My Journey to Boston
By Ar. Kiran Kapadia
This blog is for my architect friend Gita Balakrishnan, who is embarking on an epic 1700km journey on foot from Kolkatta to Delhi to create awareness about design and the built environment. While my running journey is extremely modest compared to Gita, I have learned a lot about the practice of architecture through running marathons. Here is my story about my journey to Boston.
On 3rd March 2019, I achieved a major milestone in the Tokyo Marathon by qualifying for the Boston Marathon 2020, which is the holy grail of long-distance running. It has been a long journey and what a journey it’s been. I started running late in life at the age of forty-seven when most people think of slowing down and withdrawing from serious physical activity. You can call it a mid-life awakening (not a crisis). The broad intent was to lead a more balanced life between my professional work as an architect and my overall health.
When I first started running, I couldn’t run long distances and barely managed to run for twenty to thirty minutes. As I continued in my endeavor of putting one foot in front of the other my body slowly adapted and gradually my endurance improved. The primary objective was not to speed or distance but just put one foot in front of the other every day. So along with my practice of architecture, running became part of my daily routine.
As running became a natural habit, it started showing positive signs on my body and overall health. Encouraged by a few running friends I decided to run my first half marathon in Mumbai at the age of forty nine. I finished it in a respectable time and without much physical pain. That’s when the running bug really got to me. I did a few more half marathons and attempted my first full marathon at the age of fifty-two. I have been doing two full marathons every year since then. slow and steady journey of improvement from 4hrs 23 minutes in my ﬁrst full (2012) to 3hrs 41 minutes in Tokyo (2019) and a Boston qualifying time.
My nonrunner friends continue to ask me about my motivation to run the marathon at this age. There are two broad approaches to the marathon, both of which are equally valid. There’s running to ﬁnish it and running to achieve a time goal. For most serious amateur runners it starts with the idea of completing it and then gradually it transcends into running for a speciﬁc time goal. The truth is every marathon is a story. Every marathon tells you something about yourself. It’s impossible to run through 42.2km in the midst of such exhaustion and euphoria without being changed as a person. It’s the pain, the pleasure, the privilege that can’t help but break you and also open up new possibilities in life.
I have learned a lot about architecture through running every day. Running marathons is deﬁnitely not about the competitive spirit. It’s about reaching the goals you set for yourself. The same can be said about architecture – there’s no such thing as winning or losing. What’s important is whether your building attains the standards you’ve set for yourself. Similar to running marathons, the architect has a quiet, inner motivation that doesn’t seek validation from the outside world.
Running has deﬁnitely inﬂuenced my architectural practice. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate and how much effort I can endure? How far can I take an idea on a project and still keep it decent and consistent? When does the idea become narrow and inﬂexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be conﬁdent in my abilities and when should I start doubting myself? Without running the work would have been different. How different – Hard to say! But something would have deﬁnitely been different. These are questions I ask myself.
Most runners run not because they want to live longer. Running will not add years to your life but will deﬁnitely add life to your years. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits – that’s the essence of long-distance running and a metaphor for my architectural practice.
Kiran Kapadia is an architect, urban designer and founder of KAPL. He is an alumnus of School of Architecture (CEPT), Ahmedabad where he studied under masters like Prof B. V. Doshi and Prof Anant Raje. He then went on to pursue a Master of Architecture (Urban Design) from Harvard University, USA. After three years of working abroad he returned to Mumbai and founded Kapadia Associates in 1992.