The ambience was great – a mild drizzle, chill enough to lift the spirits of a nervous first time 1/2 marathoner. As I saw the throng of people waiting to go at the start line, I got a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold drizzle or the temperature – this shiver was triggered entirely by adrenalin.
I jostled at the start line smiling nervously at the head of my cheering crew(my husband – who else?!) and the announcer’s voice cracked into the air
“Do you know why you are here?”
“Do you like to torture yourselves?”
But you still want to do this?”
“Well, then here you go………….”
That pretty much summarized my running experience. This was the longest I had attempted so far. I had no idea why I was doing it. The weeks of training prior to the marathon had achieved one thing. It had awakened in me a long dormant self discipline, I had almost forgotten existed. I felt good about setting a task and overcoming hurdles to achieve what I set my eyes on.
I am a firm believer of the theory that the right things will happen at the right time. Two years ago when I attempted a half marathon, I had to limp out of training around the 6th mile – I wasn’t ready. For an erstwhile short distance track athlete, endurance running was a different ballgame and I found my competitive spirit raising it’s ugly head at the most inconvenient of times, like when I saw runners with biceps the size of my thighs run faster than me. I would throw caution to the winds as to the consequences of overtaking such runners, and thump behind them. (what if the biceps lunged out at me because Mr Biceps does not like to be overtaken? – BRR)
I also realised that though I was fast enough (in my cocky mind of course!), I wasn’t exactly a teenager competing in the Inter School Athetic Meet in Wellington, and spotty training was clearly not enough. The dreaded ITB surfaced and my shoes retired to a quiet corner.
I read about running injuries and all the websites said it was hard to not run. I disagree. Not running is very easy – just curl up in bed! I went back to poking fun at the husband for his running socks and running t-shirts.
Somehow, this time felt different from the word ‘Go’. This time, I was ready. For one, I trained steadily. I religiously maintained my mid week runs followed by my long week-end runs. I gulped down the encouragement streaming from my husband and kept going. I learnt to
repeatedly tell myself that my goal was to finish, and beating others was not my priority. I found that I enjoyed running – my thoughts and myself in tune with the early morning birdsong was one I learned to cherish.
So, on the marathon day, all I had to do was keep telling myself my mantra
“Just run slowly Just run slowly”
What amazed me was the number of people who had turned out on race day. And I don’t just mean the runners. I had already joined the nutter category and revelled in the runner-nutter-camaraderie. I mean the number of people who are not running who had turned out to help. I felt the goodwill rivers flowing freely towards random strangers. People took time off from their lives to shout out encouragement, volunteer at aid stations, hold placards to bring a smile. There was one place where after a killer uphill run, people were huffing and puffing only to come up the slope and see an old lady leaning on a walking stick holding a placard – “Yeah downhill!!!”
Who does that? These people don’t get anything more than a smile from the tired runners, and yet stood on street corners, straining to read your name and shouting encouragement. I felt selfish – I had never done anything like that before. I suddenly felt like my life had been lived in a cocoon of me, myself and mine.
I ran on, slowing down near water stops and gulping the horrible tasting cytomax, but never stopping. Despite the hilly terrains, I found myself running non-stop and for that I credit all the selfless volunteers who cheered. Here is a tribute to all you people who devoted some hours of your life to enable me to achieve my goal (See?!)
Just like that, I had breezed through to 8 miles when I saw a peek of my support group at a signal and then pounded the remaining miles. As I neared the end point, I was slowing down, maybe subsconsciously sorry for the event to end. I saw a little ahead of me that people automatically started running faster. I soon found out: there was a person with a placard reading
“Almost there! Run like you stole those sneakers!”
I laughed out loud and found myself running faster too! I finished strongly in 2 hours and 21 minutes. I got the finisher’s medal and almost kissed it. I saw the pride in my family’s eyes and suddenly felt overwhelmed.
I reached home and lost all my rights to crib about my husband’s clothes again. Said husband always wears these strapping running t-shirts and I was sick of seeing him in them. Yet, this time after a shower, I found myself proudly wearing the San Francisco Marathon T-shirt.
Running does that to you.