Marathon Diaries : Its all about the mind
As I crossed the finish line in my first full marathon – Bengaluru Midnight Marathon on Saturday, 12th Dec ’09, with a time of 4 hours 32 min, my immediate emotion was not that of elation or relief. I wanted to cry but the tears didn’t flow. I wanted to shout and pump my fist in the air but I did not. I just achieved a goal I had set myself for years, an impossible one (at least in my mind) after I could barely walk post my knee surgery years ago. All the cliches “mental strength”, “human spirit”, “determination”, “against all odds” etc. did not seem so cynical, anymore.
I felt nothing. But the emotions poured out as I wrote this post. Yes, it had been quite a journey!!
I believe I was blessed with some good genes. In my “younger” days in school/college, I was told by my coaches that I was a natural athlete because many sports came naturally to me from Soccer (football), hockey to athletics (100m sprint, long jump). Be it running the 100m dash in less than 12 sec to scoring goals for my football teams as the lead striker. This just added to overconfidence and yes, arrogance. I used to excel in sports without much preparation, counting more on my skills and physical abilities.
However, one cannot have it all as I discovered the hard way. I busted my right knee in the final year of college in a football game (which we lost). I had a severe tear in the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament. Its a common injury among athletes, they told me as if to make me feel good. The doctor told me if I were to walk normally in life, I need to give up sports. It was heartbreaking, and so I diverted (ok, at least tried to :-)) all my attention to studies as I joined MBA (IIMB) the same year. Well, things didn’t go as planned, I further aggravated my injury in the campus playing football, Tsepak and would you believe it, dancing in the block parties.
After graduating from MBA in 1997, the first thing I did with my sister’s guidance (she is a doctor) was meet a orthopedic surgeon at AIIMS. The doctor recommended a surgery. After multiple scans – MRI to invasive scans, I underwent a 6 hour surgery under general anesthesia (which was pretty trippy, I’d say). The result of the surgery was pain, two months of inactivity and complete wastage of muscle in the right leg. After years of physiotherapy, building quadriceps, I still have two screws in my right knee(holding the ligaments), two long scars, and little sensation below the right knee. I was frustrated, became restless and impatient in life.
I forgot about returning to active sports and immersed myself into what every young MBA does (well, after all these year, I still wonder what?? and why??) incl. a draining (yet satisfying) entrepreneurial stint. All of these were stilled marred by my restlessness and impatience from my early days. I tried achieving too much in short time.
And then I took a break and moved to Bangalore. I delved into philosophy (esp. Buddhism). It had a calming effect on my mind, as I started to live in the present (not in the past or in anticipation of the future). I started setting small goals for myself in life – “things to do before I die”.
Running a full marathon was one of them.
Marathons were an alien concept in India, with the population preferring butter chicken in the North and curd rice in the South to running. The Mumbai Marathon in 2004 changed all that when it brought to the country the joy of running. And it was hugely welcomed by a large number of participants – young, old, across class, caste, creed or sex. It was a huge success. It opened the door for marathons across various cities in India incl. Bangalore where I was. And when it was announced that the Bangalore Marathon is to be held in May 2005, I had one month to prepare after eight years of inactivity. I decided to go for the half-marathon.
I killed myself training for it – speed running and a reduced diet high on proteins & low on carbs. I ran the half marathon in 2:05 hours which many (incl. me) thought was a good time. After the race, my knees hurt, my muscles cramped, I was dead tired and exhausted. However, I felt great completing the 21 km distance after years of inactivity and 2 screws in the knee. For four years and many half marathons later, I was still not ready for the full one. Mentally, I was still impatient and restless. A bit calmer, but still not there yet.
Its all about the mind…
My restlessness and indiscipline took my mind off running. And I shifted my energies to cycling, and I loved it. As I started reading more about cycling, I came to know about the grueling races in various tours esp. Tour de France ( 3500 km in 3 weeks of cycling across terrains, weather and countries). As I started following the sport, I read more about the various bikers and esp. Lance Armstrong. Here was one man who was brash and arrogant and won shorter distance races just because of his natural athleticism. His fight with cancer changed all that and he won Tour de France a record seven times. (Please read his book “Its not about the bike“). I just gifted this book to my nephew, a young rebel, with gyan saying that in sports, at work, in life whatever we do “its all about the mind”. “Easier said than done, Hemant”, I told myself later.
Well over years I have tried to use these pearls of wisdom subconsciously, however what if one were to use these consciously. This has been the way of life in India for centuries esp. with Buddhism, the teachings which I have been trying to follow (not very successfully). His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s book “The Way to Freedom” is an enlightening read.
So with these weapons of inspiration, I set off to pursue my goal of completing full marathon in Mumbai in Jan 2010.
I had 2.5 months to prepare and I started off my prep in a scientific and disciplined way. Mainly taking cues from www.marathontraining.com :
(1) Training schedule – with distance/speed/Heart rate targets,
(2) Balanced diet (with much reduced liquor intake),
(3) Warm ups, stretches and building of specific muscles in the gym,
(4) Strategies to delay the process of depleting glycogen “stores”,
(5) Focusing on rhythm and pace during long practice runs,
(6) Choosing the right music on my iPod and more…
After 1.5 months and two long distance practice runs (upto 28 km ), I was feeling good about my prep for the marathon in Jan till the impatient part of me woke up and pushed me to register for the full 42 km in the Bangalore Midnight Marathon instead of the half one which I was planning to do earlier. And I succumbed, justifying that I need not complete it and it would be a good practice run. With that in mind I started preparing myself, but mentally this time the week before. I slowed down on my practice runs and focused on the diet, working on the niggles (esp. at gluteus maximus) and on specific muscles.
Bangalore Midnight Marathon 2009 : The race night
The race was scheduled to start at 12 midnight on Saturday 12th Dec ’09. This was the third edition of the midnight marathon in Bangalore. and was held at Whitefield. One lap was around 4.2 km, and so for a full marathon, one had to complete 10 laps. I thought of this as repetitive and boring, however, for me it was the distance which was a challenge. Fortunately, Viji Philip a friend from MBA days was there running the half marathon. I will have company for at least half the distance. The route was well lit up with water stalls along the way and the unforgettable registration counter blaring away hard rock with the likes of Green Day, AC/DC and others. There were close to 500 + runners participating in different races from 5 km to half to the full marathon.
Earlier in the day, I ensured that I had a diet high on carbs (rice, boiled potatos etc.). I slept well in the day and was fully hydrated. For the race, I filled my pockets with glucose biscuits, 1 bar of snickers and held a gatorade. Performed the mandatory rituals of applying cold cream to avoid nipple bleeding, iodex on certain niggling parts (gluteus maximus in this case) and the usual round of warm ups & stretches.
The race started on dot at 12 midnight. I put on my iPod with the new playlists I had created just for this and we (Viji and I) started off with slow pace and we increased as we went along. We averaged a pace of around 9-10 kmph. The first 21 km was a smooth ride as we ran together matching each other’s pace. I took 2:14 hours to complete the half way mark. However, as Viji finished his half marathon and so did many of the full marathon runners (from Africa).
And from thereon I was on my own.
I had to cover the same distance all over again. The “impatient me” suddenly woke up and advised me that its just another practice run and I could quit midway. I ignored. But my body couldn’t.
As I crossed the 25 km mark, I started feeling it. My glycogen reserves were rapidly getting depleted. I had finished my Gatorade and was now on water and biscuits & the snickers bar. After 7 laps (around 30 km), I felt my legs becoming as heavy as lead. At that stage, I started setting myself shorter goals for the rest of distance (as I have tried to do so in life) . In the lap I identified milestones – where I will take water, stretch for few seconds while running, increase my pace. I started overshooting these milestones.
After 34 km, it was just becoming difficult. I had 8 km – two more laps to go. The number of runners had thinned out, tho’ there were still many familiar faces from Runners for Life. I could see many runners walking or dropping off. I was so tempted. I focused on the milestones and continued running. At each milestone I checked my time, I was averaging pretty good and with this pace I could complete under 4:30 hours, if I complete.
After 37 km, I stopped at a water stall and started to do stretches and started to do walk briskly till a runner passed me by on his way to the finishing line and advised me that I am doing more damage to my muscle stiffness by walking and not running at a pace. And I started off again. Passed the Domino’s pizza milestone without getting tempted with the pizza, passed the registration counter which was now playing Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia” and then reached the finishing line.
One more lap (4.2 km) more to go. My ankles were hurting bad, my knee too. My calf and thigh muscles were getting stiff. My hip muscle (gluteus maximus) started acting again. My shoulder and neck muscles ached after continuous running for hours. And my body wanted to give up.
But I just cannot let this go after years of waiting. I was determined. With that thought and at that very moment, I picked up my pace. And something strange happened. My pain started to disappear. I started passing all the milestones with a brisk 10 kmph till I crossed the finishing line. I checked my time. I took 4 hours 32 minutes and 33 seconds. I had finally done it.
Coincidentally, as I approached the finishing line my iPod played “Amazing” by Aerosmith and as I completed the race with the following lines of the song, which I thought was symbolic at least to me.
“Life’s a journey not a destination
And I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings
You have to learn to crawl
Before you learn to walk”
I think I learned much more through the entire experience more than just learning academically the art & science of running.
This was a great milestone (and a mental block) for me and without the support of my family, friends and my doctor, this wouldn’t have been possible.
If you are still here after reading the “marathon” post above, thank you for your patience. I hope you have a good run, in life as well.
As for me, now to the next goal..!! cheers..!!