Running

Annual Sunset

It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it and embrace the shiny’, ‘new’ year!

So, its time to change the printed calendar that hangs on the wall. I have to take care to write ‘2018’ instead of  ‘2017’ on the cheques that I sign. Other than that, nothing changes. Of course, tonight some folks will move in the name of dance, to random noise that’s called music. Everybody will wish each other ‘Happy New Year’ and then go about living their lives with renewed fervour.

By the 8th of Jan, 25% of resolutions “have fallen by the wayside”. “And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept”, says a piece in the New York Times. Thats a colossal underperformance by corporate standards, won’t you think? (Do give the piece a read. Very good pointers )

That of course, is a limited view. Thank God!

What would we do if there was just no chance in hell that we could begin all over again? Even if we knew in the innermost recesses of our hearts that it is the same Sun that will show up tomorrow.  That it’s sinking into the west doesn’t sink with it our warts and wiggles. I wouldn’t mind it taking along with it the credit card bill, the lump of fat on the hip and the sinus in the head. Alas! That said, the new year is special. For it is the chance for some energy into starting all over again.  That is priceless. It fills us with hope and courses a new energy in our fraying minds.

An uncle of mine used to say that this energy would take him through “March – April”! “If you get a few solid wins in this time, who knows, the momentum can take you into June-July”. I find this enticing today.

It makes sense. Once it is July, you are already looking at beginning the countdown to end the year and make a new beginning.  In early October, the uncle would say, ” we are going to end the year”. Looking forward to it like a kid walking with his dad to buy a promised lollipop.  The ‘looking forward to next year’ saw him through the last three-four months.

In one way or the other, he had to wade through pestilence laden waters of ‘what is the meaning of my life’ and such other desultory questions for about five months.  Right in the middle of the year. Those months could seem to have a slower pace to them.  A few other ways to work those months would help. Perhaps breaking the year into smaller bits. Maybe having other special rituals for renewal.

But right now, the Sun is just about downing its shutters for 2017. The mid-year ‘sulk months’ seem a good distance away. Those months will happen when they happen. To make them ‘happening’ is after we take care of this evening and the next few weeks.

I have on my agenda a few must-dos.

Meet friends.

Make white spaces.

Plan well and yet create the space to plan as you go.

Spend time with the little miss. Grow up with her.

Walk. Run.

Take care of the body. And the mind. That’s the best way to take care of the bank account. (“Fixed deposits are best in the bank. Spare your hips”, said a wall scrawl in Madurai ).

Eat vegetables.

Write.  Travel.

Dream.

Do meaningful work.

Shoot the breeze.

That’s the best part of beginning again. For some irrational reason, it fills the heart with hope. As this sunset sinks its teeth into the year’s neck, the fleeting gasps of the setting Sun remind me of the promises that I need to keep. No new promises. Just keeping the old ones is good enough.

That’s as good as it gets. The aim is to go through to the end of March with it. A running coach once sat me down as I shuddered thinking about how I would ever do a 42 KM run. The trick he said, “is not to think of the full 42 KM. But to have a target like “until the end of where the eye can see”.  With the run soaking up most of the energy, my line of sight was often a just a hazy patch. It helped me finish!

So, here is what I am going to do. Soak up the Sun and look forward to the end of March. Maybe, April. Before the blink of the eye, it would be July.  And then, it would be next year.

For now, go dance. Sing. Love.

That’s all there is to it. Besides saying “Happy New Year”!

There are two pigeons that dart on to my balcony. Tilting their necks and looking at me with an odious ‘oh not again’ look. I want to prove them wrong and start somewhere, even as the bright arc of the orange Sun is reduced to crimson splash on the horizon. I pull out my laptop and start typing. “It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it…”

Shoeing it in !

The group that I run with is upto some crazy stuff. Just a shade short of ‘filmy stunts’, several runners have taken to, hold your breath, barefoot running. On the streets of Mumbai !

Life is not a bed of roses. Life in Mumbai is definitely not. Running barefoot will get you to deal with the fact that roads are not even a bed of tar. Forget roses! Yet, chanting the name of long term health of the knee, getting ‘closer to nature’ and better running posture, they are pounding the pavements of Powai with bare skin of their feet. Feet that are used to sophisticated shoes. Yes. Sophisticated is the word.

‘If they could do it, I could too’. I told myself in one of those half-assed-belligerent moments that’s usually devoid of reason. And I decided to venture out too. But no. Not the whole hog. A stepping stone to eventually running barefoot, they said, was to run in ‘Canvas shoes’ I was told. You remember these shoes, don’t you ?




The stuff that you wore for PT classes and something called ‘mass drill’! The mass drill that seemed such a extravagantly pointless exercise and fun filled day : ‘Sports Day’! Yes, the same ‘Mass Drill’ that came nowhere close to a ‘sport’ on ‘Sports day’! Of course, you had to be a sport in taking the effortless affront to ‘synchronous movement’ that was perpetuated in the name of ‘mass drill’, in your stride.

I, as regular readers are aware, am a perpetual sucker for nostalgia, diving into the past at the slightest whiff of an opportunity. Sitting in the shoe store and caressing the coarse canvas shoe was no slight whiff. It was a tornado of sorts! Before you could say four-five words like ‘The- Prime Minister-needs-to-speak’, (or any other four five words for that matter) full chronicles from the past years of starting off with the canvas shoe, were relived in my mind!

Many images from the past did many more sorties in the mind. Images of the ‘mass drills’ were just one genre. The ‘March Past’ was another wonderful display of how earnest kids supervised by strict ‘PT masters’ (as they were called), could swing their arms and legs in such a belligerent spectrum of directions, very rarely in synchrony!

Sports day itself was a delight of a day. Other than the mass drill and the march past, there were Olympic stature events like ‘lemon & spoon race’ where the ‘gold medal’ would go to the bloke who would balance a lemon on a spoon, with his teeth and run a distance of ten meters. Or thereabouts.

If that didn’t excite some, there were other ‘games’ like ‘Sack http://healthsavy.com/product/priligy/ race’, ‘slow cycle race’, ‘ One leg hop’ and such else. (Now, these are not to be confused with similar games that go on in the present day corporate world). The ones at school were adorned with innocence and glorious charm.

(With such sport that gripped our imagination, India’s medals tally at the Olympics makes sense. A tally thats often eclipsed many times over by nations with population no more than population of Powai. Or even, an apartment complex here!)

Oh yes victory in these events meant that the ‘houses’ that you were allotted to would get points. The ‘houses’ were named after colours and a ribbon of the same arresting colours ( Fluorescent green, or blue, orange or whatever. The essence was in ‘Fluorescent’.) would be tied to your hand. Just in case you wanted to jump ship to a group that held more allure (err… due to a variety of reasons). Alas we couldn’t ! Those scheming teachers!

For several formative years the sport that occupied the mind was cricket. A sport that you could play with anything that resembled a bat, including a fallen branch of a coconut tree, with just a bit of appropriate chiseling! To play which, you couldnt care what you wore ! Anything was good!

In a few years, as innocence faded, newer sport held interest. Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis. I graduated to these new sport and took to new special shoes that pester power at home, brought me. The good old coarse canvas shoes, in my mind, were for the sissies doing the sack race!

So there ! So much for nostalgia !

Last week, I sat in this grand shoe store, in a brand new mall buying the good old canvas shoe. Running my hand over the coarseness of the canvas, i guess I was sitting there for a while! For it was the missus’s embarrassed nudging that brought me alive to the fact that the entire store staff had turned out to see the chap who was caressing the canvas shoe! Almost !

It was more than the attention that I had bargained for, and certainly more than the Rs.299/- I paid for these. I was surprised that Rs.299/- went the distance a long way! Especially, when it came to drawing the attention of an entire store!

Since then, I have run once for 40 minutes in these shoes. I was left with a mega blister that ballooned ‘boulder size’ by evening that bristled with irritant pain for a couple of days.

The blister will go. The blistering pace at which some memories returned, will linger for longer.

By the way, do you remember these shoes ?

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 !


on the run..

Today, I chanced upon this snap in the archives.

There we were, in Pebble Beach. California. Or thereabouts. Driving through a Californian summer. Now and then, stopping to soak in lung fulls of the Pacific air and indulge in uninhibited visual gluttony, soaking up the scenery and the sights.

I did what other tourists normally do. Click pictures. Eat like a pig. Click more pictures. Make funny noises. Click more pictures. And generally gape.

Which is when, the eye caught the old man running. He was doing a steady pace. Not that I hadn’t seen an old man run. I run with several who, with their enthusiasm and effort, drive shame into me with seemingly no effort at all. But then, it was 2.00 PM in the afternoon and this old man was running. No other runner on the road.

By Mumbai standards, well that is a step higher than ‘weird’! For one, the heat will vaporize you. Another reason could be, no actually, that vapourise threat is reason enough.

But this was California. Here was this man. Running a steady doddering run, with an adorable spirit and a certain incalculable antiquity.

Memories came sprinting back, as I looked at this picture today. Especially so because laziness has been coursing my veins for a while now.

Well, well, it’s a long story. I have formed part of the problem.

Several readers know that I enjoy a good run. These pages have seen how it all started with an innocuous ‘come see what we do’ invitation from a friend who was into running. It took about the time it took for your eyes to come down to reading this line from the line above. That’s all. That’s the time it took for me to commence running. I was running and enjoying it!

This year the problem compounded.

In a fit of demented bluster, I registered to run a full marathon to be run in January. That is 42 kilometers for the uninitiated. To those that have only seen the Kenyans run on TV and make it seem as easy as turning in your bed, I can only say, that running the full marathon, for bloated blokes with a sweet tooth and sorry food cycles, is like aiming for the moon with a Diwali pistol.

But then, like other good things with grand intentions, the registration was made in right earnest. As soon as the registration was done, investments were made. A new watch was bought. A watch http://pharmacy-no-rx.net/accutane_generic.html that displays kilometers run. Speed at which the running is happening, calories burnt etc etc ! By the way, as a bonus and almost as an afterthought, it also shows the time.

So I have all these details on my wrist. These days its not the tail that wags the dog. Details wag the dog! Somewhere, between all the calculations and math, the joy of running slipped. Damn, Numbers !

To exponentially compound matters, I realize that I have dutifully informed anyone who lingered in my company for more than two minutes that I am into running and the marathon will be attempted this year.

Typical responses have followed. Always preceded by a sympathetic look and a shake of a head, that seem to indicate the unspoken words of ‘oh, what has befallen you’.

‘It will be ok’. They say. Accompanied by an arch of an eyebrow and with as much energy that a scintillating bureaucrat puts in his face while dealing with a cyclone victim.

My runs have taken a nosedive over the last couple of months with an elegance of a Olympic diver. Slowly and steadily, lethargy has pitched a tent. Inches in the waist have grown like wild grass at the first sight of rain. These days, I feel the weight of a large earth moving equipment juggle in me, every time I run !

But you see, I haven’t been sitting idle. Ofcourse, I have been busy. Weekends have flown by like aircrafts doing practice sorties. Some have also crashed.

But all that is in the past. Today, this man woke me up. This old man that I caught half a glimpse of on a bright and sunny afternoon in another part of the world, has shaken me up.

There is one goal now. As far as the running, that is! To complete the marathon in January. Whatever time it takes. To run with no ‘time’ in mind. Running for fun. Running to just enjoy the course and see how far two legs can take me. That suddenly seems doable.

For all those, that have a sudden outpouring of love and want to gift me with sweets, payasam and such else, hold on, till January. If you are insistent, well, I will have one bite. Only one. Ok ?

In the mean time, wish me luck and watch this space.


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 http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/anticonvulsant/ 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.