Long Walks On Leafy Streets

12/28/2019 Rock creek Park, Washington DC    
(Continued from previous post dated 12/1/2019 )

I ended my previous post writing about the morning of the marine corps marathon that took place on Sunday the 27th of October. I wrote about how I had been feeling a bit low in spirits on the night before and woke up feeling worse. The weather forecast was absolutely the worst possible for a marathon, with temperatures starting in the sixties and heavy rain and strong winds throughout. My hopes of running a good marathon seemed to be dashed before it started. I had also written about how this came during a rather stressful and frustrating time in my life, and that running had become a kind of refuge and that I was really looking forward to running a good marathon. I concluded that post by remarking how little I knew the true reasons for this sluggishness, nor what kind of a momentous day it was going to be in my life.
Meditation and mindfulness, especially as taught by Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh), has definitely helped me to be more balanced and not get bogged down in despair. I have gotten better at living in the moment rather than rehashing the past or worrying about the future. Nevertheless, at this point in my life I feel sometimes that I am far less calm inside than I was during my youth. Perhaps it was because I lived mostly in my own mind, in my own thoughts and dreams, whether you want to call it spiritual reflection or introversion or just plain self-centeredness. Now I find myself more involved in the worldly life and wanting to make more of a difference. It is a little more difficult to stay in balance when one is caught in the vortex of worldly life. Thay in one of his lectures tells the audience, which that day was perhaps mostly monastics, that they have it much easier than their lay brothers and sisters.

Anyway, here I was on that Sunday morning, which also happened to be Diwali morning, feeling quite lethargic and low in spirits. Normally on a Diwali morning one feels fresh and energetic, even thousands of miles away from India. My mom who usually wakes up around five thirty had woken up before five (my parents were staying with us during this time). If this were India she would rub coconut oil in the hair for all us, we would all shower (or rather use a bucket and mug to wash since we didn't have showers or running water growing up), and then put on new dress and join with everyone else in bursting firecrackers. Also if this were India the sounds of the celebrations would start very early in the morning, perhaps as early as 3 am.

It is hard not to get up and go when your 78-year-old mother is up before dawn as she does every day. Especially when the bathroom is next to where you are sleeping and the sound of the squeaky faucet wakes you up. So I got up and made my way to her room. She had the Tamil TV going with the sounds of Diwali from India. I got a dab of oil on my hair and ate the mix of herbs that we call ``Diwali medicine," apparently to help digest all the buttery sweets one eats during that day. Then I headed straight to the shower to get ready for the marathon.

The race starts at 7.55. For my first two marathons we stayed at a hotel near the Pentagon so that I could get to the race quickly. Last year I took the metro to the marathon, ended up getting there late, and got caught behind a mass of thousands of people running very slowly. Yet I finished in 4 hours and one second, my best time so far. So this year I was quite confident of running much below 4 hours, although at this point it was looking somewhat improbable. I wasn't sure if I would even be able to finish, although I was determined to at least do that. To add to my woes my right thigh had been aching during runs on a consistent basis, and I wasn't sure how long it would hold up.

Anyway I was determined to at least get there on time. The K6 bus to Fort Totten metro was supposed to arrive at 6.32 am and it ran only once every half an hour early on Sunday mornings, so it was important to make it. The bus before that would be too early and the one after that too late. I had about an hour to get ready. They say the most important predictor of a good race is how good a meal you eat for breakfast. I had my usual - hot chocolate and peanut butter sandwich and bananas. This morning my mom had made some iddlies so I had four of those. That really felt good. I had loaded up on carbohydrates the previous day and again this morning so that made me feel better. But again, that turned out to be not the problem as I was about to discover during the marathon. Indeed, all that carbohydrate in my stomach was increasing my blood sugar and making me feel a bit strange in the head.

I had also made preparations for the rain. I had plastic bags over my socks to keep them dry until the beginning of the race. I also had a rain coat that I was going to donate at the beginning of the race. Finally, around 6.20 I said my good-bye to everyone and set out for the bus stop that is about half a mile from our house. Bus ETA said that the K6 would arrive in 15 minutes. But I had forgotten that this is a real time GPS based system that only makes a calculated prediction. Sometimes, especially in very light or very heavy traffic, the predictions don't work very well. And this morning that was definitely the case. No sooner had I walked a block from my house it said ETA 6 minutes. I started running, with my raincoat on, in the steady drizzle, and in the dark. Visions of last year's marathon morning flashed in my head. That was when I missed my bus and several taxicabs passed me by without stopping before finally one did. I arrived at the stop just in time for the bus and thankfully it stopped (not always guaranteed, although it hasn't happened to me in several years), and I sat down with a big sigh of relief.

There were quite a few people at the metro station, most of them much better prepared for the rain than I was, with their sleek running jackets on and some carrying their running shoes in a bag. I told myself the usual mantras - stay relaxed, remember to enjoy the running and not worry about the time, remember to smile as much as possible and acknowledge the people cheering, etc., etc., Of course easier said than done.

I arrived at the Pentagon metro station with about half an hour to start for the race. From the station there is a good one mile walk to the start of the race. The station was packed with people, which was good to see. As we got out of the station the rain was pouring. Although more determined and energized I was still feeling a bit down, so I sang to myself the theme song to the Puffin Rock cartoon show that Prashant loves. "Come and Play, on our little island! If you look, you'll see, we'll be here come rain or shine..." When I told Nicole about that later she had a good laugh. I think she found it a bit touching that I would do that. But at that time it really lifted my spirits. I imagined myself in the Puffin Rock island enjoying the rain as much as the sunshine, playing in the waters of the deep blue ocean. In fact, I liked it so much I kept singing it to myself for quite a while.

The start of the marathon never fails to get your blood pumping and heart throbbing and so it was this morning. The Osprey aircraft buzzing above, the sound of the cannons, the marines lined up (some with heavy weaponry) all along the way to the start line, all make it a thrilling place to be. It is also always a bit of a nervous time. Luckily my stomach was cooperating with me this morning and I wasn't feeling overly nervous, but perhaps that was not a good sign. At least I avoided a long stop at the Porta Johns although I did join the long line of guys irrigating the grass and the trees at the edge of the parking lot. I managed to get to the corral section for runners expecting to finish under four hours, just in time for the cannons to go off and the race to start, and with it a new chapter in my life.

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