Tuesday 21 January 2014

Dare To Run: Judging your Race Day : Triumph or Disaster

Dare To Run: Judging your Race Day : Triumph or Disaster: Now that the SCMM 2014 is done and dusted, the social media is filled with stories of glory and defeat.   Some runners are delighted with ...

Judging your Race Day : Triumph or Disaster

Now that the SCMM 2014 is done and dusted, the social media is filled with stories of glory and defeat.  Some runners are delighted with their finish times, some are delighted simply with the fact that they finished, while some are happy with the fact that they started.  Some on the other hand, are disappointed with their race day finish times, some with the fact that they could not finish. 
Of all the stories that I read, the one which caught my eye was that of my young friend Arsalan Shaikh.  I have known this kid for about 3 years. He is one of the most dedicated young runners I know of in Mumbai.  I have seen him train these past few years. He has run a few Ultra marathons.  He is just 19 years old. 
I encouraged Procam to appoint Arsalan to be a sub 2:00 pacer at the Delhi Airtel Half marathon and when he paced well in Delhi and assured me of his ability, I again encouraged Procam to appoint him a sub 4:30 pacer for the 42k at SCMM.
He was then interviewed by several Newspapers and Radio stations. He was really happy with his responsibility and felt that he was up to it.  
Post the race, his FB post on Monday morning reads:
“We were on time till the 30km, thereafter suddenly at worli sea-face, blood came from my mouth, my ankle was paining from 2 days before the race. I had taken a painkiller tablet before the race. It locked at peddar road and I could not run, I said to all the runners who ran with me in 4:30 bus, “don’t wait for me go ahead.”
I then managed to walk/run, 27 min delay, 4:57 hr.
Sorry friends, Procam, Amit Sheth Sir”

I can see that the boy is gutted.  He is beside’s himself with grief.  He must feel that his world has imploded on him and that everything is finished.  He seems to feel that some great misfortune has befallen him!
I’m not so sure.  Yes, on race day some runners seem happy with the way things went, while some runners, like Arsalan are distraught with grief.
But should that be so? 
I am reminded of a story told by Osho.  The story was told in Lao Tzu’s lifetime in China.
The story is simple: There was an old man in a village, very poor, but even kings were jealous of him because he had a beautiful white horse. Such a horse had never been seen before — the beauty, the very grandeur, the strength. Kings asked for the horse and they offered fabulous prices, but the old man would say, `This horse is not a horse to me, he is a person, and how can you sell a person? He is a friend, he is not a possession. How can you sell a friend? No, it is not possible.’ The man was poor, there was every temptation, but he never sold the horse.
One morning, he suddenly found that the horse was not in the stable. The whole village gathered and they said, “You foolish old man. We knew it beforehand, that someday the horse would be stolen. And you are so poor — how can you protect such a precious thing? It would have been better to sell it. You could have fetched any price you asked, any fancy price was possible. Now the horse is gone. It is a curse, a misfortune.”
The old man said, “Don’t go too far — simply say that the horse is not in the stable. This is the fact; everything else is a judgment. Whether it is a misfortune or not, how do you know? How do you judge?”
The people said, “Don’t try to fool us. We may not be great philosophers, but no philosophy is needed. It is a simple fact that a treasure has been lost, and it is a misfortune.”
The old man said, “I will stick to the fact that the stable is empty and the horse is gone. Anything else I don’t know — whether it is a misfortune or a blessing — because this is just a fragment. Who knows what is going to follow it?”

People laughed. They thought the old man had gone mad. They always knew it, that he was a little crazy; otherwise he would have sold this horse and lived in riches. But he was living like a woodcutter, and he was very old and still cutting wood and bringing the wood from the forest and selling it. He was living hand to mouth, in misery and poverty. Now it was completely certain that this man was crazy.
After fifteen days, suddenly one night, the horse returned. He had not been stolen: he had escaped to the wilderness. And not only did he come back, he brought a dozen wild horses with him. Again the people gathered and they said, “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. It was not a misfortune, it proved to be a blessing. We are sorry that we insisted.”
The old man said, “Again you are going too far. Just say that the horse is back, and say that twelve horses have come with the horse — but don’t judge. Who knows whether it is a blessing or not? It is only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read one page of a book, how can you judge the whole book? You read a sentence in a page — how can you judge the whole page? You read a single word in a sentence — how can you judge the whole sentence? And even a single word is not in the hand — life is so vast — a fragment of a word and you have judged the whole! Don’t say that this is a blessing, nobody knows. And I am happy in my no-judgment; don’t disturb me.”
This time the people could not say much; maybe the old man was again right. So they kept silent, but inside they knew well that he was wrong. Twelve beautiful horses had come with the horse. A little training and they could all be sold and they would fetch much money.
The old man had a young son, only one son. The young son started to train the wild horses; just a week later he fell from a wild horse and his legs were broken. The people gathered again and they judged. They said, “You were right, again you proved right. It was not a blessing, it was again a misfortune. Your only son has lost his legs, and in your old age he was your only support. Now you are poorer than ever.”
The old man said, “You are obsessed with judgment. Don’t go that far. Say only that my son has broken his legs. Who knows whether this is a misfortune or a blessing? — nobody knows. Again a fragment, and more is never given to you. Life comes in fragments, and judgment is about the total.”
It happened that after a few weeks the country went to war with a neighboring country, and all the young men of the town were forcibly taken for the military. Only the old man’s son was left because he was crippled. The people gathered, crying and weeping, because from every house young people were forcibly taken away. And there was no possibility of their coming back, because the country that had attacked was a big country and the fight was a losing fight. They were not going to come back.
The whole town was crying and weeping, and they came to the old man and they said, “You were right, old man! God knows, you were right — this proved a blessing. Maybe your son is crippled, but still he is with you. Our sons are gone forever. At least he is alive and with you, and, by and by, he will start walking. Maybe a little limp will be left, but he will be okay.”
The old man again said, “It is impossible to talk to you people, you go on and on and on — you go on judging. Nobody knows! Only say this: that your sons have been forced to enter into the military, into the army, and my son has not been forced. But nobody knows whether it is a blessing or a misfortune. Nobody will ever be able to know it. Only God knows.”
So I would like to tell my young friend, Arsalan, Don’t worry, don’t judge.  You don’t need to be so gutted, you don’t know what the future holds.  Perhaps you avoided a major injury, perhaps far greater glory awaits you, or perhaps you are truly in the dumps! We just don’t know!
But I also know that we cannot all be philosophers and we are all delighted and happy when we achieve new heights and we are heartbroken at our losses.
I remember a delightful movie I’ve seen more than once called “A good year” and stars Russell Crowe.
In a flash-back scene, Old Uncle Henry is playing tennis with his grandkid, young Max.  Uncle Henry is holding a tennis racket in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other. 
Young Max— wearing a headband and wristband and looking like a pint sized version of John McEnroe is quite bad tempered because he is losing the game and starts to complain about bad light.
Uncle Henry: “Nonsense, Max, at your age I could spot a hyena on the veldt at three quarters of a mile.”
Uncle Henry lines up his serve..THWACK! Dead-center. Max lunges for the ball as if his life depended on it, but misses anyway.
Uncle Henry: “ACE! Game, set match”
Uncle Henry then dances in the “end zone” in celebration.  Pissed, Young Max slams his racket to the court…and walks toward the service box to examine the line.
Young Max: You can’t be serious!
Uncle Henry continues to gloat…without mercy.
Young Max: You don’t have to rub it in.
Uncle Henry: The real question, Max, is why YOU aren’t celebrating?   
Young Max: Because I lost.
Uncle Henry pours himself a refill of white wine.
Uncle Henry: Max….a man should acknowledge his losses as gracefully as he celebrates his victories…Now give us a jig..for your old Uncle’s sake…
Following orders, Young Max makes a half-hearted attempt to dance around the court…raises his arms and dances around….but not feeling it..abruptly stops.
Uncle Henry crosses the court and tussle’s the boy’s hair.
Uncle Henry: “Someday, Max, You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning.  The act of losing however, can elicit great wisdom… not the least of which is how much more enjoyable it is to win…It is essential to lose now and then…The trick is not to make a habit of it.”
So my young friend Arsalan you and I have two choices here, either we follow Lao Tzu and decide neither to judge our victories as triumphs nor our defeats as disasters (simply because we can’t really see the “Totality of Life”) or on the other hand, we must simply learn from Uncle Henry. 
 “The act of losing however, can elicit great wisdom… not the least of which is how much more enjoyable it is to winIt is essential to lose now and then…The trick is not to make a habit of it.”
Lao Tzu or Old Uncle Henry? I think, I’ll follow the man with the white wine glass.

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..