Tuesday, January 21, 2014



What is Runner’s High. I used to always wonder. I had joined a group called Runner’s High to get trained and to be able to run. I used to hear about and read about this fabled state of mind called Runner’s High and could not fathom what the fuss was all about.

But at one distinctive moment, somewhere at the 4k point I think, I saw myself running alongside Dilshad
Nandi Hills Train Run
with Kaiwan for company, just felt my breath coming in and out and my feet plodding on the sea link in complete rhythm with the other feet all around me, my body just moving all by itself effortlessly, I just wanted to go on and on and did not want to stop.  I felt that I was in my zone. I just did not want to stop and wanted to continue. I stopped looking at the km markers. I thought at that moment that this must be Runner’s High. When your feet move on their own, your hands move on their own, your breath comes in and out and you are watching yourself move effortless in sync with your mind and spirit. This feeling lasted throughout the run and helped me.

It was a question that our group of girls, who are called rather unjustifiable the rowdy gang by the others, when we should graduate from 10km to 21km and one fine day Zahver said “let’s do it at Mumbai” and we all unanimously decided that we will do it at Mumbai. We spoke to each other and got in a few others into the group and all signed up the day the registrations opened. Big Boss came to know through his informer in our group and did not say anything about it (read it as did not yell at us). We heaved a sigh of relief and knew that we had got the official nod of approval.

Nandi Hills Run
The training began and we called ourselves Big League as we had taken the Big Leap forward and we enjoyed every moment of it. We became highly disciplined and did not miss a single Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday sessions. To top it all our lovely coach Chandra even monitored our diet and our amazing mentor Dilshad kept the entire group motivated and fully charged up. At Nandi hills we had great fun doing a train workout to get over the monotony of running the hills. Every long run was a party, every recovery run was something to look forward to and every Wednesday workout was an occasion to push ourselves even further. Many fell ill many times, some of us went out of station. But it did not stop us from doing our runs despite all the odds we faced.

As we ran longer and longer distances our running started becoming more and more effortless. There is a story of Akbar and Birbal where Akbar shows a line to Birbal and tells Birbal to lengthen the line without touching it and Birbal accomplishes the task by drawing a longer line next to it. This scene has been repeated in many Tamil, Hindi and Kannada movies. Our runs became like that. The distances that we used to complain about earlier became ‘by the way’ distances now. Our Sunday recovery run distance used to be out Saturday long run distance and we were proud that we had graduated from Primary school level to Middle school level so effortlessly.

We also had to change our approach and mind set to running the longer distances. Chandra reminded us
RH @ V T Station @ 4:15 AM
continuously that we were half marathoners. I used to walk at every up gradient, now I had to make an attempt to run.  And by the end of the season I could run the Cubbon 400mts track up smoothly. I had to learn to give respect to the longer distance. I learnt to start slow and then build up on the momentum. It was like changing the game plan from the T20 format to the One Day International format. A 10k run is like T20 cricket. Just like how the batsmen start hitting right from the first ball, as 10k is short, we can concentrate on speed. But a 21k run is like ODI where you conserve your wickets in the initial overs, the middle overs are slow and boring where the batsman is trying to save wickets and the bowler is trying to slow down the scoring and both do not want to make any mistakes and you try to give it all in the last couple of kilometres just like how a batsman would start hitting in the last 10 overs. Armed with all this Gyan and Mantras we were all ready!.

Come the race day weekend, we travelled together in groups and stayed in the same hotel. We spent the
Start Gate "F"
previous evening together and had dinner together. We travelled to the race location together with the RH gang and created quite a riot in the station. A Japanese tourist even took a video of us all when we were posing for the group RH pic and we bullied him into taking a pic of ours. Some folks who wanted to get into the train saw all the RH women together and even though they saw the men they thought that it was a ladies bogie and went to the next bogie.

I was supposed to meet Dilshad and Kaiwan at the signal before entering the start hold up area. Dilshad and I entered the ‘F’ section and Kaiwan went to his. We high fived and hugged everyone. The noise decibel
Slow march towards the timing mat
levels were high and we could hardly hear each other and had to shout on top of our voices. We took a few pics and within no time the crowd started moving. We thought that the race must have been flagged off. Dilshad and I started at a slow march keeping time with the music and the beat. I even did a few steps of dance. It took us a good 8 minutes to reach the start point where the music was loud and we saw John Abraham waving and waved back crazily. Who knows, he might have noticed me :).  As we approaced the timing clock I could see that it was showing 06:08:22.... :23.... :24.... and we crossed the timing mat and it was a moment of reality for me. All that I had trained for in the last 6 months, all the planning, discussions and preparation had come to this moment. For the next three hours it would be the culmination of those months of dreams coming true. Aspirations turning into reality. Do I have the ability, am I up for the challenge. I will know in the next three hours. There is no looking back now. No stopping for the next 21.1kms.

It was the pre dawn hours. The bright halogen lights of the hold up area and the loud chattering and noise and music was repleced by darkness broken by the street lights and the eerie silence of solemn runners contemplating on how to tackle the next 21.1 kms. I had started my Garmin as soon as we had started moving in teh hold up area itself. My Garmin was showing 600 mts and 2:20 mins when I crossed the timing mat. We had decided to stick to our plan of 14 min run and 2 min walk and we were very disciplined about it throughout. Kaiwan was waiting for us at the toll booth and Dilshad’s face lit up as soon as she saw him. I thought that she might break into a dance in any moment. I was glad that I was getting Kaiwan to run with and thanked the stars that had put me and Dilshad in the same gate.

By now we were nicely warmed up and started running strong on the Sea link. As many have described, it was a breath taking view. We got the view of the beautiful Mumbai on one side and the sea on the other side. The buildings with lights on looked like twinkling
stars in the sky. They formed a beautiful necklace as their lights were reflected off the calm sea waters. The runners were running very quietly. I think it was the serenity of the dawn that makes the runners silent as they reflect within themselves how they would tackle the oncoming kilometres. The lights were creating beautiful shadows of the runners on the road and as two heads merged into one body or three heads merged it formed funny images. The breathing and the feet plodding on the roads were the only sounds and I suddenly felt that I was just seeing myself run. My feet were running effortlessly and I had a
beautiful space which was beautiful and peaceful. There was a runner who has shaved his head completely but for the message ‘Donate Blood’. I mentally promised him that I would and hopefully will do it soon. There was an elderly gentleman who was breathing heavily and walking but was almost at our pace. We overtook him once, then he overtook us as we were doing our 2 min walk and then we overtook him again outside the sea link.

The sea link ended to a beautiful sun rise and to a glorious sight of the moon alongside it. We were greeted by a sea of Mumbaikars and chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Ganapathi Bappa Morya”. There were many runners who were running for various charities. There was another gentleman who was carry a huge banner for a corruption free India and I wondered whether he would carry this banner throughout and how would his hands hold up. There were scores of children shouting Run Mumbai Run. There was a man with a hat at a bus stop along with a few others who were chanting a very catchy rhyming slogan which I cannot remember. Kaiwan kept reminding us to slow down a bit and kept telling us that we were going too fast and that we might tire out. He kept cracking jokes which were hilarious and which I
cannot recollect now.

After we got out of the Sea link the road narrowed a little. As we entered the Worli Seaface, the road is divided into two with the Half marathoners on teh left and the full marathoners coming from VT in the opposite direction. We crossed a few of the really fast full marathoners on the opposite side and many of the HMers knew some of the FMers and were shouting out names. There were quite a few Bangloreans among them and it was thrilling to see that they had covered almost 17 kms in less than an hour. Many HMers had started walking on our side and one of the runners running alongside started shouting "guys no need to walk now! get to a side if you want to walk!". Kaiwan very calmly said "no need to panic now! relax!" and everyone started laughing and it brought a few smiles and chuckles even from the really serious runners. The traffic lights had not been switched off and we kept passing by many that were red and many that were green. So we kept joking at each intersection saying 'come on it is green lets run!' or 'its red but we aint gonna stop! we will run!'. When we passed a petrol bunk Kaiwan joked "do you guys want to refuel?".

At the Worli Sea face we had to do a couple of loops on the same road. and we came across the
marathoners. We crossed many RH full marathoners and shouted out each other’s names and shouted encouragement. It was a treat to see Chandra, Jai, Aseem, Aishwarya, both the Kavithas, Sandhya, Paroma, Ravish and many other RH-FM-ers. I even met my runner friend, Poornima Sheshadri, who I meet on every run course that I run on and we exchanged a few sentences. We met Padma and Siva and many other RH HM-ers who breezed past us. There was music being played at regular intervals which kept me pepped up. The latest Bollywood hit numbers have a way of elevating the mood to a higher level. We walked up the dreaded Peddar road flyover where there were many handing out water and Enerzal. Kaiwan used to gallantly run up to get us oranges, energy drink and water.

Up to this point we were ahead of the 2.45 bus that was headed by Sanjay Revalkar. Dilshad and I tried to keep up with them. Whenever the bus took a walk break we ran ahead and when they stopped at water stations we did not stop. We heard the ambulance drive at full speed past us and later came to know that someone had had a heart attack on the course. When we were treated to the glorious sight of the Elite runners serenading past us with their long and graceful strides all of us stopped for a few seconds in awe to drink in this magnificent sight. The Indian elite men followed close behind led by a contingent of army men and the Elite International women followed them. Their supreme fitness levels and sublime strides is a spectacle worth those few seconds that we slowed down just to watch them and admire this marvellous scene.

The spirit of Mumbai was out in full force on that day. There were hundreds of people applying sprays and relieving the pains of hundreds of runners. I was disappointed that I did not have any pains and could not make use of the beautiful gesture of these people. There was a lady handing out jaggery and many were handing out chikkis,  very tasty oranges, wet sponges and dry fruits. There were many elderly folk sitting on chairs and many families handing out stuff. There were groups of children shouting themselves hoarse and I wondered for how many days their throats would be sore due to all the shouting. The roads in Mumbai are beautiful, all concrete roads, without pot holes (boo hoo Bengaluru roads L). Many had the interlocking tiles which formed beautiful patterns and looked magnificent.

When we reached the Marine drive section the elderly citizens walk had commenced and I saw hundreds of elderly folks walking with their yellow t-shirts and bibs on the other side of the road. We greeted as many as we could and they all waved at us. There was loud music playing and there was a dholak group that was belting out very rhythmic beats. To my surprise four of the elderly participants had stopped their walk and were dancing in gay abandon to these beats.

Dilshad was tiring out and she kept urging me to go on. I could see that she was very strong and so kept telling her to continue further. The first 2:45 hrs bus had moved past us and the second 2:45 hrs bus led by P. Venkatraman had caught up with us. Dilshad and I tried to keep up with this bus now. But somewhere along the way when I was lost in my own world I had run past and could not see her or Kaiwan when I looked behind. I knew Kaiwan would be with Dilshad and so I carried on. By now I was tiring a bit. I had run past my longest ever run of 18 kms and was in unknown territory and on my own. But I was feeling strong and felt that I would not hit the ‘runner’s wall’. The bus I was following was going steadily and I could hear loud war cries
given out by Venkatraman. There were some nagging thoughts like “why am I doing this”, “no more participating in long runs”, “I will sign up for the next training no doubt, but I will go only for the short runs and bunk the long runs”, “what was I thinking?”, “why did I have to do this”, never again etc. The mind is a drunken monkey on a rampage in a china shop and here it was having a field day playing tricks on me. I gave it my full permission to bring it all on, on me.

I saw the champions with disabilities walking past on the other side of the road. It was a heart wrenching sight to see a turbaned man bring encouraged by scores of others to walk. A lady had a chair for him a few metres away and was encouraging him to walk with loud cries of ‘uncle come on’ and he was so courageously walking towards the chair. There were many who had collapsed by the road side and were being aided by people or by volunteers by the side of the road. Many people were massaging a man who was having severe cramps and icing his legs. A boy was shouting encouragement loudly to a man who was limping and walking alongside him telling him ‘uncle just a few steps more, do you want a chocolate?’. This made a few of us around chuckle at him.
Seeing this made me forget my fatigue and I met up with Sushmitha and Rama. I decided to keep them in my eye sight and we ran like this for the last two kms. I had stopped following the km markers long ago and had stopped looking at my watch. So I did not know how many kilometres were left. When I asked Sushmitha , she told me 1km more and I could not believe my ears. At this point Rama took off like a superman and I followed Sushmitha. I tried to keep up with her but she was too fast for me. I walked a bit and ran a bit. In retrospect I feel that I should have pushed harder at this point. The last 500mts board came up and I could not believe that I had come up to this point. Again the walk a few metres and run a few metres game continued. Finally I could see the 100 mts board come up and I felt that I should at least run slowly at this point and run I did. Our bus head P. Venkatraman had turned around and was shouting out encouragement to all of us and urging us ‘come on! sprint to your glory now!”. I met Subhashini and both of us thanked him and she was telling him “she is Asha that I told you about”. One step at a time and another step at a time, I ran and ran and kept running and saw Sushmitha and Rama and they told me “its over, you can stop now”.
The relief and the sheer exhilaration of completing the run overwhelmed me and I burst out crying and bawled like a kid. Both Sushmitha and Rama rushed to my aid and so did 10 other people who were around me. When they realised that I was among friends they continued on. Sushmitha, Rama and Subhashini who finished right behind me comforted me and spoke kind words and I recovered within a few minutes. But the highly vulnerable emotional feeling lasted a few hours more and I had a couple more outbursts.

The city of Mumbai shows again and again why it is the best city in the world. This city shows how it is the
most mature city. this city never judges you or asks you who you are where you come from or which region, religion, caste or community you belong to etc. It rewards your hard work in equal measure and selflessly gives you every opportunity that you need to excel in whatever that you choose to do. It does not need you to have influence or leverage. It only recognises your grit and your determination. It rewards your bravery and your courage. Thousands of Mumbaikars come out on this one day and make us ordinary individuals feel like a superstars. I felt as if I had accomplished an extraordinary feat. The sheer selflessness and the giving nature of the Mumbaikar is what makes this run the most special run and the most popular run in India and I am sure there is no other run like this in the whole world. We run past historical and architectural wonders and run alongside the beautiful sea. But being lauded and applauded by the thousands of people throughout the course leaves an indelible impression on everyone that takes each runner back year after year wanting to experience it more. I will always savour and cherish the moment throughout my life.

Mumbai - Amhi punah betun paryanta .... aapan paahuya!