If a moment is snapshot...a picture you can hold in your mind forever...that one victorious moment frozen forever...as a runner, it would be that super-strong finish at the finish line with fists held high in the air...head up looking into the high sky above...thanking almighty...for blessing those blissful 3hrs 11mins!"
I was just not able to start writing this one from the very next day. Too much excitement, emotions, calls, messages have been keeping me busy. So, I waited for initial euphoria to settle down.
- Race day.
I remember right at the start of season, one of the mails from my Coach mentioned that one should train to achieve this single goal - "Run faster without working harder!". Hence, training needs to be such that race day has simplified execution in some comfort zone. The experience of being trained for FM has to be enjoyable first, else you will only be dragging yourself. Yes, there are going to be tough times, but it gets rewarded appropriately in a race. Easier said than done, right 😓? So, hard days were not meant to be easy and easy days were easier!
Let me state the obvious first. Pillars of a marathon training are -
- Aerobic Development or building endurance - In simple one word MILEAGE!
- Nutrition - A no-brainer right?
- Injury Prevention - Running form, right accessories, shoes' rotation, basic strength etc.
- Anaerobic Development - comes later in a training cycle; variety plays a key role here.
- Rest and Recovery.
- Recovery from post-SCMM hospitalization took a little time, hence it was planned to have easy low mileage first and then scale it up gradually.
- Mar to Jun. The base-building phase lasted till Jun end. So, overall about 4 months into easy mileage, ranging anywhere between 50-75km per week. There was no hurry here. Just needed to be consistent. Normal easy runs used to be followed up with essential 2 min plank and about 20 broad and narrow shoulder push-ups.
- Jul & Aug. I won't say speed training followed in true sense after base-building, but started 2 runs per week in late surge format, that is, finishing last km fast or sandwich a short tempo between two easy phases. Around this time, I also started consciously working on cadence, running form and silent running. Overall, I wanted to bring in a little economy.
- Sep to Feb. You will hear it all the while - "HARD DAYS HARDER, EASY DAYS EASIER"! Speed training commenced in Sep with weekly 12 reps of 200m; continued these reps till Nov end. Thereafter, some mix of 200 & 400m reps; followed up with ladder intervals (till Jan last week). Ladder intervals were some work for body since it takes time to get used to changes in the distance and prepares you well for race day bursts when chips are down! After ladder work, two weeks of 12 x 400m reps were done, which if done properly, are really excruciating. Last 2 weeks before taper, came back to 12x200m reps.
- Tempo Runs: As I mentioned earlier, short tempo runs started from Jul onwards, not really fierce, but gradually kind of moving away from comfort zone. Interestingly, this component was never out of menu till the very end.
- From strengthening perspective, I hardly went to gym. The core work happens on its own if running form is good and most of the breathing is from belly. Hence, could see my core gradually building up over time from belly breathing. Though, I do feel that breathing in running is an evolving concept and one should never stop improving. So, for me, it will continue to be a work in progress. It was only during the last 16 weeks that I got some self-weight leg work included post-interval training to really shoot down the legs that day! Also, Week-16 to Week-8, I worked on my glutes a bit after finishing the tempo runs.
- Last two weeks witnessed tapered mileage (see table below). A few precautions taken during taper time to keep infections at bay:
- Wore one extra layer of clothing to steer clear of any cold attack.
- Started about 30-45min sleeping more than usual.
- Consciously started counting number of glasses of water drank.
- No outdoor eating, only home food.
- Chose run routes which are safe to run injury-wise.
- Compulsory salted lukewarm water gargling at night before sleeping.
- Keeping in mind not to lose the edge during taper, a few race pace surges in the runs were included.
Long Runs. I feel this was one area I improved the most. Never missed long runs and was always concerned about what to achieve with every long run going to come up next. On week to week basis, long runs used to give me the best 'high'! Initially, during the base-building phase, long runs were more of consistent but easy effort. As training entered the next phase, the duration was gradually increased to 2 hours 30 mins and kept it there for some time. Nov and Dec saw capping of long runs to 30 km and what started was a series of five of these 30 km long runs not too far away from race pace. They gave me huge confidence. Jan saw me doing two string long runs with gradually rising pace, picking up pace slightly better than race pace and ending the last phase slightly lower than race pace. This is how I imagined race day to be! Two weeks short of taper, the duration was curtailed to 2 hours 15 mins.
I have been experimenting a lot after some good amount of reading. A few good reads have been " Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance by Matt Fitzgerald".
I avoid following plethora of web links shared over the topic. Nutrition is one thing which is a bit of personal issue too since a particular solution may or may not suit another runner. Also, availability of various foods can be region specific too. I believe in dealing with nutrition in small incremental steps. One should avoid making drastic changes to a diet one has got used too. Also, I had low immunity issue to fight with. Hence, some home work was needed.
- Latch on to whole grains or unprocessed foods as much as possible.
- Avoid chemical/white sugar.
- Have fruits (not processed juices), but mind the portion sizes with respect to GI and GL. Also, taking fruits at least 30mins before or after the meal.
- Have enough water, though don't get too cynical about it that you are drinking all the time without any urge.
- Starting the day with 500ml lukewarm water and nothing else for 30mins.
- Following the general rule of breakfast being the heaviest, lunch comparatively lighter and dinner the lightest.
- Avoiding as many carbs as possible in dinner. Stuck to mostly simple chapatis with Dal.
- Getting used to early dinner and managed to set my body clock to 7-7:30pm for dinner. Idea was to stay 10-12 hours away from next day morning workout.
- Having a recovery drink and snacks within 30mins of the workout. That's why I prefer to finish most of my runs close to home.
- Post-workout: Recovery drink having pea protein isolate and 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Therapeutic Tea with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, white pepper, fennel seeds, Tulasi (Basil) leaves, Carom seeds.
- Breakfast: Ashwagandha, Amla and Chyawanprash. Milk with turmeric (no sugar!).
- Mid-day Snacking: Dry fruits, Seeds (pumpkin, flaxseed, sunflower, watermelon, sesame), Egg frankie, Seasonal Fruit(s).
- Evening: 3-4 diskettes of Threptin Lite.
I am not a great fan of expos if it's an 'A' race for me next day. I spend minimum amount of time there. Also, it's a good idea to stay away from crowded places when you have a race next day. To avoid minimum hassles, I reached expo the very first day right after opening and had a hassle-free bib collection. Took a click of the race route map, so that it can help in recce later. Sipped a cup of coffee being offered in a corner, booked cab to metro station and thanked NEB Sports organisers (Cauvery Adiga, Surabhi Shastry, Sunil Shetty) before leaving.
Pre-race shake-off run.
It helps me loosen up, prepare my body and mind for the race, shake off the nervous feelings and ward-off the travel bug for out-station races.
How? It helps improve blood flow to the muscles, which allows them to loosen up and deliver the nutrients and oxygen they will need for the intense running next day. When racing a half marathon or marathon, running the day before will even help your muscles store extra glycogen.
Further, it helps stimulate the central nervous system, which responds quickly to new stimuli because the growth and recovery cycle is very short. In fact, you can make small improvements to your neuromuscular coordination in less than a day. Conversely, degradation of the neuromuscular system can occur in a day or two, which means if you don’t run the day before the race, your neuromuscular system isn’t performing at an optimal level. This is why runners often feel lethargic and stiff when they don’t run for a day or two.
So, a small 3 km very easy jog on Saturday evening is all I do and it works for me.
4. Race Day. 🏁
- Bib in place and fastened to bib belt (to be around waist, just rightly fit so as not to interrupt in breathing).
- Energy gels, salt mixture (Black+Rock+White), dates (honey soaked) in sufficient quantity in the bib belt.
- Shoes snuggly fit with proper lace tightening.
- Vaseline applied at places friction expected.
- Small pieces of tissue paper.
- Jaggery pieces.
- One iteration of GPS satellites locking on my watch.
- Temperature: 16 deg C.
- Winds: 6 kph NNE.
- Humidity: 75%.
- Sunrise: 6:51 am. (So, it implied that almost 2 hours plus of low visibility running if street lights aren't working or under them, if they are!)
- Asics singlet.
- Baleaf Quickdry short.
- Fitletic-II bib holding pouch.
- Nike wrist band.
- Adidas low-ankle socks.
- Adidas adizero adiboost shoes.
- Garmin FR235 watch.
- A worst case 3:20 finish and a best case 3:11 finish was in mind. Thanks to Sankara for cautioning me a few days before the race about cut-offs and remaining clear off the BQ mark by about 4 mins. Thus, over the two halves, 1:36 and 1:35 finishes were planned, if all goes well.
- There is no need to be aggressive right upfront. The first half can be around 1:36:00.
- The second half can be a little faster or even paced as first half, if going is getting tough.
- There is no major incline to be worried of.
- Like a typical city route, it has many turns (12 to be precise, one-way; so close to 48 turns in all for complete FM). Negotiating turns can be tricky since it is possible to lose 2-3 secs per turn. So, losing close to 2 mins is quite possible if strategy to compensate that is not in place.
- Since start time is 4:30 am, close to 2 hours plus of the FM is going to be in dark/street lights. Cutting corners in dark can be dicey since my route recce revealed that at many places pavements aren't all that flat. So, it can be a double-edged sword if you want to cut corner also, but are also losing a few seconds in being very particular about undulations. Hence, I decided to cut corners only at places where it is safe to do so.
- Considering all factors, the three major sections were : First half (21.1 km), 21.1 to 33 km (turning point), 33km to finish line. So, first half was aimed at race pace, second section at slightly better than race pace and last section just a little slower than race pace.
SECTION-1 (Start to 21.1 km).
I could manage to sneak in to the front lot of runners at the start line so that I don't waste anytime to negotiate around runners. I had planned not to rush in the beginning and I could achieve that. I think it's a kind of first victory over your adrenaline rush that you haven't succumbed to an unusually fast start. So, the first km (start to just short of Lodhi rd) was good and sedative at 4:38 min/km (implicitly this metric unit may be assumed for all my pace mentions please henceforth). Also, it is suggested to take a little time upfront to adjust and merge to the race day feeling. The second split at 4:31 was again a nice feeling that body and mind are getting tuned gradually to a sustainable effort. Also, it emerged from the recce that first 2.5 km need to be a little subdued for the slight incline overall the stretch has. Hence, the third split again happened at 4:31. But, by now a slight decline had started and also the well lit pavements were looking inviting. I remained more or less on pavements for the next 2 kms to cut down on corners with splits coming in as 4:28 and 4:30. By the end of 5 kms, Lodhi rd stretch was over and a 22:40 for the first 5 kms was looking very satisfying. Though, I was yet to find a group I could latch on to till now. Gulped a sip of water from the aid station at 5 km.
Next was Mathura rd stretch characterized by slight incline and no street lights for about 500 mtrs. Thus, took special care and ended up with a 4:36 split on this road. The 7th split was not a major worry; it was flat but involved a turn towards Subramaniyam Bharti rd. It was also the time to gulp in first energy gel since 30 mins were over during this split. Had it with a bit of water. It was 4:28 paced.
The 8th split saw turning right towards Dr Zakir Hussain Marg leading towards Rajpath. No major concern here, finished in 4:28.
9th split saw us crossing the majestic India Gate with whole lot of visitors, riders, entertainment band people cheering us. Incidentally, my dear brother Paramjit Singh was also right there on his bike. It felt great and didn't come to know that this one ended on a faster note at 4:18. Hence, it was time to enjoy a little on Rajpath in the 10th split. Took it easy at 4:34!
Splits 11 and 12 were on Sansad Marg towards Jantar Mantar. This was also the time that I ran with another serving army man who was well over 50 years age. Exchanged a few running mantras and whizzed past him before the turning point at 12 km. Again, drank 2-3 sips of water at the turning point aid station. So far, feeling was great and really wanted to accelerate. It was about 55 mins at this point and average pace on watch was 4:32, which was right as per planning. Took a second gel here as per plan.
Great feeling translates into better pace and by now the route was known absolutely in all details. Thus, splits 13 to 16, that is, right till India Gate were good, albeit with controlled aggression. During this time, I also caught hold of a runner from Chennai (Lourdes Irudaya Bosco, more on this stalwart here). This guy was negotiating turns really well and was definitely running at a sub-4:30 pace. I kept following him till India Gate and caught hold of him there. Started interacting with him and came to know that this guy had a PB of 2:30 and he was taking a little easy that day! Also, joining the party was another runner called Rajesh Chand. We formed a nice company and kept pepping each other up with a touch of humour in between to keep things alive and kicking.
During all this chatting, we didn't realise that we have hit 20 km marker. The half-way mark was not too far. Pulled up slightly for 21st split and all three of us were happy and content that first half is over.
That marked completion of the first section, the 21.1 km in 1:35:40, some 20 secs ahead of planned 1:36:00.
SECTION-3 (33 km turning point to Finish Line).
Beyond turning point, it was now the deal-breaker time to negotiate the balance 9+ kms in such a way that aimed average pace never falls. Body was behaving well so far and the proverbial wall was nowhere yet! This section demanded my best focus and concentration to be unleashed and also keeping a tab on how I am doing every now and then.
By now, I was all alone too. The only thing I could do was to aim at a distant runner and try to bridge the gap. It works on psyche well. Doing this, I overtook a few but without any tempoish foolishness.
At 35th km aid station, poured down water over my neck and spine. It was very relieving!
It was all about going from one stretch to another one till the end. So, broadly, I mapped four stretches - turning point to Rajpath, Rajpath to India Gate, India Gate to Lodhi rd and Lodhi rd to Finish line.
Rajpath to India Gate stretch was like 2 kms long to finish around 37 kms. 4:30 and 4:36 splits saw off that stretch.
At India Gate, a huge shout out came from Romil running from opposite direction as pacer. "Sukhi, you are right on target!" Out went my fist in the air to acknowledge!
Timer was 2:46:00 on my watch and I had 25 mins left to negotiate balance 5+ kms. Any FM runner would know how it feels to be in the last 5 kms. During such times, it all flashbacks too! The toughest part of FM brought forth the memories of toughest training times and it helped feel things better!
Next stretch was, India Gate to Lodhi rd. It witnessed a swarm of HM runners coming from opposite direction and occupying most part of the road. Volunteers did a fair job in vacating FM lane, but at few places it did get constricted to negotiate. Thus, about 3 kms were done with HM runners witnessing us during last few miles. I received so many cheers during this stretch. Though, fatigue had set in by now but, in my mind, I kept telling myself that:
- You have trained for this day all season! Keep going!
- You have seen more harder times during training! This is going to be simple!
- Remember all those wishes and blessings your friends and near and dear ones have given!
- You are doing well and you will finish strong!
The finish line was now like a stadium lap left. And a loud grunt followed before I increased my pace further. Imagined the most tiring and hardest lap I would have ever done during my speed training! Saw my brother standing near stadium gate and I gave out my one last sprint to the finish line to look up right up in the sky to thank the divine force for being with me and having blessed me all this while to finish strong!
Reading the watch at 3:10:59 was a great feeling indeed!
A long cherished Boston Marathon Qualification mark conquered. A little bit of emotions which follow are natural after a long odyssey filled with hard work, focus, perseverance, good days, bad days, summers , winters, rains, sometimes roads, sometimes trails, a few on treadmills, joys, sorrows, taste of salt from own sweat and many more intermittent destinations!
A small jog till medal distribution point and gratitude expressed to the volunteer giving medal finished the proceedings.
Found Seema Menon standing right after medal point. She congratulated me and enquired if all is ok! I affirmed and took a bottle of water from her.
5. Post Race.
- Health Check: The first thing I did during start of the season last year was to get medical tests done. To my surprise, deficiency in Vit D, B12 was seen and also leukocytes were less in the blood profile. Thus, immediate note was taken and nutrition was spruced up to get these levels rectified first. It took about a month (Mar 2017) to sort all this out, but Vit D dosage continued on weekly basis at 10K IU. Hence, I highly recommend a pre-season health check-up.
- Nutrition is a big deal-breaker. The right nutrition choices along with a good amount of training ensured that I get lighter within my base-building time. It is such an enormous topic that even a separate blog post may not be able to do justice. So, make the right choices and certainly note down your usual menu to see if it is catering for almost all the vitamins and minerals you need in their right amounts.
- A 10-12 hour carb-fasting after dinner till next day work-out did wonders in adjusting my body to rely on alternate sources of energy like fats and protein. It takes time but consistency and perseverance pays.
- Adoption of the right elements in training is important. It may not strike even in one whole season what works for you. It is not necessary that my training routine will suit all runners. So, keep at it and see what kind of training is sustainable to ensure that you remain injury-free too and also attain race-day fitness gradually. In this vein, I must also say that stay away from 3 Too's - Too much, Too fast, Too soon!
- Meditation was a new entry into the whole gamut of things. I am new to it, so it felt difficult. Luckily, a friend came to rescue and gifted me a beautiful book titled "A Million Thoughts" by Om Swami. There were hard times in training and I felt that alternate strategies are required to feel relaxed and recovered. I found meditation working. Like running, this too has a learning curve, but I am at it!
- This season was the first time that I was not too sticky about pre-long run and pre-race meals. Before and during long runs, I fed or drank water only when I felt the hunger or thirst. If the nutrition discipline over last 24 hours has been good, there is no need to panic in the morning next day before a longer run. 2000 kcal is all body can store and that would have come from healthy eating every day. Unnecessary stuffing only ensures that the body adapts to easily available energy resource first. It helped a great deal to adapt my body to use fat.
- It helps to be a bit geeky (and techie ☺) sometimes. So, I have been mulling over running stats like cadence, stride length, breathing, HR, average pace etc. On race day, I could feel the geek in me working, since every now and then, I would calculate something in my mind. By doing this, mind stays alert and the focus remains on the running related aspects. I have been practicing all this during my long runs. Mind does wander, but we need to get the focus back by practicing during training.
- Emphasis on running economy helps. To this extent, I read some great tips from the website howtorunamarathon.net. Many aspects like tangent running, tying shoe laces, running uphill/downhill, body temperature management, belly breathing, using arms effectively etc have been covered really well. I make it a point that I go through important parts of the website before all races to, sort of, revise what I have been learning.
- Howsoever counter-intuitive it may seem, majority of our training (80-90%) has to be easy to moderate. It helps strengthens our muscles and also aids in adaptability of our tendons, ligaments, joints and bones to rigors of running. It's easy to correct form when running slow. Yes, it also increases the quantity and size of the mitochondria, thereby improving glycogen storage.
7. Concluding Remarks.
CHEERS & HAPPY RUNNING!