Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I run and why you probably should too

Some people run. Some don’t. The ones that run swear by it and the ones that don’t, well they don’t see how or why they should start. Ever since I started running (which is less than a year ago), I have begun to see patterns that prompt people to take up running and enjoy it enough to go for longer distances and bigger challenges. Hopefully, I can give some tips about making the transition from being a non-runner to a marathoner (if that is your goal). But firstly, a clarification.

Tread-mill running vs. Road running? When I talk about running, I am only talking about running outside (on a road or trail). Sorry about my strong views, but I don’t encourage anyone to run on a treadmill. Here are my reasons:

i) Treadmill forces us to run at a fixed pace – Think of how complex the human body is. When we are on the road, we are always alert and responding to the environment and our own physical condition. For e.g. after a tough uphill run, we will just slow down a tad bit to catch our breath back. Same thing goes for how we respond to changes in weather, how tired we feel etc. But with a treadmill, we put the onus on a machine to do what our neural network does for us and that is expecting too much.

ii) Treadmill promotes a vertical motion rather than a horizontal one – People say that running on the road is stressful to the knees and there is truth in that. That’s why we have to ease into running on the road. But treadmills, because of its fixed length, do not promote full length strides and actually cause an impact on the knees. To give an analogy, running on a treadmill is like bouncing a ball on a fixed spot while running outside is like rolling a ball on the ground.

iii) After 5 miles on the treadmill, you still haven’t gotten anywhere - There is something mildly discouraging about spending a lot of time on a machine that actually takes you nowhere. My coach likes to say, “When you run on a treadmill, it does the work and not you. You are just trying to stay on it.”

Here are my tips for a beginner runner:

i) Start slow and enjoy the experience – When you are new to running, your only aim should be to get out and have fun. So to do that, you always start slow and run at a comfortable pace that you can have a conversation in. And you just observe cars, greet other runners, look for landmarks etc. In other words, even though you are running, it is a laid-back approach.

ii) Overcome starting trouble by signing up for just 10 minutes – A lot of us don’t get out of the house to run because we think of the daunting distance that we have to cover. I have a simple tip that always works – I plan to run only 10 minutes every time I get out. So, irrespective of how tired I feel, I am not really worried because all that I say to myself is “just 10 minutes and I am done.” Why, because the first 10 minutes is the toughest and after that, I have enough momentum to keep going atleast for another half an hour or so.

iii) Find different routes around your neighborhood - Just start off in a different direction every time you run. And as you run, just look around and enjoy the scenery. Most times I don’t even listen to music because I want to absorb my surroundings and be alert during my run.

Now we come to the important question - Why run at all? There are theories about how the human body was designed for running but I wont go into the details (reference [3]). For me, the following reasons work.

i) Running time = Thinking time - This is my biggest reason because running is such a simple sport that you get into an autopilot mode after warming up. Soon, the mind gets clear and uncluttered and it is the perfect time to chew on half-baked ideas and come up with solutions. I can think of two ideas that I implemented at work that were a direct result of my running.

ii) Running (especially longer distances) is probably the best breathing exercise that you can do - The reason is simple; to run long distances you need to have rhythmic breathing. I follow the style recommended in reference [1], which is two inhalations followed by two exhalations and before I know it, I get the same results as some advanced meditation techniques.

iii) You always feel better after the run than you did before - There are many instances when I was in no mood to run but I have always felt great after every run. It’s almost like I have conquered a route and put my initials on it. Plus (unlike tennis which is my other favorite sport) I can never lose on a running day. There is no competition and to have completed a route means to have come back a victor.

So, here it is folks, my take on running and what I have learnt about it. Take it, apply it and thy go become a runner!!!

[1] The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer
[2] Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
[3] Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Monday, June 15, 2009

How some things don't change

A conversation with an old friend prompted me to write this. Have you ever met someone after a long time and been surprised at how much you are able to connect (or still hate each other) after all these years. Initially, everything about this person seems different. He or She is probably doing better (or worse) than you expected. They look and dress differently. They even talk differently with usages that you did not expect. But after sometime, you begin to notice things and then alas its the same person who has just travelled through time.

The main point of this entry is actually to emphasize something else. We actually change (at the core) less than we think we do. For sure, our experiences shape and help define us, but exactly how it affects us depends largely on what we are able to absorb from it. And what we are able to learn from experiences relate directly to how we were before it. So that comes back to the point that we usually do not change too much after all.

The other point of this entry is to not expect other people to change too much for us. Sure, they should make the effort, but for the change to really take root, it is going to take some time and deliberate practise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A day in Chennai

Its 5:30 am on what promises to be a warm day. I have just woken up to loud devotional music from a neighboring temple. I curse under my breath remembering that I cannot be too vocal about my opinions. I look around and everyone at home is already involved in one activity or the other. Then I decide to use this opportunity to go for a run.

I tip-toe outside my house not wanting to disturb any sleeping neighbors and from a corner of the eye I see smoke. Then I see an outline of what looks like a stray dog and my neighbor holding on to the leash. That's when I realize that the man is on his morning cigarette. He sees me and offers me a puff. As much as I am moved by the hospitality, dragging nicotine from a wet cigarette bud is not exactly my idea of fun. Anyway, he says something to the effect that the cigarette helps his system get going but I don't care to listen.

Then as I move on to the road, I am almost knocked down by a Bajaj M80. That's when some old lessons come back to me. In Chennai, they basically drive with the intention of hitting you. Its only at the last moment that they sympathise with you and decide to turn away. I just had to remind myself that if I am to expect "Right of way", I may as well stay at home.

Wanting to still hold on to my dear life, I ditch any thoughts of running on the road. So I decide to walk the five minutes to the open track along side the beach. The track on the side of the beach is full of people - mostly older uncles and aunties (some of them in their nighties). Nobody pays me any attention because I am just one of them -- sleepy, shabbily-dressed and grossly out of shape.

The rest of the day goes pretty normally. I take a nap after my morning run. Then I eat lunch. Then I take a nap again. And then shower and go out. Its about 5:30 in the evening now and I hear someone calling out my name. I turn to see my old rickshaw wallah -- the one who used to give me a ride when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. He recognises me immediately and walks over and starts talking. The overall intent of his message is that since I am doing well in the US, I should hand him 100 or 200 Rs. He is a good man and gets me thinking about how much I should give him. Then in the background, I see a crowded wine shop and realize exactly where this money is going to go. So I make up some excuse and turn away wondering if it isn't too early in the evening to get drunk.

Anyway I go out and haggle with the auto-wallah and the cellphone guy and finally make it back at 10:30. Just when I think that I have had a long day, Baskar my other neighbor who in in 12th grade is parking his bicycle. He is just back after his entrance exams tuition and is rushing to bed to get up in time for his 4:30 board exam tuition.

Well, I know people work hard (to varying degrees) all over the world. But something about Chennai just reminds me of an encroached beehive. There is always a buzz of activity and everyone is serious (both the temple-goers and drunkards alike). There is a place here for everyone and no one is free from the grind of their day-to-day lives. And yet there is a quiet calm about each person as if they believe that if they keep at it, a better tommorow is around the corner. And, in this way, its a purposeful existence that prepares the city for anything from a technology boom to a Tsunami.

P.S. To give a perspective of why and when I am writing this, let me give some background. This is my third trip to India in the 7 years that I have been away. The first time, I was awed by Chennai -- the malls, the bridges, the jobs etc. Everything, to me, had seem changed. The second and third trip, though, I was more subdued. I noticed things that have always remained as part of Chennai and was thankful that the developments weren't just a fad. These patterns and behaviour makes Chennai what it is -- a hardworking city that doesn't sleep, only naps.

An explanation for Luck

Well, Here goes it. One of the controversial subjects that people debate about. Some attribute luck to just being a random event whereas others say that each one makes his or her luck. In this post, I am going to give the explanation that has convinced me the most about luck. And luckily for you, I did not come up with the explanation :)

So, just to give you a hint, this explanation of luck is based on the concept of Karma and multiple births. Karma basically says that all causes have an effect. Hence, Karma is very straightforward and implies that if you do good, then good things will happen to you.

Now back to Luck. Luck is an unexplainable good (or bad) event that happens to us. In this way, Luck implies that things happen to us without any discernible causes. But then how do we use Karma to explain Luck?

That's when multiple birth cycles come into play. According to the Hindu scripture, we all have go through multiple births and deaths until the soul attains salvation. Hence as far as the soul is concerned, we bring forward our accumulated karma into each life that we take (or the soul takes). So people that seem lucky (for e.g. being born into a wealthy family etc.) have just earned it by their karma in their previous lives. And hence, luck is also earned, the only difference is that as humans we are not able to see it because we can analyze only one lifetime at a time.

Hence the message would be to continue to do good even if results do not follow. We are all accumulating Karma points for our next lives :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What this blog is all about

1) Technology Section - This part is going to involve my technological work in areas like java, j2ee and specific issues that I have faced with websphere etc. The other part will also involve general work principles and other things that I am curious about.

2) Acheiving Excellence section - Try to answer questions about achieving excellence. This section will contain interviews with people that are extra-ordinary in their field. It is going to be interactive and engage the audience.

3) Lifestyle section - It will be about things like small business ownership, remote working etc. This section is going to be about cool things that I see myself doing. Ideas on simple living, vegetarian eating, boot camp training, money management etc. Also ask the big questions in life (interviews with experts in eastern philosophies like hinduism and buddhism).

4) Creative writing section - This is where drafts of some of my stories will go as well as creative articles in various field.