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.