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
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.