Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tale of two marathons

I completed the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon ’09 in Jan this year and the Auroville marathon in Feb, within 5weeks of each other. The two races contrasted each other so well and the lessons so important, that even though this post is dated you may find it worth a read.

*click on the image to see a clearer view
The Stats:
18th Jan 09
Time of start: 6:50AM
Time taken: 4:50:09hours

Auroville Marathon 09
15th Feb 09
Time of start: 5:01AM
Time taken: 4:01:06hours

The Training:
SCMM – Hard work
Unlike last year, when I had just 4weeks after the Ultra to train for SCMM, this year I had 2 full months to focus on recovery and put in some speed training. I started the training easy and was satisfied with the progress on the speed runs. I even managed a 30km run in 2:40mins during training. I planned the tapering very meticulously - loaded on carbs, increased my intake of salt and kept myself well hydrated. The train journey to Mumbai also ensured that I kept my feet up and rested well. I pretty much went by the book and was confident of a close to 4 hour finish. The slight fever didn’t seem like a big deal.

Auroville Marathon – No work!!
There was less than 4 weeks between SCMM and Auroville marathon. The recovery from SCMM was more mental than physical. It took me a full week to get out of depression and disappointment. On more than one occasion, thoughts of downgrading to a half marathon crossed my mind. The UK travel was hanging like the sword of Damocles threatening to prevent me from entering the race. The last thing that was on my mind was carb loading. The only training I did was to hare a Hash run the previous weekend with Shantanu and Prats, staying on my feet for nearly 8hours. I had no hopes of doing any better than 4:30hrs. But, with 3-4days to go, Athreya, my ‘running mate’ for most of this year, promised to pace me for a sub-4 finish. I agreed to stick with him for as long as I could, but it was more wishful thinking and prayer than practical.

Race day – 0-21.1km:
If you look at the graph above, you will see how close the timings were for the first 20km – 1:45hrs in SCMM and 1:47 in Auroville.

SCMM – 7am start
Having run the same course last year, I knew what to expect – both in terms of the route and the conditions. I borrowed Nitin’s Garmin once again this year and stuck to the average pace of 5:22min/km, having set the target finish time of 3:40hours.

Auroville – 5am start
I had to wake up as early as 3:30am to catch the taxi with Sriram and Ramya from French Villa in Pondi. It was a much smaller crowd than SCMM and still very dark when we assembled for the roll call. Among other things, the goodie bag contained (very thoughtfully) a torch to see our way for the first one hour during the run.
It was a winding and uneven trail, but mostly flat. Athreya and I started out at a steady pace. And with just a small two-dimensional circle of the torch light there were many moments when the ground was suddenly not where you expected it to be under your feet. It kept us slower than normal pace. And in between long pauses, Athreya told me about his marriage plans with Reena. It kept the mood upbeat. Suddenly, SCMM seemed like a thing of the past. By the time we completed one loop, 21k in 1:53hrs, Athreya was struggling to keep the pace (well, I thought he wanted to get rid of me to be able to run with Reena)

Race day – 21k to 38k
SCMM – Hitting the wall
I was running well, keeping a 5:40min/km pace. I had caught up with Prateek and was keeping company with one Roni from Finland for a few miles. It was then that Rachel overtook me, looking really strong. Rachel (who runs in Ooty) and I were on the same train from Mumabi. (Roni finished eventually in 3:49 a few minutes behind Rachel who finished in 3:40hrs). It was around the 22k mark that I began to slow down, somewhere near Shivaji Park. The virtual runner on the Garmin started to get ahead. I had taken nearly a full hour to run 9k - from 21 to 30k mark and I was struggling. I had hit the wall and was making all possible excuses to stop – to take endurolytes, at aid stations to nurse phantom, non-existent cramps & nature calls. I had finished 30k in 3hrs and was about 3k behind by then. My target was to finish atleast 33k in 3hrs and I was slowing, with little hopes of making up the lost time. And then I lost motivation to keep pace. I gave up and suddenly didn’t care about the finish time anymore. My Gramin stopped working at 33k and I failed to notice it till the 36k or so. My collar bone had started to hurt and my whole upper body felt weak, there was nothing wrong with my legs. But I had given up. I completed 38k in 4:10hrs with zero motivation to go on.

Auroville – Running through the wall
After the SCMM, my only target was try to run for as long as I could, if possible run right through the wall. (I have never really experience the wall as something prominent though, maybe that is what it is). I wanted to run for 33k atleast and then ease off the last few kms. By 22k, Athreya had dropped off and Deepak Mahasvade, who normally is ahead of me had caught up and was a few paces behind. I began to feel good enough to keep the pace going.

What happened then was magical. I started to see figures on my Garmin that I had only dreamt about - 30k in 2:45hrs, 32.5k in 3hrs, 35k in 3:16hrs. By this time, I was confident I had run through the wall, if ever there was one. I passed many half marathoners and stopped every time to tell me how this ‘other person’ was running, I still couldn’t believe that the ‘other person’ was me. Each time I looked at the Garmin, it was a personal best for me. The many volunteers starting from about the 30k mark egged me on shouting out that I was 5th, 6th overall, etc. I was so buoyant that I was asking how everyone else around me was feeling, getting surprised responses few volunteers at the last water station. It also helped that I had cut a lot of corners during the course of the run and had managed to save up a few hundred meters.

SCMM – The long last mile
As I turned into Marine drive, my Garmin had stopped working; I had no semblance of time. The sun was up and killing me, I was barely running. It was then that Sunil passed me, I tried to keep pace with him, but the distance only grew between us and I stopped yet again. But in a few mins, I passed him and we continued to do so nearly till the end. I was myself, stopping at all possible aid station and using the relaxants on those phantom cramps. But my upper body was giving up and I could feel my forearms cramp for real. Even with the finish line in sight, I was unable to motivate myself to try and shave off a few more secs, off the total. I was at such depths of my depression.

In the movie, Spirit of Marathon, one of the runners profiled Ryan says “You know it takes a certain level of training to hit that marathon and when you can’t do what you are used to doing it, it affects you mentally.”

I had reached a state of mind that was beyond numbers or targets. To me, I had run a terrible marathon and that was all that mattered.

Auroville – Magic, there is no last mile
As I ran the last few kms, I pictured the finish, a jubilant me running to my waiting friends – Raghu, Raji, Sriram, Ramya and Tima. Around the 38k, Ravi (Ravi had finished SCMM in 3:40) passed me and I managed to overtake a very tiring and severely cramping runner. I was happy that I had not started to cramp yet. I had taken lesser Endurolytes than normal which makes me wonder if taking too many salt tablets contribute to upsetting the salt-water balance. As I neared the finish, I was tempted to shoot for the sub-4 finish, but I had reached a state of mind that was beyond numbers or targets. To me I had run my best marathon and that was all that mattered.

… And the lessons
Enjoy running – there has been too much focus on time, pace and mileage, some where I have stopping looking for the joy in running
Back to drawing board – if I like to be faster I need to get back to those tempo 5-10k runs.
Lift some weights, get back some strength


Tanvir Kazmi said...

Thanks for putting up this post after a long time, it was indeed a good read with the step by step comparison. BTW, 4:50 in the Mumbai heat was still very good, you have to really see all the aspects to compare. I am sure with a little more restrained approach, you would have done even better in Mumbai.

Congratulations once again!

manoj said...

Point taken...I guess its also important to set target times with the conditions in mind too...
Auroville was also humid, but the 5am start time made the difference...