When running means more than just fitness, Deepthi Velkur catches up with Sufiya as she uses running to spread important messages.
“When you discover something that nourishes your soul and brings you joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life”- Jean Shinoda Bolen.
For Sufiya, that “something” was running. Having moved to New Delhi in 2008 right after college, Sufiya went on to work in aviation for 10 years and like with most of us, she found it difficult to make time for herself. “I wanted to come out of this daily stress and get fit, I started participating in marathons. When I started running it gave me the freedom to be myself”, she recalls.
It was 2017 and Sufiya, a native of Ajmer, Rajasthan had just taken to running in an endeavour to get fit.
That very year, she ran her 1st official run – the Airtel Delhi half marathon. At the end of the run, she says “It was a great feeling, I felt positive, confident and it felt like I had achieved something massive in life. Running is like meditation and it helps me come out of any kind of stress and negativity. I believe that long-distance running especially is a mind game and it requires a lot of practice and patience”.
Sufiya mostly trains on her own but occasionally she joins a running group in her locality on their long runs. Her fiancée Vikas, a cyclist and trainer helps her with strength and core training. Talking of her typical day, she says, “I start my day with yoga which gives me strength and positivity to go on my run as I feel having a positive attitude plays a big part in boosting your energy. After yoga, I start with a few minutes warm-up and stretching exercises. I don’t go to the gym for body fitness, but I do daily strength and core workouts. I watch a lot of motivational videos as they help me stay strong and keep positive”.
The ADHM 2017 was only a start and since then she had run many HMs, FMs and in 2018, she did her first ultra-run where she won a podium finish.
Running marathons or winning was not the only thing on Sufiya’s mind. She wanted more out of running and to this, she says “Running is a great way to share our thoughts and explore different places. In April 2018, I ran the famous “Golden Triangle” route (New Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-New Delhi) for a cause ‘spreading peace and humanity’. That run got me into the India Book of Records as the fastest female runner (covering 720K in 16 days). During this run, I got a chance to interact with many people and explore different places and cultures. I faced some serious challenges when it came to my health, the weather, traffic, bad road conditions, sledging, etc. but overall it was a great experience for me. That journey made me not only physically strong but mentally as well which gave me the confidence to face any situation life throws at me”.
Through running, Sufiya has done things which she never imagined she would. She says, “Running especially for a cause makes it that much more meaningful and impactful. Whatever we think, the changes we want to see in society, if we can spread and share the same with others with a genuine intention, I think there is no other better way than this”.
She adds, “I got deeply disturbed by the current situation in India. There is so much distrust and hatred amongst people. I wanted to do something to change this and being a part of this system, I chose the path of ultra-running to spread the message of HOPE – Humanity, Oneness, Peace, Equality through my run from Kashmir to Kanyakumari”.
Speaking of her running expedition from Kashmir to Kanyakumari which started on April 25th 2019 she says, “I started my expedition with limited resources and had only my fiancée Vikas with me to take care of everything. When I started running from Srinagar it went viral and created a wave of positivity in the country. Everyone came forward to support, help and run with me along the way as I passed through the country’s cities and villages. Runners in every city came forward and ran with me to support my cause, they donated money, arranged for my stay, got me home-cooked food, managed to get materials for my journey and this kept on going city after city. I was astounded by the hospitality, support, and love that I received from the locals apart from people who followed my journey through social media. I also got selfless support from police, army and thousands of people. It was an eye-opening moment for me, and I felt extremely touched by their love and support. I planned to run 50K a day by splitting it into two parts – 35K in the morning and 15K in the evening. My target was to complete the 4000K in 100 days, but I completed it in 87 days 2hrs. This run got me an entry into the Guinness Book of World Record as the first of its kind”.
Taking on a challenge like this is unfathomable but her sheer determination and grit to achieve what she set out for is what pulled her through despite the challenges. Talking about how she overcame the many challenges along her journey she says, “when I was running through Srinagar, I had to manoeuvre through heavy traffic, bad road conditions, pollution, dust, land sliding, construction work in places like Ramban and Banihal. When I got to Jalandhar I felt sick and was unable to breathe properly. When I went to the hospital, they did a scan and I got to know that one lung had collapsed and was infected. I was hospitalized for five days and lost five kgs. I did not want to give up, my body condition was not good but I thought that I already started my expedition and there are thousands of people who are hoping and praying for me. After spending five days in the hospital, I prepared myself mentally and physically to complete my expedition. I got back on my two feet and started my run of covering a distance of 44kms and from there on I continued my journey with no looking back”.
She further adds by saying, “I was faced with almost every type of weather from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. It was raining and cold when I started from Srinagar and became hot after Jammu when I entered in Punjab. It was 48-degree in Rajasthan. In the South, there was too much humidity and heat. Having gone through such tough situations and difficulties during this expedition has only made me much stronger, and have a positive outlook towards life and people. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me”.
In conclusion, she says “After having a great experience of running from Kashmir to Kanyakumari I want to continue my mission for HOPE with new and bigger challenges in the future and connect with more and more people and want to spread my message for hope by running “.