Tanzanian Indian American Rupal Ramesh Shah tells how she ran 11 marathons in 11 years.
By Rupal Ramesh Shah
On September 15, I completed my 11th marathon in 11 years. It almost seems surreal as I was very deliberate about my running goals in the past 11 years. Six of the marathons were for the completion of the World Marathon Majors and seven of the marathons were for the completion of the Seven Continents Club. Completing the Blackmores Sydney Marathon marks the completion of a marathon in each of the seven continents of the world.
Over the years, from my global races I have met fellow runners from different parts of the world that come together due to similar running goals. Four of such runners from my marathons in Brazil and Antarctica joined me on September 15 for the race in Sydney. I am lucky to call them friends and am proud of them.
One of the things that I am always reminded of is that runners are the friendliest group of athletes. Not only do we cheer on each other while running, we genuinely want all the runners to cross that finish line! Mostly, our goal is to beat our own personal record, not each other. During the marathon whenever I saw Cere, Barbara, Kumar, and Peder we made sure to cheer for each other. To be honest, seeing them on the course encouraged me to run harder and faster!
While I enjoyed running the Sydney marathon, race conditions were harsh as temperatures rose to 80+F midway into the race. The marathon course was mostly uncovered with little to no shelter. Even for someone like me who loves the sun and the heat, it was too hot to run! Believe it or not, at times I felt like my body was on fire.
As temperatures increased, I slowed down. For the Sydney marathon, the race cut off time is six hours and 15 minutes. In the past, the race organizers have allowed a few people to cross the finish line after that but within six and a half hours, the race is over.
Those who run marathons are familiar with marathon terminology. A pacer is someone who runs throughout the course with a sign that reflects runners’ anticipated finish time. I started the race with a 4:30 pacer. However, as the heat got worse, I slowed down to finish at 6:00. My only goal was to keep up with the two pacers that were carrying signs for 6:00 finish time. Slowly, they went past me…I yelled out to them, “How far is the last pacer?” One of them warned me, that if I didn’t keep up with her, within five minutes the sweeper bus will be in sight. A sweeper bus is a bus that picks up struggling runners who aren’t able to complete the marathon. It is quite a sad moment for runners as all of us are in it to finish the marathon.
I have to admit, for the first time in my marathon adventures, I saw the sweeper bus behind me. However, before the bus I saw what I would call my running angel. His name is John and he was the 6:15 pacer. John ran up to all of us and sternly started to count down the time. “You can’t slow down now” and “You must finish,” he yelled. He made eye contact with each of us and came close to us and said, “You’re almost done.”
His words, his stern voice, and his energy is what pushed me to the finish line. As I neared the finish line, exhausted not just physically but also mentally, I weakly pulled out my Tanzanian flag to fly in the air. Towards the finish line the crowd was cheering for all of us. The rest is history!
I am blessed for many reasons. I finished in exactly six hours. However, I know I didn’t do it alone. That last hour when I was struggling, I prayed. I prayed hard to God. I also asked my Godmother who is in heaven, Jasumasi, to send me strength. I asked my friend Neelu who I know was watching from the sky to ensure I finish. I know both of them were rooting for me. During the course of the marathon my friends from my Boston days, Saharsh and Saurav were cheering for me. I saw them again at the finish line. Having familiar faces to cheer on me and hug me at the finish line made ALL the difference.
That night, we celebrated over dinner and drinks. That night, I reflected on everything it took to complete 11 marathons in 11 years. That night, I smiled as I completed my goal of running a marathon in each of the seven continents of the world. That night, I said a thankful prayer to God.
Last but not the least, my fundraising efforts have been successful. As many of you know for this marathon, I had a goal to raise funds for two different children’s shelters, the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston, USA and Haiti Children’s Home in Mirebalais, Haiti.
You can check out the details here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-final-continent-marathon. There is still time to donate. The link will be active until November 15. I want to recognize everyone who has already donated. I owe my gratitude to those who have generously contributed. Even your smallest contribution of one dollar will make a difference and will put a smile on the faces of many children.
(Rupal Ramesh Shah, a Tanzanian Indian American, is a microbiologist with a public health background. Her writings are usually focused on her work in global health as well as her marathons. She also writes journalistic pieces for street newspapers that cover stories related to homelessness and poverty-related issues.)