–By Prema Rajaram
I had a dream, #CherrapunjiMarathon was my dream come true. That too, a full marathon! I’ll replace the word dream with miracle. I remember running at the lakes in Southern Avenue with my buddies Nishant Maheshwari and Vipul Majeji which was my first run with them and all I did was stay quiet for most of the time and listen to them talk. Nishant had done a Cherrapunji half marathon last year and Vipul the Bangkok full marathon. I was in love with the idea of running the #CherrapunjiMarathon since November last year. I had just run one half marathon then.
All you can do is beat yourself at your own game, be your own competition if you want to grow, if you want to cross bigger milestones. When you draw this parallel while running a marathon, you will know why running is like meditation. Your spiritual growth that begins with challenging your mind and proving to yourself that you can be better than you thought. This is my philosophy in life, that I am my own competition and each time I run a marathon, it reinforces my faith in myself of the challenges at every step that destiny throws in my path to elevate me into a higher echelon in my journey of life.
When I ran the Cherrapunji full marathon, I wasen’t as prepared as most seasoned conventional marathon runners would say. I had done my first full marathon as a practice run in April in 42 degrees temperature. Beyond that there was no proper long distance run beyond 12km as the heat and humidity was killing. But I know I had mental strength. I know I had my years of fitness as my foundation. I know I had great support from Kolkata Ultra who to me is family. When you have family by your side, you are sure to sail through and that too, better than you expect.
Each time I thought of backing out and one day I did wake up and decide to re-register for a half marathon, I had enough voices of wisdom that edged me on to still stick to my original plan of a full marathon. I remember getting scared when I read that the famous model Miland Soman had done his full marathon after five years of running half marathons. My buddy runner Vipul told me very matter of factly, “If Miland Soman ran a full marathon after five years, that’s his problem. Why should you not run?” I laughed at his comment. They were so proud that I would be one of the only strong girls in Kolkata to do a full marathon. How could I let them down? How could I not believe in myself?
Jaidev Raja, one of the strongest, optimistic and humble ultra marathoners who I was in awe of when I was an amateur runner, promised to help stay by my side from beginning till end. My elder brother in every sense of the word, J Bro as he is fondly called, is responsible not just for my achievements to overcome the mental block of long distances, but others in the group too. The important thing about sportsmanship is to help one another excel as a runner and buddy running is what takes you to the finish line.
The entire journey to Shillong by train was filled with fun travelling with Kolkata Ultra. The day came to wake up in the morning for the run and I was all dressed and my roomate Richa Kumar giving me her toothy smile wishing me all the best. With the raincoat on, I walked towards the bus stop with others doing a 42km. It was a sense of pride yet nervousness being the only girl amongst these strong runners doing a full marathon. But again they don’t look at you as a guy or a girl and dismiss your capability. They look as you as a runner. Period!
It was pouring the entire night and sure enough the rains greeted us at the start line at 6am on the 17th of July. There were some female runners who I didn’t know, but were so encouraging of me doing my first full marathon in a tough terrain like Cherrapunji. I could never be short of good wishes to build up my confidence further.
When the race started, I was with others from Kolkata Ultra as well as experienced runners, including one who had run the Comrades race in South Africa, one of the toughest races in the world. It was demoralizing to see others run ahead of me and me wondering what I was doing here. I actually did think, “Am I such a bad runner?”. But thanks to J Bro and Vipul who made sure each of us who needed some motivation had a buddy runner, we all completed the race.
Not once did J Bro let me out of his sight, not once did he make me feel he had slowed down his pace for me, not once did he grumble or worry about timings. It was tough running my first official full marathon, my first run in the hills, my first run in the rains and really heavy rains that too. That was when I actually found out Cherrapunji didn’t have the highest rainfall in just India, but the world. You can imagine the conversation I had in my head after that replete with calling myself stupid in the choicest of words. As a female runner, it was tough with no proper toilets on the way, but the open mountain side was the best option. The scenario was breathtaking! That made up for it all. The run in the hills, amidst the clouds, with mountains and waterfalls on the way. Heavenly was the term!
When I reached 18km I wondered why I didn’t register for a half marathon. So much simpler, just 3 more kms and I would have completed the race. But I had registered for a full marathon and I was going to complete it. We were joined by different runners along the way and we edged each other on to keep going. We stopped to buy biscuits on the way, our friends came in their cars to see how we were faring and offered us juice and water which was a relief. There was no energy drink apart from water given by the organizers at the hydration points along the way.
The last 1km was an emotional moment, we were almost there! And then I knew why another buddy runner Sudhir Ahuja who had completed his half marathon came to get us and take us till the end. There was a steep incline to the finish line and was I happy or what to see him! Atul Sharda who is like my partner in crime had promised we would finish the race together and waited for J Bro and me to reach and together, we finished the race. Last but not the least, it wasen’t the organizers but Kolkata Ultra waiting at the finish line cheering for us.
The point I am trying to emphasize is, that though it was my feet and mental strength that made me complete the race, had I not received the added motivation, I might not have done half as well.That is the true meaning of sportsmanship.I nailed the #CherrapunjiMarathon and even came 3rd in my category. What a feeling!
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”-Paolo Coelho.
Gratitude keeps me humble, Kolkata Ultra keeps me going…Thank You Kolkata Ultra!