Friday, 22 July 2011

From 0 to 42.2: The Long Road Ahead

I have read somewhere that a runner starts losing endurance if he does not train for 3 days in a row.  I don’t know how far the third day claim is true but I do know that I lose my hard earned endurance quite fast.
It has been over 50 days since Comrades 2011 ended and I have run very little in these last 50 days.  I am nowhere near the shape I was in pre-Comrades.  The ability to run 90km is long gone.
Now as I register for the Mumbai Marathon, the distance of 42.2 km seems staggering.  I cannot imagine running the distance.  Besides, since I will volunteer to run it as a sub-5 pacer, I need to get into 4:30 shape in the next 5 months.  42.2 km in 4:30 seems a bizarre target at this point. It seems impossibly hard and long. I get so tired now at 16k that it seems impossible that I can ever have the ability to run 42.2 k.
I am simply filled with self doubt and anxiety and like every self-made, self-confident, and accomplished man, I turn to my wife for encouragement and advice.
I want her to tell me that I can do it. I want her to tell me that I can easily run 42.2 but like the enlightened master that she is, she won’t give me a straight answer. 
“Do you think you can learn to swim without getting wet,” she says?
“What are you talking about?” I ask. 
“Don’t ask me a question to which you already know the answer,” she says.  My wife never answers my questions. She simply says that I must not search for my answers in books, running forums, or with running coaches but simply look for them within myself. 
She then reminds me of a story of a Sufi Mystic who was on his way to Mecca on Haj. Since he was universally known as an enlightened man, the people of a small town he was about to pass through decided that they must insist that he should address the town folk.  The mystic was a very silent one but the town people insisted that he speak. 
“But I have nothing to say,” He said.  But they persisted.  The master said, “And that which I know cannot be said!” 
But they persisted.  The more he resisted.  The more they became interested in whatever he had to say.
Ultimately, he relented and they went to a mosque.  Everyone waited with great expectation to hear his sermon.  They also knew that he had never given a sermon in any other village ever.  He had travelled thousands of miles but had always been silent.  He had seen the world but had always been silent.  They were delighted – what a privilege!
The master came and faced the vast crowd and said, “Do you know what I am going to say to you?”
They all said, “Of course not, how can we know? We don’t know.”          
The master said, ”Then I cannot speak to such ignorant people who don’t even know what I am going to speak about.”
The people were very puzzled and the master went away.  But their desire to hear him and give them the answers to life’s questions did not diminish. 
They knew that they had to come up with a better answer and so they went back to him and insisted that he come to the mosque again to give his sermon.  They told him that they now knew the answer to his question.
The master went back to the mosque and again asked, “Do you know what I am going to say to you?”
They replied, “Yes! We know what you are going to speak about.”
And the master said, “ Then finished ! If you already know, then what is the need for me to tell you? Such an enlightened town!”
Now the people were really puzzled but they were not going to let him go.  They talked and discussed and came up with their answer.  They went back to him and insisted that he come back to the mosque to give the sermon.
Verily, the master went back and asked the same question, “ Do you know what I am going to say to you?”  And half of the people said, “Yes,” and half of the people said, “No.”  That was the only way. Now the master was trapped.
And the master said, “Good, So those who know should tell those who don’t know. How am I needed? Just tell each other.  I am absolutely unnecessary.” He quickly left.
I guess my wife, or anyone else for that matter, is not going to be really able to tell me how to go from 0 to 42.2km.  The answer really lies within me.
I remember that while training for Comrades, I used to start my 56 km long runs at 1:00 am in the Lonavalla forest. Running during the daytime was impossible because of the summer heat. 
I would be running for the first Four and Half hours in total darkness.  Darkness so intense that one would not be able to see ones hand if held in front of one’s face. 
I would run with a small Petzl headlamp.  I would focus the light beam just a few feet ahead of me onto the road to ensure that I did not step on a snake or into a pothole. The Petzl shined a beam of light only 10 feet ahead and all around that was total darkness.   My family was worried that I was running through total darkness.  They were worried that I could not see the total length of the road.  They wanted me to start when the whole length of the road was visible and clear.  Then I would know how to get where I was going. 
I had no choice but to run in the dark.  But I never wanted the whole length of the road lit.  10 feet was enough because every time I took a step forward, the light went ahead by one more step.  I never needed 56 km of light to start running. I never gave thought to the whole distance. I just ran the 10 feet and the Petzl had by then illuminated the next 10 feet.  I never had to insist on 56 kilometres of light. The road ahead lit itself.
And that is how I will once again reach the 42.2km distance by the 15th of Jan.  All I need to do is train consistently during the week and then lengthen the distance of my long run every Sunday in small measure and soon I will have the endurance to run 42.2.
There is no need to think of whole 42.2km at this early date.  One takes small baby steps towards the target.  Running a little further than usual once a week is enough.     
What is true in life also holds true for running.  Small advances, consistently made, will get you to your destination.
The way lights itself.


  1. Good is alright to be apprehensive, but not afraid. A little positive stress is a great performance enhancer.

  2. Faith and belief in oneself will lead a man to practice, prepare and do things accordingly for any purpose. Pray for all of us to have that and gear up for an enjoyable fun Mumbai Marathon!

  3. really nice and encouraging. very well said.

  4. Will to run and determination to finish itself will take you there.

  5. completely agree. when in self doubt, our mind embarks on this 'google' search for answers. we seek answers from our loved ones, friends, books, examples. what we are actually doing is verifying. it turns out, when you actually believe in something so deeply the desire to get there fast causes unrest.

  6. Lovely post, Amit. Small advances, consistently made, do get you to your destination. And the way does light itself.

  7. amit i wasn't born to run but i dared to run....your book has inspired lots of runners...waiting for the sequel

  8. Dear Amit,
    Just for humor it reminds me of one of our professors of physics during college years he used the same method for all problem solutions he would asked ask the class who could solve and who could not as always half said yes and the other half was asked to consult the knower ... at the end we were wondering in that case what was he doing in the class or ... ? deepak