Motivation Comments Off on An Entrepreneur. Ultra-marathoner. Dreamer. |

An Entrepreneur. Ultra-marathoner. Dreamer.

Taher Merchant talks to Deepthi Velkur about how his quest to leading a healthier life led him towards running.

As parents and working professionals, we often neglect ourselves or things we love – don’t we?

“Carve out and claim the time to care for yourself and kindle your own fire” – Amy Ippoliti.

In talking with Taher, this quote came to mind and it fit his story perfectly – how he decided to make time for himself and things he loves, like spending time with his wife for instance or staying healthy.

In his quest for a healthier life, Taher decided to take up running on a whim and that progressively turned into an obsession. His incredible running journey has seen him achieve some amazing personal milestones like becoming the first Indian male to successfully complete the Tenzing Hillary Everest Extreme Ultra-marathon (in 2018).

Running milestones aside, he currently is an athlete for Fast & Up Nutrition, Puma and has been an ambassador for “Life is calling” in 2018.

FM: What kindled your interest to take up running?

Taher: Running was born of out a need to spend quality time with my wife, Soraya.  We are both busy individuals and like most couples needed our “me” time. So, we decided to make that time while working towards a healthier lifestyle. Running was the first thing that came to mind and we started running in Rani Kittur Chennama stadium in Jayanagar. Once we began, I saw a marked improvement in my fitness, energy levels and realized that I truly enjoyed running. That’s when I figured that I wanted to be a serious runner and push myself to achieve something.

FM: Running a business takes a lot out of you. How do you find time for training and participate in various events?

Taher: It’s funny because most of my friends don’t believe that I work as I am always either running or training. Being a part of a family-owned business is a blessing – my dad is my backbone and has always supported my training and always steps in when I have to take a step back from work. I run a tight ship at work and have a fantastic team that runs the show when I am training and running around the globe. It’s important to make time for the things you love, and running is one of my great loves.

FM: When did your association with JJ’s (Jayanagar Jaguars) running club begin? How has joining this club helped you?

Taher: I ran a few marathons in 2014 and 2015 as an amateur and I realized that to further develop my running technique and endurance, I would need professional coaching – that led me to join Jayanagar Jaguars in 2016.  Under Coach Pramod’s tutelage, I have been able to dramatically improve my running technique and endurance over several marathons.

FM: You were one of the first Indians to complete the gruelling Everest marathon – care to share your experience?

Taher: I realized that high-altitude running excited me – it was challenging and exhilarating. I felt connected with nature and everything around me – this was more than a runner’s high, it was my calling. I wanted to participate in one of the most difficult races in the world and wanted to be the first Indian man to finish it.

As I researched the Mt. Everest ultra-marathon, the reality of it hit me – it was going to be challenging, it required disciplined preparation and it would keep me away from my family.  Truth be told, I was scared but I made it my mission, my ultimate goal, to run the Everest ultra-marathon in 2018.

I started training and my coach put me on a new training regimen – finishing 1111KM in 12 weeks. He was determined to push me – physically and mentally.  This was an invaluable gift- it helped deeply condition my mind and body. I ran several marathons as part of my training, focusing on improving my endurance, pacing, strength and timing.

Initially, as I trained, I kept my mission a secret, from my friends and family.  My concern stemmed from the feeling that everyone would try to dissuade me given the difficulty and risks of running such a challenging race. I finally broke the news to my coach, family and friends and on hearing the news were stunned but at the same time very supportive of my decision.

It was an 11-day trek to the Everest Base Camp which is the starting point of the race. The primary advice to the entire group by our trek guide was to take each day at a time, acclimatize, eat well, drink lots of liquids and sleep well. Our trek route was mapped out thoroughly to ensure that we’d be able to acclimatize to the weather, the incline, and stay safe and healthy.

Each day on the trek was memorable – I met friendly and curious locals while witnessing the ever-changing terrain and weather.  As we ascended, the air became thinner and breathing also became quite challenging but we were sustained by healthy meals, balancing proteins and carbohydrates so that we replenish our bodies and energy levels.

On the morning of May 29th, we all gathered at the start line.  With the temperature at sub-zero, the ultra-marathon had begun. I had one goal – run the race sans injuries. After Gorakshep, the terrain improved slightly and I felt much more confident and started running to get to the 23 km checkpoint.  It was at this point that the race got really exciting and challenging for me as we’d now be running over several hills. We were given a Nepali support runner to help us navigate through the hills. 11 hours into the race, the skies got progressively darker and snow started falling.  It was magical but the terrain started getting treacherous and I needed to make a big decision – do I risk running in the dark through the snow or should I find a safe refuge for the night, take a 4-hour penalty and resume my journey the next morning? I decided to take a break!

The next morning, I started running at 6 and pushed myself over the next 3 hrs. As I got closer to the finish line, I became quite emotional.  I thought of my family who’d stood by me like a rock, my friends who kept motivating me and last but not least, the man who’d helped me push my body and mind this far, my coach Pramod Deshpande. I finally crossed the finish at 9.05am becoming the first Indian male to ever finish the Everest Extreme Ultra. My dream had become my reality.

Elated, joyful, relieved, my immediate priority was getting back home to my wife, kids and family.  I just wanted to celebrate this moment with them.

FM: Nutrition plays a big role in every athlete’s life. How do you plan your nutrition?

Taher: Nutrition is the cornerstone for any athlete. I use Fast & Up products prior, during and post my workout. BCAA is something I swear by for recovery of my muscles. I have Ryan Fernando from Qua Nutrition on my team who plans my nutritional needs. My typical day consists of eating small meals throughout the day. A lot of greens, nuts and of course butter chicken and biryani once a week. My current intake is of about 2400 calories a day. Ryan is working to bringing it down to 2000 calories a day as it is a race requirement for a multi-day race I am taking part in soon.

FM: Marathons/Ultra-marathons do not always go as per plan. How do you strategize and finish strong in a race?

Taher: Ultra-marathon is a solo running sport. It is a fine balance between the mind and body. I make sure that I am mentally prepared because after a point the legs don’t do the job, the heart and head do it. I make sure that as I approach the mid-way mark I visualize the finish line. This motivates me and strengthens my resolve to finish the race.

FM: Your most recent event was the Ultra Tuffman Desert Championship, Jaisalmer. What was it like to be a part of this race?

Taher: The Tuffman Ultra was an event I was really looking forward to. I was excited to run in the desert on the dunes. The course was flat and easy with hot days and really cold nights. The race started at 5 pm at the Mirwana resort, Jaisalmer. We were instructed for safety reasons to run loops of 1km till 7 am the next morning. The initial 10kms were a breeze and I was just getting warmed up when I twisted my ankle, but I continued.  Around the 25th Km, I picked up the pace and closed in on the man in the first position. I was thrilled and kept going at a constant pace when the unexpected happened.  At the 38th Km, I twisted my ankle for the second time and the pain was immense. I slowed down and continued to walk knowing that I could complete this race even if I walked for the next 20 hrs. As I was walking on course, limping actually, I thought of the long term consequences of walking on a swollen ankle. It could gravely derail my race plans for the future. I had to take a call, a very difficult one.  For the first time in seven years, I have had to pull out of a race. It took a while for it to sink it but I did what I believed was best for me on that day. We all have good days and bad days. I know I will bounce back stronger than ever. Overall it was a race in a beautiful destination with good support staff. I will try to go back in 2019 and conquer it.

FM: Which has been your best and worst race so far? Why?

Taher: The best race has undoubtedly been the Everest Ultra. I have taught me a lot as a runner. I don’t think I could ever have a bad or “worst” race because each race has had a purpose in teaching me more about myself, my limits and what I can achieve.

FM: You are constantly raising the bar for yourself with every run. What drives you?

Taher: It comes from within. Growing up, I was always taught that I was my toughest competition. I was fortunate enough to be in a home where there was no pressure to compete with anyone, but yourself. Being the best version of me was always a top priority. Whether it was business, or a hobby, at the end of the day, I always pushed myself to be the best I could be. With running, I achieved what most people around me thought was impossible with the support of my family. I was unhealthy and overweight when I began my running journey. Now, when I have reached what most people think is my pinnacle, I ask myself my favourite question – What next? and that keeps me going.

FM: If there was one quality which running imbibed in you, what would it be?

Taher: Discipline. No matter what you do, without discipline, nothing works. Overcoming so many obstacles showed me the power of faith.  But most of all running has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to.

FM: What running goals do you have for the next few years?

Taher: I would like to take part in the UTMB (The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) someday. in April 2019, I will participate in one of the most difficult trail races in the world – The Marathon Des Sables, Morocco which is a self-supported 250km race across the Sahara Desert. In July 2019, I will participate in The DFBG Ultra Marathon in Poland and later this year, I will be participating in a mountain race called the Solang Sky Ultra.

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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Featured Comments Off on Your Excuses are your most valuable assets |

Your Excuses are your most valuable assets

Guest Columnist and Runner, Anjana Mohan talks about how to deal with excuses that prevent you from running.

“I don’t know how”

“I’m too busy”

“I’m not sure my body can take this”

Do you catch yourself finding “reasons” to avoid something challenging? Do you find excuses to resist making the changes in your life that you know you need? Instead of focusing on ways to make things happen we often find ourselves doing the opposite. In each “reason” lies the greatest insight towards becoming the person we ultimately want to be.

James Altucher, an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur and bestselling author once wrote an interesting article titled, “Ultimate cheat sheet for dealing with excuses”. He points out that the gap between “what I have now” and “what I would like” is exactly all of my excuses. He says that all we need to do is work our way through the excuses. That’s it!

“Either you figure out how to do without it, work around and use alternatives, or simply work to build or create it” – James Altucher.

Here I offer you my learning from Altucher as adapted for the world of running and fitness.

Let’s start with the basics – the four essential steps to beat an excuse:

Step 1: Recognize that your excuse is the limitation that you must work to overcome

Step 2: Ask if you can do without it, or work around it, if not

Step 3: Work incrementally to build or get what you need. If all of that doesn’t work,

Step 4: Ignore the reasons and proceed anyway (the ‘I don’t give a damn’, I’ll do it anyway attitude!).

Now let’s apply these basics to the top 6 fitness excuses we make:

# 1 on the list – I don’t have time (oh come on! Who hasn’t used this one so far? J)

# 2 and a close favourite for the # position is – I’m not a morning person

# 3 and a crowd favourite – the weather isn’t ideal

# 4 I simply can’t afford it at this time (quite a practical issue but there is always an inexpensive alternative)

# 5 I’m too old for this and

# 6 this is one where our inner demons pull us down – I don’t think I am capable of this or my body isn’t cut out for this

Let’s apply the 4-step technique to each and see how that works.

# 1 – I don’t have time

How often do you not have time to take a shower or brush your teeth? Sure, brushing your teeth takes less time than a 30-min run, but there are plenty of 30-min segments that we waste in a day. Can you honestly say that you spend every minute of your day so optimally, that you cannot find a 30-minute segment for a run? Consider that 30 minutes of exercise clears your head and makes the rest of your day more productive than it would have otherwise been

Time is all about perceptions. Being nimble starts in your head. Don’t make a task seem like a huge effort to prepare for. Put on your running shoes and close the front door behind you, that’s it.

Step 1: Recognize that your time is the limitation that you must work to overcome.

Step 2: Can you do without 30 mins of something else you take time for during the day?

Step 3: Can you work in smaller increments ‐ like 5 to 10 mins segments multiple times a day?

How can you work to eke more time out of your day?
It’s never the ideal time to do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, maybe it will be too cold or too wet or too hot. That’s ok. Here’s where you apply Step 4: Ignore your reasons and proceed anyway. Because you learn simply by doing, and the next time you put on your shoes you will automatically adjust yourself to accommodate and improve the experience. But this time around, just leave the house, just go workout and deal with the discomfort. While you work out, you can think about how to improve your next workout experience.

# 2 – I’m not a morning person

Step 1: If this is your reason, your time preference is your limitation to work through.

Step 2: Can you do without? Can you do with less sleep and take naps during the day?

Step 3: Can you carve yourself a different time to work out. If yes, then great, in trying you will find other challenges to work through. If not, the fact that you were not a morning person is now your roadmap to success. Perhaps you need to simply become a morning person for the purpose of fitness alone. If you are successfully working out at other times, and achieving your goals, then not being a morning person is not an issue.

Working to get what you need may mean finding that motivation every morning. Mornings are recommended because the rest of your excuses haven’t been all arranged together by then. By mid‐day or later, many excuses have organized themselves into a mob making the whole effort harder. So, set an alarm clock and just get up when you hear it. No snoozing, no thinking, no leaking energy, you’ve already decided, now just do it.

Successful people don’t usually have the luxury to be morning, night or afternoon people. They simply do whatever it takes, whenever the opportunity is available.

# 3 – The weather isn’t ideal – it’s too cold or too hot or oh my! Looks like rain

Step 1: The weather is hardly ever optimal, so this is a recurring limitation.

Step 2: Can you do without? This may mean forgoing a hair wash after a sweaty workout, the extra time to dry out wet clothes, or the need to feel clean for your afternoon meeting. Perhaps simply doing without the sense of comfort that comes from perfect weather.

Step 3: Can you avoid the weather-related consequences by breaking down your workout –something indoors? Get creative about addressing your reason head-on and conquer it.

Step 4: Forget about the weather and face the consequences. Maybe the outcome is not as you feared after all.

Any time you find yourself using a reason, see if you can recognize a pattern. Have you skipped a workout at least three (3) times before because you found a “reason”?  Three times is enough for you to both recognize the pattern (if you’re being objective), and simultaneously invent a creative way to make “this time” seems unique.
Be objective, if this is the third time, regardless of why you missed the last two chances, use

Step 4: the ‘I don’t give a damn’, I’ll do it anyway attitude.

Just 30 mins and take it cautiously if you need. Your body will remember how to adjust to your “reason”. The extra reward is the feeling of being hardcore, finally working at being who you want to be.

# 4 – I can’t afford it

Step 1: If this is a real limitation, consider how people with very little stay fit.

Step 2: Ask what you can do without or work around not having. Unlike scuba diving, skiing or even biking, which legitimately require some gear, one advantage of running is that you just need shoes. Barefoot advocates preach that even that is optional, with appropriate training. So, the idea that you need to buy tech gear or expensive event registrations is the most permeable and least robust of excuses. You don’t need to “look” like a runner or “dress” like someone who goes to the gym. You simply need to be that person. If that means going out in your scrubs around your house, so be it. There are those who train in combat gear and those who run in sarees. Gear can be an enhancement to convenience and performance, not an excuse for inaction. Sure, if you need to get a prosthetic leg to run, then

Step 3: Work to obtain one or

Step 4: “Don’t give a damn and proceed” anyway, because that’s the best way to develop the motivation to get what you need.

# 5 – I’m too old

Sikh superman Fauja Singh began running at age 89 and is still running today at age 107.

Stanislaw Kowalski only started running (for fun) 16 years ago at age 92, broke records at age 104 and is still running at age 108. No matter how athletic or genetically inclined these men may have been, the ages they began could have easily kept them from running.
Step 1:  Recognize that you are as young as you are ever going to be

Step 2: Work around your age, and better yet, use your life wisdom to be a better athlete

Step 3 & Step 4: Work to build your energy, or simply not worry about your age and give it a shot

# 6 – I’m not capable / My body isn’t meant for this

You can only find what you are capable of by trying it. Humans have the capacity to adapt to situations, survive and thrive through extremes. Casting doubt on your capability, or what your body can or cannot do without even trying is offensive and disrespectful to yourself.

Negativity and positivity are both self-fulfilling prophecies. People redefine their capabilities daily simply by doing.

Step 1: Work to overcome either your capability or your self‐perception

Step 2: Ask if you can do without the sense of physical comfort at all times

Step 3: Work in small increments to build your capability or decrease your need for comfort

Step 4: Forget your perceived capability and just get up and go work out the best you can

People who run with bad form have long given running a bad name. Many use their knees or back as excuses rather than legitimate reasons. If you don’t like running, that’s ok, as long as you have something else that offers the benefits of sustained exercise. If you already have another form of fitness that works for you, then examine what exactly you may be looking for before you begin to apply the steps.

All excuses, whether for fitness or otherwise, map well to this technique. The formula works because it makes us recognize that we are (consciously or unconsciously) choosing our excuses. Once we own these choices, we can opt to engage with our excuses to overcome them.

I conclude with the words of George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, polemicist, and political activist:

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, Make them!”.

GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Anjana started running in the U.S. in 2007 and has helped mentor many from the couch to half marathon. She is passionate about empowering women through running and now runs in Bangalore with Jayanagar Jaguars

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Featured Comments Off on Strength Training for Runners with Coach Zareen |

Strength Training for Runners with Coach Zareen

Reebok certified core fitness coach, Zareen Siddique demonstrates a few workouts for runners to Protima Tiwary. 

“I am running, why should I be thinking about strength training?” Have you ever found yourself asking this question as a runner? Well, strength training for runners is super important because not only does it help build stronger muscles which are involved in running, but also prevents injuries and helps improve posture, form and eventually, your running performance.

But here’s the thing- runners need a different strength training program than regular gym-goers. Instead of pushing movements like bicep curls, bench press and leg extensions, runners need to focus on building strength in particular muscles that help in maintaining balance and posture, like core and glutes.

I asked Functional Fitness Master Trainer, Yoga and Body Weight Trainer and Diet Coach Zareen Siddique, the face of fitness we have all come to know as @fitwithzareen on Instagram, to tell us some of the important strength building exercises that runners can benefit from. Here is what she had to say.

What got you started on your journey as a professional fitness coach? 

I was always a sports buff, constantly trying out new workouts and working out to be stronger. I took up fitness professionally 5 years ago. I realised it was time to take things to the next level and share the knowledge that I had gathered over the years.

Are you a runner yourself?

I love the outdoors early morning, but I do complete a long run once a week (mostly on weekends) I also practice yoga, callisthenics and free body movements 5 days a week where I clock in 40minutes of a good workout.

 How do you recommend runners should train?

As far as runners are concerned, they need to focus on the core, glutes and back. Here are some exercises I suggest which can be done with light weights.

  1. For the shoulders
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your arm at the elbow.
  • Keeping your arm bent, move your hand from your shoulder, as if you are marching with your arms bent.
  • Hold weights in your hand to increase resistance.
  1. For the glutes
  • Lie on a mat with your feet on top of a bench. Your feet should be hip to shoulder width apart.
  • Tighten your core and initiate the glute bridge, i.e., push your hips up through the heel while squeezing your glutes. Do not arch your lower back.
  • The top position should have your shoulders and knees in a straight line.
  • Hold for 10 seconds before lowering it. Squeeze your glutes while lowering yourself.
  • Make sure that your core is tightened at all points of this exercise.
  1. For hamstrings
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart. Hold a kettlebell in each hand.
  • Take one leg back and balance yourself on one leg
  • Now bend down (on one leg) without bending your knee. You should feel the stretch on your hamstring.
  1. For the calves and ankles
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart. Now balance yourself on your toes.
  • Squat down without leaning forward, while on your toes.
  • Stand with your feet slight apart.
  • Move your body weight on to your heels and walk.
  • Similarly, move your body weight to your toes and walk.
  1. For the quads (and arms)
  • Stand with your at feet shoulder width
  • Hold a kettlebell in both your hands.
  • Bend down in a squat while holding the kettlebell.
  • While coming up, pull up the kettlebell with both your arms, and bring it to your chest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Army kid who wishes to travel the world one wellness vacation at a time, Protima Tiwary is a freelance content writer by day and Dumbbells and Drama, a fitness blogger by night. High on love and life, she is mildly obsessed about travelling and to-do lists and loves her long gym sessions like a fat kid loves cake.

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Featured Comments Off on Do Miracles happen in Marathons? |

Do Miracles happen in Marathons?

Brijesh Gajera asks a question that is on every runner’s mind, but he is talking about more than just a Christmas miracle.

It wasn’t too long ago when I was on my usual weekend run, I bumped into a fellow runner. We said our hellos and decided to run together while we caught up on our running escapades. He has run quite a few marathons and only a few weeks ago returned from a world major marathon.

That was a big talking point for us – he mentioned that he had trained well for a sub-4-hour finish for a few months leading up to the race, but on race day disaster struck and he suffered from cramps for the last 10K of the race. Despite the setback, he managed to finish the race in 4hours and 10 minutes.

Obviously, I was curious to find out what happened and asked him about it, he told me that he turned up at the start of the race feeling fresh, confident and in the heat of the moment he decided to attempt a 3hour50minute finish!

I was stunned! “Do you believe miracles happen in marathons?” I asked him in disbelief. I guess he was equally in disbelief at my question because he asked me “What do you mean” with an amused look on his face.

I went on to explain that in my long-distance running career spanning over a decade, I have seen many a runner falling prey to the desire of wanting to push themselves higher than what they trained for. They feel fresh, confident, charged up at the start of the marathon and with the race-day euphoria surrounding them, they try and achieve more without being fully ready for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – optimism is great, it’s what keeps us going day in and day out but to be honest, a marathon can be as punishing and as rewarding at the same time especially when you run ahead of the pace you’ve set for yourself.

Nearly all of us get to the start line full of energy (some bit of nervous energy as well) but with a spring in our step and a will to push forward. A marathon is a game to keep that energy intact for 42.195K – that is what we are supposed to achieve in our training. If you have trained yourself for a particular target for weeks and months, your muscles, tendons, joints, veins, and nerves have synchronized themselves to help you do that. All of a sudden, when you surprise them by changing the target on the D-Day, they will respond to you in the beginning, but the chances are that they will wilt as you approach the finish line.

Let me try and quantify this so that you can get a better understanding.

Let’s say, you have decided to complete the race in a time that is 10 minutes faster than your target time that you have trained for as my fellow runner did. That is roughly 14 seconds per km faster for a 42K course (and I am not even talking about the final 195 meters!). Now, you will be able to maintain this pace for a few kilometers but eventually, you will hit the wall where your legs feel like bricks. This is why coaches stress on following a tried and tested method on race day.

In my personal life, I once experienced something you could call a miracle. I ran the Mumbai Marathon aiming for a 3hour 35minute finish, but I managed to finish it in 3hours 29 minutes and 41 seconds. That translates to me running the race at approximately 7 seconds faster per km. For a large part of the race I maintained a pace which was about 2-3 seconds per km faster and only when I crossed the 36KM mark, I figured why not aim for a new target of 3hour30mins? That’s when I pushed myself harder and literally ran like the wind to achieve even lesser than my new target of 3hours and 30 mins. It felt like an absolute miracle!

A word of CAUTION though: I have run faster races since then, but I have never been able to repeat that kind of improvement over a target since. This is why it is called a M…I…R…A…C…L…E.

To aim for a miracle to happen during a marathon is wishful thinking at best and a recipe for disaster at worst. Often the decision to push yourself harder than what your body has been trained for leads to injury or underperformance and in the aftermath of such a race, it could lead to you doubting your training and even yourself. I’m sure you do not want to be in that mind space ever.

If you are still looking for miracles, what could be more wonderful than following your target plan as best as you can and then achieving the results you strived for? Isn’t it miraculous to achieve the target we’ve planned on achieving in a long time and getting our belief reaffirmed in our training and ourselves?

ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Brijesh Gajera is an avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-marathoner and coach at Ashva Running Club.

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Seniors Comments Off on The Spunky Ultramarathoner |

The Spunky Ultramarathoner

Protima Tiwary catches up with the feisty Taru Mateti, an ultramarathoner who is a powerhouse of energy even after 50. 

Feisty and well over 50, this powerhouse performer is not only playing the role of a doting mother and loving wife, but also that of a superwoman who competes in ultramarathons under record timing! We caught up with Taru Mateti for a quick chat to see what keeps her going.

What inspired you to take up running?

I have been actively involved in sports all my life. I only took up running at the age of 49 as a form of recreation. I discovered that running gave me joy and a sense of liberation. I started enjoying running enough to make it my passion, so much so that I decided to pursue it wholeheartedly by leaving my job and concentrating on training for marathons. Point being, it was a hobby that turned into a lifestyle.

How did your family react when you told them about your decision to run?

They have been super supportive! Training for an ultra-marathon is more long-term than training for a full marathon. Hence, a bigger buy-in is needed from the family. It is months of consistent and long training, with a string of no weekend outings because of long runs. Fortunately, my husband runs too and my family understands my passion. If we have family commitments, we plan our running days in a way we can set out time for both family and fitness. Deciding to run an ultra is a big commitment and one must consider all factors, the family being the most important one of them. I am grateful for their support.

You’re not just a marathoner, you’re an ultramarathoner! Could you share the greatest moments of your running career? 

The greatest moments have been at my best and worst races. Let me explain.

I had run the Bengaluru full marathon in 2014 undertrained, tired, and with some niggles. I obviously did not get a good timing and realised how important it was to get a mentor who would guide me with my training, nutrition and even recovery.  This race taught me how to be grateful.

I also remember the 100K Pune Ultramarathon where I ran through the day! I was the only woman running the event that day in the 75K/100K/100 miles combined. I finished fifth amongst all men. The runners high was one of a kind.

Another time I paced a friend in Pune Women’s Half Marathon and she got her PB. Her joy at winning reminded me of how humility and gratefulness are 2 of the most important qualities that will see you through life.

Then there was the time I paced my mentor for 61k in his 161k run, and we kept talking throughout the distance. I learnt so much in that knowledge exchange!

Then there was the Fitathon in April 2017 when I was struggling, and my husband, who had been trailing in all runs till then, was going strong. He could have gone ahead, but he ran with me until the end. This race reminded me of the power of love.

How do you deal with bad races?

It is important to go through some bad races too because you have so much to learn from them! I’ve learnt that one needs to set practical targets, and a sustainable training plan and strategy needs to be thought of to support that target. Bad races have also shown me how important it is to eat well, sleep, and go through the regular body and blood tests.

As an ultramarathoner over 50, your training and mental conditioning would be very different, isn’t it?

Definitely! And I am not just over 50 now, I started all of this only when I was 49! My lifestyle before I took up running has made me injury prone, so my recovery time is longer. I also put in fewer runs and miles than others, and keep a check on my speed. I plan my run, yoga, strength training, and rest days carefully, along with my diet and supplements.

I have stopped wearing high heels (I wore them for more than 30 years!) I have altered my eating habits and am conscious of my posture. I am finally working on my spine, hamstrings, feet, glutes, upper body and core like never before!

Could you shed more light on the challenges and advantages that being on the other side of 50 gets along?

It is great to be on the other side of 50 and running as well as working out. All the wealth in the world can’t buy us good health the way working out for fitness can. Growing old is inevitable, but we have just one body and we have to keep it in high maintenance mode.

With age, women do have to deal with a lot of changes, the main being menopause. Learning to adapt to this new way of life is a part of this lifestyle, and being fit does make things better.

Yes, there are challenges too, so it is important to know your limitations. But that doesn’t mean you should stop yourself from learning new things!

If I had to point out one disadvantage, it would be the fact that being on this side of the age scale doesn’t have too many competitors, and anything that a woman this age does is appreciated a lot. Basically, this attitude encourages mediocrity.

They say consistency is key – but how do you build this consistent pace that they talk about?

Running isn’t only about running; you need to take into consideration the consistency in terms of training, diet and recovery. I do yoga/pilates at least three times a week and strength training twice a week. Yoga is important because it helps improve mobility and breathing, while sleep, nutrition and medical health continue to be important. In order to run well, one must train to run well!

Marathons don’t always go perfectly. Any moment you’d like to share with us where you thought things were going downhill? How did you overcome that?

I do not think about how I am running during my run. I give it my best, learn and move on. But I did have a bad phase due to an injury when I couldn’t do any workouts for a month and had to visit the physiotherapist daily. It frustrated me, I remember crying! But I overcame all of it by focussing on doing the upper body exercises that I was allowed to do, and spending time at work and doing a lot of yoga.

An ultra-marathon is a combination of mental and physical strength- any tips you’d like to share with us on how to stay strong during the race? 

It all boils down to your mental health, isn’t it? Train hard, but also practice self-love. One has to be comfortable in spending time with oneself and nature because most of the runners will find themselves running those long distances alone.

I usually find myself having a conversation with well, myself. Or sometimes I sing! I also count steps, especially when there’s a fuelling stop coming up. I also draft emails, Facebook posts and workout plans in my head while running!

Remember why you started- this will see you through the race, all the way to the finish line. It is difficult to stay motivated, but visualise the goal, why you want it so bad, and be grateful for the effort you’ve put into your training.

As a runner, what is the one quality that defines you?

I will not pick one only,  and would like to say that I am dedicated, self-motivated and hardworking!

Any tips you’d like to leave us with?

It is never too late to start! I started at 49, did my first headstand and L-sits at 53, am learning pilates at the age of 54 and am now trying to master the art of a full split!

Inspirational, to say the least. How many times have we heard “we’re too old for this”? It was a pleasure interviewing Taru Mateti who at an age that people think “is too late” is charging ahead and rightfully earning the title of Marathon Podium Queen with each passing year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Army kid who wishes to travel the world one wellness vacation at a time, Protima Tiwary is a freelance content writer by day and Dumbbells and Drama, a fitness blogger by night. High on love and life, she is mildly obsessed about travelling and to-do lists and loves her long gym sessions like a fat kid loves cake.

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Featured Comments Off on Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 2 |

Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 2

Deepthi Velkur continues her conversation with Naveen John about his training and his move to competitive cycling in the second part of the story. 

If you haven’t read the first part then click here 

When did you move from being a recreational cyclist to a competitive cyclist?

It was a couple of years after I picked up collegiate cycling. My friends convinced me to sign up for a race and I went full on – got myself a bike, some racing gear and showed up for the race and I finished the race.

During my time racing in the US, it was never competitive. I just went out there to ride and have fun. I enjoyed the training, being part of the racing action and never went in with the mentality of winning. In 2012, when I came back to India, it all changed. I felt like I was on a mission and I decided – I want to try and be the best.

You’re a 3-time Indian Time-Trial (ITT) champion and the country’s first International pro-cyclist? What does it take for someone to achieve this?

Oh! I get asked this question a lot. Every time at the national championships, I have kids come up and ask – what must I do to become a national champion?

My response is simple – ride your age X 10,000 KM and you will give yourself a shot at becoming a national champion.

Not many like that response because it puts the onus back on them. In India, cyclists are just not doing enough work compared to cyclists abroad. I realized this for myself when in 2016 I was in Australia where I rode with a professional team and saw 18-year kids train so much more than I did. It got me thinking, “Am I putting in the kilometres”?

It’s a paradigm shift that we need here in India where the athletes need to put in a lot more work. A few years ago, you did not have to work too hard to become a national champion. If your closest competitor was doing 8,000 KM at the age of 23-24, you only need 9,000 KM to beat him. Today, however, you need at least 25,000 KM to beat me (kinda cheeky, since I lost my National title this year despite that, but always “long game”).

It’s true that the infrastructural challenges we have in our country can be blamed for the bar being so low in our sport but at the base of it – practice, kilometres in the legs and hours spent on the pedals are key.

Do you take assistance from a Coach to train yourself for nationals?

I started off on my own in 2013. I self-coached trying to figure out the answers along the way but I fell short and ended up in 4th place. One of the team supporters then recommended I get a coach.

Getting a coach can be quite a daunting proposition – all of a sudden, you are accountable to someone else and constantly graded. The thought of putting your physical readiness in someone else’s hand is quite a leap.

Fears aside, I started working with my first coach in 2014 and that changed my life and introduced me to a whole new world of scientific training. I’m a pretty adept self-learner and as I was being coached, I also upped my level of understanding of the human body, sport science and training. I have since moved on to my 2nd coach who is based out of Australia.

Training in cycling is a very objective process and working with a coach who guides your physical progression can free up time to work on other areas of improvement that you constantly need to as an athlete. So far, cyclists in India have always moaned about a lack of good coaches but that scenario is changing today.

Our concluding part can be read here.

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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Featured Comments Off on Running and Yoga |

Running and Yoga

Guest Columnist, Pallavi Aga talks about how runners need to do yoga to marry constant movement with eternal calm!

Runners are typically ‘Type A’ personalities (ambitious and highly competitive) and are very conscientious about their personal and professional lives. Perfection and discipline are their second nature. Running is a high adrenaline driven activity and causes an adrenaline rush also known as “The Runner’s high”, which though beneficial at times, does cause stress on the body.

We live in an environment where we are constantly bombarded with signals that keep our sympathetic nervous system (it stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response) activated. Runners may face a heightened response to this stress, especially when preparing for an event. Terri Guillemets (an author from Arizona) once said, “Give stress wings and let it fly away”.

Yoga has the magical power to reduce stress and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes healing and emotional health. It adds the Yang to the Yin element always found in a runner’s life.

Introducing Yoga into your life.

Runners are initially sceptical of yoga as it’s difficult for them to sit still for prolonged periods as they are used to the constant movement. When I took up running, I was not interested in yoga myself. It was only later on that I realized that the constant use of running muscles led to stiffness and lack of flexibility which was the harbinger of injuries. It was at that point I understood the importance of yoga and decided on practising it. On further thinking, it hit me – yoga is the key to improving flexibility, calming the nervous system and distressing as its effects extended beyond the realm of the physical body.

Yoga has benefited me in so many ways – improving my flexibility, balance, body toning, strengthening my core and improving my breathing technique which in turn has calmed me down immensely.  Today, I continue to practice yoga under the guidance of my guru Umesh Ji.

Why yoga

Flexibility 

Yoga helps in stretching the stiff, tight muscles and lubricates the joints. The increased flexibility leads to ease of movement which is essential in preventing injury and reducing soreness. For example – the reclining and standing pigeon pose is excellent to stretch the iliotibial tract and the deep muscle pyriformis which are common causes of knee and hip pain in runners. The standing pigeon pose also helps in a deep hip stretch as well as adds to the balance and strength. The frog pose is important for a deep groin stretch. The only word of caution here is that never try to force extreme flexibility on yourself because as a runner this can be counterproductive too.

 Warm up

Surya Namaskar can be used as an excellent form of warm up before a long run. It has to be performed dynamically as pre-run static long stretches are not beneficial.

Balance and Proprioception (sometimes described as the ‘6th sense’)

Balance and Proprioception are very important for runners. A body imbalance increases your chances of stumbles and injuries. Having a balanced posture increases strength and also enhances your proprioception abilities. Standing postures like the Tree posture with eyes closed also increase the proprioception and reflexes.

Strength

Yoga is very helpful to build up the strength of unused muscles in the body.  The muscles which are stiff and inflexible become weak and need to be relaxed and lengthened. Eccentric contraction of these muscles builds strength and stability.

Yoga also aids in building the upper body and core strength which is extremely beneficial for runners. Body weight postures utilize the whole body and not only the legs thereby strengthening the upper torso, arms and shoulders. It also increases the muscle tone causing less fatigue and less weight impact on the legs. A simple pose like Downward dog pose utilizes different muscle groups at the same time.

Breathing technique

Yoga involves full command over your breath and breath with movement being an integral part. It promotes deep belly breathing which is beneficial when used during running prevents you from feeling breathlessness. Yogic techniques focus a lot on correct breathing and prevent the rapid, shallow breathing which can lead to oxygen depletion and toxin accumulation.

Complete body workout

Yoga poses involve all muscles and joints of the body in one pose alone. For e.g. the Toes pose stretches the Toes and the plantar fascia helping in the prevention of plantar fasciitis and foot pain.

The deep intrinsic fascia also gets stretched in long static holds which cause structural benefits to the joints. Chakrasana is one such pose which stretches the whole body.

Endocrine and nervous system

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system calms down the nervous system and brings down the cortisol level. High cortisol levels can cause breakdown of immunity and extreme fatigue and insomnia. Yoga practice makes a runner more mindful of this effect which in turn helps them to be productive in their runs.

Finding your edge

Runners should add yoga to their cross-training practice and they will observe a lot of benefits with the development of a healthy mind and body connection. It’s all about finding your edge and gently pushing into it so as to enjoy the sport rather than causing injuries and stress.

Combining yoga as an element to balance out your running will transform the way you feel, make you more agile and enjoy your running in a whole new way – with so many benefits to boot, it becomes important to include it as part of your cross-training!

ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Pallavi Aga is a doctor by profession and an avid follower of eating clean and green with a holistic approach to health and diet. She is actively helping the society towards walking down the path of health through Facebook live events and also with media groups like India Today, Dainik Jagran and Pinkathon.

 

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Motivation Comments Off on Getting Fit with every Run |

Getting Fit with every Run

Pinaak Pande, an investment banker by profession with Northern Trust took to running 4
years ago with a mission to get fit and he speaks to Deepthi Velkur about his journey.

 

“I may not be there yet but I’m closer than I was yesterday”.

Pinaak Pande, an investment banker by profession with Northern Trust took to running 4 years ago with a mission to get fit. He has come a long way since then and as we listen to him talk through his journey, there’s one resonating message he would like for us to focus on – patience is key.

What was the key driver to pick running as your choice of sport?

Sports was always a part of my life – I represented Karnataka and Bangalore University in Baseball and Softball for 5 years. In 2010, I got an offer with an MNC bank and had to work night shifts and sports took a backseat. The long work hours, bad eating habits and inactive lifestyle had me weighing in at 90kgs. In 2014, I ran my first 5k (majja run) at the TCS 10K event and it was hard due to my unhealthy lifestyle. That’s when it hit me – I was unfit! It was a jolt and I decided to do something about it. That’s how I joined a running group and haven’t looked back since.

Given that you have a crazy work schedule. How do you find time to run?

Where there’s a desire, you persevere – that’s my thinking!

The last 4 years was maniac – I used to wrap up my day at the office around 4 AM and then head straight for the training. Despite the madness, I always felt better after my runs and this drove me to make time for my runs.

You did the 12-hour stadium run earlier this year? How did you train for it? Did all go as per plan during the race?

This was my first ultra-run and a very memorable one too. The amount of training I went through during this phase was immense and quite challenging. I trained 7 days a week with one goal in mind – finish the race no matter what. I followed the 2 weeks of high mileage and 1 week of low mileage training plan, focusing on my strength training and cross training. I have had weeks where my weekly mileage was higher than 90kms. My weekdays were pretty much sorted with a recovery swim post the weekly runs.

You can plan everything to a T but things don’t always go as per the plan – exactly what happened to me. It kept raining all day and during the race, it poured for 8 hours making it hard to run especially with the humidity being so high. Unfortunately, I fell short by 5.6 km from the planned target (80kms), clocking 74.4kms at the end of 12 hours.

Nutrition plays a big role in every athlete’s life. How do you plan your nutrition?

I keep it very simple. I have a big bowl of seasonal fruits for my breakfast with 2 glasses of water mixed with jaggery and sattu (natural protein for the body). For lunch, I have a millet-based diet, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds as an evening snack and millet-based food for dinner.

In the recent SPBM event, you were the pacer for the 2hr30mins bus? What has been your experience of being a pacer?

It’s always a great feeling to be a pacer as you are helping the running community achieve their goals.

In this event, I was pacing the 2hr30min bus. I started with a bunch of runners but towards the end, there were about 15 runners who completed with me. As far as I remember most of the runners were doing their debut HM and a couple of them with 3 HM’s under their belt. I completed the race in 2hr29mins7secs just within the target time. The bus I was pacing was filled with conversations around nutrition, hydration and running. It was a comfortable race and I did not face any challenges along the way.

The satisfaction you get when you help other runners achieve their respective goals is immense and hence, I would choose to pace over racing any day at any event. I believe in karma, do good and the good will come looking for you.

Do you wish to take part in a triathlon event in the near future? How are you going about your training? 

Oh yes, I would definitely take part in a triathlon event post a couple of ultra-marathons.  I do include cycling and swimming as part of my cross training workouts. It takes a lot of training to be a successful triathlete. I am strengthening my weaknesses to get better 😉

Being one of the ambassadors for Pinkathon, you obviously have a connection to the cause? Your thoughts on this? 

Pinkathon is about women empowerment and spreading awareness about how important it is to take care of one’s health. According to me, it’s very important for women to focus on their fitness apart from what they do on a given day. I want to ensure that all women take the right steps to stay healthy and fit if they haven’t already. “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live”— I believe in this mantra. I am glad that my mentor and Guruji, Milind Soman chose me to be an ambassador for Pinkathon.

You need the right physical and mental strength to run a marathon. How do you stay strong during a race?

I would say you got to be more mentally strong than physical. Running a Marathon is easy but convincing your mind is tough. The battle is between your mind and the body for those 42kms. Your mind will always want to give up after running for a certain distance but being mentally strong is the key to run marathons and ultra-marathons. I train solo most of the days and I train my mind by altering the distance just before I head out for a run. This way you are removing the mental block from your mind.

Do you train with a coach? If yes, how has that benefited you in making you a better runner today?

Yes, I do have a mentor who trains me to be a better person every day. According to me, coaches are there to guide you and without them, certain things are not achievable.

You constantly set new highs for yourself. Where does this motivation come from?

Yes, certainly. I love to push myself and set new highs all the time as I believe you got to constantly challenge yourself no matter how much you have achieved or what challenges you might face. The challenges and my past achievements keep me going and motivate me all the way until the finish line or the end of my goal.

What is the advice you have for anyone who wants to take up an endurance sport like “running”?

Get up at 5 in the morning for a month and head out for a short run/jog and see the difference it makes to your life and you will certainly see a lifestyle change.

What big races do you have insight in the coming year?

 I definitely want to do a 24-hour stadium run and a couple of ultra-marathons in the next calendar year.

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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Training Comments Off on Understand the Maffetone Method |

Understand the Maffetone Method

Deepthi Velkur looks into a popular method that runners around the world are adopting to get leaner and fitter.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle.

I want to get better. I want to be fitter and leaner. I want to train right without feeling drained out or being injured. I’m sure we have all had these thoughts and questions in our head. Is there a way we can actually achieve this?

The answer is – Yes, we can! The reason for you not seeing any improvements, feeling burnt out or prone to injuries is not only a problem with your training, diet or your shoes. It could be your aerobic base or the lack of it. For an athlete to perform well and overall have good health it is important to have a solid aerobic base. This can be achieved by following the Low-Heart rate training also popularly known as the Maffetone Method.

So what is the Maffetone method?

The MAF Method is a philosophy developed over the course of 40 years by Dr Phil Maffetone which helps individuals take charge of their health and reach their performance potential.

The premise of the method says that by developing your Maximum Aerobic Function(MAF) where you improve your aerobic base, become fat adapted, improving your energy levels, losing body fat, improving athletic performance, minimizing injuries and ramp up your performance potential.

It is a style of training where one focusses mainly on their aerobic running using a heart rate formula of 180- your age. “Most people do not develop good aerobic conditioning as it takes time and one needs to be consistent. Such people end up with poor metabolism and aerobic physiology. In order to build your aerobic fitness, you need to make sure the heart rate does not exceed this threshold and by doing that you’re expending the fat for fuel and not sugar. When you run aerobically you tend to feel energized and don’t have the need to nap or require an energy gel to replenish your carb stores.

Most runners tend to use this method during their base training phase by not allowing their heart rate to spike more than this “aerobic maximum”. You can measure this using a heart rate monitor each time you run so that you don’t exceed the limit and stay 0-10 beats below it. Once the heart rate goes beyond this threshold, the aerobic muscles start to function less efficiently and the anaerobic muscles take over. It’s good to note that Aerobic muscles use body fat and oxygen for energy consumption whereas anaerobic muscles use the glycogen stores within the anaerobic muscle cells which do not last more than 2.5 or 3 mins.

Benefits of using the 180 formula

You have to train at a low heart rate in order to build your aerobic base, a relaxed pace where you are able to make easy conversation. Finding the right heart rate is an individual process. After several evaluations of many athletes, Dr Maffetone came up with this formula to determine an optimal heart rate training zone.

The main benefits of using the 180 formula are that your body is trained to burn more of the stored fat for energy consumption. It also enables you to run, cycle or do other activities much faster over a period of time without overtraining. This happens with sustained practice where your body becomes efficient over time to perform faster with better stamina while maintaining the same training heart rate.

Using the Maffetone Method to build endurance

  • Determine your Maximum Aerobic Threshold: Using the 180 formula, figure out your threshold heart rate
  • Keep a heart rate monitor handy: Get yourself a good heart rate monitor which beeps or vibrates indicating your heart rate has spiked above your aerobic threshold.
  • Train right: Phil Maffetone recommends you to run at your threshold aerobic heart rate. By doing that one trains the aerobic muscles to function at its maximum making you run more efficiently and burning the fat to fuel energy instead of having to rely on the anaerobic muscles. Over time your pace increases while keeping your heart rate below the specified threshold. The training plan should be individualized based on the years of experience as a runner. Do not train in groups as each person’s capabilities are different and vary from one person to another.
  • MAF test: It is necessary to track your progress and course correct along the way. This provides you with the required motivation to push and also to make changes were needed. Always start with a warm-up and run a distance of 5 Km at your maximum aerobic heart rate and record it. Repeat this test at the same time and route every month from now to check how you’ve progressed. You should notice a marked improvement in the MAF timings and subsequently in the race timings as well.
  • A warm-up is must: This is a definite deal breaker with respect to this method of doing a 15min warm-up. We tend to slip warm-ups but by doing that you are spiking up your heart rate and it becomes difficult to bring it down. Hence a gentle warm-up will gradually increase your heart rate and you can see good results.
  • Controlled breathing: By breathing through your nose, you can keep your pace and heart rate under control. You might find it a bit hard at the beginning, but it takes time for the results to show and over time becomes easy to run at slower paces.
  • Maintaining running form and cadence: Running at a slow pace tends to affect your posture and cadence and incorporate one or two workouts after the initial 3 months to work on this.

Challenges and pay-offs

While there are huge followers of this method, there are people who disagree with the method of training. The pace you follow in this method is excruciatingly slow leading to boredom and results take time.

Conclusion: The MAF method covers a lifestyle concept encompassing diet, nutrition, exercise and stress management. Results take about 3-4 months to show. Joining a Maffetone facebook group or a running buddy can help immensely and keeps you motivated to push on.

Be patient, repeat it and the results will follow.

You can read about Ajit Thandur‘s and Pallavi Aga‘s experience with the Maffetone Method.

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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