Monday, September 14, 2015

First ever full - Farnham Pilgrim Full Marathon

Phew, ran my first full marathon ever at Farnham Pilgrim. It just wasnt your usual run-of the mill 42.2 km. With an elevation of 1781 ft and a route comprising tarmac, gravel, steps, sand, mud, busy road crossings, wooden stiles, and gates, it was a mini obstacle course.
But there was no masochism in choosing this as my first marathon. I have run about 8-9 half marathons, most on road. 21.1 km distance had become less of a challenge, and I thought its best to check a full marathon off my list before I turn 40. Over the years, I have also realised that road running is a lot less fun that trail running - road  is monotonous and harder on your knees, trail is varied, and more stimulating. The route changes every few feet - grass, mud, gravel, hill - making you alert and forcing you to run a bit slower. At the same time, you use of more of your leg muscles to stabilise your feet, so helps strengthen them rather than breaking them down.

At the same time, mass participation events have become a big turn-off for me. Farnham Pilgrim is still a small event with a total of 700 runners for full and half marathon. The entry fees are not a rip-off and places are guaranteed even at the last minute. You are not herded like sheep at the start of the race and its easier to mingle with family and friends at any time. In spite of it being a small event, the organisation was top class. It has consistently rated in top 10 marathons since its inception.

Knowing how tough it was going to be, I was less focussed on the time, and more on finishing it. Didn’t want to face the embarrassment of not completing it due to injury or hitting the wall.

I trained the best I ever trained for, for any event. Apart from a few missed runs (due to illness and travel), I was mostly on track. Joining my local running club – The Striders – also helped tremendously. Training with others during speed sessions was the key in training at the right intensity which you just don’t achieve when you train alone. At the same time, learnt a few warm-up/cool-down routines which I then incorporated in my sessions.

The plan I followed was of another trail marathon. Didn’t want any more than 4 sessions per week as I know I would struggle to make the time and it would be harder on the body. If you are a regular runner and are only aiming at completing a marathon in good shape and not in any ambitious time, 4 sessions is more than enough.

I even ran most of the Farnham Pilgrim route a month before the race to familiarise myself with the course. Glad I did, because it gave me a sense of the challenge that lay ahead. This race was not to be taken lightly.

Photos from recce run

Photos from recce run

The race day itself was perfect – lightly overcast, but no rain, and temperature in mid teens. 

I had decided to start slow around 6:30 min/km mark. However, just like most runners, got carried away in the moment, and the aim of running negative splits was soon going to go out of the window. For a first timer, it is hard to judge whether running slower will actually help you run negative splits and if you will still have the strength at the end to run faster.

Anyway, was hovering around the 6:00 min/km mark for most of the first 10 kms. This stretch has minimal climbs, so it was easy to keep the pace without feeling fatigued. Though there were some steps to be climbed on the way, the first (and biggest) real test was around 20 km mark at Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill . 

The climb here is continuous 1.5 km or so with a LOT of sand. It was so hard to find a grip that almost everyone was walking up rather than running.

From here, it was steep downhill run for a while. However, there was no scope for taking it easy. There were 5 hills one after the other. Fatigue and pain had set in at this time. Having done distances longer than 30 km in training, I knew that the pain was pure fatigue related and wouldn’t stop me from finishing the marathon. However, now the run was taking a mental toll. Every water station was an excuse to stop, every hill was an excuse to walk, especially when other runners were doing the same.

At around 2 miles to finish, decided to run at a steady fast pace. In my mind, it felt like I was running at 5:30 min/km, however, in my watch, it was hovering around 6 min/km. The legs were heavy as logs and no amount of exertion was making me go faster.

Caught up with a female runner who was running steady. Instead of overtaking, got into first real conversation with her. But she decided to pause before the last hill, so I kept going. Wife and daughter saw me coming and I ran with my daughter to the finish line

I finished the marathon in 4 hours 39 minutes, which was slightly more than what I had anticipated, but can’t complain. The legs are stiff, and my gait will take a few days to get back, but haven’t got any serious injuries. Overall, am glad that I registered for the run and then completed it in good time. One of the highlights of the year, and probably, my life.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Focus on Protection and Prevention, Not Punishment

Whenever we hear of a major in India crime that causes national outrage– a heinous rape or a terrorist attack, the only cries I hear, even from the sanest and most ‘educated’ of Indians are to mete out harshest of punishment to the perpetrators. The punishment methods usually suggested are chemical castration, flogging, shooting dead, or hanging. They also want it to be meted out by swiftest possible means. Right Now! Nothing else would do. The criminals don’t have a right to defend their case. They don’t deserve to be heard. They are evil and inhuman and don’t deserve justice reserved for normal folk. They have already been judged.

There are massive moral and legal issues in meting out justice in the swiftest and sternest manner. Think of one innocent amongst the thousands of actual criminals, who didn’t get access to a decent lawyer, and who was not allowed to build his case due to the exigency to ‘carry out justice’. And the case was heard and then he was hanged. We all clapped and applauded, and 2 days later, we found out that he was actually innocent. Oh, well, we murdered an innocent man. Its ok, some collateral damage is fine!

By focusing on punishment, people also miss the real issue, which is of protection and prevention. By the time is crime is committed, the ship has already sailed, and capsized. Lives have been ruined – of the victims, their families, the criminals, their families. Whether they deserve it or not, is not the point. Damage has been done irreversibly.

By focusing on punishment, we have already let the real perpetrators off scott-free. The real perpetrators who are the root cause are the State and its various components who have played a significant hand in the creation and development of the deviant individuals. In the case of social crimes, the factors that contributed to the crime are societal, cultural, and law enforcement failures. In case of terrorist attacks, these could be intelligence gathering, surveillance, and interception failures.

You might argue that government doesn’t control society’s attitudes and cultural leanings. But I think it does. A liberal government allows all voices to be heard, all faiths to be practiced, all differences to be allowed. It allows dissent and disagreement, as long as there is no crime committed (i.e damage to property, physically hurting people you disagree with; causing offense and mental anguish are not crimes). If you give confidence to the people that radical or ultra conservative beliefs are not given covert state support over other beliefs, you get a more open and free society, not where you are watching what you say, and looking over your shoulder for being non-conformist. Such a society is fundamental to serve the needs of the minority – women, children, people practising non-majority religions, atheists, gays and disabled.

The government also controls society’s attitudes and cultural leanings through education. It can invest more in education of the weaker section of the societies – women, poor, lower castes – ensuring that they have better chance to move up socially, integrate more fully with the rest of the society, and be well-represented in all important spheres of life. It can also keep education ‘agnostic’ of all religious, philosophical, and economic dogma, and let the kids make up their own minds.

Through genuine freedom and openness, and education, government can not only shape social and cultural views, it also encourages citizens to be more responsible. Promoting genuine freedoms, education, and mobility are significant 'soft' steps in protecting the people and preventing any major crimes.

The 'hard' steps in protection and prevention are with respect to law enforcement, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and interception. Again, we have seen that there are persistent systemic failures in all of these areas. Crime is frequently under-reported, police stations are notoriously understaffed, police rely on informal khabaris for intelligence gathering, and survelliance is very poor. We know of oil tankers blown off course landing within a kilometre of the Worli Sea-Link without the army/navy/police knowing about it. No major overhaul has happened after 26/11 that will give us confidence that the issues have been addressed.

All these failures on the part of the state need significant step-by-step attention and remediation. They can’t be fixed in a day and there are no easy solutions. The solutions may take time to implement and realise. Sometimes, the solutions may span different departments and jurisdictional areas. Perhaps that's why, there isn’t a willingness to address these. The state just moves from one crisis to another, focussed purely on damage control, and blame-game. Blame the criminal, we have no part to play.

However, the people, by not going after the real problems and instead just focussing only the criminal, allow the state to wash their hands off their sins. 

And that’s the real crime.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pirate Birthday Party - Preparation

Last week, I celebrated my daughter’s 7th Birthday Party. She loves Swashbuckle, a BBC kids games show based on the premise of retrieving jewels from bad pirates. I like the show as well, so decided to give the theme a go. Arraagh!!

Invitation card

a.       Template
I thought the invitation card should look old, worn-out, possibly like a scroll. Here is a template I created.  I used pirate-y language with specially downloaded fonts (‘Rapscallion’, ‘Freebooter’, ‘JLS Smiles’- all are free). Pre-loaded windows fonts should also work alright. I made the template in visio as it was create and move text boxes and images around easily. I converted this into pdf and jpeg.

Visio to edit the above template (download this as it wont open within browser)

I wanted the venue location to be shown on a treasure map, so I used This is how the final product looked like.

b.      Aging
After printing the main invitation and map on normal paper, I used some aging techniques to make the paper look old. I primarily used wikihow -, but then experimented with the time, and ingredients. First I crumbled the paper in a ball and then uncrumbled it, I mixed unused as well as used tea and soya sauce in water, soaked for about 1-2 hours in the solution, and then hung the papers overnight for drying on a make-shift clothesline on top of the kitchen sink. Sometimes, I dried quicker by putting the papers on a heater. The effect was pretty good.

c.       Presenting
We rolled up the paper like a scroll and tied with a thick plastic thread. I folded the map along the folds printed using yarrmaps, and inserted into the map folded along the fold lines created using yarrmaps. I ensured that the roll was tight enough for the map not to slip through.

Pirate Ship

I created the pirate ship in two parts – front and back. This was driven by the size of the card board available, and also allowing kids to go in and out without damaging the ship or hurting themselves. The two parts were kept independent of each other in order to not affect each other’s stability. It also gave the ship a bigger scale compared to the size of the actual pieces.
The material used was cardboard. I have found cardboard to be great material for house hold crafts and creative work. It holds its shape, easy to cut, easy to flex. Any mistakes in cutting can be corrected when you glue paper on top of it. E.g. if you cut a hole too big, you can correct it when you put a covering paper over it. Then you can cut the hole the right size.
Ensure that you keep the cardboard folds on the smaller sides. This is incredibly useful for stability ensuring the rest of the cardboard holds its shape.

e.g. you may not need the bottom part of the cardboard (in the picture above), but instead of cutting it out, just keep it, as it will stabilise the vertical face of the cardboard, also you can stick the bottom part on the floor to ensure that the structure stands up on its own.

a.       Front part of the ship
The front part of the ship was made of two pieces – The main base(bow) and the ornamental part on top. I used a 40 inch LED TV box. I cut bottom part in a curve without cutting off the joint between the two largest cardboard pieces. I just shaved off the bottom part such that it doesn’t destabilise the box and it stood. I sliced the bottom horizontal face from the middle (without cutting the face off entirely) for reasons given above.  I cut of the top horizontal face entirely. This allowed me to open the front up.

Just around 1/3 the length from the front, I gave two incisions from the inside. I kept the front looking like a triangle, and along the incisions, straightened the top vertical fronts (highlighted part) such that they were almost parallel to each other. This made the front look like a typical ship

I cut off three gunports on either side

Now for the ornamental part – I cut two parts from another smaller cardboard box -  I joined the two pieces around the pointed  edge. The stuck the pieces straight up on the inside of the large pieces.

I stuck brown paper all over including the insides. This allowed to cover all the sticky tapes. I cut the gunport holes again through it, and used to brown paper to adjust any mistakes in cutting.
Note – If you cut the top horizontal edge slanting down from the front, it will look even more like a ship. I did not cut the as didn’t have a cardboard piece that was high enough; it would have made the ship look much smaller (almost a boat).

b.      Back of the ship (Stern)
For the back, I took another box. This was slightly taller than the first box, but it didn’t matter, as frequently, the back of ships are taller than front.  I used an entire card board, slicing it along on edge, and flattening the rest such that I had two equal sized faces joined along an edge. I cut this edge at the bottom in a curve. This stern curve was less sharper than the bow’s.

For the top part, I cut a cardboard of the shape shown. Again, I used two faces of a box, which were already joined together on the spine, and cut out the rest. When inserted in the bigger piece, it imparted strength and shape (in a manner of ‘>’ sign) to the whole back part.

Repeat the cycle with brown paper, gunports. The entire piece looked like this.

c.       Finishing
I put papers on the edges and (corners, gunports). I also covers the full ornamental pieces and front thin face with the same paper. I put horizontal stripes in brown paper (Doc link) along the length of the ship for additional ironwork detail. I inserted a bamboo stick through the bow and made it stand and hung a A4 printed pirate flag (‘Jolly Roger’) from it. (See the link)

Face in a Hole

Here is the link to the image. Open in mspaint. Hopefully, the settings are intact that will make the picture split on multiple pages. Take printouts and join the pages together like a puzzle, stick it on a cardboard. Cut out the hole. 

Treasure Chest

a.       Base
Take a cardboard box, and cut one of the top flaps. The other flap will go under the lid

a.       Lid
Then, take another cardboard/s, and cut them in two semicircles. Now get a cardboard that is length of the curved part of semi-circle (circumference) and as wide as the front face. Give it incisions every 4 cms or so from the inside to allow it to bend and hug the semi-circle snugly. Now wrap it on the curved edge, and stick it with strong tapes. Cover it with inside face of the semi-circle with brown paper.

Before you stick the chest lid give the flap as well incisions on the inside, so it touches the underside of the lid closely. Use glue and strong tape to bring the two together.
c. Decoration
Brown paper for iron work, highlight the nails, stick on a latch and lock. Here is the final product

Jolly Roger (Pirate Flag)

Here is the visio for the Jolly Roger flag. Visio viewer is freely downloadable

Money Notes

I wanted some money to be put in the treasure chest (we also ran a game around team stealing most from the chest wins. I copied note images using created British currency notes in word and put them in tables, to ensure that the images don’t resize in case they are big. Also you need back to back printouts. Attached is the document that you can use for printout.

Note that the margins need to be adjusted so that the back and front face line up exactly. They are slightly skewed, and I ended up cutting the corners slightly in to remove white in each side.

Here is the link to the doc.

Costumes, Games, Props etc.

We ended up making the jacket ourselves. Rest we bought, stripy, black and white, lose frilly stuff and co-ordinated the pieces with each other to make a complete costume.

Decorations, plates, glasses, table covers and other clothing accessories – Amazon, ebay, poundland, 99p shop

Games planned and props for the day are here

Names Badges

On Birthday day, kids were asked to pick a pirate names from the list, write it on the badge, and pin it on their costume/dress. The template for the badge is in the doc.

Ship Names/Team Names

Kids were put together in teams, and asked to pick a ship name to represent their team.

Sea Shanties/Pirate Songs

I downloaded stuff from youtube (using, and torrents. These, I played in the background during games, eating.

Song that my daughter liked the best (she doesn't understand the naughty lyrics yet)