Friday, 9 March 2018

Journey to BQ:The IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon-2018

“The race always hurts, expect it to hurt! You don't train so that it doesn't hurt! You train so that you can tolerate it!!!"
"It's still 5km to go...the mind gets sabotaged by a series of flashbacks...imagination of many faces, many moments of training...easy times, testing wishes...friends, family members as if virtually standing there and pulling me the distance gets blurred with each step...that distant sound of music starts getting louder and louder...and then, the glimpse of stadium as if suddenly replaces all imaginations!
If a moment is snapshot...a picture you can hold in your mind forever...that one victorious moment frozen 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.
The last FM was Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon-2017 in Jan 2017. The only event I did till this FM was a HM at Bengaluru in Oct 2017. Hence, the complete training landscape was mostly event-free and full of training, training and training!
This time Mumbai couldn't work out because of office engagements. So, I was on a look-out for another certified course. Luckily, came to know about IDBI NDM and it's course having been AIMA certified. Also, it was about a month away from Mumbai marathon and that would give me one more month of training πŸ’ͺ. I was a bit reluctant too given the reputation of Delhi for it's chilled winters and air quality. Still, took a chance and started training for the same.

This race report has been divided into following heads:
  • Training.
  • Nutrition.
  • Pre-race.
  • Race day.
  • Post-marathon.
  • Take-aways.

1.  Training.

It has been a roller coaster ride last season. What started with a rude shock from hospitalization after Mumbai Marathon, didn't seem to end even later! The immunity issues continued for another one month thereby costing me some base-building mileage right upfront. But the lessons learnt were forever. Gathered my steam and picked up well from May onwards. In the meanwhile, did my bit for Airtel Hyderabad Marathon-2017 too as part of the core team. Immediately after that, we had to relocate our house and it derailed my training a little for two weeks again. Got some breather after that and revved up my training to do well at Bengaluru HM in Oct 2017. I always feel good in winters because of long summers here. But the joy was short-lived since my son got hospitalized twice in Jan 2018, just around the time I was trying to catch my peak since race day was just a month away! But all these testing times only make us more tougher and more raring to go!

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 πŸ˜“? 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
Since it was known a priori that I will run only one FM, the training schedule was accordingly modulated by Coach Mike. Main highlights were:
  • 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.

2.  Nutrition.

It has been my active area of interest. It deserves a separate post. Still, I will cover a few aspects here. 
I have been experimenting a lot after some good amount of reading. A few good reads have been "Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance: The Right Food, the Right Time, the Right Results by  Heidi Skolnik", Build your running diet chapter from "Build Your Running Body by Pete Magill", "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. 
The cardinal rules followed by me were:
  • 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.
Other than usual food, a few additions were as follows:

  • 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.

3.  Pre-Race

Travel.  New Delhi winter times are well known and also infamous is the air quality. Though by Feb each year, factors affecting air quality are not so predominant. Hence, planned to reach city well in advance. I wanted to avoid train travel since I will get tied to the train food for at least two meals enroute (can't risk that!). Itinerary worked out to be Thursday early morning for reaching New Delhi by air, do some local work and finish expo in first hours of expo on Friday. But, as luck would have it, Delhi didn't seem to be that surprising in terms of chill or pollution. Spent Thursday without stressing legs too much. So, overall, kept travelling part a little less taxing.

Accommodation. For Thu/Fri night, the accommodation was in a guest house. This time I was a little wiser in carrying some home stuff for eating (thanks wifey!). Also, managed to find out some benign food at a food joint nearby for dinner. While being there, also ordered a few cold-pressed juice bottles in addition to some raw fruits. Thu and Fri stay was spent mostly binging on them. Did a simple dinner with lentils, steamed rice and a chapati on Thursday night. Packed my stuff next day well in time to reach expo which was about 5km away. Expo opened at 12pm. I was done with my expo work by 12:30pm. Headed straight to the nearest metro station (Pragati Maidan) to reach out to my brother (Paramjit Singh) waiting for me at Sec 18, Noida metro station. By 3pm, I was there at his place ready to enjoy home made delicacies. It was the best part of stay since the hosts were extremely conscious of my food choices and their timings. The 2 year old niece kept my spirits high as she kept me busy with her antics.

The Carbo-loading.
Well, carbo-loading in it's classical sense starts automatically with diminishing mileage in taper time. There is no need to get overly worried about it. I continued with my normal diet till 3 days to go for the race. As we know, 2000 kcal is all your body can store. No point overloading the body beyond that. But, what I did pay attention during taper time was - sleep duration, stress, adequate water intake and recovery. Last 3 days, I started making notes as to what is being consumed. Just a snap of one of the pages of my shorthand notes:

My aim of carb-loading this time was to stop bothering only about carbs, but do pay attention to vitamins and minerals being consumed in almost correct proportion. This strategy had earlier worked successfully with me at Bengaluru Half Marathon during Oct 2017. Also, a good amount of training had instilled enough confidence in me on energy savings due to various factors like running economy and breathing technique.

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.

Route Recce.
“Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted!!!"
This saying has been hammered into me from the early days. Finally, I could manage a recce before a race! And I could feel unnecessary anxiety at least lessening. Paramjit facilitated this one, so whole credit to him! Overall, the route gave a flattish impression, but wherever, there were minor inclines, we noted that. I feel a route recce helps in visualization of the race route later in a fantastic way. Also, I could imagine myself running the route whole of Saturday. One can divide the route in various sections and have a execution strategy in place. I think it worked a great deal in that regard and I ended up making a precise strategy for the race day. I also noted that the start point of the race is about 40 km away from my place of stay, but very well connected without any choke points in traffic. Early morning hours drive would take like 35-40 mins to reach. We located the Gate No 10 for entry and parking place of our car nearby for minimum hassles in the morning.

Pre-race shake-off run.

A short run serves to prepare your body and mind to perform well the following day.
A short run serves to prepare your body and mind to perform well the following day.
A short run serves to prepare your body and mind to perform well the following day.
A short run serves to prepare your body and mind to perform well the following day.
A short run serves to prepare your body and mind to perform well the following day.
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. 🏁

And finally the D-day arrives! As I get up from a not so sound sleep (pretty usual with me) with a small prayer, I sprang out from the bed since I knew I have some work to do!
I had complete time-plan worked out from waking up to start including some cushion time. But, this cushion time went off the moment I read a message on Saturday evening from the organisers that the start time has been preponed by 30 mins to 4:30 am. Hence, I had to follow my plan strictly.

Waking up & travel to start point. According to the plan, I was to wake up at 1:30 am. I woke up right on time. I didn't get much sleep, which is quite usual before a race. Though, the body had rested well over last 2-3 days. Complete dress was anyway laid out last evening. Porridge was already cooked after dinner for the morning, 5-6 dates were already soaked in honey last evening. So, there was nothing to cook. Just reheated the porridge and had a bowl. Ate two honey-soaked dates followed by half a litre lukewarm water. Finished morning ablutions without any issues and then consumed 3 tablespoons of Cytosport Cytomax mixed in water. Then, got ready by 2:15 am (ensured I wore an extra layer of a track suit on top for easier warming up and also not succumbing to morning chill). By that time, brother and his wife were also awake and made a nice cup of tea. We shot off to the stadium at 2:50 am. Enroute, consumed a Kerala Banana. We reached near the entrance gate at 3:35 am. Had a chance encounter with Romil who was to do 4 hour pacing for FM. Took my change bag, gave a high five to Paramjit and proceeded towards the stadium. So, all went as per plan! 

Warming up. After entering the stadium, I went straight to the portable potty area and cleared whatever I had to for one last time. It was 4:00 am now. Did my 15 min warm-up sequence (heel walk, toe walk, alternate toe touches, soldier high knee march, lunges with side twist, shoulder rotation, bench push-ups, neck rotations) with a few race pace sprints. At 4:15 am, I consumed first energy gel (GU Roctane) and gulped in a bit of water. At 4:20 am, I was done with warming up and bag deposition. 

Pre-race Checks. Following checks were ensured:
  • 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.
The Weather. The weather was all feeling good. No unnecessary morning chill, very slow wind and hardly any humidity. For the record, the statistics were as follows:
  • 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!)

The Race Dress & Accessories.
  • Asics singlet.
  • Baleaf Quickdry short.
  • Fitletic-II bib holding pouch.
  • Nike wrist band.
  • Adidas low-ankle socks.
  • Adidas adizero adiboost shoes.
  • Garmin FR235 watch.
           (The whole kit was experimented earlier in an HM race!)
πŸ‘‰The Race. πŸƒ  

The Start. Start point wasn't too far. Announcements to proceed towards start point were audible and clear. So, by 4:25 am, I was there at start point. It was easy to make way and reach towards the front lot. Race got slightly delayed for whatever reason. In the meantime, Romil came and pepped me up. All the while in that waiting time, I focused on taking deep breaths and tried to stay relaxed.
Finally, the race was waved off at 4:33 am. 

The Strategy. Having done the route recce earlier and also taken a bit of prior wisdom on the route, I was clear in my mind about the following:
  • 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-2 (21.1 km to 33 km till turning point).
So, the plan now was to have a slightly aggressive second section. I told my two friends that let's do a little pacy, say 4:25 average, section from half-way mark to turning point. Though they agreed, but soon by the end of 22nd split, they both started lagging behind. I, then, decided to catch another runner ahead called Brijesh. He had just finished the first half in 1:30 and was trying to do the second one too in the same timing. He was a good runner, but had a fatigue carry over from another event previous Sunday. We ran together for good about 6 kms, that is, almost till 27th km mark on Mathura rd. Fatigue was getting the better of him and he started lagging behind. So, effectively I was without company again! But no complaints, I had an amazing time over last 14 kms or so with some exceptional runners. On their day, they would have been way ahead. By now, splits were going well as per plan. Slight inclines, less pace else a better pace then race pace. Splits from 22nd to 27th read - 4:22, 4:33, 4:36, 4:16. 4:19, 4:26. A snap around 26th km:

Took a gel at 27th km water station and also picked up a half-orange being offered. Another three nice splits done and I was at India Gate again, all pumped up! Gave out a large grunt for having done a fabulous 30 kms so far!
Kept biting the orange for good about 2 kms on Rajpath. Splits from 28th to 30th were - 4:15, 4:12, 4:18. The section had another 3 kms to be done. After this, kept a steady pace till turning point to complete the second section and 33 kms. At 33rd km, the watch read 4:28 average pace, which was a big moral victory for having paced it up nicely. The section average was 4:23.
So, basically, average pace wise, I was 2 secs ahead of aimed average pace of 4:30, which implies I had good about 80 secs odd of reserve time up my sleeves (being a techie helps! πŸ˜„).
Opened up the 3-salt mixture at turning point water station, mixed it in the water and gulped it!

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!
With this, I was now in the last stretch with about 2 kms to do! Took jaggery from the aid station and kept my eyes ahead on a veteran runner. Caught hold of him in the last split. In 42nd split, increased my cadence to use a few unused muscles, if left still! The effort translated well into a 4:29 split.

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. 

It was 7:45 am now and time to get some post-race discipline going! No bruises, no black toe nails, no cramps, no blisters!

5.  Post Race.

The medical people were hardly 100m away. So, straight went to them and got some stretching done for 10 mins. Took off my shoes and remained barefoot for rest of the time.
It was now time to feed the body. The refreshment corner had a pre-packaged plate with Upma, Poha, Khichdi, Banana and a Gulab-Jamun. Had Upma, a few spoons of khichdi, banana and sweets. Overall, it was on spicier side. Hence, could not finish the plate off. Took a small cup of coffee and relished it. There was lots of salt on face, so took another glass of water and washed it off. Took a few pics for bragging rights later. By 8:30 am, I was done and ready to pick up my baggage from the counter. Borrowed somebody's mobile and informed family about everything fine with me and milestone achieved. 
Picked up baggage and walked straight to parking area where my jubilant brother was waiting for me. Changed over to dry clothes and by 9 am, we were ready to head back home.
I thought I will relax during the 1 hour or so of journey, but excitement and ecstasy got the better of me. What followed was a barrage of congratulatory messages and calls.
Brother's place came in no time! His wife was waiting to greet us with awesome menu laid out for recovery. Couldn't have asked for anything more than this after a race!
After about 2 hours of recovery sleep, an even delicious lunch was relished and I was ready to start my journey back to Hyderabad. Brother's complete family saw me off from a nearby metro station and headed straight to airport. Reached Hyderabad by an evening flight. Though I reached very late, but wife was awake to receive me with a banana cake for celebration!

6.  Take-aways. 

There are few important take-aways from the season and this 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 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.

A good FM was long overdue since two seasons had been spent on FM training. Though I had a good debut in 2016 and a faltered one to follow 3 months later at Mumbai; I had my lessons well learnt. The FM kind of distance has to be respected. We may have done a lot of training but it may or may not be our day. I have seen so many awesome runners not been able to do well in each race they run. But, what we definitely can do is good training. So, complete focus in 2017 was to keep training and keep a few small milestones enroute to check progress.
It has been a huge feeling of contentment. I will fail in my duty if do not express my sincere gratitude to my family for being right there next to me always. My better half has borne the maximum brunt for having seen my daily tantrums on eating super-selectively, resting and avoiding long outings. My kid has always pushed me to go out there and win something! 
The immediate running groups - Secunderabad Runners & Hyderabad Runners have been a great source of motivation. I just loved the way they celebrated my BQ!

“Life's battles do not always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN!!! - "From the Poem THINKING by Walter D Wintle"

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