Written by Ranjini Gupta - Run2PB Athlete
The thought of doing London marathon propped up after my failed attempt at completing the Hyderabad marathon in August 2022. I was to try and get my qualification time for the Boston marathon in that race, but God had other plans. That is when Active holidays, the tour operators through whom I had done the Berlin and New York marathon in 2016 and 2019 respectively, opened entries for the London marathon. Considering that only Boston and London marathon were the two world marathon majors left for me to complete in the series, I deemed it fit to complete at least one of them in April 2023. Who knows, if it is a good day and I make the qualification time for Boston marathon, then I can complete the series in April 2024.
Once the entry for the race was through, I told my coach Zacca Newman about my plan. He was equally excited with my decision. We had enough time on hand to train for this one.
The last decent marathon effort I had done was the Jaipur Marathon in February 2020. The run was a prelude to the Boston Marathon, which I was supposed to do in April 2020 (which unfortunately was cancelled).
Post the pandemic, I had to requalify for the Boston marathon. Hyderabad Marathon in August 2022 did not go as planned. I had never DNF'd (Did not finish) in any race before that and it was a hard hit for me to take. I stuck my neck out and tried to do the distance again in October 2022 at the Bengaluru Marathon. Though my coach was not too happy with my decision to run a marathon distance again, he knew that I had to quieten the noise in my head before the next block of our training. We agreed, it will be a run to complete the distance and nothing else. However, that also did not go as per plan. For the first time in my decade long journey of long distance running, I experienced cramps. If not for my good friend Ambuj, who patiently prodded me along, I am not sure I would have competed the distance. He did not give me the option to quit. I did complete the race that day and secured a podium too but that is definitely not how I would have liked to finish a run. Training:
On 27th November 2022, I ran the half marathon distance at the Adani Ahmedabad Marathon clocking a time of 1hour 45minutes and 28 se
conds, just shy of 44 seconds from my personal best half marathon time. This race was a confidence booster for me.
From December 2022, we started our training block for the London Marathon. With one speed session per week and all others runs being easy, I felt I was recovering better too. This format suited my current condition. I did 2-3 strength sessions per week. My long runs were in the range of about 2hours of time on feet. Nothing more. I was averaging between 65-70km per week. Except for a few long runs where I had the company of coach KC Kothandapani, all other runs were a solo effort.
For every 3 weeks of training, one week ended up as a cut back week. In January 2023, the format remained more or less the same except that the long runs were now in the range of 2hrs 15min to 2hr 50 min and a few weeks had a long tempo built in mid-week. I had the opportunity to do some of the long runs with Vikram BJ from the middle of this month. It was a privilege to be in his company. He was also set out to do the London Marathon 2023. As he was just starting off his block of training and was not doing the faster long runs as yet, I got lucky. The other runs during the week remained a solo effort. This month I did two 30km runs, which had a positive rub off on me.
In the first week of February, I was down with a viral fever. Training took a beating. One week during the fever and then the next week of easy recovery runs only. However, the 3rd week of this month, I did a strong 30km run with Vikram and that brought my confidence back. Both coach and me were pleased with the way the training was shaping up. Though I was running solo, I was able to hit the target paces for my intervals, fartlek's and tempos. Having done group training sessions for a very long time, this was something I was always under confident about, but these solo run wins started to bring in the much-needed mojo back. In March 2023, I literally begged coach to let me do a 35 km long run in the first week of the month. Though it was not as per his methodology of training, he let me do it. I had done most of my long runs in the company of others but doing this solo and finishing strong meant a lot to me. The GKVK campus is a beautiful place to attempt this. No traffic concerns at least.
On March 19th, I attempted a 21.1k as a time trial for the race. The race was in NICE road Bangalore. I wanted to hold a 5:05-5:08 pace but with some last-minute changes in the course and the elevations involved, that was a tough ask. We had to do 21.1k in a 5km loop. Nagaraj Harsha paced me for this one. The second loop was really tough on me. However, I finished strong with a time of 1:49:50 averaging a pace of 5:12/km. Coach was pleased with my run though. He reiterated that in a marathon block, this was a strong run. From the month of March, apart from the one speed work I would do, my long runs had workouts build in. One interesting and confidence building run was a 36km run I ran with a dear friend Avinesh. By now Vikram had started off on his marathon paced long runs. I was fortunate enough to meet Avi a couple of times during my runs at GKVK. A wonderful person and a sub 3hr marathoner himself (in his debut marathon effort), he agreed to run the last few crucial long runs with me. That was a blessing in disguise. So, about the 36km run, the format was 12k @6:00, 8k @ 5:20's, 1k @6:00, 8k @ 5:20's 1k @ 6:00, 5k @5:10 and 1k @ 6:00. I was so thrilled when I finished this one. Thanks to the company of Avi, I ran comfortably, hitting the prescribed target. This was the last of my long runs and having got it right was a sign that everything was going to be okay.
Race Month, April was more of doing shorter distances in the long runs, some threshold speed runs while reducing the mileage gradually as well. Well tapered, I entered race week.
Race Day: 23rd April 2023
With all the speculation about the weather doing the rounds (rain or no rain), it turned out to be a cloudy day from the time we left the hotel. Post a quick breakfast of peanut butter sandwich and some black coffee to go with it, I was all set.
Though the jitters were there, there seemed to be calm too. I had a quick word with coach Zacca before I headed out. We both were excited. We knew we had done the work. Now it was showtime.
The previous day I had a chat with papa (Kothandapani KC). He sent me a note that was such a confidence booster. I also had a quick call with Avinesh and jokingly told him I'll meet him at the start line in a bit. Vikram of course was with me at London. We started from the same Green Wave. I picked his brains until the very end. Poor guy!
We took a train to Blackheath station. Our green wave was a one mile walk from the station. Greenwich Park looked beautiful. Lush green meadows, old London buildings and a plethora of runners set the race vibes. Just as I handed over my bag at the counter, it started to drizzle. The time was still 9:40 am and the race would start only by 10:08am for my coral. Doing whatever little drills I could do to keep the body warm and mobile, I waited for the hooter to go.
At 10:09am I crossed the start line. From there on I had a single-minded focus to run well and win the day. The plan was to hold a 5:15-5:20 pace for the first half and then see how things pan out. I had three targets for the day. First was to finish the run, 'strong'. Second was to try and secure a Boston qualification time. Third was to get below 3:45, if possible. I took a maurten gel every 7 km. So that was 5 gels in total (7/14/21/28/35k). I did not take one at the start as I had the maurten premix.
The atmosphere was electrifying. From the word go, the entire city was on the streets to support the runners. I was told that the race would be a crowded one and it would be difficult to run without running into people. However, I feel, if you choose your coral well and stick to your pace, you will have enough elbow room to make it. Yes, the roads do get narrow at times, and you end up walking a few steps, but it clears immediately. I stuck to the blue line as much as possible. The course is mostly marked in miles with a few places showing the distance in kilometers. Around the 5th Km all the waves (red, green, yellow and blue) will merge. I stayed mindful and did not change my pace. I was happy with my effort so far and kept doing a body check intermittently.
Plain water is served in a nice 250ml sipper bottle throughout the course. Apart from that some aid stations had lucozade (official hydration drink) as well, served in paper cups. The rain was relentless. It would rain heavily at times and at times a drizzle but never abated. The clothes and shoes started feeling heavy by the 10th kilometer mark. A quick check on my pace and I was pleased with the consistent splits so far. But as we all know, this is not a 10km run. It's a marathon and the marathon is yet to start (if you know what I mean). From the 18th kilometer mark, my eyes were searching for only one person, my husband. We were told by Gauri (Active holidays) that we could find them around 18.5km. After a lot of scanning, amidst the enormous supports on course, I got a glimpse of the India flag. That was my cue. I spotted Suraj from active holidays. He pointed me in Senthil's direction. In an unknown place, to catch sight of your own, is a blessing. That hug powered my next few kilometers. Now on to Tower Bridge. The support from the crowd was out of the world. Whatever I had read and heard about his part is true. It was quite an experience.
When I crossed the halfway point, I did a quick check. I was happy that I was doing a tad better than I expected (1:50:32) while feeling good as well. Still, I was aware that the actual race was yet to start.
The stretch where we run in Canary Warf is tricky. With all the skyscrapers around, your GPS signals goes for a toss. You will need to run as per feel. My watch indicted some odd paces like 4:03/km at times and 6:58/km at times. However, as we were already informed about this, I remained calm and stuck to the rhythm my body had set.
By the 33rd km, my mind started to count backwards. Only 9 more to go, I told to myself. The body was fatigued but my mind held strong. At around the 35th km, I started to feel a twitch in my quadriceps, adductors and shoulders. I was so scared. The Bengaluru marathon incident came back to me. I told myself, one step at a time now. You have done great so far. Just sustain. I adjusted my pace a bit to relax my mind and kept going. By the 38th km one part of my mind kept asking me to stop and walk. The muscle twitches were increasing. However, the good wolf, I was feeding so far came to my rescue. One km at a time. I remembered all the people who have emotionally invested in me. My coaches, my training partners, my family, especially my daughters who were holding the fort while I was on my way to accomplish my dream. From there on, it was only for them. Gratitude! Gratitude and Gratitude.
I managed to pick up the pace in the last kilometer and finish the run strong. On hindsight when I checked the statistics, I was pleased with my effort right through the course.The first half in 1:50:32 (avg pace @5:14/km) and the second half in 1:51:26 (avg pace @5:17/km) with a net time of 3:41:58 (avg pace @ 5:16/km) for the distance. It turned out to be a very consistent run.
What just happened!
Did I really complete one more world major with a qualifying time for Boston?!
I was extremely emotional at the finish. All I wanted, was to cuddle in my husband's arms and celebrate this win. To each his own. This was a win for me, for my family, my coaches and friends who have helped me through this training block.
The training block culminated with a wonderful run, something I would cherish in the days, months and years to come.
Onwards and Upwards!
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