Taming The Beast
|My tireless running mates|
I was a weakling of a kid: slender as a reed, a handkerchief pressed to my ever-running nose (lack of resistance, the doctor said) and to top it all, a fainting problem – I’d drop to the ground every other day at the morning assembly – my body, having burnt energy cycling to school, could not hold me upright any longer. So, it’s a no brainer that I was no athlete.
I did like to tear around during the games period. I loved to run aimlessly, breathlessly, the blood pounding at my temples as I flopped in the sand pit dug out for long-jump. But then, I was held up by my ears, scolded for being undisciplined and running around like a hooligan. If I had to run, I had to be a part of a team I was told. Run a race. I hated it. Why can’t I just run freely? Why must I be timed, shamed in competition against girls who could outrun a deer? Why could I not run just for the fun of it? Of course I did not have the guts to ask all these questions. I lowered my head and said I did not want to run. And so in the games period, I found myself loitering listlessly with the throw-ball team or the volleyball team – making myself as scarce as possible – terrified whenever the ball came flying towards me. I was tall so I was told to enlist for basketball. I was even more petrified – the girls had murder on their faces as they defended the ball, dribbled it and tricked it into the basket. It took only one session for the ‘games miss’ to say, ‘You’re useless child. Go back and sit in class.’
That was the end of my relationship with ‘sports’. The weekly P.T. sessions, held in blazing heat without proper nutrients increased my fainting spells; and I’d developed an eating disorder – vomiting promptly after breakfast. By then I detested any kind of physical training, and I had convinced myself that I was not built for such activities.
Now, with much kicking and screaming, I’m gliding towards a certain age when one gets folds at the corner of the eyes. Sure, some find it charming, endearing even – a proof that I smile often, they say. But I’ve come to mistrust age, the cunning bastard. Who knows what He’s up to inside you? Probably caking up the arteries or squeezing your heart increasing your BP. Or generally swirling around the hormones, screwing up many things from mood to memory. And so, while I sat writing a book, I also became a favourite candidate of central obesity, egged on by Age.
‘Perhaps I should give a shot at jogging,’ I thought. My body weakly demanded, in its own creaky way, some kind of an aerobic exercise. But the mind always pacified the body. ‘Yeah sure,’ it said smoothly, ‘we’ll do something next weekend. The weather is bad today.’ And thus, for many days, I did nothing but sit, and imagined myself jogging, twisting a knee, falling down. I heard the ‘games miss’ voice telling me I’m useless.
I bought books. Running for women. Running a marathon. Running this, running that. I read about what happens when you run. I read about eighty year olds who completed marathons. I read about men, who worked for six months, saved, and travelled the world running marathons for the next six months. I read about heart beats and pulse rates. I read about miles per minute. I read about breathing and oxygen intake. I read about feet and shoes and pronation. And all the while I was motionless.
After nearly three months of inaction, I finally hopped on to the treadmill. I knew the 5k beginners training plan by heart. It was a joke actually; so amusing that I laughed. Imagine me running for 5 kilometres. Bollocks, said the mind.
It took me two weeks to get to a point where I could jog continuously for a minute. A minute, mind you. 60 seconds. It took me a good two months to get to a point where I could jog for a mile without a break. Jog, not run. Even so, I was mildly surprised with myself. It was an achievement as far as I was concerned.
Those two months was a revelation about my inner-self. About how the mind is one’s biggest enemy. About how we are all slaves to our thoughts. Oh how wicked and heartless the mind is. Even though your body is screaming for help... all those poor, unused and abused muscles going stiff by the day, the mind says with silky seductiveness – ‘Oh sit down, see you’ve not finished this book. You can always jog today evening. Or tomorrow. Or over the weekend perhaps? And as you read the book, here, have some chevda and mixture – it will do well to munch as you read. Are you sure your legs are not aching? Hmm? How’s the back? Should you not rest against a stack of pillows? Yes, perhaps you should lie down and read the book, with the bowl of mixture within easy reach? Hmm?’ And thus, many days went with me succumbing to the mind’s goading.
Even with all that, the change in the body was instantaneous. As far as I’m concerned, no other cardio workout gives such immediate results as jogging and running. But the constant struggle with the mind was more tiring than running itself. The training plan demanded discipline, self-motivation and perseverance. It gave a timed run, and I timed myself; some days exhilarated by my pace, and some days completely deflated by the incremental progress. There were days when I’d stand in the running attire, shoes laced, sweat bands in place...all ready to hit the ground; but the mind would shut itself up rebelling completely – so much so even taking a step became a painful burden. I’d hang up on such days, mope around feeling depressed.
What on earth do I do with the mind? Finally we reached a compromise of sorts. I won’t time myself I said. I’ll just walk/jog without a goal. Without a target distance or pace. The mind gave in grudgingly. It stopped vehement protests. I did not concentrate on my pace, on the way my feet hit the ground, on the way my arms swung, or on my breath. I took the mind away on a walk, as the body did what it had to do. The mind, occupied by other pleasant things such as the plot and subplots of my latest manuscript, stopped bothering the body. It took me a year to sign up for my first 5K.
‘What if you faint?’ the mind asked as The Husband drove me to the venue. ‘What if you feel like throwing up? What if you twist your ankle?’ And then, something miraculous happened. When thousands of us set off, the mind became quiet. It became one with the body. The body was fatigued no doubt, but the mind fuelled it. I did not clock a spectacular time. I did not even run all the way – I jogged, walked and ran down slope. But I finished it. I did not faint, I did not fall, I did not throw up. I had done something that I had convinced myself I could never do...for years and years.
It’s going to be another six months or more before I can do a 10K. But I clock an average of a 15 mile run per week. I’ve not yet gotten into the phase where I can leap out of bed and run outside in rain and sleet. But I have a routine and I don’t compromise on that no matter what. So I’m at a stage where if I miss a run, I feel lousy. And no matter what time of the day or night it is, I finish the run.
Even now, with all the benefits of running, the monkey-mind acts up. Right up to the point where I tie my shoe laces the mind keeps throwing all the excuses to sit and relax. I switch on the treadmill and the mind points at 0.0 on the display and says, ‘See! It is ZERO. You have to run so far, far, far. After ZERO it is ZERO POINT ONE. Oh God. How will you ever get to 3.1?’ I allow it to ramble on. I get the legs moving. By half a mile, the mind quietens. By the second mile I’m thoughtless. It’s just the mechanical whup whup whup of the feet and my breathing. I become just another element in the scheme of things. Yes, I slow down to a walk at intervals. But not a peep out of the mind – by that time, the mind is intent on optimising. ‘Hey your legs are getting used to this pace. Let’s outwit it – increase your speed for a minute,’ it says, and I follow. We are one now – the mind, body and I.
I’ve read about runners and their addiction to run. I know about the runner’s high – but it will be a while before I can feel that first hand. What makes me run I think? I mean apart from the desire to die of natural causes and not from a choked artery. It’s not the endocrine cruising in the system making me happy. It’s not the glow that running gives. It’s not the spring in the step; it’s not the delight of finding the jeans loose. No...for me, it is the grim satisfaction of beating the mind into submission each and every time I run. Of bending it to work with me and not against me. Of making the mind realize that ‘I’ called the shots. Of having tamed the biggest beast there ever was.
© Sumana Khan - 2013Tweet