Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Ultra Special


Waking up with a burden of history is no good feeling. And I had twins to tackle with the day I woke up for the Bangalore Ultra Marathon 2010. One, I was going as a reigning champion in the 37.5 KM category. Victory feels sweet the day you taste it but also puts you under the pressure of expectations, from your well-wishers as well as from yourself, the next time you compete. My change of category from 37.5 KM to 50 KM not withstanding, I somehow could not rid my mind of that fact, though I always considered that win a favor from fortunes. Second, more importantly, was the recent incident of bonking when I had severe back pain as well as feeling of intense exhaustion while training for the Ultra. I stopped after 36 KM that fateful day, feeling terribly dejected. The pain ruled so much over my mind that I tried, with little success, to show it an exit door thru a poem. Then there was that niggle in my left knee, which frequently gives me scare. In short, it was a terrible state to be in.

The race started at 6 AM, during that period of twilight when the darkness gives way for the light. As the runners got into their rhythm and pace, I found myself running with Ajith, a fellow from my runnerhood.  The sky was clean and cloudless, and the sun peeped over the green meadows and hillocks. Something in that sun was telling me that it was going to be a hot day. Ajith also agreed to that. The mood was rapturous among the runners, not fully aware of the sun’s plans, as they kept on chatting and cheering. My anxieties started vanishing, rather slowly like the pace I was running at, watching the proceedings around me. A little while later, the history was history again and the pain became just another four letter word. When you hit the road, nothing matters but the present. Running, or any other sport for that matter, helps one achieve what the zen philosophers and psychologists always profess – live in the moment. The mind, however, has too many doors to escape. One of the important psychological studies this year shows that Just about half of the average person's time is spent "mind wandering". My mind wandered in the world of the words, especially the four letter words, and could not stop observing how some of the four letter words have profound effect on life(itself one of those words) – love. luck, fate, will, pain...even f**k.

All this while, I kept on looking at the fellow runners and noticing their efforts. During the first round, the runners greeted each other with loud cheers. As they grinded themselves further, the greetings became less ecstatic and more subtle. In the end, one only moved his eyes to say the most. There is unwritten pact between runners to acknowledge the agony and ecstasy of running. The camaraderie keeps growing during the thin and thick of the running. The 12m12m which we will embark on next year is born out of such camaraderie.

By the time I finished the half distance, the sun was ruthless in its pursuit of sucking energy from the runners. Mai, a Motorola colleague, who came all the way from US to run one of the best ultra marathons in the world, was all red and struggling to keep her heartbeat. The effect was evident on the other runners also. The Bangalore weather was considered to be the biggest advantage for this illustrious event but this year it sprung a surprise not many people were ready for. In the end many people would give up their challenge in what was later believed to be the toughest Bangalore Ultra Marathon till date. The recent training in late mornings and afternoons certainly helped me a lot in reducing the effect of the heat. Along with that I carefully kept eating oranges and bananas and glucose biscuits to fuel the engine. The bigger challenge was to keep the monotony out of the equation which results from 4 rounds of 12.5 KM each. To that effect, I planned to utilize ipod in the last round to listen to songs which could give me some boost. How well it worked that day! I finished the distance after 5 hours and 35 minutes. That being my first ultra marathon distance(anything more than 42.195 KM), I thought I did pretty well. The heart still rejoices for finishing my first ultra distance. But the icing on the cake is the realization that the past and pain are just the bystanders which you can choose not to heed.

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