Running for your life. Literally

The annual Walk for Life, organised by the admirable CanSupport here in Delhi is a fixture of the winter calendar, and I don’t know how they do it, but they almost always have lovely weather for it.  After a week of miserable fog, today dawned bright and sunny, and we were thousands of people out there in a good natured festive feeling crowd on Rajpath early this morning, and all with one aim –  to raise funds for the wonderful work done to provide care to very sick (and often very poor) people.

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Last year I walked the route, but to my great joy, this year I ran it, with a group of the wonderful women in my Couch to 6K group.

The event is opened by a victory lap of cancer survivors, which is always an emotional moment.  The little children always get to me. I noticed a young woman waiting in our running holding area with tears streaming down her face…I wonder who she was thinking about…

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Then we runners were off first, before all the thousands of walkers.

And yes, indeed, I say with pride  “we” runners, because a year ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to use that term. We weren’t too many runners, but it felt amazing to run down an empty Rajpath towards Rashtrapati Bhavan, in the lovely winter sun, with a band playing to encourage us all.  As one does.

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I wasn’t too fussed re time on this run, which is just as well because I kept stopping to film all the great moments that happened :

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Impromptu dancing

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A group of American wrestlers.  And how do I know they were wrestlers?  Well, because I ran the course with them –  by accident, not design – and they had one of those American military-type chants “What do we do? Wrestle. When do we do it etc etc “and then they would end the chant  with “pehelvan zindabad” which I though a brilliant touch.  Pehelvan is Hindi for wrestler, so good on them.

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Admittedly today was a super special day for running up and down Rajpath, since there was no traffic, but even on normal days, if you were to do this early in the morning when traffic is less hectic, you would be doing yourself a great favour –  to run down such an iconic road with amazing views…trust me, it is a pretty fabulous feeling.

 

My take home moment?

Oh no question about this.

Waiting to start running, one of my gang of girls, Sonea, asked me how long the course was, and I said I thought it was 4 or 5 km to which she shrugged nonchalently and said “OK, great.”  And this from a woman who had never ever run 4 months ago.  And now “only” 5 km was no big deal.

Fabulous feeling.

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Whoops, it’s nearly January 24th…

…which is, so I gather, the day by which most of us will have broken our New Year resolutions.
Now since I didn’t really make a resolution to run every day in 2014…’xcept I did, sort of, deep down inside…but anyway, since I didn’t formally make this resolution, then I can hardly be accused of being a 24th January victim, now, can I?

But just in case, I went for a run this evening.

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I went to my local Bio Diversity Park in Vasant Vihar, around 5 pm-ish, and the first hint of diversity was the whole philosophical issue of whether or not I could actually run or not…

The sign outside says NO

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Whereas the sign inside says…well, it doesn’t say no legibly any more, let’s put it that way :

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This being India, and our esteemed Chief Minister having declared himself to be an anarchist only 3 days ago, I of course went for a run.

Hey, by the same logic dogs are not allowed.  Tell that to the +/- 15 stray dogs I encountered (and don’t forget the big fat snort-y pig)

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I have run in the park a couple of times, but always in the mornings or even mid-day-ish, so I can report that although I felt safe, I definitely didn’t feel as safe as on previous occasions.  The lone guard is at the entrance, presumably to stop all those dogs from coming in, and although there were a number of people, they were not fellow walkers and joggers, but more the residents of the smelly slum that I discovered this evening.  Which leads me to that, exactly.  I think there is a new rough kind of track since last I ran here, so naturally I went to explore it.  It got filthier and filthier and ever more litter strewn, and smellier and smellier until it was quite clear that I was running through the bit of the jungle that is used for open defecation.

I remember being warned off a section of the forest on perhaps the first time I ran there.  A kindly man told me that “Vo log toilet karte he” (“those people go to the loo there”) and yes, they clearly do.

So I rapidly backtracked and instead went and checked out the profusion of religious structures that dot the park.  I am convinced there are 2 new ones since last I ran here…

IMG_1995Don’t remember this one, for example…

Nor this one, pretty as it is…
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By the time I ran past this shrine on the way back a diya had been lit.

The 2 shrines below I remember, both of them advertising the cleanliness is next to godliness mantra…actually, other than the open toilet area, by and large the park is clean (for India) so why there is a pile of rubbish right next to God baffles me.

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Still, rubbish & smells aside, it is a great space – to have views like these (below) just a few hundred yards from apartment blocks is pretty amazing.

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There was concrete evidence of TLC since my last visit, with scores of saplings having their winter warmies on :

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Saw loads of pea-fowl, parakeets, a lovely tree pie, a pig, loads of dogs.

So, by and large, a park that should be slightly better protected from the sad reality of the nearby slums, with more visible patrolling, too, please.

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And my “take home” moment?  Sitting, all alone, by the Ram shrine taking the photo that is further up in this post, when the local mosque began the call to prayers.  It was a very peaceful, calming moment, and despite the evening chill and the growing gloom, I felt refreshed and, well, blessed.

A damp chilly run in the Aravali Bio-Diversity Park

I haven’t been to the Aravali Bio-diversity in Gurgaon since last summer, when I used to train there with a friend in the baking summer heat for our Mentok Kangri climb.

Fast forward to a horrid grey, cold, damp, January morning when I found myself back there with my running group for a run (naturally) and a bit of a boot camp, with the good folks of Fitness First and Magic Bus, as well as “our” own Back2Fitness gurus.

The park was emptier than in those far off baking hot summer mornings, but it was every bit as good a venue as I had remembered.  Pretty clean –  actually, let’s be honest, very clean – and there are more fences and gates up now than before –  is that a good thing ?  Dunno.  I suppose so.

Saw no wildlife this time, other than the sad sight of a dead nilgai on the road outside the park.

One round of the park, using the longest track, is a little over 4 km, and has lots of ups and downs which makes the going more difficult than some of the other places where we run.

We started in the auditorium for a chat and some pre-run stretches and warm ups.

Sadly, some idiot has graffiti-ed the beautiful natural stone backdrop…

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Not for nothing is this gang of girls (above) known as ‘gulabos”… (gulab = pink in Hindi)

Our physio friends (below)

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We would later be made to run up and down those steps by the Fitness First trainers, but that’s another story…

The gulabi girls brightened up an otherwise miserably grey and damp morning…

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One of the 2 new gates

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And, as I mentioned in my original review, the park feels very safe.  Even on stretches where there wasn’t anyone within sight/ear-shot, like below, I never felt worried for a moment.

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More idiotic graffiti…

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…which Sonam & Katha valiantly tried to hide from my irritated view, bless them.

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Here is the track log, showing the outer 4km loop and a shorter one we did because we were beginning to feel cold, standing around –  and how marvelous to be able to run to keep warm.  What progress we have made in 4 short months…

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Conclusion?

A good place to run for everyone who lives in Gurgaon and –  as I know from personal experience – it’s definitely worth commuting from Delhi, especially at weekends when the traffic is bearable – in order to run in such a wild yet safe environment.

I like to have a “take home” moment from each run, and from this damp, grey run it was one of the team building exercises we did with The Magic Bus people.  For the first time ever in my life, I played football !  Well, yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we did kick a football around and I a-l-m-o-s-t scored a goal.  But didn’t.

 

Poignant Pune – a great place to run

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Last weekend, driving up from Karwa, we spent a night in Pune with cousins whom we haven’t seen for a while, and we had a brilliant catch up.

After so many hours in a car, I needed my running fix, so on a quiet, warm Sunday morning I went out to explore the streets of Koregaon Park, and what a pleasure that was.

A runner’s delight.

Wide untraffic-y streets.

Pavements.  Pavements that are un-encroached upon, too.  Just imagine that!  That’s a concept that is virtually unknown here in Delhi.

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And trees everywhere, lovely old banyan trees.

 

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The quiet, tree-lined avenues of Koregaon Park are both delightful but also a little sad, with some of the fabulous, gracious old homes that are the signature feature of this area being pulled down.

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Every time I ran past a building site, I felt sad :

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There was blissfully little traffic, and it all felt so quiet and safe and peaceful.

I was a little surprise by the police presence until I huffed and puffed down one street and, voila, Osho’s ashram :

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I tried to take some more photos, but a safari suited guard rushed out in front of me and uttered that immortal phrase in India, which covers any situation  –  “Allowed nahi hai” (non-Hindi speakers I am sure you can figure it out!).  When I asked him in Hindi why it wasn’t allowed and who could stop me from taking a photo in a public street, the poor man got a little flustered and said, “Oh, THEY say so” pointing his fingers at the be-robed foreigners on the opposite pavement.

And you know what?

I was so enjoying my run, and I have such trenchant views on ashrams and communes and the like, that I decided the last thing I needed was to engage with some middle-aged foreigner drifting about in robes and thinking they were Indian sadhus or whatever, so I just ran on.

But I have to say that from the outside, it looks more like a posh resort than a place of religious whatever it is.

But just in case any of you are thinking of heading Osho-wards, there is a stall further down the street, selling what look to be second hand robes :

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Just as with the ashram, I let sleeping dogs lie…literally and metaphorically…

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There were contradictory rickshaw messages:

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A great place to run, especially on a lovely warm Sunday morning.

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Running + an iconic location = happiness

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So much for my New Year resolution of trying to run every day.

It lasted pretty much for the first week of the year, then all the traveling hither and thither seriously messed things up.

What I did manage to do, however, despite 2 weddings and way, way too much partying, was to run every day in Bombay, and what a joy it was.  I love Mumbai, always have done, but when we lived there my running was confined to jogging along the streets where we lived, mainly along Carmichael Road and Altamount Road.

How unadventurous I was back then.

How boring and stuck in a rut.

This time, determined to enjoy this fabulous city to the full, I ran every day along Marine Drive, and what a joy that was.

And, for what it’s worth from a newbie enthusiastic runner, the 10 +/- kilometre run from one length of Marine Drive to the other has to be one of the world’s best.  To run in a hectically busy city with the sea on one side of you, and life with a capital L going on all around, is bliss.

And since Marine Drive was the first time I managed 10 kilometres, I know I will always remember that moment as I ran past Chowpatty on the way back, with an idiotic grin on my face.

My first 10 km…

Marine Drive is a little over 4 km one way –  about 4.3km if memory serves me right – but I ran from Ridge Road and back.

I ran early in the morning and also in the evening, and Marine Drive always felt safe.  It is clean, well lit, obviously and visibly policed, and there are simply so many people around that I never felt uneasy for a nano-second.  And unlike Delhi, where I live, no-one batted an eyelid.   No-one stared.  No-one gawped.  I was just one of many other people doing their own thing on this iconic promenade.

Huge fun.

Here are a few moments, starting with one of my favourite signs in Bombay, at Walkeshwar:

 

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Past the pigeon feeding station

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On past Chowpatty beach, where you can buy all manner of fabulously coloured drinks

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Past “my” house…one day…

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You can buy all manner of things along Marine Drive…

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There are memorials, including this one to the victims of the terror attacks of 2008

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Whoever knew? (below)

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A festive looking bus outside the Oberoi

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Saw this bloke (below) one morning.  Wearing a red and yellow towel and a straw skullcap, he kicked a half deflated football along most of Marine drive, and then when we both arrived at the tetrapods at the end, he struck this pose.  What a rockstar!

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And you meet such fascinating people.

Out running one gorgeous morning I met the charming young Samar Farooqui, whose business card reads “Slackline Professional”.

I give you slacklining.

It’s a long-ish clip, but this is a masterclass in slacklining, done just for lil ol’ me with my iphone, from a charming young man :

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Yup.

No 2 ways about it – a great place to run.

 

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And here’s the tracklog of my first ever 10k…slow because I stopped to photograph and video and talk to people…

 

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So THIS is what they mean by a “fun run”…

I had often wondered, in my pre-running days, how on earth pounding along a street could be described as fun.

Now I know better.

When they call something a “fun run”, what they are actually talking about is this:

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Or this :

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Or better still, this :

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This morning we (most of us) met for our first post-marathon run.

In Gurgaon.

In the fog.

Wearing Santa caps.

As one does.

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We went for a 6km+ run around Leisure Valley which is a decent enough venue – good track, space, loads of parking, seemed very safe – with the bonus of a brilliant restaurant where we had a massive post-run breakfast, and ate Christmas cookies baked by our two dear teenagers, Tanvi & Shaivi.

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We also played in the kiddies’ playground, thereby illustrating the Indonesian saying our clever Sangeeta quoted :

“masa kecil kurang bahagia” (this roughly translates, I am assured, as didn’t have enough fun in childhood, so need to be a child now).  Could become our group motto.

What else happened?

Oh yes, Shaivi found what would be her ideal Xmas present –  a litter of 9 puppies :IMG_0374

We also, very sadly, watched a bird die.  Poor thing was lying on the ground, clearly in difficulty, and then suddenly it died in front of us.

 

And I discovered a new gizmo thingy for my mapmywalk app.  Here it is (with fingers crossed that it works) :

Our 7.25 km run in 3D. (It goes on a bit, I admit, so feel free to stop it whenever, but it is quite fun…)

(Wo)Man the barricades!

As the French might well have said during the Revolution – “Aux barricades!”

Here in foggy chilly Delhi, we have our own unfolding drama about barricades, which is a little too long (& off topic) to go into here, but in a nutshell…

…because the Americans strip-searched an Indian diplomat over issues with her nanny’s visa, the Indians have retaliated here with a whole slew of punitive measures against American diplomats, the most visible of which being the removal of those ugly concrete barriers along all the roads outside the American Embassy and the American School.

To celebrate getting our roads back, 3 of us went for a run this morning in Chankyapuri.

Hey, it’s not like we were being crass opportunists or anything, ‘cos we have done a lot of our Couch to 6km training along those well-manicured streets.

Seriously, we did train there.

It’s just that today, instead of running as we usually do outside the Pakistanis, the Japanese and the Germans, we decided we would run outside the US Embassy.

Because we can.

Here are the girls (wo)manning the barricades, that have been dragged from the street and placed on the grass verges.

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 Joanna and Sharmila gamely posed, while I was ready to sprint away (because now I can!!) in case we were challenged, but it was all remarkably low key:

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In fact, as we jogged round the corner, there was another man standing in the middle of the street also taking photos.

So I followed suit, producing what must be some of the most boring pictures ever of Delhi, BUT when you realise that the normally slow-reacting authorities here bulldozed away the concrete barriers and removed the rumble strips, all in a day, and against the Americans at that…well, it is our own little version of one small step…

We got some of our roads back, which is good news.  Long may it last.

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This used to be a speed breaker (below)

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We talked the walk today rather than running it, I must be honest.  Our time was slow, but it was good fun, and the 3 of us pretty much set the world to rights.

 

And on a slightly more serious note –  the discrepancy between my 2 GPS devices was more marked than usual this morning.

Often there is a slight difference between mapmywalk on my phone and my Garmin GPS, but today was significant.  700 metres is quite a bit, whilst the 2 devices showed exactly the same timing, down to the second.

Your thoughts, anyone?

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Talking the walk

There is nothing quite like taking up a new (healthy) activity to galvanise one’s energy and enthusiasm levels.

And that would be?

Oh, my latest obsessively favourite thing to do in Delhi.

Which is, quite simply, to run.

I am enjoying it so much so that I am starting a new section of my blog to talk about running in and around Delhi.

Talking the walk, as it were.

 

A quick bit of personal history, before we start.

I used to jog back in the 80s/early 90s, but aging knees took their toll. I have had a double arthroscopy x 2, and have been very nervous about putting my knees at risk, so, quite simply, I stopped running.

Whether or not that was the right decision is neither here nor there, but the fact remains that for nigh on 20 years I never ran.  I walk a lot, and always have done.  The prospect of hours of walking bothers me none. All those gruelling hours walking in Ladakh, for example, didn’t faze me at all.

But the idea of, say, running to my local market was just not on.

So much so that I used to worry what would happen were I called on to rescue someone (my children, for example, when they were tiny) from the jaws of death. I seriously used to worry that I would just not be able to run.

Fast forward to summer 2013.

Back from my fab climbing trip in Ladakh, complete with avulsion fractured right shoulder, I went for physio at Back2Fitness.
Wasting time on Facebook one day, as one does, I discovered that Dr. Chauhan, who runs Back2Fitness, was putting together this running programme (that’s a lot of runs in one sentence).

I signed up for it and the rest is history.

The 14 week programme called “Couch to 6km” was aimed at women, and aimed at getting them running.
Two of the country’s main health magazines, “Prevention” and “Women’s Health,” had come up with the idea, took it to Dr. Chauhan, a serious ultra marathoner in his spare time, to oversee the training, and thus it was that a group of us met once a week and started running.

Just like that.

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The programme started on 14 September, and fittingly enough, we all of us, every single one of us, completed the 6km Great Delhi Run exactly 3 months later, on December 15th.

And we are all continuing, our sights set now on 10k and then, who knows….

 

I won’t bore non “Couch to 6km” members with a blow by blow account of how we all went from hufffng and puffing, and almost giving up because we couldn’t even manage half a km at a stretch…suffice it to say that these 3 months have been a life changer for us all.

I say that advisedly, since at our celebratory post-marathon lunch, we all had similar stories to recount. Of feeling unfit, of feeling out of breath, of never thinking we would be able to complete a 6km…and there we were, running cheerfully through the streets of Lutyens Delhi last Sunday.

And all feeling so much better for it.

I blogged a little about the marathon on Sunday night – here’s the link – so I won’t repeat myself.

What I will say is that I have a feeling that for many of us (& our poor long-suffering coach and mentor, Dr. Chauhan) the Great Delhi Run was just the start of something.

I think this enthusiasm is going to run and run.
(Pun intended.)

This was my route – downloaded from my GPS.

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I will see how this section of the blog evolves. There won’t be daily running updates, worry not. Well, not unless demand is high, of course…

At the moment, I envisage rather chatting about the different places where we run.

So, to kick off this new section, let me share with you a brilliant moment on Monday, the day after the Great Delhi Run. All fired up, I went for a 7k run, since that would be a kilometre in the direction of our next goal.

My two puppies ran with me, happily weaving in and out of my legs and trying their best to trip me up.
And then we saw the langur.

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He was actually tied to the tree, so I imagine his owner was somewhere in the forest doing what only a bloke can do in a forest.  The langur seemed quite unfazed by us, and other than trying to pee on poor inquistive Yoko, he pretty much ignored us.  No sign of panic or stress, so he is obviously quite used to humans.

And this was the moment the dogs saw a langur for the first time :

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A year ago today…

It’s amazing how self absorbed one can be, especially when an “achievement” is involved.   I am, of course, referring to our team’s stellar performance in yesterday’s half marathon. Well, yes, OK, OK, in a bit of the half marathon, to be precise.

Although much has been happening today here in Delhi, to be honest I have hardly paid any attention to anything other than a constant stream of messages and updates from all the other ladies with whom I trained and ran.  We have tracked down our finish line photos.  We have downloaded our online certificates. And we have all, I suspect, basked a little in our group/individual glory.  We all feel very pleased with ourselves, I suspect.

I remember feeling the same kind of self-absorption when I came back from Mentok Kangri, so I do know that normal service will soon be resumed, and that I will get caught up in the daily news and happenings, but for today, at least, there’s a certain feeling of detachment.

Bear with me.

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That’s it.  Boasting over and done with.

 

There is, however, one thing today that cannot be avoided nor overlooked.

A year ago today, December 16th, a young 23 year old woman was brutally gang-raped here in Delhi, violently sexually abused, brutally injured, and she was to die a few days later from her horrific injuries.

I have just reviewed my posts from a year ago, and the one thing that frightens me is the number of rapes and attacks that I blogged about, and about which one has subsequently heard nothing at all.  As in nothing. No follow-up on either the victim nor the rapists. No news of convictions.  Nothing.  If you can bear it (they make for grim reading) just pick out any of my posts from late December 2012/early January 2013 and you will see what I mean.

And I have patently failed in my job as a blogger, because despite my outrage at the time, I failed to follow up and raise whatever stink one woman’s anger can do.  How shamefully quickly one forgets.

And as if to mark the anniversary of that cold foggy night a year ago, today is the first proper foggy day of the winter.

All year long, ever since that poor girl was raped, the press have used a pseudonym for her (“Nirbhaya” which means fearless) even though her real name is known.  Can’t we start using her real name now, at least, as a sad little form of tribute?

The only thing I can think that has changed since last December is that at least sexual attacks and sexual abuse are now well and truly out there as subjects to be discussed.  There is none of the coyness that was there before.  It is tragic that this may well be the only major change since last year…

Well, that was one heck of a tamasha (and the marathon wasn’t bad, either)

And another item on the bucket list gets ticked, though whether or not a mere 6km segment of a half marathon counts is a moot point.

But moot or not, today was great fun.

Not great running but great fun, and we always knew that would be the case.

When you enter a race category which has a reported 18,000+ participants, there is obviously going to be precious little space to run, and that was indeed the case at first, with many, many corporate groups with banners and flags and matching baseball caps and all the attendant hoopla.  I have the sneaky feeling that a lot of all this corporate participation is to tick the CSR box, but maybe I am being unduly harsh.  As it was, many of these good folk did, as I had been told, peel off within the first kilometre –  some of them way, way before that.  But even so, the road was crowded, people ambled along, they stopped to buy peanuts, or an ice-cream, they stopped to listen to music, they stopped to take a zillion selfies –  and we nerdy runners of our brilliant Couch to 6 km group were eager-beaver-ly wending our way through the throng, trying to run, dammit.

Take a look at the kind of crowd at the start.  Lots of chanting, not much space to run :

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I had great fun, but the organisation was pretty shambolic.

Instead of having staggered departures, all 18000+ of us set off together, which meant lots of pushing and shoving as we all tried to get down one corridor towards the official start line.  Not that I ever actually saw the start line, as we were pushed along by the crowd, me holding tightly onto the hand of the youngest member of our team, 13 year old Shaivi.  I was terrified of losing her in the crowd, but we held hands for lots of the time, and ran together, and finished together, the oldest and youngest member of our team, which had a nice symmetry to it.

This was in the holding area before the start, with part of my rowdy gang of girls – all of us first time runners :

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This was, I believe, the start line.  As you can see, we are virtually at a standstill :

 

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Best moments?

1) Well, the sheer buzz and noise and energy at the Jawarharlal Stadium were pretty amazing.

2) We ran past the Sai Baba temple, where there are always cripples and beggars outside.  Always. There was a poor man sitting on the kerbside, no legs (one was non-existent and the other was a withered, mutilated stump) and there he was with his smartphone filming us as we ran past.

3) As Shaivi and I crossed the finishing line, there was definitely a great sense of achievement.  Not for the 6km covered, since we run more than that at our Jahapanah training sessions, but the fact that for the first time I ran 5.9km non-stop.  We reckon that we both slowed down to a brisk walk 2x 50 metres, tops, so despite the crowded conditions, I ran better than ever before.  We gave each other a sweaty hug and then went to find our post-race snack –  an apple and a packet of biscuits.

And the bucket list got another tick.

 

Here are a few moments.  First up, group photo :

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Below, you have our team Women’s Health logo…

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After the race we were treated to a fab lunch by our sponsors at the Ashoka, where we sat on the grass and laughed and wolfed down vast quantities of food.

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We were also treated to a hand massage.  Doc, our fearless leader, being pampered.

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And the girls that made the cut on the Aaj Tak film gave us a sneak peek:

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A fun, memorable day.

And we are now all gunning for a 10km, and meeting next weekend to continue training.

 

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