Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I think I know how Yuvraj feels

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Last year me and 2 very good friends; one of them Vidooshak; decided to train for and run the marathon. Like all feats of physical activity, running a marathon requires focus, training and serious amounts of motivation.

Each of us set goals, drew up training plans and went about the training in earnestness. Each of us was at varying levels of physical fitness and set our goals accordingly. I set mine to run a sub 4 hour marathon. Millions have finished marathons, but only about 20% of them finish within 4 hours. I had run 2 marathons before and I wanted to enter the somewhat elite club of sub 4 hour marathoners; so I could; with reasonable etiquette; look down upon the majority of ‘just finishers’.

My previous best marathon was a 4:39 when I was 10 years younger. I wasn’t in the mood for anything that would make my goal seem unreal. Plus this time I was going to train specifically to run fast, so this goal seemed logical to me.

To motivate myself, I started making public my goals to anyone and everyone who would ask; friends, family, acquaintances and eventually passersby and imaginary people. Among the close circle of friends this was a race between the 3 of us. I might have something to do with hyping it up. For weeks leading up the marathon, we made sure the conversation was running, how we were doing in training and based on our training time, who was the favorite to win.

We hyped it to no end. I did.

My training was all wrong. I convinced myself that training on inclines with heavy shoes would make me a stronger runner. That when I transition to lighter, minimal shoes as the marathon date appeared closer, I would magically be able to run 9 minute miles required to safely finish a marathon under 4 hours.

The epic day arrived.

Everyone who I remotely knew, knew was going for a sub 4 marathon and that I wanted to finish ‘first’ among the 3 of us friends.

I spotted the 3:55 pace setter and ran. Running Miles 1 through 10 was a breeze. I was feeling light, I was right on target pace and I was running without a care for the remaining distance. Then I felt a slight twitch in my left calf.

I ignored it.

At mile 13, I was slightly ahead of my target pace.  I thought the twitch was just a twitch. Sub 4 was a foregone conclusion.

A few hundred meters into mile 14, there were no twitches in my calf. It was a full blown cramp. I stopped, stretched massaged and off I went again; only for my right calf to cramp up. I hobbled a couple of more miles before I resigned myself to the reality that sub 4 is history.

By now I was walking

A few moments later it dawned on me…what a flop I was. After weeks and months of hyping this race, when it came crunch time, I broke down. I felt vain, defeated, stupid and above all a complete loser.

I eventually walked the second half of the marathon, with a finish time of 5:14. A full hour and 14 minutes more than what I wanted to do.

After I crossed the finish line, I remember thinking, may be this is how sportsmen feel when they fail in a big game. I was instantly more sympathetic towards them. I told myself I will be less critical of players who flop or freeze in crunch time. Will be less flippant about calling South Africa chokers, will be more sympathetic when a batsman does not deliver in face of a mounting asking rate.

Because, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni said, no one wants to do badly.

In my case, after analyzing my training, I figured that my approach was all wrong. Within 6 months I am ready one more time to have a second shot at a sub 4 marathon. This time I used a training plan from an expert.

No one can question Yuvraj’s commitment or earnestness. Neither can one discount the fact that his innings was one of the key contributing factors to India losing the finals.

When people criticize Yuvraj, they are not discounting his previous contributions. So Sachin, Harbhajan and company, please don’t recant his resume to us.

Ever since Yuvraj has returned from cancer treatments, I am not questioning his desire, his earnestness, his ability. I am wondering though if he has been given the right support to succeed.

Why Yuvraj failed is not Yuvraj’s problem alone. We somehow have to get his confidence back. A repeat of 2011 in 2015 is hard to visualize with Yuvraj sitting at home in India