Running a marathon.

Sometime in July 2007, I heard these words on the phone:

Kanna nee aanalum konjam koraikkalam” (I think you could reduce a little bit).

These words brought my world crashing down. Because they came from my mother. The same mother who would not say a word if I had aaloo paranthas for breakfast, aaloo kari for lunch, aaloo chips for tiffin and dum aaloo for dinner. I was the quintessential Amma chellam (mama’s boy). I could eat the vadai before it was offered to God and I could get away with “hey God is inside me too”.She would make a face but smile at me, as if God had descended in our kitchen, defying space time continuum and entered my mind and conveyed this message through my not so melliflous vocal cords.

I felt devastated.

I looked into the mirror. I looked like this:

I looked like this.

(OK this wasn’t taken from the mirror but I did look like this).

I realized that I lived close to a river and US was full of enthusiastic people. Ann Arbor gets pretty cold (I’ve witnessed -5F several times) but people ran. Wearing thermals, bundled up in thick jackets. But they ran. On a warm spring day, I decided to put on some shoes and go for a jog. I must have run for about a mile. I was spent and felt like someone had filled my lungs with water. But that’s how it all started. But then I became a treadmill rat.

After moving back to India in 2010, I started pursuing outdoor running more seriously. 2k s that turned into 5k s, that turned into 10k s. I still remember the day I finished the TCS 10K in 2014. I was ecstatic. I thought I had hit my limit. But someone suggested I try a half marathon. I was overwhelmed by the thought of running for more than twice as long as I would, compared to a 10k. I said “No way!”.

Sometime in 2014, my wife and I took a break and went to Coorg. I was reading a book called Born to Run. Right after finishing the book, I put on a pair of socks and ran 10kms. I nursed blisters and couldn’t walk straight for the next week or so. But I had decided to run a half marathon. Funny how major things happen just like that…all it takes is a tiny spark. I still remember my first 21k. Before the run I had thought to myself I’d yell in excitement if I made it. But after the run, I think I felt at peace more than anything else.

In fact, running has taught me that if you achieve something you had set for, the reaction shouldn’t be that of “Hey doubters I did it! In your face” or “Hey look I did it, I rock!” but “I’m glad I finished. I didn’t give up”.

I again remember someone encouraging me to go for a full marathon. To which, I said, you know what? 10K to 21K is still plausible but 21 to 42? No way!

That changed after I completed the Bangalore (half) marathon in 2015. I don’t know why. I guess probably I was feeling really fresh after the run.

Fast forward to January 2016. Actually during this fast forward, there were many more runs. , lunges, crunches, mountain climbers, planks, 21k s, 23k s, 25k s, 27k s, 29k s, 31k s, 33k s, 34k s, 35k s, 37k s, then 35k then, 33k.

A final 35k before leaving for Bombay on a biting cold day in Bangalore. 14C. Fog.

January 17th 2016.

Ok. Game time.

Confession 2: In dire circumstances, my mind resorts to (often childish) humor or random thoughts to either distract myself from the pain or stress or just as a mechanism to tell myself  that better times are ahead so just relax. I tend to have strange conversations with myself (thankfully not aloud!).

Funny how your mind tries to play games with you during running. It is a humbling experience. I’ve realized that running is more mental than physical. As long as you can quell that voice in the back of your head asking you to sit down and take it easy, you are fine. As one of my good friend Mohan says, “Mind over body”.

Coming back to SCMM, I don’t know how I remember what my mind and I talked before and during the run, but all these thoughts did occur at some point. I’ve tried my best to recollect them in their order of occurrence.

5:39 a.m.

Set distance on Nike+. Check.

Running playlist ON. Check.

5:40 a.m. Run starts!

Mind voice: “No tension, no shock…Jai mata di, let’s rock”.

I always imagine Nandu’s smiling face before every run. Did that. Imagined Nandu smiling before me, waving. The image quickly disappeared before she could give me a chore (Ajit can you drop the trash bag on your way somewhere or some such…).

OK why are things so slow? Is there a local we all have to get in and get out as part of this run?

Someone just yelled “Come on guys, move it!”. My thoughts exactly but thankfully I have maintained my decent guy image by not yelling it out loud.

7k

Should I push for more speed?

No you fool, you’ll burn yourself too early…but what if I settle for a low speed and my legs get stiff and used to that speed for the rest of the run?

Wait what’s that? Oh my God I shouldn’t have had that extra paav yesterday out of greed…is that my bowel…Noooooooo!

OK calm down, you’ve done some of this before. Get a grip. Deep breath. OK feeling calm. Let’s focus.

11k

When my power song (boy am I going to be judged for this or what) started playing, I did cover a km by the time it ended. Just like I used to during all my practice runs. This was turning out to be just like a practice run so far. But it’s just the 12k mark so let’s not get carried away. But I was stoked!

Oh my God, that’s the sea link! Looks so beautiful. Can’t wait to get on it and run.

What the actual hell?! This is like someone set an incline at 4-5, removed rubber mats from some 100000 treadmills and laid them in the form of a goddamn inclined road. Oh the barricade on the side preventing people from falling over is rather short. Maybe I could jump into the sea, go for a dive and never come back…

I had to slow down quite a bit. Suddenly, a girl zoomed past me. Then a guy. They were running side by side. I thought I could use the girl as a pacer. I tried to increase my speed. The whole relative velocity = 0 as both runners are running at constant velocity lasted for possibly 2 minutes when the girl apparently found a supply of hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide inside her and propelled herself ahead with escape velocity, leaving me gasping….in awe of her and for some breath.

18k

Wait whoa! That’s sunrise. What a gorgeous sight! Blood orange ball of fire but gentle enough to be gazed at without hurting my eyes. A portion of the sea looked like someone was trying to mix colors to get the right shade of orange to paint the sky with.

Oh look at those half marathoners on the other side. Enjoying the downhill run. If I patiently get past this stretch, I will enjoy that downhill stretch later too. Brilliant!

25k

Ok what is going on? It’s just 25k and my legs are beginning to give in. This can’t be right. I’m not pushing too hard…oh dear lord, is it because I bragged about the butter pav bhaji and badshahi falooda as a balanced and nutritious pre-run meal on Instagram? Nandu keeps telling you no….no need to Instagram every damn thing you make or eat. Surely someone has put nazar….

Ok can you shut the hell up? Sheesh!

But my calves were letting me know that this was nothing like any of my practice runs…

Oh wow…26k mark.

“Thirteen and a half kilometers….to go”…

What the what? Has Nike+ lost its mind? That’d be about 40k. Oh crap, did I set it to some wrong before the run? Is UMich going to revoke my PhD…oh for the love of God, calm down!

27k mark…

This is crazy. My legs hurt. Should I just stop and sit for a few minutes? Or just walk for a bit and then resume?

Flashback to December 2015…one fine afternoon:

Amma I’m going to run a full marathon in January. You know that na?

Amma: Full a? How long is that?

42kms Amma.

Amma: “Kanna there is no need for you to run 42kms and post a picture on Facebook. If your legs hurt too much, just shut up and stop running. Sit down in one corner and take an auto home.”

Back to the run. My mother’s words flashed before my eyes. I think it was Calibri 11 font. On a white papyrus type scroll. It unfurled and my Amma read it to me.

Thanks Amma, just the words of encouragement I needed.

29k.

Wait why is that police fellow stopping the little kids? Aww they just want to give high 5s to the runners. Here, let me veer to the right and….hi 5!

Man the crowd here is amazing! SO nice of people to support us. Come on…push!

Calves: Hi we run on ATP, not some emotional nonsense. Just adjust with our pace.

But this is ridiculous! I ran a 35k last Saturday and it felt pretty good! I shouldn’t have to struggle like this around the 30k mark itself. But yeah, it’s starting to get a little hot.

Glutes: You should really cut down on the Cityle Bangalore weather tweets.

Aaaaaaargh!

Oh hahaha look at that policewaala…cheering us. That is excellent! And wow, the crowd is handing Perk?? And fresh oranges?! Salt?! How considerate and knowledgeable! Aww look at that little girl holding slices of watermelon…

32k

OK you know what, you’ve entered the final 10k. But there is no shame in walking and then resuming. Ok no!

Ooh what’s that? More cooling sponge? Man this south Mumbai is super posh. Also, I’m glad Nandu is not running with me or else she’d have asked me to pick up some 5-10 so we don’t have to buy scotch brite for some time.

33k

People are yelling…

MOVE TO YOUR LEFT! MOVE TO YOUR LEFT!

Wait what the heck? Ok let me move to the left….but why are the event crew folks asking? Oh some poor guy must be in an ambul….wait what in the world?

That’s a double decker BEST bus! And it has some people cheering. That’s odd.

WHOA! What was that? A comet? No wait those are the Kenyan runners. Oh this must be the elite runners. Oh way to make us slow coaches move over and look like fools!

Calves: Hey remember the beginning of the run when you were looking to burst past some slow runners?

Oh thanks for the logic! Just what I needed. Buzz off!

34k

Hang on a minute. What’s that? The sea link?? But that’s far away. And it doesn’t look like I’m going to run there again….doesn’t look like part of the route.

WHAT? That means that downhill part I’ve been dreaming of…

Organizers you #$#%* @%#*!$  !#%@#@% (*%@#%&%&! !$@#% !&% & &#%@#%@#! !%# #%! !%#!#%!!!

Ok no need to get riled up.

36k

OK my legs are really hurting. I really wish this run ended at Tardeo and we all got a complimentary pav bhaji from Sardar. Oh wait a minute…that Badshah guys yesterday didn’t toast/fry his pav and make it nice and red. Damn it!

Flashback to January 9th

Hey I had a smooth run. One of my best!

Nandu: How far did you run?

35k

Didn’t you want to do more? Haan?

No kanna this is not an exam for which you have to finish the whole syllabus and score a centum. Just passing in first attempt is fine.

Back to SCMM.

Well, maybe I should have listened to her and just ran a 40k at least…OK too late for that now. If you stop, you will bring disrepute to all those who memorize important questions before exam night and manage to just pass.

OK let’s keep running…

37k

Wow, last 5k man. Just hang in there. You haven’t stopped so far. No reason to stop now.

Remember what Mo says? Mind over body.

OK right now forget mind, even vacuum over body feels like a lot of weight. Wouldn’t mind being picked up by a temporary Tsunami and transferred to the finish line…

39k

This is real. No mind voice.

Someone tapped on my shoulders.

“Hi Ajit!”

“SoBoD (her real name is Divya) !!!!!” What are YOU doing here??

“I’m just cheering people. Glad I could meet you!”

“Yaar you guys are the best! This is the best crowd ever.

SoBoD: Let’s run.”

She actually ran the last 2 point odd kms with me! How incredible is that? Apparently, she did that with a few other runners in her running group also. Mumbai folks, you guys are crazy! Crazy awesome.

40k

Flashback to 2014

“It was brutal Nandu…I felt I was going to die. I couldn’t run anymore. I just sat on the lamppost and collapsed. It took about 5 mins to get my bearings back. I walked to the nearest house and asked for some water from a watchman. Then I just limped home. I’m glad it didn’t happen too far from home. I, I didn’t even have any money on me. I could have asked an auto but I couldn’t find any…”

I wiped my tears as I poured my heart to my wife. On that rather eventful day, I ran the longest distance of my life. It was about 37 kms. The longest I had run before that was about 22kms. I have no idea what got into me that day. But I’ll never forget how enervated I was.

Back to the run.

Holy crap 40k! I’ve never run this far before. And this feels incredible! I’ve come a long way from almost giving up on that day.

41k

Oh watch out SoBo. This kid with that vuvuzela like thing needs to get off the track else he might get hurt.

Wow there is no way I am going to stop now. Come on!

1000m to finish.

SoBo: This is it Ajit, 5 more minutes.

Me: Yes, there is no way I’m going to stop now.

Someone yells “Hey push you have run so far so run a little more, little harder”

Mind voice: “I hope someone stuffs all the t shirts that runners have removed due to excessive sweating, crumple them and shove them into his mouth.”

SoBo: Hey you want to run a little faster?

Me: I’ll try…

Wow I can actually do this!

400 m to finish.

OK time to really let loose. RUN damn it!

Finish line.

I remember raising my hands. Not really to feel victorious. The first thing that I said was “Oh my God, I can’t believe this! I actually thought I’d stop in the middle”.

“Thank you so much SoBo! You really helped.”

SoBo: “Arrey no sweat. I’ll see you in a bit. Let’s grab lunch or something. That’s the medal collection zone.”

I collected the medal, gave all my refreshments (sandwich, a bun and some soy milk packet) to a small girl who was begging inside the maidan….I just saved an apple for me. I wanted to tell her “For a change, I might be in a worse situation that you right now….” but well…

I walked back to the hotel and took a shower. I think the water also quelled my mind voice for some time. No thoughts, just clarity. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

I’d like to thank a few people. First of all, Nandu. Because I think she was, in a way, my mind voice. Always supporting, often annoying, but that’s what kept me sane. And only she knows what a pain I can be to deal with. Especially when I’m trying to be funny.

Mohan, Srini, Anil and several runners who inspire me and give me the faith that I can do it.

Mirnalini and Abishek for letting me stay with them and let me do what I wanted. I didn’t tell them, but I was really nervous inside and allowing me to be myself without feeling any awkwardness and totally feeling at home at their place helped. And I can be quite awkward to deal with. Srini again, for letting me stay with him at the hotel. Really helps to be close to the starting point. SoBoD. You really helped me forget the last 2k. Hope to run SCMM with you next year!

And finally, Mumbai. The spirit of Mumbai. The people of Mumbai. Every time I saw a little kid extend his/her hand for a high five or give away a chocolate, water or a piece of fruit, it felt exhilarating. Thanks for smiling back at me and cheering me when I looked at you with a feeble smile and a listless frame.

I will come back. Hope you remain the same.

And if you’ve managed to read this far….I’ll end by saying this. If I can do this, so can you. I really mean it. Did you say “no way!”? Well, that’s a good start. Waiting for you to post a pic like this:

Ajit SCMM

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