For context, I've been running since a good 4 years now.
- 4 years of putting 1 foot ahead of another.
- 4 years of braving through pain.
- 4 years of surviving injuries.
- 4 years of meeting wonderful people.
- 4 years of time to reflect.
After doing 4 years of running, I thought I had it under my belt. I thought that I had "figured out" running. After having run so many kilometers with so many people across so many cities and clocking so many hours, I was under the impression that I was "comfortable" with the sport of running.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
In my 4 years of running, I had never done a distance that was more than 25 kilometers in one stretch. I have run 50+ kilometers across a week, but nothing more than 25K in one run.
Over the past weekend, I attempted to run a full marathon. A full marathon (or simply, a marathon) is a 42.2 kilometer run. Legend has it that a messenger was sent from the city of Marathon to Athens -- A distance of 42.2 KMs to announce the defeat of the Persians.
I had to do this as a qualifier for the Malnad Ultra where I will be running my first ultra marathon of 50 kilometers. And in preparation for this ultra, I have been running with Chennai's running group - CTC, over the past 6 months. They're a wonderful, crazy, kind, hilarious bunch of runners who all seem to have a baseline reason for why they run -- "Bliss".
So yesterday, via CTC, a bunch of 52 runners ran from Navallur to Mahabalipuram - Self supported for a total sum of 42+ kilometers.
A bunch of things happened yesterday:
- I finished my first full marathon
- I struggled to finish my first full marathon
- I am unable to come to terms with what I experienced
The first real break during the run is for breakfast, at Ammapet. This is around the 23K mark. Till here, everything was blissful. I was thoroughly enjoying the run along with some great company. But post breakfast, things started to go south.
We reached Ammapet by around 8:30 and headed out by 9:45 after finishing off a decent breakfast. And by this time, the sun had already begun shining down bright and harsh. This is where it truly all begun. All the energy that I had in the past 23K that I had done, just seemed to melt away. I started to hit multiple low points in the first few kilometers itself. My mind wasn't just in the right place at all, and I just couldn't seem to put a pin on it. I tried drinking lots of water -- to no avail. I tried stretching -- nope. I tried talking -- that too didn't work. I just seemed to have no way out of it.
Around this time, a wonderful gentleman who we were running with -- Praveen came up with the 100 steps walk, 100 steps run arrangement where he would count 100 steps for us to walk and run. This helped. A regime without my intervention really helped me to get into a rhythm. And he did this for nearly 4-5 kilometers for which, I'd eternally be grateful to him for. I understand how difficult it must have been to keep shouting numbers out to let us know how much we've done all while he was running with us.
Temperatures still continued to rise
After a while of doing the run-walk, my mind shut off and I kept to it with no questions. However around the 32K mark, my right groin started to pull and I couldn't follow his commands. It was around this time, that I decided to walk the rest of it.
Temperatures stayed high at a good 35 degrees.
I thought to myself: "Just 10 more kilometers. How hard can it be? You run this everyday". And once again, I couldn't have been more wrong.
Around here, we found a nice pump that was bestowing us with clean and cold water. After a rudimentary filling of our hydration packs, we proceeded to wet our caps, buffs and the t shirts too. But as irony would like it, all of them dried out within the next 5 minutes -- short lived effect.
The walking continued. Slowly, but surely.
I started the entire race averaging an average of ~8 per kilometer but post Ammapet, I had dropped to 10+ per kilometer.
34K - 42K
Walking. Walking. And more walking.
8 kilometers doesn't seem like much, and truthfully, it isn't. I know exactly how far it is from where I live and it really isn't that much of a distance at all.
But 8 kilometers with:
- The temperature being close to 40 degrees
- Your body temperature going up
- The fatigue beginning to show
- The groin pull getting worse and now in both legs,
Really amounts to a huge ordeal, as I came to learn. These 8 kilometers would go down in my life as the hardest 8 kilometers that I've had to put one foot in front of another for.
Everything just shut off one after another -- I stopped communicating like I do, I stopped thinking, I stopped listening. I was a walking zombie, trying to grasp every opportunity to sit down under some shade and just wait for some passerby to ask them for a lift.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that the time I spent moving for these 8 kilometers has been the lowest time of my running career. I started to question everything that I had learnt from running
- Did I really put 1 foot ahead of another? Why am I unable to, now?
- Did I really brave through pain? Why does this pain so much?
- Did I really survive injuries? Am I in for another bout of injuries?
- Did I really meet wonderful people? Why am I not engaging with them?
- Did I really reflect? Then why didn't I realize this before?
After 2 days of deep thinking, I've realized what went wrong. It wasn't the heat or the pain. It was my over confidence. I kept telling people who were close to me that something inside me broke on this journey. I finally was able to understand what it was. It was the sense of confidence I had placed in myself that I understood what it was to run such distances.
One thing was evident at the end of it all - I truly didn't understand or realize what it meant to run 42 kilometers, totally self supported, with or without friends, in insane heat. I didn't understand how my body functioned beyond the previous longest distance of 25K. I didn't understand how my mind functioned when my body started giving up. I didn't understand anything that I thought I did.
There's no "enlightening" turn around point. No. I didn't start running miraculously after this realization. In fact I happened upon this realization only after 30 hours of thinking about what went wrong.
In my humble opinion, this past Saturday, I failed myself. I finished the FM but I failed myself. And its not something I'm sad about, at all. I just wanted to understand what it is that went wrong. And this was what it was.
So folks, from this experience, I'm inclined to request of you never to under estimate distance, heat, time, hydration and comfort when you're running.
- When you're starting off, 1K seems like a daunting deal
- When you've run for a while, 10K seems like a daunting deal
- When you've run for 4 years, 42K didn't seem like a daunting deal
This has been one of the greatest reality checks I've got in a while and I'm happy that I put myself though this.
If you've read this much, and you've experienced this yourself, I'd love to hear your point of view on the whole thing. Thank you for spending your time on this ranty, self-reflectory blog. I truly appreciate it.
Till next time, Happy running.