heels on fire: The Start, The Stops and The (In)Sights In Between

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Start, The Stops and The (In)Sights In Between

Day 1 Running (May 1st, 2006)
Bekal Fort to Kanhangad - 14kms

As we drove out to Bekal Fort the starting point of our run, the street was unexpectedly lined with rows of police in helmets and Dhandas (sticks) in hand. Maybe a precaution against the thousands of women who were expected to be lining the streets trying to catch the eye of their future husband. I had thought Robin was joking when he said he was going to create a matrimonial section on the heels on fire website, offering Steve and Pete up for marriage. Or maybe it had something to do with the previous day’s Times of India headline warning of "An explosion of some incidents of minor violence" in North Kerala. Whatever the reason, there was an electricity and emotion in the air that seemed fitting for the start of our adventure.

We had been properly blessed to run. Warming up in our sparkling New Balance running shoes, Reebok Shirts, North Face Camel pack filled with Gatorade, a couple of Go Gel's high energy protein gel's and a Walkie Talkie clipped on to the bag, we felt ready. All that was needed to top it off was for the big seagull, circling overhead to unload its bowels directly onto my head… How could one hope for a more auspicious start?

Bekal Fort the start of our journey had an almost spiritual feeling to it. The sun low in the sky, the fort built into the wide Arabian Sea behind and the golden beaches lined with coconut trees stretching away into the distance north and southwards. Pete said he felt humbled beginning to run and it was true it was very humbling to be here. For Dez, Sudeep and Steve too, it was a place of pilgrimage as they noted that one of Bollywood’s biggest hits were filmed at this very location. Another good omen.

So as we looked up at the fort and as we began to run two steps in, Director Dez already set the tone of things to come with his "No no go back, we were not ready!". So back we went a few moments more to savour and then off we set again.

The Sights…

Along the shore and up the large steps of the fort, into the main grounds, round the big defence walls and out onto the road. The last six weeks have felt like years but now we were finally on the road and although our bodies were not too happy about it, it was great to be running.

Two minutes in and a rickshaw driver pulled up beside us and asked if we wanted a lift. Did we look that bad? I hoped that this was an example of the friendliness of the Keralites and not an indication that we appeared to need assistance so soon.

On we ran, struggling to get air into our lungs and quickly realising that our initial relief at the conditions were short-lived. It was hot. Really hot and humid. A railway crossing halted our progress after 5 minutes. And we took this opportunity to dump our sunglasses, sun hats, water bottle; it was too much to be carrying in the heat. We ran under great Banyan trees famous for giving Buddha his seat to enlightenment, and sought brief moments of refuge under its shady branches. We ran over bridges with wide rivers flowing underneath, past women pulling water from a well, men playing cards and dogs eyeing up Pete's juicy ankles.

As we ran Dez, Sundeep and Steve would pop up on the roadside like the great Cayote stalking roadrunner. At one point we could see up ahead, Dez behind the camera, with 60 people on the roadside. We ran by, flattered that so many people had gathered to watch us. Only when we ran past did we realise, with not one pair of eyes flickering in our direction, that it was the three filmmakers and the camera that everyone was there to see.

At the next stop, Sudeep was standing on the roof of the jeep. Again surrounded by crowds of perplexed admirers.

As we ran, on came a crackle on our walkie-talkie. It was Steve, "Could we please cross over and run on the other side of the road"….it was easier a good ‘filming angle’. We were now also expected to run with our backs to the kamakazi like bus drivers. But in our minds, we were dedicated athletes…did they have no respect?!

The In Betweens…

The going continued to be tough till Pete offered me some wise advice. Don't count up in terms of distance... count down instead as it makes it feel like you are getting somewhere. So 600km, 599km 598km.... I was not convinced of the motivational use this trick of the mind. Drink before you are thirsty, look people in the eye and feed off their emotions. Keep your feet close to the ground. His words seemed to do the trick and our bodies started to get into the groove. Being the subject of such interest from everyone as we ran, I was struck by something. The way in which Pete relates to people as he runs. He engages the world around him and in particular the people.
I, in contrast, found myself feeling a sense of embarrassment and perhaps even a bit ashamed. Looking people in the eye and people looking at me I felt exposed and open for all to see. It was hard work and I was struggling. I almost felt there was something fraudulent about being there. In order to escape both the physical and mental discomfort of the situation and distract myself from the world around me, I tried to daydream. But day-dreaming while running is hard. Soon, I found myself starting to appreciate the feelings I was having and the fact that I couldn’t get away from them. And I began to feel more and more like I was part of the run, the landscape the people. Instead of trying to drift off, I focused on my own pain, not as an attempt to get rid of it but to face it. And I really liked it. Once on the road there is nowhere to run. Running had already taught me a very important lesson.

As we pulled into the town centre, the final stretch, the prayer calls were ringing from the mosque and the sun was bidding us farewell with just a few rays breaking through the Banyan trees. It had been a very special day and one that I was pleased to say had come to an end. And I thought to myself maybe it was not just shade that the big, wise old trees banyan trees had provided.
Photocredit: Gaya, Kerala 2005


At Tue May 02, 11:16:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


As far removed from the "Parklife" that is London as can be (the pictures of exotic trees certainly helped too - are these the famed banyan ones of lore, above?).

And a more vivid description of the "Zen of Running" I don't think I could imagine! I for one am inspired to get my running shoes already. Thank you Rahul.

PS I hope Stevie Young is proving to be an apt Dennis Hopper with the camera...

Look forward to further dispatches from the front guys.



At Wed May 03, 07:08:00 AM 2006, Blogger Ranjith Cherickel said...

Run Pete, Run!

Cannot beleive that you guys are going through with this, might proud. Will be patrolling this website for updates.

May the gods be with you.


At Wed May 03, 11:34:00 AM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey folks just a brief email from an internet cafe in Kunnar. Kerala is amazing. Lots to see every single second of the day.
A big hello to all you good folks.


At Wed May 03, 01:06:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great story.. I dont know any of you but I am hooked.

At Wed May 03, 03:07:00 PM 2006, Blogger Chris said...

Stevie - your mum looks after my children and she insisted that i check out this heelsonfire website to see the sterling work you are all up to. I'm v impressed and some what envious - at least for the job of the camera man! i'll check out what you're all up to on a regular basis and i wish you the very best with the venture.

Chris Gibbons

At Wed May 03, 04:28:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Ayo said...

I'm a mate of Gav's from work, he told me about the website and I'm really impressed! well done chaps and I look forward to reading more of your interesting chronicles!

At Wed May 03, 05:13:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, remember to drink lots! Let me know if you need me to bring anything next week! Run well and see you soon.



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