“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
– T. S. Elliot
It all started almost a year and a half back in April 2011 when I started running to prepare myself for the high altitude climb in the Himalayas. Like any beginner, I too, started with running 3km, along the road running parallel to the beach in Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai. Slowly, but steadily, I extended my running range to 15km before I went for my climb in the Himalayas in August 2011. I do not know if it was the amazing view of the beach, the setting sun or the sound of the waves that I had as backdrop for my run that kept me going, truth is, I never had a reason to stop training myself and continued to run even after coming back from the successful mountain climb (read story here). It was at this time that my room mate, Appachoo, a then 10km runner and my batch mate in TAPMI, asked me to join him to run the half marathon(21km). So we registered for the Chennai half marathon and successfully completed the run in November 2011. And as I crossed the finish line, I decided, “I have to run the marathon one day!”
It was pre-dawn when we got to the starting point of the Hyderabad marathon, here in the necklace road in Hyderabad. The atmosphere was ecstatic with loud music and strobe lights all around. With just 30 seconds to go for the race, I made a quick check of my double knotted shoe lace and the timing chip attached to it. I was ready for it. The intention was very clear in my mind; finish the marathon. If I can’t run, I’ll walk. If I can’t walk, I’ll crawl. But I’ll finish it. The final countdown had begun and then it started. I was off. Unlike the virtual stampede that happens at the start during the smaller versions of the marathon (10km, half), here there was absolute sanity. No one wanted to jostle and find a way ahead and were all taking it slow. With the beautiful Hussain Sagar lake to my left, I ran on slow and steady. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for my first marathon. The cool weather, city lights reflected beautifully on the lake, amazing clear road to run on, it all seemed perfect. As I crossed the 2km mark, there was a slight pain developing on my right calf muscle. I never worried too much about any pain that I get on my muscles during the first 3-4kms of the run as I knew, it would soon clear off after around 4km when the body will be fully warmed up. My usual strategy when I get pain on one of my leg is to switch running on the other side of the road. This helps because all around the world, the roads are not perfectly flat but to facilitate drainage, they taper to the sides. So the small difference in height in the ground level between your left and right leg can give a different stress level to the two legs. But here, I had only half the road to run on as the other half was open for traffic and so I had to contend myself running on the rightmost end near the road divider.
As expected, soon, the pain died off. I was now in a good running rhythm. I reached the first drinks point. In all marathon races, they have a water point every 2km and a water/aid/refreshment/electrolyte point every 4km all along the race circuit. Keeping this in mind, I took up a strategy which I had read about on the internet; “run from water point to water point”. This is because in the race, which stretches out for more than 42km is so long that you can’t have a stage, 10min into the race where you think that you still have around 40km to finish! That would be very de-motivating. So instead, the idea is to run from one water point to another which is 4km apart and think only about the 4km ahead of you and hence “fool” your mind into running the full marathon distance! After taking a quick gulp of Gatorade (sports drink), I continued on.
It was now almost 10km and I was now close to completing a full circuit of the Hussain Sagar lake and was hence near the starting point with the sun slowing coming up. From here, we were to take a right out off necklace road toward Gachibowli. From the top of the flyover that I crossed, I could see a swarm of people running ahead! I couldn’t have got here at a worse time, I thought. I was now at the tail end of the “half marathon” runners who started a few minutes back. But soon, I found a way past them and moved ahead. It was now around 14km from the start and I started feeling hungry. This too, wasn’t any surprise to me as I usually feel so after running close to 15km. Thankfully, I was now near my second gatorade point which also had biscuits, banana. In order to prevent chugging along too much of water as the weather was still quite cool, I decided to skip the water points and only stop at the gatorade points to replenish the much needed salts along with water that I was losing as sweat. Taking in a couple of cups and quickly downing a banana and grabbing some biscuits in my hand, I moved on.
The terrain of this particular marathon was particularly difficult as most of the run is on uphill gradients which makes it extremely tiring to run on. But still, I continued with the run. As soon as I reached the 24km mark, it started to rain. The only thing I worried about was the iPhone fastened to my arm with a band, which I hoped would protect it from the rain. Since I did not have much of an option, I decided to stop worrying about it and was happy as long as it played the songs which also suggested that it was well. Songs playing at the background for my run is something I can’t do without as I am very much used to it from my training days. Being a very long race, I get motivated by listening to certain songs that I have compiled as my “marathon playlist” and also using the Nike+ app on my iPhone to calculate the distance I cover. Since I am not in any contention for the prize, I never felt the arm band to be obstructive for my run.
The rain continued, but so did I. But now, I started adopting another strategy of mixing the run with occasional walks which I started recently during the training runs. Though it may sound like losing a lot of time, fact is, it is not as bad as you may think because after you walk a small distance, you will be able to run faster than what you were doing before. So I started using this from here. Soon I could see the 28km mark ahead of me. I was at the end of the second phase of my run. There is a famous quote by Mike Fanelli, “I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” I knew I was now getting into the most difficult third of the race. From here, the full marathon runners were to take a longer route compared to the half marathon runners and now, I was running along with only full marathoners. This was good in a way because now I was in the midst of runners who have gone through the same distance as myself and hence would be experiencing the same set of problems too.
I was now getting a slight pain on my calf and since there was an aid station coming up, I stopped by to spray some pain reliever onto it and moved on. A little did I run further when I started getting pain on my left knee. Now I knew that this is one pain that is not going to leave me till the end of the race and I promised myself to turn in at the next available aid station to spray in some pain reliever into both of my knee joints. At this point, it was a bit downhill and I have seen that running downhill creates more stress on your knee than running uphill, I decided to walk for some time to cool off my knee which was paining quite bad by now. Finally, I met a volunteer who had the spray and that brought some relief to my knee. I was now slowly getting a pain in my lower backbone but couldn’t help smiling when I saw the guy running in front of me gently massaging his own lower backbone! So I knew whatever pain I had in my body would be common across all the other runners too.
As I crossed the 30km mark, I could feel my body temperature increase. This was in spite of the fact that it was raining! So I was quite sure that I was getting close to hitting the “wall”! The “wall” or “marathon wall” is a situation in which you collapse and will no longer be able to run further. This is because human beings store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen and the maximum glycogen that can be stored in the human body can only last till around 30-35km. So beyond this distance, you have to burn fat from the body in order to run further. Unlike burning carbohydrates, burning fat can increase your body temperature dramatically and I knew that a state close to that is what I would be going through right now. So it was like running on a fever in the rain! I just slowed down a bit but continued on.
I was now at the 32km mark. Personally, this distance has some significance to me. This is the longest distance I have run so far during my training. So from now on, I am surely in an unchartered territory. Training for the marathon was helping me throughout the race so far. Because of proper training, I knew exactly how fast I should run in order to keep on running without tiring, know which pain is normal and which isn’t, etc. The pain that a marathon runner undergoes is enormous. Last year, when I used to take my training runs over the weekends, I would have pain in my feet, ankles, knees, lower end of backbone, neck and my arms. I usually run on Saturday evenings and this pain continues till next Wednesday and 2 days later, I again continue my training run. So this cycle of pain continued and slowly, all these mentioned joints became strong enough to withstand the stresses of a long run. Compared to what I was a year back, my body has gone through a phenomenal change and last month, I even did 2 half marathons in 2days!
At 33km mark, I was tired. I was in pain. I was no longer enjoying the run. The smiles I had for the volunteers and onlookers who were cheering me where now hard to come by. I could hardly make up a fake smile at them. I started doing the countdown. It was 9km to finish this off. But thankfully, the rain stopped. I was mixing my run and walk. When I walk, some other guy overtakes me, and when he walks, I overtake him! Though the intention of my marathon was not to finish before someone else, this helped me to stay focussed on my run and motivated me to continue running.
Somehow I struggled on. The distance after the 32km mark was indeed a torture! You will count every single kilometre that you cover. The pain really gets on to you. But somehow I struggled on to reach the 41km mark. Here, since I felt I had enough energy with me to finish the race, I thought, why not run the last kilometre and get ahead of the people I could see running in front of me rather than saving the energy till the finish line. So I started running. One by one I started overtaking the runners in front of me. After coming ahead of 3-4 people enroute, I entered the Balayogi stadium in Gachibowli. Here there was a good crowd and people were cheering me. I felt as if I was a superstar! The pain and tiredness suddenly disappeared. I could see the finish line. There was one more guy in front of me who was slowly getting to the finish line. I sprinted down the last 50m on the synthetic track of the stadium to get ahead of him. I had no clue what made me think of overtaking others in this last kilometre of the race, but I have to admit that it was fun! I crossed the finish line and that was it. As I crossed the final tracking mat, I knew it was now complete, I was now a “marathon runner”. Unlike the near collapsed state I was in at the summit of Stok Kangri last year, here, I was in good spirits. A small child came and put the finisher’s medal around my neck and I cannot describe the feeling I had at that time. The moment I was training for in that past 1.5yrs finally arrived!
Location: Hyderabad, India
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