Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time writing about my own marathon training journey and while it has been a great experience, it has also been really hard. I’ve come to realize it’s a lot more difficult to write about myself than I thought it would be.  As a journalist I’ve always found myself much more interested in telling other people’s stories than my own, so this week I want to take some time to do that.

With more than 60 current members, the UofC Marathon Training Program is a hugely diverse group of people, each with their own inspiring tales to tell. Some of them have been running marathons longer than I’ve been alive, some picked up running later in life. Some are competitive and are training for big races like the Boston Marathon and some run for the community and for fun.

I plan on telling some of the amazing stories of the group’s more experienced runners over the winter break, but for now, there are several other first-time marathoners with the UofC program whom I am so excited to introduce you to.

I have gotten to know each of these people pretty well after training together over the last few months. We have taken each scary, exciting, painful and triumphant step together since March and over the next few days I am going to be featuring each of them while finding out what made them want to take on this crazy challenge.

The first person I would like to introduce you to is Abhi. He recently graduated with his Masters in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Calgary. He’s a joker, a deep-thinker and joy to run with. His secret talent is being able to complete a four-hour run in the rain after fuelling up with the largest piece of cheesecake you’ve ever seen.

Abhi_001Name: Abhishek Batwara

Age: 27

Occupation: Petroleum Engineer

Goal race: Victoria Marathon

Before joining the UofC Marathon Training Program, how much running had you done before? What was your longest race, if any?

I had been running for about eight months before the program and completed the Terry Fox Run 10k race last year. By the start of the program I was practicing for 30-minutes three times a week, which was the prerequisite for the program, along with a little bit of core strengthening.

What made you decide to train for a marathon?

I was doing a lot of meditation and yoga which is more about mental fitness and I needed something that could make me physically fit. I am not a very good team sports player so I knew contact sports like basketball or football would just not be for me. I was looking for something that could increase my strength and fitness and that I could do outdoors.

When I was practicing for the Terry Fox Run, I learned about the UofC Marathon Training program. A friend and I thought for two or two and a half months about whether or not we should join. I talked to a lot of people and they all just kind of said it’s up to you.

But when I did my research I found out that running goes a lot with meditation because they both incorporate similar breathing techniques and so they just complement each other. For me, running is also a meditation and that is why I just started running longer distances.

What has been your biggest training challenge so far?

The hardest part for me has been to run slow. For me, the neatest thing would be to run 50 marathons before 50 rather than running 10 marathons under four hours. My biggest challenge is to run slow, keep pace and keep my heart rate low.

Avoiding sports injuries has also been one of my biggest goals because I don’t want to get injured and have to quit running. I want to be fit and run for a longer time and complete longer distances.

What is one thing you have learned since you started the UofC Marathon Training Program?

Since I’ve started running my mind has been a lot more relaxed and I have become way more calm and patient. It has helped me to more easily deal with stress in my life and in the industry I work in. After joining the program and doing a lot of meditation over the last two years I have become more focused. Doing these long runs has really helped prepare me for life in a better way.

What has been the best moment you’ve experienced so far?

Running along all the beautiful Calgary trails has been really exciting. But finishing our four hour long run when it was raining was one of the biggest landmarks that I will always remember. I was literally running through a forest alone at times, no one in front or behind me for nearly a kilometre. Spending that time running on my own and listening to nature, listening to the rain create that music on the leaves was so nice and soothing. Near the end I was in a lot of pain and I knew that I had developed a blister but still the best part was to experience that pain, to listen to the things around me and calm my mind. When you are tired and you can’t think about too many things, you are forced to live in the present and you start to enjoy those moments.

What is the most unexpected thing about training for a marathon?

The most unexpected thing I have experienced so far was after we passed the half-marathon mark in our training, I started experiencing pain in my glutes, shins and IT Band. I thought that running slow keeping my heart rate low and running carefully I wouldn’t have much of that. But as soon as we went over 21.1km I started developing more pain.

My body was telling me you need to do something else in order to get in better shape so I started looking for more core strengthening exercises and stretching.

Running long distances has made me into a person who can listen to their body and what it is trying to convey to me. I feel like I can now actually be better prepared for running long distances without a lot of injuries.

What do you say to yourself in your head when things really get tough during the long runs?

Before I go on a long run I listen to this specific music by an Indian poet on repeat. Then while I am running I play his poems over and over in my head. It is brainpower music and I just keep repeating it in my head no matter what and it helps me avoid pain.

Sometimes I think about how my Saturday mornings used to be so different at one time. I think about what I used to be doing even five years back when I might have been hanging out with my friends having coffee, watching movies or doing nothing. I was doing anything apart from running.

Do you have a goal for your race?

Primarily my goal is to finish the race with no injuries. But I would be very happy to do it in between 4.5 and 5 hours.

Final thoughts…

I have really enjoyed doing this program. One thing I really like is going for coffee after our Saturday runs and listening to stories from people who have finished the Boston Marathon or Ironman Triathlons and learning about life from them.

No matter what happens this has really taken me to a different level in my life. I just went to a career fair and this guy asked me what I do in my spare time and I said marathon training. Now my resume has this beautiful thing on it and I feel proud of that.