“I wanted to create history. I did. Six people set a record by running 1,500 km in thirty days. And I was the lone woman who battled insurmountable odds to complete the race” (p.xiii).
This is a poignant and moving story of an Indian woman’s journey running 1,500km from Delhi to Mumbai in thirty days. The project was known as Greenathon to raise money and awareness for the environment. She was part of a team with five other male runners. In recent years there has been an explosion of ultra runners writing their stories and experiences of running endurance races. Some stories and quality of the writing are better than others. What makes this different and a surprise read is that it is a story of an Indian woman’s feat that truly inspires and one that you admire in its rawness and openness. People expected her to fail and give up. Her account of what she endured, experienced and ultimately succeeded in her goal running shoulder to shoulder with the men is a journey of self-discovery eloquently written.
“At every step we were being tested – our beliefs, our endurance, our faith, everything. Every now and then we would ask ourselves whether it was all worth it. Each one of us had fought our individual battles and now it was time for us to go on” (p.155)
Her story begins in Amritsar where as a child she had severe asthmatic health problems and her peers shunned her as being a ‘defective piece’ and ‘dadima’. However with the drive and coaching of her father she coped with her asthma attacks to become a national lawn tennis player. However, she did not pursue lawn tennis at a professional level as it dawned on her that she was nowhere close to being in the top rung of Indian tennis.
Her corporate job took her to Delhi where she took up running to improve her health and deal with her asthma. Running ignited her passion to push herself beyond her limits, firstly running the Mumbai Marathon and then challenging herself to running ultra running races. Her inexperience and undertraining did not deter her from competing in these endurance races. Her self-belief, faith and enthusiasm propelled her onward in her running journey.
The main body of the book describes her experiences of running from Delhi to Mumbai, a total of 1,500km. It is a day by day journal of what she endured in the unforgiving Indian heat, the traffic, pollution and the prejudice and stereotyping of the Indian public and even of the run’s crew and organisers. On top of that she had to battle numerous health issues. In the West we take it for granted that women are free and independent to participate in sports, however, for a married Indian women to run in some of the most conservative Indian states was a challenge in its own right. Just the shorts and t-shirt that she ran in drew disapproving comments from some quarters. Her story is about challenging stereotypes and confronting India’s gender inequalities and highlighting the plight of India’s environmental pollution in its rush to join and compete with the industrialised developed countries.
Ultimately though her story is about the determination, courage, perseverance and the spirit of the human soul. In a way one would say she is ordinary, but that would be to do an injustice to what she achieved – it was something very special and extraordinary. I think in India she is a pioneer, a shining beacon leading the way for women’s amateur sport, and confronting and challenging the status quo. But, with any individual achievement and success her story touchingly describes the bonds she develops with her fellow team members, her crew and how the physical and mental strains made her a stronger person. Her journey is one of self-awareness and this endurance feat brings into sharp focus the spirituality and nature of India and humanity.
The story is very endearing of a person wishing to break the mould and follow her dreams. The book is a joy to read and has a freshness and innocence to it. As such you can’t put it down until you finish her story. With so many books on the market in the genre of endurance running this is a wonderful read that will touch your mind, heart and soul and have you reflecting of what one can truly achieve against insurmountable odds. This book simply confirms that we are all destined to achieve and do something special in our lives.