Two HT writers had tried to follow a four-month programme to getting 21-km ready. Here’s how it went.
Can’t just wish away years of disuse
This old coach used to tell us when Wimbledon was all we could dream of: Paseena aur tapasya hamesha parde mein, zamane se door (Training and devotion to God are best kept private). So the moment I was roped into writing about my attempt to run the half marathon, the first bit of superstitious dread began to gnaw at me.
To start with, in my defence, let me say it straight: this running 21-km thing it really is no great mental challenge for someone who was once being trained to be a tennis player. We followed a programme made by the former national athletics coach — Ken Bosen — that made most regular athletes look like wimps in comparison. Ok, it is tough to believe that when you look at me now, but the current lot of Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association trainees are not even within sniffing distance of the physical targets we set 15 years earlier. A resting pulse rate of 53, after all, is no joke.
However, a single high altitude trek a year has replaced a regimen of daily speedwork after hours of on-court training, three days a week of weight training, and five meals a day. It’s no substitute.
That bit above was required, for when I quit the running programme midway, there were far too many smirks. It was quite simple really. After years of disuse, the knees were just in no shape to get going instantly. The body needed some basic groundwork. Our resident Rush physio — Heath Matthews — suggested I do a couple of months of swimming before I start running long distance again. That, just to shore up the support muscles.
That will be when it will be. But even with years of disuse, it could have been possible to carry on; relying on extensive icing and contrast baths to soothe the knees. Finishing work at midnight and then trying to get drunk afterward, of course, jettisoned all that. To the extent that even the promise of a Rolex by one of my more famous friends was not motivation enough. The watch was there just for finishing; there wasn’t even a time constraint.
But guys, you know what, I am getting a bit pissed. Especially when someone like the senior editor who’s written the piece above gives me that I-can-run-10km-you-can’t look. Adhering to the sage advice of the coach mentioned in the opening line of this copy — after all the man was decades ahead of his time in training techniques — I’ll keep my peace and say no more. For now.
Even a watertight plan needs changes
Right until the night before the half marathon, I was getting calls dissuading me from running the entire distance. ‘Walk more’, I was told. ‘Don’t over do it’ they repeated. ‘What were you thinking — signing up for something like this and then not practising enough for it’, I was asked.
‘I reached 10 k,’ I mumbled.
But here’s the funny thing. Reaching 10 km while practising for the marathon was a whole lot tougher than actually running it in the marathon. The schedule I followed was watertight, with no room for slacking off. It’s a different matter that five weeks into my practice the first break came in the form of a much-needed vacation in the mountains. From there on, it was all, pardon the pun, downhill.
It became tougher to run in the evenings, especially on the days I got back late from work. The few times I did run in the morning, I’d fall back into bed like a sack of potatoes, thoroughly exhausted on returning from the run. By the time I could do a 13-km distance run, my energy levels had, it seemed, ironically hit an all-time low. This, despite an eyebrow-raising increase in carbohydrate consumption.
Eventually, I realised, the only way I could help myself was to take it easy. I began to focus on interval runs and followed the schedule only when it seemed like I’d live through the practice.
On the day of the marathon, whether my friends and I believed it or not, my body was ready to run. Sure it hadn’t covered 21 km before, but there’s always a first time right? At 6.45 am, standing in the midst of a thousand other runners, waiting for the gun shot to start us off, I had no doubt that I’d cover the whole distance. All I needed was a strategy. This was mine:
1. Do not focus on the running — something I’d learnt during my practice. Distracting myself from the run made me capable of covering more distance.
2. Whatever happens, don’t stop. This was something I promised myself — that unless absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t take a break.
3. Walk on Peddar Road. I didn’t want to risk injury by running on the slope, so I decided that every now and then, I would stop to quickly stretch the legs so that they don’t turn into jelly, and walk for a few minutes. Except, I eventually found out, walking tired me far more than running did.
Once I began running, I realised it was simple. And running with a group certainly helped.