Sunday, 25 September 2016. My Garmin watch alarm wakes me up at 4, maybe more eager than I am to take on this day. Breakfast is two slices of the “plum cake” that I got in a bakery on the mall in Shimla last night. Sunscreen done. Post-run coke packed. Bibs, hats, phones, bag to keep it in. We’re ready.
At 5:25 the three of us walk the 600 meter down from our hotel to the starting line, just down from the Ridge. For someone used to the North-Indian plains, it is chilly at 2200 meter elevation.
There’s the normal greeting of old running buddies. Two of my colleagues are also here. My son meets his “sitter” (Thanks, Ria). Warm up. Look for a porta-loo, found a dark corner. Three, two, one, we’re off. My daughter will run the 6k – starting an hour later.
The 25k starts with a long descent, don’t ask me in which direction. I am thoroughly directionless. As usual, some runners sprint ahead. About 3k down a sign and some volunteers direct us further down towards the left. Halfway down the second runner says that there is no-one below so just run till the road ends and then turn back. This detour is not like last year. Back at the top, I realize that some runners did not take the turn. (Afterward, I was told that only the 25k and 14k runners were supposed to turn, but some 21k runners also turned)
Oh well, that is not my problem I thought so back on the known route all was good. Turned right and up to regain all the elevation we lost in 5k in a matter of 1.5 grueling straight up walk-only kilometers. But I walk them fast and pass most of the guys who skipped the earlier turn; some for the second time.
At the top, there are two guys in front of me. They go right. There is a big sign that indicates right. I go right. Downhill again. Feels a bit familiar. Something is wrong, the guys in front of me have stopped at the … at the bend where we turned down earlier. What is going on? Go back is what they say. Oh no… I have done it again. I jog slowly back up the hill. I check my Garmin. Back to the T-junction, it reads 1.5k more. I have done 3k extra. There is an arrow painted on the road that indicates where we should have gone left.
At this point, I lose it. I am passing backmarkers. Cursing under my breath. The race is over for me. I will just go back to the starting line and support my daughter. That is if I can find it. I am rude to fellow runners, ruder to volunteers. Sadly this continues for probably 5 kilometers.
Until I finally remember my Friend. And I remember that running is not about winning. And I notice the trees and the silence all around me. I can run. I am alive. I ask for forgiveness and thank Him for giving all of it to me. So I start again.
Next, the route takes us to a u-turn which I notice as people start coming from the front. Some confused, all friendly, most shouting encouraging words. My two colleagues are surprised to see me behind them. I make the U-turn, passing other runners. (No matter what happens, it remains fun to pass people. ) I pass my colleagues. I start passing some people for the 3rd time.
Some of the runners are doing the 6k. We are heading back to the starting line. I see my daughter ahead of me and catch up with her about 200m before her finish line. How awesome is that! I get to share in her moment of winning the ladies 6k race. Is it a coincidence that it always seems to happen that way – meeting her somewhere on the way, that is? (The same sort of thing happened here) I think not. I suspect my Friend smiles at the way he orchestrates this.
I have a chat with Rahul, the organizer, about the whole debacle. But I start suspecting that the problem is less with the organizing and more with my terrible sense of direction. Anyway, there is still 13k left so I put my heart into it. At the turn to the Jakho road, a volunteer volunteers some information by saying that I am 5th. Within 5 minutes I pass 3 of them, all half marathon runners. Then at the turn for the final ascent I grab some refreshments and ask the friendly volunteer how many have gone up before me. One he says. The Jakhu ascend is just for 25k runners.
Parts of this stretch is just too steep to run. About halfway up, I meet the front-runner, going strong and far ahead of me. “Well done, keep it up!” we greet each other. My left calf muscle is giving notice. All those steep downhills are taking its toll. Pushing through, running with all I had left in me the last 5k. Up to the temple with the huge statue. Down again fast. This whole route is always up or down and never just level. I neared the finish line. My son is there, jumping around excitedly. He helped to hand out the medals.
My daughter announces what I already know. I am second. Like last year. She brings my coke. Mugs and umbrellas with the Running and Living logo are our prizes. I call my wife. She is more excited than we are. There are pictures and battle stories and all the usual fun.
And then it dawned on me. I won. Apart from the fact that I did the unconventional distance of 28 kilometers in the fastest time of the day. I have beaten some much more fierce adversaries: self-pity, selfishness, vindictiveness, resentment, hatred. (With the help of my Friend, for sure)
Back home I read the bible.com verse of the day. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 “4 Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; 5 love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; 6 love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. 7 Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.”