Sometime in the future, hopefully in the near future, I could share a race story that has me flying low over the terrain, running smooth with the wind tucked into my locks, long strides and elbows pumping like a piston. As I’d pull in to a curve, the pillow on my bottom would make for a strange silhouette, a pillow in place so that my super strong heels don’t dent my bum. Today I don’t have that story, that’s a peek into the future, into a running future that floats low on the horizon, hazy and shimmering like a mirage. For today I’ll have to do with me. Just me. Not a version that’s manifested from magic potion. No unicorns and no big foot. The version today has little pieces of flesh hanging from its knees. A little blood, mixed with fine dirt, smeared to make the legs gorier; a mouthful of sand, a little dizzy and very far from the finish line.
The kaveri trail felt and looked very different this year. The canal wider and the trail wider too. The canal eating into the trail and the trail eating into the shrubs and trees. Trees that provided little cover along the trail now lay along their trunks beside the trail, belly up and their roots reaching into the sky. Though the trail remains, it appears like someone plucked out the prettiness of this place and flung it aside. The quaintness and the little gurgle of the stream were now replaced by a rush of water and a purring roar. The widened trail is fresh with packed in soil, the rocky sections patched in and softer to run on, trail sections that once allowed only two runners abreast is now wide enough to accommodate four. The soft grass that is so ever inviting alongside the trail is now buried deep. I miss the grass by sight and miss it by feel. It’s nice to roll on it in the middle of a run though it isn’t recommended. The track made by bullocks hauling paddy and cane is replaced by a blur of brown packed in earth. The place suddenly seemed to be in hurry, the water tumbling in waves and troughs instead of a ceaseless flow in ripples. That timeless prerogative of the place to charm and woo was dearly missing.
Ten thousand footfalls and slowly the dust settles over the Kanteerava. Ten thousand stirred souls, a cauldron of emotions. Joyous, euphoria, pride, relief, loathe, sadness. Some tear smeared faces, mascaras that run long after the race has finished. Tears of joy. Tears of pain. Ten thousand runners. Some have risen, some have fallen, personal bests broken, some agonizing finishes, many for whom the weight of the medal on their chest is a new surreal feeling and as the floodlights dim and switch off one at a time, it’s time to reset the clock, to countdown another year before we have the second edition of the Bengaluru Marathon. With the first we’ve taken off and given India a world class event, with the second we are gonna soar.
Bengu Superpowers [pic: Facebook Bengu Community]
But you look at the clock that’s been ticking away, the hands spinning endlessly in reverse now and you can’t help but marvel at the precision and effort to keep the clock ticking, the vision to execute at clockwork a race unlike any that Bangalore has seen. If you lift the glass off the face of the clock, move aside the hands, what you’ll see layered below are countless promo runs and runner parties. Nandi Hills, Decathalon, Kanteerva, Pipeline. The brashness of the 12 hour run at Kanteerva. No organizer across India has attempted that, attempt it as a promo run at least. A 6am to 6pm run. Big names, celebrities, ultra-distance behemoths, some young, some bare- feet, some topless, all runners alike, running on the 400 meters in an endless blur. It was just epic to stand on the sidelines, watching alone made one dizzy. The traffic commissioner flagged that run and ran a few laps himself, that reconfirmed what an epic race the Bengaluru Marathon was in the making and he returned in the evening to speak and give away medals to the twelve hour crazies.
Twelve Hour run. A twelve hour fest [pic: Raghu Mohan]
I have these long extended conversations in my head. Made up conversations most of the time. Making up quirky replies to prying questions that someone might ask. Sometimes, I talk to my other self in my head. Is it only me or does everyone have a different image of themselves up there in the vastness of their mind. An image of themselves that they covet or an image to come undone. An image cut and pieced together by looking at some trait they liked or disliked in someone else, a nice bouncy haircut, a well-rounded deltoid or bosom, the drawl in someone’s speech, the energy in someone’s stride or just a make believe character that they have conjured up in their heads.. Is it true when Chuck says ““Nothing of me is original, I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” It’s a scary realization isn’t it, to realize that everything about you could be fake. Coming back to the conversations that I have, I feel it stems from the primal emotion of fear. The fear of rebuttal by someone if you put your true thoughts across to them. Fear of non-acceptance, fear of success, fear of loss, fear of the unknown; I would drop other words and just say Fear. For fear manifests in every imaginable possible way, fear makes us crave buffer, to soften the fall when we really drop, to make the worst of that we fear seem manageable and survivable. Money is a buffer, that high rise pocket-burning apartment is a buffer, that four wheel drive SUV to drive to a corner office is a buffer, those endless conversations in your mind are a buffer to keep the fear at bay, unveiled and to keep you sane.
Then, there are experiences that wedge into you a double edged burning flint of fear KTM 2013, did exactly that. Forget about the timing – I was battered so hard, timing was the last thing on my mind. Crawling gnawing self-doubt took top shelf; the brightest spot in my mind. Conversations revolved around it. Can you ever pull off a full marathon again? I needed reassurance but SCMM 2014 just added more fuel to that self-doubt. A limping, walking finish adds no mileage to your soul, it just kicks away the crutch of hope you were resting on. I pulled out of Auroville though it’s a favorite race, I do a scratchy and scattered summer season to keep my legs alive and sign up for a full at KTM, the way I saw it, the decent way to move forward was to disconnect from what happened the last edition and give it another go. Disconnect, leave it behind, burn the bridges, water down the burning embers, and watch the ashes of the bridge flow away down the blue river in a grey blur.
Thirty Km into the race, running head-on into cramps and walls [pic: Sandy]
Don’t we love the underdog stories? Rocky Balboa black eyeing Apollo Creed, the phoenix rising from its ashes, the ogre called Shrek who marries a princess , Croatia toppling some major teams in the 1998 world cup, Bangladesh thumping us on a few occasions and in recent memory Ireland making a mess of England in Bangalore. The lore around them is the belief that each one of us is capable of doing something majestic, something extraordinary and running has been a path to a door that opens up these possibilities. Running reiterated the fact that I was capable to star in my underdog story. Kaveri Trail Marathon and I starred in it handsomely, content with the riveting experience of the training and enormity of a race, the experience brought tremendous belief to trust the process of training and leave out the result. Coming from Santhosh’s tutelage, results didn’t matter, didn’t matter if I came first or last and I managed to achieve the latter and the chief was witness to it and he was one proud mentor that day. But for some reason I needed the validation, the validation of a measure of that effort, it’s a single dimension and however hard I tried to shun that thought and bury it, it seemed to rear its ugly head and come right back. And I literally tried to bury it too. I went out on a motorcycle ride to the ocean for a good 1000 kilometers after Bangalore Ultra. Sitting on the beach, some of the boys built castles while a few of us got busy building elaborate graves and hacking tombstones out of cigarette packets. A few of us threw in cigarette butts and buried it, symbolic to the act of quitting and lit another right away to mourn the passing. While we performed the final rites, I mentally threw in a few numbers into that pit, my KTM timing, my appraisal numbers and the numbers in a bank, all thrown in and buried. As we set the final tombstone, I was convinced I’d put behind these measure units and continue doing the things that brought me joy, but that was not to be. The obsession with the numbers returned. It seemed to have gained some demonic powers and shaking it off seemed tough.