Yeah, I did it! I had to do it; I have been longing to do it for a long time. So finally when I got a chance I jumped at it, even though I was unsure about my performance. Will I be good? Will I last? These were the questions on my mind. I had heard that many first timers don’t last long. Naturally, I was apprehensive because it was my first time too. But then I received support. A supportive partner can do wonders to your performance, and that’s exactly what happened to me. I got the needed support, and with it lasted long enough, and finished strong. If you are thinking that I am talking about my first experience of a sexual intercourse, you are wrong. I am actually referring to my first experience of completing a full marathon course. The former is yet to happen anyway.
The alarm rang at 3:45am but I just turned it off and continued sleeping. I wanted to sleep more. Perhaps, I should say “needed” instead of “wanted” because my body had just had only about 4 hours of daily sleep for over a week. I believe in getting a good 8 hours of sleep every night, but then my work responsibilities as a course director for one of the courses I am coordinating hadn’t allowed me that benefit for over a week. I was getting home only past 1am everyday and then had to wake up early morning to get ready for my classes the next day. Figuring I might not just get up with one alarm, I had set another 10 minutes apart and when that went off, I finally dragged myself out of the bed. By 5am I was ready to hit the road. I reached the race site at Indianapolis on time to collect my race packet and number. Later, as we all lined up at the starting line, I received quite a lot of attention from other runners. I was wearing my IU-Mini Marathon T-shirt and that was the cause of most of the attention. The typical comment was, “Hey, you ran the IU-Mini. Wow! That race is a real tough one with all those hills.” Then they went on to talk about the bad weather we had on the day of IU-Mini this year, and how it made the race even more difficult. With all that attention, I was almost feeling like a seasoned marathon runner, if not a celebrity.
The race started at 8:45am. I ran at a very easy pace for the first mile at around 10 minutes per mile. Then I increased it a little bit but was still very comfortable. My T-shirt still kept giving me occasional attention; this was from the runners who too had done the IU-Mini. One of them, who had already done six marathons and was doing the half-marathon that day, ran with me for more than three miles. It was inspiring running with him because he was very appreciative of my timings on the IU-Mini. He said that the IU-Mini was the toughest race he had done, and added that the marathon would not be very difficult for me because I had done pretty well on the IU-Mini. We ran together until the point where the half-marathoners separated from the marathoners. We wished each other good luck and continued on our respective paths. I crossed the 13th mile in about 1 hour 50 minutes. That is about 8 and half minutes pace, but I was not at all tired and very comfortable. It seemed to me like I would finish at least 10 minutes before my target time of 4 hours. Things however, almost suddenly changed around the 16th mile. All of a sudden I started feeling very tired. Nevertheless, I continued for another mile or two, but then it was like I didn’t have any energy at all left in my body. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep. I worried if it was my lack of sleep that was catching up now. Or was it the diet of pizzas and diet coke that I had survived on during the previous week? Or was it my lack of adequate training during the preceding weeks? I had missed my 20 miles training run and had done a maximum of only 17 miles; that was surely not enough. Probably, it was all of those factors acting in cohesion. Either way I was completely drained out of energy. For a while my head started reeling. I started wondering if I would be able to finish the marathon, but I was not going to give up for sure. I told myself that if not run, I will walk or even crawl to the finish line but definitely not give up. Things felt a bit better after I got the carb gel at the 18th mile booth, but the effect didn't last for long. My pace got progressively slower. I started walking but even that seemed difficult, and surely too slow. I just wanted to get done with this marathon experience. I was also feeling guilty of not having the mental strength to endure the pain I was going through. So I ran and walked alternatively: walking when the pain and lack of energy became unbearable, and running when the guilt became unbearable. At around the 22nd mile, I was sure of not being able to finish within my target time but kept giving the best I had with the hope that it was almost near the end. I said to myself, “I am left with only about 4 miles and that is no big deal." I began myself visualizing doing one of my regular 4 mile training run around the IU campus in Bloomington, which is easy for me. I kept dragging myself with such positive visualizations and self-motivational statements, but it was still a drag. Things changed a little after the 23rd mile. I came closer to a lady in her early 40s who was limping badly but still moving forward. When I was near her she smiled at me and said, “Seems like I have seen you before, haven’t I?” I said, “Could have been at the IU-Mini marathon; did you run that?” “Yes,” she replied. And that was the beginning of a very inspiring conversation that I had with her. I had noticed she had been limping for a while. She probably had got a real bad cramp, but despite that she was moving forward, literally dragging her affected leg. That sight was one of the most inspiring I had ever seen in real life. "If she could endure all that pain and continue moving forward, it was a shame I was giving up," I told myself. I decided to keep pace with her. We kept talking. Got to know her name: Shelly. Shelly was very cheerful. She said she had finished three marathons before and all in 2007, including the Chicago marathon which had been catastrophic to many runners because of the excess heat. I learnt that she was actually targeting to finish within 3 hours 50 minutes that day, to qualify for the Boston marathon. But then she got the bad cramp which put her behind. She clearly had a lot of energy in her though; just that her leg would not bend anymore, preventing her from running properly. We talked a lot during the two miles we ran together. I came to know about her family; learnt that her son was an undergrad at IU. The conversations sort of made me forget about my own pain. When we were about half a mile away from the finish line, she urged me to move ahead. She said it is important that I finish strong and that I should not hold back just to give her company. The truth was that I had been able to cover the previous two miles only because of her inspiring company. Otherwise I would have been much behind. But I realized the importance of finishing strong, and decided to give it a shot. I increased my pace. First I worried if I would be able to keep up the higher pace for over half a mile, but then I decided to not think about it and just do whatever best I could. I passed quite a few other runners on my way to the finish line, and finished strong. I got my finishing medal. I had now done my first marathon. Wow! At 4 hours 38 minutes I was way off my target of finishing it in less than 4 hours but so what? I still finished it, and finished strong. That mattered a lot to me. The important thing was that I had done it without enough sleep, proper nutrition and adequate training. That was a huge personal achievement. About one and half minutes after I finished, Shelly reached the finish line. We gave each other a big hug. I had learnt my lesson: sometimes even the seasoned athletes don’t do well on their times (like my new friend Shelly who had endured the Chicago Marathon just two weeks before); one should strive to meet targets but sometimes things just don’t work for you; one should never give up under these circumstances. In retrospect, I feel that my running the marathon without adequate sleep and training was in a way a blessing for me because it provided me the opportunity for me to discover my capacity to endure hardships and pain. There is no denial of the importance of proper training but things would probably have been a lot easier for me had I had the proper training and adequate sleep; that would have prevented me the opportunity of discovering my endurance capabilities. I had endured and I had survived. That was a cause of lot of satisfaction. Whatever little discontentment I had because of not finishing within target time vanished after I spoke to my dad, and my friend Rama over phone. They were both so appreciative of my achievement. I cried and was then ready to drive back home.