Circa 2013 - 2014, I was quite the couch potato. Sure I had played a bit of Basket ball in school and got my everyday quota of India’s favourite game - gully cricket, but I wasn’t ever an active person.
That is, until The Himalayas happened.
Soon after my first trek, Raghu and I decided one evening that we’d just take a bus to some part of town. Our rendezvous point was about 1 Kilometer from where I stayed at that point. With all the zeal that I had accumulated from the trek, I thought I’d run to the bus stop.
And that was it. That was the genesis of everything that this magnificent sport has taught me till date.
Although, I admit to not have run the “quantity” of runs to qualify as even an amateur, There’s something in that sport that really caught on to me.
So what follows are some lessons I’ve learnt in all the runs I’ve been on and all the thought I’ve put into analyzing this wonderful sport.
1. It doesn’t come easy.
Running isn’t easy. Every single time I put on my shoes to run, I don’t want to. Every single time when I take the first stride, the major portion of my body wants to stop.
Yet I still love running.
Running demands a staunch dedication towards your mind and body. With every approaching kilometer, the mind wavers and wants you to stop. With every approaching kilometer, parts of the body that you never knew existed start aching. I’ve come to learn that acknowledging both these feelings is very key for anyone who wants to become a runner. Every single step you take is a battle between the you that wants to go on and the you that wants to stop.
Running demands that you wake up. Something that I’m willing to bet that most of us hate doing. Some people would argue that running can be done in the evenings as well. Sure it can be I’ve found a large number of problems with running in the evenings - Dogs being the biggest of them. Almost all the times that I’ve gone on an evening run, I’ve got chased by dogs. Pollution quickly follows among the set of things that make evening runs so horrendous.
So I prefer the mornings - Birds chirping, the unpolluted sky and the absence of dogs make for a wonderful setting.
Also, I live in Chennai and the weather here gets HOT. And it gets HOT very soon in the day. I’m talking like 7:15AM. If I don’t start running by ~ 6AM then I’m sure to have a tough time covering my kilometers on that day. However, running doesn’t ask this of you without giving back. Some mornings, even in Chennai (although it maybe hard to believe for some) can be absolutely blissful. The sun doesn’t peek out of her cloud blanket and the wind gracefully hits your chest as you find each kilometer magically behind you.
What running has inculcated in me, is an understanding of what discipline is all about. The only time that I’ve heard this word be used is a time when I used to hate it – In school. This resulted in a very contrived idea of what discipline is all about. Then, it meant being silent, being obedient and listening to every word of what the teacher uttered
Now, it starts with being true to myself. I’ve learnt that the worst person that you can lie to, is yourself. Simply because it is quite easy. Discipline is about saying to oneself that you’ll run 12 Kilometers before you stop for a sip of water and following that (Its been brought to my notice that this is a horrible thing to do. Since then, I’ve always run with a water bottle and take small sips from time to time. Its made a whole world of difference to my running). Discipline is about saying to oneself that tomorrow you’ll wake at 5:30 to head out for an early run AND doing what is required to stick to that.
It occurred to me that I was doing exactly what I was asked to back in school. Just that this time around, I understood that being silent (and doing what needed to be done) and being obedient (and following a routine) helped me on the journey to become a better runner, and in many ways, a better person.
2. No pain, no gain.
“No pain, no gain”, in my honest opinion is right up there as one of the most clichéd and overused quotes. It is just thrown around when hard work is required for achieving something and I admit to have done it quite a few times too.
Although it is only after I took up running that I begun to realize the essence of this.
Running taught me that there really are no shortcuts. It takes every bit of your patience, concentration, dedication and hard work to get the next kilometer down.
There really is no other way. There’s no way you can trick yourself into believing that you did 6 kilometers when you know that you only did 4. The beauty in running is that it is such a personal sport. Lying is really pointless because you know deep inside as to how much you ran and the effort that you put in.
The only option is to slowly pile up kilometers and working through each one persistently. Patience is of supreme importance here. No one can just wake up and run 10 kilometers on day 1. Sure it is possible, but it really is a recipe for disaster.
This aspect of running really excites me. Because the rewards associated with getting one more kilometer under your belt is unmatched. It isn’t a medal or a certificate but the deep understanding down in your belly that you did it; and that you can do it again.
I like to think about this in terms of a very simple equation. If I’ve run X kilometers on the first day and need to run X+Y the next day, I really only have to focus on the extra Y that I need to run since nothing about the initial X kilometers can be a surprise to me. I’ve already done it the previous day :)
The power of effort
This taught me one of the most important lessons of my life - Consistency. I came to realize that It really doesn’t matter what you want to do, there really is only one way to do it - consistent effort. Beating at any rock slowly, steadily and consistently will eventually break it. To me, that is the secret.
It doesn’t matter what you take up - put. in. the. effort. If you do this, I assure you that you’ll see results. We’ve gotten so comfortable with things being handed to us on a silver platter that we’ve forgotten the power of effort.
Running reinstituted that in me. No shortcuts, just plain old hard work.
3. The community
To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master, walk with the master, see through the master, become the master.
Putting in so much effort is hard. And it can start to get to us. We’re easily influenced by the comforts of our beds and the soothing voice of a loved one telling you to take the day off.
This is when motivation and inspiration are essential components to keep the focus in place.
Having a mentor really helps. My mentor, well he’s quite the character. I got introduced to him through a friend and he’s the one that I’ve reached out to for any questions that I’ve had with running. One of the things I’ve come to learn through him is that it is OK to be insane about a few of your choices. Your body can take it. He’s insane enough to run a 100K when he was running a fever - Risky and awesome!
Every once in a way, during my morning runs, I spot a rather interesting man - Mid 50’s (I’m guessing), bare chested and barefoot. This man, ardently nicknamed The Hubli Passenger (blog) has many a time lifted my spirit. Seeing him beat down on the kilometers one after the other really lights a fire in me. And every time I wave to him, he waves back with a smile. A smile that usually gets me to run a few more kilometers than I usually have planned.
Much like him, there are others, others whose names I know not of, but whose passion I share - The old Muslim man who walks with a stick in one hand, a set of beads in the other all topped of with one of the nicest smiles I’ve seen upon anyone. The tall but dashing young man who reminds me of my friend from school mixing in a bit of exercises midway into his run. The dashing woman who I chose to pace with on my first half marathon at KTM (Kauveri Trail Marathon) even though she had no clue that I was.
Such is the sport of running. The whole ordeal of putting one foot ahead of the other and bracing for the next kilometer becomes even more wonderful when you have someone to share it with - whether you know their name, or not :)
4. The bum tendon
Injuries are a commonality in the running world, an inflamed Achilles tendon being the most common of them all. And I found out that I was one among these people who are ridden down by the said problem.
Tendonitis can be painful. I have this on my left heel. The reason, I think was that I underestimated myself and bought a pair of really cheap shoes when I was beginning to run. I ran the half marathon also with the same shoes and they had next to 0 cushioning. I’m going to attribute the worsening of my tendonitis to this bad choice of mine.
The first 2-3 kilometers on some days when the tendon is stressed can be hell to pull through. On a few days, I’ve even given up and walked back home because the pain was so intense.
Then I gave in and got it checked out by a doctor. He gave me some muscle relaxants (intended for 40+ year old people, he said so himself) and an injection to my bum and told me to “run less” than I can.
Now, if you go up to a runner and ask him/her to run less, for whatsoever reason it may be (albeit genuine even, in this case) – expect nothing but a big fat NO from them. You see, we’re just a bunch of rugged idiots who don’t like to take no for an answer. Whether the question be “Let’s stop running?” or “Let’s run lesser than we can?".
Under the massive influence of loved ones (ahem ahem), I decided to give it some rest.
After a while, I noticed that the pain had reduced, but I was still facing it in some cases and that’s when I decided that I’d not let it bother me anymore. I’d continue till the day when the leg came loose.
From then on, on all my runs, in some portion or the other, I’ve felt my tendon burn, but I’ve consciously chosen to not pay it any heed. Which really brings me to my next point…
5. Power of the Mind
We all grossly underestimate the power of our minds. We give up ever so easily thinking that our body will get hurt and fearing recovery. We give in to our fears thinking that its our mind’s way of telling us to not do something.
But I tell you this - You mind is capable of far more.
There are people running for days on the annual UTMB ultra marathon. There are people running in the desert and what not. They’re no different from me writing this post and you reading it. They too have the same amount of bones in the body as you and I do. They too have the same blood running through their veins. So what begs the difference?
I’ve come to realize that we really under work our minds. Just when the mind begins to get in its groove, we tap it on the head, thank it for its work and pat it to sleep. All this while the mind is sitting there and going “DUDE COME ON! I WAS JUST GETTING STARTED”.
I was a total couch potato who really couldn’t even bring himself to run half a kilometer. And here I sit writing this post about what running taught me. Quite the irony no? So what made the difference?
All it takes to run is a tinnnny part of the mind that wants to. My tiny part was the sudden spark that made me run that day to the bus stop.
The human body is hardwired to reject pain and fear. But pain and fear are the greatest teachers that one can get. Don’t run away from it (pun not intended). They have the power to unlock within you, pockets of energy that you never thought were available. Embrace it and it will bring upon you a set of lessons that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Remember that they are also emotions that your body is capable of. Don’t only embrace the smiles, the ecstatic moments and the joys. Pain and fear aren’t such bad people too.
“How?" you ask? I’d like to quote something that Sylvester Stallone said in the latest Rocky movie - CREED:
One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.
So go for it. Don’t let them hold you back. Embrace them, understand what they’re telling, defy them and move on. The mind really has a lot to tell us about ourselves – If only we listen :)
In conclusion, I might not have run an ultra marathon or even a full marathon but everyday when I put on my shoes, and one foot ahead of another, these thoughts, they hit me. Sometimes I realize it after the run and sometimes on the run. Whatsoever be it, I’m glad that I’ve come to learn all these things.
That, in a nutshell is what Running has given me. The realization that I can be a better person and in the process, the ability to become one too
So, If you’re reading this, and something is calling out to you inside your mind, do me a favour. Put on some clothes and some shoes and heed to it. Give in to that raw animal instinct. Just go and