On Running

I have always liked running. I loved to run the 3.6 kms around Kukkarahalli lake in Mysore. The 8 kms run up Chamundi hills in Mysore with Suraj was my greatest challenge until a few years ago. Once in a year, I used to run the sunfeast 10k (now TCS 10k) and I had completed the BSNL 21K as well. But I still had my doubts about running. Partly due to people-talk, I was thinking in fact that running may wear off my knees.

Running becomes enjoyable once you develop endurance
Running becomes enjoyable once you develop endurance

I still couldn’t keep myself off running. Last year, I ran at the TCS 10K again with knee supports. I thought that my car’s really hard clutch had caused the knee injury (disproved later after I started running; not running was the cause of weak knees). I then went on a cycling trip to Ladakh last year when fitness levels were at an all time high. I have noticed that fitness is kind of an addiction. If you take it seriously once, you will be a fitness buff ever afterwards. So naturally, after coming back from Ladakh, I did not want to lose momentum and participated in the thonnur lake duathlon (40km cycling + 10km running) and finished with a decent time. But things slowed down a bit after that for the next half year or so.

The TCS 10K run is a awesome event in the sense that it is the most popular event of Bangalore, sees a huge participation and hence creates a large number of fitness buffs who eventually motivate others. You could call it peer pressure of the good kind. So, it happened with me as well and I registered. A lot of my friends were registered as well. As I had taken 70 minutes last year, I started training with a target of 60 minutes. The event happens during the hot month of May every year and some training is definitely required.

TCS 10K, the best known run in Bangalore
TCS 10K, the best known run in Bangalore

Around the same time, based on Venu’s recommendation, I happened to read ‘Born to run’ by Chris McDougall. Now, this is the kind of book that can change your outlook towards running. It speaks of the Raramuri (Tarahumara), a 500 year old tribe in Mexico who are ultra runners. Unlike the Kenyans and Ethiopians, they don’t run much in competitions but they just run as part of everyday life. These people showed to the world that humans were designed to run. Probably humans are the way they are because they ran. They ran to hunt food, they ran to live. Running is something embedded in our nature. Probably that is why so many people love running so much in spite of the physical stress.

So, I began training for the TCS 10K with a new found purpose. The purpose was just to go back to the roots of human evolution; to make running an intrinsic part of me. The 10K was supposed to be a stepping stone towards that purpose. And hence began my training experiments.

Training Plan
The marathon training plan – Derived from Hal Higdon’s plan

Technology is of great help in some ways. Google maps and phone apps like Endomondo allow you track distance, speed and use these data to improve oneself over time. Loads of information at runnersworld, livestrong etc help develop better running techniques, warmup and stretch routines. HalHigdon’s training calendars help you plan your runs.

But there is one place where technology is of not much use, shoes. I now run just shy of barefoot. I use decathlon’s newfeel shoes which cost just Rs.500 and I have even removed its cushions. Every small stone on the roads are now felt by the feet. The first few days used to hurt a bit but now the feet and ankle have well adapted. My old Nike shoes are gathering dust these days.

The cheapest shoes seem to be the best

And have I improved my speed and endurance? Results speak.

Improvement from March to June
Improvement from March to June

In March, I could hardly run 3kms at a stretch. On July 26th, I completed the 21 km ‘The Run of Raramuri Tribe’ in 2 hrs 20 minutes in gruelling terrain. Not a time to boast of but I have now unlocked the secret ingredient to running long distance. Practice, Practice and Practice. If it is possible to improve speed by 25% in 5 months and increase distance from 3kms to 25kms in 5 months, imagine what can be achieved in an year.

A key point is to note this: science says that the human body is designed to run and hence age will never be a factor (at least until your are 65. extreme case: Fauja Singh). The idea therefore is to keep running and keep learning new things about running. For example, interval trainings and tempo runs help improve speed and increase lactate thresholds. The most important thing is to practice consistently. When you make running an integral part of your life (just like brushing your teeth), then you automatically start running better.

Finally, important points to be happily running and being fit at the same time:

  • Remember that running is why our body is the way it is. If you care to clean your teeth, you should care to run as well.
  • Run at least 3-5 times a week. You will automatically be compelled to do other stretch exercises. You will also automatically eat better as running will demand that from you.

I plan to post again after the Kaveri trail full marathon this September.

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