Fitness – what it truly means

I gasped for breath as I tried to make a new PR (personal record) but managed to keep my pace up for only 800 meters, ending up with 200 meters to cover at my usual speed. The result was 2.5 km covered in 13 minutes and a few odd seconds. Good, but certainly not my best. Was I fit? Could I be fitter? Maybe. But does fitness always translate to better speeds? Not really.

Most people get carried away when they hear the word ‘fit’. Imagination carries them to the Greek – God – like – image of a guy or dame with sculpted six pack abs and a toned body.

What does fitness truly mean?

To me, there are three levels of fitness:

1. Being able to carry out your professional duties without exhaustion

2. Having good health (with normal levels on all hormone – related and routine blood investigations) and immunity

3. Having both the above, and managing to spend time on moderate exercise without feeling exhausted.

So, if you have diabetes, but if you’re managing to keep your sugar and cholesterol levels within normal limits via diet and exercise – then yes, you are keeping yourself fit.

Which brings us to the next question: does looking fat make one unfit, or does looking thin, mean being in excellent health? The answer to both these questions is a resounding NO. 

Going back to my 3 categories of fitness, you can find that a person who looks fat can actually manage to pass in all three categories, with both slim and chubby people having almost equal chances of imbalance in blood or hormone tests. To me, a so – called obese person who runs marathons, is a tee-totaller and leads an active lifestyle is far healthier and fit than a thin person with an addiction to alcohol and suffering from diabetes or a victim of starvation diets.

So do even thin people need to workout? My answer to that, based on the above paragraph would be a big YES.

STOP CREATING STEREOTYPES

The above info would have also made you realize that a fit person need not necessarily look like a sculpted model. Embrace your curves, and be active, giving high priority to diet and exercise. Laughing at a chubby person working out hard in the gym is also not a good idea when you are lazing it out!

At the same time, having the right to look chubby does not mean you shouldn’t do anything about high cholesterol. Always strive toward eating healthy and performing exercise for optimum health.

Women, and exercise

On one side, I have seen women who binge – eat just as much as men, and on the other, I have also seen them starving. Neither habit will bring about good results. Some feel they just need to walk, whereas others know that they have to engage in multi-sport discipline to shed their layers of fat. This varies with their goal of what being ‘fit’ actually means for them.

But regardless of what your goal is, ladies, let’s set a few things right:

1. Lifting weights will not make you bulky as long as your carb intake is low.

2. Running is not contra – indicated at any age. Studies have actually shown running to be good for your joints. That being said – one cannot set off to run right away – consult your doctor first, and make use of a fitness trainer or physiotherapist to slowly help you transition from walking to jogging, and then finally to running.

3. There is still a popular fad among women that eating food rich in fats will make one gain weight. Not entirely true. Eating food with good fats (rich in HDL) will NOT make you fat, as long as your diet is low carb and you workout enough to burn those extra calories.

4. As we already discussed, being slim does not necessarily mean being healthy. Irrespective of your figure, you need to workout on a regular basis.

5. There is an alarming increase in incidence of thyroid disorders and PCOD in women. Please recognize the need to being fit and to use multi-sport activity, along with a low carb + high protein diet and therapy by an endocrinologist, to remain fit or to bring back your fitness levels. In such disorders, walking and dieting alone may not be enough.

6. Above all, shed your inhibitions and get moving!

Trichy – to – Rane Engine Valves (& back) Self – Supported 75km Ultra Run

Following my previous stints at Javadhu and Chennai for the ultra and triathlon & swimathon respectively, it was time to move up the ladder and start preparing for a half triathlon (3km swim, 90km cycling and 21km run). 

I don’t know about others, but increasing my running distance always helps me to perform better in longer ‘tri’s. I usually equate 1km of swimming to 8km of running and 1km of running to 3km of cycling. Going by this formula, I came up with the idea to prepare for both the Javadhu Hills 75km ultra as well as the Half Triathlon coming up in the next two months – that is to run 75km and see if I could finish within 11 hours (which was the cut – off at Javadhu).

It was February and we still had time to prepare for both events. I contacted Srikanth(who accompanied me to Javadhu last year)  and Mr. Venkat (a senior finance professional from the IT industry, in his fifties who is a veteran runner) and we set the date for our 75km self – supported ultra run at 25th March 2017.

The three of us had run from Trichy to Tanjore Big Temple (60km) previously, and I was pretty sure crossing that distance wasn’t a problem. It was the remaining 15km that posed the issue. We each took up tasks of getting water, electrolytes, energy gels and bars. I arranged for volunteers (Mani and Deepak) to help, up till 7am following which Mr. Venkat and his brother – in – law arranged for a car to keep our refreshments in.

Two cyclists volunteered to join and one (Shree) wanted to ride ahead to finish 130km, while the other (Yoga Raj) planned to ride by our side.

The preparations were soon over and the big day came. Gopesh came to send us off at 2AM. Our departure from my home was marked with the sound of dogs barking at the six of us as we proceeded to break the stillness of the night with our activity.

These were the landmarks anticipated:

1. Manikandam (8km from home)

2. Boothakudi Toll Plaza (21km)

3. Viralimalai (30 km)

4. Rane Factory (36 km)

5. U turn at 37.5km

6. Return: Rane factory (39 km)

7. Return: Viralimalai (45 km)

8. Return: Toll Plaza (54 km)

9. Return: Manikandam (67 km)

10. Home, sweet home (75 km)

We kept a steady pace of 6’40″s covering 8km or more per hour, me in my Adidas ultra boost, Mr. Venkat in his Asics shoes and Srikanth doing the barefoot – party, with Mani following us flashing his bike’s headlight for us to see ahead and to offer us protection, till we reached the Toll Plaza at 420AM. 

Mr. Venkat had pain in his feet due to shoes being too tight and Srikanth had headache due to lack of sleep, following which both of them slowed down for a while. Deepak soon replaced Mani and came to illuminate the way while offering electrolytes, water and snacks every 3km. Mr. Venkat boldly decided to go barefoot and both of them caught up with me pretty fast by the time we crossed Viralimalai.

The car had arrived by the 36th km and at the 37 & a 1/2 km, we stopped for ice cold water from the thermocol box that Mr. Venkat had thoughtfully arranged to retain the cooling of the water and electrolytes. I glanced at my watch – it was 7 AM – not bad at all, considering we were running 75km that day and we had already finished half of it in 5 hours. I knew the return would not be this easy and tried not to think about it.

I slowed down pretty much immediately after this, and the other two took the lead. The sun, had by now really come up, wishing all of us a hot and dry morning and we were really feeling the heat. We asked for the car to stop at every 2km from then on and we sipped water, ate biscuits, drank cold Gatorade/Tata Glucon with ‘Rrun’ energy gel whenever we needed the kick. 

I caught up with the others and we had soon crossed Viralimalai again, by 830AM and reached the Boothakudi Toll Plaza, marking a total of 54.5km as complete. 

We collapsed on the sidewalk, sipped cold water, ate biscuits and drank electrolytes and were on the move again. Mr. Venkat developed shoulder and rib pain and had to slow down his pace after the 56th km. I attribute the wonderful pace that we kept from half the course up till this point to him and he decided to drop out by the 65th km. I wondered if I would be able to perform the same at his age.

We soon reached Manikandam and with just 8km to go, I was experiencing mixed emotions. My mind was in robot – mode, but my body wasn’t listening to it. A group of kiddies joined us at this point and turned my performance around for the next 3 km of running.

I was in half a mind to drop out at the 70th km, but it was Srikanth who motivated me saying ‘Javadhu’ would be tougher and we had to complete 75km today so we would know if our timing was adequate. 

“Just two more pit stops”, I said to myself as I continued to jog. I kept my mind totally focused on the run , inhaled steadily for three steps , then exhaled while taking the next two steps, managing to surge ahead. Mr Venkat again decided to join us for another 5km to top off his run at 70km.

The last pit stop was a short but welcome break after a steep bridge that really tested my endurance. In five seconds I was out of the car and bolting back on the highway, knowing home was just 1.5 km away. My spurt of energy soon died out though, and I started to walk, waiting for Srikanth to catch up. 

Both of us resumed our run soon and we sprinted the last 100 meters home, to complete 75km in 10 hours and 48 minutes, around ten minutes before the Javadhu – cut – off – time.

I knew I needed to do stretches but my mind was reeling as I continued to sip water from the car. My legs were buckling and I suddenly discovered I wasn’t able to walk. The others had sugarcane juice from a vendor while I retreated upstairs to get a warm bath.

We had seemingly done the impossible – ran a 75km run in the scenario of a hot summer and completed at a fair time. Srikanth and sir had been practising hard but my ankle had just recovered and it was totally by God’s grace that I managed to cover this big distance.

Special thanks to Shree, Yogaraj, Gopesh, Mani , Deepak and Mr. Narasimman (Mr. Venkat’s brother – in -law who drove the car and assisted in hydration). 

I will be seeing you on this blog after July 1st to tell you all about my first half iron triathlon!

15 km CTC Chennai Swimathon 4/3/’17

I felt my right foot miss a step, heard a pop from my bent – over ankle, and experienced a gush of pain that doubled me over. I cursed myself for successfully spraining my ankle just two weeks before Annur Marathon. Now I had no hope of long distance running in the next two months. There was mild swelling and tenderness over the ankle but I was able to bear my bodyweight while walking. Mine seemed to be a grade I ankle sprain.

To help you get a general idea of ankle sprains and how to grade them, here are two illustrative diagrams:

Then came the memory of my friend Ramu’s invite for the CTC’s Swimathon on March 4th. Being a doctor I knew there was a fair chance of swimming by then, if I give my ankle adequate rest, ice and physiotherapy before the said date. But things didn’t go as well as I had planned and the pain from the grade I sprain kept coming back at work whenever I got up and switched places . 

I don’t know what hit me, but as I was looking to register for the swim, I noticed there was a 15km swimming category along with the 5km and 10km categories in the competition and I signed up like a madman on a hunch even though my ankle hurt in certain awkward positions and extended range of motion during plantar flexion. The maximum distance I had covered in a single day during a swim was 7km and that was way back in 2010. This was definitely going to be interesting.

Two weeks went by and I had managed to hit the gym twice a week, walk 10km once a week and had visited the swimming pool twice every week, with mild jogging for a kilometer or so, whenever pain was absent.

The pain slowly withdrew three days before the event and I tapered my activity to be fresh for the swim. Prayers were said, not just by me but my family members as well, because they couldn’t fathom how I could complete such a distance which I hadn’t done during my days as a state level swimmer in 1999 , now, without any practice and that too with a messed – up ankle.

March 3rd: The days flew by and the time had come. I finished my work at my hospital then visited Apollo for a visiting consult before leaving to Chennai by car, with my wife and mom. The venue was the same as the CTC ‘s triathlon (refer previous post) and we checked into Hotel Holiday Inn, which was nearest the venue on OMR road, after dropping my wife at her parents’. I wouldn’t recommend the dinner I had to anyone else preparing for a Swimathon, but I crammed myself because I knew the next day would easily burn off everything I ate in a period of three hours max. So, in went three butter naans, chicken gravy, spicy chicken salad and chicken dosed with pepper and salt, followed by curd rice and mousse. I was worried if I had enough space for my 330 am snack which would determine my actual performance during the swim.

March 4th: 3:30AM

I did manage to get up and swallow two banana oatmeal muffins before sleeping till 430AM, following which I brushed my teeth, washed my face, changed and I was on my way. Mom would join me later at 8AM and Sanju, at 2PM.

Owing to unavoidable circumstances, my friend Ramu who had intimated me about the Swimathon couldn’t make it. I arrived at Ottiyambakkam Open Water Swimming site at 5AM sharp , filled the disclaimer form, had my BIB number (158) written on my arm with permanent marker to help me remember it (we had to shout our number on completing each loop for the officials to keep track of our progress) then located the baggage counter where I undressed to my swim shorts, and donned my swim cap and goggles.

The warm – up session for 15 km, 10km and 5km races started at 550am and we went through the usual exercises to loosen our joints and increase our core body temperature to prepare us for the gruelling event, followed by a group photo.

6AM:

I felt a strange calm envelop me and I told myself I just needed to focus on finishing 15km , within the 10.5 hours cut off time. Nothing else mattered, including placing. There were only 13 participants en toto for the 15km event out of which 5 people downgraded to 10km because they felt they could not complete it. Now, here I was, swimming in a 15km event which hadn’t even been introduced into the Olympics, which in itself is a privilege. All I had to do, was focus on finishing.

6:12AM:

I got into the pond, which was surprisingly refreshing and not freezing. The time had come, and I said a quick prayer asking God to spare me from cramps, which is the worst enemy of all swimmers and to give me energy to complete 15km in one piece. For those who don’t know this small water – body, it’s in Ottiyambakkam, Chennai, around 3km from Navalur on the OMR highway via Agni College.

The pond/lake is 150 meters long and since we had to cover 15km, we needed to finish 100 laps (50 loops)

615AM to 8AM

It was soon 615AM, and the race started. I preserved my strategy of doing mainly the ‘breast – stroke’ to prevent my ankle from getting aggravated, with a few strokes of ‘freestyle/front-crawl’ thrown in to keep up the rhythm and to prevent overload of the muscles used during the breast – stroke. The crowd was huge but aside from a few kicks and punches from other participants, nothing went bad for me. I had soon completed 3.5 km by 8AM and made my first fuel – stop at the 3rd km mark. The volunteers were at the water’s edge with plates and gave us bananas, Electral and ‘kadalai mittai’.

815AM TO 1145 AM:

I was feeling pretty confident when I had crossed 5km and was going strong, when the inevitable happened. I was shouting out my number for the officials when someone from my side kicked my right (injured) ankle. There was a burst of pain – I closed my eyes and floated for a while before slowly proceeding with freestyle. In a minute my ankle felt better and things were back to normal – power of prayer!

I spotted mom at the 6th km, waved to her and proceeded with breaks every 1.5km. I had soon crossed 7.5 km (half the distance) by 1030AM. A much – needed toilet break followed at 1145 AM with mom helping me out of the pond.

A few shots of the event:

(Youngest participant in the 5km race)

(Lifeguard at the other end of the pond)

(Lifeguards from Bay of Life on surfboards watching with an eagle’s eye)

(Volunteers(and sometimes tired participants) hung on to tyres that were tied together through a rope to the other end of the quarry)

1145AM to 2PM:

Following this, I felt very refreshed and zoomed past many who had crossed my distance during the break. By the 10th km, I felt early signs of my body giving in to fatigue.

I continued to follow my fuelling strategy but for every 1.2 km (4 loops) instead of every 1.5km(5 loops). This kept my burning tummy at bay, with adequate refueling via mom’s banana oatmeal and Electral from the volunteers. Bananas had unfortunately run out by then and I had to make do with ‘kadalai mittai’. Both Thomas Habel and Vinolee (two of CTC’s best swimmers) and Mr. Anil Sharma had lapped me several times by then.

There was, by now, a mild stiffness in my left calf, which, as a long -time swimmer, I knew , could be a sign of cramps – to – come. I switched to doing more freestyle and used only half my usual power for kicks.

2PM to 250PM

“5 loops to go!” It was awesome to hear it from the officials but my body was in robot – mode, much like what happens when I spend prolonged time in cataract surgeries – the mind automatically takes control. The tightness in my left calf increased, despite my increased consumption of Electral, and by the 14th km I knew cramps were coming on.

I fuelled one last time, with three loops to go, and increased the power in my arms in as relaxed a state as possible, to compensate for my poor kicking. Saw Sanju and Aunty during the last two loops and waved.

The last loop would probably have seen my best timing, with a finishing touch of 150 meters of freestyle. I breathed out in the water to lower my heart rate, then proceeded to be helped up by a kind volunteer. The time was 250 PM and we had started swimming at 615 AM – a total of 8 hours and 35 minutes.

I sat down, dazed, sun – burnt, partially dehydated, but overjoyed to have clinched the title of ‘Finisher’ of one of the world’s longest distances swam in an official competition.

Peter, the hero of the day and the founder of Chennai trekking Club, came by to give me my medal after starting the 3km event. 

It was a memorable moment for me to meet my role – model, and to pose with the two ladies who have encouraged me to pursue my passions, with special mention to mom who oversaw my nutrition needs during the swim (since the bananas had run out by the 10th km, I would have definitely cramped up earlier if not for her banana oatmeal)

Post – event:

Mom answered worried calls from relatives, assuring them I was indeed safe and sound and had completed the event well within cut – off time. I gobled up ten banana ‘adais'(wheat and sugar thrown in with bananas and cooked), had ‘Tang’ then proceeded with total rest till dinner time. I ate up food to fill my still – ravenous gut during dinner, as expected and slept soundly that night.

The following morning saw us depart from Chennai at 10am and reach Trichy at 330 PM. 

It was an eventful journey – one that I will remember not for my performance but for God’s immense grace and mercy for helping me finish 15km of swimming without even practising a 1km swim in the previous month, due to my ankle.

This is Vinod, signing off, before I meet you on my next adventure.

Chennai Olympic – Category Triathlon

I peered into the last patient’s eye observing his retina, noticing nothing remarkable through the 90 D lens at the slit lamp microscope. Having found no refractive error, muscle imbalances or internal pathology in the eye, I assured him he was fine, referred him to a physician for his headache and asked him to review for regular follow – up. It had been an eventful day with surgeries and 60 plus cases in the out – patient department. Patients done for the day!

Looked up the marathon calendar again – the triathlon sounded promising, but I needed a bike didn’t I? Thanks to my wife who found the Track & Trail cycle store on one of our casual car drives, we got our Montra Trance Pro hybrid. Javadhu Hills 50k run was coming up (read previous story) and I integrated cycling with my regular workouts and runs.

After Javadhu, I totally dedicated my training toward cycling and running, because I knew the ex – state – level – swimmer in me would not need much prodding. Usual mileage during training per week was around 4km of swimming, 150 to 200km of cycling (sometimes 50km or 100km more) and 50km to 70km of running. Visits to the gym, was twice a week, which I reduced as the event drew near.

Having registered for the Olympic (51.5km) triathlon, the least distance of the three options available (the other two being a 112 km event and a 226km event)I felt fairly sure of being in the top ten due to my confidence in swimming, which would give me a decent lead over the rest of the youngsters who craved running and cycling.

The next step was forming an endurance club in Trichy. We were just three – Ramu, Mr. Chidambaram and myself, but we went through the training schedules and diet I had carefully planned and both of them, who had never been in any such events before, soon managed to finish olympic distance within four to five hours during practice times.

14/12/’16 & 15/12/’16

The first day in Chennai was spent at my cousin’s place. But during the second day, Chennai didn’t exactly greet me with open arms. Hotel Centre Point which I had booked via Oyo suddenly declared they had no rooms, and it was after two hours of haggling that we managed to find a nearby lodge with an A/C room. We had arrived in Chennai two days before the event, which we used to locate the local Track and Trail store on OMR, rent a Montra Celtic 2.2 road bike and also practise swimming in open waters at the ottiyambakkam lake.

16/12/’16

It took some patience locating the lake, because of bad GPS following the ‘Vardha’ cyclone leaving Chennai defenceless and barren without trees, electricity and internet. 

And so, after wandering through narrow streets and being chased by dogs, I finally located the lake. Was happy to see Varadha Raja, one of the volunteers of CTC (Chennai Trekking Club) there. 

He encouraged me to take a dip and sure enough there I was relaxing in the cool waters of the pond. Didnt really feel like putting my head into the water yet, but I knew the moment would come when I raced.

My parents arrived one day before the event and we moved into Hotel Holiday Inn Express which was much more comfortable.

Dusk arrived and at 645PM, we went to Agni College of Technology which was 1.5km from the swim venue to collect the bib for next day’s race. The place was packed with people and we managed to get the bibs after submitting the disclaimer form. Sundhari Thevar, Vanathi and a few others were doing an awesome job at distributing the bibs and t-shirts in the most efficient manner possible.

Following this, I went to the lodge, collected my rented cycle and brought it to Holiday Inn. After some difficulty, I also managed to persuade the hotel to keep my rented road bike inside, instead of the parking lot to prevent it from being stolen.

D – day: 17/12/’16

I took out my bike from near the kitchen galley and set out, waving a thanks to the watchman who had agreed to keep the bike inside. A careful and slow ride at 5 AM through the pot-holed roads leading to Ottiyambakkam via Navallur and Agni College of Technology took me to the lake by 545 AM.

The participants of the Full Iron Triathlon were getting ready to start. I proceeded to the bicycle area, inverted my ride and placed it on the ground making sure the handlebars and seat were flat against the ground, with wheels facing the sky (race cycles don’t have stands). I made a mental note of the location of baggage counters too. Soon the photo session was complete and the full and 3/4 iron triathletes stripped to their swim wear and proceeded to the pond.

I looked on in admiration at the huge task of 112km(3/4th iron) and 226 km(full iron) that these guys and girls were willing to face. (Note – to – self: will be in their shoes very soon.) The event started at 6AM and soon the triathletes were doing loops in the pond.
By 730AM, it was time for the Olympic category(51.5km) race. I removed my T-shirt, shorts, shoes and socks, stuffed them in the transition bag, handed it at the baggage counter, donned my swim cap, goggles and ear – plugs and left to the pond, barefoot.

SWIM PHASE (1.5KM): Warm – up session started and all of us assembled in our swim – wear.

Mom arrived by car just before the start. I waved her a hi and got in the pond, wetting myself to let my body get used to the temperature. We were to do 5 loops (10 laps = 1500 metres, aka 1.5km). 

The start was made and soon we were off. The foreigner by my side swam like a fish. Trying to keep up with her and leave the slower ones behind, I forgot to locate an external pointer to see where I was going. This was a drastic mistake and my huge lead went to waste as I had to redirect myself back to the centre. By the time I arrived I was among the first ten, and had to fight my way forward.

At the end of each loop I shouted my number (104!) so that the volunteers could note it down and keep track of how many loops I had done. By the time I finished I had used up quite a lot of energy dodging kicks and punches, veering in and out of slower participants and swallowing pond water twice and praying I wouldn’t fall ill.

Decided to use a spurt of energy and surged ahead finishing within the first three – immediately realised this was a mistake after finishing, when I couldn’t stand up. 

Mom helped me out, while I caught my breath and headed to the baggage counter. There was a major 5 minute delay in finding my bag, but once I had it, I had changed to cycling attire in 3 minutes and I was off.

CYCLING PHASE (40KM): The bike ride was difficult on bad roads that extended to a distance of 5km, because I didn’t know how to change the tyre tube in case of a puncture (God forbid). Fortunately, nothing happened because I was slow on these parts and picked up speed on the highway. During the eight minute transition to cycle, and my slow driving, around ten people had gotten ahead of me. A smile appeared on my face when I reached Navallur – time to show everyone how a guy who trained on a hybrid and is relatively well versed with a road bike has an immense advantage over those who trained only with road bikes. I was soon hitting average speeds of 30kmph and overtaking auto-rickshaws and mopeds. At around 3km to the U turn, saw the first four participants returning. Everything was going fine until after a refreshment point at Thiruporur and a U – turn later, when we faced headwinds. 

Fortunately my training on my hybrid helped me to easily keep my average speed at 24 kmph till Navallur. The bad roads came up again, and I attacked them with a little more vigour because the end was near. The finish point came up 500 m from Agni College and I raced in. Looks like I had finished bike stretch in what appeared to be less than 1h 42 mins. 

I didn’t have to change into running gear because I already had everything I needed, and I was off.

RUN PHASE (10KM): The run was terribly exhausting in spite of all the practice due to the hot sun and the humidity of Chennai which drained us of all electrolytes and water. 

Four people did get ahead of me in the first 5km including my friend Anirudh Pandya, who works at Pro Health Foundation, Tanjore. Notice me behind them trying to catch up with two of them in the picture below. I soon overtook them.

It was in the next loop that I felt like I was running with 2kg dumbbells attached to my legs. The sun was just too hot. I did manage to overtake one more foreigner who was more dehydrated than I was. Giving her a thumbs up sign, I kept surging forward. Was almost chased by some mean dogs at the 7th kilometer, but I think they realised I was no fun because I looked exhausted. This was soon followed by a refreshment point, where I helped myself to electrolytes, water and a piece of banana with salt.
I did try to keep the pace till the 9th km. Ran and walked the last km finishing the 10k in 62 minutes with a total time of 3 hours 36 minutes including transitions. 

Mom was waiting excited at the finish line and said it looked like I was third. I knew there were two more batches who were performing out there and I knew there would be someone better than me in them. I had given it my all and was definitely in the top ten, out of 500 participants – all glory to God! 

Finisher – medal – photos followed and after hydrating myself with 3 litres of water and ‘Tang’ , we placed my bike in the car, located my transition bag and left with joyous memories.

Proud of my mates who trained with me – that’s Mr. Chidambaram who finished in 4 hours

 and Ramu Angappan who finished in five hours. 

Both of them bore with my strict schedules before the race, and finished well within cut off time.
Special thanks to my mom who made it to the venue and my wife who were key factors in encouraging me and uplifting me during my training. 

Both these guys were lucky enough to get a click with my role model – Peter! He is the founder of CTC and a pioneer in health& fitness and environmental betterment. Thanks for being an inspiration to the youth, Peter and congrats on conducting India’s first Full Iron Triathlon!

Kudos to the full iron finishers, who completed their race (3.9 km swim, 180km cycling and 42km running) by 10pm, with special mention to my friends Ahmed Hanifa, Vipul Kumar, Thomas Habel, Nandini Sharma, Vinolee Ramalingam, Akriti Verma and others who I may have forgotten. You guys are my inspiration!

Here are the results for my 51.5k category. Think I’m in 6th place:

http://www.chennaitrekkers.org/2016/12/chennai-iron-triathlon-dec-17-olympic.html?m=1
Next target – full iron? Or maybe just 3/4th iron? Depends on how well I progress in my training!

What is TRUE EYE CARE?

With the rise of modern equipment and  newer innovations in the mobile and computer world, eye care was left struggling to keep up ten years ago. But with the advent of femto, and further evolution of lenses, optics has taken eye care to the next level.

Now, with the craze of 20/20 aka 6/6 and ophthalmologists striving to keep abreast with high expectations from the public, the actual concept of health care and delivery of the same seems to be fast vanishing from the field.

To add further fuel to the fire, corporate health care is ruled by ‘targets’ forced upon doctors from the administration demanding more investigations and surgeries to be advised from the ophthalmologist’s side.

Amidst all the ruckus, can we really reach out toward true patient satisfaction? I have seen quite a number of smiles from patients with post operative vision of 6/12 and numerous complaints from those with a perfect 6/6 toward which I’m sure my colleagues will corroborate.

6/6 DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN HAPPINESS.

Here are some very simple ways to ensure patient – satisfaction:

1. USE A KIND TONE OF VOICE: most patients other than those with refractive errors, belong to the geriatric or senile age group. They usually yearn for attention, which sometimes their own relatives fail to provide. Befriending them, will give you a huge advantage in the treatment aspect, because faith in the doctor is the first step to a full cure.

2. BE PATIENT TOWARD PATIENTS: You may be late for an appointment, but just waving away the patient’s complaints and writing a prescription will not set you a positive impact. If you are running late, politely ask the patient whether he/she could come back later for further investigation.

3. ALL YOUR PATIENTS ARE V.I.Ps: a very simple and efficient point to follow if you want your patients to spread good word of mouth about your services. If you would not advise unnecessary investigations, medications or pose any surgical risks on your mother, then the same goes for your patients.

4. BE HUMBLE WHEN GIVING THE GIFT OF SIGHT: Vision has become a very underrated gift during these days, and one method to change this way of thinking is to personally remove eye dressing after surgery, instead of relying on paramedical staff or juniors to do the same. You operated on the patient – so make sure that you give him/her the gift by removing the eye pad yourself.

5. TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED: as doctors we are not immune to illness and need to visit other specialists for general health care. We need to treat our patients just as we expect other doctors to treat us.

From the moment a patient steps inside, imagine how your actions and words look like to him/her. Going by this rule greatly improves patient care two or three – folds.

6. KNOW WHEN TO PAMPER AND WHEN TO BE FIRM: There are situations when the patient needs to be consoled and reassured, and others when you have to put your foot down, to ensure success of treatment.

For instance, pampering a patient who did not use his anti glaucoma medication  properly (however important he may be) and being strict toward a poor patient presenting with pain & tenderness are both roads to disaster.

7. SATISFACTION OF THE HEART: Work for the joy of working rather than for the joy of money, fame or power. The day you realise patient care is more important than the no. of patients or tests done, is the day you will truly relish success.

This by far, is the best way to improve your practice and stay far ahead of everyone else in the line.

#ophthalmology #cataract #eyecare #patient #healthcare #surgery #femto #patientcare #ophthalmologist #giftofsight

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The Fiat Abarth Punto – Budget Sports Car?

I was skeptical while I watched my beloved Maruti Ritz drive away. The Fiat Abarth Punto that was to replace my Maruti would arrive within the next two days, thanks to an amazing exchange offer from Fiat CAI, Coimbatore. The Punto Abarth, being the car that it is, is not available at all Fiat outlets.

Moving to flashback mode:

Rewinding to one week back: Hailing from Trichy, Tamilnadu, India, I watched out for the Punto Abarth at Fiat showrooms for three successive months, then visited ashowroom personally, only to be told that it might not arrive in Trichy. The next step? A call to Coimbatore from one of the Fiat representatives in Trichy, helped me to take the next step to book the car from 200 plus kilometers away. For all those who do not know what ‘Abarth’ is, it is the same for Fiat, as ‘AMG’ is, for ‘Mercedes’.  In other words, ‘Abarth’ is the performance division of Fiat. The test drive vehicle soon arrived – it was white, with red stripes, not my favourite combo of colours, but all that took a backseat when I drove it – the result of which, made me finalize my decision to part with my Ritz.

 

Fast – forward to present time: though I continue to harbour fond memories of my smooth Maruti Ritz, the Fiat Abarth Punto has now definitely taken the main rank.

THE EXTERIOR:

In shining black armor, with red stripes, with scorpion logos on the roof, alloy wheels and abarth badges, the car exudes Italian taste and design, which is literally mouth – watering for car enthusiasts who spend a huge chunk of their wallets modifying their cars to look this way, after getting bored of their stock versions.

The alloy wheels sport 195/55 R16 tyres, which may be disappointing for enthusiasts who like wider tyres. Research and feedback from the staff at Fiat reveal safe exchange for 205 section tyres, for the same alloys. So, if you own an Abarth or a plain Punto, you now know what is safe for these alloys to work. What may spoil the ‘race – car – appeal’ is the massive gap in the wheel arches. Though the ride height has been dropped by a huge 30mm to 155mm its’ a real shame because there’s still too much blank space above the tyres. Its’ better in a way though, because reducing it further would make the underbody vulnerable on Indian roads.

The lights on the bumpers, with surrounding red stripes look elegant and pronounces the presence of the already sporty car. The exhaust pipe, sticks out a little bit, and may be a negative for some, though I really don’t care much for it.

Brands such as Fiat, Ford and Volkswagen celebrate the solidity of their cars, and the Abarth Punto lives up to the reputation. After being used to Marutis, the doors feel as heavy as a battle tank’s. The reassuring thud on closing the doors, and the warning when not closing them properly, further ensure you have a safe drive.

 

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THE ENGINE:

The  4 cylinder, twin-cam 1.4-litre engine has a turbo mashed into it to elevate… the ummm… glamour. With a peak power of 145 PS and 212Nm of peak torque, it is definitely engines like these that shows us what the ‘Fiat’ legacy is truly capable of producing.

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THE INTERIORS:

The inside of the beast, is very much that of the humble 90 bhp Punto Evo, except for a few tweaks. The clocks in yellow, lightweight racing pedals, the Abarth logo on the steering wheel are good additions. It would have been awesome to have slightly sportier seats with a more prominent stitch and an embroidered Abarth logo to make this cabin look complete. You get similar creature comfort levels as the Punto Evo. You get air bags for both driver and for those riding shotgun.

The stereo system from Fiat is pretty good, with Bluetooth and USB functionality. Reverse parking sensors are available from Fiat, and can be installed safely. But if you are looking for rear – view cameras and electronically adjustable wing mirrors, you are out of luck.

The seating is a bit awkward, with a steering that doesn’t adjust for reach, and shifting the seat forward to get better accessibility to the pedals, may end up getting the steering in your face. It takes a few days to get the seating position in an ideal manner for long – term comfort, which may be irksome for few.

The dash is pretty cool, with regular info on distance covered, average fuel consumed per 100 kmph, etc. Steering has audio controls and features for Bluetooth connectivity to attend phone calls via the car’s audio system.

The rear seats are decent with adequate leg room, but could have done superbly with airbags.

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The boot sports a capacity of 280 L, which is higher than the Maruti Ritz’s capacity of 236 L and the Maruti Swift’s hilarious 204 L. This car also comes with foldable rear seats to accommodate more luggage, just as with the Marutis.

Maruti, Honda and Hyundai users may be disappointed with the lesser no. of cubbyholes and practical utilities in the cockpit. But then, bear in mind, if you are thinking of buying this car, you have to get rid of the ‘practical mindset’. This car is purely for the enthusiast, and not for people who like driving fancy cars with gadgets at a budget rate.

THE DRIVE:

But forget all that. We all know why you are reading this article. How does the beast ride? How does it fare on the road? Does it perform like a budget sports car, or just like a fast peppy car that ‘economical’ brands build?

The key, offers facilities for central locking, unlocking and also for opening the boot. For someone who had a humble Ritz, the key looks pretty stylish to me, especially with the cute Abarth logo on it.

I start the engine, and am surprised, though not totally disappointed with the refined note, rather than the expected roar from a 145 bhp beast. Most racers would complain sorely about this, but I personally prefer riding in a car that will surprise others with its performance, rather than the noise from the engine. You know the proverb – “Empty vessels, make more..” – you get the drift.

The transmission, is thankfully manual, and responds well, but feels a bit rubbery with longer throws, to which one can get adapted with time.

The car moves forward pretty quickly in first gear, and for those who are used to slower hatchbacks, this may be a disadvantage when driving in traffic. Exercise caution – keep your foot readily hovering near the brake pedal. Slot the car into second gear, and you can sense mild turbo lag up to 1800 rpm, after which it rockets forward, putting all other hatchbacks within the 10 lakh range to shame.

Though Fiat claims an 8.8 second climb to 100 kmph from 0, my drives so far have best produced a decent 9.45 second ascent, to the peak, which is the best among all the budget hatchbacks at present. The Apollo Alnac tyres hold surprisingly well, with front wheels scrabbling to put all the power and torque down. If you are going to be drag racing, do not be overwhelmed when you hear the tyres screeching for grip, when you take off from a standstill on the runway!

The short, lower gears offer no let – up in power, thanks to the well spinning turbo. The 6,500rpm rev limit comes up in no time and each upshift placed correctly, takes you to powerband nirvana. The car easily touches 170 kmph on highways with relatively less traffic.

The steering is nothing short of amazing. From the moment you grip the wheel, you know you are in safe hands – as long as you keep your presence of mind, and concentrate on driving! The absence of traction control, puts the car entirely at the driver’s hands – this is not at all worrying, since the car grips the road well, and takes each turn with grace and precision, without giving any feel of insecurity. Though there is a bit of under – steer due to the massive amount of torque, this can be avoided by braking early, lowering the power while approaching the turn, then accelerating through it, while gripping the corner. Following the above tip, will give you excellent results, especially in winding ghat roads.

The brakes are absolutely smashing, and even bring the car to  a safe standstill from speeds as high as 140 kmph.

MILEAGE: If you are thinking of buying any hot hatch, you should probably ignore this factor. BUT, the Abarth performs surprisingly well, delivering as much as 11 to 13 kmpL. This is possible, because the car can potter around at 40 kmph even in fourth gear, and shifting to fifth gear for extended 50 kmph drives gives even better results.

PRICING & SPECS:

The car costs RS. 10 lakhs plus, on road and is available only as a singular model with petrol version.

Engine

Fuel Petrol
Installation Front, transverse
Type 4-cyl, in-line, 1368cc DOHC turbo-petrol
Power 143bhp at 5500 rpm
Torque 21.57kgm at 2000-4000rpm

Transmission

Type Front wheel-drive
Gearbox 5-speed manual

Dimensions

Length 3989 mm
Width 1687 mm
Height 1505 mm
Wheel base 2510 mm
Ground clearance 155 mm

Chassis & Body

Construction Four door hatchback, monocoque
Wheels 16-inch alloy
Tyres 195/55 R16

Suspension

Front Independent, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Rear torsion beam, stabilizer bar

Brakes

Front Disc
Rear Disc
Anti-lock Yes

CONCLUSION: This car is definitely a sportscar, well within the budget range. Those who say that its’ too expensive for a hatchback, probably have not driven it.

WHO IS THIS CAR FOR?

  • THE DRIVING ENTHUSIAST
  • Those who want to compete with the likes of BMWs and Audis, but are cut off by a budget of 20 lakhs
  • Those who earn enough money to pay for petrol three or four times a month, without needing to own a fuel bunk.
  • Those who are interested more in driving than additional car gadgets and accessories.
  • Those who look for adrenaline rather than practicality.

Quest Leh & Ladakh – Days 4 & 5 – MARATHON TIME – The Grand Finale

Day 4 came, and with, intense laziness at 5 AM,. I sat down, and contemplated my condition. I had gained 8 kg after my iliacus muscle tear, I was to run in an area which was 15000 feet above sea level, and to make things adventurous I was already a known patient of allergic bronchitis. I knew I had a capsule of acetazolamide last night, but I just took another in the morning for extra measure, reminding myself that I had to stay hydrated, or the medication would definitely cause severe cramps. I packed my steroid tablets as preventive measure against cerebral involvement in mountain sickness praying that I would not need to use them. My asthma puff was a life – saver, and I kept it in my pocket immediately.

We got ready, then headed down to the car by 545 AM, to take us to the starting point of the marathon. Unfortunately, they started turning away cars half way through, and I sent Sanju back with the car, while I walked in my tshirt, shorts and thermal wear, complete with beanie and marathon bib (which I had gotten at the end of day two from Rimo Travels, who were the organizers of the event).

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The chill was not as bad as I expected, and I walked briskly to the start point. Here was a grueling one hour wait, during which I was forced to kneel down after decades by the military who did this as a measure of preventing people from pushing forward to initiate the start of the marathon! When I guessed this was going to happen a second time, I slipped out of the crowd and headed back to a peaceful area, till the marathon started.

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The chill was penetrating to the bone, but with some brisk warm – ups and dynamic stretches, I trained my body to get used to the jarring cold. Soon the race started, and everyone were on their way.

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The first notable scene we passed was this:

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By this time four km were up, and things were actually looking easy. No sooner had I thought this, than I experienced a tugging feeling in my ankle. The extra ‘diamox’ had prevented me from getting sick, but was interfering with my muscles! Realizing I had better be careful, I hydrated myself well with gatorade at the refreshment point (this was one of them, and there were one for every three km)

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After crossing six km, I started using my inhaler for periodic puffs, and by 8 km, I had slowed down from 8kmph to a speed of 7 kmph. After I crossed the ten km mark, I stopped feeling ashamed of myself and settled for a brisk walk of 6 kmph, still managing to cross a few people and kids who had stopped running and were panting with their hands on their knees. Here were a few wonderful sights I crossed

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The last 7 km were perhaps the most grueling I had ever experienced in my life – it was a steep uphill road, and almost all the participants had resorted to walking. I realized if I kept this up, I had every chance of collapsing, even though I didn’t feel like it right then. I hailed the ever present ambulance, and used the oxygen mask twice, taking time to recuperate before beginning to walk again (Thank God for giving me this knowledge as a doctor, instead of blindly plunging on ahead like the others). Sanju, by this time, was at the finish line waiting for me and had taken the following awesome pictures:

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I managed to keep up the pace, and pushed my calves, practically pumping my rubbery legs to move forward at the last fifty meters. The result was a rather feeble jog and I ended up finishing in 3 hours and 22 minutes, which was almost half the time extra compared to my previous half marathons which I had completed before my muscle tear. I settled for the accomplishment of completing this event at the world’s highest rooftop (Leh). The award distribution function had its own perks, but after such a nerve and muscle wracking race, all I could think of was rest, rest and more rest. I took some more oxygen from the resting area, then Sanju & I took a ride back to our hotel, courtesy of Sonam. We slept after a meal from the restaurant, then took a walk, following which we rejoiced in our room after collecting the participation certificate and the medal from Rimo Travels.

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The event was finally over! I sipped on my tea, thinking of our last day at Leh the next day. Our dinner was awesome as usual before hitting the sheets.

Day FIVE:
We used this day to relax before starting our hard journey back. We used the morning to take a walk to town, where I bought an awesome soldier outfit, and a few more souvenirs from Tibetan refugee markets before having lunch.

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Deciding to try something different, we had lunch at a German bakery with restaurant attached right next to our Hotel Omasila. The soup was out of this world, but the steak was rather rubbery. All – in – all, it was a good experience, and we returned happily to our hotel.

And as always, all good things have to come to an end. With sad feelings, but happy memories, we started back to Delhi on day six. After a four hour wait, we got our flight to Bangalore, where our taxi was waiting. Salem invited us with open arms, and we embraced it, with so many wonderful memories of a beautiful, exciting, tiring, but also a mentally relaxing trip.