Saturday, September 1, 2012

My first Bare foot Marathon

In a sequence of coincidences, in 2012, I continue to run in the cities, where I grew as a child, ever since I started Full Marathon Running.

Each event makes me feel proud as an Indian and I try to reconnect with memories of Childhood or get dazed with the rate of progress, where nothing seems familiar. 

Through these journeys, I get a taste of cultures, local food and most importantly, meet good marathoners, younger or older than me. 
A marathon changes life. I witness this on every run.

After a few marathons, I have started grasp the impact that, running made in my life. I have seen people in 50s/60s, fit as a fiddle. But fitness is not their only virtue. 
They have a mind of a guru, a simple lifestyle and power to motivate many with less speech.
I notice that, runners genuinely care for their breed, regardless of rich and poor.
It’s the drive which they seem support..enabling the financially weaker to keep running.

More about Sequences:
My first run was in Dec 2011 at Pune (now my home town). 
My Second marathon was SCMM 2011 at Mumbai. I was Born in Mumbai.
My third run was at Auroville (Pondicherry). I realised as I travelled with my friends to Chennai that I was in Madras for few years after my birth.

Following these 'coincidences', Hyderabad , the place where I got into Kindergarten, was next in line.

I looked at the marathon calendar. Airtel Hyderabad was the very next marathon after the summer months. Sujit, Umesh and I started working on the plans.
Also, I was keen to get a legitimate timing certificate in my name, which I could use to apply for other “Recognised” events.

I pinned  marathon plan near my workplace to alert me, if I slip from the schedule. I have never followed a disciplined routine for exercise. Finally, I managed to stick to 3runs of 10 km per week.

I do not exactly recollect, when I switched to Barefoot running. But I do recall "WHY".
My feet got too hot inside my shoes, perhaps during the summer runs. 
I tried running with my Floaters and they were a lot more comfortable than the shoes.
The Five fingers would have the same heating problem.
I was listening to “Born to run” audio, which prompted me to device my own pair of Huararches. 

I bought a pair of cheap slippers that were lightweight and I added Elastic straps on them. The idea was to carry these tagged to my waist pouch during barefoot runs, if the road was gritty. The drawback was that the pebbles would enter from the front and I had to stop from time to time to dislodge them. It was not entirely close to the huararches, as the slippers had thicker sole.

The Pune running group started a 28 km run category for end of the month runs. I participated in two of their runs and started running barefoot in University campus. The first run showed me and improved time of 3:17hrs @28 kms. The second run was splendid and I did it in 3:12. Going barefoot had increased my pace. 

Also, I got used to the sting and had found a way to do a smooth rolling run, increasing cadence especially, during descents.
I loved to feel the ground under my feet. No more alienation of body and ground. 
I could change the landing to use what was apt for the terrain. My regular runs at racecourse were in huararches. But, I found a smaller sand track that was wet packed due to the rains. 
It offered me more comfort. I noticed that the toes were useless inside the boot, and I now used them to propel me forward. The fingers could be spread out to maintain grip and balance.
I had gained extra purchase and was now using the body to a better efficiency. This was better than using sandals. My toes were free to move in the sandals, yet they did not add to my efficiency. Barefoot was the only good solution.

During one of the sand track runs I came home and after my bath, I noticed a very shocking thing.
I have been flat footed for all my life. I noticed a well formed shape in my footprint. 
The foot also looked thoroughly cleansed and glistened. Perhaps, the flat foot was a curse due to my schoolshoes and improper physical training as a child. Immediately I wrote to Bare foot Ted on this strange improvement.
At the age of 46, the barefoot run was showing me that the body can still get better if I used it in the right way.
My Knee used to hurt during long runs and the knee pain had now vanished. The Ankle pain increased but it would vanish after a hot bath. The effect of the long run took lesser time to heal.
I received sarcastic comments about running barefoot. People at racecourse would stare at me perhaps, trying to gauge my sanity. 
I did not care about bystanders reaction. What did they know about real running?
I was in the world of Tara Humara’s and Bare foot Ted as I continued to listen to the audio "Born to Run" in my car.
The book had initiated a change in my thought process and practicing Barefoot running at same time was confirming my decision ie. To run Airtel Hyderabad marathon Barefoot.

Umesh was already into barefoot running, having completed 2 full marathons (including Auroville trail run). He was one of my chief inspirations, along with Nevlai Raghunathan, a veteran, who ran barefeet during my first full marathon at Pune.
Sujit was also hooked. We decided that the trio would be Bare foot runners from Pune.

But the three of us were not the only to experiment a change. Bhari (Bharadwaj Keesara) from our Company had been running 10 kms during few events. He now desired to try his first half marathon. 
Behind his form there was a burning desire to make another mark. He joined us in the Pune running monthly events. On the first run he completed 21 kms. He was overjoyed. 

Bhari hails from Hyderabad and he wanted his first entry to a half marathon in his city.
Bhari had applied for SCMM Mumbai half marathon, but his application did not go through as he did not have a timing cert, and his Pune running time was over the cut-off. Hyderabad marathon might ensure him a seat at Mumbai!
Srikant Bharati was another ex-colleague, who joined the bandwagon, with an intent to run half marathons. 

We kept each other informed on the weekly progress. Sujit was going top notch, the only one to run beyond 30 km. Umesh and I banked on our 28 km run to suffice.

The travel bookings were in place and Sujit booked lodgings at Hotel Rukmini Riviera. He bargained for 1 day lodging charge as we would complete the marathon max by 12PM, take a bath and rush to Paradise (a well known biryani place) before boarding the Pragati express at Secunderabad station.
There was a lot of time to kill till 26th August. The pre-run anxiety was too much and I shifted my mind to post two paintings at the Pixarra art competition with the title “Heat”. Nitin prompted me to think about a funeral to show heat. I wanted to do a traditional painting and found Raja Harishchandra story was apt to portray the Indian values for an international competition. After finishing this large scale painting of A1 size, I also thought of other forms to depict “heat”. 

My mind switched back to Thelu expedition, where I had lost a glove. A mug of tea in a climber’s hands showed the value of “Heat” after the climb. Good paintings are a result of the artist telling his experience in the form of a picture. I loved the sketch that I completed and I uploaded it to the art site.

The usual “sprints” at work were tougher than running a marathon, the upcoming race seemed to me an escape from my stressful routine. Finally the day arrived. 
After work , we  boarded the train. 

Sujit had bought some Aloo Parathas and rice for the dinner. He (and his better half) were taking care of us. If it were not for him, I would have settled for dinner served in the Train.
 I had completely skipped the topic with my wife who would have done the same.
A big support for long distance running comes from my wife and kids, which may be same for others! Without this support and encouragement, I would not be moving mountains. I was missing them on this trip.

It was at some point a young guy approached us and asked if we were running for the marathon. He wore a Singapore marathon Tee and we talked about past marathons. It evolved that Purushottam was a well honed runner and targeted sub 4 hrs for this run, versus us (recreational runners), who were targeting sub 5:30. He mentioned that this was a marathon of flyovers and there were gradients that made it tougher than Mumbai marathon. From the talk, it seemed that we would be lucky to achieve a target under 6 hrs.
I missed my large bed as I attempted to sleep in my bunk. I was travelling in a train after many years and was not used to the discomfort. 
I woke up at 6AM and went for a wash. Bhari had gone ahead of us on another train and he called us to know our position. We read out the station names as we approached Secundrabad. 
Bhari had arranged a taxi to take us to his home.

As I climbed down on Secunderabad platform, I recollected that this was the place, where I boarded my last train from Hyderabad to Delhi in 1970. I was back in 2012. 
The station was a lot bigger and busier.

We met Bhari and boarded a cab. The driver seemed to have taken of his shoes and the stench of his socks hit us. I wished that we would have our revenge if we boarded the same cab after marathon. 
Soon we were at Bhari’s place. Behind his apartment was a hill covered with Granite Boulders.
A hill with Granite! It was a scene from the distant past. Dejja Vu!
It would be splendid, if I lived at such a close distance to smooth granite. I envy Hyderabad climbers, to have such boulder field. The Golconda fort top has few such jewels. Granite is common rock in south India.
From Bhari’s place, we went for snacks. The idly and Dosa were exquisite.
We bargained a rickshaw to take us to the bib collection center at Banjara hills. 4 of us were cramped inside the rick, as we weaved through Hyderabad city. 

I was thankful that I was dressed in shorts and sweat free Tee. It was hot and I wondered if it would rain the next day. A run in the rain would be blissful.
Hotel Radison at Banjara hills was crowded with the participants. Interviews were on and I could make out Mili (One of the brand ambassadors) in a ravishing dress. The bib collection was fast and we had a few glasses of cold water (on the house).

We took a cab to Lakdi ka Pul where our Hotel was located. At Rukmini Rivierra, we had a quick wash and went down for a ravishing Andhra mess meal. We then started to prepare the dress for the next day run. It occurred that we had no strings to hook the timing chip on to the bare foot.

The rains finally arrived in the noon. Sujit and I recoiled in our room and it was 4.30 when I woke up.
Rang Umesh and he mentioned that Bhari was out to visit his relatives. The three of us set off to the people’s plaza in a rick. We got down at Lumbini park and traversed to people plaza. 

The start point was displayed in a large banner. We could see some workers installing pendals. Sujit confirmed after talking to them ;  this indeed was the start point.
A Police Inspector approached us and started a dialogue, nothing that we could make out. He had mistaken us as the organisers, till we set him right. We started the walk back and met with few runners from Mumbai. It is easy for marathoners to gel.
We met a female and her trainer Miss Dhiraj. She was the top contestant for SCMM 2011.

On the way back we purchased some chocolates and Curd.(The curd to replace the early morning tea.) Fortunately, we also found a shoe shop for laces to tie the chip.
After a dinner at Andhra mess we slept.
I had booked a Cab to take us to people’s plaza. (It was 1.5 km from the hotel, but none of us wanted to risk of getting lost or getting tired before the race.)
The Marathon day dawned and we woke up at the 3AM alarm. Got prepared.
The cab took us close to the INOX and we started to feel the road under bare feet. It was perfectly smooth. Nothing compared to the terrain, we abused our legs with, during training.

The race started on time. The politicians did not eat into the run time (contrary to Pune Marathon). I was running around one of my most frequented places during Kindergarten days, The Tank Bund. I was carrying my camera and shot a few pictures.  

The run around Securderabad  went fine and I barely realised how the time passed, when we closed in on 10 km mark. I took small breaks to stretch my feet. After 10km we joined the half marathon group. Sujit mentioned that our pace was too fast and we ought to slowdown. Till then, I had barely looked at my watch. 

As he met his Bro in the Half marathon crowd, I decided to knead my way in fear, that someone could step on my foot and cause injury. I was in great spirits as I shouted and jollied other runners. Soon the crowd dwindled and I heard from behind. Good going. It was another barefoot runner.

“Benny. From Bangalore.”
“Parag. Pune”
“Run bare foot often?
“No. I switched few months back.”
“Any particular reason?”
“None accept “Born to run” and bare foot Ted."
“I am reading the book. He was at Auroville.”
“ You ran Auroville too? I ran the full.”
“I ran half. Am trying to better my time. My coach asked me to maintain current pace for half marathon”
As the talk went on, I barely realised the slopes that came and went. Benny shot ahead and I was along with a group of Police runners from Chennai. At every climb they would shout and hoot and I joined the gang.

I met Bhari and later Srikant who seemed to do pretty good.
Perhaps, I had trained better than before, none of the climbs seemed, so bad. I kept changing my foot landing to ease the burden. Did short foot stretches..

My bare feet fetched lot of attention and there was lot of encouragement from other runners. I wished that they would try to switch only to realise the benefit, over the shoes.
A light rain had started and I ran through pools of water that a bliss, as they cooled down my feet. I would miss all this in shoes. Wet shoes? Certainly I would not want to be in them. (Blistering Barnacles)
Srikant had caught up with me and I waved to him to carry on. 

Another female runner went ahead..I learned that she was Meena from Surat. She had a very good pace.
The full marathon route turned to the left and all of a sudden..there was no crowd. The rain seemed a bit more dense. I felt cold and shivered. Was I overdoing? 
I did not intend to hit the wall. I slowed my pace as I ran past Microsoft, Wipro and other Software cos.
Another young girl ran along side. She seemed to be Underage for marathon. As we sped down slope began, I cajoled her to pick on pace. At 30 km mark she gave up and encouraged her friend to do the best.

Easy to preach..Difficult to practice!
I remembered my advice to my friends. " Change your circumstances and Renew.."
I remembered my Walkman and switched it on, as I dropped into my first walk in this run. A bulldozer thundered past me. The music cheered me up and I started jogging to the note of “AUTOBAAAHHHHNN”. 
Another stall. I was drinking a glass of Gatorade at every booth. This one was all girls in medical masks. I looked at the glasses, Blue, Yellow, Orange..I take the Blue one.;)
They smiled and cheered.
I looked at my watch. It seemed that I might even finish the race at 4:30. I turned the University campus. A Sikh on motorbike asked if all was fine. He asked if I needed a which I refused. Thanked him for his support. 

I was well hydrated. The road inside the university was like a regular Pune road. But there were patches of thick mud on the side and I ran on them, using the clawing technique. I must have over strained, as it made me very tired. The sting of the pebbles returned. I was no more able to use my pre-learned techniques, perhaps the only reason was that I was getting tired. I had overpaced at some point.
For a long time, I was also having an “urge” and there were no makeshift restrooms on the way. I dropped into my first walk for a km at ~37 km. I came to the university gate and the crowd mentioned that the Stadium was very close.
I returned to my jog, as soon as I saw the stadium. I was close and tears of joy welled my eyes. 
I increased my pace as I entered the main gate. Among the people cheering me, I recognised Pune running folk. It was almost 5 hrs. I raced.
A foreign lady shouted. “Bravo. You did it and that too Bare footed! And such a nice big smile.”

I saw the runners ahead of me stop at a line. The police would not let them go ahead. 
A 'VIP' had arrived and he was blocking all of us from reaching the Finish. 
The police, “ He is there for all of you “only”. So please wait.” 
I looked at my Watch..5:02. DAMN.
A jeep passed.  I ran into the stadium to finish the last 200 mts. As I entered, I saw the nice red track I dug my feet into the mat to race to the finish line. 

Someone stopped me.. I bowed down to a kid who put the Gold Medal around my neck. I said, “ Thanks, Baccha.”

 I continued to walk on the track; dropped into a taper.
The race was done. The “Time”? (I knew the real time.)
And I thought:
Time..Never Matters.
What Matters? Never mind.

Sujit finished the race close after me. An over elated Bhari led us to the food stalls.
Nice Cake! (I do not remember the rest.)
Soon Umesh arrived.

Bhari called the cab. We raced back to the hotel, had a quick bath and packed.
A Dosa and curd rice was a heavenly meal. My idea of eating Biryani at Paradise did not fit into the current state of affairs. 
Sujit was still keen on carrying a parcel for home. The parcel pickup and the train journey back to Pune was as planned.
The five of us had set a new mark. Each had improved on his own run time, due to the splendid weather and practice. 
Bhari was overjoyed . He made it in time to enrol for SCMM. His application got through.

There are lot of anecdotes that portray the overall spirit of marathon running. Few blogs opened my eyes to the real world.

Marathoners are not only great runners. They are Great hearted Humans.  
A year after starting Long distance runs, we observed.. the greater they are, the more humble they seem. Appearances are deceptive.

I should point out. I realize this, only after running bare foot…and not in my Reeboks.

Well, to continue the sequence, I should be running Delhi Marathon next (They do not seem to host a full one) and a marathon at Andamans after that.