One Legged Half Marathon
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
I was enjoying the honeymoon period right after finish of Bhati Lakes 100 Ultramarathon when I began to take running seriously again with focus on Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, which was supposed to be run four weeks from then. A half marathon with Running and Living pals two weeks after Bhati Lakes triumph marked the beginning of training runs followed by tapering.
A week ahead of ADHM, was expo where I got to meet some old and new friends who were running and living. Meanwhile I skipped Bangalore Ultra for third year on trot –scared by their cut off of 13 hr for 100 km. For the first time I was lacking motivation to run the Delhi Half Marathon. I couldn’t find any logic behind running a dull flat track on a cold morning with a stampede of some 5000 runners. However, at the same time some emotions in my amygdala were craving me big time to go ahead and run it down.
Delhi Half Marathon is the marathon where I was born as a runner. So, in short it’s my mother. Though, I ran my first half marathon for an extremely crazy and absurd reason. It was 2006 when I ran my first Half Marathon without a single day of training, just for one reason –half marathon category had a timing chip to record your finish statistics. Just the gusto for knowing my official time drove me to the start line on a half marathon one morning where I was born as a runner. However I still count Delhi Half Marathon 2008 as my first half marathon for what I trained a little and ran with a strategic plan as a runner.
Exactly six days ahead of the start, I was off to very quick evening half marathon on my regular trails to give final push to the training for my sub-2hr half marathon shot which was supposed to be barefoot. All was going as per the anticipated plan until the fifth kilometer. When I was peaking up the speed, I stepped on an unfortunate surface on darker side of road and bang –I twisted my ankle worse than ever; I could hear the cracking sound while it was twisted. A fracture for sure, I anticipated. And first thought that struck my mind was “$%#@! I won’t be able to run Delhi or Mumbai now” Since there was no other way to reach back home, I kept walking. I could not feel my ankle apart from just some warm sensation there. I knew I must reach home as soon as possible before it starts getting cooled off to freeze the motion. I dived right into the bucket of ice water as I managed to reach home.
“Is this my ankle?” It was swollen as that of an elephant. I couldn’t spot my ankle anymore. When I wrapped the ankle with compression bandage and tried to elevate, I could feel it then. Unbearable pain it was. Got it scanned next morning to confirm, it was nothing more than muscle tear with minor ligament pull. But doctor advised 3 weeks of rest and 5 days of zero walking. I was happy that nothing was major about the injury, just that Delhi Half Marathon was nowhere a possibility. I kept thinking about the start of ADHM for next couple of days and kept cursing myself on the decision of going for the run that misfortunate evening. Suddenly, a half marathon –for which I was finding reasons to say no –was like the most important thing at that time. I kept icing with bandages wrapped by the doctor and rest my ankle as much as I could.
The recovery was slow but smooth. Meanwhile Asha motivated me, if I’m very eager to make to start then I should just come and walk a few miles and then leave. To me, that seemed a fair call, but then I must’ve been healed to make it to even the start line. I removed my bandages on Saturday morning and worked my ankle with ice water. The decision was made. I was going to ADHM venue next morning just to secure a DNF on my name. I strapped my ankle with the tape at night just to make sure my ankle had enough external support to bear my weight and there was no scope of further sideways movement. All my ankle could do now was forward motion. I could walk normal with the strapping and was feeling mentally more relaxed.
The one legged run
With a sleepless night, just like any other marathon, I was ready to leave for the venue with Karuna, a fellow half marathon runner from Rohini. With no intention of running whatsoever I reached the venue well within time –it was the first time when I was going to start the Delhi Half on time. Meeting a few pals on the start and the atmosphere pushed my adrenal glands to soak all the pain and release the adrenalin.
I gulped a capsule of aspirin and headed towards the line up area. I was categorized in enclosure B –which meant I had thousands of runners behind me, who were raring to do anything to overtake me in more of a stampede fashion. I was scared as hell, as I didn’t want to run but couldn’t afford to walk. Quitting from there was not an option any more. As soon as clock hit 7.10 am, enclosure B was allowed to make a head start. Though runners started out smooth, but I felt like whole world was moving apart from me. In order to save my life from getting crushed by runners following me, I started to run very slowly so that there’s no stress on ankle whatsoever. I could run with comfort.
Since things were looking slightly under control, I was carried away by the fear and kept running for a kilometer. After that I walked for a few meters, performed certain mental calculations, stretch my frozen and stressed calf muscle and decided to run whenever I can. DNF was all in my mind as per my plan, so I never feared about what would happen three steps ahead. All I cared about was the present. The miles that were passed and the miles to come were of least interest for me. All I had to focus now –just keep my left on flat surface with 0% unevenness.
I kept going slow and steady running-walking-running mile after mile making sure at no point of time I was pushing too hard or making my ankle work on any obnoxious cause. I was virtually running on one leg. My body was being pushed by my right leg and left leg was playing the balancing act.
After being 8 km into the run, my right knee had a niggle or two as it was continuously pushing and balancing my body –extra bit of strain, you know. I kept going till 11km where I got it fixed with spray. I was feeling very scared now. Being half way into the run meant the strapping of my ankle was loosening up due to continued motion and sweat. I became conscious about my posture, pace, foot placement, body motion and all jazz. There started the first feel of uneasiness being on the track. Negativities surmounted my mind and body was falling short of psychological fuel to push further. Even the girls running right ahead of me failed to generate any motivation for pushing further.
I closed my eyes and told myself “Buddy, there is no runner on this track right now that has overcome more physical toil in 36 hours than you. If they can move, so can you. Doesn’t matter how slow.” Suddenly I came across another runner –running his third consecutive Delhi Half –who was very eager to know the meaning of “Inspired Idiots” written behind my tee. We kept moving slow and talking about previous experiences and training plan that he followed.
“My longest run during training was 30 km. Man it was hell of a distance” he said with great enthusiasm.
“That’s a great distance” I appreciated his effort of going beyond the 21 km benchmark that most half marathon runners set for themselves.
Suddenly he pitched me a question “Did you train for this year’s ADHM?”
I was confused. I had no answer for him. Calling 100 miler (or runs before) a training run for ADHM was an absolute insanity. After a moment of thought, calmly I told him the truth “Not at all. Just a few shorter runs with two 21 km logs and twisted my ankle on third attempt. Now I’m running with a busted ankle. Madness, is all I can say”
We kept going together till 14 km when he was left behind at some aid station. There Ankush overtook me and I kept following him. My body was cramping now. I forgot to intake anything apart from plain water on the way. I caught an orange from the following aid station and kept moving with slightly damped speed. Ankush was no more visible now. This was the second time in this short run when I doubted myself again on completion. It was just my regular 6 km to go, I told myself. “Just hold your nerves for 40 more minutes and then you’re home with glory of lifetime”
Increasing the pace of cramping body and then falling to yet another injury was last thing I wanted. Slow and steady forward motion was the call of hour. Miles kept passing by and hunger of muscles kept increasing for fuel. The ankle was still going good with minor discomfort near the heel.
The 19 km mark with loads of people around cheering the runners fueled the body once again and I was slowly running again. Just 2 more kilometers were left between the six days old dream and I. It was not a DNF for sure now. I could have crawled the distance without legs, provided the fact I still had over an hour to spare to my target time of finishing it in 210 minutes. I had a big GM grin on my face and I kept pushing along that difficult last mile. It was matter of 12-15 more minutes and then I had entire month to rest, I told myself. But at the same time I had to make sure I was not carried away by the feeling of overwhelming finish and get myself in trouble on last leg.
Soon passed kilometer 20 and I could see the hoarding saying “500 meters to go”
Others around me were pacing now. I had that strong feel of doing the same inside me, but I was holding it back for the sake of my body. With a sprint for last 100m (if you call 10 minute mile pace a sprint for an injured runner) I crossed the near IMPOSSIBLE finish line for me.
I could feel it. It was something I never dreamt of. Heart pumping hard, cramping lungs, aching limbs and a tired body –the feeling was divine after the finish. Last morning I was limping and now I was half marathon finisher.
I stepped in the arena with intent of being mere a spectator. I was walking out that with a tale of madness, passion, insanity and some unnaturally stupid heroics. With no doubt whatsoever, this “ONE LEGGED HALF MARATHON” was a special one for me in every respect. Hope to get my ankle heeled soon and hit back the track with even stronger grits.