–Rohit Elisha Pandey
When was the last time you ran in the open? I mean really ran out in the open with your heart and soul bared? With no worries in the head and just taking it all in – the run, the effort, the tracks, the feel of the air all over you, the sights, no smoke and no pollution, the serenity of it all. And wait a moment…did I mention rain? Oh yes, rain it was. All across the route and at times crazy and doubled up with clouds coming into you. You think this is unreal. No. It is very much there for the taking only if you will it, just as I did. The Sohra Cherra Marathon – a one of its kind marathon which offers it all. Memory of a lifetime, I say.
I have been into active running since the last 22 odd months and all thanks to my friends Kamal and Sunil who pulled me into this sport. I never had it in mind to participate in events, leave alone outstation ones at that! But again, the friends you know. They can always get you into such stuff without you planning to have even thought about it. The first event that I ever participated in was in December 2014 – a 10km run organised by Tata Steel/Procam in Kolkata. It literally took the breath out of me. And no, it was not at all pleasant. I was huffing and puffing and almost let go before the finish. But I managed to complete it somehow. Considering that, I never in my wildest dreams would think of running a half marathon.
But yes, this sport does pull you in and after a distance, it is more of getting the mind controlled by your body rather than the other way around. Ask Gaurav Jajodia who is a buddy runner in my runner group ‘Kolkata Ultra’. Post that first run in Dec 2014, I have participated in several other events with my first half marathon happening in Delhi in November 2015, followed closely by a 25km run in Kolkata (the tsk25) in December 2015. Yes Sir! The same event where a year back, I was huffing and puffing. Told you – mind over body? Naaaah! It is the the body which needs to take control and you are good.
So here I was, basking in self satisfaction at having completed and participated in these runs when the time came for registering for the Sohra Cherra which is a hill run in Cherrapunji. I was not too keen on a hill run but friends again, you know! And of course, looking up the run in the internet did help and push me to go for this. The pictures of the previous run were just so captivating that I could not say no. Registration done and sealed.
But I was wondering about what time I would take to complete this hill run. The Delhi half marathon had taken me 2 hrs 15 mins (which incidentally is my personal best) and the tsk25 had stretched me ruthlessly to just under 3 hrs. So, I targeted sub 3 hours here too since I was not aware of the terrain at all. And running uphill and downhill is a totally different ball game compared to running on flat roads. You need to control your pace while coming downhill since it does hit your knees very hard. And while going uphill, you need to ensure that your breathing is regular and completely in control. Never overdo it.
Incidentally, my wife who usually keeps a low profile and restrains from voicing out her excitement or worries when it comes to my activities, messaged me the night before the D-day asking me to aim for 2 hrs 39 mins. Gosh, expectations building up, this time from home too!
The big day came and the five of us, all school friends, left on the 16th July 2016 by flight to Guwahati and from there travelled by road to Shillong and once inside the town, straightaway headed for the collection centre to collect our Bibs and running tees. My running group members had already reached by taking a train a day earlier and we caught up there at the centre. After collecting our goodies and stuff, the five of us (we had booked separately from the running group due to space constraints) headed off to a quaint little building housing our guest rooms just off Police Bazaar which is a central point in Shillong for eating, shopping and hanging out.
It had started raining when we left the centre and by the time we checked into the Guest House, it was pouring like mad. We were famished and after dropping our stuff, we went out in the rain with only a couple of umbrellas and wind-cheaters to get food. There is this place called ‘City Dhaba’ which was close by and famous for its food. We had an enjoyable meal and headed back to the Guest House, with the rain still fighting hard. Once in, we changed, laid out our running gear for the next day and went to sleep. It is another thing that I found it a little difficult to sleep with the excitement building up, and now coupled with a little dread considering the rain outside. How can I run in this kind of rain, I thought. I slept off thereafter.
When we woke up the next day at around 3.45 in the morning or so, the rain had stopped. That’s a relief, whew! Having got ready, we left by car to the starting point which was around an hour’s drive from our Guest House. And guess what? The rain had started again and by the time, we reached the place, it had picked up speed and was pelting anything and everything in sight. We had no option but to get out of the car. Crazy me, I thought. But yes, the assuring thing was that the place was full of ‘crazy me’s’ like me.
Finally the announcement came for the runners to get behind the start line. This is it. All second thoughts get behind me now. Only one thought – Run! The trumpet sounded and we were off. We friends started off together and stayed near to each other in the initial kms of the run. Slowly, the crowd of runners started spreading out, some falling behind and some racing up ahead. By and by, I started covering up the distance, km by km. But the rain was indeed making it difficult, especially with the wind blowing hard and at times, almost throwing me off my running line. But the sights, oh yes! It indeed was magical. Trust me, you have got to be there to believe it because however hard I try to describe, it has to be experienced in person.
‘Running in the clouds’, so said the tag for the Sohra Marathon. And how true they were. Visibility was at times down to 50 metres and all around you were clouds. Nothing to disturb your tryst with nature at this point. Just wow. After almost 13-14 kms, I broke off with my buddies and started going ahead. Now running alone, my finishing points got multiplied into the various runners in front of me. By and by, I started touching one finishing point after the other. 15km. 17km. 19km. Just 2 more kms to go. Thankfully, my body was controlling the show while my mind was busy taking in the sights through the eyes.
Just as I was clear about the finish and felt like sprinting the last lap, the track suddenly rose up to a 40-50 degree incline! My, what is this? You can guess the word that came to mind. Yes, ‘Crazy’ it was. I just walked up that incline which would have been around 50-75 metres steep uphill. Trust me, running would not have done you any good since it was too sharp an incline. And then I caught sight of the finish line. I just raced up and burst through it, all in one breath. Suddenly, it was all over. The training of the last few months, the excitement, the sights and trip. I suddenly felt an emptiness inside and felt like doing it again, not wanting it to end. The rain was constant and at that point, I was enjoying it so much that I did not want it to stop. The dread of the previous night had vanished and all I felt was happiness at having completed my first hill run.
For all you runners out there who are confused about anything, just give it a try. Love your body and take good care of it but yes, if it wants to run, give it the freedom to do so and support it by going through the initial pain and strain. It will give you back a sense of freedom which can never be comprehended. It will always help you get a different perspective to life. A life which belongs to you and you alone, unbridled by the challenges, fears and disappointments of your daily grind at work and home. And for the ones who are still thinking about taking up running, just take the first step. Cause it is the most difficult. The rest follows. Get over the mindset and free yourself of its negative thoughts. Oh by the way, I got my timing for the Sohra, it was 2:19!