-By Howard DCruz
I have read somewhere that running your first Marathon is ‘like eating a bag of Potato Chips’…..It is impossible to stop after just one. Well at the tender age of 40 after doing just that it is almost impossible to disagree with this statement. What I also learned was that, not even the best training schedules can prepare you for your 1st full Marathon.
I ran the Sohra-Cherrapunji Marathon on the 17th of July 2016, my 1st full Marathon. I had trained like hell or so I thought, for around 3 months prior to the race. As part of my training, I also ran a 25 Km Hill race in Sikkim in May’16 (The Sikkim Running and living), which I thought would prepare me for the rigours of a full Marathon in the hills.
We landed at Guwahati a day before the race on the 16th Morning and got a trekker to take us up from Guwahati to Upper Shillong near the race venue. We crossed through some of the most beautiful landscape en route. That evening we had a light dinner at one of the quaint little Chinese restaurants in Shillong. The evening before the race we went to sleep early by8:30 PM. It did take a couple of hours to actually drop off into a restless and nervous sleep.
On the Morning of the race I heard the rain beating down hard. It had been raining the whole night, it was cold and I was scared. I met up with my other buddy runners from my running group Kolkata Ultra and felt a little less scared, after seeing that even the most seasoned runners in my group were nervous. We put on our running gear which included a poncho to protect us from the rain.
The first 6 Kilometers – The race got underway while it was still pouring and we were running against a strong cyclonic wind. This was still the easiest part since I was fresh and as I had learned my lessons in my 1st hill race at Sikkim. I remembered to focus on my running form and stride length, instead of just speeding away.
Then, the race began, the adrenalin rush soared and the feet started moving beyond the start line.
Kilometers 6 to 15 – By then I was properly warmed up and I found myself running alongside a runner from Delhi. We became friends along the way kept encouraging each other. While we were running we got to talking and I got to know that he was 8 years my junior and had run 3 full marathons before this race. We crossed through steep climbs and equally steep inclines. I was making it in good time and was feeling on top of the world.
Kilometer 15-25 – My pace started to slow down, I was off my pace by about 15% and I was feeling a shooting pain in my ankle. The rain kept pounding and my skin was numb from the constant barrage of raindrops. I was tiring and I started thinking, had I just registered for the half marathon, I would have been home and dry by now and would have been wolfing down some steaming hot local food.
Kilometer 25 to 35 – I started cramping badly in my left calf and my lower back started feeling sore. I was running against the wind and my Poncho was actually slowing me down. The rain continued beating down on me and I started thinking what the f*** am doing and why am I doing this? It was here that I learned that loneliness is a m*****f*****, and running a full marathon is very lonely.
I stopped at one of the village houses and asked a lady if she could give me some salt (one of the reasons why you cramp is the depletion of salt while you sweat). She happily sent her smiling kid into their home and he came out with a jar of salt. I got a handful which I swallowed with some difficulty, forcing myself not to puke it out. Her 7-8 year old son actually ran with me for the next 300-400 meters…It felt good not to run alone. This is where I kind of figured that if you want to run a full marathon you also need to build partnerships. As I stopped at a small hutment to get some sliced pineapples, as that was the only food available, I met up with another runner by the name of Rakesh from Hyderabad. We shared the food that we bought and we pushed each other to go on. This was the most difficult part of my run as I was at my weakest and there was no let up from the pain and the rain.
While running with Rakesh we suddenly started wondering, were we in heaven? I cannot even begin to explain some of the most scenic natural rugged terrain that we were crossing. I started thinking that I am one of the lucky few to have registered for this full marathon as I would not have wanted to miss this experience for the world.
Kilometer 35 till the end at kilometer 42.2 – The experience was spiritual I stopped feeling the physical pain and my pace started increasing. I forgot about the rain, my mind was serene like I was in a state of trance. At least that’s the best way that I can explain it with my limited vocabulary.
At the 39 kilometer mark I met one of my running mates Sudhir Ahuja (from the Kolkata Ultra group). Sudhir had completed his 21 Km run and was back tracking to check whether all was well with those of us who were running the full marathon… I would like to take time out to re-iterate that as a runner you are never alone. Just as animals hunt in packs which makes them more effective, we runners run in packs and it sure does make us stronger.
I count myself lucky to be associated with such a group of runners at Kolkata Ultra. My last 3 kilometers were a breeze. I was running like I had just started. I was fresh and just hearing Sudhir tell me the magical number “only 3 kilometers”, was like an injection of raw energy. My pace increased I wanted to cry as I knew my goal was around the corner. The last 3 months of preparation was all for this end.
The reason why I felt like crying was because I knew deep down, I was going to miss this whole journey of preparing and running a full marathon. I finally did it!
Now as I write this I have been actually re-living each and every kilometer that I ran. Writing this was like re-living that experience.
There you go I have had my first potato chip and I can’t wait to chomp down my next. Bring on the full marathons!