Keeping up with Saira, part 2: She got away

Editor’s Note: This is the second segment of a two-part sports feature on Saira Mehra.

Her extra-curricular schedule alone speaks for herself; Monday: basketball, Tuesday: cross country, Wednesday: basketball, Thursday: cross country, Friday: basketball, Saturday: cross country, then basketball. There’s also music practice and Community Engagement.

Still, Saira Mehra, Class of 2020, is best known for running.

The 19-time gold medalist in cross country, Saira Mehra is a beast — she has broken numerous records at inter-house and inter-school levels.

The day of inter-house cross country race, Nov. 14, seemed like the perfect day to observe Saira run. Hence, Mikko Aoki, Class of 2020, and I decided to run the senior girls race.

Running a girls race seemed extremely unusual to both of us, but as a test, we wanted to see whether we would be able to keep up with Saira or not. We also wanted to take a glimpse at what others might feel while running a race with Saira. We wanted to see if we could keep up.

When we came up with the idea, we heard all sorts of comments: “She will blow you away in the first round itself. How are you going to keep up with her throughout the race?” “You are going to lose badly,” “Just give up already,” “Why are you even bothering, just get on a scooty and then observe Saira.”

Mikko and I ignored them all.

Ten minutes before the race, Mr. Ajay Mark, head of sports, refused our proposal for running with Saira. Our hopes were pretty much shattered, but then we saw that a male teacher was running in the race. And a wise person told us, “Where there is will, there is way, so go a little further away from the start mark and blend in with the runners once the race starts.”

Mikko and I thought that the idea was a little rebellious but nonetheless a good one.

Two minutes before the race, a sense of pressure and fright built up as the two of us stood near the health center at Kellogg church, waiting for the race to begin.

“Ready, set, go!” Mr. Mark proclaimed.

A swarm of girls ran up the slope towards Char Dukan, and Saira was in the lead. Somewhere midway, Mikko and I blended in with the group.

We felt jubilant.

Within half a minute or so of running with Saira, Mikko and I lost track of all the other girls. But we did a fairly decent job of remaining about five meters away from her for the next six minutes, when we reached halfway through the Chakkar’s big loop. We knew we had to stay strong and keep up with Saira the entire race.

The race had just begun, but our bodies felt as if we had run for hours.

Almost towards the end of the big loop, Mikko’s stomach cramps started slowing him down, resulting in him stopping before completing that loop.

Continuing from there, it was just Saira and I. No other runner was visible.

While keeping up with Saira, I observed how she ran. I realized that she had some tactics: She kept calm throughout the race and rarely inhaled from her mouth; Saira always took the shorter corner of the turn. During upward slopes, Saira slowed down and caught up with her speed on flat tracks. She ran straight as a pole.

The most important of all: she never stopped running.

When asked how she never stops, Saira said, “You feel like giving up so many times. As soon as the race starts, I feel like giving up. I tell myself, ‘Oh, you already ran so much, died so much, why not die a little more?’”

She added, “The faster you run, the faster you’ll reach.”

Just like Saira felt, once the big loop was over, I thought of stopping, but I had to prove others wrong.

While jogging slowly, on the small-loop, I felt the stomach cramps hit. Hence, I decided to speed walk for some time. What I did not know, however, was that I would dread this decision.

I told myself that there was no way she would get far enough for me to be unable to catch up with her. I underestimated her. It was only a matter of a few seconds of walking, and I saw Saira becoming a speck in the distance.

Twenty seconds later, Saira was not visible.

It took me another minute and a half of intense sprinting to be able to see her.

After a big loop and a small loop, I was weary of running for four kilometers behind Saira; my body completely worn-out, yet I managed to stay right behind her.

While we advanced towards the final loop of the race, on the downward slope towards Char Dukan, she sprinted!

Throughout the race, I did not see her again. As I accelerated, Mr. John, the boys cross country coach, saw me and said, “Saira toh nikal gayi” (Saira got away!). I would not be able to catch up with her again.

Twenty-five minutes into the race, I asked one of the guards to tell me when Saira had crossed that point in the race, and he said, “Two minutes back, sir.”

I knew that it was the end of my absurd attempt of keeping up.

I concluded the race two minutes and thirty seconds after Saira. Later, I was told that she had broken yet another record; the previous one being 29 minutes for the senior girls race.

She took 27.

Editor’s note: To read part one of the series, click here.

Contributed by Navya Sethi

Edited by Hyenjin Cho

Featured image by Mikko Aoki

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