MARATHON­ERS

IN­DIA’SWOMEN Their num­bers are ris­ing.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Swetha Sun­dar

he say­ing ‘Days are slow but the years go by fast’ is so true. Long-dis­tance run­ning has gone from a trade­mark of masochists and com­pul­sive dieters to a na­tional pas­time for peo­ple across ages, gen­ders, abil­i­ties and, most im­por­tantly for those look­ing at fit­ness and healthy life­style.

Dis­tance run­ning, triathlons have be­come some­thing of a ca­sual hobby, with a slew of apps and on­line re­sources ded­i­cated to get­ting peo­ple in marathon shape in only a few months. Lakhs of In­dian across var­i­ous age groups and gen­ders have com­pleted a 10K run, half and full marathon and also triathlon events. For them, ev­ery day is prime time to lace up shoes.

Dur­ing marathons, ar­dent run­ners from across all age groups de­scend on the roads to pound the gravel. They have sto­ries to tell as to what makes them pas­sion­ate about run­ning in their own worlds. From mak­ing their life more dis­ci­plined to mak­ing more of ev­ery minute lived, here are their rea­sons to make run­ning a part of their life­style.

“Run­ning and walk­ing and other forms of ex­er­cise give an adren­a­line rush. Ex­er­cise, in a way, is also ad­dic­tive. So, once one gets run­ning, they con­tinue to do so be­cause it has pos­i­tive ef­fects on their phys­i­cal and emo­tional health. Monthly runs (2km, 5km and 10km) are or­gan­ised in the apart­ment com­plex where I live.” “I think peo­ple are learn­ing to en­joy the plea­sures of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise,” says Nayanika Muthukr­ish­nan of Em­bassy Gar­den, Bengaluru.

“Fit­ness is an out­let, a way to un­wind from my ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties and it pro­vides me with pos­i­tive en­ergy and pos­i­tive life­style be­hav­iours and at­ti­tudes,” says Shyama Kun­dru, a marathoner of five years now.

An­jali Saraogi, mother of a teenaged daugh­ter is 43 – an age when many ath­letes hang up their boots – and has proven yet again that age is just a num­ber tak­ing to the road when her 18-year-old daugh­ter Mamta en­cour­aged her to par­tic­i­pate in a city marathon two years back.

“I haven't run a marathon and I tell you this, I have lived in an area where marathon events started barely 500 me­tres from my res­i­dence. Not just that I was al­ways present at the events, by virtue of

Woman’s Era March (Se­cond) 2018 ● be­ing my hus­band's wife! I was there to cheer peo­ple. I al­ways no­ticed a lot of en­thu­si­asm, es­pe­cially among first-time run­ners. I never looked for peo­ple who couldn't run be­yond a cer­tain dis­tance be­cause that was never the aim. What I saw was peo­ple huff­ing and puff­ing to the fin­ish line. They didn't give up and that is com­mend­able for those who couldn't run be­yond the first 500 me­ters. There is al­ways a first time to ev­ery­thing and first-time run­ners are ex­pected to fall be­hind the more sea­soned and ex­pe­ri­enced run­ners. These are the words of Su­mi­tra Na­gara­jan of Chen­nai, who hopes to run at least a 3K soon.”

A na­tional-level swim­mer and holder of the Iron Man ti­tle, Milind be­lieves that sport has trans­for­ma­tional pow­ers and that peo­ple tend to un­der­mine its value, es­pe­cially in In­dia and for women. That is when he de­cided to start the Pinkathon. Milind says, “Today, en­durance run­ning has be­come a move­ment, a rev­o­lu­tion. In a coun­try like In­dia, which has no cul­ture of sport and where we do not con­sciously make healthy and dif­fer­ent choices, for run­ning to be pop­u­lar, it had to ap­peal to some­thing much deeper. I think

SU­MI­TRA NA­GARA­JAN

that it is a very pri­mal in­stinct, as hu­man be­ings are evolved to run. And that is why thou­sands of peo­ple who you never imag­ined would run are run­ning marathons and ul­tra-marathons.”

Hav­ing been do­ing en­durance run­ning for over 14 years now, Milind no­ticed that run­ning was gain­ing con­sid­er­ably in pop­u­lar­ity, with ev­ery­body want­ing to do a run­ning event. How­ever, he saw that the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in these runs was only at six or seven per cent.

“But if you cre­ate a space that is only for women, they will think about it, as it is fo­cused just on them,” he says.

He adds that this is a global trend, and was seen even in the US, where women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was min­i­mal un­til women-cen­tric events were cre­ated. Today, some of the big­gest run­ning events in the US are women’s run­ning events.

If you look at the num­ber of run­ners in the US up to the half­marathon, 60 per cent of the par­tic­i­pants are women. While the num­bers are re­versed in the full marathons, women still make up a mas­sive 40 per cent of the field. It was to bring about aware­ness around women’s health that the Pinkathon was started.

It is about get­ting women to un­der­stand that they need to de­vote a lit­tle bit of their time to them­selves ev­ery day and value them­selves. The fo­cus is on self­em­pow­er­ment. Milind be­lieves giv­ing some­one the power isn’t em­pow­er­ment. Em­pow­er­ment, he says, starts with you.

“Be­fore you buy any­thing or do any­thing, do you value your­self? Do you value your thoughts, ideas and health? That is em­pow­er­ment. Your first step in self-em­pow­er­ment is un­der­stand­ing that you are valu­able and that you will take care of your­self. You need to take the first step.”

“It took me al­most 10 years of a seden­tary life­style, nu­mer­ous vis­its to doc­tors and a rapidly ex­pand­ing waist­line to say ‘enough is enough’. Work­ing as a jour­nal­ist with a news­pa­per, which re­quires me to sit for hours in front of a com­puter and reach home at some un­earthly hour had made me wal­low in self-pity. And, I sought refuge in un­healthy com­fort food. The ef­fects showed. The op­tions were to keep pop­ping pills or ex­er­cise. I chose the cheap­est — I ran. At first, it was hardly a run. All I could man­age was two min­utes of huff­ing and puff­ing and lots of ex­cuses —‘age is catch­ing up’ be­ing my favourite. It was shame­ful when I met peo­ple at a run club dou­ble my age, fit as fid­dles and ooz­ing with en­ergy. But, with shame also came de­ter­mi­na­tion. I kept sign­ing up for 10km runs although I jogged and limped to the fin­ish line. I needed the mo­ti­va­tion to egg me on to do bet­ter. Af­ter sev­eral 10km and 5km runs, I re­alised the dis­ci­pline it had in­stilled in me. I have the same work­ing hours but no more ex­cuses and no more self-pity. My rou­tine in­cludes fit­ness ac­tiv­i­ties and my

Woman’s Era March (Se­cond) 2018 ● com­fort food is nu­tri­tious. The race has just be­gun,” en­cour­ages Sobha Ki­ran Surin, 47, se­nior as­sis­tant ed­i­tor, Hin­dus­tan Times.

Mandira Bedi, ac­tor, com­men­ta­tor and an­chor never be­lieved that she would run. “I re­mem­ber once Rahul Dravid told me, ‘run­ning is like med­i­ta­tion to me’. I didn’t get it then, but I to­tally un­der­stand what he meant now. When I run, it’s just me, my mu­sic and my thoughts. And then once the thoughts have passed, the mind goes blank which is what true med­i­ta­tion is. I don’t know the songs be­ing played. I don’t know who is on the left or right of me. I am just run­ning. Run­ning feels ex­hil­a­rat­ing and eu­phoric to me, and I will con­tinue run­ning as long as my body al­lows it.”

It may have started as an in­ex­pen­sive fit­ness fad, but run­ning is now the new golf. As le­gions of fit­ness en­thu­si­asts lace up around the coun­try and splurge on fancy kits, marathon races are be­com­ing money-spin­ners.

“Peo­ple now have four to five pairs of run­ning shoes. They are con­cerned about is­sues such as hy­dra­tion, or about re­cov­ery af­ter a race,” says Dr Nan­daku­mar, a phys­io­ther­a­pist and marathoner him­self, adding, “Run­ning has gone be­yond just be­ing a cool sport.”

An­other year ahead, now. As we head into 2018, set goals, not res­o­lu­tions. If you re­ally want to, you will find a Way! And like we all know – get­ting started is what mat­ters the most. So c’mon, let’s go!

TIME FOR SELF DUR­ING MARATHONS, AR­DENT RUN­NERS FROM ACROSS ALL AGE GROUPS DE­SCEND ON THE ROADS TO POUND THE GRAVEL. THEY HAVE STO­RIES TO TELL AS TO WHAT MAKES THEM PAS­SION­ATE ABOUT RUN­NING IN THEIR OWN WORLDS.

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