On a wonderful Sunday morning in October, in the beautiful city of San Francisco, I finished my first ever marathon run. The marathon was as much a test of my physical strength, as it was a test of my mental resolve. It was by no means easy; but I managed to hang in there, and to complete what I had set out to do, 5 months ago.
Along with 15000 other participants, less than 1% of which were men, I started my run at 7AM in the morning, from Union Square. The air was heavy with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of running the 26.2 (or 13.1) miles. The elite runners had already taken off at 6:40AM. As the gun went off at 7AM, we were started off in batches. I was in the 3rd batch, and got to the start line about 8 minutes after the first set of runners took off.
Like most others, I started off at a very easy pace- about a minute or so slower than my regular pace. We had been advised by our coaches to start easy and pick up the pace as we feel comfortable. This gave me the opportunity to observe what the crowd was upto. A lot of people had “I am running for…” banners on the t-shirts, in support of the honorees for whom they were running this marathon. All of us on the Peninsula Team of TNT were also wearing a note with pictures and names of the 5 honorees of our team. There were a few people with “It’s my birthday today” banners on their t-shirts, and people were wishing them as they ran by.
In about 3-4 miles, I had eased into a steady pace. I was now taking short 1 minute walking breaks after running at a good pace for about 6 minutes. From Union Square, we ran towards Embarcadero along Post, Montgomery and Washington. After hitting Embarcadero, we took a left and kept going along the bay, past Fisherman’s Wharf and Fort Mason, towards the Presidio. As we ran up a small hill, we got an amazing view of the Golden Gate bridge. The sun was shining down on the bridge, and there was fog beneath the bridge. It almost looked like the bridge was hanging in mid-air, supported only by clouds. It was a very pretty sight, and many runners took out their cameras at that point. I really missed not having a camera with me at that time.
We then ran along Marina Blvd, where I ran into TJ, our TNT team manager- one of the most encouraging and enthusiastic persons I have ever met. She did a great job of cheering me on. After we passed Crissy Field, we hit our first major uphill on the route. It was just about 6 miles into the marathon, and I was feeling quite fresh at that point. I decided to run up the hill at a slightly slower pace than normal. I managed to do that fine enough, with a couple of short walking breaks, and I was quite pleased with myself. The downhill that followed was even more fun, and I managed to conquer it in no time. Then came the next uphill, and I did fine on this one too. The final big downhill, near the Cliff House was very pretty- we were running down towards the sea, and then along the Great Highway.
The route then went through the Golden Gate park, where we reached our half way mark. I was quite happy with my pace- just about a minute slower than my regular pace- which I though was good, considering that I had already done the two major hills on the route. And I felt I had enough energy to run the second half of the marathon. I thought it was time I picked up my pace a bit. But then I ran into a hurdle. After mile 15, my quadriceps started hurting a lot. My confidence, which had held strong until now, started withering with every step that I took. I was sure I will be able to run another 3 miles with that pain. But another 11 miles! I started getting scared at the prospect of not finishing the marathon.
I then started walking for more time than the usual 1 minute recovery. I was analyzing what went wrong and realized that my over-enthusiasm in tackling the hills in the first half of the marathon might now be adversely affecting me. But I was quite sure I was prepared for the hills, and I was frustrated with my quads for giving up on me. I then decided to ignore the pain in the quads, and started a run-walk routine in the ratio 4:1, to give my quads enough time to recover. By then it was almost mile 18, and we were out of Golden Gate park, and had also done most of the Great Highway. We now had to encircle Lake Merced, before heading back down the Great Highway towards the finish line at Golden Gate park.
My quads had finally decided to cooperate, and I was now feeling fine. Then another roadblock came along, which took me even more by surprise. This time, it was my foot that started getting a burning feeling. Every step I took felt as if I was running barefoot on hot coal. This was something that I had not yet experienced on any of my long runs. I had always thought that my ankle was my weakest link. My knees and calf muscles also gave me some trouble once in a while. But this was something new. It would have been okay if I had to go just another mile or two. But another 6 miles seemed like another marathon to go.
I knew it was a complete mind game at this point. I just had to tolerate the pain and keep running. So I started a 2:1 running routine. I was running for 2 minutes and walking for 1 minute. Not the best of paces, but it kept me going. At this point, there were just two phrases occupying my mind. Coach Terry, our head coach always says: “Focus on finishing strong.” And coach Mary had concluded the pre-race party with the advice: “Relentless forward motion.” That was all I could think of. In the 6 hours and 17 minutes and 30 seconds that I was running the marathon, I did not ever stop. I was either walking or running all the time. I drank water and gatorade while walking and filled my water bottle while walking. I knew my destination, and I kept going. And it was not just me. All around me, I saw the determination in everyone’s eyes, inspite of the physical pain.
Between miles 22 and 23, apart from my feet, all other muscles started aching as well. To my surprise, I got quite emotional at that point. The agony of every step caused me to review the 5 months of training in my mind. In addition, I was touched at the thought of the tremendous encouragement and support of the entire TNT group, including the coaches, the mentors, the captains, as well as that of friends and family- in particular, Niket. And most importantly the thought of the honorees, the fund raising, and the cause, which were the primary reason I was doing the marathon, was quite moving. I was quite overwhelmed with all these thoughts, and had tears in my eyes as I ran that mile. I knew at this point that I would complete the marathon.
In the last three miles, I tried to maintain my 2:1 ratio, but even that started proving difficult, and I ended up walking more and more. This is when the TNT and spectator support came in extremely handy. People whom I had never seen before, and probably will never see again in my life, were cheering me on. They called out my name (I had written it on my tshirt) and showered words of encouragement. The Peninsula team TNT mentors, captains and coaches were excellent in their support. Throughout the course, they had stood by the side of the road and cheered the team members on. In addition, during the last few miles, some of them even ran with me for a few miles.
When I started my last mile, I knew I wanted to finish strong. I therefore decided that come what may, I am going to run the entire mile. Then I ran into Jocelyn, a captain on our team. Throughout the season, during our long runs, she would to mention to the coaches that whenever I see her (or any other TNT volunteer) on the course, I gave a big smile to them. This time, all I could manage was a very tiny smile; I was just too tired, and wanted to get done. She then asked me whether I would like some company, and started running with me. I was so glad to see the support. When I had just about 0.5 miles to go, our head coach, Terry joined me in my run for about a minute and congratulated me on making it to the finish. I took a couple of very short walking breaks during the last mile. But once I saw the finish line in the distance, I wanted to cross it soon, and kept running. Jocelyn asked me whether anyone was at the finish line to cheer me in, and I said yes, my husband will be around.
I was concentrating on running, when suddenly Jocelyn asked me what my husband looks like. I was surprised at the question. I looked towards the side of the road, to see Niket with a camera in his hand, ready to take a picture. I gave the best smile I could! Then Niket started running with me, and Jocelyn decided to go back and cheer other team members in.
At the finish line, Niket wanted to cross it with me, but the officials pulled him out. So I crossed the finish line, exactly 6 hours, 17 minutes and 30 seconds after I had crossed the start line. I received a beautiful Tiffany and Co.’s finishers necklace, as well as the Nike Women’s Marathon 2006 finishers tshirt. I am very happy that I completed the marathon. It was a tough and challenging experience- one that I will cherish throughout life.