Every year on my birthday, I run for as many hours as my age. However, that’s now it has always been. On July 27, 2007, when I turned 19, I wanted to do something stupid on that day. I asked myself, can I run a half marathon all by myself? How doable will that be? I had started started running a few months ago, so it felt like craziest thing to do. To make matters worse, July is extremely hot and humid in Delhi, and it’s the middle of the monsoon. Delhi Half Marathon, the only race I had participated in my life that took me 3 hours and 14 minutes to finish, has an aid station every 2 km. I had not run beyond 7 km without support in my life. So, it was worth a shot. To celebrate 19 years of my life, I ran 19 km. Next year, I ran 20 km and then half marathon a year later. But what next? I could easily run half marathons in touch above 2 hours and that was too short of a time for celebration. Thus, in 2010, I decided to go for slightly longer for the first time and logged 22 miles in the middle of the night when rest of the city slept in the comforts.
When I turned 23, I decided to go for 23 hours. However, I knew I couldn’t do it. It was too long to stay on feet. So, I bargained and decided to run for 23 hours in 2.3 days, i.e., 56 hours. In that process, I ran my life’s first 100 km, making a total of 143 km in those 2.3 days. Now I knew, I could go on for as many hours as my age. In 2012, when I turned 24, I wanted to run for 24 hours. 100 miles was a good target to chase. But, thanks to my friend, Vishwas Bhamburkar, he pushed me into an uncharted territory, and we aimed for 250 km, with no training. As expected, I had to stop at 150. A year later, I again attempted that distance with Vishwas, and bailed out at 200 odd. Learning from the failures, in 2014, I toned down and ran for 26 hours near Pune in Central India and finished at the magical Varandha Ghat, a valley I had been eyeing for two years.
In 2015, I ran for 27 hours circumnavigating Pune. In 2016, I was in the city of Haridwar with a friend. I abandoned him, boarded a bus with no planning where I was going, got off at a random place near Rishikesh, turned on GPS tracking on my phone and ran for 28 hours in the Himalayas. In process, I covered a distance of 140 km in total and finished at the origin of river Ganga in Dev Prayag. In 2017, I ran 375 km in May instead, to celebrate both mine and Montreal’s birthday. In 2018, I moved to Newfoundland and circumnavigated the North of Avalon Peninsula on East Coast Trail in 30 hours and ran the remaining Southern part in 31 hours in 2019. Then pandemic happened, I got a few injuries and that was the end of the streak.
Big Birthday Bash at the time of its origin marked the beginning of a remarkable tradition – one that I have carried with myself wherever I have lived. Every year, as the birthday approached, I would embark on a journey to the beaches, ice-capped mountains, deserts, lush green forests, raging river valleys, dead plains, plateaus, some hidden villages, wetlands, extreme rugged landscapes, frozen landscapes, coastal trails and prairies. The number of hours I ran would mirror my age, becoming a symbol of both physical prowess and ever-growing connection with nature. In a way, it became a symbol of resilience, determination, and the power of pursuing one’s passions wholeheartedly for me, a physical embodiment of the passage of time and personal growth. But, I had lost it. I was not running anymore. I got better at choosing my excuses for not doing the things I thought I earlier wanted to do, in order to hide my guilt of not doing it. It was not that I had lost interest in running, it was just that I didn’t feel like doing it.
In my head, I’d curse myself and scream at self that I must go and run, meet friends and explore new places, but I would not. I would sleep most of the time, would feel exhausted all day and had accepted the manufactured fact that I was a failure, worthless with no future in life. This would beautifully compliment the guilt of not running anymore and the deep groove of sadness would engulf me for the rest of the remaining time.
Whenever I would feel sad, I would eat. Most of the times, cookies, which means a lot of sugar. I would eat a lot, at regular intervals, would feel incredibly guilty about it, won’t exercise and then eat more again. I started to gain weight rapidly and before I could realize, it became a major health concern. One day, I got new bathroom scale and weighed myself for the first time in eight months. I weighed 182 lbs. I stood there, naked, and hated the person I saw in the mirror. While I was gazing in my own eyes, in shame, I recalled how I got there. Following the failures of 2019 with ankle injuries, isolation due to pandemic, surgery and another ankle injury had mentally broken me. I was stressed, eating four servings of each meal and all that would be followed by ice cream. I was finishing a 3L ice cream tub and over a pound of chips all by myself in less than a week.