A veggie on the run | My first half marathon
As I sip on my glass of red wine (at last!), I can’t stop thinking about my experience at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon last Sunday, my first half marathon! For those who have run a full marathon, perhaps you vaguely remember the huge sense of achievement you felt when you were half way there. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to the real deal, but for me this was a huge milestone.
When I first started my training back in September, 21K was a goal that seemed so unrealistic as I could barely run 3K at a time. Even though I’d completed my first 10K in January 2014, I hadn’t trained all year and was pretty much back to zero. That’s the thing about running, you train so hard and finally achieve the distance, but once you take a couple of weeks off, its back to square one.
I began alternating between 2 minutes of jogging and 1 minute of walking, which was just about manageable for 4K. I kept at it with 2-3 runs a week and gradually increased the distance over the next few weeks, though initially, my improvement was pretty slow. By October, I could only run about 6K at a stretch, which was when it hit me that I needed to pick up the pace significantly. To give myself a realistic goal, I signed up for the 10K Dubai Holding Women’s run in early November. I pushed myself to run the full 10K, a real challenge at the time but still nowhere near where I needed to be.
Veggie Food for thought:
December was a very socially demanding, and extremely difficult month, but I slowly increased the distances: 12, 14, 17K... I started to do 3-4 runs a week: a progressively longer one, an interval run, and 1-2 short speed runs. The longer distances meant a much larger time commitment as well, so at times I had to sacrifice a Friday night dinner with friends and instead go for a 2 hour run. Some of them didn’t quite understand this, but naturally the supportive ones stuck with me.
It also meant I had to think about my diet a little more, which frankly, I didn’t change much:
I introduced a carb-loaded snack at about 5pm on the day of evening runs. This provided the ideal amount of energy for a 7:30pm run – eating just over 2 hours before was a suitable time for me to avoid stomach cramping. This gap varies from runner to runner – some are even ok eating as close as 1 hour prior to their run.
The rest of my meals were pretty much the same and included some home-cooked traditional Indian meals, consisting of a lot of lentils, rice and vegetables. I also definitely took advantage of the fact that I was burning a lot more, and indulged in more restaurant visits and of course extra desserts, all guilt free.
For the last few weeks I followed a strict ovo vegetarian diet and completely eliminated milk products. I found that this reduced congestion and helped me breath better. It also meant lots of peanut butter and jelly on toast! I normally eat 3 egg whites for breakfast prepared as egg-white bhurji (Indian Scrambled Eggs) and continued doing so.
In anticipation of race day
Fast forward to my arrival in Mumbai on the Friday evening before race day (Sunday). Having tried my level best to train my body to wake up early the previous week, I hadn’t really succeeded. My cousin (who was running the full marathon) and I decided to go for a 6am drive through the route we’d be running to get ourselves pumped and awake early. We did a final stretch at the gym and went about our respective days. I tried to get to bed early, but just my luck, a Saturday night drumming session was underway in the apartment above me.
Race day – let’s get this show on the road!
So now for the fun part, Race Day. I’m up at exactly 3:15am so I can fit in a big breakfast before reporting to the start line at 5:15am. It’s a warm and muggy morning, and as I’m doing last minute stretches I have the classic, “damn I wish I had trained more” regret. I don’t feel well rested and am not used to morning runs. Having trained in Dubai on a flat rubberized track, this is my first actual Mumbai run. My lack of experience coupled with the long uphill Peddar Road stretch means all odds are against me. What am I doing, I’m supposed to be gearing up for this - mind over matter remember? I need to think positive. I can do this!
At 6am sharp we are off and boy, I’m not as mentally prepared as I should be! I look up at the sea link and notice its structural magnificence in the beautiful dawn light – taking a mental picture, I feel lifted and that’s when I start to gear up. After the sea link is when the real fun begins. I’ve never seen the city this awake at 6:30am. Crowds of spectators are cheering from every angle. There’s so much positive energy in the air, which is definitely rubbing off on me. People from all over Mumbai are cheering and holding signs. Grannies, “Aunties”, “Uncles” and even little kids are handing out glucose biscuits, orange slices, chocolate bars, energy drinks, granola bars and candy, etc. We do a little loop in Lower Parel and head back to Whorli sea face, where we briefly run past the full marathon runners heading in the opposite direction. In my excitement I stick my hand out, and my high five is returned by an enthusiastic 42K runner. At this point I see my cousin run by, which gets me even more pumped.
Zero to hero
Soon we’re at Haji Ali and the dreaded Peddar road slope is approaching. I brace myself for the tough stretch. Right before the incline, loud cheering from the crowds outside the Ashoka Apartments definitely helps. I struggle up the hill, realizing that I’ll see another cousin with my much-needed bottle of Gatorade at the end of the slope, so I focus on that. Once there, I just about manage a smile and a thank you – I am exhausted, but carry on and make it to Marine Drive. I’ve passed the 16K mark and very tempted to walk for a short stretch, as it’s becoming a real struggle to continue. My legs are starting to cramp, my shoulders are stiff and this feels much harder and longer than I expected. I negotiate with myself in my head and decide that I have no choice but to run through the pain or else I will probably regret it for the rest of my life. At this point I’m convinced that I’m never doing this again, so this is the only chance I’ve got. When I get to 20K my mind tells me to speed up a little but its just not physically possible. I literally limp run the last 800m. Hats off to you full marathoners!
Mumbai, you rock! I couldn’t have done it without you.
I’m overjoyed at the finish line and eagerly high five a random stranger again, which is returned with a little less enthusiasm! My time is 2:29, a little slower than I had hoped but nevertheless I’m thrilled to have made it through.
Ten minutes later I’m still limping, but couldn’t be happier. Definitely one of my proudest moments ever, and that’s when I realize – I am definitely doing this again.
A big thank you to the sponsors and organizers for making it an unforgettable experience!
Sumati MendaSumati Menda
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