[Originally published on the official Goa River Marathon website]
I sleepily shuffled out of the car, wondering –for the umpteenth time- why on earth I’d agreed to do this. By “this,” I mean wake up at 04:00 in the morning just so that I could travel halfway across the state and tire myself silly by running for kilometers on end with my Dad and a bunch of other people.
Surely, dear reader, you must be wondering WHY I’m doing it. Maybe she’s running to spread awareness about something important, you ponder. Or maybe it’s to participate n some international ultra-running championship.
Unfortunately, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. I wasn’t running for a good cause nor was I running for a prize. I was running “just for kicks,” because it’s fun to breathlessly gasp as I push my body up sharp inclines and down steep slopes, my clothes becoming sweatier and sweatier by the minute … At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Trying to shake off my drowsiness, I half-heatedly started my warm-up routine, enviously thinking about my classmates who were probably (and rightfully) be fast asleep at this unearthly hour, savoring the last day of our Diwali vacation.
Sighing at my evident stupidity, I looked around and it struck me how many people had turned up. “About 60, I should think,” I marveled, a far cry from the 4-5 runners who turn up for our usual Sunday runs.
A few minutes of mindless stretching (at least on my part) later, I heard an excited commotion to my right. Peeking over shoulders, I realized that my fellow-marathoners where cheering for Dinesh Heda, Goa’s own ultra-runner, as he bounded towards us. My Dad and I are among the many who have commenced and continued middle-distance running thanks to Mr Heda with his sound advice and glorious example.
A few moments of hurried greeting later, we were all hustled to one side of the street, all sixty of us with our fancy tracking devices and neon sports suits. The run was about to begin.
The trial run was about to begin, actually, for this wasn’t going to be an actual, documented race, but a casual affair who’s aim was to make us more clear and confident about the distances we were aiming to tackle at the upcoming Goa River Marathon (GRM, for short), in December 2015.
I’m not exactly sure why, but the GRM seems like it’s in a league of its own when compared to other long-distance competitions in Goa. Maybe it’s because it’s the oldest and longest running [get it??]. Maybe it’s because it attracts marathoners from various parts of the world and has a prominent air of professionalism. Maybe it’s because of the large banners put up all over Vasco prior to the event, celebrating us participants. Maybe it’s even a combination of all of the above.
Anyway, the trial run had begun and all around me, swirls of Goans from different backgrounds, cultures and walks of life got together to support each other ‘til the finish line.
The chatty ones (like Althea and Liesl, the two gregarious women I stayed close to throughout the run) talked and talked and talked their way to the end of the course. Don’t let their frequent bursts of laughter fool you, though; they can run like nobody’s business and can battle the deadliest inclines without breaking a sweat.
The more serious ones (like my Dad) avoid conversation altogether, preferring to drown themselves in the sound of silence and the rhythmic reunion of their shoes and the gravel. They swoosh past the rest of us, hungry for a new personal best or eager to hit an unprecedented distance.
And then, there’s people like me; lost in the swarm of a determined people, unsure of whether to turn back or plough forward, enjoying ourselves all the same.
My excuse is that I’m young. Younger, at least. I’ve been running for less than a year now and am an irregular practitioner, at best. I have school and karate and tennis and triathlons and blogging and elocution and competitions and too much on my plate to focus on running as much as I should, which, I must admit, is a pathetic excuse, but one I’ve persuaded myself to believe all the same.
Back to the now-underway run, at the 5 KM mark, we took a slight detour and landed up on the St. Jacinto bridge, a scenic spot if there ever was one. There were boats and fluff, white clouds and a magnificent stretch where the sky effortlessly fused with the river’s azure currents.
Living in the era that I do, I half expected people to start whipping out snazzy iPhones and snapping horrendously egoistic selfies but, to my surprise and delight, not a single person did, with the exception of Liesl who captured a quick photograph of the view, without her face in it (something that happens all too rarely nowadays).
Alas, our little sprint on the bridge ended in a quick 500 meters and we were back to jogging on quaint roads with their winded paths and clumps of trees poking out from either side.
We ran on, admiring the cosy houses we flashed by and appreciating the picturesque routes. About half an hour and 4 kilometres later, we were still going strong but decided to turn back, keeping in mind the fact that we needed to repeat the distance we’d just covered.
I must add that, unlike my previous runs, most of us hadn’t bothered to carry water or dried fruits or any sort of refreshment as Sanjeev Ojha, a dedicated member of the Vasco runners’ group, assured us that he had it covered. And, BOY, was that an understatement!!
Not only did Mr Ojha have bottles and bottles of water, but he also handed out bananas and oranges, Electrolyte and energy drinks, nuts and wet towels… A runner’s dream! He’s loaded it all in his smart, white vehicle and met us at 2 KM intervals, making sure that everyone was hydrated and well-nourished. He granted us the liberty to focus on just completing our kilometers and it was truly a blessing.
“3 kilometers left!!” Someone a little ahead of my group bellowed triumphantly, and everyone broke into relieved smiles. We might have been having a great time on this fabulous track, but we still wanted it to be over (which is pretty contradictory, but it’ll make sense if you’re a runner).
The end in sight, we charged on with renewed gusto, encouraging each other constantly. Each thud on the road brought us a step closer to our individual goals; goals that started seeming more and more achievable by the minute.
I passed my father somewhere during the last few kilometers, who, after volunteering to keep my company for the last leg (an offer I declined after seeing the glint in his eyes that told me he wanted to complete his first ever half-marathon with a strong finish), glided along his way.
At last, finally and all too soon, Althea, Liesl and myself turned the last bend and found ourselves at the starting point once again. Dust to dust.
A group of victorious runner warmly applauded as we crossed the imaginary ribbon and I found myself feeling that familiar rush one can expect to feel after successfully completing an endurance event.
Not in the least breathless (surprisingly, actually, owing to how ‘m an asthmatic), I spun around to survey the scene: A bunch of proud weirdos, chuckling with each other as they joked around, content and relieved and hungry for more, all at once (wonderful combination of feelings, I’ll have you know).
And I knew then that I’d found my people. A community that would eventually become as much a part of me as I am now of it.