The Art and Science of Fitness | Lessons from a life of running: The harmony of youthful passion and seasoned wisdom - Hindustan Times
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The Art and Science of Fitness | Lessons from a life of running: The harmony of youthful passion and seasoned wisdom

Jun 04, 2024 08:00 AM IST

Here’s a story that illustrates the balance between youthful vigour and the wisdom that comes with age, advocating for simplicity and discipline in training

“Ignorance is bliss.” Often, this quote has a negative connotation, but Rajat Chauhan – one of the co-authors – has a different perspective on this statement.

While age cannot match the sheer speed and strength of youth, it can sometimes outsmart it with wisdom and experience. (Pixabay) PREMIUM
While age cannot match the sheer speed and strength of youth, it can sometimes outsmart it with wisdom and experience. (Pixabay)

“When I was in high school, I was keen to represent the country in middle and long-distance running. I was in the ninth grade when I returned to Delhi from my boarding school in Mussoorie, where I had picked up running. I didn’t have a coach. Each day, I had a basic plan: run two hours as fast as I could, and faster than the day before. I followed this routine on and off for three years, but in my final year of school, I was regular, running four to six days a week. It wasn’t so much about winning medals; I loved becoming one with the cosmos while I ran. The speed wasn’t planned or measured. I needed to find a sweet spot where my all-out run could last that long. The distance covered didn’t matter. When I participated in the Delhi University's Half Marathon in 1993, I came in third with a time of 1 hour and 18 minutes. No one, including the officials, knew if it was any good,” Rajat said.

Soon after this race, Rajat started pursuing medicine (MBBS) and couldn’t continue running as he would have liked. Later, while doing his masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine, he realised how fortunate he had been not to pick up any major injuries during high school. It wasn’t because he knew better; it was just by luck that he was doing something right. He would skip rope and do push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. It helped that he didn’t understand how fast or slow he was for his age. He simply ran for the love of running.

Fast forward to 2007, when he was visiting Miami to learn more about Science and Medicine in Golf. He had the good fortune to be guided by Bobby Cole, a South African professional golfer. Rajat had picked up Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf to understand golf fundamentals. Seeing the book, Cole excitedly shared a story from the same era as Hogan’s.

Cole narrated: “In 1967, when I was 18, I was playing my first Masters, having qualified by winning the 1966 British Amateur. I was the new kid on the block, a bit cocky. I joined the all-time great, three-time Masters Champion Sam Snead, who was 54 years old, for a practice round. On the 13th tee, I asked him, ‘Mr. Snead, how do I play this hole?’ He responded, ‘When I was your age, I would hit my drive right over those trees at the corner.’ So I hit my driver as hard as I could. The ball hit the top of the trees and fell. Mr. Snead softly spoke again, ‘Well, Bobby, when I was your age, those trees were only ten feet tall.’”

This story humbled the young Cole and taught him a lifelong lesson. It always reminds Rajat of the power of experience and the wisdom that comes with it.

Recently, while running, Rajat met a couple of boys in their early 20s. One of them approached him, saying they had met a few months back. When asked if he was training for something, Rajat responded, “No, I just love running.” The youngsters asked about his distance for the day. “I am doing one km repeats,” Rajat replied. Excitedly, they told him they were targeting four-minute kilometre repeats. Rajat said he was doing the same, so they decided to run together.

Within the first 200 metres, the young boys were nowhere to be seen. Even though Rajat slowed down for them, they couldn’t catch up. At the end of the kilometre, they finished 15-30 seconds after him. Rajat had subconsciously done what Snead had done to Cole. He had planned to run four-minute kilometres a few days ago, but that day he had already run three repeats, all under 3 minutes 45 seconds.

To their credit, the boys weren’t disrespectful and didn’t challenge Rajat. They didn’t realise what they had signed up for. Rajat has been running for forty years, likely double their age. With experience comes the discipline to pace better. They might have thought he started too fast, but he knew exactly what he was doing. He could maintain that pace throughout the kilometre. In trying to keep up with Rajat, the boys had started too fast, more than they were comfortable with, but in less than 100 metres their breathing had become too laboured and they had lost the plot.

Reflecting on 1993, Rajat wonders how he avoided injuries despite running intensely. Skipping, pull-ups, push-ups, and squats helped, but was it just that? He picked up skipping because his favourite boxer, Mike Tyson, did it a lot. Also, in the Rocky films, skipping was integral. Being agile on his feet was a lesson Rajat subconsciously absorbed. Other exercises were basics passed down by his father. The foundation was solid; it was up to him to build on it.

Recognising that the real magic lies in simplicity rather than complexity, as long as there is consistency and discipline. He might not reach his 1993 goal of 1 hour and 18 minutes for a half marathon by the end of this year, but the wisdom gained over the years puts him in an interesting position. The journey matters more than the destination. All he can do is his best, and he is smartly going about it.

While age cannot match the sheer speed and strength of youth, it can sometimes outsmart it with wisdom and experience. If you’re lucky to be young and strong, try to be wise too. The boys learnt an important lesson while running with Rajat, to run fast, rather than trying too hard and becoming rigid, you need to trust your instincts and let go. Learn from such experiences and have the best of both worlds.

Dr Rajat Chauhan (drrajatchauhan.com) Sports Medicine & Musculoskeletal Medicine Physician, Author and Student of Running & Pain

Eva Bacon (evabacon.com) Runner, Roller Blader, Rock Climber, Urban Hiker, Translator and IT Program Manager

Eva and Rajat write a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

The views expressed are personal

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