In my half a decade of running I have run eight 10k races and uptill the Contours Women’s Day Run 2013, none had been explicitly for a cause. This run, as the rather energetic MC informed us before the race, celebrates the achievement and ambition of women and also raises money for the education of the girl child through Asha, an NGO.
And then, just to prove the feminist tinge of the race we were made to go through a warm up session involving Zumba, which as per that wise guy called Wikipedia, is a dance cum workout program developed by a Colombian choreographer in the 1990s and propelled to global popularity not least because celebrities like Jennifer Lopez adopted it as part of their routines.
The Zumba warmup involving squats and lunges was particularly hard on me given that since the Kaveri Trail Marathon I hadn’t even run a single kilometer, let alone ten. Given the lack of practice for almost six months I should have been sceptical of my performance in the race, but now after seven races, 10k looked pretty conquerable. I wondered, though, as a friend of mine put it on Twitter whether I would be able to break the ‘psychological barrier’ of 60 minutes. I had done it in 5 of those 7 races so statistically it seemed possible. But with running a race there is one thing – every race is its own challenge. Channeling my energy towards the cause and remembering that women around the world are perhaps enduring much more than I ever will in this trivial race, I steeled up and fired up the Run Keeper app on my smartphone.
The start as usual was slow and stuttered with about a thousand runners trying to get out the narrow gates of St Joseph Boys’ School grounds. I decided not to step up till I felt sure of how my body would respond to the sudden flurry of activity after quite a gap. Amazingly, the muscle memory seemed intact and soon I settled in the familiar rhythm my feet have become accustomed to. The Run keeper app’s voice told me that five minutes were up and I had covered about 2/3 of a kilometer, a pace of 7 odd minutes per kilometer. Appropriately enough, the voice was female.
It was a slow start, even by my usual lazy standards and I quickly started to widen my strides matching some of my fellow female runners who were off to a brisk and elegant start. I ran on and every new meter I covered I seemed to be discovering new strength in the muscles which for some reason appeared to look forward to what they were about to be subjected to over the next 9 kilometers. There were children running alongside as we entered Cubbon Park and soon you could see the dogs and their owners ambling about too. A cool breeze blew (this was 6:45 am) and the relatively even tarmac made it smooth running conditions. The Run Keeper lady told me every five minutes what the distance was and what my pace was.
In the absence of km markers or any kind of distance guidance on the course this turned out to be highly valuable information. Usually I’d have to do such calculations in my head, and as any runner will tell you, every ounce of oxygen you redirect towards your muscles in a race adds up. The brain, usually the most greedy organ when it comes to snatching oxygen rations, was calm and composed leaving more oxygen for the rest of the body. That meant an effortless glide as I approached the halfway mark.
Just like in golf they say that a round of 18 holes really starts on the back nine, or how the second half in a football game is tougher, a 10k race also truly starts after the halfway point. By the 5th kilometer your optimism reserves are dwindling as you grapple with the first signs of fatigue, the whole game becomes one of the mind. Surprisingly I found my body quite sanguine after I took u turn at the 5th km to cover the course once more to complete the race.
Running inside Cubbon Park has this interesting psychological advantage. Generally the route is a 5k course that the 10k runners have to double loop. This means on the home stretch you pass familiar landmarks again and its mentally very calming because you are assured of what to expect. Your mind has mapped the route. Like my Run keeper was doing with the GPS. 35 minutes, 5.66 km said the voice. I had been going like clockwork – 6 min 5 secs per kilometer for almost the last 4 kilometers. It was time to make the next push.
This second ‘second push’ at a 10k is the trickiest because your physical limits (if you are an amateur runner) have been breached and the body has alarm bells ringing everywhere. Different folks have different points where this happens. Mine is usually the 7th km. I knew hydration would hold the key as always. In their effort to remind us about the importance of hydration, the race organizers had given a bottle of water along with the racing kit when I collected it on Friday(!). And while pre hydration is important, it lasts only till your next visit to the loo. I had taken the usual swigs of glucose and water at the aid stations but for the final stretch I did a Djokovic – I popped in a banana. It worked like a charm (Now I know why tennis players do it!).
I raced on as a bunch of lovely volunteers cheered on and noted the bib number for the records and timing. I was almost tempted to tell the lovely ladies that my bib number actually contained my phone number, too. If they could crack the code. I jumped over a traffic cone like a hurdle. Contrary to my usual race narrative, this 10k was turning out to be a breeze in the last quarter of the course.
As if. My adrenaline rush was shortlived and soon the banana and Djokovic marathon match inspirations were all but gone from my mind as the back and calf muscles cramped up. I passed a couple of cute kids looking at ducks in a pond inside the park. Which immediately reminded me that I must be out of my ducking mind to be doing this on a Sunday morning.
Suddenly I could see ahead of me a sea of pink. I realized that either men’s fashion has taken a turn for the really dastardly or I was being outrun by a bunch of girls. Shamefully, the latter turned out to be true. (Yes yes I know Women’s Day Run and no sexist remarks and all but I needed a straw to clutch at). I made one last dash matching stride for stride with a fellow runner who was Federer-esque in his ability to not sweat or look flustered 9km into a race as the first rays of the sun hit the course.
In one of my most comfortable finishes yet I glided the last half a kilometer to the finish line. As I crossed the final kilometer I could hear Run keeper lady saying that my current pace was 5 min 55 seconds per kilometer. The sub one hour was within reach! Maybe it was the runners high talking but I hinted a tinge of joy in Run keeper lady’s voice. The race was done and 10k had been covered in 59:30! It was like Sehwag coming out of an injury and batting with a strike rate of 125!
And while the joy of finishing a run i always unparalleled, here is a sobering thought I want to leave you with. The distance I had just covered huffing and puffing while listening to motivating songs and swigging electral and water is the average distance a woman has to cover in water deficient areas of India everyday just to fetch water.
I was running with the iPhone in my pocket and that felt heavy. She has to carry 15 liters (or more) of water on the way back. I just spent an hour doing some backbreaking work. Women in this country do backbreaking work like cooking and cleaning utensils three hours a day on an average according to the time use section in the ‘Men and Women in India’ survey done by the CSO every year.
That’s exactly why I wanted to run this race. To examine things from a different perspective. Because the next time I read about the difficulties a woman faces, I didn’t want just an abstract concept of it. Perhaps it will help me to become more empathetic. Perhaps, after the muscle pain and the dehydration is long gone after the race, I will still remember that being a woman is not easy. Salute! And I dedicate every step of this race to every woman I know and to their achievements and ambitions.
P.S. : As always, many thanks for all your love and support. You, dear reader, are the secret energy bar I carry to every race!