“A lifetime of training for just ten seconds.” – Jesse Owens.
“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I woke up on a Sunday, really tired from Chris’ party. I checked the clock and it was noon. Damn! Guess I had to do my laundry next week. I brushed, fixed myself a cup of tea (I hate coffee) and showered and prepared to go out for lunch. As I walked to the diner on the corner, I noticed that posters had come up all over inviting registrations for a marathon that was gonna take place 3 months from now. I noticed that they promised free T-shirts to everyone who participated and I smirked, looking at what I thought was a lame attempt to get people to attend. I reminisced about how I had loved running and playing soccer as a teenager before high school and college turned me into the nerdy couch potato that I was becoming. I looked at my paunch which was in its incipient stages with disgust. “Cut down on the beer, bro,” I told myself and entered the diner. The smell of sizzling bacon drove all thoughts of the marathon away from my head.
That evening, I went to the library to get some work done for school the next day and found the flyers for the marathon bedecking the notice board outside. A cute girl saw me checking out the flyer and Voila! She produced a notepad with a flourish and asked if I was interested in running in the marathon. I tried to evade it but she was very persistent(and very cute). I finally ended up giving her my name, my phone number and my e-mail ID. She said that I’d be contacted a week or so before the marathon with details about my jersey number and other details and walked away. I looked at her retreating figure and smiled at the organizers’ new gimmick to get people to run. “Hell, I’ll get one phone call or an e-mail which I can just ignore,” I thought and entered the library, the work I had to do completely occupying my mind.
A week later, two friends of mine, Nick and Luke with whom I caught an occasional game of soccer came to my place and asked me if I wanted to kick a ball around for a while. I was all for it and started playing. Within half an hour, I was gasping for air and had difficulty running. I had a searing stitch in my side and was almost bent double with pain. The guys spotted my discomfiture and asked me what was wrong. I told them I was too tired to play and couldn’t continue. They were not too energetic themselves. We decided to call it a day and started walking back to our neighborhood. Suddenly, Nick asked me if I was interested in doing a daily cardio exercise regime with them. I said I was too busy and tried to escape. Luke joined in and they were very enthusiastic about the idea so I gave it some thought. “Hell, I’ve registered for the marathon, might as well make it count !” I said and agreed to join them. They registered for the marathon on the way back(the cute girl was elated I’d made two of my friends join) and we decided to go check out cardio exercises on Google. We promised to do an hour of exercises everyday including basic stretches to warm up and a target distance of jogging and running. We picked out running shoes and were all set to go.
It was hard work. I had to wake up two hours early to fit this added activity into my schedule which was packed enough to keep me busy. The first few days required tremendous willpower on my part to wake up and tie my shoes and head out. In addition to me waking up and running, I also had to wake the two lazy friends who had agreed to join me. We started with stretches in the University soccer field and moved on to the running track. This was done with a mind to know exactly how far we had run. The first week was a real struggle. I couldn’t run any more than 3 laps or 1200 meters and that too was done with some real huffing and puffing towards the end. My side kept cramping and it took a lot of drive from my part to continue. At the end of 5 days, I found that I could do my 1200 meters with some ease and still had some energy left for another 100 meters or so. We decided to sprint for it and I pushed my lungs to the limit(the stitch had faded out, my breathing had regularized and I was no longer taking shallow breaths). I managed to break the 200m mark with my sprint and finally ground to a halt, totally winded. I turned behind and the guys were staring at me with looks of incredulity. “Dude, how’d you run so fast?” asked Nick and Luke nodded as fast as he could without disturbing his panting rhythm. I never realized that I was fast; I was focusing solely on how far I was running. “Dunno, bro. I just did it”, I said and they continued giving me looks of awe. I left them at it and went to grab a bottle of water to rehydrate and headed home to shower and get ready for school.
At lunch that day, the guys came up to me and told me that I had sprinted 200m in around 30 seconds. Luke had timed me as he was too winded to sprint. I was actually amazed by my time. I was happy that I still had it, the quick feet. Running was an integral part of my growing up; I used to do it everyday on the street, playing soccer with my friends. Through practice and observation, I had learnt and incorporated several running techniques, had perfected my body position and was a pretty good runner. However, 6 years of being a log had taken its toll and I was more than a little rusty. I was elated and needed no further motivation to continue running.
As the weeks progressed, my endurance went up and I was able to run further. I spent my evenings in the gym, running on the treadmill and doing exercises to strengthen my core muscles. I looked with pride at my well-toned body and vowed to keep fit for the rest of my life. The guys had long given up trying to keep pace with me but stuck around to give me company and count my laps and time me after they had finished their running. My sessions grew bigger, I rose earlier everyday and was more determined than ever to finish the marathon I had signed up for. However, I had overestimated myself. A marathon is 26.2 miles long and that meant I had to run close to 106 laps to finish it. As much as I tried, I couldn’t cross the 85 lap mark, even when I jogged at a very low pace. I decided that the way to do it was to increase the duration of my sessions and I started missing my morning classes to make more time.
There were two weeks remaining before the marathon when the e-mail arrived from the marathon organizers informing me about the start and finish points and the route of the marathon. It was pretty much based around my neighborhood and a few other neighborhoods I was familiar with as well as some parts of town I was totally new to. I kept my spikes aside as they were no good on the asphalt and started to run the route everyday to familiarize myself with the route and the road tread. I met several marathon competitors during this routine and they gave me a lot of tips on pacing my run and regulating my breath. Even with such expert advice, I found that I could not do more than 24 miles. The guys were great encouragement, keeping up with me on their bikes and keeping track of how much I had run. “Dude, come on just a bit longer!” was their constant encouragement. I gave it my all everyday and I edged closer to the mark.
A week before the marathon, I quit the gym and hit the pool to improve my endurance. I did 40 laps a day in the Olympic sized pool. That translated to 12.4 miles a day and it really helped boost my lung power. I managed to touch the 26 mile mark with 4 days left for the marathon. The aim of finishing the marathon seemed to be all that mattered in the world. The desire burned inside and it gave me the impetus I needed to push myself harder. I gave up going to school altogether and focused solely on achieving the 27 mile mark. The extra distance was because I’d need to sprint near the finish. I finally managed to make it to 26.5 miles with 2 days left. I felt pretty proud of myself and thought I stood a realistic chance of completing the marathon(maybe the cute girl would be there and would remember me).
Race day. Patriots’ Day.
The day dawned bright and sunny, perfect outdoor weather. Spring was well and truly upon us. I jogged out, had a light breakfast and started my usual battery of stretches. The race was to begin at 11:05 AM and I was done warming up by 10. I jogged to the start point with the guys and was amazed by the size of the crowd over there. Close to 25,000 people had gathered there(the actual number was around 23,000 I was told later). We went to the registration desk and got our jersey numbers. They had our surnames on them as well. We were told to stick them to the front of our T-shirts. We also got our promised free T-shirts. We were ready to go by 10:50. We assembled at the start point where there was a huge banner over the street with the words ‘117th Boston Marathon 2013’. We grinned at each other and got set to run. We heard the bang from the starting gun and started off at a steady jog along with 23,000 other people. The initial phase was tricky. I had to navigate between so many people and had to run a bit faster than I had planned so that I could leave the stragglers behind. Since I was so accustomed to the route, I knew exactly how far I had run. By the 4 mile mark, I had managed to find myself a clear running channel with no obstructions. There were a large number of people in front of me but I was not too bothered, I was interested only in finishing the run. I paced myself and regulated my breathing. I ran at a steady pace, sometimes overtaking somebody, sometimes falling behind to somebody. I was at ease. Steadiness was key. I had no way of timing myself as I had left my watch behind and the guys were nowhere to be seen. I reached the 23 mile mark in what seemed like a remarkably short time but since I had no sense of time I couldn’t be really sure. That was when I started feeling leggy and slightly out of breath. The speed increase at the beginning to pull clear of the pack was taking its toll on me. I regularized my breathing, reduced my pace, took a few deep breaths and pushed on. I reached the 25 mile mark and I was literally panting. My legs had gone numb with pain and my lungs were just inhaling and exhaling monotonously, the air going in with sharp breaths and coming out with short painful gasps. I labored on, letting a lot of people go past me. I reached the 26 mile mark and the end was in sight. A large number of people had finished already. I decided to sprint for it. I tucked my arms in closer, lowered my head, drew a deep breath and launched myself forward with my trailing leg. “Dude, come on just a bit longer!” came a shout and I looked ahead and saw the guys standing a few feet away from the finish line.
It happened so suddenly. Multiple bangs. Loud ones at that. I remember looking at the finish line, yearning to reach it. I remember being thrown back as if an invisible giant fist had punched me. I remember people screaming, not understanding what was happening. I remember being flattened against the wall of a building. I remember looking at my objective, wanting to get there and finish what I had started. I remember telling myself “Dude, come on just a bit longer!” and trying to get up. And then all I can remember is the blackness, the void, the emptiness and the thought that I had failed being the last conscious thought I had before the darkness consumed everything.
P.S : Any factual errors are to be kindly overlooked by the discerning reader. Thank you.
P.P.S : I wrote this way back in April 2013, just a few days after the Boston Marathon bombings. If you have made it all the way till here and were wondering why I put up something so out of context with the present world scenario, well, this sentence you just spent 5 seconds reading is your answer.