The last 32km run is the memory with which you run your marathon. I never run more than 32 km while training, and this year was the same. The only difference was that the route included some rolling hills to simulate race conditions. But that had been de rigueur this season.
Somehow, after training for these many years, for these many marathons, the distance had stopped daunting me. I would complete the run for sure, but whether I would be able to hold the pace or not, remained the question.
The run was simple. No surprises there. 22km at easy pace, followed by 10km at marathon pace. A workout like this cut the distance short in my head, into more bite sized runs. “Only 22” was the first thought in my head. When I thought about the next 10km, the final part of my last pre race 32 km, I knew it would be hard, but I would manage, i thought.
Russa, Mulraj and I started in the wee hours of the morning, from NCPA and built up to a steady pace. I held them back as I wanted to conserve my energy for the last 10km, which they would not be doing with me. After a while Aditya and Pulin joined us and jokes flew around fast and thick. We ran like a raucous bunch of hooligans during lunch break. Oh! How I enjoy easy running. This leg took the stress off the running, but during the last 5-6km, with each increasing kilometre, my sense of dread increased. The pressure of holding marathon pace after tiring my legs over 22km, with this heat and humidity, and the brutal 8 am Bombay sun was getting to me.
I was paying a price for the complacence of my thinking on Saturday, the lack of mental preparation, which has always been a large part of my training.
The closer I came to completing the 22km, the larger the demon grew. As we approached the end, the rest of the boys peeled off, leaving Pulin and me for the final stretch.
When I actually started the first kilometre the fatigue was telling on my legs. They just did not move. As we ran together, Pulin was gentle with me. Into the second km, he simply said, we need to go slightly faster. “Don’t look at your watch,” he said. And I was happy to follow. This was hard enough anyway!
At his bidding, I consciously but marginally, upped the pace. He was satisfied and nodded in approval. After a while he encouraged me and said that I was doing well. These small gestures were important to me to keep my spirit high. We kept going. He kept counting the kilometers down from 10, and I just about managed to stay afloat. My only response to his conversation was a deep throated minimal effort “Hmmm”. After we turned around at the 5km mark, to run back towards NCPA, he moved the mileage countdown to actual race day. The final 5km of the race, 37 km done, Heartbreak Hill is behind you. It is all down hill now, he says to me, so fly.
Despite this positivity, the gloom in my head was palpable. And I suddenly realised, this is how it is going to feel. The last 6-7 km of the race. This is how hard it always is, and I said to myself, you have just forgotten! The memory of the pain had receded over the past year, into a dark crevice in a brain. Not a place I visited often. The slog kilometres. The death miles.
The sun was shining over our heads. People were driving home post their runs and chatter. I had had a hard week of training. I was losing heart, and just when I thought I could not go on, Pulin, sensing my despair, said, relax your shoulders. Only positive thoughts now, he added. And that was it. All that I needed to change the mood. I quickened my stride, challenged my brain and I was off. As I ran strong I got a huge boost of confidence. Being exhausted, it felt that I was running super slow, but since Pulin did not say anything about the pace dropping, I continued, quietly. He kept counting down and then for the final 2km he said, “The harder the effort, the sweeter the victory!” His timing could not have been better!
I was imbibing all this as ammunition for race day. When I would need to dig deep, I would draw strength from here. The goodwill of all my friends who had carried my through this run came flashing to me. The thoughts of all those who had faith me were replayed. See the sun just ahead, he said. You are reaching the summit. This is what you have worked for. We got stronger. Setting our sights on a runner ahead and decided not to let her go. The pace picked up and I managed to stay with him. With a single minded effort we went for it. No fatigue. No thought. Just run. Silence. I ran like I had never run before managing to kill the marathon pace! To a dream finish in my dream race.
We high-fived as my throat choked, overcome with emotion. Tears welled up in my eyes out of the realisation of the enormity of the time and place. It was done. The hard work was over. The most important run which signified the end of my training for the Boston Marathon.
I am going to Boston. And I smiled a bit. I cried a bit. I am really going to Boston. It doesn’t get bigger or better than this! I smiled. I lived my life in that moment, that moment was my life.
I lay on the parapet at NCPA, stared up at the blue sky and I realised, how everything had come together in this one moment. The world was in a state of suspended animation and all was quiet except for my heartbeat.
I am not a survivor, I am a fighter!
“All dreams come true, if you have the power to pursue them.”
– Walt Disney