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  • Your first (half) marathon is the most cherished one. Ironically, it’s also your slowest!
  • I ran a half-marathon at the Indianapolis Marathon today, 19 October, 2013 in 2:18:56.
  • Running a half-marathon = 13.1 miles = 21 kilometers sounds like the craziest idea until you actually run it. After that it seems trivial.
  • It was good to have Jacob and Ryan run the 13.1. Qi ran the full marathon; bow to thee, master! Tianyang’s support in cheering us was invaluable.
  • A 81-year old lady completed the 13.1 in just over two and a half hours. Highly impressive. Humans are crazy!
  • I liked the way the marathon was organized. Fully planned, everything taken care of including parking and restrooms. The concept of time tracking by a tracker attached to the shoe was amazing. I’m impressed with technology.
  • There was so much energy in the atmosphere that you just couldn’t get tired, stop. People cheering, runners discussing their past and future marathons, volunteers offering water and energy drinks, loud music.
  • All this excitement made me forget the bad weather, it was 5 degrees (Celsius of course), windy and raining.
  • A lady had “13.1 on my 30th birthday” printed on her shirt. I wished her a happy birthday! There were some people from Lafayette, we had a “Go Boilers!” exchange.
  • There were volunteers encouraging us to keep going. Randomly, I would tell them they’re doing a great job cheering us 🙂
  • I was hoping Jacob, who was ahead of me would cross me and I’d wave to him saying, “*How* is it going?”!
  • I was in extreme pain after crossing the finish line, but knew I had made history (at a personal level, in the least).
  • There’s only one key to completing the run, don’t think about running, don’t count the miles, don’t calculate your pace — Just RUN!

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Tailpiece:

October 2012 : Biked from Bloomington to Purdue for Habitat for Humanity, 125 miles in 2 days

October 2013 : Ran a half-marathon at the Indianapolis marathon.

October 2014 : (Crazy suggestions?)

Half-marathon! Pu-Ma runners

I wish to pen down (key in?) a singular event I happened to experience, something that I wouldn’t forget soon. This blog post I hope will serve to me as a refresher down the memory lane, years later.

On Alex’s advice, I decided to run hills. (In his words, “You’ll hate yourself running uphill but I know no other method to improve your running speed and stamina.”)  I biked to the top of “Mt. Salisbury” and after running it up and down, was on my way back home. On the bridge on Lindberg Rd, I saw a girl drooping, leaning across the bridge. I gave her a second glance and biked ahead wondering if it she was running and the sun dehydrated her. But who runs in their sandals? I turned back and rode toward her.

“Are you alright? Do you want some water?”

She started sobbing. (Uh oh!) She drank some water and hugged me. My turn to freak out, because it wasn’t a brisk hug but a painfully long one.

“Whatever it is, it’ll be alright.” (I offered my two pennies of  solace).

“Would you help me commit suicide? I want to jump over.”

“This won’t help, it’s too shallow” (Who commits suicide jumping in a bog? She wouldn’t even have fractured herself! But I agree, this isn’t the best reply you can give to a girl contemplating death. In my defence, I handled it good enough, overall.)

She fell on the trail and I sat next to her, wondering what action to take. I asked her which direction her home was and that we should walk that direction. She told she was drunk, a fact I deduced during the aforementioned hug. I compelled her to keep walking to her home and get some rest. On the way, we embarked on a (trivial) discussion about the existence of god and the goodness in people. She told me how other people on the trail ignored her and walked past. She was a Purdue undergrad; her life was in shambles and she had no one. (I believe the last part is false; for you need some parent / guardian who’ll fund your undergrad, especially in this country. I didn’t challenge her.)

She also mentioned she had been contemplating suicide for years and that I should help her. (Now I am of the opinion that if a person truly wants to die in spite of being counseled, the government should give them the opportunity. In India and Indiana, it’s a felony. Nonsense; but I’ll save this discussion for another day.)

Now this girl jumps over the railing and stands on the road, waiting to be hit by a car. The speed limit for that road is 30 mph, so again an ineffective way to kill oneself. Again I sprung into action and made her jump to the other side. At this time, she collapsed in the grass. I felt it the perfect moment to call 911. She rose up and tried to snatch my cellphone but I overpowered her. Sensing trouble, she ran away in the direction of her home. I gave her description to the authorities and no sooner than I traveled some 100m than I saw a Sheriff car (without sirens, interestingly!) turn towards the apartment complex. They caught her as soon as she was about to enter the house and interrogated her. My role ended with me narrating the cops this incident and giving my identity.

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Tailpiece: Do you think we have free will? Was it my own free will that made me turn around and help (?) the girl out? Or was I programmed? My life would have been a bit different had I chosen to ignore and bike past her.

Assume for the moment that we do have free will. Was I right in doing what I did? For all I know, this suicide attempt stays on her “file” possibly throughout her life. Perhaps she was suffering with a terminal disease and death was her best option. Even then, I think I acted wisely. I think I can justify my actions. What do you say?

I ran my first race today. Last fortnight, my sister visited me here and we saw Chicago, New York and Boston. (Reminds me, I should email mom our sojourn photos). For all the fabulous restaurants we dined in these places, I gained about 6 pounds, making this running after the hiatus much difficult.

But still, I had been running for the past week. Had been trying to get myself back in shape, training for the Indianapolis marathon I’ll be running in October. (Well, it’s technically a half-marathon but a marathon achievement for me anyways.) My friend Alex had invited other Math friends (we’ve been calling ourselves the Purdue-Mathematics runners, or the PuMa-runners) for a 5k race along the Wabash trail. So here we were, Alex, Andrew (Ritchie) and me in the registration for this race.

A few things need to be narrated. My race bib had the number 777! Cool, given that I’m a number theorist and also actually love numbers (the two being mutually exclusive). I started out fast and quickly exhausted myself so the way back was extremely painful. Here’s a note to self for the future marathon: I should conserve energy and burst only towards the end.

Now when I was close to the finish line, I almost gave up and started walking. There was a girl running behind me. I calculated that I’d let her pass me and trail her. Imagine my surprise when instead, she started trailing me. We both then sprinted our way to an elegant finish! (I think I experienced some sportsmanship spirit they say about the marathons at this moment).

Timed 28:03 for a 5k run.

Definitely my fastest ever.

Now the best part about running your a-off is that you can relish all the sweet and high-calorie stuff without guilt. Let us see how the preparation for the half-marathon goes. I’ll keep you posted about my preparation in the next four months.

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Tailpiece: The new US-231 highway which is still under construction has been a good spot for runners and bikers this summer. Last month  there was some construction work going on and I was running along the corner of the road. As it happens, it was just ‘constructed’ so I put my feet and my whole body weight in the wet cement and came crushing down in that concrete pool! It was a plight. Fortunately a worker gave me a water-hose to wash off the cement on me and a few others came to re-build the road. (How amazing would it have been to just keep it as it were – with my feet in it – as a memento!) So that adds another little feather in the cap of extreme running adventures I’ve had, like the ice run, or the run when I swallowed a bug or the one after my jaw fracture.

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Edit (22/6): I ran another race last week and the current personal best (for 5k) is 26:15. Official results here. Pretty fast I’d say. Go me!

(You might have read about my running the first \pi miles. This is a rather different experience).
 
(Edit: 6 July, ’12 — If you have fractured a jaw and are looking for a liquid diet, see this post I wrote recently).
 

Today evening I completed running \pi miles on the Wabash river trail. I have done it more than a hundred times in the last few months. But today was special. Completing the track was a liberating moment. For one, I completed it with less-than-usual oxygen; I breathed only through my nose and not once through the mouth.

As I write this, I feel the steel wires and rubber-bands in my mouth. My teeth are fixed, the jaws are immovable and there are six stitches on the chin. I can feel one molar chipped off and one week after the accident, I feel pain in my wrist.

It was on the evening of 26th May that the four of us set out for biking. We were around 10 miles from Purdue where I had this accident. It was a reckless daredevilry, something that I am not proud of & something I wouldn’t like to recollect¹. After the accident, we called a friend and also 911 (the latter came before) and I was taken to the Emergency room of the hospital². I had the X-ray and CT-scan done but already knew my jaw was fractured. The doctor stitched the chin-injury and discharged me with the desperately-needed painkillers. Three days later, I had a surgery with an oral surgeon who (after knocking me unconscious) implanted steel braces and rubber-bands in my mouth thus completely immobilizing any jaw movement. For six weeks, I shall not be able to open my mouth. No coughing or yawning please! And only liquid diet.

Tailpiece:

I realize that the pain-killers have subdued any painful sensation in my jaws. Most of me is perfectly fine, most importantly my brain. And I am doing Mathematics with acetaminophen. Just like Erdös!³ Hope I am able to come up with some theorem in these six weeks!

¹ In my defence, I blame the reversed role of left/right brakes controlling left/right cycle tyres in the America than India.
² In retrospect, although spilling out blood from my mouth, I was surprisingly relaxed. Rather, one of the friends had a panic attack seeing me spew blood!
³ If you are unaware, the legendary mathematician Paul Erdös took amphetamines and said the drug helped him do mathematics. Read his biography here.

As I described in a post earlier, I started running to gain physical strength and boost my self-confidence. But not any more. I run because I love the activity. It gives me the kick; the kick that Mathematics gave Erdos, the kick an abuser gets from his weed. And that’s why I run, even in extreme conditions. I run without seeing the hour of the day. I ran when it was pitch dark and when other runners wore their reflective safety jackets. (must get one for me too). I ran in extreme weather, in rain and wind, also when it was snowing. Even when there was no crazy gora/gori runner in sight for the whole two-and-a-half kilometer long trail. I have run till I got a blister on my foot. I have swallowed an insect while running and still ran back home. But today was different.

For most of the past week, the temperature hardly went above zero. White layers of snow and ice had accumulated on trees, rooftops and cars. There was only one colour outside – white. So when yesterday night’s thunderstorm brought a downpour melting all snow, it was awesome. The temperature soared to 11 degrees above zero (which is “warm” compared to winters here) and I set out to run.

Lake on the way to the trail (cf. anomalous behaviour of water)

The snow had melted partially overnight  so the trail was marshy. But it was good compared with yesterday’s condition, when the whole trail was covered with snow and ice and you couldn’t distinguish the trail path from the  woods. In fact, that was the reason I skipped the trail yesterday and ran to the ‘Happy Hollow Park’ and was delighted to see little kids sledging in snow; but that is another story. So, here I was on the 1.5 miles trail jogging and enjoying the weather. As I came across the bridge, I could see and listen to the water from the molten snow dripping off the bridge.

It was all good until I came upon this layer of ice which I realized was but snow melted into water and frozen back into ice. One wrong slipped foot could bring my bones cracking down. I carefully trudged the ice layer. As I ran further, there were more such layers of black ice and marshy path. Umpteen times I got that mini-heart attack as I slipped on snow. I realized the trail was too risky and decided to follow a different safer path, the footpath (sidewalk) on my way back.

As I was nearing the end of the trail, the sight ahead froze me dead. I don’t really remember whether my life flashed before me, but you do get the idea, don’t you? I saw a huge layer of black ice covered all along the path. Usually when it rains, this part being shallow gets covered with water, but today the water had frozen back into ice. It was a thick blanket of transparent ice laid over the entire path and beyond. Skidding on the ice meant a sure bone-fracture and the way back was no different. It was the devil-and-deep-sea situation. Slowly and cautiously, I stepped on the ice. The friction was near zero so I soon gave up. I tried crawling also but even that was not so feasible. I waited there for a couple of minutes thinking, some of the longest in my life. Going back was not an option. Finally, after summoning some mental strength, I set out for the woods thus by-passing the ice mass. It was a wet mucky lowland and my shoe would sink in but I soon learnt to step on the fallen twigs. I balanced myself over two fallen (chopped) tree trunks as I passed the layer of ice below. Foot by foot, I crawled ahead and after a long struggle, finally made it to the other side! At last, I lived to tell the tale!

The situation was so terrifying that I forgot to take a picture of the ice-path after conquering it!

Even though this little tale of mine might not be so exciting as that of the crazy people’s in this video , its my adventure story and recollecting it gives me that “kick” which makes it all worth!

 

PS: Here is another adventure I had while cycling.

Running those first \pi miles changed my life forever. I am no longer the chubby out-of-shape couch potato that I used to be.

I always wanted to run. So many times, I had the urge to run and keep myself fit. I would call up Jimish and we would decide upon the time and place our jogging would start the next morning. But no sooner did I begin running than I would give up. It wasn’t much fun. I would puff and pant and gasping for breath, would start walking, sit down on the park bench and decide never to run again. After running for two or three days, the health-conscious side of both of us would again die away and things would soon turn back to usual.

But it was in Chennai last year that Jonathan came to visit IMSc that I became serious about running. He and Sachin were regular runners at their institute – the IISc at Bangalore. Both used to run on the service road outside IMSc and I was again hit by the running bug. During the starting days, I recollect being unable to run even half a kilometer without stopping. I didn’t think I could run half as much as they could. I hadn’t the body of a runner. Turns out, a meticulous running plan, their supportive encouragement and some control over my food habits was all I needed to tap the inner runner in me.

With a steady running schedule, I could run back and forth the distance between the two railway stations there. Just in two months, I lost around 8 kilos. All the stuff they show in those gym ads actually came true for me without pumping any weights, only by running! But the joy was not in seeing myself on the weighing scale every fortnight but the fact that I could actually run so much distance in one stretch. I was amazed that my body could actually endure it.

Back in Mumbai too, I continued to run, increasing distance periodically. When Pushkar visited India, I was surprised to see he too had lost pounds. On questioning, he replied he too started running, and we nodded in total agreement. In Pushi, I found a run-buddy! For the one week he was in India, we ran together on the Eastern Express highway.

When I came to America, I could see people running everywhere in all weather at all times of the day. This inspired me greatly and I expanded my running paraphernalia to include sports tees, a pair of running shoes and a GPS enabled cellphone with a running App (Runkeeper) that tracks your speed, location etc. Its much fun running here on a jogging trail with trees and river around. The air too, seems cleaner.

When Pushkar described his \pi-mile run at Georgia Tech, I was amazed. Being a lover of mathematics, the word “\pi-miles” stuck in my mind. I knew my next mission. Inspired from Pushi, I set out for running \pi miles. I had never completed the trail and my cell App told me that it was 1.5 miles. I continued further until it showed 1.57 miles and then turned back. Pacing steadily, and varying my speed regularly, I ran till I reached the end of the trail, … \pi miles it was! In just above 30 minutes! A couple of months back if anyone would have told me I could run so much, I’d have mocked at him.

There have been many difficulties I faced while running, for example, one day I swallowed a bug and it was real sour. I thought I was going to die for sure! But apparently, it is quite common among regular runners. I saw this blog and realized how crazy people can go.

Winter is setting up and running at near-freezing-point temperatures seems difficult. Tougher the challenge means more the excitement! Geared with woolens now, I am preparing myself for this challenge. “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, they say. Lets see how this goes, I will write a sequel to this post by the end of winter describing my experiences.

 

About me

Abhishek Parab

I? An Indian. A mathematics student. A former engineer. A rubik's cube addict. A nature photographer. A Pink Floyd fan. An ardent lover of Chess & Counter-Strike.

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Quotable Quotes

ABHISHEK PARAB
“Do not think; let the equation think for you”

PAUL HALMOS
”You cannot be perfect, but if you won’t try, you won’t be good enough”

ALBERT EINSTEIN
“Don’t worry about your maths problems; I assure you, mine are greater”

THE BEST MATH JOKE
"A comathematician is a device for turning cotheorems into ffee"

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