As I prepared for the Sunday race, on Saturday afternoon I said to myself, I have done this before and I can do it again. As I rested in the afternoon, watching Invictus, the 1995 movie about removing apartheid in South Africa with the Rugby world cup, I decided to make the immortal lines from the poem by William Henley my mantra for the run…
“I am the Master of my Fate,The Captain of my soul. “
I slept well that night, waking up fresh with the alarm That was not a good sign, and I should have wondered… where was the pre exam anxiety. Unbeknownst, we reached the start line, and with friendly banter started the race.
It was a good group, Rahul, Vishal, Rohan, Ninad and me, the unofficial sub-4 bus we called it. Confidence? Could be over confidence.
But why not. We had trained hard and were maintaining the required pace. Along the way, runners from Delhi ( Aman, a second time FM – with a 5.15 debut, trying for a sub 4) and Ramesh – Suresh (we named them that J) from Hyderabad joined us. The Bus was doing well and having a lot of fun.
We crossed the halfway mark bang on target and conversation dropped around 27km. The group got scattered. Aman, slightly ahead, the rest lost, it was me and Rahul braving the sun on Worli sea face. Further on we were about 20 m apart, and we maintained that gap over 5-6 km until Haji Ali where he got a cramp and I found Aman, who had also slowed down. From then on, it was the two of us going up Peddar Road.
We huffed and puffed halfway, and finally slowed down to a walk. I used those precious seconds to take out my iPod and by the uphill was read to rock. Summer of 69 sang Bryan and there I was in great spirit. Suddenly it all seemed achievable. I raced away. In full speed! And Aman was lost. After a glorious kilometre, the fatigue set in nice and proper. Hope diminished at the speed of light. And the pace dropped dramatically. Nothing helped. Not the music. Not the people. And certainly not the well meaning bystander who told me, only 4km to go- push! Dude. I was doing the best I could!!
Well. The story just got grimmer as the run slowed further to a walk, and it took all my will power to start running again. Pulin tried his best tomotivate me to keep my pace. Motivation. Sweet talking. Emotional blackmail. And even abuses! BUT…The brain had stopped working and nothing came to mind. No mantra. No goodwill. Nothing.
I allowed myself to suffer. I did not embrace the pain. I could not rise above it. I walked twice more on Marine Drive. ( I have never done in any of my race finishes in all these years.) At km 41, Pulin says, let’s beat that guy 100 m ahead, and there….I was able to gather my wits, strength, and whatever else… and sprint the last km. Some salvation!
A respectable time but not a great finish. Not a strong finish. Time for introspection.
So that’s how the topic of suffering landed on me. I realized what had happened. I stopped pushing when it became hard. At km 29. I see now, how much we try to avoid any suffering or discomfort in our culture. We numb it, we run around it or away from it, we bury it, and we deny it.
It is our attitude toward suffering that causes more pain than the suffering itself. “The last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Says Victor Fankl. He suggests we shouldn’t attempt to avoid suffering, but rather we should embrace it when it comes. “It doesn’t really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us.”I bring up Frankl because of the relationship between running and suffering. He insists suffering is what strengthens us. “If an architect wants to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together.”
Think about this in terms of increasing mileage, running hills, and doing speedwork at the track. Think about this in terms of our relationships with our running partners, as the years and miles accumulate so do the loads we carry for each other—and we are closer and stronger for it. Certainly there is joy and glory and freedom and passion in running. We know the endorphin high, the connection, and the clarity it brings. And yet we also know it wouldn’t mean the same if it didn’t occasionally include some suffering. The suffering inherent in the effort is what creates the texture and shadow that reveal the art. You can’t have one side without some of the other.
Earned pleasure doesn’t mean the avoidance of pain—not in running, not in relationships, not in work, not in the creative process, not in life.
To me, this is the beauty of race day, of running in general.