This was my first time as a mentor teaching a group of people how to start running. I was one of the two mentors conducting the c25k (couch to 5K) program for the Hyderabad Runners Society at our location.
It started with a call from Shuvendu while I was having lunch with the family. I picked up he said “this is Shuvendu” I said “sorry I did not recognize you but how may I help you?” and immediately got a jab in the ribs, the missus knew how obnoxiously rude and demeaning this problem of mine is. I can never remember names, never. I have had full conversations with people discussed their careers, family, kids, parents, neighbors, neighbors dog everything and then as we walk away Sonali would ask me who was that and I have a 100% track record of saying “I don’t know his name but we were in the same class in school and had a crush on the same girl back then”. How I can fix this problem is absolutely beyond me. After a point it gets embarrassing for everyone involved and I’m not even sure if therapy would fix it. So anyway after being jabbed in the ribs I suddenly realized who Shuvendu is and started the usual “I am so sorry yes yes of course sir I recognize you, you did so much for me I absolutely have the utmost respect for you (and frankly in Shuvendu’s case that is very much true, I respect a very few people like I respect this one single guy. I mean he is so grounded, soft spoken and emotionally mature, I find very few almost negligible number of people who are as worthy of being called role models for me… there’s my father, maybe a couple other guys and Shuvendu). Anyway so Shuvendu made light of the stupid mistake from my part (as all big hearted people always do) and asked me if I would consider mentoring a batch for the upcoming c25k run. I have been running for over 15 years now and after a bout of injury I had joined the c25k plan in February to start again, Shuvendu, Shekhar and Sangeetha were the mentors for that group and that is where I came to know him. The reason I have such immense respect for Shuvendu is because he started off the c25k program by saying “do not run for the medal, timing or to prove a point, run like a child to have fun and to enjoy your self. Running can change your life completely if you do it right”. These are things I have believed in for forever now. To me running is meditation and I resolve a lot of problems from work or life while out running. So yes this reiteration of my beliefs helped me make up my mind that Shuvendu is a great person.
Anyway so again getting back to the mentorship thing. Shuvendu asked I said “arre I am not good enough” he said “what rubbish you are running for over 15 years now you know everything there is to it for the c25k program, get on with it, I will send the link to fill the form if you decide yes then please fill it up and submit”. After I hung up Sonali gave me the most disgusted of looks like “what is wrong with you?” eye roll and all. Anyway so after a bit of thinking I figured “lets do this”. I filled out the form and submitted it.
Cut to day one of the program, it was raining so we met in the Multi purpose hall and started off. Ten people had signed up, seven had turned up. This was usually the expected number. We would be at a much lower number pretty soon is what I knew from experience. The good part was that I had said 0555 and everyone who did turn up, without fail made it in on time. No late comers and that in my book is just a sign of respect for what you are doing. If you respect what you are doing then you will make time, on time, for that activity. Otherwise no amount of incentives will suffice to get you there on time. To this end I am so grateful to the boys and girls who did turn up.
Sangeetha who had co-mentored the c25k in February with Shuvendu and Shekhar was co-mentoring again with me. We started off by explaining the importance of a warm up pre-run. Basic full body stretches and a round of brisk walking followed by 6 x 90:60 split of walking:running we carried out in the basement parking area to avoid the rain. Over the next few days we gradually increased the intensity of the splits and moved to covering 4km without stopping in the last of the six week program. Every session followed by a groupfie.
To get a feel of the outside world and experience how it would work out running on unfamiliar terrain we went out to Durgam Cheruvu at the end of the fifth week (this was a six week program). It was a surreal experience. I was speechless, as was Goutham (one of the group members and someone I have come to realize is a gem of a person, very transparent, truthful and frank. Qualities that ensure there is zero bullshit in any conversation that you have with such a person, a quality I value very high because bullshit in conversations is a solid time waster and I cannot afford to waste any time). So yeah my idea of Durgam Cheruvu dated back to the evening of 16 January 2022. We had landed at Hyderabad, lock stock and all smoking barrels, on the 15th of January 2022. We were staying at the hotel and had a cab at our disposal to explore the city, look for accommodation, visit schools for the kids etc. In the evening of the 16th we were reasonably free. We had already visited Hyderabad on our own dime in November last year, and taken care of the schools part and accommodation was anyway a matter of just signing the paperwork with any of the hundreds of superb options around ISB road we figured lets go explore the city. The cab driver in his wisdom took us to Durgam Cheruvu to view the sunset. Wrong decision. The place was swarming absolutely swarming with people out to enjoy their Sunday evening. We figured if this is the best location in Hyderabad we need to recaliberate our expectations (that is another story for another time). Anyway so here we were back at Durgam Cheruvu after almost 17 months, this time at 6AM just as the sun was trying to make its way out from behind the clouds (unsuccessfully). I was reminded of the scene from ZNMD when the boys have returned from the deep sea diving expedition and are reflecting on how they felt. This place is beautiful, if you can manage to go very very early.
Everyone loved the place, running also happened around the 4.4km track but more importantly we all kind of figured out that running within our small safety zones in and around the society where one lives is different from going and running at an unknown place which comes with it’s own challenges related to terrain, monkeys (yes there were monkeys at Durgam Cheruvu), peacocks and peahens, scenic views(don’t even get me started on that one, this place was beautiful). After the run/walk we assembled at the parking lot and completed the cool down and then headed off for breakfast to Swachh which is this nice South Indian eatery… Good food happy faces what else is important?!
Next morning, Sunday, because I felt we were being a little too relaxed I called everyone for a run at Botanical Gardens. Vijay and Goutham showed up. We did a quick warmup and a nicely paced 4K around the Botanical Gardens. It was follwed up by the craziest eating expedition ever. As we stepped out of the Gardens we noticed a fresh farm produce shop. Went in, he gave us cheeku (ummm Sapota), Custard apple, amrak (star fruit), wild honey and to top it all off he showed us these nuts that he was stocking that are supposed to address diabetes. Said if you eat the seed from these nuts for 45 days your diabetes will be gone for good. All three of us were like what rubbish but we went ahead any way. Bad decision, absolutely bitter, worse than biting into a raw bitter gourd or eating neem leaf paste. We were eating and drinking like crazy after that to get the taste out of our mouths. I got just half of the seed and this was what I experienced, the other two had full seeds. Anyway Goutham took a bunch of those seeds for himself. I figured I do not have any diabetes issues and the wife would not really appreciate something that she herself has not researched (yeah faith Koddigā takkuva… slightly low). Anyway it was a fun experience and a memory for a very long term. We reached back by around 7:30.
Start of this week again we went out for a long run (considering c25K) and managed to cover 6km in one case and ~5km for the others. Really good show by all of the participants I was like just give them a medal now only why bother taking them to the Graduation run.
Finally D-day arrives and today morning we assembled at 0515AM sharp. I have to say here that start of the training I was the one arriving at 0555 and the others used to show up more or less along with my. But today morning I arrived at 0518 and by that time every one was ready and waiting at the gates. It is absolutely heartwarming to see a group of people so invested in being present for what they signed up for. Rare and heart warming. I have repeatedly told this team that we are not here for today, we are here for the rest of our lives, we signed up and showed up not because we wanted a quick fix. We put in the effort because we wish to change our lives for the best. Running is not about weight loss or fitness alone. Yes those are also by products however they are not the main hero here. The main thing is discipline and investment. You invest in yourself with discipline that is how you put yourself first and tell the universe that I value myself ahead of everything else in my life. And then the universe connives to put every other aspect of your life in place so that what you are saying holds true. First believe in your primacy, once you say you are the best every thing, be it your health, your relationships, your spouse, children, friends, work, everything will align to support your claim that in your life you are the most important. Of course it also humbles you because 500 mtrs out the door and you realize how painfully tiring this can get. Humility in the face of magnanimity of your challenges that is what ensures that even though you are putting yourself first you are not essentially saying you are better than anybody else, absolutely not. You are just making sure to carry everything and everyone along. Anyway so gyaan puts everyone to sleep I wont harp too much upon these theories of mine.
5:35 we pushed off after the selfie at the bus stop (that Sangeetha did not quite like so she has not yet sent :D). Parking was decently ok when we reached at around 5:55. Seems there was no space after 6 so people ended up having to park at a different designated area far from the corrals. The atmosphere was warming up and the next one hour I knew was going to be my most embarrassing hour (and not just for me but also for my daughters to watch their father attempt to keep up). The zumba warmup session (if only parking were not an issue I would so love to arrive just after these sessions).
However everyone else loved this session. I happened to glance towards the rest of the team and Goutam was killing it. Like absolutely grooving. So was Samyuktha and Shirisha. I figured good I decided to push for a quick start this is worth the effort. As the hour progressed the atmosphere became properly electric. Warm up was on point. Everyone was raring to go and at precisely 7:09 after the address by the chief guest the runners were sequentially let out of their corrals.
7:15AM finally we were out of our corral. This was not a timed run it was just a graduation run and supposed to be a fun even for friends and families. As such there was encouragement not to race against each other but rather to enjoy yourself, complete a 5K run/jog/walk and still have juice left over to participate in the zumba cool down. We all left off together and just as I was getting out of the corral I saw a barricade fall with a loud bang in the path of the runners. Shuvendu, yes the same Shuvendu who got me involved in this to begin with was on one end of the barricade trying to lift it up. I rushed in to help him and started putting my shoulder to the other end. Suddenly the volunteers came up and said you go sir we’ll handle this. I went. Caught up with part of the rest of my team. Sonali and Ria to be precise. Oh yes we had enrolled the kids as well because why not and they had been sporting about it.
Ensuring that the two of them were doing fine I raced off to check on Ira and her friends. She was running with one of her best friends and her brother. Of course they were no where to be found but I found Sangeetha and she didn’t need checking on so I just said good job good job and kept going. Caught up with Goutham, Shirisha and Samyuktha, they were doing great time and were already past the 2km mark. Still no Ira. Vijay had apparently shot off with another friend of his and he wanted to complete in good time. Finally at around the 3km mark I saw Ira about 500 metres ahead of me. She was on the other side of a U-Turn. We waved, I figured she was having too much fun only! and then toned down my pace. I had badly injured my right calf last week while working out with our strength trainer. I had been in pain, like debilitating pain for over a week now. There was no way to rest it as well because “aint no use complaining when you got a job to do”… so anyway slowing down felt nice, this time looking to catch up the people I had left behind. Saw Neha running along all cylinders firing, this one is a rebel I thought to myself. Very jovial creature and very practical. Love her energy. Waved to her, great going great going. Continued looking for the rest of the bunch. No luck I started hobbling/running again. Finally saw them running ahead of me and I caught up again ran ahead and took this video:
Ran for the next 1.5 odd km with them while keeping a look out for the rest of the team. Everyone had done 5K during the training run so this was not going to be an issue at all still I just wanted to be sure. We completed the 5K at precisely 08:01. Roughly 45minutes since getting out of the corrals.
And just like that we were all done… There was a presentation ceremony for the mentors and then we headed off for a sumptuous breakfast at Besi Besi followed by the most amazing filter coffee at EastIn (inside joke).
There is some more life lessons that I need to add here. The most important one is when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. Mentor-mentee is not a hierarchy and those who look at it that way are misguided souls. I learnt so much more from this exercise and gained so much more in terms of humility, adaptability and perception that I feel I was the one being taught through this session not the other way round. I feel to be a good mentor one needs to forget what one knows about the job and first understand what is the challenge that the person who is taking your advise is facing. Unless you understand their pain points and adapt to them you will never get your message across. And most important you are a mentor not a coach. A coach is different from a mentor in the sense that a mentor is supposed to provide insight so that you may overcome your own roadblocks, while a coach drills you for success. A good experience for me on multiple levels. Here’s looking forward to much more running with new friends and old.
Of course before I forget this incident again. At the breakfast counter I again ran into Shuvendu. We exhanged high fives and then I introduced him to the rest of the team “This is Shekhar, he is our most respected mentor from the last session”… yes I am still kicking myself for this absolute absolute messed up head of mine….