Running, the rest of life and a recipe!

Running has a way of taking over your life when you’re training for something. I finished my 25k Nueces trail race with reasonable amount of training and then did the 10K with only the fast workouts during the week i.e. didn’t run much during the weekend in early March. The fast workouts definitely helped to pull through a good PR time on the 10K at Hell’s Hills. Here’s a nice report on the race as whole, missed being mentioned as a top finisher by 1 rank. But got photographed for the amount of determination with which I usually finish haha.

Bharath and I do get into loggerheads because I tend to put running above most things in life. That includes work sometimes (only when it’s not busy with deadlines). The number of times I sneak out early to go run with Joe’s group (thanks to traffic snarls). I never feel guilty about it because when it comes down to the wire, I push through, I’m an efficient and productive manager and I run my projects pretty well. Could I do better? Sure. There’s a trade-off somewhere isn’t there always. You have only so much of yourself to give to every component in your life. I give a lot of thought and effort to running, but not more than my job for sure, which by the way I love. I work with good people and I do interesting work so I love doing it. Days which are a scramble at work are the best. I am appreciated and I appreciate what I have – a job in Austin that I enjoy. It also lets me enjoy other things like running.

So sometimes Bharath does get a bit shortchanged in this whole equation. I’m off running and working and traveling so when I am home I need to be fully present. We’re both laptop junkies and hooked onto our computers a lot at home but lately we’ve been trying to spend ‘quality’ time together. We really like going out and we love to drink and eat out. We love watching indie flicks and try to save Monday nights for something fun or even routine like walking together to Central Market. On Friday nights which are usually before long runs on Saturday, it’s a tough call. Should I stay out late and drink with friends or should I go home to bed, hydrate instead of dehydrate to wake up early for a run. It is not an easy choice and on any given weekend, sometimes I’ll go with one or the other. Bharath of course, complains when I choose running over partying especially if he’s in the mood to go out. But what I think I/we really enjoy are the weekend afternoons with some of our closest friends at our favorite watering hole. the Draught House. It’s a no-frills, all beer, sometimes bring-your-chair pub where you order up front and drink at the bier garten. We love it. No food, no other types of alcohol.

We end up going here or some other N. Central Austin pub on weekend afternoons which is awesome because I’ve finished running and feel very happy chugging down those beers. To make up for my boring-ness on Friday nights I make him a nice lunch after my run or bring him tacos from Tacodeli. Today I made this awesome curried tofu salad with guac on top. Here’s the recipe:

Tofu – crumbled; salad leaves (I used kale/baby spinach and arugula mix); raisins or cranberries (10 or so), walnuts crumbled, 1/2 onion chopped, 2 sticks of celery chopped. For the dressing I whisked together regular mayo (oh yes, I embraced the fat today), orange juice (cos I was out of lemon, this is a GREAT sub, adds tart and sweet), 1 chopped garlic, pepper and 1 tsp or so of curry powder (the best mix I buy is from Wheatsville Coop). Mix and serve. I also made some guac on top with yogurt, salt, pepper, 1 clove of chopped garlic, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and 1 green chilli chopped. It was DIVINE!!


On the run today, which was surprisingly not as hot as I expected but very humid, I was a bit unprepared. I was running with Alicia and Elizabeth and we ran some beautiful loops. The greenbelt is really green today in Spring, the creek was running and lots of people were out there swimming. So were cops giving out tickets to unleashed dogs’ owners. Poor guys. Anyway, Alicia and Elizabeth like to take their time – they called me a fast runner, Gazelle and all and I was terribly flattered, but I know I am not fast, I’m average on the trails. Faster then many, slower than many more. So 7 miles or so actually took 2.5 hours. We stopped many times, took pictures and hike/ran. As a result I was out of water. Unprepared for the humidity the ladies shared salt tablets with me as well as water. So I gotta go out next time better prepared. Elizabeth said I should gear up and I should. Thinking about getting a camel bak where I can carry nutrition, water everything and try running without the bottle of water, which anyway gets the water to be very warm by the middle of the run. 

So before I go out to Beacon Rock (registered yay!), I need to plan out some more gear. That’s another reason for some complaints (mostly in mock) from Bharath about how this sport is not very cheap. It is and it isn’t. I haven’t had to buy gear for a while now but I’m going to have to. Just bought a bunch of running clothes for the summer from a gift card from work (yay for performance rewards, see I said I am good at my job).

Here are some pics from the trails this morning, it was soooo pretty out there!!!ImageImageImage



The Heat is On!!

Today was the hottest run of the year. Or so it felt. The dial was at 85F when I showed up at Travis Country Circle off Southwest Pkwy, one of the nice, lesser known entrances to the Barton greenbelt. And connected to the usual greenbelt trail but you have to know the trails to get there.The trails here are very rocky and single track. But the good thing is there’s lots of shade on the trails and you’re never in the sun. I’m sure in the heart of summer it gets like a sauna especially as you run.

From the road we ran about a mile inside the trails to where Joe’s marked his Rock Tree. Which is a tree with rocks on it, also put there by Joe and his peeps. Interestingly, lot of these trails are named by him. Shan’s loop, Scupture Falls (there is no water), Baloney, and the best ever, Panty (Gaurav, the trail veteran who is on a hiatus said it’s cos there was a tree there with a panty hanging on it, hence the name panty. Well I hope to God though that the panty owner is safe and sound).

So we go in and at Rock Tree, in usual Joe-fashion he draws the trail on the ground with a stick. This is why it’s impossible to describe the trails on the online forum. Because there’s no way he can explain that if you’re not standing over him and even if you are, you’re still quite likely to get lost. The loop was 2 miles and just a sort of toast-shaped one (probably quite different but that’s the way he drew it on the mud). So off we went, Joe with us marking the trails with his pink ribbon clothesline clips on the trees as he ran ahead. I began running too hard and didn’t anticipate how I’d react to the heat. At Hell’s Hills where I definitely ran hard, the temps were still in the 70s when we started running and never reached 80 until way after I’d finished. But today at the outset it was 85. I began sweating but more than ever, my head felt super hot. I poured water on the back of my neck as I could and at some point I had to stop to walk. My heart rate was high, head was hot and dizzy and I didn’t want to run. So I slowed down, walked up the little inclines which felt oh-so-hard in the heat.

This was not even a hot day. Most Austinites would call it pleasant. Summer isn’t here yet with it’s blazing sun at 9pm and a 100F with no signs of cooling until late night. But I’m a cold weather runner. Not snow and ice and sleet but for me, 50F-55F is perfect. I hardly need to warm up, going in I feel great and strong with steady breath. So it looks like heat conditioning is needed. People tell me I’ll get used to it. I need to use icepacks and hydrate all the time perhaps. Not sure how it’s going to work out. On the second loop I took it really easy. I ran really slowly, I just wanted to spend time on my feet running and letting my body decide how it wanted to run in these temps. When I slowed down I felt a lot better. On the inclines I’d walk and just make sure my heart rate wasn’t flapping around so I’d feel dizzy. It worked. It took me 1.5 X the time to finish the second loop but I felt all the better. Drank every drop of water I had. Sue, my trail sister, who I call that because like sisters we have a lot in common but we’re different. Here of course I’m talking about running because Sue is blonde and white. We run at the same pace but she’s a much stronger starter. It takes me a good 2-3 miles to warm up before I can go bounding about on the rocks and stones. Eventually I can catch up with her and sometimes by pass her, if I feel good but mostly I like to pace with her because she runs at a good even pace. I mean she finished less than a minute after me at Hells Hills and ranked 8th among women! But what’s really great about her is that she can beat the heat!! So when it’s hot she’s suddenly a sister who grew up to be very different. The heat makes us very different runners! I wither in the heat but she does ok. 

So I’ll try to keep running through the summer and get heat conditioned, however at some point it might get too much, in which case I’ll do what I did today, I’ll slow down and listen to my body.


Hell’s Hills: first trail 10k and major PR!!

I had to show off the medal first. I mean it’s so awesome, that I think I’d do this race just to get my hands on a medal like that. Every other race medal feels meh! Also I’m going ass backwards, starting trail running with a 25k and dialing back to 10K! All because I’m afraid of the heat!

To think I almost didn’t run this for fear of heat. That’s why it’s called Hell’s Hills. There are hills but no big shake like the hills we climbed for Nueces. The trail was a regular MTB trail with a lot of rolling inclines and dips and climbs that mountain bikers like to do (crazy people). But this is the first HOT race of the season, coming out of the spring into the summer and MANY people underestimate the heat. People haven’t acclimatized to running in the heat and this race can be hellish for that reason. Well fortunately for me, I was only doing a 10k. The other distances were 25k, 50k and 50mi.

So first I almost didn’t do this race. Sue had mentioned she was signed up for 25k. I then considered doing the 10K. On Tuesday night at the run, I asked Joe if I could do it. I didn’t want to pay $55 the late registration charge but he let me in for free. He said this one was on him. He’s so awesome. He said, its good to have me running with them. I’ve been seriously considering going through training/running in the summer to get some heat training from them. I have to do it eventually if I continue to run in TX. And it’s like elevation training – takes a while to condition your body but you are a better, stronger runner for it for sure.

I drove out at 5 am with Gaurav and Purvi, who are my new trail buddies. Met them at Nueces too. Gaurav is an avid trail runner, having a 100miler under his belt (literally because Joe hands out buckles for the finishers). He ran a lot of Asha before. His new bride is also into trail running and has done a few 10ks. I am trying to get her to begin training so I have company :). The race was about 45 mins outside of Austin at Rocky Hills Ranch in Smithville TX.

As soon as we got there, it was evident I was among friends. By now most of the regular running group I know by first name and it’s great to meet everyone at these races. It makes me feel totally at home. Kuss, one of our co-coaches even put the timing chip on me after I was struggling for a while – he said this is an ‘all service’ race, haha! But seriously, Joe and his wife Joyce put up these races every month, with the help of their kids, friends, and fellow trail runners. Trail runners earn points for every hour they volunteer on the races – be it at aid stations, registrations and packet pickup or water stations. These points go towards a dollar off future race registrations. I think that’s a fantastic system. The races are fabulously organized, the trails are well marked (by Joe himself, who drives out a day or two in advance to do it), the aid stations are well stocked with PBJ sandwich squares (neatly cut by what seems like loving hands), Hammer Gels, salt tablets, water, gatorade, chips, cereal and a plethora of fruit. It’s absolutely amazing.

Anyway, back to the race report. We started off at 7.15 AM. Was a bit worried about the effect of spicy biryani I had the day before at lunch but frankly nothing happened. Maybe I’m spice conditioning also. I started with Sue (who dropped down to 10k) and she’s a fast runner when she starts. My start is always hard – huffing puffing and straining. The race was crowded with a total of 582 registrants! The 10K was especially packed on the narrow trails. After about 2 miles I left some of the crowd behind and caught up with Sue. At the 5k mark, I ran past her, and I ran really hard. I didn’t stop, ran hard throughout. Everytime I’d pick on someone ahead of me to pick off and that kept me going. There was this one girl who I was trailing for about 1 mile and finally when I picked her off I was elated! It gave me fresh lease of energy and I didn’t even feel the heat. The race course was not very hard, a few hills here and there, mostly the big dips that you had to run down to get momentum to run up. Many novice runners would walk down those dips (sometimes pretty steep) and thats when you feel you’ll lose balance. If you run down then you have momentum to run up the up-hill part. It takes effort though. I don’t think I eased off at any point while I did take time to recover I didn’t completely recover until I actually finished the race.

The kilometers seemed to go by quickly (there were only 10 of them). The trail was winding and pretty in parts and quite shaded so the heat wasn’t that bad. It was humid though. When I turned towards the finish line, there was no one ahead of me. I didn’t get the urge to do my usual sprint but because I’d run hard I finished strong at an even pace. Joe was at the finish line. He said I did good. I told him I was looking to run faster over shorter distances before taking on any longer races again. He said, that was a good idea especially for this season since we’re just coming out of the cold. I loved the encouraging words! I told him I didn’t think it was that hilly and he laughed, saying others complained about the hills. He said, I’ve trained you well!

The girl who switched me out for my timing chip for the finisher’s medal (isn’t it GORGEOUS and BADASS??), told me she thought I was the 6th woman to finish. I was ABSOLUTELY THRILLED. Me – the slow poke – could ever dream of being in top ten of anything for racing is a wonder to me. So I think this Run Less Run Fast strategy is working. I can give everything I have in me to run hard over the shorter distances. It helps me build speed and some endurance. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever run longer distances. I might do that over weekends when I feel up to it. I also would like to build my heat endurance over the short distances first. I have a raging headache from the sun and humidity and that’s something I need to fix before I move on.

After the race it was fun hanging around with Sue, who’s my trail sister for sure! She’s even just as old as my sister and we get along like a house on fire!

Overall, I am so happy I took the trouble to do this race, thankful to Joe for letting me in last-minute for FREE and encouraging me at the start and finish!

Ride a bike, fix a flat and fun night out with the girls!

Tonight was our first ride of the season. It’s great that we even have a ‘season’. As if we’re professionals. No we’re not but we have a lot of fun, being in various seasons in here in Austin. Fall/Winter/Spring are running seasons. Summer is triathlon for those who are too chicken to run long distances. Or do something different.

So we had plans to meet over at Northwest Park over off Shoal Creek and Anderson or just south of that. When I drove out of work, Cha messaged saying she had a flat. I was fretting all day about this ride. I hadn’t been on my bike since June and I’m an awful biker. I’m slow to get on and off and nervous. And I was planning on riding over by myself, something I rarely do because I’m scared to ride with traffic.

Got home, pumped the bike. Prayed I didn’t have a flat, which I didn’t. Even the act of pumping air felt so alien. Anyway, got on the bike and I had to remind myself how the gears worked. As I pedaled down Shoal Creek, one of the most popular road bike routes in Austin, I rode past scores of bikers. Was a lovely evening to be riding. In between stressing over stop signs, wondering when my tires would pop, and crashing into traffic, I really began enjoying my ride a lot. I began considering doing this more often. Perhaps even try biking to work. Which is crazy, needs too much planning and probably subject for another post.

Well, I finally made it to the park’s parking lot. Cha was halfway through fixing her flat. Big day for her. By the time I got there, she had changed the tube (Vishy was giving her instructions). She was trying to put the tire back. I helped her do it but she did most of it. We used the plastic object to squeeze it back in but the last part was tough but somehow we managed after huffing and puffing. Sha had arrived by then, with cobwebs in her helmet and race bib still on the bike from last year! Yeah, didn’t I say something about ‘seasons’? After we put the wheel together we had to fix it back on the bike. That didn’t turn out to be so easy. Tried with the spoke but then the chain was wrong. Finally a kind gentleman passing by had to be goaded into helping. The first thing he did, was flip the bike around and place it on the seat and then pulled back some lever part of the chain to fix it. Voila! We were done! Only at 7.45 pm. So we rode around the neighboring streets for about 20-25 minutes by which time it was quite dark.

And then we went to dinner and did what girls do at dinner :).

The White Horse

So Caballo Blanco is dead.

Who’s he, you ask? Fear not, even I didn’t know until he died. But Chris McDougall who first shot him to fame in his book Born to Run paints him as a mystical character in the book. He was just an American/gringo, who met with a Tahuramara runner and decided to adopt their running lifestyle. McDougall talks about this running lifestyle in his 2006 article, which probably was a precursor to his book (or maybe it came after, I don’t know). I haven’t read the book but I’ve watched McDougall’s Ted Talk on barefoot running.

The guy definitely has a point. But a lot of things he recommends based on the tribal runners are quite drastic. Running trails, long distances without shoes; eating vegan food; maybe even drinking before racing! I mean the tribals live the best life I could ever imagine – drink/eat/party/run. What else could one want? How they can do this is still a mystery and I don’t think McDougall’s book is any closer to solving it. (Yes, I know that without reading it).

What I do know is that some people are better at some things than others. So some runners are ‘born to run’ while others learn. So what? The other thing I do appreciate, which the article quotes Caballo, is about self-imposed limitations. One of the things he says Caballo Blanco (he’s called that by the tribals who he begins to live with and perhaps because of the way he runs. Caballo also organized one of the toughest ultra races in the world. And FYI, most ultra races are trail races) is that he just decided to do these impossible things and because he did them in the Tahuramara way, even his injuries went away.

Whatever it is, it definitely motivated my to kick my own butt this evening at the Tejas trainign run at St. Ed’s. If you ever read any previous post on St. Ed’s it’s a beautiful but very technical/hilly trail. Very rocky and a pretty steep climb. We do our hill training here. Did I learn anything about my body being able to beat any self-imposed limitations. Perhaps not. Maybe that depends on training and the frequency of how often you subject your body to beating limitations. But the first loop, I did well, I pushed myself to run up the hill in its entirety. I ran faster down and probably finished the whole thing in 17-20 minutes (about 1 – 1.5 miles). But the second time round, no matter how much I thought I was going to beat the hill, I couldn’t. I was hot and tired and took a shorter route and also walked a bit up hill. That was my homage to Caballo’s death. I tried harder than usual.

There was a group of trail runners that came out after us to do a ‘memorial run’ for Caballo. Many of them wore the sandals that Caballo (and the Tahuramara) ran in. These sandals spun-off the Born to Run’s barefoot running philosophy I guess, which was already getting popular among runners. Joanna, one of Joe’s runners also wore them. She said it definitely had an impact on her running style – she took shorter steps and didn’t go banging or jumping around. McDougall definitely talks about running form/style of the Tahuramara being very short strides. He describes, “Watching him run, I was surprised to find that instead of the long, galloping stride I’d expected, he never stretched out his legs at all. He kept his knees bent and his forefeet padding down directly under his body, as if he were riding an invisible unicycle.”

While my running shoes are no sandals, they are the most minimalist shoes I’ve worn to run. They’re pretty light and very little cushion. Running in them is something I’ve had to get used to. My ankles do feel sore but don’t hurt, but then I don’t run crazy miles. But I did try to fix my form while running as McDougall says. I tried to keep shoulder above hip, hip above knees. I think it might have helped but I’ll probably know more if I do it more often.

So those are some of my learnings today, some from reading about a guy who ran a lot of miles and was a mystery. While I knew nothing about Caballo, he is a fascinating character. Supposed to be a really nice guy, great race director and somewhat of a recluse, no one knows how he died, but he was found with his feet still in water. He wasn’t very old. He was just a guy who all he did was run for miles in the jungles. I think that somewhere out there in the mountains, while running or dipping his feet in the water, he found his zen. Who knows, he achieved Nirvana while running. Maybe as he dipped his feet in the water that day, the truths of life became evident to him and he didn’t need to do another run to find himself anymore. Who knows?

I get by with a l’il help from my friends!

I owe a lot to a lot of people for the lifestyle I live and enjoy. For one, I am so grateful for the friends I’ve made here in Austin and everywhere else, who continue to encourage, support, admire, inspire and be inspired by the things I do and the things we share in common. I move to Austin a very different person. Since I moved, I realized that the way to enjoy and embrace the city is to do what it does best, – the outdoors. And so I started running, biking, swimming and now onto other forms of running such as trail running and yes, even yoga!

Through running I met fabulous people – people who not only share my love for an active lifestyle but much more. People who are interesting to me, have interesting things to say. And then it’s a beautiful cycle. I meet great people through running or something, they become my good friends and then they become partners in my new adventures! I went to a lovely Hatha yoga class with my buddies Emily (who I met through theatre, another common interest) and Itisha, after which we had a wonderful lunch downtown in Austin, at Whole Foods and just chit-chatted for some time.

One of the best stories I have about getting by with help from my friends is how I got into triathlons last year! I was goaded into it by my friends Cha and Sha. Cha would join me for informal training and Sha gifted me a bunch of tri gear to get me started/motivated. I eventually signed up with a training group, during which I made some great acquaintances. In the end, I was so nervous about the open water swim during my first race – Cha signed up to do the race with me without training! Another friend Amit, another seasoned triathlete, diligently coached my open water swim fears away! And finally, I got so much support and encouragement from all these friends who’ve done it before.

And the more I do, the more people I meet that add something to my life. Which is great, I feel like I keep growing, keep learning about myself, about people around me. Moreover, some of my old friends, motivated by what I’ve been doing have also turned to something new for their lives – running, biking or something. I get notes, emails and facebook posts about how they were ‘inspired’ by me, which I find humbling to say the least! Me and inspire anyone else??

And sometimes I’ll get inspired to try something new from an oldest friend. My college buddy Sasha, who I have known for over 15 years and met a year ago in India told me she swears by yoga. At that time I was into running and being very ‘active’ about all that I did so I didn’t pay much attention. I couldn’t imagine sitting around in a pose, not sweating and it being ‘exercise’. But then what she said somehow stuck with me and eventually I decided to give it a shot. And it’s been fantastic. I know now why people love it. It’s great – it stretches and relaxes, it builds and strengthens, it challenges your mind and endurance, depending on type of yoga. What I love about yoga now is not only how it makes me feel after a good class but also during. A lot of course depends on the particular poses in the class. For instance, the first Vinyasa class I took – I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought it moved faster than I could handle. However, the second time around, I had an idea of the poses and was able to follow through much easier. I was also able to push and challenge myself during some of the poses.

A bunch of friends had been doing yoga and in talking to them, I first thought about it and pondered for a while. Finally cleared up clutter in my schedule to give it a shot and there’s no looking back! Thank god for the friends I have and the life I lead! Namaste!