There is always the first time for everything…
March 19, 2017 became one of the very important events in my life, the one that makes me physically stronger, mentally sharper, and above all, a better person!
I came to Asha totally by coincidence! Admittedly, I am addicted to using Facebook 🙂 And there it was, team Asha page inviting people to join their 10K and 5K run. As I read thru the page, I was thinking if this was the right one for me to join: i had never ran a mile in my life and Asha seemed to be a closed community and I was not sure if I would be welcomed there. Regardless, I paid a registration fee and showed up at the event. That 5K was brutal. Somehow, I finished it but with a lot of effort and pain. I hung around a bit to see what happened next and there I met Kiran. He chatted with me briefly about Asha and what was next. For some reasons, he convinced me to sign up for season 1 training and while I felt so good completing my first ever 5K, I agreed to register right there right then. After the registration, I asked Kiran “what is the goal for the training season?” He said “half and full marathon”. I asked “when is that going to happen”, “July”. “July 2018?” I asked. “Nope, 2017” – It was too late. Some lesson learnt here 🙂
At first, I thought I would train by myself as I could not fit into any training group schedule. I asked to be in 3 different groups but I could not make it to any. One Saturday morning run, Bipul, who became my mentor later, approached me and introduced himself. At that time, I did not know he was THE legendary Bipul! He welcomed me to the San Jose AM and asked me about my schedule. He and the entire SJAM team was kind enough to agree to meet at 5:45am to accommodate my tight schedule. I had no reason not to show up and train with them.
Waking up really early 2 mornings a week (4:50am for me in order to reach the park at 5:45) has not been easy at all. Every time, I try to come up with so many excuses not to go (sick, flat tire, early morning meetings, etc.) but my integrity is so high I could not do it 🙂 Also, Bipul read our minds and made sure that we showed up by sending us texts every step of the way to encourage us to come. We joked about this very often (Megha, Sonal, Pratik and Mehul – you know what I meant). However, every time I could not convince myself to go, I remember one of the coaches’ words: all you need is to show up, we will help you cross the finish line. So up I put on my clothes and shoes…and joined the team when the city was still asleep.
During all 15 weeks of training, there was pain (i had to take a 2 week break), doubts, questions. But at the same time, there was a lot of encouragement from colleagues, from my kids, from Asha coaches, from Asha new friends that I made along the way, and above all, a lot of progress. I got bonded with my training group and was so honored to have Bipul as my mentor. He is like a live dictionary to me when it comes to running (and he has great sense of humor, too).
Fast forward, the taper week came and I got very very nervous and excited at the same time. I got most worried about the logistics and what to wear for the race (very silly of me, of course). However, coach Reshu made it very clear to me that I would have to wear Asha shirt, otherwise she would not cheer for me. Problem solved!
A very good friend of mine agreed to drive me to SF on the race day. This friend was also the one who witnessed my first 5K. I could not sleep that night, waking up multiple times and decided to get out of bed at 1am. We arrived at SF around 4:50am and waited a bit before I walked to the start line at 5:30am. The excitement was so overwhelming that I did not feel sleepy or tired. I was very ready.
One of the members in my training group, Pratik (he did not register for SF marathon) was very kind to be my pacer. He could not enter the start line without the bib so he met me at mile 2 and ran with me to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was nice running with another team member. The first mile I was so determined to run the first best race that I forgot to take in the beauty of SF city. The voice on the speaker reminded all runners to look to their right to witness the sun rise. And it was breathtakingly beautiful! I was so thankful to have an opportunity to take part in such an amazing event. I was looking for every Asha shirt I could find and shouted out “go Asha” with all my heart. I was so touched when i saw coach Reshu shouting my name so loud “go Olivia! You are doing so great”! I love seeing her along the race, every single time. She was there again cheering for me close to the finish line. I was so glad and so proud to wear Asha shirt that day!
I am not sure at what mile I met Guru, who seemed to run my pace. We chatted and decided to run with each other for the rest of the race. I never did 6 minute run and 1 minute walk before but I decided to join him.
We crossed the bridge together. It was a difficult run because of the elevation and the slippery road and it was foggy and cold. I had never known that GG bridge was that long until I had to run cross it on foot. Guru and I felt very good keeping each other at consistent pace. During one of the walks, we stopped to refresh our legs. We saw so many Asha faces on the opposite direction and we even stopped for pictures 🙂 When we saw mile 9, we felt so excited and happy and thought that it was the best 9 miles we had ever run. Finishing the bridge, I felt pretty good and thought I could finish this strong. I was aiming to complete it within 2 hours 30 minutes.
I met Pratik, my pacer, right when i finished the GG bridge. He was waiting there for me with such big smile. The last 3 miles was brutal because my legs were getting really tired and i kept seeing all the hills, one after another. The last 0.5 mile seemed longest and hardest. Pratik was trying to drag me to finish strong, i had to take a few breaks walking before I could put all my effort to cross the finish line. And we did it, together! My PR: 2:37:41. I had to admit that i was so happy to see many familiar faces near the finish line and I was busy smiling and posing for pictures that I slowed down quite a bit here.
I am so thankful for the experience to train with team Asha, with Bipul and my running group. At first, it was all about me getting fit, about me doing something for myself. However, as the weeks passed by, I learnt that this whole thing was not only about me, it was bigger than me. I was running for great cause and I was doing it alongside so many amazing individuals (all volunteers, coaches, mentors and all participants). There is no boundary when it comes to love: I am Vietnamese and I have been so warmly welcome to Asha community with open arms and legs 🙂 and hearts. I don’t consider myself raising funds to benefits children in India, I am raising funds to benefits children. We are under the same roof and we share the same responsibility to make the world better.
The race was over and when i was thinking of quitting running altogether, Gauri was able to convince me to continue. I will continue, I promise.
My special thanks to all coaches, to my mentor Bipul, to my training members Pratik, Megha (you are my inspiration to run at strong and consistent pace), Sonal, and Mehul, to all volunteers, to Sandhya who made me feel so included, and to Kavita and Latha, who shows me that friendship can still last beyond the race.
I am forever thankful!