I am not a runner… Not in the least bit. In my years as a Manipalite, one of the greatest joys I have had is being around people who live and breathe running; attempting and achieving some of the craziest, inhumane feats they could cook up and coming out stronger than ever. They run when they are happy, they run when they are sad. They run to celebrate, and they celebrate running. They forge friendships whilst running in tandem beside each other, and they organize what is undoubtedly one of the best possible Marathons in the country! I couldn’t hold a candle to them. No!

I don’t claim to be a great writer either. I have been a voracious reader right from childhood, gulping down oodles of Agatha Christe, Enid Blyton, JK Rowling and as I grew up Ayn Rand, Shakespeare and Amitav Ghosh. I have been in awe of the people I have worked with during my days as a reporter for the college newsroom and the absolute magic they wove with their words capable of capturing the attention of anyone who read them. The publisher I work with brings out some of the best writings in Indian Literature and Translation and the countless hours our writers and editors tirelessly pour into their labour of love ensnares and bewitches the imagination of all who open the book. I only wish I could write something half as good…

What am I doing here, then? In a space where runners write…, if I am neither?

Running OGs!

What I am though, is a student. A lifelong learner of everything that could be taught, and I take great pride in being one. And while I somehow managed to complete running the Manipal Half Marathon this past February, I learnt about life… And I make a small attempt to share some of my learnings here.

Don’t wait for a sign. There isn’t one… Don’t put off things saying we will plan later. The moment an idea comes to your head, that’s probably a good time to start! Things will fall into place

There is this popular fable about Newton. One day, he was sitting merrily under an apple tree, doing whatever geniuses of yore did during those days, and an apple falls on his head. Suddenly he shouts Eureka! and thus, the Law of Gravitation was born!

Wait… Do I have my stories mixed up?

Anyway, running the Marathon was never the plan. There was no Eureka moment either. Sometimes you’re so involved, constantly thinking about getting something done and something else just happens in the heat of the moment. Not very often are they good! It was one evening just a few days removed from the Marathon. Planning for organizing the big day was in full swing! Dr Shobha, Baba, Sitanshu, Saksham, Kamesh and I were sitting at Nehru Canteen sipping tea when Sittu and I decided, “Hey, enough planning. This probably is the last year we’ll be at Manipal. Let’s just… run!” And before better sense could prevail, we registered!

Oh, God! What have I gotten myself into!

Sometimes, you have to trust your instincts. Figure everything out later.

You never get to be prepared enough. There is always more you could have done. You don’t need to dwell on what could have been. Try and make the best from what you have.

The big day finally dawned. We hadn’t gotten much sleep either, the previous day. I stayed overnight at Baba’s and met up with Sittu in the morning. Between Sittu doing his thesis, and me at work, and both of us planning Photography with folks of Manipal Digest, we barely got any time to plan the run, let alone practice.

Considering we were both probably in the worst physical fitness levels of our lives, (Sittu was still quite good, the athlete he is, for me, given how I was just a couple of years ago, obese was an understatement) you make do with what you’ve got, right? We cheered on Baba as the Full Marathon began, and we tightened our shoelaces and joined all the runners at the start point.

When you start out, there’ll be a lot of folks with you. You’re all at the same place but each one is different. You only realise where you stand much later on!

There were many familar faces around. Harsha came up and said Hi, looking unsettlingly unsure of what I was thinking when I told her story… Mr Subhash was also there with his mirthful laughter. Lots of others too… Some attempting a Half Marathon for the first time, like us… Only they had multiple 10ks and 5ks behind them and probably prepared for this day months in advance. Some were long-time runners looking to break their previous records. But for those few moments, as everyone waited with bated breath for the countdown clock to hit 10, we were all equal, all at the same place, all ready to try something out…

It’s all smiles in the first leg. You bounce off things with each other. You learn from it. You share. You talk. But then it’s goodbye. Everyone is on their own path. And at their own pace. And it’s okay.

Neha was the first to say Hi catching up from probably one of the last files. She was a Pacer, complete with the bag, flag and all. “Come on! Pick up the pace,” she says. “The first few kilometers are the most awesome!  Let your legs speak to the road!”

Dr Sreedhar and Ganiga Sir were next. “Woah! You guys too? First time? No practice? Join the club!” 

“How do you plan to run the entire thing?” Ganiga sir asks. “Oh, I don’t plan on running at all, sir! The football that I am, I am going to be ROLLING!” I quip back!

Running Partner!

The first kilometer was easy. It gave the much-needed mental reinforcement. Sitanshu was matching me stride for stride. We had 20 more to go! Easy peasy!

You slowly start to learn where you stand in the hyper competitive, world we are in. You see a sea of people ahead of you. And you see many more behind you, fast approaching. You don’t want to be lost. Without a place of your own. You are confused. You don’t know what to do. You look around. You think back. You learn. You try. You fail. You unlearn. You try again. You go forward.

Now, we’d settled into the pace we were comfortable with without putting too much pressure on ourselves. We didn’t know if we should run faster. Would the slope help us or work against our thigh muscles and make it much harder? We didn’t know. We racked our brains trying to remember the running jibber-jabber Rahul and Kamesh exchanged as we clicked furiously on our computers trying to edit pictures on some lazy afternoon months ago… We tried to recall the last-minute crash course Baba and Shobha Madam had given us. We improvised. We kept going forward.

There will be some who will be with you for a long while though. Motivating you, keeping your spirits and giving you the much-needed support as you set out to do something. Sometimes, you realise their potential is much higher. They should probably go on. They don’t because they care too much for you and they want to complete what they started with you. Respect that potential. Know your own limits. Say you’ll be alright. Encourage them to go on ahead and promise to catch up sooner than they’d expect because after all, we’re all after the same thing!

It was close to the halfway point now. My pace started dropping. The copious amounts of junk food that so callously injested into what was a swimmer’s frame, blowing it out of proportion started to show its effect. Sitanshu was still by my side, trying to motivate me and get me to keep up. He used to go on a little ahead and then wait for me to catch up and then start running again.

He still had a lot of gas in the tank. “Hey, you go on ahead man! I think I shouldn’t push myself too hard and risk issues.” I said. “I’ll see you at the finish line. I’m sure you’ll finish in good time.”

He hesitated for a while pointing a concerned gaze at me. “You sure?” he inquired, the man of few words…

I nodded. “See you then. Don’t die. And don’t you dare quit!”  he flashed a smile and raced on ahead!

I was alone now! And for the first time since we started, I started to feel pain!

Help will be given to all those who deserve it!

There’s no dearth of help while you do any route of the Manipal Marathon. Scores of Volunteers from the Volunteer Services Organization comb the sides of the road helping runners get closer to their aim. You’re dehydrated? There’s water. You want energy, there’s electrolyte. You’re hungry? There are fruits. There’s pain relief spray, there are distance markers, there are traffic policemen, just about everyone… Even if you want nothing, just a couple of words of encouragement, there’s so much of it. “Come, on!” they scream as you run past them! “You can do it!” It’s as if the whole universe is telling you to go on and finish!

Just because someone isn’t with you at the moment doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about you or want you to succeed. There are so many people out there that want the world for you. And their support makes a world of difference!

My generic ringtone blared in a silent street cutting through the motivational song I had been listening to. I picked up. “Hello bro!” A familiar voice greeted me. It was Manish. “Where are you?”

Manish was someone I met through Manipal Marathon a year ago, and in the time since then we had become as thick as thieves. He is one of the best graphic designers I’ve met in Manipal and so humble, versatile and yet so talented. A rare gem indeed!

“I am in some deserted road, bro!” I say. “A little beyond that Lions Circle. I think I am around halfway done. I hope I didn’t take some wrong route…”

“You can do it bro! We believe in you. People have started coming in and pictures being printed. Sittu and you finish strong and come here. Masti karenge!” 

Those guys oversaw Photography. Click pictures when runners finish, run back to the office, give the pictures for printing. Run back. Repeat. Amdist that, he’d called! It’s a hectic, thankless job. I’d seen it last year. But the man Amogh, was on it. Totally in his element. Directing the whole thing like slicing through butter with a hot knife.

Saksham and Kamesh!

Sometimes I just don’t know how these guys do it…

Enjoy the journey. Make memories that you’ll cherish for long. There’s no fun in it if you don’t!

Udupi is an amazing place. There’s no doubt about it. Modernity and Nature complement each other so nicely that it feels like an intricately choreographed dance sequence. Grace and Majesty unparalleled. The route was beautiful. Especially that early in the morning. I took a few pictures to remember it by… I kept documenting my thoughts the only way I knew how… A multitude of WhatsApp statuses. Live Updates, ftw! I do my best comedy when it’s self-depreciatory and it elicited a few chuckles who wished me luck on my Herculean effort… I trudged on. Half running, half walking, but mostly dragging myself forward.

Smile. Through and through

It’s hard only if you think it’s hard. It’s a mind game. Smile through the pain, I told myself. The Photographers on the route made it easier. And once they started clicking pictures, I picked up my pace and ran ahead, a large grin writ on my face!

Some places, I forgot to smile…

Don’t be demotivated by where others are at. Everyone’s on their own path. You will get there too. Life isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon! Finishing strong is important.

Folks running the full marathon started running past me. My spirits fell, as did my energy level. But when there’s no one to pick you up, you lift yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving. I learnt that being a bit closer to the finish at this moment than I was a second ago, makes all the difference. Take it at your own pace. Take it slow. Walk. But don’t stop. Keep on moving ahead. One step at a time.

Step and Smile!

Sometimes the easier way is probably not the right one. Quitting is the easiest! Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t quit when you know you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Even yourself!

I’d done almost 15 kilometers now. I was near MGM College. The huge Manipal slope lay infront of me… And my home to the right. If I decide to take the turn, walk for a few minutes, I could go home and jump on the bed. It would probably much easier. I could just quit. No one needs to be any wiser. It is these times you need to be the strongest. The focus should be on the goal. That’s what matters. I must have slowed down for a split second before I shoved those thoughts aside and kept going.

Those who have succeeded before you, offer to help. Take it. Recognize your mentors. They know what they’re doing. Appreciate the support because not a lot of them do, and they don’t even have to. Fuel yourself with that. That’s the only way you value them.

Prof Sreejith who had completed the run was heading back home. He must have seen me labouring through the gargantuan slopes that led to Manipal as he rode back home on his Bullet, and before I knew it, I had someone pacing me! Sreejith sir has been a teacher, a mentor and a friend through many years… He was the one who taught me the right way to swim and everyday practice led me to represent my school and my district in Swimming Meets and in a sense of Deja Vu, here he was again!

Enfield’s are made for power and speed. Not at all to pace an out of shape idiot, running-walking up the Manipal slope, but here we are…

Now when you have more supporters, mentors and people with you, it doesn’t mean you forgo the ones who’ve been encouraging you all this while! They are equally if not more important and deserve all the respect and love.

Volunteers were stationed at stations all through the slope. They cheered for any runner. I used to return every cheer with a smile. “Thank you, people. You are doing a great job!” Some of them I knew from my time with VSO. Others, I didn’t. But it didn’t matter. What they were doing, standing in the hot Manipal sun and cheering on runners as they attempted running a challenging distance and helping them every step of the way, was worth way more than a small thank you. Return their cheer. Smile back at them. Thank them! It’s not much!

Success doesn’t always come in the manner you’ve dreamt it to be. It is completely okay to have some expectations or ideas for success but when you actually achieve it, if it’s not the way you’d thought, it probably means there’s something bigger for you to do! The world doesn’t revolve around you. Realise it and accept it with a smile!

I was almost there. I had played this moment many times during this run. I had thought there would a bunch of my friends and juniors from VSO, MRC, MB cheering on as I finished. I mean, one can hope, right… It’s the perfect fairy tale ending hero’s welcome. But it probably wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. You can’t expect them to drop everything they were doing at the event and come over to the finish line just because I was finishing. I didn’t see my mentors and friends finish in the previous editions… I was busy organizing the Marathon!

We did it!

Ishan was at the finish line. He squinted his eyes in recognition as I lumbered my hulking frame through the Tiger Circle turn. And his face broke into a big toothy grin as he and a few others there applauded when I finished. I had done it! I, who’d almost broken his back attempting a short 3 kilometers during the November Promo Run, somehow completed (in large parts walking) the Manipal Half Marathon!

I was ecstatic! This was perfect!

Things seem like a big deal before. It is not something that you would imagine you would complete strong. Don’t be dissuaded by that. Try it out. Do it. More often than not, once you finish, you realise it takes less effort than you originally thought!

The Physios helped my legs rest. Searing pains shot up my calves as they cramped. A few exercise filled moments later, I could walk fine. I could stand on my own two feet, walk up to the medal counter and receive my shining new medal! I didn’t have to be stretchered into an ambulance as I’d often joked…

Superwoman!

I let the medal glint in the sun and let the beauty sink in. I had earned this. It was mine. I walked in and went to the Photography Room. Sittu was already there with a pack of apple juice in his hand and so was the rest of the Manipal Digest team. A cheer erupted I walked in. They were swamped with work, but it was being done with great coordination and temper. Some things never change!

There will be naysayers. Always. It’s part of the journey. Don’t be miffed by them! Smile. And silently work harder to prove them wrong. Once you do, don’t rub it in their face, you’re better than that! Your success the snub they deserve!

Some folks came up to me. People who I’ve worked with in the past. People who’d run smaller distances for quite a while now but never gathered the courage to attempt a half marathon. “You took so much time…,” one said. “You must have walked the whole thing,” said another. “Look at you. Marathon is coming out from all sides!”

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is completing strong. And being brave enough to attempt something crazy.

I smiled. I congratulated them on their runs and excused myself. It is not a sign of weakness not responding to trolls. I could and would have hit back with some sarcastic barbs of my own, but sometimes trolls aren’t worth responding to. Being the bigger person and withdrawing peacefully from an uncomfortable, hostile situation is the best thing one could do

Finisher Medals!

Gandhi did that. And he was one of the strongest man this country saw!

When you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up!

I thought I was one of the last people to complete the half marathon. I would be proven wrong by the results a couple of days later, but I was still very down the card. But it is okay. What matters is that I didn’t quit, and I kept pushing myself to complete. And I did. And I am all the better for it!

After the Race!

It’s not the end. You plan for the future. You don’t let this go to your head. You promise to clean yourself up and take care of yourself better. You promise to work on your habits and let your habits work on you. You promise to do the full marathon next year. And do good time, too!

Organizing the Marathon last year!

I remember Dr Girish remarking a little over a year ago, “Navaneeth has been of great help. We have managed to get him to do everything for the Runners Club! Graphics, Photography, Social Media, Registrations, you name it!” he said during a lunch. “Except…. Running!” he added for good measure!

I speak directly to you sir, when I say this, my eyes welling up with tears and my heart swelling with pride…

Now, you did!


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