I have seen many runners. Being the slowest runner on earth, I have seen most of the others go past, causing me to check if I have really been moving at all.
I have seen many fully loaded runners. They can tell you why they wear the shoes they wear because their gait is like this and the pronation is like that. They wear a Garmin on their hands and a synched heart rate monitor strapped to their chest before they leave home. They wear drifit Tees and can tell between one brand and another like I can tell a dog from a cat. They can tell you all about the right diet, how they needed to calibrate the balance between the zinc intake and the magnesium. Because they are experts, listening them talk about minerals, you can be excused for thinking that they have acquired mining rights in Karnataka or Goa. They measure everything to the last detail, to the second decimal place, they can tell you that on a certain day with the temperature at a certain level, how much water they must sip and at what speed so that they can maintain the right level of hydration which when combined with the correct everything else will allow them to breach their previous PB. It took me several years before I figured out that PB is runners lingo for personal best and did not draw inspiration from the periodic table as i used to think it may have had to do with the leaden feeling I was left with after my run, just goes to show how poor a chemistry I share with running.
Running today is getting very very competitive. I saw it from close quarters at the recently concluded Hot Pursuit held at Kharghar. Lest I be rejected for reasons of my slow pace, considering that the fastest runners would have covered twice the distance in half the time (that makes them four times faster then me, if my mathematics has not failed me) I opted out and became a volunteer instead. Some teams got rearranged, some even roped in professionals, yet others dropped those that they felt were unprofessional. It was a fun event but somewhere along the way, for many, the joy of running was lost.
Which is why the story of Mumtaz Queireshi, Apurba Das, Umesh bhai, Kirti bhai and Dr Ramani needs to be told. None of them even own a watch to wear when they run and if they are wearing one, it is only to help them remind themselves to get home before they get locked out by an irate wife who had allowed their husbands out but to only get the morning bread and milk. Most of these gents run in just about any clothing. Not for them the drifit, or even the body suits that marketeers would promote as being great to hasten recovery after a long run. They are not too fussed about shoes either, they wear what they have until it is so torn that they absolutely need to get a new one. Not for them the concerns that stem from having more than one shoe which would then require them to have a shoe rotation policy, much like Dhoni's, except that rotating functional shoes is less of a wasted effort than rotating non performing players.
These men simply run. they run for fun, they enjoy running, in a very uncomplicated way. They are supremely unfussed. Not for them the run walk combination of Galloway, not for them the nice body incline to get gravity to share the responsibility of carrying them forth in the manner of Chi running that would make Danny Dreyer and his protege, Abhijit Pradhan proud. They don't spend hours going through Runners World pouring through articles to see how to run better. You wil never hear them say, "Oh I need to find 2 minutes 22 seconds somewhere, to improve my timing." Because they simply run. On days when they have time and they are liking it, they run more. On days when they are not liking it, they don't run less.
Not that they are poor runners by any stretch of imagination.
I remember what Kirti bhai told me after SCMM 2012. "Thoda sa slow bhaga," he said, causing me to derive what I knew was perverse pleasure in someone else's self confessed poor timing. But the joy was shortlived. "I did 2: 04, though I think I should have pushed myself to finish in under 2." Kirti bhai is north of 60 and this is slow timing for him. I remember another exchange with him, when i was extoling the benefits to him of wearing shoes like mine which look like they are made for running in the rain. A couple of minutes into my spiel, I paused out of courtesy to see if he had anything to say. "I simply take my wet shoes and wrap them up in newspaper and they are dry by the next morning," he said simply and was off before i could do any more showing off.
Or consider Dr Ramani. His best FM is under 4: 30, so when I asked him what his secret was, he simply said, " I run every day, I do 3 courses of the mini sea shore (for the ignorant, each round of this course is about 2.5 km). So that's it, he ran 7.5 km a day, every day and went off to finish a FM in under 4: 30. The other day I saw him on Kharghar Hill, stronger runners were huffing and puffing when Dr Ramani simply kept running past them, every time. he ran as fast up hill as many of them did downhill. And he is older than every one of those he was beating hollow. His T shirt was soaked in sweat, he wore no dri fit. the day was hot, he wore no cap. Others were fiddling with their Garmin to determine elevation, he did not even wear a watch. And while others were debating the utility of Vibrams, Dr Ramani ran in what looked like all purpose shoes that were made before Nike had you buying running shoes.
Finally there is Mumtaz. MQ I call him, his motion quotient is very high. He wore a watch that Sunday when he ran 100 km as he did not want to fall short. Trouble is the watch that he had borrowed from Mani found the responsibility of keeping his statistics too daunting and gave up. MQ ran for 17 hours to cover a distance of 100 km and at the end of it all, looked as fresh as a person about to set out on a run. Ditto was the look on the face of Apurba Das. That's what happens when you enjoy running, I guess. That's what happens when the fun is more important than the competitive spirit, I guess. This was the second time I was seeing Apurba do a 100 km, he tells me that he has run that distance 4 times, he makes it happen like it is some walk in the park. I was driving to help the runners but by the time I would finish serving the the runners and head to the next stop a km away, Hari and Apurba would be in sight. Unmindful of the heat and the lack of any tree cover on Godbunder road, they were flying and this was at the 80 k mark.
Meanwhile, MQ was having fun at Mani's expense, keeping his wit in that heat, knowing that he had some more distance to cover. He is a totally unassuming runner, not at all flashy, immensely popular, ready to pace the slowest of runners. As we turned into the western Express highway, his stops got fewer, his strides more rapid, his pace near frenetic. It was a sight to behold. A man possessed.
Ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.
In the interest of full disclosure I must disclose that I wear a Garmin and a heart rate monitor. I rotate my shoes and I wear drifit. I wear a cap and sometime a hydration belt too. But I have an excuse. As I keep saying to myself, "If you can't be a runner, atleast look like one."
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