Sunday, 19th October 2014
I have never been a distance runner. Having played a lot of fast sports I kind of enjoyed the sprinting aspect, but never could have thought myself capable of doing 13.miles..even now the thought makes me shudder.
It was really Smitu who dragged me literally with my heels firmly dug in the ground and entered my name for the Birmingham great run. With Subhash for company I could not say no. Being an orthopaedic surgeon, one tends to develop a healthy sense of respect to Running as a sport…after all, there is never any dearth of injured, would-be marathon runners, in my clinics. All through the winter of 2013 and early 2014 I tried my level best to back off from the half marathon with any possible excuse that I could think of…but nothing worked. Eventually I gave in and started training. Initially I was doing small distance runs, mostly as a way of keeping fit for the bike ride in August. I could immediately sense how cycling was softer, a more scenic but very time consuming activity. You could basically run anytime and anywhere with just a pair of shoes. Slowly I began to fall into a routine of twice weekly running with Friday evening ones with Subhash. I remember very clearly one of the time he took me for a 10km run. Was flat out for the next week. All thoughts of running the full distance completely wiped out. If it was meant to generate confidence the effect was anything but the opposite. I became convinced that my body was not designed to run – period. Every set back was a exercise in reinforcing that negative belief.
The day arrived slowly but surely and nothing Could have prepared me for What was awaiting..Amar dropped us off near The ICC on the brilliant, sunny, warm, October morning and we reached The start point…the crowds… incredible!!! People everywhere. It felt really special to have baba there With me. Secretly had decided that I Was going to run in Aai’s memory so his presence was very poignant. Met With rest of the gang very soon and after a little warm up we set off at 11.00 hrs. Me Rashmi and Subhash had decided to run together so tried to keep pace with them. The first few miles felt a struggle and doubts took hold. Had done a 16km run on Thursday and had felt straight away that we shouldn’t have done it so close to the main run. Was I still tired and maybe have to give up half way? I knew Rashmi was carrying an injury so wanted to make sure we were with her all along. My right foot also started to hurt a little straight away. Anyways, I thought to myself, I am sure there’s no major issue, I can deal with this. We got to Pershore road and I must have gone into a bit of a running zone not realising that I had got a bit faster. Looked around after what must have been about 10 minutes and Rashmi and Subhash were nowhere to be seen. Stopped for a minute at the corner to see if they would catch up but no luck. Next few miles went in this strange confused state. Wanted to catch up and wait for them but did not want to lose the rhythm either.
That’s when it hit me. There were so many spectators along the way in all shapes and sizes and cheering all the runners along…’in my mind all of you are kenyans’ ‘run like you stole something’ two ladies on the bike on the corner urging us clapping non stop…it was something I had only seen on tv at major events..!!! For the first time ever I thought to myself..these people could have done anything else on a Sunday. But they chose to come here and spend the beautiful warm Sunday October morning cheering us instead. There were residents who had put loudspeakers on their front porch a la Carnival style. One was blasting the Rocky theme music at it final crescendo and I felt suddenly like Stallone running up the Philly monument steps. Without thinking I jumped up and did a skip step with my arms out wide 🙂 :-). When the woman next to me gave a real sidey look I immediately started my normal run again.
Slap-slap-slap…I could hear all the runners around me pounding the street…the sounds were so rhythmic…i became acutely aware of everything and everyone around me..a woman with a message on her shirt about her husband John McGee, The group of runners from Alicia Boparai foundation, the ladies with the large red polka dot skirts…and then there was me…Not really sure why I was doing it? No message, no cause, no finish time target, no friends to run with anymore? What the hell was Smitu thinking when she put my name in!! And to top it all she wasn’t even here….grrrrrr. I came across this old arthritic man who must have been in his 80’s walking along at as-brisk-a-pace as he could. In another one of my efforts to stop for any excuse to allow Subhash-Rashmi to catch up, I stopped to chat with him and asked him why he was doing it..and he replied ‘just to prove to myself that I can!’ And it hit me then…I had always believed that I could not do it…’distance running was not for me’. I had said that to Smitu all along the last 2 years when she was training. It must have struck a chord with her. She had known me for so long and must have seen the lack of self belief..Not some thing she has seen in me often…and perhaps that is why she wanted me to do it. Just like she did for herself. And then I started sprinting…the rhythm took hold of me. The bhangra dhols, the Caribbean steel band, the Sunday church choirs spurred me on. I made my mind up to finish it at my own pace and time..’Just keep soaking it all in’ I told myself. ‘You may never get the chance again.’
Before I knew I had gone past the halfway point and was approaching the corner of Edgbaston ground. Smitu was going to be waiting on The Mac @ Cannon Hill park. Camera at the ready to click away as I arrived! So I texted her but did not get a reply. No Smita at the Mac entrance! I stopped to call her and she came running out. Got the most fabulous hug and a kiss from her..She seemed super thrilled to see me. An impromptu photo session followed culminating in me almost tripping on the kerbside trying to look behind me for a photo pose 🙂
Gave her a final wave and ploughed through the park towards the Free Radio counter. My would star jump got the dj’s attention. I was behaving like a child really, no maturity at all. Oh well what the hell! Who cared anyway. At the 10-11 mile mark I started to notice my feet were hurting badly. Felt like I had a large some under my foot while taking every step. It was agonising. In an effort to take the pain away I started thinking about Aai. It was 18 months since she died. All the painful memories came flooding back. Her last few moments, her shocking acceptance of impending death, her courage in facing her worst fears, our decision to let go of her…..Her best gift to me was her unflinching determination and loyalty..One that meant ‘never give up’ . The sense of self belief that she wanted me to keep. She would have wanted this for me.. the last two miles went by without me thinking about my feet. Thought about Smitu Rhea Varun Baba ….suddenly loud cheers rained in my ears. I looked up ahead at the sign…1km to go…I was entering broad street..the crowds lining the street were cheering loudly…a crescendo of whoops spurred by the announcer counting down 3,2,1…There was not an inch of space between the jostling crowd lining the barricades.
Drawing on the last ounce of reserve I went thru the finish line!!! 2 hours 22 minutes , I had done it, and proven myself wrong in the journey. I could only have done it by believing in my ability….no more excuses would be needed. Smitu knew something about me that even I did not believe I had.
Kalpa reached soon after and Subhash and Rashmi came along soon after. I felt really guilty about not having run with them. But I did really try. After collecting the Tshirt and medal I went around to meet Baba who was thrilled to see me and have abog big hug…and told me that he was proud of me….something I had always wanted hear him say..One thing I had spent my childhood yearning for…his approval of me.
In the end I guess that running the half marathon was about self discovery, self belief and a realisation that others sometimes know you better that you know yourself!