Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thank you Team In Training

This has been one of the most productive year for me so far.. working on an awesome project in Cisco, got few paid gigs as a photographer, and ran a marathon.. that's right ran a friggin marathon!.. Everything else I did this year pales in comparison. I still choke up when I think of crossing that finish line, no matter how abysmal my finishing time was..

It all started in May. I was pissed off at someone (and lets just leave it at that), was driving back home and stuck in traffic, there was a radio ad for Team In Training, a team that trains people for marathons, triathlons, crazy hikes, century bike rides etc to raise money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.. I thought..fuck it.. I'm going to run a Marathon. It was just a whim, I had no desire to be an athlete, nor had any relation to the cause.. it was a Forrest Gump moment for me where I just wanted to run.. for no apparent reason..

Now you guys have to remember that I used to bunk PE/games classes back in school and spend my time in the lab/library.. the last 5K I did was about a year ago, when I just woke up one morning, wore a sketcher shoe, and ran a 5k organized locally.. no practice etc.. i.e. I was in as good a shape as an average engineer is. Every rampup weekend run, which started at a measly 4 miles, was followed with me lying on the bed for 2 days, limping, and bitching and moaning for the rest of the week.

I don't really think my words can do justice to what the staff of TnT (Team in Training) has brought into my life. I know it is a cliché but they really did change my life. I'm normally a pretty distant guy with an EQ of a dead cat, so I thought that I'd be pretty thick skinned to whatever they had to say.. I just thought that I was there for the run. Coming in contact with all the honorees, cancer survivors & people still suffering from cancer has given me a different perspective of life. When you see a grown man cry after he exclaims that he was told that he'd be cancer free after 15 years, or when you realize that the person running & motivating you for the past 10 miles had cancer and was going through chemo just few months ago.. or when you find that a bubbly, high spirited lady decided to run 3 marathons, one for each kid she had, after she was told that she was in remission.. it puts things into perspective. Life is fragile and we take so many things for granted.. we tend to be lazy and jaded & stop aspiring for greatness and just settle for mediocrity. That finisher's medal hanging in my room, doesn't remind me of my accomplishment, but my time & experience with the team, which I'm going to cherish for ever, and if life permits, return next year.

The training was kind of harder than I expected, more so because of the time commitment it needed. I was running on Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays and was supposed to cross train on Monday & Wednesday.. this meant that I couldn't go out with my friends on friday because I had early morning runs the next day..or Sunday because I was sore from Saturday. I think most people at my work don't remember me walking straight :P now. It was also a revelation to me that it was much easier to build stamina than the musculoskeletal system. What that means is that for longer runs, I used to hurt my legs  faster than I used to get tired. It is no secret that I have a huge ego, so on any given run, I had a choice of either hurting my ego or hurting my leg.. I obviously went with ego.. against all the warnings from my coaches.

I've hurt my IT band, hamstring, medial shin, lower shin, ACL & Achilles tendon running.. (of course few months ago, I'd have said that I hurt my leg.. but you pick up stuff when you are on the first name basis with your massage therapist). I've bled from my nipples, and yes it is funny until it happens to you.. guys wear something called nipguards, which actually make you look like the models on paid only porn sites which put a star on the unmentionables (come on.. every teenager with access to a computer has been to those sites).. I don't remember any body part below my neck that hasn't been hurt at one point or the other. The remedies to these ailments are as weird as the ailment itself.. the best being icebaths.. it is exactly what it sounds like. You fill the bathtub with as much ice as you can manage, and dip yourself in it for 15 minutes.. you might yell obscenities for the first few minutes, but your legs will thank you later. But nothing hurts more than random advice from people who have never run in their entire life..

The way training works is that you ramp up your distance every 2 weeks, but run half the distance of your longest run during week in the middle to rest, so when I was up to a 20 miler, I was supposed to run 10 miles.. just to rest. A masochistic moron that I am, decided to replace it with hike, it was a 11.3 mile hike with 2.5K feet elevation! Even if you feel ok, your body would still be in recovery mode.. so when I ran 20 miles the next weekend, I pulled something.. and was kicked out of track the next tuesday. I couldn't really walk and although the possibility of stress fracture was dismissed by a quick visit to the doctor, running was out of the question.. I just had 3 weeks to go for the race. With a lot of ice cupping, compression wrap, ice bath, foam rolling, massages and intense cardio at more than 1hr/day, I tried to make up for the lost training runs. I was still limping a bit, but atleast it didn't hurt, which was a good sign.. It would have been a wise decision to just back out and live to run another day, but as I said, my ego hurts more than my leg, so I pushed on and made it to the marathon.

I was following the Jeff Galloway's method of running and was doing a 4:1 interval ( 4 minute run and 1 minute brisk walk) & based on my training, I was expected to finish in 5hr50min...well that didn't happen. At mile 18 I started falling apart, my limp became more pronounced and I could feel my legs locking up.. still kept on going till mile 21, but couldn't keep up my rhythm. They say that you run a marathon in 3 parts, first with your mind, second with your body, and third with your heart. I was at the last leg and lost my heart! I became deaf to all the cheers, all the bands playing, all I could think was to just jump of the bridge and end the misery (and Emily Dickinson's "Success is counted sweetest" playing in my head meant that I sure as hell wasn't going to quit the race and live). Suddenly like an angel, one of my coaches came and started running with me, she told me to run only if I could run faster than I could walk.. so I ended up just walking the remaining distance.. she stayed with me till the finish line.. I zoned out everything else and just zeroed in on her continuous chants of "Lift your legs, tighten your gluts".. After which I just became more or less an automaton and finished the race. I don't think humans have the capacity to assimilate greatness without going overboard.. but I'd say this.. I cried like a baby for 30 minutes after I finished the race.. It was not because I considered finishing a marathon an overwhelming accomplishment, but because I was overcome by the gesture of my coach.. Thank god for those Oakleys, I didn't look too different to the onlooker than any other marathoner in pain. It was not even a cool guy cry.. well it was at first.. but then I started tearing up so hard that I had to gasp! They say that starvation during any extreme sport does weird things to your mind.. but I don't care.. I don't care if I was out of my senses.. but I don't think that I can thank my coaches enough for what they did.. Coach Meghan.. if you are reading this, you ROCK!!

The other important aspect of the race was fund raising. I was supposed to raise $2900 in donations. I was able to raise $2400 just by shooting two events!.. the rest came from my facebook friends.. not only did it make me more confident as photographer, but it also reaffirmed my faith in my friends (those who paid anyways :))

It has been 2 weeks after the race, I'm still limping, but I can't wait to get back track and experience it all over again... GO TEAM!!