Finally, I could see the finish line. I was running in terrible pain. I had limped for what felt like ages. The entire stadium was vacant but for a few organizers and friends waiting for the last few runners at the finish line. I was paced by my friends Pushpendu and Hemanth, who were already done with their runs but had turned around to help me with my last few strides anyway.
As I inched closer to the finish line, my limp started turning into a run and then a sprint. My heart started beating really fast while a surge of energy returned to my aid. I felt a lightning run through me, while I burst into the fastest sprint of my life. There it was, the end of my 42km full marathon journey. Was this journey really just 42km long? Many things started coming to my mind in those last few minutes. A culmination of everything that brought me here….
End of last year, 19th of November 2017 marked a huge milestone for me in my running path. I was attempting MY FIRST FULL MARATHON! The whole 42.2 km of it, at the “Pune Running Beyond Myself” Marathon. Ideally, I should have written about this much sooner but I guess I got caught in the middle of shifting to a new job and a new home right after it. But yes, it’s about time I share my full marathon story now.
One step at a time:
Failing to plan is planning to fail. So, I started with a plan. People think it was a 3-month preparation. But in the true sense, it was a 6 years journey. How 6 years? you may ask. And this is how…
I had no history of sports during my education. And none in the first few years of work-life. I just started jogging so that I could find a reason to wake up earlier and get some fresh morning air. Daily jogs increased my stamina and it turned me into a runner when my company launched its own 10km marathon. I trained for it and finished it well. Thereafter, there was no looking back. I mixed workouts with my run to keep the interest going. Found like-minded people wherever I went. I am high on self-motivation. So, I never stopped even when I didn’t find buddies to run with.
I shifted jobs and cities but ran wherever I went. One good thing about running is, it does not need a partner or any equipment. You wanna run, you run. Not many prerequisites. If you can walk, you can run. So after about 6 years of regular runs(around 4 times a week) and several 10km,21km marathons, I decided to etch my way towards the Full Marathon. I did a 100 days run challenge in preparation towards it as well. Read Here about it.
3 months before my Full marathon I set a schedule for my preparation. I started with a 35km run. Not everybody’s idea of a start, I guess. I dared to do it because I was fairly comfortable with my 21km runs for 3 years then. I set out with an aim of a 30km run and ended up doing 35km by the time I finished.
Thanks to my fellow runner Rahul and route support Pratik for joining me and giving me this kickstart. Rahul’s idea of long runs is extremely simplified. He doesn’t bother with a fuel belt or nutrition support even. He carries small cash to buy some water on the way when needed and carries a pouch of dry fruits for hunger pangs. As simple as that. I was extra careful in this run because I was testing my stamina beyond 21km mark for the first time. I kept a slow steady pace and ensured to run for most of the route. We never stopped but did walk occasionally.
I did a few short runs(5km-10km) twice a week and reserved 1 day in the weekend for a 20 to 30km run. Before the race day, I had done three 30-35km runs. I already talked about the first one, the second was entirely solo, though route support was provided by my Pune running family and the third was a beautiful strong one with a couple of friends who were also aiming for their first 42km run. My friends Savitha, Hemanth, Sheetal, Rahul, and Anirudh were all doing their first full marathons. And boy, do they all have a story to tell when it came to their journeys.
I am a Type A person. So tracking and organizing come naturally to me. In my first marathons, I was using a simple android app to track time and distance but after about 2 years of running, I moved on to my fitness tracker. I have a Fitbit Charge2 tracker now and I find it fairly accurate. I bought it so that I can avoid running with mobile in my pocket. This plan works for a short distance but for long distances I use my mobile and earphones for music anyway. Running for over 4 hours can get pretty boring, how much ever a running fan you are. Apart from that, I have dedicated running clothes and a decent pair of shoes from decathlon.
The Race Day – Making the biggest mistake:
Excited and focussed I stood at the starting line. I was wearing my bib and my minimum light gear(tracker, phone, headphone) for the run. Hemanth and I planned to stick together and stay at a similar pace throughout. We practiced together a few times and I was typically stronger than him during the 30km runs. But Hemanth knew what it takes mentally to get to the finish of a 42km run, given that he had finished one unofficial full marathon before. So we joined the 6-hour bus, the Pacer was a friend and was briefing us on how we can safely and steadily finish with this slowest bus in the run.
There were a couple of information given to me that could have to lead me to my first mistake, “Starting too fast”. One information was that it is better to stay slightly ahead of the pacer that you are aiming for. And the other information was that there were only a handful of women in the full marathon category and so if I pushed my pace I stood a chance to make it to the top three.
The next mistake I made was “Taking less liquids”. It was a cold morning in Pune. The moisture in the air was helping me run freely like a child. I had a smile on a face, like never before. I felt happy from the inside. A burst of energy and excitement made me run my fastest 21km ever. Not the right day to do it though. You don’t run with your best speed in 21km when you have another 21 to go. The brain was saying it to me throughout the time. But my body was just feeling very ready for it.
And boom! just like that, after running the smoothest and fastest 22km, I felt a pain in my left knee. The muscle around the outer side of my left knee had a cramp. I felt it strongly like a pang. Was it a cramp or a muscle tear? I didn’t know. I had never been injured in any of my marathons before but then I had never run a full marathon before as well. After having studied my own body from 6 years of running, I felt and I knew this could be just a cramp.
The first thought was that hey, I can walk it out for some time. I have had minor pains in the same knee after a couple of practice runs before. The day I ran 35km, I had a knee pain post-run. The pain lasted for a day and then it was back to normal as if nothing had happened. I was hoping this was something similar. After walking for about 1-2km I felt the pain rising and my walk was turning into a limp. I wasn’t worried so much about the minor injury but the thought of making it worse with another 20km walks or runs was clouding my mind.
How do you take a decision when you are not sure of the facts? Is this a really severe injury? What if I realize it was something too simple later? What is the cost if I continue? How can I make it subside temporarily? The last question was helpful. So I tried applying pain spray at the water-stalls and stretching at regular intervals. But I was not able to run again. I was limping badly at this point.
The ‘Dead Freaking Last’ Feeling:
My motivation started falling when I started seeing many runners heading further and further away from me. Several people crossing me and moving ahead. My heart was sinking. And though I am a highly self-motivated person, there are times when words fail to face the circumstances. I knew just one thing. Run, Walk or Limp – I am not stopping!
I saw the 6-hour pacer Mandar and Hemanth returning from a U-turn. They were worried to see me. They suggested stopping if I am tired. I insisted I could go on. Thereafter, I got calls from them a couple of times during the run. They were checking on me and were in a position to send medical help if I needed. After about half an hour of walk, I ran again. It was a slow and cautious jog but it was enough to get me back to rythm. I had folded up my tracks to make it easy to spray my knee regularly. Sheetal started pacing me to get me back on track. Gives me goose-bumps just writing about it now. But the support from volunteers and co-runners was unbelievable. Every passing runner was cheering me. Warning me about injury but also edging me forward to see the finish line.
Sheetal pumped up her speed when there was about 8km remaining. At this time, I was left behind and tempted to walk again. Fortunately, a couple of volunteers on a scooter, marked me and stuck to me thereafter. They got me a spray or water whenever they saw me aching. I cannot complain about the environment or the facilities at all. The support given to full marathoners was unseen and beyond praise. A huge reason nothing severe happened to my leg was the fact that the medical help or volunteer support was always around. Then again, you know that feeling when you are down? you know when that devil on your shoulder discourages you by saying – “Are you gonna be Dead Freaking Last in this race?” That thought, that unwanted though just bogs you down.
I had managed to limp my way till the 40th km of the run. One of the race organizers met me at this juncture and informed me that I am close to the cut-off time of 6.5 hrs in this race. So now I have to decide whether I still continue or not. I was adamant that I was rear to finish. Finish my first attempt at a full marathon no matter what. Whether or not I qualify for a finisher’s medal, I can’t quit. I won’t quit!
Did I finish?
So there I was limping to the finish and paced by Pushpendu inside the stadium. He slowed down and let me sprint in the end. I forgot the pain, the worries, the fears that were clouding me for the last 6.5 hrs and just sprinted like there was nothing just me and the finish line in the world. And finally, I crossed it. I crossed it and crashed. Just dropped to the ground and took the weight off my feet finally.
Of course, I received my finishers medal. My close friends cheered me. Helped me to the physio and got me breakfast. I headed home and rested my leg. After about 2 weeks my leg was back to normal. I didn’t take a day off my work. I just walked around very less. Life went on. So this was my journey to my first Full marathon. Nobody dreams of a tough run like this but nobody has an easy first full marathon either. They say you learn about life when you run a full marathon. I sure did and learned a lot about myself too. Now I have a story to tell for life, a proud one….not proud of my mistakes but sure proud of my grit to finish.