Miles to Run Before I Sleep: How an ordinary woman ran an extraordinary distance
190 pages; Average reading time 2 hours 41 min
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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Munmun Mukherjee. Miles to Run Before I Sleep recounts the incredible story of Sumedha, who would easily be ‘one of us’. Read on to know more about this journey of winning against one’s own inner battles.
As a child, growing up in Amritsar, I had chronic asthma. When the children of my age were picking up new games, I was busy gathering survival tips from other asthma patients, making constant companionship with my inhaler. The hospital was my second home, especially during the harvest season. But that did not stop my father from coaching me and my sister in lawn tennis. With a focus on building my stamina by playing lawn tennis, my life started changing; I was out in the open, playing in the sun. After some initial defeats in local tennis tournaments, I gradually improved my game and got addicted to winning. I actually became a well-regarded tennis player in the local circuit of Amritsar. When I realised that my family would not be able to take the risk of investing hard earned money into my sports career, I decided to enrol in a management program in Bengaluru.
The two years at a B-school in Bengaluru made me a self-reliant person who could face the world alone. When I entered the corporate world with a job, I started enjoying a new life. My life started revolving around projects, sales targets and meeting those targets. I was completely consumed by my job, and on the personal side, developed an unhealthy obsession with losing weight. I think I started losing some bit of my soul: my life, my work, my foreign trips, my targets were my top priorities. I started avoiding my family and stayed away from family functions. I even started judging people on the basis of their grades and salaries. I weighed less than 45 kg, and I was proud of it. The asthma from childhood, coupled with unhealthy eating habits and sedentary life, resurfaced and I had to be rushed to hospital more than once.
Then I met Arvind at work. He became my guardian angel, ensuring that I ate properly, becoming a positive influence in my rat race obsessed life. It was Arvind who encouraged me to take up an offer from work to relocate to Chandigarh so that I could be closer to my parents. He helped me understand the value of family, which I had put at the back of my mind. In 2009, Arvind & I got married and we both relocated to Delhi. It was the onset of winter and Delhi’s pollution made my asthma attacks more frequent.
I decided to face my asthma head on, and started running. The first couple of days were difficult and I struggled to add a lap every day. Nevertheless, I took this as a challenge, ignored my body’s protests in terms of aches and pains, and soon bought a pair of good quality running shoes. By the time Arvind & I relocated to Mumbai in October 2011, running had become a religion for me.
In Mumbai, I saw people running on the streets, irrespective of traffic congestion and narrow roads. Motorists made way for runners. I continued with my running, and soon got to know a couple of other runners as well. Arvind then suggested that I take part in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. My co-runners suggested that I sign-up for half marathon, but to my dismay, I realised that the last date for enrolment had gone by. I decided to go to the event office a day before the marathon, and try my luck. The event manager heard me out but said he had bibs available only for the full marathon. I quickly consulted Arvind and signed up for my first ever marathon run.
My first marathon
My parents were not very happy when they heard about my plan to run 42 km. But I was signed up and Arvind was with me. On the day of the marathon, when I reached the venue, I realised how ill-equipped I was for running long distances. I made another cardinal mistake of not drinking enough water while running. At the 5 km mark, with bright sun and no shade, I was dehydrated and running became tougher. So I stopped at a water station and had too much water. Another big mistake. With a lot of difficulty, aided by support from co-runners, I finished my first marathon and was surprised to find that I was 15th in the open women’s category!
A few months later, while visiting Malaysia with Arvind, I got the chance to run a marathon there and while it took a lot of effort on my part, I finished in 6th position. My strong desire to win, something that was dominant during my tennis days and then my first few years at work, was back. I was on a high now. I decided to run in ultra-marathon, and run 75 km as the first step towards that goal. In one calendar year, I had run two marathons and was now planning a 75km run in Bengaluru. When I told my parents about my 75km run plan, they were initially not happy but then came around to support me.
Did not finish
This time I was well prepared for the 75 km ultra-run with water belt, my iPod, headlamp and chocolate and nuts to munch while running. I paced myself well through the 75 km and ended up winning in my category. I realized that long distance running is more about mental strength, mind control and perseverance; than about training, stamina or talent. I was now clear that running was my calling and started preparing for Mumbai marathon in January 2012 and the Comrades ultra-run in South Africa in June 2012. And then it happened! December 2011, about a month before Mumbai marathon, I was hit by a speeding car while I was running on the streets of Mumbai.
The accident caused some sprains but thankfully there were no broken bones. During a checkup following the accident, I was diagnosed with low Vitamin D and B12 count as well as lumbar spondylitis, a degenerative bone disease. The doctor advised me to take a break from running, and recommended physiotherapy. But I was desperate to run the Mumbai marathon as it would enable me to qualify for the Comrades ultra-run later that year in South Africa. I managed to convince Arvind to let me run; though he was unhappy about it.
On the morning of the marathon, I reached the venue late but was able to get a good stride for the first 18 km. But the pain became unbearable and I had to call it quits at the 20th km. I was tagged DNF (Did Not Finish) in the 2012 Mumbai marathon. That hurt my ego. More importantly, I could not get the timing on record to qualify for Comrades.
Life changes for me
But life had its own plans. In April 2012, I got a call from one of my running mates, Raj Vadgama. Raj told me about a plan to run 1500 km from Delhi to Mumbai in 30 days, in order to raise awareness for environment. This initiative was led by Milind Soman, who was looking for a team of four men and two women ultra-runners. I knew I had to be a part of this. I had to manage both my job and Arvind in order to be a part of this ultra-run. Arvind, understandably, was worried when he heard of this. Milind and Raj met Arvind and took him through the details of the organisers, the crew, the cars that would tag runners, and the accompanying medical support team. Arvind did a detailed evaluation of the support that would be extended to this team of six runners running 1500 km from Delhi to Mumbai in the summer heat of May 2012. Duly convinced, Arvind agreed I should run the entire 1500 Km. My parents were again not happy about my decisions, but then my father blessed me with pride when he realised that:
- I wanted to show the world how strong I was; asthma couldn’t make me staying indoors only.
- I wanted to run for the cause; bring about a small change.
- I wanted to break the myth that women are only meant to look good, get married and have babies.
There was not much time left before the intercity ultra-run. Training and diet got top priority in my life. I started eating paneer, yogurt, dates, peanuts, spinach, fruits and lots of water. I underwent massage sessions to tone my body after consulting my orthopedist.
Day 0, 1500 km to go
We reached Delhi to start the run. There were now five men and just one woman in the team-me. Apart from Raj & Milind, the other men I was running with were Apurba Dass, Mahesh Salvi & Sajjan Dabas. Raj was an interior designer and fitness coach, who had run many ultra-races. Apurba Dass held a railways job, was an amazing ultra-runner despite not having the financial resources to participate in major marathons across the country. Sajjan Dabas, a former fashion designer, was currently helping out his family managed business. Mahesh worked as a travel guide and had taken unpaid leave for this run. My parents and brother were also in Delhi to meet me. On 20th April, 2012, we began the run of 1500 km in 30 days, from Delhi to Mumbai, to create awareness about environment pollution. Arvind was part of the crew, travelling in one of the vehicles accompanying us.
Days 1-4, the body protests
Day 1, 20th April 2012, was a smooth run of 62 km for me and 57 km for the men. Day 2, however, started with exhaustion. I felt stiff and the moment I began running, I realised I was not well. I was feeling drowsy. I covered 13km with a drowsy feeling, started walking, had water and banana and then at the 15km mark, I fainted. Arvind, who was accompanying me in the crew vehicle, got me back to the hotel. I had a short nap, rehydrated myself and again began running that morning
By lunchtime on Day 2, the men had covered 100k while I was at 75 km. I decided to run again in the afternoon to reduce the gap to 11 km. running on day 3 proved to be particularly difficult for me as the pollution on the highway triggered my asthma. I was slow but managed to do 45 km. I realised that day how pollution was slowly affecting all of us and I was even more determined to run for the cause. By end of Day 3, I had reduced the gap to 4 km with the other men. I had also noticed painful chafing on my breasts by the end of day 3. Since the crew doctor was not well equipped, I plastered my lacerations with regular tapes and cotton that I borrowed from the hotel staff. On day 4, we reached a small village in Rajasthan, where I decided to chat with the local women. These women were shocked to know, that despite being married, I could run wearing shorts. By this time, Arvind left us to join his work in Mumbai as one of us has to earn our living.
Days 5-8, why are you doing this?
By day 5, my breast lacerations had turned into an infection and I was still managing with Band-Aid. Jaipur was a day’s run away and it required superhuman effort on my part to run, with my asthma and the infection bothering me. I managed to finish the last stretch of 10 km to reach Jaipur, where I was immediately rushed to a hospital. The doctors confirmed that the infection had not yet gone beyond the skin and therefore would heal quickly with the right medication. Some of the staff at the hospital were intrigued with what I was putting myself through. Instead of possibly being proud of what I was trying to achieve, the questions were on ‘Why are you doing this?’ and ‘Is it worth risking so much?’ I spoke with Arvind at the end of day 5 and told him about my breast infection and the hospital episode. His words of encouragement and the fact that he would meet me in Ajmer helped me feel determined to complete this ultra-run.
The ultra-run was now not just about environment and pollution awareness but a lot more for me personally. It was a battle that I had to win. On day 6, we were joined by better and more resourceful crew doctor and we ran with soldiers from the Indian Army stationed at Jaipur.
Day 7 was a week on the road for us, running in the heat, pollution and traffic on our way from Delhi to Mumbai. Our equation with the channel crew was deteriorating. The crew, having realised that they were not getting enough TRPs from this event, were just not interested in our battle and the cause. I deviated from my normal dinner to treat myself to some rotis, only to wake up on day 8 with an upset tummy. But the run had to go on. So I ran, and was forced to take toilet breaks on the highway, and ended the day with diarrhoea and a bleeding nose. I had to tie a wet handkerchief to prevent the dust entering my system.
Days 9-13, breaching half way mark
On day 9, I got to meet Arvind who had come down to Ajmer from Mumbai to be with me. The smoke spewing trucks that we ran alongside on the highway ensured that my asthma kept raising its head and I would need regular nebulization. By the end of Day 10, I had covered 565 km and on day 11, we were surrounded by one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world-the Aravalli. The irony was Arvind and I had driven down this very route about a year back when we relocated from Delhi to Mumbai. At that time, we were in the comfort of our air conditioned car and never got to explore the beauty of this mountain range. Long distance running brings a lot of pain but also brings you closer to nature.
On day 13, Arvind went back to Mumbai and we ran through the heat and pollution to reach Udaipur. I made sure to take a detour and pay my respects at the Ek Linga temple in Udaipur. This detour increased the gap between me and my fellow runners, but I was keen to visit the temple. For an unknown reason, I prayed that I get the strength to climb Mount Kailash one day. Day 13 was also when I breached the halfway mark of 750 km.
Days 14-21, pollution is a demon
We were going to now reach the most polluted city in India, Ankleswar in Gujarat. I had started feeling a sharp pain behind my left knee, which led to a lot of pain on day 14. Raj diagnosed it as a stress fracture in my muscle behind the knee. He asked me not to run the next day but I was clear that this was a war with my own self, and I had to keep running. It was a wrong decision because I just couldn’t lift my knee on day 15. I was heartbroken and just let myself loose, crying, and sitting in the middle of a National Highway.
I had to do my daily quota of run and I managed to do so, reaching the hotel one hour after my co-runners had reached. In the meanwhile the equation between the runners and the crew members was further deteriorating. The runners were exhausted with the crew members as they were not providing water or food supplies to the guest runners. By day 17, when we reached Ahmedabad, we had covered 950 km, with 550 km to go in the balance time period. I was still running with a wet handkerchief on my face.
We reached Ankleshwar on Day 21. My nose was bleeding and I rushed to my room for nebulization as soon as we reached the hotel. Rivers and lakes here had no aquatic life as the water was extremely polluted, and there was a thick layer of exhaust fumes in the air. Chronic skin and lungs diseases and an extremely high incidence of cancer plagued Ankleshwar. In spite of this depressing scenario, I was touched and happy when an asthmatic young boy came to meet me, inspired by my run.
Days 21-28, more pain & fights
At the hotel in Ankleswar, I happened to meet an expat who got to know of our 1500 km run and said ‘You guys must be the face of the nation these days’. When he heard of the obscurity in which we were running, he mentioned that in Europe, this run would have been a very big event. I got to be together with Arvind again when we reached Surat at the end of day 22. In Surat, Arvind reached out one of his friends whose father was an orthopaedist. He confirmed that I had a stress fracture and I asked him to help me manage the pain till I complete 1500 km.
On day 25, when we reached Valsad, the simmering tension between the crew and the runners came to a flashpoint when Raj got into an altercation with the crew. Raj blew his top and in the heat of the moment decided to quit the run, on the 25th day. The crew wanted Raj out and it was now Milind’s job to mediate. Milind stood his ground and told the crew that the run was for environment and not the TV channel. Raj would continue his 1500 km run and would be supported by Milind’s own car, which had joined us in Ahmedabad.
On day 28, we were just 48 hours away from breaching the 1500 km mark. But we were not in peace. The run had drained us physically and the constant bickering with the crew and the subsequent melt-down with Raj had drained us mentally. This run had tested our faith and endurance as much as it had tested our stamina.
1500 km, done and dusted
When I crossed the 1500 mark on day 29, I lay down on the road and looked into the sky. I thought of all that I went through in the last few weeks, and now, for some reason, I wanted to be a mother. The next day, day 30, was meant for TV cameras where we would do a short run at the Sanjaya Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. I called Raj to check if he would be there, given that he had totally detached himself from the group in the last 48 hours. Raj joined us for all subsequent TV appearances, but reluctantly so.
The ultra-run was over. I was at home in Mumbai now, having woken up at 2 am out of habit. I had done it, but I was not happy inside. The emotional upheavals through the 30 days period played on my mind.
My life changed
I was back in office the very next day, on 21st May. On the health front I was asked to stay away from running for four months and focus more on walking and yoga. But office was not the same anymore for me. These 30 days had changed me. Money and designation were meaningless and insignificant, after having won a battle with myself over 1500 km. I did not want to spend the rest of my life working for someone else’s ambitions. But I decided to continue in corporate after a long chat with Arvind. However, in February 2013, I had a slipped disc and I was bed ridden for many months. I had to quit my job and motherhood plans had to take a backseat. Once I recovered, I decided to start my own consultancy firm, which is what I do now. I was also back on the running circuit by August 2014.
So, go ahead live your dreams, follow your heart. There is no tomorrow, and today is all that matters.
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