12 Half Marathons & 1 Full Marathon later, the quest goes on.
"What you seek is seeking you." - Rumi
"What you seek is seeking you." - Rumi
Q: How did it all begin?
A: I am not sure if it’s in my blood, or if I am genetically configured to run long distances, or if it’s sheer willpower, and temperament, or life experiences. Essentially, I am not certain if its nature or nurture that crafted a runner out of me, but I am positive it all began when I was a kid. From the time I was five, I have always loved playing exhilarating, adrenaline charged, fast paced or endurance requiring sports. I was always up for tennis, badminton, running, and several other sports that needed a holistic body movement. The surge of energy, the frenzied breathing, the sweat streaked clothes, a parched throat, a body gasping for breath and desperately trying to find its pace and rhythm, the intense focus of the mind in surviving the present moment, it’s always been an adventure that I was up for. Too bad, I never seeked it out, and interestingly, life did not offer much bandwidth to go embrace a sport for life.
To summarize: I was good at sports as a kid. And, then I got sucked into an alternate dimension of reality where playing sports was a thing of past. Over the years, I suppose my mind never forgot, and never got over the thrill, and the sublime consciousness uplifting experience. Maybe, it was only bidding its time until it was time to live in flesh and blood, that which was my first love in life.
Q: When did it really begin?
A: Once, I was walking with my cousin, and out of nowhere I tell her I would love to run marathons. I was probably seventeen back then. Then there was this other time when I was visiting my cousin, and we ended up seeing a live marathon in her city. I looked at the runners with a sense of awe like they were a special kind of breed, and felt wistful and tons of respect for these adventurous souls. Seven years later, I found my lost playground, and rekindled my long dead love affair with sports, and running at the rec center at Texas A&M University, where I was to get a Master's degree. Ironical, but then life is full of surprises.
To Summarize: I think it all began in my mind, and it continued to simmer, and grow. That which the mind never outgrows is a thing that the mind will find a way to manifest.
Q: How has it evolved, and come to be?
A: 2009 at the hallowed grounds of my University running tracks; I began to run - after two decades of zero activity. I went there as often as I could, 5-6 days a week, 4-5 miles each time, and kept at the tracks like a monk to his monastery. Running is the most consistent thing I did at the university, more consistent than academics, and thrusting myself at prospective employers. After I graduated in May 2010 from the university, I paid extra dollars without any qualms to continue running at the rec center. Finally, I had to move away in 2010, October to Houston to begin my first job, and I parted from my much beloved running tracks. For a year and half, I ran on and off, here and there, and did too little and went too slow. Finally, in 2012, I began training for my first half-marathon, which I did complete successfully, but in the process, it turns out, I ended up with IT band injury, and a sensitive ankle that ached and cracked, and I could not run anymore. Couple of physiotherapists, a thousand or so dollars, X-rays, and MRIs, and a miserable, despicable two whole years later, I finally could run again in 2015. But this time, I took an approach that was radical, and out of my comfort zone. Instead of training alone, I joined HoustonFit, an elite running group open to runners of all levels. This was an epic experience with incredible people, and I learned a lot about running techniques, methods and tricks. My whole outlook and approach to running changed. I was a different runner, I loved this group to pieces, and it was just the kind of adventure that my mind and body craved. I trained with them for my first full marathon for three blissful months.
Unfortunately, life goes on and I had to bid farewell to this wonderful group, and move to Georgia for my job. I haven’t been able to find any running groups I can train with out here, and it breaks my heart. I run by myself, and I am waiting to find kindred spirits, adventurous souls to whom running is a way of life.
Here’s some milestones along my running trajectory:
January 2013: Houston Aramco Half Marathon, 2 hours 8 mins 36 secs
April 26, 2015: Oklahoma Memorial City Marathon, 5 hours 23 mins 36 secs
May 31, 2015: Rockford Half Marathon, 2 hours 13 mins
July 19, 2015: Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon, 2 hours 33 mins 32 secs
August 22, 2015: Area 13.1 Half Marathon, 2 hours 32 mins 15 secs
November 22, 2015: Magic City Half Marathon, 2 hours 22 mins 35 secs
Conclusion: I have a long way to go. I have only gotten started with my running adventure, and I am daring to dream big. I don't know what the future holds, but I will try my best to stay true to a childhood dream.
I have tried to meditate a number of times, and each time it has been an uncomfortable, unnerving experience. An esoteric activity to dodge - that is how my mind seems to have categorized meditation. When invited to meditate, typical response of the mind goes like this: procrastinate, cringe, grimace, flinch, wince, hesitate, and finally, reluctantly agree. After much resistance, when it finally enters the uncharted ocean of meditation, instead of rejuvenating in the clear and calm water, it gets all unsettled, and spooked. Our mind has been conditioned to swim in an ocean of thoughts, and not in an ocean of silence, an obvious epiphany.
In my opinion, it is an adventure of a lifetime to find a way to meditate, and to find the stillness, and the calm within. Why? Because, the more the mind can detangle from the intricate web of inherited thoughts, the more clarity and truth will settle in. Simply put, the crazy whirlpool of thoughts from the non-stop inputs and outputs of our modern day life are the equivalent of junk food, and meditation is the much needed - healthy, clean diet of vegetables, and fruits.
The closest I have come to emptying my mind of all thoughts is running. When I run, the only thing that I am aware of is my heartbeat, the discomfort, and the uncanny silence. The effort of running as hard as I can consumes every bit of energy that I have, and even when I am taking a breather while running, the body and the mind are so busy recovering from the constant, high profile effort, that there is no bandwidth for the juggernaut of thoughts. Its not about running faster than someone else, or descending into a quagmire of comparisons, or complexes, but simply concentrating on getting through the run as fast as possible.
Running puts the body and the mind in a survival mode, a primal mode - it cuts off our umbilical cord to modern human existence where distractions, delusions, trivia, self-inflicted stress, and paranoia rule the day, and pummel our existence into a meaningless void. Its a way to evolve to a higher level of consciousness, to an elite level of fitness and to experience an extraordinary life.
After a hard run, a subtle mix of exhaustion, achievement, fulfillment and peace radiates from my core. A perfect elixir to calm the mind, and to feel light and clearheaded. Care for a sip?
The walk leading me to my solitary run is one of the nuttiest and hardest walks. Why? Because every time, I am about to run by myself, the brain constructs this elaborate mirage, a pseudo reality, a whirlpool of fiction that zaps all sense of perspective, and a subtle form of anxiety throbs like a steady heartbeat. And running feels like the condemned reality of a doomed person. Why should the mind get all hyper neurotic about a simple run?
To the mind, a run is anything but simple. When an otherwise vacuous, meaningless life seeks meaning, peace and fulfillment in running, there is so much to overcome, so much to accomplish, and so much to fulfill with each run. The challenge, the discomfort, and the anticipations - the mind is busy screaming this all-consuming symphony. Somehow, the mind and the body have mastered the notorious tendency to avoid any kind of struggle. It’s almost as if its second nature for the mind to harp on the difficulties, to avoid any "failures" and disappointments, and to cling to a perverse idea of an easy, comfortable success. Which is why, the walk to a run is an exercise in willpower; it's about being comfortably uncomfortable, overriding the mind's neurosis and going out there and performing to the best of my abilities. It’s not easy, not pleasant, but, in the end, it’s worth it.
Interestingly, the situation is so jarringly different when it comes to running with a group. Somehow, the mind finds comfort in numbers. The knowledge that there will be other runners out there, striving to beat the edge and push beyond their limit, breathless and uncomfortable, soothes the mind. The walk to run, in this case, is a mad, excited and a happy rush to begin running with kindred spirits. Maybe, the way to inspire the mind is to find a community that shares your passion, and commitment, and to let the energy of this combined movement sweep you off your feet and propel you to new heights.
I was running one day - trying to stay alive and scrambling to get my body into a good running rhythm, while contemplating how viciously hard it was to keep running - when it struck me that running is the perfect metaphor for life. Here's how:
You can run with someone, but nobody can run for you. You have to do your own running.
You can’t start big. You can only start small, and with persistent effort and training, you achieve big goals.
No sweat, no achievement.
You decide how fast or slow - you can or you want to run.
Running is a science. Running is an art. Running is a philosophy. Running is a mystery. You decide what you think running is.
Different people run for different reasons. Some are looking to lose weight and stay fit, some do it because someone else is doing it, some are looking for a sense of achievement, and some are looking to fulfill themselves. Only you know why you signed up to be a runner.
You keep running - day in, day out for long enough, and your body and mind will adapt, and running will become a part of your identity.
If you stop running for a while, you don’t get to pick up where you left off. You have to start ground up, and crawl or sprint your way to your earlier form.
Running can seem overwhelming, challenging and scary, at times. The only way to beat that is to go out there and run.
Sometimes, you just want to lie in bed and be comfortable. You don’t want to go out there and be uncomfortable. Choose this attitude long enough and you will never know your potential to be a runner.
Running is an exercise. Running is an experience. Your psyche and personality decides what running means to you.
Running has different forms. You can choose to sprint or you can run long distance endurance runs.
Sometimes, running is easy, feels like magic and wonderful; sometimes, it’s so hard that you just want to stop, stomp out in fury and scream obscenities.
More often than not, we compare ourselves to other runners, wishing dreamily, gaping wide-eyed and wondering in awe and shock – just what the hell is that super runner made of.
Running will challenge you, will defeat you at times, and will let you win at other times.
Running can be a sweet victory only after it’s thoroughly exhausted, tested and challenged you.
Running can bring out the beast in us; the primordial beast that we inherited from the earliest man and woman on earth, the beast that is prowling for adventure, adrenaline, challenge, and thrill, this beast that is otherwise snoring, deep in slumber.
Running makes you competitive, it makes you want to give your best and expand your frontiers.
You can make running about achieving a goal in the future - running a half marathon/full marathon, losing weight, or you can make it about the present – about the unparalleled experience that it is.
Running is a medium to experience the extraordinary, but running can only be as extraordinary as extraordinary a runner you can be.
The exact equilibrium, dynamics, or relationship between the art of running, the body and the mind is a mysterious, intriguing process.
Nothing is guaranteed, you can only bank on your own effort.
If you run long enough and hard enough, or wrong enough - you will get injured.
Running can be the enemy, running can be a friend, or running can be a lifelong companion.
Running can be about success and failure, strengths and weakness, or it can be about – just running for the experience of running.
Many times, you will feel like you cant run anymore because your legs are throbbing, your body seems to have turned into lead, your ribs and stomach sting a little, and your lungs and heart are dying for oxygen, but if you just slow down for a while, you will realize you can once again run fast.
Running is all about mind over matter.
You can be as good a runner as willing as you are to sweat, bleed and make sacrifices for it.
I want to tear my hair out (metaphorically, of course) and scream like a madman until I can scream no more (literally). Running does that to me, sometimes. Here's why and how:
I was at the gym, pounding away on the treadmill, my lungs and heart ready to explode, my legs crying out in agony while my mind mocked the mediocrity of my effort, and laughed at the futility of my struggle.
It’s a funny story and a quirky paradox. It all started - when - one day, my mind said, "Let’s run". Soon, it said, "let’s be a runner for life". To seal the deal, it built a neural pathway to kick off my running spree. And finally it hooked this neural pathway to my sanity circuits and identity circuits. And, then it said, "My work here is done. Good luck, sucker. And the next thing I know, it builds a movie eliciting the billion and one ways in which running is hard, and in excruciating detail harps upon the aches, the discomfort, and the breathing issues, and then as a final blow, adds in images and memories of being comfortable, of sipping a cold drink, of sleeping, of eating delicious food, of walking leisurely – and every time I run, this movie will play – loud and clear.
What’s with getting me all excited about running, and then flinging physical and mental curve-balls to stop me dead in my tracks? Left to their own device, the body and the mind will whine, grumble, threaten to stop my heart and make me dizzy, create imaginary aches, and make me so self-aware of the discomfort in my limbs and my heart that I want to do nothing but stop. And, I do end up stopping. And slowing down. A whole lot. Again and Again. So heartbreaking it is to pen this monologue, sounds like a biography of a wanna-be runner.
Not too long ago, I ran very differently. Maybe it was the young blood of a raging 27 year old as opposed to a zapped 31 year old. But seriously, I could run for an hour or more - non-stop, and I ran hard. I have kept my body running and jogging for 13.1 miles without stopping for a breather. I was able to surpass this need to stop, this impulse to slow down and go easy. I was riding high on the sentiment of this thought: This is my destiny; I am born to do this. It’s like my mind and body didn't know how to make a wimp out of me - back then. And now, I am the epitome of a semi-slacker.
How is it possible, I wonder? I mean I could do it once, so why is it different this time around. Why am I not running as hard? Also, how can the body and the mind lose that kind of conditioning? That's the thing that makes me want to go - gahhhhhh. That I have to start all over again – from scratch – every time, and that every time it’s going to be different. Nothing is guaranteed; the path isn’t linear. If you must know, it’s a – grab onto your seats, buckle your seat belt, and try not to puke – kind of rollercoaster tearing through the stratosphere. So, if life happens and running falls off the grid for a while, be prepared to start from scratch. The glory - all gone, but the struggle waiting so patiently for your breath and blood. Gaaaaaah.
The story so far
I was born athletic and running called out to me as a young kid. So, being a runner, is my way of staying true to who I am and bringing meaning, love, joy, adventure and peace into my life.