Running an international race was always on my bucket list ever since I started running in 2012. It was by chance that an opportunity presented itself through an unexpected trip to the USA. It was not exactly our planned holiday. However work beckoned my husband cum running partner to the east coast and we decided to eventually combine it with a short vacation. The runner’s bug in me prompted me to scan through the races scheduled around the time we were visiting and stumbled upon the Baystate marathon. Having received good reviews about being a well organised one, the Boston qualifier aspect only proved to be an icing on the cake. I immediately signed up, brimming with excitement of running my first international race.
My first step was to assemble the appropriate attire, considering it was the onset of winter and the temperatures were most likely to dip. Suggestions from friends who had run international races came in handy as we set off to the other side of the world. Landing in Boston, we drove down to Lovell in about 25-30 minutes, where the race was scheduled. We had booked ourselves at the Radisson hotel, Chelmsford where the bib collection was taking place. Shuttle services were also organised by the hotel to the start point of the race which was a 10 minute drive.
We had around 4 days to acclimatize and get over our jet lag. A short 5 km run, couple of days before the race enabled me to get a fair idea about the weather and my comfort factor in being attired like an Eskimo, quite contrary to my singlet and shorts back home in humid conditions. The weather and the scenic colours of autumn were breathtakingly beautiful and I stopped to take a few pictures of the strewn leaves on the ground adorned by different shades of green, yellow and red trees on either side of the trail. Feeling good, I returned to the hotel to collect my bib later that evening. It was a well organised affair, offering a goody bag and a T shirt for all the runners. Overwhelmed by the fact that we had come so far to run this race, the volunteers were kind enough to present my husband with a T shirt as well, despite the fact he wasn’t running this one.
Now I had no strategy or plans for this race. My philosophy has always been to enjoy every run and not stress about the time. As I stood waiting for the shuttle at the lobby, I got myself acquainted with a couple of runners from China and also a nice gentleman whom I was seated next to in the bus. They were all running the full and were aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was intriguing listening to their running and triathlon experiences while I narrated about the running culture in India and talked about the Mumbai Road Runners’ community.
The race for both the full and the half marathon was scheduled at 8:00 am and we reached the holding area at around half past seven. It was freezing and I decided to warm up a bit. I looked around in interest, watching runners from different cultures assembling at the start point. Some of us exchanged smiles and wished each other. I soon found myself breaking into those strides once the clock struck 8. My feet felt numb initially due to the chill weather which of course was resolved once a few miles were covered. A lot of foreigners overtook me and I could only gape in admiration at their sturdy and strong strides. Though the course was said to be a flat one, there were a few inclines present right from the beginning. I looked around and noticed the dainty array of houses on either side of the roads. Photographers were present along with a good crowd of local folks who cheered us at different junctions. After a few miles, it started getting warmer as I noticed several runners discarding their gloves and jackets on the road. The colours of autumn gleamed in the sunlight and there was this vast lake to our right, depicting a glowing shade of sparkling blue.
Volunteers were stationed at frequent intervals handing over water and gatorade which replenished our depleted energy levels. I felt myself cruising along the roads of Lovell and at one point was in tow with the 3:45 pacer of the full marathon before we broke into different directions. While the full marathon had pacers up to the 4 hour bus, there were none for the half marathon. The sun began to come out in a strong manner at certain points which made me wonder for a minute if I was overdressed, only to be assured by that brush with cold air that I probably wasn’t.
When I covered about 12 km, I told myself that it was just 9 km more to go and decided to think this as a distance for ‘navrun’. ‘Navrun’ was a unique concept conceptualised by the Mumbai Road Runners as an ode to the Navratri festival every year in October of either running 9 km every day or doing different workouts for those 9 days continuously.
I was going strong until I encountered a breathing problem that was persisting me for a while which makes me feel nauseous and fatigued. It’s sort of a slight congestion of having phlegm in my chest- the one that you face when attacked by the common cold. Despite not having a cold, I would face this during my runs and was advised by my coach to see a doctor regarding this.
I paused for a few seconds and picked up pace. We were doing 2 loops of the same course and during the 2nd loop of the route; there were timers which displayed 1:40. I glanced at my watch which showed 17.7 km done. My eyes popped out wondering if I had really been going at that pace. By now the sun had come out in a fierce manner albeit there was no humidity which proved to be a blessing. I ran up the bridge and knew it was just less than 4 km to go. I psychologically tuned my mind to the home turf on marine drive in Mumbai and imagined myself to be near Chowpatty beach which was about 3.3 km till the finish point at NCPA.
For some reason I hit a wall a little ahead of the 19th km. My eyelids felt droopy depicting the jet lag I had been battling throughout the race. It felt like sleep running at some points until I derived some inspiration from a Chinese runner in the vicinity which kept me going. It was a surreal feeling when I hit 21 km in less than 2 hours. Did I actually break the 2 hour barrier?? No pacer, no strategy, no planning. I just ran like a raw runner and actually achieved my dream on foreign soil. The medals were garlanded a little ahead of the finish line, where my husband and daughter were waiting for me.
Excitement filled the air as I posed with the Indian flag. The best part about this race was the fact that there was a separate medal for those who bagged their personal best timing as well. So it was a treat to bag 2 medals in a race which is considered as one of the fastest ones in the USA. I also silently thanked the weather Gods and a thought took me back to all those runners achieving a sub 2 in humid conditions back in India. Kudos to them I thought as they were definitely a tough lot.
Some of the learnings that I incorporated during this race was to ensure that I enjoy every run in the future, see a doctor the moment I land in India, include more mileage during my long runs and break the distance barrier of 21 km to prevent myself from hitting a wall.
The first of anything always bags a special place in your heart. My first international race at the Baystate Half marathon will always be special, not because of my personal best timing but the entire experience of running with people from different cultures was something which words cannot describe. Incredible? Scintillating? Riveting? Maybe something more than that!