My journey of self-discovery – by Sajni Shah
Mary Kay Ash once said:
‘There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.’
When I made my dream come true running the streets of London on Sunday 26th April 2015, I certainly knew who I was.
Running had been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I feel as though I’m almost addicted, and yes, many of my friends think I’m crazy for it! From a young age, I ran in school cross-countries and always did the 800m on sports days. In 2004, I was invited to run the Flora London Mini-Marathon for the Hillingdon Borough; 2.65miles, which I spent weeks training for. That was my first real experience of racing amongst hundreds of runners and I had never experienced an atmosphere quite like that on the streets of London before that day. Since then, I have been encouraged by my Uncle, who has been a huge running inspiration to me, to sign up for greater challenges. 10km, 10miles and half-marathons soon followed, and every time I felt my body was entering this new dimension, and I was capable of pushing myself further and further. I think it’s safe to say that my body didn’t always thank me, but it didn’t stop me from coming back for more. I knew I had caught the running bug. So why do I do it? To me, it is the perfect cocktail of freedom, self-discipline, and great fitness.
Over the years, I had a bigger goal in mind, something that would be the hardest and most rewarding challenge I embark on, but most importantly, a life-changing experience; I signed up for the Virgin Money London Marathon 2015. Getting there was no easy ride; I had a place for the 2014 Marathon and had trained up to 17 miles, only to be forced to defer my entry after suffering a badminton injury. Feeling frustrated was an understatement of my emotions after all that hard training, but it made me more focused than ever for the following year, and 2015 was going to be my year.
The start of an incredible journey
My marathon training officially started in November 2014. I joined a running group called ‘Stanmore-Active’ and we did our endurance runs together every Sunday morning for 6 months. Many of the runners were first-time marathon runners, just like myself, so it was great to be able to share the experience together. I had my first injury only after my second training run; my knee was giving me trouble and I suffered afterwards. I had a history of knee problems, as with most runners, and was wearing a knee support. After plenty of rest and religiously doing knee strengthening exercises that had been recommended by my physiotherapist, I managed to do 12 miles with no knee support and almost pain-free! As the mileage increased every week, different parts of my body were aching with every run; I suffered pain from my lower back, shoulders and Achilles tendon; I stayed focused and after a while, it was almost as though my body had just adapted to my long-distance running and accepted that I was going to put it through much worse in the weeks to come!
Training well under way
Soon enough, the 7am Sunday starts were becoming routine. I looked forward to a different challenge every week. The running routes were fantastic and I had made some great friends. The training was going really well, and I started to tell all my family and friends that I was going to run the London Marathon, and started my fundraising soon after. I was raising money for ‘One Cause,’ a charity that raises money for education in developing countries. With our longer runs, we had the advantage of having support cars every 6-7 miles. Family and friends of runners supplied us with plenty of fuel and encouragement to help us keep going! The excitement was really kicking in, and I couldn’t wait for the big day to arrive! Unfortunately, this feeling didn’t last long, and at the end of March I hit the lowest point in my training.
It was during my peak run when I ran 23 miles in 4 hours of constant heavy rain, that I felt a pain shooting up my left leg. I didn’t think much of it and continued to run. I was feeling really uncomfortable by the end but still completed it. As with most of my runs, I thought the pain would ease off with rest and I would feel much better the next day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I struggled to walk the next day and over the next 2 weeks could not manage to run more than a mile. I was panicking, frustrated, angry and felt completely helpless. By this point, I had trained for nearly 6 months, had raised hundreds for charity, and was so close to achieving my dream. So why did this happen now? Why to me? I could not understand.
The Sunday before the marathon, I knew I had to do my training run because otherwise my body would be in for a huge shock on the big day. I needed that confidence to be able to run, because instead of feeling excited like everybody else, I felt nervous and anxious, not knowing the full limitations of my injury. I focused my mind to the one goal I had dedicated myself to achieving. I saw a Consultant in Orthopaedics who advised me that I had injured my ITB (ilio-tibial band) and that I should rest, take anti-inflammatories, and ice the area. I followed his instructions and also continued to do exercises for my ITB injury. My family and friends could sense my frustration, and the support I got then onwards was absolutely over-whelming. I received so many messages of reassurance and encouragement that lifted me mentally, and kept me motivated.
I used KT tape for my ITB on that Sunday morning, and to my huge relief, managed to run 9 miles pain-free. This was the confidence I needed to tackle the 26.2 miles the following week.
The day before the big day
Nerves were kicking in now, but they were good nerves, not like the ones I had had 2 weeks before. Today was the day of our ‘pasta party.’ There were a total of about 65 people, including the runners and support cars of ‘Stanmore-Active.’ We had made all the carbohydrate dishes at home and had a great, fun-filled afternoon of eating, motivational talks and plenty of pre-race day photos!
The big day
The morning of the 35th London Marathon had finally arrived. I was up at 5:15am after having a fairly restless night of sleep. I had butterflies in my stomach and struggled through a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea. I made sure I had everything with me, most importantly my running number and my pace tag attached to my running shoe. I then set off on the London Underground where I joined the rest of my running group. There was a great buzz about that morning. The tube carriages were packed and there were smiles on everyone’s faces. Soon enough we were at Greenwich Park, and were getting ready to line up at the start. There had been a little drizzle that morning and there was no sunshine around; fairly good conditions for the runners. Quick as a flash, the gun went off, and I set off to join 38, 000 runners on the streets of London for a 26.2 mile adventure.
I set my pace watch and felt more energised than ever. All the runners cheered as we crossed the ‘1 mile’ mark, and the crowds were shouting ‘not long to go!’ We all knew this was of course not true, but just laughed it off and just kept running. I was with 2 of my friends for approximately 14 miles. The crowds were phenomenal and the music was completely up-lifting! The sound of the Japanese drums echoing at 5/6 miles and the roar of the ‘One Cause’ support group near Cutty Sark boosted my energy. The atmosphere was absolutely over-whelming and I was having the time of my life!
At 14 miles, I started to feel some discomfort in my right leg. I decided to slow down because I knew I still had a long road ahead. This was the first point where I separated from my friends. I re-fuelled myself at every opportunity with Lucozade drinks and gels. The discomfort soon turned into pain, and I knew it was coming from my quadriceps. I had not had this trouble before, and did not want to stop. Several people had started walking by this point, and many were getting massages on the side. I just thought if I stop now, I wouldn’t be able to start running again. I persevered but with a lot of difficulty, especially when my hamstrings on the same leg started hurting too. I really felt I should stop but my mind wouldn’t let me. I kept thinking of all the months of training, all the people that had sponsored me, and numerous messages and good-luck cards from people that really believed in me; this kept me going.
‘Pain is temporary. Pride is forever’ ~ Lisa Sugarman
By 18 miles though, I was really struggling. I was at my lowest point mentally, and I think this showed; I had my name printed on my t-shirt, and the crowds were shouting my name out, telling me to carry on and not give-up. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion; each mile felt like 10; I was so close to the finish, yet it felt so far. The crowds were pushing me through every mile. When I saw the ’25 mile mark,’ I thought this is it, nothing is going to stop me now. I gritted my teeth through the pain and just ran and ran.
The roar of the crowds was getting louder and The Mall was finally in sight. By this point, tears were streaming down my face and a girl called Jenny grabbed my hand and sprinted with me to the finish. The feeling when I crossed the finishing line and had the medal placed round my neck? That, my friends, is something I cannot put into words. I urge you to go and experience it for yourself.
‘The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race’ ~ Anonymous
Running has been, and always will be a huge part of my life. The last 6 months have taught me so much about myself, and what I can achieve when I push my mind and body to the limit. I found an inner strength I didn’t know I had.
As the running writer, John Hanc said:
‘I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.’
For me, the London Marathon is not the end, it’s just the beginning of greater things to come.