Friday 17 January 2014

Mind In The Boat

“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you”
– The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown)
Neha, a fellow runner, who is about to run her first half marathon on Jan 19th 2014, recently wrote to me that she is filled with contradictory emotions.  She said that she was stressed, anxious, excited and nervous about her first 21k. 
She took encouragement from the fact that she saw thousands of runners training on the streets of Mumbai but also recognized that in some ways she was all alone. She knew that in the final analysis, she had to have faith in her own training and her own ability.  All she wanted to do on race-day was to get from the start line to the finish line with a huge smile on her face and without too many aches and pains.
Blessed are those fortunate few, who manage to run a marathon without aches and pains, because for me, the aches and pains are not just physical but also mental. 
A wise man has said that, “Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body will.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
I, as most people will attest, am not wise!
And so, once my mind starts screaming at me to stop the insanity, I start to stop concentrating on the run and slow down.  I then start thinking about work and about whichever issue is currently dominating my life and I start losing more and more speed. 
At the same time, every small physical pain that I am suffering from is amplified and that makes me slow down even further. 
My mind fills me with negative thoughts...and I slow down even further.
My mind seems to go away on a trip of its own.  It is everywhere except in the race that I am running.  I find my mind running away from the race. 
Although, I have tried to keep my mind focused on the run, this has happened to me, once too often.  And inevitably after the race (but mostly during the race) I have to listen to Neepa, my wife, as she shouts at me: “What is wrong with you? Why don’t you focus? Why don’t you concentrate?” 
As another Marathon approaches, I am filled with dread. I know that once again, my mind, my body and my character will be tested.
I have trained hard and yet I ask myself: “Will my mind wander?  Will I look beyond the inevitable aches and pains and focus exclusively, for a few hours, on my passion?  Will my mind hold? Will I have the mental toughness to take me through those final kilometres without slowing to a crawl?”
I recently read a fantastic book, “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown.  It is a book about the sport of rowing, but it is also a book about Life.  It is one of the best books that I have ever read.
The book tells of an epic-true life journey about ordinary boys becoming extraordinary men. 
It is a story about nine young men from the State of Washington – farm boys, fishermen, and loggers – who shocked both the rowing world and Adolf Hitler by winning the gold medal in the eight-oared rowing at the 1936 Olympics. 
It is a story about boys from extremely poor families during the Great Depression. "It was a time, when one in four working Americans had no job and no prospects of finding one.  It was a time when perhaps two million Americans were homeless and every town had Banks which had gone bust along with the savings of countless Americans and these boys came from desperately poor families."
“Rowing is perhaps the toughest of sports.  Once the race start, there are no time-outs.  It calls upon the limits of human endurance. Competitive rowing is an undertaking of extraordinary beauty preceded by brutal punishment. Unlike most sports, which draw upon primarily on particular muscle groups, rowing makes heavy and repeated use of virtually every muscle in the body.  And rowing makes these muscular demands not at odd intervals but in rapid sequence, over a protracted period of time, repeatedly and without respite. 
“When you row, the major muscles in your arms, legs and back – particularly the quadriceps, triceps, biceps, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, abdomicals, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles – do most of the grunt work, propelling the boat forward against the unrelenting resistance of water and wind.  At the same time, scores of smaller muscles in the neck, wrists, hands, and even the feet continually fine-tune your efforts, holding the body in constant equipoise in order to maintain the exquisite balance necessary to keep a 24 inch wide vessel on an even keel.”
“The result is that the body burns calories and consumes oxygen at a rate that is unmatched in almost any human endeavour.  Physiologists have calculated that rowing a 2000 meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about 6 mintues. 
Pound for Pound, Olympic oarsmen may take in and process as much oxygen as a thoroughbred racehorse. But during the anaerobic stages of the race (at the start and towards the finish) oxygen starved muscles begin to scream in agony.  And it is not only the muscles that scream.  The skeletal system to which all those muscles are attached also undergoes tremendous strains and stresses. The whole mind and body screams!” 
“The common denominator is overwhelming pain.  And what every oarsman comes to learn is that pain is a part and parcel of his sport.
It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you”
The team must therefore learn a special kind of endurance that comes from the mind, heart and body.  Harmony, balance, and rhythm need to become 2nd nature.. 
..All things equal, victory finally comes down to concentration or the lack of it. 
The team which concentrates the best has the best chance of winning! “There is no place to stop and take a drink of water or a lungful of cool air.  You just keep your eyes glued on the red, perspiring neck of the fellow ahead of you and row until they tell you it’s all over....”
                  “MIND IN THE BOAT”   
George Morry, was the coxswain, of the US team.  (a coxswain, is the member of the rowing team who sits in the stern facing the bow and his team mates and steers the boat, and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers.  He sets the strategy during the race by shouting out instructions and makes sure that the team rows in a synchronised fashion.  
George Morry came up with a mantra to help the oarsmen concentrate and focus on the job at hand.  
As they rowed, George Morry would shout:“M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B, M-I-B” over and over to the rhythm of their stroke. The initials stood for “MIND IN BOAT”. 
“It was meant as a reminder that from the time an oarsman steps into a racing shell until the moment that the boat crosses the finish line, he must keep his mind focused on what is happening inside the boat.”  “MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT”
"It was meant to remind him that his whole world must shrink down to the small space within the gunwales.” “MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT”
“It was meant to remind him that he must maintain a singular focus on the rower just ahead of him And that he must focus on the voice of the coxswain calling out the commands."  “MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT”
Nothing must distract him – not the other competing boats, nor the pain in his muscles, nor the lack of oxygen in their lungs - nothing can enter the successful oarsmen’s mind for he has just one focus! "MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT”
And so, for SCMM 2014, I have a plan. Whenever I find my Mind meandering away from the race, I plan to chant my Mantra....MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT, MIND IN THE BOAT..
Whenever I feel my pace falling...MIND IN THE BOAT
Whenever I feel myself tiring...MIND IN THE BOAT
Whenever I feel uncertainty...MIND IN THE BOAT
Whenever I feel pain...MIND IN THE BOAT
Whenever I lose focus...MIND IN THE BOAT
For so many of us SCMM Runners, “THE BOAT” has come to mean so much more than we can express!  
My BOAT is not just my body. It is so much more. My BOAT is my love for running, it is my idea of pride and joy and respect for myself.  It is my test of my physical endurance. It is a test of my mental and emotional toughness.
My boat is my idea of becoming a part of something which is larger than myself, and like the boys in the boat, it is my idea of pushing beyond my limited physical and mental pain threshold. 
It is my idea of growing from boyhood to manhood.
By keeping my “MIND IN THE BOAT” on this one special marathon day, I hope that I might be able to push through my aches and pains and then for a moment I might enjoy a mystical moment of pride and elation and I even might, perhaps for a brief fleeting moment, find myself closer to God!...CLOSER TO GOD !!
Really???? God?????
I think I’m going a bit overboard here..Closer to God, might just be a bit too much!
I think that I will simply settle for a time that I can learn to run past pain, past discomfort, past exhaustion, and past the negative voices in my head.  
I will simply settle for a PERSONAL BEST..


  1. Amit bhai, while there is no Adolf Hitler to surprise, am sure you will surprise yourself this SCMM. And pleasantly at that.

  2. I too feel that concentration is very important as our minds wonders around during the race.

    Mind in the boat will surely help.

  3. Wow..what an excellent read...thanks for sharing

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  5. Nice read! And I am sure all the training will bear fruit. So run free and run well! Cheers and all the best! I will surely be cheering for you!

  6. With very little (or no) practice I have managed leading to the race, I had plans of quitting after comfy 21k but after reading this, I will crawl all the way..thank you!
    M-I-B M-I-B M-I-B!!

  7. As always, your blog is a source of inspiration Amit! All the best. Hope you achieve your PB! But most of all enjoy your run

  8. Great Amit. Will be thinking of you and Neepa . I'd like to say "go out and flatten all those hills ", but there are no hills in Mumbai. The hills are all in the mind. Naresh

  9. Beautifully expressed, this will help me keep my mind in the boat too on Sunday. Relate to every word.

  10. Inspiring Amit, and with only 5 weeks training under my belt, I am going to need all the help that i can get on Sunday!

  11. Amit, you not only write appropriately but also time it appropriately.
    Great going.!!!!All the best for you PB !!!!
    RUN FOR FUN !!!!!

  12. A great piece to prep me and pep me on the eve of the Marathon - thanks Amit! You have encapsulated it so aptly - the race is a test of one's mind, body and character. It is time to come through with flying colours. MIB and Good Luck!

  13. You run because you can You achieve because of the capacity within you. Reflect on this reality and enjoy your run!!!!

  14. I am not a runner but your book "dare to run" and your blog inspire me tremendously. All the best to you and may you achieve your personal best

  15. Fantastic! Closer to God indeed. It is at that darkest time in a run that I think I can no longer, that I call out to God (usually in anger) and remember that I am not alone on that journey. A friend, to whom I owe so much gratitude and most of the credit for my being able to run further than around the block at home, once said to me: "I did nothing. You are the one who showed up." Remember that. You show up every time you run and that makes you a champion. Well done on showing up, thank you for sharing this and all the best for your SCMM.

  16. Thank you for inspiring us become stronger , better , happier and for every bit of what you give us may you continue to earn even more :-) Mind in the Boat, Mind in the Boat!