As the city of Mumbai wakes up today, I will be running alongside my fellow runners in the ninth edition of the Mumbai marathon. In 2005, I started running and exercising for the first time and I credit the marathon for changing a middle-aged couch potato businessman into a middle-aged athlete. It has changed my life. I started running because I thought it would make me physically fit, and yet what I have realised is that running changed my personality beyond the merely physical. The time I spent running allowed me to create a personal space in my heart and in my mind where I could grow as an individual. It allowed me to question the meaningless rut of my day-to-day existence. Running put me on a road in search of peace, compassion and meditation. It dared me to live a life of adventure as opposed to one of social conformity.
After running my first Mumbai marathon, I started running marathons around the world and consequently I made friends all over the globe. Now, each year, I host a few friends from around the world who come to run in our wonderful city and it cements our bonds of friendship.
It has also changed the lives of thousands of my fellow citizens. Race day unites the city in an inexplicable way. You run next to a person you have never met before and probably will never meet again and yet you feel an intense bond of comradeship with him. He is your fellow runner. It is an emotion of kinship which one rarely feels for anybody other than for a member of one’s immediate family. It is a wonderful feeling.
It is often difficult for a non-runner to understand what drives us runners to run such extreme distances and we are often asked the question, “Why do you run?” It is a reasonable question because running a distance of 21.1 km or 42.2 km is not really reasonable.
Each runner will always have his own unique answer. Some run for fitness, some run because it is a meditative experience, some run because it helps them to better deal with the stresses of everyday life and then there are some who dedicate their run towards a social cause.
Running changes our personalities in a fundamental way. In the hundreds of hours of training one finally finds time and silence to listen to voices within oneself. One hears voices, which are normally drowned in the marketplace of our day-to-day existence. Running exposes people to emotions and sentiments that have become alien to them.
It exposes them once again to the godliness in nature and in existence. It makes them more compassionate towards everybody and everything around them. And soon they start using running as a tool towards the betterment of society and the lives of the less privileged.
But no matter why we run, this much is certain. We have a jolly good time on race day.
I will start running along with more than 2,708 runners who are registered for the Full Marathon. My wife Neepa will be alongside me and so will my friend Harold Gleave, 73, who has flown down from the United Kingdom to share this day with us. Neepa and I are the official pacers for the 5 Hour Bus, a group of a hundred runners who will complete the marathon in just below five hours.
It is a privilege I never dreamt of when I put on my running shoes 7 years ago. Thank you for everything.
(Amit Sheth is the author of the book Dare to Run)