“This seems like a lot of trouble for a free banana” said a t-shirt on a runner that I noticed as he passed me at around the 7th kilometer. Running a 10K race might seem like a heck of a lot of effort for the proverbial free banana at the end of it, but when it comes to running, in 9 editions of the World 10K in Bangalore, the city’s runners have time and again proved that they are more eager than the Minions in Despicable Me when it comes to turning out for a road race.
In 8 years, the participation in the Open 10K has swelled to 12,000(!) from 3,000 odd the first time around and I have been privileged to be a part of every single edition. Except, this year, I almost missed out.
aka ‘What?! Registrations are closed already?’
I am generally very prompt when it comes to registering for the race but this year I underestimated Bengaluru’s enthusiasm. I went along to the website leisurely after over a week since regiatrations for the Open 10k started and to my horror discovered that it had already closed. I considered registering for the shorter Majja Run thinking of giving a bit of sprint a shot, but seriously, that was something my tortured muscles were unwilling to consider. It’s almost as if the body was telling me, it’s either the full workout of a 10K or nothing.
A friend, Vikash, helped out with getting a last minute registration done, one that the guys from the sponsors TCS helped facilitate. It was a legit registration but one that was concluded at a registration desk where once I filled up the form and handed it over, the guy at the counter, eyed me suspiciously and demanded I produce the cash for the registration fee in much the same tone of how a drug dealer might ask for the money before producing the goods. I told him that to his face, because if there is one thing that defines this race in particular and the running community in general, it is the sense of compassion and camaraderie.
You might think I was expecting too much out of a someone who must have had a long day at the desk or judging someone too harshly, but part of it stems from the high standards the event has set and the willingness of people associated with it to often go beyond their call of duty. Otherwise, what else explains why the catering guy, who serves the after race refreshments and hands over the finisher’s medal, insisting on putting the medal around your neck a after congratulating you? Thankfully the registration incident was a minor outlier; come race day, the spirit of the run would be at its best once more.
Freeze frame aka What do Captain America and I have in common?
I may have participated in every World 10k but the problem has always been that I have been grossly indisciplined and inconsistent with my training. This year, thanks to my sceptisim over whether I’d actually get to register meant that I had suspended training before it even began. The last real race I ran was the edition of the World 10K last year and since then had sat dormant with absolutely zero running.
I am not a genetically enhanced Vibranium laced super soldier but just like the Captain that one time in the ice, I was super inactive to the point where my muscles had likely started forgetting what running 10 kilometers on tarmac felt like. It was going to be a challenge to warm up quickly and get going in this race and things went from ‘might-be-slow-start’ to ‘oh-my-God-why-won’t -these-people-start-running-or-get-out-of-the-way’ pretty fast.
Thanks to the late registration I was in the last group that would be allowed on towards the starting line and with thousands ambling up in front of you it’s pretty much impossible to get a fast start. I fired up the race playlist and as has been the case with most races I have run, it kicked off with AC/DC. But while Brian Johnston’s mad vocals did put a spring in my step, there was nowhere to unload that spring with all the people turning into the tiny bottleneck of a stretch that led to the main road where the course began.
Looking for a sign of life aka Water Station
A start that took me 15 minutes to just make it past the 2 km mark had already extinguished hopes of that holy grail of 10k amateur timing – sub 60 minutes. If the race field were thinner it may have been possible (even without the training) but with the stretches jam packed with runners it was hard to even reach to a bottle at the water station let alone speed up. The hydration actually became a problem as I skimped on it to try and avoid the crowds and gain some open road to accelerate on. The upshot was that I had committed the cardinal sin in running – not drinking enough water.
Your body loses a tremendous amount of fluids when running and there is a need for constant replenishment. And given Bangalore’s weather lately, the problem was compounded as I felt my t shirt stick to my back. Of course I was sweating badly. What am I? Roger Federer? I gained some ground in the 3rd and 4th kilometer as the crowd thinned a bit mostly because some of the early enthusiastic starters begin to lose their breath around this point. This year with the metro construction near Cubbon Park & Vishan Soudha finished, the roads were well paved and free from obstructions making the course feel great under your feet. The feeling of the road kicking back as you step on it is a great one except that it tires your heels quickly if you had not trained well. And guess who was in cryogenic sleep as far as training was concerned this year?
When the race had begun my worry was that my heart or my lungs would give up pretty quickly. To my surprise I found out that they held fabulously well as I stepped on the gas, but the muscles were already freaked out. As I reached the 6th kilometer I knew a fantastical acceleration was needed but I also needed some restoration. I almost repeated Ant Man’s line (when he gets taken down while in his giant form) from Captain America: Civil War – ‘Does anybody have any orange slices?’ They did. In fact the next station was giving out half an orange to each runner.
As the 7th kilometer, the point where relativity takes effect and the distances appear longer than usual and time stretches in ways weirder than in a Dali painting to mess with your mind, approached, I needed a reboot. Enter Prince.
Home stretch aka Why don’t I have wings like the Avengers’ Falcon?
In Civil War during a super showdown among Iron Man’s team of “law abiding” Avengers clash with Captain America’s team of rebels, the Ant Man tilts the fight in favor of the Cap’s team by suddenly growing into a humongous version of himself. At this point Tony Stark, feeling overpowered & overwhelmed calls out – “Okay, anybody on our side hiding any shocking and fantastic abilities they’d like to disclose?” By the 8th kilometer as I saw an elderly Japanese gentleman being treated on the sidewalk after he had collapsed, I was fairly knackered. Prince’s guitar strains on ‘Kiss’ and then ‘Purple Rain’ were helping but not enough. So internally I made a Tony Stark like announcement to my body asking for either my heart or lungs of the calf muscles or the knee joints that if they had any fanatical abilities they were hiding, this might the time to disclose them.
The replies are summarized below:
Lungs: *huff* *puff* LOL
Calf muscles & Knees: Lulz
It would take some craziness to accelerate from here I realized and just then as I spotted the 9th kilometer marker, the Prince playlist I had lined up shuffled nicely into 1999. In most races, the 9th kilometer is where I’d truly wilt but this time I found an extra gear to actually ignore all the sassy replies from my body and step it up. Prince ‘s voice in my ear urged me to “party like it’s 1999” and I wished I had the alacrity of the teenager who just rushed past beside me.
The untiring volunteers and cheering citizens on the side egged us all on. This is always a heart warmingly incredible sight – fellow citizens encouraging you on for no reason other than a sense of community and a wonderful example of human decency. I clapped back at them and decided to push myself hard for the last few hundred meters as the stadium and the finish line were in sight. On cue, Prince’s mad cap guitar lit up my ears as the song ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ began to play. I did go crazy indeed effectively sprinting the last 200 meters of a race where I may have set a terrible pace early on and been plagued by terrible hydration but had hardly ever felt tired.
To be able to complete a race with some energy still left in the tank is one of the best feelings regardless of the timing and I almost ran into the the cameraman who was clicking pictures at the finish line. I stopped myself just in time and decided to do a Rocky shadow boxing pose rather than the usual “V” sign because it had felt like I had fought the doubts coming from my own mind and smoothly completed another 10k run.
64 minutes is among my slower times taken for a 10k race but when you have high-fiving fellow runners and random strangers from ages 8 to 80 congratulating you and telling you job well done, the timing really doesn’t matter. That Prince song, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ starts with the lines ‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life.’ And that is exactly what the World 10K has become – a celebration of life and the feeling of being alive. And I know that Bengaluru will gather to celebrate it again next year. Until we meet again, World 10k family, happy running!