Eleven months, one day, and twelve hours after my last cigarette, I crossed the line that marked the completion of my two and a half hour ordeal taking me across twenty one kilometres of Gurgaon landscape.
The run, which started at seven that same morning, had snaked through freshly built six lane highways of the satellite town before funneling into narrow roads that went past empty fields populated by bullocks and horses. I've often said that Delhi is a village, and if that is true then Gurgaon is even more so. Despite the metro lines and gleaming glass and steel towers, there is a closeness that is somewhat discomforting. You feel watched every moment of your day - strangers on the road ogle at women and other passer-by's, neighbours in huddled DDA apartments listen in on each other's conversations, and gossip travels fast in work places and multistoried apartment complexes alike. Thoughout the run, bystanders watched befuddled, some passing inane comments, some slowing down in their cars, others peeking out of their windows. Be it Gurgaon or Delhi, India still indeed lives in villages.
I've only recently started running. Six months ago I was hard pressed to run two kilometres in fifteen minutes. What prompted this sudden change of heart? I don't know. Like so much else I find myself doing these days, it started out as just something to do. For whatever reason I started, I know why I carry on.
On a long run, I've come to learn how to listen to my body. To hear what it's telling me. Is that pinch in my left knee something I should be wary of? Does that stitch in my side mean I should change my breathing? Did I leave the geyser on before leaving so that I can get back to a hot bath? The act of running also clears your mind. For two hours there's no one to talk to, no internet to distract you, no information coming in. So your mind turns inwards, to both good and bad. You start thinking of negative thoughts but immediately have to cast them out else be weighed down by them. You start thinking of positive thoughts but realise that you can't savour them because you still need the hunger. It's like a yard sale for your brain.
As you progress, each step becomes harder to take. The last fifteen minutes of my run, my mind was focused purely on one, single thought: left foot in front of right, right foot in front of left, repeat. It's the simplest thing in the world. A one year old baby can do it. But you have to scream it to a body that's screaming back in retaliation. It's learning to walk again, with all the joy that it brings.
You cross the line, doubling over and thankful to god that it's finished. The lady puts a medal over your shoulders while you're still kneeling and hands you a packet of glucose biscuits. Then she asks you to get up and walk around for a bit and maybe stretch. Your knees are still screaming and white pangs of pain dance around your peripheral vision, but you know the race isn't over yet. You're just halfway there. So you stand, freshly knighted, a warrior of the road.