I have run 3 marathons, but have miles to go

I was on a different mental plane for the the 2012 edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. I did not want to look at my watch and stress over how fast or slow I was running.

Running is a stress-free activity and if we fuss over our timings, we take away the fun from running marathons.

Anyway, I had reached a stage where running in training was more enjoyable than running a marathon. To get disappointed over not getting a PB was foolish.

I had bonked in a race in August last year and when I introspected, I found that defeat teaches you more, than a good race.

I had learnt my lessons. I needed to build on my endurance and from August to November, put on lots of miles.

Running around 30km for a weekend long run was par for the course. I was also building on my physical strength. When I cut out the minuscule junk food from my diet, I felt I was finally physically ready.

But mind is another matter. With the SCMM dates fast approaching, I was yet to feel the excitement of running a marathon. What was different from 2011 when I was so excited and proud to be called a marathoner?

I had moved away, found running an ultra-marathon a deeply philosophical experience, stopped looking at my watch during a run. In November, in an effort to increase my endurance, I had run an ultra-marathon (any distance over the traditional marathon distance of 42.195km) in practice. Running 47km was a new experience. When I started from Borivli at midnight, I did not know what to expect. When I finally finished at NCPA around 6 am, with an extra leg of 7km thrown in, I had experienced what I will call a "binge running session". I was mentally tired but physically satisfied.

I felt like a foodie who had a craving and had stuffed himself.

More than a month later when I finished my last long run in preparation for SCMM, I did not expect to completely switch off from running.

On Sunday, when we were flagged off from CST station, my only thought was "why am I running?" I could have easily been in bed and let thoughts drift. I had never experienced this feeling. I kept searching for the rhythm that is important in a marathon. It was not there. I was running physically, not mentally enjoying the feeling.

When my head finally cleared and the evil thoughts vanished around the 16km mark, I started enjoying my marathon.

Perhaps immediately my familar foe -- pain -- knocked on my brain's door and threatened to make an entry through my calf. I was not dreading the distance, I was dreading the fact that I may have to run with pain for so long.

Mumbai Marathon 2012 was for me one of the most physically painful experiences. I had run most of the distance and walked only when my calf muscles started dancing up and down.

I had braved cramps from Km 18 to 27 before that "Dance" became so intense that I had to start walking on my heels with my toes pointing upwards. I was to do this over to clear the cramps.

Most runners dread the wall which hits around the 30km mark. In the three marathons that I have run so far, the most difficult phase for me has been from Km 20 to 30. Once I have done 30, I never fail ... well, so far.

I knew cramps would ease after the 30km mark. As expected it did. But another foe came calling -- stiffness of the back, which causes such intense pain that I had to run with my eyes closed to numb it.

As the road markers disappered one after another, and as the distance to the finish line depleted, so did the strength from my body. Finally, taking the final left from Fountain onto DN road, I ran into Hugh Jones, the race director. In a matter-of-fact manner, he encouraged me: "Only 800 metres to go,'' he said, and I knew I had run 41.4km. I needed to push only a little further.

As I staggered past the finish line, looking more like a man who had one too many drinks, I was told by a colleague that I had clocked 4 hours and 16 minutes.

That was my personal best. Moments later I realised that I had not run well. I needed to build on my endurance, find a way to stay free from cramping and avoid the excruciating back pain. I had miles to go before I could call myself a marathoner --

a man who runs 42.195km non-stop.