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Sunday, March 26, 2017

My First Full Marathon

While my spirit is jumping with joy on this huge achievement, I can say the least about how my feet and body is feeling right now. I should have finished the full marathon last year in December but for health and fitness related pitfalls. Forty two at forty was a goal in my mind since last year and am I thrilled that I could manage to get there while still at 40 (well, barely a few weeks to go before I turn 41 but I am still happy to have gotten this far while I still can).
It really was an endurance run. Kudos to those who go in for the full marathons year after year.
It takes a lot more than training and fitness to get there. By far, one of the most challenging feats of my life and I feel exhilarated at having achieved it!

It is an overwhelming experience and rightly said that if you want to experience life then go for a full marathon. There's so much of life and learning in those 42.195 km that one would rarely get from anything else. Two years ago when I took to running, little did I imagine that I would complete a full marathon one day! Five and ten kilometer runs were a lot of fun but a half marathon added in some challenge and grit. I should have been happy with the half marathons but I craved for more. Struggling with chronic asthma and weight issues, it wasn't an easy task to aim for the full marathon but something deep within, wanted a taste of that human endurance. I took to reading all available articles available on the internet for marathon training and started preparing myself for the feat. In August 2016, I suffered with a severe asthma episode that had me restricted on all accounts. It mean't no workout and certainly no marathon training! It took me two months to recuperate from this episode which meant I was severely under-trained for the full marathon that I had planned for myself in December.
Forty two at forty was not going to be an unfinished goal, so I looked up the next available full marathon which happened to be this one in March. It was December and I had a good 4 months to train and regain my stamina, or so I thought :). Man proposes and God disposes! This couldn't have been more truer in my life. I had started experiencing severe joint pains and morning stiffness in my finger joints which led me to get myself tested. I tested negative for rheumatoid factor but had a positive ANA titre. I was asked to stop all my physical training and rest my hands to the maximum. I was still toying with the idea of signing up for the full marathon in March at the point of receiving my reports. The day I got these reports, I knew it was now or never and I signed up for the full marathon that same night. Yeah, I have a rebellious streak in me! I don't like to bow down to pressure. RA or no RA, I wasn't going to allow that to deter me from my goal. Core and strength training went for a bouncer as I could hardly use those hands. Turning door knobs, opening sauce bottles, buttoning up became challenging. The most frustrating thing was/ still is tying my shoe laces and here I was aiming for the impossible.
I knew in my mind and heart that if I gave up this time, I would never get myself to ever run a full marathon and that's where I decided to work more on my psyche and less on my body. I knew I had to train my body to the long grueling distance running and so started working in that direction. I had to be careful in not burning out and so chalked out a long distance run schedule that allowed me at least 2 weeks between each increasing distance target. Although, I had made plans to do at least one trial run of 38 to 40 kilometers before the actual marathon, I could only manage to reach up to 30 kilometers in about 5 hours.My stamina and pace had suffered immensely. With a full marathon cut off time of 8 hours, I knew I was safely placed in terms of completing the run but did I really want to be the last one in? I stopped thinking about the pace and decided to focus on completing the marathon within the cut off time.

A few days before the marathon, my mind started playing games. I was nervous! I started getting skeptical about my decision. One of the reasons why I stuck to posting my training updates on a public forum, was the accountability it gave me. I had to be true to myself and to those who are taking inspiration from me. I did not for once allow my fears to be shown. The last trial run of 30 km, just 10 days before the actual run, resulted in the resurfacing of a recurrent heel pain owing to Plantar Fascitis of the left heel. This was totally not needed at this point and as I limped with pain in the days before the marathon, I made sure I rested my feet as much as I could and wore heel inserts for cushioning my heels at all times. I knew even a slight display of pain or discomfort before the run would make sure I wouldn't be allowed to run so I bore it all with a straight face. Good thing or a stupid thing to do, I don't know but all I knew was that I wanted nothing to come in between me and the start line at this point. It had taken a lot to reach where I did.

Come marathon day, I was a nervous wreck. My heel was still painful and I had a slight wheeze, both very detrimental for the planned run. From , my previous runs, I knew my hands and fingers would swell up from the long distance running, so as much as I was advised to wear splints on my finger joints, I simply couldn't risk wearing them. I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I had to just show up and allow the moment to take charge. A positive run buddy makes a huge difference to your psyche and I was blessed to have one. Going by my earlier experiences, I knew I should just take it slow and steady as it was critical to keep my sustenance during the lag hours of the run as I had no idea how my body would react to the 30 plus kilometers as I had only run 30 km at a go. I knew about runners hitting the proverbial wall as I had done so in my first half marathon and knew how it played with my psyche. I was sure I was placed well in that department and I would not end up facing this at least not until the very end given my internal motivation to complete this marathon. I was surprised I hit my first wall just after 13 km into the run. My left heel was stinging in pain and I experienced the first thoughts of dropping out. I knew it was just a start and I had not even reached the half way mark. This run was going to be agonizingly long and painful if I chose to continue. I tried distracting myself and subconsciously ended up taking more pressure on my right leg to ease up the pain in the left. A combination of running and walking got me to the halfway mark in about 3 plus hours. We were at the East Coast Park at this point. As per the map we were provided, the runners had a 15 km stretch inside the ECP, entering at 18 km and exiting at 33 km. We lost out on 20 minutes as I waited for my run buddy to relieve herself earlier in the run. I did not want to leave her alone during run as it was her maiden marathon attempt as well and we were there in it together. As we continued running, we began to see the marathon effects unfold with runners writhing in pain, some coiled on the ground, a few vigorously rubbing their calves while some appeared to have given up by their body language. There was no first aid in sight and most of the crew members, young college going kids, were fast asleep on their backpacks at their posts.It was a long night and definitely not over for us.
At 25 km, my right hamstring muscle was beginning to twitch with a sharp pain. I experienced my second proverbial wall in the run at this point. I had 17 more km to run and with both the legs in pain, I was not placed in a comfortable situation. I reminded myself that I was more than half way done and went totally mute in terms of conversation with my buddy. I did not want to let her know that I was almost at the verge of dropping out. I saw the crew noting down the bib numbers of runners who were consistently dropping out and again convinced myself that the pleasure of crossing the finish line and holding my first ever full marathon medal was much more than the pain I was going through at that moment. I envisioned writing this blog and told myself, I would much rather write a blog on the completion of a marathon as against giving up. These thoughts allowed me to trudge along in the hope of seeing the exit from ECP at 33 km, but to our surprise, we discovered the organizers had changed the route and we were going on a different route that saw us complete 34 km within the ECP itself. This was the last distance marker we saw during the run. After a 30 minute run/walk, we found a post with some active crew members who informed us we were still 8 plus kilometers away from the finish line. This was impossible. As per my GPS and pace calculations we should have been about 2 plus kilometers away. Without the distance markers on the route, it was difficult to know what was happening. By now, more than a few runners understood there was some mess up on the route.We made it to the finish line in 7 plus hours where, the GPS indicated we were well past 46 km in the run. All that mattered is that I managed to complete the full marathon and more :) in the allotted time with all the hurdles I was facing pre-run as well as during the run.

Running a full marathon is akin to standing on a beach with the waves hitting at you. There will be waves of pain, waves of freedom, waves of passion, waves of despair and waves of varied emotions! One only needs to dig one's feet in the sand and stand steady to avoid getting carried away by the waves. A marathon is not just about the distance but a lot more about desire, determination, dreams, daring, devotion and dedication.

If there is anything I have gained from this experience, then it actually started right before the run where two of the sign boards read "Go hard or go home" and " Finish with smiles and not regret". With the eventful happenings in my life, I have strongly begun to believe in the impermanence of everything and acceptance. There's no point cribbing about the unfairness of situations in life but to find a better way out of it with a positive outlook. one can definitely do more than one thinks. Attitude matters! Rather then bowing down to hurdles, accept and embrace them. Find a passion and pursue it. Find out what makes you happy and go all out in achieving the same. Look after yourself first and foremost! The rest will fall in place!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Letter B of Fitness

Letter B of Fitness!
Breaking the myths!
These days any information one needs and more is easily available, but how accurate is it? Get your facts right!
Are you starving yourself on the latest XYZ diets and don't see that weighing scale move? Are you killing it by pumping iron in the gym and don't see any change what so ever in that body? You have tirelessly signed up for those 30 day challenges and are on the verge of breaking your spine but don't see any effect? Well, let's cut the drama! Let's get back to reality and facts! What works for me will not necessarily work for you. We are each made unique in our body types and metabolism. Run check on some of the common myths on fitness below-
· Running will damage your knees! (On the contrary, continuous exercise will keep the joints healthy)

· Sweating more means you are burning more! (Sweating is the body's way of cooling off and not a gauge for fat loss)

· Lifting weight will make you Miss Bulky! (Those weights will only help build your strength and confidence and not make a She –hulk out of you)

· The best time to work out is in the morning! (Absolutely anytime of the day that works for you is the best time)

· Fat can be converted to muscle! (By far this is one of my favorites! Fats and muscles are two entirely different kinds of tissues. By engaging in a good workout, one can certainly reduce the fat tissue and build muscle tissue but there are not inter convertible)

· Exercise is the only way to lose weight! (Well, yes but no! You are what you eat! So work on that diet and combine with a good workout to reap the benefits)

Balanced food and sleep
Fitness doesn’t come without the added inputs! A healthy body needs a good balanced diet which includes a source of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the right proportions, besides vitamins, minerals and adequate water intake. Besides a good balanced diet, a good night’s sleep is incredibly crucial for maintaining a healthy you; in fact just as important as a healthy diet and exercise. With the advent of technology and smart phones, we have actually given up on our natural sleeping patterns, sleeping lesser than usual! Sleep deprivation is being linked to be the leading cause for stress, depression, obesity, reduced immunity, reduced productivity and concentration besides reduced emotional and social interactions! So, in effect, a good night’s sleep is essential for optimal health. Go figure out how to make broccolis and berries tastier and pull that bean bag out J
Breaks and more
There will be high intensity workout days and there will be the extremely low days when you can’t seem to get any workout at all. Make the most of the days when things are going great but when it's not going the way you want it to, take a break. Don't beat yourself up. Cheat days will be there. No workout days are not necessarily the full stop in your fitness journey. Learn to relax and work on yourself. Mind and body both being important, get yourself in harmony on both levels.
Tough times never last! Tough people do!
Don't go bananas and expect super hero levels of workout after the break. Start gradually and allow yourself the time to get back into the rhythm. Just as a vacation can do wonders to that tired mind, a good break from a rigorous workout regime will benefit in the long run! So, go take that break!