The Anatomy of a 100 Kilometre Walk


Recently we completed the OXFAM India trail walker (http://trailwalker.oxfamindia.org/) and I thought I will ramble about that.  I dedicate the title of this article to a close professional colleague who had somehow read my mind and said ‘Are you going to write with this title, once you finish it’? Though I regretted that I was becoming somewhat predictable, but he was bang on. I wanted to give that title only.  So, I owe it to Vikaas for the title.

Though this write-up is coming up because we succeeded in completing the walk, I am capable of writing with the same candor even if we have not completed the walk. The only difference is that I may have not hit the ‘publish’ button!

Background

I had messed up on the Bengaluru full marathon. I gave up after 24.5 Kilometres. Generally I am extremely compassionate towards my own self and recover fast from most failures. However most of my failures were due to lack of skill, competence and dozen other shortcomings. I felt this specific one was due to me losing my will and that is something I cannot afford to lose. Life went on and I saw the advertisement about OXFAM India trail walker. I thought this was one more opportunity to test my will. I forwarded that to some of my colleagues, who were more friends than colleagues and whom I felt had some penchant about adventure, walking and also who had put up with me for some or rather many years. I kind of got responses from all of them in couple of hours and we formed two teams in the order of which responses came! Each teams had to have a group of four people.

 Apart from the early bird registration fee for Rs 4500 per person, we had to raise funds of Rs 50000 to enter into the competition. This was one thing none of us had done before as well. As usual, we said to our lazy selves, we have enough time and let us cross the bridge when it comes. And true to our own self one of the teams did an all nighters on the penultimate day to pull off the fundraising and be eligible to participate in the race.

With that background, I will start the ramble.

Event Organizers

I have to tell about OXFAM a bit. Well there was all round scepticism about if this is true, if the money we collect will finally reach the needy, if they shall live up-to their word and other things. Frankly these things have never mattered for me. If somebody is willing to do well at a scale larger than I can never imagine, I trust them to do their bit. This has worked for me. The trail is in its fourth year and the increasing number of participants and collections holds enough evidence for the good they have been doing and I do not wish to delve into that much. This linkgives some of the details about the walk, the work they have been attempting and also many other details about the walk as well. I am a kind of person who never bargains with a vegetable vendor even though I am aware of the fact that I am being fooled, just for the fact that he will give me a warm smile to me whenever I go (For him, ah! The fool has come). However, I am also aware that I am being a bigger fool when I walk into those shops in the malls!  I guess I am drifting and that can wait for some other day.

I owe a great salute to the event organizers and the hundreds of volunteers who were round the clock for complete forty eight hours cheering each and every individual checking in and checking out of the check points (Hold on a bit, the details about the check points are coming!). The medical volunteers at each check points, thanklessly helping everyone to get their stretches done, wrapping bandages, putting blisters pack on terrible looking stinking feet and not one moment demonstrating a sense of remorse. I have been at the good side of the receiving end of many great services of many volunteers at many a place and in some places and I did not have sense of decency to thank them at most times. I really have not figured out why these volunteers do what they do so caringly and to me they are already on the stepping stone of servant leadership. I have been only a taker so far and may be these wonderful volunteers shall inspire me to be a giver one of these days. I take a bow to that wonderful clan of volunteers.

Given the trail and the places where the check points were placed, the food served and facilities were as best at it could get. In any event of this nature, there is always scope for improvement and I am sure the organizers would have got more objective feedback from people more qualified than me in these things.

I wish OXFAM the very best in its equality drive.

Support Crew

I will give in. We were plain idiots. We did not even understand the concept of a support crew till the first two check points. Support crew are a wonderful set of people who tag along with the team and see them through to the finish. They cheer you, do everything you ask them of with a smile and never let you give up. In other words, they are the executioners of your plan and have everything in their arsenal to see that you hit the finish line. Some of my friends did mention to me about this before the walk, but I did not understand or appreciate at the need and passed it off. When the OXFAM India CEO awarded us the certificates and asked our team leader Syed where our support crew was, he blinked for nanosecond and managed to come up with ‘we were supporting each other’ with a great smile while cursing our stupidity internally.

But we did have our support crew in different forms.

·         The all mighty almighty

·         Family who just checked if we were alive or not

·         Friends who were tracking us on GPS, taking status on whatsapp and alerting other friends

·         Fellow team members nudging and urging each other

·         Some inspiring souls trailing, crawling, limping to the finish line with everything that can go wrong with their bodies, gone wrong.

·         Some of the people who funded us

·         Team members who had to retire under various circumstances and never let us retire

Support crews are a blessing. Please plan for them. Do not let stupidity or ignorance stand in your way.

Trail Path

I would rate the trail as being moderately difficult and one particular stretch was monstrously difficult. The view was pleasant mixed with scenic lake views, small ascents and descents, with pockets where we can understand silkworm to silks, houses with open spaces where you can go and take a nap if you want, with no one worrying   We went through variety of villages which were each distinct in their own ways and villagers unique in demonstrating a lack of frenzy in approach to their life style and living. Their seemingly poise and contentment with their own selves made us wonder what the heck we were doing in our daily lives! Also it was a pleasant surprise to children greeting us and waving throughout asking us the following questions

·         Hi

·         What is your name?

·         All the best

·         Bye

I am not sure if they have been engineered that way as I felt it was more of a spontaneous enquiry by them on seeing funny strangers, but whoever did that to them was definitely a far decent engineer than me.

One little girl named Sujata who was sitting alone under the branch of a tree and I could not see a soul in sight in a close perimeter, walked to us in confidence, shook our hands, said all the best to us. Quite frankly, if this is the confidence the villagers are building into their wards, I thought my fundas are somewhat messed up. Again I am drifting, but I hope you get the drift.

In one villager’s house where we stood to take some cucumbers and loads of water (where the lady of the house was tirelessly giving water to everyone without charging for it!), a seemingly innocent bystander nailed me with this question. He asked me in Kannada which roughly translates to

‘Why are they doing this to all of you’?

I did not have a damned clue on how to answer it or may be some questions shall remain as questions.

A note on Check Points (CP)

Check points (CP) were spaces where one can take a break, get our muscles stretched, get treated for an injury. These were the points where the support crew pampered their team(s).  Also at each check point you had to announce your arrival and departure along with the team. Given the trail, my view is that the check points were reasonably spaced and the arrangement was the best given the constraints.

Team Formation

We formed two teams. One was Johnnie Walker and the other was Road Rollers. A brief team profile is as below

Johnnie Walker

Syed .  He was the team leader for Johnnie Walker and most fit from an overall point of view owing to his daily gym visits. We shall see his fitness being tested to the core in the course of the walk.









Santosh – He is the endurance guy for the team. He can stay on and on for hours in any form of activity. He was in action till CP3. But boils at unscrupulous places and a personnel commitment the next day made him retire at CP5. We did not try to persuade Santu, because, if Santu says he is in pain, he is in pain. You do not see a need to motivate people like him.

Girish – He sets the pace for the team and he has been asking for a practice walk of at least 50 kilometres repeatedly before the actual walk. We conveniently ignored those repeated requests and paid the price as you will discover.

Zunder – That is me. I am the fattest and the slowest amongst the lot, but steady though.

Road Rollers


Satya – An enthusiastic walker and keeps the team enthused with his steamy one-liners. Developed an ankle sprain after CP3 and had to retire.

 
Rajas – The fastest walker amongst the lot. He was one amongst the first 35 teams to reach check point 4. He literally ran the course till check point 4. He had to choose between finishing this run and finishing an exam the next day morning. He chose to take up the exam and retired after CP5. In the next iteration, he has promised that his team will be amongst the top 30 teams to finish.




Mahesh – The team lead for road rollers and a steady walker. He is named Mahesh, but actually Krishna as he attracts lot of people towards him naturally.  By completing the race alone, he was simply the champion amongst all of us.

Harish – The Technology Man. He will have all kinds of gadgets around him to measure the steps he takes as he believes every step that he takes forward is precious. A personal emergency made him not take one step.




Santosh, Satya, Rajas, Harish though retired did not let us retire. They were continuously pushing us to the finish line. Without their continuous support, we would not have made it.

Fundraising

Johnnie Walkers started early the fund raising objectives, through standard mailers, phone calls and literally harassing some individuals till they paid up. Interestingly enough some of the initial respondents donated generously even without checking with us and set the pace for our fund raising campaigns. We did manage to achieve 140% of our stated fund raising goal and though we were accused of sugar coated begging, we realized begging pays! We can pat our backs saying that we have some credibility left in us and we had to finish the walk, if not for us, but for the people who contributed to us so generously.

RoadRollers, coming in from mostly an innovation background did something  very different. If you have heard the Shiva,Parvathi, Ganesha, Karthikeya story, where Shiva and Parvathi told Ganesha and Karthikeya whoever goes around the world first and comes back gets the fruit.  Karthikeya starts off to go around the world, but Ganesha feels that the parents are the world, does a circle around them and grabs the fruit. Roadrollers started negotiating with OXFAM, did something and scraped through the fund raising round. I have no idea on how they managed it till now.  Johnnie Walkers were more like the stupid Karthikeya in the story.

On a more serious note, I sincerely thank the people who funded us. I was pleasantly surprised on the number of well wishers we had, who not only funded us, but also were eager to know our preparation and progress about the walk.  If I needed help, I only needed to ask and that is something I will remember. Your contribution would have definitely benefitted somebody, somewhere. Please be assured about that.

Preparation

I will keep coming to this time and again, but our preparation for the walk was abysmal. We kind of had two trips to Nandi hills, two trips close to Airport, not one of them crossing totally 25 Kilometres. Looking back, I feel that we made these trips only for the hogging we used to do after the walk. We had this absolutely astounding logic of ‘Yes. We are able to do 6 KMS in an hour, so even if it drops to 5 KMS, we will finish 100 KM in 20 hours’. Unfortunately for us, this kind of extrapolation backfired miserably.

Planning

As I mentioned before, generally in life, you can recognize idiots. We were that idiots. Till midway, we did not even realize that we need a water bottle to carry for ourselves. Putting it positively, we were the epitome of self-confidence and belief. I was the super idiot. I was the one who announced at 5 KMS/ hour we would be at CP3 (30 KMS) at 12:00 PM, CP6 (61 KMS) at 6:00PM and finish at 2:00 AM. In reality we left CP6 at 2:15 AM. I will not embarrass myself or others further by talking about our brute force approach, but honestly our tag line was ‘Keep Walking’ and we assumed anything further than that was unnecessary.

Start to Finish – The Walk

We started off around 6:10 AM after the evidence creating photo sessions. We kind of kept good pace. Syed and Girish took a formidable lead. I and Santosh walked relatively in a relaxed fashion with Santosh reducing his speed to give me company and educating me about the type of crops on either side of the road. We also discussed about the unhurried life style that people were having just 40 kilometres outside of city life and felt envious. After reaching CP1, we checked in and checked out relatively fast. We choose to have breakfast at CP2 instead of CP1. At each check points, you would have to check in and check out as a team. Those were the rules of the engagement. We proceeded to CP2 again with relatively consistent pace and this time Santosh did not wait for me. Girish, Syed and Santosh were kind of racing everyone and I was struggling to keep pace with them. We reached CP2 in good time and had breakfast. We should have had breakfast at CP1 as upma had got over at CP2 and we started from CP2 as we did not want to waste time waiting for the upma. We did take some customary photo shoots here and there.  As we were getting out of CP2, the Sun was out in its full glory and that was beginning to take a toll on us. Again the trio took the lead, with me lagging. This phase was toughest for me and unknown to anyone; there were moments of weakness I felt in this stretch. Luckily we reached a villagers house, where cucumber and free water revived my spirits. To add to my pain, here is where one villager cracked the ultimate question “‘Why are they doing this to all of you’?” As we were reaching CP3, our bodies were showing signs of exhaustion. We dipped ourselves into a stream that was flowing by and crawled our way to CP3.We were at CP3 by 12:30 and we were not way off from our plan. On reaching CP3, Syed rushed into the medical facility and got all kinds of stretches done with the help of the physiotherapists out there and that became a ritual for him at the rest of the check points. The ever energetic Santosh looked slightly weak. We took some rest, limped back to have the nutritious lunch. Nutrition and Taste are mutually exclusive. Rajas caught up with us during lunch and narrated in his interesting way on how he reached CP3. Rajas is more scientific in walking, running than all of us, educated on us some essentials and was eager to get going towards CP4. We reluctantly started towards CP4 with Sun showing no signs of let down. Girish and Rajas again took a formidable lead, with me following. Syed and Santosh trailed behind. CP3 to CP4 was a killer for me in terms of the heat, in terms of the ascent and at one isolated place where I was resting; I was thinking if I should give up? One gentleman who passed by me, cheered me up saying it is only 3 KMS till the next CP and asked me to keep moving.  Finding all my reserves of energy, I reached CP4, checked with Girish and was thankful when he said that they reached only 10 minutes before. I went to crash. Syed and Santosh joined 45 minutes later and rested for another 45 minutes. We were literally evicted out of CP4 by the organizers who convinced us to move towards CP5, as CP4 was getting over crowded with people resting. Santosh started some developing some boils and indicated that he would take stock at CP5 if he wanted to continue. The Sun was setting and we started walking towards CP5. Here we discovered a priceless asset. We saw people walking with professional walking sticks and we somehow found remnants of some branches of tree and make a walking stick out of that. This stick played an extremely crucial role to our finish. We reached CP5 around 7 PM, while according to the original plan we were supposed to be at CP6 at 6 PM. So much for the planning. Girish had developed a headache, I had blisters, Syed just needed any 6 feet bed to crash and Santosh’s boils had developed into bigger sizes. Rajas had estimated that he will not make it to his exams, retired at CP5 and had left for home. Santosh’s boil could not make him continue; he retired and left for home.  I was nurturing my blisters and was wondering, when Girish came and told me ‘Sir – we have taken money and we are answerable’. That one sentence changed my frame of mind. After that I just made up my mind, we are going to finish this one. I realized I became a robot after that. Thankfully some hot pongal, idly and vada rejuvenated our spirits and we chose wisely to proceed towards CP6 instead of halting at CP5 for the night. We decided to stick together for the night journey. Also some wisdom set in finally and we bought bottles of water for each of us. Also owing to the presence of elephants in the original trail, the organizers arranged an alternate route with the same number of kilometres. Thanks to Girish’s advice , all three of us took a pain killer and made our way to CP6 in record time. This was our fastest pace in the overall trail. We just walked seeing the beautiful stars in the sky, ignoring the stars our body was going through. This walk rejuvenated Girish’s belief in himself and he said we shall finish by 10 AM the next day. We will be proven wrong again. Once we reached CP6, we went for some juices and I went for my usual dressing up of the blisters. The medical facility looked like a refugee camp and I felt every third person had a blister of some sort. I waited for my time and the wonderful people there nursed my blister and I was set. By the time Girish who had never done a stretch, got a stretch done with the help of a physiotherapist. Syed had disappeared. We did not bother to hunt and crashed for 30 minutes.  We started the hunt for Syed around 1:15 AM and realized he was sleeping in the resting area, but we could not figure out who was Syed. As all the bed sheets to cover were of the same nature and everyone was sleeping with the bed sheets wrapped. We were in a fix. We realized Syed had pulled a fast one on us !. Girish became Sherlock Holmes and I became Dr Watson in the search for Syed. Finally, we nailed him down. He had taken a V looking branch as a walking stick and that was next to him. He did not cover that. We hesitated a nano-second before waking him up and the look on Syed’s face said it all. If he had a Gun, he would have shot us both down. But since he was used to handling irate customers for the most part of his life, he asked us ‘What is the plan?’  Girish told Syed ‘We have to get going’ with a straight face and I think I lacked sensitivity when I said ‘Banana leaf Lunch is being served. Let us get going’. Syed pleaded for one more hour of rest, we negotiated with him for 30 minutes and then started walking him again at the 25thminute. We gathered finally and started our walk towards CP7 at 2:15 AM. CP6 to CP7 proved to be the most monstrous stretch. It had pointed gravel all throughout and made our walk as miserable as it can get. Only positive thing about the whole walk towards CP7 was we choose to do it in the wee hours. We were one hundred percent sure we could not have done it with the sun torturing as well. Even Girish’s resolve was being tested in this path. But he will bring out sudden war cries of ‘Amma’ and ‘Shiva’ with such intensity; I was worried he will bring some animals towards us! When we reached CP7, each one of us ran for our respective beds and any guesses who won the race. Syed. We woke up around 7:30 AM and grudgingly acknowledged the need to carry on. I got my round of blister packs done. We had become animals by then. We started having our breakfast. Nothing like brushing teeth or equivalent. Each one of us tried in vain in our own way to get our morning biological system normal and we did not succeed. The stink inside was also increasing! We started towards CP8 and the shining sun started. I and Girish were tagging along each other with Syed left behind. After a point we were worried as his mobile also was switched off. We caught hold of an organizer car, asked them to go and check on Syed and relayed a message to switch his mobile on. We had schemed also saying that at CP8, we should not let Syed near a bed! We failed in that. He managed to find a bed and vehemently refused to start with the Sun right above his head. He said ‘ I will start only in the evening’! However Sun God proved to be merciful and Syed agreed to start with the condition that we will not leave him and go. We agreed to that and started our limp towards CP9. We hydrated ourselves with plentiful servings of coconut water, followed by nutritious and tasteless lunch. Luckily GOD balanced our Karmas and we were helped by a cool breeze instead of the scorching sun we had 24 hours back. Syed was regaining his jovial self and was walking like Moses of Ten Commandments. Our crushed spirits of the CP6 to CP7 walk was getting revived and though every kilometre looked like two, we managed to get our cheer back and in this stretch were cheered by little children who kind of posted us a standard questionnaire. I also pitched in with my doses of borrowed philosophy like ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ for which Syed quipped back ‘Everything is inevitable’. We did check on Mahesh and as I had assured all of them, Mahesh was with good company.  I kind of put an analogy like ‘If I say Hi to people’ they will turn their back on me and wonder why they ever greeted me, while if Mahesh says ‘Hi’ they will never go away from me and that has proved true. We reached CP9 and in any case it was a small check point. There were no beds to Crash and Syed did not need any as well. Girish and Syed refilled with Maggie Noodles and as Girish was about to sip on his Maggie Noodles, I accidentally knocked it off. To cover up my fault, I gave a futile lecture on ‘Marshmallow test’ and ‘Delayed Gratification’ to both of them. Girish got a replacement cup and both of them finished their noodles and were geared up for the home run. We started towards the finish line with ‘Insha Allah’ (God Willing) and like all check points Girish’s enthusiasm did not reduce a bit at all. He said we will finish it in 75 minutes, I said 120 minutes. The home run did not prove easy as well. Syed raced us and gave us the punch line of ‘For once, I am waiting for you guys’. We were happy to see him like that. We got past the 98 kilometre mark and 99 never seem to come. Syed was saying we will hit directly 100 , Girish was saying we are nearing 100 and I maintained we have not hit 99.  Finally I spotted 99 pinned at the end of a tree and showed it to Syed. Both of them cursed me, but took a snap near 99 and resumed the final , final , final kilometre.  We kind of asked everyone who was passing by on where is the finish line and finally we saw it. We reached it together and the clock read 36:05:42 .

We congratulated each other and somehow we seemed to be devoid of any feelings. Not of ecstasy, not of pain, not of relief. Nothing at all. We got our certificates, got our medals, went home. We heard from Mahesh that he also completed in 42 hours which we were sure he would.

Lessons

Looking at our timings, we feel we could have done it easily within 25 hours, but quite frankly we were in a race against no one but ourselves. So we will not kill ourselves on that. The other things that could have possibly helped are

1.       Better plan. We had no plan except the extrapolated plan.

2.       Better training. Not the ad-hoc one we used to.

3.       Better Equipped. We did even have a water bottle to ourselves for the first 50 kilometres

4.       Actual Support Crew. While the virtual support crew helped, the physical support crew brings in the right interventions.

5.       Extrapolate with Evidence. 5 KMS in one hour does not get you 100 KMS in 20 hours.

Knowing our own selves a little bit better, do we think we will take care of it in the next walk? Not a chance. We like the label of idiots and remain the eternal optimists that we are.

Tailpiece

Murakami says “You have to show your muscle who is the boss” and guess we did that, though blisters came close to ruining it! Though the above statement tantamount to some kind of arrogance on ourselves, We actually became a trifle humbler than what we started the walk with.

When you are thinking about doing something and it feels scary, when it feels like this big lion is waiting at the finish line and he’s roaring and he’s ferocious and he’s going to tear you apart… you should just run toward that lion anyway. Run to the roar – Tina Essmaker

Timing Analysis



Check Point (CP)
Destination
KMS
Reached at
Left at
Walking Time in Minutes
Wait Time
Speed (KM/Hour)
1
Govt High School, Barona Doddi
8.8
7:40 AM
8:00 AM
90
20
5.87
2
Govt High School, Uyyambhalli
8.1
9:35 AM
10:05 AM
95
30
5.12
3
Nallahalli
13
12:30 PM
1:45 PM
145
75
5.38
4
Govt. Primary School Kokkrehosahalli
10
4:00 PM
5:45 PM
135
105
4.44
5
PU College Rampur doddi
6.6
7:10 PM
9:15 PM
85
125
4.66
6
Chokkanahalli
14.7
11:40 PM
2:20 AM
145
160
6.08
7
Govt. High School, Maralawadi
13.2
5:30 AM
8:15 AM
190
150
4.17
8
Avaremale Rampura
10.2
11:00 AM
1:30 PM
165
150
3.71
9
Gottigihalli
9
3:50 PM
4:20 PM
160
30
3.38
Finish
Nettigere
6.4
6:05 PM
105
3.66


Total Walk Time
21.92 Hours
Total Wait Time
14.08 Hours
Average Speed
4.65 KM / Hour
Average  Wait Time Per Check Point
1.56 Hours


Pictures

Both of our teams managed to get one photo with Rahul Bose as well.  He was cheering the team which collected the money from the largest set of sponsors.

Have Fun
Zunder 

Week 71 – Run to the Roar


How to Fine-Tune Your Intuition
Intuition is a strong instinct crucial to critical discovery
Peter Thiel Says That We Should Hunt For Secrets. That’s True, But We Also Need To Kill Unicorns
In an age of intelligent machines, we can only create true value through imagination
6 Famous Artists Talk About What It’s Like to Overcome Fear and Create Beauty
Run to the roar
The One Vital Skill They Don’t Teach You In Business School
Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions, so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated
4 Stories Great Leaders Tell To Engage Their People
Storytelling, with a purpose, is key to being a good leader

Week 70 – How to Deal With Critics and Detractors in Your Life


Here’s the Advice I Give All of Our First Time Founders
Only think in terms of cash
Design-Led Innovation in Government
Opening up bureaucracy to co-production
Paul Goodman on the Nine Kinds of Silence
The alive silence of alert perception
How to Deal With Critics and Detractors in Your Life
Negativity doesn’t deserve a louder voice. Spend your time echoing something worth hearing
How to go from a nobody to a somebody
Find your voice and speak your truth

Week 69 – 15 Resolutions for 2015


The 30 Best Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs in 2014
Run the RIBS test
Why You Should Take on Two (and Only Two) Tough Problems at Once
The difference between decidable and undecidable tasks
Self-Refinement Through the Wisdom of the Ages: 15 Resolutions for 2015 from Some of Humanity’s Greatest Minds
Get lost to find yourself
How to work with influencers to promote your product, campaign or startup
Work with brand ambassadors on tailoring the campaign
12 of The Most Important Lessons I Learned In My 20’s
Attention is the most valuable gift that you can give others

Week 68 – Five Basic Values That Put The Compassion In Leadership


Becoming More Innovative in 2015: Innovation Resolutions
What a group of innovators feel
Five Basic Values That Put The Compassion In Leadership
Awareness
10 most important skills for the next big idea
Realization
Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead
Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress
10 Web design trends you can expect to see in 2015
Removing non-essential design elements in favor of simplicity