Hrishikesh at the Navi Mumbai Half Marathon (Photo: courtesy Dr. Hrishikesh Tadwalkar)

Dr. Hrishikesh Tadwalkar, an eye surgeon specializing in oculoplastic and orbital surgery, started running a year ago. In September 2018, he attempted his first half marathon. Encouraged by his performance, he decided to train for the full marathon. His goal: the 2019 New Delhi Marathon. This is his journey, in his own words:

In September 2018 I ran my first Satara Hill Half Marathon.

It was a big achievement for me considering the fact that I had never done any running prior to January 2018 and had only run my first race (a 10K) in February.

A year earlier I would have hardly believed that I could run a distance of 21 kilometers let alone in an “ ultra’’ hill marathon but just after finishing the race in Satara my mind was already asking the question: what next?

Around that time I came across an interesting quote by Joe Vitale in a blog on running. It said: A goal should scare you a little, and excite you a lot!

I decided to aim high and try to attempt the full marathon.

I have no illusions about my athletic ability. I am from a middle class family with the customary emphasis on education and academic excellence. Growing up, I played cricket and other games in the housing complex (after finishing home-work). That and the occasional sprint to catch the BEST bus on my way to school were about the entire extent of my physical activities. The rigmarole of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education (I am an eye surgeon by profession) left me hardly any time (and inclination) for fitness pursuits. The situation only worsened in the next phase of life viz. setting up a medical practice and settling down.

I always disliked the gym. So to reduce weight and build fitness, I turned to running. I started small by following a `Couch to 10K’ app and gradually built up running distance and time. After completing my first 10K, I joined the Navi Mumbai-based running group `Life Pacers’ for further training. It was a decision that proved to be truly transformative. Full credit for the improvement in my fitness and running ability goes to Life Pacers’ training.

Life Pacers is mentored by Pravin and Arati Gaikwad (both of them, doctors), Debabroto Ghosh and coached by Dnyaneshwar “Don’’ Tidke. The program is customized to suit each runner’s ability and focused on injury prevention and improving running-longevity. Personal strength training is also provided in a gym; it contributes to performance enhancement.

Within six months of joining the group I could go from 10K to finishing three half marathons and three 10K races; I also improved my timing steadily. When I enquired if I could take a shot at the full marathon, the seasoned runners around were very encouraging. However they advised me to train well and run with no time-target in mind. Don and Dr. Pravin recommended that I wait two to three years and build up a solid foundation to avoid risking injury. I assured them I would attempt the race only if I completed all scheduled runs including long runs comfortably (they were still not happy; they were concerned I may get injured).

The training for the 2019 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) – I was running the half, it being my first TMM – started in mid-October 2018. It was quite intense with speed drills, tempo runs and progressively longer long, slow, distance (LSD) runs. It was rather exhausting at times but the improving metrics provided motivation to keep going.

At the Mumbai Half Marathon (Photo: courtesy Dr Hrishikesh Tadwalkar)

I had five weeks between TMM and my first full marathon. The event I had chosen was the New Delhi Marathon, scheduled for February 24, 2019. It was reputed to have a generally flat course and the weather expected to be fairly cool.  At 2019 TMM I completed the half marathon in one hour, fifty-nine minutes and thirty-five seconds. Post TMM, as others in my group enjoyed a well-earned respite, I ploughed on.

The longest I had run prior to TMM was 26 kilometers and I knew I needed longer runs under my belt before I could deem myself prepared for the full. I was following Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 program apart from regular training and asked Don for additional advice. He gave me (reluctantly and under statutory warning!) a LSD schedule for the next four weeks which I followed to the T.

As per everyone’s advice, my race strategy was very simple: run at comfortable pace, focus on hydration and nutrition, enjoy the race (you only run one first full marathon) and finish strong with a smile on my face (after all, PB [personal best] was guaranteed!).

I had done all my longer runs (30 kilometers and more) comfortably at 6:10 pace. So I decided to target the same pace in the race. I broke down the race into five parts of eight kilometers each; I targeted to finish each segment in 50 minutes. This way I was not too preoccupied with my Garmin and yet could keep track of my progress. We had an early start at 4 AM. The pre-race atmosphere was crackling with energy. A little warm-up, a push-up challenge and we were off!

Since I had a predetermined plan, I decided not to go with any pacer. The weather was comfortably chilly with mild breeze and the route was flat with very good arrangements for hydration and nutrition (basically no room to complain or give excuses; the race was entirely mine to screw up!). I started slowly and resisted the urge to accelerate and get carried away by the crowd (occasional shouts from pacers like “only 38 kilometers to go,’’ also helped in slowing down!). I reached my targeted pace by the eighth kilometer.

After that I just held the pace and enjoyed the wide roads and famous sights of a New Delhi, slowly waking up. The end of the first loop (21 kilometers) came and went and I was feeling quite strong. Still, I decided against any acceleration and held the pace till 32 kilometer-mark. I was well within target after every eight kilometer-block, so I was relaxed.

At the 2019 New Delhi Marathon (Photo: courtesy Dr. Hrishikesh Tadwalkar)

Running a marathon – especially when you do so alone – can be a contemplative experience. A lot of thoughts go through the mind as one runs those long miles on the return leg of the course. I reflected with gratitude on all the speed intervals and high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises performed grudgingly, earlier. They were now helping me to finish strong. I recalled all the encouragement and motivation from my friends and running buddies which was keeping my spirits high. I also remembered fondly, the understanding with which my family supported me.

On the return stretch of the second loop I got caught up in the flow of half marathon and 10K runners as there was no separate lane for those attempting the full marathon. At most places, the wide roads ensured no hindrance but in one or two places where the course was narrow, it created bottleneck.

A small loop ahead of the finish line was a little vexing. But before I knew, the finish line loomed in front and I crossed it with a smile on my face. I clocked four hours 24 minutes. About 40 per cent of the runners in the field got a faster time than me but I count my race a success as I stuck to my plan and finished strong without injury. It was roughly a year since I did my first 10K race in February 2018.

From couch potato to running sub-2 half marathons and sub-55 10K races, what an amazing journey the past 12 months has been!

And now, I’m marathoner too.

(The author, Dr. Hrishikesh Tadwalkar, is an eye surgeon specializing in oculoplastic and orbital surgery. He is based in Navi Mumbai.)

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