11th of February, 2018 is undoubtedly a day that will be etched in my heart for eternity. It has taken me a good 3 and half months to gather my thoughts onto a piece of paper because immediately after the marathon I was overwhelmed by a surge of emotions which I couldn’t quite comprehend at the time.
The day began at 5 AM and my mind was probably the most conflicted it had ever been. Debating between “let’s conquer the day” and “my heart is racing, I think I’m going to die”, I convinced myself to get out of bed.
The event started off at 6. Looking at the hundreds of people from different backgrounds, cities and age groups all united for one simple goal i.e., completing the marathon filled the air with energy and positive vibes. While strangers on all sides bumped lightly against my shoulders, I lifted my head and closed my eyes and tried to picture the finish line. As the race began, most runners sped off. Since it was my first time, the only goal was the complete the seemingly unconquerable distance of 21k and I did not have any goal as far as the timing was concerned, because of which I maintained a slow and steady pace.
While running, I interacted with a 65 year old retired army major, a 40 year old businessman, a barefoot professional marathon runner and various students from different colleges. The beauty of the running community lies in the fact that it unites numerous people from diverse backgrounds, who all run for different reasons.
Around the 11th kilometer I found myself running alone, something I had been warned about by fellow runners. The very thought that I had to run the next 10k without anyone’s company seemed torturous, nevertheless I continued. The next couple of kilometers were nothing short of perfect, volunteers cheering us on, flower petals being thrown on our faces and dhols to lighten up the mood, something the organizers deserve a pat on the back for. These were the miles of complete bliss; never before, had I felt so in control of myself and everything around me. The entire world seemed to have paused, and I was transported to a parallel universe where the inconsequential, trivial drudgery of daily routine didn’t bother me. For the first time ever I was doing something for my own sake, not letting the strings of heteronomy get to me.
The last four kilometers definitely got the best of me. I devoted the toughest of the kilometers to reassess and introspect myself. I started thinking about why I started running and how it had helped me change from a stubborn and insecure kid to a more patient and confident adult. From a young age, thoughts about identity crisis, self doubt and social anxiety had played a crucial role in making decisions. I felt like everything I ever did was for somebody else’s satisfaction. Except running. Running was my thing. The more I ran, the more liberated, in control and free I felt. Because why does freedom have to resonate with being out of control? Running made me feel like I was in total control of my mind and body, which felt like freedom in itself.
To add to the challenge, the last kilometer was on an uphill. I gave it my everything and sprinted the last 200 meters. One of the sights I’ll never forget is crossing the finish line and seeing Rahul, (a senior runner); with the widest smile on his face waiting for me. It is people like him that make the process of running completely worth it! Being a part of Manipal Runners’ Club (the organizing club), I was also involved in organizing the marathon and first hand witnessed my friends put in their heart and soul into the event. And the fact that the event was so personal made the experience even more beautiful.
It was 2 hours 20 minutes of complete joy, torture and conflict. After the event, I was told I finished at 3rd position in the Manipal University category. A podium finish was indeed the icing on the cake and something I had definitely not anticipated. It is a Herculean task to articulate how I felt when I received the medal. Ecstasy filled me to the tips of my fingers and toes. I felt alive and truly in sync with my body.
After running it, I’ve realized a half marathon isn’t even that long a distance. So what exactly was the point of this article? I can’t possibly encourage each one of you to run a half marathon. What I learnt from this experience was something way bigger than the event itself.
Firstly, the human brain is a very powerful tool. I remember how much I used to despise running long distances, and how unfathomable the task of running 21km seemed. But, if you set your mind onto something, even seemingly unattainable tasks can easily be achieved. Secondly, it is important for each one of us to do things for our own sake, and realize that approval from others is not the end of the world. Life is too short to not have yourself as the first priority. Thirdly, you are a goddamn phoenix; you will rise from your ashes. I remember around the 18th kilometer, I was totally fatigued and wanted to give up, but reminding myself about the crazy support I had from fellow runners, family and friends helped me continue.
Running a marathon is one of the few true metaphors for life, challenging and strenuous, but if you continue to persevere, it will be worth it.