The journey so far…

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I participated in the Sabah Adventure Challenge 2014 with 7 friends from Singapore this April. In the months that led to the race, we trained together, ate together and many a times were in agony together. From a group of acquaintances who met each other once in a while we became a small, close knit family. A big shout out to Ray Loh who took time from his busy schedule to train us, tend to our complaints about our pains and fix it for us in the best possible way. Also, big hugs to John, Lynn, Hwee Xiang, Sook Fong, Yilun, Jenny, Ray and Sarah (who probably was the most sincere in doing her homework even though she was just training with us and was not participating in the race).

During one of our training runs...

During one of our training runs…

After collecting our bibs for SAC2014.

After collecting our bibs for SAC2014.

During our race...

During our race…

Post Race celebration

Post Race celebration

Post race photo session at the hotel poolside :)

Post race photo session at the hotel poolside 🙂

SAC 2014 is one of the best things that happened to me. During the race, I met so many amazing people that I am still inspired by them every single day. Though I wish I could have done better and had not finished last, I am extremely grateful and proud of myself for having finished the race and having given it my all!

This blog is not a detailed race report, below are some of the write-ups which will give you an idea of what this race entailed:
http://runner.azeanic.net/races/race-reviews/sabah-adventure-challenge-2014/ http://www.tristupe.com/search?q=SAC&max-results=20&by-date=true http://whatrun.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/race-report-sabah-adventure-challenge-day-3/

In October 2006, after 9 years of pain and my knees getting locked, after much research by Nithya and loads of encouragement from Eddy, Amit and Nithya, I went through an arthroscopic procedure by Dr. Rakesh Nair to get the “loose body” in my knee removed. The “loose body” was 13mm long and had caused quite a lot of damage in the knee region. After the surgery, I was told that the state of the knee was very bad and I will need to be really focussed on my physio and exercises to get back to walking normally. I would have to relearn to climb up and down stairs.

This completely broke me down. I was expecting the surgery to be a magic switch that would suddenly correct everything. What ensued was a nightmare that took me a long time to accept. It took me more than a month to be able to take a shower on my own. It would take me an average of 15 minutes to climb the three steps to my workplace from the lift, so one can imagine how frustrating it was. The difficulties of being physically handicapped in Mumbai was suddenly a reality for me.

The only thing that kept me from completely going mad was the encouragement from my family especially Amit and Nithya. Amit would remind me of how much I loved to run and maybe this surgery is the key to me being back to normal soon. He taught me how to swim so that I can do my exercises with least impact. Nithya would focus on keeping tabs on my physio exercises and remind me to keep at it no matter how difficult it was. My coach, Suhas Nair’s son Suhel had also gone through a knee surgery around the same time and so we would team up together and do our knee strengthening exercises. The company definitely helped.

The one thing I still remember from that time is looking out of the bedroom window and imagining I was running long, far and fast. I would think of running free, without knee cap support, without limping and more importantly, without pain. Forests, hills and rivers were always a part of this day dream.

GE Women’s run 5K in 2009 was my first race after my surgery. It was tough and I really had lost touch with running but I managed to complete it. After completing the race, I cried in happiness like I ran 100 kilometres. It was proof I could run again. Now I needed to double the distance. I took my time. GE Women’s Run 2010 was my first 10K. I took over an hour and half to complete it. Again it was not easy but it was just something I had to do.

After my first GE Women's 10K

After my first GE Women’s 10K

In 2011, Amit and I decided to go for a trek to RoopKund (in the Indian Himalayas) and started training for it. Again, it was very difficult for me. I wanted to give up even before I started. The trick of taking one step at a time and a lot encouragement from Amit saved me from giving up. We were always the last to return to the campsite but just the fact that I managed, made me all set for the next day. Thanks to being on the trail for so long with the locals, we managed to make a bond with them that will never break.

Roopkund Trek in 2011

Roopkund Trek in 2011

Highlight of 2012 was another Himalayan trek in early October and my first half marathon in November. I ran my first overseas marathon in Jan 2013 and mid 2013, I joined Lose to Win which is a program by the Health Promotion Board of Singapore that helps people in their weight loss journey. I met a lot of wonderful people including the SAC 2014 team thanks to LTW.

First Half Marathon - GE Women's 21K

First Half Marathon – GE Women’s 21K

In the first race after joining LTW (SAFRA 5KM fun run) I stopped wearing my knee cap support. After completing the race, with the finisher medal in my hand, I cried again to my heart’s content. I was finally free. Free from my knee cap support. I went on to run the Tampines Run 10K, GE Women’s Half Marathon and the Mumbai Half Marathon 2014 without knee cap support.

My moment of truth was when I managed the same with SAC 2014.
Though I finished last, I felt proud that I managed to hold on my own and not break down every time I saw a slope or an uphill section. I stayed strong throughout the three days and did not let my smile go away even for a second. If I felt too tired, or the route was too tough for me, I remembered the days after my surgery when I would look out of the window and see myself running in the trails, past rivers and in the hills (just that the dream did not have temperature details :P, never imagined it would be so hot)… and got right back to being happy. I ran, I walked, I crawled, but I did it with a smile.

SAFRA 5K - First run in so many years without knee cap support

SAFRA 5K – First run in so many years without knee cap support

Shape run 10k - First 10K without knee cap support

Shape run 10k – First 10K without knee cap support

GE Womens 21K 2013 - First half marathon without knee cap support

GE Womens 21K 2013 – First half marathon without knee cap support

Tampines Run - First run pacing my dear friend Linda

Tampines Run – First run pacing my dear friend Linda

With Linda and Belinda... Felt great to be with them while they completed their first half marathon :)

With Linda and Belinda… Felt great to be with them while they completed their first half marathon 🙂

After Mumbai Marathon 2104...

After Mumbai Marathon 2104…

With my well earned finisher tee from SAC and the finisher medal...

With my well earned finisher tee from SAC and the finisher medal…

I am very grateful to all those people who have been a part of my journey in their own way. Being there for me and helping me through my tough times. Laughing and crying with me when I needed the company. Pushing me when I was lazy and picking me up when I was low…

This blog is a reminder for me to not be lazy and start getting back on track to achieve everything I dreamt of and more… This is my new beginning…

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep…

-Robert Frost

Seriously! Is nothing off limits any more?

I woke up to the news of what happened at the Boston Marathon… I was saddened, horrified and angry at the same time. This is really not done. Is nothing off limits any more? Schools, public transport, offices… nothing? And now this.
Running a marathon is symbolic of the determination, hard work and will power. The guys who run at the Boston marathon are a source inspiration to people all around the world. If I had lived in the US, I would have been there at the finishing line too, cheering the runners. To target these people who were there just to get their dose of inspiration and to support the runners is so cowardly.

My heart goes out to everyone out there and also to the athletes and runners all over the world. Today is a very sad day for all of us.

Run Mumbai Run!

January 20, 2013, 05:40 AM –

“Ganpati Bappa Morya…” The loud roar calling out to Mumbai’s favourite elephant God Ganesha made me realise how different this race is going to be. Yes! I am talking about the starting line up for the Mumbai Marathon (21K)… An European runner who I had just met asked me, “what are all these people shouting?” I replied, “Ganpati Bappa Morya is the salutations to the Elephant God who is considered the remover of all obstacles. We usually call out to Him before we start any good activity.”  She asked, “So, all these people here are Hindus?”. I replied, more to myself than to her, “That’s the best part of my city… your religion, class, caste, language, nothing matters… we all dance to the procession of Ganesha and love wada pav to the core!” And so began my run!!!

Let me go back a little in time… The day I had to leave for the airport…

January 16, 2013

Amit was working from home and had informed his workplace that he will be taking a short break to drop me at the airport. I went to do some last minute shopping and most people I met that morning, knew that I was going to Mumbai for the half marathon. They also knew about the condition of my knee. The only common advice I got from everyone, including Amit, Nithya and Eddy was – You are running for a good cause. Just try to complete your run. Don’t bother about the timing or anything.

To be honest, I was quite stressed out about the 3 hour cut off. I completed my last 21K in 3hr 16m. I was counting on the spirit of Mumbai to help me shave off 16 minutes from my previous timing.

January 16, 2013 – On the way to the airport, waiting for the cab…

On the way to the airport..

Amit and I had lunch at the airport after checking in and guess who came to wish me luck…

With Sufian just before immigration –

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I got into the flight very apprehensive. It was my first run outside Singapore in the recent past. Mahipal – a kid from the village where we usually trek, was already in Mumbai, he was going to be at the airport to pick me up with Nikhil. Though I was going to have more than my usual number of supporters physically present on the race day, I was very nervous. There were a lot of things playing on my mind not just related to the race as I looked out into the sunset from my plane….

In the plane...

A sweet couple from London who were visiting Singapore were seated next to me and within 5 minutes into the discussion, they made a donation for Cankids (when they learnt I was running the marathon for a cause). Thank you Uncle and Aunty for your sweet gesture. You gave me the sign I needed. Everything was going to be fine and this trip to Mumbai was going to be unforgettable.

Uncle & Aunty on the plane

Coming back to the race day… Nikhil stayed over so that I do not get stressed out about him getting late to pick me up. I got up at around 3 in the morning, actually could not sleep. I know it is very important to rest well before the race day but I guess I was too excited and anxious at the same time. My mom was ready with the tilak from SiddhiVinayak (her way of wishing me good luck) and my dad gave me a hug and wished me luck. Nikhil and Mahipal were ready and we left for the race venue. We got there at around 4:25 AM and I was surprised to see that the volunteers were just getting started. Well, and the gates to the holding area opened around 10 minutes later than what was mentioned. Somehow, none of this affected me. My enthusiasm was growing leaps and bounds and I was grateful to have the chance to run in my city for a cause that was growing so close to my heart. I quickly used the toilet provided for the runners and started walking towards the holding area. I met an aunty who was 73 years old and it was her 3rd half marathon. She gave me a big hug and wished me luck. I also met some really young ladies who were so inspired and inspiring at the same time.

before the race

We all wished each other a great run and geared up for the start. On the dot at 5:40 AM, huge cheers and roars filled the atmosphere and we began the run. I was running faster than I intended to and knew that I would not be able to keep up the pace but the atmosphere was too charged UP and I decided to go with the flow. The sight of the Sea Link and the chance to run on it was making me feel so good and excited that I kept going.

I got pushed a couple of times and no one seemed to maintain any lane discipline at least at the start, but I decided to ignore it and enjoy my run. When I reached the start of the Sea Link, I silently thanked my family and friends for being there for me.

Towards the end of the Sea Link, I saw a lot of people lined up on the sidewalk. I assumed they must be making pictures. I did strike me that there were no women making pictures. Thankfully, I just wanted to run because all those guys were peeing. It was very funny and weird at the same time.

When I got out of the Sea Link and entered Worli, the roads were lined with people cheering hard at the runners… Some of them were offering biscuits and bananas… I kept thanking as many people as I could, because I was already experiencing the famous Mumbai hospitality that so many people in Singapore spoke to me about. As I kept running, at some point the 42K runners were on the other side of the road. I decided to give back some of wishes… I cheered and clapped for each of them as I ran and loved it when the guys on the other side of the road reciprocated.

Then came the stretch at Haji Ali. The durgah looked so beautiful in the morning, glowing in the golden rays of the morning sun. There were some DJ stations in this stretch and I also found out later that the guy who was cheering the runners like crazy was actually Salman Khan! At this point, I just wanted to get to the Kemps Corner flyover where Kajol, her friends, my parents, Mahipal and Nikhil were waiting. I finally got there and spent a few good seconds hugging them all… when Nikhil urged me to start running again…

Some pics from the cheering squad –

kajal 12 13

I have never had posters made for me, this was such a surprise. Thanks Kajol, at the cost of sounding very egocentric, I must tell you that I simply loved it 🙂

From here on, the last 5 Kms was a challenge. Just a few metres after meeting Kajol and her cheering squad, a very sharp pain shot through my thighs making it very difficult for me to even walk. But I decided to keep moving on slowly. The crowds kept cheering on but I started panicking. I had come this far and I really wanted to finish this race. I was dejected but was not yet ready to give up. At this point, I was walking very slowly on the side of the road, when I saw this kid with his dad, holding a plate full of eclairs. He offered some to me. I usually do not eat anything when I run (walk in this case) so I thanked him sweetly and walked on. I heard him tell his dad in a sad voice “Nahi Liya” – translates to she did not take it. I don’t know why but I walked back to him and took one and ate it in front of him. He offered to take the wrapper and dispose it off for me. As a final note he shouted, “run didi run… you have the energy now”. It was so cute and genuine that I had to start running at least for him to keep his faith. Thus I started running again albiet very slowly.

All through Marine Drive, there were people cheering the runners and making us feel no less special than the elite runners I was gaping at on the other side. When I neared Churchgate station and I had run for around 2 hr 52 min, there was a decent chance that I could complete this race before the official cut off time of 3 hours. I reached the 100M to go mark and saw that the elapsed time was 2:57:03… I ran like a maniac and completed in 2:57:25… My runkeeper timing showed 2:55:38… I was so happy.

This is not a great timing as far as most regular 21K runners are concerned. For me, it is an achievement. I felt so happy that just a few years back walking 21 metres without a break was a challenge and now here I am running 1000 times that distance. Everyone who was a part of this journey with me, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. This medal belongs to you!

Medal

Thanks for reading!

Running for charity…

Many people generally ask me why do I run for charity?
Would it not be easier for me to just donate some money and be done with it?
You would still be contributing for a cause…

I think it is really a very personal choice on how you would like to contribute.

I would like to list down my reasons for running for a charity –

  1. Running for a purpose
    I always loved to run. A couple of knee surgeries completely crushed my confidence and the fear of not being able to run ever again was very real. In times like this, my journey to start running again was very slow and sometimes demotivating. The idea of running for a charity was a very major motivating factor for me. I ran my 5K after my surgery in 2010, followed with it up with a 10K in 2011 and a couple of 10Ks in 2012. I ran my first 21K on Nov 11, 2012 raising funds for Singapore Heart foundation. I will run my first marathon on Jan 20, 2013 for CanKids (India). It gives me a purpose that allows me to look beyond my incapabilities and work towards achieving something for a bigger purpose.
  2. Helping spread the word
    There are a lot of people doing many good things. All these people need help. There are a lot of people who want to do something and help in some way. They just don’t know how to go about finding the right charities etc. I just try to make it easier to help people get closer to the causes that they want to contribute.
  3. Running for a charity pushes me to train hard
    Sometimes my laziness rules over me and somehow I cannot get out of my bed to go to train. Running for a charity helps me wake up in the morning to train because I know I owe to all those people whom I am running for. I also owe it to all those people who contribute to the charity I am running for.
  4. Reaching a wider audience
    A friend of mine pointed this out to me. I might donate $50 for a charity.
    But by running for a cause, if I get even 10 people to donate for me, I can actually end up raising 10 times the money.
    It makes me feel good that all this will go for a good cause and of course, more the merrier.
  5. Making new friends
    I meet a lot of like minded people who run for charity or are there just to cheer the runners. Some of them are people who I will never come across in my life otherwise. I am grateful and sincerely appreciate their presence and inspiration in my life.

To cut the long story short, I run for a charity, because I can and I want to!

If any of you want to contribute to my upcoming races, please leave me a comment here…I will get back to you on how to contribute…

Thanks all for reading! Keep fit!

First shopping trip for a trek…

Last June, my husband Amit and went for our first trek to RoopKund in the Indian Himalayas. It was a 5 day trek and we signed up for the trek through IndiaHikes. There are too many experiences and memories from this trek and I have made a promise to myself that I will document everything I can. I hope this will help other novice trekkers like me (even at a cost of everyone discovering my complete ignorance about trekking gear)!!! 

I would like to limit this blog to my first ever trek gear shopping trip. I will be coming up with the gear reviews and my learning as a novice trekker on how to select gear in my upcoming blogs. 

We started preparing for our trek in June 2011 from February 2011.  I had to leave for a trip to Amsterdam in early March 2011 for 2 weeks. Amit promised to do his research on trekking gear and give me a report when I am back. I was happy with that but I did tell him that I would be happy to go through his choices but the final decision on what to buy for myself would rest with me. February flew by and so did March. I was back from Amsterdam and found myself looking at Amit’s list. I was not sure about the list. To be frank, I did not think we need to go to stores that sell hardcore trekking equipment because in my mind we were not doing anything major and it was just our first trek and I was not sure if I would ever want to trek again.

Anyway, to cut the long story short, I made my own list of requirements for my trekking backpack after researching extensively on the internet –

  • It should be comfortable
  • It should be light
  • It should be 65L (As mentioned in the IndiaHikes list of things to bring)
  • It should look good (yes – this was a requirement when I started)
  • It should be a backpack custom made for women 

I could not believe my luck when I saw the department store in my neighborhood stocking trekking backpacks (Yes! They were stocking Trekking Backpacks for a limited period). They satisfied all my criteria and the colors were so cool that I could not decide what to pick. I wanted to help to make a choice. This is when I saw a big smirk on Amit’s face. He told me, “All of them look great. But before you pick one of these, why don’t we check my list out? Let’s just go to each of the specialty store mentioned in my list and if you don’t find anything better you know where to get your backpack from!” We also zeroed in on a deep violet backpack at the department store.

The next day we set out to go to all the stores that Amit had shortlisted. I am not going to name names here but the first 2 stores we went to was a major disappointment and it was also very heartbreaking for me. I am overweight and quite insecure about it. At every moment in those stores, I was worried that one of them was going to tell us, “fat people don’t trek or something to that extent”. Thankfully, it never came to that. Most of the cases, we did not get much help, and I was 100% sure that I am going to be a proud owner of a deep violet backpack from the department store (at least the staff was friendly)!

Amit told me, there is one last place in his list that he would like me to have a look at. By this time, I was quite depressed, but I wanted to get over with it. When we reached Camper’s Corner (yes, that was the last store in the list, and I guess Amit wanted to save his best for the last), we were greeted by extremely friendly staff.

Chris was the first one to approach us and asked us if there is something he can do to help us. I started explaining to him that we are planning to go for a trek and we are planning to buy a backpack. He showed us the choices they had and also explained to us how to go about checking if the bag was comfortable, he also helped us by adding some weight inside the bags so that we have idea how will the bags behave when weight is added to it. During this extensive demo of the bags, at some point Calvin and Sam joined the discussion too and gave some tips and pointers. We found our bags – Mine a Gregory Z65 and Amit chose a Gregory Baltoro 65.  After choosing the bags, we moved on to apparel, trekking poles and trekking boots. I still clearly remember our first conversation where Sam explained to me with a lot of patience that you don’t need 5 sets of pants for 5 days in the mountains. Just one will do 🙂 We ended up completing most of our shopping for the trek that evening.

Some lessons learnt on our maiden trek gear shopping trip –

  • If you have decided to go on a trek and have started preparing for it, stop judging yourselves because no one else is judging you.
  • Even if it is your first trek and you are not sure if you will ever go for a trek again, it still helps to invest in good, at least decent equipment such as backpacks and trekking boots etc.
  • Research, research and more research – try and find out more about your trek, find out if there is an option for some help in carrying your main stuff so that you can just carry a day pack, find out more about the weather during your trekking period – for example, it is going to be raining through your trek, it makes more sense to buy a waterproof backpack rather than buying a water resistant one with a rain cover.
  • Ask for advice – sometimes people assume that you know what you are looking for and do not want to be pushy (maybe that’s what happened in the first two stores we visited). Most people working in stores selling trekking equipment love the outdoors are more than willing to help you. Be vocal if you need help.
  • Do not be too rigid about your requirements, your comfort is more important that the color and the looks of the product that you will be carrying. For example – I was looking for a bag made specifically for females, when I started trying the bags, I realized that bags for women were typically for the ones who are petite and I felt a bag for men was better suited for my shoulders which are quite broad. The choice is quite personal and let comfort be the first thing on your list.
  • Budget – you might be surprised that trekking gear and apparel are quite expensive (if you compare them to their counterparts that will not be used in a rugged environment). Remember that all these products have been built to last. The quality of these products is very good and the quality justifies the cost. Look at it as an investment especially if you plan to go on more treks in the future.

I will soon be back with reviews for all the gear we have been using so far on our trek.

Until then, keep trekking all!