Almost a year ago, I took up running. I am an avid follower of sports with my top 3 being football, premier class racing (Formula 1 & Moto GP) and now, athletics. In 2007, I had a car accident and broke my left leg, which always made me wonder, will I ever be the same? I couldn’t play football with full spirit since a possible injury always haunted my steps. Once I left Bangalore in 2014, I knew that my days as a ‘sports-person’ was over – I was growing fat, getting slower and panting at every stride.
And then I came to SPJIMR for my MBA. I looked at it as an opportunity to rediscover myself and this note highlights a very significant part of my journey in the last 2 years.
When I woke up last Sunday morning, I was nervous. I performed the rituals, I wore my MRR T-shirt (already having the BIB pinned), a couple of bananas and rasagullas served as my ‘carb-loading’. As I boarded the cab with my father, all the preparation, the taper, the 10k runs, the last Sunday long run, the stretching -everything came back to my mind. But I was at the same time happy – I was at home, in Kolkata, running my first ever half-marathon.
In the last 1 year, I learnt some truth about running (or to some extent truth about myself) – it helps you to focus and resharpen your thoughts. Long distance running at some point of time questions your ability, your toughness, your determination & your resolution to achieve your goals. It mimics your life. Running also exposes your true-self. There is a famous quotation – “Everything you need to know about yourself, you will know in the 26.2 miles.” When you are on the road, you are alone, by yourself, with your thoughts and your demons.
Running also teaches you about a simple truth – “It’s a finite distance, taking finite time.” The self-doubts, fears, anxieties that we so often face in life, eventually pass. The 26.2 miles is a finite distance – if you move even at a very slow pace, you ‘will’ cross the line – hence it is never a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
The IDBI Kolkata Half Marathon served the perfect stage. I was born here but always felt alienated since I never explored the city on my own. Running around the city was certainly the best way! The number of participants in the HM as well as FM category were hugely disappointing – a mere 100~200 people lined up as the sun peeped through the eastern horizon. The HM started at 6:00 am sharp. As I took off, heading towards Victoria, a new chapter in my life was inked – the chapter of running my first ‘half’.
And then the heaven’s cheer greeted us in the form of rain. I was quick to cover my mobile armband with my all-time favorite MRR T but the rain wasn’t there to stay. The Gods probably showered us with their blessings as we took on the 13.1 miles route, one step at a time.
The race started from red road and headed south, took a 180 turn at Victoria before turning right at Lenin Street. The long sweeping route was surprisingly devoid of any water booth. Thankfully all my previous long distance runs without water helped me as I scooped up 2 water bottles at the 5 km mark, not sure if and where the next water booths were placed. There was no traffic control, so we were on our own, wary of the early morning unpredictable Kolkata traffic. The HM route was however manned by a few volunteers at the key turns. I gave them a thumbs up, while marching down the AJC Bose Rd towards the Science City.
I was more or less running on momentum. The pace was comfortable, the weather was okayish and I didn’t forget to gulp down water at every 2 km or so. The Kolkata weather is quite different from Mumbai and I didn’t want to be caught off-guard by the demon of dehydration. As Nike informed me of the 10km mark, I was pretty happy to observe the timing – it was 63 minutes or so. My maths told me, at this pace, I should be able to finish by 2 hour 14 minutes or so, which was like a dream come true. I had always heard about half marathons being gruesome at the first attempt – me here was cruising along the Porsche showroom at Park Circus!
I was in for a surprise.
As we took the U-turn at Science City, I noted the 11.5 km announcement on Nike. I felt good. I, in fact, felt great. My feeling however turned sour within the next 30 minutes or so.
My pace was decreasing, my breathing was getting heavier, I was sipping water more frequently, my calves were messing up and most importantly I didn’t feel like running.
Was it the ‘Wall’ – the point where you run out of energy and body refuses to move? I wasn’t sure. I had traffic to negotiate as a couple of buses crossed the road. I stopped for a brief while.
When I started running initially, I made it a rule. If I stop running, I go back home! I didn’t like walking, I didn’t like to move around in a sloppy manner. I always thought my legs to have enough strength to move 24×7.
I was wrong. I had to walk. I couldn’t run for 2 hours straight.
I decided to walk for about 30-40 seconds after every km check over here. Soon I started walking after every 500 m. I was tired, my heart was pumping blood with all its might to my sore limbs, my hands wiped the sweat of my forehead. I was still tired. There was nothing I could do. I was so tired.
I literally felt helpless. I didn’t want to run my first HM in this manner. I wanted to finish strong, pounding on the road like a pony! As I approached Rabindra Sadan and veered left, it was 5 km to go. On any other day, I would had taken not more than 30-32 minutes to cover the distance. Today I was not so sure – maybe 35, maybe 40 minutes? What if I walked the whole distance? 45 ~ 50 minutes? What will be my timing then? Will it look too bad if I finished at 2 hour 30 minutes? Does that make me a bad runner? Where are the other people? Am I the only one struggling here?
I was in a state of mind which weaved negative thoughts one after the other. I soon caught up with the 5 km fun run group who were laughing, jumping and playing around the road. I was finding it difficult to even move my feet. I dragged my tired body down the road, begging for the finish line to appear like a divine intervention and end this misery.
And then I thought of something.
As I had dreamt of this day over the last year or so, it was finally here. In a few minutes, it will be all over. I was not here to win. I am here to test my physical and mental limits. I was almost there – I was almost home – home to the belief that it wasn’t over, I still had something left within me and I will carry myself till I reach my goal. The finite time was finite indeed. Eventually, it was over!
As I crossed the finish line, I stopped my Nike. I didn’t feel anything but tiredness. My legs were numb. I moved out of the crowd and tried to find some water. There was utter chaos as I struggled to find the medals distribution area (I hoped there were a few left!). I located my dad after getting hold of the medal and I sat on the grass with my bottle of Gatorade.
2:24:52
The finite time between me and my first ‘Half’.