Thursday, June 10, 2010

Surf's Up!!

I guess it's taken me 4 months to let the experience sink in before I blog about my last marathon! Or maybe I've been sitting on my hands for so long, they're too numb to type :-) I know what it is - I needed my blogging mojo back and it took a kind comment from a Team Asha 2010 runner (who found my first race report inspiring!) to get the juices flowing again...

Anyways, here's a brief chronicle of my experience at the Surf City Marathon on Feb 7, 2010 in beautiful Huntington Beach, CA.

Given that it was only an hour away, many of us flew in on Saturday morning. Of course it was a veritable party on the plane (what with 30+ Asha runners) on it. It's amazing we didn't get kicked off the plane :-)

Anyway, we arrived in Orange County and headed straight to the hotel. Our excellent travel co-ord Sahana had continued her awesome work even during the off-season and made superb arrangements (hotel, shuttle etc.). We took the shuttle to the expo (after a quick bite to eat) and picked up our bib, T-Shirt and spent some time strolling around. The weather had been cloudy and it started to pour when we were at the expo (and the tents started leaking water). We were hoping it did not continue - else, I would be running yet another marathon in the rain (quickly cementing my reputation as the Michael Schumacher of marathon running (obscure Formula 1 reference :-)). We waited till the downpour stopped and took the shuttle back to the hotel. After a little bit of rest, we gathered for the carbo load dinner (in the hotel). Coach Raman gave us some excellent pre-pace tips and we headed up for an early night. Since my roommate Satish could not make it due to illness, I had the room all to myself (and of course my pal Mr.Philips (the TV :-))).

Woke up after a nice peaceful night and got dressed (bib, chip etc. had been ready since the previous night - signs of all the coaching from the Asha coaches over the years). Looked outside to see it was sunny and pretty warm too - great start to the day! Had a quick bite to eat and then headed downstairs to take the shuttle to the start.

Of course, it was too good to last :-) Barely had the smile set in (owing to the great weather) when the shuttle was delayed by 30 minutes. We eventually (after much stressing out) reached the start about 15 minutes before the full marathon start! (the folks running the half were pretty relaxed as their start was later). Tried to get a porta potty stop in but ran out of time. Got to the start and was ready to go!

The good thing with Spring marathons is that I have no time goals (ergo, no pressure). I had decided to keep a good pace in the beginning and see where I ended up. The gun went off, and there we went! The course was pretty scenic with some great ocean views. I was keeping a consistent 8:50 - 9 min pace and was chugging along pretty merrily. At around Mile 6-7 a blur whizzed past and I realized it was Coach Raman - he was going great guns!

Reached the halfway point in around 1:57 and was debating what I should do for the 2nd half. Got to mile 14 and saw a guy hunched over on the side. Stopped to ask him if he was feeling ok and needed medical assistance. He replied that he was from Wisconsin and was running his first marathon and had gone out too fast (1:54 for the 1st half!). He was out of gas and wanted to quit. I talked him into trying to shuffle along. So we started doing the Surf City shuffle (at 11-12 mins a mile). A stop for some electrolytes, Gu, and other replenishment seemed to rejuvenate him and we kept going along. I kept talking to him and egging him along as we passed miles 18,20, and finally 24. By now, it was getting pretty hot and the sun was beating down.We passed mile 24 and he said he would walk the rest of the way and asked me to go along. I offered to stick around but he said he would be fine.

So, I took off at mile 24 or so. After a little bit, I passed Coach Raman who was walking. I stopped to ask him if he was ok and he said he had tweaked his knee and was playing it safe. I also passed Mona going in the other direction (it was an out and back section of the course) - she looked ok but had slowed down (a bad stomach as I found out later). Passed miles 25 and saw that if I put in a good last mile, I could still break 10 mins/mile for the race (hey - need to adjust goals right?!). So, picked up the pace and crossed the finish line in 4:21!

Picked up my medal (shaped like a mini-surfboard - NICE) and waited at the finish to ensure my new buddy Stevo finished! Was really glad to see him walk across the line about 20 minutes or so later. Had also seen Coach Raman finish in the meanwhile and that was a relief. Went to pick up the post-race goodies and then waited for the rest to show up.

Got the gang together (well most of it) - several half marathoners had set PRs - awesome work folks! Went to wait for the shuttle back to the hotel. There was quite a crowd and it was a while before we got a bus ride back.

On arriving at the hotel, took a quick shower and immediately headed out to a restaurant for a quick lunch. Then rushed back to take the shuttle back to the airport as we had an early evening flight back.

All in all, it was a great experience. This race was probably the most fulfilling race I have run - helping another runner finish (especially his first) was extremely gratifying and I was even more thrilled that when I set my PR.

And to top it off, I was now 2/3rds of the way to the California Dreaming Medal and Jacket (run and finish SF, Long Beach, Surf City). Saw Coach Raman pick it up his and I must say, it looked pretty spiffy! Definitely a good race with a nice pretty course, great weather (thankfully), and a good cheerful crowd (lots of surfer dudes and dudettes too!).

As they say in LA - 'Dude - Surf's Up!!!'

Friday, October 30, 2009

Twin Cities Marathon - an odyssey!


Training done as best I could
Eagerly awaiting race day
Tapered loaded up with food
Trying to keep the flab at bay J

Friday – Oct 2nd, 2009

Come Oct 2nd, time to leave
Goodbyes to the family
Rushed to airport after appointment
Long security line – now, really!

Discovered flight delay, sigh of relief
Ran into some familiar faces
Warmed up for what lay ahead
TSA agents putting us through our paces!

Reached the food court, got a table
Hours to kill – sipping gatorade
Bad weather in Minneapolis
Hope it won’t rain on our parade!!

Uneventful flight, four hours late
Would we be in time for dinner?
No food for us Economy class peons
But first class – now there you’re a winner!

Rounded up the crowd, Patel shots
Time to get on the local train
Several stops later, time to get off
Trying to stay out of the rain!

Skyway to hotel, elevator up,
Thanks Sahana – really nice digs
Settled into suite, quick change
Down to get some dinner quick!

Burger and Fries, Lemonade
Nice conversation, long day
Good nights exchanged, head up
Exhausted, time to hit the hay

Saturday – Oct 3rd, 2009

Group breakfast starting early
Need 2 hours – says Coach Raman!
Cooked to order, lavish spread
And here we thought we’d be eating Ramen!!

Shuttle arrives on the dot
We get in and we’re on our way
Get to the expo, disembark
We’ve got 2 hours for work and play!

Pick up bib and chip quickly
Walk around the different stores
Lots of overpriced stuff on sale
Don’t really need anything more!

Done with the expo, back to base
Major debate on where to lunch
Some folks want Thai, others Indian
Oh my – what a rowdy bunch!

Join the group wanting Indian
Get there – now it’s the North/South debate
No greasy spicy food says one
So Dosas it is – two to a plate J

Post-lunch plans – nothing much
Why not a movie and rest our feet
Discussion on choices now ensues
As we walk to the theater down the street

$5 for a movie – holy cow
Boy is Cali expensive
Inglourious Basterds is the choice
Hope the gals don’t find it offensive!

2.5 hours of fun and mayhem
Enjoyed a satisfying flick
Oops we need to get to the carbo-load dinner
Let’s hightail it –come on quick!

Run/Walk back to the hotel
The folks there are ready to begin
Coaches Tony and Raman giving out tips
And then we all start digging in!

The banter and chatting comes to an end
The crowd disperses for an early night
Each and every mind wondering
What’s going to happen come daylight!

Back to room, bib on shirt
Chip on shoe, get everything done
Time to hit the sack early
And wake up for the all-important run!

Sunday – Oct 4th, 2009

8 am start – great idea
Extra couple of hours of zzzs
Hotel close to start – awesome choice
Three cheers for Sahana if you please!

Get out of bed, ready real quick
Down in the lobby at 7 o’clock
The entire group is ready to go
And we walk briskly the couple of blocks

Temps in the 40s, light wind
Good conditions, should be fun
Humidity at 85% though
Hydrate hydrate – we tell everyone!

Get in the port-a-potty line
Long line and not time enough
10 minutes to go – no luck
Rush to find 3:50 pacer – yikes it’s tough!

Line up near the 4:30 group
Speeches, anthem, there’s the gun
Crowd sets off, trampling feet
Right – now let’s go out and have some fun!

People start out like they’re shot from cannons
Lots of happy faces and smiles!
Words from the coaches echo in my ears
Start slow, remember, it’s 26.2 miles!

Weave around traffic, 8:50 pace
Keep that for miles one through four
Running through streets, lots of crowd
And thankfully, no downpour!

Reach the lakes, still keeping pace
Body warmed up, feet going well
Build up a nice rhythm through mile 10
You’re almost there the crowd does yell!

No, I’m not I think to myself
Only 16 more miles to go
They’re just showing trying to show support
And mean well – I know, I know!

Mile 13 surpassed, Halfway there!
The clock shows 1 hr and 54
Lots of beauty on the course
Makes me want to go for more

Mile 16 goes by, pounding on
Oops what’s that twinge I feel
Right hamstring or God forbid
The ITB that can make one kneel!

Strong pain signals sent
And received by the brain loud and clear
You need to back off the pace
And By the Way, no PR my dear J

A little dismayed, no PR
But it seems like an easy choice
Keep pushing and pull up lame
Or finish – says the little voice!

Decision made, I soldier on
Miles going by, Gu being taken
The lakes, rivers, all the beauty
The crowd, but it feels so God forsaken!

Mile 20 goes by, and I suddenly wake up
Hey what’s with all this despair
Focus on the goal, remember the cause
You’re well trained and it will get you there!

Chocolate Gu with caffeine
Just the right adrenaline shot
Pace is slow but the spirit is strong
A Team Asha member quit – most certainly NOT!!!

Miles 23,24 go by in a blur
Running through the tree-lined street
Hey – they said this course was flat
What’s with all the hill repeats J

Mile 25 passed, 1.2 to go
Can hear the crowd roar, thank you all
Keep hydrating I tell myself
I seem to have crashed through most of the wall!

Cross mile 26, 0.2 left
Time for an all-out burst
Pick up the pace as much as I can
Thanks to tracks – they really aren’t the worst J

Cross the finish line, head held high
Hands in the air, smile on face
Another thing drilled into us by the coaches
Finish strong and smiling at the end of the race.

4:05 says the clock,
Not too bad, only 8 mins off
Given that 10 miles were on one leg
I can’t thank my stars enough!

Get medal and refreshments
Wander around looking for the Asha tent
Kind of hard to find and it’s getting cold
Windy to boot – and I’m a little spent.

Find the Asha folks, grab some goodies
Samosas, Pakoras, and assorted treats
Thanks Asha Minneapolis folks
Much appreciated – to celebrate our feat

Wait for others to come in
All Team Asha runners do us proud!
Strong finishes, smiling faces
Make us stand out in the crowd!

Bus back to hotel, walk back up
Shower, rest, then meet in the bar
Drinks are consumed, stories shared
Boy so many of us have come so far.

Evening celebration, Indian food
Awesome spread, lots to eat
More stories of valor and courage,
First-timers especially, what a tremendous feat!

Head back to base, time to rest
Early morning flight to catch
Tired, Aching, but elated
A sensation that cannot be matched!

Monday – Oct 6th, 2009

Flight back home, smooth enough
Just real early in the day
Land in San Jose, say goodbye
Team Asha has triumphed come what may

Upon further reflection and introspection
As we drive home sitting in the car
For an out-of-shaper who started from 0
6 marathons done – how did I get so far?

For this, I owe a debt of gratitude
To my extended family
Coaches, Co-ords and volunteers
Team Asha helps each of us create our own history!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Napa marathon Expo and other fun stuff!

Well, the big day was almost here. Satish, Mona, Senthil, and myself (henceforth referred to as the 'Gang') had planned to leave around 12:30 p.m. so we could get to the expo by 2 p.m. in order to score the really nice duffel bags (which usually ran out and would cause one to settle for the backpack - blech...). Senthil drove over to Satish's place and they then swung by to pick me up. We then drove over to Mona's place and after a brief intro to Mona's husband, kids, and dog, we set out on the drive to Napa. I had printed out clear directions and maps but Satish decided to pull out the secret weapon - 'Chechi'!! (means elder sister in Malayalam) - his trusted Crackberry :-) (so named because of the woman's voice which announces the GPS directions!!).

The weather was nice and we were fervently wishing for similar weather the next morning for the race (though the forecast called for showers pretty much throughout the day Sunday).

After an uneventful trip with minimal traffic, we arrive at the Marriott in downtown Napa where the Expo was being held. We parked the car and headed into the hotel. We then walked to the ballroom and headed over to the bib pick-up area. The area was kind of a mess even though they had clear signs listing the starting letter of your last name (A-F, G-L etc.). The problem was that there wasn't enough space for multiple lines and people got in the back assuming there was only one line. Anyhoo, Satish and I stood in the M-R line and of course, that turned out to be the longest line (I guess lots of last names in that range!) After picking up our bibs (with attached D-tag), we walked over to get the T-Shirt (light blue and pretty nice) and most importantly, the duffel bag. We then walked around the expo and Satish suggested I pick up a rain poncho (which I duly did). Mona (who had wanted to stop by the Outlet Mall but had been overruled!) saw her chance to do some shopping and was browsing the skirts on display (and eventually ended up buying one). After a quick walk around the various stalls (not a huge expo by any means), we decided to head out and get some coffee.

It was only just past 3 p.m. and we still had the whole evening ahead. After debating on what to do next, we decided to go catch a movie (and stay off our feet). After consulting Chechi, we decided to go to a movie theater in downtown Napa. We arrived there and after looking at showtimes decided to watch 'Milk' (that won Sean Penn a best actor Oscar!). Left to herself, Mona would probably have watched 'He's Just Not That into You', but luckily, we outnumbered her 3 to 1 :-)

Since we had a little while before the show started, we headed out to find a coffee place. After walking a couple of blocks, Mona sighted a Cupcake place - woohoo - guilt-free carbo loading glee ensued! We then picked up coffee next door and decided to eat and drink by the river.

Sufficiently recharged, we headed back to the theater where we picked up a large tub of popcorn (more guilt-free snacking!) and settled down to watch the movie. It was decent though more of a docu-drama chronicling the life and times of Harvey Milk (though Sean Penn did give a bravura performance). We then walked around looking for a place to eat. We saw a couple of Italian places but they were packed with 'pasta-loading' runners. After some walking and driving around, we finally settled on a Chinese restaurant (hey - rice contains Carbs too :-)). After some springrolls and fried rice, we headed back to the motel. Satish and I were roomies - we both pinned the bibs on our race shirts and attached the D-tag to the shoes. After watching Bill Maher for some time (quite hilarious), I called it a night after setting the alarm for 3:45 am (to get ready and get to the finish line/school before 5 am for the shuttles to the start in Calistoga).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Napa + Taper = Naper?!

After the Kaiser half, discovered that somehow I had strained my right calf. So, took a few days off with the good ol' RICE therapy and decided to test it out on the following Saturday. We met at Los Gatos and did an 18 miler without too much trouble (at 10 min pace). There - the last long run out of the way.

The following 2 weeks had rain playing havoc with our running plans (though God knows we do need the rain in the Bay Area to alleviate the drought like conditions). Had to make do with a 9 mile run on the treadmill (instead of 13) - running on treadmill is really boring after running outside!

Followed that up with a 6x800 track session in pouring rain (at 3:40-3:45 per 800); wanted to do the Yasso (10x800 with jog) but again rain had the last laugh. Coach Raman proposed an interesting workout for the 6 miler on Feb 21 - 1 mile at 8:55 pace, 1 mile at 8:45, 1 mile at 8:35, 1 mile of sprints (run at 5K pace for 1 min folllowed by 1 min jog) followed by a 1 mile cool down.
Something about engaging the fast twitch fibers!!

Had a track session on Tuesday (4x400 at goal pace - 2:10 per 400) and a short easy run on Friday.

Plan to head out to Napa with the gang - Satish, Mona, and Senthil on Saturday afternoon to get to the expo/bib pick up. The weather forecast calls for rain on Sunday; I guess the rain has decided to follow me since Portland. Well, I hope that at least we don't have the hail and 40 mile headwinds that they had in 2001!

No major time goals as such; a new PR would be nice but it really depends on the weather. Supposed to be a fairly easy course - let's see what Sunday brings!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kaiser Half Marathon - Feb 1, 2009

I had fond memories of the Kaiser half. This was the race where I broke the 2 hour barrier in 2008 and had decided to use it as a checkpoint/pace run with a month to go for Napa. I was also experimenting with a different taper strategy this time. I had run a 24 miler on Jan 24th (5 weeks to Napa), and would do 13.1 at Kaiser on Feb 1. This would be followed by a 18 miler on Feb 7th and then 13 and 6.

I had decided not to run Kaiser too hard (i.e. go for a PR) but instead run a consistent pace at marathon goal pace. Ram from the Rancho Rockers was also running this race (after his on-off hibernation in the winter). So, the three of us (Ram, Shyamala his wife, and me) left around 6 am to get to the start.

After a fairly uneventful ride up, we arrived at Great Highway (having decided to park near the finish line). We took the shuttle bus to the start and arrived around 7:15 or so (start was at 8 am). Ran into some other Asha runners there including Coach Tony who gave us a quick pep talk. It was pretty chilly and I had decided to keep 2 layers on and also thankfully had my gloves. We did a short warm up run and some quick stretching. Then we moved towards the start and I lined up between the 8 min/mile and 9 min/mile groups. After the national anthem, the gun sounded and we were off.

This was my first race with the Garmin 305 and I had set it on auto-lap every 1 mile (and also to show current, last lap, and average lap pace). I tried my best to rein in the adrenaline and kept to a 8:30 pace the first few miles. It took a while to get warmed up so I made sure I did not run too fast. After a few miles, Rajeev and Raj passed me and were looking strong (and turns out had really good runs). We went around the Golden Gate park and looped back to the start. Legs felt ok but a little tired.

We crossed the start area again around mile 6 or so and then ran towards the Great highway (which we reached around mile 7/8). I was still keeping an 8:35ish pace overall. We reached the Great Highway and I remembered last year's race where the rain and wind played havoc. Thankfully, this year had sunny skies and it was warming up nicely. I was making sure I took electrolytes at most water stops but I could feel myself starting to tire a bit. The 24 miler the previous weekend (Jan 24) had taken a toll, and I decided to pull back to around a 8:40-8:45 pace.

Reached the turnaround point on the Great Highway and headed back - 3 miles or so to go. The one thing I had noticed consistently was that the Garmin was off by around 0.1-0.2 miles by now (10.2 instead of 10 at the 10 mile marker). I kept plugging along, passing some people, and being passed by others :-) Finally passed mile 12 and tried to pick up the pace a bit. I was still averaging around 8:38 or so per mile.

We turned onto Fulton and up the small hill and finally within sight of the finish. Picked up the pace to around 7:30 and went past the finish line in 1:53:02 (PR was 1:51:30). The Garmin showed 13.32 miles! (off by 0.22 miles!). Turns out that several other people observed the same thing. So, this was either a mass co-ordinated Garmin malfunction, or the race organizers messing up!

Anyhoo, kept walking to the food area and picked up some Cliff Bars and water. Met up with Rajeev, Raj and others and chatted for a bit. Waited for Ram to finish and he did so in a new personal best! Picked up our sweat bags and walked back towards the parking area where Shyamala was waitng patiently - many thanks to her!

All in all, a good race and met my goal of treating this as a fast long run. The T-shirt this year was black (better than last year), but I guess the medal fell victim to the recession (no medal this year!).

Que Sera Sera (AKA the CIM relay)

Having skipped the CIM relay in 2007 due to the birth of our son (now that would have been quite a scene - me running CIM when my wife went into labor; would have led to my permanent banishment to the garage :-)), I thought I would run it this year. Adding to the motivation was my dad and brother visiting us during that time. Since my dad had never seen me run a race before, I thought it would be good idea. So, I decided to team up with Navneet and run the relay as a 2 person race (half-marathon each).

We left for Sacramento on Saturday morning with Vikranth and Ram (who had kindly offered us a ride). It was a fun trip though Ram was feeling a little under the weather (no doubt due to a Friday night party and subsequent lack of sleep). We reached the expo, picked up our stuff, and were then met there by my brother (who had arrived earlier to visit some of his wife's relatives). My dad and I went along with my brother having made plans to meet the others for dinner that night. Only Ram and Vikranth showed up and my dad and I had dinner with them at an Indian restaurant. I then chatted with Navneet and made plans to pass the chip on to him through Ram (since Navneet was running the first 2 legs and I would run the last 2).

The next morning dawned bright and clear - little did I know what was in store :-) We had arranged to have my brother pick us up at 7 am and drive us to the halfway exchange point. As we got closer, we discovered that they had shut down all of the streets leading to the exchange point. As we drove around in circles (aided by a dysfunctional GPS system that kept telling us to take the same route back again and again), my blood pressure started to rise significantly. Some frantic phone conversations ensued with Kanaka (Navneet's wife), and she mentioned he was getting closer to the exchange point.

After driving around and taking the freeway and getting off a couple of exits later, I decided enough was enough. Navneet had already reached the halfway point. I got off and told my dad and brother to wait at the finish. I asked around and discovered (much to my chagrin) that I was at the 18 mile marker!!! So, I decided to start running against the flow of runner traffic back to the 13 mile marker. Of course, this meant that I undertook some good natured ribbing from the other runners - 'Dude, you're going the wrong way!!', and 'Hey Man - lost your bearings' etc. etc.
I had my cell phone with me and was in constant conversation with Navneet. Finally managed to meet and get a hold of the timing chip. Stopped for a second to put it on - by now, we had lost over 40 minutes and I was pretty steamed. Navneet had run his 13.1 in just under 2 hours and this fiasco had cost us.

I took out my frustration on the pavement - I ran as hard as I could. Shortly after I started, I saw that I had caught up with the 5 hour pace group. I kept pounding the turf into submission and passed wave after wave of runners. The 4:50 pace group, 4:40, then 4:30. I was tiring a little but I kept going (fueled mostly by frustration at this point :-)). I finally rounded the bend and crossed the finish line in 4 hrs 25 mins and change. This meant I had run my 13 miles in 1 hr 45 mins or so (not counting the 5 miles that I ran in the other direction :-)). I looked around for my dad and brother and finally found them a bit further along with the crowd. If not for the delays, we would have finished in around 3:45!

Anyway, a lesson learned the hard way. Next time, I plan to stay in Sacramento (we stayed in Folsom near the start this time) as they have shuttles from Sacramento to the relay interchange points and the start. We had a nice lunch and then headed back that evening.

All in all a fun race - just need to be more aware of road closures next time. It turns out that most of the other Asha teams also had similar problems....

Hibernation is for Bears!

Well another off-season after Team Asha disbands and everyone goes into hibernation mode!

After Portland, I had some hamstring issues and had to lay low for a few weeks. The smart thing I did was to make a trip to SMI for some massage sessions with Greg. Now Greg had this reputation for making grown men scream like little girls (not that there's anything wrong with that :-)) and I went in full of trepidation. He didn't look all that intimidating as a person and I thought things would go fine! And then I took a look at those hands and that giant thumb on one of them. The violins from the Psycho theme song started playing in my head as I got onto the massage table.

After a gruelling 1 hour session (where I am proud to say that through a combination of gritting, gnashing, and finally biting into towels, I did not scream like a little girl!), I was glad to note that I wa still able to get off the table. And being the glutton for punishment that I am, I actually went back for a couple more sessions. At the end of it all, voila - no hamstring issues any more!

Anyhoo - as the title of this post says, Hibernation is for Bears! I don't like the idea of training for 6 months and then losing all the fitness gained by hibernting through the winter. So, I resumed training at Rancho with a band of die-hard merrymen (and women) led by Coach Raman. And of course, given that it's good to set some goals to carry one through the cold months of winter, I decided to run the CIM relay and then the Napa marathon on March 1st.