Sunday, April 07, 2013

Back..yet again!

Dear Friends,

   I am returning to this blog after more than 2 years. Its been a turbulent yet a roller coaster ride in my life in the interim. I have learned a lot and spent more time with the children in many different ways. My time in the schools have yet again increased. I have backed myself to accept more responsibilities as well. It is heartening to see the number of volunteers from Runners High at the schools we support increasing each year. Our community has evolved and shaped into a beautiful world that supports causes and brings us all together.

  We work with many schools now. We have also trained older children of Ananya Trust to start coaching children in another initiative called Snehadaan. You can read more about our initiatives here -

    I write this post with a sincere request. An organization we work with is going through a tough phase. This happened because some institutions supporting them ran out of funds. Shristi Special Academy do wonderful work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The children and staff are coached for running by us. We have successfully integrated running into their curriculum. I would like to support them so that the staff can be paid salaries regularly, nutrition can be improved and the running expenses can be managed safely. The funds you all can help me raise might help them at least buy time to get the institutional support they have been seeking for a while. Here is more:

Shristi Special Academy
Shristi Special Academy is a registered society with a governing committee (Regd. Under Karnataka Societies Act). It is a non-profit organisation, headed by a team of trained, qualified and experienced special educators who feel the need today is to provide quality services and well designed and structured intervention programmes to children with mental retardation, autism or any other intellectual impairment. Shristi Special Academy has a unique set of programs designed to enable independence among the mentally challenged, developmentally delayed, and those with autism and attention deficit hyperactive disorders of all ages. Rehabilitation at Shristi includes therapeutic intervention with a focus on special education, sensory stimulation, physiotherapy, language stimulation, and occupational therapy. Founded in 1995, Shristi Special Academy works to empower physically and mentally disadvantaged individuals through education and training. The aim of our work is to help our beneficiaries develop the capacity to live independent and fulfilling lives. This involves age appropriate skill training and systematic interventions that lead students from school through to vocational training and employment.

Running and children at Shristi Special Academy
In the last year, children and staff from Shristi Special Academy started training for long distance running. The participants were from varied backgrounds - children with Autism, Mental retardation, Down's syndrome, Physiotherapists, Special educators, parents etc. all of them trained together along with runners from Team Asha under the guidance of Runners High. They started with very small distances focusing on building a routine and getting used to the rigor of a new physical activity in their lives. We targeted a few runs and started training towards it with about four days of running in the week. Slowly, the team started bonding together among themselves and also with the other runners. It was inspirational to see the children break out of their barriers and bloom with their running. They enjoyed the time outside and were very self motivated in showing up for workouts. The special educators started seeing marked changes in the classroom. The therapists have also seen a great growth in abilities. We have documented the change in the confidence levels, ability for social interaction etc. in the children. Each child was tracked and interviewed to understand the changes running was bringing in their lives. They all successfully finished their target runs along with the staff! Now, we have more no. of children and staff participating in the future training programs.

  At this point, the organization is in need of funds to even function normally through the year. A few years back I would do ultra runs over many hours and would get your attention to donate for this cause. I still am doing ultra runs :) - But, I do it more as a personal exploration - a journey outwards and inwards as well. I have been doing many runs in the Himalayas, over many days, in conditions that I have not been used to and challenging in many ways. I don't want you to donate because of a crazy run I did. It would be wonderful if you are inspired by the children of Shristi Special Academy who are running and see how their lives have transformed through running. Your support to Shristi Special Academy will go a long way in helping the children become independent, strong and live a life of dignity.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Coming back to Life.

Coming back to life (Click on link for song) is one of my favorites from Pink Floyd. I felt the title was apt for this post in many ways.

I am returning to this blog after a really long gap! Its been more than a year since I posted on this blog. Runners High as a new initiative has taken off well and we are at a point where we don't really advertise or solicit folks to join us - folks approach us and the tribe keeps growing! Our efforts with the kids also has bloomed into wonderful relationships and we can definitely see a marked change in the kids and schools we interact with. There are a lot of plans to extend and grow on the work done with the children. We are also striving constantly to unite the two worlds - i.e. get more involvement of the running community in the underprivileged schools. The year 2010 was memorable for me in many ways. It was a year since we started Runners High formally and was sort of a coming of age for Runners High. It was an exciting journey every week! Personally though it has been a rough time for me for more than a year. A lot of battles fought emotionally and many changes that caused the ugly head of self doubt to appear. They say ultra running is 90% mental and the rest 10% is also mental :) - I had a string of bad runs and could not meet my goals over many races. Questions and discussions with people made it a bit more tough -

" Why do you run so much? What is the point? Can't you do the same stuff you do without running so much? All runners are full of themselves - you just want to create a scene. "

Of course, they are all friends and meant only good. But, it made me seriously introspect. Why do I run? Does running define me? So, if I don't do well or don't run enough, does that mean I am not good enough as a coach, a runner or even a person? I realized that I was just putting pressure on myself and suddenly I had forgotten to have fun. When I made the shift from my previous existence, I thought I might end up with lots of time and that I could go on many crazy races :) - But, my involvement in various efforts leaves very little time to train on my own and to focus on many goals. I don't regret it one bit! All these efforts are very much connected with my running - in fact, the efforts are the soul! A year of DNFs (Did not Finish) is quite bad - I had dropped out of quite a few goals and felt a bit depressed as well. When, one loses confidence it shows in everything - I realized that both physically and emotionally I needed to do a lot of work on my core! Life always presents a lot of challenges and problems that you can't share with everyone - Every person deals with a lot of issues in life and I realized I am no different - one needs the courage to move on despite these hurdles. So, these struggling miles was education. I needed one run to change things around. I just kept telling race after race that it is around the corner.

It happened at Delhi. Thanks to Kavitha Kanaparthi, who organized a wonderful race in a beautiful course at Bhatti Lakes. I also got to meet wonderful people in that trip. Amongst many of them a few mentions would be Dickie Saluja, Rahul Varghese, Roger Henke, Ravi Raman, Vikram, Asha, Arun Bharadwaj and Dr. Rajat. Arun Bharadwaj inspires me and it was wonderful to meet the best ultra runner in India in person. His first reaction was to hug me and it really humbled me. Arun did a 160 miler at Bhatti Lakes and in his effort I saw what I was missing. The 12 hour finish in a hot and grueling 50 mile (80km) run gave me the much needed confidence and a ray of hope. After the run I met my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Rajat. The couple of days at his place was refreshing and we discussed a lot about running, life and running! As always Doc had a profound influence on my thoughts and actions. It was also a dawn of a certain realization - "Running does not define who I am, but it definitely does help me realize it."

Date: 16 October, 2010
Start time: 5:30 A.M, 16th October, Saturday.
End time: 5:40 P.M, 16th October, Saturday.
Duration: 12 hours 10 mins
Distance covered on foot: 80 kms

Running was always about having fun and being passionate. If speed were to decide who a good runner is, then I am an average or below average runner. But, who is to decide what makes a good runner? Speed, distance, style - does it really matter, if you love what you are doing and can derive a meaning out of it? Should artists be considered worthy for the accolades they win or for the joy their work of art creates? I like this quote by Steve prefontaine -

"A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding" - Steve Prefontaine

Through all the tough times there is one person I really look up to after my parents and family. Joe prusaitis - my coach, dear friend and mentor. After every setback I would send him an email. They say you should never hide anything from a doctor or lawyer. I think you should add your coach to that list! I poured all my woes to him and he gave me such great support and advice. He patiently made changes to my schedule, advised changes in the workouts and approach to training. His words of wisdom shined through like a beacon - "All you have to do... is be true to yourself. Never compromise with your integrity. But adjust everything else... as need be." When I finished the 50 miler and gained in confidence, it truly felt that 'we' turned it around and I knew how happy Joe would be.

After the 50 mile run, I did a few more weekends of long training runs. There was one simple mantra I started saying in the last loop of the 50 miler which I didn't stop repeating even after the Ultra :) - "I got this one no matter what!". Typical training would involve two hard back-to-back runs for two weekends followed by a rest week and then the pattern repeats itself. During the weekdays there were a couple of runs at a faster speed and a lot of strength training. I realized that doing the core workouts made a huge difference to my stability and injury prevention. I followed the physio, Preeti's instructions for the core and other stretches and as long as I was regular I had no issues! I had to do a few night runs before my 24 hour attempt. Due to the dogs, safety, rash cab drivers and various other reasons, there were really not many options to run in the night in Bangalore. I ran around a 400m loop around my apartment complex. Sometimes for 8 hours. To go easy on my muscles I switched directions every lap and kept a count of 26 for a break everytime. I used to stash water and food at the security desk. Those guys know me well and when I am running, they take a nice nap :)

The 24 hour run at Bangalore Ultra was an unique experience. I have attempted the 24 hour run there for the last two years. The first year I did 156 km and the next year (during my bad patch) I had to drop out at about 125km after 20 odd hours. This year I went in with a lot more determination. Some folks tend to think the idea of running in an event like this is more of a show off. But, the truth is that I need the help of others. The sea of people in the morning gives so much energy and strength to see me to the finish. I really bank on it! E.g. when Sabine cheers you on by calling your name out on the course loudly you feel a real energy that pushes you. Kavitha did an amazing job by sticking with me for the entire 24 hours! She biked and ran for 24 hours herself. It was invaluable support and made a huge difference in keeping me focussed. I kept a steady pace through out and only when the sun came out, I started withering. Thankfully, the sapping heat of Kaveri trail marathon and the Bhatti lakes run kept me prepared for anything. I just kept pouring water and cooled myself with ice on my head. I had an amazing crew - Manisha, Ajay Ganesh, Rajiv, Meenakshi, Manjula and many others supported me through the 24 hours. It did mean a lot to have such good friends who would take care of you on the run. This support system and a huge family of runners and friends made a 160kms in 24 hours possible! I did my best 24 hour run ever! Just when I thought these were the toughest times, I had one of my best runs!

Date: 13-14 November, 2010
Start time: 5:00 P.M, 13th November, Saturday.
End time: 5:00 P.M, 14th November, Sunday.
Duration: 24 hours
Distance covered on foot: 160 kms

After the Ultra my body took quite a beating because of the extreme temperatures. I was on antibiotics to treat a heat boil. A couple of weeks later it was back to training. I was going to aim for a 48 hour run on foot! By now I was a bit fed up with running around my apartment. Thankfully I found wonderful training partners and a super supporter! Vinod and Vinay ran with me through many of the training runs. Anish faithfully supported me with supplies and once rode on his bike with the supplies! We celebrated Christmas and New year with awesome night runs! I followed the 10 hr and 8 hr night runs with 5 hour runs the next day. Having Vinod and Vinay run with me in the second half of my long runs helped a lot! I realized what a difference it makes to have someone run along with you. At times, you might only share silence, but there is this bond and support you share as runners on the same road!

"None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful." - Mother Teresa

Strides of Hope is an unique event. It shows how powerful the strength of a community can be when we put in efforts together. It has gone a long way in bringing together communities and people from varying backgrounds. I am really proud to be associated with such an event that inspires people to come out and exercise for a just cause. A lot of my time was dedicated in this period towards organization of the event itself. What started as a simple goal for an individual has now transformed into a true community event! We reached out to so many people and communities. My goal was to contribute as many miles as I could to the event on my feet. Of course, the idea was to do a 48 hour run continuously. This would end the season for me. I was on a high after the 24 hour Ultra run and was looking forward to it! There was great excitement and yet there was a sense of calm before I started. Maybe, because I felt that event was already a success before we started. We had managed to get a lot of people to come on board and support the cause. I also had already raised Rs 1.5 Lakhs for Asha the day I started the run.

The run started at Ulsoor and I was fortunate to have Jacob Boopalan and Sam for company! They are wonderful people who made the first few hours just whizz past with their engaging conversations. It is really amazing how as runners you tend to get along with people so very easily. It somehow brings out a positivity or a sort of goodness in you! Jacob gave his experiences and stories from Kenya. It inspired me a lot to keep running. I had wonderful puliyogare and curd rice cooked by mom and moved to EGL for the night. Jacob kept me company till 2:00 A.M and he wanted to stop after that. I felt quite sleepy then and had a quick coffee. In the next loop, I brushed my teeth, changed a shirt and washed up - It felt like I had just woke up ! It was great to see Ankush, a volunteer from Goldman Sachs who helped us by staying awake through the night! Chidambaram and Rahul Warrier also were kind souls who sacrificed their sleep for a crazy guy who was ambling through the night! Everytime I thought, I might be stuck alone, I got someone to give me company! Rahul suddenly decided to run a loop in his jeans with me. Ramesh Palani came out of no where and cycled along with me to Cubbon early in the morning. I reached Cubbon at around 5:30 A.M and by then I had already finished 80K! Then a sea of people inspired me to go on! It was a new day and I decided that I will take it as 12 hour sessions. Preeti and Chandra stuck with me for close to 5 hours! I slowly got to know that it was a Bandh on that day! Well in my mind it did not matter. In fact, I thought it was cool, because we will have less traffic inside cubbon park and I was right! But, I knew a few schools will drop out because of the difficulties involved. Later in the day, as I saw agitated crowds and hoards of policemen just outside cubbon and everywhere in Queen's park, I started getting worried! Honda San who was running along with me all morning was the least perturbed :) - But, I knew what a riot could mean. Thankfully, our folks at the AID station were sensible enough to not confront the cops or anyone else. After a point some of the cops wanted to meet me to see who is this guy eating fruits and trying to run for 48 hours!

At around 1 PM, my batteries started burning out. I realized that I was getting quite beaten up and mentally the idea of going beyond 24 hours started bogging me down. Though it was hard, I wanted to sensible about this. So, based on Chandra's advice and my own assessment, I decided to break the run. I also felt, if I were to take a break I should take a proper break and come back strong. So, I stopped at around 2 and went to Chandra's place for a nap. Chandra was like a mom! She took such good care of me through the run and I don't think I could have done so well without her! All this after she was spearheading the entire logistics and doing her own run. I am just fortunate to have great friends! I came back at 9:30 to EGL to be greeted by Bhasker, Nari and Honda San! We also had Mathew, Preeti, Vinay, Vinod, Anish, Abhi, Chidambaram - yes, the whole gang :) - It was like a party. I was surprised that though there was stiffness in the quads, calves etc. I still could keep the same rhythm and I just continued where I left! This was in large part thanks to Preeti's soft tissue work. She helped me get some relief and stretch effectively before I started the second 'leg'. I went on running till around 2 AM and then fatigue started to hit me. All the talk about Dance bars and what not between Manish and Mathew failed to keep me awake :) - So, I decided to take a quick 2 hour nap. I came back refreshed and it felt like a good night's sleep! At 5:00 A.M, I started again with Preeti keeping me company. Many a times people ask me what do I think when I run. I see running as a meditative experience. If you try closing your eyes and let your thoughts wander, it wanders a lot - sometimes it dwells on certain things close to your heart, sometimes you just don't think anything. For me, if I am running with friends and chatting, then my thoughts are in the conversation. At other times, its about people I love and people who love me. I also think about the efforts we work with, the children I meet every week. Sometimes, letting your thoughts wonder is good. It can bring context to your run. If you are going through a challenging phase, thoughts which reinforce your beliefs, thoughts that justify your run now can be very important! It is also very important to keep a positive frame of mind. Its not easy to keep negative thoughts and bitter feelings out of your head. You need to remove the 'junk' from your head. When you are really in the zone, everything falls into place! You are no longer thinking, the run and you have become one - you feel your breathing, your foot steps, you start enjoying the run. Its an amazing feeling and all I can say is that you keep at it as long as it lasts!

Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. - Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire.

There were a couple of times in the morning when I thought I might have to take one more nap break, but, I told myself, I need to keep pushing it for later and the sheer adrenaline of finishing will take me through - it worked! Srini and Janardhan ran with me till Lal Bagh. Lal bagh was super crowded and we moved to K.R Park. Kanishka and Samuel gave me company along with Preeti in the last leg. I was getting excited and chatty, because I got more news on how good the event was and how well the cyclists had done. As the news came in about Ananya kids, the cyclists etc. it inspired me to keep at it! Samuel is a good friend from South africa and gave me great words of wisdom as we ran together. I only hope I get to run with him more often. Meghana gave me more stories about what happened at the AID stations. Anjana constantly amazes me with all the stuff she does! She cooked awesome food and was there till the finish!

We moved to Madhavan park for the last few laps. I found my dear grandmom, mom, dad and brother there. There were lot more friends and family as well! It was a festive atmosphere. I was pleasantly surprised to see Ashok Nath. It was nice of him to come there! Shashi from Ananya was there and it was inspiring to see all my friends come there for the finish! We trudged around the ground a few times and I had the privilege of finishing my longest ever run with my Grandmom!

Date: 21-23 January, 2010
Start time: 5:25 P.M, 21st January, Friday.
End time: 5:25 P.M, 23rd January, Sunday.
Duration: 38 hours (Two breaks for a total of 10 hours)
Distance covered on foot: 231.5 kms

You can learn more about the success of Strides of Hope from the press relase and a more detailed report available on the website -

Radha ganesan and her crew helped us through out by photographing and video taping the run. Many many volunteers helped take care of the AID stations, registration desk and collected donations as well. Lots and lots of runners came out to support by running along. Honda-san taught me humility, brotherhood and determination as he chugged km after km. He did his longest run himself and was for sure holding himself back to pace me! As many insensitive folks teased him on the road, Honda-san waved to them and smiled! Ya, he didn't understand what they said, but his smile silenced them!

I am sure I missed a lot more people who made this season possible for me. Its not intentional and I really do respect your support! I learned a lot, grew as a person and hope to make a difference as much as I can. All this couldn't have been possible without a team of people behind me. As Ultra runners and endurance athletes, its easy to get into a bubble, living in your own 'invincibility'. But, the season made me realize we are all vulnerable - I saw my fears, I lost to them a few times. Then, I also learned how my family, friends and everyone else - even people I don't know are behind me to fight these fears. It is this whole team that's behind me that gives me my feeling of invincibility. Without them, I am nothing. My passion lives, thanks to you all!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Runner's High

“Dream what you want to dream; go where you want to go; be what you want to be, because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do.” - Anonymous.

Its going to be almost a year after returning to India. I had suspected that time would coagulate and I would be lost in the whirlpool of life and work. On the contrary, it has been an eventful journey. Like peeping through the window on a train journey through the country, I have realized that most times the simple things are really the most beautiful rather than the more popular or imposing structures. To live in those moments that make you smile and spread it amongst others, though not a simple task only needs you to start with a smile :)

Running has meant a lot for me in the last few years and it takes me along on a wonderful journey still. Here is one of those moments in that journey - Runner's High

Team Asha in Bangalore.

Its been an eventful running season with Team Asha in Bangalore. We had about 40-50 runners in all who ran for Team Asha and finished their target races. For the first time a Team Asha program trained and helped children from the projects we support to run different target races. 16 children in all participated in the program and successfully ran different races, starting from a 5K to a marathon. The program has moved on and we see running in different perspectives now. Personally, it has been a great learning experience for me. It was quite rewarding too! I wonder if I give enough to gain so much from this experience..

Here are a few links summarizing the events -

Team Asha Blog
Team Asha rocks KTM!!
Team Asha in Thulir
Team Asha in Ananya
Ananya and Team Asha
Team Asha in Auroville
Team Asha rocks Auroville!!
Thulir's experience

We look forward to taking the program forward and see it as a means of reaching out to the underprivileged in different ways - be it raising funds, training individuals, using running as a means of education and so on...