I ran the Kaveri Trail Marathon two Sundays ago (Sep 19, 2010). It was a marathon worth remembering - the preparation, the anticipation, the great set of friends I made, the beautiful trail that we ran in, and the D-day performance.
My personal target was to finish 21KM under 3 hours. It was looking tough because I was completely out of fitness and I hadn't run that much distance in years.
I did end up finishing strongly in 2:49 hrs and I was very very happy, but this was just an ambitious goal four months ago and seemed unlikely that I'd achieve it!
As I mentioned, I have done this target distance and timing before, but it has been nearly 2 years since I last did this distance, so it was a big challenge for me to get back to the same level of fitness.
On top of that, I have been avoiding KTM all these years because of the horror stories I've heard about the heat and humidity, so I decided that KTM was the perfect next challenge for me to take up and look forward to.
Since I had not been running in the past two years, my body had completely forgotten what it is capable of. That was the motivation for me to travel all the way to Auroville to do just a 10K run. Luckily, I had met the Runners High group in that trip. I liked the group so much that I decided to join their training for the KTM. And boy, am I glad I took that decision!
I have been part of other formal running groups before but I was put off by the elitist atmosphere. Runners High was different. Due to the coaches' personalities and their design of the schedule, they have managed to create a *community* feeling in the group. Personally, I think the "Wednesday workouts in each local area" is a simple-yet-effective psychological trick to get people to know each other and eventually imbibe a team spirit that encourages them to push each other to achieve their targets. The training schedule should not be about showing up on a weekend morning and being told "You have to run 11KM today. Go!"
At the start of the training course, the coaches conducted a 2 mile time trial and informed each of us on what is the target timing we should expect based on our level of fitness. I was told that I could finish the half-marathon (21 km) in 3:07 hrs ⇒ 8:55 min/km. The race day performance, as I mentioned, was 2:49 hrs ⇒ 8:05 min/km. 18 minutes is a really big deal for a runner - it's the difference between a ~8 min/km run and a ~9 min/km run!. It may sound trivial but probably a non-runner can never internalize the significance of 18 minutes - just one of the life lessons that I have learned in the past few months. More on that later.
Our gruelling training schedule began around four months behind the race day. The schedule was similar to what you would expect of a marathon training chart. One of the tricks that the coaches employed is to do a long run on Saturday and an even longer run on Sunday. I didn't think much of it at the start, but in hindsight, it's a brilliant idea - it built up our stamina because you're doing a run on Sunday when you're already tired because of the previous day's run. I could feel the impact of that on the race day because I felt I had so much more energy and stamina than I normally did on the regular weekend runs, because I had not run on the day before the race day (a Sunday). Although they're switching back to the traditional "long run on Saturday, short run on Sunday" from now on.
I was sufficiently occupied with worries about my fitness and managing the KTM heat when something new started affecting me.
After the first Agara lake run, I threw up after the run was over. I thought this was a one-off thing, but it happened again after the next Sunday long run.
I was even more worried now.
I called up Santhosh and asked for advice, he said "Eat one hour before the run." Coach Murthy also advised the same. I had never eaten before runs before, so this was something new I had to get used to.
After that, the next 12 km run I did great because I had oats an hour before the run.
Eating is the easy part, getting used to running with a full stomach was something else! But nutrition is as important as physical fitness, so I stuck on with it.
Eventually, this was my nutrition plan for the long runs:
- Eat oats or muesli one hour before the run. Use milk and honey liberally.
- Carry a fuel belt and drink electral water every 20 min. "If you're feeling thirsty, you're already late in drinking water."
- Eat figs and badam (kept in sachets in the fuel belt) every 40 min. They release energy slowly, just the right kind of food during a run.
Phew! Sounds like a lot of work? It was, but it helped me run strongly, and I would do anything to run strongly.
What foods to eat is specific to each person. For example, bananas have adverse effect on me because I start getting cramps, compared to bananas being the staple diet of almost every runner!
Special thanks to "Vibram" Ramkumar, a fellow runner, for all his advice to me on which foods to try, and for the words of encouragement!
I would be wrong to not make special mention of the community of Runners High. Yes, we are paying to be part of this programme, but sharing that camaraderie is a privilege.
We have discussed everything from race strategies (yes, strategies) to perspectives on life to startups. Your motivation to run increases when you can look forward to meeting new people, and more importantly, meeting new interesting and positive-minded people.
Finally, the anticipated race day (Sep 19, 2010) came near. After a rigorous training schedule that we were enjoying, being forced to not run in that last week before the race day seemed more torturous than the runs themselves!
The most enticing part of KTM is the trail that we run. The beauty of that trail cannot be expressed enough 1. The trail starts right near the gate of the Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary in Srirangapatna (near Mysore, Karnataka, India).
The race started, I put on my headphones, switched on the RunKeeper app on my iPhone and my specially crafted music playlist and I got started. Everything was smooth sailing afterwards. There was intense heat, but we have had sufficient heat training and we were geared for it.
I was surprised to find myself at the 10.5KM mark within 1:15 hours. You know you're having a good run when you're just "gliding" and you're racking up kilometres without even noticing.
One of the highlights of running on the race day is that runners spur each other to keep on going and have a good run. The smiles and clapping and words of encouragement for each other, it is a great feeling.
Towards the end of the run, I saw a familiar face, Ajay Gupta, encouraging me to sprint the last few hundred metres. I would have never imagined I would have had energy for that, but his encouragement egged me on, and I actually did sprint and finished strongly.
A great run, a beautiful green (paddy fields), blue (Kaveri river canal) and brown (mud) trail, a wonderful set of friends, and achieving a personal ambition to boot. I had a smile on my face for weeks, and I proudly hung the "KTM Finisher" medal on my wall.
I had tracked the entire run using RunKeeper app, which kept me regularly informed on how my pace and how much distance I had covered:
I keep saying that "running is more mental than physical" and as a testament to that, I thought I'd share some of my "life lessons learned" during this journey:
I have a theory that people are in a default state of "nervous energy". You are experiencing this when you are multitasking or when you're fidgeting or you're compulsively checking your Facebook stream.
If you shake off your "nervous energy", that is when your "productive energy" is unleashed. You are experiencing "productive energy" when you're fully focused on an activity, when you're experiencing "the flow" or you're in a very creative frame of mind and you have output to show.
My hypothesis is that the most practical and easiest way of shaking off your "nervous energy" is by doing a physical activity like a walk or running or sports or even a simple mechanical act as cleaning your room/work environment. High productivity isn’t about doing, it’s about being.
The first thing that running helped me internalize was "crossing the valley" or "the dip" (in Seth Godin's words).
For example, consider one of my weekend runs: First 20 min, I start slow and enjoy my run. 20-30 min is the low phase where I want to stop and take a break but I know that the break will actually break my rhythm and I won't continue. After 30 min, I get back into the groove where I really start to enjoy the run and I have that familiar "gliding" feeling w.r.t. my pace and my knees.
It's amazing how much this applies to life in general as well - most of the times, we don't cross "the dip" and don't ever get to really enjoy something deeply.
Running helped me internalize that there exists something as deep enjoyment, and how to get to it.
Deep enjoyment includes obsessing over figuring out how something works (which I used to give up if I didn't figure it out in 10 min) - which is important for a programmer. It even includes things like taking the time to understand a news article which is not even close to my spheres of interest. As your knowledge and understanding increases breadth-wise, your life will become interesting!
Equally important is to note that running itself has made me fitter (although, sadly, not thinner) and my energy to do things has greatly increased. This has been noted well in this Hacker News discussion.
Being fit means you have more energy in general. But to be fit, you need to follow the basic health principles religiously. For example, I had an awesome run on July 25th - I ran 10.5 km in 1 hr 19 min. Without a single break. And I ran my 6th km faster than my 2nd km, and I even sprinted the last 500m. This kind of energy hasn't happened in years, literally. All because I ate in the morning, thanks to following the coach's advice. I was again reminded of the value of elders' advice, which I have often not heeded as much as I should have.
Being part of Runners High, I am astounded on how many fellow runners are the "driven" kind - more than half of the people are in three categories - startuppers (including incubation at IIMB), wannabe-startuppers and CEOs / MBAs-from-prestigious-school.
So does that HN comment on how having fitness gives you more energy to do things apply here? Or is it the people who are already driven, naturally, the kind of people who take up running? I don't know the cause, but there is a big correlation there for sure.
This was my simple journey to a simple 21KM run. This journey is the best thing about sports.
If you are into sports, especially running, I am curious to know what are the life lessons that you have learned?
Dedicated to the song "Fear is the Mind Killer" by Adam Freeland.