STOP Running

One Friday evening, about 5 years ago, I started reading Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog where these lines appear.,

“You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you are running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.

Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

The following day, I went for a long run and promptly dedicated the run to these lines. Recently, it re-appeared on Facebook as memories and I started having second thoughts, ‘Does stopping really scare me to death?’ Of course, the thought of everyone stopping to run should certainly scare Phil Knight to death as it affects his fortune. But, why me? Is stopping something that anyone should be worried about?

People take up to running for various reasons – fitness, recreation, socialising, health reasons, out of boredom, or just an excuse to binge more food. Over the years, I have observed many take up to running, ramp up their efforts in short time, achieve extra-ordinary distances and personal records, some fame on the way and, then suddenly, quit running altogether. This is very common among professional runners, who rarely participate in running events after they officially retire from the sport. There are plenty of reasons, from physical injuries caused during running to challenges on the personal and professional front that demands prioritisation over running. While analysing the reasons for quitting, it is important to find out why they took to running and what drove them to dizzy heights before an apocalyptic fall. 

Fran Lebowitz, famously known as a writer who never writes, doesn’t own a mobile phone, never used a computer and has only heard about e-mail and social media, has contempt for many things and is always willing to express them without holding back. It includes running. Here, she is giving her opinion on why people run… 

When I was young, you never saw adults running. Running was something children did; Running was playing and playing was for Children. So, I never saw this. And now, you see 70-year olds running. I don’t think they are doing it because it is fun. They are doing it because they believe that if they keep doing this, they are not going to die; or they are going to look fantastic, even though they already look horrible.

As someone who loves her cigarettes, Lebowitz is certainly not the best person to look up to for opinions on running. But, she raises two pertinent points – First, do people force themselves to run? And secondly, do people find fun in running?

Let’s admit that running as a tool of punishment, is deeply entrenched in the psyche of most school-going children. Late for school? Run as punishment… ; dirty uniform? Run a few more laps… So, nobody has been taught to have fun through running. In later years, people take up running more out of self-interest than any external compulsion. The only incident when I was compelled to run was when I chased a chain-snatcher; and I failed miserably. However, if someone doesn’t have fun in running, they are obviously forcing themselves to run; and when they force themselves to run, they get injured easily and quit running altogether. 

I recently listened to this lovely conversation between Malcom Gladwell (also a prolific runner) and Adam Grant.

Among the various things they discuss includes whether running can be called as the most obsessive sport? (Starts at around 24 minutes into the podcast, incase you want to skip the rest). Malcom vehemently disagrees and suggests that only during races, do runners push themselves to the edge. On other occasions, running teaches one about the virtue of restraint. Adam Grant, using the research work of social psychologist Dr. Robert Vallerand, explains the difference between harmonious passion and obsessive passion.

Applied in running, obsessive passion is when people take to running out of compulsion – not just competitive runners who run for their livelihood, but also those who feel obliged to run due to social pressures, fame, and self-aggrandisement. They focus on the outcome and ignore the joy that comes during the run. Such obsession would force them to run regardless of their physical or mental condition, which leads to injuries.

On the other hand, harmonious passion is when someone derives joy during the run as well as when finishing the run. It could be from watching the sunrise, enjoing the camaraderie with fellow runners, breathing in the morning fresh air, or post-run breakfasts. For such runners, every run is an experience and there are no good or bad runs; all timings are their personal best, slow or fast. They just don’t stop with running and contribute actively to help others enjoy the same, be it volunteering for events, coming out to cheer during marathons, or pacing their friends in events. 

It is important to constantly evaluate our relationship with running. It can be harmonious as well as obsessive at different time periods. It is true that running can become another addiction and not necessarily good always. Stretching physical limits often can result in fatigue physically and eventually, mentally. 

Many times, when asked if I run everyday, I am lost for an appropriate answer. I certainly don’t run everyday – my historical records over the last 6,000 days show that I have run only about 36% of the days. I certainly don’t intend to do it everyday and rarely run when I am physically or mentally fit enough to do so. I have often and willingly missed my run in order to volunteer, cycle, trek, play football, or for early breakfast meets. And I have never regretted missing running on those days. Being able to run everyday or run whenever I want is something I would like to choose for myself. But, I am aware it depends on various factors, internal and external, and I have no regrets in making those compromises. It is when we find it difficult to make such compromises, running becomes problematic.

Every run is not a race to be won; it is just another step in making running a part of our life. Like the disclosures in mutual fund advertisements, past performance never guarantees the same performance for future, it is the same in running too.  In conclusion, I would like paraphrase from David McCullogh’s famous speech…. 

Run, so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. 

Run because you can and Run because you love to. Else, just Stop Running, or in Phil Knight’s style, 

Just don’t do it!

P.S – You can stop running only if you start running in the first place… So, get started first.

PPS - Special Thanks to my good friend Pankaja for a quick review

Age is just a Number…

Any conversation about old people and their passions in life will invariably lead us to the movie “World’s Fastest Indian,” a biographical picture based on the life of legendary Kiwi motorcyclist Burt Monroe, who set world records for under 1000 cc motorcycle at the age of sixty-eight. In one of the scenes, Anthony Hopkins, playing the role of Burt Monroe, frustrated by youngsters not allowing him to ride his motor cycle would say,

“I am half the age as some of those scared out there. Everyone wants us old men to curl up in some quite corner; and die. Well, Burt Monroe is not ready to finish up…”

Inspirational old men pursuing their passions aren’t uncommon in long distance running. In the early-2000s, the Internet was filled with stories of Fauja Singh and his exploits in running marathons (42.195 Km), after he turned ninety years of age. This in turn inspired many others to take up long distance running immaterial of their age. Over the next decade, when running events were on rise in India, we started seeing more examples closer home. Eighty-five year old B.R. Janardhan, from Bangalore, was regularly grabbing one of the top three spots in the annual 10K event held at Bangalore in the above-70 category until a few years back. Despite improving his timings, he is now unable to get ranked in the top-3 as there are more competitors above 70 years of age!

In 2013, L. Dhanapal, then fifty-eight years of age, saw the advertisement for Coimbatore Marathon. A regular walker then, he fancied attempting the 21.1K run and planned to walk the entire distance. Over the run, the encouragement from the volunteers prompted him to run for some time during the course, before finishing it in 3:40:00. He later heard about the Coimbatore Runners and after much apprehension, joined them for a morning run.

“Initially, I thought I don’t belong to them as they all looked professional in their fancy outfits; more so, they run and I walk”!

The initial conversation with Ramesh Ponnuswamy, co-founder of the group, made him lose his inhibitions instantaneously. During the first run with the group, he was surprised that the group members stayed together till the last runner finishes.

“Ramesh kept running back and forth to ensure that I too finish along with the group. This encouraged me to run regularly with the group.”

He became a regular runner with the Codissia chapter of the group and went on to finish the next two editions of Coimbatore Marathon with a best timing of 2:20:00. He has also run two marathons and is now confident that he can run half-marathon on any given weekend!

For seventy-year old Ratan Asawa, long distance running helps him to connect with the youth and feel younger than his age would suggest. In his younger days, he was a regular walker and played basket-ball, volley-ball and shuttle-badminton. A chance conversation with his nephew, who lives in Amsterdam and a regular marathon runner, got him hooked to the idea of taking up long distance running. It was around that time, the first Coimbatore marathon was announced. He was of the impression that the ‘longest’ in long distance running would be anywhere between 10 to 15 kilometres. Unaware that the distance for half-marathon was 21.1 km, he set out to run the distance and surprised himself by completing it in 3:04:00. Over the next three years, he completed the event twice with a best timing of 2:24:00.

“Running with Coimbatore Runners helped me to enjoy running even more. The runners helped me in finding the right apparel and made me feel comfortable by running slower. After seeing some of them wear hydration bags, I too got one and now find it useful to run and cover longer distances above thirty kms!”

says Ratan, who can be found doing his long runs in Thadagam road during weekends. He is looking forward to do a Marathon very soon and training for it regularly.

For P. Chandramohan (65), running helped him to redefine his life post-retirement. In 2010, as he was heading towards the sunset of his stellar career with Larsen & Toubro, he was evaluating multiple opportunities to keep him engaged post retirement. He was an active sportsman during his school and college days and represented his college, Coimbatore Institute of Technology, in Hockey, Cricket & Table Tennis. During his work life, he kept himself active by playing Badminton and regular walks up to a distance of 5 Km. He learned about Chennai Runners and was motivated by the various conversations on running in their public forums. In 2012, he attempted his first half marathon and impressed with a timing of 2:06:00.

After retiring in 2013, he moved to Kovaipudur and started the Kovaipudur Walkers and Runners club to encourage the residents to take up active life. He led by example and completed his first marathon in 2013. He has since completed the distance seventeen times with a personal best of 4:47:00! In the recently organised Hyderabad Marathon, he finished third in the marathon (above 65 years category).  To encourage more people into running, he also volunteers in organising running events and an active member of the organising team of Coimbatore Marathon. In 2016, he was instrumental in organising the all-woman running event in Kovaipudur which attracted participation of over 350 ladies.

“Age is just a number and not to be used as an excuse for a laid back life style. I have never felt bored all the 4 years since my retirement and I am able to face any adverse situation with confidence. A run in the morning keeps my spirits very positive throughout the day. Running with the enthusiastic Coimbatore Runners have always made me feel young”

Sivabalan Pandian, 58, may not be as old when compared to the other three runners above; nor has he retired from his professional life as a consultant to textile industries. He took up to running at the age of 52 to counter a host of medical ailments that he accumulated over his lifetime. Very soon, he discovered his passion for running and started taking part in half-marathons. Never obsessed with the timing of his runs, he soon started focusing on longer and ran his first marathon in January 2013. While he may be slow on his runs, he is a man in a hurry when it comes to running more marathons. He set himself a target of completing 100 marathons and achieved it by running the Dubai marathon in January this year. Since then, he completed a further 42 marathons to date, including running 10 marathons in 10 days in Italy in August.

He has travelled extensively across the world to participate in marathons  and has run in all Continents except Antarctica, where he plans to run soon.

“In spite of being diabetic, there is no need for me to take insulin shots. Running has helped me to become fit and feel more energetic at work, despite getting old. It is a great opportunity to meet and befriend runners from all over the world. I would confidently say that running has helped me to think positively and become more altruistic”

At an age when most would expect him to wind down from his regular work, running has helped him to set his sights higher and in new avenues. He hopes to start an old age home for needy people as well as a running academy in India very soon.

Coimbatore is increasingly becoming a favourite destination for many retirees and there is ample evidence that regular exercise keeps them physically and mentally fit. There are many inhibitions, unsolicited advices and fears among the elderly that can be overcome only through regular interaction with runners from different age groups.  As Anthony Hopkins says in the movie quoted above,

If you don’t go when you want to go, when you do go, you’ll find you’re gone.

Note: An edited version of this article was published in The Hindu – Metroplus on September 4th, 2017 – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/senior-citizens-on-how-they-began-running-and-what-its-done-for-them/article19619296.ece

Pacing the 5:30 Bus

To be a pacer in a marathon is an unique challenge, for it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You not only run your race but also help someone to run their race. My only experience as a pacer was during the Hyderabad Marathon in 2011, when I and KP tagged along for the 5-hr bus. Thanks to KP, we were able to ensure that the bus reached 2 minutes within the 5-hr mark (a detailed report in KP’s Blog). Four years later, I am all set for a different challenge – pacing the 5:30 Bus and sadly, no KP to help me out with the “Strategic Plan” of pacing. More than the goal of finishing the marathon in 5:30, the real difficulty is in explaining the strategy for the race. As I set to outline my proposed plan, I would also like to draw some lessons from a similar experience – running Comrades in an imaginary 12-hour bus and finishing 2 minutes to spare (the actual 12-hour bus went past me at the 6-hour mark and not to be found again!).

Who can join the 5:30 bus?

My simple answer is anyone who do not intend to finish the run under 5 hours and would like to get the best out of the entry fee they paid. On a more technical note, I would suggest that anyone who can run a half-marathon “comfortably” under 2 hours 40 minutes or “less comfortably” under 2 hours 30 minutes can join the bus to get their sub-5:30 timing for the marathon. Runners who lost their way with the 4:30 Bus or 5:00 Bus are always welcome on the run as long as they don’t wonder why we are running slow!

How do you train for the run?

I would go for something less technical and less mathematical approach. Take the event as a limited overs cricket match – you have to cover 43K (to factor the start line hiccups, GPS faults in route marking and to be on safe side) and you have 330 minutes to cover that distance. In other words, you have to cover 29K at 8 minutes per Km and 14K at 7 minutes per Km. During your training runs, find out yourself how do you feel when you run a Km in 8 minutes and 7 minutes respectively (preferably without music). This will help you to be mentally prepared for the race day. CAUTION: Do remember, you have only one wicket and there is no Duckworth-Lewis method applicable in case of rain!

The Race Day Plan

No matter what you plan or no matter how you train, all that matters is how you react to the challenges on the race day. Training and race-day plans at best helps you to be mentally and physically strong to overcome these challenges. Importantly, always prioritise safety over your goals! Your goals can wait for another day and marathons happen every month. So, make sure you don’t push yourself beyond the limits.

Pacers are normally expected to have their targets set for every Km, factored for aid-station breaks and other contingencies. This approach has its own merits and limitations. However, the objective of running the marathon is not just achieving the goals but also enjoying the run and such pedantry often takes the joy out of running. Losing an extra minute for a photograph with volunteers or dear ones on the run is more enjoyable even if it makes us finish a minute after 5:30!

I normally prefer to set hourly targets and ensuring that they are met at the end of each hour:

Hour 1 – Target 8.5K – 9K

The early morning weather of the Hyderabad, the empty roads and importantly, flat roads, must help us to run better. The humidity is often a challenge and there will always be temptation to run faster. (Average speed – 7 minutes per KM)

Hour 2 – Target 16.5K – 17K

The biggest challenge in the second hour is that the full marathon runners run into the half-marathon crowd. The road is expected to be completely blocked by the “walkers” and we need to find ways to run through them without disturbing them. If you are getting frustrated by the slow runners, do remember you were amongst them, not long ago!

Hour 3 – Target 24.5K – 25K

It is here where you start feeling the ‘hills’ of Hyderabad. For all the “elevation profiles” shared, I don’t think it would matter much impact in this stretch. If you are feeling it, it would be best to slow down and target the 6:00 Hour cut-off.

Hour 4 – Target 32K – 32.5K

This is the phase leading to the proverbial ‘wall’ of marathon. Keeping some “minutes” in hand will be useful at this phase. Walks will start featuring more in our routine.

Hour 5 – Target 39K – 39.5K

Actually, not many really knows what happens here. Let’s leave it for the race day!

The final few Kms

The exuberance of finishing will take you all the way to the finish. The last few Kms are possibly the best stretch of the route under the tree covered avenues of the HCU and the road leading to the stadium. As you enter the stadium, the early finishers of marathon and finishers of Half-marathon will be on their way back home. Some may possibly cheer and some others will give you the typical non-runners look of ‘why are you doing this?’ Ignore! This is your race and you alone is the winner!

Run-Walk

Run-Walk is for me the way to run a marathon or any distance for runners. It is a myth that it slows our running or one cannot achieve their ‘personal bests’ and so on. The key for an efficient run-walk is consistency of application. I normally choose a 4:1 split and maintain it from the 9th minute onwards (the first walk break is avoided as it will cause disturbance to other runners). If we find ourselves having sufficient time, we may slow down to 3:1 and on the hills, we may opt to shuffle between running and walking for a short duration.

Motivational Talks!

Another feature of pacers is that they are responsible to motivate. Now, that’s the challenge I am willing to be up for! If some wants motivation, just record the video and keep! It is difficult to emulate this ‘dude’.

Part 6 – The Barefoot Experiment

I surely know the hundred petals of a lotus will not remain closed for ever and the secret recess of its honey will be bared.

Running is a simple sport; But the choice of a good running shoe isn’t. The choice of appropriate running shoes is a hot topic of discussion, both on the run as well as off the run in various Internet discussion forums, blog posts, articles from running magazines, and others. There are plenty of published peer- reviewed research work too. The conclusion, in most instances, have been not to conclude the discussion, and let each runner to find a solution for themselves. To add to the complexity, discussions on ‘to bare or not to bare your feet’ brought in some old perspectives in modern style. I would call it the arrival of ‘new caste’ in the religion of running’ – they are the “Barefoot Runners” – those who shun their shoes entirely or opt for one of those minimalist shoes. A famous Indian model who once controversially posed only with shoes started running barefoot (thankfully with other parts of the body covered though) and soon, many onlookers got attracted. Barefoot running sounded a bit exciting, and I too got curious to experiment with the minimalist shoes. In June 2011, my sister brought me one of those minimalist shoes (she has subsequently gifted me three more pairs of the same!). My initial attempts in running in those shoes were exciting as well as painful. While the short runs gave excitement, the longer ones were painful. I continued with my old shoes for the Hyderabad Marathon in August 2011 and Colombo marathon in October 2011. In November 2011, Christopher McDougall, author of the book ‘Born to Run,’ wrote an excellent piece for The New York Times entitled ‘The Once and Future Way to Run.’ I strongly recommend his TEDx talk.

The article narrated the experiences of people running in the minimalist shoes. He also explains through wonderful illustrations on how to run barefeet and the importance of front-foot landing. It increased my confidence in taking up ‘barefoot running’ to longer distances. I ran with the minimalist shoes for a distance of half-marathon and couple of 30K runs during my preparation for the 2nd edition of Shahid Ultra, held in December 2011. I could find some encouraging benefits – it weighed lighter, the recovery was better, and I could maintain a steady rhythm. However, the pain in the calf-muscle was still unbearable. Also, I wasn’t sure if I can hold the pain for distances upto 50K.

The 2nd edition of Shahid Ultra was held on 11th December 2011 and this time around, Shahid ensured that the distance was definitely a 50K. The weather was bad and the humidity levels sapped out the energy. A horrific accident on the ECR involving motor-bikers with scenes of blood and flesh on the road added to the nausea. At the 5-hour mark, I wanted to quit my run. Shahid encouraged and pushed me to finish the 42.195K, which we completed in 5 hours 30 minutes. We then decided that we will hold on for another 30 minutes, and with further encouragement from Shankar Lal (it was actually a misguidance), I managed to finish the run in 6 hours 40 minutes.

With minimalist shoes, the pain in the calf-muscles sets in early. It normally sustains over the distance and is usually bearable till a certain distance (which varies from runners). In case of conventional shoes, one always has an option to start landing on their heels. Minimalist shoes makes that difficult and the walk breaks are equally painful. Running beyond that threshold limit becomes challenging. On that day, 35K was the limit and every Kilometer beyond that was a huge challenge. In addition, poor sizing issues turned my toe nail black. At the end of the event, I had a chat with Ram, who also used the minimalist shoes for running the 50K. He agreed with me that it wasn’t comfortable beyond a certain distance. He kept his options open for the Comrades, even as late as ten days before the event. He finally ran in the minimalist shoes and resolved not to run with them again.

I went back to my shoes to run the Mumbai Marathon in January 2012. The marathon was not run in my usual pace as I chose to accompany my friend Janardhanan is his attempt to complete the marathon. The Shahid Ultra experience was soon banished and returned back to the minimalist shoes to run the Cool Runners Half-marathon on January 26, 2012. A nice weather and a great company for running, I managed to finish the half-marathon for an impressive timing of about 1:53:00 (purist GPS-enabled runners still dispute the distance though).

In February 2012, Ted McDonald or ‘Barefoot Ted’ as he calls himself visited India and participated in the Auroville Marathon 2012. He was one of the runners featured by Christopher McDougall in his book ‘Born to Run.’ Barefoot Ted also promotes his line of minimalist footwear which are extremely popular. His talk on the eve of the marathon on barefoot running was very impressive. Speaking to him gave me some assurance that I am not likely to be doing anything significantly wrong by running in these minimalist shoes.

Photo by Ted
With Barefoot Ted, Ashwin Bala, Gauthama, KP, Junior KP, Shahid and Sharda Ugra

It was February already, and changing back to shoes looked like yet another challenge. I ended up running my Comrades in the minimalist shoes and found some people giving strange looks at the start point. I found that only I and Ram were running the Comrades in minimalist shoes. In hindsight, it did prove to be a bad idea. While the uphill runs were enjoyable, It did not support us on the down-hill runs, where cushioned shoes would have provided the much wanted comfort. Nevertheless, I find running with minimalist shoes more enjoyable and continue to run with the same.

The debate is still on with some recent research showing that it causes damage to the bones. A recent article in NY Times focuses on the injuries caused by Barefoot running and Chris McDougall has devoted a separate section in his website for debate. The conclusion is rather obvious – each runner knows what is best for them!

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!

Ram
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/

Part 1 – Comrades – An Introduction

Either you have work or you have not.

When you have to say, “Let us do something,” then begins mischief

My earliest introduction to the word ‘Comrade’ was when I attended a Bank Trade Union meeting with my father. It was certainly not my introduction to ‘communism’ in any manner. I could barely follow the proceedings in the meeting and was there only for the dinner that followed it. Few minutes later, I realised that I wasn’t alone. Apart from the name of the chief guest, whom I learnt later was an icon among public sector bank employees, I recollect two things from that meeting – some talk about BCCI (a bank in middle east that failed around the same time) and the word ‘Comrade.’

The Comrades Marathon was introduced to me (as well as most Chennai Runners) by Shahid in late 2009 when he registered for the 2010 edition of the event. While the rules of the game sounded weired, it was interesting to learn that it has existed for almost a century. I joined Shahid during his training runs on couple of occasions, and witnessed some of the hardships in training – from starting to run at insane morning hours to changing socks and shirts on the run, and getting a cooling shower from one of the gardeners of the palatial minister bungalows on Greenways road. It was around this time, I got acquainted with Amit Sheth – through Shahid – who was the Ambassador of Comrades Marathon in India.

It goes without saying that a majority of the Comrades runners in India (which is actually a minority) were inspired/made aware of the Comrades marathon through Amit’s book Dare to Run. My objective opinion on the book would be disputed for it contains some undeserved praise for me in one of the chapters. It is a simple, beautiful book with wonderful anecdotes from a ‘daily life of a runner.’ Just like his book, Amit’s blog Dare to Run has always been a wonderful read. One must definitely read about his 2012 Comrades experience which I was lucky to witness in person.

It was in the same year that Tanvir Kazmi, author of the famous blog Running without limits, also ran his first Comrades. Tanvir’s blog on the Comrades was a wonderful account of a first timer’s experience at the Comrades marathon. Tanvir has subsequently been active every year on the Comrades day tracking the progress of every Indian runner. It was a fabulous to see him to track the runners so earnestly in 2011 and followed it up in 2012 too.

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.