Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is it worth all the pain?

        A friend asked me this question when he saw me limping ostentatiously having just finished my first ultra marathon distance of 50k the previous day- “Is it worth all this pain?” “Why that question? Why not just congratulate me and get on with making a living writing code”, I thought. The answer is straightforward. We Indians are obsessed with value in any transaction or activity, be it mileage of our cars or the best value-for-money restaurant nearby. When running marathons, you spend good money and return home walking looking like a Hyderabad auto just ran over your foot; clearly poor return on investment.

        “Absolutely worth every moment of it”, I replied instinctively and without much reasoning. Stupid question I thought. Would you ever ask a woman who just spent loads of money getting the latest pedicure whether it was worth it? Of course not, though I suspect mainly for personal well being sake. I probably came off sounding as a masochist who loved suffering and pain with that answer but that is not true, at least not completely. Seeing that nothing more was forthcoming he offered me the usual platitudes like “You’re an Inspiration”, “Great performance” etc. and we both moved on. But for some reason the question, like some bad memory, rankled me for quite some time.

        A couple of weeks later, the good folks in the HR department of my company organized a talk by Mark Inglis – mountaineer, researcher, wine-maker and motivational speaker. As a rule I steer clear away from motivational speakers who never achieve much in their own lives and remain in business mainly due to their superior oratorical skills. But Inglis is a doer, so I was eager to attend his talk. He had an interesting tale for us, the story of his life.

        Mark Inglis started his life as a mountaineer and ended up having to amputate both his legs due to frost bite after being stuck in a small cave on top of Mount Cook in New Zealand due to an intense blizzard. With his chosen career path no longer a livelihood option, he returned to University to earn a degree in Biochemistry, become a wine-maker and also cycled his way to Silver medal in the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. Twenty years later, he took up mountaineering again, conquered Mount Cook and later become the first double amputee to conquer Mount Everest. Inglis had us mesmerized for more than an hour with his gritty and poignant tale.

        So when he threw the floor open for questions, there was only one question that came to my mind – “Is it worth all the pain?” “Absolutely”, he replied, “When you chase adventure, suffering is an occupational hazard”. The look of pride in his eyes said it all. I might have as well asked Alexander the Great it conquering all those lands served any purpose. I realized that some questions cannot be answered with words alone.

        Now I am going to risk sounding as didactic as one those hollow motivational speakers that I love to hate and tell you what I really think is the reason why people ask that question. Most Indians are so busy surviving and making a living they look forward to very little in life, let alone adventure or sport. So when somebody else chases that dream, it is sometimes regarded as a vain pursuit. This must  and hopefully will change once we reach a certain standard of living. And once we get there we might even learn to enjoy suffering, much like what Rafael Nadal said after losing an epic five setter to Djokovic in the Australian Open 2012 finals - "When you are fit and have passion for the game, when you are ready to compete, you are able to suffer and enjoy suffering".


praveen said...

nice write up...some fools will never now how sweet the pain is when we reach our goal.

A B said...

Agree mostly with what you have written. Most races are obsessed with value, nothing wrong in that. But they let each one be, not meddling in others affairs which is a trademark with Desi's and then pronouncing their so-called critical opinion.

Just take the high road and let them be!

Venky said...

Excellent write up, Bharath! It is a question that some people ask later and also that rings sometimes in my mind while climbing on my bike. The absolute bliss that I experience afterwards answers that question in affirmative every single time!

CA Nachiket Pendharkar said...

Very good and true! You have put in just the apt words why we look forward to run different events like maniacs.. I totally agree with ur point about the struggle of average indian in surviving. Thus, running 50km for a piece of paper (timing certificate) appears insane to most.

In fact, that's the reason why I feel that most of the enthusiastic distance runners belong to the age group of > 40 and > 50, more than few being > 60.

The people in their 20s and 30s are so busy in running rat-races called careers, that they absolutely have no time for running more solid races for apparently no equivalent lucrative return.

Bharath said...

@AB - "The high road", strangely for a runner this sounds like hill training. Damn, this thing is becoming an obsession!
@Venky - Guess it applies to cyclists as well. I need to purchase a road bike and get started
@Nachiket - One of the other questions I get asked is - "Did you come first? They why bother". Anyways the rat race called career is what feeds us at the end of the day. We need to find a balance between the races.

TS said...

well, i'll talk to you offline :)

Bharath said...

TS - wise move man... Guess there have been too many nice comments for this blog these days. I need someone from the dark side to play devil's advocate, somebody like you!