Since my French classes ended late 2016, so, in the year 2017, I decided that I wanted it to be the “Year of fitness” which promptly led a friend to quip, “Well, next year you can decide to eat like a pig, and call it the Year of Fatness!”
Anyway, let’s stick to the present. I have always been fascinated by the TVCs of sports shoe companies, where men and women built like Greek gods and goddesses. run in the city, with earphones tucked in, while the final slogan taunts you, “What’s your excuse?”
But, fantasizing about running and running are 2 very different things. I have been fantasizing about running for about 3-4 years now.
But it all changed in the last week of 2016. I was conducting an Employee Engagement activity at my workplace, and was asking everyone, what their new year resolutions were.
I, half-jokingly, started with mine, saying that I dreamt of running a half marathon. Unexpectedly, a senior colleague said that he had already completed a half marathon, and wanted to run the full marathon in January. That sort of perked me up, and I said to myself, if this guy is aiming for 42 kms (approx. full marathon distance), let me at least try for 21.
I remember telling my friends over dinner on 31st December night, that it was a new year’s resolution and I would start training from the 1st. They told me- Relax…enjoy your drink…wake up late tomorrow, and start from the 2nd. And that’s what I did!
There is a pretty big playground just opposite my apartment. All these years, I would always be very fussy about the ground and complain that it was not good enough for ME to run! Guess what? When you are motivated enough, any ground is good enough! So, with the aim of participating in the Kolkata Marathon on 29th January, I went to sleep early on 1st January 2017.
Day 1- 28 Days to D Day
First day, I woke up before the alarm, while it was still pitch dark outside and the weather quite cold. I warmed up and starting running at a slow pace, shivering in the cold all the while. But, it turned out to be very anti-climactic as, after running for barely 10 minutes, it felt as if my lungs would burst. So, with my tail between my legs, I came back home.
But, I was back the next day and the next and the next, each time, shivering in the cold, till I could increase from 10 to 15 minutes of running.
Meanwhile, the Know-All PR machine was working full-time. After all, what’s the fun in running, if you cannot go around bragging about it! So, all through the month, one of the main topics of discussion in office during lunch hour was- My progress/ preparation for the run. So, the photographer now had a new passion!
Day 8- 20 Days to D Day
A week had passed, and it was Monday morning and I was cribbing to my boss, that I could barely run 2.5 km in 15 minutes. And, on top of that, I had an office trip for the next 2 days, which would further rob me of precious practice time!
My boss coolly asked me to stop complaining and raised a point- What’s the problem in carrying your running shoes on your trip?
I did not have a satisfactory answer to that, and for the first time in my life, had running shoes in my luggage. I ran 3.3 kms in 15 minutes in the streets of Bhubaneshwar, and felt like on top of the world!
Crawling Walking back took 40 minutes, but that’s another story! 😛
The day of the marathon was 29th January and it was approaching faster than I could increase my running duration. So, the first swallow-your-ego moment. I decided to enroll for the less glamorous 10 km run. But, even 10k is not so easy to conquer, if you have to do it in much less than a month and you don’t want to curtail your other social dos.
Anyway, to get practice of running on metalled roads, I started to drive down to Dhakuria Lake, which is about 10 km from my place. Initially, I could do about 6 km around the lake. Days were passing faster than I wanted them to….
Day 21- 8 Days to D Day
The problem with being a Know-All is, you have to have your fingers in too many pies! Calcutta hosts the very prestigious Dover Lane Music Conference every year around 23rd-25th January. Its a 4 nights-long program, and of course I had to be there! I, along with few of my cousins, attended the program every night, and then I would be in office all day long. Which meant, I slept a total of 10 hours over 4 days. So, when I did my last practice run on 26th January evening (after sleeping all day long), I managed less than 9 kms in about 63 minutes.
Actually, it started the day before. I was advised to eat less protein the day before the run and load up on carbs, which could not happen, as I had to meet friends and I instead, loaded up on Protein! Yup, that’s Me!
Sunday came and I woke up early, picked my friend Srinivas (who was running his second 10k) and his wife, and headed to the Maidan.
For those who haven’t been to one of these Marathons, the atmosphere in the holding area is similar to that of a Carnival. People warming up with the latest dance numbers playing on the PA system, while the aerobics instructor eggs on the participants. People taking selfies, people doing jumping jacks, small sprints, chatting, laughing, giggling. It’s fascinating.
We also jumped right in, and started warming up. Since Srinivas had participated in a run before, he was guiding me around. It was he who suggested that we stand near the exit of the holding area, so that when the race started, we would be at the front.
Finally, 5 minutes before start, the gate was opened and we walked to the starting point. Did I mention that the atmosphere was electrifying? It felt as if an infantry was moving!
Just 30 seconds before time, in came the legendary cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar to flag off the runners. And when the adrenaline is rushing, so do you. The tendency for novices like me, is to start off at full speed and then lose all stamina within few minutes. Thankfully, Srinivas warned me to start slow and kept my speed in check.
Initially, the going was good. And because Srinivas runs faster in the beginning, just by keeping up with him, I covered the first few kilometers quickly. But, after I had completed about 4 km, I had severe stomach cramps. I realized later that, running on an empty stomach is not the smartest thing to do. But, at that moment, the only thing on my mind was, how would I cover the next 6 kms. I didn’t want to stop, lest I find it difficult to resume running, but every step was accompanied with amazing levels of pain. So, I had my second swallow-your-ego moment . I stopped running and started walking. I did this for about 100 meters, thinking every moment, how much of an ego-deflator it would be, if I was unable to complete the race.
But, fate was on my side for a change. After few minutes, the cramps abated somewhat and I again started running, though with some difficulty. And it was during this phase, that I realized why sports are considered such great unifiers.
Absolute strangers paused to cheer me up or encourage me, when they saw that I was clearly struggling. A fellow runner, paused and said- Come On Man! You have already crossed the halfway mark, push it!
The Pacer for the 60 minute bus, kept encouraging me throughout, which trust me, matters.
By the time I had crossed the 8 km mark, I had been running for nearly 50 minutes and on the verge of collapse. But, when you can see the finish line on the horizon, it gives you the strength to go the extra mile.
I gave it everything I had and even though I had targeted for a 60 minute finish, I limped home in 61 minutes and 1 second. I am told, it’s not too bad for a first timer.
My body was exhausted but my spirit was soaring. It may not have been a lot, but, sometimes the competition is within and the ability to succeed against your internal demons, has the sweetest taste.