Every step is part of the plan: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi
It was a lovely Sunday morning in Mumbai last week. A day I had trained for , over a month. The aim was to run the fastest 10 km of my life. I couldn’t do fastest. But it did turn out to the best 10 km I’d ever run. The difference is subtle. That difference is what this narrative is all about.
In the run-up, I couldn’t wait for D-Day. Our coach, Dr Rajat Chauhan, a Delhi-based specialist in sports medicine, had told us, “Your only competition should be an earlier version of yourself.” But the alpha me had other plans. This creature wanted to tell everyone later that evening how he had done it, how he’d succeeded in being faster than everyone else. He wanted to hear everyone applaud.
Towards this end, the night before, I had made meticulous notes in my head on how best to tackle the route. (The 1-km-long steep incline should be done in 9 mins. Accelerate after that at a sustained pace of 7 km/hr. The last stretch is downhill; move faster and you should be done in under 70 mins. Any more and you’ll look like a wimp.)
I eventually took 100 minutes to do the 10 km. The alpha me was whimpering. The rest of me was smiling, at my own hubris and all that I’d learnt about myself in that relatively brief time.
Once the run began, I became a different person, so obsessed with my timing that I altered my own plan so carefully thought out the night before. I decided I could shave more minutes off it by taking the highway since traffic would be light and it’s a flatter road. “Then turn right for a long downhill stretch that we know merges back with your planned route. You’ll save time here too. You’ll be faster than everyone else,” I whispered to myself.
I became the living embodiment of the saying: “Everybody has a plan, until the plan meets the road.”
There were reasons the highway and downhill slope weren’t on my planned route — or anyone else’s. Driving gets more erratic when the roads are vacant and motorists don’t care for the pedestrian’s right of way. This costs you time. The downhill track was avoided because it was a filthy area that served as an outdoor toilet for those with no other recourse.
Both were wretched decisions. I had to turn around, run uphill and return to my original plan — only far delayed and deflated.
I had lost time. I had lost heart. I was so disappointed in myself. I had let the side down in the silliest, most avoidable and, I felt, most immature way.
As I continued my run, waves of regret hit. I thought about how I could have done better on the uphill at least, but for that I would have had to have trained better during the previous week. Instead, I assumed all would go as I wished it to (as it turned out even I didn’t go as I wished me to), and essentially tried to wing it.
I had skipped training on crucial days, slept in late after binge-watching TV shows (while eating junk food). I was reminded of a question a colleague, leadership coach Kavi Arasu, once asked when reviewing some work plans I’d made. “Looks good,” he’d said. “But what is it you are willing to give up in order to accomplish this?”
I realised I’d messed up on this run way before it began. I’d made the rookie error of thinking I could do without the requisite prep and make up for it with literal shortcuts at the end.
As I ran, I couldn’t help but smile at my foolishness. I took a bit of a frank look at myself and I could see so clearly why the stumbles happen when they do, on and off the track. See so clearly what I need to do if I really want to succeed at the things that matter to me.
Eventually, the run gave me a good hour and a half (and then some) to commune with myself, gently commiserate, and finally be honest about what it will take to for me to do better, be better. And in the end, isn’t that what running is really about?
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