Friday, October 14, 2011

A Few Facts Unknown, Letting Go Of Some Things And An Account Squared.

Thankfully, this post did not get uploaded to the blog on time. If it did, a lot of the essence of this post would have been lost. One of those rare instances where the delay was advantageous.

Sunday before last, I missed meeting Piyush and and went on to do a 35k solo, taking a different route, but covering the points he visits on his runs. I later spoke to him and fixed a time for last Tuesday telling him that he should not begin running till I reached, even if I got late. As decided, I reached the designated spot at the designated time. Piyush was already there and we began our 25k run on a route which was different from the usual course.

I had read that running through the city acquaints one very closely with its various facets. The city, opens itself up to the runner and reveals unknown or lesser known facts that an ordinary resident or a tourist would never know. My early steps into the world of Marathon running were also my first steps into the world of road running. In earlier days, I used to run all over the city discovering things about my own city that I never knew. The more I ran, the more I discovered. I discovered a temple whose deity was called 'Highway Hanuman' because the highway at that time passed right in front of the temple. I discovered this daily wager who manned a crossroad in the morning and evening hours because the traffic got unruly and resulted in
frequent traffic jams. And he did this without getting paid for it. I discovered (and made friends) with this person who went to the Sabarmati Ashram every morning, spun the 'charkha' and cycled all over the city playing Gandhiji's bhajans. The city opened itself up to me and told me things about itself that I never knew and had I lived the life I did before I got into the world of marathoning. I would have known the layout of the city but for sure, I would not have known my city.

Also, running through the city gave me its share of laughter. Suppressed understanding, caused by lack of blood supply to the brain gave a completely different meaning to various things I read. Two that are unforgettable: The McDonalds advertisement hoarding which read 'Food, Finger, Fun' sounded quite different when I read it towards the end of a long run. The food part was fine, but 'finger' and 'fun' didn't quite go with the image that I had about McDonalds!!

The other incident happened when I was passing by a theatre screening a Gujarati film. The poster and the timing of the show were put very close together making it seem like one sentence. I read it and had to stop my run and sit on the footpath and laugh my guts out. The sentence translated into, "The daughter-in-law of the reputed family is quite a flirt - shows 3 times daily - 3:00pm, 6:00pm, 9:00pm" (Bade Ghar ki Bahu - Chaalu Hai - Roz ke 3 khel, 3:00pm, 6:00pm, 9:00pm)

As time went by, I also discovered that the city was full of dogs and not all dogs liked road runners. It probably seemed to them that I was running after cars - something they treated as their monopoly - and were in turn hostile towards me for attempting to step into what was till then their fiefdom.

Slowly, other mundane and more worldly important things took over: the pace, the timing, hill training, speed training, reverse splits, fartlek etc. etc. etc. Convenience and compromise took me back into the grind (albeit a different one) something I had gained freedom from when I started running. I was back to running for a better time, back to running to gain strength, so the hill training, back to running to be able to do this, to be able to do that. That I had begun and continued to run because I enjoyed it had been lost somewhere. That when I ran I discovered more about my surroundings no longer held true. That my run led to pure, unadulterated joy was no longer the case. All my runs were stripped down to the basics and analyzed shred by finer shred. The stride mattered more now, the cadence had its importance, the gait analysis showed I leaned to the left and put more weight in front than was necessary, pronation, suppination, shin splints.... %$#@*&!!!!!!!

Okay, I have digressed. Coming back, as I began to run with Piyush last Tuesday, we ran on a different route. I have said umpteen number of times that Ahmedabad is flat as a pan, but this course had mildly undulating contours which made the course tough. On the way back, I was surprised to see a handcart with an idol on it, bang in the middle of the road. Music was blaring from a loudspeaker on it, an 'arti' being performed in a makeshift temple. Finally I had discovered something new about my city. A makeshift temple where an arti is performed in the middle of the road and then the temple disappears, probably till the next session. This one was going onto my blog for sure.

It was during the run the next day that I actually paid a little more attention to the songs blaring from the loudspeaker and the things written on the handcart. What caught my attention first was the tricolour - the national flag. A temple and thereby its Hindu connotations should have ensured saffron and the tricolour seemed out of place. Then I read what was written below the idol. It said, "Bharat Mata ki Jai." It suddenly dawned on me that the bhajans were making sense even to me, an atheist. Because they were not bhajans. They were patriotic songs and this was a prayer to Mother India. A ritual performed every morning!! Which city in which country in the world could boast of something which would even come close? A prayer to the country every single morning. No tourist book would mention this, and I doubt how many residents of Ahmedabad would be able to tell you this, simply because, how many would know? This Definitely, DEFINITELY was coming onto my blog as soon as I returned from the Hyderabad Heritage Marathon.

Thankfully, I came back and the pending work prevented me from posting my blog and my two runs thereafter got me more information on this. Apparently, the idol of Mother India on the cart leaves 'home' at 5:30 every morning and goes around the locality through every lane and bylane; all the time with patriotic songs being played. At about 6:30, the handcart is brought to the main road and this arti is performed as it has been performed all these years in the presence of a small group of 15-20 people.

Which brings me to the Hyderabad Heritage Marathon. Nothing much to write about the run, but so much to talk about the event. For me, the fun began a little before Piyush and I reached the place for collecting my running number bib and goodies. Yogesh and Kiran were there from the Shivaji Park Marathon Club along with another 5-6 members. Bhupendrasing was going to be reaching in about an hour. We went, collected our running numbers, the goodie bags, asked a few questions about the busses to the start line and all of that. Thereafter time was spent catching up with others I had met at various events, the Hyderabad Marathon in August, KTM etc... and it was time for lunch and I left.

Piyush and I couldn't sleep that night. Piyush had been tense. He was attempting his 100 consecutive Half Marathons and was worried sick that if he tanked for any reason, he would have to hang his head in shame for the rest of his life and there would be no redemption. No amount of my telling him made any sense and ultimately both of us stayed up the whole night dying a death that had not yet come. And a death we were unsure of to begin with. At midnight, we decided there was no point in trying to sleep. We got up, got ready, left our room and reached Chowmahalla Palace at 2:00 am, some 3 hours before the scheduled start of the race.

After generally roaming around the area like vagabonds (though I am sure we looked more like ragpickers) we entered Chowmahalla Palace. The place was all lit up and given the dress I and other runners were in, it did seem like home. After all, no one wears shorts and a tee if one were to go to a formal place like a palace. As we were lounging around, I suddenly heard my name being called. As I looked in the direction of the voice, I heard, "F#@&!!! You here?? I hadn't expected you to be here." It was Anand,a  runner, a friend and more importantly, my crew member for BR-135. He was running the Marathon. We chatted while Bhupendrasing joined us as did the group from Shivaji Park Marathon Club. Then Milind Soman walked past and Anand called out to him. One topic after another in quick successing and soon we were discussing the 100 miler coming up at Bhati Lakes. Bhupendrasing, Milind and I - 3 of the (till then) 6 participants were there at Hyderabad. There was some confusion about the start and we started late. As we started to run, I realized Milind was next to me and we were going at the same pace. We began chatting once again. I mentioned Brazil 135 to him and out of the blue, he asked me if he could crew for me at the race. Glamour apart, Milind is a fantabulous runner, a sub 3:50 marathoner, ultra-runner and he would definitely be an asset to have. As luck would have it, I was still one person short in my crew. I agreed. He's asked me to email him the dates which I have; lets see what ultimately happens.

We continued running, and chatting along the way. Bala from Chennai joined us. He was looking to achieve his first sub-5:00 marathon and thought our bus would take him through. The three of us continued running, chatting as we ran. At Hussain Sagar Lake, there were idols of Durga waiting in line to be immersed and the three of us danced to the beats of the drums and dhakis as we ran. The run otherwise was quite uneventful. We ran through traffic, fighting a mental game (and sometimes, almost a physical battle) with the Hyderabadis on vehicles who wanted to reclaim their road, usurped by this uncouth breed called runners who did not know that roads belonged to vehicles.

From about the 27k mark, the three of us adopted a walk run strategy, which basically meant that Milind and I ran leaving Bala far, far behind. Then the two of us used to walk till Bala caught up with us, usually out of breath. We let Bala catch his breath and then Milind and I used to run off again till Bala was out of sight and then, begin to walk. This went on till about the 34k mark. Then Milind and I decided to walk. Timing be damned; we would finish. Period. Here in a true hare and the tortiose race, Bala caught up, overtook us and continued ahead, and finished the race. Milind and I were still walking, far, far behind. We admired the Golconda Fort then Taramati Biradari, then Golconda Fort again, laughed at the absolutely loony jokes that we were cracking, cursed the course, cursed the elevation, cursed the twists and turns, cursed the volunteers  who kept saying 600 meters to the finish regardless of where we asked them. Finally as we walked to the gate of the park housing the Qutb Shahi Tombs, Kiran of the Shivaji Park Marathon Club was limping. Blisters on his feet caused him to change his gait while walking and that let to cramps. But no way was he giving up! Another 600 meters (as we were told), and we walked past the finish line. No, sorry, we jogged the last 25 meters!!

Back in Ahmedabad, I tried getting back with Piyush's running 100 Half Marathons on consecutive days. My evolution as a runner, an ongoing process with all of us, seemed to have accelerated in the past year or so. I had begun to understand, and more importantly, accept that I am a back of the pack runner, someone who runs slow, but can run far. Ultras was what really clicked with me. And more importantly, what I was beginning to get back was the joy of running, the freedom that running afforded me and the realization that the important part of the run was the pleasure that it gave me. Piyush on the other hand, back in Ahmedabad with a second rank in the veteran's category, wanted to run faster. And to do that, he was willing to start running earlier, at 4:00am if not 3:30am, so that there would be no people on the roads, the cool air would facilitate running and would help him return a better timing. So while both of us were running in the same direction, our goals were different. As we were running down the Shreyas overbridge last morning, I slowed down to enjoy the rays of the rising sun reflecting off the scattered clouds. Piyush asked me to speed up. I told him to enjoy the beauty of the sunrise. He said we were running as a part of a workout, not to enjoy ourselves. And it suddenly dawned on me. That is what I have been doing these past few years and that is what has been my undoing. I have been running to achieve targets and have been enjoying those targets. When I should have been running to enjoy myself and if I achieved something along the way, that would be a bonus.

And I told Piyush that it would be better if we, keeping our separate goals in mind, ran separately. He agreed, and has assured me that he'll be back to running with me the day after his goal of 100 Half Marathons in 100 consecutive days is over. I've heard it being said that it takes a lot to persevere but no, it takes a lot more to let go, to be yourself. And that is what I am going to be. Medals? Awards? Events? The at least one sub-4:00 marathon that I know I have in me? Que sera sera.


  1. Good read Vishwas,
    Enjoying sunrise and seeing the surrounding is something I identify with. In my case I take some pictures too !

  2. Very interesting read!Glad to know that you decided it's also if not more,important to run for yourself,for the pleasure of it, than simply to reach the finishing line.Cheers to that!:-)