Throughout my childhood, I was a self-proclaimed bookworm. An utter disregard for any kind physical activity in my entire family did not help my situation. I even remember ridiculing a couple of friends and relatives who were physically active and took care of their health. Surprisingly, my family was blessed with reasonably good health and what with my great grandfather living till 103, everyone even remotely related to him assumed they too were blessed with a three digit lifespan.
Being married to a health-conscious guy has not helped. During one of his runs I remember a savage taunt I threw at him “Why run when you have to come back to the same place?”
Given this aversion to a ‘healthy lifestyle’, I don’t remember the exact incident which triggered an interest in running, but I guess it started with an impromptu signup for a run. Soon, I was doing multiple 10 K runs and then I surprised myself by signing up for a 21 K run. And one fine morning, I signed up for my first marathon, the Mumbai Marathon. But I am getting ahead of myself.
At the outset, let me be clear: I do not run to feel happy, or to keep myself in shape. I do not run because I ‘enjoy’ running. For me, running is neither meditational nor soothing. I am not one of those people who are able to get up, put on their shoes and set out on a run as part of a daily routine.
I approach running with a goal in mind, like a task to be done.
And as with any task I take up, I believe in doing it well. This means hard work and ample preparation. So it is with running. I need a well-set goal: an upcoming race date to work towards, for example. And then I prepare a training schedule around it.
Without a goal and a reason to run, I am lost.
Preparing for a marathon
After completing numerous long runs over the past few years, I had been eyeing the biggie, the Mumbai marathon, for quite some time. I had read and heard from multiple sources about how amazing it is to run in a city like Mumbai. So I signed on.
As with everything else I’ve done so far, I did not leave anything to chance. I drew up a rigorous plan for the marathon and started following it to the ‘T’, as they say. Those four months were hectic: morning runs, healthy eating, and an unforgiving schedule. I might have lost a couple of non-runner friends with the constant banter about my progress, but having a couple of fellow runners and empathetic friends at work helped.
Like many amateur runners around the world, I had my missteps: I ramped up too quick and got injured, which led to multiple sessions with a physiotherapist. Then there was a missed run, disappointments and a steady stream of self-doubt. It was like living through my childhood again.
Looking back though, I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Each moment of training meant more than the goal itself. In this rigorous schedule, even a black toe nail was a sign of pride.
Running the marathon
The run in Mumbai was nothing short of a miracle. Even though I stayed for multiple years in Mumbai, I never had the opportunity to experience running there. The marathon was so well-organised, the crowd was so enthusiastic, and there were moments when I had tears in my eyes.
I stay in Bengaluru, and the one big difference between a run in Bengaluru and one in Mumbai is the lack of pretense. In Bengaluru, one is likely to see a runner decked out in the latest gear: high-end shoes, an arm band that holds an iPhone, a fitness monitor strapped to a wrist, the latest in ‘running fashion’ and a stiff upper lip and reserve that would put the British to shame.
Contrast this with Mumbai, where the runners step out in PT shoes, looking like they do every day: everyday people taking part in a run in their city. Where runs in other cities are slightly classist affairs, I felt the Mumbai marathon is beautifully egalitarian.
Here are a few images from my run: a little boy from a slum calling out “keep running, you look beautiful when you run”; a young girl who stands with a bottle of aerated drink; tiny hands giving you hi-fives as you run; old ladies, still in their night dresses, who have come from their gated, high-rise apartments just to cheer the marathoners; anonymous Mumbaikar’s handing out chikkis to the runners, even offering to put them into your mouth in case your hands are soiled.
Mumbai meri jaan
Mumbai, the city of dreams. A friend of mine one once said “If you can’t make a living in Mumbai, don’t bother living”
For me, the city is truly amazing. Where else on earth would you hear, after you have run two kilometers “Only 40 more kilometers to go!”
During the Mumbai marathon, I did not bother about the timing. I just enjoyed the run and in my heart of hearts, I knew I would come back for this again. One thing I have added to my wish list is to attend the Mumbai Marathon again, this time as a cheering spectator, because I know the encouragement matters to every runner.
There are runners who run for recognition, professional athletes who run for the records, techies from Bengaluru who run to test their numerous gadgets (their own body being one), only a true blue Mumbaikar runs because it is ‘apna run’, an event happening in her city.
Nobody complains about the marathon: the stranded commuters, taxi drivers, displaced vegetable vendors, I spoke to said “You come here once a year and today, you are my guest. And guests are not an inconvenience.”
And I don’t doubt it.
For once in my life, when people asked me about the run, I said “I enjoyed it” and it was true. The city taught me the true meaning of running.
By Soumya Jayaram.
Soumya is a qualified Chartered Accountant and Chief Operating Officer at Rang De.