Sunday, 6 November 2011

Marathon with a Cause

This is the final of this blog series about the marathon campaign. I have taken exactly a week to put my thoughts together.

We come across only a few opportunities in life to make a real difference in our own and others’ lives. Most of the times we fall short to notice such chances. At others these opportunities slip away because we are too busy with life. Taking a step back and reflecting on our actions may allow us to identify such occasions and to celebrate them.

Early this year I asked myself three simple questions - “What am I doing? What have I become? Where am I going?” After a lot of soul searching I figured out I had so far been extremely busy chasing my own dreams. The realisation of this narcissism struck me with a very bad sense of self-inadequacy. I had to find the cure to this newly diagnosed ailment that was feeding on my sanity inside out. 

The salvation came through an unusual source – running. Early this year I decided to run in Auckland Marathon in October. However, something was still missing from the equation as I was once again chasing something to satisfy myself. The puzzle fell into the right places only when I realised the opportunity to contribute to the noble work of Help Nepal Network. Never in my imaginations had it occurred me that the combination of running and charity would take me to such a wonderful journey. Impression of which, I am sure, will last long.

Charitable Souls
Fascinating things happened during the past seven months only because some outstanding people came on board this voyage. Raising fund for Help Nepal Network gave me so much more than I did for it. I re-connected with friends and families I have lost contact for a long time. It introduced me to many wonderful people otherwise I would have not known. The humility to witness the big heart of so many individuals was humbling beyond comprehension. These wonderful people not only financially contributed to the charity but also made the whole experience richer with their generosity, kindness and compassion.

Without much experience about working for charities, the fund-raising task was challenging. This part of the campaign started one morning in the April when I tinkered with the Google Sites to set up a web site. After spending good 6 hours the web site was up and running ready to collect donations from anywhere from the world. One of the hardest parts was asking for financial commitment when I was not giving anything in return. The generosity of so many people proves that it was, however, not an issue for many. Many donors told me that they were glad to be part of a good cause such as supporting Help Nepal Network. So far the donations from this campaign has reached about one hundred thousand Nepali Rupees.

Looking back to this campaign, I am glad that I did things differently this time. I did something more than merely indulging in satisfying my ego. It is humbling to realise that the donations will be used for some noble deed such as fixing a roof of a classroom, buying books for a school or running an eye-camp in a remote village. I am grateful for the opportunity this campaign provided me to be a bridge to connect those needing help and the ones willing to offer them.

The Bumpy Road to Starting Line 
The journey began in April this year with my decision to run the marathon. The race and the seven months leading to it several times tested me both physically and mentally. Being my first marathon and an amateur runner, I had two simple goals. Firstly to get to the starting line fit and healthy, and secondly to complete the event.

Both of the above goals were achieved. As expected they, of course, involved many challenges. The biggest test of my resilience occurred about seven weeks from the race day. Mid September a nasty flu and subsequent complications soon developed into a full blown acute bronchitis. I not only coughed until the ribs were soar but the fever and fatigue also forced me to halt weeks of crucial training sessions. 

We do not know our strengths until we push the boundaries. An endurance event such as a marathon is equally a mental challenge as much as it is a test of our running abilities. The spirit of endurance sports, like the marathon, is in trying to achieve what is normally impossible and pushing our boundaries. The following from the website of Auckland Marathon nicely sums it up – “We get few opportunities in our lives to really push ourselves ... where we challenge ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. A running event or race is not a sport that most of us enter to win. It’s an experience we commit to so we can push ourselves beyond our normal boundaries."

My doctor ruled out any possibility of my running the marathon. According to him, if I stressed my body chances of reoccurrence of the virus or even developing pneumonia was high. This news was shattering. I was disappointed with the prospect of not being able to run the race. I did not loose hope, however. Neither did I sit back and give up. I was eagerly waiting to get better to run again. I was aware that running too soon might further complicate my illness. With a great dilemma, after only a few weeks from the infection, I ran a half marathon on 9th of October, still sniffing and coughing. The result of this race proved to be the game changer. The course time was faster than I had anticipated. It was the much needed confidence booster that on the race day few weeks later I could attempt to run twice the distance.

October 30, race day, I got up before 4AM and headed towards the starting line.

The race started at 6AM. As the course unfolded a series of events tested me once again both physically and mentally. I was doing well until 21km. The remaining half of the course was flat but the difficulty after each km climbed sharply. The race stat says it all – it took me 30 minutes more to complete the second half. At 25 km my legs started to show signs of tiredness. At 30km, it got very difficult. At 35km, I was shattered and it seemed impossible to complete the course.

When exhausted, even the simplest bodily tasks become the hardest. My only job was to lift a feet and put it in front of the other. However, after 35km of running that simple humanly task turned to be the toughest. At this point of the course, it was more a mental battle rather than the physical challenge of taking that next step. I somehow managed to win the mental battle as I chased the 40 km milestone. At 40 km my mind decided to step aside and allow me to draw from the sap left in my system. I started to pick up the pace.

My brain would, however, try to knock me off one more time. It threw the last dice almost at the end of the course at 41Km. I felt a twitch on my left calf. It was an alarm that it was time for a cramp. Things almost came to a grinding halt. I said to myself, “not now! Not now, please!!” The sight of landing hard on the road due to the cramp, less than1km from the finish line, was unfolding in front of me like a movie. To my great relief that scene didn’t occur in real life. It was so close to hallucination. Instead, my head listened to my command. I still can’t believe what happened there then at that instant. Simply amazing! Unbelievable. After this pact between my mind and body I then saw people. Many. Cheering, clapping and encouraging. With the finish line at sight I gave it all to propel myself as hard as I could towards the final gate. The last dash towards glory was full of the sweet taste of victory after the painful hours of hard work.

I lifted my hand and looked to the sky as I crossed the finish line, and got qualified to join the Marathon Club.

Lastly, the three questions I asked in the beginning. What am I doing? – I am doing things differently now. What have I become? – I have now realised pursuing selfish agenda alone is pathological; it is a bottomless crevasse.  Where am I going? – This is only a beginning; I am now encouraged to run farther; more importantly – to be useful to the humanity – to make a difference.

Acknowledgements and Dedication
I am indebted to Help Nepal Network for providing me the platform to organise this campaign. I am grateful to all the donors who opened their heart and wallet for my plea. I would not have completed the marathon without the valuable guidance from many experienced runners.

Last but not least, this campaign would not have seen the light of the day had it not been for the love and strength I drew from my young family. My wife completed the last paper of her post-grad on Saturday; the race was on Sunday. We both work full time and are parents to a beautiful 18 months toddler, Riya. This campaign is for my daughter. One day she will look back at this journey and say, “I am proud of him. He is my father”.
Thank you to all of you who followed my blogs. I hope you found them a good read. A few related links below:
The campaign website
Photos from the race day
Motion video against the leader and the last runner

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Countdown Begins ...

Tomorrow at 6:10 AM the race begins...

Got my race pack yesterday. All gears are lined-up for tomorrow - t-shirt, shorts, shoe, socks and so on. I am wearing a red t-shirt and blue shorts to resemble colors with Nepali flag. iPod has been recharged with chosen playlist for the day. 

Having mixed feeling of excitement, self-doubt and confidence. I feel ready to run!
Signing out with the following lines from Event Information from Adidas Auckland Marathon website:

"We get few opportunities in our lives to really push ourselves ... where we challenge ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. A running event or race is not a sport that most of us enter to win. It’s an experience we commit to so we can push ourselves beyond our normal boundaries  - no matter whether this is your first or tenth event, that challenge is the same."

Monday, 10 October 2011

Half Marathon on road to recovery

When your target is 42 km, half marathon becomes so easy!

After the trial run of 29 mins on 28 Sep my next training run was an hour on 3 Oct. Ran Waitakere Half Marathon on 9 Oct at 2:08, occasionally coughing and sniffing.

My system is still on recovery mode after the cold and chest infection. I'm still operating on sub 100% mode. Should I risk my health running while still recovering? Should I be running at all? Questions like this keep popping in my head. I just can't sit back and wait. I had to run that 21K on 9 Oct for confidence, and to test my level of fitness if I am to run the marathon on 30 Oct. I am pleased with the half marathon result. I was running at easy pace;  didn't want to exhaust myself after not running for a few weeks.

This mental battle with sickness has now turned out to be another marathon I'm having to deal with. As I said in my last post - am I taking a calculated risk or am I being dumb by deciding to run despite my sickness? The answer is - I don't know. Time will tell. I shall find out by Oct 30. Until then, I will keep running.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Back on the Road Again!

After 2 long arduous sick weeks, I ran 29 mins this evening. I feel good. I am ready to run again.

How did I feel not being able to run since 13 Sep? - Crap beyond words!

I spent my lonely days in sickbed doing a lot of soul-searching about the first marathon of my life that was fast slipping away from my grip. The flu I had in the first week turned into a full blown bronchitis by second week. I coughed until my ribs got sore; I have taken tons of pills by now including two different antibiotics. By 20 Sep, I had started to realise the unfolding in front of me of the unthinkable - not being able to run my race. The very thought of it was gut wrenching; the guilt of letting down my charity and supporters was nauseating.

I not only missed important training session in the last two weeks between Sep 13 and 27 but also lost my peaking (running the maximum distance) and tapering (gradually reducing running distance) plans. The plan was of peaking on the first week of October, run half-marathon on 2nd week, then gradually taper over the remaining 3 weeks leading to the run on Oct 30. Instead, I am now having to frantically assess my options. At one hand, I have the option of completely giving up the event and nursing my lungs bruised and bled from the nasty bronchitis. On the other hand, I could complete the race by hook or by crook. Either of this is still a reality. I have a feeling or I should say I wish I would end up doing something in between.

The bugs took me down but I refused to give up hope. They haven't killed me means I must have come out stronger. During the sick weeks, I kept thinking "I am going to give running a go as soon as I recover". I was reading about running with sickness and after chest infection. What I read were not encouraging. They mainly said if you run soon after a chest infection, you go down for long. My doctor had completely ruled out my chance of running the race. However, here I am - on my feet again and running. Is this going to be a decision based on calculated risk or a big mistake? Time will tell in a few days.

By the way, I haven't yet given up my plan to run a half-marathon on Oct 9 as part of the marathon training.

Runs (mins) I wished I did not miss:
Sep 13-18: Wed 80, Fri 40, Sun 215
Sep 19-25: Mon 30, Wed 60, Fri 30, Sun 170
Sep 26-28: Mon 30, Wed 90

I will sorely miss my longest planned training run of 4 hr this Sunday. I don't want to risk it all by making the silly mistake of still going for it. Instead, I'm now thinking of running 3+hr on Oct 16. Will see. I'll first have to wait to find how my lungs and still-on-antibiotic system reacts to my run today. One step at a time!


Monday, 19 September 2011

Good News Bad News

Good News first. Fund raise now has crossed the $ 1k milestone. Looking forward to more contribution in the final weeks.

Now the dreadful news. I have been sick since last week. Had a viral infection (kind of cold) early in the week. Now the bacteria have also joined in and are feasting on my respiratory system. I have got no idea when I will be fit again to run. I am hoping to hit the road next week. If there was ever a wrong time to be sick, it was the month of September and here we go. Murphy's law in action there, I guess. I also have got no clue how missing training for 2 weeks at this crucial stage is going to effect my run.

Despite this set-back, I am positive. I will flush these bugs out of my system. And I will be back!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Distance is afterall... relative!

Runs (mins) for the last two weeks:
Aug 29-Sep 4: Mon 30, Wed 70, Sat 37, Sun 190
Sep 5-11: Mon 23, Wed 30, Friday (30) and Sunday (150) runs missed :(

I find it interesting that when I was training for a Half Marathon event, my training runs of 80 mins felt so long. For my marathon training, I'm now already running distances longer than 21km. I have ran up to 27km, which did not feel onerously long. After all, measure of distance is all relative, isn't it?

An hour's run now seems like a warm up. However, 3 hrs feels real long. Up to 2 hr feels OK. Beyond 2 hr I start to loose concentration. I have to keep reminding myself to concentrate and to keep my focus. I often repeat to myself, "focus, focus, focus". It is amazing how once you negotiate the negative thoughts in your head, rest of your body parts, such as your legs, quite gladly help you despite their fatigue. 

I am finding it hard to keep my earlier promise of updating this blog weekly. I am now on a target of writing fortnightly.

Target run (mins) for the week of Sept 12-18: Mon 30, Wed 80, Fri 40, Sun 215

Monday, 29 August 2011

Pumping up the training volume

Training runs in mins for the last two weeks:
Aug  15-21: Mon 31, Wed 60, Fri 45, Sun 181
Aug 22-28: Tue 29, Wed 46, Sat 30, Sun 135

Target for this week: Mon 30 (ran today), Wed 70, Fri 40, Sun 190

4 runs a week, three week in a row - not too bad!

I must apologise for not blogging last week. As you saw, I was busy running!

Ran about 27 km in the 3 hr run of Aug 21st. That was a great mental boost. If I can run 3hr, I think I can run 42km. I was wasted but I recovered really well the next day. Funny enough I seem to get more exhausted now after my shorter runs during weekdays. 

September is the month. My training volume will peak this month until I run 4 hr on 2nd Oct. I will then gradually taper until the race day!

I had a mildly soar shin after the Sunday (28th Aug) run of 2hr 15 min (20km) this week. This morning (Monday) it was the worst. I was feeling better as the day progressed. Maybe the distraction at work. It was almost gone after I went out for a short easy run in the evening. I hope the soar shin is noting serious. I can only guess and hope for better.

If you are keen, here are the training course of the Sunday runs from last two week.