14 min to read
Another (Twenty) One Bites the Dust
Yeah. Twenty-one kilometers. In this weather - the clouds thundering down alarms of impending rain; the wind shaking the panic into you. I am going to run a half marathon. As I descended the stairs of my apartment, I felt pain in my ankles. As I crossed the corner of my street, I felt stiffness in my back. Perhaps today is not the best day… A woman passed me and smiled, looking at my attire. A young kid, wearing tights beneath running t-shirt and shorts, cheap shoes, a small bag with a blue plastic pipe hanging from his shoulder strap, headphones on. As I walked down that narrow street towards the beach, I got all the rational motivation to turn back.
But crossing the intersection and arriving at the Promenade at the beach, all my demoralizing thoughts were gone. Maybe I had exhausted myself of all the demotivation, and all that was left was encouragement. I pulled up my watch and opened Nike Run+. When asked for my target distance, I spun the wheel up to 21.2 km - I had a smile on my face when I did that. Today was the day I will finally finish the half marathon and not fall crying for some back pain or calf-cramp. Today, I am going to finish this run. I had prepared myself; I had packed 2 liters of water, an energy bar, and the appropriate clothes. Last month’s practice was for this day. No pressure.
The first few kilometers were quite comfortable. I was at the Brighton Pier at 2 kilometers, and then at the Brighton Marina by 5 kilometers. Curiously, the road near the Marina was packed with the police and cars. I think they all were meeting for a race (not the police, of course). I saw so many cars and their owners in their relaxed sweatshirts and pants. Their clothing was as different from mine, as was their mode of transportation. I signaled ‘Hi’ to a few of them as I crossed them, and I went on my way. I was coming up to one of the most beautiful natural formations - the Brighton Cliffs. The wind was in full flow as if the reigns were off, and it was flying with its full power.
As I was crossing over to the Brighton Cliffs, I realized I should start listening to something worthwhile to make use of this time. I won’t be able to focus much on the way back. I started listening to a podcast from ‘The Articles of Interest,’ a podcast about our daily usage - clothing. I will come back to that. But before I need to mention something I found more interesting. As I crossed on to the cliffs, I saw a bunch of cars parked. Fearing another one of those teenage parties going around nearby, I started thinking about alternative paths to cross over. But I soon realized that these cars did not belong to any teenagers, as I went onto the running road over the cliffs, I saw 20-30 people below in the sea!
All these people had come to do surfing in this sea! And that too in this weather! I am not so crazy, after all! Egged on by my safe choice of exercise and entertainment, I continued my run. I was at 5 kilometers and was doing quite well. Although there was quite some elevation, I did not have to pause for breath until now. Good sign. Another thing working for me was the wind! Today was one of the windiest days I had seen in Brighton yet. It felt like the wind was playing with me softly, shifting me on feet by a few centimeters now and then, never enough to make me fall, but enough to scare me. The compression tights were quite useful to combat the chill. But so far, the wind was in the same direction I was running in, so it was quite helpful; I had to work against it to prevent running too fast, taking extra energy. Coming back is going to be difficult.
I came up to the Saltdean beach. Today it was emptier than I had seen it the last time. But there too many dogs, you know, the ones you should leash. But British people seemed to be over-confident of their dogs’ civility and left them unleashed for all of us. Twice I had a small and a medium-sized dog run up to me and start barking, with the master close behind, apologizing and trying to convince me of their dog’s calm nature. I smiled at them with a few words of acceptance and slowly ran away from them.
Saltdean Beach was where I had turned back the last time. I thought I should explore further ahead to see till where does the ‘Walkway beneath the Cliffs’ goes. To my dismay, it ended soon after the beach. Since I had to turn and run the opposite way now, I thought this would be an excellent point to stop and stretch. I had completed 9 kilometers of my run, and it would be stupid not to stretch before taking on the wind head-on. It was sort-of helping me all this time, but now it will be the opposite, and I need all my muscles to fully energized for that. I was also quite happy to see that I had completed the whole of the pathway that I thought went so far!
I analyzed the various ways to document my run, and came up with taking the photograph of my run tally with the backdrop. I experimented with a few shots to figure out the best proportions for the watch and the context and decided to figure out the rest as I run. Figuring this would be an excellent time to start losing some of the water weight from the back, I took a few sips of water from my scuba diving pipe in my hydration bag, then started the long run back. Spoiler alert - It was harder than I had planned.
I listened to a podcast about clothes and why men’s clothing is so different - so bland. Well, you might argue that it is not tasteless but functional. But if women can dress up practically like a swan, a burger, a lollipop, and still be called fashionable, while Trevor Noah is dragged for wearing a funny t-shirt, there is certainly something more to it than function.
Turns out in the 19th century, when democracy was on the rise, the flamboyant clothes of the elite were not considered a good sign as it became a symbol of suppression. Moreover, this guy - George ‘Beau’ Brummell - whom we would call an influencer in these days, created this new line of fashion which we call a suit. He wore tight pants, tight plain jacket, and white linen consciously and painstakingly made to look casual and lazy. It took him many hours to get dressed, and people came to look at him getting ready, including the Prince of Wales - so much for carelessness. He was a fashion icon who made ‘The Suit’ the most famous clothing ever. He brought about a movement in men’s fashion that is sometimes called - ‘The Great Renunciation,’ after which men chose to wear ‘functional,’ discrete, and simple clothes. The luxury is still very much there, but it is much more latent and personal.
Back to the run, I was coming to the Saltdean Beach back again, and my tally had reached 10 kilometers. But running was much harder now! The wind was howling into my ears over the sound of the podcast conversation so much so that I switched to songs - Imagine Dragons! I had to put in twice the effort to cover half the distance. The wind was also not constant either in magnitude or direction, so I could not efficiently control my gait, affecting my breath and energy. I decided to take out the energy bar and take a few bites to get more power.
After suffering innumerable blows from the wind, I decided to take the stairs and take my chances above the cliffs. I thought some tunnel effect was increasing the wind intensity on the pathway, and it should be better upstairs. I came up to the top and started running. It wasn’t much better. The wind was so fast that I tripped and fell and bruised my finger on the ground. I paused for a while, took a grip of my breath and gait, and took a few water sips. I was better off than I was last time. It was past 11.0 kilometers. I felt good, had no cramps, back pain, breathing well, and had enough energy. With renewed enthusiasm, I decided I would not stop before I complete 15 kilometers.
The wind was still terrible. I was spending too much energy. I started to feel pain in my calf muscles, my back, and I also started breathing more heavily. But I did not pause until I was getting close to my 15 kilometers target. Water was my only support. I was running next to the highway, and the cars were whooshing past me every few seconds.
I finally completed my 15 kilometers without stopping, and I was back at the Brighton Marina. I was thrilled to reach there as it signaled the end of the high winds. In the absence of open cliffs, the wind will be reined in, and I will be able to run at my pace without fighting an unceasing stopping force. I walked a few meters down the intersection and took control of my breath when I heard a lot of sirens nearby. As I stopped to look, I saw a horde of police cars rushing from everywhere to get to the lowest level of the Marina, where a big cloud had gathered.
I read later that it was a group of those racers I had seen earlier who had gone into the Marina and started racing or something. It was too big a crowd, so the police were called in to disperse them. So much for social distancing. I went onward with my run. The clock was ticking, and I had to complete the run within 3 hrs. The wind had tried hard to prevent that from happening, but it still seemed possible if I pushed a bit harder.
Besides, the natural beauty around was quite a big motivation. The wind was chilly, so I did not feel hot at all, and the hydration kept my spirits up. I made a target of getting to the i360 in one go. It was getting quite harder slowly as I had mild pain perpetually in my back, and my calf muscles were crying meekly. I just wished that the pain did not get worse, so my main focus was my form and my running speed. I could not focus on them on the cliffs due to wind, but now was a good time to get it under control. I controlled my step to land on the ball of my feet and maintained a speed between 7- 7:30. Finally, I reached the i360 tower.
Instead of continuing on the Promenade, I decided to turn around and go back on the same path I had been running. I was getting quite tired, and the wind was quite strong again. I turned and, after a short walk, decided I will run continuously till the end, 21 kilometers! My calves were almost screaming now, and I did not want the adrenaline to die down and increase their volume. I decided to bring down my speed by a few seconds to give me more stamina and continue down the path. Taking a few sips of water, I felt refreshed and started going back towards the Marina. It was getting quite late, and the twilight was going away quickly. There were a few fellow solo runners, but most of the other people walked around the pier with their partners, enjoying the British weather. I continued running through the pain with Eminem motivating me to continue until I collapse.
20 kilometers! It was all about 1 km now. I had 12 minutes before hitting 3 hrs. I was running against the wind again, as I had to get back home after the run and I knew I was going to be gone down after that. My calves had freed themselves of any shackles of adrenaline, water, glucose, and Milkha’s motivation, and were screaming in pain. My back was also quite in pain and wanted me to stop. But I kept going. I will not stop until I complete the 21, not after going through the last 20 kilometers with such great enthusiasm.
Soon, I felt a surge of energy in myself. Any pain in my leg and back went away, and I was taking longer strides. I was running faster than in my previous splits! Spurred on with my additional energy, I continued running, and in no time, I had completed the 21 kilometers!!!
I ran some more to reach the i360 back again. It was where I had started the run, and it fitted to finish it here. I was at 21.5 kilometers now.
Woohoo! I had completed my Half Marathon, and I was still standing! Could I run some more? Oh no, not at all. Not if I wanted to sleep on my bed and not the beach. I did not have the energy left to run, so I walked up to the i360 tower and sat down.
I let it sink in. I had finally done it. I had completed the Half Marathon. I did not have any medal to prove it or any certificate to put up on my website, but I know I did it; I know I can do it again, only better. That’s what matters. The next time I run this long, I would end it faster, and I will be in better shape. To commemorate this win, I decided it would be fitting to take a photo of my distance with the most iconic article of interest in Brighton - the i360. Quite conveniently, I was sitting right next to it. But the photograph had to be perfect. From the time I had thought about this new photo measure of distance, I had come up with various propositions to make it better - positioning the watch in the bottom 1/4th of the screen, watch in focus, the hand perpendicular to the object of interest, and so on. It was already dark, meaning I had to take an exposure shot to add lighting, and the wind was gushing at its limits. It took me 20 minutes and 50 retries to get the perfect shot. But I was quite pleased with the final image of the day.
At the end, I slowly walked back to my apartment with a smile of contentment on my face and a new goal in mind - The Full Marathon.