Long-distance running in urban India has been looking more and more like a religion. Allow me my generalization here, but the running crowds are fairly homogenous, largely consisting of us software types, in our 30s/40s, having conquered all but the highest levels of the Maslow’s hierarchy. We proudly wear our talismans and paraphernalia; fitness bands, Vibrams, running apps and GPS watches. We have our high priests. You’d be surprised at the kind of crowds Scott Jurek drew recently in Bangalore. We even have our shibboleths; “What’s your PB?”, for instance. (For the uninitiated, “PB” is Personal Best, the runner’s equivalent of golf’s handicap). And finally we have our congregations, the running events. We head to these in our sedans and SUVs, bedecked in our fanciest dri-fits, our numbered bibs and timing chips pinned on. We are sufficiently convinced about the loftiness of our activity that we block traffic for everybody else on the busiest streets of the city.
One such recent festival was the Bengaluru Marathon where I ran my first marathon. The first 30 kms were not too hard given that I had been running half-marathons fairly regularly. After that came the realization that no matter how much it looks like a religion, running is an intensely individual pursuit. As the old cliché goes, it’s a race with yourself. A constant effort to becoming indifferent to the clamour in your head. My proven trick (had worked for shorter distances) is to train one voice in the head to continuously ask the question “Is this your pain threshold?” and hopefully have the rational part of the brain answer with a “No”, in the process convincing me to go on a little longer. After km 35 though, the multiple voices join forces to conspire against you. Or maybe you realize that there are no multiple voices in the first place. The exhaustion affects them all equally and soon the questioning voice stops enquiring about the pain threshold because it doesn’t want to hear the inconvenient answer. The music that you carefully chose starts to mean nothing to you. The Quant voice which was supposed to point to me that only 20% of the race was left had decided to go silent on me. Luckily, at this point N and P jumped on to the track and started pacing with me. Pacing works as a combination of inspiration and social shaming. Either way, I credit my pacers with lopping off at least 10 mins from my final time. My wife and son met me at kilometer 38, and my son ran behind me for as long as he could trying to hand me cookie. All of that counted in the end. I crossed the finish at 4:40. That’s my PB for now!