Saturday, October 20, 2012

Running in Bangalore

About three years ago I realized that I was getting really unhealthy and overweight, and knew that action really needed to be taken. One of my neighbors used to be in the Army and had done tons of running but hadn't run in ages and was really missing it. So one slightly drunken evening we decided that we would try learning to run and see how we got on. The following morning we just about managed half a mile, but through perseverance, going out three or four mornings a week and gradually increasing our distance, we began to feel that we were OK at it. I had another friend who ran longer distances, and he encouraged me to run with him at weekends. The first time I ran five miles it felt like something of a miracle, but I found that it was easier than I expected, and also a lot more fun, especially running round the beautiful lakes of Minneapolis. After a couple of years of this I would wake up in the morning ready to go, and was in probably the best shape I've ever been in - I could do 10-15 miles without a ton of effort and it was really enjoyable, and lost about 25 pounds without having to cut back on what I was eating or drinking.

When we moved to Bangalore I unfortunately stopped running regularly. I was getting used to the overall upheaval of moving, and also getting used to the different work and life schedule, where I'd be up at 6:45 to get the kids ready for school, but work till 6 and then have several evening calls a night. I was so wiped out that I felt I had no energy for exercise, and whenever I did (rarely) try to go running it was way harder than I remembered and therefore really demoralizing. Part of the reason it's harder to run here is that there's a lot more pollution and we're at 3,000 feet, so just getting breath is harder than the clear, sea-level air I was used to. The other reason is that I totally love Indian food and was ballooning - I put on over 15 pounds - so it was much more effort to get myself moving.

Once again friends came to the rescue - a couple of guys here were feeling the same way and wanted some encouragement to get running, so we arranged to start going three mornings a week. We live in a gated community where it's nice and safe to run - clean, well-maintained roads, quiet traffic and no wild dogs - but we thought it would be more fun and interesting to run outside along the local roads. It was a bit daunting at first because of all the traffic (the sidewalks are too crumbly to run along without paying tons of attention so we have to run in the gutter of the road), plus the concern of getting lost, and of being attacked by dogs. There are loads of wild dogs in Bangalore and especially at night or early in the morning they can get pretty aggressive, especially towards runners or people on bikes. I know one guy who was biking and was chased down by a dog, which must have been really scary. When we're running and dogs start having a go at us, the best thing is to stop, face them and shout, or even pick up stones to throw at them - that usually does the trick. Also the local folks here are great about also shouting at the dogs, so although it's sometimes unnerving we haven't had any injuries. But anyway, the challenges are far outweighed by how fun it is to get out of our bubble of the gated community and to see "real" India. We run through villages and see the local people starting their days - lighting fires to cook breakfast, looking after their cows, goats or chickens, and generally living life. The houses are very small so a lot of life is out in the common space. We often get waved to by smiling kids, who love to shout hello and sometimes will run after us for a bit. Because we're on the eastern edge of the city, we're really close to fields and rural areas, and it's wonderful how quiet it gets as we run past rice paddies or banana fields. One of the guys is thinking of getting a small wearable video camera to record what we see as we're running. It's also made me much more confident about getting out and about and exploring the side streets more.

On the fitness side it feels like things are coming along pretty well now that I've been doing this for three months. Last month (with the aid of my Nike running watch) I saw that I'd run over 90 miles, and I'm on for beating that this month if I stick with it. I'm getting back to the point when I actively enjoy it again and often feel like I can just keep going for ages. A couple of weekends ago I did 8.5 miles on Saturday and 13 on Sunday - kind of exhausting but not killer. I've shifted a few pounds but still have another ten to go before I get closer to where I feel I should be. But overall it's been great to get moving again, and a fantastic way to enjoy India in a whole new way.