Who are you running for today?

After watching the Office for the 33rd time, I thought that my mind might need a little more stimulus. I mean, even though I had watched the extended version (with the deleted scenes re-added to the episode) it still wasn’t exactly intellectually stimulating. I watch comedy because cheap, meaningless laughter gives some respite from reality but then you begin to work yourself into a rut and after the show is over there is a palpable silence which you can hear so loud that when you look at in retrospect, you almost question the point of it in the first place.

So, I decided to watch “Black Mirror” and read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. And like they show cliché writers, taking a swig of their scotch and sit ting down infront of their typewriters I opened my laptop and decided to write this.

Why do you run? Yes, people ask you that all the time. And all of us have a set of answers, right? My standard answer is “I am running towards a better life”. But do you know deep down, why you really run? And what you can do to be a better runner?

I run because I think it a.) It helps me be a better person, it makes my day better and it lets me get my thought process rolling b.) Because I am stubborn as hell, I pull through some really tough conditions and then post about it on Social Media, so that the few who are on my friend list and read what I write, can take courage and pull through tough times in their life. (Trust me this true, I don’t post because I am some egomaniac who wants attention, far from it. If I did, I would lie in a newspaper about my achievements or ask people to take selfies with me.)

The fun thing about running and running posts is this comment “Inspiring”.
Remember the Michael Phelps’ Under Armour Ad. Remember this? When this came out, EVERYONE posted this. They went for early swims just to take picture and put “It is what you do in the dark that puts you in the light” post.

And they swam 1500 meters that day and since, what they do in the dark is associated with websites we open on incognito tabs. I mean, you don’t get good selfies in the dark, do you? (I did take one once, 4 years ago, but I was wearing a headlamp, so it did turn out great).

When I was 14 years old, I used to reach the swimming pool after school at 4 pm. I used to run 3 laps around the pool in July, in 45 degree heat and then dive in. Do 3 sets of 1500 meters, leaving at 20 minutes. Then swim 8 sets of 200 meters on the 25 meter side of the pool, racing a new swimmer in each lap (yes, each 25 meter lap). And I had to beat every swimmer or else I had to do 10 push-ups for each person I lost to. And then I finished with 5*100 meters. So yes, more or less 6.6-7 kms every single day. And because I was highly competitive and didn’t lose enough, my coach decided to make me do push-ups anyways. I still have a scar on my shoulder from the day I was in so much pain, I fell on the floor by the pool and started crying. The only person who did watch me was my mother and when she was not there she made me promise to train like she was watching. Keep training hard and not slacking off. No, I didn’t do it in the dark, in broad daylight, off social media, off everything. Just for myself.
This world right now, this world of social media, this world full of inspirers who run 5k and think they are doing the world a favour by posting it, I am just incapable of understanding the delusion! (I used to be like that, except I didn’t post 5ks, I posted my 15k tempo runs at 4 min/km or when I ran an exceptional 5 or 10k, because I was young, and I don’t know, I liked it. I liked being called “fast”, I evolved since then.) I’m not saying posts about you running X number of kilometres everyday are bad, infact they are much better pictures of a bunch of drunken people gyrating around in a discotheque. They tend to become mundane after a while and people who had to get inspired, get inspired and move on. Those who don’t want to get inspired hang around clicking the “like” button, hoping to receive a “like” from you because ego begets ego. Let me explain.

Let us begin with the gear. I went through 15 models of shoes before I found the right one, which could sustain high mileage and my gait. I genuinely went through every injury that can happen because of a wrong pair of shoe, I even went barefoot (still do sometimes). I wore Nikes, Freeflyknits with 3 mm drop, I wore Puma FAAS 100, I wore Adidas Supernova Glideboost 7, I wore ON Cloud and I finally found Hoka.

And I still cannot guarantee it is right for you. Each person has a different gait and different style of running. All of us have different goals which we want from running. I know money doesn’t grow on trees and it took me 5 years to find the right training shoes. I said training shoes. Because yes, you do need a separate pair of shoes. Research (and if you think, common sense) has shown that it makes more sense to train in heavy duty, slightly heavier shoes (until you run barefoot, which yes, you should do from time to time, if not always) and use lighter, more responsive shoes for racing. Mix it up. Break in your lighter shoes, do some speedwork in them, get a good feel of them. But majority of your running, should happen in your heavy-duty shoe.

Again, I don’t know if I am right or wrong. I have been running for 5 years and even though I am educated enough, I am NOT a definitive expert on this topic. But because people ask me this question so many times, this is usually my answer.

But time and again I see brand influencers shoving a shiny pair of new shoe in your face and telling you to buy it. No offence to the social media influencers. I am sure they know about shoes and which pair of tights rip less if you let of a fart on a run after eating rajma (red beans) last night. But, not even the product manager of a brand, not even the creator of the shoe can tell you if this will definitively work for you. When I was with Nike, I went online and read about every single shoe and thoroughly knew which pronation would be suited for which shoe, but I would always tag my advice with “please don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and if that works for you, great.”.

You can buy the highly overpriced Nike Vaporfly and you can run in them, but it will not make you Eluid Kipchoge. Nor will it improve your marathon time. Shoes are the absolute last piece of the puzzle. Kipchoge runs 180-200 kms a week including 40k tempo runs in the mud and on trails. He has been running for a long time.

And above all, it is a scientific fact that the bodies of Kenyans and Ethiopians through millions of years of evolution have reached a point where their capillaries carry more oxygen than a normal person. And even if you reach the same VO2 max as them, they have much better, much more responsive bio-mechanics which will make them faster even if you and a Kenyan have the same VO2 max.

All things considered, Kipchoge could have been running in wooden clogs. He still would have run faster than most people in this world. He is a highly efficient runner and yet, he doesn’t take things for granted. Yes, he posts pictures of his training and his races but he is least bothered with the response he is getting (maybe his page manager does because it is about business, but not Eluid per se)

I see training advice strewn all across social media from people who are not even coaches. I saw someone getting punched in the stomach by someone else as a training for a marathon! HOW DOES THAT HELP? I mean, who taught you that and why are you telling people that! Massively overweight/underweight or wide-eyed newbies doing intervals! WHY? Who told you that? Yes, I say Google it but come one, don’t just click the first link you get. Read more! Research a bit.

And this free training advice business is genuinely moronic. People keep asking me for coaching advice, I do help out some people for free but a.) I know them personally and I have trained with them b.) More often than not they are my friends.

Build a base. Learn about heart rate zone, read books on running. Lay a strong foundation for yourself. Work on your core and do some stretching. Include strength workouts. It is common sense.

Then comes diet. And I’m going to tell you this. When I was 16, I used to suffer from Anorexia. I weighed 39 kgs and I used to throw away the food my mother left for me at the counter, by riding my bicycle 16 kms away so that no one I knew saw me commit that crime. My mother had to come up with ingenious ways to feed me vegetables and things I didn’t eat and to this day, if it was upto me I would eat Paneer for every meal. But that’s not healthy and I have a very smart and capable friend, who helps me plan the whole thing.

I just know refined sugar is bad and I don’t have to kill animals to get my protein intake. And you’ll never find me posting picture of eating cake (which btw I don’t eat) or copious amounts of sweet-dishes because I am a responsible human adult who knows people are impressionable and they would think it is okay to eat that shit. It is not.

I’m not being unhelpful, I am not being over-zealous or overly critical ; I, personally just don’t want to coach people who I don’t know. Because I feel responsible for my actions. If someone got injured because of some recommendation that I made, I AM AT FAULT. Not because I said something. Because I said something to someone who I didn’t know would be able to carry through with my advice.

You know what? All of this doesn’t even matter if you actually want to run. All of these things: “What shoe should I wear?” “Is this watch good?” “Does X gel have more caffeine than Y?” come much later!

What really matters is the drive inside of you. What really matters is how bad you really want to run. You will figure these things out as you go along. You will one day find the perfect diet and the perfect shoe and the perfect T shirt which makes you look like Brad Pitt in race day pictures.

Run for yourself. Run for self-improvement. Most importantly, DO NOT DO THINGS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA.

Why did I actually even bring this up? Well, there was the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” and during my recent bid to clean up my newsfeed on Facebook, I came across a post. It was from a man, who was running the Mumbai Marathon. And he was actually live-streaming the damn thing. I’m not trying to be judgemental here, but why? 

Nosedive. Watch it if you haven't.

I know, for some people doing better infront of others is a motivation but you are running with thousands of people. What is this obsessive compulsive need to open Facebook in the middle of a Marathon to tell people where you are? Is running this unimportant for you that you cannot give it your full attention for 42 kms? And seriously, what’s the deal with taking selfies in the middle of a race? Before and after I can understand, they are cool. In the middle of a training run/ride, when you are taking a breather or just own a GoPro, it is okay. But seriously? In the middle of a fucking marathon?

You can post that selfie and write an inspiring Op-ed on how you willed yourself through, but that shows you where your mind really was. And it wasn’t there to finish the marathon. It was on Facebook, thinking about “inspiring people”. Just saying, you can also inspire people by using a photo that the race-day photographers clicked.

Don’t do races just because they are there or to collect a useless pile of finisher medals you can click later and show it to the world. The miles you cover show in the way you run, in the way you conduct yourself before, during and after a race. For me, it shows in my calves. I run atleast 100, maybe more runs of 21 kms or more every year. I participate in 1, maybe 2 races. I don’t do it for the medals. I don’t do it because I want to create a big Facebook post at the end of it.
Those medals are meaningless if you aren’t improving. You can have a 100 HM finishers medals on your wall. If you just ran for the medals, I can assure you most of them have far more slower times than what you are capable of. Bucket list goals are important, yes. But isn’t life also about improvement?

I ran my 1st 10k race, 6 months after my 1st Half marathon. My 1st half marathon was a struggle, 21.1k in 2 hours and 23 minutes and I was unable to stand up after it. I ran that 10k in 46:21. And then 6 months later I ran the Half marathon in 1:25:01.

Look at Lionel Sanders. 8 years ago, he was coming to terms with his life. He almost gave up on his life and he went on to overcome drug addiction. Yes, he did his 1st Ironman in 10:14 (which I think many of us aspire to reach by our peak) but he since then steadily improved. I can do a whole blog on Sanders (which I am planning to do later this year), but the gist is through every race, through every single meter he covers, he thinks how he can improve.

Your life is much more valuable than the “likes” you get on social media. I know everyone thinks they can inspire a revolution but when there are too many twigs on fire in a forest, it becomes a wildfire and not a comforting little campfire around which you can enjoy yourself.

It is one hilarious social media circus infront of these days. People with perfect abs and beautiful faces who struggle to finish even 4-hour marathons become “coaches” and “influencers”. The advocates of #bodyimage issues post pictures with tonnes of makeup on their face and their stomachs sucked in because it is not their credentials which give them credibility. Anybody in this world right now can be a coach and tell you to run a marathon and tell you to be “okay with yourself the way you are”, because if you have 10,000 followers on Instagram you are bound to be heard much better. I’m not one for body shaming, but I look at the fitness motivators on Facebook & Instagram and trust me, it is not that sports bra or even a set of perfectly chiselled abs that makes your faster. It is that mile after mile, you do in the dark, away from social media which makes you a better runner, a better athlete. Body image issues aren’t resolved by putting on more makeup and becoming “advocates” on Instagram. They are resolved by working out and taking a healthy diet.

And again, I reiterate, don’t quit posting on Social Media. It is genuinely fun to see what people are doing and it does inspire a change. But maybe, just maybe, when you are out there racing think about yourself and not the likes you will garner on Social Media because of the finisher medal/selfie? Be responsible with the knowledge you impart and be accountable for the information you spread. Don’t be a bigot like many social media influencers who make their lives seem like postcards from Cancun but in reality struggle with crippling depression. Be responsible with what you portray and give people a true sense of hope like Sanders or Goggins, who show that through hardwork, anything is possible. Be real out there.

See if it works out.


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