By Rajpaul Pannu
Within the two minute count-down to the start of the race, I readily toed the starting line behind some big name runners (including Parker Stinson and former CIM champ Daniel Tapia). Within those two minutes, plenty of emotions ran through me. First was anxiety (dunno if that’s an emotion). I was anxious, like a homemaker who has meticulously prepped the house before a big party. My big party was the marathon, and the preparation was my training. However, like many homemakers, you can fret over spots that you can’t remove. Although my training was smooth and "clean" for the most part, there were a couple of spots that raised my concern. A week and a half prior, I had lost several pounds due to an illness. The last workout was supposed to be a 15 mile progression run, but I barely managed 7 miles at 5:20 pace before calling it off.
After anxiety, the next emotion to arrive was fear. Fear of running 26.2 miles when the longest run I had done before was barely over 20, which I performed only once throughout my training cycle. Also, I had the peculiar fear of crapping my pants in the midst of 26.2. I mean, running two hours plus is a long time, especially when you’ve consumed approximately 1,000 calories 12 hours prior. That fear was accentuated when I encountered an image on the internet the night prior, of a marathoner who had, well, moved a bowel in the midst of his marathon. I did not want to forever be immortalized via Google Images in exchange for a Huggies sponsorship.
After fear, calmness draped me like Superman’s protective cape (I know, I know, that was corny). I was calm because I knew who I was running for and why I was running this race. Several weeks prior, my grandfather had passed away, and I decided that I could either mope around, or I could honor him and everyone else who has influenced me one way or another through my work on this planet. With that being said, I looked up into the sky... Well actually, it was the CIM banner, because it blocked the sky. I said a Sikh mantra, took a deep breath, and bam! The gun went off.
Into the dark abyss we went, toes frozen and all. The first mile came and went. Beep: 5:17. "Perfect, I’m right on pace," I thought to myself. I was the only "non-elite" in a pack of runners aiming for the Olympic Trials Qualifier (OTQ). What befuddled me in the early miles was that some of these runners were having a conversation during the race! One conversation in particular stood out:
Annoying Runner #1: "Settle in, this is going to be a long race!"
Annoying Runner #2: [Laughs] "Yeah, plenty of people are gonna fall off."
As much as I wanted to punch Annoying Runner #2 in the face, I made sure that I did not use any excessive energy. I also questioned why elite level runners would put useless energy into motion when it can be transferred towards running the next 25 miles (that’s for another tale). After the first three miles run at 5:16 pace, my left hamstring tightened up. "Crap, it’s way too early for this," I thought to myself. Regardless, I did a body check, relaxed my shoulders, and took a deep breath before plunging further into the great unknown.
At mile six I ripped a GU Energy Gel off of my sleeve and took a quarter of it while running. It’s worth restating that my longest training run was a 20 mile progression run, during which I took a small dose of an energy gel. Aside from that, I had never experimented with it before, but was told by my coach that electrolytes and water are crucial to marathoning success. During this time, I was still settling in, relaxing my shoulders, and managing my breathing. Miles 7-10 were run just like the first six: even pace in spite of a slight incline at mile 8.
At mile 11 my stomach dropped. "Ohh... crap!" I suddenly realized that all of the runners within my pack had bibs attached to the back of their singlets. I immediately thought that I had forgotten to put my back singlet on. (Disclaimer: I only found out after the race that I was not registered as an elite, and so I was not given a back singlet.) Miles 11 and 12 were spent convincing myself that I did not receive a back singlet and that the good folks at SRA would iron everything out if needed. That time was also spent convincing myself that blistering up is inherent to marathoning and that it will all be worth it in the end, right?
Finally, 13.1 arrived: 1:08:35. 2:17:10 pace, huh? Despite wrestling within the great unknown (and I ain't talkin’ bout Chris Jericho), one thing was for certain: I was not fatigued. The breathing felt as if I was performing a progression run: comfortable. I was in a state of bliss. See, the thing is, my ability in mathematics peaked in the fifth grade, and I knew that even if I ran the next 13.1 at 5:23 pace, I’d get an OTQ. With that positive thought in my back pocket, I ran joyfully from that point until mile 17. Also, during that time I had slipped from 36th place into "50-somethingth" place, which gave my coach Marty Kinsey great concern. Regardless of place, I had a game-plan to execute: even splitting.
The last of my anxiety came during mile 18. My quads had suddenly tightened up and I felt a minor cramp in my stomach. However, my breathing was still intact, and honestly I felt the same as if I were running the 2nd mile of an 8 mile threshold run. A couple of miles passed, and then came mile 20. From there, runners started to fall off, terribly, as if a black hole had emerged on the course and sucked them away into another dimension. Or maybe just off the back of the pack. One thought in particular that came to mind then was about Runner #2 (who had claimed that people would fall off). Well, he was right, and he did (gotta respect 26.2).
From there, I made one big surge and left the second pack as I began to imagine how I would cross the finish line. At that point, nothing hurt, and everything was bliss. I even managed to catch a handful of elites during this span. At this point, I was certain that I was going to cross the line at 2:17:30-ish. But when I saw the clock from afar, gleaming 2:16, I went for it. I made one last dash to try to claim for myself the title of "2:16 Marathoner". Although that didn’t happen, I couldn’t have been happier as I crossed the finish line in 2:17:05, good for 19th place. Not bad for a "non-elite". The first person I saw was my college coach, and we shared some sentiments, along with the emotions that we have accumulated from the past few years together. Although I ran my first marathon conservatively, I take solace in the fact that I chose to stick with running despite having a few setbacks and life changes. I took these setbacks in stride, and used them as learning lessons. In return, I had learned to be very patient with my body, and "let it do its thing" rightfully throughout the CIM training cycle.
“You’re either winning, or you’re learning.” - Nelson Mandela
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