Anjali Saraogi speaks to Capt Seshadri about her journey in becoming the youngest Indian woman to complete the oldest marathon in the world, the Comrades Marathon
“Women usually undermine themselves. In my opinion, our fears are our greatest limitations. And we should spend more time living with our dreams than our fears.”
A teenaged girl, on the corner of adulthood at age 18, persuaded her mother to participate in a local marathon. The reluctant mother, who felt that she was too old for any kind of strenuous physical activity, let alone run 42 km, finally conceded and, to the surprise of all, finished first. And so began a career in long distance running for Anjali Saraogi, now aged 43 who, with just two years’ running behind her, has set records for herself and become a model for aspiring young runners to follow. At an age when most runners would be hanging their boots on a peg, this wonder woman was firmly tying up her laces.
As a kid, the plump young Anjali did not appear to be running material. While her initiation into running dispelled all her inhibitions and insecurities, the result was a shattering of records. A win at Delhi and a podium finish at the Mumbai Marathons were but baby steps to her astonishing achievements on the world scene. A temporary setback occurred when she was injured while preparing for the Chicago Marathon. Her doctors said: “you will never run again”. A dear friend gifted her a book by Amit Seth titled ‘Dare to Run’. This was to change Anjali’s running mindset forever. Amit, incidentally, was the first Indian to complete the Comrades Marathon, possibly the world’s most gruelling run, in 2009. Quite naturally, there was serious concern about her wellbeing from her husband and her father, but her determination and consistency won their admiration and support.
42.2 km was but a small start for this amazing athlete. All of 43 years, Anjali put everyone’s apprehensions behind as she toiled to complete the 89 km Comrades Marathon, the world’s oldest annual ultra-marathon that is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa; the ultimate dream of every marathoner. For her stupendous effort, as the first Indian woman to have achieved this feat, she won the Bill Rowden medal. Her next goal is to improve on her timing and finish the downhill race in the next Comrades Marathon and even to get her daughter to run with her.
The run of Comrades
It was race day 2017 at the Comrades. Anjali had set herself a target of 8:30. On that morning, even as early as 5.30, it was a warm day, with most of the runners being South Africans. By 11 am, with no shade and little breeze and with water points located only every 2.5 km, dehydration began setting in. 70 km done and still 12 to 13 minutes to go before the next water point, Anjali was on the verge of collapse, knowing that only a miracle could come to her aid.
And then it happened. A South African runner, probably as exhausted as she, was running alongside, with a water sachet in hand. He saw her eyes locked on the sachet, and despite his own dire need, passed it on to her to share the life reviving water. A little sporting gesture which, at that moment, transcended every border of nationality, race or gender. Comrades indeed! At 2:08 in the sweltering afternoon, Anjali crossed the finish line in a time of 8:38:23. In an interview, she states: “Mentally embracing that pain before the start is the toughest moment for me. Running the race is easy. The physicality of it has been taken care of in my gruelling training sessions — it’s the psychological aspect of it that really needs to be addressed.”
Anjali draws from her experience to advise other runners. She exhorts them to have belief in their abilities and faith in training. Pushing one’s body to the limits, she says, is paramount, but it must be supplemented with a respect for recovery and sensible nutrition and hydration. Age is never a limiting factor; confidence and faith are what matters. The need for an athletic body to run successfully, she says, is a myth. In her words, patience, training and focus towards achieving one’s goals are all that are needed.
At Comrades, Anjali Saraogi holds the second best timing among all Indians till date.