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Of running and expensive shoes

Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

A young man I ran into—and I use that phrasing deliberately—belongs to a running club. This is not unusual in itself: from what I understand and have noticed, there are plenty of such clubs around Bombay. I often see their members—usually early on a Sunday morning—pounding the roads near where I live. Not every one of them runs with the effortless grace of a David Rudisha or a Haile Gebrselassie,but who cares? They run with a dedication and diligence that I think I’d do well to emulate in something—anything—I do.

Clubs like these are the legacy, someone said, of over a decade now that this city has hosted a marathon. This young man’s club is the Adidas Runners Mumbai. They meet every Sunday morning at the University Stadium next door to the Wankhede.

Now I’ve done my share of 5K and 10K races, even felt pride in my timings (just under 21 minutes and 46.5 minutes, respectively; I’m still proud). But I never really enjoyed running. Going for a run was a daily battle of willpower against everything else I’d rather have been doing. Like tennis or reading or listening to music or writing or just lazing around. Eventually, it struck me: why am I doing this thing I don’t like doing? So I stopped, and have stuck to those other activities since.

But if running isn’t for me, it certainly is something a lot of people enjoy. Like everyone who belongs to these clubs, for example. And since I ran into this young man, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what he and his Adidas Runners do.

6.15 on a Sunday morning is a fine time to arrive downtown. The air actually feels cleaner, there are friendly dogs and chirruping birds everywhere, and minimal traffic so you can actually look around and see the city anew. Over at the University Stadium, I was startled to find a small horde of enthusiasts, ready to run. It turns out this day was the kick-off of this year’s edition of a worldwide campaign, hashtagged as these things now are: #100daysofRunning. This is a movement to get people to run regularly by asking them to commit to run 2km a day over 100 days in the summer. It began in 2015 with 187 registrants in India; this year, a couple of thousand have signed up in this country. Clearly, this is an idea that’s catching on. And about a hundred of those runners were at the University Stadium, to be mentored through the campaign by these Adidas Runners.

I hadn’t planned to run, not least because of recent knee surgery. I was thus the sole person in that entire stadium wearing sandals. Nevertheless, when the Runners broke us up into two groups and led us out onto Marine Drive to run, I decided to at least walk the 2km as briskly as I could, no matter if I trailed the rest.

One in my group, though, was kind enough to accompany me at a slow jog. “Didn’t want you to be alone,” he said. “Had I known I’d be doing this,” I told him, “I would have at least worn my tennis shoes.” He grinned and shot back: “It hardly matters, you know. Whatever you’re comfortable in works. Personally, I think all these high-priced shoes are a big scam.”

Twice in the days since, I’ve had occasion to remember that remark.

On 6 May, a unique running event played out on the racetrack in Monza, Italy. This was Nike’s Breaking2 project, in which a few elite marathon runners attempted to run a marathon in less than two hours.

The current world record for men is 2:02:57. So if Breaking2 succeeded, it would be a significant improvement. But it would not be recognized as a world record, because of how this Monza marathon was run. Like: a car drove immediately in front of the athletes at the required speed; several other runners acted as pacers, rotating in and out to remain fresh; and more. In particular, the elite runners also used purpose-built Nike shoes with certain features that, Nike claimed, would boost their performance. 

High-priced shoes, I’m guessing.

In any case, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya—the gold medallist in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics—“won” the Breaking2 Marathon. But he didn’t break the two-hour barrier. He finished in 2:00:25. By any measure, and regardless of the marketing mileage for Nike and all else that went on in this event, this was one stupendous effort. So near and yet so far, too: if he had run just a second faster in every mile in the race, he would have finished in under two hours. Think of that.

On the same 6 May, several hundred runners competed in the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, a half-marathon race in Indianapolis. The “500” refers to the famous Indy 500 car race in that city. In fact, the half-marathon course takes in one lap around the 2.5 mile (4km) Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which Indy 500 is contested.

I don’t know who won the half-marathon that day in Indianapolis. I do know that a teenager called Benjamin Pachev finished 16th, in 1:11:53. No world record for him, of course, though pretty impressive for an amateur. But I mention Benjamin because he ran the entire race in... a pair of Crocs.

What’s more, Benjamin’s father Alexander ran in Crocs too, finishing in 1:16:07.

Yes indeed, Crocs: I do mean those odd-looking sandals with a loose strap at the back and plenty of holes in front. “It’s like having a little fan that’s just streaming air over your foot,” said Benjamin to the press after the race.

Sort of why I like walking in sandals, come to think of it. Beats my shoes, every time. Not-so-high-priced shoes, but still.

Once a computer scientist, Dilip D’Souza now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinners. His latest book is Jukebox Mathemagic: Always One More Dance.

His Twitter handle is @DeathEndsFun

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