Editor's note: TeamAIDAsha training program is targeted towards runners with zero or very little running experience. Nikhil already had some experience before joining. That helped him set and achieve a higher goal compared to most of the first-time marathoners.
Fast-forward fifteen years, and this fairly quick but easily tired kid hasn’t run at all in about a decade and avoids breaking a sweat if he can, and is now a slightly chubby, pretty lazy young adult in grad school with a desk job and a two-hour round trip commute which doesn’t leave much time for anything else. But I wanted to shed about thirty pounds and had a vague sense buzzing around the back of my head that, well, you never see an out-of-shape runner. However, this was also the winter that Boston got hit with a foot of fresh snow every weekend so going outside wasn’t really an option, until one Saturday in mid-April when you could finally see the sidewalk, and I decided I needed to get out of the house or I’d lose my mind. I ran-walked about four miles up the road in jeans and felt like I was dying every step of the way. But when I finally got home an hour later, it was with a feeling of accomplishment, power, and capability that was entirely new and completely intoxicating. When you never really consider that your body and mind might be capable of a feat of endurance, it’s a highly pleasant surprise when you discover that it is, in fact, able to do those things that you always envied in the other kids. That feeling lasts much longer than the pain. Something clicked and I decided this was a thing I should stick with—and maybe just plan and pace myself better next time.
I started with miles, and then over the summer worked up to three, four, and five miles at a time. I used a training program I found in the RunKeeper app to keep me accountable (because I’m one of those people who doesn’t want to disappoint his phone), which introduced the concepts of intervals and fartleks. I traveled out to British Columbia to visit my mom and ran up and down small mountains. Every step felt like murder but I could feel each run getting better and just a little bit faster than the last time, and came to relish the hurts-so-good the pain at the end. By the end of the summer I was running 5Ks and setting personal records and by the end of the year I was able to go eleven miles nonstop.
The following year, I’d quit my job, was in grad school full time, and my wife and I attended a South Asian festival one weekend. We randomly came across a Team AIDAsha booth (and by this point I’m one of those obnoxious runners who never passes up an opportunity to talk about running). I’d said at the time that I had no desire to run a marathon, but I was on the verge of running my first half, and “no desire” shortly became “well, maybe just once.” However, having done fairly well at a half without much rigorous training, at the thought of doing that twice back to back, it was obvious I’d need a little more motivation and structure. I’d never considered training with a group before, but decided the following spring I’d go check it out and see if it was for me.
What a difference a group makes. Not only can you find some people to pace you but you can collectively bask in accomplishment or wallow in misery. Plus you’re no longer the only weirdo who constantly talks about running. The psychological fortitude to complete a marathon is the same fortitude that gets you up at 7 am to run in the rain, and the group gets you at 7 am to run in the rain (because people are going to notice if you don’t show up). Group training turned out to the boost needed to get over the hump of tackling that idealized racing distance: the marathon. All they needed in return was fundraising.
I hate fundraising. At least I thought I did. Like marathon training, it was something I’d never really done before, aside from guilting my parents into buying wrapping paper or fruit baskets for school. And doing it with the group made it seem easy—after all, everyone else was doing it so we could commiserate about the fundraising pain just like the running pain. The experienced fundraisers had their prescribed steps to follow but left a lot of room to try new things. What I did was buy a GoPro camera, and since I was traveling a lot that summer, I made videos of the long runs I did in various places around the world to keep my friends and family updated on my training. It was actually a lot of fun, plotting running routes on three different continents and making videos, even choosing background songs. I can still watch the videos and look back and think, with some level of amazement, how I actually enjoyed the training. There are those moments, like running past the Eiffel Tower at dawn on the first day of autumn, that are truly unforgettable. And that, plus spreading the word among family and work colleagues got the money raised, and even got me a thank you card at Christmas from Asha Boston.
By race day in October, I’d just squeaked above the fundraising goal. On race day, I completed the distance in a time I was very pleased with, for a first marathon. I doubt my thirteen-year-old self would believe it’s possible.
I say “first” marathon, and maybe marathoning makes you crazy, because the next one’s just a couple months away, as of this writing, which requires training through the New England winter, snow and wind and all. And I’m fundraising for that one too (it’s going a little bit slower; maybe I tapped out my friends and family on the last one). And the guy who’d gone from “self-injure to get out of running” to “never run if I can avoid it” to “not doing a marathon” to “maybe just one” is now considering what it would take to set a PR in Berlin and qualify for Boston and run 26.2 on every continent.*
(*Yes, including Antarctica—after doing an 18 mile training run in 3 foot drifts and a -18°F windchill, the Antarctic Ice Marathon doesn’t seem entirely out of reach. See? Crazy. I’m thinking about an ultra. Maybe just one.)