Sometime after the age of fifty, there comes a moment called as retirement which brings curtains down on most lives. On many occasions, not doing anything is most sought out. There are a few who go on to defy the convention and lead the way for the rest.
By the age of fifty-eight, Latha Srinivasan had accomplished almost everything that one would expected from her – a corporate career with Unit Trust of India, bringing up two sons, caring for the aged in the family, becoming a grandmother, and a settled retired life at Coimbatore. However, she was not ready to call it quit. A trained dancer in Bharatnatyam, Mohiniattam, and Kuchipudi in her younger days, she was always eager to learn something new throughout her life, mostly in the field of arts. During the months of July and August 2018, she was reading articles in Metro Plus about the upcoming Coimbatore Marathon and thought to herself if she can give it a chance.
She joined her neighbourhood running club, the Sai Baba Colony chapter of the Coimbatore Runners and introduced herself into running. She was immediately attracted to the warm welcome of the fellow runners who seemed to believe in her almost instantaneously. Her first run was a marathon in itself – a cautious start, gasping for breadth after running few metres, and very soon, she started having second thoughts on whether she is right to pursue this. All her fears were soon dissuaded by the encouraging words from Karthikeyan Padmanabhan, co-founder of Coimbatore runners, “If you can train well for the next two months regularly, you can do the 10 Km run.” Over the next two months, mornings were never the same as it was a new routine with new friends, and the discovering the runner in her. She went on to finish the 10K Run at the Coimbatore Marathon in 01:40:41, in less than two months of starting to run.
Buoyed by the strong finish, she confidently registered for the Half-marathon at Cochin along with few of her friends. The half-marathon was tougher than what she expected. With weather conditions not as favourable as Coimbatore, it poised plenty of challenges and she managed to finish it in 03:36:46. What surprised her though was the recognition of a second place in her age category. “It was a telling moment that I too am a runner” says Latha on her pivotal moment.
In January this year, she started training under coach Narayanan who helped her with strengthening her muscles and improving her speed. During the months of April-August, she challenged herself to do the 100 Days of Running and accomplished it by running the maximum distance among women in Coimbatore, who took up the challenge. In the course of the 100 days, she also clocked an impressive time of 2:42:57 for the half-marathon distance at an event in Bangalore. It was then she thought to herself that she should challenge the distance of full marathon. For inspiration and guidance, there was Venkatesan Rangaswami, who ran his first marathon at an age of seventy one. “His relentless commitment towards running a full marathon inspired me to give it a try.”
She set her sights on the Spice Coast marathon to be held on December 1, 2019 and started training towards the event. Rain or shine, she ensured that she met her training calendar religiously. The heavy rains on the day before the event increased the humidity levels during the race. She was cautious about it and conserved her energy for a strong finish in a time of 06:11:43. The presence of her husband, sons, and not to miss her fellow runners, who have been waiting for more than 2 hours after their event, at the finish line, made the finish memorable for more than one reason. It was not only the end of marathon but a journey of transformation into an athlete.
Winning prizes or accolades was never her objective to take up running. When told about Masters Athletics events, she first hesitated to participate as she was not keen on competing. However, it was the simple pleasure being recognised as an athlete and running alongside many other stalwarts that prompted her to participate in the events. She participated in the 5000m event and finished it impressively at 32 minutes winning the first prize in her age group!
She has since won three gold medals in the district-level competitions and two medals in the state-level competitions. She is also excited about the opportunity to represent Tamil Nadu in the national athletics meet to be held in Manipur in February 2020.
On looking back, she retains her humility by saying, “all that I wanted for myself is to be physically fit enough to do my daily chores and not be dependent on others. I am certainly glad about the friends across different ages, that I have made during this time.” She also credits her family for their wonderful support. Although the running bug hasn’t yet caught up with them, their support has been immense. Her son gifted her a Garmin watch and got her into the world of gadgets and meticulous data keeping of her runs. Running has certainly added a new dimension to her life and she sets her sights higher next year by wanting to travel around India for marathons in other cities, and possibly outside of it very sooner. As George Bernard Shaw once said,
We do not stop playing because we grow old: we grow old because we stop playing.
An edited version of the article was published in The Hindu – Metroplus on December 17, 2019 along with Haripriya’s experience of running her first marathon – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/latha-srinivasan-and-haripriya-r-from-coimbatore-complete-their-first-full-marathon/article30318112.ece