I was thinking of making the title something dramatic…something like Wannabe Marathoner : No More…but it could easily be construed as me being a runner no more which was unacceptable! Whilst continuing to type on, I realised that I will always be a wannabe, always a learner…someone who will always find ways and means to improve, much like my philosophy in life. So perhaps the title is probably stuck forever! (unless of course by some miraculous twist of fate I turn into an elite runner…or of course pigs learn to fly, which seems more likely anyway!) Enough faffing about, let’s begin my account of my first ever Full marathon.
Having done a few Half Marathons and not really having particularly distinguished myself in any of them (always a mid to back-midfield runner) I was toying over the category to register in for the SCMM 2015 (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon) For those unaware, this marathon is the pride of Mumbai, mayhap of all of India in the sheer numbers and talent it attracts as also the fanfare and crowd support and of course the flavour that is uniquely Mumbai. The route is also amazingly scenic, going through many important landmarks of Mumbai.
Back in January 2014, Tapan and I had experienced the atmosphere of the SCMM for the first time. We had been walking towards the start point (Azad Maidan) from Churchgate station and had encountered people cheering, bands and dancers going at full blast and a number of people shuffling on by on the road. It felt amazing to see so many people gathered there to cheer runners who thoroughly deserved the cheers. We had then decided to come back next year and run in the Half marathon and be part of the actual run rather than the Dream Run carnival.
Cut back to August and as I hovered over choosing half or full marathon, I debated and discussed with Tapan. his mindset was that we should try and better our speed rather than the distance, while for me both went hand in hand. I have always had the tendency to throw down the gauntlet and then train to be able to accomplish it. If I do not set myself tough goals, I do not realise the best in me. after spending a day thinking over it, I registered for the Full marathon, deciding that my goal was set and I would now work towards achieving it. Tapan went on and registered for the Half Marathon…either way, we were both set to be part of the “real” run.
October end 2014
During one of the speed interval training runs for trying to set my fastest HM time in the prestigious ADHM (Airtel Delhi Half Marathon), I felt discomfort in my right heel. It pulsed, at times fading while at others returning with some ferocity. I checked online (yep usual self-diagnosing medical syndrome) and was very scared that I may just have brought Plantar Fasciitis onto myself. I was not ready though to diagnose myself so easily with plantar since a few tests to check my plantar muscle strength turned out to be quite positive. ie – I always knew my toes were quite strong and just could not believe how I could get plantar. I have awkwardly shaped feet because of which since childhood perhaps I have been using the toes much like an ape does…being able to grab hold of an lift objects off the floor comfortably and thus flexing and exercising them since many years unconsciously. Without having really found an answer to the pain, I decided to rather ease my training and slow down.
November 2014 – An Important lesson
This was the month for the ADHM where I was determined to set a new PB. After a week of easy very very slow running, I decided to again ramp it up a bit. After another speed session, the pain was back with increased intensity. This time I spent longer researching the pain and found that my dependence on my right leg to preserve my weak left knee could likely be causing my right foot to land awkwardly. Additionally my shoes had been minimal which meant that there was no support or cushioning. So my finger of suspicion pointed squarely to this enlightening article I dug out – Subtalar joint pain can mimic Plantar Fasciitis!
This was quite a revelation and I started working on trying to increase the flexibility of my joint and began analysing the way my right foot landed. I consciously did exercises to make sure my right foot landed straight. It seemed my foot was leaning toward the right, so I consciously made sure it would point inwards. I practiced it while walking, sitting, exercising and started doing slow runs. There was no major relief but there was definitely some relief after doing the mobility exercises and sleeping with balm on the ankle and ankle support.
The big day was soon upon me and although the heel was still painful, I had no choice but to go out and put my money where my mouth was. ADHM came and went and I surpassed my expectation … finished in 1 hr 59 mins which was much better than my expected 2 hr 5 mins.
As always while the medal was great, as was the timing, the consequence was increased heel pain that would haunt me for the coming month!
This was to be my main month of endurance training but my fear of injuring the heel (which was very slowly getting better) meant I had to really drop my training down and only run sporadically, that too very slowly and small distances. Added to this was the fact that my daughter’s holidays were around the corner which meant a nice XMas holiday trip for the family. The month was almost a total washout in terms of training but I did mange to do something good – I bought myself a pair of support and cushioned shoes with enough time to break them in. (FYI I bought Kalenji shoes with the 42 Km distance tag)
And so the holiday came and went with only an 8.5 kms run on Jan 1st. With only 2 weeks to go, the penultimate week was very important. I had never ever run more than 32 kms in practice or otherwise, and although I did think that I was strong enough (thanks to my stair and slope work over the past few months) I just was not confident I could cut it. So, as always I tried to make the best of this week and in hindsight, probably overdid it a bit!
That week began on a Sunday with the Powai half Marathon, which I did alright – 2 hrs 10 mins on a course with a few slopes. Not a great time but pretty good considering it was my first 8 k + run after a month!
I then ran 23.84 kms on Tuesday along the undulating course at the Borivli National Park. this was an exercise in being super slow with a mix of running and walking – the aim being to build up the slow twitch muscles and also mentally prepare myself for willing me on to run on tired legs after taking intermittent walk breaks.
The same objective continued after a day’s gap with a 25 kms run on the same course on Thursday.
The final long run was on Sunday…it was to be an almost race day simulation with the first half run at tempo pace till HM distance after which I would slow down and take run/walk breaks till I reached 30 kms. Thanks to a bit of distance miscalculation I actually ended up doing 30.69 kms which did exhaust me especially as I ended by 11:30 am under an unforgiving sun.
The last week before the build up saw me doing 4-5 kms slow walks and then a 15 km slow run on Wednesday and finally an 8 k slow walk/run on the previous day just to make sure the legs were good enough for the next day.
Needless to say I ensured I did a lot of core exercises and massaged myself as and when I could to make the legs sprightly.
THE BIG DAY
Finally the big day…it actually started off on a comedic note with the driver not having arrived and me having to wake him up and get him to rush! So while I was originally supposed to reach comfortably on time, I started off 40 mins late from home! Luckily the roads were all empty and we made decent time to reach about 15 mins before the start. Turns out the queues were so long that the start itself was pushed back by 10 mins! By the time I snaked past the sea of runners, the clock showed 5:48 am as opposed to the scheduled 5:30 am start and without any real thought I was on my way.
My plan was to run the first half at a decent pace without being too fast so that I would have enough time in the last half to take a lot of walk breaks. The intention was to finish between 4 hours 30 mins and 5 hours with the operative word being FINISH!!! Within the 2nd-3rd kilometre itself I realised this would not be one of those days where the weather Gods would be smiling on me. I was already sweating and I had not even begun to motor. I immediately re-assessed my targets and decided to settle for a 4 hr 45 mins finish as an optimal time. This meant that I needed to do 10 K in 1 hr 2 mins, with the HM in 2 hr 8-10 mins to give me enough leeway.
Unfortunately, being cautious meant that I ended up losing a few minutes which meant I finished my 10 K in 1 hr 4 mins. Carrying on the trend of caution, my HM also slipped a bit and I crossed the halfway point in 2 hrs 13 mins. I then tried to put in some more speed till 25 kms and I was successfully maintaining the same pace but around the 26-27 km mark, my left knee started throbbing as did my lower back. The lack of practice and core exercises was coming back to haunt me, so I had no choice but to slow down even further.
At around the 27.5-28k mark, I actually considered throwing in the towel as the 4:45 min buses just zipped past me. That was quite disheartening, cos at that time I was well on target and this seemed like a bitter blow. Probably the bus “drivers” were keen to finish 3-4 minutes faster than their advertised time or perhaps their gun time was a few mins earlier than mine…whatever the case it was quite frustrating.
So, do I quit?
No one would really bother and I could make up a thousand excuses anyway, no one would be the wiser. Perhaps this was what it meant “hitting the wall” … maybe I had gone in harder than I should have or maybe the climate was hotter than what I expected… or maybe it was all three. I then thought that if I was anyway harbouring thoughts of quitting, it meant my finish time was not important, so I might as well enjoy a nice 300-400 metre long walk, sip water, munch on jaggery (I was feeling hungry too!) and maybe just walk till the end. 14-15 kms seemed a bridge too far.
The jaggery however maybe worked wonders (I cannot explain my renewed sense of purpose any other way!), and I realised with a jolt that I was almost at the 30 K mark while I had just been running/walking and pondering over my next move. I looked at my watch and then began calculating and realised that I was still in with a remote chance of a 4:50. Alll I needed to do was run for 400 odd metres, walk 100 and then repeat the cycle. I should still be able to do a km in around 7-7.5 mins. So I set off again, with my brain telling me to just get to the 33 km mark cos after that it was all in single figures. Those 2.5 kms were pretty difficult…I kept looking out hopefully for the distance markers that seemed to be stretching out with every passing kilometre but just like everything else in this world, the wait did end. The 33 km mark was the prettiest one to my addled brain. I drenched myself, popped in some oranges, steadied myself and renewed my assault. From here on I was determined to set targets along the road ahead and run till there, walk while counting till 15, then resume running to the next target.
On came the infamous Pedder Road slope but curiously I think my frame of mind at that time was such that I was like an automaton – only focusing on 200-300 metres running, 50 metres walking… repeat. Slope or otherwise it pretty much felt the same! By the time I had begun the turn onto Marine Drive after Babulnath, it was 37.5 kms almost. Of course the 4.7 kms remaining seemed like 47 kms, but I was only focused on continuing my mechanical walk run, repeat process with a look at the watch at every km marker. By around 39 kms, I realised that 4:50 was no longer possible BUT I could just about scrape through under 5 hrs. So that became my new target and that was one I would just not let go come what may.
In order to not put myself under pressure in the last km, I decided to push harder and faster during my run stretches to save a few seconds with every effort push. I was constanttly calculating furiously which probably helped my brain stay focused and away from letting tiredness take over. Add to it the fact that my Garmin had conked out around the 36 K mark so that meant I had to do continuous math to predict my final time and thus dictate my next km target. I wanted to keep 10 mins for my final km, so I worked really hard in km 41 and was very happy when I saw I was at 41 with 10 mins to spare (That’s the ONE target I did keep!) I then decided to run the usual 200 metres- 50 metres… until I saw the 500 mtrs remaining marker. I tested my legs, weary but ready to put on one final push. All systems go for a 300 metre dash is what I thought as I could see the VT (CST) station in the distance. It looked like the big Gothic monolith was looming forbiddingly against the blazing sky… quite opposed to the beautifully lit up masterpiece in the morning when we began the run! Ah how perceptions change over a few hours!
I intentionally kept my eyes focused on it and kept running until the bend straightened out and with the markers showing 300 metres on the left, I could SEE the finish line and everyone knows that actually seeing the finish line is the greatest boost one could ever have! All thoughts of stopping to walk vanished as I decided to go all the way without a break. I could see the clock above and I could see that I was inexorably close to the 5 hr mark. As I reached the final metre I knew I was well inside the 5 hour target and I even found the inclination to raise up a victory sign before I crossed the line.
I had done it in 4 hrs 57 mins…not my best but my lack of elation and also the fact that I could walk easily to the medal counter meant that I had definitely not given it my all. Yes, I was tired but I instinctively knew that I had not paced myself to my limit for fear of cramping or falling sick. Prudence had taken me to the finish line, but it was not the optimal result. With mixed emotions I walked around for the next 2 mins, collected my medal, saw the winners being felicitated and then moved off for home.
It had been a tough run but my lack of practice and then subsequent over training and lastly my inexperience meant that I have lots of room to improve. That’s probably a good thing now in hindsight but I reckon all of Sunday I was just relieved to have got the monkey off my back!
This has been a very long post already, so I shall continue in my next post about what I did learn while on the way to my first FM. There were many curious points and counter points about timed running vs running without gadgets… discussions about hyped races, discussions about various events and their lack of facilities… within one year I have seen the running scene in India from a lot of viewpoints and I will post my own thoughts on the matter in the coming few posts. I will also post about my analysis about what went wrong during my run and what I should watch out for. There were many others this time who also got it wrong, either because the climate got too hot too quickly or perhaps they did not train enough or probably went too fast or too slow. (this even includes a handful of ELITE athletes who did a rare DNF!! that’s probably unheard of…at least for me!)
That’s it for this loooooooooooong post …Many many thanks for reading…to whoever bothered to reach the end!