Friday, October 29, 2010

On my way!

It’s less than 6 hours to my flight to Washington D.C. and 56 till I begin to run my first marathon! I’m psyched and terrified, euphoric and cripplingly anxious all at once. As the clock ticks away these few precious hours, I have to get my act together, pack, print the boarding passes, finalize and sync my marathon playlist, inventory my running supplies and try and catch some much needed shut-eye. 

This past month has been such a whirlwind of activity; I’ve barely registered how days dawned and flew by. Increasing demands at work, workshops, imminent exams, mentoring and computer problems have left me with little time and energy to be creative or to blog. I’m beginning to envy and admire those working moms who manage successful careers and a gamut of hobbies and have well-kept homes, happy families and surprisingly well-balanced children! But I digress. 

For now, I must focus and tackle my to-do list with vengeance. And I must run a marathon. I promise to take the time to write and fill you in on everything when I return. Wish me luck folks!

“Tick tock on the clock, but the party don’t stop no 
Tonight I’mma fight, till I see the sunlight, 
Tick tock on the clock, gonna run till I drop 
Don’t stop, make it pop 
As I tie my sneakers up….”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The beginning of the end

Autumn has advanced on us with startling rapidity, drawing the summer to an abrupt end. The temperatures are cooler and I find myself seeking out those warm pools of sunlight that I assiduously avoided a few weeks ago. Cotton has given way to flannel and fleece and the glossy fashion magazines that flashed swimsuits and sundresses just yesterday, now advertise leggings and leather boots.  And each verdant leaf that matures to a vibrant red or orange or gold brings with it the message, that marathon season is finally here.
We are now at the peak of our training and have consistently run 16-20 miles the last few weekends. Our legs are weary and the muscles are incessantly fatigued for lack of sufficient recovery time between consecutive long runs. The dwindling daylight has made it a challenge to be consistent with the weekday mileage and it’s taking me an unbelievable amount of self-goading to lace up and head out to the trails alone at dusk when I’d rather be headed home to hot supper and the loved one. The team has been riding an emotional rollercoaster of disappointments and personal triumphs. We’ve seen our best runners drop out or take a hiatus due to injuries and cheered and rejoiced a strong comeback from others who had to sit out the previous months.
With five more weeks to the MCM marathon I have now begun my official countdown.  We have two more long runs to go - a 18 miler and a 21 miler over the next two weekends before we begin to taper down to smaller distances just before the marathon. I am tempted to run faster, stronger and longer but I know that at this crucial time, my focus should be on avoiding injuries and conserving my body and strength. I am excited that very soon I will be able to reclaim my evenings and weekends and devote more time to the friends and hobbies that have seen so little of me these past few months. The nervousness too is slowly beginning to take root and many a night I lie awake in anxiety and disquietude.  Some of you have sent me such wonderfully encouraging and kind emails or messages; I have them carefully conserved in my ‘Folder of Inspiration’.  I reach out to them often when I am paralyzed with the fear of failure; and as I read them I hear all your voices reassuring me that true achievement lies in having had the courage to try. They calm and steady me and I’m certain that even if I had command over the world’s best lexicon, I would fail to find words deep enough to express the gratitude I feel for you.
I am also immensely grateful to all my donors who have generously contributed towards my fundraising and benevolently supported my goal. Those of you who are yet to do so, I request you once again to join me in this venture to help send a disadvantaged child in India to school.  It takes so little to make a positive difference in someone’s life and I ask that you donate just a dollar if you believe in education, charity, running or have simply enjoyed reading this blog.
Finally, every aspiring marathoner has a story, whether they run to compete or to complete. If you’ve ever wondered why we do what we do and what really drives us, I encourage you to watch this beautiful documentary called the ‘Spirit of the marathon’ I have embedded below. It’s long (about an hour and forty-two minutes), but spare an evening and I promise you that in the end it will leave you inspired and you may perhaps even shed a tear.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What the hill?!

Apologies my dear readers, for the unannounced quiescence of the past few weeks. Some exciting developments at work and the insalubrious consuetude of viewing Lost, the popular television series, till I am goggle-eyed every evening have seduced me away from the blogosphere. But I return with exciting news and stories to share of races run and medals won. 

I refer to the annual Cape Ann 25K run – my first running race ever! Set in scenic Cape Ann, a rocky peninsula that overlooks the Atlantic, this race is infamous for a route that comprises 16 crazy hills! Runners make a 16 mile loop around the entire cape, with spectacular views of the ocean, the ships, sand beaches and grassy moors along the way. This race is one of America’s oldest and toughest races and is considered ideal preparation for runners training for a fall marathon. 

And so most of our team found itself in the tiny northeastern town of Gloucester that hosts this event, on sunny Labor Day morning. The pre-run excitement and anticipation was palpable as soon as we arrived and we were greeted with scores of runners scattered everywhere. Some were warming up and stretching their muscles while others were stretching the near endless line for the Porta-Johns even further. Yet others were securing their race numbers, trying their luck with registering impromptu, eating bananas, inventorying their ‘Gu’ energy gel packets or showering their young offspring with affection and assurances of finishing the race soon. As 9 o’clock approached, everyone gathered at the starting line and distributed themselves by their approximate running pace. I found myself somewhere down the middle – too slow a runner to accompany the well-toned, athletic, seasoned participants at the front and too swift, as I erroneously assumed, for the seventy year olds at the rear. A short, sharp blast from the horn and we were off. We herded down amidst deafening cheers and applause from the spectators that assembled all along our route. 

The first six miles flew by. I challenged the six toughest hills of the race with ease, fueled by the ardor of those running beside me. Tackling consecutive uphills in rapid succession was a first for me, so imagine my surprise when I learnt that I had run them at a pace 1.5 minutes faster than my normal running pace on flat ground! The celebrations and merriment of the onlookers filled the air with exuberance and energy. High school cheerleaders did little jigs and yelled catchy slogans. A group of musicians delivered enduring beats on bongos and Djembe drums. Gleeful toddlers strained to free restraining holds and to run amock in the strangle spectacle unfolding before them. An old couple offered candy and ice to the runners. Someone played the stereo. Another set up his hose to shower cooling water on the hot and sweaty runners as they passed by his front yard. Yet others waved and hoorayed from their kitchen windows. I was amused and delighted by it all. 

Exhaustion began to creep in slowly after the seventh mile. I had fallen behind my young, able-bodied companions and was now running among the suburban moms. I soon discovered that pushing sleepy baby Jen in a stroller at 7 miles per hour, while scooping up Muttley’s morning edition and calling the husband to remind him that it is his turn to take junior to the dentist offers training advantages that are almost impossible to compete with. In addition, hauling five hungry, reluctant kids to and from piano or soccer lessons every evening provides significant cross-training. It is with utmost humility that I inform you, dear readers, that a couple of miles later the supermoms were little specks upon the horizon. I now enjoyed the company of the elderly, the same seventy year olds I had conceitedly placed myself before at the start. Their placid countenance and cheerful “Come on, you can do it miss” pats on the back kept me going the next few miles. I had slowed down considerably due to fatigue augmented by shooting pain in the joints between the hip and thigh. I still had four miles to go and my motivation to tackle the remaining hills had near dissolved. Each succeeding mile seemed to get longer and I took extended walk breaks between brief spurts of running that required every ounce of motivation and strength. I was thankful for having caught up with P, my friend and teammate who had braved this 25K race on a serious ITB injuring she had been nursing for a week. We kept each other going by lively conversation and by gazing out at the picturesque grassy moors on either side. It was indeed beautiful, an emerald expanse interspersed with clear, aquamarine pools of water, that tumbled into the smooth sand and azure ocean in the far distance. 

Mile fourteen proved to be the hardest. It awakened the dormant disciple in me and coaxed me into invoking three hundred different Hindu deities to bless me with their many arms to get through these last miles. I negotiated, bribed, prayed and pleaded; I praised their benevolent nature and I promised to please. My forefathers would have been proud. When it brought only tears, I turned to other religions least their Gods be more merciful than my own. I loathed every bit of this mile as we had left the eye-catching scenery behind and were now back in the grotty part of town. Since most of the runners had already crossed the finish line by now, the cheering crowds had retired home. We only had rude drivers and the town traffic for company and had to stop frequently to give cars and the commuter train a right of way. P pushed me onward before I had a chance to act on my desire to stop, catch a ride and go home. 

We turned a bend at mile fifteen barely able to lift our feet and were greeted by several of our team mates waiting in anticipation. Seeing us struggle they quickly surrounded us with encouragement that the end was very near and advised us to take small steps, lift our feet and our heads high and to finish strong. We had one last steep hill to go. Our teammates ran beside us and helped us tackle the famous ‘wicked, crooked hill’ with renewed vigor. A little beyond, we made our final dash to the finish line together. 

The Cape Ann run was indeed a very valuable experience. It introduced me to the characteristic pre-race jitters as well as the energetic race day atmosphere. It taught me the importance of pacing myself conservatively so as to not wear out half way into a race. A careful analysis of all my injuries later revealed how an incorrect running posture had caused restricted rotation of the spine that impacted my strides and manifested itself as pain in seemingly unrelated regions. I learnt that I spent too much time on the ground and it is essential that I raise my calves higher when I run to reduce the constant impact on the arches and knees. But most of all it brought home the true value of being part of a strong, close knit team as I am certain that I would have failed this race miserably without my teammates’ company, motivation and precious support. 

True to its reputation, it was a tough race. But at the end of the day, we were thrilled to have conquered those heart-breaking hills with a hill-breaking heart! Below are some captures from the day. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Twenty triumphs of training!

The Minuteman Bike Path
Our long distance run this past Saturday comprised running on the Minuteman Bikeway for the most part. While this kept us under the cooling shade of the trees and protected us from being out in the scorching sun, it meant miles and miles of monotony with little to entertain us but other runners, bikers and trees. In order to keep myself amused through the 19 mile run, I decided to think of reasons why training for this marathon is a good idea and why running is fun! I precluded the obvious health and charity benefits and only included the ones I personally believe to be true. I’m certain there are several more that I haven’t thought of so I would love for you, my readers, to contribute!

1)   You can give in to gluttony without guilt. My current Sunday diet consists of French toast with extra maple syrup for breakfast, tandoori chicken for lunch, buttered parathas for dinner and two helpings of tiramisu for desert. Oh, and I did I mention the pizza I snack on in between?

2)   On the same note, you can use “So I burnt 3157 calories this morning…..” as a conversation starter and you would not be lying.

3)   You can justify wearing sneakers everywhere for you never know when you will find time to get in a run. Goodbye horrid heels!

4)   You get to make a day trip to the doctor’s office. I would have never guessed that I would visit internal medicine, pathology, dermatology and physiotherapy all in one day!

5)   It boosts your self-image. I love how I imagine that my clothes fit a little better even though the weighing balance stubbornly refuses to concede.

6)   It’s romantic. Ever tried running hand in hand with your significant other on a rainy summer evening? You’ll feel like a couple of teenagers in love.

7)   You discover the friendlier side of town. In a city where drivers would rather run you over and bikers are quick to curse, I have seldom passed a fellow runner who didn’t smile or nod to me.

8)   You learn to put things in perspective. Each time I am whining to myself about the pain or soreness I feel during a run, I see a wrinkled old grandma or grandpa slowly making their way around the same loop with a huge grin on their face.

9)   You can reminisce the good ol’ times. Occasionally during the long runs, my iPod will run out of its contemporary playlists and reach out to an Eagles or Shan number resting in some forgotten corner. And soon I’m traveling down memory lane recollecting days spent singing and strumming guitars by the college canteen or the road trip I took with my parents in high school where I made dad replay the same love song on the car stereo over and over again!

10) It teaches you to pause and celebrate yourself in a world where we are constantly pushing ourselves to achieve better. Sometimes when I drive past one of the routes for our long distance training runs, I am engulfed in awe - “I ran all that?”

11) Don’t we all look for that one cool thing to do before we turn thirty? Well if I push myself just a little harder, I’ll have run my age in miles.

12) It helps you truly appreciate the luxury of a warm shower and a soft bed!

13) You don’t need to spend dollars at a tanning salon or hours on the beach to get a summer tan. You’ll be naturally well roasted from the ankles up!

14) The local Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks will recognize you as their most frequent customer.  For their restroom, that is.

15) It will make you as efficient as google maps. At least for a radius of 6 miles in any direction from your door.  

16) It’s the best way to explore your city. Some of the most breathtaking houses, gardens, stores and city views I’ve seen are located in cul-de-sacs or along roads I hadn’t noticed while driving by.

17) You begin to enjoy going uphill. There comes a moment in every runner’s career when you 'd rather run uphill than run on a flat surface or go downhill. It’s gentler on the knees and helps develop immense fatigue tolerance and muscle strength. I’d like to believe that running has taught me to also appreciate the necessity and value of the metaphorical uphills of life.

18) You realize that your mind is the strongest instrument you own and that usually it is the very first to give up.  But if you can will it from doing so, it will astound you with how much it can achieve.

19) It reminds you to be kind to others. As I struggled to run up a particularly grueling hill in the rain during one hill training session, a stranger driving past stopped, stuck out her thumbs and yelled “You’re awesome!” to me. Her simple gesture gave me all the strength I needed to tackle that same hill six more times. Next time I see someone who could do with a little encouragement, I’ll be sure to take a moment to applaud their effort.  

20)  You won’t be afraid to wear spandex anymore!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Corporate social responsibility in the wake of globalization in India

My friend Ranjan gave this excellent talk on corporate social responsibility at the AEPP conference in Montreal last year. The purpose of the presentation, as its title suggests, is to encourage industries and corporate organizations to adopt a more socially responsible approach towards policy making and distribution of wealth. 

His talk provides a realistic view of the lives of the underprivileged in India as it continues to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It highlights the rich-poor divide that plagues the overall development and progress of the nation and underscores the urgent need for quality infrastructure, education and health services to improve the standard of life. Until the time more companies assume this approach and the government initiates schemes that genuinely help the underdog, the lives of these people continue to depend on and benefit from the projects initiated by NGOs like AID and Asha and the sustenance provided by them.

Do check it out! The two parts together are about 15 mins long. 

Part I

Part II

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A note to my donors

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for donating to my cause! The ASHA volunteers who designed the team web page are still in the process of setting up email alerts for the runners to know when they have received a donation. It should be up soon, but in the meantime please drop me a line to let me know when you have made a donation so I can watch out for your gift. Also, don't forget to look for your name on my donor wall of fame located at the tabs on the top!

I hope you will keep coming back to my blog to read about my progress...your wishes and encouragement mean SO much to me! I also encourage you to check out my friend and teammate's blog here. She has admirable grit when it comes to running!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

For I have miles to go before I sleep....

If you asked me to pick one of the hardest days of my life, yesterday would be it. 
It began a Saturday like any other – our entire AID ASHA team had gathered together at 6:45 am for our long distance training run. It was to be 17 miles this weekend and we had an exciting and scenic route - the entire Charles river basin to run. The weather was perfect and a generous, well-planned water support system had been ensured to keep us adequately hydrated every three miles of our way.  In addition, the previous week had been a cut-back week where we accrued fewer than usual weekly training miles to give our legs the much needed time to rest and recuperate from our previous runs. It seemed perfect and when 7 o’clock rolled around I began with an enthusiasm dampened only by the drowsiness of being up so early on a weekend morning.
I sensed that something was wrong from the very start. My legs seemed tired and weary, too fatigued to remember the strength and memory they had developed over the previous months. My breathing was ragged and the air I managed to gulp in did little to oxygenate my lungs. I kept going, knowing that the first mile was always the most trying and if I pushed through this one, my body would soon relax into its smooth running rhythm and my breathing and heart rate would slowly stabilize.
Three miles in, I was still gasping for air. I had tried alternating between sprinting and almost jogging to stimulate my legs into finding that perfect pace to settle into, one that would decouple the mechanical action of running from the mental control I was still exerting over my strides. I yearned for that moment when my body would be on autopilot and my mind would be free to peregrinate, to explore and to look around.
 It did not happen.
By mile 7 I lost sight of all my fellow runners. I was now alone, running out in the open having left the cooling canopy of trees far behind.  I was aching to quit, to leave the 17 miles for another day, another run. I willed myself to not think about the time, the pace or the distance and to break it down into simpler goals that I could achieve. I made rules – the decision to quit or continue could only be made at one of the water stops, and whatever I chose at that point would overrule any thoughts I had en route to the next one. If I committed to run, I had to keep going for the next three miles; if I opted to quit I could not guilt myself into getting back into the run. I had to choose judiciously at each break and I soon found myself deferring the decision to surrender until the next water stop.
On the 12th mile, my ITB gave in.  A common syndrome amongst runners, the ITB causes pain and inflammation on the outside of the knee, where the iliotibial band (a muscle on the outside of the thigh) becomes tendinous and creates friction by rubbing against the thigh bone as it runs alongside the knee joint.  My left knee screamed in resistance but I continued to run, walk and limp the rest of the way. My team mates who had made an unscheduled stop had caught up by now and it was their camaraderie that kept my spirits up.
With 3 more miles to go, I was in for a pleasant surprise. S, my moral support on all the long runs had developed severe shin splints at mile 4 and had been forced to abandon the run. He had made his way back to the start line, rented a kayak and rowed his way down the river till he located us running along its banks!  I felt so touched and fortunate to have someone, who despite being in excruciating pain himself, had found a way to support and accompany me across the finish line.  
By noon it was over.  I had run 17.5 miles.
It was 6:30 pm when the tears finally came. They crept up unannounced and flowed unabashedly in warm, salty streams. They cried in exhaustion and trepidation, for how far I had come and how much more I still had to achieve. They wept for not having the tenacity to go on and for knowing that for the first time, I was truly ready to give up. I had done my best and given it my all. “Please”, they pleaded,” no more”.  I cried in memory of Saturdays that were simple, when I could sleep in and read a book or go for a walk. I wept for the knees that now buckled under me each time I stood up and for the stiffness that only permitted me to descend a stairway sideways. I let them flow.  
It was only in the quiet sniffles that followed that I saw the conviction, standing silently but surely behind the defeat. And I knew that no matter how much I cried then, when the first rays of the sun came up the next morning, I would grab my keys, put on my sneakers and go through the agony once again.