Chicago : First World Marathon Majors

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“Congratulations! You are a Bank of America Chicago Marathon finisher! Yesterday, you and 45,786 of the runners crossed the finish line and etched your names in Chicago Marathon history.”

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The End

“Sometimes what you think is an end is only a beginning.”

 

While I crossed the finish line to complete by first World Marathon Majors in 3 hours 46 minutes 06 seconds, I soaked in the overwhelming feeling of my name being called out just meters to the finish line.

I was exhilarated with the result; the energy and concentration during the 42,000 steps filled me with a new-found joy.

My ability to finish sooner than 3 hours 46 minutes and 06 seconds was overpowered by the countless emotions that ran through my veins. The Chicago Marathon wasn’t my last but the most memorable.

“Over the 12-week training plan, I learnt to believe in myself and my abilities as a runner – something you can’t see on my Garmin / Strava.”

 

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What is World Marathon Majors (WMM)?

The Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) is a championship-style competition for marathon runners that started in 2006. Founded on six major city marathon races recognized as the most high profile, the series comprises annual races for the cities of Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.

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The Build-Up

I swung into action following a casual conversation after a group workout and applied for the London Marathon followed by Berlin and Chicago. I had been applying for the Tokyo Marathon even before I knew about the Marathon Majors. But, as fate would have it, the Tokyo, London or Berlin Marathon still seemed like a distant dream. Keeping in my mind the dry spell of luck, I had begun planning for the Amsterdam Marathon.

The perseverance paid off, and in December of 2018 I received a confirmation of being selected to run the Chicago Marathon. The good news was immediately followed by the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) in January 2019. Though the training had been great, I couldn’t mirror my previous TMM performance. The learnings from the TMM 2019 added a new zeal in me to outperform myself.

Marathons are a combination of speed and distance; requiring great amount of physical and mental strength coupled with structured training. Now that I had conquered the distance by completing consecutive Comrades Ultramarathon of 90kms in 2018, I switched my focus on improving my time.

 

The Training

According to a recent research; Berlin, London & Chicago Marathons are amongst the fastest races where average runners clock their personal best time.  This study encouraged me to train harder and stay positive for the  Chicago run.

Training for the Chicago Marathon was different from all the previous marathon training, thanks to my coach Atul Godbole The inclusion of marathon pace run was the biggest differentiator.

A couple of time trials  of 10 and 21 kms prior to the marathon training helped me focus on speed and made a huge impact on the day when it mattered the most. The 4 days per week training program comprised of intervals, marathon pace, aerobic & easy runs. Though I am guilty of missing a few workouts during the 2 ½ months of training; I ensured that I nailed all the others. I lived by the rule of ensuring that all workouts are completed within the prescribed pace, something that was etched in stone by my coach.

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Coach/Mentor – Atul Godbole
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After 32km Training Run
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Love running alone

The marathon pace workout posed its own set of challenges when it was increased to 14 and 16 kms. I used to run these marathon pace workouts at the faster end of the prescribed pace just to ensure my heart rate zone remains low by running 3-4 seconds slower during the marathon. The maximum distance of marathon pace training run was only 16kms and sustaining the same pace for 42kms is always challenging. The 2km warmup, 16km run & the 2-minute cool down that took 2 hours was followed by a mentally grueling 1 hour drive to office. And even though I was running the two 32kms aerobic run (~15 seconds slower than the marathon pace) that were part of the training plan all alone (even though we started as a group), it did not deter me from going all out to achieve my goal.

 

Last Weeks of the Training

The most amazing run during the entire training period was the last marathon pace workout of 16kms which I ran at the slower end of the marathon pace. The comfortable feeling while running the 16kms, 5 seconds slower than usual gave me a lot of confidence. So, the strategy was to run at the slower end of the marathon pace, gauge the comfort level at ~35kms and then push harder if there was some fuel reserve. My thirst for knowledge led me onto various blogs about running the Chicago marathon which helped me understand the route, do’s & don’ts and tips to have a good run. The Motiv8 team veteran’s valuable advice to keep the 1st half conservative, helped me feel good and push harder during the second half. Over the course of time I have come to realize that running even 5 seconds faster to save a couple of minutes in the 1st half can cost you 3-4 minutes in 2nd half and may end up being a reason for you not meeting your target.

I have a few tricks up my sleeve and running at my own pace is one of them. Even though most of the marathon runners train & run in a group everyone has their own comfort zone. I always start at the slower end of the prescribed pace to give myself time to get comfortable specially during long runs. I also avoid running at someone else’s HR (Heart Rate) which has helped me not only for short runs but also long runs including a 55kms run during Comrades Ultramarathon training.

 

Travel
Travelling to the USA is not always a joy ride. I was fortunate not to be onboard a 15-hour long flight which helped me to relax a bit. I made sure I took breaks, walked around every 2 hours and kept on sipping water to stay hydrated. I am grateful to my running partner Rishikesh Sardeshmukh for arranging the accommodation. The stay was fun and full of insights, thanks to the plethora of knowledge both Rishikesh & Dr. Abhijeet hold.

 

The Expo

I made sure I collect my kit (got lucky and was able to get the T-shirt exchanged) on Friday so that I can spend my Saturday relaxing; preparing my mind and body for the greater goal that was ahead. Fascinated and in awe of the sights around, I unknowingly ended up walking around 9kms trying to get a closer look of the countless booths the expo had.

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Dr. Abhijeet, Kavitha Reddy, Rishikesh Sardeshmukh

 

The Pen-ultimate Day

Thanks to Dr. Abhijeet’s friend Mr. Mallikarjun who invited us for lunch and made sure that we don’t have to venture out for dinner. The warm hospitality and positive vibe of Mr. Mallikarjun and his family ensured I had one of the best pre-race days. We discussed everything under the non-existent Sun, but Marathons. Diverting your attention from running helps you ease the race anxiety.

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Thank you Mallikarjun!

 

Race Day

Our wave was to start at 8 AM and we had to be there 45-minutes prior to that. The coffee made up for the lack of sleep. I sometimes wonder whether jetlag was to be blamed or was it because of the endless thoughts I kept pondering upon. We had 2 hours before we head out for the Grant Park (the starting point) and used the time to grab some cake, biscuits, banana and the essential Lomotil pill.
We left for the race at 5AM and it took us less than 35 minutes to reach Grant Park. We had ~2 ½ hours to the start of the race and were shivering in our shorts (never underestimate the cold wind of Chicago). Most of the runners had come prepared with joggers and jackets. It’s always advisable to be comfortable and not to waste too much energy in keeping yourself warm before the start of the race.

 

I am not sure if the long queue for the loo was due to the nervous vibes or due to the number of participants. What we thought would take 10 minutes took us 30-35 minutes and that’s when we lost track of Dr. Abhijeet. Although our wave’s start time was 8AM, the entry to the coral was to close at 7:40AM. Missing to enter the coral before that would have been forced us to go back and join wave 3 which was starting 20 minutes later.

Starting along with wave 3 (Coral G, H) would mean running along with people whose paces were comparatively slower. It would have been difficult to run faster and get away from the runners who soaking in the fun. Thanks to our good karma, we entered the coral just in time at 7:40AM filling me with positivity.

 

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The atmosphere was exuberant. The elite runners had already started, and the giant screen was streaming live where we could see Sir Mo Farah. I soaked in the energy around and marched towards the start line. The weather forecast which ruled out the possibility of rain was an icing on the cake.

 

The Start Line

The start time management was perfect knowing the fact that there were ~46,000 runners. No rush or push or any chaos – as expected from a World Major.

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8AM – Wave 2 was released.

Just ~600 meters into the race and my GPS gave up. My Garmin couldn’t the show correct distance/pace because of the skyscrapers. I was continuously checking with my running partner Rishikesh for the lap/average pace. Our target was to maintain 5:15 to 5:19 min/km till 35kms and then try to push if we were still feeling good, else continue with the same pace.

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Post 22kms, I made it a point to have a sip of energy drink at every hydration station. I trusted the race director’s knowledge about the hydration requirements of all the runners. This helped immensely as I could park aside the idea of getting cramps or dehydration. Chicago is known for its windy cold weather but fortunately the weather was perfect for the race. I was running the race purely on intuition (feel) and this approach had helped me achieve my target in all my previous runs. I was hitting the milestone of 5kms and I was ~1 ½ minute behind the target. I very well knew that this could be made up for in the last quarter of the race. I hit the half way mark, a minute behind the target. I was less worried about the time but more of the fact that there won’t be any photograph of me as I was wearing a T on top of the BIB. But thanks to face recognition technology, I got some 🙂

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Thank you Artificial Intelligence!

A little bit of sunshine amidst the windy weather was a bliss. The crowd support throughout the race was brilliant helping a lot of runners to improve their time by a minute or two. I was ~2 minutes behind the target when I crossed the 30 km mark. I could feel fatigue in my calf and was worried that could lead to cramps. Popping in another salt capsule was definitely a life saver, thanks to the advice which I had got from my fellow Comrades runner. I felt like a mathematician running a marathon; converting miles to kms (Garmin was under sky-scrapper induced coma) and calculating time based on distance yet to be covered.

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The Last Quarter Marathon

Sipping energy drink at every station, controlling the rhythm and maintaining the posture; the last 12 km was the most enjoyable part of the race. The key to an enjoyable and successful race is focusing on the next milestone and not the final goal. A Motiv8 veteran runner had also mentioned about breaking 42.2kms into 5kms and focusing on each milestone at a time.
One of the most challenging tasks was to keep track of my running partner Rishikesh especially at the water stations. At the 35km mark, I wanted to push but decided to keep maintaining the same pace or run 2-3 seconds faster. A quick calculation at mile 23 –  just ˜5kms from my first World Marathon Majors medal. I was feeling much more comfortable than I used to at the half way point of a 46-minute 10km time trial (TT). This is where I had to rely on the training which means doing the things I’d done in the past to get the job done. But still no sudden surge and then at mile 24 I started to push much harder (I didn’t know the pace but wasn’t even bothered also), just running on by feel. And boy! The pace was exactly that I thought, ˜4:45 min/km – my 10km TT pace. I was feeling much more comfortable than I used to and crossing quite a few runners felt good. Finally, just before ~ a km, my last sip of water & high five to the volunteer and now was on the final gear of the engine which started ˜3 hours 40 minutes ago and supposed to be running efficiently at least for 26.2 miles because it was trained to run in hot, humid and even rainy (& very heavy rainy) weather to bring out the best on 13/October/2019.
I can never forget the last 500 meters of the race; a feeling that cannot be penned down in words. The sense of accomplishment and joy I had over-come the exertion. At the finish line the cameramen captured the moment; my soul captured the memory.

I did check my watch to see if 3 hours 45 minutes was possible but there was no dying urgency; rather preferred good finish photographs than to look drop dead because someday I will be super old and I deserve to look back and have these memories. This wasn’t just any run.

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Runner’s Emotions!
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Finally! It’s done!

The cramps I felt during the 200-meter walk after the finish line vanished at the sight of 26.2 beer (although that beer was awful).

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Medal Flaunting!

I finally caught up with my running partner Rishikesh Sardeshmukh, Dr. Abhijeet and Mr. Mallikarjun and his family. We explored the streets of Chicago up until evening joyfully flaunting our medals. I had achieved my goal (there is a long way to go yet) and was ready to enjoy my vacation.

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Motiv8 Chicago Boys!

 

A journey cannot be defined by a date or time. It is defined by when you set your mind on a goal and work towards achieving it. And like I always keep reminding myself, I want to tell each one of you that great things can happen if you forget about the mountain and progress one step at a time.

“One cannot run a strong marathon without a positive mindset.”

 

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The Ultimate Human Race : The Comrades Marathon

What is Comrades Marathon?

Comrades Marathon is an endurance ultra marathon event of approximately 89 km which is run annually in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s greatest, largest and the oldest ultra marathon race. The direction of the race alternates each year between the “up” run (87 km) starting from Durban and the “down” run (89 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg. The race has 6 cut-offs in between and has to be completed within the time limit of 12 hours and that’s why it is known as “The Ultimate Human Race.”

The Comrades was run for the first time on May 1921, and with the exception of a break during World War II, has been run every year since. The race was the idea of Word War I veteran Vic Clapham to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the World War I. Vic Clapham, who had endured a 2,700 kilometer route march through sweltering German East Africa, wanted the memorial to be a unique test of the physical endurance of the entrants.

This year it was the “up” run starting from Durban with “The Big Five” set of hills in between and with a total ascent of ~1800 meters (maximum elevation of ~1000 meters). The 6 individual cut-offs were at 18km, 29km, 42km, 56km, 66km and 79km. Fortunately the weather was good at ˜25C and it was kind of one of the longest street party.  People from all walks of life were on road to cheer the runners which was very overwhelming. It was indeed nice to see school kids in uniform cheering the runners and the guys who were playing the bagpipes.

Out of 20,000 registered participants this year, 124 were Indians. Around 18000 athletes started the foot race and 13852 finished within the 12-hour cut-off of which 85 were Indians. The race started at 5:30 local time and although it took me 11 hours 25 minutes and 12 seconds to cross the finish line; a lot of work had to be done before achieving this goal.

 

Why did I run the Comrades?

I started running back in 2014 and after 5 full marathons and 11 half marathons (official), every weekend I was running 21km+ clocking around 180kms every month and wanted to do something more challenging.

I still remember the day back in November 2016 when I got a call from my running buddy Jayanta Borkakoti about doing something a little more than the usual 42.2kms; “Arup! let’s run the Comrades!” Did some research about the event and the history and was really fascinated. The sheer distance of 87km was itself very challenging. It took be almost 5 days to just mentally prepare myself for registering for an 87km ‘UP’ run (once again just the registration; not even thinking about trainings and the actual run). The minimum eligibility criteria was a sub 5 hours full marathon finish time which I already had. And yes! after a week I did the registration and I was owning it. The fact that if we finish the race then we would be the first ones from North-East India was also very exciting.

It was not until the disappointing performance in Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) January 2017 that myself and Jayanta decided to engage in some serious training and the necessary preparation (I was very much confident that I would finish the SCMM in sub 4 hours but something went wrong that day and finished the race in 4 hours and 6 minutes. And the very same day itself I decided that I need to prove myself that I am capable of doing something much bigger than SCMM). We decided to go with a coach and YES! the best decision that we made was to go with Coach Atul Godbole (and with the new Asics Noosa Tri 11 shoes 🙂 )!

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With Jayanta Borkakoti

 

Training

Preparing for Comrades does take some effort and time. After all, “Rome was not built in a day!” As I mentioned, the best decision that we made was to go with coach Atul Godbole and the Motiv8 team. After few weeks of recovery from Mumbai Marathon we started the training from February 2nd week. We were 9 runners under Motiv8 coaching who were being trained for the Comrades and indeed it was tough but fun. It was a very structured training with 4 runs/week which included hill repeats, tempo run and long runs on Saturday, Sunday.

We had one long run each month from February to May of 45/55/65/50 kms respectively and were running around 250 kms every month. We knew that 2017 was going to be the “up” run so we were training hill repeats in Chandani Chowk and Sinhagad (Pune) and all our long runs used to finish at Lavasa. The preparation of long run itself was more challenging than the actual run. Used to start the long runs mid-night at around 12:15 -1 AM which used to take us 5 – 8:30 hours. We used to run 18 – 24 kms inside the city and then head to Lavasa. The toughest part was the last 5-6 kms in Lavasa with elevation of around 350 meters. It was indeed very tough and was more of walking up the hill than running in that monstrous uphill.

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First Sinhagad Hill Run

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Last Sinhagad Hill Run

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Lavasa Long Run

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Motiv8 Coaching Comrades Team

 

One of the biggest challenge with long run is with supplements! I used to have 1 energy gel every 45 minutes and salt tables every 40 minutes. Apart from gels and salt we needed carbohydrate so that we don’t feel hungry. Our colleagues in Motive8 group were amazing and supported us in all our long runs. Almost the same time as we used to start the run they would follow us with all the needed supplies of water, energy drinks, coke, lime, baked potato and everything that you asked for; and once the run gets over, bring us back to the start point. It was kind of a picnic but the distance had to be covered by running 🙂   I must admit that it was absolutely not possible without the support of our fellow dedicated Motiv8 runners who volunteered to wake up mid-night and support us. It’s rightly said that the race day is the actual execution of all your trainings. With long runs of 45/55/65/50 kms it was never a question of whether or not finishing the race; it was just the matter of “how strong we finish the race.”

 

Overcome the weakness

Everyone has to prepare not only physically to build the stamina to run such a long distance but also mentally to run for nearly 12 hours. Well, I also had some doubts and it was more of physical as I always feared about getting cramps (I had cramps in Singapore and Hyderabad full marathons) and the maximum distance that I ran earlier was just 42kms.  With salt tablets at regular intervals and proper supplement I didn’t had any cramps during the training runs.

I can’t forget the long run of 55kms. Hardly slept for 40 minutes and had to go for the run with team. There was no option of missing the run as it was almost impossible to do a self-supported 55km run. For the first 14 kms I was very conservative and at one point I felt that I would pass out and not even complete 30kms. Almost till 35 – 40 km I was running slow & conservative and in fact had dropped my training pace whereas my colleagues were running very strong. Then all of a sudden the weather became too humid and everyone started to slow down. But something was stored for me that day! In fact, I was feeling much stronger as I was very conservative at the early part and it was kind of my day!  I had a strong finish and it was kind of one of my happiest day (there were some personal reasons also 🙂 ). Indeed, clear sky never make good pilots!

With the training run of 55 and 65kms I was quite confident of the actual run. So physically and mentally I had prepared myself.  But with such a respectable distance of 87kms one never knows what will happen on the actual race day.

 

The BuZZ

It was only after we completed our 65km long run that we applied for VISA in May. The South African VISA process does take some time (almost 20 days) and the biggest worry during the 3rd week of May was about getting the VISA on time (as the run was on 4th  June) than the training runs. Finally received the VISA just 10 days in advance and then there was no reason of not finishing the race on time 🙂

 

The Journey:    Along with Jayanta we met couple of friends from Pune & Mumbai and it was indeed very exciting journey. The flight from Seychelles to Durban was kind of chartered flight; with less than 30% occupancy and almost all who were there were for the Comrades Marathon.

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Jayanta Borkakoti & Siddesh Gandhi in Mumbai

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Siddhesh & Kavin Kondabathini in Abu Dhabi

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Kavin, Siddhesh, Jayanta in Seychelles

Our Motiv8 team had booked a guest house against the backdrop of Indian Ocean and we arrived 3 nights in advance to get acquainted to the climate. It was fun for the next 2 days in Durban with just rest and more rest.

The EXPO!  Expo is always interesting. The excitement of collecting the BIB and T-shirt, shopping, collecting souvenirs and some photography is amazing. There was a separate section for international runners and it didn’t take even 30 minutes to get the running kit.  The most exciting part was the T-shirt with the Comrades logo and the 87 km badge.

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Pune Comrades at the Expo

 

Pen-Ultimate Day: Strategy

Thinking about running 87kms, running for nearly 12 hours, trainings, sleeping in the evening, waking up at mid-night, running even on sore legs and the support and motivation by fellow runners and loved ones; it was kind of time-lapse video 🙂  and very overwhelming. And I told myself; I won’t settle anything less than a finisher medal (failure was not an option at all).

A day before the D day it was all rest and fun in the guest house. Everyone was making sure of hydrating enough and have some fun 🙂  Over coffee discussed the strategy and to stick with the running partner at least till 80kms. The strategy or I must say the plan to conquer the mammoth target of 87kms was run and walk. No one can just run the entire 87kms. Our plan (as we did earlier in trainings) was to run 1.9kms and walk 100metres throughout the race according to our pace. Even in downhills we had to stick to our pace and don’t push. For the uphill’s it was 80/20 i.e. 80 steps run and 20 steps walk. Once again 80/20 was a not written rule and we had to change according to the elevation and the effort required. We had to make sure that we don’t go out of breath and shoot up heart rate; just one foot in front of the other at the planned pace.

As we were a team of 9 runners, we had 2/2/2/3 runners in each group which was according to the training pace and the target finish time. I was very fortunate to have Sameer Wagle as my running partner as it was his 2nd Comrades marathon and with all his experience I was very sure that he will take me to the finish line 🙂

And as the Sun was going down we started preparing the running kit with gels, salt tables, salty biscuits and finally pinned the BIB into my running singlet. So we were ready for the race!

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Krishna, Sameer, Jayanta & Nikhil a day before the race

 

Race Day

A day before, we made sure to sleep early and I believe we had almost around 5 hours of sleep which is a descent one. Sameer Wagle or I must say our team lead had also made sure about our morning breakfast before the race so that we don’t starve ourselves even before the start of the race. Had some coffee, sandwiches and banana to take care of our morning carbohydrate loading. Around 3:45AM we left the guest house and it took less than 30 minutes to reach the start point. Then a final “God Luck!” to our all fellow Motiv8 team Comrades and then we headed towards our respective corals (line-up). Even though my partner Sameer Wagle had line-up of “D”, he moved back and joined me in “F” line-up so that we run together.

 

The Start

An hour before the start I was at the start line. And very soon I realized that the race was much more bigger than what I had imagined. Runners from across the globe and all walks of life were lined up; some running their first, second, for some it was an unfinished business and some running their 43rd Comrades Marathon (the good part about Comrades Marathon is that they mention the number of times one has finished the race in the BIB itself). As soon I saw a gentleman with BIB mentioning 42; the very next thought was “I am not even 34 years and the runner has successfully completed the Comrades Marathon 42 times!” One gets humbled by the history of the race and the global unity that one sees. There were so many runners but everyone had to conquer the distance alone.

Very soon the corals were packed with runners and everyone was waiting for 5:30AM (the start time). Comrades Marathon is a gun-to-gun time which means as soon as the gun is fired the time is counted from that point and not when one crosses the start line from their respective line-up. Couple of minutes before the start, the South African national anthem was played and that’s when we felt the energy. And then the “Chariots of Fire” was played and I could feel little tears in my eyes as it was the moment when I was about to start an unknown journey; a day which was going to be a little longer; a journey which I could never think even couple of months back; a chance to see what all I was made of, a day when limits was to be reached! A small prayer to have the force with me and finally, the gun goes off in the early morning wind at 5:30 AM on Sunday the 4th of June!

 

The Longest Journey!

It took me 4 minutes and 40 seconds to reach the start line from my coral F and it was kind of one of the largest organised chaos. The only priority was to make sure that I stay with my fellow comrade Sameer. We started a little faster than our actual pace to move out from the running crowd but was not the case. We could see only runners for kilometres. It was the first time that I had been to a race where everyone was running the same distance. It was still dark and had to very cautious to not stumble upon someone and safety road studs. 10 minutes into the race and I could see the magnificent view of 1000s and 1000s of runners and soon realised that why Comrades Marathon was known as the largest & the greatest marathon.

Every KM we were making sure that we don’t end up running fast; so had set the watch face with current and average pace along with elapsed time and distance. It was a constant discussion and feedback with my comrade Sameer to slow down, run, walk and a little push. With 1000s of runners one has to be careful and make sure that water or any other drink don’t get into the shoes as runners generally cool down their body with water and put it generously all over their body and at times spill over to you also.

After almost 10kms we were almost out of Durban and it was dawn and could you see the beautiful country side landscape. We were very much on the target and was kind of textbook run as we were running at the planned pace. And then we were greeted with up-hills! There was no second thought! Followed the run walk approach and many times just walked as we always wanted to be conservative in the first half (and that’s what everyone advised us even before the race). We crossed the first cut-off Pinetown 18.2km in 2 hours and 17 minutes (which was few minutes more than the target time but who cares in such a long run 🙂 ), second cut-off Winston park in 29.7km in 3 hours and 41 minutes and third cut-off point Drummond 42.7km in 5 hours and 24 minutes.

Before Drummond we were getting curious about Arthur’s seat. It’s a niche cut at the site of the wall of honour and is reputed to have been a favourite resting spot of the legendary Arthur Newton, 5 times winner of the Comrades Marathon in the 1920’s. Legend has it that runners who pay tribute to Arthur as they pass by placing flowers in the niche and doffing their cap with the greeting “good morning Sir”, will enjoy a strong second half of the race. Fortunately, a fellow comrade gave me a flower and I paid tribute to the legend!

We reached the half way mark Hollywoodbets and the atmosphere was fantastic! It was kind of a carnival with so many supporters and that’s when I told my comrade Sameer that half done and another marathon distance to cover. Sameer reminded that we shouldn’t be thinking about next 44kms but rather focus on the plan of running 1.9kms and 100metres walk.

It’s hard to recollect what all was going through my mind during the entire race but the only thing I remember was to just see what’s ahead and run & walk. We crossed the 4th cut-off of Cato Ridge 56.7km in 7 hours and 18 minutes. Just after that Sameer told me that he is feeling little low and I would now need to pace for next 10kms. I said yes, and as soon as we tried to stick to the plan, another uphill! There was no option other than to walk again. We continued to run walk but slowed down further. Now we it was kind of running just 2kms and grab coke and water and then continue for another 2kms till the finish line.

We crossed the 5th cut-off of Umlaut Road 66kms in 8 hours and 48 minutes. And as we crossed the 5th cut-off Sameer told me that we were going to miss the target of 10 hours and 50 minutes. We had 2 hours for the last 20kms which on a normal day would have been an easy run but not on a day after running 66kms and some of the monstrous uphill yet to come! Again we started to slow down and that’s when our fellow Comrade from Pune Ashish Kasodekar crossed us. It was kind of an instinct decision to push ourselves and stick with Ashish. A little chit-chat with Ashish and when he asked me as to how I was feeling; I said “Tough! much tougher than trainings or expected.” The very next thing Ashish said was “If it was easy then everyone would have done it!” WOW! something very positive & energetic! I regained focus which I had started to loose and now was even more determined to finish the race strongly. That moment not only helped to push hard and stay positive but also helped me to save couple of minutes.

And now the monstrous Polly Shorts! Even the little Polly was tough. We switched to fast walk mode and kept the pace below 10 minutes. Sameer was going very strong in walk and that’s when I lost him and could see that he was getting stronger. I didn’t see anyone running up the Polly Shorts. I believe it was a straight uphill of around 3kms. Just walked and hoped that it gets over.

Everything has a start and an end! And so was the Polly Shorts. Finally crossed the last cut-off of 79kms Polly Shorts in 10 hours and 31 minutes. And now it was another 8kms and the sight of downhill was amazing. It was getting little cold and vibe was fantastic. Lots of people were offering beer and had to control myself till the finish line and the thought was “let me just finish the race and I will drink like a fish!” And then again an uphill! As I had already missed the target I started to take it slowly and made sure to reserve some energy for the last km to sprint.

The moment I saw the stadium where the race was to be finished I started to sprint and ran the last km in 4 minutes and 53 seconds! Even in a full marathon I hadn’t run so fast the last km. The last km was one of the most enjoyable and memorable run in my life and will continue to be the special one. That feeling can’t be simulated in trainings and then to see the finish point so near; I won’t ever forget that. And finally, I crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 25 minutes!

Just finishing Comrades was like winning the race! A journey of a toughest endurance day which started not just 11 hours and 25 minutes back but almost 4 months back was finally over. From being an overweight to finishing an ultra-marathon distance of 87kms was absolutely amazing!

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Celebration!

It was indeed an electrifying atmosphere in the finish line. Doesn’t matter whether one finishes in 10 hours or 12 hours or 6 hours; everyone still ran the same distance of 87kms. It was a moment of accomplishing something much bigger than myself. Till now the Comrades marathon party continues 🙂  ….

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Pune Comrades

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The hard earned medal

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Team Motiv8 Coaching Comrades

 

Assumptions and Reality

Once again I must admit that the race was much tougher than we expected and imagined. In all our training long runs of 45/55/65/50 kms we used to run the first 18-25kms inside the city which is a flat track (no rolling). I believe we need to improve on this but once again no-one had the experience of running the “UP” run so it’s okay. For hills we used to train with 80-20 approach which is 80 steps run and 20 steps walk and which we used to re-adjust according to the elevation. This helped us a lot! This kept our legs fresh and the heart rate low. We also got to learn to walk fast (may be 9:30 minutes/km) as no one can just run the entire 87Kms and at some point in time have to walk.

 

Lessons Learned

Comrades is definitely not just about pace. One can have a great timing in a full marathon but running Comrades requires a strong strategy, patience and definitely some serious training. One has to be very realistic about the target pace/time. And above all one has to be self-motivated. Running 4 days a week with close to 80-90kms, one gets burned out & exhausted and that’s when an extra push/effort is required. There is a price to pay for feeling joy at the end and that price is pain and exhaustion.

 

What’s Next

The next milestone is to go back again to South Africa for a back-to-back Comrades marathon and next year it’s going to be down run (just a name 🙂 ) and I am not good at downhills which is again a challenge.

 

Comrades marathon is a journey – a journey of 4 months of training and the actual race of 87/89km journey! When I saw 18000+ people running down the road it was very overwhelming. One goes through so many emotions during the race is simply very humbling and there is always someone to assist & push you when you are feeling low. I still get goose bumps just talking/thinking about the race. Just thinking of doing something for that long duration of 11 – 12 hours itself is quite challenging.

Comrades has changed my perspective about life. Running is not just about distance and pace; it’s about a journey of life where “the challenge ahead of you is never greater than the strength in you.”

 

Once again congratulations to everyone who took up the Comrades challenge and in particular to the Motiv8 Comrades coach and Team Atul Godbole, Jayanta Borkakoti, Krishna Sirothia, Dr. Neelam Vaid, Nikhil Kamat, Shashibhushan Kolhe, Sameer Wagle, Samir Chitre and Vishwas Suryawanshi.
Thank You to all my friends & loved ones who supported me during this entire journey! Lastly, I can’t conclude without thanking the team who made my Comrades journey come true. It was simply not possible without the dedicated support and motivation from the entire Motiv8 Team.
Rahul Udhoji, you are the man who made this possible. Thank You for all your relentless support and motivation!
Sumitra Joshi, Gowri Gopalan, Manoj Thakur, Kavitha Reddy,Vipin Gupta once again Thank You for your support and motivation.

Special thanks to my Amdocs teammates Vijay Warudkar, Atul Kumar Kasar, Anil Rathod & Ravindra Suryawanshi for all your support and at times taking a step ahead in the project during this journey.
Thank You Siddharth Shetty for all your inputs which helped me to come up to this stage of the blog 🙂

Finally, Anil Kumar Singh, the person who always made sure that I stay positive with all his motivation and many times taking care of PR 🙂

 

From being an overweight to a casual runner & to running marathons

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Thank You Vijay Patil, Minoti Koul & Anil Kumar Singh for the transformation journey!

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There is a time to let things happen, and a time to make things happen!

 

 

I would like to share my story on how I took to running

Many people know me as a running guy. But well, 1st I was a gym person. I started gyming to fight overweight (I won’t call obesity). Was not so optimistic for 1st couple of days but soon realized that it’s very much possible to lose weight. It was kind of a ritual and went to gym 6 days a week for a year.

And it paid off. I lost ˜17kg of fat and gained some muscle also.

After a year I decided to check out running; thanks to Minoti Koul who always insisted & motivated to get a feel of runner’s high. Moreover when you see senior citizens running early morning @ 6AM when it’s still dark you get really motivated to give your best. Now it has become an addiction. I must say RUNADDICT.

Now you must be wondering why I started with running in the first place.

I started running to stay healthy. Everything in life is secondary. The primary thing is to be healthy and happy. As one of my mentor said “it’s the body who is going to be with you till death; not even your family or friends. Your family or friends can’t buy you a healthy life”.

One can have sound mind in a sound body only.

The next question is “How did I start and how did I increase my running span”

Well, I was a naive in running. Didn’t know whether to land on heel or toe. After experimenting and some research finally found out that both were wrong and the right way was forefoot strike (at least it has worked out for me).

Everyone has its own unique way of walking/running. Understanding how our ankle/feet behave is the 1st way of finding the right way to have safer/efficient/comfortable running form. The best way to find the correct running form is to just put your shoe off and run barefoot on a grass. It’s natural that you won’t land on heel as it’s uncomfortable nor on your toes. You would always land on the forefoot (the foot lands on the balls of the foot under the toes). So without shoe if you land on forefoot then with shoes on its obvious that you should always land forefoot.

Let us now touch upon the aspect of running and related technologies

I didn’t use any gadget for ˜3 months & then I just bought an ordinary sports watch just to check the time (so that I don’t get late for office). I was just a casual runner and was running 6kms every day.

Like correct running form, finding the right shoe is very important. Our foot rolls inside slightly & flattens when we hit the ground. This is known as pronation. And there are 3 types of pronation; over, neutral and under pronation. One can easily identify by doing a wet foot test (it takes less than 5 minutes and can be done at home) or by looking at your current sports shoe sole wear out pattern.

Over pronation (& severe over pronation: flat foot): it would be inwards

Neutral: even wear on front/back & side to side

Under pronation: wear outwards

So we have different type of shoes for each type of runner

Over pronation: Stability shoes

Neutral: just cushion is enough

Under pronation: shoes which provide cushioning and in which they are most comfortable (less than 5% runner are under pronators; so not many options available)

 

Breathing:
Do we need to know the breathing technique also ?
Yes! Although it’s very natural but to have a more calm & relax running and to use the lung effectively to have the maximum rate of gaseous exchange it’s very important.

Now, the first question is to whether breathe through nose or mouth ?
I have seen some articles wherein people do breathe in & out through mouth but I would stick to the natural way of breathing i.e. in through nose & out through mouth.

The most important point is to breathe deep into your belly and avoid shallow chest breathing. It allows more oxygen into our lung & subsequently into the body and thereby keeping the body in aerobic phase. This keeps the body nice & steady throughout the run and heart at resting rate & avoid running out of breathe.

 

My transformation from being a casual runner to running marathons is interesting

After almost 8 months since I started running I happened to see an advertisement for half marathon nearby and just registered it. I told this to some of my friends and was really excited. Finally, I was owning it and could really engage in the necessary mental preparation.

I ran my 1st 21KM 2 weeks before the event just to check out to whether I was physically up to that level & that I don’t hit the wall & pass out (hitting the wall is a stage when you feel that you’ve reached the point of no return, that you cannot take another step, about to die). I finished my 1st official half marathon @ 2.07 (this was in Sept 2014). And then I realized that indeed I can run a marathon (this was limited to half marathon only).

After ~1 ½ year of running I decided to challenge myself & decided to run a full marathon & there was no better place for doing my 1stfull 42.2KMs other than Mumbai. And yes I completed my 1st42.2Kms in Jan 2016 & crossed the finish line @ 4:15.

Since September 2014 I have officially done 10 x half marathons and 3 x full marathons. The best half marathon (21.1KM) time being 1:45 and full marathon (42.2KM) 4:00 in Tel Aviv. A short story on Tel Aviv marathon

I must thank my entire Israel team who helped me a lot (Dani, Benny, Sami) for this. The starting point for Tel Aviv Marathon was ~6-7KMs from my hotel and had to reach early as the entire road was to be closed. I got the detailed direction from Race organizers but Benny made a note of the entire direction in Hebrew also just to make sure that I have the direction written both English & Hebrew and reach the starting point in time without any hassle. And YES! It was absolutely smooth.

You must be wondering what is my training plan & what are my next challenges

These days, I run 3 days a week (and cover 45-50KM/ 180KMs/month) and it includes the ritual 21KM or + on Saturdays (so that I can party on Saturday night).

For over a year now, I have been using a GPS watch and indeed it’s very useful. You get to know the real time pace & average pace and it helps to strategize & analyze the runs and check out the options for improvement. As one of mentor said “if someone is investing a good amount of time in some activity then it’s obvious that the performance should be improved over a course of time”.

Currently I am going through all the historical run statistics of more than a year and trying to come up with a plan to finish the 2017 Mumbai Marathon (42.2KMs) @ 3.50-55.

A few things about my own technique and some personal experiences

I run alone and I love it. My idea is to either run alone or run with someone who is much better than you. The catch here is that you shouldn’t experiment anything new on the race day.

I will share a short story on couple of my technical mistakes:

October 2015, I was running 21.1KM in Pune’s most popular running event (PRBM) and the training runs prior to that were not so great. Just a week before I was running 10KM & 8KM at the pace of 5 (5mins/KM). As the training was not too great so I was targeting 1:50 (for 21.1KMs) but on the race day as soon as I started I saw the 1:45 bus (people running in group with expert runner leading) and just joined them. For the 1st half I was running like a V6 engine but after 13KMs I realized that I had pushed too hard and hit the wall. For the remaining KMs I was running like an old 3 cylinder engine which could have broken down at any moment. I finished @ 1:56 and was very disappointed. I was not disappointed with the result but with the fact that I just did a stupid mistake. Running at someone else’s pace shouldn’t be part of the plan.

Let me share one more story of my recent full Marathon.

This was in HYD (outside Pune and more important outside comfort zone)

Didn’t had enough sleep and had to travel early morning to HYD a day before. HYD is India’s toughest city Marathon with lots of elevation. But fortunately the weather on the race day was too good for running with very less humidity and lil bit of cloud. I just had 4 cups of water for the 1st 10km and it turned out to the mistake of not hydrating enough knowing the fact that I sweat a lot and used to have at least 500ML of fluid during normal runs. I could feel getting the cramps 34km onwards and finally the moment came @ 41km! I had to stop and was absolutely clueless. Fellow runners advised to take deep breath and walk slowly which indeed helped a lil bit. I was in pain but this last 5 minutes of pain for the final 1.2KMs was nothing compared to hours of planning, training and expectations of my friends. When you run out of fuel, get cramps and hit the wall; this is where mind takes the battle over body for supremacy. Finally when saw the 500M mark finish standee, decided to push but was also skeptical that the muscle might give up at any moment. This is where I had to rely on the training which means doing the things I’d done in the past to get the job done. And yes I crossed the finish line strongly @ 04:24:26.

How can you be part of running clubs?

There are running groups/clubs everywhere. Just need to hit out early morning once and you will see flocks of runner; just need to join them.

It is also important to know how you can participate in events?

We have running events almost throughout the year (except for 2-3 months in summer). For Pune we have one coming up on 2nd Oct, 16th Oct and for Delhi the Airtel HM in November. Someone looking to do Personal Best must check out the Delhi HM as the track is flat & the event happens in Nov when the weather is best for running.

Lastly, one must always remember that if you have an important deliverable/assignment in your personal/corporate life but you are not feeling 100% fit (physically and mentally) then you just can’t give your best. So it’s very very important that you are taking good care of yourself.

And I can’t conclude without thanking the guys who are always there and give invaluable tips/advise (even getting those from elite runners) before any Marathon and always make sure to give extra motivation. Before my 1st full marathon they even didn’t allow me to drive to Mumbai. I was just at the back, relaxing and thinking about the run. Anil Kumar Singh, Vijay Patil, Alok Dubey! A big thank you to you guys.

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Few final words from my end…

Running a marathon is a personal journey of what you are capable of!

So please go out and start some form of physical activity not limited to running. Even the blood cells are recycled every 3 month so if you indulge & follow any exercise/sport then practically you are a completely different person after that and always try to enjoy the small things that give you pleasure during that.

Good luck and I hope you see you running some time soon!

My First Full Marathon

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YES! Now I am Marathoner (don’t need to explicitly mention HALF now)

My 1st full marathon or should I say the 42.195KM epic challenge.
It was always going to be special & indeed it was. Thanks to the volunteers, Mumbaikar & of-course the great runners who were motivating each other.

The plan was to run @6.20 pace as I had started the FM preparation after October Bengaluru marathon but thanks to Krishnakumar (BIB # 734) the challenge turned out to be a fun run with some chit-chat, enjoying each & every moment. Thank you very much Krishnakumar (unfortunately couldn’t met you after the race but a big congratulations).
And Yes, I will be back on 15/Jan/2017 for the epic 42.195KM once again & definitely its going to be SUB 4. Minoti Koul Anil Singh thank you very much for all your motivation & support and making me a RUNADDICT