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Empowering the Spirit of the Pacer

The all-women pacer group talks to Deepthi Velkur about what it takes to be leading runners at the TCSW10K.

If you are running the TCS World 10k this weekend in Bengaluru, then get ready to be lead by a formidable team of 19 women pacers. A first of its kind in the history of distance running, you will be following an accomplished group of runners as pacers this year. This unique initiative by Procam International for TCSW10K has raised the curiosity of running community and others alike. Vivek Singh, Jt. MD. Procam International says, “Running is empowering. The TCS World 10 K Bengaluru, is a showcase of the spirit of running. For the first time ever, we are delighted, to have an all-female pacer squad. Women from different walks of life are taking on leading roles, inspiring and helping amateur runners, to achieve their personal best.”

 

Each of the 19 pacers, wear multiple hats.  Mentor, motivator, and a role model in their own personal lives, they have the compassion and courage, to bring these qualities to the event. The fastest Bus is 50 mins and the final bus is at the 90 mins slot. So, depending on your running efficiency you can choose to follow any of the 19 pacers. The number 19 is not by accident but more by design. Experts at Procam analysed finish times across the last few editions and on the basis of feedback from amateur runners, KOL’s & running groups, identified the time slots that required more support and estimated improvement in finish times. This resulted in the different slots and the number of pacers that would be assisting runners on race day. Runners need to note that a Pacer BUS is the time at which a pacer will finish her race. All Runners aspiring to finish in that particular time target should follow her. For example, Shailja Sridhar is the 50 Mins Bus Pacer. All participants targeting a 50 mins finish time must join this bus.

Of the 19 pacers, 12 are from Bengaluru, 2 from Kolkata, 2 from Delhi, 2 from Mumbai & 1 from Chennai. Pacers were chosen based on the following criteria

  • Performance in last 12 months in training prior to Race day
  • Average weekly mileage of last 52 weeks, best performance in last 6 months
  • Margin of comfort needed between personal best & bus time
  • Lastly pacers own confidence to bring the bus in ‘ON TIME’

Catching up with a few pacers, we learnt about their thoughts about running, pacing and being part of the all-women pacer group.

How it started

Bindu Juneja, the 60 min BUS, speaks about how the idea germinated, “It was Jayanti Poojari’s dream to have a team of all Women Pacers for the 1st time in the World. I’m very proud to be part of this team.” Adding to this Shikha Rawal, 65 min BUS, says, “I think it is a brilliant idea and all credits to Procam for this. I am proud to be part of the squadron of 19. I couldn’t believe when I first got approached by Procam and I said yes immediately.”

“I have been running the TCS for the last 5yrs. This will be my 6th year. I am a regular runner and I know a lot of people who run, so a friend of mine recommended my name to Procam. They checked my track record and selected me as a pacer. It was Jayanti’s brain child to have come up with this idea. She felt it was something very different and its empowering women to come out and do something unique. Seasoned runners from across the country will be taking part in this run,” adds Sangamitra Guha, 70 mins BUS.

Responsibility of the pacer

Being a pacer is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. Shahana Zaberi, 80 min BUS, takes her job as a pacer very seriously. She notes, “Being a Pacer is a very responsible job. We need to get our Bus on time. Irrespective of any odds happen during the route, we must cross the finish line on our target pacing time. Running slow or faster than our pace time will fail the whole purpose of pacer. We must follow the consistent pace and make the strategy well, depending on elevation profiles or other factors during the race.”

The group has a mix of experienced and new pacers but their commitment to pacing is unquestionable. Anjana Mohan, 70 mins BUS, echoes these thoughts, “The window is narrow – 30 seconds on either side of a promised time slot. Timing splits are also key, so a pacer cannot simply run haphazardly and then drag things out or speed things up in the last few yards or even kilometers. There are timing mats throughout the course and the steadiness of the pacer is quantified.”

Why follow a Pacer?

If you are wondering why we need to run with a pacer, then Neelam Talwar (80 mins BUS) an experienced pacer who has paced the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017 and Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018, answers that question, “Running a distance race with a Pacer helps you to focus exclusively on your running without having to spend any mental energy on the pace. A runner just needs to keep an eye on the Pacer, focus on the running. The Pacer motivates the runner, keeps the runner updated on the hydration stops on the route. Running with a Pacer helps think positively and not make an excuse of the weather, fatigue or just turn away from the target.”

Bahar Sinha, 55 min BUS, also adds, “With the pacer you don’t need to have any strategy, just follow the pacer and try to just align yourself with the pacer. When you are running alone then you need to plan and act on your own. Sometimes a mere thought that someone is there for you makes your journey smooth and that’s what pacer are there for!”

Nandini Ashokumar, 85 mins BUS, is a 6 time pacer who has assisted runners in the previous edition of the TCSW10K. She stresses, “Pacer helps the runner to stay on track by maintaining a specific time per km, motivates the runner, shares valuable running tips and stays focused to help the runners in the Bus achieve their dream target. For a beginner, running with a pacer will be of great help and for experienced it would help them achieve their personal best.”

What excites the Pacers about running?

An excited Mahalakshmi Sagar, 60 min BUS, says, “The exciting part of running is with every run you discover a new thing about your body in terms of strength and weakness, and it does surprise you. The greatest lesson running has taught me is “You are stronger than you think”. Also it keeps me fit and has got me so many friends. Catching up with runner friends for a chatty run is my favourite.”

“That I run in the open during the wee hours when it is dawning and that I get to breathe the fresh morning air. Clichéd but true – it completely de-stresses me and makes me positive and have an optimistic outlook towards everything,” says Kavitha Nair, 75 mins BUS.

Avani Vora, 55 mins BUS recalls, “I have been running for almost 8 years now. Although running is something I do as I enjoy it. I feel I can connect to myself while I run, it helps is killing all negative energy within and makes me a better human being mentally and physically I stay fit, am able to look after my kids, husband, parents and friends.”

 Advice to runners from Pacers

“Do not kill yourself following a pacer. Select a pacer who is a little slower than what you want to achieve and if you feel up to it, you can go ahead. Better to go ahead of a pacer rather than lag behind. Choose wisely,” is the sincere advice from Anu Beri, 85 mins BUS.

The fastest pacer, Shailaja Sridhar, 50 min BUS, says, “A good pacer will hopefully be helpful at the start and set the pace but it’s good to listen to your body. It’s also good to remember that the pacer is also human and can make mistakes.” Ranjani Ramanujam gives the final word, “Trust the pacers, and stay with them through the 10K.”

For these pacers running is a part of them. It’s a form of meditation for them and the honour of being a pacer is never taken lightly by them. Praising the commitment of the pacers, Vivek Singh adds, “Pacing amateurs is a selfless and challenging task. However, I am confident that at the end of the race, each one of these pacers will feel a sense of accomplishment, that goes beyond the sacrifice of achieving one’s personal best.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Expert Advice on Nutrition for Runners

Shiny Surendran, the city’s leading sports nutritionist, talks to Radhika Meganathan about what is important for runners to ensure adequate fuelling.

Shiny Surendran wears many hats. Not only is she a certified nutritionist and a published author, she also is the first Indian to be awarded Graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition from International Olympic Committee, possesses a masters in food service management and is the Chairperson of the Website team of Indian Dietetic Association. Today, she speaks to The Finisher Mag about the kind of foods to eat and avoid when it comes to running

In your opinion, how does an avid runner err in terms of nutrition and eating habits?

I have often noticed that a group which runs together usually has a team breakfast post run. Sometimes with all the group energy, they might eat more than they have expended during the run! Portion control is a good thing to keep in mind if you’d like to maintain your peak running stats.

Some runners overeat carbs and not include enough protein. Another point to ponder is not getting adequate Magnesium and Omega 3 fats. These mistakes can be easily rectified by mindful awareness about nutrition, and more effectively, by consulting a nutritionist who will analyse your body type, health stats and suggest the best diet for you.

What is your recommended power foods for pre or post run?

A fruit milkshake such as apple / banana milkshake (use almond milk if you are lactose intolerant) is great for pre workout / post workout drink. For pre-/post-run meal, keep to complex carbs such as oats or Multi grain porridge mix, with fruits and/or nuts in it. Since most of our climate is tropical, watermelon and pomegranate juice are good for anti oxidants, aids recovery with phyto nutrients. And then there is the affordable and nature’s bounty coconut water which is excellent for hydration plus electrolytes.

What kind of food is best avoided by runners?

I’d have to say, fibre rich foods, raw salads, and sprout salad, especially before a run. Runners should also avoid legumes like peanuts, rajma, white channa, gas producing foods like cabbage. As a general nutritional guideline, athletes are recommended to avoid white sugar, maida, food with artificial colors and flavours. And I recommend avoiding fruit juice, ice cubes made from tap water, raw chutneys or raw salads if you are in a new city for a run. Chances of food poisoning or gastric infection is very high, so be on guard!

What is good for recovery nutrition?

Hydration is very important to replace the salts lost and vital for recovery. I advise runners to drink at least 1 litre of sport drink after the run, especially if you live in a city which is hot and humid. In case you have high sweat loss, it is a good idea to include pickle, papad, and salty seafood dishes which have high levels of sodium.

Recent opinion is that low carb diets like paleo or keto are harmful for runners, since runners need carbs for fueling. Is this true? 

A former colleague and a fitness professional would eat a full south Indian meal 2 hours and run very well at long distance events. Somehow when he implemented the sport nutrition principles of eating 4 hours before the run, did not work well for him. The fullness / satiety helped him run well. He defied all principles of sport nutrition!

The reason I am mentioning this here is to stress that we are not all cut from the same cloth. Body types and their response to carbohydrate rich food are different. Our body has large amounts of fat which could be tapped for energy. People who are insulin sensitive can eat carbs in moderation but the ones with insulin resistance will benefit from Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diets. This will have NO adverse affect on their running efficacy.

You mean, runners do not need carbs at all?

As I always say, everything in moderation. My stance is that carbs are not indispensable, nor is it a bad word. Do consult a certified nutritionist before changing your diet or training, and find out what kind of body type you have. People have varying levels of insulin resistance – the ones who really struggle to lose weight in spite of eating healthy complex carbs and good dose of protein and fibre – they will benefit a lot from LCHF diets. During off season they could try LCHF until they reach ideal weight and then before competition training, they can reload carbs moderately.

 Did you notice anything interesting while training runners or athletes? 

While working in YMCA sports medicine department, I observed physical education students drinking aerated drinks with glucose added to it for that extra boost of energy. Little did they realise, they would have sugar levels crashing after 20-30 minutes. I of course told them to avoid this type of stimulating drinks.

A recreational runner that I knew got severe stomach pain while running. She experimented and found better results with electrol than the commercial sports drinks. My brother’s friend would consume fermented rice mixed with buttermilk every morning and run marvelously well. He was the best runner in school. Simple carbs worked well for him. One needs to experiment to find what suits their body types.

 Can you give some nutrition tips for our runner readers?

  • My first tip would be to eat real food. Not the one that comes in plastic or dripping in additives/sauces, but the food that is closer to what has been made in your home for years. Freshly made, with local ingredients and love and care.
  • Experiment during non-competition days. Figure out what works to optimize your running. Create a template of foods that enhances your running. Stick to it.
  • Pure vegetarians (lacto vegetarians) should consider whey or plant protein options to pep up recovery and build muscle mass
  • Calcium, Magnesium, Iron and B complex, Omega 3 fats are very important. Eat lots of red- and green-coloured locally available greens, such as radish and turnip greens, agathi keerai, drumstick leaves (moringa leaves), spinach, manathakkali, etc which are all excellent source of Magnesium, calcium and iron. Especially if you are a vegetarian who does not eat much vegetables (sadly this is more common than you’d think, many vegetarians consume a lot of carbs at the expense of vegetables) you MUST pay attention to your daily meal plan.

Balance is the key. You don’t have to deny yourself your favorite stuff, just make sure you enjoy all foods in moderation. Do not ape latest trends!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Radhika Meganathan is a published author who is an advocate for healthy living, she practices sugar-free intermittent fasting, all-terrain rambling and weight training.

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The Elites at the TCS World 10k

Come Sunday, May 27, around 25,000 runners in Bengaluru will put on their running gear and line up at the Kanteerava Stadium in the heart of the city to participate in the TCS World 10k, Capt Seshadri profiles the elites at the big race.

Champions with disabilities, senior citizens and fun loving majja runners will run a shorter distance, while the 10k will see an Open category, with qualifying standards for participation and, of course, the stars of the event, the elite runners in the World 10k.

Leading this last category in the men’s section will be 27 year old Kenyan, Alex Oliotiptip Korio, defending champion, with a last year’s time of 28:12. He has a personal best of 58:51 in the half marathon, set in Copenhagen in September last year, a city that seems to be his favourite, where in September 2016, he blazed the roads with a timing of 27:37 in the 10k.

Korio will have to put up a good fight to ward off fellow countryman Geoffrey Kipsong Kamworor, younger by two years and with a string of impressive runs as well. A half marathon time of 58:54 in the UAE and a 10k time of 27:44 in Bengaluru in May 2014, are certain indications of a highly competitive event.

The women’s field will be led by Netsanet Gudeta, a 26 year old Ethiopian, with a best 10k timing of 31:35 set at Ottawa exactly a year ago. Gudeta arrives in Bengaluru on the back of a half marathon 1:06:11 at Valencia in March this year, breaking the world record for the ‘women only’ half marathon.

Among the Indian elite runners are the current course record holder Suresh Kumar, with 29:49 set in May 2015. Challenging him would be Srinu, local favourite AB Belliappa and Shankar Man Thapa, all podium finishers at the Tata Mumbai Marathon in January this year. Defending champion Saigeetha Naik with 36:01 leads the women’s field that is filled with other star studded names like Monica Athare, Sanjivani Yadav and India’s first Olympic finalist after 32 years, Lalita Babar.

Those hoping for cool weather in Bengaluru, may have their prayers answered, but one can surely expect some pyrotechnics on the track.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

 

 

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Ironman Times Ten

Laura Knoblach, took the Ironman and multiplied it by ten to become the Iron woman in a man’s world, writes Capt Seshadri.

The Ironman is one of the toughest endurance races in the world. While many such competitions are held across the globe, the Ironman World Championship, often acknowledged as the culmination of all of these, is held in the picturesque island of Hawaii, more associated with sand and surfing than endurance events. The course comprises a Waikiki Roughwater swim of 3.86 km, the Around Oahu bicycle race of 185.07 km and the Honolulu Marathon.

Since 1997, athletes with disabilities were allowed to compete in a separate category; however, the cut off times for them were no different from the so called, able bodied competitors. John Maclean of Australia, became the first physically challenged athlete to successfully complete the event.

The Deca Ironman

The Ironman, however, is not the final test of endurance. Introducing the ‘Deca Ironman’! This unbelievably tough and taxing event is meant for a very niche few of master athletes, with extraordinary physical fitness and mental stamina to even consider competing. Here, participants complete the length of ten back to back Ironmans. Obviously, it takes weeks, with each leg being ten times longer than the normal. That constitutes 38.4 km of swimming, 1,792 km of biking and 419.2 km of running.

Here then, is the story of a woman, who rewrote the history books of the Deca. Laura Knoblach, all of 22 years, had already gained lots of experience in marathons and even double and triple Ironmans. But these distance runs and tests of endurance still left her dissatisfied at being unable to realise her potential and her dreams. Urged on by a friend, and realising a ‘beast’ within herself, Laura signed up for that ultimate test of endurance, the Deca Ironman.

Knoblach’s Challenge

Swimming was the first event. It was not just the distance but the ennui of swimming 750 laps of a 50 metre pool. While the specified time was 25 hours, Laura completed it in 19. At the end of it, she didn’t even have the energy to dress or change, almost passing out in the shower. A few hours of rest and it was time to start the biking leg. This was another set of loops, 200 of them over an 8.8km course. It was a nightmarish ordeal of 270 km a day. Often, while cycling at night, Laura would see ghosts… of trees appearing like people out of the darkness.

Now, Laura the endurance athlete, had always been better at biking, so she attempted to finish her forte as quickly as possible before the ten marathons. That was to be another hallucinating effort, having to run 330 laps over a short 1.25 km loops. Boredom and tiredness at its worst! For the first two days, Laura just walked. From Day 3, she began to run. Finally, after 320 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds, a thoroughly exhausted by deliriously happy Laura, crossed the finish line of the Ironman Ten, making history as the youngest to complete this ultimate test of human endurance. And in the process, breaking the US women’s record by over 13 hours.

During the entire stretch, she hardly had six hours of sleep a day. Food and drink were almost a continuous process along the journey. But this unstoppable Iron Lady just couldn’t halt herself. Laura Knoblach spent the next six days biking along the far side of the Rhine, simply to satisfy her curiosity as a tourist!

If there is one thing she proved, it is this: there are no limits to your endurance. When the body says no, let the mind take over.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Man of iron, will of steel

Petty Officer Praveen Teotia, Shaurya Chakra, Naval Commando impresses Capt Seshadri with his sheer grit and determination to not let his disabilities interfere with this athleticism.

“I am a mean, keen, fighting machine’! The motto of the Commando. The words that motivate the man beyond anything else. “Commando”! The war cry that instils terror and sends shivers down the spine of the enemy.

That fateful day, the 26th of November 2008, when some of the most hardcore terrorists in the world took siege of the Taj Mumbai, Marine Commando Praveen Teotia was to enact those very words. Breaking into the stronghold of the insurgents, he took on the enemy in close quarter battle, and in the process took four bullets in the chest and ear, damaging his lungs and causing partial hearing impairment. For this act of extreme bravery against all odds in the face of the enemy, he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award.

As a permanently disabled sailor, having become unfit for normal battlefield duties, but being honourably decorated, he was promoted to the rank of Petty Officer and assigned desk duties. However, this commando, hailing from Bhatola village in Bulandshahr, remained a fighter at heart. Despite his dire medical condition, he applied for a mountaineering expedition, but was refused on medical grounds; but nothing could deter him from his fixed idea. He just had to prove his fitness. Through a few Taj Hotel staff who he had befriended during the action, he connected with marathon runner and trainer Pervin Batliwala. In 2014, under his guidance and encouragement, Teotia began training to run marathons.

Afraid of how the Navy would react to a possible failed bid to participate under their banner, he ran incognito in the 2015 Mumbai Half Marathon. The next year, he gutsily participated in the Indian Navy Half Marathon. His successes automatically led him to aspire for greater triumphs. He moved up to the Half Iron Man Triathlon in Jaipur, which entailed a 1.9 km swim, 90 km of cycling and a 21 km run. Despite these stupendous feats, Praveen was unsure and a bit nervous about how the Navy would react to the long leaves required for training and participation. So, with a point to prove that this was the same commando who had been severely injured while fighting extremists in the Taj, he opted for voluntary retirement from the Navy. Says Petty Officer Teotia: “After I was shot, doctors had given up on me. But I hung on for five months in the hospital and recovered, although my hearing was impaired.” He simply couldn’t give up at this stage.

Khardung La, in Ladakh, at over 18,000 feet, is the highest motorable pass in the world. Even the sturdiest and most powerful of motor vehicles struggle to battle the steep inclines. The rarified atmosphere tests even the fittest of persons with its low oxygen levels. However, this human machine seemed to have no such problems. On September 9, 2017, Praveen Teotia not only completed the 72 km Khardung La Marathon, but did so in 12.5 hours, well within the stipulated time of 15 hours. Coach Batliwala was amazed. “I have met very few with such willpower. Finishing Khardung La is no child’s play. I did it last year. The oxygen levels are low and it is doubly difficult for someone with a damaged lung. To do so well is a stupendous achievement.”

Praveen proved his coach wrong by actually making it child’s play, with yet another unbelievable achievement. It takes the most courageous and committed athlete from among the fittest of the fit to complete an Ironman, the gruelling event in South Africa, considered one of the most challenging courses in the world. This former commando set his sights and his heart on it. Kaustubh Radkar, one of the most successful Ironman finishers and a certified coach, took Praveen under his tutelage. Earlier this year, Praveen cycled 180.2 km, ran 42.2 km and swam 3.86 km to achieve that ultimate, endurance defying event, the Ironman Triathlon. A little past the three-quarter mark, the derailleur of his cycle gave way. The remaining portion of the sector was mostly uphill, but Teotia completed it despite an injured knee and ankle adding to his already damaged lung. With a bleeding leg, this incredible athlete ran the marathon and then swam his way to complete, in the process being the first disabled Indian Ironman.

Let’s face it. A true commando never fades away. He does or he dies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Gold Rules

The Common Wealth Games 2018 saw Indian athletes demonstrate some stupendous performance, Capt Seshadri rounds up the glorious performance.

Much gold was struck Down Under, at the Gold Coast… not by prospectors, but by sportspersons. Australia’s major tourist destination, with its welcoming sub-tropical climate, pristine beaches, rainforests and its contrasting theme parks and nightlife, played host less than a fortnight ago, to the Commonwealth Games 2018, with the continent being the venue for the fifth time in the Games’ history.

The History

Just over a century ago, to commemorate the coronation of King George V, a ‘Festival of the Empire’ was held in London. As part of the celebrations, an inter-empire championship was held in athletics, swimming, boxing and wrestling, with teams from the host nation, Canada, South Africa and Australia participating. This then, was probably the first Commonwealth Games, although the term was yet to be coined as the Commonwealth was a non-existent commodity; hence, they were dubbed the British Empire Games. Somewhere along the line, it was decided to hold them once every four years, in tune with the Olympics.

In typical British tradition, there are set rituals for the Games. One such is the Queen’s Baton Relay, somewhat akin to the Olympic Torch. The Baton starts its journey from Buckingham Palace, bearing a message from the Head of the Royal family, now Queen Elizabeth II. At the opening ceremony, the final bearer hands it back to the Queen, or her representative, who reads the message aloud to officially declare the Games open. Today, 71 teams participate in the Games, although there are only 53 registered members under the Commonwealth of Nations; as in the Olympics, the remaining take part under their own flags.

The 2018 Games

At the 2018 Games, over 4,400 sportspersons competed over 12 days in 19 events spread across venues in 14 centres in the city and 3 outside, for a total of 275 sets of medals. Unique to these Games are a few sports that are not part of the Olympic calendar, like net ball, lawn bowling and squash. With the introduction of athletes with disabilities for the first time in the 1994 Games in Victoria, British Columbia, and the signing of a formal agreement in 2007 in Colombo, between the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Paralympic Committee, the Commonwealth Games made history as the first international competitive event to become fully inclusive. And the results of the para-athletic events are part of the overall medal tally. The 2018 Games also achieved a new distinction by becoming the first major international multi-sporting event to achieve gender equality, with an equal number of events for both men and women.

The Games had their share of ignominy too. Athletes from a few African countries like Sierra Leone, Uganda, Cameroon and Rwanda, disappeared from the Games village, apparently abandoning their world class sporting talent and fame, seeking a future and fortune in Australia. Ironic that this ‘seeking after fortune’ should be in the ‘Gold’ Coast. And as did their wards, so did a few coaches and officials disappear too!

India had a fairly satisfactory outing at the Games. Placed third overall behind host Australia and the United Kingdom, our country finished with a tally of 66 medals, comprising 26 gold, 20 silver and 20 bronze. Many of the medallists are household names in India – Mary Kom at age 35, beating rivals a decade and a half younger to win gold, shuttler Srikanth Kidambi rising to the rank of world number one and our women and men achieving sporting glory in individual and team events.

So, it seems, in the week of Akshaya Tritiya, when gold brought home is said to bring more fortune, our Indian team has done remarkably well. If this belief translates into reality, one could surely expect a much larger tally of medals in 2022!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Too Much Too Soon

Our Guest Columnist, Tarun Walecha, shares his thoughts on staying injury free.

Running is the new golf as they say, and it certainly is as it has reached the corridors of corporate power today. But not before having made its impact on society, in general. The reason to this is simple, running isn’t all about power, or networking. It is far more than that, it touches you in many ways, be that your lifestyle, your ability to analyse and understand day to day situation, self-discipline, strong will and much more…so much more. One of the prime benefits which we start it all with, our fitness, that later becomes just a collateral. I’m carefully using the word collateral which by no measure means insignificant. There’s still more that running brings into ones life, new friends for one (and hoard of them, actually), lot’s running gear(mostly free 😊), a bit of travel for the events, not to miss the adulation (PBs et al) and the least preferred of them all….Injuries.

Is it all too much too soon?

Well, there can be a write up on each one of the issues, but we shall focus on injuries this time. Most of us who start running do not have a great history of sports. Well I said most, cause most often those with some sports background also fall in this category as they restart this regime after a fair amount of downtime. Those who restart this journey after a gap in the sporting activities, and for someone to start altogether fresh, running does expose us to certain amount of risk of injuries. Having said that, I can very confidently say that it’s not running that is the cause of the injuries though it does become the medium. It is like blaming a car for an accident and absolving or ignoring the role of the one who drives it. Let us understand what’s the reason for the injuries….and let’s understand when is it too much, too soon.

Roadblocks we encounter

One starts running with an aim of staying fit, and the limited available knowledge is a natural course of things to unfold. As we chart this journey, we encounter various roadblocks, inability to improve the speed, or cover longer distance, lack of disciplined routine and of course, a schedule to follow. While we seek these answers through various friends, runners, running coaches, online portals etc what we also start learning about is PBs, Podium finishes, and everything else that comes with it.  This is exactly where the “Too much Too soon” syndrome sets in. What started as a hobby, breaks through the realm of passion and before we realise it becomes an obsession. Suddenly learning takes a back seat, improving becomes the main criteria! Running for fitness seems basic, and getting a podium finish becomes the main driver. It’s this shift of focus that makes us ignore our limitations and push beyond the boundaries. Having said that what is life within the confines of limitations, and who would get better if one does not push the boundaries. But there’s a thin line there, a very thin line which only we can define for ourselves.

Misjudging your boundaries

There will always be a friend egging you to run faster, or a coach pushing you for a stiff target, and at times even a runner who silently is clocking better time than you but becomes the cynosure of your eyes and all you wanna do is get ahead of him/her. In a situation like this, more often than not, we misjudge ourselves, our training, our strength and our weakness. And even when we maintain our sanity, running as a regime does have its own wear and tear on our body. Our muscles are going to tire, our mind and body is going to get fatigued. But let’s not forget, no two individuals can be alike and this is a scientific fact. What we deal with is something similar, but beyond the biological or physical sphere. With a given physical and biological background, an individual still have too many variables to deal with, such as, a day job, daily routine, personal stress, amount of rest, one’s own willingness, mental strength and the list goes on. What we need to understand is that each one of these variables has a role to play for the way we perform. So, before we begin to compete with someone, we need to look within and know what’s good for us. It is this ignorance which leads to pushing the boundaries beyond the realm of reality and becomes the main reason for injuries.

Lessons Learnt

I started running about 8 years back with hardly any friends in running and bare minimum social media exposure. I consider this a blessing in disguise, cause the learning came in slow, but that slow did good to me. I won’t say I didn’t have my tryst with injuries, it’s a given as all the pounding is bound to show up some way or the other. Fortunately for me it has just been stress accumulation, incorrect or over training which lead to what one may define as pre-injury state. Each time it left a lesson behind, a sign to know if it was too much for me.

What we all need to understand is how to deal with it, but before that we must know, when to push further and when to back out. Only when you dive into a deep sea you will get pearls but where to dive and how to dive is the key. Of course, there’s a recourse through medical intervention, physiotherapy, proper guidance, etc. if one does fall into the trap or gets injured, but those we can deal in another article at another time. For now if I was to sum up my intent for this blog, I would say the following.

  1. Know your limits, make incremental changes and remember how Rome was built…😊.
  2. Understand your strength, and seek guidance when needed.
  3. Push your boundaries, but don’t be over ambitious.
  4. It’s important to understand your muscular anatomy and what it takes to run.
  5. Learn it the right way, correct form is the key to injury free and efficient running.
  6. Last but not the least, You are your own competitor, no one else.

Don’t let someone else becomes your bench mark… an inspiration, yes… a competitor, no. Learn to do this for yourself and not for others, let’s not fall in the trap and succumb to “Too Much Too Soon”.

GUEST COLUMNIST 

An architect by profession, Tarun Walecha enjoys amateur photography, travelling and is a sports enthusiast. He has been a sportsperson all his life and discovered running at the age of 40 and has since become his fitness mantra. In his 7 year running career he has completed 30 Half Marathons, 4 Full Marathon, and 5 Trail/Ultra Runs. He is also a Pinkathon ambassador and has founded the running group, RunXtreme.

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Run run run… you better run!

One of the most popular and coveted marathon in the world is happening this weekend. Capt Seshadri talks about the Boston Marathon. 

There is only one marathon in the world that has ‘bandits’ participating. And no, not the Robin Hood or even the Gabbar Singh kind, but runner bandits. These were unregistered runners who were eager to participate but did not have a bib number. It was customary for them to be held back till the last of the starters had left the blocks and then unleashed unofficially. After a while, these bandits, like some of their folklore counterparts, became heroes among the spectators and the media. Such is the stuff of tales surrounding one of the oldest marathons in the world.

The Boston Marathon, to be held on April 16, has had a virtually unbroken run since its inception in 1897, even during the years of the great world wars. It probably took its origin following the tremendous success of the first marathon event in an Olympics, in the summer of 1986. In the early years, it was run on April 19, but was soon changed to the third Monday of April, celebrated as Patriots’ Day and now commonly referred to as ‘Marathon Monday’.

Humble Beginnings

What began as a local event, with just 15 participants on debut, has grown over time to receive recognition as one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. Every year, over 30,000 registered runners from across the globe, are cheered every bit of the way by around half a million spectators, that includes the ‘scream tunnel’, a more than a three quarter mile long unbroken chain of young ladies whose cheering can be heard for over a mile!

Can one possibly imagine thousands of athletes, some traveling halfway across the globe to run a gruelling 26 miles, only for the winner to be rewarded with an olive wreath? But, for over a century, the Boston Marathon was a purse-free event, until in 1986, professional athletes threatened to boycott the event unless a cash prize was instituted. Fortunately, corporates stepped in, and cash awards made their entry into the race.

It is one of the most difficult courses in marathon running, with the Newton Hills challenging even trained runners, and their apex culminating in Heartbreak Hill, reducing the most seasoned runners to near walking speed. With this being a physical and psychological breaking point, it presents a phenomenon that marathoners refer to as ‘hitting the wall’!

Women in Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon remained a male chauvinistic bastion until 1972, when women were officially permitted to participate. However, Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Gibb is acknowledged by race organisers as the first woman to have run the entire stretch of the marathon as early as in 1966. A year later, Kathy Switzer obtained a bib number and participated. Her run was marred by an ugly incident where a race official tried to tear off her race bib and prevent her from finishing. The gender equation rapidly changed since then; in 2015, around 46% of the participants were women. There is only one woman however, who owns the unique distinction of having run the Boston Marathon in two elements: earth and space. Astronaut supreme and record breaker for much of what happens in space – Sunita Williams. This amazing and tenacious lady ran the marathon, strapped by a harness to a treadmill aboard the International Space Station while the event was being run on earth!

Toughest Qualifying Standards

The event has stringent qualifying standards. Participants must be above 18 years of age and must have completed a marathon certified by a recognised body with international affiliations. There is also a pre-set qualifying time limit, depending on age. For many aspiring marathoners, to ‘BQ’, or qualify for Boston, is in itself a treasured achievement. However, to popularise the event and to honour charitable causes, around 20% of the participation has been thrown open to entrants from charities, sponsors, local running clubs, vendors and marketers, whose philanthropic endeavours garner close to $ 35 million in charity collections.

The Boston Marathon has thrown up many heroes. Foremost among them is Bob Hall whose request, in 1975, to participate in a wheelchair, was accepted, with the proviso that he would be recognised as a ‘finisher’ only if he completed in under 3 hours and 30 minutes, the time limit set for normal runners. The indefatigable Bob finished in 2 hours and 58 minutes. Thus was born the wheelchair division of the race; the event was soon to accommodate visually impaired runners as well.

In 2013, the event was marred by two explosions, around 180 metres yards apart, within the final 200 metres of the finish. Although many of the faster runners had completed the course, the fatality of three spectators and the injury caused to 264, forced the event to be called off, with many runners close to the midway mark. This deterred neither the organisers nor the participants, and the event continues to be a major draw among the fastest endurance runners of the world.

And, going back to the subject of bandits, Boston Marathon Director Dave McGillvray was himself once a teenage bandit!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Run long, live short?

Do long distance runners have a shorter life? Capt Seshadri attempts to explore this theory, based on research and experiments and from dialogues with doctors with experience in accompanying marathon runners in major events.

In the fall season of the year 490 BC, Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran a distance of 26 miles non-stop from Marathon to Athens, to announce the defeat of the Persians at the battle of Marathon, in which he himself had just fought. Having shouted out “nenikēkamen”, (we have won), he collapsed and died on the spot.

Centuries later, the death of Jim Fixx, author of “The complete book of running”, probably triggered the debate on the issue of health versus harm. Reports from across the world state that till date, 36 marathon runners have suffered a fate similar to that of the ancient Greek. The age range was between 18 and 70, thus averaging close to 44. Almost half of these deaths occurred either during the run or within 24 hours of the event. So, is there a connection between long distance running and heart attacks? The arguments for and against, both purportedly with solid data to back them, are conflicting but hardly convincing.

Heart + Running

It is a universally established fact that the cause of coronary failure is a build up of plaque in the arteries. So, does distance running help build up plaque, or prevent it? Argument # 1 suggests that extreme distance running can harm rather than protect the heart. This is based on a study of 8 runners over a period of 140 days, running a daily cross country stretch of 42 km, with a one day break each week. After the first 24 hours, the runners were subjected to tests to determine plaque build up. At the end of the race, it was found that their systolic blood pressure, (the number on the top) had decreased and the ‘good cholesterol’ was higher. However, having checked their previous medical records, for those with a history of heart issues, the plaque build up was higher. These findings seem to suggest that distance running is not necessarily protective but could even be harmful in the long run. Conflicting, or confusing?

Marathon runners of all ages around the globe, participate enthusiastically, quite often either ignoring or not being aware of previous cardiovascular deterioration. On the flip side, it would be silly to assume that all marathon runners are physically fit and are therefore immune to cardiac disease.

Understanding the heart

Argument # 2 takes a somewhat different pitch. It says: If we sampled 50 men running 3,510 marathons over the course of three decades, will their heart health suffer or improve? These were experienced runners, most of them with over a quarter of a century of training, with some even having run for half a century. The mix was eclectic, with some having commenced running from school days and others trying to work out the effects of sedentary lifestyles, smoking and indulging in junk food. On an average, they ran around 50 km a week. When these 50 were scanned, 30% had no sign of plaque, 40% had mild amounts and the remaining 20% were the worrisome lot.

The findings were quite chaotic to say the least. More marathons did not mean more plaque, as did less running not indicating any difference. This led to the conclusion that extreme running had little or no impact on heart disease, but reinforced the fact that a history of smoking and cholesterol led to greater plaque deposits even after years of running.

Added to this is a third dimension. According to recent studies, different versions of atherosclerosis, the technical name for plaque build up, could be benign or harmful, and could affect active and sedentary people, thus debunking both negative and positive schools of thought on distance running and heart disease. This ‘halfway home’ theory seems to suggest that long years of distance running neither improves nor deteriorates heart health. There is no clinching evidence to prove that running causes any direct changes in the heart. The conclusion would probably be that all kinds of running would help keep arteries clear of harmful matter. However, running does not provide immunity to those with a history of bad lifestyle, especially smoking and junk food. In the words of Dr Roberts, an experienced researcher, “You can’t just outrun your past”!

So, run to your heart’s content. Run for your lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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