Friday, January 27, 2012

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…)

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