Culture

Portrait in prose of an Ultra-Marathoner – Rajeev Patel – by Rattan Gujadhur

Lundi 20 Août 2018

Bay area, California, is rife with extreme sport clubs, and several ones are of an exclusive nature, of wild and close camaraderie, deep friendships, reinforced by years of practicing, at first glance, the impossible.

After my return from Mauritius to the US, I became intrigued by a group of people who seem for adrenaline shots, every-time talks turn to the last 50 miler, the last 100 miler, the last 100 km races.

What pulls them through this, and why subject oneself to excruciating pain, near boiling sun blasts, and the potent, and always present risk of bone crushing muscle cramps, back pain, and dehydration? 

Having volunteered for the first time ever for a 100-mile race, one sees the change in seasons on their faces as the runners start to wilt away as the race approaches its late evening apotheosis.

As Rajeev Patel, tells me, there will be specific times during the race when the body demands that the salt intakes be increased, when the boiled potatoes and salt needs to come out, but overall, and always, ice and rehydrate, as the body machina cannot and will not function without resuscitating fluid. 

Patel himself, to introduce him, is a legend on the extreme running circuit in the Bay Area and has been around for decades. I started to ask him personal questions about his passion for running, his life, his routine, and as people slowly trickled in to participate in the race, one realizes he was held in legendary awe by everyone, not because of the wild circuits he has completed internationally, but because of his presence and sense of character, natural leadership flair, all emanating a strange aura of controlled inner verve and power. 

Like in meditation, Vipassana as example, when one is told to breathe until the breath controls/offset the mind and its habits, and thoughts are kept at an observable distance, alike to one settled at an observatory post watching the undulating waves, is it not the same very script with ultra-marathoners? 

Does one, I ask him, do this to get a strange ‘drunkenness’ or the Zen-like feeling of having pushed oneself to the limits of endurance, to indirectly sense somehow la chose human (whatever that may mean), somewhat alive (whatever that may also mean).

I slowly got the idea, whilst interacting with Patel during the day, that he has through endless tests of endurance, developed a pragmatic almost supreme stoicism to life. He always seems to remain essentially present for others, extending his help to his runners, at the same time, keeping a safe emotional distance.

His passion for life, or should one say ‘running passion for life’ was clearly addictive, and one seems to get pulled into the strange dynamics of his vortex.

He is, as I told him, an indirect healer, healing others without their conscious knowledge. He instantly ignored my proposed statements of adulation.

There in lies the enigma of the throngs of new trainees who come seeking this strange and mysterious experience of pain, for pain, it may seem, brings to living beings, a sense of life and purpose. Is there any way to feel life, the stoic would ask?

Whilst volunteering this week, I observed his discussions with his crew, and of runners who came to him dejected, and ready to give up. ‘No Shit’, he would say, ‘Go home and sleep’, ‘Stretch, take a break’, or his famous words, ‘No worries’. A ‘No worry’ fertile and potent with the positiveness that life will not really stop if one does not finish the next lap, or better still, is there another way to complete a goal, to succeed? 

It was like watching a Zen Master at work, his disciples coming to him failing in their own mental control efforts, and him the master, telling them, no need to get so attached to their affirmative positions and images about themselves.

Marathoners it seems, as I talked to Patel, often succeed, when they strictly adhere to form. By form here, is meant the art of proper diet, proper regular practice, warm ups, and most importantly, this subtle attitude to (and of) the process. 

I recalled two gentlemen who completed their first 50 miler on day 1, there was in the camp a sudden and brief sense of elation, and then immediately all quickly calmed down.

It is almost like Patel, via his joie de vivre, and no-nonsense attitude to life, trained them to realize that it was the process that counted, not really the medal, and awards.

The vision of life that Patel emanates, is pure Roman-like stoicism, ‘Throw yourself at it, take heed of the form, the mind, but do not fret too much, it will all pass, anyway and soon enough, it does’. As we would say in Urdu, ‘sab khel hai, to khel mei khelo, khushi dil sai’…. (it is a game, play it, enjoy, with a gladdened heart).

Yes, Rajeev Patel is an all-star in the Bay Area. The 700+ runners, who I am told he has trained so far, will pass down the legend of the man, to posterity.

A propos de l'auteur : Rattan Gujadhur left Mauritius for higher studies in the US in 1999. He has practiced in the Pharma and Biotech world for over 29 years and is a Dr in Chemistry. He remains deeply in love with Mauritius and has published reminiscences of Mauritius via a poetry collection and a novel 

Rédigé par Rattan Gujadhur le Lundi 20 Août 2018

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