Ultra 75k: Doors to spirits and Oiled hinges

It’s been three weeks since Bangalore Ultra and I am still coming to terms with it. My ankle keeps me in check along-with a tan that’s left me looking haggard. This is my Bangalore ultra 75k race story. It’s long. Race stories don’t begin at the start line, it begins way back at the start of the season and this story does no justice to the nine months of training, I’ve tried to keep it short.

“… Perhaps the genius of ultra-running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …” – David Blaikie

..and most times you are not ready to receive that call, but it’s the only call you are allowed to and I took mine in the bottom of a murky chance-less pit.

There’s a beginning, a middle and an beginning to this story and the heart of it lives in the middle. The heart which is sandwiched between your head and your ugly feet. The heart that wants to bleed, but you put a band-aid on it and like Sandy said at the start of last year’s 50k, it’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. The bleeding doesn’t stem nor does the pain. The yearly heart check-ups make sense now, most people are torn between their heart and mind, we runners are torn between heart, mind, glutes, knees and ugly stinky feet. A mind that wants to stop, bums and glute that want to sit, feet and toes that turn black with envy and a heart that wants to go on.

I finished the ultra upright albeit 7 hours after the winner had finished the race. Sanjeev Ramki, won the 75k in seven and hour hours and must have returned to his home in Chennai, I took fourteen and a half, two hours more than what I had planned for. Doesn’t matter. I finished. I wish I had finished stronger, to give my friends tighter hugs, to hug my coach tighter till a happy laugh spilled out and stronger to punch one particular RFL organizer in the jaw. Probably squeeze his neck till his tonsils lay among the gravel we were forced to run on.

JLBR and gang spent most of the season huddling around. We first huddled in Jahangir Hall, declaring a purpose of intent on the 75k. We huddled around yummy food for the rest of the season, most times curd rice with a dash of sambhar, idlis some times and I secretly had my own stash of biscuits and choclates. We huddled around sweaty yoga mats and dumbbells at contours and on a long night run we fought hard, haggled, negotiated and huddled over a smoking brown broth of coffee in the middle of a longish night run. Rest of the time we ran and ran whole-heartdely, sometimes in pain and discomfort, sometimes with Santosh throwing rocks at us, sometimes in endless loops in an apartment block, around lakes, around cubbon, through rock cleavages, through throny shrubbery and running around a lonely tree till all of us regrouped together. Yes, we did run around a tree. You can’t make this up. Nine months of training and it wears the rubber off your shoes, grates away the layers to your soul, it’s easier to feel happy and joyous after a long run, easier to feel the pain of the past, the beauty of everything that surrounds you is glaring, silence so profound it silences and quiets your mind and sometimes the sheaths around your soul are stretched so thin that it’s easier to touch a nerve. Though it happened many-a-time, one moment I recall fondly is at Kanteerava. We met up earlier than usual at Kanteerava to do our hill-repeats and when we wrapped up, it was still dark with the sun-just peaking on the horizon. The horizon and the city you can see only when you climb to the highest cement row of the seating arena. I’ve stolen moments here, to look down on the dash of green of the football patch, simmering somedays in the light of a feeble distant floodlight. As you rush down, jumping down the steps and dashing down the ramps, it’s gravity all the way and on that particular day of pushing harder than usual, I finished my workout, crashed into the wet grass of the football field and lay sprawled facing the sky. As my hastened breaths slowed down and it was safe to open my eyes, it was spectaular to see an ink blue sky framed by the oval of the stadium, with distant stars sparkling to a rhythm I couldn’t hear. I lay there for a long time, the dew seeping through my clothes, drenched in sweat, moistened eyes and choking a little.

fotorcreated

JLBR – Madness personified

Race day came quicker than expected. Some tough runs thrown in and I was feeling a little not too great, coach says, this happens all the time. The first giant bite was the stadium run, eight hours of looping around 400 meters. Mine was painful, my glutes hurt and hurt bad after four hours into the run. It hurt so bad, I had it trampled. First with Sujoy, who ran a few loops with me, who helped me bring my back focus and then stomped the hell out of my glutes. Getting stamped in the middle of the run feels good, so I’d sneak away every half hour to ask if anybody wanted to walk on my buttocks. Quite a few were interested. This went on till Vinay spotted me and sent me packing away. A few personal issues saw me missing the longest run of the season, eight hours on a Saturday and four hours on Sunday. Santhosh, being the task master that he is, made it clear that I get it done or just move to a different distance. I took the challenge head-on, landed at Cubbon at 8am to do the run by-myself, it would be the longest I would have run by myself and all the enthusiasm drained out by the fourth hour. After jumping over one garden snake, booed by couples who were frolicking in the undergrowth, trying to bring down a Persian cat perched on a tree, sipping chocolate and trying to out-run a walking horse, I finished the run at 4pm, drenched in sweat and stinking to high heaven. It was the longest ever and accomplishing it gave a strange confidence that I was alright, but I wasn’t.

stadium

8 hr stadium run …clocking close to 50km in 400m loops

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Deep work

 A collection of quotes from the book “Deep Work” by Carl Newport, quotes that unravel a better understanding of this world we populate. Will update this post as and when I like content that I’d like to come back to and re-read in new context and hopefully understand better.

1. The task of a craftsman, they conclude, “is not to generate meaning but to rather cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there” [pg 88]

2. Within the overall structure of a project there is always room for individuality and craftsmanship….one hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic ad the techniques used by medical cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, while our craftsmanship will still be honoured.

3.Carl Newport makes a case to quit social media:

Lies

“He collected the confetti from the floor, his head buzzing from the battering of lies, he gave it to her, fistfuls first and then a whole sack.
“Do you want the blue? It goes well with the lie, matches the ribbon on it, don’t go with the roses, they stench up and give it away”
“I can be your piñata, give you the club too, just spare me the lies”

The piñata lay crumbled on the floor, blue confetti litter, buzzing flies and flying lies, crushed roses and fresh violet trimmings. What a beautiful day!”

Soul Sold!

Ashed forehead, a wet thumb of vermilion for a third eye. Sunken eyes framed together by crow feet. Ashen hashish lips tremble as they speak and he says “I’ll give you a crore for your kidney, just one of them”. I jump out of my skin, spill my coffee on my tie and scald my thighs. “With respect, are you nuts or bananas?” I say “You can keep your crore”
He laughs a soundless laugh, his spittle flying through his teeth and says
“Why, you’ve given your soul for even little”

Jaded memories

*Eight years since I penned this, strange as it is, the lines still strike a chord to the emotion that spun these*

It’s where I want to belong,
kindle a thought,think for long.
Lay still as it pours dark and slow,
the rain,the thought, impale and flow.

Let thoughts stray without boundary
A respite, anyways life is a mockery
Jaded memories burst to life,
pave the causeway to a new lease of life

It’s all quiet now, but still the voice.
It’s now me or the other choice
It’s where i want to belong,
Am there but still unbelong

We’ve failed our forefathers

You know what makes a runner? Nothing. We are just a pair of nail-less limbs moving in rhythm through the contractions of a thousand muscle fibres, muscle fibres fired by a million synapses in the brain. Therein lies the problem. The brain. Probably the utter callousness of the two hemispheres to agree upon the common good of evolution; to seek comfort in shelter, rest and food. The failure to adhere to the rules of Darwin, runners tend to tread in the opposite direction of the general flow. Our hunter gatherer ancestors tore limb and fruit to land us here; Here in a bliss, privileged ocean of high carbs and fry. The industrial age ensured we don’t move a muscle to plough, to reap and to transport. Silver screens and streaming pictures ensured we don’t have to head out to colosseums to see humans bludgeon each other for entertainment.
Here we are at the cusp of everything our ancestors ever dreamt of and what do we want to do? We want to be like them. To keep moving, make new trails everyday. To run away to faraway lands in hunt of animals that no longer roam the forests, the only animals around now are mongrels and we run haywire when they come snapping. Of all the things we ever wanted, we wanted to be like our forefathers the most, to build cathedrals around our heads, then on paper and then on a mountain top, to catch the first rays of the sun. We then want to race to it from the plains, run up switchbacks lined with wild flowers, yellow blooms that leave their pollen on our feet to travel the world with us. With all the cathedrals built, with souls trampled like flowers on a side-walk, all we are left with is to dream and sometimes those stop too. So, on a dreamless sleepless night, you reach out and if lucky find that crankshaft deep within your heart, tether it to hope and jump start yourself, jump start into a run, a long hard run where you find yourself again and hopefully to dream again. Not to be haunted not be chained, only to be free. Free to think, free to be. Free to hallucinate about food dripping in fat and a beer to wash it down, that’s all we ever want. We just want to reach out to our primordial days, the little rush of rashness that’s left in us, we want to reach out to that place, dip our hands into happiness and let some of it sweat down our brows. We’ve failed our forefathers.”

A man from the past

*Some midnight random thoughts that I just typed out on my phone, after which I’ve placed a little book and a fountain pen by my bedside, they might just come in handy*

“You are an old soul, back from a millennia when hunters gathered stardust along icy shores. You are an old soul and you love too old and slow. Am sure there’s no drum and guitar from the time you come. Ow, you say you can hum, can’t hear you over my electric guitar. Am kindly still and tell you this, return to your meadows and count your comets, there’s no place for an old loving soul like you in the city lights”

Stories of a relentless Sole

*This post was an entry to a blog contest organized by Decthalon Sports under the category of how running has changed my life, got shortlisted in the top 50 and that felt real good, didn’t win it of course, maybe another time*

I’ve seen a beetle scurry across a trail at noon, moving laboriously and slow, taking but all the time of the universe. Going around pebbles in its path, pausing to look around and reflecting a deep indigo in the scorching sun. What was I doing staring at a beetle? I was bent over in pain, elbows on my knees, finding a respite from the cramp shooting through my calves, hamstrings, glutes and slowly making its way to my soul. I studied the beetle till it disappeared under a fallen rotting leaf; I straightened up, limped a little and tried to continue what I was doing. Running.

Running through mist covered trails before dawn and through darkness, seeing fellow runners disappear into the horizon, human figures taking the hue of the sky and dissolving into the mist and suddenly you are all alone all-over-again. Running alone to the pitter-patter of an early morning drizzle and the pitter-patter of your footfalls, running to the tune of thrush waking up in the brush, birds that chirp in the thousands on the first hint of daylight, daylight breaking through the clouds in the horizon. Running on endless trails that lead straight to a fiery red ball of a sun rising through the mangle of branches of a banyan tree, rising above the tree line. Running is more than breasting a finish ribbon, is more than a timing, is more than sweat and tears….it is the balm to your aching soul.

Running has taken me to faraway places, faraway places that I didn’t know existed. Sometimes to bright happy places, places with a sky full of balloons, places resonating with happiness and laughter. Sometimes it took me to dark corners, dark and reeking of fear and doubt. These journeys were within me, the destinations always inwards, towards the abyss of my heart and mind. Running takes you to the raw version of yourself, of the person you’ve been and the person you can be.  If there is a paved path to the soul of a man, running would be the cobbles that make that path. Cobbles made of stars plucked from the grey sky under which you’ve run a thousand miles.

Running was an unintentional sojourn, taking a break from weight lifting and endless kick boxing sessions, I landed up for an info session with a running group, Runner’s High and ran two miles and have been hooked ever since and that was four years ago. Ten half marathons and five marathons later I realize I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of the sport. While the majority chase fast times and personal bests, within our group we have created an exclusivity to gather running experiences. The races I prepare for is a party at the end of a long training session, I go in and do the best I can. That is all. I soak in the atmosphere of running with a thousand other runners, soak in the positivity that fills the air and when things come to shove on hitting the ‘wall’ I dig in deep and stay the course, endure and suck it up and see that the run is completed. At the end of each run, the surge of joy rippling through my heart is what I find the most satisfying and endearing

Running has provided a channel to let go of the daily mundane musings that our busy life is made of. It’s been a channel to meet new people from different walks of life, meet people of different age groups sharing the same passion. I’ve had opportunities to run with someone as young as eight, at eight someone who dreams of running a hundred miler. Of running with an octogenarian, who at eighty is as nimble as a teenager and who dreams of cycling the distance to the moon. I’ve run with a visually impaired runner and have learnt what zeal and guts are made of. I have also learnt how many blessings we take for granted. If not much, I’ve been able to make a little contribution of helping someone when I do a charity run. Charity runs that are routed through schools, routes lined with cheering children with pompoms and whistles, the children whose lives we can a make little difference in.

Then, you have days, weeks and months when you can’t step out for a run. Something at work or at home, a sickness that leaves one heaving and puffing as the antibiotics throb through your veins. More often it is an injury, a calf here, a glute there or a hamstring that revolts to the agony it is being put through. These injuries need cajoling, an ice bath, some taping and some rest and they are friends with you again. It’s during these days of non-running that you realize you are an addict and the withdrawal is sickening, it makes one edgy and irritable and a relapse is the only saviour. Some mornings there is an overwhelming surge of saneness that keeps you rooted to your pillow, mornings when the task of slipping on a pair of sneakers is a monumental task, when stepping over the threshold is akin to impossible, you just give in and sleep it out and feel guilty for the rest of the day, but then a runner is a human too, you just pick the scabs, run your fingers over the suppleness of a fresh scar and run the next morning.

My favourite run is the trail run along the banks of the river Kaveri and the run always ends in a small pool of the gushing river. It’s a place that is close to my heart, there have been many a moment of triumph and despair in those waters. As I’ve lain in the water, spangled with bubbling foam from the stream washing away the effort and sweat of a run, a rush of adrenaline gives way to a ruminating hum as my head dunks below the water to close out the sounds of the world. The hum churns out a wide range of emotions and the flag bearer emotion is gratitude. Gratitude for the blessing of being able to experience a joy so pure and unconditional, gratitude for finding fellow runners in love with the same aching sport and who are ready to share the love with you. Even as I’ve laid there in a rush of water, oblivious to the world, you realize you’ve changed, changed to accept losses and wins in the same stride. Changed to the taste of beer, how it tastes like nectar after a twenty miler. Changed to see the vivid details of nature and fine-tuned to pick the sounds of a distant cheering drum. Running changes you at the primordial level of human nature or rather you just rediscover it. As I stand up, dripping wet in joy and the breeze sends a chill up my spine, I realize with a chilling clarity that I’ve changed and changed for good.