Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Run the SV marathon? Answer to the meaning of life?

Answer to the meaning of life is 42 (Hitchiker's guide to the galaxy- Douglas Adams) and answer to the first question is a resounding "Yes". I will run it and most probably I will finish it- albeit a bit slowly.

The reader may be left wondering to both my answers and may be tempted to think that this guy is one cocky son of a gun. So let me give some context and develop the rather longish material for this blog as we go along. For those who have no patience- you have no business being here!!

Things have happened since I ran the half marathon at Napa. Good things... as the months went by, I ran 15 miles and then 19miles. I ran in trails infested with snakes (I even jumped over one)- and for those of you who don't know about my phobia for snakes, I really really hate them (probably mutual) and I'm really really scared of snakes, darkness and my wife (I'm ofcourse just kidding about the last- I'm not really really scared of her). Running in trails in the dark and having them infested by snakes is enough reason for me to stop running- but even those two factors didn't stop me.

Lest you think, these came by easy. I must confess to being as gifted at running as Carmen Electra is at acting- you get the idea. I had to really work at it from every aspect- biomechanics, stamina, discipline... all missing but slowly acquired. So when the 23 mile run loomed over the horizon- I didn't take it easy. I planned ahead enough to make an Army General proud. Now, I know what you are thinking-- Hey! didn't you finish a Marathon before? Yes! I did- the operative word being finished. But I did very little running post 18 miles on that particular day. So this was a big day for me. So getting back, we (myself, Suresh and Sriks (in absentia)) planned the number of cars we will need, where they will be located along the trail and what each will contain.

Come run day we were equipped with enough sports drink to hydrate the US Olympic team, potatoes that equals the annual yield of Idaho and a stash of the most important often forgotten ingredient- salt. We started amidst much fanfare (atleast in our minds).

The first 6 miles was filled with jokes, laughter and the strong pitter patters of our rhythimic strides. Unstoppable we were like an army marching.

6 miles, we hit the car trunk and satiated our budding thirst with some ice cold sports drink. Not bad- a good start. We head west along the trail towards the next water spot at 8 miles. Our mood is still jovial but the talking has subsided a bit.

8 miles- never being one to say no to water. I stop for some Honey stinger gel and cool refreshing water from a very dusty rusty water fountain. At this point as I get back to the trail- I'm trailing behind. So I pound it out- running faster than I should to catchup (something I will be forced to regret later).

10 miles- We hit the second car, time for a quick picnic. More gatorade, boiled potatoes (with peels) and some gourmet salt. Salt never tasted better-- Yum. I'm feeling a bit beat, after my speed antic in the last two miles. I take my camelbak, we won't have any more access to fluids until mile 18, when we return back to this spot.

The long stretch to 18 miles- I take it very easy as the other two take off. I realise my folly in trying to go as fast as they did and make peace with my pace (did that rhyme?). My legs recover slowly but going fast early on takes its toll- I slow down considerably. Its times like this- when I'm alone in a trail and when I'm on the fence between wellbeingness and tiredness that I carry on long conversations with myself. I analyze my need to run fast- what point did I really prove? Had I really trained to run so fast? Did I really feel I needed to show the rest that I can run as fast as they do? I realised that the answer was a bit of all the above. Once I realised that, I started enjoying the run. I quickly forgot the speed I was running in- all I knew was that I was running at the limit of my endurance and by doing so I was pushing my boundaries. I was a happy man.

14 miles and turnaround point came. The bay looked beautiful in front of us- the fog filled bay showed a whisper of San Mateo bridge. I quickly gave Sriks a few salt tables and we had some honey stinger gel. The two quickly moved ahead and I was again left to me, myself and Irene. It was at this point that I had my first minor setback- I started wheezing. Either that or a bit of asthma started to manifest. My breathing took on a musical aspect- whistling tunes and notes. If I could forget that it was my lungs, it was actually fun- if I ran fast the tune had a fast tempo, slow it down and it was long beautiful notes. It is my lung and that left me a bit out of breath. Its funny how when something goes wrong that you start to notice other things that quickly bog you down. The sun suddenly felt like it was bearing down on me-- I looked up at it accusingly.
Me: Hey! cut that out will ya?
Sun: eh?
Me: Ya you!
Sun: Gives a very frustrated shrug! Its 60 F for Pete's sake... any colder and you will freeze your marathon butt off
Me: Whatever.

Now you know what I mean by conversations in my head don't you? Running long distances is a lot like going through various phases of life- all in a few hours. Starting the run is like being a child- its all fun and games. 6-10 miles, the teenage years- You are going strong and feel nothing can go wrong. 10-15 miles is like the 20s 30s- you have got over the immense teenage optimism and for the first time have a glimpse of what lays ahead. Unaffected you are sure it will all work out. 15-20 miles is like the 40s-50s, you have the first sign of trouble and realise you have to conserve a few things if you want to continue on. I will tell you more about what the 20-26 miles feels like.

18 miles is around the corner and I head off the trail back to the car. Its the end of the road for Sriks who has to get back home and setup a party for his 2 year old girl. Man this guy is a multitasker if there was any. We laugh joke and drink some more sports drink. With some much needed help I refill my camelbak, eat potatoes with salt. By now the salt tastes amazing and I mean it when I say amazing. Time to say bye, Suresh had already left for mile 22 and I decide with a heavy heart that I need to continue too.

18-20miles- Mind games galore. I will try and give an analogy of what it felt like for me to run miles 18 to 20. Its like I'm in charge of fighting a battle with moody children as my soldiers. They are enthusiatic when we started out- but when tired- they rebel like crazy. You have to make deals with them for every step. At this point your knees want only thing- to be attached to a dude in lungis squatting on a fence that lines a bridge over a creek, smoking a beedi. They don't want to be running miles after miles and they don't give you hints about it- they let you know in loud words as Pain!

knees: Oh! I can't take it.
me: Sure you can. Don't worry! we will run only till mile 20. After that we stop
knees: really? really?
me: ofcourse! you think I love doing this. Cross my heart and hope to die

So your knees run with renewed vigour at the new deal you made. But your lungs and heart were not part of the deal. So they protest... Hey your legs are running too fast! I can't keepup. So you quickly tell your legs to slow down and your lungs and heart grudgingly do what they do... Grudgingly! (the audacity they have).

Miles 20 -22: No mans land. Your knees don't have brains- thats why they are your knees, they don't remember you said you will stop at 20. They just know that they are tired again. You make more deals-- 22miles and we are done. Cross my heart and hope to die..

When they say that during long runs, Pain is a companion- they weren't kidding. At some point everything pains- and those that don't have any right to pain will pain anyway just to get in on the pain extravangaza. Its all painful- its actually so painful that you get used to the pain. Pain just becomes a background noise. Remember when you are listening to music and you initially note each beat, each varying tune. Time goes by and you weren't paying attention- you don't even realise there was music running until the tape runs out and there is silence. The silence hits you!!!! At some point between miles 20 and 22, there was a brief moment when nothing pained and it was like that silence. I suddenly missed the pain. The pain was reassuring atleast- it told me everything was doing what it should be doing - but with no pain- I had no idea if things were working fine. I suddenly longed for the pain to come back.

I suppose I don't really have to elaborate on the analogy between old age and miles 20+. Its obvious- every part of you is weary. You continue running only because the idea appealed to you at sometime in the past.... you run living that memory. You know its all going to end soon at the FINISH line.

Now there are many things that have been researched and I propose a new theme- "The effect of the finish line on a marathoners limbs". Basically the finish line appears as a pale dot in the horizon as it gets bigger and bigger, you can feel your energy building up. All the fatigue is gone- as you feel yourself surging ahead. I really think this should be studied and made into a commodity and applied to other fields. Imagine the equivalent of the finish line to a college grad cramming for his exams- maybe something to prod the youth to cram ahead with renewed vigour? I don't know, but it seems that there is no limit to the possibilities of the FINISH line effect.

The parking lot is just around the corner and Suresh is waiting there for me. He looks like he just finished a walk in a park- this guy is amazing. As I loop around and get in there I see Shoba there too- she looks at me like having spotted a ghost. I must confess to perspiring a lot (perspiring being a well placed euphemism). I lose about 5 lbs in these long runs (all water)- so I'm sure I don't look my best after such gruelling runs. Sriks had called ahead and obviously informed them that I had a bit of Asthma early on. I stop- catch my breath- drink- and tell them (all in that order) that everything is fine. We chat a bit- congratulate each other on running 23 miles (yes we ran only 22 - but we calculated that the various detours had gives us about 0.75 extra) and departed for the day.

So now you know- I'm not cocky when I say- I will run the Silicon Valley marathon and most probably finish it too. The much awaited taper down starts and it couldn't have come at a better time. With the fall prime T.V lining up- I just can't wait to hit the couch with a glass of brewsky safely tucked away.