Thursday, October 25, 2007

10 days to 100 miles.

So, here it is - the culmination of a long tiring season. We have been training through the summer and fall for this one - Our first 100 mile run.

Preparations are under way. This will be a self supported run with no AID station volunteers. Which means we will prepare our own 'drop-bags' at different locations to keep stuff we would need in the run.

Bandera is a nice little texan town. Its got quite a bunch of hills in the Hill country state park. Thats where our run will be at. It will be four 25 mile loops. The cut-off is 36 hours. We would be running through the night to get within the cut-off for the course.

The longest we have run - by time : 24 hours at grand canyon, by distance : 50 miles.

So, this is going to be a first in many ways. But, we will have friends and family to support us. We have reserved a Cabin and are planning stoves, tents etc. at the campsite. Thanks to wonderful friends we are even having pacers. Well, its our chance to get pampered and we plan on making full use of it!

Irulas, Bharathi Trust and Siddamma.

I have been fortunate to learn about this effort over the last few years. Every day I am amazed with the efforts and the work Bharathi trust undertakes. The unflinching determination and commitment inspires me to contribute whatever I can.

Siddamma is a grassroots volunteer with whom I have interacted a lot and been in constant touch over the last year. She was also in the US recently. Amongst other recognitions, she has received the Outlook award from Sonia gandhi and US state dept recognition as one of the 'Heroes in ending modern day slavery' for her work in releasing bonded irula laborers in Red hills, Tamilnadu.

Here is her story

Here is a talk given by her in Seattle.

BBC article on her work.

Bharathi Trust is the organization started by Siddamma and has been supported by Asha for long. The many aspects of Asha's work with Bharathi Trust and Siddamma are captured at
Fellowship and Resource Center


This is a residential school started by an association of Leprosy affected people. The motivation of the school is to provide opportunities to the Leprosy affected and their families. The integrated school also has children from underpriviliged backgrounds. The school while providing opportunities for the families of the leprosy affected, fights the stigma and misconceptions associated with the disease. Asha supports some of the running expenses of the school.

Leprosy - Facts

Leprosy in India -

Mrs.Padma Venkatraman is an ardent social worker. She has been volunteering to help and sustain colonies for the lerosy affected from 1989. She had worked with colonies in Delhi. She is the contact person for this project and has been working with the St. John's Leprosy Patients Rehablitation Association for a while now.

Here is a BBC Article

Asha's Gnanodaya project page

Friday, October 5, 2007

Grand Canyon

Its been a while since I have written a report on a run. But, this one was special. Like my coach Joe says "There is something about these ultra distances. People think differently and even appreciate things they usually don't". Here is my appreciation for the world around me. I have made an attempt to give you not one but two stories. There is no comparison between the two and thus this write up in no way is intended to trivialize the amazing effort thats NOT about Grand Canyon.

What lies beneath
Starting in the dark
The Sun rises
Going back home
Memories and more

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Double-crossing the Big Hole -- Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim

The day we tried to double-cross the Grand Canyon. We discovered you can cross it twice, but you cannot double-cross The Canyon. It provides you of its largesse -- in beauty and splendor, in heat and winds, in majesty and intricacy, in hills and valleys, in deceptive turns and grand spectacles. It demands its toll in blood and salt, in water and energy, in flesh and sinew. You have to pay and weaken yourself to conquer it. In the bargain, you have to feel a mortal, a survivor, not a conqueror. It was a humbling experience. It was a Grand experience. The day we tried to double-cross the Grand Canyon.

We were six, the usual four - Ganesh, Gaurav, Santhosh, and self, Padma - from California, and Arun - from Austin. The long journey began with goodies from Ashwini bakery as we drove up from Phoenix airport to our hotel in Williams. Santhosh was already in Williams. We stopped briefly at Flagstaff and bought essential supplies like grapes, avocados, Ensure, and Boost. In our original plan, we were to get to Williams, sleep a bit, and start the drive to Grand Canyon around 2-ish so that we could start our run around 3:30am. We figured that would enable us to return around 10pm.

Somewhere in between Flagstaff and Williams, I gently suggested that we get dinner and drive immediately over to the canyon and start our race at 1am. This was to help us in two ways -- one, we would be running without having slept at all, plus running in the night, so a good training for what might come in Cactus Rose; and two, we could come back sooner than the expected 10pm return. The crazy folks that are part of this group, all immediately jumped at the suggestion and soon it was decided that, that is what we would do.

And so we started at 1:30am. The plan was simple. We run down the Bright Angel trail since we can park at the trailhead. We cross the river, and break at Phantom Ranch. Then up the North Kaibab trail to the North rim. Then the return journey on the exact same route to return to our car. This would cover about 47miles in distance and over 10000 ft in elevation gain. After some initial hiccups, we stuck to this plan and went down Bright Angel. It was a glorious night, the moon was shining so bright, that we practically did not need our lamps. As we danced down by the light of the moon, across the Silver bridge on the Colorado, and waltzed into Phantom Ranch it was nearing 5am.

We had a long break at Phantom Ranch. Padma could hardly keep stuff in her stomach at this stage. We created a drop-bag and stashed all our warm clothes and extra food for the return journey, keeping with us what we thought would be sufficient to go the 28miles up the North rim and back.

The next phase was from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood campground. The day was beginning to break as we left Phantom Ranch. Slowly, as the sun rose, the canyon walls turned golden starting from the top, even as the moon continued to shine relentlessly (see above).

The moon was shining on the canyon,
Shining with all her might:
She did her very best to make
The ridges smooth and straight--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of a morning bright.

The sun was shining sulkily,
Because he thought the moon
Had got no business to be there
After the night was done--
"It's very rude of her," he said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

[Adapted that one from Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter. ]

We covered the 7 miles and reached Cottonwood around 7:45am and were promptly subject to an interrogation by the park ranger there. Turned out he was something of a runner in the past, and had a lot of knowledge (not sure about the experience) about running clothes, shoes, camelbaks, gels etc. We regrouped at Cottonwood and left for the North rim at 8:15am. This stretch was relentless uphill and quite technical in large parts. There were a couple of water spots at Roaring Springs and Supai Tunnel. The last two miles were particularly grueling as we made our way to the top by 11:10am.

The North rim was very chilly and we were also over shooting our estimated time. So we figured we need to get more calories, and we hitched a ride to the restaurant. Got some hot pizza slices, a few sandwiches for later, and some hot chocolate over there, an hitched another ride back to the trailhead. Padma and Ganesh had made it to the top by the time we got there. Arun had (prudently) decided to turn around 2 miles after Cottonwood. Gave them pizza and we immediately started heading down.

The return to Cottonwood was steep downhill and we were mostly conserving our quads and not hammering down. In between, Santhosh gave in to temptation and took off, while Gaurav and myself stuck to what we were doing -- except for the last 2 miles, which we decided to run hard. and got to Cottonwood in 2 hours after leaving the North rim. We met Arun at Cottonwood who had spent many hours there socializing with all who were passing through the campground.

Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch was a nice runnable stretch. We left Cottonwood at 3:45pm and covered the 7miles to Phantom Ranch in a little under an hour and a half, just under 13 minute miles. At Phantom Ranch we met this girl who wanted company to hike back to Cottonwood. Having delicately refused ('no luck for her' as she chose to put it), we had our sandwiches, called spouses and parents to inform the delayed return, and started our journey back.

The last stretch lasted for ever. I was sweeping and coming behind the last runner, although I am now not sure why. At that point of time, it seemed like an important thing to do. Strange how the mind works when you havent slept and are tired. Slowly we marched up the South rim and time seemed to have come to a standstill. With about a mile to go, I decided to power it up and drive the car over to the trailhead from the parking lot (it was a little away). That was a good decision since it woke me up and got me warm and going.

Then came the hardest part of the entire journey. The hour and half long drive back to Williams with 5 folks sleeping in the car. Many times I thought I will have to pull out and sleep a bit on the side of the road. Then found some Boost and that woke me up enough to feel confident about driving back safely. I thought of it then and I agree even now, I would easily trade those 1.5 hours of driving to having to climb North rim for 3+ hours even at that stage.

Here endeth the double-crossing. It had taken nearly a full day (23 hours, 23 minutes). It was the longest any of us had gone (except Padma). What with the breaks in between and such, there are no sore muscles. Only recovery needed was from the lack of sleep. Crossing the canyon is quite an adventure, and crossing it twice is a fantastic experience.