How unfortunate I have been over this time, I wonder now. Maybe I was lazy to get to the park which needs me to take trains and then a decent 1k walk to the venue, but we always have excuses, don’t we? Anyway, I got to the event with my barcode (they need it to get you your 5k time) and uncle (it was his first parkrun as well and he did better than he expected). I wasn’t expecting anything here. I had not run a lot in the previous weeks because of a sprained ankle. The only running I was doing were some random short runs and running behind my naughty cousins to catch them.

We started off at 8AM, sharp. I was there to witness it, my mind was busy glancing around the runners warming up. I didn’t intend to race there, so I decided to stick with my uncle, well for maybe one minute. I then paced up and before I knew, I was drifted to my race-pace, somewhere around 5 min/km. Though it was not something that I should do, but I still did it, the race-factor was coming into the picture anyway. I saw people running with their kids, people running with strollers, people much much older than me. The course was flat dirt and gravel type, so the repetitive sound of “bush bush bush” was very obvious except that of the final stretch which was surprisingly concrete/stone-finish. I chased down a lot of runners, some kids, some more kids (wow, these kids were great). I noticed that one of them was literally puffing his breaths out with quite a wrong form, but he was enjoying the run anyway. I made my way to the finish line in just under 25 minutes, finishing 41st out of some 200+ runners. Once completed, I made the way back to join my uncle and to push him through the rest of the course which made him finish just after the 150s. I watched the tired faces of people just before the finish lines and the glimpse of happiness that took over after they were done. That feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of taking over and finishing a challenge, is wonderful. I felt really amazing to witness it while sitting amidst the greens and under the blues and whites. I felt lucky that I could run.

Book Review: The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn

Just when I finished reading The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei (a little complex at first sight but truly a wonderful book), truly impressed to the core, I was looking for more information about them on the internet when I came across this article. Simple in its language and depth in the content, I read all the way through only to find that it is actually taken from a book about Japanese running. Having read about the monks, I thought it would be a good idea to continue reading along the similar theme. So, I started this book with really nothing on my mind except that it would somewhere contain something about the monks.

By the end of this book, there are a lot of things I have learnt that are ongoing in the running world of Japan. I would like to highlight some of them without going much into details (or you can say spoilers)

  1. Ekiden: These are long-distance relay races in Japan which as I perceived are perhaps THE most famous foot-races, let alone marathons. And why they are more famous than marathons? Because they focus more on the “group-harmony” (Wa) rather than an individual performance solely. Athletes of all levels from high school students to professionals are indulged in running these races. One leg (the distance that an individual runner runs) can vary from short distances to up to 30km. Sometimes, these races continue over more than a single day (of course by taking a break at nights). And the second and perhaps the most important thing that makes them famous is the media. Ekidens, usually running for up to hours, are broadcasted continuously on TVs all over Japan and a mob of enthusiasts appear to witness it firsthand. So, I am really glad that I found this book because it seems that it makes it clear that how running is embedded in the Japanese culture and being a runner, it is awesome to know about such things.
  2. How to run: In the modern days, there is always a serious conflict about how to run. Books like Born to Run, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei etc. reassures us that going back to our roots, i.e. running in the most simplistic attire, as well as an approach is the best way to run. This is also highlighted in this book when Finn talks about barefoot running and about his training in Kenya (which promoted me to borrow his earlier book, Running with the Kenyans from my library). On the other hand, there are tonnes of fancy shoe companies who (probably) invest a lot of stuff (money and resources) in running research and comes out with different kinds of shoes for everyone. Better cushioning, firm grip, pronation might be some of the terms you might have come across with when looking for a new pair. After the book, I am slightly more convinced about the natural form of running as Finn talks about his personal experiences and how he manages to get a better running form through training barefoot (minimalistic).
  3. Over-training: A common theme that I found hovering about the Japanese running is perhaps over and early training, at least for the traditional approaches. Students are pushed into dead-serious levels of competition at an early age which takes the fun out of their running and they tend to retire earlier. However, Finn had bravely discussed his personal views and also, his Kenyan experience to one of the coaches, Kenji Takao who later came to realise that Japanese runners are indeed over-training and are not really enjoying running as it should be. I felt sorry about it because I just got quite a lot of examples of what happens if a talent is not taken proper care of.

All in all:
This is indeed a very good read if you are looking to gain an insight to one of the most hard-working and successful communities of runners. You will get to know about their training methods, their commitment, their style of running etc. etc. It is well-written and follows the mission what he had in mind before coming to Japan. The book also talks about Finn’s life in Japan here and there, about how his family struggles to settle in the Japanese environment, which I think could have been shortened. It sometimes gets too lengthy because it is not much relevant to the content of this book. I definitely recommend it to someone who is interested to know about the Japanese running culture, marathon monks of Mount Hiei, a curious runner.

The Run – Wings for Life World Run 2016, Yilan (Taiwan)

And the Wings for Life World Run 2016 is finally over! Almost 90,000 people all across the globe ran at the same time and for the same cause. They ran without a finish line and I am sure, all of them had their targets in mind. And so did I! With just a month of training, my primary target was to make it at least 15k and to make it as much as close to 20k.

With my running destination as Yilan, I was running alongside 4400+ runners. This was the second and till date, the biggest race of my life. The race was scheduled to start at 7 PM. I managed to reach the venue at 2 PM and made a couple of friends to help me out with the formalities before the race. The environment was great, people were happy, enthusiastic and excited! There were a lot of performances to boost the energy of every single runner. I am pretty sure that I and my friend Jerry explored almost everything out there! People were gradually showing up until 5 PM and by that time, the stadium was full with the view of fluorescent green running T-shirts. At around 6.15, we started for our warm-ups. People could be seen jogging and running around the track as part of their rituals. Some were stretching, doing yoga and we were no different. Even in a crowd of all strangers, I was no alien to them and we all were getting ready to hit it up for the main event.

The clock was about to hit the mark of 7 PM and the countdown had already begun. I thought to myself, I had prepared enough, I just have to do what I have learnt during my entire training. To run, and to run until I can. This race was supposed to be the combination of all the key elements of running that I had focused on during my training – stamina, speed and strength. There was no room for me to doubt on my abilities and therefore I was pretty confident about what might happen.And therefore, I knew my limits too. Because I would like to stay in the race for as long as I can.

Three.. Two.. One!

And it started. All the runners around the world started making their way out in the middle. Some wanted to take the lead which they are allowed in the first thirty minutes and some wanted to maintain their regular pace. On a day before, I did a 30-minute comfortable yet slightly challenging run so as to see where I could make it in the first thirty minutes and my target was the same. Around 5.5k. Because of the presence of thousand of runners, it took me a bit of time to get myself fueled up at my regular pace but on the other side, it was a good warm up to go slightly slower for the first couple of minutes. I skipped the first refreshment station which was at 3k because I knew the next one was at 5.5k and I could easily maintain my running form until then so I won’t need any water or Red bull (sponsor). For the next 10 minutes or so, I kept running and I hit the refreshment station where I managed to get two cups of water and drank them while running because the thirty minute mark was not yet over. I almost made it 5.65k in the beginning and that’s when the catcher car started. That’s when this moving finish line started. My goal was then to make myself to the mark of 15k. Catcher car reaches 15k in ninety minutes, so from that I can estimate that how much I am leading and how much can I lead further.

I had already picked up my usual pace, close to 5 min/km. I was getting continuous feedback from the Nike App that I have on my cellphone about the time, distance and my pace. It really helps in such races to keep a track of your speed because you do not have “infinite” time with you. I kept on running, gradually passing by some slower runners, being thrashed by runners who were pacing up. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I hit the 10k mark in around 54 minutes. At that time, I was thinking may be I could had run more faster at the beginning of race where I crawled with other runners.I gulped down two cups of water and a cup of red bull at this station.

And then came the hardest part for me. The next five kilometers. Not because of the distance, but because of the unavailability of the water on the way. I used to drink water every 2-3k on the day on my long runs. The reason being that I sweat a lot and I need to have a good intake of water to cope up with that. And the 5k desert lying ahead of me was indeed a big problem. I maintained my pace at the first and felt it trembling near the end. With every kilometer passing by, I was hoping to make it as fast as I can to the refreshment station because that was really necessary for me to stay in the race.

Finally! 15k!Almost 82 minutes. Catcher car was just 8 minutes behind me and after that, it would speed up a bit to gain even more on my back! I was a bit dizzy at that moment. Supporting myself against the pole, I gulped down three cups of water and one red bull with some apples. I stopped for a while and walked down some distance so as to make it OK for me to run the next part i.e. my second target, to run as much as possible!

I started back again. My next target was to hit the refreshment station at 17.5k because that would mark my half success towards my last target. It was getting a bit difficult to continue to maintain the same pace but I was not the one to give up at that point. I dragged my body along. I knew that the catcher car would catch me up in sometime no matter if I am running or not.Undoubtedly, I was not running at the previous pace at which I ran the last parts of race! But I was certainly avoiding to jog right there on the track. I was pulling out every bit of strength I had left inside of me and I got to the refreshment station. An awesome feeling! No more red bulls, just a cup of water because catcher car was already on my shoulders by then. My mobile shouted “17.9 kilometers…..” and I did not care to listen to the rest and I gave my race the last boost, the last drop of fuel I had in me and sprinted for at least a minute with whatever I had until the catcher car passed me by. And that was my finish line. 18.24 kilometers!

I was extremely happy that I made it so far in my first edition of WFLWR and I am sure that I would be giving it all to beat this distance next time. I have pulled this from my phone to share with you about my timings, distance and the pace:

2016 May 12 19-31-19

Rain rain go away

Last night, I slept with an excitement to go for running early in the morning. After all, it was a part of my training which I can not afford to skip. Last week, I had not accomplished what my real running target was, and therefore this week seemed pretty important in my training. And this morning was to be an extremely important part of it, it was the time for a speed workout. But, it never happened!

According to my newly founded ritual, I woke up early in the morning, after snoozing the alarm of 5.55 AM and finally making my way up by the one at 6 AM, only to discover that it was pouring down (not raining).

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I really wanted to hit the track but it didn’t seem possible, not in this weather. I don’t like giving myself breaks like this, specially when the race is near. At this time, the weather seems to calm down after a huge windstorm and rainy showers. I am hoping to make myself go out there on the track in the evening TODAY. I do not want to cut any slack here because the discontinuities propagate very fast in my case. I want to finish this day of training today because the tomorrow never comes 😉