Why I hate running (and yet lace up)

I wish.

I have been running since 2011. I feel I now possess that least bit of experience to write about my slanderous affair with this doomed activity.

I am not sure if statistically one can qualify ‘average’ but I am the most average runner you will ever know. I am that nameless, faceless guy in one of those big city runs, puffing like I could collapse any moment. And please, don’t picture an exotic London or a Boston marathon when I use the phrase ‘big city run’. As far as I am concerned the Aarey Milk Colony Run is a ‘big city run’. I don’t always have a timing target for my runs. I don’t go out of my way to train for runs and I stopped collecting medals from running events at least 5 years ago.

I have also run some relatively crazy missives for my thirties that I won’t repeat anymore. Once I headed out for a 5K after a few liters of beer (terrible idea), woke up at 2 am another time, to travel for an outstation run 3 hours away and once, I ran a 10K trail run with an injured ankle only to prove to a doctor, that I do have a stress fracture that’s not showing up on X-Rays (they mostly don’t). If you must know, the X-Ray showed a fissure the following Monday, to which I celebrated my achievement by drinking that evening.

Running represents to me the peak of my ordinariness amongst any activity I have indulged in. It has been that raging one-sided affair where running never loved me back. Every 3 months of sustained running only led to injuries that kept me away from other sports I enjoy playing like tennis and basketball.

And yet I am gearing up for my 4rd TCS10K this Sunday. I am making that least bit of effort to ensure that I show up on May 21st. Towards this end, I have doubled my weekly runs. Which means instead of lumbering through a run once a week, I now lumber twice a week. As much as my mediocrity shines through in these runs, I somehow can’t disconnect from it.

I keep going back to running to win her affection. I try every single time to improve something about my running. Sometimes the goal has been as lowbrow as “let’s avoid injuries” and just run without any timing in mind. If something gives you this much of a discomfort and there is no apparent gain, I often find myself asking “Why the hell am I running?”.

I’ll admit there have been a few highs around the finish line over the years but those fade away soon. Unlike a shared team sport victory, nobody really cares once you have finished a run. The first time there will be a few big hugs which will eventually move to high-fives and then we will end up spending a lifetime shaving off a few minutes and seconds here and there.

Among all this first-rate nitpicking, last month I saw a film called Patriots Day on a bleary long-haul flight. I came across the story of a Patrick Downes, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor from 2013, who with his newlywed wife Jessica Kensky had gone to the event to cheer the runners that year. Little did they know, that one of the bombers would place a bag of explosives right next to them. A week later both him and his wife’s legs had to be amputated. They returned next year to run the Boston Marathon on hand-cycles.

Patrick has run every year since the bombing. Last year, he finished his run using a prosthetic.

Earlier this year, Matthew Rees, a London Marathoner who took up running just two years ago to battle depression helped a fellow runner on the verge of a collapse by carrying him over the line. In the video that went viral, Matthew is first seen mouthing words of frenzied encouragement for his fellow runner, David Wyeth. When David, looking weak and unsure of his unsteady legs almost buckles, Matthew puts his hand over David’s shoulder offering him support. A volunteer in a red jacket joins in and the two help David cross the finish line.

In all of this, Matthew forgets his own grand timing ambition of a sub 2:50 finish that he was well on track for.

Much before I took up running, I used to work with the Mumbai Marathon as a part of CNBC’s Broadcast team. Days leading up to the race were inevitably stressful and nights sleepless. In 2011, towards the fag end of the race, with only the last few casual Dream Run runners celebrating in costumes and what-not, some of us from the team were hanging out near the VIP section. Good food and celebratory drinks were on the horizon.

In a stance that was part philosophical and part cynical, I was debating with the team the hollow point of running for no rewards. I was quite headstrong about why this was a silly activity. The point of playing a sport was to win something, I mused.

As I wondered how much longer it would be before we could escape from the heat that had begun to take over the venue, another nameless, faceless man with grit written all over his face pushed himself for a final sprint towards the finish gate. The finish ribbons and the accompanying bells and whistles had disappeared long ago thanks to hordes of other finishers before him. There was no glory in wait for this man. His brow was sweaty and his face grimacing more and more with every passing second. Yet, his eyes were settled on crossing the finish line. He wanted to finish strong. It didn’t matter that he was on a wheelchair.

That image is still fresh on my mind. I also started running later that year. I whine no lesser now than from back in 2011. Yet, when I look back over these stories and myriad others, I realize that being a nameless, faceless runner does mean something.

I am still searching for that meaning. But to get there, I have to lace up again.



Tinker, tailor, writer, rye. Building Discovery’s digital future in India. Also, author, ‘Buffering Love’: a collection of short stories (Penguin India)

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Issac John

Tinker, tailor, writer, rye. Building Discovery’s digital future in India. Also, author, ‘Buffering Love’: a collection of short stories (Penguin India)