My Weekly Blog #10

Forget your happy place

It's mile 20 of your marathon, you're on a roll, feeling great and there are just 10 more kilometers to go, before you achieve your PB. But as your feet continue to pound the pavement, dysphoria begins to descend, your body despite your best efforts is now feeling the pain that can only arise from running 42.195 kilometers. "Just 10" is slowly becoming "Still 8". Human bodies are obviously designed to go far and go long, but in the end the pursuit of speed is a painful path, one riddled with acts of sadomasochism and techniques to keep the "pain at bay". One such techniques is to "go to your happy place", when you are suffering and in pain. Get your mind off that pain and float into this dream world of happiness.

What I have learnt from meditation, is that you really can't quieten your mind. It is an sentient being, with its own frequency and it continues to chatter, not matter how much you want it to stop. It is akin to the world we live in: There are people with all sorts of opinions. You can't stop Donald Trump from saying what he says. You can't stop Sadhguru from preaching what he preaches.
I think, you must have guessed the point I'm about to make. While you can't stop the two men from speaking, you can choose what to listen to: Trump racist rants or Sadhguru's wisdom. We have a similar choice in meditation: You can't shut your mind up, but you can catch your thoughts. You can listen to those thoughts and then make a decision on them. This technique is called Lion Mind/Monkey Mind and if it can help a person like me, whose mind almost never shuts up, it will definitely work for better people like yourself.

For example, I (used to, and sometimes still do) suffer from severe anxiety. And anxiety is simply your mind going absolutely ballistic about things it cannot control. After a job interview, I cannot control when the interviewer will reply to me, or whether the interviewer has replied to me within the time frame she promised to. It happened once in March and it with me, especially at that time, it got to a point where I couldn't move. I didn't want to get out of bed, my legs felt like lead bricks, I checked my email every 10 minutes and in order to get my mind off of it, I went for a bike ride in a freezing rain.

My mind wouldn't stop rationalising it: "She mentioned a back issue in the interview, maybe it got serious and so she isn't replying" (it did turn out to be that). But when the call finally came through, to tell me that my anxiety hadn't been worth the wait, I thought to myself : "Why did I spend the entire last week, like I was a crazy person in a padded cell?". I had no control over the future: I couldn't influence their decision, my worrying about their decision wouldn't change their minds and so my entire panic week was just detrimental to me. Maybe because the stakes were so high, and because I feared rejection, I was worried about the outcome. But why?

Was it my last job interview? No. Yes, the timing to it was crucial, but even if I had gotten that job, what difference would it have really made? Maybe I would've been less poorer, travelled to meet my parents instead of being a home arrest but in reality, all the hardship that followed, changed me for the better and taught me about gratitude. I watched Steve Jobs' "connecting the dots" speech over and over again, but it only made sense when I reached the other side.

Anyways, I feared the outcome more and that made my mind fixate on the negative aspects of failure, more than the positive ones. And this is what we do, when we go to our "happy place". The words "failure" and "pain" have negative connotations to them. They are perceived as bad things, things that need to be avoided. But in reality, without them we would never move forward in life. I was listening to a podcast recently and the host talked about how, if failure didn't exist, it would diminish the meaning of victory, how it would eliminate that pre-race excitement and anxiousness. If all you did was succeed in life, you wouldn't be a very well rounded person. And pain is beautiful. I was laughing at this thought the other day, during my run because most people would consider this idiotic. But through experience, I had developed a firm belief in the word: Suffer and I believe in making my life more about suffering and developing, than just skipping to glory.

If you go to your happy place and try to forget the pain, by doing so, while you are trying to circumvent reality, the truth is it won't last that long. Not only are you missing out on lessons this pain will teach you and help you improve, 10 kilometers is a lot of distance to covered on depleted glycogen and sore legs: it won't take you too far, before the mind will begin its negative chatter: "Why did I sign up for this race?".

Well, if you still have to ask yourself that in a negative tone, you do not understand the true essence of running. You signed up to this race, because you wanted to challenge yourself. The pain that you are facing was a part of the long terms and conditions agreement, that you clicked accept on without reading and when it is here, you are beginning to question its existence and denying it. Instead, learn to embrace the pain. Pain will be a part of the process if you do anything with your full dedication. If you want to "just finish" and if your attitude towards life is checking off bucket lists, without actually learning from them, then it is fine, but the true pursuit of any goal comes with a side-serving of pain and suffering, while only makes the result even more worthwhile.

It is going to hurt, what are you going to do about it? That's what matters. Are you going to hide or take it in your stride and continue to push on. This is what you trained for, to get going when the going starts getting tougher. Choose to make this pain your accessory, accept it for what it is: an unpleasant feeling, a bitter beginning that would culminate into a beautiful feeling. I am making it sound very easy, but in reality it is quite the opposite.

Most people will run and hide. They will finish, forget about it and bury themselves in a sea of chips and cola. But, if you do choose to embrace the pain, the next 10 kilometers will be a mindful trudge through emotions you have never experienced before, a feeling of triumph few will ever feel and you will prouder of your accomplishment as you will come out of it, a better human being.

 Talking about dedication

All of us want to get faster, fitter and stronger. But our wants often are betrayed by the approaches we take.

Let's take the simple example of running faster:

Here are the hard facts: No one obese ever has run incredibly fast. You can't be sore or tight going into your next workout or you will get injured. All fast runners are fast over various distance, it's not like they are running 30 min 5ks and then running 2:20 marathons. The pros run an incredible amount of consistent high mileage and (sometimes) get great results. And no, you can't eat whatever you want even if you're training like Anton Krupicka because you will end up with a heart disease because you cannot outrun a bad diet.

So, if you are still gorging on pizza, knowing very well that it is going to harm you in the long run then your approach towards life is much different from mine. I don't want to die from a heart disease at 40. I want to live to a 100 and be healthy. These days everything is packaged as healthy: I have seen posts from people eating white bread with an omelette and calling that healthy. People consume Protein bars, calling that healthy while they ingest 22 grams of Sugar in 1 go. And then there are articles about beer being a great recovery drink, but hey, not everyone wants to die healthy, right?

If you love food, which most people do, and you love chocolate cookies and pizzas and what not, and you run because you want to eat them, then let me tell you something straight up. You aren't going to get too much faster. You will end up googling why you are hitting plateaus in training, you will end up mulling over the facts while chowing down empty calories and you will always ask yourself, why that belly fat never leaves you.

The reason, my friends, is very simple. It's the food you are eating. And it is staring right at your face.

Kenyan Runners have a very simple formula they follow to get fast: They run long. They run fast. And sometimes they do both. Their diet is very simple and yes, they might drink cola from time and again, but the great ones don't. Haile Gebresselassie did eat bread, butter and jam as his breakfast, but he ran over 150 miles a week and I am not sure if any of us can us can match his running pedigree.
And if you think you can eat bread jam because "even Haile does", then first run a 12:30 5k, 26:50 10k and a 2:04 marathon.

People have this habit of comparing and rationalising their crap training habits because pros do it too. But trust me, you are not a pro. You are in no way, shape or form, training as hard as them. People who throw the word "Overtraining" for example, haven't actually seen what overtraining is. Anton Krupicka suffered from overtraining syndrome. Do you know how much he was running per week? 250 miles. That's 400 kilometers. Per week. Week after Week. And even then he would have been fine, if he had rested properly and paid more attention to recovery. You aren't running 250 miles a week to suffer from what Anton was suffering from, but you are still a long way from it. And it can be avoided, simply by recovering well: Sleeping better, eating cleaner and stretching. But hey, if you want to skip all of that and blame your bad results on overtraining, then you're more than welcome to do so.

Getting better at anything requires consistency. The first time I made Khichdi, I burnt it. Now I am fairly decent and get it done within 30 minutes(excluding prep time). It took me 2 years to get to that point and it took me cooking daily, to get better at it. Same with running. You can't run 30k, 1 week and then 60k the next and then complain about injury. Well, you can complain but you know the reason. It is better to continue increasing by 10% and then taking a nice down week every 4-5 weeks and then building up again. And while it sounds very simple, most people find some excuse and then most people don't get faster, do they?

I know people who have run marathons and half marathons in the same time, for years now. And I have also known those who have consistently improved. The difference between them? You can surely guess it by now.

Learn to respect intensity. And I mean it in the most polite way possible. Anyone can run long. It is all about you will to keep moving even when your legs are giving out. But did you know, that even though your leg muscles get weaker progressively in a long run, but even after running for 24 hours your leg muscles only become weaker by 35-40%, and they do not become any weaker. So infact, if you are running a 200 miler, you are doing yourself less damage than when you are running a 100 miler.(Hutchinson, A., Dr. (n.d.). Chapter 6: Muscle. In G. Millet Dr. (Author), Endure(Vol. 1). Harper Collins.) 

On the other hand, try running 10 repeats of 800 meters, as hard as you can. That burning sensation in your lungs, the feeling of your legs giving out and they abject misery of knowing that you are only halfway done, while sweating profusely even in cold weather. That is much worse than running a 100k.

Mark my words and quote me if you can: PBing in a 5k is MUCH more challenging than running a 100 miler. So if in reality, you want to get faster, you need to lay off bucket list and sightseeing goals, find a quiet stretch of road and train your butt-off.

All of this requires an incredible amount of dedication. If you decide that your marathon goal really means something important in life, to you, be prepared to become a wet blanket: socially and personally.

I am a premium wet blanket. I never have plans nor do I enjoy agreeing on them with other people. My goals are to a point of obsession(which is unhealthy, I know, but I don't want to end up in life as a loser even if it means I never see what 1 AM in a nightclub looks like). My idea of fun is unclear to other people, many times incomprehensible and many have tried to nudge me or have tried to explain to me their views and while I respect them, I am sorry but YOU ARE WRONG. It is that simple. You have to be an asshole: to yourself, to others(socially, not as a bad person, but just lost) in order to succeed. The amount of success you want is directly proportional to the amount of asshole you have to be. The ones for whom social lives matter, they can't go off and train in isolation. That would be against what they are in life. There is no way of half-assing it. You have to go all in and if you don't, then don't expect that much from the process. You get what you put in.

I am fully dedicated to being a wet blanket. I am fully dedicated to sweat the small things in life, for the greater good. I am all-in for my goals. And it is for a simple reason:

I don't want to do it for others. I don't want to do it for the glory. I don't want the attention.

I do it for myself. My self-satisfaction. I do it because I want to be a be the best version of myself because I want to fully pay homage to the gift of life that I have been given. That's my reason.

And please don't get me wrong. I know everyone does it for a different reason. But be honest about it.

Food for thought

I know you consider Pizza as a great recovery food. Or maybe a Protein shake. But what's wrong with Indian food?

More importantly, what's wrong with Khichdi?

Here's one of my staple foods, Brown Rice Khichdi (served with Marchwani, typically a dish from my side of the Himalayas)

It has 290 kCal per serving including 14.9g of Protein, 49.1g of Carbs and 5.2g of Fibre. We all know lentils are a great source of Protein and I unpolished lentils(Split Mung beans). Lentils do not have sufficient Amino acids to absorb the Proteins, and so cooking it with Brown rice serves the purpose. It contains the cysteine and methionine that lentils lack, and lentils provide the lysine that the rice does not contain enough of.

It definitely is better than a Pizza, digest easily and if cooked properly, it doesn't suck in taste either.

Here's my recipe if you ever want to give it a go:

For 2 people you need:

1 cup of Brown rice
2 cups of Split Moong beans
1/2 tablespoon turmeric
3-6 black pepper kernels
pinch of cinnamon powder
1-3 cardamoms 
Salt to taste
3 cloves of Garlic
2 Tomatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin

1. Wash and soak the rice and lentils for around 2 hours(it cooks faster if you do so).
2. Chop the garlic, grate the tomatoes
3. Heat the oil in the cooker, and crackle the cumin seeds with pepper kernels.
4. Add the turmeric, cinnamon powder and cardamoms and continue stirring.
5. Add the chopped garlic and roast until brown.
6. Add the tomatoes until they melt nicely. Add the salt to the mixture.
7. Add the rice and moong beans in the pressure cooker, with 3 cups of water
8. Cook for 3 whistles.
9. Serve hot.

As for the Marchwani, it basically Yoghurt. But because Yoghurt is cold and where I live right now and back in Uttrakhand, the weather is cold, cold Yoghurt is not that easily digested. So instead, we cook it.

Simply heat 1/2 teaspoon oil, add some cumin seeds, asafoetida, ajwain and turmeric in it and let them roast a bit. Then simply add the yoghurt and let it cook for a while. Eat hot and trust me, your stomach will thank you. 


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