Guest Blog Post: Art and Lungs of a Runner by Rishi Bhatnagar

Art and Lungs of a runner - saad bhamla -Rishi Bhatnagar


Ah, I have a wonderful blog post by one of my awesome runner buddies – Rishi Bhatnagar. In this post, he shares his view on sketching and running – the two passions of his life. Bhatnagar is a research assistant at the Stanford Med School and is one of the most disciplined and humble people I know. He’s also the fastest runner I’ve run with and regularly kicks my ass on our campus runs. After Pee, Bhatnagar is the one person I’ve run the most races with. And running a race with him – from trash talking and pepping up before the race ,to singing at the top of our voices in his car on our way back, (medals still dangling from our necks) – is an adventure in itself. Plus, who likes to go run races all by yourself. That’s what a running buddy is there for. Read on for a glimpse into the crazy mind of an ultra fast runner..


It’s the survival of the socially fittest. What you wear, who you hang out with, how much you eat, what clubs you are a part of, all of it is scrutinized by your peers all the way down to the swollen pus filled pimple on your forehead. These aren’t just minor tribulations that you can just overlook or choose to ignore. Some of a high school student’s most difficult encounters arise not within a classroom, rather near the lockers or in the cafeteria.

If being at the bottom of the social pecking order wasn’t enough my mediocre grades and lack of motivation stood out like a sore thumb at a high school where students were learning multivariable calculus and polymerase chain reaction before taking their driving test. Surrounded by the constant suffocation of grades and college acceptances, there was one place on campus where I could spend hours lost in my own artistic universe. Art Club offered my mind unlimited potential to break away from the constraints of letters and numbers and explore the freedom and flexibility of filling a blank canvas with whatever came to my mind. All my pent-up frustrations about inadequacies could be channeled into a piece of soap stone or slab of pottery clay.

However, it was a “reality check” conversation with my high school college counselor that catalyzed my determination to take art and do the unthinkable…combine it with medicine. Art and science are like oil and water yet my counselor’s words resonated in my ears. “The chances of you attending Stanford are the same as if lightning hits the admissions office. You have to be like Tiger Woods; you have to be brilliant at something and unfortunately your application shows otherwise.”

Over the course of three months, I sat at my desk immersed pumping out illustration after illustration. With an image of the anterior muscles of the thorax or the dorsal view of the right foot, the blank page became my marble and the pencil my chisel. In discovering my talent for art I was discovering the hidden facets of the human body. My mind was on fire, I was joining a coalition of anatomists who had silently trained literally thousands of physicians using art as a medium for educating the masses. I finally felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I’d stay up till 3 or 4AM, Jay-Z or a Rachmaninoff concerto bumping in my head phones, guiding the pencil, translating the human body into an artistic representation. While sketching offered me an escape from the daily clamors of life, I realized that I could replicate this newfound euphoric calmness by pushing my body to its physical limits through the art of running.

As an avid reader of the Bhamla Blog I’m always excited when he posts about his running revolution more so because I can identify with the down-to-earth “runner mentality”. Bhamla has stated repeatedly that some people raise their eyebrows and question his sanity when he tells them he voluntarily runs 6 to 8 miles daily. While the go-to-response is “you won’t understand till you’ve tried it!” I’ll do my best to put you in our shoes, although I may be doing more damage to our case than helping it. One experience comes to mind and I am confident Bhamla can attest to it being our most epic journey yet.

In hindsight, I should never have run this race. I was battling a month-long cold (long distance running depresses the immune system) and was recovering from a hyperextended knee injury. All signs pointed towards me staying in my warm cozy bed until 11 or 12, waking up and going up to San Francisco to celebrate Santa Con with my friends. And yet the opportunity to see a lunar eclipse at 4:30AM and run in Walnut Creek’s inaugural 10K was enough to sway me. 33 degrees F, the temperature reading in the car alone was enough to scare me but the wind-chill made my gangster poofy jacket feel like a flimsy muscle-T. Every gust of wind elicited a simultaneous “DUDE WTF ARE WE DOING HERE LETS GO BACK TO THE CAR AND CRANK UP THE HEAT!” Before the frost bite set in, we had maneuvered our way through the maze that is downtown Walnut Creek, arrived at the 10K start line to pick up our bibs and raced back to our car only to realize that we were lost again. Once we found our bearings we stopped by a Starbucks to grab coffee and discuss our race rituals and strategies.

Ten minutes before the race we were at the start line, silently pumping ourselves up, getting in the zone. I studied the runners at the very front trying to determine who would be the fastest but to no avail as I had realized in races past that body type has no correlation with speed. As the race began all 399 runners slowly dispersed at their own pace and I reached the first hill on the course. Immediately I began to feel the repercussions of running with a cold. I struggled to fall into a constant breathing rhythm as intermittent coughs made me gulp too little or too much air. My sinuses were overflowing out my nose and into my mouth, and my eyes filled with tears to compensate for the overly dry arctic air. My knee had tightened up from the cold and instantly I dreaded being in Walnut Creek.

Throughout the race I tried to focus on the positives. Crowds of highschoolers had assembled along the course to cheer us on and I recall nodding thank you at an angry driver and his middle finger who was made to wait as a police man chauffeured us through an intersection.

As I past the last kilometer salt was encrusted on the tips of my hair and my eyes were simultaneously blurry and dry. It is almost instinctual for a runner to break through his maximal oxygen capacity at the home stretch and I knew that my knee would make me pay for this later. The frigid air in my lungs was piercing and the coughing and blocked nose elicited the gag reflex but all I could think of was cycling my legs faster and faster. It will all be over soon, you have the whole month of December to chillax and get fat off of cookies and cake. Finally this train wreck crossed the finish line and my face must have been drenched in liters of bodily fluids and yet through those tears, sweat and gross mucus I had a large fatty smile on my face. As an extra bonus I had placed 1st in the 20-29 age group and Bhamla had come in 3rd in the 20-29 age group. On the car ride back to Stanford, fellow drivers probably heard the bass booming and seen two dudes dancing in their car seats screaming at the top of their lungs.

Whether it is through the delicate delineation of the transverse nerve or enduring lactic acid flooding your muscles I have arrived at the simple yet profound revelation that genuine peace and religion come from doing the things you love.


If you’re new here, this is the third awesome post in the series of guest blog posts. This experiment has been successful so far, because of people like you. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to write about anything under the sun. The more, the merrier. Drop me a line, and I’ll get back to you.

I was trying to recall how I met Bhatnagar, and realized running is not the only thing we have in common. Oh gosh, that is one embarrassing story. But in hindsight, I think that is what brought us closer. The story, that’s for another time.

Oh and next week, the brilliant Sahil Bhagat shares his story on life and football. And boy oh boy, this Mumbaikar, is one helluva fighter. Stay tuned.

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3 Responses to “Guest Blog Post: Art and Lungs of a Runner by Rishi Bhatnagar”

  1. YS February 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

     love the imagery of running with a cold and powering through the arctic air with all that gunk pushing you back. congrats on making it through, and kicking some ass, too.

  2. SA March 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Great post! Curious to hear that ’embarrassing’ story 😀

    • Saad Bhamla March 5, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      Ah, i’ve probably told you at some point. if not, will tell you when we talk 🙂
      knowing me, you can prolly guess what it could be about.