The four-day race quickly became a race between two runners – Andrey and Cowson. (both of them about half my age – not that I feel any need to justify why I’m always at the back of the pack)
~Andrey: from Moscow, living in New York. Weirdly, we discover on the second or third evening that we train at the same gym – he, mostly swimming – and we have a good friend in common. Andrey is strongly, but good-naturedly competitive. As he put it pre-race, “Russians don’t really do something just to do it; they do it to do it really well.” He was right. He’s not really a runner, he’s a swimmer, and has never done any long-distance running races. But he’s in great shape, has strong abilities, and a strong competitiveness that pushes him through when his body is flagging. That competitive spirit is something I could use a little more of. Andrey won.
~Cowson: originally from Bihar, now living in Mumbai. Somehow, although he’s run a couple of marathons before, Cowson seemed the most unlikely runner of the bunch. Maybe it was his light-hearted approach, or that he didn’t have all the right gear. He came into the mountains without rain gear or a hydration pack. He just ran. He carried a small water bottle, borrowed some warm clothes and rain gear. He just ran. And was happy. Always laughing.
~Prahlladh: personal trainer from the hills of Tamil Nadu. Prahlladh major distinction in my mind is that he seemed to get stronger each day. As the leaders got tired, Prahlladh powered on, gaining speed every day. He was a powerhouse the last day. That’s what an endurance athlete needs. I have some of that, but Prahlladh showed me new levels.
~Khushi: yoga instructor and married to Prahlladh. Khushi walked a lot of the race. But she has figured out a walking gait that keeps her pace up and is totally sustainable for her over long distances. I envy that and have been trying to emulate it. It’s a skill that is totally necessary in endurance races, and I have yet to find a gait that really works for me. I will keep Khushi in my mind as I’m training for my next 100-miler in September. It’s a wickedly tough course and I will be walking….be like Khushi, be like Khushi….
~Krishant: so strong running up hills! Amazingly, he never seemed to tire going up. I marveled at some of the hills that ran. He did, however, have trouble going downhill. Krishant gained my highest esteem, though, for quitting. He had knee issues before the race, and the hills of the Himalayas are no place for knee problems. Day 4 was almost all downhill with no road access. So anyone having trouble would have no choice but to keep going. Dropping out of a race is such a hard choice to make! But I greatly admire Krishant for having the good sense to know his limits. If he had tried that last day, he surely would have done very serious damage to his knees. No single race is worth that when compared with a lifetime of running. But in the moment, it is not an easy choice to make.
~Rakesh: from Mumbai, now living in U.S. Rakesh had some trouble the first day – stomach issues. We struggled together at the back. Despite early trouble, he ended up being remarkably steady. Even on day 3 – the high marathon – after his lovely wife, Namita, had trouble the evening before with hypothermia. Despite being worried, and probably not getting much sleep, Rakesh continued with strength and focus.
~me: well, you all know me. I was the only one who had experience running ultras, but I am not a fast runner. I just know that I can keep going for days. I never had any doubt about being able to finish. Each day I felt stronger, and would have been happy to have kept going. But I am not fast. However, that could change if I learn some lessons from my fellow runners….
~Shreekanth: the oldest among us, from Mumbai. Shreekanth was consistently last. He was also consistently the gentlest and happiest of us. Whether he was running or walking, fresh or tired, Shreekanth had a smile on his face. He approached each run with gratitude. It gave me great pleasure knowing that, no matter how slow or tired I may be, Shreekanth was somewhere behind me, smiling and taking in all the beauty around him. And along the way, he picked up trash. Each day he would come in and empty out his pack of other people’s garbage. Spurred on by his example, we all began to pick up trash along our runs. He cared nothing for his race time, only that he enjoyed his time racing, and that he left the world a little better, a little cleaner than it had been.
Although I would like to be a better, faster runner, and want to learn what lessons I can from these other runners, the person I wish to emulate most is Shreekanth. I wish we all could be a little more like Shreekanth – grateful for every moment, and doing our best to make the world just a little better than we found it.