Detroit Half Marathon 2014.
Marathon, the very word evoked a sense of fear and awe in me. I am no stranger to physical exercise, being a girl from Assam, growing up in the Guwahati of the 90’s and early 2000’s, I got ample opportunity to enjoy nature. Weekend treks to Narakasur hills, at the foothill of which stands my humble home, sunday Bharatnatyam classes, evening cycle rides and running up and down from my house to the “Bari” with our dogs were the routine for us, siblings. Moreover as winter descended upon the valley, badminton nets had to go up, which is, I think a ritual in most homes in Assam but I had never trained seriously for any event. Bharatnatyam with its aramandi pose gave me strong quads but I never seriously practised it with the aim of making it big as a prima ballerina. We were all encouraged to participate in The Abhiruchi day run in Guwahati but in a city which lacks basic amenities, pedestrian paths and parks, running for leisure, is a dream. Moreover, parents put their children in extracurricular activities which might become a muse for the child later in life but it is seen that as a girl grows and enters the throes of womanhood, running or any form of physical activity is just a frivolous hobby. We never cultivated that culture of keeping fit, or incorporating exercise as a part of our daily life. It is only when one is diagnosed with diabetes, a very common lifestyle disease in Assam, we wake up and start rigorous regimes of morning walks and commodified yoga poses taught by commercial Yoga gurus on TV. We the people of Assam take great pride in enjoying our food which was developed in an agrarian culture for the robust farmer family but presently due to our sedentary lifestyles the same food is making us patients of lifestyle diseases.
The enthusiasm to lead a healthy life was lost in the melee of day to day life. I started running seriously since 2012. I joined the gym in the university but I was following the crowd and doing the usual, using the cross training machines while staring at the tv screen. My life changed when I met our coach, Matthew Hammersmith, who is an ultra runner(ran more than 100 miles, ran from Indiana to Michigan), I started to seriously think about running. I also met another wonderful individual Jade Paron, who trained me and I started exercising seriously. At the same time, my very active and outdoorsy boyfriend, maggie took up crossfit and his life changed when he met a fellow Md. Shariq who introduced him to the world of running. I ran my first 5k at the Shamrock and Shenanigans in Ann Arbor and since then have run numerous 5ks and 10ks but Half Marathon was still a dream. I did not have the temperament and perseverance to train consistently for such an event that demands a lot of endurance both mental and physical and a very robust constitution. I was afraid I would get stress fracture or perhaps get mugged by someone during my evening runs. However, I finally signed up for the Detroit event in May along with Maggie. Maggieis a motivator who uses unusual means to motivate me, sometimes like a pedagogical school teacher, but I think those are the only means to drive me to train since I am a little stubborn. He previously ran the Pittsburgh marathon in May 2014 in 4 hours. He had joined a running club in Pittsburgh to prepare for the event. He ran with a pace group that met every sunday in downtown . However, my half marathon training in Troy consisted of just me and my phone application. I started doing 5 ks 3 times a week besides my crossfit class. Towards August I started doing longer runs i.e 7, 8 miles one day in a week besides the 5 k. Sundays according to Maggie my trainer, should be reserved for long runs. I took a break from crossfit because the burgeoning pressure at work along with everything else made me really exhausted. I kept running, but I must say I was not very consistent with my training. I somehow did it, ran the long distances on weekends or on days other than weekends if the bipolar weather of Michigan did not permit me to run outside. The half marathon was on October 19th and as days passed the feeling finally started to sink in. I never practised running long runs with gels, although I should have. I also got plantar fasciitis one evening during my training while I tried to run faster imagining myself to be a lizard skimming a plane of water.
The penultimate day of the race was the running convention day when Maggie and I went to collect our bibs. The convention was held at the CoBO center in Detroit and was modest in comparison to the one at Pittsburgh held in April 2014. There were stalls selling KT tapes, running gear, gels and anything related to running. While inspecting our race packets we found that the lady at the kiosk gave us one extra bib, we hurried back to her to return the extra one and were happy that we prevented some unfortunate news for a fellow participant.
The race day like all other race days is eventful and joyous. A sense of camaraderie and cheerfulness pervades the atmosphere. In all the races that I participated, I met strangers cheering me with claps and songs, which is far away from the sneers and remarks I got as a teenager from onlookers when I ran the cross country at high school. We started from the intersection of Larned and Congress street in Detroit and proceeded east towards Indian village neighbourhood. The weather was perfect and I could not be happier running my first half marathon with Maggie. We had decided on a strategy to run slow initially then increase my pace gradually , and sprint towards the end. But I never seemed to understand this strategy since I wanted to run like a raging bull keeping everyone else behind me after I heard the gunshot(talk about unleashing my inner rhinoceros). We had paced ourselves using a gps watch that beeped each time we went over our pace. While running eastwards in Detroit, we discovered very beautiful neighbourhoods with houses of unique architecture. There were groups of different ethnicities, Polish and Greek, who encouraged the participants with music, claps and also beer. The local church goers also volunteered and provided us with water and gels. Maggie and I got many high fives and flying kisses from babies perched on their fathers’ shoulders. Detroit glowed in the crisp fall weather. The half marathon route then took us to the infamous Belle isle, the island that is connected to Detroit via a bridge and is literally situated between Detroit and Windsor, on the Detroit river. I wonder why someone wanted to make it an independent country sometime in 2009 and garnered a lot of attention due to his ambitious plan. It is a very beautiful island that has a private yacht club, an aquarium, conservatory and a beautiful fountain with lions that remind me of Victoria Memorial, meanwhile a lady caught up with us and started talking incessantly. We later realised that she is a “Bandit”, someone who runs without any BIB for fun. There were scores of volunteers with gels and water on the road. Maggie took this run like a piece of cake and he was surely enjoying eating it. Besides the high fives at Indian village, he drank beer, drank water,ate gels, spoke at length about running with a Bandit, on the other hand I was so serious about it that I decided not to smile, talk or even eat gel and drink water until I crossed the finish line. After Belle isle, the route merged with Jefferson Avenue then diverged into the renovated Detroit riverwalk. The riverwalk run was picturesque, we ran beside a Marina, a little light house and another yacht club. The route merged yet again onto the Jefferson Avenue and as I realised I was getting closer to my goal, I could not wait to get there as soon as possible and celebrate. I never followed the strategy that Maggie had planned for me and thankgoodness he did not push me. The run from Jefferson Avenue to the finish line on felt the longest. When I finally crossed the finish line, I could not believe that I actually ran a 13.1 mile race. I finished my goal in 2 hours and 30 minutes.Although it might seem to be a miniscule feat as compared to marathons, ultra marathons and Iron man events but it was a very big personal milestone for me. After the race ended I heaved a breath of sigh and made full use of my smart phone i.e indulged in clicking many selfies(guilty) and thereafter we rushed to our favourite Yemeni food place in Hamtramck and ate chicken and rice like there was no tomorrow. When someone later asked what is the secret of running and endurance, I just replied BHAAT. A subtle joke pointed at myself but nevertheless is true to a greater extent.