12 Half Marathons & 1 Full Marathon later, the quest goes on.
"What you seek is seeking you." - Rumi
"What you seek is seeking you." - Rumi
Lets talk sleep patterns before a race, or the lack of sleep, really.
The night before a race, I am sort of a semi-nervous wreck. I worry about finding the parking lot, and a parking space, getting to the venue on time, the notorious bladder and bowel deal, my knees, and ankles, and generally the cold, if its winter, and the heat, if its summer. Needless to say, the mind is a skilled extrovert, chattering away, and creating an endless noise of the billion and one things that can go wrong, and the billion and one ways in which they can go wrong. As tired as I am from the travel, and the generally semi-sleep deprived state that I constantly personify, I still cant completely shut off my mind, and sleep peacefully. Its as if my brain's too addled to understand what's good for it, and what's not. Why fret when you can sleep? That is what I would like to know from my mind.
Helpless and out of my depth, I toss and turn, grumble and groan, stare vacantly at the room, neurotically lunge towards the restroom, and force my eyes shut, pretend to fall asleep and try to trick and coerce my mind into sleeping by thinking of legitimately boring, arduous things. None of anything rarely works. I lie in bed, somewhat asleep, somewhat awake but feeling more edgy and awake than relaxed.
Finally, when the alarm screams, I am a weird combination of tired and recharged, wanting to get off the bed, and reluctant to part from the cozy sheets, dreading the effort of the race, and looking forward to the race. More often than not, I will wake up a full 15-20 minutes later than my original, overambitious, stringent timetable.
The only exception to this sleep tradition was when I slept for 13 hours straight prior to a race. I hadn't slept well throughout the week, and since the race was at 7 pm in the evening, and only 30 minutes away from my apartment, I slept until 5:30 pm without any qualms. It was the rare combination of the race venue, and the race hour that contributed to the freak spell of a great sleep.
Usually, since I don't get much sleep the night before a race, I try to make an effort to sleep, rest and hydrate efficiently the week of the race. I hope my mind learns to unwind and sleep fine in all of my future races.
So, I have been traveling by myself to run races, and I feel compelled to talk about what happens when an adventure beckons, and when someone like me heeds the call.
Traveling to Oklahoma for my very first full marathon:
My flight was delayed by 9 hours because of a torrential downpour and the ensuing floods. I spent almost 12 hours at the airport from 6 am to 6 pm, which would have been absolutely insanity personified, if it weren't for this wonderful library book: "Death be not proud by John Gunther". Regardless, I still had my mayhem filled madman like moments. I almost bawled my eyes out, and tore my hair in despair because the flight delay meant I couldn't reach in time to collect my BIB, and I couldn't run a race without the official BIB.
"Please, I have a race to run. I need to be there at the earliest possible time. Help me.", I frantically pleaded my case with the airline personnel. Her laconic reply was that the earliest flight would get me there by 7:30 pm. I was in total shock, and quite mad.
I called up one of the runners from my running group, and left a Facebook message, asking her to collect my BIB since she was also running at this event. I messaged a friend that we might have to drive out to Oklahoma despite warnings of an impending storm, and hoped the rain wouldn't kill us. I messaged the race organizers asking if I could get my BIB after 5 pm. I called someone else from the event organizing team, and she said she couldn't help. All I could do for an hour was wait, and hope, and tear up and curse. Thankfully, my running pal was able to collect my BIB, and she was kind enough to drop it off at my hotel. She saved the day, totally. The race organizer was also kind enough to respond to my email that I could collect the BIB from her hotel until 11 pm that night. In retrospect, I know, one way or the other, I would have made it to the race because it mattered more than anything else at the time.
I did finish three quarters of a wonderful book at the airport, which was the only good thing about being stuck out there.
Traveling to Rockford, Illinois:
It was freezing cold, raining hard and a grey day. And, because I hadn't checked the weather, and had been under the illusion that it would be summer, I was drenched completely, marching on the streets of Chicago downtown, chilled to my very core. I shivered, my hands had gone numb, my head had begun to throb, and my phone battery was almost dead. So, I spent an excruciating hour in a mall trying to find a cheap sweatshirt, and a reasonably priced portable charger.
I got mugged at the parking station in downtown, cant say in broad daylight because it was overcast as hell. A man pretending to be the parking attendant asked me to pay him 15 dollars, took my parking ticket and blissfully disappeared. I was stuck in the lot, and no one was around. My phone was about to die, and I was about to start crying. At that very instant, thankfully, the actual parking attendant drove in, a lady who empathized with my situation, apologized and swiped her card to let me out of the parking lot. I was partially soaked, cold, and totally overwrought as I gripped the steering wheel of my car, and drove on. I plugged in my GPS and drove for 2 hours through a godforsaken farmland kind of creepy place with very minimal cars. Again, I was thankful that it was summer, and it didn't get dark until 8:30 pm, else I probably would have lost my mind driving in the dark through that strange land.
At the hotel, my room door wouldn't budge open. So, I had to trudge back through the long, winding corridor, and had to follow a repair personnel to my room to have the issue fixed. I was unhappy and annoyed because for safety reasons I prefer to be as inconspicuous as possible.
My hotel room was at the end of a long corridor, and there was a door that separated the entire corridor from my room. Why were these doors out here, condemning me to the other side? That was not the only thing strange. Beyond my room laid a passage of stairs leading down to a maintenance room and a laundry room. What was the point of separating my room and the notorious stairs from the rest of the hotel? Geometrically and architecturally, shouldn't the doors be after my room? In my imagination, I thought I was going to be eaten alive by whatever creature they bred down those stairs. I asked the receptionist if she could change my room, and she refused saying all the rooms were already taken. I told myself I would try to stay awake to keep vigil and ensure my safety, but I was so exhausted from the adventure of the day, and from the mere 2 hours sleep the previous night that I slept off soon enough.
And, finally, because I needed google maps to navigate me through the labyrinth of downtown Chicago, and because I was dumb enough to hold my phone out in the rain, it stopped working a month later.
Traveling to Chicago:
I almost missed my early morning flight, but thankfully an airport personnel pointed me to the lightly populated section of the airport, and I made it with enough time to spare.
I got lost while returning from the race. Google maps had thoroughly confused me, and I kept driving round in circles in the concrete maze that is the Chicago downtown. It was unpleasant and annoying, to say the very least.
I almost missed my return flight. I was sitting at the wrong gate, and had the flight not been delayed, I would have never made it to the right gate, and would have missed my flight. I am not sure why I had goofed up, or had been harebrained enough to be at the wrong place.
Traveling to Roswell, Georgia:
By the time, I reached the race venue, all parking spots were taken, and as I was backing out of the crowded lot, thankfully, a maintenance truck was pulling out of a spot, and I quickly parked in its place. If it hadn't been for this stroke of luck, I wouldn't have been able to run this race because I wouldn't have had the time to find a parking spot, and to get my BIB before the race began.
Traveling to Birmingham, Alabama:
I lucked out, and except for being lost once while driving to my hotel at night, and freaking out elaborately for a couple of minutes, everything went smoothly.
The journey of living is only accomplished by a sense of purpose that can no longer be denied.
Here's what I mean by that:
This is how I determine if I am truly living or sleepwalking through my life: If I am not striving to live a life of meaning; if I am not pursuing that which calls out to me; if I am not meditating; if I am not honoring the truth of my core - I know I am not living but merely breathing and embodying a farce.
Running, for me, is a way to experience life with purity and integrity. It's one of the few things that called out to me and that calms my otherwise hypercritical, and frenzied mind. It gives meaning to my life and helps me become a better individual.
Its when I run that I find that I am truly living and being my true self. With every run, I am moving further along on the journey of living.
Its been my experience that when I am truly psyched about something, I can push beyond the perceived difficulties, and the challenge becomes an adventure and a roller-coaster. Strength, courage and perseverance can be called upon by a sense of purpose, a childhood dream, a passion, and a labor of love, and not by external expectations. Its the thing that you do for yourself by yourself that helps you fulfill your destiny. At least, that's my experience and philosophy.
As a testimony to how great it has been to be a runner, and how it has made me a more complete person, here is a brief narrative
I am an adventurer at heart, but with a mind that is the opposite of daredevil. For many years now, for every single second of my life, I have been aching to hit the road, climb a mountain, a cliff, hike through the canyons, a valley, a forest, be under the stars, but I am too afraid of venturing out on my own, and since I have this overwhelming, natural propensity to be shy around people, and to stay away from groups and social events, I am kind of cornered into a classic cul-de-sac. So, I try to read adventure books, and get a visceral sense and a vicarious experience of what it means, and how it feels to be out there, and I wistfully hope and long for the growth that accompanies these excursions into the unknown.
But then I wanted to run marathons and half-marathons, childhood dreams are hard to forget even by a mind as warped in fear as the one I seem to have.
After completing my first half marathon, I was left with an IT band injury and a sensitive ankle that ached and cracked. I spent a year and half moping around, and failing to run by myself.
It was time for action. So, I signed up to train with an elite running group called HoustonFit, an unnerving proposition.
What if I am the slowest and I get left behind? What if I am not cool enough to be in this group? What if my injury resurfaces? What if I don't get along and fit in? I was anxious and a little scared, but a personal crisis compelled me to take a leap of faith and show up.
And, precisely because of this personal crisis, I spent quite a few sleepless nights, laying awake in bed, and feeling morose. But somehow, I made it to my morning runs, and got the job done.
I traveled to Oklahoma, Chicago, Rockford, Alabama, and Roswell in Georgia by myself for various half-marathons and a marathon, something I had never done before. All the planning, the traveling was a brand new adventure, one I never would have believed I was capable of and never would have conceived and pursued if it weren't for running.
Being shy and an introvert, I tend to keep away from social events and large groups of people, but that never deters me from being around thousands of people in marathons. Somehow, I can surpass the tuning out and weirdness of being around people. This, to me, is a personal victory again.
In a nutshell, running has shown me a new way of life, a new world where I can travel, and be around tons of people by myself, run in groups, and have adventures.
This race was epic and unique in a way that it was an all-consuming whirlpool of last minute decisions and actions. I had been training for about four weeks, and my inner voice was screaming that it was time to run a half marathon. I knew I was ready, so literally for a week I searched the internet in frantic bursts of energy for a race close to where I live. The closest destination was a 9 hour drive to Florida, and I was not sold on the idea, so I quit making a commitment. At the end of the week, Friday night, at about 2 am, completely wiped out and in a semi-awake state, yawning and squinting, I saw a race that looked promising. It was only a 2.5 hours drive away in Birmingham, Alabama. I told myself I would sleep over it, and decide first thing in the morning.
As is the norm that I am desperate to break, I woke up at 11:30 am, though sharp and resurrected. Also, as is the invincible compulsion, I grabbed some tea, and lounged about for a few minutes, this despicable tradition of frittering away time the first thing in the morning just about drives me mad, but I cant seem to shake off the habit. So, finally, I embarked upon my convoluted, voluminous research into the logistics of the trip, which mainly in this case was looking for an overnight hotel in close proximity to the race venue. In a few minutes, I found a hotel, but then began the insufferable "rationalizing and thinking", and procrastinating from taking a leap, again my most annoying, disturbing and neurotic trait. Finally, I realized I was running out of time, and I had to make a decision because the BIBs were being handed out only until 5 pm, and it was already 2 pm. Spurred by the lack of time, I finally jumped, clicked, booked the hotel, moved frenetically, showered and in a madman's rush began to throw clothes, jacket, water bottles into my car.
And, finally I was on the road at 2:30 pm, sunlight and clouds locked in an intermittent hide and seek, and the cars slowly fading away as I hit the Interstate. I hoped no accidents or freak weather delayed me, or worst frightened me senseless. One of the first songs that came on the radio was: Nobody can drag me down by One Direction, and it put a smile on my face. I thought it was a message from the universe that I am indeed on the karmic course of fulfilling my destiny because I do consider this song as "my song". Pretty lame? Either ways, I drove off feeling excited and exhilarated. The road lunged sideways and leaped up and down, and all along, the trees were breathtakingly beautiful in their diverse palette of striking red, orange, yellow and green, and quite a few trees were a merely a carcass, shriveled and brooding. It was beautiful, poetic and stirring.
Turns out, Alabama was an hour behind Georgia, so I gained an hour, and made it without any glitches to the famous regions field, which is where the race organizers were handing out the BIBS. In the parking lot, I scrambled back and forth, wondering where to head, before finally walking down a road which did lead me to the stadium. I signed up for the race, got my BIB, and drove to the hotel, heeding the directions from google maps. The hotel room was wonderful, almost like a one bedroom furnished apartment. There was a kitchen, wood paneled dining table, a couch, TV, a cozy bed, and the furniture and the walls were in a blazing red color, it was fiery and pretty.
I hadn't eaten anything since morning, and was starved. After searching online for a while, I was happy to find a good Indian restaurant nearby, so I ordered a feast on phone, and to kill time, plugged in my IPAD, and started writing. Thirty minutes later, I got out the car, followed google maps and realized that the restaurant was just down the street, and there was no parking. So I drove back, not before getting lost and reprogramming google maps to drive me back to my hotel. I parked the car, got out in the dark, and was startled and spooked by a whirlpool of leaves dancing in the ferocious, whooshing wind, it seemed like an omen of some kind, and I had the delirious notion of being swept away by a sudden freak storm. Nevertheless, I ran through the swirling leaves and soon stumbled upon the Indian restaurant.
The food was great. I took a shower, and began reading my library copy of Quiet by Susan Cain on the luscious bed. I was supposed to stop reading, and sleep off by 8 pm, which obviously meant I ended up going to sleep at 12 am. And, as is customary before most races, I tossed and turned in the bed, and had a fitful sleep. I got up at 5:30 am, and left by 7:15 am. The race was to start at 8 am, and parking seemed to be full everywhere. I was close to despair with the parking situation, and I blindly followed the cars around, and was fortunate to find a parking spot soon enough.
It was a freezing 32 Fahrenheit, and the wind was slamming hard against my body. I wore gloves, a jacket, a head-cap and shorts. The race venue was a couple of minutes away, and there was this overwhelming, stark sense of embarking upon a great adventure. At the regions field, thousands of runners were bustling about, the energy was incredible, and the enthusiasm was intoxicating. Everyone was geared up in warm clothes: full length running tights, layered t-shirts, jackets, head gear. I only saw three runners including me that wore shorts on this chilly day.
In an effort to warm myself, I stood in the sun for a while, and a few minutes later made a beeline for the restroom. "Aren't you cold", a fellow runner asked me. I said, "No" and smiled. I didn't elaborate that I get all itchy and uncomfortable in running tights, and that I rather be cold in shorts than endure skin irritation and chafing in warm leggings.
Finally, it was time to assemble at the start-point. My first favorite part of the race is the actual running, and my second favorite part is this epic moment at the start with all these other runners. Its such a pristine, monumental moment where people get ready to give their all to their passion. I always feel like I am about to do the greatest thing I have ever done so far in my life.
A gust of cold air tore through us, and many of us shuddered and jumped and laughed it off. The American national anthem was played, the countdown began and off we went. I was smiling like the six year old me would. Barely five minutes into the race, and we came upon a hill. I was stumped, and aghast. Nevertheless, I kept running, and my thighs and calves burnt from the effort. When the road was flat, the running was easy, but I soon realized this wasn't going to be a flat race. Soon, I was running up another hill, gasping and wheezing, but I soon learnt if I ran up the hill, the downhill running barely required any effort, and I could leverage my momentum to propel myself at a faster pace for longer distances. So, I ran through most of the hills even though it was strenuous and painful.
Each mile seemed longer than usual because of the hills, but it was still every bit enjoyable and I felt brilliant. I stay away from water as long as I can because I run best on an utterly empty stomach, and plus I do not want to take a restroom break, but I make sure I don't get dehydrated. At mile 6, I grabbed my first glass of water, and as always, the water felt like an elixir, and the most wonderful thing in a way that it never ever seems otherwise. There were cops with cop cars patrolling the roads, making sure the runners had the right of way, and the traffic was either turned back or held back until the runners had cleared. I remember, on many occasions, slowing down or speeding up, so that I wouldn't be impeding traffic.
By mile 7, we had crossed about 10 hills, and my ankles started to hurt a bit. When in pain, slow down a bit, shake off the legs as if you are trying to bring them back to life, and carry on, that is pretty much my policy. I never completely stop or walk for more than a few seconds because that is detrimental to the pace, the momentum, the rhythm and the psyche. So we keep running, jogging no matter what, that really is the secret to running a race.
At this point, from the other side, we see elite runners streaking past us. These were the athletes who would stand first, second and so on. Every-time I look at such extreme runners, I begin to wonder with awe about their running journey, their training, their commitment, their level of effort, their sacrifices, and I am blown away. I cant seem to tear my eyes off them. If I could, I would totally ask them for an autograph and would love to hear of their success story, their secrets and tips. So much for wishful thinking.
Mile 9 was the turnaround point, and strangely I felt good and strong. And, of course, the song that was playing at that very moment was: "One Direction, Nobody can drag me down." That instantly put a smile on my face and my inner child was hollering, "that's our song, we are so going to nail this race." I continued running, and slowed down to a walk for a few seconds, a couple of times. At mile 12, I thought of getting my jacket off, but the moment I unzipped it, a cold wind made me shiver, and I quickly zipped up the jacket and continued running. This was one of the smaller races with only 1000 to 2000 runners, and as is the case with smaller races, you will be hard pressed to find anyone walking. Almost, everyone is jogging or running, its amazing.
The race finale was inside the much hyped regions field stadium, home to minor league baseball matches. I ran through the finish arch, huffed and puffed, grabbed my finisher medal and traced my way through scores of people, and looked around dreamily for a moment, comprehending the significance and epicness of the moment. I was surprised that everything had gone so smoothly and that I had finished strong. I had finished the race in 2 hours 22 mins 35 secs, and I had loved every second of it.
I looked at other runners crossing the finish mark, and erupting into a jubilant celebration, it was a comforting sight. And, finally, warily and reluctantly, I compelled myself to do what was without a doubt the most hardest part of this race: I was looking to ask someone to take a picture, but everyone seemed so euphoric, and so busy that I couldn't muster the courage. So, I waited, and walked around, and finally a few minutes later, asked a lady who obviously obliged. And, that was the end. I walked back to the car, shivering and hobbling in the relentless cold. For a moment, I couldn't see the car, and I panicked, but sure enough, it was right where I had left it, and I got in and turned on the heater on full blast, and drove off to the hotel.
I took a long hot shower, checked out of the hotel, and was unusually cheerful, cold and happy. Over two hours later, I was back in Atlanta, exhausted to the core and sleepy. I ate my leftover dinner from the day before and slept off early. A week later, I realized I had forgotten to grab the finisher t-shirt at the end of the race, and I told myself: "what the hell, how could you, better not repeat it ever again, sigh."
I would recommend this half-marathon to anyone looking to run a well-organized small race. Just be prepared for the hills, though. The post-race celebration includes bagels, and chocolate milk, and the race is generally held in November of every year, a week before thanksgiving.
All I can say is that I am a perfect embodiment of my six year old when I am at a half-marathon. And, that is why I must run as many as I can.
The story so far
I was born athletic and running called out to me as a young kid. So, being a runner, is my way of staying true to who I am and bringing meaning, love, joy, adventure and peace into my life.