Running memories, and trinkets
Memories associated with running often go way beyond those that are materially manifested
Remember the medal from the first race you ran? What about the T-shirt, still stuck at the back of your closet? The armband from your first ocean swim, the shoes you wore to an awards dinner, without laces, the $10 Salvation Army little black dress you found and accessorized for the time you qualified for a championship?
At the end of many long days, when I unsuccessfully try to put my worries to rest, my trinkets stick their heads out, sometimes when they are least expected, to remind me of the other lives waiting for me. A girl’s love affair with shoes, uh, sorry, a geek’s love affair with shoes, which involves writing dates on them with permanent ink to mark expiry, to remember the miles and schedule replacements. I once did a 37km training run that started at 3am with my mom following in an Ambassador car (whose headlights I needed to be able to see where I was going, as rural India has no street lamps), between Swamimalai and Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu. It was a beautiful morning and the most unique part of this run was passing through the town of Ayyampet, where my baby brother was born, and I had been raised from ages 1-4, watching many nights of Doordarshan in Hindi (a language we didn’t understand then).
Ayyampet has a majority population of Muslims, while Swamimalai and Thanjavur are predominantly Hindu, temple towns. I remember thinking on that run that prayers, when running here, are most powerful...they are able to start at a temple, pass through a mosque and end on the top of jasmine flowers in a field. I picked up a trinket on that run too. A prayer to keep my feet moving forward, no matter the place, time or clarity life found me in.
My first Ironman triathlon, when I was in my 20s, was gloriously completed in a modest pair of grey flannels. I still treasure them and the contrasting hot-pink bike jersey that kept me company that day. On a training camp in the Pacific North West, Seattle to be specific, I remember a long day on the bike when my last pair of commuting pants caught themselves in the chain and ripped close to the ankle. Never one to have been enthralled by the latest fashion, I would normally not have made too much of it, except that I had to deliver a presentation to some busy-and-important PhD-wannabes. Being one of them, I was required to keep my footwear and clothing somewhat impeccable during normal working hours! I remember getting an old pair of jeans at the local Salvation Army store.
These jeans travelled with me all over the world, they were by my side while graduating, countless dates—some good, some bad—countless hours yapping with friends and walking with several people, here, there and everywhere, and survived several misadventures. They even survived the odd midnight run while writing the final snooze called a dissertation.
Everything about a prized possession is not bad—there are several memories we associate with our things. With running, my trinkets often go way beyond those that are materially manifested. I take with me words, people, places, smells, feelings, songs, prayers, colours, optimism and many other things. I also collect the many, many quotes, mostly from things I hear children say.
“Mommy, she has a flower on her nose!” is what one girl cried at the end of my first marathon. I was in New Zealand, talking to God for a couple of hours in the vast expanse between the dry, brown plateau we were running on and the blanket of a blue, blue sky dotted by very few clouds. I was flattered that my nose ring was the object of a little girl’s attention. At the end of 42-something kilometres, running while vastly out of shape over some very tough terrain was an eye-opener. I carried the memories of running while thin, then not-so-thin, fast, then not-so-fast, on that day. Many trinkets also left with me from New Zealand. The little girl’s exclamation. My old sneakers that got me through the miles. My running pants that pretended to be capris for the day. The fresh air that seemed to permeate my being. The competitors who ran alongside me; their energy and enthusiasm. The sunshine. The freedom of running, without a care in the world. The downhills, laced with rocks. The uphills, laced with effort.
All trinkets in my little basket, appropriately labelled running material.
Anu Vaidyanathan is a long-course triathlete, the first Indian to compete in the Ironman and the first Asian to complete Ultraman Canada.
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