Sunday, December 31, 2017




2017 - A look back.

2017 was a wonderful year for a lot of us. Team Asha Triathlon program had a record number of new triathletes and all of them successfully completed their first triathlons (Oakland and Marin). Almost all of them have found a new love for open water swimming and triathlons. Further to that Sumit Jain and Shashi Dakuri completed their first Ironman Triathlon in Canada. It is great to see all these athletes enjoy the sport and reach new heights.

 Asha Triathletes after Marin County Triathlon
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My year: 

Total training miles for the year:
Swim: ~90 miles (158,409 Yards)
Bike: 1,817 miles
Run: 728 miles

The year started with my 6th running of the Napa Valley Marathon and it was a good primer for Ironman Canada training. Napa was a good run, cold and wet at the start. Yup it was raining. I felt good and ran a relaxed and easy race.

Sitting in the shuttle prior to Napa start.


The Team Asha Spring Run is always a fun event - great place to meet all our past and future runners. It was a well conducted and well represented event.

Given that Wildflower Tri was cancelled, Stan, Shashi, Sumit and I participated in the Auburn Half distance tri as part of our Ironman Canada training. Stan and I had done Auburn back in 2008 and I remember the bike course to be really hilly. Great training for Canada. Auburn did not disappoint, it was a warm day on a tough course. All of us did well and were cheered on by our Team Asha folks - thanks Karthik, Surya and Renuka.

All in all it was turning out to be a pretty decent training year with loads of hill training on the bike. Ironman Canada has a hilly bike course so we did plan and ride a lot of hills. Over a 100K feet of climbing (as per Strava). That is a lot for me. We did a lot of hill repeats - replicating the course. Going up Page Mill twice in a ride; Once at the start and once around the 90 mile mark. Or alternating the hills with Page Mill, Old LaHonda and Kings Mountain. Between January and July I did Old La Honda 19 times, Page Mill 9 times, Kings Mountain and Mt Hamilton 1 each. This was probably the hardest I've trained since 2007!    

For the final push I joined Stan, Shashi and Sumit for Stan's special Super Brick training session (a bike 30 miles /run 8 miles , bike 15/run 5, bike 15/run 7 session) and actually felt good! So I had no excuses, I even bought a new bike this year (my previous ride was a Lemond I bought in 2002).

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My new bike

Around June I had a bad day on the bike - it was during the longest ride - I just imploded and it took me almost 2 days to recover! I still have no idea what happened. But that was a huge setback. After that I tried switching my diet from all Gels to VESPA + gels (a favorite of a lot of Ultra runners). VESPA is supposed to work on a fat burning system 'Fat as fuel' (as opposed to an influx of sugars from Gels). After a few tries I managed to reduce the amount of gels (eGels) during training. But during Ironman Canada - I don't think the diet change worked. I was pretty much out of it by the time I got off the bike and after that it was just a long tired trudge to the finish line. It was my slowest Ironman finish. The race started off pretty well - the swim is in the gorgeous Alta lake. What a setting!

 Lake Alta

The bike ride has two long climbs. About a 10 mile climb in the beginning and a 10 mile climb back into Whistler at around mile 90. Brutal! I was doing fine till the about mile 80. The climb back into Whistler just knocked the wind out of me. Once I started the run (a walk really) I had decided that no matter what I had to finish. I had dropped out of Ironman Lake Tahoe at around mile 8 or 9 on the run and did not want to repeat that. My stomach was in full bloom and after frequent porta visits I pushed on slowly to the finish. This was my 13th Ironman start and 11th finish (and my slowest finish). I think I am done with the full distance for now.



Food Intake: Crank sports drink, eGel, VESPA Jr. (VESPA every 2 hours, eGel every 60 mins, sports drink ~300cals over 2 hours.)  
Issues remain the same: Bloating, GI distress and a light headed feeling after about 8-9 hours.

Sumit, Shashi, Rajeev Shankar and Stan had a much better time and all of them finished strong. Huge congratulations to Sumit and Shashi for finishing their first Full Ironman! Rock Stars! Big Thank you for all those that came to cheer us.

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Team CovFeFe Cheering Squad.
The finishers

I followed up the year with Santa Cruz 70.3 (Half Ironman) - Had a near miss the weekend before the race. Labor Day weekend, I crashed while riding my bike and luckily did not break anything (me or the bike) - Just a sore shoulder. But 10 miles later a car clipped by back wheel - again I was lucky - the driver did not stop but my wheel was bent out of shape. I just skidded into the hedges and thanked my lucky stars! Got a new back wheel and the next week I was up and ready for Santa Cruz 70.3. I love racing in Santa Cruz - beautiful water, fantastic bike course (Highway 1) and a run along the coast. Pure beauty. Due to heavy morning fog the 1.2 mile swim was reduced to about 800 yards. I had a fun race. Met up with Pavan Singh after years! And we ran a few miles together. Was great catching up!

Come October it is Chicago. This was my 13th year of running Chicago marathon. My sister had signed up too so we ran it together. Chicago is always fun as I get to meet the family.

 Perfect weather in Chicago

 Downtown Chicago

Sumit, Rochan and I signed up with Odyessy Swim Club and swam Alcatraz. My 10th time doing the Alcatraz swim. Towards the end we all got caught in the incoming tide - it was like being stuck on a treadmill - we finally got a short 75-100 yard boat ride to be re-positioned - the power of the tide was just amazing! Big Congrats to Rochan and Sumit for their first Alcatraz swim. Looking forward to many more Open Water swims with them.

Scalps!

 
The Year In Medals
In November, while on a visit to India, my nephew Ranjit and I ran the IIT Bombay 10k and ended up 3rd in my age group! LOL!

 
Now for some rest and relaxation.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim backpacking trip

Oct 21st to Oct 25th

A great site for Grand Canyon hike details

The lead up.

Prakash started the ball rolling and about 15 folks jumped in and said yes. After everyone figured out their personal time commitments we were down to 9 of us who were sure and were in for the training and the hike. We started doing some PG&E trail hikes (at Rancho San Antanio). Slowly adding some weight to our packs and having everyone break in their new hiking boots and getting used to the hiking poles. The 10 committed folks were: Renuka, Mittal, Ravali, Neha, Prakash, Sumit, Shashidhar, Balu and yours truly. Everyone was getting the required training and 5 of us were also running Chicago marathon so that too was helping us get ready.

Training Backpacking trip: Desolation Wilderness. Sep 24th/25th.
Renuka, Neha, Mittal, Ravali, Balu, Sumit, Shashi and Rajeev
We looked around for a decent backpacking trip to help folks get used to carrying their fully loaded packs and to be able to set up tents, cook food and be ready to pursue natures call in nature. 8 of us packed into two cars and drove up to Loon Lake trail head (Eldorado National Forest - just south/west of Lake Tahoe). We started the hike around 10AM slogged the 7 miles to Rockbound Lake. The trail is rocky and has a bit of elevation - we start at around 6,400 feet and topped out around 6,800 feet. The walk in was a bit tiring as all of us were getting used to the backpacks and the various chaffing and heat exhaustion chipping in. The trail goes up the east shore of Loon Lake then turns right, past Spider Lake, Buck Island Lake and then hits Rockbound Lake in Desolation Wilderness. The only water source is at the Pleasant Campground at the north east edge of Loon Lake. Access to the lake along the way will take you off the trail. So we had plenty of water with us for the entire 7 miles. We got to Rockbound Lake at around 5:00PM and Shashi, Sumit and I went looking for a decent campsite.

The trail

We pitched our tents near the west end of the lake - seemed like the best spot - easy water access yet far enough from the water and well protected from the wind. We started the evening with the refilling of our water bottles from the lake (using a filter of course) and everyone pitched in. We all settled in for a relaxed evening of a few sips of whiskey, some yummy freeze dried backpacking food and some beautiful star gazing. Energy levels were up and everyone relaxed. We packed all the food and other scented stuff into the bear boxes we were carrying and all the left over stuff (garbage etc.) was hung up high on a tree.
 Photo credit Sumit Jain

The weather was pretty good - not too cold at all, but around midnight the winds picked up and it was howling all night. Absolutely wonderful to hear it whispering then screaming through the trees. Next morning we all were up and ready to leave by 9:30. Mittal and I took a quick dip in the frigid waters of Rockbound Lake. Nice and refreshing. The trip back was quick as everyone seemed much more at ease with their packs. We got back in under 5 hours. All in all a wonderful experience for everyone.

 Filtering water
 A night time selfie
 The Gang
 Rockbound Lake
 The Trail
 Loon Lake
 Loon Lake
Chicago Marathon - Sumit, Neha, Ravali, Shashi and I ran the Chicago Marathon on Oct 9th. unfortunately Neha sprained her ankle pretty badly and was pretty much out for the Grand Canyon trip...that was a bummer. She did however complete her first marathon!

Before the start: Photograph by Condor Bob

Grand Canyon (GC):
Stan had joined the GC trip as we had an extra permit. With Neha out, it was 9 of us heading out. Ravali, Renuka, Mittal, Shashi, Sumit, Balu, Stan, Prakash and I. We flew into Vegas picked up our van and drove to the South Rim, picking up last minute stuff at the REI in Henderson (Gas canisters, matches etc.), we had reservations at Maswick Lodge. After a quick dinner we all packed our backpacks - leaving unnecessary stuff in the van. We were ready by 6:30AM and had a shuttle drop us off to the North Rim (a four and a half hour drive). Our shuttle driver was Bob George better known as Condor Bob. He is a biologist with the Park Services and has been doing research on the California Condors for the past 6 years. We had a long conversation with him about various topics, his breadth of knowledge was fantastic and he kept the 4 hour journey interesting (even though it was tough at times to hear him over the incessant argument going on in the back seats about some inane tech issue...techies!!). He is also an ultra runner, Ironman triathlete, avid sailor. More about him here:
http://www.grandcanyonnews.com/news/2015/sep/15/tracking-grand-canyons-condors/
 He also mentioned GC artists Bruce Aiken who lived in the canyon for decades - Bruce's paintings are incredible...here is his website:
http://www.bruceaiken.com/grand-canyon  
and more about him:
Bob also mentioned another artist, Serena Supplee, here is her website: http://serenasupplee.com/originals/orig-gc/

Back to the trip :)
Day 1 - 7 miles (North Kaibab trail to Cottonwood Campsite)

We started the hike down at 12:30PM - I was, as usual, trying to rush everyone out as quickly as possible knowing that it would be a hard long hike. And it was! Renuka, Prakash, Mittal and I stayed together most of the way as the others moved on quickly. We slowed down as all of us were tiring and finally made it into Cottonwood Camp Ground at around 6:45PM - the last mile and a half was walked in the dark, not something that I enjoyed. Renuka and I were tired - Mittal was doing really well and it was wonderful of her to stay back with us. She almost stepped on a rattle snake! We waited for it to cross the trail and then continued on. With Stan coming back a mile and a half to help with our backpacks it was a real god sent. We limped into the campsite - I was out of energy and only after setting up our tent and packing away the foods and scented stuff into the critter box did I settle in for some whiskey and food. Ravali had already set up the food and was helping everyone get fed. Shashi had conveniently burnt his hand and thus was of no help to anyone! ;) After dinner a few of us walked down the trail a bit to look up at the brilliant night sky. Absolutely serene!

A pensive moment - Photo Credit Prakash Jalan

Photo Credit Prakash Jalan
The Rattle Snake (My iPhone)

 Day 2 - 7 miles (Cotton Wood to Bright Angel)
After a nice cool night we were up and ready for a slightly easier Day 2 - 7 miles, mostly flat and along the bottom of the canyon. Renuka and I decided to skip the detour to Ribbon Falls which was about an additional 2 miles. We took our time walking to Phantom Ranch and stopped along the way to enjoy the canyon. It was a warm day but we managed to get out off the open areas and into the narrow canyon before the sun got too hot. This is a spectacularly beautiful part of the hike. Nearly 2 billion years of rock layers rising up on either side of us. After the star gazing last night, the sheer age put things in perspective...again. We got to the cafe at Phantom Ranch and sat and had a cold beer and waited for the others to come in. Shashi, Balu, Stan and Ravali came in just before 4 and we walked on to the Bright Angel campsite. There are two group sites and the better one was taken - so we settled into the lesser site, pitched our tents and went to the river for a quick dip in the cool waters. Mittal, Prakash and Sumit came in just after dark. All of them had had a great time at Ribbon Falls. The Camp Ranger swung by to give us some updates and he said thunderstorms are expected so be prepared. We all settled in after agreeing to be up and out by 5:30AM to beat the heat and have plenty of time for the 9 miles out of the canyon. We had booked two mules and had to pack the tents and drop them off by 5:30AM so we could all head out. Well, that was what was decided...












Day 3: 9 miles out of the canyon. (Bright Angel to South Rim via Bright Angel trail.)
The night was fitful - We had decided not to open our sleeping bags as it was pretty warm. But by midnight it got a bit chilly so we opened one sleeping bag. Then I think some critter tried to get into Stan's backpack at 3:00AM so all that drama woke me up. At 4:00AM the heavens opened up and a thunderstorm passed over us. That was it, I was up and started packing for the morning. As soon as it stopped we were out and packed and ready to roll by 5:15AM. I tried to push the others to get going and start packing, but that was a lost cause. We finally got Renuka, Shashi and Stan to start off at 6:10AM - Prakash, Sumit and I went and dropped the two 30 lbs bags off for the mules and picked up our 'to go' lunch from Phantom Ranch. We finally got going at 7:00AM. Ravali, Balu, Sumit, Mittal, Prakash and I were together most of the way. We caught up with the others at Indian Gardens which is about half way up. There Renuka stayed with us as Stan, Shashi and Balu decided to go on faster. The rest of us trudged up those last 4.5 miles of 12%+ grade. There are water stops every 1.5 miles and the altitude goes up a 1000 feet between them. We were really tired, it was a slow unforgiving (but gorgeous) climb out. Everyone did really well - egging each other on - singing songs and sticking together. We made sure everyone drank water and kept up with the electrolytes, salty snacks and gels. We finally made it up at 3:50PM - what a wonderful trip - what a fantastic group of friends. This is a tough tough hike, specially with a backpack on. So train hard and be prepared. By late evening I was completely drained, the lack of sleep and the completion of the trip just caught up with me and I was a complete gone case :) - curled up and went to bed early.

Huge thank you to Prakash, Shashi for all the arrangements, absolutely seamless trip - and thank you to Stan for helping out like he always does. Thank you to Prakash, Mittal for being with Renuka and us through day 1. Thank you to Shashi and Stan for the help early on day 3 and Shashi for all the driving. And thank you to Balu, Sumit and Ravali for all the help along the way. Wonderful team!





 At the top of the South Rim

 The shoes that did the job - Desolation/Chicago Marathon/GC
 At the BnB in Flagstaff After the hike
A whiteboard rendition of the Grand Canyon