Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's all in the mind - for every'body'! (My 2nd 'unprepared' Marathon Run)

My first marathon of Jan 2011 was a 'successful' attempt (5Hr10min), since it was preceded by months of preparation - tough, painful and sweaty. However, it was just in celebration of a different goal, that I had already achieved. (Read my blogpost but not really the goal. It was a run in celebration of a different goal, already accomplished. It felt great to having experienced the joy of running and completing the marathon and it then seemed as if I had truly stretched myself, tested my limits and 'succeeded'.

Life is enriching. In the months that followed, I thought (and re-thought) about my first marathon experience and if I could relate it to real life of ordinary (as well as extra ordinary) people. To my initial surprise (and a rather uncomfortable disbelief) this opened a pandora's box of newer thoughts, that had nothing to do with running a marathon. I started thinking about how people (just as you and me and everyone) in real life sometimes experience unexpected life-quakes, with after-shocks unfolding over several strenous months of hopelessness, disbelief, anger, frustration, pain, learning and growing up to a different level of existance. Such experiences are very exhausting physically, emotionally, financially, and many other aspects associated with living. Such life-quakes, like our earthly-quakes, do not come with a warning, provide little or no time to prepare and are often durably devastating.

Trying to relate these thoughts to my self-prepared, pre-planned second full marathon training schedule proved to be a dilema. Like a life-quake, what if one had to face a situation of running the full marathon distance - completely unprepared. My second marathon preparations went through several false-starts, postponements, revisions until it reached a point where I could not delay it any further. Eventually, I could not gather myself together to even attempt to begin my second marathon training!

I was trying to understand when nothing at all seemed to make sense. It was in that process that a wild, seemingly senseless thought; pierced through my mind - rather than running away from the full marathon attempt due to lack of practice and preparation (a globally certified recommendation!), rather utilize this "lack of preparedness" as an opportunity to attempt the full marathon without any practice and see what happens - learn from the uncertified experience!

Shared this 'intent' it with a few people (known and unknown) and got the usual (surprisingly expected) advise that ranged from "don't do it, too risky, or,  take it easy or a feeble unsure go for it man". Irrespective, the mind was already committed to action the thought.

On the eve of the marathon, made a quickie plan (out of habit) of how to pace the run. The plan was to complete 10 km by 7am, 18 kms by 8 am, 26 km by 9am, 34 km by 10am and attempt to finish the marathon by 1140 hrs. The race was scheduled to begin at 0540 hrs and 1140am was the 'official' limit for a 'certified maximum
timed finish' - whatever that means.

This time around however, there wasn't any emphasis at all on the running or the timing aspect. It was more about being relaxed, breathing normally, smiling while attempting to run a kilometer and repeating the act about forty-two times, sequentially and see how far the body and mind survived (or which one failed first!). The mind was shyly somewhat silently confident - not about completing the race, but rather in its calm readiness to anytime, during the course of the run, giving up and learning - if need be, without in any manner feeling regretful about it. The distance and time seemed irrelevant vis-a-vis the sheer opportunity of having to experience a 'real' marathon run, without any prior preparation.

Could not sleep very well that night - just a couple of hours. On the scheduled day (rather dawn), got up at 0330 hrs, boarded a local train at 0430 and made it to the start point about 0520 hrs, well in time for a fifteen minutes warm-up and another five minutes relaxation, before the run began, in its usual excitement and euphoria. The weather was not very cool and the sweating started pretty quickly.

To my pleasant surprise, I could continually run the first fifteen kilometers non-stop at a relaxed pace. The 4hr30 min 'bus' is a name given to an 'officially timed pacer' - an 'experienced' runner, who is designed to run and finish the race in 4hr30 min and whom other 'unsure' runners 'targetting' that finishing time, can follow. This 4hr30min 'bus' ran past me sometime during the first fifteen kms. I
was then happy to see myself run-jog-walk and cross the 18 km mark on the Worli-Bandra Sea-Link (the route was changed this time to avoid the 'trecherous' sea-link in the later half of the race, as some runners had experienced in the previous years) at 8am. It intrudingly reminded me that I was on plan (as if I cared) and distracted me from the beauty and joy of running on the sea-link and looking at the beauty of the mumbai sky-line bathing in the early morning sunlight - from a viewing angle usually not available to the citizens to enjoy (since the sea-link is closed for pedestrians and vehicles too cannot halt anywhere on the sea-link).

The 5hr30min 'bus' caught up with me around that distance and that's when I
could feel some muscles around my left knee complaining. Immediately got into the act of applying pain releaving creams (was carrying two little sachets that were kindly included in the runners kit provided by the organizers!). The rest of the run was essentially a run-jog-walk, kilometer after kilometer, occassionally
indulging in preventively applying pain releaving creams/sprays, having lots of water and oranges. Crossed the 24km mark at 9am and then the 30km mark at 10am.

I was EXHAUSTED but quite relaxed and enjoying. It kind of occured to me that I now had just 12kms to the finish and about 100 minutes to go..motivating enough for the mind to self-pep a 'go go go' bugle! My mind was pretty charged and ready to sprint the last one or two kilometers, if necessary! However, the body was unmoved by this enthusiasm and unwilling to join into these early celebrations of the mind. Gradually, the run-jog-walk had translated itself to a jig-jag-jog-walk. Even as the body crossed the 36km mark at 11am, the mind was optimistic and ready to finish the remaining 6+ kms in the remaining 40 min!

It was somewhere between that point and the end of the marathon distance that the mind came to terms with the body and it brought complete harmony to the rest of the jig-jag-jog-walk-jig-jag-jog-walk.I finished the full marathon distance of 42.2kms in 6hrs, 32min; using various forms of moving my two feet including running (mostly forward, occassionally sidewards as well as backwards - just for a change and some fun), jogging, and walking! This experience was real and uncertified - like life!

I had discovered my own range / limits of running the marathon - prepared as well as unprepared and the difference was not the 82 minutes that it took longer, in the unprepared mode. The difference was in the learning that we are all inherently strong enough to face the challenges in our life, prepared or unprepared. It's just that if we have the luxury of being prepared for the challenges, we conquer them quicker.

Now that I am a certified as well as an uncertified marathon finisher, the little precious uncertified learning for me (as well as for you) is - It's all in the mind, for every'body'!

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