Before I am accused of plagiarizing, let me right away attribute the title of this blog post to William Forrester. I had watched this brilliant film in early 2000s called “Finding Forrester”. The gifted writer in this film named Jamaal had copied the same title from Forrester’s unfinished work and carved an essay out of it. Since then, I have been fascinated by this title – “A Season in Faith’s Perfection” – and I have hoped that some day, I can use this title to write something from my own experiences.
I am still not fully sure what these words mean, but I am using them for writing an extended mid-season reflection on the training that I have been involved in with Runners’ High for the KTM trail and the Bangalore Ultra races to be held in September and November respectively.
A Season of Imperfections and Uncertain Faith: I gave up running from December 2010 until February 2011 owing to the ovarian cyst that I had developed. My doctors advised that since I also had an infection in my pelvis region, I must avoid any physical activity that gives jerks to the pelvic region.
When I started training for the TCS World 10k race from February onwards, my doctor advised that I go easy, and gradually get back to full form running. Accordingly, I would do beginner workouts and runs for the training. But having given up running for three months, I figured that I was finding it very, very tough to get back to full form, committed training, on the TCS World 10k programme. I ended up skipping many training sessions, and I also missed out on most of the training because of hectic travel schedules and with cousins on different sides of my families deciding to get married in April and May. This was also the time when I was struggling to get back to full fledged writing. So, this period turned out to be a phase when both my running and writing were very uncertain. Overall, I remained depressed during this season. I was also getting over the nervousness of the ovarian cyst and so, I was being cautious in whatever runs I managed to mile, not raising the standards of my stamina and physical strength.
A Season for Seeking Perfection: I began the KTM and Ultra training programme with the goal that I should be able to run 50k by the end of this year, most probably at the Ultra. I felt that having this kind of a challenging goal would keep me motivated and would also help me in improving my goals for writing my PhD thesis. With this thought, I approached my coach Santhosh and told him that I wanted to mile 50k. Santhosh being the man who minces no words when he has to, clearly told me that I cannot train for 50k given how irregular I had been with the previous training and that I had shown no commitment towards strength training and core workouts too. I somehow argued my way back and tried to explain to him why I needed to have a challenging running goal in order for me to get back fully with the training. Just also somehow, Santhosh and I reached a mid-way agreement that if I was good with the KTM training, Santhosh would help me with training for the 37.5k run at the Ultra race. Thus began a training season which was to be a measure of my commitment to consistency, regularity and improvement.
This time around, I signed up for the advanced workouts. RH usually has beginner and advanced workouts. Thus far, I had always signed up for beginner workouts thinking that on each training season I am beginning anew. Moreover, advanced trainers often focussed on time goals (maybe not exclusively) and improving on their past performances. When I started running, I had figured that time was not the issue for me. What mattered was how far I could go on running the distances, irrespective of how long it took me to finish. But, this time, having signed for advanced workouts, I realized that being in the advanced category involves pushing one’s limits on each workout, on each run. Even though advanced runners focus on improving their timings on the runs, they have to keep up their commitment to strength training, to maintaining consistency in pace, and giving their best on every run in order to do better. I think that even though I was reluctant to be in the advanced category, it has done me a great deal of good in terms of improving my strength, fitness and appetite for running.
Beginnings of faith: My husband, Kiran, used to run with me on every weekend run in the first month of the training. Kiran had just started using Vibrams in order to help with his knee injury. So he needed to be running slow and easy in order to get used to this kind of barefoot running. Kiran figured that running with me would be more than easy for him since I was miling each run at the pace of 9 mins per kilometer in the beginning of this season (as compared with his 6 and 7 minute pace per kilometer). Add to that, I had severe lower back pains and glute issues in the beginning of this season. So I used to be slower than slow sometimes, until I got into a serious regime of strength training and improving the fitness of my glutes.
In the beginning, it was great to run with Kiran. I was managing to get enough sleep before each workout and weekend run. So I would feel fresh at the beginning of each run. Then, on every Sunday run, my pace was improving a great deal by running with Kiran. Everything seemed perfect, and in place, as I was growing leaps and bounds in the training.
I was also facing issues in terms of regular and consistent stiffening of the upper back, in the region between the shoulder blades, because my writing was getting better and quicker in this period, leading me to spend more hours typing away on my keyboard. Each run would therefore be a boon because it would help me to release the tension and stiffness in my upper back region. I also recognized, much more, the importance of good breathing. When you are stressed, your breathing goes for a toss. That is the onset of the first set of troubles with your aerobic systems which then goes on to affect your stomach and other body parts. So good breathing is the key to good health. In this respect, each run is a good reminder of how important and fundamental good breathing is.
As the training progressed, I found that apart from the difficulty of being unable to mile most of the Tuesday runs, I was doing better with the tempo workouts on Wednesdays and the distances on the weekend runs were beginning to seem not so daunting after all. But in a month since the training, Kiran’s knee issues began to aggravate and he reached a stage where running short distances started to cause him pain. Gradually, the pain in the knees and increasing work pressures led Kiran to keep off from the training programme. At any other time, this would have been quite a setback for me because I was quite dependent on Kiran to help me stay regular with waking up in the mornings and reaching the runs on time. Now, I had to rely on my own personal resources to wake up early in the morning and make it to the runs on time. Thankfully, the car pooling initiative and the presence of the friendly neighbourhood coach Ram came to my rescue. I managed to make it to most runs by car pooling with runners in the neighbourhood like Arvind, Meghana and sometimes asking Latha for help and support.
I must admit that June and July were highly stressful months for me because I was dealing with several financial, personal, career and work related matters, all at the same time, most of the times. There would be many Saturdays and Sundays when I would get no rest after the long runs and I would be busy rushing into meetings and attending to unforeseen emergencies throughout the day. I believe that apart from my helpful doctor’s medicines, running regularly helped me to keep up and cope with all the difficulties. I discovered also, at some times, that I had to stay off a workout in order to rest my body. There were a couple of Wednesday and weekend workouts where I had to stay off just because my body gave me cues of when it was not up to a hectic day comprising of heavy duty running followed by several chores to be finished. On some days, I would fret and fume for having missed a run. But I think I would also manage to recover somehow because I knew that as much as running a run is important, missing a run is also important to learn the lessons of ‘letting go’. So this running season, one of the things I learnt as a matter of some fundamentals of life and living was learning to let go when letting go is very much needed.
I also had to learn to work on injuries and niggles as and when they arose. I learnt, somewhat rather painfully, the critical lessons of stretching immediately after each run and doing foot drills. On days when I slacked on doing the stretches after the long runs, I came down with shin pains and I had to remind myself that as much as a run is enjoyable, the run is more meaningful when the boring, drab and dull routines of stretches are followed up with and the body and the legs get their due share of relaxation after the runner’s high.
I kept maintaining a log of my workouts and runs regularly. I used to end up writing long logs after each run because I would find that each time I had gathered some important insights about the mind and body. I used to analyze my own running form and movement at times before approaching the coaches and physio because I learnt that as much as co-dependence is good, it is also important to become independent in some respects where I become capable of knowing my body on some counts rather than running to the physio and the coaches each time I have a niggle. I think this strategy really worked for me when I had lower back and glute pains. I noticed that because of the lower back and glute pains, I was not lifting my legs enough when running. This actually aggravated my lower back and glute pains and thus began a cycle of caution and caution leading to pain and pain leading to further caution. When I watched myself closely and assessed the situation for myself through my run logs, I found that my lower back and glute issues were resolving with strength training and with lifting my legs higher on the runs. Achieving this level of independence gave me more confidence in my ability to know my body and my ability to become a more conscientious runner.
Of Faith, Perfections and Imperfections: Thus far, I think I have had more than a fabulous season of running. Last Saturday, when I miled 16 kilometers in what was the most uncomfortable runs so far, I figured that despite all the stress and anxiety I was dealing with, I had become a much stronger person – physically and mentally. I also discovered through my regularity in training that I was feigning weakness by using stress as an excuse on running and work fronts. It is easy to cry hoarse ‘stress, stress, stress’ and skip runs and not confront the issues that really need to be dealt with like fear, uncertainty and anxiety. Now, having become a much stronger person, my mind would no longer allow me to fall back on stress as an excuse to perform poorly on runs. This discovery was perhaps the most important one for me during this training season, and I hope this insight stays with me for the rest of this season and for the running in future.
I still remain an imperfect runner. I struggle now with issues such as running long distances alone and miling some runs all on my own. I seek company for doing weekend runs and that sometimes worries me whether I am becoming too dependent on the group for my running. But I guess running is really a matter of moving on these courses of uncertainty, un-knowningness and unknown. It is only these imperfections and unknowns that make each run so much worth miling … To this, I remain, in a season of faith’s perfection …
Dedicated to Santhosh, Preeti, Srini V., Sindhu, Murthy, Ram, Gautham, Pooja, Latha, Kalpana Krishnaswamy and many more running buddies and friends.
Also dedicated specially to Ravi Rao and Sandeep Chandur, my FB running mates and cheer leaders 🙂