The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!
My Comrades journey of 2000 km & almost 365 days began in June 2016. Preparing for the 5 hours qualifier, every long & short run, speed & hill run, visiting the orthopaedics & the physiotherapists, missing all the family get-together’s, weddings & parties; truly made the comrades journey an epic one!
The countless hours spent on the internet and social media & reading all inspirational books to keep one motivated in addition to meeting & bonding with all the legends, fellow aspirants & training together with all the team members was indeed life transforming!
The race weekend was a culmination of all these efforts coming to fruition, right from going to the expo to the registration process, collecting the championship chip to last minute taping & massages to carbo loading to hydration to race strategy.
There are a 100 thoughts & things to do in your mind the day before the race. We made a race day checklist right from running gears to nutrients & race strategy to the dinner menu. Filling in the tog bags to filling in the marquees, the last minute tips from the legends we met at the expo. We also managed to collect race timing bands and tattoos for assistance.
The race started at 5.30 am. The morning alarm was set for 3.30 am. We were fortunate to be in a hotel which was a 3 mins walk from the start line. After the usual morning routine the gang met in the lobby for a small head to toe & warm up, and we started walking towards the starting line. Since many of you are not aware, these sections are as per your seeding which is as per your timing of your qualifier marathon. So it progresses from seeding A to H. The atmosphere was fully charged with loud music & the master of ceremony was doing his bit to make it electric.There were 20 thousand runners & their supporters. The mayor of the town was ready to flag off. We heard a gunshot & the race began. Slowly we started to move.
The strategy was to go for the bronze medal, a timing of sub 11 hours, so the first cut-off had to be crossed in around 2.15 hours and at a pace of 7.30 per km. My breakfast was the usual banana & a gel just before the start. Things seemed to be in control till the first cut-off, which I crossed at 2.17, picking up water & Energade at regular intervals to keep my body hydrated. I saw an 11 hour bus enroute which I mentally made a note of to hang on to. I just kept talking to myself, “We are doing good champ, and today is going to be our day!” I started thanking all the gods & my well-wishers who were sending me all their positive energies. I cleared the second cut-off. I thought to myself, “I was doing well, man!” But, what I didn’t realise was that I had missed my first support marquee at 26km; although I was still in good shape. I even started responding to a few supporters on both the sides. The second cut off was 4.30 hours. The target was to be there in around 4 hours, the third in around 5.30 hours. I reached at around 5.46. I was a little surprised because I had not realized how much I had slowed down on the last hill & then I realized it was getting hot & the body was getting dehydrated.
Nevertheless, I was mentally okay; my mind slowing preparing me to accept a decent completion in place of the targeted bronze; but this was not to be! I felt an unusual stiffness in my left calf, something moving like a ball. I slowed down & was pretty confident this will ease out as I continued moving forward slowly. The next cut-off was at 56 km. Still a long way to go! My target here was 7.15. I knew this might not be possible but I decided not to stress too much & just continue my walk-jog & wait for the second wind. I was picking up solid food, the potatoes & bananas on regular interval with lots of salts too. After around 50 km, while moving up a small climb, I felt a sharp pain in my hamstrings & something locked my entire left leg from the shin to my butt. I almost stood still & was going to lose my balance. Luckily a fellow runner helped me get steady & advised me to keep moving. I started to limp for a while then using strong arm action, started counting 1 to 20 & just when I felt I was getting back my rhythm, my right leg cramped may be because of the load. I could not believe what was happening to me. Is my race coming to an end? I said to myself, this can’t be! I have to do something! I desperately pulled out some salt and took a pinch. I thought to myself that this would surely work, drank some water & then kept looking up at the sky asking for a miracle. I started slowly & steady, count of 20 was a challenge so decided to do a count of 10 & 20 to walk & jog. I could move barely 500 metres before I again got stuck. 56 km looked too far away. I kept on muttering some gibberish & literally walked like a robot. My lower body was just jammed, I had no energy left. I could not push, could not take gels because I felt I would throw up. I met a few Indian runners, 3 km before the 56 km cut-off. I tried desperately to tag along with them but in vain. I slowly walked to the 56 km cut-off. I had approximately 90 mins to cross 66 km. I had to pace at 9 mins a km. The patch was almost flat, it did not look impossible but I was just unable to muster speed. I had hit the wall! My mind said, “Champ you can’t run 30 km with this level of energy & pace. You are done, another DNF.” I felt sorry for myself & cried a bit, then started analysing what had gone wrong.
Did I not have enough nutrition before the start? Did I not carry stuff with me knowing well that there will be no solid nutrition available till almost 35km? Did the anti-inflammatory tablets cause a reaction? Did I not do enough mileage since I was training in the tri mode? Did I taper early? Did I take too many breaks while training?
In the end I realized this was just not my day and that it happens to everybody, even the best of runners and that I should not lose faith.
While discussing with my daughter about the experience, she said something which set me thinking. “Papa, it was very much your day! What if you had pushed yourself & landed in the medical tent with some injury? That could really have been worse! Everything happens for the best, be happy & chill!”
I looked at my wise daughter in awe as I saw my race in a fresh perspective. I saw the larger picture and thanked the almighty for seeing me through this, unscathed and injury free. Maybe someday, I will attempt this race once again, wiser and stronger, I thought as I hugged my daughter.