Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Annapurna 50K

Jan 1st, 2012. It was a grand day. A day for revering the grand Himalayas, a day for feeling totally, utterly humble in comparison to the mighty mountains, a day when the mountains had the last laugh. It was also a beautiful day that lent itself well to the deepest introspection of life and its myriad meanderings, a day of camaraderie interspersed with the simple human touches that make life memorable.

It was the day of the Annapurna Ultra marathon (http://www.annapurna100.com), where I did the 50km.   

I came across this ultra run way back in July or Aug and it seemed like a crazy idea. Very temptingly advertised as "An Unforgettable Himalayan Start to 2012", I was completely taken in by the grand views of the mountains, the lovely mountain trails, and I was taken in. I decided I will do the 50 KM run here.

As I had been training alone this year, the challenge seemed larger, and it took a few rounds of discussions and planning with my friend and coach Vinod to make sure that this was indeed doable. Around Sept or so, I asked Santhosh if he wanted to do this run. Given his crazy runs, I thought there might be a good chance he will agree. He did, and said he will try to ask other Runners High folks. Finally Kanishka signed up as well, and we had a team! However due to my crazy travel and work schedule, I could not do a single training run with them. I did follow my training diligently - to give an idea of my schedule, in the period from July to Dec 2011, I ran over 900km in training, including:
  • Mt. Diablo Half marathon - a very hilly half marathon in the San Francisco east bay area. I did this in Sept, about mid-way through my training schedule 
  • Chamundi Hills, in Mysore. This has an elevation gain of about 3500 ft. It was a good experience doing this, but hardly a match to what was to come later!
  • Bangalore Ultra 50K - I did a 50K here, it was a hard day, very hot and sunny, dirt trail, unforgiving heat without any tree shade or breeze. But I was happy to finish the 50 km in a little over 9 hours without any major injury except that my ITB flared up here, and continued to bother me through the next month or so of training.
  • Coyote Ridge Trail Run - I did a 20+ miler here. This was on Dec 10, when I happened to be traveling on work to the US. With beautiful views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate bridge, Bonita Cove, Pirates Cove, and Muir Beach, this trail had about 5000-6000 ft of elevation gain, it seemed like a perfect ramp up towards the Annapurna run. I loved this run, thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I was terribly slow, and did the 35KM in about 7.5 hours and with some ITB worries. I was truly alone through this run, which was an exhilarating experience in itself.
  • There were several (7-8) runs that were more than half marathon distances, going upto about 35-38 km on Saturdays, training back-to-back which meant both sat and sun were long runs, usually the Saturday run longer than the Sunday run).
 Planning for the Annapurna Run
I will not bore the casual reader, and keep this part brief. The 3 of us met up a week before in Jayanagar and sorted out some of the details - route for the 50K and 100K (Santhosh was planning to do the 100K), start and end points, logistics regarding drop bags (we would all start at Pokhara and finish in a place called Bhirethanti, so we had to pack everything else and give that off to the race organizers, keeping only what we needed for the run with us). After umpteen amount of back-and-forth discussing every little thing, we were all set, or so we thought.

Santhosh came home the evening before, we crashed early, and left home at 4AM to catch our flight to Delhi, and from there to Khatmandu. We reached around 3:30 PM, went out to see Pashupatinath temple before it closed, got back to the hotel, had an early dinner and slept. Kanishka reached around 11 PM, and Santhosh was happy to let the two of us in a room so both of us could compete for who can snore the loudest.

Views of "The Great Wall" of the Himalayas from the window of the plane

We got to Pokhara the next morning, met up with Kanishka's parents, and relaxed the next 2 days eating a LOT and enjoying the sights of Pokhara's street festival, with grand views of the Annapurna range in the backdrop.  

Chilling around on the streets of Pokhara

Hotel Sacred Valley Inn, where we stayed in Pokhara
Sights from Pokhara Street Festival
 Race registration and pre-race instructions were on Saturday, 31st Dec. The weather had been great on 30th and 31st, and we were all hoping for a grand 1st Jan. 
At the registration...
 At the registration, we got maps so we could draw out the route, mark out aid stations, and kind of get an idea of the terrain. There were no trail markers, so we had to be careful not to lose our way. If ever we felt lost, we were told to ask for the next village on the map, and make our way there - a far cry from the runs that had spoilt me, with trail markers, and aid stations every few miles. Something more challenging:)

The route
We headed back to the hotel, packed everything up into the drop bag, put our running gear together, and discussed last minute plans. For the 50K, we had no real cut off times, except making it back to Bhirethanti by midnight (18.5 hours from the start). The 70K and 100K runners had to think about the cut off times - 8.5 hours to get to Ghandruk for the 70K, and 6.5 hours for the 100K to the same point. 8.5 hours for 40K didn’t seem really bad, and I started nurturing dreams of trying to make it to the 40K point, and then trying to shoot for the 70K. Little did we realize that the mountains would have the last laugh! 

Running gear and all accessories...
All set for the next morning!
We had an early dinner and slept by 8:30 PM. I woke up at 3:30 AM (didn’t sleep too well, maybe the loud new year music blaring from the streets of Pokhara – seems like a happening place!), had a quick breakfast of cereal and cold milk and had a hot shower (that felt good!). We took a couple of pictures, bade good bye to Kanishka's parents (very sweet of them, they came out to wish us luck, and would come later to Bhirethanti to see us finish) and headed out to the starting point at 4:45 AM.
Just before we left the hotel

The route, briefly, was as follows (for the 50K run)
Pokhara to Nyangja - 12.5 KM. Easy asphalt roads
Dhampus @ 24.5 KM. Hills, and valleys
Landruk @ 37.5 KM. More hills
Ghandruk @ 40K. Although just 2.5 km from the prev aid station, these 2 villages are on top of 2 hills, and the only way is ~400 m steep descent to the river, and a 900m incredibly steep ascent to Ghandruk
After this, there was a steady jeep track for the last 10K leading down to Bhirethanti with 2 aid stations in between.

I think we just didn’t realize how hilly "hilly" meant :)

Pokhara - Nyangja (0 - 12.5KM) - 2:05 hours
We started off exactly at 5:30 AM wishing each other good luck. I prayed silently and shuffled out of the starting line behind the other faster runners. It was quite a sight to see the Nepali runners rapidly vanish into the darkness. With about 150 or so runners spread across the route, there was hardly any traffic to speak of! Within a few minutes, I was alone, at the back of the pack. There was a slight drizzle, that didn’t bode too well for the day. It was quite dark, and I could barely follow the headlamps of the last runner ahead of me. We quickly left town, and headed out towards Nyangja. This was fairly easy, asphalted roads, and I kept a steady pace. I estimated the first 12.5 KM to take about 2 hours, give or take a few minutes. Very soon we were at a fork, and I saw a couple of runners standing with their headlights, undecided which way to go. They said they saw two of the Nepali runners take what seemed like a shortcut while the others had headed in a different direction. Thankfully, a shop was open, I enquired in Hindi, found out the right direction and we headed off. The two runners were actually planning to walk the entire 50K, both were from Abu Dhabhi, one was a lady from Canada and another from UK. I soon left them behind and went on. Coincidentally I would finish the run with one of them later.

By now it was just getting brighter, but still the early morning mist was hanging over the Mardi Khola river valley, and, looming on the right side, was the magnificent Annapurna range towering above the clouds, their summits far beyond where the eyes could see. It was also very cloudy, and there was a steady drizzle. I was already dressed in 2 layers (a thicker full sleeve wicking jersey on the inside and a half sleeve dry fit on top), and did not feel the need to take out my waterproof jacket just yet. I took some pictures along the way of the peaceful morning country side. It was serene and picturesque. Most homes that I passed by had a fire outside, and the family members were warming themselves up near the fire, having tea (or so I thought). Some kids were strumming on their guitars singing a country tune, it was beautiful to listen to. Unfortunately I could not capture the video of that.  It was a picturesque countryside, enhanced by the panoramic setting of the majestic Annapurna range.

Soon I reached the small village of Nyangja. I saw that already one of the runners was pulling out, poor guy was limping into a car and was heading back. I wondered how hard it would get as we went along. A kid on the road clearly didn’t like my running, and he kept saying that I am the last person, and I was slow and lost. Of course he was wrong, since I knew exactly where the aid station was just ahead. I just amused myself with his inexplicable jeers, and moved on.   I got to the aid station, which was really nothing much, just a table, with hardly any food there. I was expecting, and hoping for salted potatoes to supplement the dry fruits I was carrying. Looks like since I was one of the last, all the potatoes and bread had gotten over. This was to repeat at all the aid stations further on. I just moved on. It was 2:05 hours since we started. I was quite happy with the pace, and there was no sign of my ITB issue as well. I continued to nurture the dreams of the 8:30 hour cutoff to try to make it for the 70K. 

Hyangja - first aid station at 12.5 KM mark
 Nyangja - Dhampus (12.5 - 23.5 KM): 2:45 hours
As soon as I left Nyangja, the terrain changed drastically. Immediately I was climbing, the trail was now a dirt track up into a forest, and very soon the views of the valley down below were downright glorious. The river and valley were constantly on the right side, and beyond them further to the right were the mountains. Counting from the left most side as the eyes could see, it was first Annapurna South Ridge, followed by Annapurna 1. Then was Machupuchchare (fish tail), a very striking snow covered mountain towering 6993m. Further ahead to the right were Annapurna 2 and Annapurna 3. Behind these, almost hiding shyly, is Dhaulagiri, which is actually taller than the other peaks. As far as the eyes could see, it was only the river, valleys adorned by terrace farms, and mountains shrouded by the clouds. 
If the weather had been good, this would have been the view as we climbed up!

This is what we actually saw...beautiful nonetheless

I continued climbing, keeping a slow but steady pace, not stopping at all, except to enquire a Japanese walker who seemed tired. He confirmed he was doing fine, so I moved on. I met another Japanese guy, who seemed to be in terrible pain in his knees but was keenly marching on, attempting to walk the entire 50K, and also trying to meet the 8:30 hour cutoff so he could walk the 70K! I was highly impressed! Here I met a couple of young Nepali girls, quite likely school girls,  who were giving the Jap guy company till I met him. We took some pictures, and the girls rapidly zoomed away. I never saw them again, they were so fast!

The friendly Japanese guy who was planning to walk all the way..and the Nepali kids who zoomed away.
Most of the terrain was steady uphill, followed by a bit of downhill; I did a fast walk on the uphill, and ran the flats and downhill parts. I also ate constantly, and kept a rhythm of water every 2-3 mins, eating something solid (the menu consisting of one sandwich that I had packed from the hotel, dry fruits, wheat/jaggery/peanut/sesame balls, and organic dates), and salt tablets every hour since it was not very sunny. Unfortunately, the plastic ziplock holding my salt caps tore, and I think I lost a couple of capsules. I had packed exactly 20 salt capsules, thinking I will be out on the road for a max of 10 hours. I didn’t have any reason to panic just yet, I decided to eat more salt at the aid stations, and carry it as well so that I can conserve the salt caps.

I reached Dhampus, and Roger the race director greeted me at the aid station. There was a welcome bowl of noodle soup, I poured some extra salt into it and gulped the soup. A quick restroom break, a couple of pictures with Roger and other supporters, and I was ready to move on. I filled up my Camelbak to its entire capacity of 3 liters since I expected the next stretch to be longer. It was just around 10:15 AM now. I had taken 2 hours and 45 mins for this stretch.  Roger also confirmed that the first Nepali runners had finished the 50K by now (around 4.5 hours). Such insane timing! 

With Roger, the race director
Dhampus – Landruk (23.5 – 37.5 KM): 4:45 hours

As soon as I was heading out of the aid station, one of the two ladies I had met earlier reached as well. It turns out her Canadian friend Gaby had dropped out, but Lucy wanted to still push ahead and finish. She asked if I didn’t mind if she came along with me. We realized we were pretty much the last two on the 50K trail now. That suited me just fine, since I was going very slow anyway, and quite likely might slow down further since the terrain would get harder. So I waited for her, and we started off at around 10:30 AM.

The description given for this part of the trail was:
You’re in for a fair bit of climbing through wonderful forest, passing a couple of clearings, follow the signs pointing towards Pitam Deurali, and when there is no sign and you’re in doubt, take the trail staying on the right side of the ridge. You’ll climb to Pothana first, a small village on a pass, then on to Pitam Deurali, from where the trail descends steeply to Bhichok where it emerges from the forest and hits village area. The views are now all the time onto different valleys and Annapurna South dominates the horizon, very much close up. From here it is gradually down to the larger villages of first Tolka and then Landruk.

Turns out they had missed out some adjectives to describe the hills.

I realized what “hilly” meant now! Without any sign of warning after leaving Dhampus, the trail started climbing incessantly. Try and imagine steps cut out of rock faces, jagged, uneven, and most steps over a foot or 1.5 feet in height. Add to that, slippery wet surfaces due to the rain. Most of the terrain was now very steep, easily 45 degrees or more, some going upto 75-80% I am sure. And then imagine this whole thing repeat endlessly for about 15 km! I think words cannot do justice to how it felt out there. It was plain hard. We kept moving on, the pace dropping considerably now, averaging about 3.5 km an hour. We chatted on and off, and to a large extent, kept focusing on each step ahead, taking micro breaks of maybe a minute every 15 minutes or so, just to recover our breath from the climbing.

Brief views of the Annapurna mountains

More views...

Terrace farms adorning most of the hills

I dont know what this was, perhaps mustard, looked so pretty
Had to cross a lot of suspension bridges like this one..


View of Annapurna South from Landruk (if the weather had been clear - this picture was from last year)
A very calming, comforting sight - prayer flags. This was very common all through the route
We finally got to Landruk, the 37.5 km mark. It was a little past 3pm. Just like the aid station before, there was literally nothing here, just some bread crumbs, not even water! That would not do at all, since we had an at least 3 more hours to go. The aid station volunteers had also apparently just left. There was no going ahead without some food. There was a small shop there, and I asked the incredibly lovely Nepali woman if she could make some noodle soup and chai for us. While we waited, we got 2-3 liters of water, filled up our camelbaks, took much needed restroom breaks. I also called up the aid station volunteers and realized they were just down the valley at the river. I requested them if they could wait for us, since Lucy was feeling very tired and wasn’t sure if she could finish the entire 50K. They obliged, thankfully.

The veg noodles were amazingly delicious, and felt comforting in the cold weather and the chai was excellent too. The bill too was excellent, surprisingly - 500 Nepali Rupee for 2 bowls of noodles, 2 chai and 3 liters of water. Should have been half the price. But neither Lucy nor I was in the mood for any haggling, we just paid and left. It was about 4pm now, I think. It was fairly clear we would be doing a couple of hours in the dark, since it would get dark in an hour or so.

Landruk - Bhirethanti (37.5 – 50 KM): < 3 hours

We silently headed down the valley towards the Mardi Khola river. It was getting decidedly colder by now, and the rain had increased in intensity as well. It was a very steep descent, followed by a suspension bridge overlooking the gushing river, and then an incredibly steep ascent, as promised. The aid station guys met us here, and we slowly climbed up the valley. Each step was agonizingly slow, the incline was easily close to vertical, and the high steps made it really hard. But there was only one way up. There were some patches where there had been a recent landslide, so we had to be extra careful clambering over the rocks in the now rapidly diminishing light. We turned on our headlamps, and slowly made it to the top, and the jeep tracks. The aid station guys asked us to go ahead, as they had to wait for someone else coming from the 70K route.

Not wanting to really stop at any aid station anymore, we just headed on. It was I think 6pm by now, and quite dark. We kept a steady pace, and we guessed we might finish by 7pm. Soon after we crossed Sayuli Bazar, we met one of the 100km runners, he was doing his last 4-5km loop. We cheered him on, and continued. There were a lot of water crossings now, perhaps the water from the hills and maybe the rain, so we had to be extra careful in the dark.

The eyes and mind plays interesting tricks in the dark. Running in the night is an interesting experience. Ultra running, in the trails especially, is an intense experience, physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually. Think of running through a trail in fog or rain all alone, deep inside a forest, hoping that you haven’t lost the way. Think of taking step after painful step on a steep slope, feeling utterly low on energy, just wondering how long can one pull on. Add to that running in the night, and it adds a new dimension to the experience :). Firstly, there are the pinpoints of light bobbing up and down from the headlamp. Even if there is moonlight, under the slightest of tree cover, things can become really dark. After a long 10-12 hours or running, it is easy to feel even more disoriented. Then there is the cold, which attacks just when the body’s energy is running already low to keep warm enough. The temperature was dropping rapidly now after the last light had gone out. And most interestingly, the night can get spooky, the eyes easily playing tricks on the mind :). I realized that a headlight alone casts too little shadow, thereby reducing depth perception. I made a silent note to myself that next time, having a small flashlight held at waist height is a must…that would correct this problem. I am fairly certain I saw a large body of water right ahead in the path, and it turned to be nothing. I heard footsteps many times behind, and clearly there was no one ahead or behind. And many times, I had to make sure there were no turns we were missing, the lights seemed to show some pathways and throw shadows of objects that didn’t really exist. We kept marching now, the enthusiasm building steadily as we headed towards the finish. The sound of the river crashing against the gorges and rocks got louder telling us that we were descending rapidly now towards the valley bottom, where the end point was.

Suddenly, almost without warning, we saw a large building up ahead beyond a bend in the track, and we heard a lot of voices. We realized we had made it! We finally made it to the finish line at almost 7pm, a good 13.5 hours on the trail!

At the finish line...

Santhosh at the finish line, waiting for us
Kanishka had finished earlier, around 6 pm or so

I realized a few things – I was not injured one bit, even the ITB pain was not really bad. Most importantly, I was in such a state of heightened energy and positivity all through the day, I was amazed. I don’t think I felt down, or tired, or felt like giving up, even once.


Santhosh, Kanishka and a bunch of others came down running to greet me, and take pictures. I got some hot tea first, and then went up to change. There was not going to be any hot shower or such luxury here. There was no power in this small village, all cell phone connections were down, due to the rains. I couldn’t care less – I quickly just washed up, changed into really warm clothing, and went back down. We then went to the room that we were allocated, got some really nice simple dinner of daal, rice, and vegetables. We chatted for a while, sharing our experiences, and had a good laugh at our own foolish dreams of pushing towards 70K in this terrainJ. Very quickly Kanishka was snoring, Santhosh was sleeping and I was in a dreamy state of euphoria. My leg muscles were constantly twitching, which made it hard to relax and sleep. This is normal, since the leg muscles continue to be in a state of heightened activity much after the running has ceased. I could not fall asleep till maybe 2AM or so. Eventually I fell asleep, we woke up at 5AM and quickly headed down to the bridge where our cab was waiting to take us to Pokhara. We got there, ate a HUGE  breakfast, got to the airport, took in the last views of the grand Annapurna range, and left.
At the airport, with Kanishka's dad
With Kanishka's mom

Overall a wonderful trip, a great run, and an amazing start to 2012!


Friday, January 13, 2012

Bangalore Ultra 50K - Nov 13th, 2011
I ran the Bangalore Ultra Marathon on Nov 13th, and . the 50 km distance in about 9 hours. A little more time than I had hoped for (I had thought I would be able to finish in under 8.5 hours), but then over time, I have grown to realize that every day is different, every run is different, in fact I am different each day as well! So no point in comparing anyone to anything, everything just is and must just be enjoyed.
In the week leading up to the race, I had been down with a bad cold and a throat infection, and was on antibiotics for 3-4 days. I evaluated the situation with my friend and coach Vinod, and decided I will go as much as I can, and pull out if I felt really tired. On Sat, I prepared for the race, packed my running gear, 2 handheld water bottles, waist pack, salt capsules, camelback with water for hydrating after the run, food/salt supplies, etc. My mom had made some delicious puliogre that I kept aside for eating after the run. I had already decided to wear my relatively new Brooks Cascadia trail shoe. It is a great shoe for off-the-road runs that served me well at Mt. Diablo. I did not sleep much on Sat night, maybe 3-4 hours. I woke up at 2:45 AM or so, got ready and left home by 3:45 AM, pick up Santhosh on the way at 4AM and then we drove to Hessarghatta, about 45 km outside Bangalore. After an uneventful drive, we were at the start line by 5:30 AM. The place was already abuzz with activity. At 5AM, the 75 km & 100 km runners had started off, and we could see little pin points of light in the far distance. The route brand new this year, and was an out-and-back trail, 6.25km in distance. So one loop was 12.5km. I had to do 4 such loops for my 50KM. Met quite a few good old running friends and after wishing each other good luck, we were off at 6AM sharp.
Lap 1: 0 – 12.5 KM
It was still a bit dark and quite chilly in the morning, there was a lovely moonlight a thick fog was all around, it was absolutely beautiful. Apart from the footsteps of the runners, everything was quiet all around. No one was talking much, I guess everyone was at peace. I started off with my old pals from Runners High & Team Asha – Santhosh, Chandra, Matthew, Arijit, Ramesh, Gopalan and Ram. Most of them were aiming for the 50K, and were planning to go slow. That suited me just fine, and we ran along at a good pace. I was pacing the gang, doing a 9 min run, 1 min walk, and we were steadily doing a km in about 7 mins or so. The route was beautiful, at least it seemed so then (it got brutal later J). Aid stations were a few km apart, and we breezed by them stopping once in a while for water or picking up some oranges. By now, it was very bright, and very quickly we were at the turn around point at 6.25 km, and headed right back. I started my usual schedule of salt tablets (1st one after an hour, after that 1 capsule every 30-35 mins). Things seemed great, and we kept the same run-walk schedule, and except for some part that was hilly, we ran well and strong. Matthew and Arijit were cracking their usual bad jokes, Chandra admonishing them in her usual motherly tone (she is an amazing runner, and has almost always won the prize in the senior women’s category; she did the 75K at ultra last year), Santhosh running silently ahead (Santhosh is my one of my coaches, he has done some amazing ultra marathons, a couple of 100 milers, and more), and me at the back enjoying the trail wholeheartedly. We finished the first lap in 1 hour and 40 mins. By now, of course, a lot of the strong & fast runners had turned around. I met Bharath, a senior from college, after a very long time. He was also doing the 50K, he seemed to be going very strong.
Lap 2: 12.5 – 25 KM
After turning around, we headed right back without a break. I only stopped to pick up my cap, since it had already gotten sunny by 7:30 AM, and I felt we were in for a brutal day ahead. There was no second guessing there – the sun started hitting us right away, as we headed into the next lap. We kept the same pace, and I continued hydrating well, and sticking to my salt schedule. Around the 3rd aid station, at the 4.5 km mark, one poor lady had stopped, injured due to a dog bite. That was terrible. We stopped, called for the ambulance, waited for the doc to show up. First aid happened, and she was sent off in the ambulance to the closest hospital, one of the runners went back with her. That was very sad indeed. Chandra, our super woman runner, is scared of dogs. From then on, we ensured someone was with her all the time (usually that was me, since I was the slowest of the pack, and was always at the rear of the line). Rest of the lap went by, and we were back at the starting point. A quick time check showed 3:40 had elapsed, that was quite decent, and better than what I had done in my practice runs. I stopped at this time, picked up a fresh bandanna since I was sweating profusely, replenished my water, salts, and food. My sister called to check how I was doing, I quickly gave her an update, and started the next lap.
Lap 3: 25 – 37.5 KM
It was around 9:45 AM now, and it was very hot already. Things started getting interesting now. To start with, I dropped off the pack, since I had to slow down; this had been faster than my usual pace, and I knew I could not keep it up for another 25km. I asked the others to continue, and prepared myself for a long and solitary run for the remaining 25km. I also started feeling some stress in my Achilles tendons (during training, I had some problems with the Achilles heel, the bane of every runner), so I started slowing down a bit. I didn’t want to injure myself. The trail now started becoming more and more visibly hard. I had not noticed earlier how hard the route was – a dirt track for the most part, dusty, dry grass all around, rolling hills that were long and gradual..absolutely no tree cover, no rain Gods to bring on a cloud cover, and not a breeze that would give some breathing respite. And getting hotter by the minute. By now, most of the 12.5 KM and 25 KM runners had finished; that also made the trail more desolate, it was mostly the longer distance runners, and the gaps between runners had also increased. This also made me more watchful of my footsteps and my surroundings since I needed to watch out for any wild dogs, or snakes. I was glad for my cap which was covering my neck and shoulders, at least some respite from the sun. I trudged along, and got to the 32.25 KM turn around point in about 5 hours. Not bad, I told myself, stopped for some delicious salted oranges, chatted with the guys at the aid station, and started heading back. By now I had increased my salt intake considerably, taking a salt cap every 20 – 25 mins, since it was really really hot, and also increased my water intake, much more than my usual 1 liter every 5 miles. I am glad I did that, since I saw a lot of runners cramping up by now, and stopping in between, and starting to pull out of the race. I continued to run-walk, although it was more slow-run-fast-walk by now. Also my leg had started bothering me more now, the ITB on my right leg had flared up considerably (ITB, or Ilio-Tilial-Band is a band of muscles that connect the hip joint down to the side of the knee and continues down. It is a kind of support for the knee). I was hurting, but not real bad. And I was familiar with this pain, and knew what I needed to do after the run to take care of it. I figured I will push along.
By the 35 Km mark, I could see the gang ahead of me – Santhosh, Chandra, and the others. I was surprised – either someone was not doing well, or I had caught up with them (which definitely could not be given my speedJ). I met them at the end of the lap, Chandra was visibly tired, mentally and physically fatigued. She had terrible cramps and had decided to pull out. So did most of the others – Ramesh, Ram, and Santhosh as well, who wanted to be with Chandra and help her. Except Matthew, who had already started his last lap, and he said he would wait for me. I was in two minds, if I should pull out and stop as well. After all it was really a brutal day, unforgiving weather and terrain, and also one should know when to stop, as much as when to push oneself. As I headed around the turnaround point, I did a slow and careful evaluation. Other than the ITB problem, I was really fine. I was eating well, drinking lots of water, and taking salt caps very regularly, with hardly any signs of cramps or headaches. So I decided to go around and head back for another loop, even if I walked more. Time check: 6 hours 10 mins.
Lap 4: 37.5 – 50KM
I took a short break, washed my face, poured a few glasses of water on myself, felt the deliciously cold water freshen me, picked up a fresh bandanna, a packet of dry fruits and date bars, refilled my water bottles, and started off. I told Matt to go ahead, since he was going strong, and I would only slow him down with my ITB problem. I knew this was going to be a long and lonely lap. Far along the trail, until the eyes could see, I could see no one. I was walking most of this lap, and decided to try to keep to 11-12 min per km as much as I could. I knew my ITB would slow me down considerably later, but I was not going to slow down unless I needed to. I had forgotten to put on sun screen, that was not so good.
I met some lonely runners, fighting their own demons, each of us cheering the other along the way, urging each other to keep it going. I saw some amazing people out there. Jagdish is perhaps in his early 60s, and he was doing a 75Km. There was another runner doing a 75km, I saw him from behind and wondered why he was struggling to get his tshirt off; then I saw he had only one arm. I met Honda-san so many times I lost count – he is an amazing runner from Japan who regularly does the 100km here, in the time I do a 50K. I was truly humbled - by such people, by the weather and nature’s might, by the mental strength that is there in all of us, if only we can dig in..and believe in ourselves. Clearly it was a lap of retrospection. I never got bored, I never put on my music, although I had it for backup, just in case. I was lost in my thoughts, as I trudged along the meandering path. Thinking back, I frankly don’t know what I was thinking…I guess I just felt alive. I was aware of every step I was taking, every pain in my leg, every bit of sun heating up the body continuously. I realized a lot of people perhaps pulled out because the loneliness of such runs makes it mentally very, very, hard - when you don’t have anyone with you to run along, when you are trying to push yourself, and feel why in the world am I doing this to myself. I made it to the turnaround point at ~42.5km,and felt good that I had finished a full marathon in about 7 hrs 20 mins or so. Not a great timing, but given the conditions, I will take itJ. Soon after, my GPS watch battery drained up. It had been a good companion helping me keep check on my pace.
It was now the last leg back home. I wish I could have done it faster, but the ITB was now really screaming for attention. I slowed down even more, limping, perhaps doing 15 mins a km or so. Anyway I couldn’t care less. I was going to finish the 50KM, and that thought elated me. I was happy. I wished every runner I came across, thanked the folks at the aid stations I stopped at; without the selfless attitude of such volunteers, and smiling faces, none of us could have done this. I met Jagdish again, we briefly spoke about our next event – a 48 hour run in Jan, and decided to catch up in a few days to plan for that. I met a few more whose names I forgot, but such happy smiles I cannot forget. Some were still running strong, aiming to finish the 75k & 100k before 6pm, wow!
The last 2.5km uphill was quite painful, but I knew I was there. I soon saw the last aid station, swung around and headed towards the finish. Limping leg and all, I decided to sprint for it, and I eagerly ran the last 100m into the finish line, a happy and contended soul! I think I eventually completed in a little over 9 hours, I need to wait for the official time from my timing chip.
All in all a good run, no major injuries except for the ITB, some torn skin and a couple of broken toe nails. I was back at work on Monday, although with a slight, but proud limpJ. I need to work on some areas for a better run at my next event.


Trail Running

It has been a really long time since I blogged....here is a renewed attempt...

Over the years, I have grown to love running. Until a couple of years ago, I liked road runs, lots of people cheering on, trying to better one’s own time, until I discovered the joys of trail running. It has been a wonderful journey of self-discovery, of planning & running long distances alone, of accepting injuries & coping with them, of believing in oneself, of exhilarating runs, of frustrating runs when things just don’t go right, of serene lovely sunsets across the bay, of humbling hilly runs in heavy downpour, of running under the cloak of darkness with only a headlight leading the way, until slowly, magically, the sun rises & life starts anew, simple and grand at the same time; and all the ups & downs seemingly metaphors for life. I can run for hours, alone, think about a plethora of thoughts, then purge myself & forget everything, especially the mundane existence of daily routine; I can keep running, listen only to my breathing & my heart beating and lose myself in the silence, a silence that is beyond words…it has been as close as I can get to meditation & prayer.

This year, I have chosen to run the Annapurna Ultra Marathon. On 1st of Jan, 2012, I will be running a distance of 50 km, starting at Pokhara (about 6 hours north-west of Khatmandu by road). It is touted as one of the world’s most beautiful runs, with great forest trails, rivers & narrow bridges, absolutely fabulous views of Annapurna, Manaslu & Dhaulagiri ranges of the Himalayas. It is a moderately high altitude run, reaching about 8000ft above sea level and I am hoping to make it to the 50km finish line within the 13 hour cut off time. I have been training for this since July, and over the 6 months, I am close to completing about 800km of training runs –including the Mt. Diablo Trail Half marathon that I did in September, and will be doing a 50km run at the Bangalore Ultra marathon on Nov 13th, followed by the Coyote Ridge Trail Run on Dec 10th.

Running for Asha Projects – A very Special Run!

This run is a very special run, for very special people. As most of you know, I have been running for the last few years to support Asha for Education projects. Asha is an organization committed to grass roots education for the under-privileged in India. It is a zero-overhead organization, and I have personally seen how the money goes 100% directly into execution of the project without any administrative costs. Thanks to all of you, I have received tremendous support in my previous such efforts.

This year, I have chosen to raise funds for Shristi Special Academy, a center for holistic support and development for special children in Bangalore. Special children (children with autism, cerebral palsy, etc.) are heavily marginalized by the society and social stigma. Shristi’s mission is to empower such individuals with developmental disabilities (Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, Multiple Disabilities) to realize their potential through training, leading to self-reliance, independent living and better quality of life. Shristi has reached out to over 1000 such children since 1995 and has helped improve their quality of life. It has a well-qualified staff of special educators, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech/language/music/story therapists, psychologists, counselors.

If you are interested in learning more about Shristi please contact me, or visit the following links:



Please support me in this very special run, and join me in raising funds for Shristi. You can donate by sending me a check in the name of SHRISTI SPECIAL ACADEMY.

Thank you for reading through this,


Saturday, March 11, 2006

This is a great read, would highly recommend this. Finished this book a while back, just havent had time to blog. It reads very well, a very fast moving book, as fast as any great fiction I have read.
I am sure there might be critics of John Perkins who might doubt the veracity of his statements, especially those with far-reaching consequences - for example, planned assasinations of Omar Torrijos, president of Panama, Jaime Roldos, the President of Equador. If you are interested in what John is right now upto, visit Dreamchange.
John takes us through his early career as an EHM (Economic Hit Man) with his stint in Indonesia, followed by Iran, Equador, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc. I was particularly impressed by the character of President Omar Torrijos, of Panama who defiantly resisted US pressure to hand over the Panama Canal to US control.
So, why Iraq?
Contrary to common public opinion, Iraq is not simply about oil. It is also about water and geopolitics. Both the Tigris and Euphrates river flow through Iraq; thus, of all the countries in that part of the world, Iraq controls the most important sources of increasingly critical water resources. In addition to this, Iraq is situated in a very strategic location. It borders Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey and has a coastline on the Persian Gulf. It is within easy missile striking distance of Israel, China & the former Soviet Union. Today, it is common knowledge that whoever controls Iraq holds the key to controlling the Middle East.
Some information about OPEC I was not aware of that helps in understanding some of the key strategies of international politics:
During the 1960s, a group of countries had formed OPEC, the cartel of oil-producing countries, largely in response to the power of the big refining companies. Iran was also a major factor. The heads of state of petroleum-rich countries knew that the major international oil companies, known as "Seven Sisters" were collaborating to hold down petroleum prices - and thus the revenue they paid to the producing countries - as a means of reaping their own profits. OPEC was organized in order to strike back.
This all came to a head in the early 1970s, when OPEC brought the industrial giants to their knees. A series of concerted actions, ending with the 1973 oil embargo threatened to bring on an economic catastrophe rivaling the Great Depression. The oil crisis could not have come at a worse time for the US - reeling from a humiliating war in Vietnam, Nixon's Watergate, scandal, etc. The international monetary system took a blow; the network of fixed exchange rates, which had prevailed since WW II, essentially collapsed.
Here is another part that really interested me - on the future of US corporatocracy.
The end of Saddam, like the end of Noriega in Panama, would change the formula. Once we controlled iraq, could we break OPEC? Would the Saudi royal family become irrelevant in the arena of global oil politics? There is another possible outcome: the OPEC could reassert itself. With the US controlling Iraq, the other petroleum-rich countries might have little to lose by raising oil prices and/or reducing supplies.
In the final analysis, the global empire depends to a large extent on the fact that the dollar acts as the standard world currency, and that the US Mint has the right to print those dollars. Thus, we make loans to countries like Ecuador with the full knowledge that they will never repay them; in fact, we do not want them to honor the debts, since this is what gives us our leverage. The US prints currency that is not backed by gold. Indeed, it is not backed by anything other than a general worldwide confidence in our economy.
As long as the world accepts the dollar as its standard currency, this excessive debt does not pose a serious obstacle to our corporatocracy. However, if another currency should come along to replace the dollar, and if some of the US's creditors (Japan or China for example) should decide to call in their debts, the situation would change drastically. In fact, today, the existence of such a currency is no longer hypothetical - the Euro is growing in prestige and power with every passing month. If the OPEC decides to substitute the Euro as its standard currency, and if one or two major creditors were to demand that we repay our debts in Euros, the impact would be enormous.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

or How the United States Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions

I had heard about this book from Vinod, and he just sent me this link to an interview with John Perkins by Amy Goodman on Democracy now.

John Perkins was a self-professed Economic Hit Man. He worked for a score and more years as chief economist at an international consulting firm in Boston called Chas. T. Main. His job was to persuade countries that are strategically important to the U.S. - such as Indonesia, Panama, Ecuador, Iran and Saudi Arabia - to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development from USAID and World Bank and then to make sure the lucrative projects were contracted out to U.S. corporations. This ensured that the principal money moved only from Washington D.C. to New York, Boston and San Francisco. The countries which received all the infrastructure improved the lot of the top 2% of their elite and further marginalized bulk of their poorer population. Stuck with extraordinarily huge debts which they couldn't possibly repay, these countries came under the control of the U.S. government and other U.S.-dominated aid agencies. Terms of repayment were meted out and the foreign powers were forced to hand out free or cheap oil, allow U.S. military bases and other atrocious empire building actions.

As an economic hit man, chief economist John Perkins' job of persuasion entailed coming up with projected economic growth rate charts over a futuristic 25 years in the event of the country accepting the generous loans of the empire-building aid agencies. According to Perkins, when he and his ilk failed to convince the heads of state, the CIA (he calls them sharks) would move in and silently assassinate the president and instead place a puppet at the head who would agree to the terms of the loan. When this failed, U.S.A. would go to war, an Iraq would occur.
Very lucidly in his new book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins takes one through his career, from being hired as an econmic hit man to his actions in Indonesia, Equador, Panama, Saudi Arabia and Colombia.
I have to buy this book soon.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

More on The Bottom of the Pyramid
OK, so continuing my summary/review of C.K. Prahalad's book, here are some of his principles of innovation for BOP markets (I quote directly from his book along with examples, taken from other chapters):
  1. Serving BOP markets is not just about lower prices; it is about creating a new price-performance envelope. The best example here is the incredible growth the world has seen in the use of cell phones. What used to once cost $1,000 in India (GSM handsets used to be that expensive!) now is so cheap, and India is now the second largest growing wireless market. Another example is the Aravind Eye Care System, the largest eye care facility in the world, headquarted in Madurai, Southern India. Cataract operations that cost about $2,500-$3000 in the US cost about $50-$300 here, including the hospital stay and post-operative care. This case study is truly worth reading more about! I was amazed.
  2. Innovation requires hybrid solutions. Most scalable, price-performance-enhancing solutions need advanced and emerging technologies. A case in point here is the how Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), an Indian conglomerate innovated the manufacturing of iodized salt. More than 70 million Indian children suffer from iodine deficiency disorder (IDD), which can lead to mental retardation. Same with Africa. Only 15% of salt sold in India is iodized. Salt, to be effective as a carrier of iodine, must retain a minimum of 15 ppm of iodine. Due to harsh conditions of storage & tranportation, and furthermore due to the cooking habits, the challenge of creating iodized salt that will release the iodine only on ingesting cooked food is truly great. HLL innovated their process by performing what is called molecular encapsulation. Unilever is now using this innovation from HLL to other countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Kenya.
  3. Solutions must be designed for ease of adaptation in similar BOP markets. How does one take a solution that worked in India to Brazil? This is a key consideration for gaining scale.
  4. Developed markets are accustomed to resource wastage. All innovations must focus on conserving resources.
  5. Product development must start from a deep understanding of functionality. Marginal changes to products developed for rich customers in the US or Japan will not do. One case study here is that of the Jaipur Foot. The artificial limb business is not new, it has been around since the American Civil War. In India alone, there are 5.5 million amputees, and about 25-30,000 are added each year due to polio, accidents, etc. Traditional artificial limbs were found to be both expensive (about $7,000 per prosthetic foot) as well as not serving the needs/requirements of the Indian life style - for example, most Indians squat (hence the need for dorsiflexion of the limb), they sit cross-legged (need for transverse rotation), walk on uneven ground (need for inversion and eversion) and walk barefoot (need for natural look). This unique set of requirements (well, not that unique, since this was adopted to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Congo & Vietnam) led to a master design. Master craftsman Ram Chandra & Dr. P.K. Sethi, along with their Jaipur design team, developed a prosthetic that meets all he criteria for less than $30.
  6. Deskilling work is critical - most BOP markets are poor in skill.
  7. Education of customers on product usage is key. Most BOP markets live in "media dark" zones, without access to radio or TV.
  8. Products must work in hostile environments - noise, dust, unsanitary conditions, low quality of infrastructure such as electricity, water, etc. ITC, the Indian conglomerate, was building this network for connecting Indian villages in a seamless supply chain. The PCs placed in the villages had to work in conditions unthinkable in the West. For example, the voltage fluctuated between 90-350 volts (against the rated 220 volts), and sudden surges are very common. ITC engineers had to add an UPS, and a solar panel that would allow at least 3-4 hours of uninterrupted, quality electricity. For communication, they had to depend on satellites.
  9. Research on interfaces is critical. Given the multitude of languages, ethnicities and diversities in culture, this is no surprise. The interfaces could be either of - iconic, color-coded, voice-activated, fingerprint and iris-recognition interfaces. This is another area of crucial research, in my opinion. There is already a lot of work that has been done in this area. For example, the Baraha software is a wonderful tool to create documents in about 13 different Indian languages. Incidentally, my cousin was the key person who developed this during his spare time.

More recently, notable research in some of these areas:

  • MIT announced the $100 laptop that has a hand-powered crank that can charge up the battery and comes in the form of a rugged, rubberized case so that it can survive under harsh conditions. More here.
  • Intel Research, Berkeley, is working on real-world deployments of Delay-Tolerant Networks (DTN) that considers the networking usages of satellite-based connections. More details here and here.
Some other key areas the book focuses on: Governance, and the interaction/importance of governmental interaction with NGOs, conglomerates and getting the common people involved in a transparent manner. This is a critical factor - lack of transparency, bureaucracy and corruption are the leading obstacles towards making the Millenium Developments a reality.
Case studies in the second half of the book illustrates in a very nice manner how millions of lives have been transformed by these projects:
  • Casas Bahia (Brazil) - Innovation in retailing
  • CEMEX (Mexico) - Innovation in Housing for the Poor
  • The Annapurna Salt Story (India) - Solving the Iodine Deficiency problem for India
  • Selling Health: HLL and the Soap Market (India)
  • Jaipur Foot: Challenging Convention (India)
  • The Aravind Eye Care System: Delivering the most precious gift (India)
  • ITC e-choupal Story: Profitable Rural Transformation (India)
  • Voxiva: Disease surveillance and response (Kosovo, Peru, Iraq, Africa, India)
All in all, a terrific read! I would highly recommend this book.
Whew, that was a lot of stuff. I hope I havent bored anyone off from the web site!