Ramesh Ponnuswami, a marathon runner and co-founder of Coimbatore Runners and Race Director of the Coimbatore Marathon talks about the influence running had on him and how he wants to give back to the community.
Being active was a way of life for Ramesh Ponnuswami by playing one sport or the other. An MBA graduate from RMIT (Melbourne), he comes with nearly 20 years of experience working with companies like Sugar Research Ltd (Australia), EID Parry Ltd (India) and ELGI Equipments Ltd (current). In the mid- ‘90s, while he was still working in Australia, his job kept him away from home for several weeks and that put a constraint on his time from playing any sport. For someone who has always been on his feet, being sedentary during his travel days left him feeling unfit and displeased with himself. One fine day, he laced up his shoes and stepped out for a run to clear his head. “It was not a great run, I could not run for more than 10 minutes or so. But that was it, I had found the key to staying fit regardless of where I was or how long I was away from home” recalls Ramesh.
From there on, he slowly worked on building his distance and pace. He read books recommended by a friend on how to train for and run a marathon. In Aug 2001, he completed his first half marathon at Townsville (Australia) and talking about his preparation towards it, Ramesh says, “When I decided to run the half marathon I was running 30 to 40 minutes, my training plan was based on time on feet. Whenever I wanted to know how far I ran I would take my car along the route I had run and measure the distance as they were no gadgets. I had no idea about hydration too”. A couple of months later, he moved back to India in October 2001.
Anywhere, anytime sport
Running can captivate you in the best possible way and it’s an anywhere anytime sport. Talking of how Ramesh got hooked to running, he says, “The most compelling hook is the portability and flexibility… it goes wherever I go! It has been a great way to explore places, I can run alone or in the company of others. I can run anywhere at any time. I can measure, monitor and set targets to improve. I can keep pushing my limits, as I still don’t know what they are! It has helped me know that, if I set myself a plan, and follow through no matter what, I can achieve whatever I set out to do. Above all, training for and running a marathon, and wearing the finishers medal, is the ultimate high! I can proudly say that I have run in 25 countries and 5 continents over the past 20 years”.
Ramesh tries to be very consistent with his training and his weekly training schedule comprises of two simple rules:
- No more than 2 days gap in between runs and
- Run 4 days a week.
The minimum distance he runs is 5K and if he is training to run a marathon, the training period lasts for 12 to 16 weeks, with a 4 days per week schedule:
2 x short distance (5 – 8K), 1 x middle distance (10 – 14K) and 1 x long run (15 – 32K).
Running a marathon comes with its own set of challenges and you also make memories you can cherish for a lifetime. The most challenging marathon for Ramesh has been the Singapore FM in Dec 2008. Speaking of which he says, “It was my worst and best performance. Worst in terms of timing and best in terms of accomplishment. It took me 6hrs:18mins to finish the event. After running the event in 2007 – which was my first full marathon and finishing it in 6hrs:04mins, I resolved that I would get back to Singapore the next year for a sub 5-hour finish. I was all primed for getting this done as I had already done 4hrs:45mins in the Brisbane Marathon in April 2008. I was in great form from the start of the Singapore Marathon, I had finished 30km in 3hrs:25mins or so and all set to get my goal of a sub 5-hour finish. That’s when I got a massive attack of cramps and was lying on the pavement almost frozen in agony for nearly 45 minutes! The paramedics came, the ambulance wanted to take me to the finish but I did not want a DNF against my name. So, I told them to go away and finally managed to stand up, hobble to the finish… it took me nearly 3 hours for the last 12K and yet, it was a great feeling”.
Ramesh was fortunate to have run the Athens full marathon in 2010 and it is most memorable one too which he recalls saying “The whole experience was absolutely electrifying purely because of the historical significance of the event – – it was the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, which started it all”.
The start of a new chapter in my life
Ramesh lived in Chennai before he relocated to Coimbatore in October 2011. While in Chennai, he was part of a running group – Chennai Runners, where he was an active participant in all their activities and also their core team for a few years. Having moved to Coimbatore, he wanted to join a similar group. At that time, there was none and that triggered a thought in him to start a running group – Coimbatore Runners along with three friends in December 2011. Coimbatore Runners is a not-for-profit community that was started to promote long distance running in the city. To this Ramesh says, “Starting a group was important to me because I gained so much from running and being part of a group, which shared a common passion, that I wanted as many people as possible to similarly gain from being part of a group”.
Coimbatore Runners share an excellent camaraderie and the sheer dynamics of the group is what keeps them going. On how he motivates the group, Ramesh said, “Whether someone actually turns up for a run with the group or just sees the traffic in our WhatsApp groups, there is enough motivation and inspiration… something for everyone”.
During the time Ramesh spent with Chennai Runners, he had been part of organizing multiple events right from putting together bespoke long runs to organizing proper events to the full-fledged Chennai Marathon. He wanted to take this experience and knowledge he gained over the years and replicating the same in Coimbatore. To this effect, he says “An opportunity came in the form of a request from the Coimbatore Cancer Foundation (CCF) in October 2012 to organize a marathon as an awareness initiative about the Foundation’s activities and incidentally raise funds. Given the credibility of CCF and the powerful cause they were associated with, it was only a matter of aligning aspirations of Coimbatore Runners and CCF. It has been a very successful partnership and were pretty much aligned from the word go. The entire proceeds go to CCF as Coimbatore Runners do not get any financial benefit from organizing the event.”
That is how the Coimbatore Marathon came into being.
Coimbatore Marathon- By runners for runners
The Coimbatore Marathon is an event organized by runners for runners. Right from its inception, they have been making necessary amends based on their experience of travelling the world and India for various events which they try and replicate if it’s of value add and relevant in their context. He adds by saying, “At the end of every edition we have a debriefing session where we reflect on the overall event, feedback received from various people, categorize them and embed learnings into the next edition. There are some basic principles we follow – never compromise on quality and strive to meet the expectations of all our stakeholders”.
Organizing a marathon requires a great team backing it who work tirelessly and are 100% committed to their goal. Speaking to Ramesh on how he goes about planning for the event he says, “Firstly we have a great team (the “Ops Team”) of about 35 people, 90% of them have been there right from the first edition, which ensures alignment and continuity. This is the team that makes it happen. For the first edition, we worked for 11 months. Now everyone knows their roles and they take charge… we take about 5 months to execute the event and wrap up. Secondly, the partnership we have with CCF and Show Space, the event management company from Chennai, is well balanced as each partner has complementing skill sets and experience that is brought to play.
The other challenges that the event faces have varied over time and Ramesh says “Initially it was about getting people to pay and participate in the event. Now we have challenges of scaling up – we have gone from about 8,000 participants in 2013 to 15,000 in 2018. This number can increase but we have constraints such as access to a good start and finish venue, roads and so on”.
Coimbatore Runners in many ways are trying to influence their circles to get active and one route is to take up running. An informal group of runners with no real structure, membership fee, etc. try and provide a platform to people with a passion for running to come together. There are 8 chapters around the city. These chapters do more than just focusing on running and get themselves involved in other activities like cycling, trekking, swimming, strength training, yoga, etc. which is a fantastic way to cross train and have more fun in the process.
In the end, Ramesh says, “The Coimbatore Marathon is the marquee event that gets more people out the door and out of their comfort zone. We clearly see a huge increase in the number of people hitting the roads for their fitness goals, from the time the event started in 2013 to now”.