March 4th, 2018 could have been a memorable date in my life as I was initially supposed to the iconic Napa Valley marathon which would have been my 2nd full marathon after 2013. Fate had other plans as I decided to focus on triathlons in the bay area and shelved my plans for the 26.2 miler. The lack of company for the training runs was another reason as doing those long distances all by myself was quite daunting. So, I signed up for the Santa Cruz half marathon which was scheduled on the same day and it was just an hour away from Stanford.
Recovering from a mild bout of viral, I wasn’t exactly at the peak of fitness when I stood at the start line. Nevertheless, I decided to take this as a training run and began doing my warm ups facing the calm waves of the Pacific to my right. This was Cowell beach where we would be finishing and the same place where I had finished my triathlon a few months back.
It was an uphill from the word go, as it was in many other races that I had done in the past. Hills were quite synonymous with the bay area and such races made you forget the very existence of a Garmin or words like pace, timing, cadence, heart rate, etc. It was just humbling to reach the finish line in a strong fashion and cherish the moments of actually finishing a race-a phenomenon that was diminishing these days.
The route was a beautiful one as we ran along the cliffs overlooking the pristine blue ocean and the foamy waves that kissed the sandy shores in a teasing way. The gradual uphill made my legs wobble after a point. I took a sip of water that was mixed with electrolytes, hoping to revive those stiff legs which seemed to be cursing me for putting them through another torture. I could just imagine them talking to one another and saying things that would make my ears burn. “Another Sunday wasted in such torture when I could have actually caught up on my forty winks.” One leg would say to another and the reply would be like “Oh well same here. I don’t know what prompts this crazy woman to run every Sunday and trouble us. We are not getting younger.”
The roads gave way to trails with some gigantic slopes that resembled the neck of a dinosaur. The sun was shining fiercely and the trails were covered with pebbles and puddles as a result from the rains the previous week. It appeared as though the sun was taking revenge on the rains for having dominated the entire valley. At the 7th km, it felt as though I was running inside a microwave oven. No shade, no respite and the sun hit my eyes so badly that I had to close my eyes for a few minutes, making it feel as though I was sleep running. I poured water on my head, letting the cold-water trickle down my face as I trudged slowly on the never-ending hills and trails.
I have had better days when my legs were sturdy enough to carry me through tough terrains. The blisters on my feet made me pause for a minute and it felt as though someone had cast reins on my legs, controlling my movement, like those horses which were pulling carriages. I didn’t have my music with me either to pep me up during this run. At this moment, I recollected the words of my old trainer who always stressed on using the core to run when your legs and hands would give up. He would always give us those vigorous exercises that would strengthen our core to such firmness that it could give an iron rod some stiff competition.
Fortunately I continued doing those exercises and it came in handy. Using my core, I ran ahead bearing the brunt of the blistering heat as my Garmin ticked away those miles. By the time I reached the road which was just 5 km to the finish line, I felt drained as though someone had sucked all the energy levels from my reserves. The entire route reminded me of a race that I had done in India-the Kundalika river marathon, which was a grueling route of hills and heat.
I heard one of the volunteers saying, “I would end up looking like this had I run this route”. My face had become so withered that it looked like burnt toast from an oven. It was 100 m downhill to the finish line which ended on the sands of Cowell beach.
I grabbed the medal and plonked on the sand, listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The sky was streaked with the rays of the sun and at one point it looked like they were white lines connecting it to the ocean. It had been a badass day with the weather and route being unkind. I remembered the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
I held my medal proudly celebrating my 24th official half marathon and 14th medal on the 4th of March. A fantastic 4 finish! I might not have earned my personal bests in these races but what I did earn was a great deal of self confidence and awareness of the fact that such routes would only make me tougher.