Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Last Long Run

December 18, 2011.

My last long run before the Mumbai Marathon in January.

And what a run it was.

We at Hyderabad Runners like running at different places for variety, fun and challenge. Sometimes the routes are flat, sometimes the course goes through some serious inclines that makes the run extremely challenging. Sometimes we run around lakes, sometimes in the middle of town.

This time, we ran at the airport.

Jet-setters will know that Hyderabad boasts of one of the best airports in the country – what is relevant here that it has a fantastic access road with well manicured lawns and shrubs with flowers of vivid colours all along the road. And when the company that runs the airport is hosting the run, they can make you feel like a VIP.

There was a team to welcome us and explain the route. Some of them ran with us too. There were cones kept at regular intervals indicating the distance covered; there were people manning water points and there was a sumptuous breakfast spread waiting for us at the end of the run.

The planned route was 31 kms long with options to turn back at designated intervals for people wishing to run shorter distances.

There were close to 40 runners at the start; we started running at 5.30 am in darkness against the traffic of speeding cars rushing towards the airport to drop off the passengers. The weather was just great – pretty cold while it was dark – cold enough to chill the finger tips as you ran. Soon there was light and since we were running eastwards, we saw this huge red ball of fire rise majestically in the sky and work its way upwards, shrinking in size and changing its color to a dazzling yellow.

I was one of the few who were running the full 31k and was the slowest within that group as well. Ran at a comfortable pace, enjoying the open space, the cool temperature and good music. This would be the last long run before the full Marathon on 15th January and wanted to make the most of it.

Finished the run in 3 hours 25 mins – had recently run a similar distance (alone) a few weeks earlier and that effort had taken me 4 hrs and 10 mins. No doubt the flat surface helped this time but a lot of credit for the increased speed goes to the co-runners who help you improve your performance without you even realizing it.

Though I was completely drained out at the end of the run, the best thing was that the recovery was pretty fast and all through the day I did not feel as tired as the last time.

There is still an untested 11km stretch that is going to test me in Mumbai but even if I have to walk the last few kilometers, I am confident of making it to the finish line.

How long do you think it will take me to finish the 42k? Take a guess and post it in the comments below. We will revisit these comments after my run.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The 30 kilometer milestone

Sunday November 27, 2011, 5.25 am.

Am standing on the road outside my house, dressed in my running gear, my ipod plugged on and my water bottle gripped firmly in my hand.

They are running a 10k around the lake and the Half Marathon in Delhi today so most of the Hyderabad Runners are away and there is no run organized today; I will be on my own without any SAG support, no one running with me, no one to pace me, no one to encourage me.

But that does not bother me; after all, for most of my running life I have been running alone and have survived. The daunting thing about today is that I will be attempting my longest run ever – 30 kms. So, in a way, today’s lone run is a blessing in disguise. There will be no mental pressure to keep up with the group; no pressure on me to know that I am keeping the early finishers waiting for me; I can run at my own pace and in the worst case scenario, if I have to quit at some point, I can simply hail an auto and go back home (I have already done such a thing once and mentioned about it in a previous blog).

I have already mapped the route on gmap-pedometer a day before and know the 15km point where I will turn back. To be on the safer side, I have decided to go further by a few hundred meters to a prominent T junction and then turn back.

I take the first steps and promise that I am not going to give up come what may. I will finish the 30k one step at a time no matter how long it takes. After all, I have done a 25k recently and this should not be too difficult.

I am running after about 10 days so the first few kilometers are really difficult, I am just not able to find my rhythm. There is uneven pressure on each of my legs and I am hobbling along, slowly and painfully. It is still dark and hence I cannot see the cloud cover but am sweating profusely in the first few minutes of the run. In any case, it takes me about half an hour to sort out these things and get into a rhythm after which I am able find my natural flow.

The first ten kilometers or so are all a gradual incline. Gradual enough to take it in your stride; inclined enough to keep you slightly out of breath. I can’t help but remember that this is the same route where, many months ago, my new shoes had given me such pain in my hip that I had not just quit running on that day but had also quickly changed my shoes to a new pair.

After the first 10 km of incline, I get to an isolated stretch of road where the gradient falls quite fast and brings me to more or less the same level as my starting point. There is also a cool breeze blowing that make the run very, very enjoyable. The road is isolated and I take a quick pee break and then run downhill till the end of the road that puts me on to a busy, polluted highway. I keep running, wary of the traffic and the increased noise levels, the good thing being that my turning point is not very far away.

I reach the half way mark in good shape. Have been running with discipline which for me means having the discipline to stop running and start walking every 7-8 minutes and then having the discipline to start running again after exactly one minute of walking. I turn back at the halfway mark, stop at a breakfast joint to buy a bottle of cold water, refill my sipper and start my journey back, mapping out the route mentally. I have an immediate incline to take care of followed by a straight and then the long gradual downhill. With every step I am getting closer to home and am feeling good that I will be able to fool my brain into submission and continue running the full distance.

On the way back, I meet a fellow HR runner who is on his way back home after his workout. He sees me, stops the car and we have a quick 5 second interaction. He shakes my hand, cheers me and says that he is impressed when I tell him that I am doing a 30k. I am quickly on my way again, very happy with this chance encounter.

The way back is uneventful and am thankful that my knees and shins are behaving. I do different things to break the monotony – take some walk breaks longer than a minute and at one place, considerably increase my speed for about 500m or so. Finally I am on my last stretch – the home run. My speed has dropped considerably by now and I am tempted to take more frequent breaks. I am now playing games with my brain; first promising myself to stop when I reach a particular up ahead in the distance but then keep running as long as I can after crossing that point.

Finally, 4 hours and 15 minutes after I took my first step, I am back from where I started. I have done it. I have run 30 kms and this is an important step towards the 42k day that is fast approaching. Tired, but happy, I post on my facebook page as I get into my recovery mode. I reward myself with a smoothie, a large breakfast and also apply lots of ice on my shins, ankle, calf muscles and the knees.

I sleep all day and then I sleep all night and on Monday morning, while I have recovered from the exhaustion, I am still walking like a penguin. Surprisingly, my legs mend themselves very quickly and am feeling pretty OK by Tuesday. Wednesday morning I venture out for a 30 min walk and put in some running as well to see how I feel.

I feel great and am already looking forward to this Sunday when the entire HR gang will be back and we shall run together. Will run a much shorter distance this time but will plan for a 35k very soon over the coming weeks.

For the first time, the 42k full marathon looks to be within my reach.