I'm not a professional. I'm not even an excellent amateur. I would say I'm an ok runner. What matters is, I'm a runner. People start running sometimes with a definite goal in mind, sometimes without. They sometimes race against a fellow runner, sometimes against time and sometimes for distance. Maybe terrain, maybe against themselves. Some run to remember, some run to forget. Some run to stay in shape, some run to impress. Some run to cure themselves of a cough or a cold. Some run to propitiate gods. Some run for food. Some run for education. Some just run because they want to get someplace very quickly. You run away from the things you want to avoid, you run after the things you desire. A runner may run for any of these things. But deep down, a runner is running because he likes running.
After the initial easing of joints, a runner gets into a phase where each step is no longer an effort but your whole body moves with a fluidity that may even surprise you. For me this happens at around two kilometers (depending upon what pace I'm running at and maybe the terrain). Your legs have a life of their own and you feel one with the elements. You take in the nice sights, you hear sweet sounds, you experience a wonderful feeling when your legs hit the ground and propel you forward. Your arms swing out naturally to balance the effect of your strides and you think you were born for running. Medically speaking a substance called endorphins are released in your body which are known to cause elation. This by the way is apparently the same effect as when you fall in love. In that sense, every time you run, you're falling in love. Makes eminent sense to me.
This honeymoon period doesn't last forever. On the longer races, there is something in runner's parlance called 'hitting the wall'. Your body has spent a lot of energy. The enthusiasm your legs had is gone. Your feet are probably blistered. This piece was originally written after an event run. I didn't hit the wall on that day, but due to poor choice of clothing perhaps, I had a nipple burn and bled a little. The constant rubbing of rough clothing, especially when it's wet (I dunked water on myself at the 3rd and 6th kilometers to keep cool) has an abrasive effect on sensitive areas of skin such as nipples. Minor pain that should ideally be avoided. But this really adds to the experience. This is when running takes a new meaning. This is where running changes from magic to maya. Your senses are diminished and aroused at the same time. You shut the world out. Each step requires immeasurable mental effort. At each step you're cajoling, persuading, forcing the body to take the next step. At that moment, international finance doesn't matter to me. Constitutional jurisprudence doesn't matter to me. It doesn't matter if I don't have enough money. It doesn't matter that I have an exam to write. It doesn't matter if someone got angry with me someday. It doesn't matter if someone is bitching about me. It doesn't matter if I look stupid running like that. It doesn't matter if I'm Vikram Hegde or Haile Gebrselaisse. What matters is, I'm a runner. Running becomes a meditiation. I think it is Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who described one of his experiences of god as an awareness of nothing but the pure divinity. When a runner runs after he hits the wall, well.. I guess I'll put in the words of Fauja Singh (A hundred year old Sardar, who recently became the oldest to run a marathon) He says “In the last few miles, I'm talking to god”.
For those who persevere through the tough times, the finish line comes to embrace them. The runner puts his arms out and accepts this clasp. When he embraces the finish line, he embraces his destination. Of course it's a different finish line every time and no runner crosses the same finish line twice just as you can't cross the same river twice. He's run through good times, he's run through the bad times. He's had the bevu- he's had the bella. In that sense it's a metaphor for life itself.
Why do we preserve monuments? Why do we follow age old rituals and customs? They say it's to find communion with our ancestors. The prayers you pray are a few thousand years old at best and so are most the buildings protected by the archaeological survey of India. When you run you are keeping up a tradition that is much older and paying homage to hundreds of our ancestors for whom running was a way of life. Either away from the predators that pursued them or behind the food they wanted.
Keep the faith. Keep up with the running.