Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's the Point?

About a week before the Bangalore Ultra, I called up Kavitha Kanaparthi at Bangalore to tell her that since the 100 miler at Bhati Lakes two weeks prior, I wasn't feeling motivated and did not really feel like doing the Bangalore Ultra. After all, the distance wasn't a challenge. Course wise, Bhati Lakes was much, much tougher, its own animal, so that was dampening my enthusiasm. Undoubtedly, with just 13 hours given to complete the 100k run, it was a tough call, but something in me had changed post the 100 miler. While earlier I used to think of and train towards a sub 4:00:00 finish at a marathon, wanting to qualify for Boston at least once in my life (and knowing it was beyond the realms of my capabilities, getting depressed about it), I am today absolutely comfortable in my own running style, my own pace and I understand that I could easily outrun most, if not all, Boston Marathoners in terms of distance. For me today, those who look for a 3:10 - 3:20 finish at a marathon to even register are just elitist jerks, speed freaks. And I am absolutely alright with the compliment being returned. (I too might be an elitist jerk, a distance freak.) I have my own space as do the faster runners. To each, his own. As I ended my rant, all that Kavitha said was, "Vishwas, if you do not feel like running the Bangalore Ultra, don't bother. If you're not feeling upto it, obviously your body is telling you something and in such a situation, pushing your body could result in the one thing that all of us want to avoid at any cost - an injury. Right now, our only focus has to be Brazil 135 and anything that we do or don't do has to be with Brazil in mind." Perfectly logical. And coming as it did from Kavitha (she's Chief of my crew so I am a little less obstinate with her) also did help to drive the point home.

Kavitha is someone whose name had been recommended to me and I was told that I should ask her to crew for me at Brazil. That she herself was a 100-mile finisher, that she had crewed for Arun Bharadwaj at Badwater, that she had crewing experience, that she would know exactly what to do etc. etc. I spoke to Kavitha, requested her, she agreed to crew for me and before we knew it, Kavitha was Chief of Crew, a friend, philosopher and guide for everything related to running and insofar as running was concerned, my Agony Aunt as well. So when Kavitha told me that it was okay if I did not run at the Bangalore Ultra, I immediately made the cancellations in my head and went to bed. I slept peacefully.

But as I woke up the next morning, I was as illogical as runners are wont to be when it came to running. I decided I was going to Bangalore. Only to collect the t-shirt, I reasoned with myself. Umm, well, maybe after doing that I would take a call about how I felt and then decide the future course of action. Of course, I reached Bangalore. Of course, I got the t-shirt. And then I thought, "Of course, I need to be there at the start line. It wasn't necessary, maybe I shouldn't... but what the heck, I'll be there anyways." And once there, maybe, just maybe, if the temptation to run overcame me, I definitely and most certainly wouldn't run more than one loop which would come to 12.5k. Absolutely firm in my resolve.

Come race day, Tanvir and I woke up, began to get ready. For the first time ever, I wasn't ready at 3:15am, the time to leave for Hasergatta. Maybe I should shave, I thought, as if that was going to matter as I ran. Maybe I should get into my other shorts, the ones with the orange trims instead of the ones I was wearing. Oh! If only I had got my headphones along, I could have downloaded some music along the way to Hasergatta and listened to it on the run. Damn!!! (It is a different story that I have never ever listened to music while running, but on Sunday, 13th November, 2011, it was a "Damn!!!" type of a situation.)

As Tanvir prodded me telling me that we were dangerously close to me missing my start time (he was to start an hour after I did), I urgently needed to use the loo. It did occur to me that I should ask Tanvir to go ahead and I should go back to sleep. What was the point in doing this, after all? The course, as compared to Bhati Lakes, was a cakewalk. The distance did not enthuse, there was no challenge. And to go all the way right across town to run a 12.5k, if at all? What was the point, I really did not understand.

I recalled a conversation with Sabine not too long ago. In the freewheeling chat that we had, I had told her that I would be there to ensure that she crossed the finish line at 50k. I had told her that we'd do a run-walk, that there would be no time targets, that we'd enjoy the scenery, bitch about why we were taking part in the ordeal, chit chat about anything and everything  under the sun and generally enjoy ourselves. If we ran out of topics to talk about, or if we stopped enjoying what we were doing, we would stop right there, the DNF notwithstanding. It was imperative that we enjoyed what we were doing. It would also help us address and overcome the issues that were affecting the runs and that were discussed in course of our chat... but wait, why is this finding a mention in this post?

Cutting back to the original topic, because I had promised Sabine, I was there at the start line. Reaching there I did a final check to realize how unprepared I was. The round band-aids were in place, but little else. I had forgotten to apply vaseline at the strategic places. It was dark and my headlamp was in the bag and the bag was checked in at the baggage counter. With less than a minute left for the start, there was no way I could retrieve it before the race began. Why was I running this? What was the point?

As we began running, Aparna and I were together, sharing her torch to cut through the darkness. We ran together for about 4k. Then I took off in the overconfidence that my eyes were accustomed to the darkness and I could see things very clearly without needing a light. At that very moment, the trail offered me an opportunity to be Superman; an opportunity I grabbed with both hands. Tripping over something, I flew through the air both hands stretched out ahead of me, only to, a few seconds later, land and bite the dust, literally. Happens, I thought, as I got up, dusted myself and began running again. Two minutes later as I got the confidence that it was a one-off case, I again tripped over something, flew through the air with both hands outstretched and a few seconds later landed to again bite the dust.

Wiser counsel prevailed thereafter and I was back to running with Aparna with her torch again illuminating the way. Friends with a philosophical bent of mind have told me that often one needs more than just a torch to illuminate the way that is dark (and I have laughed in their faces). I was going to see that for myself shortly.

As we turned the 6.25k mark, and began the lap back to the start/finish line, Aparna suddenly screamed, "Ouch!!! Awww!!!! Shucks!!!! *&^%&^%!!!! ^%^%$%$%$#@!!!!! &*^%#$#%!!!!! (and another 8-10 pages of similar unprintable words). She was limping. "Did you fall?" I asked. "F&^%#!!!" was the answer. "Did you hurt yourself?" "F@#&!!!" "Did you twist your ankle?" "F@#$!!!" Aparna took another step forward, let out another string of explecitives, then sat down, took her shoe off, put her hand in the shoe and said that there was a thorn that had gone in from the top of her shoe, through the uppers and pricked her toe. After a fair amoutn of wrestling to get it out, the humble safety pin from the Running Bib came in handy and the ummm, well, the little prick (pun unintended) was out. Shoe back on, Aparna and I embarked upon the journey once again.

At the 12.5k mark, the start/finish line, I forgot I had to stop, so I continued running with Aparna. We ran most of the way till the 18.75k mark, the turn-arund point and walked back in parts till a little before the 25k mark, where Aparna continued with her running. I met Aparna right there at the baggage counter as she was starting her third lap. She asked me to join her, saying she was walking and would continue walking till I joined her. I decided to walk the third round; what was the point in waiting at the start/finish line? Of course, Aparna did not wait for me to join her. The third round was a walk in a park. So slow, it would give the pace of 'a walk in the park' a serious complex and establish new standards for the phrase. This was the absolute last round. I was bored to death and I did not know why I was doing this round. What was the point?

Somewhere near the 4k mark, there was a tar road. Putting the experience gained at Bhati Lakes to good use, I lay down bang on the road itself and pulled my cap over my eyes. A couple of minutes later, I heard voices, muffled and sounding like they were discussing a medical emergency. I pulled the cap off to see a group gathered around me asking me if i was okay. Damn!! I don't even get to sleep on the road while running an ultra!! What's the point in doing this? Not wanting these onlookers and fellow participants to go into a panic, I got up and began shuffling along, trying to set newer standards for the 'walk in the park' pace.

Reaching the turn-around point, I began walking back. Sabine met me shortly thereafter, asking me to wait for her till she returned. Some thirty meters away was a shaded patch. I walked there with great effort and plonked right there on the trail itself. Everyone passing by looked at me, tempted to join me, but continuing nevertheless. They had targets to meet; I did not see the point. Then one person thought aloud if he too had the guts to be as shameless. The answer must have been a yes because he promptly turned around, and parked himself next to me.

Sabine joined, and we continued walking. The marathon had turned into a walkathon and our ilk was growing by the minute. We walked on, chatting away as we had decided. Talking about cycling, talking about swimming, scuba diving, fish curry, chutneys, pickles, psychological problems, translations, mentoring newer runners, methods of garbage collection, the German obsession with perfection and whatever else. The only topic we probably did not discuss was neuclear physics and that too because I did not know how much Sabine knew about the topic and I did not want to make a complete fool of myself in case she knew anything at all. Having completed 37.5k, Sabine turned back for her last lap which would complete her 50k. I turned back too; we had not yet run out of topics to discuss, we were still enjoying what we were doing, and with the agreement that we had, it said we had to go on. Reaching the turn-around point, Sabine suddenly felt a new energy coursing through her veins, and the chance of a podium finish in her category. She asked me if we could run. I tried, but it did not make any sense to me. What was the point in running the last 6.25k? I asked Sabine to go ahead as I dropped my pace to 'a walk in the park'.

I met Arvind of RFL, whose answer to a 'How are you?' was, 'Screwed!'. Chatting along, we walked on. We met Aparna on her fifth loop. Again sitting down on the trail, the three of us chatted for a while. Arvind told me that I would be eligible for a finisher's medal and a certificate on completing the 50k, even if I had registered for a 100k.

I walked on, crossed the finish line, got the medal around my neck. A DNF which wasn't, after all. I was also told that everyone who did a 12.5k got the medal. Then, all the more, what was the point, after all?

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