Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Ring a ring o roses

 I must have been 12 or 13 years old when we were told that a man is going to ride a bicycle for 7 days at a stretch without stopping the cycle or getting down. When I first went to see it, the image of a lean and thin man going around on his bicycle (not the jazzy cycles the exercising people use today!) around a pole holding up a small tent with the loudspeaker beating out popular movie songs (the repeated playing of ‘Jeevan Chalne ka naam’!) is ever fresh in my mind. I am told the youth was motivated by cash collected in the box kept in the pandal for treatment of his sick relative. We used to go and see it every day morning before school and evening after school. We were particularly fascinated by how he took bath and changed clothes (also, biological breaks!), which were managed without bringing the cycle to a halt and with his accomplices covering him with a tent of old bedsheets for privacy.
 When I provoked Dharmendra​ and Nagaraj Adiga​ Sir after the 12 hour stadium run in Bangalore last year for a 24 hour run and I agreed to go for it this year, I was looking for a motivation for doing the run, i.e., going round in circles for 24 hours. I have stopped participating in events for timing or for money (not that I am any express material, the sobriquet of Hubli Express given to me by my admirers notwithstanding!). I took up this challenge chiefly for the following reasons;
 The event would give me a chance to take on the goddess of sleep (look for the original story of Lakshmana with the able support of Urmila his wife in Ramayana and how he overcame sleep to slay Meghanath!) even if for one night. Interestingly, my better half (who could not come to aid and abet me in my foolhardy venture!) has been complaining of feeling sleepy as if she has run 24 hours and,
The unfinished agenda of 100 miles we set out as a team to conquer from Mysore to Bangalore and failed.
The indoor track on which the run is conducted is barefoot friendly. The farthest point you are from an aid station at any given point of time is not more than 200m. This means one can run without carrying any baggage!
The famous hospitality and care of team @Nagaraj was always a factor to make anyone to do anything howsoever crazy!
Having done and dusted the 24 hour run, I must say that most of the objectives were fully met despite some slippages which were entirely my weaknesses.
Let me begin at the very beginning, my wife applied a veto to my Gandhian object of travelling by sleeper class and I was forced to book by AC-II tier (I travel by AC only for long official journeys or while traveling with family!). I accepted it as a small climb down for the larger aim of running. I had the company of Bib Bala and his family in both the outward and return journey.
We reached the hotel before 6 AM and I got in a little sleep. A nice long bath and a session of spinning with tea followed. Since the breakfast on the first day was not included in the fare, and, I was not in a mood to go out with Bala for breakfast, I opted for the complimentary fruit basket (only bananas) to sustain me till an early lunch. The hotel staff took me literally and I was embarrassed when a hotel attendant walked in ceremoniously with a big plate bearing two small yellaki balehannu (a very tasty but small variety of banana famous in Karnataka!). I for one prefer the bigger Robusta variety for my energy for the run. I was anyway hoping for an early lunch to be light at the start of the run. A group of runners were in my room in what was a pre race briefing with each exchanging experience since our last meeting.
We all assembled in the press meet which turned out more like an informal chat with the Race director and introduction of the runners. The race director Nagaraj Sir, read out the riot act about the need for following discipline in eating, hydrating and timely check up. He singled me out for special mention as I had had a sever cramp in the previous 12 hour edition of the same event. I was already suitable chastened by my wife and wanted to be careful in my run this time. A word about Mr. Nagaraj would be in order here, he is tough on the outside and it is evident for people who have associated with him for long that it is out of affection and for the well being of the participants under his charge during the event. I think it comes with the turf, I found the same streak in Kavitha Kanaparthi​ when she addressed the participants before the start of the Nilgiris Ultra. We runners tend to get carried away as a group sometimes to the detriment of our own health and safety!
Looking to the experience of the group which had assembled, I remember having commented to Aparna Choudhary​ (the only female participant who dared to run the 24 hour, though I know she hates to be singled out for her gender, and she belonged to the group head and shoulders above some of us for her sheer ability and experience!) that the combined mileage sitting in the room is mind boggling. The way the participants were chatting on about the menu to be served during the run, you could not make out the toughness of each of the participant.
The age of the participants varied from a barely 20 Inderpal Khalsa​ to nearing retirement Suresh Pillai​. Arun Bhardwaj​ with his past experience and Anil Gujjar with his speed in the past edition were the cynosure of all eyes. What was perfectly elevating for me was that the manager and one attendant at the hotel recognized me from the premier event of Ash Nath​'s movie about runners ‘Two feet to fly’ and wished me luck for the coming event. The attendant got me black coffee when he knew that I do not take coffee/tea with milk!
I had a lunch of Rice (with some sun dried tomatoes and broccoli) and potatoes and spinach vegetable, all other items were strictly off a Vegan’s menu! It was almost 1.45 PM by the time I got to the safety of my room. In the meanwhile, my roommate Abbas Sheikh​ had joined me. I set the alarm for 4 PM and went on to take a short nap. The night of remaining awake to follow was scaring me.  I had a small session on charkha with a few cups of black tea and reached the lobby at 4:45 PM as our reporting time for medical check up before the run at 6 PM was to be 5 PM. We all walked to the stadium from the hotel.
The head of the medical team from Fortis himself turned out to be a runner and running enthusiast. We all came back after a quick check up parroting our scores like school children after receiving their report card. I had a BP of 130/90, a little too high for my liking, maybe, I was tense before the run. Ankush set the ball rolling with his thunderous invocation and we promptly set off at 6 PM. This time we were to run with a timing chip and lap count was to happen electronically ( I remember last time there was lot of confusion in laps run!). I was happy that the band on the timing chip was black and so even though I could not pursue the idea of dedicating this run to the departed people’s president, Dr. Abdul Kalam, I had the satisfaction of wearing this chip as a black band on my feet (if only this band tied around the arm could have worked!).
Dharma was approaching his birthday in six hours time, cake cutting and the mandatory messing up of his face was already done in the press meet. Bala’s daughter did enjoy the piece of cake I got her, at least one piece was justifiably well spent! The dream of running to a near full moon in attendance was thwarted by a cloudy sky. The only saving grace was the light drizzle to keep the temperatures down and the body dry. One other advantage was that the cloudy sky promised that the night would not become too cold as the cloud cover traps the heat reflected from the ground. I was able to run the entire night topless in my shorts. Steady rain and breeze made the run pleasant.
The runners were required to change directions every hour to break the monotony as also to compensate for the banking and camber which makes the runner favour one side of the body. Soon we were looking forward to the first medical break. The enthusiastic volunteers, young college kids, were too eager to ply us with energy drinks, dates, jiggery and chikki. Nagaraj Sir, was waylaying runners at regular intervals near the aid station and force feeding them. My wife need not have bothered about my hydration and nutrition with the race director being so dictatorial in his affection! Even the committed spectators had gone to bed. Only Ankush and the Race director were left herding the devout runners. In three hours, I had put in a few laps short of 30K and I got worried that I may be guilty over speeding, I was conscious of the brakes the villain Sun would apply in the second innings come 7 AM! We had a dinner break with self settling for rice and Dal, the Dal was a little too spicy for my comfort. This was advance loading as the elaborate lunch had been fully countered by the body yet.
The first medical checkup went off fine, with a little argument I was able to stave off the blood sugar pricking of the finger. My weight was one Kg down from the 57Kg at the start (to me it was less luggage more comfort!). The doctor was fine with it, but, I was praying Nagaraj Sir did not notice it. The BP improved at 120/90. Heart rate was at 80. I lingered a little longer in the spare bed and we were out in about 15 minutes. Ankush had warned us of the break in music and announcements during the night from 10PM to 6 AM due to permission issues. In fact the quiet stadium with only nominal lights on a cloudy night was perfect for introspective run.
Even this small break had cooled our core down, I was stiff and shivering when I started. Dharam advised to start with a walk and gently break into a run. Within a lap I was fine and cruising. Meanwhile, Anil Gujjar and Arun Sir were piling on the agony. I was into a nice rhythm and was enjoying the run in the rain. Interestingly, sleep did not bother me then. I was biding my time till 2 PM, when I was hoping my normal wake up rhythm would set in. I remember Dharam and  Santhosh C Padmanabhan​ encouraging me with those magic words. I was missing Biscuit’s company badly.
The weather having increased and reduced the rain setting to high and low kept us cool and comfortable. The barefoot proved a boon when compared to squishy shoes of other shod runners passing me by. The mat was well hydrated and felt like a well wet astro turf to the feet. The khadi wear was not too heavy with wetness and I was very comfortable. With the steady breathing, I was assured that I was not over stressing my heart. The 2 PM medical break was better planned with runners being called for check up in ones and twos to avoid crowding in the medical tent. The medical venue had shifted to the room behind the announcement desk from the tent on the field. The medical results proved my feeling right, but for the weight climbing up a kg thanks to food break, the BP and heart rate had remained the same and I cleared my medicals quickly.
I felt cheated at not having taken a break as the next medical and mandatory break at 5:50 AM for allowing the full track for the 12 hour run start was nearly 4 hours away. When crossing Jagdish Damania​ I could not keep from commenting that we both had made tremendous progress compared to the previous year when comparing how strong we were at 6 hours in to the run. Part of the credit must go to the wonderful weather. The memory of the next six hours is a haze as the body ran unmindful of the passing of the time. The ever alert smiling kids at the aid station and Nagaraj Sir feeding us like mothers often feed playing kids without disturbing their play.
Around 5 AM, other set of runners who choose the second half to run 12 hours and the relay runners started assembling. We were given rousing cheers and the 5 AM change of direction gave us a good feeling of last hour before a mandatory check up and medical break. I do not remember at which point the giant display board was to light up and the lap count was to show up on real time basis. I was not able to read the number of laps or the names because I do not wear my spectacles during the run, however, I could hear the announcements which announced the respective positions and number of laps. Since this came with a time lag and even if I took the position once, I was not able to keep count beyond a few loops. I think I was running in my sleep and the only steering control I was capable of was the mandatory turning every 100 meters and crossing slower runners or giving way to faster runners.
Milind Soman​ was not running at his full throttle, must have not recovered fully from his recent Ironman experience. Every time I crossed him, he greeted me with a ‘Bam-2 Bhole, Jai Bhole’. Initially I thought he was invoking Lord Shiva (who is lovingly called Bhole by his devotees!) because my name, Vishwanathan, is another name for the Lord. It later turned out he was invoking his favorite with every runner!
There was an interesting exchange with Aparna about this greeting by Milind. I explained to her why Lord Shiva is called Bhole (meaning innocent in Hindi). He is supposed to be very innocent and ended up in giving boons to thoroughly undeserving and devious people. All the villains from Ravana, Bhasmasur etc. who were perfectly god fearing, learned people turned villainous after securing a, what they thought, invincibility boon from Lord Shiva. Thereafter, it took the combined might of his two other partners of the trinity, Brahma and Vishnu, to get the world out of harms way by neutralizing the boon.
Now while scanning Nagaraj Sir’s facebook page I find that I had done, 115 laps (46Km) by 11PM (5 hours, avg. 9.2Kmph), 186 laps (74.4Km) by 3 AM (9 hrs, 8.27 Kmph) and 220 laps (88Km) by 5 AM (11 hrs, 8 Kmph). My relative position always was within the top three which I could make out from my long name.
I had a half an hours rest starting from 5:50 AM to 6.30 AM which included my stopping to cheer the participants of the 12 hour run at their start point and the medical checkup followed by a short nap. I did not stop for a breakfast as hot idlis were promised in a short while. The Sun was welcome as it woke me up, but, true to its villainous character it started teasing and finally scorching me as the day progressed. I do not remember whether it was 7 AM or 8 AM, when Nagaraj Sir, literally pulled us off the track to feed us hot idlis. I gobbled 5 idlis. I was however worried about the backlash from the spicy chutney, I should not have given in to the temptation and stuck to sugar as I did last year. There is no point in crying over consumed chutney. I ran carefully after the break mindful of the coming reflux. Luckily, it stayed down and the stomach did manage to digest it. I was also blessed to have been able to take a dump early in the morning in the porta-loo. With this I had successfully conquered the sleep (at least for the night) and the loo-visit, so far so good!
The brisk and chirpy younger lot of 12 hour runners sharing the first three track with us meant more energy to us, but, also more runners crossing and being crossed. The relay runners on the next three tracks were simply burning the tracks. It looked like the long distance trains on the inner tracks were being overtaken by the faster suburban trains. The runners who were running sometimes with their families were making up the outermost two tracks. The children particularly Udaya Napa​'s daughter gave me good company. She told me she had done six laps. Many known faces exchanged greetings and I can only claim old age for my defense of not remembering all of them by name. The greetings and cheer every loop was like energy boosters to the aching and tiring body. Around 10.15 AM (16.15 hrs), I had done 297 laps (118.8Km, 7.3 Kmph). The average speed had been constantly dropping but I was running steadily. The breaks just got more frequent and longer. The sun was now burning my neck and shoulders. I did not even have the presence of mind to take the cap and cover my neck/shoulders with a wet cloth (wife was missed sorely, this struck me only when my wife asked me why I did not do so while applying fresh aloe vera sap the next day to the mauled portion!). Luckily, I did not wet that portion during the run (my ability to bear pain seems to have gone up!). The chafing of the tender portion by the straps of the goody bag the next day had made it gory by the time it was put up for inspection of my daughter and wife.
Now I must introduce Santosh into the narrative, who was pacing Mani and had dropped to the sidelines after 6 AM and started encouraging me actively. He was anyway goading me on with kind words all through the night. Around 12 Noon (18 hrs), when I took a break I saw that I had been shown as having completed 324 laps (129.6 Km, 7.2 Kmph). Now the breaks got too very frequent and mind games became fierce. I wanted to just give up and take a loooong nap. Next two hours of running was purely because of Santosh’s goading. Next I remember was when I had started to walk (which to me is abject surrender, being from the Murakami school of running!). Santosh, failing to motivate me with podium or distance gave me a real gem. He said that most spectators were really rooting for me and that I should not disappoint them.
Fellow runners were very kind to me all through the run, encouraging me every time I crossed them. The youngster, Inder was the most verbal and vocal in his cheering, alternating between Jai Mata Di, Bharat Mata ki Jai and Aap Eighth wonder ho Sir, etc. More than any medal or reward, earning the respect of fellow participants is of importance to me. I shall treasure the praise lavished by Santosh, Arun especially and countless fellow runners and spectators during the run.
I particularly enjoyed running in tandem with Arun and Navin at various times in the run and it was a real honour leading them, those bursts of energy were the best part of the run for me. Scientifically minded Natasha Ramarathnam​ may split hair and say that I gave away the advantage to the trailing runners, but, I was never one to split hair or count pennies!
 Around 2.30 PM, Arun told me that I should aim for 160 Km mark, which was quiet achievable as I had about 38 more laps to be done in three and a half hour. By now team pacemakers were firmly ensconced on one side of the track (opposite to the announcing dias!) and were cheering me every lap. Seeing Pani Sir, really energized me. Ajit Tandur, another good friend was their supporting his Mysore team. I told Brajesh and Dharma that I will try for the 160 Km to make good the failure to hit 100 miles in the earlier attempt In the Bangalore Mysore run with them.
The spectators particularly, opposite the aid station were giving me a rousing cheer on completing every lap. Next two hours was very productive and I had brought down the asking rate to 13 laps in the next 90 minutes. In the interim period I had every spectator and the aid station boys to keep updating me on my lap count. I was not able to keep count on my own (I don’t know if I was losing my mind!). By 5 PM I had only a few laps left to complete 400 laps which I accomplished by 5:15 PM. I suddenly discovered that my left foot had swollen and I had to pull out.
I walked the next few laps limping much to the disappointment of my cheering fans. I had the finish the event walking which shall remain a disappointment for me, this spoilt the joy of having completed 160K and without cramps. What broke my heart was the request from some fans if I could not at least run the last lap. Milind looked at my swollen foot and cautioned me that it could be stress fracture. I decided that discretion is the better part of valour and walked around soaking in the cheers like a preponed victory lap.
The last direction change at 5 PM had meant that we runners were going clockwise at the time of finish thereby the loudest cheering squad was rendered ineffective as it was too far away from the finishing athletes. This needs to be adjusted from the next edition.
What followed was a finisher’s medal around my neck and my walk like a zombie to collect my bag from the baggage counter for my slippers. Many people walked up and shook my hand and I must not have come out as an enthusiastic respondent. Being the third position meant I had to stand on the podium for the longest duration. Even standing at the small height which the bronze medalist gets to stand at was becoming a strain for me. I was feeling dizzy, I somehow managed to hang on till Navin an Arun got on to the podium. I was yawning uncontrollably and was not able to keep my eyes open. I swooned and made to fall and the Gallant and ever watchful Nagaraj caught me mid-air. I collapsed on the bed in the medical tent. I was really scared as the doctor’s checked for my vital statistics. The prick on the finger for blood sugar examination which I valiantly fought off the whole day was finally performed by the smiling lady doctor. I was told that all the signs were perfect. Then I sat up and Doctors and paramedics sat around me for a photo-op, they assured me that I was perfectly ok, but, I collapsed in a heap on the bed barely able to keep my eyes open. Nagaraj was watching and I was afraid that I was in for a night at some hospital instead of the train to Chennai. Luckily for me on saying that Bala and his family were travelling with me, the race director relented and sent me off in his car with a thick blanket to the hotel. Further ignominy awaited me at the hotel as I was not able to stand after getting down from the car. The friendly attendants at the hotel who had cheerfully seen me off for the run the previous evening wheeled me to my room and I collapsed on my bed. Bala covered me in my room mate’s quilt. The time was about 7:45 PM, I had not been able to call my wife or return calls from my brother or Bhupender (a runner friend). My Doctor brother was worried. I was however confident that a few hours sleep would get me fine. It was more a hope than conviction now. Bala stayed in my room as I used the Loo with instructions for me to not lock the door, clearly I must not have been looking good. One hour of sleep later I was fit enough to walk to the shower and a long hot shower made me feel better. I was now confident of making it home. Meanwhile, my wife had been told all the good news of podium finish and prizes, keeping away the swooning part. I told my brother that I was better when he called next at 9 PM. Timely help from Bala and Nagaraj saw me through, but, I missed all the fun of the presentation party. I could not even formally thank Nagaraj, his team of organizers and the volunteers.
As I go to press there is more good news to report. The swollen foot turned out to be a benign sprain. It definitely had the effect of surprising the Medical Director and the Ortho specialist when I walked in announcing the distance and time for which I ran. Surely, I could not have got a clearance for the run at my age if I had asked for it before the run. The swelling has come down with two days of pain killers and a raised foot. The sun burnt neck and shoulders required just a day of ministration from my wife and daughter. Three days of rest (one complete at home, two at office) got back the Hubli Passenger back on its usual run today. As a bonus I had Sundar Purush​’s company for the run today. The ‘Run pe Charcha’ of today with Sundar shall be a subject matter of another blog.
This is one event which keeps me from sticking to my vow of no organized runs by sheer joy it gives in the run and end to end comfort being taken care by the team Nagaraj. Heartfelt thanks to you and your able team Sir!

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