Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lost & Found: The Joy of Running

As I sat reminiscing about what had brought me so close to quitting running; what was it that had changed, why did running – something that used to give me such unbridled joy – suddenly become so repulsive that I almost quit?

As I pondered, I looked at every aspect, even reading my own blog posts – past ones till the last one – to try and read between the lines, to try and see if there was some hidden meaning. I peeled away layer after layer to reach the core of the problem, so that the process of rectification and subsequent complete healing could begin from there. Things suddenly started to get clear. And as they got clear, they appeared more and more stark; and as they got starker, they hurt the eye and the soul more and more.

I realized my repulsion to running came from issues not related to running. Back in 2007-8, before I started running, I was your typical ‘young MBA with a career on the fast track’ type of a yuppie. Someone who took great pride in always being busy, not having a social life and generally trying to prove to the world and more importantly, to one’s peers and contemporaries, that I was ‘arriving’. I used to smoke. And it was vulgar smoking. I used to smoke because I enjoyed it. But I used to smoke Marlboro Lights because of the brand. And of course, one did need those pegs in the evening to round off the day.

I was living it up, life was good and I was truly running (pun unintended) the rat race. A not so pleasant side-effect of it was my waistline grew to 42” and the weight reached 97kgs and looked all set to cross a 100kgs. It was during this time that a friend was diagnosed with diabetes, high BP, cholesterol, heart trouble, the works. And I got scared, more by the restrictions it put on him.

The next day saw me at the gym. After the weight and measurements were taken, a workout schedule sent to be prepared, lecture on healthy eating and all that blah was done, the action began. I got close to the machines and was going to do that manly stuff like pumping iron et al. But me trying to do a benchpress (with the lowest weight possible with the svelte, sexy, PYT observing the oodles of fat rolling over and dangling off the edges of the bench did not for a pretty picture make. Sorry, understatement. It was downright obnoxious and nauseating. I saw the look on the PYT’s face so I know. For sure.

Thereafter, going to the gym was out. So what was the next best thing I could do? Swimming was out; I knew I’d look like a beached whale. Cycling was out too, and more out of pity for the poor cycle. After contemplating various other impossibilities like martial arts, gymnastics, etc. running was what it was. Fat people are seen on the road, so that was a comfort factor. No one had seen me walking/running before, so people wouldn’t recognize me. That was a comforting thought. I could run in an area where no one knew me, so that was good too. Actually in more ways than one, I did not start running for the right reasons. I started running because I had no other choice.

But as I ran, I began to slowly accept it. As 200 meters every two days increased to a 2k everyday and more, the compulsion became a choice, a choice I consciously made till it turned to love, till it became a passion.

Running offered me all that I wanted and all that I could want. It became my time alone with myself. Devoid of thoughts when the mind began to go blank around the 8k mark, I learnt to live with myself. I learnt how to, as a friend aptly put it during an email exchange, make partial sense of a nonsensical world. Running would be the answer to all my problems. It gave me all the time I wanted to think, it gave me an opportunity to unclutter my thoughts and more often than not, running would help me arrive at solutions related to non-running issues.

Running encouraged me to be free, to break away from the shackles of the regular, to break away from the bondages of habit. I was not restrained by space. I could run anywhere I wanted, whichever part of the city or out of it. I was not restricted by time. No one stopped me if I ran late in the mornings, early in the afternoons, late in the evenings or even in the dead of the night. I need not have had a fixed route. I could turn anywhere I wanted, run on a different route everyday or I could just pace up and down a particularly small stretch till I was done. Some days I would run slow, some days I would run fast. Some days I would run long and some days I would run far. Some days I would not run at all, I would just walk. And on some days I would run-walk. I could run on a beach, I could run up and down mountains and hills, I could run in the desert and if I ever gathered the guts to overcome the cold, I could run on snow too. I did not need to run only on the days I was working in town, I could run when I was on tour, I could run when I was on a holiday and I could run for all of the above reasons and circumstances as well as none of them.

Running offered me all the freedom that I chose to take. And the most important thing was that I was running for myself; I was not running for anyone or anything else.

So then, what happened that pushed me to the brink of quitting running? Exactly the same issues that had pushed me into running had begun to take root here and that was pushing me out of it. It was… no, it is getting all too technical and no one but no one seems to be running for themselves anymore. Everyone runs for just one inanimate, abstract concept – time. Pick up any account of running from the past year or so and chances are it’ll talk of just two things – distance and time and the various permutations and combinations thereof. One hears of all kinds of suffering that they have endured while running. There’s talk of dehydration, nausea, hitting the wall, ITBS, cramps, etc. etc. etc. or tough route, trails, tarmac, hills, sand, heat, humidity etc. Rarely, if ever, do I hear of anyone recounting what fun they had chasing their own shadows, no one talks of running faster than the plane flying overhead. No one speaks of the scenery that becomes visible as the sun rises. As the sun rises, all one hears are statements like, “Oh! Sun is up already, unless we cross kmX in the next 10 minutes, we’ll have to deal with hydration issues later.”

And no sooner does one cross the finish line than he gets to hear, “Shucks!! Missed a sub 4:30 by just 28 seconds!” “Cramps at the 26k mark screwed my chances of a sub 4:00.” “Man! I cannot believe I just did a sub 5:00.” No one but no one talks of how the run was. No one talks of what they saw. Because no one saw anything. Everyone was simply running for that inanimate, abstract concept called time. I can bet that almost no one who ran SCMM this year looked up at the building on the right (on the left when coming to the finish line) at Flora Fountain to see the heads looking down at us marathoners who were running not for themselves, but for time.

There are some amongst us who run to qualify, Boston or Comrades or what have you. But apart from those few, all of us essentially remain also-ran runners. And for a certain A to feel that G’s timing of 5:53:22 against T’s timing of  5:53:39 makes G a superior runner reminds me of an incident from my hostel days while in college. We would take a bath once a month because that was very convenient to us. A hostelmate used to consider himself more hygienic than us because his body used to get so itchy in 27 days that he had to have a bath.

I have been fortunate to also have done a 100-miler last year. And when I think of it, or when we who ran that run talk about it amongst ourselves, all we can think of is how we lay down bang in the middle of the trail for a nap at night, the sleepwalking, the lakes which looked beautiful with the rising sun, the dense green forests of the Aravalis, etc. Time just doesn’t figure, because we were running for ourselves, not for time.

And thus, it is a conscious decision to not run races anymore in a competitive spirit and try to be one-up among the last of the also-rans. I am not going to race. I am not going to be bothered about my timings. I am not going to keep a count of how many kilometers I ran. I am not going to have a set route to practice everyday, these, hills, those flyovers, those underpasses and that bridge. I am not going to look at training charts and do fartleks, hills, interval training and all that blah which makes running technical and takes the fun of running out of it. I am not going to run to be a part of yet another rat race. I got into running and was able to successfully get out of one rat race; I do not want to find myself trapped and running another.

I am going to run to enjoy myself. I am going to run because I want to run. I am going to run where I want, unshackled by space or locations. Regardless of whether or not I need to, I will not run to prove anything to anybody. As this friend of mine said yesterday during our email exchanges, “I love to run and I know I will not stop till I cannot go on any longer.”

As said earlier, it is a conscious decision to not run races anymore. Yes, I’ll be there for a few marathons – but those will mostly be to meet up with friends from all over that I have made while running. And maybe I’ll take another friend’s advice and start a ‘last minute bus’ at these races. Though I have serious doubts as to whether I will officially be allowed to be a ‘last minute bus’.

Friday, January 27, 2012

SCMM, 2012: The Planned Funeral Of My Running (Part-II)

(concluding part…continued from the earlier post)

Just another 100 meters or so, a left turn adjoining the Shivaji Park ground and I would be out and away. Running, which gave me so much and yet seemed to have taken away so much more, was now going to be a part of history – a history preferably forgotten. A quick look back and I was relieved that neither Asha nor Gaurav were in sight. It also helped that there was no one else behind me whom I knew. One look ahead and the 5:30 bus lurched on, running, chatting, laughing and partying. They would not miss me.

I realized I was running on the right hand side of the road and needed to cross over and get to the left, then get out. The commotion behind me told that the elite athletes were on their way towards me. Escape is much easier in a commotion. This was going to be perfect. With everyone concentrating on the elite runners, I would go unnoticed. The crowd that had gathered at Shivaji Park had made my task of quitting look very daunting at first. Now with the elite runners approaching, I knew it wasn’t going to be difficult at all.

But then, life has its own ways throwing the unexpected at you.

As I was crossing the road, some words like ‘runner’, ‘marathon, ‘Shivaji Park’, ‘wow’, ‘clap’, ‘photo’, etc. reached my ears. Everyone was preparing for the elite runners. I crossed the road. And ran into a thunderous applause. The elites had reached and while undoubtedly the applause was for them, I couldn’t resist imagining that the applause was for me as I got ready to quit just 20 meters ahead. “Fantastic way to end my last run,” I thought.

The applause continued. The pictures began to get clicked on cameras of all makes, shapes and sizes. As the cameras continued to point at me, I knew the athletes were right behind me. A full minute passed and the cameras continued to point at me. I wondered why the elites had not crossed me till now. I looked back to see an empty road. The commotion of the approaching elite runners was still a little distance away. And then it struck me. The applause was for me. It was my pictures which were being clicked. The crowds were all cheering for me. The tee-shirt!! I was wearing a tee-shirt of the Shivaji Park Marathon Club and here I was at Shivaji Park. I was their hero!

All my meticulous planning came unstuck faster than a cheap imitation. Try as I might, I couldn’t get myself to quit. I had to keep these people’s faith in their heroes intact – however fleeting and momentary that faith might be. “Well, let me quit a little ahead. They’ll not get to know and what they do not know will not hurt them.” Since quitting had been postponed, I decided to pick up pace and rejoin the 5:30 bus. That bus was a party and I wanted to enjoy it till it lasted. Not much was left in any case. I crossed over to the other side of the road. There were spectators on that side of the road too.

Joining the 5:30 bus again, I started to run at their pace. Suddenly I felt my palm being opened and something being pressed into it. There was lady in her 60s, running along with me and she told me in chaste Marathi that she had given me some slices of oranges and some sugar crystals to give me energy right till the finish. And I was going to quit less than a kilometer away!! While that thought hurt, was a frail old lady’s kind gesture going to have any impact on my resolve? Absolutely none. “Too bad, Aunty.Your good deed has been wasted,” I thought, though the thought that she would never get to know did offer me some solace. My thoughts were broken by sudden loud sounds - the roar of the lead vehicle approaching. I saw the first of the elite runners zoom by. First the men, followed closely by the contingent of Indian elite who were followed by the women. All so fast, so graceful and so nimble on their feet yet with such giant strides, it was an absolute pleasure to watch them run. I realized I had stopped running and was rooted to the spot. Then I saw the elite runners had had the same effect on the entire 5:30 bus. All of us, I suppose, were imagining literally being in the elite athletes’ shoes, running their race. Once this cavalcade had passed, we resumed running. “Just a couple of hundred meters more,” I thought.

As I ran and started to get closer to the point where Vishwas the runner would die, my entire running life flashed before my eyes, just the way it happens in the movies. I recalled Kavitha’s emails, our telephone conversations. How she was trying to draw me out of the tragedy of BR-135. I recalled the communication with Brijesh and his quiet, unstinted support. When I said I would try till the last minute, even if it meant reaching the start line of BR-135 just a few seconds before the run began, Brijesh had said he that he would be there with me, crewing for me. I thought of Sabine’s promise that she’d be there to crew for BR-135 or any other race that I wanted to run. I recalled Tanvir’s advice that BR-135 not happening was not the end of the world. Anand’s enthusiasm and his exhorting me to prepare for other races flashed before my eyes. I recalled Natasha, Sunil Chainani, Yogesh, Kiran, Rahul, Gaurav, Amit, Sandeep, Danny and hordes of others who had expressed shock and anguish at my being unable to participate in BR-135 only for the paucity of a sponsor. I remembered Asha’s stark comment when I told her of my having to let go of BR-135. she had said, “Of course you couldn’t have gone; I couldn’t have been there to support you. Go next year and I’ll be there and complete the run good and proper.” I remembered the conversations with Sunil D’Souza, who offered me solace when my world came crashing down and has kept in touch since.

I went further back in time, remembering the list of marathons and ultra marathons that I had prepared with Sabine which we wanted to run. I recalled in vivid detail, the 100 miler at Bhati Lakes. I remember finishing KTM and thereafter, getting into some seedy watering hole at Mysore with Sandeep, drinking more draught beer than we could handle, swaggering out and swaying back to our respective hotel rooms. Beer since then has always been called a recovery drink and the walk back from a bar, the recovery run. I relived each step I had run at the Pedong Run. I remembered every run at Lonavla with Danny, Pradeep, Dilip Patil, Sushant, Satish and occasionally, Amit and Neepa.

Putting a brake on my thoughts, I looked around to see where I was so that I could quit. I realized I was alone. Rahul and the 5:30 bus had gone ahead. Tanvir and his 5:30 bus were just behind me; I slowed down further so that we could run a few steps together. Then he went off at his pace; he had the responsibility of getting his bus past the finish line withing 5:30. The place I was running in seemed familiar, but then, how could I have reached Worli so soon? How could I be headed towards INS Trata and on to Worli Seaface when just a couple of minutes back I was at Shivaji Park? Asha caught up with me here, said she wanted to try and catch Tanvir’s bus and went ahead. I too started running. At Worli Seaface, I was hit by the ‘big-toe-falling-off’ syndrome. I stopped to tape my toe and when I looked up, Gaurav was there, waiting for me to resume.

We started walking-running together. Frankly, I did not want Gaurav with me. It would make quitting tht much more difficult for me. I had planned to quit the moment we touched Dr. Annie Besant Road, not too far away. And I wanted that time alone, my last few moments of running for me to relive my life as a runner, to complete the thoughts that I had been thinking since Shivaji Park. Somehow, Gaurav simply refused to take any hints. I said that at our pace, we would miss the six hour deadline and asked him to go ahead. He only assured me that no such thing would happen. I told him to go ahead, he said he wanted to run with me. At Worli Seaface, I told Gaurav I wanted to take a nap and lay down on the grass on the road divider. At least now he would leave. Nothing of the sort happened. Gaurav was running backwards, stretching, relaxing his muscles and waiting for me to finish my nap. A couple of runners warned Gaurav against running backwards, stretching, etc. and instead concentrate on finishing. They very condescendingly told Gaurav that he still had a chance to finish within six hours. I raised my head and butting into the discussion they were having with Gaurav, told the guys that Gaurav was a 100-mile finisher. I thought this would lead to some sort of adulation, those guys wanting to run with Gaurav and would take Gaurav with them leaving me to think my thoughts and then, quit. But no, that did not happen. Gaurav wasn’t going anywhere, he was staying with me. And if Gaurav was with me, I had to kiss goodbye to all my chances of quitting this one.

Bearing the burden of my unlived thoughts, lifting the weight of not being able to DNF when I wanted to and battling the guilt of enjoying a run that was more of a compulsion, Gaurav and I started the walk-run-chat routine. Within no time, we were at Haji Ali Junction. Peddar Road went off in a jiffy. Just after the Peddar Road Flyover, Sejal Sheth briefly joined us. She asked what time we were targeting and seemed quite disgusted when we said we were looking to finish in less than 6:00 – our time would be between 5:55 and 5:59:59. After some mental maths, she asked if we planned to sprint the last 4-5k. We said no, we planned to walk a lot, chat a lot, run a little and finish just under 6:00. We must have sounded either like complete losers or certified loonies, for Sejal gave us that look before speeding off.

We kept at what we were doing. As we crossed the 40k mark, both Gaurav and I agreed that we would run the distance from 41k to 42.2k non-stop. But the 41k mark never came. Just before Flora Fountain, there was a mark which said 1k to finish. Since this wasn’t the same thing as a 41k marker, we continued walking-chatting-running. With less than 500 meters to the finish line, I started running. Someone shouted out, “You’re looking good!” I stopped, said a loud thank you and had a hearty laugh as the poor soul looked on. This was supposed to be my funeral and my looking good took on quite a different meaning today.

I need not emphasize that I ran the remaining distance to finish in 5:57. Gaurav finished right behind me.

Later that evening, after the jokes about extracting full value for money by staying on the course for the entire duration had been laughed at, after Gaurav left for Delhi, after Yogesh and I finished our recovery drinks, after the glutton in me had been satiated, I decided to write to the Race Director of Brazil-135 and explain the situation as it was to him, ask him if he’d consider my participation for 2013 and leave it at that. When you have lost everything that was there, including hope, there is nothing much to lose anyways, and so drafting such a letter becomes easy. A couple of beers in the gut, a nice buzz in the brain makes it easier. Mail drafted, I wasted no time in sending it out.

I got a reply the very next afternoon. It was practically a one liner inviting me again, saying he would see me during Br-135 in 2013.

So end of it all, my running continues. Vishwas the runner is dead. But he has been reincarnated as Vishwas the ultra runner. (Thank goodness I believed in weird things like reincarnation when Vishwas the runner died.) This one will survive; he will thrive.

As for BR-135, the efforts to rope in sponsors are on and I will not be making the mistakes I made the last time around.

Before I end, I would like to thank all those who have shown concern and made life worth… well… running. Whether or not their name finds mention in this or the previous post does not in any way dim my gratitude towards them. I will not thank them for I know words will never be able to do justice to what I feel. Some things are better left unsaid.

Now coming to the various training runs that have been planned through the year to prepare me for BR-135 and beyond… no, wait. That is for another post. 

SCMM, 2012: The Planned Funeral Of My Running (Part-I)

On 16th December, 2011, we started our Nilgiris Run. It ended on 18th December, 2011. The distance, elevations, descents, difficulty, cold, clouds, fog, mist, scenery et al called for a post that would be the mother of all posts. I had planned it all and on the way back to Ahmedabad from Bangalore, had also mentally jotted down all the points that the post would cover. This was going to be significant post; after all, it was my last training long run before Brazil.

Back in Ahmedabad, work took over for the first few days. Then, I got down to working on tying up the loose ends and readying myself for the Brazil trip. BR-135, where I was the only Indian ever to have been invited to run. One meeting after another took place with my sponsor. Everything was falling into place, yet something was not quite right. As the days extended, the feeling of something having gone terribly wrong continued to build up.

The sense of impending doom only strengthened on seeing a funeral procession soon after I left home. My meeting with my sponsor was short and far from sweet. All the niceties were cut out and it was plainspeak at its best. “Mr. Bhamburkar, we had considered your proposal positively but subsequently, we have had a relook at sponsoring you for the race at Brazil. We must understand that in India, running is not cricket. And very frankly, Mr. Bhamburkar, you are no Tendulkar…and the economic situation…blah, blah, blah…” I had heard what mattered. And what I heard was shattering.

That evening, I informed my teammates – Kavitha, Sabine, Anand, Brijesh and Tanvir that the race at Brazil had all but ended for us. That the sole sponsor I had banked upon and who had agreed to sponsor the entire trip had backed out. But I wasn’t ready to go down without putting up a fight, making a last ditch effort; such abject surrender was simply not acceptable to me.

The next few days were a far cry from lofty ideals like putting up a fight, making a last ditch effort, etc. I was reduced to literally going down on my knees, begging before anyone who even remotely seemed like he might be inclined to help.

During this time, I kept receiving emails from the organizers of Brazil–135. my name kept getting mentioned in all the emails sent out everywhere, for the athletes to watch out for. And finally, an email from them about their estimate of the top 10 athletes’ in the race for this year had my name in it too.

All of this did not make me feel I had a better case to approach potential sponsors from a position of strength. On the contrary, it made me bend over backwards, wallow before people I thought would be my sponsors, kneel before them and rub my nose in the dust in front of their shoes in the hope that that would make them agree to sponsoring at least a part of my endeavour at Brazil. Desperation sometimes makes one speaks a very dirty language and this is a case in point.

It cost me my self respect and it caused me to fall in my own eyes. So blinded was I with BR-135 and thereafter the Badwater 2012 dream that I did not stop to think what I was doing to myself. I also seriously thought of sponsoring the whole trip myself, but the firm ‘NO’ from each and every teammate stemmed the scope for any further discussion on this.

Finally on 10th January, 2012, as decided, I let my team know that the Brazil Dream was truly and completely over. Each one of them replied back almost immediately about how we would train harder for next year, how we would be better prepared, how the team would get a year to bond, how all of it would lead to a much better performance in future, etc. etc. All the replies had the stuff one would see in a letter offering condolences. None of the letters were superfluous, all of them were completely genuine; but I knew they wouldn’t amount to anything in real terms. After all, such chances did not come again and again. For one, this BR-135 is a ‘by invitation only’ event and I had been invited – by dropping off at such short notice, I knew I had blown my chances of getting invited again. Secondly, along with BR-135, my Badwater 2012 dreams also lay shattered. All my running had come to naught. That I was one of only seven 100-mile finishers in India suddenly did not matter anymore. That all of this training had help up my running by quite a few notches also did not matter anymore.

I wasn’t just depressed, I was on the verge of being suicidal. I had decided that this much of running was enough and that it was time to hang up my running shoes. But hanging up my running shoes couldn’t be so immediate. My mother runs 21.1k at SCMM and I would have to accompany her to Mumbai. Telling her that I wasn’t running would upset her. So my plan was to get to the start line, run up to Shivaji Park, quit there and go off home – an inglorious DNF to an inglorious running career – and that would be the last that anyone would hear of me in the context of running. My plan was fixed and nothing, but nothing was going to change it. SCMM 2012 was going to be the funeral of my running.

Then Kavitha sent me an email of the 100 miler at the Thar Desert Run. My mind wavered but I pushed back all thoughts of running. SCMM, 2012, as I had decided, was going to be my funeral. Vishwas, the runner was no more.

Reaching Mumbai on 13th January, I met up with Yogesh Chavan in the evening. As soon as we met he handed me a packet which had yellow and green fabric in it. “Brazilian colours!” my mind raced. “Your tee-shirt,” Yogesh said. I said, “I’ll wear it on the day after.” BR-135, a Brazilian race I could not go to and because of which I was going to quit running forever. And at SCMM, my absolute last run ever, I was going to be wearing Brazilian colours. I unfolded the tee-shirt to see ‘Shivaji Park Marathon Club’ emblazoned on the back of the tee-shirt as well as on the top left corner in front. This had to be destiny. I would be wearing a tee-shirt which had printed on it, the name of the area where I would be quitting running forever. Perfect.

Yogesh took us, my mother, Brijesh, who was staying the night with us and I for dinner. He told us that Shivaji Park Marathon Club members would meet the next morning and asked if we would join them. Brijesh and I did. A small run, a photosession and plenty of chatting later, we were back home. Brijesh left almost immediately for his appointment with Bruce Hargreaves.

Almost as soon as Brijesh left, Gaurav Madan called up. There had been some goof-up with the arrangements for his stay and he was wondering about the alternatives. My house was there, so there was no question of any alternative. A short while later, the three of us were off to World Trade Center at Cuffe Parade to collect our Running Number Bibs. We met Piyush Shah and Bhupendrasing Rajput at the entrance. As soon as we entered, Sandeep Shrivastava from Delhi was waiting. He had been waiting for quite some time to meet me. Bijay Nair, Sameer Sakpal and Mohammad Rafi Shaik were inside. It is always a pleasure to meet online friends in person. I suddenly remembered I had clean forgotten to order my finisher’s tee-shirt.”Might as well not have it,” I thought. “Tomorrow, in any case, is going to be the last run of my life and I have no intentions of finishing.” A little bit of chatting, a few pictures and we collected our Running Number Bibs and Goodie Bags. Sandeep Shrivastava patiently waited through all of this. Then we met Rajesh Vetcha, Sunil Menon and other Hyderabad Runners. While chatting with Sandeep Shrivastava, I mentioned about my flat, how it would be a fantastic idea to have as many outstation runners as the house can accommodate to be staying together next year and having a ball. I would be lying if I say I was unaffected. All these runners and I would be the only non-runner. Wouldn’t the bond that drew all of us runners close, not be slackened and wouldn’t I be an outsider amongst them? Something was tugging at my heartstrings and that tugging only grew stronger when Sandeep agreed that we all stay together next time.

After that, all of us split. Sandeep went back to his hotel. Gaurav wanted ‘honey’ (I don’t know if that was a pun. As they say, sometimes, ignorance is bliss.) As had been decided, Mom and I again met Yogesh who took us to meet Kiran Solanki and the four of us stuffed ourselves silly. Sorry, Kiran only sat, the three of us stuffed ourselves silly. Back home, an early dinner, good night and an early good morning.

On the way to Matunga Road Railway Station where Yogesh was waiting for Gaurav and I, I checked off the to do list for the day. Go to holding area, meet runners for one last time, start the run, run upto Shivaji Park and quit there. Look at the road one last time before walking away into oblivion.

The usual suspects were there in the holding area. Natasha Ramrathnam said hi, so did Roshni Rai. I met Sunil Chainani who was going to run 5k and then decide whether to run or quit, Rahul Verghese, Asha Arora, Tanvir Kazmi and Suresh Sheshadri. I met a lot of others, but my mind was such a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, everything is a blur.

We started off. Gaurav and I had planned to run together but I lost him somewhere in the holding area itself. Then I caught up with Tanvir. Asha was running with him. As Asha and I began to pick up pace, we left Tanvir’s 5:30 bus behind. We continued to pick up pace and at Marine Drive, caught up with Gaurav. As the three of us continued to run, we caught up with Princy Bhatnagar near Chowpatty. He was going faster than us. I kept up with Princy’s pace while Asha and Gaurav lagged behind and caught up with Sharma Uncle, Mandar and another runner from Shivaji Park Marathon Club. I continued my incessant chatter, something probably not appreciated by these serious runners. At Haji Ali Seaface, I caught up with Vinay and another runner from Hyderabad Runners. The phaltu jokes continued. By the time I reached Worli Seaface, I was alone. As I got on to the Bandra Worli Sea Link, I saw my mother coming in the opposite direction at the fag end of the half marathoners. Stopped, shook her hand and continued. One the Sea Link, I first met Sumedha Mahajan. She obviously wasn’t herself. The way she was running, something was wrong. Plus, she was doing a walk-run, something I had never seen her doing. I asked her and she said she was injured in a fall from the train while getting to the start. She was obviously in massive pain. I told her it would be wise of her to quit and not let ego aggravate her injury; an unsolicited advice I think she took. A little further on the sea link, I met Bhaveen Trivedi, a runner from Ahmedabad. We were walking, chatting and taking photographs. Asha caught up with us at that point. We walked a bit and chatted a bit when out of the blue, Asha said, “Race you till that point” indicating towards something about 200 meters away. I swear our speed would have given Usain Bolt a complex. Then we continued walking and chatting and not running till the end of the Sea Link. There, Rahul Verghese’s 5:30 bus caught up with us. They seemed to be having one big party and so we joined them. Gong at their pace meant upping our speed. A small deviation here. Last year during SCMM 2011, Asha, Rahul and I had finished together. Rahul had, in the course of that run gien me almonds soaked in water. We had discussed that the almonds would be good for my brain and would prevent me from undertaking insanities like running marathons. I graduated to ultramarathons in 2011 and even completed a 100-miler. Coming back to the present run, I kept pulling Rahul’s leg about how the disease (of brain suggesting insane things like distance running) had aggravated after eating the almonds he had given me last year.

I realized I was enjoying the run. Running gave me happiness. It brought positive thoughts to the fore. This was my last run and a run I had been forced into at that. I don’t know why I was happy running when I shouldn’t have been. Maybe stopping running wasn’t such a good idea after all. What am I saying??!! My decision to stop running was non-negotiable. Pushing such questions which might weaken my resolve firmly to te back of my mind, I continued to run.

As the bus kept moving forward, I kept pace. We were slowly approaching Shivaji Park. The end was near. I slowed down, let the bus go ahead so that I would, as planned, quit at Shivaji Park and slink away into oblivion.

(To be Continued…)