Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why I Run

Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact day when I decide to run. I was 18 at that time, a cadet with the National Cadet Corps. Selections were starting to get underway for the annual Republic Day Camp scheduled for the following January. We were to be put through a series of rigorous camps where we would be tested on various abilities and only the chosen few would make it to the state contingent and be part of the prestigious camp in Delhi. I had signed up to one of the early camps and was awaiting instructions when my Senior Under Officer picked me out of the line-up. 'You', she said, 'looking the way you do, you are never going very far. You're too short, too dark-skinned and frankly, it would be a miracle if you can complete the 3 km cross-country distance'.

Pictured here with my 74-year old running friend at a recent half-marathon
It wasn't so much the fact that she had questioned my ability to run that irked me. But it came as a complete shock that she had dismissed my chances at selection because of how I looked. Until then I was under the impression that so long as you could run the required distance in a certain time and were reasonably good at keeping in step with the others while marching, you had a fair shot at being picked. But this, my height and my skin-colour and the expanse of my waist, this I could do nothing about (okay, I could shed a few inches off the waist but the rest?).

It must have been that afternoon that I made up my mind to work bloody hard at the one thing that I could do better. And that was improve my running abilities. I was running 5-6 times a week, usually early in the morning. In that time, I must have been leered and jeered and harassed a number of times. But I kept at it. My timing wasn't spectacular but I could comfortably run the distance and I regularly finished among the top 10 girls in our unit. Soon it became apparent to me that my selection for the main camp was imminent. However the camp in Delhi was a huge disappoint and there was only more and more discrimination. But that's another story.

Over the years, I've continued to run. Sometimes just around the block, other times longer. Moving to another country made me want to test my abilities further. After all, here I could run where I pleased and when I wished and not worry about being harassed. I wanted to take advantage of this sense of freedom and before long I had signed up for a marathon and much to my surprise, completed the 26.2 mile course with little discomfort. These days I run regularly, occasionally taking part in races.

 In all the time that I have been running, there have been few occasions when I've thought about how it was making me lose weight. Whatever weight I've lost has been purely incidental. I do not set out to run thinking of the extra pounds I need to shed. I run because of how it makes me feel. Me, the most unlikely of runners, now being able to cover 18 miles on a Sunday morning. That is the reason I run. The buzz that comes from achieving your targets, to thumb your nose at nay-sayers from long ago and above all, to prove to yourself that it's not about how you look or how much you weigh that really matters. But what you can do with yourself. Now, that's worth lacing up for.

(Note inspired by this article in yesterday's Guardian)