With an insatiable appetite for running, Divya Vasishta has quite a story to tell. In this conversation with Deepthi Velkur, she explains what drives her passion.
“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir (Naturalist and Preservationist).
Probably one of the most compelling quotes that says it all for many outdoor lovers and definitely apt for our guest today – Divya Vasishta.
Divya hails from Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, a scenic mountain town, so it’s no wonder that her runs always seem to take her to the hills.
She is by no means a career runner – running happened by accident 5 years ago and she juggles a busy corporate life (quality head with a US-based organization) with her undying passion for running and the mountains.
Her running timeline might be short but she has covered the spectrum – countless 10Ks, Half-Marathons, Full-Marathons, Trail Running and also Ultra runs.
We had ourselves a tête-à-tête and I was fascinated by her story. Read on and chances are you will be too.
FM: It’s been 5 years since you started running, what inspired you to pick up such a tough endurance sport?
Divya: I never liked running on a treadmill but I had to for a long time as I spent quite a few years in Canada and the severe winters made it hard to run outdoors. A few years later though, I moved to California famed for its gorgeous weather and scenery, I started to head out for my runs every day for about 30 mins.
After having spent 10 years out of the country, we decided to move back to Bangalore. It was definitely a huge change for me. The weekends seemed empty with nowhere to go camping, no hills to climb, no trails to walk on and I ended up running longer durations inside my housing layout.
Initially, it started out as an aimless activity until a friend suggested that I participate in a 10k run back in 2013 to begin with, which I did and the experience of the race was enthralling. That paved the way forward and I have never looked back since. For the first two years, the focus was to improve my timings and then later on, I focused on building and testing my endurance and this became a vicious cycle with no end.
No distance ever seemed enough for me initially. I was curious to see how much further I could go and fast forward 3 years, I have run a maximum distance of 100K in 14 hours 20 minutes in the Bangalore Ultra. I also completed the Khardung La Challenge in Leh (the world’s highest Ultra marathon at 17582 feet) a distance of 72K.
Since 2013, I have completed 13 Ultra events and countless half and full marathons. I always enjoyed runs that are challenging with a sole purpose of finishing them comfortably and maintaining a constant pace. I personally prefer the quieter and smaller events and always look forward to trying new routes with new organisers.
The first 2 years of my running life took me to different locales but it was always the hills that kept calling and brought me a kind of peace that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Having discovered running in the hills, I have completed events in Ooty, Munnar, Manipur, Leh, Manali (Solang Sky running – being the toughest so far) as well as Shimla. This year, I became the 3rdfemale runner from India to run the Everest marathon.
I haven’t limited myself just to running in the hills obviously – I enjoy running in California and completed the Big Sur marathon which is considered a beautiful run but very challenging owing to the weather conditions. I have also completed a 143.9K run during the 24-hour Bangalore stadium run last year.
FM: Fascinating and amazing to see what you have achieved in 5 years. Prior to 2013, what kind of sports where you in to?
Divya: I have always been an active and outdoorsy person. Back in school, I loved running on the tracks and tried my hand at different sports like field and track events, basketball, hockey and mini marathons. With college and the initial few years of working, these activities took a backseat. Post marriage, my partner and myself started going on short treks in our free time. Hitting the gym became a part of my daily routine. In 2006, step aerobics fascinated me and quickly became one of my favourite activity. We (my partner and myself) had done a few treks of which the Machu Picchu, few in Alaska and the Everest Base Camp clearly were my favourites. Between 2010-13, I appointed a personal trainer and he used to set up various routines for me and then it was only in 2013, that I started running.
FM: That explains the ease with which you have acclimatized yourself to ultra-running. This is me being curious – how was your lifestyle prior and how has that changed since you started running?
Divya: In terms of routine, not much has changed in my life. I have always been disciplined in everything I do. Early rising, timely intake of food and hitting the bed early has been my routine for the longest time. Food habits have changed for the better. For instance, I used to eat a lot of processed food and that has completely stopped now. I prefer eating fresh home-cooked meals and drinking natural juices.
FM: Managing your professional, personal as well passion for running takes a lot out of a person. How do you manage this and what do you do to unwind?
Divya: I really didn’t have to make a lot of compromises. I started running when I was well-settled at work. There was no need to commute to work daily and work related travel was manageable too and was a part of my routine life. Both my husband and myself are morning people. I just had to wake up a little earlier so I could clear up any work-related emails and then head out for my morning run. While travelling, it becomes a bit hard to manage my runs so I make sure to manage expectations during those days and plan my work and running accordingly. And I never forget to pack my running shoes wherever I go.
Running is relaxing for me, but a spa appointment for a deep tissue massage and foot reflexology is a reward for myself (smiles).
FM: To be able to clock 9455Km in such a short time is astounding. Did you imagine you would have achieved this in less than 5 years? Do you set at a yearly target for yourself?
Divya: I was never interested in numbers, like setting up a monthly or yearly target. What I do is set myself a mileage target of 60K every week and try to achieve it on most days. My tally seems very less in comparison to other Ultra runners. But I feel, if I run a lot (especially training runs), I’ll probably start disliking running so I run the tracks I enjoy. Sometimes a training run of 35K stresses me but at the same time I enjoy running a 100K event.
FM: Another mind-boggling statistic is the fact that you have a podium finish in greater than 50% of the events you have participated? What are the 3 key factors that help you achieve this?
Divya: You are right. Out of 55 events, I’ve had about 27 podiums wins. I would say – It just happened. Though I’ve had podiums in the open category too but most of them have been in 45+ age category, so being a veteran probably led to this and I see it as an advantage. I really don’t run with a competitive mind.
FM: Congratulations on finishing the Comrades marathon last year – such a fascinating run especially given its origins. What interested you in taking part in this event?
Divya: Curiosity, I think. I wanted to see why runners are so crazy about this run and I guess I did find my answer. It’s a run with an amazing aura. I finished the race which is approximately a 89KM run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. It is considered the World’s Largest and one of the oldest Ultra-marathons, which was first held in 1921. The race has very strict cut-off time of 12hours and I managed to finish it in 11 hrs and 42 minutes.
FM: Obviously, your training program for this run would have been different from your normal training. Can you please share a few snippets into the differences?
Divya: One needs to be diligent and disciplined in preparing for any targeted run, especially a run as challenging as this with strict cut-off points. It only tends to increase the pressure which may lead to unnecessary stress.
My goal was just to finish the run within the cut-off time and with that in mind, I prepared my own training plan and stayed within my normal weekly mileage, with an exception of 2 or 3 weeks where I exceeded it. I also added hill runs to my routine, almost every weekend and most of the events I went to were in the hilly terrains which got me stepping out of my regular running route. Being the only female from Bangalore to participate in this event that year, I had to look for a group running this event. The drive to the location for the training runs was quite far from my place and that led me to start driving in India, which I dislike doing, especially during the dark, early morning hours. I don’t remember missing a single run as per my calendar.
FM: So, where is your next big run and what plans do you have for the next few months?
Divya: A 100 miler in a decent time for sure.