Understanding why runners collapse at marathons, Brijesh Gajera writes about how you can avoid it.
My marathon dreams really took flight after my first Mumbai Marathon in 2011. That year, there were 964 finishers and when I completed my 5th consecutive Mumbai run in 2015, that number had grown exponentially to 3107. Four years on and the numbers have doubled again with 2019 seeing a record of 6722 runners earning the coveted finisher’s medal.
The number of aspiring marathoners keeps increasing year on year, not just with the Mumbai Marathon, but also across other marathons in the country. This is a very promising sign and bodes well for the health of current and future generations.
On the flip side, there is a rather disturbing statistic that is also creeping up. In the 2019 Mumbai Marathon, 3226 runners needed medical assistance mostly to do with dehydration and muscle cramps. Furthermore, 15 of them had to be hospitalized. This is alarming and to avoid extreme cases in the future, we must try and understand how so many lives end up at risk for a seemingly recreational purpose.
It goes without saying that there lies an innate risk in pursuing an endurance activity but the more I think of it, the following reasons come to mind:
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): In this age of social media and digital lives, everyone seems to be doing crazy stuff. Take a look at any Instagram feed or Facebook posts and you will see endless adventures all perfectly choreographed and you wonder, what can I do? The image of you on social media biting down on the finisher’s medal is incentive enough for you to sign up, no matter what your physical and mental conditions are at that moment.
“Carpe Diem – seize the day” is what we tell ourselves but what we don’t realize is that to be able to do that well, you need to invest hours of hard work, dedication and strong will.
Overconfidence: Have you ever noticed that when you are sitting next to a driver in the car, you hold on to the edge of the seat if you notice rash driving but when you are in the driver’s seat, the same speed or rashness no longer feels risky. That’s the problem with our being – we become supremely confident when it comes to measuring our own abilities. The same applies to marathon training where you consider 3 months of training to be sufficient compared to others who take about 6 months to train because you feel I’m gifted or I used to run during my childhood days or I’m a natural athlete or well, it’s me…I can do it.
Ecstasy: Really? You ask. The race day euphoria and excitement can be a great booster but it can also fool one into going astray. You end up doing silly things like chasing a very aggressive target or ignoring your own race plan.
So how do you avoid being part of that disturbing statistic if you have already signed up for a race?
Start Slow: The proverbial hare in the ‘Hare and the Tortoise’ story started off fast and then rested under a tree feeling overconfident that the tortoise is never going to catch up. The modern-day marathon hares end up in the medical tents. Rookies and sometimes even the experienced runners – start out too fast. Feeling fresh is no sign to go fast, especially when you have to cover a daunting distance of 42.195 km. Instead start slow, ease yourself into running, get into a nice rhythm and save your energies for the second half of the race.
Keep Multiple Targets: Many things can go wrong on race day and factors which are not in your control: weather, overcrowded streets, tummy ache, hydration and what not. What is in your control is to be flexible and prepare yourself to brace the conditions. Having multiple targets help. You can start with your slowest target (remember the first commandment – start slow). As the race progresses, you can take the call whether to go for one of your faster targets or settle for the slower one.
Let Your Training Guide You: Given you have trained for the race, how your race goes is mostly decided by how well you have trained yourself. A wise friend of mine never fails to repeat the golden words – you run your race in training. Your training should give you a reasonable estimate of what you can target and more importantly, what you cannot.
At the end of a marathon, you sure want to collect the medal on your own and want to hug your friends and family members and celebrate your success. Be wise and meet them on your two legs, not on the stretcher.
ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNIST
Brijesh Gajera is an avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-marathoner and coach at Ashva Running Club.