Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Running on your own time

Firstly, congratulations to all the Team Asha runners who ran the IBM 10K this past weekend! And kudos to those runners for whom this was their first race! Now you know the feel of the rush of blood at the sound of the gun, feeling emotional from the cheering squads by your side through the race and the thrill of running through the finish line!

And more than ever, you might find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed by people discussing splits, timing, the time on your last one mile etc. And this is from me, a slow runner also still very new to running, to you, other new runners - that's not the important part about running at all. Yes, timing is important and yes, you need to work towards building speed. But always remember, you are your own runner. Everybody runs for a different reason and everyone runs at a different pace. Some people have been running all their lives and they're naturally good at it, others have just started out and they're also naturally fast. But there are scores of people who start slow and build even slowly. And for those, the message is, be patient with yourself.

There are two really important things I learned when I trained for my first half marathon last year with Team Asha.

1) It's your race - never let anything or anyone take that joy away from you.

2) On a long race, especially when it's 13 miles or more, you can never start slow enough.

To me the most important message has always been that running is a personal thing. It doesn't matter how fast anyone else runs or at the end of the day, the timing, pace, mileage - they are all numbers. What is important, is that when you run, you feel good, exactly where you are, doing just that - one step at a time. Before you begin to worry about pace and time, you need to ask yourself why you run. And once you can answer that, everything else will fall into place. For me, it was of course the kids at ASV for whom I began to run. But it was also because running made me feel completely satisfied in the moment. It didn't matter how far I had come or how far I had to go. I was just happy to be there.

That being said, the numbers are not unimportant. And for that, again, it's important to set personal goals rather than absolute goals. So instead of "I want to run at 9 min per mile", set goals such as "I'm going to train to claim a minute on my pace". Talk to your running coach about these goals and document them. Also document your progress towards the goals. I'm only saying this because I have made the mistake of setting such ridiculous absolute goals and set myself up for disappointment. Gaining a few seconds to a minute on your pace is a huge achievement. And training according to plan is the only way to get there. So from one new, slow runner to the others in the group:

1) Run at your own pace, on your own time - you're only competing with yourself.

2) Pay close attention to the speed workouts, interval trainings, hill trainings, core workouts- these are the workouts where you will really build up towards your target speed.

3) Train according to the plan set by your coach, but listen to your body - if something doesn't feel right, don't push - talk to your coach and other runners. And if you feel pain, see a doctor, do the strength and core exercises recommended during the training plan.

4) Enjoy your run - it's your time with yourself, your time to work against the limitations you've set up for yourself and scaling them at each run. Sometimes you're going to be overwhelmed (they're called bad runs) but all of the times, you will be victorious because you will learn something new about yourself, your body and your mind during each run, no matter how it was.

And that's why we run. We run not only so that they can read but also so that we can overcome our imaginary boundaries. At the end of the day, training not only makes you a better, faster runner, it will make you a stronger person! Happy running!

Monday, September 19, 2011

What I miss about training in Austin

Hey Team Asha!
I'm Sirsha and I began running for Team Asha in 2010. Completed my first half marathons for Team Asha and got over the idea of asking people for money for a cause I deeply love. I'm spending 3 months in São Paulo, Brazil on a work exchange program. While it's been a blast here and I have managed to find a running training group that is absolutely awesome (individualized training, tech tees and good looking Brazilian coaches) I still miss running in Austin with y'all for the following reasons:
1) Running on the streets of Austin - the gorgeous HILLs, cars that respect runners and pedestrians in general and getting to know neighborhoods - in SP, running on the streets is not recommended due to various safety issues. And no hills in the parks.
2) Breakfasts after long runs - definitely miss my Tacodeli fix after most long runs.
3) Seeing the RED Team Asha tees - just love spotting those wherever I run, and especially when I don't know the person wearing it and can go and introduce myself.
4) Running all the Austin races like the IBM 10K etc. in the Fall
5) Running with someone from Team Asha
6) Team Asha socials - and good beer (Brazil makes a lot of good things including cachaca but not good beer, sad).

So enjoy all the things I mentioned above and keep running!

Five reasons why you should run the 2011 IBM Uptown Classic 10K

Whether you are a new or a seasoned runner, running an organized race is always a bunch of fun! I am here to share with you five reasons why I think you should run the IBM 10K.

1. Beginner’s Jitters: They say that getting to the start line is half the battle and I couldn’t agree more. In my first year of being a Team Asha runner, I was very unsure about doing a race since the idea of a race automatically brought ideas of “competition” and “stress” and “herds of runners”. In reality, it was a ton of fun running with a large group of people and being cheered on by both familiar faces and complete strangers! There is no better way to shed racing jitters than participating in a short and FLAT course like the IBM 10K.

2. Gear/Gadget Test: By now, most of you might have bought one or more new gear/gadget related to running – a new technical t-shirt, a new sports watch, new shoes etc. A practice race like the IBM 10K is a great way to test out these new gear/gadgets and gauge your comfort level with them.

3. Race Day Experience: In case you didn’t know this already, there is no substitute for a race day experience. Even in the smaller races, there is always that extra adrenaline that a race makes you experience. I had blogged about my experience when I first ran the IBM 10K in 2008 - it really was the first day that I truly began to feel like a “Team Asha” runner. :) This race is also highly likely to pump you up for your longer distance target races next year!

4. Benchmark Run: By now some of you are already running distances that you have never run before. Running a benchmark race helps you understand where you are in your overall training. This will better help you plan your personal goals and times for your target race.

5. Make new friends: Some of you might be new to Austin, or new to Asha! Either way, the race day will be a great way for you to meet your fellow Asha runners, the crew and other athletes in general. It’s a great opportunity to make new friends and more importantly learn from their experiences. It is amazing how much there is to learn from just talking to other athletes and seeing how they prepare for race day. Every race I have run, I have ended up making a friend – typically someone who is running the same pace I am. Plus, Team Asha has the best race support ever!! You will truly feel like a superstar! :)

I am signing up for the race for sure, and I hope to see more bright red “Team Asha” t-shirts out there as well. Go Team Asha! :)

2011 IBM Uptown Classic 10K
When: Sunday, October 2nd 2011 @ 8am
Registration Link: http://www.uptownclassic.com/registration/
*There is a 5K option as well for those who are not confident of running a 10K yet

- Vishwas

Friday, December 3, 2010

En-trance-d (Wild Hare 25K)

My high school memories include a daily assembly of all the kids and teachers in the school courtyard, always too early in the morning and always too hot in Chennai. After prayers and what not, you could then see us seated in neat rows of meditating yogis, or snickering teenagers, depending on how far you observed us from. Transcendental Meditation (TM), they called it. After several years of unintentional practice, I got reasonably successful at reaching that state of mind when you feel relaxed and almost trance-like, though I never did get to feel the 'energy from the end of the universe'. (That would come later in life, with Pink Floyd.)


The days leading up to the Wild Hare race were most un-'days-leading-up-to-a-race'-like. I signed up for the 25K so I could show off the shiny medal with the cartoon hare that Joe, the race director, and Alicia, the medal designer, baited everyone with. I wasn't trained, not by a long shot, but I wasn't completely out of shape either. I was in a rather curious stage with my running - when I ran, about once or twice a week, on short 5 mile runs, I ran comfortably well and despite my obvious lack of training, I was running faster than I had ever run before. But 5 miles was the point where not only my speed dropped, my run stopped as well.

A week before the race, I did a 14 mile run with my new training group. Since I had to re-learn how to pace myself, I scanned the group and promptly decided to keep up with Diana H, who knows a thing or two about pacing a long run. That was a good strategy, I completed my 14 miles comfortably. Now all I had to do was replicate that pacing strategy at the race: start slow, then go slower.

The Race

It's November 20, the Wild Hare trail race is on today at the Bluff Creek Ranch, Warda, TX. I've run here before on the soft pine needles and through the cow pastures. Driving into Warda on the race morning with Cris and Savi, I'm relaxed knowing I'd run the miles but not race them with a time goal to achieve. There are 2 loops of 8 and 7.5 miles each, and even with running slow, I expect my time to be around 90 minutes for each loop.

Seeing all my buddies at the race start bucks me up like a tonic and it is nice to see Sha, a fellow Team Asha runner, ready to do her first trail race! Despite my excitement, I remember my resolve to start slow. So I start at the back of the pack, chatty and slow. Warming up through the first half mile, I settle into a rhythm where I am not thinking about my run at all. I am just soaking it all up, all the friends and smiles and trees around me. After another mile, I am running on my own. I am en-trance-d, the feeling is similar to just what I felt with TM all those years back. I am only vaguely aware of what I am doing, there are no thoughts in my head and my body moves on pure instinct through all the rocks, roots and pines. I pass some runners and some others pass me, but I have found my natural rhythm.

The trance is broken as I near the first aid station 4 miles into the race. There's Cris and Henry, and after taking some salt and water, I am off. A few minutes into the long fields here, I get back to my rhythm, and back into my trance. Miles 4-8 go by without making an impression on my mind. As I run through the barn at the end of my first loop, I start getting conscious of the things I need to do: nutrition, hydration, change of shirt etc. I glance at the clock curiously, and I am shocked at the reading: I have done the first 8 miles in 72 minutes, way faster than I expected or sought to achieve.

A couple of minutes at the pit stop for fuel, and I am off. I'd been merely running easy until this point, now I want to race. Is it possible that I might finish in 2:30? How fast should I run? Should I avoid walk breaks entirely and just push through the remaining miles as hard as I can? Starting the second loop, I am sprinting with all my focus on how to make this a great race time-wise. I transcend into no sub-conscious trances no more, I am only too aware of how my legs are moving, how I am breathing hard and so on. From miles 10-12, it's narrow single track and I start getting anxious about passing runners who can't hear me shout at them because they've got headphones on.

I rush through the mid-point aid station in a hurry. Mistake. Saving a few seconds there meant that I did not prepare for a warming sun through the exposed fields. My body is heated up, and the day feels too warm to run, and I am willing myself to push through these last 4 miles. I am slow, I can't keep up with what I've been doing. I can feel the effects of the 6-mile hill workout from a day and a half before, my legs are tired. I am enjoying this no more, this second loop has had a completely different feel to it than my first one. I run in, and the clock says I've taken 78 minutes for my 7.5 miles, and I am not sure whether to be happy or not with my overall time of 2:32.

After a few minutes though, my body recovers and I feel good - not with my time because that doesn't matter, but with having run 15.5 miles and enjoying the post-run moments with my friends. I spend the rest of my excited day chatting, handing out finisher medals, putting up glow sticks and eating veggie burgers. It's been a great day, I've learnt a lot today about my running - about what to do and not do next time, and to just accept whatever happens and allow myself to be en-trance-d.

Monday, November 22, 2010

SoH page write-up done....finally!!

Nandini and I finally finished our write-up today (I was the procrastinator :-)). But I'm glad it's done - it really gave us an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are and rekindle the spirit to give back and improve lives of underprivileged children.

I'm hoping that the fund-raising goes well over the holiday season. Will ping the group for tips and ideas!


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Being a new runner/ thanks for the workshop today!

Sharanya/ Savi and all the organizers,
Thanks for the talk today. It was motivating as well as interesting and fun!
I looked through the project pages after the talk today and I'm highly impressed by the amount of transparency they offer (in terms of funds disbursal, meeting minutes, etc).
I chose a project which I am able to relate to the most (Prasanna Jyothi) - read the meeting minutes/ details from some site visits and within an hr of doing so, I already feel so close to it. Thanks for the awesome job u guys have been doing to make is easy for each of the Asha member to feel so close to the cause they are working towards.

Completely unrelated to above - All new runners,
I think we have such an advantage of being a new runner! Since I started, for me, every week has been a new high! From running 4 miles for the first time in my life just a few weeks back, I'm at running 8.5 miles at one shot for the first time in my life. We are almost 2/3rd done with the half marathon goal - isn't that exciting! As some of you I spoke to today would have realized, I'm just ecstatic and so proud of myself :)

I put my funding webpage up less than a week back and managed to raise $150 with first set of emails and no following up. Beginner's luck?! And this is when the webpage is just horrible - so impersonal :( (which I realised after the workshop today and I'm gonna work on it right away!)
But basically what I'm trying to stress here is that do not procrastinate, get your website up and first set of emails out. It is great to see the first set of funds coming in! It helps get the block out of your mind that fund-raising is something, somehow we are going to achieve.

So, good luck every1 and hope every1 is as excited and thrilled as I am to be a part of this :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Team Asha Weekly Rundown Edition 2

23rd September 2010

Hi Team Asha,

Congrats on completing 2 weeks of training! All of us have now successfully accomplished running-walking 4 miles, which is almost a third of the half-marathon distance! Well done indeed!! How was your running experience? Did you have fun? Why not blog about it?

Team Asha Facebook page

Team Asha is on Facebook. Join us on FB and keep your friends and family informed on your training and races.

Rogue locker room weekly running schedule

Have you logged into your Rogue member resources? Rogue member resources include a weekly training schedule. You will have access to other great resources for stretching, nutrition, race day tips etc. Look it up on your rogue member page if you haven’t already.

Team Asha News

Team Asha runner Gayatri Rao is participating in the 2010 Texas Mamma Jamma Ride - a recreational bike ride to raise much needed funds for supporting women coping with breast cancer. We are proud of you Gayatri and wish you the very best for the 46mile ride!

How Hot Are We??

Pretty frigid :-( :-( ….the Fundraising Thermometer shows that we haven’t raised any amount so far. That’s all right though….I’m sure that this team will catch up fast. Let’s remember to update our personal pages on Team Asha website (contact Neeharika (nbollepalli@gmail.com) to update your page once your write-up is ready) this week.

Are you familiar with the projects supported by Asha, Austin? If you want to learn more, visit the Asha Austin page, http://www.ashanet.org/austin/projects/

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Welcome Strides of Hope Team 2010-11!

Hi Team Asha Member,
We would like to begin by congratulating each and every one of you for taking the big step and signing up to train for what maybe your first half-marathon/marathon with Team Asha. Welcome aboard!! I'm sure that all of you are enthusiastically looking forward to a great running season and the Strides of Hope Crew will always be there to support you and ensure that you have a fun and successful experience.

Jairam and Pritam

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Run for water 2009

It was a foggy November Monday. It was the day for the "Run for Water". I woke up in the morning about 5 and found myself kinda relaxed, definitely not as excited as the Austin Half of Feb 09. I had driven to Marble falls with my family the previous day, and visited a winery on the way. I guess the serene atmosphere in the vineyards calmed me. Anywho, up at 5, I got ready and religiously did the trigger point rolling as I do before every long run to prevent my ITB from flaring up. Got my iphone and earphone all setup for the run. Ate a very light breakfast and drove to my friend Anuranjan's place. We met up with Patrick, Gaurav and Sanjay there. We drove from there to the Silicon Labs parking lot where Anuranjan let us park. This was really good as we were really close to the start/finish line from the parking lot. We reached about 10 minutes before the start of the race and I did not have any time to think about the race. I was'nt even aware of the race route. Had I seen the route was I would have sat up all night worrying about it.

Blissfully unaware of what was coming up I started the race on a strong note. After about 1 mile, Patrick and Sanjay left me behind, but I kept up a healthy pace. At the end of the 3 miles I saw the time and it was only 33 minutes (which is a little faster than i usually run). I guess the first 3 miles were the easy part :) . Soon after I turned onto Pecos street and noticed hill after hill. Going on pecos and scenic drive I kept tackling one hill after another, but there was no end in sight. Luckily the houses were fabulous and I had some good music to distract me. And the view of the lake on that foggy morning was out of the world. I guess that is what got me through the hills. Before I knew it I came down the hills past Hula Hut and noticed some relatively flat terrain. I kept telling myself I am close to mopac and its going to be over soon. There I see good old ASHA volunteers and they raised my spirits. I guess once you ream with Team ASHA, you cannot think of running without their support, thanks guys, you rock.

A mile more and I cross mopac and realize, the end cannot be far now. Last 2 miles, I started getting tired and hungry, but the thought that it was going to be over soon, kept me going. There I see the first street bridge and some more "red-shirted ASHA cheerleaders" waiting for me. I sprinted past the finish line.... Timed at 1 hour and 52 minutes. Overall a good race and good time. Next race is the Austin Half Marathon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Poker Night : Food, Games and Fun for a cause...

Here is a short article about "Poker Night" , a fundraising event organized on 20th February 2009 by our own Team Asha 10K runners, Latha & Kalyani.

While blogging and getting the word out is one source of getting the $$ for our contribution, Kalyani and I (Latha) wanted to try a few of our well tested fundraising endeavors that we have already attempted in the past. So, when Kalyani suggested a “Game Night with games, fun and food", I instantly agreed – we knew for sure that people like socializing and playing games. With this in mind, we then put together a list of good friends who might be willing to pitch in money for some food and good evening together, and at the same time help Underprivileged Children in India. So, we decided to act on it right away. We planned it for a Friday on the 20th of February. Originally we were thinking about renting a Community Hall with the theme "FOR THE LOVE OF ASHA" on Valentine's day. But the logistics of acquiring the hall and the head count of attendees didn't seem like a viable option. The game night was organized at Kalyani’s house.

The food was simple, filling hopefully and an enticing menu!! The goal was to raise funds for a cause and at the same time have a good time with like-minded people. We had requested for RSVP, so we can be prepared for the evening. We were going to get a head count on Thursday evening and we had around 10 folks including our partners in crime (a.k.a spouses!). And to my surprise, I get a call from a friend of mine who has just completed her onslaught of Chemo and Radiation, fighting her breast cancer daemon. She informs me that her 18 year old son and few of his freshman friends wanted to come and help us while they show us their skills (eventually we found out were as good if not better than their academic skills, as you can guess these kids were the top performers in their high school and probably in college too) .They had something in common with us : the will to Invest in Education and help others who needed a helping hand. It was heart-warming for me to see these youngsters who opened their wallets and contributed to a good cause they believe in. Of course, there were our Team Asha comrades, and our other friends who came and supported us in this effort, and also had a great time, especially that notorious, mostly noisy, Black Jack Table!

Here is a link to the pictures of the Poker Night:

All in all, it was a nice evening of putting one step in front of the other in our efforts towards raising funds for Asha and training to run the 10K on March 29,2009.

So, come join the fun @ Bridge Night and the Photography Workshop & Contest.

1. Game Night of Bridge and Black Jack
Date - 3/6/2009
Venue - 1505, Barclay drive, Austin, TX
Time - 8:00 PM
Cost - $12.00 per player ($2.00 for the table and $ 1.00 to cover cost of supplies )

2. Photography "Tips & Tricks" Workshop & Contest
(mainly for kids & kids @ heart)
Date - 3/15/2009 (Initial Workshop)
Venue - Will be informed on RSVP
Time - 10:00 AM
Cost - $25.00

For more information on the upcoming events or to RSVP, contact :
Latha Iyengar (latha.iyengar@gmail.com, 512.775.6583) or
Kalyani Sundaresan (kalyanisundar86@gmail.com, 512.809.2579).

Hope to see you all there!

Latha & Kalyani

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Austin Half

It's been a week since we all ran the Austin Half or Full marathons. But everything is still so fresh in my mind. I have lived and relived parts of the race so many times during this week. Monday probably took the cake for being the most nonproductive day at work. Anyway.. here's what happened with me on Feb 15th, 2009. Clearly, I am not a woman of few words. Be prepared. This is long!

I woke up at 4 am on race day. Showered, ate and wore my pre laid out race gear and Vinit and I were out of the door by 5.15. I wanted to get to the Asha tent real early to peacefully get a good parking spot and get enough time to do some pre race stretching, some general chit-chat and go to Port-a-Potty (multiple times – as is so likely to happen to me before a race). SOH crew was already at the Asha Tent when we reached around 6 am. They were putting up balloons, and taking care of other nitty-gritty to support the runners in all possible ways.

I did all my pre-race stuff – had a banana, had a dose of Tylenol (in anticipation of ITB pain), stretched and tried to imagine a wonderful race ahead of me. Gaurav came and asked about my ITB (he being my mentor and all) and I shooed him away. Frankly, my knees hurt (familiar ITB pain), my right hamstring and calf were tight and I had a shoe bite from the shoes I wore to a salsa class the night before. But all this was really out of my control at that point of time and I didn't want to focus on it. I could just trust my training and all the things that I had done "right" in preparation for this race – tapering down my training runs, hydrating well, gradually carb loading, and resting well in the preceding week.

It was 7am soon enough and Vinit and I made our way to the start. Vinit had been with me during the whole training and he had agreed to run with me at my pace throughout the race. The place was packed with thousands of runners. We were several blocks away from the start line. It was a perfect morning to run. Temperature was in 40s and it was overcast with a little wind. It felt just right. We had a salt tablet each before crossing the start line around 7:30.

The first 3 miles were uphill on Congress Ave and I ran slowly to warm up and ease into my rhythm. Vinit and I had run the course before and I really didn't like the first 6 miles of the course. It was sort of an out and back and I felt it was a waste since Austin has so many other beautiful neighborhood possibilities to be included in the course. I was relying on race day commotion and other distractions to keep my spirits up in this part of the race and I wasn't disappointed. Cheerful, loud bands and excited onlookers lined the streets. I took time to enjoy the music, the camaraderie with fellow runners and the pervading excitement. I thought of my reason for running the race, and was immensely grateful for the opportunity to be there. This was the culmination of something I had been training and fund-raising for in the past 3 months. Every musician, every spectator, every runner, every supporter, everything that was part of the scenery and atmosphere made it an overwhelming experience. I remember, in those initial miles I was all soft and gooey inside and almost choked up many times (sounds quite crazy I know, but I tell you that's what happened to me out there.) We exchanged many "yoohoo"s and "Go Team Asha"s with fellow Team Asha runners. The first few cheerleaders of the Asha crew (Stephanie, Bradford, Ambica and Rahul) were at mile 3 with poster boards and cowbells making a lot of noise. I shed some outer layers and took a quick break to stretch my ITB and quads. Everything was holding up fine so far. No major pains. The slow warm up had helped the muscles.

The prospect of next few miles worried me. They were mostly downhill; perfect for aggravating my ITB pain, but I also wanted to pick up pace on this easy section. In one of our previous long runs, Vinit had come up with a strategy of running with smaller strides and quicker turn over on the downhill. It had occasionally worked for me in the past. It could delay the faring up of my ITB. That's what we resorted to. I was feeling quite buoyant on this stretch, full of hope and really enjoying being out there. Vinit would say "downhill now" to remind me to change my running pattern and I would follow. Mile 4, 5 and 6 were mostly spent doing this drill and meeting more Asha runners. The strategy worked but not for long. By mile 6, my knees hurt and my pace had gradually slowed. I stopped to stretch again. I had another dose of Tylenol hoping that it would keep my pain down long enough for me to finish the race.

We were carrying our own water and hadn't stopped at any water stop. Vinit went to refill my water bottle around mile 6 and I continued across the South first bridge at my slow pace. I was hoping to see some known faces there. Mehul had indicated that he might walk down from his condo to cheer us at South First and Cesar Chavez. I didn't see him but I saw a number of Asha folks (Anitha I, Gaurav, Charanya and more). I asked Gaurav to loan me his knees. He said I could take them. :-) The stretch on Cesar Chavez was flat and I was relieved, hoping it would help my knees to recover. We had our first Gu at 6.5 and I labored on. At first I tried to ignore the pain and focused on the other stuff – my running form, other runners, the town lake trail near by, conversing with Vinit. Then I tried to accept it and get accustomed to the idea of running the rest of the course with the pain.

At mile 7.5, right before the steep incline at Veterans, a band was playing 'Chariots of Fire'. For a few minutes, I stopped the negotiations with the knees and just reveled in the music. Sharanya and Arvind were at the base of the incline cheering loudly. Arvind even offered to run up the hill with us. :-) Murali and Savitha were at the top of the incline. A quick wave to them and we were off on Lake Austin Blvd – a 1.5 mile straight and flat stretch. Here, we crossed a lot of Asha runners again. My knees were feeling better, having recovered on the flat stretches. Tylenol had kicked in too. I picked up pace. We had our second Gu and another salt tablet.

Soon after mile 9 marker, we turned onto Enfield and the hills started. Strange as it may sound but I LOVE running in this neighborhood. These hills seem like friends. I prayed for my ITB to stay sober and decided to give it my all in the remaining miles. From there on, I just pushed through everything. Vinit repeatedly asked if I wanted to stretch and every time I just shook my head and pushed a little more. The king of all hills sat at Enfield and Lamar. Stephanie and Bradford were there once again at the base. I dropped my gloves with them and ran up the incline. 80% of the way up, I almost started to walk when I heard Ambica and Rahul yell out my name from the top of the hill. I held Vinit's hand and ran up to the top. Mile 10, 11 and 12 were a blur. I remember I was doing a lot of self-talk at this time. I was reminding myself of Team Asha's motive behind it all, my training on these very hills, and constantly telling myself to be a little better, to push a little harder. By the end of 13th mile, I felt like puking and empty at the same time. I was craving for some bout of energy from somewhere. I wished I had had another Gu. By now, I was doing something I had only read about in other people's race reports - picking out people in front of me and passing them. Vinit quietly told me that he was slipping out into the spectators and would meet me later in the Asha tent. He didn't want to go to the finishers' chute since he wasn't registered for the race. I didn't even respond. I wanted to leave it all out there and be entirely spent when I finished. Panting, puky, empty I crossed the finish line.

My previous half marathon time was 2:55. When I started my training a few months back, I wanted to set a better goal time, to motivate myself to train harder. I set my goal at 2:30. Then came my ITB issues and I quickly realized that it would be difficult for me to do sub 12 min/mile pace required for a 2:30 finish. So I revised my target, still keeping it challenging, to doing 12min/mile pace which came to 2:37. I finally finished in 2:43. 12 minutes better than my previous time, a few minutes short of my target.

I'll take it ANY DAY. I'll take it quite happily in fact. What with the negative splits in the last 4 miles, the ITB pain, the self-talk and what not!

Post-race was one big party at the Asha tent. I couldn't thank the cheering squad enough. In the end, truly, it was their presence that made a LOT of difference on the course!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Team Asha's Finale: The Austin Marathon/Half-Marathon Race

Go Team Asha! You guys had a strong race, and we're so proud of you! Here's a video that captures some of the memorable moments of Race Day.

Photos taken by: Charanya, Divya, Gaurav, Rahul, Sabari, Sharanya

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's not just about the distance....

I am excited. I am nervous. I am happy. I am jittery. My head and heart are full of wide ranging thoughts and emotions - all related to the race that is day after tomorrow. I know.. it's my third half marathon. Shouldn't be that big a deal. Right? Wrong. Well!! it IS a big deal. There are many things that are different from when I ran 2 years back.

For starters, I wasn't stewarding a project two years back. I hadn't visited Humana's school in Sahibabad. I hadn't seen the real plight of the urban poor. I wasn't fundraising for any specific project that time. I didn't know about the way Asha-Austin's funds impact lives of so many underpriviledged. I didn't know about the tireless work of so many grass roots individuals - dedicating a substantial chunk of their lives to help those, who we look away from on our visits to India (I know I do and I have only started to become aware of every little instance of my apathy to the less fortunate ones.)

Then there is the fact that I have trained on my own this time (not technically because dear husband accompanied me in all our training runs). I had to make and follow a training schedule. All thanks to the expert advice from Gaurav and Ganesh, my training calendar was full of the whole shebang - long runs, quality/speed workouts, hill training, easy runs, strength training, cross training, running drills, foot drills and what not. To put it in short, it wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be. But it was challenging and hugely satisfying whenever I could meet those challenges.

And then there is this new "injury" - my ever tight quads and Illiotibial band leading to pain in my knees. In spite of all the rehab work (deep tissue massage, foam roller, stretching, icing), all my plans of running a STRONG race seem threatened at this point.

The past two years have made me a more 'aware' runner and a more 'thankful' runner. My aim to raise funds for schooling of children in Sahibabad gives my half marathon a whole new meaning and I am going to be aware of that at every mile marker! I am thankful, to all the people and circumstances that make this possible for me, AND for having the chance to do this little something for those children!

Yes I am nervous about day after tomorrow but I am not too worried about that because in the words of my previous coach, "It's a good thing if you are nervous, it means that you have a healthy respect for what you are going to do." Respect! Yes I have that. Lots of it. Not only for the half marathon distance but also for our ongoing mission.

So I guess I WILL have a strong race, no matter what knee troubles come up. I'll have the inpiring thoughts of the children at school, wonderful (!) company of my hubby and the support of an incredible team to keep me going.

I wish each and everyone a meaningful and memorable race.
Go Team Asha!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Team Asha Ultra Rocks Rocky Raccoon!

You will be amazed by the test of endurance and the human spirit! Congratulations to our ultra runners! Go Team Asha!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Peek at our Team Asha Runners 2008-09 - Part 3

Here is the next set of amazing Team Asha runners :

Mentorship group: Bharath Kumar Thandri (mentor), Bhavna Verma, Bragadeesh Natarajan, Kirti Joshi, Manoj Bhave, Mohit Sood, Phani Kommareddy, Sankar Gurumurthy and Sarah Victor.

Bhavna Verma is a newbie runner who has added running to her list of passions after joining Team Asha, along with sketching and painting. She came to know about Team Asha through her husband, Mohit (more on him below) and signed up with no hesitation. She has made amazing progress through the training program, in spite of taking a 2-month trip to India last year. She visited "Khushboo", one of Asha Austin's projects during her recent trip to India and this visit has helped her appreciate the impact of the volunteers' efforts. Her dedication towards Asha's cause was evident when she coordinated the entire publicity effort during Show of Hope last year. Team Asha will be cheering her in full force when she runs her first half marathon next week.

Bragadeesh Natarajan came to know about the Strides of Hope program through a colleague at AMD. His calm demeanor has been his trademark throughout the training program and he has stayed the course in spite of multiple ankle injuries. He took his commitment to Asha another step when he volunteered for the Show of Hope last year. He has varied interests, one of which is international politics - if you are wondering what's up with Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Erdogan in Turkey, please ask him during the next long run or the race. With the 3M Half Marathon already under his belt, he has set his sights on the Austin Half marathon.

Kirthi Joshi has a cheerful personality which is infectious to everyone around her. She always has a smile on her face, even after a grueling long run in the hills. She has made steady progress and improved her pace during her training, which went without a hitch till December. Lady luck has not been kind to her half marathon racing plans – she has been stranded in India since December after her visa renewal process got delayed due to "administrative processing" reasons. She has maintained her training schedule by doing long runs in India alone, which is really commendable! She hopes to be back in Austin by April - in time to run the Zooma Half marathon - the entire team may be there to cheer her during the race!

Manoj Bhave has known about Team Asha since his graduate schooling days at Rutgers and had plans to support this good cause for a long time – he took the first step last Fall when he joined Team Asha after moving to Austin. He has been strong in his commitment to the training program, in spite of multiple travel schedules due to work at Qualcomm. He has been amazed at his progress during the program, from his good old "1 mile run at treadmills" to 10+ mile runs. He renewed his commitment to Asha when he volunteered for the Show of Hope program along with wife Kirthi (see above) last year. He has successfully overcome multiple injuries and is looking forward to complete the Austin Half Marathon, his first race, in style.

Mohit Sood is a veteran Team Asha runner who is involved in multiple Asha activities – he might as well have enthusiasm as his middle name. He has coordinated both the Show of Hope and Strides of Hope programs in the past, in addition to training for a couple of full marathons. He has had to cut down his running schedule due to various commitments last year, but there is no stopping him once he sets his sight on a goal. He also visited Khushboo (Asha Austin's project), along with his wife Bhavna (see above), which has strengthened his resolve to further Asha's efforts. He is planning to run the Austin Half marathon with Bhavna and aims to finish strong both in his race and fund raising efforts.

Phani Kommareddy was introduced to Team Asha program through his friends at Seattle and Dallas. Though he joined the program a month late in early October, he surprised himself by running a PR in the IBM 10K race, inspired by the Team Asha cheering squad! He is one of the fastest runners in Team Asha and his running pace has been matched by his fundraising pace - he is very close to completing his target amount. He has shown amazing resiliency through his training program - he underwent a nasal procedure and has had to recover from multiple injuries. His plan to run the 3M Half marathon was hampered by injury and we wish him the best of luck to recover in time for the Austin Half Marathon.

Sankar Gurumurthy is affectionately known as "gentle giant" of Asha Austin. This is his second year with Team Asha and he makes running look easy - whether it is a weekend long run, tiring quality workout or his target half marathon race. Cheering squads adore him because he is easy to spot from a mile among a bunch of runners. Apart from running, he also volunteered for Show of Hope and treasurer post last year. He plans to be a regular contributor to Asha's activities in coming years and he is on track to set an example for other runners who will look up to him - both literally and figuratively!

Sarah Victor is a first time Team Asha runner who signed up for the program immediately after attending the program's info session. She set a Team Asha record by finishing her fundraising commitment as early as October last year! She continued her Asha work by volunteering for the Show of Hope program. She has cruised through her training since the start, trying to balance it with her work commitments at Intel, but had some setbacks in the last 2 months due to work deadlines. She is pumped up for her first race- Austin half marathon and aims to conquer it by any means, in her words "At least I will walk and finish it". With the entire cheering squad encouraging her on the sidelines, she is going to find it really difficult to just walk and not run throughout the course!

This is the halfway point, we have 3 more mentorship groups to go!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


This number is not daunting anymore... I ran my first half-marathon on Jan 25th at the 3M half marathon. Thinking about it, I am just amazed that I could actually finish it.

I had a bad foot injury for which I was getting physical therapy from the past 2 weeks and this was scaring me if I will be able to finish the marathon. The therapist said that I might feel the pain after 8-9 miles. I thought I will give it a try and if nothing I will walk the remaining 4-5 miles.

So the race started well and the first 3 miles were very easy. It was very cold and I did not try to slow down. At the half-way (where the relay partners would switch) I took a restroom break and my foot was paining really bad by this time. This was when I saw our Asha cheering squad, Murali, Bharat and Gaurav. Murali asked how my foot was doing and if I will be able to finish the run. I tried to be optimistic and said I will manage. I decided to give my best and finish the second half of the run.

I tried hard to run, but the pain was getting unbearable. So I was doing a slow run and it was so slow that some of the walkers were passing me!! This was kind of hard to digest, but I just kept up the run or rather the jog. At mile 8, there was a water break and Murali appeared and asked if I needed some Advil. Suddenly I felt like I was given a boon and said "Yes !". But unfortunately he forgot it in his car and no one at the water stop had it either. All my hopes were splashed and I thought I will have to walk till the finish. Then he had a brilliant idea and said, he will buy it from the pharmacy at the corner of the street and catch up with me. I nodded and continued the painful jog/walk. The pain was becoming terrible and I was literally praying to get me till the end. I think the pain was showing on my face as a volunteer in an SUV offered to drop me at the race finish twice !!

And then Murali met me near mile 9, complete with Advil and a bottle of water!! I was so grateful..I immediately gulped the Advil. Then he said he will pace me till the finish and I didn't know how to thank him. Truly at that moment, it felt like an answer to my prayers. At about mile 10, the Advil kicked on and I couldn't feel any more pain!! And I was chatting away with Murali and the miles didn't seem so formidable now. Murali was walking to match my running speed and I could finally make him jog near mile 12 :)

Ahh, it felt so great to see the finish line and there my hubby joined me :) I will always remember this run and I am glad I didn't quit in the middle in spite of the tempting offers from the volunteer in SUV ;)


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Team Asha Bake Sale Fundraiser!

A morning of yummy-wares, friendship & fun - to make a positive difference!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Peek at our Team Asha Runners 2008-09 - Part 2

As promised, here are our next set of Team Asha Runners! We hope you have fun reading about them and getting to know them better!

Mentorship Group: Anjali Deolapure, Chaitanya Poda, Charanya Ravikumar (mentor), Rachel Taylor, Radhakrishna Iyer, Revathi Ravi, Sreedevi Menon, Shriya Ravikumar, Vanessa Swesnik, Vishwas Iyengar

Anjali Deolapure is not new to helping support and fundraise for a cause. She was a volunteer for several years with Pratham, an organization that is trying to universalize Primary Education and eradicate illiteracy in India.She also encouraged two of her friends to sign up for the SOH program this year! An avid music and math lover, Anjali will be attempting to run her 1st ever half-marathon, the Zooma Women’s Half-Marathon in April, and we have no doubt that she will do just great and finish the race sporting her signature smile!

Chaitanya Poda learnt about the Strides of Hope program from his cricket teammate Vishwas (also in this mentorship group) and signed up almost immediately.Chaitanya is not just a fast runner, but he was also one of the first to complete his fundraising commitment. A dedicated and enthusiastic person, once Chaitanya puts his mind to something, there’s no stopping him! He is looking forward to running his first ever half-marathon in February and has set a target finish time for himself, one that we can be confident that he would achieve!

Rachel Taylor is one of the ladies that Anjali helped introduce to Team Asha. She is one of this season’s 5 full-marathon runners. Rachel is not new to marathons, and has already run a marathon before. She signed up for Team Asha so that she could complement her love for running with supporting a great cause. We wish her all the best as she attempts another 26.2 miles at the Austin Marathon!

Radhakrishna Iyer is one of this year’s returning runners and a newly wed who just recently returned to the US from his wedding in India! Participating in his 4th season of Strides of Hope, this highly dedicated Team Asha volunteer is also a project steward for the Sree Nityanandaswamy Educational Trust. Radha is one of our runners who probably trains the least – but year after year surprises everyone by coming out on race day and completing a half-marathon like it was a piece of cake! Radha moved from Austin to Boston last year and has not quite decided on his target race this year, but will run a fantastic race regardless of where he decides to run!

Revathi Ravi, or Revathi Maami, as she is fondly referred to by all who know her, is one of this season’s most energetic and enthusiastic runners. Maami is someone who constantly has a smile on her face and is always the first to step forward when anyone needs help! She is not just an Asha runner, but also teaches Carnatic music, helps manage a local musical group Om-Kara, is a regular volunteer at the temple, and also has a day job at the IRS amidst all this. Eternally young at heart maami will be running her 1st half-marathon this year and is going to make Team Asha so very proud as she overcomes this challenge with the support of her countless friends and fans!

Sreedevi Menon just signed up for the Strides of Hope program pretty recently, but she is not new to Asha or marathons! Sree and her husband Lalit, have been dedicated Asha volunteers for the past 3 years and have also raised funds for projects via running marathons before their involvement with Asha. A very bubbly person by nature, Sree is also the mother of an adorable little boy Soham. This sincere, hardworking marathon mommy is sure to inspire all of us as she crosses the finish line this February after running an impressive 26.2 miles!

Shriya Ravikumar is an eternal bundle of energy! Very passionate about Asha’s cause – providing education to underprivileged children – she was also the President of Pratham Austin’s student chapter during her time at UT Austin. Shriya trains remotely from Sugarland, TX, and week after week, has planned her running schedule and has stuck to it, despite her hectic travelling schedule as a consultant. A true team player, Shriya was also the 1st winner of the Bingo Challenge organized by Team Asha and has also already completed her fundraising target! There is no doubt at all that she will have a strong finish on race day!

Vanessa Swesnik is the other lovely lady introduced to Team Asha by Anjali and will also be running her first ever full-marathon this year! Vanessa has been very committed to her fundraising efforts and also very creative! She organized a pumpkin carving party cum fundraiser during Halloween and also urged her family to donate to Asha for Christmas instead of buying her Christmas gifts! Team Asha salutes her dedication and wishes her all the best for her 26.2!

Vishwas Iyengar aka Vish is a natural athlete! Vice-captain of his cricket team, league champions this past Fall, Vish decided to explore long distance running during his off-season. He lives in San Antonio but has joined the Austin folks on several weekend long runs and has consistently been setting PRs during his races, including the Dallas Half Marathon and 3M Relay. Vish also kindly opened up his house to the SOH runners who ran the San Antonio Half-Marathon and was a perfect host. He is all set to run another fantastic race this Sunday at the New Orleans Mardi Gras Half-Marathon!

3M Relay- Charanya & Vishwas

My race season has finally started - three races in a span of four weeks! Up first was the 3M Half Marathon Relay. I was running the relay with Charanya. Both she and I have our big races coming up next weekend and hence decided that doing the relay was the best option. I for one didn’t want to get a freakish injury and jeopardize my target race. The 3M course is famous for being a fast one. Being mostly downhill, the course offers good prospects of setting personal records. The relay is split up such that the first runner runs 6.4 miles and the second runner runs 6.7 miles. The plan was for Charanya to start us off and for me to finish the race.

My part of the race-
The pre-race events were good. I got to see the start of the race, I saw the elite runners jet by and then the ASHA runners followed. I then was dropped off to the relay exchange point by ASHA volunteers- Murali, Gaurav and Bharat. It was a bitterly cold morning; I managed to stay warm by constantly moving and stretching. As I waited I cheered on the runners who were passing the relay exchange. I struck a conversation or two with some of the other folks who were also waiting for the racing partner to get to the exchange point. Around 8.20 or so Charanya appeared from the turn, and this was my cue to take my layers off and get ready. She gave me Hi-Five, I gave her my hoodie and off I went.

It took a long time for my body to warm up. My toes felt numb, my gloves didn’t help much but my brand spanking new shoes felt great! I had been battling some left knee issues, but it felt okay at that point. I was zooming past people, partly because I had just started the race and they were more than half way through it. I was running 7.5 min/mile pace for the first two miles, at which point I decided to slow down a bit in order to conserve some energy for the finale. This was about the time that my knee pain kicked in. This knee pain is a strange one, it happens on the inside bone on my left foot and no stretching/exercise makes it go away. I decided to suck it up and keep going. I passed the 10 mile marker and before I knew it, my pain was increasing. I decided to totally change my running form; I changed the way my foot landed - but it still didn’t help. So I decided to run by just straightening one leg- the right one. I somehow managed to keep the pace up in spite of a strange running step. Once I got to the 12 marker I forgot about the pain and dashed to the finish line.

All in all, it was a satisfying race. The course was easier than some of the other routes I have run in Austin. I managed to run a sub 50 min 10K, which is a PR for me. Mentally it puts me in good shape for my target race ahead. But the same cannot be said about my left knee. I have been icing/rehabbing it constantly for the past 4 days. It feels better, but I will not know for sure till race day Sunday!

Here are Charanya’s thoughts on how the race went!

I ran the 3M Half-Marathon relay this past weekend with another Team Asha runner Vishwas. It was the 2nd time that I was participating in a relay race – the 1st being the Silicon Labs Relay Marathon last year with G31 and G32. Relay races have a different dynamic to them – as a relay team member, you are not just focused on how you personally run, and how well you do, but also on how your relay portion contributes to the team’s success, and how your team members do. Vishy had been complaining about a knee pain the previous evening, but I knew that despite that pain, he would still run a great race – and I was determined to do my part in helping to acquire an overall good time!

I was running the 1st leg of the race – and started off slowly, letting the crowds pass me. I saw the Asha cheersquad at the start waving our brand new posters – which made me smile. The weather was cold that morning, but that worked for me since I LOVE running in the cold. I took off my jacket after the 1st mile and settled into a comfortable pace. I was carrying my own Gatorade, and did not need to stop at any of the water-stops. By Mile 2, I was doing sub 11-min miles, which for me is pretty good! I was excited at Mile 3 to see that I was maintaining that and started to pick up my speed a little. I ran past a few familiar faces along the way – and cheered on a couple of Asha runners as well. I was feeling great. We ran through the lovely Spicewood neighborhood and finally hit Mopac. I crossed the 5 mile marker right after the Mopac intersection and really picked up my pace. I had just a mile left and figured I might as well give it my all. Praveen – another enthusiastic Asha volunteer was cheering so loudly it really got me all motivated to keep up my speed! Before I knew it, I had crossed the 10K marker and reached the relay point shortly after. I had completed 6.4 miles in 1:07 h – which is a personal record for me! I was thrilled and gave a Hi-Five to Vish after taking his sweater and waved him off. I then rode the shuttle bus to the finish point.

Vishy reached the finish just 54 mins after the relay exchange – which is quite incredible! We had an overall time of 2:03h! Vishy’s knee was hurting a little but we were both excited about how the race had gone and stayed at the finish to cheer on the rest of the Asha runners and our friends who were running the race.

All in all, Vish and I had a really great race and truly enjoyed ourselves! We are both extremely grateful to the awesome Asha volunteers for cheering us on at the various points of the course – despite the cold, and boy was it cold!! We are both now looking forward eagerly to our target races this weekend in New Orleans! Hope we have a good time there as well!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

First Day!


Just got done with my first day at Rogue. I'm training for the Statesman Capitol 10k.

I have to say that it was quite enjoyable. Looking forward to the next 10 weeks!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Peek at our Team Asha Runners 2008-09 - Part 1

This year, for the first time ever, we have 56 runners, as young as 10 years-old to over 50+ years, and one of the most diverse groups we've had in Asha since its inception. So who are the amazing runners that make up the formidable force known as Team Asha?

In the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at each of the runners in our mentorship groups to learn a little bit more about who they are and what inspires them to serving underprivileged children by raising funds through running.

Mentorship Group: Akshay Prabhu, Arvind Viswanath, Bradford Hardie, Elango Rajagopal, Halley Claire Bass, Lakshmi Rao, Sharanya Rao (mentor), Stephanie Hagemeister & Stephanie Redding.

Akshay Prabhu has been a gungo-ho runner and volunteer from Day 1. He signed on without hesitation, trained regularly with Rogue for his half-marathon, volunteered for Asha's Show of Hope, was the successful bidder of the portrait auction (which proceeds went to Asha) and one of the winners of the Half-Bingo! An enthusiastic volunteer, Akshay woke up at 600am to help out the Decker Challenge. After making such a positive impact in Asha, he will no doubt power his way through the Austin Half-Marathon!

Arvind Viswanath is the classic strong-and-silent type! :) An Asha volunteer and Team Asha runner for 3 years, a past Asha Austin Chapter coordinator and present co-steward of Shrist Special Academy and Asha Samajik Vidyalaya, Arvind strongly believes in Asha's cause. He has completed his past two half-marathons in under 2 hours. He will blaze through his target race, the 3M Half-Marathon – humbly, quietly, swiftly.

Bradford Hardie is man of many talents. Bradford is a keen artist (check out his cheering poster) and an upcoming musician (guitar & vocalist). Although a newcomer to long-distance racing, Bradford had no trouble completing his first ever half-marathon, the San Antonio Rock-N-Roll in 2 hours 4minutes with just 2 months of training! He also actively fundraised and was one of the first to finish his fundraising commitment – and then went for more! There's no stopping him – at racing or fundraising! :)

Elango Rajagopal has had many interesting past lives – including being a former owner of a popular restaurant in Austin! A dedicated family man and proud daddy of two children, Raj juggles his time well – between training, working and spending time with family. Enthusiastic and cheerful, Raj is always seen with a big smile on his face. Raj completed his first race, the IBM 10K, in a fantastic time and was cheered on by his young children, who will no doubt grow up to follow their role model – who is an excellent example of dedication and commitment! We wish him all the best for his target race, the Austin Half-Marathon.

Halley Bass is a newbie to Austin from chilly Chicago. Even before moving to Austin, Halley signed up with Team Asha because of her passion to make a difference to the children from India, a place she grew to love after visiting over the holidays. Her commitment, enthusiasm and free-spirit have not only spurred her to train strongly and consistently, but she has become a regular attendee of Asha meetings and volunteered for Asha's Show of Hope program. She will be running her first-ever half-marathon on her birthday at the 3M Half-Marathon!

Lakshmi Rao is a Team Asha runner whose desire to make a difference is so strong, that she chose to sign up to run for Asha and trained remotely from St. Louis, Missouri! A doctor by training and presently a post-graduate student, this determined young lady took on the challenges of training alone and in the snowy winter of St Louis because she was motivated by Asha's cause. Training has not been easy to juggle with the harsh mid-west winter or the demands of her graduate program, but Lakshmi has not once looked back. She will be doing her first-ever half-marathon at the Austin Half-Marathon.

Stephanie Hagemeister is a bubbly, enthusiastic newbie triathlete and long-distance runner who was motivated to join Team Asha by her buddy, Stephanie Redding (more on the latter in a bit). At the end of tri-training season, Stephanie was inspired to join Team Asha after one of the ramp-up runs that she tried out, and cheerfully took on half-marathon training for a good cause. A strong and committed runner, Stephanie had little trouble with the training in spite of all that was on her plate. She plans to run both 3M Half-Marathon and the Austin Half-Marathon.

Stephanie Redding is the epitome of optimism. If you're having a bad day, spending 10mins with Stephanie will lift your spirits (and make you want to sign up for the next race). Her enthusiasm for running, triathlons and life, in general is only matched by her commitment to do good – to each and every person around her. As a returning Asha runner, Stephanie not only joined this season as runner but also as a Strides of Hope crew member, and additionally, brought on board her buddy and partner. Stephanie and Bradford have been a formidable fundraising force. In spite of injuries, Stephanie refused to let her spirits be dampened and is well-poised to set a new PR for her target race – the 3M half-marathon!

Stay tuned for the next Team Asha mentorship group!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bandera 50K

So it was finally here. The race that I am actually feeling trained for - Bandera 50K at the Hill Country State Natural Area (HCSNA) in Bandera, Texas on January 10, 2009. This is a very beautiful park, and typical Texas hill country - rugged. The trails are steep, rocky and flanked by sotol bushes with sharp thorny leaves. You slide on loose rock, climb over stone ledges and get scraped, cut and bruised by sotol and other cacti along the trails.

I am feeling good about this race, I have been running well this winter. Both physically and mentally, I feel ready for what surely is going to be a tough challenge. Here is the race course.

Pre-race (Friday)
Gaurav and I, after our customary invocation to the Taco Deli gods, drive into the park on Friday afternoon. As we reach, we see that the kids' race is just over. The wind is starting to pick up, so now would be a good time to set up our tent. We walk into the Lodge in time for packet pickup and the race briefing. Joe and Henry are giving the lowdown on the race course and what to expect, but all I can hear and sense is the atmosphere in the briefing tent, 'twas electric with anticipation and excitement from all the runners! Ah, friendly faces all around, chat meet shake-hands chat, and is that food over there, attack chop chow. It is dark and getting late, and I reluctantly tear away from the fun and head over, along with Naresh, to a-bar-a-bunk-house, a home accommodation in town.

The house is nice, it looks cozy and it is warm and Cris is making tea. Hello! How are you? How is the tea? I am done with tea, let me take my bags upstairs and get ready for the race. I am feeling brave, let me wear just a long-sleeved shirt for the race and drop my wind jacket in my drop bag that I can access 15.5 miles into the race. Yeah, and since I start with a long sleeve, the natural progression is to have a short sleeve shirt in the drop bag as well. Surely, if I am not frost-bitten by 15.5 miles, my bravado can continue on for 15.5 more.

Pre-race (Saturday)
My nose is all stuffed up. My cedar allergies are acting up, and I am not able to sleep. I sneeze, breathe hard and noisily and turn over many times, all to no avail but keeping Naresh awake. I wake up still excited but sorely lacking sleep, and head over to the park. I decisively stick to just a long-sleeved shirt, and am determined not to listen to any doubting Thomases in the form of Gaurav, who asks when I see him 15 minutes before the start, 'is that all you are wearing?'. In a sea of eskimos, I am dressed for a warm day at the beach. Almost. After informing him that all that separates his tent from becoming an unidentified flying object is one flimsy peg, I head out to the race start.

Race start to Boyle's
It is nice to see all my friends along the start line. Hi Cris, Oz, Justin, Tania, and hey Jeff, long time! And after a rather social gathering, we go. I cannot go out too fast, I start out slowly, breathe slowly, go slowly. I think I should line up behind Bhavesh and John, they seem to have the same nice idea of going slow. Oz is off in a flash, but my legendary determination wins through and I stay turtlesque.

Hey Roger, good to see you man! Roger is at the Last Chance aid station half a mile into the race, where we pass the station but get no aid other than Roger waving us away.

Cairns' climb is ahead, and I start slowly. I feel good, but climb rhythmically. I let some of the stronger climbers go, I need to run my own race not someone else's. There is a lot of mental talking-to-oneself going on. Wow, is that all that Cairns' has to offer? What a wimp! Here I go then, yippee yay, I see downhill. I find that downhill is good. And I said let me do the downhill. Cairns' goes by without making an impression, maybe Boyle has something bumpy to offer?

The uphill climb on Boyle's Bump starts out a tad gentler than that on Cairns'. This is almost enjoyable. I am not cold, and for once, I am in a position to commend myself on my sartorial choice. I come up along a ridge and I start running, it feels great. I take the Bump of Boyle in my stride and I am having a party down the other side. I stretch out my stride and move...

Boyle's to Nachos
As the downhill tapers off, I am letting the momentum carry me past the aid station at the 5 mile mark. I know Gaurav is supposed to be here, but I cannot see him initially. Hey Gaurav! I have everything I need, food and water, and I don't feel like breaking my momentum. So I just keep running and turn back to see Gaurav make some hesitant steps towards me. He decides wisely to not follow me and just tells me I am doing great. Which is a lie, but it still feels good to hear that. I look at my watch, and I realize that I have been doing 10-minute miles on the hardest section of the course.

John and I are doing good pace along the Sky Island trail. Rob the coach is up there, perched on top of the sky island. He tells us we are doing good. These hills are enjoyable, partly because I still have my head and it tells me that what goes up must come down. And I have just come up quite a bit, and go down the hill with glee.

As we near Ice Cream Hill, we see Damon and he's telling us we are doing good. Everyone lies on a day like this. Bhavesh catches up with us here, and we climb up. There is no darn ice cream up the hill, hey you dark-humored cynic! I am done feeling good now, I want Nachos.

Nachos to Chapas
Nachos! I take a small break here, re-fueling and putting a piece of banana in my mouth. I head out slowly, its a nice day for a soothing walk in the park. Five minutes into the aforementioned s. w. in the p., I hate to break it to myself but it must be done. Buddy, this is a race not a picnic, move it, will ya! Reluctantly, I break into a trot and maintain a steady shuffle. I pass Bar-O and for the first time, I am doing trails I havent been on before. I take it easy here, not because it is hard, but because I want to finish strong.

Chapas to Crossroads
The Chapas house and aid station comes out of the woods like an unexpected gift. I am so happy I just sit down and get into my Patagonia Capilene shirt, and start eating my tamarind rice. And that is about how far I get with the eating, the rice is hard and dry and I cannot eat. While I am still struggling with my picnic preparations, Cris walks in and lets me know what she thinks of my slow pace. I realize she is right. I just pick up a gel or two and head out into the wild.

I have stayed too long at the aid station, I am feeling cold and my body is not warming up. I try to pick up the pace but don't want to push it when I am not feeling warmed up. I continue my slow and steady shuffle and run into Crossroads. More friends here, it is just wonderful to see everyone. Jeanette, Jim and Jeff and more. 5 miles after parking at Chapas, I positively hunker down again at Crossroads. My mind goes, if there is food to be eaten, eat it. If there is a chair to sit, sit.

Cris turns in once again, she is just 5 minutes behind me at this point. Once again, she goads me into moving, thanks Cris! I pick up my reluctant body and head out into the Three Sisters loop.

The Three Sisters
I am in no mood to push uphills anymore. I take it easy, as easy as you like, climbing up. Surprisingly, I still feel good hurtling down and I do, down all the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters are three hills that you go up and down in rapid succession, and they do go by eventually and I hit upon the flat and downward mile back to the Crossroads. This is all familiar territory and it picks me up considerably, I start running well knowing that the aid station is not far away.

Surprise, surprise! Gaurav is outside Crossroads even as I run in, taking pictures. Bhaskar and Gaurav start fussing over me, and that perks me up so much that I want to just head out again and take on whatever comes my way! Gaurav fills my bottles. To the full, to the hilt...

My bottles are starting to feel heavy. Its just a 5 mile loop, mostly flat, and I start watering the plants along the trail. Better them than me at this point. I run/walk hesitantly here, for my mind is expecting the dreaded Lucky's Peak. I tell myself that I am never going to listen to anyone else's opinions, especially dreads, anymore and let them affect me. Lucky's eventually shows up and I struggle up that monster. I call this the second FUJI, J for my coach and race director Joe and I for idiot. Hauling your thingy over Everest at Mile 30 is not fun. But it gets over, all hills at Bandera do eventually get over.

And now it is just a mile more of fun flats and downhills. I pick up speed and excitement as I narrow the distance to the finish. Good to see Roger again, I must be close now. Stretch 'em legs boy, lets go, there's a party waiting to happen in just a bit. Just a bit. Just a bit.

Done. Done! Joe is standing at the finish clapping and cheering and puts out a hand. I smack his outstretched hand with my bottled hand. Sorry Joe, didnt mean to, just really excited. Joe is cool, hands me my medal and Gaurav comes in all smiles. I sit down for a while, enjoying this moment, it feels very good. I check my time, its under 7 hours which is nice. I had a reasonably good race, and given all the things that generally can and do go wrong in a race, I have a rather smooth affair. I am happy.

Lessons learned
I have had a good race, but I still learn. I learn to keep my body warmed up at all times, and to move through aid stations more quickly. And perhaps head out even slower at the race start. And I also realize that my race goes well when I am well-trained.

After eating continuously for hours on end, I wait around the finish area and cheer all the runners finishing. Savitha eventually rolls in with a big grin on her face, she has had a good race and tells us stories about her rolling down every hill on the course. More runners finish, and a lot of backslapping happens.

Course tear-down
At night, as the course tear-down gets underway, Gaurav and I head out to pull down the glow-sticks, ribbons and signs from a section of the course from Nachos to Chapas. Its almost 6 miles, but at night, it is very beautiful and we enjoy the hike a lot. The bright full moon casts a strange and beautiful halo around itself, and nature itself seems to be enjoying this night. We pull down ribbons and as we climb into Chapas, we join Joyce and others as they tear down the aid station.

It has been a long and tiring but enjoyable day. I am in the grips of a Bandera hangover for several days after that. And I cannot wait to go back there and race, and volunteer, and meet all my friends again.