Deepthi Velkur talks to Aakriti Verma, a trail runner and also the first Indian Woman to have taken part in the World Trail Championship.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
Aakriti Verma certainly wants to live up to this inspiring quote. With a little over four years of running experience, she has already achieved the adulating distinction of being the only Indian woman to take part at the World Trail Championships.
A HR professional with a leading IT firm for the past 6 years, Aakriti uses her national-level swimming experience to cross-train along with the runs. Her focus is not on clocking a heap of miles on a daily basis, instead she sets targets for each run and pushes herself to achieve it.
Apart from competing at the world championships, Aakriti has been a podium finisher in major running events such as Urban Stampede, Malnad Ultra, Jawadhu Hill Ultra, Yercaud Hills Ultra, Bull hill 50k run across the country in distances ranging from 5KM to 100 KM. She is also an Ironman distance triathlon finisher. Phew!
As if that wasn’t energy-sapping enough, she finds time to conduct daily fitness sessions for more than 500 colleagues as well as organizing running events at her organization.
Excerpts from our conversation
HR professional to long-distance enthusiast to being the 1stIndian woman at the IAU Trail World championship, you sure where a lot of hats. How do you manage to keep it all together?
It has never been easy as there is a lot of hard work, sacrifice and discipline behind it. Time management is also the key and you need to manage your time well to excel at work and also make time for your training. So, I prioritize much of my time for work during the weekdays and for training and races on the weekends.
You were a national-level swimmer at school and still use it as part of your fitness regime. How has that helped your transition into long-distance running?
Swimming is the best sport which involves movement of all the muscles in your body and surely helps to build a lot of stamina. This is definitely the best cross training workout for runners and also helps in my recovery process. I resumed swimming after college to train for my triathlons, though my focus for the last year has been towards running ultra-marathons.
You have been into long-distance running for nearly 4 years now and since the past year, you have focused more on trail running. What piqued your interest into that specific area?
I started off with running 5K and 10K’s and took up long distance running only in last couple of years. Trail running has definitely interested me more as I feel it is more challenging and you spend your time close to nature mostly in the mountains which attracts me to this sport.
Being the first woman to be a part of a 6-member team representing the country at the 2018 IAU Trail World Championship in Spain is a ground-breaking achievement. How did you feel when you heard the news and was there any sort of pressure on you?
It was indeed a proud moment for me to be part of the Indian team. This being my first appearance in an international race, it was a mix of excitement and pressure as I was the only female to represent India in this sport. Hopefully I would be paving the way for lot of other females to build themselves in this sport.
You needed to accumulate 500 ITRA (International Trail running association) points to qualify and be a part of the Indian team at the Trail World Championship. How did you go about achieving that?
To be honest, I wasn’t focusing much on my cotation points. All I did was to participate in most of the trail ultras across India and give my best at every race. The cutoff points for female runners last year was 500 and I was lucky enough to get 530 odd points through my Malnad Ultra.
The world championship course I’m sure was very technical. Can you tell us something more about the course?
The terrain was very technical and it was my first time being on these trails and they are quite different from the trails in India which are rather smooth runnable trails. Most of the sections of the race were uphill and downhill which made it even more challenging. Apart from the technicality, the stiff intermediate cutoffs made the race that much more tough.
In Spain, you had to come off after more than half the race was done. What was the challenge and where do you see as areas you need to work on?
I would have been able to complete the race irrespective of the difficulty and technicality but the stiff intermediate cutoffs were a huge challenge due to which I had to pull off from the race. By spending more time training in such technical trails found mostly in the Himalayan range will definitely help me tackle such courses better.
How many races have you ran in India and overseas? Which has been the most treasured race till date? Why?
I have run more than 29 races across India and one international race. The most treasured race is definitely the Solang Sky Ultra organized by The Hell Race team. This is the only race in India that comes close to the technical trails found in Europe. This race has given me immense learning, helped me overcome my fear of running technical sections along the trail and has enhanced me to train myself better. I was extremely delighted as I was the only female runner to have finished the race within the cutoff time till date.
For trail running in specific, is there a specific training you need to follow as opposed to running a regular marathon?
Yes, there is a vast difference as the training required for trail ultra-running is completely different versus road marathon training. To run trails, you need to spend lot of time running in the mountains, plan your nutrition, hydration, training in high altitudes, running with backpacks etc.
What races do you plan on taking part in for the remaining part of the year?
With the running season almost coming to an end, I am glad that I participated in some new races this year like Solang Sky Ultra, Mawkyrwat Ultra. Next, I plan to run the SRT (Sinhagad-Rajgad-Torna)Ultra and Vagamon Ultrail next year.
Follow Aakriti’s running journey on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aakritiverma06/