Nine Rules to Surviving a Marathon

On May 15th, my best friend and I ran the inaugural Bangalore marathon. It was one of many firsts. Apart from being the first marathon to be organized in peak summer, it was also the first marathon we had ever participated in. I aught to tell you right away, that we didn’t finish and we didn’t get a certificate. (So you can stop reading if you want to). But we did run 36kms and we came away (we’d like to think) wiser. Here is what we learnt.

• 42 will always sound better than 21: 42.125kms is how long a marathon is. When we first decided to run we signed up for the 21km ‘Mini-Marathon’. Apart from sounding really sissy, we quickly realized that running a mini-marathon wasn’t sufficient reason to bunk office on Monday. Rule #1 – do something you will remember 10 years later even if you don’t succeed doing it. (If it gives you an excuse to bunk office on Monday – even better)

• Beer is not a carbohydrate: There are carbs and there are carbs. On Saturday night, like all true endurance athletes, we loaded up on carbohydrates – in our case, in the form of fermented hops and aged barley. As we were to realize next morning – we were far on the wrong side of the line that divides casualness and stupidity. Rule #2 – Casualness and stupidity are both unacceptable when your about to do something worth doing. Always, do your homework. Research, research, research till you know what works. There is no excuse not knowing your carbs.

• 5 minutes can loose you the race. (or) 5 minutes late and you miss your warm up. With the effect of the night’s carbohydrates still potent, we arrived at the stadium (just) 5 minutes late. This meant we got out of the car (no warm ups), ran to the sign up counter (still no warm ups), ran to the start line (still no warm ups), ran out the stadium and into the arms of a severe bout of hamstring cramps. Rule #3 – If your going to run for 6 hours then for God Sake take 5 minutes out do the warm ups!!! Alternate perspective for the super-achievers. The difference between the guy who won the marathon and the guy who came in sixth was 4 minutes 30 seconds. Do you want to be the guy who came in sixth?

• Keep your milestones in sight – make them your friends. When you’re in it for the long haul, time and distance become variable. The first 16 kilometers will feel a lot like the next 6. After that, you won’t have much motivation to run the next 3 (or 20 in the case of a marathon). So take it one mile at a time. Be enthusiastic to meet the next marker, and then the next, and the next…pretty soon your at the U-turn and life isn’t looking so bad. Rule #4 – Don’t run a marathon in 20 minutes (remember: You’re probably not a Kenyan). Be smart…take it a mile at a time. Celebrate each mile run and then set yourself a new target.

• Be careful at the U-Turn – I’m not even referring to the guy who missed the U-turn and was last sighted at Colombo. I’m referring to you and me – regular guys who start to think the half way mark is half done. You start to get complacent… or even worse (as in our case) overconfident. You begin to think the second half will be as easy as the first. Big mistake. Trust me…the half way point is the organizers way of telling you that this is where the pain is about to start. The sun is out by now and the cheering crowds have disappeared. Let your guard down for an instant, become overconfident …and your race will over sooner than you like. Rule #5 – Be prepared for things to get worse – they probably will. I’m not advocating pessimism but never uncork the champagne till the fat lady sings.

• Don’t write off the fat guy with cramps – Too many times in the race we overtook people who were slow or tired or faltering. Sometimes we found it funny sometimes we felt sorry for them. Five times out of ten, though, they came back out of nowhere and whipped us. Similarly, too many times we caught up with people who had earlier in the day looked like they were going to have a serious shot at the gold medal. Rule #6 – You never know where your competition is coming from. Don’t underestimate anyone!

• Knowing when to stop – Soon after the 32nd kilometer the body pushed the auto destruct button – eyes glazed, lungs crumpled and white-hot needles shot up the thighs with each step. I guess that’s natures way of politely suggesting its time we called a cab. That’s also the time when you realize that the guy you are is no match for the guy you’re going to become. Rule #7 – Keep running. There is always a little bit more in you than you factored for.

• There will always be another marathon – Coming straight after Rule #7 this one is a bit hard to justify. But sometimes no matter how you wish you could take that next step, its not going to happen. Believe me, its not mental – it’s a bio-mechanical thing when the messages just don’t reach the muscles anymore. And you will know it and you will hate it. That’s good. A bit of hate is good. But be wise. Sit down, take a swig of water, wave to the guys still running on, smell the flowers…well you get the idea. Rule #8 – There is no shame in quitting…as long as you promise yourself your going to do it again next year. A strategic retreat is better than permanent damage. Go home a stronger and wiser person and you are a winner already!

• Don’t believe anything you have read so far – Go out there and find you own marathon to run. Rule #9 – The only rules worth living by are the ones you write for your self.

So go on, put on your shoes. What are you waiting for…?


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