As a child growing up in India, I must have done a fair bit of running as soon as I could run. Lock and Key, Poison and Medicine, Chor Police – these were the games of our early childhood. I was considered a fast runner in my building and enjoyed it.

When I was nine years old, my sister started athletics training. Because I was a sickly child, my parents decided I should go too. After a couple of months of self-consciously running with the big girls in the secondary school, my dad noticed an ad in the newspaper for a mini-marathon for kids. It was cutely packaged as Andelal Egathon, if I’m not mistaken, and there would be zonal qualifiers.

My dad took on the challenge of training me. This involved him riding his trusty Vespa along Bandstand while I trailed behind on foot. He kept track of qualifying times in other zones and encouraged me to match them. I was only half-interested in upping my speed.

The day of the race, I was woken up in what seemed like the dead of night (probably 5 am) and bundled off on dad’s scooter to Andheri (or Powai). I dozed off en route. I can only remember a couple of flashbacks of the actual race – turning one verdant corner, and later making a friend while running. And chatting with her during the race. Then we were on the home strait and I spotted my dad and said bye to her and began to pick up my pace.

I can still remember the look of surprise on my dad’s face when he spotted me having a nice chat during the race. As I remember it, my dad was standing right next to my new friend’s father who he happened to be having a chat with. Which is probably a later addition from my own head because it’s all too convenient that I ran (literally) into this girl and my dad serendipitously met and bonded with her father. But we were from similar backgrounds – all this gleaned while supposedly competing – so it’s possible. This incident should have made it apparent to all concerned that I was less competitive and more social than previously assumed but that epiphany seemed to have escaped all of us (well, I was 9 so I can be excused).

Anyway, I placed in the top 20 I think. Or maybe even 10. I had done better than expected and could have done even better if I had focussed instead of chatting.

Thereafter, athletics training continued with my sister’s group. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it although I persisted with it, like piano (another thing I followed my sister into) till I left school.

Things I hated about running:

  1. Waking up early in the morning
  2. Getting tired
  3. Feeling tired after (our training would start at 6 am get over at 8 am and I would come home and would try to get at least 15 minutes in bed after my bath in an attempt to catch up from lost sleep)
  4. Competing

Did I like anything about running? Not sure, actually. My health improved according to my parents. I am inspired by sports in general and liked that aspect of it.

The thing is, I was clearly mediocre at it. The mediocre ones got pushed into long distance while the glamour was in sprinting (and our school didn’t have any long distance competitions on Sports Day). And history has proven that I’m not very interested in things I’m mediocre at. (Benji, it seems, is the same. If he he’s trying to do something and he can’t really do it at first or second go, he just looks around to see if there’s anyone else who can do it for him. Guilty as charged.)

The worst days were the days we did ‘slopes’, which essentially involved running up and down this nightmarish, almost vertical road called Caine Road, taking a moment to catch our breath, or in my case, retching and then jogging down and starting over. I had lots of times when I was so doubled over, heaving, after long runs, during which I thought I couldn’t go on. All this proved to be of excellent use during labour some 15 years later but at the time, it was not so pleasant. I never had runner’s high as far as I can recall.

I had only two shining moments (apart from the egathon) in my entire running career, if it can be called that. One was some 200 m heats race at school, which I won and everyone suddenly took me seriously after that. The other was an interclub competition at some location we had never been to before where I ran a great heat and my coach finally seemed to take me seriously. It gave me a glimmer of the possibility that maybe I could be a good middle distance runner. Unfortunately and typically both times, I bombed in the final.

I hated the pressure of competition, except for school sports day and even then I didn’t like the pressure but it was my comfort zone so I was okay. Normally, before a competition, I would pray for my period, fever, anything and the powers that be or my stressed out body quite often obliged.

I stopped running when I hit college. Clearly it was my time for stopping anything I didn’t completely enjoy. Except math. Oh the liberation of undergrad and no math.

And then, recently, I started again. And man, does it feel good. A legacy of my childhood running days is that I prefer running outdoors. The great thing about Hong Kong is that one can do this, even at night, wearing whatever little thing you want. You don’t have to be self-conscious in the least because there are other people similarly sweaty and oddly dressed.

Guilty secret: I have all sorts of sporty fantasies about myself and my children while I’m running.

Non-guilty secret: One day, I’ll run at least a half-marathon again and take it seriously.