On 13 March, I ran for 6 hours on a 400-metre athletics track. It was the first in-person race for more than a year. I was looking forward to it very much. I became 50 years old recently, and this race was my birthday present to myself.
The last time when I ran the Tuffman stadium run, I did 24 hours. However, I decided to do “only” 6 hours this time. Everyone meeting me before the race was surprised to hear that, but I didn’t mind. Six was definitely enough for me this time.
It is not that my training went badly. I had a good build-up, peaking with 85 weekly kilometres 4 weeks before the race. I was probably about 85% fit. I did not do any super long run as I would usually do to prepare for this type of thing. I clocked 30k twice. But I felt ready enough.
Everyone was there, many whom I haven’t seen for a long time. I was in lane 5. Two batches ran 6 hours. I started in the first batch at 4 PM on Saturday. 10 PM did not sound that far away. I knew how the 24-hour runners felt and were happy that I wasn’t one of them.
My plan was to run a steady 5 minutes per kilometre as long as I could hold it and then go slower as needed. If I could stay on 5, I would run 72 kilometres. If I slowed down, I reckoned I would still maybe get to 70. This was not a good plan, and my execution made it worse. My choice of pace was based more on wishful thinking than on experience.
When I started, I felt so good that I ran closer to 4:48. A typical newbie error! At the half-marathon mark, I ran out of gas and was forced to go slower. I continued to deteriorate, and after 42k, I could not run below 6 minutes a kilometre.
At the marathon mark, I rewarded myself with a cup of coffee. I covered the distance in 3 hours and 41 minutes – a respectable time – which underlines the extent of my folly! Until then, I mostly had Goo gels (one every 45 minutes), water, and the energy drink that the organizer put out. I felt I couldn’t stomach much more at this stage, but I started eating some orange slices, a small piece of banana, a handful of peanuts. (This last one I will avoid in future since it was so dry in my mouth and impossible to swallow.)
Whether it was dehydration – since the summer heat just started to kick in – or my glycogen stores becoming depleted, I don’t know, but I had to walk. I started walking about 80 meters and then running the rest of the round. And repeat. I think this prevented me from hitting the wall or “bonking” or whatever you may want to call that sudden fatigue that leaves you unable to do anything.
My watch stopped at 44k (I forgot to charge it before the race), so I had no idea how fast or slow I was going, and I did not care. The minutes were going in slow motion. Every time I passed the banner where they had a clock, it seemed almost no time has passed. This is what happens if you wish something to be over. With about 1 hour left to run, I wondered how I will be able to continue moving. I took a physiotherapy break and asked for ice packs. I think just lying there for a few minutes and not running did me a world of good.
I found that I could run multiple rounds without walking. The other thing that I started doing was to start dedicating rounds (in my head only) to someone. I prayed for these people and imagined lifting them up before God to receive His blessing. I ran a few rounds for my Mom. I imagined my Dad running free in heaven. (He passed away last year in August) I ran a round each for my wife, son, two daughters, two brothers, and their wives and children. I started in on my friends and discovered I have many more friends than I thought I had. I ran for some of my colleagues who were going through a rough patch. And I kept on picking up speed. With 15 minutes left, I was probably going at close to the same pace I started off with.
The last few rounds, I was flying. Like during my previous 24-hour race, I could not tell where the energy burst was coming from. Maybe just the sheer relief that it was almost done. And then it was.
It felt so good to stop. The mask came back up. There were the photo sessions, receiving my medal, drinking a lot of water, a final “bye”, and then I was in my car driving back. Punjab just instituted a curfew after 11, and I was going to just make it.
I knew that I did pretty well compared to others since I had to pass people in my lane, and I did not see even one person passing me. It wasn’t until Monday that I got the news that I ran 62 kilometres and that it was enough to win the 6-hour race with a small margin. During this same competition, other records tumbled. The first four 100k male athletes broke the India record, and the first woman also did the same. The male 24-hour runner also did the most ever on Indian soil: 239 kilometres!
Apart from doing a trek in the mountains (see last week), I am taking an extended break from running. The motivation isn’t there. I know it will come back. But, for now, I am relaxing. I hope to start playing squash again soon.
Keep running (unless it is time for a break)