Thursday, November 03, 2005

Running a Marathon...well, half a Marathon

On Oct 23rd I ran the half-marathon in the Detroit Marathon, in aid of the charity organization ASHA, which does yeoman’s work for underprivileged children in India. ASHA raises donations by facilitating several sports/cultural/social events, all around the world and the entire staff of ASHA workers is made up of volunteers, hence no administrative overheads. These volunteers, mostly students, devote much of their free time to help out projects sponsored by ASHA in India. Their devotion, commitment and selflessness in pursuit of this common good is truly commendable.

This was the email that I had sent to my friends, colleagues and acquaintances to cajole, beg and threaten to part with a minuscule portion of their savings account hoardings, for a good cause. Many of them, to my eternal gratitude, have donated generously, making me that much prouder, of having made the right choice in friends, and taking up this glorious and arduous cause. So if you still feel inclined to contribute for my run, dear reader, please don’t hold back. Go forth, be kind and be generous.

Hi All

Recently, over the past few years we have experienced the fateful vagaries of life in every imaginable form, man made as well as natural. Be it terrorists flying airplanes into buildings or setting off bombs in subways or tsunamis, earthquakes, torrential rains, hurricanes Katrina, Rita, ravaging mankind, we try and make sense of everything that is going around us. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense, but we have every reason to be thankful. Thankful for a relatively safe life, a relatively good standard of living and the support of a family structure, that not everyone has the good fortune of having.

Our children have access and avenues to a stellar futures, good education, and access to some of the best professionals for health care and above all, caring, loving parents. And that's how life is supposed to be, for every single child in the world. But sadly its not so.

Asha for education , is a non-profit organization that does exemplary work in India, for the education of under privileged children in the remote recesses of the country. This is a volunteer organization which functions on the donations and largess of folks such as us. Over he past few months I have had the privilege of knowing some such ASHA volunteers. Their commitment, selflessness and conviction for the task at hand is indeed commendable. Week after week they devote their personal time and effort to organize events to raise money for ASHA.

On Sun Oct 23, I will be running the half marathon and trying to raise money for Asha. 13 miles…count them1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 miles. Wow. For someone like me, who primarily, until now, flitted through life working the channels on the TV remote, considering it exercise, this is, truly a big deal.

So with that being said, where else could I turn to but folks such as yourself, for your contributions for this cause. Any amount of donation will be greatly appreciated, be it the price of a McDonald's happy meal or the expense of an evening out at the restaurant or the cost of two tickets to the movies. Remember, any amount, however small, will truly be a big deal.

Please give me, whatever you think is right, as cash or post a check made out to 'Asha for Education', posted to my home address below, to sponsor my run. If you wish to pay by credit card, please use this secure link for your donations

Any way that you wish to give will be fine. This money, will be well used for the under privileged children in the villages of India, who spend their lives surviving on the benevolence of strangers. Thank you all for everything. Thanks for the support, thanks for the encouragement and thanks for taking the time to read my request and most of all thank you for your friendship. For that, I shall remain, eternally grateful.

Thanks and Regards

Sunday 23rd Oct, was supposed to grey, wet and cold and I got up dreading the day because I had not practiced, even a short 3 mile run, for all week. Ajith, who ran the Chicago marathon the previous week, advised me to take it easy, and so I took it easy, Very easy, as a matter of fact!!

Peeping outside the window at 5 AM on race day, my spirits rose at the sight of a mostly clear, cloudless sky. Cold, but no rain, I thought to myself. But one can never predict the Michigan weather, and it was supposed to rain at 9 AM. One of the Asha volunteers Ajith, our driver angel for the day, offered to drive us to/from Detroit downtown, where the marathon was being run. Driving back with aching knees and calf muscles and a sore butt is the single most agonizing chore after a grueling run. My better half didn’t think running a marathon was that big a deal that it warranted a trip to the finishing line!!! So the ride was manna from heaven, without the worries of having to fight traffic on the way back.

We reached Detroit downtown around 6:45 AM, with the race scheduled to begin at 7:30 AM, and met the entire ASHA team in front of the famous Detroit downtown landmark, Hockeytown restaurant. There were 4 relay teams from Detroit and Flint Asha chapters, 5 individual half marathoners and about 5 full marathoners.

What a sight it was, even with the temperatures dropping to low 40’s, the excitement and the energy was palpable. Runners sparsely dressed, overdressed, bundled up and unbundled, were stretching, jogging, huddling, laughing, jumping and generally milling around with intense looks. One could not feel any less enthused, such was the positive energy around Comerica Park and Ford field on that day.

We made our way to the start area, which has sections marked, depending on the speed of the runners. Since I am a relative tortoise in the world of marathon running, with a clock speed of approx 10.5 minutes per mile, I made my way to the back of the starting lineup. Before the start, there were politicians gabbing away, ministers sermonizing and up-an-coming singers belting the US & Canadian national anthem, on a raised platform near the starting section of the race. Gawkers and onlookers had gathered along the starting line to cheer the runners and I felt like a track superstar and could hardly suppress my excitement. The starting lineup snaked around for nearly a mile long with approximately 14,000 runners, walkers and wheel-chair participants taking part in the run. It was a fun, carnival kind of atmosphere, albeit a bit cold.

When the countdown began, sections of the runners started clapping and cheering wildly as they began their arduous run. Off we were to the stains of U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’, and indeed, a beautiful day it was. The sun was out, it was in the low 40’s, not too much wind, just near perfect running conditions. We had started our run nearly 11 minutes behind the marathon leaders at approximately 7:42 AM. The timing chip is tied to the shoe lace and keeps track of your individual race time.

My runs usually start out slow, typically 11 minutes per mile and then over longer distances, I tend to get into a rhythm and my timing begins to improve. So at the beginning of the race while running through Detroit downtown, there were a lot of fast walkers, with their funny assed walking styles, overtaking me. This is not good, I remember thinking. At some junctions, it was getting difficult to run since the entire street was occupied by walkers or slower runners.

After about 4 miles into the run we could see to the Ambassador Bridge which crosses into Canada. Running through Mexican town with the gringos playing the mariachi and runners shouting our requests for Margaritas and Enchiladas from roadside onlookers, was quite an experience.

As Mexican town ended, we came up on a side street and I lifted my head to look at the Ambassador bridge. The sight that met my eyes will stay with me for a long time. Absolute surreal. The bridge was filled with runners crossing across to Canada as the sunlight was streaming across our faces and I remember thinking to myself “This is my Pamplona, the charging of the bulls. I’d rather be at no other place but right here, right now.”.

The sight of Detroit and Windsor Canada from top of the bridge was something to behold. By this time, my rhythm had set in and running was on automatic cruise control as I jogged into Canada. Look Ma, I’m running across countries now. Forrest Gump, I have become !!! Windsor is the border town in Canada and does brisk business with Casinos, restaurants, bars, cheap Canadian drugs from the pharmacies and strip clubs. Sadly I couldn’t stop for any of those in Windsor, er well, maybe later. Windsor is connected to the US via the Ambassador bridge and the Windsor tunnel, which has been laid out beneath the river. From the Canadian banks, you can see the majestic Detroit downtown skyline.

Almost half the distance into the race, fatigue was setting in, when I was mercifully joined by Ashish Mody, a fellow Asha runner. The next 2-3 miles seemed like a breeze since Ashish and me were cheering each other on. We were counting down the miles at every mile marker. It was important to stay well hydrated as well, so water and Gatorade were welcome distractions. It broke the monotony of running.

The Windsor tunnel was another surreal sight with the tunnel filled, wall to wall, with runners, many of them screaming, singing and wisecracking. The custom officials and the immigration officers were grinning widely to welcome the runners, a sight you never get to witness normally. The exit from the tunnel had the crowds waiting to greet the runners with flags, placards, screams and shouts. Our Asha team volunteers were a part of the crowd, and what a boost it was to hear your name being called out after running for nearly 10 miles.

The last 3 miles, through the Detroit downtown was grueling with the knees, calves, heels and even my toes beginning to hurt. Ashish kept me company and only the thought of the entry into Ford field kept me soldering on. Never has the sight of the home of the losing Detroit Lions, Fold field, been so appealing to me and as I ran through the tunnel onto the field to rear the roar of the rapturous crowd, applauding the runners, taking every moment in and watching myself on the big screen TV above the stands. Two hours, Twenty two minutes, Twenty Two seconds is what it had taken me , to run 13.1 miles. Check out the results here.

The finish line is now just a blur in my mind and I only remember hurrying out for the free massage provided by some health center masseuses. Whoa, masseuse rule, baby. Oh yeah. That massage made me nearly complete, but I was still limping over the next two days. Walking around like a pregnant woman whose water had just broken.

So why did I do it? Because I can. Also because money collected from generous folks, will help children in remote villages in India, towards a better life. I did it for my son, for my family and friends, for my health, and just as a validation that nothing is impossible, with the right amount of hard work, fortitude and the right attitude. I did it to associate myself with a wonderful bunch of people at ASHA who collectively do so much, and who give so much without taking much in return. For the feeling to be part of a team, to work together, towards a common goal, and to feel good, when that goal has been achieved. I did it, because it felt like the right thing to do. Yes, I did it.

Chicago 2006 – 26.2. The full marathon. Rahul, JT, the gang from ASHA and me. Join us, if you can.


Anonymous Rahul Garg said...


This was simply an incredible feat. I remember going out early in the morning with you in Somerset Apartments, and we barely being able to complete 2-3 miles.
What a difference a year, some commitment and some good company can make.

Reading your blog got back some great memories for me also. I could'nt stop but think of my similar experiences along the way and the emotional tides sweeping me on completion of my first marathon. It got back enough memories for me to want to do this again...this time with you and JT.

Great job, your performance is unbelievable.

You go Sourin....

7:40 AM  
Blogger GREATBONG said...

Great stuff Sourin...really envy your fitness and your commitment.


1:19 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

i'm glad you did this Sourin.

I chickened out even before i started, but will be supporting my friends and waving, as they run the Seattle marathon for the same cause :-)

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Ravi said...

'Twas good to run with the ASHA group, Sourin. The Detroit route is exceptional in that we run across countries. The sights and sounds are wonderful, the general running company great, the ASHA group terrific, and the "cheering detail" with banners and all....exhilirating.

Hope we can do it the next year as well!

4:57 AM  
Blogger Anshul said...

Great feat, Sourin!
An excellent example of committment, endurance and dedication. We are all proud of you.


10:35 AM  
Blogger Sujatha said...

Good for you! You should be proud of yourself.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job Souren! As always, your commitment and endurance is commendable.

Wish I had the same.


2:30 AM  
Anonymous charu said...

hey! just saw this. great stuff, Sourin :)

5:44 AM  
Blogger chappan said...

Thanx bud. Without you this whole running craze would never have started for me. Looking fwd to Chicago.

Arnab, Sunil, Anshul, Ravi, Suj, Ashu, Charu

Thank you. I stronly recommend you guys to take up running or fast walking, if you are not doing it already. Great for the health, attitude, and great all around. I dont have to tell Ravi, he already is an accomplished marathoner.

8:50 AM  

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