Picture courtesy — Abigail Keenan
Some people are born to be Athletes. Well, I’m definitely not one of them.
In my childhood, I was always game for sports. All kind of sports. I played badminton, cricket, basketball etc. I always wanted to take part in sports but I was more of a jack of all rather than being a specialist. I never focused on one single sport, I was little there in each of the sport.
But as I came out of college and started working on my first job in Mumbai. I realized that I needed to get back into sports. I was now too skinny and a long way from fit. Then it started getting worse. I became underweight.
The picture below is from 2010 (5 years back). Yes, that’s me. Some of you might not even believe it (Even though its all smiles but still). You had to see me to believe it.
Picture – © Himanshu Sachdeva
This physical state was a result of my own actions. Nutritional illiteracy, ignorance to exercise and few bad eating habits. Of course, I’ve seen worse eating habits in people. Well, mine was not that intense if compared. I ended up having a medical condition. My large intestine went almost dysfunctional and my digestive system went haywire.
It took me a whole year to recover and it was the darkest year of my life. I was on a nasty medication. I was on a diet I couldn’t stand. That was plain yellow lentils with almost no spices in it and 1-2 plain chapatis. I did both of these for more than 10 months. This diet was like icing on the cake, up above all the nasty medication I put on. But both the medication and diet helped me bring my digestive system back to functioning.
But, there was as a side effect of this medicament. I started gaining weight, a lot of weight. Right after completing my medical course, I gained almost 22 pounds in just 6-7 months. Fast forward to 2-3 months, I peaked at over 28 pounds gain. Well, that was way over if compared to my skinny state weight back in 2011.
It was the start of 2013 when I started to realize that I was attracting a whole lot of medical conditions. High BP, high cholesterol levels and high blood sugar level (at some point in time). I told myself, “Are you f***ing kidding me? You are just 25. This doesn’t happen to people your age.”. But it was happening to me, right then. I wanted to pretend it was not my fault, it was just hereditary. But it wasn’t. It was a result of my actions, my ignorance and my failure to keep myself healthy. Period.
This was a serious wake-up call. I wanted to take charge of my life again. I wanted to become fit. I wanted to get rid of all these health problems inherited from adiposity. That is when the idea of getting active struck my mind. I started doing a little bit of exercise, though not on a regular basis. I spent most months of 2013, exercising 2-3 days a week. Light exercise like stretching and a little strength training. But I was struggling to keep myself consistent. Neither I was interested in Gym as it bored me, nor I was sure that if I invest in a good gym training, I’ll be able to keep up.
But, I was always up for morning walks and a little jogging. So I thought to start slow and see how it goes. It was somewhere in the start of 2014. The next morning, filled with motivation I went to the nearby joggers park for the morning walk. Seeing a few regular joggers doing rounds of the park at a good pace, I thought to give it shot. It didn’t even take me one round of the park which was around 500 meters loop, to get out of my breath. I cursed myself for not taking care of myself and not being fit. But, then I took it is a challenge to be able to jog/run to a respectable distance without going nuts on my breath. I went back home and fired up my laptop to do some research on how to achieve this goal. Not to my surprise, I found out a lot of blogs giving advice on how to start running as a beginner. Some called it a ‘Couch to 5K plan’ and some ‘ Beginners running plan’.
After few days research I narrowed down to the Nike+ Running (Android version here, iOS version here) app, which I could download on my android phone. It works like a GPS run tracker and a personal trainer as well. I started using this app as an experiment to see how effective it is in tracking my runs. So I kept using it 2-3 days every week to track my light jogs. Kept it going until half of 2014. That’s when I thought to up the Ante.
As I mentioned earlier Nike+ Running app has training plans as well. 5K, 10K Half marathon and Full marathon. Training plans for the different level of athletes like amateurs, intermediary, advance. So I started up with the 8 weeks plan for 5K (which was for the beginners). I was determined to achieve my goal. If we put a punishment in the case of failure to achieve the goal, we do better. So I did. I kept myself a punishment, if I was not able to achieve this goal, I won’t go on any backpacking trips for 1 whole month. Didn’tIi tell, I love back packing to the city? I LOVE IT. So this was like a great punishment for myself. Of course, it’s better if someone else gets to be the judge. But i didn’t have any close friend to do this role. So i went on with this plan assuming I’ll be honest with myself.
I kept myself consistent for the next 8 weeks and trained as advised in the training plan. See? That’s what i was talking about.
Punishment against your failure = Better consistency and hard work.
I started the training by slow walks then brisk walking. Later on intermittent running, mix of walking and running, then finally running. While on this training, I started feeling awesome. Plus i got a few side benefits, like falling sick less, less mood swings and more productivity. And the best part? It was all free. I didn’t pay a penny on a Gym or a trainer. Double shot! Huh!
2nd November 2014 was the day, when I completed my first 5K run on Marine Drive.
This was the end of my first Nike+ training plan. But it marked a new beginning to the rest of my life.
I not only wanted to keep this regime going but also wanted to make activeness a part of my lifestyle. That’s when I signed up for my 1st race (ever). Raheja Green Run – 2014. It was a 10K race scheduled for 23rd of November 2014. I thought what a way to reach my next milestone – 10K. So I kept my training on and kept putting in 4-5 runs a week while increasing the distance to 8K. But on 15th November I finished my first 10K training run. It was slow but I finished it and that’s what mattered to me. It was a base for my first race. It gave me confidence that I could reach the 10K mark and could finish strong on the race day.
And I did. I completed my first 10K in 1:15:32 hrs.
Picture – © Himanshu Sachdeva
Next Milestone –
What could be more challenging for a beginner like me? Than the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015.
Picture Courtesy – SCMM official Website
When I registered for my first half marathon in SCMM 2015, I knew I’ll have to go all in on the training front. I started putting my rigorous efforts in my ongoing training regime. Next one and a half month were full of sweat, blood and the sweet pain. Few blisters on my feet and bloody nipples. No, I’m not kidding. You get the bloody nipples cause of the traction of your tee to your chest.
Finally, the day had come. 18th January 2015. My first half marathon.
The night before the big day, my stomach was cramping inside out due to the nervousness. I have had a good large pasta dinner like usually, runners do before the race day. I got to know about this process through a couple of articles from a few running blogs I had subscribed to. It’s called carb-loading (read more on it here). But, I no longer believe in the theory of having pasta the night before the race day. Instead, I prefer to eat healthy most of the time with a balanced amount of protein and healthy fats. So I don’t have to think about the carb-loading before the race day. And as per my own experience, eating pasta can lead to an insulin spike resulting in more cravings.
‘Race Day Preparations’ Picture – © Himanshu Sachdeva
I woke up at 4AM on the morning of 18th January 2015. 3 of my colleagues were also running the HM that day. Last week we had arranged to pool a taxi to the race start point (which was just before the Banda-Worli Sea Link). We boarded the taxi at around 4:45AM and started. While in transit, we were discussing all about the race. 3 of us were running the half marathon for the first time and the second time for one colleague.
We reached the spot at 5:30AM. It was like a big carnival venue that morning. All the runners were rushing in towards the start point from every possible direction. A bird’s eye view of that would have looked like gazillion of colorful streams (of runners) flowing and merging into the sea (the start point). We 4 were a few colorful dots in those streams. We approached towards the starting point.
Everyone was doing stretching and people were discussing the strategy. It was the largest crowd of runners, I’d ever seen. I too started stretching and warming up. At 5:50AM announcement was done to make the formation as the race was gonna start in 10 minutes. At 6AM John Abraham flagged off the race and starting whistle went off. Race started. I was in the last group. This was my first race ever, so I couldn’t submit a timing certificate. An official timing certificate helps you advance the group. The better your timing certificate timing, the nearest you get to the starting point. I didn’t have one, so I was grateful I could even run in this event.
Picture – © Himanshu Sachdeva
As the race started flocks of runners started moving forward. Many started by walking, some were running to advance in the start itself. As soon as the crowd started moving, I too started running at an easy pace at the start instead of walking. I wanted to steer clear of the slow-moving crowd as soon possible. After two kilometres past and I was now part of the running crowd which was scattered all over the road. We were on the Bandra-Worli Sea link now. As soon as I hit the sea link my excitement level skyrocketed and I was running at a tempo pace. It was like a moment out of my dreams. I was running the most celebrated race in India, on the Bandra-Worli Sea link. This sea link is the 1st Cable-stayed bridge constructed in open seas in India. It was a feeling of sheer joy as I was crossing the pylon towers of this superstructure viaduct. Pure bliss running down every nerve of my body giving goosebumps. That feeling will last forever in a corner of my heart.
Few pictures from the Bandra-Worli Sea Link parts –
Picture Courtesy – Mumbai Runner, Ashok Someshwar
Picture Courtesy – HindustanTimes
Picture Courtesy – © PTI
I finished my 5km in the record time just before the bridge end. I haven’t had any drink till 6km, even though I was carrying a small backup water bottle in my pocket. At the end of 6th km I had a big sip. After crossing 8km mark I took an enerzal tetra pack from a hydration station. That kept me going till the 10km mark. I touched down the 10k milestone with my personal best in 1:05:05 hr.
I was recording this run on a new app called Strava (Android app here, iOS app here) . I discovered this app in Dec 2014 when me and my roommate jointly bought a new semi-pro bicycle. As i had this new bike, so I needed a biking computer to track my rides. So after some research, I found out Strava app was talk of the town. So I thought to give it a spin. It gave me satisfactory and near accurate results. Later it turned out that Strava was also used widely for running. So I took it along for couple of runs as well. To my surprise, it was more accurate than the Nike+ app. Not significantly, but yeah, precision is what a geek digs for. So on the SCMM day, i chose Strava over Nike+ for tracking my first Half Marathon. Though for my training plans till date I use the Nike+ app only, but just to see the plan not tracking.
Now, coming back to the race.
I took in some Enerzal at the 11km mark which kept me going till the 13km mark. As I was reaching the 15km mark, I was crossing the bridge near the Girgaon chowpatti. It was then, when I started to feel the heat. It felt unusually humid, cause I was running along the sea line. I was drying up pretty quickly like a cloth hung on a cloth line in the afternoon sun!
I started consuming almost everything I came across. Like oranges, Glucon-D, Saltwater! (yes). Anything that could keep me going. SCMM has generous spectators and volunteers on many streets. Many of them even get things from their own homes to serve the runners on the race day.
Near to the 16-17 KM mark, I was walking more on and mixing a little bit of running here and there. On the end of 17th KM there was a cool shower nearby the Marine Plaza hotel at marine drive. I took a dreading decision of taking that cool shower, not knowing how bad my body will respond to it. When I went into the shower it was like drizzles of water coming down on high speed. Trust me it feels awesome when you go in. It was like an instant relief to my tired body and a shock to my sensory system! But as soon as I came out, I started to get the feeling that it was not a good idea. My body felt heavy and i was just dragging myself on the 18th KM mark. I was literally struggling to keep up.
At that moment I was passing by the navy bands performing at the marine drive side. It was like a carnival and I was feeling the part of this big carnival. But at the same time, I was so annoyed to not being able to keep running. I was just walking and dragging myself to not stop. Cause I knew if I stop now, my mind will take over. I won’t be able to start again. It was like my own mind playing against myself. That’s when I got the real meaning of the saying – “Marathons are finished with heart not mind.” It’s your willpower which takes you to the finish line. But yes of course proper training will help you not screw yourself up. Going on a marathon without training is like riding a pony to the war instead of your war-horse.
Just when I was approaching 19KM mark, feeling week and dragging, I saw 65+ guy crossing me. He was running on a slow and steady pace. It looked like he was running at this pace from the starting. These guys are called the steady runners. But seeing a guy like him running, my soul said, “Get your shit together boy and catch up with him. It’s time now.”
I decided no matter what I will cross the finish line with that guy. So in my subconscious, I made him my pacer and we just crossed the 19th KM mark together. We were now on the Veer Nariman Road (near Churchgate station). Which was leading to Flora fountain and eventually to the finish line in Front of CST station. Volunteers were all across the streets. Everyone shouting out, cheering up, motivating you to beat up the mind game. There was a little girls group just near the Churchgate station. One of them shouted out to me for motivation, “Go rock it!” and handed me over the last cup of water of the race with an innocent smile. A smile and a glass of water, just what I needed to push myself on that last stretch of the race. I was completely boosted and felt a renewed energy wave all over my body. That’s when I crossed the 20th KM mark. Now I could imagine myself on the other side of the finish line.
In my 21st KM, I noticed many of the full marathon participants were also closing in towards the finish line in the lane next to ours. All drained up but pushing it with all their might. I could feel them putting all their energy. They were determined to finish the race just as I was. We were just 400 Meters away from the finish line, I could see the finish line now literally. There was an enormous crowd at the finish line, as it’s India’s biggest Marathon event. Finish line gates were full blackish flooded with all those sponsor banners. On top of the gates, clocks were ticking.
At that point, I noticed a guy was running in the full marathon lane and was trying to run hard towards the finish line. Suddenly he stopped and jolted to clutch the divider between our lanes. He was standing in that position merely for 2-3 seconds before crashing down while still in standing straight posture. Like a lifeless tree falling down. Couple of volunteers saw him going down and rushed towards him. One of them radioed the nearby Ambulance. Watching it all, my feet just froze and my already hallucinating mind stopped working. An ambulance was there 5 minutes later. They put him on a stretcher to load into the Ambulance and then he was taken to the nearby hospital. One volunteer told us it was the case of a cardiac attack. I lost 5-7 minutes there before I came back to my wits. Then I realized I had a race to finish and the finish line was just 400 meters away. I slowing started moving and in few moments was back into the running mode.
They say you finish a marathon (or a half marathon) sprinting. I told myself, “I’m going to finish this race sprinting.” I saw the clock was ticking near to 2:48:00 hrs. I stepped up on my pace and finished the last 300 meters in a quick sprint. It was the moment of pure bliss. The goosebumps hit my body again. Adrenaline was rushing down my spine as I was crossing the finish line. My hands were in the winged position just like a bird finishing its first flight.
I was a half marathoner now.
Picture – © Himanshu Sachdeva
I clocked my first half marathon at 2:50:46 hrs.
I was almost drained out of energy. My feet felt they were still in running mode even though I was standing still. So I found a small spot in the crowd and sat for 5 minutes, in-fact I lied down for a few moments. It helped me pull myself together, because it felt like nothing was left inside me. No energy. But slowly I re-gained the energy. Then i moved towards refreshments counter to get myself something to eat before we took off for home. Just near the finish line there were queues for refreshment and finisher’s medals. I queued up while waiting for my friends to join me. I got my pack of refreshments and just started feasting on it as soon as i got my hands on it. I just couldn’t wait any longer. Then i went to collect my finisher’s medal from the medal’s counter. In half an hour 2 more friends joined me. Last friend took another 15 minutes to finish. Finally we all were back together. We took some pictures of biting on the finisher’s medal. It was a ‘On top of the world’ moment.
Finally I had conquered the Half Marathon challenge and i was just pleased to achieve this feat.
After that day I’ve ran 3 half Marathon’s. I’m stepping up my game now. Next challenge?
SCMM – 2016 Full Marathon.
Have you put a challenge for yourself lately? What are you doing to conquer it? Let me know, in the comments.