My first meeting with the author of #They INSpire traces back to one of the monthly MRR runs. Being a newbie to this mammoth community of runners, intimidation superseded my confidence levels to go up and speak to him. Later a chance meeting at a coffee shop with another runner friend broke the ice as I found him to be a down to earth and approachable person. I also discovered that he was from the naval forces and my respect for him grew double fold. It was at that time when he was briefly mentioning about a book in the offing which consisted of stories of 42.195 inspiring runners who have made a mark despite their adversities. After a year, I meet the author who I can now proudly call a friend, at the same coffee shop to interview him on his book that has provided the much needed dose of inspiration for runners and non-runners across the country.
As he takes a sip of his coffee, he goes on to narrate the reason behind his title which is a tribute to Navy background, as INS denotes the same. He started writing snippets of runners’ stories as a blog on social media which received a roaring response. The need to inspire others through these stories seeded the idea that these posts could materialize into a book and that was how #They INSpire was born. He narrates about how these 42 individuals were known to him personally and how their respective stories moved him-which answered my question about how and why these 42 runners were chosen from the 6000 odd members in the running community.
The conversation moves on to running related topics just as it would when 2 runners meet over coffee and talk. The discussion went on some of the running related aspects of hitting the wall, mental blocs, the competitive element which was slowly creeping in, the ideal time to migrate from a 10 k to a half and then to a full and ultra. It was intriguing listening to his words of wisdom which came from several years of running. Some of the snippets from the interview can be read below….
- You have mentioned about how runners are known to ‘hit the wall’ after a point. It’s similar to the infamous writer’s bloc where an author is unable to write beyond a point. Being a runner and writer, did you ever face such a scenario? If so, how did you overcome these blocks?
Firstly I would say that one needs to have variety in their workouts in order to break their monotony from running. You see working people especially have that alternate corporate life to handle as well and therefore it’s important to maintain that interest levels over a long period of time. If we are mentally not there, then any kind of sport, leave alone running, will fail to give that adrenalin rush.
I have personally faced this wall myself especially while training for a full marathon. After 32 km, I tend to give up. To overcome this wall, it’s important to do a root cause analysis of everything right from your routine, rest period, diet, etc. I noticed that whenever I would rest well on a Saturday, my Sunday long runs become relatively easy and that infamous wall is broken. It is similar with writing as well. There are times when ideas flow like the river and times when you are unable to think of any. At that point in time, it depends on what your mental state is like. If you are undergoing a lot of pressure at work or with family commitments, then your attention and energy is diverted to those areas which prevents you from being able to write anything. Therefore the ability to overcome the wall largely depends on your state of mind.
- Speaking of state of mind, running was primarily taken up by many as a stress-buster from the mayhem of the corporate and work life. However lately the competitive element seems to catching up in the running circuit where runners are stressing over their timing, eventually robbing the joy factor from this sport. What is your take on this aspect?
Well I have been a preacher of eliminating the stress factor while running. I believe that you are in this sport for enjoyment. In fact there was a time when I would run for timing but that was mainly to test my limits and endurance levels. Once I realized my capacity, I switched to running merely for the joy factor. This would involve calling out to runner friends, stopping to give a pat on the back, etc. Then I suddenly found myself going back to the race mode again and I missed the joyous element. That’s when realization hit me and I then decided to restrict my competitive element to just one or two races in a year while others could be done for the enjoyment factor.
The corporate world can be ruthless and competitive. Running was taken as a solace from this mayhem and it should be that way. However one should also retain that slight competitive element without going overboard to keep that spirit in you ignited always.
- Today’s ‘too fast too soon’ approach has replaced the slow and steady aspect causing people to switch jobs frequently, ultimately leading to a burn out. Similarly one sees this phenomenon in running as well where new runners are seen to shift from small distances to larger ones on a rapid basis which at times results in adverse effects. Being a seasoned runner yourself, what would be your advice with regards to this approach?
I have in fact known people who have run 5 km and immediately migrated to doing a 100 km. There is nothing wrong with that as long as they find joy in doing this transition. In my opinion, I think you should be able to enjoy something first before you think of raising the bar. It also varies from person to person depending on their body type, availability of time for recuperation, etc. For me I shifted to a full marathon only after running 26 timed half marathons. It’s all about how ready you are both physically and mentally.
There will be temptations to jump the gun since you see a lot of people clocking a humongous distance. But you need to evaluate your limits and capacity before doing so. The ‘too fast too soon’ approach can eventually lead to a breakdown if not monitored carefully. I know a lot of people who were quite active in the running circuit in 2009 but are nowhere to be seen now. There is a 20-30 percent drop out every year, either because they have succumbed to injuries or lost the love for running due to this ‘too fast too soon’ approach. You must also remember that when you are running 100 km, you need to have that adequate time for recovery, else you will land up in a mess.
Similarly when you jump from one job to another, you CV will end up in a mess and it will appear to be one without a specific goal or purpose in life.
- Your writing has won you several accolades across the running community. So what do you think makes you a good writer? Does running accentuate that flair for writing?
I have been writing for the last 3-4 years now. In my opinion, to be a good writer, you have to be a good listener first. When you listen to people, you tend to get a lot of ideas. For instance the other day, when I was walking with my wife in a market, I was keenly observing everything around me. I felt I could create a blog and weave a story around it. I also feel that people should resonate and enjoy your writing. Therefore whenever I write, even a short status on social media, I pause to think whether people would find it funny or be able to relate to it. I usually get a lot of ideas when I am running. When I am running alone especially I get that time solely to myself which makes me think of ideas. I usually write humorous stuff as humour is my forte. At the same time I also ensure that what I write should not hurt someone which has happened earlier. So yes I feel running does give me a lot of perspective which accentuates my writing.
He also narrated how penning this book was a learning experience for him in many ways. This soul stirring rendezvous came to end as he narrated a possibility of another book in the future given his love for writing. ‘It was something everyone would look forward to’, I said as he acknowledged my remark with a humble smile.
After thanking him for his time, I walked back home recollecting the words of wisdom and the sensibilities about running. As a runner I reflected on the reasons as to what made me take up this sport in the first place. Was it the competitive spirit, means to vent out my stress levels, mere joy, solace in having the time and roads to yourself? A little bit of all, but most importantly it was the sheer joy which was derived from those strides early in the morning while sharing your space with the first rays of the rising sun!