My marathon journey – by Paras Dodhia

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I have been a sports fanatic from as far as I can remember. However, running a marathon was something I believed to be out of my reach. Endurance sports have always excited me but I was always under the assumption that people who participated in it are designed naturally for these type of sports. I have always been a keen racquet games and football player and spectator so I was typical fit and healthy lad (or so I thought so).

Let me tell you how my journey into long distance running started. Please bear in mind, before I signed up for my first ever marathon, the last time I had participated in a long distance running competition was 1,500 metres in high school which was roughly 15 years ago.

London is an amazing city with iconic landmarks such as the Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace to name a few. Living in London and watching the London Marathon on BBC 1 on a Sunday once a year, I had always dreamt of running the London Marathon one day but had put off participating by coming with the most common excuses – I will sign up next year, I am not ready, I need a running partner – well you get the jist.

I used to play competitive badminton and football regularly right from my school days till up to 2011.i.e. for nearly 18 years. Injuries were far and few in my younger days but as I have grown older I have realised that I am no spring chicken. Having grown tired of getting injured regularly I quit playing competitive sports and just took up playing football socially.

In 2014 my son, Kyle, was born and my perception of life changed. Everyone has their own goals in life but I believe that goals should also keep on evolving. Always start by setting a realistic target and once you achieve that target set a new and harder/higher target. If you do not continue to evolve your dreams or goals, you can end up in a repetitive routine.

After Kyle was born, I met Aashish Nathwani at the hospital waiting room during one of the hospital visits. Upon looking back, this a sign that the London Marathon was calling out to me. I got chatting to Aashish, a lovely positive friendly chap with a bit of cheekiness in his eye. The conversation moved on from one topic to the other and then we reached ONE CAUSE. He is one of the directors of ONE CAUSE and spoke about this charity with such passion and inspiration that I ended up going home and ‘googling’ it. In that short space of time, I was sold on his vision ‘Education is the answer to ending poverty’. This is where my evolution of goals and targets comes in. This was my calling.

I got in touch with Aashish on how I could be of any help to the charity. Aashish came up with a simple suggestion ‘Why don’t you run the London Marathon 2015 and raise funds for the charity so that we can educate children in Uganda and India and make a positive impact’. Please let me re-iterate that if Aashish wasn’t an accountant he would make a bloody good salesman.

After our chat, I spoke to my friends Hiten and Jilna and before the end of 13 October 2014, the three of us had signed up for what I can say with all honesty the longest training regime followed up with the run of our life on 26 April 2015.

Having no idea on how to train for the longest endurance race of my life, Aashish put us in touch with a gentleman who I can lovingly refer to as COACH. His name is famous in many circles of marathon running, Mr Piyush Gudka. Coach has over the last couple of decades trained hundreds of runners who have successfully completed the marathon. In short, he has a 100% pass rate (as my school teachers would put it). Coach himself is a very successful marathon runner and it was an honour to be participating with him in the London Marathon 2015 as this was going to be his 50th marathon. I know – 50!! This is not a typo and you do not need to go to specsavers. Now the training journey starts.

On 9 November 2014, we met up with coach in Stanmore and we were initiated into the Stanmore Active fold. The Stanmore Active group trains every Sunday morning at 7am. Coach has 3 other lieutenants who looked after us over the next 6 months. The lieutenants are Sunil Sutar, Navin Vekaria and Aashish, all accomplished runners in their own right.

I was pretty nervous on the first day but the fact that Hiten and Jilna were there with me was a relief. On the first day, we were around 10 runners. After the introductions were out of the way, coach provided us with some inspirational stories in his marathon running journey. We were just in awe of this man infront of us and hanging on to every word coming out from his mouth like students on their first day in Year 1.

Coach went through his training plan which goes for 6 months and covers the best parts of Stanmore, Totteridge, Barnet, Elstree, Borehamwood, Radlett and Bushey Heath. We put our lives in his hands and all he asked in return was to run like the wind. But most importantly enjoy it.

The first training run was on 9 November 2014 at 7am and covered 6.3 miles. After covering a few hundred yards I was huffing and puffing. This is when I realised how unfit I was. But coach and his trusted lieutenants never gave up on me and the sight of them running up and down the road, encouraging me to push myself and dig deep, pushed me on. After the training run, I thought that I had let coach down as I was the last one to cross the finish line. But as I completed the run and the cool down stretches, coach had already created a family unit atmosphere and he was there to put his hand around my shoulder to lift my spirits. This made me even more determined to continue and persevere with the Sunday morning runs.

Coach had devised a training plan where the runs would increase by a mile every week with a peak run of 24 miles by end of March. So gradually the training would run would increase week on week i.e. from 6.3 to 7.3 miles the week after 9 November 2014. I also incorporated 2 short runs during the weekdays as per coach’s training schedule.

At this stage, my injury history was playing up on my mind. I learnt to look after my body better with stretches and strength training. I also informed the coaching team about my injury history and I was taken aback by the incredible support I received. They informed me that this was a marathon and not a sprint so listening to my body was of utmost importance.

By week 4, I was regularly running 2 times a week with a longer run on Sunday. My diet had changed drastically since the training started. Out went the junk food, alcohol and fizzy drinks. This was replaced good carbs, lean protein and fresh juices. I learnt when to carb load, when to increase protein intake, started picking up pointers and tips from coach and his trusted lieutenants. I understood hill training better of when to go fast and slow.

The training regime continued over the winter period with some runs in sub-zero temperatures but the group stuck together during the cold weather. Coach had informed us to participate in the Watford Half Marathon in January 2015. I can still remember his exact words to me ‘this 13.1 miles race would be good practice for the big day’.

On the eve of the Watford Half Marathon race, I had butterflies in my tummy as this was my first half marathon. The team of 9 people who were participating all met at Stanmore before making our way to Watford. This worked out well for me as being in the company of familiar friendly faces calmed my nerves. I couldn’t wait for the Watford Half to start now. Sunil, Navin and Aashish were all there to guide us through the registration and run. Once the run was underway, I found the course challenging but coach had prepared us well with all the hill training. I found it an extremely enjoyable race and set my personal best of 2:41:36 (ofcourse it’s my personal best, it’s my first race).

As the Sunday runs increased to 15 miles and over, I reduced my midweek runs from 2 to 1. This was purely so that my body could recover properly and reduce the chances of getting injured. I had also made the wise decision of investing in a foam roller and couple of ice packs. This was to aid in releasing the lactic acid build up after the long runs and reducing the soreness around the quad and groin muscles. As I got more confident in my running ability, I signed up for the inaugural 2015 Vitality North London half marathon which was going to take place on 15 March 2015. They day arrived pretty fast and this time around I was confident and all ready for it. There were no issues with being nervous or having butterflies in my stomach this time round despite having a smaller group this time. Mo Farah flagged off the run and I completed the race in 2:41:48 although the circ. 20 minute queue up for the toilets did not help. But it was a fantastic experience and all geared up towards preparing for the BIG DADDY of all marathons – the London Marathon.

At this stage now, we were roughly 6 weeks from the London marathon and bang on schedule with the training regime. Thereafter, I did 4 consecutive 20-21 milers on Sunday morning. I had realised that it would be a good idea to start to a bit early from the running group being a young parent. I was extremely lucky that Jilna (my running partner) also preferred to start early as she is a young parent too. Waking up at 5.30am was always going to be tough but our focus and drive pulled us through. Unfortunately my other running partner, Hiten, had been injured since January 2015. Jilna and myself would get up and meet at Stanmore at 6.30am. After our stretches and warm up, we would be on our way to conquer the 20-21 mile route. I cannot emphasise enough how helpful it is to have a running partner in training. Well, that is my opinion and don’t take my word for it. But it worked for me.

2 more tapering down runs to go. Hiten, joined me in the early morning start as Jilna went back to the 7am start. The taper down runs were good for us as we our bodies were not pushed to the limit as the previous 4 weeks.

After the last taper down run, there was a surprise party for coach as he was going to run his 50th marathon. There were 55 runners for our last training run. I wasn’t surprised by the turnout at all. Coach has created a family spirit to his methods and they work. He provides his services voluntarily and expects nothing in return …apart from completing the London Marathon!!

After the cake was demolished and everyone dispersed away, reality kicked in. The 6 months training regime had come to an end. This was it!! It was time to run the 2015 London Marathon. This is what the entire group had been training for.

The last week seemed like it was never going to end. I couldn’t wait anymore, pacing up and down my office from Monday to Friday. It took an eternity for the week to go by. I had been seeing a physio for the last weeks as I was running with pain on my quad muscles and had groin strains on both legs. On the last visit, the physio gave me the final verdict that I will be able to run but it was not going to pain free. I was expecting that.

On Thursday, I met up with coach and a few other runners at the registration expo in Excel Centre. This did not help settle my nerves. Seeing thousands of other runners there just gives you goosebumps. I was fortunate to also spend some time with our fellow one cause charity runner, Gene. His running tips, calmness and stories was very comforting to hear and he gradually eased my nerves.

On 25 April 2015, a pasta party was organised for the runners to load up their carbs. This was great as I got to eat loads of food under the excuse of carb loading. Coach gave an extremely motivational and inspirational speech. It was also a great way to meet the families of all the other runners. After everyone had said their goodbyes and best wishes, all I wanted was to get some sleep before the big day. Unfortunately, all I did was toss and turn on my bed thinking what the day holds tomorrow.

Finally, the day had arrived – 26 April 2015. All the runners gathered at Stanmore station with a few joining us along the way. Coach announced that this was the first time ONE CAUSE had the whole train carriage to themselves and this was the best bunch of runners he has ever had, his words not mine. But in hindsight, he could be saying that every year to psyche up the runners. Clearly, it works so no argument from me.

We reached Canary Wharf in good time. Everyone took their last toilet break at the station before entering the gates of Greenwich Park. Last team photos done, and it was time to enter the gates towards the start. It was fantastic to have the Stanmore Active supporters who really provide you with that 10% boost and make you feel like a million dollars.

I proceeded to put away my baggage in the trucks, last minute toilet break and ready for the start line. It was fantastic to see so many people from all walks of life trying to do their best to raise money for their respective charities. I salute them all. As I approached the start line, it was nearly 10.10am and soon the marathon was underway. It took 20 minutes to reach the starting grid. But this was it, the marathon was underway and 6 months of blood, sweat and tears were going to be tested today. There was no way I was going to be defeated. This was a war between me and 26.2 miles. There was going to be only one winner – ME!!

The first 3 miles went by quickly and I felt great. Then as we reached the 4 mile mark, I had to slow down my pace as my body was feeling the pace. I had a good constant speed till the 13 mile mark. It was amazing to watch the crowds cheering on all the runners. I could hear my name being shouted out every few seconds, c’ mon Paras, get in Paras, welldone Paras and so on. Running along iconic landmarks at Cutty Sarks and Tower Bridge lived up to my expectations. Music blaring from speakers and live bands, support and cheering through mega phones and the sheer noise created was giving me the extra boost every time I wanted to slow down. At mile 13, I could feel the pain. My feet screaming out for a nice soak in warm water and my quads in pain. I slowed down for a gentle jog to mile 18.

I was counting down the miles and focused all my energy on the road ahead. Few fist pumps to the crowd, few heal yeahs and high fives to the little heroes on the sidelines cheering the runners on. In return for my high fives I picked up a few jelly beans, haribos, sweets amongst other things.

I would get an extra boost on seeing familiar faces, the ONE CAUSE team at Cutty Sarks and just after Tower Bridge. At some point, I gave up looking sideways as the pain on my feet got worse. After mile 18, I was relying on grit and determination. All the hill training was coming in play. I could hear coach’s voice ringing in my ears, dig deep. I was thinking of all the funds I had raised, the smiles that would put on the faces of the young ones, the lives I can change, the opportunities they will get through getting an education. Soon enough I passed mile 24. I saw my family and friends along this stretch. That was a welcome sight and I couldn’t resist going towards them and giving them a cuddle and high fives.

The final stretch – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and coming down the Mall!! I crossed the line holding back tears of emotion and pain, both at the same time. I am old school, a grown man should not cry in public. Although I did shed a little tear. Legs all jellied up but somehow managed to get my medal after composing myself. I had just completed the 35th Virgin Money London Marathon! I can now shout that out – loud and proud!! This run will stay with me for a long long time.

This run was for my mum who sadly passed away a few years ago. This was the run of my life and I am sure she was watching over me. This medal if for Kyle, my son. I had to re-evaluate my goals when he was born. Without him, I would be using the same excuse to avoid doing the run. And the biggest shout out would go to my wife, Devina. She had to put up with my dietary requirements, early morning runs, looking after Kyle for hours on end (and he is a handful), motivating me when the times get tough, this would have been impossible without her. Of course, a big thank you to Coach and his team at Stanmore-Active for the hours they have voluntarily given training us, setting up plans, answering our nagging questions and the motivational and inspirational pep talks.

Aashish and Rajen at ONE CAUSE, you and your team are doing a brilliant job and I am sure the benefactors of all the funds raised are lucky to have you on their side. The ONE CAUSE support team at all the drinks station on training days and on the final day, you lot are immense. I am unable to name everyone individually but you know who you are.

This was my marathon journey so far and I look forward to a few more.

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