On a glorious, sunny Sunday morning, I finished my first half-marathon. I ran a time of 2:09:56 and in-spite of a niggling neck sprain, I managed to beat my previous personal best.
Long distance running is not about competing with others. First and foremost, it is about competing against yourself. The first mile is relaxed, the second is where reluctance sets in. The daunting prospect of 12 miles looms ahead large and should a hill approach, the urge to stop running and walk up the hill is almost overpowering. But you have to let the mind tell the body what to do.
After the 2nd mile, it is usually smooth sailing till the 10th. Then you start thinking,”Come on. You have already run 10 miles now! That’s a lot. Why don’t you just relax now?” Again, at these moments, slowing down or stopping is best avoided.
The best part about running an organized race rather than going on a run alone is the people around you. When the first hill hit, I started to buckle under the pressure but voices encouraged me from either side. “Good going!”, “You got this!”. And it kept me motivated. At various points during the race, we kept shouting out words of encouragement to each other when we showed signs of tiring.
There is no gloating involved as you speed past someone. Because you want everyone to finish. You want everyone who is running with you to show off that shiny finisher’s medal. And it feels like you are part of a team. A team of odd members from every age-group. It’s a like a wolf-pack where the survival of the pack depends on everyone doing their bit. And it helps.
It’s not just your fellow runners who are part of this team. It’s also the volunteers who direct traffic away from you, offer water at the hydration stations and constantly shout out to you about how great a job you are doing and how this is the last hard bit and it’s smooth sailing ahead.
I ran for almost 10 miles alongside a middle aged gentleman today. And in spite of all the stress we were under, we shared some light moments together. We groaned in agony during the hills and flew while going downhill. A veteran of several marathons past, he had some fantastic tips to share.
But the best moment of the day was somewhere near the 10 mile mark. A bunch of 5 year old children were standing on the curb and cheering on the runners and as each runner approached, they gave him a high-five. And as I heard the hoots and claps and cheers and as I high-fived my way past the kids like any professional athlete would, I smiled. They were part of my team too.