In the morning, my son walked me to the bus station. From the questions I asked the night before about the transportation, he got the impression I did not get it. A bus and a train took me to the start area at the Queen Elizabeth Park. Unlike in other marathons, I went to a tent for the 'Platinum Runners', called so not because we were faster or elite runners, but because we paid $100 more than others. I found a chair to sit on to make final preparation. There were coffee and water to drink and warm-up mats to stretch.
The start area was not more than10 m away from the tent. Fresh light-green spring foliage was all around us. The sky was azure. Temperature was 11 ?C, perfect for running. Standing there, I visualized the long run ahead and the finish line in Vancouver downtown. After the national anthem, we started moving. Vancouver Marathon was no longer a circled date on my desk calendar; it was on a Vancouver street. It was becoming a reality. The course would take me through or by 12 communities, three beaches, three parks, including the gem of Vancouver, the Stanley Park, with its 9 km long Seawall built to prevent erosion by the Pacific.
To my disappointment, I noted that the heart-rate monitor was not displaying anything. The watch and the chest wrap were adding weights and discomforts for nothing, during the entire marathon. I needed to be at a target heart-rate zone, so as not to over-stress the stent and the heart, the nurse at the rehabilitation centre tried to impress upon me. I had no other option but to improvise and rely on so-called perceived effort.
Fresh green leaves and mildly-scented blossoms in the midst of sun and shadow made me feel sprightly when I was running through the Vancouver communities. Vancouver in spring and summer is heavenly. But in fall and winter it is what the antonym of heavenly is. The word 'heavenly' became a frequent muttering during the marathon, even when I had a tiring spell. The sun was getting hotter, as the race matured. As the course was changing directions, the sun was kissing the bare skins. I rotated the cap such that the visor became a deterrent to the sun's advances. I also reminded myself to take the sports drink or water at each station to prevent dehydration. Proper hydration was doubly important for me: to prevent muscle cramps and blood thickening.
The Camosun Hill, the steepest hill on the course, appeared at 10 km. I reminded myself that I had done tougher hills in much tougher conditions of: Mount Everest (thin air); Inca Trail (thunder storm); and Boston Marathon (Heartbreak Hill). The hill training I had done on the treadmill and outdoors on Calgary streets made me run the 1.5 km long hill rather easily. I noted several runners were walking up the hill. There is no penalty or disqualification for walking in a marathon, although too much walking means later finish.
There were salt tablets and Power Gels in my waist belt pouches. The S7 was clipped onto the belt, but it was a bit bulky for the belt, I noted. So I rotated the belt so as to place the phone on the natural recess in my lower back, where it was more comfortable and stable.
After the first 15 km of excitement, I was feeling the run and the sun. 'Resilient. Tenacious,' I kept repeating those words loudly to myself. 'You can do it,' a young female voice from my right startled me. She knew what I was doing: encouraging myself through difficult times. I knew what she was doing: encouraging herself by encouraging me.
The half-point of the course was reached, without much distress or congestion in the chest. I was pleased to read 2 hours 15 minutes on the time board. I had another 4 hours 45 minutes before the cut-off time. I took the S7 out for the first time and asked a volunteer to take a picture. I then sent an email to my family and friends. My batch mate, Sumiya and BUET Alumni President and my son were following my progress on Internet, I would know later. In a marathon, reaching the half-point is a significant milestone for me. Before it, I tend to think about running in smaller increments of 5 km or so. After it, I think in larger increments of 10 km or so. That makes the second half less daunting than the first.
At around 32 km, I felt a spasm in my right calf that appeared and disappeared in an instant. It reminded me of a jolt I felt at BUET Ahsanullah Hall in 1967, when I was poking, rather absent-mindedly, the electrical cord of my table lamp with the pointed metal end of a geometry-box tool used for drawing circles. I knew the spasm in Vancouver was a warning for something more serious to follow. It could be due to lack of hydration and/or lower level of sodium or potassium in the blood due to excessive sweating. I thought about ingesting another salt tablet. But I had only four and I had taken them all already. To make things worse, the next water-station ran out of cups to drink water from. The throbbing in the calf became more frequent. I saw a medical station and sat on a chair assuming help would be on the way. Sitting made the cramps worse. I felt a painful muscle pull. I asked the young man at the station to help. Rather than providing any treatment, he offered me a transport to the city. I knew what that meant. The end of my marathon! I stood up on one foot, not pleased with his marathon-ending solution to the problem. I then heard him saying, 'You are welcome!' a rebuke to my being rude for not saying 'thank you'. If he had run a marathon, he would have known how demoralizing it is for a marathon runner not to finish. I would rather crawl than ride a car to the finish. And time was on my side in Vancouver. I murmured and kept walking and running gingerly. One toe-nail on the right foot was rubbing against the shoe and was fighting for attention. With two competing attention-seekers in my body, the brain ignored the less serious one and concentrated on the cramping problem. It is akin to the emergency admission in Calgary hospitals, where the nurse decides which patient deserves immediate attention and who can wait. I thought about the severe cramps I had experienced on the Heartbreak Hill in Boston in 2010, for the first time after ten years of running. Recalling that I was still able to finish Boston in a decent time, gave me hope while running along the Seawall around Stanley Park. I also took it easy, stopping and taking pictures whenever I felt like.
(To be continued)
Tapan Chakrabarty, a BUET chemical engineer with a PhD from the University of Waterloo, a seven-continent marathon finisher, an inventor and innovator, and a columnist, writes from Calgary, Canada