Abhaya Shrestha Raises US$5,000 for HeNN
The ING New York City Marathon (07 November, 2010)
A fundraiser for the HELP NEPAL Network and an experience of a lifetime
By Abhaya Shrestha, the Runner
Last summer, a friend challenged me to run a marathon. Despite not being a runner, I took up the challenge and submitted my name for the New York City marathon lottery, promising myself that if I got entry, I would train myself to run the 26.2 mile race and raise money for a good cause. In April, I received the good news that I was in.
I decided to raise money for the Help Nepal Network. Being from Nepal, I liked the work that the organization did in the country, building schools and health centers where the need is acute. I had, in fact, been a volunteer and contributor to the organization for over a number of years.
Training for the marathon was one of the most physically taxing projects I have ever undertaken: five months; three to six miles a day five days a week, and long runs of between twelve and twenty miles on the weekends. For a beginner, it demanded commitment and pushing of physical limits. It didn’t feel natural for the human body, at least not for mine. However, after many weeks of knee-icing, Advil and energy bar consumption and unyielding support of friends and family, I attempted my longest training run of twenty miles.
I crawled through the last mile and spent the next couple of days barely leaving my apartment and nursing my painfully sore knees. They seemed to need much longer to recover than implied by my training schedule. I stopped running to give myself a complete rest.
When marathon day rolled around, I hadn’t run more than a few miles over the prior three weeks. So queuing up at the starting line, I was not without anxiety about whether I would be able to push through to the end without my muscles cramping up or my knees getting damaged. In addition, friends and family had donated more than US$5,000 to the Help Nepal Network to support my run. I felt if I did not finish it, I would be letting everybody down.
“One, two, one, two, one, two…”
It started out okay. During the first ten miles, I strategically ran faster than my normal pace because I knew no matter how I ran the first half of the race, the last six to ten miles would be a formidable challenge that could be overcome only with mental determination.
I tried to keep my mind focused on the time and my pace, but soon found myself being pushed on simply by the cheering of the crowds. It was incredible. Two million people purportedly came out along the course to cheer. Little kids held up their hands, high-fiving the runners. I had barely passed the two-mile marker when I saw a man holding up a sign that said, “Keep going! You’re almost there!” Not quite, with twenty-four more miles more to go, but it made me forget my anxiety for a minute.
At mile eight in Brooklyn, a big crowd of spectators was dancing to the song YMCA playing over loudspeakers. As the runners ran past, they raised their hands and danced with the crowd. The moment was electric.
At mile ten, I heard someone shrieking my name. I looked to the side and saw a friend jumping up and down like a madwoman. She broke away from the crowd and ran towards me. “Good luck!” she cried as she gave me a hug. It was incredible how much her encouragement renewed my energy.
By mile twenty however, I started to really feel the soreness around my knees, calves and ankles. My legs felt weighed down by gigantic rocks. Many of the runners around me had slowed down to a walk and I felt my energy faltering. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my music player and headphones for motivation. But somehow the music seemed to fade behind the noise of the crowd. At the next hydrating station, I gulped down a cup of Gatorade and pulled out my last trick.
I counted out loud, “one, two, one, two, one, two…”
Left foot on “one.” Right foot on “two.” Repeat. I focused only on putting one foot forward after the next. Left foot on “one.” And then right foot on “two.”
It kept me moving
When I passed the twenty-five mile marker, I felt a shot of energy. The finish was within reach! I mustered up whatever energy was left in me and ran as fast as my legs would carry me. 400 meters to go. Run now or regret later. I saw the 200 meter sign clearly as I ran past. And then it was over.
I felt like a drop of water in the river of runners pushed along by the will and cheers of the spectators. I felt a strange connection to the people around me – to the runners who worked hard to run the distance, to the spectators who cheered the runners on, the kids who held out cups of water at hydrating stations, the musicians who made music along the route, to the YMCA dancers in Brooklyn, to the many faces of the streets of New York City and the people who populate them. It was an amazing experience.
On my training runs, I had been averaging a pace of a little less than eleven-minute miles, which would have put me at a finishing time of about 5 hours. I think the experience of running with thousands of other runners, of hearing the cheering of innumerable people along the course, the encouragement from family and friends, and the purpose of helping a good cause like the Help Nepal Network enabled me to exceed my own expectations. I finished in 4 hours and 18 minutes. I have no idea how human beings finish the marathon in less than 3 hours.
There were 45,350 officially registered runners in the ING New York City 2010 marathon, including rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena as well as a number of blind and disabled people. World-record holder Haile Gebrselassie was forced to drop out during the race due to an injury, and Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia won the men’s division. Edna Kiplagat of Kenya won the women’s division.