It is Called "Coaching" : By Patrick Pitchappa

| Monday, February 3, 2014 | |

As I sprinted past that arch, past that mat that beeped, also called the FINISH line of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2014, I looked up to the heavens as I always do, to thank The Almighty. I then looked around and saw my fellow PaceMakers Brojen Baba and Rohit Arjunagi. They both congratulated me on my successful SCMM finish. I looked at my Garmin and realized that I had almost achieved the target given to me by Coach Pani. That's when my eyes looked around to search for that man, the legend, my coach, our coach, the PaceMakers coach! To my extreme joy, I spotted him. I walked slowly behind him and held his shoulders strongly. He turned around and looked at me, with so much excitement in his eyes and smiling from ear to ear he said, "You did great Patrick"! My eyes swelled with tears, those were the exact words that I really desperately wanted to hear at the end of that long race. I gave him a big bear hug and thanked him profusely for his coaching. He asked me to go get my finisher medal and I started my slow walk towards the medal counter with Rohit Arjunagi escorting me there. Euphoria took over me as I finally started realizing what had just happened. A day of many firsts:


1. My first Sub 5 hour Marathon finish - I finished in 04:36:43
2. Didn't give up after hitting the wall at the 37th km
3. No bathroom breaks (saves quite a few minutes, you know!)


Who is this great man? And, what has he made me do? My mind went into a frenzy as the flashback unfolded.


SCMM 2013 was my first ever full marathon. I was a raw runner. No proper and structured training. I did whatever I liked to do. I ran whenever I felt like running. I trained in whatever way I thought was best for me. All that led to bad blisters and a terrible marathon running experience on Jan 20, 2013. I told my running partners that I will definitely come back and conquer the streets of Mumbai. There was just one problem. I had no clue how I was going to do it.


Vaishali Kasture is a senior officer in my company and had been a great mentor to me as well. When she knew about my struggles, she insisted on me getting proper coaching and following the right training schedule. Her only choice for me was to join Coach Pani and the PaceMakers. I also understood that without a structured training schedule, I will badly fail again & again.


All I knew about the PaceMakers was that they were good noise makers at Applause 2013 and won so many awards. As the curtains came down on Applause 2013, Vaishali almost took me by hand and introduced me to Coach Pani over a cup of coffee. Pani Sir, in his usual style asked me to join him at 5:30 am the following Tuesday. I was so excited that I had found a coach. It was Tuesday, Feb 26, 2013 that I formally joined the PaceMakers. I recognized a few familiar faces like Bobby and my colleague Vikee that morning. There started an amazing journey. The first thing that really impressed me about Pani Sir was his humility. If I ever compose a dictionary, I would put his name down as an example for that word. Later, I would also know that he has this subtle knack of pushing every student of his very gently to do their best in races.


I tried to be as regular as possible at the PaceMakers training. I wanted to perform well at the TCS 10K 2013, my very first race after becoming a PaceMaker. Pani Sir did not give me a target. He asked me to do my best. I did my best with a 54:33, only to miss the coveted "I am Finisher" Nike T-shirt by 21 seconds. Although it was a Personal Best (PB) timing, I was badly disappointed. But the loss drove me to work hard and follow coach's training schedule more diligently.


The next race was the Dream Runners (DR) HM at Chennai. You may read my Race Report on DRHM here, which was published in one of the RFL Newsletters. This was a wonderful trip to Chennai, in which I had a great opportunity to gel with most of the PaceMakers. I also had the privilege of arranging the accommodation for the PaceMakers at Chennai for the DRHM. I will never forget DRHM as it is the first race in which Coach Pani gave me a time target, and I failed badly. I am not going to give excuses such as the Chennai humidity slowed me down etc. I just was not ready yet. After failing Pani Sir in two consecutive races, I made up my mind to push myself harder & harder in training. Pani Sir also encouraged me to keep training harder. He put me in a faster sub-group that consisted of Shilpa, Ravi Rapolu, Kishore Kumar and Gautham. It was the best thing that happened to me in the PaceMakers training. We became a very close-knit sub-group in the PaceMakers within no time. We unofficially appointed Kishore as a our President (read Time Keeper) and we started pushing each other out of our comfort zones in training regularly. Our trainings included Intervals, tempo runs, fartlek runs, hill training that included Nandi Hills and Pipeline Road.


My third official race as a PaceMaker was the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon (AHM) in Aug 2013. I had signed up for a Full Marathon against Coach Pani's and Bobby's instructions. I also signed up for Udaya Napa's 4:30 bus at AHM. To my credit, I kept up with Udaya for the first one-third distance of the marathon. Then I started falling back and even missed the 5 hour bus. I finished in 05:05. Pani Sir had given me a target of 4:45 at AHM and I failed badly once again in spite of doing a PB for a FM. Lo and behold, Pani Sir was there at the finish line of AHM to give me a big hug and made sure that I stretched properly as well. I felt like a VIP.


During the train journey on our way back to Bangalore from Hyderabad, I had a long chat with Coach Pani. Sir asked me to be consistent and persevere with his coaching and training schedules. He just told me that as I build endurance, my pace would automatically improve. By this time, as a PaceMaker, I had failed in a 10K, a HM and a FM. As they say, I had hit rock bottom.  Pani Sir's advice on consistency and perseverance kept on echoing in my ears. I diligently put that into practice.


The next official race was Mysore HM. I wanted to skip that event and go to the inaugural edition of the Vodafone Coimbatore Marathon (VCM) the following week. But, Pani Sir had other ideas. Being the brand ambassador of the Mysore HM, he literally threatened me to participate. My wife also gave me the green signal and off we went to Mysore. They say third time is charm, but for me it was the fourth time. I was able to finally attain Pani Sir's target for the first time. I managed to do a 01:57 in the Mysore HM. I was delirious. I couldn't control my tears and I cried with tears of joy at the finish line. My fellow PaceMakers felt that I had lost my mind! But I was so happy to turn the corner finally. A week later, I actually bettered my Mysore performance with a 01:56:28, my PB for a HM at the VCM.


Now the PaceMakers' weekend runs had permanently moved to Saturdays and it was really helping me to be consistent, which in turn helped build my endurance. Coach kept on repeating to me to concentrate on building my endurance. He also repeated that endurance will increase my pace. He emphasized that the slow long distance weekend runs are the only way to build endurance. I was skeptical. Although my next race was TWCM 2013, I signed up to pace a long time friend & first time marathoner from start to finish. My aim was to put Coach's instructions into trial. So, I did a slow 5:26 finish at TWCM 2013 pacing my friend from start to finish. This is exactly what they call killing two birds with one stone. And, it worked. Yes, it really worked!


As I returned from my flashback and got back to reality, I once again realized that I had just finished SCMM 2014 in 04:36. It was a 50 minute improvement from TWCM and almost a half-an-hour improvement from AHM. The legend called Pani Sir was right. 35+ years of running experience, and I had the to guts to doubt him. My eyes became wet again (enjoying "tears of joy" after races has now become a habit for me). I had an injury free 2013. I had improved from being a careless runner to a motivated runner. As I received my SCMM 2014 medal, for the first time I felt like I had earned it, truly & sincerely!


If you are looking for a moral of this story, it is just that consistent, disciplined and committed training designed by a dedicated coach will bring out the best in an athlete. Period!

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