A “marathon” post to commemorate the experience of a Half Marathon!
I feel incredibly privileged to have been a part of the 44000+ runner community at the Asia’s largest running event – Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018. Never imagined myself to be a runner but then got into this exhilarating ‘sport’ or rather ‘way of life’ serendipitously! They say that running completely changes you as a person and it is definitely true. All you need is a good pair of shoes and you can just take off! The journey started last March, when my highly active husband and brothers decided to run the TCS World 10k. I just went along with them, innocent about the drastic change that was about to happen to us! Thus, the training began and I started to realise that it would take a lot of time for me to actually enjoy running! During the initial two months, I struggled with my breathing and couldn’t will myself to run beyond the 2 km mark. I went out of breath within 200 metres and had to walk to get my rhythm back. From there it has been a long journey to be able to not only run with ease, but also dare to run in a saree ☺😄!
Luckily, Riku and Soumya (who are both passionate runners) were always there to motivate me. They all made running sound and look very easy. I was getting easily frustrated with my lack of finding that ease and ‘runner’s high’. With the TCS 10k around the corner and realising that I did not train for a long run, one day, Riku decided to pace me into running a continuous 10k. I know it was a very slow run for him even though it was completely challenging and scary run for me. I felt proud and tired after taking 1hr and 27 minutes to finish 10km. But, come TCS 10k and things changed! The whole atmosphere that day was unbelievable and I was able to easily push myself to a strong finish at 1 hr and 11 minutes. Watching all the runners around me and overall high energy levels propelled me into a different zone. I finally got my runner’s high and there was no turning back since then. Oh, one more thing – that started our collection of those beautiful finisher medals that you can display proudly to show off all the happy miles you’ve put in😅!
The next few months, I watched Riku do longer runs and I went into a slow phase, running once or twice a week. We did a couple of 10k runs with family and friends which was enjoyable. Life was going well and I was content with my running miles. I was able to put in some memorable runs in UK during my short stay for research at the University of Liverpool. Running in the Scouseland got me hooked on the feeling, high on believing that I’m falling in love with running 😍❤😬…
Meanwhile, back at home, Riku found a running event in Shimla by Running & Living. We decided to do a run-vacay with family. The stud boys, Riku and Rithu did a staggering 25k up in the beautiful hilly terrain of Shimla, whereas, Soumya, Amith and me ran an enjoyable 13k. I would say that it was my most beautiful run ever – I literally swayed and danced my way down the slopes with majestic trees on one side and gigantic mountains on the other side. There were uphills too, but, one could always walk them up 😉. The fresh air of Shimla coupled with the aromas of the forest was simply an experience that I just can’t articulate. Kudos to Rahul Verghese and Running & Living team for arranging this amazing run. Oh, by the way, before the run, we did a couple of treks too, got lost in the misty wilderness of Taradevi mountain and got attacked by a leech party. Nevertheless, that’s when I realised that I’m not only deeply in love with an incredible runner (Riku) but also beginning to have fond feelings for running itself!
Life was going good and again, one day, Riku, who after a full marathon (this guy doesn’t seem to be stopping!!), comes to me and says that there is this huge run called the Mumbai Marathon which is the biggest running event in the whole of Asia. I looked up and saw that there were only two categories in it – Half and Full Marathon. So, I had two options ahead of me- be the support team to my husband or run a HM! I wasn’t sure if I was ready to step up from 10km to 21.1km. After days of contemplation, I registered for the Half marathon with just a small meek voice in my brain telling me that I could do it. Next question: How to go about the training then? I didn’t have to worry much. Riku, again, did all the hard work and the research!
Enter, Jayanagar Jaguars, fondly called as JJs – Bengaluru’s oldest running community spearheaded by a passionate and imperious coach, Pramod Deshpande. We joined the group which had about 150+ enthusiastic highly trained and casual runners prepping for TMM and other 200+ energetic runners who trained along with us. The training was for 12 weeks and my monthly mileage (I knew all the running jargon by then 😅!) suddenly grew almost 3 fold.
I had my own share of energy loss, injuries, muscle tightness, soreness, etc. that made me learn more about my own body working tirelessly to keep me running. When the training began, I found myself tired for the first 2-3 weeks, poor eater you see. I increased my protein intake (eggs, chicken, fish, pulses, etc) supplemented with carbs, good fats, F & V, and nuts; all of which helped me build my endurance and stamina. Each run was challenging and fun, now that I had a gang of 10+ runners running along with me in my sub-group. In addition to the running, focus was also given to body strengthening for the first time. Well, now that I look back, it was naive of me to just keep running without trying to get my body strong for it. Core exercises and weight training helped me to run stronger during the training runs. Also, I learnt that the post run routine such as stretching, icing, and rolling the muscles should never be ignored just like the pre-run warm up. I figured what worked best for me as a pre-run snack (6 pre-soaked almonds and 3 bananas) and pre-race nutrition meals (broken brown rice, oats, poha, nuts, beetroot, sweet potato, potatoes, etc). For the TCS run and races after that, it was only the race day that felt important but during the training runs with JJs, I realised it’s the whole process that gives you the satisfaction and not just getting a desired time by giving your best on the race day. Perspective. The running community is one filled with individuals who work extremely hard, juggling both work and running; and with an amazing attitude towards life and people. They are eager to give advice and help fellow runners based on their experiences. It is something that I strongly felt to always be a part of. As we inched closer to TMM, the weekend runs became longer and more challenging.
TMM was supposed to be my first Half Marathon but then during the training came a special run called Bengaluru Thump Run where as per our training schedule, we needed to test our HM distance. I ran comfortably after the right advice from Riku (start comfortably slow and then finish strong). I didn’t know how much my long distance pace should be so that I avoid burning out. Taking inputs from the previous runs, I set out a pace and decided to target a sub-3 HM. This run was also special in a way that I was able to give away my habit of listening to music during races (coach hates it and is willing to stop you in between to tug the wires off 😝). Of course, coach was right as ever – turns out running is about getting in sync with one’s body and surroundings. I realised that drowning all that with music wouldn’t do justice to our experience of being “one with the run”! I was able to finish strong at 2 hrs and 43 minutes.
That’s it, I did it! Conquered the 13.1 miles.
This run along with 3 other 20k+ runs gave me enough confidence to believe that I can finish a half marathon.
With one week left to TMM, everyone around was getting excited to embrace the marathon of the year! Strangely, I didn’t have the butterflies in my stomach that used to hover during the TCS time… perhaps the walnuts did their job of reducing the pre-race jitters! Thank you, Dr. Ryan Fernandes. We had well tapered and loaded on beet juice and other carbs. When Riku asked for my race target, I said I didn’t have any as I just wanted to run a strong HM and I did it during the Thump Run. So, my target was already achieved and I could enjoy TMM aiming for a similar time. He insisted I aim for a better time since he believed I could run at a faster pace than what I’m used to. I took up this challenge with a practical back up plan and imagined a 2:30 finish – which is 13 min faster than my personal best (PB)! Getting to finish at that time would require me to run the entire 21.1k at the pace at which I ran my TCS 10k!!! It was a challenging task, but I felt I was up for it. My back up plan was to finish by 2:40. Riku again advised me to go with a 2:30 pacer (he always gives the best running tips!) so that I can focus more on my form than constantly checking my pace. I decided to get into the 2:30 bus which was to be paced by an enthusiastic runner, Kartik. That was it. Take it easy and just keep running. I believed that I was capable of doing it and the TMM theme song imbibed that further.
“Soch liya toh mumkin hai, Nikal pado toh mumkin hai”!
“If you have thought about it, it is possible. All you need to do is just get out and make it possible”!
As we entered the city, the feeling of something huge about to happen sunk in and all of us JJs were excited about the race. We set out together as early 4AM to board the local train to a mid point from where the local bus ferried us to the holding area. Watching thousands of runners assembling at the holding area gave me goosebumps. This was definitely much bigger than imagined! Munching a handful of raisins, I walked towards the start line with my pacer group and we heard the loud cheer of all the runners starting the run with high energy levels! This was it! The cool Mumbai breeze whizzing across was a sign that it was going to be fantastic!
With the sea on one side and the city on the other side, the 12000+ HM runners set out with racing hearts, huge smiles and determined minds. I held on to Kartik’s group as we chanted “Ganpati bappa moriya” and ran steadily towards the sealink. My focus was on maintaining my form and heart rate (under 180). Focusing on Kartik’s 2:30 flag helped a lot. He kept chatting with us, making sure everyone was comfortable. It really didn’t feel tough at all. At around the 3k mark, we entered the famous sealink and there was a pleasant breeze blowing at us. It felt really good and I looked around trying to get a glimpse of the sea but it was too dark. Suddenly, out of nowhere, doubts crept in – if I could do it, can I run 21k at this pace, why couldn’t I been happy with just running 10k’s, etc. I tried to brush off the mental cobwebs, thinking about my target and of course, Riku’s words of inspiration. He has always believed in me and I know I can trust him 🙂… Back to the race, I caught up closer to Kartik, who was chatting away spiritedly with a fellow runner. We did a Mexican wave and I felt the energy levels surge up. I had my first salt cap at 5k and held on to the water bottle for little sips every 4-5 minutes. Then came a beautiful downhill – I love it when I get to switch off and let gravity take me along. Gives a feeling of being extremely light and l let go of everything.
The 10k mark came by too soon after that. There was no panting, no slowing down and I didn’t feel any major energy depletion. There was a nagging dull pain on my back which I get sometimes on long runs – nothing that I hadn’t experienced before. I tried to relax my back and shoulder while maintaining the pace. While doing all that, I heard a familiar voice shout out my name. It was my partner in crime, Riku, running the full marathon in the opposite road. I was so elated and cheered him back. Nothing beats that feeling of your loved one shouting for you amidst the crowd when you are in the conservatory phase of the race. It brought the smile back on my then resolute sweaty face. He always waits for me to give a big hug after every race and this time I was going to miss that as he was doing the grand old full marathon!
After a km or two, just when my mind started playing the usual tricks to make me walk a bit, Kartik announced that we’d take a 15 sec walk break since we were on the Peddar road. We were already there! The famous Peddar road uphill with a 40m elevation that everybody had been talking about! To be honest, it wasn’t that scary a hill. Our coach had trained us well to tackle them with all those hill training sessions. It is all relative, I guess! Like Riku seriously told me, the strategy of the TMM is to magically increase the Peddar road incline only on the FM return loop! I also realised we were around the 15k mark and it was time to take another salt pill. The nape of my neck was getting heated which I tried to cool down by pouring water. It felt extremely refreshing against the Mumbai humidity and rising temperature. This was also when I witnessed the support of the Mumbai locals. They were all out of their homes on an early Sunday morning. Little kids were offering us chocolates, jaggery, oranges, bananas, etc, along with their cheering parents. I’m sure all the runners, including me, felt awesome getting pampered by the Mumbaikars. Even the Police force were out there cheering us. We cheered them back for their support.
As we entered the city, the sea faded off and it was time to start changing the gears. The finish line was near and I slowly tried to increase my speed after the 18th km. I was surprised that I still had energy to do so in spite of running faster than my usual training run pace. The last 3 km was a negative split and as the finish line approached, I tried to get into a sprint. There were a lot of runners finishing around the same time, I weaved through them and finally crossed the line at 2 hours 30 minutes and 14 seconds!!
I did it!!
For a moment, I just couldn’t believe it and tears welled up in my eyes. I looked around in search of my husband. But then, I realised he was still running his marathon. He is always there when I finish, waiting with open arms for a hug that seals my strong finish. I had to keep moving on and was given a towel branded with the TMM logo. Wow! That’s a wonderful memorabilia! I found few of my fellow JJs runners, each gleaming with happiness over their newly acquired PBs. Everyone was in a festive mood.
It was over.
The tough training for 3 months ended on such a high! We slowly parted after chatting up and stretching our prized muscles who did a wonderful job! Walking around Mumbai streets with the beautiful finisher medal around our necks gave us all instant celebrity status with the local residents, who made us feel super special. The support that this city gives to its annual runners is commendable. I wish other cities followed the same and this would encourage more individuals like me to take up running.
With that the first major running season ends. No doubt about it being tough and challenging, but it opened up a whole new world. A new season awaits now, with new goals, new challenges and a lot more fun! And I certainly can’t imagine a life without running. What next for me? A few more half marathons and then, maybe, I will start my full marathon training 😅😬. And some day, I would love to run an Ultra marathon and even run across different terrains from mountains to beaches! It will be a long road, but I will have plenty of good company!
Some tips and pointers I picked up along the way:
- How to start running: Start slow if you are new to running. I started with running 15 minutes a day – 2 or 3 times a week. It doesn’t matter how much or how fast you can run. Just will yourself to run and focus on your breathing/form.Putting in the miles per week is very important for a half marathon/full marathon training.
There are multiple articles, blogs and books on running that will help you understand about running the right way:
a. Runners World is a good place to start exploring.
b. Born to Run is a wonderful book to get you to enjoy running with special insights from the famous running tribe, Raramuri Indians.
c. Chi Running is a great technique to adopt if you are serious about running and want to run injury-free in the long run. Danny Dryer’s book is the go-to resource for learning the methods, but if you are in Bangalore you can reach out to Thomas Bobby Philip, our very own running guru, for tips and motivation!
d. Join a running page like the Bangalore Runners and Mumbai Road Runners, to always be in touch with the sport and the enthusiasts.
- Timing your run: Early morning runs are the best coz it brings you so much time for the day and feel really good with all the endorphins pumping through you all day. Also, in our country, it’s always good to run before the heat sets in!
- Cross-training: Try to alternate runs with other activities like cycling, swimming, body strengthening, etc. which will make it fun and get you to run better.
- Nutrition: Give equal importance to nutrition requirements. If you are feeling exhausted hours after a run, it means you need to increase your calorie intake. See what works best for you and include all the healthy foods. Running has helped us to greatly reduce our junk food intake. We have become more conscious of what we eat now that we want our bodies working perfectly for all kinds of runs.
- Cadence: Focus on getting a high cadence while running coz it will reduce the chances of injuries. Amateur runners usually have a cadence of 160-170 steps per minutes whereas Elite runners hit a cadence of over 180 steps and some even get over 200 at their fastest speed.
- Heart rate and breathing: Getting a heart rate monitor will help condition the heart to beat efficiently while running. It is very easy to get the heart pumping furiously, but the challenge is to run better with a low heart rate. Anyway, having a high heart rate will immediately force you to slow down (true experience). Anytime my heart rate hits 170+, my speed automatically comes down. Now, I’m trying a new method of heart rate training called the MAF method for a better control during runs. Coming on breathing, I started off with only nose breathing and soon got out of breath. Running consumes a lot of oxygen since the muscles require them to perform the repetitive movements. Breathing with both the nose and mouth allows more oxygen to circulate to the muscles. It takes a while to get used to the technique but once acclimatised you’ll wonder how it was so difficult for you initially! Deep abdominal breaths while running are the best and the toughest to achieve. Take your time to enjoy how your body adapts to running.
- Running injuries: There are all kinds of injuries that are bound to happen to runners since it’s a repetitive motion. Dont get bogged down and learn to identify the difference between tired muscles and an injury. Side stitches happen to almost everyone and I figured out that it mostly occurs when I’m not hydrated enough before a run. I ease them out by taking deep breaths and sometimes even gently massaging the area. Like I said earlier, a good warm up pre-run and stretching routine post-run would go a long way to help prevent injuries. Using an ice bag on my joints and injured areas along with wearing compression socks has helped me recover well post my runs. Also, roll out the stiff muscles using fingers, tennis ball/massage ball or that torture machine called the foam roller😰. It’s only human to feel lazy post races with cravings to just fall asleep but, trust me, you will be able to walk normally and get back to running if you do all the stretches! Running has helped us learn about our anatomy/physiology and we always feel privileged that we have all the mechanisms perfectly set within us to be able to run.
- Benefits of running: I don’t have to elaborate on this. I admit I’m a bit (a lot!) biased, but it comes with scientific evidence. In a nutshell, running gets you stronger, prevents age related issues and wards off many non-communicable disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc. It is quite paradoxical as to how it works coz runners are people who make a conscious effort in maintaining a healthy lifestyle coz otherwise one just can’t sustain running. Psychologically, running gives you a sense of euphoria, inner peace, and determination to face any hurdle that life throws your way.
- Ill-effects of running: I’m afraid there aren’t any. If you run the right way and take care of your nutrition, you should be good. Be aware of miscreants such as stray dogs and harassers during the early morning runs. Always try your best to run in a well lit area or with a running partner/group.
- Last point that I want to talk about are the myths and negativity often associated with physical activity, especially for girls, that I had to face and explain to many. Running is a healthy activity and does not make you anorexic. Poor lifestyle and eating choices does that. ‘Why does anyone have to run? It’s such a strain to the body’ – NO! It is not. Smoking cigarettes is, having a sedentary lifestyle is, eating a lot of sugar/junk food is, just not paying attention to health is – these are strains to the body. But any activity we take up to counter our sedentary lives is not a strain, but medicine for the body. ‘Are you running to lose weight?’ NO! But some might and it’s a perfect way to lose weight. Running slowly for longer distance has been scientifically proven to increase fat metabolism. Running tones your body frame and make you stronger. So ignore all the negativity, cross-train your mind to focus on the positives and the joy of running and most importantly, find people who enjoy it as much. And then put on your shoes, and into the cool morning you go. Nikal pado to mumkin hai. It will be another great day!