Khardung La Challenge- Jullay! Kabhi Nahi Bhuley!!

Khardung La Challenge (72 km) is one of the Highest Ultra Marathons in the world. This race is also amongst the toughest endurance races. Khardung La Challenge begins at Khardung village ( at 3975m / 13,042 ft). The race involves a gentle and steady climb to the top of Khardung La Top (K-Top) (5370m/ 17,618ft), the highest motorable pass in the world. From here it is downhill all the way to Leh town (3500m / 11,500ft).

Khardung La Challenge is part of Ladakh Marathon which I think is an ‘endurance festival‘, in one of the most amazing part of of this planet, Ladakh.

Jullay! Ladakh and Ladakhis.

Ladakh is the land of Snow, Dunes, Clear Sky, Stars, Gompas and spirited Ladakhis.

Ladakh Landscape

The Ladakh Marathon was started in 2012 following the 2010 Ladakh flash floods to encourage the young people of the state to take up healthy lifestyle and to convey to the world that Ladakh is back and running. The platform to help Ladakhis grow stronger as a community through physical fitness and sensitivity to environment.

I wanted to run the Khardung La Challenge from the day I started road running for a healthier lifestyle. After I finished 2017 running season (my my second year of running) with 4 Ultras (50 and 75 km), 5 Marathons and 42 runs between 21km and 40km and 1 Olympic distance Duathlon, I felt I was ready for the Khardung La challenge. I applied in April 2018 and was accepted.

What followed was 4 months of gruelling training and recovery from an injury to get ready for the Khardung La Challenge. Here’s my Khardung La Challenge training log. I think this training plan should be good for people over 40 who want to finish Khardung La challenge under 12 hours.

With training done, I boarded the flight to Leh on August 31. It was a 3 hour flight from Pune with a 8 hour stop-over in Delhi.

Running in Ladakh is unlike running anywhere else. I always go to the races a day in advance, collected my bib and run the races. For Ladakh, I took a flight 8 days in advance to acclamatize. The race organizers recomend 14 days acclamatization, however, 2 weeks vacation may not be possible for recreational runners like me who have a full time job.

Acclamitazation is the process of the human body adjusting to new environment, in this case higher altitude and low oxygen. (When we took off from Delhi we were 281 meters above Mean Sea Level  and one hour later at Leh we were 3191 meters above MSL).

 

Ladakh Altitude

 

It takes time for our body to adjust to this change and experts say acclamitazation is the key to running at high altitude. Here’s Ladakh Marathons acclamitization guide.

Khardung La Challenge- acclamitization & pre- run

September 01 – Jullay!

All flights arrive early morning into Leh  and hotels allow early check-in. I checked into hotel Yarab Tso (had booked based on Trip Advisor reviews, and they are true as reviewed) had a quick breakfast and went off to sleep.  I did not sleep the previous night so that I could sleep in the morning at Leh.

Shweta was a bit more enterprising and wanted to enjoy the sun and read about Ladakh and create an itinerary.

However, very soon she felt dizzy and had to be helped to the other side of the bed.

I woke up around 2pm and took a cab ride to the Ladakh Marathon Hub  as the participants of Khardungla Challenge are advised to report and get a health chek up done when they reach Leh.

I collected my bib and then met the man himself- Chewang Motup Goba  -“an adventurer, explorer, mountaineer, trekker and entrepreneur committed to the development of sustainable adventure tourism and the empowerment and development of local tourism practitioners.”

Motup, as he is foundly called is a true Ladakhi- strong from within and humble outside. He shared some interesting acclamitization details like drink 3-4 liters of water daily, it’s OK if you go to the toilet more than usual, try to sleep well.

His Linkedin profile is as interesting as the man-  “To go to school in Srinagar, I had to cross the 18,000-foot-high Khardungla Pass by horseback, yak, and on foot long before it became the highest motorable road in the world.”

Chewang Motup

 

When I told him I’m from Pune he shared interesting facts like Maharashtra has maximum participants (~600) followed by NCR (~400), maximum international runners are from Japan (~30) in the 7th edition of the Ladakh Marathon.

No wonder sports enthusiast call him the game changer! Jullay Motup!

September 02- AUM Shanti!

I slept like a log the intervening night of September 1 and 2.  There were 2 signs of altitude sickness:

  1. Yellow urine- that was a sign I needed more liquids.
  2. Bleeding nose- dry environmet, humidity was very low.

We got up at 5 AM and decided to trek to the Shanti Stupa. Awesome 5 km hike and 1000 steps got us there.

shanti stupa leh

The energy of the early morning sun and Shati Stupa got a spring to my feet and I could easily do a 7 K run near Shanti Stupa. This route is part of the last 5kms of Khardung La Challenge.

Shanti Stupa Bhaskar Thakur

September 03- Khardung La- Kya main kar paoonga? (Will I manage doing Khardung La?)

My urine was getting closer to amber color however, it smelt as if I had antibiotics, I had to further increase fluid intake. I increased my water intake to about 6 liters a day.

I got up at 5 and took my legs for a 11km spin. I did not feel tired during the run or after. I was getting used to Ladakh!

First run- Leh

I got back to the hotel and had a large breakfast. When we were at the breakfast table I got a message from Sanjay Chikara– one person I hold responsible for running long distances. He had noticed my run on Strava and pinged me.

Sanjay Chikara- Khardungla

 

I was super excited to run with Sanjay after a couple of years.

In the next hour we packed and were off  to Nubra Valley. To get to Nubra Valley from Leh one has to cross Khadung La Top. As per my training and acclimatization plan I got off the car 2 kms before K-Top and started running to the top. It was snowing (very mild)  and within the first few minutes altitude hit me and I started feeling dizzy. I parked myself on a rock for about 5 minutes and then started walking slowly towards K-top. That’s when it hit me Kya main Khardungla Challenge kar paoonga? (Will I manage doing Khardung La Challenge?)

I kept walking and running to reach Khardung La Top and then continued the downhill run. I did about 5kms in 55 minutes and was done for the day.

Few other things that I found challenging in the run was dust in the air and diesel exhaust from vehicles and road construction equipments. My lungs were choked and my nose started bleeding.

Khardungla first attempt

September 04- Bhaag Bhaskar Bhaag!

I woke up feeling much better at Nubra and visited the Diskit Monastry and sand dunes. Disket monastry has such energies that I could feel the vibrations within minutes of closing the eyes.

On the way back from Diskit we came across a dune which had large hordings ” shooting location for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” and that set up the tone for the day’s training. On our way back to Leh I got off the car about 6kms after Khardung village and  started to run up the incline. I ran up about 7kms in an hour and felt pretty good. At the end of the run I felt ” Bhaag Bhaskar, Khardung La ho jayega!” – Run Bhaskar, Khardung La is possible!

Last Training Run before Khardungla Challenge

Enroute to Leh, we stopped at Mendhak Mor– the last cut off point for the Khardung La challenge. I wanted to say Jullay! to the cute Frog and get his energy for the race.

Mendhak Mor Leh

 

September 05- Carb up, dress rehersal & recce.

This was a fun day.  Got up late, checked my gear-  shoes, hydration bag, gels etc. and got into the 4 layers I was planning to run in. As soon as I was fully ‘dressed up’ I started feeling dizzy as it was about 25 degrees in Leh and 4 layers, gear and food together weighed about 7kg.

Once the equipment check was done we headed to The Tibetian Kitchen. Carb loading is the most interesting part of running. We had awesome Tibetian fare.

The Tibetian Kitchen

After the lunch we reported at Ladakh Marathon hub for race briefing and recce.

Ladakh marathon team organizes recce of the last 5kms of the route every year. This stretch is winding streets in the city and organizers do not want the runners to get lost and lose time after they have run 67 kms.

At the briefing Motup said something that I believe every runner should live by ” Khardung La will remain for ever, Khardung La Challenge will remain for years, listen to your body.

Khardung La Challenge- the run.

September 06- The Khardung camaraderie.

Khardung La Challenge is a point to point race. The organizers transfer the runners from Leh to Khardung village a day prior to the run.

I reported at the Ladakh Marathon Hub at 9:30 AM, there was a roll call at 10:00 AM and we boarded the buses to Khardung. I met some amazing runners in the bus. I knew few runners like Nakul Girdhar, Sunil Girdhar from earlier events and made some new friends like Kapil Nayyar, Anshul Agrawal, Manan, Hardik and more.

At Khardung village the Ladakh Marathon team had organised home stays- this is a very nice was to to get the locals involved with the event. I shared the room with Sanjay Chikara and Raj Prajapat. Sanjay was not feeling well and it seemed altitude hit him.

I had couple of cups of “local tea” – amazing salty Ladakhi tea to get over the bus ride fatigue and then went for the health check-up. The villagers also organized a cultural program and it was super cute to see the tiny school kids perform. Eventually, the organizers got the runners to jig.

Khardung Village

This was followed by pre-run dinner at 7:00PM. Dinner was lavish with soup, starter, salad, Indian vegetarian and non- vegetarian, pasta and more. This was also the time to meet fellow runners and exchange notes. The day created positive vibes and a great camaraderie among runners- The Khardung camaraderie.

By 9:00PM we had put our gears out for the morning and it was lights off.

 

September 07- The run.

With training and acclamitazation done it was time for the run. I was feeling fit and ready for the challenge. However, I was still recovering from the knee injury and downhill was going to be challenging.

At the start line my target was to fininsh the run under 12 hours. I had planned my run in three parts:

  1. First 32km – Khardung Village to North Pullu to Khardung La Top: My target was to run this section 5 hour 30 minutes (with 4 layers) . Take a 5-10 minute soup, layering off and bio break at K- Top.
  2. Next 16km – Khardung La Top- Top to South Pullu: This section has unpaved road. I was targeting to run this section in 2 hour 30 minute and taking a 10 minute layering off break at South Pullu.
  3. Last 24km –  South Pulu to Mendhak Mor to Leh Market: I planned to do this section is 3 hours and it is all  down hill and good road.

However, things did not go as planned. Here’s my account and analysis of my run:

First 32km – Khardung Village to North Pullu to Khardung La Top

I got up around 1:30am, put on my gear and at 2:30am headed to the baggage drop after wishing Sanjay and Raj good luck. It was an amazing breakfast spread at 2:45am. However, I am not comfortable with solid food too close to the start of the run and skipped the breakfast.

Start line was buzzing with Ladakhi scouts leading the pack, ready to set the road on fire.  Other runners were charged up and ready to take on the challenge. Head torches were adding to the stars on the Ladakhi skyline. I felt honored to share the space with 135 quality runners.

Khardung La Challenge 2018- Flag off

At 3am headman of Khardung Village Mr. Tsewang Norphel and DSP Suraj Singh of Leh flagged off the run.

After the first 30 minutes the runners spread out. I was enjoying my run at a 8-9 minute/km pace as planned. The first 10km of the route is relatively flat and very runnable. I could have pushed myself a little harder.

There was a rockslide however, noting alarming. About 2 hours into the run it started to rain, it took me about  10 minutes pull out the poncho from my hydration bag and put it on; by that time I was all wet and was feeling cold. I continued to push on however, my pace dropped to 10-11 minute/km.

By the time I reached North Pullu my hands were frozen, I could not even open the water bottle. I asked the army contingent at North Pullu aid station to switch off my head light and help me with a gel. They offered medical help however, I wanted to push on and reach K-Top.

I continued running toward K- Top at 10 minute/km. Nature had other plans for the day- very soon it stopped raining started to snow. I was wet, my hands were frozen and now I was running in the snow.  The slush from the rain and snow made the unpaved road from North Pullu to K-Top more challenging. I was treading very carefully.

I finally reached K- Top in 6 hours 04 minutes– wet and 30 minutes behind plan.

Bhaskar Thakur Khardung La

 

My hands and feet were frozen and swollen- and I could not take the gloves off. The aid station folks mentioned that the temperature is around -15/ -18 degrees. I could feel the chill in my bones, I had a bowl of hot soup and did not think it made sense to de-layer at K-Top and continued toward South Pullu in full gear.

Next 16km – Khardung La Top- Top to South Pullu

Khardung La Top to South Pullu is unpavead and downhill. I had planned doing this section at a pace of 8-9 minute/km. It was too cold, I was wet and my limbs were frozen. I tried running down from K-Top however, I could not. It was foggy and the best I could do for the next 15 minutes is run- walk at 11-12 minute/km pace.  The clouds cleared and there was warm sun. I tried to get my pace up however, I could not, I was still cold. I kept going at run- walk at 11-12 minute/km pace.

The sunshine was short lived, before I could dry up the weather changed. It started raining again. As I was approached South Pullu I was feeling very low and was mostly power walking. I kept dragging myself to South Pullu and DNF looked like a possibility.

K- Top to South Pullu

It took me 3 hours to reach South Pullu and I was wet.  When I was at the aid station another runner came in, he had de-layered at K- Top and was shivering and asking for a dry T-Shirt. I wanted to help however, there’s not much I could do.

From South Pullu I could see clouds over Leh and had to decide if I wanted to de-layer. I was wet and the jackets were heavy. I decided to take my chance and de-layer. I took off 2 layers, gloves and the warm cap. I even unloaded first aid and head light from my hydration bag. I was feeling lighter but colder.

Last 24km –  South Pulu to Mendhak Mor to Leh Market

I started running- walking after South Pullu and soon I was doing average pace of 9 minutes/ kilometer. The bet to de-layer paid off as it did not rain to the finish point. However, I my hands and feet were frozen and I could not improve my pace despite putting effort. I also missed my hourly nutrition as my body was rejecting food.

Cyclists started escorting runners as we entered Leh and it was nice to have some one to speak with- abouth Ladakh, Leh and their school.

I ran- walked to Leh and then to the market finishing the run in 12 Hours 57 Minutes. I took an hour more than planned however, no regrets, the weather was way out of my comfort zone.

Khardung La will remain for ever, Khardung La Challenge will remain for years, I will return someday.. stronger.

It was great to finish Khardung La Challenge with my dear friend Amit Sareen.

 

Finishing Khardung La Challenge 2018

 

Across the finish line it was an honor to receive the Khata and meet a new fried Dorje Angchuk

Tibetan Buddhism Khata

 

Running notes to self.

There’s nothing I could have done better in the first 2 sections of the route (from Khardung village to South Pullu) however, I could have done the last section 30 minutes faster. Here’s action items to improve my running:

  • Strengthen knees work on down hill runs.
  • Train running faster when super tired.

 

Bonus.

36 Hours after finishing Khardung La Challenge I laced up and reached the start line of  Ladakh Half Marathon. I was tired but there was more running in Ladakh. I met Amit Sareen and his running buddies from Mumbai.

Ladakh Half Marathon

 

Ladakh Half Marathon is a spectacular. However, I will skip the details for another blog. I took it easy and finished the run in 2:32 minutes.

Thank you the mountains of Ladakh for the showering your energies and helping me take on Khardungla Challenge! Feeling Blessed!!

I will return soon till then Jullay! Kabhi Nahi Bhuley!!

Bhaskar Thakur- Khardung La Challenge

 

Here’s my run on Strava.

 

Khardung la Challenge- My Training Log

Khardung la Challenge- Background

The Ladakh Marathon was started in 2012 following the 2010 Ladakh floods. According to Ladakh Marathon’s Wiki  “The initiative was started to convey to the world that Ladakh is back and running”. Ladakh Marathon has 4 races:

72 Km Khardung La Challenge

Ladakh Marathon

Ladakh Half Marathon

7 Km Run Ladakh for Fun

The Khardung La Challenge (72 km) is the Highest Ultra Marathon in the World. This race is amongst the Toughest and Ultimate Challenging Endurance Race.  The harsh conditions makes  this extremely tough  as approximately  60kms of the race is above 4000 m (14,000ft).

The Khardung La Challenge begins at Khardung village (3975m / 13,042 ft). The race route involves a gentle but steady climb to the top of Khardungla (5370m/ 17,582 ft), one of the highest motorable passes in the world. From here it is downhill all the way to Leh town (3500m / 11,500ft).

 

Khardung la challenge

Khardung la challenge Elevation

Signing up for Khardung la Challenge

I finished the 2017 with 4 Ultras (50 and 75 km), 5 Marathons and 42 runs between 21km and 40km i.e. a total of 51 Runs 21km or more and 1 Olympic distance Duathlon. After the 3 Hour 45 Minutes finish at the Tata Mumbai Marathon in January 2018, I felt I was ready for the Khardung la challenge.

I signed up for the 72 Km run in April 2018 and was accepted to run. My training plan for Khardung la was to increase my endurance with long runs and work on my breathing technique for the thin air, high altitude running. I signed up for Hyderabad 12 Hour Run (May), Tuffman Shimla Ultra Mashobra (June), Matheran Endurathon (July) and AFMC Marathon (August) to lead to Khardung la challenge.

Hyderabad 12 hour run (my first stadium run) was a new experience and after 219 laps and 87.6 kms I was feeling good and on track for Khardung la.

I picked up a knee injury on a training run after Hyderabad that persisted through Mashobra Ultra and Matheran Endurathon. I have recovered about 80%  from the knee injury; with 8 weeks to Khardung la challenge.

I’m completely off the training plan A,  this calls for revisiting the training plan B and C- that  includes knee pain management in addition to strength and flexibility.

In this blog I will share my weekly training for the next 8 weeks as I prepare for the 2018 Khardung la challenge. I plan to update this blog every Monday  for now till the race day.

Training for Khardung la Challenge

 8 Weeks to Khardung la Challenge (2018 July 09- July 22)

Start of the week note– Knee Pain, specially walking up or down the stairs. Is it Runners Knee? Have this feeling I may not be ready for Khardung la Challenge and that will be a heart break. Lesson learnt- Rest is as important as running , specially if you are over 40.

Goal for 2 weeks– Rest, recover from Matheran Edurathon 50K, start with medical yoga, get ready for training

Training log for 2 weeks

Hiking: Casual  7 KM Walk on July 20.

Yoga (Strength): 0 Sessions, 0 Hours

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 5 Sessions

Medical Yoga is a cross between Yoga and Physiotheray. The medical yoga teachers and practitioners have a deep understanding of  human musculoskeletal system and use specially designed excercises and equipments to get the body ‘aligned’.  I’m fortunate to know Shama Rana who has mastered this art over the last few years and runs Samsara – The Yoga Studio. She is committed to help people learn, through Yoga and Meditation, the skills needed to stop creating their own worlds or cycles of suffering and live fulfilling lives.

 

Khardungala Challenge Pre Training

Khardungla Challenge Pre Training- Medical Yoga

 

6 Weeks to Khardung la Challenge (Week Of July 23)

Start of the week note– Pain much lesser, I think I’m ready for the road.

End of the week note– 3 easy 10K runs (with knee support), work on strength and breathing.

Training log for the week

Running: 30km

Cycling: 38km

Hiking: 6km

Yoga (Strength): 2 Sessions

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 5 Sessions

Khardungla challenge- 6 weeks to go


5 Weeks to Khardung la Challenge ( Week Of July 30)

Start of the week note– With 3 runs last week feeling much better on the road. Try a hill run this week

End of the week note–  Started running without knee support on August 02.

Training log for the week

Running: 41.3km, 870m Elevation Gain including 1 hill training 21km ( Bopdev Ghat x 2)

Yoga (Strength): 2 Sessions

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 4 Sessions

Khardungla challenge- 5 weeks to go

Bopdev Ghat- Hill Repeats


4 Weeks to Khardung la Challenge ( Week Of August 06)

Start of the week note– The left knee was a bit shaky after the Bopdev Ghat run. I should use knee support for  my hill runs

End of the week note– This week included 4 Runs.  Additional strength training (1 km walk and lunges) and a massage. Legs are feeling better than last Sunday. Also, I dropped out of AFMC Marathon– (Did Not Show)- I did not feel ready and did not want to over exert at this stage. AFMC- Next year maybe?

Training log for the week

Running: 47.2 km with 1071 m elevation gain ( Bopdev Ghat x 2 + Heaven Park x 2)

Yoga (Strength): 2 Sessions +  1 km (walk and lunges) with 16 kg weight.

1 km Walk- Lunges with 16 kg weight

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 4 Sessions

 

4 Weeks to Khardung la -Training log

Hill Repeats- Bopdev Ghat

 


3 Weeks to Khardung la Challenge ( Week Of August 13)

Start of the week note– Bopdev Ghat run last week with knee support help me negotiate the turns better while coming downhill. I will continue with knee support this week. Also there is a public holiday (Independence Day) this week. I can put in more hours

End of the week note– Amazing training this week. 2 Hill runs ( Bopdev and Sinhagad. 2 continuous days 21K + Hill run.

Highlight of the week: Sinhagad Downhill Tactical run ( 3km 420 meters elevation loss) done in 22 minutes and 37 SecondsFeeling amazing as my knee behaved through the run.

Sinhagad hill down run

Training log for the week- 

Running: 4 Runs, 1858 meters elevation gain. 3 runs 21Km or more. 2 continuous days 21K + hill run.

Yoga (Strength): 2 Sessions

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 4 Sessions

Khardungla Challenge training- August 13

Khadakwasla to Sinhagad Run


2 Weeks to Khardung la Challenge ( Week Of August 20)

Start of the week note– 78 kms last week with 2 back to back hill runs ( 25km + each) did leave me a bit exhausted on Monday and Tuesday. Also, with 3 weeks to the big run it’s time to taper down. I will go easy this week and focus on Yoga and pain management

End of the week note– Did 2 rund this week including a hill run ( Bopdev Ghat x 2). Continued with knee support.  Had to skip Sunday training for Rakshabandhan festivities.

Highlight of the week: Got the best pace for this season on Bopdev Ghat: 7.46/KM over 21 Km and 630 meter elevation gain.

Training log for the week-  

Running: 2 Runs, 770 meters elevation gain.

Yoga (Strength): 2 Sessions

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 3 Sessions + 1 Meditation and breathing technique session.

Khardung la challenge Training - Tapering

Khardung la Challenge Training Bopdev Ghat

1 Week to Khardung la Challenge ( Week Of August 27- 31)

Start of the week note– Tapering continues, I hope to pack 2 runs this week before flying out on Friday. This is also the week to pack my gear. The race starts at 3AM and the temperatue is expected to be south of 3 degree celsius- have to pack 3 layers for the run plus medications including Diamox for altitude sickness- Hope I do not need that.

End of the week note– This was a short week (5 days) packed it wil 2 runs and 20kms.

August was good training month (though not as good as i had hoped). 6 Hill Runs Half Marathon or more, 209 kms aggregate, 4703 meters elevation gain.

August 2018- Training Calendar

Training log for the week  

Running: 20 Kms (Monday- Friday)

Yoga (Strength): 1

Medical Yoga (Flexibility, Pain Management): 2

Khardung la Challenge- Week -1 Tapering

Training is done now it’s time for Khardung la. Leh here I come..

Bhaskar Thakur- Khardung la challenge

 

A pair of Soles and a Soul that sold his Sawari

The title of this blog is inspired and borrowed from Robin Sharma ‘s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari– an inspirational story about Julian Mantle – a high profile lawyer (or is it Robin ‘s own life) who quit his career and came to India searching for deeper purpose of life.

The Monk who sold his Ferrari

 

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari is one of the all time bestseller motivation and self help books and compells readers to think about their life, goals and actions. I first came across this book in my MBA in 1997 and the book had reverse impact on me and I started ‘aspiring’ to own a Ferrari (OK! Ferrari may be an over stretch, but definitely a car!)- One has to own a ferrari to sell one- was the logic.

I bought my first car in the year 2000, it was not a Ferrari but Maruti Zen that felt like Ferrari both while driving and paying the monthly installments! On hind site that sounds funny! Isn’t selling ‘the’ Ferrari about Zen way of life?

Over the next 5 years I started planning and dreaming about a bigger car. I was not the ‘sports’ car kind but more the SUV. I bought a Suzuki Grand Vitara in 2008- I was passionate about driving and off roading. I wanted to drive across India on roads or otherwise- my dream was doing Raid de Himalaya. I could never Raid the Himalayas, however had a lot of fun with Vitara. Here’s a slice of what I loved doing first few years with the Vitara.

Note: Voice over by our friend and Chef Sonal

I have changed over the years in many ways and so has my love for cars and driving. I started spending more time on my Soles and with my Soul in the weekends. Running 4-6 hours on weekends became normal routine  and that went up to 10-12 hours once in 3-6 months. I am also on the path of  “searching for the greater purpose of life” and weekends and early mornings are great for the soul. To cut the long story short “I was left with no time for off-roading and I did not need a SUV.

One of my 2018 resolutions was to “BeCar”

“BeCar” is an abberation of the hindi word बेकार (BEKAR) which translates in english to “Floccinaucinihilipilification” or ” estimating something worthless” . I think, I first came across both  बेकार and floccinaucinihilipilification in middle school. Most people thought that I was “बेकार” all the time. Also, around the time when I was growing there was this huge wave of “General Knowledge” contests. Kids were supposed to know wierd facts, like “Which is the longest non-technical word in the English language?” floccinaucinihilipilification (Attaboy! 10 points to you).  Manorma Year Book was the gold standard, I must have picked this word from there.

However, that’s  not how “BeCar” is used for in this blog. Here it used as a Hinglish word that means “Without Car” or Car less.

After a lot of discussions ( my mother was really unhappy with my decision) I posted my seller ad on OLX in April and sold the car on July 31, 2018. I do not plan to buy another car.

So, what’s the point? Why did I sell the car? Here are abberations of 4 book titles that explain this experiment with life– Oops! did I borrow that one too?

This is also my Twitter style review of these books:

BeCar Soup for the Sole


chicken soup fo the soul

 

Gives me more time on the soles.

I walk to meetings upto 2km

I bike to run errands upto 15km

Our vacations are Runacations

Spend on car insurance goes to running gear

Spend on car maintenance goes to  marathons.

Try BeCar-ing Your Soul

 

Bhaskar Dilbert

I’m a huge fan for Dilbert but I never felt ‘dilberted’ im my life until Inner Engineering happened to me.  I always  thought happiness is car. However, after Inner Engineering I realised I was miserable inside the car and outside.

So why do I need the car?

Instead, let me try to  reboot life with Sadhguru. The car is definitely not the ‘ultimate’ vehicle.

Maybe, I can build a car within.

 

If it’s shared economy, Go BeCar

if its raining in brazil buy Starbucks

 

As a middle class Indian child I heard adults say that successful people have a car and super successful people have a car with chauffeur.

Damn You Uber and Ola!

beacause of you

I have CARS and CHAUFFEURS

you have disrupted my childhood goals.

And ZoomCar gives me the option to drive when I want.

 

Stay BeCar, Stay Experimenting

stay hungry stay foolish

 

For 18 years I have owned a car.

That’s too many years of comfort.

I need to get to a discomfort zone.

To discover possibilities.

Hey there! are you driving my way?

May I hop on?

 

Signing off note on India’s 72 Independence Day

 

Shweta still owns a car which I will be using to run errands, get to run starting points at 4:00am and beat Uber surge pricing, once in a while.

All book titles and images are properties of their respective owners.

The बेकार Things About BeCar Things! If you have invested your time reading this, please comment. Will motivate me to do BeCar Things!

The Hard Things About Hard Things

 

Matheran Endurathon- Beauty of a Trail

Two weeks after 80 Km Tuffman Shimla Ultra Mashobra, on July 07, 2018, I  packed my running gear and was off to Matheran– a hill station in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. I need not introduce Matheran to Mumbaikars and Punekars, for the others- Matheran is the smallest hill station in India and is located on the Western Ghats range at an elevation of around 800 m (2,625 feet) above sea level. It is about 120 km from Pune.

Matheran [ means “forest on the forehead (of the mountains)”] is an eco-sensitive region and  Asia’s only automobile-free hill station. You have to park your vehicles at “Dasturi Car Parking” and hike up or ride a horse about 2 kilometers to reach Matheran.

We started early morning as finding a place to park the car is the biggest (perhaps the only) challenge at Matheran. This day was special though, the excitement caught on the moment we started driving-  it had been raining in Pune for couple of days and the road to Matheran was flooded. There were sctions on the way where the car felt like a boat.

Drive to Matheran

I still had pain in the knee ( though not as intense) from the injury I had picked up on June 4 trying to negotiate a tactical downhill . It was a niggling pain that intensified when I tried climbing down stairs. I was resting and mobilising my knee. Rational decision would have stay home and rest for a few more weeks.  Also, this was the 3rd edition or Matheran Endurathon and I had run 25km and 50km in the previous 2 editions- the Charm of Matheran was calling. “I will take it easy”- I promised myself.

My wife loves the hills of Matheran, and this is the trail which beckons her to do the 10km. As she says it is the nature that makes her move, considering she has not taken to runing and does not like to run in the city.

On July 08, 2018 I finished the 50 Km Matheran Endurathon in 7 Hours 8 Minutes- 1 Hour 14 Minutes slower than my 2017 timing. It was #Fail run for me, as far as timing goes, however,  there’s more to running Matheran Endurathon than timing.

Matheran Endurathon Results

In this blog I will NOT share my run, rather I will share got me to run the  3rd  Matheran Endurathons inspite of injury and 5 reasons that make this is one of the most beautiful trails in India.

Matheran Endurathon is organised by Run Buddies a team lead by Arvind Bijwe and Nikhil Shah. Here’s the Matheran Endurathon story from the horse’s mouth- That’s kind of funny in this context and the Race Marshal is on a Horse at Matheran:

Here are the top 5 things that make Matheran Endurathon “Charming’ for me.

1. Mesmerising Matheran : Matheran  is an easy 3 hour drive from Pune. Matheran starts to cast the spell as soon as you are parked at Dastuti Parking and buy entry ticket. About 200 meters from the gate is  Aman Lodge the (now) starting train station for the famed “toy ( narrow gauge) train. The train meanders through the steep slope with mesmerising view of the valley.

The Neral–Matheran Light Railway was built between 1901 and 1907 by Abdul Hussein Peerbhoy and financed by his father, Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy, at a cost of $160000.  A feat of Indian engineering and testimony of Parsi entrepreneurship.

Matheran has around 38 designated look-out points, including the One Charlotte Lake, Tree Hill Point, Louisa Point, Hart Point, Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, Rambgh Point, Panorma Point that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding area . Each look out point is more mesmerising than the other.

Matheran is full of eateries and you do want to indulge in the fare after a hard days work. The street food tastes super special at Matheran be it the corn, wadapaw or Maggi noodles. One of my favorites is Chocolate Walnut Fudge- a great pre run breakfast.

chocolate Walnut Fudge
Chocolate Walnut Fudge

2. Matheran Endurathon is a mud fest: You can’t run the matheran trail and finish in shining running gear for the selfies. You have to go all in to tame this trail- and reach the finish line in a mud pack. Your running socks will need 2 washes and shoes will never get the pre endutharon look!

Remember Vijay Chauhan and abduction fight scene from Agneepath?

Matheran Endurathon is organized in the peak of monsoon and the trail is full of puddles. There are sections where you feel like you are running is a stream or doing an obstacle run. As a first time endurathon runner you try to keep your soles dry for the first 15-20 minutes however, you soon realize its futile fightling the mud and puddles- running becomes easier once you start enjoying them.

 

Puddles- Matheran Endurathon

 

Jump Puddles- Matheran Endurathon

Funny Fact: In the 2017 run, one runner lost his shoe in the first 10 minutes of the run and continued to finish the race!!

 

3. Race Route – Matheran Endurathon is a 12.5 Km out and back route passing through 8 lookout points. For a 50 Km run you have to run the trail rwice. You will want to stop at each of these points for photo opportunity, however, the runner in you will push you to continue. I find Charlotte Lake pretty interesting. You are running across a dam/ barage! There are not many visitors around the lake in the morning ( first 25 out and back) however, in the second round you have to push your way through 100s of selfie obsessed visitors. Some of them will ba amused on seeing the runners and may have a few not so polite comments for you.

Matheran Endurathon

Matheran Endurathon is a rolling trail with about 1000 meters elevetion gain and loss. There are a multiple tactical uphill and down hill sections.

Matheran Endurathon - Route

The excitement on this route starts with the briefing. The organizing team and the race director do the final reccee the evening  before and the brief includes instructions like:

1 Km fromthe start there is a tree that has fallen on the route, do not return from there, jump across or crawl under and continue

Fallen Tree on Matheran Endurathon Trail

 

4. Ever walked on the clouds? Here’s your chance to run.

Need I write more? Let the photos do the talking!

Matheran Endurathon- Run in the clouds

Matheran Endurathon- Run in the clouds

Matheran Endurathon- Run in the clouds

 

5. Race support and team Run Buddies

Team RunBuddies are a great bunch of people with a mission “to make India run’. They organize runs across India and their events events are super charged and designed for runners.

Matheran Endurathon- Horse Marshall

I had a conversation with Arvind this year and he mentioned that Matheran Endurathon is a logistical nightmare for him and his team. They have to ferry everything (from Tshirts, medals to water up) on  horses  to Matheran. Here’s Arvind speaking about the logistics to the press.

Organization  and race support is Amazing at Matheran Endurathon. The race Marshall is on a horse, there are guides at every turn and water, energy drinks and aid is available every few kilometers.

 

Kudos! to Team Run Buddies on pulling off Matheran Endurathon year after year!

Signing off note for Matheran Endurathon:

Here’s my run on Strava:

 

Arvind, Nikhil and Run Buddies- Matheran Endurathon is a wonderful event and kudos to you for the amazing planning and execution. Look forward to the 2019 run.

The message on the T-Shirt this year was ” Pain is Temporary Pride is Permanent”  Here’s my suggestion to 2019 T-Shirt message:

Matheran Endurathon T Shirt

 

 

 

Tuffman Shimla Ultra Mashobra 80k- Beast of an ultra trail run

Flashback: June 2017- I had run 50 Km Tuffman Shimla Ultra Mashobra (My first timed 50 km run) and I was super exhausted after the run, however, I had this feeling of ‘unfinished business’ – perhaps the prefix “Half” to  Tuffman was challenging me and I promised myself that I would return to take on the 80K Mashobra trail.

 

 

1 year, 3 Ultras, 3 Marathons, 1 stadium run (12 hours) and about 2000 km training runs later on  June 23, 2018, 5:30 AM, I was standing with 18 other runners to take on the trails of Mashobra, Shimla. Only this time I was fully aware that this beast is  not easy to tame.

Around 6:30 PM on I crossed the finish line. This was after 12 hours 42 minutes of gruelling trail run that included 2400 meters ( ~8000 ft) of elevation gain and loss. In this blog I am sharing my experience of running this beast of a trail.

Let me start with the organizers. Tuffman races are organized by the Mangla family and Tuffman team  across various beautiful destinations in India like Leh, Shimla, Coorg, Goa, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Manali, Dharamshala. Sanjay Mangla (the dude in Green, second from right in the frame below), Manjeet (Mandy), Jai, Meenakshi and the entire Mangla clan is a buch of passionate folks who organize events truly for the runners. These ever smiling folks never say no to any request runners have- food, hydration, race kit, route information. If you have not run a Tuffman event, you must put one on your running calendar.

 

Mashobra, Shimla

Mashobra is a town in Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, situated 2,146 m (7,041 ft) above mean sea level. Mashobra is about 15 km from Shimla and well connected with buses and taxis.  It is a charming little town, away from the bustle of mall road and Shimla. Mashobra is notable for housing one of the two Presidential retreats in India.

Mighty Oak and Pine trees line up the woods around Mashobra and a walk in the woods is a great way to warm up for the run or recover from the run.

Mashobra is well connected to Shimla, Chandigarh and Delhi by buses, trains and taxis. I had flown to Chandigarh from Pune and then took an Ola cab. It cost me ₹3500 and 5 hours to reach Mashobra.

I reached Mashobra on the briefing day, however, I would recommend getting there one day in advance to soak in the beauty.

Day break is around 5AM in June here and the sunset is early, you will not need head torch for 5:30AM start.

 

The Run starts at Mashobra Greens and you have the option to stay there. Mashobra Green is run by Sandeep and his team. Sandeep is a hardcore outboor enthusiast and a great organizer. You can’t miss him- he’s either on his bullet or a walkie-talkie. Mashobra Greens is known for their tents, however, we stayed in a bamboo cottage as we find tents a bit too cold at nights ( well! we are from Pune!). The food is amazing and the team super hospitable.

The Tuffman Mashobra Trail is a beast! As they say “It’s not TUFF if it does not BREAK you“.

Expect this trail to break you twice if you are in your early running years (as I am). It is a 20 km out and back trail. It you are trying the 80K you will do the circuit twice. You will be challenged with 2400 meters ( ~8000 ft) elevation gain and loss.

Tuffman Mashobra Trail is 80% gravel and 20% Tar and full of tactical up and down hills. The first 1.8 km greets you with an elevation gain of 200 meters. Attaboy welcome to Mashobra!!

Here’s my detailed segment wise analysis of the elevation. (from Garmin)

When I signed up for Tuffman Mashobra Ultra, I knew it is not going to be  a walk in the park and I had started traing for this run end of March 2018- after a 6 weeks break after Tata Mumbai Marathon in January. I was targeting to finish the run under 11 hours 30 minutes. My plan was simple- ramp up my weekly milage to 80-100 km by  end of May, include hill runs and build core strength and flexibility with Yoga.

I was pretty much on the  target with 3-4 days running per week, 3 days Yoga, multiple runs across various ghats in Pune and a 12 hour stadium run at Hyderabad where I clocked 88 km.

I twisted my knee on June 4 trying to negotiate a tactical downhill and the training plan crashed. It was a niggling pain that intensified when I tried climbing down stairs. I was rested for 2 weeks . Between June 8, and race day I did two short runs in the Pune racecourse – A flat 2.2 km course.

On the briefing day (June 22) I knew I was not 100% fit to take on the Mashobra Trail, I had to run with knee braces. The good part- injury had healed about 70% and not critical anymore. I established 3 rules for the race day:

  1. I’m not 100% so I will not chase timing- go easy down hill.
  2. I will  Do Nothing Foolish (DNF) – and pull out, if needed instead of aggravating the injury.
  3. Enjoy my run and the beauty of Mashobra trail.

So there I was standing at the start line 5:00 AM not 100% fit but not too bad and ready to take on Mashobra trail. After a liitle warm-up, some coffee and greeting fellow runners we lined up for the the flag off.

I power walked the first 2 km (with 200 meters elevation gain) and then continued the run to the 20 km mark. I was steady. I reached the 20 km mark in about 2 hour 20 minutes crossing the 3 aid stations at 5, 10, 17.5 km marks.

 

By now my knee was acting and I slowed down a bit. My wife, Shweta, was volunteering at 17.5 km aid station. So I had some support and a pacer at the 22.5 KM mark (Remember- This is 20km out and back trail).

The 17.5 km mark is a special aid station on this trail and I will not spill the beans in this blog. Experience the fun @ 17.5 when you run this trail. 🙂

I continued running for another 3 hours  crossing the aid stations where a I picked up  fruits (peaches, banana), nuts, salts and water. I finished  40km and reached the starting point in 5 hour 30 minutes.

 

By this time the sun was in full glory and it was hot and humid. My left leg was not feeling any better and I had this thought of giving up there but then I saw 2 other runners at the aid station- Nakul Girdhar and Amit Ahuja. I decided to follow these guys for some time and then take a call. Thank you! Nakul and Amit for being at the aid station 🙂 It was amazing running with you. I picked up my MP3 player at the aid station- I knew I would need some motivation enroute.

The next 40 was tough, to say the least, with my left knee not keeping up.  Nakul, Amit and I ran the last 40 Km almost together each one of us leading by few 100 meters all the time.  That’s Amit Ahuja in the frame below. Say Hello Amit!!

At the 50 KM aid station I met Tuffam- Manjeet ( Mandy) and man did he not charge me up!! When you meet Mandy you can hear his flute in every word he speaks.

I continued running towards the 60 km mark with some music and soaking in the beauty of Mashobra.

The last 20k was slow and uneventful and I stopped at the 70 km mark and asked Jai for a concoction to help me do the next 5 km.  And Jai fixed me a lemonade with a punch.

KM 28-35 ( loop 1) and 58-65 (loop 2) Makes Mashobra Tuff:

In my opinion KM 28-35 ( loop 1) and 58-65 (loop 2) are the toughest on the Mashobra trail.  This section is gravel and about 800 meters elevation gain over 7-8 Km, no tree cover and this year there were heavy road construction equipments every few kilometers.

This stretch is a mind game.

I finished the run in 12 Hours 42 Minutes, not the timing I had targeted, however, I was happy with myself.

Tuffman Mashobra, Shimla 80K. Done and Dusted!

 

Here’s my run on Strava:

And Some bragging from Mashobra Greens:

 

Signing off year 2 of endurance running

January 21, 2018: Finished Tata Mumbai Marathon with an official time of 3:45: 01. Bettered my course record by 18 minutes and more importantly finished strong- drove back to Pune hours after the race. The icing on the cake.. I was at the finish line with GOPI (India elite winner). Well who know’s he started an hour twenty-eight late 😉

TMM18 also marks 2 years of running. Shaving 18 minutes off my personal course best was the outcome of 2300 km of training in year 2 which included:
4 Ultras (50 and 75 km)
5 Marathons
and 42 runs between 21km and 40km

i.e. a total of 51 Runs Half Marathon (21km) or more + 1 Olympic distance Duathlon.

Special callout for the organizers of the 3 Ultras (the 4th one was a solo ultra) for awesome events that they put together (in chronological order of participation):
Sanjay Mangla, Manjeet Singh – Mandy and TUFFMAN for Tuffman Shimla Ultra – Mashobra (I did 50 km)- this trail tests your tactical running skills.
Nikhil Shah , Arvind Bijwe and RunBuddies.Club for Matheran Endurathon (I did 50 km) – this trail is a bliss if you love rains
Naveen Badri, Jeetendran Nair and FreeRunners for Pune Ultra (I did 75 km)- This is truly an event by Runners for Runners.

I also had a few podium moments this year including one at Stone Ridge Valley Marathon
Sharing my haul from the 2nd year of running.

Entrepreneurship lessons from Biking and Running!

The idea for this blog was seeded on my high school WhatsApp group- a bunch of fellows doing various things in their professional lives, connected by experiences shared in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In this WhatsApp Group (like any other) we share and debate everything under the sun. There are arguments- with data at times and with emotions at other times. Let me put it this way, it is a typical group of “men” in their 40‘s.  

One of the topics we keep going back to is ‘Health’. Most times when it comes to health, there are no arguments in the group, it is pure sharing. However, last week started different, we bantered on health, and the topic was  cycling vs running.  It was a long thread of arguments and finally, we agreed to disagree; to each their own poison. Good Fun!

Fast forward to the weekend (March 19), I competed and finished duathlon, Olympic Distance- 10Km run, followed by 40Km biking, followed by 5Km run. I have run many half marathons, a few marathons and biked maximum 120K in a day. However, had never done duathlon earlier.

2017- Pune International Duathlon

2017 Pune International Duathlon

It was an amazing first experience! Different from what biking or running. I think  the exciting and wierd parts were transitions- from running to biking and from biking to running. At the start of the finish run (transitioning from biking to running) for about a kilometer I felt like a penguin- hopping more than running.

In this blog I have tried to capture the similarities and differences of these 2 endurance sports and how biking and running have made me me a better entrepreneur and a better person.

Lesson 1. The definition of ‘inertia’ needs a relook.

Inertia is defined as “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force”.

Learning from endurance sports : In my experience there is no external force strong enough to make a person jump off the bed at 3:30AM every sunday and say to themselves let’s burn 3K calories. There’s no external force strong enough to make one run the last mile in a marathon with cramps. For good 10 years there were people around me running marathons, eating healthy. However, these external forces did not change my state of inertia.

The force is ‘internal’, perhaps the definition of inertia should be “a property of people by which they continue in their existing state of rest, unless that state is changed by an INTERNAL force”

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Do not jump on the entrepreneurship boat inspired by the success stories. Look at the sacrifices and years these entrepreneurs put  in to be successful. Speak with entrepreneurs who failed. The calling should be from within because there is a psychological price of entrepreneurship.

Lesson 2. Understand the game before making your ‘move’.

The one big difference I find between biking and running is how one deals with elevation- both gain and loss. In plain english, while biking going uphill is super exhausting and coming down is super relaxing. In running going uphill is less exhausting however running downhill is a skill hard to master.

Learning from endurance sports : Descending feels easy aerobically, but each step triggers muscle-damaging eccentric contractions in the quadriceps and lower legs. On level ground, these muscles shorten as they fire; on declines, they elongate while under tension as they work to control your speed. This creates more micro-tears in each fiber, which stimulates muscle growth but leaves you fatigued and sore.

While biking get in the right gear while approaching elevation, maintaining posture and pace your ride. While running do not give in to gravity, tread with caution, try other techniques like shorter strides.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Evaluate the opportunity, understand the macro environment, follow your competition before you venture out. Copy pasting business models is a recipe for disaster.

Lesson 3.  Everyone is alone alone, in their special timelines.

This is where biking, running and all endurance sports are similar. For athletes every race is about “Personal Best”. When one (amateur athletes) laces up or takes to the saddle of the bike it is not about beating others, it is about giving ones personal best.

Learning from endurance sports : The experience in the holding area could be daunting. Thousands of atheletes all lined up waiting for the gun. Some warming up, some meditating, few joking and singing. However, few minutes into the race everyone is running alone. Similarly, even in our lives we have many  many people around us- friends, family, acquaintances and the unknown. However, if one really thinks about it, they are alone in their timeline from womb to tomb.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: There’s no right age to start and you could fail any number of times in this journey. The best time to start a business depends on the maturity of the industry and more importantly maturity of the entrepreneur.

Lesson 4. There’s opportunity when things are “Going Downhill”

Normally the phrase “going downhill” means declinining and growing worse. It is not very uncommon to hear this phrase in organizations and life, for example-“2016 was bad year for startups, everything went downhill”. However, in biking and running going downhill presents an opportunity.

Learning from endurance sports : Most people learn to ride bike downhill because it is so much easier and natural. Even for experienced bikers going down slope seems such a bliss. Looking at the course gradient is integral part of race planning for any athlete. For runners, hill runs are initially a challenge, specially going downhill. However, after training for a few months on long hills, short hills, hill sprints, hill endurance, one barely notices these hills and starts gliding downhill. Looking back at 2016, Matheran hill endurathon was one of the most enjoyable events for me that year.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: There are 2 lessons here, an entrepreneur must cherish failures as much as success. There’s more learning in failure than in success. The second lesson is that it may be the best time to start when the economy and industry is going “downhill”- there are opportunities and resources are available.

Keep running, biking, walking, hiking and creating awesome stuff by starting again after every failure!

SCMM 17- Endurance Running- First Year

Last Sunday, January 15, I ran Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon- my first “major” public Marathon. Awesome effort by the Organizers, Volunteers, Mumbai Police- truly world class event. Special call out to all the Mumbaikars who were out on the streets in swarms cheering the runners- You guys Rock!

I was targeting sub 4 finish; missed it by 3 minutes- clocked  4:03:27. This blog is about how I prepared for SCMM and why I missed the sub 4 finish.

Split 1: No New Years Day
Let me step back a bit and share why I took to endurance running.  In my earlier blog 10 commandments to Hack Your Health I shared how I got in shape- reduced from 98 to 68kg and ran my first half marathon on September 15, 2015. It took me 18 months. I continued my cycling, yoga, running routine remaining of 2015. By December 2015 I had started running about 25km and week, that included a 12-18km weekend run.

In the last week of December 2015, like every year, I was working on my resolution for 2016. I had done reasonably well with my 2014 and 2015 resolutions and wanted 2016 to be as good if not better. I thought why not run 3 half marathons every month? It sounded a crazy idea for some one who had just taken to running. After a few days of thinking I decided to set that as my 2016 Goal.

36 half marathons was a huge challenge for for someone who had just taken to running and I needed a start that would be super motivating. I thought why not do some unusual the new years eve? No party, sleep at 9, get up at 4:30 run 21 on January 1?

I did exactly that. Got up at 5:00, laced up and did 21. While I was running people were still returning home from NYE parties all very happy, all high! I was also high- a different high, though.

To my delight I ran 21 in 2 hr! My first! I was super excited and over beer that weekend I thought why not target 42 half marathons in 2016. Why 42? Couple of reasons-
1. I would turn 42 in 2017. 42 half marathons in a year would give me bragging rights
2. 42 = 2 x 21!

The goal was reset to 42 half marathons.

When I was over the 2hr half marathon hang over my first reaction was “what have  I signed up for?” No NYE Party was fine; 42 halfs mean no Friday night outs, no Saturday beer brunches! OMG!!

January 1, 2016 Bhaskar Thakur 21K Run

 

Split 2: You are Under Running
I continued my weekly 3 run schedule in the spring and summer. I fell sick in April and had to take 6 weeks off. By June 2016 I was consistemtly doing 21 under 2 and had completed 18 of the 42 committed half marathons. Pune had good Monsoon in 2016 and I chanced across Matheran Endurathon and Durshet Forest Marathons. I had heard runners go to different cities for races, however, I had never done that. I discussed the idea of running 2 half marathons with my wife Shweta. She does not like to run in the city, however she love trails.  We signed up for both half marathons.

Matheran was a beautiful yet challenging 25 km trail run. Beautiful? Ask anyone who lives in Pune or Mumbai how mesmerizing Matheran is in monsoon. Challenging because in was mud, muck, gravel and gradient.

To add to the challenge we had to hike up 5km to the start point- we did not get accommodation near the start point as we signed up late.

The race started at 7am and I was  completely drenched at at start line. We ran fully drenched for almost 3 hours across hills, muck and thick forest.  I finished strong that day. Hiked back 5Kms to the hotel and drove back to Pune. Awesome day! I had done 25km run and 10km hike and the beautiful drive! Not bad.

 

Durshet was a different story. The trail description goes like ” Durshet Forest Marathon is in the Sahyadri range beside the river Amba. The rough terrain and the soothing rain makes it an experience to cherish. 
Tough terrains, a track mixed with steep uphills and downhills and the rain to make the running trickier.
The final part to the higher areas of the forest and grasslands begins with a rocky uphill climb, which after almost 7 kilometers of run proves tough for the most, again the rewards of the toil are laid out in abundance by nature. The uphill trail leads to open grasslands and the overwhelming beauty of Sahyadri mountain ranges around the valley. The efforts is more than worth it.

I was all pepped up after Matheran to take on the Rocky uphill climb of Durshet. Packed my gear August 7 and started driving to the hotel around 9:00am.  The roads were flooded and the drive from Pune to Lonavala was more like riding a speed boat. Few minutes after Lonavala my car broke at the hairpin turn- we were going down hill and car had no acceleration or break. I somehow manage to park the car with the gear and called up the support. Rescue came in an hour or so however that’s a story for a different blog.

To cut the long story short the day before race day I got drenched in torrential rain for about 5 hours had no lunch and reached hotel at 6pm. I was shivering and in no condition to run. I couldn’t resist a couple of drinks with dinner.  Back in the room I set my gear and discussed with my wife plan for the run. We agreed to take a call in the morning.

I got up at 4 with a little cramp and had a hangover. Took a hot shower and decided to give Durshet a shot.  As I lacing up the thought of  rocky uphill was giving me chills. we hitched a ride and got to the start line.

The race was flagged off at 7am. First 2Kms was killing- I was running like a zombie (note to my self- Drinking the day before Race is a BIG NO!). I was almost about to give up however, I thought lets run for a few more.

Around the 3km mark there were villagers playing Dhol Tasha. The  drum beats did some magic and I got my rhythm back and was running the mucky trail gliding over small streams . I did a sprint of 2km and managed to get close to my 5km time target. It was business as usual after that.

Durshet is a unique trail. After running 7km there is a 3.5km steep hill and half marathoners have to do 2 loops of the hill.  It was tough, however I throughly enjoyed the 2 loops. I finished in 2:08:35– good time considering the trail and what I had gone through the previous day.

Back in the hotel, Shweta and I joined Sanjay (a runner from Delhi I first met at Matheran) for breakfast. Sanjay has done all credible marathons in India and is now doing the ultras. He did 50 in Matheran and 42 in Durshet.

Sanjay shared his plan for the next few months that included Goa Beach Ultra and Rann of Kutch. His advise to me was “You are UNDER RUNNING. You should have done the 50 and 42.That hit me.

On the way back to Pune I thought, I managed finishing Durshet in top 10{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} finishers after such an awful day, maybe I’m UNDER RUNNING. Before I reached home I had changed my resolution for the year from “running 42 half marathons” to “running 42 times 21km or more“. Call it taking Stretch Goals.

The following weekend (August 14) I did 30km solo in 3 hours and applied for SCMM17 (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon), I was ready to shift gears. Thank You Shweta and Sanjay!

Split 3: The Training
After a few weeks I received conformation from team SCMM. I was super happy! This was my first marathon that had a qualifier and getting accepted was almost like winning the race. 🙂

I had 3 months to train for SCMM so I started looking up blogs on running marathon. I was consistently doing half in under 2 so most blogs suggested I was ready. After reading 25-30 articles and blogs I created a very simple training calendar for myself:

September:
Run 3 days: 45 to 50km/ week that should include one 25- 32km every weekend
Yoga 3 days.
Did that all of September. No events to report. No trophies. Sweet.

October
In October I decided to Run 30- 38 Km once a week. The training plan changed to:
Run 3 days: 50 to 55km/ week that should include one 32-38km run every weekend
Yoga 3 days.
Did that all of October. Signed up for PRBM- Pune running Beyond Myself (42km) to test if I was marathon ready.
PRBM 42 was on October 16. I reached Shaniwarwada around 5:30am and the race started at 6:00. I was cursing first 21. Was on target at 21 (1:52) feeling strong. At 30km after doing the Baner- University gradient my legs started feeling like logs- I could not move. I limped, I stopped and crawled for the next 4km. I knew I had hit the wall.

In plain English, “hitting the wall” in endurance sports is a condition of sudden fatigue caused by depletion of glycogen in the muscles. This was my first experience in a marathon. Finished the race limping in 4 hours 47.

The silver lining- I knew I could run marathon.

November
November was month to deal with the dreaded “wall“. After spending hours reading about “avoid hitting the wall” I knew I had to work on Nutrition and Hydration. Until October 16 I thought eating on the run would slow me down. I was so wrong. I also chanced across this article to run marathon sub 4.

I thought if I could do a marathon sub 5 without any food why not stretch the stretch goal? That day I decided I wanted to train for sub 4 for SCMM.

Again did a lot of reading. the final plan for November was no different from October. I augmented my existing plan with focus on nutrition. I started having breakfast before all weekend runs and started experimenting with nutrition and hydration on the run. I tried it all- Ragi Laddu, Bananas, Sweet Potato, Snickers, Yoga Bar, Gatorade, Salts.

Having breakfast at 4:00am is no fun, you almost have to force the food, however it worked. I started running 35- 38 every weekend. It worked and a month after disastrous PRBM I managed to do a Sub 4 full marathon. I did this one solo.

There was no medal at the finish line, no finishers certificate, however I felt like a winner!

Every Sunday when I go out for my run I wake up Shweta and let her know I’m going for my run. When I come back she invariably asks me “how was your run?” and my answer is “Good”

When I reached home that morning Shweta asked me the regular “how was your run?” However, my answer was not usual. I said.. Mumbai here I come!

 

I took a break from training first 3 weeks of December due to other commitments. Started training on December 18.

December 25 was a big day for me. The day I was to run my 42nd 21 or More. That meant no Christmas Party, no wine! However, I was high after 41 runs so did not miss celebration a bit. I thought of doing another 42 however SCMM was due in 20 days so I thought to stick to the SCMM plan.

I did 32km on the 25th and celebrated with Oban Single Malt!

2016 resolution Done and Dusted. 7 days ahead of Schedule! 2016 was a horrible year for work. I believe Running kept me going. I had earned my bragging rights!

My last long run before SCMM was on January 1, 2017 ( 37 KM in 3:28). I was feeling all set for the Race day!

Next week I prepared my Race Day plan. It had 3 components Nutrition and Hydration, Timing Targets and Note to Myself-

Nutrition and Hydration
Breakfast: Ragi Laddu, Dates, Pre Run Mix
During Run:
1. 250 ml hydration every 30 minutes for the first three hours, alternate between water and energy drink available
2. Half Snickers bar every hour
3. Salt and Orange every 30 minutes after 15 Km

Timing Target:
Distance Time Pace
5 00:26:00 00:05:12
10 00:52:00 00:05:12
15 01:19:00 00:05:24
21 01:52:00 00:05:30
25 02:15:00 00:05:45
32 02:56:00 00:05:51
37 03:26:00 00:06:00
42 03:57:00 00:06:12

Note to Myself: Training is Done. Go Out & Enjoy!

 

Split 4: Race Day and why I missed Sub 4.
I reached Mumbai on January 14, collected my BIB, set up my gear, wished my fellow runners Rohan, Nikhil and Sareen luck and signed off early. The weather seemed perfect.

Got up 4:00AM, laced up, had my breakfast and reached the holding area. I was in lineup B as I had submitted my Matheran (25km) timing instead of Durshet (21km)- SCMM has lineup A thru D. I thought proof of having run 25 is better than better pace in 21 for lineup- maybe, I was wrong.

The weather had changed overnight- it was hot and humid at 5am – and I had trained in Pune’s chill. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was all lighted up and mesmerizing and the energy of the other 5ooo fellow runners electrifying. I thought to myself Mumbai could have been worse, this is my first big Marathon, let’s just Run.

After the first couple of km one I reached Marine Drive I could the feel  of Mumbai. People cheering at 6am was simply amazing for a solo runner like me. I specially liked the Navy Band, their music was so peppy that I ended up doing a sub 4 minute km in the first 5- I avoid doing busts early in the race.

I was meeting my time targets till 28km when a mini cramp hit me (check out the blip in the pace chart below) however, I recovered and and made up for the time lost in the next 2km. Mumbaikars were cheering to go for sub 4 and that really helped. I was crusing at the 33Km mark all smiles and very satisfied. Then came Peddar Road section and my pace dropped to 8. Full 3 minute over my planned pace. I knew I was in for trouble. I even had another mini cramp. I grabbed some oranges and salt (many thanks to the Mumbaikars) an started to steady my run.

It was hot and humid by 8:45, I was trying to make up for the time lost.

By that time elites started to come in. It was some sight to see them run with that pace and stride. Simbu and Kipkorir were neck to neck and Kheta Ram was not far behind.

We were directed run on the side of the road and kept bumping into the last of 21k finishers. I felt like a car on Pune roads where few elites (BRTS) have half the road and bike riders have the right of way on the other half. Could never make up for Peddar Road time loss.

They say last 5km in a marathon is mind game. Your body has done what it could. In the last 4, I decided to go for negative splits and managed a mini dash in the last 2. I could see Shweta cheering at 40km mark and that helped!

Thank You Mumbai. Look forward to 2017 Marathons and More!


10 Commandments to Hack Your Health

On Your Marks!
I have been working on Internet & Mobile technologies for more than 17 years. That means I’m on my workstation 10-12 hours everyday. Human body is not designed to sit long hours, stare at screens of various sizes 72??? to 4“ and keep hitting the keyboard. Recently, when I showed off my workstation to my friends on Whatsapp one of them who is in the Armed Forces commented “I have No Workstation, However my work takes me to stations???. I believe that’s the kind of lifestyle Human Body is designed for.

Set!
By end of 2013, 15 years of abuse had started showing on my body, I was unhealthy and weighed 98 Kilos.

Then things changed and I Hacked my Health in 18 months. By August 2015 I ran My First Timed Half Marathon.

It’s almost a year now after my first timed Half Marathon (September 05, 2015), I weigh on an average 67- 69 Kg and have ran distances of 21 KM or more 34 times with my personal best of 1:53:46 for 21 Km.

I’m just a beginner in the world of distance running and have miles to go. This blog is a summary of how I got admission into the school of Health and Endurance. How I hacked my health.

Go!

1. It all Starts with a Challenge.
I was  living a happy life throwing my weight around everyone/ everything (literally). Parking assistants and security guards never messed up with me- I thought, they think I was a mini Hulk!
And then it happened, on a vacation in December 2013, my wife Shweta @Shwetalakhimpur (who had been practicing yoga for 6 months) challenged me to Supta Vajrasana (Reclined Thunderbolt Pose). I could never get into the asana and ended up feeling Dizzy! That is the moment I realized I was no Hulk, I was Bulk.
Lot has been said about Body Shaming lately, however, I believe, If you care for someone it’s your moral obligation to challenge.


2. You are what you Eat.
Until 2013 my meal plan was simple. Big Breakfast ( 3 Alu/ Paneer Parathas), Bigger Indian Lunch and Biggest Indian Dinner. I felt starved if I did not have 3 whiskeys, Tandoori Platter, Dal Makhani and 2 Rotis Friday evening.
Changing food habit was  not simple. In the first few months I added Maggi Masala to salads and fruits to make it taste like ‘food’. However, the hack worked, I stayed the course.
Today my staple is salad. Thanks to stores and startups like Natures Basket, Green Tokri,  Olive Plato it is much easier to eat healthy.


3. You are your Sleep.
Since I started competitive education (read Class 7) the goal was to put in long hours at desk or staring at the idoit box. By the time I started working I was sleeping on an average 4 hours a day.
Today I sleep 7 Hours on average, have clocked 10 hours+ and we have not had cable TV at home for 3 years.

4. Know your Path.
It is super important to know your path.  For example “ 5KG weight loss in 1 month??? or “join a Running Group” does not work for me. These are super awesome ways however, not for me. For 2 reasons-
I have never believed in “Instant”, apart from “Maggi”
My work week is full of meeting  people and working with teams, I want My Time.
For me the inspirations to hack my health has been the Internet and people who do not want to meet me. There’s tons of information, inspiration available. Seek and you shall get! For me Darth Vader, Yoda and Buddha are all heroes, You decide your path.


5. Get the right Gear
Indians are “Jugaadu??? and our priorities are misplaced when it come to health. For example, typical  Indian male would have 3-5 shoes for office however, one shoe for Walking, Running, Gym, Cycling, hiking and every other sport. We pay for health insurance but do not spend on health. I was no different. However,  after 2013 I have made serious investments on my health that includes:

  • Trek 4300 with 2 sets of tyres for Road and Mountain.
  • Thule Bike Carrier
  • Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Surge
  • Hiking Boots
  • Inov8 Shoes
  • ++

Talking Of Inov8, I recently retired a pair. Here’s my Thank you to my partner.

Next on my list is Garmin Fenix 2 Performance Bundle. However, currently it is over budget. I’m accepting donation, inbox me, if you are interested 🙂
6. Track your Progress and Reward yourself.
For my profession I live by data and applied the same to Health. I tracked every Yoga session, Cycling Trip and Run. Looked at fat burn in each workout and over a period developed a plan for myself. A plan that works.
I have also developed a reward program for myself. Here’s 2 hack you may want try
Weighfies– When my weight reach south of 90s I was very happy and clicked a photo of the weighing scale to remember the date, after that day I clicked photo of the weighing scale every time I lost a kilo. So now I have a collection on my Google Photos called Weighfies!
BOLT– It’s tough on your body to cycle for 6 hours or run for 3 hours so you have to have a system to Reward yourself. Gatorade is my Reward! In India you get 3 flavors of Gatorade (Orange, Yellow and Blue- called BOLT). At the end of the exercise I give Reward myself BOLT if I achieve the target, if I miss the target it’s Yellow and if I’m way off it’s Orange. That’s my order of taste preference and also makes me feel like Usain Bolt for a few Hours 🙂

7. When the going Gets tough, forget your goal, think of the next milestone.
I started this journey I had set the weight target of 80Kgs- 18 Kg weight loss in 12 months. Losing first few Kgs was simple- essentially water in you body/ fat. However, the journey from 95- 90 was arduous and never ending.  It took me 4 months to shred next 2 kgs. The math did not seem to work, at that rate I needed 2 years to get to 80.
I went back to my learnings from my profession- The Lean Startup Methodology. I reset my goals. Now my goal was Lose 3 KG in the next 4 months- Or 25% better result than than last sprint.

8. You will be Embarrassed, do not give up, find solution.
After my first 2 15KM runs my Fluorescent Yellow T- Shirt was all red.  I realized my Nipple was bleeding. Now anything to do with their own nipple is embarrassing for men. I had almost decided to give up running and go back to cycling.
I did not want to go to a doctor with this problem so I put soframycin on my nipples and spent the weekend search the web. Turns out it is a very common problem with runners and could happen is warm or cold climate. It is called Runners Nipple. Primary reason- your T- Shirt rubbing against the nipple. Solution- wear fitting singlets ( I was wearing XL shirts from Bulk days when my frame was M) and applying Vaseline before the run. Ordered 2 medium running Singlets and a large box of Vaseline. Problem solved.
Pro Tip: Wear only Black Singlets! You never Know 🙂 

9. Listen to your body
In my opinion fitness is about your personal best and not competing with others. Non- runners have this notion that running is about reaching the finish line  before others. That is not what health and endurance is about, specially if you are above 30.  It is about improving “personal best”– podium finish will happen some day. Listen to you body and feel the rhythm.

10. Do not believe your body.
This is corollary to 9. You should listen to your body, however, you body has this trick to cheat you and conserve energy. Push your body and it will do more.
In my cycling trips and runs there are days when my body tricks me and I’m left with a lot of energy after the finish line. I feel horrible on those days and keep thinking I could have gone further or faster.
“If life is a walk from womb to tomb your handicap out of womb and bruises at tomb do not matter. Do your best and Hack your Health” Closing Remarks from Rio 2016 :))

 

User Personas- Get Early Adopters for your App

User Persona is a composite sketch of key segment of your target audience. Building User Personas can help streamline the growth process from acquisition thru virality and remarketing.

 There are about 1.5 Million apps on on iOs App Store and Android Play Store.  In the fast and competitive world of apps User Persona helps you reach out to your early adopters by customizing the acquisition , onboarding and engagement flows.

Most apps today are targeted for specific user groups and starting with User Personas helps app developers rise above the clutter and deliver compelling experiences.So how does one go about building user personas and what does a typical User Persona Look like? Here’s the beginners guide and checklist.

Where to start Building User Persona?

The biggest mistake I have seen app teams make is starting and ending the process of building user personas with “I think..???.“I think our users are 16-24 year old..??? Let’s call him Sid. That’s not how User Personas are created. Here’s the process I have seen working:

  1. Start with Analytics and  Activity Logs.  Look at the source of traffic, Keywords, flow on the app, exit screen to identify their intent and behavior

  2. Get the Team Involved- Get insights from the Development, Analytics, Marketing, Offline, Customer Service and other teams.

  3. Conduct user survey. Ask them about their challenges and the solutions they are looking for? About discovery, first run etc.

  4. Reach out on Social Media– Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and other relevant channels for your business.

  5. Put the data from 1-4 in a Spreadsheet and share it with the team ask them to validate or question the line items on the sheet.

So what information should  the User Persona contain?

For a B2C app that is pre scale-up / growth stage i.e. when teams are working on MVP and trying to find Product Market fit I think teams should work with maximum 3 personas. This helps in running meaningful experiments and also does not overwhelm the team.

Here’s the information personas should include:

Name of the Persona  ( Makes it real in discussions and communications)

One Line Profile..
like “Miss Clean Gone Green???
or “ Deal Hunter- will buy sand on the beach if there’s a deal???

Demographics

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Salary / Household Income
  • Education
  • Family

Additional Information

  • Hobbies
  • Quotes from interviews
  • Content they read
  • Their favorite App
  • How do they discover new apps

Device

  • Phone Model
  • Data Plan/ Wifi usage pattern

Geo

  • City
  • Hyperlocal

Goals – What does the users want to achieve with the app?

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Challenges-  What are their major challenges or the problems they face currently

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Once you have this you should try to put together and Twitter Pitch for the persona. Essentially, communicate the core product value that would appeal to this persona in under 140 characters.

You may want to use to build your User Persona.

 

Bhaskar Thakur- User Profile
Building User Profile