From Couch to 10K: How I fell in love with running

There comes a time in our lives when our body gives us a gentle reminder that we are not taking good care of ourselves. You keep ignoring them and slowly these reminders become warnings and you are forced to pause and take a corrective action.

In my case the reminders began almost a decade ago. But I kept ignoring them, foolishly prioritizing my career over health. Sedentary lifestyle combined with bad eating habits, erratic sleeping patterns, hectic travel schedule, occasional smoking and lots of beer (I was selling beer that time) took a toll on both my physical as well as mental health.

The stress kept piling up but stubbornly I kept bulldozing through it, tackling it on a piece meal basis than taking a holistic view of things. 

And then a year ago, things became worse. Besides being constantly anxious and irritable I was bogged down by episodes of severe back pain and chronic headaches. My immunity went for a toss and I was falling sick too often. Eventually (albeit very late) the bitter realization dawned upon me that I need to do something about my health before it’s too late.

I started evaluating options of available fitness regimes.  Knowing that I get bored of regimes quite quickly- I wanted something that is more engaging and offers concrete milestones of progress and not just weight loss (weight wise I was OK). That’s how running came into picture.

I have always found the idea of running very fascinating. I would often admiringly watch a runner whenever I spotted one. I envied how runners keep going- like they have found a perfect rhythm, a flow that carries them forward.  Part of the appeal was also the fact that you didn’t need much to begin running, except a good pair of running shoes.

But it was a grossly misplaced assumption. The first few times I tried running, I could barely run 300 meters and I would be out of breath with a pounding heartbeat and paining legs. Few times when I pushed harder, I ended up in bed with severe sprains. I almost gave up on the idea of running when my doctor recommended this running group called 'Jayanagar Jaguars' which he was a part of. 

Initially I was skeptical as I imagined it to be an outfit for only pros or serious runners. But a reluctant call to one of their coordinators changed my perception. The person on the other end completely empathized with my situation was very encouraging. Sensing my concerns, he invited me to try out few trial sessions before committing to any program. His pitch worked and I was ready to try them out.

The biggest hurdle was the time. I was asked to be at on the field by 5 in the morning. I am a night owl and a late riser. Friends and family laughed at me when I told them about my plan to join a 5 am batch. They urged me to be realistic and join something more practical. Their lack of belief in me strengthened my resolve further and I eventually I landed up for my first session.

I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and welcoming each one of the group member was. Interestingly I found that more experienced a runner, more sensitive he or she was towards the doubts and needs of a novice like me. I immediately felt at ease. They run a very structured program that starts from walking sessions and gradually sets you up for running. Also, there is a stringent focus on warm ups and stretches to reduce the risk of injury. 

Soon I started enjoying these sessions. There was a sense of accomplishment after every successful session and when you start your morning on a positive note like that, the positivity lasts you through the day. 

Running for me became a kind of meditation- a state of mindfulness when you are fully aware of your form, thoughts, breath and the road ahead. A good run helps me burn the excess nervous energy that otherwise manifests into anxiety. Hard earned sweat became a badge of honor and worn out shoes a symbol of pride. 

They say one bad habit leads to many other bad habits. After my experience with running- I can confidently say that one good habit can lead you to many good habits. 

As I was waking up early and had tiring sessions, I couldn’t help but sleep early. Even the quality of my sleep improved significantly. I also started to be more mindful of what I was eating. 

From not being able to run few meters, I was now able to run few kilometers – all this within span of few months. To be able to achieve what I thought was impossible was a great confidence booster that trickled down to other aspects of my life as well.

Running also taught me a great lesson in humility. I was often one of the last persons in my group to finish the run. Sweating and panting, by the time I finished my run others would be on to their stretches already. I reached out to my location lead for help. He smiled and asked me to stop competing with others and rather compete with myself. He reassured me on my progress so far and counseled me to “find my rhythm and enjoy my run.” From that moment on, I stopped comparing myself and I was happy that I could finish my runs.

Probably that’s the reason why- when it comes to running I believe camaraderie trumps competition. I have seen a strong sense of community among the runners in general. I make it a point to pack my running shoes whenever I am traveling. I have enjoyed my morning runs in many cities (Vizag, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Goa to name a few) but irrespective of the city, whenever I come across other runners we intuitively exchange a knowing glance and a polite smile – a kind of beautiful acknowledgement that we all belong to the same tribe.

May 19th was a big day for me. For the first time in my life I participated in a 10K race (TCS 10K). I had a big presentation before the race day and I was traveling for that. Sleep deprived and tired I was not in a good form. But in a beautiful coincidence, I ended up running alongside a senior doctor from my running group. Whenever I was about to stop, she kept encouraging me. She kept repeating “Don’t stop. Just keep running”. It’s an advice I have taken very seriously.

I am not stopping. I will keep running. 

Author: Gurudev Prasad

December 15, 2018