Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

The fight to erase the past

Posted: March 25, 2017 in Life

As a disclaimer, this post is an outpour of thoughts with no clear intent. It might appeal to some or maybe none, but I do hope that it gives me a little sense of relief of not letting it cook in the confines of my head.

When you’re a personality that absorbs and grows notably with new experiences, an interesting aspect can be meeting people from the different phases of your life. They all have expectations of who ‘you’ are; while all them are right, none of them are.

My recent years have been the most exploratory ones of my short life so far. My comfort zones, social circles, sexual life, philosophies… they have all grown and morphed and yet, with an undertone of sadness, they still feel like an attempt to overcompensate for a lost time.

Around 4 years ago, my colleague, Mark, asked me what I was running from. His question, although in the context of literal endurance running, seemed to be more penetrative and deeper than what it sounded.

I wake up almost every day demanding myself to be more extroverted, to act more decisive, to be assertive when needed, to push harder than what I would usually consider comfortable; to basically ‘do more’. These thoughts surface with an underlying fear that if I don’t, I will revert back to my former self. One that was content with mediocrity, one that never knew what it felt to push beyond perceived limits, mentally or physically, and feel the associated sense of accomplishments, one that was bullied and never knew a way out, one that was perpetually unfit, and worst of all, one that had all the time and resources in the world but never utilised them to better himself. An abyss of wasted opportunities that have filled me with regret.

It’s this past that I am running from.

There’s a plethora of memories from my early teens, many of them a subtle reminder of all the things I wished I was but wasn’t. The endeavour to forget them or at least see them as a buried past seems like a lost cause. They still carry with them the weight of the feelings that they first came with. Most of my words, actions, and thoughts, in some way or another, are catered towards slowly distancing myself from those memories. There lies some hope that someday these thoughts will be accompanied by indifference from me; maybe I’ll be able run far enough from my past to not be able to see it well enough anymore.

The present appears to be a swinging pendulum in a way; I strive to change myself and eventually go too far in some aspect. There is a bit of a scurry to backtrack and try again in another direction. I’m in a habit of selectively evaluating myself today in relation to me from, say, 6 months ago. It’s done in hope of being able to spot an obvious change indicating a man today that has grown since then. A man today that I can be a little prouder of being.

There is an obese, introverted, nerdy and a shy teenager in me that wants to feel like he’s not a loser, and then there’s the aggressive, angry and vengeful character that is doing what he can to help the first guy out. My end goal is to get to the stage where the pendulum can stop swinging and there is only one content guy left.

 

Often what helps a turbulent mind is to put yourself out there, vulnerable and open, which is what I’ve attempted to do here. I’m sure there are many out there in my circles who battle their own versions of such conflicts. If you’re reading this and feel tired of driving your head into a mush, know that you can always give me a shout and I would love to hear your thoughts.

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?

 

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!

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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.

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.

 

Just last night an incident occurred which left me lost in my thoughts, long after it was over. I figured I might not be the only one with such thoughts and feel it’s share-worthy.

While returning from a local grocery store, I noticed a man close to my dad’s age walking down the road that I was crossing. The road was quite a desolate one with a couple of lights illuminating a long stretch. What grabbed my attention was another man, shabbily dressed and dragging himself along the road, who was apparently hinting at needing some money from the former person. This might be a common sight in our country but the “beggar” here was 6 foot tall and did not look weak/needy at all. The elder person was evidently freaked out and decided to walk away briskly. The “beggar” followed with a determined pace. This made my heart skip a beat. Any sane person in this situation could extrapolate the chain of events and realize where it was heading. I stopped the bike and kept my eyes peeled at the duo till I could see them no more. The scene was that of an elderly gentleman in a formal attire (what I guess could be called an “easy catch” in this situation) brisk walking away from what looked like a determined stalker with malice on his mind. I stayed immobile in that lonely dark spot for 10 seconds before turning my bike around and heading towards the potential scene of disaster. I had no idea what I was going to do. My mind was blank. Zero thoughts. Zilch. Nil.

After taking the turn, it took a moment to spot the person but I was glad to see that he had managed to reach a well lit spot with people around. The follower was nowhere to be seen. Although the condition seemed to have been normalized, the adrenaline was still pumping in my blood and it was only now that I really felt the fear. If the situation had turned for the worst, would I have had the courage to step up and put myself in line to protect the victim? Or would I have just witnessed the tragedy as a passive observer, too terrified by the possibility of endangering myself? I honestly have no idea, but I wish I could have found out.

As one of the tracks by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones goes
I’m not a coward,
I’ve just never been tested
I’d like to think that if I was,
I would pass.

We hear of such incidents all the time. But I wonder how many of us could actually be strong enough to step up when needed. A man being mugged, woman being abused, weakling being beat up… would you be one of the few who’d move in to help or just another face in the crowd that looks at the show and walks away shaking his/her head? I don’t know if I would fail or pass the test, but I wish I could find out…