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Playing cricket and running races in Mumbai

I’m not really a sporty person. I don’t enjoy repetitive activities or making myself physically uncomfortable and besides I’m too short, uncoordinated and weak to be good at almost any sport. I never watch sports either and I don’t even make exceptions for the World Cup or the Super Bowl, except if I just want to fall asleep on the couch anyway.

I’m thinking all of this while I’m standing on a field with a cricket bat in my hand, waiting for my turn to hit. I’m playing cricket with twenty male (Indian) colleagues and only one female (American) colleague. The match started late so she and I killed time on the treadmill for half an hour. I suppose we have the same need to move, to not stand still. Maybe I’m sporty by default, because I can’t sit still. Curiosity is also a big part of it, especially in this case. When I heard there would be a consulate-wide cricket tournament in January I immediately signed up for this practice session. I wanted to know what the game is all about. The idea of learning and practicing a new sport—the most beloved sport in all of India no less—excited me.

Curiosity was also part of the reason I performed a Bollywood dance in front of two hundred colleagues last week. I’m not a good dancer by any stretch of the imagination. Almost any other woman in the group seems to have a more natural, easy grace to her movements than I do. This has never stopped me from dancing though. Dancing makes me happy and I found that learning local styles—salsa, tango, Bollywood—is a perfect way to combine my interest in art and local cultural expression with having a bunch of fun.

My most baffling hobby, to me, still, is running. I started at age 25 and have since participated in more 5k, 10k and 21k races than I remember. I even ran a full marathon once, which I can hardly believe myself. My primary reasons were never a deep love of physical exercise or possessing boundless energy but rather vanity and fear of becoming old and stiff. The only reason I took running seriously enough to do a marathon was to get back in shape after my first pregnancy, afraid as I was of gaining an unsightly amount of weight. And much of my current-day running is tied to worries about my unhealthy impulses. I feel like I can at least partially make up for drinking and eating bad food with challenging workouts. The fact that I really like challenges also helps, no doubt. Doing something I previously thought I couldn't do feels liberating, like raising a middle finger to my inner (and sometimes outer) critic.

I’ve been running a lot in Mumbai, even though I hate running in the heat and I wasn’t planning on it. I even inspired a friend to sign up for organized group races, because improvising runs on the crowded streets of Mumbai isn’t really an option. We wake up at 4:30 AM to Uber to wherever a race is held, join the Zumba warm up with a crowd that’s at least 80% male, and fight for achieving the best time we can. We love it and we’re getting faster each time. The first time I completed a 10k in Mumbai, about two months ago, it took a little over an hour and I was hot as hell. Last weekend I finished in a little over 55 minutes, which is about as fast as I can run this distance these days.

The universal, relaxed running culture also helps. I noticed that, wherever I run in the world, there’s an automatic camaraderie and good-naturedness among runners, because most don’t take themselves too seriously. After all, what’s so special about running? It doesn’t require any skill. Being able to run long distances has more to do with genetics, avoiding injuries, and perhaps a strong will to finish what you start. I find running a great way to connect with my surroundings and the people who live there.

What also contributes to my penchant for running is a will to stay fit as I get older. When I was in my twenties I biked everywhere and for years I was on my feet for 8-hour bartending shifts, so practicing a sport was completely unnecessary for staying fit. But I always told myself that even if I didn’t like “sports” I should probably start dedicating time to moving and challenging my body around the age of 40 so that in the following decades, when my muscles will try to disappear, I can offer some resistance to the process and stay healthy and fit longer.

Next month I’ll be running the Tata half marathon, which is going to be a stretch. Even though I completed a half in Berlin earlier this year that’s different because running in the cold and on a flat surface is much easier, at least for me. Partially it’s a mental thing—knowing I’ll be so hot stresses me out even thinking about it. Normally I train for half marathons by completing a 10-mile run a few weeks in advance, warning my knees of what’s to come and getting into the right mindset. I’m not sure I can motivate myself to do that here though. Oh well. If I can’t bring myself to run the entire 21k I’ll just take walking breaks as I cross the Worli Sea Link, which will be traffic-free for this event, which will be an special experience in itself.


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