In conversation with Kannan Sundararajan aka Coach Kay, an ACE certified personal trainer, an Ultramarathoner, founder-running Coach at KaysFIT Academy, founder-race director at OOTYULTRA Marathon and road safety ambassador.
Everyone has a story of how their journey into how running began and Coach Kay has quite a story to tell. He was quite an active individual who believed in leading a fit, healthy lifestyle and enjoyed playing badminton so much that he became the co-founder of BAMA an amateur badminton masters tournament.
Running was never on his mind and he always considered running more of a warm-up exercise than an actual sport itself. The realization that running is so much more happened in early 2011, while Coach Kay was watching the highlights of the 2010 London Marathon (Ethiopian runner Tsegeye finished the race in 2:05:19). “It was for the first time I watched the way the lead pack of runners running on a marathon course. They were running in harmony and their movement instantly triggered a desire for me to run like them”, he recalls.
It soon became clear to him that someday he wanted to run the marathon distance too. Unfortunately for Coach Kay, he mistook the distance to be 26KM (instead of 26-miles) and figured by running 12.5km/hr, he should be able to match Tsegeye’s speed and timing. Boy, was he in for a surprise!
His running journey..how it all started and what keeps him going
All charged up, Coach Kay put on his regular running shoes and set out on his first 10K run. It took him all of 70 mins to realize that running like Tsegeye isn’t easy at all. It became clear to him that he needed to train and prepare!
As an initial goal, Coach Kay set himself a target of running the 26-mile distance in at least twice the time that Tsegeye took. The sub-4 hour goal acted as the trigger for him to get into running and he hasn’t stopped since.
Later on, in 2011, Coach Kay ran his first Bengaluru HM and standing at the start line alongside a few African athletes (men and women), he thought, “I was looking them down (taller than them) and thought to myself… how are they going to run? Why would they even travel such a long distance to come to India to participate in this event?”.
When the race kicked off, he was one among the few running shoulder to shoulder with the African runners but after a few KMs, he realized that his lungs were popping and his body shutting down. “The Africans were flying and suddenly sense prevailed, I started to slow down. I realized that I was in the wrong competition and I had to run my own race. That was probably the fastest km I ran at that time. I realized the capabilities of the Africans and many other runners who were ahead of me”, says Coach Kay.
Running is an individual sport as each person’s capabilities and goals differ. It’s best advised that you run your own race and compete with yourself rather than the person next to you. Coach Kay realized this early on and he says “Now, I compare myself on how I was yesterday, last week or month or even a few years back vs. how I’m right now, or what I will be in the future”.
Coach Kay slowly graduated to running longer distances and with each run, it helped him scale and build his capabilities. Since then, he has participated in multiple events and the highlight of his career is the 100-mile ‘Border Run’ from Jaisalmer to Longewala (time taken: 27:59:20 and 6th out of 22 to cross the finish line!). He says to be an ultra-runner you need to “Dream bigger, stay grounded, write down goals, break it down and understand what it takes to run an ultra, learn from others, listen to your body, read, talk and discuss with people about it, develop your mental strength which comes with running for several years, race day simulation and lastly there are no shortcuts”.
Having worked 24 years with leading organizations, he decided to leave his lucrative career behind to follow his passion for running. This passion drove him to learn more and eventually, he became an ACE certified personal trainer.
With his own personal experience of running numerous ultramarathons, coaching expertise of working with 100+ clients and his corporate leadership skills, Coach Kay decided it was time to start anew. He became the founder of “KaysFIT Academy” – a fitness academy formed in 2016 with an aim of providing a structured approach to training via online coaching tools. Training aside, it also drives youth fitness programs focused on strength, balance, agility and leading a healthy lifestyle. He also conducts workshops #ultraanything that focuses on 8 different ideas – Balance, Build, Inspire, Flex, Form, Fit & Fuel, Endurance and Lookback. His hope someday is to turn KaysFIT into one of the most trusted Ultramarathon coaching academies.
Super-hero in the making
As an ultra-marathoner, running coach, entrepreneur, pacer, mentor, motivational speaker road safety ambassador, and race director, Coach Kay dons multiple hats.
One of his biggest initiatives was “Be Safe! Be there to Save” campaign aimed at building road safety awareness. He drove this message by running 42 full-marathons in 42 weeks at 42 different places.
When asked about his experience of handling multiple roles, he says “I always imagined myself like a super-hero doing many things at the same time. Right from childhood I always wanted to be-be a best student, athlete, painter, musician, drummer, flautist, and singer. As I started growing older I realized that it was impossible to do everything that I like. I always liked to discover my strengths and strengthen them by doing the same things repeatedly. I also love to execute complex projects, take risks and make critical decisions often”.
An undying passion for Ultra-marathons and love for his hometown (Ooty) is what drove Coach Kay to start the “OOTYULTRA Marathon” in April 2018. The 2nd edition of OOTYULTRA concluded on the 7-Apr-2019 with 717 registered runners from across India and abroad.
As a race director and founder, his objective is to give runners a unique experience with a personal touch. However, organising an event of this scale is hard, to say the least. “There are plenty of risks involved in organising these events and the government policies are not very clear. Sports should be treated as an Industry and we need clear and clean policies to govern and encourage sporting events. I take a huge risk of putting my personal time, effort, credibility and finances. Even the insurance companies do not come forward in providing policies for sporting events”, says Coach Kay.
The future and beyond
Coach Kay has his priorities all sorted:
- Get smarter with my own approach to running and give back to the academy
- Run the ‘Border 100 miler’ in less than 24 hours
- Nurture and scale OOTYULTRA Marathon and contribute to the development of running and marathon tourism in the Nilgiris