Monday, September 5, 2011

Running :Ego issues, a stick to beat me with and a pushover for a running buddy.

Two points before I begin. One, I had promised to write about my long runs. Long runs are relative; when I started, I used to do 2 rounds of the 400mtr race track on usual days; for a long run, it was 3 rounds - all of 1200mtrs. Slowly, a 5k was a long run, then a 10k, that increased to 15k, then 21k. Now, a 32k is less than 2/3 of my usual weekly long run, so why am I blogging about it? Primarily because there has been some significant realization but also because (even though I have always maintained that distance running is a mental sport and all of us are insane) 32k is a long run for most of us nuts whose nuttiness is within the normal parameters of insanity. 

Two, a small backdrop so that this post can be read in perspective. Distance running for me has been a lonely sport. When I began running, I had a lot of runner friends who did the usual distance of 800mts with me. The number dwindled drastically and exponentially when I increased the distance to 5k, then a 10k and so on till I met someone who was more interested in the glamour that marathoning brought with it, rather than the running part of the marathons. Here, the focus was on PBs, and PBs were no good unless you knew of four others whose PBs were less than yours, thus establishing your superiority in the pecking order of marathoners. As I graduated to ultras, this 'friendship' too fizzled out, and I was back to running alone. Then I met Piyush. Coincidentally. While running. Piyush is someone who runs because he loves running. For him, a 42.2 has no great significance except that that is the distance of all marathons. Every few weeks, Piyush is given to calling me up and fixing up a 70-80k overnight run. His targets are clear. He completes a marathon in sub-5:00. He's happy at the pace; PBs don't matter to him and he keeps insisting that one should run to enjoy themselves, not for scoring PBs, unless one is aiming for a sub-2:00 marathon. After a few weeks of running with Piyush, I asked him if he would push me to go faster; then I asked him if he would push me to do greater distances, keeping in mind BR-135. After a few weeks of running, when I felt confident enough, I asked him if he would crew for me at BR-135. Piyush agreed, and therein began the saga of him pushing me to go further, faster, longer. Piyush knew of my DNF status much before I blogged about it. He also knows when I want to give up during a long run and he manages to ensure that I complete, whether running, walking or crawling. 

Now for the post.

After Hyderabad, I was back in Ahmedabad and the 'take 2 days off to recoup, recover and rejuvenate' extended to 3 days and just as I was planning to extend it to a week, Piyush called on Wednesday. I tried telling him that we would restart next week. His response was, "We need to train for BR-135 and a week's vacation will be a bit too much." I managed to successfully negotiate for a Thursday and Friday off and we decided to start off on Saturday. On Friday evening, I received an email from Piyush which gave me an option of easing into training by only walking on Saturday. 

What??? Me, and walk?? On what is supposed to be training run? I mean, I who had done so many marathons, I, who run so regularly, I, who is planning to participate in BR-135 in January, I, who hope to finish BR-135 in less than 48:00 and qualify for Badwater, I who...

Just one DNF and a reluctance to train and Piyush tells me to ease into training by walking? What nonsense!! Since it was late and I knew Piyush would not check his email, I did not reply to the email. However, my ego had not been dented, it had been punctured. And I was determined to teach Piyush a lesson. And what better way to do it than to show him my mettle on the road and while we trained?

As we met on Saturday morning, I signaled him to begin running. He did. A few kilometers later, I decided to pick up pace - it had to be made clear that I could run, run better than what I normally did, and run to show Piyush that the DNF was behind me. As I increased my pace, Piyush kept up. Sorry, I was the one whose ego had been deflated, I was not going to give in so easily; so I increased my pace a little more, to ensure that Piyush was unable to catch up with me. That would teach him a lesson to not underestimate me. Ever. But Piyush kept up. I increased my pace some more just a little below my terminal velocity. I could afford to do this at a pinch, the training run was after all only a 16k on Saturday. 

But no matter what I did, Piyush kept up. And as we finished the run huffing, puffing and exhaling our lungs out with each breath, all that Piyush said was, "With this kind of training, I am sure we will be able to achieve your target of a sub-48:00:00 finish at BR-135."

Which is when I realized, I had handed over a stick for Piyush to beat me with and he was making full use of it. Piyush knows how much BR-135 means to me. He knows I will do anything, repeat, anything to have a successful run there. Cut to the 32k run on Sunday. After warming up over an easy 3k, Piyush suddenly suggested that we start running, continuously increasing the pace and do not stop till we hit the 12k mark, about 9k away from where we were. At the 12k mark, we stopped for water. And immediately started running and stopped at the 16k mark where we were to turn back. 

On the way back, Piyush kept pushing me. He realizes how much he can blackmail me by just mentioning BR-135. Everytime I slowed down, he would mention something about BR-135. No direct blackmail; just something subtle like, 'At BR-135, we need to average a pace of just about 3.5k/hour, and we're doing about 11k/hour, so I guess we're okay.' and my speed automatically increased. The final push came when we were at about the 28k mark. There were two runners, some 500mts ahead and right after them, a railway overbridge. Piyush asked me to make a dash for it; to overtake the runners before they reached the top. And both of us scrambled off and sure enough, we overtook the runners before they reached the top of the overbridge. Pumped up by our 'achievement', we continued the pace right till the end.

As I reached home, I checked the time taken. We had done a 32k in sub-3:00:00. 

Am I complaining? Absolutely not. Even a couple of days back, I would have sworn on oath that ego issues, a pushover for a buddy and a stick to get beaten with was a surefire recipe for disaster. I don't know how in this case the same set of undesirables have created a virtuous cycle. And given that everything else is the same, the only thing that might have made a difference is running.

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