Mumbai Local

Running as a metaphor for life

Flying in to Mumbai on Friday morning I was acutely aware that this was going to be the first time in five years that I was set to run the Mumbai Marathon with barely anything by way of training miles.

In the initial weeks after I’d run my maiden international marathon in Chicago in October, I’d hoped to do some serious training with the aim of targeting a good finish and possibly even the elusive BQ (Boston Qualification) time. To non-runners, it’s a dream for every amateur marathoner to run a time that will help her or him qualify for running the Boston Marathon, considered among distance runners as the most coveted race to run. But then with life and a new job having happened, I realised I needed to temper my expectations and just hope that come the third Sunday of the new year I could make it to the start line. And that’s what happened.

Landing on Friday, a holiday at the office as it was Pongal — the harvest festival for us Tamilians — I headed straight to my room and decided to take it easy for a change and catch an afternoon nap to make up for the lost hours of sleep over the past few months. And the rest of the day vanished in a dreamy haze.

Saturday, I headed to Marine Drive for a shakeout run and was glad to watch the elite African men and women warm up with an easy-paced glide (for them). An attempt to briefly run alongside a bunch of Ethiopian men, proved expensive to my ego as after keeping up for about 300 metres, the pounding heart told me how futile the whole effort was. Later in the morning, I trotted across to the expo at the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade and collected my bib and met a few runner friends. Returning in a cab to the office, the driver asked me: “What’s happening here, why the crowd?” When told people were coming to collect their running bibs for Sunday’s Mumbai marathon, he dismissively remarked: “So they run to make a show and impress everyone!” And when I told him I’d flown down just to run the 42.2-kilometre distance of the marathon, he was nonplussed. “You mean you run 42 kilometres and not walk it?” All I could do was smile back, as explaining what makes a marathoner push herself or himself to the limits of physical endurance just for the satisfaction of completing the distance would be near next to impossible, I figured.

Lifting spirits

But the genial gentleman from Ramnagar in Uttar Pradesh had the last word as he reminisced about a young man from a neighbouring village who ran 30-odd kilometres one way every morning and then returned: “there were no marathons in those days or else he would have easily won many races.”

Race morning had me scurrying around my room, trying to ensure I was adequately caffeinated to keep me awake and had all my running gear and gels and Garmin watch all in order. Arriving at the floodlit Azad Maidan, we were frisked twice — the post Boston-bombing effect I guess — with a private security guard first doing the search and then a Mumbai policeman repeating the procedure a few feet later. The corralling was much better this year and we were soon counting down the seconds to flag-off.

The race itself was a consciously slow-paced run as the knowledge of how undercooked I was in terms of training mileage ensured I kept a tight rein on the speed. A rumbling stomach as we hit Peddar Road didn’t help matters either and a forced bio-break later I knew I ought to be more than happy with a sub-4:30 finish. Running along the Bandra-Worli Sealink, I decided I would try and cheer and encourage as many runners as I could along the way. From the Worli Sea-face onward it was a regular stream of tiring runners who I tried coaxing and cajoling and exhorting to resume running instead of walking. And finally, on Marine Drive I met a couple of debutant full-marathoners who were cramping badly. Some stretches later they were both ready to tough out the final couple of kilometres in pursuit of their maiden finisher’s medal and we ran together through the chute at the finish line.

It was then that I realised that the sheer joy and satisfaction I felt at running for others — pacing them and helping them cross the finish line was far more precious to me than any PB (personal best time) or BQ I could have notched up.

Running is a metaphor for life and what we learn from it and how we experience it depends entirely on what our personal goals and ambitions are. To me, Sunday’s marathon was by a fair distance my most satisfying race. And that’s all that matters in the end.

(The writer is the National Business Editor of The Hindu)

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 10:36:08 PM |

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