Last summer, a friend challenged me to run a marathon. Despite not being a runner, I took up the challenge and submitted my name for the New York marathon lottery, promising myself that if I got entry, I would train to run the 26.2 mile (42km) race and raise money for a good cause. In April, I received the news that I was in. I decided to fund raise for the Help Nepal Network, an organisation I'd volunteered with and contributed to over a number of years.
Training for the marathon was one of the most physically taxing things I had ever done: five months; three to six miles a day five days a week, and long runs of between twelve and twenty miles on the weekends. It didn't feel natural for the human body, at least not for mine. However, after many weeks of knee-icing, Advil and energy bar consumption, and the unyielding support of friends and family, I attempted my longest training run â€" twenty miles.
I crawled through the last mile and spent the next couple of days nursing my horribly sore knees. They seemed to need much longer to recover than implied by my training schedule. I stopped running to give myself a complete rest
When marathon day rolled around, I hadn't run more than a few miles over the final three weeks. Queuing up at the start, I was anxious that I would not be able to push through to the end without my muscles cramping up or damaging my knees. What's more, friends and family had donated more than US$5,000 to the Help Nepal Network to support my run. I'd be letting everybody down if I didn't finish.
Once the starter's pistol went off, I tried to keep my mind focused on the time and my pace, but soon found myself being pushed on simply by the cheering of the crowds. It was incredible. Two million people purportedly came out along the course. Little kids held up their hands, high-fiving the runners. I had barely passed the two-mile marker when I saw a man holding up a sign that said, "Keep going! You're almost there!" Not quite, but it made me forget my anxiety for a minute.
At mile eight in Brooklyn, a big crowd of spectators was dancing to the song YMCA, playing over loudspeakers. As the runners passed, they raised their hands and danced with the crowd. It was electric.
At mile ten, I heard someone shrieking my name. I saw a friend jumping up and down like a madwoman. She broke away from the crowd and ran towards me. "Good luck!" she cried as she gave me a hug. It was incredible how much she renewed my energy.
By mile twenty, however, I started to really feel the soreness around my knees, calves and ankles. My legs felt weighed down by gigantic rocks. Many runners around me had slowed down to a walk and I felt my energy faltering. I pulled out my music player and headphones for motivation. But the noise of the crowd drowned the music out. At the next hydrating station, I gulped down some Gatorade and tried my last trick. I counted out loud, "one, two, one, two, one, two …", and focused only on putting one foot forward after the next. Left foot on "one", right on "two". It kept me moving.
Then I passed the twenty-five mile marker. A shot of energy coursed through me. The finish was within reach! I mustered up whatever I had left in me and ran as fast as my legs would go. 400 metres to go, and I saw the 200-metre sign clearly as I ran past. And then it was over.
I was a drop of water in the river of runners pushed along by the will of the spectators. I felt a strange connection to the people around me â€" to the runners who had given their all, the spectators who cheered the runners on, the kids who held out cups of water at hydrating stations, the musicians along the route, the YMCA dancers in Brooklyn, to the many faces of the streets of New York City and the people who populate them.
I expected to finish in about 5 hours. I made it in 4 hours and 18 minutes. The experience of running with thousands of other runners, of hearing the cheering of innumerable people along the course, the encouragement from family and friends, and the motivation to help a cause like the Help Nepal Network enabled me to exceed my own expectations. It was an amazing experience.
There were 45,350 registered runners in the ING New York City 2010 marathon, including rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena and a number of blind and disabled people.
Real people, real drama, RUBEENA MAHATO