It was about 9:45 am.
The weather in Mumbai had been pleasant until 9 am. But now, the sun was out. Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that the last 5 km are the most excruciating.
That is when your mind plays tricks. It colludes with a broken body. It whispers that you can’t do it. You shouldn’t.
And here I was, at the last 2 km. There was a time around the 35th km, cresting a hill that I felt I would give up. Somehow, a friend’s words came through that despair, and I pushed on.
My friend in Dublin has got up early. She calls me, chattering non-stop. I can’t speak. At some point, I tell her to stop the chatter.
“Just say “come on”” I mumble. My legs are numb.
And so she does.
Just like that, I cross the finish line. This marathon that I wasn’t supposed to run.
I was numbed. The pain and joy, the fleeting incandescence of it. Isn’t that what makes us, us?
A month ago, it hadn’t seemed possible to run 42km.
Yet, there I was, after 2 double-strength painkillers, still standing.
This ended up being my fastest marathon. (I don’t share timings because I vowed once to never allow the competitive nature of running get to me again)
A marathon that left me dazed by the iridescent nature of life, the enduring fragility of it, and the motley bunch of people who somehow make your torn parts theirs.
In utter total awe at what this body can do for us. At what the mind is capable of.
I didn’t run alone. I ran with Grade II Chondromalacia, Morton’s Neuroma, a tiny lateral meniscus tear, a chronic IBS flare-up that resulted in me being dehydrated with diarrhea for a week prior (and the day before), a missing toenail, one blackened toenail, and Covid-weakened lungs with 900ml capacity compared to the standard 2,000 ml.
This is not to say how amazing I am. It’s an acknowledgement of all that the body does for us.
My body might never run a marathon again. I tried running 1km last week without painkillers, and there it was – that familiar pain. Nails in my knee. That’s what it feels like. I don’t know if I will run again.
For now, I have this memory of running. There are mornings when I get up, and feel that longing. To just move. To take my mind and its familiar tortures with me. To run because it’s glorious to run.
But I will dream of running again even as I work on my knee. I think of Rohan Bopanna, whose knee is like mine – worn out with no cartilage – and think, perhaps, I can do it too. There’s a whisper of a new dream.
The medal from the Mumbai Marathon may mean a lot of things. Right now, it means that I can still dream.
They come true. Some take longer to come true.