42.195 km of GRIT
The year was 2014.
I graduated from engineering and was working at the startup that I had been a part of since 7th sem of engineering, and I had decided not to pursue a placement opportunity in the middle east of working in a thermal power plant. I wanted to sweat it out in the startup(without any pay), rather than in an Arab land.
As with any bootstrapped startup, we had our fair share of challenges to tackle, and we were still learning the ropes of running a technology based company that had plans of developing a wearable device for women’s safety. Funds were slim, R&D wasn’t heading in the direction we wanted it to, and more importantly, the core team, which included me,was beginning to disintegrate due to lack of direction and grit.
In addition to all of this, I had pressure mounting from my parents to find a “real job” and begin the “settling process of life”. Unfortunately, I had a decent score in engineering, and in my family’s viewpoint, I wasn’t living up to the standards of what my marks and calibre could fetch me in life.
I was on my way to meet my then girlfriend, and while I was waiting in one of the traffic signals, I noticed a massive hoarding with an advertisement about a marathon that was being organized by Shriram properties. Since it was the first edition of the race, the advertisement was pretty big, and it was difficult to miss the details.
After I got back home, I checked my bank balance, and registering for the race would leave me with just 50 bucks. It wasn’t the bank balance that scared me. The idea of registering for a 42km race when I only had 3 months to prepare, worried me.
As far as physical activity is concerned, I am someone who would fare in the middle of the scale. Having said that, I haven’t run more than 2 km continuously in my life. I took the chance, and registered for the full marathon, instead of going for the 5,10, or even the 21 km category.
Next day morning, I woke up and ran for like 2 km. The day after that, I woke up just in time for work, and the only leg exercise I got was walking to the bus stand. A week passed in a similar fashion, and the need for having to practise totally slipped my mind, as the startup demanded my full time and energy. In the midst of all this, I had conveniently missed an email from the race organizers about an option to change my race category to a shorter distance.
2.5 months down the line, I had already built the attitude of how I was going to give the race a miss, and began the process of being okay with cutting my losses.
Few days before the race, I got an email with details of the address from where I should collect my race T-shirt and BIB.
Day before the race, it was raining, and I was enjoying a nap in the afternoon. I woke up 1 hour before the closing time for collecting the items, and I rushed to collect the items, and once again, I was contemplating running.
There is a fine line between being adventurous and being stupid. I was obviously gravitating towards the stupid spectrum when I decided to run the race without any prior practise. People usually dedicate 6 months-1 year to prepare for a full marathon, and here I was being an arrogant prick about running it without any practise.
I didn’t sleep well that night, and I remember chatting with a close friend who was in London at that time, and pouring out my apprehensions. The guy that he is, he only checked if I had given my father’s number for emergency contact. He has his own way of showing concern!
Reported at the venue at 4:00 am, and I couldn’t help but notice the vibrancy that was in the air. People were warming up and stretching, and I was wondering if I should copy them just to fit in place! 3 months I didn’t move a muscle, and it felt pointless to warm up. There were people who came with running gels and had worn these special vests that had pockets for holding gazillion small bottles. God only knows what elixir went into those bottles. The level of preparation some had portrayed overwhelmed me.
I just had a cap.
By 4:55 am, all the participants had assembled before the starting line, and there was a request for how newbies should stand at the end of the crowd to make way for the pros who were seriously competing. I stood right before the starting line! At that moment, I didn’t feel like I was being arrogant about the whole situation, but it stemmed out of the unnecessary pep talk I gave myself en route to the venue from home about the possibility of even winning the race.
10 km was covered under an hour, and I was feeling okay about the race. The so called pros kept overtaking me, and I didn’t really care. After 10 km, I somehow developed the confidence of just finishing the race.
That became my agenda-complete the race. Especially since my sister made fun of me possibly giving up after few km the previous day. Yes, when your ego is hurt sufficiently, you push hard!
20 km down, and I was beginning to feel the fatigue. There were numerous pit-stops on the way, and I kept munching on the bananas and drinking the ORS solution that was offered at all of them.
I started feeling a stitch in my stomach, and that marked the beginning of me feeling a series of excruciating pain at different parts of my body.
32 km, and I was beginning to convince myself of taking a bike ride with the volunteer to the finish line. I was convincing myself that I had already won my respect (I hadn’t actually) and it was time to throw in the towel.
35 km, I was inspected by a doctor and he certified me to be in perfect shape. I wish he hadn’t. Since the pain was beginning to grow in my stomach, I requested the doc to apply the pain relief spray. When I lifted my T-shirt, I noticed my stomach muscles had contracted significantly, and I was developing baby abs.
Now, what happened after the 35 km mark was a huge turning point in my life. The instances that played after this mark has given me motivation to push myself during few difficult situations in life.
Every step that I made, I felt like the small bones in my feet were cracking. My tendons and ligaments were crying out for help. My body kept motivating me to stop, but I continued. Pain was no longer localized to a certain area. It had taken the form of a fluid, and was enjoying a joyride throughout my body. Since I had eaten so many bananas, digesting it was causing drowsiness, and a general lack of motivation was beginning to cloud me.
I had two decisions in front of me: either I see the race through completion or I ride pillion with one of the volunteers. The latter was tempting, but my ego didn’t let me. I rewinded pretty much every happy moment from the past that I could recollect to distract myself. All the people who gave me joy and support throughout my life, was remembered vividly.
40 km, and I could feel my body shutting down. My brain was no longer capable of engaging in the exercise of rewinding the happy moments. It seemed like my brain realized I was overriding its instructions by fooling it, and it didn’t like being taken for that ride. Even though I only had 2 km to go, I was genuinely considering quitting because I had a feeling that I was going to fall.
I asked myself
“What if this is how people feel before dying?”
“Am I being stupid by pushing myself to do something just to nurse my Himalayan ego?”
“Will I lose my legs?”
Determined about finishing the race, I marched on ignoring the above questions. Actually, at few places, I was just standing still and imagining that I was running.
42 km, and I just had to cover 195 meters to finally taste victory. So, there was this one volunteer who had been keeping tab of me since the 35 km mark, and he rode next to me for a while, and told me that he would see me at the finish line. It was his way of saying “get your shit together, you’re really close”.
I gave everything to those last ~200 m, and crossed the finish line in 6 hours and 12 minutes. The volunteer who hung the medal around me had the misfortune of having to hug me, actually, give into my sweat laced hug!
There weren’t a lot of people to cheer at the finish line, but I didn’t need any spectators for celebration.
As I was having breakfast, an Aunty approached me, and noticing I had the full marathon bib, she wanted to know about my preparation strategy, so that she could run a full marathon the next year. When I told her that I didn’t prepare, she was gobsmacked.
That’s when I knew I had done something incredibly huge that morning. I wasn’t looking for validation, but her surprised face was a reminder for me to completely understand what I had accomplished.
After relaxing for a bit, I decided to leave the venue, and as I was exiting, I noticed a lady, probably in her late 60s, who was from West Bengal, crossing the finish line. I wasn’t sure about what drove her, but I was certain grit was definitely one among them. That day, my mind proved a lot of things to me.
Most importantly, it proved my body wrong.
This article was not written with the intention of bragging myself to glory, instead it is a reminder to myself, and may be to whoever is reading this to realize what we are all capable of doing if we are gritty!