"What a feeling, to be in a marathon again!"
To find myself on the start line of a marathon, after several years of injury woes (and the accompanying battle between optimism and despondency that comes with them) was itself a miracle for me. Less than a year earlier a couple of miles had been enough to bring back knee and foot pain as inflamed tendons and muscles protested, telling me I should give up running and do something more sensible. Still, somehow through a combination of physiotherapy, off-road training, the much vaunted egoscue exercises and most of all divine grace (without which the other items listed would be futile) I had made it to Rockland State Park ready to run.
After Sri Chinmoy's opening meditation and recitation of his specially composed marathon prayer, the horn sounded and a thousand or so runners each began that epic personal journey we call the marathon - immediately I was overcome with happiness and found myself laughing and almost crying as I ran - what a feeling, to be in a marathon again!
I had told my friends my target was 3:30, the sort of time I used to do pre-injury when my best had been 3.22, at the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence Marathon in Battersea Park (1999 I think). Secretly though, I felt my low mileage training had included more "quality" than usual, as evidenced by a half marathon PB at Stonehenge in May, and I was harbouring unvoiced hopes of a marathon PB.
I knew I would need to come through half way in about 1.35 to have any hope of hitting my secret target, so I went off in a group including Dipavajan, Prabuddha, Stuey and many other guys who looked like they were well prepared. The pace was just over seven minute miling, then settling down nearer 7.30; miles began to roll by as we enjoyed music and poetry from enthusiastic spectators and the sound of our names being called out by friends at the drink stations each time we passed.
It was great to see guys like Harashita, Ongkar and Janaka out there, each enjoying a bigger too-injured-to-be-here-but-running-anyway miracle than I was! Ongkar especially spurred me on with his enthusiastic support when I passed him - so cheerful even though he must have been pushing himself through a lot of pain.
Half way came up at 1.35.14 - bang on target. Then I found my pace slowing, though not too much, and I still felt a PB was a possibility. With a longest training run of about 19 miles I was soon in "uncharted territory", surprised at how alive I felt, if a bit drained and wobbly. Then I slowed further and a PB became touch and go - I hoped I would be able to pull something out of the hat in the last lap, but started to tell myself 3.30 would be good enough after such a long layoff, and that was most certainly "in the bag".
Then, at mile 24, something happened. You know what I'm talking about, a "mid-race spiritual experience". I don't feel like trying to describe it fully, as words won't come close, except to say that I was suddenly, completely, wonderfully, in my heart instead of in my mind. I heard an inner voice - not my own voice, but one very familiar - assuring me of a good time, as if the result I had wished for was being given to me as a gift; I had only to reach out with my determination and take it. I resolved to treat the last two miles like a "Self Transcendence 2 Mile Race", only one where I was starting a little more tired than usual!
100m Ahead of me I saw Narmada, who later finished third among the women, running very strongly and I set about catching her up with the idea that this was the thing to do; not sure why. Soon I was flying along at the pace I had started the race - something I hadn't ever achieved in the closing stages of a marathon! I passed Narmada, feeling totally focussed, breathing hard like I do when racing a short distance, pushing myself with every step. The turn off to the finishing chute came around and I could see the clock still on 3.19 and a few seconds - those final few yards just dissolved and I placed my foot on the line with 3.19.44 on the clock. Immediately I felt waves of ecstacy and gratitude and all I could do as I swayed through the chute was to mumble "thank you, thank you" repeatedly, head bowed, joy coursing though my whole being and blending with the physical sensation of total fatigue and the mental waves of relief.
The Self Transcendence Marathon - a most inspiring race, and a most elevating and joyous experience. Thank you, thank you, thank you!