Tarun Walecha shares his learning over a period of time where a Sub 2 finish may not be as coveted anymore, but for me, still remains as educative as ever.
Circa 2011, I was taking baby steps towards realizing the dream of running my first Half Marathon at ADHM. Those were the days when running a Half Marathon was big, and Sub 2 finish was a much lauded effort, needless to say the respect grew for the one who achieved it. My fourth ADHM in 2014, when I first climbed this proverbial peak, was the moment of reckoning for me, to not only bask in adulation but to begin to understand and realize what running a half marathon was all about in terms of its technicalities and nuances. That run set in motion the journey which I’ve been on ever since.
Having clocked my best HM finish timing of 1:44:16 in December 2016, a Sub 2 finish wasn’t a big challenge but the contrasting circumstances make the two runs on consecutive weekends special. First of the two was on September 10, 2017 when I was given the responsibility to pace the Sub 2 bus at the Dwarka Half Marathon. Though the weather was anticipated to be harsh, having clocked Sub 2 in a training runs had given me much needed confidence boost. On the D day, the plan was in mind and I was at the start line. A bunch of charged up runners started with me and we got the steps tipping. I planned to play to my strength and stick to negative splits despite the weather. Things started to fall in place as I noticed the distance markers were on the dot and I crossed 7K mark at 41 min utilizing the 30 sec buffer. At the midway turn around point I was at 1:01:11, which meant little paced up return as planned would see me through. What was going against the perfect plan was escalated heat which was making breathing slightly laborious and increased body temperature. Came along the 14K mark and the clock said 1:19:15, last 7.1 KM and 40 min to go and I was kind of relieved, though what lay ahead wasn’t that breezy. Heat building up, cutting each km close, I moved along. Each KM could be a story by itself but keeping it brief I would skip to 21 KM mark which I reached at 1:59:24, giving me enough time for my last sprint to the finish line. With a flat course, the only challenge was the heat and humidity, I happily crossed over at 1:59:52, much to the delight of remaining passengers on my bus and to certain amount of relief to myself. A Sub 2 run finished with a smile…
The week went over and I was in the small hamlet off Pune for Satara Hill Marathon, the race I had signed up five months earlier but never trained for specifically. For the starters, it is a much respected Hill Race and I had only one tiny hill training session to my credit this season. And for mains, it is half way uphill, coming back the entire 10.55km downhill, which certainly wasn’t music to the ears.
An early morning flight (3:20 AM to be precise) on the previous day and a delayed car ride to Satara had only added to my woes and I certainly wasn’t rested as I would have liked to be before a race. I reached the inevitable start line and the ambitious plan was to try and finish this one with another Sub 2 J !! The only thing on my side was a certain sketchy plan to deal with the hills…stay calm, stay easy, give time to uphill course and see if I could reach the turnaround point in anything less 1:10:00. The course had first 3.5 KM of meandering elevation, relatively shallow which I managed to tread along, the challenge was the next 4 KM which had an elevation of 234 m, to which I had no idea of what to expect, so I decided to put my head down and try not to walk, though against the common advice. Sure enough, I managed to trot and to my delight I was at midway point at 1:08:24. That gave me 51 min for remaining 10.55 KM, which certainly wasn’t going to be as easy as imagined to be.
It was payback time, the four KM which were arduous on the way up, now offered a sweet make-up deal. As I reached that stretch I was already running at Sub 5 pace … fast but not enough to make it to the finish line in 51 min. As the descent got steep, I paced up cautiously to avoid picking any injury. Lack of hill training and entire running season ahead back home was playing on my mind, but so was the Sub 2 finish mark. I kept on treading along till I noticed at the next km mark that I was cruising at 4:11 min pace…fingers crossed…hold yourself together and keep moving, were the next thoughts in my head. To my delights I managed that pace for the entire 4KM descent, which meant I was at 1:39:52 at the 17 KM mark.
Last 4+ KM, 20 min to go, the course was not as kind, and I knew that it wasn’t over as yet. I hoped to stay with that pace which of course meant a little more effort. I managed next KM at 4:14 pace, and now it started looking grim. Continuous cheering by the crowd all along the course had been a big booster, but now the course was becoming tough, energy level were dropping and time was closing in… and then came the placard on the roadside, “Your legs will forgive you .. eventually”. It acted like the magic potion I needed, and I promised myself not to give up till it was over. I knew it was a tight ship, I had less than 16 min, 3+ KM of meandering track with some inclines too. Not giving myself an option I gave it the last push, running my last 3 KM at 4:45, 4:38 and 4:22 minutes pace, which not only meant I had 2 min for last 100 odd meter and to hope not only get a Sub 2 but finish under 2 hours of gun time. Yes that’s another story, the organizers had announced a different medal for those finishing under 2 hours of gun time, and for some reason despite my good qualifying time had put me in section C which had put me at an undefined disadvantage.
As I took the last turn to the finish line, I could see the clock at 7:59 (there wasn’t a second count..arrgh). Unsure of how much time I had, I took a deep breath and just dashed as if there was no tomorrow…. the rest, as they say is history. A net time of 1:58:52 and a gun time of 1:59:41..it was yet another Sub 2…J..with whole lot of learning…and still as coveted for me.