Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Atalanta Affair. Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) Part 2

Part 2

Saturday 26th November 2011

On the flight to Delhi, my mind was filled with thoughts about wooing Atalanta the Goddess of Speed.  I was anxious. I had come to interpret the pursuit of speed and the pursuit of happiness as being one and the same thing.
 “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” have been considered “unalienable rights” in the United States Declaration of Independence.  And here I was, considering Atalanta and the promise of Speed as my “unalienable right.” 
As I entered my room at the Meridian hotel, I took heart, for on my bed, lay a parcel, which had been delivered by DHL just in nick of time.  I opened the parcel and inspected the contents.  Yes! At least something had turned out right.  Now the question was whether I would be within striking distance of Atalanta to use its contents.
Sunday 27th November 2011
I stood right behind the elite athletes on the starting line.  I was nervous.  I thought about the e-mail I had received from her on Friday evening, it had been brief and to the point, they were the same lines she wrote to all her suitors.  I had read them in Ovid’s Metamorphosis: “I am not to be won till I be conquered first in speed.  Wife and couch shall be given as prize unto the swift but death shall be the reward of those who lag behind.”
This is too much stress!
The Africans were warming up and with 10 minutes to start time, I could not even see her.  Where was Atalanta and how can I race her if I can’t even find her?
I knew I had to de-stress, quickly, and so I went over and chatted briefly with the incredibly friendly and gorgeously glamorous Gul Panag (who was at the start line with her equally handsome husband, Rishi). 
With 3 minutes to go to the start, I finally spotted her.  Atalanta was talking with the young and handsome son of a liquor baron (who also happens to own a F1 team, an airline, besides being the official water supplier for the race). 
There they were, laughing and talking and hugging. He looked like a Greek God with sculpted muscles and gel in his hair.  He was a guy who looked comfortably in touch with his inner feminine (something I know that women admire in a man).  He was wearing a Speedo-like spandex-made body suit, so tight, that one could see every well developed muscle in his body.  He moved around her, like a peacock showing off his feathers.   I could hear him speak in his heavily accented foreign tongue and my heart sank.  Has this guy sent in his e-mail too? How many people do I have to race? How can poor me compete with this guy? He is young, strong, handsome and sooooo wealthy (And he wears spandex)
I kept staring at Atalanta and with just a minute to go, her eyes caught mine. She started to walk towards me and her beautiful body glided so sublimely that it seemed as if a celestial form was sailing through the heavens. 
And before I could open my mouth she spoke (again borrowing the words from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili):
“O Amit, my only one, my sweet hope! Your pierced and tortured heart has suffered enough through the brutality of stringent cut-off times, difficult terrains, weather conditions, cruel race marshals and lack of aid stations. But in a few hours, you will see a happy end to your sorrows, since it is permitted for the blind desire of your yearning to lodge in my willing breast.  I am ready to respond with gentle voice and compliance to your precious love.  I desire to give proper satisfaction to your will and mine.  You, my sweet lover, have sent me your split times for 5k, 10k, 15k and 21k.  I will wait for you at each of those points”
Before I could react to these delicious words, the gun was fired. 7:10 am.  In the blink of an eye, the Africans disappeared and so did Atalanta along with the spandex man.  I was stunned. 
I looked behind me only to be engulfed by a tsunami of fast runners who had been held back to let the elite runners start first.  The Africans disappeared as if this was a 100 meter sprint and hundreds of athletes followed.  I immediately lost sight of Gul, Rishi, Dr. Aashish, Venkat and Usha. 
I was alone.  I was desolate.
But the race has to be run.  It was too late to call off this wooing business.  My neck was at stake.  I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer to the God within me and was on my way.  Sub 2:00 or bust!
The weather was nice and cool, the road broad and flat.  119 minutes to run 21.1 km meant that I had to run each km in 5:38.  Planning on an even split I planned to reach 5km in about 28 minutes, 10k in 56 minutes, 15k in 85 minutes and then the finish just a few seconds short of 2 hours.
I reached 5k in exactly 28 minutes. As I ran over the carpet, my eyes searched for Atalanta but she was nowhere to be seen.  I reached 10k in 56 minutes, bang on target. No sign of Atalanta. 
I think of her promise to meet me at the timing carpets and I curse the man in spandex.  Is she out there with him? I wonder. 
I ignore the grandeur of India Gate and the fabulous roads of Delhi.  My eyes are focused on the road and on my Garmin, my mind is focused on my hydration and on my energy consumption. My heart searches for Atalanta.  I am worried and stressed.  The kilometres are disappearing fast. She is nowhere to be seen. 
Then suddenly, I see the unique form of the spandex man, he runs without swinging his arms.  They are held up but they don’t swing. It looks really different. 
Atalanta is not next to him either.  I let out a sigh of relief although this does not really solve the problem.  Perhaps he did not e-mail her and she knew him merely from being page 3 acquaintances.   
Now the Greek God and I run within a few meters of each other.  There is a problem in running close to a celebrity.  Every time I see a photographer, I raise my head, adjust my stride, widen my light brown eyes and give my best smile however they jump right in front of me to take a picture of him.  And then they look at the camera screen to check their shot.  I am ignored as I run by.  This happens again and again and again and again. And I know that there might be no visual record of me having run this race. 
I can’t outrun him. I really can’t run faster than 5:38/km. We both reach 15k together in 85:01. 
I still can’t find Atalanta. I am getting angry and stressed.  I back off just a little and let him pass by. It’s no use racing him since that was not the plan to start with.  The goal was just a sub 2:00.
With 3km to go I am getting tired, physically and mentally.  I am still on pace but it’s getting harder and harder.   The minute I lose concentration I see that the pace falls to 6:00/km.  Running an even pace is hard.  I hate this whole ‘wooing’ idea.  What was I thinking when I took up this whole “pursuit of speed” thing?  What is wrong with me?
My lower back is beginning to hurt a bit, I sense each of my steps, they hit the ground harder and harder, they resonate on the ground; their echo runs up my spine and hurts my head.
Atalanta is nowhere in sight.  I have been fooled by myself, and to be fooled by one-self is a far greater tragedy than being fooled by someone else.   She said she would meet me at every timing carpet and she is nowhere to be found. With 2k to go, my strength is fast disappearing.  It seems that it is hard to run even splits even for a 21.1k.  I can’t hold 5:38 any longer.  The pursuit of Atalanta has been futile exercise. 
Emile Coue de la Chataigneraie, a French psychologist discovered a law which he called the Law of Reverse Effect.  He said that the harder you try to do something, the less chance you have of achieving it.  There are certain things which, if you try to do, you will undo.  Desperately trying to get some sleep is an example.  If you try too hard, it is impossible. 
The desire for speed has caused too much stress.  I need to let go, I need to relax.
Lieh Tzu tells a parable: 
There was a man living by the seashore who loved seagulls.
Every morning he went down to the sea to roam with the seagulls.  More birds came to him than could be counted in hundreds.
His father said to him one day, “I hear the seagulls all come roaming with you – bring me some to play with.” Next day, when he went to the sea, the seagulls danced above him and would not come down.”
The key in Life is to simply let-go. Seagulls, happiness, ecstasy, pleasure and speed are not things to be pursued.  They can’t be forced.  You have to persuade them, indirectly. They are not a right. All one needs is a little love, patience and poetry.
I drop all ideas of finding or wooing Atalanta.  I simply want to run for the pleasure of running. I want to run to feel the pain, to see the limits of my strength, to feel my heart beat fast, to feel my lungs exploding in my chest, to hear my footfalls.  From that point on I run because I love to run.
I don’t need no Goddesses.
With 1km to go, I can barely hold my pace at 5:38/min. My stride is all over the place, my back is hunched, my neck is stiff. I am having the time of my life. I have a smile in my heart.  
The sign says 500 meters to go, I pick up my pace.  300 meters to go, and I am sprinting towards the finish. 100 meters to go and I strain my eyes and try to focus on the clock above the finish line.  It’s says 1:59 something.
And suddenly there she is, next to me.  She is also running as fast as she can.  She does not even look at me. 
75 meters to go and we are racing.  She is surging ahead. 
I remember the DHL package.  Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, had come through and DHL’ed 2 golden apples with the advice to use them in a situation like this.  I shout at the top of my lungs: “Atalanta!!!” and throw two apples on the road.  She cannot resist golden apples and for a split second she turns back to collect them.

Artist's rendering of the throwing of the Apples.  Apparel may be added as per possible sponsorship deals

I run across the finish line. My watch says 1:59:53.  I look back and the finishing clock reads 1:59:58.
I turn to watch Atalanta come into the finish.  She walks up to me and without a word, hugs me close and gives me a luscious biting kiss full of divine sweetness.  “Here I am’ she says, “the healing and instant remedy of your grave and vexing pains.  Here I am, a ready consort for your amorous and bitter suffering and sharer in everything.” 
My resolutions of Not pursuing speed start to fade fast.  This is not so bad.  Perhaps I can run fast forever.  Perhaps I should marry her.
She then continues, “But dearest A, this is the year 2011.  One does not marry on a first date.  I like you. Will try and catch up sometime soon for coffee. Will bbm.”  And before I can react, she walks away. 
I watch her walking towards the young spandex man.  I laugh and walk towards the Procam hospitality tent to join my friends. 

Monday 28th November 2011.
The 5:30 am Alarm wakes me up.  It’s time to go out for a 10k recovery run.  I wearily get out of bed.  I decide that today, I don’t want to look at my watch. I won’t wear my Garmin.  I don’t care about speed.................for now.
I am better off pursuing my wife, Neepa. One Goddess at a time is enough.   


  1. Lovely write up Amit. Great race and a large and strong heart. Lived the entire race and the emotions through the write up. Thanks.

  2. Very nice write up Amit. Thanks !

  3. Congratulations on your Sub 2 Hr, Delhi Half Marathon.

  4. Congratulations Amit ... nice write up and gr8 motivation runners like me.. Thanks..

  5. Congratulations on sub 2 hours :)

  6. Awesome run and a nice write up! Great going!

  7. well done 2 hours is a serious barrier!

  8. brilliantly written... btw, i was right behind you at 2' 1"...

  9. Fantastic and congratualtions for your sub 2hour 21.1Km! That was very entertaining as usual...I'm just wondering who I should woo in the pursuit of speed?

  10. Ha Ha ! I agree with you..One Goddess at a time is enough ! Well written !

  11. Congratulations my friend - great effort. As long as you don't start wearing one-piece spandex suits at Comrades, we will remain good friends... Dave

  12. @ Amit.. thanks for sharing your pursuit over 21K of the fickle minded Atalanta -- "will bbm" indeed...Congratulations, my friend. Well done from a bottom of the pack dweller...

  13. Excellent result, great to see that your hard work and focus has really paid off for you. Next is the sub 11 comrades! :o)

  14. fabulous.....loved reading it

  15. LOvely ...wonderfull