Prashant Bhatia talks about running five world major marathons in 2018
You know its been a good year when your home run, the Dubai Marathon does not feature in the title of the year ender!
The Dubai Marathon in January of 2018 was a harbinger of things to come. A good one at that. It was supposed to be treated as more of a training run in the running plan made out for me by my dear friend and de facto coach Mohandas Putthukattil, himself an accomplished runner and always humble and happy to share his immense knowledge. To me he symbolizes the essence of the running fraternity. Getting a structured training plan emphasizing quality over quantity meant I improved on my personal best by over 30 minutes and finished the run as targeted both in terms of pace per kilometer as well as the heart rate despite the humidity in the last hour. That run helped me realize that it was possible for me to keep following a pace as long as an an expert could actually figure out what target I should be aiming for.
Bring on Tokyo! My first world major. Nice and flat with brilliant running weather. Preparing for running in cold February meant falling on the rich experience and pearls of wisdom from stalwarts like Ram Sadhvani, Rajesh Maghnani and a host of fellow running buddies . Having the right gear at the start meant the beginning was good. Once the body had warmed up after 5km, gradually the monkey cap and removable sleeves came off all to the safe hands to a cheering spectator. Tokyo is by far the cleanest marathon I have run. Most, if not all, runners were dropping their used cups and water bottles into the garbage bags held by volunteers rather than flinging it on the ground as is the norm. That difference stays etched in my memory as does the humility, helpfulness and gentle demeanor of the Japanese. Getting my personal best here was an icing on the cake. This stays as my most favored marathon so far.
London marathon 2018 was the most challenging of the year for me. The initial challenge of getting an entry was overcome thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend from medical school who entered our names into his hospital drawing the UK for their charity slots. The aim was to try and train for a 4:05 marathon to improve on Tokyo. While the training was in order, the weather on that day was not. Neither did I have the insight to revise my target finish in view of it being the hottest marathon ever. The crowd support was electric along this fabulous route that starts at Greenwich to end at St. James park . Dehydration during the early part meant I had to wobble along the last 10km on cramped legs. Not pretty! Finished way beyond target but learnt to respect the elements of nature better. That I physically could not join my DCS buddy, Chandru Venkatesan for a valuable pic with his well earned six star medal that day will always stay a regret.
Three marathons by April is great. Probably one too many. But how does one refuse when your name gets pulled out of the ballot in both Berlin and Chicago! Running these meant continuing training during the less likeable summer months in Dubai
Come September and Berlin it was. A Superb Marathon. Great weather, flat track, fastest one around, the least expensive one from Dubai all with German efficiency. Except for a few blips at the expo, the organisation here for the race per se was seamless. The start and finish is conveniently located in the heart of town unlike some of the others where there could be a bit of a commute. One memory of Berlin was a strange rhythmic sound at every water station as hundreds of feet systemically pounded hundreds of plastic cups which were strewn across. My running buddies Vijay Barlapudi and Darshan Parekh both did fabulously well. I had a bit of a groin niggle at halfway and decided to listen to my body, slow down, not risk further injury and live to fight another day. The finish was glorious one at the historic Brandenberg gate. Probably the best finish amongst all majors. A memorable post run party at a traditional German pub with friends from Dubai Creek Striders as well as a WMM facebook group capped things off beautifully.
Three weeks later on October 8th woke up early Monday morning to walk to the nearby seven eleven to pick up the Chicago Tribune. Gently pinched myself when I saw my name listed amongst the 44571 finishers . Living the dream. Like Nike says, its only a crazy dream till you do it. Being my first American marathon, the first thing that struck me was the flawless organisation of the event. Location,route, transport, expo, bag drops, ponchos, support stations as well as crowd support, post race areas were all simply superb. A cold start, but hey, Tokyo prepares you for that! Did get wet midway, but life goes on! Had accounted for jet lag and got in an extra day earlier, which is well recommended. Darshan Parekh here was pivotal in ensuring I enjoy this marathon. His recommendation of converting this into an 8:1 run walk Galloway technique, being a back to back marathon, suited me to the T. Can't thank him enough since I finished nice and strong and clocked my second fastest time of the year. Sticking to the nutrition plan of a gel every 7 km and a salt tablet every hour in addition to isotonic drinks and water alternately also went a long way in keeping things under control. Different ways of achieving the same end point..this one works for me.
New York, New York! Another difficult marathon to get in to for a mediocre international runner, making it more difficult to refuse when friends at New Balance wrangled out an entry at the last minute with a sponsor bib. That I was to attend a conference in Chicago four days prior to the New York marathon made it even more tempting. I succumbed! Having three spare days in New York prior to the run meant having my fill of the excellent sessions by the New York Road runners, chatting with the legendary four times New York Marathon winner Bill Rodgers at a book signing, getting insights into stretching techniques as well as experiencing New York through running tours. Just that alone makes it a no brainer to reach New York a few days prior to the marathon rather than the typical day and a half. This course is challenging . It was a late start for me at 10:45 am, but an early bus pick at 5:45 am due to the logistics of reaching Staten Island. Being up for six hours and change before starting the marathon itself is something that sets this one apart from the other Majors. Starting at the Verrazano bridge gave wonderful vistas of the Manhattan skyline and the realization that this is not a PB course. So be it! The much written about Queensboro bridge will always be a memory..not so much about the quiet and long climb midway into the race, but rather for that huge roar on descending onto to First avenue. The enthusiasm, excitement, vigour and responsiveness of the boisterous New Yorkers across all the five boroughs is what makes the New York Marathon unique. Its that positive vibe and energy which keeps runners going strong. So special. Meeting up with all the DCS buddies and having a great time at Times Square that evening and walking back a mile or so to my hotel just like I would have on any other day felt good. Would love to do this one again, just for the buzz.
Any write up about this Fab Five in 2018 would be incomplete without mentioning the Fabulous One. My wife, Mini. Throughout his journey, her support and belief in what I do has been steadfast. We were lucky to be together in Tokyo, London and Chicago going through all the travails of an ardent supporter. Braving crowds and traffic, sorting out meeting points on race day, the disappointment of not being able to see each other despite all that planning and the satisfaction of having done so subsequently, frantically waving and cheering away "Go Striders" for that one special moment is difficult to express in words. After the satisfaction of seeing your loved one and moving on, invariably my mind would go to the countless adaptations that she has made in her life to ensure I am able to safely do what I do. Appreciate all those missed late weekends to accommodate the long runs, the early morning sleep distorting noises while stumbling out for the run, the vacation times converted into marathon vacations and the countless babble about running. Thank you for everything.