Two Oceans Marathon

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The Two Oceans Marathon is one of the unique and popular marathons in the world. To begin with, it is more than a marathon – 56 Km in distance; and the attraction of the event is not on the difficulty of accomplishing the distance but on the beautiful scenic route. As is the norm in South Africa with most running events, they are stringent about the cut-off time for finishers – 7 hours from the gun shot and not a second more, which makes the event a challenging one too. Started in 1970 as a training run for the Comrades Marathon, it soon entered the marathon calendar of South Africa and became one of the most popular events in the world, with over 11,000 participants registering within the first two days of opening the registrations for this year’s edition. Organised every year during the Easter Weekend, the event was later expanded to include a half-marathon race, an international friendship run, trail runs, kids run and so on – there’s an event for everyone in the family – attracting over 35,000 runners from all over the world. This year, the event was held on March 31st and I happened to be one of the participants.

I arrived at Cape Town on March 28th in the backdrop of the acute water shortage that the city currently faces. Few minutes after my arrival, dark clouds gathered from nowhere and I was welcomed with thunderstorms and heavy rains that the city most wanted. Needless to say that the runners can claim some credit for that and the rains during the next two days. Considering the situation, the organisers had taken steps to ensure that the event does utilise any water from the city’s water resources and sought the assistance of runners to be mindful about the wastage of water. Runners were even asked to carry their own hydration packs that can be refilled in specified points.

My running weekend started with a visit to the Marathon Expo on March 29th. The routine affair of collecting the running bibs for both the marathon and the international friendship run, followed by window surfing of some of the irresistible products designed for runners that different brands have showcased in the expo – from alternatives to safety pins to clothing to shoes and what not! It was also an opportunity to meet runners from different parts of the world. The expo also featured talks by eminent runners including those with ‘Blue numbers’ – an honour for those completing 10 Two Oceans marathon. There were legendary runners who have done it even forty times!

The international friendship run on March 30th was certainly an unique feature for this event. Attended by people from different countries all over the world, with Germany, United Kingdom and Brazil having the highest number of participants. The organisers had thoughtfully arranged flags of all the countries and I had the fortune to carry the Tricolour. It was a 6 Km run through the beautiful promenade of Cape Town. Every country was cheered and welcomed by the spectators, including Australia, whose cricketers had an uneventful time a week earlier at Cape Town. At times, it looked like the best way to test one’s knowledge about flags of different countries. Somewhere, I felt that events like these bring people of different countries together more easily than the high powered summits attended by heads of state which invariably causes discomfort to the public of hosting cities.

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On March 31st, the two major events of the weekend were flagged off. The first of them was the Half-marathon participated by 16,000 runners at 5:50 AM followed by the main event, the Ultra Marathon at 6:30 AM. It looked like the organisers wanted the runners enjoy the route in the best possible way during broad daylight. To run in the main event, every runner must have run at least one marathon within 5 hours to be eligible for participation. This ensured that runners are aware of running etiquettes and respect each other, which is critical for smooth start of the run as well as running through narrow roads at many sections. There was not a minute during the seven hours when I could feel lonely in the course and yet not feel my way blocked by another runner.

The initial 30 Kms were fairly flat terrain where the only challenge was to conserve the energy for the second half of the run. The route takes us all the way towards East where one gets a chance to run alongside the Indian Ocean glistened by the morning sun. The routes goes through the suburbs of Cape Town, where the residents come out in big numbers to cheer the participants. It was from the 29th Km that the gradual ascend begins towards the Chapman’s Peak, where the English explorer John Chapman landed in South Africa. Situated at the coast of Atlantic Ocean, the road leading to the peak provides us with breathtaking views of the Ocean. Ideally, one would wish that the run ended here. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and one can even say that the real run began there!

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After reaching the top of the peak, a downhill run followed by a relatively flat terrain takes us close to the marathon distance. It was difficult to observe the contours as the focus was on the time and the distance to be covered. At about 46 Km, the next challenge was in store – a steep climb for couple of Kms followed by a steep downhill. This is the place where the race is won or lost for the lead pack and for the rest, it was a matter of hit or miss. At this stage, I feared that I might miss out the cut-off mark as I had started facing muscle cramps in my legs. The route took us through some of the green cover of Cape Town offering the much wanted cool shade when the Sun was rising over our heads. 

The theme for the event was “Run as One” and it was certainly implanted in the spirit of each runner. Seeing me struggle with cramps, one of the runners stopped to offer salt tablets; another experienced runner comforted me that I can still make it to the finish as long as I keep going. I was joined by an Aussie runner in what I would call as the mission impossible and we kept encouraging each other with undying hopes. The uncertainty persisted until the last Km when I was finally convinced that I can really make it to the finish line. The crowd around us makes sure that they celebrate in each one of our finishes. With 64 seconds to spare, I finished the race filled with thanks to my fellow runners and the wonderful Capetonians for what I am convinced as the “World’s Most Beautiful Race.”

Copyright ©2018 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, April 11, 2018 – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/running-in-the-two-oceans-marathon/article23492438.ece)

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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, http://www.thulir.org/wp/ or find their regular updates through their blog – http://www.thulir.org/wp/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 – http://new.ashanet.org/project/?pid=967

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 –
https://donate.ashanet.org/?c=31&p=203,204,926,1109,1200

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”

asha

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 – https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeiQvp9mQrxCDjRUYq_9JGrmp1KjI-RC3DtOtSmKm4zhlEp_Q/viewform

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:

workbook1

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 – https://www.strava.com/athletes/balaji 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!

 

 

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.

http://newsite.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-long-distance-relationship/article14564056.ece

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.

 

Run for Team ASHA in Bengaluru Marathon

Running a marathon is not just about running the 42.195 Km on the race day. It is more about the training for the event. The discipline required for the training brings out the best in oneself and is the real learning from the endeavour. It is not just about one’s physical ability but more about the mental determination to see oneself through the distance. Training and running marathons have been one of the memorable experiences of my life. I have decided to run the Bengaluru Marathon on October 18, 2015, and this time, it is with a difference. I will be running for Team ASHA – Bangalore.

Asha-Bangalore is a completely volunteer driven group where individuals put in time (without compensation) to support initiatives that help the underprivileged. Asha-Bangalore efforts focus on education, though are not limited to it. Asha ensures that 100% of donations go to support projects. Volunteers of Asha-Bangalore meet all administrative expenses with running the chapter. 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 amongst our volunteers, in USA as well as India.

I have been associated with ASHA for over 6 years and have found it to be more than just a fund-raising organisation. 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 – An Education Resource Center for children and young adults at Sittilingi, a tribal village in Dharmapuri District, Tamil Nadu. The goal of Thulir is to provide a place where children are in the presence of adults who can motivate them and provide support for learning, and can access basic learning resources that are not available to them in their homes or schools. My interaction (as well as the previous stewards) with the project, the annual disbursement of grants and the utilisation reports can be found here – http://www.ashanet.org/projects/project-view.php?p=967

Zero-Overheads – Although, we do have to charge for the payment gateway, where applicable and other incidental charges, Overheads incurred by volunteers are never funded out of the donations we receive. The travel and stay expenses incurred on our site visits are usually those of volunteers and there are no meeting expenses – Yes, we meet in Lalbagh, Bengaluru on 1st and 3rd Sundays and meetings are open for everyone to attend (although Lalbagh will still charge you Rs. 10 as entry fee!).

ASHA for Education has been chosen as one of the Charity partners for the upcoming Bengaluru Marathon to be held on October 18, 2015. By registering for the half/full marathon through us, you not only have the joy of finishing the Half/Full Marathon, but also the satisfaction of contributing towards the education of underprivileged children. Contributions to ASHA (after deducting payment gateway charges) are exempt from Income Tax under section 80(G). Register now for Bengaluru Marathon here – http://youtoocanrun.com/races/?ee=288

Feel free to write to me for more details.