Tuesday 7 February 2012

Darwin, Evolution and Running

Two races form the basis of my running year, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and the 89km Comrades Ultra Marathon. I run all other races through the year simply as training runs which prepare me for these two races.
On February 24th, 25th and 26th of this year, I shall be running the 3 Cranes Challenge inside the Howick forest in South Africa.  It is a trail race where over 150 runners will run a total of 106 km over 3 days. (32k, 42k and 32k). Each runner will spend his nights in a small individual tent and run out early each morning.  We shall run across some rivers and climb some hills. This should be a lot of fun.  And as with all such fun, I am sure that it will be accompanied by a reasonable amount of excruciating pain.  I look upon this race as a major step towards my training for the 89 km Comrades Ultra Marathon (Comrades takes place on the 3rd of June 2012).
Training for the 3 Cranes means running long back-to-back runs which is quite a challenge and I have been training hard.
I am now a little tired and cranky.  Actually, to be honest, I am close to losing it!
Yesterday, I started my run at 5:00 am in the Borivalli National Park along with Neepa.  The road inside was pitch dark at 5:00 am and so we both wore headlamps.  Sometimes in these early hours, we can hear the lions or the tigers roar from inside their enclosures.  At this early hour there are very few people inside the park besides most of them are walkers. 
Sound travels clearly in these early morning hours and very often we can catch a large amount of the conversation taking place amongst these walkers as we run past them.
At about 5:15 am I was about 100 meters behind a group of 4 such men and they were having an exceptionally animated discussion.  I overheard the following segment:
Walker 1: “....It’s about imagination!  That’s what is different”
Walker 2: “That’s where people like you are Sooooo wrong! I think you don’t watch Discovery or Natural Geographic channels.  They don’t lack imagination”
Walker 1: “Oh Come On! Just look at the Lion. He was the same 10,000 years ago and is still the same today. Meanwhile, just look at Mankind. In 10,000 years he has made so much progress”
At this point I was exactly next to the 4 walkers, I stopped running, put my hand on Walker 1’s shoulder (which I think scared the hell out of him in the dark) and said, “Perhaps the Lion was so evolved spiritually 10,000 years ago that he realized that he was already happy and that further progress would bring only misery”
All 5 of us burst out laughing when I said this and then I resumed running and ran past them.
Neepa soon caught up with me.  And although it seemed that she had not heard our conversation she had seen me engage in conversation with the walkers and she seemed upset. 
Neepa is the undisputed Queen of “Keep-your-thoughts-to-yourself and Don’t–meddle-with-others.” And for her to see me talk to strangers at this early hour must have seemed to be a sure sign of me straying from her strict instructions. 
So she sternly asked, “Problem?” I shook my head and said, “No” and then we started running alongside each other. 
I started to explain to Neepa that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution suggests that all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor: The birds and the bananas, the fishes and the flower, the man and the horse and the monkey – all related.  I explained to her further that Charles Darwin was the first to formulate a scientific argument for the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
I told Neepa that I wondered why this evolutionary theory was of such interest to these morning walkers? 
I was not really bothered if I evolved from a monkey but I was surely interested to see that I evolve and become better than I am as of now.  Besides, there is only one kind of evolution that make sense to me and that is spiritual evolution.  All other kinds of evolution seem useless.
I told Neepa (who was silently running alongside me and paying rapt attention to my words of wisdom) that I have not read enough Darwin or other scientific literature to be convinced for sure that the Lion or for that matter a Tree is not more evolved spiritually than a Man. (I wondered if scientific literature covered such issues at all). A great part of Evolution and of Life to me is simply the search for happiness.  And who am I to say that the Tree who simply stands in one place and takes life as it unfolds is not happier than a Man who runs around all day trying to increase his material wealth? Perhaps the trees, the frogs, the monkeys and the horses are all more spiritually evolved than Mankind. After all, it’s Mankind who so often lands up either at the mental hospital or at the street corner pub.
These trees and animals just struggle for food and existence but we struggle not only for food and existence but also for more and more creature comforts (which in my opinion never make us truly happy). We want bigger bank balances, bigger cars, bigger homes, bigger everything...so perhaps these animals have more time to sit and meditate than we do.  So perhaps they are the enlightened ones, the more evolved ones. 
I sermonized to Neepa that I want to be on my way to be more Evolved. I want to be better than I am.  To be more evolved means to have the ability to first control the mind; to be able to meditate.  But to meditate one must be physically fit.
Everything starts with the body. The Katha Upanishad says that, “This Self is not to be attained by the weak”.  Explaining this, Swami Vivekananda says, “The physically weak are unfit for the realization of the Self.”  Vivekananda believed that unless one has a good healthy physique, one can never aspire to Self-realization.  He believed that once a person gets control over his mind, it matters little whether the body remains strong or becomes emaciated.  But one needs to start with a strong physique.”   
And so for the last 3 years I have been working on my body.   The meditation bit has been on hold for now for what’s the chance of victory over the mind when even my own body does not obey me? 
I have been testing my body at Comrades, and so far the results have been dismal.  I have not been able to even finish Comrades 2 out of the 3 times that I ran the race and this is quite unacceptable.
So now, not only do I plan to finish the next 9 Comrades but I also no longer wish to struggle to finish Comrades in the last 10 minutes of its 12 hour duration.  I intend to finish Comrades under 11 hours.  I intend to EVOLVE physically into a far stronger person than I am now.  I shall evolve into a fast and strong running machine. I shall now aim for the Bronze Medal at Comrades 2012.”
Normally, Neepa is not one to suffer fools lightly and I was surprised that she had let me get away with this rather long monologue (a monologue which even I found bizarre and silly but then I was so tired with all this running for 3 Cranes and from waking up at 4:00am on all days of the last two weeks).
So I turned my stare towards her. At first glance it seemed that she was totally engrossed in what I seemed to be telling her.  But a closer inspection revealed that she was wearing her Ipod and was immersed in music. 
She had not heard a single word of what I had been speaking.
But feeling my stare upon herself she looked at me and asked sternly: “What?”
“I want to EVOLVE into an Arabian Stallion”, I answered.
She gave me a cold stare and said, “There is a fine line between a hobby and a mental illness.  You seem to have crossed it.”
I cast my weary eyes onto the road and replied, “Amen”

(Dare to Run will return shortly with blogs that have a bit more sanity.  Bear with me J)