Marathon Post !

So he asks, did you do the ‘foool marathon’. I nod in agreement. “You actually did the foool marathon” he asks three quarters in disbelief.

Savagely moving a large lump of paan from one cheek to the other making visible a coloured tongue with a resplendent red, as he sucks in air, producing a hissing sound. For a moment, the sound reverberates across the the space in the lift we both share.

After 42 kilometers of running, I am finally in my apartment and taking the lift home. This is a man that I know.

We meet in the lift often. He hisses for a while longer. I fear he may suck all the oxygen out of the lift. He runs his hands over his pronounced paunch. “Will I ever be able to’, he asks. I have just about energy to tell him, that that’s exactly where I started two years back.

Regular readers here, know about my running and the pompous spin that I give to a rather pedestrian pastime. Okay, strictly not ‘pedestrian’. This after all is about running.

‘Demented bluster’, lead me to think that I indeed could run the full marathon and register for the 42 KM. Announcing with fanfare and chickening out before implementation is what the government is teaching by example. I announced it too. Not out of great admiration for the government, but it was frankly a very convenient option! I could always quietly slink away.

The blokes at Striders had a different plan though. Challenging, pushing in an ever so non obtrusive manner, ‘slow & easy’ manner that it would fit in the category of non-invasive surgery. Of the mind.

The kind that the missus would call ‘magic’ because, her pretty much invasive attempts to get me to other things like stack up read newspapers in a manner that could be called ‘mildly orderly’ has only resulted in massive inaction that could befit a lump of limestone. Or something of that ilk. You get the idea, right ?

Practice happened over the last several months. Regular travel made me regularly irregular. But running is an activity for which all that you would ever require is a pair of shoes. So I ran alone wherever I went. Often inviting the attention of curious onlookers sipping in coffee from roadside stalls in remote corners of India.

More often than not, inviting the attention and unrequited anger of stray dogs. I presume they were mad at me. Perhaps my speed was incongruent with my heavy breathing. They would wake up and holler as though they spotted Veerappan or someone. Upon seeing me, some would whimper and growl. Mostly in pity I presume. Most others would just not bother to do that either!

The group at Powai I train with is an awesome bunch. Sticking together. Often chatting, laughing and infusing an excitable energy. A special mention must be a made of all friends. Hitesh in particular, who runs barefeet : my running partner! He is a much faster and far more experienced bloke that ran alongside for most of practice and the race too.

On D day, I did run. 42.2 KM. Surprising myself with a time of 5.07 hours. But that’s not the story. Or rather is just one part of the story.

The story of how Mumbai turned out to cheer us is, is the big story !

Expecting beautiful women ( and handsome men), evidently just out of bed , take notice of balding, paunch carrying projectile, would come close to ‘a wonder of the modern day world’! But to see them cheer for me ( yes, I looked all around in surprise, I was the only character in 50 meters), was, mildly put, very exciting.

Or for that matter. Slum kids who lined up the roads of Mahim, who erupted into such dizzying shouts of joy when a runner give all of them a high five, as they held out outstretched hands.

‘Bhagho Uncle Bhaaaaaaago’ ( run uncle run), they screamed. From the stress on the ‘bhaaaaggoooooo’ their estimation of how fast I was running was apparent.

I ran, holding out my hand to the kids. What caused them excitement to have a stranger running and giving them a high five is something that is beyond my brain, but boy, it sure did energise me like no other sports drink or energy drink can. Taxi drivers cheered. Old men shouted slogans for me. Some men stared in disbelief. Even cops clapped and gave us a thumbs up sign.

These as you can see, are beyond the realms of everyday life.

Running is an exercise as much for the mind, as it is for the body. Especially long distance running ! And sometimes when you run with a complete stranger, even for a few fleeting moments as he passes you or you pass him ( or her), a strange bond is shared. Acknowledged a few times with a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘keep going’ or a ‘well done’.

At other times, the silence is broken by an exchange of heavy breaths or the sound of feet pounding the pavement. Not a word is spoken. Not a gesture exchanged. Yet, conveying much.

Ofcourse, there are exceptions like the ‘elite runners’. Those Kenyans, Ethiopians and others. Who by the time I finished the race would have fathered two kids and sent them to college. But the point is not about speed. The 42 KM is one heck of a distance. The body knows that. The point, is about the mind. That opaque thing called ‘mind’ has travelled a longer distance.

Heres a world of thanks to all friends who called, texted, wrote on the FB wall, clicked on the ‘like button’, sent messages on the BBM and for the few who actually travelled all the way to South Bombay to cheer… I have nothing but a gaping sea of gratitude. You made it possible.

This is a world where the following are common : Running for office. Running away from problems. Running away with the neighbour. Running from the media etc !

But the real running, the running on the road holds untold charm, an almost surreally unbelievable sense of freedom and wins some amazing friends.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it !

Of wins and losses !

It meant a year of practice. In the thick of Mumbai’s summer time. In the middle of monsoon shower time. Waking up at hours that invite the best of slumber and watching food intake like a hawk hunting for prey. . . Running. In groups. Alone. Sunday. Monday. Wednesday. Friday. Week on week. Month on month.

Striders armed with a group of dedicated coaches, and a ‘crazy bunch’ of fellow runners that inspires this commitment with a commitment that makes my commitment seem like a piece of cake. Speaking of cakes, that was avoided too. Sigh.

With all of the above, and last years 2 hours and 14 minutes finish, plus some 30 + KM runs that were done this year, the 21 KM was all and truly under the belt. Or so was the thought.

No story goes without a twist.

The day before D-day, the body quivered to a strange ‘shivering’ that blossomed into a full fledged fever. If you had to talk about Murphy and timing at any forum, this will fit the bill. Purrfect !! There was no choice but to rest the fever through.

The D-day arrived. The first five kilometers were a breeze. On time ! And then, the fever just returned with a vengeance that befits an untamed stallion running amok. Only now, embellished with cramps on the shin and calf.

Every step a pain, a searing headache to compliment the body pain and a soaring temperature within that seemed to keep pace with global warming, this marathon was well on course to become an unmentionable washout!

A new goal emerged. To finish. Medical help. Walking. Limping. Running. Meandering along. With fleeting thoughts of how ever distant the finish line seemed and if I would finish at all. Truly well meaning friends had suggested, ‘dropping out is better than dropping down’. Somehow, both options weren’t alluring.

That’s the sordid part of the story. Perhaps sounding like a ‘heroic’ spin to a rather pedestrian timing. Which today was 2 hours and 45 minutes or so, by which time, the body was fairly disoriented and feeble. But satisfied that finish line had indeed been crossed. Yes. I finished.

Yes. That’s the sordid part of the tale.

If that seemed like a huge solo effort, well, there cant be a falsehood further from the truth. The crowds that cheered on. The children that distributed bananas and sweets. The men and women that kept waving with some variation of a ‘you can do it’ chant. Not to forget the Striders teams of coaches that were ever present. While running buddies kept pushing.

Speaking of them, a certain lady who is part of our crazy bunch deserves more credit than what this paragraph gives. Running alongside for the last 8 KMs or so, sacrificing her pace and timing with words that will resonate for a long time and serve as proof for ‘true spirit of sport and friendship’….“ Am not letting you run alone in this shape”!

Several friends finished well and truly ahead. There is a true delight to see their timings. Its such a fulfilling feeling to see that all of us finished. Many on their own. Others as groups and yet others like me with SOME help !

Thank you everybody for all the support and cheer right through the preparation. The family was festive and supportive! Several bloggers texted. Others called. Friends cheered on, many times using ISD calls ! Sending supplements and such else, woven with wishes and prayers !

If wishes were horses, things could have been different with the body today. But then, wishes are never horses and the running has to be done by every person who chooses to. The low feeling that clouds me will go away. Eventually.

And I know of only one way that this feeling can slowly evaporate : Practice starts Monday next.

Also Ran !

It all started with a move to arrest the arrival of a paunch. Seemingly seamless. But pronounced. The seams of the trousers were bursting. Obviously all the sweets and fries had to show up someplace !!

High calorie food stuck to all parts of the body. Like a Fixed Deposit that was left to grow. The paunch was packing quite a punch ! Then one day, a friend suggested that he was ‘running’ the marathon. Running ? There was enough to being an ‘also ran’ in life!

Ten minutes on the treadmill was about what the feet could ever manage. Huffing, panting and almost sure that the 11 th minute would cause instant death ! This was June ’09. An internal war broke out. Resplendent slumber waging a relentless war on physical activity.

‘Running ? For gods sake, get real ! And four days a week’. Was a constant conversation in the mind. But when the favorite trouser didn’t fit, the missus had her hands on the hip and gave a look. A look that was a curious mix of pity, joy and sarcasm!

The next day, I signed up for running. This was August ’09. The schedule was given. ‘Mondays. Wednesdays. Fridays. Sundays. Reporting time : 5.45 AM’ ! The eyes popped. The ears didnt quite register. ‘Reporting at 5.45 ?’ That meant getting off the bed by 4.30 AM !

With a trepidation reminiscent of my maths exam, i prepared to howl in protest. The only words that escaped the lips however sounded different. ‘Sundays too?’ So it all began. Running.

But the mind was clear : I wasn’t going to go anywhere close to the marathon. I was just going to run. Run the paunch down. That was that. But the group i was training with had other ideas. Of course, my coaches kept it to themselves.

August ’09 : A couple of kilometers that the feet covered burnt a hole in the wallet buying pain reliver sprays and left the bedroom smelling of Bengay ! Perpetually. Gasping for breath was now not restricted to seeing stupidity at work. Parts of the body loudly announced their existence with stinging pain and stagnant aches. Knees. Muscles. Joints. Bones. All.

September was better. The pain was around. Less pronounced on the body. More on the mind. I wonder if it would be any different with you..when somebody a good 20 years older zips past and completes the distance in half the time !

And we ran on the roads. We trained in Aarey. Dotted with thick greenery. Rustic smell of cow dung and grass punctuating the morning air and of course, awesome sunrises more than aptly compensated for the mosquitoes that were perhaps next only to the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein !

We trained in Bandra on the road besides the Arabian sea (and Shah Rukh Khans home. Just in case the Arabian Sea was an unknown entity). Sundays meant driving to marine drive to run those distances. ( I promised the missus that i will not write about the lump of breakfast that followed. So)

October was even better. November fled by. Suddenly, It was early December. I was running 20 odd KMs. Slow. Steady. Huffing and puffing. But running. ‘Perhaps i can run the marathon’ became a refrain. As with most human minds, the monkey on the mind had moved on to the next branch. Finishing was not THE issue. ‘In what time’, became the big question.

Jan fled. Taking with it all doubt of ‘completion’ of the race. It was 17th Jan. I was after all running the marathon. The timing chip was tied to the shoe. The bib was pinned to the t-shirt. Off i ran the Mumbai half-Marathon ! 2 hours 14 minutes was on the watch display as i finished.

There were hordes of men, women and children cheering us on. Faces that i dont know. Voices that i hadn’t heard before. But words and gestures that i just cant forget. ‘Go Mumbai Go’ they screamed !

The slum dwellers who held out oranges. The sophisticated types who had household help offer biscuits, juices, water. The men and women who stood by clapping. I wonder what gets them to do these.

Oh yes. Our blogger bunch cheered on too. With cheers, wishes, presence, prayers and offer for payasam ! The one gent who traveled from Pune to click a snap and cheer on. The others that set a mail thread that went like a river in flow ! What a swell bunch of people inherit this earth ! How blessed am i to know and connect up with them all ! So much for an ‘also ran’ !

Phew. I am done. With this race. But two things remain. Which must get mentioned.

a. I am looking for one man with a blue T-shirt which had ‘are you tough enough’ written on his back. I will never forget this man. For at the 4th Kilometer he overtook me, looked into my eys and shouted ‘Dont GIVE UP’ ‘Dont Give up’.

With bewilderment plastered on my face, i waved him on. ‘Give up?!!?’ Whoever talked about giving up ? I had just started running. So, if you know that man, or you are that man…well, i need to talk to you.

b. The paunch…you know… well…the paunch also ran ! The cause for all of this running, is by and large ( actually by and LARGE) at large ! Theres been no impact at all ! The missus thinks running 42 kilometers will perhaps wear it down.

Ofcourse, like all times, i differ.