Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thoughts on runnning ultra marathon

I had shared this email with my colleagues and friends at work. Most of them liked it. So thought to post it over my blog as well (A lot of quotes in my writing has been taken from the book "Born to Run" and"What i talk about when i talk about running").

I have just settled in the last seat of the flight from Singapore to India. Fortunately the flight is light booked and my request to give me the last seat (and no passenger for the next two seats) was accepted. I have three seats with me. My whole body is cringing in pain as I settle down in my seat. Feel like a dead meat without any handle. Even the beautiful smile of the airhostess is not bringing smile on my face. Will be giving chocolates to my colleagues tomorrow morning and they will ask WHY… what’s the occasion ??? Well why don’t I pen down my thoughts in the flight. There are no free lunches in the world. So to enjoy the chocolates, they need to read the email.

After running few full and half marathons, I always thought what could be my next challenge. What could be the next test of my endurance level something to test my ultimate endurance. There I was, on the early morning of 22nd September (Saturday), 2012 at the McRitchie Reservoir in Singapore standing with a crowd of 200-300 runners all ready to test their endurance/persistence levels. The weighing machine read 63 kgs (not bad I had lost few kgs in the past few months). Filled my hydration bag, put my first aid box into the hydration bag, synchronized my watch with GPS and I was all ready to test myself to the extreme.

0-20KMS: A slow start as I need to conserve energy. This race is not about burning energy but conserving it. A brisk walk for 2 kms before my leg muscles are heated and I start with a brisk jog. The weather is good and I am enjoying it, chitchatting with fellow runners as I walk, talking about few of the good books on running.

20-40kms: At the 21Km mark, I told myself, Well you just completed a half marathon. Well done boy!! 3hrs and 5 minutes, good I am not running fast and I am taking it easy. It’s a bit cloudy and that’s a good news for the runners. Need to keep thinking of good things in life, small joys of life as runners call it, to keep one motivated and to keep the mind and body delinked.

40-50kms: My pace is slowing. A bit intentional and a bit of fatigue effect. At the 42 km mark suddenly something struck. I have just completed a full marathon. Thought of all the happy and satisfying moments every time I completed a full/half marathon (small joys of life). But it was different today. A parallel thought was slowly taking over. I have never run beyond 42 kms in my life. This is the first time I am going beyond it. This was the Straits of Gibraltar, beyond which lay an unknown sea. I had no idea what’s stored after this. I felt the same fear that sailors of old must have felt. The sun was slowly coming out from the shadow of clouds trying to show us its strength and might. As if it has just fought a war with clouds and it’s time for the Sun to reign supreme. My frequency of sipping from the hydration bag was increasing with every kilometer. Took out my cap to cover my head and kept moving. Things were turning bad. “Hi young man, how is it going? Feeling good.” Saw a man in his 70’s slowly catching up with me. Oliver was from Malaysia and goes to every part of world to run ultramarathons. He was the inspiration I needed at that point. “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running”. I had read this sentence in a book on ultramarathon, Oliver was living testimony for the same. Jogged few kilometers with him to reach the half point (50km mark). Had some jelly, bread and peanut butter and few pieces of watermelon.

50-60Kms: The Sun god is angry and not ready to give any respite to us. I need to save energy and may be just walk till the mood of Sun god changes. Good thing is that I am on the return leg now. Met a bunch of runners who were running in a group. They were enjoying the race. Oh God this is what I was missing. I was not enjoying the race and I was thinking too much about the distance. I need to enjoy the run. “Are you a vegetarian?” Jen a fellow runner who must be in her 30’s and seemed to be a pro, asked me. “Yes….”, how do you know? “You have a glow on your face.” With so much of sweat and dust on my face she could find a glow which no one had ever seen. I smiled and knew she was just flattering to motivate me (felt happy, small joys of life). Thought of asking her for a dinner but that would have been extra joy for that moment (don’t be greedy, be happy with small joys). I was not able to keep up the pace with them for long and slowly saw them vanishing in the horizon.

60-80kms: Took a good break at the 60 km mark. Shoved off few water melons, banana, potato chips. The salty taste of the potato chips felt awesome. I felt the salt permeating to my entire body to the tip of my nails. As I was lying motionless at the checkpoint, everyone started clapping. Turned my eyes to see the important runner. The next sight was truly inspirational. SBR.. “Singapore Blade Runner”, a man with one leg running the ultramarathon. Couldn’t stop but get up and clap for the indomitable spirit of this man. He sat down next to me and just muttered..”Bro, hang in there. We are 60% done”. I smiled back, with a respect for his willpower. The next few kilometers were crucifying. My leg muscles were tightening, like a piece of old hard rubber. Thirst kept coming back like the dark hearted queens of the night. I could feel few blisters and that was the worst news I could get. My body was rebelling. Like a bike going up the slope with jammed wheels, I was fighting with myself. Different parts of my body began to hurt. Knees, thigh, ankle, every part was trying to take centre stage and scream in this competition called PAIN. They yelled and complained that they can’t take it anymore. All I did was a quiet walk/jog for a bit. Like a manager negotiating with rebellious factory workers, I tried to talk to each part into showing some co-operation. It’s just a little far guys, you can’t give up on me know. The left knee out rightly rejected my proposal. Finally took out my knee cap to give the left knee some extra perks. “But why I am doing this. Am I going to win some medal, am I going to be a star after the finish, am I going to get some benefits at work or in personal life. NOTHING .. then why I am doing this”. I had no answer to the question posed by my body. It was not a good sign the Body was taking over the Mind. The blisters were now hurting. I could feel the pulp/extra mass in my feet. “No dude, you can’t quit.” My mind and body were talking. For the first time in my life, I felt they were two different entities. “ Well let’s take it one at a time, what about reaching 80kms first and just focus on 80. Nothing more. I put up a deal on the table and cajoled/persuaded my body in accepting it. “Only 80 dude, after this no more. If you put me into more, I am going to rebel like hell. You better know it” my body responded while accepting the deal. 100 IS NOT EVEN HALF DONE TILL YOU DON’T REACH THE LAST 20, these quotes from a book were turning so true.

 To all my banker friends, Just to explain what I was trying to do. Imagine a company “Xrun” producing 42 units of a product called “Run” every year day in and day out. Suddenly one day the company decides to produce 101 units of the same product “run”. What would be your reaction? Oh it’s a very risky proposal we should not be looking at this proposal. Well it was risky for the company “Xrun”. But any ways in the new production I was not allowed to take any external Debt. All that was allowed was one’s “Sweat and Equity”.

80-101KMS: Sat for 15 min at the 80 Km mark. Thinking of the journey. I had started at 7.00 am in the morning. It was already 11.30 pm in the night. I was on the road for past 16.5 hrs. My body relaxing, knowing that it has respected its deal and it was time for me to go no further and respect my words. ‘But didn’t I come here to be an ULTRAMARATHONER. How can I quit at this juncture.” My mind was slowly bringing the body on the negotiating table. The body resisting all attempts of the mind. “Dude come on, you do it every Sunday morning, right from Kurla, to BKC to Bandstand to Carter road and back. It’s your normal job. It’s just another 20 which you would have done it so many times”. The body still resisting. At this point I did something out of world. At this point when I am writing my thoughts I don’t have any clue what came in my mind then and what happened to me. I took out the scissors from my first aid box , took off my socks and just tore/cut through my blisters. Put on some bandage, changed into a new pair of Anti Blisters socks. I need to show to the body “Who is the boss?”, it’s high time now. Stood up and told my body.. lets go. The legs were giving up, so I was using my arms more. Swinging it up and down to gain momentum from the upper body. The pain was crucifying. “Make friendship with pain and you will never be alone in life”. One of the books on ultramarathon had this as a starting point for one of their chapters. I knew the mistake I was doing. I was fighting with pain and that was the mistake. I made friendship with pain at that moment. Pain became a part of me. With the blisters gone I started jogging at a brisk pace. I could now smell the finish line. Like wild sea grasses flowing freely with waves in the ocean I was now jogging at a good pace with pain at my side. It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that I was in a different world where there was nothing. Like a saint practicing the oldest art human kind acquired, I was enjoying my run. Is it called the Running Nirvana ?? I don’t know. All I knew was I was not in pain, I was not thinking of anything else but the few yards ahead. The road marker read “Reservoir Road” and for the first time in more than 19 hrs a genuine smile crossed my face. YES I AM THERE.. I DID IT..

 Went straight to the weighing machine, not bad I had just lost 4 kgs. My leg muscles are as hard as week old cafeteria bread. As I sat down with my legs in the ice tub, there was no profound sense of proud. It was just a happy satisfied feeling of achieving something… Will like to wrap my knees and legs in cotton wool and give it some rest before I hit the road again…

 Now that I have taken few minutes of the busy BANKERS , please come and enjoy the chocolate at my desk… Offer till it lasts. In the time of so much stress around let’s build a healthy team (portfolio).

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