There was no deafening gunshot reverberating off the stadium walls. There was no irritating buzzer to encourage the drones. It was simple really. At 7:30 a firm “go!” sliced through the crowd. Nothing extravagant but it got the job done, fitting of the India I had just spent three months taking in.
The stationary feet were now quite mobile and the Delhi half marathon had officially begun. I looked to my left to get that goofy reassuring grin from Jack, then over to my right at Jesse who was still unsure about what we’d gotten ourselves into. We’d shared many trails over the last couple months, we’d shared seats on a raft, we’d shared packed jeeps winding up mountain roads, we’d even shared preferred trowel techniques; now we were about to share another experience that would try and test our ability.
Our semester NOLS course had just come to an end two days prior, placing us in Delhi just in time for the city half marathon. While we’d spent months in the mountains we hadn’t been running and none of us had even run half of the distance we were trying for that day. Runner Magazine had nothing on us though—I couldn’t have asked for better training.
Through my time in India I had been connecting the dots between physical and mental endurance. I saw it in my friends who strapped on a pack for the very first time and walked into the Himalaya. I saw it in the people who lived in the mountains we passed through. I saw it from the mother of my home stay, donning grass, child and goat on her back in unison. I even saw it from the earth as massive boulders clenched to the steep mountainsides like that last baby tooth unwilling to fall from your gums.
Maybe we hadn’t been hitting the pavement but I had been hit with something much stronger. India had become more than just a place where gigantic tectonic plates waged war on each other in order to challenge me.
Our single goal for the race was to run it in its entirety—never walk. I’m proud to say, as my throbbing toes and knees could attest, we all met that goal. 21 kilometers later and Jack, Jesse and I were all still standing. The thought of that kind of distance before my trip would have just made me laugh in disbelief. Now however it wasn’t even a question. I was certain in our ability because of our determination, our grit.
While our fellow runners didn’t know what to think of the three westerners chanting NOLS around kilometer 5, or why we began offering feedback to everyone around kilometer 10 or even why we apologized to LNT every time we threw the water bottles to the ground, they knew we were giving 100%.
As I crossed the finish line, Jack, Jesse and I looked at each other trying to understand how we just passed the last two hours. We were giddy, we were ecstatic and we could hardly move without our muscles screaming at us. Maybe the three of us would fall asleep in a rickshaw in the middle of Delhi later that day but in that moment, at that time, I felt alive.