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For the love of running

In conversation with Brijesh Gajera, co-founder of the Ashva Running Club, talks to Deepthi Velkur about his love for running. 

Why do we love to run? It’s tough, it hurts – yet more and more people every day are taking to the roads. I had a chance to talk with Brijesh Gajera and listening to him gave me an insight into the enormous pleasure running can bring – it is, after all, a natural thing to do.

Brijesh is a software engineer by profession and an outdoor enthusiast by passion. In his professional avatar, Brijesh works with Cisco India where he tackles next generation Enterprise Networking Solutions in the hope of building predictability, adaptability, and protection for businesses worldwide.

But, that’s just one side of him – a self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast, Brijesh is a long-distance runner, cyclist, and trekker. He has participated in multiple marathons over the last 10 years, most notable of which is the prestigious Boston Marathon 2018. He has taken part in multi-day cycling tours in the Western Ghats in South India, Indian Himalayas, and Europe. He loves the Himalayas and keeps visiting them for hiking, cycling, and running which, he calls his annual pilgrimages.

As if that wasn’t enough, Brijesh enjoys mentoring and coaching amateur long-distance runners. He is the co-founder and one of the coaches of Ashva Running Club where he trains runners to help them achieve their goals – be it their first 5K/10K/Marathon or specific targets.

“The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision” – Robyn Davidson.

Let’s read through Brijesh’s first steps as a runner and what influenced him to go from recreational runner to running club co-founder.

Was running a big part of your life growing up?

Actually, no. I used to do the occasional (not more than a couple of times a year maybe) run around the school ground with a friend of mine but that was to get a competitive high as both of us were the toppers in the class and running was our way of settling the debate of who is better J

From the moment I started following athletics in my high school years, I became a huge fan of Haile Gebrselassie. Actually, who is not a fan of his? I always admired his running and that was my regular connection to running in growing up years.

What was the trigger to pick up running and do it so well?

After I moved to Bangalore for work, I used to volunteer for an NGO called Parikrma. When the inaugural Bangalore 10K happened in the year 2008, Parikrma asked its volunteers to run in the event to show solidarity to their cause. I liked the idea and registered for the event. I truly enjoyed training for and running my first 10K. The joy of running took a hold on me. What was supposed to be a one-time affair became a lifetime passion after that event.

Soon 10K was followed by Half and Full Marathons. The haphazard training was replaced by a structured program and all my travel plans started revolving around running.

You have competed in several marathons over the years – did you always plan on it being competitive?

Well, nothing was planned as such and things happened on their own. I generally get driven by a goal or an idea – of experiencing a particular marathon, achieving a target time or volunteering for a cause. Once I choose to run an event, I plan my training and focus on it whole-heartedly.

In the early days of my running, my aim was to simply build endurance and run in various places. Once I was satisfied with my endurance level, I decided to target a particular finish time and worked on speed. When I was reasonably close to the Boston Marathon qualification, I decided to train for it.

In short, my competitive knack comes from the targets I set for myself.

How many races have you participated so far and which has been the most memorable one?

There are a plenty! I have lost the count, or rather never kept it. All my race medals go in an antique trunk in my living room. Roughly there are more than 25 marathon or longer distance races I have participated in till date.

Choosing the most memorable race from so many is quite a task! Of course, my first marathon always tops the list. It was an idyllic setting in Auroville and what I experienced and learned that day about human endurance, psychology and never-say-die spirit is irreplaceable.

Then there is Ladakh Marathon 2017 for the experience and love of mountains, the Boston Marathon 2018 for the weather and sea of runners, The Big Sur Marathon 2018 for the natural beauty and scores of Mumbai Marathons for the crowd support.

 

You are the co-founder and one of the coaches of the running group Ashva, how did this group come into being and how many runners do you have currently?

Somewhere along my personal running journey, I felt that I could share my experience with fellow runners and guide them. My dear friend, Murthy R K, also wanted to get into coaching runners around the same time. In fact, he was already coaching school kids by then. Together we decided to form “Ashva Running Club”.

It’s been more than 2 years now and we have about 75 runners in 3 different locations (Lalbagh, Whitefield, Kanakapura Road) in Bangalore. Apart from that, we also train people remotely.

Do you think joining a running club enriches a runner’s experience? If yes, why?

Totally. Joining a running group has helped my running immensely.

First of all, the camaraderie of a group is a great motivation to get up and go for a run. It helps one to be regular and disciplined. There is also what I call “Running Rituals”, the warm-up and cool-down, which are essentials for injury-free and enjoyable runs. If it is left to our choice, we may avoid these rituals at times and eventually omit it all together, but when you are part of a group, these are religiously followed.

In addition to that, a sensible group can also help you avoid the excesses – too much or too less of training.

Describe the training process that you follow at Ashva?

Everything revolves around the trainee, to begin with. Every person comes with a particular goal in mind and we try to understand the goal and help the person to be on a path to achieve it.

We focus on injury prevention, strengthening, and conditioning. We maintain a healthy mix of speed, tempo and long runs in our training program.

What we try to strive at Ashva is BALANCE, not just in your running in particular but in your life in general. Balance in your physical and mental states, balance in your professional and personal life, balance in your running and non-running worlds. We encourage and help people to achieve the balance of exercise, nutrition and rest. We, in fact, urge our runners to take breaks from running from time to time for rejuvenation.

We believe all these elements come together to build a healthy runner and human being.

How do keep your runners motivated?

By a mix of continuity and variety. The continuity keeps one connected, the variety keeps one excited. Running Rituals, I talked about earlier are a permanent part of our training. We do not compromise on them. We go to different locations to train to give them a different look and feel. We also encourage them to participate in new events and explore new places on their own.

What are the top three things you do to prevent running injury-free?

Warm-up and Cool-down: No two ways about this – it is a must every time you decide to take a run.

Yoga: We believe that yoga is a fun and engaging way to work on flexibility and strength and we have regular sessions of yoga in our training.

Cross-Training and Breaks: Cycling and Swimming are effective ways to avoid injuries and burn-out. And so are breaks – in fact, frequent and small breaks are rarely understood and a highly underrated device for injury-prevention!

You participated in the Mera Terah Run last year and completed 13 half-marathons in 13 days – can you please describe the emotions before, during and after this most challenging event?

I have been participating in the Mera Terah Run (MTR) for last 4 years, and it is going to be 5th this year.

Though the thought of running 13 marathons in 13 days in 13 different places with overnight travel sounds daunting, one thing we must understand is that running is just a medium for MTR to achieve their mission. The cause we choose for MTR is the utmost priority. Running is in fact lot of fun in MTR because there is no pressure to finish under a certain time, there is no finish line and medal or certificate per se and you get to meet so many different people and run with them that it feels like a festival.

Before the MTR starts, we spend a lot of time planning the logistics and coordinating with our friends in various places to make sure we have good experience traveling and running in those places. The last 3-4 runs of the whole campaign are slightly difficult given the accumulated fatigue of running and travel. But the group bonhomie and the collective purpose keep us all excited for the whole duration of the yatra as we call it.

Being a passionate traveler as well, I am sure you have run in some exotic locations – can you please name a few?

My heart always goes with the Himalayas, Pedong/Kalimpong in Darjeeling, Leh in Ladakh, Manali Solang in Himachal, Garhwal in Uttarakhand – these are my personal favorites. Another favorite is Western Ghats – Malnad, Mahabaleshwar, and Ooty.

Diu on West Coast of India also makes to my list. Outside India, I loved the Big Sur Marathon route a lot.

What are the future goals for Ashva and yourself?

We would like to see Ashva Running Club building a healthy and active community. I read somewhere once that running makes people smarter. If that is true, I would like to see our trainees achieve the balance and also be able to coach themselves eventually and help their fellow runners with their knowledge.

For myself, I would like to see Ashva achieve its goal J That is my biggest goal. Of course, I would like to continue running. As of now, I am focusing on training for a 90KM trail marathon early next year. I plan to focus on ultra-marathons for some time and also visit exotic places in the process.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

 

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