After running my first Marathon at Mumbai on January 20, 2013 in 4 hours 2 minutes, I had an obvious topic for the blog. Write about the Marathon itself and how I measured up to the challenge. However what interested me more was not that run itself, but the process leading up to that. In the midst of unheralded excitement, many forget the hard work, the motivations and friends who were instrumental in this journey. This article is a snapshot of what transpired in the last one year!
While I have not taken permission from my friends to use their names, I am sure they would not mind the references here. The story probably starts in November 2011. During a visit to London, I was having dinner at Canary Wharf with some of my friends – Vinod, Akhilesh, his wife Meenakshi and my brother Rajan. Amongst many other things, we also chatted about one of our friends, Sreeram, who could not join the dinner. The discussion veered towards his running, and his passion for mountain climbing etc. He would have done numerous Marathons in the last 7-8 years and was obviously somebody I was proud of mentioning to people when the topic of marathons used to arise! During that discussion, Meenakshi too mentioned of how she was coaxed into doing the Amsterdam marathon, and she ended up doing it successfully in 5 odd hours. This was not akin to any Eureka moment, but I think it set a few cells in my brain thinking about running. The obvious inference was that, there were mortals like me, capable of successfully doing this.
A few thoughts which came to me after that were the following – My own antecedents in athletics while at school and college, were not something to be forgotten about and the fact that I had continued to be in touch with sports in various forms could help in this initiative. The other important thing was having tangible goals in hobbies or activities you pursue. Going to the gym or playing badminton or casual swimming (all of which I had done in the recent few years) resulted in nothing tangible in terms of results apart from the fact that all of it keeps one fit. I was more in interested in something, where there was a finite sense of achievement, which say running a 10 K had. Many would disagree with this approach, but this is a personal view which influences me in many things. Anyways the result was that I decided to try running as an activity, even though I was never a fan and found this to be really monotonous. (in other words a big bore)
So one of the first things, I did was to share this whole concept with my wife Pavithra. I guess at that point in time, she felt it was probably one of my new addictions which I would give a pass after some time. She readily agreed when I said that I wanted to buy a new running shoe. We went to the Adidas showroom and bought a shoe which cost around Rs 5000. It is another story that a discount sale started 3 weeks later where the same shoe was sold at Rs 3000 or so! In December, I also found out the existence of a running group in Pune called Pune Running through facebook and happily enrolled for a 10 K event around the end of that month. With very limited practice, laziness in getting up for a training run and inhibitions of running on road, I could do the 10 K in a time of 1 hour 3 minutes by end of December’11.
From January’12 I started running with the Pune Running group every Sunday at the Pune University. One of the first things I realized was that running was not a simple activity contrary to my initial impressions. There was diversity in people and thoughts, diversity in opinions and views, and diversity in gadgets and shoes! A few of the things I quickly saw around and invested in before I started running 10 K confidently were the following – A Garmin forerunner 305 (~GBP 135), a few dry-fit shorts and tees. For the un-initiated a Garmin forerunner is a watch with a patented technology which locks onto satellites and gives you data like distance, speed, calories and elevation! After your run, you load this data on to your lap top and analyze your runs! (LOL!!!) The dri-fit material is nothing but polyster fabric, which supposedly dries faster and keeps your body dry through the tremendous challenges you encounter while running. Wasn’t this the same material which we instinctively disliked while growing up! The Garmin which I bought had Pavithra’s attention aroused about my new hobby. Why on earth would one need such an expensive watch for running was her question. The line of argument continues to, whether the Africans and the other elite runners had Garmins to achieve their incredible feats. It is usually wiser not to argue in such situations and I persisted with that tactical line.
While months passed, my discipline for training also increased. Throughout the last year, the normal time I would wake up was around 5.30 am and on Sundays it would be 5 am. To put the discipline in perspective, I don’t think I have missed out on the long run (for me a run of say 10-20 kms or more) on a Sunday except while I was travelling. With a keenness to show off to people around, I can recount of occasions when I did this at the Cubbon Park in Bangalore once, and another time at the Valentine’s park in London. On weekdays, much to the irritation of my family for making noises during early morning finding my running accessories, I religiously used to go for those lonely runs during the summer and the monsoon. Looking back I think the best part was running with the Pune running group and the people I got to know. Amongst so many of them, was Milind whose discipline rubbed off on me to a great extent and we did a few practice runs together. Right from seeing people who ran the absurd 80 plus kilometers at the Comrades, to listening to tales of people who cycled from one city to another, it all added up in the form of motivation to at least move beyond the 10 K mark.
Slowly I was growing in confidence, and started doing the half marathons. The first official half marathon was a 2.04 effort in August’12 at the flyover-ridden Hyderabad half marathon. Later I did the Pune half marathon in December’12 in 1 hours 50 minutes. I did two more things along with my running, which I thought could help me with the running performance. I went for a yoga course for a month in November which I believe helped me stretch quite a bit and also added flexibility to my body. Along with that since August’12, I also decided to increase my protein intake to strengthen my muscles. Being a vegetarian and also not a great lover of food, I needed to make a significant effort in that direction. This meant consuming a few egg whites daily and seeking the aid of whey proteins available in the market. During the course of training I also found out about 2 other aspects – One, the weight of the shoes matter, which in turn led me to searching shoes on the net and buying a lighter 198 gram Hyperspeed 5 from Asics. The second aspect was the use of energy gels. During one of my trips I came across the SIS Go Gel in a London store and later ordered more of the same through the internet. The gel gives your bursts of speed which helps you run better especially towards the last segment of your HM or FM.
Along the way I need to mention that my child hood friend Anand did some excellent analysis from my Garmin data, and gave me those critical inputs during the last few months to the run up of the Mumbai marathon. The fact that he had run a good sub 4 hour marathon some years back in the US was helpful in addition. During the last one month, in a period called the “taper” the mind was more at work than the body negotiating the challenges of a 42 km run. The facebook had a big role to play in the run, since this gave the space to inform your friends, and in turn invited some likes and comments, which I used to construe as great motivational factors!
I realize that inspite of having written so much, there are a lot more details and specifics that a runner can write about. That is probably a topic for a more subject specific write up! (if I ever join that bandwagon) However in a nut shell, this is what I did in the last one year – Woke up quite early every other day, trained quite a bit, did a lot of running related internet searches, listened to a lot of gyan, spent a lot of money, and then successfully ran the MARATHON!
(One site lists the percentage of US population which has run a marathon as 0.5% and assuming it stays the same globally as well, I think it was indeed a good effortJ)