Thursday, 12 July 2018

My journey with Ultimate Frisbee - Part 1

My First-day playing Ultimate Frisbee

In my current sabbatical from Bike racing, I have been keen to step out of my pigeonhole and explore. Monash University has been the perfect Petri dish to do so with clubs and societies a-plenty. I signed up for a lot of volunteering activities and that took up most of my time between studying, eating and sleeping.

Mid-way through my first semester, I finished the major volunteering events, and I had a lot of free time. To figure out the best use of my free time, I came up with a simple sorting algorithm and ran all the Monash Clubs & Societies through it. The result was...

My sorting algorithm!

So, I logged into Facebook and the Monash Ultimate Frisbee (MUF) Team's page had events and activities which seemed like the most fun thing ever! I bought their membership and impulsively, a pair of their woollen socks (my new-found weakness) and turned up at their Wednesday 'Social' training session, which caters to players of all levels, in the first week of May.

Wednesday Socials session. PC: Monash Ultimate Frisbee

"Ultimate Frisbee (sometimes just called “ultimate”) is a non-contact sport, with several players on each side. It is played on a football-sized pitch with an 'End Zone' at each end. It is often described as a combination of netball – because you cannot run with the Frisbee (or disc), and American football – because you score a point for catching the disc in the End Zone.

It is an exciting, fast-paced game. As soon as you catch the disc, you must stop running, and pass it to a teammate. You have to avoid players on the opposing team, who are constantly trying to block your passes. Teams are allowed to substitute players between points, which means players give 100% on each point."

This is the basic crux of the game, which I did not know at the time. So, I turn up on the Wednesday with the same naivety I had before my first bike race thinking "How hard can this be? All I need to do is throw the disc and run around to catch it." And just like in bike racing, I would find out that it's incredibly hard over the next few weeks!


A step-by-step description of how I fell in love with Frisbee

Step 1: 

Fortunately, Frisbee is an immensely inclusive sport and as we were warming up as a group like in all sessions, I was approached by a couple of veterans of the sport and they struck up a conversation welcoming me into the sport.
"That's quite kind of them to come up and talk to me. I might play a few more games with them." I thought to myself.

Step 2:

We spent about 20mins warming up which included dynamic stretches and running drills and after that, we spent a couple of minutes high-fives all around on a good effort warming up.
"Huh! That's a good tradition to build a sense of community. I'm liking it so far."

Step 3:

After the warm-up, we were split into teams of 7, the standard size of a Frisbee team in a match, and paired off with another squad for a 30-minute game.

In the first round, my team were on the defence and the most experienced player laid down the game plan - "Right, the wind is in our advantage so we will force a flick while doing a Man defence. Everyone, got it?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, I am new to the sport and I lost you after you said we have the wind advantage. Could you please explain to me what I am supposed to do? I would really appreciate it", is what I should have replied. But fearing embarrassment, I just went with "Yup, got it!"

And once the match started, I went sprinting towards the disc as fast as I could. Now, this created a lot of confusion in the field and there was yelling all around me to get to my position and run the game plan. Needless to say, I was as confused as Homer Simpson working in a Nuclear Plant.

My initial strategy: Just sprint towards the disc!

But once I learnt that the disc can be passed faster than I can run in between the passes, I decided to focus on just one player and mark him.

Halfway through that point, the guy I was marking at points me towards the opposite end of the field and starts saying "It's a turnover! It's a turnover!". I had no idea what a 'Turnover' was other than a reference in Dilbert, and I continue with my strategy to mark him.

He then suddenly stops in his tracks and goes, "Look, the disc has been dropped by my team and that means your team is on the offence. You need to head over to the other side to help your teammates score!"

"Wait, what..?"
 At that moment I was dumbstruck because my opponent was helping me correct my mistakes. He was telling me how to improve rather than take advantage of my naivety and score a point for his team. I was completely awestruck by his gesture and realized that this is the kind of people that this sport attracts, which I had never thought was possible!

Step 4:

I realized that I knew none of the tactics of the game, had no clue about the formations, my ability to anticipate was almost rubbish but the one thing I was good at was running fast and for long, thanks to the anaerobic engine I'd built up while cycling.

So, I stuck to my strength and began sprinting into every open space I could see to lose the defender who was marking me. This was highly inefficient as I was never in the right place at the right time. But with 5 minutes to go, I finally intercepted a pass from my teammate and was able to throw it to another teammate standing down the line.

I watched further down and two of my teammates made immaculate passes to reach our End Zone and score a point. As I saw the disc reach the other end successfully, I felt a massive surge of joy and elation!

"Whoaah! I helped score that point! I feel so proud of myself."

"Is this what it feels like to work as part of a team to succeed? This feels awesome and I want more of this feeling! Right I'm gonna adopt this sport now." I said to myself.

One of the best feelings out there!
To be continued..

Monday, 23 October 2017

Training Camp - Week 1

It's been one week since I landed in the town of Jamkhandi for a training camp. This camp is for the National Championships happening at the end of this month. Here's a quick recap of this week -

The journey to Jamkhandi involved a 10-hour long overnight bus from Bangalore to the city of Bijapur. The night before, I had googled a Taxi service in Bijapur to get a drive to Jamkhandi. After a lengthy and testing round of negotiation, I brought down the fee from 1300 to 1200 rupees.
Reaching Bijapur early in the morning, I got into the taxi after loading up my bike bag with the Time Trial bike and a borrowed indoor-trainer.

In the 60 kilometre drive, I was welcomed by the sights of endless grain fields, wind-turbines in the far off distant small hills and in the nearby footpaths, people performing their early morning ritual of open-air defecation. Feeling a bit grossed out, I proceeded to look at fields and wind-turbines on Instagram.

Jamkhandi hosted the national championships in 2014 and is set to host this year's edition too. While the nearby city of Bijapur hosts many talented cyclists of the country, the little sister town does not lag behind either.

Upon reaching, the town, I checked into a hotel based on the recommendation of a fellow Bangalore cyclists, Gagan, who too is training for the nationals. I carried the confidence from the taxi-negotiation into the hotel reception desk and was surprised to have them bring down the rent from 4500 to 3750!

Filled with this high, I headed out for lunch at one of the local homemade restaurants, commonly referred to as "Khaanavali". These places make some of the healthiest, cleanest and spiciest meals at a very affordable rate. For a meager amount of 50 rupees (70 cents), the menu consisted of unlimited amounts of Chapatis, Sorghum rotis, vegetable curry, lentil curry, rice with sambhar (lentil soup) and curd.
Feeling quite chuffed with how good the day had sailed through, I hit the bed of my hotel for a short nap, soon after which the power went off. This region of Karnataka is infamous for it's extreme weather. And I experienced this at that afternoon as temperatures soared to a mighty 40 degrees!

The next morning, I was joined by Naveen Raj, a friend of mine. He is one of Bangalore's best cyclists and currently the second fastest finisher of a Speculoos jar I've come across.

Once he set up his bike, we went looking for breakfast and ordered 2 plates of Idlis at the nearby hotel. Halfway through Naveen's Idli, I noticed him pulling out a black-coloured object from his Idli. Not wanting to seem rude by asking, I assumed it was a piece of lentil that somehow got mixed in. "Special idlis", he mentioned and chuckled. "Oh, you mean they come with protein-packed lentils in them?"I asked. "No mate, that was a cockroach leg that I removed." he remarked. Both Naveen & I are very similar in personalities and we expressed out displeasure of this situation by quietly finishing our meal and making a mental note to never return to the place again. Special Idlis indeed!

Over the next three days, life followed a similar routine -
1. Wake up
2. Closed-room defecation
3. Head out for a training ride with Naveen.
4. Stop and check if my wheels are rubbing against my brakes.
5. Return, shower and stretch.
6. Head out for lunch.
7. Wait out the afternoon power cut.
8. Clean the bike.
9. Head out for dinner.
10. Check my brakes before going to bed.

On the fourth day, my routine was disrupted. In the midst of post-ride nap where I was dreaming of Climbing up the Nandi hill at 25kmph, I was woken up by a severe case of Bijapur-Belly. I watched in disappointment as fluids and my form went down the drain, quite literally.

Things turned to worse when I developed a high fever that same evening. Despite the weather being 36 degrees hot, I had to pull on 4 layers of clothing to not shiver.
After 3 liters of ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution), 30 hours of sleep in 2 days and 4 paracetamols, I was back to normal health.

The next day, I lined up for a 40 kilometre Time Trial which was the selections for the state team. Anyone who has ever done any kind of time trial knows that it is more of a mental battle than a physical one. You feel great and invincible if you are catching up to the cyclists ahead of you. On the other end of the spectrum, you question if your brakes are rubbing or contemplate retirement when guys behind you catch up. I contemplated retirement twice today but I knew I was not in the best shape due to the illness.

I was fast enough only to get on to the reserve squad of the state team. Feeling dejected, I returned to my room and took a short nap. I woke up and sluggishly made my way to grab some water. I sluggishly noticed a bed bug underneath my left elbow. I sluggishly panicked and informed the hotel owner about this, who insisted that it couldn't have been a bed bug.

"It had six legs, was sucking my blood and I found it on my bed." I insisted, "No no, it's impossible to find a bed bug in this hotel." he replied. Not-so-sluggishly I told him he was wrong and spent the next 4 hours with Naveen turning out room upside down looking for further infestation. In the 5th hour, both of us reported a clean-sheet and went about the usual routine peacefully.

My first part of the training camp came to a positive end after a few frantic phone-calls to various other teams. I finally managed to get a spot for the national championships and I will be heading into the second week tomorrow.

To be continued..

Friday, 6 October 2017

Tour of Glory - Stage 2

After the 96km race and 100km transfer yesterday,we were checked into the quaint coffee town of Chikmagalur, which is nestled in the lush Malnad region of Karnataka. After a good night’s rest, we lined up for the second stage of the ‘Tour of Glory’.

The stage started in the town of Aldur. Today was 84kms in length with a total elevation gain of 1200m. Apart from the jampacked elevation gain, the special feature of today’s race was that there wasn’t even a single straight flat stretch for more than a kilometre in length. The kind of route that reminds me of the Belgian Classic race – Liege Bastogne Liege

We were flagged off at 8:30AM and soon me and KKR headed to the front to take advantage of the technical descent to try and split the field. We were joined by 10 or so of the strongest riders and we began to take turns in the front.

Photo Credits: Deepak Sondur

While the headwinds of yesterday’s stage tested everyone’s perseverance, today’s course tested everyone’s bike-handling and attentiveness – with its continuous rolling terrain, the occasional traffic and more than occasional cow-crossings.

As we approached the KOM climb of the day which was 1.5kms in length, there was one cyclist, Shiven, 15 seconds up ahead of us. I rode in the front to not let him get too big of an advantage. But as soon as we hit the base, KKR kicked off. I followed in hot pursuit, but I did not have the legs to bridge across and towed in behind Naveen and Adarsh. We crossed the KOM line about 12 seconds behind and worked together over the next 2 kilometres to bring them back in.

In the following short ascents, descents and cow-dodgings, the lead group thinned down to 4 - Me, Naveen, KKR and Adarsh. We agreed to a mutual ceasefire and took turns riding tempo so as to build a lead on the bunch behind. I tried to attack at the 45kmsmark, but I did not have the legs and was soon reeled back in.
PC: Deepak Sondur

Over the next 6-7 kilometres, we were witness to the spectacular views of the Malnad region, which is nestled in between the western ghats and I was in awe of the route selected by the race organizers!

As we hit the next short climb, I was witness to the rear wheel of Naveen Raj, which was nestled behind KKR who was setting a high pace and I was in awe of the pain being dished out.

I was glad I had survived this climb, but I realized that my legs were fatigued from the hard week’s training the week before and I was worried if I could stay with the leading duo till the finale.

At the 60km mark, we hit a 4km climb and my body had reached lactic-acid saturation. I let go off the wheel in front of me, which unfortunately also meant that I let go off my 3rd place on GC.

I rode the rest of the route at my own pace and counted down the kilometres and counted up the number of cows I came across till the finish line. 76 in total. Disappointingly, I have dropped down to 4th on GC, but there’s still one day and 1800m of elevation gain to make it up. 

PC: Deepak Sondur

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Tour of Glory - Stage 1

Tour of Glory:
Today was the first stage of the ‘Tour of Glory’. The ToG is India’s first Stage race and I signed up for it to prepare for the national championships happening at the end of this month. The Tour consists of 3 days, covering 250kms, a total elevation gain of 3000m, and headwinds a-plenty.

We rolled out from Hotel Palms Resort to ride the 7kms neutral to the start line on Nelamangala. The stage would be a 96kms flat day. 23 of us lined up at the start line, eager to get to the finish line as soon as possible and we were flagged off. I had two of my former-teammates in the race – Kiran Kumar Raju and Naveen Raj and I knew that they would be the strong guys to look out for.

At the start of the race! PC: Deepak Sondur

As soon as we started, KKR went to the front of the field and lifted the tempo, reducing the width of the peloton to 1 cyclist ( or 0.75 human) wide. Approaching the next uphill, I decided to put a dig in to reduce the field even further. Following this there were only 8 or 9 of us left in the front bunch.
At around the 15kms mark, KKR launched another move, and was covered by me, Naveen Raj, Master’s racer Bikey Venky, Chennaiite Adarsh Saxena and the MTB rider Shiven.
We began to work together over the next few kilometres, setting a high tempo knowing that the podium for the day would be decided amongst us.

The lead bunch at this point. PC: Deepak Sondur
A game of cat-and-mouse:
Adarsh felt he had the legs to rip apart the already reduced bunch and started to attack at the 25kms mark, encouraging me, KKR and Raj to work together and drop everyone else. 

As attacks flew up the road, I forced Shiven to chase KKR and Raj. Once I realized that he couldn’t bridge across, I attacked and decided to bridge across. But I was stuck in the dreaded no-man’s land - t o o  s l o w  t o  r i d e  a c r o s s  to the front group and toofasttobecaught by the group behind, all the while with a stiff head-wind!

Behind, I saw Adarsh attacking Shiven and bridging across to me. We then worked together but the duo up ahead was too fast to catch up. 

Limiting the losses:
I took the lead during the ascents, Adarsh did on the descents and we shared the workload during the flat sections. But the initial attacks took a toll on Adarsh and I ended up doing most of the work
Over the next 30kms, there were only 2 things in my mind.
2. The tail-wind at the 82km mark. I kept looking down at my Garmin every 30 seconds wishing the distance would go by faster. I realized I was letting the numbers get to me and I switched to a different page which had my power and HR numbers.
When I did so I was shocked to find that despite riding at a tempo pace, my HR was at a mighty 186bpm – way into my threshold region. A rough tissue paper calculation revelaed that I would burn out soon at this effort! 

I put two fingers beneath my neck and physically measured my HR. A second rough calculation revealed it to be at 150bpm. Which is when I realized that my Garmin had accidentally paired with Adarsh’s HR monitor!

 I kept my hydration and nutrition well in-line and was also aided by the well-organized race support crew feeding me at the right times. At the 75kmsmark, we were about 8mins behind the leading two, who were working in tandem!
As we hit the 82kms mark and turned around, a tail-wind blew over us and a new-wind blew over Adarsh and he began to take turns in the front.

 We eventually finished the 96kms stage, about 5.5mins behind the winner – Kiran Kumar Raju.
Tomorrow, we have a 90kms rolling route with 900m of elevation gain in the scenic and picturesque route of Chikmagalur!

Here's another account of today's race from the talented Bikey Venky.