Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Reflections

After putting Austin 2008 behind me, and setting off my holiday in Singapore, I decided to take a break from everything and revisit why I got involved in running & triathlons in the first place. It struck me when I was telling my brother about my angst over failed running goals, he said to me, “You’re doing this for charity, so shouldn’t you have more fun with it?”

Then and there it struck me, that somewhere along the way, my focus had moved away from fun to achievement. I started wanting to have XYZ races under my belt, instead of going out and just running. It's an addictive illusion. So, in Singapore, I had time to reflect on why I really engage in athletic endeavors. Running for Asha is definitely still a primary motivation. I think I’ve also become more enthused about testing my limits. Unfortunately, that did not work out well with the health issues that I faced this year, so I felt held back. But taking care of the body is equally important, and sometimes backing off is more helpful than pushing an ailing body. My boss, a triathlete whom I admire, also had words of wisdom for me. When I expressed disappointment that my plans for running were quickly falling apart, she said, “Remember your real goal – the half-iron distance. These road races were just part of the preparation, so if you cannot do all of them, don’t worry about it. Just focus on the big prize.”

And finally, I run and train because it makes me feel good. It's that simple. The breeze on my face, the greenery, (and yes, the humidity too), the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the asphalt can be quite meditative. And perhaps just the feeling of, “yes, I can do this.”

It was good to take stock. And surprisingly, over the last two weeks since I went on holiday, I’ve been motivated more than ever to run. I’ve managed to keep to my running schedule for the better part of the time, enthusiastically doing my 4-5mile runs thrice a week. (Of course, holiday eating has been a huge guilt factor in getting me out of bed and running regularly). More importantly, it’s been so much fun running with my childhood buddies (who are fortunately also a bunch of fitness freaks). What is now known as a “prata run”, my buddies and I religiously run 4 miles twice a week and go for breakfast pratas (a type of bread) afterwards. It’s also been awesome catching up with their lives over the long run. The bonding and relaxing runs have been just what I needed. Yesterday, we did a mini duathlon - went swimming in Ang Mo Kio pool for 800m, followed by a 2mile run around Bishan Park. We chatted and laughed the whole way.

So, this being December 31, I propose a toast to 2008 - While I did not realize many of my aspirations & goals for training in 2008, I have learnt a lot from my experiences. I can apply some of the practical wisdom I've gained to make 2009 a fantastic, fun-filled training year. Cheers to all of us runners and triathletes!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Lens

I don't think my mom thought she would live to see the day when I could be enticed out of bed early in the morning by the idea of going for a walk. I jumped out of bed eagerly and told her I would go running with her. This was the post-virus run that I was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. My coach warned me that one of the hardest runs would be the one after recovering from the virus. But after a 26-hour plane journey from Austin to Singapore, I was SO ready to exercise and stretch.

Fifteen minutes later, I was dressed in my gear and ready to the hit the road. My mom looked at my Nathan water bottle in grip with great curiousity and asked, "why do you need a water bottle for a 20min walk?" I laughed and said, "well, Ma, I might run for a bit longer than that!" Before she could reason with me further, I ushered her out of the door.

I set off for an easy run, and decided to see how far I could go. I took a route that I used to take by bus or car when I was a kid to Upper Seletar Reservoir. That's one of the nicest things about returning home. It gives you a great insight into how far you've come - an opportunity for internal stock-taking. I would have never thought of running to the reservoir as a child or teenager, and yet here I was. It was like seeing Singapore in a whole new lens - through the eyes of a runner - scoping out running routes, appreciating the lush greenery, new roads and neatly paved sidewalks.

It took me about an hour to run, stroll, take a breather on the gorgeous reservoir banks, and reminisce about how I used to slide down the hilly slopes on cardboard boxes as kids. It was humid but windy, and when I returned, I was drenched in sweat. It felt awesome, though! I didn't feel the slightest bit sick or tired. I was refreshed.

And afterwards, I had my dream post-long run breakfast - Mom's crispy dosas (5 of them!) and steaming hot chai. Oh, I love being home.

Next plan - to convince my childhood buddies (now strapping, well-built, army officers) to accompany me on a long run through downtown Orchard Road! :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And the Universe Said, Thou Shalt Not.

Thus the melodrama begins.. :)

The week had started off on an ominous note. 20 people in my office had come down with a stomach virus after attending an office party (which I did not go to). I counted myself lucky to have escaped. Or so I thought. The last thing I needed was a stomach virus, given that it was race week (Dallas White Rock Half-Marathon) and I had tonne of work to finish before leaving for my trip on Tuesday.

I did my last training run on Wednesday, felt great inspite of the cold.

Then on Thursday, I came down with symptoms of the stomach virus, and left work abruptly. I had vomitting, fever etc. through the day. Arv took one look at my state and gently said, "I know you really want to do this, but I don't think you should race." I was crushed, but stubbornly harbored hopes to run on Sunday. I felt bad because I had trained, made all these reservations & plans, and I was supposed to run with my buddy.

I got back on my feet on Friday, and tried to mentally prepare myself. By afternoon, I noticed the appearance of hives. Undeterred, I emailed my coach, Lisa, for advice. She responded with a firm "I strongly recommend you don't race on Sunday". My brother, a doctor, went a step further and said, "you're not running a half-marathon on Sunday. Period."

The conversation that ensued was funny on hindsight, and I cannot resist reproducing it here:
Bro: Look at it this way, if the Universe wanted you to run, things would have lined up differently.
Me: We make our own destiny.
Bro: I'll take you up on that philosophical point another time. But you're not running on Sunday.
Me: I've trained for this, man. All year, my training has been a constant uphill. It's always one thing after another getting in the way.
Bro: There'll be many other races.
Me: What's the worst that could happen?
Bro: You could collapse.. from dehydration & weakness. My friend, a doctor & seasoned marathoner ran after a viral infection and collapsed. He had to be rushed to the emergency room. Your body is still fighting the viral load, you can't overburden your body. Listen to me, don't run!
Me: *silent resignation*
Bro: If it makes you feel better, I'll run with you around the lake next week in Singapore.

And thus I extracted a promise from him to run a 10K with me in Singapore on January 4, 2009. :)

When the three people whose advice you count on the most (hubby, bro & coach) unanimously agree on one course of action, you can't help but listen. Because they care for you. And it turns out they were right. My situation worsened on Saturday and I was put on strong medication. Any hopes of even volunteering at the race with Asha Dallas were dashed.

It's still a mystery as to why this happened.

I came to the conclusion that, it's not just training that prepares you for a race. You also need a stroke of luck to make it to the start line. If you find that inspite of your best efforts, things still fall through, then just accept it with a smile and plan for a better race.

Tomorrow, I'll be at home cheering on my buddies, Ganesh & Vishwas, for their race. I'll be virtually watching them with the runner tracking system by the White Rock organizers.

Oh, and I signed up for the 3M Half Marathon yesterday. By the law of karma, I'm set for a good year in 2009.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rocky Road to the Finish Line

San Antonio was my first race for the season, since the 3M Half-Marathon in 2007. Considering, it was my first double-digit miler since January this year when I ran 10 miles, I suppose it was alright.. Not quite the rah-rah experience I was hoping it would be.

The high point of the SA Rock N Roll experience for me was Arvind doing his Half Marathon in 1 hr 58min! Simply fabulous! I'm so proud of him. After having a rough time this year with training and health, he's back in form and clocked a minute more than his first ever half-marathon race. All this inspite of barely training for over 2 months. This was quite a confidence booster for him and I know he's going to set a PR in his next race!

As for me, it wasn't a great race. More than anything, my lack of training was apparent. Sure I can go out and do a half-marathon. But it's no longer about just finishing the race for me. It's about having a good experience with it. And Sunday's race was hard in the last few miles.

I was going to list all the things went wrong.. Until yesterday, when I went for yoga. With a bad back, I could not do most of the asanas, and feeling frustrated, I asked the teacher for alternative poses. She said, if you can't do it, then just honor yourself and sit in child's pose. It hit me then. Honor yourself. No point thinking negative thoughts. Just honor whatever you did and build on it.

So that's the approach I will take with my race report. Am going to focus on the positive aspects of the race, what I did RIGHT instead of mulling over what I did WRONG (albeit there were plenty of things I would change for my next race)

Pre-Race & All That Jazz

Arv & I had fun travelling with Steph, Bradford & Kristen to San Antonio where about 12 of us piled on at Vishi's. It was awesome chillin' with friends, meeting new folks and tucking into a sumptious carb-loaded meal - pasta with alfredo sauce (Arv's cooking), pasta with marinara (cha), mashed potatoes (steph), herb bread (vani), coconut rice (cha), hummus & pita chips (kristen) and some tangilious lime juice (charmi & niraj). Oh, and fudgecheez cake to celebrate Google's birthday. I discovered mashed potatoes with mango pickle is MOST delectable.

At night, I packed my race day gear:

- Shoes & socks
- track suit
- white long-sleeved shirt
- Team Asha t-shirt (IMPORTANT!)
- Gloves
- Headband
- Salt tablets (note to self: pack more of this in future, two aren't enuff)
- Gu shot
- Cliff shot blocks
- Water bottle & hand grip
- Race bib (pinned onto tee)
- Timing Chip (attached to shoe)
I packed a drop-off bag containing a towel and an extra tee just in case. Would definitely do this drill for future races.

Next time, I will ensure that I sleep comfortably.

Race Day Morning

Had my usual few sips of coffee & banana. I wish I could eat more in the morning, but it doesn't work for me. Ideally, oatmeal and/or bagels is what is recommended.

Good idea to pack a power bar so that if lines are long (which they usually are in large races), you can have a snack before your race.

Miles 1-3: Doing the Trot

I need at least 3 miles to warm up. So the first part of the race was spent waving at bands, jogging along, getting my muscles going after being tensely cold. We even took a 10min (unavoidable) porta pottie break. There was a woman at the front fussing over the lack of toilet paper and jumping from one loo to the next. Note to self: if TP is that important to you, then BYOTP.

After the 5K mark, Cha & I spotted some folks offering donuts & pastries! We were both hungry from the endless wait at the start, so we split a quarter of a donut. Probably not the best choice for a snack, but the sugar felt good.

Miles 4-9: Don't Stop Till You Get Enough

It was awesome running with Cha. She was really good about hydration (which I'm not good about) so whenever she took a sip of water, I was reminded to do the same. This kept me well-hydrated. It was definitely a good decision to take a water bottle along and get a bottle grip from Ganesh. We barely stopped at any of the water stops because we sipped our water along the way. Since I'm a sipper, it really worked well to carry my own water and not have to wait for a water stop to chug it.

I had a salt tablet after about an hour and a half of running. Will probably take more along in future because it minimizes cramping. I was feeling pretty good because I had trained well for 9 miles.

Miles 10 to finish: Ker-plat!

I was thrilled to see Savi & Varsha (who drove down at 5am that day) cheering us at Mile 10! By this time, Cha's stitches were really acting up, and I couldn't stop my running gait because it hurt too much to walk. Once Varsh started pacing Cha, I plodded on.

I went about 500m ahead when my feet hit the lights on the road divider and I went SPLAT on my face (also known as "doing the Superman"). My buddy, Santhosh (who did a crazy 156K trail running feat over the same weekend) later asked me how I managed to fall in a road race. I was probably dragging my feet from the pain and tumbled. I heard a huge wave of "Ooooh" around me, as people rushed to help me up. I dusted myself and continued running, unsure of how seriously injured myself. Tears welled up for no apparent reason. I told myself, if I was really hurt badly, it would become apparent soon enough. The experience shook me but also made me upset enough to stubbornly continue running. I knew if I started walking, I wouldn't make it.

Something took over me. I think it's the idea that I had worked so hard to make it that point in the race inspite of everything, and I just HAD to finish this. I pushed inspite of aches, pains, nausea, and mentally committed myself to better training for a future race.

After a while, it was sheer momentum carrying me forward. When I finally crossed the finish line, I couldn't stop running.

My biggest takeaway: For the distance that I had trained, I felt great. For the rest of way, I needed to have built my stamina further by training harder. Well, if the race doesn't kill ya, it only makes ya stronger. So, hopefully, I'm poised for a better race at Dallas next month!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ready to Rock!

It's slowly dawning on me that my first half-marathon race for this season is coming up next week! No, less than a week. November 16, 2008, is about 6 six days away. The sold-out race looks to be an exciting one with over 30,000 people running it, and supposedly there will be a band at every mile! We're going to run in a group (though I suspect I will be alone for most of my run considering my speedy running buddies) as Team Asha, so it will definitely be a blast! What's also going to be fun is that we'll be spending the night before the race at a friend's place in San Antonio (thanks, Vishi!!) and head out for the race together.

Truth be told, my training has been anything but exciting. I haven't been as regular with training as I would have liked, and I confess that I'm missing the steely discipline and determination that is helpful for workouts. I've tried to focus on my form and consciously worked through mental chatter/complaints while running. Most of my workouts and runs have been pretty good, and fairly enjoyable. The fact remains, however, I can do more and train a lot harder. One of my goals for this race is to finish strong, and speed up in my last mile. What has limited my running is the fear that I will lose steam at the end. I need to overcome this fear if I hope to do any better.
This will be my second half-marathon since 2007, so it's pretty exciting. It is also one of my three half-marathon races this season, so I'm looking to build on my experience at this race. I'm ready to rock!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Ode to the Long Run

In the long run, the fog settles,
And you begin to see things for what they are.

In the long run, doubts clear
And you realize worrying is an unproductive task.

In the long run, your friends and competitors become apparent,
And you wonder how you ever confused the two.

In the long-run, you and your partner do your best
And wait for each other at the crossroads so you don’t lose way.

In the long run, you challenge yourself
To do more than you thought you could do, and try for more than you imagined.

In the long run, you begin to understand
That getting lost helped you find yourself.

In the long run, you detach from
And dissolve your expectations of what should be and what could be.

In the long run, you stop resisting
And accept the strange rhythm of the Universe, uncertain yet beautiful is its melody.

In the long run, you are happy
And realize you always were and always will be.

In the long run, you let go
And just be.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The DFL Syndrome

If you don't know what DFL stands for, ask me privately. :) It's basically about coming in last in a race.

Why does it bother us so much when we come in last in our workout or a race? I think it goes back to our high expectations about ourselves, our abilities as well others' perceptions of us (discussed in my previous blog spot on the Beginner's Mile). And although we try to stay focused on the running alone, these negative thoughts enter our mind as we try to give our best. Coming in last can result in harsh self-judgement. After coming in last for many of my training workouts, it prompted me to ask myself, "Why do I do this? Why not just give up or try something else in which I excel?"

The answer is easy when you're running for a good cause - you are running to benefit others from your efforts. When the cause is larger than yourself, you find the drive to keep going.

I also read a really cool blog post by Gary Lerude that lifted my spirit:

Thoughts inspired by watching a middle school cross-country running meet.

The gun goes off, the crowd of stationary runners becomes molten, they disappear into the woods. After endless minutes, one lead runner emerges from the trees to begin the final lap to the finish line. Then a second, a third, then clumps of runners. Well after the lead runners have cooled down and are, perhaps, already thinking of next week's race, the stragglers emerge from the woods. Not lithe, often walking, they are encouraged by parents and team mates to run the remaining distance. Exhausted, nonetheless they muster the will to pick up the pace. Many minutes after the race started, as most runners and their parents have dissipated, as the race organizers prepare for the next age group, they cross the finish line.

Blessed are those who come in last.

They surely are not motivated by winning. Whatever it is -- bettering themselves, perseverance, internal resolve, courage in the face of negative feedback -- is inspirational. May they carry that with them throughout their lives. And may the rest of us, who carefully judge our odds to avoid "losing," reconsider. Character is not borne just from being first.

- Gary Lerude

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day of the Injured

I think I pulled my hamstring at the workout yesterday.. doing the lamest thing - high-knee warm-up! Geez. It's amazing how the body can put up with hours of abuse in endurance sports, and be uber fragile at the same time! I tried stretching but didn't get very far at all. Need to check out some good stretching exercises for the hamstring.

Steph had awful ITB issues. At the end of the workout, she, Kirstin (who also had ITB pain), & I ended up walking slowly back to our cars. Kirstin joked with the coach, "the Injured club made it back!"

It was just one of those days, when you felt like you could do more but your body was holding you back. I suppose sometimes you have to go slow so that you can go fast in the long-run (pun intended). Planning to rest today, and go for yoga tomorrow. Hopefully that will have me in good shape for Saturday's long run. 8 miles, baby.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Beginner's Mind, Beginner's Mile

In Zen, the Beginner's Mind refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

It occurred to me while running this week, how difficult it is to keep a beginner's mind, and run without expectations. At my workout last week, I found myself comparing my time/stamina to what it was last year, and this really was not helpful because it took away from my focus of what I was actually doing. Whether swimming or running, the mind constantly went back the past.

While it's good to be cognizant and mindful of one's performance, I think it's necessary to treat each running experience as it is, without judgment or expectation of what it ought to be. No two runs will be identical, yet I think at some level, we expect consistent results from ourselves or at least consistently better results! :)

When I ran my first long-run for 5 miles (my beginner's mile, so to speak), I had absolutely no idea what I was capable of doing and put no pressure on myself to achieve a certain time or even distance. I ran it strong and well, and completely surprised myself. That kind of mental openness and running for the sake of running rather than having preconceived notions about one's performance is what I have come to term as The Beginner's Mile.

From now on, I will treat every mile as the Beginner's Mile.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Force Majeure

Force ma·jeure (fôrs mä-zhûr, frs)
1. Superior or overpowering force.
2. An unexpected or uncontrollable event.
3. the story of my race plans for 2007-08

Dramatic as it sounds, no less than intervening Acts of God have changed the course of my race plans this entire year. First my plans to do a 25K in Jan were wiped out, then my half-M in Feb, my tri-season in the summer (during which I had hoped to do an Olympic Distance), then hurricane Ike destroyed Galveston where I had planned to do a half-iron aquabike (of course, my loss is definitely small and insignificant compared to what the people of Galveston suffered..), and now Aviva moved up its race by 6 months.

My friends wonder why I care about Aviva so much - it's the straw that broke the camel's back. I'm tired of having my parade getting rained on.

Until I talked to a friend of mine in her 20s (who had started running around the same time as me). After winning the lottery for the New York Marathon, she found out she needed a pacemaker. Her doctor told her she couldn't do long-distance running anytime in the near future. So when I shared my disappointment with her, she looked at me straight in the eye, and said, "I know how that feels. Well, at least you still have a parade going on.." That really struck me.

So, I'll be grateful for where I am at with my training and what I can do, inspite of Force Majeure. Thanks for all the suggestions, guys! I'll keep an eye out for a new target. The plan for 2008-09 is still 3 Half-marathons in Texas, and we'll see what tri comes my way.

In the interim, I've religiously kept to my training routine this week - run workouts & swim. Am definitely sleeping a lot better these days! :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Spanner in the Works! :(

My goal this upcoming season was the Aviva 70.3 Ironman in Singapore. This year, the race was in September, and I figured that I would have enough time to train for next year's race - presumably in September too. The idea of doing a half-iron in my hometown really got me pumped! That motivated me to start training again, and I began seriously thinking about what would be needed to prepare for the half-iron training program.

Everything about the race seemed perfect! The course looked awesome - swim was at ECP (near my old high school!), and consisted of 2 loops of a 1/2mile course (MUCH better than out-and-back). The bike route was familiar to me (ECP to AYE) and the run was on a pretty flat course.

Yesterday, I visited the Aviva page, and to my horror, I saw that the date for next Aviva 70.3 was now scheduled for MARCH 22, 2009! This does NOT give me enough time to prepare for a half-iron distance (1.2mile swim, 56mile bike ride, 13.1mile run). When I read the cut-off times , any faint hope I had of still being able to train for it, were crushed. I'm not sure how to train or whether it's even feasible to train for 3 half-marathons AND a half-iron distance in 6 months!

Stepher, in her usual cheeriness, reassured me that there was still Aviva 2010, and that we could do another half-iron somewhere else in the interim.

Sigh. I feel like the rug has just been pulled from under my feet.

Monday, September 15, 2008

All signed up and ready to go!

So, I signed up for gym membership. :) AND did my swim workout on the same day! AND my schedule is kickin'..

The guy at the front desk who saw me sign up earlier, smiled and said, "Long time no see!". Ha! I was definitely an eager beaver to start working out. Managed to squeeze in a swim workout right before closing at the gym yesterday (yes, it's 24HR fitness, but the one at Arboretum closes at 8pm.. I know.. ironic). Had some tightness in my back after the long run on Saturday, so the swim was a perfect way to relax. Swimming in saline water was not as radically different as I thought it would be.

I'll focus on running & swimming for the next few weeks, and then start spin classes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Slow Start

The yoga class yesterday was a disappointment, frankly. I was hoping that getting gym membership would avail me the opportunity to attend the yoga class offered by the gym, but that option is not looking good right now. The lure of the other classes (spin, weights - which I would otherwise loathe to do on my own) still beckons.

I ran 5.5miles today at my first Rogue long-run after a really long time. I wasn't even sure if I could, but I set my intention on at least 5 miles, because I have seriously fallen behind on my training. My gung-ho trimate, Steph, however, ran with the full marathon group to complete nearly 8 miles! Most inspiring! Her positive energy & spiritedness are really awesome.

Speaking of buddies, I realized today that with Rogue's new location, our routes went through the East of Austin, and some parts were dodgy. After Steph Jr. turning around at 3 miles, I ran alone for the most part, and got stared at, called out etc. It definitely helps to run with a buddy.

Can't wait to chart out my training schedule. With so many things going on, I feel like the need to sit and have it down on paper so I can see where I'm headed.

My mom was on the phone with me this morning, and expressed concern that I was running long-distances after recovering from my back pain. And for a moment, I paused and asked myself why I was doing this. And I realized the goal motivated me to do more and be more than I thought possible. The adventure & the uncertainty of whether I could actually do it was exciting. That something like this is even within my reach reminds me of how far I've come since my couch-potato days, and how much more I could do if I put my mind to it.

Let's see how it goes. It's been a slow start so far, but I will step it up in the coming weeks..

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

I took up 7-day free trial pass at 24Hour Fitness. Been hearing good things about the gym so far, and went to check it out yesterday. The saline indoor lap pool is set at 80-85 degrees! Perfect for winter swim training! I'm pumped! (Stephers, u gotta do this.. )

Their indoor track looked a little small and kind of odd because it circles the upper floor, but I suppose it might be handy on a freezing winter day..

Can't wait to try it out!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Well. well. well.

I smiled when I read the repeated theme of "long-time-no-see-ol'-blog" in my tri-buddies's (see right-hand column) latest blog entries. And here I go, saying the same thing - why did I neglect my blog? where have I been? what on earth have I been up to?

It's been almost a YEAR since I've blogged. I tried blogging about nothing for while, and let that blog die a natural death (a very short life it lived, mind you.)

(An aside to Vinoo - hot chocolate with no marshmallows just didn't cut it for me. And with no conversations happening over hot chocolate, there was little reason not to pull the plug.
A separate aside to Googles - Well, frankly, I'm just not as talented as you in writing everything about nothing. And while u moved on to pastel green & Omar Khyyam on Nihilio, my blog sat still in the past glory of the Longhorn Triathlon - and, oh what a nice place in memory that is to be in!)

Where have I been? What have I been up to? Everywhere and a lot, and yet seemingly nowhere, and little. New house, lots of out-of-town visitors, family, back pain (least fun of all the things I've been up to), Asha, CHYK and everything else that came my way (Facebook for instance). I had a fabulous time with a team of amazing women doing a triathlon over the summer. Loads of fun! Sadly, it was the only one I could do this summer because I've been recovering from back pain. Let's see.. what else...

Oh, and did I mention a crazy plan for 2008-09 to do 3 Half-Marathons, a Half-Iron aquabike and a 70.3 in my hometown?


So as they sayeth in the recent Olympics - Let the games begin!