Look Ma, I Found My (Running) Legs!

| Saturday, August 8, 2015 | |

As I stood waiting for my relay teammate to finish his run and pass the baton to me, I missed something. Something very important if you are a runner. I missed my running legs. After that glorious morning of the third Sunday of the January 2015 when I ran my fastest marathon, I had not seen them. So much so that couple of times, I jokingly told my friends that I had left them back in Mumbai that day! I was serious though. I had missed a few training sessions in the current running season. The ones I attended, and there were many more than the missed ones, I could not finish them the way they were intended. Giving up before the finish or running slower than the target pace was quite frequent. Instead of improving, I struggled to even meet my last year’s timings. True, there are hits and misses. We do not meet the target all the time given the world of constraints we operate in, not only in running but life in general. But this year, the only thing I hit were the misses! Repeatedly.

Moreover, in the intervening period, I had not run a race. More than six months passed by and the only race I started in was curtailed in the very beginning. Times like these put that devil in your mind called doubt. I started doubting the very training which has yielded stupendous results in last three years. May be I needed a change in the training and the approach, I told myself. I doubted if those two days a week of Ashtanga Yoga were counterproductive. Did the cycling take my focus away from running the way I imagined it would? I doubted my very ability. Was I getting older faster than the calendar would like me to believe? Was I suffering from some undiagnosed disease which would hit me like a lightening one day, possibly very soon?

Reluctantly I had decided to register and run the Urban Stampede Corporate Relay in the first place. Now 5 km is the distance a marathoner would not think too much of. But when one is in the evil grip of doubt, a small climb up a hill is akin to climbing Mt Everest!  I remembered Bhagvad Geeta’s first chapter, especially the following lamentation of Arjun:

Seedanti mama gaatraani mukham cha parishushyati;
Vepathushcha shareere me romaharshashcha jaayate.

Gaandeevam sramsate hastaat twak chaiva paridahyate;
Na cha shaknomyavasthaatum bhramateeva cha me manah.
(Seeing these, my kinsmen, O Krishna, arrayed, eager to fight,
My limbs fail and my mouth is parched up, my body quivers and my hairs stand on end!
The (bow) “Gandiva” slips from my hand and my skin burns all over; I am unable even
to stand, my mind is reeling, as it were. )

Like Arjun, My mouth was dry, my fingers were numb, my toes were sweating inside the shoes. The overnight rain made the field muddy and the shoes were heavy with slush. But they were heavy more with the doubt and the weight of expectations. Arjun was not able to carry his Gandiva. Similarly I was not able to carry my own weight. Not that my predicament compared in any way to Arjun’s dilemma. In the battle of Kurukshetra, he had to kill his kith and kin to claim what rightfully belonged to him and his brothers. But he saw futility of killing. The only person I could realistically kill was myself if I pushed too hard.

The doubts lingered like the clouds above in the sky. But I had to do it. For my team. For the people I was training last few days in office. They were beseeching me to go and run my best. Arjun had Krishna as his friend, philosopher and guide in the battlefield. I had no such luxury. But I had my humble iPod. So I took refuge in the words - woven in the musical notes. I turned it on and started running.

There is a reason I always listen to songs in random order. I believe the highest order emerges out of complete chaos. A random maze throws the clarity and direction any carefully planned system cannot. Confirming my belief, the words I received were these:

Khol tu rath ke pahiye khol
Banaa ke chakra sudarshan gol
Jung ke feete kas ke baandh
Khuli hai aaj sher ki maang
Tu goli daag Milkha, daag Milkha, daag Milkha
Ab tu bhag-bhag, bhag bhag bhag Milkha
Ab tu bhaag Milkha

And the run I did! Turning my legs like Sudarshan Chakra in slow motion, I kept on going. The slush did not matter nor the humidity. The people around me blurred and disappeared eventually. Three more songs later, I crossed the finish line in little less than 20 minutes. 19:45 was the time I took for the 5K. Not staggeringly impressive, but a personal best nonetheless. I was not ecstatic, but rather relieved to have finished it. Breathless but calm.

My team missed the podium by 36 seconds. But we were quite happy that we did well and came so close to have a shot at the podium. Personally I was happy that my legs moved the way I wanted them to, not with force but with ease. That was not the only good thing that happened on the day though.

Around afternoon I reached the Kanteerva Stadium to watch some of the finest ultra marathoners of the country grinding it out at the 24 hours and 12 hours stadium run. Some of them were going round on the 400m track from last evening. They braved the rain and the wind in the night and were battling the heat at that point. It was humbling to see them fighting the elements with smile for so long while I was fixated on some 5k race.

I planned to cheer the PaceMakers Men’s and Women’s teams who were participating in the 12 hour relay run. I thought I was done with the run for the day but then I was asked to pace Ranjini and Shilpa post noon. I admire these two ladies immensely so I said yes. That turned out to be blessing. Unshackled from the demands of a race, the legs started moving more freely. My attention shifted from myself to the runners I was pacing and that resulted into the freedom of movement you experience only when you forget about the existence of your own body.

The stadium was brimming with the energy of so many runners. The volunteers and cheering crowd heightened the excitement. We humans may not be the strongest species on the earth, but there is one thing we do really well - we feed off human energy. The positive(or negative) energy rubs on the people around us. That’s why one should always be around positive people. Buoyed by this euphoria, I ended up running for three hours without feeling any strain on my legs.

The day ended with winner’s trophies for both the men’s and women’s teams. I got my own trophies - I got my running legs back. I’ve found them, well and truly, in good shape. The run is on.

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