Last year in December, I ran a half Marathon in New Delhi. I do not know why I am writing this story only now, but perhaps it is the heavy breathing I feel every time I jog during this hot summer in Delhi that keeps reminding me of how the heck in the world did I run that half marathon. So, this is a post about me running the whole 21.1 km.
To start off with, I want to make clear that I’m not a runner, nor have I ever been. In fact, growing up I did very little physical exercise. In my country, we didn’t really have PE on our school schedule.
Over the last few years, however, I have come to realize that running (or perhaps in my case jogging is the appropriate term) releases stress and allows you to forget about all other issues flying around in your mind. And the feeling after a run is great. But still, I’m an expert in coming up with reasons for not going out for a run. My brain is constantly telling me that you don’t need to run, it’s too hot, it’s raining, it’s too cold, etc.
A few years back I managed to actually run frequently for a few months and I did a 10 km race in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was an indescribable feeling to cross the line; it really felt like an achievement. And afterwards the food tasted better than before, even though the food on Iceland was great to start off with. Unfortunately, after that race I didn’t maintain my relative fitness.
When a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to do a 5 km charity run last year in September, I wasn’t sure. But after some consideration I said why not. I didn’t prepare well for the race and I was running on empty after 3 km or so. I barely managed to get across the finishing line. I decided then and there that I needed to get into better shape. Shortly thereafter I signed myself and my unknowing husband up for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. My husband was immediately onboard when I informed him.
We started training roughly eight weeks prior to the race. Our plan was to run five kilometers or so at a slow pace three times a week, with one longer run a couple of weeks before D-day. But work and other matters (including my own mind) interrupted the training schedule and I hardly ran anything during the last three weeks, except for a 12 km run which left me half dead – and still I had stopped and walked numerous times. What had I gotten myself into? Why had I signed up for a half marathon?!
It was with trepidation I woke up on the morning of the race. The only thing that was on our side was the nice winter weather. Would I survive the day? After an early, steady breakfast, we walked to the starting point, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where thousands of runners already had congregated. More and more butterflies made my stomach their home. My husband had talked a lot about pace setting and finding that comfortable speed where you can ‘run forever’. I honestly had no clue what he was talking about. He also said that after 5 km we would see if we needed to stop to rest. After all, it was a half marathon, not a sprint.
Soon we were on the starting line together with hoards of other people. And then we were off. My husband had promised to set the pace and run with me….. I was focused, I looked at the people around me, the music in my ears pumped me up (it was U2, “it is a beautiful day”), I smiled. All of a sudden we saw the 1 km sign, then the 2 km sign.
At about the 5 km mark I saw some toilets and drinking booths so I told my husband that we should stop so I could visit the toilet. He immediately asked whether I really needed to go and said that if it wasn’t necessary we should just continue because we had gotten into the groove. I answered that it wasn’t really that necessary so we continued on our way, never stopping.
We kept on passing the kilometer signs and before too long we were running on a red carpet. This was the half-way point, 10.5 km. And then we just kept on running. I was surprised myself. How is this possible? 13 km, 15 km, 17 km…
My brain started to play serious mind games with me around the 19 or 20 km mark saying that I should stop and have a rest, but I persisted. I saw many people stopping around this distance!! After all those kms, you stop after 19? Talk about self-sabotage…Oh my gosh, I ran even faster and went into a super- focused mode!
That was the longest 2 km. I really tried hard to ignore what my mind kept telling me, to rest. And the funny part, I had to fight my way through to continue running as more people walked blocking the road.
Finally, seeing the finishing line 100 m away was an unbelievable feeling and crossing the finishing line was an even better feeling. But as soon as I had stopped my legs felt like cement. Both my legs were shaking and I had to hold onto my husband to not fall… I drank, and drank a lot of water.. And the breathing started slowly to become normal , but of course not the legs. I walked like an octogenarian…. Little did I know that it was going to get a whole lot worse during the next week or so… I think the lack of preparations made it worse.
How then could I manage to run for 21.1 km straight without stopping once? The pace my husband set (a slow and steady one; roughly 7 min 30 sec/km) for sure helped a lot, I saw so many people started off too fast and then stopped, but I also got a lot of energy from all the other runners and the bands playing along the race course. The organizers really managed to put together a nice event and the atmosphere was terrific.
As was the case after Iceland, I didn’t continue running on a regular basis after the half marathon.
However, about a month or so ago I decided to start again. Since then I’ve been trying to run three, or at least two, times a week, each time for about half an hour. I haven’t (yet) signed up for any race, but I’m considering doing it. I’ve found that it’s easier (or perhaps less difficult) to motivate myself if I have a clear goal.
Although 2 hours 37 minutes & 20 seconds is a slow finishing time, I’m extremely proud of myself for completing the race without stopping, mind you. And trust me, if I can do it, you also can! If you set your mind and stay focused, anything is possible. Now put on your running shoes and go out for a run… (ok. I’ll do the same).