Return to India…

I’ll start off this blog by quoting what I had typed up about about 4 months back (8th Sept, to be precise), on the way from San Francisco to Chennai via Singapore…

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The decision has been made. And the time to act on the decision has finally arrived. N and I are moving to India- for good. This is after 8 and 9 years of stay in the US for N and I respectively.

I am sure that the “reverse adjustment” is going to be a challenging one, even more so than the challenges when we moved to the US. Time will tell whether we are able to make the adjustments fine enough.

Over the last few months, I have had numerous conversations with friends who have been toying with the idea of moving back to India. Some have reached a conclusion, and others have not. A few of them suggested that I write my experiences down in a blog; that’s the reason this blog exists.

The point of this blog is to pen down a few of my thoughts and experiences as N and I make the move to India. These are just personal experiences/opinions that my friends have asked me to share on a blog. These are not meant to serve as anything more than an example of the kinds of things one might need to think about when making the move to India.

I owe a lot of these tips to three friends of mine who moved to India 1-3 years before I did. Two of them- V and D, a couple that I knew from my grad school in the US- moved three years back to Hyderabad. V has a blog that I gleaned some of the pointers below from. Another friend, M, whom I have known since my high school/junior college, moved about a year back to Bombay (Thane). He had also given us some suggestions on email and phone, that I am adding to this blog. A few other experiences, that I have heard from other friends that have moved to Madras, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc, will also appear once in a while.

Whether the decision to move back is the right one or not- only time will tell. I believe that all decisions are always for the good. They either turn out to be the right ones, or they turn out to be not-so-good ones, that just make you stronger by teaching you to face some realities in life. We shall see!

The bottomline is, I am very much looking forward to my move to India. India, here I come!
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I have put in the above note verbatim, without editing a single word. Those were words written on a very important flight in my life, hence they shall stay un-edited!

However, on further thought, I would like to mention that apart from the moving to India topic, I would also like to write about my different experiences in India in general, especially after having gotten used to life in the US. A colleague of mine from the US has been asking me to write such posts, and so it shall be.

In summary, here are some accounts of my journey back in India.

Nike Women’s Marathon 2006: My First Full-Marathon Experience

On a wonderful Sunday morning in October, in the beautiful city of San Francisco, I finished my first ever marathon run. The marathon was as much a test of my physical strength, as it was a test of my mental resolve. It was by no means easy; but I managed to hang in there, and to complete what I had set out to do, 5 months ago.

Along with 15000 other participants, less than 1% of which were men, I started my run at 7AM in the morning, from Union Square. The air was heavy with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of running the 26.2 (or 13.1) miles. The elite runners had already taken off at 6:40AM. As the gun went off at 7AM, we were started off in batches. I was in the 3rd batch, and got to the start line about 8 minutes after the first set of runners took off.

Like most others, I started off at a very easy pace- about a minute or so slower than my regular pace. We had been advised by our coaches to start easy and pick up the pace as we feel comfortable. This gave me the opportunity to observe what the crowd was upto. A lot of people had “I am running for…” banners on the t-shirts, in support of the honorees for whom they were running this marathon. All of us on the Peninsula Team of TNT were also wearing a note with pictures and names of the 5 honorees of our team. There were a few people with “It’s my birthday today” banners on their t-shirts, and people were wishing them as they ran by.

In about 3-4 miles, I had eased into a steady pace. I was now taking short 1 minute walking breaks after running at a good pace for about 6 minutes. From Union Square, we ran towards Embarcadero along Post, Montgomery and Washington. After hitting Embarcadero, we took a left and kept going along the bay, past Fisherman’s Wharf and Fort Mason, towards the Presidio. As we ran up a small hill, we got an amazing view of the Golden Gate bridge. The sun was shining down on the bridge, and there was fog beneath the bridge. It almost looked like the bridge was hanging in mid-air, supported only by clouds. It was a very pretty sight, and many runners took out their cameras at that point. I really missed not having a camera with me at that time.

We then ran along Marina Blvd, where I ran into TJ, our TNT team manager- one of the most encouraging and enthusiastic persons I have ever met. She did a great job of cheering me on. After we passed Crissy Field, we hit our first major uphill on the route. It was just about 6 miles into the marathon, and I was feeling quite fresh at that point. I decided to run up the hill at a slightly slower pace than normal. I managed to do that fine enough, with a couple of short walking breaks, and I was quite pleased with myself. The downhill that followed was even more fun, and I managed to conquer it in no time. Then came the next uphill, and I did fine on this one too. The final big downhill, near the Cliff House was very pretty- we were running down towards the sea, and then along the Great Highway.

The route then went through the Golden Gate park, where we reached our half way mark. I was quite happy with my pace- just about a minute slower than my regular pace- which I though was good, considering that I had already done the two major hills on the route. And I felt I had enough energy to run the second half of the marathon. I thought it was time I picked up my pace a bit. But then I ran into a hurdle. After mile 15, my quadriceps started hurting a lot. My confidence, which had held strong until now, started withering with every step that I took. I was sure I will be able to run another 3 miles with that pain. But another 11 miles! I started getting scared at the prospect of not finishing the marathon.

I then started walking for more time than the usual 1 minute recovery. I was analyzing what went wrong and realized that my over-enthusiasm in tackling the hills in the first half of the marathon might now be adversely affecting me. But I was quite sure I was prepared for the hills, and I was frustrated with my quads for giving up on me. I then decided to ignore the pain in the quads, and started a run-walk routine in the ratio 4:1, to give my quads enough time to recover. By then it was almost mile 18, and we were out of Golden Gate park, and had also done most of the Great Highway. We now had to encircle Lake Merced, before heading back down the Great Highway towards the finish line at Golden Gate park.

My quads had finally decided to cooperate, and I was now feeling fine. Then another roadblock came along, which took me even more by surprise. This time, it was my foot that started getting a burning feeling. Every step I took felt as if I was running barefoot on hot coal. This was something that I had not yet experienced on any of my long runs. I had always thought that my ankle was my weakest link. My knees and calf muscles also gave me some trouble once in a while. But this was something new. It would have been okay if I had to go just another mile or two. But another 6 miles seemed like another marathon to go.

I knew it was a complete mind game at this point. I just had to tolerate the pain and keep running. So I started a 2:1 running routine. I was running for 2 minutes and walking for 1 minute. Not the best of paces, but it kept me going. At this point, there were just two phrases occupying my mind. Coach Terry, our head coach always says: “Focus on finishing strong.” And coach Mary had concluded the pre-race party with the advice: “Relentless forward motion.” That was all I could think of. In the 6 hours and 17 minutes and 30 seconds that I was running the marathon, I did not ever stop. I was either walking or running all the time. I drank water and gatorade while walking and filled my water bottle while walking. I knew my destination, and I kept going. And it was not just me. All around me, I saw the determination in everyone’s eyes, inspite of the physical pain.

Between miles 22 and 23, apart from my feet, all other muscles started aching as well. To my surprise, I got quite emotional at that point. The agony of every step caused me to review the 5 months of training in my mind. In addition, I was touched at the thought of the tremendous encouragement and support of the entire TNT group, including the coaches, the mentors, the captains, as well as that of friends and family- in particular, Niket. And most importantly the thought of the honorees, the fund raising, and the cause, which were the primary reason I was doing the marathon, was quite moving. I was quite overwhelmed with all these thoughts, and had tears in my eyes as I ran that mile. I knew at this point that I would complete the marathon.

In the last three miles, I tried to maintain my 2:1 ratio, but even that started proving difficult, and I ended up walking more and more. This is when the TNT and spectator support came in extremely handy. People whom I had never seen before, and probably will never see again in my life, were cheering me on. They called out my name (I had written it on my tshirt) and showered words of encouragement. The Peninsula team TNT mentors, captains and coaches were excellent in their support. Throughout the course, they had stood by the side of the road and cheered the team members on. In addition, during the last few miles, some of them even ran with me for a few miles.

When I started my last mile, I knew I wanted to finish strong. I therefore decided that come what may, I am going to run the entire mile. Then I ran into Jocelyn, a captain on our team. Throughout the season, during our long runs, she would to mention to the coaches that whenever I see her (or any other TNT volunteer) on the course, I gave a big smile to them. This time, all I could manage was a very tiny smile; I was just too tired, and wanted to get done. She then asked me whether I would like some company, and started running with me. I was so glad to see the support. When I had just about 0.5 miles to go, our head coach, Terry joined me in my run for about a minute and congratulated me on making it to the finish. I took a couple of very short walking breaks during the last mile. But once I saw the finish line in the distance, I wanted to cross it soon, and kept running. Jocelyn asked me whether anyone was at the finish line to cheer me in, and I said yes, my husband will be around.

I was concentrating on running, when suddenly Jocelyn asked me what my husband looks like. I was surprised at the question. I looked towards the side of the road, to see Niket with a camera in his hand, ready to take a picture. I gave the best smile I could! Then Niket started running with me, and Jocelyn decided to go back and cheer other team members in.

At the finish line, Niket wanted to cross it with me, but the officials pulled him out. So I crossed the finish line, exactly 6 hours, 17 minutes and 30 seconds after I had crossed the start line. I received a beautiful Tiffany and Co.’s finishers necklace, as well as the Nike Women’s Marathon 2006 finishers tshirt. I am very happy that I completed the marathon. It was a tough and challenging experience- one that I will cherish throughout life.

Nike Women’s Marathon 2006: I Did It!

On a beautiful Sunday, on 22nd October 2006, I finished my first marathon. I ran (and walked) all of the whopping distance of 26.2 miles. I completed the run in 6:17:30. That’s a very long time to keep running/walking, and I could very well feel it in my sore muscles. But the muscles are also evidence of the challenges I faced and managed to overcome in the race. I will put up a much more detailed post about the marathon later. But I am very happy to say that I am a “marathon finisher” now. I even received a beautiful Tiffany and Co. Finisher Necklace, as well as a Nike Women’s Marathon Finisher’s t-shirt.

Thank You!

This has been a long overdue post. To all the donors to my fund-raiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and to all supporters of my marathon training: a big thank you. Thanks to your support I have managed to far exceed my fund-raising goal. In addition, my employer matched a big chunk of the money I raised. I am quite happy and proud of the collective fund raising effort that we all managed. More details can be found at: My Fundraising Webpage.

Thanks to all the support I received from everyone, I have managed to stick through the training phase. Now I am anxiously awaiting the final event this Sunday. I am feeling quite confident, and slightly nervous at the same time. The marathon promises to be a fun, yet challenging event. Look up more details on the event at: The Nike Marathon.

Once again, thank you everyone.

Weeks Seventeen, Eighteen and Nineteen: Taper

After the 20 mile run, we officially entered the taper phase of the marathon training. This phase meant that we were to run not more than 4-6 miles on our buddy runs and the on-your-own runs. Recovery was much longer this time, as the 20 mile run on the hilly roads in San Francisco did take its toll on us. But the taper gave us a good chance to recover and regain strength for the final run this weekend.

During the taper, we had one organized long run of 12 miles on the Sawyer Camp trail. Everyone in the group took the run lightly, as it was “just 12 miles”, compared to the 20 mile run that we did two weeks prior to that. However, during the run, when everyone started getting tired, we realized that 12 miles is not that less of a distance! But it does seem more of a fun distance, than the full marathon, which seems much more rigorous.

Overall, the taper has been good on the body, and I am now getting set for the final run this Sunday.

Week Sixteen: 20 mile run in San Francisco

I am very happy to report that I completed an extremely beautiful and extremely challenging 20 mile run in San Francisco this Saturday (23rd Sept).

My mentor had organized carpools for the run, and thankfully I did not have to drive all the way to San Francisco. Driving to SF was not a problem; driving back after a tiring 20 mile run, definitely would have been tough. On the way to SF, I had asked my mentor what she thought of the difficulty of this run, compared to the previous one. She said this one should be simpler as the route is not as hilly as Woodside. Well, she was miles away from the truth.

We ran miles 1-11 of the final Nike Women’s Marathon course, in both directions. The course itself is really beautiful, taking us through the beautiful parts of San Francisco. We started off at the Presidio, around mile 5.5 of the final course. First we ran until mile 1 of the course along Marina Blvd and Embarcadero. We turned back at the Ferry bldg and ran back to the starting point. By this time we had done 9 miles of the route, and I was still feeling fresh and energetic.

Then came the second loop on the course, which was much more challenging. This time, we ran in the other direction on Marina Blvd, towards Golden Gate bridge, and then up Lincoln Blvd, and then a couple of other roads, before hitting the Great Highway. We first ran up a big uphill, which was manageable as it was between miles 10 and 11 on this particular route, when I was not as tired. Apart from that, we had two big downhills, and one simple enough uphill. All the time that I was running down the two hills, I was thinking- I have to run up those hills on the way back!

The way back was therefore the killer part of the route. We had already run 14.5 miles, and the first stretch we had to tackle was the huge uphill on the Great Highway, towards the Cliff House and a bit further towards Lincoln park. It was just too difficult to run up that one, and I decided to walk that one out. After hitting the top of the hill, I ran downhill without any problems. Then came the second big uphill, and again I walked up that one. I was thinking- I am just so tired, how am I ever going to finish this run? But once I saw the top of the hill, I was just so happy, that I finished the last 1.5 miles of the route with a well-paced run. All my team-mates cheered me in at the finish line, and all three coaches personally came up to me and congratulated me on the run. They were doing that to everyone, so no big deal; but it did feel nice to be personally congratulated by them.

The two uphill walks resulted in degrading my time a lot, and I was quite disappointed with myself. As I was stretching out, I remarked about that to one of the coaches, and she reminded me that fortunately we don’t have to run back up the two hills on the final course. That was such a relief!

Between this run and the run at Lake Merced, we have now covered most of the final Nike course. I am sure I can handle it just fine. With the four months of training so far, and as long as I manage to stay injury-free for the next four weeks, I am now quite confident about finishing the marathon. I am very much looking forward to the event day…

Week Fifteen

This was a relatively relaxed week. I ran 5 miles on the treadmill, after work, on Thursday (buddy run day). I was planning to run with Rohit and a bunch of others at the Sawyer Camp trail on Sunday. However, I still had a lot of unpacking to do, and therefore decided to run earlier. I ended up running 6 miles on the same trail, but on Saturday. This is a really beautiful trail, and I am sure I will go back and run on the trail even after I am done with the training. It is a flat trail and has quite a lot of tree cover, at least in the early parts of the trail. The best part is that these days, a 6 mile run seems so easy to do!

Now I am nervously awaiting tomorrow’s long run- the 20 mile run. This is the longest run of the season, and the last big one before the final event. As I had mentioned earlier, this is a preview of the final course, and promises to be a fun, challenging run.

Weeks Thirteen and Fourteen: 18 mile run in Woodside

The highlight of this weekend was that I successfully completed a wonderful 18-mile run at Woodside on 9th September, 2006. The course itself was very beautiful, with lots of hills, including a steep hill at the end of the course. We ran in Woodside, and then north along 280, then along Edgewood park and back along 280, and finished up with a loop in Woodside. I managed to finish this run quite well, and felt much better at the end of it, compared to the 16 mile run. My pace did slow down by almost one minute per mile, but I have learnt to expect that on these long, hilly runs. I am very happy that I managed to “finish strong” as our coach puts it.

After the run, I managed to ice my sore muscles, and rest for a while. Niket was in town, and we spent the rest of Saturday packing up stuff for my move to a new apartment on Sunday. The move was followed by cleaning up the old apartment and then unpacking in the new apartment. Overall, it was a very hectic weekend; hence the delay in posting this update.

I was pleased to see that the recovery time after the long runs is getting shorter, and I am feeling much stronger after the run. My right ankle turns out to be the weakest link, and I need to ice it often to get it in shape for the next workout. As long as it cools down in time, I am fine with bearing some extra pain for a day or two.

This week is recovery week for us, with 5-7 miles buddy runs and 6-8 miles runs on the weekend. Next week will be the final long run of the season- a 20 mile run on the final Nike marathon course in San Francisco.

Weeks Eleven and Twelve: 16 mile run

These two weeks were very difficult training-wise. I took a long time to recover from the previous 14-mile run, and I was travelling Thursday-Monday of the following week. So I ended up doing the buddy run, but skipping my OYO run on the weekend. In addition, the travel and the jet-setting caused me to catch a cold, cough and fever. I therefore had to miss the track workout and cardio workout for the week just before the 16 mile run. In fact, until the day before the run, I had some fever and I was not sure whether I will be able to go for the run. Thankfully, on the day of the long run, I felt about 80-90% fit, and I decided to go for it.

The route was the second half of the Nike marathon- in San Francisco. It involved some gentle hills around Lake Merced, on the Great Highway, and in Golden Gate Park. It was a beautiful route, although I was in no mood to enjoy it. I was completely focussed on completing the run. I managed to do so, although I was extremely extremely exhausted after the run. In fact, I had to walk more than half of a mile between miles 14 and 15. After that, I gathered enough energy to finish up the run with a slow jog. I took more time than normal to finish this run. I was just glad that I finished without injuring myself.

The most surprising part was that although all kinds of muscles were aching a lot on Saturday and Sunday, I was back in full form on Monday. This was an unexpectedly fast recovery. On Tuesday, at track we had hill repeats, and by then I was perfectly fine, even on the hilly terrain. I am so happy to be back in action after a week of anxiety.

Moving forward, we have a relatively relaxed week, with buddy runs and on-your-own runs of 5-6 miles. The next weekend run is the toughest run of the training season- at Woodside. It is a hilly course, and we are running 18 miles. The hill repeats will definitely help in handling that run.