Friday, September 21, 2012

Winging it

Don’t fight the trail. Take what it gives you … Think easy, light, smooth and fast. You start with easy because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad............
- Caballo Blanco in Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run

I have been fascinated by runners for quite some time now. I have always envied the self-discipline of the people who run to keep fit. How do they endure such strenuous physical effort inspite of all the injuries that seem to come with the territory? What makes them motivated to keep at it? I imagined that there must be something about the act of running itself that is immensely enjoyable that makes them come back for more. It piqued my interest even more when my husband took up running a few years ago. When he was training for a marathon, I noticed that he didn’t follow any strict schedules and neither did he like running on the treadmill. He trained outdoors
in the wee hours of the morning, even through subzero temperatures. That was the only time he liked to run - early in the morning. I know he has loads of self-discipline but still, I was intrigued. So I asked him. What energizes him to get out of a warm cosy bed when it is still dark outside? What exactly are his thoughts when he wakes up that early to run? He said, “Nothing. I just get up and get out the door to run.” Hmm..yes, right, but I was on a quest for a more elaborate answer.

So I poked around online for some running advice and found out that the authors of most of the blogs I followed were avid runners. And then I came across a review of the book Born to Run. I read the book hoping that it would answer my questions and with a fainter hope that it would inspire me to take up running. It did both - answer and inspire. The philosophy struck a chord and the reasoning as to why we run seemed logical. It also introduced me to minimalist shoes - one of the keys to running strong and injury-free. It all seemed simple and doable. When the book described ultramarathon races and extreme runners, I couldn’t relate to them, but they were nevertheless inspiring. It supported my belief that physical strength and endurance comes from one’s mental makeup and attitude.

I started slowly. I was never able to run for more than a minute even on treadmills, but as I progressed, I found out that I too hated running on treadmills. I felt constricted and that affected my tread and pace. And worst of all, it was boring and no amount of my favorite music or audiobooks would motivate me to continue. But my husband kept nudging me, so I started over. I constantly reminded myself of everything I read in Born to Run. I started running outdoors. I changed my shoes - my new shoes were not exactly huaraches, but they were not moon-shoes either. I stopped carrying my music with me during the run. My intention was for it to be a mindful practice. As I am with all things that require mindfulness, I just let my mind wander and so did not bother distracting myself with music. I also got over my self-consciousness about puffing and panting in the neighbourhood for everyone to see - yes, as you may have guessed, I wasn’t running during unearthly hours ( I was not that inspired). It also helped when I read somewhere that it might actually inspire someone to see me run. As I am the one always seeking inspiration and never the one to inspire, I thought it a novel idea.

To bolster my efforts further, at the beginning of this summer, I decided to sign up for a 5K race. I reasoned that it was for a good cause and that a commitment like that might actually keep me motivated. I started out by running in the mornings during my 3-week vacation. Once my vacation was over, I ran out of steam, came up with excuses and my running came to a screeching halt. Almost two months passed and I realized that the date for the run was only a few weeks away. I resumed my running. And then unfortunately I sprained my foot (it wasn’t from running). By the time my foot felt better, I was in a time crunch. Only two weeks to go before the race and I still wasn’t prepared.

A friend who had signed up to run along with me had to drop out due to family reasons. I was tempted to throw in the towel but my determination to set a good example for my kids egged me on. I ran about three times every week. I timed myself and found out that it took me about 45 minutes to run the 5K. Not good. One can walk that distance in 45 minutes, myself included. So I ran a bit harder with a goal of slicing off one single minute every time I ran. The best I could do was 37 minutes. That was two days before the race. No more running until race day.

I fervently hoped that during the race, some of the energy of the runners would rub off on me and I would run faster and make it under 40 minutes. But then the night before the race, which was last friday, I decided that I will just aim to finish without keeling over at the finish line. On Saturday morning, I stretched at home before the run, instead of after, like I usually do. I had my all-time favorite breakfast of toasted sprouted-grain bread with heaps of almond butter, strawberry jam and flax meal and downed some black coffee. The weather was chilly that morning but the sun came up shining nice and bright. My family was with me to cheer me up for my first run ever.

By the time we got there, the place was swarming with people - over 10,000 had signed up. It was inspiring to see so many runners. When I walked up to the start line, I was glad to see my family waving to me from the sidelines. Some of my new favorite songs were pounding through the speakers and a short jazzercise session commenced to the music to warm up before our run. I just shuffled my feet a bit, as I was worried that I would tire myself out even before the run starts. I saw TV cameras and TV station personalities do their bit. The anticipation was building and I couldn’t wait for it to start. Then the countdown began and off we went. The first few minutes were the hardest because I was moving with the crowd and couldn’t find my pace. I made a conscious effort to slow down and didn’t allow myself to be fazed by the people zooming past me.

The path looped through the downtown area and I was surprised to find myself looking around at all the landmarks. Since I had a watch that would beep every mile, I waited to hear the first beep. I was running at my usual pace. When it was about time to hear the beep and it didn’t happen, I wondered if a mile could really feel this long. But I did not dare look at my watch. I very much doubted that the sound of the beep would be drowned out by all the cheering and the music from school bands playing along the way. That’s when I looked up and saw the 2 mile marker and the timer on it showing 20:35! I couldn’t believe it!!! I ran two miles already, that too in my best time ever. I saw my family cheering me on and was encouraged to keep at this pace for the last mile and finish strong.

The sun was beating down by then and I was getting thirsty. I took a sip of water from volunteers handing out water cups (volunteers rock!). I was getting a bit tired but I kept my focus on my next step and the next and the next. Finally, after a turn in the road, there it was! About a 100 yards down the road was the finish line! It was the most welcoming sight ever. When I crossed the clock at the finish line and it read 33:12, I couldn’t stop smiling. I did it! That too without ever slowing down to a walk, not even once. I was thrilled to see my family there shouting their congratulations. I was elated and energetic, as I usually am, after a run. Despite winging it, I did better than I expected. With a sense of 
gratitude to friends, family, books and runners for the inspiration, I basked in a feeling of accomplishment I hadn't felt in a long, long time.

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