My NJ Marathon, Sunday 1st May 2011

I woke up early this 1st May Sunday morning, got ready and showed up at the Grove Path Station for the Sunday morning train to Newark at 4:42 am. I met Matt there and Patricia at the Newark Penn station. There was confusion for all of us waiting runners, as there was no announcement or signs in the station on which track the NJ marathon train would arrive. The train was right on time at 5:25 on Track 4, where the regular Long Branch train stops. It was most relaxing and memorable to travel with Matt and Patricia.

The 80 min train journey to Long Branch was scenic with the ocean, back waters, picturesque land views on a clear spring morning punctuated with the sky reflections of the breaking dawn, harbinger of a great new day. For us urban dwellers it was a visual treat. And so is the lovely beach resort town of Long Branch where the marathon is run, where the residents, young and old line the streets, play music, beat on drums, ring the cattle bells, high five, clap and cheer you on.

The race took off right on time at 8 am. The weather was cool in the fifties, there was no wind but it was sunny. It would get slightly warmer and a little windier on the waterfront later in the race. For me the first Half of the marathon was cool breeze, a run with breathing easy and a good workout as planned. It shows up as 1:48:03.43 in my result. I had run this route of the race here for the last 2 years. I knew where to turn, relax, where was uphill, where to speed up etc.

The second half was a new route this year. This was the grueling part, the real marathon race where you were required to put in everything you had trained, physically and mentally. I should have memorized/ noted down key things of the route, like 19 miles was the turn back. I kept watching the faster runners running back and the wait for the turn back was sapping my energy. While we went through intricate side loops it seemed the turning back was never coming, it was another and yet another loop or turn away.

For me I run well when I am in the present and not worrying whether I am tired or thinking of the finish line, I try to focus on my posture to run light and smooth with less effort. I dug deep to remember the motivations, visualizing the key focuses I had written on my left arm. I chatted, high fived, fist pumped lots of people I met on the run, especially the 3:40 pacer, Manyath Gavasker. Thank you Manyath your cheery smile and demeanor helped me, you are worthy of your honorable name!

My focuses worked for me in this race. The finish line magnet reeled and pulled me in! I sprinted with full spirit and force in the last 200m to finish when the clock time ticked 3:40:00. I stood 308th, my chip time was 3:39:31, I ran this marathon last year in 4:13:54, so I improved by 34 min.

I do not consider myself to be an expert runner or trainer, so please take the suggestions I make here as a result of what I understand from reading or experiencing things. Running is an honest sport — you need to respect the marathon or a long race and cannot sound too confident and brash, apologies if I come across otherwise. We basically run for fitness and fun and enjoyment, something we call as the runners high.

I never ever thought of myself to be a sub 4 hour runner, so how did this great time happen. I had maintained running 4 days a week for the whole winter. With my last 3 years of running that was a big store of confidence and experience. I saw Matt and Annabelle run faster on the weekend long runs this winter, and I started keeping up with them.

Now, when you push to run faster or run longer, initially it feels like dying due to breathlessness, or the effort is exhausting. After I did a self-body scan and found that I survived without much muscle soreness or pain on the next day(s), it was time for me to continue with the faster pace training. I got double lucky when Lou a strong elite runner and good coach to me became a weekly evening regular. There was no running slow this winter on fast paced tempo runs, no excuses!

I also got better with my breathing pattern. Breathe, 1-2 In 1-2-3 Out, says Danny Dreyer founder of Chi Running, but some others say 1-2 In 1-2 Out, that worked better for me as it is easier to keep that count in footsteps. Talking of rhythm using a metronome I was able to confirm my cadence was over 170. All I had to do to pick my pace and feet and repeat 1-2-3, right-2-3, left-2-3. Thanks David for putting up with the tick tip tip noise and everyone else for putting up with my warbling.

Some other things I did differently this year too. I added to my exercise routine some repetitions with abs/core training, chin pull-ups, pushups, dumb-bells, simple stretches, took time off either due to injury or vacation. I also became better at being aware and playing the edges, for example in breathing not to pump air in/ out but to be aware of breathing, in stretching don’t need to have the perfect pose but work on playing it to your edge, not to strain and overstretch. What I believe in now is play the edge, pull back, do not over reach or over exert in any of your exercise efforts, build the base and you shall get the benefits later.

Running with a group means you listen to what people are doing, feel less effort as you get paced in a group, chatting with other runners you discuss strategies, ideas, races, nutrition …..

The last 6 miles I remembered every one of our JC Runners who had done training runs with me! I have a long list of JC Runners to thank who have run with me. Harish started our meetup group. Donovan, Subbu and Ravi guided me when I began and ran my first races. Thanks Annabelle for reminding that pain is temporary and pride is forever! Thanks Abhi for saying he ran a consistent smooth race in September, your camaraderie and thoughts on relaxed running have helped me very much, Brigitte for making me start running from run/ walk, Nadia for the introspection and quest for answers, Lou for coaching me on the strength, speed, form, nutrition, Matt for the smooth rhythm and dedication, Kevin for running through pain with a large smile and many others Patricia, Scott for all the answers, Jackie, Andrew, Svetlana, Julie, Charlene, Desiree, Li, David, Sunil and everyone else I have not mentioned here, happy running!

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