Week 51: Run&Bee column in Hindustan Times: Mentors transforming to bullies in running - Extended version with comments of runners
37 year old Pooja had been a great mother to her 8 years old son and 11 years old daughter. She had been a great wife, daughter-in-law, daughter and sister. She was climbing the corporate ladder by leaps and bounds. Her life had been dedicated to everyone around her but her ownself. She was clinically depressed and had to fight suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
Luckily she was introduced to running by a resident in her colony and that changed her life. She started being happier. As happens in all running groups, she was encouraged to sign up for her first race. She loved that feeling of getting to the finish line and having that sense of accomplishment on her own. Soon, she wanted to run every race possible, run faster and longer. As is inevitable in runners, she got hurt. Just that her injury lasted longer than it does for most. Her depression demons started appearing again. Her situation was made worse by her running buddies who told her that she was making excuses not to run because she wasn’t capable of doing it. Most probably that was intended to get her moving again but it backfired in a big way, pushing her over the edge and into a downward spiral.
Now that is a problem I see on a regular basis.
In running, your running buddies and running groups play an amazing role in getting you moving. A few years back Haile Gebrselassie, the man who broke 27 world records in distances ranging from 1,500 metres to marathon, while visiting India, was asked for the role of a coach among runners. He surprised everyone in the audience. ‘You don’t need a coach if you are running a half marathon (21 kms) in over 1 hour 10 minutes. What you need is a mentor.’
I have been of a similar opinion. We need to motivate people. Even if you don’t know the subject well enough, you can always encourage others to do more, more by your actions than your words alone. The problem happens when you over do it. With best intentions, unknowingly you transform into a bully. Even if on your own you aren’t doing it, when a few of you get together, the mob effect comes into place. Now you really get aggressive about your subconscious thoughts.
We need to again go back to the simple question that needs to be answered for your own sake every week, if not every day. Why do you run? If besides everything else, it is about joy of running and to connect with your deeper self, we are on the same page. But if it’s only about a better time, longer distance each time and yet another finisher’s medal, I feel sorry for you. Somewhere on your running journey, you have lost the plot. Even worse is when you bully other runners to do the same. If you want to talk about how fast or how long you run, let me help you burst that royal bubble of yours. My best time for an official half marathon (21 kms) is 1 hr 18 min, that too with walking for last kilometre or more. The longest race I organise is 555 kms in Ladakh as part of the 10th edition of La Ultra - The High.
Does that help in addressing your ego issues?
Having shared the above, nowadays I enjoy running 3-6 kms with my 18 year old son to whom asthma had been a big bully and restricted his physical activities. I love bonding with him even though we barely speak while we run. I keep reminding him to breathe and to slow down so that he can be in the moment.
When we push our fellow runners and belittle them, we don’t realise the long term damage we are doing besides the physical injuries that are happening sooner than later in most new runners. Probably running has given these new runners a new identity. We should be interested in healthy longevity of running rather than pushing them to achieve too much too soon.
Couch to 11 kms in 101 days (start date: 11th May 2019), is a program where by taking one baby step at a time, you will walk-run 11 kms, the same day participants of 10th edition of La Ultra - The High will do 55, 222, 333 & 555 kms.
Dr Sangeeta Saikia posted the article on DRG’s facebook page and following were the comments by the runners there.
“Running has been more of solo activity for me. Running alone in solitude kind of shields you from peer pressure and ego issues.
One can choose to run at whatever pace comfortable, what ever distance feasible without being pushed. Negative point in such an approach is that the progress is slow and most of times the body resists being pushed beyond the comfort zone.
This can result in disappointing timings in competitive races.
If one is looking for validation and sense of achievement by running faster or longer this can be a bad approach.
We tend to be competitive in almost every sphere of life including running.
Pushing a fellow runner can have varied responses in people, some really thrive when pushed where as some can land up in injuries or being turned off from running.
Even though with good intentions a lot of coaches, mentors and running buddies are simply unable to interpret clues from their fellow athletes.
I think a lot of this is because a number of coaches come from competitive sports background where goals are completely different from recreational running.
As a running group I think this is a very valid point being discussed here. I have see lesser accomplished runners, specially introvert struggling.
As a little more experienced runners we should restrict ourselves to providing our fellow runners with vital training insights making sure we are not judging them.”
- Adil Rizvi
Below is the print version of the column: