Runner's Life
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Runner's Life

My Tryst With Running Lasted Less Than a Year But Got Me in the Best Shape of My Life — at 31

This isn’t a stock photo of some random dude.

The near-perfect — even if I say so myself — human specimen in the picture is me. The photograph was taken in the fall of 2019 with my beat-up tablet (hence, the VHS-like quality) exactly a week before the most intense race of my life.

Before I go any further, here’s a disclaimer: If you think this is one of those “Get washboard abs in 30 days” or “10 tips to improve your running form” blogs, I’m afraid you’re at the wrong place. I’d suggest you close this tab right away and go back to doing what you were doing before you landed here.

But if you’re brave enough to weather the ramblings of a novice runner for the next five minutes, I promise good things are in store.

No, I take that back.

Read at your own discretion.

My love-hate relationship with running

The memory of my very first sprint is kind of vague yet firmly etched in my mind — in slow-mo.

A five- or six-year-old me takes off briskly from the start line of a 100m dash. As he’s cruising to the finish line, around the halfway point he makes the classic rookie mistake of stopping and turning around to see how his fellow teeny tiny racers are doing. And that momentary lapse ends up costing him the race.

This low-key tragic incident probably sowed the seeds of my still fractious relationship with running. That little blunder led me to the conclusion that I’m not fast enough to be a runner. Thus, I regretfully shied away from almost all track events during my school days.

But one significant event that pretty much changed my entire perspective about running was a 5k road race that I signed up for on a whim during ninth grade. Although it took me forever to finish that race, I never once walked or stopped to catch my breath. And that gave me a lot of confidence. The race made me realize running was more than just all-out sprinting. That there’s an art to it.

Little did I know, this confidence and experience will come in handy during my next two road races some 17 years later at the age of 30.

Running becomes a daily ritual

I joined a tech firm as a content writer in October 2017 and soon discovered that my workplace had a fancy gym.

Sometime in early 2018, I stepped on a treadmill for the very first time in my life — it was love at first step. I found staring at the mirror in front of me and running on the same spot (with my favorite tracks blasting through the speakers) to be less overwhelming than slogging away on the streets or on a track.

I was finally a recreational runner — something I’d wanted to be all my life — on the wrong side of 30.

At first, I could barely jog for five minutes without a break. Slowly but surely, I improved my running form, speed, and endurance on the treadmill. I still remember, when it was time for lunch I’d grab my running gear from underneath my desk and make my way to the gym — arguably the high point of most of my workdays. After an hour or so, I’d head to the canteen, virtually empty by then, and dig into the leftovers. This soon became my daily routine.

My foray into “competitive running”

A few months later, I read about an upcoming city-wide corporate sports meet on the company’s intranet. I signed up for the 800m and immediately kicked my training into overdrive and started devouring all the articles and videos on running I stumbled upon on the internet.

Since only a select few could represent our company in the sports meet, a tryout was held for all the hopefuls.

I remember it like it happened yesterday. There were just four or five of us but I was still sweating buckets — would my hard work pay off or would I buckle under pressure?

We lined up on the track and the race got off to a fast start. After the first bend, I found myself in the last position, with the gap between me and the rest of the pack widening with every stride.

Let me quickly interject something important here — I happened to watch an 800m tutorial on YouTube earlier that week where the instructor kept stressing the importance of running the first lap at 70–80% of our maximum speed.

Thankfully, his words began ringing in my ears when the race started, and I applied his advice from the get-go and never once panicked during those initial nerve-racking moments of the race.

Guess what — just before the end of the first lap, I managed to overtake all of my fellow runners who’d run out of gas by then, and stretched my lead further when I broke free after the 500m mark. I did slow down a bit before rounding the last bend but nonetheless won the race by a huge margin.

This small win was the validation I longed for all my life. Nothing can quite match the feeling you get when all your hard work comes to fruition.

As luck would have it, I couldn’t compete as I hurt my leg just a few days before the actual race. It was a devastating blow. But I didn’t let this small setback discourage me and I got back to my daily routine as soon as I recovered.

Thankfully, all that self-discipline and training held me in good stead when I ran my first 10k race later that year. I managed to finish well under an hour. And when I ran my second 10k two months following my first, I surpassed my own expectations by finishing with a time of 00:45:21. I placed 65th overall in a race that saw participation from more than 13,000 individuals of all fitness levels.

I forgot one important detail — as you can see, I didn’t look anything like the person you saw in the picture at the top of the page while running these races. Of course, I was in my prime as a runner, but at the same time had quite a bit of stubborn flab around my waist which showed no signs of leaving my body.

The secret to a runner’s body

After my second 10k race, I gave myself a well-deserved break from running.

I switched jobs in the interim and just when I was about to sign up for my third 10k race, a coworker told me about a 5k obstacle course race (OCR) that was to be held later that year and suggested I give it a shot.

I thought to myself, “Sure, why not?”

With four months to go, I started putting in the hours at the office gym. (Yes, the new workplace also had an in-house gym.) And I really went all out this time around — I worked out three times a day on most days and incorporated every exercise (animal flow, calisthenics, resistance band stretches, to name a few) I came across online into my regimen like a crazy man on a mission.

I even started banging out 50 pull-ups every day and went on a calorie deficit to cut down my weight in order to gain an advantage on some of those demanding obstacles that are part and parcel of every OCR. On top of all this, I switched my running and workout routine up every two weeks in the hopes that it’d make me stronger and improve my chances of a decent finish.

There used to be days when I’d just collapse after a grueling speed workout. On other days, self-doubt would creep in and I’d begin questioning myself if all this effort was going to pay off!

Anyway, I made sure I checked all the boxes in terms of diet, exercise, effort, and perseverance. The physical transformation was a bonus and, honestly, somewhat unexpected.

Alas, the race turned out to be a total disaster.

Since it was my first time competing in an OCR, I don’t think I was feeling particularly confident the morning of the race. Thirty minutes later, perhaps not surprisingly, I found myself drenched in mud and water at the finish line with my ego all but deflated.

I couldn’t complete three of the 15 obstacles in the race!

Right then and there, I realized OCR was a whole different ball game and I’d be better off if I just stuck to good ol’ running.

My current routine

Truth be told, I don’t follow a set routine anymore as I’ve been on and off with running (and workouts) for various reasons. The numerous lockdowns that have been imposed since 2020 have further distanced me from this passion of mine.

More importantly, some degree of self-introspection recently made me realize that I had an overarching agenda — to improve my speed and endurance — behind all the runs I ever undertook during my running days. This realization that I never really ran just for the heck of it hit me hard. So I went ahead and substituted it with other equally effective cardio activities such as rowing and elliptical workouts.

Having said that, I’m still hopeful of making a comeback to the running circuit someday as the running bug is still very much alive and well. And I’d probably be able to get back in my lean and mean avatar when that happens.

For now, though, I’ve made peace with my easy-breezy half-hour workouts and see-sawing waistline.

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Naveen P M

Naveen P M

A former shutterbug who traded his DLSR for a pen after discovering the art of writing. And haven’t looked back since!