Fantastic Marathoners and Where to Find Them

Humour

Fantastic Marathoners and Where to Find Them

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arré

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very marathon ever run has only ever had two kinds of participants – those who registered under guilt, and those who didn’t. The former is a core group of people who mark the entire year by the marathons they will be participating in, to plan the preparation and diet that it will require. These are the guys who will show up on race day with their fitbits and phones all charged up, liquids and food packed. These are the people who know exactly what they are doing. And at most marathons, these people number one in 10.

The other 90 per cent are people like us.

When you get the bib number in your mailbox a few days before race day, it dawns upon you, what kind of monster that you have unleashed. You are the guy who takes a rickshaw to station instead of risking a 10-minute walk, but now you have registered for a 10-kilometre run that flags off at 6 am sharp. The last time you woke up early on a Sunday morning, LK Advani was still gunning to be Prime Minister of India.

You’ve followed (kinda) the pre-race diet that was recommended, but in the name of carb-loading you’ve eaten a LOT of fried rice which is making you sluggish and bloated. Also, you’ve never put on a bib before so you wonder whether you should use threads or staple it to your shirt.

As you reach the venue and glance across, it starts to feel a lot like an exam hall, 10 minutes before the start of the test. Some people look really confident and prepared, others are busy nervously looking around, just like you. Some serious runners are doing last-minute stretches — you copy them closely so that people think you know what you’re up to.

In the meantime, announcements begin and the host, who looks like a gym trainer at Gold’s asks the crowd to gather around for a warm-up. Loud music starts to play and you follow the dancercise steps. It keeps going on for 10 minutes and it starts to worry you that “Saari energy to abhi nikal gayi, ab race mein kya karenge?”

Suddenly, the lights go green and everyone is off with a loud cheer. Some people take off like Usain Bolt, and are already breathing heavily as soon as they complete 50 metres. “Haan hum sab to chutiye hai jo itna slow bhagte hai,” the regulars mutter as they watch the noobs self-destruct with irrational enthusiasm.

Many have begun walking right from the beginning and have decided that they will walk through the entire race, which deserves more respect because they know their limitations. It’s like the CA course: All that matters is that you complete the race and have a certificate. Unless you are Sharma ji’s son, nobody is going to ask you about your timing and position. The “pros” jog at a brisk pace and are out of sight within the first few minutes itself. While you secretly admire their perfectly toned body and physique, you mainly feel a lot of disgust.

As you’re about to finish your first kilometre, you find out that there are stalls offering water and bananas, and it was extremely stupid of you to carry food in a bag. Not only will you not be able to eat anything, the bag keeps bouncing with every step you take and is extremely irritating. But you’re a desi and you don’t know how to travel without theplas.

Every marathon race has the sympathy-inducing old uncle who gets a cheer from everyone for his spirit to run at this age.

You soon notice an entire group of people wearing the same office t-shirt and based on their excitement levels, you’d think they’re at a funeral. These are the guys who are collateral damage to their company trying to achieve their CSR targets. Some companies have got 50-100 people from their staff, placards, drums, microphones, and they’re on a procession like it’s an MNS rally. Many of them are out there handing pamphlets and raising awareness about social issues like heart disease and global terrorism. You pretend to your friends that you’re interested to know more, but all you want to do is just stand and rest for a while.

Every race has the sympathy-inducing old uncle who gets a cheer from everyone for his spirit to run at this age. You just secretly hope you finish the race before him or it will be really embarrassing to be behind a 92-year-old. To make matters worse, the  eight-year-old is catching up with you.

As you cross a section which has a host of pretty girls, you try to impress by racing past them with confidence. Once you pass them, you collapse. Soon, you find yourself bringing up the rear with a group of annoying millennials who have just come there to click selfies, Boomerangs, and update their Snapchat. “Take that you lazy piece of shit, who gets up at 10 am on a Sunday morning. I already ran a marathon,” being the subtext of every social media post.

Now you don’t even have enough breath to ask the volunteers how many kilometers are left and the millennial gang, who is done with social media updates, now blaze past and attract the attention of the crowd. They cheer (mainly because they are really bored) and you feel really shit because one of them has stopped to ask if you need to sit down.

As you hobble toward the end, even the last of the stragglers is overcome by the “Let’s sprint the last few meters” spirit. It’s a bad one, but they’ve seen athletes do it on TV; what could go wrong? You join them and give it everything you have and start going past people at serious speed. Now the crowd on either side of the road eggs you on. You complete the race even as your heart threatens to stop.

But you’ve done it… now you’ve crossed the line and all you want to do is sink into the Earth. But hold on…. There’s no place to sit. The whole course is designed in a way to make every runner run some more.

You finally line up to collect your medal (it’s a long queue because nearly everyone has finished before you) but it doesn’t matter, we live in the age of “everyone’s a winner.” You go to collect your medal and the aunty gleefully smiles and congratulates you. You take your breakfast bag and realise that all it has is a banana and you are overcome with an urge to thump the volunteer closest to you.

But the medal stops you. You are now a marathon runner and must play the part.

You inhale your breakfast like medicine and start heading home, not taking away the medal from your neck so even people on the train and in your building notice your achievement. Every step you walk feels like an entire kilometre as your legs now have the constitution of dandiya sticks. But the race has been conquered and you have at least four photos to prove it.

When you reach home and sink into bed, you take a deep breath. All that remains now is to think of an excuse for work on Monday because you know that your legs will bail out like state governments before the Padmavati release.

It is the day you decide, that the only marathons you can happily complete are binges of shows on Netflix. And you don’t even need a medal at the end of it to keep you happy.

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