Monthly Archives: August 2014

Blood Brothers – Sword and Soldier

Veerbadrasana – The Warrior Pose!

Pakistan celebrates its independence day one day prior to India celebrating hers. Countless lives were lost prior to that day in 1947 and in the decades that followed; men lost touch with what truly makes us happy in the long run and behaved in senseless ways – repeatedly.

One afternoon, a year ago, when my daughter was 11, she wrote this short piece below. When I asked her today why she wrote it, she said it was “to [a] make an attempt at writing an autobiography of an inanimate object and [b] to visualize an intense activity like a battle“.

When I read it, my interpretation is not just of a real life battlefield – most of us will never have to witness something that really is one.

I like to think of the sword here as being any tool that I might use for self-improvement. A stopwatch for my runs, Kevlar lined tyres on my bicycle, a yoga mat, a new compiler for computer code I might write. The battle is against myself, my current self. The victorious soldier and bearer of the sword, Alex, is also myself – my future self. There continues to be respect for what I was.  Humility develops through struggle against oneself. There is a continuum between the old self and the new self – a link through both time and stages of improvement.

(Here’s the original piece – the only change I made to what she wrote was the addition of a comma that I thought was missing.)

Blood Brothers – Sword and Soldier

          Another second passes, another life taken, and blood covers my beautifully crafted gold blade. My bearer, Alex, the bravest of the brave, breathes wearily and sighs. Then he heaves me out of our victim’s warm flesh and wipes my blade on his already blood-splattered sleeve which is the only part of his torso not covered with gold armour. He looks at our victim and bows down with respect for his opponent’s bravery.

 

          A fleeting second later a silver sword hurtles down upon him from nowhere and he jumps up to parry the blow. I spring into action for what seems like the millionth time and clash with the silver sword. As soon as I feel the blade I realize it would be only too easy to shatter the silver blade if hit at the right spot. When the warrior raises his sword once more I quickly analyze the blade’s weak spot and position myself. I dodge the blow and bring myself down on the silver sword right near the hilt. Instantly the blade shatters and the soldier is left unarmed. Or so we think. The warrior grabs a silver knife instead of retreating and runs towards us in a frenzy of grief and rage. I block all his wild blows and deflect all his blasts. Then for a split second he hesitates to take a breath and I see my golden opportunity. I hurl myself at him and pin him to the ground. Then Alex clamps his eyes shut and brings me down swiftly. I pierce through the soldier’s armour and embed myself deep in his heart. He gives one last gasp of pain and lies still. Blood oozes out and covers me yet again.

          Suddenly one more sound cuts clearly through the clamour of battle – a conch signaling victory for us, soldiers of the kingdom of Aurum, gold. A cacophony of wails of sorrow, grief and despair from our enemy, soldiers of the kingdom of Argentum, silver. Alex’s kin, however, raise their voices and shout with glee. Alex, though, does not share their joy.

          His face is pale and gaunt, and horror lurks like a phantom behind his eyes. His usually handsome, dark and sturdy figure looks frail and unstable. Concern fills me as I see Alex, my hero, my comfort and the only reason I consent to take so many warriors’ lives look downhearted and dismayed. Soon the Argentum warriors retreat and the Aurums leave the battlefield to tend to their wounds and celebrate. Before long Alex is the only one left with me at his side. He picks up the fallen warrior’s knife, goes down on one knee and holds out the weapon respectfully. Then I hear him murmur, “Oh great warrior, today you fall at my hands but your honour remains intact. You will forever be remembered for your bravery, loyalty and allegiance to your kingdom. Your spirit still lives on in the hearts of all those who knew and respected you. I am one of them. May you rest in peace, forevermore.”

          A feeling of respect washes over me and I am overwhelmed. Even though this soldier tried to take his life, Alex was bowing down and willing the deceased warrior’s soul to be at rest. I marvel at his humility, humanity and acceptance of bravery and skill. I knew that until my breaking day, this memory would stay with me and I would never be parted from Alex, my greatest inspiration. We are partners, brothers, constantly at war, fighting for our kingdom, our birthright, until duty will finally overwhelm us and we will leave this world forever, together, hand on hilt, with pride.

          We are blood brothers.

Puru (and daughter, then aged 11)

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon – What happened between 2010 and 2014?

Singh is Kinng

Singh is Kinng – my favourite pacers when I train or race!

Most of those keen to compete against themselves in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), held each year on the 3rd Sunday of January, will have submitted their registration by now – a few days after registration opened. Some will have registered for the first time, for others this will be a regular feature of their running calendar.

Background
A few months ago I shared, with friends, this graphic depicting the mean and median times of male and female runners in the ‘open category’ of the half marathon of 2014.

SCMM 2014 - Men/Women "open category"

SCMM 2014 – Men/Women “open category”

The mean is simply the average of numbers.  The median is ‘the middle one if you were to order them in order of size’ – ideal for comparing data where there are very large or tiny ‘outliers’ that might skew the average away from a fair representation of the typical candidate. Using the middle number, i.e. the median, as a representation often does a better job than the average.

Curiosity
I was curious, as were others, as to what has happened in the last few years, say between 2010-2014 (5 Mumbai Marathons) for the various categories of non-elite runners.  This short article is a fun words-and-pictures piece to give some colourful answers.

The Categories – Age/Gender Based
For the sake of prize distribution, the SCMM has the following age categories:

SCMM - Age based categories

SCMM – Age based categories

Winsorising – Gets rid of outliers
A half marathon, even if walked at a stroll should be completed within 4.5 hours – the world record, when run, is 58 minutes 23 seconds. So, the first thing I did was remove records where the completion time was more than 4.5 hours. There were a tiny handful of records that were excluded as a result.

SCMM Half Marathon 2014 - Male Runners Age < 45 - Distribution of Completion Times

SCMM Half Marathon 2014 – Male Runners Age < 45 – Distribution of Completion Times

The Number of Runners – Doubled!
There has been a doubling of numbers running the half marathon over the 5 race-year period. Whatever be the reasons, the growth is encouraging even if absolute numbers are a tiny fraction of the city’s or country’s adult population.

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 – a large increase in number of participants

Average Racing Times – Younger isn’t always better!
If someone asked me “which of these categories is fastest on average?” my immediate reaction would be “the younger runners” i.e. male runners aged 18-45 (Men Open) or female runners aged 18-40 (Women Open). However, the data suggests something quite different which is easily explained by a combination of self-selection bias and survivorship bias.  And the conclusions are not the same for 2010 and 2014. Here are the average times in increasing order:

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 - Average Completion Times

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 – Average Completion Times

Median Racing Times – Younger is still not better!
As I explained, the average is often tilted away from a ‘fair representation’ if there are too many very fast or too many very slow runners. So, we can look at the median completion times instead. This means ordering each category in increasing times and then picking the runner in the middle as a representative of the sample. In that case, this is what we see:

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 – Median Completion Times

It’s great to see that completion times have been improving for all categories, on average, or for the ‘middle runner’.

The Top 10%
If we now focus on the top 10% of runners in each category (yes, it doesn’t mean much for specific cases, when the sample sizes are tiny e.g. Women Super Veteran) and look at the slowest runner in that top 10% then we see:

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 - Top 10% of Completion Times

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 – Top 10% of Completion Times

Here’s a pictorial representation of the slowest runner in the top 10% in each category, along with a representation of the number of runners in each category.

SCMM Half Marathon 2010-2014 – Top 10% of Completion Times and Increase in participants

Interestingly, even as the sample size has grown larger, the slowest of the runners in the top 10% of the Women Veteran runners is still a little faster than her younger counterpart in the Women Open category! And, now the top 10% of men whether below age 45 (Men Open) or below 55 (Men Veteran) can finish within the golden “2 hour” time.

The Bottom 10%
What is even more interesting is to notice that, among the slowest 10% of participants, the fastest of these slow participants have become faster:


What might this mean?
One could analyze the data in more detail and test various hypotheses.  For me the most simple observations are satisfying. As someone interested in making the world healthier, seeing such an improvement, albeit in just a tiny pocket of society is encouraging. Not only have the number of participants increased, but the overall level of fitness, when measured along this narrow dimension, has also increased.

Optimism and Hope
If it is true that the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon is a catalyst for improving the wellness of the city and beyond, may it continue to thrive.

Puru

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.