Soon I was running toward a fast-approaching but yet-to-be-seen finish gate at the foot of the SOH. The sounds of cheering and clapping by strangers were becoming louder. And, to my left, the seagulls' density was getting higher. I did not speed up like I normally do when the finish line is nearer, in case I missed someone calling out my name from the crowd. There were a few alumni and their spouses, including mine, who would be eagerly waiting to see this runnerthrough.
To my supporters, I was no ordinary runner, though!
At 64, I was running my 29th marathon in Sydney. And that was my fourth marathon in six months in 2014, having run 28 marathons since 2000, of which four were adventure marathons, six in Europe and 18 in North America, including the prestigious Boston that requires both speed and stamina to pre-qualify. In the process, I ran all five major marathons in the world: Boston (twice), New York City, Chicago, Berlin, and London. In 2011, I ran four marathons in four months, thereby becoming a member of the Marathon Maniacs Club.
Lacking speed, for which I did not train for since the last Boston in 2011, I might look ordinary in Sydney, but I was blessed with endurance of hardship, the latter since birth-a birth in rural BD, with no spoon, so to speak, in mouth.
Accompanied by a few other runners, I was by then stomping on the board walk along the harbour. I knew I was going to receive in a few minutes something which would make some runners swoon over and look at me, first with jealousy, as if I got something they deserved more, but then with envy, when they would know why, and then wishing they could do it too.
They would know that Sydney was my seventh and last continent marathon to achieve the goal of running marathons in all seven continents-a dream not too many would dare to dream, and a dream a fraction of those few would be able to bring to fruition, not so much because of the degree of difficulty as for not having the wherewithal: financial and mental.
My finish in Sydney would bring in two medals: one for the Sydney Marathon and the other for finishing marathons in seven continents.
I was also running to make history, as communicated to others through emails by Dr JRC and Mr Syed Masood, the President of BUET Alumni Association in Sydney, who and another BUET alumnus, Ms Saniya Sharmeen, also from Sydney, were there in the finish area with a BUET alumni banner. I would be the first of BD origin to have accomplished it, as another alumnus, Dr Khaliqur Rahman (Toronto, Canada), also discovered from his independent web browsing.
So the pressure was on me. Deliver I must!
My goal that day was not to do anything that would aggravate the cramping I felt on my right calf in the last three marathons, and not to make the pain on the outer side of the left knee-cap intolerable. I put three KT tapes on the left knee, following a YouTube demo by the tape manufacturer. To reduce cramping, I put on a pair of ankle-to-below-knee compression socks. During the run, I drank more water and electrolyte drinks than I normally do. The result was good, from the start to the water front that was not far away from the finish gate, with occasional tiny spasms on the tender calfand no increased pain in the left knee. For the rest of the way, I would like it to be that way.
A run that started under the north side of the Harbour Bridge in the early morning in cold and wet weather, and was soon to be finished at the Opera House ground in a sunny blue sky, was a fitting end to my completing marathons in seven continents.
The presence of Dr Mushfiq (Melbourne BUET Alumni President) and Mrs Tora Rahman, and my wife MC at the early morning start took the pre-run stress off me, as we were busy talking about the faulty ticket machines at the Town Hall train station and the chaos it created, forcing me to leave alone (runners were allowed free ride) with a tee-shirt and a short, and then put on a jacket and a zippered vest (to cover my feet) left on a fence by runners who had already started for shorter events; and taking pictures of each other.
Unlike in other marathons where I needed to sing Tagore songs to take my mind off the looming ordeal, in Sydney I was relatively stress free. After doing so many adventure marathons, two of them in 2014 in Antarctica and Entabeni Game Reserve in South Africa, I felt more at ease in a well-supported normal city marathon that Sydney was.
In some way, finishing Sydney for achieving the seven continents goal would be akin to a biker finishing the Tour de France, in which the winner had already been decided before the last leg of biking to Champs-Elysees. But the Sydney Marathon was still 42.2 km on foot and, unlike the TDF, there would be no peloton-that decreases the drag by as much as 40 per cent-to help me out. And not to mention that my body had been pushed to the limit, as that was my fourth marathon in six months.
Doing four marathons in six months at 64? 'Unthinkable' wrote one supporter. 'Mind-blowing' described another. 'Don't worry, I did four in four months in 2011,' assured the runner.
But it would have been daunting even to me-before 2000 when I started marathon running.
For a kid who had been sick and had to carry pillows and pills for writing one-chance-only board exams back in BD, running one marathon would have been unimaginable then. But I surprised myself and others, who knew me from young age, by running not one but 28 since age 50, and then including four adventure marathons in the mix: Antarctica, Mount Everest, Big Five, and Inca Trail, alarming a few alumni close to the family. For the Seven Continents goal, I did not have to run the last three adventure marathons, as there were easier city marathons available for those.
Very few knew where I came from, what I endured, what I did to survive, what trait I had since teen age and what lessons I learnt at a young age that helped me as a runner later at age 50 and beyond, and why I continue to run.
As a fourteen year old studying for an important exam in one morning at rural Matlab, I could not read. Not that I did not know how to, but simply could not. The brain got stuck, like a wheel spinning in one spot in mud or heavy snow. It did happen before. But that morning, getting frustrated, I crashed a tea cup on the compacted-soil floor, to the shock of my mother. I heard a voice from within. I got up from the wooden bed which I had to use in place of a chair to sit down, with my books laid over a long school-bench acting as a table-an improvisation forced by need. I kept on running barefoot through the village, making my jobless widow mother, whose survival depended on my doing well in studies and getting a job as a typist or something like that, alarmed and scream. The dogs, Tiloki and Jontu, stood up in the yard with a quizzical look in their eyes; and the crows fluttered away from my way where they were sorting out food from debris with their beaks. I ran and ran to the south, past the new school hostel, then past the old school (main) hostel on the unpaved road to Chandpur town. Out of breath and with a growling empty stomach, I stopped after a while and walked back to the bed and bench to start from the page which was still open.
That was my first taste of the therapeutic value of running.r
Tapan Chakrabarty, first Bangladeshi to
complete marathons in all continents, writes from Calgary, Canada. The next instalment will appear tomorrow