The Standard Chartered Marathon has become an annual pilgrimage for me. As for thousands of runners across the city; some just challenging themselves to finish the course of the marathon; some challenging themselves to do it in better timing and achieve their personal best.
Into my fifth half marathon effort, I just asked myself can I do something to help both the above groups? Typically, the first-timers — young to middle-aged with about 6-9 months of training can finish the course in 2 hours and 30 minutes and those in the ranges of doing it in 2:35 or 2:40 would be gunning to do it under 2:30 to achieve their PB and just to qualify for the next year. Those less than 2:30 are necessarily the ones with more vigorous practice and probably don’t need as much help.
And then I decided to become a pacer for 2 hours and 30 minutes. A Pacer or a Pacesetter is one who runs with a pre-determined schedule to complete the run in prescribed time —neither more than a minute early nor more than a second late. And yes, it’s no use doing 20 km in 2 hours and 15 minutes and then just stroll across for the last km in 15 minutes. One, its morally wrong and it would be noted by the organizers; two, you may tire out those following you beyond their capacity and ensure failure for them or worse injure them fatally. Yes, fatally as while in a marathon you just tend to push yourself beyond that critical limit without your knowledge as you tend to move with the crowd. Competing with yourself, pushing yourself and sometimes subconsciously competing with others around you. So Pacesetting is serious business.
My best run being 2 hrs and 19 minutes, running in 2:30 appeared to be a cakewalk. My usual average per km being 5:45 to 6 minutes per km on levelled roads and 7 to 7:20 seconds on inclines.
In September, the first thing I tried was to run with a uniform speed of 6:30 per km on levelled roads. It was a disaster. On my 5 km run, I realized I was swinging between 5:55 and 6:55 m/km. Too much of oscillations for a healthy and happy run for those in my bus. It took me about a month to run at that constant speed and finally, I tried to run without my sports watch to just check my natural body speed. Disaster encore. Once without the watch, the body just kept on moving and I was going too fast.
Finally, by late October after about two months of conditioning, I reached that sweet pace of 6:30 m per km. I finally did my timed 10 km on the streets of Thiruvananthapuram in 1 hour 6 minutes, still about a minute faster. But slowed down uniformly from my usual 10 K timings of 1 hour 01 to 02 mins.
In early December in Jaipur with my confidence riding high, I set out early mornings on the streets of Jaipur. One of the best runs and weather I had. I passed virtually around every monument of the city, the Golf Club, the Hawa Mahal, City Palace, up to Amer Fort and winded up at Jal Mahal. I covered 16 km of blissful run and looked at my watch. It said 1 hr 46 min!!! Way too fast! Ten minutes earlier than what would be allowed for the 2:30 bus.
A beautiful day, amazing weather, a gorgeous run and a heart-wrenching moment. Do I really want to be a pacer? I wondered aimlessly as I flew back to Mumbai. In mid-December, four weeks before the SCMM 2016 we went for our practice 21 k run. This was going to be it. I would be deciding today whether I would continue to be a pacer. As we started the run, I broke into conversation with Karan, my cousin and running buddy. Every km I kept on glancing at my watch. Nine km in one hour, I was doing fine. Karan turned back after this and I continued till midpoint of 10.5 km. Fourteen km it was in 1:33 mins!! I cursed myself, it should have been in 1:35 or 36. I continued and slowed down over the Peddar road bridge and then continued. As I touched back Nariman Point 21 k, it was 2 hrs 28 mins and 32 seconds. One minute fast. I can achieve this I thought. The Marathon Day It turned out to be an unusually busy Saturday on 16th Jan 2016. Somehow it appeared that everyone wanted to fall sick on that very day. Till 6 in the evening, I didn’t even think of the Marathon. And anyone who runs would agree that unless your mind is prepared to run, your body wouldn’t comply!
In the evening, I just went for a short walk and went back to my whole year of preparations and more importantly to my runs in Thiruvananthapuram, Jaipur, the Ahmedabad riverfront, amongst the mountains in Gulmarg, around the Dal Lake in Srinagar, along the promenade in Pondicherry and many more. Suddenly my body wanted to move. Wanted to just break into a run. I went back home and wore my 2:30 min flagpole and I was ready! All I needed now was a good sleep.
Next morning, we underestimated the traffic situation at the new starting point at Worli Dairy and barely made it on time. As I lined up, there were many who wanted to cling on to my bus and many unsure faces asking me, “Can I do it?” All I said was, “Just enjoy the run, and stick on!” Halfway through, many dropped out of the bus as they couldn’t keep up and many lagging behind from the previous bus joined me. 14 K 1:36 mins. Perfect! I thought. We kept going over the bridge and the group following me wanted to walk. That would certainly put us beyond 2:30. I broke into a very slow jog and had to shout out motivating talks frequently! That was tough. 15 K, over the Peddar Road killer incline and constant chirping to keep my group going on!!! I reached 20 K at 2:22 mins. This was make or break. If I just slow down even further, I would be overstepping the time limit. As the final km boards passed, 500 m, 400 m, 300 m, 200 m, 100 m and finishing line! The clock said 2 hrs 29 min and 32 seconds! I was overwhelmed. I am having goose pimples even as I am typing now. I was surrounded by unknown faces profusely thanking me! Grateful handshakes and warm hugs followed. I did my job. I patted myself. “Thank you,” I told myself and my parents up there.
Three weeks later I wondered does pacing matter. I told my chuddy buddy Amit to pace me for 10 K in 57 mins. My best was 58:30 a year ago. As we were running a guy called out to me, “Thanks,” he said. “I followed your bus and finished it in 2:37 mins. My PB was 2:48 mins.” I was in my 9th km and running hard and perspiring profusely and breathing rhythmically. I didn’t know how to respond. As I finished my 10 K, paced by Amit to perfection in 57 m 08 seconds, I looked around for that man, I lost him in the obliviousness. But now I knew what I did mattered to many. Dreams were achieved and on that day 17th Jan 2016, I did my dream run!
Dr Kumar P Doshi MD FCCP
Consulting Chest Physician