On Running

I have always liked running. I loved to run the 3.6 kms around Kukkarahalli lake in Mysore. The 8 kms run up Chamundi hills in Mysore with Suraj was my greatest challenge until a few years ago. Once in a year, I used to run the sunfeast 10k (now TCS 10k) and I had completed the BSNL 21K as well. But I still had my doubts about running. Partly due to people-talk, I was thinking in fact that running may wear off my knees.

Running becomes enjoyable once you develop endurance
Running becomes enjoyable once you develop endurance

I still couldn’t keep myself off running. Last year, I ran at the TCS 10K again with knee supports. I thought that my car’s really hard clutch had caused the knee injury (disproved later after I started running; not running was the cause of weak knees). I then went on a cycling trip to Ladakh last year when fitness levels were at an all time high. I have noticed that fitness is kind of an addiction. If you take it seriously once, you will be a fitness buff ever afterwards. So naturally, after coming back from Ladakh, I did not want to lose momentum and participated in the thonnur lake duathlon (40km cycling + 10km running) and finished with a decent time. But things slowed down a bit after that for the next half year or so.

The TCS 10K run is a awesome event in the sense that it is the most popular event of Bangalore, sees a huge participation and hence creates a large number of fitness buffs who eventually motivate others. You could call it peer pressure of the good kind. So, it happened with me as well and I registered. A lot of my friends were registered as well. As I had taken 70 minutes last year, I started training with a target of 60 minutes. The event happens during the hot month of May every year and some training is definitely required.

TCS 10K, the best known run in Bangalore
TCS 10K, the best known run in Bangalore

Around the same time, based on Venu’s recommendation, I happened to read ‘Born to run’ by Chris McDougall. Now, this is the kind of book that can change your outlook towards running. It speaks of the Raramuri (Tarahumara), a 500 year old tribe in Mexico who are ultra runners. Unlike the Kenyans and Ethiopians, they don’t run much in competitions but they just run as part of everyday life. These people showed to the world that humans were designed to run. Probably humans are the way they are because they ran. They ran to hunt food, they ran to live. Running is something embedded in our nature. Probably that is why so many people love running so much in spite of the physical stress.

So, I began training for the TCS 10K with a new found purpose. The purpose was just to go back to the roots of human evolution; to make running an intrinsic part of me. The 10K was supposed to be a stepping stone towards that purpose. And hence began my training experiments.

Training Plan
The marathon training plan – Derived from Hal Higdon’s plan

Technology is of great help in some ways. Google maps and phone apps like Endomondo allow you track distance, speed and use these data to improve oneself over time. Loads of information at runnersworld, livestrong etc help develop better running techniques, warmup and stretch routines. HalHigdon’s training calendars help you plan your runs.

But there is one place where technology is of not much use, shoes. I now run just shy of barefoot. I use decathlon’s newfeel shoes which cost just Rs.500 and I have even removed its cushions. Every small stone on the roads are now felt by the feet. The first few days used to hurt a bit but now the feet and ankle have well adapted. My old Nike shoes are gathering dust these days.

The cheapest shoes seem to be the best

And have I improved my speed and endurance? Results speak.

Improvement from March to June
Improvement from March to June

In March, I could hardly run 3kms at a stretch. On July 26th, I completed the 21 km ‘The Run of Raramuri Tribe’ in 2 hrs 20 minutes in gruelling terrain. Not a time to boast of but I have now unlocked the secret ingredient to running long distance. Practice, Practice and Practice. If it is possible to improve speed by 25% in 5 months and increase distance from 3kms to 25kms in 5 months, imagine what can be achieved in an year.

A key point is to note this: science says that the human body is designed to run and hence age will never be a factor (at least until your are 65. extreme case: Fauja Singh). The idea therefore is to keep running and keep learning new things about running. For example, interval trainings and tempo runs help improve speed and increase lactate thresholds. The most important thing is to practice consistently. When you make running an integral part of your life (just like brushing your teeth), then you automatically start running better.

Finally, important points to be happily running and being fit at the same time:

  • Remember that running is why our body is the way it is. If you care to clean your teeth, you should care to run as well.
  • Run at least 3-5 times a week. You will automatically be compelled to do other stretch exercises. You will also automatically eat better as running will demand that from you.

I plan to post again after the Kaveri trail full marathon this September.

A travel in time to Gundimane

I sit and listen while Ganapathy uncle and his father speak about their land. It seems their ancestors used to live in a vast forest area called Bheemeshwara. Pepper was the main produce and it probably reached the kings of then. The grinding stones can be found in the forests even now. But nobody lives in the deeper forests now. Those were abandoned long back. Nevertheless, Gundimane feels just as remote to the normal city dweller. When you reach here, you immediately feel that you have reached the land of trees, spices and kings.

Gundimane house in the midst of a forest

A few decades back, a temple village called Sigandur was about 5 miles from Gundimane. People used to walk and reach the place. About 60 years back, the river Sharavathi was checked by a huge dam and the backwaters submerged large swathes of land and Sigandur suddenly became 75 Kms by road. Now, mobile phones have decreased the distance by catching signal from Sigandur’s towers. How strange is the abstract concept called distance! Talking of distance, Gundimane is about 20 kms from Jog falls.

Gundimane balcony

I sit here in the balcony and try to separate out the bird songs from one another and from the sound of insects. I realize that this is an incredibly difficult task. I give up after every 5-6 minutes. Some sound like chimes, others knock on the wood. The peacock though is loud distinct and clear. This musical play happens here every day.

Sharavathi Backwaters

A short walk from the house towards the hill brings the entire stretch of Sharavathi backwaters in front of us. At one end is the dam and at the other end are the tree lined shores. The islands surrounded by the blue waters are a beautiful sight.

A few minutes after sunset, just when the sky turned dark, there was a faint glow at the top of one of the hills. First, it looked like someone lit a campfire on top of the hill. After a few seconds, it looked like a tree was burning red. Then slowly, the circular shape of the moon became visible. A stunning sight but I do not have the poetic words to describe this.

The food cooked by Ganapathy uncle’s wife is priceless. It has all the culinary history of the place and the priceless ingredients of the region embedded in it. To this, if you add the amazing love and hospitality of the hosts, you get food unlike any other in the world.

Gundimane temple

Ganapathy uncle’s father took us to the local village temple through the forest road. The priest’s wife treated my wife like she was a queen who had come down from the city. Probably it is normal for them to treat guests as Gods but we started wondering if we had travelled back in time by a few centuries. The temple’s idol being a few centuries old, the simplicity of the people and there being so few people around the place definitely gives the impression of a place lost in time.

Evening, sitting in the train, I was already planning about my next visit to this land where time stays still.

Wanderer!

Why can’t I be there again?

Where only the sun woke us up,
The peaks showed us the way,
The sight of people cheered us.

Where life was simple,
There was happiness in the smile of an old man,
There was satisfaction in the face of every traveller.

Where the road ahead was always unknown,
The days were always difficult but never impossible,
The goal was never bigger than the journey.

Or maybe I do not have to go anywhere
Maybe it is not about the place itself.
Isn’t this all in the wanderer’s mind?

Journey

Hosting this blog on openshift

I’m sure there are hundreds of posts already on how to do this. Openshift has a one click installation as well. It’s ok. I’ll still write my take on it. The idea is to learn something about how openshift works and how to deploy a simple application on the cloud. A one click install does not provide learning opportunity. However, taking the longer route and doing a few mistakes in the process does exactly that.

Let me make it clear, this is not written after I completed the process. Instead, I am yet to start the process. By the time I finish, I should be finished with the porting of my existing blog from a rented server space to openshift cloud. I owe a lot to this blog by amit shah apart from the documentation found on openshift and stackoverflow.

And to those who don’t know what is openshift, it is just like amazon AWS.

What is required before you start?

  1. Some knowledge of GIT
  2. A user account in openshift.

Before you start..

  1. Create an account in openshift, go to the settings page and create a namespace as well.
  2. Install all the tools that are required for deploying your application (in this case, a wordpress application) into the cloud. Installation of ruby, git and rhc are documented in the following openshift documentation.
  3. I also prefer to have these things done in a linux environment as everything just works out of the box (or rather command line). In windows, I normally have to set a whole lot of environment variables, download putty for ssh related stuff and so on. Anyway, it is a personal choice. You could try cygwin though I haven’t tried it myself in this particular case.
  4. Once those are installed, it is time to setup SSH keys. This allows you to remotely access your application. On linux, all you have to do is run
    • rhc setup.
  5. On windows, you will have to play around with putty first. A detailed explanation is given here: Openshift Remote access.

Prepare backend…

  1. First, type
    • rhc cartridge list
    • This gives a list of all the cartridges that are available for you to create apps. Cartridges are nothing but platforms; ex: php, node.js, python, ruby etc. You will have to use the correct version numbers in the below commands to get things working correctly.
  2. In the terminal, just type the following:
    • rhc app create -a xyz-t php-5.3
    • where  xyz is the name of the application and can be anything. This will take a few seconds and will create an application on the server. Also a copy of the code for your application will be checked out locally into a folder with the same name as your application.
  3. Now, add mysql cartridge to this app using the command:
    • rhc cartridge add mysql-5.1 -a xyz
    • Note down the credentials that are output by the terminal somewhere.
  4. Now, add phpmyadmin which is just like the previous step:
    • rhc cartridge add phpmyadmin-4 -a xyz
    • The credentials should be the same as the previous one.
  5. Now login to the following link: https://xyz-namespace.rhcloud.com/phpmyadmin/ . This is your own phpmyadmin page. Replace the app name and namespace with your own. Create a new user and a database there. The database should have full privileges for the user.

Now deploy wordpress…

  1. Download the wordpress bundle from WordPress.org. Unzip that file and place the contents of that file into the php folder of your app folder. It should look similar to the following example.
  2. Now open wp-config-sample.php file in a text editor and fill in the details there. You should use environment variables provided by Openshiftto do this. So, the contents would like this:
    • define(‘DB_NAME’, $_ENV['OPENSHIFT_APP_NAME']);
    • define(‘DB_USER’, $_ENV['OPENSHIFT_MYSQL_DB_USERNAME']);
    • define(‘DB_PASSWORD’, $_ENV['OPENSHIFT_MYSQL_DB_PASSWORD']);
    • define(‘DB_HOST’, $_ENV['OPENSHIFT_MYSQL_DB_HOST']);
  3. Also generate the secret keys as described in the
  4. In case of any problems, you could look at the wordpress 5 minute installation help.
  5. Now create/modify the following file: .openshift/action_hooks/deploy and make it look like the following: WordPress-example-deploy.
  6. Next, push your repository to openshift:
    • git add –all
    • git commit -a -m “Type some commit message here”
    • git push -u origin master
  7. That’s it. Your wordpress blog is now almost ready. In the browser, type <app>-<namespace>.rhcloud.com. Replace <app> and <namespace> with what you have given.
  8. Now, enter all the details that is asked there. Your blog is now ready and you can start adding posts/pages.
  9. If you already have a blog somewhere else, you can now import the contents from there to your new installation using the tools provided in the control panel.
Alias and custom domain
  1. In the wordpress control panel, in the general settings tab, change the wordpress address and site address to your custom domain.
  2. Type the following command so that your custom domain is shown:
    • rhc alias add xyz www.ashwinupadhyaya.com
  3. In your custom domain provider’s cpanel, you will have to change the cname so that it points correctly to your <app>-<namespace>.rhcloud.com.

There are further things to be done in order to gain full functionality. For example, facebook integration, change of uploads directory etc can be done. I’ll not cover those here.

And yes, by the time I finished this blog, I am now on openshift.

Total time taken: 6Hrs including time taken to write this blog. So, provided you are familiar with web tools, it is not really hard to setup a blog on the cloud.

The goal and the path

I can choose one of many paths. Most are easy but they give me no joy. The one I like is dead opposite and I don’t know why. It just always is that way.

Sometimes, I am just a dice and the choice is not mine. But that is not always the case. One only thinks that way.

I see a beautiful stretch ahead of me but it does not last long. Yet, a few seconds of happiness is better than none.

Now there is so much of chaos and I’m overwhelmed. I toil through it for some time and it is now past.

This path is better as I see things not many others see. The restlessness of people and a race to nowhere.

Finally, when I see the goal from afar, I realize that I don’t want to stop. So, I pause.

- Thoughts of a city cyclist through unforgiving rain, dangerous traffic, peaceful bylanes.

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 9 – Leh

It was day 9, the last day of cycling during this trip. 5 high passes had been crossed, so much pain endured and so much distance traversed, the journey so far seemed quite unbelievable.

(click for larger image)

Each had our own reasons to do this trip. For me, it was just a really big dream and nothing else. For another, it was about discovering India. For many, it was about answering the question “Can I really do this?”. The unventured group had set themselves bigger goals. They call it the Laddoo project. They are trying to raise funds through this cycle ride. This wall street journal article explains more about their project.

Laddoo Project - Unventured

I was a bit sad on this day as there wouldn’t be any cycling tomorrow. I cycled as slow as possible so that it wouldn’t end soon. The landscape as usual changed all the way. From Upshi till Leh, the road goes along the river Indus. Numerous monasteries dot this way. This road also has a huge military presence and we even had Dosa at a military run restaurant at Karu. By evening, we were at Leh and it didn’t feel so special. I realized, the trip was about the past 9 days; Not about reaching Leh.

Chortens Lato Leh Indus Upshi Dosa Karu Karu Leh Thiksey Monastery

9 days was not just about cycling and beautiful places. It was also about new friends, their perspectives on life and also about the happy nomadic people in the camps. For me, this trip was a lesson on happiness.

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 7,8 – Taglang La

Lachalang La, the 4th pass in our itinerary was right in front of us from where we were at Whisky Nala. When we started cycling at 6 AM, there was still frost on the saddle and handle bars. I had never before felt as happy when the sun came out as today. The body warmed up and slowly, the energy levels increased. In 1.5 hours, we finished the 7 km, 300m climb.

Lachalang La

The scenery is never the same on two consecutive days and here, after Lachalang La, we seemed to have landed in some alien planet. Looking at these, I felt the Ladakhi architecture is influenced by this landscape.

To Pang To Pang

On the way down to Pang, the tires on mine and Uli’s bicycles cracked. While Uli borrowed a tire from the ‘Unventured’ group, I fortunately found a truck tire repair shop at Pang. The boys there did an amazing patch job on the tire which took me through the rest of the journey. The job took considerable time though and I had to sit in the jeep for 5 kms to catch up with the rest of our team. I repent not having another spare tire now.

Tire burst Repair at Pang Pang Repair

5 kms from Pang, at Moray plains, Ladakh is different again. It is hard to imagine a place like this at 4600 meters above sea level. The amazing Moray plains:

Moray Plains Moray Plains Moray Plains Moray Plains

About 75 kms from our start point, we reached our camp for the day at the Debring-TsoKar junction. This place has a few camps with nomadic people and their hundreds of yaks, pashmina goats, sheep. Here, you may like to think that you have time traveled a few centuries back where horsemen are still herding their huge herds along with the shepherd dogs.

Horsemen, sheeps, goats and yaks

Next day, we left well after the sun came and the target was to cross the highest pass on our route, Taglang La and then reach Lato. In my previous posts, I have used various adjectives to describe the difficult uphill at the various passes. But there can be no adjective for the difficulty of Taglang La. I’ll give some facts though. 20 kms of loose-stone road. 700 meters uphill. 5328 meters altitude. Atmospheric oxygen level half that at sea level. Sunny and dusty with no shade. And the effect was a lungs that worked so hard, it began to ache so much and I could feel it pushing hard against the rib cage. Nobody had enough energy yet most carried on. Today would be the finale in terms of climbing up. Those 6 hours are the toughest 6 hours of my entire life. Half-marathon and 10K runs now look silly. The body’s limits were tested today.

To Taglangla Taglangla Taglangla

And the climb would not have been possible if not for the motivation from Pip, a New-Zealander exploring the charms of the Himalayas. I, Venu and Pip finished together gloriously without pushing the bicycle once through this most difficult terrain.

From here till Lato, it was all downhill. This was reward time. The landscape now was changing faster than ever. One moment, it was snow. Next, it was a river, then rock mountains, then green fields, rivers, gorges, monasteries and we finally stopped a picturesque village called Lato.

After Taglangla After Taglangla After Taglangla TaglangLa to Lato Rumtse Rumtse Rumtse Rumtse to Lato Lato

We had finally made it. What was remaining was just some more feathers in the trophy.

Experiment, Explore, Enjoy