I wonder, at times, what kind of group the PaceMakers is. It is general human tendency to try to categorize anything and everything, what the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes as Platonification in his book Black Swan. We try to understand complex things this way, and in the process, invariably, we also create boundaries or limit the horizon, so to speak. I am well aware of this folly but I will still attempt to define what PaceMakers group is. Sometimes you cannot help yourself.
At the elementary level, we are a running group so the obvious question arises - are we just another running group? There is proliferation of running groups in Bangalore, and elsewhere. There are area specific groups based on the convenience of proximity to a particular location. There are also groups in which the magnet holding it together is the wish to socialize over a weekend long run. There are training groups catering to all kinds of runners, from beginners to seasoned. Then there are umbrella groups, covering many of these groups. Yet, to my mind, PaceMakers does not fit into any of these buckets without losing its core.
During the nascent stage of PaceMakers, many of us believed that PaceMakers was a performance oriented running group. It does make a lot of sense too. Many members of the group frequently, almost always, end up on the podiums in prestigious running events across the country - be it Mumbai Marathon, Chennai Marathon, Mysore Marathon, Hyderabad Marathon or even Bangalore Ultra. Congratulatory messages flow in group trainings on Tuesdays following any race. In almost every category, male or female, open or veteran, there are shining examples - from 5K to 100K and 24 Hours runs too. Out of 100 odd runners who participated in Bangalore 10K 2015, 53 people did their personal best and about 40 were eligible for the much sought after Nike finisher's t-shirt which is given to only first 1000 finishers. We constantly thrive to improve our performance and every workout is designed to take you one step closer to your eventual goal.
But to call PaceMakers just a performance group will again take away something essential from the soul of it. That is when I remember coach Pani sir's words. In his inimitable style, he once put it very succinctly - we are a family. Think of it - Pani sir sits pretty as the head of the family, guiding us, showing us the way. More importantly, he walks the talk, or rather run the distance. Then there are people from all age groups, from a teen to someone well past retirement age. The so-called Gulabi Gang gives serious competition to boys and brings lot of laurels for the group. From Kashmir in the north to Tamilnadu in South, and Gujarat in the West to Manipur in the East, the whole country is represented in the group. There are expats too, bringing the different cultural flavor. A few PaceMakers follow the training plan from whichever corner of the world they happen to be at the moment. People come from all walks of life - there are doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, blue-collar workers, homemakers, students, fitness trainers, artists and even a magician with many a tricks up his sleeves!
What’s more, it’s ever growing, ever expanding...
I have a big, really big, extended family back home. Every time I visit home, there are new members in the family. A cousin gets married and introduces his/her spouse. Another cousin thrusts a newborn nephew or niece in my hands. Occasionally, the intricate family tree throws in what can legitimately qualify as a grandchild! What is it called? A distant grandchild? Or a cousin grandchild? Is there a word for it really? May be my family will force those Oxford Dictionary guys to invent one. This happens all the time. The double challenge of remembering someone’s name and the face and recollecting it you see the person next time gets to me. Sheepishly I have to confess that I forgot the name.
It is no different in the PaceMakers. Every week I see new faces, new requests to join the Facebook group, new numbers in the WhatsApp chat group. I get embarrassed when someone admonishes me for not approving their joining request or I refer someone with name of another new joinee. The training feels incomplete on the day when no one approaches me to request to be added in the Facebook group.
Every training session, and even a race, becomes the great family reunion. Birthdays and anniversaries pour in all the time. Celebrations galore. Packets of sweets, from different parts of the country, do the rounds after a workout. That prompts me to give a sweet twist to that hindi adage ‘ghat ghat ka pani piya hai’. My version is ‘maine desh ke har halwai ke haath ki meethai khayi hai’.
We are noisy too. Very noisy in fact. The lensmen turn to the big boisterous bunch of us in the warmup and cool down area of a race. Like a big fat Indian family, we occupy every inch of a place in a restaurant. We are so casually and wholeheartedly indulged that we may not even notice that there are other people around. We may very well appear arrogant to an onlooker. But does that ever bother someone happily confined in the safety of his family?
What truly binds us, ultimately, is running and our will to train and improve together. We regularly go thru pain to meet that end. Tolstoy said, ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Now it is difficult to claim that he ever had our PaceMakers family in his mind while writing the statement, but replace “happy” with “easy”, “family” with “workout” and “unhappy” with “painful” and we completely fit the bill. There is a new challenge in almost all the workouts and it brings its own pain with it. A gluteus muscle refusing to let you sit today; shooting pain thru quadriceps tomorrow; crying calves a week after; hostile hamstrings next month. Like a united family fights the tough times, we brave it all. Together.
My mother has kept a tradition for years. Whenever I leave the home for a journey, she puts a spoonful of curd in my mouth. She says it brings good luck. Similarly we have a tradition in the PaceMakers family. Before a race, Pani sir, ever efficient and effective with his words, simply says, ‘Do your best ma.’ And invariably we do.