While I’ve been training for Ironman Sweden, the time with the folks at TEAM Tri Coaching has been amazing. But I’ll elaborate on the whole IM training thing in a final post after the event. This one is about a rite of passage that I had the opportunity to experience while 6 weeks away from race day. My coach, James, mentioned of this test called ‘The Double Paganoni’. A brick of a sort, but under specific conditions that must be met for you to claim the title.

A 200km bike ride was to be completed, followed by an hour long run, within the following restrictions:

1. The entire ordeal must be completed by 12pm of the day.
2. You may start at any point during the day as long as it is after 00:00 Hrs.
3. To participate, you must be training for a full ironman race and roughly 5-6 weeks away from your race day. This ensures that your body is fatigued from the training volume and that your muscle groups are far from “fresh”.
4. Your Garmin (or any other logging device) must log every kilometer on the bike and the run, or it didn’t happen.
5. 12pm cut-off means 12 pm cut-off!
6. No drafting or any external help with nutrition.

 

Although few of the perks of this was a free all-you-can-eat breakfast at the end and a wicked biking shirt, the biggest benefit was an intangible one: confidence to your ironman prep. I was, of course, keen as hell! The day was chalked into my plan (09 July, 2016). There wasn’t going to be any taper or any rest sessions after. This would just have to come and go as any other training session.

TP - Double Pag.jpg

The path was clarified and everything decided, but what threw a spanner in the works was the weather. Forecasts of  50kmph gusts, 90% chance rain and a slight possibility of hail. Not exactly ideal but the day was decided and there wasn’t any going back.

The Double Paganoni.jpgPaganoni weather forecast.jpg

Rod Marton, 3 time Ironman World champs qualifier and one of the co-founders of The Double Paganoni, told us that there were only 13 official qualifiers of the title before me (including my coach, JD, and the Duffield sisters!), so if I were to complete it, I would be the 14th. Loved the sound of that.

Considering the weather conditions, I decided to start off at 02:30am in the morning. Stuck to the same nutrition plan as what was being planned for my Ironman in August: alternating energy gels and vegemite sandwiches. The glorious duo of savoury-sweet goodness!

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An early 01:30am wake-up and a lot of coffee later, I was off on a cold COLD morning. Apparently, there had been thunderstorms and lightning while I blissfully slept but the early morning sure seemed much tamer. What didn’t help was my main bike light dying in the first 3 minutes (totally my fault). The headwind on the first 60km towards Paganoni road wasn’t doing me any favours either. What did help was me being layered up massively. I’m talking 2 socks, 2 tee-shirts, a biking jacket, a rain jacket, gloves and a beanie. I was still far from feeling anything resembling warmth.

The ride wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. Paced myself but felt fighting the headwind was draining me quicker than I thought. In the midst of the cold and the unexpected addition of a rain jacket, I dropped a couple of gels which I later craved quite dearly at the end of the ride. Around the second half of the ride, my mate Kieran joined me at 6am and gave me company for around 40km. This was an absolute legendary effort in my opinion, especially considering there was no reason for him to be up at that hour in those weather conditions. In his words, it “builds character” to train like you would race and not be deterred by the conditions of the day. Seriously something else! Love it.

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Despite not having all my gels and not doing too great, we were clear on not allowing any drafting or any assistance with nutrition (even water). Managed to get back with my watch beeping ‘Low Battery’ over and over during the way back, despite starting off with full charge. I was absolutely devastated when it died at 199.43km, but kept going without thinking too much about that. Used the strava app to log my 01Hr05min run and decided to worry about the ride later.

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Started raining around the end of the run, but I didn’t care. All I could think of was that I was running in time to finish around 15min before 12pm. My plan had been to finish at 11.06am but obviously the day didn’t go per plan. To be on the safer side, I ran an extra 5min and ended up at the planned cafe in maylands, to find my mates waiting for me. It was also great to see Rod present there with them all. Kieran, Dan and Siobhan gave me the warmest welcome I could imagine and truly made me feel like I had just saved the world! Love these guys, their support helps me go so much further than I would be able to otherwise.

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In hindsight, what I got most out of this was a bit of confidence in knowing that the nutrition plan works (except for the lost gels part) and also a bit of insight into how crap my legs feel after riding IM distance on the bike.

Considering the circumstances, Rod took my Garmin data to ensure that despite my watch dying, the map would be able to clarify that the remaining distance covered by me was at least 600m. Was totally stoked when he posted this a couple of days later!🙂

Official paganoni confirmation.jpg

Now with this in the bank, time to finish up the final ‘hell month’ of training before beginning taper for the big day!

Memories of an age long gone

Posted: May 8, 2016 in Life

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With my Mum and Dad visiting me in Perth for two weeks, the experience has been interesting to say the least, and far from a harmless catchup. Not only is it them venturing into a world very new to them, but it’s also me inviting them to experience every day the way I do. Something that has changed quite significantly since I left home, around 10 years ago when I was 17. I can’t speak for my folks but through these days there’s been plenty of learning for me, both with regards to myself and with regards to their thinking. But this post isn’t about any of that.

A couple of days ago, I remembered a day from my past so vividly that it could not have felt more real had it happened the day before. It was raining outside while I, 10 or 11 years old, sat quietly in the back-seat of a car with Dad driving the family to a spot well frequented by us. ‘South Ex’, as the name I remember so well, was the destination that I was quite keen to get to. There was no talk in this memory. It was an instant frozen in time with they key facets of the moment dynamic, like the falling drops, the blinking of my eyelids as I stared out the window, the sound of the tyres rolling through the water. An instant that felt way longer than it lasted.

Along the sense of tranquil was the subtle anticipation. Looking forward to the novels that made up my days then, ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Animorphs’, the new video games at the ‘Planet M’ store, the atmosphere of ‘cool music’ in the building.. they were all cogs in the kaleidoscope of excitement. There wasn’t much more to think about. I was convinced that my thoughts were the boundaries of the universe. There was never even the slightest consideration of a world that maybe existed beyond those walls of simplicity.

Coming back to now, this feeling lingered for maybe a day or two. Maybe it’s the presence of my parents, maybe it was the rains, or maybe all of the driving? Most likely to be a bit of it all coming together. It’s hard to express in words what you feel inside when this throws itself in your face unexpectedly and so aggressively. I tried explaining to Mum and Dad that I remembered such a day and they just nodded a weak acknowledgement, the way someone does when they hear words they don’t wish to encourage further. I don’t blame them, I doubt my words did justice to my introspection.

I love how a single memory can come crashing down sometimes and throw you into a distant past. I don’t particularly miss those days or even feeling that certain way. I think what got me pondering further is rather the ability to feel that way which appears to have disappeared from our lives. The possibility of being utterly and purely content in the moment you are in, with not a shred of thought about what lies beyond, doesn’t even seem like an option today. Maybe this is growing up?

 

Disclaimer: This will be a LOOOOOONG post as it was my first long (relatively) distance triathlon and I want to document my journey in details and not just snippets to refer back to. Bear with me if you’re willing to have a look at how this came to be, or if you like bears. Bears are awesome. Especially polar bears. #Roar

After failing to participate in Ironman Galveston 70.3 earlier this year, I was keen to have my first IM 70.3 race before the end of the year. With work, unexpected travel, personal commitments, I wasn’t sure how this would pan out but I’m happy that it did. Managed to register for 1.9km of swimming, 90km of biking and 21.1km of running at beautiful Mandurah (Western Australia). Considering this was a special event for me, I think it’s only fair that I push beyond my procrastination and inertia and to articulate my experience over this journey. (You’ll hear this word a LOT in this post. I’ve got a vocabulary as diverse as Daniel Craig’s expressions. Journey.)

First time at mandurah

What’s always fascinated me is how “realising” a new set of standards for normality can dramatically influence your own results without much of a conscious change. This, of course, works in both good and bad ways, but the sheer extent to which this can push you up or pull you down is just baffling to me. Through my preparation for this event, I was grateful to have people who I could bounce ideas off and share my excitement with. I cannot overstate how much of a difference having these people around made, both in terms of the physical prep and moral backing.Bike unfit memeI started this journey (Yes.) with a race target of 6 hours. Over the course of the last 3 months, I realised how much better I would have to become to achieve this and eventually lost all hope and dropped the target to 06:30 like a sad little puppy, promising myself though to be consistent with the training and not feel regret. Funnily enough, the consistency in training started paying dividends with my rides getting faster and swims more consistent. This made me think back to my original target and I figured there was no harm in keeping a strong target and giving it my hardest.

In a feeble attempt to appeal to my readers’ (all 3 of you) patience, here’s an index for how this will proceed.

I) Pre-Pre-Pre-Race
II) Pre-Pre-Race
III) Pre-Race
IV) Race
V) Post-Race

No, there wasn’t a lot of creativity put into the titles.

I) Pre-Pre-Pre-Race

After writing a chunky paragraph on my training, I’ve rubbed it all away considering I could devote pages to those details without really getting to any real conclusion. In essence, my time was mainly spent in achieving incremental gains without getting too ambitious. Consistent training over zealous bursts.

Over the weeks, my bike speed went from averaging 28km/hr over 50km to around 31km/hr, and my swim developing from practically dog-paddling to completing 200m in under 5 min consistently. I see you judging me. This might not sound like much but I am quite pleased with the feat considering I couldn’t swim 2 years ago.

FB swim post

Because if it’s on Facebook, it has to be true.

Working in the northern parts of Western Australia meant that I did not have much time at home for bike rides. So I brought my bike up to the site where I worked at, and sneaked in rides after work. The long and hot stretches turned out to be a blessing in disguise, providing consistent and slightly undulating roads that went on forever. I experimented with my water bottles, torpedo bottles, watch positions etc. to find what worked for me. Even realised how long it would take for a frozen water bottle to completely melt to ensure I had some refreshing cold water near the latter parts of my rides.

Pilbara riding

My swimming was as basic as it came. To put it simply, my strategy was to swim more. And more. And more. To the point where the thought of swimming long distances would not make me shit my pants, and get me kicked out of the pool with that one kid looking at you and shaking his head from distance. We all know that kid. Hate that kid. So yeah, basically to feel more at home in the water. Speed was never really an option for me. Not for this race at least.

A month before the race, I completed the Oxfam 50km hike with some friends. This was an amazing experience but knocked back the training by a bit since I had a fair few blisters for souvenir. I’ll spare the pictures in case you’re eating while reading this. When I did eventually get back to training, I got a bit excited and kicked up my seat post height for an aggressive riding position. This turned out disastrous with me tearing my arse apart on my first 50km ride. My wife, Shereen, and my mate, Dan, suggested I get a proper fit done instead of winging it myself. Wisdom in its purest form. The fit with Daniel Oldmeadow & Kate Luckin at StarPhysio was orgasmic in biking comfort (I know this sounds like a total endorsed mention and I wish it was, so that I could afford some new wheels. But no.). And amazingly, the increase in comfort (although at the cost of losing an aggressive riding position) helped me ride better and easier, which subsequently helped me get faster. He even repositioned the cleats on my bike shoes to help shift the load from the calves to the hamstrings. Sheer genius!

Bike Fit

Draw me like one of your French girls

Considering Mandurah has been a traditionally hot run, I worked on protecting myself against this almost certain inevitability. Hot runs to acclimatize were the go, with my first such run being a 15 km jog (crawl) in 42 degree heat in the Pilbara region. Words cannot describe my helplessness and pathetic state of affairs throughout that run. A passerby could have easily mistaken me for someone learning to walk. I ran 3 more of such runs in the final 3 weeks and could feel my body taking it better each time. I did very well notice that as the sun set and the temperature dropped, there was a sweet spot of around 35 degrees (Celsius) where my body would go “Alright we can work with this, let’s go!” and turn to a steady machine.

Being cheap, I bought a mount for my Garmin watch to fix it on the bike so I wouldn’t need a bike computer. Turns out the fit on my existing gear wasn’t great, so I resorted to some precision cutting to solve that problem. I also tried a new set of gels that wouldn’t be thick enough as to make the throat feel dry but not thin enough to be missing the needed goodness.

Precision cuttingNew gels

Then came the final fortnight where I focussed on tapering via short & quick workouts, and gaining clarity on what I would be doing at transitions.

Taper

The idea was that transition time was the one area where you were on equal grounds to any other athlete. These are free minutes and there is no reason for you to not be quick. Imagine a typical T1 of 5min and T2 of 4min. If you shave off 2 minutes from each with a bit of forethought of your actions there, that’s 4 minutes saved with almost no effort. Imagine the effort that would be needed to have a 4 minute faster half-marathon. Heaps! Transition is easy money. Practice it a few times and you’re setting yourself up to a smooth…. transition?

Transition Practice

II) Pre-Pre-Race

A week before the race, some interesting events made my life more…. interesting. (A poet with words)

  1. While dropping me off at an airport, my colleague/friend gave me a can of a chilled one. I couldn’t have it then because of the event but he insisted I keep it with me for a post-race “recovery”, which I promptly abided by.

XXXX2. My swim goggles started leaking away and nothing I did stopped the continuous seeping. A sense of loyalty to the goggles along with a tad bit of OCD made me try everything to fix it, including dipping it in boiling water and letting it cool around my face, to make the seals contract to the shape of my bones. Nope.

Boiling goggles

Accepted defeat and bought a new pair 2 days before the race.

New goggles

3. I get this awesome letter from the folks at IM Mandurah, wishing me the best for my first IM event and giving me a few pointers.First Time

4. I had rented a set of racing wheels from a reputed company over at the east. Unfortunately they never turned up. I was supposed to get them put on my bike 2 days before race and get it all serviced but none of that worked out. Apparently the shipping got stuffed up (I received the wheels 2 days after the race) for some reason. Although I had every fantasy of riding a sweet set of HED disc wheels at the rear and a mean looking deep section wheel on the front, I suppose this was a bit of a wake up call for me to stop whining for fancy accessories and just give it my best with what I had.

5. Now this might sound like some serious narcissism and rightly so, but I have to say that I felt great physically. This was my first race where I had put in the due effort and been disciplined with my diet and workouts. It’s one thing to know it and a whole another deal to feel it! I didn’t feel skinny or ripped, I just felt good and ready! It’s quite an empowering feeling when you feel the right muscles and the right parts of you are ready and raring to go.

Ready legs

Mmmmmm….. leggsss.

III) Pre-Race

To that one reader (Love you, mom!) still reading, trust me we’re getting there.

On the day before the race, Shereen and I shot off to an hour-long drive to Mandurah (from Perth) with all my battle gear in the backseat. Straight to the expo, we grabbed my race kit and had the folks ring some bells and yell out “first timer!!”. Considering how calm and neutral I felt, I was a bit confused to not see much of the expected giddy excitement from me. It was amazing to see my name and country’s flag on the BIB. I’ve only done one other race that had my name on the BIB. Makes such a huge difference to hear people call out your name, look you in the eye and sincerely encourage you to move your arse forward.

Race kit

Checked in to our gorgeous stay and then returned to the race area to listen to some pros, get some race briefings done. Checked in my bike and met up with Dan later. We decided that he would crash at the same place as us which was great fun.

Bike check-in

Bike 85

Never get white grips. NEVER.

The night was a carb-less dinner for me. I had been on a ‘low carb high fat’ regime for a while which had been working really well, so I intended to stick to the idea that my body’s fat adaptation should make any carb loading unnecessary. I had also cut out caffeine (sacrilege!!) in hopes that my caffeine based nutrition would be more effective on race day. Got back and sorted the final inventory for the race day. Threw in my electrolytes torpedo bottle and my water bottle in the freezer, along with a bottle of Gatorade and beer in the fridge for pre and post race.Race Ready

Race

The day started at 4am with me plugging in my headphones to my death-metal-go-kill-people-race-ready-playlist. Not everyone empathized with this routine but it’s what works for me. A gorgeous day for the race with us rocking up to the bike check-in and loading up our gear and setting up transition for the day ahead of us. Kieran rocked up with his gorgeous dog, Cleo, around the same time. The swim was through estuaries which looked gorgeous.

Swim Start

Swim Start

It was amazing to have Shereen, Dan & Kieran around. Nothing like any of the triathlons I had done earlier by myself. Those are fun during the race but borderline depressing before and after. This was such a different experience, I do feel I’ve been spoiled by it pretty hard.

Wetsuit On

With shereen at swim start

My age group started as the first wave and I was still pretty amazed at how calm I felt through the whole thing. Getting into the water, I felt the buoyancy provided by the wetsuit in salty water. This was going to be my first open water swim in a wetsuit so I was pretty stoked about that! 06:08 AM and off we went!

Race start

I spent the first 200m-300m trying to fix my leaking goggles. Yes, the new ones too! I think my face just generally sucks. And not literally. Literally would have worked great, but no it just sucks. New as they might have been, I reckon I should have spent more time in fitting them well to my face. Eventually I deemed it to be a lost cause and focussed on swimming steady instead of stopping every few seconds. Thankfully the leak stabilised after a point and even though I had some salty water in my eyes all the time, it never got worse. It was a pretty steady swim from there. The final 500m had me getting cramps around my hamstrings which made me wonder what lay ahead on the bike. It was only after the race that I realised I had done a 41min swim split which was some seriously good news to me! Rushed to the transition and saw Shereen and Kieran cheering me on which brough a big fat sincere smile to my face.

Transition 1

Swim – 00:41

Tried to work through my practised transition routine but I was too knackered to stay focussed. Jumped on my bike and kept telling myself that neither of my 2 laps should drop below an average of 30kmph. I had come for a sub 3 Hour bike ride and I wasn’t going back without it! Fumbled around on my bike to get my shoes on and could feel the hamstring cramp lurking around the corner. Kept it at snail’s pace for the first 2-3km and took in electrolytes and salt pills. Eventually the cramping subsided and I felt I was ready to push.

The course was pretty flat with a slight tailwind on the way out of Mandurah and a corresponding tailwind on the way back. At the end of the first lap, I could hear Shereen and Kieran around the turnaround which pumped me up a bit and I told myself that I would fight for a negative split. There were predictions that the wind would pick up at 9am which it promptly did. Damn you, accurate weather forecasts! I was halfway through the second lap when this happened so the way back was no fun. Managed to finish the bike averaging 31kmph (2Hr 53Min) which was beyond my expectations, although I didn’t really know this until after the race.

Bike - 02:53

Bike – 02:53

I crashed while trying to dismount because I didn’t quite rightly gauge the location of the dismount line and only got one foot out of the shoe in time. Hobbled into transition with a bleeding wrist and felt pretty dazed through the whole thing. As soon as I got out to run, I remember thinking “This isn’t gonna work out, my legs feel totally busted I can barely jog”. We went through the race finish area before even beginning the first lap. When one of the volunteers gave me a red band saying FIRST LAP!, I couldn’t believe that after “all that” running, I had barely started the third leg of the race. I’ll leave the details out but let’s just say that for the first 3km I didn’t think I would finish and considered quitting. There was a lot of cramping along the way, starting with the hamstrings and then to the quads. I saw Dan running back to finish the first of the 2 laps and he cheered me on. I focussed on stopping my quads from engaging and to use primarily my glutes and calf muscles. This seemed to work for a while before my calves started cramping as well. To look at the bright side, at least I know all my muscles are equally developed!

Around the 7km mark, I told myself to just keep nudging forward, one step at a time. Sub-6 dreams were out the window. This was survival. A few aid stations later I zoned in on the formula that was working for me and letting my push back the cramps by just about 2km, enough to get me to the next aid station.

i) Splash of water with a jug of water

ii) Cap full of ice

iii) Two cups of coke

iv) Two cups of water

v) Caffeinated salt pill

I did this again and again and again and again, while digging in deep and telling myself that the pain would end but my finish time would be permanent. Saw Dan on the way back and cheered him on. Saw a few more familiar faces who encouraged me on. Also saw my A-Team, Shereen and Kieran, at the end of the first lap which was awesome.

Race end

Run – 02:17

On the final stretch, I saw Shereen before the point where you make the final U-turn and run to the red carpet. Threw over my hat over to her to gear up for my killer finish pic. Hah, if only I knew what lay ahead! Right after she went away to reposition herself near the finish, my calves started giving away. The crowd around me started yelling at me by name and telling me I was almost there. I kept pushing and smiled at seeing the red carpet. Here’s where things went a tad too dramatic.

As I stepped on the carpet, the commentator starts yelling my name and me being first timer and all. I see Shereen and Dan and head over to give them a high-five before crossing the finish. One high-five in and my right calf goes away. Another step and the left calf cramps too, with the crowd going “Ooooohhh!!”. I am as crippled as I could be and to make things spicier, I can hear the host narrating about my cramps and how close I was to the finish line. With some encouraging words from Shereen and Dan, I fight to gain some hobbling momentum and the crowd starts getting loud. Seriously, I’m not making this shit up. 20m or so more and I cross the finish line before crumpling into the arms of a couple of volunteers who put a medal and a towel around me. They were super nice but I had to stop them from getting medical attendants and a wheel chair. Surely things weren’t that bad.Drama Queen


Post-Race

Finish line stretchFinisher's medal

Hung myself on the fence like a wet rag and watched my calves do these freaky movements. It’s the kind of shit you see in a James Cameron movie before an alien pops out of there. Wasn’t really interested in the finisher’s area since the 3 awesome people I wanted to meet up with were on the other side. Turns out I finished in 05:57, 3 minutes within my target! Dan had managed to clinch his 5 Hour target as well, even though he didn’t have a wetsuit or his usual pre-race spaghetti dinner. Good day for all! We chilled around for a bit before bidding our goodbyes.

The A-Team

With the race done and dusted, I have been bestowed with the amazing power of hindsight. In retrospect, it seems quite clear to me that I let my running fitness slide a fair bit during the training. The bike has always been my favourite leg of a triathlon and there’s no doubt that I love to spend more time on the bike than on my feet or in the water. That being said, I’ll be having a go at improving my running speeds in the coming few months as I feel the run in a long distance triathlon is what makes or breaks your final time.

So what’s next? Not too sure but Shereen’s signed up for a full Ironman in Sweden in August, 2016. I’m going to be there with her anyway so figured I might as well race it. Not sure I’ve thought this through but I reckon it’ll be another amazing… journey. Also, I still owe myself that sub-4 marathon I’ve never had a chance at. Plenty to work on!

Halfway through my 2nd marathon, I was convinced that my story here was not going to be one of thrilling success but rather a brutal beatdown. But it doesn’t make sense to only document the successes, since the failures gives you a fair perspective. So here’s my take on the Bunbury 3 Waters marathon, held on Apr 12 2015.

Post-run recovery

Post-run recovery

For the impatient, my time was 04:28. That’s 30min more than what I wanted. So umm…. yeah.

The first mistake was the Comrades Ultramarathon cap. I had no idea that there would be so much recognition of that race by a single sight of my cap. As a result, there were folks coming up and talking to me about Comrades and having an expectation of something worthwhile from my performance. Ahhh how I proved them all disastrously wrong…. I saw the reactions go from “Ohh you did Comrades?!” to “Did you do Comrades?” to “Guess you know someone who did Comrades?”. By the end, I was doubting that I did it myself.

marathon-start

The marathon (42.2km) was an absolute gorgeous one with a good part being run along the shore. My last marathon (almost 2 years ago) was run in 04:17 with a lot of muscle cramps along the last 5km. So I figured a target of a sub 4 run here would be an ideal balance between realism and optimism.

I had set a few groundrules for myself to make this happen, on top of the physical aspect of being able to run and all.

1. Run the first half at an average pace of around 05:30min/km even though my body would insist I should do faster.

2. Run the second half at an average  pace of around 05:40min/km even though my body would insist I should do slower.

3. Maintain a run cadence of 160bpm or more.

4. Make use of downhills wisely.

5. Salt pills at every 30min to avoid muscle cramping.

6. No music for the run. Stay conscious of the pace and how the body is going.

7. Smile more. Don’t be grumpy.

Only Rule#2 failed. But oh did it fail miserably!

marathon-1210

The first half went as per plan and I averaged a pace of 05:28, right on target! But pretty much a minute after crossing the mid-point at 01:55, my stomach started cramping up. Owing to some personal issues, my mindset before the race had been a bit of a clusterfuck anyway. So the added physical setback was a major spanner in the works. The next 9km was me desperately trying to push myself to run/walk/crawl and at the 30km mark, I finally decided call it quits. I had had enough and told myself that there was no reason for me to put myself through this absolute BS and that it made a lot more sense for me to drown my face in some good pale ale instead. That’s when Pete happened.

Just when I stopped at the 30km mark, I felt a hand on my back and this 70yr old guy come up next to me. He said “You can’t stop, stopping is way too hard.”. And he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He asked me if I had done many marathons and goes on to tell me that the 30km mark is the make or break point. I asked him if it gets any better and he honestly says that it stays just as shitty for the rest of the race. This man was my saviour. Pete was running this marathon as a celebration of his 70th birthday. You would think that not wanting to be beaten by a 70 year old would motivate me but it was really just respect for him that made me want to run more. He would absolutely not take no for an answer and insisted that I beat him at the race. Eventually I convinced him to go on ahead after promising him that I would see him at the finish line. Through the remaining race, I saw him 2 more times at turns and bends, and he made sure to call out to me and help me stay strong to my promise. I owe this finish to you, Pete.

With Pete, at the finish.

The last 10km were pure hurt. To give you an idea, I “ran” the last 10km in the same time that I ran the first 17km. So much pain and yet it was the most interesting part of the race. I ran/jogged/hopped for 3km with a man who had just lost his job a week ago. I walked another patch of distance with a South African who discussed the Comrades race with me and then about his earlier years in Cape Town. I saw some incredible volunteers stand out in the rain (yes, it started raining on the last 3km stretch but the pain was too much for me to give a flying rat’s arse) and talk to the runners to help them smile. And I ran the final 500m with all my remaining might while the wonderful people of Bunbury cheered me on by my bib number.

The race clock ticked at 04:28 when I crossed the finish line and to be fair, that’s heaps better than what I expected at the 30km mark. Regarding why my run suffered so much, I don’t really have a clear answer to that. After talking to some of the other runners, my suspicions lie with the strong headwinds on the uphill section that covered a quarter of the course. Or it could just be something simple as my lack of preparation. Nevertheless, it was a humbling experience that ended on a good note.

On a closing note, I want to add that this was my first visit to Bunbury and the vibe of the town made me fall in love with it. Or rather the people in it. I don’t know if it’s a small town thing or if it’s just my luck, but throughout the day I had wonderful people come up to me and have nice little conversations no matter where I went. It’s almost like they knew I was there alone and wanted to be of help. This was especially true on the race, even when I was doing well and looking strong. Definitely made me feel very welcome and I am grateful for that. As for the running, I write this post with aching glutes, quads and hammies. But I’m certain that as soon as I can get back to running strong, my sights will be back on to that sub 4 marathon.

I have been known to have a certain few traits that could be loosely classified by some as being compulsive. As I was thinking about this the other day (yesterday), I realised that a daily ritual of mine very clearly fell in this category. The act of marking an e-mail ‘unread’.

Now surely, many of you might consider this to be a harmless and common act. One that serves to be a rather gentle reminder of tasks that need attending. NO. If you ever have a chance to sneak a glimpse at my open Inbox, look for a mail that’s been marked unread. Do not make the rookie mistake of assuming it to be “just a mail”, for it’s a part of my soul, stripped away from my being in the harshest of ways.

There will be some who can empathize with the agony of my curse. One of my life’s few goals, along with happiness, friends & world peace, is to have an inbox with no unread mails. And this is a goal I willingly push away on a daily basis, all for the sake of those around me. I guess in a way you could perceive this as one of the highest privileges a man (and very rarely a woman) can receive from me. The gift of making the depths of my consciousness vulnerable to your words. The privilege of letting you consume a good portion of my peace.

However, there’s the darker side to it. There’s only so much a man can take; which is when the pressure and pain will make me despise you for it. So if some day you find me looking at you with nothing but wrath and disgust for no apparent reason, think back. Think back to the distant day you asked something of me in an email… and never heard back. Know that it kills me.
Every. Single. Day.

After failed attempts at reviving my drive to write, at the hands of procrastination, I had decided to shut down my blog and put away my futile attempts at appearing wise. Ironically, what kept that from happening was procrastination as well. I ran a race a couple of weeks ago, which some of my friends have been curious about. My good friend, Nitesh, suggested I write about how it is to run for upto 12 hours in one of world’s hardest ultra-marathons. Which brings me to this.

 

On June 1 2014, I ran the ‘Comrades’ Ultramarathon in South Africa. The direction of the race alternates between two destinations every year, and this year it went 89km from Pietermaritzburg to the heart of Durban. Runners over the age of 20 qualify when they are able to complete an officially recognised marathon (42.2 km) in under five hours. During the event an athlete must also reach five cut-off points in specified times to complete the race, with the final cut-off for the entire race being at the 12 hour mark.

Considering the only running events I had participated in before this were a Half Marathon (21.1km, 2012) and a Full Marathon (42.2km, 2013), I should have probably understood that my body wouldn’t take this lightly. Fortunately, my over-inflated ego kept me from realising that I hadn’t done many running events before, until my partner, Shereen, subtly mentioned it in South Africa.

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The first question is obviously ‘Why?’. The answer is different for every runner, and for me it was Shereen giving me a call one fine day and asking if I would like a challenge. The context for this was me complaining to her a few weeks earlier that a hike I did in Tasmania had not challenged me at all and left me disappointed. This was not a lack of modesty but perhaps my lack of understanding of the hike before I ventured on to it. Needless to say, the idea of running an ultra distance in what is termed as the ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ was too tempting to turn down. But honestly, what was more luring was the prospect of participating in an event with Shereen, which I had always longed to do. For those unaware, Shereen is a freaking rockstar and a two-time (so far) IronMan finisher. But that’s a discussion for another day…

 

Pre-Race

With the amount of training I had put in, my goal was only to finish. Easier said than done. We got to Durban around noon on 30th May, and checked into the Hilton. The choice of accommodation was due to its close proximity to the finish line. There’s only so far a man can limp to. Catching up with known and unknown faces happened over the next 2 days. We also used this time to gorge on food and explore the expo. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough room to have a look at the course, which might have given me a tad bit of confidence and mental prep. Oh well.. gotta do the best with what you’ve got. The expo was quite well organised and nicely set-up. Although I wish there were more booths set up for the local runners. The queues for the local folks were crazy long and it seems almost wrong for the international runners to have it so easy in comparison to them.

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The local runners’ queue at 0700Hrs, 2 hours before the expo opened on the last day

The Comrades was run for the first time in 1921, and with the exception of a break during World War II, has been run every year since. It seemed to fit well that we were running the 89km race on its 89th anniversary. Shereen was under the impression that I would be faster than her and hence, would pace her for atleast the first half. I was under the impression that we would both hold up the same and manage to keep a matching pace. Neither of us realised how horribly wrong these assumptions were.

 

Race

Nothing says Good Morning like a 90min bus ride at 3.30am on a 12 degrees morning to the start line which happens to be 5 degrees cooler. We had a quick breakfast before that, headed on to prep up for the race and I topped it all up with a training montage video from Rocky 3. Had every intention of screaming out “NO PAIN!” as well but the video was getting me enough glances from others.

Image03:30 am Bus ride to Pietermaritzburg

We got to our seeding group, a modest F, a mere 10 min before the ceremonial singing of Shosholoza, followed by the South African National Anthem, ‘The Chariots of Fire’, and finally the sound of a cock crowing and a gun shot. This marked the beginning of ‘The Ultimate Human Race’. The international runners wore a blue coloured BIB with the number of Comrades run being displayed on it. Mine obviously showed ‘0’. This, coupled with the colour of the BIB, attracted well wishes from more experienced runners which was very welcome.

 

My longest run prior to this had been a 5 hour long training run. Although I felt my body would be more than ready for the distance, what I grossly underestimated was the terrain. The entire race is one hill after another. Uphill to downhill to uphill to downhill. The Up tires you out while the Down hurts your quads. The lack of training in this environment soon became evident when I noticed that I was slowing down and struggling to keep up with my normal pace. My pacing plan had been to walk for 3 minutes after every 8 km run. The idea behind this was to give the muscles a change of movement, drop the heart rate and let the muscles relax before reaching a point where I am forced to walk. Sounds good in theory, but I knew something was wrong because I was longing for these 3 min breaks by the time I crossed the 30km mark.

 

The run goes through beautiful valleys and busy motorways. But the support of the energetic crowd seldom wavers. Kudos to the organisers for setting up the race well with regular aid stations and plenty of support crew. Around the 30km mark, I had no doubts that I was holding Shereen back a lot and suggested repeatedly that she leave me and go on. She was adamant on sticking with me despite all my attempts at making her run to her body’s strength (downhill running is her forte). We crossed the halfway point at around 5Hr27Min mark, 27 min behind the initial plan. At the 52km mark, Shereen mentioned she had to head to the restroom. I assumed she wanted me to keep going considering she would be able to catch up to me. This was the point where we lost each other and got separated for good. A blessing in disguise, since I later found out that when she couldn’t find me, she took to her own pace and finished the race in 10:50 to score the bronze medal.

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Post the 52km mark, my aim was to reach the end no matter what. I had every intention of earning my chilled post-race beer and I wasn’t going to let aching quads stop me from getting there. The crowd support was always helpful with locals giving me updates on how far I was to the next hill or aid station. I saw a man have a seizure on the side of a road and few others collapse around me. Tried to help some but the official medical teams were more than prompt to take over such situations. Also saw a few “bail buses” on the side that were ready to take any competitors who were either not fit enough to continue or had chosen to stop. I made sure I ran away from them as fast as my tired legs could carry me. As they say, “Pain is temporary. Regret is forever.”.

 

At this point, I knew one thing that could really put an end to my struggle would be muscle cramps. I was prepared with a nutrition plan and was persistent at not slacking on that front. My rough goal was to get around 100 calories in every 45min. After about 4 gels, I couldn’t stand the thought of another one so decided to substitute the source to other means like oranges and bananas that were being distributed through the aid stations. In addition, I consumed a salt pill every 90min with a regular intake of electrolytes based on how I was feeling at the time. This regiment sure helped out as I had no cramps throughout the day, and was able to stay well hydrated at all times.

At the 8.5 hour mark, my Garmin died and left me to my primal senses. That’s when I resorted to asking the crowd for regular updates on time. Matching these with the distance markers along the way gave me a rough idea of the pace I needed to get to the finish line. The moment when the markers went to single digit distances was when I knew I had only a final stretch to conquer. No turning back now! The 5km had a ginormous speaker playing ‘The Final Countdown’, which was drowned out by my screams to know the time. I realised I had 50min to the final cut-off. On any usual day, this would have been a laughable target. But today was a totally different affair.

 

I found runners lying down defeated 3km from the finish line. I wondered how it would be to be so close and yet unable to reach your long awaited goal. No way was I sticking around to find out! The last 1 km was a waddle-run that ended at the Durban Kingsmead stadium in the midst of a roaring crowd.

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I crossed the finish line at the 11:48 mark, 12 minutes before the cut-off. I found some familiar faces and inquired to see if Shereen was alright, only to find her later with the bronze medal around her neck. So proud of her phenomenal performance despite the slow-down for the first 52km. At 11 hours 58 minutes into the race, all 100,000 people in the stadium focused on the finish line. At 11 hours, 59 minutes, 45 seconds after the cock crowed, the chairman of the Comrades Marathon Association took up his position on the finish line with his back to the finishing runners, raised a pistol, and fired a shot into the air, at precisely 12 hours after the cock crowed that morning. Instantly the finish line was blocked and no medals were awarded post this point. We saw some folks crawl to the finish line, some collapse a few meters behind it and yet others barely make it. It sure was an intense moment.

ImageThe Grim Reaper

 

Post-Race

This race was a humbling experience and I’m grateful to Shereen for sticking around for a good part it and pushing me on. Around 11-12 thousand participants completed the race this year, and I am thankful to be one of them. The first pee after the race was a glorious one since it told me that my kidneys hadn’t given up on me. That’s always nice to know. I am also told that I am the youngest Indian, at the age of 25, to finish the Comrades. Nice as it is, I would love to see younger boys and girls from my country participate in international sporting events. We have enough talented folks over there to dominate any sport given enough effort.

I am told Comrades is more of an addiciton rather than a race. I have also been asked if I will be back next year. There’s that ‘Back to Back’ medal which lures me a fair bit… but the commitment to the training is not something to be taken lightly. Guess time will tell.

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I’m the less attractive one. The one pretending he isn’t in pain.

 

C&H New Yrs resolution

It’s that time of the year when every person who’s ever made shitty decisions in the last year decides to start with a “clean slate” and “do better”. I figured I might take this chance to claw my way back into the world of blogging with a list of simple yet procrastination-friendly tasks that I hope to get by in these coming 365 days of ridiculously cranked up awesomeness. So here are 11 goals from the top of my head (That’s a lie. I spent hours coming up with these.) that I’ll try to nail, and hopefully make a part of my daily life.

1) Say less of “not bad” and more of “good”
Not Bad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) No Bieber and Twilight bashing

Bieber vs Twilight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Hug one new person every month

Creep Hug Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Speak to co-passengers in flights

Flight Passengers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5) Cook (a real full-fledged meal) at least once a month

Cooking Disaster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) Save “awesome” for things that truly deserve it

Awesome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7) Drink when you want to, not when you have to

Drinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

8) Save less, travel more

Travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9) Read at least 1 book per 2 months

Reading

 

 

 

 

 

10) Complete a triathlon and live to talk about it

Triathlon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11) Publish a new blog post per 4 months

Blogging

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s my list of not-so-ambitious-yet-prone-to-failure goals for this year.
Cheers to resolving the shit out of 2013!