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 Devil’s Circuit Tests Your Mind Like Never Before |

Devil’s Circuit Tests Your Mind Like Never Before

Protima Tiwary just completed the toughest obstacle course, the Devil’s circuit and she shares her journey here.

As of 2019, I have been going to the gym for over a year now. Before that, I used to be a runner for almost 2 years, easily clocking in 7 km 4 times a week. I had run a handful of marathons to test my stamina and focus, but I really tested my strength? In hindsight, I feel the answer to this is no because what I did on 20th January 2019 beat all other tests that I had ever taken. This was the day I successfully completed 13 out of 15 obstacles in India’s toughest obstacle race, the Devil’s Circuit.

When I had seen the race registration details in 2018, I gave myself some time to think about it before signing up. Basically what I did was give myself enough time to lose focus and let fear take over my mind, because I did not sign up for the race last year, giving myself the reason that I could never do this. This time around things were different because I signed up without really thinking about what was going to happen. All that I knew was that I had to train and train hard. I had to see if all that gym, diet, discipline and routine was of any good. I signed up knowing this would be the ultimate test of all that I had worked from over the last few years.

After having suffered an injury in October 2017, getting back to the gym in April 2018 had been an intimidating task. I was back to lifting 5 kgs and struggling to maintain form. But over the months I slowly built strength and felt stronger than I ever had before. Signing up for the Devils Circuit required just a few rearrangements in the training plan, with a shift in focus to upper body workouts. I started 2018 with the ability to do zero pull-ups, ended it with the ability to 4 (even 5) at a stretch.

I will be honest, I didn’t let myself think about the fact that I was taking part in India’s toughest obstacle race, because I am aware of what fear does to me. I have lived a large part of my life being anxious and scared of things. This time I wanted to do things differently. The only time I actually gave a thought to the obstacles was when I was a few metres away from them. This in itself is such great progress! Working out trained my mind too, something I realised as I stayed focused on performance.

I balanced myself 15 feet high on a bar

The first obstacle required us to climb 15 feet high and then climb back down. It looked easy from the spectator stand, but I understood the intensity of this obstacle when I was halfway up the actual obstacle!  Going up on top and throwing one leg over the pole to shift your side, and then climbing back down requires a change in your centre of gravity. When this happens 15 feet high up in the air with nothing but your core to keep you stable, and that you happen to be scared of heights… Well, you know how it goes. Panic almost got the better of me. Before I threw my leg over to the other side, I wanted to shut my eyes and cry. I looked down at the mattress 15 feet below me. I said to myself- look, if you fall, you fall 15 feet on to that. You won’t get hurt but it’s better to be in control than give up. By reflex, I tightened my core and threw my leg over the pole at the top. I climbed down, happy at my performance, and jumped the last 6 feet. I ran a couple of meters before turning back to look at the obstacle and cursed loudly in celebration.

After this initial shock and adrenaline rush, I crossed the next couple of hurdles only because I had to. I mean there was no other way about it.

I froze in fear

I would have said no to the fourth one had it not been for people asking me to give it one try. This required you to jump up, hold onto a bar, pull yourself up and roll over to land on top of the obstacle. All of this was happening 12 feet in the air. Not like I had some great core strength or balance or even upper body strength to balance, but I jumped up, had a little support given to me on the back, and before I knew it I was putting my leg on the bar and rolling over to land on top. I celebrated this moment by standing there and just enjoying the view, but I also think I went wrong in doing this because I ended up looking down, got scared of the height, and literally froze on top of the obstacle for a couple of minutes. The height was intimidating.  This time there was no soft mattress to cushion my fall. If I fell, I fell 12 feet on to the ground. It took me 5 minutes to climb down because I was frozen stiff with fear. Once down I ran without looking back.

I crossed monkey bars and hanging tires, only thinking about three things: core conditioning, the centre of gravity and the fact that I had to do the obstacles because there really was no other way out of it.

My favourite obstacles were the ones in water, mostly because I love water and hate heights, which basically meant it was love versus fear for me. I crawled through trenches and did muscle ups in water without much of a problem, plus my body felt more at ease doing these movements.

I conquered a childhood fear  

I am super proud of one particular obstacle- this required us to climb a height of 10 feet and jump into the water which was 4ft deep. As a child, I have been trained to be a swimmer, but one thing they couldn’t get me to do was jump into the pool (even if it meant from the deck of the pool.) While I was climbing onto the top of this particular obstacle, I told myself “ Nope, you’re not waiting here to see what the height is like. You jump because there’s no other way to go back.” I cleared this within seconds. I landed in water prepared for all of it to come rushing up at me. I smiled while doing a muscle up to get out of this pool, proud of myself for having let love win.

I plunged into a pool filled with ice

The last obstacle deserves an elaborate mention only because I feel this is the star of all the obstacles at the race. Sliding into a pool filled with ice does not require anything other than strong grit and determination. Once again I told myself I wouldn’t stop at the top of this obstacle. I climbed up the inclined slope (slipping and getting back up twice) and immediately sat on top of the slide. I was three seconds away from the toughest, coldest slide of my life. When my body hit that ice cold water, the world stopped. My body was in shock. I remember the first emotion being panic. But once again I am extremely proud of the fact that the voice in my head asked me to keep moving, to swim through, do a muscle up even when I couldn’t feel my body and get out. This too took me a few seconds to clear. Once out, I started jogging on the spot to get some life back into my cold, numb body. I know it sounds like a simple slide into ice, but the three seconds before you hit the ice are the toughest- you either regret what you are doing, or are proud of what you have done. I wanted to celebrate all that I had achieved. Yes, I had successfully completed India’s toughest obstacle race.

Here’s what  I learnt

Honestly, this wasn’t only about physical fitness. I knew rope climbing & muscle ups required an immense amount of upper body strength, and I had prepared myself for it. There is still a long way to go, but it felt good to know that I could manage, and if life calls for some really extreme situations, I know I am physically fit enough to get out of them.

More importantly, this was about testing your mental strength. It is so easy to let panic overwhelm you, it is so easy to freeze, it is so easy to give up. I ended this race knowing that giving up or saying “I can’t do this didn’t occur to me even once” The amount of self-awareness and confidence this gives you is not something that I can put into words. All that I really know is that if your mind says you can achieve something, your body makes sure you will do it. This goes for fitness and in life. I woke up the next morning a little sore, a little bruised, but a lot happy.

If you asked me whether I would do this again, I won’t even think twice before saying YES.

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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Motivation Comments Off on An Entrepreneur. Ultra-marathoner. Dreamer. |

An Entrepreneur. Ultra-marathoner. Dreamer.

Taher Merchant talks to Deepthi Velkur about how his quest to leading a healthier life led him towards running.

As parents and working professionals, we often neglect ourselves or things we love – don’t we?

“Carve out and claim the time to care for yourself and kindle your own fire” – Amy Ippoliti.

In talking with Taher, this quote came to mind and it fit his story perfectly – how he decided to make time for himself and things he loves, like spending time with his wife for instance or staying healthy.

In his quest for a healthier life, Taher decided to take up running on a whim and that progressively turned into an obsession. His incredible running journey has seen him achieve some amazing personal milestones like becoming the first Indian male to successfully complete the Tenzing Hillary Everest Extreme Ultra-marathon (in 2018).

Running milestones aside, he currently is an athlete for Fast & Up Nutrition, Puma and has been an ambassador for “Life is calling” in 2018.

FM: What kindled your interest to take up running?

Taher: Running was born of out a need to spend quality time with my wife, Soraya.  We are both busy individuals and like most couples needed our “me” time. So, we decided to make that time while working towards a healthier lifestyle. Running was the first thing that came to mind and we started running in Rani Kittur Chennama stadium in Jayanagar. Once we began, I saw a marked improvement in my fitness, energy levels and realized that I truly enjoyed running. That’s when I figured that I wanted to be a serious runner and push myself to achieve something.

FM: Running a business takes a lot out of you. How do you find time for training and participate in various events?

Taher: It’s funny because most of my friends don’t believe that I work as I am always either running or training. Being a part of a family-owned business is a blessing – my dad is my backbone and has always supported my training and always steps in when I have to take a step back from work. I run a tight ship at work and have a fantastic team that runs the show when I am training and running around the globe. It’s important to make time for the things you love, and running is one of my great loves.

FM: When did your association with JJ’s (Jayanagar Jaguars) running club begin? How has joining this club helped you?

Taher: I ran a few marathons in 2014 and 2015 as an amateur and I realized that to further develop my running technique and endurance, I would need professional coaching – that led me to join Jayanagar Jaguars in 2016.  Under Coach Pramod’s tutelage, I have been able to dramatically improve my running technique and endurance over several marathons.

FM: You were one of the first Indians to complete the gruelling Everest marathon – care to share your experience?

Taher: I realized that high-altitude running excited me – it was challenging and exhilarating. I felt connected with nature and everything around me – this was more than a runner’s high, it was my calling. I wanted to participate in one of the most difficult races in the world and wanted to be the first Indian man to finish it.

As I researched the Mt. Everest ultra-marathon, the reality of it hit me – it was going to be challenging, it required disciplined preparation and it would keep me away from my family.  Truth be told, I was scared but I made it my mission, my ultimate goal, to run the Everest ultra-marathon in 2018.

I started training and my coach put me on a new training regimen – finishing 1111KM in 12 weeks. He was determined to push me – physically and mentally.  This was an invaluable gift- it helped deeply condition my mind and body. I ran several marathons as part of my training, focusing on improving my endurance, pacing, strength and timing.

Initially, as I trained, I kept my mission a secret, from my friends and family.  My concern stemmed from the feeling that everyone would try to dissuade me given the difficulty and risks of running such a challenging race. I finally broke the news to my coach, family and friends and on hearing the news were stunned but at the same time very supportive of my decision.

It was an 11-day trek to the Everest Base Camp which is the starting point of the race. The primary advice to the entire group by our trek guide was to take each day at a time, acclimatize, eat well, drink lots of liquids and sleep well. Our trek route was mapped out thoroughly to ensure that we’d be able to acclimatize to the weather, the incline, and stay safe and healthy.

Each day on the trek was memorable – I met friendly and curious locals while witnessing the ever-changing terrain and weather.  As we ascended, the air became thinner and breathing also became quite challenging but we were sustained by healthy meals, balancing proteins and carbohydrates so that we replenish our bodies and energy levels.

On the morning of May 29th, we all gathered at the start line.  With the temperature at sub-zero, the ultra-marathon had begun. I had one goal – run the race sans injuries. After Gorakshep, the terrain improved slightly and I felt much more confident and started running to get to the 23 km checkpoint.  It was at this point that the race got really exciting and challenging for me as we’d now be running over several hills. We were given a Nepali support runner to help us navigate through the hills. 11 hours into the race, the skies got progressively darker and snow started falling.  It was magical but the terrain started getting treacherous and I needed to make a big decision – do I risk running in the dark through the snow or should I find a safe refuge for the night, take a 4-hour penalty and resume my journey the next morning? I decided to take a break!

The next morning, I started running at 6 and pushed myself over the next 3 hrs. As I got closer to the finish line, I became quite emotional.  I thought of my family who’d stood by me like a rock, my friends who kept motivating me and last but not least, the man who’d helped me push my body and mind this far, my coach Pramod Deshpande. I finally crossed the finish at 9.05am becoming the first Indian male to ever finish the Everest Extreme Ultra. My dream had become my reality.

Elated, joyful, relieved, my immediate priority was getting back home to my wife, kids and family.  I just wanted to celebrate this moment with them.

FM: Nutrition plays a big role in every athlete’s life. How do you plan your nutrition?

Taher: Nutrition is the cornerstone for any athlete. I use Fast & Up products prior, during and post my workout. BCAA is something I swear by for recovery of my muscles. I have Ryan Fernando from Qua Nutrition on my team who plans my nutritional needs. My typical day consists of eating small meals throughout the day. A lot of greens, nuts and of course butter chicken and biryani once a week. My current intake is of about 2400 calories a day. Ryan is working to bringing it down to 2000 calories a day as it is a race requirement for a multi-day race I am taking part in soon.

FM: Marathons/Ultra-marathons do not always go as per plan. How do you strategize and finish strong in a race?

Taher: Ultra-marathon is a solo running sport. It is a fine balance between the mind and body. I make sure that I am mentally prepared because after a point the legs don’t do the job, the heart and head do it. I make sure that as I approach the mid-way mark I visualize the finish line. This motivates me and strengthens my resolve to finish the race.

FM: Your most recent event was the Ultra Tuffman Desert Championship, Jaisalmer. What was it like to be a part of this race?

Taher: The Tuffman Ultra was an event I was really looking forward to. I was excited to run in the desert on the dunes. The course was flat and easy with hot days and really cold nights. The race started at 5 pm at the Mirwana resort, Jaisalmer. We were instructed for safety reasons to run loops of 1km till 7 am the next morning. The initial 10kms were a breeze and I was just getting warmed up when I twisted my ankle, but I continued.  Around the 25th Km, I picked up the pace and closed in on the man in the first position. I was thrilled and kept going at a constant pace when the unexpected happened.  At the 38th Km, I twisted my ankle for the second time and the pain was immense. I slowed down and continued to walk knowing that I could complete this race even if I walked for the next 20 hrs. As I was walking on course, limping actually, I thought of the long term consequences of walking on a swollen ankle. It could gravely derail my race plans for the future. I had to take a call, a very difficult one.  For the first time in seven years, I have had to pull out of a race. It took a while for it to sink it but I did what I believed was best for me on that day. We all have good days and bad days. I know I will bounce back stronger than ever. Overall it was a race in a beautiful destination with good support staff. I will try to go back in 2019 and conquer it.

FM: Which has been your best and worst race so far? Why?

Taher: The best race has undoubtedly been the Everest Ultra. I have taught me a lot as a runner. I don’t think I could ever have a bad or “worst” race because each race has had a purpose in teaching me more about myself, my limits and what I can achieve.

FM: You are constantly raising the bar for yourself with every run. What drives you?

Taher: It comes from within. Growing up, I was always taught that I was my toughest competition. I was fortunate enough to be in a home where there was no pressure to compete with anyone, but yourself. Being the best version of me was always a top priority. Whether it was business, or a hobby, at the end of the day, I always pushed myself to be the best I could be. With running, I achieved what most people around me thought was impossible with the support of my family. I was unhealthy and overweight when I began my running journey. Now, when I have reached what most people think is my pinnacle, I ask myself my favourite question – What next? and that keeps me going.

FM: If there was one quality which running imbibed in you, what would it be?

Taher: Discipline. No matter what you do, without discipline, nothing works. Overcoming so many obstacles showed me the power of faith.  But most of all running has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to.

FM: What running goals do you have for the next few years?

Taher: I would like to take part in the UTMB (The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) someday. in April 2019, I will participate in one of the most difficult trail races in the world – The Marathon Des Sables, Morocco which is a self-supported 250km race across the Sahara Desert. In July 2019, I will participate in The DFBG Ultra Marathon in Poland and later this year, I will be participating in a mountain race called the Solang Sky Ultra.

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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Gear Comments Off on Trail Running Shoes to Consider |

Trail Running Shoes to Consider

If you are looking for the perfect shoes for trail running then we have two suggestions for you here, writes Deepthi Velkur.

Tired of running on polluted, crowded streets? The sea of people a bit unnerving? If the answer to the two questions is yes, then trail running is a good idea for you.

Deena Kastor, an eight-time American cross-country champion once quoted, “To me, heaven on earth is exploring on a trail”. As you run through lush green forests, rolling hills and gorgeous plains, heaven certainly is a thought that comes to mind.

Imagine avoiding trees, rocks, branches and boulders instead of people on the street – sounds like fun doesn’t it? Trail running is more engaging, more fun and definitely more scenic. You don’t need heaps of specialized gear to run a trail but there is one thing that will make your run a whole lot easier and safer too – the right kind of footwear.

Difference between a trail running shoe and a road running shoe

The main difference between the two is the traction on the sole. In a trail running shoe, the sole has deeper lugs for a bigger surface area. The upper part is usually knit meshed to avoid debris from entering the shoe. Also, trail shoes generally have a lower offset where the heel height is lower than that of the toe height making it relatively flatter thus providing a stable platform to run on.

Choosing a trail running shoe can be daunting so we’ve taken a shot at providing information on two excellent shoes that could be part of your trail running gear.

Salomon Speedcross 4 CS

This is a trail running shoe that is built for the toughest trails out there. It is designed keeping in mind comfort and protection on the long, challenging runs.

The first thing you notice when you wear them is the reinforced outsole. The outsole is patented Contagrip Wet Traction, the best shoes you can buy for traction which come with deep lugs and soft rubber ensuring durability and providing maximum grip.  It offers more traction against slippery conditions, steep up and downhill terrains. The uppers are water-resistant, reinforced, abrasion-resistant and have an anti-debris mesh that protects debris from entering the shoe. The CS variant (ClimaShield) allows the foot to breathe bringing a quick drying in the forefoot area.

The toggle lacing system and sockliner offer a secure, supportive fit and there is a good level of cushioning around the ankle. On the trails, you will appreciate the cushioning in the footbed and sole.

Underneath, the design and placement of the studs ensure that mud doesn’t clog up thus ensuring a consistent grip. The drop is 10 mm which provides for great cushioning. It also has an enhanced Lightweight Muscle midsole and a molded EVA band which ensures stability in addition to the cushioning.

Features

Weight :297g
Heel Height :33mm
Forefoot Height :22mm
Drop :10mm

Overall, this is a shoe designed for soft, wet and rugged terrains and while expensive (retailing at INR 13,000 on www.amazon.in), they certainly pack a punch in terms of durability and safety. One drawback though – they can’t be used for road running.

Hoka One One Torrent (pronounced “Hoka O-nay O-nay”)

The rather interesting name means “now it is time to fly” in Maori. The torrent is a trail running shoe that is super lightweight, agile, and technical allowing runners to tackle any terrain.

Hoka One One shoes are known for their premium cushioning and the torrent doesn’t disappoint. The midsole provides for a lot of cushioning without comprising on the responsiveness of the shoe. The multidirectional lugs underneath the shoe offer good traction both up and down hill. They offer a lot in terms of breathability ensuring your feet don’t get too hot and sweaty on those long runs.

The Hoka One One Torrent achieves a fine balance between agility and traction at 254g offer one sweet running experience.

Features

  • Weight: 254g (size EU 42)
  • Forefoot height: 18mm
  • Heel height: 23mm
  • Drop: 5mm

Priced at INR 8,100 on www.runnerinn.com, the Hoka One One Torrent is a good investment considering that this can be used for trail runs, road running and other ultra-runs.

In conclusion, both of these shoes are a good investment with the Hoka One One holding a slight advantage as it can be used across trails as well as road runs.

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 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 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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Nutrition Comments Off on The “ideal diet” to follow before a big marathon |

The “ideal diet” to follow before a big marathon

Eating well before and after a marathon is a game-changer. Protima Tiwary spoke with coach and nutritionist Sheetal Sood to help us understand the diet to consume before a big marathon.

You’ve been training on the track religiously, making sure you stick to your training routine, carefully mapping out the distances and recording your progress. But you know what they say- the correct diet is more than half the work done. So take a pause and ask yourself a question- have you been eating right to be well equipped to run the marathon? We caught up with a fitness lifestyle coach and nutritionist Sheetal Sood to help us understand the importance of the diet leading up to a marathon.

You’re a lifestyle coach and nutritionist. How did this journey for you begin? What keeps you going?

It started around 18years ago during my first pregnancy.  I started noticing my body and the way it was changing. I had always been an active child, interested in sports and outdoor games before college and professional life took over. I was a lawyer in the Mumbai High Court before I moved to Pune, and it is here when I embarked upon my personal fitness journey. I was recently married, my first baby was on its way and I started taking care of myself with yoga and Pilates through pre and post-natal classes.

I stuck with my training regime even after delivery and considered becoming a personal trainer 12 years ago. It was only three years ago that I went ahead with my certification, and I am so glad that I did! I love how fitness has gained importance in our lifestyles, and for me, my work doesn’t even feel like work anymore!

Today, a workout is an integral part of my routine. I want to be a role model for my children, and I wish to motivate my clients, so I guess that is what keeps me going.

A fit foodie at 47, do you find it easy to combine your love for food and your fit lifestyle?

Yes, I love to eat and workout. I do not let myself feel guilty for that one off cheat meal. Apart from that, my food choices are healthy. I satisfy my sweet cravings with homemade all nut butter or peanut butter, and my go-to meal is a mixed salad with good vinaigrette dressing.

Chocolate is my comfort food, so I do cheat sometimes with a rich chocolate cake or ice cream. However, if I can find a healthy option that tastes as good, I will always choose that.

Coming to marathon preparations- how important is the food in your training plan?

Whenever we put ourselves through intense activity, we need a specially curated meal plan supporting the activity. Poor nutrition will always lead to poor performance, even injuries. Preparing for a marathon isn’t an overnight decision- your meals have to be designed weeks in advance.

Carb-cycling is important when you are preparing for a marathon. You need to have days of high carb, moderate and low carbs. Stock your house with good carbs like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, jowar and bajra flour, buckwheat and amaranth for rotis. Nuts, legumes, green veggies, paneer are a must too. Foods like bananas, sweet potatoes and beetroot are a must have. Remove all junk food.

Also, stock up on BCAAs and bulletproof coffees!

What does an ideal diet 7 days before a big run look like?

You need to have foods that make you feel light and energetic. Load up on foods that contain nitrate (eg- beet) Choose complex carbs for every meal. Go on a high carb, moderate protein, low-fat diet.

Lunch can be large but your dinners have to be light and early (but carb loaded) A light dinner could be a big bowl of soup with meat, vegetables and noodles or rice in the soup.

Please do not eat biryanis and pizzas thinking you will burn it off. The sugar in these processed foods are evil!

 

What is the ideal meal to eat post running?

I would highly recommend a shake or juice first thing after a race. This is because our body absorbs liquids with much ease as
compared to solids. An ideal shake would be made of bananas, almond
milk, honey or peanut butter (and protein powder if you wish to)

The second meal after the run can be eggs (in any form) with multigrain bread/rotis. You can also opt for paneer bhurji.

 

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 The experience of competing in the Deccan Cliffhanger Challenge |

The experience of competing in the Deccan Cliffhanger Challenge

Our Guest Columnist, Sagar Baheti talks about his experience of completing the Deccan Cliffhanger Challenge.

 

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

This inspiring line from the former first lady of the United States certainly comes to mind every time I think of the ‘Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF)’.

The ABBF is a non-profit organization that promotes inclusivity through adaptive adventure and sports activities for all people (with and without disability).  They achieve this by creating opportunities for people to come together, experience the adrenaline and camaraderie that only sport has to offer.

The ABBF helped bring me and 7 other fantastic individuals come together so that we could have the privilege of competing in the ‘Deccan Cliffhanger Challenge’  this year and I would love to share my journey on this incredible adventure.

A precursor

The Deccan Cliffhanger challenge is a cycle ride that covers a distance of 643KMS between Pune and Goa and all of it to be done in under 30 hours – simple enough, isn’t it? Hardly, but the gorgeous scenery, verdant greenery, and picturesque locales more than make-up for the challenges this ride has to throw at you.

I was looking forward to the day of the race and also to share this journey with 7 other riders who came from Pune, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Four of us had vision disability (Divyanshu, Sanket, Manasvi, and Sagar) being stokers and four captains (Bharath, Nupur, Kailash and Raju).  Despite the lack of adequate practice, we were all super excited to take part in this ride.

Before the race

November 24, 2018. 04:45 AM

I (and the rest of us) stood giddy with excitement at the start point of the Deccan Cliffhanger ultra-cycling race. I was nervous beyond measure as it was my first tandem cycling event and it mattered a lot to me. But, the excitement of being part of a team trying to attempt such a stupendous task quickly overshadowed my nervousness. We were the only inclusive cycling team in the race and I did not want to let my team down.

Race strategy

Divyanshu and Bharat, the most experienced riders started and the goal was to maintain our speed at 25 kmph and we hoped to achieve this by making quick changeovers.
It was also my first experience of a relay race, which requires you to do your assigned part but also being mentally ready to back-up your team members if need be. The crew and support team play a significant role in making sure that we don’t lose time during changeovers and be alert to handle any unforeseen situations that may come up.

The trail and the terrain

This route can be divided into three parts, 

  1. The toughest of all – maximum elevation
  2. Mostly highway with rolling terrain and
  3. Downhill into Goa with a few small climbs.

The good thing about this course is that the most difficult piece is right up front and you can get done with it when you’re fresh. It is key to maintain a decent pace but also, we needed to be careful that we didn’t push too hard as it is a long race.

For the second part of the race, we had to focus on improving our average speed because this is mostly rolling terrain. However, there is a small challenge – it has to be at night! Your tired muscles aside, the chill of the night makes it really easy for you to fall asleep during the short breaks.

The final leg of the race is mostly downhill which is less demanding but after riding all night, staying on the bike is a challenge itself. As the sun comes out, it makes it even harder but you push on knowing that the endpoint is only a few hours away.

So, how did we do?

Our strategy worked pretty well throughout the race. In the first part, which is the toughest, Nupur and Sanket did especially well despite the steep hills and the sun beating down on them. It was extremely demanding on the legs and it left our bodies severely dehydrated. Divyanshu and Bharat kept the pace up as well and supported Nupur and Sanket. In the second half, Kailash, and Manasvi did a great job while Raju and I kept pushing on to improve our the average speed.

There were times at night when some pairs had to continue longer and we had to make changes in pairs to fill in for each other. Our tired legs and minds wanted to rest and sleep, but we backed each other, the crew motivated us and we also had a speaker held out by one of the crew members playing peppy tracks to keep our spirits high. We held on as a few rested so they could come back in the morning for the last part.

It took a near superhuman effort for us to get through the night part of the race but when we turned off the highway from Belgaum to Goa, there was a sudden burst of energy from us. It was almost like the rising sun had healed our tiring minds and bodies.

With the end point a few hours away, we really pushed on and despite being on track for an under-30 finish, we wanted to achieve our best possible timing. We made some quick changeovers and with each passing kilometre, we felt enthusiastic that we were going to achieve something awesome. We finished in 29hours and 38 mins with Nupur, Sanket, Kailash and our youngest rider Manasvi riding past like they were just getting started! Not a single rider or support crew looked like they had been up for the last 30 hours!

It was finally over and time to celebrate!

In closing

In ultra-cycling and relay racing, the crew and support play an important role. Vaishak, Swamy, Tanya, Nikunj, Sandip, Pavan, Jon and all the drivers who formed the crew and support played an equivalent role in helping us achieve this result. We didn’t have to bother about anything other than riding. Nutrition, bikes and our tempers were all managed perfectly.

I enjoyed every bit of it and was happy to play my part. Like any endurance event, it was mind over body and I think that’s why training your mind is as important if not more as physical training. Being part of a team in an endurance event was new to me and was a great experience.

Tandem cycling is very new in India and we have a long way to go. For many serious solo cyclists, tandem cycling still seems like leisure cycling. It requires coordination between two people and that’s probably more challenging in a race setting. ABBF has been and continues to do a great job in promoting inclusive tandem cycling. And with this achievement, it sure will be taken seriously by all other cycling organisations in India.


So, where do we go from here?

This timing helps our team qualify for the greatest amateur cycling event in the world – RAAM – Race across America. It is a 3000-mile race literally all across America!

Will we go for it? Something for us to ponder about?

GUEST COLUMNIST

Sagar Baheti, an amateur runner and cyclist from Bangalore runs a successful import and export stone business. In 2017, He was the first ever visually impaired runner from India to successfully complete the Boston marathon.

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