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Meet Anjali Saraogi

Capt Seshadri speaks to Anjali Saraogi, the youngest Indian woman to complete the oldest marathon in the world

“Women usually undermine themselves. In my opinion, our fears are our greatest limitations. And we should spend more time living with our dreams than our fears.”

A teenaged girl, on the corner of adulthood at age 18, persuaded her mother to participate in a local marathon. The reluctant mother, who felt that she was too old for any kind of strenuous physical activity, let alone run 42 km, finally condescended and, to the surprise of all, finished first. And so began a career in long distance running for Anjali Saraogi, now aged 43 who, with just two years’ running behind her, has set records for herself and become a model for aspiring young runners to follow. At an age when most runners would be hanging their boots on a peg, this wonder woman was firmly tying up her laces.

As a kid, the plump young Anjali did not appear to be running material. While her initiation into running dispelled all her inhibitions and insecurities, the result was a shattering of records. A win at Delhi and a podium finish at the Mumbai Marathons were but baby steps to her astonishing achievements on the world scene. A temporary setback occurred when she was injured while preparing for the Chicago Marathon. Her doctors said: “you will never run again”. A dear friend gifted her a book by Amit Seth titled ‘Dare to Run’. This was to change Anjali’s running mindset forever. Amit, incidentally, was the first Indian to complete the Comrades Marathon, possibly the world’s most gruelling run, in 2009. Quite naturally, there was serious concern about her wellbeing from her husband and her father, but her determination and consistency won their admiration and support.

42.2 km was but a small start for this amazing athlete. All of 43 years, Anjali put everyone’s apprehensions behind as she toiled to complete the 89 km Comrades Marathon, the world’s oldest annual ultra-marathon that is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa; the ultimate dream of every marathoner. For her stupendous effort, as the first Indian woman to have achieved this feat, she won the Bill Rowden medal. Her next goal is to improve on her timing and finish the downhill race in the next Comrades Marathon and even to get her daughter to run with her.

The run of Comrades

It was race day 2017 at the Comrades. Anjali had set herself a target of 8:30. On that morning, even as early as 5.30, it was a warm day, with most of the runners being South Africans. By 11 am, with no shade and little breeze and with water points located only every 2.5 km, dehydration began setting in. 70 km done and still 12 to 13 minutes to go before the next water point, Anjali was on the verge of collapse, knowing that only a miracle could come to her aid.

And then it happened. A South African runner, probably as exhausted as she, was running alongside, with a water sachet in hand. He saw her eyes locked on the sachet, and despite his own dire need, passed it on to her to share the life reviving water. A little sporting gesture which, at that moment, transcended every border of nationality, race or gender. Comrades indeed! At 2:08 in the sweltering afternoon, Anjali crossed the finish line in a time of 8:38:23. In an interview, she states: “Mentally embracing that pain before the start is the toughest moment for me. Running the race is easy. The physicality of it has been taken care of in my gruelling training sessions — it’s the psychological aspect of it that really needs to be addressed.”

Anjali draws from her experience to advise other runners. She exhorts them to have belief in their abilities and faith in training. Pushing one’s body to the limits, she says, is paramount, but it must be supplemented with a respect for recovery and sensible nutrition and hydration. Age is never a limiting factor; confidence and faith are what matters. The need for an athletic body to run  successfully, she says, is a myth. In her words, patience, training and focus towards achieving one’s goals are all that are needed.

At Comrades, Anjali Saraogi holds the second best timing among all Indians till date.



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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Taming the Beast

Marathoner, Tarun Walecha, takes another look at the grit, determination and madness it takes to finish marathons.

All that can go wrong at a marathon which I didn’t know about…

A year before when I wrote the prelude to this blog, I had thought to myself that I have learnt all I needed to, made my set of mistakes, even wrote a blog about the same which was well appreciated, and now it would be my year of redemption. As it turns out, I was certainly being overly ambitious.

Having finished five full marathons so far, somehow, I still feel I’m yet to run my first. Last week I was at the starting line again, but this time I was better equipped, better trained, (at least, I thought so) and little bit more confident for sure. I say a little bit because this time I was aiming higher and didn’t want to be complacent. I had ticked all the boxes from the learning last year, be that diet, training schedule, staying injury free and included newer aspects like on course nutrition, flexibility etc.

Unlike last time where I was aiming to finish the run on a moderate pace, this time I was greedy. I had trained harder and had all the reasons to back myself, one of my longest run on Dec 31 which came after 6 days of consecutive half marathon runs under my initiative, ‘Share and Care’ was comfortable and surprisingly speedy. The 28K run on Trail-A-Thon, which I ran a controlled pace but yet was my fastest so far on the course too. I believed that the glory beckoned me and nothing could go wrong, so so I thought.


The race day twists and turns…

On the morning of February 25, a 4:30 start meant I didn’t have much time to sleep the night before. I therefore took it easy the previous day in anticipation and was up at 2:30 am without feeling sleep deprived. As I walked toward the stadium from the parking lot, my mind was only filled with positive thoughts and trust in myself, just a hint of anxiety, nothing nerve wrecking. After a quick chat-up with everyone around, handshakes and wishes exchanged; it was going as per the familiar course. So much that an unannounced staggered start didn’t flutter me a bit, and at 4:35 we trotted across the timing mat.

As I started off, I had the plan distinctively clear in my mind, pace chart, nutrition chart, hydration – all ticking off in my mind. Normally, I run as per my effort and only check later how am I doing and it wasn’t going to be any different this time as well. Moving along I felt comfortable, staying focused on myself I could sense I’m doing well. At 10K mark when I checked, I was 1 min 32 sec ahead of my target time. I felt good as there were no signs of over exertion, stride was good and breathing was in control. I decided to hold on to the effort till my next target. As expected at 20K I was 3 min and 40 sec ahead, which was invigorating as I felt no sign of fatigue or mental exhaustion. When I turned around for my second loop, I didn’t want to let go and wanted to seize the advantage. Trotting along, at 30K mark I was doing well, heart rate in check, pace was descent and now I was 4 min and 9 sec ahead of scheduled time.

Quickly running through calculations in back of my mind like always, I ascertained that even if I was to run the rest of the race at 6:00 min pace I would be home with a Sub 4 finish, and I was immensely thrilled with that outcome.

But the best laid plans always come to naught…

As I reached the 32k mark, I started feeling sluggish. My pace had dropped to 5:55. Going back to my calculations, and accommodating for tiring body I told myself to stick to sub 6 pace. As I moved along I felt my stride getting shorter and every KM mark I could see the pace sliding down. At 38K mark when my Garmin showed 6:19 lap pace with a total time 3:34:53, my mind quickly computed that my desired calculation of Sub 4 wasn’t possible now. With 4.2KM of minimum distance to be run, I would have had to really push myself against the odds. Suddenly the hamstring niggle which surfaced slightly earlier filled my legs with lead and my left leg refused to move. I decided to give it a break and stretch a little before moving on, but as luck would have, I found it tough to get back in rhythm. Was it my body which was breaking, or did my mind gave up on me, I’m yet to figure that out. Slowly I watched each runner whom I had left behind passing by, some acknowledged and egged me but I could only cheer them back and asked to them to move on. This was my battle, and I had to fight it on my terms. I hopped along for next 4k, and somehow gathered strength to run for the last half a km to keep my head high. Timing clock at the finishers gate showed that I was nearly 11 min over 4 hrs as I crossed over and moved towards the holding area. Friends, other finishers, each one of them welcomed me with high fives, hugs and smiles, but somehow I in my heart carried a shade of disappointment.

Will I ever understand how to conquer it?

The race was over, I did fairly well as per many, timing wasn’t that bad either, but what left me unhappy was those last 4 kilometer. I wasn’t supposed to struggle, I was there to run. So what went wrong, that is my biggest mystery. Did I not train enough, or did I give up on myself too soon? In the days to come, pondering over each of the issue, I tried to pinpoint at various probabilities, and evaluated them against myself.

  1. Inadequate training: Going by my training year before where I struggled with niggles now and then, I induced more strength workout in my schedule. One of the reason my hamstring started jarring could yet be due to relatively lesser strength training.
  2. Aggressive target: From my target last year to finish a moderate paced FM to running an aggressive Sub 4, might sound a big leap but my training runs backed me up and somewhere I was hopeful of cracking it.
  3. Over-Nutrition on the course : I had planned to take gels in a tapering pattern of 9k, 8k, 8k, 7k, 7k considering the higher needs as one tires out. Energy boost after first one lured me to change it to 7k from second gel onward. At 30K I did feel nauseated and over fed, so much that I couldn’t have my fifth gel.
  4. Lack of salt intake: Gel at shorter intervals meant lesser time in between, and the first causality of time management was salt caps which I didn’t have after my first 2, and in all had only 3.
  5. Less water consumption: Though my earlier experiences had alarmed me about this, having trained in pleasant weather failed me on understanding my body’s water requirement on the race day.
  6. Rise in temperature: It was an odd situation, adding to the above point, the entire training was done in winters with running the race in spring. The week before the race saw a sudden rise in temperature which showed the damage it can do to your hydro-logical balance.
  7. Running faster than the plan: Since I’ve always run by the effort, on the race day I landed up running a shade faster than the planned pace, was it my undoing? Can’t say yet as my heart rate remained in the control zone and barely touched Zone 5.
  8. Lack of focus: That’s something that may not be the root cause , but can certainly be a reason to deflate the overall effort. To be in ‘the zone’ for 42 km, is something that still has a long way to go, perhaps.
  9. Lack of flexibility: This was another aspect which I targeted after last year’s debacle, worked extensively and consciously, but the awareness only highlighted gray areas; certainly more work needed.
  10. Lack of guidance /knowledge: How much is enough??? I certainly can never judge.

Mind over body…

While this can be your strength, but can work against you as well. For everything that you may cover, this could be a blanket loss. If I did not falter on any of the above, then it has to be this. Was this the reason that I stumbled? Did that one look at my watch at 38K which showed 3:34:53 blow it up? One little back hand calculation and I knew I had practically lost my chance for a Sub 4, and suddenly it didn’t matter anymore.

The mystery that I wished to unravel this time, to decode what it takes to run a marathon, still remains a mystery. After 34 Half marathons, many more equivalent distance runs and 5 attempts at FM, I still have to know what it takes. Lest I forget, I need to reiterate to myself, it is not just two half marathons, it is not just another long run. I don’t know what it is yet, but I will soon.

The beast still stares at me, with a little smirk on its face, but I know we are friendlier now and it’s just a matter of time.


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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Indian woman, International champion

Remembering an athlete who inspired generations, Anju George, the runner we honour for Women’s Day, by Capt Seshadri.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, with several million posts across social media, it is certainly an occasion to raise a toast to every mother, wife and daughter. Somewhere in the annals of history, however, lie outstanding achievers, whose pages gather dust, glories forgotten.

Born on April 19, 1977, in a small village in Kerala, God’s own country that also produces God’s own athletes, a young woman by the name of Anju Bobby George made history by becoming the first Indian athlete to win a medal in a World Championships. Initiated into athletics by her father, she soon excelled in the sprints and jumps, going on to a podium finish in the National Schools Games. Her initial foray into athletics was in the heptathlon, but it soon became obvious that the jumps were her forte. While the triple jump brought her several medals and even the National record, her favourite event was the long jump. Graduating from gold in the Junior Asian Championship in 1996, Anju broke into the international scene winning medals in several Asian and Commonwealth Games and across continents as far apart as Africa, Europe and Asia.

Her athletics career took a spiral turn upwards with her coming under the wing of Bobby George, a former National triple jump champion turned coach. This remarkable athlete was a Mechanical Engineer, who gave up both his technical and sports careers in 1998, to train Anju. Intensive training, careful planning and sheer toil combined to work magic. From a low rank of 61 in 2001, she shot up the ladder to be ranked 6th by 2003. This was when they both realised that to make a strong mark on the international scene, she needed the exposure. Anju went on to train under the legendary Mike Powell, who worked on her technique and skills and set her two rungs higher in the ladder at number 4 in the world.

Some of her more memorable moments came in 2005 when she won gold at the IAAF World Athletics in Monte Carlo, wresting the medal from Tatyana Kotova of Russia who was stripped of her first place finish. Her personal best of 6.83 metres came at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but that was still only good enough to earn her fifth place. In recognition of her sporting achievements, in 2002, the Government of India conferred on her prestigious Arjuna Award. Her medal performance at World level in 2003 earned her the nation’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. And, for her outstanding contribution to athletics, she was awarded the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award.

The bonding between athlete and coach was so strong that the couple soon tied the marital knot. Anju is currently the Chairperson of TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) and an Executive Member of the government’s Khelo India project.

Anju Bobby George wrote a new chapter in the history of Indian sports, when she became the first Indian athlete among women and men, winning a bronze at the 2003 World Athletics Championships in Paris. A fitting moment to remember, especially on International Women’s Day.



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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The 4 minute magician

Remembering the legendary 4 minute mile runner, Sir Roger Bannister, Capt Seshadri writes a small tribute to the magical athlete.

RIP Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister, CH, CBE

(23 March 1929 – 3 March 2018)

In today’s extremely competitive sporting world, where records are shattered by the hour, where equipment, gear, facilities, training and diet are dictated by precise science and technology, one record, set nearly six and a half decades ago, still holds relevance and reverence. The four minute mile.

This story, of a doctor and academician with remarkable athletic prowess, begins in 1946 when, at the age of 17, Roger Bannister ran a mile in 4:24:6. An athlete who had started without spikes, had never run on a track and had trained only thrice a week and that too in half hour sessions. Moving forward to 1950, he improved his mile timing to 4:13 and also competed in the 880 yard and 800 metre races, but finishing behind the winner. The young Roger soon realised that if he were to win, he would have to take his training more seriously.

Under the tutelage of coach Franz Stampfl, he combined interval training with block periodisation, fell running and anaerobics. However, being a medical student, his busy schedule at class left him little time for training, very often restricted to 30 to 40 minutes a day, using his lunch break to run. Still, this focus paid rich dividends with a win in a mile race on July 14, 1951 at the AAA Championships in White City, where he raced away towards the tape, watched and cheered by a crowd of 47,000, finishing in 4:07:8.

The 1952 Olympics were a disappointment; in fact, Roger actually contemplated giving up. A new thought then occurred; that of completing the mile in under 4 minutes. While many were dreaming about this and several runners were making unsuccessful attempts, some even reaching as close as 4:02, Bannister intensified his training schedule by including hard intervals.

It was a cloudy day on the 6th of May, 1954, with a forecast of rain and a wind driving across at 40 kmph. This practising doctor, who had been working at the hospital all morning, was seriously considering dropping out of the race that was to happen between the British AAA and Oxford University at the Iffey Road track in Oxford. A track that was soon destined to be recorded in the annals of running history. While the wind finally dropped to a mere breeze, the 3,000 spectators lined the track with bated breath. Roger, having completed his assigned duties at the hospital, picked up his spikes and rubbed graphite on the soles to prevent accumulation of ash from the cinder track. Taking the train from Paddington, he arrived at Oxford, nervous and full of trepidation.

The race finally boiled down to six competitors. BBC Radio provided a live broadcast, anchored by ‘Chariots of Fire’ famed Harold Abrahams. The starting whistle blew sharp at 6:00 pm and the race was on. The first lap was taken in 58 seconds and the lead runner went past the half mile mark in 1:58. With 275 yards to go Roger, realising that his dream was within reach, put in a tremendous kick that saw him running the final lap in under 59 seconds. The roar of the crowd drowned out the announcer’s voice after the words: ladies and gentlemen, first, number 41, RG Bannister with a new meet and track record. A new English native, British National, All-comers, European, British Empire and World record of 3 minutes… the rest was lost in the cheering. The mile had been run in 3:59:4.

On the 50th anniversary of that glorious achievement, the now knighted Sir Roger, in an interview, conceded that the sub 4 minute run was not the most important achievement of his life. Bannister, the neurologist, saw his life’s work with patients in the world of medicine as having given him far greater satisfaction. As the first Chairman of the Sports Council, he used his influence to usher in funding for sports centres and facilities, and as a doctor he was responsible to initiate testing for the use of anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Roger Bannister was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011. And on March 3, 2018, the world bid goodbye to this extraordinary athlete and compassionate healer.

Six feet below, but forever under four minutes.



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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Tri crash and burn!

Radhika Meganathan interviews IRONMAN Raghul Trekker, who recently completed the IronMan Challenge in Sri Lanka

A triathlon is an endurance competition that consists of three continuous disciplines. Its most popular form involves swimming, cycling, and running, to be completed in succession within a set time frame. We  talk to RAGHUL TREKKER who recently conquered the Colombo Ironman and is the force behind the scientific training for triathlon aspirants at his fitness studio, TRI CRASH ‘n’ BURN.


How did you get into fitness? I was born and brought up in Chennai, but studied marine engineering in Pune (Incidentally, the idea for the original Ironman Triathlon was suggested by US Navy Commander John Collins!). In my college, it was mandatory to run every morning except on Sundays. It was only for the first three semesters, but that set the pace for my attachment with fitness and exercise. I already was a swimmer and cyclist, so the stage was already set for me.

From the IT industry to triathlons…how did that happen? When I returned to Chennai from Pune after graduation, I joined Polaris. As you probably know, IT jobs are mostly sedentary. I started to actively look for exercising opportunities when I came across Chennai Trekkers Club. CTC introduced me to triathlons and that was it, it all clicked. They conduct triathlons twice a year in and around Chennai, and I trained and participated in all of them. I eventually learned about Ironman and other global races and started travelling and participating in them. Malaysia in 2014 and 2015, Australia and Netherlands in 2017, Columbo in Feb 2018 and I am going to China and South Africa shortly.

Was any triathlon a breeze? There are no easy triathlons! It all involves consistent training and dedication, but I get what you mean. I have to say so far Malaysia was the toughest, because of its hilly and unpredictable terrain. Colombo, relatively, was easier – I finished the 90 km cycling in 2 hrs 32 min, the swimming in 36 minutes 55 sec and the running in 1 hr 48 min 40 sec.


So what triggered you to become a full time triathlete? In 2015, it came to a point where I clearly preferred to race and train than work inside an office. So I took the plunge to follow my passion. It was not an easy decision, but then I have never been the kind of person who will agonize or waver indefinitely. At some point, if you have a passion and vision, you have to make a choice. Once you make it, then you have to do everything necessary – from monetary investment to setting self-paced goals and networking hard – in order to meet your goals.

So how do you train? In general, when it comes to training for a triathlon, consistency is key. You don’t have to train every single day, but you do have to train consistently, say, three or four days a week, and you need to have your own customized schedule to follow. Emergencies happen, you can miss one or two workouts, but you need to be disciplined enough to get back on track in no time.

Do you have a trainer? Everyone needs a trainer! I met my trainer Lucie Zelenkova in Malaysia in 2015. She is a prolific triathlete based in South Africa and she has designed my workout schedule which I follow every day. Yes, it’s possible to have a long-distance coach! We have weekly skype sessions and she sends me workouts and diet charts and is there for me whenever I need her advice.

The question everyone wants an answer to – what do you eat? I eat normal Indian food. But where I differ is in my plating, I don’t fill it with a mountain of white rice! I make sure I eat a well-balanced meal of equal amounts of veggies, protein and carbs in the form of millets. In my opinion, you don’t need to be on any special diet to train for a triathlon. You just need to make healthy food choices and eat good food in the right quantity. Don’t eat junk food, don’t eat too much or too little, and you will do perfectly fine.

Global races are expensive, do you have sponsors? I still fondly remember the time when my past employer Polaris sponsored me to participate my first Ironman triathlon in Malaysia. This year, Running Lab is my sponsor for all my sporting equipment and attire needs. Otherwise, I have to sponsor myself for all other expenses, like travel and accommodation. But that’s how it is. You need to invest in yourself when you are competing in a global scale sport. The more you do, the more chances you have in networking and meeting potential sponsors, runners, trainers. And the experience and exposure is fantastic, so it’s all worth it.

Tri.Crash.Burn is Born

In 2015, 25 Dream Runners asked to train under me and I did it in the mornings and weekends while still working a full time job. I loved the experience and it inspired me to start Try Crash Burn, offering customized and scientific coaching for runners and triathletes. I concentrate only on training for triathlons.

So if I wanted to train for a triathlon can I join?  Yes, but you have to be ready to be trained. For example, I cannot teach you to swim or cycle. You already have to be a swimmer and a cyclist when you sign up for my training. If you are differently-abled, I’d be happy to train you if you have already found your guide runner.

What is the time line for training for a triathlon? If you already know cycling and swimming, then 6 months of intense training is the bare minimum. But one year is a more sustainable and comfortable pace, which you should take if you are not on some unreasonable deadline to participate in a triathlon. In Chennai, the running scene is vibrant, but not many are cyclists and about 98% are non-swimmers. So that’s an unequal balance, and it’s largely a standard status for an Indian triathlete aspirant. First step is to identify which discipline is your weakest and then start training in it.

What advice do you have to those aspiring to be triathletes? Don’t over train, and don’t under train. I don’t recommend any one to train on their own for a triathlon, as risk of injury is higher and you cannot self-correct any errors. If you are serious about being a triathlete, find a qualified trainer who is in sync with your fitness level and goals, and you will be able to achieve your targets in no time.

Raghul Trekker can be contacted at http://www.tricrashnburn.com. His FB page is https://www.facebook.com/tricrashnburn



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 wind of change

The first role model for black and female athletes, Capt Seshadri remembers the stunning achievements of the ‘Tornado’ Wilma Rudolph.

The date was November 12, 1994. The flag of the state of Tennessee flew at half mast as the citizens shed tears at the passing away of child number 20. From a family that had two more siblings. And all of them from a railway porter father who was twice wedded. This is the story of the ‘Tornado’ of the 1960s… the fastest woman on earth.

The Early Years

Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three golds in a single Olympics, was born on June 23, 1940, into a family of indigents. From early childhood, she suffered from various illnesses like pneumonia and scarlet fever, and at the age of 4, contracted infantile paralysis. In the process of recovering from this debilitating disease caused by the polio virus, she was forced to wear a leg brace for the next four years. The following years were a constant trip to Nashville for treatment and massages for her leg, which was supported by an orthopaedic shoe. But this wonder kid, at age 12, broke away from the restrictions and began walking without artificial support.

Back at high school as a tenth grader, Wilma began playing basketball and her rare, natural talent was spotted by Ed Temple, the track and field coach of Tennessee. And so, fourteen year old Wilma signed up for his summer training camp; in a short time, she was winning as many as nine events in a single meet. Even while a high school student, she trained with the Tennessee State University women’s track team, the Tigerbelles, racing and winning amateur athletic events with amazing regularity.

The Olympics

Wilma’s Olympic debut came about in 1956 at Melbourne, where she competed in the 200 metres and collected bronze in the 4×400 metres relay. Some time later, while still a student, she ran the 200 metres at Abilene in the US Olympic track and field trials in a world record time that stood its ground for eight years! Her sprint to fame however, came four years later at the Stadio Olimpico at Rome, where she set the cinder track ablaze with three golds, in the 100 & 200 metres and the 4×100 metre relay, in the process becoming the first American woman to achieve a triple Olympic gold. But the 200 metres still proved her favourite where, although she won gold in the final in 24.0 seconds, she had already set a new Olympic record of 23.2 seconds in the opening heat!

The ‘Tornado’

Wilma Rudolph was one of the first role models for black and female athletes. Her Olympic success is quoted as having given a tremendous boost to women’s participation in track and field events in the United States. The effect of her successes went far beyond her collection of medals; she was instrumental in breaking the gender barrier in a male dominated area of track and field athletics. A sensational achievement in such an era, fighting physical disability, fiscal hardship and a social handicap, proving to the world that in a battle of disability vs determination, the winner is ever predictable.



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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Game. Set. And unmatched.

Capt Seshadri encountered a determined athlete in Madhu Bagri, who only believed in excelling no matter what the odds.

We watch Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal slug it out on the courts. Athletes supreme, fitness and endurance a byword in sport. And yet, even they are falliable, succumbing every once in a while, to mental fatigue and bodily injury. What then of a young woman, born with a disability, facing physical pain and psychological pressure and yet making a mark on the international tennis scene?

Infantile polio confined her to a wheelchair from the tender age of 18 months. Later, at age 11, a spinal surgery kept her in bed for three years. Her family literally gave up on her. But her spirit remained unchained. The indomitable spirit of Madhu Bagri, India’s first international woman wheelchair tennis player. A brave young woman who has faced extreme odds of being born different, into a family who knew next to nothing about coping with her problem, and a sibling with an outright abhorrence of her difference.

Madhu went through school but had to stop after her surgery; much against her desire, the family wanted her to quit studying further. Alone but undaunted, she pursued her studies through distance education and graduated in Commerce, undeniably proud of her academic achievement. Says Madhu: “That phase of my life was akin to waging a world war. Wherein I was at one end and everyone else at the other and the fight was bitter and brutal. Everyone including my family asked me to quit my studies and just accept life as it was. But I never gave up and I fought against all odds to complete my studies and I did so with flying colours.”

The Journey Begins

In her early years, she had always evinced a great deal of interest in sport, unfortunately never having heard about para sports or even imagined physically impaired people being able to indulge in any kind of sporting activity. Still, she used to spend hours in her backyard in Ahmedabad, in a wheelchair, playing badminton, and willing herself to reach the shuttle every time.

Having graduated and wanting to pursue a career, Madhu worked in a few organisations and even tried to venture out on her own in business. However, like her earlier years of study, her career journey too was not a pleasant one. Poor infrastructure, miles of red tape and an indifferent attitude by those around her were major stumbling blocks. The turning point in her life came about in 2012 when she decided to revive her long ignored but still burning passion for sport. It was only after she joined a badminton academy that she realised that there was something called sport for the disabled. She never looked back.

Unstoppable Athlete

Although she had been playing badminton, tennis was her first love and it had been a dream to be able to play the game. A casual question by a coach spurred her to take up wheelchair tennis; within a few months of commencing training, she qualified to play international tournaments. Pramesh Modi, a tennis coach, spotted her ability and the fire in her to excel against odds. Under his tutelage, in a short span of three years, she won the national championship twice. From the time she took up the sport, she has participated in ten international tournaments, finishing second in one of them. In the process, Madhu Bagri has earned the distinction of being the first woman to represent India in a wheelchair tennis tournament for women and also the first to be ranked internationally in ITF wheelchair tennis.

Madhu has quietly lived on her own for the past 14 years or so, preparing to play more tournaments in the coming years. To further strengthen her muscles, she has taken to swimming, under the instruction of her coach. Her inspiration to dream and aim higher stems from the fact that not just differently-abled sports-persons, but even able-bodied people are motivated by her courage, enthusiasm and never say die spirit.  Game, set and match indeed.



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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Marathoner Unlimited

Capt Seshadri shares the story of Paula Jean Radcliffe, marathon runner extraordinaire, who has become the undisputed queen of long distance running. 

Three-time winner of the London Marathon. Three-time New York Marathon champion. Topper at the Chicago Marathon. Current world record holder, with a time that has not been broken in 15 years.  And a world record in the 10k with an astonishing time of 30:21!

Paula Jane Radcliffe, MBE, is an extraordinary Englishwoman, who overcame bouts of asthma and anaemia, to become the undisputed queen of the ultimate long distance run. Born on December 17, 1973 at Cheshire, Paula began her foray into running from the tender age of seven, alongside her father while he trained for his marathons, first as a competitive athlete and later as a hobby, to lose weight after giving up smoking.

Training under Alex Stanton, an experienced and talented coach, Paula, despite her frail frame and relatively small size, first tasted victory as a junior in 1992 at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Boston, despite suffering from what was diagnosed as exercise induced asthma coupled with a history of anaemia. Competing in the Great North Cross Run, Paula defeated the defending champion by 25 seconds, finishing the race in 8 inches of snow.

In 2002, she stepped up her sights to the full marathon, winning the London Marathon on debut, with a record time of 2:18:55. The same year, she literally sprinted across the finish line in 2:17:18 in Chicago, setting a new world record and breaking the existing one by over 90 seconds. Her still standing world record of 2:15:25 was set amidst controversy at the London Marathon of April 2003, the debate being fuelled by the fact that she used two men runners to assist in pacing her. The record was rescinded, but better sense prevailed and the organisers soon had it reinstated.

In London in 2005, Paula was afflicted with a bad stomach cramp, while halfway through the course. In pain and a with horrifying need for a break, Paula had her most embarrassing moment when she had to relieve herself by the roadside, without shelter from the crowd or the cameras.  The iron hearted lady went on to win the event in a world beating time of 2:17:42. A red faced Paula later apologised, but the sporting media went on to describe it as the top running moment in history.

Paula Radcliffe was an unconventional runner who never set limits or timings for the stages of the run. Her mantra was: Run your best as long as you feel good. Why set limits? Why slow down when you are running your best? Probably, the most important lesson marathoners could learn from her is to discard their timing devices and run their hearts out sans stages or limits.

In 2010, she was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame, an honour richly deserved. Paula Radcliffe ended her competitive running career with the London Marathon in 2015, as an athlete supreme, a runner without limits.



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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The Journey of running a Marathon

Marathoner Tarun Walecha, talks about his passion for running marathons ahead of the New Delhi Marathon 2018, to be held on Feb 25. 

If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” – Emil Zatopek

While most of my running friends would relate to the quote above, the ones who have run a marathon would know exactly what the feeling behind the quote is. My tryst with this much sought experience started in the beginning of year 2014, when I first thought of taking this giant leap… though it’s been over three years now when I first stood on the start line of erstwhile SCMM, in my mind I’m still trying to find my feet, and put my claim to be called a marathoner. Having said that,yes I have finished four full marathon so far in as many attempts, and the experience has been overwhelming to say the least….but I feel I’m yet to run a marathon in its glory.

Preparing for the Dream 

I know this could be a debatable stand, end of the day running a marathon is all about finishing it on both your feet, irrespective of finish time, as far it’s within the official cut off. And no, I’m not trying to take away anything from a 6 hour finisher vis-à-vis a sub 3 speedster – what I’m trying to talk about is the journey of dreaming to run a marathon, and then to live that dream, which would be same for most marathoners (if not all).

The first step towards realizing that dream is the 18 weeks of training schedule that one would take up, culminating at the finish line on the D day. Interestingly, this entire experience is not even about just those 18 weeks, running each of your workout and LSD run or finally running those 42.2 km. The experience is about each of the day in those weeks, every thought that passes through your mind each of those morning, each action as you begin to evaluate, each of those evenings that you choose to stay home so as not to miss the training next morning, every new friend that you make while trying to coordinate long runs and most of all, every doubt that crosses your thoughts when you stand at the start line.

Every pain and agony that you’re reminded of when you start your run, every motivational chat with a friend or your self-evolved mantra that comes to your mind which helps you leave those negative thoughts behind, everything you tell yourself when your body is screaming for you to stop and finally the exhilaration that courses through your mind and body when you step across that last timing mat. It is about all that and not mere statistics.

My journey so far

In my four years of this journey so far, starting from the day the seed to run a full marathon was sown in my mind, I have had my own set of experiences. People who would come down on the streets of Mumbai in the wee hours just to clap for strangers, or the ones who would stay on the course for hours just to offer some fruit or drinks to runners. Fellow runners who would just pat you as they pass by on seeing you slowing down or just that scorching sun beating down upon you just when you’re hitting that proverbial wall. Each of these moments has not only been etched in my mind, but it has been imbibed  into me, forever changing me.

Friends who came along and reposed their faith in me to take this leap, coaches and mentors who helped me understand and train and of course, most importantly the labyrinth of thoughts and struggles within which I had no choice but to handle myself. Having done 4 full marathons so far, while I have gathered enough stories of my own and a sizable bag of experiences – what still eludes me is the satisfaction I long for in those 42.2 kilometer, the feeling when perhaps I can proudly claim to be a marathoner.

The fifth leap

In these last four attempts of mine, I have been through struggles, elation, mind games, senses of achievement as well but ironically even experienced failure. One of my biggest take away is that at the end of each of these runs I felt like a different person. Something within me changed, a thought left behind which germinated in the times to come and became a part of my natural thinking process. Perhaps, this is what the experience of marathon running is all about.

In a weeks’ time from now, when I plan to take this leap for the fifth time at the IDBI Federal New Delhi Marathon, I know all my thoughts will come rushing back and each moment would just flash in front of my eyes, my fears, my courage and apprehensions would all dawn upon me at the same time. I still don’t know if I will come out on the top , but I do know this experience will once again enrich me and make a better person to take me further on this journey.


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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