In 2008, during a transition period between jobs, I attended a Team in Training meeting as part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to learn more about running a half-marathon and raising funds for society.
On an impulse I decided to enroll with the end goal of running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. Those training sessions leading up to the event were gruelling, especially for an out-of-shape engineer who stares at a computer most of the day. But I persisted and, in hindsight (and today it’s not easy for me to even sight my hind) that was one of the better decisions I made in how to live my life. It revealed an entire new vista in how running can make such a difference in one’s life.
I trained hard. Come half-marathon day, I still recall standing at the start line in downtown San Francisco at 6 a.m. Some strange thoughts wafted through my sleepy mind — would I make it to the finish line? What if I collapsed along the way? What if I needed to empty my bowels mid-way? Could I just walk the last few miles and still get credit?
My lovely wife and groggy, six-year-old son were carrying cheer-leader cards to motivate me — they were thankful they only had to do it at the start line. At that time I adopted a 6-1 strategy – running for six minutes and walking for a minute to keep my stamina up for the whole race.
As I started running, I noticed this woman, who must have been at least 65 years old, ahead of me. My ability to estimate age is not one of my strengths, but seeing her stride gracefully ahead of me gave me sufficient motivation to “Pick up the Pace”. And that TV jingle used by Pace Picante Sauce gave me this sudden craving for nachos and salsa.
When one runs, there is a feeling that any route will equalise itself. If I am struggling with an uphill climb in one portion, I must be rewarded with an easy downhill somewhere along the way. Suffice to say that I felt cheated on that day — a classic reaction from a first-time runner who must find something to blame for his “long” coming to the finish line. I did register a time just beyond 10,000 seconds (leaving you to do the math) but never checked if I did finish before that woman.
Since that first one in San Francisco, I continued to train and run half-marathons. I needed a goal and decided to use Roger Bannister as my inspiration. My goals were modest – not to achieve a sub-4 minute mile but to hit a sub two-and-a-half-hour marathon time. I ran the San Jose Rock ‘N Roll 1/2 Marathon for five consecutive years and finally was able to shave 2.15 minutes from my goal. Did it make me happy? Yes it did. I would love to dramatise it as the ultimate achievement of my running career but as a role model, Roger would definitely be role(ing) in his grave.
Fast-forward five years and I now have a strange love-hate relationship with running since I abandoned the “competitive” circuit. On the one hand I find it so tedious — why put myself through this torture with no satisfaction of competing with anyone and not even needing to compete with Time? But, for every yin, there is a yang. I love the rhythm and cadence of my pounding feet while listening to music as I pump up my heart rate.
There is something to be said for sports like running and golf where you compete solely with yourself. You do it knowing it will make you strong from both a physical and mental perspective. And on those long runs it blooms into a wonderful excuse to avoid household chores and sleeping fitfully.
Along the journey to improve my running these past couple of years, I have made a few lifestyle changes. I migrated to being a vegan though not exactly sure it is improving my running performance. I indulge more in interval training where I try to maximise my speed over shorter distances. And I better appreciate the wonder of the Apple Airpods I use to pipe music throughout my run.
I try to log seven-eight miles per week and knowing that, on an average, I will clock a mile a day through the year gives me satisfaction. But most importantly there is the spiritual aspect to running — with nature all around you, your mind is free to explore all that it needs to attain a unique sense of bliss. Please do lace up those sneakers and get out there.
(Sridhar Narayanan is an engineer and lives in Cupertino, California. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])