Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Final Act.

"The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals." ~Hal Higdon

Wow.....it's been more than 3 weeks since I ran and finished the marathon. This post has been long overdue. For a week after the marathon, I was recovering and had so much work in the lab that I was in no position to write. And after that, although the body had fully recovered, the workload would leave me physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day. Weekends were also mostly spent in the lab, excluding one in which I resorted to retail therapy.  But now, I myself have this itch to write this up before I start to forget small details. It will also be a nice way to end this journey I started on the blog.

The weather was close to perfect. A nice, crisp and chilly morning. Temps reached mid to upper 60s during the day. It was also a very clear day.
Amol captured this while we were making our way to the start line. 
 We were all so excited and nervous. I personally was very very nervous. I knew how poor my training had been in the last month and was very anxious at the start. But the buzz and the excitement around me was very very contagious.

Cold, scared, nervous.......(wow....look at that characteristic Mandlik double chin!)

Part of the team at the MCC tent. All geared up and ready to go........
He has been a huge part of my accomplishment!

The atmosphere at the start line was even more charged up! This was my first experience of something like this. It was awesome. The scale and the magnitude of the marathon was overwhelming. There were some 30,000 runners.

Gun Time
and...everyone was off!

The start line.
The first 6 miles comprised of some real steep hills. They were really steep, but I was glad they were at the start of the race rather than at the end. The excitement, the crowd, the cheering and the fervor were so great, that I almost did not feel those hills. Almost....because...I did feel them later.....when my whole body was sore and screaming :(

The first 10 miles were the best I had ever run. I enjoyed every bit of it. All the festivities, all the costumes for Halloween, all the crowd cheer and the smile on the fellow runners faces. Passing through Georgetown will truly remain a very memorable experience. The music, the dancers, the cheerful crowd.....it was so much fun. 

At mile 11, I saw Amol. Was just so happy to see a familiar face. I had lost SK and Ketki at around mile 5 and then at around mile 7, I met Nalin. After that I was all alone. So seeing Amol at mile 11, felt so so good.
Amol captured this at mile 11. I love this headband. 

After mile 11.....it was all downhill from there. Downhill as in not a decline in the course, but a decline in my stamina. Mile 12 to mile 13 was the worst part of the race for me. I was running alone amidst a crowd of people. I felt lonely and tired. This portion of the course also had the least number of cheering support. It was mentally exhausting.....I saw the 5:30 pace group behind me and I thought that I should run with them from that point. But starting out fast was now taking its toll on me......I could not keep up with that pace group. I was drained out completely. 

And then at mile 13 finally, the cheers reappeared....it was a big milestone! We were halfway there. All the runners would shout out in joy when they crossed the 13-mile mark. I was happy to be halfway done.....but also knew that the second half was going to be hell. Mile 13 to mile 16 was also awful......I lost the 5:30 pace group and the rest all seems like a blur to me now. I encountered a few Asha runners from other chapters.....all we could do was try and smile through the obvious anguish. At mile 16, I spotted Jaya and Amol waiting for us. Jaya was cheering at the top of her voice. I was so tired and thristy....
Mile 16

Their encouraging and motivating cheer pushed me on. From that point all I could think was of crossing the gauntlet mark at mile 17 and then the Beat the Bridge mark at mile 20. Mile 16 to mile 20...I pushed myself on....kept running with stops just to stretch my legs. I had no walking breaks in those 4 miles. I just wanted to beat the bridge so that I could still stay in the race. Upon crossing mile mark 19, I sped up and with a smile on my face I crossed the mile 20 mark. I also met Amol there. I am really amazed at how he managed to meet me all these spots. 

After crossing the mile 20.5 mark, I gave in to walking. I tried to keep a steady pace. I felt really lonely. But another Asha runner from the DC chapter just appeared from behind me....I was so happy to meet her there on the course. We started chatting and shared stories of our training. We crossed the mile 22 and stopped to stretch. And that was when I felt my right knee. It was swollen and was hurting like hell. I have no clue what happened and how it happened. Was it because I stopped running and broke into a steady paced walk or was it because of the stretching? I will never know.....but after being injury-free for the whole training period, I was just not prepared for something like this. I thought that maybe if I continue to run slowly, the pain would be bearable. But it was not so.....every step was difficult and the last 3 miles through Crystal city were getting unbearable. Amol also caught up with us there. I cried in pain and told him about my knee. Sangeeta and Amol kept pushing me on. At around mile 23, my injured running buddy, Pratima caught up with us. I had lost hope for Pratima and had thought that she could not beat the bridge.....but that girl has some guts and perseverance. She crossed the bridge mark with one minute to spare before they were going to close the route. Hats off to her....she was a big inspiration and motivation for me in the last few miles.

My knee was just getting worse after that. In the end I just hobbled all the way to the finish.....dragging my right leg with me. It was horrible. Nalin, Pratima's husband found us at around 25.5 miles. He had finished long back and was waiting for us at finish line. After waiting for long, he just set out to meet us on the course.  

As we approached the finish, all we could think was off crossing it and finishing this once and for all. Pratima and me ran the last 200 yards and crossed the finish hand in hand. The moment we crossed it, the pain on the face disappeared and the smile spread from ear-to-ear. I hobbled to the medal line and while in line, I saw my other team mates waiting for us with big smiles on their faces. I also saw Neha....my childhood buddy. It all felt surreal. It was so bittersweet. My knee hurt like crazy....the swelling was getting worse. But the fact that I had just finished it made me forget that pain and to rejoice with others. 
Pratima and me. 
All smiles.

I did not see this poster throughout the course...so I requested him to finally show me what is on there.
I hobbled my way to the MCC tent. Chatting away to glory with Neha.....I was still dragging my foot.....but the cribbing and crying had all vanished :) Met the rest of the gang at the tent and just felt like a dream was just fulfilled.
celebratory foto!
Thank you team! You all have been wonderful. When I joined the program, I knew that I would be training to run. What I did not know was that I would also be making such wonderful friends and sharing so many wonderful moments with everyone. You all have shown extreme patience for a slow runner like me and have just been awesome! Thank you so much!

A big shout out to my wonderful family! Amol, although reluctant to get on board initially, you were there every step of the journey with me. A big thank you to my parents who always inquired about my running on our weekly phone calls, always converted the mileage in kilometers and marveled at how much I had progressed and kept encouraging and motivating me. A big thanks to my sisters and brother-in-laws, for being with me all through the writing and making of this blog and for making me laugh during the tough training times.

A big thanks to all my friends. I am happy to say that I have also motivated a few to take up running and if even one of you gets inspired and runs a marathon, I will feel like I have given back. If you all remember, it was learning about another friends marathon experience that had got me inspired to run one. So I hope the cycle continues. 

A big thank you to all those who contributed to my cause. At the end of the day, as much as I was running this marathon for myself, I was also running for the charity. I am happy to say that I reached and went beyond my target and all that money is going to really help make the lives of some children better in India. When I started, I thought fund raising would be the toughest part. But I feel truly blessed and thankful for the wonderful friends who made this the easiest part.

The knee has recovered now. The other pain, muscle soreness and tightness were a distant memory after one week. But the knee and the swelling stayed with me for two weeks. Now it is much better. I did go for two short runs after the marathon and will soon start it on a more regular basis.
Running the marathon has definitely been the one of the most significant things I have done in my life. Even graduate school and getting a PhD pales in comparison to the utter joy I experienced at the finish line. I have experience so many different emotions during the training and the run. I have discovered so many personal strengths and fears along the journey. But beyond everything it has made me believe that the mind can really will the body to do anything :)

Thank you for being a part of this journey with me!


  1. Many many congratulations Anjali!!...running a marathon is so challenging on its own, that I can't even imagine how painful it must have been to run with your injury. But you ran through every bit of & finished - it is truly inspiring! The same is true for Pratima too..it was so great to read your story :)

  2. Awesome Anjali! Congrats! And as always, loved your story. :)


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