The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
That’s the Song of the Ungirt Runner – C. H. Sorley. And I think that’s the song of every runner who ran the stadium run.
The last hours of my 12 hour stadium run. I knew that I must push through, because as much as my body hurts now, my ego and mind would hurt a hell lot more for a lot, lot longer if I threw in the towel then. But before I dive into the depths of my mind 10 hours into the race, let me tell you how this craziness began.
Siddharth and I heard about the race and wanted to sign up a team for the relay run. We couldn’t put together a relay team in time for registration, so like the boneheads we are, we decided to run the 12 hours ourselves. With less than 2 months for the event, this was definitely madness. And yes, I agree it was madness. Even Scott Jurek, arguably the G.O.A.T when it comes to Ultra running had this to say about running loops of a 1 mile track “I call it the PhD of running – no change in scenery, no running from A to B, no finish line. Mentally, it’s a killer.” And we were just 2 kids in over our heads, no experience whatsoever about running ultras.
Our only means of reaching the venue in time for our 5 am flag off was to take the last train to the venue, reach there by 2 am and camp out at the stadium before we began our 12 hour slugfest. And we did just that. Did I already mention that we’re boneheaded?
Come 5 am, we stood there with all the other people crazy enough to sign-up. Some veterans of the event, some veterans of life, others doing their first stadium run just like us. The field had a number of different characters. But all that didn’t matter, this was not a race against others, this was me overcoming my fears, an exploration to discover my limit, flirt with it and push it as far as I could. And then push it some more.
“Fear is what makes you come alive, the lure of the unknown – can I do this? – that’s where the growth comes from, the pain. I don’t remember the running effortlessly; I remember the hard times; adversity breathes transformation.” – Scott Jurek
It started off really well. The weather had a lot of mood swings, going from cloudy to all out rain to sunny faster than Bolt could finish his chicken nuggets. But no matter what the weather threw at us, the runners kept at it. The first 6 hours went like a breeze. 42+ km covered for both of us, we were well on track for our targets. Shoutout to the organisers who did everything in their power to keep us energised, motivated and most importantly on our feet constantly moving. Hell, they even struck a bargain with the rain gods to keep us protected from the scorching heat. With fresh fruit, energy drinks,, water, ice and food available at all times, it was like an eating and drinking competition with some running thrown in between @thatrunningfoodie felt right at home.
There is just one rule to running such an event Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up. Doing all those laps, the mind got to wander a lot. Every now and then some runner or the other would jog past me, and some while later I would jog past them. I didn’t know how many laps they had finished, I didn’t know when they took their last walk break. And that’s when it dawned on me. We were all running the same track for 12 hours, but we were all running our own races. Much like life, we may all journey the same route, but we’re all running our own race, so don’t try to run someone else’s race, stick to your game plan. Another lesson those 176 laps (and to think just a few years back I would cringe at the thought of 10 laps as punishment in cricket) taught me was, every now and then a runner would run a few laps, maybe even a couple hours with you and then move ahead or fall back at their own pace. You take what company comes, rejoice it while it lasts, and then, when it moves on or fades away, you stick to your plan.
The last 4 hours, now that’s where the real test began. All that rain had left the feet a gooey mush, the sun had decided to come out at 1pm and be unrelenting for the next 2 hours, all the pounding of the legs had left them like jelly. Running made it feel like the calves were on fire, but walking, walking was worse. It felt like the shoes had a number of stones in them. But that’s where all those stories of mind over body started to make sense. No matter how the weather was, no matter how sore the body, the mind and spirit kept me going. I asked a few of the experienced runners, they said that they hurt too. Every ultra-runner hurts, as did I. The pain is inevitable. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. I thought of stopping more times than I would like to admit. But that’s what it was, I overcame the voice within my head. After a point, the burn in the legs while running felt amazing, it made me go further. I began to embrace the pain instead of fighting it and that’s when beautiful things happened.
Tim Noakes summarises the last 2 hours perfectly when he says, “Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.” And every individual who crossed that finish line had more than enough spirit. It was an exhibition of the human spirit. The struggle is what shapes our character, and it provides us with immense mental and physical strength.
As I said earlier, this event for me was an exploration of my limit. I shall borrow words from Scott Jurek yet again, “Beyond the very extremes of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” I have but just began to explore the depths of these reserves, and hopefully I shall continue to do so in the future.
My words cannot do justice to the experience. You must feel the energy for yourself, the mental transformation. After all, only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
GO! Go sign-up for a race a little tougher than your last. If you did a 5k, sign up for a 10k, if you did a 10k sign up for a Half marathon. Test your limits, push them. But always remember, train at the level you are, a little higher than that, not where you want to be, build up to that.
Happy running everyone 😀
PS – Don’t forget to follow @thatrunningfoodie on Instagram if you don’t already.