Long Walks On Leafy Streets

12/10/2017 Rock Creek Park, Wshington, DC.
Marathon, Part III.

Finally we are ready for the holidays. Last weekend we went on our annual trip to the Feezer farm in Marriottsville, MD to get our Norway Spruce. We like that they grow their Christmas trees organically. This weekend we set it up and as usual Nicole has done a wonderful job of decorating the tree. Prashant enjoys feeling the needles with his fingers and saying the names of the various ornaments. Classes and exams are over and the painful and agonizing process of grading is almost done with.

This semester has been very hectic especially in the last few weeks, as they always tend to do. But there were a few blissful and peaceful moments in the past two weeks. One was on the evening of the 30th when we visited the Siva-Vishnu temple in Lanham, MD. We were there on account of my birthday --according to the Hindu calendar. There were very few people and so it was quiet.
Prashant was in good spirits, saying “Bye Ummachi” as we left the sanctuary of each God or Goddess (Ummachi = baby talk for Swami = God). I rediscovered my praying mindset from my younger days when my heart was still full of faith and devotion and my mind was fresh and not filled with doubts and certainties. Realized that one just had to surrender himself and let the senses and the mind take in the energy and aura of the God or Goddess represented by the idols. One doesn’t need any proof or justification of any kind. A skillful sculptor is able to convey the energy and force represented by a certain God through the idol. We also enjoyed driving through rural Maryland and some quiet moments in a little strip mall along the way where we stopped for charging the car. The mall was surrounded by woods and was very quiet, compared to shopping areas in the city and its surroundings.

It seems like every semester I end up working harder and this semester is no different. I started the practice of typing up notes for my calculus class beforehand and putting them up online. Also made my discrete math class come to my office regularly to explain their homework and was working on research in the remaining time. So by Monday of last week I was totally exhausted. Since Nicole was away on a trip for a couple of days there was no rest at home either. The body simply broke under the stress, luckily not enough to incapacitate me, but I had to be very careful and slow in my activities.

That reminded me very much of the days before the Marine Corps Marathon. When I concluded the previous post I was describing how I had not completely recovered from a virus and was unable to eat enough in the days preceding the race. Yet the excitement and anticipation of the race that morning energized me and I was feeling good as I left the hotel in Crystal City around 6.45 am. Nicole was saying that it was like Christmas for me and she was not far from the truth. There were men and women of all ages making their way towards the shuttle bus stop near the metro station. I hope there are more and more runners of color in the future and signs are that there will be. Right now except for some elite runners from the East African nations the average runner is mostly white.

One of my goals this year was to try to greet and smile and wave at as many people as possible along the way. I think I did a good job of that. In the shuttle bus I made small talk with my neighbor, a younger white man, and wished him best of luck. He seemed pretty nonchalant about it. I wondered if this was just a social networking event for him. Then the thousands of us walked through the security area under the watchful eyes of well-armed marines. Had a nice chat with a slightly older black man. He said he does it every year, and that his wife was doing the 10k at the same time. It was great to talk to someone who was running just to enjoy the experience. That was my goal too but there is an undercurrent of competitiveness in me that always pushes me to go faster.

As I mentioned in previous post, my most realistic goal was to run under 3 hours and 45 minutes or an 8:30 minutes per mile pace on the average but I was going to run faster than that if I could. Accordingly I planned to run the first three miles at around 8:20 and then increase or decrease the pace depending on how I felt. The first mile of this marathon is very congested even though you are running on six lanes of a highway to start with. There are people everywhere and it is almost like running inside a crowded city bus. Nevertheless I managed to run it at just under 9 minutes and the first 3 miles at about 8:45. During this time we are running in Arlington and there are already a lot of spectators. The spectators bring their own energy and I started enjoying that and it helped me get over my nerves. I gave thumbs up to every wheelchair racer or runners pushing someone in a wheelchair. Looking at what they do is an inspiration as well as a reminder to stay humble.

The fourth mile is run along the Potomac on the George Washington Parkway and is certainly one of my favorite parts of the race. You are running mostly downhill with the cool air making it even easier and the scenery very enjoyable. I ran this part under 8 minutes and once we entered Georgetown I was running comfortably around an 8:30 pace. Didn’t feel like running much faster than that, though. In any case my main concern this morning was having enough glucose to provide energy to last the entire race. I had two gel packets in my pocket each with six gel shots and planned to eat one every two miles starting with the fourth mile. I also drank Gatorade whenever I felt like it. They had drink stations every two miles.

In Georgetown the crowds get bigger. People hold all kinds of signs up but this year I didn’t pay too much attention to the signs. I high-fived whoever put up their hand and smiled at the people who were cheering. Of course people were mostly there for their own friends and family who were running but as long as they were cheering at me I reciprocated. There seemed to be a particularly large contingent for an Indian woman named Priti. I saw people holding signs with her name all along the course. Each runner has his or own story and that makes it exciting. I wonder what the story behind Priti was.

After Georgetown the course goes up the Rock Creek Parkway for a couple of miles before turning back. Since I run regularly along the Parkway this is quite familiar to me but it was nice to run on the road itself as opposed to the bike path alongside the Creek. As we went up the Parkway we saw the top runners coming down. We were on mile 6 and they were already on mile 8. It is quite a sight to watch these top runners, running at 11 to 12 miles an hour, faster than most people can bike for 26 miles! It is so graceful and fluid like a gazelle or a cheetah.

My good friend Alan told me that he would be waiting between mile 7 and 8 to cheer me on. We train together often and actually ran the Parks Half-Marathon together this year, in September. He has run this marathon twice himself and had decided to do only half marathons henceforth. After we passed mile seven I started looking for him. There were large crowds of people along the Parkway so I had my eyes glued to the side. Sure enough, after I turned around and started running downstream I spotted him on the side. I was very happy to see him there and gave him a hearty high-five. I was so grateful that someone would get up early on a Sunday and brave all the traffic and the crowds to come cheer me on that it caused a rush of blood to the head. My eyesight became cloudy and the interplay of light and shade due to the trees along the Parkway made me feel vaguely dizzy. I so often run without eating enough that I have become good at recognizing the symptoms of low blood sugar. That moment was my warning sign for what was to come.

To be continued….

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