Monday, November 2, 2009

Readings on running

While training for the Silicon Valley Marathon I had recently run, I read a lot of articles in magazines, newspapers and online. Some of those articles are generic enough to be interesting to anybody interested in sports. Even I came across an excellent article about the novelist Haruki Murakami, in which literature and running seem to intersect, and where my interests also converge to.

These are the links I recommend to read even if you are not into running. The New Yorker articles are especially great examples of non-fiction.

Peter Hessler's article on the winning of Meb Keflezighi, an Olympic silver medal winner but who was once written off due to injuries, in the New York City Marathon this year.

New York Times account of Meb Keflezighi's winning of New York City Marathon.

A great article by Peter Hessler that was published in New Yorker prior to the Beijing Olympics, which narrates how the culture of running has been evolved since 1970's in America into a popular sport as we know it today. Also it profiles Ryan Hall who had been training at Mammoth Lakes and an Olympic medal prospect at that time.

Haruki Murakami: The Running Novelist. A excellent story about writing and staying fit. (Needs subscription to read the full version online.)

This article is about those runners who take short cuts in finishing and even winning marathon by running short. Sometimes getting a medal is far more important than achieving a personal goal legitimately :-)

Children were allowed to run in marathons earlier and some of them did very well.

A good article exploring the compatibility of human body for distance running

Sometimes there is very little 'running' involved in finishing a marathon. Where do we cross the line, or do we need to do that at all?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Running my first marathon

Though I had been specifically training to run this year's Silicon Valley Marathon held in San Jose, I wasn't sure whether I would be able to run it up until the last day. A week before the event Sony was down with fever, and by end of the week Amala got flu. It was clear that flu was hitting me also as I felt drowsy and had slight running nose. On Saturday I took 2 Tylenol tablets and by end of the day I started feeling better.
The customary carb loading started from lunch on Saturday with pasta and roasted chicken bought at Safeway. For dinner I just ate the left-over.

Vinaya had registered for 5K walk to do it with her friends. As Amala's fever worsened it was almost certain that she had to stay home to take care of the baby; otherwise Sony was planning to babysit while Vinaya would be away for the event for about 2 hours.

It seems I was very excited. Though I went to sleep early I couldn't sleep for long time. And I was woken up by some alarm from the street at 4a.m.; and I couldn't sleep after that. I could only sleep for about 4 hours total. I read somewhere that such things can happen and one should sleep more on the previous night; my 8 hours sleep on Friday really helped.

Vinaya also got up that time and said Amala is not showing any improvement and she had to skip the event. Not only she lost the chance to participate in a fun event, but I would miss the company of my family at the finishing line also :-(

Soon after getting up at 5a.m. I drank a cup of instance coffee with milk, and ate wheat Uppumavu with a banana. Then I took a hot shower and got ready. At about 6a.m. I drank a 20 oz bottle of Gatorade. Vinaya had called for taxi and at 6.15a.m. it arrived. After one more visit to the bathroom I was on my way out to run my first marathon.

The starting point was in San Jose downtown at Park Ave and Almaden Blvd (near the Tech Musuem area), only about 3 miles from my home. But the roundabout trip to that location due to road-closings for the event cost me about $20. Yet I had to walk few blocks and I reached the starting point more than 20 minutes before. I quickly checked in my bag with UPS, but I was slow to locate the port a-potties and had to wait on a long line. Fortunately I could empty my bladder just before the gun went off at 7a.m.

The weather was superb and it was actually little dark when the race started. I had to hold my sunglasses in hand. But while covering next couple of miles the day light fully brightened the city streets that seemed still in slumber except for the few small gatherings of cheering people along the side, and through the tree branches the sun rays crept through.

The initial stretch of about 6 miles was on the city streets and later through the Willow Glen area before it hit Los Gatos Creek Trail, which I am very familiar with as I did most of my training there. Along the trail, there were hardly anybody on the side to cheer, but there were few morning runners and walkers, even some with their dogs which seemed to obstruct the runners. Such things seem to give the event an unprofessional air; no wonder not many people take part in it though there are plenty of running enthusiasts in Bay Area. The organizers should do something to avoid dogs, bikers and roller skaters from the course during the designated time for the race. If they can get city blocks to be closed or controlled for this event, why not the dog-walkers on Los Gatos Creek Trail?

The race progressed along familiar grounds up until Vasona Park. My bladder was full again and I used an opportunity to take a leak there. (It is important to stop drinking fluids 2 hours before the race. You can start drinking again once the race started. I drank my Gatorade only an hour before the race, and that planning misstep might have slowed me at least couple of minutes.)

After reaching the wooden bridge over Hwy 17(??) in Los Gatos the course exited from the trail and  turned around to enter Los Gatos High School grounds. The 1/2 marathon ended there on the stadium tracks, and full marathon continued briefly along a beautiful Los Gatos residential area behind the high school.

The first challenge I faced was there, a small hill that was more of an exception on an otherwise flat course. Running that up was tough but the rest of the course was a gradual descend until it again entered Los Gatos Creek Trail, in the opposite direction, just before Vasona Park. By that time, strangely my hip muscles started tightening and paining; I never used to have that problem during long runs. Looks like my taking 2 rest days before the race had stiffened muscles and I didn't stretch properly. That was an ominous sign as I only passed half way at a speed little ahead of my planned 9 mins per mile target, and any slowing down could easily derail my planned finishing of the race in less than 4 hours, and at worse I might not be able to finish if the stiffening would become muscle cramp. I started running cautiously and slowly after that.

I walked by most of the aid stations briefly for about 15 seconds and drank sports drink (the taste was horrible, why couldn't they provide Gatorade) and water alternatively. I didn't want to get exhausted and then forced to walk. I guess that strategy worked; my legs didn't pain at all, but I had a brand-new problem on my hips instead.

By the time the return trip on Los Gatos Creek Trial was completed and I entered the San Jose city streets, 21 miles had been covered. During my training, I didn't run more than 21.5 miles; therefore I was in the  uncharted waters on the San Jose city streets. I was tired and the hips muscles were stiffening more and paining which prevented me from increasing the speed to do away with the ordeal I was in by finishing it faster, and therefore I had to endure the pain of running a marathon for the next 5 miles in slow motion.

I read stories about runners bonking and at worst going crazy etc.  beyond the 22 mile threshold. (After I told Sony about that, whenever I will be out running he would always check if anybody on the street is  running naked, and upon my return ask sheepishly if anything happened during my run  :-) )

At every nook and corner I was looking for the next mile marker, and whenever I located one, its mere sight gave me immense pleasure.  The joy of running a marathon is not only about achieving something, but it seems to also include putting your body through a controlled torture and then obtaining some gradual relief stride by stride; something like the Shias and the followers of South Indian god Murukan are used to in celebrating their devotion by hurting themselves and drawing pleasure from it.  I tried thanking the people cheered me on the way to forget about my pain. I could see that some runners behind me picking up speed and overtaking me as the finishing line approached. I also picked up little bit of speed and tried to get there as early as I could. But my hip muscles pulled me back :-)

When I got to the 25 mile mark, I knew that I will be able to complete the run as per my plan; there were about 15 minutes to 4 hours and unless I wouldn't be totally crippled by some muscle cramps I would make it.

The finishing line was set on the lawns of Discovery Meadow; not far from the starting point. While I was entering the lawns after crossing the 26th mile mark, one lady who looked like in her 50's passed me giggling. I wanted to race her and finish on a brighter note but again my aching body parts couldn't  pull that act together.

Once I saw the arch and everything at the finishing line, and made sure that there wasn't much distance to get there, I started sprinting to impress my friends who told me that they might show up. When I crossed the finishing line I threw my arms into the air for possible pictures and friends. Joji actually took one picture and here it is with the post.

As it is clearly captured in the picture I could finish the race in less than 4 hours- 3:57:16 as per the official timing at . I finished 244th out of all the 767 runners who managed to finish the marathon.

One more midlife crisis projects checked off :-)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Obama's healthcare bill should have a public option?

This is a very long reply I provided to someone who asked this question on Facebook. I apologize if you are reading this again.

Most of us (well, if you live in the U.S.) are very well covered by our employers, and so either we are indifferent to the ongoing discussions on healthcare reform bill, or we are just scared that any change in the status quo will affect us negatively. Please note that employment is not a permanent setup and you might find yourself in the open market to buy health insurance coverage if there would be a situation when no employer subsidized insurance will be available to you. Even for healthy individuals insurance premiums are high and every year that only goes up, and insurance companies try to spend lesser share of every dollar they take in as premium. The greedy providers on the consumption side of insurance dollars only worsen the problem. If you or your family member have a pre-existing condition you might not even be able to buy insurance coverage. People face such situations end up in bankruptcy as medical bills are too high to pay from your pocket (like it is still possible in countries like India) for middle class families. One of the main causes of bankruptcy in the U.S. is medical catastrophes in the family.

The cost of insurance has become a major issue for small businesses also. The rising cost of insurance forces them to shutdown and both owner and the employees lose their livelihood and health coverage. So, it badly affects the economy also, as the economic engine of the U.S. is not really large global corporations that are adept at getting around on not paying taxes, but the small businesses that are started by the ever enterprising regular Americans, and that is something GOP doesn't want to acknowledge though they act like the guardians of business interests. The fact is that they take money from insurance companies and want to kill the bill by scaring their dumb followers who simply don't realize that the healthcare reform is actually in their interest viewing it from any angle.

The retired, GOP loving grand parents protesting the bill on the curbs these days are already beneficiaries of the government run Medicare and I don't understand why they think another government run program for the rest of the public would be a bad idea. That's the power of GOP propaganda machine, or put simply, the tyranny of the minority, or the privileged, who can have things going both ways.

Obama's public option is supposed to compete with products offered by private insurance companies which would force the latter to clamp down on their share of profit taking. Also, insurance coverage will be available with less or no restrictions like the dreaded pre-existing condition. That's why a healthcare reform without the public option will not have much value. The government's intervention in the healthcare insurance market can tilt things in favor of government options and can eliminate healthcare insurance market in the private sector eventually. But that is a good thing. We are already doing that in areas of education, public transport, healthcare for seniors (Medicare),public security aka police, fire-force etc. and then why don't we implement that in healthcare sector which is another essential service for citizens.

I believe in the working of free market and its ability to bring good things for the consumers, but the market needs to regulated and government needs to be present in areas where essential services are offered to citizens. In other words, there are certain areas that should not be only defined by market variables, but the social factors and preferences should take precedence.

America is the only industrialized nation in the world that leaves so many of its citizens (about 50 million) without any kind of health coverage, and that is shameful for a country that has vast resources and bargaining power at its disposal, and it has no qualms in squandering that fortune in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But, when it comes to protecting its own sick, the law makers simply squabble, conveniently forgetting the fact that their self-awarded health coverage is paid for by these same citizens whom they are supposed serve.