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Back to the Beginning

I sat with some feeling of trepidation, exhilaration and excitement as the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 took off from Delhi at the ungodly hour of 3:45am for Addis Ababa on Sunday. Already late by about an hour, we had been fuming with non-functioning AC for some time onboard when we finally took off. At least we will be away from the drudgery and routine of office life for a few days I comforted myself as I finished off the last of what was probably the worst airline meal I’ve ever had.

I looked out the window as we approached Addis Ababa, wishing we had some time to get out and explore the city often referred to as the political capital of Africa because of its historical, diplomatic and political significance. But we had just over an hour to catch our connecting flight. The chilly and gentle breeze that welcomed us as we emerged from the aircraft on to the tarmac to get on the bus that would take us to the terminal where we would catch our connecting flight for Maputo was a welcome relief from hot and humid Delhi.

And so, on a cold Sunday morning I found myself in Ethiopia, often called the original home of mankind due to various fossil discoveries like the Australopithecine Lucy, and once rule by Emperor Haile Selassie, revered as the returned Messiah of the Bible and God incarnate by Rastafarians and immortalized as the Lion of Judah in Bob Marley’s ‘Iron Lion Zion’.

All thoughts of Bob Marley and the Lion of Judah quickly dissipated by the time we reached the end of the interminably long queue leading to the security check-in inside Bole International Airport where we were thoroughly checked again and made to take off almost everything including our shoes. As we took off for Maputo on another Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737, I looked down at the city engulfed in light mist with the Entoto Mountains in the north calmly and majestically watching over the city. I looked out the window till the city disappeared.

The 6 hours it took our aircraft to reach Maputo was one of the most uncomfortable flights I have been on, with cramped seats and lousy food but it brought us in one piece to our final destination. It was good to touch down in Mozambique again after more than 11 years. As I looked out the window, I saw that the small, cozy airport we flew out of in early 2005 had morphed into a big terminal with its own aerobridges and all the modern accoutrements one expects to see nowadays in any self-respecting international airport.

The cool, almost chilly, winter air of Maputo that welcomed us as we stepped off the plane was a welcome change from hot and humid Delhi and, by the time we came out after clearing immigration, all the discomforts of our flight were forgotten as we wrapped our jackets closer to keep out the chilly breeze. After some delay caused by some of our delegation members having forgotten to take the mandatory yellow fever vaccination for passengers transiting through Ethiopia which is in the yellow fever belt of Africa, we finally reached our hotel at around 4pm.

Apart from the modern airport that welcomed us, Maputo, where we spent almost 4 years from 2001 to 2005, felt almost the same as we drove towards our hotel. I hardly noticed anything new on the drive from the airport to Av. Kenneth Kaunda where the Indian High Commission is located. As we drove past the High Commission and down Rua Jose Craveirinha towards Southern Sun Hotel, located right on the beach, where we would be staying, my first sight of the beautiful Maputo Bay after more than 11 years made me realize that, yes, I was really here again. We drove past the new Radisson Blu, which had come up during my absence and soon reached our hotel which was just a stone’s throw away.

As soon as I learned that I would be going back to Maputo, my thought immediately turned to Av. Friedrich Engels, the back street behind the highrise apartment on Av. Julius Nyerere which was our home in Maputo and where I first started jogging all those years ago. I planned to retrace my steps, as it were, at the first opportunity. From previous, similar assignments, I thought there would be ample time in the mornings before the official part of our trip began later in the day. But, as it turned out, from the very day of our arrival there were so many meetings and arrangements to be made and loose ends tied up, I did not make it to my old jogging street till the morning of the day we were to return. I fumed and fretted for four days, unable to make time for my planned trip to the past. I did manage two trips to the hotel gym and half-heartedly went through the formalities on the treadmill, all the time thinking how near and yet so far was I to my dream run, just a few kilometers away.

I was up at 2am on D-day and, except for a minor hiccup, everything went off smoothly and I was able to finally crawl into bed, exhausted, before midnight. We were to leave the next day at 2pm which meant I had about 6 hours to complete my mission as well as try and tick off whatever items I could from the long shopping list thrust upon me by the powers-that-be the night of my departure from Delhi. So I set my alarm for 0530, aiming to start my run at 0600, and soon drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

The next thing I knew was my mobile alarm telling me it was time. I quickly awoke and, after dumping as much excess weight as I could from the scrumptious dinner the previous evening and freshening up, put on my jogging outfit. It was just before 0600 as I stepped out of my room, ready for my dream run. Though it was still dark outside, the hotel staff was already up and about readying for another day. I walked into the lobby, past a few guests checking out to catch their early morning flights to wherever they were headed next.

The chilly breeze that greeted me as I stepped out of the hotel reminded me that it was winter in this part of the world. I stepped onto the pavement and, finally having completed my official assignment the previous day and all tensions gone, began the run that I had been planning for the past two weeks. I put on my earphones and pressed play to my regular ‘jogging’ track on my ‘walkman’ and, turning right onto Av. Marginal, began my run. After about a hundred metres, I turned left on to Rua Jose Craveirinha, which is a gentle climb just opposite Radisson Blu, and soon reached the top where the road merged into Av. Julius Nyerere.

Despite the climb of about half a kilometer, I found myself breathing comfortably and, turning left on to Av. Julius Nyerere, continued on my usual pace to the rhythm of my regular jogging tracks on my walkman. To my left I glanced at Maputo Bay where dawn would soon break. To my right, I caught a glimpse of the High Commission where I spent an eventful three and a half years of my life. I crossed the street and, with the Presidential Office to my left, continued my run towards the historic Polana Hotel, our temporary HQ during my trip. I was surprised at the ease with which I continued my run and the thought came to my mind that perhaps it was because I was running at sea level where Oxygen would be at its maximum. Or perhaps it was all the anticipation that I had built up in my mind the week before my trip and the frustrating few days when I was unable to get time off for the run.

As I continued on my run towards Polana Hotel, some 2km away, memories of the many times I had walked on these same pavements more than 11 years ago came flooding back and, before I realized it, I found myself crossing the traffic juncture just before Polana. I crossed the street and continued past Polana and soon turned left onto Av. Friedrich Engels.

Finally, as I turned right on to Av. Friedrich Engels, I again saw the familiar street where I first dreamed of being able to run at least a kilometer without having to stop for breath. I stopped awhile and stood at the railings from where we would look out on to Maputo Bay and beyond, often telling ourselves that our loved ones were somewhere across the Indian Ocean thousands of miles away. Dawn was now breaking over the Bay lighting up the horizon and, as I looked at the deep blue sea, felt like I had never been away. I turned right and looked up at the 11th floor balcony of our old apartment where we would sometimes set up our barbeque on an evening and, with the cool breeze blowing in from the Bay, reminisce about old times, a can of chilled 2M or Laurentina in hand.

I shook off the flood of memories that threatened to overwhelm me and began my run afresh along the familiar pavement. With Maputo Bay to my left and the row of beautiful Portuguese-style bungalows and their well-manicured lawns to my right, I ran on till the end of Av. Friedrich Engels to the corner where I would turn back for home. The street was exactly like I remembered. From the row of trees that lined up one side of the street to a corner at the end of the street used as a natural dumping ground for empty plastic cups, beer and liquor bottles by late evening revelers and romancing couples, everything was the same. It seemed the trees hadn’t grown an inch since we left, and the content of the corner dumping ground showed that youngsters had continued their party even after we left.

I turned back at the corner and, instead of returning the way I had come, turned right at the beginning of Av. Friedrich Engels, on to Rua Caracol which is a steep road, about 500m, leading to Av. Marginal and the beach. As I ran down the steep road, I recalled the many times I had run up and down the very same road. I met quite a few early morning joggers running up the steep road. Most of them greeted me with ‘Bom Dia’ (Good Morning) as we passed and I recalled with nostalgia the pleasure of being in polite society where even strangers wish you as you pass by on the streets.

I soon reached Av. Marginal and crossed the road to continue my run on the pavement next to the beach. I turned left, across from the Clube Naval de Maputo and headed for my hotel up the road about a kilometer or two ahead. As I passed by a stretch close to the beach I recalled the one time we had gone down to the beach at that very same spot when the tide was low, picking clams and even some small prawns which tasted quite good. As I ran on, I reached a spot where we once came across a live puffer fish that must have been washed ashore by the high tide, wriggling in the sand. I ran on and all sorts of memories which I had forgotten came rushing in and I realized that I was really reliving my memories.

As I neared our hotel, I turned right on to the beach and continued till I reached the portion of the beach maintained by our hotel. I ran on the beach a little past our hotel till all the songs in my ‘jogging’ folder ran out. Despite the early morning winter chill, I was drenched with sweat by the time I stopped to walk across the beach to my hotel.

That’s when I realized that I had just run one of the best runs of my life. Because it was a run which brought me back to the beginning.

11 July 2016

(Written on return from an official trip to Maputo 3-8 July 2016)

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Another Dream (unrealized)

I know, I know. Another post on running. For those who don’t get it, this must be extremely boring and narcissistic. But those who get it and, like me, have been bitten by the bug, will understand that this is a post that just had to be written. Because it’s like the mountaineer who replied when asked why he climbed mountains: “Because, it’s there”. When you see an announcement for a 10K run in your own locality, there’s no way you are going to pass that up. Especially when it’s for free and you’d have been more than happy to pay to run. That’s what happened when Red River Runners announced their annual ‘Turn Up And Run’ a few weeks back……. 😉

When I woke up on Saturday (22 Feb), I already knew how I’d start my next post: ‘Finally! 10K in less than an hour!’ I was going to run my seventh 10K later in the afternoon and my dream was to do it in less than an hour.

I ran my first 10K in 2010 at the Tokyo Marathon (https://ruolngulworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/a-dream-realised/) in an hour and seven minutes. It was the first time I had ever run more than 5km at a stretch in my life. A good friend even told me, ‘John, at our age, running would do more harm than good – a good, brisk walk is all that we should be aiming for’ – or words to that effect.

But I’d been dreaming since I first started jogging (or trying to) back in Mozambique and, despite my better half’s sincere advice to the contrary (for fear that I was attempting something I probably would never be able to achieve – words to the effect that I might drop dead from exhaustion might have been said – the word ‘might’ here is important 😉 ), I applied and was accepted for my first Tokyo Marathon. And so, a dream was realized, and I was hooked. I ran the next Tokyo Marathon (10K) in 2011 clocking an hour and four minutes which made me dream of an under one hour 10K. We then shifted to Hanoi and the first thing I did was sign up for the Song Hong Half Marathon which also had a 10K component where I thought I’d finally realize my dream. I managed an hour and eight minutes that year but the dream remained. I managed an hour and six minutes in 2012 which was two minutes off my personal best but my dream remained. Then, last year, I barely managed an hour and ten minutes – my worst timing yet, which made me realize that, perhaps, having met Abraham (https://ruolngulworld.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/meeting-abraham-2/), a sub-hour 10k was now beyond me.

But I continued to dream because, after all, ‘dreams die hard’. Which is how I found myself at the starting line of my seventh 10K on a cold, drizzly afternoon last Saturday – lining up with 70 or so fellow enthusiasts, thinking to myself that here was another chance to realize my dream.

The race began with a lot of adrenalin, as usual, and I managed the first 1K somewhere in the middle of the pack before others began to slowly overtake me. I managed to make it to the halfway mark in a little less than half an hour which kept my dream alive. Though I knew I had to do considerably better if I wanted to really realize my dream, because the second leg of the race is always the most difficult part where it really becomes ‘mind over matter’ as your body tells you to just stop, walk for a while, take it easy (‘you’re just an old guy – nobody really cares whether you finish the race or not’…), I glanced back and, realizing that there were other runners also struggling behind me, pushed on. I suppressed the urge to stop and walk a bit, telling myself that my wife would be somewhere at the 6-7km mark waiting to take photographs. I told myself that, if I had to stop and walk, it would only be after I had majestically run into her frame and continued to do so till I was reasonable sure that I had passed beyond her sights. And so, I ran on, and even passed a fellow runner as I sighted my wife lining up her shots, even managing to give her a few thumbs-ups and ‘V’ signs.

I pushed on, carried by the momentum and the realization that I was still not the last and there were quite a few runners still behind me. The moment I crossed the 8km mark and glanced at my watch was when I realized that my dream was again slipping away from me. Which realization triggered my brain (yes, blame my brain!) to decelerate my muscles and make me slow down to a walk as I neared UNIS with barely a km left. My only comfort at that stage was the knowledge that there were still a few stragglers behind me and I would, at least, not be the last. I somehow summoned up the strength to run the last km and, cheered on by fellow runners who had obviously finished long back and were walking back from the finish line to Jafa Restaurant for some well-deserved beers and cheers, crossed the finish line in an hour and nine minutes.

Though my dream of a sub-hour 10K remained unrealized, the exhilaration of finishing another race hit me as I crossed the finish line. I waited for the remaining five (five!) runners behind me to finish before walking towards my car to go home for some well-deserved rest. I took off my sweat-drenched t-shirt, letting the cool chilly breeze cool me.

Along the way, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot to my car, my t-shirt draped across my shoulder, sipping a bottle of cold Gatorade bought from the corner shop, feeling, if only for a moment, as cool and athletic as any Olympic athlete 🙂 

And the dream remains…..

Keep On Running

I have been running, whenever I can, depending on the time and place, for a little over 10 years now. It is perhaps the only good habit I’ve developed over the years.  I love running, or more precisely, jogging. A blog I recently read (here) pretty much describes the feeling, though I would have put it a little differently 😉

It has become so much a part of my normal routine that I feel lost and incomplete on days when, because of work or some other reason, I am unable to go for my daily jog. When I first started, I would get up early and jog in the morning before going to office.  But now, I find it easier and more relaxing to jog in the evening, after office. I also recently realized that this a more efficient use of time because, once I reach home from office in the evening, there is always a gap of an hour or so before dinner during which, if I don’t go jog, I would just be lazing around watching TV or wasting even more time on the internet, plus, I get a few more hours of sleep in the morning. I now jog only occasionally in the morning on weekends, when the mind is more relaxed, knowing that the whole day is yours.

Another thing I love about running is being able to actually participate in actual races. I am extremely proud to say that I have participated in six (six!!) real, organized, races. Proud, because I have never ever been the sporty type, and to be able to actually race with younger and fitter guys than me at this age is a huge thing for me. I started with the Tokyo Marathon in 2010 (a dream realised) and 2011. Then we moved to Vietnam and I have since participated in the Song Hong Half Marathon 2011 and 2012 as well as the Hanoi Moi Run 2011 and 2012. No, I did not win any of those races. But I managed to finish in all, and not in last either 😉

My daily route takes me from P2 Tower, our apartment building in Ciputra, to the roundabout near the Post Office/E4/E5 Towers, and back, a distance of about 4 km. To put this into perspective for friends back home, let me just say that the distance from Sielmat ‘field’ to Muolvaiphei ‘field’ is just over 2.2 km and Sielmat to Saidan just over 3.3 km and, in Delhi, Priya Cinema to Sector 3, RK Puram (Pu Vunga’s residence) almost exactly 3 km. 😉

The first 2-3 minutes are to die for, as you feel the wind against your face and your feet start to get into their rhythm, and you feel energized and the day’s troubles and worries fade away as you start to concentrate on the run ahead. The next 4-5 minutes are always the hardest when the physical exertion hits you and you start getting a little out of breath. Then, before you know it, you are into your rhythm and almost before you know it you are past the halfway mark and heading back home.

After ‘meeting Abraham’ (meeting abraham-2) and just before the Song Hong Half Marathon last December, I had more or less decided to ‘retire’ from running. The recurrent thought that passed through my mind at that stage was that I had, through God’s grace, been able to actually fulfill my dream of participating in several actual races and, having now crossed 50 years, I should now concentrate more on walking or cycling, at the most. It was actually in that frame of mind that I took part in the race. I even became a little nostalgic, thinking that this would be my last actual race/competition.

But the next day saw me more than eager to continue my ‘run’ and now, after more than a month since the race, except for about 2 weeks in the New Year when I simply didn’t have the time because of work; I am happily back into my daily (or at least 5 days a week) runs. And thinking of this year’s Hanoi Moi Run and Song Hong Half Marathon. 

A Dream Realised

I can now cross off one of the few items I have on my wish-list or ‘things-I-must-do-before-I-die’ – that is, take part in a real marathon. Yes, I took part in the Tokyo Marathon 2010 last Sunday. Not the full marathon – that is too much at my age. I’ve not yet put it on my wish-list. But, who knows 😉

It was only the 10km part of the Tokyo Marathon, which I completed in just over an hour. Maybe nothing much to boast of for the pros and the sportsman-types, but for me it was a culmination of a dream – something I’ve strived for and worked hard at during the past seven years or so.

All those early morning (and some late evening) jogs finally paying off and culminating in that precise moment when I crossed the finishing line was something I will not forget. Though there were no TV cameras, or for that matter any type of camera, recording the precise, ecstatic, moment I crossed the line, I can recall and savor the exact moment even now. And I know it will remain one of the highlights of my blessed God-given life.

I knew from the moment I awoke at 6 in the morning that all the predictions of bad weather and rain had come true. I lay awake for some time just taking in the fact that the Big Day had finally come and listened to the rain lashing against our bedroom window. I felt like a small kid on Christmas morning thinking of the presents Santa would have left around the Christmas tree the night before as I finally got up to dress for my first ‘marathon’ and have a leisurely breakfast before leaving for Shinjuku where the race would start at 9:10. I peeked through the window and saw the steady drizzle and overcast sky in the early morning light and thought of the first time I started seriously jogging all those years ago.

I think it was the winter of 2002 when I first seriously thought of taking up jogging. We were then in Maputo, Mozambique where the seasons are opposite what we are normally used to because it is in the southern hemisphere and winter there falls during our summer season in the northern hemisphere. So it was sometime in March-April 2002 that I decided to try jogging. A beautiful park overlooking the Indian Ocean just below our apartment which was usually full of early morning joggers was a big factor in my decision. Plus the sight of all those fit and beautiful joggers who seemed to go on and on without ever getting tired.

Anyone who has ever known me will testify to the fact that I have never ever been the sportsman-type. As a child growing up in Sielmat, where everyone played football, I was always the last person anyone would pick for their side. Though I love football and tried my best, I could never master the dribble or any of the moves that could have made a ‘captain’ pick me for his side. On the few occasions some friend took pity and picked me, I was so pathetic at the game that I would soon be substituted. So I remained a spectator at most of the games. This has continued throughout my life – the only place you will be sure to find me during any sport or games is in front of the idiot box or in the spectator stands. The only sport I have a little skill at and which I played regularly was badminton and, to a small extent, volleyball. But, looking back, I sometimes have the feeling that the only reason I got to regularly play badminton with my friends back then was simply the fact that the rackets belonged to us.

And so, except for the occasional game of badminton and volleyball during my school and college days, I never really played any real sports. Even the occasional games came to a complete halt once I left home for my job, got married and our kids came along. Having been born with an excellent appetite and marrying the girl of my dreams who is also an excellent cook did wonders for my weight which started to slowly balloon till at one stage I tipped the scales at almost a hundred kilos just after my son was born in Morocco. But after getting back into the daily office commute and grind in Delhi, I settled back into my ‘slightly’-overweight-for-my-height/age status which I have more or less since maintained.

When I first attempted jogging, I used to get so out of breath even within the first 100m or so that I simply had to stop to catch my breath. With my irregular schedule, it took me more than a year to comfortably jog for up to a kilometer. Though I must have made a pathetic and embarrassing sight, I kept at it till the day finally came when I found myself jogging without running out of breath even as I passed the old, gnarled tree which marked the spot where I usually stopped to catch my breath. I still clearly remember the incredible feeling of well-being and excitement as I realized that even though I had already crossed my usual landmark and was still running, I was breathing normally and my legs were moving in a steady rhythm pounding the dirt tract. At some stage I even felt like I was out of my own body and watching this handsome, strong jogger out on his regular morning jog, casually passing lesser mortals with a slight sneer on his lips 🙂 It really felt like an epiphany of some sort, a kind of spiritual feeling which I had never experienced before. And I have been hooked ever since.

Though I knew it would take me less than 30 minutes to reach Shinjuku, I left home at 7:30 to ensure that I reached well in time. It was around 5 degrees, chilly, with an overcast sky and drizzling as I stepped outside and practically hit the ground running as I jogged down to our Metro station to catch the Toei Oeda line for Shinjuku. The metro was full of other runners, all decked out in their best running suits, excitedly chatting. As we filed out of Tocho-mae station, we came upon thousands of other excited runners checking for directions to their own allotted blocks. I joined the throng and, after making sure I was on the right track, decided to take off the extra sweatshirt which I had worn for warmth and keep it in my allotted ‘baggage bag’ which I had to deposit with Luggage Truck No. 4 that would take it to the finish line to be collected after the race.

As I came out of the station, I saw that it was still drizzling. I adjusted my cap and put up the hood of my wind-cheater below which I wore the official Tokyo Marathon tee-shirt. I looked at my watch which showed exactly 8:05am. I followed the sign for the Luggage Trucks to first deposit my ‘baggage’ and then find some shade from the rain near my starting block. Having deposited my ‘baggage’, I started looking for ‘K’ block which was my allotted starting block and finally found it, the last of the starting blocks, at least 200-300m from the start-line.

I only found out later, long after I submitted my application for the Marathon in July last year, that the starting blocks were allotted from ‘A’ for the elite runners and so on to ‘K’ for amateurs, first-timers and those who were not exactly expected to break records, according to the ‘estimated time expected to finish the race’ which every applicant had to fill in. Seeing that the maximum time given to complete the 10K race was 100 minutes, I filled in 90 minutes as it was my first race and I had never even run 10K at a stretch in my life. I was, accordingly, allotted the last starting block, ‘K’.

Though it continued to drizzle and I could feel the rain water starting to seep into my sneakers and I was starting to shiver in my tee-shirt and wind-cheater, the excitement was palpable as I made my way towards K block which was a small grass-less park now turning muddy with puddles all round. I looked at my watch which told me I still had about 45 minutes till starting time. I looked around for some shade, a tree maybe, or some structure, and found none. So I made my way towards the front of the excited pack and stood in the rain and mud like the rest. It was probably the coldest 45 minutes I have spent in Japan with the steady drizzle and more rain water seeping into my shoes every passing minute. But the excitement of being in my first marathon (ok, 10K race) and being in the midst of 35,000 excited participants more than compensated for the cold and soon enough the announcement came that the race had started and a couple of crackers exploded overhead. It seemed like ages as we slowly shuffled along with the crowd towards the starting line. Being in the last block, I made it to the start-line at exactly 9:31 and I was finally off.

With the ever-present knowledge that I was attempting to run a distance I had never done before, I started tentatively but running amidst thousands of excited runners and crowds lined up on both sides despite the steady drizzle seemed to pump in extra adrenalin into my body and I found myself picking up pace as we crossed the first kilometer. Concentrating on my run, I was surprised when I saw looming just ahead the 5km mark, which was the maximum distance I had ever run. Before the race, one of the recurring thoughts that came back again and again was of me trying to keep my pace while runners continuously passed me by. But I surprisingly found that I was able to keep my steady pace and, in fact, was passing more runners than the other way round. As I passed the 5km mark, my watch showed 10:02 and the big electronic clock showed exactly 00:52:49 which meant just over 52 minutes had passed from the official start of the race at 9:10am. A quick mental calculation told me I had done 5km in 31 minutes! At last (like a true sportsman), I now have a ‘personal best’ time of sort, I thought.

And so, just as I had passed that old, gnarled tree which served as my landmark when I first started jogging all those years ago in Maputo, I passed the 5km mark without stopping and continued on. Except for a slight pause to get some drinks at the drinks table which came up just after the 5km mark, I pushed on almost as fresh as when I started. The tiredness in my legs started to creep in as we passed Iidabashi and approached the 8km mark on a slight climb, approaching the Imperial Palace. By the time I was running past the Imperial Palace with the Finish Line in Hibya Park just round another bend in the road, I started to feel the full effect of what I was doing as I felt my leg muscles starting to protest. I realized I had reached the stage where I simply had to put one foot after another and tell my poor, faithful, tiring legs that it was just a matter of a few more minutes to the finish line.

For the last few hundred metres I hardly noticed the waving crowd as I concentrated on reaching the finish line – and making a last sprint as I crossed the finish line. Which I did, and was rewarded by some clapping from the crowd. My watch showed 10:37 and the big electronic clock showed the time from the race start as exactly 01:28:11 when I crossed the finish line. Which meant I had finished the race in 67 minutes, or more precisely, 67 minutes 11 seconds or 1 hour 7 minutes 11 seconds, counting from the moment I crossed the start line at 9:31.

Another recurring thought I had before the race was of me collapsing during the race or even as I crossed the finish line. But, happily, nothing of the sort happened and, except for my tired legs, I felt as fresh as ever as I walked towards the race officials waiting to guide me to the ‘reception’ area. As I walked to one of the race volunteers to have my computer chip (which had my details and recorded my exact race time) taken off, my happiness was quite obvious in my smile. As she gave me my chip and pointed me towards where I could exchange it for my medal, she gave me the sweetest smile and congratulated me. I gave her my best Japanese-style bow and simply said, ‘Arigato’ but she was already congratulating the next finisher, little realizing that had she looked my way she would have seen the happiest person in Tokyo at that moment.

Though there was no formal medal ceremony or opportunity for me to climb the medal podium, I did have a real proper medal hung around my neck by a bonafide race official when I went to the next table to cash in my chip. As I went to retrieve my ‘baggage’, my medal proudly hung around my neck, I passed by happy, fellow runners and more smiling race officials who handed me a towel emblazoned ‘Finisher Tokyo Marathon 2010’ along with a bag containing a chocolate bar, some fruits and a bottle of water.

It was still drizzling with specks of snow starting to mingle with the raindrops as I walked towards the exit of Hibya Park to go home. I started to tuck in my medal into my wind-cheater but then thought, ‘Why not?’ and with it dangling on my neck and the brightly colored ‘Finisher’ towel draped over my shoulder, I walked towards Sakuradamon station for home. I proudly wore the medal all the way home on the metro. After all, I had done it. I had realized a dream.

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