Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Running the Mumbai Full Marathon

A Full Marathon was something that I had never before considered even though I have been an avid runner since high school, which *ahem* means,  I have been running for more than 30 years now. I have done my fair share of  5k and 10k's during that time. However, the thought of doing a full marathon took seed only after I successfully ran a Half Marathon in just under 2 hours. Feeling good, I thought, how much more difficult can a Full be, especially if I ran at a slower pace and trained a bit more. Surely, I can run another 21kms? Little did I know how wrong that assumption was!

Excited, I checked on possible venues for my maiden attempt. Pondicherry did not have timed runs, Chennai, Pune were done on a smaller scale. Midnight marathon in Bangalore was not my cup of tea. Since Mumbai is the biggest and best organized in India, I selected it and promptly registered as soon as it opened in Jul 2012 with plenty of time to prepare for the run to be held on Jan 20th 2013.

I trained for about 5 months, running 3 times for a total of 15 to 25 kms every week. That is a bit less but I thought it was enough since I was also playing some intense badminton and basketball, 6-8 hrs every week.  Long runs I did were 27 kms, most of it inside Lalbagh (thanks to family for the water breaks!), Mysore Half in Oct and several 10 to 15km runs.

Finally D day arrived and I flew into Mumbai 19th morning and got picked up by my nephew who I was going to stay with. The logistics to make it to the venue is quite a challenge as my nephew stayed in Bandra and the run started at 5.40am from CST, Colaba (20kms away). I had to get up sometime after 3am, eat something(apple,banana), do my morning duties and catch the local train to Churchgate by 4am! After using the station "facilities" once more, I was in the holding area at about the right time. So far so good.

The dusk and the chillness of the night was not on my mind as I pushed along with the crowd from the holding area onto a road. I walked slowly towards start mat, which was by now pinging incessantly as the runners crossed it, glad to finally start running.

The runners were stretched out well enough for me to hit my pace quickly and I felt really good and confident as I crossed the first few kms in slightly faster than my target pace of just above 6m30s/km. I slowed down a bit hitting my target pace by the 4th km. Feeling confident, I rejected the initial water breaks. Very quickly we were on the long and scenic marine drive. Quite a few spectators were already out, some supporting all with colorful banners and others looking anxiously for their chosen runners enthusiastically encouraging them as they passed by.

At the 13th km or so, we turned onto the Bandra-Worli Sea-Link. Surprisingly, it felt quite flat as the slope is gentle. I tried to enjoy the view of boats on the sea, terns flying overhead as well as the beautiful sunrise  over the Mumbai skyline, while running. Photographers were sitting in the middle of the road here trying to capture runners against the bridge pylons which towered over us. The link ends at about 18th km and I was still running along steadily reaching the half way mark of 21km in 2hrs 19mins which is what I had planned. I was well ahead of the 5 hr Bus (pacer).

It was at this time that I started feeling some fatigue in my leg though my aerobic stamina was still good. I dropped pace a bit mindful of the fact that I still had 20+kms more to run. But the fatigue increased so much so that I started cramping first in the legs and then the hips and pretty much all over by the 25th km. At this time the leading bunch of the Elite runners who were flagged off at 7.40am passed us as if we were at stand still! I had been hoping this would motivate me but the cramping was too much, so I decided to stop and walk for a bit. My goal of not walking at all during the run was now broken.

Even after walking for a couple of kms, the fatigue did not reduce. The 5 hr pacer group passed me around 28th km and when I tried to start running and stay with them, my body just refused. I walked for another 2 kms when the 5.30hr pacer group came by on their walking break. I walked with them for a bit but again was unable to switch to running when they did as I cramped up pretty badly after just a few steps. So, it was another 5mins or so of walking.

I realized that if I kept walking it would be well over 6 hrs before I could finish with no chance of an official timing. All this time I had taken as much liquid, water and energy drinks as I could. I gingerly started running at a very slow pace and thankfully did not feel any cramps. I decided to be extremely conservative from now on out with the goal of finishing under 6hrs. So, it was 800mtrs of slow jogging and 200mtrs of walking.

During this extremely hard last 10kms of the run, the help and support of the Mumbaikers cannot be praised enough. They were out there along with the race volunteers almost every 100 mtrs or so, kids, women and men all handing out water, chocolates, candy, biscuits, banana etc.., I took all their help as much as I could. A lady even held out cut up banana pieces as we looked too tired even to peel one. A welcome gesture which enabled me to grab a few pieces. They were providing wet sponges and ice packs to cool us off. But as the weather was quite pleasant I did not feel much need for it. I let them rub my legs with the ice pack once to relieve the cramps and another time used some pain killer spray.

It was the longest 12kms run I have ever experienced taking me almost 1hr45mins. The end point seemed so far away even when I saw the 1000 mtr marker! My mind and heart wanted to stretch out and run in a burst of energy and glory at this time but my body flatly refused to co-operate. So, it was very much a subdued and limping me that crossed the finish line, happy to hear the final pings from the chip timing recorders.

I had finished my first Full Marathon. At that time it was very exhilarating and all other factors such as time taken, body ache, etc.., did not matter at all.

I then wobbled over to the Medical base camp to get some help for my cramps.  I looked in on a scene straight out of some war movie, minus the blood! The tent with 30 or so beds was fully occupied with runners in various states of agony. Doctors and volunteers were bustling all over giving drinks, massages and comforting smiles. After drinking some fluids and lying down for a bit I got out to find my nephew who was getting worried since I was way past the optimistic finish time I had given him. Together we went to collect the goody bag which contained much needed nourishment. Then we walked out of the area and had some nice Mumbai style grilled cheese sandwich and chats from road side stalls as I could now ignore my diet restrictions!

I had finished 1652 out of almost 2600 runners whose bib numbers show up on the timing site though I believe there were well over 3000 who started. Splits and other details can be seen at this link.

Upload of my Garmin data which also gives you a nice aerial flyover of the Marathon route can be seen here:
(click on the View 3D map of this route, Large version to the right)

Final thoughts. Well, this experience was a revelation to me on my own running limits. Just because I could do the 21km or half comfortably did not mean the same with the full. A veteran runner told me that the challenge of running the full starts after you have run 30km and I have to agree. I am still trying to understand why I cramped so much. Reasons could be that my training (continuous running and not just fitness level) was not adequate, not enough hydration the previous day, not enough carbo-loading prior to the run or a combination  of the 3. People later also explained to me about stored Glycogen getting depleted at around the mark when I hit my energy limit and started cramping, commonly called hitting the wall. I feel what happened to me was that I hit the wall around 27th Km marker. Then my walking rest and nourishment that I had  in the next 30 mins gave me just enough energy to finish the race.

More information on that can be found at the following links:
Another long one below. Thought this guy had it worse than me, his initial description is close to what I went  through. FYI, as per my Garmin I burnt more than 3000 calories during the run.

Good luck to you all in your runs or other similar crazy goals!


kumar bharathi said...

hi nandu i read your full marathon post it was very intersting i am really very proud of you after all those cramps n pain you reached your goal hats of to you man hugs to little bro bye

Padmanaban Kumar (Paddu @ Just for Kicks) said...

hey Nandu,

Saw your email and was looking forward to reading it and just got the chance.

First, congratulations! Not an easy feat by any means for anyone. Glad to see that you accomplished the goal (like I expected you to) despite the challenges along the way. Unfortunately, another participant who ran it pretty easily, doesn't get/deserve the same credit (at least from me :) ) You've shown that perseverance matters and does pay off. In that context, as I was reading the second half of the post, I fell back on the chair thinking whether I would have pursued it further, especially at the 18-25K segment - when you likely had the option to drop off and had to make that tough call. Within a minute or so, I realized, well, I wouldn't have got to the 18K mark in the first place, so can spend that time thinking at a later point when I get some motivation from your experience, and actually do a run, and make it on time to at least start the race :)

Second, very nice write up. Kept me glued to the post till the end.

Take it easy now, and regain the lost calories.



Arun said...

Wonderful experience I definitely would say and everybody will agree! Hats off Nanda!
And needless to say, well written, truly your style!

Girish Divate said...

Congratulations! Great experience!

Nanda said...

Thanks for all the kind comments and encouragement. @ Paddu.. was a bit tough during that segment and any momentary thought to quit would have been tough to overcome. Thankfully I did not and that saved me. The spectators do give you some fighting spirit by urging you to go on and that helps. Do register properly for your next 10k and collect the BIB!. I am sure you will enjoy doing it. Looking fwd to reading on your experience.. :) Actually, I am trying not to regain those calories.. :) :) tc.

Muthukumarasamy Ramachandran said...

Dear Nanda!

It is interesting to hear all your determination to complete the marathon