Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Marathon – Come and Experience the 42.195 km Dream

“If you want to win something, run the 100 meter race. If you want to experience something, run the Marathon” – Emil Zatopek.

Having had the luck to run both, with my marathon finish being the latest at the recently held Bangalore marathon 2006, am able to appreciate the truth in Mr.Zatopek’ words better.

The preparation for the first marathon finish started more than a year ago, with dream of the marathon finish being implanted during the Pilani days. The 20 minute jogs at the gym grounds in Pilani was where the idea of a marathon finish flashed across my mind. It was one of the “desert dreams” and remained a day dream till I read the inspiring blog of a guy who ran the Chennai marathon 2004. (Inspiring, because he had pictures of marathon day with lots of cheer girls in them!!! Kidding… Check here for the inspiration )

Vigneshwaran Chandran (Batch of 2004), a first time runner and someone who completed the half marathon at Bangalore says “A Marathon is a personality builder. All the qualities required to complete a marathon like practice, perseverance and endurance are infact required to achieve real goals in our life too. It was this fact that made me run the Bangalore half marathon.”

The 20 minute jog was slowly turning into a structured run, with the idea of a marathon completion getting stronger by the day. However, the runs were lonely and monotonous. My idea of sport was a team event such as cricket and that was sorely missing in running. It was then that I came across some running enthusiasts in the company that I work in. We formed an informal running club at the office and we used to feed off each other at the training runs. The “tea-break” at office was filled with talks about improving endurance, training schedules, running shoes and many others.

An accidental meeting with a runner on the road during one of the training runs led to fun weekend runs group called “Chennairunners”. The group which started in the beginning of 2006 with 6 of us running a long distance run every weekend, has more than 50 runners now. Training with the group was so much fun – each of us pushing the other to complete the target distance. Running 20-30 km on a Sunday morning with a 5 am start was our kind of fun - Running on a high way and away from the crowded streets in the city and far away that the return journey takes an hour’s journey by bus. It gave us a “high” - the “runners high” with a group is as high as a high only can be. The “high’s” of the Saturday night was being slowly replaced by the healthy “high’s” of the Sunday morning!

Having experienced the joy of running and the fun in training together, Sudip, and I along a few others initiated the “Run for a cause” program at BITS.aid ( Through this program, we at BITS.aid provide the motivation and all the necessary support for a person dreaming about the 42.195 km finish. We also encourage the runners to raise money through the runs and contribute for the various projects that BITS.aid supports. The Bangalore marathon held on September 17th 2006 was the first marathon that the group got associated with.

About 25 people ran for BITS.aid at the Bangalore Marathon – Some running the full marathon (42.195 km) , some doing the half (21.1 km) and some others running the 7 km celebration run. The aim was the same – to push ourselves to run the distance we haven’t run before and raise money for the 2 projects – ‘Yuva Foundations’ and ‘Parikrama’.
The preparations for the Bangalore marathon started 3 months before the actual race. With about 35 people in the group mailing list, we exchanged information/tips on training and also about our weekly practice runs. The group helped keep the motivation up and pushed the runners to stick to the training plan.

On the fund raising front, the “Run for a cause” program has so far raised about Rs.62,000 since its inception. The money has been donated to 3 organizations – Future Focus Foundation, Yuva Foundations and Parikrama.

Anuradha Muralidharan (Batch of 2004), who completed the half marathon (21.1km) at the Bangalore marathon running for BITS.aid says “‘Run for a cause’ was a great motivational source for me. All the training I had done before the marathon helped me cross the finish line comfortably.”

Personally, it was an unforgettable experience running at Bangalore. On the morning of the race, I met a few BITSians and some other runner friends and all of us were charged up to cross the finish line. With the full marathon starting at 6 am and the other runs scheduled later in the day, we couldn’t get all the BITSian runners in the photograph below.

Once the race started, I tried to get into a smooth pace. The fact that I had a few runner friends from Bangalore helped – these guys acted as “tour guides” as we set out discovering the city on the legs! The initial part of the marathon was organized pretty well, with the traffic kept away from the runners. We settled into a good rhythm and were averaging 6-7 mins per km. The weather was perfect for marathon running. But the running course must be rated as one of the difficult ones to run a marathon.

The first 21 km turned out to be pretty smooth for me. I paced it pretty well and managed to complete the distance in 2 hours and 15 minutes. I was planning to complete the race within 5 hours and so far I was pretty much in sight of the goal. But the undulating course was taking its toll on my knees. After the 25th km, I was having difficulties lifting my left leg. The left knee was in real pain and I decided to walk. One of my friends, on seeing me limp decided to walk along with me. Now, each km consumed more than 13 minutes and it would’ve been a monumental task, if I were to complete the rest of the distance alone. In the true marathon spirit, Shyam, a BITS-outsider who was running for BITS.aid, decided to walk along with me and gave up on his goal of finishing within 5 hours. Thanks to him, I managed to keep my thoughts straight.

After the 30th km, I pushed Shyam into running again. I convinced him that I will definitely finish the race. Off he went and I was running, walking, crawling the race alone. I caught up with a few runners who were walking as well. Though we didn’t speak a word (too tired to even talk now), we tried to stay together. At the 5 hour mark, I had 7 more km to go. At the pace I was going at now, it occurred to me that I will be able to complete the run only after 6 hours. That thought was really killing and I decided to run despite the pain. I somehow wanted to complete the race within 6 hours. I urged the 3 runners around me to improve their speed and as I said this, I started running. I tried to slowly drift my thoughts away from the pain and the ipod helped me do that. With a mix of running and brisk walking, I was picking up speed.

With 30 mins to 6 hours, I had 3 more km to complete. Exhaustion and the knee pain stopped me from running anymore. I was walking as fast as I could. Status -20 mins to go and 2 more km to complete. I caught with another runner and we decided, tacitly, to give it all to finish before 6 hours. Another km down and we had the stadium within our sight. 6 more minutes to go and we entered into the stadium. Once in, we were asked to go around the 400 mts track to complete the 42.195 km. 4 more minutes to go. I tried to run but stuttered to a halt. Walking fast, paced the last 400 mts rightly to finally complete the dream in 5 hours 59 mins and 55 seconds. I had done it!!!!. Shyam and all the other runners group pals were at the finish line. An immense feeling of happiness overcame me. One of the top 100 things to do before I kicked the bucket was completed.

It was a memorable experience running the marathon. Right from the start, we had so many people cheering us - The usually uncooperative traffic police was going the extra mile to make the running experience better, Most of the runners urging and pushing the others to go for the finish line, Shyam throwing his goal away and walking with me, the boys at the water point staying on the course for a long time to provide water and some friends waiting at the finish line with sandwiches and fruit juice.

If I contrast this experience with the one I had running the 100 mts, I don’t have much to talk about the 100 metres experience. Though I was lucky to participate at the state level athletics during the school days, it was more of an “individual” experience. The practice for the 100 mts wasn’t as much fun as the group training runs for the marathon. During the 100 mts days, I won a lot of medals but made a million friends during the marathon days. Marathon is all about a group experience – helping and pushing the others to cross the limits and having lots of fun.

Now….Do you want to run the 100 meters or the marathon?

(FYI, the Mumbai marathon is on January 21st 2007. Put on your shoes and as the ad goes “the road comes free” for a marathon runner…..
Shoot an e-mail to me ( if you wish to run with BITS.aid.)