Motivation Comments Off on Don’t stop running |

Don’t stop running

Protima Tiwary speaks to Lokesh Meena who has clocked over 250 marathons since he started running in 2015. 

A government employee with a tight schedule and an interest in running, Lokesh Meena has run over 260 marathons in the USA since 2015! We caught up with him to understand how he continues to sign up for races every weekend even as a hectic career and family call for his attention.

What motivated you to take up running?

I am an employee with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India since 2009. Before I started working, I was a regular guy who didn’t keep fitness as the main priority, but at the same time, I was considered fit enough to play cricket once in a while. From 2010-2014 I was stationed at a high altitude post at Lusaka, Zambia. The altitude made it difficult to do too many exercises. I became lazy and physically inactive, a fact that my colleagues pointed out too. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I decided to join a few colleagues who’d go for morning walks. I then got transferred to Washington D.C. where I saw how people were physically active and knew how to take care of their bodies. Fitness was a priority for everyone, and it drove me to make it mine.

Inspired by the fitness levels around me, I started running too. My first jog was out in the snow, and I covered a total distance of 0.5miles. I started jogging 2-3 times a week and made it my habit.

So…is this how you took up running? Could you please share the results that you saw.

I weighed myself after a couple of months after I started jogging and saw that I had GAINED WEIGHT. Yes, even with all the running I had managed to put on weight. That is because of my diet- I’d run, come back & eat desserts because I thought I had earned them. Seeing that weight gain demotivated me. I slowly made some diet changes and got back to running, this time longer distances. I also cut out sugar, fried and fast food from my diet.

The difference was visible within a few months. I was losing 2kgs every week! I was also running 25 miles every week, with strict diet control.

I came across an 8km race in my neighbourhood and signed up for it. This was in September 2015. I finished this race in 37minutes 57 seconds. The runners high hit me and I was ecstatic. I then started running a race every week!

So far I have run about 260+ races in the USA which includes 25 ultra- marathons, Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon (twice), Philadelphia Marathon, Rock n Roll Washington D.C, The North Face Endurance Challenge Washington D.C. being some of those.

Could you share some of your major achievements in your running career till date?

March 2, 2018, was undoubtedly the best moment in my running career when I was selected to represent India at the World Trail Championship 2018 in Spain by the Athletics Federation of India.

In June 2018, I won my first ever full Marathon, Grant-Pierce Indoor Marathon in Arlington, Virginia, the United States on June 24, 2018.  My timing was the Asian & Indian Best (confirmed by The Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS)) I had set an Indian National Record and Asian Record!

I also qualified for the Boston Marathon in April 2017. It is considered to be the Olympics of amateur runners and I was stoked to find out that I had qualified.

You must have a hectic schedule. How do you find time for running?

Allow me to share one of my favourite quotes by Henry Ford -“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Running has improved my productivity. Plus I understand the importance of discipline and deadlines, and being fit helps me stay focused on the task at hand. I also have the support of a lovely wife Nirma who helps raise our three beautiful daughters. My family has been an immense source of strength and support and always encouraged me to go after my dreams.

How do you train?

I usually run with a lot of people because I feel immense joy in doing this together. For trail runs, I exercise at the gym and also go hiking and outdoor cycling. For bigger races, I usually train with a coach. I hired a coach for 10 months while I was preparing for the Boston Marathon where I ran 100 miles a week.

For training, one has got to be consistent. Strength and core training play a big role. Hills training also plays a big part as hill running builds muscle strength. I do gym strength training 3-4 times in a week.   A positive outlook about life also a key factor in running. “More importantly you cannot fake in running.”

What have been some of your greatest learnings through running?

  1. Never give up, no matter what the results say. Failure cannot dictate the rest of your days.
  2. Marathons are great teachers. Marathons make you humbler.
  3. Show up. Showing up is always the secret to success.

Any tips you’d like to share with us on how to stay strong during the race? 

Stay positive! You don’t need negative thoughts clouding your judgement Also, don’t compare yourself to anyone, you’re all running your own race. And of course, train well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Army kid who wishes to travel the world one wellness vacation at a time, Protima Tiwary is a freelance content writer by day and Dumbbells and Drama, a fitness blogger by night. High on love and life, she is mildly obsessed about travelling and to-do lists and loves her long gym sessions like a fat kid loves cake.

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Featured Comments Off on Bruce Fordyce – The Ultra Runner |

Bruce Fordyce – The Ultra Runner

As the countdown to the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2019 begins, Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan catches up with the legendary ultra-marathoner Bruce Fordyce, an astounding 9 time champion of the Comrades.

Over a cosy chat, Bruce reveals the facets of one of the most gruelling races in the world and what made him do it.

Capt: What exactly is the Comrades all about?

Bruce: It is a run that was conceived in 1921 by Vic Clapham, a WW I veteran, to commemorate his South African colleagues killed during the war. Vic, the survivor of both the war and a 2,700 km march through the then German occupied East Africa, dedicated the event to their memory as a frontier of endurance.

Capt: Wow! That is almost a hundred years old. So how does the ‘comradeship’ work with the participants?

Bruce: That is the sad part. Many of the athletes I have run with and, in fact, most of the competitors, are sadly unaware of the legend behind the event. In fact, its constitution states its main objective as ‘celebrating mankind’s spirit over adversity’. At the end of each year’s race, the buglers play the ‘Last Post’. Unfortunately, very few seem to even recognize the tune, leave alone understand its significance as a tribute to the fallen.

Capt: That is quite sad. Still, do tell us about your experiences with the Comrades over the years.

Bruce: Well, I started as a kind of social runner in the first couple of years, but from the third year on, finding my timings improving, I got a bit more serious about it. And with my first win, there was no looking back. It can get pretty lonely; many a time there is no one near you, unlike the flatter marathons where runners bunch up together and then someone breaks out of the crowd. Here, there is no crowd, and me, especially as defending champion over the years, I had to keep looking for a contender to compete with.

Capt: This is an up and down race as I recall reading. What exactly is this?

Bruce: This has to do with running up and down from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and back. The route alternates every other year.

Capt: So which, in your opinion, is tougher? The up, or the down?

Bruce: Well, it’s obviously the same thing, but different runners look at them differently. You just don’t think about it and take it in your stride. Speaking for myself, I have fared better in the ‘up’ run, having won it 6 times against 3 of the ‘downs’.

Capt: What special preparation does the Comrades require, as opposed to normal marathons?

Bruce: It’s not much different actually. If you look at it, the Comrades is probably the oldest and the toughest ultramarathon in the world. I took each year as a project, planned the run and timings and, importantly, made sure I didn’t take too much stress in the first half.

Capt: I see that your wife Jill is accompanying you. Jill, do you normally do this? And do you run too?

Jill: Oh no. It’s not often that I accompany him. And I do run, but not to compete. Bruce does the serious running; I enjoy the 10Ks. We have travelled the world together though, and I try and make the best of my interests along the way.

Capt: And your experiences in India? With marathons and other interests?

Bruce: I see that India is becoming a big name in marathons and similar running events. I have come here several times. In fact, I brought a team down from South Africa way back in 2007; unfortunately, we did not give a great account of ourselves. But it’s great to be back and see the participation increase year after year.

Capt: Alright. Enough about running. What else do you look forward to in India? Jill, your turn now.

Jill: Oh I love this country. I would love to see a lot of wildlife, nature…

Capt: Wildlife? Hailing from Africa, the world’s safari destination?

Jill: Each country is diverse and that is what attracts me. I am also a history lover and India has so many exotic locations on offer.

Bruce: I have a deep interest in archaeology and history and India is so diverse in both. Any visit would be a bit vacant without these.

Capt: Bruce. Back to running and a final question for you. What would your message be for aspiring long distance runners?

Bruce: Long distance running is like making fine wine. It takes time, patience, and a lot of effort. You have to learn and get accustomed to the process. Yes, get used to running; running well and running controlled.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Events Comments Off on 10 reasons to run the Jaipur Marathon |

10 reasons to run the Jaipur Marathon

In its 10th year, the AU Bank Jaipur Marathon has grown to become a must run on every serious marathoner’s calendar, Nandini Reddy writes about the marathon that got Jaipur running.

Way back in 2010 the Jaipur Marathon had its first event in a city that was unfamiliar with running long distances. A crowd that was accustomed to running 3-5 kms was suddenly waking up to the challenge of a half marathon distance completely unprepared. While the event had enthusiastic participation, it also gave rise to the Jaipur Runners, running club and many other running groups in the city. Over the years the marathon has grown in distance and numbers and today in its 10th edition it offers a full range of options for all runner categories. You can choose now to register for a full, half and 10k marathon. There is also a fun category where the family can also participate.

The Au Jaipur Marathon has been growing leaps and bounds since its inception and has garnered an overwhelming backing from eminent personalities, audacious army men and policemen, resourceful corporate houses, painstaking sportspersons, devoted NGO’s, schools and colleges. The Maharaja of Jaipur H H Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh is the Youth Ambassador of AU Jaipur Marathon.

 

One of the biggest attractions for many runners has been the scenic route of the Jaipur marathon. The race takes you past some of the most famous landmarks such as Ram Niwas Garden Jaipur, Albert Hall Museum,Kesargarh,Dolls Museum,Tri Murti Circle,Ravindra Manch, Birla Mandir, University of Rajasthan,Kulish Smriti Van, and the World Trade Park, Jaipur and one of the biggest circular park in Asia Jawahar Circle.

Here are the 10 reasons why you should run the Jaipur Marathon

  1. All woman pacer ground in all running categories
  2. A full offering for all runners – FM, HM, 10k and 5k
  3. A scenic route that gives you a great view of all the major monuments of Jaipur
  4. The course is fast with less elevation and no sharp turns
  5. Entertainment and motivation points along the course with music and cheering teams
  6. Professionally managed event with ample aid and water stations
  7. Pleasant weather with no humidity making it the ideal running weather
  8. It is a great marathon to run with the family, as it is safe with plenty of volunteers for assistance
  9. It supports a wide variety of charities so you are not just running for your health but also to support others
  10. After and before race activities in the heritage city is a major attraction.

The AU Jaipur Marathon brings people together to celebrate fitness, health and life along the course. If you are an enthusiastic runner then this is the place you need to be.

Register today to be part of the running festival on Feb 3, 2019. Click here to register. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Featured Comments Off on Installing the Running App |

Installing the Running App

Marathon Runners Riku and Rohini, are a couple who just can’t stop thinking about running.

“If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.”

I read this quote on some blog once and the more I think about it, the more relevant it becomes to me. We (Riku and Rohini) are a couple that just can’t stop thinking about running. Running has taken over many aspects of our lives – our weekends, travel, vacations, shopping lists, going out, food – everything has “running” written all over it. When we started out, neither of us imagined that running will play such a big part in our daily lives. When a family runs together that is how much running takes over your daily life. We become “runners” first.

I could never have imagined an “amateur runner” with no professional aspirations defining themselves as a “runner”. We never hear about anyone defining themselves as “I am a footballer” – if you do, you might think they play professionally, at least at club level. But you’ll be surprised to know that “I am a runner” is a common self-description among runners as they think of running as a big part of their identity.

Wonder why?

Simple – the effect and changes that running brings about are immense. To be able to run well, run injury-free and enjoy the sport you will need to make big, big lifestyle changes.

There’s not a day that will go by where you won’t think about running and yourself as a runner – that’s the effect it has. Give running enough time, and you will see that it will slowly change your diet, your sleeping habits, your attitude towards work and life, and of course, it changes your body.

Come to think of it, “Running is like a very well-designed life-coach app – it takes over your life gradually and makes it better”.

In fact, we often joke that taking up running was exactly like installing an app. This app, once installed in our lives, starts asking for a lot of permissions. It wants to change the very basic aspects of who we are – such as when we sleep, what we eat, what we are supposed to find rewarding, what takes up maximum space in our living room, what we should do on weekends, there is just no end it.

Fighting with the Running “App”.

Of course, just like we might with any nosy app, we can deny some of the permissions. For example:

“Hey, Running App, no I am not going to modify my diet for you. I am not going to have a protein shake or start having almonds and bananas every day…”

We can insist:

“No, ice cream is one thing I am not going to give up on.”

Or:

“Beetroot is my sworn enemy in life, no never!”

Or:
“I can never sleep before 11 PM, I am a night owl!”

And so on…

But then the app starts acting cranky. It refuses to perform well. It nags you with popup messages until you give it the permission to modify the setting. You might repeatedly tell the app that I have installed you to make me fit without having to make all these extra changes, but the “app” eventually wins – you will end up giving all the permissions!

“I have lost this battle, but I will win the war” – Anna Kournikova

That’s exactly how I felt when I gave in to everything the running app wanted from me but, I’m not complaining. We love running and everything that it has brought for us as a couple.

Looking back now, it wasn’t easy to get started or even persevere once started. I lead an active life growing up – martial arts, cricket, basketball, running, a lot of fun. Going out to play was not something I had to plan, it just happened, it was an indulgence. In Rohini’s case, it was much the same, she was more the studious one, with a bit of yoga and cricket till her college years.

But, as it happens with most working professionals, you lose touch with that part of your life. You start making compromises by giving up on your “workouts” (now called “workouts” and not “playtime”!), and instead indulge in a lot of “fun” (read, eating!). All that “fun” coupled with a lifetime’s worth of sitting down – at your desk, on the couch, in the car – is a perfect recipe for an unhealthy body and mind.

As a result of all this neglect, your body starts to change slowly. Many accept this and let it be a part of their new self-image – a chubby happy person, postponing all thoughts of health to a later date. But for some of us, who remain at least partly health-conscious, these changes bug us – we feel guilty, we try diets, we occasionally take a break from our sitting to walk around a park or two.

We did the same too. I tried squeezing in runs every week or so but then I indulged in food even more for the extra work done. When play becomes work, then work needs more rewards – it is a bad cycle to be in. I tried gyms, sports, sports apps, forcing myself to do cardio, but there seemed to be no way out – the more you try to get results, the more frustrating it is to not have any, and the easier it is to stop. The real issue, as we realized later, is that most of our activities have a short-term focus – we want results, and fast. As long as we have that myopic view of why we are being active, it is just not sustainable.

These sporadic attempts went on… until one February, a cousin of ours convinced us to sign up for a TCS 10k event. I was not very sold on the idea of paying money to run, but eventually, we all signed up and started “training” for the event, if we can call it that. Suddenly things were different – there was something to target, there was progress to be measured, it was as if the meaning of the workouts had changed – instead of a short-term thing of working out and expecting daily or weekly results – now all the focus on results had been pushed 3-4 months down the line. It is a lot easier to work out regularly when you are not expecting results every week, and facing the disappointments of not seeing those results.

Weekly runs were a part of life now, but it was not yet enjoyable – but, it was doable and that was good enough. After TCS, came longer runs and longer races – running was tough, but the weighing balance was cooperating, fitness levels were increasing. Good enough. Right?
No! The app had been installed. It was starting to ask for permissions!

Jayanagar Jaguars calling.

In one of the longer races, as I struggled through the latter part of it, I noticed a girl visibly less fit than me, running with a lot more ease and comfort. She was running with a group of other runners; all clad in the trademark white tees of the Jayanagar Jaguars. I knew of the JJs, but I had just recently convinced myself that it is ok to pay money to run races! I had no intention of spending money on training runs as well, but something clicked seeing them run. They seemed to be enjoying it, running was not a workout for them – it seemed like the “playtime” of old. Maybe running in a group is the key… I managed to convince Rohini and we decided to give it a try for a season and see. Little did we know that we had just given the Running App a lot more control over our lives! Now, it had another avenue to convince us to do things – on top of guilt and motivation, now there was peer pressure added, for the app to work its magic on us!

Next season we were both enrolled, soon built up a new set of friends, or rather “Run Buddies”, and every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we had our scheduled “playtime” when we get to go out enjoy, run a bit, of course, and come back feeling really good about ourselves. The JJs are a very eclectic group of runners and we get runners of all levels of fitness coming together, from elites to people just realizing the importance of getting active. It is very rare to find this kind of a group with varying experiences and goals, coming together and supporting each other. Constant fitness and diet chit-chat was a weekly ritual now and as we imbibed the wisdom of veteran runners and people who have achieved major transformations, we all become fitter, faster, better. With no extra effort, or at least, it felt that way! The running app soon had all the permissions it needed, we had stopped fighting with it, and it is functioning smoothly now. Occasionally, there are slip-ups, but we have the support system of fellow runners to get us back on track. It is a great new cycle to be in, where you are always pushed to give your best, and when you don’t, you are gently coaxed back into it.

What we have learned over the last few years is that yes, fitness is a choice, but if you can get out of the “workout” mentality of having to force yourself to do it, that is the first crucial step. You have to figure out a way to enjoy workouts. Running is a social activity which feels like a part of human nature, and there is something about running together that changes you if you let it. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, install the running app, give it the permissions it needs, and go out to play more!

ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNISTS

 

Riku and Rohini, a couple who trains with Jayanagar Jaguars in Bengaluru. Riku works at an EdTech firm and Rohini is a PhD researcher working on Cancer.

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Featured Comments Off on The Elite Athletic talent at the Tata Mumbai Marathon |

The Elite Athletic talent at the Tata Mumbai Marathon

Our Guest Columnist, Pramod Deshpande writes about some of the Elite Athletes who ran the iconic Tata Mumbai Marathon.

The “Maha Kumbha” of running in India, the “Tata Mumbai Marathon” (TMM) is just round the corner. Any endurance runner in India, amateur or elite, always dreams of participating in the Mumbai Marathon at least once in life and many make it their yearly pilgrimage.

The iconic status of this event has multiple reasons to its credit – the legendary support and encouragement runners get from the Mumbaikars, the magnitude of the event itself, the meticulous planning and execution of the event by the organizers and it is also the qualifying event for major events like Olympics, as it is IAAF Road Race Gold Label certified and therefore attracts great running talent.

However, majority of us are not aware of the great athletes who have participated in the event over the years, even the amateur runners who share the space with these great athletes are oblivious to them. I take this opportunity to write about some of the great athletes and their back stories who have participated in the TMM (in no particular order!).

The running standards followed by the TMM are a close match to that of the major global marathon standards. For example, the biggest marathon in the world is the New York Marathon and the course record in the Men’s category stands at 2:05:05 whereas in Mumbai it is 2:08:35. The same holds good in the Women’s category with the course record standing at 2:22:31 in New York and 2:24:33 in Mumbai. Incidentally both these Marathons are sponsored by The Tata group!

With respect to the Indian context, this event has provided a major platform to enhance the standards of marathon running in India. In 2012, the Indian runners managed an unprecedented feat wherein Ram Singh Yadav qualified for London Olympics and in 2016 for the Rio Olympics. In total we had 6 runners breach the qualification mark for Rio Olympics at the TMM event. This included 3 male athletes- Nitendra Singh Rawat, Gopi Thonakal and Kheta Ram and 3 female athletes – O.P. Jaisha, Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh. Just to put things in perspective, the only Indian who qualified for the Olympic Marathon prior to 2012 was the great Shivnath Singh in 1976.

With every edition, Mumbai Marathon has attracted the best international talent right from it’s inception.

In the second edition of the event, we saw Christopher Isegwe who secured the second place went on to win a silver medal in the IAAF World Championships at Helsinki the same year.

The first women to break the 2 hours 30 minutes barrier, Mulu Seboka of Ethiopia has been the most successful women athlete in the Mumbai Marathon winning the race in 2005, 2006 and in 2008. Her illustrious carrier spanned around 12 years, during which she won more than 30 Marathons and half marathons worldwide.

In the 2009 edition, we saw two great runners take the  podium – the winner, Kenneth Mburu Mungara(2:11:51), a great runner who over a decade from 2007 to 2018 has won 17 Marathons across the globe and a hat trick at the Gold Coast Marathon with a PB of 2:07:57. Then there’s John Ekiru Kelai who came third that year but by that time he was the most successful male athlete at Mumbai winning two editions back to back (2007 and 2008). He has achieved 10 podiums across various countries. India is a happy hunting ground for him as he became the Commonwealth champion during the Delhi commonwealth games in 2010.

Dinknesh Mekash is another great marathoner, who has won many marathons across the globe and started her Mumbai chapter by securing the second spot in 2013 and also won two titles in the year 2014 and 2015.

The Mumbai Marathon has had its fair share of maverick runners as well. Evans Rutto of Kenya, is one of them, as his entry into the marathon circuit was quite sensational. In 2003, as a debut runner he won the Chicago Marathon and established the fastest debut world record title by finishing the race in 2:05:50, which remained unbroken until 2017. He went on to win the London Marathon and Chicago Marathon for the second time. Unfortunately in 2005-06, an injury threatened his running career but he bounced back in 2014 with a fast race at the Mumbai Marathon missing the course record by just 1 sec.

Another remarkable female runner, Judit Földing-Nagy of Hungary , stood second at the inaugural edition of the event. She continued running into her latter years as an Ultra-marathoner and at the age of 48 in 2012 secured the 3rd place in the 100 km European Championship and 6th place at the 100 km World Championship in Seregno, Italy.

The Mumbai Marathon has participation and winners from across many countries and like any other marathon world-wide, it was no exception with East African runners dominating the running scene. Interestingly at the Women’s race in the 2011 edition,  we had the Ethiopian runners bag the first 12 positions excluding the 8th position which was bagged by a Kenyan runner.

The story of Indian runners at the Mumbai Marathon has also been quite impressive. From the first edition in 2004, the Indian male athletes have been striving hard to achieve their best results and have improved by  a whopping 11 minutes with Nitendra Singh Rawat leading the pack with a timing of 02:15:48. The women have surpassed the men by 22 minutes with O.P. Jaisha topping the list with a timing of 02:37:29.

The most decorated Indian male runner at the Mumbai Marathon is Binning Lyngkhoi who achieved the first position in the Men’s category in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and a third place in 2014. Among the women athletes, Lalita Babar has been the dominant player at the Mumbai Marathon for years and the fastest among Indian runners in 2013, 2014 and came second in 2015 and 2016. Despite her success in the marathon, she was determined to win a medal across multi-disciplinary events at the Asian Games, Commonwealth and Olympics and switched quite successfully to 3000 meters steeplechase by winning a silver medal at the 2014 Asian Games and a Gold medal at the Asian Championships by setting a record at the Asian and Commonwealth games. She became the first Indian woman to qualify for the steeplechase final at the 2015 World Championship and also became the first Indian in 32 years to enter a final in any track event at the Rio Olympics.

Besides her, other women athletes like Sudha Singh, O.P. Jaisha, Kavita Raut have dominated this event and have also put India on the global map at various international events.

The trio of Nitendra Singh Rawat, Gopi T and Kheta Ram who qualified for the Rio Olympics at the 2016 edition of the Mumbai Marathon, have been interchanging the podium spots between them for the last 3 years. At the Rio Olympics, they have managed to achieve quite respectable positions- 24th and 25th respectively.

It’s unfortunate, that I could cover only some of the champion runners of Mumbai Marathons but I’ll save the rest for another time.

With such a great event in place, I have no doubt that the organizers will have no problem attracting great talent from across the globe.

ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNIST

 

A reputed coach and mentor for the Jayanagar Jaguars and a technology innovation head with a leading MNC who over the past 4 years has trained more than 2500 athletes complete Half-Marathons, Full-Marathons and Ultra-Marathons

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Featured Comments Off on A Woman on a mission |

A Woman on a mission

Deepthi Velkur speaks to the Ultra-Marathoner, Gurmeet Soni Bhalla about how running has given a new dimension to her personality.

“If you don’t challenge yourself, you will never realize what you can become” – unknown.

This is such an apt quote to start this interview story with when talking about Gurmeet Soni Bhalla. A paediatrician, allergist, runner, certified scuba diver, traveller, mother to two teenagers ….and the list goes on. Gurmeet challenges herself every single day to be a newer version of herself.

She has been running since 2009 and has so far completed 20 FMs and 7 Ultras of varying distances from 50K to 90K. Her running dreams include completing marathons across all 7 continents (6 done, 1 to go!), running at the North Pole in 2020 and running injury-free for years to come.

In this interview, she shares her perspective on how running has added a new dimension to her personality – her travels, the friends she’s made from all over the world, the charity runs she does and of course inspiring others to take to running.

FM: You take your fitness very seriously, which is a good thing. How did you get into running?

Gurmeet: Yes, I take it very seriously for a very simple reason – I have a high-risk genetic pool. Hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are not uncommon in my family so staying healthy is a top priority for me. I try to keep my fitness regimen fairly fluid and interesting by trying new things – aerobics, Pilates, normal gym workouts.

Running happened to me out of nowhere to be honest – in 2009 someone asked me to participate in the SunFeast 10K race, I trained for it and ran reasonably well to find myself on the podium. Ever since then, I’ve been running!

FM: When did you graduate into long distance running?

Gurmeet: The transition from a recreational runner – 10K – 21K – 42K happened over a period of 9 months. After I started running in 2009, I got very interested in the sport and that along with a lot of hard work really propelled me to move into long distance running fairly quickly later that year.

FM: You juggle so many roles so successfully. How do you do it? 

Gurmeet: I rely on 3 key tools to keep me sane: (a) Effective time management, (b) Good support system at home and (c) The love and understanding of my family.

Long-distance running is very time consuming so I have to be good with time management. I begin my day early around 5 AM, finish my training run, get home to pack kids off to school, my husband and I walk our dogs and then I head to work.

For support, I invest in good house help so that I can be free to pursue my passion guilt-free and things still work at home.

Finally, the love and understanding of my family are paramount – without this, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

FM: A lot of runners swear by a running coach. Do you share that opinion and what are the benefits of having a coach?

Gurmeet: Yes, I definitely share that opinion. I think having a seasoned coach to mentor and guide you is advantageous and gives you an edge. It really hones your running skills and prevents you from making a lot of mistakes.

Back in 2009 when I started running, there were hardly any coaches. There was a running group called RFL (Runners For Life) who would organise weekly runs that helped runners meet, run and exchange notes. Most runners back then trained themselves either through the internet or running manuals. I remember training with my first coach in 2015. Today, there are several coaches out there to help new runners.

FM: Over nearly a decade of running, you have participated in various events across India and Internationally? Share your experience of running in these countries vs running in India?

Gurmeet: International races are very professionally organised – from running routes to hydration, aid stations to safety and comfort of runners, every aspect of the race is planned carefully. To top that, the crowd support you see abroad is fabulous, I mean the whole neighbourhood steps out to cheer the participants. At the Comrades event in South Africa for instance, you can see a wall of supporters that run for miles, cheering, offering food and beverages. This really helps when you trying to run 90K!

In India on the other hand, we are still learning. A lot of organizers are more concerned about making a quick buck that basic requirements such as properly constituted hydration fluids, decent toilets are often overlooked. Crowd support in India leaves much to be desired – I have seen hostile crowds on race routes who are enraged at being stopped to let runners pass by. Despite these pertinent issues we have in India some races such as the Mumbai Marathon or the TCS 10K are beautifully organised and match the standards of a world-class event.

FM: What was your experience of running a marathon in a land where it all began – The Athens Marathon?

Gurmeet: Athens Marathon is very special to me as this was my first full marathon in 2010. I wanted to run the historic route run by Pheidippides. That year was also the 2500 centenary of Athens Marathon. We were driven to the Marathon village where the Olympic flame gets lit before the start of the race with traditional pomp and show. The course was undulating hills and not very easy. It had superb crowd support and finishing in the ancient Olympic stadia was overwhelming for it felt great to experience the original route from marathon to Athens just like Pheidippides.

FM: You have your eyes set on completing a marathon in all 7 continents? How far have you come in achieving this goal you’ve set for yourself?

Gurmeet: It all started with my annual family vacations and marathons combined together. A few years later I realised that I had run on 5 continents and so the quest to finish the other 2 began. Antarctica was going to be the hardest since the race is a curated one and held once a year. It is usually booked a couple of years in advance. I was lucky to get an opening this year as someone dropped out. Now my focus is South America -the last one. I should be able to finish it in 2019.

FM: What are the benefits of having a partner who shares the same interest as you with respect to running?

Gurmeet: The benefits are immense! I often tell runners to get their partners into the same passion as yours. One of the reasons I have been able to run all over the world is because my husband had a similar interest in running. Also, it’s easier to train together as the partner understands the challenges of a marathon and how much training is needed. Half your battle is won when there is support on the home front.

FM: You do a lot of charity/fundraising through various runs for your foundation “Shishu Care Foundation”?  Have you been successful at it?

Gurmeet: I wish I could do more charity runs and raise money for organisations that need funds. Being a paediatrician, children’s causes are close to my heart. So far, we have been able to raise the funds that we set out for. However, it’s not easy to get people to loosen their purse strings on a regular basis.

FM: What does it take for someone to run an Ultra-marathon? Would you recommend that it is a must do for its sheer experience?

Gurmeet: Ultramarathons are a mind game. Physical training is just one part of it. One has to strategize and believe in one’s capabilities. I was not an ultrarunner but the lure of comrades marathon got me into training for a 90K race. I ran a couple of 50K and 60K races to train both physically and mentally for this big race. Training was hard but the day of the race was a cruise. I knew I could do it and I loved every minute on the course. Ultras may not be everyone’s drug, but, it was a natural progression for someone like me who likes to push boundaries and do more.

FM: Your most recent event was the 2018 Antarctic Ice Marathon? What made you register for the most challenging race of all time?

Gurmeet:Antarctica was always on my radar but it is not easy to run this marathon due to various logistics like it is a small race of 55 people and is held once a year. One has to really plan a couple of years in advance to find a spot in the race. I was certain I would run it one day and I am elated and grateful I could do it beside my husband.

FM: What was the experience like to run in the most extreme weather conditions and still managed to secure a third place?

Gurmeet: Antarctic Ice Marathon was an adventure of sorts! Even after running more than 25 marathons, I was nervous. This was completely out of my comfort zone. I worried about a lot of things from extreme temperatures to new gear, new shoes, new terrain, basically all commandants of racing were to be broken. I had to bank on my running capabilities alone. My husband and I shopped for a lot of polar clothing that we would wear on the race day.

After a long circuitous route of flying to Punta Arenas, the southernmost town of Chile, we were whisked away from civilization a day ahead since the weather and winds were getting turbulent for flying. When the plane touched down on the blue ice runway, icy cold winds welcomed us. We were not ready for such frigid temperatures. 24 hours daylight kept our spirits high but not for long as the weather started to turn bad with low visibility and snowfall which meant no firm ground to run on.

The group did a trial run with layers of new gear and realised that we were overdressed and hence were profusely sweating. This meant soon the sweat would freeze in sub-zero temperatures and we ran the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. After a couple of trials and errors with the gear, final race gear was decided. The challenges of the marathon were formidable because of underfoot conditions and snow and ice throughout the trek along with wind chill temperature of -20C.

There were participants from 14 countries and for a few Brave hearts, this was their first marathon. The race route was changed from 21K to 4 loops of 10.5K to keep things contained. We faced the harshest weather conditions in the last 9 years. The First loop was slow and steady on unknown terrain, the second loop was enjoyable as the whiteout landscape looked ethereal like running on clouds, third was tough as my body temperature started to drop, fourth was done half walking as the track had become uneven by now. My training for ultras helped me stay on track, I didn’t think about podium till about the last loop when I realised there were 3 women ahead of me. Despite the extreme cold I pushed and wasted no time at the aid stations. When I crossed the finish line with the tricolour in my hand I was told, I stood third. It was a very proud moment to be able to put my country on the podium.

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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Events Comments Off on Organizing the Pink City Marathon |

Organizing the Pink City Marathon

In this conversation, Dr. Manoj Soni talks to Deepthi Velkur about the trust and how they went about organizing the Cairn Pink City Half-Marathon.

“Mens sana in corpore sano” – a Latin phrase that translates to “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Keeping this phrase in mind, the “Anybody Can Run” trust aims to develop a running habit among the rural community of Rajasthan. They plan and organize training camps and events across villages to help build a robust and healthy society.

‘Anybody Can Run’ is a Jaipur based trust set up in 2016 by ace marathoner Dr. Manoj Soni who has been running since 2010 participating in 51 official HMs (including 11 outside India), a few FMs and multiple 10Ks. An ex-banker with multiple leading banks (ICICI, HDFC, HSBC), Dr. Manoj aims to complete 100 HMs by the end of 2020.

In this conversation, Dr. Manoj talks to us about the trust and how they went about organizing the Cairn Pink City Half-Marathon.

FM: By your own admission, you were not the sporting kind in your younger days. What made you choose long-distance running 8 years ago?

Dr. Manoj: In today’s world being healthy is a priority.  To stay healthy, I had to do some kind of physical activity – an easy and convenient way was running. Initially, I started with short distances and through training plus taking part in multiple events, I gradually improved my speed, endurance and the will to achieve more. For most runners, all of these factors will ensure you move on to longer distances such as full marathons and ultimately ultra-marathons.

FM: Running is such a popular way for most people to stay healthy. What benefits does running offer that attracts so many people?

Dr. Manoj: As a form of cardio exercise, running is the most easily accessible and is a straightforward way to get the important benefits of exercise. Since it improves aerobic fitness, running is a great way to help improve cardiovascular health. Furthermore, it improves mental fitness, pulmonary efficiency, enhances immunity, weight loss, increases bone density, joint mobility, and stability.

FM: When did the thought of establishing the Jaipur trust “Anybody Can Run” come about? What is the idea behind starting this trust?

Dr. Manoj: The conceptualization of the idea happened about 4 years ago and we finally established the trust in 2016. The main idea was simple – I always felt that running is the simplest form of endurance exercise and can be done by anyone, anywhere and anytime. Hence the name of the trust – ‘Anybody Can Run’ and the tagline – “Chal Daud!”

FM: You are the main organizer for the Pink city Jaipur Marathon. This being your 3rd edition, have you seen an increase in the number of participants 3 years since its inception?

Dr. Manoj: Oh yes! There has been an incremental increase in the number of participants each passing year. The awareness of taking up running as a part of cardiopulmonary fitness has made both men and women across age categories come out in huge numbers and it’s interesting to see people wanting to experiment with all sorts of distances and paces. This year’s edition saw many international, national and Paralympic runners from 30 different states and 12 countries.

FM: For the 3 runs – Half Marathon, Cool run(10K) and Dream run(5K) do you have a cap in terms of registration for each run?

Dr. Manoj: As of today, we don’t. We are still within manageable numbers for each run but with the numbers growing, there will be a time in the not-so-distant future where we will have to put a cap depending on the venue capacity. At the Cairn Pink City Half Marathon, our utmost priority is runner safety and security which means we also want our runners to enjoy the run apart from the health benefit and competitive running.

FM: What measures do you put in place to ensure that all goes well on race day?

Dr. Manoj: Every good running course needs to have some minimum requirements – an AIMS certified course which is closed to traffic, timed runs, a good dry fit t-shirt, and aid stations all the way that stock the necessary items.

I ensure that all requirements for a race such as the pre-race bib expos, race day, post-race refreshments and the medals are in order.

In addition, all registered participants get a t-shirt, timed bib, medal, certificate, and post-race refreshments. On route – hydration, food, medical and sanitation services were offered. An early bird registered participant also got a customized name T-shirt delivered at their doorstep. Our second edition medal secured a place for a lifetime display at AIMS World Running Museum in Berlin.

There were multiple fitness challenges, in addition to stalls from various running-related firms in the BIB expo. In addition to the race kit, all female participants were given an Indian traditional style Kurti along with a gift voucher from “Rama’s”.

FM: Do you run any promotional activities with respect to promoting the event?

Dr. Manoj: Yes, we do have a number of promotional activities all year around. These are related to training, actual races and cycling events. Some of the activities done:

  • AU Bank Pink City Great Run organized to promote the Cairn PCHM. The run started from the epic Taj Mahal and ended at Hawa Mahal on December 14th, a distance of 250K ran by 3 super athletes.
  • A 750K cycling event organized through the golden triangle in October.

In addition, we do support a lot of social causes especially related to women and children and we are associated with the Swachh Bharat movement. For e.g: we had given 1720 Reebok running shoes to the needy. Along with this, we tied up with Akshaya Patra foundation where every registration meant one free meal for a kid. This ensured thousands of kids will be fed free of cost.

FM: Funding and sponsorship are a challenge for most events – how do you manage to secure this? Who are your key sponsors?

Dr. Manoj: Our event is at par with world standards. What this means is that, be it the race day strategy, pre-race strategy, t-shirts or medals, sponsors are quite willing to be associated with us. Our title partner is Vedanta oil and gas, powered by SBI life insurance and co-powered by Kotak Mahindra Bank. In addition to this, Jaipur Nagar Nigam, Income Tax department and the Rajasthan police also extended their support. Our medical partner was Manipal Medical College who ensured that the runners get the best medical support if needed.

FM: Who are the key team members involved in making this event happen?

Dr. Manoj: The race director of the event is an American investment banker Mr. Roop Betala. He started running at the age of 52 and in five years, he has run a total of 138 marathons across 40 different countries. The running mentor is Tarun Walecha who is a marathoner par excellence and is a great motivator. The brand ambassador of the event was Dr. Leena Baldwa who is a doctor, marathoner, ultra-marathoner and Rajasthan’s first female and India’s second medical practitioner to become an Ironman.

There were female running ambassadors from different states and each one had an inspiring story to share. They all were invited to participate in the event. This is in line with our effort to increase women participation in running events.

Additionally, we had pacers for 21.1K and for 10K categories. All the pacers were spot on as far as the timings were concerned. Pink city runners’ group is a group of like-minded runners with admins like Namit Sharma, Neeraj Parnami and Jinender Soni, where group runs are coordinated and fitness camps are organized in central park free of cost to benefit beginners and get more people motivated to run and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

FM: What advice would you like the runners to heed so that they enjoy the course while staying safe?

Dr. Manoj:

  • Be consistent
  • Choose your race distance appropriately
  • Run the pace you are trained for
  • Take care of your hydration and nutrition

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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Featured Comments Off on Your Excuses are your most valuable assets |

Your Excuses are your most valuable assets

Guest Columnist and Runner, Anjana Mohan talks about how to deal with excuses that prevent you from running.

“I don’t know how”

“I’m too busy”

“I’m not sure my body can take this”

Do you catch yourself finding “reasons” to avoid something challenging? Do you find excuses to resist making the changes in your life that you know you need? Instead of focusing on ways to make things happen we often find ourselves doing the opposite. In each “reason” lies the greatest insight towards becoming the person we ultimately want to be.

James Altucher, an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur and bestselling author once wrote an interesting article titled, “Ultimate cheat sheet for dealing with excuses”. He points out that the gap between “what I have now” and “what I would like” is exactly all of my excuses. He says that all we need to do is work our way through the excuses. That’s it!

“Either you figure out how to do without it, work around and use alternatives, or simply work to build or create it” – James Altucher.

Here I offer you my learning from Altucher as adapted for the world of running and fitness.

Let’s start with the basics – the four essential steps to beat an excuse:

Step 1: Recognize that your excuse is the limitation that you must work to overcome

Step 2: Ask if you can do without it, or work around it, if not

Step 3: Work incrementally to build or get what you need. If all of that doesn’t work,

Step 4: Ignore the reasons and proceed anyway (the ‘I don’t give a damn’, I’ll do it anyway attitude!).

Now let’s apply these basics to the top 6 fitness excuses we make:

# 1 on the list – I don’t have time (oh come on! Who hasn’t used this one so far? J)

# 2 and a close favourite for the # position is – I’m not a morning person

# 3 and a crowd favourite – the weather isn’t ideal

# 4 I simply can’t afford it at this time (quite a practical issue but there is always an inexpensive alternative)

# 5 I’m too old for this and

# 6 this is one where our inner demons pull us down – I don’t think I am capable of this or my body isn’t cut out for this

Let’s apply the 4-step technique to each and see how that works.

# 1 – I don’t have time

How often do you not have time to take a shower or brush your teeth? Sure, brushing your teeth takes less time than a 30-min run, but there are plenty of 30-min segments that we waste in a day. Can you honestly say that you spend every minute of your day so optimally, that you cannot find a 30-minute segment for a run? Consider that 30 minutes of exercise clears your head and makes the rest of your day more productive than it would have otherwise been

Time is all about perceptions. Being nimble starts in your head. Don’t make a task seem like a huge effort to prepare for. Put on your running shoes and close the front door behind you, that’s it.

Step 1: Recognize that your time is the limitation that you must work to overcome.

Step 2: Can you do without 30 mins of something else you take time for during the day?

Step 3: Can you work in smaller increments ‐ like 5 to 10 mins segments multiple times a day?

How can you work to eke more time out of your day?
It’s never the ideal time to do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, maybe it will be too cold or too wet or too hot. That’s ok. Here’s where you apply Step 4: Ignore your reasons and proceed anyway. Because you learn simply by doing, and the next time you put on your shoes you will automatically adjust yourself to accommodate and improve the experience. But this time around, just leave the house, just go workout and deal with the discomfort. While you work out, you can think about how to improve your next workout experience.

# 2 – I’m not a morning person

Step 1: If this is your reason, your time preference is your limitation to work through.

Step 2: Can you do without? Can you do with less sleep and take naps during the day?

Step 3: Can you carve yourself a different time to work out. If yes, then great, in trying you will find other challenges to work through. If not, the fact that you were not a morning person is now your roadmap to success. Perhaps you need to simply become a morning person for the purpose of fitness alone. If you are successfully working out at other times, and achieving your goals, then not being a morning person is not an issue.

Working to get what you need may mean finding that motivation every morning. Mornings are recommended because the rest of your excuses haven’t been all arranged together by then. By mid‐day or later, many excuses have organized themselves into a mob making the whole effort harder. So, set an alarm clock and just get up when you hear it. No snoozing, no thinking, no leaking energy, you’ve already decided, now just do it.

Successful people don’t usually have the luxury to be morning, night or afternoon people. They simply do whatever it takes, whenever the opportunity is available.

# 3 – The weather isn’t ideal – it’s too cold or too hot or oh my! Looks like rain

Step 1: The weather is hardly ever optimal, so this is a recurring limitation.

Step 2: Can you do without? This may mean forgoing a hair wash after a sweaty workout, the extra time to dry out wet clothes, or the need to feel clean for your afternoon meeting. Perhaps simply doing without the sense of comfort that comes from perfect weather.

Step 3: Can you avoid the weather-related consequences by breaking down your workout –something indoors? Get creative about addressing your reason head-on and conquer it.

Step 4: Forget about the weather and face the consequences. Maybe the outcome is not as you feared after all.

Any time you find yourself using a reason, see if you can recognize a pattern. Have you skipped a workout at least three (3) times before because you found a “reason”?  Three times is enough for you to both recognize the pattern (if you’re being objective), and simultaneously invent a creative way to make “this time” seems unique.
Be objective, if this is the third time, regardless of why you missed the last two chances, use

Step 4: the ‘I don’t give a damn’, I’ll do it anyway attitude.

Just 30 mins and take it cautiously if you need. Your body will remember how to adjust to your “reason”. The extra reward is the feeling of being hardcore, finally working at being who you want to be.

# 4 – I can’t afford it

Step 1: If this is a real limitation, consider how people with very little stay fit.

Step 2: Ask what you can do without or work around not having. Unlike scuba diving, skiing or even biking, which legitimately require some gear, one advantage of running is that you just need shoes. Barefoot advocates preach that even that is optional, with appropriate training. So, the idea that you need to buy tech gear or expensive event registrations is the most permeable and least robust of excuses. You don’t need to “look” like a runner or “dress” like someone who goes to the gym. You simply need to be that person. If that means going out in your scrubs around your house, so be it. There are those who train in combat gear and those who run in sarees. Gear can be an enhancement to convenience and performance, not an excuse for inaction. Sure, if you need to get a prosthetic leg to run, then

Step 3: Work to obtain one or

Step 4: “Don’t give a damn and proceed” anyway, because that’s the best way to develop the motivation to get what you need.

# 5 – I’m too old

Sikh superman Fauja Singh began running at age 89 and is still running today at age 107.

Stanislaw Kowalski only started running (for fun) 16 years ago at age 92, broke records at age 104 and is still running at age 108. No matter how athletic or genetically inclined these men may have been, the ages they began could have easily kept them from running.
Step 1:  Recognize that you are as young as you are ever going to be

Step 2: Work around your age, and better yet, use your life wisdom to be a better athlete

Step 3 & Step 4: Work to build your energy, or simply not worry about your age and give it a shot

# 6 – I’m not capable / My body isn’t meant for this

You can only find what you are capable of by trying it. Humans have the capacity to adapt to situations, survive and thrive through extremes. Casting doubt on your capability, or what your body can or cannot do without even trying is offensive and disrespectful to yourself.

Negativity and positivity are both self-fulfilling prophecies. People redefine their capabilities daily simply by doing.

Step 1: Work to overcome either your capability or your self‐perception

Step 2: Ask if you can do without the sense of physical comfort at all times

Step 3: Work in small increments to build your capability or decrease your need for comfort

Step 4: Forget your perceived capability and just get up and go work out the best you can

People who run with bad form have long given running a bad name. Many use their knees or back as excuses rather than legitimate reasons. If you don’t like running, that’s ok, as long as you have something else that offers the benefits of sustained exercise. If you already have another form of fitness that works for you, then examine what exactly you may be looking for before you begin to apply the steps.

All excuses, whether for fitness or otherwise, map well to this technique. The formula works because it makes us recognize that we are (consciously or unconsciously) choosing our excuses. Once we own these choices, we can opt to engage with our excuses to overcome them.

I conclude with the words of George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, polemicist, and political activist:

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, Make them!”.

GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Anjana started running in the U.S. in 2007 and has helped mentor many from the couch to half marathon. She is passionate about empowering women through running and now runs in Bangalore with Jayanagar Jaguars

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Motivation Comments Off on Always run prepared |

Always run prepared

Sunil Chainani shares his 15-year running story with Deepthi Velkur and also talks about how he balances his work and passion.

Sunil Chainani, an ex-board member with Fabindia and a board member for several other companies juggles business strategies, investment decisions and board meetings with his passion for running and fitness. He takes some time out to talk to us about his 15-year running story.

FM: You have been a keen squash player for a while now, how did the switch to running happen?

Sunil: I played squash at National, State and club level for many years and totally loved the game. It was quite by accident that I took up running in my mid 40’s and I’m hooked. Once I started running longer distances, I found that running made my body a bit too stiff for a game like a squash. Given that I was well past my prime as a squash player, I decided to make the switch to running and give my best to each run and enjoy it at the same time.

FM: With nearly 15 years of running experience, I’m sure you’ve seen and learned a lot about the sport. Do you think a lot has changed since the time you started?

Sunil: When I started running there were very few runners, no coaches, no smartphones or apps. I trained alone in basic shoes, cotton t-shirts and limited knowledge on training techniques. We did not have a lot of marathon events, so we used to focus on the Mumbai marathon (my group had 70 runners at the 2008 event). I did my first Ultra in 2007 when the thought of anything above an FM was sheer madness and look at it today – we have 48-hour runs!

In 2011, I registered for the Comrades marathon and was the first Bengalurean to attempt this race – I had no coach, no guidance, trained mostly alone and I didn’t know the difference between the Comrades Up and Down run. When I survived the Comrades and got back home, I was treated like a hero for having finished the race but now we look at the colour of the medal.

Today, runners have a plethora of choices – coaches, events, running groups, technology. That’s the change.

All this change has brought about an increased number and superior quality of runners (especially among women). India today is making its presence felt in the running world – 4th largest contingent at Comrades 2019, team and individual medals at the Asia-Oceania 24-hour run recently. Other countries realize that we could soon be a major force in the running world. Hopefully, we will soon have a new national record at the Full Marathon.

I do have a word of advice though for new-age runners – enjoy your run and not just focus on equipment, timing, and personal bests. I run because of the joy I get and the friends I make, and often find that I do well at a race when I am not worried about the timing.

One area that needs to be addressed is the “cowboy” event managers who organize running events for commercial reasons with inadequate race management as this could lead to serious injuries and give the sport a bad name.

FM: You’ve had the experience of running on different terrains – which do you think is the most challenging one and why?

Sunil: As a marathon runner, you need to be prepared for all types of terrain and weather. Be it a trail run or a road run, each presents their own challenges and we need to prepare well. Road races tend to be faster while trail races are usually more scenic.

For me the heat and humidity are a challenge – I sweat a lot, lose a lot of salt and tend to cramp.

The key really is to battle through when your body is telling you to stop – this is where the mental toughness kicks in.

Preparation is paramount – check the route conditions, be prepared for weather changes and always have a fallback strategy in mind.

FM: A marathon never pans out exactly the way you plan it, no? What strategies do you put in place to overcome the challenges in a race?

Sunil: I have a 3-fold plan – break your race into segments – strategize each segment – have a fallback plan. It’s also important to understand how your body is performing that day.

For example, during my Comrades run I walked a fair bit due to cramps at halfway point all the time to check my watch to see that I was within cut off limits. On the other hand, during the 2018 Berlin marathon, I managed to stay run strong for most of the race and hence finished with a better than expected time.

Additionally, I try to stay positive through the race by shouting out to fellow runners as this keeps me in a good mood.

FM: With years of experience as a marathoner, what is your advice to amateur runners?

Sunil: There are some key points to keep in mind

  • Train hard and sensibly
  • Seek expert advice
  • Stick to your plan during a run
  • Choose your runs wisely.
  • Never miss your stretching, strength and cross training sessions.
  • Plan your hydration and nutrition

If you are relaxed and well trained, your PBs will automatically come by. Also, smile, cheer your fellow runners and thank the volunteers. Finally, know your stretch goals and don’t push yourself without proper training.

FM: You have done your fair share of ultra-marathons. What excites you about an ultra-marathon and which one is your favourite?

Sunil: I ran India’s first Ultra in Bangalore in 2007 – at a time when marathons were new to India and we did not know about what was needed to go beyond 42K. The tagline for the event was “It’s tough, are you?” which got me interested and I signed up. That got me hooked. I slowly moved up from 52K in 2007 to 75K in 2008, 100K in 2009 and then the 2011 Comrades.

The Comrades is my favourite Ultra – I went in with the fear that I won’t finish the race but despite bad cramps and bleeding toenails, my determination pulled me through. The joy of crossing the finish line will be an everlasting memory. I also like trail Ultras such as the Bangalore Ultra at Hessarghatta and Malnad.

FM: As an ultramarathoner over 60, your training program (physical and mental) will be different, wouldn’t it? Can you shed some light on your training, please?

Sunil: I believe age is a number and that should apply only to wine and cheese! I have had the good fortune to meet the legendary Fauja Singh, who ran his first marathon at 89 and still runs at the age of 104.

The key is to be regular and consistent with your training.

My grey hair has made me mentally stronger and hence I am often able to push through challenging times in a race. It also has made me wiser in my choice of races thus giving me adequate time for my body to recover.

My typical training week consists of 40-50 K of running, 2 days of cross training (1hour of cardio per session) and supplemented by strength work and stretching.

The 2 things you lose with age are speed and quick recovery from injury. You need more rest between races and need to supplement your running with adequate strength work and cross training.

FM: According to you, what are the three qualities a runner should possess to do well?

Sunil:

  • Self-Discipline – to be regular with your training
  • Determination – to be focused and mentally tough. This requires a strong mind and
  • An ability to challenge oneself – to strive to achieve more and keep learning

FM: You have a rather demanding job being an Ex-board member of Fab India and a board member for several other companies. How do you make time for your running?

Sunil: Anyone who says they have no time to exercise is making a feeble excuse. When I travel, the first thing I pack is my exercise gear and will always find a way to either run or use the gym. Many years ago, very few hotels had gyms, so I carried my skipping rope and, in some cases, where skipping was not possible, I would choose a room on a high floor and run up and down multiple times.

We make too many excuses be it weather, time etc. People running in the London or Boston marathon have to train through winter months. In some countries like Africa and South America, it is often unsafe to run alone but yet these countries produce great athletes.

I personally believe good sportspersons also make much better managers at their workplace and the qualities that stand out are their discipline, focus, goal setting, training and ability to learn and challenge themselves.

Having said that, there is now a slow but visible change happening and I hope we will soon see more senior executives participating in marathons and other sports events.

FM: You were the Team leader for the Indian team at the 24-hour Asia & Oceania championships this year, please take us through your experience of the event?  How did you lead the team to such a great finish?

Sunil: It was a great honour to be selected as the Team Leader for the Indian team for the World 100K in Croatia in September 2018 and the Asia-Oceania 24-hr run in Taipei in December 2018.

Our team went to Taipei with the hope of gaining valuable experience and the most optimistic expectation was that many of our 12 runners would achieve their PB timings. We were in a field of world-class runners from Japan and Australia and strong runners from Mongolia and Taiwan. 15 runners from these countries had a PB better than our top runner Ullas Narayana and 4 teams had totals which were significantly better than our total (for a team event the total of your 3 best runners is counted).

It was a very warm day and most runners suffered in the first 6 to 7 hours and despite a strong performance from Ullas, we were having a tough day. At the 12-hour mark while Ullas had moved to the 8th position almost all the other runners were heading for a below-par performance. Ullas continued to get stronger and at the 17-hour mark had moved into 4th position. At this stage, he built a significant lead over the top runners from Mongolia and Taiwan and this got our team within striking range of these 2 countries. I spoke with our 2nd and 3rd placed runners, Sunil Sharma and Meena about their chance to get us into medal contention. Both of them were in pain and taking long medical breaks, but they got spurred on by the challenge. By the 20th hour, our top 3 runners had brought us almost on par with the 3rd and 4th placed teams – we continued to push these 3 runners and they got stronger. By the 22nd hour, Ullas had moved into 3rd place and the team had also overtaken Mongolia and Taiwan to get into medal contention. Ullas, Sunil, and Meena ran very strong in the last 2 hours and we earned an individual and team bronze- India’s first-ever medals in international Ultra events. Ullas smashed his own national record with a world-class performance. I had goosebumps as I saw the Indian flag go up twice at the awards ceremony.

FM: Apart from juggling a challenging work role, family and your running commitments, what do you do to just relax?

Sunil: I make time for things I enjoy like travel, wildlife, music, good food, and wine. I try to plan a holiday after a marathon in a nice location and if I am travelling then I always carry my running shoes and enjoy exploring new cities running. For me, running is a great way to relax and unwind. Life is too short so make the most of it!

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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