This is about running. I write this because it is not every week that limits are pushed to a delirious state. On Sunday, I completed my first organized and timed full marathon. I ran the Auroville Marathon in Pondicherry. This makes it the first long run of the year. I’ve been running 30km, 35km and lesser distances all through the last year. Never managed to attend organized runs for a variety of reasons. Had registered for Auroville Marathon -2015 and didn’t go for it. Regret that for the amazingly serene and runner friendly trail that it is. This year’s too would have met the same fate had it not been for an evening run at NLS which found me elated back at my desk and I registered for Auroville’s. In the next two months since registration, preparation for the 42 km run nosedived. In all, I managed to do 6 20 km+ runs as prep. And nothing else. Most of the evenings found me wrestling other personal and work related affairs with a terrible state of mind. I wasn’t sure that I’ll survive these 42 km on Sunday and even at dinner table on Saturday. I sat over a bowl of pasta in a restaurant and watched people pass by, from the balcony. I contemplated taking a bus back to Bangalore after dinner.
On Sunday, first 10 km saw me confident. The next 10 saw me sure-footed. The next 5 km wrecked me. A complete bonking out happened somewhere after 25 km. I stopped for a piss and lost orientation. I didn’t know the treeline from the trail and trail from the sky. It all circled around as though I was in a tin can which was given a vigorous shake. Found my footing till the next aid station and took in several cups of electrolyte. Having finished it, I guess it wasn’t so much physical exhaustion as it was the state of mind that did me in. Because physically, I finished strong. I was dreading it and it hit me! The 30s were the toughest because of a nasty knee cramp. I was hobbling through several stretches. Those were the moments which saw me laughing out loud for what I signed up for, for being stupid to be there without prep and similar such things. A short distance later I wasn’t even sure what was I doing, or what was I there for. The last 4 km is when the spirits bounced back. By then I had learnt to ignore the knee pain and keep myself running at a consistent pace with short steps. I knew I was going to complete it and make it within a decent time limit. By 4 hrs 50 mins I was done with the 42 km trail. With this finish, came a good deal of lessons too. Pursuits like these were clearly not what I am naturally predisposed to. I did it because I liked attempting it. But am I predisposed to such exercises? I think, no. It was the same when I did a brevet ride of 100 km last year. It was to explore how I take situations of stress. Nothing else.
Having completed the run, it amazes me how an unknown side of me was playing itself out – raw and hard at me. I was running 20+ distances. What I didn’t realize was that those distances I did every evening were well within my comfort zone. I didn’t know that I should have ventured out. Sunday morning was doing that. I was revolting against that. This duel, I was living in fits of hysterical laughter mixed with bursts of determination and topped with tons of lack of confidence. If I was filming myself, sitting this evening I can’t look at that recording without being surprised and embarrassed at myself. This is because with the run I witnessed how I respond to situations (and challenges) outside of my physical and mental comfort zones. It wasn’t a happy sight. But like other runners and endurance sports enthusiasts I can say that all that pain was well worth it.
This run also came at a time when I am facing a fair amount of difficulty at work and other things that I do for a living. It is amazing how all of it connects with each other. A positive mental state does a great deal to a run and it is the same with one’s profession. I am more effective in an optimistic state of mind. That has been hard lately.
The other thing I learnt is the necessity of a certain discipline in pursuits. I say certain because the form and intensity of it can be different for individuals. But having some degree of discipline is absolutely necessary. I could have fared much better if I had the discipline to train or say, be regular with my runs during the preceding months. I wasn’t ! It takes the same intensity of intent to get through work as well, especially when self-employed and in consulting. Many of the contracts that I undertake do not have demanding skills but they are demanding in time and rigour. This is where the problem begins. Not having enough of either of the two. I am capable of procrastinating endlessly.
For all these reasons, it was great to see that I ran past the finish line feeling strong. It sort of bridged a bit of that gap between the known and the unknown selves. At one point when I had stalled completely on the trail I found myself repeating the number of kilometers left. It was almost a chant. That was probably the last desperate measure I tried until I regained the pace.
Finally, it was Andy, a runner over 70 years old who crossed me at around 38th kilometer, cantering like a fine bred horse. Can’t forget the sight – he was on a consistent, confident stride and his wife rode along by his side on a cycle, supporting him. Hell of a partnership there! One of those points in the woods where I squatted on the ground, another old dude, Kumar, passes by urging me not to stop – walk, if you have to, but don’t stop. He played old Hindi songs on his phone, rather loud. That was unusual. How did he find pace with that kind of music. For his comment, I thought, don’t I know this already? There was something very inspiring when I saw him do that, right ahead of me. That is the only thing I did there onward. I can’t thank Kumar enough, for that one line. I found him doing the same all through. He is probably over 50 years old. I watched him ahead of me, behind me and alongside for the last 8 km of the trail. He never did stop! I shall never forget this.
For the last kilometer, the organizers had arranged for pacers. I had two lovely people who paced me just when I was living terrible troughs. I am incredibly thankful to both. Naveen, for the last km. I knew he was lying about the distance remaining. But I did speed up. At 42 km I was at a pace similar to the first five. It was courtesy his pacing.
I told one of my friend who also runs long distance that I do not prefer organized runs. I still don’t, especially the ones with sponsors plastering every little space with ads. But marathons like these, I will always run. They are a huge bundle of learning. A senior lady who wore a starched saree and canvas shoes and was attempting 10k. Such a pretty sight! I am full of admiration for such folks. Another family, was cheering on a particularly isolated stretch where they found me walking, visibly in pain. Such encouraging environment does a great deal of help. This is another thing I learn, and I am sure to follow this at school. To encourage kids to do things. To ‘go for it’. I do not think I do it enough.
I remember the indistinct pre-dawn sky when I started. I remember the bright and deep blue typical of Pondicherry sky at 9.30 am when I was nearing completion. It was almost metaphorical, I felt. What it takes is – a step at a time. And to be at it!
The after effect of this finish is that I am considering a 200 km brevet ride and signed up for the Ramanagara Half Marathon two weeks from now. I hope the streak continues and I finish the year with at least one ultrarun.