Protima Tiwary talks to Reeti Sahai and Nivedita Samanta about their experience of running with 45,000 that the 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon.
There is a slight chill in the air, fluffy white clouds dot the clear blue canvas that is the Berlin sky, and Brandenburg Gate is buzzing at 7:00 am as the crowd gathers to cheer the runners. There is an electric energy in the air as the runners get ready for the official flag off at the BMW Berlin Marathon 2018. Among the 44,389 runners are Reeti Sahai and Nivedita Samanta, Adidas runners from India.
I caught up with them post their full marathon to find out how the experience was. Excerpts from the interview:
What was it like to run the BMW Berlin Marathon?
Nivedita– The Berlin Marathon is considered to be the fastest course in the world. It is flat, the weather is fabulous in September and the vibe is amazing. The entire city comes out to celebrate. The neighbourhoods were full of excitement, cheering spectators, playing music, cheering you on, handing out water and rooting for you. Words cannot describe the feeling of togetherness, and the motivation it gives you to keep going. The one thing that shocked me was the number of people running the race. Throughout the 42.2km distance, I was surrounded by a sea of bodies as almost 45,000 people came together from all across the world to run this marathon. I was prepared for a crowd, but not something to this extent. It was mentally exhausting because I had to constantly plot the quickest way around the crowds without losing any of the planned water stops.
There is a reason why it is called a World Marathon Major (WMM). The organisation was absolutely perfect. The fact that a new world record was set made it all the more memorable. I am now ready to run my second WMM race, for sure!
Reeti – This one was special in more ways than one. It was my maiden marathon, that too a World Major one! At the age of 40 I was trying my hand at a full marathon, I was prepared mentally and physically. I surprised myself by completing this under 4 hours! A sub 4 hour maiden marathon at the BMW Berlin Marathon at the age of 40, where Kipchoge broke his own world marathon record- you can see how special this one will be for me for the rest of my life. I am so grateful, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
The people of Berlin kept cheering me on, and I felt more confident. I kept visualising the finish line.I continued running, enjoying the energy around me. I felt grateful thinking about the fact that I’m actually living my dream of running a world major as my maiden marathon.
Marathons don’t always go perfectly. Any moment you’d like to share with us where you thought things were going downhill? How did you overcome that?
Nivedita– I am actually pleased to say, for the first time in my running career, that I had a near- perfect race. The only time I’d say I lost focus for a while was at the 40th km, when I lost because of a large number of runners around me. I wanted to go faster but was mentally tired from all the shoving. But that moment of weakness lasted maybe for a minute. I just remember scolding myself for already doing my fastest time ever and for complaining about something I had managed to do for the entire race. I just decided to continue at the same pace instead of going faster. I still finished strong and with a smile.
Reeti– Navigating through the crowds was mentally exhausting, and it took me 15km to find my own space to run. I popped a gel and took a couple of sips of water in my 8th kilometre, relaxed by 10km, and kept talking to myself to stay on track at the same pace. Before I knew it, I had already run 16km. I wanted to get my hands on a water bottle, but the water stops were jammed. Picking up a glass and running wasn’t easy, and I didn’t want to stop because of the crowd at the stops. It was quite frustrating to navigate my way to drink water. I popped my second gel at 16km, found a water station, regained my pace and confidence, and continued with a smile on my face. At the 34th kilometre, I got tired, and the thought of “The Wall” crossed my mind. I had not encountered it yet, but I had heard of it from my marathoner friends. I didn’t want to hit the wall! I took the 4th gel, stopped for some water, and continued (All this while talking to myself) I crossed the Adidas Runners cheering station at the 37th km and they gave me a new burst of energy. 5 more kilometres to go, I could do this! Giving up at this point felt easy, but I knew I had to push myself. My legs were screaming, and I kept saying to myself “pain is temporary. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” At the end of 5km, I wanted to be a marathoner. I was going to do this. When I crossed the Brandenburg gate and saw the finish line 400mt away, I teared up. I was smiling through those tears, and I had achieved my dream. And I was a sub 4 marathoner!
How did you decide to run the Berlin Marathon? How did you train for it?
Nivedita– Running a World Marathon Major has always been on my life goals. So, when I got the chance to run as part of the Adidas Runners team, I was SO excited! My 20-week training period was intense. The primary reason for my focus was that I had never enjoyed a full marathon distance in the previous 5 attempts. When I introspected, I realised that I wasn’t training adequately and was, therefore, falling short of my goals. So, I set several goals –
First goal – Try and finish at least 15 minutes faster from my previous time of 3:55.
Second goal- Enjoy every bit of the training period and the eventual race. Something that I had never accomplished. In my previous full marathons, I’d forget the main reason why I run- because I love to. I needed that joy back in my life. – Be very vigilant with my nutrition.
Specific to training, I’d read the book ‘Advanced Marathoning’ by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas to get more inspiration, as suggested by my friend Satwik Rajani. I took inspiration from the book, and ran 6 days, covering 90km every week, in the famous Delhi summer. I was also very lucky to have support from some of the Adidas Runners Community members and Reeti-my fellow Adidas Woman teammate – we’d wake up at 3 am to start running at 4.30 am on Sundays to cover our mileage.
After several injuries in previous years, I have learnt the importance of strength training. So, in addition to running, I was in the gym doing resistance-training at least 3 times a week. On the days that I had my weekly smaller speed workouts, I’d merge it with upper body and core conditioning. On my goal pace run days, I’d make sure to cool-down with focussed yoga & mobility stretches. At every step, I was super careful about keeping my nutrition products from Unived close. I used 3 different running shoes during the entire training cycle- I used the super light pair of adios for all my speed runs and the Ultraboost Lace-less and Solar Boosts for my other runs. This helped my legs and feet adapt to different levels of cushioning and support was good training.
Regular physio visits, massages and enough sleep were crucial for my recovery. The final piece of the entire training plan was establishing a positive mindset.
Reeti– I had been running half marathons for 6 years now, and always thought that a full marathon was way too exhausting to even think about. So I never really aimed to train for one. I turned 40 this January and decided I wanted to do my full marathon in my 40th year. A simple wish manifested into a goal, and I called my running coach Ian and told him this news. 4 months were left for the Berlin Marathon, and I was afraid Ian would tell me I was not prepared. To my pleasant surprise, he said “Great! Let’s train for a sub 4 marathon Reeti!” I was so touched by his confidence in me, but I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of training.
I started receiving my weekly training plans and I started running 4 days a week, and strength-training once a week. Gradually the mileage, intensity and days of training increased. So did the heat and humidity in Delhi. There were mornings I’d question my decision. There were days I didn’t feel like running. I went through emotions I hadn’t experienced. Training in the summer wasn’t easy. I chafed and HOW. I discovered aches and pains in new parts of my body. I slept for 10hours a couple of days a week. I tried to eat as healthy as I could. I had a bare-minimum social life (they thought I’d hit midlife crisis) I visited my sports physician for every minor niggle I had. I got regular massages done. I almost slept at 9 pm if not earlier for these four months. I barely drank alcohol. I had the most amazing set of running friends who are family now. I couldn’t have done this without them. They say a sport has the power to change lives – I can vouch for this.
A marathon is a combination of mental and physical strength- any tips you’d like to share with us on how to stay strong during the race?
Nivedita– Staying positive is key. No matter what, just visualise that finish line in your brain.
Moreover, preparation is key. It is hard to set lofty goals and try to achieve them with inadequate training. There are no shortcuts and hard work is the only way to succeed. Being a good runner isn’t only about running. You must pay equal attention to cross-training, weight training, eating healthy and getting enough rest. Research about your race. You should know well before you race about the main water/fuelling stops you’ll make. If possible, carry a small water bottle and keep refilling it.
Finally, believe in yourself. It is very easy to start worrying about what people will think about your race. It doesn’t matter what others think. It’s only your opinion and your self-belief that matters.
Reeti– Whether you’re running your maiden marathon or your 10th, 42.195kms is a mental as well as a physical battle. It is your inner voice that helps you – what we are saying to ourselves at any moment will determine how we feel about race day. Talk about wanting to be confident and relaxed, talk about enjoying the day. Use your inner voice in a positive way. Visualize the finish line. Set small goals. Be it 5kms, the next lamp post or 10kms. And focus on that. Smile. Think of all that hard work you have put in. Lastly, do not forget to be grateful.
You can follow the journeys of these superwomen on their Instagram pages.
Nivedita – https://www.instagram.com/nivi.fitrabbits/