Monthly Archives: September 2016

‘#They INSpire’: A marathon read of extraordinary souls

Every person certainly has a story behind them which can often be crafted into a book or a movie. It especially turns into an enthralling one when the protagonist has battled several odds and resurfaced with a new identity altogether. It’s a sort of metamorphosis on a physical, emotional and psychological level which makes it seem like a reincarnation during the same lifetime.  It thereby results in a journey by itself, enough to intrigue and inspire other fellow humans to take up challenges and go beyond their comfort zones.

Such is often the story of sportspersons especially those of runners who have an intriguing story behind those confident and majestic strides. ‘#They INSpire’ authored by Lt Cdr Bijay Nair (Retd), also one of the admin of the largest running community called Mumbai Road Runners, takes the readers through an incredible marathon journey of 42 runners who share their stories from being ordinary to extraordinary individuals while displaying their humbling and stirring feats.

The book starts off as a tribute to runners which explains the several sacrifices that they have to make while pursuing their passion while juggling between their professional and family commitments. A special mention is dedicated to women runners who have pursued running seriously amidst those flurry of several roles that is required of them.

The following chapters takes one through a Q and A format with these incredible beings who describe on how they embarked the journey with running, their goals, favourite quotes and enriching tips for upcoming runners. It is fascinating to note the sheer joy that each of these runners exhibit while narrating their experiences and making their transformational experience quite apparent. Spread over diverse backgrounds and age groups from corporate professionals, army, sports backgrounds to gold jewellery polishers, it was absorbing to read about their setbacks ranging from loss of a loved one, financial constraints, loss of vision and a leg. Yet their spirits remain undeterred as they have defied age and conceptualized the saying ‘It’s never too late to start anything’ nor have they mulled over regrets of not having started earlier. Some have even turned into full time coaches and motivational speakers, as a means to create a difference to others’ lives.

Written in a simplistic yet impactful style, Nair weaves his stories like a continuous thread that takes you through the marathon journey encountering several individuals which makes it a riveting learning experience. The book is bound to appeal to the running community largely. However its element of the inspirational dose of defying odds will find its way through the hearts of non-runners as well who will be compelled enough to take to fitness in a large manner if they haven’t laced up  already to hit the roads with a vengeance.

‘#They INSpire’ is not a book. It’s a journey interspersed with the philosophy of being a good runner and most importantly a good human being. The sensibilities shared by these experienced individuals will force every runner to reflect on their respective journeys and retrace their thought processes as to why they decided to venture into one of oldest sports that required bare minimum essentials in the first place.  In this fast paced world which is gripped by the phenomena of ‘too fast too soon’ at an alarming rate, the happiness and contentment exhibited by these individuals come across as a breath of fresh air.

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Publisher: The Write Place

Price: Rs 250

 

On Cloud 9-9 km 9 days 9 colours- My Navrun Experience

Navrun-A unique concept by the Mumbai road runners which introduced a novel way of celebrating Navratri. 9 days, 9 colours and running 9 km every one of those 9 days was our runners way of basking in the festivities. 2015 was my first tryst with this novel concept and it was lots of fun, adorning those resplendent colours and sharing your updates on social media. Befriended quite a number of people in the process. Reminiscing the entire journey as I gear up for Navrun 3.0 this year. Thank you Bijay Nair. 
81 km in 9 days?? That sounded like running an ultra-marathon only difference being that this distance was spread over a generous 9 days. What was I thinking when I accepted this challenge by my runners group? Mumbai Road runners (MRR) the group with whom I run 21 km every 1st Sunday of the month, came up with this fun initiative called ‘Navrun’ during Navratri.
While several people fasted and did their religious rituals-the only religion we runners know and follow is running. So why not run 9 km for those 9 days wearing 9 different colour t shirts akin to Navratri? An interesting concept albeit a challenging one undoubtedly.
Being mostly a half marathoner, with only 1 full marathon to my credit, I was wondering how to go about this daunting task. But my mind was made up as I clicked on the ‘going’ button of the event page feeling determined to test my endurance levels.
My first step was to assemble the 9 different coloured T shirts prescribed for those 9 days. The second was to set up a running app and record the distance and time as a proof of the run. I also set up the photo grid app as each of the participant had to post their photo along with the distance everyday on the event page. The eve of Navratri had arrived. I could barely sleep just thinking about the excitement that was awaiting me for the next 9 days.
The first day dawned nice and bright pertaining to the colour of the day-red. This bright shade exuded energy and positivity which was displayed in my running form as I cracked 10 km in an hours’ time. Not a bad start at all. Day 1 of ‘Navran’ was completed successfully. Being someone who isn’t comfortable with selfies, the hardest part of this entire challenge was finding someone to take your picture post the run. But the humble request accompanied with a sweet smile worked wonders as people willingly obliged. I instantly uploaded the photo with my distance and time on the event page. It received a tremendous response which was completely unexpected and that’s probably what made it overwhelming.
Day 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 went by successfully and I had run 54 km so far. Each of these colours reflected the particular state of mind which influenced that particular day’s energy levels with regards to my run. Ink blue made me feel royal as I conquered the road feeling like a queen. Yellow made me feel as though I possessed the sun’s rays and my body felt like a grid harnessing solar power as my energy levels were spiked for some reason that particular day as I clocked 9 km in 53 mins. Green made me feel like one amidst nature basking in the glory of the environment and surroundings. Grey was a colour that reflected my mood to that of a sober one allowing that little imp of a self-doubt to creep into my brain for a short while only to be banished as I sported an orange T shirt the next day.
Everyday my posts would be received with encouragement and cheer from my friends. It was amazing how everyone shared your journey in their own special way, and encouraged you to complete this challenge with gusto. The last 3 days of Navran were left. By now energy levels for some reason were still high and the positive comments and feedback seemed to spike them up even more, giving some stiff competition to Gatorade and Enerzal.
The colour white on day 7 awakened my inner peace and incidentally its a colour I identify with as my name ‘Sweth’ indicates the same. Day 8 saw me in the ‘pink’ of health literally as I adorned a pink shirt during my strides. Day 9 depicted a lot of clarity in thought just like the clear skies on a spring money.  Clad in a blue t shirt, I finished the last stretch of Navrun successfully with a huge smile on my face.
Was it relief, joy, elation or a sense of accomplishment?? I couldn’t tell. Maybe a cocktail of all these emotions as I actually felt the runner’s high to an extent that could probably put 9 glasses of beer to shame.
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Now the fun part of this entire journey was getting to see fellow runner participants post their photos, cheering and encouraging them to get through these 9 days. Most of them were veterans and seniors yet their enthusiasm levels were as contagious as that of a child’s. Deriving inspiration from such fun loving beings was one of the factors that kept me going during this festive season. Did I ever feel like giving up? Not once. I realized that once you set your goal, you sort of found your purpose even if it was for a short term, which makes you feel alive as you welcome each day with a new found zest. The runner in me continued to feel alive, despite the humidity levels and despite the fact that my work as a journalist doubled up with the number of personalities I had to interview that month. Each day was a challenge by itself but something in the air kept that positive spirit and the never say die attitude in me.
I realized that every stride was accompanied with the feeling of elation and these 9 days enabled me to discover why I enjoyed running so much. The free spirit in me thrived on this limitless bountiful journey that Navrun capitalised on, allowing me to actually embrace this beautiful gift called life. Do I feel drained? Far from it. In fact I now know what it is like to be on cloud 9!! And the journey continues….

Learning on the run -The Bhumi India Run experience

September 11th,2016

There are times when you run for your personal best, probably a podium finish or on a tough terrain to move out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do something remarkable. However there are instances when you set aside your personal aspirations and decide to make a difference with your strides, where you end up learning something that humbles you as a person.

The Bhumi India run held at Bandra Fort this morning was one such event which was devoid of any timing chip and runners came together to run for a cause- raising funds for supporting education for underprivileged kids. When runner friend Bhavana Diyora invited me to be a part of this run, I gladly obliged. Incidentally, it also turned out to be an educational experience for me as a runner and a person.

It was a 10 k run and I had decided to go easy on this one, considering that I had been racing non-stop for the last 4 weekends.  The route took us through the scenic side of carter road, where we were treated to a splendid sight of the rocks and the pristine blue Arabian Sea on the left. On the right, we passed the luxurious Taj Lands end Hotel and super star Shahrukh Khan’s bungalow called Mannat usually thronged by the fans of the actor. It reminded me of the movie ‘Fan’ which I had recently watched on television. However not being a ‘jabra fan’, I didn’t care to stop to spread my arms and gaze in a starry eyed manner at this mansion.  I chose to focus on my strides instead.

It was a similar route of the IDBI federal Mumbai half marathon promo run which was held sometime in April this year. It brought back some fun memories as I recollected those friendly shouts to fellow runners across the road. The Bhumi India run had volunteers present at every nook and corner. They guided runners on the right track, clapping, cheering and ensuring that the vehicles do not cross our paths. There was a certain amount of traffic that morning due to the Mount Mary fair that was being held. Aid stations serving water and Tata Gluco plus were present at frequent intervals along with the photographers who were there to click our photos.

Now every time I decide to take a run easy, be it a race or a practice run, my mind is free from the pressure of timing which compels me to push whenever I felt like it. So after a while, I decided to increase my pace. The course consisted of a few inclines and there was one steep one at the 5 km mark. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed running up this slope, quite contradictory to my usual response towards hills where my eyes would widen with terror. Like a child playing on a seesaw, I smiled as I went up and down these inclines.

On the way back, I waved at some familiar faces and continued the strides. As we neared the 9th km mark, we were blessed with heavy showers, drenching us to the hilt.  The wet clothes weighed us down but not our spirits as we sprinted towards the finish line with the Garmin showing 57 minutes.  I was eager to go catch up with my runner friends and waited impatiently for the rains to subside. After collecting the medal, I met several of them and posed for the customary clicks which I usually term as ‘memoirs of the race euphoria’ i.e. memories of a good time at any event.  We collected our breakfast in a box which comprised of samosas and gulab jamuns, along with a packet of chips.

We headed towards the stage, from where we could catch the magnificent view of the Bandra-Worli sea link.  Some announcements were made and I soon turned my attention towards the dais as I recognised runner friend cum MRR admin cum an amazing writer-Bijay Nair’s voice on the mike. Listening to his journey was inspiring as he talked about his astounding transformation from being an overweight person to a fit runner that he is today. Also being from the naval forces, his speech held pride as he spoke about his upcoming book ‘#They INSpire’ where’INS’ depicted a tribute to the navy. The book consisted of enthralling stories of several runners who had battled against several odds in order to achieve the impossible which constituted their respectable position in the runners’ community today.

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After this, the stage made way for yet another awe inspiring runner-Satish Gujaran who is a 7 time comrades finisher. Comrades  is a race held at South Africa every year in the month of May and a test of human endurance where one was required to complete 89 km within 12 hours.

I had met Satish several times and found him to be a humble person despite his extraordinary achievements. I listened to him intently while he was narrating his transitional journey from being a chain smoker who could barely run 500 m to now a runner who runs a whopping distance of 89 km every year in South Africa.  He recommended the step by step approach for a runner while making a transition from a 5k to an ultra-runner and also stressed about respecting one’s body by doing the necessary medical check-ups on a regular basis.

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He went on to narrate a solemn experience of his friend-a runner from China who was extremely fit and yet met with a tragic end post a run.  In relation to this, he talked about the importance of knowing the art of dealing with emergency situations when a runner falls unconscious or when his/her heart beat stops. He also mentioned the importance of wearing a wrist band which carries one’s blood group and emergency number to be contacted during such grave instances.  As he concluded on a light note, I processed all that I had learnt post this event.

I have always believed that every run was a learning experience and a test of our physical and mental abilities. However the learning that I imbibed from the Bhumi India run was an enriching one with the speeches deeply ingrained in my mind as I came out as a wiser soul.

Incidentally this run was to promote education for the underprivileged section of the society and yet I realised how privileged I was to have educated myself this morning. No doubt the saying goes that learning indeed is a continuous process.

Thank you Bhavana for inviting me to be a part of this run, Bijay and Satish for your inspiring and informative speeches, volunteers for doing a commendable job and photographers for making our runs memorable.

Yeours’ truly an uphill task-The Yeour Hill run challenge experience

Hills have always intimidated me and it’s been an arduous battle trying to conquer them.  Despite doing the famous Satara Hill Marathon last year, I still could not get over my inhibition for inclines which prompted me to train harder under the guidance of my coach in the last couple of months.  When Vivek Soni- the organiser of Yeour Hill run challenge asked me if I would be interested in participating in the same, I immediately agreed. It was either a 15 k hill run or a 10 k run with obstacles. Unsure about the latter I opted for the former one which was scheduled on September 4th, 2016.

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Yeour Hills is situated in Thane district in Maharashtra and is highly recommended as a beautiful terrain albeit a tough one, by many runner friends’ who would often train there.  Now considering that the month of August had been a gruelling one, starting with the Durshet forest marathon, the IDBI federal Mumbai half marathon and the IIT Bombay monsoon run, I decided to take a back seat and bask in the beauty of the surroundings instead of pushing my heart rate beyond its limits. After all, I have always believed in the philosophy of not racing in all my runs and stopping to smell the roses once in a while.

A few days before the event, I was delighted to find that several of my runner buddies were participating in this run and one of them was pacing the 2 hour bus. Excited chats were exchanged about how we will all eventually get our sub 2 (every half marathoner’s dream) at least in this one. The D day arrived, commencing with a long drive to Thane along with another runner friend –Abhijit. We passed a gigantic Ganesha statue being carried in a truck for the much awaited Ganpati festival which commenced from the next day (Sep 5).  Considering this as a positive sign, I knew that I would survive the unrelenting hills. We soon reached the venue and eagerly caught up with some of our friends.

After a round of the warm up session, we headed towards the start line. The Sub 2 topic emerged again sending us into peals of laughter. Giggling like school children going on a picnic, we even talked about strolling up the inclines if we found it too tough to surpass them with our strides.

The start of the run proved to be a little shaky as I had accidently set my Vivoactive garmin on the swim mode and had to pause to set it right. Besides my ipod began to play some 90s Bollywood number instead of the electronic beats that I normally listen to during a run which had to be adjusted as well. Losing a couple of minutes, I sprinted to catch the 2 hour bus. I ran just a little ahead, thinking that even I lost steam; I would end up being with the rest of the gang. I slowly found myself going ahead and soon came across my first slope which I surpassed. ‘Not bad’, I thought as I continued my strides and soon spotted the majestic Upavan Lake to my left at the break of dawn.  This vast body of water was spread like a colourless sheet of tranquillity carrying the reflection of the sky above.  Just at that juncture I bumped into one our renowned photographers-Michael whom I greeted with a cheerful good morning. ‘You are fourth’, he said excitedly and I acknowledged with a thumbs up.

The course offered more rolling hills just as I had anticipated. ‘I can get through this’, I told myself. All those hill training sessions might as well come in handy now. At the 4th km, came the dangerous curve that men would usually rave about. Unfortunately I was no man and certainly didn’t appreciate curves especially since this one reminded me of that deadly 4-7 km stretch at the Satara Hill run. I decided to run up this one as long as I could before I adopted the walk-run method. After a while, I chose to walk a few steps and look around. The surroundings were an enchanting green as we were embedded between jungles on both sides reminding me of those hill station trips to Ooty and Kodaikanal I took as a little girl.

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As I came across more slopes, I gasped and stopped in my tracks. “What goes up will always come down”, my hubby cum running partner Amit told me. That was enough to set that fierce runner in me on fire as my feet cruised up those inclines and turned at the 7.5 km mark. There were aid-stations offering water and fast & up to replenish our depleted energy levels. On the way down, I caught sight and waved at several runners, smiling and cheering them. The downhill run is always a joyful ride, making you feel like a child coming down a giant slide.  From thereon it was no looking back till we reached the finish line which we crossed with our customary sprint in 1 hour 30 minutes, with me ranking 4th.

We headed towards the holding area to collect our medals and breakfast of idli, wada and chutney, an energy drink which was followed by a cup of tea.  Considering how all of us loved south Indian cuisine, these breakfast boxes were devoured like hot cakes. As our friends gathered, we ended up discussing the incredibly beautiful route and also the euphoric feeling that we felt on completing such a challenging one. Our mobiles greeted us with a message from the organisers about our race timing which was sent to us as soon as we crossed the finish line. The results and our ranking were mailed to us once the winners were announced. The promptness in this service impressed us as we thanked the organisers for giving us an opportunity to run amidst nature within city limits.

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No doubt, it was a daunting task having to conquer the hills as intimidating as that of Yeours’ truly (pun intended). But as I left the grounds, it was those memories of the mesmerising lake, jungles, laughter, photographs and elated discussions that continued to linger on my mind which left a grin on my face throughout the ride back home.

Nevertheless the battle with the hills continues…

Thank you Vivek Soni, Joints n Motion, Fast & Up, volunteers and photographers!

Where there is a Hill, there is a way-The Satara Hill marathon 2015 experience

Hills are a nightmare for most runners and I was no exception. Despite this fact, I still signed up for the 4th edition of the Satara hill half marathon in April 2015,with great zest, after hearing rave reviews about the beautiful course that runners were treated to. It was just 4 months away. Training for it was literally an uphill task especially when summer was at its peak and the humidity levels were enough to deter ones spirit to run on those long winding slopes.
The Satara hill marathon was slated to be the toughest one in India- not surprising as it’s called the ultra half due to its elevated tough terrain. Satara is a small district tucked away in the interior belt of Maharashtra. It is about a 5 hour drive from the city of Mumbai and close to the hill stations of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani.  Runners from various parts of the country flocked to this hilly destination this year as this edition was to be recorded in the Guinness book of world records.
 The D day soon arrived as I set off to conquer the hills, early Saturday morning. After collecting my bib from Satara marathon expo, I proceeded to Panchgani which was an hour’s drive away from Satara, to halt for the night, before my run the next morning. As the sun set slowly, so did my spirits. Nervousness began to set in gradually-a similar feeling which I encountered before my Class 12th  CBSE board exams.
Getting sleep the night before the marathon is a challenge as there is a flurry of emotions-excitement,nervousness, restlessness. However I did manage to get some good rest before my alarm rang the next morning.  I left the hotel to pick up my runner friends on the way to proceed to the start line.  We soon reached the holding area-where the runners assemble before the race. The atmosphere was lively with the music blaring from the speakers, some runners were doing their warm ups while others were posing for photographs and engaging in a lively chatter.
I soon spotted a familiar face from my Mumbai road runners group (the group whom I run 21 km with every month). It was Coach Giles Drego who was a marathon veteran and a wonderful guide.  He acknowledged me with a smile as I approached him. After exchanging pleasantries, I expressed my nervousness and apprehensions. He reassured me saying that it was only the 4-7 km stretch that would be challenging while the rest of the course was doable. His words worked like magic as faith slowly began to find its place.  Despite doing 6 half marathons, 1 full marathon and several practice runs, I knew this was no ordinary race. It was a test of one’s limits and endurance. The worse part was that Amit-my running partner cum husband- was not here to accompany me on his journey so it was a lone battle with the hills for me that day.
The race flagged off at 6am. The initial 3.75 km stretch was through the village of Satara. I was surprised to see many people up in the wee hours of morning to cheer us runners. The steep ascent began at the 4 km point and this was where the real challenge commenced. As I ran uphill, I remembered to bend my body forward as instructed by my trainer in the past and take slow strides.  I experienced a sudden wave of light dizziness and my eyes began to feel heavy. I instantly took out my GU energy gel packet and consumed it, followed by a sip of water. It worked for some time until I felt drained again. It was evident that the hills were not going to relent easily and were putting up a fierce fight. I looked at the other runners around me-some were walking up, some jogging lightly. Deriving some inspiration from them, I too put my best foot forward, literally. However the climb worsened and my inner voice instructed me to just go along with the electronic dance music booming from my ipod and pretend that this run was a dance.  It kept me going for a while until I realized that I was running out of water. The next aid station was only at the 7 km mark. As I started to walk slowly, I was almost on the verge of giving up when a fellow runners voice boomed behind me saying ‘”Come on, don’t stop. Keep going.’ He was truly God sent at that juncture as those words restored my spirits to run up to the 7 km mark.
 Sometimes that gentle nudge from an unknown source works wonders. I may not even meet such kind souls post the race or in my life again, but strangely I will always regard such individuals with gratitude as they were crucial in aiding me through this arduous journey.
During the course, I was treated to some sights of nature- a light cascade of waterfall to my left. A little ahead I spotted some monkeys on the right who were curiously looking at this bunch of 2 legged creatures in shorts and t shirts, perspiring all over and staggering up the mountain slopes-probably wondering what on earth we were doing at their abode so early in the morning. As I reached the 7 km aid station, I got the necessary refreshment in the form of an orange drink which spiked my energy levels to that of a race horse.  I found myself cruising up to the 10.5 km mark where we had to take a U- turn. It was a downhill and a flat stretch from thereon and my legs suddenly seemed to have grown wings as I raced down like a person possessed-probably to make up for the lost time in the 4-7 km stretch.
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Now this time there were 3 medal categories-hill champion for those who finished under 2 hrs, hill conqueror for those who finished between 2-2:30 and a hill challenger for those who exceeded 2 hrs 30 mins. I desperately wanted that hill conqueror medal and was prepared to put  my heart and soul into this race. They say when your heart is really set on something, all of the universe conspires to help you realize that dream. I offered a silent prayer to the hills and the sun which for some reason came down on us fiercely. I soon caught up with the 2 hr 20 min bus and even overtook them at one point.
When I reached the village, there were more people on the road cheering and clapping hard for the runners. At this stage, your legs want you to stop but the heart urges you to go on. I soon spotted Coach Giles in the last 500 m stretch who had collected his medal and goody bag and was on his way home. An appreciative nod and a thumbs up from him was enough for me to sprint that half a km.
I crossed the finish line in 2 hours 19 minutes. Words cannot describe the feeling when you reach the finish line with a decent timing especially after running such an arduous race as this one. Relief, exuberance,exhilaration all engulfed me as I silently thanked everyone who guided me before and through the race. They say faith can move mountains; in my case while I didn’t exactly move them, I did manage run 21 km amidst the mighty Ghats and comeback as a happier person.
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Such experiences are humbling as you realize how tough it is to take on nature. It’s even more humbling when veteran runners come up to you and congratulate you on your feat,making you feel like a star. Satara hill marathon is one unforgettable race, for its undeterred spirit of fellow runners which leaves a lasting impression on you. As I drove back to Mumbai, I looked back at those daunting hills promising to visit them the next year. I learnt that while such terrains are difficult,it is not impossible as where there is a hill, there is a way.

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