August 25th, 2013 will always be a special day in my life because I completed my first half marathon in Hyderabad. When I expressed my desire to run at Hyderabad marathon to Santhosh , my coach from last year, he told me “ Wait ! You need to become stronger and learn how to run long distances. Only then you can run a half marathon. If possible, I will run with you”.
Finally, all the training and guidance came in handy & I did it. After losing my right eye vision, I was not very keen on running much and had taken a break for a month. Then, I missed a couple of training sessions because I fell sick. Due to this, I lost my opportunity to do the 21km mock run.
Hyderabad marathon was very important for me because I wanted my mum, dad and sister to watch me running. I wanted my friends & cousins to cheer me along the way. I wanted to build that confidence in them & me that I can do it and I can run like any other runner. It took a long time for me to build that confidence and be prepared mentally for this run. Siva Paturi, a dear friend who ran a 10km run in Bangalore with me said “Go for it! Doing this 21km will build your confidence. Run as much as you can and then you can walk the rest of the distance”.
I had done a 14km run with “Hyderabad Runners” so I knew that I could push up to that distance. But the most worrisome part of all was my migraines. After every long distance run, I was used to having severe headaches. I discussed this with Santhosh & he found the solution for me. I started following the hydration plan devised by santhosh & my headaches disappeared during the long runs. I had moved another step forward towards my goal of running in this marathon.
Santhosh introduced me to a running community in Hyderabad and I had an amazing experience running with Hyderabad runners. I have to say a lot of thanks to Ravi Setlem for arranging the pick and drop and to Padma Pen for running with me all through the 21k on Aug 25th . Three weeks before the Hyderabad marathon, Ravi gave me a call and asked if I had registered for the run. I said “No” and asked if I could run a 10k instead. He asked me “why?” and I told him that I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to run for 21kms. He told me “You can do it Raghava and we will be there to support you. So don’t worry! Just register and show up at the start line”. Thanks a lot Ravi, those words made all the difference.
When I woke up at 3:30 AM and got ready for my run, I did not know if I had enough strength to run 21km but there was a strong mental determination that I will give it a try. If so many of them think I can do it then I can. This run, I ran it for my sister, my friend Deepa & Yatin and for all those who are not able to run because of some physical or mental disability and for all those people who inspired me.
The story is little lengthy & complicated so I am eliminating few characters & since this is a story about me, my co runner and my run let’s get there directly. I met Padma, my co runner at the starting point and we decided to stand at the end and start our run as there was a huge crowd. I knew most of the route because I had done the dry run 2 weeks earlier on the same route and I grew up roaming on those roads during my childhood and college days. My friend Apoorv who also has low vision was running with us but once we crossed the Panjagutta flyover he took off and said he would like to run on his own. I run a little slowly so Padma & I kept to my pace. We decided to conserve our energy and run at a steady pace. Since Padma had done the dry run with me she knew how to guide me properly. She kept guiding me around the speed breakers, pot holes and all those things that could have caused any kind of trouble to me or my run.
During the 5th kilometer I realized that this was not going to be an easy run as the humidity was very high and I was dehydrating 3 times more than usual. I tried to keep myself hydrated as we stopped at the at each of the aid stations and I ran most of the uphill areas.
From Jubilee Hills KVR park, a dog started following us. Padma was explaining each building, the traffic, how the dog stopped when we stayed back and started following again when we passed it, everything. At some point, other dogs attacked the dog which was following us and there was a little confusion. Padma tried to scare the dogs off and suddenly I heard a bang sound and someone shouting “oye”. I thought someone hit the dog with a vehicle & I got a little scared. Padma held my hand tightly and said it was an auto guy who hit a bike – nothing to worry about and that we should keep going. I have this fear about the sound of a vehicle; my legs don’t move. It is a psychological feeling. But this was a city marathon where I was supposed to surrounded by a lot of vehicles. So my speed was slower and my confidence was a little low. But I kept my all senses open and alert and moved on.
Wherever there were a lot of vehicles and crowd, Padma held my hand tightly and guided me expertly. When we hit the 14th km mark, the heat and humidity was at its peak but there was a lot of cool breeze that soothed us. At one point I asked Padma about the time. She said we are not going to check the time but that I was doing much better than my previous dry run. I asked if I was the last runner. She said there were lots of people behind me and that I should keep going. We spoke about various random topics during our run and when we were not talking I kept thinking about my training – those runs with Runner’s High, especially my queen’s.
Sindhu who is a part of the Runner’s High did a 12km run with me in Bangalore. She had told me about the book “Eat and Run”. Sindhu , I must say this : when I was not talking to Padma, I was thinking about this story and imagining myself as the hero. I remember most of our conversation and it really came handy during this run. A sense of calm took over me as I reached the 16th km mark. I am not sure of the time as it had started passing slowly and the only thing on my mind was to finish the run strong. Padma and all those people who were there near the aid stations cheered for us. When we finished the 17th or 18th kilo meter I told padma that I was feeling proud of myself and she turned to me, held my fingers tight and told me, “I am feeling very proud Raghava”. For a moment I felt I was able to see that in her eyes and face. I might have imagined it too but nonetheless, I felt it in her words. She is like my mum and a lot of them thought she was my mother. I said Padma’s eyes and Raghava’s legs will finish this today. The last flyover slowed me down. After running for half a kilometer I told Padma that I wanted to walk for the rest of the flyover and we did so. Padma said we are almost there and asked me to take my stick out and keep it open for the last 2km.
Anju who is my mentor and a dear friend had asked me whether I was going to carrying my white cane during the run. I had said no and given the excuse that it was heavy and would slow me down. She was not happy about it & tried convincing me but Raghava is Raghava. I never listen to her. When I was getting my running pouch I saw the cane and decided that I would carry it. I wanted Anju to feel happy and be proud of me. I thought there is must be a reason behind what she said and maybe I was not able to see it at that moment. I understood it when I was running. I took the cane out when there was traffic or huge crowd & used it in tough traffic places. People saw me with an “aww factor”! Some understood the symbol of white cane and many did not; they want to know why a person with visual impairment is running or how is he running. It was an awareness for all the people who ran the marathon yesterday. In a flash I understood why I must carry my cane during my runs. It is a symbol of self respect, dignity and independence. Thanks a lot Anju!
When we reached the stadium I heard the crowd cheering and Zareen shouted “Peri! We are proud of you. Run Peri run! My spirits went soaring high as every one who was sitting, walking or running beside me started clapping and cheering for us. I heard someone shout “Satish”! I turned back and saw my dad. I said a quick hello and kept my pace. Padma told me we were almost there and she would tell me when to sprint. I was able to hear the music, shouts, cheers and all the vibrations. Padma said “Sprint” and we both sprinted. She left my hand I ran with full speed; as much as I could muster at that moment. I did it finally. I finished my first half marathon!
Padma and I hugged each other & lots of runners from Hyderabad Runners cheered for me at the finish line & congratulated me. Bhavana Nissima who is a blogger and facebook friend had told me she would be at the finish line when I finish it and she was there. When she said “Raghava! Bhavana here”, I asked her “Bhavana? Who?” My mind was not functioning properly then Bhavana.
I was a different man after this run because I understand what a person with physical disability goes through when he/she is confined to a wheel chair. It is a different pain and frustration. While blindness is nothing before that, we can’t really compare each of them. I ran this half marathon firstly for my sister as she has developed joint pains because of Rheumatic fever, my loving friend Deepa who developed Spinal Muscular Atrophy because of which she uses an electric wheel chair & Yatin, my best friend, who is paralyzed from below chest. When I saw my sister near the finish line, I hugged her and with tears in my eyes I told her that I did it for her. She cried. It was a very emotional moment for the whole family and all friends who where there.
“I saw the world with your eyes Sirisha and whatever I can do for you or my family is less. I am what I am. I can’t express my love much but just I want to let you know I love you all. We must make mum come for my next marathon if possible.”
I had the opportunity of meeting Major D P Singh who spent a lot of time with me and took me to sit along with all the blade runners on the stage. I felt proud to be with the entire blade runners. I am honored friends.
Lastly I want to thank a lot of those who made this impossible thing possible for me. Santhosh you are amazing and Runner’s High community – I love you all. Dear Queens, where are you all? I miss running with you all- the jokes and motivation! Hyderabad Runners, I love you guys for all the help. In a short time you took me in as your friend and made me feel comfortable and very special. Thanks to Ravi Setlem for all the motivation and help in finding car pool, partners for training etc. Apoorva, I have always enjoyed your company. Srikanth, Sriram, Sarvani- thanks a lot for all the encouragement. I can write a huge list of names but I know they are there and will help me to achieve more.
No one makes it ever alone and I certainly did not make it alone. I got help along the way. Advice to all my visually impaired friends – “Please always ask for help! Until you ask for it, you will not get it”.
Finally , I am Raghava. I started running to liberate my self and feel the freedom of air but along the way I realized and started running for a lot of other reasons. I run because I decided to touch 1 million lives and I keep saying to my self “Run Raghava Run”