This article was written by Rohit Raj (Alumnus of MCOPS)

February is the month of love. Month for gifts, happiness, and all that. But for us at the Manipal Runners’ Club, it’s Marathon season! The 2nd Sunday of February every year sees the town running for a cause.

I ran too. Not for a cause. But because I was forced to. Here’s how it went…

The weeks leading up to the Marathon were a nightmare. Everyone, just about EVERYONE around me were talking about Marathon, Marathon, Marathon. Running, Organizing, Ranting. Non-stop! Over and above that, the Manipal Marathon had recently added the full marathon stretch and an AIMS certification to the event to boot. I’d run the first Manipal Half Marathon 3 years ago, and Doctor Sahab was adamant about making me register for the first full Marathon! Every chance I got, I tried to change the topic on the many other things that were on his head to sort out!

The Deadline finally approached, and I was somehow able to ward off registration much to my relief. But that was short-lived. I opened my email inbox to check for some notes or something and there was a surprise mail waiting for me.

Dear Rohit Baba…

it began… It was the Manipal Marathon Registration confirmation. I facepalmed so hard that my eyes almost popped out of their sockets. For 2 reasons.

  1. The obvious. I had no plan or interest in running 42 kilometers.
  2. Unlike most know me, my name is actually NOT Rohit Baba. It’s Rohit Raj. How I came to be known as Baba is a long story for another day.

Turns out, Shobha madam registered for me. At the last minute. Oh well…

That’s the thing about fate. You can delay it. You can run from it. You can deny it, all you want. But you can’t ever escape it. It is, as Thanos says… inevitable!

The Marathon date drew closer and with it, tensions rose. In a moment of God-knows-what he was thinking, Navaneeth registered for a Half Marathon. It was only a couple of months ago that he almost ran out of breath doing a 3k. Sitanshu registered with him and they began planning their run. It was high time for me too.

You know, a lot of people ask me. How do you prepare for a Marathon? What do you eat or drink before the run? What supplements do you take? What do you take with you on the route?

Me? I took a Doctor along for the run.

Doctor Sahab and I had our strategy planned out perfectly. We run at first. Walk for a stretch after. And then alternate with run-walk sets and finish the race in good time. The plan was good. The plan was perfect.

But plans, are meant to be broken. This was no different! We started the race sharp at 5:15 in the AM on race day and ran. Full of energy and vigour. The cruel memory of last year’s Corporate Run podium finish slipping out of my hands was still fresh. But I was going to make up for it with this year’s full Marathon!

Or so, I thought. At the 6th kilometer, my knees started experiencing a light throbbing. It was only a matter of time before the pain starts affecting my performance, I figured. I mulled over it for a while before telling Doctor Sahab that I would run on ahead and cover as much of the distance as I could before the pain became unbearable. Little did I know that this would cost me dearly.

I ran on ahead braving the pain. By now, the Half Marathon would have started and poor Sitanshu would have the torture of lugging Navaneeth ahead. In the many dinners, we had discussing and planning for the Marathon, we would be treated to long rant sessions of “Why did I ever register for this!?” by Navaneeth. I think that rubbed off on me too because not long after, I had my own version with“How will I run 42k? Why did you register for me, madam.”

“Shut up! Don’t crib like Navaneeth,” Shobha Madam sharply quipped, promptly putting an end to any future plans I had of ranting.

At around the 12th kilometer, my left knee gave way. It was legit paining now. I slowed down. Doctor Sahab would catch up any moment now and I would take his help in fixing my knee up, I had thought. I began dragging myself with the faith that sir would approach.

And approach, he did!

There’s a funny thing about fate and faith. Never trust either of them completely. They may abandon you anytime.

Mera Kismat kharaab tha, aur Doctor ji ka niyat. Aur dono kharab hue ek hi saath!

“Don’t worry,” he said with his patented smile. “I will run for a distance and then walk. You come walking. We will walk together!”

As it turned out, the next time I saw him was at the finish point. Getting a massage!

But how was I to know that while running? As the Vanar Sena waited for Hanuman at the Sea Shore, I waited to catch up with Sir…

The Volunteers on the route were amazing. Cheering everyone that approached them pumping them with energy! They deserve all the respect and more. Planning and Allotment were too good, I must say. Everyone experiences dehydration at Marathons because of insufficient aid centres, but here if anything, I was overhydrated. So much so, that after a point of time, admiring the serene natural ambiance that I was in, I was forcibly “called” by the very same nature. I forgot the finish line and went running in search of a Bathroom!

The conversations I struck up as I ran were the most interesting. Running is something that strips to the most basic of necessities and haves. Anyone and everyone can run. Irrespective of background and opportunities. I was thoroughly enjoying myself as I ran past some only to have them run past me after a while, flashing a familiar smile in the spirit of competition.

A small distance ahead, I saw a slowing runner come to a halt. He was a senior citizen and seemed to be an experienced runner. He had gotten an injury and I stopped and lent him a hand massaging his feet. The NCC Cadets who were volunteering nearby were quick on their feet. They got the ambulance to come there ASAP and give him the necessary medical aid. He decided to call it quits as continuing the run would only worsen his injury. With his mind made up, and professional help tending to him, I had no excuse or reason left to stay. So… I began dragging myself again!

I had crossed around 24 kilometers by then. Doctor Sahab was nowhere in sight. Only later, I came to know that he had run on ahead and caught up to Vasu sir. They made a quick plan on running together till the finish line, but you know as well as I do, Karma is Newtonian. History repeated and in a case of Deja Vu, Vasu sir ditched Doctor Sahab and went on ahead leaving him to complete the Marathon by himself as well!

One cannot ignore the contribution of the roadside dogs. Excited by so many new faces foraying into their territory, they gave quite a good chase to many of us helping us pick up our pace and make good time! I can’t remember how many times I’d gone on this route, before and after the route certification, to make the route video, and to plan deputation of volunteers and officials. The memories of running my first full Marathon with Rahul a little over a year ago were weighing heavy on me. I’d left my phone back at home, and with Doctor Sahab somewhere ahead, I had only my thoughts to accompany me.

Bananas and Oranges were abundant in the route, with the volunteers giving out generous helpings to us runners. It wasn’t enough for me, though Rather, I was getting fed up with the routine! Just as I crossed the 30-kilometer mark, a sugary aroma called out to me! I again forgot about the Marathon and began looking out for the source.

Swishh…

Piping hot jalebis being fried by a roadside vendor!

“Anna,” I screamed in my broken Kannada! “10 rupayi Jalebi Kodi” 

I forked out a tenor I’d kept for emergencies, and munching on the sugary fried snack with renewed zest, I put one leg after the other striding and strutting the next few kilometers turning a deaf ear to my screaming knees!

A while later, a bike swished past me. The sun had long since risen up, and the heat was slowly increasing. I was sweating profusely and not paying much attention to those around.

“Baba!” I heard someone scream. It was the biker. He turned the bike around and came towards me.

I waved!

It was Pratyush and Jajoo. They started asking about the water arrangements and the deputation of help around the route. Everything was in order and we merrily got to chatting about things. That’s the thing when you advise and run the same Marathon. You end up putting both feet forward and then tripping and falling over! Or in my case, break both knees!

After a good 10 minutes, he realized something. “Aapka time chal rha hai na?”

I sighed. And began running.

He paced me for a while and then went on ahead.

I’d crossed the Swagata Gopura and entered the city. The sun was directly above us now and the heat searing through. It’s funny how this quaint little town with little to no activity on Sundays 10 years ago, when I first came here has changed in all this time! The roads were filled with vehicles and we ran past them with people staring at us throughout. I could only imagine what they may have been thinking, looking at us run, out of breath through the city streets, early on a Sunday morning!

The rest of the route was just about average. It’s the Udupi-Manipal stretch all of us travel through almost every week if not day! The left side of the road was cordoned off to allow runners to run unhindered.

I’d come this far. With my belief in catching up to Doctor Sahab dwindling, I crossed the last timing mat and climbed up the Manipal Hill, crawled past the RT Block and made my way towards Tiger Circle. People were already heading back from the Marathon.

Ishan was at the finish line with a mic.

And here comes, Rohit Baba…

The speakers boomed alarming me for a minute. And then in a moment of sweet, sweet ecstasy, I crossed the finish line!

2 weeks removed from the day, with the injuries healed and the memory still afresh. With countless hours of worry and a week of pain. For all the hours of self-doubt and the 5 hours of just…. running. The good, the bad, the painful and the downright ugly of all of it, I ask myself this question – “Was it really worth it!?”

The shining full marathon finisher medal hanging next to the half marathon finisher medal from 3 years ago is all the answer I need!

Image Credits – Manipal The Talk Network and The Photography Club, Manipal

Categories: Experiences

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