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My running journey so far

By Arvind Pandey
Published in Running
August 09, 2020
8 min read

The fool didn’t know it was impossible, so he did it.

My running journey started with an impulse of running a marathon in 2013. In July I registered for a 42.2 km race at the Hyderabad Marathon. The race was scheduled for 25 August 2013. I had never run any other official event, even 5km or 10km and I had almost zero training when I registered for the event. Hardly a month left to prepare for the run. I did a few runs within a limited time and the maximum distance that I ran as part of my training was 15 km. With this little training, I was at the start line on August 25th. It was a disaster.

Experience of my first marathon:

The race was planned to start at 5:00 am from Necklace road. I reached the venue at 4:00 am, you know the excitement. The atmosphere was quite eclectic. There were almost 4000 runners combined for the half marathon and full marathon. The majority of them were half marathon runners, few either trained runners or few stupid like me who opted for 42.2 km race and that number was less than 15% of total crowd present there.

Did not know this during my first run but the chemical inside the body called ‘Adrenaline’ was at his work. Do read about Adrenaline Rush by a quick search in google. I was pumped up with more energy than I can sustain for a longer time. As start time was approaching, my heart was beating faster than usual, I can feel that without any instrument, today we have smartwatches for measuring that. The warm-up session kicked off at 4:30 am. Some stretches and Zumba continued for the next 15 minutes, I was participating in the warm-up quite religiously as if I was following some manual and I should not miss any step otherwise I might encounter some error later. You know what I’m talking about. At 4:50 am, the crowd started moving towards the start line. Race director does a briefing about the race and race route, again this was my first marathon so I was all ears and I cannot take the risk of missing any manual (This is what I thought). But frankly, none of that mattered in my race. Will talk about that in the coming section. At sharp 5:00 am, the race started.

First 10 km - The Adrenaline Rush:

As I mentioned earlier, Adrenaline Rush was at work, I was pumped up with more energy than usual. In the beginning, I was running as if I would finish the race in just the next 3 - 4 hours. I was running so smoothly as if this race was going to be a cakewalk for me, little I knew I would be proven wrong soon. When I finished my 10 km lap, my average speed was around 9.5 km/hr. I would say quite impressive for someone who has less than a month of training and running his 1st marathon.

Next 10 - 20 kms - Realization:

The first 10 km was a quite good run. I wanted to maintain the same speed but I had very little clue about the race route. The first 10 km was a loop around Hussain Sagar Lake and it was a flat surface, and the next 10 km was an uphill route. When I reached the 19th km, near KBR park, I was very tired. This was the first realization that the race is going to be tough. I started to think I had made a mistake by choosing the 42.2 km race. My speed got reduced. My average speed came down to around 8 km/hr.

Next 20 - 30 km - Sanity:

In the last stretch itself, it became quite clear that I had made a mistake in choosing this much long race. But I hadn’t lost hope yet. I became quite economical with my speed. I started running and walking. I was running for 500-600 meters followed by walking for the next 300-400 meters. This strategy was followed by 30 km. It was not that I planned this and the fact is I had no plan at all. I just reached the start line and the only plan I had was to just run. But the marathon does not work like that. You can’t just run. By the end of the 30th km, my average speed had reduced to 7.5 km.

Next 30 - 42 km - The Hell:

This stretch was most painful for me. Whatever mistakes I had made in the last 30 km was going to come and haunt me. And before that, the first and foremost mistake was not having enough training. 2nd was running faster at the beginning. 3rd was not maintaining the electrolyte balance in the body. The electrolyte helps to regulate the heart and neurological function. At the time writing this I knew all these things but I didn’t know while running in 2013.

Coming back to the race, I was continuing the walk-run strategy, and then suddenly I got muscle cramp in my right leg at 32nd km and I collapsed on the ground. I sat beside the road and felt very helpless. I thought my race was over and what fun I had made of myself. My friends were waiting at the finish line for me. Just the thought of not finishing the race was horrible. Then 2 official volunteers on a bike were passing by, they saw that I was sitting on the ground. They were from the medical team deployed for runners. They asked me if I had any problem. I told them that I can’t run anymore. From the outside, I could see the nerve in my leg expanding and contracting, later I learned it was due to electrolyte imbalance. They sprayed some pain reliever and gave massage to my leg and made me stand again on my leg. While leaving they gave me advice and I can clearly remember the words. “Do not run, just walk”.

By this time, I had already exhausted a little more than 4 hours. The cut-off time to finish the race was 6:30 hours. I started doing brisk walks. I was monitoring my time for each km and I found with the brisk walk, I was able to finish 1 km in 10 minutes. I did the math, the remaining 12 km, I could finish in 2 hours. Mathematically, I already finished the race within cutoff time, but practically I needed to keep on moving. No run, just walk.

Race officials have placed so many volunteers for the last stretch to motivate the runners. They were clapping, singing, offering water, juices, and whatnot. But for me, nothing helped. I wanted to reach the finish line very badly. By this time my friends waiting at the finish line had lost hope. I got a call from them when I was at 38th km. I almost reached the finish line then just before entering the stadium I thought it’s just 200 meters remaining, I’m going to run. I wanted to finish strong. But the moment I picked up my leg to run, I got muscle cramps in both of my legs and I collapsed again. I have not entered the stadium yet, otherwise, my friends could see me and they can come and help me to reach the finish line. They were inside the stadium. I was lying on the ground. I had my cell phone but I lost cognitive ability to call them. By this time I have lost lots of electrolytes in the form of sweat. And that affected the brain’s normal functioning. My decision-making capacity was almost none. I was on the ground for a few more minutes then one fellow runner who completed the race came to me. He helped me to stretch my leg so that I could get up again. He repeated the same word - “No run just walk and finish the race”. The moment I entered the stadium, my friends could see me and they were damn excited. They came running to me and wanted to run the last 100 meters with me. All shouting “Arvind, Arvind, Arvind” and clapping. Like everything that could help me to cheer me up and finish strong. But I just kept walking and finished the race. The clock reads 6:22 hours.

Journey ahead:

It was a devastating experience running 42.2 km without training but my fear of running 42.2 km was gone. I was not the same person anymore. My attitude towards the problem has changed. I started seeing opportunities in adversity. I decided to continue running in the future as well. But I had no clue how to become a good runner. I joined Hyderabad Runners thinking it will help me to become better at running. It did help but not much. I ran my next 42.2 km in 2014 again. This time I had a bit of training but again it was not sufficient for the full marathon. I just focused on NOT repeating the same mistake that I did in the 2013 race. I was quite mindful in the first 20 kms. I didn’t run faster than my planned speed. I kept myself hydrated. I didn’t get any muscle cramps during the race. This time when I crossed the finish line, I was running. I completed it in 6:14 minutes. If you see timewise not much improvement but if you see experience and comfort wise it was a better race. But deep down I knew there is a lot to improve still.

Getting the things together:

The Hyderabad Marathon 2015 was the next in my list. Between 2014 and 2015, I did run a few half marathons in Coimbatore, Chennai, Delhi but it was just for fun. My main focus was the full marathon in August - 2015.

The Training - 16 weeks:

When I was running half marathons in between 2014 - 2015, I came across many good and some great runners. I made friends with a few of them. I learned about marathon training and how to prepare for that. The typical training duration required for a marathon was 16 weeks. The below image shows how a typical training plan looks like. This is just for 8 weeks but you get the idea.

plan
plan

Each week consists of 3 runs along with a few cross-training. Out of those 3 runs, one run is called interval training. 2nd is called tempo run. And 3rd is the long run. Each run has a different purpose in the training. Cross-training is included to help in strengthening the core muscles. Rest day is included to avoid any burnout.

Execution:

The challenge was not the training itself, rather each morning getting the first leg out of the door. So, we decided to do the training in a group so that we can push each other. It also helped in keeping us motivated. We decided that everybody will share their weekly plan at the beginning of the week. And then within a week, each day we have to report the progress in the Whatsapp group. Below is one of my training plans for a week in June.

execution
execution

Note that everybody has different training plans depending on the target finish time for the marathon. It also depends on your current fitness level and your experience of running etc.

Diet and Sleep:

For the diet, we focused less on what to eat, we focused more on what not to eat. We avoided sugar, processed drinks, and food like pizza, burger, coke, etc. I’m a pure vegetarian and I did not take any food supplements other than eating the right thing. We had the rule to sleep strictly on or before 11 pm. Good sleep is a key component of any athletic training.

Race day:

This was the first race after proper training. On the race day, the main focus was on sticking with the plan, controlling the adrenaline rush, and keeping well hydrated. Below is the race report. My pace was quite consistent. I finished the race in 4:29 hours. The time got reduced by almost 2 hours.

result
result

Journey Afterwards:

After the training, I ran many marathons and improved my timings further in full marathon, half marathon, and 10 km category. Below is the summary of my races:

  1. Total 23 marathons - (Including half, full and ultramarathons)
  2. The maximum distance I have run is 55 kms in Leh-Ladakh - 2015
  3. My best time in 42.2 km is 4:22 hours in Mumbai - 2017
  4. My best time in 21.1 km is 1:41 hours in Bengaluru - 2016
  5. My best time in 10 km is 43 minutes in Hyderabad - 2017 - winner of 10 k run at Oracle

I don’t claim to be an expert at running. Learning is a lifelong process. I’m still learning from my mistakes. Each race is a new race for me. I still get the adrenaline rush at the beginning but I have become good at managing it. It still hurts after 32 km in a 42.2 km race but I have learned that everybody is going through the same hell, the mantra is to keep going. And in the end, the biggest lesson I learned from running a marathon is that “life is full of ups and downs, you just have to keep going”.


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