The Art and the Artist

Are you not entertained?

Screams Maximus (played brilliantly by Russel Crowe) in the movie “Gladiator” after singlehandedly taking down a horde of warriors in the colosseum. The question belies the rage, the frustration and the sadness the character feels and the audience ignorantly goes on to cheer his achievements and gives him a standing ovation. At that moment, as the camera pans across his face Maximus you can see that Maximus is not elated at the reception but is rather exasperated. The cinematography brilliantly conveys the  disconnect between the warrior and the crowd to the viewer without the need for words. Every time i see somebody perform in front of the crowd my mind juxtaposes this image. Do we really understand the message the artist is trying to convey or do we blindly seek to validate our selfish interests?

We the people, have an insatiable yearning for action, humor and drama. The earliest documented form of theater is from the 5th century! Even today, office gossip gets more interest than news from across the world. It is the general need to consume drama that drives us to the movies, concerts, shows, and stadiums. The movie industry is mostly designed with commercial interests in mind. Bar a few, most films adopt a cinematic formula that is guaranteed to attract crowds and also serves as an vehicle to soothe egos of the lead actors. While i am not against these blockbusters, I find it difficult to empathize with such characters and films and hence don’t connect with it at any personal level.

While you kind of know what you are getting into with concerts, movies and shows,  sports somehow manages to hold its own with an enhanced capability to thrill, motivate and inspire. So we pick and choose teams that binds us and glorify athletes who succeed and vilify those who don’t. We tend to equate their success to ours, but we tend to see their failures as a let down of sorts. Sachin Tendulkar who received a guard of honor after the 2011 World cup final at the Wankhede was also infamously booed at the same ground. Novak Djokovic has 18 Grand Slam Titles in Tennis, has won the Australian Open 9 times and yet has a love hate relationship with the crowd. Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Michael Schumacher Lewis Hamilton, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Allison Felix, Usain Bolt, Eliud Kipchoge, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Yelena Isinbayeva  all have records that will probably stand the test of time yet don’t get the same adulation from across the world. Surely, their achievements deserve universal praise and respect, yet many of us have resorted to petty insults and tend to demean their efforts. Why are we unable to celebrate their successes and why are we drawn into mindless GOAT debates?

I am at times awestruck by the work of these masters and blown away by the level of skill that they exhibit.  I kind of visualize sports as this 3-d canvas and the athletes as artists who are at liberty to use the canvas as they see fit, but being bounded by the rules of the game itself. The more complex the rules, the greater the skills the athlete must have to navigate the levels of the game. I think it is only fair to state that their achievements transcend the realm of entertainment. For example, tennis is not about whacking the ball as hard as you can with a mindless rage, it is much more than that. The game of tennis can make you engage in 4 dimensions. You need to be able to move anywhere in the court, judge the height of the ball and also judge where the ball is going to be over time. Even the great Kobe Bryant was made to look flat footed in a tennis court. Nadal’s artistry to make the ball bend over space and time, Federer’s ability to paint the lines at will, Djokovic’s will power to send the ball back, and Serena’s power and accuracy are all testaments to their superlative skills.

Perhaps seeing them as a fellow humans who are able to push barriers is the first step in recognizing their greatness. So, i hope that we let go of our selfish need to be entertained and instead soak in the skill, and the brilliant artistry of these legends.

P.S Over time i have found that i do tend to disagree with some of the personal choices of the athletes and do understand the difference between their art and their lives. Can you be a fan of their art and not the artist? or does you being a fan of their art enable them to push their personal choices to a larger audience.

Progress

My last post on running was on March 2018. That was over two years ago! I would hate for anyone to think that i had given up on my goal to run a half marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Since that original post, Eluid Kipchoge has ran the full marathon (twice the distance) in under 2 hours. That goal does seem pretty trivial right, but 3 years later I do know now for sure that i am not a speed devil. I am not one of those runners, who can lace up and run a flat out 6-7 minute mile. I now also know enough to not even bother about comparing the times with the Olympic marathoners. It is ridiculous that they can sustain a 4 and a 1/2 minute pace for 26.2 miles. I can only be amazed at the elites achievements and have learned to live in peace with what i can do. I have run 3 more half marathons and my fastest one so far has been clocked at 2.29 (20 minutes off the first one, 15 more minutes to go to get to goal target #1). I do not get to play tennis as much as i used to, but I do seem to have developed an obsessive relationship with the art of running by itself.

Now, that i have found peace with my pace range, the goal has been more to improve the running economy. if that helps in making me faster, then so be it. The Nike Run Club app does offer a wide variety of programs that help help you improve as a runner. The Nike run club partners with the Nike training app (* all of their premium workouts are made available for free now) and enables workouts to build endurance and strength. All of the elite and professional runners incorporate a strong strength training routing in their program to stay healthy and fit. Consider this, when i was training for my half marathon i would need about 2 hours of running to get to 10 miles. That meant that me as a slower runner needed to spend more time on the road to get better! The more time i spent running, the more i needed to adapt my body for the grueling workouts. This little change has effectively made wonders to how i feel in general. The weeks i run more, i seem to work harder, read more and even write more.

I love signing up for the races. I look to sign up for races that are either for a cause that i care or if i feel like wanting to be a part of a large carnival. Most amateur runners go out there to either have fun but there are many who are out there to prove a point to themselves. They are not in the race to win it, but to see the sheer enthusiasm with which they go about their business is infectious. I greatly admire the folks who are striving to get better day in and out. The only goal that i set myself for races is to try to do better than the last race and somehow i have managed to do that. I have taken time off every race i have ever done and so i can claim that i have PR’d every race. I always feel like i have earned that drink of cold beer after the race.

The most important thing that makes the difference is Diet. Just because you run 3 miles every day does not mean that you are becoming healthy or you look like a cross fit athlete. Diet place such a huge factor in how you exercise. I have noticed that the runs on days following heavy food (biryani, burgers etc.) are always difficult. Runs are also difficult when i feel empty. I guess the answer lies in moderation. But in general, i don’t know if this is a testament to the increasing age i have looked to reduce processed food. There quite a lot of documentaries on how food affects health these days. I am not completely sold on the idea of going completely vegetarian (la Forks overs Knives) but have definitely made a more conscious effort to get in more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts.

The table below shows the activities and miles logged for each year ever since i started running. Every year i have logged more miles than the previous year, and small but noticeable improvements can be seen in key running metrics like Speed, Cadence and heart rate. Practice apparently will make things move towards perfection. I guess the moral of the story is to not give up and continue to push forward.

Time PeriodActivities
Total Distance (miles)Total Activity (hrs)Avg. Speed (mph)Avg. Heart Rate (bpm)Avg. Cadence (spm)
2020 *57208.1640:24:17
5.2165164
2019137440.9786:18:27
5.1165165
2018115379.9577:23:47
4.9165160
201780208.0242:30:14
4.9175158
201664165.5136:19:10
4.6165152

To progress, i will drink to that today!

 

Half Marathon – Finisher

I finished the Half Marathon. March 3rd i join the rank of runners who have successfully completed a half-marathon. I finished the race in 2 hours and 47 minutes. Agreed, the last few miles were the hardest. There were moments when i just wanted to stop and go home. The pace i was running did not make it a physical challenge, but the monotonous nature of the activity was getting on my nerves towards the end. The volunteers and the crowd along the Woodlands roads were doing the best to cheer people along.

I wanted to finish the race no matter what and i had planned to run the race conservatively. I expected myself to let go towards the end, but in reality fear of not succeeding kept holding me back and i pretty much finished the race in the pace i started. I know i was not the last in my age group but i do know that i am in the bottom 10th %. The cramps disappeared after a banana and some juice.

A day later, my body has completely adjusted and i feel that i did not push my body enough during the race. I do actually feel bad that i did not finish faster. Anyways, this experience is already making me rethink my fitness goals.

Someday, i don’t know when. I will run a 10K in 60 minutes and also look to run a Half in 2.15. Rest now.

 

Getting on Track

Three years after I started playing tennis, I noticed that my shot making skills had improved yet my fitness levels remained the same. I would start getting tired towards the end of the first hour and then get progressively worse with each passing second. I blamed the heat, the lack of food, too much food and even my desk job for not being able to outlast my training sessions. I do hit the gym once in a while and do about 20 minutes of cardio and another 20-30 minutes of random strength/weight training. I have a BMI of 22 and i can still fit in pant from my college days, these trivial reasons made me believe that I was fit enough. It took a few more rubbish sessions and a fitness assessment to make me realize that I lacked endurance and my mental focus was absolutely ridiculous when under duress. The fitness assessment report was not very flattering, most of my “numbers” were in the slightly above or average category. My blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat percentage, strength test result numbers looked shaky for the most part.

I am not a competitive person, but I do like to believe that i like to do a thorough job. i was not honestly impressed by my numbers and i did want to know ways to improve them as well. Running I was told was the best way to improve, so I decided to put myself up to it. I signed up for a race as an incentive to train. The 20 minutes of cardio that I used to do in the gym did include running on a treadmill, so I was not exactly worried about completing a 5K race. The first few days felt good, I was so excited about the prospect of winning the race that I ran every other day. I finished my first 5K in 34 minutes and was in the 30th percentile. The guy who won the race did it in 15 minutes. While I was happy that I finished, the finish time bothered me. I signed up for another race and trained even harder. I took off a few more seconds from my finish time and somewhere along the lines I fell in love with running. I enjoyed the activity so much that tennis became my second interest.

I stopped worrying about the finish times, I ran for the feel. I ran along parks, sidewalks, asphalt roads, dirt trails and boy did i feel good. It was very different from running on the treadmill, the scenery, the broken pavements, twigs, lizards on the sidewalk all somehow contrive to help you move. I started to work on a breathing pattern, I would take breath in for a two count step and breathe out for a two count step. I started to work on exercises to improve my stride length, and cadence. At the end of my first year I had run 180 miles, finished 3 5k and 2 10K road races. I only lost two pounds from the last year, but i did lose 5% body fat, and my tennis sessions no longer seem to be brutal anymore. I ran a 5K in 30.31 minutes, a 10 K in 72 minutes. I know these numbers are not great and I am still so far away from the winner but now I have edged myself to the 50th percentile.
So if you are like me and want to get started on running here are a few lessons that I picked up along the way

  • Wear the right clothes, do not wear tight/loose fitting clothes, do not wear cotton, wear dri-fit shirts that fit. Ill fitting clothes cause chaffing, will make you hate running.
  • Buy a pair of running shoes, a good running shoe will provide comfort, cushion and prevent injuries so get to a shop that watches your foot strike and get you shoe-fitted.
  • Hydrate – Running is hard on your body. Drink water and hydrate yourself before and after every run.
  • Fuel – Like I said before running is hard on your body, if you do not provide your body with the necessary food, your body will break down. Choose food that is a combination of high fiber (greens), with high protein (lentils, beans, meat, dairy). Carbohydrates are essential but do limit the amount of rice and bread you take. Try to avoid processed food and reduce sugar intake. Remember Nuts, Fruits and vegetables are your best friends.
  • Breathe – Sounds silly, but remember to breathe through your nose. Taking in air through the mouth will cause bloating and well gastrointestinal difficulties.
  • Effort – Watch for the effort that you are putting while you train. If you have difficulty breathing or if you feel discomfort at any level the please stop. A reasonable indicator of effort is if to try talking sentences without gasping while running. If you can then the effort level is good, if not try to slow it down a touch.
    • Warm up and Cool Down – Every run should be preceded by a warm up and finish with a cool down
      • Chris Henshaw warm up – Best warm up routine out there.
      • Cool down stretches, walk until your HR is low, or until you can talk without difficulty
      • Foam rolling is another great way of relaxing your muscles.
  • Alternate – Running is a very mechanical activity, once you get your posture and technique right you end up exercising the same muscles over and over again. Do something else like strength training, swimming or play a sport like tennis, basket ball that exercises other parts of your body.
  • Rest – The value of rest is often overlooked. The body needs time to recover from a run. Over training or over working will not help you in any way.

Go ahead tie your boots and get on a track and run see if it makes you any wiser and stronger. Either way If you pass me on the road I will say this to you Good day!.

Tennis Racquets

Tennis has been a sport that I have watched for long, yet surprisingly I had only attempted to play the game twice in 28 years. Yet in the last few years tennis has become a favorite hobby. Here is a list of pointers to help you choose a racquet and get started on this wonderful game. The first racquet that I ever got was from a sports store in Chennai, I picked the racquet based on the color and the price range. If you ever want to play the game seriously I can tell you from experience that this approach is not going to get you far. Picking up an expensive racquets is not probably going to help you a lot as well. It also does not help that the racquets come in all forms, shapes and price ranges.

Tennis racquets are broadly categorized into Power based, Control based or Tweeners (combination of both). The racquet is ideally an extension of your arm and it has to complement your playing style and strengths. A fairly good indicator of your game style is as how you approach sports (cricket, badminton,etc). If your plan is to beat the opponent into submission then you will be better served by racquet that allows for powerful strokes, whereas if your game plan is to wear your opponent with well crafted points then you are more likely to perform better with a control oriented racquet. If you think that you are a bit of both styles then I would recommend a tweener stick. Note control based racquest will have lesser power and power based racquest will have less control.

Understanding the following technical specifications will also help you pick the right stick.

  • Head Size
  • Balance
  • Length
  • Weight
  • Swing weight
  • Stiffness
  • String Tension
  • String Pattern

There have been papers written about each of these parameters and how they affect performance, but I believe that we can cover another day. Today let us look at how these parameters affect the racquets.

Head Size: Racquet’s are categorized as standard, mid-plus and over sized. The smaller the head size the better the racquet control, but it is less forgiving as well as the sweet spot is smaller. The over sized racquet’s are ideal for beginners as you have a larger sweet spot. Most racquet’s today are mid-plus (100 Sq)
Weight/Balance/Stiffness: Control oriented racquest are generally on the heavier side, are more balanced, less stiff and offer more swing weight. This allows the player to have really big swings and ensures that the ball does not fly off the court. Power based racquets are the opposite and these expect players to take low Note most advanced players prefer low power racquets. Tweener racquets are slightly stiffer, are not very heavy and allows the players to take medium – fast swings.
String Pattern: Denser string patterns offer more contact points and hence more control.
String Tension: String tension is yet another parameter that helps the racquet perform better. General rule of the thumb is lesser the tension more the power and therefore less control. Each racquet has a recommended tension range and can be strung at the preferred tension to get optimal results.

The following table compares three racquets and their specifications.

Racquet Level Category Unstrung Weight (g) Head size (sq in) tension (lbs) string pattern head balance Stiffness
Head Prestige MP Adanced Control 320 98 53 18 X 20 -12 64
Dunlop Aerogel 4d5 Fifty Beginner Power 270 100 60 16 x 19 4 70
Babolat AeroPro Drive Intermediate Tweener 300 100 53 16 x 19 -7 68

Hope this overview has provided you with sufficient insights to go into the store, demo out a few racquest and pick the one that suits your game the most.

Until the next one, see ya.