Pushing hard to make the sequel better than the original

‘A road twice traveled is never as long’. That line from Rosalie Graham was the unlikely motivation for my reprise of the Sunfeast 10K run as soon as I learnt that the route for the 2009 race would be pretty much the same as it was in 2008. Of course there was the small physical matter of running 10,000 meters, no matter the route, but I felt confident of pulling off what Hollywood routinely struggles with – a sequel better than the original!
After living through the madness of a 10 kilometer run a year before, if there was one thing I had learned, it was this – never pass up an opportunity to run! Why? Because running is one of the most primal instincts we have – ask the Neanderthal who started it all after sprinting in the opposite direction when confronted by a woolly mammoth or some such creature! And for those who swear by Oprah, here’s what she said, ‘Running is the greatest metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it’. What was I willing to put into my effort in 2009? A little more planning, for starters. I decided pretty early this time about my participation in the race, leaving me about 6 weeks time for training and not a disastrous and irregular two week stint like last time. Happily, this year’s training regime turned out to be far more fruitful if not an overwhelming success.
Completing a 10k run (I cannot really advocate for a marathon, since I’ve never run one) is an exhilarating experience simply because it is an affirmation of your life force (you know, feeling ‘alive’) and a reinforcement of the ability of your physique, willpower and determination to conquer a challenge, a triumvirate difficult to argue against. This time the competition was going to be tougher; after all, 5,000 more Bangaloreans than last time had decided to register for the race. Undaunted and bolstered by my training that had seen me touch 5 km in 30 minutes (on pace for my sub 60 minute target for the 10k), I was ready. Expectations always heighten anxiety, so I tried not to think much about the target, but the lead up to the race with a flu virus on the prowl that threatened to stop me from even making it to the start line, was anxious. By the grace of God I fought it off, and come race day, I was as excited as a kid at a candy supermarket!
The weather had been kind, it was a lovely day with a smattering of a thin cloud cover and an 8:10 AM start meant there was no baking in the sun in the holding area like the last time. At exactly 8:10, the great exodus began from the holding area to the start line, which this time was inside the Kanteerava stadium. As thousands of runners muscled their way through the narrow stadium aisles, some enterprising souls jumped the 7 ft. perimeter fence and literally hit the ground running. I decided against risking injuring myself at the risk of gaining a piddly little 30-40 second advantage. We passed the starting point to the bhangra beats of a popular Bollywood number, and I cautioned myself and my friend who was running alongside against pressing the accelerator too early. Once out on the street, I unleashed my secret weapon, which I had hoped would be my main motivator on the ground during the race – my trusted iPod! I had cued in a playlist after careful research on Saturday night and it was my sole hope to keep me on track as I gunned for that sub 60 minute mark.
The first song on my list was ‘Start Me up’ by The Rolling Stones. If Bill Gates can use it to launch his Windows operating system, why can’t I make it the lead off song for my 10k race. Of course, Mick Jagger’s ominous lyric ‘You can make a grown man cry!’ had a prescient ring to it as I would later find out. By the time I leisurely finished the first km, The Eagles had taken over with ‘Take It Easy’, another reminder that the time to pick up the pace is quite a distance off yet. As the first kilometer marker went past, the giggling, squealing, cheering and festive mood began to sober down and everyone got down to business. By the second kilometer an eerie sort of calm and silence had descended on the field (remember it’s some 8,000 people running together!) and the only sound you could hear were the rhythmic pitter patter and the occasional thump of padded running shoe soles hitting the asphalt. I thought I was off to a good start…but so was everyone else. Bangalore seemed to have gotten better at this after the first time!
The first two kilometers went well, and I was doing great on the third and fourth as well as Dire Straits belted out ‘Walk of Life’ on the iPod. Perhaps it was the word walk, or it was Queen’s Freddie Mercury screaming we are ‘Under Pressure’, which lulled me into my first, only and most disastrous mistake of the race. I ignored one of the basic tenets of my training. Let’s face it. I am not a great runner. I never will be. But I like the activity and the grit, discipline and patience it demands. Any top distance runner or trainer will tell you that the secret to running a long distance race is to settle into a rhythm, especially of breathing and heart beat. I, in trying to be a little adventurous and flashy, lost that rhythm for a while after the third km. A slight slip in patience and a tiny deviation from discipline had suddenly plunged my race into hell.
My hopes of finishing in the top 1500 (they were supposed to receive a special T shirt) went up in smoke as I almost was driven to a standstill as an excruciating pain gripped my entire right side of the body. I hobbled, then walked, then ran and then hobbled again as the marker announced 5km. An Adidas ad had once said that a marathon had seven stages – ritual, shock, denial, isolation, despair, affirmation and renewal. I was definitely in the despair phase now as the finish line appeared too far. I thought of motivational sports brands taglines. But the only thing that came to mind was Nike’s ‘There is no finish line’! I screamed to myself ‘But there is!! And it is 5 kilometers away!’ But the line kept playing on in my head. Things were worse (both psychologically and physically) than I had imagined! I looked for a straw to clutch on to. To psych myself to finish the race, beacuse that’s what a real athlete does. I wanted to move from denial and despair to affirmation as soon as possible. Once again my playlist was the unlikely source of inspiration and joy as it started playing, as if on cue, ‘Livin on a prayer’ by Bon Jovi. It’s significance at the 5k mark of a 10k race? Ask Jon Bon Jovi who sang ‘We’re halfway there…livin’ on a prayer…take my hand and we’ll make it I swear!’ I held out my hand as if to hold Bon Jovi’s imaginary hand. Someone thrust a Kingfisher mineral water bottle into it. I was living on a prayer indeed.
By the next kilometer it only got worse. Tom Cochrane reminded me that ‘Life is a Highway’ but it did little to lift me up. My coordination was truly out of whack by the time the 6th km marker went past, but just as I was about to almost give up, a fellow runner implored from the side – ‘Come on..come on one more kilometer with me…come on!’ He didn’t look to be doing great either but we fed off each other’s despair and determination and plodded forward. 500 meters down the line, the roles were reversed as I prompted him to keep going. That incident though had brought my focus firmly back on the race and away from inconsequential things like that pain on the right side that was killing me. My new found running friend insisted that if we can keep running we can make it in an hour. I picked up pace and inwardly screamed at myself not to screw up the race target – under 60 minutes. I told one runner as he huffed and puffed at the 7km marker, ‘The real race begins now’! A girl sprinted past in a t-shirt that said ‘Your race or mine?’ I thought to myself, ‘Lady, you’ve no idea!’
Like a couple of slow overs while chasing in a T20 match, my exceptionally slow pace on the 6th and 7th kilometers left me a mountain to climb in terms of required rate, in this case time. I barely had 16-17 odd minutes to finish the final third of the race, a pace faster than what I had achieved so far. But Freddie Mercury lit up the playlist right at that moment with his ambitious call of ‘I Want It All’ and I had finally found a second wind as we passed Vidhan Soudha. I was too close to let this go. Just as appropriate that my playlist lined up ‘I can clearly now’ by Johnny Nash as the next song, the perfect setting for the home stretch. The song has a line ‘I can see all obstacles in my way’…I could indeed and the obstacle was a couple of more kilometers under a rather vengeful sun making its presence felt after being clouded out for most part of the race. Is it a coincidence that the other lines of the song went ‘Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind / It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.’
The last two kilometers were the toughest for me last year. This year they were tougher as I looked at my watch and realized there was no time to lose if I had to make the deadline. I stopped the water breaks, every second was too precious to waste. Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Up Around the Bend’ provided the final motivational push as the field of runners and the cheering multitudes on the sidelines both thinned drastically. By the time Bruce Springsteen started ‘Born To Run’ there was no way I was looking back. I looked at my stopwatch, a minute remaining and almost there…I literally threw myself over the line and the watch stopped at 59:41.50! Like a Hollywood thriller I’d made it in the nick of time. Take that, Keanu Reeves and Bruce Willis!

Frankly, I had never thought it possible at the halfway mark. But here I was – dusty, sweaty, tired and spent but done. Done with the race, and within the target. Quite fittingly (and this was a little trick I had hoped would work) the ‘Chariots of Fire’ theme started playing after I crossed the finish line. The perfect soundtrack to match the elation that I felt. It was a 9 minute improvement over the last time. No mean feat, even though I almost had done everything to ruin it. The difference between run and ruin is an ‘I’ and boy was I glad that today, after so much prep and anticipation, I did not go wrong and had the reserves of willpower and resolve to call upon when required.
It might not sound very inspiring, but it is greatly satisfying to have done the race again. The joy and the elation of the fellow runners, whether they finished in 40 minutes or 2 hours, after seeing them struggle and grind was deeply moving. So was the sight of the 12 year old kid, Vishnu, who’d run the Majja Run (the shorter 5km run) in a superman t-shirt congratulating every person who collected his certificate after the race. In our own little ways, whether it was through supporting a cause (educate a child, won’t let a child go hungry or build a track for budding athletes at Kanakpura) or just meeting a personal challenge or making friends, we felt a wee bit like super men!

Total (min:sec.1/100 sec)
1k 6:18.57              6:18.57
2k 12:11.55            5:52.98
3k 17:26.16           5:14.61
4k 22:42.56           5:16.40
5k 28:15.72           5:33.16
6k 34:34.79          6:19.07
7k 41:19.99          6:45.20
8k 48:00.43         6:40.44
9k 53:44.50         5:44.07
10k59:41.50        5:57.00

P.S. A very, very big thank you to everyone who encouraged me throughout this endeavour. No amount of training can be a substitute for that! And cheers to that and the spirit of this city that never ceases to amaze with its sporting prowess!


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