Brijesh Gajera asks a question that is on every runner’s mind, but he is talking about more than just a Christmas miracle.
It wasn’t too long ago when I was on my usual weekend run, I bumped into a fellow runner. We said our hellos and decided to run together while we caught up on our running escapades. He has run quite a few marathons and only a few weeks ago returned from a world major marathon.
That was a big talking point for us – he mentioned that he had trained well for a sub-4-hour finish for a few months leading up to the race, but on race day disaster struck and he suffered from cramps for the last 10K of the race. Despite the setback, he managed to finish the race in 4hours and 10 minutes.
Obviously, I was curious to find out what happened and asked him about it, he told me that he turned up at the start of the race feeling fresh, confident and in the heat of the moment he decided to attempt a 3hour50minute finish!
I was stunned! “Do you believe miracles happen in marathons?” I asked him in disbelief. I guess he was equally in disbelief at my question because he asked me “What do you mean” with an amused look on his face.
I went on to explain that in my long-distance running career spanning over a decade, I have seen many a runner falling prey to the desire of wanting to push themselves higher than what they trained for. They feel fresh, confident, charged up at the start of the marathon and with the race-day euphoria surrounding them, they try and achieve more without being fully ready for it.
Now, don’t get me wrong – optimism is great, it’s what keeps us going day in and day out but to be honest, a marathon can be as punishing and as rewarding at the same time especially when you run ahead of the pace you’ve set for yourself.
Nearly all of us get to the start line full of energy (some bit of nervous energy as well) but with a spring in our step and a will to push forward. A marathon is a game to keep that energy intact for 42.195K – that is what we are supposed to achieve in our training. If you have trained yourself for a particular target for weeks and months, your muscles, tendons, joints, veins, and nerves have synchronized themselves to help you do that. All of a sudden, when you surprise them by changing the target on the D-Day, they will respond to you in the beginning, but the chances are that they will wilt as you approach the finish line.
Let me try and quantify this so that you can get a better understanding.
Let’s say, you have decided to complete the race in a time that is 10 minutes faster than your target time that you have trained for as my fellow runner did. That is roughly 14 seconds per km faster for a 42K course (and I am not even talking about the final 195 meters!). Now, you will be able to maintain this pace for a few kilometers but eventually, you will hit the wall where your legs feel like bricks. This is why coaches stress on following a tried and tested method on race day.
In my personal life, I once experienced something you could call a miracle. I ran the Mumbai Marathon aiming for a 3hour 35minute finish, but I managed to finish it in 3hours 29 minutes and 41 seconds. That translates to me running the race at approximately 7 seconds faster per km. For a large part of the race I maintained a pace which was about 2-3 seconds per km faster and only when I crossed the 36KM mark, I figured why not aim for a new target of 3hour30mins? That’s when I pushed myself harder and literally ran like the wind to achieve even lesser than my new target of 3hours and 30 mins. It felt like an absolute miracle!
A word of CAUTION though: I have run faster races since then, but I have never been able to repeat that kind of improvement over a target since. This is why it is called a M…I…R…A…C…L…E.
To aim for a miracle to happen during a marathon is wishful thinking at best and a recipe for disaster at worst. Often the decision to push yourself harder than what your body has been trained for leads to injury or underperformance and in the aftermath of such a race, it could lead to you doubting your training and even yourself. I’m sure you do not want to be in that mind space ever.
If you are still looking for miracles, what could be more wonderful than following your target plan as best as you can and then achieving the results you strived for? Isn’t it miraculous to achieve the target we’ve planned on achieving in a long time and getting our belief reaffirmed in our training and ourselves?
ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNIST
Brijesh Gajera is an avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-marathoner and coach at Ashva Running Club.