“Don’t ask me why I run, ask yourself why you don’t” – Anonymous
“Ye Phadke saala bahut bhaagta hai” – Many People
Human beings were, at the risk of quoting Bruce Springsteen, born to run. The survival of our species through the ages, from Homo Habilis to Homo Phobics can be traced back to our ability to run the fuck away from anything dangerous, inconvenient, unpleasant (or overly challenging to our mindset). We did not survive predators, ice ages, calamities and plagues by staying and fighting, no sir. We did it by turning tail and getting the hell out of dodge. Hence it should come as no surprise that running is advocated as one of the most relaxing and beneficial ways of getting in touch with yourself: physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s what we’re biologically programmed to do: Fight the impulse of Flight, or Flight. So taking a break from the great Pune-Mumbai war of 2016 (spoiler alert: Pune wins), I bring you this scribble about the most basic form of sport, art or recreation…and how it can kick your ass.
I spent most of my (quite rotund) childhood, being told to run more. But as an asthmatic nerd kid, most of my running was limited to holding down the “Shift” key and making Tommy Vercetti sprint through the streets of Vice City (only 90’s kids will remember). It was only when I was serving time (read: doing MBA) at SIBM, Pune that I discovered this purest of pleasures. And believe me, if you have a view like this and an entire hill all to yourself, you’d bloody well break out running too…
Having spent most of my 2 years running, sprinting, huffing or puffing up and down the Lavale Hilltop, one would assume that I had become a decent enough runner. Which is why when the chance to participate in a half-marathon came 6 months into my first job, I eagerly signed up. In doing so however, I neglected 3 very important facts:
- I hadn’t run more than 11-12 kms at a stretch. Ever.
- I hadn’t run once since I’d started working (I-banking’s a bitch like that)
- The run was a day after New Year’s (for which a beautiful 10-year old scotch had already been procured)
So, as I lined up at the start at 5:45 am, realization had begun to creep in (because the 9 pegs of Glen Morangie from New Year’s were wearing off).
As any runner (actual runner, not someone like me) will tell you, distance running is psychological warfare. It’s a test of how long you can push your body on pure will, and how long you can command your feet to go on one after the other. Your state of mind matters as much as your physical conditioning, which is why the bozos talking to themselves and pumping themselves up by yodeling and snarling were not helping my case when I was just trying to get rid of a hangover. Anyway, the gun was shot and we were off…
Kilometre 1 – “Haze beginning to clear, can finally think straight…”
Kilometre 3 – “Morning air so crisp, why doesn’t everyone do this everyday? Look at me loping around like a graceful gazelle!”
Kilmotre 5 – “I freaking LOVE RUNNING!!! I’m a speed cheetah demon!”
Kilometre 7 – “Oh look volunteers handing out water and orange slices…so nice of them, I AM feeling slightly tired”
Kilometre 9 – “Taxis have started plying…would be so easy to take one…nah, we’re good son!”
Halfway – “Yeah baby, we’re DOING this!”
All fine and dandy? No freaking way. Most runners hit a “wall” at some point in the race. It’s that feeling you get when you put your head down and run for what seems like days, only to find you’ve done 300 metres. That’s the Wall. It started around Kilometre 12.
Kilometre 12 – Jolts shooting into calves with every step. Suddenly very aware of possessing hamstrings.
Kilometre 13 – “How long did this kilometre take? I swear there’s some black magic at work…”
Kilometre 14 – Given second wind by the Red Bull kiosk. Suddenly spot a cute, pony-tailed someone, and the feeling of being in a music video intensifies. The stride lengthens, chest puffs out, “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background and the complementary energy drink is accepted with a valiant nod and drained in one go. In slow-mo (still feeling the music video vibes), the can is tossed away. We’re back, bitches!
Kilometre 16 – “Why wings? Why couldn’t freaking Red Bull give some new legs *sob*”
Kilometre 18 – Face is ashen, step is weak. The once graceful, lion-like stride has become a Quasimodo-like shuffle.
Kilometre 20 – “We’ve just passed my house…would be so easy to give up this madness and just go cry myself to sleep…”
Kilometre 21 – “This is it. I can see the finishing arch, can hear the thundering of my own blood through my ears over the brass band the organizers have procured as motivation…”
It was over.
Later, as I reflected on the self-inflicted, borderline masochistic ordeal, one thing was abundantly clear. It wasn’t done for the shiny medal, the certificate, or the feeling of having ice shards inserted into my hamstrings, for that matter. It was the feeling of having triumphed over my own psyche that mattered. And it is delicious.
P.S. Inspired in no small part by:
The amazing Matthew Inman comic – http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running
“Born to Run” – Christopher McDougall