Sunday, February 13, 2011

So who’s got your back?

In most gangster/cop movies, you have probably heard the line “I’ve got your back”. These are words everybody likes to hear, the feeling of comfort that there is somebody out there who can come through when it really matters. Before I get round to answering that, let me present my take on running 42.195 kms.

The moment I registered for my first full marathon at Auroville, my initial thought was “Now why did I do that!” If I had learnt anything from my previous unfortunate experience at running 37.5k at the ultra marathon (a disaster well-documented in previous blog entry!), it was that I was far from ready for a full marathon. Sometime later I shot off a letter to the Auroville organizers pleading extenuating circumstances and requesting them for a change of category to Half Marathon. “No way” was the unequivocal reply. So I was stuck with a full marathon marathon I really was not sure about doing.

Some how convinced myself to give it a try and run for the joy of running. The night before the marathon in Auroville, a ritualistic initiation into marathon running awaited me. It starts with eating like you haven’t eaten for days and ends with eating some more, all to avoid hitting the dreaded wall. With unlimited pasta and lasagna on offer, I gleefully indulged in the world class fare. The dinner was all about meeting and catching up other masochistic people from all around nation willing to risk limb and knee again and again to earn the sobriquet of “Marathoner”.

My only strategy on race day was run slowly to avoid injury and stick like gum to my running partner. He was running his second marathon and planning to complete in 5 hours; just the ideal pace setter I was looking for! The race started at 5 am in pitch black darkness and we stumbled along until our eyes adjusted to the darkness, hardly aided by the inadequate torch provided by the organizers. This first half of the marathon was most enjoyable and we completed it in around 2:30 hrs, all as per the Plan.

A few kms later, my friend started feeling some pain in his knee and slowed down. I doubled up as his physio, gently stretching his leg muscles with the hope I don’t leave him with a permanent injury due to my inept ministrations. Soon he said he was feeling comfortable and I led both of us at a much reduced pace from then on.

The maximum distance I had done in training was 30k in the “Strides of Hope” event and once we crossed that, I had to fall back on determination and grit to run the rest of the race. At around the 32/33k mark, a long trail of loose sand awaited us. Had not struggled in that stretch during the first loop, but covering that under the sun pretty much blew the winds out of me. We ended up slowing down further.

Until the 35k mark, we hadn’t walked even once, just slowing down once a while when we got tired. This had helped us overtake a few faster runners doing a run-walk-run routine. Ever km from then on was progressively tougher and I was ready to start walking. My friend took the lead and goaded me to get back into running stride. I grudgingly obliged and thankfully we never looked back from there. He encouraged me to keep up with him, just like I had done in the first half of the marathon. We somehow found the strength to sprint the last 200 meters of the marathon. Time taken: 5:30:00. Yeah, I can definitely live with that timing for my first marathon. Couch potato geek to marathoner in 9 months!

At the toughest times, my friend and I motivated, cajoled and pushed each other to complete this marathon. Thank you Nitin Kumar Jain, fellow runner and marathoner, you truly are a fabulous person to run with. So getting back to the first question- “Who’s got your back?”