The monsoons hit Mumbai big and unexpected this month. With a fear of catching cold, i chose to stay indoors for the dreadfully rainy Sunday morning after the 4hr:30 min Matheran jaunt on the previous Sunday. It had me almost squirming in pangs of labelling myself lazy.
So come Sunday, 28th June, i prepared myself mentally for a 10% upgrade on my previous long run. that meant i needed to do something for atleast 5 hours.
5 hrs running on the flat streets of Mumbai sometimes bores the hell out of me. It ain't even a great workout while training for a hilly ultra. Plus i would have to start really early, 4 am, so that i could minimise the time spent running in the awful sun. I would have to plan strategic kelawallas, water bottle shops and medical stores for enerzal on the way. In absence of any company I didn't feel like venturing out.
The Ladakh ultra (to the mighty KhardungLa pass above as it appeared a few days back) might also be quite a mental challenge as the wait while climbing up for the PASS would be endless and so also, the wait for Leh on the way down. I needed to build the boredom factor into my run so that i could devise mental strategies to overcome it on raceday.
So, i thought that the best possible workout would on all counts be multiple reps of the run-climb stairs routine.
My previous stair climbing-run sessions have been a 600m circuit of our car-parking followed by climbing 10 (130 ft) floors up and down. On a cooler rainy day, it took me approx 1 hr to finish 7 such reps. As i climbed up higher that day, a thought ran through my head. Higher floors don't offer better views always, they just take your eyes away from the nitty gritties of the "filth of humanity" below.
Since the morning today was muggy and hot and quite windless, i thought i should be doing a 7-6-6-5-5 plan. Working out to 17.4 kms and 290 floors up and 290 floors down in 5 hrs...
I woke up at 3:15 and did my customary dynamic stretching and warm ups, with some focus on the abs. I had stocked up on a dozen bananas, 4 bottles of 1 litre water, some bars of Nature valley, and a couple of enerzal packets. I put them all in a bag and tied my 500 ml bottle strap round my waist. And set out.
I decided to put all the stuff in the car and park it strategically in the car park so that i could access them as and when.
I started my run at 4:05 am. My only companions at that unearthly hour, as i went through my rounds, were the building security who must have simply got hypnotised watching me perform my insanely monotonous routine. At 4:15, i saw a fellow runner, AJ, headed out for his morning run. That gave me some respite as here was a fellow who wasn't even targeting any race in the near future and yet motivated to be up at that time.
The first hour was largely uneventful. It was now 5 am and i did get to watch the sky turning from a black to a blue black to an ink blue. I could now see the hue of dark clouds on the eastern sky. How I wished for the rain! The heat was palpable and from 500ml consumed in the first hour, i now was consuming 500 ml per half hour. Around the 12th round, I decided to walk a couple of rounds just to break the monotony and give some respite to the legs. I then resumed running. Second hour was at 5.5 reps. In the third hour, I now had a runner for company. Ashok, had begun his Sunday run but was running in the opposite direction. My sweaty facade probably caused him to ask me if i was done.. I could just manage to say.."no no not yet." The third hour also yielded approx 5.5 reps. Somehow, as the day dawned, i felt better. At 7 am, the nariyal paani waala arrived, so i asked him to fix me a large treat at the end of my round. I now had to keep urging myself to carry on. While climbing stairs, i would now stop at every 3rd floor and stretch to relieve the taut calves and quads.
Climbing stairs is a brilliant cardio work out. While going up i normally don't skip stairs, as every effort to do that spikes up the heart rate and sweating. So i would save the skipping stairs for the last 2-3 floors. On the way down, invariably i have never stopped. So i guess, i am stronger on the way down. There are plenty of techniques to climb down. But i choose to go front down on the toes. Landing on the heel with a thud can be a knock on the knees.
You can find some tips on stair climbing here
The fourth hour saw some more people stepping out for their daily walks and runs. So, that did feel better. By now, the security guards who were fully convinced i was insane, had finished their shifts and the replacements had taken over. I had polished off 4 bananas, 2.5 litres of water and a coconut. That gave me enough steam to head into the 5th hour. I had finished 24 reps. The sun was fully up and blazing, and our stairways face the east. Luckily for me, the tower i was climbing in was angled farthest from the sun. At around the 25th rep(240 floors done), i simply felt exhausted and sat on the stairs after just climbing 2 floors. Waiting for my breath to normalise, i eventually finished the rep and now started counting backwards. I had made up my mind that i would be doing 30 reps and not 29. So there were 5 climbs (50 floors) and 5 rounds remaining. Normally this would take me 35-40 min. So i was within my 5 hr target.
Typically, at the highest points of the mountain roads, the slopes get more steep. So i thought i should try and simulate longer climbs when I am the most tired. I now decided to do 2 rounds followed by 20 floors.
That meant there were now 3 rounds and 30 floors remaining. The sun was beating quite strongly and i decided to finish off the 30 floors at one go. I practically halted at every 5th floor, putting my head down on the side rails breathing heavily as i literally pushed myself up. Reaching the 30th floor was bliss. The toughest bit was done. As i came down to the parking, I met my volley friends. They acknowledged my insanity of 5hrs and egged me on to join them for a game. Ashok was up there too. He was like, you've been running since then!?!?!?.... I finished off my remaining 3 rounds and with it my day's workout of 5hr:10 min aggregating 18 kms, 3900 ft up and 3900 ft down and headed straight back home..stretched and had a shower.. My volley mates too wound up early under the unforgiving heat and we all headed for a cool glass of well-deserved sugarcane juice.