Runners from two worlds: Whose race is it?

Contributor : Dr Vandita Dubey

I am a veteran runner, not just because I am 43 or because I have been running races for the past twelve years, but because that is the category they put me in the city races. Of all the runs I have participated in, the Mukteshwar Half Marathon held on May 15th was different from all the rest. Or maybe I am different after living over a year in these mountains. It was different not just because it was a tough and beautiful course, but because it made me aware of the different worlds that city and village based runners inhabit.

The first noticeable difference was the attire. The city folks stood out in their specialized

Neelam 12
Women’s category overall winner Neelam : a Kumaoni Athelete

running shoes, branded sweat wicking tights/ shorts, GPSs and headphones, while the local young men and women wore basic no cushion shoes, regular tracks, and had no fancy gear.

The second difference had to do with support from onlookers. As I ran I overheard a conversation in Kumaoni between two women.

“What are these people doing?”

“They’ve paid two hundred rupees to run!” came the disdainful reply.

It made no sense to them: blowing up a good two hundred rupees and wasting energy and time!! Later, someone from the roadside shouted, “Run, run, you’ll overtake the girl in front. She’s really tired. You’ll be third!” Two more times I got the same roadside advice and, finally, I did catch up with the young girl. She was walking with a young man who was trying hard to egg her on. Support here is not for participating, it is for competing, for making the effort worthwhile in some measurable way.

The third difference was the training. On my way out I had spotted  a girl ahead of me, probably in her early twenties, running in basic black shoes. The girl was doing well on the uphill portions, which was quite impressive. Eventually I caught up with her. I told her and the other young people that they were running well. They complimented me on my running, too. When I told them I would probably walk the uphill portions in the second half of the run, one of the young men confidently proclaimed their intention to run all the way. On my way back, however, I noticed that the young girl in the black shoes had fallen behind. I could see that the other local young people were also slowing down. It was disheartening: Pure enthusiasm and no training can only take one so far.

Fourthly, the two groups differed in access to running related knowledge, research and aids. Before the half way point I had caught up with a young man from the city and cheered him on as we huffed and puffed up the hill. He returned the favour by advising, “run diagonals!” Like all city runners, he had probably been doing his internet research on running strategies. When we reached the half way point I could see another city runner have his energy gel. I, too, was carrying a gel. But, a queasy stomach and a queasy conscience made me decide against having the gel. Somewhere it felt wrong that that the bunch of local young people I just overtook did not have access to the gel.

The worlds of a city based recreational runner and that of a young person from the village are very different. To those young people who ran the Mukteshwar Half with no training, no specialized shoes, no fancy gear, no internet running gyan on nutrition/ running strategy / motivation,  getting a podium finish matters. It matters to win that money, it matters to get those shoes, it matters to be able to put on a resume somewhere that you ran, and ran fast. To people from that world, it is more than bragging rights.

Physical labour is part of the daily drudgery of the lives of people from mountain villages, especially women. For a young woman who is on her feet from dawn to dusk, who walks several kilometres each day to attend school/college, lugs firewood up and down steep slopes, gathers fodder for cattle, sows and harvests, fetches water on her head – recreational sports makes no sense. For a young woman from such a background to pay money, register and run cannot be a recreational activity. It cannot be about staying fit or losing weight or chasing a Personal Best. It is about achieving something much more meaningful.

So who are these races for? Are they just another pretty run for the city runner, or are they an attempt to change a villager’s life and uncover the hidden potential?

For the village runner, we don’t have to applaud “sportsmanship”. Here, living in harmony cooperating and supporting each other is essential for survival. It is built into the fabric of village life. Perhaps egging on the competitive spirit by providing training and incentives is what is really needed to make sports a sustainable and worthwhile activity. The overall winner in women was a local girl. Given how much they were able to achieve on enthusiasm alone, I can only wonder what they will be able to achieve in the world of sports given some coaching, training or better running gear.

About Vandita Dubey : Dr Dubey is a US Licensed clinical Psychologist who moved to a Village near Mukteshwar last year and now lives there. She continues to practice from there, and more details can be found on . She is a published author and her book on raising children in times of sexual Overexposure is now on sale at .  And, of course, shes a runner.