Wednesday 10 February 2016

The comrades ultra marathon : the possibilities we deny are but the possibilities we ignore!

The comrades ultra marathon : the possibilities we deny are but the possibilities we ignore !

I started training for the 89km Comrades Ultra Marathon last week and at the end of the first week of training wrote a blog titled “Crows and Seagulls”

I concluded at the end of the blog that since I was a 50 year old with no real athletic ability, I must try and be like the crow who relies on guile, experience and wisdom to get what he wants.  I also concluded that I am not a seagull with the strength, power and grace to accomplish what I want.

I concluded that I will never be able to power up the hills nor glide down the valleys on that road between PMB and Durban.

I concluded that I will never be able to dazzle, I will never be able to astonish. I will never be able to shine.

Yesterday morning, 7 days into the training schedule, I ran some speed intervals and consequently during the day had some mild knee pain.  After having run for 11 years, I feel that I am experienced enough to differentiate between “pain” and “pain”.

I knew that this pain wasn’t heralding the onset of an injury but simply a sign of a well worked out muscle.

But, I believed my own words.  And our words become our reality.  Our words became our acts.
I had after all declared myself to be a crow.

I iced my knee through the rest of day and applied an ointment when I went to bed.

But when the alarm rang earlier today I decided to take rest instead of going for a scheduled run.

The idea to take rest was based not only on fear of an injury but also on laziness.  After all, my aim at Comrades was simply to finish the race in safety with a few minutes to spare.

For a while, as I lay in bed, I focused on my knee and realised that there was no pain.  But then I thought, why take a chance.
Why should I push myself, and chance an injury ?

I’ve spent the whole day today, regretting my decision not to run.  My knee was fine this morning and has remained so during the day.

I realised that I did not go to run simply because I set myself up to achieve little.  I did not want the most I could get, I wanted to get just enough.

I did not aspire to be better than myself.

To rest when tired is reasonable.  To not rest when injured is stupid.  But I didn’t rest for either of those reasons.

I rested because I was happy being a crow.  I did not aspire to be a seagull.

Marsilio Ficino said that, “the possibilities we deny are but the possibilities we ignore.”

“Nothing should be refused, writes Marsilio Ficino; human nature contains all and every one of the levels of creation, from the horrendous forms of the powers of the deep to the hierarchies of divine intelligence described by the mystics; nothing is incredible, nothing is impossible; the possibilities we deny are but the possibilities we ignore.”

“All is possible” wrote Marsilio Ficino.  “All is in doubt” wrote John Donne.

The story of our lives is written by our chosen sentences:  I can do whatever I want or I can do nothing.

So I must choose my words carefully !

Who do I wish to be?
Must I not aspire to greatness?
Must I not aspire to heroism?
Must I not aspire to better than I am?

I love the idea of choosing faith over reason.  I like the idea of romance in seeking heroism.

So today I asked myself the question again : Am I a crow or am a seagull?

Why can I not run a strong and fast Comrades?
Why can I not power up the hills and glide down the valleys?
Why can I not be the athlete I desire to be?
Why can I not stand on the finish line of that great race with the satisfaction that I have left nothing back on that road?

I need to make my own reality.

It all starts with words: Is all possible or is all in doubt?

The cynic in me might insist that at 50 my best is behind me.  The cynic might insist that I'm a crow.
But then what stops me from asking :  Can this old non-athletic crow not aspire to be a seagull?

What stops me from aspiring to be the better than a seagull?

The possibilities we deny are but the possibilities we ignore.

I restart my Comrades training tomorrow.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

A credit card, a pizza and a lot of courage.

" A credit card, some Pizza and a lot of courage "

I started running in 2006 and in Jan 2007, I bought what was perhaps my 2nd running related book, The Ultra Marathon Man, written by Dean Karnazes.

Over the years I have read dozens of books about running.  They have educated me and inspired me, motivated me and on occasion even consoled me.   I don't remember most of the books or what exactly each book did for me, but the one book I will never forget is The Ultra Marathon man.  

And that's not even for the whole book.   Just for the first chapter.  

That first chapter is, in my opinion, one of the best chapters I have ever read in any book.   It holds your attention like nothing I have ever read. ( except for some specific parts of the Kama sutra ).

Dean describes his conversation and meeting with a Pizza store manager in the middle of the night because he orders pizza while he runs across Highway 116.   The surprise and amazement with which the pizza man reacts on discovering what Dean is doing is conveyed so brilliantly that it inspired me to be like Dean.  (never going to happen, but hey, must we not aspire ? )

At that point, I had hardly run one marathon but this chapter made me dream of running really long distances.  

It opened up possibilities and made me aware for the first time that such could be done.  

I realised that one can simply run, one can run across cities, one can run across states and one can run across countries !  One can run through the day and one can run through the night.  

All you need is a credit card, someone to deliver Pizza and a whole lot of courage and strength.

Dean inspired me the day I read that first chapter.

It's been many years since that day,  I've managed the credit card and I know that I can manage the pizza.

Courage and strength ?
Those , I'm still working on ! 

Thursday 4 February 2016

Crows and Seagulls

Crows & Seagulls 

I was returning home to Mumbai from Alibaug earlier today by the catamaran and my phone battery died on me.  

This allowed me for a change to sit and do nothing.  

I sat staring out of the window and watching the small ripples on the surface of the water and their silvery reflection.  

I also just sat and watched the seagulls fly around the boat.   

Everytime I see seagulls I think about Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his quest to become enlightened.  

Perfection in flight was his path to self realisation.  

He aspired to reach a stage of perfection when all that was needed to fly from one spot to another was not the physical act of flying but simply the thought !!! 

Quite a few seagulls were flying alongside the boat and I marvelled at their skill.  They flew with so much grace and power and strength. 

I was sitting in the enclosed air conditioned cabin, when a boy standing on the deck outside the cabin, started throwing biscuits to the seagulls.  

Soon, all hell broke loose and dozens of seagulls suddenly appeared and desperately started diving to catch the biscuit piece before it hit the water.   

The skill they displayed was simply awesome.  

The boat was not only moving along at a brisk pace but also moving up and down along with the waves and the boy was throwing biscuits at an angle and I marvelled at the seagull's ability to judge all this in a split second and dive and catch the biscuit,  all the time while it jostled for the right spot amongst the other seagulls in flight.  

Later the boy upped the ante by simply holding the biscuit in his hand.  

Now, it was harder as the seagull had to first align itself perfectly in space and dive in, overcome its fear of the human and at the same time make it own space amongst the dozens of other seagull aiming for the same piece of bread at the same time .   The bird only had a fraction of a second to get hold of the biscuit before the physics of flight took away the opportunity and it had to circle back and try again. 

I noticed that the boy had dropped lots of biscuits on the deck but somehow the seagulls seemed to ignore that.  
They continued their awesome TopGun manoeuvres.  

I simply sat transfixed and marvelled at their strength and speed and grace. 

As we came closer to Mumbai, a half dozen crows started flying alongside the boat.

These crows looked so ordinarily when compared to those beautiful white and grey seagulls. 

I noticed that they didn't fly with the same grace and control with which the seagulls flew. 

Yet, the crows quickly drove the seagulls away.    It seemed that we had now entered the crow's territorial waters and even the seagulls knew this and left without a fight. 

The boy continued to throw the biscuits at the crows but then I noticed that rather than undertake the excruciatingly hard Top-Gun manoeuvres, the crows simply landed on the deck of the ship and started eating the huge amount of biscuits simply lying there. 

I had to admire the crows.  In the next 5 minutes they managed to eat for more biscuits than those seagulls  had in the preceding 45 minutes and yet they had not expended 1/1000th of the energy which those seagulls had expended. 

I started Comrades training earlier this Tuesday.   The Comrades Ultra Marathon is an 89 km race which takes place in South Africa and held on the road between Durban and PMB.  

As I enter the 51st year of my life, I have neither the power, the grace nor the skill of an athlete runner. 

I don't have it now nor did I have it in my youth. 

I'm not the seagull.  

I will never be able to power up the hills nor glide down the valleys on that road between PMB and Durban. 

I will never be able to dazzle, I will never be able to astonish. I will never be able to shine.   

I need to be more like the crow.  

I need to know my limitations and work within them to somehow survive and pick up that medal at the finish line without having to call on my non-existent TopGun skills. 

Sitting in the boat earlier today I realised that the lack of skill does not mean that the crow does not get the biscuit.   

He had something else working for him. 

Sometimes a little bit of experience and wisdom may see one through ! 

Experience I have.  I have been on that road before.  

I now only hope that I have the requisite wisdom in good measure.  

Wisdom to see me though in the days and months of training ahead. 

And then, I hope that the same experience and wisdom will see me through on race day.  

Crows give me hope. 

Here's to the Crows of the World !!!