Motivation Comments Off on A Cyclist raring to go |

A Cyclist raring to go

Deepthi Velkur talks to an athlete par excellence, Samira Abraham, the national road racing and triathlon champion.

A National Road racing champion, National TT champion, National Triathlon champion, South Asian Triathlon champion and countless club level accolades have not stopped Samira Abraham from yearning for more.

Her goal – develop into a world-class cyclist and race at the international elite level.

FM: For someone who always had a keen interest in sports from a very young age, what was the trigger that made you take up cycling?

Samira: I went to see a BBCH race with a friend in 2016. I wasn’t aware of the racing and cycling community in Bangalore before that. I’m that person who likes to race and not to be on the sidelines and that’s exactly what I did, I raced the next one which was a BBCH criterium. It’s been more racing since then. Two months after I started riding was my first road cycling Nationals which was a valuable experience.

FM: Just 2 years into cycling, you’ve managed to secure two gold medals (Time Trial and mass start) at the 2018 National Road cycling championships. How did you manage that?

Samira: It’s God’s grace. It’s His strength in my weakness. I just did my part of putting to full use what he blessed me with. I absolutely enjoy putting in the work and developing as an athlete. We are all blessed uniquely, and we just have to receive it.

The Double Gold for the TT and road race are really special – I was injured for the large part of 2018 and that was tough. My coach and I focused on working with the situation and getting quality work in. I allowed God to work in my life instead of clutching on to the steering wheel. not fighting it and giving it everything I had.

It turned out way better than I imagined. So, when things don’t go according to your plan, they may end up working out even better, if you allow it.

FM: Do you take assistance from a coach to train yourself? Take us through of how your training week looks like?

Samira: I work with a coach and training is specific to the goals. We work really well together. Excellent communication and trust are crucial.

While I was training for a triathlon, it would be a mix of a swim, bike, run and strength sessions through the week, usually 2-3 sessions in a day. My typical training day went like this:

  • Swim from 5-7 am
  • Bike/run/brick session from 10-12 pm
  • Strength/bike/run from 4-5/6pm

I didn’t have an off day, instead, it would be an active recovery session of swim/ bike/ run. Weekends would have one or two longer sessions a day. The early morning training didn’t suit me at all. Given the training conditions and since I was caught up in getting the work done, it took me a year and a half to say hey, I can’t do this schedule and that my body needed more sleep and changing the sleep cycle is not working. With any kind of training, and even more so when it’s remote coaching, it’s very important to listen to your body. Your coach doesn’t know how your body feels.

I’ve been off the bike for over two months due to an injury which is not yet diagnosed, so currently, my training is to stay positive, be patient, work on mobility and strength. Once I’m healthy and back on my bike, we will revise the race calendar.

FM: What does it take for someone to be as good at the sport so early on?

Samira: A solid foundation, patience, consistency and to enjoy the sport is really important. I’m a strong believer that when you are a kid you should play different sport and not specialize in one too early.

Being in an environment which is conducive to training, regular races, like-minded athletes and people who genuinely want the standard of the sport to improve contribute to developing as an athlete.

In my case, I’ve been training since I was 8 years old, in various sport, so the base has always been there. Track & field and swimming were the constants.

Bangalore has a great cycling community which has helped in my development as a cyclist.

FM: You’ve not only made your mark in cycling but Triathlons too. What piqued your interest in this extreme sport?

Samira: Getting into a human washing machine in open water and try to not get a black eye, jump onto your bike and put down the hammer and run your heart out. What’s not to like in that? :)))

The sport looked interesting and the first race was more of let’s try something new. I love to race, so after the first triathlon, I wanted to race at the National Level and go on from there. I was working towards the 2018 Asian Games since I started the sport. I did get selected but then our team got cancelled.

FM: You prefer doing the Olympic distance (1.5 km swim, 40 km cycling and 10 km run) over any other distance? Why?

Samira: Long course triathlon never appealed to me. I like the speed, intensity and racing format of short course triathlon.

FM: How do you plan and train for both cycling as well as triathlon events?

Samira: I plan my training for the year based on my main races. I was doing both sports till mid-2018. It did take a toll on my body racing both especially since we didn’t have fixed dates for Triathlon National level races. The bike has always been my favourite and in the period of 2 years, it became clear to me that what I love is cycling and I moved purely to cycling.

FM: You went on to win a gold in the women’s category at the Senior National Triathlon Championship at Vizag in March 2018? Take us through your experience of the event?

Samira: It was my first Triathlon National Championship. I was well trained and ready to race. It was a 1.5 km pool swim so there were three to a lane in the pool and the 40 km bike and 10 km run were in a 2.5 km loop. I didn’t have a good swim and was a bit behind but I made up the difference on the bike, for the run, I cramped badly in the beginning. It was just about staying calm and positive and I brought it home on the run.  It felt awesome to win and winning it qualified me to race at the South Asian Championship.

FM: A month later, you were selected to represent India at the ASTC South Asian Triathlon championship? How was it like to participate in your first international event?

Samira: It was awesome! It’s been a childhood dream to represent India and it was so good to win it. It took place in Pokhara, Nepal. We had a lake swim and the bike and run was in a circuit through the town.  I love that as I get to experience new places through the sport.

FM: With the level of physical and mental toughness needed, how do you train yourself to stay strong during the race?

Samira: I’ve never thought of it as a separate element. It’s part of the training for the race. I like training with intent. Every session has a purpose. During the race, keywords help me to remain focused. For triathlon, as there are a lot of changeovers in a race, I run through the race a few times in my head. I really enjoy racing and love pushing myself to the max so it comes naturally.

FM: What role has your family played in achieving what you have today?

Samira: Everything. I’m blessed to have a supportive family. They back me 100 %. My siblings are my biggest fans and likewise. My parents are amazing people with a strong work ethic, combined with always making time for family. My mum has a full-time job but she comes for my main races and is part of my team. My little girl Zoe (her dog) lives with them now since I travel often. Being away from her is the most difficult thing for me, so it’s a blessing that she is well taken care of.

FM: Do you see major challenges/roadblocks of being a professional cyclist and a triathlete in India?

Samira: Yes, there are challenges, especially when it’s an outdoor endurance sport and it’s relatively new. Sometimes it can get overwhelming. I like viewing them as opportunities. It helps to seek out people who have done similar things. A good support system is vital too.

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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Motivation Comments Off on Health, Fitness and Happiness |

Health, Fitness and Happiness

Ajay Singh Sethi a Reebok certified trainer and Barefoot exercise specialist talks to Deepthi Velkur about how he wants to help people live a lifetime of health, fitness and happiness.

“Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune” – Jim Rohn.

Ajay Singh Sethi is hugely inspired by Jim Rohn and believes continuous self-learning helps you achieve greater individual success as well as coach and inspire others.

An MBA graduate from XLRI, Jamshedpur, Ajay traded in his promising corporate life for one that inspires and helps others stay active and healthy.

A Reebok Certified Trainer, Barefoot Exercise Specialist (L2), EBFA USA, Certified Rehab Trainer, Kettle Bell Instructor, 24FIT Master Trainer and a Running Coach to name a few, Ajay hopes to bring Kota on the world map of Ultra Running with his flagship event Chambal Challenge (www.chambalchallenge.com) and take his 24FIT Coach education program nationwide to help people live a lifetime of health, fitness and happiness.

FM: From playing sports at the national level to running, what was the trigger to switch to long-distance running?

Ajay: To be honest, it wasn’t a well-planned or thought out decision. I was hoping to be a professional basketball player but unfortunately, injuries cut that dream short.

With a management degree from XLRI and a promising corporate career with Tata Steel, it appeared that I had my life all sorted out, but I wanted more. I wanted a more dynamic, active engagement with people where I could make a difference.

I decided to make a change – leaving my well-paid job of 8 years behind, I moved to Kota, Rajasthan and started Inshape, a lifestyle-based fitness facility in October 1995.

Building on my many years of hard work and training helped me achieve my dream of playing at the National level, I wanted to give something back and build a sporting culture in the city. Back then, not many people were inclined towards fitness or sports and there was no running culture at all. I used to run a couple of times a week, had a few friends join in and an informal group called Inshape Runner’s Club evolved naturally.

Initially, I promoted running to connect people to fitness as a way of life. With a background in sports, I knew that physical activity creates self-awareness and with effort, we could also remove self-doubt. I soon realized that every time we ran longer distances it was like breaking a mental barrier which got me to train and promote longer distances to make people mentally tough and overcome self-imposed limitations.

Personally, I had no fascination to run long distances but as a coach, I needed to lead by example. As a result, I participated and completed my first SCMM in 2004 along with 6 others from our little group. Since then the SCMM (now TMM) and ADHM have become almost a ritual for us.

FM: You brought about a running culture in Kota, Jaipur. How did you achieve this?

Ajay: Persistence – that was the key. I think if you stick and pursue an idea with a single focus, anything is possible. I didn’t get into running or promote running to get something out of it. Even when a large majority of the people had a different take on running, it didn’t deter me and I kept on pushing and gradually people realized for themselves the benefits running had on them.

FM: What are the highlights of your running career so far?

Ajay: I didn’t get into running for a career or to prove how accomplished a sportsman I am. I think I just ran to make people run and help them discover the joy of being physically active – the distances just followed.

So far, I have completed 18+ official Half and Full Marathons that include ADHM, SCMM and Leh Marathon. The longest distance I have run is 63KM.

I saw running as a community sport rather than a competitive sport. I believe the whole concept of PB and fast finishes in long distance running is nothing more than a self-serving, ego-boosting tool that pushes people in the wrong direction. Running isn’t boxing or wrestling where you win by knocking the other person down. I believe distance running is a sport that breaks down ego and makes a person humble. I promote running as a community sport where everybody wins.

FM: When did you think of opening up your own fitness center-Inshape?

Ajay: Multiple recurring injuries limited my growth as an athlete. After having finished my post-graduation in MBA like most young MBA’s I was aspiring to climb the corporate success ladder until one day when I asked myself this question- What is the one thing I would like to do for the rest of my life even if I didn’t get paid? This changed the direction of my life. I realized that it had to be something to do with fitness and sports.

In 1991, I joined the Corporate Wellness initiative in Tata Steel and became a visiting faculty in Tata Management Development Center talking about exercise and nutrition. The more I learned the clearer it became about what I wanted to do. I could trace back reasons for many of my injuries to the lack of professional help in my early sporting days. There were few gyms but there wasn’t any facility that was training people for lifetime health, fitness and happiness. In 1994, when 2 of my close friends quit and decided to go to the US I decided to go back to my home city Kota and start Inshape. I had a clear purpose ‘to make an appreciable difference in people’s quality of life’.

FM: Take us through the different training programs available at your centre?

Ajay: Our programs are designed in 3 categories i.e. Health, Fitness and Performance.

Health programs are typically designed for individuals with weight and mobility issues. Fitness programs are designed for people who want to be more active and fit. Lastly, people who want to maximize performance i.e. bodybuilding, modelling, body transformation to running a marathon or triathlon. We have a few people who come with very clear and specific goals on what they want to be trained for. We also conduct group classes like Zumba, Step Aerobics, Floor Aerobics, Flexible Strength, Kettlebell, etc. catering to various interests’ groups.

FM: Considering the varied group of trainees, building customized plans must be a challenge. How do you handle this?

Ajay: Being a certified group exercising instructor this was easy. I follow an annual training calendar for my running club members that lasts from March-November. I always design the training keeping in mind the lowest denominator i.e. the newest person in the group. At the start, I put runner’s through a series of assessment runs to determine their current level and based on that I put them into different groups. Those who are regular, get to know their levels as well as paces and then it’s easy to instruct them. I also conduct running clinics from time to time to educate runners about what they are going through. Those who join the running sessions in between get aligned automatically with others who are more experienced. Also, since I promote running as a community sport not many runners come to get a customized training plan or with the objective of pursuing running as a career.

FM: How do you assess to check if you have achieved the results at the end of every program?

Ajay: It’s simple. I believe everything that can be measured can be improved. Tracking various parameters show us if we have been able to deliver the right results.

People in the health program go through body composition assessments and these parameters (fat percentage, BMI, Height-Weight Ratio etc.) can be tracked on weekly basis.

In Fitness Programs, we primarily assess 4 points: Flexibility, Mobility, Strength and Endurance.

In Performance-based programs assessment runs deeper and wider and includes an 8-point screening methodology i.e. Flexibility, Mobility, Stability, Strength, Endurance, Speed, Power and Agility. Each of these parameters can be tested and improved.

FM: How do you ensure your trainees stay injury-free?

Ajay: This is one area where I feel a lot more needs to be done. I try to educate them and train them to be better athletes rather than for a particular race or an event (since most are not professional runners).

I think it has more to do with people than the coach today. Most people want too much too soon and they are in a hurry to run more races or long distances in a short period of time without understanding the principles of adaptation and progression. Those who trust us and listen are the ones who go further and long, others learn the hard way by getting injured.

FM: What according to you makes a good coach/trainer/mentor?

Ajay: The one who practices what he teaches. Formal education is important too but a good coach should continue to learn by self-education and only by applying that can he become knowledgeable. All this goes to waste if you truly don’t care about people. I learned from my mentor Jim Rohn that “people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”

FM: How do you keep your runners motivated to show up for training and assist them in achieving their goals?

 Ajay: In my fitness centres as well as the running club I follow a 4-point approach. Inspire, Engage, Connect and Enrich. I inspire people through others results, engage them through goal setting and structured program, connect them with others who are already following the program and lastly enrich them through unique lasting experiences through various events and activities.

FM: What got you to conceptualize an event like Chambal Challenge?

Ajay: Deep within me there always is a desire to go beyond, to do better than my previous best. I believe that this desire is there within everyone. I wanted to challenge people to act on this desire and attempt something they haven’t tried before or are not sure about. The distinct topography of Chambal Valley and the terrain of Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve gave me a perfect setting to create this event. You put together a road run, a trail run, uphill and downhill into one long run and attach spectacular view of Chambal river, reserve forest, and a bird century, you have Chambal Challenge. Chambal Challenge is a dare to runners to test their skill, strategy as well as attitude. I believe these attributes will help a person go beyond running as well as in life.

FM: What is your message for the amateur runners of today?

Ajay: Run because we are born to run but remember so are we born to lift, shift, push, pull, carry, climb and jump. So why limit yourself when you have unlimited genetic potential.

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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Motivation Comments Off on Stay fit and Keep Running |

Stay fit and Keep Running

Ranjini Gupta talks to Deepthi Velkur about why being healthy and fit isn’t a fad or a trend. Instead, it’s a lifestyle!

A passion for health and fitness drove Ranjini Gupta to take up long-distance running as a career and today, she’s recognized as one of the most successful amateur runners in India. A mother of two adorable daughters, she has completed numerous 10K runs, half-marathons and full-marathons.

An ACE (American Council of exercise) certified professional as well as a qualified TRX Suspension trainer, Ranjini runs a fitness consultancy firm, ‘Rungenie Fitness’.  With a strong focus on strength and conditioning, Rungenie helps build training plans for clients to reach their full potential. Ranjini runs small group sessions and personal training sessions for runners as well being the fitness coach for the Roots football Academy.

Numerous podium finishes in 10K, HMs and FMs over the past 6 years aside, Ranjini has also completed 3 (Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo) of the 6 world marathons. She has also qualified in the ‘good-for-age’ category and participated as a semi-elite runner at the 2018 Tokyo marathon.

For the future, Ranjini has big goals in mind – complete the remaining 3 world majors (London, New York and Boston) as well as participate in ‘The Comrades Marathon’ which is the world’s largest and oldest ultra-marathon race.

I had a tete-a-tete with Ranjini and here are her thoughts on how it has been so far.

FM: What made you take up running? How has it become “your calling”?

Ranjini: I wrote something a while ago that kind of sums up how my journey began. Here goes,

25th September 2012 – Chennai

A mother of two,

My younger daughter just 9 months new;

To wade away the baby blues,

I took to my running shoes.

What set out as “Mine Exclusive” time,

Grew on me while runners I tried to mime;

Learning the skills and nuances of the sport,

Yes, ‘running’ I began to court.

The euphoria experienced at the finish of a diligently trained race, the camaraderie while training with the team, the awe in my daughters’ eyes acknowledging the exploit of my races, the act of planning and preparing myself mentally and physically…..this is me. This is something I enjoy doing and see it as my calling.

FM: 6 years hence, you’ve grown leaps and bounds and have achieved so much for yourself. What keeps you going for more?

Ranjini: It’s been a wonderful journey so far. Three world majors are done and dusted – Berlin, Chicago and Tokyo, many podiums won and lots of learning in the process of evolving as a runner. In the past 6 years, I’ve seen a fair share of ups and downs. However, what’s kept me going is consistency and deliberate practice. ‘Come what may, lace up and show up’.

FM: Do you train with a coach? Has that benefited you in a big way?

Ranjini: I’m blessed to have a wonderful human being to guide me through this journey – my coach Shri. K.C. Kothandapani. They say, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. It’so important to know what you want from the sport and commit to the discipline it demands. If you have that attitude, the teacher will find you. Under his guidance, I have learnt many nuances of the sport, be it the physical aspect and/or the mental aspect. He leads by example. One needs to simply observe his approach to the sport and life and you end up learning so much. We, the PaceMakers, are truly a blessed bunch of athletes.

FM: To be able to pursue your passion, you need the complete support of your family members? How has your family coped with this change?

Ranjini: All this would never have been possible without the rock in my life – my husband – Shri. Senthilkumar. In fact, when I first told him I was interested in running way back in 2012, he put me on to his friend who was a part of the Dream Runners running group in Chennai. That’s where it all began. Being a nuclear family with very young kids at home it was an uphill task but together, we held our ground. He knew that this made me a happier individual. I made a lot of new friends. My outlook towards life changed. So, it’s worth every sacrifice.

I come from a world where I was questioned as to why I need to run post having two kids and a family, running is bad for your knees, for how long would I be running this way, etc. However, as I managed to cope with running, without compromising on the needs of my family, over the years, I’ve seen a change in the attitudes of the large family members. Now they completely motivate me and support me in my journey.

FM: What kind of training schedules and diet plan do you follow?

Ranjini: I always plan my running calendar well in advance. All the key races are planned and in between the year, I try to do a couple of races as time trials for the main event. My training plan will follow this structure. The beginning of my running calendar, I always train for shorter distances (10km runs). Somewhere mid-year move on to half marathons and I like to peak my running calendar with marathons at the end of the season.

With regards to the diet, I don’t specifically follow any single diet plan. However, I am mindful of what I eat and the portion size of how much I eat. I include a lot of vegetables and fruits in my diet.

FM: The first amateur woman runner from India to have completed the Berlin Marathon. How did you prepare for this race? Describe your experience of the race from start to finish?

Ranjini: Berlin Marathon 2016 was the first world major I did. I diligently trained for this event for 4 months. I was at that time trying to get a Boston qualification time for my age category with a goal of 3:35 in mind. The race, however, went much better than planned and I finished as the first Indian woman to cross the finish line that year. Till date my timing in Berlin Marathon 3:28:58 stands as my personal best for the distance.  Berlin was the first international race, it was an experience by itself. The crowd support and the cheering squads throughout the course, the well laid out hydration stations, the perfect weather conditions, the flat course, the plethora of runners from different countries and it was a first-time experience for me and I enjoyed every bit of it. This race is also very special for me as I had my coach run the distance with me. The body and mind were in sync on that day and by the grace of God and good wishes from family and friends, everything just fell in place.

FM: You qualified for the Boston Marathon. Did you eventually run it?

Ranjini: Though I did qualify for the Boston Marathon 2018 with my Berlin Marathon time, I was unable to run the event as I was battling an injury and was not well trained to give the event my best shot. My registration was done and tickets were booked but I forfeited all of it. To toe, the line without adequate training or when not physically fit is not my type. For me The Boston Marathon is sacrosanct. When I run it, I intend to run it well, not just get a tick off my bucket list.

FM: An ACE-certified fitness coach yourself, what is the specific training plan you follow for amateur runners?

Ranjini: It was my aspiration to someday become capable enough to coach people and help them with their fitness journey. That lead me to pursue my ACE fitness certification and start Rungenie fitness. My forte is strength training. I truly believe that if one is fit, one can play any sport or carry out the routine activities of life more efficiently. Today, I train and help people perform to their potential and achieve their fitness goals be it in running or any other sports. The training plans for my clients are devised based on their fitness requirements and considering the demands of their lifestyle.

FM: How have all these years of running transformed you?

Ranjini: Running to me is freedom. It’s a time when I am in the present and I live the moment. Right from learning how to balance home and my passion, how to plan and prepare my day well in advance, how to inculcate good and clean eating habits, how to prioritize health and wellness, how to take things in your stride, how to be mentally strong – running has taught me this and so much more.

FM: What is your advice to a lot of women out there who haven’t yet taken to leading a fit and healthy lifestyle?

Ranjini: There has been a surge in the number of runners taking up the sport over the years. However, the ratio of men to women is still skewed towards men. My submission to women would be to start prioritizing on your health and well-being. Only a physically and mentally fit lady of the house, could be a cornerstone to the needs of her family. Start with small fitness goals. Make fitness a part of your daily routine. You owe it to yourself. We always mistake doing household chores as exercise. However, we fail to understand that through exercise these same activities of daily life could be done more efficiently. The most common excuse I get to hear when I speak to women is “I don’t have time for all this” …. well, no one does – “You need to make the time”.

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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Motivation Comments Off on Runner dreams – Sudha Singh |

Runner dreams – Sudha Singh

Capt Seshadri profile prolific runner, Sudha Singh, the national record holder in the steeplechase.

Early on a cool Mumbai morning, a host of Indian and international athletes lined up at the start line for the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2019, in what has become the foremost long-distance running event in the country. The Kenyans and the Ethiopians, both men and women, were being keenly watched, with high expectations from the recognised leaders. Foremost among the Indian women was an athlete more famous for her steeplechase wins than marathons.

Sudha Singh was born on June 25, 1986. A national record holder in the 3000 m steeplechase, her foray into the international arena began in 2005. It took five long years of hard work, intense training and perseverance before she broke through to dominate the Asian track scene in the steeplechase with gold medals in 2010 in Guangzhou and 2017 in Bhubaneswar and silver at Jakarta in 2018. Her Guangzhou win was historic in that it debuted in an Asian Games, making her the first winner of the title. Qualifying for the Olympics in 2012 she was unable to make the finals, being pitted against an array of experienced international athletes. In 2016, the year in which she ran her maiden Olympic marathon at Rio de Janeiro, she returned with swine flu, which laid her low for the rest of the season.

A fresh start under new coaches Lalit Bhanot and Renu Kohli, fetched her the silver in the 3000 m at the Jakarta Asiad in 2018, despite having been virtually written off as ‘too old for the event’. The next trophy in her showcase was a silver among the Indian women at the Tata Steel Kolkata 25k, which she ran in an impressive 1:29:11.

Her sights were now firmly set on the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, for which the qualifying mark had been set at 2:37:00. On January 20, 2019, at the 16th edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, Sudha ran the race of her life to a gold among the Indian women, in a course record timing of 2:34:56, also her personal best, making the cut for Doha, with plenty of time to spare. Powering to victory, she was far ahead of her nearest Indian rivals and even beating a few elite runners from the heart of Africa.

This champion woman athlete was recognised for her golden achievements by the Government of India, with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2012.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

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

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Motivation Comments Off on Don’t stop running |

Don’t stop running

Protima Tiwary speaks to Lokesh Meena who has clocked over 250 marathons since he started running in 2015. 

A government employee with a tight schedule and an interest in running, Lokesh Meena has run over 260 marathons in the USA since 2015! We caught up with him to understand how he continues to sign up for races every weekend even as a hectic career and family call for his attention.

What motivated you to take up running?

I am an employee with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India since 2009. Before I started working, I was a regular guy who didn’t keep fitness as the main priority, but at the same time, I was considered fit enough to play cricket once in a while. From 2010-2014 I was stationed at a high altitude post at Lusaka, Zambia. The altitude made it difficult to do too many exercises. I became lazy and physically inactive, a fact that my colleagues pointed out too. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I decided to join a few colleagues who’d go for morning walks. I then got transferred to Washington D.C. where I saw how people were physically active and knew how to take care of their bodies. Fitness was a priority for everyone, and it drove me to make it mine.

Inspired by the fitness levels around me, I started running too. My first jog was out in the snow, and I covered a total distance of 0.5miles. I started jogging 2-3 times a week and made it my habit.

So…is this how you took up running? Could you please share the results that you saw.

I weighed myself after a couple of months after I started jogging and saw that I had GAINED WEIGHT. Yes, even with all the running I had managed to put on weight. That is because of my diet- I’d run, come back & eat desserts because I thought I had earned them. Seeing that weight gain demotivated me. I slowly made some diet changes and got back to running, this time longer distances. I also cut out sugar, fried and fast food from my diet.

The difference was visible within a few months. I was losing 2kgs every week! I was also running 25 miles every week, with strict diet control.

I came across an 8km race in my neighbourhood and signed up for it. This was in September 2015. I finished this race in 37minutes 57 seconds. The runners high hit me and I was ecstatic. I then started running a race every week!

So far I have run about 260+ races in the USA which includes 25 ultra- marathons, Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon (twice), Philadelphia Marathon, Rock n Roll Washington D.C, The North Face Endurance Challenge Washington D.C. being some of those.

Could you share some of your major achievements in your running career till date?

March 2, 2018, was undoubtedly the best moment in my running career when I was selected to represent India at the World Trail Championship 2018 in Spain by the Athletics Federation of India.

In June 2018, I won my first ever full Marathon, Grant-Pierce Indoor Marathon in Arlington, Virginia, the United States on June 24, 2018.  My timing was the Asian & Indian Best (confirmed by The Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS)) I had set an Indian National Record and Asian Record!

I also qualified for the Boston Marathon in April 2017. It is considered to be the Olympics of amateur runners and I was stoked to find out that I had qualified.

You must have a hectic schedule. How do you find time for running?

Allow me to share one of my favourite quotes by Henry Ford -“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Running has improved my productivity. Plus I understand the importance of discipline and deadlines, and being fit helps me stay focused on the task at hand. I also have the support of a lovely wife Nirma who helps raise our three beautiful daughters. My family has been an immense source of strength and support and always encouraged me to go after my dreams.

How do you train?

I usually run with a lot of people because I feel immense joy in doing this together. For trail runs, I exercise at the gym and also go hiking and outdoor cycling. For bigger races, I usually train with a coach. I hired a coach for 10 months while I was preparing for the Boston Marathon where I ran 100 miles a week.

For training, one has got to be consistent. Strength and core training play a big role. Hills training also plays a big part as hill running builds muscle strength. I do gym strength training 3-4 times in a week.   A positive outlook about life also a key factor in running. “More importantly you cannot fake in running.”

What have been some of your greatest learnings through running?

  1. Never give up, no matter what the results say. Failure cannot dictate the rest of your days.
  2. Marathons are great teachers. Marathons make you humbler.
  3. Show up. Showing up is always the secret to success.

Any tips you’d like to share with us on how to stay strong during the race? 

Stay positive! You don’t need negative thoughts clouding your judgement Also, don’t compare yourself to anyone, you’re all running your own race. And of course, train well.

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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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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Motivation Comments Off on Stay Motivated and Run |

Stay Motivated and Run

Hyderabad Runner,Arun Kumar Kaliappan, talks to Deepthi Velkur about his running aspirations and what motivates him to keep running.

Continue running injury-free.

Keep improving.

Run in an exotic, historic, off-beat location.

Simple aspirations define Arun and his love for running. Hailing from a small town called Kadayanallur in Southern Tamil Nadu, Arun a mechanical engineer by profession has been fascinated by running ever since he took to it in 2012. Living in Hyderabad, he is associated with the Hyderabad runners’ group and has an impressive running record.

He has completed the Javadhu Hills Ultra 2 years in a row (2016 – 50K and 2017 – 75K) and the towering Khardungla Challenge – 72K in 2018.  Overseas, he has completed the Niagara Falls FM that starts off in Buffalo (US) and ends at the Horseshoe Falls (Canada) apart from 4 HMs in California. With a PB of 4 hours and 14 mins in the FM and 1 hour and 47 mins in the HM, Arun is constantly looking at improving and bettering his own targets.

At home, he has a fantastic support system with his wife Gomathi Priya also into HMs and a 12-year son (Akhil) who is an active badminton player.

In this conversation, Arun takes us through his running career and what motivates him every day.

FM: How did your journey as a runner begin?

Arun: Like with most working professionals, my job keeps me desk-bound and I yearned to be a lot more active and keep myself fit. With that in mind, I started walking and jogging over the weekends at the KBR Park (Hyderabad). From there, running became a passion and bit by bit, I stuck with it and slowly moved on from being a recreational runner to a marathoner and even an ultra-marathoner.

FM: Which year did you run your first FM and take us through the experience of your first race?

Arun: Prior to my first marathon, I had been running half-marathons for nearly 2 years. It was in 2014 when I had my chance at doing my first full marathon – the Hyderabad Marathon!

I must credit the superb training ecosystem offered by the Hyderabad Runners group that was largely instrumental in me achieving my FM target. I went through a 16-week training program that included – Strength workouts, Interval, Tempo, Hill running workouts and long runs on Sundays. The training was hard and strenuous but along with a group of buddies, we formed a tight-knit training group that all had the same goal in mind – progression to the FM league. This training group really helped motivate one another and we enjoyed it.

The race itself was one of most difficult that I have run, in terms of the weather. The marathon day was hot and humid from the word go, so I was a bit cautious during the first half of the race and kept it consistent during the second half. I completed the race in 4hours and 44 mins – a rather satisfying effort given the conditions and the feeling of accomplishing my first FM was very special.

FM: Hyderabad is a challenging terrain to train on. How do you go about training on such a tough terrain?

Arun: To be completely honest, we don’t really do anything specific to the terrain. We have built our training plan in such a way that it includes the local terrain and the rolling hills as part of our routine whenever we step out for a long run. In fact, we enjoy exploring the tougher routes within Hyderabad like Movie Towers / Jubilee Hills or Banjara Hills on a regular basis.

FM: When did your association with Hyderabad runners society happen? How has it shaped you to be a better runner today?

Arun: My association with Hyderabad Runners started in the year 2012 soon after I took to running. I was initially sceptical as I thought they were a mad bunch of people who go out for a run at unearthly hours. Look at me now – I am also part of the same group!

It is one of the most vibrant and accessible groups out there with a great culture of camaraderie and focus. The group dynamics is what pushed me to experience various events in terms of location and distance. The group has also helped me connect with several other runners– many of them who inspire you and some of them get inspired by you. It is a good feeling both ways.

FM: You were the mentor of “couch to 5K” training program with the Hyderabad runners. What was the main idea behind this program and where you successful with the training at the end?

Arun: It is an amazing program transforming people in hordes every year. The aim and structure of the program are so meticulous that it introduces running and healthy lifestyle to people in the most optimal way – ‘Getting started gradually and Listening to your body as you progress.’

The program was very successful as most of the runners from the group graduated as regular runners and keep at it still. Of course, in any program, there will be some dropouts, as some people are unable to continue due to time constraints or latent health issues.

FM: What qualities does one need to possess to be a good mentor?

Arun: In my view, there are 3 key qualities a good mentor needs to have:

  • Be disciplined
  • Lead from the front and
  • Possess the ability to take everyone with you.

FM: Khardung La challenge(72K) is considered as one of the toughest Ultra-marathons in the world? How and why did you register for this event? Give us a glimpse of your experience at the race?

Arun: Khardungla Challenge 2018 is one of the highlights of my running journey for the sheer amount of dedication and planning it demanded. I had a great bunch of friends (Santosh, Srini, Vish, Harshad and Subham) who took on this challenge along with me. We had valuable inputs from Shailendra Bisht, our co-Hyderabad runner who had done the event the previous year which motivated us to register for the event.

We all trained together for about 3 months and travelled along with our families for the event.

The race was quite eventful. It was a surreal experience to go through the brutal terrain and low oxygen conditions up to the Khardungla Top. The climate and high-altitude conditions did not allow us to get into our usual rhythm anytime during the race. But we kept on pushing each other to finish successfully well within cut-off time – the main thing was that we were all safe and sound at the finish line! Khardungla Challenge will be an everlasting memory for sure!

FM: To take on such tough races, you need to be mentally and physically strong. How do you manage that in a race?

Arun: Training is the mantra. There is no shortcut for race performance other than getting trained properly. Very few people are gifted naturally to pull off remarkable things at a race. But training sincerely for a chosen race always helps…almost always. Even training fails us sometimes…in that case, train harder and smarter!

FM: What is the one characteristic that defines you as a runner?

Arun: In one word – “Tenacity”.

FM: What big races have you planned for the year 2019?

Arun: I have 3 ideas at the moment –

  • The New Delhi Marathon in Feb is the one that I have planned so far
  • Hopefully sign up for an Ultra Run soon and
  • Wishing to do a few World Majors sometime in the near future.

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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Motivation Comments Off on Cycle with passion or not at all |

Cycle with passion or not at all

Mohan Subramanyam took these words to heart and over the past 8 years has really made long-distance endurance cycling his calling, discovers Deepthi Velkur.

It was in 2010 that Mohan, an IT professional took to cycling for recreation, later making it his office commute and finally graduating to long-distance endurance cycling about 6 years ago.

With his trusted Trek 3700 (2010) MTB by his side, Mohan has notched 65,000KMs to his name over the past 8 years. This includes six 1000KM and four 1200 KM rides in addition to completing the London – Edinburgh – London ride in 2017 (a distance of 1450KM). Apart from India, Mohan’s cycling journey has taken him to Spain, Australia, and Israel.

His passion for riding doesn’t seem to fade away just yet. He has an impressive list of rides that he wants to complete, noteworthy among them are the IPWR (Australia), TransAM (USA), Japan Odyssey (Japan), the TransAtlantic (Ireland) and the TransContinental (Europe). His biggest worry though – how is he going to make time for this given his work schedule?

Despite travelling the world on his bike, Mohan has a special place in his heart for the scenic and challenging terrains that India has to offer. His hope for the future would be for world-class cyclists to ride in India and create globally popular rides.

His passion for the sport, his trusted bike aside, Mohan has his wonderful wife, supportive friends and family to thank for encouraging and pushing him on this wonderful journey.

Mohan took some time off his crazy schedule to share his thoughts on his cycling life so far.

FM: How did your journey into cycling start and when did you know that you wanted cycling to be more than just a passing fad?

Mohan: My father played a big part in my life and a major influencer for me to pick up cycling. Growing up in the 80s, we only had a cycle at home, and he used to take me along to the movies all the way from Rajaji Nagar to MG road. I also remember cycling around the city over the weekends with my friends – such gorgeous memories that I will cherish forever.

It was in 2010 that I gifted myself a Trek 3700 MTB for my 40th birthday. The idea was that I commute to work and explore rural Bangalore over the weekends, but fate it seems had other ideas.

In 2012, on a whim, I registered for the shorter version of the TFN (a 2-day event in Ooty) and got to meet Sundar Rajan from Chennai who introduced me to Randonneuring (long-distance endurance cycling). My 1st long-distance race was a 200 KM BRM in Chennai and 6 years on, my passion for cycling is stronger than ever.

FM: What is it about long-distance cycling that fascinates you? 

Mohan: Well, I love travelling, seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and what better way to do it than on a cycle. Apart from that, long-distance cycling has been very transformative for me, it has helped me move on from being an introvert to someone who is more open. The challenges you face during extreme situations in long-distance endurance cycling and how you overcome them by taking instant decisions or finding alternate solutions has helped me overcome the fear of failure and made me determined to achieve more.

FM: Which was your first long-distance ride? How did you feel pre-race, during the ride and post the race?

Mohan: My first long-distance ride was a 200KM Brevet in 2013 at Chennai and prior to that I did a test ride of 100KM in Bangalore to know if I was ready to take on the challenge. My friend Satish Krishnan and I planned to ride together. At the start line, I was a bundle of nerves but as we started cycling, we had a chance to interact with some experienced riders like Jaya Ramurthi, Sundar Sir from Chennai and Ashok Sir who boosted our confidence. Additionally, the other riders and organizers provided the extra support that helped us complete the ride within the allotted 13.5 hrs. It was my 1st 200Km BRM and it was difficult owing to the headwinds on the ECR, Chennai. At the finish line, it was a sense of joy, achievement and discovering a new self. Though the ride ended on a good note, my whole body was in pain the next day and I could not sit properly due to saddle soars.

FM: You take Randonneuring very seriously. What inspired you to move from regular long-distance cycling to something so extreme?

Mohan: I love Randonneuring since it takes me to new places, meeting different people, seeing the world from a different perspective, interacting with locals, tasting local food and also getting to know the harsh realities. It’s a wonderful world out there to be explored and it wouldn’t have been possible by just sitting in a room. I follow a lot of long-distance endurance cycling across the globe, the riders and the cycling community keeps inspiring to achieve more. Here you are racing against yourself to see how far you can go and I believe there is no end to it as long as you are disciplined and determined to achieve the set goals irrespective of the challenges you face along the path.

FM: How is the world of Randonneuring organized in Bangalore?

Mohan: Randonneuring is long-distance Endurance Cycling with rides of 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1000 km called Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRMs). Audax Club Parisien (ACP) is the international governing body for Randonneuring that administers and oversees the conduct of BRMs worldwide. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount.

Audax India Randonneurs (AIR) is the all-India organization of Randonneurs, which is recognized by Audax Club Parisien (ACP) for conducting and overseeing all Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRMs) and Audax events in India. Bangalore Randonneurs is governed by Audax India Randonneurs and Brevets in Bangalore started in 2011 which was conducted by Bangalore Brevets. In the year 2015, it was taken up by Bangalore Randonneurs to conduct ACP authorized brevets.

FM: Do you conduct a lot of Brevets each year – can you give us a count and break-down, please?

Mohan: We do conduct long-distance endurance cycling called Brevets wherein a fixed distance needs to be completed in the allotted time 200Km (13.5hrs), 300Km (20 hrs), 400Km (27 hrs), 600km (40 hrs), 1000Km (75hrs) and 1200Km (90hrs).

We organize 1 or 2 rides over the weekend every month for all categories. The calendar year for Brevet starts from November 1st to October 31st of the next year. We also have a minimum of 3 Super Randonneurs series wherein a Super Randonneur is one who completes 200Km, 300km, 400km and 600km in a calendar year.

A list of all events across India can be found at https://www.audaxindia.org/events.php and specific to Bangalore can be found at https://www.audaxindia.org/bangalore-randonneurs-bangalore-c-9.

Bangalore has good challenging and scenic terrains to be explored. Last year we organized “Gates of Heaven” 1200KM ride which is a Signature ride and had over 50 participants across India. This ride takes riders on a roller coaster ride across the three southern states i.e. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, cutting through the exquisite countryside, climbing through the colossal hills of Yercaud, Nilgiris, Wayanad, Coorg, Sakleshpur, and Chikmagalur. These are some winding and deadly rolling terrain with an overall elevation gain of 13000+ meters.

FM: What are the challenges you face when organizing such events?

Mohan: It’s easier to organize smaller events of 200km,300km or 400km for which you need to be on the course for 24 hrs. Above 600Km it’s quite challenging since you need to be on the road with the riders for 2-4 days depending on the distance. There is a lot pre-work to be done before a ride in terms of logistics and complete other registration formalities. During the ride, we need to ensure the safety of each and every rider until they finish. The weather could play spoilsport to both riders and organizers alike – extreme winds, heat or rain pose a challenge to all. In remote locations arranging food, hydration, resting options and getting permission through forest areas are some of the challenges we face and finding quick alternatives will help to keep the event going smoothly.

FM: When it’s something new you usually see a lot of people attend but the fad passes, and number dwindle. Do you see participation as a challenge?

Mohan: Agree, there are some trails which I believe offers something new every time you ride and there are signature rides like “Anchetty 200Km BRM”, “Gates of Heaven 1200Km BRM” etc where we see the numbers growing and as long as you provide the right spirit of support and motivation you will always have the rider base and don’t really see participation as a challenge.

I personally feel we need to keep constantly exploring new challenging terrains and innovative methods to keep the riders wanting more. One such event we at Bangalore Randonneurs organise in November is the SR5 “Super Randonneur series in 5 days” where riders need to complete back to back rides starting from 600km, 400km 300km, 200km in the stipulated time. Cumulatively it is 1500Km of happiness, 110 hrs of cycling, 9500 meters of elevation and 4 beautiful destinations. This was the first time such an event was organized in India and saw good participation from across India.

FM: What kind of marketing campaigns do you run to educate people and encourage them to attend such events?

Mohan: We at Bangalore Randonneurs have built a culture where we cater to all types of riders in Randonneuring, from beginner to advanced riders and help them graduate over a period of time. We provide Value based Experience to our riders and that’s our selling point and our riders are the biggest campaigners. Gates of Heaven event was sold out in 30 mins when we opened the registration and it had the elite riders across India participate in the ride. Everyone looks for something unique and new and as long as we do that we will have the riders. Sadly, we see a lower number of female riders and hence to promote more female riders to take up this awesome sport “Randonneuring”, we have all female cyclists ride for free and can be a part of any number of events in Bangalore this season. Once in a while, we do encourage deserving candidates’ free registration for our rides.

FM: In your cycling journey you have covered many a mile. Which has been the longest ride you have done so far?

Mohan: The longest ride which I participated and completed was LEL-2017 (London-Edinburgh-London), though I could not complete within 117.5 hr allotted time and took an additional 2 hrs of time to finish. It will remain one of my best rides till date because of the scenic trails, wonderfully organized, awesome volunteers to support and great food. It wouldn’t have been possible without my ride partner Sayi Ramakrishna who helped with all pre-ride logistics and riding alongside me during the course as this was my first international event.

FM: Having explored multiple parts of India on the bike, which route do you think is a must-do on a cyclist/Randonneurs bucket list? Why?

Mohan: We have many beautiful terrains in India itself to be explored and one lifetime is not enough. For Randonneurs in India I would pick “Gates of Heaven”, “Bliss in the Hills”, & Mumbai 1200km to add to their bucket list and Internationally PBP and LEL for the sheer experience one can gain by participating in such events.

Leh-Manali is another ride that should be on every cyclist bucket list something which I have not experienced yet. We have scenic and interesting trails in the Western Ghats, Himalayas, and North East for touring.

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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Motivation Comments Off on Always run prepared |

Always run prepared

Sunil Chainani shares his 15-year running story with Deepthi Velkur and also talks about how he balances his work and passion.

Sunil Chainani, an ex-board member with Fabindia and a board member for several other companies juggles business strategies, investment decisions and board meetings with his passion for running and fitness. He takes some time out to talk to us about his 15-year running story.

FM: You have been a keen squash player for a while now, how did the switch to running happen?

Sunil: I played squash at National, State and club level for many years and totally loved the game. It was quite by accident that I took up running in my mid 40’s and I’m hooked. Once I started running longer distances, I found that running made my body a bit too stiff for a game like a squash. Given that I was well past my prime as a squash player, I decided to make the switch to running and give my best to each run and enjoy it at the same time.

FM: With nearly 15 years of running experience, I’m sure you’ve seen and learned a lot about the sport. Do you think a lot has changed since the time you started?

Sunil: When I started running there were very few runners, no coaches, no smartphones or apps. I trained alone in basic shoes, cotton t-shirts and limited knowledge on training techniques. We did not have a lot of marathon events, so we used to focus on the Mumbai marathon (my group had 70 runners at the 2008 event). I did my first Ultra in 2007 when the thought of anything above an FM was sheer madness and look at it today – we have 48-hour runs!

In 2011, I registered for the Comrades marathon and was the first Bengalurean to attempt this race – I had no coach, no guidance, trained mostly alone and I didn’t know the difference between the Comrades Up and Down run. When I survived the Comrades and got back home, I was treated like a hero for having finished the race but now we look at the colour of the medal.

Today, runners have a plethora of choices – coaches, events, running groups, technology. That’s the change.

All this change has brought about an increased number and superior quality of runners (especially among women). India today is making its presence felt in the running world – 4th largest contingent at Comrades 2019, team and individual medals at the Asia-Oceania 24-hour run recently. Other countries realize that we could soon be a major force in the running world. Hopefully, we will soon have a new national record at the Full Marathon.

I do have a word of advice though for new-age runners – enjoy your run and not just focus on equipment, timing, and personal bests. I run because of the joy I get and the friends I make, and often find that I do well at a race when I am not worried about the timing.

One area that needs to be addressed is the “cowboy” event managers who organize running events for commercial reasons with inadequate race management as this could lead to serious injuries and give the sport a bad name.

FM: You’ve had the experience of running on different terrains – which do you think is the most challenging one and why?

Sunil: As a marathon runner, you need to be prepared for all types of terrain and weather. Be it a trail run or a road run, each presents their own challenges and we need to prepare well. Road races tend to be faster while trail races are usually more scenic.

For me the heat and humidity are a challenge – I sweat a lot, lose a lot of salt and tend to cramp.

The key really is to battle through when your body is telling you to stop – this is where the mental toughness kicks in.

Preparation is paramount – check the route conditions, be prepared for weather changes and always have a fallback strategy in mind.

FM: A marathon never pans out exactly the way you plan it, no? What strategies do you put in place to overcome the challenges in a race?

Sunil: I have a 3-fold plan – break your race into segments – strategize each segment – have a fallback plan. It’s also important to understand how your body is performing that day.

For example, during my Comrades run I walked a fair bit due to cramps at halfway point all the time to check my watch to see that I was within cut off limits. On the other hand, during the 2018 Berlin marathon, I managed to stay run strong for most of the race and hence finished with a better than expected time.

Additionally, I try to stay positive through the race by shouting out to fellow runners as this keeps me in a good mood.

FM: With years of experience as a marathoner, what is your advice to amateur runners?

Sunil: There are some key points to keep in mind

  • Train hard and sensibly
  • Seek expert advice
  • Stick to your plan during a run
  • Choose your runs wisely.
  • Never miss your stretching, strength and cross training sessions.
  • Plan your hydration and nutrition

If you are relaxed and well trained, your PBs will automatically come by. Also, smile, cheer your fellow runners and thank the volunteers. Finally, know your stretch goals and don’t push yourself without proper training.

FM: You have done your fair share of ultra-marathons. What excites you about an ultra-marathon and which one is your favourite?

Sunil: I ran India’s first Ultra in Bangalore in 2007 – at a time when marathons were new to India and we did not know about what was needed to go beyond 42K. The tagline for the event was “It’s tough, are you?” which got me interested and I signed up. That got me hooked. I slowly moved up from 52K in 2007 to 75K in 2008, 100K in 2009 and then the 2011 Comrades.

The Comrades is my favourite Ultra – I went in with the fear that I won’t finish the race but despite bad cramps and bleeding toenails, my determination pulled me through. The joy of crossing the finish line will be an everlasting memory. I also like trail Ultras such as the Bangalore Ultra at Hessarghatta and Malnad.

FM: As an ultramarathoner over 60, your training program (physical and mental) will be different, wouldn’t it? Can you shed some light on your training, please?

Sunil: I believe age is a number and that should apply only to wine and cheese! I have had the good fortune to meet the legendary Fauja Singh, who ran his first marathon at 89 and still runs at the age of 104.

The key is to be regular and consistent with your training.

My grey hair has made me mentally stronger and hence I am often able to push through challenging times in a race. It also has made me wiser in my choice of races thus giving me adequate time for my body to recover.

My typical training week consists of 40-50 K of running, 2 days of cross training (1hour of cardio per session) and supplemented by strength work and stretching.

The 2 things you lose with age are speed and quick recovery from injury. You need more rest between races and need to supplement your running with adequate strength work and cross training.

FM: According to you, what are the three qualities a runner should possess to do well?

Sunil:

  • Self-Discipline – to be regular with your training
  • Determination – to be focused and mentally tough. This requires a strong mind and
  • An ability to challenge oneself – to strive to achieve more and keep learning

FM: You have a rather demanding job being an Ex-board member of Fab India and a board member for several other companies. How do you make time for your running?

Sunil: Anyone who says they have no time to exercise is making a feeble excuse. When I travel, the first thing I pack is my exercise gear and will always find a way to either run or use the gym. Many years ago, very few hotels had gyms, so I carried my skipping rope and, in some cases, where skipping was not possible, I would choose a room on a high floor and run up and down multiple times.

We make too many excuses be it weather, time etc. People running in the London or Boston marathon have to train through winter months. In some countries like Africa and South America, it is often unsafe to run alone but yet these countries produce great athletes.

I personally believe good sportspersons also make much better managers at their workplace and the qualities that stand out are their discipline, focus, goal setting, training and ability to learn and challenge themselves.

Having said that, there is now a slow but visible change happening and I hope we will soon see more senior executives participating in marathons and other sports events.

FM: You were the Team leader for the Indian team at the 24-hour Asia & Oceania championships this year, please take us through your experience of the event?  How did you lead the team to such a great finish?

Sunil: It was a great honour to be selected as the Team Leader for the Indian team for the World 100K in Croatia in September 2018 and the Asia-Oceania 24-hr run in Taipei in December 2018.

Our team went to Taipei with the hope of gaining valuable experience and the most optimistic expectation was that many of our 12 runners would achieve their PB timings. We were in a field of world-class runners from Japan and Australia and strong runners from Mongolia and Taiwan. 15 runners from these countries had a PB better than our top runner Ullas Narayana and 4 teams had totals which were significantly better than our total (for a team event the total of your 3 best runners is counted).

It was a very warm day and most runners suffered in the first 6 to 7 hours and despite a strong performance from Ullas, we were having a tough day. At the 12-hour mark while Ullas had moved to the 8th position almost all the other runners were heading for a below-par performance. Ullas continued to get stronger and at the 17-hour mark had moved into 4th position. At this stage, he built a significant lead over the top runners from Mongolia and Taiwan and this got our team within striking range of these 2 countries. I spoke with our 2nd and 3rd placed runners, Sunil Sharma and Meena about their chance to get us into medal contention. Both of them were in pain and taking long medical breaks, but they got spurred on by the challenge. By the 20th hour, our top 3 runners had brought us almost on par with the 3rd and 4th placed teams – we continued to push these 3 runners and they got stronger. By the 22nd hour, Ullas had moved into 3rd place and the team had also overtaken Mongolia and Taiwan to get into medal contention. Ullas, Sunil, and Meena ran very strong in the last 2 hours and we earned an individual and team bronze- India’s first-ever medals in international Ultra events. Ullas smashed his own national record with a world-class performance. I had goosebumps as I saw the Indian flag go up twice at the awards ceremony.

FM: Apart from juggling a challenging work role, family and your running commitments, what do you do to just relax?

Sunil: I make time for things I enjoy like travel, wildlife, music, good food, and wine. I try to plan a holiday after a marathon in a nice location and if I am travelling then I always carry my running shoes and enjoy exploring new cities running. For me, running is a great way to relax and unwind. Life is too short so make the most of it!

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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