It all started with a casual conversation during May 2009. VPS and Shahid had then started a “Chapter” of Chennai Runners; morning runs were started at MCC, Chetpet during weekdays, in addition to the ‘home ground’ at Alwarpet. A new runner had started running with them. A regular walker until the age of 64, he had taken up to running with much apprehensions. To make him feel comfortable, VPS suggested to me to post a note on the Chennai Runners Google Groups to encourage him. I sent out a casual response to his mail on the group, completely unaware of whom I was trying to encourage
Good one sir! Mails like these make me have second thoughts about bunking the next day’s run! Keep going on and on!
Eight years have gone since that conversation and little did I realise then, that it was a beginning of a special relationship. It is certainly an understatement to say Venugopalan or Venu Sir, as we affectionately called him, has been an inspiration and a pillar of support for many initiatives by Chennai Runners over the past eight years. There wouldn’t be many runners, young and old alike, in Chennai who had not been touched by his warmth and kindness. During the days when the google group was active, he contributed immensely, and his mails were a treasure of knowledge – well researched scientifically and also from his experience, as he constantly experimented with his running.
In July 2009, he was a participant in the ECR Run, which I happened to anchor on behalf of the Chennai Runners.
His kind words following the event certainly helped us to set the vision for the future,
the ECR event was very successful mainly because the entire core group of Chennai Runners (the International Marathoners) were in the centre of organising the event. We all SALUTE you for your selfless service. You are on your way to make ECR runs count at International level.
Since then, he has been part of the events organised by Chennai Runners, as a runner, volunteer, and as well as Pacer. In 2014, I was assigned the task of finding pacers for Chennai Marathon for both the marathon and half-marathon categories. I wished to make the 6-hour bus driven by inspirational runners, which would give the event a grandstand finish. I hesitantly requested Venu Sir, as he was in best of his running form and a potential winner in veteran category of the full marathon. He always prioritised the cause of encouraging runners and gladly accepted the offer. Along with Arun Krishnan and Hariharan, they formed what I would call as one of the best pacing teams ever. The picture at the finish line would stay in my memory for years!
In 2016, I invited him to address the STAR Runners and he gladly accepted to do so. We had then introduced a new format of the program. His presence and encouragement to runners was a great support for our initiative.
His experiments in running are an example for anyone and everyone to emulate. He ran his first marathon at Auroville in 2011. I too participated in the event was totally exhausted at the 40th Km. It was there I saw a determined Venu Sir overtaking me and pushing me hard to the finish. From 4:55 in that event, he improved his timings for full marathon to 4:05 in Chennai Marathon 2013 and repeated it a month later at Mumbai in January 2014 with the same timing. He further went to finish at the top the runners above 70 years at Mumbai Marathon in January 2015.
He was never obsessed over podium finishes or prizes. His timings could have helped him secure a place in Boston marathon but he wasn’t fascinated by it. His disciplined approach to running, coupled with his ocean of knowledge on the subject kept him motivated to continue running. He always had kind words of encouragement for those who took up to activities related to running, be it organising or writing about it. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this blog owes its existence to him, as he was one of the regular readers and the highest contributor in terms of comments.
It is tough to admit that he would not be with us anymore. Over the past 177 days of running, I am sure every Chennai Runner has met him at least once and had the joy of being wished by him. The roads of Chennai is certain to be poorer without his presence in the morning. There would be a void which is almost impossible to fill in. As the running movement in Chennai gains from strength to strength, one man has certainly played his role and left behind memories for everyone to look back and reflect.
Personally, I am indebted to him for the multitude of interactions and the support towards every endeavour of mine – running, organising, writing, or the STAR Runners initiative. His response to my very first mail sets out his expectations from me, which I hope to live up to in his memory!
I am honoured by your kind encouragement. I have great admiration for you and I value your raw enthusiasm, I can almost feel it though we have never met. You have a very long innings to play in bringing running as a way of life in India.