|We run upstream and downstream.|
Pic Courtesy: Runners For Life
The trail ran alongside a tributary of the River Cauvery, with sugarcane and paddy fields on our right, behind which lay the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary (I saw Ibis fly overhead in V-formations at the start). While this was pretty, the fields would contribute to much of the still heat we were to experience later.
I ran with Gopal for the first few km. We chatted amiably, made jokes and paced each other. After about km6, I pulled ahead and found a guy with curly hair sticking out from under a cap and a cheetah at the back of his yellow shirt to pace with (I thanked him after the race). As we approached the halfway U-turn mark, I was surprised to see Sid already making his way back, a couple of minutes ahead of me. Both Gopal and I hadn't noticed when he had passed us early in the run. As I U-turned and took a sip at the aid station, I felt a competitive spirit rise within me. I didn't want Sid to finish ahead of me; I was going to chase him down.
Km12 was my fastest of the race (5:38). I passed Kavi and Jess going the other way, and I itched to ask them how far ahead Sid was. As we approached the bridge, where the trail kinda double-backs on itself, I caught a glimpse of Sid some distance ahead. I started feeling a stitch in my side and forced myself to slow down. I constantly kept Sid in view, and I could see that I was reeling him in, slowly but surely. By the aid station at km14, I was alongside him. We paced each other through the next 2km, chatting about this and that. At the 16km aid station, I pulled away (he later told me that he had hit his wall there, and was walking for a couple of km before Gopal caught up with him and pulled him through to the finish; they would finish a few seconds apart, seperated by a last burst sprint from Sid, who would also discover after the race that he had developed toe blisters on both his feet).
The heat was intense by now; the sun was beating down. After km14 (when I caught Sid), my pace dropped by about 7secs/km until km18. By km18, I was running at a laborious 6:42/km and knew I was struggling. I started talking to myself at this point, egging my feet and legs on, motivating myself every few seconds, and grunting and snorting the exhaustion out of my system. I refused to look over my shoulder because I imagined Sid to be hauling in my slow butt and I didn't need the added pressure; I just focused on myself and putting one foot in front of the other.
I felt a coldness come over me around km19, and couldn't understand how I could be shivering in such heat. Maybe it was me hitting my wall; maybe it was me breaking through my wall, but my brain wasn't processing any of those thoughts. I could focus on nothing else except the ground that lay ahead of me, willing my feet to keep moving. It must have worked; km19 was 6:41, km20 was 6:30 and km21 was 6:35. The finish line, however, simply refused to arrive; I kept turning bends expecting to see a crowd waiting for me, and I got more trail. When I finally did see the finish line, I sprinted the last 50m and felt new muscles come to life.
I hit the line with both arms raised to the sky and shouting 'Yes!'. I had done it; I had finished my first half-marathon. Finishing time: 2:13:35.
The real kicker was yet to come, though. Although I didn't know it then, I was just entering the first stages of dehydration. I felt a little woozy and had a slight headache. I made the mistake of not taking care of it immediately; in hindsight, I realise I should have tanked up after the race on liquids, salt (like electrolytes) and food, instead of giving into my sleeplessness and exhaustion and going straight to the hotel room and crashing. Result: I was passed out the rest of the day, an unintelligible mess as my body fought to come out of the starvation mode it had gone into. Huge props to my friends for hauling me back to Bangalore. At home, my mom gave me a glass of electrolyte water, and curd rice with rock salt (works wonders!). I had slept through much of the day, but I still slept like a rock for a good 10 hours through the night. When I awoke the next morning, I was almost back to normal, and life carried on, except for the small difference that I was now a half-marathoner.