Pain is for my body, not me!
5 hours 13 mins, the time I will never forget for years to come. On 15th January 2017, my dreams to run the comrades almost came to an end when I failed to qualify in the SCMM run. Strong and consoling words from my fellow runners kept my spirits alive. Although disappointed, I was also determined to complete another marathon and meet the pre-qualification criteria. Shortlisted Jaipur marathon and registered the same day. Continued my training for the next two weeks and was thrilled to qualify with a timing of 4 hours 50 minutes on Feb 5, 2017. Considering that a year back my marathon timing was 6 hours and 3 minutes, shaving off 73 minutes from the marathon timing in a year was an achievement by itself.
The goal was set, passions surging and we started our training. A very systematic schedule was set. Week after week we started working on hills, flats, endurance and running under extreme circumstances.
Keeping a work life balance became increasingly challenging. A typical weekday schedule would start at 5.30 am run of at least 12 km, leaving for work at 8 am, returning back at 7.30 pm, hitting the gym at 8 pm, dinner at 9.30 pm. Weekend schedules were even more gruelling with running schedules starting at 3 am or 4 am and runs ranging from 30 km to 40 km. Hill repeats at Pali Hill, Deonar Hills and Mount Mary gave us the right confidence to run on hills.
Running hills is a talent by itself. With the right guidance from my coach and fellow runners, my technique improved and eventually I corrected my running technique to run on hills. By May 2017, I was very comfortable running hills.
Comrades made me extremely disciplined and improved my time management skills. Hence despite taking more than 70 domestic flights and 12 international flights between Jan 2017 & May 2017, I clocked more than 1300 km with my peak week at 135 km. When there is a will there is certainly a way.
Training for ultramarathons requires more than just mileage. It requires the right combination of strength, speed, nutrition and above all the determination and grit to complete. The 50 km practice run in Lonavala, taught us how to work as a team and focus on technique. Keeping the mind occupied for nearly 6 hours or more is not easy. We learnt a few techniques including mental counting. The 65 km practice run taught us that running beyond 8 hours requires techniques beyond mental counting. We learnt techniques like chanting and training our mind to focus on short milestones. We started chanting, we started telling and training our mind that pain is temporary, we started contemplating that pain is to our bodies and not the real us, we are far superior to our bodies. Sleep deprivation and work pressure the week before the 65 km run forced fatigued in me and I was extremely sleepy after 50 km. But timely support from my friends helped me complete the run with new learnings and time to introspect again.
The 75 km run was planned better. I had less trouble with fatigue but faced issues on nutrition. I puked at 35 km. It helped me learn that GU gels need to be supported by base carbs, an important learning that eventually helped me on the day of the comrades run. I wish to thank all the RIR buddies who joined us for this run. Running 75 km boosted our confidence and made us believe that we can run really long distances if we have the right technique and attitude. We silently prayed to God to keep the momentum going.
I will always cherish the good weekends we spent as a team in Lonavala for the practice runs.
Rest of the weeks in April and May saw us run high mileage and Sunday runs ranging from 30 to 40 km. 30/40 km was our new 10 km. We wouldn’t settle for anything short of 30k. New routes including Walkeshwar route were explored and we found good value in running new terrains and hills.
The solidarity run organised by Mumbai Road Runners, Risers and RunIndiaRun was encouraging and equally daunting as we realised that our dear friends had a lot of expectations from us to perform.
On May 31 we took our flight to Durban. As we embarked on this mission we prayed not for us alone but for the whole team. This team had become more than a group of runners but a family who wanted to support each other with every finer aspect.
Good part of June 1 was spent at the expo. On June 2 we went on our first practice run in Durban. The climate was pleasant. The beach side run was great to loosen our legs. We met runners from different nationalities and with potential far superior to my own. But the beauty of running is that each of us had our own mission and we did not compete but supported each other. June 2 day time was spent with my wife and daughter for some basic sight-seeing in Durban.
June 3 was a difficult day to spend with anxious thoughts, multiple calls from friends and family wishing luck. At 6 pm, our coach had called for a team briefing. Sir asked each of us to describe our strategy for the next day. I explained how I plan to run with the 1130 bus as plan A and 1145 bus as plan B. Sir told us that our strategy was conservative but we need to be cautious of cut offs and hence following a reputed pacer is critical. We planned to start together and support each other to the extent feasible. The speech from Sir was motivating and made us visualise our finish. In the hind set, we realised if this session had not happened and without the guidance of Sir we would have run the race with an unsynchronized strategy. We had dinner at 7.30 pm and slept immediately after that.
June 4, 2017: We woke up at 2.15 am. We had our breakfast at 3 am and assembled at the start point at 5 am. The shosoloza and the chariot of fire songs raised goose bumps and wanted us to start immediately. The race started at 5.30 am. Our strategy was clear: half way point by 5.40 hours and then try to maintain the pace at 7.45 to 8 per min. At 18 km, I met my wife Anusha and daughter Avantika. I was thrilled to see my daughter Avantika wearing the marathon t-shirt and equally excited to see me run. With no time to speak, I just had a quick bite of the sandwich and left. At 30 km, I started experiencing some trouble with my salt levels, had the magnesium tablet and salted potato to regain my stability. At 43 km, with a buffer of 20 mins from the cut off, I completed the half way distance. Next 12 km was tough considering that we had to not only cross Inchanga, the most dreaded hill but also continue at a pace with which the 20 mins buffer does not get wiped off. A combination of controlled walking helped us reach the 58 km cut off with again 20 mins to spare. The next cut off after Umlas interchange was even more tricky. Although the terrain improved with some down runs, the fatigue had crept in and salt levels in the body were fluctuating. I recollected my 75 km practice run and said to myself that this pain is only to my body and not me. I repeated it with every passing km and eventually this phase also passed. Then came the most dreaded phase of the run: little Polly and Polly shorts. We knew we had 1 hour 30 mins at the bottom of Poly shorts. Controlled walking took us up the Polly shorts. With 12 mins to spare we completed our last cut off. We had 62 mins to complete the last 8 km. We said to ourselves this is not the time to sulk and walk. But we were tired and fatigued. Sir had told us that even a person who qualifies with a timing of 4.59 hrs completes the comrades with the right training and attitude. We said to ourselves we can’t give up. We increased our pace, ran at 7.5 mins/km for the first 2 km and then at 6.3 per km for the remaining 5 km. I entered the stadium and saw the timing on the screen reading 11.50 hours. The shouting, music and the encouragement in stadium was electrifying. I eventually completed in 11.52 hrs with tears of joy in my eyes.
As I introspect and see what helped me make it happen; it was the support of my family, training under my coaches, support of great, a wonderful running club where friends from all the centres prayed and supported us, my nutritionist, the strength training at my gym and last but not the least; the comradery of my new comrades family. I also want to thank RIR for the nutrition, support and right infrastructure to facilitate the training and runs.
I also firmly believe that the prayers from my family and friends when I had my lows during my run helped me ignore the pain and race ahead.
Comrades Marathon has helped me believe in a dream, be more resilient, patient and manage my time more effectively. It also helped me realise that if you are honest to your dream and passionate beyond imagination the whole universe will support you in achieving it. I am absolutely humbled.
I might have only earned a very small copper medal but the intrinsic value of this medal is priceless. It reminds me of a very apt quote: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value”