Saturday, 31 March 2012

Apple of running shoes

Skora, a startup company was working secret for past few months developing minimalist running. They have just released their men's shoes and a review is of them -

New Balance Minimus Zero Road review & giveaway

A great review and giveaway of the New Balance Minimus Zero Road shoes -

Friday, 9 September 2011

La Ultra The High - In Leh

As the aircraft starts descending into Leh, there was a buzz among the passengers and everyone starts staring out the window, whips out their cameras and starts clicking away to glory.

Was something wrong? Yes! it looks like none of us on the aircraft had seen such beautiful mountains before. 

Take a look below (full size photographs are here) -

The river on the right of the picture is the Indus!

And just when I thought it couldn't get any more beautiful, we got off the aircraft and the full face of the mountains comes into view - it simply takes your breath away!!!

The only analogy I could think off was when I saw the Taj Mahal, I must have seen the Taj Mahal thousands of times on television and in photographs, but the moment you step through  the Main Gate and the Taj comes into view - you know now.

Below is a photograph once we are off the aircraft waiting for the shuttle - 

I was already fascinated by the mountains!!!

We weren't sure if the race organizers had arranged for pickup from the airport to the hotel, but  knew that the core team and the runners were arriving by an earlier flight, so we were hoping to hitch a ride to the hotel.
I did get in touch with Rajat and he said not to worry there will be transport arranged but lost contact before I could check on how do we recognize the transport. 

Sure enough, the moment we step out of the airport, number of members of the core team along with Kunal and other local crew were present.

We were welcomed with the traditional Ladakhi greeting of "Juley" - and closest description of meaning of "Juley" I can think of is that its Aloha+.

Aloha only refers to the English greeting of Hello and Goodbye in Hawaiian (although originally it means much more), Juley is used for all kinds of greeting and acknowledgement including Hello, Goodbye, Thank you and Welcome.

Vijay, one of our local contact points, also presented us with a Khata
, a beautiful ceremonial traditional Tibetian scarf.
ymbolizing goodwill, auspiciousness and compassion, it is made of silk, and white in color which symbolizes the pure heart of the giver.

Vijay, as it turns out, becomes our go to man for the entire journey, especially logistics related stuff in terms of arranging for local transport.

Finally, we meet Rajat, after having interacted with him over email and phone calls, was glad to meet him in person.

That's me with Aparna and Rajat - photo courtesy La Ultra The High

We were quickly on our way to the hotel and the moment the car comes out the airport, I see a big road sign - pointing towards Kargil!!! - we were so close to the border.
The short 10-15 minute ride, it was mountains, mountains and more mountains, all around us, a sight to behold. Also was a number of Indian army camps, grounds, hospitals which re-enforced the fact that we weren't far away from the border.

And that was when it struck me - 
never been a few hundred meters above sea-level, I am now at 11,000 ft. in a span of 2 hours and I suddenly became conscious of my breath, was I breathing too hard too quickly? running short of breath? mild headache? Nothing, so far so good...

Next up - The Hotel.

Most important stuff

Most important point which I missed in my initial post - I was assigned to crew for Lisa Tamati ( for La Ultra.

Lisa is a very very accomplished ultra runner, putting it very very midly :-). Some of her achievements - 

  • A multiple time Badwater finisher.
  • Completed many 250 kms desert races including Marathon Des Sables, Gobi and Sahara races (part of the 4 desert races). 
  • Ran Trans 333 through the Niger desert - a distance of 333 kms.
  • Ran the length of New Zealand from Bluff to Cape Reinga covering approx 2,200km in 43 days.
  • Voted the New Zealand Maori sportswoman of the year 2008.

    Some stuff which we'll never even think of doing in a lifetime!
After being assigned as her crew, I did have interactions with her over email and she was coming down to India with Chris Ord, an adventure journalist, Darryl, the cameraman who will be shooting the doco and Sunny Grewal, one of her sponsors.

But the interactions did peter out and hadn't had much communication with her for a month before the race, so as I was travelling to Leh, was hoping that I'm a part of her crew.

To an outside looking at the races Lisa has completed, distances covered in extreme climates, La Ultra looks achievable but by no means easy.

But I was naive, so naive... 

Thursday, 8 September 2011

About La Ultra The High

Stepping back, I spoke about going to Leh to run a marathon and crew for an ultra marathon, what's an ultra marathon? Do people distances greater than a marathon? Why???
By the way isn't a marathon distance XX kilometers? Questions I used to ask about a year ago.
To clarify, a marathon is 42.2 kms and an ultra marathon is anything greater than that - typically ultra marathons are 50 kms and above.

The ultra marathon I was going to crew for La Ultra - The High, a distance of 222 kms - you read it correctly 222 kms on foot. Now ultra marathons of 200+ kms are not uncommon across the world, but what added the X factor was the altitude which adds a whole lot of complications which I'll describe in my upcoming posts.

Last year there were only 3 participants for the ultra and only 1 finisher, which practically guaranteed to have more people attempting it. Why? Because ultra marathoners are a "different" lot, the more the challenge seems impossible the more they want to attempt and conquer it. For them, unlike other atheletic disciplines from 100 mts to marathons where a podium finish matters, finishing is reward itself.

So a snapshot of La Ultra - The High (
Distance 222 kms
Time 60 hrs
Avg. Altitude - 14,850 feet
Avg. Oxygen < 33%
Temp -6C to +40C

Crossing 17,500+ feet twice!

Here is a small preview of the race, in which Dr. Rajat Chauhan, Race Director, mentions about how it all came about.

ULTRA MARATHON RACE: LA ULTRA - THE HIGH from Barry Walton on Vimeo.

Next post - Stuff which I missed out in my first post.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

La Ultra The High - To Leh

"You're what???", (add incredulous look) - that was the first reaction I got from people whom I told that I will be going to Leh to crew for an ultra. "We know that you enthusiastic about running marathons, but go all the way to Leh to volunteer for a race, and to take 2 weeks of leave for it - you've gone bonkers".

An office colleague pointed out that a certain co-worker had also taken 2 weeks of leave but that was for his wedding and 
honeymoon, "Well I'm hoping for the same". "You're planning to get married there???" (add another incredulous look), "No, no, just fall in love with the mountains" pat came my reply.

There were a number of reasons for me to go on this trip -

  • Wanted to run a race in a different city in India every month in 2011, this obviously did not pan out during the summer months since there weren't too many races in the country. This was a way to continue that quest atleast for the remaining months of the year.
  • A chance to interact with elite ultrarunners and get a glimpse of their thought process, mental makeup and training regime - this in itself would have been reason enough.
  • Haven't taken a long holiday since Nov 2010, so it was overdue.
  • Leaves, office policy dictates that leaves cannot be accumulated and if not used, will expire, so had to utilize atleast part of my holidays now since getting leaves at the end of year becomes difficult due to holiday season and many other colleagues take time off.
  • Didn't want to just travel and see places but wanted to be a part of something - didn't know what but something.
  • Never been to Leh and wanted to go there for a long-long time (and no, it wasn't because of 3 Idiots the movie but always wanted to travel to Khardung La - "the highest motorable pass in the world" on a Royal Enfield motorcycle).

I had originally planned only to run the marathon and not crew for the race, but since I had to be in Leh atleast a week in advance for acclimatization, decided to take an extra week off and head there for crewing, as the crew had to be there almost 2 weeks in advance of the ultra marathon. 

Had an extensive chat with doc (Dr. Rajat Chauhan - the Race Director), and it consisted of him telling me of all the pitfalls that leh (pun intended) 
ahead, what a thankless job it was and the end result was nothing but a sense of achievement of aiding someone in finishing the race. But he did say that the whole journey was an experience whose lessons would last a lifetime. Did it? We'll know soon enough.

So here I am, all signed up for the marathon and for crewing, my leaves from office approved and my flight tickets booked well in advance since we were told that it was tourist season in Leh and prices would go up as we moved close to August, and a bomb drops - the race organizers might be able to get cheap flight tickets thanks to a potential sponsor.

Why me? It always happens to me, book early and prices drop as the travel date gets closer, wait for prices to drop and it invariably goes up. If we get hold of these tickets, will I have to change my travel dates, will I have extend my leave?
But for some reason the tickets from the potential sponsor didn't pan out and I was back to my original schedule.

Now finally since my schedule was set, I looked up the weather and temperature in Leh to figure out what kind of clothes did I needed to carry. But numbers don't tell you the whole story, do they? So I spoke to Kunal who is a member of the core organizing committee, a mountain guide, stays in Leh, and turns out to be a Puneite to boot and all he mentioned was to carry clothes for all seasons because when you are up there on the mountain passes it could be any season.
He also mentioned to carry a postpaid cellphone connection since prepaid connections were not available locally in J&K due to security reasons and also prepaid connections on roaming would not work.

A side effect of preparing for this race, was that I got a chance to buy quite a bit of running gear (for most of the seasons) which meant a whole bunch of long sleeved running t-shirts which I normally wouldn't need running down here at sea-level and other running clothes and accessories. Folks at home have commented that I now have more running apparel than formals that I wear to work or casuals - inevitable for runners I guess.

During interactions with the Dr. Rajat, core crew members, ultra partcipants and their crew members, realized that Aparna from Pune and Girish from Mumbai were also travelling to Leh for crewing. Whew!!! What a relief, I'm not the only person who takes time off from work to come and crew.

The majority of the pre-race interaction involved around altitude acclamatization and sickness and the kind of precautions one can take to avoid it. And if one does get hit by altitude sickness what kind of medication can one take to recover. And a magic pill named Diamox was bandied about. A lot of differing views exist about Diamox, some say take it as a precaution atleast 24 hours before you hit high altitude and others say don't take it unless you are down with altitude sickness. I'm not too fond of taking pills but having no experience with altitude, I decide to take one about 12 hours before landing in Leh.

Normally, I also read up before taking medication, in terms of side effects etc. but this time for some reason I didn't and missed out on one important side effect - you pee like a horse!!! 
Which I came to know well after landing in Leh by the time I had decided on avoiding Diamox unless it was absolutely essential.

So come July 31st I'm all packed and ready-to-go, co-incidentally me and Aparna are on the same flights till Leh, we take the 10 pm flight from Mumbai to Delhi and a connecting flight from Delhi to Leh at 5:30 am on the Terminal 3 at Delhi Airport.

What a terminal! For anything inside the terminal one has to walk what seems like miles, a precusor of things to come? And why did I have to walk so much - thanks to Diamox. Usually I don't use the toilets in the aircraft during domestic flights which typically aren't more than 2 hours, but this time before even the flight took of for Leh, I was in queue for the loo - I guess I'm not the only one taking Diamox.

Other than the whole walking thing and the loo hunting, the whole journey from Delhi was pretty uneventful.

Next post - Leh & beyond - a preview of the mountains.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011