WHEN the first ad declaring the dates for the Sunfeast World 10k run came out this year, registration for the Open 10k was a no brainer for me. It took a mere five minutes. But then I started thinking… Why am I running? It was the hardest question to answer. I mean, I was not a black man running to kick some dust and sense up snobbish Nazi noses like Jesse Owens did at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I wasn’t running to come third like Darsheel Safary in ‘Bumm Bumm Bole’ so that I can get my kid sister a new pair of shoes. For the record, I did get my sister new shoes. Last Month. At Shoppers Stop. During a sale.
I wasn’t running because of a sort of divine calling like Eric Liddell, the man who says “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure” in “Chariots of Fire”. Heck, I wasn’t even like Simon Pegg in “Run Fatboy Run”, running to win my wife back. (Well, I am not a fat slob, and as yet unmarried, for starters) So, why was I running exactly? In part because I had run the Sunfeast World 10k in 2008 and 2009 and had fallen in love with the spirit of this race. I was running because I wanted to tell my cardiologist again on the next visit ‘Oh, you ran the 10k too? In an hour and ten minutes? How nice. I ran it too. In under an hour. Now, what were the results of my ECG again?’ and leave his mouth agape. In part to inspire and motivate myself that I still have commitment and discipline in me. And now that the race is over and I am overwhelmed by the good wishes and response pouring in, I realize that I my run has inspired others as well.
It is an incredible feeling to realize just how many people have supported me through this and I owe it to all of you for this achievement. I chronicle the story of my runs not to brag about my achievements or sound cool; I only do it to preserve an inspiring story that serves as motivational material for later. At the Cannes Film Festival this year a film called ‘Poetry’ was showcased where an elderly lady deals with her life crisis by joining a writing class. Perhaps running has served me a similar purpose through a mini quarter life crisis.
OH, FOR THE LOVE OF RUNNING!
Any Sunday morning where you have to get up at 5 AM has got to be crazy. Or special. Or both. 23rd May was one such as I scrambled around the house bleary eyed looking for isotonic drinks and rich sources of carbohydrates. Having trained a grand total of three days for a distance I have never attempted with such less training, I was getting jittery. But I calmed myself down with the thought that my body was still in good shape (the last training session 48 hours back had been for 6kms at good pace) and telling myself that running is a mental sport anyway. Imagine my surprise when I spotted the same line on a T shirt four hours later on a fellow runner! No isotonic drinks were found, but the good old bananas took care of the carbs bit. On to the race it was.
I arrived pretty early (6.20, in fact) and the stadium was already abuzz with the practicing runners for the Men’s Elite event warming up on the track. Two Ethiopian runners matched stride for stride as they covered the track in graceful leaps – a wonderful sight! Seeing the two runners made me do the one thing every self respecting man with the latest smart phone would do in a situation like this – I tweeted. Two hours to my race and I was typing 140 characters after 140 characters as if my fingers were to do the running. The mood at the stadium was a bit somber in the wake of the Managlore plane crash and we stood up for a minute’s silence before the first race started. Maybe it was the silence or perhaps the sight of the energetic wheelchair race participants (the wheelchair race flagged off at 7:00 AM was the day’s first event), but for the first time my mind felt focused and the body felt battle ready. The sun had disappeared behind a gang of clouds that had suddenly appeared on the scene. The though of running in the rain only heightened my excitement. From about 6-7 people when I arrived into the holding area, the crowd had swelled to about 5,000 with half an hour to go for the Open 10k. Meanwhile, the elite Women started their warm ups on the track and a few wolf whistles went around. Uff! Men will be men! The last of elite men returned by 7:40 AM and the women lined up at 8:00AM.
The moment they had exited the stadium and took the road, the Open 10k participants were let loose towards the start line. The usual jostling for space followed and one exasperated gentleman kept repeating that everybody was wearing a timing chip, so it doesn’t matter where you start from, the moment the chip crosses the start line is when the time will start. His words of profound insight were drowned out by sheer excitement and adrenaline. The rush seemed bigger and more intense than if there at a queue for refunds of movie tickets for “Prince”. At exactly 8:12 Am I crossed the starting line and the 2010 Sunfeast World 10k had started for me. I tried to draw inspiration from such wonderful Part III’s like “Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King” or “The Empire Strikes Back” and promised myself that I would run a good race, no matter what.
In 2008, when I knew zilch about running, I had had a decently fast paced start hitting the 2 Km mark in 11 minutes. Even in 2009, the start was free flowing and smooth. But this race started incredibly slowly with the field hardly setting a pace and lot of people deciding to switch to walking mode after the first few hundred meters! Any hopes I had of setting an early pace were gone as everyone seemed to randomly change directions and running as if they were out for a walk in the park. I desperately searched for an uplifting song on my iPod and finally settled on AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill”. It atleast helped me pick up the pace a bit as I approached the first water station. Just then, a young teenager clad in a black football jersey crossed my path. The name at the back caught my eye and made me smile – apparently he was ‘Jeevaninho’! Ronaldinho’s sort of namesake was running pretty fast and I followed his lead. As the field thinned, as it usually does by the 2.5 km mark, I realized that my start had been slowest of all the three races I have run so far. Feeling the need and the pressure to pick up speed, I pushed myself harder and pounded the road as hard as I could. And a new realization dawned on me – when you have around 7,000 people around you doing the same thing, they can create an amazing amount of peer pressure. It was as if the whole race was shifting on to a higher gear. I checked the stopwatch. Four kilometers in 24 minutes! If I had to save this race from being a disaster I had to do something right away.
Luckily intervention arrived in the form of a pack of glucose at the next water station. The volunteer absent mindedly poured the entire pack into my bottle of water. The shot of glucose got me perked up and I started maintaining a steady pace with measured and equal strides. I tried hard to get the thought of being slow in the first four kilometers off my mind. There was only one though running through my mind – would there be a toilet nearby? Carried away by this whole ‘keep yourself well hydrated’ thing, I had given my bladder too much work to do.
Nonetheless, fearing I’ll lose more time, I carried on. Who knows, the urgency could work in my favour!
The secret to running a good race, I discovered, was the same as the secret to making good soup or the secret to Rahul Dravid’s phenomenal career – consistency. I realized that despite the slow start I could still finish the race in good time only if I maintained the same pace and timing across the remaining distance. Unfortunately, the remaining distance – the last three kilometers – had been a bugbear in my earlier races. This time, I was feeling better at the 7km mark and decided to make it count. I tried to clear out my mind and only think about how simple the whole process of running is. It reminded me of what Dennis Doyle’s (Simon Pegg’s character in ‘Run Fatboy Run’) friend Gordon tells him. When Gordon asks Dennis to “Go on then, run!” Dennis asks, “Isn’t there some kind of like… special technique?” And Gordon replies, “Well… yeah… you put one leg in front of the other over and over again really really fast.” I sort of heard a Gordon like “Go on then, run!” in my head and I said to myself, ‘Let the overtaking begin’. And like a call center cab driver navigating city traffic at rush hour I pushed forward like a madman.
There was a guy running in front of me and his T-shirt said ‘I run therefore I am – nuts!’ At that moment, it made perfect sense. The delirium, adrenaline and fatigue combined to put me in such a state by the 8th kilometer that even the choice of headgear of the tall British woman who was running with a chicken shaped hat on her head also made perfect sense. Motivation reached a peak as I saw a fellow runner collapse and being carried into the ambulance at the 9 km mark. One last swig of water and a botched attempt at accurately throwing the plastic water bottle into the dustbin later, I was ready for the final dash as I hit Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road and the final stretch towards the stadium and the finish line. Just when I was about to pick up pace for the final 500 meters sprint, suddenly my body convulsed. I was about to throw up. I immediately slowed down and kept telling myself not to give it away when I was so close. The stopwatch showed 55 minutes. Surely the sub one hour was within reach. The vomiting sensation subsided and I was fit enough to dash the final 100 odd meters and even pose for the cameras. Running is indeed a mental sport. Otherwise I would have been blacked out somewhere at the 9.75 km mark with the morning’s breakfast lying nearby. 57 minutes 15 seconds! I had done it for the third time! (Later the official chip timing confirmed it was 57m12s)
It was a tough race, but ultimately super satisfying because I could meet the expectations of every well wisher who’d wished me. To wind down I went to the Nike Lounge, the passes to which were provided by a couple of friends at very high places. (OK!OK! I got it from a student of mine who was interning at the company that was managing the lounge) It was great feeling to see the lounge almost empty with the runners still on the street as I relaxed and basked in the glory of my timing.
A few tweets and status updates later, I was still pondering over the same question. Why was I running? I still don’t have a definitive answer. Finally, it was the energy of the 23000 odd Bangaloreans who turned up for the event gave me the answer. There was so much positive buzz around that Bangalore that day seemed to be swaying to Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’.