A running start: Not just for fitness but also to face life’s challenge

fe Features
Siddharth Bhamre , Sangeeta Saikia, Preeti Sharma, Karandeep Singh, Mohit Mukherjee

An increasing number of people in the country today are taking up running not just for fitness but also to face life's challenges. Here, we profile a few of them…

Siddharth Bhamre
'Marathons make you mentally strong'
For this 44-year-old, Mumbai-based businessman, running is an opportunity to meet diverse people

"Running marathons taught me the importance of time management," says Siddharth Bhamre. "Unlike short-distance runs, which give you instant gratification, marathons make you more disciplined, patient and mentally strong," he says, adding, "When you are running on a hilly terrain, you know there would eventually be a decline… it reminds you that hard times in life don't last."

Mumbai-based Bhamre participated in a 10-km run in Chembur four years back. It was the qualifying run for Standard Chartered Marathon, now known as Tata Mumbai Marathon. For Bhamre, the challenge was feeling breathless initially while trying long-distance running since he was used to running short distances only. "Lots of people feel discouraged and you feel running is not for you, but you pick up any sport at a steady pace," says the 44-year-old businessman, adding, "It takes 21 days to form a habit."

Another challenge was finding the time to run. Being in the corporate sector, which demands long hours, it’s still difficult for him to find the time. Plus, daily commuting in a city like Mumbai also takes its toll. "Taking out time for running is a challenge," he says. Another issue is air pollution, especially in the evenings. He can’t run in the mornings on weekdays because he has to leave home early for work.

While he has not gone through formal training, Bhamre has tried various workouts. "You need to have strong legs and do bodyweight exercises like push-ups, planks, etc," says Bhamre, who is a long-distance endurance cyclist as well. Cross-training helps your running and vice-versa, he advises.

Bhamre, who has in the past participated in the Satara Hill Run and a 12-hour stadium run in Mumbai conducted by NED Sports, recently also took part in a 75-km endurance run in Mahabaleshwar. He now plans to try the Comrades Run in South Africa and the Ultraman triathlon in Florida. Bhamre wants to compete in the Comrades Run, a world-renowned 90-km run that has to be completed in 12 hours, "hopefully in 2021". At present, he can run 75-80 km in 12 hours. "Till the time I don't reach 90-100 km, I shouldn't think about running in the Comrades," he says, adding that he has tried to make his wife run with him several times, but the latter has never shown interest!

So what does he love most about running? The fact that he gets to meet all kinds of people from different backgrounds, ages and interests, he replies. If tomorrow he couldn't run any more, the one thing he would miss, Bhamre says, is the opportunity to meet new people and "understand their different perspectives and experiences".

Sangeeta Saikia
'It's made me a better human'
This 48-year-old dental surgeon first ran a marathon when her son was six

Sangeeta Saikia started her fitness journey with jogging in order to lose weight and ran her first couple of marathons when her son was six years old. "I was free from taking care of him all the time and so took up running to lose weight," says the 48-year-old dental surgeon from Delhi. The inspiration to run, she says, came when she went to cheer her friends in a marathon. Soon after, she started running regularly, clocking 50 km a week. "I just got out of the house and started running," she says. Till date, the maximum she has run at a stretch is 75 km.

Saikia, who is a part of the Delhi Runners Group, says her family has been supportive of her passion although initially they were worried about her running long distances alone. It is true that running in a city like Delhi, which is considered unsafe for women, is rife with challenges and risks. While she usually runs solo, Saikia's advice to women runners is that "if you have company, please run together to avoid catcalls and teasing."

The main challenge while running for her is knowing when to stop. "Since runners don’t like to stop, it takes more discipline to rest than to run," she divulges. Saikia has participated in multiple marathons so far, including the Airtel Delhi half-marathon, Bangalore Ultra and a Garhwal run, in which she ran from Dehradun to Dhanaulti, covering 76 km. She has also participated in the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon. Last October, she paced a blind boy in the Airtel half-marathon and ran with him for 21.1 km.

To unwind, Saikia vouches for ‘run’cations and says she often goes to a scenic place where a race is taking place and runs there. She has even participated in an international marathon in the Netherlands. "The international scene is different. There are no half-marathons there. People of my age who are running there are superfit," she says, adding, "I am trying to continue running 50 km a week and plan to go on more runcations."

A big inspiration in her running journey has been her son. A couple of years back, in fact, they completed the ‘100 days of running’ challenge together wherein both had to run a minimum of 2 km everyday. "When my son was around 10 or 11 years old, he told me, ‘Ma, you run for the adrenaline rush more than you run for fitness,'" says Saikia, adding that she dreams of running a full marathon with him when she is 65 years old. "Running has made me so much more focused and disciplined. I am a better mother, better dentist and overall a better human… Running makes me happier."

Preeti Sharma
'You do it for yourself'
Postpartum depression led this Pune-based young mother to running

It was in August 2017 that Pune-based Preeti Sharma found out that she was suffering from postpartum depression. To overcome it, she turned to running. "I started in December 2017 and, since then, I have run 13 marathons of 10 km and two half-marathons," says Sharma, adding that running helped her come out of depression.
But she faced quite a few challenges initially, especially because she hadn’t undergone any training. "I registered in zeal and after running the marathon, my knee started paining and my hip ligaments became loose… I couldn’t lie down," says Sharma, who is originally from Jaipur. The doctor then advised her certain exercises to tighten her ligaments. "I also started eating more nutritious food because I had lost a lot of bone weight," she says, adding that with running, her bone weight has increased.

Refreshingly, she never faced any opposition from her family who have always been very supportive. "I would register two months prior to a marathon and my husband would take care of the baby. It was very challenging for him when our daughter was just one month old, but he fed her and took good care of her," she reveals.
Her parents, however, were sceptical at first, as they didn’t understand the concept of marathons, but came around when they saw their daughter's determination and passion. Interestingly, running also gave her the courage to leave her job and start her own company, a digital marketing agency.

Sharma, who has participated in the Pinkathon in the past,has also run a two-day marathon in Jaipur. A couple of years back, she couldn't participate in a lot of runs due to the rains in Pune, but plans to make up for it by running in other cities this year. "You do it for yourself. When you run, you get that high, which disconnects you from the physical reality around you and connects you to your mind. You understand your real potential and apply your mind in everything," she says.

Karandeep Singh
'No hierarchy in running'
Running for this Delhi-based IT professional serves as a coping mechanism for life’s challenges

It was around five years back that the running bug hit 44-year-old Karandeep Singh, a Delhi-based IT professional. It all started when he participated in the Pinkathon (India’s biggest women’s run that aims to spread awareness about women’s health issues) to support female runners. In the marathon, female runners are assigned a pacer on a bicycle to support them when they run alone in the pitch dark morning. And that’s when Singh’s fitness and running journey began. "I matched the speed of the girl and covered 15-17 km with her," he says, adding, "After that run… I decided to start long runs for fitness and endurance. Running is the backbone of every game. I was surprised to see runners running 21 km non-stop and that inspired me."

Talking about the appeal of running for him, Singh says, "Running is not just my passion, it is my me-time too. During the morning when I run, I have no stress and I can think about the entire day. Many a times, a lot of innovative ideas have crossed my mind during my early-morning runs." Running is also a coping mechanism for him to face life’s challenges. "It has taught me a lot of things, including humility, helped me connect and network with people, and showed me how to be grounded."
When he started, Singh joined a group for running called RRS, which used to meet in Lodi Garden and Nehru Park, he says. He started with half-marathons, but slowly and steadily improved and eventually ended up participating in the Tata Mumbai Marathon. "I became a pacer in all these official runs. Since the last three years, I have been running as a pacer. This year, I paced for one hour and 55 minutes in the Airtel Delhi half-marathon," says Singh, who used to suffer from digestion and constipation issues, but feels "very fit now" thanks to running.

Last year, he even trained a girl who ran her first half-marathon in the Pinkathon. "I trained her for five months and then I paced her in the same event," he says. Singh, who trains people at no cost, himself undergoes training four days a week at ERA-Elite Runners Academy-because for him, "running is a never-ending journey".
Singh loves the fact that in running there is no hierarchy. "You will find everyone there, from a ground-level person to a leader and everyone is equal," he says. In the future, Singh dreams of running the Berlin or Boston marathons after adequate preparation. "Running is slow progress with no shortcuts to success," he signs off.

Mohit Mukherjee
'Need no validation while running'
This 30-year-old Delhi-based theatre teacher calls himself a ‘running nerd’

"I started running in 2014 to explore North Campus in Delhi University," says 30-year-old Mohit Mukherjee, who teaches theatre in Delhi. While running for a few kilometres wasn’t an issue because he had been an athlete in school, the longer marathons became difficult. "I have done a half-marathon, but it took a lot of work and I realised that if you stay out of touch with running, you need to restart everything from scratch. I regularly trained again for four-five months to build stamina and endurance for half-marathons," he says.

Mukherjee, who hasn’t trained formally with a coach, likes to call himself a "running nerd" and watches a lot of videos to learn as much as he can. He also loves reading books on the topic. "These days, more than going for an actual run, I like to read about it," says Mukherjee, who hates the treadmill and says his favourite surface to run is mud.

Mukherjee enjoys running with friends, but says that although it's fun to do that, it can "lower your speed". Plus, he wakes up at 5 am, so finding friends to run with at that time can get difficult. Mukherjee presently lives in Vasant Kunj and says he loves running on the streets there. He specifically shifted to the area, in fact, so that he could run on the broad roads there.

But the sojourn hasn’t been without its challenges. An initial one that he faced was getting corns on his feet due to wearing the wrong kind of shoes. "It took me some months to realise that I was wearing the wrong kind of shoes… then I started researching and overcame the challenge." Another issue is pollution, which is rampant in the national capital, especially during winters. "You wait for the winters to run, but in Delhi, this brings another challenge… I haven’t been able to go beyond 15-17 km because I can’t practise due to the pollution," he says.

It’s no wonder then that he found running in Korea last year a pleasant experience. "Korea has dedicated places for cyclists and runners, which is a rare sight in India. There, vehicle drivers are more sensitive, while people here get impatient and honk their cars. There the air was good as well and I enjoyed the scenery while running," he says.

Mukherjee closely follows international marathons. "I travel a lot, so I can’t run regularly. But I want to keep at it… This is something I will do all my life… I have started small, but I plan to do full and ultra runs eventually," he says, adding, "Running gives me my me-time… I get the same high as when I finish a performance on stage… I don’t need validation from anyone while running."