The Story Of My Half Marathon
It is not just a half, it is an accomplishment!
It was a culmination of many years of preparation, both mental and physical. I foresaw this day, seven years ago when I first participated in a ‘5K’ in Singapore. I followed that with a series of 5K’s and a couple of 10K’s between 2013 and 2014, the years I was passionate about exercise, fitness and being healthy.
I was not an athlete at school. I neither had the genetic disposition for it nor did I train hard to achieve the form. The only time I was forced to participate in anything athletic, was a discuss throw and shot put event at high school. That too only because I was the biggest built in Grade 12 and no one else was competing from the division to which I belonged. I have genes that are predisposed to storing fat. My family took pride in the fact that I took after my paternal aunts who were all endomorphs and not in the healthy or ideal ranges of weight. I had no pressure to be anything other than pleasantly plump and soon I was bordering on being obese but no one seemed to notice or cared.
Right from my adulthood till the late ‘90’s, I indulged in no form of exercise. When we moved to Mumbai in 1996, we lived close to a seaside jogging track along with a park. That was when I began to walk for half an hour in the evenings. I was in my early thirties then. When our daughter came into our lives, those walks dwindled to strolls in the park.
We moved to other cities and I began to depend on a two wheeler to take me to the shortest of distances.
I found reasons not to walk.
We lived in a Chennai, where the average temperatures ranged between 34°C to 36°C through the year, the roads were dug up, the vehicular traffic was crazy. I had a house and a young child to manage and I almost never had time to complete errands if I went on foot.
In the year 2010 a few things happened. We moved to Singapore so we had to sell my scooter. I had turned forty and my husband said ‘no more two wheelers’. Anyway, everyone in Singapore used public transport and walked a lot, so I didn’t miss my scooter. The biggest change in our lives that year though was when we brought Maxx home. I began walking him everyday. Slowly and steadily we increased the distances we walked and soon Maxx and I walked over five kilometers everyday.
I owe my ability to walk distances to Maxx
Over the years I built up the endurance to walk distances without a huff. To celebrate this, I began signing up to the various running events. I would walk these ‘runs’ at a brisk pace and complete them within the allotted time. It was when I was able to successfully complete the 5K and 10K ‘runs’, that I decided that brisk walking a half marathon should be possible to do too. I set myself a goal and a deadline.
I wanted to complete a half marathon before I turned 50.
As it came to be, we relocated to India in 2015, Maxx passed on in February 2018 and I stopped signing up for runs. Many opportunities came by, events this past year that I could have signed up for, but it was not to be. It was not until I returned to Des Moines in March 2019, someone mentioned the Drake Half Marathon in April. It was then I decided that I had to do it. I was going to be fifty in July 2019 and the timing was perfect.
I had to do it for Maxx. I had to do it for me.
Thankfully, I never gave up walking distances even after Maxx died. Like I said, I easily walk distances at a brisk pace (6kms per hour). I imagined that I would be able to complete the 21.1km / 13.1 mile distance in three hours and thirty minutes even if I didn’t do anything else but walk the entire distance.
I was confident that I could out-walk the slow joggers
On the sign up page, I had to choose the speed I expected to run the distance. I left the slider at the slowest pace allowed. I expected the page to change colours and sirens to go off to disqualify me from participating. But, none of that happened. To everyone I met in the following two weeks who had ever run, I had just one question to ask:
Will it be alright to brisk walk the entire distance instead of actually run?
I was reassured multiple times that there would be many who would walk and especially if my pace was brisk, I wasn’t going to be the last one to finish. One dear yoga friend even went to the extent of saying, ‘This is Iowa! People take breaks to sit down for a snack during the run’, just to put my mind at ease. She also asked me a hypothetical question:
‘What if you were to complete the half marathon when you turn 51? Will that be so bad?’
I realized then that I didn’t have to be a ninja about finishing the half marathon within any specified year. The finish would be celebrate worthy whatever year I did it. I will allow myself to enjoy the event and probably look at achieving a personal best with the time I take to finish.
I set myself to prepare my body and mind to walk the distance of 21.1 kms at a stretch.
I had less than two weeks!!
I walked for two hours every alternate day, not really keeping tabs on the distance I covered. Three days before the event, I walked for three hours and I covered a 18km distance in that time. I did two things differently that morning. 1) I jogged half a kilometer and walked the other half, for the first hour and 2) I took a hydration break every hour. I was confident that I could finish the run in the targeted time of three hours and thirty minutes if I maintained the same pace on the day of the event.
I knew I was ready. I knew I could and I was going to
I picked my race pack a day prior to the event. My heart beat just a bit faster when I collected my race bib. I looked around for people who might be walking the distance like I was planning to, but I didn’t find any. How could I tell unless I asked! Everyone was busy collecting bibs and rushing off to the next big thing they had to do. I imagined that I would sound like a coward looking for company even if I did ask.
Wasn’t I in it for the fun and the exhilaration of being able to tick it off my bucket list?
That day, I met some store owners who had display kiosks for their sporting goods at the venue. They asked me if I was ‘doing the half’ and wished me luck for the event. I confided to them that it was my first and they were all excited for me. I got a free sample of a product that would help prevent blisters and calluses during the run from one store owner. (Thank you, Jim, it worked like a charm!)
I asked my daughter for music tracks to listen to and she suggested a playlist of Reggaeton music that would help me keep the pace. Again, it was a great suggestion and I am ever so grateful to have a millennial at home.
My supportive husband who was with me all the way from the day I signed up for the event, gave me valuable tips on how I must prepare for the event and he encouraged me to layer up and step out even when the weather was under 10°C for my practice walks. He adviced that I train on terrain that would be similar to what I would face in the race and not walk on the treadmill at the YMCA (and that helped) He suggested that I needed new shoes and I upgraded my Asics to a Gel Kayano-25. He saved the samples of a fast acting energy formula that he had received as a promotion on mail, just for my consumption on the morning of the event.
I announced to my friends and family that I was attempting the half and I am ever so grateful for all the prayers and wishes that was sent my way.
The Day Of The Event
I got to the venue thirty minutes before the start of the race. I saw about a thousand people teeming near the venue. Some of them were jogging to warm up, some of them were stretching. They all looked competitive and like seasoned runners to my eyes. While everyone seemed to have friends or partners with them, I was alone. Maybe I was the only Indian woman there? The announcer was herding everyone towards the starting point so the race could start on time.
On my way to the start line, I saw two adorable puppies, a Corgi and a Rottweiler, who I gathered were therapy dogs. They were being handled by two young women who were letting anyone who was inclined to, pet them. I was drawn to the dogs in the milling crowd. It seemed to me that Maxx was letting me know that he was with me in spirit. When I cuddled the puppies, I immediately felt a lot more confident and qualified to be there.
I spotted the pacers in green fluorescent jackets and they held up placards with the pace at which they would lead the groups. I saw a few boards that indicated the pace that only elite runners could dream of running. I looked around for a board that announced the pace I wanted to brisk walk / slow jog at, but didn’t find any. I asked one of the pacers if I should be looking elsewhere and he said ‘you are on your own if you plan to go slower than 2:30’.
What a let down. Or was it? I was there to complete the half marathon at my pace. And I will.
I surprised myself by running the first two miles ( 3.2 kms) non stop. The ‘josh’ was high and my knees and ankles coordinated perfectly with what my brain was telling them to do. Everyone around me was running and I kept up too.
I would stop when I felt my lungs beating against my ribs.
Running on a treadmill was not new to me. I could jog short distances on the treadmill however I was adviced not to. My knees which were diagnosed for Patella syndrome when I was thirty and sounded like a bowl of rice crispies every time I squat or attempted an Utkatasana in yoga, do not hold up very well when I jogged. However, for sometime now, I have been strengthening my quads and hamstrings in the gym so they would support my weak knee muscles and cartilages.
Thanks to all the walking over the years my cardio vascular activity was on point too. I will also have to attribute my general state of health and well being to the low carb lifestyle that I have been leading since October 2017.
Yeah, yeah, enough about you, what was happening in the race?
My first goal was to run / jog till I reached the 2 mile mark before I switched to brisk walking. With the pace everyone was jogging at, it seemed easy to jog along. Why stop if I am able to keep up? I felt triumphant that I was not the first to stop jogging, when I saw that a few people had already changed the pace to a walk.
At the end of the 2 mile mark, appeared the first water station. It helped to hydrate before I continued. Soon the route bifurcated to allow the half marathon participants to go one way and the 10K runners to go the other. The crowd thinned on the half marathon route and I realized the enormity of the task ahead of me!
What seemed like a great pace to be jogging at suddenly didn’t seem so.
It seemed to me that I may be the last to finish the half if I only walked the distance. As long as my knees weren’t feeling heavy, I decided to use my ‘jog-walk’ strategy for the rest of the distance. I reminded myself to be mindful of how I landed on my feet as I jogged. I mindfully pushed myself off the balls of my feet and not land on my heel as I continued to run.
I walked every time the terrain was elevated and jogged when there was a dip in the elevation.
That way, whatever time I lost when I was walking uphill, I made up for some of it, jogging downhill. I found out later, when I was reading some facts to include in the blog that downhill running needs a different kind of training altogether. (That probably explains why my hamstrings are sore even after 72 hours of the finish).
From 5 miles and upwards, the running route was lined with family and friends holding placards and hand written posters by both young and old, cheering participants on. Some posters made me smile.
‘Jake, the course closes in 4 hrs, hurry up!’, said one and ‘ You aren’t going to die, but you sure smell like it’ said another. I saw a group of people who jogged by wearing tee shirts that read ‘We are here for the tee shirt’. The sense of humour on display helped a lot.
There were volunteers through out the route, some with timers to call out the time you completed every mile and others offering drinks at the water stations and picking up used paper cups that participants flung after they had hydrated. There were old people with coffee mugs on chairs, young people with dogs on leashes, still younger parents with children lining up on the street with extended arms to hi-five anyone passing by.
I didn’t feel alone and the task of completing the 21.1 kms did not seem daunting after all.
Every time I slowed my pace, there was someone egging me on with an encouraging clap or a phrase. I heard people call out, ‘You’ve got it’ everytime it looked like the person running was going to faint or give up.
I saw traffic police on high alert, stopping cars from passing every time there was a few of us jogging across a main junction. The whole city seemed involved!
I surprised myself by finishing the half marathon in under 3 hours. ( 2hrs and 55 mins). I felt emotional as I crossed the finish line. I had finally completed what I set to do and it felt powerful, liberating and humbling.
There was a medallion for all finishers, free chocolate chip cookies, Powerade drinks, Chocolate Milk and a free post race stretch by a pain management company .
More on the post race recovery and my mile dedications in the next post!
Thank you for staying with me through the recount of my experience on the eventful day I completed a Half marathon!