Before I delve into the finer details, some statistics related to my 2nd Marathon run:
Preparation time: 8 months
Miles run in practice: 362+
Last year time: 5 hrs 49 mins
This year target: Less than 4 hrs 50 mins
This year achieved: 5 hrs 14 mins
So I was 24 minutes above my target, but then there is always the next marathon!
By now you must be familiar with my transformation story in Part I and Part II of this series. Right after I completed my 1st marathon last year, I resolved to cut my time to less than 5 hours. Two months later, in Dec 2008, I got a rude shock. Just when everything seemed fine, and I felt like getting back in shape, one ill-fated evening on 26th Dec I felt an excruciating pain in my back and left leg. This pain was unprecedented, and ill thoughts flooded my mind. After endless persuasion by my dear wife, I decided to give the doctor a shot and took an appointment (no-one likes a visit to the Doctor, and I am no exception to that rule). It took the doc less than a minute to diagnose the issue: my lumbar disc soft tissue was elongated and touching the spinal nerve (sciatic nerve to be precise) causing the pain in my back (L4/L5) and legs. To make it worse the doctor strictly instructed me to avoid any physical exercise, only slow walking. There! My heart sank, and along sank the hopes of completing 26 marathons. Plus, my love of food with the no exercise state would get me back to ground zero. Maybe a bigger, fatter zero.
I had no choice but to slowly accept the reality of the situation. I started with prescribed physical therapy and slow walking, but clearly it was not of much help. I tried the cortisone injection; it didn’t help. I started researching about my condition on the internet, and found the common advice of taking up swimming at a lot of places. With not too many choices at hand, I decided to give swimming a shot. Thankfully, I noticed abig positive change within 3 months. I was no longer dependent on pain killers for a peaceful night’s sleep. I went back to physical therapy and yoga.
In the period December 2008 to February 2010, I was doing minimal physical activity and consuming controlled amount of food. My body metabolism is kind of extreme, in the sense that no physical activity means rapid increase in weight. Naturally, this sloth like routine went well with my body fats and I gained a lot of weight. I was back at 228 pounds, but the good news was that I was not feeling any pain. I was able to sit through 8 hours at office, without much discomfort.
Going against the doctor’s orders, I decided to resume running in March 2010. I was very cautious in the beginning, starting with 2-3 runs a week as compared to 5 times before the mishap. I also decided to change my running shoe, and zeroed in on barefoot running. After much research, I settled on Vibram Bikila which the closest I could get to running barefoot. My body began to respond positively to small runs, but I did not want to go all out. I slowly increased my mileage every week. The pain stayed away. I felt rejuvenated. I eagerly started awaiting my early morning runs. I realized that this time was a lot different than the first. If that was the test of my resolve, this was a fight against fear. One wrong step and I could be grounded for anything between 1 month and 1 year depending on the severity of the injury. I was very skeptical.
Nevertheless, I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon 2010 again, to be held on 31st October 2010 and got accepted. It was immensely gratifying.
In the next three months – May, June and July, I never exceeded more that 7-10 miles as far as long runs were concerned. Although I was losing weight, feeling better and had not pain, I never increased my running frequency from 3 to 4 days in a week. I was just following an age old adage – if it is not broken, don’t try and fix it. My patience started to pay off. My legs started loving the feel of the road. I was getting back into rhythm, and my long runs felt like a breeze. If you need to understand the love of running, my suggestion would be to go for a long run. Run 12-15 miles to get in the zone. Runner’s high is a widely used term, but it can only be felt after conquering a long stretch. This time I even managed a couple of 20 and 18 milers. I was ready for the big day.
The Race Day
Come race day, and I was more nervous and jittery than my first marathon. Even though I was focused on a 4:50, I really wanted to just be able to finish the race. Kalpana, my wife, provided me great strength andsupport and met me at miles 4, 11 and 16. It meant a lot for me, I am thankful to her for that. The weather was in the 50’s and I was doing 10.3 minute mile. I was halfway in 2:23, which was exceptional by my standards. I was hydrated, running 45 to 50 minutes in an hour and felt no fatigue unlike the last marathon. All these were signs of my being in track for the 4:50 target.
But, as fate would have it, things went wrong on mile 24. One wrong step from the left leg, I presume, tweaked my left knee. Snap. The next 2.2 miles were unimaginably painful. I was trudging along at snail speed, and just couldn’t run. Those 2.2+ miles seemed like an eternity to complete, and took my final time beyond 5+ hours. Never mind. It felt amazing to complete the race, and all the pain was worth all the time and effort. The achievement felt sweeter this time. I was even able to knock off 35 minutes from my previous time.
It has been over a month now, and I often recount my journey back from the 1.5 year break to the painful run to the finish line with proud memories. I did fail in my resolve to run an under 5 hour marathon, but I am far from being disheartened. I am ready to do it again in October 2011, and this time I am looking for a 4:30. I am confident I will get it done. And you, dear reader, will surely come to know when it is done!