What started out as a thought did become reality on May 30th 2019. But, the preparations began much before, in March 2019.
It was a regular dinner time in the mess, during a sessional week at college. I remember Yashas and me, going a little early for dinner. While eating, we were discussing about some 10×10 run challenge where an individual would run 10 kms per day for 10 days. It was something new for us. We casually discussed of the other possibilities like 5×5, 15×15, 21×21, 42×42. Where 15×15 was reasonably good, but was looking achievable. 42×42 was too much, couldn’t even imagine finishing it. 21×21 sounded like a nice milestone, and looked achievable since we had done a few 21k’s before. The only thing that we hadn’t done was, running for 21 consecutive days, whatever the distance. It was all just casual dinner time talks, and we finished our meal and left.
The following few days, I was curious to know if anybody had done the 21×21 challenge in running. I searched on the net and found some, but they were like 21 Half-marathons in year, 21 days fitness challenge and so on. There was nothing like 21 Half-Marathons in 21 days. So, I thought let’s try it. I began thinking realistically about the challenge. So, I picked the month of May to do it. I planned different routes in Mangalore, pacing and hydration strategies, recovery techniques so that I could be mentally prepared. It was feeling a little impossible at first, but then as I went through the requirements I felt that I could do it. At that point of time, I wasn’t doing any strength training, only running on Sundays. February had the Manipal Marathon and March had Revels, I was busy in organizing both. April had end semester exams, time flew. All the while, I was just trying to visualize each day and was feeling confident about the first 10-12 days but after that everything was hazy.
On May 10th, at 5 am, I started running. I was accompanied by my dad on most days, but he was on a cycle. Other days, I had Pranav, Neha, Pragna or Chitrali joining me for runs. I had planned to do 21 kms of continuous running every day and did it for the first few days, but then did 21 kms in total per day by doing 2 runs. It was a new experience, I knew that it was not good to increase mileage abruptly and still did it. It was a new feeling of pain and soreness, since I was going without any rest day. I did follow a good cool down routine along with foam rolling, but I didn’t do much warmup. Very light stretches and slow jog, then progressing to the constant pace run. Nutrition was good with regular home food accompanied by my regular supplements, AS-IT-IS whey concentrate, Unived Supergreens, Fast&Up Gels and Reload electrolyte. I slept around 5.5 hrs a night, which was lower than my regular sleep of 7 hrs per night but it was all fine, things were under control.
Mid-week (Day 8-14) was crucial to know if I could complete the challenge. Days were feeling longer, the goal was appearing farther away. Sleep was Heavy, stiff legs were common, it was just about getting things done. Interestingly, soreness had disappeared. I had to look at only one run at a time, the total was too big to think about. Before this, the maximum distance I had run in a month was around 200 kms, and this was projected at 441 kms for 21 days. I had already completed 147 kms in 7 days, I was nearing my past limit.
The goal was to finish 21 kms in a day and just wait for the next day, assuming there was no tomorrow.
My runs were moderately difficulty by my standards. I usually ran around 5:40/km pace with a few quicker runs on the track. It was just about maintaining the pace throughout the 21 days because the fatigue was building up, but runs were feeling longer. So, I used to pick up the pace in the evening 10k runs with some kilometers under 4:30/km, just to get done with it. Although, I was pushing hard during the run, I felt fine. But once I stopped the run, my calves and shins used to be stiff. I didn’t bother much because it was common. Otherwise things looked fine, I was passing through the mid-week quite strong. Fifty percent of the challenge was done and I had surpassed the 200 km mark in 10 days, crossing my previous maximum. After that, it was all about finding my limits.
It was around day 15, when I started feeling pain on the right lower leg post-runs. It used to hurt on every step, with a sharp radiating pain under the right calf but it was bearable. I started doubting myself, if I could run anymore. There was about 180 kms left. I tried to run by starting off slow, and it was possible. The pain used to dissappear after like 500 metres of jogging, it was an amazing feeling to be running. It was a point of time, when running was easier than walking. After every run, the pain increased. Walking was getting more difficult but running was fine. I kept waking up on each day, just to complete the numbers. It was a mind game.
Day 20, was where I reached the upper limit of my running capacity. That evening, I started running on the track and the pain kept increasing,to the point where I started feeling the pain radiating till the right hip. On every step taken with the right leg, I could feel the pain starting, from under the calf and moving sharply up till my glutes. It was something very deep, it wasn’t like muscle cramps. But, then I couldn’t push off with my right leg also. That’s when I realized something was wrong. Stopped running and walked through the remaining distance, the pain reduced when I started walking. Completed day 20. During the rest of the day, the pain was at its maximum while walking, reaching the limits of bearable for me, since I usually tolerate pain. I did the usual cool down routine but nothing happened. There was 1 day left and I had already reached the point of breakdown. Running was no longer an option to cover the last 21 kms, walking was a probability. Nothing was clear. I had to wake up on the next day to find out. As I said before, it was a mind game.
Day 21, the final day. The pain had reduced a little but was hurting while walking. I wasn’t still sure if it was possible to cover 21 kms. But then, looking at the big picture, I had completed 95% of the challenge. Just 5% was left, I was too close to give up. Although, walking was a probability, I took it up. I had to forget about my body and play it with the mind. I remember starting at 5.10 am with my dad who was there for 11 kms. Each kilometer passed by slowly, like each of the 21 days. Every kilometer was a milestone, and it was all about thinking of that number. Slowly, we reached the 11 km mark, and dad left. I had 10 kms more and could sense the finish. Running or walking feels longer when your alone, I could feel it. But then again, it was all about the numbers. Throughout the last 5 kms, I kept recalling how it all started as a crazy dream months ago, the plans behind it, the execution and now, that it was at the verge of completion.
I completed the last 21 kms in 3 hr 56 mins by walking continuously.
This was a challenge where I couldn’t listen to my body. It was all about the mind. I just kept pushing myself each and every day to the point of breakdown and beyond. That’s when I realized the 40% rule famously quoted by the Navy SEALs,
“When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done.”
It’s true, because most of us don’t have a clue about where our limits are. We never push ourselves that far, beyond the point where we think we’re done. It’s because our mind restricts us, although our body is capable of it. We are programmed to survive. Day 15 was where my mind wanted me to stop. But, I still control it, so I pushed and reached my physical limit on day 20. I still had some more left to cover 21 kms on my feet. I don’t know how much more was left but what I can tell you is that, it’s all in the mind.
(Written by Likhith Shivaprasad)