Sunday, December 11, 2011

My first Half Marathon!

"Did It"

That was the SMS I sent to Sangeeta at 4:00 AM after finishing my half marathon in the Midnight Marathon held in Whitefield, Bangalore on Dec 11, 2011.

Now to the story.

The Irrational act !

A month back on Nov 11, some one tweeted saying "Registered at Midnight Marathon". I just clicked on the link and paid 600Rs for the half-marathon. Human progress happens on such irrational acts.

Why was it irrational? : My personal best was 12.5 Kms. The half marathon is 21kms. I thought I can practice harder and increase my mileage.

After signing up for the marathon, I announced on Facebook and even got 13 likes and 5 comments and tips. I duly forgot about the marathon and went on with my work + occasional runs ( I average 6 runs a month - yes its very bad - good runners run almost 4 times a week )

The Panic Attack

Suddenly around Nov 26th I panicked. I SoSed some of my friends and runners I follow on Twitter and got useful tips.

@nilakanta, @_bharath_k,@ulaar and Jayaram Srinivasan ( ex SAP VP and now entrepreneur ) - Thank you guys for the pep talk and encouragement.

Some of the tips I got from them :

* eat curd rice couple of days before the race to load up on carbohydrates

* watch out for the cold in the midnight marathon - it will be good if you can change your t-shirt in the middle of the race

* Just run - thats what running is all about. Don't over analyze things

* You can easily stretch your 12.5Kms to 21Kms on race day - adrenaline will keep you going.

So I started pushing myself a bit - went for 3 runs on alternate days and ended up with a new pain - "runners knee".  This was Nov 30th.

The Suspense

The next 10 days was the most harrowing time. I was reading more and more of runners knee - and learnt that I should have been doing strength training exercises - not just running. Now it was too late - so I decided to just take rest and not injure my leg any further.

Twice I was tempted to run but better sense prevailed and stayed at home. Walked gingerly all the time and even got a knee socks kind of thing and wore it now and then hoping it will do some magic.

Race Night

I was very anxious through out the day. We reached around 10:30 pm and I got my first whiff of a marathon event. The atmosphere was electric. So many were walking in shorts and wearing sports shoes, wearing bibs, people stretching, warming up. There was a rockband called "one night stand" playing some oldie hits. I couldnt quite enjoy it as I could only think of the race.

Thats me with my Bib - 764 and Prithvi - who was excited all day since we told him that we will be all going to the midnight marathon.

  Also there was a timing chip - which I tied to my shoe lace - after seeing some one near me tie it to the shoe lace. I was planning to put the chip on my pocket ;)  At the race start and at the mid way mark where we turn around - there is an RFID sensor placed underneath a red carpet - which will give a beep when it detects the chip.

Around 11:40 PM went to the race line. A huge crowd was there already. Here are some snaps from the starting line :
My Running Accessories : Bata Canvas Shoe, Sennheiser headphone, SGS Android phone with Cardio Trainer App for tracking time and distance

The ambulance was reassuring. Also behind my Bib had to write emergency contact person name and mobile, blood group, alergies to any medications etc.

My Cheer Party!
Just before the start

The Race

At 12 precisely the race started. There were drums at the entrance and people were cheering. After the first bend it was quite and all I can hear was the sweet thump of foot hitting the road - and ahead of me - for the entire stretch that I can see where heads bobbling rhythmically. It was beautiful the very sight.

We were to complete 5 laps for the Half Marathon ( 10 laps for Full Marathon ) - each one was around 4Kms. I typically alternate between running and walking - and keep increasing my running time and reducing the time I walk. My knee pain did not surface and I was very much relieved.

The course had 3 slopes. I have never practiced on a slope and I found that it was hard to run on an upward slope. I had to redo my strategy and started walking on upward slope - this totally messed up my rhythm - but I didnt mind much as I was enjoying the whole experience. When I crossed 1Km I saw the Ethiopian runners on the opposite side - they were already returning from the half way mark. Just watched them with my mouth open !

I managed Laps 1 and 2 pretty smoothly.

And it gets tough

I reached my 12.5km mark without much trouble and felt elated. I typically average 7Kms per hour, but this time it was 6.5Kms per hour...because of the slope walking.

Then I felt a tinge at the back of my right knee. This always surfaces when I cross 12kms ( and this is the reason I stop running after that and go home ). I knew what was coming - so stopped stretched, ate a banana and gulped some gatorade in one of the stations. I completed Lap 3 running.

The pain was pretty acute now and so I stopped and rested again. Did some more stretching and ran gingerly putting more weight on my left leg ( earlier this was the problem leg with shin splints - thankfully I am beyond that now )

By the time I was returning on the 4th lap I knew I could not run in this race anymore. The right leg will not bend. Also since I was putting more pressure on my left leg, started getting pain around the knees on left leg too.

The last lap

I walked slowly to the finish line at the end of lap 4. The experienced half marathoners were completing their runs and the newbies like me were walking or slowly jogging.

I went and sat. I had carried Volini - a pain ointment my mother uses - and applied it generously on my knees. Removed my shoe and let my toes breathe - they were literally burning.

I did not bother looking at the clock as I knew it will depress me. I took a deep breathe and started walking. I had another 4+ kms ahead - and it looked very far. I was literally dragging my right leg as bending it would send pain waves through my leg.

Most of the half marathoners had completed by now and only the full marathoners were now running or were also walking. But they walked briskly and also jogged - unlike me.

One kind soul while over taking me said - walk briskly sir thats all you have to do. I just smiled at him and said Thanks!

I dropped the idea of sitting and resting - as I knew the last time I sat and applied ointment I had a tough time getting up. Lot of thoughts were buzzing in my head. Why the heck did I even decide to run? This is it - I kept thinking - I am not going to run any more Marathons ever. I tried to banish such thoughts but the negativity in me was going on increasing.

To shut up the devil in my head I started focussing on the pain. The toes were literally burning, there was a sensation of a tight pull above my knees and also a searing pain behind my knee. I tried diverting my mind to think of positive things - but the negative thoughts started coming and it was making me angry and wanted to give up - so I started focussing on the pain again.

I think focussing on the pain strategy might have worked. I reached the mid way point and was elated. Phoo - just 2 Kms more. I was certain at this point that I would be completing the race.

I did not stop for any refreshments but kept walking dragging my right leg literally. I had become an expert on my pain  as I had been observing it so much. I literally lost track of how long I was walking and I started hearing drums - I was getting closer to the finish line.

The finish

I registered my final beep on the RFID scanner and crossed the finish line. I need not turn back for any more laps. I had such a surge in emotion that very moment. I walked very slowly and found a chair and slouched on it.

A kind organizer came to me and asked if I was alright. I had a tough time talking and said yes, Thank you. He let me alone and went away ( later he would come back give me a bourbon biscuit packet saying apologetically - this is all I could get! - he had no idea how grateful I was  ). I was basking in pure joy. The pain was still there but I did not mind it anymore. I just sat there stretching my legs. I could see the full marathoners turning back for their remaining laps.

The kind soul who asked me to walk briskly was coming towards the finish line. I clapped and he saw me - he put his thumbs up and smiled. He went back on his lap - don't know who that person is - wish I had shouted to ask for his twitter handle.

Here are some screenshots of my phone.

My home screen - always shows the calories burnt from previous runs - was 0  at the start of the race. 

My running graph captured by Cardio Trainer

And for the time I took to complete this race - it is pretty embarrassing when I think of it - this is the typical time runners take to complete a full marathon. Anyway I can only do better next time - that is guaranteed :)

Thankfully I have no blisters or swelling - the poor muscles in my legs are just tired I guess. My confidence on running has only increased -  I will try to run smarter - run on slopes and also try to mix up strength training to my routine. 

Now to the devil in my head - I will participate in marathons again and again - year after year. I will try to better my time, will aim for 42 kms and more. You sir, the devil in my head, can go take a hike!