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Marathon Musings - Team AID Asha Endeavor

Rajiv Soneja

Idea for a marathon


Run 26.2 miles - no way! That was my first thought when the idea was floated around the AID Boston meeting optimistically called the Community Service Hour. It was believed that by attempting this task would help convince cynics about the dedication of the volunteer and also bring attention to the cause. But can anybody run a marathon? I didn’t think so, certainly not me.


I always associated the marathon with a few thin spindly legged people genetically empowered to run insane distances while the others were happy they were not the ones doing it. I definitely counted myself in the latter category if not for any other reason that my current level of fitness. Or lack of it.

Vague memories of playing gulli cricket many years ago had long receded into the background and to have now been replaced by sheer inactivity and an appearance more suited for the recliner rather than the gym. However the promise of a fit lifestyle allowed me to be persuaded to try the training.  


Walking is good, running optional


The idea seemed fair enough, sign up to run a marathon and lobby friends and family to donate funds to help support AID’s cause. So here we were, about 15 of us to meet with the coach, Jonathan. Most of the people were first-timers at trying to run a marathon. There was no pep talk, no tips, and no rounds of introduction - we were just asked to run, and off we went! The first training day dragged on forever - I was hardly able to run for more than a few minutes at a time. That was when one of the first truths was revealed to me. You don’t have to run it all!


In fact there exist quite a few methodologies to “run” a marathon for first timers. Most of those, quite surprisingly, involve walking. Lots of it. The most common one is what is known as the 8-and-1, a minute worth of walking for every 8 minutes of running. On the first day I felt I was more suited to 8 minutes of walking instead of the other way around. Somehow I was able to get through about 3 miles on that introductory run. At times I felt that my lungs were on fire, my legs ached and on every step I seemed to regret this foolish decision. More than anything else, the motivation of not being the only person to not complete that first run allowed me not to turn back.


Stretching the truth


Having barely made it through “opening day” I amazingly enough turned up the following week too - if not for any other reason than to see if anyone dropped out. Soon it became a weekly affair and I was beginning to quite enjoy the ritual every Saturday morning. The attraction of a post run meal with everyone as a motivating factor cannot be discounted. A few weeks later Jonathan - who himself already had a few marathons on his running resume  - suggested we attend a stretching clinic. Up until that point the only thing I had stretched was the seams around the backside of my running pants.

I had always considered any form of physical exercise not resulting in lateral motion as  pointless. My vast expertise in that area was soon put to rest. Soon it was pretty obvious as we were made to understand the benefits. More importantly, the consequences of not stretching were made abundantly clear.


Before we knew it we were in Week 6 of training. We were already running twice a week and our Saturday distances had gone up to 6 miles. There had developed a great sense of camaraderie amongst the runners as we found partners to run with of their own pace. Some liked to gossip while running, others listened to music, while a few spent the time cursing and hoping for the run to end. More often than not all of us would wait until everyone finished to share details about the run. In all of this Jonathan was always a great source of encouragement and guidance as he allowed us to keep our heads and not get carried away.


Long runs get longer


In the next few weeks, the runs started getting real long, sometimes unintentionally - when people miscalculated. The summer time also meant getting up very early to beat the heat. This was the part which most runners seemed dislike. Showing up at 7 am on a Saturday morning was not the easiest thing to achieve, but despite grumblings most folks did manage to show and finish their runs too. In due course 10 miles, 12 miles, 14 miles - all of these little milestones approached and were overcome. Thinking back, I remembered my struggles on the first day and I could laugh. But on any given Saturday morning, laughing was the last thing on my mind.


In addition to the obvious physical effort of the training, there were some fringe benefits which became clearer as time went by. The sheer mental dedication and commitment required was enormous. The upside to this was this allows you to completely focus on the task on hand. And when you literally spend hours every week just running, one does get a lot of opportunity to think things through.


What is Gu?


As the marathon date neared the butterflies increased. Three weeks before the big day we ran 22 miles. It was an early fall day, with a definite chill in the air but that did not faze anyone. It was quite a sight to behold now, with leaner versions of our old selves showing up every Saturday morning at the appointed place. I had become intimately aware of all details the Minute Man trail. One never knew that a sight of mile marker could bring such joy.


As we pushed our bodies towards the ultimate test, the importance of using the right amount of energy supplements was clear. Jonathan went through the entire race weekend process with us step-by-step. All aspects from pre-race meals to clothing to post race stretching were talked about. I just wanted to make sure that somebody was around to greet me when… no, make that if I finished.




Finally the day was here. A lot of AID volunteers had made the trip down to DC to support us. We had a little get-together the previous day and a huge pasta meal the night before to load up on the anti-Atkins diet of a hardy marathoner. Early morning I pinned my energy gels to my shorts and remembered to lace my electronic chip on my running shoes. All the mental check lists for the pre-race were run through multiple times to ensure nothing went wrong.


Once we got to the starting point, the energy of 18,000 runners seems to transmit itself through the air. The place was buzzing with a sense of anticipation. As the starting shot rang out, a great wave of people surged forward and I was swept by it.


After all these months the whole race is one big blur. But a lot transpired during the 5 plus hours it took me get across the finish line. The best memory is of the hundreds of US Marines who lined the route to hand out water and energy drinks. They shouted out encouragement, bands played songs, people cheered every mile - it really was a fantastic atmosphere which I unable to encapsulate into words.


As I finally crossed the finish line, a range of emotions swept through. Exhaustion was the primary focus, but the reality of the achievement soon sunk in. I took a moment to grasp it all and finally when I sat down it felt as if one had scaled a huge mountain. Too bad that I will not be able to climb down though, they way my legs felt I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon!




Even after all these months, the memories of the training still remain and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment is something which I will treasure forever. And not just for the efforts put in by the runners but the satisfaction of knowing that we have contributed in some way towards AID’s cause. All the runners put together, raised in excess of $22,000 to help support projects for development in India.


So if anyone reading this feels like they want to participate, feel like they are actually doing something - may I recommend an idea? 26 miles, I hear you think out aloud? It’s not much… really…!


 Train...Run...Support a Cause...

Running a marathon is one of the most exhilarating experiences that one can endure. Asha and AID have trained many first-time runners to complete marathons and in the process have raised funds for education and sustainable development in India. This year too, Asha and AID join hands to change the lives of runners and the underprivileged.

To get more information about the program, log onto http://teamaidasha.org/.


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