Mar 22, 2018

Down the Memory Lane

It was supposed to be the Surat Night Marathon (on 24th Feb), but they postponed it by a month on account of the PM’s visit to town. But more on this in the next post. This one is on the Bharuch Half Marathon & I will not digress.

Now, Bharuch has many fond memories for us. I stayed here for over 5 years & still recall those days. Bharuch is also the place the wife landed in after marriage. After the running bug bit her, she often wondered why did Bharuch not have any running event. If you who have never been to Bharuch, let me talk a bit about its geography. It is bounded by the NH-8 on the east, Narmada river on the South & Bharuch-Dahej road (actually a State Highway) on the North. The Broad Gauge (Delhi-Mumbai) railway line divides the town into the old city (western part) & the new city (eastern part). There are two main roads in Bharuch – Zadeshwar/Maktampur Road from NH-8 to Railway Station & the Station Road, that moves westwards from the Railway Station & merges with the Bharuch-Dahej road (BDR for the remaining of this post). The Golden Bridge, constructed some 130 odd years back, connects Bharuch to its twin city of Ankleshwar. In Bharuch, if you move 5 KM in any direction you are no longer in Bharuch.

And this brings us to the reason why I believed that Bharuch could not conduct a decent HM. The Zadeshwar Road is around 5 KM long. The Station Road (up to Jambusar Chokdi) is not only just 4.5 KM in length but also quite narrow. BDR is a busy route with heavy vehicles plying to/from the industrial hub at Dahej. The only probable HM route in Bharuch would have been through the Zadeshwar Road & taking the runners over Golden Bridge to Ankleshwar & back. But the bridge is so old that just 300 runners (maybe even lower) may bring it crashing down.

So it was a big surprise when I saw on Whatsapp that a “Half Marathon” was being organized in Bharuch. Last year (if the memory serves me right) too there was a “5 KM Marathon” conducted in Bharuch. Still, Bharuch being a much loved town, I went to the event website & found that it was really a 21.1 KM Half Marathon. Also that it was the day registrations closed. Also that the option of registering online was not available (unbelievable but true). Fortunately, the organisers were cooperative enough to accept our registration details over email & registered us for the event (wife & I doing the 10K & the daughter 3K).

The organisers planned the HM route very smartly. Starting from Dudhdhara Dairy, the runners moved via Shital Cirlce to Zadeshwar Chokdi, moved to NH-8 & back to the start point via ABC Chokdi, which added to around half the distance. While any other organizer would have gone for a double loop, here the runners were made to turn around & return to the start point. This effectively saved the HM runners from running into the 10K & 3K participants. Flyovers have come up at Zadeshwar Chokdi & GNFC Chokdi & the stretch in between has been fenced off with a Service Road on both sides for local vehicles. Thus, the organisers were able to effectively use the NH-8 for the HM. This event was primarily for the police personnel which ensured very effective route management, something that is never seen in Ahmedabad or Baroda. The 10K runners ran till the Sai Baba temple on Zadeshwar road & turned back. I know this stretch like the back of my hand, having resided along this route during my stay in Bharuch. Of course, the three speed breakers between the start point & Shital Circle have come up after I moved out!

The organisers were an event management firm from Surat which gave some confidence. But I opted to run only the 10K as this was the first time such an event was being held in Bharuch. It was a good decision, as I realized after the event. The organisers had planned for some 250 odd participants but the response (primarily from the schools) was overwhelming & the final tally was 3 times this figure. And they ran out of bibs. But they had them ready the next day & Jagdish was kind enough to collect ours. We reached Bharuch at 5:15 AM & he was soon with us to hand over our bibs on the BDR. While we were waiting on the road, a policeman posted there asked us to move away as there was a “Marathon” taking place. Fortunately, Jagdish arrived almost immediately & the cop was a relieved person. As was I, for this showed that the route management was going to be excellent. Which it turned out to be & I did not encounter any vehicle during the run.

I was expecting to bump into many acquaintances at the event but met only Ashesh Mehta. It was a good 10 years since I had left Bharuch & maybe I didn’t recognize others who were there. I also did not find too many old men (or veterans) at the venue. May be I could end up a respectable finisher this time! Another good part of the event was the late start which helped to achieve a timely flag off. It was a big crowd that had turned up for the 10K, more than I had expected in a small town like Bharuch. It appeared that the event had been publicised very well. It took almost a KM (till Shital Circle) to get ahead of the crowd. Turning around, we come to Kasak where I had a fall long back & fractured my wrist. This run was going to bring back many old memories. A sure sign of middle age!

Climbing up & getting ahead, I reach the GEB office on Maktampur Road. When I first moved to Bharuch I stayed right behind it, in Rachana Nagar. A service provider (don’t expect further details!) stayed across from my house & I had the pleasure of often hosting friends from Baroda here. Bharuch had two other advantages apart from this. One, Bharuch is home to the best Khari Seeng (salted groundnut) & we get it many flavours. Sargam Seeng Centre at Shalimar Complex (Station Road) situated across the road from our office was a favorite. It offered all sorts of masala flavours (to go along with the liquor) as well as fruits & chocolate (for other occasions). Two, while eating out (practically every day of bachelorhood) non-veg was economical compared to the veg option. Mind you, I am not even speaking about the dhabas on the highway (NH-8 being just 5 KM from my place!). No wonder, it was a much liked place (by friends & self).

Shalimar Complex was also where Shalimar Cinema was located. It was a single screen movie hall & I watched a couple of movies here – Saathiya (a really good one) & Tango Charlie which had Bobby Deol playing a soldier. I don’t think a worse movie has ever been made & this includes Sooryavansham (telecast on the Sony network every other day). I could not endure it even up to the interval. It helped that a ticket at Shalimar still cost something around Rs. 10!!!

The town hasn’t changed much except for the roads being widened & the three speed breakers on old NH-8. At least till the end of Maktampur Road. Where I crossed the wife. It is always the same story. I start much later & slower but manage to get ahead of her soon. Crossing her I came across a huge building where there used to be fields. But unlike Baroda, it was not concrete conquering the green. The Navsari Agriculture University has come up with a campus here. There have been developments other than the speed breakers too!

Moving forward we reach Rang Complex, which housed the Rang Multiplex (subsequently renamed Inox). We have watched a few movies here, major reason being it was walking distance from the house. The fastest runners have now turned around & have started crossing us. All of them are young kids going the other way, and none having a paunch & greying/disappearing hair. If I speed up I may end with a more than respectable finish! Picking up a bottle of water (hydration provision at Bharuch was the best I have ever seen), I cross Tulsidham & come across Hill View Apts. We spent almost 2 years here. Wilhelm Singh also stayed here for some time before he moved out of Bharuch. A good & willing cook, we had a good time here (in Bharuch too, dry laws exist only on paper) during my wife’s long absences.

Monsoons were a difficult period in Bharuch with the power supply being disrupted often. It was unbearable during 2006 when the FIFA world cup was being played. The GEB guys would be at work across the road (from Hill View) trying to restore the supply & I would be standing with them anxiously. One of the GEB technicians actually asked me to relax at home with the offer that if the supply did not resume in half an hour I could watch the match at his home!! Later, I was not sure if that was the motivation to finish the task in double quick time…

The Ayurvedic hospital opposite Hill View still exists. Western influence is still some way off Bharuch, despite the multiplexes coming up & the Shalimar Cinema now being a Big Bazaar outlet. But as long as there is Khari Seeng here, all is well. Shriniketan Township too stands where it used to. I stayed here during my last year in Bharuch. I have stayed in 4 different houses during my 5 years in Bharuch. All the time, moving closer to NH-8 and Baroda. But not this time. A little after Shriniketan, we turn around near the Sai Baba temple. I have crossed a few veterans but found no one coming the other way. I have been running faster than usual & not sure whether I can sustain till the end.

Coming back to Tulsidham, I come across the wife which means I have run really fast. Near the Rang Multiplex, a volunteer was standing with a tray filled with Dairy Milk. I can eat a chocolate any time of the day. At a running event where one came across only water being served, I had to have it. I picked up one expecting more further along the route. While hydration was sufficiently provided for, there were no fueling arrangements (except at this point) or any ORS/Enerzal. Even for the HM. This is one area that the organisers need to improve upon. With big corporates sponsoring the event, surely this can be managed within the budget.

I usually wear a cap during the long runs which helps in absorbing the sweat & also keep cool. But not here, this being just a 10K. But Bharuch is not cold even during winters & we had a late start. I poured some water on the head & the first trickle down the neck was very warm. A chocolate inside & a cool head above, I was feeling better. Coming back to Kasak circle, I found that a photographer had been positioned here. Sadly, while scanning the official photographs on the website, I found he hadn’t clicked any of mine. We turn at the Shital Circle for the last stretch & I give it all, finishing in a little over an hour. Fastest I have ever run this distance!

Upon reaching the venue, I immediately reached for the water but the volunteer was insistent on my getting the medal first. Unable to convince him, I queued up for the medal. While receiving the food packed & a bottle of water, I asked for another one but was told that “there’s only one bottle in the package”. Difficult to believe that the organisers were from Surat! But I will leave it to the daughter for the feedback on post-run arrangements. The first thing she said to her mom was “There is no respect for the 3K runners. We got neither a medal nor anything to eat or drink”. While everything else was good, this was the only area where the organisers faltered. Maybe it was on account of participation exceeding expectations. But if you cannot feed the runners or give them some water after they have finished their run, the participants are bound to feel cheated. Hope they are better prepared next time.

I had changed my jersey before proceeding to have a bite & some post-run hydration (arranged by self away from the venue), when they announced the winners of 10K. I checked my Bib No. & found that I was up there too. A podium is as respectable a finish as it can get. And another indelible memory was created in Bharuch!

Jan 27, 2018

Ye Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan

It was not supposed to be this. I wanted FM to be my 1st run in Mumbai & also my 1st FM to be in Mumbai. Being the lazy person that I am, I have never been in a position to prepare for running this long. Even Standard Chartered gave up all its hope of seeing me & stopped sponsoring the event. Not to let down the Tatas (and to get a feel of the event & the climate), this year I registered for the HM at Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). Thus, Mumbai found me awake early on a late-January morning geared up for the 21K.

I departed with the regulars, brother Vikas & Rahul, in a cab at 05:30 for the venue. Both being Mumbaikars, I didn’t have to worry about anything. But they had not factored the Metro work underway in South Mumbai. And we landed in a huge traffic jam (the 1st of the day) just as we were about to cross Bandra for Mahim. With the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL) closed for the event, all south-bound traffic (including trucks & dumpers) were now in this pre-BWSL era route. The entire suburban Mumbai seemed to be participating in the TMM. Some runners were so frustrated that they had started walking towards the venue. Or they may have been the non-serious ones who, taking advantage of this jam, simply decided to walk to the finish point & collect their finisher medal!! But the traffic moved & we reached Doordarshan junction where a volunteer informed about a BEST bus waiting to pick up runners. (It has been ages since I travelled in one.) Upon alighting, Vikas & Rahul scampered ahead as we were already late, but not me. Because hum wahan se daudte hain, jahan se marathon shuru hoti hai. A longish walk (with a pee break) & I arrived at an empty holding area.

Another longish walk to the start point & I realized 23 minutes (beyond the flag off time) is not really late at the TMM. It was a big crowd there, reminding one of the scene inside a Mumbai local. Next time I am taking a Mumbai local so as to reach the venue in time.

I was in for a 3rd walk – from the starting mat this time, thanks to the crowd (of participants). It was a few hundred metres (rather more) before I could even start running. I didn’t regret this as the three walks were all the warm up I could get, late as we were in reaching the venue. An Indian Navy (going by its white uniform) band played Hum Honge Kamyaab as the runners began their 21.1 KM run.

And a slow jog when some space opened up. Maybe the Bhangra group (or the one dressed in typical Punjabi attire & playing what seemed like Punjabi music) has charged up the runners who now realize they are attending a running event. We are now at the Worli sea front (it is still as crowded) & I get the 1st glimpse of the iconic Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL). Long after the political power moved to Delhi & commercial power to Mumbai, Calcutta (now Kolkata) prided itself on its trams & the Howrah Bridge. Now that the BWSL has been constructed & the trams having disappeared into history, it is left with only Didi! I have often traveled on the Sea Link but this will be the 1st time I will be doing so on foot. A group of Dholchis pushes us on to the BWSL. But the cable stayed bridge is still a long way away. The approach has a slight incline & the runners are cautious enough not to waste their energy so early in the run. We cross the approach & are now running over the sea. And there is a sea of runners in front too (as you can see in the pic). BWSL (in fact, the entire route) is closed for traffic. I wish other marathon organisers (specifically those in Ahmedabad & Baroda) could, like TMM, tell the motorists, “Ye marathon ka route hai, tumhare baap ki sadak nahi”.

A signage on the LCD signboard says, “Two Wheeler & Pedestrian not allowed”. Maybe, runners are not pedestrians & considered no less than an automobile, at least by the authorities. Pride is the dominant emotion at this point! Immediately the signage changes to “Speed Limit 80 KMPH”. And I realize they either forgot to change the signage or did not bother to do so. Couldn’t they at least have shut it off for the duration of the run? Even the Ethiopians & the Kenyans do not run so fast.

And we are now on the cable stayed part of the bridge. Some runners stop to take a Sea Link Selfie, this being once-in-a-year opportunity to do so. Quite a few have now slowed down after the (mild) climb on the approach. And I take off (somewhere just before the turnaround). I cross the 3:00 hour bus in the return over the BWSL, which means I should finish under 02:30 easily.

The faster FMers are now seen on the other side even before one gets off the BWSL. There are quite a few from Baroda doing the longest run (actually, the FMers from Baroda outnumber the HMers). The first known face is that of Dr. Manoj Subramaniam (have I spelled his last name correctly?). He is a comrade (not the type found in Kerala but the ones who complete a grueling event called Comrades Marathon). And a little behind comes Rajinder Singh, the Surd I often bump into when running on the streets near my home (his flowing white beard making him look much older than he is). I am at the Sea Front now & get a friendly wave of recognition from Hiren Mehta. The FM here has a large participation (around 7000) & it is difficult to spot the 35-odd FMers from Baroda. This is quite a big number for Baroda, but the no. of participants is also equally large. We get back on to the Worli Seafront & the navicular starts paining. This has happened earlier too & I think it is usually the case when I wear Brooks. I hadn’t experienced this for quite some time. So I took this pair with me as these are quite comfortable & have a nice pacy feeling. Also, the pain persists for some time & then disappears. So I just curled the toes, landed slightly on the outer side of the foot & carried on, ignoring the pain because Mard ko dard nahi hota.

One spots Haji Ali soon enough. The dreadful part (so one has been told on facebook, blog posts & personal accounts) lies just beyond – Peddar Road flyover. A short stop to get the blood moving properly (thakaan se darr nahi lagta sahab, cramps se lagta hai) & I trot towards the infamous (among runners) flyover. I am doing a good pace & a 02:15 finish looks plausible. I plan to run-walk the stretch to make up for lost time at the start before going all out at Churchgate. But, as Wodehouse so famously reminded, the best laid plans of men & mice are soon laid to waste (or something on these lines). It is another traffic jam ahead on the flyover. Some time back, what were runners ahead are now walkers & what were walkers are now crawlers. Many would have given up at this stage, but they have taken the lesson from 3 Idiots to heart – Bachcha, finish karo, finish… Medal to saala jhak maar ke tumko milega. Moving forward, I glance to my left at the super-expensive architectural monstrosity which goes by the name of Antilia. But there’s no one to be seen on the balconies or at the windows to cheer the sole runner in the extended family. Maybe he is yet to pass by, or the brothers are still a long way apart. I walk the Peddar Road flyover to the top. And find the runners flying down (OK, running down) now, which opens up some space. I resume my run.

I have always heard that the crowd support is tremendous at TMM (or SCMM, as it used to be called). I experience it first-hand this time. From the Heera-Panna market onwards, it seems there are more people cheering than those running! Only a few are empty handed. As if they are telling me, Runner bhai, TMM bachcho ke daudne ki cheez nahi hoti, dehydration ho jaye to cramps aa jaate hain. If not the fruits or water or biscuits, they are carrying placards with the best one-liners I have seen anywhere. In fact, the wit is far better than what I found in Rajkot or Kochi, where it was more of an institutional effort. Not to forget a group of Japanese (else, why should they carry the Japanese flag?) who were handing out Yakult to the runners. I have found the crowd support better only in Rajkot, but that was the 1st ever HM in town & organized by the district administration with participation of schools (forced?) & other institutions (compelled?). At TMM, this appeared to be spontaneous & entirely voluntary. Mumbai Road Runners (going by their facebook page) had a large contingent of volunteers at their creative best. The chest swelled upon reading “You are a Human Rocket”. And nothing has ever been truer than “Sweat is Sexy”! Not to forget some considerate chaps too who pumped us up with “Kenyans are finishing all the beer” & also reminded that “the beer is getting warm”. I think these particular guys should be sent along with Team India on overseas tours (especially Australia & South Africa). But the authorities always goof up, like the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in this case. Maybe the missing Bin was symbolic of the state of civic affairs in Mumbai. Well, bade bade shaharo mein, aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rahti hain.

We come to Charni Road & the sun is out now. The Girgaon Chowpatti on the right, railway tracks to the left & there are no high rise buildings to provide shade as we run. Bisleri has put up (or sponsored & branded) cooling zones along the route, basically a covered passage fine spraying a jet of water. I went through a couple but missed quite a few in the crowd! The regulars found the TMM hot, but I felt it was wonderful weather (perhaps the cooling zones helped). Not really humid. And neither cold nor warm. In fact, Goa (early Dec. in 2016) was warmer & Kochi (mid-Nov. in 2015) was very bad in terms of temperature as well as humidity. Maybe I was expecting Mumbai to be equally bad. To think that all along I have been hesitant to run the SCMM as it is held on the 3rd Sunday of January, when the temperatures have started rising. Well, I should consider coming here regularly.

Now a days I wear a cap during the long runs. Previously, I wore sweat bands on the wrists but they get wet fast in warm weather and, being thick, do not dry during the long runs. So I started wearing sleeves which are much better. But once I didn’t & some sweat went into the eye. It was a horrible experience, so I now wear a cap & wear it backwards, afraid that if it gets too wet the sweat may again drip into the eye. The damp cap also helps in keeping the head from getting hot. Why to have another hot headed person on the road when there already are so many? And pour some water on the neck to bring down the body temperature. (I have said this earlier too, you can expect some running gyaan on this blog.)

We are on the Marine Drive. The finish is not too far now, but the hamstring tendons are feeling the strain. Did I over-exert too early? I remind myself that I have completed a FM just two weeks back & push forward. Also that there are people (not just the Kenyans) who are right now downing the beer. Yes, it is painful. The foot as well as the knees (as also the thought that stock of beer is depleting). But I am not really feeling tired. The preparation for the FM is coming useful now, as also the GU Gel that Vikas gave me in the morning. Of course, there is the planned beer session with friends after the race & they would have started much earlier than I did. I believe this is what really helped in running through the pain. You know what, kabhi kabhi daaru peene ke liye daudna bhi padta hai. Aur daudne ke baad peene wale ko marathoner kahte hain.

And one comes to Churchgate. This is one station where you can get a window seat of choice in the general compartment of a local train during off-peak hours. But only because this is where they start from & you are present when the empty train arrives! Also a heritage town with beautiful buildings constructed when architecture was a work of art. But today, loads of money can only buy you an Antilia. A left turn soon after & seeing the no. of people on both the sides, it appears as if the 08:40 Virar local is about to arrive. I am aware there were no rail tracks here, but for all I know, Achhe Din may have already arrived in Mumbai. Talking of Achhe Din, I didn’t come across any of the famed potholes today. Maybe, Mumbai patched those up for the TMM.

There were so many distance markers in the latter part that runners felt like, Kilometer par Kilometer, Kilometer par Kilometer, Kilometer par Kilometer milte rahte hain, lekin finish line nahi milti my Lord. MIlte hain to sirf Kilometer markers. But they give way to Meter Markers now that we are so close to the finish. It is a narrow road & the runners are already cramped for space. Plus, these were the slower ones. There is no way one can comfortably run the last stretch. Of course, traffic jams are a way of life for the Mumbaikars & they won’t really mind this. I feel happy for Rakesh Rawat who is doing the FM today. He always sprints to the finish. Had he been here with me, he would have waited till the cut off time to make that last dash over the last timing mat! I only got to walk my way past the mat into another side street at CST.

The sis would have been tracking me, as she called up to wish me on finishing the maiden Mumbai HM. And told me the finish time, which was the fastest I have over this distance. That was the last call for some time. I tried calling Vikas, Durgesh, Prasad Menon & a few others who would have finished by now. But none of the calls connect. I move to the finisher zone & am guided to the medal counter where I receive the medal & a bag containing an apple, something wrapped in paper, a packet of Maggie noodles & two sachets of coffee powder. I decided to collect my bag from the baggage truck & then look for some hot water to make myself noodles & a strong coffee. I had just collected my bag when I received the call from Durgesh who told me that he was already moving towards CafĂ© Leopold. And informed that one has to walk back to Churchgate to get a cab. I was on my feet again & a friendly fellow runner I met at Churchgate, on being asked directions, advised me to walk (if I could, was what he enquired first) along with him (he was going to Mondegar, another iconic watering hole) till the rendezvous point. Where I caught up with Durgesh. While we waited for my Omelet (Durgesh already had one) & our beer (he waited for me to join), he took charge of the medal ritual this time…


P.S.: We were yet not through with our 1st beer at Leopold & Prasad Menon rolled in on Ceat Tyres. (Actually, with Rupesh, who works with Ceat). An extended beer session & I decided to be a regular at TMM. Because, FM abhi baaki hai mere dost.

Jan 12, 2018

The VIM 2018 earns 7 Stars

What do you call it when it ticks all the right boxes & what turns out is a blockbuster. The 7th edition of Vadodara International Marathon (VIM) on 7th January called itself the 7-star Marathon. Deservingly, because this one was a near flawless event.

I was doing my maiden FM & the usual gang was not in the assigned enclosure when I got to the venue. Rajinder Singh, who I usually bump into while running, was. My regular pacer, Suresh Iyengar, was doing the HM. But his running mate, Shital Pawar, was also in for his maiden FM & we were chatting when the race was flagged off. Thus, we started out together for the first time despite so many events that we have done together. Now, Shital is a guy who does his HM’s in 2 hours. He started out in the same fashion for the FM too. After a few hundred metres with him, I realized I was running too fast & asked him to carry on while I dropped my pace. I was wearing my GRM jersey with my name printed on it. Soon after falling behind Shital, this guy joins me & the first thing he asks me is how do they measure our timing. I asked him whether he was doing the FM (believing he was a HM participant who had started out with the wrong group) & he confirmed that. Dutifully informed him where the chip was located & how the timing was measured. He was also named Ashish & this perhaps made him approach a namesake.

This was his first event, not having participated in any HM earlier. But he assured me that he has been practicing long for this one, as he wanted the FM to be his first event. Though not as fast as Shital, he was also too fast for my liking & I wished him best for the run & slowed down to a comfortable (for me) pace. Later, looking at the timing website I found that this other Ashish in FM category had not crossed the 3rd the time check. If you plan to run the FM in future, give your body enough time to get used to running long distances. (Yes, you will always get some running gyan on this blog.)

We go over the Vishwamitri overbridge shortly after the start. But for two bridges, (the other one coming just before the finish) & the slight incline at the FM turnaround, the route is quite flattish. At the bridge, I noticed two trains at the Vishwamitri Railway Station. Had they stopped to watch the marathon, or did the overzealous cops stop them to let the runners pass? I had a long distance to cover & I did not wait for the answer.

Crossing the Vishwamitri bridge, we came to Akshar Chowk where Rakesh Rawat turned up. Rakesh, we all know, runs for four things. When he doesn’t run, as in this VIM, he volunteers. He was also handling a camera this time. He is a very good runner & an equally committed volunteer. Sadly, he is not a good low-light photographer. Don’t know why Reni abandoned this post.

By this time the fastest of the HM runners were speeding past me. Just after crossing HCG Cancer Centre, the 2:00 hr bus of Rajesh Tiwari sped ahead. I ran after him & jokingly requested to let me aboard. He got the shock of his life seeing me with him & only his sturdy heart saved him. With HCG right behind, pls be assured that this was not putting him at any risk. But this was just a joke & I let the bus go without me.

The turnaround at the first time check & I am back on the Sun Pharma Road & onwards into the OP Road. The 10K runners had been flagged off by this time & OP Road was flooded with them. With a few known HM runners running past me. Kedar Borkar being one of them. I had gone to my first HM (bSafal in Jan. 2015) with him. During these three years, he has discarded his shoes & now runs bare feet. He really enjoys it. And saves a ton of money on running shoes too. Those of you who have known him only recently, pls be informed that the smile on his face has been there even when he ran in shoes. 

I heard my name being called out just before Manisha Circle. Looking behind, it turned out to be Sachin Parikh, out walking (he would have found it quite warm compared to the weather back in Canada, where he lives). A quick hug was all I had time for, this being the maiden long one. But he is here in Baroda this week only & I need to catch up with him one of these days.

As I mentioned, the 10K runners were all over OP Road & the cops had a tough time managing the traffic. They were firm in standing up to the aggressive crowd. In fact, the traffic was very well managed at the VIM this time. Nowhere else, except Rajkot, have I found it managed as well. Only if they are able to manage it even half as well during normal days, driving on Baroda roads would not be so dreadful & stressful.

Turning left from Old Padra Road, we move to low traffic areas. In fact, there is sparsely any traffic after Nilamber Circle till the Gotri-Sevasi Road. And practically none after we turned right towards Chandan multiplex. After Chandan, the road has large green tracts on both sides. Forget vehicles, one doesn’t even come across a human except some fellow runners. And the volunteers at the turnaround point. Piyush Kunal offered me whatever I wanted, subject to permissibility under the dry laws. I already had my bottle of water & declined his offer, cursing the prevailing law. But the ill will is momentary, for the route enchants the runner in me. The sun was already up by this time but there was no hint of heat, the weather being so cold. The route this edition was wonderful & hope VIM sticks to this one for all subsequent events.

We turn left upon reaching Sevasi-Gotri Road to return back to civilization. Traffic is still sparse. Volunteers are still there at the turn with the provisions. But Nikky Joshi is no longer seen. Maybe, he was too tired after the hectic last few days bringing up the event. And it is still lonely. There were a couple of runners ahead of me who I soon overtook. It is now around 10 KM (after crossing Decathlon the first time round) that I have been running with very few runners in sight. I am still going at a 07:00 min pace & feel (apart from lonely) this can be maintained for quite some time. Running along, a cyclist comes along & turns out to be Nikki. Unlike the previous editions, the volunteers this time were at their posts till the end. And not just Nikky or Piyush,

Now we turn right towards Nilamber circle. It feels closer to the finish now. A little ahead a guy is running backwards. I have seen many people running backwards or sideways in the midst of their runs. But this one just keeps going on in this fashion & I am convinced that this is his preferred style. And I wonder why he doesn’t wear his Bib on his front, which is actually his back. I mean, he had put his Bib on the chest but he was running backwards & it should have been on the other side. Later, I was told he did the entire FM running backwards. I think he did this so that he could count the no of runners who overtook him & be sure of his position even before the updated results are put up on the timing partner’s website. Coming to think of it, if someone runs backwards throughout should his/her splits be always considered negative? Also, I think the route for such runners should be from finish to start so that they appear normal to the others!!

I got a few calls on the mobile this time. The first one to do so was my good friend RK Menon. I opted not to receive it. He called again & when I picked it up (thinking it would be something urgent) he asks “kidhar pahucha”. It was just 25 KM & I was still feeling strong & gave him a straight answer. Had he been an hour or more later, it would have been a real nasty one. We haven’t met post VIM & when we do so, the first thing I will ask him is why did he ask that question. As I neared Nilamber circle, I got a call from the wife, who had completed her HM, asking me the same thing. She was lucky too. Lucky, because she also got a straight answer. But not lucky enough as, she informed me, the HM runners were being refused ORS on the way because it was being preserved for the FM guys. Later, at home, she informed that almost all the hydration points were handing out only water to the HMers, keeping the ORS & oranges for the FMers. The 02:45 HM pacer, Dina Patel, was totally pissed off with this & discarded her flag mid run. It is a good thing to not let the provisions run out when those doing the FM come around, for they need it the most. But not refusing to support the HM runners. This was the only shortcoming of this edition.

Its over 35 KM now & I am not in a very good shape. Walk breaks have begun. The runs are at a pace of over 07:45. The walk breaks keep getting longer. It is hurting more. There are some 2/3 runners who got ahead when I took a walk break. When they do so, I get ahead. All are in the same boat. During one of these walks, a group of armymen runs past. I pull myself up & start running, keeping up with them for some time. Which exacerbates the pain. The knee hurts badly when stretched. Even when I walk. A little after 38 KM, I stopped tracking. I will walk rest of the way & still finish much before the cut off time.

I was already on the OP road. The traffic is still being managed for the event. I recall the previous year, when some of us runners (Reni, Nishant, Harjeet, Ajay) positioned ourselves under the Fatehganj overbridge to stop the traffic when the FM runners passed by. But nothing like that this time round. Take a bow, team VIM. A car slowed down as it crossed me. It was Rajiv Bhatia along with Mr. Onkar Singh. I had my water & didn’t need the fruits & they went ahead. They were still on the job. Reni zoomed past & stopped a little ahead, bringing out his camera. I ran a bit as he took the pictures. Running photos ke liye kuchh bhi karunga!!

Crossed OP Road at Tube company junction. The traffic is stopped as I approach, but I can only walk. I go past Classic Tea, but there is no one hanging around & missed a cup of tea with friends. I cross the Gateway hotel & am almost near the finish. And soon I am at the Akota-Dandia Bazaar bridge. Reni arrives on his bike, egging me on. At the top of the bridge the finish point comes into view. It is still some way away. As I get to the other side of the bridge, the runner a little ahead of me is getting directions from a guy in the car. I reach there & the car stops to guide me to the finish. It turned out to be Dr. Nagesh Kamat, who runs ultras when life gets a bit boring & today's 04:50 FM pacer. Another biker has joined the runner in front, who is also only able to walk. I am joined by Reni. And I realize I have miscalculated the cut off time by around 15 minutes. But I am so close to the finish that I will make it. And I did. There are no runners around, except Hiral. A short chat with him & I get into the medical center for some much-needed stretching. It took some time to find a vacant bed, for all the runners were inside. The guy did a good job & I felt, except for a painful knee, much better. I came out with the medal still round my neck.

Dec 27, 2017

A Safal Run at bSafal Amdavan Marathon

It all began here. Ahmedabad, the place where I was born, & bsafal, my first HM (in Jan 2015). So this was a homecoming run of sorts. Driving to the venue to collect our bibs, we found metro construction along portions of previous years’ route. We were worried that it would be very difficult to control the Ahmedabad traffic during the latter part of the run, especially now that there is a FM on the race menu too. Going through the route on the event website, we found that the organisers were taking us west this time. Rather Far West, as western Ahmedabad always meant the part lying west of the Sabarmati & we would be running along the SG Highway & the Ring Road. A good choice as both these roads have wide service roads that will assure the runners don’t interfere with the traffic (and vice versa) except at junctions.

The 6:00 AM flag off (on schedule) was preceded immediately by singing of the national anthem. Now, there are residential apartments adjoining the eastern part of the venue. I wondered what should a person, who hears the anthem being played while half asleep, do? Is he expected to stand to attention? But thoughts such as these are not advisable in Ahmedabad, a city where patriotism meets culture. Sorry, read it as conspicuous display of patriotism & culture. As in the case of this runner (though he forgot to wear traditional footwear during the run!) who carried this flag through the distance.

We get to the SG Highway at Gurudwara Junction & turn northwards. Around 17 years back, SG highway was actually a highway, i.e. a dark, unlit stretch of road outside the city. But I often visited it (along with good friend Wilhelm Singh) as there was a dhaba besides the gurudwara that also served chicken. In fact, that was the only non-veg joint (known to us) to the west of Sabarmati. Unlike the earlier occasion, this was the only bout of nostalgia this time. Today the SG Highway is more of an internal city road, lined with retail, commercial & residential space. We turn west towards the Ring Road & soon passed an under construction project named “Satyamev Eminence”, which is expected to be a “posh” workspace. Now, one associates the word satya with the likes of Gandhi (of the bapu variety) but definitely not something like “posh”. But this is a sign of the changed times, considering the netas (no names, as the list is endless) we have today.

As is now the practice, I was running along with Dr. Suresh Iyengar who has this uncanny ability to run at a consistent pace from beginning to the end. This time, Rakesh Rawat also gave us company, which indicates that the legend of Dr. Iyengar, the pacer, continues to grow. The Ring Road announced itself with an abrupt drop in temperature. Most of this part (unlike the eastern & northern stretches) of the Ring Road still doesn’t have any buildings alongside & there are open, green stretches on both sides. Apart from the cold (expected in the last week of December), there was a chill in the air too, making it feel colder. Of the three of us, none agreed with this lady runner. And I think Dr. Iyengar found her views a bit disturbing for Rakesh & I perceived him speeding up. Maybe, it was the chill which made him run faster. Whatever the reason, the pacer in Dr. Iyengar makes it look so easy even when in acceleration mode.

Going some further we saw a lady pacer a little ahead of us. As both the 02:30 pacers were men, we correctly guessed her to be the 02:45 pacer. Now, we were in a state wedded to BJP & in a city that is the karmabhoomi of Amit Shah & Narendra Modi. I realized that if we ran behind this lady pacer, who was named Sonia, we could be mistaken for being Congress supporters. I shared this with Rakesh & Dr. Suresh who too agreed with me. One of her passengers, overhearing us, assured us that such is not the case, but I believe that was more to save himself from some embarrassment! We disregarded his words & moved ahead as there are some compromises that are never made.

Distance running events provide lot of food for thought, turning most runners into philosophers. Running along the SG Highway, I came across an area barricaded by corrugated sheets with the words “Building Tomorrow” clearly visible from a distance. Inside, it was just a piece of open land, but a swanky entrance lined with potted plants was already built. Isn’t this true with most other aspects of life, including running, too? The doors of tomorrow have to be built today, else it will forever remain a dream. No one becomes a distance runner overnight. It’s the short runs one starts with that make us complete the long ones. So if you intend to run a HM/FM next year, begin the preparation right now.

There were a lot of things that made this edition of bsafal a very well managed & organized event. Primarily, it was the hydration provided. As per the route map (if I recall correctly), the organisers had planned hydration points every 4 km. But we found them at every 2 km, at least in the 1st half for I did not even notice this later having broken off near the half-way (as is the practice). At the end of the Ring Road stretch, in fact, just as I came to the turn I heard a once-popular song from that Manoj Kumar starrer Kranti – Zindagi na toote ladi… ( I would never have believed earlier that someone could listen to this particular song while running. But as I said earlier, patriotism runs in an amdavadi’s blood. And our friend here proved it again.

We turn left from Ring Road to move towards SG Highway. The road is wide with practically no traffic at this time. But it’s a RCC road, not the best one to run on. I opted to run on the pavement which had paver blocks, not much better but still better than the RCC surface. And this is quite a long stretch too. The organisers should consider an alternate stretch next time round. Barring this one, rest of the route was tar road, except a small stretch where metro construction was underway, which made it feel like a trail run (minus the vegetation)! So, we got a variety of running surfaces this here. Before reaching this portion, came across a tea stall with an interesting name – Khetarwala Bapa Tea Stall. Which shows that the average gujarati can smell a business opportunity before anyone else & knows how to encash it. I don’t know how the Khetla Aapa franchise reacted to this, but they have moved far ahead ( from their origins as a typical chai kitli.

This enterprising spirit has taken gujaratis palces & you will find them all over the globe. Essentially peace loving, they assimilate with the local culture easily, though the magnitude may differ. Like this runner here, who left no one in doubt where he came from (or where wished to go?). Our American Desi friend had a peaceful run, but would it have been so had he similarly dressed up in the Indian tricolor? But this is not a social/political post & let us stick to the run only.

For the entire stretch west of SG Highway, the participants & the traffic did not disturb each other except at a junction on the Ring Road where the FMers need to cross the road. The traffic police did a very good job manning the junctions. It also appears that the residents in this part sleep late on Sundays & stock up on morning supplies so as not to venture out in the cold. The volunteers also did a very good job & no point was found unmanned even towards the end of the route. I particularly liked the watermelons & chikki bars at fueling stations. Watermelons actually double up as hydration too, which was so thoughtful of the organisers. Running in the cold, whatever the distance, always finds me with a running nose, though it is not so much of a trouble as I usually breathe with the mouth. This one was no different. But I couldn’t eat the chikkis & breathe at the same time & had to alternate between the two. A very difficult task, especially when running!! Fortunately, I realized that I had a bottle of water with me & used it to clear the nose & wash the hands. Rest of the distance was very comfortable, though I didn’t get find chikkis later (till after the finish point).

We get back to the SG Highway as we near the end. The sun is up by this time & so are the amdavadis. Even the temperature is higher now, though the traffic at the junctions is still manageable thanks to the efforts of the traffic police. I have been running at a gradually decreasing pace & did not have much left inside. However, the weather being good & not having run much the previous weeks, the legs held on. We turn east at the gurudwara junction for the home stretch. This is a slight climb but one had to keep going to finish under 02:30. The traffic at the junction at the AES ground (just before the finish line) is now restive but the traffic police manages to hold them to let the runners pass. Which helps one finish at a fastest pace of the run. Looking at the pace chart after I finished, I realized that this one was run at a near negative pace. Thanks to Dr. Iyengar who unknowingly speeded up on the Ring Road & the route which did not have any traffic holding up the runners.

But the best part was tea seved in kulhad’s at the finish point (on payment basis). And the quantity of serving was much more than the famed “Amdavadi Chai”. No better way to end a half marathon!

Dec 1, 2017

A Short Primer on Common Running Terms

The running season has well & truly begun with events all around. And multiple events on the same day in the vicinity of each other. To help the new runners catch up on the commonly used running terminology so that they don’t feel out of place with experienced ones, I have put together a list of terms that they can refer to when lost.

Cadence: This is steps taken per minute & is a measure of efficiency. So how does it matter? Higher it is, better you are as a runner. But most importantly, this term is a good icebreaker if you are meeting another runner (especially an experienced one) for the first time. Try it some time. You will appear knowledgeable (as you will find me while reading this post).

Carb-Loading: This is imbibing significantly larger proportion of carbs in your diet immediately preceding your Big Run. Carbohydrates are the energy store of choice for our body. Beer is one very good option, one glass having around 13 grams of carb. (Now you know why it is called a “beer belly”.) If you are not a heavy drinker, you can try Vodka + Orange juice (28 gms) or Rum + Coke (39 gms). For more options, you can refer Diet Doctor (

Cool down: It is the opposite of Warm-up & works the other way round. After a hard run, you need to bring down your body temperature gradually. Best is a small jog or a brisk walk. I have found chilled beer works equally well. In fact, works better as it cools down the mind too.

FartlekYes, you are right. This isn’t farting during a run, as most non-runners would believe. It is simply running some distance at a faster pace during a run. It’s what most kids do while playing & really enjoy it. Well, they also enjoy when someone farts during a game. Maybe, this is why it is called what it is called.

Form: Obviously, Form in sports can never mean the paper where we fill in all those details. But, Form in running has a different meaning than in other sports. It is actually your posture or stance when running. So, while cricket commentators are in the habit of informing that Form is temporary as oppose to Class which is permanent, in running the Form is also permanent. This is to differentiate running from other sports. So, what’s a good running form? Simply put, it is one where you do not appear strange or peculiar to other runners (non-runners will always find it strange seeing people running on roads against the traffic).

Foot Strike: This is the way your foot lands while running. Most resources on the internet inform that one should never land on one’s toes (have they tried running on their toes?) or one’s heels (else one’s heels, ankles & all will be in pain). Which shows that the mid-foot, like the middle path as espoused by Buddha, is the best & can lead you to running nirvana.

Hill trainingAnother of those drills to increase leg strength. Most runners do not have the luxury to live near the hills. But they can run over flyovers & overbridges & this works just as well. Even running up & down flights of stairs is another option, as most towns now have high rise buildings. I know it requires more effort but getting out of bed to snooze your alarm & getting back in doesn’t count. Even if you snooze it for an hour before finally waking up.

Interval trainingSupposed to be good for improving speed & developing under-utilised muscles, it is a series of sprints with just enough rest after each to catch your breath. So, if you thought it was the running around for popcorns & soft drinks during the break, you were not too wrong. Except that, one doesn’t get too tired in an air conditioned multiplex.

Negative splitsThis might be one of the easier terms & easily understood. You split your run into two & be quicker during the latter part. Or four (or whatever you prefer) parts & run each section quicker than the previous one. Negative, because you cut down on your pace. Which also means you increase your speed, but that would not be negative & so we will stick to conventional running terminology.

Overpronation/UnderpronationIt is how your foot behaves when it hits the ground while running. i.e. If it moves outwards it is called one of these, and if it moves inwards it is called the other. To be honest, I still have to get a hang of this term & cannot tell you off-hand what is what. If you are still curious, pls visit the www.

Pace: It is the opposite of speed. No, it is not a measure of slowness. Rather, speed measured the other way round. In simpler words, Pace is the time required to cover a unit distance (minutes per Km) while speed is distance covered in unit time (Km per hour). So why not simply measure speed? Because, everything else (vehicles, cyclists, animals, etc.) is. And we, the runners, would turn out to be very slow in comparison. Also to confuse the non-runners (but that’s just between us).

Recovery: Now, this one has multiple uses & meanings. A slow jog after a burst of speed amidst a long run is recovery. A short run a couple of days after a  very long run is also recovery. As is the time you spend sidelined by some injury. While none of the online resources considers a glass of beer after a long run as such, I will still go for this one as my favorite form of recovery.

Runner’s knee: As runners, we should be proud of an injury being named after us. And unlike a tennis elbow, runner’s knee strikes only the runners. To be more specific, to the new runners who are too enthusiastic when they are just beginning & start running longer & longer. For they know not it is the slow & steady that not only wins the race but also runs long & strong.

Shin Splints: You guessed it right, it’s the pain on/around the shins. As soon as it occurs, treat it to some rest & ice. And while you are resting & have some ice handy, you may as well add some drink to the ice & think about running. This will keep you motivated enough & you will back on the roads once healed.

Speedwork: Pls refer Interval Training, for this is what speedwork essentially is. It is simply called by this name too so that running appears to be a technical sport to other sportspersons. For, most sports involve some amount of running & we need to differentiate ourselves from those indulging in other outdoor activities.

Strides: Pls refer Speedwork, for this is what it essentially is. Now that you have saved some time by not referring to the above, you may as well have a drink. And read this post again, once complete. It (reading, not drinking) will help you remember these terms better.

Tempo: I once gave the finger salute to a tempo who didn’t slow down as I crossed the road. Which made him slow down & look back. I upped the pace to put as much distance as possible between him & me if he decided to come back after me. But a wise runner later educated me that a tempo run is something totally different. It is a run at a “faster than normal” pace for some considerable distance. Pls note that it is “faster” & not a “fast” pace. In other words, a feel good run that doesn’t leave you exhausted at the end (like running to avoid a tempo does). I no longer give finger salutes to tempos. Or Autos & other vehicles, for that matter.

VO2 max: This is a favorite of my friend, Reni George. But I believe this will soon lose its relevance considering that the air now has more of pollutants & less of oxygen. So, if you work on increasing your VO2 max you will end up dirtying the insides of your lungs & the throat & the respiratory tract. Be practical, is my advice for Reni.

The Wall: I always thought, in sporting terms, the Wall meant Rahul Dravid. But it is actually what the runners face at the 20th mile (32nd Km) when running a full marathon. I haven’t run any, so can’t say anything more about it. But it cannot actually be a wall because the marathons are generally run on a road. And also becauser one can run through it. Else, how would people be able to finish a full marathon?

These are some of the terms that I am familiar with. Once I get to learn a few more, I will update you with those. Till then, happy running!

Nov 27, 2017

Puri-Chhole & a Noble Cause

SoleFest is closest to one’s heart. Not just because it is held in Baroda, but also for self being an integral part of the team that puts it together. An event of the runners, for the runners & by the runners, it very aptly calls all runners to Daudo Dil Se for the noble cause of Organ Donation. But unlike other posts, this one is devoted to how I run a HM (in essentially 4 parts). Because, on account of a very bad throat I aborted some distance into the run & later joined the daughter on the return leg of her 10K. To what SoleFest is best loved for – the post-run brunch!! This time too we had puri’s, along with chhole, boiled eggs & gulab jamuns. One couldn’t have asked for anything else (in a dry state)!!

It all starts with putting together the ingredients. Of course, flour, water & some oil is all that suffices. This is what one does in the beginning, and earlier. A good, long sleep the previous night. A nice warm up before the run. A good chat with friends before the race. And, when the race actually starts, take stock of the physical. Have the niggles & pains that surfaced during the run-up to the event disappeared? Good feel is a motivation that lasts the distance. But the little things matter too – a bit of salt, some black pepper, ajwain or jeera or whatever else you like. Not to forget the weather, as the temperature & humidity can make or mar the later stages of the run. This is the period one goes through the mental checklist & takes a call on whether its Plan-A or Plan-B today's conditions.

Once all is in place, the kneading starts. You keep on adding the ingredients, till the mix (i.e. flour + water) is perfect. The 2nd quarter of the HM is as tricky. As you settle into a steady pace, you also need to ensure that you will have enough strength left for the latter stages of the run. This is a tough task physically, but very critical. For, only a well kneaded flour results in well-made puri’s. This is not too technical an accomplishment, but the rewards are physical. And will help you finish strong even as the energy is sapping & the strength depleting. If you have been wondering about the power behind those flying Belans in the house, well, it comes from years of kneading the flour for puri’s, paratha’s, roti’s & what not!!

But kneading is only half the job done. Now, the half way mark is a critical milestone. Of course, there’s the elation of reaching this point. But, does one have enough in the tank for the remaining half when the conditions will be tougher? Remember, it only gets warmer during a race unless its conducted in the evening/night. The reason why the next part, the rolling, is as critical. Roll it too hard & you will get a poor cousin of papad. Roll it too soft & you will end up chewing half cooked, wet dough. We all like negative splits but running all out should left till the end. But rolling is not pure skill either. It’s art in equal measure too, if you like them circular. So, ramp it up gradually. And also stock up on hydration for the sun is only going to get brighter & hotter. And some fuel too. But don’t overstuff, it is still a long way to go.

The last part is the easiest, for it is now only about finishing. The result, however, depends upon how you have done the earlier parts. Of course, one no longer worries about it. It’s all about getting the job done & relishing the puri’s (if one's doing the SoleFest). At SoleFest 2.0, we also had Gulab Jamuns as an added incentive! You put the rolled dough from one side of the frying pan. And watch it go in as bubbles rise up to the surface. And then it pops up in the middle, like a runner recharged after a few sips of water. No amount of sweat trickling down the face can now stop one from going all out. And it stays there as it puffs up, gaining colour & size. Yes, one is dead tired & the tank is empty but the sight of the finish line helps one draw the last bits from the reservoir.

You take it out, keeping it above the pan to drain out the oil, and putting it on the plate. A medal round the neck, the delicious puri-chhole-gulab jamun on the dish & friends all around, there was only one question that bugged. When is the next edition of SoleFest?

Image source (puri):

Oct 5, 2017

I, Charles Shobhraj

One starts running for a particular reason (fitness, health, weight loss, etc.). And soon one tends to fall in love with running. At least, this has been the case with me. I started running for reasons of health. And now run simply because I like it. Running elates me. Maybe, I am of an age when one feels proud of whatever little one achieves in terms of fitness. I tell you, there is no such feeling as being tired & drenched in sweat after finishing a run. The reason why one is back on the road within a few days (many do it daily, but not me).

Just like a seasoned thief. Who gets a high by the act of stealing. He doesn’t do it for material gains, nor out of habit. But for the very same reason that most of us run. And escaping the clutches of sleep & getting out of bed, makes one feel like Jai & Veeru in Sholay. Had I been a thief in real life, maybe I would have stolen just for the kick it gives.

Strange thoughts, but I had these during my run this morning. I had turned from MES gate towards Tulsidham, Manjalpur. And, following the rule book, was running against the traffic. There was not much of it, though. No vehicles approaching, and the opening in the median in sight, I started crossing the road. My subconscious mind informed me that I was in Baroda & looked behind. Just in time, for there was a couple on a scooter right behind me. They were driving on the wrong side, but the lady on the pillion gave me such a look that I felt like Charles Shobhraj affecting another jailbreak.

Such thoughts never last & as I finished my run, I was feeling good (and young) again.

Before I sign off, the couple were riding a white Honda Activa (GJ6 KM 9288). If any of you know them, pls ask them to wear a helmet. And, not drive on the wrong side. And, be considerate towards pedestrians & runners. And, whatever else you feel like…