Monday, December 15, 2014

Marathon Memories - Spijkenisse Marathon

Marathon # 52 - A Report

Spijkenisse Marathon just happened.  I did not plan for it and in fact had mentally closed my mind to marathons this year after Chicago.  In fact, I even decided not to run Shahid Ultra, though much tempted.  Then my travel came and the Spijkenisse marathon happened... Read on..
Mannetjes op de krom (roughly meaning Males on the crooked according to Google Translate)  in the Spijkenisse square
When it became clear that I will have to stay back in Sweden over the weekend,  I found this marathon in Netherlands and decided to give it a shot.  Fortunately, all stars aligned and I was able to pull this one off.  I was able to spot, plan, travel and run  this marathon, all in a span of 5 days.

Getting to Spijkenisse was a marathon journey in itself.  I woke up in the wee hours of Saturday and trekked across three countries to reach my destination.  Helsingborg (SE) - Helsingor (DK)- Copenhagen - Amsterdam (NL) - Rotterdam - Spijkenisse.  Door to door it took me 7 hours and the return trek was even more laborious after the marathon.  But, the weekend of packed and I enjoyed every minute of it.. (ok.. ok.. I see you grinning.. just most of it.. I swear.)

There was no Expo, no fanfare.  The bibs were distributed just prior to the run on the race day.  I trooped in to a small hall were the runners, organizers, family, kids and dogs were all milling around.  Though there weren't many signs (none in English), it was easy to figure out what needed to be done and I got them through in a breeze.  After getting suited up for the run, I looked around for the 'baggage counter' and there was none.  When I asked a volunteer for it, she gave me 'that look' and said "simply leave your bag here and it will be here when you come back.".  No tag, no counter, no nothing.. but simply a system called trust.
Start and finish was at a stadium on an olympic spec astro turf.  300 odd FM runners milled around before being flagged off, sharply at 11:00 AM.  We were made to do one loop inside stadium to spread the runners and make it easy for us to get on to the narrow country side roads.
It was sunny but cold and breezy.  When we started it was around 4C and I don't think the needle went any higher.  However, I was going at a good clip and in fact was ahead of the 4:15 bus till about 21k.  But, I slacked little bit hoping to catch the 4:30 bus which never came.  Interestingly, 4:15 was the last bus.  No wonder the cut off time was 5 hours.
After 22+ kms, I kept asking 'why does my feet hurt'?  I tried playing various mind games to keep it at bay but at one point I just wanted throw in the towel and throw my shoes in the all pervasive canals.  This run was yet another reminder that my PF is still around.  Like diabetes, once PF gets hold of you, it doesn't leave you.  You can best hope to contain it, but it will rear its ugly head any time and mostly in inopportune times..
One of my mantra is Running is always better with company.. and I believe, would have fared better here, if there were more runners.  It may have motivated me to run better with them.  But, I mostly ran by myself and without that external stimuli and PF, my system slowed down automatically.  Nevertheless, I did finish my marathon #52 at 4:43:40.  According to the published results, I was placed 249 with 10 more runners finishing after me.  A look the results seem to indicate that the 5:00 hour cut off was indeed enforced.
As I was heading out, met this guy.  We ran the last km together and we finished almost together.  His name is Hans Bui (63) and he is one of the top marathoners of Netherlands.  He has run 525 marathons in the last 20 years.  Hold your breath, he is not the top guy, the top guy has apparently run 800+ marathons..  Beats me as to how someone could run so many marathons, but then encounters like this puts things in perspective.. Take a bow..

I don't seem to get it right with Garmin.  The best Garmin for me was forerunner 305.  I cycled through 3 of them.  But after that, it was all downhill.  After a disastrous stint with forerunner 410, I recently moved to 620 hoping to like it like 305.  But not liking it yet.  Yesterday, my Garmin 620 abruptly froze, at exactly 38K.  It simply froze and refused to budge.  Fortunately, it was the Garmin that froze and not me.. (This reminds me to do a separate post on Garmin 620 in the coming days.. one of these days.).

More photos of Spijkenisse here
More photos the Spijkenisse Marathon here

Tags - Marathon, Running, Spijkenisse, Netherlands, Travel, Travelogue #71

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How I chose Spijkenisse Marathon to run?

When my mobile phone alarm dutifully rang at 6:30 AM today morning, It took me a few moments orient myself.. Where am I? Why am I not in my bed?  Why are the surroundings feel new?  No, I was not drunk and it is not the feeling from hangover.  But, the fact of the matter is that with so much travel, I get this kind feeling whenever travel gets to me.

It was still dark outside and for that matter it is 9:00 AM now and the Sun is thinking of coming up on this cold Sunday here.  That brought me the question of what am I doing at Spijkenisse?

Whenever business travel shows up in the radar that includes a weekend stay, I reach out to Google to look for nearby marathons.  Finding one that suits many of my requirements is not always easy.  It has to near, easy to register and more importantly easy on my wallet etc.  Many times I don't find one.  Those weekends are hard.  I would end up just vegetating in the room.

This time around, my first preference was to find a run in Southern Europe.  I did find one Italy, but it was impossible to swing it in the few days I got to register and make travel arrangements.  After a few eliminations like the above, Spijkenisse was the only one left on the table.  After getting over the language hump, I hit a payment wall.  They took only international bank transfer and I couldn't do it.  Fortunately, few emails exchanges with the organizers took care of it.

Once I got the registration confirmed, I looked for air tickets to Rotterdam and got a sticker shock.  First there were no direct flights from Copenhagen and second the ticket prices were exorbitant.  Here again, Google helped.  It gave me tip to fly to Amsterdam and take a train to Rotterdam.  With that single cue, flood gate of options opened up.  More non-stop options showed up on my search and the prices were 50% cheaper than the earlier ones.


With that, here am I in Spijkenisse getting ready for my 52nd marathon.  This is going to be one of the smallest marathons I have run.  Organizers are expecting around 300 FMers.  This is going to be one of the coldest marathon I have run as well.  Sun is just starting to peek through the clouds and temperature now is 3C with a high predicted to be at 5C.


A word about the Atlas Hotel, Spijkenisse guys.  They are pretty accommodative to the runners.  They have about 25+ runners at the hotel and have allowed us late checkout till 6:00 PM today.  Besides that accommodated my request for early check-in (and free breakfast) yesterday.  Thank you Atlas Hotel for your friendly atmosphere and accommodating runner needs.

Now off to the run friends... See you soon

Tags # Spijkenisse, Netherlands, Marathon, Running, Travel, Travelogue #70

How RBI helped Uber generate floating cash

I had planned for this post before the Delhi incident which consumed all available bandwidth across all available channels.  Now that there is a lull, I want to publish this post on a subject not covered in the noisy Indian media.

In an earlier attempt to cut the wings of Uber, traditional call taxi companies complained to RBI about Uber practices.  They complained to RBI on how Uber is not following the two factor authentication (2FA).   When a customer joins Uber, it stores the credit card / debit card information and uses it when the service is used.  This is indeed totally cashless and hassle free from the consumer perspective.  But then, this is violation of RBI rules.  Based on the complaint, RBI swung into action and instructed Uber to start using 2FA.

This 2FA requirement, turned out to be blessing in disguise for Uber.  Instead of hurting, RBI's 2FA mandate actually helped Uber create large bucket of floating cash, completely interest free.   How? You ask.. Read on..
Photo courtesy - ndtv.com
To circumvent the 2FA challenge, Uber came up with the concept of prepaid wallet and tied up with paytm.  In this model, Uber customer prefill the wallet with monies and use that to pay for the rides.  This not only makes Uber 2FA complaint but also gives a large bucket of interest free floating cash.

Uber says with paytm, over 600 million Indians have access to its service.  Even if a fractions of that large population are indeed Uber customers and they all put money in the prepaid wallet, it would run to several hundred millions rupees.  In one fell swoop, 2FA mandate made prepaid wallet the only payment option for customers to user Uber.

2FA does help curtail fraudulent transactions, but does have unintended consequences.  In this case, 2FA is helping the already cash rich Uber.

Will RBI think of some compromise here?  like exempting transactions less than INR 500 from 2FA requirement?  While RBI thinks about it, will Uber play fair and pay market interest to the floating cash of consumers like me?

Will you Uber?

Tags #Uber, Chennai, India, 2FA

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Uber - Banning is NOT the Answer

First - What happened in Delhi is unpardonable and must be punished to the fullest extent of law in judicious manner.  Let the case not sputter along the maze of Indian judiciary with no end in sight and the justice be served quickly and efficiently.

But banning the Uber service as done by the Delhi Government is the not the answer.  Following Government of India's recommendations, some more cities seem to have joined the 'ban' bandwagon as well.  Thankfully, Chennai hasn't followed suit and I hope they don't.
Photo courtesy - uk.reuters.com
Interestingly,  Delhi chose to ban Uber for reasons unrelated to the alleged crime.  It chose to ban Uber for violating some archaic transportation laws, which if applied must put major of private cab operators out of business.

Make no mistake, Uber aggregation model is new and disruptive.  It leverages technology to the hilt and has created a business model that is threatening the existing players.  No laws or regulations exist in most places to regulate aggregators like Uber or Lyft.  In cities like New York, Paris, Chicago, they realized the need put their arms around the new emerging model and have revised their laws to regulate business model like that of Uber and Lyft.

Delhi ban on Uber appears to be mere PR stunt to deflect the systemic failure at many levels of the Government.  Unless they are plugged, the models built on top of that will continue to be shaky.  Can we trust the drivers licenses that are issued in our country ? (NDTV purchased a real license for a mere 200 bucks just outside Delhi).  Can we trust the police certificates issued?  (Mr. Yadav, accused of the Delhi crime did produce one, in what is now claimed as a 'fake' certificate).

If App operated cab operations are not safe, then what about the call taxis? what about the private travels operators who operate out of every street corner?  Some of these drivers have committed horrific crimes as well, but those services have not been banned and they shouldn't be.

When radio operated call taxis like Fast Track, Meru Cabs came, they leveraged the 'call center' technology to create a new model in India.  And, as mobile technology progressed and Apps started enveloping our lives, new business models emerged.  One such model is Uber.

We need to embrace these kinds of disruptive innovations and not block them.  Personally, Uber has made my life a little easier.  It has liberated me from the tyranny of unpredictable cab operators.  Earlier I used to pay anywhere between INR 800 - 1000 bucks for a one way ride to Airport which is just 14 kms from home.  Most often, I would end up getting the smallest car which is ready for junkyard.  With Uber, I have always gotten decent cars and the fare never exceeded INR 500.  

If an innovation helps the end consumer why stop it?  If laws and regulations have to change then lets do that and find a way to embrace new business models, not stop them in its tracks.

I will be hiring a Uber taxi when I head back to Chennai next week.

Tags: #Uber, #India #Chennai