Monday, August 3, 2015

A personal note of gratitude to the organizers behind the stadium run - you are my heroes today

I write this with actual tears in my eyes. I am very humbled by what occurred this morning. But since most have no idea what I am talking about, I will do a quick recap of what happened over the weekend: On August 1st and 2nd Bangalore played host to some of the best ultra marathoners in the country. 38 men and women took part in a 24 hour and 12 hour stadium run and they ran inside the 400 metre track in Kanteerva. Organized by the Bengaluru Marathon team, it was truly an incredible sight to see - men and women who pushed past what is generally considered humanly possible.

Of course there were more men than women. There was only one woman in the 24 hours category (Aparna Choudhary) who  participated. Now I want to talk about the women for just one moment. These were fabulous ladies who were currently participating in a world dominated by men. And training for an ultra means you are on your feet for hours at end in one day. If you are a woman runner in India, then chances are you have had to face some interesting characters in your day. Now imagine facing such harassment on a larger scale because you are alone on the road for many hours. These ladies are more than rockstars, they are pioneers and trendsetters. They are paving the way for other girls in the country who are told they can't do something because of their gender.

Now why am I talking about the ladies in the ultra? Because while I was very happy to see the crowds, the organization, the incredible running by these incredible men and women, I felt slightly pinched at the end. The women who won got goodies bag and the men who won got goodies bag and prize money (of course like I mentioned there were more men than women). What about the women I wondered? I didn't sleep very well in the night and I tossed and turned a whole lot. I got up and wrote a Facebook post about these women I considered heroes and professed my wish that they could have gotten prize money.

Of course my post invited a fair amount of controversy within an hour of its posting. Some agreed with me and some didn't. After all, the organizers didn't take any money for registrations from the participants. I myself witnessed the ultra runners being treated with reverence and care. They were provided with every bit of nutrition they asked for. Perhaps it was wrong of me to even point out issues when the larger picture was about promoting running in the country.

But if running is to be encouraged, then it should be encouraged for everybody. And women and men should be recognized for accomplishing great feats in the name of sport. Now this New York Times article points out why men are faster than women biologically. We are all human beings but men have less fat and more muscle and women have hips (and boobs). Oh and there is the issue of testosterone. Which is why any race that has open category is inherently sexist. A man and woman who are both at the pinnacle of their fitness levels will still not be equal. The man will swim faster, run faster. Open category does not work. Period.

Now on any other day in any other world, this post would have been read by a few, ignored by most and invariably someone would have told me to "chill Aishu". Except it didn't quite happen that way. The organizers called me. They wanted to know why I had a problem. I explained it to them to the best of my abilities (I was quaking in my boots). I knew I had a massive responsibility on my shoulders. They genuinely cared about what I had to say. It was scary because I am so used to writing Facebook posts that go nowhere. I don't want to lie, I snuck into my office bathroom to cry from the sheer fear of having caused "trouble".

To my very genuine surprise, I wasn't yelled at. I was listened to. It is really a show of how great the organizers are behind Bengaluru, that I wasn't swatted aside like an annoying mosquito. They cared about the views of a random runner who is lucky if she completes a two hour half marathon. I have been screaming bloody murder about the Vodafone cyclathon for two years now for having only open category (I am famously known as the girl who shows up to yell at the organizers about this every year but never listened to).

A few hours after my conversation (during which time I emotionally ate my way through most of what Arya Bhavan had to offer in terms of junk food), I was contacted again. The organizers heard me out and thought I had a fair point. They told me that they are going to given prize money for the female winners too. When I read that message, my hands shook. I was stunned. And as is generally the case with me, I broke into tears (I am still in office but thankfully went back to the bathroom for a good emotional cry). But this isn't about me. This is so much bigger than me. This is about the fabulous women who ran ultras this past weekend who deserve every bit of this recognition. This is about a large race organizer going above and beyond to do what's right for the community. This is a miracle that I am glad to have witnessed. So, at the end of this very rambling and emotional post, I just want to say a few things:

  • I am really  sorry if I caused trouble to anyone. It was never my intention. I really do apologize.
  • I am so happy that the women who ran yesterday will get the recognition they truly deserve. Ladies you were inspiring. You are heroes. Just having witnessed you women run yesterday, I came out a changed person. You deserve every accolade and every award that comes your way. You are setting precedent for the future generation. And we women thank you for everything that you do. 
  • And finally a THANK YOU to Nagaraj Sir. You are my hero sir. You have today taken such an incredible step towards bringing more women into running. You listen to every runner. You have made  history in what you did today. You have set precedent for future races. Now we women can march up to other race directors and demand equality because of YOU. I shall forever be indebted to you and am very grateful for who you are as a person. You are not only the best race director in the country but an outstanding person and I am grateful to you. 

So, friends. There you have it. The world is filled with people who are willing to change it for the better. And women, let's ensure we flock the organizers of Bengaluru Marathon with as much love and support as we can possibly imagine. They are batting for us. They are batting for us when not many are.

P.S Yes. I am still in the office bathroom. But I stopped crying.