Tuesday, December 3, 2019

My Big Fat Full Marathon or How I Became a Keto Runner

My name is Madhur Daga. I’m 47 and New Delhi is my home. I am a Vipassana meditator, runner & fitness enthusiast. Currently, an area of interest for me is the effect of a Keto diet and a fat adapted non-carb fueled metabolism on athletic performance, specifically running & weight training. Apart from these sporadic blogs, email, WhatsApp & a sparsely populated YouTube channel, I am completely absent from the online / social world. I am also the Managing Director of Orient Bell Ltd., a manufacturer with pan India distribution of high quality vitrified floor, wall & decor tiles. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are MY experience & truths as they unfolded on this half & full marathon journey. Please keep in mind that neither is this blog a 'How To' for anything, nor do I intend to challenge any beliefs/conventions, whether related to general health & fitness, running, nutrition, carb vs fat, meditation &/or any other subject matter. In case you choose to follow part or all of my training & race strategies as expressed in this blog, your mileage might vary (YMMV). Also, this particular post assumes a basic knowledge of the Keto diet. If you’re unfamiliar, a simple online search will yield countless results. 

Prologue (or why did the Daga again Bhaga?)

I ran my 1st and only full marathon back in Feb 2017 - the inaugural edition of the IDBI New Delhi Marathon (NDM). Shortly after NDM, a painful right gluteal injury killed my enthusiasm and motivation to  run & I quit for >2 years, while promising myself I would never attempt a full marathon again. I also realized that my overall muscle mass & strength were poor, & began training
diligently at the gym during this long time off from running. The goal was to become a beast & return to running with better strength & form some day. Ok, maybe more like a mini-beast.

That day came during dinner with Pankkaj Dhiman sometime in June 2019. Over a kebab platter & some non alcoholic beverages, we decided that I would train over the next 14 weeks or so for the Oct 20th Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM). These were some tough training weeks, obviously made more challenging given zero mileage for almost 26 months. Guided by Pankkaj & his expertly structured training plans, I steadily improved to the tipping point when both HR & Pace data started indicating that I was a stronger & better runner vs 2017. ADHM validated this when I finished the 21.1K with a PB of 1h 37m, shaving >5 mins off my performance in 2016.

Pankkaj & I had a wonderful race review meeting post ADHM, filled with positive feedback, encouragement & the usual non alcoholic beverages. We had both possibly surprised ourselves after a relatively short training period following such a long running layoff. Of course, we did ask what could have been done for me to run an even faster race (aka ‘how does it get faster than this’)? Given the compressed training window hence low pre-ADHM running volume, there was probably not much we could have done with respect to the actual physical training. My splits showed that I lost valuable time during the extremely crowded 1st KM, so I noted that next time I would have to be smarter at navigating the initial crowd. However, the BIG realization was that I could / should have been lighter to run a faster ADHM. Had I shed 4-5 kgs of fat leading up to the event, it would have helped my pace substantially. I required a tighter focus on nutrition.

Discussions about ADHM had come to an end and there were only so many sans alcohol beverages we could consume before the law of diminishing marginal utility took over. I had not really recovered from ADHM & had a Diwali vacation to look forward to during the coming week. So, logically, the time had come to hug-high-five & go our separate ways. Instead, I verbalized that 2 word question which more likely than not, when chatting with Pankkaj, alters the foreseeable future in a matter of few seconds.

MD: what next?
PD: daga bhaga ho - bhago // you are daga the runner - so run
MD: kab aur kaha? // when & where?
PD: IDBI 2020 ke liye register kiya? // have you registered for IDBI 2020?
MD: kiya // I have
PD: full bhagtey hain // lets run the full marathon 
MD: full??
PD (smiling gently): full nahi bhagna toh half bhag lo (PD Jedi mind trick has begun) // if you don’t want to run the full, the run the half marathon
MD: Hmmm full bhag sakta hun.. // I could run the full..
PD (coach face ON): 1st Dec MCM full bhaglo - approx effort type race hoga // then run the MCM full marathon on 1st Dec - it will be an approx effort run
MD: nai not possible... leaving for Vipassana on 2nd Dec so mindset bilkul alag hai // no.. my mindset at that time will be completely different...
PD (grinning widely): koi nahi... soch le (PD Jedi mind trick in full effect) // no worries... think about it 
*** 20 seconds MD sochta hai *** *** PD usey sochtey huey dekhta hai *** // MD contemplates for 20 seconds - PD watches MD contemplate
MD: uhh theek hai MCM full bhag loonga // OK I’ll run the full distance at MCM
PD (still grinning widely) - Diwali vacation mein recover kar lena theek se // make sure you recover well during Diwali vacation
MD (slouching): chalo bye // ok bye
MD (alone in car - dazed & confused calls PD): Dec 1st ko 42.2k khatam kar paoonga? // Will I even be able to complete 42.2k on Dec 1st?
PD (probably grinning wickedly): aaaraaam se (PD Jedi mind trick formally comes to a gaseous end) // eeeeasily

And that, ladies & gentlemen, is the reason Daga 1st Dec ko full marathon kyun bhaga. // And that is why I ran the full marathon on 1st Dec. 

My Training Paradigm

As has always been the case when approaching a tougher than usual fitness goal, I tend to triangulate the overall training plan and make sure I stay focused on all 3 parts:
  1. mind
  2. body 
  3. fuel 

Training | MIND

More so than a half marathon, running the full distance ends up being a mental game. Having had an experience in 2017, I recalled the uphill battle post ~32kms.

As a Vipassana meditator, I’d like to believe that being calm & mindful in the face of adversity would come more naturally to me and help me during the dark moments. Also, meditation helps us stay in the moment rather than project uncertain thoughts about the future. This is a major asset when we encounter fatigue & the mind starts believing we just can’t go further or need to walk rather than run etc. 

Despite the heavy early morning training schedule, I continued my daily meditation. I am convinced this also helped me recover better and faster from the intense training sessions. 

Consistent meditation also benefits in a couple of other ways which I’d like to mention. It teaches us patience. Long runs & any such endurance activities do test our patience maybe more than the physical capabilities. And significantly, a meditative mindset helps us surrender. Surrender to the process of training for tough ambitious goals. It is my belief that real transformation happens on the other side of surrender.

Lastly, breathing awareness meditation is the foundation on which Vipassana meditation stands. I run without music & know that
constant awareness of my breathing rhythm has been instrumental in my progress as a runner. It comes naturally to me and has really helped during some of the more  difficult training sessions.

Whether a casual runner, amateur competitor or elite athlete, there is no one immune to those days when we feel mentally demotivated & possibly even incapable of carrying on. When we wonder whether its all worth it. I have been close to skipping training sessions more than once. These are the times when we draw inspiration from those around us.. the like minded who motivate, encourage & inspire with their words and actions. 

Needless to say, Pankkaj Dhiman’s ability to raise his own bar to unbelievable heights was a constant source of inspiration for me.
He really is someone who consistently walks his talk. He is also one of the founders of New Delhi Road Runners (NDRR), a group of the most awesome and non judgmental folks, always there to applaud any effort. Without a doubt every active NDRR member has been a source of motivation for me. A special mention to NDRR member & dear friend Vishal ‘JK’ Rakyan who constantly & consistently gave me a holistic view of my progress and instilled self belief especially during the days I would lose some perspective. 

Immense gratitude to my wife Monisha who resigned to the fact that I would sleep at 2100 hrs every night, effectively removing me from any/all social occasions including the limited time we get to spend time together. Thank you for always respecting my choices. Thank you also to everyone else I haven’t explicitly mentioned for being there when my mind needed it the most. You know who you are.

Training | BODY

In almost every respect, this was the toughest part of the training triangulate. After 26 months of not running, we had ~14 weeks to train for ADHM & then, after a week off for Diwali, exactly 4 weeks to build on that base for the MCM full marathon. I write ‘almost’ every respect because the easy part was that I had to
simply surrender and follow the plan given by coach Pankkaj. No thought required except go out & execute every session to the best of my ability. This truly was a privilege because I am aware of so many enthusiastic motivated runners who are unable to perform to the best of their potential given the lack of a personalized challenging training plan. My gratitude to coach Pankkaj for these plans is immense.

This is a very broad panoramic summary of my running specific training since July. It was tough as nails and required relentless consistency. 

  • July: 200 km (average 5 runs / week)
  • Aug: 224 km (ditto)
  • Sep: 335 km (average 6 runs / week)
  • Oct: 210 km (ditto - last week during Diwali vacation)
  • Nov: 302 km (average 6 runs / week)
Volume Type
  • 70-75% easy aerobic sessions including a 10% progressively longer LSD run every Sun
  • 25-30% intense anaerobic speed work including sprints, tempos, progressive pace sessions & hill repeats

July and most of Aug were on treadmill after which I switched majority aerobic runs to outdoor. Anaerobic sessions were mostly done on treadmill. We were also mindful of the pollution when choosing where to run.

The running volume was quite low in Aug. This is because I strained my left IT band & quad quite severely & had to take a few days off to recover & heal. It was the best thing that could have happened, teaching me that my hip flexors were incredibly tight &
irrespective of the pain, I needed to include disciplined stretching & rolling of that part in my daily routine. As my hip flexor flexibility increased, my stride length increased from a low poor average of 0.85m to almost 1.1m. This has turned out to be a major strength in my running form & pace.

From the very beginning, a Chest Heart Rate Monitor was mandatory - no run was accepted without accompanying HR data. Progress was monitored not only by pace & time but as critically by average & max HR. 

I ran a total of 119 training sessions from July 1st to Nov 30th. This should have been 120 had I not missed 1 LSD early during the training. When Pankkaj mentioned a missed session can never be made up, I felt bad & immediately committed internally that come hell or high water, I shall put every session in the bag. And I did.

Complementing the run training was strength work at the gym. This was 3-4 times a week and as the running volumes increased, the strength training program was modified to include more plyometric sessions to increase explosive muscle power. Leg & core workouts were focused mostly on muscles and exercises which would make me a better & stronger runner. Suramya, my personal trainer at Fitness First (Saket), has been an equal contributor to my running progress with our Personal Training plans which were always aligned to my running goals. Thank you so much Suramya for all the encouragement, especially on #TerrorTuesday - named because this was the day of intense early morning running speed work immediately followed by a draining legs workout. Every workout irrespective of type or body part ended with 15-20 mins of
stretching & rolling to release tightness. This was supplemented by a deep tissue massage at least once a fortnight. Recovery was as important as anything else.

I’d like to give a shoutout to Dr. Divya over at Sporting Ethos who has been my physio for several years. From rotator cuff issues, torn ACL, golfer/tennis elbows, torn Supraspinatus tendon & then the hip flexor and weak gluteal muscles, Divya has always been my go-to rehab specialist with a 100% track record of fixing me with conservative management. Thank you doc.

Training | FUEL

A full marathon is tough enough with substantial running volume and several months to prepare. While Pankkaj, Suramya & I had teamed to build a strong training foundation for ADHM, we had a paltry 4 weeks from Nov 1-30 to get me ready for double the distance. In addition, I had to experiment with nutrition to somehow lose 4-5 kgs of fat, yet train hard enough to feel stronger than I did during ADHM. Frankly, this made me extremely nervous. Why? Because it’s not easy for a relatively lean frame to lose that much fat over 4 weeks while still maintaining the strength & agility to train hard enough for the full distance. The last thing we would want to face is an injury due to a poor / insufficient nutrition plan. 

After quite a bit of brainstorming, it seemed to boil down to ONE big question:

Was I going to fuel myself with carbs as I had always done in the past? OR would I use fat as fuel and run into the world of keto? From the perspective of losing fat & getting lean(er) quickly, keto seemed to be the obvious choice. I had used it as a dietary tool successfully several times since 2017. However, there seemed to be a complication which most (if not all) online sources of research indicated with the keto diet - while it was very well suited for long, slow endurance type training & events, the feedback & science backing keto for intense interval type training, speed work etc was not very promising. In fact, data pointed towards the fact that carbs seemed essential if one needed a ‘quick source’ of energy which fat just doesn’t seem to be able to supply on demand.

And there was something else which I read multiple times from several respected authorities on the subject - keto training for athletes worked best when one had already been ‘fat adapted’ for several months. If the body was new to using fat as fuel, it may not be able to supply the energy demanded during the stressful / fast training sessions &/or races. Unfortunately, I did not have several months. I barely had few weeks to enter ketosis & get fat adapted if this was going to be my chosen route to fuel. 

Frankly, I was very conflicted. While 70-75% of my training were slow/easy aerobic effort runs, how would I manage the equally critical balance of intense anaerobic training? What if, during the
month as training became tougher, or worse, during the late stages of the full marathon, I bonked with no ‘on demand’ fuel in the tank to help me keep running to the finish line. We’ve all grimaced at stories of runners hitting ‘the wall’ & I definitely didn’t want any part of that experience. 

So, I had pretty much convinced myself to stay safe & follow convention. As much as I disliked sugar and had eliminated it from my daily nutrition, the exception was going to be endurance gels to be taken during HIIT workouts and of course on race day. The ADHM performance & PB was a fresh anchor which helped me validate the ‘carb as fuel’ argument. Glucose, Fructose & Maltodextrin, which are the most common form of simple carbs in endurance gels were going to be the exceptions to my ‘no sugar in the diet’ rule. And that was that.

Until I happened to mention this to Barkha Peshawaria. Barkha is co-founder of & Chief Recipe Officer at Health Kitchen By BB (HKBBB), a startup cloud kitchen which specializes in what they call ‘Seriously Healthy Desserts’. Their recipes have minimal ingredients built on a nutritive platform which totally excludes gluten, sugar, refined oils, maida & any preservatives. She caters to several lifestyles including paleo, vegan, diabetic friendly and of course keto. In fact, since 2018, HKBBB has been my preferred supplier of Keto desserts. Over the last year and a half or so, Barkha & I had become dear friends. Apart from fitness in general & HKBBB, meditation was a super strong bond.

Without mincing too many words, Barkha literally kicked my ass over a phone call when I told her I have decided to opt for sugar (again) as fuel for my full marathon training. I argued as much as I could, until she pointed out that my totally close-minded attitude was contradicting a powerful quote which I often use as a life-lesson:

I remember the phone call didn’t end well. Neither of us felt the other was correct & I think I said something arrogant Ike ‘we’ll talk more when you’re ready to train for 42.2k’. And that was the queue for her to disconnect the call.

After my evening meditation & some calm, ego-less thinking, I realized Barkha was correct. My fear of a failed outcome on race day was preventing me from trying an alternative fuel for training. Instead, I was choosing conventional safety over what could be a calculated yet exciting risk-reward, & possible gut-inflammation over what could be way healthier & lighter. So, I called back, apologized & decided that as a next step I would speak to Pankkaj who was obviously a key stakeholder in this entire issue. Being open minded is a great quality & more so in a coach. Despite Pankkaj being a way better & more knowledgeable athlete than me in pretty much every respect, he never let that cloud his judgement. He immediately encouraged me to try keto as long as we felt it wasn’t impairing my performance. I asked him a question that had been seriously bothering me during this entire decision making process: ‘what if I bonk?’. His uncomplicated reply came in a flash: ‘no shame in trying mate - we live & learn for the next time.’

I have thanked Barkha countless times for her desserts which have always been part of my keto menu. However, this time it was bigger than products. I have so much gratitude to her for un-blinding me so that I could explore the possibilities beyond dietary convention & for her acting as THE catalyst for me to move away
from the goat herd. My mindset literally changed because of her. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

At the same time, had Pankkaj discouraged me or filled me with doubt, I would have surrendered and fallen back on carbs as fuel. Instead, he did the very opposite for which I am so thankful. One has to appreciate that ultimately, a coach is as good as the trainee. With a full marathon under-performance & recovery risk increasing due to an unconventional dietary approach, a typical coach could easily have covered their own ass & pushed for safety both for the trainee and their own reputation. I feel so blessed that Pankkaj himself is so far from typical, and our connect which goes way deeper than running really helped him understand my approach and vice versa.

I began Keto on Monday 21st Oct, the day after ADHM. I weighed myself 2 days later, just before leaving for the airport to board a flight for Kochi, where I would vacation for Diwali week before returning to Delhi & resume marathon training on 1st Nov. 

71.2 kgs is what stared back at me.. I took a few moments & messaged Pankkaj that my target weight for race day (1st Dec) would be 66 kgs. Instead of just wishing me good luck which would have been a typical response, he replied with his own insane weight target before the next triathlon. 

And there it was. My training and race day fuel strategy for the full marathon was locked. It was equally nerve wracking & exciting to be treading in relatively unchartered territory. Pure keto. Fat as fuel. 16x8 daily intermittent fasting. No carbs. No gels. No sugar.

Now, the objective was to follow the process & let go.

Cometh The Hour Cometh The Man 

(aka Race Day)

Time doesn’t really fly when you’re dying on a treadmill or in themidst of a never ending Sunday LSD. Nevertheless, in a flash, it was Sun, Dec 1st 0245 hrs & I found myself in an early morning pre-race routine at home. Meditation, gentle stretching/rolling, fuel, looking the part and finally ready to head to the venue at Gurugram.

Oh, my pre-race weight was 66.6 kgs. 600 grams higher than target but 4.6 kgs lower than ADHM 5 weeks ago. Keto ki (abhi tak) jai ho.

My pre-race fuel couldn’t have been simpler. I had completed my last meal the previous evening at 1930 hrs. At ~0300 Sun morning, 2 hours prior to scheduled flag-off, I consumed 35 grams desi ghee bullet proof coffee. And I was done. Although I had trained myself to believe that my own fat would fuel me for the entire distance, just to be safe, I wore a hydration belt which had a zippered pouch.
In it were 2 HKBBB keto FitBrownies & 2 Almond Butter Bombs. I also added a 30 gram block of Parmesan cheese. The hydration I carried was Ketofy Electrolytes which is a powdered mix of Sodium Chloride, Magnesium, Potassium & MCT. 8 grams in 500ml of water. Barkha’s trainer Himanshu at Fitness First Noida is the one who I give credit to for giving me this idea of using a keto electrolyte for on-course hydration - he also consistently encouraged me to believe in the certainty of the fat adaptation process. My plan was to replenish with pure water at hydration stations until 32 kms and then use this electrolyte mix for the balance 10.2 kms.

I felt light, peaceful & happy. Of course there was a definite undercurrent of nervousness but I suppose that is a good pre-race emotion to try & channel into positive energy.

Milind Soman flagged.us off 9 mins behind schedule at 0509 in clean & chilly 11 degrees. My intention was to run at an average pace of 5:00 min/km for the 1st half of the marathon. This felt comfortable until the under passes & associated uphill inclines seemed to hit me at more regular intervals than I had imagined. At half way, my average pace was closer to.5:02 min/km. The quads & gluteus were just about beginning to complain. I hydrated with small sips of water as planned at 80% of the hydration stations, being careful to make sure I didn’t inadvertently consume a sugary electrolyte. 

From 20-32 kms, my plan was to accelerate to sub 5:00 min/km. Despite my best attempt, this was not something I was able to
manage. My average pace dropped momentarily to 5:01 and then promptly returned to 5:02. Each subsequent underpass and the uphill segments seemed to get longer & tougher to navigate with the additional complication that my torn ACL in the left knee wasn’t allowing me to speed down the other side of the underpasses & take advantage of the downhill like most runners.

At 33 kms, as per plan, I started intermittently sipping the keto electrolytes & felt like I really needed this source of refreshing energy. My gluteus & quads clearly didn’t want much to do with me anymore and had started rebelling loudly. Mind games were on in full swing. I was drawing on all my powers of meditation and kept repeating to myself that THIS is what I had trained for over the last few weeks. I distracted myself by cheering on and wishing almost every runner I crossed or who crossed me. My left shoelace had untied several kms ago so every few meters someone would yell ‘LACES!’ & I would promptly raise my hand & give them a thumbs up as if to suggest this lace undoing was part of a bigger training plan destined by the almighty. As exhaustion seemed to get the better of me, I was tempted to stop and tie them but didn’t. I also made sure to give a high-5 to all the kids who came out & supported us as well as try different looks into each passing camera with the dim hope of getting some sexy visuals out of my race effort.

The last 6 kms was meant to be my ‘afap’ segment. But ‘as fast as possible’ was just not happening. I gave it my all to increase pace from 36-40 kms and somehow managed to drop my average pace to 4:59 min/km. I reacted by attempting the now famous Kipchoge smile move in the face of extreme fatigue. I remember I kept smiling until the 41st km when in the distance I saw yet another underpass and steep gradient. The smile vanished into a grimace and my tongue was starting to hang out at odd angles. I could feel my stride length & pace dropping & for the 1st time, after more than 3 hrs & 20 mins of running, the thought that I had maybe
taken the wrong call on fuel crossed my mind. This lasted not more than 5 seconds and I quickly dismissed it and replaced it with a feeling of mindfulness & gratitude that I was almost at the finish line. The feeling to want to stop and walk for a few meters was inexplicably powerful. I am still not sure how I managed to resist & kept running. My average pace had again risen to 5:00 min/km & I decided that in the final few moments of this experience, I would detach from all data and just focus on the best finish I could manage. Finally, I sighted the finish line and sprinted all the way to collapse into the arms of some fellow NDRR members who had completed their respective half marathon runs. 

3 hours 31 mins 27 seconds is the chip time I took to cover 42.2 kms. Despite severe discomfort in my hamstrings, quads & gluteus, I suddenly realized that during the entire run, I only consumed water at the hydration stations & the keto electrolyte mix. I had not even considered munching on any of the high fat snacks which had been carried for safety. I was overcome with a feeling of immense gratitude. I was definitely in ketosis & fairly well fat adapted.

Post the marathon during which I had burnt >3,000 calories, I hydrated with 2 fresh coconut waters (Thank you DJ) & then an hour or so later, 40 grams of ghee with hot water & a mix of whey isolate, MCT powder, collagen peptide & glutamine with regular water. Neither did I feel any sensation of deprivation/depletion nor any cravings for a massive celebratory cheat meal which is usually the case post such an intense effort.

Although my performance was 86 seconds below my goal for the day, it was 21 mins faster than my last full marathon attempt in Feb 2017, which was on a totally flat course. Despite having run 99% of the time in Zone 5 heart rate, I felt good & couldn’t wait to share the news with all those who had contributed significantly to my training decisions. Not surprisingly, they were all thrilled for me.

What I am even more delighted to report, is that even after doing a 30 min gratitude + recovery run the morning after the marathon, I felt really fresh & recovered. Sure there was still some discomfort & tightness in my hamstrings & right gluteus but that is understandable given the 150 odd meters of elevation on this course & the intensity of my effort level.

I felt the universe rewarded me and everyone associated with my training decisions for taking the plunge with an alternative & possibly risky fueling strategy. We were all committed and followed the process as best as we could and voila... news came I had managed a podium finish, winning silver in my age category. What a fairytale ending to a fatty story, which shall no doubt evolve as my training for subsequent goals continues over the next few months. 

The million dollar question remains: could I have performed better on carbs? Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that I have never felt better during or after such an intense effort & its probably worth continuing this alternate approach to explore whether keto driven results can get even better with stronger fat adaption which will happen over time. 

I’d like to make extremely clear that keto comes with its set of restrictions, constraints & challenges. Just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. The objective here is to simply report MY individual experience with the carb-free keto fat as fuel strategy. As always, YMMV. 

Of course, life isn’t’ always what we want it to be. While I would have loved to remain in uninterrupted ketosis & fat adaptation, as it happens, within a few hours of publishing this blog, I had left for my next Vipassana & will be gone for spiritual maintenance until late Dec. During this time, in such a poetic twist of fate, my meals will be strictly vegetarian & almost 100% carbs. I will have no right to ask for what I would prefer to eat and will simply accept with unconditional gratitude what is, quite literally, put on my plate.  Its like the universe is whispering to me not to get too attached to or excited with keto because it can get taken away at any time. When I resume training in Jan 2020, my metabolism would have dropped significantly & in several respects, I will have to claw my way back to the running strength & endurance I had on race day.


Sakyong Mipham, a renowned Tibetan monk wrote in his book ‘Running With The Mind Of Meditation’:

‘The body benefits from movement, & the mind benefits from stillness’

I am so blessed to have been given consecutive opportunities to intensely benefit both my body & mind. The marathon effort on keto was definitely a success. Ironically, the ultra-marathon on carbs starts now & I shall, inshallah, see you stronger on the other side of Vipassana 🙂🙏🏽❤️

God bless & deep Metta as always. 


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Running solo on empty, or how I became a Ramzan Runner

Disclaimer: My name is Madhur Daga. I am almost 45 & a social media introvert, absent on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter etc. I am also not a blogger. However, after bombarding my family, friends, colleagues & well wishers over the past couple of years with countless, lengthy, image filled WhatsApp posts about my life's adventures, I finally saw the wisdom in accepting requests to publish a blog. So here it is, probably a one off attempt at sharing what I think was an(other) interesting experience. The views expressed here are exactly that - MY experience & truths as they unfolded on this month long journey. There is a video log at the end of the written piece which I humbly recommend you watch after reading the blog. Please keep in mind that neither is this blog a 'How To' for anything, nor am I qualified enough to challenge any beliefs, whether related to general health & fitness, running, nutrition, meditation, theology or any other subject matter. Although I have many Muslim friends, several of them so dear that I consider them family, my understanding & appreciation of Ramzan is intentionally limited to fasting & living the month conscientiously, without any religious motivation or implications whatsoever. In fact, I do not consider myself an overly religious person, so do forgive me in case I have inadvertently broken Ramzan rules & / or ignored some minutiae. 
Skip directly to the video log
Ramzan 2017 is over. Eid was celebrated (in India) on 26th June but I added a few additional days of Rozas (fasts) until the 30th. Due to international travel, I started Rozas on 1st June & wanted to make sure I log a month of strict uninterrupted fasting. Yes, this year was unorthodox. But then again, if you know me, that is my middle name.

As a Hindu Vipassana meditator, Ramzan is an interesting time for me. A period of spiritual reflection which wonderfully complements my daily 70 mins meditation practice. Apart from all F&B abstinence (including water) for sometimes upto 20 hours every day (I don't partake in Sehri), it is also a month of intense mental discipline. Despite facing deep hunger and thirst, a tenet during Ramzan is to be kind to those around & not engage in any sort of conflict or irritable behaviour.
WhatsApp DP
My WhatsApp DP
I consider Ramzan representative of the proverbial principle 'see no evil, hear no evil & speak no evil', while embracing the important virtues of forgiveness & gratitude. Most of all, the month for me is about trying to shift as far away as possible from a comfort zone, while still making an attempt to lead a normal life without seeking empathy from others.

Having completed Ramzan every year since 2014, this year I decided to push myself beyond managing hunger and thirst. I believed that Vipassana meditation would help me eliminate cravings better than ever before while possibly giving me added strength to attempt something 'above and beyond' while fasting. 

The practice of Vipassana meditation is rooted in equanimity. I have learnt that during our toughest moments, it is of significant self-help if one learns to be equanimous (through meditation or otherwise) rather than fight anxiety & agitation.
Eliud Kipchoge
The zen of Eliud Kipchoge
Like many running enthusiasts, I followed the live stream of Nike's Breaking2 project at Monza in early May. It was no coincidence that Eliud Kipchoge had an incredibly zen, almost meditative expression about him pretty much through the entire marathon, while running at an unprecedented pace which the majority of amateur runners would find impossible to sustain for even a few minutes. So, I find it a true blessing that my Vipassana & running practice started together & have coexisted since Jan 2016. This has lead to generally more enjoyable runs & specifically more mindful, rhythmic & relaxed breathing while running.

Running Books
Currently my favorite Running titles

Last year during Ramzan (also June), I was a relatively new, enthusiastic & extremely motivated runner. Recovering (without surgery) from a ski fall related torn left knee ACL, June 2016 was the first complete month my physio & knee allowed runs after several weeks of strengthening exercises & brisk walks. In my excitement, I logged 12 runs totalling 135 kms during the month. It felt awesome but exhausting. However, the experience of running while fasting last year stayed with me as a big positive.

So, this year, before starting Rozas, I set myself 6 specific goals. I wanted to:

1. Run more consistently during the month of fasting. I read somewhere that 'being consistently good may not always be possible, but it's always good to be consistent.'  This thought resonated with me. I am, frankly, inconsistent by nature. With the exception of meditating & apologizing for lost arguments to my wife, I constantly fight a boredom brought on by the monotony of a daily routine.

2. Run silently without daily posts & external encouragement. I often find myself doing less while posting more & thought to reverse this trend, at least during Ramzan. Just running. No drama.

3. Hit several new personal bests including most runs in a month (prev best 13), most distance run in a month (prev best 185 kms) &
Note to self: remember this everyday
most consecutive days run (previous best 3). The Nike+ Run Club app stores all my treadmill running data while road runs are automatically imported into NRC from Garmin Connect which is fed data by my Garmin Fenix 3HR wristwatch.

4. Maintain an average pace of no slower than 5.20 mins/km. I'm typically comfortable at 5.10 pace & thought that running slightly slower is reasonable given the tougher fasting conditions. This translates to ~11 kms/hour.

5. Overcome my guilt of missing Mukteshwar Half Marathon (last minute WD due to work) & not being able to train for and participate in the Simla Tuffman Ultra Run held on 10th June, smack in the middle of Ramzan. Had I not been fasting, I may have given strong consideration to participate in the 80 kms Ultra category. Simla was an especially disappointing miss for me.

6. Beat a general lack of enthusiasm for running, which honestly was a condition I had been sensing since training for and completing the New Delhi IDBI Full Marathon earlier this year. Recently, there was an added run related complication of an often pinched / irritated sciatic nerve in my right gluteus which also led to some pain led demotivation. Nerve pains have a way of getting on your nerves. Especially a pain in the ass 🙈

Now that Rozas are over, lets review my running report card. 
This is the 'Ramzan Running Month' summary:

Source: Nike+ Run Club

Some more details:

Daily Run Log

a. I ran daily except Thurs, 1st June. I ran twice on Sun, 18th June. This totaled 30 runs over 29 consecutive running days while fasting, split between 22 treadmill (73%) & 8 desperately humid road runs (27%).

b. For a total of 360 kms. Shortest run 11 kms & longest 14 kms.

c. At an average pace of 5.14 mins/km or 11.7 kms/hr. Slowest 12k was 5.36 mins/km & fastest 4.40 mins/km.

d. Nobody (I believe) knew of this Ramzan run plan except my wife. Thank you Monisha for keeping this tightly under wraps.

e. I foam rolled and stretched diligently post most runs and although struggled with a progressively more painful right gluteus / hip, this condition wasn't allowed to magnify into a deal breaker. I think I understood & absorbed Murakami san's quote mentioned in the blog header.

f. While definitely exhausted on a daily basis, I did my very best to not allow these runs to disrupt my life. Work (including local travel) & the majority of personal commitments continued as planned.
I am infinitely grateful & feel absolutely blessed to have hit every goal.
As you can imagine, there were times when my tank was as empty as most of The Donald's promises. With near total depletion of mental & physical resources through fasting days & nights, even the thought of attempting a run was often exhausting.
Never Give Up
Never Give Up
During some of those seriously challenging days, especially past mid-month, I give credit to & recognize my friend 'Ironman' Yashish Dahiya. Apart from being an elite triathlete, he is such an inspiration by way of his relentless training consistency. Thank you YD for setting such a stellar example. You were in my thoughts during some exceptionally tough 'why am I doing this?' moments.

On several days, the challenge seemed too daunting & I would want to stop pretty much immediately after starting the run. Running through severe inertia, a lost toe nail, sole blisters, chafed / bleeding nipples & intermittent cramps (some probably imaginary and others definitely real), my carb & sodium reserves were usually in the deep red & my mind often a second away from switching off. At that time, the thought of my friends completing the brutally challenging Simla Tuffman Ultra Run & specifically Pankaj / Vishal standing on the 80 / 50 kms podium gave me strength. I immediately felt my shorter runs should be a jalebi walk. How could I continue to entertain thoughts of quitting? Thank you to all the incredible Tuffmen.

A bow of gratitude to Kabeer Lal, my 1st running partner with whom I lost my road run virginity over 16 tough kms, just over a year ago. Neither of us knew then, but his inspirational 10 kms x 40 days run program in June 2016 subconsciously seeded the thought of Ramzan Running Month.

During the month of fasting, early morning runs are an impossibility. A few of my runs started at ~1900 hrs & I would break fast after ~3 kms with a banana and blueberry glutamine (DJ, thanks for the flavour intro).
Typical pre-run Iftar: Oats with Milk, Banana, Honey & Dates
The majority of runs started ~60 mins post Iftar so ~2030 hrs. Faced with
 intense thirst & hunger, it was a constant battle to break 
fast sensibly knowing there will be a run shortly & I should be consuming just enough quantity of the correct food groups. Completely succumbing to Iftar, even with hydration, meant a full / heavy tummy & an almost impossible run. Did someone say conflict of interest..? Interestingly, on 18th June, the day I ran twice,  my 1st run (10 kms) was pre-Iftar. What an experience to run on empty & then a test of patience to wait 25 mins post the run to drink / eat. My 2nd pre-Iftar run was on Sun 25th June. Our mind & body are indeed miracles of engineering. Either that or I have some camel DNA which sneaked in from a past life.

I think my most memorable runs were past midnight, 3-4 hours post dinner. These were evenings when there was no option to run earlier due to delays at work, social commitments, early (Sunday) gym hours etc. Long live Amrita Shergil Marg & God bless the loud local street dogs I annoyed during several late night runs 🙈 Despite the elevated humidity & depressed end of day energy levels, these killer late night runs somehow felt the most humbling yet liberating. Especially the topless & wet ones.

This Ramzan has also passed & time flew (or should I say ran) by as it always does. Although I am lighter by almost 4.5 kgs, I feel stronger than ever before & have reaffirmed my love for running. I am not a technical runner. I am definitely not a fast runner. Maybe
Joyful Running
That would be me
due to the effects of Vipassana meditation, I am also not a runner motivated by timed competitive events. I guess I'm just a plain vanilla joyful runner who loves running for the sake of running.
Joy beats pace. Joy beats distance. Joy beats competition. There just has to be joy. Joy in the journey of movement which I think, for me, is the most appropriate complement to the joy I experience in the stillness of Vipassana meditation.

And maybe what gave me most joy were those middle of the night Amrita Shergil Marg moments when the 'Above & Beyond Group Therapy' podcast was hitting my ear drums, strides as heavy as lead pounding the road trying to outrun street dogs & my inner voice coaxing the mind, grinding through calorie deficit exhaustion whispering 'baby.. lets_earn_the biryani'.

Although there is a long way to go, I am way fitter in my mid 40s than I was in my mid 20s. For this, apart from the extraordinary fitness related WhatsApp groups #telomeres & #finishstrong of which I am privileged to be a part, significant credit & gratitude goes to my trainer, dear friend & certified 'Tuffman' Pankaj Dhiman (mentioned above). I believe the foundation & muscle memory for what I did this month was laid during our rigorous full marathon training earlier this year, including gym work & long tough runs on the Greater Noida Expressway. Therefore, I thought 'Ramzan Running Month' would be my perfect acknowledgment of his contribution to making me a stronger being. So, Pankaj, as you transition from the fitness industry to embark on an entirely different professional path, I send you my love, respect & gratitude. Best wishes for a wonderful journey ahead. Oh, & given that Pankaj is 20 10 years my junior, his 'old man' joke attempts aimed at me will probably be slightly harder to deliver post this Ramzan.. 😊

Another essential contributor to my new found fitness is Monisha, who has turned her own health 180° around over the past few years. My wife's relentless discipline, limitless energy and infinite positivity is an inspirational example for those around her. And before any of you start thinking 'Madhur you're so lucky to have her..', calm down, take a couple of deep breaths & remember, we always get what is deserved 😬 (™Karma ©Dhamma)

I will watch me
Aand Inshallah, I did. Video log below 
This Ramzan, the goal that I am most proud of achieving is 30 consecutive runs over 29 running days, while maintaining strict Rozas & (I believe) compassionate behavior. June 2017 was one of my life's most intense months, both physically & emotionally. Running solo everyday on an empty tank was exceptionally draining on the mind & body & Delhi's humid summer didn't help the cause. I remember tears roll down my face during the end of some very humbling runs, possibly due to the intense emotion of feeling blessed by a power I can probably never fully comprehend. I'm glad I had Monisha to share my trials & tribulations; thank you Moni for giving me patient hearing this month, despite zero conversations about Access Consciousness or The Angels Network.. 💖💖

Although I almost gave up several times, ultimately I let nothing get in the way of my Ramzan Running Month goals. In hindsight, while doing nothing spectacular on any single day, the collective monthly effort is what made the journey so gratifying. I've now understood that consistency is a grossly under rated quality & a far greater virtue than talent. 
It is exceptionally tough to do anything worthwhile, consistently. 
A massive shout out to all the consistent folks in my WhatsApp fitness groups 🙏🏽 I shall attempt to be more like you.

What follows is a video log of 'My Ramzan Running Month'. Invaluable memories over 30 days, captured in 19 mins.. shot on iPhone & edited in iMovie. The soundtrack is a compilation of some of my favorite songs. All rights reserved & copyrights owned by the original artists / owners. No copyright infringement is intended.

I end with one of my favorite stanzas by the Spanish poet Antonia Machado:

Caminante, no hay camino
Se hace el camino al andar 
Traveler, there is no path
You forge the path with your footsteps

Thank you for reading & watching. Stay healthy & God bless 🙏🏽


The Ramzan Runner formerly known as Madhur