My entry into the world of running took place in the fall of 2006 when, for the first time, I saw a marathon in all its glory on a November morning. The television was airing the New York City Marathon in full swing with about 45,000 runners. Being in the corporate field had left me sedentary for several years after college and I realised that I needed to get back to participating in sports rather than being a spectator with a beer in hand, more so to set a positive example for my then 6-month-old son than for my own health.
I had a trip coming up with my friends in the spring the following year. Avid hikers, the three of us had decided to hike the highlands of Scotland sampling some fine single malt whiskeys along the way. Somewhere in the course of planning for the trip, I stumbled upon the website of Edinburgh Marathon. It didn’t take long for the three of us to sign up – to experience the marathon, do something healthy and travel at the same time.
Running 42 kilometres at a stretch takes a toll on your body, as with any other sport. You can’t wake up and decide, “Today, I want to run a marathon.” Training and conditioning your body to endure the distance is a must. I started with a self-training approach by reading some books and scouring for information on the Internet. I picked one of the six-month training programmes available for novices. Then I read the fine print – I needed to be able to run 5 kilometres, which is about 30-35 minutes, at a stretch to begin the programme. So I brought myself up to that basic level of fitness and then finally began the training.
Once I began training, I realised that the most difficult part about running didn’t seem to be the physicality of it but rather the mental boredom that set in after a while. On a medium-distance run of about 15 kilometres, one can spend about one and a half to two hours running. The brain gets tired, boredom sets in and you stop. Even though your body can go further, the brain decides to stop. Luckily, I have done my best thinking during my runs, and I have learned to cherish that time away from the worldly chatter to think about everything – from work to history to philosophy.
Running the distance
My training called for the longest run of 30 kilometres and the farthest I had run was 25 kilometres; about 18 kilometres short of the goal distance. You haven’t trained for a marathon until you have actually run in one. On race day, there was a light drizzle and my main concern was to not get my shoes wet – especially since I had not trained with wet feet at all. The race course was fantastic and as we ran, the hills and castles of Edinburgh made way to the coastal suburbs. I made good time for the first 20 kilometres and then I had to slow down and then slow down further; by the time I finished, I was crawling! But I was able to finish before course closure, and in the process, I raised some money for a New York-based charity.
After Edinburgh, I caught the marathon bug. I found that I was healthier, fitter, more active and all the calories that I burned while training justified my love for food. In addition, I was receiving e-mails about marathons around the world. The one that interested me most was the one in my own backyard – the 2007 New York City Marathon. I entered the lottery on a whim and somehow, by sheer luck, I got in. The NYC Marathon experience was great – the crowds, fellow runners, streets and atmosphere – it was almost a festival. There was a runner for every pace and the support from the volunteers and fans was quite amazing.
While at the NYC Marathon Expo, I came across an advert for the 2008 Rio de Janeiro Marathon. With the lure of running the course through the beautiful beaches of Rio, signing up was a breeze. The race itself was along the coast for almost all of the 42 kilometres, ending at Corcovado – the base of the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
The next race panned out in Mumbai in 2009. I was surprised at the discrepancy in numbers that ran the full marathon, the half marathon and the Dream Run. The course to Bandra and back was great and there was good support from people. After training through the winter in the US, running in the warm humidity in Mumbai was difficult. But running at home was nostalgic and it felt great to be in a race with fellow Mumbaikers.
My next marathon, the Adelaide Marathon in Australia, was a very different experience. The course was windy and the runners were serious about running – a quality of smaller marathons. There was a tiny participant pool but each runner had a good story to share. Adelaide was followed by Marrakesh, Africa where olive and orange trees lined up most of the course and the streets were fun to run on. Unfortunately, the organisers ran out of water just as the day started to heat up. Thirsty runners had to pluck oranges from the trees and consume the juice to stay hydrated.
My last marathon was in Antarctica in a completely different league. More than a race, it was an adventure. The experience of the race was overshadowed by the trip to and from the southern continent. We ran on mud, through the wind, in freezing rain and bitter cold. We climbed up the hills and ran down, dodged the skua birds and a couple of lost penguins. Runners came from all over the world – some for the experience, some for the adventure and some to complete their seventh continent. About 14 of us finished 7-continent marathons on that trip, joining an elite group of 400 worldwide.
Beyond the seven continents, I continue to run half marathons every other month to stay in good running shape. My goal is to better the half marathon time to 1:40 from 1:46. I hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon one day; the only marathon in the world where you have to qualify to run the race.
My advice to marathoners who are about to begin their journey is to just do one at a time and enjoy it. The training is elaborate so make it fit into your work schedule. I also think that you have to enjoy the scenery and the race itself instead of going for the time. Running is more about fun and it teaches you a lot of patience.
The three hours of that you take out for training can be the best time for thinking and taking some time out. And the best part is the journey that follows.
“In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” -Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Volume 1 Issue 7