Marwar - - Sports - Text Pooja Mu­jum­dar

There are those who defy age to try out new things later in life. An­jali Saraogi, who took to run­ning marathons at 41, is one among them, and a rather il­lus­tri­ous one at that. Hav­ing achieved the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the fastest In­dian woman par­tic­i­pant in the 2017 Com­rades Marathon, Saraogi finds her­self lac­ing up to run her way into glory in marathons in both In­dia and abroad.

ONE IS NEVER TOO OLD OR TOO YOUNG TO try some­thing new and ex­plore the lim­its of what one can do. Kolkata-based run­ner An­jali Saraogi fol­lows this phi­los­o­phy pas­sion­ately. Un­like many ath­letes who em­brace a sport in their early years, she took up run­ning se­ri­ously af­ter com­pet­ing in a half-marathon three years ago. Now 44, she has cov­ered plenty of ground since.

Not al­ways a run­ner

Saraogi at­tributes her late start to in­hi­bi­tions she har­boured as a stu­dent (of La Mar­tiniere for Girls, Kolkata). “I had been fas­ci­nated by run­ning in those days, but since I was fairly plump, I could never muster the con­fi­dence to par­tic­i­pate in a school race.” While her class­mates would race to­wards the fin­ish­ing line, a young An­jali would just watch them from the side­lines. Years later, as she took to run­ning to shed her ex­tra weight af­ter giv­ing birth to her only child, this pas­sion for run­ning resur­faced, and what be­gan with a ‘five kilo­me­tres five times a week’ reg­i­men slowly in­creased over the years. Tak­ing part in a full-fledged marathon ac­tu­ally, how­ever, was still some way off.

When change beck­ons

The ul­ti­mate push that sent her to the start­ing block as a pro­fes­sional run­ner came in 2015, when Mamta, her daugh­ter, in­sisted that she take part in a half-marathon, an ex­cit­ing run of 21 km that was go­ing to be held in the city on Novem­ber 29 that year. Re­call­ing the anx­i­ety that fol­lowed, Saraogi says, “I was not re­ally sure if I could do this be­cause I had never run beyond 10 km be­fore. To top it all, I knew noth­ing about train­ing for a half-marathon.” Nev­er­the­less, the lov­ing, car­ing mother gave in to her daugh­ter’s wishes and reg­is­tered her­self for the race.

Her first run

On the big day, as she lined up with the other run­ners at the start­ing line of the ‘Air­tel Run for Ed­u­ca­tion Marathon’, Mamta was there to soothe her strained nerves with her en­cour­ag­ing words: “Mom, at the most, you would not be able to com­plete the race, and there is no shame in that. But if you give it a try, at least you will have no re­grets,” she said. Em­bold­ened, Saraogi tena­ciously com­pleted the race in 1 hour and 55 min­utes, fin­ish­ing third, much to the de­light of her fam­ily. As she savoured her vic­tory with a sense of pride, achieve­ment and the re­lief and dis­be­lief that al­most ev­ery run­ner feels af­ter run­ning their first marathon, she re­alised how much she had en­joyed the run. Her ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional run­ner had be­gun.

Bring on the race

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in half-marathons up and down the coun­try fol­lowed. First up was the ‘Goa River Marathon 2015’ where she clocked 1 hour and 55 min­utes again to cover the 21 km stretch. Then fol­lowed the ‘Stan­dard

Char­tered Mum­bai Marathon 2016’ where she crossed the fin­ish­ing line in one hour and 44 min­utes. Saraogi now wanted to chal­lenge her­self fur­ther by at­tempt­ing a full marathon, and de­cided that her next goal would be to run the ‘Bank of Amer­ica Chicago Marathon’, a for­mi­da­ble 42.16 km stretch, in Oc­to­ber 2016. She says, “I set my heart on run­ning this marathon be­cause it is part of the World Marathon Ma­jors se­ries. The course is flat, and the weather is per­fect for run­ning. Most im­por­tantly, I felt that if I could com­plete this marathon fast enough, I might qual­ify for the Bos­ton Marathon.” Con­sid­ered to be the Holy Grail for run­ners, the Bos­ton Marathon al­lows par­tic­i­pants with a qual­i­fy­ing time from an­other marathon.

Her first in­ter­na­tional race

To en­sure that she got her­self across the fin­ish­ing line at the Chicago Marathon, Saraogi be­gan to train with dis­ci­pline. This was not to be an easy task, how­ever, as soon af­ter she suf­fered a gym in­jury. Though the doc­tors painted a grim pic­ture and said that she would not be able to run again, she re­fused to give up, and three-anda-half months later, went back into train­ing! On D-Day, as the starter’s pis­tol went off, she kept her fo­cus and ran the course to fin­ish the race in 3 hours and 32 min­utes, earn­ing her Bos­ton qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

The tough­est of them all

In the months that fol­lowed, Saraogi par­tic­i­pated in other marathons, set­ting her sights mean­while on the 92nd Com­rades Marathon that was go­ing to be held in South Africa in 2017. Re­garded as the world’s largest and old­est ul­tra-marathon, it is set an­nu­ally on ap­prox­i­mately 87 km of roads, be­tween Dur­ban and Pi­eter­mar­itzburg. Apart from the in­tim­i­dat­ing dis­tance, Com­rades posed other tough chal­lenges for her. Saraogi ex­plains: “The course has steep rolling hills through­out the stretch, and there was no sim­i­lar ter­rain in In­dia that would help me to sim­u­late the run be­fore race day. I had also heard scary sto­ries of par­tic­i­pants ‘hit­ting the wall’ [a phrase of­ten used when the body and mind do not want to con­tinue dur­ing a race] from 60 km on­wards.” She de­cided to take all these prob­lems in her stride and give her best.

Be­com­ing an ul­tra­ma­rathoner

For Saraogi, whose long­est train­ing run was 60 km, fa­tigue and pain took over 66 km into the race. When her legs couldn’t take it any­more, she per­se­vered and ran with her heart. Upon near­ing the fin­ish­ing line, the sense of re­lief was in­de­scrib­able! With a last spurt of supreme ef­fort, Saraogi crossed the fin­ish­ing line, clock­ing 8 hours, 38 min­utes and 23 sec­onds, set­ting the fastest time for In­dian women run­ners, and over­all, the sec­ond fastest time for In­dian run­ners.

Sum­ming it all up

The 18 marathons that Saraogi has par­tic­i­pated in so far, the ac­co­lades that have been heaped upon her are im­pres­sive. The most note­wor­thy among these is the Asad­ha­ran Award by Friends of Kolkata that was be­stowed upon her on De­cem­ber 8, 2017, by Ke­shari Nath Tripathi, Gover­nor of West Ben­gal. Look­ing back at it all, Saraogi, who runs a med­i­cal di­ag­nos­tic cen­tre with her hus­band Arvind when she is not run­ning marathons, says, “I feel tremen­dously for­tu­nate that I have been able to pur­sue my pas­sion. Run­ning has made me re­alise that the hu­man body and mind know no lim­its, as long as one is will­ing to work to­wards achiev­ing one's goal.” So, what does the fu­ture hold for her? “I’ve com­pleted the Chicago Marathon; now, I’m look­ing to com­pete in the re­main­ing World Marathon Ma­jors, namely New York City, Bos­ton, Ber­lin, Tokyo and Lon­don”, she signs off.

Above: Saraogi be­ing hon­oured with a gold medal pre­sented by crick­eter Sachin Ten­dulkar in New Delhi for com­ing first over­all in IDBI Fed­eral Life In­surance Kolkata Full Marathon 2018 Fac­ing page: An­jali Saraogi while run­ning the Air­tel Delhi Half Marathon in 2016, in which she fin­ished first

Clock­wise from top left: Saraogi be­ing fe­lic­i­tated with the Asad­ha­ran Award for ex­cel­lence in run­ning by Ke­shari Nath Tripathi, Gover­nor of West Ben­gal, in 2017; Saraogi (wear­ing a pink ban­dana) tak­ing part in the 92nd Com­rades Marathon in South Africa in 2017; Saraogi af­ter fin­ish­ing first in the Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force Half Marathon in Kolkata in 2017; Saraogi with daugh­ter Mamta while on hol­i­day in Nor­way in 2015

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