The many impediments to the meditative act of running | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

The many impediments to the meditative act of running

ByBhavin Jankharia
Mar 24, 2023 01:01 AM IST

After HT’s test drive on the pitiful state of footpaths, following the death of tech firm CEO Rajalakshmi Ramakrishnan, a physician and runner writes about how to run in Mumbai

Last Monday, a runner at Worli was hit from behind and killed by a speeding car. The driver claims he did not see her as she was in a blind spot. Irrespective; the driver was at fault. Period.

Pune, India - December 2, 2018: Participants of 33rd Pune International Marathon on Tilak road (Jigar Hindocha story) in Pune, India, on Sunday, December 2, 2018. (Photo by Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)
Pune, India - December 2, 2018: Participants of 33rd Pune International Marathon on Tilak road (Jigar Hindocha story) in Pune, India, on Sunday, December 2, 2018. (Photo by Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)

While there is nothing better than running to live long, healthy, it is clearly counterproductive if you are injured or killed when at it. In Mumbai, and India, you need to have a heightened sense of awareness when running, given the many hurdles along the way: from the lack of footpaths to run on, to the terrible state of the roads, to dogs, other runners, walkers and vehicles.

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I started running in 2003 at the age of 38 and have not stopped since. Initially, I competed in a slew of half-marathons, but over the last 10 years, I just run around three to four times a week, locally in the area where I live, and see no reason to participate in races anymore.

Perhaps one of the safest places to run are gardens and stadiums, the only danger if at all, being other people, who might get in your way. But not all runners have access and not everyone likes running in circles all the time.

In most saner countries, people run on pavements, which often just don’t exist in Mumbai or India. Even if they do, there are no pavement stretches I know of, at least in Mumbai, on which you can run for more than 100 meters, without coming across a pothole or a crater or a sleeping person, or some poop, or a vending cart or multiple four-legged animals of all kinds or sometimes even a police chowky.

The only choice then is to run on the roads.

A new concrete or tar road without potholes or speed breakers is perhaps the next best place after a garden or mud-track to run on. But avoid potholed roads and those that have been surfaced with paver stones, as the gaps and bumps can cause significant imbalance and injury.

Paradoxically, the safest roads are the main roads in Mumbai, well-lit at all times, i.e. as long as you run facing the traffic. If you run along with the traffic, you are handing over your life to two-wheeler riders, car drivers, BEST, school bus and truck drivers, who at any instance, can swerve into you and injure you or hit you from behind. Do you really think they care about your safety, when most of them couldn’t care less about their own?

In India (and I will repeat this ad nauseam) you have to run facing the traffic. That way, you always know what or who is coming towards you. The only caveat is when the road curves to the right and both you and the oncoming vehicle are blind to each other, usually on hill roads, and you may have to cross over to the other side. It’s all about using a little common sense when running and being aware of your surroundings.

In short, when you run with the traffic, the onus of your safety is on others, while when you run facing the traffic, the onus is on you.

The other problem are stray dogs. It is rare to find dogs on main roads, but on smaller roads, they believe that they are lords and masters of their 100-meter long territories and will often come running after you, barking and baring their teeth, doubling your heart-rate and/ or paralyzing you.

When I see a dog or a pack, I immediately slow down to a non-threatening walking pace, avoid looking straight at them and sidle onto the footpath, if there is one. I also carry a stick in smaller towns or on beaches to shoo them away. It seems to work.

Other runners can also be a problem, especially novices in groups, who often run three to four to a row, putting anyone who comes from the opposite direction at risk. There are times when I have had to jump onto the pavement to avoid vehicles coming from the opposite direction simply because a large group of runners is pounding towards me. Forget me, the outermost runner in a row is also at risk of being mowed down by a car or a truck. A simple request to all trainers – please train your runners to run in a single file or at the most, two together.

Walkers are the same, often occupying an entire road-width, five to six to a row, making it extremely difficult to run past or through them. I often have to use my forearms as a battering ram to push through these people.

Headlights are a problem when you run facing the traffic since most drivers have no concept of dippers. These are not a problem if the vehicles are moving but are a challenge with stationery cabs and cars dropping off kids to practice or school.

Lastly, try not looking at your phone or watch while running. These are distracting and can lead to accidents.

Many of you, who don’t run, will read this and wonder why bother running if there are so many hurdles? Why not use treadmills or stick to gardens and stadiums?

If you’ve ever run, you will know.

So run. There is nothing better. But run safe and smart and be aware of your surroundings at all times. And run facing the traffic!

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