By: Ayush Jain (LT MHPS)
Running for me, has always been the means to an end i.e. Fitness.
I began running about 6 years ago when I started with trail runs of just under a mile (1.61 km). Over the years, it was always about improving the timing whereas the mile distance remained the same. About eight months ago, the focus shifted to endurance running thanks to a dear friend of mine. ‘Born to Run’, a masterpiece by the author Christopher McDougall was another factor that inspired endurance running in me.
So this is where CHERRAPUNJEE comes in. I set my targets on Half Marathon distance, 21.1 km to be exact. Now all that remained was choosing the location. It had to be exotic teeming with natural beauty, the route had to be scenic and the terrain had to be challenging. I began scouting for locations and since I have always been fond of the rains, Cherrapunjee emerged as the clear winner. As luck would have it, the Cherrapunjee Half Marathon was just around the corner, 17th July to be precise.
So after about 90 days of grueling preparation, I left for Cherrapunjee. With just 1 day to acclimatize, I was up at 4 on a Sunday morning all charged up for my first half marathon. Described as the “Abode of Running in the Clouds”, Cherrapunjee lives up to its expectations. As soon as I stepped outside, it started pouring and I was already drenched by the time the race started.
The atmosphere at the starting line of any marathon is one full of euphoria and anticipation. Having previously run a maximum distance of only 17.5 km prior to the race, I was a little skeptical about completing the entire distance of 21.1 km with the battering rain and winding slopes of Cherrapunjee to contend with.
As the race began, all the demons vanished and sheer joy of running took over. Maintaining a steady pace of 6 mins per km, one by one the kilometers started to tick by. Running in relentless rain is a different experience altogether. The rain feels refreshing and the landscape offers a picturesque view. The winding paths, the numerous puddles and waterfalls appearing in the view every now and then, make it all the more exciting. I could go on and on…but let’s get back to the race.
I encountered my first major challenge after I had completed the 7 km mark. Steep slopes lay in front, as far as the eye could see. I mustered some courage and since only 1/3rd of the distance was covered, there was enough energy in the tank to overcome this hurdle. I kept running for another 2 km with the punishing slopes draining me of my energy. Some strides later, I crossed my first major milestone of 10 km. Though I had conquered this distance before, I was elated at having maintained a decent pace in this terrain and at having the energy to go on. The next 2 km were relatively easier and a sense of relief started to sweep over.
But, Cherrapunjee had other plans for me. Just when I thought it was getting easier, the slopes gradually became steep at 12 km mark. And this time the gradient was arduous, crushing my will with every step. The chilly howling winds, the pelting rain and near zero visibility due to the fog did not make it any easier. To add insult to injury, my shoes were full of water and it seemed like heavy rocks had been attached to my ankles. All these factors combined, made running on the earlier slopes seem like resting on a luxurious couch.
There comes a point in every race at which one feels that you cannot go any further, this is the maximum you can endure i.e. The Breaking Point. Well this was mine. But there’s hope. If you can somehow will yourself beyond this point, you can labour on to achieve your target without getting fatigued. This is exactly what I did. Slowing my pace to barely a crawl, I willed myself to keep running, to think only of putting the next step forward and using the energy in each & every fibre of my body, I somehow overcame my Breaking Point.
After this ordeal, I reached my next major milestone of 15 km. By this time, I was able to gain back some of my energy and I rebuilt my pace over the next 5 km whilst enjoying the rain, the beautiful vistas and pacing myself along with other runners in the half marathon.
What was heartening throughout the race was the support of the local crowd, the volunteers and the fellow runners encouraging you to give your best and never give up.
Shortly after crossing 20 km mark, my mind started conjuring images of the finish line with just another km to go. But there was another twist in the tale as there was a gradient of almost 55-60 degrees with respect to ground in front of me. Thankfully it lasted for only 200 m and finally, the finishing line was in sight. I sprinted towards the finish and completed my first half marathon, a truly memorable one in 2 hours 17 minutes.
My dream of completing a half marathon came true and specially in such amazing conditions with rain as my constant partner in this eventful run.