Monday 29 January 2018

The comrades ultra

The Comrades Ultra Marathon.

I’m no expert but I have managed to run the 89km Comrades Ultra Marathon, in South Africa, a few times.

I was requested by Tanya to offer some advice for someone who hasn’t run Comrades and wishes to run it for the very first time.

After many years of married life, I’ve lost the ability to give much advice.
But a question has been asked and so must be answered.

So here goes:

- The first question to ask and answer, is a question to ask and answer of oneself.  
Ask yourself the question: Why in the world would I want to run an 89km race like The Comrades Ultra Marathon?

Very few people climb Mount Everest.    Very few run Comrades.  

The question which was asked of Mallory, "Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?"  is often asked of a Comrades runner: “Why do you want to run the Comrades Ultra Marathon?”  

Mallory’s retort, "Because it's there", arguably became the most famous answer in mountaineering.   “Because it’s there!”

Similarly, one needs to figure out for oneself why one would want to run the Comrades Marathon.  The best time to do this is before one registers for the race.

I think I run the Comrades marathon because of my desire to experience the unknown within my being.   My wife says that she knows everything there is to know about me.  She says she knows me more than I know myself.  She is wrong.  I have a few secrets.

Every year, at some point on the road during Comrades, I find out something new about myself.  I get a new insight into myself.

It is good to know a few things about oneself which no one else is privy to.  

So, answer for yourself, “Why do you want to run Comrades?”

People will tell you how great this race is.  People will tell you how hard it is & people will tell you how long it is.
People will tell you that it is one race which will pull you towards itself like a magnet, again and again, even after you have run it once.  
People may tell you that the race entices you into a forbidden relationship (like an illicit love affair) which you know may well lead you to your doom and yet you will run towards it, like moths flying towards fire.

People will tell you how much you will “Love” The Ultimate Human Race.

But these are all just words.
And words are not experiences.  

Some things have to be experienced to be understood, much like the word “Love”.

Everybody has their own definition of the word “Love”. The dictionary does too.  And yet it is only your experience which makes it real for you.

You will run comrades only when you feel the need to experience something completely out of the ordinary.  

A day will come when regular running is no longer enough.
A day will come when the distance of a half or a full no longer entices you.
A day will come when you ask yourself, “Now what ?”  
A day will come when you want to ask new questions about your old self.
A day will come when you want to discover new spaces within & without.
A day will come when you want to know what you are made of.
A day will come when you want to discover how far you can go.

That is perhaps the day you will sign up for The Ultimate Human Race.
Of course, you may have a completely different reason for running comrades.   Whatever your reasons, just remember that the Ancient Greek aphorism "know thyself" applies to this endeavour as well.
Examine your motives well.  You will answer for them on race day.

Over the last 9 years I’ve had some insights into this race.  But I have come to understand that the advice I’m about to give is pretty common knowledge.
But anyway.  Let me write on.

- Registrations for Comrades opens in September but Comrades Training should ideally start in January.  People sign-up in September and get into complete Comrades training mode right away.   I find this hard to sustain.   I would advise simple base building from Sept to Jan at which point one can start adding more aggressive volume, hills, and speed training.   The peak training months are March and April and a little bit in May.

The key to running multiple Comrades is to not burn out.  One must conserve oneself.

Pacing oneself slowly, if one wishes to last longer, is an idea which can be applied to many other aspects of life as well.  
Pacing is the key to endurance.  Pace yourself!

- The Comrades marathon has a different start point each year.  The start point alternates between Durban and PMB.  One run is called the Up run, the other, the Down Run.  The Up run is traditionally about 2k shorter than the Down run.   The down run is approximately 89km while the Up is approximately 87 km.  (sometimes these distances may change due to some road closures or some other issues but they are in the ball-park).
However, the time given to complete both the Up run and the Down run is the same.  Always 12:00 hours.  

I like going downhill .  It’s much easier than going uphill.  
Nature prefers downhill.  I mean rivers flow downhill, leaves fall down from trees, apples fall downwards.   A ball thrown up always comes back down.
Going down is natural, it’s free & less stressful.  Gravity helps.
Down is the natural state of things.  Pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, have to invest millions trying to make things go up.    It’s hard to go to Up.  And the older one gets the harder it is to go up.
So just take my word for this.  
The down run is easier.  

- But no matter whether it is the down run or the up run, one needs to be a strong hill climber.  One does not have a choice, the first part of the down run is up.   So the thing is this: if one wants to run Comrades, one needs to love running up the hills and running down the valleys.     There are many downs in the up run as well.
So, don’t worry too much when you are climbing up because everything that goes up has to come down and vice versa.  Just learn to hang in and keep putting one feet in front of the other.

- A wise man once said that you can’t stand in the same river twice.  A wiser man said that you can’t stand in the same river even once.   The river is changing at every instant.   You stand in it, and the water flows past your legs.  What is gone is the past, what is about to come is the future and you are standing in the present.    And yet the present is so fleeting that you can’t even call it time.  The past and the future can be defined as Time but the present is simply Life.

Every person who stands on the start line comes with a desire to attain something.  Some simply want to finish.  Some have a time target.  Time flies on the road that day.  Every infinitesimal moment of time is of value.  Don’t waste it.  Keep moving.
As children we wish to grow up quickly.  As age catches up we wish to become young again.  We sit and wonder, where has all the time disappeared?   Time disappears on the Comrades route.  Use it well.  Be aware that there are too many water stations and if you stop at every water station you will lose time.  As the race progresses and the fatigue increases, these water stations start looking like safe havens.   One starts thinking that it is only fair to walk through an aid station because it’s been provided.  Remember Time flies.  Stay in the present.  Be aware.  Keep moving.

- Comrades is a long race (Duh!) and the idea is that one must teach one’s body to keep running when tired.  This is possible only when one has taught it to do so in training.   I find that high volume is a very important ingredient of Comrades training.   Some may disagree.  Many people will say that they have run comrades on minimum volume. (Between January and May)  Some will say 500k, some 800k, and some will say 1200k.  
I have come to the conclusion that I need to run more.

- The increase in volume normally causes most people to slow down. The Comrades marathon has multiple cut-off points.   One must finish certain distance within a certain time.  The half way is normally 6 hours and 10mins.  I have experienced that a large number of runners get cut-off at approximately the 82k cut-off which happens around 11 hours and 20 mins.  
For a slow runner it’s not just endurance which is important but also speed.  So do not ignore speed training.

- One needs to qualify for Comrades race by running a standard marathon under 5:00 hours.   And one is then seeded on the comrades start line based on the qualification time submitted.   The slower the runner, the further he is from the start line.  Someone who qualifies with a marathon time of between 4:40-5:00 will take approximately 6-10 mins to reach the start point on race day.  Those minutes are lost forever from the 12:00 hours one has to complete the race.  

-In describing the race, all official literature will mention the names of 5 big hills.  And sometimes people start thinking that Comrades just has the 5 big hills.  This is like saying that if one walks from Kathmandu to the top of Mt Everest, the only mountain one will have to climb is Everest!
But one cannot ignore all the other little hills which will come along the way.  5 hills have been christened! But one must understand that one is running through a valley, which is called, “The valley of a thousand hills”.

And it is the nameless hills which one needs to run which will cause a lot of pain and agony.    One must learn to run on a rolling terrain.

- Pain on race day is a given.   I can promise you that everyone will experience pain whether one is a fast runner or a slow runner.

The pain isn’t just physical.    It is mental and emotional as well.  

There will come a point on the road, after 60km, when one will be alone.  It will not matter that one has trained hard.  It will not matter that one is a fast runner.  It will not matter that one has trained brilliantly well.  It will not matter where one went to school.  It will not matter how many cars one owns.  It will not matter how big ones house is or how beautiful ones wife is or how charming ones husband is.   It will not matter how big ones  bank balance is or how important you are in your day job.

You will stand alone.

And you will ask yourself the question: What the Fxxk is going on ? Why am I here? How can I finish this? I am in pain and I do not want to do this !
You will question the very idea of the race and will wonder why you set forth on this journey.

And In those few seconds of introspection, will lie the secret to the rest of your day.

Over the next few hours, some will find an inner strength they never knew they had.  Some will find a resolve they never knew they had.  Some will rise to the occasion.  And some will hang their heads, put their hands on their hips and get into the bail-bus.   Some will get cut-off against a time limit.

But does it really matter how you end the day? Yes and No.

Everyone wants to be rewarded for all the hard work they have put in over months and months of training and the pride and the satisfaction of having gone the distance is an awesome reward and so is the medal.

But many who start the day won’t finish.  Some will cramp, some will puke, some will get cut-off and some will just give up and some will end up in the hospital tent.

It does not matter if one finishes or not because the race is as much about one’s inner-journey as it is about the external one.  

You’re on that road, alone.  You have to cross it alone on your own two feet.  Your fellow runners may help, your family may pray, and supporters on the road may cheer but it is you who has to keep putting one step in front of the other and it is you who has to answer the question when the pain inevitably hits you: Why am I here ?

And whether you finish the race or not and whether you finish it in a time of your choosing or not, it does not matter.

It does not matter because it is the journey which will forever change your attitude to life.  
The race strips you of everything.  It strips you of all that you have used to define yourself with your entire life, until that moment.  It lays you bare.  It strips you to your core and then allows you to rebuild yourself.  

The reason one comes back to run comrades is that one wants to revisit that point of time.  The point of time where one was stripped of everything.  One comes back to revisit that moment in time, when one was on the road stripped of all privileges, when one had the free will to decided how the rest of the day would unfold.

One goes back because one wants to re-experience that infinitesimal moment of time, when one had to look deep inside oneself and search for an existential answer.

It is an answer to a question which we all want answered.   It is a question we all ask of ourselves:

Who am I?

You can find that answer on that road between Durban and PMB.

See you there.

Saturday 27 May 2017

The race to measure the Comrades Route

The race to Measure the Comrades Route.

Runners measure everything to do with running and on the 4th of June 2017 runners from over 60 nations will reach the start-line of the Comrades Ultra Marathon.  

The race distance will be perfectly measured for us.

However, there was a time when measuring distances was more complicated.    Humans did not know the distance between the earth and the sun.

I am reading a brilliant book written by Andrea Wulf.  It is called, “Chasing Venus, the race to measure the heavens.”   It deals with an attempt to measure the distance between the earth and the sun.

I quote, “In 1716, British astronomer Edmond Halley published a ten-page essay which called upon scientists to unite in a project spanning the entire globe.   On June 6, 1761, Halley predicted, Venus would traverse the face of the sun – for a few hours the brightest star would appear as a perfectly black circle.  He believed that measuring the exact time and duration of this rare celestial encounter would provide the data that astronomers needed in order to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun. 

It was essential, Halley explained, that several people at different locations across the globe should measure the rare heavenly rendezvous at the same time.  

It was not enough to see Venus’s march from Europe alone; astronomers would have to travel to remote locations in both the northern and southern hemispheres to be as far apart as possible.  And only if they combined these results – the northern viewings being the counterparts to the southern observations – could they achieve what was hitherto been almost unimaginable. 

Halley’s request would be answered when hundreds of astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies `joined the transit project. “ 

To carry out this project in 1761 was incredibly difficult.  Astronomers had to undertake travel through difficult hostile and inhospitable terrains and on dangerous open seas for months at end to reach their destinations.  Nations at war had to cooperate in the name of science.  And from those dozens of locations, in South Africa, India, Siberia, Mauritius, Eastern Finland, Newfoundland and even on the remote island of St.Helena,  hundreds of astronomers had to point their massive telescopes to the sky at the exact same moment to see the transit. 

But what was hardest was that the data had to be shared.  No single result was enough.   Further complicating this was that in 1761 everyone measured everything differently:  Clocks were not accurate enough to measure longitude precisely.  Michelle Legro in Brainpicks explains, “A minute in India would be different than one in Halifax which would be different than one in South Africa.  The same for feet, inches, meters and miles”

“A ‘mil’ in Sweden was more than 10 kilometers, in Norway more than eleven. An English mile was a different length than a German mile.  In France alone there were 2000 different units of measurement.”

And yet, “On 6 June 1761, several hundred astronomers, all over the world pointed their telescopes towards the sky to see Venus travel across the sun.  They ignored religious, national and economic differences to unite in what was the first global scientific project. 

Chasing Venus, “became the perfect metaphor for the light of reason that would illuminate this new world and extinguish the last vestiges of the Dark Ages”

On June 4, 2017 Our voyages on that road between Duran and PMB will be perfectly measured by technology.   Everyone will all have trained in different environments, spread across all the corners of the world. 

Everyone will have measured their training precisely and yet differently. 

Some will have logged the training volume as kilometers in their logbooks, some will have logged them as miles.  Some will have measured the inclines and declines in meters, some in feet.   Some will have run through freezing temperatures, some through the extreme heat and humidity and some through rain.  Some will have measured the temperatures in Fahrenheit, some in Celsius.  We will have run at different times of the day and in different time zones.   Some of us will have trained on real hills, some on treadmills and some on staircases. 

Yet on June 4th as we will all unite to cover that one same sacred distance we will all be chasing our own unique dreams and our own unique heaven.    

And on that day, I will measure something much harder than the geographical distance. I may use all sorts of different yardsticks to measure my journey on that day: time spent on the road, overall ranking, gender ranking, friends made, enjoyment level, pain level or the kind of medal received.

But no matter which yardstick I use, I have no doubt that at some level, I will be measuring that which is the most difficult to measure:

I will be measuring myself against my idea of myself. 

Thursday 2 March 2017

Comrades , Camus and Sisyphus

Comrades, Camus & Sisyphus.

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”: Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Yesterday on March 1, 2017, I started serious training for the Comrades Ultra Marathon.  As it was a Wednesday, I did a longish run which ended with me doing two hill reps.

As I stood at the bottom of a longish hill, I contemplated the climb ahead.  I realised that I was at the bottom of the hill in more ways than one.

Like most normal recreational runners, I cannot sustain peak training for more than a few months.  If I trained hard all year round, my body would break down.

I try and train as hard as possible from March to May.  At the end of May, I hope to be in peak shape for Comrades.

After Comrades, I come down the hill: mentally, physically and emotionally.  I can no longer sustain that rigorous training and so I lose a substantial part of my fitness in the months that follow.   I more or less return to naught.

I’ve now been running Comrades for 8 years and it is the same story every year.

As I begin training for a new Comrades I am appalled at the amount of hard work which awaits me from March to May and the tragedy is that I know that after working very hard through those months, I will not be able to bank that fitness.  In the months that follow Comrades, I know that I will lose much of it and will again find myself at the bottom of the hill when I start training for the following year.

I stood below the hill yesterday, contemplating the absurdity of my position.  I climb a mountain each year and then I have to climb it again in a year’s time.  There is no possibility of staying on top.    Become fit and then lose the fitness and again become fit and lose the fitness over again.  

To what end must I do this?  I know that at some point in the future, I will no longer be able to run Comrades and then at a point further in distance, like everyone else, I will die.  So is this worth doing?  Is their any meaning in this?

What is the point in this ritual, up and down the mountain?
Is it not an absurd thing to do?
Is this worth doing?  
This race is so hard that it takes all I have and more often than not, what I have is not enough.
Why then should I suffer ?
What is the meaning of struggling to go up that hill when I know that I will come back down?
Is there a meaning to life and its absurd daily bustle?

3 months of brutal training to gain fitness which will be substantially lost as soon as Comrades is done and I will have to start all over again next year!  What is the point in making it up the hill?

Standing at the bottom of that hill, yesterday,  I was reminded of Sisyphus, one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology.

Sisyphus was condemned by Zius to roll a huge boulder up a hill for all eternity.  And the moment he managed to push it up to the top, it would roll back down.   Sisyphus was condemned to do this for all eternity.  Push the rock up the hill with all his might, only to have it roll down.

I wonder what Sisyphus would have felt when each time on reaching the top he realized that he had to walk down again and restart the whole process.  To know that he had accomplished nothing.  The futility of the labor must have eaten into his soul.

Albert Camus in his fabulous essay, The Myth of Sisyphus draws a picture of Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill..“One sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it and push it up a slope a hundred times over, one sees the face screwed up, the cheek against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of the two earth-clotted hands.
At the very end of his long effort measured by sky-less space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved.
Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments towards the lower world whence he will have to push it up again towards the summit.”

A tragic & absurd fate like this would push one into contemplating if life is worth living.   But Sisyphus accepts his fate.  He does not search for meaning expect doing what is at hand.

And so for Camus, Sisyphus is an hero because in that moment when he turns around to return to the bottom of the hill, he is fully conscious of his wretched condition and in this clear awareness and acceptance of his fate, he becomes “superior to his fate”.  He embraces the absurd and in embracing it, he overcomes it.

“He is stronger than his rock”.  

He does not give into sorrow or religion.  

He does not look for a meaning to his life outside of his condition.  

He understands that there is freedom beyond what the Gods can grant.

He remains “awake”.  
He learns that there are no tomorrows and that he is free.
He concludes that all is well.

Camus concludes that “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I am no Sisyphus.  The Gods have no time to take a hand in my fate.
My fate is a personal matter, which I must sort out myself.

I know that I will lose my fitness again and again and someday I will not be able to push up the hill anymore. So be it.

But like Sisyphus, I know that pushing up the hill is neither sterile nor futile.   Climbing up the mountain is my thing.

The struggle towards the heights is enough to fill my heart.

I know I am happy.

Besides, every-time I stand at the bottom of the hill, I know that I will struggle up the hill again, in the company of heroes.

And at the top.. glory awaits.

Friday 10 February 2017

The crossroads of history

At the crossroads of history !

'Standing at the cross roads of history', is such a well known and important phrase.

Reading it again, in Andrew Solomon's book, Far and Away, made me think of a few things.

Yesterday was Aryan's last day at school.  He is done with the first 10 years of schooling and now after the 10th grade exams, he will embark on a whole new chapter in his life. He is, in a way, standing at the crossroads of history.  His own history, mind you, but history nonetheless.   After all, each one of us is the most important character in his or her own story.

When Aryan came home from school he didn't seem particularly upset about the closure of such a major chapter in his own life.   I think it's because he knows that so much more is now going to happen.  Life has great things in store for him.

Watching him reminded me of my last day at school decades ago.  I still remember that I was relieved that school was at an end.  I hated my school and I distinctly remember one of the girls crying in class on the last day and wondering, "what's wrong with this girl ?"  I guess I was excited about the days to come.  

I was sure that the future would be better than the past.  
I was standing at the crossroads of history.

5 years later when I finished college, I was again only mildly sad about the fabulous time that I was leaving  behind.  I had loved College but I was excited about the future.  I was about to go to study in the United States and the future held so much promise.  
I was standing on the cross roads of history and ready to plunge  ahead.
I was sure that future would  be better than the past

Six years later, I broke down as I sat in the departure lounge of the Logan Airport, Boston, as I left my beloved United States to return back to India.   I loved my friends in the US and my life there and was heartbroken to leave the States and I fell on my knees and kissed the floor as I boarded the return flight.  

But still there was tremendous hope about the future.  I was to return to India and start work with General Electric Plastics and start a whole new chapter in my life.    
I was sure that future would be better than the past.  
I was once again standing on the crossroads of history.

Working for GE, getting married, and leaving GE to start my own business were again all major crossroads in life.  Each time, there was sadness at leaving behind a major chapter of my life but there was always hope about the future.   The crossroads lead to greater happiness and a better future.

A few years later Namrata was born and then Aryan was born and life continued to change and there were always happy new events to look forward towards.

There was always sadness at the end of a road travelled, but there was always excitement about the new road on which I was embarking.

I started running at the age of 38 and the last 12 years have just been completely awesome.

My dad always used to tell me that his life used to change dramatically every 10 years.  Mine has been perhaps changed more or less in the same pattern .  Every decade has seen great changes take place.

Yesterday, over lunch, my mom and I were discussing the health issues of a relative and my mom suddenly asked me.  "Amit, How much life insurance do you have ?"
The question took my thoughts to the question of my mortality and the well being of those I will leave behind.

I turned 50 , seven months ago.  And I realised that once again I am perhaps at a new crossroad.

5O is such a major milestone and I wondered what the next decade will bring !

Will my strength ebb now ? Is it time to start packing up ?
Will I be able to run the races and distances and speeds that I still want to ?  How many comrades are left in these legs ?

Must I look at the decade to come with the excitement that I've had at each crossroad in the past or will the half century that has gone past be the glory days of my life?

For a while, I hesitated.

Can the future, now that I am 50, be even better than the past ?

Andrew Solomon one of the greatest journalists of our time, writes in his book, Far and Away, about his 9th grade teacher who used to keep using the phrase, 'standing at the crossroads of history' in describing the lives of the great important figures (Ramses II, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson).

Every time the teacher used the phrase, 'standing at the crossroads of history', young Andrew Solomon envisioned them as brave men and women who disregarded traffic lights, turning sharply left or right where everyone else had planned on proceeding straight ahead.

I like that vision.  To think of every major decade as a traffic light with options on how I wish to proceed.

I think only I have to decide what I want the future to hold.

The direction that I want my life to take is of my own choosing.

And I want the decade to come to be the best years of my life.

Good health, a happy family and loads and loads of great exotic runs around the world await me.

Ever Onwards then, through the the traffic lights of history !!

Friday 30 December 2016

I'm infallible

I'm infallible because I'm me.

"Amit, sometimes in life when you do something very very stupid, there is no point in beating yourself up over it.  Just admit that you did something stupid. And since you're an accounting student, open up a ledger account in your life book and name it  'stupidity account'.  Write down those moments in there and move on" :
(My Dads advise to me. )

I hate it when I'm wrong at anything.  I hate it when I make a mistake.  I hate it when I do some something completely stupid.

Now, that isn't a quality necessarily unique to me. Everyone hates such.

The big flaw in my character is that I hate to admit that I am wrong. I hate to admit that I ever make a mistake.   I hate to admit that I'm as fallible as the next person.

I believe that I'm the guy who is always right and the mistake is always attributed to someone or something else.

How can I be wrong ? I'm the guy who is almost enlightened.  Running made me so. It has brought me into a space where I'm calm and composed and completely  "aware".  

I'm always in the moment.

I can never make idiotic mistakes like most "normal" people do.

Sometimes even when circumstances conspire in such a way that the only conclusion that may be drawn is that I am, on occasion, a complete idiot, I know in my heart,  that I'm not really at fault.  The fault lies somewhere else.  On someone or something else.

Last evening, I had my dear friends Rajiv and family over for dinner.   During our conversation, I realised that my watch wasn't recording my heart rate.  
As the conversation proceeded to demonitization, I forgot about the dysfunctional heart-rate feature on the watch.

Earlier today, I had to be on a 10:45 am flight to Coimbatore.  My routine is that my wife, Neepa , always comes to drop me off when it's an early morning flight.

At 9:15 am as we walked towards our drive way, I saw that my driver, Khwaja, had come to work 15 minutes earlier than usual  and so I told Neepa that Khwaja will drive me to the airport.

On getting into the car, I told Khwaja, "Khwaja , drop me to the airport, jet airways".

After that, I first checked Twitter to see what Obama had said last-night in his year-end press conference and then I remembered the "heart rate" disfunction in the watch and started fiddling with the watch.

We reached the airport at 9:35 am and I noticed that there was a reasonably long line at the entrance gate where they check the tickets and the identity card.

There were about 8 people in front of me but the line went reasonably fast.   I was one person away from being checked when I realised that I was at the wrong terminal of the wrong fxxxxing airport !

This was the old airport.  I needed to be at the new T2 terminal!

Me! The frequent world flier ! The platinum card holder ! Me ! I was at the wrong fxxxung terminal!  In my own city ! Who the fxxxx can I punch? Who is to blame for something so idiotic ?

I ran out of the terminal, one hand holding the overnight check-in bag. The other hand holding the lap-top bag and the print out of the ticket and my wallet and my drivers license.

Frantically I called up Khwaja. "Khwaja ! Come back ! You've dropped me to the wrong airport ! You fool !!"

I hung up and waited for my heart rate to settle.   I decide not to tell my wife about this.   I knew she will tell me that I didn't pay attention to where I was being driven to.  I knew she will tell me that I was on the phone.

But I felt it was her fault.  These are details SHE needs to remember and if SHE had come to drop me as planned, this would not have happened.  Neepa !!!

After 5 mins , Khwaja calls me " Amitbhai, the security is not letting me enter the drop off area ! They say I can't come.  Because there is nobody in the car to drop. They won't allow a passenger -less car in the drop off area "

"where are you Khwaja ?, I shouted.

"I'm at the right turn... after the straight ...where I dropped you ."

"What right turn ?"

"the right turn ...after the straight "

"what right turn..... what straight ?"

"the right turn .... after the straight "

"ok I don't understand a word of what you're saying. ....come back to the security roadblock , I'm coming there "

I sprint like a madman for 500 meters, the handle of the new overnight check-in hand bag which I'm holding in my left hand  breaks.

I realise I'm still holding my wallet , print out of ticket , drivers license , and laptop bag in my right hand.

I need to be "mindful" I think. I need to be "aware".  I shouldn't drop anything,  I tell myself.

I reach the security point. No Khwaja.  I call him.

 "Khwaja where are you ? "

"I'm at the right turn...after the straight, where I left you"

"Fxxx Khwaja ".

I sprint.... Another 500 meters.  I reach the main road (eastern express highway ).

I call him again .....

"Khwaja I'm on the fxxxing highway now , outside the airport. Beyond the Sahara star 5 star hotel, where are you ?"

" I'm at the right turn ....after the straight...... but I will come to the highway"

I wait for him.

Should I tell neepa ? I wonder...

Perhaps She needs to check the flight schedule for next Coimbatore flight ?
I might need to buy a new ticket.

I call her : " neepa ! I got off at the wrong airport "

"What ? You were on twitter ! You didn't tell Khwaja where to drive you.  How can you be so stupid? "

"Neepa I was checking  my heart rate......"

"you will miss your flight.  Where are you and where is Khwaja ?"

"he's at the right turn... after the straight.... .....Neepa, I'm disoriented. Which way is the T2 terminal , Towards the right on the highway or towards the left ?"

"To the right ! Amit ! You don't know where T2 is ? You don't pay any attention ? You were on your phone. Where is Khwaja  "

"He is at the right turn ....after the straight....₹&&;:/()&&@₹;  .....Neepa I'm taking an auto rickshaw  "

So I flag down an auto-rickshaw and tell him take me to T2.

Neepa calls me back: "you think an auto is allowed onto the T2  access road ?"

"Neepa ! How the fxxxx do I know? .  I've never been there in an auto.  I don't know. Can you call Khwaja and have him follow me ?
In case they don't allow an auto inside the access road approach to the T2"

The auto goes forward at a glacial pace.  We take a right turn under an overpass.  The auto driver bears left to go straight.  I tell him we have to take a complete "U" turn to go toward the T2.  
He says no.  We have to go straight.

I tell him "No. you take U turn. I'll tell you how to go "

"no sir.  You have to go straight "

"no, you take u turn. "

All the time I'm thinking.  This is neepa's fault. She needed to drop me to airport.   I'm not supposed to deal with this crap.

Fxxxxxz Khwaja, I search for my car.  I look outside and behind the auto to find him. He's nowhere in sight.  Fxxx Khwaja  !

The auto driver takes a U turn.  500 m later he says the access road is shut for auto rickshaws .  Only cars are allowed in !

"Why the fxxxx didn't you tell me that before ?", I scream.

"I told you, let's go Straight . You said take U turn. It's your fault "

"But you didn't tell me access road is closed for an auto ! "

"I told you, let's go straight "

But YOU didn't tell me access road is closed for an Auto ! "

"But I told YOU, let's go straight "

I call Khwaja.

" Khwaja where the fxxxx are you ?"

"I'm coming to access road ", he says.

I tell the driver. Ok drop me at the access road entrance.

He drops me there.

The meter says ₹30/-   I give him a ₹100/-

He just looks at me.
"aren't you going to give me anything back ?" I ask him.

"No", he says and smiles and  looks at me as if I'm an alien life form

I see Khwaja drive up.

I run towards my car.

One hand holding the overnight check in bag with broken handle and the other hand holding my laptop and the other stuff.

I get into my car.  We zoom towards the T2.

I get out of the car and run towards the entrance.

I reach the jet airways check-in counter.  

Thankfully, I have a business class ticket.

But there are 2 people ahead of me in the line. I call out and say, "excuse me, I'm sorry but I'm late for my flight "

They let me through.

I call up Neepa. I tell her it's her fault that she didn't come to drop me to the airport.

I can hear Namrata laughing in the background .  

Neepa shouts at me and says that it's not her fault.

She shouts, " Accept that it's your own mistake.  You didn't pay attention. You were on your stupid phone "

I can hear the laughter at the other end of the phone.

Neepa says they are visualising me running on the Tarmac trying to flag down the plane.

I realise that they are laughing their butts off at my cost.

Neepa reminds me, "why weren't you  "mindful" and "aware" and "in-the-moment" ?"

She continues with complete sadistic satisfaction , "Own up. Only you are responsible for this.  You were on your phone "

"Neepa ! It isn't my fault", I said with a smile, " It's this crap Garmin watch with the heart-rate disfunction...  "

The journey

I read a beautiful poem last night on Maria Popovas' brilliant website: "Brainpickings".

The poem called "The Journey" is written by David Whyte and is about ending relationships.

The poem and what Maria wrote about the poem on her website was on my mind earlier today when I finished my first and last long run in preparation for the mumbai marathon.

I had a terrible run and realised that I'm in terrible shape and might not manage a sub 5:00 time at the mumbai marathon and consequently not qualify for Comrades 2017.

As I struggled through the excruciatingly hard run, I thought about my relationship with running.   I started running when I was 38.  I am now 50.  It's been quite an awesome journey.   But as I struggled today with what used to be a simple 30k, I wondered how long this fat, old, un-athletic body of mine can continue on.

The desire to run the 89km Comrades is strong and ever present but the toll that the pounding takes on my body is cumulative and journey is getting harder each year.

As the dark night sky broke into a dark blue and then an orange glow, I searched inside myself to find an answer.   How long can this journey be sustained ? And if this journey and relationship with Comrades is to end, what then lies in the future?

The truth is that I don't know if this was just a single very very bad run or a harbinger of the ashes to follow.  I simply don't know.

Although the poem, "The journey" is about the harrowing experience of leaving a relationship and the accompanying pain it did fortunately end with faith in what the future may hold even without the relationship.


Above the mountains the geese turn into the light again Painting their black silhouettes on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be inscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky to find that first, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written something new in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving."

So I would like to think that , even as the strength fades quickly now, I'm not leaving.  I have faith that no matter what happens in the future with running Comrades, I will always find pleasure .  Perhaps of a different kind.  A different freedom. A different light .

Who knows, Perhaps I too am just arriving !

Galileo and running shorts

In praise of Galileo and running shorts.

They welcome you according to your clothes.  They see you off according to your wits : Old Chinese saying.

It is really unfortunate that our clothes symbolise to a certain extent who we are perceived to be or who we wish to be perceived as.

I think our clothes should be fashioned to allow us to do in comfort that which we wish to do.

It is obvious that we must run in shorts as opposed to a long robe.
Shorts are designed for running.  Long robes are designed for other things.  A Religious leader, who is meant to guide some of us in our heavenly quest,  will rarely be seen in shorts.

So Running shorts, are by nature short,  so that they don't impede our stride length.  They are airy and well ventilated so that there is no heat buildup.  They are made of soft fabric so there is no chafing. There is a inner lining to stop our personal properties from spilling out and about.

Besides these, as I recently discovered, there can be several other good uses for running shorts.

This came to mind because I was recently reading a book by Dava Sobel titled "Galileo's Daughter".  
It gives a modern take on the history of science.  It tells the story of Galileo the man, the father, and one of the worlds greatest scientists.

Galileo, in his earlier years (1589) procured a teaching post at the University of Pisa but constantly got himself into trouble by his refusal to wear the regulation academic regalia.  ( a long black toga)

All of us know the legend of Galileo throwing cannonballs of different size from atop the leaning tower of Pisa  to demonstrate that objects of different weights don't fall down at different speeds.  

The author Dava Sobel sympathises with Galileo's distaste for the official long black toga that he had to wear.  The author explains how it would have hindered young Galileo's progress up the spiral staircase of the 8 storied tower as he carried up the cannon balls.

Sobel writes, " Galileo deemed official doctoral dress a pretentious nuisance, and he derided the toga in a three hundred line verse spoof that enjoyed wide readership in that college town."

Clothing gets in the way of men's and women's frank appraisal of each other's attributes, argued Galileo, "while professional uniforms hid the true merits of character under a cloak of social standing.  

Worse, the dignity of the professor's gown barred him from the brothel, denying him the evil pleasures of whoring while resigning him to the equally sinful solace of his own hands.  

The gown even impeded walking, to say nothing of working"

I had always associated Galileo with someone who with his telescope had first discovered the marvels of the celestial bodies.

I now discovered that Galileo had an eye for all sorts of bodies.  

I was fascinated that he lamented that his official dress came in the way of "the pleasures of whoring" and that he had other  "use of his own hands" besides focusing his telescope.

I realised that seeking "Heavenly Truths"  does not stop one from seeking "Earthly Answers".

We are then finally all humans.  Some of us holding a telescope pointing towards the stars.  Some of us wearing running shorts hoping to reach the finish line.  We all have our own unique tools which bring us joy.

So from a purely pleasure seeking point of view , it is unfortunate that Galileo was a scientist and not a runner .

Cause if he had been a runner, a good pair of running shorts would have sufficed for all his earthly needs...