Back on track

They say life comes around a full circle. This was experienced at the IDBI Federal Life insurance Mumbai half marathon stadium run last year in June. It was a first of its kind in the city of Mumbai where participants had to run around the 400 m track continuously-either for 2 hours if they were a part of the 6 member relay team or for 12 hours in the case of an individual participant.

When I received a call in the month of March asking if I was keen to be a part of the MRR team, I gladly agreed. I recollect those training days in the scorching month of May when I would train at the PDP (Priyadarshini park) track to get the feel of what it was to run around in circles for 2 hours in.

It was a six member team with 4 men and 2 women headed by Captain Viv. When the D day arrived, I remember reaching the venue at the Mumbai university grounds at Marine lines with butterflies in my stomach. My slot was from 8-10 am. The monsoons were playing hooky and the day turned out to be quite humid.

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the air especially with several people who turned up early to cheer the runners. After every hour, runners had to change their direction and run anti clockwise. My turn came and soon I found myself running on those fiery red Tracks.

My team mate Mihir had set the track to a blazing start in his slot from 6- 8 am. He ran along with me initially to pep me up and help me get rid of those nervous knots that were entangled in my head. “Go slow and then pick up pace when you feel strong”, he said. I nodded. For a while I was caught up in the frenzy of claps and cheers after which I got into my own zone as I just went round and round.

It was a different feeling from the one when you run on a straight road. For one thing, you don’t know who is behind whom and who is overtaking one another.  It gives you that Olympic feeling and after every lap you feel like a Usain Bolt, charged up and read to run another round.

Road running often treats one to different visuals like the trees, roads, buildings and sometimes nature if you are running on a trail.  This is often a distraction if one feels the twinge of fatigue and wanting to give up. Track running is devoid of these scenic treats but the effervescent calls and spirited claps more than make up for this sort of merry go around run. Besides you always tend to derive that inspiration from your fellow runner running on the adjacent track.

After an hour, it was time to turn the other direction and run. It was 9 am and the heat began to seep in slowly. I plugged my music on firmly as I listened to a mix of some good Indi pop, retro and Electronic dance numbers which made it appear as though I was in some discotheque. The stadium atmosphere was nothing less than one with the radiant electrifying smiles and the gaily shouts of laughter.

As my time slot came to an end, I realised that running 2 hours in a circle was more a mind game than anything else. My admiration to those running for 12 hours increased double fold. It required great tenacity and will power to keep going in circles, I thought.

As I sat down on the sidelines, I gave a thumbs up sign to my team mate cum captain who was running in the 10-12 slot. Running, no doubt, was always considered a solo sport. However this relay run, which saw a lot of encouragement and motivation from by standers and fellow runners, gave one the feeling of playing a team sport.

When a runner enters the track, they are cheered and supported with great gusto. When they exit, it becomes their turn to give back equally and cheer with all their might. As mentioned earlier, the stadium run teaches an important lesson of life coming around a full circle.

With just a couple of weeks to go for the much awaited IDBI Federal Life Insurance Mumbai Half Marathon Stadium run on June10th- 11th 2017, I decided to walk down memory lane to relive this exciting run organised by NEB Sports.

A run that millions yearn to be a part of, getting clicked by photographers, obtaining your team t shirt, medals, timed chips with volunteers in plenty and a sumptuous food spread throughout the day to cater to the famished appetites. Not to mention, the feeling of being part of a team and one of the biggest event of the year.

2017 edition sees a bigger and grander scale as this time there is a 24 hour run included as well, commencing from June 10th 5 pm onwards till June 11th 5 pm. It will see a lot of runners running on the track all night long.

While there will be a section of the population burning the dance floor in some remote night club that Saturday night, runners will be burning the tracks as  University Ground is bound the be the most happening place that Saturday night and entire sunday!

The power of a kind gesture

My hubby Amit Sridharan and I had attended the comrades run at EEH yesterday which was organised by the spirited Gangs of Sonapur. It was a felicitation run for all the comrades’ runners running the mind numbing 89 km race amidst the rolling hills in South Africa-a race that stretches beyond human physical endurance.

This event at EEH was a 10 k run on the flat surface and a couple of km included the scenic trail of the salt-pans. It was a humid day and doing a 10 k seemed like an arduous task considering the not so conducive weather conditions.
However the cheerful stance of the volunteers offering water and spraying chill water on our faces saw us through the distance. The event was brimming with enthusiasm and toothy smiles. The unique medals in the form of bottle openers were being given to all the finishers. Added to which there was a breakfast spread of idli, chutney, chaas and a cake to sweeten our taste buds.

It was along the side lanes of this stretch that I experienced an unexpected humbling and a gratifying moment. As I sat there chatting with runner friends, a kind faced lady came up to me asking if I was Swetha Amit. I smiled and nodded in affirmative. She had recollected having seen me at the KOR event back in June 2016 and said she would never forget the way I had cheered her while she was running.

I was deeply humbled and speechless for a minute. I faintly recollected a saying which stated that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget the way you made them feel. “

As a runner I had this habit of saying “come on, good going” to any fellow runner irrespective of whether I knew them or not, just to boost their spirits and create a feel good factor.

Little did I realize that a simple gesture of mine would actually be etched in the memory of someone whom I didn’t know? I looked at her, smiled and chatted with her a bit.

This 10 k run at EEH was one run which left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. For once it was not because of the endorphins or the usual runners high. It was because I learned that an unconditional gesture of mine sometime back, made a difference to someone else’s run.

I had read somewhere that it’s the simplest things in life that bring ultimate joy. How true! An individual goes through several troubles in their lives which we usually aren’t aware of. Sometimes a nice gesture on our part unknowingly tends to brighten their day and adds that sparkle of joy even if it’s for a short moment.

So never fail to smile or utter a word of appreciation especially during a run-you never know whose day or life you will end up brightening- sort of like a gentle soothing breeze on a scorching summer morning!

The half hearted conversation

I was out on my morning run with my hubby Amit Sridharan and was struggling to keep up the tempo pace as the humidity began to take a toll on my stamina levels. I had to slow down my pace a bit to conserve my energy reservoir.

Sometimes during our runs, we unexpectedly bump into an old acquaintance who would join us for a while and catch up on the latest updates. Today was one such day as an old colleague of my husband met us.

After the usual greetings and small talk, the conversation steered into the whooping business of Bahubali and the latest releases. I was almost drained trying to keep up the run and the conversation.Slowly I drifted into my own thoughts and decided to focus on the run.

All on a sudden, my ears perked up as he said something that caught my attention. He mentioned that he had couple of tickets to the movie ‘half girlfriend’ to which he was unable to make it due to some last minute work. He was wondering if we were interested in buying it from him.

I was mortified just imagining the prospect of watching a movie with a half baked title like the half girlfriend and which was inspired by a novel by Chetan Bhagat. Now I hadn’t read the novel nor did I intend to. His only books that made a decent read were ‘Five point someone’ and ‘2 states’.

This sudden jolt was enough to up the pace my strides and I politely excused myself, stating I was going ahead. Shaking my head in despair, it made me wonder what a queer term it was -‘The half girlfriend’.

Leaving my hubby to continue the conversation, I want ahead thinking ” I would anyday run a ‘half marathon’ in the scorching heat and humidity amidst daunting slopes than watch a movie like the ‘ half girlfriend!’

 

Emerging triumphant against Asthma

 

Ever runner on the road has fought some battle, be it obesity, thyroid, cancer or for that matter Asthma.

Asthma is a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs. These airways are always inflamed in Asthma patients, making it difficult for air to move in and move out of the lungs. This in turn causes symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness.

There are various types of asthma and the most common one is the one caused by dust and pollution. Some suffer from exercise induced asthma and others who have a family history of asthma are likely to be prone to developing this condition. For those who suffer from exercise induced asthma, physicians devise effective ways to keep the symptoms under control before and after the activity. Staying active ensures a healthy living and it is believed that this condition should not restrict one to the side lines or keep them from outdoor activities.

The running community prescribes to the above philosophy and refuses to be bogged down by this condition. They have managed to defy this chronic ailment and have gone as far as to add several miles to their credit and bagging medals at several events.

On World Asthma Day, which fell on May 2nd, several runners from varied backgrounds came forward to share their inspiring stories on how running has benefited them and some useful guidelines for other runners who were in the same boat. They hoped to shed the myth that asthma patients were nothing but slaves to medication.

 

Sopan Upadhyay –Chief Manager of Marketing at IDBI Federal Life Insurance, was 106 kg and diagnosed with Asthma a few years back. The doctor advised him to stay away from the humid and polluted weather of Mumbai city which apparently did not suit him. Says Sopan “I had loads of allergies with regards to dust, perfume fragrance, pollen grains etc.  At times it becomes too difficult to run in extreme conditions. However my regular running has helped me not only lose 15 kg+ weight but also helped me improve my timings of half marathon by 45 mins. Now I can run in most weather conditions and also do it flawlessly. “

 

Hari Iyer A positive who works with ICICI Bank narrates his experience as well. True to his name, Hari decided to develop a positive approach and has managed to battle his condition which was persisting him since his childhood. He would refrain from activities during his childhood days and proclaimed himself to be a geek. However during college, he decided to join NCC which he said was not a piece of cake by any realms.

Says Hari: “I was always last in the cross country runs. Every day was a struggle, and I use to ask myself whether I would be able to complete this or not. There were moments when I decided to QUIT, but my heart use to say QUTTING is not the option- stand and face the situation. During school days also, I never participated in any sports events due to Asthma. So everything was new to me. Asthma has taught me to be strong. I use to run with my pump in cross country runs. But one thing I have noticed in life, if u have a sheer determination, nothing is impossible. You can overcome everything. I was awarded the best cadet during my college days.”

In his opinion, Asthma is a common disease across the globe, mainly due to the pollution. He feels that an important aspect to control Asthma lies in one’s diet. According to him, runners should be able to identify the food that suits them depending on their body. Some types of food apparently aggravates asthma and advises runners to eliminate those items that act against them. He also advises that asthma patients should eat only 75-80% of the stomach as a fuller stomach tends to cause suffocation, making breathing more difficult.

He said that there was no permanent cure for this chronic condition. Allopathic medication gave only a temporary cure. He strongly recommends Pranayama/breathing exercises early in the morning on empty stomach. Other precautionary measures include covering one’s face while travelling by bike and avoiding heavily crowded areas.

Half of the disease is caused due to unnecessary tension.” He expresses with a smile. “Life is too short to take tensions. Be free, be alive. I had started running marathons from 2011 and have run 7 full marathons and 4 untimed ultras. Now it’s like, if I don’t run I feel suffocation. I still have asthma but I’m not suffering. As it is said, ‘Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional’. “

 

Anju Gupta Kaudanya, Chairperson & CEO of Novo Medisciences who is a part of Happy Feet Runners-a group at Navi Mumbai says “I have been diagnosed with asthma after years of sinusitis which is very painful. However I just started Running, rather walking and jogging with my Coach Amit Kumar. But I am very slow and really scared what I will do when the monsoons approach. However I have all confidence in my Coach under whom I seek guidance. I currently am off all pumps and steroids since the last one month.”

 

Renata Pavrey another enthusiastic runner, was diagnosed with asthma since infancy and spent most of her childhood in the gloomy ambience of hospital rooms. She could not participate in sports during her school days. Since dust, pollen and such particles triggered her breathlessness, her family doctor suggested that water sports would help and thereby recommended swimming. However that never happened due to the inability of finding a good instructor which made her eventually resort to Yoga instead. Her college days showcased a lot more activity in comparison to her school days as Renata got into Karate, dance, Muay Thai and Capoeira.

“Running happened a lot later. Since I was already living with asthma, I knew how to work around this.” she says. “With running, I need to avoid dusty routes. If I’m running in the morning I start early before the sweepers begin their day. In the evenings I stick to the park if I see a lot of traffic on the road.

I have pets at home, so the day before an important race/dance show/martial arts event I don’t hang out with them too much to avoid triggering any wheezing. Changes in season also bring on attacks of breathlessness. Here I stick to yoga, Pilates and mat exercises since I tend to get home bound till the episode subsides. Then I’m back to doing whatever I want to do.”

 

Shiv Iyer, Assistant Manager at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was diagnosed with asthma due to prolonged sinusitis. Until last few years, he was using a pump to get relief from wheezing bouts. His doctor recommended strengthening his lungs by doing activity that would force the lungs to take control of his breathing.

Says Shiv “I started cycling and in order to put pressure on my lungs, I started doing uphill cycling. I never imagined I could run. Then I ran my first Half Marathon. I could feel my lungs becoming stronger. Even though my sinusitis is still not cured, my wheezing bouts have disappeared and I no longer use pumps. My energy levels have increased. I now cycle (minimum 20k) and run daily (minimum 5 k). My legs may want to give up but my Lungs don’t!!!”

 

Ameya Patil, 2 times Half Ironman and a runner from Kalyan Dombivali Runners (KDR) group, shares his inputs. “I was diagnosed with asthma from childhood but that never stopped me from being active during my school and college days. Actually the humidity aggravates my problem but I usually take a tablet before commencing my exercises. So far during my events I haven’t encountered any attack as such but I always carry my inhaler with me just in case of an emergency.

People who have asthma can most certainly get into running and other outdoor activities. All they need to do is consult a sports doctor, be under the guidance of proper medical care and after that-sky is their limit!!”

 

It is said that a doctors words of advice are golden as they offer a scientific and inspirational approach to the whole thing.

 

Dr Oak is a paediatrician and a comrades finisher. He was diagnosed with asthma since childhood and was allergic to perfume, dust and cold weather. Despite this he would run a lot during his childhood.

He took up long distance running from 2004. Initially he would carry a pump but said that it was of no use. Instead he would take a small dose of medicine before and after the run which would help in relieving his chest from the congestion. During his mileages he would carry a couple of his tablets with him which he takes the minute he encounters wheezing.

“There is no permanent cure”, he says. “One needs to anticipate and fight. Most of the elite runners are asthma patients. In fact there are many people who have scaled Mt Everest and high altitude places despite suffering from asthma. So this condition should not stop anyone from indulging in outdoor activities. “

Running is a degree

When I was in college, the prospect of doing a Management degree never fascinated me. I somehow refused to follow the usual norm of engineering, MBBS or MBA and decided to create a path of my own. Probably the fact I was right brained and showed more aptitude towards areas like communication, human behavior and people, had something to do with it.

I would often meet people from B schools who always talked about the enormous network they made from studying there . So this time when I got an opportunity to attend an orientation program at Stanford Business School, I sort of got a glimpse of a B school environment and the nature of the course.

Along with the subjects, lectures, presentations and case studies, it was the wide range of network that apparently benefitted the several aspirants. It was this network that made them meet people from varied backgrounds, opened out new opportunities & friendships, offered different perspectives and several transformational​ lessons for life.

While I was caught in the frenzy of ‘the social network’ ( only this one being in person), I couldn’t help but draw parallels of the entire B school phenomena to running.

Some deep introspection made me realize that Running was an art, science and management in its own way. Art- not in the conventional sense like music or painting but that which enabled one to be in sync with their inner selves- something which many artists proclaimed while indulging in their specific art. Science as it involved the technical aspects like posture, gait, the entire process of training for a race,etc. Management when it eventually came down to organizing an event where the logistics of finance was involved along with aspects like people management, leadership, motivation, decision making and marketing.

Besides this, running also blessed one with that enormous network of similar thinking people from different walks of life. Being on the same platform, it opened up new gateways to friendships and the wonderful family aka ‘network’ of runners with whom new opportunities are discovered. Similar to how every subject in management offered a distinct learning, each race/ run did the same.

This sport was nothing less than a degree. It did not require the rigamarole process of getting those mind numbing scores, writing an entrance exam or paying those exorbitant fees. All it required was- for one to hit the roads after which life was never the same again, considering the people that one meets, the races that they run, the change that one’s body and mind goes through. The learnings only continue as life goes on.

As I look back to the last 5 years of my running, I realise that I may have learnt the art and science of running but most importantly like what a MBA graduate would say, it was the network of a community like MRR ( which is no less than a university) which has elevated my confidence levels and helped me forge new friendships.

Most importantly, I also realized that a sport like running gives a person a new sense of identity. A runner nevertheless elicits a new found respect that makes them bask in the awe and admiration of their fellow humans.

As I pondered more on the similarities, I was even more convinced that running was no less than a management degree- one that does not involve the conventional classroom lectures but that which broadens your horizons as you venture on this ‘road’ less traveled. ( Pun intended)

The ultimate musings of a Frisbee

I weigh only 175 grams and that was apparently the reason why folks found it easy to throw me around. Sometimes they would fail to catch me and I would end up in a heap of sand, a pile of grass or a barren ground. Nevertheless it was only a short moment of euphoria when I would get to fly in the air.

I resigned and accepted this as a part of my life. A bane for being made out of plastic I suppose. A bunch of 14 individuals were constantly after me, waiting to grasp me in their tight grip so that they could score a point and jump with joy. And what did I get in return? Just a grand pose with me as the centre of attention after which I would be placed in the darkness of a grubby bag along with the pointed cones until someone decided they wanted another game. They called it Ultimate!

This morning I was at Juhu beach. I caught the glimpse of the waves and the rising sun which was just at the horizon. A group of runners were still learning the nuances of throwing and the game.  I soon found myself as a guinea pig among these newbies who were struggling to get a firm grip on me.

I was partly amused and partly bored. I wanted to soar high up in the air, be amidst the clouds and kiss the sun. On the contrary, here I was, being dropped constantly on the dirt laden sand scaring away the tiny crabs hidden beneath. After what seemed like ages, the game commenced. I soon heard the familiar stalling counts, people trying to grab me and tap me. Boy! I seemed to be the star attraction here but didn’t feel like it one bit.

I looked longingly at the birds who were stationed on the sand for a brief period before they took off on their flight. They darted partly curious partly sympathetic glances towards me-a circular looking white object oscillating between the sand and air.

Finally after what seemed like hours, I was put to rest and the photo session began. After being in the ‘spotlight’ for some time, I was tucked away with the stone-cold cones in a bag. I could hear the merry chatter and chirpy laughs outside.

A few words caught my attention as I listened intently. “I had a blast playing today. There was a lot of team spirit and enthusiasm.”  said a voice.  I  agree. It was super fun today. Made me forget everything”, said another voice. True”, remarked another voice. “Been having a bad time at home with a lot illnesses in the family. Today was a real breather from the stress induced atmosphere back home.”

The conversation turned animated after a while and it was apparent that these newbies had bonded well in just their first session.

Having overheard this talk, I was amazed to hear about such turnovers (pun intended) and felt that there was more to humans than what meets the eye. I also realised that there was probably more to my plastic self than I gave credit for.  Apparently I was some sort of an icebreaker, a tool to tap the inner child in adults and relive the fond memories of those carefree days. Maybe a stress buster for a short period to disengage grownups from the web of woes.

I often wondered what it was like to be human and longed to be one amongst the clan- possess the ability to talk, cry and laugh out loud like those voices. Just being regarded as a circular plastic object led to feelings of exasperation many a time until today when I realised I was more than that.

I may be thrown, passed around, hurled high in the air but that was probably what held people together-at least the ones playing the game. I may be tucked away in a bag, but at least I wasn’t trapped by the several demons, complexities and troubles that humans were always running away from.

I realised that being made of plastic had its own power-that of being a stress buster tool which instilled a sense of joy, team spirit and togetherness. And that’s what ultimately mattered. No wonder- that’s probably the reason why I am called the Ultimate Frisbee!!

 

The Grand opening- on inaugural promo run of the IDBI Federal life Insurance Mumbai Half Marathon

Thronging crowds and happy feet,

The mood was certainly upbeat.

All roads led to Bandra fort,

As a certain event held forth.

A Sunday much awaited by many,

Besides being Easter, the festive spirit was uncanny.

 

Zumba music filled the air,

As runners swayed without any care.

Being a year since it was born,

It was the inaugural promo run of the IDBI Federal Life Insurance Mumbai Half Marathon.

 

This was one such run,

Which was bordered on fun.

No stress, no fees

Only smiles and free tees.

 

Strides dominated the roads,

As the runner folks were in hoards.

Patter Patter they went in rhythm,

With a friendly shout or a song they would hymn.

 

Not being a race,

There was no pressure of pace.

One could pose in ease

An opportunity photographers could seize.

 

With adequate volunteers and water,

Humidity was ignored by bouts of laughter.

Reaching the venue as a happy thread,

They looked forward to breakfast which was a bountiful spread.

 

Wada Pav, poha and sheera,

A sweet considered by runners so dear.

Followed by cups of coffee and tea,

It was a morning filled with joy and glee.

 

What more could one ask for?

To make the spirits further soar?

This is just the start,

So runners needn’t lose heart.

 

Being just the beginning,

Folks can continue grinning.

As there will be many such promos which are a must

As a line up to the D day on 20th August!

 

The Bhim meets Hanuman moment

I was out on one of my usual training runs. It was a day of Hill repeats and I had retreated to the woods to get a good mileage on those ascents. As I went up and down the slopes, I noticed a middle aged man watching me intently. He looked quite fit for his age.

Now over the last 1 year, I prided on having mastered the hills compared to what I was earlier- a person who would stagger up those slopes gasping for breath. Regular training helped me overcome the phobia of hill running and here I was prancing up and down the ascents like an Impala in the wilderness of the savannas.

The hills repeats were going well and I got caught in the moment of sprinting downhill eager to show off my prowess to my ‘audience’.

The man continued watching as I glided down the slope. “Be careful. You will hurt yourself if you come down so fast.” I paused to take a sip of water and just shrugged.

“What does he know”, I thought.

I continued my repeats and as I came down again he remarked saying ” your form is not correct”

Now being a person who could not take instructions/ criticism from anyone other than my trainers, I began to feel slighted.

” So what did I do wrong”, I asked him.

” Here let me show you.” He said. He sprinted up and down the hill in a flawless and effortless manner.

” Lean back as you come down.” He stated firmly.

I just nodded numbly as I gaped at his perfect form.

Unable to contain myself I blurted out asking ” Sorry I don’t seem to have seen you around before. Are you a runner as well by any chance”.

” Yes I am”, he replied. “But I am not like you. ”

I began to feel puzzled and said. ” I don’t understand sir.”

He just smiled, lifted his track pants a little and pointed to his feet.

To my horror I saw that he was amputed.

” Don’t look so shocked”. He said. ” I used to be fast and furious once upon a time. But one day I tumbled down the hills and that accident cost me my limb. However thanks to advanced technology and will power I am still able to run and I am known as what you call an amputee runner.

I run long distances and take part in many marathons. So yes I am a runner but not like you. That’s why I kept telling you to be careful while coming down as I didn’t want you to go through what I did. ”

I stood there standing in awe as my respect for the man grew double fold. Ashamed and humbled at the same time, I regretted having misunderstood him as an interfering nosy parker. It turned out that he was only trying to caution me for my own well being.

” I must go. See you around. Make sure you don’t break that leg.” His eyes twinkled and I watched him walk away into the woods.

I learned that no matter how big you think you are, there is always someone bigger and better than you. So it’s important to be humble always.

It was a ‘Bhim meets Hanuman’ moment for me as I went home- a humbled soul.

( Bhim- a pandava prince finds a gigantic monkey’s tail in his way and gets infuriated when the monkey asks him to move his tail. Being a powerful warrior, Bhim was surprised to find that he was unable to lift a mere monkeys tail. It was then when he realised that this was no ordinary monkey but the mighty Hanuman himself. Bhim is humbled and seeks his forgiveness. Hanuman later tells Bhim to never underestimate his opponent.)

This is a humbling lesson not only for the Pandava prince but for all of us as well to have our feet firmly on the ground no matter how much success we attain in terms of popularity, accolades or awards.

As the saying goes ‘pride always comes before a fall.’

United V Run

United v stand Divided we fall,
Is a famous line that I recall.
Assembling in blue and white
We gathered with all our might
Ready to run as one,
Defying the scorching summer sun.
Darkness loomed the park,
With a faint sound of a dog’s bark.
At the stroke of six,
It was an eclectic mix.
Some from far some from near
Yet our vision was clear.
Age, caste, creed, gender or group
We firmly held together as a Troup
No difference no bias
Just a feeling of being pious.
Andheri, Bandra,  Navi Mumbai, Powai or town,
Our antics were no less than a clown,
We ran together with smiles,
Melting those egos with every mile.
As we ended the run,
We recalled the moments of  fun.
That’s how it should be
The feeling of oneness and Glee.
Runners are a carefree lot,
That’s how it was initially taught,
Pace, time, fast or slow
The ones who stride always glow.
Runners must strive to grow
And restrain from stooping low
Holding our heads always high
We must welcome all with glory and a hi five.

Truly Special: The awetism run experience

April being a month dedicated to autism, there were naturally a few videos with thought provoking messages floating around. I happened to watch one forwarded by my friend Mallika which stated about how each of us were different and unique in our own way. For instance a certain image is perceived differently by different people but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those who were different from us were ‘strange’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘weird’.

I had read somewhere that it takes all sorts to make a world. We all have our share of eccentricities and shortcomings but that’s probably what makes us so special. The same logic applies to individuals with special needs whether they are intellectually challenged, wheel chair bound or diagnosed with autism. All they need is that extra dose of care, acceptance and patience which isn’t too hard to bestow if we just awaken that humane side to us.

Being primarily a student of psychology, I had an opportunity to work with autistic kids as a part of my project during my post graduate days. They were an affectionate lot who resided in their unique world of creativity which many unfortunately misconstrued as ‘madness’.  Therefore when I got an opportunity to run the 4th edition of the awetism run, I embraced this opportunity to put my foot forward for a cause.

Sayuri-a runner friend and the organiser of this event conducted this event every year in the month of April. Her son Vihaan who is diagnosed with autism is an extremely talented young lad who possessed a flair for painting and weaving short stories as well.

It was a 10 k run which was conducted on the Eastern Express Highway-a scenic flat terrain frequented mostly by runners from Mulund, Powai, Ghatkopar and Thane.

We reached the venue at 5:40 am as the run was scheduled to begin at 6:00 am. The warm hugs, smiles and chatter set the tone for the short distance as we geared up to run 4 loops of the 2.5 km stretch. The race was flagged off sharp at 6:00 am.

Since I was following the Maffetone training program (a heart rate based run where one had to maintain pace within the heart rate and aerobic zone), I decided to go slow and enjoy the run for a change. The volunteers were stationed with hydration at regular intervals and earnest photographers stood in the by lanes clicking away merrily.

Not listening to music like I normally do during my runs, gave me an opportunity to enjoy the constant shouts of ‘good going’ by fellow runners and the noise of the planes above. Such runs also gave me ample time to let those thoughts flow as my thinking cap went on an active mode.

As I observed the several runners prancing up and down the road, I reflected back to the video which I had seen the previous day. There were some who were running fast, a few at a moderate pace and others in a relaxed manner. I realised how the same track was run by individuals of varying kinds and yet when it came to the camaraderie post the finish line, we were all equals posing gaily in front of the cameras, arm in arm with one another.

Nobody was differentiated based on speed or timing.  Each person possessed their own strengths and shortcomings which may make them sometimes ahead and sometimes fall behind others. Ultimately it was their spirit and earnestness that triumphed over these petty factors.

The awetism run further enhanced the fact that running is a free and equal sport, which meant embracing everyone despite the several differences, yes including those with special needs as well. It made me feel that aspects like speed, normalcy and madness were relative as what may be considered fast or normal for one may differ for another.

As I stood there basking in the jubilation around, I suddenly remembered the Cheshire cat’s line where he tells Alice “I’m mad. You’re mad. We’re all mad here. I realised how true it was. Underneath all that high spirited laughter lay those inner demons or turmoil that each of us were battling with and that which probably drove us to the brink of insanity at times.

The awetism run was truly ‘special’ in many ways besides being a well organised one, providing beautiful medals and a breakfast of delicious muffins, batata wadas and mango juice.

This event enabled me to look at running through a different lens this time. For once my focus was not on pace or timing, but on the larger things of life that we often miss out in the hullaballoo of the rat race.