“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”
Andrew Johnston, a business faculty member, explains in a popular TEDx talk on how he taught his students the fundamentals of Business by making them train and run a marathon. The course titled ‘Change through Challenge’ has since become very popular in community colleges in USA. Most runners would vouch that the lessons learned during training and running a marathon can easily be applied in facing many other challenges.
While experience for runners may vary from person to person, one can be certain everyone will have something to learn in the process. Unlike other challenges in life, this is one where you alone would be the judge to measure the success or failure. Here are a few steps to get started:
Choose the Race – The first step is to choose an event that you wish to run. If you are in Coimbatore, the choice is made easier with the annual Coimbatore Marathon held on the first Sunday of October. Some runners plan their marathons along with their business or personal travels by finding events closer to their destinations. Personally, the choice was made easier for me as I was lucky to win a lottery at the Berlin Marathon to be held in September.
Training Plan – While there are plethora of plans of available on the Internet, the best one would be the one you make, for yourself. Prepare a plan that balances your personal and professional commitments along with the running schedules. The first step would be to block the dates on which you are needed the most for other activities. The next step would be to line up your long runs – the maximum being 80% of the race distance three weeks ahead of the event. Then, spot the gaps and fill-in the mid-week runs which includes a variety of sprints and slow runs. Finally, top it with adequate rests, stretches and strengthening workouts. You can view my training plan for Berlin here..
Travel Plan – If you run is outside your home town, it is best to plan for travel and stay well in advance. Find your hotel rooms close to the event venue to get the best out of the run. If travelling outside India, it is important to get your visas well in advance.
Spread your ideas – It is best to speak out to your friends about the run, training plans, and your periodic progress. Seeking opinions from diverse audience enhances your planning and reinforces your conviction to accomplish your goal. Through social media, one can expect motivation and help from unknown quarters too. If you intend to run for a cause, it gives a wonderful opportunity to speak about it too.
The Group – Even if your run is going to be all about you, it is important to have a group in which you find the strength to see through the distance. Coimbatore Runners actively supports runners planning to run the Coimbatore Marathon with their training needs, encouragement and motivation from their experience. Each runner undergoes his or her own experience and it is important to learn not only from your experience, but also others. The support from running groups often extend to assistance in planning the trip as well as stay arrangements. Of course, they are the best to celebrate with, once the race is accomplished.
Intermittent Targets – As a part of your training plan, assign a few intermittent milestones to measure your progress as well as reward yourself. If you are planning to run a marathon, the 30K runs or the fastest 10K during the training phase can be a milestone that deserves to be celebrated.
Live the Journey – To ensure that the event counts for, the best way to live through it. It is important not to see running events as an examination or a mundane ritual. This is a challenge that you have set for yourself and start looking to make changes in your routines to help you accomplish it. Every training run is an experience by itself and a step towards the finish.
Visualise the finish – Visualising the finish, either by watching videos of the past editions of the event or through a picture of the finish line. I have the picture of Brandenburg Gate, through which one finish the Berlin Marathon, on my work desktop.
It is a powerful tool to help us keep focused on what we wish to accomplish and relish when we actually accomplish. At times, the thought of seeing yourself at the finish line with the medal and celebrating with your near and dear will take you through the tough phases of training.
When you reach the start line, remember that you have run most of the journey and race is only an icing on the cake. As Albert Salazar, winner of the New York Marathon in 1982, said,
“When you cross the finish line, no matter how slow or how fast, it will change your life forever.”
An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus on May 27, 2019 under the title “Run the marathon of your life”
Sometime in June 2018, Suriya asked me if I am interested in giving a TED talk at a TEDx conference to be held in his college (JSB) in October 2018. I was not only overwhelmed by his approach but equally panicked. I am no Haruki Murakami to write a book on “What I talk about running when I talk about running” or Christopher McDoughall to conduct elaborate research and give an informative talk about running. I went back to Suriya with a list of other names whom I belived can do a much better job. He insisted that I do it and there is enough time for it.
It was a challenge to figure out what to talk about running. My interactions about running have been laregely limited to an audience who run regularly and appreciate the travails and satisfaction that we derive from the activity. To them, any topic related to running will easily interest them, be it my experiences of organising events or running in various other events. As in running, so in activities related to running, I was lucky to look up to Ram Viswanathan for guidance. He shared some of his experience in talking to a non-running crowd and what appeals to them the most.
I tried to look at my own experiences what running has meant to be over the past decade and a- half that I have been pursuing it. It has shaped every aspect of life during this time period and this talk is a reflection of the key aspects related to running. The talk by itself was an education for me – to start with, it taught me how to prepare for a talk. It was certainly a memorable experience and I am happy to share with you all.
The transcript with the relevant links:
Hello Friends! I am Balaji, I am a long distance runner; and also a speaker. But, I speak only during my long runs. In fact, I don’t mind calling myself a motivational speaker; because everyone who runs with me, runs away from me when I speak during the runs.
Having said that, this is a new challenge for me – I am asked to stand still and talk to an audience who are firmly harnessed to their seats. I have to admit that suddenly, running a marathon looks a lot easier.
Okay… Here, I am asked to talk about running. I wondered whom to look up to. I looked up to one of my inspirations in running – Well, not, Nelson Mandela, he is definitely an inspiration in various other aspects. This is a gentleman by name Bruce Fordyce. He is a legend in South Africa, having run the Comrades Marathon over 45 times and winning 8 times. He was once asked to give a talk on running, and this is what he has to say about running ,
All that you need to run is good heart, lungs, legs, and no brain cells.
This should come as a surprise to many. You know, we all associate learning with something to do our intellect, our intelligence. And here is a seasoned runner who tells us that it has nothing to do with any of them. You just need to have no brain cells. So, which effectively means that we all need to be like a Jelly fish – of course, it doesn’t have heart and lungs, which I learned later.
So, is there anything possible, any learning possible without using your brain cells. Actually, I have a confession to make – it is true that running doesn’t require any brain cells. It is a very simple act of putting one foot over another – some do it for a longer time, some do it faster; ultimately everyone does it very very simple, just one foot after another. So, what’s a big deal about running?
You take up sports – there’s lot to learn from it. There’s the skill, there’s hand to eye contact, wonderful body movements, and sometimes even beyond that. Billie Jean King, more than a sportswoman, she is known to this generation as someone who stood up for women tennis, stood up for LGBT rights, and she was everything that she learned about her value system through sports. She owes her personal development through sports. But, Running? Is it even a sport? You don’t need to use any skill set. Everybody is a runner, in my opinion.
Well, to play any sport, running is critical – whether you are a cricket player, whether you are a footballer, or a tennis player, you need to run. You need to run for something, which brings me to what I want to share with you. Running is not about what to learn but it’s more about how to learn. Just like how being a good runner helps you to be a sportsman, it is the same values and the culture that you learn from running that get applied to different aspects of life.
I want to dwell about a few of those that I learned over the last 15-16 years of running. So, the first aspect that I would like to discuss – it is setting an aspiration. We all come from a society where most of our aspirations, goals at a younger are set by our social norms – you have to go to the school, followed by the college, followed by the work and in the work, the progress is measure by what the work dictates us. We have never been taught how to set an aspiration for ourselves. Let me admit – I did not take up to running because I really wanted to be a runner. I wanted to be a sportsman – I wanted to play cricket, I was complete rubbish in that. I wanted to play football. I was put as a goal keeper and I learned dance more than actual goal keeping. I took up to running because, I didn’t find myself fit to play any sport. That’s how I started running. Once I started running, I started setting aspirations for myself. Initially, it was just an activity to help me to improve my breathing and thus control asthma. Later, it became a way to discipline myself. After I learned that I can cover some distance, I moved to marathons, Ultra-marathons, and so on. This simple aspect, you know, how to set aspiration for yourself is one of the very significant learning that I could pick up from running.
Dennis Bergkamp, a legend in football had this beautiful thing to say. We all aim for perfection and that’s one thing that I always liked in running.
You climb a mountain, you see the next mountain.
You run a marathon today, you just don’t stop. The next day, the thought is – Ok, what is next? What is the next place I want to go and run? Sometimes, the very next mountain is going to be the very next day of running. That’s how the aspirations are set in running.
The next aspect I want to talk about is Persistence and Determination. These two qualities can never be taught in any text book or it cannot be taught by any coach – although, it can be facilitated by some of the coaches. Ultimately, persistence and determination is something that we pick up from ourselves. I want to share this one life incident that brought me this wonderful wisdom.
It was in 2006. I wanted to run the Mumbai Marathon. Honestly, at that time, I couldn’t really call myself a runner. I used to run 5 Kms, 10 Kms, but a marathon is way out of my reach those days. I still went ahead, registered myself. Those were the days when Mumbai Marathon started at 8:00 AM in the morning under the scorching heat of Mumbai. Somewhere around the 13th or 14th Km, I realised that I cannot run anymore. It was at this stage that I realised that, ‘Ok, let’s throw the towel and go back home – you know, we are not fit for running anymore.’
I asked myself, ‘Did I come all this way to quit at this stage? Ok if I walk all the way, I will still be a laughing stock. Doesn’t matter. I have come to complete the distance of 42.195 Kms and let me do it. Walked through the streets of Mumbai in the hot sun. The vehicle movements had already started; there was dust, there was pollution, there was no waters station. I had to buy water here and there. But, I persisted with it. I managed to go all the way to the finish line. Luckily, there was one volunteer who was packing all the medals. He unpacked the box and picked a medal and gave me. I was so grateful for him for that medal.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the protagonist, would be asked where does he see the strength to finish. He had this one line to say
You find your strength only from within.
Persistence and determination to do anything, in any activity ultimately relies on the individual – whether it is your professional work, whether it is your personal assignment, you need to find the persistence and determination only from within. And I am grateful to running for teaching me that quality.
Having failed miserably in 2006 in running the Mumbai Marathon, in 2009, I managed to run the entire marathon finishing under 5 hours in 4 hours 53 minutes. So, what happened between 2006 and 2009? That brings me to the third aspect – The Group. Support from the group has been very very critical for me in improving my own running.
Sometimes, it is not just about running, it goes beyond running – the kind of guidance, support, or as you would see in the picture – I started running with full pants and it was the group who taught me by saying that ‘Hey, you don’t need to worry about yourselves. Start running in shorts’. It could be a trivial one but it helped significantly. The group has always been a major source of strength for me – both in running and in the subsequent activities that I have undertaken in running – be it organising events, training people for running events, various social work that I have undertaken around running, the group has always been a real pillar of strength. And I am very happy to say that even today, when I am giving a talk here, I have my friends from my group sitting in the audience, who are the major source of strength for me. Has Helen Keller, beautifully says, ‘together we can do so much’. One of the output that most of you in Coimbatore would have seen is the Coimbatore Marathon, which I am proud to be associated with a group of friends. They have been always a source of strength, and the kind of activities that we could achieve has been unparalleled. Each one of them are highly self-motivated and they keep the motivation levels very high of the group.
So, you have an aspiration, you persist with it, you have a group to support, which is a perfect ingredient of success. But, you miss one aspect of it – Humility. No matter what you do, no matter however high you go, you got to keep yourself grounded. Running has certainly taught me how to stay grounded. Early this year, I went ahead and ran the famous Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa. It was a 56 Km run which we have to finish under 7 hours. This is something that I thought I can take it for granted. Here, was I who finished, I ran the ‘occasionally called as the big brother of the Two oceans, the Comrades Marathon – I have finished the race under 12 hours. So, I thought this would be a cake walk for me. Somewhere in the sixth hour, I started cramping and I could not move any further. It was a humbling moment and I realised that there is something that we still cannot do it. It was a different story that I managed to scrape past the time limit to spare. It was truly a humbling moment – whether it was a five Kms or fifty Km or even a five hundred km, you have to respect the distance, the terrain. We need to learn that the external factors that support us or often challenge us and stay humble.
So, that brings me to close about the four major aspects that I feel the I have learnt from running. It helps me to set aspirations, it helped me to persist with my aspirations and be determined to achieve them. I have wonderful bunch of friends to support me in these aspirations; and running always keep me grounded and humble and to look for more. Well, Is that all enough?
Today morning, when I was hearing the talk by Sonal, I realise that running is not just a task I undertake. It is also a privilege I have. The fact that I am able to run, run comfortably is a privilege that I have. The name, the fame, the financial success, of course I didn’t have much through running, whatever it may be that you achieve through running or any activity in life, it all counts for nothing unless you build a single most ingredient – your character. Reputation comes and goes, character is something that stays with you.
I often credit running to help me to build my character. This is not something that I can say that I have learned but something I still continue to learn and I will continue to learn. This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the iconic moment in the world of sports. It was the 1968 Olympics – Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, John Carlos finished in the top-3 positions of the 200m race. Tommie Smith and John Carlos decided to use the opportunity to convey something different. They did not want to cherish the success; they did not want to enjoy the celebration; get a multi million contract, endorsements.. No. They used the opportunity to demonstrate the prevailing injustice among their racial sections of US. They come from the underprivileged Blacks and it was that time when United States were undergoing a lot of discrimination, and there was lot of violence against the blacks. They decided to use the opportunity to protest against all these injustices. They were banned from international sports, they lost the credibility of United States athletic association, which means they could never participate in any race again. They were condemned; they were banned from any sporting activity in any other part of the world. Including Peter Norman, Who stood alongside with them, although he didn’t protest directly. Australian Athletics federation decided to ban him for standing along with these two guys. But, somewhere in them, they really made the statement. They stood up for what they believe in despite what they could have achieved. Incidentally, it’s a very emotional moment when you realise in 2006, when Peter Norman expired, Tommy Smith and John Carlos travelled all the way from United State, to carry the coffin all the way to the grave. In a recent interview, John Carlos said it beautifully what it means to protest. I would like read it out for you,
Running has given me so much. Many times, I am proud to say, it has often taught me what I can be and what I ought to be. Having said that, all of them counts for nothing if ultimately, I don’t build my character. If there is a single most lesson that I would like to learn from running, and constantly learn from running is how I can build my character on the run and transform it off the run.
Having said that, I would like to end my speech by saying that I would like to see each one of you on the run, sooner or later.
Running has introduced me to myriads of people, to whom I would remain forever indebted for the treasures of wisdom that they parted with me, in thought, word and deed. One such person was Raja Marthandan, who at the first sight wasn’t someone I would have looked up to.
In 2010, I was volunteering for the Auroville Marathon 2011 when he appeared in our office. He had come all the way from Chennai and his dreary look certainly didn’t give an impression of someone remotely interested in the event. I nonchalantly handed over a Tamil application form, the only reason being that the form was on my desk unused. He did not possess any mail id or even a phone number, and his other queries made me sceptical about the seriousness of him participating in the event. I was hesitant to take the money for I was not sure if he would really turn up. I further tried to dissuade him by letting him know that the event doesn’t carry any prize money and we communicate only through e-mails.
On the day before event, he appeared late in the evening which only increased by scepticism. I handed his running bib and wished him good luck. He asked me if I can help him with a place to stay that night. Auroville does not have enough ‘affordable’ places for stay and during that year, we stopped arranging for dormitories. Since, I was running the following day, I tried to escape from the scene, and looked up to Anand (as I used to do in times of difficulty!) to handle him. Anand, as ingenious as ever, suggested that he can sleep at the bib distribution centre and take care of our belongings. Despite the ‘poor stay arrangements’, he went on to surprise us the following day by finishing the marathon in 4:20 and thanked us profusely for the help! (For records, I finished the marathon in 4:58).
A year later, he appeared again to register for the 2012 edition of the event. Needless to say, we were equally excited by his decision to participate. The entry fee for the event has been raised from Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 and he didn’t relent either. As he finished the process, I too stepped out of the office along with him to complete another errand. He asked me shyly if I can lend him Rs. 50. He had come from Chennai carrying the exact amount required for the trip and registration. Since the entry fee has gone up by Rs. 100, he fell short of the return fare. I took out the entire entry fee of Rs. 400 and handed over to him saying that he can participate as our guest. He refused the entire amount and took only Rs. 100. The following week, he returned back to pay the Rs. 100.
It stuck me deep inside that it is the money of people like him that we are spending to organise the event and made me feel more responsible towards it. It also made me to retain the entry fee at Rs. 400 as long as I was associated with the event.
In 2013, he appeared at the Chennai marathon expo. He did not register for the event as registrations for the event was only through website. I saw from far that he was hassling with Shahid, the race director, for an entry to the event. I met Shahid seperately, took the liberty to ask for an entry for him and pulled out my wallet to pay for it. On learning his case, he was kind to offer it for free. When I walked up to him and handed over the bib, he was elated but refused to accept it for free. He insisted that he pays for the event (which was quite pricey!) and thrusted the notes in my hand. Doing charitable acts cannot be always taken for granted!
I have not met him since and his appearance in Chennai marathon earlier this month made me feel so happy. Unfortunately for him, he registered for the full marathon and took the wrong turn to be disqualified!
After riding in the 2010 (first edition of the tour), 2015 and 2017 editions of the tour, I registered for the 2018 edition of the Tour themed “Waterfalls”. My personal experience can be summed up the image below!
In addition to riding in the tour, I also ventured to write about the tour for The Hindu – Metro Plus. I was supported immensely by Ganesh Ram whose picture got deservingly featured in the News paper
It is a paradox that in an age of access to bullet trains, expressways, and long haul flights, choosing a bicycle as a means of touring still presents a challenge. There has been many stories of people touring all over the world in a bicycle ever since the first bicycle was invented and yet, many find it difficult to navigate even familiar cities due to issues like safety, weather, road conditions, traffic, on-road support and so on. Despite the advancements in technology and communication, the psychological barriers amongst riders today are more than ever before. In 2010, Tamil Nadu Cycling Club (TCC), a Chennai based not-for-profit organisation started out to organise an annual cycling tour in partnership with The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation. Vasanth Ramaswamy, Secretary TCC and curator of the tour, outlines the objective of the tour as
to promote eco tourism in the state of Tamil Nadu and provide a platform for touring on cycles.
Given the vastness and diversity that the state presents, TCC came up with innovative themes every year to explore different facets of the state. In the first edition, the tour started in Coimbatore with the theme of ‘Mountains’ where the tour offered the riders a chance to explore the three magnificent mountains, Ooty, Yercaud, and Kodaikanal, in their bicycles. The subsequent editions explored themes like heritage sites, cuisines, eastern ghats, forests, western ghats, Nilgiris and wildlife focusing on places that are intricately linked to these themes. This year, the tour was themed ‘Waterfalls’ and covered four of the waterfalls in North-west Tamil Nadu – Hogenekkal, Kiliyur falls in Yercaud, Periyar falls in Kalrayan Hils and Agaiya Gangai in Kolli Hiils. The tours typically start and end at one of the major towns in Tamil Nadu and this time, it was Erode. The intermediate halts over the next seven days were at Hogenekkal, Yercaud, Kallakuruchi and Kolli Hills.
The route for different days are designed to provide a variety in ride experience – flat sections, uphill rides that tests one’s determination, downhill rides that requires good control, headwinds to frustrate and tailwinds to provide much wanted relief. “We avoid National Highways as much as possible as they offer very limited scenic beauty; and most of them are all about speed” says Venkat Venkatadri, one of the key organisers. The first day of this year’s tour was from Erode to Hogenekkal through some of the beautiful roads that posed stiff headwinds, the second day had steep inclines, the third day was a relaxed ride at Yercaud that was all about scenery, the fourth and fifth day posed gentle climbs in Kalrayan Hills, and the toughest one was reserved for the sixth day when riders ascended the Kolli hills. The last day was a ceremonial easy ride back to Erode.
It is inevitable that any cycling tour would instantly evokes comparison to the prestigious Tour de France. Rajaram Pattabiraman, the tour director, quickly dismisses any such comparisons, “This is not a race; it is a tour. It is immaterial whether someone rides fast or slow, entire distance or partially, all days or some days in the tour. We want each participant to enjoy the tour and will offer support and recognition to all riders in the best possible manner.” The participants for the event were from all came from all over the country including few international participants. The riders were from all walks of life, diverse professional backgrounds and all ages. For many, especially those fromother parts of India, it was a new experience to ride through Tamil Nadu in places that they have rarely heard about.
The tour would not be certainly possible but for hours of volunteering work and the extravagant on-road support by the members of TCC. When questions were raised about the sustainability of these tours, Vasanth explains, “We wanted explore the possibility of such tours and break a few inhibitions in the process. Participation in the tours have been largely through word of mouth and thus every rider helps in motivating few others. Over the past 9 years, we have made a repository of route maps, information on hotels that are cycling-friendly, availability of support and others. We have also followed it with feedback from participants. We plan to create a portal and then, make it available for general public. It will then help people design tours as per their convenience and choices.”
It is not always the destination that counts but also the journey. One may not find a small town like Kallakuruchi any romantic but when reached through the Kalrayan hills and breathtaking views of Gomukhi dam, it will be a place to visit. Riding up to hill stations helps one to enjoy every bit of the view from the top and enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Modern day highways bye-passes most of the small towns and links only the major cities. Cycling through small towns helps us in connecting with many wonderful people and institutions. The friendly cheers from the children that accompanies one during the ride makes each of the rider feels like a celebrity. It also offers us a chance to try local cuisine and get a closer look at local customs and traditions. As Eddie Cantor once said, ““Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going to fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
What makes a good running event? Is it the organisers and the arrangements? The city? The objective or the cause for which the event is conducted? All these certainly contribute a long way in enhancing the quality of a running event. Ultimately, it is all about the runners. It is the runners who can make or break the event. A running event is an occasion for everyone to share their special moment that celebrates the efforts put in over days and months together. It is this common objective that binds runners together and make running events one of the finest examples of peaceful congregation. While adhering to the stated rules and regulations of the event is a fundamental requisite, there are some additional steps that runners can take to make the event better for themselves and others who participate in the event.
At the start line:
Most running events have corrals at the start point and runners are grouped based on their past timings. If not, line up yourself in the right position based on your target for the event. Not every one running the event is aiming for the prize positions and hence, need not start at the gun time. Race timing, provided with the help of RFID chip, help in capturing your time from the time you start the event.
If you have a warm-up routine, find a quiet place to exercise without disturbing other runners.
Listen to the instructions of the race officials ahead of the event. If there are any last minute route diversions, it will help you to be aware of it.
On the route:
Your running bibs or numbers must always be pinned to the front of your shirt. This helps in race marshalls to track your progress and respond quickly in case of emergencies. The route is entirely reserved only for runners sporting the running bib.
Follow the directions provided by the race officials as to which side of the road to be used for running. Remember that the road is shared by runners from different events and there needs to be adequate place for everyone. If no instructions is provided, keep to the extreme left of the road.
Avoid overtaking on narrow or crowded roads unless necessary. In such cases, call out to the runner in the front well ahead in advance to make way for you. Also, make sure you leave plenty of room before you move across in front of them.
Do not stop or slow down during the race for any reason. If you would like to stop for taking a walk break, raise your hand to indicate you are slowing down. It helps the runner behind you to Look for the runners behind you and make sure you don’t disturb them. If you would like to communicate to them, raise your hand to indicate that you are stopping.
Do not walk or run in groups of more than two or three. Walking in larger groups obstructs other participants. Also, avoid walking in the middle of the road.
According to the rules of IAAF and many other event organisers ban the use of headphones/earphones. If not mentioned, it is advisable to avoid them. If you still like to use them, keep the volume low so that hear the instructions from officials and runners behind you.
Aid Stations / Water stations
Always choose the farthest point to collect your glass of water/sports drink or any of the refreshments provided. Once collected, leave the station immediately.
If the aid stations look crowded, wait for your turn to pick up your requirements. Use the time to relax and recharge yourself.
Try to use the waste bins to dispose the cups or other waste. It helps to keep the route clean for other runners as well as the city post event.
Thank the volunteers, for it makes the experience pleasant for everyone involved.
Finish line / Finish area
Once you finish the race, do not stop immediately. Keep walking till you bring your body to normal heart rate.
Crowding at finish area must be avoided as it affects the functioning of race officials and medical teams to handle emergency. Once you cross the finish area, do not visit the area again as it also affects your event timing.
Most finish areas are designed for unitary flow of the crowd. Follow the directions provided at the venue for breakfast, medals and exit.
In case you find someone in trouble, call out the nearest volunteer and inform them. Do not try to attend them on your own (unless you are trained for it) or offer them any assistance. Volunteers are generally briefed on how to handle emergency and they can get in action quickly.
Adhere to advice of volunteers and medical personnel when asked to quit the event.
Running events are the perfect avenues to celebrate human spirit of oneness and the joy of coming together. It can only get better if each help others and everyone runs together. Make the event special for you and for everyone.
An interesting information that I came across recently was that of the first lady to go across the world in a bicycle learning to ride it only two weeks before the trip. As apocryphal as it may sound, I refused to verify the authenticity for I loved the sheer audaciousness that the story carried with it. Not everything that is achieved need to be premediated or planned; somethings can always happen by chance. With little over a month to go for Coimbatore Marathon, why not a running or walking a 5K happen to you even if it was not one of the resolutions for 2018? Fancy it, read further Let’s begin with a caveat. Your health is of utmost importance. Running is not a panacea for any existing ailments or complications. If you have been advised against walking or running by a medical practitioner or suffer from medical ailment which can be made worse by running or walking, adhere to the advise of your medical practitioner and seek their inputs. If cleared by your doctor, here’s a crash course to get your going in the next one month to participate in the Coimbatore Marathon. Register for the event. Registrations for the event close by September 7th and it is advisable to register early to avoid disappointment. Also, by registering, your resolution gets even stronger with the financial commitment in place. Sleep early and rise early. The most difficult distance to cover is often the distance from your bed to the shoe rack. It is always best to choose mornings over evenings, especially when you begin to run. The freshness of morning air easily gets you going. Running in the evening is often difficult due to vehicle movements, pollution, tired days, which require additional motivation to get started. The initial few days may present new challenges like feeling drowsy during morning hours and it is usually matter of time to get over it. Get your friends and family on board Reach out to your friends and family and rope them in your adventure. The best, almost certainly, doesn’t come alone. If you do not find any, there are always Coimbatore Runners with whom you can give a start. It is perfectly fine to start and finish your run with them, even if you cannot adhere to their training programs. Download an app If you have a smart phone, download one of the many apps that are available today to help you keep record of distance, time and maintain a diary of activities. Many of them are simple yet addictive, and possibly help you in encouraging yourself. Should you prefer peace over complexities, you can still go with your simple notebook. Well begun is half-done. The actual act of running or walking is definitely not a rocket science by any means. It is all about placing one foot after another and repeating them, till you feel like stopping. Take it easy and never exert any pressure beyond what you are able to. Do not get into running to prove anything to anyone. The journey is a reward by itself as you will soon find out. Baby Steps – Take small steps each day and progress gradually. You are your own judge of your capabilities. If it is 1 Km on day, do not rush to 2 Km or 3 Km on the next day. Just increase it by 100m on the next day and see how you feel about it. Similarly, do not try running the distance all out in a single stretch. Alternate running and walking and slowly increase the proportion of running. Reward yourself – The race day brings in its own set of entitlements that you will make your run unforgettable. Then, there is nothing stopping you in rewarding yourself. A new apparel for the first five days of training or a new gadget for accomplishing a certain distance is not a bad idea to start with. Look forward with excitement. Do not see the event as an examination but as a celebration of your effort over the next one month. Attending the pre-race event expo is another experience by itself, where you get a chance to meet runners in plain clothes and listen to their extraordinary stories. No matter the time of your finish, when you cross the finish line, each one of you will be a winner with a lovely medal that will have stories of one lifetime. Finally, participation in Coimbatore Marathon should only be a beginning in bringing in a new life style. The last minute preparations for school or college examinations often make us miss the flower for the fruit. The real joy in running is not about the participation in one event but making it a habit. The event certainly acts as a catalyst to set the new lifestyle. As Ajay Varma, finisher of the 89-Km Comrades Marathon in 2017, says, “My running started with the Coimbatore Marathon in 2013. I had registered for the 5K and in fact, tried to prepare for the event only the evening before. I had not looked back since.”
Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.
– widely attributed to Anton Chekov
Sports persons are often unfairly judged on what they do for few minutes on the event day, ignoring the hours of drudgery of their routine training that consumes most of their lives. In long distance running, while achievements like running a marathon or a half is widely celebrated, the simple act of getting up every morning and stepping out is rarely appreciated. It is for no reason that runners consider the distance between their bed and shoe rack as the most difficult distance to accomplish! Tanvir Kazmi, a renowned recreational long distance runner who has inspired many runners through his blog as well as being one of the finishers of the Comrades Marathon in 2010, found that many of the his fellow runners disappear soon after an event or two, especially during the summer months. Further, when they return back they are down with some injury or other. In 2014, he came up with a simple proposition – run a minimum of two Kms everyday for 100 days.
“It was a new experience for me too. There were tired days at work, travel, vacations and reasons aplenty to excuse oneself. This was a test of will power and I wanted to first try it on myself.”
says Tanvir, whose idea has now spread across India.
Started formally in 2015, the 100 Days of Running has attracted people from places all over India. The idea is simple – run everyday, minimum of 2K and no pressure on timing or pace.The number of participants have gone up from 48 in 2015 to over 10,000 this year with at least 25% of them running all the 100 days. Coimbatore has its own champions – 15 of them went on to finish all the 100 days and we hear from some of them about their experiences.
Arunan Thlagavathi, 29 Arunan made his first attempt to run 100 days in 2017. However, it has to do be discontinued due to personal exigencies. This year, he was even more determined to finish and challenges at his work did not deter him from completing the 100 days. On asked about the most difficult days among the 100, he said, “One of the days, I had to report to work very early and could return back only at 11:00 PM. I realised that it is impossible to go home, change and go for a run. I asked my friend to drop me 2 Kms before home and I ran to home in formal clothes to ensure that I complete the distance for that day.”
Venkatesan R., 70 Venkatesan started running with the Porur Racers, a running group based out of Chennai. He extensively credits the group for getting him to challenge himself through running. He found running to be the perfect way to keep himself active as well as healthy post his retirement. “In Coimbatore, running with the Sai Baba Colony runners helped me to complete this challenge with ease. I was also moved by their nice gesture to honour me on the final day.” says Venkatesan. On asked about the most difficult days, he humbly commented, “Luckily, I am retired and don’t have any work pressures. The only commitment that I have is attending weddings and on those days, I have to be up early and finish my runs before honouring them.”
Manju Viswananthan, 39 For Manju, the 100 days challenge presented a transition from a walker to a runner. She started doing morning walks for keeping good health and found this challenge intriguing. It was her group U2 which brought her into this challenge. “Initially there were a lot of apprehensions on what it means for someone who has never been into sports to take up running. Once started, there was no looking back.” says Manju who found plenty of encouragement from the fellow runners in Sai Baba Colony. “There were days when I stepped out at 9:00 PM to go for a run and wondered what people would think of me. Once, you get over that fear, no distance, be it in running or life, is difficult to conquer,” says Manju, who has since gone on to finish a few 10K races during the 100 days.
Prof. Suriyaprakash C, 50 Suriya has been a regular runner for a while but his travel commitments often presented him with a challenge to keep up with his running schedules. He found the 100 Days of Running as the best way to force himself into discipling himself towards regular running. Despite his travel schedule, ranging from monsoon drenched Mumbai to hot climes of Pondicherry, he ensured that he kept up his running schedule. The biggest challenge was left to the higher altitudes. “I had already planned for a trip to Kailas-Mansarovar during this time period and it was a real challenge to run in the higher altitudes beyond 4000 metres. The serene atmosphere helped me though,” says Suriya who believes that running should be integral part of everyone’s life.
Senthil Kumar, 48 Senthil started running about two years back for fitness and had simple targets initially. He was always of the misconception that running will hurt his knees and never ran beyond 100 Kms per month. Joining the Coimbatore Runners at CODISSA was a turning point as they constantly encouraged him towards new goals. “The 100 run target was daunting initially but I thought it’s the best way to clock up miles in the process,” says Senthil who has run an incredible 1350 Kms in the process, highest among other finishers in Coimbatore. He is now raring to get more runners to take up this challenge next year.
Gayathri Babu, 42 A couch potato till 2016 – medical ailments forced her to quit her job and she started focusing her efforts in getting active. The first 500m of walk was herculean, to say the least. Her journey from counting tubes of pain relieving ointments ointments to counting miles is an inspiring story by itself. She was determined in her efforts and transitioned her walks to run in January 2018. Support from her family, doctors and fellow runners have been indispensable. “We are always evaluated by comparing oneself with others. Running helped me to focus on myself and get better every day. The icing on the cake was getting my first ever medal, that too at an age of 42, is certainly something that I would cherish.” says Gayathri, who is gearing up for a long run!
These are stories of few and there are many more who have gone on to make running a way of life.
Mornings in August aren’t the same in Coimbatore. The pleasant weather, with an air of chillness emanating from the western ghats recently washed by the south west monsoon rains, is something to cherish and relish. While for some, it implies another hour of extra rest; for others, it is an opportunity to go for a morning walk or run, possibly followed by a hot cup of tea or coffee at one of their favourite joints. The Coimbatore Marathon, organised on the first Sunday of October over the past 5 years, has presented a perfect reason for people to step out and train for the event during this period. One cannot miss the bright red shirts of Coimbatore Marathon when going for a walk down the race course road, Codissia road or at Sai Baba colony.
Apart from being instrumental in organising the event, Coimbatore Runners, a voluntary group of recreational runners, also take the additional step of organising training runs for runners interested in participating in the 10K or 5K event. Their “Couch to 5K” program is widely popular with runners, who initially joined out of curiosity only to go on become regular runners, with some even finishing marathons. Uma Palaniappan and her husband, Palaniappan Annamalai are one such example.
Uma and Palani joined the couch to 5K training program during the 2014 edition of Coimbatore marathon. Although regular walkers and practice yoga, both had very little background in sports which kept them away from running. They joined the group only to find that they actually run the 10K distance. Subsequently, in 2015, they participated in the Annur Half Marathon, where Uma was among the top 3 finishers in women’s veteran category. “The biggest prize that I have received in running are the wonderful friends who constantly encourage me to find my best,” says Uma. In 2015, both ran their first full marathon in Bangalore and it capped a fine transition of them to a complete runners. “I feel proud to say that we are able to set a good example for our daughter and son to take up active life,” says Palaniappan.
For Manjunath H.V., it was not only a change of lifestyle that prompted him for running, but also a change of place. After moving from Chennai to Coimbatore in 2012, it was difficult for him to settle down in a new place. Inspired by his colleague, he took up to running during the first edition of the Coimbatore marathon. “Running helped me find new friends and helped in settling down in Coimbatore, in addition to relieving stress and improving fitness” says Manjunath, who is now a runner and cyclist. He has since completed many full marathons and long cycling rides, including the 200K Brevets. His personal bests are always running with the group more than the solo runs. “In group, there is always someone to converse with, in various languages and topics, and you rarely get tired of running, irrespective of the distance,” says Manju
In 2016, Sudheer Elenkath and his wife Rani Sudheer had registered for the 5K event and had plans only to walk the distance. On hearing about training runs, they wanted to just check it out on the way to some other work. “On the first day, we covered the 2.5K around race course and actually ran some of the distance. We couldn’t believe that we can actually run!” says Sudheer who along with his wife has gone on to run the 10K in 2017 and now getting ready for the half-marathon. “Running is like a meditation. It helped us gain lot of confidence, meet diverse people and we are highly motivated to do more” says Rani from her experience in running with the group for the past two years.
Coimbatore runners organise these training runs voluntarily. “The only investment we seek from runners is their time and commitment. Our objective is to make sure that runners finish the event strongly and cherish the moments, and of course, the breakfast” says Ramesh Ponnuswami, co-founder of Coimbatore Runners and also the Race Director of Coimbatore Marathon. The training runs are oriented towards helping runners to achieve his/her potential. “We do not push the runners to run in any speed. Everyone run in their own pace making marginal improvements all the time. The group is full of enthusiasm and we have extended our activities to strength training sessions to help us run injury free,” says Karthikeyan P, co-founder of the group, who leads the training runs in Sai Baba Colony.
Running is an education by itself; One can never know it all or know less of it. For each, the learning is different and it is best to experience one self. Training with the group helps in facilitating this learning. The sharing of information and personal experiences with each other helps in improving oneself in running as well as life. Pull out that shoes and head towards the door before the day breaks.
Race Course Road – In front of Income Tax Office
Coidissia – Outside Jenny’s Club on the road leading to Codissia
Sai Baba Colony – Children’s park, opposite BSNL on Alagesan road
GV Residency – Outside the Vinayagar Temple
Saravanampatti – Outside Lisieux CMI Public School, Sahara City, Saravanampatty,
The Two Oceans Marathon is one of the unique and popular marathons in the world. To begin with, it is more than a marathon – 56 Km in distance; and the attraction of the event is not on the difficulty of accomplishing the distance but on the beautiful scenic route. As is the norm in South Africa with most running events, they are stringent about the cut-off time for finishers – 7 hours from the gun shot and not a second more, which makes the event a challenging one too. Started in 1970 as a training run for the Comrades Marathon, it soon entered the marathon calendar of South Africa and became one of the most popular events in the world, with over 11,000 participants registering within the first two days of opening the registrations for this year’s edition. Organised every year during the Easter Weekend, the event was later expanded to include a half-marathon race, an international friendship run, trail runs, kids run and so on – there’s an event for everyone in the family – attracting over 35,000 runners from all over the world. In 2018, the event was held on March 31st and I happened to be one of the participants.
I arrived at Cape Town on March 28th in the backdrop of the acute water shortage that the city was then facing. Few minutes after my arrival, dark clouds gathered from nowhere and I was welcomed with thunderstorms and heavy rains that the city most wanted. My host was stunned at the instant impact that I had on the city. Needless to say that the runners can claim some credit for that and the rains during the next two days. Considering the situation, the organisers had taken steps to ensure that the event does utilise any water from the city’s water resources and sought the assistance of runners to be mindful about the wastage of water. Runners were even asked to carry their own hydration packs that can be refilled in specified points.
My running weekend started with a visit to the Marathon Expo on March 29th. The routine affair of collecting the running bibs for both the marathon and the international friendship run, followed by window surfing of some of the irresistible products designed for runners that different brands have showcased in the expo – from alternatives to safety pins to clothing to shoes and what not! It was also an opportunity to meet runners from different parts of the world. The expo also featured talks by eminent runners including those with ‘Blue numbers’ – an honour for those completing 10 Two Oceans marathon. There were legendary runners who have done it even forty times! The only sore point of the expo were the super long queues leading the bib collection. The bibs were printed at the expo and it had some techinical glitches.
Also for non-profits
Awareness on Trash
Fancy personalising your shirt?
The International Runners counter
Nice venue for Talk Shows
The other important activitiy of the day was the scheduled visit to Robben Island. I had the romantic dream of re-creating this scene from the movie Invictus, where Matt Damon, playing the role of Francois Piennar, would visit the Robben Island ahead of the final game. He would stand inside the prison and visualise Morgan Freedman, playing the role of Madiba, reading the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley. You wouldn’t need to get inspired anymore than watching it again.
The best laid plans often go cropper and this was no different. The rains, that looked good the previous day, was translated into bad weather on this day and the boat trips to Robben Island stood cancelled. I checked with them if I can change the dates to the day after the marathon but there were no bookings available. I was quite devastated about the miss and walked around the museam for a while. There was this beautiful quote from Madiba that cought my eyes.
After being robbed twenty seven years of his life, Madiba, just wanted that no one else suffers the same fate as him. This wasn’t just an act of forgiveness but the firm belief he had in freedom and rights of an individual. At a time, when my fellow citizens calls every individual who disagrees with the government of the day as anti-national, this was refreshing to read.
The International Friendship run on March 30th was certainly an unique feature for this event. Attended by people from different countries all over the world, with Germany, United Kingdom and Brazil having the highest number of participants. The organisers had thoughtfully arranged flags of all the countries. On finding that no has yet picked up the Indian flag, I grabbed the chance to carry the Tricolour. It was a 6 Km run through the beautiful promenade of Cape Town. Every country was cheered and welcomed by the spectators, including Aussies, whose cricketers had an uneventful time a week earlier at Cape Town. I did my best to sledge an Aussie who had his hands in his pockets when I enquired if his name was Cameron, David, or Stevie! At times, it looked like the best way to test one’s knowledge about flags of different countries.
I certainly had my moments of entertainment. Everytime someone gives me a shout for coming from India, I responded by saying, ‘My second name is not Gupta’ leading to some hiliarity. Running with a German family of runners was really special and it must be noted that they really had a good sense of humour! Somewhere, I felt that events like these bring people of different countries together more easily than the high powered summits attended by heads of state which invariably causes discomfort to the public of hosting cities.
Posing for a cover image
The German Family of Runners
A DJ from Namibia
On the run
On March 31st, the two major events of the weekend were flagged off. The first of them was the Half-marathon participated by 16,000 runners at 5:50 AM followed by the main event, the Ultra Marathon at 6:30 AM. It looked like the organisers wanted the runners enjoy the route in the best possible way during broad daylight. To run in the main event, every runner must have run at least one marathon within 5 hours to be eligible for participation. This ensured that runners are aware of running etiquettes and respect each other, which is critical for smooth start of the run as well as running through narrow roads at many sections. There was not a minute during the seven hours when I could feel lonely in the course and yet not feel my way blocked by another runner.
The initial 30 Kms were fairly flat terrain where the only challenge was to conserve the energy for the second half of the run. The route takes us all the way towards East where one gets a chance to run alongside the Indian Ocean glistened by the morning sun. The routes goes through the suburbs of Cape Town, where the residents come out in big numbers to cheer the participants. It was from the 29th Km that the gradual ascend begins towards the Chapman’s Peak, where the English explorer John Chapman landed in South Africa. Situated at the coast of Atlantic Ocean, the road leading to the peak provides us with breathtaking views of the Ocean. Ideally, one would wish that the run ended here. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and one can even say that the real run began there!
After reaching the top of the peak, a downhill run followed by a relatively flat terrain takes us close to the marathon distance. Things were going as planned until then – First 27k in 3 hours and the marathon in 5 hours. Now, all that I need to do is do the rest 14K in 2 hours, which looked plausible. It was difficult to observe the contours as the focus was on the time and the distance to be covered. There were few inclines and downward slopes. At about 46 Km, the next challenge was in store – a steep climb for couple of Kms followed by a steep downhill. This is the place where the race is won or lost for the lead pack and for the rest, it was a matter of hit or miss.
At this stage, I feared that I might miss out the cut-off mark as I had started facing muscle cramps in my legs. My legs refused to move any further and it looked like it was all but over for me. While I knew that I will recover from cramps and complete the course somehow, the time limit was hanging straight over my head. It took me about 28 minutes to cover 3K at this stage, and finish was looking a distant dream. My confidence was also further shattered with very little hopes for the distance ahead. I spotted a runner with blue bib and asked him if I still have a chance to finish under the time limit. He suggested that if I can keep running, I am sure to finish – That was encouraging. I started counting the loss in case I miss the cut-off. I consoled myself by saying that I can offset this loss with my miraculous finish at Comrades. Then, I had paid a significant money for getting the medal embossed, and I am not sure of the medal. This seems to hurt me more.
The next 3K was all down hill and I focused on getting back my rythm. The route took us through some of the green cover of Cape Town offering the much wanted cool shade when the Sun was rising over our heads. The theme for the event was “Run as One” and it was certainly implanted in the spirit of each runner. Seeing me struggle with cramps, one of the runners stopped to offer salt tablets. I had my gels and wasn’t sure how salt tablets would react with it in my stomach. I was joined by an Aussie runner in what I would call as the mission impossible, and we kept encouraging each other with undying hopes. The uncertainty persisted all the way until I saw the last Km board. I looked was finally convinced that I can really make it to the finish line. I entered the University grounds and the crowd made sure that they celebrate in each one of our finishes. With 64 seconds to spare, I finished the race filled with thanks to my fellow runners and the wonderful Capetonians for what I am convinced as the “World’s Most Beautiful Race.”
On my way back, I watched the movie 89, produced by Amy Lawrence. It was a movie about the famous English Football League match between Liverpool and Arsenal that happened on May 26, 1989. The winner of the match and the league were decided in the final minutes. The match also inspired Nick Hornby to write the memoirs in the best seller, ‘The Fever Pitch.’
When asked to recollect the memories of that match, George Graham, the gaffer, said,
“Isn’t lovely to have moments in your life where you think …Nothing to beat that”
Not once, but twice; I was lucky to have such moments.
A new year brings in new beginnings, at least a new calendar to start with; unless you have preserved the 2007 calendar and choose to re-use it! Every New Year also opens a new set of resolutions which mostly gets buried even before the end of January. Many end up resolving not to take New Year resolutions, only to break it in the following year. Whatever may be the past, a beginning has to be made somewhere and a new year certainly gives us an opportunity to try something new; something better than the previous year.
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind is an old adage and worth recollecting, when we have to choose among multitude of resolutions. Invariably, it will be the most fundamental requisite for any other resolution that we undertake in the New Year. My recommendation towards a healthy body is to take up running as a regular routine for the upcoming year. Running is the simplest, easiest and least expensive fitness activity among various other choices. Over the past decade, no other fitness activity – gymnasiums, yoga centres, boot camps, zumba etc, – has found acceptance as much as running and the reasons are fairly obvious. Here are some of my tips to get you started!
Start Walking – No one starts running from the very first day or the very first minute. Start walking and ask yourself ‘why walk when I can run?’ It would be only a matter of time when your feet starts running, and soon flying! It is absolutely not necessary that you have to see through the distance or time purely by running. Walking is also a pleasure; if not more than running.
Time or Distance – Set yourself simple goals, either on the basis of time or on the basis of distance and gradually increase the targets. Ideally, running (with interspersed walking) for an hour or 5 Km should be a perfect and reasonable target to start with. Once achieved, don’t rush too soon to the next target. The rate of success that one achieves in early days doesn’t get replicated in later days.
Join a Running Club – Nothing motivates you more than joining a group of like minded fellow runners. It has been a decade since I have been part of some running club or other and I can vouch for the support that the running clubs provided me in running, and even beyond it. Most running clubs are egalitarian in nature and are open to new and old runners alike regardless of one’s personal traits.
Sign up for an event – Signing up for a running event invariably evokes memories of examinations of school/college days. Nevertheless, it is one great way to set a target and move towards it. No matter the distance or time, you will be a winner when you finish and rewarded suitably. If you are in Coimbatore, I would suggest you to run the Coimbatore Marathon on the first Sunday of October every year (the author is a member of the organising team). The only sore point is the ‘post-exam-style’ discussions on your timing, which is best avoided.
Maintain a diary – A simple diary of activities is often the best way to keep you motivated. Start with a basic spreadsheet with date in Column A and just a word – ‘Running’ or ‘ Walking’ or ‘Others’ – in Column B to indicate your accomplishment on that day. You will soon find that scanning the sheet alone would motivate you for the following day(s). Personally, I started doing it back in 2005 and over the last 13 years, it is not an exaggeration to say that one can read my life through it. Unfortunately, it became too complicated in recent years which prevent me from sharing it.
Social media – If you are on social media, there are plenty of runners who do wonderful posts that would be a great motivation for you to run. Their everyday runs, tips, experience, photographs and links to other resources help you in retaining motivation during the day. However, caution needs to be exercised in not getting dragged into the commercial sides of the so-called “influencers” or into the political and religious ideologies of these runners.
Reward yourself – Rewards could be as simple as a sumptuous breakfast in your favourite restaurant after a Sunday morning run (ignore the calorie intakes, which often is more than the calories lost while running!). Buying yourself new attire, shoes, gadgets or planning a running-vacation, where you sign up for a running event in an exotic location and combine your vacation can be other choices as you take further steps.
I have consciously left out discussions on complex issues like getting a right shoe, attire, nutrition, strength training, cross training, stretching and many others that are associated with running at different levels. Although critical and necessary at some point of time, they are certain not to prohibit you from getting started or preventing you from running. The key is to get started and it is still simple and easy to do so.
The benefits from running differs from individual and for some, it has even helped them to stay off medication from lifestyle diseases. It is best left to the individual to find out what benefits he/she derives from the exercise. Never mind the incidental benefits, one is sure to just start running for the joy of it. The journey by itself is a reward. Let’s take the first step!
An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus (Coimbatore Edition). – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/how-to-stick-to-your-new-year-resolution-to-run/article22266386.ece