My Journey to a meaningful Half Marathon

Although I’ve been active in the Blog world since around 8 long years, I’ve mostly written about movies and other stuff occasionally, but hardly ever a personal blog. Call it a coincidence, but the only other personal blog I’ve ever posted also relates to a HM - on my dismal outing in SCMM in 2010 which is my worst ever timing even for a walker.

So, what’s my purpose of writing this one: (1) To put in my memories of a first sub-3hr HM in words, so that I can revisit them and well; a first is always special for being a first you see and (2) I was never an athletic guy in school but started running reasonably only this year as a 30-year old. So, this one is for anyone out there who was a non-athlete and wants to do it, I sincerely hope that there is something to gain from reading this.

Half-hearted attempts

Back in 2004, I had no clue about the Mumbai Marathon. In 2005, some of those I knew went for the ‘dream run’ but I thought ‘OMG! 7km, that’s too much’. BTW, ‘Dream Run’ was a 7k run those days which later became a 6k run. In 2006, my registration didn’t go through. So, 2007 was my first attempt and for this, I tried running a bit on the treadmill in the Gym. For someone who had never run more than 1km continuously ever, it was an arduous task. In the end, I managed to jog 6k slowly with breaks on the event day. The 2008 was sillier since I had stopped going to the gym and walked the 6k.

My first Half Marathon came in 2009. Other than the effort to register for it, I had done nothing else. I never bothered to take the timing chip either since it wasn’t compulsory then. With zero training and taking a vacation a week before the event and only arriving in the city on the night before, it was destined to be awful. And, for some reason, I ended up carrying the goody bag all around the course. Obviously, I didn’t understand the seriousness of the distance; that it is not Dream Run x 3 and a little more. Since there was no chip, my estimate of the time, based on photos is roughly 03h:28m.

The rest of the three HMs were no better. 2010 SCMM was 03h:46m and 2011 SCMM was 03h:30m. Thane HM in February was the worst; I jogged my way till the U-turn and slowly walked the sunny hills for a finish which as per my guess was 03h:27m. The time limit was 3 hours and they had disconnected the timing mats by the time I reached there. This also proved that simply buying a new pair of Nike running shoes alone doesn’t help. And it was very irritating to have muscle soreness for at least 3 days after the event. Therefore began my fear of the HM and the obsession of breaking the 3hr barrier.

Fire Ignited

With a Nike+ sportband to track my runs, I started running in the neighborhood and this was just about 2-3km and did a 4-5k once or twice at Aarey. All this seemed to go nowhere. Just then, the big breakthrough came when I went for the 1st Navi Mumbai Kharghar Hill Run in April. I was so naive to think that one only needed to run up the hill like some trekking expedition and there may be a bus to return. When I was told that one has to run both ways and the route involved an equal distance on flats, I was totally lost.

Finally, I went for it and did the Hill Loop in 01h:35m. But when I saw people doing a HM distance of the whole Hill+Flat course in around 2hrs and some doing the Hills twice and thrice, I was amazed. It was the first time that I ever saw people doing such distance with such proficiency and ease. And, the best part was that nobody there seemed to have any airs about their achievements and all of them were very approachable and so wonderful to talk to. Another interesting bit I saw was that running had nearly kept everybody looked so young and fit. What more motivation can one ask for?

Change the game plan

Back to my neighborhood runs, I was still in the quagmire of 3-4k runs. And then came the Bangalore 10k which I wanted to do in 01h:15m but could manage only 01h:19m. Surely there was something that I wasn’t doing right. Then at Navi Mumbai’s June run at Parsik Hill, I only did one hill loop of 7km, that too struggling on the return climb. When I again saw so many of them do it so well, I thought to myself “Look, you’ve anyway failed to learn regular sports like Tennis or Cricket. So, what makes you think that this will work?” At that point, I felt like giving it up and relying on joining a gym to keep fit.

But then, a solution seemed to emerge. I had read articles on the internet about walk-run-walk as a good starting point and I discussed it with a senior runner. On the next weekend, I went to Juhu Beach where he was practicing his many miles and I started off my first run-walk with a 01 minute run and 30 seconds walk alternatively. With a couple of breaks in between, I had done around 8km that day. Suddenly, this was a magic solution. When I confessed to this running ace that I wanted to do a sub-3hr HM, he asked: “02h:35m chalega kya?” I said “Really?” He said “Just practice, you can!”

More Motivation

Then came the weekly Saturday runs at Aarey, a wonderful group whom I got to meet through another accomplished runner. Out here, I became comfortable with a distance of 10-11km slow run for a weekend. With this I also became comfortable with 5-6km twice during the week. Between the Navi Mumbai and Aarey events, I guess I had met the biggest names among Mumbai’s marathoners. Their achievements, spirit, enthusiasm and courage that I got to see in the following months were tremendous.

There is one huge difference that I saw in this community that I didn’t come across when learning any other sport. It is the fact that everyone around is very encouraging without being judgmental about the fact that someone is a newbie. Also, it’s not like a team game where you constantly need to prove your worth so that you can find someone to play with and unless you find someone to play with, you can’t learn the game!

Learning about Strength & Core

After doing another 10k at IIT Powai where the distance is actually 10.416 in 01h:16m, I reasonably good about trying for a good HM. When I was still talking about my goal of a sub-3hr HM, another senior runner plainly told me that I was underestimating myself and I should look for a time that is twice of my 10k best + 10 minutes as the rough indicator and work towards it. If the time doesn’t work, then I’m either not doing my endurance, i.e. the long distance well enough or not training with weights.

This message had two effects. One, it was a great motivator to learn that I can look at a 02h:40m for a HM. Two, I got to learn about the importance of weight training. I’d heard experienced runners talk about ‘core strength’ but I had no practical idea about it helped. As the abs started getting a bit stronger, only around a month ago, I realized that stronger abs take the strain off the back muscles. I found more evidence to this while reading Danny Dreyer’s book on Chi-Running. So, doing big distances was not just about leg muscles working too hard but one has to find the energy from the core!

Two PBs in two weeks

Initially, I was thinking of running a HM at Kaveri Trail Marathon. But when I was told about the race being very hot due to lack of tree cover, I thought that a 10k is better. Anyways, I had registered for the Mysore HM two weeks after KTM so 10k was the best thing to do. A few weeks before it, I had faced IT Band syndrome for the first time and I was nervous. I kept away from running for around a week and followed it up with some trail running during late mornings to prepare for KTM. On the race day, I started off with a 01h:12-15m in mind. I didn’t bother to see the watch till I had crossed 7km and saw that it was just 49 mins. So, rough calculation showed that I can try out a 01h:10m. So, I pushed till the end and got a 01h:11m, my PB. By then the senior runner who had predicted 02h:40m suggested that I can even think of a 02h:30m HM. Cool!

And then came the Celebration Mysore HM which was the first of its kind event in Mysore as a part of the Dasara, which is the state festival in Karnataka. Even days prior to the Mysore HM, I was sure that the race would have a delayed start and a few other glitches. But since RFL was a consultant to the event, I was told that it would be fine.

The inhibiting factors in the run up to the event were a bad cold which needed ‘Sinarest’ for three days. Also, during the week, I had a very bad neck sprain and had a problem sleeping properly nearly till Saturday. One mid-week run that I planned to do on Tuesday was also skipped. It was only a miracle that I didn’t face them on raceday morning.

As predicted, the race start was delayed by around 30 mins as waited for some starlet and a politico to inaugurate it. Just then, the sun had started showing its head just emerging from the clouds, against the early morning sky. Those that had lined up for the HM booed the people causing the delay. The worst of all was that the people inaugurating it staged a mock run for the camera, a total mockery of the event! As it started, the weather became kinder and stayed cloudy till the end; thankfully!!

The Mysore HM route had some amount of elevation changes that necessitated some careful planning. I calculated a pace chart for a 02h:51m finish and scribbled it on my

hand. But, as the race progressed, I was on a 30-second walk-run plan for the first hour. Then, I ran in intervals with running breaks. After I finished 10-11km, I was telling myself to forget the first part of the race and that the rest is just a 10k. And at 16k, I reassured myself that the distance left is just 5k, equivalent to a weekday run and to go for it. Towards the last 4km, there was a bit of ache in the leg muscles, but it was manageable. In the end, it was a pleasant and an unexpected surprise to finish in 02h:39m.

So, the key learning from this was that it is important to have splits planned out in advance so that one doesn’t go to fast in the first half. Second, even though most of the field has run away already, there is no point in tried to go as fast as them as each of them is on their own plan and have their own fitness goals.

This is not the End

There are neither concluding remarks nor memorable quotes here. This is just one man’s personal account of getting around a few mental blocks and finding an alignment with something that is much more than just a way of keeping fit. I’d forever be grateful to all those wonderful people who have motivated and guided me along the way.

And for those who have asked me the question on losing pounds, hope this helps. And for anyone who wants to get away from the ‘office-TV-malls-movies-dozing-partying’ routine, I wish you try to make this a part of your life.

One thing that I’ve learnt is that, no matter the distance, it better be treated with respect. There are so many things that can go wrong, right from bad weather to a sprain or not drinking enough or drinking it in excess, after effects of food or anything else. And yes, about how much it costs in monetary terms, running definitely doesn’t come cheap.

As someone rightly said, the competition here is neither with those who set the records or great runners around your or those who never even bothered to try; that the only real competition is with oneself. Looking back at where I was a few months ago, I’m pleased!