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Parthasarathy Thirumalai, Bessie Dreamers

ParthaWhen my wife Radha asked me “What is running in your mind?” I replied “Running”. She asked again “What is running in your mind when you are running?” to which I replied “several things”. While the pun and humor of that conversation made my mind race, I wondered what my running colleagues have talked about running at various times in different contexts. I realized it may be worthwhile to think through to see how it (“What runs in your mind when you are running”) affects a person who runs when he runs or otherwise. I wanted to try and recollect through the various stages of my running what I think before, during and after the run, changed and if so how did it affect my running. So here it comes.

The walking days

When I decided to go for walks every morning, I would see some folks running and would think that they were athletes from their younger days who have been unable to kick the habit. When my very close friend and my brother had been running, it still did not strike to me that you need not have been an athlete to run. When my brother first showed up after running the Auroville Marathon, I realized that maybe I could run as well. So every day I walked after that I used to think that I would run some day. I started talking to people who run and was told – start by running a few meters first. I would look at every runner with awe and think if I ran, would I lose weight? Would I get injured, how could I make it a habit, would dogs chase me and would people look at me like I am silly to run at this age? After a lot of thinking about such stuff ironically I started my running journey and the mind started its own new journey as well. I had company in my wife.

The first runs

One day in March of 2013, we were going for our usual walk and when we neared the KFI on Besant Avenue, my wife said let us take the Blue Cross road which has less traffic or people and do a short run. She said, we will stop at the Blue Cross gate which was about 150 meters of running. After about 100 meters, she gave up, I asked her to continue to only stop a few meters later. We thought it is a total mistake. The funny part was we did not feel any pain but were only out of breath which we realized after we finished our walk that day. From that point on, we were certain in our mind we will be able to run. We would increase the distance little by little and reinforce to ourselves that we can run. We had no clue at that time we would be running Marathons. As the weeks went by we started feeling more comfortable running. My wife had to leave to Mumbai for her yearly summer vacation when we agreed to continue to run – yeah by this time we were running everyday a distance we did not measure which we now know is about 4KM. When running alone I realized how much I was thinking about my wife’s running when running with her and less about myself. There was my lesson one – train with someone or a group. It makes things much easier and simpler. The regular daily runs turned into alternate day runs when my wife was gone. I realized the peer support and inspiration keeps the monotony and lethargy out of training. All that ran in my mind when I ran at that time was when was she going to be back from the vacation for us to run together again. I started thinking about work and a lot of times I was able to get answers to what I would have been struggling for hours at work but would be able to get an answer fairly quickly while running. The individual runs were not as much fun but it made me realize that the thoughts kept rolling on as I was running. Once in a while it would get reset with something I saw on the way or because I had to stop for retying my shoe laces or some other short stoppage. After the first one or two kilometers, when my breathing became normal, I would start to think about the distance I would run for the day. At the turning point will start to feel accomplished and start to think about how long is it going to take to get back home and about the rest of the day.

The Competitive runs without training

We would see the DRHM 2013 posters and flyers during our morning runs and would think what is needed to run in those competitions but never ventured to find out what needed to be done. After the event was over without realizing it we seemed to run into one of the organizers who said it was over but we can participate next year for which there would be training sessions in April. We decided we will try our luck with the 10K in the 2013 Wipro Chennai Marathon. We were encouraged by my brother, his son and daughter, my sister, brother –in-law and nephew who were planning to run the Chennai Marathon that year. We were given tips to prepare and tried to follow them but the pressure set in our minds as to, will we be able to complete? From the day I registered, every day I went for my run I would think about will we be able to complete it or not. The Chennai Marathon was an anti climax of sorts for the excitement it had generated in us. When running the race, I just kept thinking about the no. of people who were running and the magnitude of the event. Kept thinking about the next water point and stopped at each one of them. Finishing the race at a good timing felt nice and the rest of the month was taken easy. Didn’t run much but kept thinking about running. In February 2014, ran 21K in the Auroville Marathon. By this time I had gotten in a few runs of about 15K or higher. I was running for a longer duration and started to think about the pains and breathlessness and realized the slowing down of the body after a standard 10K and the mind playing games. It was less of the body and more of the mind, though kept blaming the age for the difficulty in running. The Auroville run was awesome for the first 10K when my mind was overwhelmed with the natural beauty that was in display in that early morning mist and light. As the sun came out the mind started calculating the percentage of race left for the race. There was a lady that ran next to me almost through the race and I kept telling myself I wanted to finish before her. But after the 18th kilometer, I gave up trying to keep up with that lady and resigned to the fact that I will complete only in my time. The last 500 meters I ran as fast as I could when my mind forgot about the state of my body seeing the finish line. At that moment I decided I need to train properly for me to be able to enjoy what I love the most without pain – Running

The Training and the birth of the real runner

April 1st arrived and the training for DRHM 2014 started. I realized what good training does to your mind. It conditions your body and helps your mind relax. Coach Ilango and Viji Swaminathan who was in charge of the training helped me and my wife get through the anxiousness of running distances and my mind started thinking about other things rather than the distance while running any distance. There were a whole bunch of us that got together and it was the greatest motivation for us to be out there running every day. We shared our pains and gains as we ran and exchanged our techniques. The stretches became an integral part of my routine before and after the run that helped my mind prepare for the run. The races became more common and the mind was much more silent that helped in not getting tired during the run or after. The 10×10 we did that helped us get over a major mental hurdle of can I run everyday a distance of 10k and improved my perseverance level. It helped the mind get a better control of the body and taught me to plan the way I ran any distance. It helped me look at data and apply it during the runs every day. The commitment to running came easier and it improved my timings tremendously. A few half marathons later running at Chennai Trail, Bangalore Marathon and Dusk to Dawn the real test of the mind came at the Wipro Chennai Marathon 2014 where I did my first full. The first 10K, I was thinking about my classmates who were waiting to cheer for me, the next 10K was completed by looking ahead at the other runners from my Dream Runners team, the third 14K was mainly consumed by trying to run with my younger son who was running the 10k and the final 8K was the real challenge. The mind refused to think, the body did not cooperate. As I turned into the OMR to complete the last 2K of the race, the pace of my run had already come to a crawl. I told myself why I got into this, I will never run a marathon again. But still the mind said at the maximum it will take me is another 20 minutes even if I walked and I can complete it around the 5 hour time frame that I had set for myself. I saw a couple of runners ahead of me and kept thinking I will catch up with them. The body would not cooperate to increase the speed. When the U turn came up to run the last 1K I was relieved but the Sun had started beating down hard. As I turned the final bend to the finish line I was almost walking. I saw the clock above and realized I could complete within 5 hours, I picked my pace and completed my first run. As I was getting the medal from Shahul Hameed– He told the organizers he had to give the medal to me as he knew it was my first marathon, I was telling myself don’t collapse and fall down. I did not. It was euphoric moment. There are no words to describe the way I felt. The tiredness of the body and mind was totally forgotten. I was feeling I will not trade this feeling for anything. Quite a contrast to the way I had felt less than half hour before that. The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015 was the next big race. With the confidence of having completed I felt it should be easy to complete the race. In my mind as I ran that race, I felt love of the people of Mumbai and how they had thronged the streets to support the runners. The fist 30K was completed without much trouble by just taking in the beautiful sights of the CST, Marine Drive, Sea Link Bridge Sidhhi Vinayak temple and the elite runners crossing us at good speed. The last 10K despite the slowing down because of the body fatigue, the mind kept saying I may complete at a time better than Chennai. Running with Doctor Anand and Rekha Sudarshan in the end helped ease of the thought of any fatigue. It was a very different feeling from what I felt during the last part of Chennai Marathon. Finishing though gave me the same highs and waiting for my wife to complete the race started give my mind a familiar comfortable feeling. Ever since the 2 marathons, the mind is much clearer when I run. In fact, the mind is able to break down the distances and the problems in almost a similar manner helping conquer them both with less stress. It has become easier to train the mind to think or not think about things while running. The change has been subtle and subconscious. The biggest advantage of my running has been the strengthening of the mind even more than the body. What a change! So what’s running in your mind when you run?