Tuesday 21 January 2014

Judging your Race Day : Triumph or Disaster

Now that the SCMM 2014 is done and dusted, the social media is filled with stories of glory and defeat.  Some runners are delighted with their finish times, some are delighted simply with the fact that they finished, while some are happy with the fact that they started.  Some on the other hand, are disappointed with their race day finish times, some with the fact that they could not finish. 
Of all the stories that I read, the one which caught my eye was that of my young friend Arsalan Shaikh.  I have known this kid for about 3 years. He is one of the most dedicated young runners I know of in Mumbai.  I have seen him train these past few years. He has run a few Ultra marathons.  He is just 19 years old. 
I encouraged Procam to appoint Arsalan to be a sub 2:00 pacer at the Delhi Airtel Half marathon and when he paced well in Delhi and assured me of his ability, I again encouraged Procam to appoint him a sub 4:30 pacer for the 42k at SCMM.
He was then interviewed by several Newspapers and Radio stations. He was really happy with his responsibility and felt that he was up to it.  
Post the race, his FB post on Monday morning reads:
“We were on time till the 30km, thereafter suddenly at worli sea-face, blood came from my mouth, my ankle was paining from 2 days before the race. I had taken a painkiller tablet before the race. It locked at peddar road and I could not run, I said to all the runners who ran with me in 4:30 bus, “don’t wait for me go ahead.”
I then managed to walk/run, 27 min delay, 4:57 hr.
Sorry friends, Procam, Amit Sheth Sir”

I can see that the boy is gutted.  He is beside’s himself with grief.  He must feel that his world has imploded on him and that everything is finished.  He seems to feel that some great misfortune has befallen him!
I’m not so sure.  Yes, on race day some runners seem happy with the way things went, while some runners, like Arsalan are distraught with grief.
But should that be so? 
I am reminded of a story told by Osho.  The story was told in Lao Tzu’s lifetime in China.
The story is simple: There was an old man in a village, very poor, but even kings were jealous of him because he had a beautiful white horse. Such a horse had never been seen before — the beauty, the very grandeur, the strength. Kings asked for the horse and they offered fabulous prices, but the old man would say, `This horse is not a horse to me, he is a person, and how can you sell a person? He is a friend, he is not a possession. How can you sell a friend? No, it is not possible.’ The man was poor, there was every temptation, but he never sold the horse.
One morning, he suddenly found that the horse was not in the stable. The whole village gathered and they said, “You foolish old man. We knew it beforehand, that someday the horse would be stolen. And you are so poor — how can you protect such a precious thing? It would have been better to sell it. You could have fetched any price you asked, any fancy price was possible. Now the horse is gone. It is a curse, a misfortune.”
The old man said, “Don’t go too far — simply say that the horse is not in the stable. This is the fact; everything else is a judgment. Whether it is a misfortune or not, how do you know? How do you judge?”
The people said, “Don’t try to fool us. We may not be great philosophers, but no philosophy is needed. It is a simple fact that a treasure has been lost, and it is a misfortune.”
The old man said, “I will stick to the fact that the stable is empty and the horse is gone. Anything else I don’t know — whether it is a misfortune or a blessing — because this is just a fragment. Who knows what is going to follow it?”

People laughed. They thought the old man had gone mad. They always knew it, that he was a little crazy; otherwise he would have sold this horse and lived in riches. But he was living like a woodcutter, and he was very old and still cutting wood and bringing the wood from the forest and selling it. He was living hand to mouth, in misery and poverty. Now it was completely certain that this man was crazy.
After fifteen days, suddenly one night, the horse returned. He had not been stolen: he had escaped to the wilderness. And not only did he come back, he brought a dozen wild horses with him. Again the people gathered and they said, “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. It was not a misfortune, it proved to be a blessing. We are sorry that we insisted.”
The old man said, “Again you are going too far. Just say that the horse is back, and say that twelve horses have come with the horse — but don’t judge. Who knows whether it is a blessing or not? It is only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read one page of a book, how can you judge the whole book? You read a sentence in a page — how can you judge the whole page? You read a single word in a sentence — how can you judge the whole sentence? And even a single word is not in the hand — life is so vast — a fragment of a word and you have judged the whole! Don’t say that this is a blessing, nobody knows. And I am happy in my no-judgment; don’t disturb me.”
This time the people could not say much; maybe the old man was again right. So they kept silent, but inside they knew well that he was wrong. Twelve beautiful horses had come with the horse. A little training and they could all be sold and they would fetch much money.
The old man had a young son, only one son. The young son started to train the wild horses; just a week later he fell from a wild horse and his legs were broken. The people gathered again and they judged. They said, “You were right, again you proved right. It was not a blessing, it was again a misfortune. Your only son has lost his legs, and in your old age he was your only support. Now you are poorer than ever.”
The old man said, “You are obsessed with judgment. Don’t go that far. Say only that my son has broken his legs. Who knows whether this is a misfortune or a blessing? — nobody knows. Again a fragment, and more is never given to you. Life comes in fragments, and judgment is about the total.”
It happened that after a few weeks the country went to war with a neighboring country, and all the young men of the town were forcibly taken for the military. Only the old man’s son was left because he was crippled. The people gathered, crying and weeping, because from every house young people were forcibly taken away. And there was no possibility of their coming back, because the country that had attacked was a big country and the fight was a losing fight. They were not going to come back.
The whole town was crying and weeping, and they came to the old man and they said, “You were right, old man! God knows, you were right — this proved a blessing. Maybe your son is crippled, but still he is with you. Our sons are gone forever. At least he is alive and with you, and, by and by, he will start walking. Maybe a little limp will be left, but he will be okay.”
The old man again said, “It is impossible to talk to you people, you go on and on and on — you go on judging. Nobody knows! Only say this: that your sons have been forced to enter into the military, into the army, and my son has not been forced. But nobody knows whether it is a blessing or a misfortune. Nobody will ever be able to know it. Only God knows.”
So I would like to tell my young friend, Arsalan, Don’t worry, don’t judge.  You don’t need to be so gutted, you don’t know what the future holds.  Perhaps you avoided a major injury, perhaps far greater glory awaits you, or perhaps you are truly in the dumps! We just don’t know!
But I also know that we cannot all be philosophers and we are all delighted and happy when we achieve new heights and we are heartbroken at our losses.
I remember a delightful movie I’ve seen more than once called “A good year” and stars Russell Crowe.
In a flash-back scene, Old Uncle Henry is playing tennis with his grandkid, young Max.  Uncle Henry is holding a tennis racket in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other. 
Young Max— wearing a headband and wristband and looking like a pint sized version of John McEnroe is quite bad tempered because he is losing the game and starts to complain about bad light.
Uncle Henry: “Nonsense, Max, at your age I could spot a hyena on the veldt at three quarters of a mile.”
Uncle Henry lines up his serve..THWACK! Dead-center. Max lunges for the ball as if his life depended on it, but misses anyway.
Uncle Henry: “ACE! Game, set match”
Uncle Henry then dances in the “end zone” in celebration.  Pissed, Young Max slams his racket to the court…and walks toward the service box to examine the line.
Young Max: You can’t be serious!
Uncle Henry continues to gloat…without mercy.
Young Max: You don’t have to rub it in.
Uncle Henry: The real question, Max, is why YOU aren’t celebrating?   
Young Max: Because I lost.
Uncle Henry pours himself a refill of white wine.
Uncle Henry: Max….a man should acknowledge his losses as gracefully as he celebrates his victories…Now give us a jig..for your old Uncle’s sake…
Following orders, Young Max makes a half-hearted attempt to dance around the court…raises his arms and dances around….but not feeling it..abruptly stops.
Uncle Henry crosses the court and tussle’s the boy’s hair.
Uncle Henry: “Someday, Max, You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning.  The act of losing however, can elicit great wisdom… not the least of which is how much more enjoyable it is to win…It is essential to lose now and then…The trick is not to make a habit of it.”
So my young friend Arsalan you and I have two choices here, either we follow Lao Tzu and decide neither to judge our victories as triumphs nor our defeats as disasters (simply because we can’t really see the “Totality of Life”) or on the other hand, we must simply learn from Uncle Henry. 
 “The act of losing however, can elicit great wisdom… not the least of which is how much more enjoyable it is to winIt is essential to lose now and then…The trick is not to make a habit of it.”
Lao Tzu or Old Uncle Henry? I think, I’ll follow the man with the white wine glass.


  1. beautiful! thanks for sharing. Best to Arsalan xx

  2. Arsalan must have got so much of motivation from your post.
    Hats off to Arsalans dedication at such an early age.
    The stories you mentioned were also inspiring. We can take inspiration from both stories.

    Thank You Amit for sharing with us.

  3. Amit you have always been an inspiration... i too was feeling let down by taking 61 secs more than my target. Now i am at peace.

  4. True amit. Life teaches us everyday. Sometimes we accept the outcome , but after certain time we start accepting it. This is how you grow and learn.
    You are wonderful writer. I hope and wish to see you ,come up with a write up on journey of 42.195 kms.

  5. Arsalan is young. He showed amazing courage in finishing. He has time enough to learn these lessons.
    Loved reading your story about the old man. Strangely, I have been feeling very Zen about my run, and it resonated really well with me.

  6. Excellent inspiring story and looking the incidents of life in a positivity. Most of the time we conclude by just one page or para to decide our fate.

  7. Its a long time since I patiently read such a long piece Amit ... Well written ... Keep writing more ...!

  8. Arsalan is so lucky to have you around him.
    All the best to you Arsalan! Hope reading this you are feeling better.

    Thanks a ton Amit for this post in general and the stories in particular :)

  9. @ Harshad .. you are judging again ;-)
    Jokes apart .. even we are lucky to have Michael Francis the 5:00 pacer around us.

  10. Amit ,great and inspiring write up .you aptly narrated emotions of runner.every blog of yours is learning lesson for me.will be eagerly waiting for next learning lesson.Thanks for sharing.

  11. Hi Amit a beautiful message indeed and very well written, as usual. it is essential to enjoy the race and allow the race to determine the final outcome rather than go into a race - with targets and meet at times -disappointments

  12. Ran with an injured ankle that just wouldn't heal. Took 30 minutes more than my usual. I feel better now. Hope Arsalan does too.

  13. Lovely Post. Enjoyed reading it.

  14. Wise n well written. !!!
    Good luck Arsaln. Failure I'd just chance to learn it better next time. well said -sharing

  15. Wise n well written. !!!
    Good luck Arsaln. Failure I'd just chance to learn it better next time. well said -sharing

  16. Hi Amit,
    My pain was that i was sitting at home when the SCCM 2014 was on. Could not take part in the half marathon as was detected with 2 stress fractures - left tibia and right knee :-(.. Was super keen to still participate as knew that if i started would surely finish in whatever time. But i guess better sense prevailed basis advice from a dear friend (and incidentally a radiologist)... Am now trying to get a proper rehab (with Dr Anant Joshi who has put me on to a Osteopath - MIG). This is the second time that i have been detected with stress fracture (2 years back it was in the right tibia).... Hope to run in the future! Reminds me of your experiences with the physiotherapists (in your book Dare to Run)!

  17. Good luck Arsaln, you are a hero ...and life has just begun , miles and super ultra miles to go , Amit sir just recollected the name of your post on Fox and Hedgehog from 2011 which inspired me to move from my 3 half marathons to completing one full one -My first one this SCMM 2014 , Thank you for being my inspiration and idol, God bless

  18. sometimes rewards can turn out to be punishments.

  19. Dear Amit

    You are a great storyteller. The story of Arsalan is very inspiring.He has great attitude and a fighting spirit. He is lucky to have you around him.Outcome is not everything .Winning or losing is that important as participating and participating with the best efforts people.

  20. Dear Amit,

    I salute your compassion. Besides a great human being you are a great storyteller (for those who haven't read "Dare to run" please read).

    Please keep writing, telling stories and inspiring people.

    Arsalan, you will rise like Phoenix concurring next time.

  21. Amit,

    Now that I can put 2 and 2 together, I recollect that I met this boy after the race close to the medals counter. He was on the verge of tears as he was narrating his woe to another fellow runner. I felt for him then, of course at that point in time one would feel miserable about not having completed the job assigned. But I am sure, with people like you around him - he will go a long way .... All the best to Arsalan .... Vivek