When I was a kid I had never imagined many things that would happen to me later in life. Or rather I would do some activities ever. And do them with addiction. Although the list is long, two things that stand out are smoking & running. I was a “seedha bachcha”(simple & shy) and smoking couldn’t have ever happened to me. In fact, I used the word “saala” in its full glory only when studying at a boarding school in Varanasi at 14 and that too out of happiness.
I had seen a guy smoking in my school in Class 7(age 12) and was “shocked”. And rightly so. But the degree of the shock had convinced me that I would never smoke in my life. But I did. I didn’t start smoking during phases when others pick up smoking, as in college etc. I started it after getting into the corporate life. The first tech lead(immediate boss) that I interacted with was a smoker. And a pretty consistent and disciplined one. We used to spend time during work breaks when he used to smoke and I used to have tea alongside. The way he used to smoke had an air of comfort and luxury: chin held up, eyes lit up, a wry smile and some imitation of a Bollywood actor. I was around 26 that time and used to take pride in the fact that I hang out with a smoker, but don’t smoke. Talk about pride in self-control. That continued for some time till I joined another company. Still a virgin(smoker) and enjoying it.
Here, I got lonely. There was a team full of people around me but I couldn’t connect with them. May be I was out of sync, may be they were. And then I started going for lunch alone. And the post-lunch walk close to the smoking zone. Smoking zones have a very different feel. Everyone is friendly in an “undercover” way. I felt a bit attached to the people in the smoking zone. More than my team members. 3 months and still a non-smoker. But to make matters worse, a couple of my roommates started smoking.
And one fine day I thought let me try it, just once. I kept trying it for another 5 years, upto 7-8 a day. I had observed that I used to smoke lesser during phases when there were no smokers around. And vice versa. Clearly I used to feel “justified” when there were others smoking with abandon around me. The “social” play had made me a smoker.
Little did I know that time that this very “social” element would make me run marathons. Running Marathons? Are you crazy? I would have said that to someone suggesting me that one day I would attempt them. All I knew about the “marathon” was that it is equivalent to 42.2km. Apologies to those who got hurt at the approximation from 42.195, my General Knowledge book had 42.2 mentioned.
I remember switching channels when some famous marathon event used to be telecasted. I remember having even watched golf, but never long distance running on TV.
Jogging was something that I picked up to lose weight. I would jog 6-8 rounds of a 400m track without timing the whole thing and feel proud about it. On days when I used to be upbeat, I would jog 10 rounds. Those days, I used to feel on top of the world after the jog. Jogging was good initially, but due to the lack of a “social network” around it, consistency suffered.
Then I got assigned to a project in Liverpool, UK for 6 months. The cold climate and the absolute lack of population in Liverpool (& my laziness) made sure that I put on some weight and didn’t exercise/jog those 6 months. And I smoked sufficiently to keep myself in guilt.
Then towards the end of those 6 months I got a mail forwarded by some nice soul of the Bangalore Ultra event to be held in Nov 2007. The distance categories were 26k, 52k, 78k & 104k. Since there was no option lesser than 26k & since by then I was feeling terrible about myself, I registered for it. The longest distance I had “run” prior to that was the full-of-pride 4k(10 X 400m). One more thing that I feel motivated me that time to signup for 26k was the fact that there was a race distance of 104k. Again the power of “social”. I thought if someone could have the courage to signup for 104k, the least I can do is 26k. I came to Bangalore all charged up about my first ” 26km marathon” signup, telling my friends about it. Some of them demotivated me badly. The power of social yet again, although in a different flavor. I guess that motivated me even more.
Fast forwarding to the event, I saw such energy from people of all ages and even nationalities at the Bangalore Ultra, that I somehow finished the run. Had a terrible time after the run though with cramps and all other bad things you can get. But the feeling of finishing an activity with so many people “struggling” with you was phenomenal. Perhaps I call it struggling because the last 6km of those 26kms were the toughest I have ever run. I remember celebrating that run immediately with a smoke. It felt very awkward though with stares from fellow runners so powerful, that could put out cigarettes.
There on, with an year of initially inconsistent running and regular visits to Cubbon park, the runners paradise, I transformed from a smoker to a runner. Thanks to everyone who used to run and still runs at Cubbon park, looking at your discipline, your love for the sport and health, I got addicted to a sport I had never imagined I would ever indulge in.