Monthly Archives: May 2017

No smoke without fire-World No Tobacco day

Indulging in a puff or a two is usually associated largely with the ‘cool’ quotient. Probably this is why we see that cigarette finding its way into the hands of high school and college students. It starts out as peer pressure with the usual ‘try one puff, nothing will happen’. The need to fit in or the fear of being rejected in social circles ultimately leads to that occasional puff which goes on to becoming an addiction.

What with the likes of some of the celebrities puffing away a cigarette or two on screen, a la Jim Carrey in The Mask or an Ajay Devgan in the action thriller-Khakhee. Little do the naïve young breed of fans realize that this act of emulating their favourite star will result in them having to pay a heavy price literally?

Smoking leads to diseases affecting the heart and lungs besides being a major risk factor for heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer, particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. Studies have shown reduction in overall life expectancy in long term smokers especially with estimates ranging from 10-17 years lesser than non-smokers. Some evidence suggests a small increased risk of myeloid leukaemia, cancers of the gall bladder, adrenal gland and the small intestine.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) caused by smoking, is a permanent, incurable (often terminal) reduction of pulmonary capacity characterised by shortness of breath, wheezing, persistent cough with sputum and damage to the lungs.

Smoking is also known to reduce appetite-an extreme measure that many resort to in order to shed those pounds and wanting to appear svelte. It is considerable known to affect fertility in women. Providing a short term relief from stress and elevated moods on a temporary basis are some of the reasons why this cigar finds its popularity amongst the adult segment.

Once entangled in this foil of fumes, one finds it tough to break away from that occasional puff and falls prey to this deadly habit. Sort of reminds one of a quicksand which requires tremendous strength to pull a person away from this dangerous situation. Smoking is similar to a quicksand- it’s tough to break away once you are sucked into it.

While it’s tough, it’s certainly not impossible as there have been some inspirational figures who have overcome this temptation and given up that cigar up for good. Having discovered a new found goal in their lives, they have chosen to huff and puff their way to the finish line and reward themselves a medal and the runners high instead of that short term high provided by the life threatening nicotine.

 

Ketan Chauhan, a Mumbai based runner was a regular smoker and was smoking for the last 15 years. He began running in 2013 and would still continue to smoke even after his run. Being associated with MRR (Mumbai road runners) group, he would come across several inspirational stories about different runners which made him focus more on running and building up his mileage.  Finally he took the plunge and quit cigarette smoking end of December 2015.  Says Ketan, “I took my last puff then and from January 2016, I completely stopped smoking. I gave up partying with my friends as well and after a few months of not smoking, I felt good. Some friends would say “ek puff marle kuch nahi hoga” but I knew I did not want to go down that lane ever again. Till date I haven’t touched a cigar and feel thrilled about it. Running really helped me kick the butt. “

Satwik Rajani, another Mumbai based runner tried his first cigarette when he was still in school at the tender age of 16. He got so addicted that he would end up smoking 10-15 cigarettes a day and his scales shot up to a whopping 107 kg. “It all changed when I took up running.” he says. “I started training for my first marathon in November 2016 which prompted me to quit smoking as I wanted to perform well. Since then there has been no looking back as I completed my first full marathon in 3:47. At present I am just a few days away from running my first ultra which is the comrades run at South Africa on June 4th 2017.

Samir Kulkarni from Kalyan Dombivali runners (KDR) group was able to brush off those unhealthy habits aside and embrace a healthy lifestyle. Smoking ruined Samir’s life and made him feel that he was aging a tad too fast. He encountered fatigue while climbing a staircase which prompted this 32 year old to take up fitness seriously.  A 480 m run close to his home made him take up a new challenge.  He gradually built his stamina by increasing his mileage. His association with running communities like KDR and MRR (Mumbai road runners) transformed him from an unhealthy smoker to a fit runner. “Running has made me much more disciplined and achievement oriented.” says Samir. “It has helped me quit bad habits and gain control of my mind. Not to mention the number of friends that I have made and the different kind of high that I face every time I finish a run.” He has sacrificed family events and late evening parties to keep up with his running schedule. He has also inspired non-runners to devote 30 minutess to some physical activity and smokers to quit smoking and follow a healthy lifestyle.

Satish Gujaran-a 7 times comrades’ finisher and an inspiration for many runners, narrates his journey from being a chain smoker to a comrades runner.  He would smoke 2 packets of cigarettes every day. He started running in 2004 and in the quest of wanting to quit smoking, he joined Isha Yoga. Gradually from not smoking for 2 days, he increased it to 7 days and realized that if he could go without smoking for 7 days then it’s not tough to quit smoking for good. “It’s all in the mind”, he says. “Initially when I gave up smoking, I found it very difficult. Running has given me the will power and ability to control my mind which helps me in ultras especially. After a certain distance it becomes more of a mind game. I ran my first comrades in 2010 after which I completely quit smoking. So it took me 6 years to give up this habit entirely.” Satish now makes it a point to help a few runners give up this habit and adopt a healthier lifestyle. From a person who could barely run 1 km to running 89 km is truly a remarkable achievement.

The journey from addiction to dedication is a path that involves great amount of perseverance and will power. Difficult as many may proclaim but certainly not impossible as tough habits don’t last, tough people do!

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Back on track

They say life comes around a full circle. This was experienced at the IDBI Federal Life insurance Mumbai half marathon stadium run last year in June. It was a first of its kind in the city of Mumbai where participants had to run around the 400 m track continuously-either for 2 hours if they were a part of the 6 member relay team or for 12 hours in the case of an individual participant.

When I received a call in the month of March asking if I was keen to be a part of the MRR team, I gladly agreed. I recollect those training days in the scorching month of May when I would train at the PDP (Priyadarshini park) track to get the feel of what it was to run around in circles for 2 hours in.

It was a six member team with 4 men and 2 women headed by Captain Viv. When the D day arrived, I remember reaching the venue at the Mumbai university grounds at Marine lines with butterflies in my stomach. My slot was from 8-10 am. The monsoons were playing hooky and the day turned out to be quite humid.

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the air especially with several people who turned up early to cheer the runners. After every hour, runners had to change their direction and run anti clockwise. My turn came and soon I found myself running on those fiery red Tracks.

My team mate Mihir had set the track to a blazing start in his slot from 6- 8 am. He ran along with me initially to pep me up and help me get rid of those nervous knots that were entangled in my head. “Go slow and then pick up pace when you feel strong”, he said. I nodded. For a while I was caught up in the frenzy of claps and cheers after which I got into my own zone as I just went round and round.

It was a different feeling from the one when you run on a straight road. For one thing, you don’t know who is behind whom and who is overtaking one another.  It gives you that Olympic feeling and after every lap you feel like a Usain Bolt, charged up and read to run another round.

Road running often treats one to different visuals like the trees, roads, buildings and sometimes nature if you are running on a trail.  This is often a distraction if one feels the twinge of fatigue and wanting to give up. Track running is devoid of these scenic treats but the effervescent calls and spirited claps more than make up for this sort of merry go around run. Besides you always tend to derive that inspiration from your fellow runner running on the adjacent track.

After an hour, it was time to turn the other direction and run. It was 9 am and the heat began to seep in slowly. I plugged my music on firmly as I listened to a mix of some good Indi pop, retro and Electronic dance numbers which made it appear as though I was in some discotheque. The stadium atmosphere was nothing less than one with the radiant electrifying smiles and the gaily shouts of laughter.

As my time slot came to an end, I realised that running 2 hours in a circle was more a mind game than anything else. My admiration to those running for 12 hours increased double fold. It required great tenacity and will power to keep going in circles, I thought.

As I sat down on the sidelines, I gave a thumbs up sign to my team mate cum captain who was running in the 10-12 slot. Running, no doubt, was always considered a solo sport. However this relay run, which saw a lot of encouragement and motivation from by standers and fellow runners, gave one the feeling of playing a team sport.

When a runner enters the track, they are cheered and supported with great gusto. When they exit, it becomes their turn to give back equally and cheer with all their might. As mentioned earlier, the stadium run teaches an important lesson of life coming around a full circle.

With just a couple of weeks to go for the much awaited IDBI Federal Life Insurance Mumbai Half Marathon Stadium run on June10th- 11th 2017, I decided to walk down memory lane to relive this exciting run organised by NEB Sports.

A run that millions yearn to be a part of, getting clicked by photographers, obtaining your team t shirt, medals, timed chips with volunteers in plenty and a sumptuous food spread throughout the day to cater to the famished appetites. Not to mention, the feeling of being part of a team and one of the biggest event of the year.

2017 edition sees a bigger and grander scale as this time there is a 24 hour run included as well, commencing from June 10th 5 pm onwards till June 11th 5 pm. It will see a lot of runners running on the track all night long.

While there will be a section of the population burning the dance floor in some remote night club that Saturday night, runners will be burning the tracks as  University Ground is bound the be the most happening place that Saturday night and entire sunday!

The power of a kind gesture

My hubby Amit Sridharan and I had attended the comrades run at EEH yesterday which was organised by the spirited Gangs of Sonapur. It was a felicitation run for all the comrades’ runners running the mind numbing 89 km race amidst the rolling hills in South Africa-a race that stretches beyond human physical endurance.

This event at EEH was a 10 k run on the flat surface and a couple of km included the scenic trail of the salt-pans. It was a humid day and doing a 10 k seemed like an arduous task considering the not so conducive weather conditions.
However the cheerful stance of the volunteers offering water and spraying chill water on our faces saw us through the distance. The event was brimming with enthusiasm and toothy smiles. The unique medals in the form of bottle openers were being given to all the finishers. Added to which there was a breakfast spread of idli, chutney, chaas and a cake to sweeten our taste buds.

It was along the side lanes of this stretch that I experienced an unexpected humbling and a gratifying moment. As I sat there chatting with runner friends, a kind faced lady came up to me asking if I was Swetha Amit. I smiled and nodded in affirmative. She had recollected having seen me at the KOR event back in June 2016 and said she would never forget the way I had cheered her while she was running.

I was deeply humbled and speechless for a minute. I faintly recollected a saying which stated that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget the way you made them feel. “

As a runner I had this habit of saying “come on, good going” to any fellow runner irrespective of whether I knew them or not, just to boost their spirits and create a feel good factor.

Little did I realize that a simple gesture of mine would actually be etched in the memory of someone whom I didn’t know? I looked at her, smiled and chatted with her a bit.

This 10 k run at EEH was one run which left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. For once it was not because of the endorphins or the usual runners high. It was because I learned that an unconditional gesture of mine sometime back, made a difference to someone else’s run.

I had read somewhere that it’s the simplest things in life that bring ultimate joy. How true! An individual goes through several troubles in their lives which we usually aren’t aware of. Sometimes a nice gesture on our part unknowingly tends to brighten their day and adds that sparkle of joy even if it’s for a short moment.

So never fail to smile or utter a word of appreciation especially during a run-you never know whose day or life you will end up brightening- sort of like a gentle soothing breeze on a scorching summer morning!

The half hearted conversation

I was out on my morning run with my hubby Amit Sridharan and was struggling to keep up the tempo pace as the humidity began to take a toll on my stamina levels. I had to slow down my pace a bit to conserve my energy reservoir.

Sometimes during our runs, we unexpectedly bump into an old acquaintance who would join us for a while and catch up on the latest updates. Today was one such day as an old colleague of my husband met us.

After the usual greetings and small talk, the conversation steered into the whooping business of Bahubali and the latest releases. I was almost drained trying to keep up the run and the conversation.Slowly I drifted into my own thoughts and decided to focus on the run.

All on a sudden, my ears perked up as he said something that caught my attention. He mentioned that he had couple of tickets to the movie ‘half girlfriend’ to which he was unable to make it due to some last minute work. He was wondering if we were interested in buying it from him.

I was mortified just imagining the prospect of watching a movie with a half baked title like the half girlfriend and which was inspired by a novel by Chetan Bhagat. Now I hadn’t read the novel nor did I intend to. His only books that made a decent read were ‘Five point someone’ and ‘2 states’.

This sudden jolt was enough to up the pace my strides and I politely excused myself, stating I was going ahead. Shaking my head in despair, it made me wonder what a queer term it was -‘The half girlfriend’.

Leaving my hubby to continue the conversation, I want ahead thinking ” I would anyday run a ‘half marathon’ in the scorching heat and humidity amidst daunting slopes than watch a movie like the ‘ half girlfriend!’

 

Emerging triumphant against Asthma

 

Ever runner on the road has fought some battle, be it obesity, thyroid, cancer or for that matter Asthma.

Asthma is a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs. These airways are always inflamed in Asthma patients, making it difficult for air to move in and move out of the lungs. This in turn causes symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness.

There are various types of asthma and the most common one is the one caused by dust and pollution. Some suffer from exercise induced asthma and others who have a family history of asthma are likely to be prone to developing this condition. For those who suffer from exercise induced asthma, physicians devise effective ways to keep the symptoms under control before and after the activity. Staying active ensures a healthy living and it is believed that this condition should not restrict one to the side lines or keep them from outdoor activities.

The running community prescribes to the above philosophy and refuses to be bogged down by this condition. They have managed to defy this chronic ailment and have gone as far as to add several miles to their credit and bagging medals at several events.

On World Asthma Day, which fell on May 2nd, several runners from varied backgrounds came forward to share their inspiring stories on how running has benefited them and some useful guidelines for other runners who were in the same boat. They hoped to shed the myth that asthma patients were nothing but slaves to medication.

 

Sopan Upadhyay –Chief Manager of Marketing at IDBI Federal Life Insurance, was 106 kg and diagnosed with Asthma a few years back. The doctor advised him to stay away from the humid and polluted weather of Mumbai city which apparently did not suit him. Says Sopan “I had loads of allergies with regards to dust, perfume fragrance, pollen grains etc.  At times it becomes too difficult to run in extreme conditions. However my regular running has helped me not only lose 15 kg+ weight but also helped me improve my timings of half marathon by 45 mins. Now I can run in most weather conditions and also do it flawlessly. “

 

Hari Iyer A positive who works with ICICI Bank narrates his experience as well. True to his name, Hari decided to develop a positive approach and has managed to battle his condition which was persisting him since his childhood. He would refrain from activities during his childhood days and proclaimed himself to be a geek. However during college, he decided to join NCC which he said was not a piece of cake by any realms.

Says Hari: “I was always last in the cross country runs. Every day was a struggle, and I use to ask myself whether I would be able to complete this or not. There were moments when I decided to QUIT, but my heart use to say QUTTING is not the option- stand and face the situation. During school days also, I never participated in any sports events due to Asthma. So everything was new to me. Asthma has taught me to be strong. I use to run with my pump in cross country runs. But one thing I have noticed in life, if u have a sheer determination, nothing is impossible. You can overcome everything. I was awarded the best cadet during my college days.”

In his opinion, Asthma is a common disease across the globe, mainly due to the pollution. He feels that an important aspect to control Asthma lies in one’s diet. According to him, runners should be able to identify the food that suits them depending on their body. Some types of food apparently aggravates asthma and advises runners to eliminate those items that act against them. He also advises that asthma patients should eat only 75-80% of the stomach as a fuller stomach tends to cause suffocation, making breathing more difficult.

He said that there was no permanent cure for this chronic condition. Allopathic medication gave only a temporary cure. He strongly recommends Pranayama/breathing exercises early in the morning on empty stomach. Other precautionary measures include covering one’s face while travelling by bike and avoiding heavily crowded areas.

Half of the disease is caused due to unnecessary tension.” He expresses with a smile. “Life is too short to take tensions. Be free, be alive. I had started running marathons from 2011 and have run 7 full marathons and 4 untimed ultras. Now it’s like, if I don’t run I feel suffocation. I still have asthma but I’m not suffering. As it is said, ‘Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional’. “

 

Anju Gupta Kaudanya, Chairperson & CEO of Novo Medisciences who is a part of Happy Feet Runners-a group at Navi Mumbai says “I have been diagnosed with asthma after years of sinusitis which is very painful. However I just started Running, rather walking and jogging with my Coach Amit Kumar. But I am very slow and really scared what I will do when the monsoons approach. However I have all confidence in my Coach under whom I seek guidance. I currently am off all pumps and steroids since the last one month.”

 

Renata Pavrey another enthusiastic runner, was diagnosed with asthma since infancy and spent most of her childhood in the gloomy ambience of hospital rooms. She could not participate in sports during her school days. Since dust, pollen and such particles triggered her breathlessness, her family doctor suggested that water sports would help and thereby recommended swimming. However that never happened due to the inability of finding a good instructor which made her eventually resort to Yoga instead. Her college days showcased a lot more activity in comparison to her school days as Renata got into Karate, dance, Muay Thai and Capoeira.

“Running happened a lot later. Since I was already living with asthma, I knew how to work around this.” she says. “With running, I need to avoid dusty routes. If I’m running in the morning I start early before the sweepers begin their day. In the evenings I stick to the park if I see a lot of traffic on the road.

I have pets at home, so the day before an important race/dance show/martial arts event I don’t hang out with them too much to avoid triggering any wheezing. Changes in season also bring on attacks of breathlessness. Here I stick to yoga, Pilates and mat exercises since I tend to get home bound till the episode subsides. Then I’m back to doing whatever I want to do.”

 

Shiv Iyer, Assistant Manager at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was diagnosed with asthma due to prolonged sinusitis. Until last few years, he was using a pump to get relief from wheezing bouts. His doctor recommended strengthening his lungs by doing activity that would force the lungs to take control of his breathing.

Says Shiv “I started cycling and in order to put pressure on my lungs, I started doing uphill cycling. I never imagined I could run. Then I ran my first Half Marathon. I could feel my lungs becoming stronger. Even though my sinusitis is still not cured, my wheezing bouts have disappeared and I no longer use pumps. My energy levels have increased. I now cycle (minimum 20k) and run daily (minimum 5 k). My legs may want to give up but my Lungs don’t!!!”

 

Ameya Patil, 2 times Half Ironman and a runner from Kalyan Dombivali Runners (KDR) group, shares his inputs. “I was diagnosed with asthma from childhood but that never stopped me from being active during my school and college days. Actually the humidity aggravates my problem but I usually take a tablet before commencing my exercises. So far during my events I haven’t encountered any attack as such but I always carry my inhaler with me just in case of an emergency.

People who have asthma can most certainly get into running and other outdoor activities. All they need to do is consult a sports doctor, be under the guidance of proper medical care and after that-sky is their limit!!”

 

It is said that a doctors words of advice are golden as they offer a scientific and inspirational approach to the whole thing.

 

Dr Oak is a paediatrician and a comrades finisher. He was diagnosed with asthma since childhood and was allergic to perfume, dust and cold weather. Despite this he would run a lot during his childhood.

He took up long distance running from 2004. Initially he would carry a pump but said that it was of no use. Instead he would take a small dose of medicine before and after the run which would help in relieving his chest from the congestion. During his mileages he would carry a couple of his tablets with him which he takes the minute he encounters wheezing.

“There is no permanent cure”, he says. “One needs to anticipate and fight. Most of the elite runners are asthma patients. In fact there are many people who have scaled Mt Everest and high altitude places despite suffering from asthma. So this condition should not stop anyone from indulging in outdoor activities. “

Running is a degree

When I was in college, the prospect of doing a Management degree never fascinated me. I somehow refused to follow the usual norm of engineering, MBBS or MBA and decided to create a path of my own. Probably the fact I was right brained and showed more aptitude towards areas like communication, human behavior and people, had something to do with it.

I would often meet people from B schools who always talked about the enormous network they made from studying there . So this time when I got an opportunity to attend an orientation program at Stanford Business School, I sort of got a glimpse of a B school environment and the nature of the course.

Along with the subjects, lectures, presentations and case studies, it was the wide range of network that apparently benefitted the several aspirants. It was this network that made them meet people from varied backgrounds, opened out new opportunities & friendships, offered different perspectives and several transformational​ lessons for life.

While I was caught in the frenzy of ‘the social network’ ( only this one being in person), I couldn’t help but draw parallels of the entire B school phenomena to running.

Some deep introspection made me realize that Running was an art, science and management in its own way. Art- not in the conventional sense like music or painting but that which enabled one to be in sync with their inner selves- something which many artists proclaimed while indulging in their specific art. Science as it involved the technical aspects like posture, gait, the entire process of training for a race,etc. Management when it eventually came down to organizing an event where the logistics of finance was involved along with aspects like people management, leadership, motivation, decision making and marketing.

Besides this, running also blessed one with that enormous network of similar thinking people from different walks of life. Being on the same platform, it opened up new gateways to friendships and the wonderful family aka ‘network’ of runners with whom new opportunities are discovered. Similar to how every subject in management offered a distinct learning, each race/ run did the same.

This sport was nothing less than a degree. It did not require the rigamarole process of getting those mind numbing scores, writing an entrance exam or paying those exorbitant fees. All it required was- for one to hit the roads after which life was never the same again, considering the people that one meets, the races that they run, the change that one’s body and mind goes through. The learnings only continue as life goes on.

As I look back to the last 5 years of my running, I realise that I may have learnt the art and science of running but most importantly like what a MBA graduate would say, it was the network of a community like MRR ( which is no less than a university) which has elevated my confidence levels and helped me forge new friendships.

Most importantly, I also realized that a sport like running gives a person a new sense of identity. A runner nevertheless elicits a new found respect that makes them bask in the awe and admiration of their fellow humans.

As I pondered more on the similarities, I was even more convinced that running was no less than a management degree- one that does not involve the conventional classroom lectures but that which broadens your horizons as you venture on this ‘road’ less traveled. ( Pun intended)