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. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice one Vishwas. Liked your no nonsense writing style.
    Best wishes for BR-135 in 2013.. Also get some sponsor who is not going to back off at the last minute...