Monday 11 February 2013

The Tokyo Marathon & The Misery of Uncertainty

"If You Take The "LIFE-LIE" Away From An Average Man
You Take Away His Happiness As Well"
                       The Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen.

On the 24th of February 2013, I plan to run the 42.2 km Tokyo Marathon and I know that I will suffer a reasonable amount of pain and misery. 
Misery: that awesome feeling which envelops us when our strength runs out and we are many km away from the finish line!  I have come to embrace that feeling, I am certain of its eventuality. 
Virginia Satir once said, "The Certainty of Misery is better than the Misery of Uncertainty".  I am certain of this Misery and therefore don't mind it. 

However, what gnaws at my heart and mind, what causes me greater Misery is the Uncertainty of my potential finishing time.  For the first time in my short running life, I have decided to actually aim for a 'Personal Best' and I have realized that this Misery of not knowing my ability, this Uncertainty of achieving my goal, is worse that the Certainty of Misery.

For the last 3 years, I have been the pace setter for the sub 5:00 bus in the Mumbai Marathon.  Each year, I have done a decent job of it.  I finish the race in around 4:58.  Each year I have trained hard so that when I pace my bus, I can sing and shout and entertain my fellow runners and make the journey an enjoyable one.  I have always felt that I am in great shape but the problem is that I never know how good a shape I am in because I run slower than my true potential. 

I happily allow myself to believe that I am in 4:30 shape when I pace the sub 5:00 bus, but I am never sure! I have never tested myself; I have never run a 4:30.
When I talk to my fellow runners who aim for their personal best of 3:00 or 4:00 or 4:30, I feel a sense of regret that I too am not aiming for my own personal best.  However, I console myself with the belief that I am actually capable of a far better time than the 4:57/4:58 that I have been running. 

I console myself in the belief that I am a faster runner than my finishing time testifies.  Perhaps this is a "Life-Lie".  It is a Life- Lie which keeps me happy for if I actually test myself and come up short, it could lead to a certain amount of unhappiness.  It could lead to a measure of disappointment and so I continue to live in a dream world.

But now, I wonder: Is it better to run a comfortable 4:57/4:58 Tokyo marathon with the firm self-belief that I could potentially run a 4:30 marathon, or should I rather aim for a 4:30 and live with the mental and physical consequences even if I come up short?   
Should I pursue the truth or is it better to live in a make-believe world? Should I lay it all on the line? 
Facing the truth about oneself can be hard.

In 1884, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote a play called the "The Wild Duck".  In it, Gregers, an  idealistic person, makes it his mission to free his  friend Hjalmar Ekdal from the lies on which his happy home life is based.

"The Ekdal home was an apparently happy home and they had achieved this happiness by ignoring the skeletons in each family member's life.  Each member was allowed to live in a dreamworld of his own- Hjalmar Ekdal ,  believed himself to be a great inventor, his father, Old Ekdal, believed that he was a mighty sportsman and so hunted in the attic, and Hjalmar's 14 year old daughter Hedvig, centered her emotional life around the attic where a wounded wild duck lead a crippled existence in a make-believe forest."

But Gregers insisted on pursuing the Absolute Truth.  To him, it seemed that the whole Ekdal family was leading a life, "based on a lie".  For Gregers, the only way to live life was "to face facts, to speak frankly, to let in the light".

However, in this play the revelation of the truth is not a happy event because it rips up the foundation of the Ekdal family. When the skeletons are brought out of the closet, the whole dream-world collapses; Hjalmar thinks it is his duty to leave his wife because she might have been unfaithful to him, Hedvig, the daughter, after trying to sacrifice her precious duck, to prove her love for her father, shoots herself.

Sometimes, in life, it is best to leave the truth undiscovered because as doctor Relling, a character in the play, says:  "Deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness.”

So should I test my real ability in Tokyo and aim for a 4:30 or should I simply run my safe 4:58 and live happily in my belief that I am "capable" of a 4:30?  I am scared and anxious and excited!

Verginia Satir in her book, "Your Many Faces" writes:    "There is a secure feeling about staying with what we already know, and a scariness about venturing out into areas unfamiliar to us.  To go where we have not been, either literally or figuratively, usually has two parts - excitement and scariness- both of which involve the adrenal glands and come from the same root".

I think I have constructed quite a few life-lies in my life, lies which make me rationalise and live with my many failings. 
But I think that all "Life-lies" are not equal and although lifting the veil may be destructive in some cases, the awareness of "absolute truth" in some cases may be quite productive. 
4 years ago when I went to run the Comrades Marathon, I had taken a risk, a leap of faith.  I had ventured into an area unfamiliar to me.  I had moved outside my zone of comfort.  I was ready to explore my body and spirit.  Since then I have become a complacent conformist.  I have become secure in my own space.  I have become comfortable with the Certainty of Misery while I run Comrades.
I have also told myself that I run Only because I love to run and for the 'space' running gives me.  I lie to myself that I am capable of running much faster but that I run slowly Only because I am a pacer.   

The Truth perhaps is that running fast, running long, enjoying your run and finding your "space" are not mutually exclusive concepts.  So now I have to decide if am I willing to move once more "into the unfamiliar, the unacquainted and the uncharted ?" 
Am I ready to cast away my Life-Lie and venture to experiment with the possibility of failure ? 

A safe 4:58 or an uncertain 4:30? 

I am ready to choose the Misery of Uncertainty ! 

As I stand on the start line of the Tokyo Marathon, I will aim for a personal best time of 4:30.  I will open the closet and see what skeletons lie therein . 

I am scared and anxious and excited!

Virginia Satir  quotes Fritz Perls as saying, " In scariness or anxiety, breathe a little and you feel the excitement.  Hold your breath and you'll get scared again."

So as I stand on the start-line of the Tokyo Marathon on the 24th of February, all that I must do is to remind myself: BREATHE!!!

And then, RUN as if my life depends on it!


  1. I think that you have made the right decision. Having set and eventually achieved a personal record marathon goal, the journey was well worth the effort. I wasn't successful on the first attempt, or the second, or even the third. In fact, it took me multiple years.

    So my advice is to go for it and commit to eventual success, regardless of the outcome on any specific day.

    You have given greatly in your pacing duties and I admire your sacrifice. This fall I will toe the line for the first time as a pacer... not running to achieve a personal record but running to be my personal best.

  2. Finding your true PR for a marathon is a true journey of discovery.
    I think 4:30 is just a stop on the way to the final destination.

  3. My Life Lie is that I can do a 2:20 HM. My PB so far is 2:26 and I coast along as the 3 hour Pacer for the HMs

    All the best Amit. The fact that you are there and running is itself a great achievement.


  4. Amit you have for the past three years sacrificed your potential to enable runners like me to complete the marathon in 5 hours. Now you must run for yourself and achieve your goal of 4:30. God is with you! Best of luck.

  5. Amit, with the goodwill and best wishes of the many people you helped achieve their dreams, I feel that 430 will be under your belt on 24th Feb. Good luck to you my friend and inspiration.

  6. What you are planning to do is the 4th Quadrant of the Johari Window....Which neither you know, nor the others.....All the best....Ventured not got not :-)- Rajiv

  7. Just go for it! And create a benchmark for a new life lie ...

  8. My Friend

    You knew the answer long before you even wrote this piece.

    After all - the whole Spirit of Comrades is built on the notion of pushing through your preconceived limits to ultimately do your best, is it not?

    To not try to go as fast as you can will leave you with regrets. I already live with too many regrets from my life - you don't want any more.

    And don't focus on '4:30' so much - your best time will come from your best effort on the day, whether it's faster or slower than 4;30.

    Good luck to you and Neepa - both go hard. It' meant to be difficult - it it weren't, everyone would do it!


  9. Amit, You have achieved everything you have set out to do thus far. Sub 4.30 will be a piece of cake for you!! Go for it..!


  10. When I started reading your blog, and your question on whether you should or not, I thought about your Comrades challenge (having read your book recently, I know the excruciating details). And you have mentioned yourself later how the Comrades was you pushing your limits. I guess you are ready to do that again...
    Some of your advice back at you.... even if its a little more than 4.30, what does it matter? Remember to breathe.... and Enjoy! ;)

  11. Dear Amit,as usual you have expressed your predicament well.I can only wish that 4.30 becomes not your truth but your new "life-lie", only for you to achieve and bask in, until you want to once again tell yourself , "enough is enough, let me not live this lie again....let me discover the new truth, and live it until I again discover it yet to be a lie!".Discovering your real worth, which is your real self, is the ultimate truth and the process is like peeling an onion.. you keep going deeper in ! Good luck!

  12. Amit, I wish you enjoy this run as much as the enjoyment your singing gave all of us in your bus in Mumbai.

    I am quite sure that singing and shouting costs you atleast half an hour, so relax and enjoy your run and you will do the 4:30, I am certain.

    Just make sure you write and tell us all about it!

    Good luck!

  13. Hi Champ,
    "It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."- Socrate

    So Amit, go for it... 4.30 hrs is achievable !!!!

    "None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Let this whisper resound and reverberate vn u stand on the start line at the Tokyo marathon !!!

    Wings to ur feet !!!!! U hv my best wishes always !!!!

  14. "The Certainty of Misery is better than the Misery of Uncertainty".

    I think the moment you have thought of trying for 4 30, you are no more uncertain, mentally. So Just enjoy !!!!

  15. Super stuff as usual.. At the beginning of the blog I knew that you would target 4.30!

  16. Running does throw surprises, even nasty ones as I discovered myself this year when I finished 30 minutes behind my first Mumbai HM effort of last year. I saw many skeletons in my own cupboard but I am sure of recovering lost ground and I will look avidly as you plunge into your own test of PB, just to reassure myself. Go ahead therefore and do it!

  17. Good luck tomorrow Amit uncle! We're cheering for 4:30

  18. Amit Sir,
    We watch you ( both)Sunday at National park, & we do inspire from you, I tell my daughter & her friend & everyone this is Mr. Amit Seth & his wife. We all believe in you. Go get it. 4:30 No big deal

  19. all the best amit......long is the road, and hard, that leads from hell unto the light!

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