What a treasure trove of experience and stories the Cherra Marathon has turned out to be.
I reached Shillong on Monday, 13th July and took in the sights and sounds of the hill station over the next couple of days. The trek down and back up from the living root bridges that I did on Wednesday, 15th July, were warm-up enough for me. My calves were positively lit up and in good condition, as I pushed myself to complete the 3km uphill trek in just under an hour.
The marathon related events started the next day, 16th July, the day before the run. The organizers had planned a preparatory run around Shillong in the morning for some of the runners, but they arrived 45 minutes later than the appointed hour, by which time I’d decided to go back. No sweat, because I slept for two extra hours, which eventually helped me because I’m usually unable to sleep much the night before the run.
Later in the day, I went to the Soso Tham Auditorium to collect my bib, t-shirt and goodie bag. The helpful volunteers handed me these and also gave me my pass for the pasta party that was to be held later that evening.
When I arrived half an hour early at 6 PM, the place was slowly filling up and I took the opportunity to speak to a couple of runners who were already there. It felt nice to meet people from Guwahati (Dr. Santanu Dutta), Chennai, Pune and Bangalore and there was a lot of good cheer and banter. I also happened to bump into a friend from Calcutta.
Once the pasta party got underway, we not only heard inspiring tales of some runners, but also got to know that the Cherrapunjee Marathon was supporting the cause of ‘Zero school dropouts in Meghalaya’. Another goosebump-inducing moment was hearing of the 30 differently abled participants who were going to attempt the marathon on wheelchairs!
After the dinner, I headed back to Traveller’s, the bed and breakfast place where I was putting up. Here, I met two other gentlemen from Bangalore who had flown in earlier that day. Since these two had already had the experience of running a full marathon, I spent a good hour chatting with them, asking them for tips and suggestions on how to go about my training. I learnt so much from them and I’m grateful to both, Girish Gopalarao and Mahesh Venkatachala.
The next day, the three of us set out at quarter to 5 in the morning to walk to the auditorium, from where the organisers had arranged for buses to take us to the starting point of the race. After an hour’s ride in the bus, we reached Mawkdok village, which is about 22 km before Cherrapunjee.
One by one, the events were flagged off, and what was good to see was that not only had the Chief Minister of Meghalaya come to flag off the races, but he also ran a bit of the distance with the participants.
The route itself was stunningly beautiful. Sadly though, we did not have any rain on that day and the sun didn’t hide behind the clouds for most of the race, making it a hot and tough run. As if the terrain wasn’t difficult enough! I should’ve realised looking at the route map provided to us that it was more or less downhill running in the first half, and then would loop back; meaning running uphill in the second, and physically and mentally tougher half of the race. I ran the first half pretty well, completing the first 10 kms in 64 minutes. It was after that turn that I really struggled, as did most of the other runners.
A note about the mistake that I made: I’d barely eaten anything before the run. I had just eaten half a protein workout bar. I had not found it in me to eat the dry sandwich that the folks at the Bnb had prepared for me. I felt the effects of running on an empty tank. Luckily, we got a banana at the halfway point and I wolfed mine down, which helped me regain some energy.
It was in this condition of a slightly empty stomach and uphill running that I found myself at the 17 km mark. Post this point, I started cramping in my right hamstring and had a little pain on the IT band on my left knee. A spray of Volini helped me push past these.
What helped tremendously at this point was coming across another runner from Calcutta in the last 2 km stretch. By now, I was just walking as quickly as possible, knowing that there was no way I could complete the race in the 2 hours 30 minutes that I’d set for myself. But a gentle tap on my shoulder, and watching a companion jog past, I somehow found the will power to push myself to run along with him for the home stretch. In fact, we shared stories about running back home in Calcutta as we jogged and that kind of helped to take my mind off the uphill climb (literally) that I was making.
I finally finished with a timing of 2:39:07, which given the fact that I’d not run a half marathon since January and had barely trained for this one, was pretty ok. Yeah, yeah. I know. I wish I’d trained and worked out in the gym, but hey, there’s always a next time.