Saturday, March 22, 2014

Deepam - Making a small difference

I reconnected with my Deepam kids after a long gap today and it was an enriching experience.  I have been working with Olcott Memorial High School since founding Deepam six years back.  All these years, my Saturdays wouldn't be complete without a few hours connecting with the kids at Olcott.  But this year, due to my frequent travels, I couldn't go as regularly as I like to.

So, when Sugumaran told me that today was the last class at Olcott for this academic year, I made it a point to go to School and reconnect with the kids. Man, it was a great experience and four hours well spent.  I always receive more than what I give from the kids and today was no different.  I was tired, it was hot outside and I almost didn't go.  But, once I went there and spent time with the kids, I came back home energized and wearing a smile.  That for me was priceless.

Being the last class, the plan was to evaluate their English proficiency and I was given the task of scoring kids reading and comprehension skills.  This year, Deepam volunteers put lot of focus on improving the English skills of these eighth graders and it showed in my conversation with the kids today, particularly since I there was a 'gap' in my interactions.

Based on the year around progress and observation, Deepam has created a Focus 20 group.  The idea is to give extra attention to these kids next school year and help them further improve their English language proficiency.

The Deepam Kids of Olcott - class of 2014.. proudly displaying their completion certificates.  Good Luck kids on your upcoming final exams.. See you all in as ninth graders in June.

More photos here 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Comrades Marathon and Servarayan Hills Ultra - Are they comparable?

Road to Comrades via Servarayan Hills

This is my third and final attempt in conquering Comrades and I want to give it my best shot. Thanks to Balaji, I got a training run on the Servaryan hills (aka Yercaud hills).  Though the distance was shorter by about 1/3, Servarayan Hills Ultra was equally challenging, if not more.  Here is why..

It will be a downhill run at Comrades this year.  We start at around an elevation of 700 meters in Pietermartizburg and end in Durban which is at about 150 meters.  We reach the highest point at Umlass Road at 810 meters and then it is mostly rolling descent from there.  Overall, the total elevation gain 1333 meters and an elevation loss of about 2000 meters.  In my 2012 attempt, I copped out after Botha hills as my legs wouldn't cooperate.  In 2014, I am hoping to see past Botha hills and manage the steep descent past that and see the finish line at Durban.

This the elevation chart from my Garmin of Servarayan hills ultra.  The total distance of the Servarayan Hills Ultra was about 62 km, but my Garmin capture was only for about 57k due to user error mid course.  Regardless, we started at an elevation of around 1400 meters and ended at 400 meters, touching a max elevation of 1437 meters.  Overall the total elevation gain was about 1020 meters and the elevation loss was over 2000 meters.

As you can see, the Servaryan hills Ultra had consistently high altitude, though the total distance was considerably shorter.  Another variable is the temperature, though it was chilly when we started at 4:00 AM in the morning, it got hot by 8:00 AM at Servarayan and we were virtually being fried from 10:00 AM.  But Comrades is consistently cooler for the entire duration, that has been my experience in the last two unsuccessful attempts.

Net net, I do feel Servarayan hills ultra was a good training ground for Comrades and would recommend for anyone attempting to do Comrades.

On a different note, A small tribute to all my running buddies, who helped see through the course..
I firmly believe, though running is an individual sport at core, running with buddy helps.  I had several running buddies who help me push thru the miles at Servarayan.  Here are a few of them in this picture at the finish point.  I finished the run with Mani, who ran at my pace for the last 12k.  Somewhere in the first loop, after I 'lost' my first running buddy Bala, Shahid & Balaji appeared from nowhere and gave me company.  Thanks guys.. your constant company and encouragement helped..

Here are my two running buddies with a boy who lost his buddy.  This boy has sitting in the middle of the forest happily talking to his buddy and we entered the scene.  Trying to have a conversation with him, we chatted with boys for a few and when I whipped out my camera for a photo, that's when the other boy bolted.. hence you see the gap between the lone boy and Ramani.  Ramani gave me company thru the gruelling 5k ascent in the second leg of the ultra.  Balaji says that was the 'defining' hill and I am glad to have conquered it with Ramani's help.
And lastly.. Bala was my first running buddy.  He promised to stay with me through the course but we got separated after about 25k.  Barring that, when we ran together, it was fun.  He helped me brush up my rusted Kandha Shashti Kavacham (கந்த சஷ்டி கவசம்) and taught me many other bhajans.  Thanks Bala for the company when it was dark and helping me have a good start.

More Photos here and here
A short video of the run here

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Servarayan Hills Ulta - A short video

Road to Comrades - Via Servarayan Hills Ultra - A Short Video

Balaji organized the maiden Servarayan Hills Ultra as a practice run for the folks running Comrades Marathon this June.  The route and terrain was more challenging than Comrades and was indeed a good practice run for Shahid, Kannan, Aravind & I.  We, four are going to Comrades and we were supported by six other runners (Balaji, Bala, Ramani, Mani, Praveen & Paul).

Here is a short video I took during the run.  In this, you will see ghosts, Shahid's road kiss aftermath, how to get 10 rupee coffee, get confused about halfs and a temple to visit for 'Chithirai Thiruvizha'..

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tokyo Marathon - Almost missed it

Marathon Diaries - 2014 Tokyo Marathon
After having gone to Tokyo just for this run, I could have almost missed the run due to a dead mobile phone.  But, before that, here is a story on the cleanest marathon I have run thus far.

Tokyo is a very congested city and there are lots and lots people hovering around.  It is one of the most 'dense' cities in the world and it must be producing lots and lots of garbage, but the city is amazingly clean.  And it carried to the way city carried out the marathon as well.  Though Aid stations used plenty of paper cups, pit stops were spotlessly clean.  Even at the start and finish where thousands of runners congregated, I was hard pressed to find any litter.  All of us could learn a lessor or two from the Japanese obsession for cleanliness.

This focus on garbage collection detail showed in all aspects of the run.  Organizers must have thought of everything and the to the runners' credit, they followed instructions in toto.

 I was told the volunteer to runner ratio was 1:1 and it showed.  Just when I would want to look or ask for directions or had questions, there would be bi-lingual instructions and volunteers.  These guys and girls were polite, courteous and efficient.  The best way to get to the start point at Shinjuku was via trains and to get there, one would have to change multiple trains depending on where they were coming from.  In my case, I had to take two trains to get to Shinjuku and transfers were confusing and the busy stations were little overwhelming.  But to my surprise, volunteers were there in all stations to guide runners even for transfers.  This attention to detail showed in all aspects of runner experience that day.
The day started out pretty cold on the race day.  It was around 2 C when I started from my hotel and that forced to us add couple of layers on top of our running gear.  All through the sprawling Shinjuku station, runners moved to the side to shed additional layers and got ready.

 This is one area where the organizers need to go back to the drawing board.  As thousands of runners spilled out of the Shinjuku station, they were asked to go through security check before reaching the baggage drop and start area.  Given the Boston bombing, that was a good idea but there were woefully inadequate number of security points and metal detectors to screen all runners in a short span of time.  This resulted in massive pileup and runners jostling to get past the security point.  Other than this minor irritant, everything was perfect.
For every thousand runners, there was a massive truck waiting collect bags.  These were then transported to the finish area and neatly arranged for pickup.
 A selfie at the start.  I was without my two favorite accessories.  I had left my sunglass back in India and dead mobile phone deprived me of music.
 This runner dressed as Christ was running with a huge cross tied to his back.  He was ahead of me when I crossed him near halfway mark and he finished not very long after me.  I could only hazard guess as to how heavy that cross would have been.  Even if it was 'light', to see that guy lugging the cross along finish around 4:20 left me 'awed' at his grit and strength.

At the finish line, we had to walk for about a half a kilometer before getting to the baggage claim area.  As we were walking, we were first given our medals and then the a bag.  As we moved further along, we could pick up energy bar, water, orange, banana, Apple and Tomato.  (Yes, Tomato).  The key point being mostly natural refreshment.  I also liked the finisher towel they wrapped around us.  It gave us some protection from cold and became a souvenir later.

Going into the run, I wasn't very sure how my left leg would hold given my PF history.  But surprisingly, even in (or due to) Vibrams five fingers, PF was at bay and had good finish.  At one point, I was shooting for under 4 but few bridges after 35k killed it.  So, what's the secret here?  I think it is my cadence that helped.  As I looked through my Garmin data, I see that my cadence was consistently hovering around 180 and that perhaps helped to keep PF at bay.  Regardless, I have some more work to do on my gait before Comrades.

With this, Marathon # 48 - Done
Also 5 of the 6 World Marathon Majors - Done
Name - Tokyo Marathon (Unlike other major marathon, Tokyo did not have any 'title' sponsor)
Where - Tokyo city
When - Feb 23, 2014
Kind - City Marathon, through important landmarks
One the best organized marathons I have run thus far.  Clean, orderly and attention to detail. Recommend highly.

2014 Tokyo Marathon album here

Rest of the Stroy - Are you still wondering what's the story with my dead phone?  Here it comes...

Prior evening, I spent almost couple of hours preparing a endless playlist of my favorite songs in my mobile phone for the race.  After that long and arduous process, I simply left the phone on the table and forgot to plug it in.  Needless to say, battery drained fast, leaving the phone dead.

I generally don't call frontdesk for wake up calls and this day wouldn't have been any different.  But as providence would have it, reception called me the previous night when I was fiddling with my music playlist and 'insisted' on helping me.  Without realizing, I had asked reception lady for a wakeup call and that saved me.  If I had relied only on my mobile phone alarm, I would probably overslept and missed the run.  Now you have the rest of the story gentlemen and women.  A lesson for me is to have a backup alarm for important days, otherwise, they will become a day to remember for all wrong reasons.

As of now, my next marathon is Comrades which is also my unfinished business for 2 years in a row.  I am hoping third time would be my lucky charm.  To get ready for Comrades, a bunch of runners are heading to Yercaud for a 62k run this Sunday (March 16, 2014).  First 36 is uphill and the rest downhill.

Will do a post on that when we come back.  Until then Adios, Amigos.