Chasing the Dream of a Boston Qualifier: What I did different

I trained for the NN Rotterdam Marathon 2016 with a single minded goal; that my Full marathon target time should be under 3:52 (to ensure a more-or-less definite Boston Qualification in my age/gender category).

To clinch this time in April, I had to run SCMM 2016 in 3:55 (assuming I would cut 3-4 minutes in my subsequent race due to better weather). Fortunately or unfortunately, that did not happen.  Despondent, post-race, I analysed the reasons. My friend Sukhpreet was quick to point out, “You did not want it badly enough.” The brutality of the words hit me hard. I did some introspection.


  1. I had trained hard, but not hard enough. And the numbers in my training log reflected that.
  2. I had let the race go in the last 12 Km when it really got hard. At a time when I had to push mentally, I gave up.
  3. My diet was controlled yes, but I was taking a lot of liberties.

This attitude was definitely not one of a “match winner”.

I wanted to qualify for Boston. It was a two-year dream. My first international marathon! I could not fail. I had to do well.

I wanted it badly. An A-ha moment! Could I actually cut 8 minutes off my time in 3-1/2 months?

So the following was my action plan to achieve the seemingly unachievable goal.

  1. I tightened the leash on my diet with the help of my friend Roopali Mehta. I did not need to lose weight, but I wanted to keep my energy level high and ensure better recovery, so that I could give more to my rigorous workouts. So I cut out wheat, rice, artificial sugar, milk, bread, white flour, and even the occasional glass of wine.

My mornings started with a glass of Activate (Fast and Up) which I think has really helped my sleepy muscles to wake up. Post workout was a smoothie, with a scoopful of whey, followed by a green vegetable  juice. Breakfast was a bowlful of oats, cooked in water, with dry fruits and honey. The meals for the rest of the day consisted of fruits (papaya, apple, orange, strawberries), butter milk, salad, sprouts and jowar/bajri in various forms. And to keep my sweet tooth happy, dessert was khajoor.

Oh yes, and regular supplements: Calcium, B12, Vitamin C, D3 and Iron (since my Haemoglobin remains on the lower side)

I was manic about this, and did not allow myself any cheating. When I went out I would eat at home and go, and have a soup at most.

I wanted it badly.

  1. I trained really hard. I gave everything to each workout. It has been my pattern all these years to let Rahul and Vishal get ahead of me during training runs. This season, (as I have written in an earlier post) I did not let them get ahead even once! I stuck to my prescribed paces and pushed myself mentally to stay with them. This helped fine tune the brain to wake up at crunch times and pick up the legs.

I wanted it badly.

  1. I stretched and foam-rolled regularly. Twice a day. Post run, as well as post dinner, before I went to sleep. It was my “TV and Stretch” time. “Friends” (I know all the episodes by heart by now) was aired from 9-10 pm and it was perfect. By 10 pm I was done and dozing. This stretching, especially of the glutes and hams, ensured that my muscles remained supple (as mentioned by Sandeep Bhandarker in his earlier post).

I took a weekly deep tissue massage, usually on Sunday afternoon for two months, during peak training.

Despite all of the above, I still struggled with a nagging right calf pain. The physio did not think it was real and only advised me some stretching (which I was doing anyway).  Maybe it was only a superficial ligament irritation in my leg and mental in my head. But the tightness persisted.  On days when it was severe I was cautious and did NOT run. I really did not want to risk injury. In the larger scheme of things, I rationalized, it would not affect my training, and so I let it go. As a result I missed 2 key workouts and 5 days of running, 7 weeks before the race. This demon would haunt me until race day. As I waited in the cold for the race to start, I imagined a cramp coming, debilitating me and killing my dream.

I wanted it badly.

  1. Although Pulin had paced me for the last 6 km in SCMM 2016, my mind failed me. He did his best to motivate me but I could not fight the pain in the brain and break through. This could not happen in Rotterdam. I had to prepare well. I read this book “How Bad do you Want It” (essentially a collection of anecdotes of lesser known runners) for inspiration.

I carried good wishes with me – cards from my daughter, niece and close friends. I had saved screenshots of the special messages sent on Facebook, Whatsapp and email, to motivate me just before I left for the race.

I carried the memory of my last 32 km run. That had gone really well, with the love and support of my friends. A perfectly paced run with a strong finish. I was riding high on confidence, thanks to that run. My memories would be my strength in Rotterdam.

I prepared my mantra well. “I will run strong. I will finish strong.” Simple, positive reinforcement to keep me going, when it became hard.


I gave this race everything I had, but the reason I surpassed my own expectations is that I ran relaxed, I ran easy and I enjoyed my race. I say “easy” here, even though the pace was relatively hard because it “felt” easy. (I have written about the concept perceived effort in a previous post.) Yes I had a goal, but keeping that aside, I ran living each moment to its fullest, giving each minute my best.

This has always been Savio’s principle to run a good race. Trained hard, and then run the race, easy.

I wanted it badly. So I made a plan. I worked for it. And it worked for me!



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