My right to breathe

My right to breathe.

That was the message a group of us wanted to share this morning, as we ran wearing protective face masks in the heart of New Delhi, a city with the unenviable reputation of being one of the most polluted on the planet.

Just think about it – having to protest for your right to breathe.

Surely, amongst all the “rights” we claim to have, or that we should have, or that we’d like to have – surely the right to clean air is a pretty basic one?

But no.

As all of us who live here know only too well, clean air is by no means our birthright.

Our message will (sadly) resonate ever louder as Delhi moves towards cooler weather and the accompanying horrific air quality.

Today our run was all about highlighting the problem, creating awareness, getting people engaged, and I hope that as we ran up and down Raj Path in our masks, people did indeed take notice.

Our Delhi government is certainly beginning to make some noise about the impending shocking air quality.

This was in the paper this morning:

We are, of course, heading towards elections. Hence the concern.

But, you know what?

Whatever it takes.

If fears of the elections pushes the powers that be into taking some anti-pollution measures, however inadequate, it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

“Pollution…is going to be one of the main political issues in the upcoming assembly elections…”

Remember those words, dear reader.

So, this was our first run, aimed at raising awareness.

We will be running again, in our masks, in 2 weeks. Check social media for details!

Let me end with a short clip of our run.

Super cool 😛

Should we run in polluted cities?

It is SO hot and humid in Delhi (where I live) that it’s difficult to imagine the winter ever coming.

Our summer has been long and brutal and we still have at least a month to go before the weather will start cooling down.

Actually, more than a month.

Today it’s Friday 13 September (who’s superstitious, then?!). Conventional wisdom here in north India has it that the weather only starts cooling down after Diwali – which is on the 27 October. So, yes, we have weeks more of this horrid, torrid weather.

My weather widget showed 88% humidity this morning, whilst a friend in neighbouring Gurgaon said she ran in 90% humidity.

But once the much-longed-for cooler weather comes, we Delhites get immediately plunged into a different scenario, for the winters bring us horrific pollution.

Cue this article in my morning paper. Here you go:

At least our local government is meeting to discuss this annual horrific air quality. That’s a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen whether this winter will be any different from previous winters.

Every year we go through the same horrors.

Year after wretched year, we are all urged not to light firecrackers for Diwali.

But we all do.

And then we wake up to pollution so disgusting, so dangerous, so vile that we feature in the front pages of the world’s press.

This was the Hindustan Times the day after Diwali last year:

It’s not just the Diwali crackers, of course, that pollute our air, but for me this annual orgy of selfish self-harming is the most terrifying, because it implies that people, by and large, just don’t care.

They will happily crib about the government not doing anything, but they’ll promptly go pollute the air themselves.

Which brings me back to the question raised in the tile of this blog post. Because this is after all, my running blog, as opposed to my general Delhi blog.

So, back to the question: should we run in polluted cities?

This is an annual debate, which I’m torn about, to be honest.

As long as we all live in this polluted city, we are condemned to breathe the toxic air, whether we are marathon runners or couch potatoes.

We can’t all stay indoors with air purifiers for months on end.

We go out, we go to work, we go shopping. We walk the dog. We go to all the jolly weddings that take place in the winter, happily standing around on lawns, watching the festivities. You never see people at weddings wearing face masks, now, do you? And no-one ever cancelled a Big fat Indian Wedding because of the pollution, did they?

But runners always seen to come in for short shrift, simply because I guess we’re an easy target.

We CHOOSE to exercise in the mucky air -> therefore we are stupid -> therefore they should cancel running events (every year, this issue arises).

I am very concerned about the pollution, obviously.

And yet I continue to run in the Delhi winters.

I have masks, which I use on especially foul days.

I vary my timings and run in the middle of the day, to avoid the worst of the early morning pollution..

I only run in my local biodiversity park, where we have lots of tree cover.

All of these are but temporary measures, I acknowledge.

Fast forward to this Sunday, 15 September, & to an event (below) when I will be running with a mask, alongside the amazing folk from Nirvana Being, a Delhi-based company that wants to raise awareness of air pollution and the advantages of using masks.

For all my Delhi NCR friends, please treat this as an invitation to come and join us, to raise awareness about air pollution.

We all need to be fully informed, so we can make a decision as to whether we #daretorun.

Just what the hell is wrong with me?

What kind of obsessive person have I become?

What has happened to me?

Picture the scene.

Hubby is away on a business trip, meaning that my pre-dawn alarm won’t elicit the usual grumbles.

I ate dinner unfashionably early, & went to bed really, really early (home alone, remember? 😛 ) all primed to be up and out of the door to do my long run this morning.

Being home alone means I can run/exercise/work out with none of the usual guilt associated with a non-running/non-sporty family.

Woke up, felt so damn tired that I promptly went back to sleep.

When I eventually surfaced yes, I felt refreshed but OH SO GUILTY.

GUILTY.

CROSS WITH MYSELF.

IRRITATED THAT I HADN’T RUN.

IRRITATED AT A WASTED OPPORTUNITY.

I repeat, what the hell is wrong with me?!!

How come I no longer enjoy a sleep-in?

What has running done to me? 😛

The weather in Delhi (where I live) is currently vile beyond belief at the moment. It is hot and horridly humid, meaning (realistically) that if you’re not out running at dawn, it’ll be miserable.

So this morning was a perfect opportunity to be out running for 3 hours, guilt-free, no questions asked, no complaints of the usual “you’re never around, always out running” variety.

AND I BLEW IT!

Now, of course, I feel wretched.

While drinking my morning coffee, for a few moments I actually thought that the day ahead of me was already a waste of time. Spoiled because I hadn’t run.

Please tell me I’m not alone, feeling like this? Or am I over-reacting?

Can you believe it, but I started calculating how many weeks I have until my next marathon – in mid-January – & how many weekends I have till then & how many long runs I can fit in & have I already blown it by not running this morning and…and…get a grip, Christine!

Get. A. Grip.

So what am I doing about this guilt-trip?`

Well…..

I’ll go for a training walk this evening, weather permitting. I have a 6476m climb in less than a month, involving a different form of training…gotta break my new boots in…

I’ll try and run early tomorrow morning instead. But will that interfere with my yoga class? Answer, yes. Should I cancel yoga? No,I need it. Oh heck, how can i fit it all in?

Why oh why oh why is there so little time when there’s so much to be done?! So much training? So many good intentions to keep fit.

So, I’ll end as I began.

Asking the question “just what the hell is wrong with me?”

And I think the answer is, quite simply, that I am a runner 🙂

And not running is, well, it’s hell.

Marathon golfing, anyone?

No no, it’s a thing.

Marathon golfing has apparently been around for over 140 years.

Who knew?

I read a fascinating article online, in which we learn:

“What has been called “Marathon Golf” is the art of playing as many rounds or holes as possible in a certain amount of time, usually a day (24 hours)”

How bizarre.

Golf, run, golf, run and repeat.

Actually, why did I just say it’s bizarre?

It’s not that bizarre, logically, it’s just the sartorial image it presents. For a sport more usually clothed in checked shorts of dubious stylishness and equally dubious caps, the vision of golfers in Ts and running shoes is quite – well – bizarre.

Wonder what other sports we could combine with ultra running?

It would have to be an individual sport (so tennis, badminton, football wouldn’t work).

Not too much equipment.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another marathon + sport combo?

Anyone?

The strange case of Mexico’s chocolate runners

My resolutely non-running hubby sent me a link to an article in The Economist.

It makes fascinating but quite bizarre reading.

Apparently there is an extraordinarily high percentage of cheating in the Mexico City marathon.

So much so, that there is a delightful expression for the fake runners of this race – “corredores de chocolate”.

Literally “chocolate runners”.

I’m not sure why chocolate, but the fact remains that in the 2018 Mexico City marathon, 5000 of the 28000 race finishers were disqualified, and hundreds more were kicked out mid race.

That is taking cheating to a whole new level.

As a marathoner (YES! How I love saying that!) so, yes, as a marathoner, I really, really do not see the point of cheating.

At our level, despite what we think of ourselves, the brutal reality is that we are all rank amateurs. We are therefore running for ourselves.

For ourselves, I repeat.

To be fit.

To have fun.

Ah, but wait.

I forgot the power of social media.

How silly of me.

“Social media can warp behaviour . Those who broadcast their preparation for the race grow desperate to post a triumphant selfie after it.”

How delusional do you have to be, to think that a selfie justifies cheating? Or, actually, that a selfie is of any importance whatsoever.

How ever many likes you get at the time, in a few minutes the (Insta) news cycle has moved on, and you are already history.

Do people seriously cheat for bragging rights?

If you tell a fellow runner your marathon time, she/he can interpret it and react accordingly. (In my case, being The Slowest Runner on Planet Earth, reactions are always of pity 😛 😛 )

However, from hilarious experience, non-runners by and large do not have a CLUE about a marathon. Neither its distance nor what constitutes an appropriate finish time.

No-one in my husband’s family runs (I live in India, which is why I’m only referencing my Indian husband’s family. In case you wondered.).

At a family dinner last year, a cousin asked me how long a marathon is. When I replied 42.195km, she looked suitably impressed and then asked me how many days it would take me to finish it.

Faced with that level of (in)expertise, why would you feel the need to cheat and fudge your times?!

There is speculation that some runners cheat in order to get a better qualifying time for the super prestigious races like the Boston marathon. But, seriously, why would you do that to yourself? Why set yourself up for further “failure”? If you can’t run fast enough in Mexico, what makes you think you could do a Boston?

I read another article about marathon cheating – not specifically about Mexico – in which one explanation offered by runners who were found to have cheated was that they didn’t want to disappoint their sponsors, especially if they were charity fund-raising. Cheating is still cheating, but this last excuse at least has a modicum of dignity about it.

Back to Mexico. Here are a couple of photos I found online.

First up, a bloke called Maria:

Next, a group of cheerful chappies on the subway. Masks to hide their faces, but some of their bib numbers are still visible, so that’s a bit dumb, isn’t it?

There’s a theory about the medals for the MexicoCity marathon being partly to blame for so much cheating. They have just finished a series in which each year was one of the letters that make up the word “Mexico”, and so people wanted to get the whole series, by hook or by crook, even if that involved cheating.

From 2019, every year the marathon medal will be a different section of the city, and they will eventually all form a map.

Hola, Méjico! I have a suggestion.

Why don’t you stop with the fancy medals (although they do sound great, don’t they?!) and give less desirable ones?

That might make some of the chocolate runners stop taking the subway.

How is the ASICS Lite-Show long sleeved T?

Pre-review disclosure.

I am an ASICS running influencer in India (where I live) and as such get to try out and wear their products.

BUT – and this really is very important – ASICS has never once even so much as suggested I review their products.

Not once.

I am under no pressure whatsoever to write any review nor blog about the company.

But when I genuinely love a product, I review it here.

Which leads me straight away to the light-as-air Lite-Show long sleeved T (below):

I’m going to share with you a rather silly secret. I really, really love tops that have thumb holes, like this T.

Dunno why, but I do.

So the Lite-Show T already had a definite plus in its favour before I even wore it.

Wearing it is a delight, since the top is incredibly lightweight, making it great, even in Delhi’s brutal summer heat (where the long sleeves protect against sun damage).

I also wore it as part of my layering, while trekking in the snowy Himalayas. This time, it was the top’s lightness that was a big plus, when every gram counts in your rucksack.

Now let me give you a few technical details:

“Mixed fabrication construction for feminine look and breathability. Cotton handfeel at front for comfort. Mesh at back for ventilation. 360° body-mapped reflectivity for visibility

The fabric is Knit 1. 74% Polyester, 19% Tencel, 7% Spandex”

These details courtesy www.asics.com

Can you see D1 on the back?
Read on

“The Asics Lite-Show Running Top is constructed with D1 technical fabric which utilises moisture management and quick drying properties. When sweat is produced, the fabric pushes it to the outer layer where it is then evaporated, keeping you feeling cool and dry during a workout. Designed with a loose fit and a soft touch, it will keep comfort at a maximum. Thumbholes are used to provides extra coverage across the hands and also prevents the sleeves from riding up and causing discomfort. Reflective elements feature on the front, back and arms on the top which enhances visibility in low lighting conditions for maximum safety while out on the streets.”

Thank you, www.sportsshoes.com

As mentioned above, the reference D1 is part of ASICS’ own classification system, indicating that the garment is “moisture wicking” and made from “quick drying fabric”.

If I have one grumble about this top, it is that it is only available in one colour…

So I have 2 of ’em, since I love them so much!

Personally tried, tested & recommended.

Check www.asics.com to buy online or visit one of their stores.

Yoga for runners 101

Yoga.

One of those quintessential Indian “things” which I’ve never really “got”. Is that too many quotation marks for one short sentence?

Maybe.

I tried yoga a few years ago, in an effort to make hubby dearest do some kind of exercise. The teacher came highly recommended by hubby’s sister-in-law, if memory serves me right, but he wasn’t at all what I imagined a yoga teacher to be.

For one thing, he sat on a chair throughout the class, drinking tea.

And for another thing, we did the same exercises over and over and over again. No variation, no progress. Just lots of cups of tea.

So I stopped going to his classes, and would head out to run instead.

Anyway, he soon retired back to Bihar and that was that.

Cue my running group, where very often we do yoga-esque stretches after our sessions.

Every single person in the group knows all the poses, knows their technical names, and they are all terrifyingly bendy and flexible.

And they all run w-a-y faster than me, so there must be something in it, right? Yoga for runners clearly works.

So hubby and I have restarted yoga, and this time I’m determined to stick with it, hoping it will help my running.

This teacher seems better, doesn’t drink tea, and alters the sequence of the exercises, adding new “asanas”, so already in a month there is a feeling of progress.

Cue the other day.

I saw a photo on social media of my terrifyingly lithe & fit running friend Reeti Sahai, who was doing a reverse namaste pose..

I showed the photo to my husband and made some comment like “God, I wish I were so flexible. I’ll never be able to do that pose.”

AND LEFT IT AT THAT.

DIDN’T TRY THE POSE.

JUST EXPRESSED SELF DOUBT.

This morning, out of the blue, my husband asked our teacher about this pose.

He said he’d never heard of it (should I be worried about the extent of his knowledge?)

Himmat said, “Oh, it’s like doing a namaste behind your back” & I started to demonstrate to the teacher.

AND DID ONE.

First time.

People, I was SO chuffed, I can’t tell you!

Begone self doubt!

I realise that it is far from perfect, but what the heck. I did it.

I decided to read up a little about this pose (I’m nerdy like that) and here is the result.

REVERSE PRAYER POSE

Depending on the style of yoga, tadasana paschima namaskar may also be called paschima namaskarasana (westward prayer pose) or viparita namaskarasana (inverted prayer pose) in Sanskrit.

Thanks yogapedia.com.

Tadasana paschima namaskar is a simple yet advanced shoulder and chest stretch practiced from a standing position. The name comes from the Sanskrit, tadasana, or mountain pose; paschima, meaning “west” and referring to the back of the body; and namaskar, which is a greeting and term of respect.”

“As the name suggests, tadasana paschima namaskar is a variation of the foundational tadasana, but with the palms touching at the center of the back in an upward prayer position.

In English, tadasana paschima namaskar is most commonly known as reverse prayer pose.”

Yogapedia.com again.

For strengthening the upper back, it say, on the illustration above.

So I re-consulted yogapedia:

In addition to its physical benefits, tadasana paschima namaskar:

Calms the mind

Reduces stress

Boosts confidence

Relieves anxiety and mild depression

The pose is also believed to open the anahata (heart) chakra, which is associated with compassion, forgiveness, emotional stability, love and acceptance of oneself and others. Anahata is where the true Self resides; so, Self-realization is only possible when this chakra is balanced.

Wow.

I can’t honestly say that doing this asana calmed my mind or reduced my stress levels, but it sure boosted my confidence.

Hey, I’m sharing photos of me doing it, aren’t I?!

Imperfectly, but I’m doing it nonetheless.

The photo above shows attempt #2.

My palms are a little bit closer together, I think.

But my head isn’t straight, so I’ll have to work on that next time.

Now what about the physical benefits of the reverse prayer pose?

As per the photo below, it’s good for a frozen shoulder.

According to doyogawithme.com

“The Reverse Prayer Pose is a great pose for those with tight wrists and forearms. It stretches the flexors of the wrist.”

The Art of Living adds further benefits:

Opens the abdomen, thus allowing deeper breaths.

Stretches the upper back.

Stretches the shoulder joints and pectoral muscles.

Summarising all the benefits of this pose, what do we have?

1)Strengthening the upper back.

2)Dealing with frozen shoulder

3)Stretches the worst flexors

4)Stretching the shoulder joints and pectoral muscles

5)Opening the abdomen

That’s a whole lot of benefits from one asana.

Given that today was a fluke, it seemed a good idea to check the proper sequence.

Of all the explanations (& oh my God such l-o-n-g, rambling, self-indulgent 14 minute Youtube tutorials from American yoga teachers), I decided that the Art of Living gave the most succinct instructions of how to do this asana:

Begin in Tadasana pose.

Relax the shoulders and bend your knees a little.

Bring your arms behind your back and join the palms with fingertips facing downward.

As you inhale, turn the fingertips inwards towards the spine and bring them to face upwards.

Ensure that the knees are still slightly bent and the palms are pressed firmly against each other.

Stay in the position for a couple of breaths.

As you exhale, slowly turn the fingertips downward.

Bring the arms to the side of the body and slowly come back into Tadasana

I had no idea about the breathing involved, so will have to work on that.

My knees weren’t bent & I look ramrod stiff on the photo, to be honest.

So there are 2 things to correct immediately.

Plus the head tilting to the right.

Conclusion?

Definitely a pose to be worked on and repeated, and it’s probably something one can do in isolation, just like that, as a stretch, & not always in the context of a yoga class.

Final thought

While checking with yet another website I was fascinated to read that this pose is also known as the penguin pose.

Did the ancient yogis, high in the Himalayas, really know about penguins?

Really?

What a fascinating thought.

I definitely need more info on this, please.

Swimming for runners

I’ve been swimming a lot, these last few days, as I holiday in Bangkok, mainly because the building has a pool, so there is no effort required at all. No crazy Delhi traffic to drive through to get to a pool, which is my standard excuse for not swimming regularly in Delhi (where I live).

I realised that I have been sharing swimming updates on my running Instagram feed as cross-training, and decided to check if this is indeed true, or was I simply showing off a little?

Is swimming indeed good for runners?

Does it “count” as cross-training?

After just a couple of seconds online, I think the answer is an unequivocal YES.

“In fact, runners looking to boost strength and lung capacity will find swimming is an excellent form of cross training.”

Great news from mapmyrun.com

Swimming is officially great for runners,

Whew!

Of course, like anything one researches, there are a zillion different suggestions as to which stroke is the best/most efficient/most useful – and sadly none of them appears to be breaststroke, which is my go-to stroke.

I even read a few scary comments suggesting that the leg kick of breastroke was actively bad for my knees, so I need to re-think that a little.

But what is undisputed is that swimming is good for we runners.

I posit that it is actually great for every single person, but for runners especially, swimming works its magic in so many ways.

So what benefits exactly does swimming offer us?

Back to mapmyrun.com:

“Runners benefit from swimming because it is an effective cardiovascular exercise that is not weight bearing,” explains Dr. Leesa Galatz, orthopedic surgeon and system chair of the Department of Orthopedics in the Mount Sinai Health System. “Runners are constantly loading lower extremity joints and spine, and swimming offers the ability to maintain fitness level in a setting where joints are relatively unloaded, allowing joints to rest.”

According to Natasha van der Merwe, a professional triathlete and coach, there are 4 main benefits that athletes will get from swimming:

1)Improved cardiovascular fitness with minimal stress on the body – which ties in exactly with Dr. Galatz’s assessment (above).

2) Swimming helps the body recover from runs since the movement and cold water facilitate blood flow & recovery. (Good to know, since the water temperatures here in Bangkok are downright chilly )

3) Swimming can increase oxygen and lung capacity

4) Swimming works and strengthens different muscle groups that are not used in running

So far, so good.

So far, very good in fact.

Except for the little question of which stroke is the most beneficial.

Back to Dr. Galatz, and I quote:


“Depending on the stroke, swimming engages upper & lower extremities. Most swimmers perform freestyle or crawl, which engages deltoid, latissimus doors, pectorals major and rotator cuff.

And my go-to stroke, breaststroke?

It appears that it’s not quite as efficient as front crawl, for example, especially as far as leg movements are concerned.

I double checked the forum which scarily mentioned potential knee damage due to breast stroke, and since the discussion ended in rather childish name-calling (what is wrong with people’s online manners?!) I decided to write off the knee comments as silliness too.

Leaving aside the technicalities of which stroke is the most beneficial, the undisputed truth is that swimming is relaxing, and for those of us who love being around water, there is nothing quite like it.

A minimal-stress, relaxing form of cross-training – sounds pretty darn perfect to me!

How lovely

My running friend, the lovely young Shikha Dadwal has just celebrated an anniversary.

No, not her wedding anniversary, but her running anniversary.

She has written a wonderful tribute to running, a vital part of our lives, and yet one that sometimes we love to hate 😛

“August is special.

It was August in 2014 that one fortunate morning, I decided to go out and run.

Been 5 years, as surprising it may seem, it hasn’t got any easier.

Fighting the demons never gets easy, specially when they live inside your own head. They tell you to sleep some more, to laze around all day or to even put the alarm on a snoozing spree!

But each morning in those 5 years that I could shut the demons, step out & run, has been a happy & fulfilling one.

And this anniversary is worth celebrating, and to remind myself that I must never hang up my running shoes. 👟👟

#5YearsAndRunning

P.S.: Super lucky to have my partner in life & on the run Ashish. (who I really had to pester to click this photo 😛)

And of course my other running buddies  🙂 “

Well done, my dear, and #keeprunning #keepinspiring

Sometimes numbers DO matter!

You know how people tell you not to worry about the numbers when you run?

All those exhortations to “just run, ignore the time, ignore the distance, just run for the love of it”…you know the kind of thing.

All very admirable.

But then you have a number like this, that just HAS to be celebrated.

Will ya just take a look at this?!

10101km.

This is my friend Harminder’s unbelievable running total.

The man is a machine.

We both ran the very first #100daysofrunning challenge together in 2015, and after that Harminder HAS NOT STOPPED!!

He has run day in day out, even the day he became a father, and just look at this resulting, magnificent statistic.

Shabash x 10101 times my dear friend.

Can’t wait for your next sexy statistic – 11111km, for example?!

Seriously, Harminder, fab stuff & #keeprunning #keepinspiring

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