Running for Cause

On January 29, 2017, I take up my next big challenge in long distance running – Running 70K in the Queen of the Hills, Ooty as a part of The Nilgiris Ultra, and this time, it is with a difference. I would like to use this opportunity to raise funds for Thulir – A Centre for Learning, with whom I have been associated for over 7 years now in different capacities.

You give but little when you give of your possessions.It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. – Kahlil Gibran, Prophet

There are many reasons for one to take up running and running for a cause surely transcends all. Once you choose to run for a cause, it is no more about your personal glory or timing or competition, it is the cause that motivates you to see the finish. My good friend and Team Asha Runner, Ashwin Prabhu writes in The Hindu during the run up to 2014 Chennai Marathon,

Research has shown that when a person is willing to challenge his own boundaries and push himself over and beyond a perceived physical capability threshold, all for a cause he believes in, society at large opens both its wallet and heart. Every one of us can find a way to run and support a worthy cause. Crossing the finish line knowing that you have done something to benefit someone in need, while at the same time achieving a personal milestone, makes distance running a uniquely gratifying experience.

My own initiation into running for a cause started with my acquaintance with ASHA for Education in 2008. It brought me closer to friends who were deeply involved in running as well as education for underprivileged. One such lasting relationship was with Thulir at Sittlingi Village.

Thulir – A Centre for Learning at Sittlingi Village

Thulir was started in 2004 as an Education Resource Center for children and young adults at Sittilingi, a tribal village in Dharmapuri District, Tamil Nadu. Over the years, it has offered multiple programs for ever changing educational needs of the people living in the village. It was initially established as a centre for alternative education for school drop-outs and after-school program for regular school going children. In the last 12  years Thulir has catered to the educational needs of around 500 adivasi children and around 75 adolescents.
Over the years, the need of the community has moved towards a formal school set-up, in line with the prevailing education systems elsewhere. Given Thulir’s good track record and the lack of other good quality education systems in the valley, the community had requested Thulir to help start a school. Presently, there are about 35 children in the age group of 3-6 studying in Thulir. To be established as a formal school, it needs a full fledged building which is presently being constructed.

To know more about Thulir, do visit their website, or find their regular updates through their blog –

ASHA and Thulir

ASHA is a completely volunteer driven group where individuals put in time (without compensation) to support initiatives that help the underprivileged, with primary  focus on education, though are not limited to it. Asha ensures that 100% of donations go to support projects. It is a completely decentralised organisation and major decisions are taken at the chapter lever, with guidelines framed at central level. I have been associated with the Bangalore Chapter for over 7 years now. Currently, we support 6 Projects in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Running marathons and fund-raising through marathon have been a routine feature among our volunteers, in USA as well as India.

Apart from raising and disbursing funds, we also monitor the activities funded by us. Each of the projects have a ‘Steward,’ who voluntarily spends time with the projects and reports regularly on the activities of the Project. I am currently holding the Stewardship for Thulir and take the responsibility for the disbursal and utilisation of funds. My interaction (as well as the previous stewards) with the project, the annual disbursement of grants and the utilisation reports can be found here –

Current Requirement

Thulir is currently in the process of transforming itself into a full fledged regular school. A new campus is being developed in accordance with the regulations laid down by the Tamil Nadu Government. The first phase of the project needs to be completed before June 2017 to help the school obtain recognition from the Government. For more details, please check the report here.

How to donate?

Outside India:

If you are living and earning outside India, I would recommend using our online payment gateway for donation using an International Credit Card –,204,926,1109,1200

These donations are tax-deductable in the US under 501(c). You will receive an e-receipt of your donation immediately after the transaction. A printout of the e-receipt is sufficient for tax purposes.
While donating through the portal, please ensure that you select ‘Thulir School’  for “Use my donation for:’ and ‘Bangalore’ under ‘My donation is for.’ Also mention under comment “Runner – Balaji”


Within India:
If you are living and earning in India, you can donate either through NEFT or send in your cheques. These donations are tax-deductible in India under Sec. 80(g) of the Income Tax Act.

Donations through NEFT:
Please fill out this form to receive instructions for the same –

Donations through Cheque:

Make your personal cheque payable to Asha and send it my address.

S. Balaji,
2D, Madhura Manor,
Perks Arch Road,
Rajiv Gandhi Nagar,
Coimbatore – 641015
Tamil Nadu

Do visit the project page for regular updates on the project.

New Year… and New Beginnings, occassionally

And when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.

– Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

Starting a New Year is more a symbolic gesture than of any substance other than the new calendars, diaries and the routine mistakes while entering the dates manually. The only “new” thing that I remember doing for a New Year has been starting a diary of activities back in 2005 (technically in end-2004 but I choose to ignore it to ensure a better narrative). I decided to maintain a simple spreadsheet where I would enter a one word description of the physical activity that I engaged during the day. My activities were then classified into four categories – running (any distance), cycling, walking (only early morning walks considered) or sports (I used to play football on some mornings; later replaced by others).

As the number of data points increased, so was my ability to make statistical analysis, prepare colourful charts, make spectacular pointless inferences (fallout of my job as quantitative analyst) and at times, use it to motivate myself. A small sample is provided below:


I had repeatedly resisted myself from any other quantitative obsessions for a long, be it distance (except cycling), running speed, Personal Best timings, heart rate, cadence and what not! As it is said, nothing is permanent except change. I have finally chosen to get myself a Garmin 902XT and a Heart Rate Monitor and step into the world of quantitative analysis of my running and cycling.

What more, I have chosen to get into the world of Strava – and track my activities in-depth.

As far as the new year goes, I hope to be more regular with my running with or without these gadgets and statistics. My personal target for the year is fairly simple – achieve either or all of the three objectives below (in the same order):

  1. 200 days of running
  2. 300 days of active morning life – cycling, walk, yoga or run!
  3. 2,000 Kilometers of running

As far as participation in running/cycling events goes, I always feel it is best to take it as it comes in my way. The first event for the year is the The Windchasers Ooty Ultra on January 29.

Hopefully, I will be updating my blog regularly!

Wish everyone a Happy New Year!



In the Long Run, we are re-born

How long is a long run? The International Amateur Athletic Federation classifies distance above 5000m as long distance running events. The recognised events in Olympics and other events are the 5000m, 10,000m and the Marathon (42.195 Km) but the most popular, in terms of public participation, is the Half-Marathon (21.1 Km). Events above the marathon distance are called ultra-marathon events and most participants in these events (outside of major events) are largely recreational runners.

The two most challenging distances for recreational runners are the distance between their bed and shoe-rack, and their first 5 Km run. Anyone who can accomplish these two targets can set their sights on running longer and there is no limit for the maximum distance one can run. While short and medium distances are often the test of one’s physical endurance, long distance running is more a test of mental resilience over strength.

Training oneself to run long distances is often a journey that is a reward by itself. There are no short-cut techniques or a quick fix formulae or a miracle drug to become a long distance runner. It is a slow, patient process over years and a journey of discovering one’s physical and mental limits. As Rabindranath Tagore writes,

“NOT hammer strokes, but dance of the water sings the pebbles into perfection.”

Conditioning oneself to run long distances is like getting pebbles into perfection.

Some steps to help us get started:

First, plan your weekly mileage of running and do not increase it more than 10% of the previous week’s mileage. Increase the distance gradually.

Second, learn to run slower. The easiest way to run longer is to run slower as it teaches the patience to run longer. The ideal pace for running longer is to run at ‘conversational pace’ – a pace at which you can comfortably engage in a conversation with a fellow runner (not on the same lines as News hour discussions!)

Third, Learn to walk between runs – It might sound blasphemous to suggest walking to a runner. Nevertheless, taking walk breaks between runs help in recovery of muscles between the runs and gain energy to run further.

Fourth, Set yourself time-based targets like a run for 1 hour, 2 hours etc.,; distance will improve automatically.

Fifth, Hydrate well. Hydration is the key for running longer. Take frequent sips of water between the runs to keep yourself hydrated. Always carry your own bottle of water during the runs and get it re-filled at intervals.

Sixth, One of the major challenges physically in running longer is the loss of salt (Sodium) in the body causing dehydration, muscle fatigue which leads to muscle cramps. Most sports drinks, electrolytes help you to replenish the salt content during the run. You may choose natural alternatives like salted lemon juice or orange juices.

Seven, eat small portions of solids on the run. It goes without saying that the energy lost on the run must be replenished. Eating small portions of solid food, be it peanut butter sandwich or bananas or energy bars, will help in getting energised for longer runs. Professional runners normally resort to energy gels containing concentrated carbohydrates. Some of the readily available foods like peanut candy, dry fruits, chocolates and biscuits will come handy!

Last but not the least, learn to compete with yourself! In long distance running, there is nothing more to achieve than what you have achieved the previous day. You are no less inferior or superior to other long distance runners. Each runner is unique and works according to his/her strengths and weakness. Comparing with others is not only deplorable but also potentially dangerous. One may never know the years of training/conditioning that the other runner has undertaken before running the distance.

Running long distances are often a metaphor for any activity in life – career or relationships or any other passions. It is an education by itself as it helps to understand and push the physical and mental limits. At physical level, it helps you to understand your body better and the relative strengths and weakness. Personally, long distance running has helped me to understand and get rid of medication for asthma.

Shortcomings in flexibility and physical strength can be easily detected and worked upon. Mentally, it is a meditative experience there is no doubt that over the long run, you are re-born into a better person.

An edited version of this piece can be found here –

Copyright ©2016 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

The article was originally written for Chennai Runners who publish an article every fortnight under the series “Road Runner” in The Hindu – Metro Plus.

A long-distance relationship

It’s been a while since I blogged and the same must apply to my running too. A quiet year of running was finally broken by my participation (for the 5th time) in the Hyderabad Marathon in August. Participating in the fifth time was as memorable as the first time and offered some interesting experiences and learnings.

Meanwhile the onerous task of writing about my running was undertaken by Pankaja Srinivasan of The Hindu – Coimbatore edition.

Generous in her words, she at times made me feel that I miss a part of myself if I do not run regularly. As an avid reader of The Hindu from my childhood, it certainly means a lot to open The Hindu and find an article about me on the front page of Metroplus, Coimbatore edition.

Thank you Pankaja for the article and many others who are directly and indirectly responsible for the contents.


10 Years on…

Being nostalgic is often seen as a virtue of getting old and best avoided. Despite  depressing on most occasions, largely for the those at the receiving end, and occasionally elating, it does help one to get a perspective. As George Santayana would say, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Turning the clock ten years back, it was the Sunday that elated and humbled me in equal measure. January 15, 2006 – The day, I first attempted to run a Marathon, rather, The Marathon. During the days leading to the event, I was greeted with a mix of surprise, ridicule, encouragement and sometimes, even false hopes of winning a prize. On looking back, it is fairly obvious that it was a poorly thought out decision to attempt running a full marathon, with very little idea of what is in store. I was only a 5K runner between the Gandhi Statute and Labour Statue on the Marina Beach on a regular basis. It would made sense to register for a Jil-Jil run or at best, a Half-marathon. A mix of vanity and false sense of determination made me choose The Marathon.
The marathon brought in with it, some extravagance into my life which was back then ostentatious and unacceptable. A new shoe for Rs. 3500 for someone who was until then using only a canvas shoe; Air travel to Mumbai, even if costed less than the train ticket in AC compartments, were enough for my parents to blame it all on my newly found wealth – All these for a just ‘a run’ on a Sunday morning made people wonder if it was ever worth it. The registration for the event, luckily, wasn’t among them as it costed only Rs. 200 (Excluding Rs. 100, which was optional for timing chip. I did not miss it as there was no prize for those not wearing it). Thanks to my good friend Prashant, who was also running in the event, for hosting me and sparing the hotel bills!
There is very little to write about the run as such, for there was very little running during the  marathon. Starting at 8:00 AM under the bright sunshine, my race was effectively over in less than a hour. A dodgy knee and the mammoth task ahead left me wondered if I have to continue any further. It was then, the entire effort of undertaking the race dawned on me. From the financial extravagance to the ‘training’ runs and the hype that I managed to build around the event, it was indeed some kind of an ‘effort.’ Quitting was not a choice anymore and I was left with the only option – to walk all the way. I was not carrying any watch and had no idea how long it would take me to the finish. I crossed the timing mat at 14.5K  in 1hr45mins and the money spent on timing chip was justified. Before I reached the next timing point, the mat was being rolled off and taken away despite my desperate requests. A long walk followed through the dust, heat and traffic of Mumbai accompanied by a few other ‘walkers.’
The walk came to an end at 2:45 PM and couple of Samaritans near the VT Station informed me that it used to be the finish point earlier in the day. Proceeded towards the finish tent where one of the volunteer sympathetically reopened the carton box and gave me the medal; more sympathy followed with the volunteer parting a portion of his lunch to me. It did not really dawn on me that I was a marathon finisher and have joined a select few who have managed to accomplish it. The immediate feeling was that of making a fool of oneself and of disappointing a minuscule who had high hopes on me. Somewhere down the line, the accomplishment of finishing the distance slowly sank in me and helped me feel better. The inability to compete in the next two editions despite registering for it, made me realise that the participation is as important as finishing.
It has been a long journey since – many marathons followed, from domestic travel to international, track pants making way for running shorts, extravagance redefined as essentials, more words of encouragement from near and dear (now largely comprised of runners!) – there has been a sea change in running and running events. The first marathon still stands a special moment irrespective of what it turned out to be. Attempting a marathon now with such conditions still looks indomitable. Even if it was frustrating on that day, the memories are still pleasant and worth recollecting. I have run the Mumbai marathon for 4 times subsequently but the resilience shown that day was never to be repeated.

Tour of Tamil Nadu 2015 – Preview

 Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

A week back, my good friend, Srini was looking for someone to replace him in the Tour of Tamil Nadu as he is keeping himself busy with the ‘clean-up’ work in Chennai. The following day, as I was riding to my office, it suddenly stuck me ‘Why not me?’ Within the next 24 hours, most of the formalities were ironed out and I see myself participating in the Tour of Tamil Nadu.

My first experience in the Tour of Tamil Nadu was during the inaugural edition in 2010. The enthusiastic organising team of ‘Vaz’ Vasanth, Rajaram, Venkat, Suresh, Magesh and many others ensured that the tour was memorable and set the tone for the next 4  editions. The Tour was also getting popular forcing them to introduce “process” to select riders. Personally, it was difficult to join them in subsequent years due to participation on ‘Shahid’s Ultra‘ every year.

The present edition of the Tour, starting tomorrow, goes through the northern part of Tamil Nadu and covers some interesting places. Even if there are places I have visited before, there are some routes that I haven’t explored.  A quick snapshot of the places is given below:


Vellore – I have fond memories of living there between 1987 and 1992 and claim to have witnessed the River Palar in full flow. I revisited the place in 2009 and could recollect some of the places where I grew up. Often referred to as the city of 7 wonders – River without water (Palar, which may have water now due to the recent rains; Temple without God; Fort without King; Hospital without Doctors (reference to CMC); Women without beauty (apologies in advance!); Hill without trees and police without power (reference to Police training college). Of course, there are multiple variants of the above theory.

Yelagiri – My first visit to Yelagiri was in 1992 as a part of the school trip and gave my earliest memory of being on a boat. I had cycled up the hill once in 2009 during my first visit to Sittlingi (more about it later).

Yercaud – In the first edition of ToT, I had to give up the ascend of Yercaud. Later, in 2102, I managed to ride up to the top during one of the TCC weekend rides. The loop road in Yercaud is one of my all time favourite routes for running and we even managed to make an event out of it as the Servarayan Ultra.

Kolli Hills – Krishnakumar Rangachari a.k.a. KRESIDENT conducts his annual ‘Val Vil Ori’ ultramarathon on these beautiful hills. I was there for the inaugural edition in April 2014.

Thuraiyur – This trip must take me to the town for the first time.

Karumandurai – Karumandurai is located very close to Sittlingi, a village that I frequent as a part of my volunteering work with ASHA for education. It is the home of Thulir, an educational resource centre for students from underprivileged backgrounds and well known for Tribal Health Initiative, a renowned hospital. You can read more about my visits to Thulir here – While Sittlingi is located in the valley, Karumandurai is located on the top of the hill and there are no direct roads connecting them. In April 2015, I had cycled all the way to Sittlingi from my home and on second day, I rode up to Karumandurai on the dirt road (actually a stream that has gone dry). Should the Tour organisers permit, I may chalk my route through Sittlingi.


Ascend to Karumandurai from Sittlingi

Polur – I will be visiting Polur for the first time even if I have heard about it many times.

Fund Raising

Srini had originally planned to use the tour as a part of his fund raising efforts for Haji Public School, a village school up in the Kashmir mountains. Taking his mantle on the tour, I would like to dedicate this ride for his efforts and seek the assistance of readers to help him. You can read more about it here –

I will try to update on the tour and post a detailed blog after the tour.

Pacing the 5:30 Bus

To be a pacer in a marathon is an unique challenge, for it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You not only run your race but also help someone to run their race. My only experience as a pacer was during the Hyderabad Marathon in 2011, when I and KP tagged along for the 5-hr bus. Thanks to KP, we were able to ensure that the bus reached 2 minutes within the 5-hr mark (a detailed report in KP’s Blog). Four years later, I am all set for a different challenge – pacing the 5:30 Bus and sadly, no KP to help me out with the “Strategic Plan” of pacing. More than the goal of finishing the marathon in 5:30, the real difficulty is in explaining the strategy for the race. As I set to outline my proposed plan, I would also like to draw some lessons from a similar experience – running Comrades in an imaginary 12-hour bus and finishing 2 minutes to spare (the actual 12-hour bus went past me at the 6-hour mark and not to be found again!).

Who can join the 5:30 bus?

My simple answer is anyone who do not intend to finish the run under 5 hours and would like to get the best out of the entry fee they paid. On a more technical note, I would suggest that anyone who can run a half-marathon “comfortably” under 2 hours 40 minutes or “less comfortably” under 2 hours 30 minutes can join the bus to get their sub-5:30 timing for the marathon. Runners who lost their way with the 4:30 Bus or 5:00 Bus are always welcome on the run as long as they don’t wonder why we are running slow!

How do you train for the run?

I would go for something less technical and less mathematical approach. Take the event as a limited overs cricket match – you have to cover 43K (to factor the start line hiccups, GPS faults in route marking and to be on safe side) and you have 330 minutes to cover that distance. In other words, you have to cover 29K at 8 minutes per Km and 14K at 7 minutes per Km. During your training runs, find out yourself how do you feel when you run a Km in 8 minutes and 7 minutes respectively (preferably without music). This will help you to be mentally prepared for the race day. CAUTION: Do remember, you have only one wicket and there is no Duckworth-Lewis method applicable in case of rain!

The Race Day Plan

No matter what you plan or no matter how you train, all that matters is how you react to the challenges on the race day. Training and race-day plans at best helps you to be mentally and physically strong to overcome these challenges. Importantly, always prioritise safety over your goals! Your goals can wait for another day and marathons happen every month. So, make sure you don’t push yourself beyond the limits.

Pacers are normally expected to have their targets set for every Km, factored for aid-station breaks and other contingencies. This approach has its own merits and limitations. However, the objective of running the marathon is not just achieving the goals but also enjoying the run and such pedantry often takes the joy out of running. Losing an extra minute for a photograph with volunteers or dear ones on the run is more enjoyable even if it makes us finish a minute after 5:30!

I normally prefer to set hourly targets and ensuring that they are met at the end of each hour:

Hour 1 – Target 8.5K – 9K

The early morning weather of the Hyderabad, the empty roads and importantly, flat roads, must help us to run better. The humidity is often a challenge and there will always be temptation to run faster. (Average speed – 7 minutes per KM)

Hour 2 – Target 16.5K – 17K

The biggest challenge in the second hour is that the full marathon runners run into the half-marathon crowd. The road is expected to be completely blocked by the “walkers” and we need to find ways to run through them without disturbing them. If you are getting frustrated by the slow runners, do remember you were amongst them, not long ago!

Hour 3 – Target 24.5K – 25K

It is here where you start feeling the ‘hills’ of Hyderabad. For all the “elevation profiles” shared, I don’t think it would matter much impact in this stretch. If you are feeling it, it would be best to slow down and target the 6:00 Hour cut-off.

Hour 4 – Target 32K – 32.5K

This is the phase leading to the proverbial ‘wall’ of marathon. Keeping some “minutes” in hand will be useful at this phase. Walks will start featuring more in our routine.

Hour 5 – Target 39K – 39.5K

Actually, not many really knows what happens here. Let’s leave it for the race day!

The final few Kms

The exuberance of finishing will take you all the way to the finish. The last few Kms are possibly the best stretch of the route under the tree covered avenues of the HCU and the road leading to the stadium. As you enter the stadium, the early finishers of marathon and finishers of Half-marathon will be on their way back home. Some may possibly cheer and some others will give you the typical non-runners look of ‘why are you doing this?’ Ignore! This is your race and you alone is the winner!


Run-Walk is for me the way to run a marathon or any distance for runners. It is a myth that it slows our running or one cannot achieve their ‘personal bests’ and so on. The key for an efficient run-walk is consistency of application. I normally choose a 4:1 split and maintain it from the 9th minute onwards (the first walk break is avoided as it will cause disturbance to other runners). If we find ourselves having sufficient time, we may slow down to 3:1 and on the hills, we may opt to shuffle between running and walking for a short duration.

Motivational Talks!

Another feature of pacers is that they are responsible to motivate. Now, that’s the challenge I am willing to be up for! If some wants motivation, just record the video and keep! It is difficult to emulate this ‘dude’.