Friday, March 4, 2011

My First Marathon Story (A True Story)

  I believe..
We are enriched with the blessings of our parents, guardians, teachers and our GOD within..

We must enjoy running the marathon of life under the endless shower of love and affection from our family, relations, friends and well wishers..

We can all inspire values, create value and enrich life in our own ways and for our common good..

The excitement of writing and sharing my first marathon experience is drenched amidst waves of happy thoughts and remembrances, sweeping across my mind. It might surprise you, if I told you that my first marathon experience was certainly not all about the marathon itself! The marathon now seems to be only a tiny dot on a much larger canvas of life and the colourful opportunities it provides to everyone – compelling me to write this story. Hope you will enjoy it. Do share it with your family and friends to multiply your joy.
This journey began sometime in April 2010 when I came across the saying that goes, ‘If money is lost, nothing is lost; if health is lost, something is lost; but if character is lost, everything is lost’. Remembered this had been taught in my school days, at an age where it certainly makes some impression, but not enough for us to truly comprehend its applicability (or otherwise) on our lives. Pondered, now that I had 41 glorious years behind me, whether this saying did make any sense at all?
My trained analytical brain quickly rushed to solve the equation and provide answers. ‘Money lost – Nothing lost?’ Did not seem to be a rational desirable event, but it was also not about something that I really cared too much about, anyways. ‘Character lost – everything lost?’ - Had nothing to worry about on this front for sure, which might require any attention/course correction now.  ‘Health lost – something lost?’ -though I had no health issues, it occurred to me that in relative terms, I was much more ‘out of shape’ than I had been in the past.
The next step was to assess (if any) the relative ‘loss’ of my fitness/health levels. Checked some recommended height-weight charts. At my age and height, my ideal weight range recommended was 61 to 65 kg. For a number of years, I had been ‘gleefully’ living in the 76-80 kg range.  This rang an alarm – a little one though. A passing thought reminded me of my historical school days, when I was a champion athlete.  The mind was in resistive denial about the ‘loss’ of health – I mean,  I was enjoying sound health and there had been nothing serious that had required me to visit the doctor in so many years.  Soon found myself one day on the road, ready to reassure myself about my ‘sound’ health. Must have fast jogged for about 300 meters and found myself gasping for breath. “Well”, I thought, “must be since it was my first day”. The next day, the same result. This was my moment of disbelief or rather the discovery of the huge difference between perception and reality. Reflected on the ‘saying’ and my comprehension of it grew multi-fold, almost instantly. ‘Something’ important seemed really lost. This time, the alarm was loud and clear. Decided to focus my attention on recovering that ‘something’ on top priority.

Seeing the Goal
Gathered myself together from the minor tremor I had felt. Decided to be cautious, rather than jumping straight into activity and action. Patiently spared some valued time to reflect and see (visualize) what really was the larger health goal I would love to pursue.Initial thoughts hovered around words such as energy, stamina, endurance, fitness, agility, nutrition. Each of these words then fought a priority tussle amongst themselves about being essential – an absolute must, versus being desirable – the cherries on the cake. Like an artist drawing on a blank canvas, the initial impressions and brush strokes did not make any overall sense. However, the picture had certainly begun evolving gradually. Magically, individual words, all sewed up together into my first ever thought in life of,”Man – to achieve all these wonderful gifts of health, would mean I would have to be running a marathon!!” It seemed nothing more than a joke to me then. Trust me, when the thought of running a marathon occurs the first time, you will find yourself not taking your own self seriously. It seems to be all in the lighter vein.

Moving on, put together my short list of essentials that included amongst other things, a 5-day a week 30 minute walk regime, coupled with controlling (not reducing) and having healthy eating habits, targeting weight reduction of at least 2-3 kgs in a couple of months. Most of the ‘difficult’ things went comfortably into the “cherries on the cake” category and one of last scribble on that list was running the marathon!
It seemed I was ready with my simple and doable list of things. As if, all the colours were visible and the canvas filled with them, I could visualize my future ‘great health’ after a couple of months of doing the essentials. However something seemed amiss, like a picture not in harmony with itself. Thoughts and visuals of me being a marathon finisher started interrupting and growing stronger by the day, like it or not. I could picture myself having achieved, what seemed impossible amidst the grind of daily chores. Was I day dreaming?
The conflict forced me to reassess and see what my real picture of success about my health was. Analytically, the marathon seemed to be an ideal tool/strategy, for me to pursue my health goals. However, it appeared to be such a big mountain! The first thing that you do in such situations is bounce your ‘wild’ thoughts and predicament to your confidant – for me, my wife.  Her feedback was on the lines that, ‘rather that discuss and think about it; the real gain would be in actioning or walking the talk. Marathon or no marathon, I would certainly make progress on my health front’ – a valuable feedback that in one stroke made me turn the doubt corner and see it being an essential ‘word’ in my health goal.  
Setting the Goal
It was time to ‘Set’ in clear measurable terms and time frames; whatever I was visualizing as my health goals. This would evolve into an action plan to pursue and achieve.
Wanted to find a health parameter that was easy to set and measure its progress. Bumped into the body-mass index (BMI) parameter, reviewed all its pros and cons as an effective parameter. After careful research, concluded that while BMI may not be the best or most effective parameter to measure, it seemed something good enough and simple to begin with for me. My BMI around April 2010 was about 27+ and it categorized me into the ‘over-weight/obese’ category. The realization of me being obese was terrible. Obese! Me?
My health goal statement crystallized - I simply set my measurable health goal as to achieve a BMI of less than 23 (ideal normal for my height and weight), before 31st December 2010. Simple. Easy. Easier ‘Set’ than done!
Now that the measurable health goal was set, my next step was to have a plan and execution strategy in place, to action and achieve this set goal. This is what I came up with: 
  • Start walking at least 5 days a week, starting with a kilometre everyday and increasing the walking distance to reach 12kms a day, within two months (May and June 2010)
  • Continue the 12 kilometre walk 5 days a week from July 2010, however start replacing a kilometre from the walk with a run and gradually replace the entire walk with a 12 km run by September 2010
  • Ensure healthy eating habits (This part of the goal plan execution was completely managed by my wife and I shall be ever thankful to her for her silent support and efforts. It is important to highlight here that I was not eating less or dieting in any manner whatsoever).
  • Get at least seven-eight hours of sleep every day
  • Engage my mind totally with my body during every exercise session
  • Overcome hurdles that may come up on the way, think/visualize a positive health image
  • Run 32 kms before Christmas 2010 and then run the marathon in Jan 2011 
Finally, the canvas looked filled with just the right colours and all it required was for me to sign my commitment on my picture perfect health goal journey.  This commitment was a sign-off with my conscience (based on the foundations of my values and beliefs).  From here-on, I was moving forward and this was my point of no return. No turning back!

The Walk of Life

The first walking a kilometre starting May 2010 was easy. It took me fifteen minutes.  The climb from one to five kilometres too was a relative piece of cake and I was completing the five kilometres in just over an hour. And in the first two weeks, I lost some weight as well. What a good start!

It occurred to me then, that at this pace; I might take over two and a half hours to complete the 12 kms walk, which seemed a bit ‘unaffordable’ to me. And it then became a bit strenuous trying to ramp up the walking miles and pace together.  By end of June, had walked 12 kms in two hours. An unforeseen gain from this walking endeavour was that I was now able to control and predict the pace of my walk (10 min per km) much more accurately. I was also jocularly thinking that at this pace, I could walk the marathon distance (42.2km) in 7 hours! My BMI score end of June 2010 was 26.5! Two months of efforts and just about half a point drop. I was disappointed.

Agony and ecstasy

July 2010 required me to replace a kilometre of walk with a run. Seemed, as if I had already climbed a mountain and yet felt like being at the starting base camp, a square one sort of situation. Reviewed my Goal Statement and found myself staring at “Overcome hurdles that may come up on the way, think/visualize a positive health image”! Wrote a day-to-day training schedule on my home calendar. It consisted of walk, run, rest, and cross-train from July through December. This schedule was a self-customized combination worked out from what I had learnt in my early days as an athlete, ‘gyan’ obtained from some of my very valued friends who had run the half marathon’s themselves in the past, open source information related to distance running and sheer common sense. 

The quarter of July-August-September 2010 was a transformational quarter for me. Besides the monsoon rains, many other forms of pains got added to my growing list of hurdles, obstructing my path in following my schedule. Missed some schedules, both due to rains and knee/leg pains, re-scheduled and sometimes continued running on the road with my umbrella open out of passion, ignoring the stares of people (who must have been wondering what this crazy chap was up to) and more. I made many mistakes. Silly ones like, buying canvas shoes only to be bruised badly on my toes, not hydrating myself enough as the run distances got longer.  I had to endure short bouts of fever in August and September, but I made up for the lost training on other ‘rest’ days. There were times when my family used to get really worried and concerned, and rightfully so. I made many mistakes but I certainly learnt from each one of them. When I look back, it was a quarter of sheer madness that had engulfed me. I gave up everything else, determined to recover that ‘something’ I had lost. The passion to overcome hurdles was immense, rain or no rain!

The results achieved in this quarter were nothing short of a miracle from my point of view.
Health Goal Progression 
BMI (end of month)
Average km run (per week)

The first two months had resulted in lowering my BMI by just about half a point. This quarter had resulted in lowering my BMI by close to 2.5 points. I had graduated from the one km run to having now peaked with a 19 km run. Incidentally, during this quarter, two very valued friends, who had experienced a few half marathon runs in the past, made me aware that there was a professional run coming up in New Delhi in November 2010 that I might be interested in participating. I was naive in my first reaction that I would not be prepared by November. Learnt that Delhi was only a half-marathon and therefore could certainly attempt the same. It was to be a blessing in disguise, providing me a preparatory experience before the full marathon and shall be ever thankful to my friends for that.

The joy of SCORING GOALS, that you have SEEN and SET
The OND quarter started on a new high for me. Completed my first half-marathon run on the dawn of 3rd October (the opening day of the Common Wealth Games, 2010), in appreciation of what the CWG athletes must have endured to get this far, and in celebration of their values and spirit of sportsmanship.

21st November, 2010 was pretty chilly in the early hours as we started from our Gurgaon Hotel to the New Delhi Half Marathon Start Venue. I was simply happy to be there and delighted just from the fact that I was participating in this sort of a run for the first time.  I was informed that I had three hours to finish the half marathon distance, but honestly, I couldn’t care less (except for the fact that it met some qualification criteria). In the first kilometre or two, I felt the chill in the air and a sense of breathlessness and choking in my throat. This feeling however went away soon, as the body warmed up. 

The run was thrilling and enjoyable. When you see little kids on the sidelines, braving the cold weather and cheering you on and reaching out to you with their little hands to shake, you experience the joy of life.  21st November turned out to be an exceedingly memorable and enriching day in New Delhi.December 2010 was the month when my BMI goal was set to be achieved. I was pretty close to it. The result of the OND quarter speaks for itself.

Health Goal Progression 
BMI (end of month)
Average km run (per week)

The first measurable Health Goal of BMI < 23 before Dec 31st , 2010 accomplished.

The dot on the canvas – The Marathon!

Mission accomplished! The journey continued...

If you are wondering as to why would I be pursuing the strenuous marathon, despite having met my first health goal, the answer lies in the fact that the health goal was now a joyous journey and the BMI was only its first measurable milestone.

16th Jan, 2011 - The Mumbai Marathon day dawned for me at 0330 hrs preceded by an anxious night, the anxiety being more about getting up this early, than the marathon itself. So there were two alarms set, just to be sure! The weather was nice and cool and the run commenced, as scheduled at 0615 hrs from opposite the grand Mumbai CST.

I have lived in this city for over 40 years now, and have traversed the Marathon route a zillion times in various modes of transport. Never ever had I imagined in my wildest of dreams, that I would be experiencing the city ‘running around’! This was my moment.

This time around, I had a run-plan. Well, I had two – an aggressive plan and a realistic plan.  The thought of planning my run came from the fact that unlike the New Delhi run (where I had already covered the half-marathon distance in my practise sessions), the single longest run I had done in my practise sessions was a 32 km run and that had kind of taken me just over four hours. And I had experienced during the practise session that ‘controlling the pace’ starts getting out of control sometime after the 25th km run and beyond that, things can get a bit unpredictable.  This was my first full marathon run and the official maximum duration for completion being six hours.

The aggressive plan was based on an assumption that I would be able to sustain and endure the same pace in the later part of the second half of the run, as in the first half despite the loss of energy, the weather getting warmer in the sun and the increase in peak distance from my practise session (32km) to the marathon run (42.2 km) being close to 32%. This plan was aggressive!

The realistic plan was based more on my experience during the practise sessions (and this is where being able to control and predict your pace becomes handy).  The following table compares the plan and with what happened during the run:
Aggressive Plan
Realistic Plan
Distance Time
Actual Recorded
Chip Run Time
(Km covered)
(Time elapsed hrs)
(Time elapsed hrs)
(Km covered)
(Time elapsed hrs)

The route looked and felt beautiful in the early morning hours. All went as per plan till about the 30th km distance. Sometime after this distance, I experienced what I had only read and heard until now as ‘the wall’. Your legs just do not seem to be willing to accompany and run where your mind wants them to. My determination to attempt to climb-over or break ‘the wall’ was unflinching.  Walked patiently for a while, consumed a lot of water slowly and enjoyed the beauty of the Sea Link, where pedestrians are not usually allowed. The speed limit sign on the Sea Link was reflecting “Keep Speed Limit of 50 Kmph” (at this pace I would have finished the race within an hour. Ha!) During this ‘walk’ break, got to also see the bunch of marathoners running for prize money (their run had started at 07:40 hrs) at close quarters. Their pounding feet and ability to sustain their athletic pace a thrill to watch.

Gradually my legs seemed to come back to life and willing to run. The joy was immense. Beyond the Haji Ali turn the climb and gradient seemed endless, Yet, I was chatting and laughing with a fellow runner.  We both were joyous, realizing now the certainty of finishing the run. My plan was 05:17 hrs; I finished in 05:10 hrs, with both thumbs up!

Enriching the life in your years
I consider myself by far the commonest amongst the common folks. All common folks have within themselves a gift of ‘uncommon’ abilities. I believe that every individual must put in good efforts (self efforts, guided efforts, whatever it takes) continually, and strive to recognize and discover his/her own unique ‘uncommon’ ability and value. There are countless instances of ‘common’ people doing things beyond their own expectations; sometimes against ‘expert and capable’ advice. For those who think their own capability is an issue, it is more often a self imposed ‘cap’ on their own yet-undiscovered ‘ability’.

Ability to See, Set and Score goals is a definitive advantage. It is this ability that plays a crucial role in terms of achieving your exciting success – built on foundations of values and commitments. Success achieved using this ability stands tall on strong pillars, creates immense value for all to gain, enjoy and share, thus enriching life for one and all. Through this real life story, I have shared my experience of my little exciting success of being able to see, set and score my health goal, which incidentally was not the Marathon!

Do ponder and give me your very valued feedback and suggestions.

Thank you!                                                   


  1. Sunil,

    Hats off to your achievement. Hopefully you will run forever now that you have done it once. Enjoy running!!

    Dev Baid

  2. Excellent report! Linked to my website at

    Have a look at my report too -

    Avinash Dhoot

  3. That was an excellent achievement and a very inspiring way to present.

    best wishes,