I had accompanied my American neighbor on a hill run at the dish area behind Stanford. It was 3:00 pm in the afternoon and quite hot being the peak of summer. The daunting slopes did not make it easy added to which I had forgotten to pop a gu gel which I usually do before my long runs. I was also unusually tired this week due to some added work load. Besides my mind was a little aghast by a few recent instances that thrived on a lot of negativity. Nevertheless I decided to brave the heat and the hills with just a bottle of water in my hand.
I asked my friend to go ahead, not wanting to deter her pace, stating that I would meet her once I was done with the loops. Agreeing, albeit in a reluctant manner, she went ahead. Unfortunately I also forgot to carry my music which was usually my ally when it came to tackling tough terrains. There was practically no shade and the slopes were getting steeper. After a while my calves and quads begin to ache as I cruised up the inclines. Taking a sip of water I diverted by mind and looked around at the dried savana grass and the view of the distant mountains.
The battle between my mind and my body continued as I staggered up those slopes cursing myself for not having my energy bar before I left home. I wished I had my earlier trainer from the army who usually dosed out the right motivation to complete an arduous training session. During such moments I tend to offer a silent prayer which I did today in the hope that faith would help me move these unrelenting mountains. I paused for a minute , bent down to stretch and ease my calves from tightness.
“Are you alright?” I looked up to see a man of Indian origin looking at me in concern. I was pleasantly surprised to see an Indian at the dish area especially at this hour. I nodded in affirmative.
“I saw you struggling. Maybe you should take some water”, he said, gesturing to my water bottle that I was holding.
I took a sip.
“Better?” He asked with a smile.
I said yes and looked at him curiously. He had a kind face with rather large ears, big eyes and a toothy grin. Slightly plump in his build, he was wearing a green tee, black tracks with sports shoes.
“Maybe you should walk for a while before you continue running”, he suggested. Considering this was turning out to be my off day for a run, I agreed. “Are you from India?” I asked him.
“Yes and no”, he stated. I looked at him baffled.
“I used to stay in Mumbai but have come to the Bay Area for a short purpose”, he replied
“Oh really?”, I exclaimed, delighted to see a mumbaikar. ” I am from Mumbai too.”.
” I know. ” he smiled flashing his toothy grin again. I wondered how he knew and just for a minute I had an inkling that I had seen him somewhere or maybe he had one of those familiar looking faces.
“Which part of Mumbai”, I asked.
” I used to stay in Colaba.” I said. “so you are here on work?
He smiled without answering as he continued walking. “I suppose you are a student at Stanford university. Must be tough managing academics and your running?” He asked
Now life was certainly tough here as there was no domestic help-a luxury I was used to back in India. Doing all the household chores, managing a 3 year old daughter, studies and training was exhausting altogether.
I shared my thoughts with him and said, “Maybe the fatigue caught up with me today. Probably that’s why I am having an off day. ”
He looked at me for a while.
“You are battling multiple things when the only battle at this time should be with that inner voice which wants you to quit. Just go up till there and come back”, he said pointing to one stretch.
I looked at him surprised as these were the same words my earlier trainer from the army used in order to motivate me to get my workout done for the day.
I instantly ran up to the point and suddenly my legs felt stronger. On his encouragement I went up to the point 3-4 times and I found myself conquering those inclines.
” You are a fighter and you have it in you to fight out tough situations. You don’t need me to tell you what to do”.
I looked at him and felt that familiar feeling of seeing him somewhere but dismissed it again.
“Thank you” I told him.
“I didn’t do anything. “, he said. “It was all your effort. Remember, whenever you are in difficulty, always believe in yourself and tough situations will become easy. Sometimes we tend to mull over things that are not significant at all. You don’t have to curse yourself for forgetting to have an energy drink or your music.”
I gaped at him wondering how he knew. “H…h.. how…?” I stuttered in surprise.
” I know everything Swetha. Don’t you recognize me? I thought you would when I said I am from Prabhadevi. You have visited me several times. Anyways convey my regards to Amit and Samara.”
I stood there feeling a sudden shiver despite the heat as I felt my arms prickling with goosebumps.
“Wh… who are you”, I stammered . He flashed his toothy smile again and suddenly the sun shone brightly at that time.
I heard my neighbor calling out to me.
“Swetha, I was waiting for you at the gate, didn’t find you. Hope you are ok?” She said
I turned back to see that man gone. I looked around frantically wondering where he was.
“Hey are you ok? You seem pale “. She expressed with concern.
“That man…where is he?” I said faintly
” I don’t see anyone here”, she said. “Come , let’s go. ”
Still shaken by what happened at the hills, I went home and opened my apartment door. I saw a sudden ray of bright light falling on a small idol on my table.
I stood there transfixed as realization dawned on who that stranger on the hills was… I glanced at the date and calendar and realized that the most important festival in Mumbai and other parts of India was just a day away……
I stood there transported back to my city as chants of “Ganpati Bappa Morya” played in my mind…
It was Ganesh Utsav time…
When the finish line is not so far
Article by Rodman D’Souza
What’s your story?
What’s your running story?
Why do you run?
How did you start running?
How can you wake up at such ungodly hours just to run a couple of miles?
How can you run so much?
How can you pay so much just to run a race for a silly medal and some snacks?
These are few but familiar questions that a runner constantly faces. Truth be told, we really don’t know the answers to most of them, and on this Global Running Day, we don’t think we would be able to answer them. How do you explain to a non-runner the passion behind this mad addiction? Very often we don’t remember why we started in the first place. It seems like eons ago that we started running, and now it has become part of our being, the life we live.
We run because we can, because we were born to run. We have been built for running. For our ancestors running was a way of living, a way of surviving, to avoid starvation or being the next meal. But over the years, thanks to progress, we have forgotten to run. Not anymore cause running is back with a bang. We are the running addicts, the runnaholics, who cannot do without running a few miles or kms.
Running knows no age. A true runner doesn’t bother about pace or distance, give them a road and they will be content to run for a lifetime. There’s no particular age to start running.
Kamalaksha Rao started his running journey when most people are content with retirement. He ran his first Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, or SCMM, doing a HM while he was nearing the golden age of 68. Till date he has completed numerous HMs and 10ks and even 25k. He is currently participating in the 100 days running challenge, already logging in a good 187 kms in 34 days.
Prerna Parwani took to running at the age of 48, to overcome the depression she felt when her son left for the states for further studies. From there on there has been no looking back for her. Numerous races and podium finishes, highs and lows later, running has given her a brand new perspective to not only running but her life too. From being inspired, she’s now a source of inspiration herself.
For Anamika Kundu, it was challenge thrown at her by her other half, to run outdoor and not on the treadmill as she did then. Though difficult at first, she persevered, even getting her husband to join her. After that it was no looking back. Though her medications may have slowed her down, it has not stopped her.
For runners like Swetha Amit, Neetul Mohanty, Shibani Gulati, Amit Yadav and Hari Iyer, running was a way at getting back at nature for the hand it dealt them. It meant overcoming obstacles and setbacks, be it ulcerative colitis, asthma, even life threatening that would require a kidney transplant. Nothing could stop them from getting right up, dusting themselves off, and carrying on. Running gave them a new lease in life, a new challenge. From being that non-athletic kid at school to a distance runner. This meant even running a 10k at Aarey, two months after giving birth. Running helped them to feel at peace with them self, to get over whatever that life threw at them.
For Sanjana Shah, Vignesh Bhatt, Nilesh Sawant, Pranav Subramaniyan, Bijay Nair, Ankit Khandelwal and Gaurav Bharadwaj, it was a way of going from fat to fit, a way of getting rid of the pesky fats, a way of improving their stamina. Overcoming the naysayers and those who mocked them, even overcoming a bit of self-doubts too. They were able to bring about a change in their lifestyle, for a better future, to run without losing breath. Now with their weight loss and their stories, they are a source of inspiration to those who need it to lose those pounds.
For runners like Renata Pavrey, Rahul Chauhan, Ajay Gupta, running meant reconnecting with themselves. Doing something they could be passionate and proud of, another aspect of life. And who knows while undertaking this challenge you may find someone who challenged you even more, like Durgesh Jha’s story, someone who you would spend the rest of your life with.
There are so many such inspirational stories just waiting to be told, to inspire, to be heard. All you need to just scroll down to read their stories in their own words. Meet runner and listen patiently.
There are so many groups to help you get started with your running journey. Primarily among them is the Mumbai Road Runners, or MRR as we like to call it. This is not just another running group or community, it’s a running family. It’s a running family created by runners for runners to help, guide and support them. Their monthly runs from Bandra to NCPA are something to look forward. It’s an experience whether you are running, or volunteering, supporting the runners. You have runners from all walks of life, all corners of Mumbai, sometimes all over India and the world too. A melting pot of runners, giving an opportunity to meet and greet and learn from each other. Along with their partners MRR also supports many underprivileged runners, helping them to reach new heights. Through their various outreach programs they help runners in need. MRR is not always about running, you also have yoga, beach football, and my favourite, ultimate frisbee. The annual MRR awards is the time for runners to let their hair down and celebrate the year of running. MRR also provides you with a platform to let your story to be heard. It needn’t be grand, cause every story and running journey in itself is inspirational.
Running is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for a runner, it is as important as breathing. In running it as important to give back as you receive. To cheer and support as much as you receive, sometimes even more. For a non-runner, this would be difficult to understand and we don’t think they ever will. But we are runners and will always run.
The road of life goes on and on
Out from my doorstep
Into the great beyond
Where it will lead us
No one knows
But down that road
I shall go
With a spring in my step
And a smile on my face
The road of life goes on and on
Indulging in a puff or a two is usually associated largely with the ‘cool’ quotient. Probably this is why we see that cigarette finding its way into the hands of high school and college students. It starts out as peer pressure with the usual ‘try one puff, nothing will happen’. The need to fit in or the fear of being rejected in social circles ultimately leads to that occasional puff which goes on to becoming an addiction.
What with the likes of some of the celebrities puffing away a cigarette or two on screen, a la Jim Carrey in The Mask or an Ajay Devgan in the action thriller-Khakhee. Little do the naïve young breed of fans realize that this act of emulating their favourite star will result in them having to pay a heavy price literally?
Smoking leads to diseases affecting the heart and lungs besides being a major risk factor for heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer, particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. Studies have shown reduction in overall life expectancy in long term smokers especially with estimates ranging from 10-17 years lesser than non-smokers. Some evidence suggests a small increased risk of myeloid leukaemia, cancers of the gall bladder, adrenal gland and the small intestine.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) caused by smoking, is a permanent, incurable (often terminal) reduction of pulmonary capacity characterised by shortness of breath, wheezing, persistent cough with sputum and damage to the lungs.
Smoking is also known to reduce appetite-an extreme measure that many resort to in order to shed those pounds and wanting to appear svelte. It is considerable known to affect fertility in women. Providing a short term relief from stress and elevated moods on a temporary basis are some of the reasons why this cigar finds its popularity amongst the adult segment.
Once entangled in this foil of fumes, one finds it tough to break away from that occasional puff and falls prey to this deadly habit. Sort of reminds one of a quicksand which requires tremendous strength to pull a person away from this dangerous situation. Smoking is similar to a quicksand- it’s tough to break away once you are sucked into it.
While it’s tough, it’s certainly not impossible as there have been some inspirational figures who have overcome this temptation and given up that cigar up for good. Having discovered a new found goal in their lives, they have chosen to huff and puff their way to the finish line and reward themselves a medal and the runners high instead of that short term high provided by the life threatening nicotine.
Ketan Chauhan, a Mumbai based runner was a regular smoker and was smoking for the last 15 years. He began running in 2013 and would still continue to smoke even after his run. Being associated with MRR (Mumbai road runners) group, he would come across several inspirational stories about different runners which made him focus more on running and building up his mileage. Finally he took the plunge and quit cigarette smoking end of December 2015. Says Ketan, “I took my last puff then and from January 2016, I completely stopped smoking. I gave up partying with my friends as well and after a few months of not smoking, I felt good. Some friends would say “ek puff marle kuch nahi hoga” but I knew I did not want to go down that lane ever again. Till date I haven’t touched a cigar and feel thrilled about it. Running really helped me kick the butt. “
Satwik Rajani, another Mumbai based runner tried his first cigarette when he was still in school at the tender age of 16. He got so addicted that he would end up smoking 10-15 cigarettes a day and his scales shot up to a whopping 107 kg. “It all changed when I took up running.” he says. “I started training for my first marathon in November 2016 which prompted me to quit smoking as I wanted to perform well. Since then there has been no looking back as I completed my first full marathon in 3:47. At present I am just a few days away from running my first ultra which is the comrades run at South Africa on June 4th 2017.”
Samir Kulkarni from Kalyan Dombivali runners (KDR) group was able to brush off those unhealthy habits aside and embrace a healthy lifestyle. Smoking ruined Samir’s life and made him feel that he was aging a tad too fast. He encountered fatigue while climbing a staircase which prompted this 32 year old to take up fitness seriously. A 480 m run close to his home made him take up a new challenge. He gradually built his stamina by increasing his mileage. His association with running communities like KDR and MRR (Mumbai road runners) transformed him from an unhealthy smoker to a fit runner. “Running has made me much more disciplined and achievement oriented.” says Samir. “It has helped me quit bad habits and gain control of my mind. Not to mention the number of friends that I have made and the different kind of high that I face every time I finish a run.” He has sacrificed family events and late evening parties to keep up with his running schedule. He has also inspired non-runners to devote 30 minutess to some physical activity and smokers to quit smoking and follow a healthy lifestyle.
Satish Gujaran-a 7 times comrades’ finisher and an inspiration for many runners, narrates his journey from being a chain smoker to a comrades runner. He would smoke 2 packets of cigarettes every day. He started running in 2004 and in the quest of wanting to quit smoking, he joined Isha Yoga. Gradually from not smoking for 2 days, he increased it to 7 days and realized that if he could go without smoking for 7 days then it’s not tough to quit smoking for good. “It’s all in the mind”, he says. “Initially when I gave up smoking, I found it very difficult. Running has given me the will power and ability to control my mind which helps me in ultras especially. After a certain distance it becomes more of a mind game. I ran my first comrades in 2010 after which I completely quit smoking. So it took me 6 years to give up this habit entirely.” Satish now makes it a point to help a few runners give up this habit and adopt a healthier lifestyle. From a person who could barely run 1 km to running 89 km is truly a remarkable achievement.
The journey from addiction to dedication is a path that involves great amount of perseverance and will power. Difficult as many may proclaim but certainly not impossible as tough habits don’t last, tough people do!
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)
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.’
A poem I thought of today while working out in the gym. A conversation with my inner voice about the upcoming Mumbai marathon which I have drafted into a poem..
With the Mumbai marathon buzz in the air,
I don’t seem to exhibit undue care,
About the slopes, weather or time,
As the inner voice in me chimes-
“This isn’t a do or die situation,
Or a prelim that will determine your education.
It’s just one of the older races,
That gave birth to running in its earlier phases.
So run like no one is watching you,
Drive away those race blues.
With your training so sincere,
None can mock you or sneer.
Worry less about the clock,
Make your strides go tick tock.
Like horses galloping in the wild,
With a smile that depicts a playful child.
Enjoy the spirit in the air,
Mumbai city embraces you with care.
With volunteers from the young to the old,
To cheer you from their hearts of gold.
With water, fruits and sweets,
They stand tall on the winding streets.
There might be a moment when you hit a wall,
Only to tell yourself- this run is nothing less than a carnival ball.
The finish line seems near yet so far,
Yet the image of celebrating later at the bar,
Will boost your spirits as you think of the beer,
Followed by the smiles, laughter and cheer.
It will be time to put on your dancing shoes,
To dance off those race stress hues and woes.
What time you ultimately clocked won’t matter,
Once you indulge in the crazy banter and chatter.
The next day will dawn nice and bright,
As you set your future goals to a greater height.
Life will go on as usual in its charming way,
As long as you keep your inner turmoil at bay!”