More about me as a runner

2017 Target Events

  • 15th Jan - Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon - 3:49:54
  • 12th Feb - Auroville Marathon HM - 1:46:28
  • 29th April - Western Pacific Marathon
  • 15th October - Bangalore marathon - tentative

Blog Archive

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Finally a sub-4 hour finish !!!

Though in the end I had a great run and managed to finish with chip timing of 3:56:49 – shaving over 7 minutes off my previous fastest finish at the SunTrust Richmond Marathon on November 2007, I had quite a nervous time during the 24 hours leading up to the start of the race. I woke up on the morning of Friday 20th March in Edison, NJ(where I was visiting my company Mformation Technologies on work) to light snowfall and apprehensions about the weather for the run as well several things falling in place during the course of the day. As it turned out things went smoothly. I completed several meetings and left my office at 11:30am to catch the 12:07 Amtrak train from Metropark station to Washington DC. By this time it had stopped snowing and since the temperature was not below freezing the snow that had fallen earlier was also rapidly melting. During the 2 hours 45 minutes train ride I had the interesting company of 62 year old Dave -a former AT&T engineer and currently a telecoms consultant who was visiting family in DC for the weekend. I had mapped out in detail the Washington Metro routes to take from the Union Station to collect my race packet at the expo, meet some ex-colleagues at the office of the World Bank and get to the house of my cousin in Maryland. However, based on Dave’s recommendation, I got off at New Carolton rail station(a suburban station prior to center of Washington) and took a direct metro to Stadium Armory Mall . This turned out to be very convenient and fast. The expo was in the RFK stadium just 5 minutes walk from the metro station. The expo itself was disappointing – I had expected it to be bigger. Reebok had a stall and also there were a few stalls selling clothes, fuel belts etc. Bart Yasso, dubbed 'The Mayor of Running' , was selling autographed copies of his book 'My Life on the run'. Unfortunately, I could not speak to him as he had taken a break during the time I was there. Another legendary runner who was a guest at the expo was Henry Rono a Kenyan runner who broke the 10K, 5K and 3K world records in 1978. . On good thing at the expo was the continuously playing 22 minutes video of the race route on a large screen. I watched this for a while and realized that the route was around the center of Washington DC through six of the eight district wards and going as far west as the Lincoln Memorial and as far north as Michigan Avenue crossing the Anacostia River along the way . The course seemed to have many gradients as part of rolling hills including a fairly steep one around the 35Km mark.

I was able to sleep by 10:15 on 20th and woke up to the alarm at 4:20am on 21st morning. Had two bananas after which Ishwar(with whom I stayed during the weekend in Maryland) dropped me at the Grosvenor metro station by 5:20am. There were over a dozen runners waiting at the metro station. It was very cold – a few degrees below freezing. In order to keep myself warm I had on a track suit, full sleeves dri-fit shirt(NJ marathon), half sleeves sweater, gloves and a winter jacket. Was also carrying a windcheater with me in my tote bag.

Reached RFK stadium by 6:10am, changed to shorts, used the restrooms there and then hung around watching the other runners do their stretches etc. I encountered the first of my two dilemmas of the morning – should I or should I not eat a third banana?. I have handled the ‘banana dilemma’ differently before every run. Since I drink only water during the run and do not eat anything other than half or three-fourths of an energy bar, what I eat on the morning of the run and how my stomach handles it has a big impact on the quality of the run. I had run Mumbai with 2 bananas and Auroville with 3. On this day I decided to have the third one. On hearing the announcement urging runners to start moving towards the start line I left the stadium and went out towards the baggage counter around 6:40am. As soon as I stepped out of the stadium the harsh reality of the cold weather hit me again. I quickly joined the queue at the baggage counter(separate for FM and HM runners) and grappled with the second dilemma , that is, ‘layers dilemma’ – should I wear two or three layers during the run. A full-sleeves dri-fit shirt over a half-sleeves dri-fit shirt was a given but should or should I not run with the windcheater as I had done in similar weather conditions at SunTrust Richmond marathon in November 2007? Looking around at other FM runners waiting to hand their bags in, I noticed the whole range - with runners in sleeveless tank top to full sleeves shirt with a fairly thick layer on top of that. Based on previous experience of running marathons in the US I was aware that American runners will discard the other layers during the run as they get warmer- and the discarded clothing items get collected and donated to a local charity. Being a typical middle-class Indian , I don’t discard clothing easily and tend to keep an item till it is completely worn out or unusable. Just as my turn to give the bag came I took off my wind sheeter and shoved it into the bag and rushed towards the start line. I managed to get to coral no. 5 (assigned to runners with estimated pace between 8:30 and 9:15 minutes per mile) just in nick of time at 6:56am. Since the 5000 or so Half marathon runners and the 2000+ full marathon runners were starting together it was quite crowded at the starting line. I was shivering there for just a couple of minutes when the race started. It took me just under 3 minutes of walk/jog movement for about 250m (with a couple of brief pauses) to cross the starting line.

I got off to a fairly brisk start covering the first mile in about 8 and a half minutes. Staying in the middle of the pack I ran for a fairly good stretch with a bunch of runners running with the 3:50 pacers. I covered the first 10K in a little over 54 minutes and reached the half point in about 1hrs 55 minutes. Till the half way point the FM and HM runners were together. At this point while the HM runners went into the stadium for the finish the FM runners took off into the second wing of the butterfly course. Since I was feeling quite strong at the half way point I decided that this was an opportunity for me to try and get a sub-4 hr finish. Therefore, I put my head down and focused on the run – talking very little with fellow runners – something that I normally do. I did exchange a few words with a couple of fellow Marathon maniacs( Bekkie- Maniac # 244 running her 90th marathon and Joseph-Maniac #381 running his 83rd - they both finished in 3:53) who wanted to know why I was not running in Maniac gear.

I got hugely encouraging cheers of ‘come on NJ’, ‘Good job NJ marathon’ from volunteers at aid stations and also spectators – my full sleeves dri-fit shirt was from NJ marathon 2006. There were well stocked aid stations every couple of miles. However, I found the water too cold to drink. For a guy like me who prefers water at normal room temperature in warm weather the water was freezing even at the 20 miles mark. Therefore, I consumed very small quantities of water during the entire run. Which also meant I ate less than half of the energy bar in this run. I reached the 37K mark in 3hrs 20. Had I been able to sustain the pace I would have finished in about 3:50. However, my pace now started to fall quite rapidly and around this time the 3:55 pacers overtook me. I tried to keep pace with them but was unable to do so. However, I kept pushing ahead as hard as I could, not even stopping at any of the water stops in the last 5Kms, keeping in mind that I needed to stay ahead of the 4:00 pacers. I saw the race clock cross 3:59 as I came in sight of the Finish line. I managed to get there with the Gun time of 3:59:46 and my chip time of 3:56:49 – the announcer called out my name and time and I was greatly elated with a first ever sub-4 hour run in 17 completed Full Marathons!

Comparing the split timings of this run, to the one in Richmond in November 2007 I realise the key was to get to the half way point under 1:55 and sustain the pace till at least 35K point.

Though I had achieved my personal best in a Full Marathon and this kind of a pace (9 minutes per mile) would have probably placed me in the top 3 in the 50-54 years age group in India, here I was 49th in my age category with the top 4 all finishing below 3:15! That shows the big gap in capability between average Indian and American runners.

It was still quite cold at the end and though I ran the entire race with gloves on, my fingers were frozen by the time I completed the race - I had a real tough time opening the water bottle and peeling a banana. There was also pretzels, bagels, oranges and an energy drink at the finish point. I hung around for about an hour, calling my family in India and also my hosts in DC to give them the good news. Though an expensive run, the sub 4 hour finish made it worthwhile! Looking back at the run I think the course was not too easy – with several fairly steep gradients. The two big factors that helped me accomplish the feat are the weather and the extended company of similar paced runners specially the pacers.

Below is some on-line press coverage for the race:
The fourth annual SunTrust National marathon and Half marathon

Moulton captures National Marathon

Moulton wins running away

Also some PR done by Dean Nattu, my classmate from BITS ,prior to the run.
And here are my pictures taken by Brightroom the official event photographers.