Feb. 4, 2022

A Pandemic Marathon

On Oct 16, 2021 I ran my first marathon to celebrate my 50th birthday. Back in 2013, when I had picked up my first pair of running shoes, I had no intentions of running a full marathon. However, after running multiple half marathons and numerous 5K and 10Ks, I was itching to take a stab at a full marathon. After all, running a marathon is the jewel in the crown of a runner. And what better way to celebrate my 50th birthday than running a full marathon. I shared the idea with my coach and we embarked on 8 month training journey. In this blog I am going to share that experience which I am calling " A Pandemic Marathon".

Part I - The Beginning

Do you remember how the pandemic felt at the very beginning? We were all a bit nervous but at the same time pretty optimistic about riding it out. That was exactly how I felt standing at the start line of the Colfax marathon. A bit nervous but raring to go. Similar to the pandemic, I did not know how long it would take me to finish but I knew I would finish. The gun fired and I took off. The sun had just graced us with its presence on the eastern horizon and the air temperature was a crisp 32F. For the first six miles, I was very cautious about not over committing myself- exactly how we had approached the first six months of the pandemic. States took necessary precaution by closing down schools, restaurants and other public places but we were all cautiously optimistic and hoping for a quick turnaround.

Part II- Keep Moving Forward with One Step At a Time

The next 6 miles of the marathon was a gradual uphill leading to the Sloan lake and it was all about moving forward one step at a time. It was also important to keep fueling my body at regular intervals to prevent crashing. By the middle of 2020, we had started coming to terms with the reality of the pandemic and the fact that we were in this for the long haul. Pharmaceutical companies had started working on vaccines and mentally we had started preparing for one of the most grueling phases of the pandemic when daily infection rate peeked at 300K and daily death averaged at 4K. It felt like the painful uphill run up to the Sloan Lake

Part III- Screaming downhill

In running, there is a popular term- what goes up always goes down. As in if you were running uphill, you knew there would be a downhill coming soon- very similar to the pandemic cycle. After running up the hill to Sloan lake, we ran a loop around the beautiful lake enjoying its majestic views before starting to go back downhill. Running downhill was always fun. The body did not have to work too hard and was in cruise control. By this time, I was at the halfway point of the 26.2 miles. Mentally, I had started strategizing the rest of the 13.1 miles. Knowing that the last 4-5 miles was going to be hard. I ran at a measured pace (going downhill) to prevent the risk of "empting my tank" too soon. I started enjoying the downhill run with the crowd cheering on the two sides.

Around Spring of 2021 people had finally started finding some hope in the form of vaccines after a disastrous winter of 2020 and early 2021 when the pandemic wrecked havoc. The infection rate and death rate had started going down and it was definitely a "downhill run" for the pandemic. The vaccination rate had also picked up and by summer, daily infection rate had gone down to approximately 20K from 300K. We were cruising and life had started to feel somewhat normal again. However by Fall of 2021, we got the news of a more transmissible variant called Omicron. To make sure we had enough antibodies in our 'tank', the FDA had approved a booster shot so that we could make it through to the finish line


Part IV- The final push

Training for a marathon never involves running the full 26.2 miles during training runs. The training typically ends at 20 or 22 miles. The idea is if you can run 20-22 miles, you should be able to run the full distance. So my training runs ended at 22 miles.

The biggest challenge in long distance running are the unknowns. And there were many during my marathon. I did not know much about the course. I did not know about the weather. And despite all the training, I still did not know how my body and mind were going to feel during the last few miles. At mile 23, I was dealing with all those unknowns as I was staring down the last 4 miles. When the race had started that morning it was a crisp 32F. After about 4 hours, the sun was out in its full glory and the temperature had nicely warmed up to about 50F. I had started shedding the layers trying to keep my body temperature comfortable. After the screaming downhill, the course took a slightly uphill turn for the last 4 miles. And after almost 4 hours of pounding on concrete and asphalt, I had started feeling the fatigue in my quads, glutes and calves. But I had to push through. At that point it became a matter of Mind over Body. With every step, my body wanted to stop and I had to dig deeper to find the last bit of energy to push through. I looked around and tried to draw energy from my fellow runners. I thought of Kipchoge and his INEOS 1:59 effort. No Human Is Limited. No pandemic is unstoppable. By the end of 2021, the pandemic took a wrong turn with the Omicron surge. The daily infection rate had skyrocketed close to 500K- the highest ever. But human fatalities stayed under control. It felt like the last 4 miles of the marathon. We were all mentally fatigued from the pandemic but we knew we had to push through to the finish line by staying vigilant.

I do not remember how I managed the last few miles of the marathon but I finished with a time of 4.5 hours. And after crossing the finish line, I slowly walked to one side and sat down on the sidewalk. I had spent the last bit of energy in my body and I felt empty. I was not hungry, I was not thirsty, I did not have any emotions, I did not have any pain. I simply felt empty. Is that how we will feel once this pandemic gets over? Mentally and physically we will be so fatigued that we will not have the energy to celebrate. Will the fear of the pandemic still be lurking at the back of our minds? Or is it going to be the exact opposite where we will all go about our regular business pretending nothing has happened. I do not have an answer but I do know that the pandemic is going to end one day and similar to my marathon, we will be celebrating at some point