It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been running seriously. Last summer was good, even though I was running in NY where it’s around 27C, I was putting in 35 miles a week regularly enough, along with the occasional strength training thrown in. It showed too, I shaved 7 minutes off my HM time, I was at my lowest body fat % and didn’t really compromise on strength.
Then, tragedy struck in October with a horrible case of tendonitis, which took 4 months to heal properly. Following that up was the last quarter of work at UCSD, which left me with not much time (shitty excuse, I know), and I hadn’t been running for close to 6 months. Now I have plenty of time and really want to get back to running seriously.
I have a lot from the past 6 months that needs to be undone! For one, I need to lose at least 6 kilos. And, need to rebuild the base I had back then. And, need to train smarter. I doubt I’m doing much aerobic work. I decided to follow Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan, and do it seriously this time instead of ignoring him when he says “easy runs”. Pretty much every run I’ve been doing I try , and also decided to track as much data as I can. Before weight, after weight, temperature, mile splits, heart rate etc.
My goal for the marathon, whenever my first will be, is 3:56 – 9min/mile pace, and I used my Queens HM time to get what my training paces should be like.
Easy runs: run at a 10:35 pace. Since I’m hoping to keep HR to a low low 70% max (155bpm) in these runs, I’m planning to go with 3 minute run (@9.5min/mile), 1 minute walk.
Long runs: 10:00 pace, 3 minute run(@8:30min/mile), 1 minute walk – keep HR to 170 or lower for these runs. Take the time, no rush.
Pace runs: 9:00 pace, 4 minute run (@8:30min/mile), 0:30 minute fast walk.
All of these are for decent running conditions, which are a bit lacking in Bombay – temperatures constantly above 30C and humidity easily 60% or more. All of these make all my paces a lot slower than I’d like, I’m already sweating buckets before I start my run.
=== continued later ===
A long, long time ago, on April 28, 1987, something momentous happened. I was born. Scrawny little kid, I was. Tiny. Not interested in sports or physical thing. No pent-up angry-young-man style outbursts when I was growing up. Clearly, a very neutral sort of man I was growing up to be.
Or so I thought. Puberty hit, and with it, my Gulti genes came into full effect. Which Gulti superpower did I get, you ask? Look at the photos below:
What’s really, really common in both the photos? You’ve probably guessed it, I gained the ability to grow a moustache. (I’d give you more photos as proof of Gulti moustache-growing skills, but I’m writing this from the lab and the last thing I want is someone seeing me Googling for photos of moustachioed men by the dozen).
And for a while, I did have a moustache, to the pride of my parents and the clear amusement of many of my friends. Eventually, I decided I did not want such a superpower. I did not know what I was intended to do with it. “Why Me?”, I’d ask as I’d shave every other morning. On cold winter mornings in Delhi, when the choice was to shave with really cold water or to bear the moustache, I’d make the tough choice and shave with the really cold water. Oh, how I have questioned my powers.
But precisely 4 days ago, I found out why I was given this great gift. 4 days ago, when the clock was striking the end of the 31st of October, it was also striking in a new beginning.
The beginning of Movember.
All the info is on the “About” page, but in brief: what is Movember? It’s essentially an annual fundraising movement that tries to raise money for cancer. It does this by having men all over the world to promise one thing: not to shave their moustaches in the month of November, and hopefully the people around them would feel like supporting them for the cause. All the financial details, programs supported, etc. are available on the website for those interested.
And this year, I’m enlisting my whiskers in the fight against cancer. The rules of Movember require me to have a moustache, not a full beard, a moustache – at this I can already imagine my friends going into fits of convulsive laughter. They know how funny the results can be. I’ll wait here until they’re done laughing.
So here’s what I promise you: I will keep posting progress photographs over the month of November, of which there are 25 days left – so plenty of photos to see. You clearly see the future blackmail potential of those photos (Pushkar, Rohan – I’m looking at you.) In the beginning I’ll be keeping a full beard, since I need some time before I can sport a proper moustache – but I promise you this, good sirs and madams, I shall deliver to you a moustache the likes of which have not been seen on the UC San Diego campus.
In return, please consider making a tiny donation. It’s for a good cause, and every little bit counts. If you can’t make a donation yourself, please spread the word! In fact, if nothing else, if all you can do is spread the word to people you think can or want to donate, that’s plenty enough. Some of you undoubtedly have better networks than I do.
If you do want to make a donation, but cannot because you don’t have a way of donating in dollars: let me know how much you feel like donating, and I’ll donate the amount in your name – you can pay me back later or treat me to a dinner or two when you see me next. (My email ID is vivekr101 at gmail dot com, for those interested.)
So that’s the deal people.
What you give: just a small one-time donation.
What you get: so many photos of me. With a moustache. Which you can blackmail me with. For the rest of my life.
I know that in the years to come, some of you will never miss a chance to bring out those photographs and have a good laugh. But I shall still do this.
Kyonki mooch nahi to kuch nahi.
Also, on a side note, I’m trying to do NaNoWriMo this time. I’m off to a slow start, and I’m not sure if I’ll hit the 50,000 word limit, but I’m giving it a shot here. Drop by and take a look! I’m trying to write upwards of a 1000 to 1500 words a day, so there should always be something new whenever you drop by.
They say the devil laughs when men make plans. I’m sure he cracked a rib laughing today.
Let’s take it from the start. I had it all planned – go to the supermarket at 5:30 and get the ingredients, get back by 6:15, follow the recipe and get the cooking done by 7, and finish eating by 7:30. It’s 8:42 when I’m writing this and I’ve just done the dishes.
I got to the supermarket on time, and plans started to unravel straight away. I knew exactly what I wanted to get – frozen peas, ginger and garlic paste, paneer and frozen naan. Frozen peas – easy. Garlic paste – took a while, but I found it. Ginger paste – fucking impossible. This country does not use ginger paste, it would seem. I looked everywhere, went to sections of the store I never go to, and no luck. Finally, in the “international” section of the supermarket, on one unremarkable shelf, was this thing called “Ginger In A Tube”. That is correct, ginger. in. a. tube. Exhibit A:
Notice the east asian-styled font. You should realize, this was in the same shelf that held teriyaki sauce and wasabi. I don’t think they intended it to be used in matar paneer, but I’m resourceful like that.
So. With a reasonable compromise for ginger, off we go to find paneer. The smaller supermarket next door had a reputation for keeping more exotic foods, and I found the frozen naan easily enough. Happily confident, I set off to find the paneer, which, as you’ve probably guessed, was nowhere to be found. Google to the rescue! I found on the internet, reports of asuitable substitute for paneer. Now I’m not gullible, so I decided to check the guy’s sources. He cited wikipedia twice, and that was good enough for me.
On we go to find Queso Blanco, or alternately Queso Fresco. The smaller supermarket had no Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco, so back we go to the larger store. And there, after much looking, I found Queso Blanco. But what’s this? Small font said it was chipotle flavored. Oh how you tempt me, fates. Back on the shelf it went, and after looking for 5 more minutes, in a small corner on the top right, I found Queso Fresco, plain. Looked close enough to paneer, and we were done.
Just as I’m about to drive back, I realize I forgot tomato puree. Back to the smaller store we go, and there is no puree to be found. How this country does its cooking I do not know. I found two small cans of tomato paste. Not puree, but paste. But the ingredients said no salt, no flavouring, just tomatoes, and that was good enough for me. Finally having bought everything, back home I went.
And then began the cooking. Started out well, boiled the frozen peas and got that ready. Chopped the onions finely, and diced the queso fresco into small cubes. The recipe said that lightly frying the paneer cubes was helpful, and so I heated a little oil and dropped the queso fresco cubes in.
Don’t ever fry queso fresco cubes.
They started to melt, and I quickly salvaged what pieces were not completely melted and left the melted ones in there. It’s all going to the stomach anyway, right? The next step was to add the cumin seeds, and so I did. They started popping as they should, and the next step was to add the ginger paste. The recipe said 1 tablespoon of ginger and garlic paste. I didn’t have one single ginger+garlic paste, so the logical thing to do is half a tablespoon of ginger, and half a tablespoon of garlic paste. Out comes the tube, and I drop in half a tablespoon of ginger paste. Hmm, that’s a lot of ginger. But it’s frying already, better add the garlic paste too. The cap on the bottle of garlic paste is screwed on so tight I think I popped a shoulder opening it. After a good 2 minutes I finally got it open, and dropped in half a tablespoon of garlic paste. Hmm, that’s a lot of garlic paste too. Did I read that recipe right?
The recipe said one teaspoon of garlic and ginger paste. On the pan, 3 times the required ginger and garlic paste was frying away. No worries, into the sink it goes and we start again. Very well. After 5 minutes, I had the right amount of cumin seeds and ginger and garlic paste. It’s fried for the few minutes asked for by the recipe – next step, tomato puree. Which just happens to be in a tin can. Quickly dig around for a can opener in the kitchen, find it and see that it’s rusted around the edges. Wash the rust off, and open the can. All the while, mind you, the ginger and garlic paste is frying away on the pan.
And the puree? Gotcha! It’s not puree, it’s paste. Close-to-solid paste. Drop in two spoonfuls of the stuff, and it absolutely refuses to mix with the paste. Way too solid. Bring into play the engineer’s mind. What’s the problem? Paste too thick. What makes solid foods liquid? Water. Let’s add water! How much? Who cares! Just get the damn tomatoes to mix with the ginger-garlic paste. And so water was added. Finally, the paste stated to mix into one uniform… thing. By now I’m in full-blown salvage mode. Screw the recipe, just add whatever spices you have. Chili. Garam Masala. Haldi. Salt. How much of each? I still have no clue.
I’ve forgotten something. The queso fresco cubes! In they go, and I try to keep them from decomposing. Anyway, it’s done. The matar paneer is ready, as ready as it’ll ever be. Exhibit B:
Now we heat the frozen naan. Should be easy, instructions are on the cover. Preheat oven to 400F for 10 minutes, put in the naan for 1.5 minutes. Easy enough. I preheat the oven for 10 minutes, and put in the naan. Within half a minute, the oven starts smoking. I open the oven door, and the naans are burnt to a crisp.
This is what they should look like:
This is what they did look like:
Fine. Get two more naans out of the bag, and this time use the microwave. And finally, finally, it’s all ready:
The little dog is there to get some brownie points. Glass of water by my side, courage in my heart and the sink close by, I took the first bite.
I did not choke!
Was it slightly strong on the puree? Sure. Did it need more spice? Possibly. Would I make this for others? Not if I loved them.
But after all that effort, it tasted just fine to me.
The ocean arches across our vision, dark water blending into dark sky at an unseen horizon. We’ve walked quite a bit from our parked car, eager to get away from the bright floodlights that light up the entrances to the beach. Nature’s putting on her best light show, and it deserves to be seen far from the tepid yellow we humans have managed to shine.
I don’t know nearly enough of sea life to make sense of what’s happening, and frankly, I don’t care. For reasons unasked and not given, the sea is teeming with plankton that glow blue in the night. I remember reading many things about this phenomenon – the causes, the rarity, the harmful effects – but with each wave, all these thoughts are hammered further back in my mind. They seem to react to impact, and each crashing wave ignites all the life in that wave – and we are treated to wave after wave after wave of shining blue foam.
The bursts of light are short-lived, so instead of seeing a constant blue hue, we are treated to a variety of effects. Sometimes the wave hits at one end before the other, and blue light darts across as if trying to outrun the inevitable crash. Sometimes the wave breaches in the middle first, and the blue light seems to dart outward and away. And sometimes, it just happens all at once and the entire sea is aglow.
We stand still, taking it all in, and nature does us one better. All the waves crashing on to the beach have deposited enough of that plankton in the sand. We see that each of our footsteps has just enough impact to light up whatever was beneath our feet at that time. A few shouts of amazement and we start walking every which way, eyes attending the spiderweb of light beneath our feet.
Uncounted minutes go by and with no warning one of us takes off, running as if the devil had his whips on him. There’s maybe half a second before the rest of notice what’s happened. He’s by far the fastest of us, and even with just a half second, it’d take a maniac to catch him now. Wordlessly, the rest of us break into pursuit, dark shapes tearing across the sand. And then, the reason for this mad dash on the beach becomes clear. We’re not taking it easy any more – clean heels and hard landings kick up so much sand in front of us that it looks like our feet are shooting blue sparks as we go.
We don’t keep track of how far we run, or which shape’s who. In the utter darkness the only sounds are our breath and the waves, the only sight the lightning at our feet. Behind us, the sea patiently scrubs the sand clear of our tracks and prepares for its next show.
It’s been a long, long day – at the time of writing I’ve been in transit for 28 hours, awake for most of them. I still can’t sleep, and even though I’ve already written something today, I have nothing better to do. I looked in my pockets for any blank paper to write on, and God help me I’m writing this on those sickness bags they shove in the airline seat pockets. Even the best of us squirm when we see a fellow passenger reach for the barf bag, and I’m sure I gave the folks next to me quite a fright when I reached for mine.
Anyway, I was flipping through a copy of Runner’s World, and came across this photo of two runners on a dirt trail, faces as happy as they come – they looked like models. Photoshop, I hear you cry. Sure, sure, you may photoshop away the sweat and the dirt, but you can’t photoshop in the way their heels land right below their knees, and you certainly can’t photoshop in those smiles. It got me thinking about my happiest run, back in New York this past summer.
My routine was to go for a run after finishing my day at Google, and have dinner after. Summers in NY can reach the low to mid 30s (Celsius), which is fine if you’re walking but too warm if you’re running. I got into the habit of checking the weather reports to see if I should wait for sunset for it to cool down outside. That day, the forecast was for clouds all afternoon and a wind blowing from the north towards the evening. Perfect. Cloudy afternoon meant the sun wouldn’t bake the road all day, and the way my running route was laid out, the wind would be helping me towards the end of my run – which is always welcome. I laced up and head out, and the first mile was just as expected. Then it started to rain. And boy, did it rain. Within minutes everyone had taken shelter under the nearby bridge, and the only ones still running were the crazy ones – besides me, of course.
Now, it is my general policy to smile and nod at another runner if we make eye contact. Usually, nothing happens. This is understandable – imagine a sweaty grimy guy, breathing somewhat like a pregnant walrus, and you wouldn’t smile either. Either the rain changes this, or it’s just the crazy ones, but that day, every single person smiled. I saw an old Latino lady with a fairly useless umbrella, walking in that torrent as if she’d planned it all, sporting a beatific smile throughout. Some middle aged runner saw me and yelled “Yeah!”, at which I felt compelled to reply with a “Whoo!”. I never say “Whoo!”. I didn’t know it then, but that was the fastest 7 miles I’ve ever run, each mile faster than the last. I haven’t gone that fast since, even when I consciously tried. I’m always on the lookout for rainy runs since that day.
I finished my run and got back to the Google office for a hot shower, tracking mud all over their (previously) fine carpets. They’ve probably seen stranger things than a dripping, shivering intern abusing their shower facilities.
Anyway, my point is this – if you had happened to take a photo of me in that run, I’d look just as happy as those models.
And you wouldn’t even need Photoshop.
PS: The lady next to me also wants to write something, it seems, and she’s just pulled out a nice leather-bound diary to do so.
It is 37 hours ago. The warm sun streaming through the plate glass windows feels good as it fights the chilly cafe air. The coffee fails to keep me awake and the couch is too comfortable. I set the cup on back on the table, close my book and sink lower into the cushions. Voices fade to murmurs as I stop trying to listen to the conversations around me. As I close my eyes I see there are no clocks on the walls, and I have no watch with me. Behind shut eyes there are no sights to offend, and there is nothing to suggest the passing of time. The only link to the world is the sound of the crowd conversing with itself, which is so universal I could imagine myself anywhere – but I’m fine where I am.
It is 6 hours ago. The pillow has sunk too far behind my back and economy seats were never comfortable. The coffee doesn’t let me sleep, and bright screens behind every seat scream out the slowly passing time. There’s not much walking room and I’m going slightly stir-crazy. I try to will the clocks to move faster, but my mastery of time is still incomplete. I let out a sigh, and despite myself, I smile. It’s a good future to look forward to, and the future has a way of turning into the present.
It is now. Coffee, my constant companion, sits steaming in a cup next to me. I have a few hours to kill before the next flight, and there’s a sense of deja-vu coming on. Hadn’t I taken a flight from this same gate 2 years ago? Who knows. Maybe in 2 more years I’ll be back here, wondering the same thing. All I can do now is wait.
Re-reading some of the angst-y introspect-y stuff from yesteryears, found something I’m not fully ashamed of and something about which my thoughts haven’t changed a lot. Dates back to June 2009.
I was re-reading “Seize The Night” by Dean Koontz the other day (it’s a sci-fi) and I think the only remarkable feature of this book is an idea he describes, which while not central to the book, is a very interesting one. (Frankly, if it weren’t for this idea, I’d never finish the book or read it again. It isn’t that great). Anyway, in the book, for some convoluted reason, animal species gradually become more and more intelligent, finally attaining human intelligence while preserving their link to nature. Now contrary to what you think happens (super-smart, super-strong lions and gorillas taking over the world), every species eventually reaches it’s own “awareness threshold” – the threshold of how much it can bear to know – beyond this, any knowledge becomes unbearable, making life miserable to the point of driving the species to mass suicide. That is what actually happens in the book – animals, driven by the knowledge they now have and the knowledge that they can never know more, push themselves to extinction.
I thought it was an amazing idea, the idea that if one is aware of a greater purpose and design to life, but is also aware that the knowledge or comprehension of that design is now and forever beyond him, then life must truly be miserable for such a person. What a cross to carry that would be, to forever know there is a grand scheme of things, and forever know that he will never find out what it actually is! In the face of such depressing enlightenment, other than suicide, the only course of action would be to put one’s faith in that inscrutable grand scheme, and do what one can with what he has. Perhaps this faith is what Voltaire had in mind when he said we’d have to invent God if he didn’t exist – the alternative is acknowledging our awareness threshold and following through with the other logical next step – suicide.
Personally, I don’t think there is a grand scheme of things. There isn’t a blueprint of our lives inter-meshing with each other, powered by causality, pushing us unrelentingly towards inevitable outcomes. I think we try to give meaning to our lives because we need to believe it all happens for a reason – we need to believe that the cavalry will come in the end, bad guys will suffer for their sins, the righteous will be rewarded for their virtues and suffering is to lead us to salvation. We need to believe that because the alternative, that there is no first prize at the end for being a good little boy, will mean one can truly do as he wills without fear of retribution. Why I dispute the notion of The Grand Plan is a different post in itself, but that is my opinion on the matter. I disbelieve there is a reason for us to be here, but I believe there is something primal we do not know – again, food for another post.
I get the feeling that each successive generation is a step closer to the awareness threshold for mankind. On a philosophical note, Wittgenstein once said “What we cannot speak of must be passed over in silence”, and Godel has long proven the existence of indeterminable truths in any system – and both are men far more wise than I can hope to be – it seems clear there are questions humanity is incapable of answering, now and forever. Closer to real life, the mid-life crisis of yesteryears is now being replaced by the quarter-life crisis of our generation – more and more people confounded by what it is they should do, or worse, what it is theywant to do; more and more youth not quite fearing, but certainly puzzled with the freedom suddenly at their disposal after say, graduating. There seem to be more and more people being disillusioned at earlier points in life about so many things in life that our parents and elders seemed to be sure of (sure of for whatever reasons) at similar points in their lives. I realize at this point you’re all deflecting everything I’m saying on to me, and it is all true – these things are on my mind a lot. But I’ll sell my soul if they haven’t been on yours. I have many moments these days, when a brief look at myself and those around me suggests at such massive untapped potential, it is heartening just to imagine the world that could have been had that potential been realized – and it gives me some hope that a day will come when what could have been will become what is.
I wonder if before our lifetime we shall see one last generation railing against the questions we face today, eventually reaching the flashpoint where the collective consciousness of that unfortunate generation will cut through to what life is truly about. At the very least, on that Day of Revelations I hope they will cut through what life cannot be all about, and maybe they’ll be a step closer in finding out what that primal something is.
Our generation, I’m sure, will see many miracles – curing cancer, human cloning, colonizing space, eradicating hunger, etc. – I hope that the Revelations come while we are still around to appreciate them.