TEDx Talk


Sometime in June 2018, Suriya asked me if I am interested in giving a TED talk at a TEDx conference to be held in his college (JSB) in October 2018. I was not only overwhelmed by his approach but equally panicked. I am no Haruki Murakami to write a book on “What I talk about running when I talk about running” or Christopher McDoughall to conduct elaborate research and give an informative talk about running. I went back to Suriya with a list of other names whom I belived can do a much better job. He insisted that I do it and there is enough time for it.

It was a challenge to figure out what to talk about running. My interactions about running have been laregely limited to an audience who run regularly and appreciate the travails and satisfaction that we derive from the activity. To them, any topic related to running will easily interest them, be it my experiences of organising events or running in various other events. As in running, so in activities related to running, I was lucky to look up to Ram Viswanathan for guidance. He shared some of his experience in talking to a non-running crowd and what appeals to them the most.

I tried to look at my own experiences what running has meant to be over the past decade and a- half that I have been pursuing it. It has shaped every aspect of life during this time period and this talk is a reflection of the key aspects related to running. The talk by itself was an education for me – to start with, it taught me how to prepare for a talk. It was certainly a memorable experience and I am happy to share with you all.

The transcript with the relevant links:

Hello Friends! I am Balaji, I am a long distance runner; and also a speaker. But, I speak only during my long runs. In fact, I don’t mind calling myself a motivational speaker; because everyone who runs with me, runs away from me when I speak during the runs.

Having said that, this is a new challenge for me – I am asked to stand still and talk to an audience who are firmly harnessed to their seats. I have to admit that suddenly, running a marathon looks a lot easier.

Okay… Here, I am asked to talk about running. I wondered whom to look up to. I looked up to one of my inspirations in running – Well, not, Nelson Mandela, he is definitely an inspiration in various other aspects. This is a gentleman by name Bruce Fordyce. He is a legend in South Africa, having run the Comrades Marathon over 45 times and winning 8 times. He was once asked to give a talk on running, and this is what he has to say about running ,

All that you need to run is good heart, lungs, legs, and no brain cells. 

This should come as a surprise to many. You know, we all associate learning with something to do our intellect, our intelligence. And here is a seasoned runner who tells us that it has nothing to do with any of them. You just need to have no brain cells. So, which effectively means that we all need to be like a Jelly fish – of course, it doesn’t have heart and lungs, which I learned later.

So, is there anything possible, any learning possible without using your brain cells. Actually, I have a confession to make – it is true that running doesn’t require any brain cells. It is a very simple act of putting one foot over another – some do it for a longer time, some do it faster; ultimately everyone does it very very simple, just one foot after another. So, what’s a big deal about running?

You take up sports – there’s lot to learn from it. There’s the skill, there’s hand to eye contact, wonderful body movements, and sometimes even beyond that. Billie Jean King, more than a sportswoman, she is known to this generation as someone who stood up for women tennis, stood up for LGBT rights, and she was everything that she learned about her value system through sports. She owes her personal development through sports. But, Running? Is it even a sport? You don’t need to use any skill set. Everybody is a runner, in my opinion.

Well, to play any sport, running is critical – whether you are a cricket player, whether you are a footballer, or a tennis player, you need to run. You need to run for something, which brings me to what I want to share with you. Running is not about what to learn but it’s more about how to learn. Just like how being a good runner helps you to be a sportsman, it is the same values and the culture that you learn from running that get applied to different aspects of life.

I want to dwell about a few of those that I learned over the last 15-16 years of running. So, the first aspect that I would like to discuss – it is setting an aspiration. We all come from a society where most of our aspirations, goals at a younger are set by our social norms – you have to go to the school, followed by the college, followed by the work and in the work, the progress is measure by what the work dictates us. We have never been taught how to set an aspiration for ourselves. Let me admit – I did not take up to running because I really wanted to be a runner. I wanted to be a sportsman – I wanted to play cricket, I was complete rubbish in that. I wanted to play football. I was put as a goal keeper and I learned dance more than actual goal keeping. I took up to running because, I didn’t find myself fit to play any sport. That’s how I started running. Once I started running, I started setting aspirations for myself. Initially, it was just an activity to help me to improve my breathing and thus control asthma. Later, it became a way to discipline myself. After I learned that I can cover some distance, I moved to marathons, Ultra-marathons, and so on. This simple aspect, you know, how to set aspiration for yourself is one of the very significant learning that I could pick up from running.

Dennis Bergkamp, a legend in football had this beautiful thing to say. We all aim for perfection and that’s one thing that I always liked in running.

You climb a mountain, you see the next mountain.

You run a marathon today, you just don’t stop. The next day, the thought is – Ok, what is next? What is the next place I want to go and run? Sometimes, the very next mountain is going to be the very next day of running. That’s how the aspirations are set in running.

The next aspect I want to talk about is Persistence and Determination. These two qualities can never be taught in any text book or it cannot be taught by any coach – although, it can be facilitated by some of the coaches. Ultimately, persistence and determination is something that we pick up from ourselves. I want to share this one life incident that brought me this wonderful wisdom. 

It was in 2006. I wanted to run the Mumbai Marathon. Honestly, at that time, I couldn’t really call myself a runner. I used to run 5 Kms, 10 Kms, but a marathon is way out of my reach those days. I still went ahead, registered myself. Those were the days when Mumbai Marathon started at 8:00 AM in the morning under the scorching heat of Mumbai. Somewhere around the 13th or 14th Km, I realised that I cannot run anymore. It was at this stage that I realised that, ‘Ok, let’s throw the towel and go back home – you know, we are not fit for running anymore.’ 

I asked myself, ‘Did I come all this way to quit at this stage? Ok if I walk all the way, I will still be a laughing stock. Doesn’t matter. I have come to complete the distance of 42.195 Kms and let me do it. Walked through the streets of Mumbai in the hot sun. The vehicle movements had already started; there was dust, there was pollution, there was no waters station. I had to buy water here and there. But, I persisted with it. I managed to go  all the way to the finish line. Luckily, there was one volunteer who was packing all the medals. He unpacked the box and picked a medal and gave me. I was so grateful for him for that medal.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the protagonist, would be asked where does he see the strength to finish. He had this one line to say

You find your strength only from within.

Persistence and determination to do anything, in any activity ultimately relies on the individual – whether it is your professional work, whether it is your personal assignment, you need to find the persistence and determination only from within. And I am grateful to running for teaching me that quality.

Having failed miserably in 2006 in running the Mumbai Marathon, in 2009, I managed to run the entire marathon finishing under 5 hours in 4 hours 53 minutes. So, what happened between 2006 and 2009? That brings me to the third aspect – The Group. Support from the group has been very very critical for me in improving my own running. 

Sometimes, it is not just about running, it goes beyond running – the kind of guidance, support, or as you would see in the picture – I started running with full pants and it was the group who taught me by saying that ‘Hey, you don’t need to worry about yourselves. Start running in shorts’. It could be a trivial one but it helped significantly. The group has always been a major source of strength for me – both in running and in the subsequent activities that I have undertaken in running – be it organising events, training people for running events, various social work that I have undertaken around running, the group has always been a real pillar of strength. And I am very happy to say that even today, when I am giving a talk here, I have my friends from my group sitting in the audience, who are the major source of strength for me. Has Helen Keller, beautifully says, ‘together we can do so much’. One of the output that most of you in Coimbatore would have seen is the Coimbatore Marathon, which I am proud to be associated with a group of friends. They have been always a source of strength, and the kind of activities that we could achieve has been unparalleled. Each one of them are highly self-motivated and they keep the motivation levels very high of the group.

So, you have an aspiration, you persist with it, you have a group to support, which is a perfect ingredient of success. But, you miss one aspect of it – Humility. No matter what you do, no matter however high you go, you got to keep yourself grounded. Running has certainly taught me how to stay grounded. Early this year, I went ahead and ran the famous Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa. It was a 56 Km run which we have to finish under 7 hours. This is something that I thought I can take it for granted. Here, was I who finished, I ran the ‘occasionally called as the big brother of the Two oceans,  the Comrades Marathon – I have finished the race under 12 hours. So, I thought this would be a cake walk for me. Somewhere in the sixth hour, I started cramping and I could not move any further. It was a humbling moment and I realised that there is something that we still cannot do it. It was a different story that I managed to scrape past the time limit to spare. It was truly a humbling moment – whether it was a five Kms or fifty Km or even a five hundred km, you have to respect the distance, the terrain. We need to learn that the external factors that support us or often challenge us and stay humble. 

So, that brings me to close about the four major aspects that I feel the I have learnt from running. It helps me to set aspirations, it helped me to persist with my aspirations and be determined to achieve them. I have wonderful bunch of friends to support me in these aspirations; and running always keep me grounded and humble and to look for more. Well, Is that all enough?

Today morning, when I was hearing the talk by Sonal, I realise that running is not just a task I undertake. It is also a privilege I have. The fact that I am able to run, run comfortably is a privilege that I have. The name, the fame, the financial success, of course I didn’t have much through running, whatever it may be that you achieve through running or any activity in life, it all counts for nothing unless you build a single most ingredient – your character. Reputation comes and goes, character is something that stays with you. 

I often credit running to help me to build my character. This is not something that I can say that I have learned but something I still continue to learn and I will continue to learn. This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the iconic moment in the world of sports. It was the 1968 Olympics – Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, John Carlos finished in the top-3 positions of the 200m race. Tommie Smith and John Carlos decided to use the opportunity to convey something different. They did not want to cherish the success; they did not want to enjoy the celebration; get a multi million contract, endorsements.. No. They used the opportunity to demonstrate the prevailing injustice among their racial sections of US. They come from the underprivileged Blacks and it was that time when United States were undergoing a lot of discrimination, and there was lot of violence against the blacks. They decided to use the opportunity to protest against all these injustices. They were banned from international sports, they lost the credibility of United States athletic association, which means they could never participate in any race again. They were condemned; they were banned from any sporting activity in any other part of the world. Including Peter Norman, Who stood alongside with them, although he didn’t protest directly. Australian Athletics federation decided to ban him for standing along with these two guys. But, somewhere in them, they really made the statement. They stood up for what they believe in despite what they could have achieved. Incidentally, it’s a very emotional moment when you realise in 2006, when Peter Norman expired, Tommy Smith and John Carlos travelled all the way from United State, to carry the coffin all the way to the grave. In a recent interview, John Carlos said it beautifully what it means to protest. I would like read it out for you,

In life, there is the beginning, and the end. The beginning don’t matter and the end don’t matter. All that matters is what you do in between. Whether you are prepared to do what it makes to change. There has to be physical and material sacrifice. When all the dust settles, the greatest reward is to know that you did your job when you you were here on the planet.

Running has given me so much. Many times, I am proud to say, it has often taught me what I can be and what I ought to be. Having said that, all of them counts for nothing if ultimately, I don’t build my character. If there is a single most lesson that I would like to learn from running, and constantly learn from running is how I can build my character on the run and transform it off the run. 

Having said that, I would like to end my speech by saying that I would like to see each one of you on the run, sooner or later. 

Running for 100 days

Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.

– widely attributed to Anton Chekov

Sports persons are often unfairly judged on what they do for few minutes on the event day, ignoring the hours of drudgery of their routine training that consumes most of their lives. In long distance running, while achievements like running a marathon or a half is widely celebrated, the simple act of getting up every morning and stepping out is rarely appreciated. It is for no reason that runners consider the distance between their bed and shoe rack as the most difficult distance to accomplish!
Tanvir Kazmi, a  renowned recreational long distance runner who has inspired many runners through his blog as well as being one of the finishers of the Comrades Marathon in 2010, found that many of the his fellow runners disappear soon after an event or two, especially during the summer months. Further, when they return back they are down with some injury or other. In 2014, he came up with a simple proposition – run a minimum of two Kms everyday for 100 days.

“It was a new experience for me too. There were tired days at work, travel, vacations and reasons aplenty to excuse oneself. This was a test of will power and I wanted to first try it on myself.”

says Tanvir, whose idea has now spread across India.

TANVIR KAZMI Photo: Special arrangement

Started formally in 2015, the 100 Days of Running has attracted people from places all over India. The idea is simple – run everyday, minimum of 2K and no pressure on timing or pace.The number of participants have gone up from 48 in 2015 to over 10,000 this year with at least 25% of them running all the 100 days. Coimbatore has its own champions – 15 of them went on to finish all the 100 days and we hear from some of them about their experiences.

ARUNAN Photo by Arun

Arunan Thlagavathi, 29
Arunan made his first attempt to run 100 days in 2017. However, it has to do be discontinued due to personal exigencies. This year, he was even more determined to finish and challenges at his work did not deter him from completing the 100 days. On asked about the most difficult days among the 100, he said, “One of the days, I had to report to work very early and could return back only at 11:00 PM. I realised that it is impossible to go home, change and go for a run. I asked my friend to drop me 2 Kms before home and I ran to home in formal clothes to ensure that I complete the distance for that day.”

VENKATESAN R. Photo: ‘Lion’ Selvaraj

Venkatesan R., 70
Venkatesan started running with the Porur Racers, a running group based out of Chennai. He extensively credits the group for getting him to challenge himself through running. He found running to be the perfect way to keep himself active as well as healthy post his retirement. “In Coimbatore, running with the Sai Baba Colony runners helped me to complete this challenge with ease. I was also moved by their nice gesture to honour me on the final day.” says Venkatesan. On asked about the most difficult days, he humbly commented, “Luckily, I am retired and don’t have any work pressures. The only commitment that I have is attending weddings and on those days, I have to be up early and finish my runs before honouring them.”

MANJU V. Photo by Palani

Manju Viswananthan, 39
For Manju, the 100 days challenge presented a transition from a walker to a runner. She started doing morning walks for keeping good health and found this challenge intriguing. It was her group U2 which brought her into this challenge. “Initially there were a lot of apprehensions on what it means for someone who has never been into sports to take up running. Once started, there was no looking back.” says Manju who found plenty of encouragement from the fellow runners in Sai Baba Colony. “There were days when I stepped out at 9:00 PM to go for a run and wondered what people would think of me. Once, you get over that fear, no distance, be it in running or life, is difficult to conquer,” says Manju, who has since gone on to finish a few 10K races during the 100 days.

SURIYA C. Photo by special arrangement

Prof. Suriyaprakash C, 50
Suriya has been a regular runner for a while but his travel commitments often presented him with a challenge to keep up with his running schedules. He found the 100 Days of Running as the best way to force himself into discipling himself towards regular running. Despite his travel schedule, ranging from monsoon drenched Mumbai to hot climes of Pondicherry, he ensured that he kept up his running schedule. The biggest challenge was left to the higher altitudes. “I had already planned for a trip to Kailas-Mansarovar during this time period and it was a real challenge to run in the higher altitudes beyond 4000 metres. The serene atmosphere helped me though,” says Suriya who believes that running should be integral part of everyone’s life.


Senthil Kumar, 48
Senthil started running about two years back for fitness and had simple targets initially. He was always of the misconception that running will hurt his knees and never ran beyond 100 Kms per month. Joining the Coimbatore Runners at CODISSA was a turning point as they constantly encouraged him towards new goals. “The 100 run target was daunting initially but I thought it’s the best way to clock up miles in the process,” says Senthil who has run an incredible 1350 Kms in the process, highest among other finishers in Coimbatore. He is now raring to get more runners to take up this challenge next year.

Gayathri Babu, 42
A couch potato till 2016 – medical ailments forced her to quit her job and she started focusing her efforts in getting active. The first 500m of walk was herculean, to say the least. Her journey from counting tubes of pain relieving ointments ointments to counting miles is an inspiring story by itself. She was determined in her efforts and transitioned her walks to run in January 2018. Support from her family, doctors and fellow runners have been indispensable. “We are always evaluated by comparing oneself with others. Running helped me to focus on myself and get better every day. The icing on the cake was getting my first ever medal, that too at an age of 42, is certainly something that I would cherish.” says Gayathri, who is gearing up for a long run!

These are stories of few and there are many more who have gone on to make running a way of life.



Copyright ©2018 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, August 11, 2018 – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/coimbatores-runners-who-met-the-100-days-of-running-challenge/article24655640.ece)

A Comrade from Coimbatore


Shosholoza, Kulezo ntaba, Stimela siphume South Africa, Kulezo ntaba, Stimela siphume South Africa, Wen’ uyabaleka, Kulezo ntaba, Stimela siphume South Africa

 (Translation: Go forward Go forward, from those mountains; on this train from South Africa; Go forward, Go forward; You are running away; You are running away; from those mountains; on this train from South Africa) Source – Wikipedia

On June 4, 2017, when Ajay stood among the 17,031 participants of the Comrades marathon listening to the above song, it was an end as well as a beginning – the end of a rigorous physical and mental training for months together and the beginning of a 12-hour, 86.7 Km journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. This certainly was not on his mind when Ajay started running in 2014.

He registered for the 10K event at the Vodafone Coimbatore Marathon 2014. Unaware of how to train for a running event, he resorted to a 5K run, the previous evening, much like the last minute preparation for a high school examination! While the finish may not be impressive, it certainly got him interested in running. Joining the Coimbatore Runners, a group of recreational runners, he started training more regularly in 2015; and followed it with participating in many more events including the Coimbatore Marathon 2015.

In 2016, he set himself a target of ascending Mt. Elburus in southern Russia, the highest mountain in Russia and Europe with a height of 5642m. The high altitude trek made him believe that he can challenge himself towards higher goals. The Comrades Marathon is one of the most popular and oldest amongst ultra marathons (distances above 42.195 Km). Started in 1921 by Vic Clapham, a veteran of World War -1, the race is annually held between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, with the start and end points alternating between the two cities. During the World War -1, Vic underwent strenuous tests of endurance and he believed that this race must be a tribute to those soldiers and, “celebrate mankind’s spirit over adversity”. Since then, it has grown in stature to become a hallmark of endurance and toughness for anyone and everyone who pursues long distance running.

When Ajay heard it for the first time, he knew that this was the right challenge to take up. He attempted his first marathon (42.195 Km) in October 2016 at Bangalore and followed it up with marathons at Cochin and Dubai. His timing at Dubai Marathon helped him to qualify for the Comrades marathon (A runner must have run a marathon under 5 hours to qualify for Comrades marathon). Running beyond a marathon is not just about running and more about persistence and determination. Training for an ultra marathon requires both physical and mental toughness. It was here Kannan, a double Comrades finisher and a certified fitness coach, offered to train him. “Although I couldn’t follow Kannan’s training plan entirely due to professional and personal commitments, the guidance from him was immense” recollects Ajay.

One of the important challenges of running comrades marathon is tackling the hills. Often called the valley of thousand hills, the route is all about running up and down – all the way from Durban at sea level to Pietermaritzburg at 596m with multiple elevations and depths in between. His training runs at Yercaud and Kolli Hills helped him to get a flavour of the hills and he strengthened his confidence by running up to Kothagiri and back to Mettupalayam.

Training for Comrades is not just about the few hours of running every week by those attempting it. It takes a significant toll on the time normally allocated to our friends and family. Being a frequent traveller as he heads the business for HDFC in South Tamil Nadu, the limited time to spend with his family, which includes his wife Manju, and sons, Aadithya and Aaarush was soon becoming extinct. Their support and motivation was backbone to all the efforts of Ajay. He feels grateful to the sacrifices made by his wife, whether it was getting up at 3:30 AM to preparing his pre-run meal or boiling potatoes for nutrition during the run. Before the event, his sons presented him a hand-written greeting card which gave him the much wanted boost ahead of the run. “I kept looking at it multiple times and recollected it every time my energy levels were down during the run”.

Standing at the start line of the Comrades marathon is an experience by itself. In a country that is torn apart by lingual and racial conflicts, Comrades Marathon, for many, is a symbol of what the future holds. The collective rendition of the National Anthem and ‘Sho-Sho-loza’ is certain to raise the spirits of the participants and boost their hopes of finishing the run. “There is only to a certain extent that we can prepare for the run. In my case, it was 60 Km. Beyond that, one has to rely on mental strength and support from elsewhere to pull you through to the finish.” The first 14-16 Kms are usually spent with the crowd with little room to set your own pace or rhythm. Ajay felt comfortable as he reached the half-way mark within the cut-off  time (Comrades Race has strict cut-off times and runners who don’t finish a certain distance within the pre-determined time limits will be asked to quit). As expected, his preparation helped him to cross the 60 km mark with ease. It was then, he needed to dig deeper to find the extra strength.

The spectators alongside the route take additional efforts to ensure that every runner finishes the event. They call out every runner by his/her name (written on the bib) to make them feel comfortable and homely. Most of them are knowledgeable about the race and give advice on the route ahead and time available– to slow down or to speed up. One of the spectator told Ajay that if he were to follow the runner ahead of him, he is bound to finish the race. Ajay went ahead and met Tshepo Joseph Shibambo, who assured him, “Be with me; I will take you to the finish line.” From that point to the finish line, with cramps challenging him in between, Ajay blindly followed him and managed to finish the race in 11:53:54!

The finish was an icing on the cake that had taken over 6 months to be prepared. The following day, Ajay was thrilled to experience the respect that people in Durban, from those selling burgers to cab drivers, offered him for his monumental effort. From that moment till he boarded the flight in Durban, watching many finishers and the sense of accomplishment in each one of them is a spectacle by itself. Most of them are just ordinary people of all sizes and ages who have challenged themselves to fight against adversity.

Where does it take him next? “Doing the down run next year ranks top on my list of priorities; then, there is family, work and other commitments before that” says Ajay. As the theme of this year’s run would suggest, “Zinikele – It takes all of you,” It did take all of Ajay and leaves him with memories for one life time.

Copyright ©2017 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, July 1, 2017 – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/ajay-varma-on-completing-the-comrades-marathon-in-south-africa-in-june-2017/article19186741.ece)



Part 5 – The Humble Lessons

It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt; they showed me secret paths, they brought before my sight many a star on the horizon of my heart

Bruce Fordyce, nine times winner and thirty times finisher of Comrades Marathon, wrote a brilliant piece on the “Arrogance in The Comrades Marathon.” In that article, he quoted Bill Rodgers, 4 time winner of Boston Marathon. After dropping out of 1977 Boston marathon, Bill said

The marathon can always humble you.

Every runner experiences them in some form or other. Normally, in such ‘humbling experiences,’ one always end up looking for excuses and reasons. Sometimes, they are major like lack of adequate water in aid stations, soaring temperatures; and many times, the trivial ones like the bad taste of the energy drink at the aid stations. If there was a humbling experience combined with the lack of excuses, it must be the experience of running the Colombo Marathon on October 2, 2011. It was the first marathon since I registered for Comrades and was quite keen on finishing it with better timings. On finding that the event was certified by AIMS, I thought that it might serve as a qualifier for Comrades.

The idea of running the Colombo marathon was originally proposed by Tiger a.k.a Ramesh, and backed by a host of runners. Eventually, it was left to me, Ram and Neville to battle the full marathon and Andy Gana running the half-marathon. The trip would be fondly remembered for all events other than the actual marathon. With no Visa formalities then, Sri Lanka was obviously the best foreign country that any Indian passport holder could have traveled.

at airport
Photo by Ram

Along with the runners, Ram’s wife Sita also travelled with us and an appropriate headline to announce it would have been ‘Rama and Sita together travel to Lanka for the first time!‘ The marathon starts at Colombo and ends at Negombo, a beautiful coastal town north of Colombo and the route runs along the sea coast.

We reached Colombo on September 30, and stayed at Negombo. The first day was largely spent locating a decent vegetarian restaurant leading to some hilarious consequences. Staying in a beautiful beach resort, we planned to do a relaxed run along the beach, the following morning. Neville and Andy chose to go easy with an extended sleep while Ram and I chose to step out to do a bare-feet run on the patch between the sand and the sea. Unlike the beaches of Chennai, this beach was only a beach and served no other purpose in the morning hours. While I was reluctant to get into the water, Ram (falsely) assured me of his swimming skills and encouraged me to take a plunge. We further tested our photography skills.  One of the pictures that I clicked of Ram later found its way to couple of news paper articles on him, thus making me a photojournalist!

Photo by Balaji! All rights unreserved!

Later that day, we went around Colombo, collected our bibs, treated ourselves in ‘authentic’ vegetarian restaurant, some ‘tea’ shopping – all thanks to a wonderful support from the driver, Thilan, assigned to us by the tour operators. His presence proved to be a boon both on that day as well as the next day. The bib collection process was a tedious one as it involved a medical examination. The organisers, also the tour operators, were kind enough to waive the entry fee and also ensure a quick and easy medical examination. It goes without saying that I looked less like an athlete amidst all the athletes who were participating the following day. The doctor couldn’t believe that I am the one who will be participating and need to check on me twice.

bib collection
With our Bibs. Photo by Sita

The race was set to begin at 6:00 AM on October 2. We left our hotel as early as 4:00 AM as the roads gets congested during the morning hours.

At start
Andy, Ram and Neville! We had to wait almost 2 hours for start.

We were amongst the few ‘international’ runners in that event. Although the event has seen many editions before (including one edition cancelled due to a bomb blast), it still lacked some of the basic ingredients of a ‘quality’ running event. All the runners were grouped together irrespective of the distance they are likely to run; The start was delayed by 20 minutes to ensure that photographers get good pictures of the starting line-up; Aid-stations carried nothing other than water and were non-existent beyond certain distance; the route was not cordoned from traffic, atleast within Colombo and many such complaints. The weather made the conditions even worse. At the 24th KM, I almost chose to quit the event and give up. Neville had made some extra preparations for the event. He planned a mobile aid-station in the car that we meant to drop us. He further prepared a few bottles of isotonic which came handy during the event.

Bunk Shop
Neville’s model bunk shop for runners

With this support, I managed to keep myself going and finished the event in 5 hours 45 minutes.

It was at the finish line, where I came to know about the misfortune that Neville faced during the event. At the 29KM, one of the runners was hit by a speeding motor-cyclist who did not stop to help her. Neville went to her rescue and was hit by another motor-cyclist, who incidentally came forward to help the victim. Despite getting hit badly, Neville asked the motor-cyclist to go to the nearest aid-station and call for an ambulance for the victim. He waited there until the ambulance arrived and ensured that the victim was taken care of. Ignoring his injury, Neville proceeded to finish his run in about 5 hours. Ram had finished his run a few minutes before Neville. On spotting Neville at the finish, he quickly rushed him to hospital to get him treated. Neville came back before the presentation ceremonly with a sling holding his arm. He had suffered severe bruises to his shoulder bone and also on his legs (thankfully wasn’t a fracture), yet managed to hold on to complete the marathon.

Ram with medal
Ram with medal and certificate
Neville with Medal
Neville getting his medal!

Returning to the hotel, Neville calmly remarked, “This is the type of event you need to participate if you are keen on doing the Comrades.” What looked like an inconvenience looked like a challenge for Neville. He had no complaints about the inadequate support during the event, no complaints about the lack of medical service or even about the motor-cyclist who hit him. He just saw them as a challenge and faced them head-on. As the eldest in the group, Ram did have some ‘elderly’ words of advice for him not to attempt something similar in the future.

A marathon is a challenge that one is expected to face by themselves. The support and facilities are only enablers in achieving the target. To expect any facility in a marathon is by itself defeating the challenge. That was the last time I thought about complaining about weather or lack of support/facilities in an event.

Neville continues to inspire me through his ‘Dawn to Dusk’ attempts every year. To know more, do visit his site here – http://www.nevilleendeavours.com/

Thou hast made me endless…

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.  This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

A week after running my first (and almost definitely, the last)! Comrades Marathon, I am still left with one unfinished agenda – writing my comrades experience. My writing however has been limited to only e-mails (annoying ones for the most part)!, some comments on others’ writings, Facebook©®™ status updates and tweets. I had taken up blogging in the past with mixed results and many unkept promises. Just like running, I keep trying again and again, take a fall, lick the wounds, and rise again, with my ego yet to be deflated. Over the past week, some of my friends expressed their interest in reading about my experience of running Comrades Marathon. Living in a world, where the virtual world is larger than the physical one, the ‘some friends’ gets automatically multiplied to many friends leading to a deluded presumption that there are many out there to read what I write.
Running 89.2K is not something that I have attempted even in one week, let alone on a single day. It was not just the run but the journey to the comrades has also been a long one. Just like one of the Saas-Bahu soaps, it is difficult to decide where to start and where to end. I make the start today and would work on getting the story over the next few weeks or months or years. The road ahead for the blog looks as bleak and uncertain as I was during the start of Comrades. Hope to have an enjoyable journey and if the journey is enjoyable, the destination is only a bonus. The journey shall continue till it attracts sizeable ‘likes’ on the Facebook©®™ – possibly, a Gold Standard for online attraction.
Running 89.2K is definitely not a one man effort, even if it is the individual who accomplishes the feat and bags the prestigious medal. Over the long journey, there has been many people who have encouraged, kept me on track, and directly helped me in getting past the finish line with 2 minutes and 2 seconds to spare. Over the next few weeks, I would do my best to credit each one of them and yet, it would be still incomplete.