WHAT JOINING A RUNNING GROUP TAUGHT ME (AND MAYBE YOU COULD LEARN TOO)
I don’t know about you but life feels pretty busy here. It’s already 3 years since I started running again. 3 years since I decided to wake-up to one little ‘change’ in my life. I am only now ready to talk about what went into committing to that most hard-won decision and what it still means to me.
There comes a point in time when you just feel, ‘okay, I need to do something about this.’ And when you know, you know! It’s that feeling of determination that creeps over you and a synergy is created compelling you in the direction you set for yourself.
For me that point in time was the day I banged the door behind me, locked Ira and myself in, and screamed like I never ever did (not even on field). Remember Konkana Sen and Irfan Khan shouting on the terrace in the movie Life in a Metro? I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t eat until dinner. I don’t know how much I cried. That my mind conjured all kind of suicidal ways was not helpful either. Across the room the child lay motionless, comatose, oblivious to any kind of sensation and emotion.
I didn’t want to die. But I didn’t want to live this either. But live I have had to, with her, for her and now without her.
I don’t know why I never thought of going back to running until this time. After being into 100- and 400- m events at school and college, running kind of fell away from the list of priorities. And with that went away the me-time. I got into the usual circle – family, work, motherhood, and repeat. It took a catastrophe to get me back into running!
I learned to ask for help
This is funny in a weird way. As a parent and a mother, I felt inordinately responsible for Ira and all the caregiving that went into maintaining her life. My family supported in uncountable ways, but I felt solely responsible for her. I wanted the family to move on and feel some sense of normalcy, while I took care of her. Why should everyone go through this when I can face it alone? Evidently, I was being too hard on myself. I was burning out. I didn’t socialize; there was no time. I didn’t talk much; there was hardly anything else on my mind. It was the counsellor who reinstated what I had started feeling – I needed a change. ‘Start some exercises’, the counsellor had said. I began walking first. Then found PCMC Runners through Facebook and joined in May 2018. The group had a weekly schedule of Tue- run, Wed- strength training, Thurs- run, Fri- Yoga, Sat- rest/run, and Sun -long run.
There lay the two biggest challenges- getting up at 5:00 am after a sleepless night and managing Ira’s medicines and feed while I was away. So, I took help. I spoke to Ira’s doctor and re-scheduled her medicines so that the first dose of the day started at 5:30 am, before I left home. Next, I took Tejas’s help. Either he or my mother-in-law would give the first feed while I was out for my activity. At 7:30 am I would rush back for the next dose of medicine.
It was not easy. My mind was always at home or on the clock. I felt guilty of being away from Ira. My heart would skip a beat if I heard a phone ring! ‘It’s just 2 hours, Pratima. She is going to be fine,’ I often consoled myself. And steadily I regained focus. I made up for the lack of sleep in the afternoons. It took a while, but I started looking forward to the morning.
Since then, my first advice to any caregiver has been to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of pragmatism, and also the first way to self-care. You can’t keep burning yourself, you would need help to douse the fire.
I learned discipline
The first day with PCMC Runners was a strength training day. Though I knew the venue, I didn’t know the exact location in the vast garden. Owing to this I found Amit Kumar and the group 5 minutes later than 5:45 am. The warm-up went well. I started to feel my legs. And then I was punished! ‘Who came late,’ asked Amit? I stepped forward with 2 or 3 other men. ‘Okay, 15 push-ups,’ he said. ‘Quick, down on all fours and 15 push-ups’. No choice given. I may have been late after that but never late for Amit’s session again.
School and college tried to teach discipline. But my group was notorious for near-misses with the authority. We never got caught for our mischiefs and those stories are for some other time. But if I had to stick to running and group activities every day, I had to set some boundaries for myself and at home. I started sleeping early. On some difficult days I managed late-morning or evening runs. If I felt too tired, I only walked. I had to regain the lost self-confidence to be able to be a part of the group. On the night before I joined the group, I felt nervous of social interactions outside the family. In order to calm my nerves, I got out Ira’s paint brushes and created this.
It was a rule I made- that I would show up every day for myself no matter what. I owe that to myself. I deserve a break too. This and the consistent runners in our group have motivated me to keep striving.
I learned not to look over my shoulders
I was a sprinter by nature in school and college. As a strong competitor I feared being overtaken during a race. I knew exactly when the crowd went crazy- either when the finish line was near or if two competitors were closer. And when the crowd cheered, I looked over my shoulder to see how far behind others were. I always doubted my capabilities, never that of others. This has largely changed.
In 2018, I was running for myself. There was no pressure to perform. There was no gold medal to take home. I was fighting only my inner demons – depression, anger, and grief. I was thoroughly amazed with the pace and distance that other runners were doing. But I had no desire to match theirs. I learned to be slow, to take in the present moment, and to let go. While my consistency was acknowledged I was never pushed by anyone to out-perform. ‘Run at a pace you are comfortable with’ and ‘We are here for fitness only’ were some of things I heard. I never had to TRY to fit in. The entire community has always been inclusive and accommodative. All my strong runs, the PBs and the distances have been the product of discipline and great company. All the cycling excursions – including the 138 km to Alibaug and 125 km to Phaltan happened because others believed I could make it easily. I am comfortable being in my own skin as part of the group because I was accepted the way I am.
I learned to celebrate
My first unofficial timed 5k was at My Choice Dus Ka Dum (DKD) and Paanch Ka Punch (PKP) in July 2018, first 10k in October and first 21k in March 2019. None of the milestone runs have been at a fancy event. Instead, all my runs were community ones. And how!
You can read about my maiden HM run on www.wellthyfit.com.
I learnt to celebrate each milestone in the fitness journey. Even that of others. I learnt to appreciate and encourage others for what they have and what they are. I learnt humility, because no matter who you are it takes enormous mental strength to cross the finish line.
I learned volunteering
PCMC Runners is a huge group spread across Pimple Saudagar, Wakad, Chinchwad, Nigdi and Spine Road with 4k members on Facebook and over 300-400 active members. A member can be part of the annual Mileage Challenge- where running, walking, cycling and swimming kms are tracked for a healthy competition. There is the My Choice run on every 2nd Sunday of the month. There are certificates for mileage in all 4 categories. Keeping a community together, bound by constant fun, motivation and encouragement is not a piece of cake! There is commitment of time and effort not once in a while but every single day. I have seen closely what goes into managing this community and have learnt not one or two but many lessons. It has struck me time and again- how people are assorted and have different skills but come together for each other and for a single cause. I am taking some lessons back in behaviourism and management to my work with cancer patients, caregivers and families.
As I started running, I found a space for myself. I learnt to let go – every drop of sweat was like a drop of anger and negativity expelled from my body. I created a sphere, outside of home and Ira, to reconnect with who I am. What I received in return was what I needed the most at that time- acceptance and self-confidence! As I started to look forward to each morning a new perspective grew on me, from inwards to outwards. I could see a glimmer of hope for myself at the end of the dark tunnel that I was traveling. Running and this community are a big chunk of my self-care routine. It always feels like a fresh start to each day. Sometimes all we need is just a little spark of inspiration to get started on a new journey and to continue unto it!
If you want to start a consistent routine and not let the fitness resolution fall apart, start by thinking of it as a self-care thing. I most definitely do not have everything figured out, but I am on a road which has brought me happiness and life-time memories. You can do it too.
What makes a community is the people who are a part of it. This post would be incomplete without acknowledging the many who have been a part of my journey.
A big sense of gratitude for Meenal Walwalkar Vartak, school friend and runner herself, for telling me that I could run again. Our conversation topics can overflow from running to life to practically everything under the sun. Thank you for being such an amazing friend.
Amit Kulkarni – you went away too soon; you were supposed to hear my stories until your ears bled!
Amit Kumar – for correcting my form and for the discipline and commitment you showed.
Avinash Mane – for your creativity and your 18-till-i-die attitude. It feels incredible to share ideas for the same cause.
Avnish ji – for inspiring with your less-talk and more-work demeanour and for the storytelling runs.
Nutan Desai – for being my pacer for the maiden HM. For telling me that she reads my posts, sometimes twice. There is no bigger satisfaction than this for a writer.
Omkar Joshi – for being a constant partner and for never forgetting to ask me for runs. Some of my memorable runs have been with you and Amit.
Rachna Dass – for giving the best guidance on yoga and for the ever-smiling personality that you have.
Shekhar Gavali– for all the chai- before, now and forever, and for putting the smile back into its place. Thank you for always listening and for showing so much care!
Sachin Singh and Akshay Bafana – brownie points to you both for reaching out. It takes immense courage to start difficult conversations. Thank you for being good friends.
Rohit Kshirsagar – for the first century ride (and for missing the Alibaug one) and for sharing a beautiful part of your life (more on this in some other post though).
Vaibhav Thombare – for being a coach, a great friend, and easy co-worker.
This is too short a list of people to thank for. There are many across the four corners of PCMC Runners- from Wakad to Spine Road, who have always been there for me and who have inspired knowingly and unknowingly. Hugely thankful to you all!