By Nisha Mirchandani
I love running. Period. There is a certain ecstasy with the wind gushing across your face, soaking in some beautiful landscapes and the world around you. It makes me feel one with Nature or the Divine, as you may call it. I always ran for recreation. No pace or distance being monitored. Just for the love of running. A sight of long distance runners on the beach with their bottles, gear, and toned bodies awed me and gave me a secret desire to be like that someday. That day arrived, and I would like to share my journey with you.
I ran my first 10k last year in 1 hour, 30 minutes. An achievement I was proud of, as I really didn’t practice. I enrolled for the race, on a whim, just to enjoy my Saturday. In 2014, when I saw advertisements for the same race, I signed up again. I completed the 10k this time in 1 hour, 40 minutes—ten minutes more than the last time.
It’s true that I had enough spare time last year to concentrate on running and swimming and other exercise, but this year, with a full time job, all I could manage was some walking during my lunch hour. So this was a wake-up call. Considering myself to be a healthy and fit person, I didn’t want to see a decline in my fitness.
My idea of running fitness was way different, as you’ll discover, from most people’s idea of race-ready fitness. I was living in a bubble and was not even close to the national average in terms of my running pace. Older people and women pushing strollers ran faster than me in the 10k! I decided I would run a marathon to prove a point to myself.
At this stage, I didn’t even know how long a marathon is. Somewhere in my head, I thought women ran a shorter distance than men in marathons. Haha! Vowing that I would get up at four o’clock the next morning to run, I slept with a new sense of inspiration.
But it was so cold the next day that I could barely make it to work on time, let alone go out running just because of some declaration I made to myself. This pattern continued for over a month. Until I started looking up races to get me back on track and realized that there was a marathon in my city less than two months away. There would be no other marathons nearby for another year. If I was going to run a marathon, it had to be this one.
So I downloaded an app that suggests music playlists for running. If I claim to enjoy running, I should be able to run without any external motivation, but when I went for a run with the app and music in tow, my speed improved drastically. Also, music helped me go the extra mile with more enthusiasm. I ran three miles in total and definitely felt back in the game! With this renewed energy, I became certain I could run a marathon and began researching training plans.
I knew this feat would require some intense training, and as expected, 16- and 18-week training plans showed up in my Google searches. With exactly 42 days to the marathon, I had to come up with a quick fix. I typed in “Can you run a marathon in a month?” To my surprise, there weren’t many responses for this search. One article however said, “Are you crazy? If you are, read on.” Wow. I had found the one crazy guy who had trained for a marathon in a month. I had a month plus two weeks advantage.
I now started reading up and learning more about this sport—technique, pacing, diet, gels, clothes, inspirational stories. Terms like ‘long run’ and ‘the wall’ and ‘taper’ and ‘carb-loading’ were added to my vocabulary. I started filling every ounce of my mind, body, and soul with this new goal and, as recommended, began to visualize the finish line.
I methodically followed the training plan (scroll to the end for the actual plan) and landed up running my first half marathon on day 15 of my training. The most I had run in preparation was seven miles. Based on my expected pace and last year’s results, I could be finishing last—unless something miraculous happened. I didn’t want the poor volunteers to be waiting up just for me, so I joined the walkers/ early starters section and ran the best I could. I made some friends along the way, got some expert advice from a senior citizen, had fun, got blisters, and experienced some new levels of pain.
This felt awesome. I was on a roll. I completed 13.1 miles in 3:15 according to my watch, but after more than three hours, the finish line was nowhere in sight. I was pretty certain that half a marathon was 13.1 miles so was confused to still be running. Finally, I saw a few volunteers and enquired about the finish line. To my “delight,” I had signed up for a 25k run, which was longer than half a marathon. I had to run three extra miles!
Those last three miles were probably the most difficult and grueling miles of my running career. I was in so much pain and in no way mentally or physically prepared for the added distance. My pace slowed drastically; people started to overtake me; and I was more or less alone. At one point, I was in tears wondering I hadn’t checked something as basic as the race length.
I could only concentrate on the next step and then the next. Eventually, there were police cars following me closely, waiting for me to cross the damn line, which I finally did—and with pride.
This was the first time in my life that I placed last. Just glad to be able to finish the race, though, I tried to remember that this was just a long practice run as per the plan. My eyes were set on the marathon.
I had not signed up for the marathon yet. I wanted to see how my body healed and recovered from the half marathon. Better be safe than sorry, I thought. All my pain and blisters vanished in a week, and I was ready to rock again.
Everything was working according to the plan. I felt the entire Universe conspiring to make this marathon happen for me. Still, I took the next week slow, and then ran/walked the 20 miles of my last long run the following week. I had now finished the whole 30-day training plan and had two more weeks to spare!
I finally registered right before the marathon’s online registration deadline, concentrated on some speed workout runs to improve my pace (which kept improving and pleasantly surprising me), and tapered for one week. All that was left to do was run on the designated day—race day.
With four days to go, I started carb-loading. I cooked enough pasta to feed an army and had it for the next few days. My stomach, being used to a high protein diet, started bloating. I switched to healthier carbs and continued the load. So far so good, I thought. Three days to go and I started feeling feverish. It hit me suddenly. Everything was going on so smoothly and now my body decides to menstruate. I can barely walk on those days. How will I run? After some research, I discovered that I’d actually feel more energetic once I actually got my period than I would a couple or few days prior to getting it. Maybe I was on a lucky streak!
One day to go. I went to the expo with my dear hubby after a carb-loaded breakfast downtown. He had been a sweetheart and encouraging from the very start. I joined a pace group (the slowest one), bought some more fancy gear—like a pouch, gels, and creams—and anxiously awaited the next day.
Follow the pace leader. That was the mantra. If I could just run with her, I would finish the race in 5 hours, 30 minutes. I walked, jogged, ran, and had fun with all the excitement around—listening to the bands, even eating king cake on the go! Like a rubber band, I kept up with my pace leader for seven miles. Things were going well.
One visit to the restroom and I lost sight of my pace leader. I spent the next six miles trying to catch up desperately. I had to get back to the plan.
With majority of the participants running the half marathon, I was almost left alone when I turned left onto the course for the full marathon. However, after a few minutes I saw more runners and even waved at my pace leader who was less than a mile away and more or less running alone. I thought I could catch up and finish in good time.
Mile 14. My legs were really hurting now. My heart was doing great, though. If only I got a new set of legs, I would be perfect, I thought. I rubbed on some pain relieving lotion, took some meds from the station, and tried to keep going. I was certain I could finish the race if I walked, but then I would be nowhere close to my anticipated finish time. I was tired and had no motivation.
Then out of nowhere, I heard one a runner from my pace group shout. I knew her to be the lady on her 45th marathon. She motivated me and literally got me back on track. “Save your legs,” she said. “You will need them later. Run, walk, run. Steady and you will get there.”
That’s exactly what I did. The last few yards were the fastest I had ever run, and all smiles, I finished my very first marathon in 6 hours, 11 minutes!
Something other than my muscle structure and toe color has changed. The pride and joy that I feel in my heart from going above and beyond my own physical and mental capability is what I will cherish (along with my medal) forever!
42- Day Marathon Training Plan
r= rest day / walk
cr= cross train
Day – Miles
Day 1- 3
Day 2- 2.3
Day 3- 4
Day 4- 2r
Day 5- 2r
Day 6- cr
Day 7- 7
Day 8 – 5
Day 9 – r
Day 10- 2r
Day 11- 4
Day 12- 4
Day 13- 4r
Day 14- 2r
Wk2 = 21
Day 16- r
Day 17- r
Day 18- 2r
Day 19- 2
Day 20- 2r
Day 21- 11
Day 22- 5
Day 23- r
Day 24- 4
Day 25- r
Day 26- 3
Day 27- 1r
Day 28- 20
Day 29- r
Day 30- 2r
Day 31- r
Day 32- 4
Day 33- r
Day 34- r
Day 35- 8
Day 36- r
Day 37- 3
Day 38- r
Day 39- 3
Day 40- 2r
Day 41- 2r
Day 42- M