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.