A marathon runner has been, for me, an un-understood entity ; and there was a time when I used to think it was something Ethiopians did. Anyway, I didn’t give a thought to the prospect of ever meeting anyone who did 26.2 miles in one go. This was till I met Dr Srinivas a couple of years back. But then I first knew him as a research scientist (at Berkeley) before I got to learn about his marathon exploits.
A research lab, I would have thought, is the least likely place to nurse a marathon runner. That Dr Srinivas averages a 14 hour-day at his lab, seven days a week, makes him even a less likely candidate to be in this business of long-distance running. What makes his case all the more baffling is his ‘fairly complicated’ domestic life. Didn’t I say I couldn’t understand marathon runners ?
I can’t say I still do, after reading Dr Srinivas blog post describing his latest marathon at Sacramento earlier this month. His narrative about a mindset and fighting spirit that kept him going, against a body in revolt made engaging read. After reading him Dr Srinivas struck me as someone capable of invoking a mental stamina that triumphs over a battered body.
As he put it, marathon running, was for most part, a mentality, as it became evident to him early in the race . At Mile-10 he already started feeling his ‘body falling apart’. And there were 16 more miles to go. It was at this stage Dr Srinivas decided to ignore his body that kept telling him to slow down, eat, and replenish his electrolytes. This would have been good for his body; but, would have at the same time, made him feel a loser.
This was when Dr Srinivas did what his book prescribed for marathon runners, at the mid-way point. Determined to stay on track, he pushed himself beyond physical parameters for extreme stress. But then he had also to contend with an ‘ego in tatters, and a sense of self-loathing’. His book didn’t tell how to cope with this.
It was at this point – Mile-19 – that Dr Srinivas had a call from wife Maya on his cellphone. She wanted to know how he was doing ; and he could hear his little daughter Ila on the phone. He couldn’t be telling them about the state of battered ego. Dr Srinivas doesn’t tell us what he told his wife. But her phone call did seem to work wonders on him. He swallowed some salt tablet, ate and drank as much as he could, and focused on making it to the finish line – still over six miles away.
On his final mile Dr Srinivas felt his body rebel against his sprits – he could sense his abdominal muscles going in spasms, calf-muscles contracting, and toes curling into his shoes. Spirit was still willing – “If I had to crawl the last mile, I was going to finish the bloody marathon”. And he did – all 26.2 miles of it, in four hours. Which was 30 minutes more than the timeline he had set for himself. But Dr Srinivas had gained 54 minutes over his previous performance in San Francisco.
Where would it be next, Dr Srinivas ? My hunch is Baltimore. Maya mailed me they are moving there early in the new year. Johns Hopkins would soon have a marathon runner on their faculty.