The Italian Job – Federica Freni on how she conquered SCMM

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I ventured into this world of running, always thinking that maybe starting running after 50 years was a bit eccentric.

Since the two years I started training in Pune University campus. I was immediately impressed by the enthusiastic group of runners who train here regularly.

In October 2015 I took part in my first competitive half marathon, PRBM 2015. And guess what, I stood third in my category! The most unexpected surprise of my life.

From here begins a fabulous journey to Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM).

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I was intent on registering for SCMM half marathon. But SCMM being one of the most popular races in India, half marathon registrations closed very quickly and I, taken over by irrational emotional enthusiasm,  registered for the Full Marathon 42.195 km!

Now I had no choice but to plan and prepare for the race. I started on my own since it was too late to join a group and based my training on whatever I read on Facebook walls and runners chat groups.

Thus began an intense training schedule which involved a gradual increase in weekly mileage. The training went as per schedule and I was peaking at the right time. Or so I thought.

Three weeks before race day is when runners start tapering; gradually reducing mileage, that is. It’s a different kind of challenge to pull back on training but I was coping well.

In the first week of taper it was a relief to run less and I was happy about it.

The second week was a disaster! One morning, I was running in semi-darkness when I had a bad fall and hurt my left buttock and shin. It was a very painful blow but I consoled myself by thinking I was lucky as it could have a broken arm or leg.

The shin seemed to recover alright but the buttock pain took longer and this drove me closer to despair.

My gradual tapering plan went out of the window and I decided not to run at all until race day.

First time at SCMM and a lot of physical discomfort, pre-race jitters engulfed me as race day drew closer.

Sunday 17 Jan 2016, was not just another day. I woke up at 3:00 am, readied myself and reached the venue a bundle of nerves.

As I waved goodbye to my husband outside the venue my thoughts were –  – I’m alone, I must be crazy, why on earth am I doing this at all? Fear was overpowering me.

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We stood behind a large wooden gate for some time. A while later the gate opened and there in front of me was the magical view of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus illuminated in all its glory. A fairy tale view that transformed my mood completely.

I joined the B section runners frantically looking for some familiar faces and found PUNE RUNNING‘s Nikhil Shah

, the pacer for 4:45, and a few other Pune runners. That helped calm my nerves somewhat.

The race was flagged off and I lost Nikhil very quickly. I reckoned he had moved ahead and so I went faster only to find myself with the 4:30 group.

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I settled down into a nice rhythm and was enjoying the run. The well-lit city looked charming with just the runners and no vehicles on the roads.

I reached the Bandra-Worli sea link which everyone talks about so much with no sign of fatigue and the run rising.It felt like a dream, it was like running in the middle of the ocean. Splendid!

The run continued and I was greeted by a boisterous endless line of cheering Mumbaikars on both sides of the road. These selfless people wake up so early on a holiday just to cheer us on and treat us like heroes. Hats off to them.

A while later, the elite runners passed my by and I watched the champions in amazement – a vision of perfection, elegance, beauty. Momentarily I was overwhelmed and felt a bit small in comparison but regained composure quickly with the thought that God has gifted all of us with different talents.

It was a while of running and slowly fatigue set in. My pace began to go down significantly. I realize it was because I started too fast and now I was paying the price for it. Thankfully, at the 25th km I reunited with my group and stayed with them.

We reached the dreaded Pedder road very tired having to overcome a steep stretch of over one km. I feared the worst but surprisingly navigated it without breaking down. Much better than I thought! A huge morale booster since I thought the worst part was behind me.

A lesson was waiting for me … the worst comes when you least expect it!

Marine Drive, the same lovely street that seemed so beautiful to me just three hours before, turned into hell. The sun was up and so was the humidity. I was losing all my energy with pain in all my muscles. Nikhil kept encouraging me but I am forced to walk. The group moved on and was soon out of sight.

The running app on my phone announced 40km done while the signboard on the roadside displayed 39km. What a downer at this stage of the run where we are thinking of overcoming meters.

Time for another amazing experience. A young girl from the Cochin group was down on her knees and struggling. I reached out to her with my hand which she willfully took and we ran together non-stop hand in hand  for one km!

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People took our pictures as they could sense an energy flow that seemed to recharge both of us. A little later she moved ahead.

By now I could see the finish line which I cross with a mixed feeling of utmost joy and relief with my arms raised in the air. It’s over!

The first person I saw after the finish line was the ever-helpful Nikhil. His sweet smile banished all my tiredness.

I sat next to him grateful to be there and to have lived through this roller-coaster emotional journey of 4 hours and 57 minutes.

Federica Freni is a Pune-based runner of Italian origin. SCMM 2016 was her maiden full marathon and she stood FIRST in her age category.

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