I was least prepared to run the Auroville Marathon on Sunday, Februay 08. That number eight is not my lucky number was not the only reason.
I had very few serious run practices on account of a number of outstation trips. Besides, I had put on an additional 3 kg – feasting on the good things of life. Mentally, I was nowhere close to feeling the fervour of my first marathon run in October, last year. So, I even mulled the option of not running.
I had missed running the Mumbai Marathon after registering for it and I didn’t want to make two misses in a row. Besides, I had heard a lot of wonderful things about Auroville Marathon.
Being part of the Pillar Pacers community of runners is a blessing. It is a group bubbling with life all the time. Its members kick up a storm on WhatsApp particularly close to a marathon and the enthusiasm is very viral. They plan every activity associated with the marathon – hotel stay, car pooling, food along the way, very meticulously. The group keeps alive the lure of running and everyone active on WhatsApp group pretty much catches the fever. A few exceptional leaders without airs about them make all these seem so very effortless.
On Saturday, 7th February, more than 40 of us – a few of them with families – traveled to Pondicerry in 10 or 11 cars. The stop for breakfast after Mayajaal and a few unscheduled halts to allow time for the slow cars to catch up were used to the hilt to celebrate and take pictures. I have never encountered such crazy, fun loving shutterbugs in my entire life. Clicking, posing and posting pictures all over the world wide web….
While traveling in the car, I closed my eyes a few times and pictured myself in the marathon, running, running….
The lunch at Dr.Dwarak’s farm house stole the thunder from every other activity during the day. Tucked far away from the bustle of traffic, the entire group enjoyed hospitality at its best. I am amazed how the family of Dr.Dwarak managed to cook and serve so many delicious dishes for so many of us.
Collecting the BIB, torch light and Tee from the Visitor’s Centre at Auroville was a very simple affair. There was no fuss about anything and the volunteers managed things with quiet efficiency.
The group’s stay was at Ginger. After a simple dinner, I lay on bed to sleep at around 9.30 pm. Sleep evaded me for a long time. The thought of running kept coming back to me.
February 08, 2015
I wake up at 3.30 am and after a bath to feel at my freshest best, I report at the hotel lobby at 4.15 am. There are 3 cars to take the full-marathon runners and we reach the Visitors’ Centre at Auroville around 4.40 am. There are hundreds of people quietly stretching under dim lights. A foreigner with a soft voice is at the mike, the speakers turned low enough not to disturb the silence of the dark morning.
Then there is group-stretching conducted by a young man named Raja. There is so much of elegance and poise in the stretching, that it is more a dance than stretching. It seems very appropriate to begin the marathon feeling the gentle surge of joyful dance movements coursing through the body, as if matching the words on the Tee – Run for the joy of Running.
The dance stretching over, everyone moves towards the start point. The count down begins a little before 5 am. One. A balloon with light inside goes up. Two. Another balloon sails up. And Three – the third balloon is on its way up and the runners slowly start pacing into the darkness and an uncertain terrain.
A flimsy 3 inch plastic torch light is all each runner has – to see the way one step at a time.That is all I need while running in the dark – a torch that lights the way into eternity one step at a time and a mind that reminds me, one step at a time is more than enough provided I persevere with faith.
Running without my spectacles makes things more challenging and so I tread one careful step after another. The ground under my feet is level in most places, but in some places it is not. I feel dust flying as I step into a pile of fine, loose soil, my legs wobbling. And my heart comes to my mouth as my feet manoeuvre over humped earth, my shoes stomping, then skidding to a stop. ‘Careful!’ is what I hear from my stranger companions running alongside.
All along the mud track, I can make out silhouettes of trees on either sides. The silence of the forest is deep and calming. Even the birds have not started singing their morning melodies. There are two people talking loudly, continuously, as they run. I can’t suffer the insult heaped on silence and I move faster until the chatter is muffled by distance. I think to myself – some are soothed by silence while others find solace in conversation and chatter. We all have our own ways. The incessant chatter in my mind is infinitely more jarring. I experience those moments without chatter in the mind once in a while and it is then my strides flow in a rhythm.
I am troubled by the recurring, nagging pain on my left heel. I become worried as the pain which has been dormant for a few months is resurfacing now, at the most inopportune time.
As I run, I witness the different breathtaking shades of dawn a little before 6 am. The darkness is ceding space to light so very gradually and I let the wonder of it all sink in. In the fluorescent glow of my watch I see it is 6.05 am. I decide I can see well enough without the torch and I put it into the back pocket of my shorts. And I continue running.
Then the fall. Almost in slow motion. I lurch forward after mis-stepping on uneven land. I try to arrest the fall, but the momentum has a force of its own. My hands takes the impact first and then my left knee hits the dark brown track. I see wetness on the ground where about four inches of its top layer has been displaced by my sliding knee. I think the wetness is blood, my blood.
I get up, wipe my hands on my wet T shirt and continue running. I avoid looking at my hurt knee. Now there is a fierce determination that I would go the whole hog, whatever happens. From what I know, marathoners can’t be helped from falling or getting injured. It happens all the time, when they least expect it, but they rise from their falls to run again. In some cases the injury takes long to heal, but they come back to run.
As I am getting attention at an aid station Muthu Kumar spots me and helps a nurse clean the injured area. I see the cotton with blood and am relieved that they do not have to use a lot of it. The wound does not seem deep.
That is how I started running with Muthu Kumar (MK)and Gopi who are among the best runners and live-wires in our group. They are having an off day, not having had enough sleep the previous night. Or, may be I am running well.
The pain on my left heel has disappeared somehow. Perhaps the greater pain on the knee has eclipsed the pain on the heel. Or the fall has shaken up the pain enough into its best behaviour.
The strategy of MK and Gopi, I learn, is to run 35 km continuously and then walk if the need arises. The need arises a lot earlier to intersperse the run with short stretches of walking. At one stage Gopi urges us to carry on without him. So, MK and I continue on our weary run.
We hardly talk to conserve the energy. There is however, enough entertainment around. The birds are out chirping, though I do not spot many. The foliage along the terrain is thick and green. Protected by trees on either side, the rays of the sun do not hit us harshly. The humidity is high, so we sweat profusely and feel thirsty every now and then.
As I run, it strikes me out of the blue that my inspiration to start running came from an elderly lady running alone in a dirt track in Auroville. That was fifteen years ago when I stayed in an Auroville ashram for about a week to contemplate a career shift. I thought to myself then, if she could run at her age, why not me? That was the beginning of my initial flirtations with jogging.
As we run, MK keeps telling me to surge ahead leaving him, as I am running well, according to him. The truth however is, I am finding it difficult to keep pace with him. During the last 12 kilometers or so, every 500 metres of run is punctuated by 200 metres of walking.
About 50 metres from the finish line, Muthu extends his left hand and I hold his, as we run side by side towards the finish line. As I touch the finish line, the electronic display reads 4:42 hrs.
This is my best run so far and I am delighted.
Of all my four marathon experiences, this is the best organized one. The hydration support is fabulous, volunteers along the route ensure no one loses the way in the forest. Short of bringing the stars a little lower to show us the way during the initial hour, everything else is done absolutely perfectly, helping the runners to run for the joy of running.