The year I learned to Run

12:35:30 PM on 20th October, 2019 was perhaps one of the greatest moments of my life. As I crossed the finish line at the 2019 Detroit Free Press TCF Bank marathon, I was living the moment I had visualized countless times in the preceding 9 months. In the last 5 hours and 15 mins, I had run 26.22 Miles (42.2 KM) to complete the very first Full marathon of my life. And what glorious miles those were! 
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon" 
-Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon
Earlier that day, the energy at the starting line was electric. The weather was in the mid -40s F (about 7 C) and the sun was yet to rise. Here I was, finally at the starting line. Around me, were thousands of other runners, each with their own stories and their own journeys. Some wore theirs on their T shirts- a group running to celebrate someone’s birthday, another running in memory of someone else. There were runners hugging dear ones, calming their last minute nerves. I took a silent minute to look back on the last few months….

When I signed up for the marathon on February 10th 2019, I could barely run 10 mins at a time. Signing up for this marathon was very much a leap of faith-a leap I had taken out of sheer frustration and desperation. I had tried to be serious about running for years, and failed miserably each time. I just did not seem to have the stamina or the fortitude to run more than a mile at a stretch, and it made me angry like nothing else. At a personal level, it was more than just about running- it made me feel deeply insecure about my ability to achieve audacious goals. So, in a moment of madness, I signed up for the first running event of my life- The Full marathon at the 2019 Detroit Free Press TCF Bank Marathon. I would have 36 weeks to go from from a complete non-runner to a marathoner. 

I set out a simple timeline of sub-goals for myself— Run a continuous 5K by end of February, continuous 10K by end of March, Half marathon by end of June and finally, the full marathon in October. The next few months were a revelation of just how many of my limitations were self imposed. The thing about running is that your body never really becomes OK with you running for long stretches at a time. It always wants you to stop, sit down and relax. What you do become better at is convincing your brain you can keep going. It’s a mental endeavor first, the body just adapts in due time. 

I had struggled for years to keep running for 5 KMs at a time and never succeeded. It seemed like an unassailable wall that chided me every time I attempted it. Now, next to the gargantuan goal that was the Full marathon, the 5K seemed like but another hurdle i had to cross. I started keeping a track of every run, making sure each week was somehow an improvement over the last. For the first few weeks, most of my 'runs' were walks punctuated by sprints. Each week thereafter, I reduced the stretches of walking and increased the runs. Every Sunday, I tried to keep going for longer and longer distances. Within a month of signing up for the event, I could run 5KMs without stopping. Within 2 months, I hit 10KMs. I was ecstatic!

I also learned a lot about the science of running and sports. Nike’s excellent ‘Trained’ podcast opened my eyes to the 5 facets of training- Exercise, recovery, nutrition, mindset and sleep. I did a better job working on some of those facets than others, but it was a fascinating journey in discovering how our bodies work and improve. I spent countless hours reading articles and watching videos about running form, training techniques and other myriad topics about running. The running community, both online and offline, is amazingly supportive and I learned countless valuable lessons from them. I started going for group runs at the local running store (hat tip to Ann Arbor Running Company). I had avoided that for the longest time due to my fear that I wouldn’t be able to catch up with the group. Not only were my fears unfounded, the group runs became one of the best parts of my training. 

The week leading up to the race day however, threatened all those months of training. My left knee inexplicably started hurting every time I tried to run. In all 3 runs I tried in the week before the marathon, I never managed to run for more than a mile. The facebook group for the marathon was full of posts from people dropping out due to last minute injuries, and that petrified me. I massaged, Iced and stretched that knee as much as I could, constantly telling it “Not today, not this week!”

So as I stood there in the corral, after all those ups and downs, moments of ecstasy and paranoia, I was grateful that I was finally there. When they horn went off for our corral and I crossed the starting line, I couldn’t help but tear up. I would tear up several times over over the next few hours. I teared up when i crossed the old man running with an American flag in the memory of his fallen son. I teared up when a man cheering us on shouted “You are an inspiration! You worked hard to get here and you inspire us all”. I teared up when I saw a blind man running the marathon while being tethered to his guide (turns out he's famous). I teared up at all the countless signs held up by family members, cheering on their loved ones. I teared up when I saw my friends dance for me on the sidelines. There were just many stories of struggle and triumph that day, it was hard to not be inspired!

Detroit is also a special marathon. You start running in Downtown detroit surrounded by some historic buildings. You then cross the international border while running across the Ambassador bridge into Windsor, Canada. Watching the sunrise as you run across the bridge while looking at the skylines of Detroit and Windsor will be etched in my mind for a long time to come. You then run through the streets of Windsor in Canada while reading some of the most hilarious signs on the course. You cross the international border again, this time using the tunnel under the Detroit river. You can't help but feel like a rockstar as you emerge out of he tunnel to the sound of the crowds welcoming you back to US. The rest of the marathon goes through Detroit’s lovely neighborhoods and the lovely Bell Isle.  Detroit's residents come out in their best form lifting your spirits even when your body is aching in every damn place. It’s a marathon full of beautiful sights and memories. 

As I crossed the finish line, a million thoughts crossed my mind. I had visualized this moment countless times before. I had thought I would cry, I had thought I would be ecstatic and triumphant. But that’s not what I felt when the moment actually arrived. All I felt was the satisfaction of a job well done. I had just run a goddamn marathon.