07 Dec 2017 20:25 IST

Run for your life!

The beautiful thing about running is its ability to help you conquer both your body and your mind

I was not a born runner. At school and college, I and my equally-slothful friends would bring up the rear at marathons or cross-country runs. Once, our sports teacher in high school was so disappointed — it could have also been contempt — that he made us stand on the ground for half an hour as punishment, after we ended another long run at a typical tortoise pace.

While I was a decent defender in football — and a jack of all trades but master of none in cricket — I would envy friends who could burst through the defence in one energetic run, or sneak in a cheeky single on the cricket pitch. I just could not match their stamina or speed.

If someone had told the 17-year-old Prince that 21 years later he would be running half-marathons — 21.1 km — at a respectable speed, he would have just laughed and, in choicest expletives, would have asked the person to shut up.

Looking for a challenge

Years later, and over 20 kg heavier, I would attempt to discipline myself and go on a regimen of exercise and a better diet. I ran but I could never run more than a kilometre or two at a stretch. Walking was easier — almost equally effective — but extremely boring.

Eventually, I made a serious attempt at long-distance running in 2014, in Delhi. I was looking for a new challenge and a friend who was preparing for the Delhi Marathon in December inspired me. I started with 2-km runs and every week gradually increased my distance by up to a kilometre. With about three months to go, I did my first 10k. I ran at Janpath, hoping to be inspired by the monuments and history. I did it, and then promptly fell ill.

I continued training in Chennai after a shift to the southern metro. My first half marathon was the 2014 Wipro Marathon, in which I clocked a timing of 2 hours 22 minutes. My most recent one, and sixth overall, was the just-concluded 2017 edition of the Wipro Marathon, in which I improved my timing to 2 hours 5 minutes. I am confident that I can have a go at the sub-two hour mark — a respectable threshold for long-distance runners all over the world — in my next run.

Learnings

Now I can’t do without running. I run at least thrice a week. There are many reasons for my love for running. Here is my five-point learning, which has influenced other aspects of my life. These lessons might have come from running, but are applicable everywhere, including in one’s profession and in relationships.

1. Don’t hurry. Unless you are an Eluid Kipchoge — the reigning Olympic marathon champion — in everything that you do, becoming successful is almost never overnight. Just look at Virat Kohli’s schedule for a day; even champions have to sweat.

Success is a gradual, lonely process; much like running a marathon. One has to stay the course. The 21-km target is a long-term one. Before that, there are many shorter milestones to meet: 5k, 10k, 15k. If you are in a hurry, you run the risk of ending up short.

2. Get out of your comfort zone. Running is a challenge on several levels. Getting up early in the morning is one of them. Initially, I often cheated myself into sleeping, but the guilt built up so much that the transgressions reduced.

While running, there is this constant push to improve your speed or last a longer distance, and each time you have to get out of your comfort zone. This principle has often worked for me in other aspects of life too, including in my job.

3) Understanding pain. Running is pain. Starting from the toes to all the way to the back, and between the shin and the knee, pain is like a combo offer that necessarily comes with long-distance running. But one learns to deal with it. First by increasing the threshold to bear the pain and by exercising. For instance, to keep the knee safe, runners often exercise to strengthen their core — stomach, side and back muscles. Through the process, you learn to listen to your body and begin to respect it.

There have been setbacks. Once I injured my back after going for stretches despite being in pain. I was off the road for three months. Now, I am more careful. The best thing about pain is that with it, you become stronger.

4) Taming the mind. During last week’s Wipro Marathon run, I had just crossed the 15k mark when fatigue took over and my mind said I needed to stop and take a walking break. The finish line, though just 6km away, looked like a distant dream.

This often happens while running, which is essentially a one-person sport. There is no one to egg you on as the mind starts playing tricks at the first sign of pain and fatigue. Over the runs, one learns to tame the mind and play the tricks back at it. That’s why running is as much physical as it is psychological. In real life, how often have you fallen for the tricks mind plays?

5) Fitness. One of the immediate benefits of running is that it helps keep your weight in check. The feeling of lightness as you run up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, is worth all the pain. For me, given my family’s rich legacy of lifestyle diseases, running has helped me keep those vital parameters in check.

But most profound is the impact running has on the mind. The workout brings positivity. Every time you meet your running goal, you gain confidence and regain the desire to improve and explore.

Put on your shoes. Just make a start.