It seems like I am destined to run a half marathon once every two years. So after running my very first one in Mumbai back in January 2010 and then finishing with a better time in Delhi in 2012, it was high time I ran one this year, if only to keep the arithmetic progression going. The fact that my finish time doesn’t seem to follow any patterns of improvement is a matter of shame but I take consolation in the fact that at least I kept running intermittently for the past 4-5 years. What began as a mere experiment has turned out into a routine work out activity and assumed an almost meditative character.
I finished Mumbai HM in 2 hours 31 mins. I bettered this time by almost 15 minutes in Delhi. So in the third running event, I wanted to at least maintain the last record if not better it. But alas, life had taken over, yada, yada, yada and I was to finish with a timing worse than the last time. My preparation was so abysmal that I had begun to question my judgement in wishing to run the third half marathon a week before the “M” day. Having finished the first two respectfully, pulling out of the third one was not an option and that’s how I found myself on the beach of Sandy Hook in New Jersey on that windy day of October 5, 2014.
Sometimes the most random choices in life result into things that are a lot nicer than what you had expected. In July, when I was trying to make up my mind as to which one of the many different Half Marathons I should participate in, I had honed down on Sandy Hook HM because at $35 registration fees, it was the cheapest of all the options out there. Little did I know that where I was going to run was an enchanting beach town with ocean waves hugging the serene shoreline. When I reached the marathon venue with my sweet aunt who had accompanied me in the hour and half long commute to Sandy Hook that morning, a strong wind was blowing, the town was silent, gulls were visible above the waters and the mercury was at about 15 degree Celsius. From the parking lot, I could see the buzz of the runners in some distance. I went and joined the crowd to collect the running bib and the large “Small” sized T-Shirt. All of us were getting so cold by standing in the queue that we couldn’t wait for the running to begin. At least we wouldn’t be shivering once our hearts started pumping more blood.
At about 8:45 a.m., I went and stood among the runners at the Starting line, waiting for the Starting shot to be fired. As usual, some runners were going through the warm-up routine, some were exchanging playful jokes with their running buddies and my nervousness was getting betrayed by my double checking on the shoelaces. Everyone was raring to go but this was a much smaller crowd compared to what I had experienced in Mumbai and Delhi and as such, excitement levels were not comparable. Nonetheless, there was that familiar feeling of discomfort just before the running begins – one that generally vanishes after 10 minutes in to the race.
The shot was fired and off we went. I had no idea how the route was going to be. Except a hurried look at the route map the previous night, I had not done any homework. Hell, owing to my usual strokes of procrastination, most of the preparation for this race had turned out to be mental rather than physical. I was running the race on the sole basis that I had done it before and except for some mediocre running practice in the three weeks leading up to the “M” day, I was completely out of practice.
I felt good in the first 15 minutes – not comfortable but good enough. From experience, I knew that it generally takes my body about 20-25 minutes to get in the groove, after which time I can run comfortably for the next 30 minutes at least. Somehow, my mind works in terms of time rather than distance but that may be because I have never really been a fast paced runner – I have always been a slow and steady paced jogger. I knew that I had stuffed enough carbs in my body in the last 24 hours and all I needed to do was to keep myself hydrated and prevent the abdominal cramps from setting in. The latter was out of my control but the first was not and throughout the race, I ensured that my mouth was not going dry at any time. I figured that I could pace myself at 1 mile every 10 minutes in order to finish the race in less than 150 minutes. While I was going through these mental calculations in the first 15 minutes of the beginning of the race, I noticed that a fellow (probably in his mid 30s) was keeping a consistent pace ahead of me. The gap between the two of us was short enough for me to feel that I can keep tailing this guy. I have always benefited from the practice of tailing someone from a comfortable distance behind that person – it keeps me from getting distracted by those overtaking me. Only caveat is that I might get slowed down if the person I am following slows down. But I hoped that the clock displaying the split time at the end of every mile would help me keep on the track.
The route began parallel to the beach for the first 10 minutes and then turned right in to Gateway National Recreation Area. We ran on the tarmac for the entire 13.1 miles of the race (To my relief, we did not have to run on the sandy beach – it would have been a nightmare to do so!). The route was flat throughout and I don’t remember panting due to a steep gradient at any point in the race. Surroundings were scenic in that the route was lined by trees on both sides for the most part. For a couple of miles in the beginning and the end, we also ran with the beautiful ,expansive beach on one side of us. The beauty of running along a beach was marred by the fact that a strong wind was blowing the whole time, almost set to whoosh us all in the air – okay i am exaggerating but it was really very strong, creating a lot of resistance while running. I wished constantly for the wind to die down but it was not to heed my wishes. After 6.5 miles, The route was looping back towards where it had started. By the halfway mark, I had overtaken the person I had been tailing till then and had succeeded in maintaining a steady pace of a mile every 10 minutes. After that, my lack of preparation began to catch up with me a little by little. I could feel my pace slowing down and the split timings at every mile after the 7 mile mark confirmed that feeling. Ultimately, i began to concede that I might have to let go of my target finish time of 130-135 minutes and just focus on getting done in less than 150 minutes. The last 5 miles were unending and tested my will power. Finally, I was back on the 2 miles patch which would take me to the finish line and I started to feel a little relieved that I was not going to have to give up after all. Soon, it was all going to be over and I was going to sit and relax for a long time. I think I was almost salivating at the thought of being able to sit peacefully and finished the race in that eager feeling of just wanting to get something done as fast as one can (although I had slowed down considerable by this time). For the last 13 miles, cheering by strangers who had lined up along the route had helped me keep up a positive face. Their encouragement, cheerful hi-fives and helpful volunteering had gotten me through the race. As I neared the finish line, my aunt spotted me and started to shout out words of encouragement and praise.
I finished with a timing of 2 hours 24 minutes. Quite bad compared to my last one; but still within the dreaded figure of 150 minutes!
Feeling quite exhausted, I went to the beach with my aunt and spent some quiet time letting the sand play over my tired feet. I felt good and content. Gulls were pecking in the sand a few feet away from us. We spent a few more minutes in that quietude, realizing fully well that the next day would bring all the agonies that a Monday brings for any working person. Soon, it was time to go back home and to the mundane routine.
Jersey Shore Half Marathon Website: