The Nagpur International Marathon: Why I woke up at 5:55 on a Sunday

The list of things that can get me out of bed at 5:55 a.m. is a short one.

Were the Chicago Cubs baseball team to play in the World Series 12 time zones away, I’d wake up early for that. Once in a lifetime experiences like sunrises on houseboats are also effective motivators to pull off the covers before dawn. And cats jumping through my window, as I discovered last week, can be very effective alarm clocks.

Add Sunday’s Nagpur International Marathon to that list.

The shade of sky outside matched my still dilated pupils as the alarm on my watch went off just before six a.m. Save Jojo and Diana, our two dobermans, no one in the house was yet awake, and going on the texts I exchanged with Anaïs, no one else was awake in her house either. I walked up to the roof and watched Nagpur wake up as the contrast in the sky slowly increased. The air was unusually still, and the early morning cold was a refreshing contrast to the afternoon heat. It was a time of day I wish my consciousness occupied more often.

Nonetheless, I had very little time to spare as I rode off towards the marathon’s start with only a general idea of my destination in mind. On a normal day, the trip would have taken about 15 minutes, but the detours I was forced to make did little to expedite my journey. By the time the time I spotted Anaïs, Franzi, Jakob, Mr. Khatri and their matching yellow T-shirts an hour after my departure, the marathon had long since begun.

This was the third time in three years a marathon was being held in my city of residence. Champaign-Urbana has hosted the Illinois Marathon the last two years, and my classmates have been active in each as participants and volunteers. I wasn’t able to attend the annual mega-event last year, as the day doubled as National College Decision Day, tripled as the day of an important Rotary conference, and quadrupled as my Senior Prom. But I did bike the 26.2-mile course for fun.

Some things about marathons are just different in India.

I think it’s safe to say the Illinois Marathon will never have race-side performances like those we were a part of Sunday morning. A group of middle-aged men in yellow T-shirts and baseball caps stood in a group by the course and cheered – or, should I say, laughed – the runners on. Somehow the four of us ended up in the middle of the Nagpur Laughter Club, spurred to join them in exorcising, exercising, exhilarating laughter yoga.

Amidst the laughter yogis was a group of sari-clad teenage girls performing a traditional dance of their own, who somehow managed to pull off stunts and dance in rhythm while stealing not-so-covert glances at the four foreigners in front of them. We were forced to join them with stunning suddenness, musically accompanying them with either metal shakers or the clapping of our hands. It was just another one of those moments that exchange students seem to have so often in India – the kind of moment that makes you think: “How did I end up here?”

But while such moments occur with regularity, my reactions to them are no longer the same.

Since arriving in India, unusual events have been occurring unannounced and unexpectedly on a regular basis. While life here crawls along persistently, interesting things continue to pop up on short notice every few days. This pattern of traveling with scant preparation has been a constant throughout the year. At first I was frustrated by India’s unique approach to time – trips to temples, cross-town visits to family members and Rotary events early in the year caught me off-guard, and thus I found it harder to enjoy them.

Until I got used to them.

As we were instructed at July’s Rotary conference, the best answer to give when asked if you want to do something is usually “yes”. Because if the answer is “no,” the next question will just be “Why not?” Arguments against doing something often take more effort than the event itself – causing one’s laziness to backfire. If you say no, the experience is lost, and you can do nothing but ask, “What if?”

That’s why I was awake at 5:55 Sunday morning, despite having slept only three and a half hours that night. That’s why I spent an hour on my bike that morning to see the marathon with my friends. I was only going to say yes.

And why not?

🙂

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