Last year on 23rd November, I managed to complete my first ever half marathon. This was something I had decided on doing right at the beginning of 2014. For almost the entire year (including the morning before the race), it seemed as if I wouldn't be able to complete this wish as I wasn't physically prepared for the distance.
The maximum that I had run in 2014 was 7km and that too only a couple of days before the run. Things were not looking promising for me just a week before the run.
The half-marathon is, of course, now long over but the experience has taught me many things. I thought I'll share the few lessons that I learnt, some specifically for running, and some generally for life.
Lesson # 1: If you want to do something that's difficult--first step is to talk about it to folks around you, especially folks who matter quite a bit. It helps. First thing, I told some key folks--myself, my family, couple of close friends, my team, and my boss-- and that kept the pressure or motivation to at least try.
Lesson # 2: Break your goal into 'chewable' milestones instead of a single big one. It can help before and during the process (It helped me).
I broke my goal into 3 parts:
Goal # 1: Participate
Goal # 2: Do my highest ever distance in one go (earlier highest: 11km--only once)
Goal # 3: Complete half marathon!
In October when I registered, the odds were against me as every running plan suggested 3-4 months of preparation and I didn't have so much time (of course, if I had prepared since beginning of year, things would have been different). However, I decided to go ahead and register anyway to keep the hope going that I could participate.
Then I started running from October 17 onwards with one month to go, so that I could at least be able to participate. I started with 3km but touched 5km by October 25. I felt a bit better.
I stayed between 3km and 5km till November 16.
On November 17: I touched 7km for the first time in 2014. I'd read somewhere that one can do 1.5 times what happens in practice runs during the actual race. So, I was aiming for 7+ to have a shot at 12km (highest ever distance). Now, I was at least ready to participate.
November 21: Two days to go for the big race. I was on my final practice run and was very keen to cross 7km once again. I did it. Relief!
One day before the race: I was getting a bit nervous as I wanted to feel the best in the morning to be able to have a good shot at 12km. I was focusing on that as a key goal. The 21.097km was looking difficult. I wanted to stay in good spirits and not pull myself down before the race.
Race Day: I got up and felt good. I was surprised to see the number of people who'd come to participate in the run. It encouraged me, of course, one of the thoughts was--if so many folks can do it--why can't I?
The first 5kms:
This was key. It went well. I thought there is a decent chance of my getting to 12kms after all. There were a lot of people running--all ages, shapes and sizes. I saw some not-so-fit looking folks running, and I felt I really have to give my best shot today. I'm not mocking anybody else--but just using the case to motivate myself.
5-8 kms: Crossing my longest distance for the year
I was taking it easy. I was making sure that I was not stretching and getting slow as I do tend to get cramps after some time. I knew that if I got cramps the game was over. Once I got past 8km, I felt confident about getting to 12kms.
Lesson # 3: Follow your mind but constantly listen to and observe your own body signals:
One of things that helped me was that I constantly kept sipping water or the 'energy drink' that the organisers had provided. The hydration kept me going and prevented any cramps.
I touched 12kms and gave myself a pat. The first milestone was done! I could imagine myself taking a shot at the full race now and I started thinking of it as a 9km run after the 12km run!
Lesson # 4: Drink enough water. Get enough energy. Don't wait for thirst or loss of energy. Don't let these come in.
There were a couple of scary moments at this stage. I got the first hints of cramps in the right foot during this time. At one point I had to sit on the road, remove my shoe, straighten my foot a little and pray that the cramp doesn't occur! It went past and the foot felt better.
Lesson # 5: If music (or any other art/hobby) is your thing, keep it with you. It'll help you at critical moments.
There was tiredness setting-in, but I was looking at reaching the 18km milestone. I felt that I had a good shot at finishing the half marathon and, in the worst case, walking/limping the remaining distance to complete it.
I could imagine myself crossing the line and that removed any other thoughts that may have tried to set in. I'd run this distance without any music as I was enjoying the surroundings, the folks and the sound around, but I felt that some great music will help at this stage.
Lesson # 6: Imagine yourself as a winner. The feeling can overpower any tiredness, inertia and fear.
It was already an unbelievable feeling to reach here as I knew that God has so far been with me today, and I was not going to stop now. I could walk in the worst case, but I was determined to complete it.
These last 3kms were slow, but the best part of the race, as I lived through the post-race emotions and kept feeling good about this. For the first time, while I was going through this, I felt the power of mind over body and how the body can follow the mind if one is extremely determined.
Lesson # 7: In the end, the race is with yourself. In the same race/world, everybody would have a different goal that'd satisfy them. If you know yours, you'd know what to do.