They might call me crazy. I don’t blame them. Who else would travel 92 km in the wee hours of the morning in a foreign land, with just 5 hours of sleep? A runner of course. Yet this was no ordinary run. It was the armed forces half marathon, organized by the US armed forces inside the naval weapons station which was otherwise off-limits for civilians. Who would pass up such a golden opportunity to run inside an area that served as an ammunitions depot for several wars fought in the past? Not me for sure.
Concord is a city which is situated north east of San Francisco. It took about an hour and 20 minutes from Stanford during the day in peak traffic hours. Driving through the reserves, foothills and wildflowers, I reached Todos Santos Plaza, situated in downtown of concord. Registered runners had to pick up their running bibs and T shirt here. It was a beautiful area, surrounded with a lot of restaurants and shops. The park was picturesque with green lawns, rose bushes and a pretty fountain in the middle. People sat in the benches, munching a sandwich or sipping their coffee from the Starbucks joint in the neighborhood. I spotted the bib collection area and collected my packet. “The run starts at 6:30 am sharp. You might want to come at 6:00 am.” The organizers said. I nodded.
Usually runners face insomnia the day before an event. Mostly due to the fear that they may sleep through the alarm. I tossed and turned that night, dreading what may happen if I slept through it. With barely 5 hours of sleep, I left my place at 4:45 am and reached Concord by 6:00 am. The area was bustling with runners wearing colors of the American flag. Incidentally I wore a red t shirt that day so I managed to blend in with the crowd dressed in reds, blues and stripes. Some were doing their stretches and warm ups before their run while others were engaged in a friendly banter with their groups. I stood there and surveyed the crowd. The young and old were assembled there. I was surprised to see a good number of Indians as well and from their chatter I gathered it was their first run.
A loud voice boomed across the park asking runners to assemble near the start line. The national anthem was sung and the announcer thanked runners for showing up at an event dedicated purely for the armed forces. I felt goosebumps just being there, despite the fact I was from another country. I had great respect for the armed forces. Their ability to lay down their lives for the nation never ceased to intrigue and amaze me.
We started off the run sharp at 6:30. The weather was quite pleasant in the morning and it was nice to run the first 5 km inside the city. I slowly got into a rhythm and comfortable pace. However, the lack of sleep began to catch up with me and my eyelids began to feel heavy. Stopping at the aid station serving water and energy drinks, I splashed some water on my face and took a sip of the energy drink. Feeling much better, I entered the naval weapons station.
What a place! I gazed around the chain of small hills, surrounded with tufts of dried grass. If I didn’t know about this place being a weapons station, I could have easily mistaken it for a meadow. Spread in bountiful acres, the entire area took my breath away as I ran along the road. Some runners stopped to click pictures on their mobiles and I did the same. So, this was the place where ammunitions were stored. It made me wonder what this place would have looked like during wars. Just thinking about the secret codes and strategies devised here made me shiver. Feeling goosebumps prickling my tender skin, I was awestruck by the majestic splendor of this place. The sudden excitement dispelled my sleep and by now I was wide awake. My body refused to recognize any sign of fatigue just thinking about those selfless souls who had served their country with pride. How many sleepless nights would have been spent in fighting for their nation, I thought.
I saw a big hill approaching at the 11thkm. My stomach clenched into a nervous knot just looking at the intimidating slope. However, the view from the top made the arduous climb really worthwhile. I stared in awe at the sight of small green shrubs towered by dried grass and the illuminating sheet of grey clouds hovering above like a protective parent. It was one of those moments when I wished everything would just come to a standstill so that I could bask in this surreal moment forever. The quick footsteps of runners climbing up the hill brought me back to reality. The clock was ticking seconds away with every heartbeat of mine that was pulsating through my veins. It was a downhill for another mile and there was music being played just at the point when the slope descended downwards. The beats pepped the runners to help them recover from a vigorous climb and reach the finish line in a strong manner. It was just a few more miles before we were handed the finishers medal.
It was another incentive to run strong as this time finishers would be rewarded with the commemorative armed forces medal. Despite tiredness catching up with my legs, I continued going in a strong manner, aided by energy drink and gel. I reached a point which was just 2 km away from the finish line. A couple of men were running along with their dog. “Here boy here,” they beckoned to him when the dog came towards me. I smiled and waved saying “A good running partner.” The men grinned. My legs were almost giving up-a result of a stressful week and sleepless nights coupled with all the triathlon training. I kept going and soon heard the announcer’s voice. The finish line was just around the corner. Gathering all my reserves and clenching my fists tightly, I ran and ran until I crossed the finish line and was garlanded that precious medal.
I gazed at it in awe. Round and huge, the US flag along with the army bunker was carved on it. Humbled and exhilarated at the same time, I held it proudly while the official photographers clicked my picture. My body was now invaded by the famous runner’s high-a feeling of having completed a good run. I couldn’t wait to get back and share my experience with my family. It was an hour and 30 minutes before I would reach home. As I called for the uber, I realized that travelling 90 plus km back and forth was worth it. It isn’t every day that I get an opportunity to run in one of the most privileged area that has held a great deal of significance for the country. What made it special was the fact this run was just couple of days before the Memorial Day on May 28th!Wa