Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What an Idiot!!!

One look at the profile pic and you will know what is to follow. However it is a story that merits a telling, so here goes…

After just three months of running and a rather ambitious decision to run a half marathon I was having a lot of self- doubt s on the eve of the race. There were only two objectives for the next day:
 1. To complete the race
 2. To complete within three hours

Simple as they may sound, for a beginner like me who had only done 17 kms as the highest distance in the three months and with no previous race experience this was a sizeable challenge. My excessive weight, weak knee, a history of a slipped disc were some of the deterrents from my running but having run for three months I wanted to challenge myself. Another minor detail was my dislike of running by the beach, in my limited experience the route by the beach tends to be more humid than the routes I am used to running regularly. However there was a bridge to be crossed and I decided to cross it the next day.

The day dawned for me at 2.30 AM, I left home at 3.30 AM to pick up my running mates and reached the venue at 4 AM. If someone had told me a few months earlier that I would be doing these things I would have probably laughed him off but at 4.30 AM I joined 2000 odd runners warming up for the race. I met up with my pacer and informed that I wished to run with her. A pacer I had learnt a few days earlier is an experienced runner who will guide new runners to complete on a fixed time. So I found a pacer who promised to help me finish under 3 hours and I was reassured.

The drone mounted aerial camera was a novelty and excited many of the runners and suddenly the race started. It was a procession initially and then the professionals made a clean break for it. The other runners started a procession that stretched for a long way. After bumping into many runners I made a break for it and opened up some gap before settling down to my steady pace. I am yet to develop speed and am happy running at a slow steady pace and I decided to stick to my plan irrespective of what others were doing around me.

There were six aid stations (I think) on the route and the volunteers were really cool. Cut fruits, electrolyte drinks, water, pain sprays, water sprays, candies were all available and initially I was taken aback with all these but after some time the value of each of them hit me hard in the sapping humidity. I saw many “runners” walking, though it is possible that they were attempting the run-walk method to complete the race, since that method did not work for me I kept running.

I noticed few of the runners pulling out or stopping for various reasons including the inevitable photo ops. I felt bad when I saw one runner who decided to turn around just a few hundred metres from the half way mark. Whether he wanted to cheat or just end his run I will never know. I did hear that some runners took shortcuts after crossing the mandatory timing junctions, but since this is essentially a race with oneself I do not know who cheated whom.

I kept the pacer in my sight till about 9 kms when my inability to crank up speed made me fall behind but then I ran into an experienced runner from my group. He was originally running with another group of new comers however due to inadequate practice he had decided to just have an easy run. When this runner called MET saw me he decided to take it upon himself to pull me through the race and became the angel in disguise. 

With constant encouragement, running tips and guidance during the breaks in the aid stations he pulled me along till the 19th km when he told me that  I was on course for a sub 3 hour finish. I was pleasantly surprised that despite my slow pace I had managed to make good time when disaster stuck. Exhaustion hit me hard and I felt dizzy, MET asked me to walk for some distance when I realized that even walking straight was a challenge.

I completed the last stage walking slowly and all chances of a sub 3 finish faded away with every passing minute. The encouragement from all the volunteers along the way, one family that served water on the road to the runners, a band arranged by the organizers on a mini truck all kept me going. At the entrance to the school where the finish was one another runner said it is only 200 meters ahead and do not give up now. Maybe it was his words or the drum beats and the music I started running again and made a dash for the finish 19 minutes after 8 AM. At that moment I saw the delight on the face of my team mates who waited for me, the happiness of the leaser of our group who ran the few yards with me and MET who looked happy but a little disappointed with the timing. At that moment however nothing mattered except the feeling of completing the race. At that moment I understood the term “runners high”, I collected my medal and what happened after that is a blur to me. This I knew was a beginning.

Any idiot can run a race, but it takes a special kind of Idiot to run a half marathon. Today I am proud to say I am that kind of idiot.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

iRun Ver2.0

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

Simple and even silly as it may sound, pause and think -when was the last time you really did something for the first time. I noticed that these days I am doing new things and I am really happy that I could do them planned or otherwise. Having done some new things now I look forward to doing more and it all started with a head ache.

Sometime in February I woke up early one morning with a splitting headache. The usual response would be to pop a pill and get back into bed but on that day I decided to go for a walk. I still am not sure why I decided to walk but that became a landmark moment. I returned after the walk with a clear head and felt very active. I started walking regularly gradually increasing the distance, and slowly started running. I was
warned that with my bulk, running was best avoided yet I took small runs by myself. I came across Chennai Runners on Facebook and searched for a chapter in Anna Nagar and in April I found a group.

I am running with this group for over three months now and have started doing drills, workouts and my body is getting used to the challenges. I wake up without an alarm at 4 am and never fail to sleep by 10.30 PM the previous night. I have joined a training programme for runners and have signed up for a plank challenge and though I was intimidated by the challenge I have completed nearly a third of it and I am surprised at the way I feel these days. I have joined running drills by professional runners who guide, monitor, mentor and train you to do more with minimal injuries.

I should let you know something about myself, I weighed 112 kgs when I started, I had suffered a slipped disc and have a weak knee. Running was banned by my doctors who said that I will not be able to do it. Today my running has increased my self-confidence, I have lost 8 odd kilos and I am working on losing some more with a target of getting into two figures by September. I feel lethargic on days I do not indulge in physical activity like a walk or a run and these days I avoid my scooter for short trips.

From being a newbie who was struggling to run and falling behind the others I am now able to do my planned distances at a steady pace. I have started eating better making simple changes like stopping the use of sugar in my coffee and tea, while almost avoiding desserts and fried junk food. After a few days I realized that I don’t miss them at all and if I am tempted one spoonful suffices to satisfy my craving.

My longest distance has been 17 kms and with the motivation of the other runners I have signed up for the DRHM (Bib No: 21378). Conventional wisdom was to sign up for the 10 km but I have gone ahead for the half surprising many including myself. When I look back at the start when 3 kms left me breathless to where I am today I look back with gratitude the contributions of those who gave me the confidence to sign up. In no particular order – George who did the training and the invaluable 6X6 run which did wonders to my stamina, Venu Sir who is a guidebook on running form and is always willing to offer tips on running better, my running mate Lakshmi who pulled me unfailingly for the next landmark, Vikram who organizes the runs, JK who does the drills and the others whom I run with each week. Each person has contributed to help me improve and have a part in my running regularly.

They say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and for many of the journeys mentioned above I have taken more than the single step. The challenge then is to avoid burnout, injury, boredom and worse lethargy. I was able to push myself a little more due to the support and camaraderie of the group I run with. Mornings have become a lot of fun and I wake up each day looking for the next challenge.

The group for those who are interested is called Tower Twisters, (there is a story behind the name) and can be found on Facebook. The group usually meets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays for regular runs from the Bougainvilla Park on 6th Avenue, Anna Nagar near the K4 police station. The usual meeting time is 5.15 AM and the runs begin at 5.30 AM. Saturdays are devoted to LSD (Long Slow Distance) runs, like the one I completed recently. Usually the Saturday runs end with a group
breakfast that builds camaraderie and delights in the successes of each other.

The exhilaration at completing a new challenge, the happiness at doing something for the first time is what keeps us going. Why don’t you do something new for the first time?

P.S. I have bought a cycle and have started cycling, another thing off my to-do list.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eat responsibly

These days I am getting used to people commenting on my weight loss.  I had mentioned in an earlier post that running played a big part in my weight loss and has become a part of my weekly schedule.  What annoys me is that some people believe that weight loss will come easy. It may be true for some with fantastic metabolism for others it is a combination of diet and exercise. You can read an inspiring weight loss story by another blogger here.

This post is about diet and how to go about losing weight with the aid of a better diet. I am not a qualified nutritionist nor do I have any other experience in suggesting a diet except for some common sense steps that worked for me. These may not work for you but if you are willing to keep them as part of your weight loss plan do read on.

The first point I must clarify is that diets do not work for me. My last memory of a diet was a failed attempt of a GM diet where I pulled out after the third day. I have received enough planned diets that while looking good on paper can be extremely challenging to implement if you do not cook or you travel and consequently eat out a lot. So how do we proceed on this diet thing? One simple formula - “When you eat, be aware of what you eat and beware of what not to eat.

This fundamental tip will set most people on to the right path. Let us focus on the awareness part:

-      - When we eat we need to be conscious of What we are eating. Too often we do not think before we eat things that we should not be eating or should be eating in moderation. For instance fried items and red meat usually rank high on the wish list of most people simply because they are tasty. The first step is to be aware that such foods may gain weight and this will help us to eat responsibly.

By eating responsibly, I mean sharing portions, eating lesser portions, chewing slowly and savouring the food, avoiding when possible. When people go to a buffet, the common practice is to heap the food on the plate, when people start being aware of what they eat they will tend to pick and choose the many options available and still have a good meal. Even the salads that are on offer may be overdone with too much mayonnaise so it may be safer to go for the cut vegetables and mixing it with the seasoning or just plain salt. In weddings when food is served on a plantain leaf the servers usually tend to heap the rice every serving so last the multiple courses. By breaking up the serving into smaller portions for each course of sambar, rasam etc the overall consumption of rice would come down. If it is mutton biriyani, usually the first serving will have more meat and the subsequent servings will have rice, by simply asking to reducing the quantity of red meat in the first serving we can watch the quantity intake. These simple steps also reduce wastage of food. These days some restaurants also allow diners to customize their order and simply saying no oil for a dosa can go a long way to eating better.

-  - The next thing to be aware is When we are eating? Many nutritionists recommend eating 5 small meals (3 larger and 2 smaller) a day usually spaced at 2/3 hour intervals. The second recommendation is to have heavier meals at the start of the day and progressively reduce the portions as the day proceeds with the final meal, the dinner being the smallest of the three large meals of the day. This time interval is crucial as extended periods of depriving nourishment to the body (unless it is a planned fast) can lead to acidity and usually makes the person eat more than intended.  The last meal namely the dinner should be eaten early, heavy late dinners will result in slow digestion and lead to bad sleep, weight gain among other complications. Skipping meals, delayed meals all will end up with the person attempting to make up for the deficit in energy by overeating at the next meal.

-      -  When we have managed to be aware of the What and the When, the next W, the Why will automatically follow. We eat for various reasons, nourishment, celebration, indulgence, mourning and so many more. Food is an integral part of life so when we eat we need to figure out if what we are eating is necessary at all or can be either avoided or substituted. One chief culprit here will be the colas which are drunk for reasons from refreshment to digestion. I am yet to find someone who really feels as refreshed with a glass of cool water over a cola but the point remains that we tend to consume many things without giving a thought to the reason for consumption. Meals are followed by desserts, usually the dessert can equal or exceed the calorific value of the meal itself, after skipping a meal people reach for a packet of biscuits not realizing that the biscuits are loaded with excessive sugars and salts, the better alternative could be eating a fruit or drinking a smoothie.

The second part is to beware, this is simple if it looks to be too good then it probably is not. Those fabulous looking pastries overloaded with sugar, fat and refined flour are best sampled only.  
This adage these days holds good even for “natural” foods which get tainted by chemicals before they reach the plate. Refined, processed, artificial are all terms that should raise red flags to an aware eater. Reading the list of ingredients of many packed goods can be eye opening if people have the time to do so. The term "junk food" actually is a misnomer. Tell me which sane person will eat junk as food?

By following the simple rule I am eating better in quality and quantity; consequently I have aided my weight loss attempt. Reducing sugar and minimizing desserts have been one big change to the diet, while increasing vegetables and fruits on a regular basis has been the positive aspect over the last few months.

I am not suggesting any diet plan because my plan or rather lack of a plan may not work for others. What will not fail is the principle which will ensure that the person will eat better and the weight loss will be simply incidental.

And the exercise part is the other side of the coin. I am currently running 20-30 kms every week and my running form is getting better with practice. I am currently training for my first half marathon in another 10 days and I am constantly surprising myself and my group at the way I have improved since the first few days when a 3 km run would leave me completely winded. The other recent addition to the exercise routine is my Schwinn Searcher and I am planning another 30 kms or so every week in addition to the running.

P.S: The Schwinn put my bank balance back considerably and so I intend to get my money's worth.

Images courtesy Google Images