On Sunday, January 21st I ran the Mumbai marathon. It was my second year at this marathon. I will continue to run this every year. I realized that this once a year run is a good opportunity to mark one’s physical and mental states through time. As I began this time, I clearly remembered how fit and prepared I felt the previous year. This kind of a subtle comparison felt interesting. I had put in plenty of kilometers in Oct – Dec, 2016 before I arrived for Mumbai in Jan, 2017. It felt good and positive. Moreover, after the finish in Jan 2017, which was my personal best until then, I went back to do my first ultra in Nepal. The months slipped by and during the middle I ran no more marathons, until Kochi in November. Arriving at the start line in 2018, past year flashed back in an instant. I was apprehensive. Yet, it was relieving to stand there and attempt it. The run was my personal best this time too.
About running, it seems true that it is a constant discovery – of human abilities and of possibilities that the body and mind hold. Running helped me understand this and over the years believe in this potential. This belief might weaken at times, but every run seems to reinforce it, bringing it back to an even higher level. This reminds me of @sweatscience ‘s piece on Nike’s Breaking 2 project – Are Physical Limits All In Our Heads?, which speaks of human abilities and ‘pushing the limits’ that running has seen over the years. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that over and above the minimum necessary physical readiness, the limits do seem to get marked by the mind. It is the mind that carries one beyond the physical.
Over the past months, I practiced running a 5 min/km pace. Lack of focus and regularity kept the pace in 5.20 – 5.30 range. The best I ran was a couple of weeks in back in December at a 5.05 pace for a 22 km distance. That was it. On keeping this pace for 42 km was unlikely. Somewhere along the Mumbai marathon course, a little past the Worli Sea Link, which is about half-way point I was reminded of Kipchoge. He often says that one runs with the mind first. I was beginning to see its effect kicking in this time. When I felt a strong in the head, I was striding well. By the time I was on Pedder Road, I could at least arrest the sliding pace, if not improve it. This was working. Mind and heart. It may sound a bit too self-helpish, but at that point, in the run, it was working. On a different note, these half and full marathons at times feel like practical versions of self-help books with the same package of motivation, hope, believing in oneself, being present etc. Keep showing up on the start line and see how that works on the mind. To the very least, one feels good about making the physical effort to cover a significant distance on foot, something which is certainly not normal in urban living now.
From last year’s post I notice that my gaze was fixed on the world around me. I was seeing Mumbai in 42 kilometers. After writing the above, this year’s seems to be inward looking. Some sights remain as distressing as last time – the amount of litter, plastic and children picking them up. I chucked a few plastic bottles too. And many like me did and then we had mountains of plastic being stuffed away into bags by poor children and men and women, as others ran past. I do not think I’ll ever get comfortable with this sight as much as people use the cliche ‘this is India’ to rationalize their discomfort. I do not think this is us.
In comparison to last year, I ran the course six minutes faster. It took a year to achieve these these six minutes. I managed to keep an average pace of 5.08. Picking up pace along the last two kilometers to the finish line, I felt a wave of quiet taking over. It felt neither exhausted nor stressed. There was a gentle wavy feel and legs worked a smooth way to the finish. From that moment, finish time didn’t matter as the first thing to know. I stepped over the finish line, splashed some water, walked around and hung about. It was over an hour later when I looked up the finish time in the text message on phone.
The space around the finish line of a marathon is one of the few places where one always finds a near hundred percent of the people smiling. Elated, joyous, emotional, relieved, in pain… but almost always happy and smiling, these faces are a delight to watch. In a corner I sat for an hour and watched those faces.