Saturday, September 12, 2015

Running in Tiruchchirappalli

After two weeks in Chennai, India, our group has embarked on a two-week road trip, starting with a train ride to Tiruchchirappalli, also known as "Trichy." But why use a boring 6-letter name when you can use the grand, official, 17-letter name of Tiruchchirappalli? Yep, that's a double-ch you see there. Some people spell it with only a single ch, but I say that's pure laziness, especially given the coolness and oddity of a string of 4 consonants in a row!

One nice thing about Trichy is that it is a touch cooler and considerably less humid than Chennai in the mornings. So after sweating through "feels like" 105-degree runs in 80 degrees and 95 percent humidity, my two runs here have started at around 78 degrees and 70% humidity. Don't get me wrong, this would still be oppressively hot for a summer morning run back home, but it's been a welcome change from Chennai. Even at 9 am this morning as I finished my long run, the temperature was a quite-bearable 84 (feels like 90).

We're staying on a small college campus (Bishop Heber College), which, unlike Madras Christian College, where I stayed in Chennai, only has a half-mile or so of runnable roads. So yesterday I decided to venture outside to the busy city streets. Trichy is perhaps a quarter the size of Chennai, but it still is a bustling city with over 2 million inhabitants, so traffic was a major concern. But I had spotted a river on the map less than a mile away and thought maybe the road next to the river would be relatively quiet. It turned out I was right! After about a kilometer dodging traffic I found myself on a levee next to the river, enjoying minimal traffic. There was even a cute little temple on a rock next to the river:

Nice spot for a temple!
From campus to the end of the levee and back was about 5 miles (8k -- I'm trying to use kilometers here in India since that's how my marathon will be marked). So today for my 28k (17.4-mile) run I decided to do three out-and-backs plus an extra 4k along the levee. My goal pace was about 6:30/k, roughly 10:30 miles. I think in better conditions I'd be considerably faster than that, but given the temperatures, the rough road, and dodging traffic to and from the levee, that would be just fine. The main point is just to get time on my feet in preparation for my marathon in five weeks. I was carrying a 500 ml water bottle and would refill it each time I returned to the college.

I started in the dark at 5:45 a.m. I figured the campus would be well-lit but it turns out I was wrong, so I sort of felt my way to the campus gate in the dark, getting annoying jolts at two speed bumps along the way. Out on the road, I was surprised to see considerable traffic at this hour. Like most major roads I've seen so far in India, this road had a dirt shoulder, but pedestrians typically walk along the pavement, trusting that the scooters, buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws, cars, and oxcarts will move out of their way when they pass. I ran on the pavement on the right (facing the oncoming traffic, which stays to the left in India) but hopped onto the shoulder whenever I passed a pedestrian or when a vehicle seemed to be dangerously close. It was unnerving seeing the scooters' headlights rushing in my direction, but somehow I made it to the levee and could get a little breathing room.

I got to watch the sunrise as I ran along the river, and it really did make for a beautiful scene:

Haven't seen many sunrises like this anywhere in the world!

There was a peacock and several peahens on the trail, and numerous birds were perched on bushes or flapped nearby catching bugs. Some larger waterbirds were in the river, and some people were down in the river doing their laundry.

As I ran along the river I began to get familiar with a few spots along the way. There was the house with the mean dog, the house with the yappy little dog, the church, the little temple on the rock, the larger temple, and even a snack stand. I decided to do the extra 4k along the river on my first out-and-back, figuring I'd be less interested in such nonsense later on. Soon, I was back on the main road dodging traffic and headed towards the college. 12k done, I fueled up, refilled my water, and headed back out. I had kept a solid 6:30/k pace for the first 12k.

Now traffic was really starting to get bad and I found myself slowing considerably as I dodged people and vehicles. Once I had to stop completely to avoid running into a bicycle, who didn't expect to see a runner on the road! Finally I made it back to the levee and my familiar route. This time a group of women was sitting near the snack stand and giggled as I ran by. Some boys were playing by the big temple and also gave me a grin. I even noticed a couple of different men who looked like they, like me, were out on the levee for fitness (though they were walking rather than running). Again I made it to the turnaround and headed back home, but my pace was now a little slower as the day heated up and the traffic became more difficult to dodge. As I ran through the gate of the college, the security guard asked if I was finished. "Nope, I've got one more!" I said. 20k was done, and I refilled one last time before heading back out.

Traffic was even worse this time as folks were crowded around market stalls or at bus stops, but again I made it to the levee without incident. The same group of women was at the snack stand and one of them shouted at me with a smile: "How are you doing? Are you fine?"

"Doing great!" I replied. Actually I was getting worn out. It's been a long time since I have done this kind of distance on a run. I did do one trail run that was longer a few months ago, but that involved just as much hiking as running. The turnaround couldn't come soon enough. Most people seemed to either ignore me or give me a stare that seemed to say "we don't see much of your kind around here," but others were friendlier. One man said "You've run here two times, right?" "Actually, three!" I replied. But my pace was definitely slowing, and it was a struggle to even run 7:00/k, slower than an 11-minute mile!

Finally I was back on the yet-busier main road, less than 2k from home. I was going slower still, but still running unless I had to walk to avoid running into someone or something. I stumbled through the college gate and ran towards the Guest House, just in time to see Greta and her students walking to class. "Go Dave!" they all cheered. Another 100 meters and I was done; my longest steady run since my injury last February.

It was too late for breakfast, so I ate leftover cake from last night's birthday party for one of our students. I'd have to say, it's not a bad recovery meal!

My average pace for the was a plodding 10:55 per mile, or 6:46/k. Hopefully I can be a little faster than that during my actual marathon. It should be considerably cooler, perhaps 70 degrees, so maybe I'll be able to pull out a 6:00/k pace for the race. That would be about a 4:13 marathon...not one of my best efforts, but still in the realm of respectable. Details of today's run are below.

1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating experience you're having in India, Dave! Be safe!!