August 27, 2017

Accidental 10K: Freedom Run 2017

August 15 is a national holiday in India that commemorates its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. I celebrated the day off from work by participating in the annual 5K “Freedom Run 2017” in Gurgaon hosted by Delhi Land & Finance (DLF) Ltd., the largest commercial real estate developer in India. 
The DLF brand is omnipresent in Gurgaon. It is a city of about 1.5 million people south of New Delhi, where I live and work. In the 1970s, Gurgaon consisted of small villages and agriculture. Now it’s a rapidly growing mega-city with its development led mostly by private companies.

On Independence Day I expected to run the five clicks, exchange pleasantries with a few other residents, and get some exercise. Instead, I received an in-your-face lesson on the social contract between the haves and the have-nots in India, yet I had fun during the non-competitive, friendly run experience. All told: fascinating & thought provoking.

Part 1: pre-race complications
I woke early, left for the race start registration. It was a holiday, so no taxis or auto rickshaws were available at the usual spot near my apartment. At that point, I had 30 minutes left before the race registration desk would close--yikes. I made a snap decision to run to the registration desk at the start point of the race (no other choice, really.) Bad planning on my part meant I had to run this “warm-up leg” to the start point. No big deal, right?

Wrong. My iPhone directed to streets off the main thoroughfare that appeared to be shortcuts and took me into a new part of Gurgaon I had never ventured into before. It was a completely new world. Plagued by urgency, soon I was huffing and puffing amid people walking to work, people coming from a less privileged economic strata. I was glaringly out of my element, and I jogged though this neighborhood like an idiot, watching people TV (outside, sitting on lawn chairs or the dusty ground) who were watching the PM’s Independence Day address to the nation. They stared back at me, not aggressively, more perplexed: Whaa? I soon realized these streets were designed to cordon off this particular neighborhood from where I wanted to go, in a more affluent area. I either had to run back and start from scratch, or figure out a solution. I went all-in, and kept going. I knew this was going to be an interesting experience and started snapping photos with the iPhone.

Soon I was running through dusty streets with very few people on them, with abandoned lots populated by wild dogs that followed me until I left their territory. 
I pressed on, soon came across a pack of wild pigs feasting amid mounds of refuse. All this in section of the city located about 900 meters away from a Porsche dealership and with luxury condos in the background. The dichotomy obviously stayed with me.
Finally, I hit a main street I recognized, passed a demonstration along the roadside and hauled ass to the start point. 

Part 2: the race itself
I convinced a reluctant organizer to let me join in some 15 minutes before the race began. I plastered the number on my T-shirt and gulped some bottled water to hydrate (it was already 31 degrees out). It wasn’t an Olympic-class crowd; I fit right in. In fact, it was mostly families and people who clearly weren’t running very regularly. Again, I fit right in. It was, after all, a fun run/walk 5K.

The course was all on roads on DLF property. I got a nice view of my own apartment tower complex from afar. 
During the race, runners received orange, white and green wristbands upon reaching each of three stations. Getting all three bands showed you finished the course. I had a decent run, enjoyed myself. I fell into step and took a photo of a guy who ran the whole course with an Indian flag in his hand. Finished the course. What was my time and how was my performance? Answer: Amaging.
There were no other revelations or odd things, just a good run. I later calculated that the total distance I covered getting there plus the run was well over 10K. So I ran longer and thought harder than I bargained for that morning.

Part 3: the point?
People from different economic occupations lead different lives. They have different experiences and different social rules that apply to them. That’s true in India as well as most places in the world. Still, to get to this race I left the manicured lawns and guarded entrances of my beautiful residence and took a detour into a tougher road not traveled. This reminded me that there are two extremes in Gurgaon: wealthy, white-collar urbanites who staff the companies that have built this city, and not-as-lucky folks who live in shantytowns, but seem no less happy and friendly—at least toward me.

I counted my blessings during the Freedom Run 2017.

No comments: