Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

Getting Fitter

The Half

September 30, 2012 by Richard Wright in Getting Fitter, Journal, Running

My nipples hurt.

They’re not bleeding, thankfully, but they’re definitely tender.

This is because I completed the 5th annual Delhi half marathon this morning. 13.10 miles of my t-shirt gently brushing my nipples. Didn’t notice at the time, but in the aftermath… nippy. Wiser runners than me applied plasters beforehand. Lesson learned.

My overall time was, according to the posted results, two hours, thirty minutes, and four seconds. It’s almost exactly what I guessed, when put on the spot last week. I confess, I was secretly hoping for a race day adrenaline boost to knock some minutes off that. Alas, it was never going to happen in the heat.

Oh god yes, the heat.

All was well for the first hour and a bit, but according to my iPhone widget it hit 32 degrees, or about 89 Fahrenheit (my iPhone may be exagerrating – others have said about 30) by 8:30. This was at exactly the point where the race got truly gruelling, and most of the group I was with who did it last year ended up slower than they planned by ten or fifteen minutes (best time I know of from our mob was 1:49 though – which is fecking awesome).

The morning started beautifully. Met up with the group just after five under clear skies and a full moon, and rode down to Nehru Stadium. Everybody was nervous, and I was massively relieved that this included the seasoned runners. Like the end of the race, the start was a bit of a blur. I followed people about in a sort of happy, nervous daze, and somehow ended up where I needed to be. The sun came up while we waited to head to our separate gates (one for those who had run before in official races, and one for the rest of us first timers and fun runners).

That was the first and only sign of disorganisation. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a half marathon organised in India, which has a bit of a mixed recent history with organised sports events, and the kick off left me even more uncertain what to expect. Somehow, the experienced runners who had filed off were guided back in behind the first timers. There was much argy-bargy as they tried to elbow through the vast mob to the front, and most didn’t succeed. Must have been frustrating for them – the whole point of separating the groups is so that the serious runners have clearer roads and can race off into the sunrise chasing a personal best. Instead, I was still being overtaken (I was near the front) by them halfway round the course.

Needless to say, the surge out of the gate was abject chaos, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits. I felt I was running sensibly at the start, but my GPS watch-thing tells me different. I did mile two in nine and a half minutes, which is much faster than I can maintain over any serious distance, and not what I planned at all. It’s a classic beginner’s blunder. Running in a crowd leaves you less aware of your own pace – it’s easy to be drawn along by everybody else’s enthusiasm, and your legs are fresh enough not to send you any warning signals about it.

An hour and and twenty later, when the heat started to properly slam down, that left me less in the tank to throw back at it. The worst stretch was from the Presidential Palace down to India Gate. It’s one long, exposed, merciless straight, with a massive landmark at the end which never seems to get any bigger. I watched one guy veer off the road and collapse in the grass by the side. An ambulance roared in to grab him (never seen so many ambulances in Delhi as today), though not quite as tenderly as he might have wished. Four blokes piled out, grabbed an arm or leg each, and swung him into the back (I swear I saw them just let go, and toss him like a sack of potatoes).

After that stretch, there was merciful cover from trees lining the road, but I was already done in. It was the only time I dropped to a walk (I did stop a bit later, to ‘nip behind a bush’), and it was a bit frightening. My legs seized up, and I could feel myself sink into my joints, as though I was actually shrinking. I got moving again out of sheer fear that if I didn’t do it straight away, I’d never be able to.

(Back home around this time, apparently, my daughter was asking my wife whether she thought I’d die today. Glad she kept that worry to herself until I was out of the house…)

After that… it all blurs up again. I don’t remember very much of the final half hour, except knowing that I was hardly moving fast enough to claim to be running anymore. I do remember seeing the finish line though, and finding enough energy to pick the pace back up. After that… another blur, but happier. I picked up my medal, downed water, ignored the black spots sweeping across my vision, and somehow met up with most of the rest of the team (we lost one, alas, to illness halfway round).

It already feels like it was a very long time ago. I’m stiff and sore, walking like an old man, but it’s not as bad as I thought I would be. The benefit of having a powerful imagination, I suppose. Nothing could be quite as bad as I imagined.

I’m proud of myself, and glad I signed up for this. Three and a half months ago, I started training with no sense of whether actually running a half marathon in that time was something I could do. Now it’s something I’ve done. Score one for the desk-bound writer. I loved doing it too. It’s not just the thrill of the day, but the training and anticipation. I think I have the bug…

And in January, there’s the Mumbai marathon to think about. If there are still places next week, I’ll be signing up…

For now though, a week off all this running about. I need to get packed for another early start – we’re off to Singapore for the week in the morning. With the Half in the way, I wasn’t able to get very excited about that (anything after the finish line seemed a dim and distant prospect), so now it feels like a holiday has just fallen into my lap.

See you in a week!


Currently reading: Faction Paradox: A Romance In Twelve Parts, edited by Lawrence Miles and Stuart Douglas

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