By Ashish Kumar (L&T MHPS)
As I imagine the instance when I crossed the finish line at Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon ’16 on 17th January in my second marathon distance ever, the primary feeling I can recall is utmost euphoria and a rush of endorphins. Even with numb legs, drained energy level, and sweat drenched body, something was pushing me to ecstasy. The facial expression and body language manifested pain and suffering but somewhere within, I was as calm as MS Dhoni batting in the slog overs and at the same time as violently happy and gleeful as Virat Kohli catching one of the Australian openers.
It was contentment coming my way after achieving my target of finishing the race in 3 hours and 15 minutes!
And why not?! I had sacrificed vital sleep over countless weekend mornings to head out for those (pretty) long training runs, got up early on weekdays to execute those killing HIITs and excruciating tempo runs, restricted myself to not eating some food items or eating stuff with zero consideration of ‘taste prospect’, playing mind games with lactate threshold, VO2 Max, target pace, weekly mileage, key workouts, cross training, taper, and countless other jargons to (supposedly) improve aerobic conditioning and musculoskeletal integrity in the build up to race day.
It is precisely this particular scent of things you get as you leap past the finish line that have folks lined up at the start line next year to experience it again. Your mind is inundated with feeling of satisfaction, having broken your last personal best and you wonder how much more your body is capable of. You take up the resulting inner challenge to beat yourself and rise time and again. It was my second attempt in a row at full marathon after starting to practise running in late 2012 and I find it almost compelling to be at Mumbai every third Sunday of January year on year with new targets.
It might seem silly to someone living in Delhi to come over to a distant city just to run a marathon till the time one personally participates and feels the charm of running the Queen’s Necklace and Worli Sea Link, and above all the love Mumbaikars bestow upon runners makes it less of a pain to travel that far.
Some of the office peeps wonder why in hell would somebody travel to Mumbai at own’s expense and punish his very own body with crazy miles on foot. Kind of questions my other runner friends might well relate to have often bombarded on me too… Did you actually run all those hours without stopping? Did you win the race? Are you considering a career in this freakish thing? What prize and certificate did you get? And a lot many other preposterous (only for runners) questions. Well, I sometimes answer truly with a sheepish explanation that it makes me happy, I am competing against myself, I am getting better by the day, I am good among the amateurs, we get t-shirts, free bananas, finisher medals and blah blah blah… Sometimes it’s just a dull smile and other times I start to wonder myself how inexplicable these questions are, even to me! The last strange incident in this regard was my father asking me about my timing at SCMM race on Sunday. When I told him I took 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish it, the next question was about what is the world record at a marathon. I was near stunned at his seemingly unimpressed gesture when I told him that Kenyans have done it in 2 hours and 3 minutes. “Son, you need to get better” was the inaudible tweet I sensed coming out of the mobile phone. It’s a kind of near-humiliation we amateurs have to go through often while interacting with ‘Non-Subject Matter Experts’.
Let me start with the last year’s version of the race, my maiden attempt at a marathon in January ’15. I was obviously so excited but cautious at the same time. Anyone with a half marathon timing of 1 hour and 30 minutes would have aimed for a sub 3 hours and 15 minutes target at full after discounting 10 minutes for exhaustion in the last few miles and 5 odd minutes for hot and humid weather as a rule of thumb but I pre-emptively reined in my mental speed horses for it was my first at something as gigantic as a marathon and settled for a comparatively meek 3 hours and 30 minutes in my head. It ostensibly was a special endeavour and was going to stay in my memory for donkey’s years. The day was no less a lesson for me as it turned out with the swing of clock. I had underestimated the distance, gave it a shot with lousy training with timing aim sky high at 3 hours and 30 minutes (at my fitness level that time). Past mile 20, inevitably, my legs turned deadwood and body simply refused to obey the mind. The next hour to the finish line was the longest one I have ever experienced. I could barely manage to finish a sub 4 hours race with 3 hours and 42 minutes net time, imparting me the first hand wisdom I’d implement in my later races.
This year, it was kind of a revenge run for me after the erstwhile fiasco. Determined to train hard, I had promised Mumbai that I’ll come back stronger than ever. Things went fairly well all with some hiccups like a shin injury around October end after Musoorie Half Marathon and a chest infection in November that compromised my performance in Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. But the turnaround happened quickly with strong show at Grand Prix run and Adidas 12 hour relay run in December. These two races turned out to be big confidence boosters as I could maintain sub 4.30 pace with ease for around 30 kilometres distance.
Given all these equations and the big deal I had made out of this race in my head, pre-race jitters were inevitable. I felt quite anxious on Saturday after reaching Mumbai and could sleep for just 5 hours the night before despite trying hard to make it more but that actually had meagre effect, may be the last moment nerves are helpful to alert you and improve brain function, hope somebody hunts for a scientific probe on this. At the expo, I happened to meet Nakul whom I was acquainted with just a week before at the Manger Trail Training Run. With about same targets in pace, we decided to start together at the start line to pace each other as any distance runner would be able to tell, how much great mental help is it to have someone by your side to push you as you transition into devitalized state. Fortunately we could find each other in time amid the chaotic start line scene.
The race started past the start line at Azad Maidan well in dark at 5:40AM and quickly proceeded alongside sea as everyone fought their way zigzagging through runners full of blazing energy. It wasn’t long before we could spot the profuse sweat on the faces of non-coastal denizens, runners like me who travelled to the place last night and were far from getting acclimatized to the humidity levels.
It’s difficult to train for it with 100% of your training runs happening in rough Delhi winter. I tried it. I ran three to four times in the hot afternoon with two to three layers of clothes on in past couple of months thinking that I am simulating hot Mumbai weather.
I am not sure how much physiological stimulus was I able to get out of it but mentally it was a comfort. So to cut it short, I was able to maintain the target pace 4.30 without much lactate burning my legs till 28-30 kilometres. As my innocent legs started to protest against the evil mind and it grew louder with each passing step, it was the time for mind to show the stubbornness it had attained over training against the unsavoury acts of sundry body parts. Amid fierce altercation, heart and legs had no choice but to follow their master. In last 10 kilometres or so, no specific plan works for me. It just becomes how not to stop putting one step ahead of the other.
Unlike last year when I hit the wall around the 32nd kilometre, I didn’t take any walk break till the finish though my pace dipped significantly.
Negative splits, perhaps a good thing to practice, never comes to me in a race howsoever keen I am to practise it…something on my learning agenda.
Resting is considered an important part of the train-race-recover cycle. But in my case, I am a little puzzled at the state of things. Whether I am recovering from the hard efforts yearlong! May be or maybe not. There seems to be thin line between rest for active recovery and procrastination. I have not been able to set some tangible goals for the year ahead and that reflects in the abysmal amount of training I am able to put in for the last couple of weeks leave apart some some daily chores turned workouts like deliberate stair work at office and society building, hill (stair) sprints at metro stations and whatever other opportunity I get to pump my heart. Looking forward to think about the goals and clear the haze soon.
By that time, let’s chase around…!!!