AHM 2016 - Mind, Body and Will

The Airtel Hyderabad Marathon was scheduled on 28th August, Sunday. I had registered for the half. 

On the previous day, I did not go for a run. I planned to take as much rest as possible. But I had some errands and ended up walking more than 6k and roaming in the city the entire afternoon. By evening, I was pretty exhausted by all the errands. For dinner, I had a bellyful of white rice which was my carbo-gorging (not loading!).  I planned to sleep early so that I could get up by 3:30 am. The cab was booked for 4:30am.

I went to bed by 10:30pm. I thought about the run in the morning and what would be my target. Though I was secretly hoping to do it in 2:21, my realistic plan for the run was 2:27. I had been thinking about my running splits and decided to scribble it on my left hand. It will serve me as a reminder if I am doing fast or slow, I thought.

I wrote:                    2k  -       15 mins
                                7k -        50 mins
                                10k-       70 mins
                                15k-       103mins
                                20k-       140mins
                                21k-       147mins                                               

(This picture was taken just after the run while stretching)

Typically, the night before a run, I do not get good sleep. Contrary to my previous experience, on that night, within a few minutes of lying on the bed, I was in deep sleep. Around 1:30pm or 2:00pm, I woke up, drank some water and tried to sleep. Surprisingly, I was feeling fully awake. I tossed around in the bed, unable to sleep any further. The 3-3.5 hours of sleep seemed enough. I just kept my eyes closed.

Around 3:40am, I got up and prepared myself. At 4:30am the cab came and I contacted 2 other runners, Dev and Amit who were car pooling with me. We reached the venue around 5:10am or so.

It had rained heavily in the night. So the early morning weather was cool. As usual, there was lot of light and music at the start area. There was a big crowd as well. The full marathon folks had already started at 5:00am and they were doing the loop around Hussain Sagar. We went to the hold area and were joined by the other RTP runners. Together, we took some snaps, did some warm ups and then there was a call for the line up as per different corrals. That is when we dispersed and I did not get to see any other RTP runner till the end of the run.

The run started exactly at 6:00am. I had a good plan. I started slowly. I was hoping that once the crowd thinned out I will pick up pace. But the crowd was huge. And it did not seem like thinning. All runners seemed very excited and but their speed was a slow jog. I also jogged along with them for the first hundred meters.

Hyderabad marathon is not known as the toughest city marathon just like that. The race starts at the benign and beautiful necklace road. But do not be beguiled by the beauty of start area. No sooner than you have covered even 500 meters, you meet the first of the several flyovers – the Khairatabad flyover. It is a small one, but it is a portent one. It tell us the shape of things to come.

By the time we reached the Khairatabad flyover, people had picked up speed. Most of the crowd ran past the first flyover briskly. Down the flyover, a sharp right turn takes the runners on the Rajbhawan road. I did 2k in about 13 minutes. I was running 2 minutes faster than my target and was happy. Around the 2.5k mark was the first water station. Some runners slowed down to take a sip. I continued my run.  

At 3.5 km, came the next hurdle. It was the Somajiguda flyover.  A flyover is never easy to run on. Though there is a downward slope after the upward incline, the thought of running up a flyover creates some hesitation in the mind if you are not used to it. But when you have to run, you have to. So, I persisted. The Somajiguda flyover gave way to the Punjagutta flyover.  By time the Punjagutta flyover forked and we reached the Banjara hills road number 3, we had covered 5k and yet another mental pressure was building up  just by looking at the steep incline of the road ahead.  The next 2 km presented a 50meter climb. It was difficult because it is a straight patch and you can see it. But since it was still early on in the run, most of the runners sped through. So did I. By 45 minutes since start of run, I had covered 7 km, ahead of my target by 5 minutes and feeling really happy about it. It was then I started dreaming about doing a PB (Personal Best). I clocked my Personal Best in 2012 at 2hr:22mins. At the same time, my mind started telling me that I need to walk a bit. I had not walked at all from the start. I told myself that there should be a water station in the next 500m to 1k where I can rest. So, continued running.

Around the 8k mark was a water station. I stopped and had water, grabbed some biscuits and banana. Then started running again. The next 1 km or so was still a slow climb. By the time I reached Jubilee hills check post, almost 9k done, the road flattened out and the running became a little easy. I took 65 minutes for 10k, still 5 minutes ahead of my target and still dreaming of my PB. I thought if I could maintain this pace, I will be able to do the run at 2:22 instead of 2:27 and just some extra push in the last leg will see me achieve my PB. But I was not aware of the things to come.

The downward incline continued. Again, my mind was begging me to walk a bit. It told me that I have 5 minutes lead. I can easily afford to walk for 1 minute. I kept repeating to it that I can slow down, I can run slowly, but I will not walk. This tussle went on for 3 more kilometers and after 13km, an upward incline presented itself.  The wicked mind, which was looking for excuses,  told me that you have crossed way beyond the halfway mark, almost nearing the 2/3rd mark. Now, as a treat to your body,  you should walk. In a moment of weakness, I succumbed to it and walked for about 100 meters.

Around the Hitech city junction, it is a sharp 100m elevation in about 1 kilometer till the mindspace junction. That is a killer. I slowed down, reduced my stride length and increased the cadence a bit. Luckily, the 10k runners had not reached that point yet and hence it was comparatively crowd free. I remember, the previous year, due to my slow run, by the time I reached Hitech city, the 10k runners were all over the place - the road, the water stations, aid stations and everywhere else.

I reached 15k in exactly 100 minutes, still 3 minutes ahead of target. I was still dreaming of a PB. Infact, I was thinking about a 2:20 finish!

Around that time, I had some more banana, a bit of water and some electrolyte – fast and up – and that was yuck!

The run from 15k to 17k was mostly downhill. I tried to make up my lost time in the mindspace hill by running faster in this leg, with longer strides. There were school kids standing beside the road and cheering all the while. It was really motivating!

Around 17k I could see the last big hurdle, the Gachibowli flyover. I had good time till that, at 1hr:53min. I ran steadily. The school kids were all standing on the flyover divider and cheering. Some of them extended their hands out and I touched them. It was invigorating. Around 17.5k, I felt a tightening in the right leg calf muscle. I was surprised. A runner is not a stranger to pain. I remember I have had pain in all over my body during my marathon preparation, from toes, to feet to heel, to ankle, knee,thigh, back, tail bone, you just name it. But this was different. But I never had such an experience in my last 5 years of running. I slowed down drastically, almost to a walk. Slowly, the pain subsided and again I started running. I knew the 3 minutes lead I had was slipping away. I had already lost almost a minute. Hardly would I have gone another 200 meters, again the front tibia and the calf muscles of both legs tightened. I saw a medical aid station and limped along, determined not to stop till I reach that. The aid station folks sprayed the pain killer on my legs and the pain subsided to a great extent. I resumed my running. But, just 2 minutes and 200 meters later, both legs cramped again. It was excruciatingly painful. I could not even stand. I was in the middle of the road and had to move to the edge of the road to sit down on the divider. The legs felt like dead lead. I was really afraid by now. My mind told me to give up. But I did not want to. 

I sat on the divider, massaging my muscles, thinking about the 1000km of running that I had put in before this run. I thought about the tremendous will power I had to use to quit smoking in order to run well. Now, the PB was a distant dream. Not only had I lost all the time I had gained, now the dread of a DNF was looking straight in my eyes. In fight between mind and matter, mind always wins. But here was a fight between mind and will. No one was asking the body what it wanted. Mind was gripped with fear and wanted to stop. Will wanted to continue. I summoned all the will power that I had and stood up.   

The runners who were passing along urged me to keep running slowly and not to sit down. I gathered myself and started running again. The muscle cramps were still coming in waves. Whenever the calves of the legs were getting tight, I slowed down a bit and then started running again. But the intensity of the cramp was reducing. So, I took it as a good sign. With renewed vigor, I pushed ahead.

By the time I looked at my time, I had taken almost 10 minutes for that 1 km. As luck would have it, around 19k, the cramps subsided completely. The PB was definitely not in the scene. I did not even know if I could meet my 2:27 target. It was 2:11 and I still had more than 2k to go.

Slowly and steadily I pushed along and entered the stadium. All the way, the kids were shouting - last leg, 500 more to go. And even after going 500m, they were shouting 500 more to go. That was frustrating. But I knew that they were instructed to shout like that. The last leg inside the stadium, for some reasons, seems very difficult. I reached the red running track of Balayogi stadium. It was less than even 100 meters now and I could see the finish line. But my ordeal was not done yet.

Just about 50 meters from finish, the body that was ignored all the while revolted. The cramps came back again with a vengeance. It was a sharp pain again, freezing me on the track. My face crinkled with pain. I simply stopped then and there and bent down.  My mind was happy to prove itself right. It was saying – look, I told you to give up. You did not listen. Now suffer. This is what you deserve. My will was just observing all that was happening, without passing any judgment at all. There were no thoughts of PB. There was no thought of reaching my target. It was just soaking in all the pain, the dream and the sweat.

A few seconds later, still writing with pain, I picked up my run and crossed the finish line. I looked up at the large watch put up beside the finish gate. It showed 2:30. I stopped the app on my phone that showed the actual run time. It was 2:26:13. In spite of the trials, I had managed to just beat my target. The will triumphed.

A few minutes later, my phone buzzed. I received an SMS from the timing company. It read a chip time of 2:26:59. 

Woohoo!!! I had beat my target by just 1 second! The feeling, priceless!

It was a journey from a dream to pain to finally happiness. It was a fight between the monkey mind, the obedient body and the indomitable will. Finally, the will triumphs!


Sandeep, Deepak, Vivek, Vasudha and other folks from RTP runners were already there, having finished their runs. We stretched, had the breakfast and then returned back.

Before I end this, a big shout out to Hyderabad Runners (HR) for organizing the AHM. This is the 6th year that they have organized the race and I have participated in 4 of these 6 years. Every year, the organizing team adds something new and the bars are being raised higher. This year, I especially liked the music bands, traditional dancers, tribal musicians and kids on route who were doing a great job of cheering and encouraging the runners. A huge Thanks to you all AHM Organizers, HR members and volunteers for the great experience!

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