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Run the extra mile

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Long-distance running as a sport and fitness regimen is gaining traction, with more than 80 such events being organised in the city this year alone, says K Raj

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

 - Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile under four minutes, as quoted in Chris McDougall’s Born to Run

The Mumbai Marathon was held first in 2004. It had over 22,000 participants. In the last edition of the event held in January this year, the number of participants had doubled to over 44,000. This is testimony to the explosion of interest in long-distance running as a sport and a fitness regimen. More and more Indians, especially Mumbaikars, are pounding the road and there are at last count more than 80 running events being organised this year in Mumbai alone.

All year round, if you wake up early enough and go out for a walk or a run, you will find groups of running enthusiasts putting in their practice runs. It doesn’t matter if it is summer or Mumbai’s infamous monsoons, these people are out there eating up the miles.

Helping them getting their strides in are several informal and formal training outfits. Do a Google search and several pages of listings will pop up. There is Striders, a fitness and marathon training outfit that is patronised by corporate houses like Tata Consultancy Services, National Stock Exchange and Edelweiss Group. Another outfit – Befit – which has been operating since 2001, has trained celebrities like Lisa Hayden, Neha Dhupia and Siddarth Mallya. Then there is Ace Runners, a relatively new outfit, just to name a few.

Most corporates today actively encourage their employees to participate in long-distance running, and spearheading this drive are the head honchos themselves.

N Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons, has been a keen long-distance runner. In fact, it is because of his encouragement and push that Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the outfit he headed for several years before being appointed to head Tata Sons, has one of the largest corporate contingents participating in the Mumbai Marathon.

Rashesh Shah, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Edelweiss Group, is another keen long-distance runner. Thanks to his encouragement and example setting, over half of Edelweiss Group’s top management are into long distance running. In fact, in the financial services industry, long distance running is like a badge of honour. Ranu Vohra, CEO of Avendus Capital, is a keen marathoner, so is Gagan Banga of Indiabulls Financial Services. Even former RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan, was a regular at Mumbai Marathons while he was in India.

One reason why so many CEOs promote long-distance running is that they believe there is a direct link between fitness, running and leadership. As Rashesh Shah once said in an interview, “Running has taught me how to convert intention into execution. It has taught me discipline. The day you don’t feel like getting up, is the day you should put on your shoes and go for a short run. It builds character. Training for a race has three objectives: how to improve, how to enjoy and how to remain injury-free. Leading a team is similar to this because you need to push the limits, quite like running a race.”

Dr. Rajesh Walawalkar, a marathoner who along with his partner Vinayak Yadav, runs a fitness portal – www.fitnesity.com – says one reason for the growing popularity of running is that it is relatively inexpensive. “All it takes for any runner is a good shoe and road to run on. One could run as per one’s own choice of time. For the runners who are running only for the experience and as a means to achieve fitness, it is relatively easy to follow a sport which does not require facilities like other sports.”

And there is the social element as well. “The glamour of running events has been growing in the age of selfie, social media and promoting the individual as a brand,” Dr. Walawalkar says. Just look at your social media streams on the third Saturday of every January (when the Mumbai Marathon is held) and you will see the truth in his words.

The explosion in interest in long-distance running has also spanned some interesting initiatives. Perhaps the most unique among them is former super-model Milind Soman’s Pinkathon that was launched in 2012. Soman, who was a swimming champion in his teens and has been an avid marathoner for some time, conceived of the Pinkathon to get more and more women to take to long-distance running and become fit. Soman once told a reporter that Pinkathon is his way of saying thanks to his mother, who inspired and encouraged him to become super fit. Pinkathon, he says, is a movement that is first and foremost about women’s empowerment – empowerment that begins by becoming fit.

But this rapid growth in the interest about running has also resulted in some unhealthy pratices creeping in. Over the last few months, Dr. Walawalkar asked 83 runners if they had trained adequately before participating in long-distance running events. “61 participants out of 83 answered negatively and that works out to 73% of the participants.” Yet why did they run? Some of the answers, says Dr Walawalkar were, “out of peer pressure”, “didn’t want to miss the joy of taking a selfie with the medal”, “did not think the event would require so much practice”, “just to get an idea what it takes to complete a running event” and “my organisation sponsored the event and I had no choice”.

According to Dr.Walawalkar, these are no reasons for any individual to participate in a long-distance running event in the absence of proper and consistent training. He points out that participation in half marathon (21.97 km), marathon (42.194 km) or ultra-marathon is a pretty serious affair. It takes consistent practice for a minimum of six months for an individual to develop stamina and endurance.  Running a long distance requires a good physical as well as mental strength.

“Contrary to the belief of many startup runners, a person runs with the whole body and not just with one’s legs.  Therefore, the preparation involves working on the entire body and mind as well. Along with the consistent training, one has to focus on appropriate diet and ensure that one gets proper sleep as well. I come across youngsters who run on Sunday mornings despite having late nights over the weekends and yet boast about it. Sooner or later such unhealthy habits would result in some or other health issues,” he says.

Next week: When Aditi Patni broke her femur, she took the challenge head on

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