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Gluten-free diet for runners – good or just a fad?

Being Gluten Free is no longer a diet fad and has become a lifestyle change for many, Deepthi Velkur writes about what it means for you to go gluten free.

Gluten-free diets are gaining popularity among the fitness community. The effects of gluten-free diets may not necessarily provide the benefits many athletes hope will give them a competitive edge. Sports nutrition experts believe enhancing nutrition does not mean avoiding gluten – a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Here’s what runners need to know about going gluten-free.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a stretchy protein that is found in grains, especially in wheat. A vast majority of our gluten consumption comes from bread, pasta and baked goods. Other grains that contain gluten are barley, rye, and oats. You’ll also find gluten in ice cream, sweets, processed meats, alcoholic beverages and condiments such as soy sauce.

So should you go gluten-free?

Embracing the gluten-free diet is a medically necessary diet for individuals with celiac disease or related disorders. Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease, where the body starts attacking the lining of the gut when you eat gluten. However, there are several non-celiac athletes who have cut out gluten from their diet and claim to have far fewer intestinal issues when they run, and even say that it enhances their performance.

Now, there’s no medical evidence that proves going gluten-free leads to enhanced running performance, but there is evidence of the potentially harmful effects that gluten can have in some people, for example, gluten can cause inflammation and irritation in the intestinal lining. Statistically speaking, nearly 90% of distance runners suffer from some form of digestive discomfort mostly cramps, diarrhea and bloating during or after exercise – cutting out gluten may help this issue in some runners. Other amateur runners also report they feel less brain fog, less muscle and joint aches, better sleep patterns, and more energy levels when they cut out gluten.

Is the diet workable with the Indian food plan? Yes, says a qualified nutritionist Naini Setalvad “We have many substitutes like bajra, jowar ragi, rajgira, singhada atta, white poha, kurmura and sabudana,” she explains. Food grains such as soy, quinoa, corn flour, millet, arrowroot, amaranth and rice flours all go with the gluten-free diet. Nevertheless, she warns, “If you stop dairy, as an Indian, you would feel less full”.

According to Priya Karkera, a dietitian and nutritionist expert “Milk can be replaced with almond and coconut milk and quinoa, a cereal, can be used to prepare khichdi, upma, and kheer.

Grains are an important food source of carbohydrate, which runners require to boost their training and recovery. Runners going grain-free often develop symptoms of overtraining syndrome, including persistent exhaustion and deteriorating performance.

The final word

If you’re thinking of going gluten-free, the big question is can you manage one? There is no evidence to support that this diet boosts performance. When you cut out a large food group, including food with gluten, your compromising on your health and its nutritional balance. Always consult your doctor or a health professional before changing your diet drastically.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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The Elites at the TCS World 10k

Come Sunday, May 27, around 25,000 runners in Bengaluru will put on their running gear and line up at the Kanteerava Stadium in the heart of the city to participate in the TCS World 10k, Capt Seshadri profiles the elites at the big race.

Champions with disabilities, senior citizens and fun loving majja runners will run a shorter distance, while the 10k will see an Open category, with qualifying standards for participation and, of course, the stars of the event, the elite runners in the World 10k.

Leading this last category in the men’s section will be 27 year old Kenyan, Alex Oliotiptip Korio, defending champion, with a last year’s time of 28:12. He has a personal best of 58:51 in the half marathon, set in Copenhagen in September last year, a city that seems to be his favourite, where in September 2016, he blazed the roads with a timing of 27:37 in the 10k.

Korio will have to put up a good fight to ward off fellow countryman Geoffrey Kipsong Kamworor, younger by two years and with a string of impressive runs as well. A half marathon time of 58:54 in the UAE and a 10k time of 27:44 in Bengaluru in May 2014, are certain indications of a highly competitive event.

The women’s field will be led by Netsanet Gudeta, a 26 year old Ethiopian, with a best 10k timing of 31:35 set at Ottawa exactly a year ago. Gudeta arrives in Bengaluru on the back of a half marathon 1:06:11 at Valencia in March this year, breaking the world record for the ‘women only’ half marathon.

Among the Indian elite runners are the current course record holder Suresh Kumar, with 29:49 set in May 2015. Challenging him would be Srinu, local favourite AB Belliappa and Shankar Man Thapa, all podium finishers at the Tata Mumbai Marathon in January this year. Defending champion Saigeetha Naik with 36:01 leads the women’s field that is filled with other star studded names like Monica Athare, Sanjivani Yadav and India’s first Olympic finalist after 32 years, Lalita Babar.

Those hoping for cool weather in Bengaluru, may have their prayers answered, but one can surely expect some pyrotechnics on the track.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

 

 

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Cool It Down

A cool down is as essential as a warm-up for any athletic exercise, says Deepthi Velkur.

The warm-up and cool down before and after a workout are just as important as the workout itself.  While the key purpose of warming up is to prepare the body and mind for intense activity, cooling down plays a very different role. A complete cool-down of the body helps in a smooth shift from exercise back to a state of relaxation. Many individuals dismiss cool down as time-consuming or simply trivial, not realizing that it is essential to prevent injury.

To dive deeper into this phenomenon, let us be aware of some of the notable stresses that occur during and after each workout

DOMS

During an intense workout, we put our body through a lot of stress. Tendons, Muscle fibers, ligaments get stressed and waste products fill up within the body. A good cool down aids in an easy repair process by relieving the effects caused due to a delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS (sometimes referred to as post-exercise muscle soreness).This soreness is usually experienced the day after a tough workout due to people having a lay-off from exercise or at the start of a new exercise regime.

Muscle Tears

During a workout, tiny tears named micro tears develop within the muscle fibers causing swelling of the muscle tissues which in turn apply pressure on the nerve endings resulting in pain.

Blood Pooling

The heart pumps large quantities of blood to the working muscles that carries both oxygen and nutrients required for the repair process of all the muscles that were worked during the exercise. When we abruptly stop exercising, the muscles no longer contracts and pushes the blood back to the heart along with waste products like lactic acid which remain in the muscles, causing swelling and pain. This process is termed as “blood pooling.”

What cooling down does for you:

  • Steadily lowers heart rate.
  • Circulate blood and oxygen to muscles thereby restoring them to their normal state before the workout.
  • Reduce the risk of blood pooling
  • Removes waste products such as lactic acid from the muscles that builds up during exercise.
  • Lessens muscle soreness.

How to go about cooling down:

Primarily, a cool down can last for 3-10 minutes and includes a gentle jog, decreasing speed gradually to a walk followed by light static stretching and refueling. It is very essential that all muscle groups are stretched at the end of a workout. To cool down after jogging, a brisk walk for 2-3 minutes followed by gradually tapering the pace to a stroll is good. At this point, standing stretches facilitate in increasing the range of motion in the leg muscles. Seated stretches improve flexibility through the whole body and promote relaxation.

A workout comprising of strength training requires a total body stretching to increase the range of motion in the joints that were worked during the exercise. One needs to be particularly careful to stretch the joints as well. Stretches must be focused on the particular muscle group that you have worked out. Mild movements and stretching will benefit your cool down process and keep the body healthy.

So do your body a favor.  Take time to warm up, progress gradually into the workout and cool down when you’re done being physically active.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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The Olympic task of Cross-Country Skiing

Cross Country Skiing is a sport that is given little attention in India, yet during the Winter Olympics 2018 we had an athlete who took up the challenge, writes Nandini Reddy.

Early this year one lone Indian qualified to participate in the Winter Olympics Cross-Country Skiing Event. Jagdish Singh competed in the Men’s 15km freestyle cross-country skiing event. Finishing in 43 minutes, Singh placed a 103rd but opened a lot of minds to the possibilities of the sport.

One of the founding sports of the Winter Olympic Games which originated in the Nordic nation, has two styles that are adopted by various athletes – classic and skating. Today cross-country skiing is considered one of the best full body workouts. While the sport hasn’t seen much patronage in India, it is a great one to consider if you are an avid endurance athlete.

The major benefits of this high endurance sport include:

  • Full body workout: Skiing combines both lower and upper body and requires you to constantly push and pull your muscles. You create movement to move through the terrain and you require every muscle to be actively involved in order to maintain balance and coordination.
  • High Calorie Burner: This is the only exercise format in which you can burn more than 1000 calories in an hour.
  • Functional training: The movements that are required to be made for cross country skiing improve the normal functionality of your body. This will help you gain more mobility during everyday work.
  • Endurance builder: It is an aerobic fitness exercise that boosts your endurance limits. Skiers are 40% fitter than the other physically fit individuals. The uniqueness to their fitness and endurance levels is because of the full body workout from the activity.
  • Relieves Stress: The entire sport is in the outdoors in beautiful terrain. The tranquility from watching the landscapes slip by as you navigate through the course is incomparable.
  • Cardiovascular health: Skiers hearts pump blood more efficiently owing to the nature of the workout. Many skiers have reported lower resting heart rates when they are training for cross country skiing events. The Olympians have reported a resting heart rate of 40, as compared to a normal individual whose heart rate would average around 65.
  • Faster Metabolism: Skiing improves your metabolic rate and thus help you burn more calories. Moving the whole body to move across the course increases the energy consumed and also quicken the metabolic rate of the body.
  • Low Impact activity: Since the exercise is more poised on balance, you are engaging your core and not over-stressing any one part of your body. Thus, it doesn’t hurt the joints and muscles.
  • Reduces Lactic Acid: During any strenuous physical activity lactic acid builds up in the muscles and can result in severe cramping. But cross-country skiing helps prep the body to take on strenuous exercise by reducing the lactic acid build-up in the muscles.

Lastly this is a great way to connect with nature and if you enjoy the outdoors then it’s a perfect sport for you to try.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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HIIT – Is it right for you?

The newest darling of fitness enthusiasts, HIIT, is it beneficial or not for your fitness regime, asks Deepthi Velkur

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) a term that has been thrown around by fitness enthusiasts over the past few years. Essentially, it involves repetitions of short bursts of intense, ‘maximum effort’ exercise, like sprinting. The periods of burst activity last from anywhere between 20 to 40 seconds.

Why you should try HIIT?

As fit individuals, we all strive to be healthier and be fitter. When it comes to getting fitter, factors like cardiovascular ability, core strength and fat loss are crucial elements.

  • Cardiovascular ability refers to strength of your heart. It is very important for reaching and maximizing your fitness potential.
  • Core strength helps in having better balance, keeps the body aligned and helps to recover from injury faster.
  • Low body fat means you have peak performance in running, flexibility and agility.

Just doing cardio helps to achieve cardiovascular strengthening, fat loss as well as better core strength. But doing only cardio can lead to muscle loss. For those of you who have done cardio, it only gets repetitive and boring over time. The alternative to this is HIIT. It aids in bettering cardiovascular strengthening, assist in fat loss and bolster core strength without compromising muscle mass, and not taking up a lot of your time. For runners, cyclists, triathletes and other endurance athletes it is important to maintain muscle strength and mass as it supports them during long distance events.

How does HIIT build endurance?

If you want to build endurance in a short period of time, then you need to consider the following:

1) Heart rate (how many times your heart beats per minute)

2) Stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat)

3) Heart contractility (the forcefulness of each actual contraction of your heart muscle)

While the terms might sound a bit technical, these are the ones that determines your overall endurance. As each of these variables increase, your blood gets more oxygenated and your muscles also receive more oxygen. So, the heart is the primary component for building endurance through HIIT.

Sculpting your physique and increasing metabolic rate is a fabulous effect of internal training. By working out at your top level of exertion, you burn more calories in a short space of time than other workouts. Sound’s simple? Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as it sounds!

If you are an absolute beginner to exercising, then this high intensity method might not be suitable. You need to put in at least 3 weeks of proper training before graduating to interval training to avoid injury.

The Benefits

  • Increased Metabolism and Stamina
  • Time saver sessions – 3 sessions/week of 15-20 mins is sufficient.
  • Anywhere – HIIT sessions use your own body weight and hence can be done at any convenient place.
  • Preserves muscle mass and leads to an increase in cardiovascular efficiency as well as increased tolerance to the build-up of lactic acid.
  • Improved performance and endurance.

HIIT Routines

Designing the right interval training routine can be sophisticated or casual. Elite athletes can choose to visit sports performance labs to have blood lactate and exercise metabolism tests done to determine the best interval training routine. Remember that interval training is extremely demanding on the heart, lungs and muscles, and it’s important to have an OK from your physician before you start. It is recommended that you consult an athletic trainer, coach or personal trainer to get a HIIT program designed to meet your fitness goals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Summer Foods for Runners

Summer is the time for runners to indulge in food, thus making it the best season for runners, writes Nandini Reddy

Hot and humid weather is always a big deterrent for runners. As the sun bears down, there is one
aspect that runners do love about the summer – the ability to indulge in summer foods. Getting
dehydrated and exhausted in the summer is easy. We get the freshest fruits and vegetables to
indulge in every summer and these help in lowering the core temperature and refuelling our bodies.
Refreshing the body doesn’t need electrolyte drinks, tabs, powders and pricey bottled drinks during
the summers because of the availability of fresh foods in abundance.
Sweat doesn’t just remove water from the body but also essentials nutrients. So, it is important to
eat the right kind of foods in the summer. Generally hot weather tends to kill appetite and its very
important to ensure that you get adequate nutrition. Even if don’t feel like indulging in a heavy meal
of protein and carbs, you should include the below foods.

Fruits
Summer brings a whole host fruits – watermelons, mangoes, strawberries and plums. Watermelon is
the best fruit for ensuring that you hydrate and regain your nutrients. Lycopene content in the fruit
helps in preventing sun damage to the skin cell. Plums help in improving the immune system and
prevents summer diseases. For runners it’s a great fruit for ensuring a healthy gut. While mangoes
need to be consumed in moderation, this fruit is rich in selenium and iron, thus making it a very
important addition to a runner’s diet.

Vegetables
The vegetables with high water content such as cucumber, zucchini and all the gourds, make for
great summer foods. The foods are good for digestion, replenish lost nutrients and helps in purifying
the blood. All the vegetables have a cooling effect on the body and help reduce the core
temperature. Leafy vegetables like Spinach and Amaranth are good to fight off the ill effects of
summer.

Smoothies
The berries in the summer are perfect for summer smoothies. You can combine strawberry with
yogurt or almond milk to create a nutritious smoothie that makes for a great post-run drink. The
popular mango lassi is also a perfect drink to beat the summer heat. Dark chocolate is also a great
addition to your smoothies. This is the best food to quell hunger pangs and it packs a whole lot of
nutrition.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the best as they provide the right nutrition that you need to
rehydrate and fuel your body for your running training during the summer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Too Much Too Soon

Our Guest Columnist, Tarun Walecha, shares his thoughts on staying injury free.

Running is the new golf as they say, and it certainly is as it has reached the corridors of corporate power today. But not before having made its impact on society, in general. The reason to this is simple, running isn’t all about power, or networking. It is far more than that, it touches you in many ways, be that your lifestyle, your ability to analyse and understand day to day situation, self-discipline, strong will and much more…so much more. One of the prime benefits which we start it all with, our fitness, that later becomes just a collateral. I’m carefully using the word collateral which by no measure means insignificant. There’s still more that running brings into ones life, new friends for one (and hoard of them, actually), lot’s running gear(mostly free 😊), a bit of travel for the events, not to miss the adulation (PBs et al) and the least preferred of them all….Injuries.

Is it all too much too soon?

Well, there can be a write up on each one of the issues, but we shall focus on injuries this time. Most of us who start running do not have a great history of sports. Well I said most, cause most often those with some sports background also fall in this category as they restart this regime after a fair amount of downtime. Those who restart this journey after a gap in the sporting activities, and for someone to start altogether fresh, running does expose us to certain amount of risk of injuries. Having said that, I can very confidently say that it’s not running that is the cause of the injuries though it does become the medium. It is like blaming a car for an accident and absolving or ignoring the role of the one who drives it. Let us understand what’s the reason for the injuries….and let’s understand when is it too much, too soon.

Roadblocks we encounter

One starts running with an aim of staying fit, and the limited available knowledge is a natural course of things to unfold. As we chart this journey, we encounter various roadblocks, inability to improve the speed, or cover longer distance, lack of disciplined routine and of course, a schedule to follow. While we seek these answers through various friends, runners, running coaches, online portals etc what we also start learning about is PBs, Podium finishes, and everything else that comes with it.  This is exactly where the “Too much Too soon” syndrome sets in. What started as a hobby, breaks through the realm of passion and before we realise it becomes an obsession. Suddenly learning takes a back seat, improving becomes the main criteria! Running for fitness seems basic, and getting a podium finish becomes the main driver. It’s this shift of focus that makes us ignore our limitations and push beyond the boundaries. Having said that what is life within the confines of limitations, and who would get better if one does not push the boundaries. But there’s a thin line there, a very thin line which only we can define for ourselves.

Misjudging your boundaries

There will always be a friend egging you to run faster, or a coach pushing you for a stiff target, and at times even a runner who silently is clocking better time than you but becomes the cynosure of your eyes and all you wanna do is get ahead of him/her. In a situation like this, more often than not, we misjudge ourselves, our training, our strength and our weakness. And even when we maintain our sanity, running as a regime does have its own wear and tear on our body. Our muscles are going to tire, our mind and body is going to get fatigued. But let’s not forget, no two individuals can be alike and this is a scientific fact. What we deal with is something similar, but beyond the biological or physical sphere. With a given physical and biological background, an individual still have too many variables to deal with, such as, a day job, daily routine, personal stress, amount of rest, one’s own willingness, mental strength and the list goes on. What we need to understand is that each one of these variables has a role to play for the way we perform. So, before we begin to compete with someone, we need to look within and know what’s good for us. It is this ignorance which leads to pushing the boundaries beyond the realm of reality and becomes the main reason for injuries.

Lessons Learnt

I started running about 8 years back with hardly any friends in running and bare minimum social media exposure. I consider this a blessing in disguise, cause the learning came in slow, but that slow did good to me. I won’t say I didn’t have my tryst with injuries, it’s a given as all the pounding is bound to show up some way or the other. Fortunately for me it has just been stress accumulation, incorrect or over training which lead to what one may define as pre-injury state. Each time it left a lesson behind, a sign to know if it was too much for me.

What we all need to understand is how to deal with it, but before that we must know, when to push further and when to back out. Only when you dive into a deep sea you will get pearls but where to dive and how to dive is the key. Of course, there’s a recourse through medical intervention, physiotherapy, proper guidance, etc. if one does fall into the trap or gets injured, but those we can deal in another article at another time. For now if I was to sum up my intent for this blog, I would say the following.

  1. Know your limits, make incremental changes and remember how Rome was built…😊.
  2. Understand your strength, and seek guidance when needed.
  3. Push your boundaries, but don’t be over ambitious.
  4. It’s important to understand your muscular anatomy and what it takes to run.
  5. Learn it the right way, correct form is the key to injury free and efficient running.
  6. Last but not the least, You are your own competitor, no one else.

Don’t let someone else becomes your bench mark… an inspiration, yes… a competitor, no. Learn to do this for yourself and not for others, let’s not fall in the trap and succumb to “Too Much Too Soon”.

GUEST COLUMNIST 

An architect by profession, Tarun Walecha enjoys amateur photography, travelling and is a sports enthusiast. He has been a sportsperson all his life and discovered running at the age of 40 and has since become his fitness mantra. In his 7 year running career he has completed 30 Half Marathons, 4 Full Marathon, and 5 Trail/Ultra Runs. He is also a Pinkathon ambassador and has founded the running group, RunXtreme.

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Run long, live short?

Do long distance runners have a shorter life? Capt Seshadri attempts to explore this theory, based on research and experiments and from dialogues with doctors with experience in accompanying marathon runners in major events.

In the fall season of the year 490 BC, Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran a distance of 26 miles non-stop from Marathon to Athens, to announce the defeat of the Persians at the battle of Marathon, in which he himself had just fought. Having shouted out “nenikēkamen”, (we have won), he collapsed and died on the spot.

Centuries later, the death of Jim Fixx, author of “The complete book of running”, probably triggered the debate on the issue of health versus harm. Reports from across the world state that till date, 36 marathon runners have suffered a fate similar to that of the ancient Greek. The age range was between 18 and 70, thus averaging close to 44. Almost half of these deaths occurred either during the run or within 24 hours of the event. So, is there a connection between long distance running and heart attacks? The arguments for and against, both purportedly with solid data to back them, are conflicting but hardly convincing.

Heart + Running

It is a universally established fact that the cause of coronary failure is a build up of plaque in the arteries. So, does distance running help build up plaque, or prevent it? Argument # 1 suggests that extreme distance running can harm rather than protect the heart. This is based on a study of 8 runners over a period of 140 days, running a daily cross country stretch of 42 km, with a one day break each week. After the first 24 hours, the runners were subjected to tests to determine plaque build up. At the end of the race, it was found that their systolic blood pressure, (the number on the top) had decreased and the ‘good cholesterol’ was higher. However, having checked their previous medical records, for those with a history of heart issues, the plaque build up was higher. These findings seem to suggest that distance running is not necessarily protective but could even be harmful in the long run. Conflicting, or confusing?

Marathon runners of all ages around the globe, participate enthusiastically, quite often either ignoring or not being aware of previous cardiovascular deterioration. On the flip side, it would be silly to assume that all marathon runners are physically fit and are therefore immune to cardiac disease.

Understanding the heart

Argument # 2 takes a somewhat different pitch. It says: If we sampled 50 men running 3,510 marathons over the course of three decades, will their heart health suffer or improve? These were experienced runners, most of them with over a quarter of a century of training, with some even having run for half a century. The mix was eclectic, with some having commenced running from school days and others trying to work out the effects of sedentary lifestyles, smoking and indulging in junk food. On an average, they ran around 50 km a week. When these 50 were scanned, 30% had no sign of plaque, 40% had mild amounts and the remaining 20% were the worrisome lot.

The findings were quite chaotic to say the least. More marathons did not mean more plaque, as did less running not indicating any difference. This led to the conclusion that extreme running had little or no impact on heart disease, but reinforced the fact that a history of smoking and cholesterol led to greater plaque deposits even after years of running.

Added to this is a third dimension. According to recent studies, different versions of atherosclerosis, the technical name for plaque build up, could be benign or harmful, and could affect active and sedentary people, thus debunking both negative and positive schools of thought on distance running and heart disease. This ‘halfway home’ theory seems to suggest that long years of distance running neither improves nor deteriorates heart health. There is no clinching evidence to prove that running causes any direct changes in the heart. The conclusion would probably be that all kinds of running would help keep arteries clear of harmful matter. However, running does not provide immunity to those with a history of bad lifestyle, especially smoking and junk food. In the words of Dr Roberts, an experienced researcher, “You can’t just outrun your past”!

So, run to your heart’s content. Run for your lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Taming the Beast

Marathoner, Tarun Walecha, takes another look at the grit, determination and madness it takes to finish marathons.

All that can go wrong at a marathon which I didn’t know about…

A year before when I wrote the prelude to this blog, I had thought to myself that I have learnt all I needed to, made my set of mistakes, even wrote a blog about the same which was well appreciated, and now it would be my year of redemption. As it turns out, I was certainly being overly ambitious.

Having finished five full marathons so far, somehow, I still feel I’m yet to run my first. Last week I was at the starting line again, but this time I was better equipped, better trained, (at least, I thought so) and little bit more confident for sure. I say a little bit because this time I was aiming higher and didn’t want to be complacent. I had ticked all the boxes from the learning last year, be that diet, training schedule, staying injury free and included newer aspects like on course nutrition, flexibility etc.

Unlike last time where I was aiming to finish the run on a moderate pace, this time I was greedy. I had trained harder and had all the reasons to back myself, one of my longest run on Dec 31 which came after 6 days of consecutive half marathon runs under my initiative, ‘Share and Care’ was comfortable and surprisingly speedy. The 28K run on Trail-A-Thon, which I ran a controlled pace but yet was my fastest so far on the course too. I believed that the glory beckoned me and nothing could go wrong, so so I thought.

 

The race day twists and turns…

On the morning of February 25, a 4:30 start meant I didn’t have much time to sleep the night before. I therefore took it easy the previous day in anticipation and was up at 2:30 am without feeling sleep deprived. As I walked toward the stadium from the parking lot, my mind was only filled with positive thoughts and trust in myself, just a hint of anxiety, nothing nerve wrecking. After a quick chat-up with everyone around, handshakes and wishes exchanged; it was going as per the familiar course. So much that an unannounced staggered start didn’t flutter me a bit, and at 4:35 we trotted across the timing mat.

As I started off, I had the plan distinctively clear in my mind, pace chart, nutrition chart, hydration – all ticking off in my mind. Normally, I run as per my effort and only check later how am I doing and it wasn’t going to be any different this time as well. Moving along I felt comfortable, staying focused on myself I could sense I’m doing well. At 10K mark when I checked, I was 1 min 32 sec ahead of my target time. I felt good as there were no signs of over exertion, stride was good and breathing was in control. I decided to hold on to the effort till my next target. As expected at 20K I was 3 min and 40 sec ahead, which was invigorating as I felt no sign of fatigue or mental exhaustion. When I turned around for my second loop, I didn’t want to let go and wanted to seize the advantage. Trotting along, at 30K mark I was doing well, heart rate in check, pace was descent and now I was 4 min and 9 sec ahead of scheduled time.

Quickly running through calculations in back of my mind like always, I ascertained that even if I was to run the rest of the race at 6:00 min pace I would be home with a Sub 4 finish, and I was immensely thrilled with that outcome.

But the best laid plans always come to naught…

As I reached the 32k mark, I started feeling sluggish. My pace had dropped to 5:55. Going back to my calculations, and accommodating for tiring body I told myself to stick to sub 6 pace. As I moved along I felt my stride getting shorter and every KM mark I could see the pace sliding down. At 38K mark when my Garmin showed 6:19 lap pace with a total time 3:34:53, my mind quickly computed that my desired calculation of Sub 4 wasn’t possible now. With 4.2KM of minimum distance to be run, I would have had to really push myself against the odds. Suddenly the hamstring niggle which surfaced slightly earlier filled my legs with lead and my left leg refused to move. I decided to give it a break and stretch a little before moving on, but as luck would have, I found it tough to get back in rhythm. Was it my body which was breaking, or did my mind gave up on me, I’m yet to figure that out. Slowly I watched each runner whom I had left behind passing by, some acknowledged and egged me but I could only cheer them back and asked to them to move on. This was my battle, and I had to fight it on my terms. I hopped along for next 4k, and somehow gathered strength to run for the last half a km to keep my head high. Timing clock at the finishers gate showed that I was nearly 11 min over 4 hrs as I crossed over and moved towards the holding area. Friends, other finishers, each one of them welcomed me with high fives, hugs and smiles, but somehow I in my heart carried a shade of disappointment.

Will I ever understand how to conquer it?

The race was over, I did fairly well as per many, timing wasn’t that bad either, but what left me unhappy was those last 4 kilometer. I wasn’t supposed to struggle, I was there to run. So what went wrong, that is my biggest mystery. Did I not train enough, or did I give up on myself too soon? In the days to come, pondering over each of the issue, I tried to pinpoint at various probabilities, and evaluated them against myself.

  1. Inadequate training: Going by my training year before where I struggled with niggles now and then, I induced more strength workout in my schedule. One of the reason my hamstring started jarring could yet be due to relatively lesser strength training.
  2. Aggressive target: From my target last year to finish a moderate paced FM to running an aggressive Sub 4, might sound a big leap but my training runs backed me up and somewhere I was hopeful of cracking it.
  3. Over-Nutrition on the course : I had planned to take gels in a tapering pattern of 9k, 8k, 8k, 7k, 7k considering the higher needs as one tires out. Energy boost after first one lured me to change it to 7k from second gel onward. At 30K I did feel nauseated and over fed, so much that I couldn’t have my fifth gel.
  4. Lack of salt intake: Gel at shorter intervals meant lesser time in between, and the first causality of time management was salt caps which I didn’t have after my first 2, and in all had only 3.
  5. Less water consumption: Though my earlier experiences had alarmed me about this, having trained in pleasant weather failed me on understanding my body’s water requirement on the race day.
  6. Rise in temperature: It was an odd situation, adding to the above point, the entire training was done in winters with running the race in spring. The week before the race saw a sudden rise in temperature which showed the damage it can do to your hydro-logical balance.
  7. Running faster than the plan: Since I’ve always run by the effort, on the race day I landed up running a shade faster than the planned pace, was it my undoing? Can’t say yet as my heart rate remained in the control zone and barely touched Zone 5.
  8. Lack of focus: That’s something that may not be the root cause , but can certainly be a reason to deflate the overall effort. To be in ‘the zone’ for 42 km, is something that still has a long way to go, perhaps.
  9. Lack of flexibility: This was another aspect which I targeted after last year’s debacle, worked extensively and consciously, but the awareness only highlighted gray areas; certainly more work needed.
  10. Lack of guidance /knowledge: How much is enough??? I certainly can never judge.

Mind over body…

While this can be your strength, but can work against you as well. For everything that you may cover, this could be a blanket loss. If I did not falter on any of the above, then it has to be this. Was this the reason that I stumbled? Did that one look at my watch at 38K which showed 3:34:53 blow it up? One little back hand calculation and I knew I had practically lost my chance for a Sub 4, and suddenly it didn’t matter anymore.

The mystery that I wished to unravel this time, to decode what it takes to run a marathon, still remains a mystery. After 34 Half marathons, many more equivalent distance runs and 5 attempts at FM, I still have to know what it takes. Lest I forget, I need to reiterate to myself, it is not just two half marathons, it is not just another long run. I don’t know what it is yet, but I will soon.

The beast still stares at me, with a little smirk on its face, but I know we are friendlier now and it’s just a matter of time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An architect by profession, Tarun Walecha enjoys amateur photography, travelling and is a sports enthusiast. He has been a sportsperson all his life and discovered running at the age of 40 and has since become his fitness mantra. In his 7 year running career he has completed 30 Half Marathons, 4 Full Marathon, and 5 Trail/Ultra Runs. He is also a Pinkathon ambassador and has founded the running group, RunXtreme.

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