A couple of months ago, the husband and I were routinely greeted thus: “Wow Samar, you look so fit and young” and “Hey Priya, you’ve actually got a paunch now! And have your hips gotten wider?” I’m still trying to figure out why Indians insist on greeting people they haven’t seen for a while with pointed comments about their weight, but that’s a rant for another column.
The husband’s secret was that he had started running.
After a while it became difficult to ignore the endorphin highs and long narrations of his morning runs. Overnight there were copies of Runner’s World all over the house. If you’ve ever seen this magazine, you know it’s full of stories of superhumans who juggle a minimum three children with their busy careers and daily marathon workouts. There are tales of runners who have overcome incredible health issues. And elaborate discussions on whether women should run in skirts (clearly these are not women who live in Delhi).
Now, I don’t have anything against running. I was a state-level sprinter in my teens. Back then too, I lacked the stamina to run long distances, but for a few years, running was a big part of my life. In my 20s, I took the aerobics route and in my 30s, I convinced myself that going for the occasional brisk walk was good enough.
Stay fit: Run for your life.
In 2006, after reading a (briefly) life-altering article in Men’s Health, I embraced running. Writer Christopher McDougall tracked a tribe of beer-guzzling Tarahumara Indians in Mexico to find out why they have an impeccable health record. We’re talking near-zero diabetes, heart attacks or cancer. Their secret? They run—in a very peculiar style and wearing only sandals. With the help of a trainer, McDougall outlined how city slickers could copy the running style. In brief, wear very basic running shoes, keep your hips directly under your shoulders and directly above your feet and land on your forefeet. In fact, Born To Run, the book that was inspired by that article, is due to release soon.
So I tried running like a Tarahumara Indian for a while. The husband thought I looked funny, then the monsoon began in Mumbai and that brief running stint was over.
But even without gripping tribal tales, there’s enough inspiration coming from friends and family if you just look around. My father, who turned 70 earlier this week, still runs and wants to take part in the next Mumbai marathon. My brother is training for the half marathon in California. A friend of ours just returned from a trip to the North Pole, where he ran a marathon with 37 other crazy runners. “I had to stop twice due to frostbite and yes, I still have some on my face and ear—looks like I was in a fight with Mike Tyson and lost ;-),” he said in an email (look out for the full story in a forthcoming issue of Lounge).
Rahul Verghese, Mint’s running columnist (his columns are archived on Livemint.com), says on runningandliving.blogspot.com/ that he started running seven years ago. He’s already run 25 marathons and wants to run 50. You could also read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, though it’s guaranteed to give you a complex. “For me, running is both exercise and metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself,” Murakami says.
I polled a few runners to help you understand why people run. Here’s what they said:
“It keeps me running for the rest of the day. I am not a competitive, sporty type, never have been. Was called fatty through my childhood and teen years. Running lets me feel like I too can compete in a sport, and since it’s with myself, I have created my own happy little world.”
“It’s my drug. I’m addicted to it.”
“It’s always, always exhilarating. It’s a solo effort that gives you a great deal of satisfaction of having achieved something that is very personal. I log all my runs, however short they may be. I find running also gives me time to just be with myself. It also allows me to listen to music in peace!”
“Me and the elements. I like to feel each muscle and see how much my body can take. It’s starting to sound like sex, sorry!”
So I’ve been running for two months now. Running reminds me of childhood, a time when no one ever walks if they are allowed to run. And although I’m still too embarrassed to tell you how much I can run (let’s just say it’s still under 5 miles, that magical target for all serious beginners), I think I’m going to keep running for many years to come.
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