When in doubt…

Disclaimer: Post is as long as the time I took to finish my run. You might need electrolytes or an energy bar to finish reading. Or better. Just run. Put the energy bar to better use.

…RUN!

And that was pretty much the thought I had when I started on it. Not that I doubted my abilities in running. But I thought it’d be a nice twist to Al Pacino’s famous line from “Scent of A Woman”. I also kept hearing “Run, Rishi Madhav Madgula! Run!” in my head while I was writing this. But somehow, it did not sound cool.

Hmm. Maybe, “Run, Madgula! Run” would have been cooler.

Anyways, I still remember my first run being chased by a street dog and me shouting “aami kichhu korini, aami kichhu korini”, when I was still an innocent, 8-year old growing up in the beautiful and safe confines of CMERI Colony, Durgapur in West Bengal. That is where I was born. Which is why most people fail to identify me as a Gult on first looks. And then fail even more when they hear me speak Telugu. And they have this really inquisitive look on their faces with the eyebrows crinkled (much like how my 1 year old nephew looks at me when I make weird sounding noises just to get his attention. He just seems to say, “dude, do you have a speech impediment? What the hell are you making those sounds for?”)

Well, I just hope people listening to me speak Telugu do not think the same. I do love NTR’s dance moves, you know.

Btw, “aami kicchu korini” means “I did not do anything”. I still do not know why I was trying to talk my way through with the dog while I was running my a** off. I always knew I was bad at negotiating.

Well, not to detract you from the route I am trying to chalk out, many people including my mother and my 3 year old niece have asked me why at all have I started this madness. By that they mean this entire cycle-or-run-your-guts-out-and-come-back-with-a-sore-ass-and-knees routine. In short, why have I become so fitness conscious. In fact, my niece looks at me every time I wear the weird looking helmet and take out my cycle to go to office, and tells me to be careful. So sweet of her.

And then she starts laughing.

Anyways, to them I just smile and say – just like that. To the others, I say that an unexplainable bug has bitten my backside – I am still trying to figure out what that is, but I hope it is here to stay. Another bug next to it tells me it is going to stay, especially after what I did on 9th October.

More on that later. But even my 3-year old niece would have known better than to jump into this without any serious preparation, zilch training and zero knowledge of the technicalities of running. But as all self-help books recommend that it is better to see the glass half full, than half empty, I decided to focus on what I thought I did have and what it was I could do to complete the run.

But let’s go into flashback.

Prior experience in running? Minimal. Mostly treadmill. And sometimes on the roads early in the morning. 30 to 40 mins jog/sprint early in the morning before stopping to pant like my neighbor’s dog with the tongue out. And then walk back slowly feeling nice, announce at home what a fit guy I am and making grand plans to do the same everyday of the week.

Repeat the above a week or two later.

And then, a lightning bolt hit me. Why don’t I buy a cycle and well, start cycling? I mean what else can you do after you buy a cycle? So, I did that. Amidst all the spending for my new flat which I had bought practically making myself a pauper with a fancy MBA degree, I went ahead and made myself a little more pauper. Or pauperer, if you will. And bought a shiny new Schwinn Sporterra! I even started a blog on that. Do check it out whenever you are bored of sleeping over your office desk or formatting that presentation for your boss.

So then, I started cycling. To work, to the nearby community shop, on long rides on weekends, in my dreams. And then posted all that on Facebook and Twitter. How can anything you do not go up on Facebook? I even had half an atrocius thought of going up the mountain trails in the Nilgiris. But then left it at that.

I did not have the money to spare, actually.Which means I am open to receiving charity. Only in cash and some in kind too. Please get back to me on that.

So, I did the next best thing. I looked up on the net to see if there were people running about in Hyderabad. And I came across the Hyderabad Runners. A motley bunch of old, young and the middle-aged who all love to just do that. Run. That’s about it. And then run a little more. A lot of them are more of the serious types – with Garmins, 3/4 Full marathons under the belt, who run for 10 Kms and can still talk like they just woke up from sleep. And if you thought this was crazy, you should meet my good friend Manoj, who said that he ended up running 40 kms with a partner who was training for the Comrades. Just like that.

That is not to mean for members of CPM, but for the Comrades Marathon. Touted to be the “ultimate human race”. Crazies all around, I tell ya!

So. I found out on Friday that there was a 14/16/18 Km loop run on Sunday, sometime in mid of september. Signed up for it and landed at KBR park at 5 am in the morning. Ipod in the ears, bottle in the hands, and josh in the hearts. Met up with some really nice, cool people, one of whom ran with me for most of the time, giving me some really good tips and asking all about me. I answered for most part in between the breathless strides I was taking. All I could ask him was what did he do, and how many years was he into running. He said, “oh just a couple. And I am a software guy”.

He smiled at me, and then vanished while still 5 kms away from the finish. Later I found out he was the CEO of an IT company and an accomplished marathon runner who also trained newbies! I have been able to talk him into training me as well! Yippee!

Anyways, so I ran.  14 Km all the way with the 18 km folks ending the loop before me. And a few of them continuing on to what one of them said, ” to increase their mileage”.

I was just glad I could run. And I could finish.

Of course, once the crazy had gotten on to the bus, there was no way I could stop myself. And I just kept on pushing, running random 2 kms and 3 Kms, and then a 13 Km and then a few more 2 to 3 Kms. While doing all this, I picked up knee pains, did a lot of research on shoes which suited the arch of my feet, added new words such as pronation and supination to my vocabulary and then decided on a pair which fitted my budget. I also shifted into my new flat as well, made friends with new running folks and finally mustered enough and more doubts to register for the Hyderabad Heritage Marathon – Half Marathon, 21.1 Kms. My first ever!

And that really was the highlight of the last one month since the running bug had caught my you-kn0w-where. A couple of calls to my good friend Manoj on how I need to prepare, and some encouraging calls later, I started getting subsumed by the run. I thought about it. I ran the distance in my mind. I imagined myself in all kinds of mental and physical states – ecstatic with a podium finish, running like a true marathoner, hobbling all the way, quitting after the first few kms and so on. I read blogs about running, followed the Hyderabad Runner’s group emails like I was getting paid for it, I bought a book about it.

In short. I was going crazy. Or maybe I am over-reacting.

Everything I did centered around 9th October, so much so that I ensured the luggage shifting to my new flat happened in a “phased approach” with proper planning and logistics in place. MBA really helped me here, you see. Of course, when I told mom why I wanted to do this, she just looked at me, nodded my head in exasperation, and said, “Please get an LIC policy first!”.

I nodded my head too. And finished the shifting.

The run-up to race day was probably a coach’s worst training nightmare. Hal Higdon recommends at least 12 weeks of consistent small runs with adequate cross-training and rests in between while gradually increasing your pace/mileage. And that is what all the seasoned runners in the Hyderabad Runners group also said. Well, the sad part with good advice is it gets defeated in the face of impracticality. I like to put it as “pure enthusiasm”. Of course, that is just me.

Anyways, so here I was with 2 weeks more to go. I did a 14 Km 2 sundays prior to the marathon, ended the run with knee pains. While it should have been enough for any trainer to give a whacking on my backside while getting a check-in by the doctor, I carelessly decided to take a break for a day, give it rest and resume running small distances.

I paired up with another newbie and his wife, and did small runs of 2 to 3 kms each day for a week. Knee pains notwithstanding.

And then, as the experts would say, I tapered for the remaining week. Any seasoned runner would probably gawk at how I tapered. Usually, for people who train, how I ran the previous week is how they taper off. As if it were a nice romantic stroll around the park with their wives or girlfriends.

I just stopped running.That was my tapering off. Another whack!

I kept nursing my knee with ice packs while still imagining myself at the marathon. Of course, now the “podium finish” seemed like a distant dream. I only saw myself finish the run with a flourish, arms spread out, sweat glistening on my forehead, my hair completely wet, and Queen’s “We are the champions” playing in the background. All in slow-mo, as usual.

I still had not taken my LIC policy and my mother was getting antsy. She appreciated my efforts once in a while, but not without adding the LIC policy rider in between. I kept my counsel and patiently waited for my day. I had my doubts too. But I decided to sleep over them.

And then D-day. Or, the M-day. Well, to be precise HM-day. But we will leave it to D-day.

9th October. 2:30 AM. I had slept only for 3 hours – not sure if it was the khichdi I ate the previous night or race-day excitement. But I was up and rolling about on the bed since 2:30 AM when I needed to be ready only by 4. I had got to know this person who stayed in the same locality and was one of the star runners of the group. She was kind enough to offer me a lift to the start point when she realized we were practically neighbors. And to top it, they were Bengalis.

By 4 AM, I was ready. Shoes, a bottle of electrolytes, my cell phone. What else did you need to run? And I was off to the start point in the car with butterflies in the stomach. Or I guess it was the khichdi. Ok, let’s not get into it.

9th October. 5:00 AM. Chowmahalla Palace. Electrifying atmosphere – lights, sound, Milind Soman, hundreds running around, stretching, talking about sub-4s and sub-3s, palpable excitement in the air coupled with the Hyderabad 5 AM chill. Laughter, some tense faces around, and some sleepy ones too – it was the perfect setting for me to relax.

A slow jog inside the palace with my friends, some jokes about the timings and I was all set.

My first half marathon.21.1 Kms.

…and then it happened…

****** To Be Continued******