Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August 20, 2011 – Yosemite - Hiking Clouds Rest

Top of Nevada Falls
When Thomas called that he would be going to Yosemite Valley to do some hikes, it was too good to pass a free ride to Yosemite. After I got the Hall Pass from Promila for the weekend (no we did not try anything as remotely wild as the latest movie indicates); we were all set to go. Friday night we had friends over, and they left around 12 midnight, and I started packing much later.

By the time I was ready, Thomas was at the door and we started driving to Yosemite Valley little before 3 AM. All thanks to Chetan, now I knew most of the major trails from Yosemite Valley. Thomas was clear that he did not want to do cables, so Half Dome was out. One of the trail which was remaining for me was 4-mile trail to Glacier Point, however, at some point Thomas wanted to do Mt Whitney. So I thought we should start with Clouds Rest hike from valley floor. This hike is comparable in distance and elevation gain with that of Mt Whitney, however, much less in altitude.

Clouds Rest (9930 ft elevation, 22 miles from Valley Floor and 6000 ft elevation gain) – I did this hike on July 16, along with Half Dome. So I thought, maybe we can tack on Glacier Point after coming down. Thomas, I knew is fit, with 2 Marathons and sub-8 half Marathon timings, I was anticipating that he would be kicking my butt. Keeping this in mind, I wore my running shoes and Thomas was wearing his running shoes as well.

Unlike in July, there was plenty of parking available at Happy Isles trail parking lot. We started from the parking lot at 7 AM. I was carrying 3000 ml of Cytomax, 500 ml of water and some cliff bars. Thomas had real food and Gatorade. We saw very few people on this popular trail. I thought nobody would be passing us, when 20 year old park ranger closing the gap behind us. I tried to talk to her and slow her down. She was studying nursing and was interning at Yosemite Valley in Search and Rescue team. It was inspiring to see as how people are able to find their way to combine passions together with their jobs. She told us total of 16 people died so far in Yosemite, from start of this year. ‘Stay safe’ were the last words we heard before she zipped pass us.

We took the longer John Muir Trail (JMT), again saw very few people. Sun was shining, and it was getting warm. When we reached Nevada Falls, it was almost 8:45 AM. This was much slower than the usual standards. We took a small break, ate some breakfast, and moved on. We were clocking 30 minutes a mile, it was evident that we would not be hike anything else today with that pace. Last 4 miles were much slower. We chatted about politics, movies and families. I came to know that Vinaya was doing BS in IT, while doing her nursing job and taking care of 3 kids. That was astounding. I can see why she wanted to do get into IT, as it would give her time to space out in front of computer. Needless to say, I am not sending this blog to any of my office colleagues.

I came to know the rich sports traditions in Kerala, how many stars they had generated in athletics. Thomas himself was an accomplished runner and swimmer in his college days, and still going strong. Comparing my school and college, I never saw a track in my life, growing up; just played street cricket. Note to myself - A lot of catching up to do, cannot leave some of the things to next life.

Heat was getting to us by now, and I could see the difference between a good hiking shoe and running shoe for long hikes; or maybe it was lack of sleep and my feet were not strong enough to handle the wear and tear of 22 miles without a cushion. Thomas told me that this was his first time when he could feel his heart pounding, it never happened to him before, even in Marathons ! I wonder if he had forgotten those courtship days, no years, when he was wooing Vinaya.

We reached at top and were surprised to see over 30 people up there. Most of them came from the Tanaya Lake and you could see the long ridge line, and people still keep coming. I had gone through 2.5 liter of Cytomax by now. Thomas was eating rice, jaggery dry hardballs, called Avalose Unda. He shared few with me. First one was easy to eat, when I was on second, it was too hard to bite on; apparently, the trick is to work on it, little by little, wet it by your tongue and make it little soft, and then bite into it. This did an automatic slow release of sugar in blood stream.

While going down, we met Ms Joan, 70 year old lady who was doing this hard hike. We both thought, it would be great if we could do this hike at her age. I felt little stiffness behind my knees, so was careful drinking enough fluids. We took short breaks, and since both of us were wearing our running shoes, the dust keep getting into them. Thomas was a little annoyed with the dust, and washed his feet at Nevada Falls. It was hot now; and I had gone through all of my Cytomax. We both were glad that we did not skimp on keeping enough water. With all the breaks, we took just below 11 hours for the hike. Took shower at Curry Village, which refreshed us, and we were ready for our celebratory Mammoth Port beer at Curry Village. We ate the big buffet, and were ready to head home.

Roads were empty again, and soon it was extremely difficult to keep my eyes open. I told Thomas, that I am extremely sleepy, but I should not be sleeping, as it might induce sleep for him. And he was tired too, he had only 3 hours of sleep. We chatted about our families, vacation, religion, other Yosemite hikes, how to inspire (read - not piss off) family into hiking in Yosemite, planning for Grand Canyon hikes. However, after each topic, it was extremely difficult to keep awake. I asked Thomas, what would keep him awake, as he was driving. ‘Juicy gossips’ was his reply; and boy he was so right. And I found out that we were no different than two girls chatting about everybody. It made us laugh, and drove sleep away. Well, I am not going divulge any details about gossip here, as it pertains to most of this audience. However, do not get disheartened, ‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’.

Thomas drove pretty much like me, meaning that every exit I had to remind him and he did miss one exit, while we were busy gossiping. Also, it made me realize, since he did not know much about Yosemite, I had to step up on where to park, get back to car in dark etc. Though, I did Clouds Rest a month ago, for this hike, I tried running shoes, besides it was much hotter; I learnt something new. For me, hiking in Yosemite is summarized by Robert Sweetgall – ‘We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down.’

Friday, July 22, 2011

Marathon Hike July 16, 2011(Saturday)

Longest I hiked was 22 miles in Mt Whitney, and I had little idea till we started the hike, that I would be literally hiking more than 26 miles, with elevation gain of 8400 ft. Thanks to Chetan, again for booking the cabins in advance and sorting out logistics for hike.

I went to bed at 10 PM on Friday, with alarm set for 12:40 AM. Though I knew I would not be able to sleep, I was lying in bed and trying to breath normally. There was a little possibility that we could be hiking Clouds Rest (9930 ft elevation, with net gain of 6000 ft from Yosemite Valley Floor) and Half Dome (8836 ft elevation) on the same day. We did not reserve the permit for Half Dome, which was now a requirement to hike Half Dome on all week days. All the permits were gone 3 months ago, however, I got excited after I received a message from Yosemite National Park that they were giving 50 more permits every day, in addition to the regular 400. It was apparent, that lot of people were reserving permits and were unable to use them. I was hopeful. Even though Clouds Rest is more in elevation gain than Half Dome, and a longer hike (22 miles), Half Dome is very popular because of potentially near death experiences. Note: Eight people died, alone this year, in Yosemite Valley, so go with proper preparations.

When my alarm sounded, I was wide awake already. I was packed already, with Cytomax and Cliff Bars, 3 liter of water and some oranges. I packed an additional head lamp for Vimal. Promila was awake and started making her special sandwiches (whole grain bread, with Organic Humus, alpha-alpha sprouts, spinach, tomato, cucumber – neatly wrapped in surround wrap) for me. She knew that Chetan, Nitin, Prasad and Vimal were going with me, so she packed some for them too, in spite of my protesting. I like to keep my backpack small. I told myself to give away extra sandwiches to group before the hike.

Vimal came in time, and we went to pick up others. Everybody was ready, and we were quickly on our way. After couple of pit stops, we reached the Valley around 5:45 AM. We saw two other hikers in parking lot, getting ready too, while we were booting up, and putting all the extra food in bear-proof lockers. On finding out that they were planning to hike Half Dome, I told them that most of our group had done it before. It was their first time and they did not have gloves for gripping the cable. I told them that they might need them, and generally they might be available at the base of the cables. Now after giving my amateurish expert opinion, I asked them if they had extra permits, and viola we got 4 of them.

I did not need any more signs, it was almost that the Rock was calling me. I told myself, if my knee holds up well, then I would give it my best shot. Most of the trail for Half Dome and Clouds Rest are same, except last two miles before Half Dome, Clouds Rest trails swerve to right and goes another 4.2 miles. So technically, we are to do 4 miles and 2400 ft of elevation gain more. Challenge was that after Clouds Rest, would we be in good enough shape to take on the Half Dome Cables. This was a personal question, and one has to answer it for himself.

We took John Muir Trail, passed Nevada Falls, and then pushed further for 2 mile marker for Half Dome. All of us were doing great. We discussed if we should do Half Dome first, as cables take a lot from you, and then try Clouds Rest. Since most of us have done Half Dome before, except Vimal, we agreed to stick to the original plan to do Clouds Rest first, and then see if time permits. Since Vimal and I were somewhat interested in doing Half Dome, we pushed from that point. I knew Vimal was in great shape (we did two Half and one full Marathon together in last one year). After 3 miles, we were struggling, as both of our hearts were pounding. I have seen more than my share of documentaries on Mt Everest climb, and knew that body slows down at higher altitude and make more Red Blood Cell, to carry more oxygen; and that is why it is important to get acclimatize to altitude. Vimal had a slight headache, and sometimes I got winded. We took 1-3 minutes breaks, but kept pushing up. Trail seemed never ending. Finally we saw a board which indicated that the peak was 0.6 mile away, meaning we should be up there in 15 minutes, however, it was taking longer. I was not sure about Half Dome anymore, though knew enough from experience that once at the top, there was a good chance that we would feel better. That is exactly what happened, Vimal was squealing like a little boy in the candy store, and we felt refreshed after few minutes. Cool breeze was blowing and temperature was in 70s.

We took pictures, and did the calculations based on a conservative 30 minutes/mile, that if we could reach Half Dome, and get back to Valley floor before 9 PM to savor Pizza and beer, which was one of the most important aspect of the hike. It did not seem possible. Either we had to rush or forget about Pizza or both. We decided to go down till 2 mile marker for Half Dome, and then make a call after reassessing our physical conditions. While coming down, we met Prasad who told us that Nitin and Chetan were taking a nap on the trail. Prasad looked strong.

We went down a bit more and saw Nitin and Chetan, exchanged some notes about trail (it was nothing compared to Half Dome granite steps and cable). After a few minutes, we just started running, in order to make it to Half Dome. We have both ran up and down on trails in Alum Rock Park before. After Marathon my knee was hurting, and generally hurt would come back whenever I did a downhill run; I was hoping it would not. Even if it did, and I could not do Half Dome, at least I would have the satisfaction that I gave it a decent try. I was ready to be wiped out. We discussed, if at any point, one of us did not feel like doing it, we will turn back.

We covered 4.2 miles going down very fast, and started hiking up for Half Dome at 2:45 PM. There was nobody behind us, and people coming down from Half Dome were giving us a quizzical look. Soon, we met the ranger at base of sub-dome and who took our permits and told us that it would take around 1 hour and 15 minutes. We took a 5 minute break before starting on 566 granite steps cut into rock. Vimal was kicking my butt while climbing up, I had to rest for few seconds after every 30-40 steps. I lead briefly from the place where steps disappear into the rock and you have to do scampering on the rock. At the base of cable, we just stared at the cables. And I could not believe that I had done those 3 times already. I kicked myself for thinking that I was going to bring my son here soon. The cables on granite rocks were looking insane and scary. I had to tell myself that they look more scary than they actually were.

One gracious woman gave gloves to Vimal. We rested another 10 minutes, ate oranges, dropped our backpack at base and started up. Vimal wanted me to follow him on cables (just in case if he slips, I could catch him – ‘Fat chance’). My only advice was to rest few seconds on each plank before moving on. Of course, he ignored it. Adrenalin was pumping, and soon we were on top. We did not waste any time, as we wanted to give our best shot to get hot pizza and beer waiting for us in Curry Village. We took photos at King’s chair, the ledge, the infamous cave (where couple of people got electrocuted few year back from lightening) and the natural Amphitheater. There were just 3 more people on the dome at that time. It was good to have the Half Dome for just ourselves.

Vimal was unsure as how to get down, i.e., facing down or facing up. I always do facing down. I was ahead of him coming down, and he experimented various ways, and then did facing down, just focusing on me instead of looking down all the way. I was doing the same, just looking down to next plank. This time I did not slip as much as last time. New latex coated gloves were helping. After coming down from cables at 5 PM, Vimal told me that his arms were hurting a bit and hands were shaking. I told him that it was quite common for first timers; adrenaline wanes off after sometime, and the hard part is over.

I did not want to run down, we climbed down quickly. Vimal was the only bachelor in the group. I asked him that he now had to entertain me by talking about his bachelor life experiences. As with any Indian bachelor, he was now getting pressured to get married. He was to start looking for a girl, however, there was no progress as he did not allocate anytime for this important project or came up with any strategy. He was confused, scared and excited. He wanted some outdoorsy girl who could hike and do other activities. As luck would have it, we met a few girls, working in his company, Cisco, on trail. He was way too shy to talk to them. It looked hopeless. But entertaining enough for me to not think about the exertion from long hike. I was chatting with most people on trail, saw quite a lot of people from Bay Area.

It took us 3 hours to get down. We met Prasad in last mile of the hike. His calves were hurting. I gave him some Tylenol and Bengay, which instantly relieved some of his pain. Soon all of us were at Curry Village. It was crowded and took 45 minutes for Pizza to arrive. I chugged couple of beers (got mocked on my accent of ‘bear’) and we finished two large Pizza between 5 of us. Needless to say hot food and cold beer tasted much better after 14 hours of hiking. All other married men in the group, after having a beer, started freely advising Vimal. May be get married to Yosemite Ranger, or put just one condition that he would marry only on top of Half Dome (that would surely reduce the expense).

I woke up around 6 AM next day, and was surprised to see that I did not have any aches or pains. I tried to wake Vimal up and ask if he was interested in going for a run. He was too tired to get up and gave me a kick. Chetan was up and we just sat in Curry Pavilion, ate bagel and cream cheese. Chetan started talking about things to do for rest of the day, he knew Yosemite inside out. Soon others joined in , we packed our stuff and started for Tunnel View point. Everybody was in a good mood. And I was soon going to get education on contemporary Bollywood music. Chetan was surprised to know that I had watched the Three Idiot movie, a week ago only. And I was horrified that Chetan and Nitin knew the latest Delhi-Belly songs by heart.

After taking snaps at Tunnel View (made famous by Ansel Adams), we started for Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake on Tioga Road, which opens for only 4 months in a year. We just got down at Olmsted Point, Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya lake and took pictures. Delhi Belly songs were blaring, in the loop. Their favorite songs were ‘Bhag Bhag DK Bose DK Bose DK’ (meaning ‘Run DK Bose’ – however, if you say it fast enough it has a different meaning), ‘Jaa Chudail’ (Get lost witch) and ‘Duniya mein pyaar jab Barse, naa jane dil yeh kyon tarase’ (Blues – sad song - whenever I see rain of love in the world, why my heart craves for some). Poor Vimal, he definitely would not be marrying soon. The songs were repeated many times that they were engraved in my brain and I found myself humming for next few days.

All in all, great weekend, hiked over 26 miles, did two peaks in single day, 8400 ft of elevation gain, and got educated in last 1
0 years of Bollywood songs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father’s day Weekend in Yosemite – June 17-19, 2011

With John Muir
In an effort to build some family traditions, I booked this weekend this year also, back in January, to hike few trails in Yosemite. First time, two years ago, I hiked Half Dome with Som on this day, next year I hiked till Nevada Falls with Prem while Promila hiked Half Dome with Liz. This year I did not reserve the permits to hike Half Dome (now permits are required every day for hiking Half Dome) as I wanted to hike other trails in Yosemite.

Since I have been hiking with Paul and Chetan most of the time for any new hikes, I never really developed any map or trail reading abilities. These skills are getting important for me, as I found out during my Mt Whitney hike last year. And also, going forward, I want to hike more with my family, I needed to learn quickly. Though these skills are easy for most normal people, but not for someone absent minded as me. And only way to acquire them was to do hikes alone.

Bear always at Curry Village
I looked at Yosemite hiking map to decide which new hikes I would like to do. Two hikes stood out, one was to do Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point (3200 ft elevation gain) and then come back from Panorama Trail back to valley floor, it was over 16 miles from Curry Village with views of three waterfalls. Other was to go up to top of Upper Yosemite Falls and then further up to Yosemite Point (3000 elevation gain), total round trip of over 12 miles. I chose the first one.

Chetan, on earlier discussions, mentioned Panorama Trail, recommended that I take bus up to Glacier Point and hike down on this trail. He further mentioned that it was on opposite side of Yosemite Falls. I had no idea what he meant by opposite side. Reading the map, I soon found out. At 6 AM, when I started out of from Curry Village, with map in my hand, first challenge was to find the Four Mile trailhead. The free shuttle bus does not start till 7 AM. This trail was not as popular as Mist Trail or John Muir Trail. 6 AM was a late start, the sun was up already.

Soon, after following the map meticulously for 2 miles (as per my GPS watch), I ended up right in front of Upper Yosemite Falls trail head. Yes, opposite side ! I told myself, all is not lost, if I can reach to top of Falls and Yosemite point, that should count for something. I did not see anybody on trailhead. In spite of not trying to think, I remembered two years before when a bear chased Som and me, we saw a rattle snake on trail. It would be good to have some company on the trail. (Note: After I came back from this hike, I came to know a hiker got lost on this very trail just a day before and was still not found. ) Armed with knowledge that Black bears of Yosemite are really not known to hurt humans, I was relaxed. I reminded myself, as if I could do something every now and then, which was out of my comfort zone, I would bring that attitude to other facets of my life. Then I thought about people who first climbed El Capitan or put cables on top of Half Dome, my adventure was nothing. I thanked all these path-breakers, pioneers as because of them so many of us are enjoying these trails now.

Helicopter Rescue
Just in quarter mile into hike, I found 4 kids huffing and puffing on hike. On asking them, though they looked quite fit, I found out that they did not hike regularly, and thought that they would be fine. They had four other kids in their group who were ahead of them. I guess some people have natural ability, but not all. I was not the one with natural ability. Leaving them behind I found their other four one mile ahead. This group was keeping a good pace. Took some photos of them with the falls, still a long way to go, however trail was great as you get to see the falls at different points. This was probably the best weekend to do the hike, as falls were running at 300% of their normal capacity from last year. I enjoyed drenching in cold icy water. Trail was well marked so far, with few ups and downs. I knew coming down would be harder because of slippery granite stones. At top, on Overlook of the Falls, saw some rock climbers crossing the falls. For 20 minutes, I stood there watching, one climber barely moved one feet. I could only imagine how much patience is needed besides other technical skills. I told to myself, probably not going to happen for me in this life time.

Half Dome
I decided to go further to Yosemite Point, one more mile after crossing the falls, on wooden bridge, of course. There was no body going further on this trail. Soon I got lost. I applied lessons learned from Mt Whitney, and traced my steps back to trail, and then looked around, I found out I missed a turn. I was learning to read the trail. There should be some man-placed stone on trail or on both sides of trail to distinguish it from the surroundings. Some time tree trunks and branches are carefully put to keep you on trail. Do not always follow the foot marks which takes you beyond the trail to some backpackers campground, as there were plenty of them. And most important, if you do not think you are on trail, then most likely you missed a turn, so trace back.

Coming down, as expected was harder. I slipped 3 times, but hiking pole helped keeping me from falling. I was down before noon, total took less than 6 hours, including all the breaks. I thought I did pretty good in terms of reading the trail. And further applied my map reading learnings (read fiasco) from early morning and started walking in opposite direction to take me to Village Grill, to join my family and friends for lunch. Soon I was with them. Prem had lot of fun with Alexa, as Maria-Anand decided to join us for this whole trip. Both of them were proud Yosemite Jr Ranger. Promila was keeping them busy in various activities like drawing, Curry Village scavenger hunt and Ranger shows.

After my Marathon in March, my left knee was bothering me. I did couple of big hikes with the gang, and it would start hurting in 3-4 miles, so I was taking it easy, still running 3-4 miles every now and then. After coming down from this hike, I did not feel anything. I think it is healed up now. I feel that there are lot of good which came out of this injury. I got more aware about stretching and strengthening exercises of different parts of my leg. And I was amazed to see some of them worked so well. Also it reminds me how frail I am as human, and fortunate to be able to do what I enjoy.

After lunch, did a very good Geological hike with family and friends. Came to know that Mr Whitney and John Muir hated each other, as Whitney (studied at Yale and Harvard) proposed that Yosemite Valley was created by cataclysmic sinking of valley floor, which turned out not to be true, while John Muir(never graduated) argued for glacial action; How all peaks are named after guys and lakes after their wives. Half Dome was one of very few peaks which was not named after a person, as Mr Whitney thought, at that time, that nobody would ever be able to stand on top of Half Dome.

Watched another great show in amphitheater in Curry Village in evening from Steven Riley who draws and writes kid’s books and live in Yosemite Valley with his family. Slept early, to be ready to hike Vernal and Nevada falls next day with family. Prem had done Nevada Falls last year, and wanted to do the same this year. We decided to do Nevada Falls by John Muir Trail, and then loop back to come down by Vernal Falls. We packed our stuff in car and did our goodbyes to Grover family.

Top of Nevada Falls
Though Promila and I had seen black bears in Yosemite couple of times before this trip, Prem never did. As the luck would have it, we saw two big bears on the John Muir Trail. Just like last time, though I was leading the trail, I did not see them, and Promila warned me. The bears were some 20 meters ahead of us. We waited for them to get off the trail for couple of minutes. Now, we decided to try to stay with some other hikers on the trail. At top of Nevada Falls, the water stream was twice as much in width than last year and sound of fall was deafening. We took our break, ate some snacks, took pictures and videos.

Top of Vernal Falls
Coming down on Mist Trail, as expected, we all got soaked. In hind sight, we should have gone up the Mist Trail and came down from John Muir Trail. Mist Trail was real crowded in afternoon, probably the most popular trail in Yosemite Valley. It took us around 5-6 hours with all the breaks. Prem was tired so we dropped the idea of going to Mariposa Grove. He immediately slept in the car.

I am looking forward to go back to Yosemite Valley and do Clouds Rest hike, Four Mile Trail and Panorama trail; and at some point would like to do some backpacking.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Two Black Eyes

Oakland Marathon (26.2 miles) – March 27, 2011

Dave: ‘What could you tell a runner with two black eyes ?’

Me: What ?

Dave: Nothing, as you had already warned him twice.

Morning – March 27, 2011 –I did not sleep much in night, as my new iPhone was not working, and I could not set the alarm. Besides Prem was having cold and cough so we had to monitor his breathing through the night. He was breathing noisily and fast. It was after a long time, his cold/cough was threatening to build up into full blown breathing issue.

Woke up, looking at the clock, it was 7 AM already, race was at 7:30 AM. Tried to wake Promila to ask her to drop me, but she was not understanding, just smiling and trying to calm me down. Finally, unable to get through to her, I started running for the start line. Came across a stream, which was too wide to cross and flowing at full, looked around. Bad dream. Woke up at 12:15, then finally at 3:30 AM.

Reviewed my list which I prepared last night, Cytomax powder form, 2 Cliff bars – chocolate Chip Mint (Prem’s favorite), bib tagged on shirt, poor quality sweat (which if lost, you would not care), Mortrin and GPS watch. I was eating spinach-cottage cheese dish when Promila woke up at 5, and started making her ginger tea. Dave knocked at the door around 5:25 AM when I was sipping tea. He had his coffee mug in hand. Soon Norm appeared and Promila offered him tea too. We were chatting when Vimal showed up, felt a shiver to see him dressed in his half sleeve thin technical shirt.

I have been running for over 6 months now with Dave, Vimal and Norm. After couple of months Dave looked around to find a good race, and decided on Napa Valley Marathon, however, because of some family function he did not register for that. Oakland Marathon was another one during similar time frame, so he asked me and registered for it. I did not check the course, and when I did; I found out that Oakland Marathon course was a tough one. There was no looking back now, I followed him and then Vimal and Norm. I rationalized this would give me a good opportunity to come back and do another Marathon to improve my timings later.

Two weeks before Dave and I had completed a 23 miler with 2600 ft elevation gain, in decent time of 4:15. That monster run gave me confidence that I should be able to complete the Marathon. Most of our long runs were in Alum Rock Park trail. And there is a creek which fills up during the rain. Dave always love to cross that creek, while I try always to avoid crossing it. We ran 3 times in rain, things get still after 7-8 miles, you can hear full flow of the creek, very quiet and almost nobody in the park during the rain and feet build some new intelligence while splashing in puddles or coming down the slippery slopes. After one of these long runs, I saw Dave slipped in the creek once.

Besides that 23 miler, my training was falling apart in last 6 weeks, my weekly mileage (excluding long Sunday run) was averaging around 10-12 miles, which was not much. I fell during one of my earlier long run, and had 3 clotted toe nails from my 23 miler practice run. I was not stranger to having bloody toe nails, I had them during my long hikes. I was banking on race day adrenalin and ready to push myself and thinking of breaking 4 hours. Since my last Half Marathon was in 1:47 minutes, my strategy was to do first Half which was a tougher course, to try to stay with 3:40 pace group (completing first 13.1 miles in 1:52) and then naturally slow down. From my long runs, I knew my easy run was around 9 min/mile, at this pace I can talk and do not sweat much.

Dave had PR of 1:41 on Half Marathon, I was on 1:47, Vimal on 1:52 and Norm (though he never ran Half before) finished around 2 hours for 13.1 miles as per his GPS watch. We were lucky to have everybody around the same time zone. It helped that during certain days, any one of us could be leading the pack. If I was not feeling well, I would just try to hang in there. Dave was the only one who had run two full Marathons (close to 4 hours) and two Ultras. He kept telling me that the Marathon distance needed to be respected (especially by the first timers), and kept telling me about ‘Runner with two black eyes’. I did not realize what it meant till I ran the race and found out at mile 16 when all my plans went haywire.

Promila took a quick photo of us before we departed home. While driving, we were wondering as why there was no shoe tag (electronic chip which measure your splits at different intervals) and why timing chip was buried in the bib itself. Dave clarified, it was because the course is so tough that most of us would be crawling at finish line, rather than running ! We laughed and did not know how true that joke would come out to be.

At start I followed up 3:40, Vimal followed up 3:50 and Dave and Norm followed up 4 hour pace groups. Faster pace groups lined up first, so that they are not slowed down by slow runners. I climbed the hills (670 elevation gain) and came down strong, and finished 13.1 miles in 1:53, Vimal was couple of minutes behind me, followed by Dave. At mile 16, my calves started cramping up and my toes curling up. It had never happened before in any of the training runs. Could it be because of steep dip where you lose almost 600 ft elevation in less than a mile ? Really scared, I forgot that I generally needed only 16 ounces of water during my long runs, I started drinking a lot, ate a Cliff bar and started having sports drink. I would run for another 400 yards, and the cramps would come back.

During our practice runs, only Vimal had the tendency to cramp up. And we all tinkered with nutrition, as what to eat before the long run, and during the long run and how much sports drinks were needed and when. Generally, I associate cramps with nutrition, however, after another couple of miles, and drinking too much sport drink, my belly swelled. Since these drinks have salts in them, body was retaining much more water. May be it was too late to hydrate myself if you were cramping during the run. Lesson learned ! So I started doing some stretching, and was afraid to see few runners, lying on the side of road, cramping even more than me.

I knew it would be a long 10 miles now, and tried to find some inspiration. DNF (Did not finish) was a real possibility. I thought about Prem, and tried to emulate his breathing, quick and short to bring some much needed oxygen in cramped muscles. I thought about ‘Touching the Void’, and started counting my shuffling steps - hardly lifting my knee and keeping stride very short. I found that I could do till 100 steps and then have to walk for 20 steps on my heel, using different set of muscles which would give break to my running calf muscles. Vimal passed me between mile 16 and 17. I was waiting for Dave and Norm to pass me. At mile 23, when I saw 4:15 pace group flag, I thought Dave and Norm might have already passed me. I finished in 4:22 finally. Vimal was waiting for me, he did it in 4:01.

He told me that he was cramping at mile 16 too, however, since he had more training as how to run through cramps, he was able to keep up. He told me that his secret to break cramps was to shake your legs like Elvis Presley while singing his song. I was kicking myself for not having my iPhone to take the video, when he did the full demo. I asked him as where was Dave, he did not see him either, now that was surprising. So we looked around for another 30 minutes and then finally saw him; it was clear it was not his day today, completing the Marathon with 4:53, and soon Norm arrived too.

Though I was not happy with my times, the Marathon intrigued me. It was not cut and dry; and there were a lot of factors to consider. And that is the real challenge. Out of 4 of us, only Vimal ran close to his potential. Dave had told us earlier that it takes around 7 Marathon, before you could fine tune various factors. We were all thinking about the reasons of our bad timings. Experience is what you get, when you do not get what you want. Looking back, I think these are the learnings I would take to my next Marathon (if and when I decided to run it).

1. Instead of running the last long training run (23 miles) two weeks before the race, schedule it 3 weeks before.

2. Most of our long runs were on trail not on hard pavement, I think my nutrition was OK before and during the race, however, I really did not train on hard pavement for my long runs or interval training. The muscles might had taken the beatings till 16 miles in the race which had the steep downhill portion and then gave up.

3. There is a big difference between Half and Full Marathon. For Half Marathon (the distance we were running every weekend), you really do not have to worry about nutrition, water, pace and cramps. After you hit two hours, and you have another two hours to do, it is a different game.

4. Most of our long runs were not at Marathon Pace, I think I would have one of shorter long run (12-15 miles) at targeted Marathon pace to improve muscle memory of that pace.

5. We did Yasso 800s between 3:20 to 3:30 (Dave, Vimal and I); which as per the online calculator meant that we should all be able to run Marathon in that time; did not happen for any of us. Most of the calculators which extrapolates your mile, 5K, 10K and Half Marathon distance to give your estimated time for full Marathon, did not really work for any of us.

6. Increase week days mileage from 10-12 miles to 18-20 miles, to get to weekly mileage of 30 plus.

7. Continue Cross training of biking and/or swimming to give running muscles break.

8. Continue interval/speed training.

9. Carbohydrate loading should be just for one day before the run, not for 1 week. My weight was increased by 6 pounds in last 6 days, before race.

10. Find a flat or all downhill course for next Marathon.

Marathon running is tough and challenging, both physically and mentally. Why people do it ? Everybody has their reasons. Personally I would not say that I loved running Marathon distance. As I write this, I have been walking, with a stance two feet wide, more like Sumo wrestler, my calves still hurting and quads trashed; and I am thinking about my next race (I would like to think I am alert mentally). Two years ago I used to see Marathoners with neon light over their head, flashing ‘Crazy’. I started running just last April (never ran before in my life) and almost gave up. Now after experimenting for one full year, I have utmost respect for runners. Long runs (18 mile plus) would have been more painful without good company of friends. It was intrigue of challenge which was the driving force for me to run the Marathon. And also, that it gives me confidence, that if you put your mind and persist, anything is possible; except that you cannot teach anything to a runner with two black eyes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

18 mile run in Alum Rock Park (Feb 13, 2011)

Feb 13, 2011 – 18 mile run in Alum Rock Park (with Dave, Norm and Vimal) – This was a big planned run to train for our Marathon at March end. I have never run Marathon, so was looking to see how we hold up. My shins were aching for a week now from tempo runs and interval training, however, nothing where I had to stop running and take a break. However, I was thinking that it would be nice to take a break, as we still have another 6 weeks to go before the race.

I look forward for long runs, as they are run at 60-90 seconds slower pace than your planned Marathon Pace. Idea is to increase the endurance, and most of the time we can chit chat during the long run. Since there was no rains for quite some time, ARP was dried up. We decided to do South Rim and then do another loop till Bridge and come back. Well, that was the plan at least. All of us were prepared with nutrition (bars, Cytomax etc).

Dave was in a good form today, and we were just trying to keep up with him. I was hoping that my calves and shins would warm up and pain would go away after couple of miles, however, it did not. I was having doubts as how I would break 4 hours, if the muscles are already getting fatigued. After covering our usual elevation gain of 1000 ft, I was able to open up during downhill, was able to keep up a good pace, following Dave and Vimal. I was glad that trail was all dried up as I always fear for balance on wet downhill trail. Everybody was doing fine, and finished all uphill and downhill, and covered 13 miles. Then all of a sudden, I tripped and next thing I remember, I was all flat on the ground. Fall sounded really nasty. However, after smelling the wet soil patch where I fell, for 10 seconds, I knew that no bones were broken or joints were damaged (well at slow pace of 10 min/mile what do you expect). Dave came and inspected all fours (Hands-elbows and knees). Of course everything was scraped badly and right hand was bleeding. I told him that I could run, and we ran to nearest water tap to wash the wounds. He mentioned, good thing that you didn’t scraped your pretty face, otherwise Promila would have never forgiven you !

I felt more alive than ever, and thought I could do another 10 miles. The shin pain and calf pain was gone, I think shot of adrenalin woke me up. After cleaning up the wounds, I was leading for some time, I still wanted to do another 5 miles. Dave screamed from behind again, “Now we cannot lose you, all we have to do is follow the blood trail”. I know my legs are going to be pulled for a long time now, hope they help in stretching some of the muscles too. Since both of my hands were scraped I knew that I would not be able to stretch my calves after the run. And as I write this, though the pain from scrape is tolerable, but muscles are now seizing up. Anyway, completed 18 mile run in little under 3 hours (10 min pace). I thought this was a pretty good indicator as we climbed over 1000 feet.

After reaching home, Promila screamed, while keeping her hands on her ears, and Prem ran to the family room and disappeared. Great to see family support system in action. I guess some of the blood clotted and made it look worse than it was. Promila washed my wounds and dressed me up well and Prem came back with some water-proof bandage. My right hand is swollen, and I am limping not because of the scrape but because of calf muscles are not stretched. I guess, I have now proper sign to take that week break from running which I was longing for. All in all, I feel that Marathon training, to run it in less than 4 hours, is quite grueling. I am hoping at some time pain associated with running would go away, till then, thank you JnJ for making Tylenol.