Sunday, March 23, 2008

23, March, 2008, 0530 Hrs. ECR, Chennai. Pain. Incredible pain. Its dark and its raining.

Pounding the asphalt. My legs feel like stumps of pain wrapped in cloth and canvass designed by Reebok. Passed a few people who were torturing themselves. My iPod wasn’t doing much to dull the pain. The playlist was more than a year old and I can sing the playlist without the Pod being on. Motivation was not at what you would call "at a peak". And it was only 15 minutes into the run. Oh God, another 2 hours of this!

Its Friday morning and I am feeling peppy. Haven't slept too long. Up late fooling around with my new toy - Microsoft OneNote. Incredible piece of software, a story of its own. I had been training for the Bangalore Midnight Marathon where I decided I would do the 21k. But I recently found out that it was moved to September. What a bummer.

I fixed up with my neighbor for a game of Squash at the Madras Cricket Club - and I was going to beat him. I was feeling pretty strong. The first game went 9-0 in his favor. Then an interesting pattern started to develop. Every game after that - for about 8 more - the score stayed more or less the same. The Great Sandy was getting wasted at every turn. No amount of jumping or stretching made a difference. To the game at least. Having not played for 6 months, I realized what age can do to a man who is foolish enough to return to a game and think he can beat a guy who is in top shape and fine form.

At end of about an hour and a half, I had been brutalized to the point of numbness. I reached home that morning after breakfast - fortunately it was a holiday - and rested. Thinking of Sunday. Recalibrating my endurance clock hoping to align my mind to the upcoming ECR #6.

I think I left my clock at the court. My shins turned sore a day later.

0600 Hrs. The Pain is a dull throb. Cant feel my feet or ankles. Dodging puddles, lorries and call-taxis.

Shuffling along, I reached a runner from Muscat who came to Chennai to endure this ordeal with 30 other masochists. There is some feeling in my legs now. Keeping company, chatting, getting to know him. My iPod is off and my mind is occupied with something other than pain. There is a little light but the puddles on the road still make for treacherous running. The traffic is picking up steadily. Two water points have passed. The volunteers are so dedicated.

Something about the human psychology that says that suffering in a group is better than suffering alone. This is found to be true across cultures. There is an age-old saying in that ancient language Tamil.

"Gumbal-oda Govinda"

A powerful invocation to the great God Vishnu, where sufferers claim kinship with each other and the lord.

Chennai Runners is one such motley crowd that believes in group suffering. Running every other day almost across different parts of the city - mostly CP Ramaswamy road or Marina and thereabouts. When you run 20 k you can cover many neighborhoods.

Ram is a Chartered Accountant whose brother Hari runs here in Chennai and is a part of Chennai Runners. Ram was one of the first few people who ran together before the group called itself Chennai Runners. He works for a Waste Treatment plant in Muscat and is in charge of integrating several of their disparate IT systems. It took me all of 15 minutes or so to get to know one more person.

~ 0630 hrs. I'm overcome by a lightness of feet and its working on my mind. Images of Robert Cheruiyot, Steve Prefontaine, Paul Tergat and Haile Gebraselassie flash past me.

Just turned back at the 10K point. The pain in my shins is gone. At least for now I cant feel it. "Harder to breathe" by Maroon 5 is bursting out of my iPod. Oh so appropriate. Adrenaline coursing through my body, I feel like a champ. I finally start to run. The strides come easy, as a breeze hits my face. The weather's perfect. Post rain, there is a sparkle in the air. The day has been washed and polished with the tenderness of a person polishing his new car. Shiny. Slick. And crisp.

Maroon 5 are belting out a racy beat and Im keeping time with my feet. My right sock is soaked, but I can feel nothing more than a dampness. There are a few runners ahead of me. Soldiering on, sweating. Honest sweat has no smell they say. There was no dearth of honesty here.

I've shifted to a higher gear. Moving like the wind. Breathing in the ozone. My right foot is my only connection to reality. But I do need an anchor and there seems to be an endless reserve of energy somewhere. A new fuel source has been tapped and plugged into. And it's high octane.

I am catching up with some of the runners in front, passing one or two.

Its been about two weeks since Shumit got me to meet Karthik at his place in Ayanavaram to go running around that area. After hearing that the Bangalore half was postponed to September, I was really not motivated to get up early. Shumit however wanted to get out of a funk. So he insisted that we run on the Tuesday before the upcoming ECR #6. Reluctantly I dragged my self out of bed to find a message from Shumit that he wouldn’t be running because he got into bed with some mosquitoes the previous evening.

Karthik and I hit the road at about 0600 hrs. I did a 4-mile tempo.

The tempo run is primarily a work out to build speed endurance. It trains the body to accept a high degree of stress for a long period of time. I hit my comfortably hard pace after the first mile. Maintained an 8 minute mile for the next 4 and finished with a 3 km slow jog/walk combo.

I've been using a Runner's World routine to train for the Bangalore midnight. I have adapted it to my style and pace. Incredible source of training info. I've realized that tempo runs and intervals runs are what make the difference between running well and just running. Tempo runs build your liver's capacity to store glycogen for those bursts of speed that you need while racing. Think of turbo chargers in cars.

~0700 Getting close to the finish. I can feel God in my right foot.

The sock is soaked and so is my shoe. Feels like lead. My heart and lungs are performing at well below their capacity. Screaming for speed. My legs are woefully over worked and fight back with a ferocity I haven't seen in a while. I want to break out and run. Darth Vader's theme from the OST of Star Wars is bellowing into my ears.

Did Darth Vader change his mask as he aged?

"Rebel ships are attacking the right lower periphery of the empire, my Lord".

"FOOL", the metallic voice of darkness booms. The inconsequential slave of the empire crumbles to his death as Lord Vader crushes his wind pipe with the Force. A flick of the dark lord's hand and a squadron of TIE fighters leaves the Imperial bays to attend to the skirmish at the right lower periphery. The stars are cold and silent as the fighters scream to the battle zone. There are many stars. I can see them.

A large out of control Imperial freighter with the ominous markings of "Chennai - Pondy ECR Express" almost sideswipes Darth Vader's Imperial destroyer and brings me back to earth.

Gautham is in front of me and there is no end in sight. Is it past the next bend? Why don’t they have a sign? I see a check post. Is this the last check post before the finish? Not sure. There is a bend after the check post. Traffic is more and also faster. There is more light.

13 miles is not a lot but it can be enough. It calls for training that is specific, consistent and scientific. And there are no short cuts. I had greatly underestimated my opponent in the Squash court and over estimated my ability to recover.

Though the whole concept of the half marathon has been given its fair share of respect. I severely cut back on alcohol and am reaping other benefits. I feel more energetic during the week. Certainly a lot lighter and I believe I have lost some weight too. The grounds in the MCC are shut because of the India - South africa match scheduled for the end of the month. So I had to hit the road to run.

The runs have begun to grow on me again. After last year's focus on sprinting, going back to long distances is a pleasant change. Its just such a pity that Chennai does not have too many good running routes. The ECR Runs of Chennai Runners are becoming quite popular and are getting more organized each time. We start at MGM run out 2.5, 5, 10, or 15km and turn back to MGM for a great south Indian breakfast, chat and relive the experience. It’s a great community.

0730 I have reached the check post and crossed the bend. I can see the sign - "MGM beach Resort" it says. It looks like "You've done it!". But I wasn't seeing clearly. The rebel alliance has been defeated and Lord Vader's imperial forces have driven the rebels back. The battle has ended but the damage is heavy. I decide to take stock and walk to the entrance of MGM. As I walk I feel an upsurge. Steve Prefontaine hitting the 3 miler tape in Oregon. Racing like the wind. The crowd is going wild cheering him. He is sprinting to beat not just the competition but the greatest adversary of man - Himself.

Steve's Soul entered my body. I am Steve. The finish line is merely 450 yards away. There is high octane fuel in the tank. The right foot is sore - but still kicking and boy is it kicking. I can hear the crowd go wild. The Oregon crowd strains the barriers set up along the MGM driveway, cheering for their hero Steve. I get into my kick. "STEVE, STEVE!" the crowd chants. The strides get longer and faster. Firm and powerful. Wind in my face, the sun in my eyes. There is the subtle shift of weight from mid-foot to ball of the foot as I gently lean into the sprint. My right foot screams but holds. The rush is too good to pass up. There is the crisp whip crack of minimal foot contact on the tarmac. Like running on hot coals. Fast feet. Im floating. My heart and lungs are working, pulling oxygen and glycogen in equal bursts. The machine is whipping out horse power driving me ahead. The crowd is going wild.

I burst into the parking lot and hit the finish point exhilarated. Goose bumps on my face as the cheers slowly die out and the crowd disappears. I see my wife and friends waiting. Hari is clapping. Was he in Oregon sometime? I jog slowly for a couple of minutes and catch my breath. As the rush slowly drains out, I feel a high coming over.

"Many runners have had the opportunity to experience a state of euphoria while running. While the actual state that they feel varies immensely for each individual there is a common feeling associated with the term "runner's high". When a person is asked about runner's high they typically will say that it a pleasant state that a runner might experience after a certain distance. This in fact may not be true for only runners though. Skiers, surfers, football players and wrestlers all have "highs" or moments when they feel they are working to their maximum potential and feeling on top of the world. Runner's are not the only types of athletes that experience intense emotional feelings." - someone called Sarah Willet in Lehigh University

Date: 23, March 2008
Run: ECR Run #6
Distance: 20km
Route: MGM Beach resort - 10 km towards Mahabs, turn back and return to MGM.
Environmental Conditions: Rainy in bits, mostly cool. Bad road conditions. Excellent atmosphere.
Time: 2 hrs, 20 min
Classification: Comfortable.

Until next time.


George said...

Hey Sandy... NICE report... squash, StarWars, training, and THE run... good mix.

Congrats on finishing strong... yes.. I think there is no short cuts to finishing strong too.

best regards,

RVR said...

I fully agree with George. Running is spiced up well. Nicely done.
I miss the run.

Ravi said...

Wow Sandy ! Well written ! and Well done in the run. You are doing great. Just to get up and run on a rainy day with shin pain is greatly laudable.

I have given up alcohol and now run on the treadmill in the YMCA near my home. Will hit the road when weather gets warmer in NY.

Good post. I enjoyed reading it.

Sandy - Rat Race Runner said...

George, Mr. Ramani,

Thank you. It was one of my best runs in terms of atmosphere. Not so good in terms of the first 40 minutes when I thought I had shin splints or something.

George - great running.

Ravi - thanks. how are you? When are you coming to India next? (Dont give up alcohol buddy, its good for the heart....or so the drinkers say!)

Balu said...

Hi Sandy,

Just saw your comment at Shumit's blog.

Well I'm 26 and started to run just an year back..... and ever since I've been running daily... started blogging recently as well. Link here:

Nice to read your blog especially with Star Wars twist and the idea about "pain in a group".

Happy running,