Soundtrack to a race

Pahari Noises (Or the musical muses of an unmusical fan) – Soundtrack to a race

My passion for running is almost exactly like my passion for music. I love them both without necessarily being good at either. They are both – first and foremost – completely personal experiences, where I only seek to please myself, and myself alone. If music is meditation for the mind, running does it for my body.

But no man is an island, and just like music has concerts, running has races. A couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to combine both when took part in the Mussoorie Half Marathon, an attempt to run over 21 kilometres in cold weather at an elevation that flirted with 7,500 feet above sea level and inclines and declines on the route that punished my unhappy knees. Despite having had many years of experience living and running up in the Himalayas and three previous Half Marathons in New Delhi, this was to be the toughest long run I had ever attempted. While others aimed at victory, I aimed for survival.

Fortunately, I was able to use my love for music to distract myself through the race into my own bubble, and – for the majority of the 21 kilometre run – relocate to my own, personal ‘island’ again. Like many others, I prefer long runs accompanied by a soundtrack of music in my ears, and I ran the Mussoorie Half Marathon with a tiny music player accompanying me and my sweat the whole way.

Karan Madhok on Mussoorie Half Marathon
Mussoorie Half Marathon ! ( Photo Credits : Mussoorierunners.com )

The experience, as always, was glorious. Whenever I was down or tired, a classic Hip-Hop beat would lift my spirits again. Whenever I felt my legs giving way, I came across a catchy anthem to sing along to and ignore the mild pains. Whenever I slowed down or felt too many other runners passing me, a breath-taking guitar riff would give me an extra boost of breath and motor me back ahead.

What made this race especially unique was its Himalayan setting, a non-stop and glorious gift of nature that money truly couldn’t buy. When even the music failed me, the mountains lifted me back up. Starting off at Hanifl Centre on an early fall morning, we ran past Flag Hill, Bata Ghat, Jabarkhet 2, Masrana, Suakholi, a few more kilometres ahead, and then all the way back. It was a clear day that slowly got warmer over the next couple of hours. On one side of the route was the rest of Mussoorie and the Dehradun Valley; on the other were the mighty Garhwali mountain ranges, snow peaks that shot up to tens of thousands of feet above me.

By the last stretch of the race, the heart wanted to sprint back and finish the race in a flurry, but the body was ready to quit, especially as the final stretch offered torturously difficult inclines before the Hanifl Centre. But my music player shuffled forward to Jimi Hendrix’s (via Bob Dylan) ‘All Along the Watchtower’, and within seconds of hearing the first notes of the riff, all my other emotions and senses muted down. My ears reacted to Hendrix’s powerful guitar, and by the time he said the first words – “There must be some kind of way outta here…!” – I was out of there, too. I found the inspiration and momentum to speed up and run past the finish line. There was no confusion, and I only got relief.

Although it had been a great challenge, the race eventually felt easier than I had previously feared. The months of running up around the Chakkar in Landour had prepared me well, but I’ll surely give small part of the credit to the soundtrack to the race. While in recent years there has been some debate within the international running committee about whether or not one should listen to music during marathons or other long runs, I know which side of the fence I sit on. Running to me is like music, and sometimes, it helps to be an island.

Karan Madhok is a freelance writer based temporarily out of Landour, who has a lot of music opinions and very little music knowledge. You can find him wherever you find Mutton Fried Momos. Follow him: @hoopistani

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