Deepthi Velkur, in a 3 part series, speaks to the founder of the Hyderabad runners Group, Rajesh Vetcha about his running journey, forming the Hyderabad runners club and mentoring other running groups in the country.
Founder of the Hyderabad Runners Group in May 2007, Rajesh Vetcha is a man on a mission to create active lifestyles through running. With a determined demeanour, he has helped the Hyderabad Runners Club become one of the most organized running groups in the country.
FM: How did running become your calling in life from such a young age?
Rajesh:“What is the official distance of a full marathon” – 26 miles 385 yards!
That question at school struck a chord in me and there started my fascination with the marathon. I remember asking my PT teacher about how people ran marathons and he suggested I start with a 10K – this was way back in 1983 when information was scarce.
In the year 1984, LA Olympics was being telecast live for the first time in India. It also happened to be the year that the women’s marathon was an Olympic event for the first time. I was transfixed and couldn’t get my eyes off the TV for those 2+ hours. I was following the Portuguese runner Rosa Motawho was leading until the 39K mark but was overtaken by Joan Benoit Samuelson at the end.
The other unforgettable incident was that of Gabriela Andersen Schiess who cramped and was limping her way to the finish line and got an ovation which was usually reserved for the winner. That is when I realized a marathon is not just about the distance but how you race and pace yourself. Childhood memories such as this made me determined to at least run a HM in my life.
September 2002. I moved from Chennai to Bangalore for a new job and thanks to my sedentary lifestyle, I had piled on nearly 20 kgs in a year.
It was by chance that I made the decision to get back into shape – my organization had organized an outbound training and while playing Table Tennis, I realized how difficult it was for me to move around and the whole experience left me breathless.
I was simply overweight and given my family’s rich history of diseases, I was determined not to put myself at risk anymore. The next day, I enrolled at a gym close by and through a combination of aerobics, 5K treadmill runs, and weight training, I lost 14 kgs in 3 months. But, the whole gym routine got a bit monotonous for me and I decided to give running a shot (chasing a childhood dream!).
Training for the first half marathon was really difficult and it was all a solo journey. I gathered a lot of information online and learned everything the hard way (chaffing, losing toenails, knee pain, etc., – you name it and I went through it!).
FM: With no proper formal training and having to rely on e-coaching back in 2004, how was the experience of running your first marathon in Mumbai?
Rajesh: In 2003 – 2004, I was posting queries on issues I faced on one of the running websites and used to receive advice now and then but I still had to move ahead with my training using a trial and error method.
Around that time, I met an interesting runner online. She was a Britisher living in the US and she turned out to be my first mentor. Her family was into running and between them, they had completed nearly 40+ marathons.
Under her guidance and advice, I was able to gather many insights and improve my training and confidence. This helped me in my first marathon in Jan 2005 which was the Mumbai Marathon.
Overall, it wasn’t a great run. Firstly, the race started at 7.45 am and then traffic opened up around 9.30 am, signages disappeared and there was no proper support at the aid stations on the route. I targeted a 5hr run but eventually took around 5hr 38 minutes. Due to lack of direction signages, I ended up going to Azad Maidan which was the start point. I then had to walk to CST by asking people for directions to collect my medal which I eventually did at 6hrs 15minutes.
At that time, the Mumbai marathon used to time only participants who finished within 5 hours and so I do not have an official timing of my first run.
FM: With your uncanny ability to create networks with runners, you have managed to start a running group in every city you have lived? How did you manage that?
Rajesh:Post my first Mumbai Marathon where the training was solitary, I thought there must be people with similar interest. It was in Feb 2005, I posted on a Meet Up group to find out if anybody was interested in running a marathon. The meeting point was Coffee Day on CMH road, Bengaluru and to my surprise, nearly 25 people showed up and that’s how a running group was formed.
It was an eclectic group of people from different walks of life. We started out running as a group every Sunday. A couple of months later, the Fuller Life started ‘Runners for life’ who organised runs and we started doing events with them. I was smitten by this idea of running and decided to invest in Runners for life in 2006.
I then moved to Delhi for work in 2006 and started a running group there as well.
A year later in 2007, I moved to Hyderabad again on work and formed a google group inviting people to join for a run. 5 people turned up and we did an easy 5K run at the KBR park. That’s how in May 2007, the Hyderabad Runners was formed.
FM: How and when did the idea of organizing marathons come about?
Rajesh: Nov 2007 – the New York marathon. After I ran that event, it introduced me to the true spirit of marathon running and I was amazed at the community involvement and the professionalism with which the event was organized. I returned to India with a lot of queries and thoughts in my head on running, marathons, community involvement, etc.,
FM: Considering you’re long running history, could you tell us the events you have been a part of till date and how has running shaped you as a person?
Rajesh: I am a runner first. Whatever I do, I will not give up running. Apart from keeping me healthy, it has made me discover a new-found passion which in turn has given me a new social circle with people with varied backgrounds. It has also given me a lot of insights into issues of health, community development, took me to a lot of places under the guise of marathon running and of course the chance to be part of the growth of Hyderabad Runners.
Ever since I started running, I have done 120 plus events which include 10K, HM, FM and Ultra Marathons in India and overseas.
In the next part, we will talk about how Rajesh formed the Hyderabad runners Club.