Is running a marathon in Delhi’s toxic air a good idea? Experts give dos and don’ts
Delhi’s worsening air pollution has put a question mark on the forthcoming Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on November 19. While some experts have called for a cancellation of the event, others say participants need to focus on much more than just running this year.fitness Updated: Nov 10, 2017 10:34 IST
Experts and experienced runners say participants of the annual Delhi Half Marathon need to take extra caution and eat well for a trouble-free run amid calls from doctors to cancel the race on November 19, citing high levels of pollution in the Capital.
Pollution levels have shot up to dangerous levels in Delhi, with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal describing the city as a “gas chamber”. The air quality index (AQI) – which measures the level of pollutants in the air – crossed 400 in various places, the second time since Diwali, signalling the beginning of a suffocating Delhi winter.
Bharti Airtel, the title sponsor for the Delhi Half Marathon since 2008, has asked organisers of the annual foot-race to address concerns of air pollution for it to continue the association, given the serious health risks to participants.
The Hindustan Times spoke to several runners who pointed out the dangerous aspects of running in poor air quality and suggested ways of minimising the effects of deadly pollutants that lodge deep in the lungs before and during the race.
Rahul Verghese started running at the age of 40 and has participated in more than 50 full marathons and ultras over six continents and is no stranger to the Delhi Half Marathon.
The founder and CEO of Running and Living Infotainment, a popular running community, feels the participants should approach the race differently this year and not give in to “bravado”. Says the 56-year-old, “Some people would argue that the air you breathe inside your house is also the same so what difference does it make. But when outdoors, you are exercising and stretching your body to the max, the intake by your lungs is significantly more.”
“The first thing you need to do is reset your goals for the marathon and don’t aim to make it your fastest run. More than timings, be sensible about the run, have fun, energise yourself, and meet lots of friends and running buddies,” he says.
Other than wearing a mask to cut the risk of inhaling polluted air, he also suggests practicing indoors before race day. “You need to focus on stuff outside of running such as stretching, strengthening which are things runners sort of take for granted or ignore. Focus on your nutrition, hydration and all such things,” he adds.
Kolkata-based Anuradha Dutt, a veteran of 14 half marathons, says it should be mandatory for anyone running the marathon to wear a mask in Delhi. “Runners won’t stop running just because of bad air. However, when the air is so bad, it is crucial to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. I would definitely wear a mask and run. I ran a race in Amsterdam last month and saw many people wearing a mask even there. The air there was so fresh and clean,” Dutt, who has been running the Delhi Half Marathon since 2012, says.
“One should also eat healthy food such as citrus fruits and foods rich in vitamin E in order to combat the pollution,” adds Dutt, who works at an NGO for special children as a project coordinator.
Rajat Chauhan, a sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician, has a solid stand regarding this issue and says there is a need to have a disclaimer that the conditions this year are not safe. “Ideally, you should not run a marathon keeping the current conditions in mind. I’m all for running but running in the present scenario is dangerous for one’s health, no matter how seasoned a runner you might be,” Chauhan, who has been running for the last 33 years, says.
Like Varghese and Dutt, Chauhan says runners should definitely wear a mask even though they “really don’t do much”.
“It would probably take care of 30-40% of the pollution danger but the rest is bad enough. However, it will surely reduce the level of harm. So if someone is running, he should be wearing the mask. As far as the normal surgical masks go, they don’t help at all,” the race director of La Ultra-The High held in Ladakh says.
Participants, he said, should completely avoid exertion and forget about their “best time” keeping the current scenario in mind. On the nutrition front, Chauhan says eating jaggery can very useful as it takes all the harmful stuff to the stomach instead of the lungs.
“All these things should be followed since the current dust and pollution level can cause permanent damage to the lungs,” Chauhan said.
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