How to train for your first half marathon: A personal journey
It was a difficult time for me two years back in 2017. My eating habits were taking a toll on my health and my weight had touched 97 kg in December. I had nightmares of what had happened with me three years ago. I was in the hospital, fighting for my survival against a deadly infection that had creeped into my body defeating my below par immune system. I couldn’t let that happen to me again. I had to do something to keep my fitness in check and support my family. Amidst all this, I came across a quote beside the treadmill in my gym, which said, "Running is the best metaphor for life". Instantaneously, it struck a chord.
Doing the unthinkable
I started with the shorter distances, mostly 5 km. I participated in few 10 km races, but I couldn’t run the entire distance. Somewhere I felt it wasn’t going in the right direction, but somehow I kept doing that.
I remember it clearly. The date was September 8, 2018, when for the first time I ran 8 km. I couldn’t believe myself. It was a big feat for me. With some serious motivation of my friend Krishanu Bhattacharya and my never say die attitude, I did what was unthinkable for me a few months back. I registered for my first half marathon.
Going for a kill
More than the physical attribute, the training program helped me overcome the hurdles in mind, which every runner goes through during the race. The training covered a different sets of activities, including short runs, long runs, speed runs, build out core and work on different set of muscles. As I aimed for better strides at a higher pace, my groin muscles literally cried for help during the last few weeks leading to the race day.
Your mind may become your biggest enemy
The week before the race was the hardest. It was like a perfectly set stage for contradicting thoughts. I wanted to remain in practice but was advised to prevent myself from any type of injury or pre-run burns. I felt perturbed, anxious, and sometimes baffled by negative thoughts. What if I get hurt a night before? What if my alarm fails me on the fateful day? What if I lose my bib? My mind was playing games with me.
You don’t want that to happen. You should be relaxed a day before in order to take on the hardships the following day. I was all but relaxed and slept only for 5 hours. Inadvertently, I made sure I tick all the boxes to spoil my moment of glory.
A night before the race, I was reading a booklet given to every runner at the bib collection center. It had information about the entire event, sponsors, do’s and don’ts and course details among others. A brief look at the graph in the course detail section was enough to shake my belief of completing the race successfully. I saw a sudden spike in the elevation, from the sea level to 44 meters above it.
On the day of event, the 1st km ended somewhere on the Bandra - Worli Sea-Link. It was still dark at 5:40 in the morning, but in the dim lights of the bridge I could easily figure out what lied ahead of me. By the time I completed one-fourth of my race, the humidity took toll and I was completely drenched in my sweat.
Into the 2nd km of my first half marathon, I almost got crushed in what seemed to me a never-ending wave of people. I didn’t know the official number of participants in ‘Tata Mumbai Marathon – 2019’, but a knowledgeable guess would put it somewhere in the tune of more than 10,000. Although not all of them were in the same category as mine, still for a moment it felt like I was in the wrong place. Voluntarily.
Although I trained hard for four months including 5 long runs in the last 45 days (between 14-18 km), the emotional pressure of completing the entire stretch of 21.097 km was tremendous. After completing 10 km, I knew I have to do another set with more than half of my energy already drained.
The horror of elevation became reality in the morning when I reached Pedder Road. The spike was somewhere between 14th and 15th km, when the runners usually try to preserve some energy going into the last stretch. Instead, the grumpy incline made it all difficult for us.
Krishanu B. (my coach) had once told me during the training days, “Always try to run on an incline, as it will make you a better runner”. The advice and the practice did wonders to me on the most important day yet of my life and I managed to complete that treacherous 2 km, unhurt with undivided focus.
A wolf to its pack
The last stretch of 4 km, which was along the Marine drive (a natural nay), brought out all emotions. You feel much closer to the victory. A victory over what I though was impossible a year ago, and over all the negative thoughts that won’t let you sleep a week before the race.
As I inched towards the milestone, I looked up at the ‘400 meters to go’ signboard and it felt like almost a dream that came true. I was so close to my best on the course. I was emotional, as I ran on the red carpet laid down for the final stretch of 50 meters.
Everybody who ran down that gruelling course deserved every bit of that warm welcome. They finally found a place into the club of people, who exemplified that when it mattered the most, they had it in them. I felt like a wolf, which suddenly found its pack.