Zipping up my new jacket I glanced quickly at my welcome photo frame as I started to settle down in my chair.
“Good morning Fahad”, I smiled back and wished the same to my then colleague Neha Oberoi who was always early to the office.
The smell of the morning coffee lingered around my desk and I continued scrolling through my emails and task list.
“Arey Fahad” (Hey Fahad – in Hindi) a voice came from across the desk as I looked towards my colleague Anup.
“Suno, mere pass ek race ki ticket Hai, tumhe Jaana Hai?”
(Listen, I have a ticket for a race, do you want to go?)
“Haan, kyun nahi” (yes, why not), I replied. I nodded my head in response and tried to control the excitement on my face. I guess working with a fitness company came with such perks, I thought to myself. Still trying to act cool as I continued scrolling.
After 20 minutes, Anup gave me a thumbs up from across the table to confirm the participation. Before I could process the thought, he sternly said: “back out mat karna yaar” (don’t back out buddy). And before I could say anything, I very well remember this line of his..“it’s a half marathon, by the way, that means you’ll run a distance of 21kms.”
And ladies and gentlemen, that’s how I signed up for Dubai Creek Striders, which is the country’s oldest half marathon.
Suddenly the whole excitement turned chaotic as I scampered around to collect the senses in my head. I had barely ran 5kms before this very moment.
“Arey bennnchaattorrii galli” was the first emotion my mind could register (I’ll leave that untranslated for certain reasons).
I silently nodded my head and quickly turned towards my laptop to check the date of the race. It’s three weeks until I stand at the most heart-pounding part of the race, the start line.
I waited for Neha to come back from her meeting to break the news of another stupid decision of mine (as usual).
“You can do it”, calm as an ice and the straightest of faces anyone could pull, she responded.
That evening I came home, and I all I could do in the metro was look at the calendar and imagine myself limping to the finish line. That would be a good meme for the next office email I cursed myself.
The next day I thought to myself, it would be better if I give away my ticket to someone deserving.
Until someone told me of my colleague in the finance department the next day and said that he had run 42km before. If he can do it, you can do it with ease. And that did calm my mind.
So all I had to do in the next three weeks was to make sure I constantly clocked 10kms on my weekends and shorter distances during the week because what are training plans anyway (honestly, I had no idea what they were)!
Fast forward to three days before the race, I was very low on confidence and I wanted to get my confidence rolling so I spoke with the superstar Rimaz (former colleague) who had joined me for my first ever 14km run. Boy, did that run do wonders for my confidence. A day before the race my colleague Brienne sorted out my race kit, briefed me about the race and wished me luck.
The big day arrived and I woke up at 5 am. To be honest, I couldn’t sleep (well, that’s the case with me before all races) so I got dressed, stuffed my mouth with a bar of KitKat (my favourite), packed my bags and reached the Dubai Golf Course.
As I was walking towards the race village I felt petrified. Looking around in awe I felt like a person who was about to travel in an aeroplane for the first time. Everything was just, wow!
Even the bag drop-off was a feeling of exclusivity. The race village had a buzz of its own. The energy, the passion and enthusiasm were all electrifying. There was an urge to pee every 15 minutes (nervousness is directly linked to my bladder and not my sensory system).
No running watch, everyday gym trainers, skin-tight compressions, regular socks and a borrowed race belt from Rimaz were my support system as I slowly made my way to the start line. I held on to my water bottle as tightly as I could as I stood at the start line. With the countdown in motion, I just had one goal today, survival.
The countdown began and the only word my brain could register was “Go”.
As the runners started to take off at the start line, I began the race, slowly overtaking people as I ran through. One km at a time, I constantly reminded myself.
I didn’t have a smartwatch to track my running pace or my heart rate. All I did was try to have fun and enjoy the moment.
Hi-fiving race volunteers (which I still do to date) I ran through the streets, the bridges and narrow alleys of Old Dubai. That course is just one of a kind in the UAE.
My engine was functioning smoothly till the 12th km by getting in sufficient water and talking to myself to keep my mind completely in the game.
“It will be an epic achievement if you do the race in less than 2:15 as a first-timer,” Rimaz said when I had spoken to him the day before. “I guess I’ll just go and enjoy the breakfast” I chuckled as I walked back to my desk.
“5 more kilometres!” shouted a race volunteer as I snapped out of my zone of thoughts and flashbacks as we slowly started to enter the last half of the race.
The real struggle began when I got into the 16th km.
My body wasn’t accustomed to such enduring tasks. I started to feel nauseated and I started to panic as I sucked on my energy gels which I had to spit out since they tasted awful and just added to my current struggle.
I could see people around me struggling as well as we started approaching a bridge.
“Jeez, not another one of these painful inclines” I murmured, giving myself a push as we got into it.
The sound of bells and people started to get louder and louder. It felt like the longest kilometre I had ever run in my life. The blisters and the exhaustion were doing a great job pulling me back from getting to the finish line.
But I was determined, I will finish no matter what. Jokes, I wanted a good picture for Instagram!
The final stretch, a feeling unparallel to none. I drove my fatigued legs and my overheated head into the last 100mtrs.
Let me tell you, this is where the “runners high” starts to hits you. Every time I think of the last stretch of my favourite races, I can feel the chills. This feeling is something you should experience in your life at least once.
Collapsing and gasping for breath I looked around as I crossed the finish line.
A race volunteer approached me to hand out my finisher medal. I let her put the medal around my neck after which put my head down and quietly walked towards the race village.
Excited, satisfied and exhausted, I really didn’t know what I felt. Probably the feeling was still sinking in. I kid you not. I have chills as I write this and nothing can beat the feeling of the last dash towards the finish line. Nothing.
As I collected my bag, my phone buzzed and the race timings had come in. 2:00 for my first ever half marathon.
I didn’t feel anything as it was my first time so, I had no clue what was a good time. That walk from the finish line to the race village got me thinking. I need to do it again and again.
Maybe if I prepared better I could have overtaken a few more people in the end. But nevertheless, I was thrilled to have finished the Dubai Creek Striders half marathon.
With blisters on my feet and stinking clothes, I made my way towards the taxi. I got home put the medal around my mom’s neck and unpacked my bag.
That beautiful medal is still hanging in my room. It has to be one of the special ones. The end of that race was the start of a beautiful journey that is filled with inspiring people, great mentors and beautiful friends.
Was I happy with my decision of doing the race? Hell yes. Because running has taught me a lot. It has become that teacher I looked for in life. And that’s where my quest to become the best version of myself started.
Today I time at 1:38 minutes in a half marathon.
Am I happy with how far I have come? 100% percent yes.
Where do I plan to go from here?
I really don’t know, I guess we are just one foolish decision away from embarking an unbelievable journey.
Take my advice and make that decision. Who knows, your future opportunities are disguised in your fears.
But, do your research well before you sign up for a race or something you’ve never done before as it will help you prepare better.
Drive-in on your hunger and not for someone else, for you.
Our journeys here are similar to a race: different finishing times, different goals. The pacer running at 1:30 is not for everyone. Remember that!