Last Sunday, I ran my first 14 kilometer run. It was organized by an NGO near home called “Hope for the Children Foundation”. We ran to support the “Say No to Child Labour” campaign. I completed the 14k run in 90 minutes, averaging a steady pace of 6 minutes, 20 seconds per kilometer. I was thrilled to learn that I came fourth in my category. This was a huge achievement for me, especially because I was never a runner.
Until a year ago, I didn’t like running.
You see, I’m a swimmer. I love water. Swimming, to me, is the most refreshing form of exercise. You get a full body workout. You don’t sweat. And the endorphins that kick in after a swim cannot be compared to any other sport.
That was until a year ago. Until I discovered the joy of running.
How it all began – Preparing for my trek to Hampta Pass
My story begins in June 2014, when I had signed up for my first high altitude trek to Hampta Pass. In preparation for the trek, I was asked to run 4 kilometers in 30 minutes.To give you an idea, this was when I could barely do one kilometer comfortably. And I only had a month to prepare.
A few days before I left for the trek, I managed to complete 3 kilometers in 25 minutes. Even that felt like a struggle.
Most of the trek went alright. The third day however, was one of the most physically challenging days of my life. It was a nearly ten hour trek, up to the pass over 14,000 ft and back to camp. I will never forget one particular moment, when I sat down midway while crossing a ridge, thoroughly exhausted, with no will to go on. I kept thinking to myself, I’m really not as fit as I thought I was.
When I got back from the trek, I knew that if I had been fitter I would have enjoyed the trek better. I decided to do better the next time. However, because I didn’t have another trek planned, I went back to swimming.
A year passed by.
During that year, I let go of my job in Pune and joined Indiahikes as part of the accounts and operations team in Bangalore.
Time really flew at Indiahikes. Before I knew it, it was June 2015 and I was all set to go on my next Himalayan trek. Buran Ghati.
Our founder, Arjun Majumdar, who runs everyday himself, encouraged all of us to do the same. He said that being a true trekker means being fit enough to go on a trek at any point in time – without prior planning.
This time, I started preparing for the trek two months in advance in April. Sandhya, our co-founder, advised me to increase mileage first and then reduce my timing. So by mid-May, I was able to push it to 4.5 kilometers in 30 minutes. But I still didn’t like running as much as I liked swimming. I was just doing it because, well, I was going for a trek. There were days when I’d make excuses like I have a lot of work or I haven’t slept enough. I’d skip running on such days.
Despite this, I noticed a considerable improvement in my fitness on my second trek. Buran Ghati is rated moderate on the difficulty scale. That’s a difficulty rating of about 5.5 on 10. Hampta Pass was a 6. I could easily feel the benefit of running. But I also knew I still had a long way to go.
Again life settled down after my trek. I didn’t run much – except on a few occasional days, when I didn’t have much else to do.
By the end of 2015, I would have probably only run a total of 120 days.
But last year, three experiences in particular transformed me tremendously.
The turning point
About four months before our trek, we got on the Nike Running App. It’s an app that tracks the number of kilometers run, in how much time and at what pace. Swathi thought it would be a good motivator to see how much the other had run that day. She was right. Both of us started running and keeping score. I could see how much distance I covered and how fast I ran. Knowing the numbers surely helped me assess my strengths. As I increased the frequency of my runs, my pace slowly improved. By early May, I was doing 5 kilometre runs in 33 minutes everyday.
One fine day, about two weeks before my trek, Arjun and Sandhya suggested that we go on a 10 kilometer run.
Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it. But both Sandhya and Arjun boosted my confidence. And they had planned the run at GKVK, one of Bangalore’s most beautiful campuses. It was full of trees.
So that Saturday morning, May 21st, 2016, I completed my first 10k run. And how!
It took me 72 minutes. Which I thought was a good start. I was astonished that I was able to do it!
That was the day that changed my perception about running.
It was the day that I got hooked. I wanted to do better. I wanted to see how far I could push my limits. So the following Sunday I went for another 10k and did it in 68 minutes. By then, it was time for the trek.
Roopkund. My fourth Himalayan trek and the one I was best prepared for. Ascents felt so much easier than they had in the past. I ran across the meadows at Ali Bugyal. I trekked off the trail and explored areas I wouldn’t have had I not been fit.
Completing the trek itself left me surging with confidence. In fact, once I came back, I felt a kind of restlessness to continue pushing myself. I felt the urge to feel that high again. So this time, even though I didn’t have any treks planned, I began running everyday. I finally understood the importance of being fit enough to be able to trek any time. My colleagues and I went for at least one 10k every month. I started analyzing my runs and called it my “Runalysis”. Things that improve my run. Like having a glass of water before heading out, starting slow and then picking up pace and trying to maintain a constant pace throughout.
Second motivator – A brilliant book on running
My next experience came in October 2016, when on a friend’s recommendation, I read a book by Haruki Murakami called What I Talk When I Talk About Running. This was the second experience that helped me love running. In this book, the author talks about why he runs and how it has helped him as a writer. His participation in long-distance running spans over three decades.
Reading this book gave me a deeper understanding of the nature of this sport. A sport that requires no equipment other than a good pair of shoes. A sport that exemplifies simplicity. And a sport that leaves one with an irreplaceable sense of satisfaction.
There’s one paragraph in particular that strikes a chord.
“As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I’m not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody says.” – Haruki Murakami
Initially, my mum used to think I was crazy, waking up at 6 am everyday for a run. She’s given up now. Early morning runs did mean I had to alter my lifestyle a bit. Late nights were not an option. Junk food was a strict no-no. The interesting thing is that I didn’t feel like I was depriving myself of these things. I felt as though my body was telling me what it wanted and what it didn’t. That was a novel feeling.
A third experience that cemented my relationship with running
The third, very new experience was in December. When I enrolled for my first organized run. It was the Bangalore Midnight Marathon. I only did the 10k run. With a finisher medal and an experience I’ll never forget, this run was what permanently cemented my relationship with running.
We started at 10.10 pm on a Saturday night. A sea of people running together. It felt strange at first. I felt like I was navigating through rush hour Bangalore traffic. This is silly, I thought. How do people enjoy running in such a mad rush?
After the first one kilometer though, I didn’t have much navigating to do. The sea started clearing. It slowly became like riding on open roads. A new feeling began to wash over me. It was all about the run. About being amongst runners, being part of a community. There were times I felt like calling out to others, Run Forrest Run!
The 10 kilometers didn’t feel like 10 kilometers! The 60 minutes it took didn’t feel like 60 minutes at all! Time flew. It was towards the end that I understood the beauty of long distance running.
Keeping fit is a way of life. This was just another way of celebrating it.
Since then, I’ve been running about 5-6 times a week. My day feels incomplete if I haven’t gone for a run. In September, I have a difficult trek to Pin Bhaba planned. In November, I aim to do a half marathon. The possibilities suddenly seem endless!
I now love running. And I have trekking to thank for it. Because without that first push and without that preparation needed for a trek, I would probably never have become a runner.