Saturday, August 01, 2009

The “Wiss”: over the handlebars, anyone?

A weekend with not much to do* resulted in a search on (the site rocks, by the way). This revealed a hitherto unknown area in Philly called the Wissahickon River Valley that seemed to be rather popular among the mountain biking populace. I decided to actually use my mountain bike for, well, what it was meant to do – mountain biking. Up until now, my experience was limited to riding in the snow, down some stairs and on the broken Philly sidewalks (which can be surprisingly challenging). Nevertheless, after a quick visit to REI to get a water bottle holder fitted ($6), I headed to the park.

Words cannot describe my joy when I got there – miles and miles of dirt trails, perfect for mountain biking and trail running! The tree cover was so thick that after the first few pedals, I took off my sunglasses and put them in my pocket! Having moved to Philadelphia from Seattle, I was getting fairly nature-sick, but I may have finally found a life-support system!**

I went up and down the hills for 3 hours, and headed back as I ran out of water. I was completely drenched due to the hot and humid (feels like 88F (31C) , 75%,humidity) weather, and about 15 minutes before I reached my car, it happened. It was mostly in slow motion - there was no way I was going to head down a 50 degree descent very fast. Long story short, I hit a rock and went over the handlebars and the bike rotated over the front wheel and landed on me! Thankfully, the seat-in-back impact was pretty soft and I managed to land the bike (relatively) gently on the ground. I got away with just a few scrapes :)

The two 100-cal cashew snack packs in the glove box were some of the best I'd ever had. I’m now home, waiting for my order of Chicken Biryani and Paneer Tikka Masala to arrive…

* Work notwithstanding

** It’s a valley and a fairly narrow stretch of land around it, and you can often hear or see cars going by on the roads nearby, but its still heaven compared to what else Philly has to offer!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Darkest Before Dawn

The first raindrop came down from the heavens and splashed on my windshield just as I shifted the 6-speed into 1st. When I finally got there, the sky had grown threatening and the wind had picked up. I cursed myself for ending up in this situation – it was either now or not for another 5 days. I decided to go for it.

I started with a positive state of mind – determined to better myself over my last failure. By the end of the first mile, the wind had risen to a gust, and not just leaves and dust but also tree branches were flying through the air. Midway through the second mile, it started to rain – heavily. For the uninitiated, a runner’s body generates so much heat that the ambient temperature is said to have a “feels like” rating of 20F (8C) more than what it actually is. The temperature then was in the low 80s (about 30C) with a humidity of over 80%... you can do the math! Then, nature played its ace – the sun came out _while_ it was raining!

I pushed on in spite of the insane conditions, determined not to be defeated so early. As the first few miles rolled by, I started to gain confidence; from glances at my Nike+ iPod screen, I realized that I was averaging 8min/mile! And then it stopped raining (mostly), and I hit my first target of over 7 miles in the first hour. 2 energy gel packets and 1.5 bottles of Gatorade later, I was at the 14 mile “marker” with a time of 1:59:23!

Then during mile 15 it started raining again, and this time it was cold rain. The ambient temperature dropped 5 degrees, the sun had set, I was drenched to the core and my shoes felt like they had lead weights attached. I decided to call it a day* at mile 18 (2:35:36). The most important outcome of this run, however, is that it shows me I can actually achieve my long term target of 26.2 miles in 4 hours! I believe I had enough stamina that, had I had a change of clothes and shoes right there, I could have pushed on to complete my goal! And I can say that so confidently because I only needed 10-minute miles all the way to the finish! :)

* This is the hardest part of running – knowing when to quit. When you’re so close to your goal but you know that something has the potential to cause injury – a fatigued calf muscle or hamstring or even a wet sock – you have to stop no matter how (emotionally) painful it may be!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kicking Asphalt at the Philadelphia Marathon

When I woke up that night, it was 3am. But I had anticipated this. I ate the banana just within reach by the bed and went back to sleep.

At 5:27am, the phone rang. It was my cheer squad, already on its way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I quickly got up, drank a glass of chocolate milk and ate another banana. A hot shower later, I was ready to face the feels like 18F winter chill.

It was still dark. As I walked the mile from my home to the start line, I saw a few other runners walking in the same direction. Nearer to the museum, we could hear peppy music playing over the loudspeakers. As the start venue came into sight, so did the grand spectacle of eighteen thousand runners and their cheer parties. I didn't realize just how big a number that is until I headed to the port-a-johns located just outside the main area, and discovered how cold it was in comparison. The collective body heat of so many people was actually like a space heater!

I checked in my bag & jacket and borrowed a cell phone from a random guy to check where my friends were. Over the blaring speakers, I could barely hear them say they had just parked somewhere. After some lady (who, according to the speaker, had also done so when the Phillies won) sang the national anthem, I headed to my corral at the start line. I was going to be a part of the third wave of runners.

There, finally, my squad popped up and there was jubilation and photographing. After a bit, my wave was ready to go. The announcer counted down – 3, 2, 1, GO! I switched on my iPod and with a wave to my friends, took off into the sunrise.

I traveled at a fairly constant pace, and overtook a gazillion people in the first few miles. After about the 6th mile, I more or less had stabilized my position. By the way, here’s a tip: never rely on the water stations. I tend to lose a rather significant proportion of salt in my sweat, so I was relying on a Gatorade only policy (no water), and the first station (there was one every 2.5 miles or so) only had water! Luckily I'd decided to carry my own bottle of Gatorade in my Nike hydration belt.

The first half was easy. There was a lot of cheering and the only tough part was a really crazy hill towards the end of the half. As I approached the art museum to pass through to the second half, I could hear the Independence Day music (the stuff played when the president is inspiring the airforce) on the speakers :)

In the third quarter, I slowed down by a few seconds a mile. An insane climb at mile 15 nearly got me. By mile 17, the cheering spectators had thinned and I had consumed all 3 of my gel packets (note to self: take more next time) and was fast running out of calories to burn. Thankfully, at the turnaround point in Manayunk at mile 20, there was more cheering and they gave out gel packets and brownies (and even beer (!), which I ignored). However, it was too late, and I got my first leg cramps at mile 20.

Some stretching helped, but after every few minutes they returned. I finally had to resort to a run walk (75-25) policy – slowing down every time the cramps showed signs of returning. Miles 21-25 were tough and only determination to finish and cheering encouragements of you’re almost there helped me through those. At the last mile (#26), the crowds started thickening again, and the cheering and loudspeakers were so loud that I thought, to hell with the cramps, I’m gonna sprint to the finish line! And I did! Nearly 2 years since I'd started training with Nike+, I finally attempted and completed my first marathon – none less than the Philadelphia Marathon!

By this time, it was 33F and at the food tent, I had some of the best hot soup evar!

A life-size thank-you to my cheering squad at the start and finish lines, and also the volunteers and general cheering public on the streets – you rocked! I dedicate this race to mom & dad, who got me from “near survival” around age 1 to the current level of physical fitness :)

Now for the Pittsburgh Marathon next summer.

PS: Here's a video of the race start:

Friday, November 07, 2008


Food carts are awesome!! Just bought a tuna salad sandwich on wheat bread (with hot sauce) along with a blueberry muffin for $3.50!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Go Phillies!

The Phillies (baseball, for the uninitiated) won the "World Series" for the second time after decades. Crazy celebrations were in progress on Wednesday night, leading to many people getting arrested. There was a parade today - it was nice to see droves of people wearing the Phillies red filling the downtown to watch it! The weather has suddenly taken a good turn too... it's around 65F today! :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pink? Really?

I was walking back home from a brunch venture just now, and as the fountain next to city hall came into view, I suddenly felt like eating cotton candy. Why? The fountain had turned pink! The water at the bottom looked like jelly! Yum!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Green Peace

I'm on my way home right now, and a few minutes ago, this random dude suddenly popped up and asked, "do you have a few minutes for the environment"? He then proceeded to explain how their organization was working in a non-violent way to save the environment - anything from working with governments for passing appropriate laws to chasing whales away from Japanese whalers. They do not take any funds from big corporations like Exxon or people like politicians, so they need contributions from individuals like us. The group currently has 3 million members worldwide, and you can do your bit for the environment by contributing as much or as little as you want to at

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Food Carts and Philly

I used to love the variety of restaurants in Seattle - you could get anything from Middle-Eastern to Italian for a fairly reasonable cost (considering how expensive Seattle is). While I haven't been to a lot of restaurants in Philly, my afternoon morsel on weekdays comes from a wide variety of places. At the top of the list would be (surprise!) a vegetarian food cart, called Magic Carpet. Their falafel tops their list, and their Friday special - the veggie "burger" is pretty amazing. They also have, among other things, a very variety choice of wraps. Going to any single place everyday, however, can get monotonous faster than you can say "timbuktoo", so I generally throw in an occasional sub (or Chicken Caesar Flatbread Salad... yum!) from Quiznos, maybe a chinese fried rice ($3) or a burrito or chicken tikka masala from a food cart of the respective culture. Its a pretty unique and fun way of obtaining lunch! :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The City Whizzes By

I'm finally close to my peak stamina again. My best run till date has been 30km, and I hit 25km yesterday. Next week, maybe I'll go for 32. The biggest problem of not running in circles on a track is that you have to carry 2 bottles of Gatorade with you, so I got myself a Nike waist strap for one bottle and hold the other one in the hand.

Anyway, what I was actually going to blog about was the happening area around South Street that I discovered while running past Penns Landing - 7pm seems about prime time. Any takers? I also discovered that if I run along South Street until I reach 50th street, I start running faster... that's what I call one scary area!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Wednesday

I finally saw the movie yesterday. Its nice to see that Bollywood has finally stopped, momentarily or not, pinching movie stories from elsewhere. 'A Wednesday' is an engaging thriller, breaking the monotony of stupid love stories and borrowed scripts. And once in its lifetime that bollywood manages it, the police or villains don't meet at a club where there happens tto be an item number going on! Combined with great acting by Naseeruddin Shah and great direction by Neeraj Pandey, the movie gets full marks from me! :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Phila * del * phia

So I finally realized that walking 2 miles each way to school wasn't that bad after all. The only downside was that it took about 35 to 40 minutes, so the time was being under-utilized. It did take a bit (as it usually does in my case) to join the dots and get the big picture - Windows Mobile + walk time = blog! So here I am, walking the streets of Philadelphia*, blogging on the move!

It can be rather beautiful or extremely depressing, depending on the route you take. For the unacquainted, Philly is a very old city, ill maintained (IMO) in more areas than I'd care to mention. I stay just north of downtown, a stone's throw from Logan square. It's a beautiful fountain just west of the high-rises, with benches all around. The grand art museum of Philly is visible in the background. This is where I'll be setting up camp en-route home today, so I can finish reading the paper on debugging multithreaded programs that I started reading yesterday.

I'm almost there now, so I’ll cut this story short. Come back later for more snippets! :-)

* That sounds so sinister!

Addendum: just saw an Aston Martin DB9 Spyder go by... (drool)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

To the Farthest Corner of the Country

After a botched attempt to go white water rafting, I fell back on my plan to travel to the place few have gone before - the most northwest point of the US! After about an hour on live maps and some more on the internet, I concluded that it would be too expensive to stay overnight at Neah Bay, the last town before the end of USA towards the northwest, and chalked out a day long sojourn via Olympic National Park.

With a tankful of gas and brunch to-go from iHop, I took off towards the Edmonds ferry terminal. It was a beautiful day - sunny, blue skies with a few scattered clouds, temperature hovering in the high 60s or low 70s. It was on reaching about a mile from the terminal that I found there was an hour long wait for the ferry! That preponed my brunch :)

My first stop after landing at Kingston was the bridge at the Hood Canal which connected it to the Olympic peninsula. Following that, I reached a small town that almost seemed like a drama set - all the shops were literally labeled! There was even a post office, a coffee shop and a automobile repair shop!

Traveling via highway 104, I reached the famed highway 101. It's a truly heavenly journey via this highway - lined with trees and flowers on both sides, until it hits the oceanfront that is! Then you have hills on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. A picture is worth a thousand words! :)

Eventually I hit Port Angeles on the northern coast of the peninsula, and drove to Ediz Hook. This is an interesting hook shaped land that creates a bay in which most of the docks of the port are built, on account of the calm waters it inherently results in. One could literally see the difference between that and choppy waters on the other side of the hook.

The next destination was Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. Traveling on highway 101, it kind-of came suddenly into view - and a breathtaking view it was! It is shaped like the crescent of the moon, and expands across quite a big area. Descending down to the water level, I found a good spot to park my Honda and ate what was left of my brunch (iHop crepes are really big!).

Moving on, I hit the ocean again via Burnt Mountain Rd to smaller roads. This journey just kept getting better - these were lovely winding roads along the coast, but since traffic was minimal and cops were nearly absent, it was a blast to drive! I did stop quite a few times to take snaps, and each time reluctantly got back into the car to continue my quest.
After crossing Neah Bay, however, both my GPS and my Atlas gave up on me, and I was left with nothing but my magnetic compass to navigate to the Cape Trail - the trail that led to the point I was seeking. Eventually I got to a dirt road, but kept heading west (I'm sure I would've scared the crap out of passengers if I'd had any in that section of the drive) - and finally there it was! The mile long trail!

It was quite exhilarating - the view along the trail. It was also a little scary, since I was alone, lost and with no signal on my cellphone. There were a couple of cars in the parking but even at half-way into the trail, I didn't see anyone! Eventually I came across a group of people traveling the other way and felt a bit relieved. A few minutes later, I reached my destination - with a view of Tatoosh Island and its lighthouse - and spent a few minutes listening to the ocean breaking against the rocks a few hundred feet below the cliff I was on.

It was about 8.30pm when I started my journey back to home - and lost my way just after leaving the trail and realized I was going to miss the last ferry to Edmonds. Luckily, losing my way led me to a nice spot overlooking the entire area and therefore I just sat on a rock there eating my orange. Having finished that, I decided to retrace my path rather than trust the GPS maps and eventually found my way back.

En-route, I got hungry and the only thing open at 12pm is McDonalds, so I got a couple of fish sandwiches and some fries. This McD was rather similar to the one we'd stopped at on our way back from the Grand Canyons to Phoenix - reminded me of some good old days :)

I then realized (and confirmed via a phone call to Atul at 12.30am) that the Bainbridge ferry to Seattle left later than the Kingston-Edmonds ferry, and headed to the terminal on Bainbridge Island. It turned out that the ferry was late(!) and I had to wait for nearly 30 minutes before I could board it. Oh well, at least it saved me the trip around the southern tip of the Puget Sound Bay!

I finally got home at 3am and tossed my Red Bull can into the trash, had a shower, checked out my snaps, and traveled into the world of dreams.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Half Marathon

Okay, I understand that people are bored of this running stuff on my blog, but hereafter I will post only major achievements. I'm almost done processing all my previous snaps - just one big album left. After that I will post stories about my numerous trips :)

And as for major achievements, I did a half-marathon today! The statistics: a picture is worth a thousand words :)

Sunday, April 29, 2007


I've done it! I've hit two big milestones today:
* Running 75 km in 4 weeks (26 days in fact) and
* Making my longest run in a single stretch - 20km!

Here's a nice graphic from the Nike+ website:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Step to the Goal

I did another 5K run last Thursday and a 15K run today. That updates my status as follows:

11 days
25 km

17 days
50 km (2x15K, 1x10K, 2x5K)

I guess the best plan for completing this should now be:
5K run on Wednesday 4/25
10K run on Saturday 4/28
10K run on Tuesday 5/1

Response to Omkar's questions from the last post:
1. You run with an 8-pack of Gatorade by running 8 times, each time with one bottle
2. Nike Air are good for running, since they are light. If you're seriously into running, though, you should consider getting something from the Nike+ collection (I've got Nike+ Air). Dunno about other brands - I'm a Nike fan now :)

Wish me luck for the last 25K!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Closer to the half-marathon!

18 days
45 km

10 days
30 km (1x15K, 1x10K, 1x5K)

So I did my longest-run-ever today - 15.2 Km in 1 hr 28 min. It's a step towards running a half-marathon (approx 21km). I guess I'll be doing another 3 such runs before I actually run a half-marathon. Unfortunately, I probably pressed the wrong button because the run isn't getting uploaded to the Nike+ website... teething issues I guess. Its frustrating, but I guess I can still add numbers, so I don't need the website to track my target for me this time. Next goal, I'll be more careful. But I'm happy enough to have done a 15K run to cover for the missed recording! :)

It's not really very easy to run longer than an hour. First, there's the issue of getting some good sleep. Wake up groggy and it's a rare chance you'll have the energy to run very far. Then you need to eat the appropriate food that won't lower your sugar much but at the same time fuel your body through the run. I went for oatmeal and yogurt (no sugar), in accordance with one brochure I had procured a long time ago at a university health fair. Then you need to wait 1-1.5 hours before you run, so that the stomach isn't too full when you start. During the actual run, it is really important to keep hydrated, so I bought an eight-pack of gatorade (hydrating drink) to carry along - another addition to my running kit. And last, but not the least, a second layer of shirt to keep warm in case it rains, or in case temperatures drop by the time I reach the lake-side.

So here's the complete kit:
Nike+ Armband
iPod Nano
Stay-Dri Reebok running shirt
Second layer shirt (polyester) in case it's cold
Sports Shorts
Nike+ Air Shoes
Bottle of Gatorade
Bottle of Water (Leave in the car, use after the run)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reaching the Target

So here's an update on the target:

22 days
60 km

6 days
15 km (1x10K, 1x5K)

Now technically I've completed 20 km, but unfortunately I forgot to take my iPod sensor on one of my 5K runs so now the "records" only show 15K :(

Never mind, I'm on target in spite of that :) Here's the summary:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Run Crazy

Running on the treadmill is boring. Running on the street is fun, but it's hard!

I've gradually developed this craze for running, and bought myself a pair of Nike+ along with the iPod connector. And I've set myself a target - run 75 Km in 4 weeks.

I did a pilot run yesterday, my first street 10K run! Did it in 59 minutes and 58 seconds, which, compared to my personal treadmill 10K best of 48 minutes and 18 seconds, is a fair bit more. Then again, one would be ignoring the fact that the treadmill was horizontal, the temperature was optimal and there were no traffic lights to break the rhythm! :)

So here's the schedule I intend to follow:
10K run
2 days' rest
5K run
1 day's rest

In short, I do hope to achieve my goal well before the 4 weeks are over (24 days). Let's see how it goes, this new-found passion of mine!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Doubly Refreshing Weekend :)

It was my last weekend in downtown Seattle, and I was going to make the most of it. I had already studied the discounts I had, and concluded that my best bets were the Seattle Aquarium and the Museum of Flight.

So it was nearly afternoon on Saturday when I took off on foot towards the aquarium. Doing the usual Subway routine, I pocketed the 2 double chocolate cookies from the meal. As aquariums go, this one will rate pretty high - if you are/have a kid. They have several interesting 'shows' where the explain the history behind each animal, feed it, and sometimes even get it to do tricks. There was also some information about the aquatic life around Seattle, what you could do to protect it, how the mankind has affected marine life, etc lined on the walls.

All in all, it wasn't an exhilarating experience, but the fish handling pool and the octopus feeding session would surely be a thrill to a 6 year old (mentally) ;-) I was still happy because I got a couple of pretty good shots of jellyfish in colored light and a near-impossible panning shot of a small colorful fish.

Then dawned Sunday, and it was time to head to the Museum of Flight. I had much more expectations here after having thoroughly enjoyed the Virginia counterpart of it. My Tomtom guided me to the place without any issues, taking me by a Subway joint en-route. It was upon entry that I found out that my corporate discount applied only for general admission, and not for the Leonardo Da Vinci special exhibition that they were having. I got curious and bought both tickets anyway, and I have never thanked myself enough since.

It was an awesome experience. To drastically understate a fact, the man was an absolutely fantastic genius of sorts. There were five whole sections dedicated to miniature models of his inventions, some explaining how he had applied physics to do the most amazing things. The first one was on flight - had to be! Here, his first (manual powered) and second (gliders) set of attempts to fly were modeled. There was also a computerized simulation where you could experiment with the design of a round parachute and see the variation in its various abilities.

The second section was on mechanics, where they showed his brilliant use of pulleys and levers (essentially mathematics) in order to do everything from lifting weights to running a mechanical robot. In the hydraulics part, there was a water powered saw, boat designs for civil and war uses, a system for walking on water and other such inventions. The section on war included a tank, battleship and a LOTR type drawbridge for scaling fortress walls. The final section was, of course, art. I have an absolute and complete lack of appreciation for that, so I'll reserve my comments. All I can say is that a person as talented as Leonardo should be worshipped!

Outside once again, I quickly went past the usual suspects - a blackbird, a Wright brothers' model, a Boeing cargo plane (the first I think) and several jet and propeller driven aircraft. Then I headed to one of the most exciting parts of the museum - a British Airways Concorde! With supersonic speeds, exquisite leather seats, and terribly expensive airfare, it was no surprise that those planes were unprofitable.

Next, I went into the older Air Force One jet plane. It was complete with bunk-beds, sofas, a conference room, an encoding typewriter, an electric stove and a safe for nuclear launch codes! I sure wish I could've seen the latest version :) The other two planes - a NASA experimentation plane and a Boeing 747 JUMBO (man it's huge!) - were not open to entry, so I headed back to the main exhibition.

There was a pretty huge section of the original Boeing factory, which had been set up with props and speakers to give a feel of what must've been there originally. Half finished wooden planes with engines on pulleys waiting to be fitted, charts unrolled on the table, the manager's desk, and much more gave a pretty authentic feel to the place.

The rest of the visit was quite hurried, because I was almost out of time. There was a floor on WW2 and another above it on WW1. Apart from the exhibits, there was a mini-theatre that was projecting a movie on WW2 history. In the WW1 section, the most interesting part was the Fokker Triplane, allegedly flown by the (in)famous Red Baron.

That, then, was my last weekend in downtown Seattle. After that I got really busy with moving, which I completed last weekend with the construction of a 3-drawer cabinet with 150 parts (whew). So the next time you talk about Leonardo Da Vinci, make sure you give him the respect he deserves!