[My forty year old self met my thirty year old self in a train compartment. A few days later, she ran into me, literally.]
I saw her purposefully running loops around the park. She was wearing the same turquoise sleeveless tee shirt I was in. “Runner Girls India”, I knew it said, “Strong, fast and sexy”. With a twinge of regret, I realised her toned body filled the tee shirt in a way mine no longer did. But now was not the time for regret- I had work to do.
I knew her too well; she would certainly not take a break. If I wanted to speak to her, I had to run with her. I picked up pace, she did too. I accelerated again, so did she. She was exactly as I remembered her- she was not going to let anyone overtake her, even if it meant tiring herself out. This called for a change of tactics. “Hey, slow down a bit. I want to talk to you.” She looked over her shoulder. Curiosity won. She slowed down to let me match pace with her. We ran in companionable silence for a loop as we both got our breath back to normal.
She was the first to break the silence. “So you wanted to tell me something?”
“Not really. Just wanted to talk to you. I don’t often see women running in the park.”
“I don’t come here often”, she admitted. “The treadmill wasn’t working, and I needed to run. I prefer running indoors to be honest. What about you? Do you come here regularly?”
“Do I look like I work out regularly?” I gave a self-deprecating laugh.
“You can always make time if you want to.” It was a statement, not a condemnation.
“I could. But maybe I don’t want it hard enough.”
We ran together. I was secretly pleased to see I could still match her pace. “So, are you training for a race or something”, I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“I would love to run a sub 2:30 hour half marathon”, she confessed. “My best time is 2:34 which I ran in my first race. But no matter how hard I train, I just can’t seem to beat that time. But no, I am not training for a race. I run to keep my sanity.”
“It must be hard to manage children and work.”
“Well, if you really want to do something, you manage to fit it into your schedule somehow. But, yes, it is hard at times.”
“Maybe you are trying too hard?”
“What do you mean?”, she went on the defensive immediately. “I don’t have a choice. I need to operate within too many constraints, and unless I prioritise, I will not be able to get everything done.”
“But doesn’t that take a toll on you?”
“Do I have a choice? If I don’t make time for the things I am passionate about, I won’t be able to do them, would I? There are many other things I would like to do, but since I don’t have time, I haven’t even taken them up. But what I do, I do well.”
I knew she could deliver an entire TED talk on this, so I gently cut her short. “But maybe you don’t have to give everything your 100%. Maybe so of the things you feel you have to do will get done even if you are not there to do it.”
Her curiosity was piqued, but she was not giving up. “Okay, tell me what I should de-prioritise”, she challenged. “I need to get the kids ready for school and send them off, and I need to be back on time to pick them up. I have to build my life around that window. If I do not want to give up on my job, my running and my reading, how else can I manage my time?”
“Maybe you can seek help in getting them ready for school? Maybe you don’t always need to be around to welcome them? Maybe you can miss a few workouts? You can’t really plan everything, you know.”
She was not convinced. “Is that what you do? Maybe things are different for you.”
“Things certainly are different. My kids are older, but I’ve trained them to be independent; they take care of themselves, and if they don’t do something, they should have, they face the consequences. It wasn’t easy getting to this point, but once I got here, life has been so much easier for me.”
“Well, I don’t know. I could try, but what if things go wrong?”
“If something goes wrong, you fix it. You will not know till you try, will you? Take a leap of faith- you may be surprised how far you can go.”
We ran a few more loops together. I was silent; she didn’t try to speak either. I had given her a lot to process- I had asked a perfectionist to embrace imperfection. But at least I had sown the seed. She would think about it. One thing to be said about her- she was not afraid of change.
“I need to drop off now. You carry on. Its been nice meeting you”, I told her.
“Yes, nice meeting you too. Perhaps I will see you around sometime.”
“Oh absolutely. You will meet me sooner than you think. Keep running. Who knows- before the year is up, you may run a sub-5 hour marathon.”
“Impossible! I can’t even go below 2:30 hours in the half.”
“Never say never.” I smiled at her and dropped off. She carried on, ponytail swinging from side to side. I watched her retreating back till she was out of sight. She didn’t know it then, but my 40 year old self had many surprises in store for her in the next decade.