Long Walks On Leafy Streets

11/24/2018 C & O canal towpath near mile 2, Washington, DC
Nice to be able to write again after another hectic month. It is thanksgiving weekend here and for the first time I am able to sit down in a quiet room and write calmly. Much as I have been trying to live more mindfully each moment, the constant barrage of demands from work, family and community work makes it a challenge to do that. Nevertheless I must say I have been getting more successful in staying mindful even as life is going at a 100 miles an hour all around me. Watching videos of Thich Nhat Hanh before going to bed every night has helped. Doing yoga and sandhyavandanam on alternate days has helped. Being in the company of enlightened and loving friends has. Running every other day definitely helped.

I guess for everything there is a season. The past two months were the season of elections, marathon, festivals, classes and all round frenetic activity.
First and most absorbing of mental energy were the elections. This was one election when Americans of all stripes felt that they could not sit back anymore, and thus more people than ever were involved, especially for a mid-term election. Whenever I went canvassing in McLean I saw many more volunteers than I saw in 2016 when I volunteered in nearby Arlington. Students, Actors, Writers, Singers, were all out in the media trying to get people to vote and to volunteer. Among the more inspiring such calls was made by Chesley Sullenberger aka "Sully," the pilot who landed 155 people safely on the Hudson river. I watched the movie "Sully" about that heroic and uplifting rescue and was even more impressed with his courage, dedication and intelligence. "Sully," a former Republican as he called himself, wrote in the Washington Post that "The fabric of our nation is under attack...This is not the America I know and love. We're better than this." In the movie he is shown often running, sometimes late at night in icy cold weather, and that made me like him even more. There is some kind of a bond between runners! Apparently the running helped him deal with the pressure and post-traumatic stress of the days after the landing. One thing I learned from the movie that surprised me was that he had to go through a rigorous, sometimes difficult investigation into the incident. It is possible they could have rebuked him for risking the lives of the passengers by not landing in an airport. Apparently the airline was not happy about losing a multi-million dollar plane. But he was able to argue successfully and convince them that there was no other way. His stance was vindicated by the simulations and by experts who talked to the FAA investigators.

Anyway, I am reasonably happy with the outcome of the elections. I have been reading a lot of articles analyzing the results and what it says about the country and the politics going forward. One thing is clear. This is just the first battle in this war for the soul of America. I am optimistic that the better angels of American society will prevail but it would take much work and persuasion. I can say with confidence, based on my canvassing experience, that there is a large section of the population that does not pay much attention to politics. That may not always be a bad thing, in the sense that people who pay a lot of attention to it risk becoming too partisan and blinded to the bigger picture. But right now with climate change, gun violence and racial and ethnic tensions at a fever pitch I think it is everyone's duty to be informed and to make the right decision.

I was so concerned about the outcome of the elections that I volunteered even on the day before the marathon. This was a bit risky because all the running coaches advise people to rest their legs completely during the week of the marathon, some even say the two weeks leading to it. I did run much less and rest my feet as much as possible the week before the race. I was also fortunate not to get sick as I did last year. But given the circumstances it is hard for me to rest completely.

This year instead of the three of us staying in a hotel the night before, I slept at home and took the metro to Pentagon. I was able to sleep better than the last two years, although I had a slight stomach problem. The night before the race the three of us drove to the U street area and brought take-out Chinese food from a place called DC Noodles. Apparently it is a popular place and the food was also good, except with one problem. One of the noodle dishes was made with fish sauce. At that time I didn't recognize it but my stomach felt strange. I could not eat as much as is recommended and it also kept me going to the toilet frequently that night.
Nevertheless, I did get a good rest although for the whole night there were probably three or four hours when I really fell asleep. I did feel fresh in the morning and there wasn't as much yawning as in previous years. After a decent breakfast I left home around 6.30. Metro opened at 6. It was till dark when I got to the K6 bus stop and I started worrying about getting to the Fort Totten metro on time. The first taxi that passed by did not stop. The second driver stopped and when I told him that the previous one did not stop he said drivers do it for different reasons. Taxi drivers are often assaulted and so they are careful about whom they stop for. I guess in my case all they saw in the dark was a dark skinned guy with a hoodie.

There were a lot of runners at the station although it did bother me that most of them were running in the 10K which started much later. There were a few running the marathon but not as many as I expected to see. I got to the Pentagon station around 7.30 and the race was to start at 7.55. There is about a mile and a half to go to the starting line from the station and I started walking fast. There were many people walking with me but I would later learn that we were all very late. After standing in line for about ten or fifteen minutes to use a Port-a-John I managed to jog to the starting line but the race had already started. I was about 17 and a half minutes past the starting gun when I crossed the time recorders at the start. Because we were behind everyone there were a lot of slow runners and for the first ten miles I was zig-zagging my way through a mass of runners, often jumping onto and from the sidewalks or grassy areas by the road. I was lucky I didn't injure myself although my left ankle was sprained and it was hard to walk the day after the race.

By the time I reached Alan and Nicole and Prashant close to the seven mile marker I was running far behind my target pace. It was really nice to see them though. Last year Nicole and Prashant were only at the finish line. This year I saw them also around the 19-mile mark near the Smithsonian castle. Nicole was screaming at me but Prashant was looking bored. She told me that was the expression among all small kids watching the race with their parents. Although I was behind my pace I was feeling quite comfortable and was even able to increase the pace gradually as planned. But my legs started feeling tight and I could not go as fast as I wanted towards the end. I made an effort to take in the crowd and the beauty of the surrounding area but it was difficult to do that while trying to run through a slow moving pack. I did give a thumbs up to a white man who had a sign on his back that said "Running for my son who was taken too soon." Since becoming a father I have become more sensitive to issues fathers go through and it momentarily got me choked up and broken to think of what that man must be going through.

When I did get some fresh air and was able to enjoy the surroundings it made the running a bit easier and faster. I was a little disappointed with the pace given that I was in better shape than previous years. But I was glad I finished in exactly four hours, which is more than eight minutes faster than my best time. With better nutrition and rest I hope to do better in the coming years, more in line with what the training has prepared me for. I also learned a lesson - it is always better to be at the front than to start late. I thought that by starting late I would be behind the crowds but with 20,000 people running you would have to start really really late to avoid the crowds. Even if you avoided them in the beginning there would be a thick pack to get through as you catch up to them! So if you are ever running a marathon, especially a crowded one like the Marine Corps marathon, make sure to stay with people running at the same pace.

Now that the marathon is over I am not running for another two months. I have started walking and biking a lot. Sometimes I walk the 3.5 miles to work at a brisk pace. It makes me realize how much I used to enjoy walking. I am also getting some exercise doing some work on our house and running with Prashant. He has taken a liking for running and on Wednesday this week even though it was cold and only in the low forties we ran about a half a mile in the nearby Lamond-Riggs baseball field track. He ran at a good pace too, for a three and a half year old. He ran around in the Udvar-Hazy center of the Air and Space museum when we visited yesterday. Also yesterday Nicole's brother Michael and I managed to put up the new blinds we had bought for the house. Nicole loves keeping the house elegant and clean and it was gratifying to do something that made her so happy. But it was a lot of work! I must say I got a good work-out pulling out the hardened old screws out of the wall and drilling holes and installing the new ones in the right position.

I try not to think of what lies ahead, and just focus on what I am doing. But it is nice to note that for the next month or so I won't be running or canvassing or running around making preparations for our India trip or taking care of my parents who are now staying with Jayashree. After classes end next week I look forward to working on research and enjoying our trip to India in late December. It is good to get time to step back and contemplate things as well. I was just thinking about Thanksgiving and what it means. What if we start a new Thanksgiving tradition? Each one of us should give something to a native American family. Perhaps we can invite them for dinner. Perhaps we could donate to their schools and colleges. There is so much need in the Indian reservations. It wouldn't be an act of charity either. Instead it is our payment for our ancestors' karma. In the US with the violence towards minorities and native Americans, in India with the violence against dalits and others, all the violence in the world that has been going on since the beginning of time. How? The action of ignoring, condoning, or even enjoying the perpetration of violence towards others for the sake of one's or one's tribe's own betterment (or even for no reason at all, as some seem to do) creates an imprint in the mind and the genome that gets passed on through the generations. The victims suffer but the perpetrators and their descendants suffer even more. The only way out of this cycle is through reconciliation and acts of kindness that counteract the effects of the karma or sinful actions.

Directory Previous