For a lot of you running veterans and marathoners reading this, the title may seem a very small feat. But for a beginner, the firsts are always special ones. So was my first experience at the Inner Strength Half Marathon 2017. As a girl with a particularly difficult period, I had suddenly decided to fix my life with running and had walked into a shoe store to get a pair of shoes. Though i had backgrounds in science, the physics of running was new to me and I selected my first shoes based on the weight of my pocket. I noticed a flyer with a running silhouette, picked it up from the billing desk and took a good look at it. That was where I saw the name UNIS, the first time. Their unique presentation of the poster, the choice of one of the most scenic routes in Chennai as their running track and a great cause for the run were all the forces that made me get into their website and register. I wasn’t sure how much I could run, so as someone with zero knowledge on running, I picked the smallest distance – 5k!!!
With this registration as my driving force and a source of commitment, I started small timed runs on my own to prepare for the event. But never was I able to even touch a 4k. It was unimaginable! Three days before the run, I was heading to Chennai ( my previous runs were all in Bangalore) and I tried to resume my practice at home. Owing to the heat and humidity, my pace had dropped so badly and I had lost the last bit of hope that I could do well.
It was BIB and Tee day! I had walked to my nearest BIB collection centre to pick up my goodie bag. That was my first encounter with the people of UNIS. They were beaming with positivity and were all super nice! Bonus, it was so well organized! I picked up my bag and it had a clean white shirt made of quality material and breathable fabric, perfect for runs along with a BIB number plate with detectable chip. I was happy seeing the memorabilia of my first run, right in my hands! “This is going to be special!”, I thought!
It was race day. I reached Mayajal. I was nervous to run my first ever event and was at the same time, wanting to do only as much as I can. I didn’t want to be too hard on myself nor did I want to give up without finishing. I was caught in a dichotomy and they were both fighting in my head!!! The shots were fired and the crowd slowly started moving slowly and I thought I should take it easy at the start. It was still early; I mean pitch dark early, and I was surprised at the turnout. I saw people with time and distance flags tied to their backs running with us. I had no idea who they were. Little did I know back then that they were the very faces of the running scene in Chennai!!! I had finished a kilometre and was hoping it would just get over! It wasn’t easy. I paced up a little and finished my 2nd km. Throughout the way there were volunteers cheering for us, holding placards and charts with motivational slogans. One of them were, “You were limitless”. I ran past it and it gave me goosebumps.I turned back after 2.5kms and a small water break.
I knew I was running with strangers that I had no connection with. I still felt connected to them. They’re probably in as much pain as me. They’re tough times are probably tougher. My mind was constantly sending me these signals of positivity and slowly, I was letting my one side take over – the I’m not quitting side! I was listening to my favorite playlist by A.R Rahman. There was this particular line that said, “nee nadhi pole odikondiru…” (keep flowing like a river). It was like everything around me was sending me messages of positivity. I was physically and mentally resonating in perfect harmony with my surroundings. Until this day I will only be thankful to UNIS for creating such an energy filled environment.
I was 1km down the finish line. I could see it! I was almost there and I had already run more than I had ever run on my own! That was the magic of running at ISHM!!! I was few hundred metres to touch down. I started sprinting! It felt like life was leaving my body. Yet, there was a nice high with it. So it didn’t matter! This was it! I got through the finishing arch and some UNIS faces that I now know by names were standing there congratulating the finishers. My cellphone beeped and I took a peak at it. It was an SMS from the race metrics that informed me of my finishing time. I had finished in 31 and a half minutes or so. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Tears rolled down my cheek. “If I had to take the setting and surrounding out of this number, it wouldn’t be the same”, I thought to myself. I had see the organizers and congratulate them for a successful event.
I walked into mayajal to collect my medal. That’s when I spotted two people who were the busiest of all. “It must be them!”, I thought. I walked up to them and started talking to them. They’re energy and smiles were infectious. They had introduced themselves as Viji and Ranish, Organizer and Run Director of the event, respectively. I had a quick chat, a couple of selfies and left with my medal. I went back home and added them on Facebook.
Months later, I had liked and followed the UNIS Facebook page and group. I then saw that they train daily and wanted to join them. I messaged Viji and she was so kind to let me join them the next morning. Ever since that day, my journey with UNIS continues, though my journey with running itself is discontinuous. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for ISHM 2020 and to stand shoulder to shoulder with UNIS in conducting the same!