‘The fear of not being able to run due to the pain made me bitter’

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Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

EVER SINCE the knee injury, I walked gingerly, so as to not be reminded of it. I had not been running for some time. It seemed like a long time, too long to bear. Worse, it seemed, on particularly hopeless days, that I might never be able to run again. I would keep looking on with longing at runners who passed me by. What would I not give to be in their shoes. Those confident, long strides, pounding the ground beneath; strength in every thud, and boundless promises of life and exploration. I had to miss it all. I was condemned to wait, through persevering sighs and bottomless lows. If you’re not a runner, you won’t get it.

In the beginning, the injury seemed benign. One day, I found my right knee swollen. I immediately bought and applied generous quantities of the ointment Volini. No time to lose, I foolishly thought. However, next morning I woke up to a still aching knee. And the mornings after that. I developed a new empathy for all those runners who had fretted about injuries, and whose fretting I had found excessive, even attention-seeking. The god of injury was fickle and irascible and had to be propitiated at all costs.

As the pain refused to go, I grew afraid at the thought of not being able to run. Fear makes one bitter. My bitterness was directed at no one in particular and everyone in general. The client was thankless, the cook was useless, friends were selfish, goodness overrated, vileness underreported and people were parasitical. I became what I thought others were: contemptible and mean. But I didn’t want to believe in my meanness; that would mean resigning myself to a future with no running. That was inconceivable. I wanted to run again and blow my cynicism into smithereens. And yet, while doing lunges with the right knee, the shooting pain convinced me that the meanness gaining ground inside couldn’t be wished away easily.

I got foolish. I popped painkillers (morning: 1 and night: 1) advised by athletes from Kerala, and ran. I felt no pain, and felt my legs less. The pain disappeared, but they made me drowsy and puffed up my face. I panicked and stopped taking pills. A physiotherapist tapped me on my knee-cap twice, advised me to cut down on all forms of exercise and asked me to visit him after one week. I didn’t. I bought an Exercycle, which made the pain worse.

I hit rock bottom on the day of the Mumbai marathon, which was being broadcast live. So many runners in colourful attire; straining, waving, striving and running across the majestic Worli-Bandra sealink in the warm breeze. Seeing them, something inside me snapped. Around 10 in the morning, I stepped outside, barefoot. Running barefoot is the latest mantra in the US and the sole (pun unintended) cure of all injury-related woes. I decided to give it a try. A bad idea on Indian roads. After 3 km, I came back limping, less due to the knee injury and more because of the slashes, cuts and bruises, inflicted on my feet by my decidedly foolish decision. I laughed at myself for wanting it so badly.

Having inflicted enough damage on my body, I finally started to change. I became careful but not careworn, as I had inclined to be in the early days of the injury. Things began to fall into place. Sometimes the pain was less, sometimes more, but I would like to believe I became patient dealing with it. I bought new shoes and started to run slowly. Almost an amble, twice a week. I stopped if I felt any pain. I was more understanding with my body. And recently, I ran 10 km again.

Though at the run, a lady of about 45 was particularly infuriating, as she overtook me again and again.

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