As some of you may be aware, in January this year I embarked on a new exercise regime. This new regime, chosen after extensive research and rumination, involved a series of run-cum-walks that gradually increased in intensity till I could finally run for up to 40 or 45 minutes without frequent cardiac arrest. This intense, but very doable, regime replaced my previous exercise routine. That old routine was structured around physical activity depicted in the diagram below:
Why did I choose this new system? There were many reasons.
First of all I wanted to run in the British 10K and raise money for an education charity in India. Pastrami's wife, a woman of uncommon enthusiasm, signed me up. At the time I thought to myself: "Ten kilometres? Ha ha ha. Where is the challenge? Can I run it twice to raise more money?"
The next day I changed into some casual gym-type clothes of t-shirt, shorts, towel socks and sports shoes and went to a nearby sports stadium that has a splendid running track outside. I took a deep-breath, started my stop watch, and set off. It took me merely seconds to cover the first 12-15 meters and another five or six minutes to regain consciousness. It had been a hard experience, but the lesson was clear: several hundreds of poor children in India would have to continue with their informal education without the institutional limitations of a school. Perhaps through Khan Academy.
Unfortunately for me Mrs. Pastrami has the mental flexibility of a large inter-state bus terminal. She wouldn't budge. "If you start now you will definitely be able to complete the run by July," she said, as if she is talking to Ravichandran Ashwin.
And thus, in order to avoid humiliation in front of thousands of London runners and the local media, I embarked on a running program.
"IIM Ahmedabad graduate collapses hilariously during British 10K. Subsequently run over by 23 members of IIM Bangalore London Alumni Association."
But also I really did want to get fit. Over the last few years I'd let myself go just a little bit. The pressures of work and the incessant newspaper deadlines had begun to show in my chunky gut and my 1.6 chins. This run seemed like a good chance to shed some of that excess weight and top up some of that legendary chickmagnetism that has always driven ladies all over two countries (India and UK) mad with desire.
So far my plan has been a total success. Every day I am approached by men and women who want to know how I've managed to lose so much weight and get so trim. I am fitting into my old clothes once again. And even as I write this I can once again feel both my thighs as separate entities.
How did I do this? How can you also learn the pleasures of running? How can you bring some Vaducuteness into your life?
Let me distill all the wisdom of my experience into ten easy to remember bullet-points. This is the outcome of one year of hectic running, research, online socialising, forum-ing, reading and documentary-watching. Follow these instructions and you will become as good a runner as I have.
1. Like any other form of exercise, running is not without its risks. Always consult a physician before you start.
2. Do you now own a small telescope, a Van de Graf generator, and understand the wave-particle duality of light? Excellent. This is because you consulted a physicist by mistake. Go back to step one.
3. So now ready to hit the road and run, run, run? After all, how difficult can running be right? Wrong. You have now been physically incapacitated for life. Sorry.
What mistake did you make? You chose the wrong clothes. Running is no longer what it used to be. Depending on the weather in your native place you need to buy the appropriate clothing for running. In places with mild, temperate weather, such as southern Europe or Kerala, you need nothing more than a high-tech sweat-wicking top, a minimal pair of running shorts and sports socks. In colder places you might want to add a layer of thermal clothing, unless you are one of those mad people who run without a shirt on in London in the depths of winter. The good thing about these mad people, however, is that they are incapable of propagating due to frostbite.
Finally, if you live in very hot weather in places such as Mumbai or Delhi, it is better to take an auto.
4. Have you hit the road running? Big mistake. You no longer have functioning legs. Sorry.
This is because you thought you could run in whatever shoes you had. This is a common error with unsophisticated runners. Nobody should run even for five centimetres before undergoing a complicated procedure known as 'gait analysis'. Here a professional gait analyst-certified on the internet-will ask you to run on a treadmill in your existing shoes while pointing a video camera at you. After a few moments the analyst will show you the video and show your how you are running. This is when most runners realise, for the first time in their lives, that they have enormous buttocks that, on the video, seem like an alien trying to eat a pair of their shorts. They also realise that their 'running form' is all wrong. Ideally your feet should hit the tread mill at a perfect 90 degree angle.
Alas. Most people have feet that hit the road at wrong angles. Either your feet slope inward. Or bow outwards. This means you need to buy special shoes, made by a company called Saucony, that cost at least £80 a pair.
At this point you may be wondering: Isn't there a conflict of interest here? Does the gait analyst, who usually works in the shoe store, ever have an incentive to say that you're running form is correct?
Such questions are not welcomed in the running community. Avoid.
5. One important point here regarding Vibram Five Fingers. Many of you, while driving around in posh neighbourhoods, may have noticed people wearing ridiculous running shoes that seem to cover their feet like a glove. This is called Vibram Five Fingers. Next time you see them, point your vehicle in their direction and continue on your journey, ignoring any bumps.
6. Feeling exhilarated as the wind blows past your hair, and you pump foot in front of foot? Tragedy! I wish you best of luck finding the perfect pig that will provide you with replacement heart parts.
This is because you have put on your new clothes and shoes and just run out of your door like a caveman. Where is your heart rate monitor and GPS watch? Without these pieces of equipment how will you know how much you are running and if you're working your heart too much? I expected much more from you. If educated people like you are doing this then how people from IIM Calcutta will run properly?
Remember, every individual has an optimum target heart-rate band. You should aim to run in such a way that you hit a rate within this band. Below this and you're not running hard enough. Greater than this and you're treating your heart like it is some sort of traditional Indian family in Oslo.
I know it is frustrating to wait for Amazon/eBay/Rediff Shopping to deliver the heart rate monitor. But, as Oscar Wilde once said: "Be patient, or be patient."
7. Before you rush out of that door, just one more piece of advice: take your phone. There are many benefits. First of all this means that you will have to buy one of those Velcro arm-bands that you can put your phone inside. This, along with a minimum of one item on the body in fluorescent green, is the current global symbol of a serious runner. Without this you are just a suspicious type possibly running away from a crime scene.
Also phones are capable of helping you run better. There are many apps such as RunKeeper and Runtastic that keep a track of how much you run, count your calories burnt, record your route and even help you pace your run through cheerful voice prompts: "Next interval! 10 seconds! Fast! Sieg Heil!"
Normally most runners download between 35 to 75 running apps before they find their perfect one: the native iPhone music player.
8. Next you must choose the perfect place to run. Normally you will find yourself asking the question "Where do I go and run today?" only seconds before you leave your house. Therefore you will then go back to your house, open your Macbook, switch on your iPad or use some other poorer quality computing device and go to Google Maps. You will then spend 30-45 minutes crafting a perfect route that blends both challenge and entertainment. And then just, when you have everything planned out, it starts to rain.
This is very common among beginners. Which is why a basic gym membership is essential for all aspiring runners. On days with bad weather, the treadmill is your friend. However do remember that running on a treadmill is fundamentally different from running on the street. Compensate for this by increasing the incline on your treadmill by a few degrees. But how do you know if you are using the treadmill correctly. This is a basic thumb rule: If you are bleeding from the mouth and/or ears your incline is too high. Reduce immediately. On the other hand if your face is directly positioned in front of one or more armpits that may or may not belong to you, you are in a Pilates class. Replace dislocated shoulder and return to treadmill.
9. My second last, but not second least, point is on breathing. Even the most accomplished beginners have trouble getting their breathing rhythms just right. Usually personal trainers say that when you are running at the right pace, and breathing in the right manner, you should be able to just about speak with a little difficulty while running. However this is easier said than done. What if you are not a talkative kind of person? Or what if you're running by yourself in a park, try to whisper to yourself to judge breathing, focus so hard on this that you don't notice the young woman running ahead of you, who then mistakes you for a sex criminal? (This happened to a friend's friend.)
Use this simple timing technique instead: for every cycle of inhalation and exhalation you should be able to take four steps. This could be as follows: "inhale, step, step, exhale, step, step" OR "inhale step step step step exhale" OR "inhale exhale step step step step" OR "step inhale step exhale step step". However watch out for this cycle: "inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale". This means you have stopped.
10. Finally we come to nutrition and hydration. A common saying in the running community is "Show me a dehydrated runner and I will show you someone who will die soon and then we can decide which of the two is more tragi-comic ". This is not a very positive community. But the message is crystal clear. Stay hydrated. But find your own personal rhythm. Some people like to have a small drink before running. And then a small drink again after. Other people drink while they run. Experiment and see what works for you. If you're running with a large group of friends, secretly fill one person's water bottle with mulligatawny soup. Hilarious.
Avoid all food at all times. Food is what got you into this mess.
Conclusion: I hope you enjoy this wholesome collection of running tips and tricks. And I look forward to our impending Vaducuteness.