Sunday, May 31, 2009
This video features the Ekal Seattle team and how they get inspired and keep motivated to run when every single step is a challenge :)
"The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organisatin that initiates, supports, and runs nonformal one-teacher schools (popularly known as Ekal Vidyalayas) in remote tribal areas all over India"
Monday, May 25, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
My dream of running the Big Sur Marathon began about two and half years ago. I visited the Silicon Valley Marathon Expo before my first marathon for Ekal Marathon Team in 2006. When I stopped at the Big Sur Marathon booth, I was taken by its scenic & beautiful course. Well, in January 2009, after putting off the plans for the past 2 years & after a couple of months of slacking after the SVM2008, I was feeling the usual tingling to run again. In the 1st week of January, I finally registered for Big Sur Marathon.
We (Jay, Srinivas, Lalitha & me) kicked off the campaign with 8 mile run on Campbell trail and we met Coach Raman while running on the same day. Coach Raman Rajpal is a charismatic and “60 year old teenager” as he likes to call himself. He has a mixed running group with people training for various marathons and ultra marathons in the off-season for Team-Asha. He happily agreed take us under his wings and to train us for Big Sur. The last 4 months of training were strictly by his book and we did all the right things. We met Sudarsan from Coach Raman's group who was also training for Big Sur. We trained hard, with lots of hills and cross training, intervals and tempos. We did a nice 3 week taper down after hitting almost 48 miles/week. Finally, we were ready to roll the dice. When everything was looking good, I picked up a viral infection just a week before the Marathon. I spent four days off work, resting and recovering. My wife Suchita & I had decided on Wednesday that I would dropout if fever comes back or if my cough gets worse. The disappointment was simply overwhelming. Fortunately fever didn’t come back and my sore throat and cough also got better, though I had some weakness. To gain confidence, I did a bit of running on Thursday and again on Friday and I reassured myself that I could at least finish it. With a PR aim on the back burner, I decided to take it easy and enjoy this marathon as much as possible.
We reached Monterey at around 2.30PM on Saturday and went directly to the Marathon EXPO to collect the race packet. It is the Expo where you feel the excitement in the air, get to see a lot of veteran or first time Marathoners. The guy who was giving out shuttle bus tickets had ran all 23 of the previous Big Sur Marathons and he casually mentioned the wind. What was that? Wow! I didn’t train for it. I hoped that it is no big deal. The Big Sur marathon is a one way course and you need to reach the Start point some 26.2 miles awayJ from Carmel City at Big Sur. The shuttle buses take over an hour from Monterey to reach the start point due to treacherous road conditions. No wonder they tell you not to over hydrate before you board the bus as the potty queues are agonizingly long at the start line and there are no better places around to improvise J. For 6.45AM start we had to board the bus no later than 4.00AM. I had to drag Suchita & kids out of bed at 3:45AM to drop me off at the shuttle pick-up point about 1 mile away from the Hotel. I half-heartedly offered to walk that 1 mile J but was strongly overruled by Suchita and kids. All of them agreed that they will happily wake up to see me off at 3.45AM.
I reached the start point at 5.30AM and made every effort while on the bus not to look outside the window in order to get a feel for the course. I tried to catch some sleep, but thanks to a chatter box sitting behind me on the bus that I had to hear through experiences of her past marathons and 10Ks and 5Ks. A dude sitting next was adjusting his cool miniature Flip-video camera. He told me that he planned to record a clips of his experience on and off throughout the race so that he could live through it again. With excitement of a marathon, the emotions are high and everyone has a way of expressing it. Some people constantly talk and some act cool like dozing off or pretend to be calm.
At the start point, thanks to cell phones (Bless ’em!), I managed to track down Sudarsan and Jay (Jitendra) Mehta in the crowd of some 9,000 runners. Sudarsan, Jay and I took some cheesy pictures at the start line after long waits at porta-potty, coffee and the sweats queues. We then decided to hang around the 5:00 hour flag group. The flag holder was a veteran runner named Danny. First 5 miles of the Big Sur marathon are most gentle though there is about 250ft climb. Around mile 3-4 Sudarsan and I drifted ahead of Jay and the flag group.
The Big Sur course is supposed to start with gentle hills for first 5 miles and then gets to the fun part :). The crown jewel is of course the "hurricane point". The hurricane point starts at Mile 10 with a long 2 mile hill climb of ~560ft with about 5% grade & gusty winds. The name hurricane point is derived from gusty winds at that point. The weather was very windy from the beginning and the head winds were relentless till almost mile 25. With an objective to enjoy the race, we maintained about 10:15 pace from the beginning until about 14 miles. The remarkable things about this race are the volunteers and lots of live bands. From country music to classical played on a grand piano to Chinese drumming and exotic American-Indian/Haitian/Mexican dancers. There are bands/food/fruits and aid stations on almost every mile marker after Mile 10. The course is spectacular and I felt blessed and lucky to have had the opportunity to participate and run on such a course. The mid way point or 13.1 miles is exactly at the center of the Bixby Bridge. At the end of the Bixby bridge, there was the much anticipated and well-known Yamaha Grand Piano being played live by Michael Martinez. The view, the wind & the music was just an amazing experience. We paused for a few minutes and listened to the music. Anyone who has driven to Big Sur will surely remember the beautiful Bixby Bridge. A high curved bridge at perfect scenic bend overlooking the deep sea on one side and green valley on the other. The Bixby Bridge is often put up as a symbol of Big Sur races.
By mile 14, the hills and strong head winds were taking their toll. To cheer us up, there was a band of about 30-40 Chinese drummers performing terrific drumming at mile 14. We paused for photos, resisting the temptation to join the drummers or to dance. We switched to 10-1 routine where you run for 10 minutes and walk for 1 minute. This slowed us to about 11 minutes a mile, but kept us going. The tough part of marathons is always between Mile 14 to Mile 20 when you are a bit tired and you still have 12 miles to run with the finish line a distant reality. We chipped along with 10-1 routine, occasionally stopping to take pictures and battling with the wind. The course is brutal with rolling hills, curvy and banked roads with relentless wind. At Mile 18 we switched to 9-1 routine. The walk breaks of 1 minute kept us going. By mile 21, I was feeling that my knees were squished and pain was building up everywhere. I started hating the banked roads on bends and tried to run on the shoulder or in the middle of the road.
At mile 23, we were greeted with wonderful strawberries and probably one of the most delicious strawberries I have ever eaten. So far we had clocked 4:24 hours and had another 36 minutes to reach the finish line, if we were to finish under 5 hours. We switched to 8-2 routine to give ourselves a longer relief and avoid walking at the end. On an average, all runners had at least two layers and people had not taken off the garbage bags till almost mile 24 when the sun finally broke the cloud cover. In to mile 25, we were staring at yet another hill climb almost a mile long & about ~200 ft. We still wanted to finish under 5 hours but the target was looking like a remote possibility.
Suddenly, Sudarsan noticed the 5-hour flag group running past us and we chased & started running with them. That gave us the momentum and with the pain momentarily forgotten, we managed to cross the finish line just in time. This includes a last usual 100 yd dash :) with hands up like a champion once you see your family and their proud faces. Crossing the finish line is always an emotional experience to me and I thank god for giving me the opportunity and my wife Suchita and daughters Asmita & Urja for their enthusiasm and support through out the training and on the race day. Our post race ritual is generally fun, lots of pictures, a good massage and some of my favorites such as Masala Puris washed down with a Vanila shake.
Every time I think that this is my last one at mile 23 and once I cross the finish line & see many happy and proud faces around, it makes me more determined to do it again.