In conversation with Pawan Khurana, an IT professional who runs an IT services firm in Gurgaon talks to us about how he caught the running bug.
Growing up in a small community dealing with the pressure of being academically brilliant, his gully cricket and gilli-danda aside, Pawan had little opportunity to venture into serious sport.
Pawan’s first attempt into running happened on a whim. Pawan recounts that day, “It all started out with a resolve to get fit in my late 30s with slow walks that gradually turned to brisk walks. And one day due to the sheer momentum of a brisk walk I just broke into a run, which lasted only 300m before I sat on the sidewalk due to excruciating shin pain. But I tasted blood that day and within a few weeks, 300m became 1K and then 5K”.
The “Running Bug” gets him!
Once he started running, Pawan just couldn’t stop. In 2012, he started his training for his first HM, the ADHM along with his friend Manish Kapoor. While talking about the experience of running his first HM, he says “It’s one of the sweetest memories I have of the race. Just like any first-timer, we both were not sure if we could finish the race. We were all the more worried when we saw people doing all kinds of warm-ups and listening to the war cries of some groups. We started the race super slow and let everyone pass by while we focused on preserving our energy to ensure completion. By around the 12k mark, almost the whole world had passed by and soon realized we weren’t really tired after all. There was no looking back and we built up our momentum from there on to practically sprinting to the finish line.” A few months later he ran his 2nd HM organised by Running and Living and since then, they have been innumerable more.
Pawan switched to a more structured training approach with GRR (Gurgaon Road Runners) which has helped him immensely in becoming a better runner today. Talking about the schedule followed there, he says “The schedule has everything from tempo runs, hill repeats, strength training, core building, speed run, interval training. When you see it at first it all looks like a random set of activities. In reality, its anything but that. I started training about 1.5 years ago and before I knew it, my pace, running form, breathing technique and strength started improving. I have improved in the last 1 year more than I did in the six years of running before joining GRR”.
Planning his yearly running calendar is not something he decides ahead of time, though the ADHM and a few other runs in the NCR region are a constant. Running in exotic locations is what appeals to Pawan and he chooses to run and explore a new place every time. “Last year it was Ladakh Marathon. This year I did Bonta trail and would probably do Goa river marathon towards the end of the year”, he says.
Making time for memories
Despite his crazy work schedule (running his own company!), for Pawan running is a constant and he ensures he makes time for it no matter what. He says, “For me, running is a craving that is always there, lingering in the corner of my mind, waiting for attention, waiting to be fed, to be fulfilled. It’s there when I get up in the morning, becomes even more intense when it rains or if I see someone else run or when stress threshold is breached or when boredom strikes. It’s my love, release and balance mechanism all at the same time”.
Talking about his most memorable marathon so far, he says, “Ladakh marathon in 2018 without a doubt is by far the toughest and my most memorable race. It is one of the highest HMs in the world with an altitude of 11,000ft. The last 3 KMs is a straight incline of around 18-20 degree till the finish line. With a 40% lower oxygen level, it becomes even more challenging. In a runner’s parlance, just add 25-30 % more to your average HM time when you run here as compared to plains”.
Training for a marathon of this level of toughness is not easy. For Pawan and his group of 72 runners from GRR, it took 6 months of rigorous and structured training to get ready. He adds by saying, “The training involved improving lung capacity, incline training, core strengthening and everything that goes with it. I arrived 4 days in advance to acclimatize myself to the place. Ended up living with a constant headache for the first two days of arrival due to low oxygen levels. But crossing the finish line made it all worth it”.
A marathon does not always go as per plan and you need to have a strategy in place to deal with the hiccups on race day as well as plan training sessions. Speaking to Pawan on how he handles this, he says “It starts with knowing the terrain, altitude, and weather at a macro level to plan the training. On a tactical level, one needs to ensure hydration support, proper running gear, etc. Another important thing is to do a short run a couple of days before wearing your race day gear to check for any potential issues”.
Running has immeasurable benefits not only in keeping you fit and healthy but also helps shape you in many ways to be a better leader. According to Pawan “It is the most relevant sport for anyone in any kind of leadership position”. He goes on to say that “It has mentally conditioned me to persevere, pace myself and improved my focus on execution discipline among many other things. I also often end up quoting examples of running in my discussions at work”.
The 2018 edition of the ADHM, saw corporate leaders chosen as official pacers to run the 21K and 10K. Pawan was one among them pacing the 2:30 bus for the 21K. Talking about his first pacing experience, he says “Helping many runners achieve their target of finishing the run, seeing them cross the finish line and making them achieve their best made it a very meaningful experience. I also received random messages from unknown people on FB and other social media platforms, mentioning that they were on my bus and some of them achieved their PBs. It was really overwhelming”.
Pawan has set a goal of doing a full marathon this year. He also wishes to attempt a Vertical Marathon in the near future.