How does one define Courage? Conquering mount Everest? An Olympic gold? Acts of bravery in war against enemies? Fighting against odds and coming back triumphant – probably that is how I would define courage. How does one grade courage and decide who is more courageous? I guess we can never have an answer to that. Fighting against odds – when the odds are your survival – that probably would be my definition of ultimate courage. One needs courage to fight the doubts within you to successfully run a marathon. One needs ultimate courage to complete a marathon when the fight is not only against the demons within you but outside as well.
Rahul, Anushka and Navaal have been doing a great job as the editors of the Manipal Running blog. They have been asking me for long – to write my experience with long distance running. Yes, I have run a couple of full marathons, plenty of half marathons – something creditable for a fifty plus neurosurgeon. But, that is not something great. I know of many accomplished professionals senior to me who have runner longer and better than me. To be able to do long distance running, after weathering a critical storm in your life, braving and conquering all odds – that requires true grit and courage. When someone with such an unenviable experience writes – it is a motivation for others. I kept delaying my draft for I wanted that someone to write, especially because I know that someone so well and she is so close to me – and in fact is my better half! This was written soon after the last Manipal Marathon, but she just wouldn’t let it be read by others. She just felt it was not worthy of being published. I leave it to you all to decide.
Foreword by Dr Girish Menon
11th Feb 2018 was a historic day for me. I completed my first half marathon in Manipal at the “young” age of 50. I fought against all odds and came on top. Eight years ago, nobody would have given me a chance to achieve this feat. Not even me.
It was in May 2010 that God gave me a small knock on my head to touch ground and reality. A breast lump excision biopsy came to be positive for the worst. Still remember the day when Giri broke the news to me. Both of us hugged each other and cried a lot till our tears went dry. That was the first and last time we did that. We decided that we had to fight it out. And fight it out we did, with Giri by my side as a huge pillar of support. Repeat surgery, chemotherapy and radiation was the plan. Mentally geared up for the torture but once I went to the Regional cancer centre at Trivandrum and saw much younger girls with the same problem I realised I was so much better off than them. Met a girl who had just delivered a baby and she was sad that she couldn’t hold her baby and feed her. Was so thankful to God that my problem was detected early, that he had given me such a wonderful partner and friend, enviable kids and a supportive family. Breezed through the surgery and the first few shots of chemotherapy. And then came the worst part. However much you mentally prepare yourself for the hair loss, for a woman that is the hardest part of chemo. The nausea and extreme tiredness you can overcome but loss of your beautiful lustrous hair – that is very depressing. Again Giri was a source of comfort for he had started losing hair for some years now. Seeing him and his bald pate was so comforting during those hellish days!
Studies have shown that exercise can reduce chance of malignancy. I was a good
athlete in high school, but medical school killed the athlete in me. I was always lazy to exercise and would do some walking, yoga (but nothing regular). Giri would plead, cajole, push and scold me until I started exercising regularly. In fact, I used to hate sweating. Post treatment, my body thermostat got so skewed up that I would constantly remain dripping in sweat. God’s way of breaking even! We bought a treadmill and slowly started exercising regularly. Treadmills are painful and I would make some excuse or the other to avoid using it.
It was then, around four years later that providence brought us to Manipal.
Once I reached here, I started going to the paradise in Manipal – the endpoint
regularly. I used to go regularly in the morning for a walk initially and then slowly started running, both in Marena and the endpoint. Ran the first 5k at Bangalore with friends in 2015 and at the age of 47 years. Really got hooked with the atmosphere there. Then I ran a 10k at Mangalore – the Big Balipu run followed by the NITTE 10k run. Couldn’t believe that I could run 10 km comfortably with a few youngsters still trodding behind me. Did a few more 10 km runs with my friend Dr. Thankam. Thankam deserves a special mention for her perseverance and is a role model for me. She started running after I started and now runs 21k regularly, does 10 k under one hour and has even done a stadium run. I enlisted myself for the Manipal marathon and made a crazy decision to run 21k. Did practice runs with Giri but before I had enough of practice, the marathon weekend had arrived. The day before, I was running a temperature. I had no idea if I would be able to run. Just crashed onto the bed with some medicines and neglected all the guests at home who had come for the run. Woke up the next morning with butterflies in my stomach.
The first 10k went off well. People on the streets with drums and music, showering flowers on us and freely offering drinks and snacks made me feel encouraged and enthusiastic. But the last 7-8 km was demanding, where my body kept saying stop and my mind also started succumbing. But then my co runner wouldn’t let me stop. He kept egging me on, sacrificing his run for my sake so that I could complete this run. And complete I did, thoroughly exhausted but exuberant. I did it. I ran 21 kms. The time does not matter to me. I fought this battle between body and mind and came toppers. And that’s all that matters.
Written by Dr Sudha Menon