I had a good feeling going into this year's Delhi Half Marathon — my annual effort to push a middle-aged body beyond its comfort zone. It's all in the mind, they say. It isn't. It's also in the cramping legs, the wheezing lungs, the aching feet. Muscles that one didn't think were involved in running seize up, leaving one gasping and spluttering in front of enthusiastic, cheering children.
Coming back to the "good feeling", I had been running a couple of times a week between half an hour and an hour for the last two months. I really felt I was in better shape than before, and if I was lucky, I could possibly challenge my best (2:18). The day before the race, while collecting my bib number, I met an English tourist, who besides visiting the Taj, Rajasthan, and other things touristy, had decided to throw in a half marathon for fun. He said; "I'm on vacation, and haven't been running in India, but I do it in 1:23 in Birmingham. Should be fun!" Fun!! Suitably impressed, but not willing to give an inch (at least on the pre-race day), and claiming superior knowledge of local conditions, I pointed out that the route was largely flat (non-runners have no idea how steep an innocuous flyover feels after running for an hour!), but the September heat and humidity would be the big issue. Last year, it was in pleasant November. We agreed to meet on the course the next day.
Even in the morning, I felt confident, while walking the two and a bit kilometres to the 'holding area'. So you see the elite athletes, who are actually competing, are put up in a different compound while the vast majority of us who are aiming to merely complete, are herded in a separate area. On top of that they give 'them' a fifteen minute advantage! "But for that, we'd also be contenders", a wise owl cracked. It's amusing to listen in to the conversations: "you can't do it in two hours? You must train harder; no I haven't trained, but two hours should be a breeze. I used to do cross country in sch-ool," doing some fancy stretches to stop any further questions.
By the time we reached the 5K mark, the Kenyans and the Ethiopians had reached the 17K mark (the 15 minute handicap, you see?). You don't realise on TV how fast these chaps run -- they're basically sprinting at more than 20K/hour for the entire course.
By the 10K mark, the good feelings I had were out of the window, and all I wanted to do was stop and curl up. By the 15k mark (at just under two hours) I started cramping, and I walked the last six. I managed to complete the race in just under three hours -- my worst ever. Until next time, as Baz Luhrman puts it, '…sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind…the race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself'.
(The writer is an executive who runs when he manages to get away from his usual run — the corporate rat race)