Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015 - My Story

Just 2 days back, I registered myself for the Satara Hill Marathon 2015 that is supposed to happen on Sep 6th. This particular event is touted to be one of the toughest half marathons in India and with good reason. Last year was my first attempt at this one and to say that it was an experience would be an understatement. 10.5 kms of a winding ghat road constantly climbing upwards on its way towards the Kas plateau might be good for a leisurely drive in the comfort of your vehicle but running along it as part of the SHM is something else altogether. Having said that, I did manage to see it through and after a very tough up run, made good time going down ending SHM with 2 hours 41 mins on the clock. Suffice it to say, I was happy to have finished it without injury.

Running has now become more than just a health habit with me, it is something that has become a matter of routine and something without which I feel incomplete. I can’t go so far as to call myself an amateur runner but hopefully someday soon, I will get there. That brings back thoughts of the 2 big races I ran in this year – the most prestigious one of its kind, Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2015 in Jan and the Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon (HTHM) 2015 in Feb.

While I have always been passionate about the idea of running since I ran my first half marathon in 2011 (SCMM), 2014 was the year when I decided to take S’s words seriously. She always used to tell me, “It’s all very well to talk so much about marathons and how to run and how not to run but till the time you actually walk what you talk, you are never going to get better at it.” Right after SCMM 2014, after a very short break I started running again. A few short week day runs and a definite long run on Sundays became a norm and I began to feel guilty if I skipped a scheduled run. Helping me along were 2-3 of my childhood friends who also made it a point to compulsorily run on Sundays. This did not let up even during the monsoons which is usually the time, my enthusiasm would drop and I would let these 2-3 months wash away all opportunities to run. We also had the SHM 2014 to look forward to in Sep and the thought of attempting the Satara hills was enough to keep me on my toes.

In the meantime, on the office front as well, I was successful in getting a significant number of my colleagues, including a few seniors, interesting in running and we started training as a group each Sunday at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli. We all now had our sights set on the SCMM 2015 in Jan. As part of this drive, my organization was good enough to rope in Physiorehab, S’s place of work as our official training consultant and things moved to an all time high with them taking each one of us through our paces, be it strengthening our core muscle, engaging us in functional training and advising us on our diet and training plan to boot. These physio sessions were happening at least twice a week and were being followed up with regular long runs on Sundays with the distance on these runs gradually going up from 10 km to 12.5 km to finally 17-18 km in mid-December.

For once, I was feeling good and in form to do well in the upcoming SCMM. This self confidence was bolstered by the fact that even S and her colleagues who had helped me strengthen and train felt that I was in shape this year and on track to a good SCMM. My running group, Brisk Pace Marathon Group comprises of some really good runners, who challenge themselves on each run and had raised the bar for the rest of us in the group. Here too, a lot of expectations were getting built up at an informal level and everyone was pepping the other on to give it their best. To my mind, a personal best (PB) and maybe even reducing my previous PB of 2.28 to less than 2.20 was definitely on the cards. There was this buzz in me that rose to a crescendo when D-day came about. It was one charged up Sachin who stood on the start line of SCMM 2015 amidst thousands of other equally enthusiastic runners in the holding area bathed with yellow light from the many halogens strung up.

The race began and I surged ahead with the music beats pushing me ahead. The adrenalin was pumping and all the training was in my mind as I gave in to my game plan and started pacing myself accordingly. The sharp vibration of my GPS watch alerted me every kilometre and gave me my pace for that km and my overall pace for the distance covered. The first 6 kms, most of which are on the iconic Bandra Worli Sea Link, went by like a breeze, the large number of runners carrying me along and at the end of the sea link I was well within my targeted pace. It was heartening to see the crowd of people waiting to cheer us on and to know the first milestone had been crossed. It seemed like the strengthening over the last few months had worked well and I was feeling strong, fresh and there were no niggling aches or pains anywhere. I was just taking short walking breaks to give my muscles some rest and also to consume small quantities of water. The 10th km marker flashed by with my watch telling me I was still on target. Almost half done and I was on track. All I had to do was maintain the pace and not do anything silly. Should have been a simple thing by any standard, right?

The second half of the run is something I have still not been able to reconcile myself with till date. While I was still running more and walking less, still feeling strong and still had my eyes set on my target, my pace slowly started to lag each kilometre from there on. I was willing myself to run quicker but my legs refused to do so. I could sense that time was slipping by but was somehow not able to come to terms with it and act on it. Eventually, on Marine Drive, with the last 4 kms to go, it finally caught up to me and running became a form of ancient Chinese torture where each stride became unbearable. When I reached the point where S and her colleagues were waiting to cheer us on (close to the 18th km mark), S realized I was in danger of missing even the 2.30 hours timing and asked me to stick with the 2.30-hour pacer who was just passing us by and finish in 2.30 at least. And that is what I did; I kept close to that pacer uptil the turn towards Churchgate when even keeping up became an ordeal and that bus passed me by. With less than 1.5 km to go, most runners start quickening their pace wanting to make up for time lost along the way or because they are close to their targeted timing and want to beat it if possible but all I wanted to do was finish the race at 2.30 hours.

The cheering became louder as more and more people thronged the pavements now; hordes of relatives, friends and well wishers screamed themselves hoarse egging their runners on and once they passed, pushing unknown runners to pick up their pace. It was this support, the voices of the unknown but beloved supporters from Mumbai and elsewhere that spurred me through those mind-numbing last 1.5 kms. My eyes were focused on just the road in front of me, the sweat drops making them smart. Every other runner became a blur and now all I looked for was the distance markers announcing “500 meters to go”, “400 meters to go” and so on. In that haze, I did not realize that I somehow passed the 2.30 pacer and her bus with 200 meters to go and there it was – the Finish Line. Maybe it was just the heat or the haze in front of my eyes but its edges seemed to shine when I looked upon it. I knew I could fall any minute but I decided that I was going to sprint across the finish line. I pushed my legs, which by then felt like dead pieces of wood, harder and started to run faster. I started sprinting as hard as I could and as I approached, spread my arms wide and ran through the line. Just as I did that, my eyes scanned the big digital clock at the top which read 2 hours 29 minutes 23 seconds and I knew I had done it. I had finished within 2.30 hours! While there would be a lot of time later to berate myself for messing this one up, I had at least once again broken the 2.30-hour barrier.

As soon as I finished, I was swept up in a wave of finishers all on their way to collect their refreshments and the most coveted finishers medal. After a few light headed moments where I stumbled along trying to hold myself up, I weaved my way to the end of the lane where the throng was lesser, collected my medal and finally, at long last, let me legs buckle under me and eased my aching body to the pavement. All around me, I could see many other runners in the same posture, some applying ice packs liberally to their cramped up muscles or trying to stretch themselves out. It was now time to locate and meet my other friends, colleagues and of course S and then head home together after a well deserved breakfast but for now SCMM 2015 was dried and dusted. It is another matter altogether that it turned out to be a real dampener for me. No amount of talk or analysis could change the truth; I had well and truly disappointed myself as well as several of my well wishers with a performance much below expectations. I can throw about multiple reasons – burnout, over expectations, humid weather, incorrect pacing, inadequate nutrition / hydration during run; but none of these would let me be at peace with myself. It was time to swallow the bitter pill and take it in my stride. For the record, my official SCMM 2015 net time was 2 hours and 29 minutes, a minute more than my previous best of 2.28

The Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon 2015 was less than a month away and it was going to be one tough run, one much tougher than this one and my negative frame of mind was definitely not going to help me there. But more about that run in a following post. For now, it was time to wallow in my despair of SCMM 2015!