I was standing taking support of a dustbin place nearby when a person asked me “Which part of your body is aching?” I smiled wryly and the smile answered his question- My whole body was in pain, where should I point out? This is how I define the experience of finishing a marathon: Pangs in your stomach and cramps in your leg muscles, all swill down when you cross that finish line and all that suffering is shrouded by joy of achieving the feat of crossing a long distance of more than 42 kilometers.
I call is a great learning experience because now I know what all phenomenon you feel inside when you go to such extremes. I read a lot about hitting the wall at around 30km after exhausting glycogen reserves and other problems faced by long distance runners but nothing comes closer to actually facing the phenomenon. This makes Marathon and a half Marathon a totally different game altogether.
I had run my first half marathon in September 2012. The plan that I followed for that was just to follow my instincts without looking at any clock or timing device and that worked well for me. So I used the same plan for my full marathon as well. This time my instincts were too animal and I was averaging less than 5 min/km for first 21 km. I had some water in between and one tetra-pack of energy during during that stretch. After reaching midway I thought of slowing down and conserving my energy so that I could avoid ‘the wall phenomenon’ in the next half. I was feeling that my legs were getting heavier and there was some sort of churning that was going on inside my abdomen. So slowing down was partly conscious and partly subconscious. I tried to re-energize myself by drinking some more water and some energy drink but they were of no use. As distance was increasing my speed was getting slower. Finally at around 38 km mark my right leg almost jammed. I could feel what cramping during the run is all about. I almost felt that my dream of finishing a marathon is all over. I started walking instead of running and reached a medical station nearby. I had some spray in my hamstring and calves. I came out and tried to run and discovered that I was able to run again. But this time I was quite conservative about speeding up. I just wanted to finish the race. Elite runners from Africa passed by me but I was too enervated to get inspired by them and pick up pace. Slowly I crossed the 40 km mark. I could hear the music at and around the finish line. People were shouting you are almost done – just two km more. I was searching for my wife’s voice in the din thinking that it is something that can again put some energy in my already exhausted body but she was conspicuous by her absence. Somehow I crossed 1000 m, 500 m, 100 m and then put my feet on the mat placed at finish line. Seems like my wife also missed being present in the cheering arena near finish line as my phone started ringing as soon as I finished ‘THE MARATHON’. I was too exhausted to put my hands in pocket to pick up her call. I searched for a seating place in the shade and in the meantime I got 3 missed calls. Finally I found a place in the shade, relaxed a bit and harnessed some energy to call back. On that call she told me that it was almost 4 hours since the race started and thus she thought I would have finished it up as I was aiming at that timing. Well that was a morale booster as well as a warning signal (Think thousand times before telling your expected finish time to your wife).
There are many things that I need to take care of before running my next marathon and couple of them are as follows:
1) Have at least 2 runs of around 25 to 30 km at your marathon pace. I did one but that was at a slower pace.
2) It is always better to have a strategy for a marathon than to follow your instincts. You should keep a check on your pace and nutrient and water supply.
No matter how much you read but nothing matches the experience of actually running a marathon. So decide, prepare and run one.