It is cold and dark when I get up at 2:30AM this Sunday morning. This is the kind of thing we runners are used to. Getting up early, eating breakfast in the middle of the night, putting on running shoes in the dark because you do not want to wake up your spouse.
At 3 I am in the car on my way to Nangal. It is usually a two-hour drive, but Google maps say 1 hour and 45 minutes. Time to think about strategy and expectations. A hilly route is what was advertised. Scenic. I have to be at a concert in the evening and have to take the piano to the venue around 1PM. I hope I will be back in time. That probably depends if I have to wait for the prizegiving if I should finish somewhere in the top 3.
The road is predictably empty and I reach the NFL stadium at 5. The race is supposed to start at 6:30 so I put back my seat, set two alarms and go to sleep for half an hour. I must still get my Bib. It is getting colder by the minute. My feet feel frozen when I wake up. Get my Bib, pin it on my innermost layer (I learned my lesson earlier), back to the car.
6:15, time to warm up. I run a round of the stadium. But wait, there is no chance for this to start on time. No Zumba yet, nothing happening on the loudspeakers. We are waiting for the guest of honor. Finally, the Zumba warm-up starts. I run another round, wondering when is a good time to take off my track pants and second sweater. 6:45 I take it off and go to the baggage counter. 7:00 we line up. It’s hard to judge, maybe a hundred runners.
7:05 we start off without the chief guest. I get past the slower runners and then there are about 10 runners ahead of me. When I turn the first corner, the guy in front is almost out of sight. Keep the pace around 4 minutes, 5 seconds for a kilometer. I set my Garmin for pace and it helps.
I soon realize that all the guys in front of me had a sprint start. I overtake them one by one. The guy in front stays with me for about a kilometer, but after 4 kilometers I am all on my own. It is just the lead bike ahead of me. The route is well marked. I run next to the Bhakra dam. What a fine morning for a run. I take off my extra sweater and bind it around my waste.
Some ups and downs come and go, but I am keeping my set pace – in fact, I keep to around 4 minutes. Then around the halfway mark, there are some more serious uphills. My heart races faster while my legs slow down. Two kilometers up. Then comes the downhill. Not too steep to run.
So I let myself be swept down that hill. The kilometers fly past faster than I have ever gone in any race. Comes a bit of trail and I fly down that too, taking care not to fall. I am used to seeing surprised locals, but now I see astonished faces look up as this apparition speeds by at break-neck speed. I smile, but I do not stop.
I just have this amazing energy pushing me forward, even when it becomes flat again. The lead vehicle starts telling everyone who wants to listen that this is the 21k front-runner. People clap and cheer. I pass some of the backmarkers of the 10k race and they also cheer me on.
There is a crowd at the finish line. This is so different from what I am used to. The last 100 meter is lined with supporters. A commentator can be heard above the din. I sprint for the line. It is done. I look at my watch. 1:23. Finally, after 13 years I equal my personal best.
I never had to smile for so many pictures being taken of me. Not even at my wedding. So many selfies with strangers and shots taken by people carrying impressive cameras with long lenses. I get interviewed by the commentator. (Two questions and both basically the same: “How was the route?” Great, thanks!) It took a while to get to the place where I could pick up my medal, my refreshments, and my extra extra sweater. It took forever to wait for the chief guest to arrive so that the prizegiving could start. I sat in one of the chairs arranged for the ceremony and posed for more selfies and had semi-awkward discussions with strangers.
A little boy sat next to me who looked me up and down. “What is your name?” he asked. Then later: “What is your father and mother’s name?” What? Eventually: “Did you win?” (After I received my prizes and I was standing in the crowd wondering how I would get it to the car, he came up to me with a simple, serious: “Congratulations.” Interesting fellow)
There were many surprises at prize-giving.
- The 10k for ladies was won by a little girl, Nishita, who is 12 years old.
- There was an 86-year-old man that participated. (Probably in the 5k)
- There was only one lady who did the half marathon.
- I got the prize for my age-category (40-50) but there was no overall winner declared.
- My prize included a big heavy box that I did not have time to open until I reached home. My wife, who got to open it, was surprised to find … a microwave oven!
The ‘garib angrez’ (apparently what locals call me behind my back because I cycle to work.)
P.S. Great Job to P.C. Kushwaha and the Thrill Zone team and all the sponsors. Fantastic organization. Great support and all for zero (that’s right 0) rupees.