Monday, December 15, 2008

Blogging Tips

I have been blogging for about a year and a half. In that time, I have come across many people who want to start a blog. But, none of these people have managed to start and maintain a blog, as far as I'm aware. If you are interested in starting a blog, I offer the following tips in the hopes that you have will have a positive blogging experience:

  1. Blog when inspiration strikes you. It's very difficult to blog when you're not in the mood to write, and you're likely to get frustrated if you try to blog at the wrong times.
  2. Write less but more often. People on the Internet have a short attention span.
  3. Keep a list on your computer of the topics you want to blog about. Even if you can't blog at that moment, you can always come back to your list to remember what you want to write about.
  4. Go easy on the pictures. Uploading and formatting pictures on your blog takes a long time and can get frustrating - so frustrating that you might stop blogging.
  5. While other people may enjoy your blog, remember that your blog is mainly for yourself. Don't try to write for other people - just write for yourself. Even if no one reads your blog, it's fun to go back after some time to see how you felt about certain things.
  6. Check your blog over once before you post it. Use spell check. You don't need to make your blog perfect, but a cleanly written blog will be easier for your audience to read.
  7. Use labels to categorize your posts.
  8. If you particularly like one of your blogs, send it to a newspaper and magazine to see if it can get published.

If anyone else has some blogging tips, feel free to leave a comment here!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Healthy Bodies

Lately I have been thinking about the value of a healthy body. Our bodies clearly do not last forever. In the end, we will shuffle off this mortal coil - and when we do, does it matter how fit our bodies were? Whether we could benchpress 60 lbs or 160 lbs? How fast we could run 3 miles?

I view the human body as a tool. Athletes need to keep their tools in good working condition to make money off of professional sports. For others, like computer programmers, having a muscular physique probably isn't as important - they need to keep their brains sharp. And no matter what a person does to keep his/her body healthy, the body will naturally start to break down in old age. Bones will become less dense and muscles will atrophy. Metabolism will slow down and people will gain weight. However proud a person is of his/her body in his/her early to middle ages, most people will look completely different -nothing like their youth - in their latter years of life.

Exercise is an important part of my life. I try to exercise at least 5 days per week to stay healthy and fit. I know that being healthy and fit will aid my mental fitness and give me an upbeat personality, which will then impact my happiness in my job, relationships, education, etc. But I have also come to realize that the body I have today will not be the body I have when I'm 80, if I live that long. But I guess that when I'm 80 (if I do get there), I want to look back on my younger years and say that while I had a healthy body, I used it to the best of my ability and good things came out of my actions.

Therefore I think it is important for people to use their healthy bodies in their youth to accomplish something of value to themselves but more importantly to society. Then, they can say that they used their tool wisely and achieved results while their tool was in good working condition.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The 2004 Boston Marathon

I recently came across an essay I wrote 4 1/2 years ago about my experience running the 2004 Boston Marathon. I thought I would post it here for anyone who's interested in reading it. Ah, the memories it brings back....

Be forewarned though, it's long.

26.2 Miles from Hopkinton to Copley
(Plus a .5 mile delay at the Start)

I have decided to put down in writing my experiences and lessons learned from running the 2004 Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day, April 19, 2004. You may find it useful if you are interested in running, or at least entertaining if you are not. Perhaps we should rename it Black Monday?

Running 26.2 miles changes a person in many ways, both physically and mentally.

Physically, you are pushed to the edge. The human body just wasn’t built to run that far in one day. Even if you are accustomed to running 3-5 miles, running 26 miles is very different. Obviously, health problems surface in long-distance running that don’t appear in short-distance running.

Mentally, you experience a range of emotions from happiness to sadness, from exhilaration to emptiness. Your emotional limits are also pushed to the edge. Therefore, I think that the Marathon is a test of wills. How will you respond when your body and mind are pushed well beyond the brink?

I. Marathon History

In 490 B.C. a Persian Army landed on the plain of Marathon, about twenty-five miles from Athens, with the intention of capturing and enslaving that city. While the massive Persian army landed, the Athenians sent a messenger named Philippides (his name was corrupted in later texts to Pheidippides) to Sparta to enlist the aid of the Spartans in the upcoming battle. He covered the distance of about 150 miles in less than two days, a remarkable accomplishment by any standard.

Back at Marathon, however, the decision was made not to wait for the Spartans. The Athenian army fell upon the vastly larger Persian forces while they were still preparing for battle. Against great odds, the Greeks prevailed. Though historians writing close to the time of the battle make no mention of the event, writers some 600 years later claim that a runner was dispatched to Athens to carry the news of the great victory. According to legend he reached the city, said, "Rejoice, we conquer," and fell to the ground dead.

The Marathon was extended to 26.2 miles so that the Queen could watch the London Marathon from Buckingham palace. When you are running the Marathon and you get to mile 25, you can curse the bloody Queen of England for having to run another excruciating 1.2 miles.

II. Motivation to Run the Marathon

I have wanted to run the Boston Marathon ever since my freshman year in college (2000). Every year, on Patriot’s Day, the MIT fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa, hosts a Marathon Party. Their fraternity is strategically located at the 25 mile mark in Kenmore Square (where Fenway Park is located). It is a greatly anticipated spring event with much hoopla: music, food, lots of students. The Boston radio station Kiss 108 covers the Marathon from this party.

The first time I watched the Marathon was in 2000. The approach of the lead runner is a very celebrated event. This is what happens:

I. Anticipation

The anxious crowd has heard that he is coming (he is regarded as a God, and rightfully so running at an inhuman 5:00/mile pace) on the radio. They have done the math in their head. “They say he is running a 5:02 mile pace. Last I heard he passed Brookline 17 minutes ago. That means he should be here any minute.” But the expansive Commonwealth Avenue is empty.

II. The Police Motorcade

The calm is broken by the sight and sound of about 10 police motorcycles cruising by at some 30 mph. These motorcycles ride ahead of the lead runner as an escort. They make sure nothing out of the ordinary is going on ahead of the lead runners. Safety always comes first at the Boston Marathon. The passing of the police motorcade increases the crowd frenzy. The Lead Runner is only minutes away now. Parents are lifting up the children so the little Marathon fans get the best view.

III. The Roar of the Crowd down Commonwealth Ave

At first you don’t see the Lead Runner. That’s what’s so cool about watching a Marathon. For a long time, it’s quiet. The street is completely empty. Then, it’s like they are rolling out the red carpet for him. The Royal Procession arrives with a police escort.

The roar of the crowd tells you that he is approaching. Then you see him: usually short, around 5’7”, usually Kenyan, and more muscular than you ever imagined possible. Is he really human? I bet he is packing an extra heart or an extra lung.

IV. Here He Comes, There He Goes

The media truck drives a few meters in front of the lead runner. It is packed with a few camera men with their cameras trained on the Hero. A large digital display shows the runner’s continuing Marathon time. He doesn’t look that fast when he’s approaching because of his effortless running style. Now it’s your turn to cheer him. Then he is off to claim the Laurel Wreath in Copley Square on Boylston Street, unless something exciting and dramatic happens in the last mile. You hear several people say “Wow, I could never do that.” Every time I watched the Marathon, however, I thought that I had what it takes to finish.

Sophomore year I wanted to run the Marathon, but since I was doing crew, my coach wouldn’t allow me. Two of my teammates ran it anyway, and now I wish I had joined them. I was in the best shape of my life during my sophomore year and probably could have bested my current (2004) time by an hour. I weighed 15 pounds less that I do now, and had a much stronger cardiovascular system, not to mention quads like tree trunks. Then again, quads aren’t as important as calves...

III. Junior Year Running Injuries

Junior year, I trained seriously for the marathon. I was following the training regimen of The Non-Runner’s Guide to Running Marathons. I got a month into the training and abandoned the goal after too many stress injuries to my legs. Poor shoes, my flat right foot, and my bovine (curved) legs contributed to the injuries. I learned that bio mechanics (how your body is built) play a big role in how successful a runner you are. My right foot is flat and therefore I over-pronate when I step with my right foot. This means that my right foot bends inward because there is no arch to keep the legs straight and prevent the inward movement. As a result, the outside of my right knee gets stretched laterally, something it isn’t designed to do. Hence, my right knee becomes really sore. You can get shoes with an artificial arch (most non-Nike running shoes have this), and this helps the problem, but the sacrifice is that since your foot has no arch, the artificial arch cuts into your foot.

Senior year, I didn’t bother training for the Marathon because my junior year injuries were still fresh in my mind. My dreams faded before my very eyes. I had wanted to run the Marathon while I was going to school in Boston but my time had run out on me. Luckily, I decided to stay an extra year (5th year senior a.k.a. “Super Senior”) and this gave me one final opportunity.

IV. The 108th Running of the Boston Marathon

I wasn’t thinking about the Marathon most of my 5th year. I was actually more preoccupied with finding a job. Eventually I got one, back in mid-March. I stopped interviewing, which gave me lots of free time. Now I wanted to turn my attention to my final few months in college, and how I could make the most of them. I remembered my all but abandoned dream of running the Boston Marathon.

I went to Peru with my sister, Pallavi, for Spring Break. While there, we hiked the 26 mile Inca Trail in 4 days. The Inca Trail and Marathon are almost the same distance. Once I was back in the U.S. I realized that the Inca Trail had kick-started me into better shape. A few weeks after Peru, in early April, I decided to run the Boston Marathon. I knew that I wasn’t in good shape—if I was to finish, I would have to rely on my mental strength and on a sound racing strategy.

V. The Goal

My goal was to finish, plain and simple. I didn’t care how long it took, or if I was crawling across the Finish Line. Runners will usually tell you that if this is your first marathon, your goal should be to finish. Soak up the experience, learn your lessons, and set a time goal for your next marathon should you decide to run another one.

VI. Preparation

This section is supposed to talk about the 4 months you spent training, running in the cold Boston Winter months of January and February. Ashamedly, I can not claim to have done this. I didn’t train for the Marathon AT ALL. I don’t count running 3 miles 3-4 times per week as TRAINING.

The weekend before the Marathon I bought cool running clothes because the forecast quoted a high of 85 degrees on Marathon day. I also booked a hotel room at the Red Roof Inn in Southborough, MA for Sunday night (the night before the Marathon). The night before the Marathon I wanted to avoid any distraction, and I wanted to minimize the number of things that could go wrong and prevent me from accomplishing my mission (The Marathon was becoming an irrational mission at this point, the kind of thing that you’ll finish or die trying. You tell yourself that those are your only 2 options). I got a friend of mine to drop me at the hotel on Sunday evening. The 26 mile car ride seemed endless and scared me half to death. Am I supposed to run all of this?

VII. Comic Relief!

That night I decided to eat well. I ordered Dominos Pizza, bread sticks and Sprite. I watched Spartacus and then an hour of Chris Rock stand up comedy. Not exactly the best pre-race routine (you won’t find it any racing books….but maybe I can patent it?), but it was fun. God bless hotels and HBO2. Chris Rock was hilarious as usual. He spent a lot of his routine talking about the difference between “rich” and “wealth.” Black people, he says, can be rich but can never be wealthy because they spend all their money on 22-inch rims for their cars. Some of you will get this joke, others won’t. I suspect that if you have been to or live in L.A. you’ll know exactly what Chris Rock is talking about. My personal take on this is unless you want to look like a gangster, don’t get 22-inch rims. Save your money. Invest in a diversified portfolio. I hear Bio Tech is hot right now. But isn’t it always?

VIII. Race Day!

I awoke bright and early on Race Day at 6:30am. The previous night I called a taxi to pick me up at 7am to take me into Hopkinton, the city of the start. You have to get there early because all roads near the Marathon are shut down. Hopkinton is a quaint little New England town whose only claim to fame is that it hosts the start of the Marathon once every 365 days.

The taxi dropped me off at one of the 2 access points to the town. There, I boarded the shuttle that takes you into the center of town. I took my seat in the back of the bus, away from all the real runners. You know the type. Extremely lean, huge legs, chiseled face, steely eyed. Their hearts beat once a minute. That’s all they need. Where normal people have lungs, they have 5 liter oxygen tanks. They walk around with their heads held up high, carrying their B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) Adidas bags, proudly wearing their B.A.A. number on their chest. They are going to finish the Marathon. The only question is when and how will they celebrate.

I, however, don’t physically resemble a runner. Nor do I have a B.A.A. number as I am an unofficial runner or “bandit.” The question for me is not when but if.

IX. The Athlete’s Village

A short walk after getting off the shuttle, you are in the Athlete’s Village. 30 minutes after I get there, around 9:00 AM, the Marathon volunteers arrive. I see many of my MIT friends in the red and white volunteer jackets. I greet them. If you are a volunteer, you can do 1 of 3 things:

Man a Corral: Since there are about 25,000 runners, the runners are placed in different corrals depending on their number. A corral is like a stable for pent-up runners. The volunteers keep the runners in their corral until they are given the go-ahead to let them out. The fastest runners have the lowest numbers. They are placed in the first corral, which is located at the start line. As your number increases, you are located in corrals further from the Start line.
Man a Fluid Replacement Station: Every mile there is a fluid replacement station consisting of water and Gatorade. The volunteer holds out cups of water/Gatorade that runners can grab, drink, and toss (litter) without breaking stride. During the Marathon runners can litter wherever and whenever they want: anything goes. The poor volunteers have to clean up our mess.
Man a Red Cross Tent: Red Cross tents are located every mile. As you might expect, they provide First Aid to injured runners. The Red Cross Tent at the Finish is bigger and better equipped, and it even has an ICU. Fancy stuff. God bless the Red Cross.

I shoot the breeze with my friends for a little while.

“So which corral are you working?” they ask me.
“Umm, I’m not actually a volunteer. I’m running the Marathon,” I respond.
“What?! You’re actually running this?”
“Good luck…I guess.”

I know that they’re pulling for me, but I can clearly see the doubt in their eyes. I love it. I want to remember that look so when I do finish, it will be all the more sweet.

I have plenty of time before the start. I wonder around the village, which more closely resembles a fair. There’s music, food booths, clothing stands. The media vans are parked on a nearby street and reporters are on T.V. talking about the upcoming race. Despite my nervousness, I find myself enjoying the atmosphere.

Pressure can sometimes be fun if you have chosen to put yourself in that situation. If there’s pressure, then you know that there’s something important at stake. There are people everywhere. I feel important, like this is all somehow for me. It isn’t just for me, of course—it’s for all the runners who have gathered here today.

Every 30 minutes race headquarters provides athletes with a weather update. We hang on their every word. Our health and goals are in the hands of Mother Nature. It’s going to be 77o at the Start, but it’s expected to heat up along the way. Nothing we can do about it though; just drink plenty of fluids. I get that advice so often from everyone that it starts to annoy me. Of course I’m going to drink fluids! It’s not like I’m going to forget to drink or ignore my thirst!

I wander over to a local cafĂ© and eat some breakfast. I eat a little bit of fruit and bread, but I’m really too nervous to eat. My immediate family knows that whenever I’m nervous, it’s a bad idea for me to eat. I’m just going to end up wasting money on food that I’m only going to nibble.

As the start time approaches, I make the long walk to my corral ½ mile from the Start. I unload my cell phone and over-shirt to one of my friends who is volunteering. I will reclaim those items after the race. I do some stretching (pointless because I haven’t warmed up yet) and apply Vaseline to sensitive areas on my body to prevent chaffing. Trust me. It may seem gross, but it’s better than bleeding profusely at mile 15. You don’t want to scare off the Wellesley girls now do you? They are waiting at mile 13…which is incentive to run at least that far.

X. The Course

Route 135 – 13 miles
Route 16 – 4 miles
Commonwealth Avenue – 8 miles
Hereford Street – .1 miles
Boylston Street – 1.1 miles

XI. The Start

10:00AM – Disabled People’s Start
11:30AM – Elite Women’s Start
12:00PM – Elite Men’s Start & Main Field Start
12:30PM – When runners in the last corral, including us bandits, start.

For us in the back, the Start is anticlimactic. While walking to the start, I pop in 2 Advil. I know I’m going to have problems with my right knee, and I need to dull the pain now. After a 30 minute delay, we cross the Start line, and for better or for worse, we are off.

XII. Miles 1-12: The Hardest Part

Now the race is underway! I feel a mix of emotions. It feels good to finally run the race after 4 years of spectating—instead of being on the outside looking in, I am on the inside looking out. People are wildly cheering for us. The memorable sights and sounds make that first mile fly by. Kids hand you oranges and hose you down. I take advantage of the quick shower at every opportunity to stay cool.

Reality sets in after you complete the first mile and a fan holds up the sign

Only 25 miles to go!

Damn. I almost forgot: this is a long race. Better get out of La-La land and back into reality. La-La land has its uses, but now is not the time. Now I need to make sure that the first few miles go smoothly. I need to pay attention to my body and be aware of anything it tries to tell me. If your body mumbles something now it could scream the same thing at Mile 20.

I am aware of my potential right knee problems, so I decide to put 10% more weight on my left leg to ease the load carried by the right leg (you could picture it as a forced limp). I settle into my 13:00 mile pace immediately. It’s not a hard pace to maintain. Imagine a brisk walk; then go a little faster, and you are jogging slowly—barely shuffling your feet. That is my pace. Nothing to brag about, but I think it will get the job done.

For the first 3-4 miles, I see the same group of people. There is the fit Irishman who is for some reason running with us in the back, the Race Director who is running in his 27th consecutive Marathon, the 3 B.C. girls who are constantly cheerful, and the big guy who was at the hotel with me. Occasionally I pass these people, and occasionally they pass me. It doesn’t matter. We all have the same goal: we want to finish.

Route 135 is rural country. The fans here are top-notch, easily the best on the course. It is a stark contrast to what I will eventually see in Boston, where the fans cheer you on (and scold you when you walk) but don’t have the necessities that really matters: the food and water. The Marathon is clearly the biggest event of the year for the people in these small towns of Hopkinton, Ashland, Newton. I would include Wellesley but I may have Wellesley readers. They have spent hours setting up refreshment booths with water & oranges and making inspirational signs. I’ll tell you, I appreciate all their hours of work. It really makes a huge difference.

The 77o temperature doesn’t bother me too much. More importantly, we have been blessed with a brisk tail-wind blowing from the South West. The course, if you have checked the link provided above, goes North East into Boston. Not only does the tail wind make running easier (you’re putting in what seems like 5% less effort every step), it cools you down. When the wind stops, you feel the full heat of the day.

Once I pass Mile 3, I notice with a substantial degree of embarrassment that I have passed my furthest running distance of the year. The furthest distance I have ever run is 10 miles, which I ran during my Junior Year Marathon training. I have yet 7 miles to go before I pass into uncharted mileage.

Tiredness begins to set in at about Mile 7. The Marathon is run from an elevation of 500 feet to sea level. As we gradually descend, the wind dies down and the temperature heats up. There aren’t as many kids waiting to hose you down as you get further from Hopkinton. I am less than 1/3 done and am already starting to doubt myself. The main thing keeping me going is the Gatorade and water waiting for me at the next fluid replacement station 1 mile away.

I trudge through the next 5 miles. Emotionally, I am at a low; the lowest of any point during the Race. It’s getting hotter as we approach 3pm. The Advil is wearing off and my right knee is becoming harder to ignore. My right shoe is pinching me where I have no arch. The pesky fanny pack I am carrying feels tight around the front of my waist and is making me hunch ever so slightly. It seems like each fluid stand is getting further and further away. To make matters worse, I don’t know how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. Reality, like a desert mirage, is blurred. The woman-runner next to me is of the opinion that we have completed 11 miles. The number painted on the ground clearly says 10. I ask a volunteer manning a fluid station. She says with obvious hesitation “9?” How could you not know?! Your job is to hand out water at this station for 4 hours. Don’t you at least know where on the course you are? Needless to say, I am not in the best of moods right now. It turns out that the number painted on the ground is the correct distance completed. For several miles (between 10 and 14) I actually thought that I was 3 miles closer to the finish than I actually was. Imagine my disappointment when reality added 3 miles to my remaining distance.

I pop in 2 more Advil, only 3 hours after the first dosage. I need to get to Wellesley. Hopefully something there will give me some added motivation. Maybe I can call it quits after a Half-Marathon; still not to shabby for a first time, right??

XIII. Miles 13: Wellesley Square & a New Beginning

Coming up upon Wellesley Square is just what I needed to turn my mental state around. And it’s not just the screaming girls, though I’ll always remember the sign runners see hanging from a lamppost on the left side of the road, ¼ mile from the campus: If you thought it was loud before, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Here’s why Wellesley Square is a symbolic place for runners:

It’s the Halfway Point. You could end here and complete the Half Marathon, no small accomplishment. Fan support picks up dramatically. You veer left onto Route 16. Route 135 started out as quaint, but it becomes tedious and seems endless. This is implicit in a “Halfway Point,” but it is psychologically significant: The amount you have completed is greater than the amount left. Suddenly, the task no longer seems gargantuan or impossible. It’s like becoming a junior in college, or completing page 5 of a 10 page essay. You think, now we’re getting somewhere.

Of course, you have an incentive (wink wink) here to pick up your pace a little. You want to perform a little for the crowd. Over the course of 26.2 miles, it’s not really significant. Maybe you shaved 5 seconds off your time, but it’s fun to speed up for a short stretch.

XIV. Miles 14-20: Success of a New Strategy

For the first 14 miles, I didn’t walk. But I remembered a piece of advice from my Non-Runner’s Guide to Running Marathons book: Walk before you think you need to. My jogging pace was so slow that I realized that I could benefit from some walking. For the entirety of mile 14, I walked. This was my one break during the race. It felt good, but I wondered if I would ever jog again.

Back at Mile 5, I asked those 3 B.C. girls what their strategy was. They said they ran for 5 minutes, and walked for 1. They seemed to be doing just fine with it. I jogged the whole time (being too proud to walk), yet we were always never more than a few minutes apart. I decided to implement their basic strategy. I hadn’t seen them since Mile 7 or so, I wonder what became of them?

My strategy was a little different from theirs. I would jog 4 minutes and walk 2. Anytime I saw an uphill, I would walk. Anytime I saw a downhill, I would jog. When I walked, I would power walk, which is basically walking fast and swinging your arms like a maniac.

The first time I walked, it felt very strange. My mind said walk, my body said jog. Eventually, my body realized that my mind was talking sense and it complied. I was worried that if I started walking I would never jog again. Fortunately this didn’t happen. Walking helped clear the lactic acid out of my sore muscles so that when it was time to run, I could run faster.

This was an important point for me. For the first time, at about Mile 18, I was confident that I would finish. I had a strategy that felt good and I only had 8 miles left! My spirits soared and I started to run with a smile. I even conversed with my fellow runners (within reason) and I joked a little with the spectators.

Around Mile 19, some spectators said

“There’s beer at the finish!” I asked, “Yeah, but is there any whiskey?!”
“We have some right here!”

At Mile 20, the big Two-O, I was treated to a welcome surprise. In order to prepare the runners for the upcoming Heartbreak Hill, the volunteers were holding out PowerGels in addition to the usual Gatorade and water. PowerGels are a poor-testing, gooey, fruit flavored substance packed with proteins and carbs. But they provide you with instant energy. The two guys on our Peru trip carried PowerGels and it seemed to help them a lot.

Best of all, the heat had subsided. It was now in the high 70s, low 80s. With the wind, it was downright pleasant. Heck, I was even having fun! I remembered that when things are going right, running can be fun. Sure my legs still hurt, but it was bearable and I was so close to the end now.

XV. Mile 21-25: Not so Fast

I may have celebrated prematurely. I was still confident I would finish, but 6 miles is still 6 miles, and they ain’t gonna run themselves.

I made the left turn onto Commonwealth Ave. The scenery was strikingly different from that of the early afternoon on Route 135. Trees and old houses were replaced by classic Boston buildings. I was now in familiar territory, and it felt good. For those California folks reading this, it feels like this: you’re driving home from L.A. and you get onto 101 N. You’re not home yet, you still have an hour to go, but you’re in familiar territory. You might as well be home. Except you’re not home yet. Just a little further to go. But now that you’ve had a little taste of home, you want the real thing, but the real thing is 6 miles away.

Out of the blue, I saw 2 of the B.C. girls from early in the race. I asked them where there their friend was, the third in their group. With a shrug they replied, “Mile 13.” Even in the first half of the race, I noticed the 3rd runner slowing them down. I guess she decided to call it quits after 13 miles, or maybe she got injured. I said, “I want to take a picture with you guys at the Finish!” “Sure!” they replied, but I unfortunately never saw them again since I had my own issues to attend to at the Finish.

The route on Commonwealth Ave follows the Green Line (for those of you familiar with the T subway system). We actually follow the Green Line from its terminus in Brookline almost all the way to the finish in Copley Square. At this point, I notice myself breathing harder. Breathing hadn’t been a problem previously since I wasn’t running particularly fast. Now I was breathing heavily purely out of tiredness. I looked at my reflection in the window panes of passing shops: I must have looked ghastly to the spectators, I thought. Oh well, nothing that a hot shower couldn’t fix.

The final stretch was memorable:

First we pass Boston College on the right.

A few miles later we pass Boston University on the left.

Less than a mile later we see historic Fenway Park on the right.

Shortly afterwards I’m in Kenmore Square, across from the fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa, the place where I had watched the Marathon the previous 4 years. I couldn’t believe I was here at this very same spot, 25 miles excruciating miles later, this time as an athlete and not as a spectator. I remember being at this spot cheering runners on by saying “Only 1 mile to go! You can do it!” My own words from those previous Marathons came back not to haunt me, but to motivate me. Apparently I only have 1 mile to go!

XVI. Miles 25-26, or thereabouts: Hereford Street

Hereford Street?? Hereford Street!?! What the HELL is this? I thought I was finished! It turns out that the Boston Marathon doesn’t end on Commonwealth Ave. It ends on Boylston Street. But to get to Boylston from Commonwealth, you need to take a right turn onto Hereford and then a left onto Boylston.

Cursing out loud? Yelling at an inanimate object like a poor, defenseless street? I had to accept that at this point I was a little delusional. But just a little.

XVII. Mile 26, or thereabouts: Boylston Street

I made the left turn onto Boylston Street. There, in the distance, like an oasis in the desert, was the Finish. The word Finish was painted in yellow, with blue background. There was an arch above the Finish for spectators to get a better vantage point.

Just to prove that the Course hadn’t beaten me, that it was visa versa, I summoned every ounce of remaining energy and sprinted (whatever I could manage at that time). The crowd roared back with approval.

XVIII. Mile 26.2: The Finish

6 hours and 20 minutes after I crossed the Starting Line in Hopkinton, I crossed the Finish Line in Copley Square, Boston.

After I crossed I received congratulations from strangers in the crowd. I thanked them. I realized that I hadn’t taken a picture of the Finish Line. I spun around to go back. Something didn’t feel right. I dropped my camera. I felt dizzy. I tried to pick up the camera but I could steady myself. I spun around some more.

Spectators yelled for a medic. I said I didn’t need one, that I was fine. But I was wrong and I knew it. I picked up my camera and started hobbling along. I limped straight to the Red Cross tent. I pushed my way through the crowd who had gathered outside of the tent; they undoubtedly had friends or relatives inside the tent, but couldn’t go inside to check on them.

Stand aside. I’m a runner.

I made my way to the tent entrance.

“I need help,” was all I could muster. Why I couldn’t I speak properly?
“What’s the problem?”
“…Feeling dizzy…Can’t walk.” Why did it take me so long to get a simple sentence out of my mouth?
“Are you a runner?”
“Did you finish?”
“…Yes...” You’re damn right I did. What did you expect??
“What’s your number?”
“…I don’t have one...”

I thought I was entitled to a little ego trip. I put my arms around two Red Cross volunteers while I waited for the wheelchair. Once it came they wheeled me into the tent.

XIX. The Red Cross Tent

It was time for me to be pampered like the invalid that I was. I loved every minute. They wheeled me into a spot in the fifth row. I had my vitals taken; didn’t look to bad to me.

Temperature: 97o
Blood Pressure: 100 over 70
Oxygen: 99%

They put an oxygen mask around me for about 10 minutes and then left me alone. During this time I observed the tent. It was humungous. There were about 5 rows of sick runners. Each row had over 100 runners. It looked like we were in the middle of a war zone. I had seen Red Cross tents every mile on the course, but THIS was the Grand Daddy of all Red Cross tents. Seriously injured runners who stopped during the course were bussed to this station.

I was in the back row. The guy directly across from me, in the next row, looked like he was in bad shape. Whereas I was sitting in my wheelchair, he was lying down on a cot with blankets over him. He was also being given an IV. Hey, I could use an IV! I want one too! But this guy was clearly worse than me. Nothing was really wrong with me, I was tired but I couldn’t walk or stand on my own. Every 10 minutes he would sit up, lean over and throw up. Sounds to me like he over-exerted himself in quest of a certain Marathon time. I can understand that, he knew the consequences of pushing himself and did it anyway: more power to him.

They switched me to a one of those oxygen things that go directly into your nostrils. I actually like this one more. The nurse came over and talked to me. She said I had the usual problems: dehydration, cramping, etc. But I was also in anaphylactic shock for the first ½ hour after finishing. That was why it took me so long to respond to questions, and that’s why I couldn’t put coherent sentences together. Cool. Now I can say that I’ve been in shock, real shock.

The pampering continued. I was given a bag of potato chips and Gatorade. Salt apparently settles your stomach after an ordeal like this. While I was enjoying my snack, they brought in a guy and set him next to me. He had finished the race, went back to his hotel, and then came back complaining of chest pain. As soon as he said that, out came the EKG and a whole host of aides. He was gonna be fine. They loaded him on a stretcher and got him into an ambulance.

Meanwhile, I was doing fine. It was 8pm, and they said to us runners, “You have 2 choices. Either you walk out of here or you go to the hospital.” So my two aides wanted me to try to walk. I painfully got up with their help. I tried to take a few steps on my own but almost fell in the process. Since I couldn’t walk on my own, it was hospital time for me. They loaded me onto a stretcher. While I was waiting for the ambulance, the medal guy came around. He was distributing medals to official runners in the tent who hadn’t picked up their medals. They were supposed to trade in their timing chips for the medal.

“Did you get a medal?”
“Here you go.”

Either he thought that I was an official runner who didn’t remember his number or I was a bandit and he didn’t care. I got my medal. It was sweet. They loaded me in the ambulance, where I got out of the stretcher and sat on the bench. They also loaded in a 57-year old woman and a Marine who had run the Marathon with a 35 lb pack on his back. Then we were off to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

XX. Beth Israel Deaconess Emergency Room

The pampering continued at BID hospital. We arrived in style, straight to the ER, the VIP entrance. No lines, no hassle.

I got my IV. I feel important when I get an IV. I also got a sandwich, chips, and a Coke. I chatted with the lady in the stretcher next to me. She had run 27 previous marathons, starting at age 40, running about 2 per year. On her resume were LA Marathons, San Diego, the Rock N Roll Marathon, San Francisco, New York, The Marine Core, and now the King of the all, the Boston Marathon. She said that she should have stopped earlier in the race, but she finished and then sought help.

The nurse on duty diagnosed my problem very accurately: “Dehydration, cramping, and general post-marathon crappiness.”

I went the bathroom three times (I had drunk a lot of fluids during the last 7 hours) and felt great. They gave me crutches, signed me out, and I took a taxi home after an hour. I couldn’t call home and ask for a ride because I gave my cell phone to my friend at the Start, ages ago, remember?

XXI. Post Marathon Bliss

I needed crutches for a full week. Even afterwards, I walked gingerly and almost fell several times. It turns out that my strategy to shift more weight onto my left leg to spare my right knee, during the race, had severely weakened my left leg’s hamstring. It was very unreliable for a while. I didn’t run again for 2 ½ weeks. I spent the next 2 days at home, sleeping in the living room, watching T.V., and enjoying invalid life. I got a ride to school either by taxi or from a friend. I would walk to school a few times to try to exercise the muscles.

I also ordered the official Boston Marathon jacket from I spent over $100 on it, but it was well worth it. I’ve always admired that jacket and all that it stands for. In previous years, when I saw people walking around with that jacket, I looked at them with awe, admiration, and, yes, envy. Now I was part of that club, and it felt great. I received congratulations from my family, friends, and school acquaintances. After 4 years of wanting to, I had achieved my goal. I ran the Boston Marathon and I lived to tell my story.

XXII. The Future

Now, I am back into the running mode. I run 3-4 times a week, between 3-5 miles a workout. I am contemplating the New York Marathon on November 3rd. It’s no Boston, but I hear it’s pretty good. I would like to run the Boston again next year, but this time, with a number. I’m not fast enough to qualify, but I can get a number if I run for a charity. Even that’s hard, it’s like a lottery. One thing is certain. If I plan to run a Marathon in the future, I will train for it.
I don’t think this is my last Marathon. I hope it’s not. The whole process is fun, but it has its consequences. If I had run faster and exerted myself, I would have opened myself up to more problems (like the other runners in the tent). From now on, during my prime (20s-40s) any Marathon that I run will have some time goal attached to it. With time goals comes the possibility of over-exertion, but you have to weigh that against the inexplicable joy of beating the time that you had set for yourself. I’ll take that bet because I hold this attitude: the Marathon will always be a success if I finish.

XXIII. Impossible is Nothing

Yes, in life, there are physical limits. But sometimes those limits that you think are physical…are really mental. Sometimes, it’s both. All I know is that you have to spend as much time conquering the mental barrier as you do the physical barrier. This requires some honest self-evaluation and criticism, but the result is usually good.

There’s a quote from Adidas (official sponsor of the Marathon) that I have come to swear by. It’s all over the T stops on the Green Line, especially near Copley Square. I believe this quote from Adidas applies to whatever task is “Marathonesque” to you. Maybe it’s completing a degree. Or getting that job. Or overcoming that illness. Maybe it’s running 3 miles, or 5, or 10. Or maybe it’s the Marathon itself.

Impossible is just a big word thrown around my small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A New Path

Hello everyone and welcome to my new blog, Letter of Marque. A special welcome to readers of Rickety Rickshaw and Shuttle Diplomacy. I start this blog at an interesting point in my life as I take my life and career in a new direction.

I graduated college in 2004 with degrees in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Management Science. After several college internships in IT, I started my first full-time job in investment banking at Dresdner Kleinwort in New York. Pretty soon I realized that investment banking was not for me (the hours, work environment, even the work itself) so I left that job and joined SAP in Palo Alto, California. I spent 2 great years in Palo Alto and got a lot of good Sales & Marketing experience. I then transferred to the SAP office in Gurgaon, India to start the same marketing program that we were running in the US, in India. I spent a little more than a year doing this in India, while travelling, exploring the country, and also starting the India chapter of HealthCare Volunteer. In October 2008, just a few months ago, however, I quit SAP so that I could start a Masters of Biotechnology program at the University of Pennsylvania.

When I tell people what I will be doing come January, I often see puzzled expressions on their faces. I have never worked for a healthcare company nor do I have an educational background in this area. But, I do have some reasons for making this switch:
  1. Passion for healthcare
  2. Wanted to work in an emerging industry
  3. Wanted to use my engineering background
  4. May want to work for a smaller company, many innovative healthcare startups out there
  5. Felt it was time for a change
  6. Wanted to go back to school
Thus I will be leaving for Philadelphia in a few weeks. I still need to find an apartment (in a safe area of Philadelphia, which recently made the list of 10 most dangerous cities in America). I have also registered for 3 classes: Biochemistry, Engineering Biotechnology, and Biotech / Genetic Engineering Lab. If possible I will add Statistics to my course load. I will also be on the lookout for a part-time job, though with 3 or 4 classes I might not have enough time. If not during the Spring term, I will try to get a summer internship at some sort of a healthcare company. Of course, I will continue to be involved in HealthCare Volunteer while I'm in Philadelphia.

I hear the East Coast is having a rough winter - but hey, I spent 6 years in Boston & New York and I still have my heavy Lands End jacket. And after a year in India, I would rather deal with cold than heat. So bring it on!
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