Get up at 0230 hours. Check. Freshen up. Check. Apply Vaseline on the chest to prevent abrasion. Check. Tie the hydration belt. Check. Get the water bottle in there. Check. Don’t forget to keep the mobile phone in the belt pocket. Check. Get the headgear on. Check. Start for the event. Check. I think only an army man would be familiar with this routine or may be a somnambulist or wait a minute. There’s another category of driven people who do this week after week, year after year and decade after decade. Yes, you got it right. This is the category of compulsive runners. Just spare a thought for these people; they are not even professional athletes, they are just amateur runners. Podium finish is not even in their wildest dreams but completing a race is. So, here I am, a compulsive runner, trying to participate in at least one full marathon every year. This started in the year 2015 with the AHM (Airtel Hyderabad Marathon) and the story continues.
AHM 2017 was supposed to be the biggest version of itself in terms of participation. Around 20,000 runners, give or take a few hundred, from across the country registered for this. I, being from Hyderabad, had to participate in it. Being part of a highly supportive running community, PCR (Peerancheruvu Runners), was a great help. Preparations for the marathon started in right earnest. A 3-month plan was published in the PCR WhatsApp group with 3 weekly runs including the Sunday long run. There were strength training sessions and cross training sessions thrown in. I bet if this plan is followed to the tee, one can become the best runner in the community, if not in the city. That’s not to be. Somehow, plans don’t work for me and I keep going back to the saying, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy planning other things”, for inspiration. Anyways, I got 3 long runs under my belt, with great difficulty, in the entire training period.
On the D-Day, 21 of us full marathoners, boarded a mini bus to the AHM start point, from the community where I live. The vibes inside the bus were excellent. You have to be a part of such a group to understand the atmosphere. Words can’t do justice to it. Having reached the start point well in time, it was time for some pre-race pictures. Then we were all set for the flag off. At the flag off time all the resolve, all the motivation and all the bravado goes for a toss. I started with the 5 hour 30-minute bus which was led by Shailendra, a very good friend of mine and a neighbor. After about 2 kilometers I realized the pace was too much for me. I slowed down keeping in mind my previous experience of starting too fast. One more thing that happens with me is that all kinds of pains start showing up. Pain in the foot, knee, shoulder, back, stomach and hand. I am told these are phantom pains and they eventually go away. I started stopping at every alternate water station. Now, a word for the organizers. The organizers didn’t leave anything to chance. All the water stations were well stocked with energy drinks, bananas, salt, cookies and of course the plain old water. The volunteers were very cheerful. There were live bands performing including two army bands, one of which I clearly identified as the Gorkha Regiment band. There’s something about the army bands which gives you goosebumps as soon as you approach them. They energize you tremendously. Coming back to the pains, all the pains went away, clearly being phantom pains, but not the stomach pain. That persisted. The good thing was I was able to walk with that pain but running/jogging made it worse. My wife, who was also running the full marathon, caught up with me at around 24 kilometers and she clearly understood my plight. She also had knee pain but persisted.
Hyderabad terrain is such that it is a nightmare for runners. It is full of inclines. There are 3 flyovers but apart from those also there are never ending inclines. One starts from Punjagutta and ends at KBR park. Then after a little respite, there’s another one starting at Pedamma temple in Jubilee Hills. All the war cries of “Kill the hill” fall on deaf ears when a runner encounters one of these inclines. No exhortation is good enough and no pushing hard enough. When the inclines come, you just respect them and walk. Near Hi-tech City we met both the 21K and 10K runners. All of them were in high spirits. In fact, on the Gachibowli flyover, there was no space to move forward. All the space was filled with a sea of blue. After the Gachibowli flyover, the last of these flyovers, we needed to go left towards the Wipro junction. Now, here’s where on the one hand, you feel all the hard work that you have put in will come to fruition soon. On the other hand, you feel there are still 12 more kilometers to go. As the events go, in AHM, this is the stretch where the royal treatment of full marathoners begins. Outside the Microsoft office, we were given lemon juice. Near the Q-City we were given watermelons and oranges. Every 2-3 kilometers we had these fruits. We were given sponge baths and physiotherapists were available to relieve us of our pains. Unfortunately, a physiotherapist can’t do anything about the stomach pain. In retrospect, I think, I respected the hospitality of the organizers too much and ate and drank everything that was offered, resulting in my discomfort.
By the time I had turned left after the Gachibowli flyover, all the pacers had overtaken me. I only had my watch to pace me. Not that I worry too much about my timing, but this was too slow even by my lowly standards. Near the 38 K mark, I met a runner who was stretching and sitting very frequently. I tried to persuade him to walk the remaining distance with me without a break. Surprisingly, he agreed and we walked till the entrance of the Gachibowli stadium. That’s where my co-runner asked me to at least run the reaming 100 meters or so and I obliged. The atmosphere inside the stadium was mesmerizing, to say the least with loud music and the friendly banter of all the runners and organizers. At the finish line, my co-runner touched the track as a thank you gesture and simply collapsed. Thankfully, there was nothing serious and he was stretchered to the nearest medical aid station. It was only a case of leg cramps. I got the medal, breakfast (it was nearing lunch time by then) and the customary pictures. It was an amazing experience. AHM, I will be back next year.