Stay the course in the wilderness
Where are the women-friendly trails for running?
Visiting a cold-weather country in winter can be challenging on occasion. It’s even more challenging to welcome winter in a place such as Madison, Wisconsin, US—which was once covered by the Cordilleran ice sheet—while having a roadside epiphany that demonstrates the infinitesimal magnitude of anything you term an achievement in your life. When you are aware of your nothingness, it would greatly help your mental and physical state if you did not have to ward off the cold creeping into every crevice your fleece jacket failed to cover.
Before welcoming winter, I had been running at home in Bengaluru. One particular route I took went 10 miles, around 16km, across Rajajinagar, Manjunatha Nagar, Srirampuram, Shastri Nagar, Lakshmanpura and Gandhinagar, across from M Chinnaswamy Stadium and Gowthamapuram. It was no wonder that I did not see any women outside that early in the morning. My elite and mostly male street-sign company kept me company for the entire route. There was not a single pit stop for feminism on my road. Sorry, I should have said there was not a single feminine pit stop on my road.
When I started participating in endurance sport, I had a good attitude for the first three years. I felt that if I could compete, training in a place where I had to demonstrate dexterity manoeuvring around cows and callous men alike, I should be fine on a global stage. It was all fun and games until I was followed, on a motorbike, during one of my rides. The same motorbike showed up at one of my runs too. I had been running around Ulsoor Lake and ran into the army encampment there to seek help. I never saw the motorbike again.
I don’t get what it means to be a woman in India any more. I don’t buy the spin about more and more women in sport. There are more marathon participants but women are proportionally lower by orders of magnitude.
If you are not in the man-hating, divorce-seeking, chest-beating, Khadi-sari-wearing corner, if you are not in the amazingly-socially-adept wife taking care of her extended family’s fragile feelings corner, if you are not in the single-ready-to-mingle for influence, fame or time-pass corner, and if you are not in the career-is-my-life, children-are-my-end-all, bank-balance-is-practical corner, then where the hell are you? Is there a will-run-for-food, romance-several-men-that-are-wrong-for-me, maybe-stay-single-past-30-if-that-suits-me-better woman around? If so, why don’t I see more of her kind running in the mornings? I do see women in saris and Keds walking. Some of them run too. Some of them dress in pants and T-shirts. All of them have incredible spirit, discipline and can-do attitude.
That having been said, I feel we have a long way to go before creating a path, even if it’s only 10 miles, running through neighbourhoods that are women-friendly. Archana-nagar, Divya-puram, Sachu-swamy stadium, Deepa-pura, Ajitha-puram, Jamba-nagar. Until that happens, it’s just me and my iPod.
Back to visiting a winter-bound country in cold weather—Madison, where hell seemed to have literally frozen over. I remember stopping at Lake Mendota (or was it Monona, I can never get this right), to behold the stark greyness of the landscape. It had taken three cups of coffee, 12 Eminem track purchases at the iTunes Store and two Mars bars to get me out of the door that morning. I might have stopped because I was out of breath, with the cold stinging my nostrils. Whatever the real reason for stopping, after the daze of blood rushing all over had faded and the world became clear, for an infinitesimal period of time, I saw a lone duck making its way gingerly across the lake. I had a hallucination thinking that I had finally seen the elusive Shingebiss (an underdog character from a native American tale), maybe only part legend, maybe meaning more to the Ojibwa (an American Indian tribe) than to us, the other Indians.
Adapt or perish. Maybe that is what being a woman in India means. A running woman.
Anu Vaidyanathan is a long-course triathlete, the first Indian to compete in the Ironman and the first Asian to complete Ultraman Canada. This is a fortnightly series on running.
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