Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park - July 2014

Star and Stripes cake on 4th July
Lassen Volcanic National Park and Redding – This was a shorter road trip compare to couple of years ago, when we did it. Prem is having good time this summer vacation, with lot of play dates, primarily with Rahul. Part of playdates, they would do Math Olympiad questions and some very basic Android app development. However, as per Prem, vacations are not really vacation till we go out some place and stay in hotel, eat yummy (read - bad) food. Both the kids studied and played well together; so it was great, when we decided for this vacation together last minute.

Since I knew the area and attraction points, we did not rush (much). Both the kids were excited and looking forward to hike to center of volcano in Bumpass Hell hike. The hike took them over to mud pots, Sulfur geysers. Our next stop was Lassen Peak. This year, there was lot less snow at top. This is probably the most fun time kids have, throwing snow at each other. Promila running around, in the parking lot, to dodge the snowballs, made few more cars to stop over there, and look at the spectacle. Throwing snow in shorts and sandals, 90 degree weather; made us forget how tired we were.

4 hour drive, Bumpass Hell Hike and snow play and no real lunch behind, lot of us were hungry. After finishing up most of the snacks while doing North Summit Lake hike, we went to the store near Manzanita lake. It had pizza, fresh fruits, ice creams which refueled us for next couple of hours. We headed to Redding and everybody was tired to get out for real dinner. Luckily for us, on walking distance there was Chinese restaurant, which customized the dishes to our liking; and everybody loved the freshly cooked food. Even though we barely ate couple of hours ago, we were able to finish most of the food.

We were all in vacation mood, and did not set up time to get up in morning. It was Subha’s birthday, and we went to Lumberjack and had a big breakfast there. However, after watching us finish the big portion of
Chinese food yesterday, I was not sure, I could call breakfast big. We went to Burney Falls from there. Promila brought some chocolate to wish and celebrate the birthday. We stayed in the water for quite some time and took some pictures. Prem wanted to swim and show his skills, but we did not bring any change of clothes. We did another little hike to Rainbow bridge; and Rahul wanted to run on the trail. He went back and forth so that he was not far away from us. By the time we finished our walk, he was too tired. Part of the trail crosses Pacific Crest trail; and we could not pass taking some photos and walking on part of the famous 2663 miles long trail, which goes from Canada to Mexico, covering major landmarks, like Mt Whitney while passing through California.

After having our sandwich lunch at local Safeway, we headed to Lava Tubes. Guhan wondered as why there were no lights in the tubes, the ground was uneven, cave was cold. It was easy to imagine that some animals or poisonous scorpions, might be taking refuge from hot sun into these caves. Total darkness added to mystery and adventure to this small walk. Kids were excited and playing with headlights in this long cave.

We were done for the day and headed back. Guhan got big Oreo ice cream cake; and we finished up 3/4th of cake in no time. Subha shared couple of her Marathon stories and how she was so stiff to even walk or move after the race was over; a budding stand-up comedian, with all the actions. She further narrated as how her daughter disowned her when she forgot to switch off her phone at start of a live classical music concert and it started ringing loudly; and she could not find it in the bag; and could not run out of auditorium.

We tried to be more adventurous, and went to Sundial Bridge in night. However, with not a single soul in night in parking lot, and with history of watching scary movies and active imagination, nobody even stepped out of car. (Note to self – backpacking trip might have to wait). 

After returning back to room, we talked about memorable vacation trips. Soon it was clear, when Guhan/Subha talked about downtown of Seattle/San Diego, trying different coffees and food shop; and not mentioning Mt Olympic/Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier; that it might take them a bit to come around for 4-10 hours hikes. When they chatted about their Europe trip, Rahul was quick to ask as why they did not do those kind of trips now with the kids. Needless to say, it was interesting argument to satisfy the smart kid
We woke up next morning and walked to Sundial bridge; everybody was now comfortable to admit, that they might go next time in night there. With people walking their dogs, lot of bicycles; kids playing around and skipping stones in Sacramento river, it was a nice place to hang out. This was followed by educational Shasta Dam trip.

Coming back, we stopped at Corning, Olive City; and went to Olive Pitt. It was a great stop, as we tasted different types of Olives and hot peppers, along with Olive oils. Well, I guess, in retrospect, it was more than tasting; as I felt so sleepy after that stop, that I had difficulty keeping my eyes open.

After pouring some water on my head, I thought of stopping and get some coffee. At that time, we got a call from Subha who invited us for dinner, and that too traditional Tamil dinner. The anticipation of tasting sambhar and other dishes were enough to keep me awake. I was surprised to see their energy after a full day and 4 hours drive; to go home and cook dinner for 6 people.

Dinner conversation went quickly to what it meant by authentic South Indian cuisine. Very entertaining and educational conversation for me, as I came to know proper way for making sambhar. Guhan, this time, was more of an expert in this area; and explained subtlety; which made a lot of sense. Promila and I learned quite a few things. Dinner was excellent, with four dishes, served with rice and bread. Hope to follow up on these sessions more, as Guhan has taken on himself to teach daughter cook every weekend; for next year, before she is headed for college. More stand-up comedy from Subha on hearing (read - not listening) proper way of cooking from Guhan. It was conclusion of a very pleasant weekend. I had a great flavor in my mouth from the traditionally prepared dishes; and was hoping Guhan family had some taste of adventure and craving for more.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 2013 (5 K) – November 28, 2013

Thanks for Norm for driving to the event, I was able to sleep till 5:30 AM. As I mentioned in my previous blog, that racing season was over for me for this great year, with Boston Qualifying times in August; I was not expecting much. I was injured twice, while trying to get back quickly after the Marathon.

After first mile, I was thinking why I was running this race, I was not even trained well, no intervals (I do not count tempo intervals as intervals); and doing tempo runs only in last two weeks, weight was up, and this was not fun, I was winded, how could I do another 2 miles, let me stop; after 2 miles more of these negative thoughts - this was not fun. What was I thinking when I registered just a day before the race! It was hard to remember, but now in retrospect, it was to put a quality run in, watch world class runners in one of the biggest Turkey Trot event in the country and get another nice full sleeve race shirt (Shirt is for Promila - beautiful purple color - you can see Norm wearing it well !).

I was afraid to see the watch, and did not see it till end. When just 300 yards from finish line and I was dying to stop to take a breather, I looked at the watch to see if I needed to sprint; while telling myself - 'how can you even think of sprint - when you are already dying'. Watch showed my 17:53. Then after some more pushing, I could see the clock on finish line, at 18:52 - no air to suck in - there was no way to beat 19 minutes, but still tried - not sure where the energy came and ran as fast as I could (watch was showing 5 min pace for last 0.11 mile). I did not think I beat the clock, but probably very close to 19 minutes. 

 Official results came, and I was at 18:57, 2nd in my age category. This is almost two and half minutes faster than my last year Turkey Trot; and another PR for 5 K this year.

Watched elite women race - first mile was sub 5 for almost everybody though it seems that they were jogging. Kim Connelly from Santa Rosa won and set up new course record -  she was nowhere in first 3-4 runners for first 3 laps; and only came in last lap, but she was clear winner. Then saw men event, Alan Webb was there. Torrance (Diego) set up the course record, and he did a cool down lap (1200 m) and came back ahead of some runners who were finishing up, and cheered them. I think he was 13:28. Some runners who came 3rd or 4th place were really pushing at finish - great to see the mixture of pain, effort and desire to keep going. Intensity on last lap was inspirational. I was telling myself, you thought you were in pain, that was nothing compare to what you saw here. Some of the runners were running like hell in the last two laps; one was holding his chest.

It was great to see that runners who were really good, seemed relaxed, no jerking motion, or big effort/push. There were some runners who seemed trying very hard, but they were no way closer to top runners. Winners had easy strides, seemed like enjoying it. 

Met Ken and his wife (she was taking photographs). Ken did 38.XX; he was not happy; and admitted probably training too much. He talked to me about my logs, and said that he was watching them and thought that I was doing good to stick with 2 mile intervals instead of shorter intervals. He did tell me this before too, to stick with them; and I thanked him for his advice as I think it had been true for me. And till I have 3 months of longer interval, I should not be thinking about shorter intervals, as they are more demanding.  He thought that even for him any intervals of less than 1 mile were not doing any good. He was as surprised as I was when he came to know that I had my PR. I ran in brand new LunaRacer (yes - I bought another pair for racing); did not feel any pain or leg tiredness; which I was experiencing in last couple of days. While I was doing my strides during 3 miles warm up, I was taken aback when my strides were coming around 6:10 pace; thought that I would be lucky to break 20 this time - more negative thoughts - why can't I train properly before running the race - there are so many races always. 

I am still sticking to Jim’s training method of more mileage and less emphasis on faster intervals, as it has been still giving me results. I know there are some talented club runners who are faster than me and run only 25-30 mpw. Well, it was just not Jim, while reading Tim Noakes, Daniels and Lydiard; it confirms more mileage first, then strides, then tempo and finally intervals/mechanics, if one survive and not injured earlier. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Santa Rosa Marathon - August 25, 2013 - A Boston Qualifier

For most part of my running from 2010-12; I did not have the sense of what I could do in running. I struggled with injuries, get disheartened when I did not see much improvements after two years, and all my runs would be just workouts. There was little fun, apart from fleeting feeling of accomplishment about finishing/surviving Half Marathons or Full Marathon.. When I met Jim, my running guide in tail end of 2012; one of the things, he told me that all your runs should not be workouts. I could not understand what he meant by that, and did not ask to clarify. Running IS like doing a workout !! Probably the hardest thing, I ever did physically and mentally. Well, after a good workout, you were supposed to feel tired and muscle should be aching, and later recover to get stronger. That was what I thought.

When he told me about easy aerobic running and through many discussions, I realized that most of the runs should be easy and fun; and two workouts, at most, per week were more than enough for Master runners. Whenever in doubt, go easy, and it still helped me with overall endurance and speed. Well, this theory was further confirmed by most of the books I read on running, later. I had great year after embracing this paradigm, with 80% - 90% of mileage as easy run. I got injured couple of times, but kept running easy and slow, let go of the workout runs during recovery. In the process, not only I improved my endurance but the race pace for every distance from 1 mile to Marathon; and more importantly - I started enjoying my runs.

I broke 20 minutes in 5 K and soon after 1:30 minutes in Half Marathon; and now I had Boston Qualifying
time in Santa Rosa Marathon, finishing it in 3:23:27. All these three achievements were not even my dreams at start of the year; let alone the goals. After witnessing initial improvements, with in two months of changing my training, I just focused on process.   I never gave importance to a single event/race; as long as I was following this training and improving over a period of time, that was all that mattered. Jim mentioned that it takes around 10 years to reach your peak; initial gains might be big. Well, that was correct, and 'big' was relative term.

I brought my 5 K from 22:30 to 21:25 to 20:45 and finally to 19:27 in last 10 months; Half Marathon from 1:47:01 to 1:35:00 in Feb 2013, and then to 1:29:10 in August 2013. Before running these PRs, I did not have the confidence that I could even achieve these. It was Jim (and sometime Ken) who had to tell me that I could do that, and then I went ahead and did those, with that belief. Part of it was I raced poorly before, went too fast early (I still do that lot of time) and I raced less. Besides, mentally it was still difficult to believe that all the slow/easy running had been helping me.

 At start of year, I just had one goal, to run a Marathon under 4 hours. My last best, which was in 2012, was 4:11:13. Running Half Marathon under 90 minutes, opened up my eyes to dream about running Marathon under 3:25, a Boston Qualifying time for me.  I had traumatic experiences from last two marathons, where I crashed and cramped, and had to walk a lot in later part of the race.

Well, that did not change here either. Though I mentioned earlier that I did not give importance to one event, and tried to run my best in races, whatever best race I could do on that day; clearly that was not true for the Marathon. I still remember, vividly, nightmares from my first Marathon. And variation of those were back now, after I decided that I would run Santa Rosa Marathon 4 weeks ago.

In one nightmare, I was driving to Marathon, and wearing my office dress; changed quickly, and did a bag check. I was rushing to starting line, as race was starting soon in 5 minutes. When I looked down at my legs, I was still wearing office pants and I had one dress shoe and one running shoe on. I panicked and ran back to get my checked bag; but it was already moved to a different location; I ran to other location; and tried to talk urgently to people. However, they were discussing something about the race, i.e., that timing chip equipment was not working so they were going by gun time for this race. I had been sweating already, without taking a single step in the race. Finally, somebody heard me, they could not locate my checked bag. I was thinking to run in my underwear, trying to remember, if I have a cleaned one, but shoe conundrum had to be resolved; I was not thinking of running barefoot. I heard the gun, another 5 minutes went by, I was sweating much more and trying to remain calm. I was doing mental calculations, as how long could I wait before I give up Boston Qualifying dream in this race, may be another 10 minutes. 15 minutes passes and I woke up; drenched in sweat.

Registration to Santa Rosa Marathon did not prove easy either. This was the only local California Boston Qualifier after June and before December. I was not ready in June. Though my weekly mileage was up, I did not have over 16 miler in my long run. I decided to do 19 miler, it went very well, without much water. And then I called Santa Rosa Marathon to find out what Gatorade were they providing on water station during the race. Following weekend, I did another 19 miler, sipping on that Gatorade, making sure it worked for me. However, after that, when I went to register, it was already sold out. SOLD out for more than 6 weeks in advance !! Who are all these crazy people ? I tried to find other Marathons around this time frame, I could not. The reason I wanted to run, as I was injury free and running well for last 2 and half months. Generally, a good training period of 3 months, followed with 2-3 weeks of racing (small races) hard or running just one Half or full Marathon, end the running season; as your body needs some breather. With injury scare always at horizon, it was hard to fit in a Marathon in schedule.

Anyway, I sent them email that if something opens up, I was really interested in the Marathon; and forgot about it. After two weeks their reply came, that they opened up for registration as lot of other runners approached them with similar requests. Now there was no holding back; I was relatively confident that I would be able to run under 4 hours for Marathon. With that in mind, I register for Half Marathon on August 3, just three weeks before the Marathon, to see where it would land me on time charts for full marathon. That Half Marathon proved to be another dramatic event for me, and while running on sore calf, I promised that if I could just do sub -7  for whole race, I would not worry about the Marathon. I did achieve that goal; and with nothing more to lose, I tried to recover soon from that all-out effort. This was practically a three week taper; only thing which was missing from my training was one long continuous run 2 or 3 week before Marathon. My last 19 miler was 6 weeks ago from Marathon date. Well, not ideal training, but nothing much could be done now.

My sub-90 minutes Half Marathon was putting my ideal Marathon time at 3:10. So I thought, 3:20 would be good goal to achieve to account for weakened calf, lack of long run and hard HM three weeks ago. While checking on pacer information, there were 3, 3:15 and 3:25 pacers. Further checking race course and reading about it, it did not appear to be fast as it had been advertised. It has lots of ups and downs; as with life. Nothing much could be done here, just take this information and process it to adjust your pace.

I called to book hotel in Santa Rosa, and all the hotels in 10 mile radius were sold out. This might be when frequency of nightmares increased. I thought I would just have to drive on the day of the race. Race started at 6 AM and Santa Rosa was 2 hours away, meaning I had to wake up at 2 AM, eat something, and start driving little before 3 AM. Promila and Prem liked Santa Rosa, we had been there multiple times, to check on Charles Schulz Museum, Whole Foods. Promila liked the place, and was disappointed when she came to know that there was no hotel available. She tried, but of no help.

A day before the race, on Saturday, when I had to pick up the bib, Promila called in to find out if there were last minutes cancellations, and she got denied again; and just 5 minutes before we were leaving, she called again, and this time she got the reservation. As luck would have it, hotel was 0.5 mile away from the race start, and part of the race went through a trail which passed through the hotel. This put my mind at somewhat ease, I could sleep in for two hours more; and all the anxiety (which consciously I was not admitting) to reach at starting line melted away. Bib pick up was at beautiful DeLoach Winery. We took the tour of winery, all the runners got wine bottle. Though it was beautiful set up, I was looking at the road on which we came from, it was rolling hills. I knew this was where part of the race would be happening. I told myself, just go slow (how much slow ? relative ?) tomorrow. We took tour of winery, and where they kept barrels for wine tasting; everything looked picture perfect.

At dinner, I ate as much as I could but all healthy stuff  at Whole Foods and you would be surprised to know how much a thin runner could eat  - one Julliard vegetarian Sandwich (this was the name of park where the race started), followed by Taco salad which was topped with Spanish rice, fajita vegetables, black beans, guacamole and salsa. After finishing that, I cleaned up pizza crust and crumbs left by Prem.  We checked into hotel. We walked to start of the race, and I was further bummed to see the trail was all concrete on which we walked. I knew there was around 14 miles of that trail on the race course, and was hoping that not all of it would be concrete, as it was going to be much harder on legs. I saw two under passes with in half a mile, another sign to go as slow as possible in beginning, to save legs from all ups and downs.

Set up the alarm to wake up at 5 AM, however, kept waking up to check on it, multiple times; finally decided to wake up at 4:30 AM. Drank whatever was available in room, coconut water, water; tried to clear bowel; not much success. Finally left the room 20 minutes before the race; my throat felt extremely dry; could be the nerves; came back to room and drank another glass of water.

Jogged to the start of line in dark, and saw lot of sleeping bags on the trail. Note to self - It seemed that some of the runners, just came in night, parked and slept around the trail - good strategy. I found 3:15 pacer group; was surprised to see over 300 runners standing ahead of him. I thought that crowd would thin out after a mile or so. Ate a packet of GU Chomps; which I had tried earlier in one long run. Pacer was instructing everybody that apart from first mile, he would try to keep even splits; people can take water breaks in between and catch up with him.

My sub-90 minute Half Marathon was indicating 3:10 as my ideal Marathon. From past marathon scars, ups and downs on the current course; barely any long consistent run in last 5 week of training, weak left calf; I wanted to go super conservative. My Boston Qualifying times were 3:25; and I was thinking of doing 3:20 to account for last mile cramping etc. Not much of a wiggle room. Ken and Jim knew my problems with pacing and going too fast in beginning. So they drilled down into me; stay very slow for first 3-5 miles. To me, it translated into stay slower than 7:15 pace (which is 3:10 for whole Marathon) and I would be OK. You hear what you want to hear.

I stayed behind the 3:15 pace group; there were around 40 people in that group. And the crowd did not thin out at all for 4 miles. This was when I ran into Neil, a veteran from West Valley club. He ran an excellent HM on August 3 with me, and I was not surprised to see he was running ahead of me. I asked him what was he planning to do today; he told me that he wanted to keep under 4 hours. :-)

I could feel the moisture in the air, though pace felt like a jog to me, I had started sweating. My strategy for hydrating and calories intake was to ingest Gatorade at every aid station. I tried to do it first while running, and could not drink it while running. After first couple of aid stations, I would just stop, drink and move. Since pace seemed slow to me, I was easily able to catch up with the pace group. Day was breaking out, and sky was turning crimson red over DeLoach vineyard. I was enjoying the run and scenery. Race path went through the winery and then INSIDE through the wine cellar where I came yesterday to pick up the wine !!! One could literally pick up grapes as snack on the run or drink wine from the barrels. I completed half distance exactly at 1:37:31. At the time, I thought, I could run at this pace forever.

Ups and downs had been taking toll on my legs, but it was hard to judge if I would go all the way at that pace. Passed 18 miles, and told myself, now this was just like my 8 miles easy daily run. I felt no energy depletion, all the sugar in Gatorade was working for me. Well, that was not be the case, just before I cross the mile 19, I felt my first cramp; while going down on one of the rolling hills.

I had to walk a bit to break it, but still had a long way to go. There is some truth to the saying, 2nd Half of Marathon starts at 20 miles. After that, both my calves and hamstrings would cramp, I knew I was hydrated well; may be TOO WELL. I felt some nausea from all the Gatorade I drank, I switched to water; could not run even quarter of a mile before stopping. Walked on my heels, since I run on balls of my feet; to give my running muscles rest. My running form deteriorated, and uneven surface of trail and ups and downs; were not helping me keeping a rhythm. It was now a matter of survival. Surprisingly, there were lot of runners around me, who were doing the same dance. 3:25 goal was in danger; so just did some quick calculations, and told myself, if I could 10 min a mile for last 3 miles, I would be fine. However, there was no control on cramps/muscle spasms.

Carefully looked ahead, and tried to run all straight portion, and walk the underpasses and water stations; this strategy helped keeping mind calm. Ate banana and a gel, weather was still not hot; finally saw the finish line in sight, and ran the whole way, as fast as I could to barely make it under 3:24. Though I crashed in this race at mile 19, I liked the feeling of comfort till then and enjoyed the race. My neck, stomach, and legs were cramping. Joined Promila and Prem at finish line, tried to walk around; and drink/eat as much as I could, watermelon, oranges, coconut water; followed by Pancakes. Race coordinators had done tremendous job. Pancakes with real butter calmed me down, followed by beer and french fries. Prem asked me, if red thing on my white shirt was blood; it took me some time to acknowledge that my nipples might have bled.

Surprised to see email from Ken who knew my chip time before I did, and congratulated me. Replied back to him and Jim; who was waiting for results of this race. Both of them knew that this was a big long term goal for me, and had been guiding me and sharing their experiences. It was another matter, how much of it I was following. Their words were great help in having the self belief that it was doable. As expected, Jim scolded and mocked me for going too fast in beginning and not sticking to 7:40 pace as discussed; while admitting that he had done the same in half of his Marathons; and understood how difficult to implement the pace strategy; and good thing was that I was still able to finish under 3:25.

My mile splits were  8:04, 7:32, 7:24, 7:06, 7:09, 7:18, 7:20, 7:22, 7:21, 7:12, 7:16, 7:20, 7:25, 7:19, 7:13, 7:15, 7:21, 7:16, 7:25 (19 th mile), 7:50, 7:55, 8:38, 8:59, 8:51, 9:05, 9:21, 8:18 (last .39). My average pace for whole Marathon 7:46. 

After driving back home, I took shower to get ready for a Birthday Party. I sprayed deodorant over my shirt to kill any residual sweat smell, and it hurt like hell as I forgot all about my bleeding nipples. I could finally say that it took lot of sweat, some blood and few tears to accomplish Boston Qualifying time.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Summer Breeze Half Marathon in San Leandro - August 3, 2013

Another very satisfying race for me for multiple reasons.

One of the directors, I used to report into, retired on August 2. She had her best Half Marathon at 6:57 min/mile pace. When she told me this 3 years ago, I could not even run 1 mile at sub-7 pace. So at the time, this was not even my goal. She ran 5 HM, so I thought, I could probably do that. And that was that. However, at times, I used to think, how it would feel like to run that fast, for whole Half Marathon ! Now I know, extremely painful, after completing it in 1:29:10 @ 6:49 pace. Trip to rest room are a major hurdle; anything I do, which require flexing calf, is huge pain.

I almost did not register for this race as I was thinking of running Marathon on August 24. Last Sunday, during my long run, which was one of my key work out, I pulled my calf muscle 12 miles into the run. Harder part of the run was over (which was running tempo intervals sub 7 pace). Had to make up my mind whether I should run another 3 miles or walk. Then I thought, that in most of my races, over 10 miles, I always have some similar issue, and I should learn to run in pain. This could have led into major injury, as a runner, you want to avoid that at all cost. But such opportunities, to running on pulled muscle, comes rarely. Ummmm...what to do ?

Hoping that it would not become major injury, started running along with my running partner and guide Jim, I thought it would be a good recovery pace, since both of us ran a good 5 K previous day. Boy, I was wrong. Jim did not know about my pulled left calf muscle, and decided to speed up last 3 miles. Well, while keeping up with him, my body and mind were learning to run in discomfort. This sure came handy on race day.

Yes, about 5 K, a day before my fateful long run (July 27), I had 19:27; another PR on track; and a week before that, I ran my first mile race, so that was an easy PR. Since I read 'Once a runner'; I wanted to run a mile; and was very satisfied with 5:33. These two results were very satisfying, since my training was more gear towards Half and Full Marathon distance; and practically, had no VO2 max intervals or intervals of shorter distance than 1200 m. All the slow aerobic running was making it happen, so far.

I read another 6 running books in last 3 months. And discussing with Jim, it was clear, to avoid injury at all costs (means do not try to be hero in training runs to go fast); run lot of slow mileage for at least a year; save yourself for key race. In that regard the 5 K and miler were not key races for me, and it was very pleasing to see those times. Key is keep running, get 2-3 months of consistent good mileage. For last 3 months, I am averaging over 9 miles per day. My training has just two intervals at tempo pace (HM pace), no VO2 max intervals so far. This is to build a good strong base for a key race. As with anything, in running too, you want to peak during your key races. Generally, strategy was to have good training of 3-4 months, followed by key race - either multiple shorter races of 1 mile/5 K/10 K over 1-3 weeks OR single HM or full Marathon. And after that you slow down, recuperate, and decide for another 3-4 months period.

Coming back to pulled calf last Sunday, I did not do any intervals, during the week, which is not ideal for a key race. However, one has to adapt, based on where you are. I was not sure whether I should register for the race or not. Left calf was sore, and so through out the week, I kept testing it with slow running of around 8 min pace. Promila made Quinoa and Garbanzo beans, so I was eating them, hoping that would help. I thought it did.  I was holding up well, and on Thursday, I register for the race; thinking if calf bother me during the run, I can just jog along for rest of the race and would have my mileage in.

While driving with Jim, who was little disappointed with my last Half Marathon at 1:35:04, he implicitly told me that you better do 1:31 or 1:32, otherwise those weekend work outs, you were just running them too fast. For me, I still did not have confidence, that running 2 miles X 3 (total of 6 miles with break of 2 minutes between each interval at 6:55 pace) could result in 13.1 mile at the same pace. I mentioned, that I had to watch out the calf pull and soreness and reminded him 'avoid injury at all costs' mantra. Jim had a good week and was running well. He is probably the most efficient runner I know, barely lifting his feet, and still ran 1:40 HM.

My major issue with all my races, is that I go in too fast, and lose it in the end. Last 5 K I ran, I was 6:08 pace for two miles and then averaged 6:16. It could be that I have lack of mental toughness to keep the same pace through out or I just have to pace slower in beginning. This is very common for people who race less, with more race experiences, I am hoping to get it right. Even for a mile run, my first lap was 80 seconds.

With injury scare of calf, I was determined that this time I would go slow in beginning. My training runs and recent 5 K times, were indicating that my best pace could be 6:55 pace on this course (gravel for around 9 miles). I set up my watch to show me average pace for whole run and average pace for the mile I was running. I focused only on my form and would look at the watch for only average pace of current mile, mentally that was easy to control than the whole course average pace.

Half mile into race, I looked at average pace, I was doing 6:25 pace; had to slow down to keep it just under 7. First mile still was 6:35, 2nd 6:41. I thought may be it was downhill a bit. And then my left calf muscle pulled. I had to decide quickly, while I slowed down, as what to do, i.e. to pull out of race or just jog along. I told myself, if I do 6 miles today, that would be my regular quality work out for the weekend. Also I tried to think what Yiannis Kouros would do. He is the best Ultrarunner for all time, who ran over 7 marathons in less than 24 hours, on little training; and it is all mind over matter for him. His records, as per other great ultra runners, probably could not be broken. I had to get his heroics out of my mind as they were conflicting with 'avoid injury at all costs' mantra. 3rd mile was at 7:06. Seemed like, today was not going to work out.

This was when I moved into gravel which seemed much easier on calf then the tar road. So kept running,  just had a small goal of completing 6 miles at sub 7 pace. Looks like mind was fine with this goal, next three miles were just barely under 7 min pace. Turned around at half way; and just focused on one mile at a time from then on, and to keep pace under 7. Whenever, I would see the 7 min average pace, I would try to speed up little bit, telling myself, that it is just for a mile, and I could just stop after that. Games we play, thought about the record of my director, was probably not going to happen today.

About 10 miles, I hit the tar road, and left calf was screaming again. Looked at overall time for first time in the watch, 68 minutes and some change. Gave myself pat on the back to break 70 minutes first time for a 10 mile run. Then told myself, if I kept another 3 miles sub 7, this pain would be worth the injury and I would not think of Marathon at end of the month. As per Jim, breaking 1:30 in Half Marathon is much tougher than running Marathon under 3:25. Couple of runners past me, and I looked at my watch, I was still doing average pace for 1 mile lap for less than 7 min. Ran into Meenal and Kids who were running 10 K. Meenal was encouraging one of the twins who seemed frozen at that time. Sumeet ran a good race at 2:17 which was a PR for him.

Did not try to dig in in last 400 yards, and finished the race with last mile at 6:55 pace. I was very happy to
see that and did not know my overall time, I knew most of my miles were sub 7. Could not walk straight after that, muscles were so sore that I could not think of stretching or anything. Drank muscle milk, ate an ice cream and some other junk immediately after the run. Limping around, when Jim (67 year old) came in at 1:40; and Neil showed up who ran 1:35 (62 year old). These two are from running club I go some times. Both seemed extremely happy with their times. Neil knew about my times in the race, it was good to see that he was happy for me. He has the reputation of very tough runner and not giving an inch, if you are neck to neck with him in a race. Jim did not expect me to break 1:30 on this race and he knew about my calf issue. I was 3rd in my age category.

It was perfect day for running, temperatures in 50s and Summer Breeze from Pacific Ocean was drying the sweats from runners. This is my 2nd race with Brazen Race organizer group. They do a great job in selecting the flat trail, chip time, posting result on internet, free photos, and really good food in the end.

It feels like good end for the running season for me, i.e., 3-4 months of hard training, followed by miler at 5:33, 5 K at 19:27 and key HM at 1:29:10 over last 3 weeks; learnt something about mental toughness. May be time to slow down and recover, and may be run something at end of the year or early next year.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Breaking 20 minutes in 5 K (Vibha Dream Mile; Hellyer County Park, San Jose – June 2, 2013)

Back in November 2012, when I ran Turkey Trot 5 K, I was pleasantly surprised by 21:25 result, as this was the first time I broke 7 minutes pace for this distance. Most of my training is at 8:40 pace and even intervals were at 7:15 pace, at the time. After that race, I started focusing on bringing the weekly mileage up to 50 miles.
Needless to say with over 80% of mileage at 8:40 pace, and few races and intervals at over 7:15 min pace, for another 2 months, helped somehow in making me race faster for distances between 5 K and HM. So on race day, there would always be a surprise for me in store. In Feb end, this good string of runs ended, when I got a thigh strain, and could not run under 8 min pace. I blamed it on uneven wearing off of my shoes from outside due to supination. This means that I had to monitor my shoes wear and tear, and most likely switch them every 6-12 weeks.
However, I could still keep running EZ pace of 9 min/mile. This kept going for another 6 weeks, where I could not do a single fast run, but kept the weekly mileage around 40 miles. Thigh strain was still there somewhat, so I decided to test it with a small club race; and was again surprised to finish 2.75 miles (April 13), somewhat hilly, at 6:26 pace. Somehow all these weekly slow mileage were still making me faster than before.
With few more club races after that, I went with Jim and ran Saratoga-The Great Race (April 28) of 4 miles, at 6:38 pace; not as fast as the earlier club races indicated, but enough to count them towards turnaround in training. All this time, while increasing my slow mileage to over 50, I did not have many long runs of over 12 miles. The absence of long runs showed its impact when I decided to run, last minute, in Avenue of Vines Half Marathon (May 19). Based on my paces on last few races, I thought I should be able to break my PR of 1:35:00 on flat course; I could not. However, I still had a good race, finished at 1:35:04; and I was able to run following day without any problems.
Now more or less recovered from strain, and changed my shoe to somewhat low to ground, flexible, no support and very light (compare to earlier); I had to ask myself about what were the goals (and there were many) which I should focus on. My club races were small and fun, and were giving me lot of encouragement; I thought it would be great to run 5 K under 20 minutes.  I was never training for 5 K, idea was to build a good base of mileage and string of months behind me and then run a good Marathon where I was not crying for last 6 -10 miles. Based on couple of Runner’s World articles and chatting with friends, it seemed that breaking 20 minutes for 5 K is an admirable goal.
So I talked to Jim, my running guide. He told me that it was too soft a goal for me to train for. He definitely had more faith in me than I did in myself! On further pressing he just told me to go out and run couple of 5 K races, without worrying about changing training. Well, I had recovered for almost a month now, and 5 K was shorter distance, where it was harder to get hurt if one went all out. However, I still want to have string of 4-6 weeks of good interval training before officially running the race, somewhere in July.
Well that was the plan at least, till I got an email saying that there was 5 K run on coming weekend, June 2, in Hellyer County Park on Coyote Creek trail. I had done few runs on this trail earlier and it was very near; hard opportunity to pass. Downside was that I just had one good long run, and if I count my HM from earlier week, there were only two good weeks of training, where I had long runs and some interval training. I decided not to run this one, and wait till July. When Jim came to know about it, and since 10 K and HM were offered too, besides he ran on this trail 100 of times, he could not let it pass. I did not want to sacrifice a good long run for small 5 K race, so it was dilemma. 5 K start time was 50 minutes after HM start time. I thought, I might do some long warm up and race couple of miles with Jim, this way I could do over 12 miles and not miss on long run. So I finally registered.
With 6.5 miles of warm up before the race (generally I do around 3 miles of warm up); couple of miles running with Jim during start of his HM race; it was not ideal preparation for 5 K; or at least that I was saying to myself; that I would get some fast miles and long run on this day; and should not worry too much about breaking 20 minutes. There was some chaos at start of the race when announcer said that runners who expected to finish the race between 30-35 minutes, should come forward. I tried to correct them that this was 5 K and not 10 K; however, they kept repeating it. It made sense after race finished, as there were a lot of walkers in the race.
I looked around me and asked who was thinking of breaking 20, there were 3 runners who volunteered. I asked them to lead the pack, which they gracefully accepted.  After the chaos at start, I tried to keep behind these 3 runners, and soon after first mile, I passed two of them, was pacing at 6:15. As expected, I could not keep up that pace throughout, but effort was more or less consistent. I had to keep asking lot of walkers who were walking and covering the whole trail, to stay on their right. The leader had disappeared from sight after 2 miles, and I was able to finish 2nd overall behind him, with 19:44 at 6:21 pace. I was first in my age category; needless to say that field did not have many great runners, and I enjoyed receiving two medals in the end; one for category and another overall 2nd. I went back to find Jim and ran another mile with him, as expected, he finished first in his category, just under 8 min pace for whole HM. This probably would be the only race where he and I finished first in our respective categories. We took couple of pictures to capture this rare moment.
Free South Indian food was provided after the race; we hung around for some more time. In the end, a very satisfying day, I did get over 13 miles for the day, broke 20 minutes and as a side bonus came first in my category.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Davis Half Marathon - Feb 03, 2013

I have been running for little less than 3 years now. My goal was to run 1 marathon a year at least, and bring the time below 4 hour. I gave up on Half Marathon in 2010, when I ran my 2nd Half Marathon at 1:47 (8:09 min/mile pace). Main reason, was that I did not see myself improving that pace by much. I was running 3 days a week, one interval (1 mile warm up, 3-4 miles of interval at V02 max, followed by 1 mile of cool down), one tempo interval of 4-5 mile, with warm up and cool down; and Saturday or Sunday was for long runs. My strategy was to increase my long runs, as the Marathon approaches, so I was doing 12-18 miles on long runs. After Marathon in May, my long runs were 12 miles only. So in short, I was running 24-30 miles/week.

My tempo runs were at 8 minute/mile pace and I could not imagine that I could even do 1:45 minutes Half Marathon, as 8 minute pace was challenging. Goal was to try for sub-4 marathon next year. I was 4:22 in 2011 and 4:11 for 2012 for marathon. Hard runs were not making running much fun either. I was cross training in swimming so I was more or less injury free and recovering fine from my runs. This was before I met Jim.

In October 2012, Dave, my running buddy, organized a 5 K run on track at PHHS. This was where I saw Jim first, he was his usual self, complaining about his recent 5 K times, as his worst, at somewhere under 22 minutes. My 5 K times were in 23:41. Jim was 66 year old, and seemed like barely able to lift his feet above the ground; and seemed to be wobbling up and down a bit, when jogging. He told me that his one leg may be shorter, trying to explain. Vimal and I asked him at what pace he is going to run, as none of us had run that much faster before. He was generous and said that he would run around 22:30 (and he did exactly that). As expected, I could barely follow him, with the kick in the end, I was only few seconds behind him at the end of run.

After learning that his marathon time in 60s were 3:09 and HM in 1:21; I asked for his advice. He did not hold back, flat out told me that he would not even think about running a 5 K race with 25 miles per week, forget about marathon. What I liked about his answer, and he had examples, that there were few talented runners who could run a good race with that less mileage, but this did not work with majority. He further compared my approach with the advertisements for weight loss creams where   you rub it in night, sleep and lose weight. Yes, it was lot of fun listening to him.

Well, 'Run Fast with Running Less' approach, I was able to run 2 good Half Marathons and 2 Marathons; however, it was beyond imagination for me to even think what Jim did in his 60s. As a rationalization, I tried to justify that he was naturally talented (he has been winning his age category in most races and at one time ranked top 10 runner in US in his 60s); or I would say to myself, he had been running for 33 years now,  and he was conditioned now, and for me there was no hope as I did not have any sports background in high school or college.

Since he was recovering from recent injury, and I  was just fast enough to latch on to him for shorter distances; I asked him if I could do next weekend long run with him. And that is where my education started. Though I read over 10 books on running; there were lot of things which I did not know. Running was physically and mentally demanding. I could see that it was easy to stuck in the rut, without much improvement. Long runs were specially challenging mentally. He introduced me to tempo intervals, and breaking long runs into warm up, tempo intervals and cool down. This single aspect made long run fun. 85% of my mileage now is easy and fun run, compare to 15-20% earlier. This training is very counter intuitive; I used to think if I run slow most of the time, I am training to be slow runner.

I kept at it for 4 weeks, and ran Turkey Trot 5 K with Jim; and followed him all the way to have a PR of 21:25 (6:54 min/mile pace). My intervals in training were slower than my 5 K pace. It was working for me. The start of the 2013 has been a dream so far. January, I was surprised to see my own improvement 5K PR of 20:45 (6:41 min/mile pace) on track and Cal-10 mile at 72:38 (7:16 pace). Jim next goal was to run Half Marathon in Davis. We were doing only long runs together, and I could barely keep up with him on those.

I am very bad at pacing myself in the race, so I thought it would be perfect to follow Jim. Couple of days ago, he got down with flu and told me that he would not be able to make it. He knew about my pacing issue, so he had specific instructions on pacing for me. And I was glad that there were pacer in this race for 1:40, 1:45 and 1:35. My last 5 K was telling me that in ideal race, I would be able to break down 1:40.

With car breakdown on eve of the race, I had to call Dave in night that I would not be able to make it and if he could pick me up. With no response from him till morning, I thought it might be better to let it go. Luckily he checked the message before leaving, and came to pick me up. Ken and Dave chatted away, and I tried to catch some sleep, as I was awake since 2 AM.

After registration, Ken and I warmed up for 3 miles. Ken, on top of his age group, for most distances, was another person who got benefited from Jim's coaching. He was second in CIM marathon in December 2012, finishing well under 3 hours. After warm up, I decided to follow 1:35 pacer. It was difficult to see him, as he was keeping the stick down which displays the pace group. I did not bring my iPhone for splits as I thought of following him.

After two miles, couple of other runners caught up to him, and told him that some other runners were trying to find him, and he was running faster than required. He told them that it happened in beginning, he got suck out with other runners, and probably 15 seconds faster. I followed him closely for 7 mile and then he started gaining on me. I was surprised as it was getting harder for me to keep up with him, even though I was running harder, however ensuring that I was not breathing hard. After 9 mile, he was around 400 meters ahead of me; barely one person keeping with him.

I was having serious doubts by now, that he was already two minutes ahead of me, 1:40 pacer would be coming soon. There was something wrong. I thought I had a proper training. I was thinking may be I should have listened to Ken, when he told me to reduce my mileage in race week, and now my legs were all tired and could not keep up. May be Indian buffet yesterday was not a good idea ! By mile 10, I could not even see the pacer, and my feet were cramping. Bad memories from my first marathon were back.

At this time, I knew when I was cramping, and it had nothing to do with salt in my body, as concentration of salt in sweat was less than in body. So either I gained weight from buffet or course was hard (concrete at some places) or I ran too hard already. With pacer no where to be seen, last one did not seem like an good explanation. My toes were curling and twisting over each other.

Now I just wanted to survive, so I just started jogging, last couple of miles, took a walk break on water table; a lot more runners passed me. Whenever, I thought of increasing the pace, my toes curled up. I was glad that I was able to jog and thought this would be a good experience to learn how to run/jog through cramps. After those last two long miles, when I reached the finish line, I was surprised to see 1:35 on the clock. I thought there was something wrong with clock. So I went in and checked result on computer, and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was 1:35:00 for whole Half Marathon (7:15 min/mile pace). This was 12 minutes improvement from my previous PR. At the end of the day, another good race, very sore right ankle,  and another PR. Thanks Jim.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Update

Looking back, 2012 proved to be yet another good year. Being a chronic-worrier-trying-to-look-calm-parent, I was trying to find a physical outlet for Prem. He was average in most physical team sports like soccer, baseball etc. I felt that pushing him into running at this age might seemed like work to him and not play. So we focused on swimming. After getting Gold Fish and Big Fish badges from Happy Fish, he passed the Swim Team test with flying colors. He was unaware what he was getting into. From 30 minutes a week of swimming to 4-5 hours a week swimming.

Before his first class, we promised to celebrate this achievement at place of his choice. He wanted to go to Round Table Pizza. I took him to class 5 minutes early and when coach said that warm up for 16 laps, I knew this would be trouble. By the end of 1 hour session, when he came out, he was so tired and almost in tears. We went to Round Table Pizza, and decided to talk to coach next day. Most of the kids come little late anyway, and coach was okayed to try out 45 minutes session for first week. We continued to bring Prem 10-15 minutes late for couple of months, before he started to build his endurance, and when summer rolled in, coach asked us to bring him on time, for 90 minutes sessions. 

It is amazing how body adopts to regular practice. Things which seemed impossible couple of months ago, one could do that with little improvements every day. By end of summer, Prem was able to do a Swimathon; he swam around 2 miles, to raise fund for his swim team. Thank you all for all who contributed for this. Prem took two months break from Swim Team for September/October, and then rejoined it. My observation was that his general health improved greatly when he was swimming regularly and he was able to come out of cold very quickly. It seemed he grew more tall, relatively, in summer.

As I write this blog, Prem could juggle two balls well and getting proficient in Rubik cube. He likes doing Math. Needless to say he is better than me in using Smart Phone. He figured out how to shot panoramic photos and taught me  on our recent trip. Promila has been extremely busy with her PhD program. It has been very challenging and satisfying for her at the same time. She continued to receive scholarship and is a National Science Foundation GK12 Fellow.

I did my customary hike of Half Dome, with Sumit and Kumarthis year on Father’s day in June. Besides that, I did no major hikes. I ran two Marathons in March and May respectively, and then reduced my weekly mileage to 18-25 miles a week. I had no plans for running another race or Marathon for the year. Running regularly, to keep healthy has become a habit now. And on back of my mind I still had the goal of running sub 4 hour marathon. My personal record for Marathon is 4 hr 11 minutes, set this  year. I was not sure if I could run sub 4, but that was the challenge for me for next year. Then through my running buddy Dave, I met Jim, 66 year old runner in October. He had 3 hour 9 minutes marathon after 60 year of age.

Jim changed my perspective about training, and gave me few ideas to try. I could stay with him for 5 K, but longer distances, I did not have the endurance to keep up with him. I started seriously taking his ideas, and with just 4 weeks of training, I ran 5 K in Turkey Trot and set up the PR at 21:25. Though some of the ideas were counter-intuitive, like run slowly, even intervals, but they seemed to be working. I have been running faster races and almost no recovery time. Keeping my fingers crossed, and hope to continue my training for another 6-10 months before thinking about Marathon. I was glad to have Prem run 0.5 mile at Turkey Trot with me this year. And it would be a big parenting challenge in 2013 to get him to run with me on some of these weekend runs on track. Promila, also is getting committed to exercise. With her PhD qualifying exam over finally this year in October, hopefully, she will get regular in training.

We took a summer trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park and Redwood National Park. Whole family thoroughly enjoyed this week long trip, and learned quite a few new things from Rangers program. In winter we took last minute vacation to Sacramento, Death Valley National Park, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. Sacramento trip was educational trip for Prem to learn about birth of California due to Gold Rush, Railroads and their significance in trade for California and rest of the country, State Capitol and Sutter Fort. We enjoyed staying in RV with Kumar and Shubha family. Prem did try his hands in gold panning.

Death Valley had the lowest point in Western Hemisphere (282 ft below Sea Level). We were pleasantly surprised to see Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon and Scotty’s Castle. Prem rolled around in sand dunes for couple of hours and we were fortunate to walk on rim of somewhat active Ubehebe volcano there.  Dante’s Peak, Borax mining works and history behind Scotty’s castle added to charm of Death Valley. 

After spending couple of days in Death Valley, we headed to Las Vegas. I was surprised to see innovative new slot and other machines in Casinos based on background themes of popular old and new Hollywood movies and music groups. There was no doubt about amount of money the spent in R&D. Normal person, like me, does not stand a chance to win, end up feeling good in spite of losing. Vegas trip is not complete without watching at least one show. It was difficult to find age appropriate kid friendly shows. We settled for Blue Man group show. And all three of us enjoyed it thoroughly, show was musical, witty and was very interactive with audience. Prem understood the advantage of Casino and wanted to find out if there is a University where they teach about gambling. We spent a day at Hoover Dam, and then headed back to Bay Area to spend new year eve with Som/Swapna. Photos and more Photos

All in all, great year with some real growth in areas we wanted to grow in. We feel blessed and fortunate.