Why I Run…

My journey in running 26.2 miles

The night after my marathon, I sat in my bed reminiscing about the journey. The journey that started back in December. Or to take it back even further: the journey that started in 2004 in Hyderabad, India.

I was never a long distance runner growing up. My claim to fame in the running world was being 2nd overall in 7th grade at the 40 yard dash — a short distance run. As an avid baseball player, I also prided myself in being that shifty base stealer. Mile run challenges were a chore for me. But one person really changed that. In 2004 my school principal, Stuart McClay, was a long distance runner (records indicate he’s still running elite times to this day) and he decided to create a small high school running club of sorts. On a whim I decided to join, and that is where my long distance running career really started…in the dry heat of a Hyderabad summer.

Through the years I eventually progressed from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons (thanks to a buddy back at my old job), but it was only in December that I decided to put my head down and finally run a full marathon.

I just ran 468 miles to be able to run 26 miles.

So as I sat back merely 6 hours after the end of my marathon — sore legs and all — I looked at my training Excel sheet and it dawned on me: I just ran 468 miles to be able to run 26 miles. This is my journey through those 468 miles.

The Silence (or lack thereof) of a Run

2015 was a busy year for me. After 4 fun-filled years living in Capitol Hill and working in and exploring the great Northwest, it was time for a change of scenery. San Francisco was calling..

The move proved to be a lot more impactful than I first imagined. I was like hey it’s San Francisco, the west coast, I’ve visited many times — it will be an easy transition. Though the city itself was inviting, the transition from a bigger company to a startup, and in a different domain, proved to be challenging.

The fast-paced, release-now aspect of a startup caught up to me in October. I was not eating well. I was not sleeping well. I was irritable all the time. I basically wasn’t taking care of myself. I’m not sure what exactly motivated me to lace up my shoes and go out for a run one afternoon.

I do know that the silence of a run was therapeutic. As a product manager, I work with so many people every day. Whether it is a meeting with the leadership team or fixing a bug with the engineers, I’m always surrounded with people. But while running, I found time that I could spend time with myself, and enjoy the silence that came with it.

“I just run. I run in void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.”

People sometimes ask me what I think about when I run. There was a quote I heard that succinctly sums up my feelings: “I just run. I run in void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.” And that’s exactly it. All the random thoughts in my head during the day aligns into focus like a funnel of water going into a cup. The final product of that is a clear mind and what every runner strives for…”the runners’ high.”

As I continued to run, I looked forward to this time to for myself, to relax, de-stress and put the day behind me and look forward….literally.

It just took one run for me to get the bug back. That night I signed up for the Walnut Creek Half Marathon, a good month and a half away at that point, in December. I setup a plan (as I always do) and started getting to the business of getting back to my old self.

The Art of Routine

As I was closing out my half marathon training and tapering my miles, I realized I was itching for something more. I had run many half marathons before — it was nothing new for me. I had always disregarded full marathons as something out of reach — something too time consuming to fit into my life. But was it? Or was it just that I didn’t know how to organize my life to have a full marathon fit in it?

2012 Victoria (BC) Half Marathon

I realized that I had put an artificial barrier in my head; I’d told myself that the half was ‘good enough’ and that the full marathon was for real runners — people that don’t consider running to be just a hobby. I had been stuck on the fact that I didn’t see myself as a real runner. But I realized that we all have artificial barriers in our heads about certain things, and maybe these barriers are embedded in many different parts of our lives, subtle enough that we don’t even realize we’ve placed them there. But I also had an itch, and knew that to fulfill that itch that I had just to just put my head down and go for the full. I needed to break that mental barrier.

…knew that to fulfill that itch that I had just to just put my head down and go for the full. I needed to break that mental barrier.

I had diligently planned out my half marathon training, and the big day was coming soon. But I knew that if I were going to go for the full, I had to be even more organized and disciplined. And with a late injury in my half marathon plan (more about it in the next section), I knew a full marathon was going to be much more physically demanding than a half.

But here was the appeal: signing up for a full marathon would give me great vehicle to continue to run, and to continue getting myself out of a rut. So in late November, I signed up for my first full marathon. And that night I setup my marathon plan. It was daunting. I had weeks where I was running upwards of 40 miles — before November I hadn’t even run that much in a month.

I knew I had to sacrifice a lot. With the amount of training I’d planned for, I had to give up my Friday nights so that I wouldn’t be tired the next day for a long run. I’d skip happy hour so that I could fit in a 10 mile run on a Thursday. Or wake up early to go on a run so that I would be able to meet a friend visiting from out of town at night. During times like these — when I felt my social life was constantly taking a back seat — I would always imagine crossing that finish line of the full marathon and that feeling of accomplishment.

It was a method I used not only for instances like those, but also during my runs. When I was lugging along at 6am and dying to stop and go back home, I would imagine myself taking that hot shower afterwards and feeling good about myself. Or on the other hand, I’d imagine myself after the run, if I had stopped early, and envelop myself in the sense of disappointment or incompleteness I knew I’d feel if I bailed early. Those small mental exercises were training, too, and pushing myself this way really helped me make it to the finish line.

The goal-oriented aspect of it was instrumental, too. By following my training plan, I was able to see my progress on a weekly or even daily basis after runs. These plans I made and the runs I went out on and finished were mini milestones that I finished towards a larger goal. Just like at work — where we have a scrum model of product development — I implemented a way for me to progress towards a larger goal with smaller (think: workable and reasonable) milestones every week.

This cross pollination of ideas between my professional and personal life didn’t stop there. The way I organized other aspects of my life changed as well. I started planning more, putting down my ideas on paper more.

The routine and the planning made me disciplined. Or was it the other way around? Either way, the routine was an instrumental aspect to run 468 miles and ultimately finish running the 26.2 miles I sought after.

The Body is a Rubber Band

One thing I learned throughout the last few months it that the body is able to adapt to ways you aren’t even aware of.

After my half marathon (13.1 miles), I took a few days off to rest, but shortly thereafter I started a streak of 11 weeks where I ran a half marathon or more each week. Previously, just one half marathon would have TKO’d me for a good few days with sore ankles and calves, but not only did I run a half marathon or more, but I did it with extra mileage, and during the middle of the week.

My plan had me ramping up slowly. I knew I had to do that to prevent injury, something that I learned first hand at the end of November. During Thanksgiving I had run 10 and 3 miles in successive days. On that same day I ran 3 miles, I had gone out and played 3 hours of football at our annual family friends game. All three didn’t bode well for my body. In hindsight I had put in too much stress. The day after Thanksgiving I woke up and couldn’t walk or put pressure on my ankle.

The body is a rubber band, adaptable, but if you pull the rubber band too hard, it will break

This ‘injury’ of sorts allowed me to reflect on the physical aspect of running. The body is a rubber band, adaptable, but if you pull the rubber band too hard, it will break. Gradually increasing the mileage I do every week was going to be key. That one week where I couldn’t run (and I had to forcibly shut myself down so I could recover) was the worst. I wanted to go out there and run but I couldn’t. That itch was strong. I even tapped my ankle up a couple of times and went out for a run, only to promptly come back in pain.

I also learned the difference between the varying levels of pain: there’s pain that is due to aches and sores, and there’s pain that could cause injury. And at times when I tested it out I definitely knew it was the former. Eventually I got over it (with some much needed rest). But the consequences were well learned: for me to get up to 26 miles I need to ease my way up as I increase mileage.

In December I did 3 long runs: 13 miles (the half marathon), 14 miles and 16 miles. The routes I took were varying but I found one that worked out really well for long runs. I started at my apartment (in the Mission), went up the Lower Haight to the Pan Handle, into Golden Gate Park and then down Ocean Beach. Depending how long I needed to go I would sometimes even go all way down to Lake Mercer (and in my 22 miles run to Daly City). It had a great mix of city, park, and ocean views that made my runs enjoyable.

During the week I would run 3 shorter runs — the middle one being a mid size run of around 7–13 miles. Working in North Beach near Fisherman’s Wharf, though it was a pain to commute to, proved to be a great place to train, right on the Embarcadero. Some of my favorite runs happened during the week. One that particularly stuck to me was during the height of El Nino, I ran 13 miles in the rain and gusty winds on the Golden Gate Bridge — the first time I had run to Marin County. Even though the wind nearly blew me off the bridge, it was one of the coolest experience doing it in the rain at night.

In the month of January due to travel I only did one long run that progressed further than 16 miles — my 18 mile run. The other were shorter. February was the critical month of my training though. I had 2 long runs of 20 and 22 miles and I significantly increased my mileage, running 139 miles in that month.

The 22 mile run was when I first experienced the “infamous” wall. As I approached mile 18, everything was going great. The weather was hot but not too unbearable. But mile 18 was when my body — the first time in my life — had physically stopped working on me. As I trudged along the rest of 4 miles to the end, I realized (in hindsight) that my poor eating habits (not eating enough) was really catching up to me. Struggling through this run proved to me how important food and diet are for a successful marathon.

Eat to Run, Run to Eat?

Leading up to the marathon, when I talked to seasoned runners about my plan, they always asked me why I was doing a 22 mile run. Traditionally the longest run you do is 20 miles before the 26 mile challenge. But personally, I wanted to get as close to 26 as possible without jeopardizing my health and body.

In a way I was glad I did that. Not for the fact that it uncovered my lack of a proper diet, but also it mentally prepared me by making sure I know what “the wall” felt like. My 20 mile run went without a hitch. Yes, I did have some knee pains at the end, but nothing like my 22 mile run where my whole body just stopped working. So in hindsight I’m super grateful that I did the 22 mile run, even though it was one of the worst experiences of my life.

One of the biggest things that I realized is that food is fuel.

Shortly after my 22 mile run, I put together a diet plan as I tapered off my mileage in preparation for my marathon. One of the biggest things that I realized is that food is fuel. I successfully completed these training runs, but did I feel good? One instance where I could see the difference between running versus running and feeling good was when I visited my parents in Seattle a few weeks before the marathon.

As parents do, my mom fed me well. Breakfast consisted of all the calories I would have consumed for half the day in my usual diet. It sounds silly now, but I had always thought that eating before a run would have adverse effects, like feeling nauseous. But that day, after a hearty breakfast, I ran one of my fastest 13 miles I’ve ever run.

The week before the marathon, I had carefully charted my diet. I knew in order for me to not hit that wall I needed to be well fueled before the race. I increased my intake of carbs (finally, bread!) and in general increased the amount of portions I ate. The days leading up to it, I ate some amazing deep dish pizza (shout out to Little Star, the best deep dish in San Francisco) and some tasty Mediterranean food in Napa.

That’s It?

Race morning came. I woke up at 4 am ready to board a bus to the starting line. In the dark cold bus, I sat next to a man who was around my dad’s age, and let’s just say, he’d done this rodeo many times before. Though I tend to keep to myself before big events (especially at 5am), I had a great time talking to him about his experiences before this one and all the other races he had run. He helped tremendously to calm the nerves.

Adrenaline at it’s highest

The race itself was something that I enjoyed more than I would have imagined. Every time there was a camera, I would make some goofy gesture. I talked to many people on the course itself and sometimes I was grateful since they would give me pointers on the hills that are coming up. Though it took 3:37:05 officially, it felt a lot shorter than that. I crossed the finish line fist pumping, thinking back, that moment would probably be in the top 5 moments of my life.

What’s Next?

A journey that I started in October to get myself out of funk culminated at that finish line. I’d run 468 odd miles to prepare for running 26. It’s fair to say the journey was a lot more impactful for me than the marathon itself.

As I look back, there were three things that really stood out to me as takeaways: individual time for myself is critical in keeping me sane, my body can do things that I couldn’t even have imagined, and food is fuel and eating healthy can do wonders to the body. As simple as these might be, these learnings are something I hope I can continue taking forward, and transform my hobby of running into a true lifestyle.

As I sit here days after the marathon — I’m a bit bummed. For months I had this goal etched in my mind and I’m bummed that I won’t be able to go after a goal at that magnitude for a while (though I’m tempted to sign up for a 50k or a 50 mile race…but that’s a whole other blog post). Also another thing that’s gotten to me is that, I will never have that “first time” feeling again. Though sappy, that feeling I had when I crossed the finish line was priceless.

One of the many goals I had set out for myself in 2016 was to run a marathon and I did it. What’s next? Well, I’m looking to break some personal records. I have a half marathon planned for early May as well as I’m planning on running a full marathon in October. And I guess who knows I might be crazy enough to sign up for an Ultra Marathon….TBD.