10 lessons I learnt along 10000 miles.

Oh yes, just in case the title isn't clear, I completed 10000 miles of running a week back. That is around 40% of the circumference of the earth. I took me almost 5 years to do it, 4 if you count the injuries and initial phase of my running career.

When I first started running in 2012, I saw an article in the newspaper which talked about people running 75k at the Bangalore Ultra. I had no real running experience, I had done some running in the offseason back when I was a swimmer. But nothing more than a 5k maybe in 25 minutes, never really timed it back then.
And in September 2012, I weighed in at 66 kgs. I was quite chubby. And I relied on the Nike + app on my iPod (which did not have a GPS btw). So even when I was running 12k, I showed 16.
I learnt it the hard way, when during my 1st Half Marathon, 21.1k came in 1:41, but on the race course it showed 16k. I finished in a miserable time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. It hurt like hell and I just could not walk or stand. So when I saw someone "runs" 75k, I was quite amazed, for lack of a better word.
In 2014, I was at the 75k mark of my 1st 100k. I was leading the race by over 3 hours at that point and the only reason I was walking was because my crew member was injured and I didn't want to dump him in the forest. (I ran the last 20k in 1:30, just for the record).

So what changed? A lot of things. While some stayed the same.

Just for the record, 10000 miles isn't really a big deal. Ultramarathoners do it every year, and I did it around 5. (Out of which the last 2 years were triathlon years, which really took a big chunk out of my average). I am basically a "newbie" in terms of where I want to be. This is more of an introspection, a look back, if you may at the last 10000 miles, things I learnt, things I would like to better and things I would like to change. (PS: I am going to put 10 of my favourite running photos from the last 5 years in this blog)

1. In the end it is all about you: In 2013, I ran almost everyday. And I posted on social media every day. I don't really know why I did it. I had like 5 people who followed me, I didn't have a girlfriend at that time.
Maybe it started more because I was on a WhatsApp group where everyone shared their workout and I thought that is what runners do.
And then I began to get followers and I thought, okay, maybe I can inspire them (which is such bullshit. Me running 21k at 3:45/km will not influence someone to run the same distance until they want to.)
It was like me being a vegetarian and forcing my opinion on other people. Like those irritating uneducated morons "helpful" non-vegetarian bodybuilders with big muscles, bigger paunches do. 
Everyone has a path they are destined to live. And everyone eventually figures it out, if they can't then it is not your responsibility. Others aren't your responsibility.
You are your responsibility and the actions you take are your responsibility.
And then from 2014-2016, I posted because people told me to. (Actually, to my credit I never endorsed shit products). Because this little hobby of mine became expensive and I thought if someone can buy me a pair of shoes, why not post about it. What I forgot is I can pay for it. Through my own pocket. I have a pretty supportive family and girlfriend, who do not want me splurging on them. Again, I lost control over my own social media. I added random people on my social media because 250 likes on Social Media meant maybe Adidas will send me another shoe (cheap bastards sent 2 pairs in 1 year, I run through 1 in 2 months).
And then like Unglimala had an epiphany after Buddha spoke to him, I had one too.
People on Facebook are not the network I need to build my NGO and make India a Gold Medal factory for Athletics. The network lies beyond Facebook, in the real world, real people. Most of the people on Facebook just put up silly hashtags, criticise the Government without really knowing the truth and best of all, behave like textbook hypocrites.
So my list came down from 2600 to 1800. And it will sure enough fall to a 1000 and maybe lower (Facebook becomes extremely slow as I scroll down the list).

The people who will remain are the ones who are doing stuff for themselves and making the world a better place through their actions and not their selfies.

So I do apologize for the infinite Nike + posts, I was just a kid.

PS: In a way, initially I also posted because I thought it was a big fuck you to the people who mocked me for running (funnily enough they ended up picking running in the end). This word, people segues nicely into Point 2.

2. (Most) People = Shit : If I am coming off as a misanthrope, it is because I am one. I love dogs, because they loyal, honest souls. They understand you and they are innocent, if they do something wrong they do it without any evil intentions.

People (most of them) are the exact opposite. Take for example someone who I really thought was my friend. I generally do not make friends that easily. If I do, I commit to them and I expect them to be atleast loyal and honest to me. And being a grumpy old man, I tend to openly disagree with some of the opinions my friends have. (which results in a lot of fighting with my girlfriend, but with years of experience I have realised, dude, you've gotta stay quiet).

Anyways, coming back to the "friend". I was quite nice to him and he was quite nice to me. And people said he is man who just becomes friends with you because he sees profit from you, but hey I was 23. Then I unfollowed the person on Facebook, because his Facebook was hilariously annoying and quite cringeworthy. I like my Social Media guilt free.

The dude stopped talking to me because I stopped liking his posts. Mind you, the guy was 15-16 years older than me but then maturity is not correlated to age. Then when I did Ultraman, all of a sudden I became his best friend again.
I was going to help him sell his event. He added me on a Whatsapp group, which got 70 messages each day from people who wanted to get drunk so that they could impress women and get drunk and that specific subset is near the top of my hate list. So I left the Whatsapp group and guess what, he removes me from his event, lies to people that I pulled out and all the time I am wondering what went wrong.

Running has taught me who people are, really. Some runners have fragile egos and they run because they crave attention and as the miles went by I realised I am better off without them.

I guess what I am really trying to say here, especially to demographic of runners who are at the cusp of reaching a level of "fame" where people will cling on to you just because of the number next to your name : Choose your friends carefully.


3. (Some) People = Gold
: I actually am not a misanthrope. For 9 bad people I met, I met 1 good person.

For 9 trash talkers, I met one person who supported me. For 9 "social media" athletes, I met one who was an inspiration. For 9 who made me lose faith in humanity, there was always 1 who made me realise the world can still be saved,

I met selfless people along the way, people who would gain only a vicarious sense of joy from helping me. People who helped me when I was down, when I was broke, when I was depressed and when I was injured.

People who saw my potential and actually went out of their way to help me. And I am what I am today because of them.

And I met my girlfriend, who does not run but makes me want to do my best each day. Someone who I still think is out of my league and I am just clocking miles to get to her. (PS: I don't run to impress her, I doubt she is even impressed by it, I just do it so that she can be proud that her "risky investment" is doing well).

I think from points 2 and 3, the one message you can pick up is try to choose your friends carefully. Especially if you are someone who takes principled stands and gets emotional over acts of kindness.

4. It is okay to go slow, stop and settle down:
Back in 2013, my training strategy was simple.
Tuesday to Friday: 12k each day in 50 minutes
Saturday and Sunday: 20k on each day in about 90 minutes.
Monday: 11k in 50 minutes (recovery day)

I would not recommend this at all. I worked for me. I did cut down my HM time from 2:23 to 1:25.
But this suited me because my running form is efficient and I weighed 54 kgs at that time. And I was 22, which meant I could recover despite sleeping 5 hours a night. I was lucky I didn't get injured.

And as I didn't get injured, my training in 2014 (July and August 2014) was:
Monday: 24k in 1:50 (recovery run)
Tuesday to Friday: 21.1k in 1:30
Saturday and Sunday: 30k in 2:10 or its whereabouts.

Yes, I did improve but towards the end of this training block I got plantar fasciitis. And then I decided to an Ironman.
And somehow I listened to people with paunches, took whey protein and gained weight. Which coupled with volume caused a hamstring injury. And when recovery was insufficient, I caused a minor MCL tear.

I'm still losing that fucking weight. But I have slowed down. Not in racing, I can still run a Sub 1:22 HM if I want to, but I actually run slower 80% of the time. I have stopped listening to music, stopped listening to my watch, stopped racing with random people on the road. (I actually could not bear someone overtaking me, the nerve of that person to overtake me while I am doing my casual recovery run!)

But I enjoy running more than I used to in the period I was a slave to technology. While chasing down goals it is easy to overlook what you really wanted when you started. When I started running I didn't know I would be able to run 34:50 for 10k. Infact, the 1st race I ever won was a 10k which I ran in 45:30 and that was the 1st time in my life I ran a Sub 5 minute Km. Running to me was about getting fit and finding time for myself during the day. I don't know when the line between this and my goals became diluted and priorities changed.

But, if there is 1 thing I can take away it is this: Running for the pure joy of it is much better than training for 35 minute 10k and returning hope with disappointment that you couldn't. Timings will come if you keep at it and enjoy your training. If you lose the enjoyment, getting to that timing will be a hard task.

5. If you really are serious about getting better at running, then you need to cross train (and recover): I can't stress this enough. And even I don't follow my advice (I need to change it, that's my goal for 2018).

If you are sick. Stop. Rest. Don't risk your health.
2 days of not running will give you more benefits than 2 days of suffering through a fever.

In the real world, there are heart diseases which you can develop because of pushing through when your body is being pushed down by infections.

Sleep, as much as you can. It is the best recovery tool in the world.

Learn to embrace the foam roller, learn to eat right and stay hydrated.

Get some core workout done, work on your back and your running form.

And hey, if you don't train hard enough, if you are not putting in the miles, then all of this is quite pointless. These are things for marginal gains. Real gains come when you do some real running.

6. Try to recognise suffering: This is a critical lesson I learn and it really ties in with point 5.
You really need to identify the good suffering and the bad suffering.

All of you have been given a mind. All of you know how to use it.

If you are injured or broke something or something tragic happened to you during your race; LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. 
If you plan to suffer through that and finish, I won't blame you. But I still would say, you should pick your battles.
Maybe if you are doing the Olympics and you have no clue if in 4 years you will be able to qualify, then yes, by all means, finish.
If you are doing a local 10k or 21k and you know you will come back stronger next year. Accept it.

For me suffering is essential. Not everything is supposed to be easy. You have to push yourself sometimes to get better. Even though I train 80% easy, 20% of what I do is pushing myself to the limit.
And without that you cannot improve.

If at any stage during that 20%, I feel like my foot will fall off and break or I will injure myself and won't be able to recover, I slow down. I listen to my body. I diagnose what is wrong.
But if during those 20% my mind is muttering, "Why are you running this fast, let us slow down". Or I feel like I cannot sustain that pace even though I know I can, I don't stop. I let myself suffer through it.

It is plain common sense if I am honest. It is just a matter of choosing to use it.

7. DO NOT miss your long run (or crucial speedwork or anything which is crucial): I mean this. Whatever distance you are running, if you are skipping your long run you are just undoing all the work you did for the entire week.

I have learnt this over the years, running fast over long distance is about understanding fatigue and training your body not to lose form or strength over that last period where you feel everything is going south.

My worst races have been the ones where I just didn't have the finishing speed or strength. And more often than not, they came because I was just not ready for the distance. Take for example my 1st Marathon. The longest run I did was 21k. And it was not that I didn't train. I did 100+ kms each week, I could run 1:25 HM at that time. But the longest run I was doing was 21k each day of the weekend. Which is fine, but 2*21 does not have the same effect as 1*33. Trust me on that.

And even during speedwork (again trailing back to the previous point), there are moments when you think that you cannot push yourself. Which is fine. If your coach told you to run 2 minutes @ 3:30/km 17 times and after 10, you are falling to 3:40, it is okay. You might not have slept properly or not eaten properly. But if you quit at that 10, rather than finishing the remaining 7 @ 3:40, you are not only losing the gains from that workout, you are training your mind to think it is okay to quit. (No it isn't, unless you are injured).

8. I would say Warmup is critical, but I haven't warmed up in these 5 years: I am not joking. I do not warm up. I know it is stupid and my coach is now forcing me to warmup, but I actually have had days when I started running at 3:45/km right from the get go.

Please don't do it, I'm sure it is wrong not to warmup.

9. Equipment matters: Again, it matters less than training. I get countless messages from curious people who want to know my shoes and run 10% of my mileage each week. They are one set of annoying people I cannot tolerate.

But again, if you are training seriously, then your shoes do begin to matter. I have gone through all types of shoes. I have run a Sub 3 Marathon in Minimalist shoes and done 100 miles weeks in them, but that's because my running form is decent enough to sustain that sort of push.

Again, things might vary from person to person and one shoe which works for 1 group of people might not work for another. And no one can guide you on that, there are shoe experts but at the end of the day what matters is your comfort.

Best thing to do is go though several pair of shoes and see what works for you. I know it is expensive and it is time consuming, but then you chose this, right?

Currently, I am using Hoka One One Clifton 4 (which are the exact opposite of my Nike Flyknit 3.0, similar weight but a whole lot of cushioning). And honestly, I love them. They are sturdy, they can take a beating and they can help you avoid shin splints.

10. Always keep it real: If I can condense all the points I tried to make above, I'd say this. I know we are on social media and we love the attention. Who doesn't, right? People make flattering comments and you know that same person will disappear when you are down, but hey, we live for moments of glory.

I know, we all get frustrated with running. If we are training for a race and we face a slump, we cannot do the same workout we pulled off so flawlessly last week, we get angry.

These moments are what warrant a reality check. You chose running, as a hobby, as a sport.
And when you did, you chose the ups and downs, the pain, the misery and the glory which comes with it.
Even if you are the last finisher in the marathon, nobody can take that sense of accomplishment of finishing 26.2 miles from you. Nobody can actually feel that joy, especially not those who are sitting on the couch, passing judgments on how running is bad for your knees.

Whatever glory you get, don't let it change you. Even if you win the world championship, it only means you were better than a bunch of people on that given day. It is very small in the whole scheme of the universe. I'm not saying don't enjoy it, enjoy these moments because they are the culmination of your hard work but do not let the bad moments take the joy out of your running. They are also a part of your journey. A journey that you chose, a journey that you will gladly remember and follow for your whole life.



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