Monthly Archives for April 2014

Serco Trail-a-thon – My First Full Marathon

Marathons - Ankit Chatterjee - April 15, 2014

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what others say you cannot do”.

When I got to know about a trail run being organized by the runners, for the runners, I knew instantly that I wasn’t going to miss it. I decided to register for the 28 km as it’s a fairly decent distance to soak in the scenery, anything less than that and I knew I would miss out on experiencing what I crave for “the state of thoughtlessness”. I started training in Jan and by mid Feb I was feeling strong, running about 35-45km per week.

After discussing with a couple of friends, I changed my mind and registered for the full marathon. Despite doing a 50 km in Oct, last year, I could not imagine how I would run a 42.2 km on March 2nd. While I was still tussling with my decision, someone (a gentleman of course!) ticked me off by asking if I was doing a solo 14 km or a 7 km corporate relay race.

The night before the race I slept very peacefully unlike on most other occasions. I reached the Mangar village trail at Faridabad, 15 mins before the start time and met the usual suspects. Most of them were running the 56 km run. As I started off the run at 6.30 am, I realized we couldn’t have had it any better – beautiful trail, great weather. Since quite a few of the organizers knew I wasn’t fully trained for a full marathon, I got a lot of encouragement from them during the course of the run. Thanks to a friend who ran along, the first 12 km seemed very easy. The next 2 km to the turnaround point (at Damdama Lake) was a steep, difficult downhill – but the view of the lake was breathtaking!

From there on, the climb uphill was killing, and the trail going back felt tougher. The increasing distance and my buddy dropping behind started playing their parts – and the mind games had started. I began considering throwing in the towel at the 28 km mark (which was back at the starting point, from where my remaining 14 km loop started). But as it turned out, I finished 28 km – exhausted but not beaten. I stuffed my belt pouch with dates and raisins and told myself to enjoy the remaining 14 km (to hell with the time!). I also decided to reward myself with a walking break each time I would finish a kilometer.

Good hydration and nutrition are important. Post my first 14 km, I was eating a boiled potato with a pinch of salt and drinking water at every counter. The organizers had adequately stocked the aid stations at every 3.5 km. But the other big factor is what’s going on in your head, when you’re running long distances. You have to talk your mind into running till the finish line and it’s your mind that makes the body obey. (I guess this is my best articulation of what’s goes on post 20+ km).

Since a few weeks before the run, I was going through a phase of blue (actually deep blue!). A phase better described by Stephen Fry as “moments when life seems limitlessly absurd”. But I wanted to come out of this phase and feel stronger. I was running to save myself, I was running to run away, I was running to let go, I was running to be in control, I was running for the change in me. With the wind in my hair, tears in my eyes, and that aching ankle, I saw the finish line. Organizers and runners cheered for me (like they do for everybody) as I approached the finish line. And boy, what a feeling that was! It’s difficult to describe what you go through when you achieve something you always thought was unattainable. By now, my ego had vanished and I was thankful to that someone who thought I couldn’t run beyond 14km. As a friend/mentor later told me it’s an example of where self-belief can take you.

I finished alright at 4 hrs 54 mins (decent for a first full considering it was a trail). But does that really matter? Not one bit! What matters is the positive energy that I derive from these experiences, every single time – and for that I will never hang up my running shoes.

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay   “top of the world”, Imagine Dragons

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Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2013

Marathons - Ankit Chatterjee - April 15, 2014

 

Amateur or pro, slow or fast, regular or not, serious or wannabe – you don’t miss out on the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon if you are a runner from NCR. So even though my right ankle was far from healed, post my 50K at the Bhatti trail, I couldn’t imagine giving ADHM a miss. I hadn’t trained for 3 weeks, even then! The entire runners’ community in Gurgaon was in a state of frenzy – sub 2 targets, training plans, mileage doing the rounds on Whatsapp and FB. When out for a long run on weekends, the numbers I saw training on the road during those weeks was unprecedented. The excitement was infectious. Even the ugly grope stories I’d heard couldn’t deter me.

As is the case with all my runs, my objective was to enjoy the experience, finish without killing myself over a couple of minutes and make friends on the way. I reached Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium well before the gun start. Since I didn’t have any previous HM completion certificates (the ones from the Philippines weren’t considered), I was allowed in the Open category, which had the maximum runners in it. Basically anybody who felt like paying and showing up that morning was in that category. Probably a setback for some who train hard, but frankly I didn’t mind it so much. In fact here the energy was electrifying and the loud jokes doing the rounds was very Dilli. In all some 15,000 excited runners, with adrenaline gushing and raring to go for those 21.1 kilometers – it was just awesome!

The legendary runner, Milkha Singh, flagged off the run. It was an honor running past him while he waved at us. (As I think of it – Farhan Akhtar would have been quite nice too!). As I had been rightly warned by some ADHM veterans, the initial 3-4 K was tough simply because there was no place to run. It seemed like there was a new category of first timers – folks who were literally running for the first time! So they’d stop dead in front of me after some 500 meters or a kilometer, while I struggled to set my pace with these abrupt road blockers. Worse still, some were stopping to answer phone calls (Really? Who talks on the phone and runs a HM??) causing the runner behind to trip and fall. While it was frustrating to think that I’d be running 21.1K like a soccer match – the dhols, dance performances and DJ stations did start to lift my mood. And then the sight of these elite runners flying by set me back on track. I picked up speed and tried to distance myself from the ‘phony’ runners.

After a while my ankle started hurting. To distract myself I struck a conversation with someone who was running at my pace. Our chat led to talking about Devil’s Circuit. I told him what a fake of a run it was, and he told me he works for the DC team…it was tough running with my foot in the mouth!! Over the course of next 50 mins, we really hit it off as we talked more. Eventually, I ran ahead promising to give DC a serious thought.

After completing 14K, I started noticing some familiar faces from the Gurgaon runners’ fraternity, giving me the strength to run along. I also came across a group of runners chanting “Jai Mata Di”, and a particularly impressive girl, DJ’ing some kickass music near India Gate.

The last 7K was uneventful and I had to really push myself to keep going. It was a huge relief when I turned the final corner and saw the finish line ahead. As I crossed it, I completed my run in 2:09. I ran further still to grab my snack, finishers medal and stretched my limbs as I caught up with a lot of friends.

I had enjoyed my run, finished in decent time and made a friend along the way – I felt great! What helped was the fact that the run was along some of the most beautiful stretches of Luyten’s Delhi, was well marked, with plenty of aid stations, porta-potty and police support. I’m certain I will give in to the ADHM fuss every year.

A little cherry on the cake (excuse the baker) was when my Whatsapp started buzzing early next morning with friends telling me that my picture was in The Times of India along with the ADHM article. Quite a bonus that was!

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Bhatti 50

Marathons - Ankit Chatterjee - April 2, 2014

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

 

The Bhatti Ultra organized by The Globe Racers every year, is held in Faridabad, at the Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. The trail is at once beautiful, brutal and demanding. It’s race categories are truly ultra – 50K, 80K, 100K, 160K, 220K and 24 hrs run – making it a multi-day event.

I heard about this run from my Runbugs buddies during our weekend long runs. At that time, I was training for my first Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. A friend told me he would be running in the 100 km category and checked if I wanted to do “the shorter” 50 km one. Considering that I was training for a HM in Dec and this 50K trail run was only 6 weeks away – it was an outrageous proposition. But then again, I wanted to redeem myself after the 50K DNF at Mt. Pinatubo several years ago (Read Here). Frankly, for me, this entire redemption angle is always very seductive. Tired of my mind and heart being at war for over a week, I signed up for the race. I took help from friends who know and train better than me to chalk out a training plan to increase my weekly mileage. It included running 10K on alternate week days and a long run on weekends. I was just targeting to finish the run within the official cut off of 8 hours.Of course, the plan was all good on paper, but tough to pull off. To keep running every alternate day in the sultry weather wasn’t easy. Tougher still was to wake up at 3:30 am to do the long runs on weekends, especially during the Diwali season. It was funny to see people wrapping up their Friday night’s cards party as we started our Saturday morning long run. Also, given my love for teen patti, I felt miserable each time I heard my friends discuss variations and spins, losses and wins. But I had to stay focused as I didn’t have the luxury to stray from my plan for even one day. On the brighter side, I met a lot of runners who were also training for Bhatti and got some invaluable advise on how to train injury free, what to eat during the training phase and on race day as well.A few days before the race, I picked up my race kit. At the venue I did get some “are-you-really-doing-a-50K” stares from other runners (mostly men). I tried to sleep early before the race day but was sleepless in bed, thanks to the Diwali party in our society. Every now and then Yo Yo Honey Singh warned “Party Yuhin Chaalegi”, and rightly so. But after over an hour Bolly pollution, I found sleep.
Next morning, I reached the Bhatti trail about 30 mins before the start time. It was pitch dark except a few lit up tents at the start line. The race director pulled me out for not carrying a head lamp. Given the number of injuries leading to DNFs from the previous two days, I understood that her stand was absolutely fair. Thankfully, one of the crew members let me borrow a pocket torchlight and I was allowed to run.As we started off, I made friends with two army doctors who let me run with them along the narrow trail. It is with the aid of their headlamps that I was able to negotiate the treacherous trail. The borrowed torch I had was no match to the trail’s darkness. As we ran in a single file, I thought we were four of us – the two docs, a third guy and myself. Staying true to my nature, I started talking to them as we ran. I noticed the doctors were very quite and figured they were conserving their energy, and only this other runner behind me responded in mono syllables (“hmm”, “haan”) and grunts once in a while. However, at about the 5K mark, even he went quiet. As we ran further ahead from the aid station at 5K, I suddenly realized that there was no “this other runner” behind me. Had he just dropped off from the race so early? But in that case, why would he drop off so silently? Nobody does that! Was he even there to begin with? Or did my confused, over-excited, nervous state of mind just cook him up? I guess I’ll never know. Unreal!!Still totally dark, when I reached the turn around point at 10K, I realized how tough the trail was. It was slippery, rocky, uneven, and grainy. It was no wonder that quite a few runners had had some nasty falls. Nevertheless, I ran another 10K back to the start line. With 20K done, I still felt strong. I was fairly hydrated and well fed. I was trying to enjoy the run but started feeling exhausted and spent by the time I finished 30K. I could not do much to keep myself going or to distract myself and started walking. My legs felt heavy, making me unsteady and I twisted my ankle more than once. I started scolding myself for getting myself in this mess, for straying away from my HM training and taking this up, for letting people talk me into this. “Why am I putting myself through this? What am I really going to get out of this? What will I really achieve at the finish line?” were just some of the many questions on mind, which I had no answers for.
This Q & no A session brought me back to the finish line, marking 40K for me. With another 10K to go, I think I was mildly delirious and was making much noise about how I cannot go on and how ready I am to throw in the towel. That’s when this angel appeared and said “do you want me to pace the last 10K with you?” I had barely said yes and we sped off. Abhishek, I gathered, is a solid distance runner. In fact, just a few hours before he had started pacing me he had finished his own 24 hrs run, completing a whooping 115K!! The fact of it was staggering and humbling that I couldn’t help but run along with him, despite my broken self.I finally reached the finish line in 6 hours 57mins – over an hour ahead of my original targeted finish time.
I was at once exhausted and exhilarated. I felt famished, yet strong. Injured but victorious.
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Pinkathon Run

Fitness, Fitness related - Ankit Chatterjee - April 2, 2014

Despite it being a very muggy Sunday morning, the Talkatora stadium was full of energy, excitement and of course a whole lot of pink. My guess is that around 2000 women showed up to participate in different categories. I had registered for a 10 km run. I had gone along with a lot of members of Runbugs and all of them were very warm to me. In their company, I enjoyed the pre-run ambience to the hilt. The organizers (RunWithMe Foundation) made us do stretching exercises, with Milind Soman and Gul Panag at the helm of affairs on stage.
The run started on time and a huge number of amateur runners like me started their 10km journey. It was a scenic route through Lutyen’s Delhi, taking us all the way to India Gate and back. However, the weather was just something else. The energy sapping humidity and the scorching sun nearly killed the whole experience.
I was running alright and even having fun along the way as I stopped to pose for many photographers. When I reach the 8 km mark, I was told by one of the volunteers that I only had 5 runners ahead of me. They egged me on to run faster, but I couldn’t do much to improve my pace. I was tired and sweating heavily. When I finished the run, I was pleasantly surprised to know that I finished my run in 55 mins and 52 secs – my personal best in 10 km.
I ranked 6th. I could have done, maybe, a shade better had I not stopped to pose. But I love the pics from the event. In any case, for me running has never been about competing with others. It’s a personal space which helps me with my physical and mental fitness.
My son and husband were at the finish line and their sense of pride in what I do is as good a reward as any.

 

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Pinkathon Pre-run (or What a BORE!)

Uncategorized - Ankit Chatterjee - April 2, 2014

Since I had started running in India last year, I had not participated in any running event. I was eager to know what it must be like here, after all those fun and exhilarating runs in the Philippines. I got to know about a run called Pinkathon – a multi city, all women run, to raise awareness about breast cancer and promote fitness for women. I decided to participate in it. After all, it was for a good cause and offered an opportunity to run with Milind Soman. Apart from fact that he’s hot, Milind is one of the best amateur distance

runners in our country today. There were a couple of pre runs (for both men and women) which were organised in collaboration with RunWithMe foundation across NCR. I couldn’t think of a better way to get to know the running community of Gurgaon. On race day, I reached just in time to take it all in – the buzz, chaos, excitement, a lot of pink, stretching, nervousness and of course Milind Soman on stage. How I loved it to be back running in a community again! The feeling was a little short-lived though. I was aware that not too many runners, specially women, had opted for the 10km and that there would be stretches where I might be running alone. Honestly, I was scared and didn’t want to run alone on the notorious roads of Gurgaon. As I started running, I tried to break ice with one of the runners since his pace matched with mine and in all earnestness, I told him about my fear. Not sure what he thought of me, but the guy just sped off, leaving me completely flabbergasted. My notion of “Delhiites have a bad attitude” was further affirmed. So there were indeed these long stretches where I was running alone but there were enough RWM volunteers around, giving me confidence to keep going. Around the 9th km, I was feeling strong, and therefore a tad positive – smiling at people who made eye contact. But it felt like people had forgotten their smiles at home!
I was among the first few to finish. I tried to strike up a conversation (the general weather, the run, the time etc.) with folks who had either finished their 5km early and other 10 km finishers. I was appalled! Nobody seemed to hear me. It was as if I didn’t exist…
I felt like an over enthusiastic, over friendly, but dirty puppy who nobody found cute enough to play with. I was nearly certain that I’m not going to enjoy running here. But that didn’t deter me from getting a nice picture clicked with the sweaty, sexy MS.
I left the venue with a heavy heart and a craving for some good running buddies.As it turned out, the pre run did help me after all. I was pleasantly surprised when Ankush (founder of Runbugs, a runners’ group in Gurgaon) got in touch with me a few days later. He asked if I would like to join them on their next long run, over the weekend. It was
an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I was finally beginning to find a fraternity I so wanted to be a part of.
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Getting Started

Uncategorized - Ankit Chatterjee - April 2, 2014

As we were moving back to India, it had already been over a year that I had stopped running (the li’l that I did) due to my fractured rib. And yet one of my big worries (other than my 5 year old son adjusting to his new school and friend circle) was, where would I run? Who would I run with? Is it safe for women to run here in Gurgaon? Would it be fun running in the dusty concrete maze after all the greenery and cool that the Philippines had pampered me with?

It took us almost 6 months to settle down and get into a regular routine. Still tentative about running, I started going for brisk walks. While walking on a very warm June evening last year, I came across a runner and wondered how he could run when even the track was generating so much heat. I couldn’t help asking “Isn’t it too hot to run?” and he said “Run with me and figure it out for yourself”. And so I gave it a shot. I managed to keep up with him for 3 km. I was tired and soaked in sweat, but it felt really good. After that there was no looking back. All my doubts just disappeared. They evaporated with the sweat that evening.

Since then, I have become an active member of one of the best running groups in Gurgaon (Runbugs). With them I’m never out of running buddies. With them it feels safe to run in the most remote routes in the NCR – training, exploring and having fun along the way. Since then I’ve done the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, a 50 km Bhatti Trail Ultra Marathon, my fastest 10 km at Pinkathon and several other fun runs.

With this I learnt that however tough things might seem, one can at least try and get started – no matter what the odds are (hot, cold, humid, overcast or dusty/smoke – yup, that too is a weather in India!).

Getting started is what matters the most. C’mon, let’s go!!

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