I Ran Francisco

San Francisco Marathon 2010

The experience of distance run in an absolutely unknown place (not quite, though), amidst a diverse crowd was worth the effort.

My preparation started 24 hours before the start of the actual run. On Saturday morning, I drove a cute Chevy HHR (rental car that I currently use) alone to the Marathon expo in San Francisco (65 KM away from the hotel) to collect my running kit. Expo was of more or less same size as Mumbai Marathon's. The timing chip that the runners have to attach to their shoe, to get tracked, was more sophisticated. Expo had a lot of Hi-Tech gadgets for runners. But, quite expensive for a visitor from Bangalore :( So, stared at them for an hour and headed back to Sunnyvale.

As usual, followed my strict routine on the day before the run. Lot of fluid intake, absolutely no solid food after lunch, early to bed etc., I had to reach San Francisco by 4:45 AM (Run starts at 5:30) So, woke up at 3 AM on the D-Day, and started driving by 3:45 AM. Thanks to the amazing freeways, I could cover 65 KM in less than an hour. All the major roads around the venue were already closed to vehicular traffic and GPS directs me through only those major roads :( After circling around the venue for 10-15 minutes, and using the knowledge acquired from roaming around a couple of weekends, I could find a parking lot a few blocks away. So, reached the start line by 5 AM, as planned.

I joined the 3rd wave of runners starting at 5:45 AM. Weather was very cold for a South Indian. The 3rd wave of runners have an estimated finish time of 4 hours, which means, they run a lot faster than me. So, I kept to a side of the road and stuck to my own pace. The first few miles of the course overlaps with famous 49-Mile Scenic Drive, that covers popular tourist places like Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf etc.,. A decent uphill from there takes us to the entrance of Golden Gate Bridge, the symbol of San Francisco. The bridge was covered with clouds. Though the bridge was an uphill from both sides, the gradient was moderate. So, running on the bridge was fun. It was an out and back course on the bridge, and we were soon back to the city. After a couple of miles of ups and downs we reached Golden Gate Park, a well designed park of 1000+ acres size. This is where the exhaustion started. Though mostly flat, I had to reduce my pace by more than a minute per mile. The last 6-7 miles were through down-town. There were cheering crowds all the way through down town, but, not much fuel left. So, my pace further dropped. Though it was confusing for the cheering crowd, we hated those down hills in the last few miles. With paining knees, running or even walking the down hills after 20 miles was torturous :) Finally reached the finish line 5 hr 45 min after starting, well with in the time limit (6 hrs) to receive a finisher medal :)

Timing chip data:

MilesTimeAvg. Pace

Slightly better than last Mumbai Marathon, considering the San Francisco hills evened out Mumbai's heat.

San Francisco Marathon

I thought Athens Classic Marathon would be my first distance run overseas. But, San Francisco has a different plan for me. I got to know about the upcoming San Francisco Marathon on 25th July, while having breakfast in Sunnyvale Hotel (through a runner, and yet another software engineer on a business visit to California, whom I first met in an i-Race in Bangalore). A couple of hours later, I was one of the registrants for Full Marathon.

A quick browse through the Marathon website casually reveals that Wall Street Journal calls this race as The Race Even Marathoners Fear because of those famous hilly stretches all over San Francisco. Now, I have an opportunity to validate this claim by a prestigious news paper, and a chance to get a first hand experience of running up-hills and down-hills before going to the Mecca of Runners :) So, why not ?

The marathon course covers the best part of San Francisco: Road along the Sea, Golden Gate bridge, Golden Gate park, Down-Town etc., The above graph shows the elevation through the marathon course. 4-5 decent up-hills, 3-4 down-hills and around 50% flat course. Some stretches with 3-4% inclination. I have started up-hill training on treadmill, just a couple of weeks back with up to 1.5% inclination (45 degrees = 100%). Don't know where to train down-hills :( There is a strict time limit of 6 hours to get a huge 3.25'' finisher's medal. I hope, I will be holding one, when the clock ticks 12:00 on the coming Sunday :)

Book Review: Breaking News

Breaking News: NDTV Election Bus
--- Sunetra Choudary

A travelogue written by one of the NDTV journalists, who covered the length and breadth of India in a special bus equipped with up-link facilities , over a few months, doing 30 minute shows everyday from different places en-route, during the last general elections. Apart from bringing out the election scene of the entire country, It also lets the reader have a peek at typical day-to-day life of journalists, the issues they face when they are in such long term assignments.

The journey takes us through diverse parts of India, through a village that never had electricity, a village that doesn't have electricity, but have televisions and mobile phones (they use batteries and there are a few entrepreneurs who opened shops to collect those batteries and charge them for a fee),  a place that had one of the seven wonders in the world, that is visited by every foreign dignitary, but has a pathetic road to access the wonder (Agra) and the expectations of people of these places from the upcoming elections and their aspirations etc., The journalists on-board the bus have direct access to several high-profile politicians like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Yashodara Raje, Laluprasad Yadav, Naveen Patnaik etc., infamous personalities like Pramod Mutalik (Hindu Taliban leader from Mangalore), Bainsla (Gujjar agitation mastermind)  and likes. So, reader gets to know some inside stories about these politicians as well.

Californian Weekends

A visit to Stanford University:
With a cool bike to ride and bike friendly roads, California is a heaven for weekend rides. My first long ride was to Stanford University, which is around 15 KM from the hotel. A colleague joined me right from the hotel and another colleague rented a bike after reaching the campus. That being a weekend, there were hundreds of cyclists all over the campus. After spending an hour doing circumambulaion of Stanford (unlike my earlier circumambulaion of Bangalore, Stanford qualifies as a sacred place to live up to the weight of the word circumambulaion :) ), we got into a posh shopping mall, right in the middle of University campus, full of stores by many big brands. We got maps from visitors center and roamed around the birth place of stalwarts like Google, Yahoo, Cisco, HP etc., till evening.

Whale watching at Monterey Bay:
A 100 KM drive from Sunnyvale, through a scenic route, took us to a small bay side city, Monterey, famous for Whale watching. A one hour turbulent boat ride into deep seas, where generally whales are spotted and a couple of hours of following the spotted whales concludes the trip. Though, it was not very exciting for me to watch whales after a turbulent boat ride, I enjoyed my first long drive in a flashy Nissan Altima. Just a couple of days before this trip, I got this rental car. Except for the vehicles in high speeds in all directions, I felt, driving here is fun. Automatic transmission, mostly well behaved drivers, following rules as a norm add to the fun.

Biking in the bay area:
I bought a nice car carrier for my cycle. That nicely fits to the rental car that I have and can carry up to 3 cycles. This gave us freedom to mount the bikes, drive anywhere and start pedaling. I and a colleague from Bangalore, chose a couple of good trails over the last few weekends, drove there with our bikes mounted on car, and explored. Alviso Marine park is one such area with a salt water pond of 15 KM circumference. There is an off-road bike trail along the pond with lots of rabbits running across the path. I was worried about the performance of my road bike on that off-road trail. But, it turned out that it can take off roads as well, as long as the surface is not stony and rock hard. Shoreline park next to Google's head office is another scenic area that we explored. Steven's creek trail, a popular biking trail in the bay area, took us to the shoreline park. The park is beautiful with a famous amphitheater, golf course, lake with boating facilities, exclusive roads for bikes, small grass covered hills etc.,

Los Angeles, and its Universal Studios, Getty museum, Alcatraz island jail (of Rock fame) in San Francisco occupied another couple of weekends. Still 5 more weekends to go. Already drove three different cars. Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Chevy HHR. The current one, HHR, a compact SUV, is part of Hertz's fun collection and is fun to drive. So, more to come...

Mystery Spot: Vortex Anomaly or Visual Illusion

On one of the Californian weekends, we drove to Mystery Spot, a gravitational vortex anomaly due to some mysterious force (according to the owners and a few physicists) and a mis-perception due to optical illusion caused by distorted frames of reference (as per psychologists Arthur P Shimamura and William Prinz Metal, University of California at Berkeley).

If we keep the fight among physicists, psychologists and mysterious forces aside, it is an interesting place to visit. There is a ~100 year old 2 room wooden house near Santacruz, California, inside and around which gravitational laws appear to break. Spherical objects roll uphill when left free, pendulum rests in a 30 degree tilted angle, people appear to gain or loose relative height depending on which side of the hill they stand etc., Also, spending more than 10-15 minutes inside the house make people feel giddy.

They made a tourist spot out of it by doing guided trips inside and around the house with 4-5 demonstrations to break the generally understood laws. Apparently, a few scientists also have studied such places, and a paper by Shimamura et al stands as the best explanation as per wikipedia

The new baby: Trek 7.2FX

After the tearful adieu to world class Merida, I chose a Trek (of Lance Armstrong fame) this time. Trek 7.2 FX, an Hybrid Bike with best of the both worlds (upright position of Mountain Bikes and lean frame and tires of Road Bikes), which allows the rider to scale speeds closer to Road Bikes, but demands little decent roads of course (unlike Mountain Bikes).

Thanks to Saugat, an ex-colleague from HP (currently with Cisco, San Jose), for taking me around a few bike shops over the weekend. I found Cannondale Quick 4 a little better than Trek 7.2 FX, but that costs also a bit more. So, settled with this. Immediate experience is simple physics. Tires and frame are leaner, bike is lighter. Gear ratio is also better than typical Mountain Bikes. So, easy to scale higher speeds with less energy. But, less comfortable than Mountain Bike frames, as there is no suspension in fork and rider would feel every small stone on road.

Many roads in and around Sunnyvale have bike lanes. So, commuting and long rides would be a pleasure. Stanford University, with a big biking community is around 15 KM from the hotel. I should start my long rides with that, probably the coming weekend.

PS: Venkat, (formerly annacoder on LJ) advised me not to put a pic this time. As I put a pic of 'The New Apple of My Eye' and lost it in a week. I also put pic of 'Merida-My new Baby' and lost it in a year. But, being superstitious is beyond me. So, going ahead anyway :)

Life as Sunny in Sunnyvale

I haven't checked with an astrologer, but, had I, he would have found some interesting star that would keep me away from home during most of the year 2010. It started with a 2 week visit to Austin, Texas, and now a 3 month visit to Sunnyvale, California (And, at least a 2 week trip to Greece and may be another European country or Egypt will happen in October, thanks to Athens Classic Marathon).

I jumped with joy at the idea of carrying my Merida with me to Sunnyvale and blasting in that cycle friendly community. But, in one freaky incident, just a couple of days before leaving Bangalore, I had to part with it, right in-front-of my eyes. I was left with only the nice Cycle carry bag that I bought from Decathlon to carry my Merida :( As some of my friends rightly put it, I am going to use this opportunity to get hold of a better baby this time. I have shortlisted a couple of models(Cannondale Quick 4 and Trek 7.2 FX), for which I will get spares in Bangalore as well. And yes, I have diligently brought the bag with me, so that I can carry a flashy new cycle back. I should get hold of one of those models this weekend.

Life in Sunnyvale...  not yet started. How can it start with out a cycle ? ;) So, may start from next week. Hotel is just 15 minutes walk from office and there is one nice Starbucks coffee shop on the way. That's a good enough incentive to avoid taxi and enjoy a Mocha while walking. Only issue is to tell my name to the Starbucks guys everyday to call me once my coffee is ready. They distorted it in every possible way (Seanvaas for example) and they even write it on cup :(. So, I re-incarnated myself as 'Sunny'. What other name would have been easier for them to spell and pronounce than 'Sunny' in 'Sunnyvale' ? They don't have to say 'sorry' any more whenever I say my name. :)

An Ordeal Called Removal of Wisdom Tooth

When I visited a dentist, almost a year back, she suggested me to get rid of my wisdom tooth which will trouble me very soon, if they have not started already. Naturally, I ignored, as I didn't even feel their presence at that time. For the past few months, I felt them once in a while and they are slowly turning problematic. This weekend, I decided to get rid of them and visited the same dentist.

Doctor confirmed that it was high time. As I am going to be traveling for the next few months starting next weekend, I didn't have much time to fix a date for the surgery or for post-surgical healing. So, when she asked for a suitable time, I said, "Right now". A surgeon was called immediately, while I was lying on the dentist's chair, as she was not a specialist in this area. He looked at the x-ray and said, "It is going to be tough one. The tooth has deep & multiple roots".

After giving multiple injections for local anesthesia, he started. It was no different from pulling out a lamp post from a concrete road. Insisting on me keeping my eyes open and watch the fun, he took out a sharp knife and cut the gum round the teeth. He used another sharp object to do some digging around the base. Finally he used a tong to pull the teeth out. All along blood was being drained out using a suction pump with a transparent pipe. And, I was not supposed to close my eyes, for doctor to know whether I was conscious or not. Anesthesia did wonders and I watched as if he was operating on somebody else. It hardly took 20 minutes and the surgeon left after that

I just walked out and was waiting for my bill. Doctor prepared the bill and explained certain things for good recovery. She was telling something about giddiness and I interrupted, "I am already feeling giddy". She suggested me to go to next room and lie down for a while. I got up and don't know what happened after that. I woke up after a few minutes to some cold water falling on my face and me lying on the floor across the door that connects doctor's room and the next room, and the doctor and her assistant looking into my face. I could guess what would have happened :) When I inquired the doctor whether the reason for that passing out was powerful anesthesia, she says quickly, "No, it's because of surgery" (Not giving me a chance to consider the bill as one of the possible reasons). Probably, my mind didn't receive any signals during the digging and excavation business, thanks to anesthesia, but, something would have received and reacted a bit late.

I started to get back home after a few minutes. Doctor came out to see me off and saw my cycle. She was worried, whether I would repeat the feat en-route home. Took back her prescription and wrote her mobile number for emergency :) Luckily, I reached home fully conscious. Probably, due to powerful pain killers, I didn't feel any pain at all, even after the subsidence of the influence of anesthesia. Now I have this cricket ball sized swelling around my right jaw, and my face looks completely distorted :( I have to give a 1-hour talk in office tomorrow. No issues with talking that long, as I practiced talking to myself today. But, audience will have a tough time, watching my distorted face for that long :)

Book Review: One Life to Ride

One Life to Ride - A Motor Cycle Journey to the High Himalayas
--- Ajit Harisinghani

Having worked with a couple of guys who had visited the mecca of riders, the higher Himalayas, multiple times, I got a chance to read day-to-day account of one such ride by Ajit Harisinghani, a speech therapist by profession.

The route that starts from Delhi goes through Manali, Rohtang-Pass, Leh-Ladakh, Kargil, Drass, Srinagar, covers the highest and second highest motor-able roads in the world. I have heard a lot of stories from my ex-colleagues about the beauty of the place, uniqueness of the ride, sorry state of affairs in Kashmir valley, how the most beautiful place in India (Not many locals in Kashmir agree that they are part of India, though) is in the worst possible state, with the mutual hostility among defense personnel and locals etc.., This book made me relive through that narration and strengthened my wish to do one such ride myself on my Classic.

The seamless system

A few months back, after paying the advance for my Enfield Classic, I finally applied for learner's driving license (both for 2 and 4 wheeler). As I didn't go through a driving school, I was duly shown some road signs, which I couldn't recognize (Loose gravel on the road, rocks falling at the next turn etc.,), and was asked to come again after a few days for learner's license test. I prepared well and cracked the next time.

My friends suggested not to go directly (with out an association with a driving school) for the driving test. I didn't want to pay bribe through the school, so went directly for the driving test on my Enfield, with 800 KM riding experience. The officer asked me to go till the end of a road (around 100 meters) and come back. I failed the test. The reason; I didn't show hand signals while riding the bike. I was supposed to maneuver the 183 Kilo beast with a singe hand, in that narrow lane with at least 100 people walking criss-cross, in the 100 meters that I rode, and show hand signals. The blinking indicators that I used were just not enough (according to may be, Road Safety act 1875 and Indian Motor act 1901). Fair enough :)

I went after a week again and couldn't show hand signal this time too. This was a different officer, who considered that I already failed once, and did my karma for not going through the driving school. So, he kindly allowed me pass the test. Of course, only after giving a lecture on hand signals.

As the 4-wheeler learner's license I took was about to expire and I may go to US again in the next month, where I may need driving license, I wanted to go for 4-wheeler test too. I don't have a car. So, the only option is using a driving school's car. I went through one. They even attached a back dated letter mentioning my date of joining their school, and the training that I had undergone. I couldn't drive properly for 20 meters also. The officer pleasantly took my form and signed and said with a lot of affection, "Everyday we are registering around 1000 cars here. Roads are so narrow. You have to practice a lot. Take more classes." Later, I was asked to drive a simulator (Yes, Bangalore is world class). I banged against the fence after driving for around 100 meters. The simulator shows "Serious collision". And, I got my driving license posted to my house in the next 3 days. Long live driving schools.

Now, as I got the license through the system that works so seamlessly and efficiently, I just have to learn driving :)