Anu Vaidyanathan: The art of the start
Running is a poor man’s sport; it needs shoes and time, and one reason—because you want to
It was an unremarkable Thursday, as Thursdays went. I was pondering over my daily run, and caught myself oscillating between nonchalance and self-loathing. I was angry: about not caring to start my run at a certain time. After what had been a slow-ish work week, I felt outwardly relaxed but inwardly scattered when it came to the carpe diem equation, which I should paste on my forehead, in reverse, to remind myself every time I look into a mirror.
I should look into the mirror more often, considering that an unknown street vendor once jumped out of one of the many human matchbox-sized stalls in T Nagar in Chennai, on a busy Dussehra shopping day, offering me a free comb. Bad hair day. Running lethargy. I had to do something.
Ok, I tell myself, just stop this and go run, this very minute. As I grabbed my keys, I realized that my-space device (the iPod) had no power. Not to be dragged down by a simple matter of physics, I quickly ran into my home office to charge it. Clearly, the Mac that was connected to power was a newer one and iTunes ended up erasing all my music, placing only three new podcasts in my library. Swivelling to Katrina Kaif’s famous numbers in Dhoom: 3 was part of my run routine, which made me dig up my old laptop, faithfully stored in a graveyard of electronics, and charge it, in the hope of charging the iPod, transferring all my songs back there as well.
As I put on my shoes, 30 minutes later, I realized my orthotics (or enabling devices) were in my gym bag, after a forgettable weekend trying to avoid the rain. As I dug out the swim gear, some very smelly half-eaten bars promptly stuck all over my orthotics and then some. I realized that at this rate, an hour would pass before I could leave the house.
I had been overly optimistic. My phone lit up with a busy and important client’s caller ID. Deadlines, the sworn enemies of any good run, also pay the bills. So, 2 hours after I first put on my shoes, I finally found myself on the road, iPod charged, orthotics washed, and seriously wondering if running on a Thursday was at all a good idea.
I am too old for posters but too young for a bad memory. From the corners of my brain, I rake out Uta Pippig, who famously said, “‘Take The Magic Step’ is the first step of the journey, the first step out the door.” For the uninformed, Pippig is credited with being the first woman to win the Boston Marathon three times in a row, running out of very tough conditions in divided Germany. I think of a fitting rejoinder in an imaginary conversation with Pippig with the fated Kural 664 couplet which even more famously said, “To say is easy for anyone; but far difficult it is to do according to what has been said,” but she probably would not understand Tamil anyway.
I started to run.
In the first 5 minutes, I could think of a number of reasons to stop. In the next 10, I started to obsess over more looming deadlines and even more “busy-and-important clients”. In the following 20, I realized how wonderful it was to breathe easy when running outside in the sunshine.
Thirty minutes on, I had completely stopped thinking. I was just running, which is really the unstated goal of every run.
After my run, I thought about the many starts I had been a part of. Some poetic, some not. Some adventurous, others disastrous. Some that led to unbelievable finishes, others that blew up well before the finish line. Consistently however, starting felt good. What felt even better was knowing that finish or no finish, the art of the start permeated my consciousness at many different levels, on many different occasions. Starting my first 3km run in the dead of a Midwestern US winter. Starting a bike ride with a group, as an adult. Starting a swim in an unheated pool during a Bengaluru winter. Starting a business. Starting a new training block for a race. Starting a new writing adventure. Starting every single workout. Starting to realize that running is a poor man’s sport. It does not require fancy memberships, crazy costumes (although these seem obligatory of late at major city marathons) or diabolical diets. It needs a pair of shoes, and a bit of time. You can run more or less anywhere—parks, stadiums, footpaths, highways. You can run on any day, Thursdays included. In fact, I have often seen running as an antidote to an indulgent lifestyle.
Almost a decade ago, I pondered out loud what five reasons to start something might be. My muse came back promptly with the answer that you don’t need five reasons, just one: because you want to. Ever since, I have held on to the increasingly rare moments of clarity in my life, where starting something does not need to be predicated on much more than that.
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 the first of a fortnightly series on running.
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