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The runner’s riddle

health-and-fitness Updated: Jan 30, 2010 14:53 IST
Samar Halarnkar
Samar Halarnkar
Hindustan Times
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Let’s get this straight: I love food. When I was a teenager, my normal lunch included eight chapatis, and more than half a kg of meat at lunch. Dinner? Repeat.

Vegetables and fruit formed no part of my diet, except the spinach my mother forced on me till age 13 or 14. My younger brother, through our teenage years, picked one wall in every house we lived in to scrawl: “Vegetarianism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

Not surprisingly, I was used to shouts of “Fatty!”

Sure, it hurt. So what?

Like I said, I love food.

My slovenly Indian genes did not help. An online test I took recently shows I am somewhere between an endomorph and a mesomorph, which means — my interpretation — I am genetically decreed to be round and soft, but if I try, I can be reasonably fit.

This segues nicely into my story: How to run 10 km and still love your food.

Running is the only reason I strayed into mesomorph territory, and the only reason why, at age 45, I can still eat and drink everything I crave for (within reason, of course).

Now, I am no marathoner, not even a half-marathoner. I have no great ambitions of being either.

I run — as my running idol, the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, agrees — at my own pace, in my own space and because it is a solitary pleasure best enjoyed by non-competitive people like me.

My serious attempt at running began after May 2009. I wasn’t entirely unfit at the time. After a series of lower-back problems, physiotherapy and a long claw back to good health through my 30s, I could swim (40 minutes freestyle without a break; a total swim time of up to 50 minutes) and walk reasonable distances. I visit the gym at least once a week, mainly to keep my running support structure strong.

When I was at the peak of my swimming routine early last year, I noticed I was the heaviest I’d ever been at 86 kg. Though I am a quarter inch shy of six feet, I was the furthest thing possible from Michael Phelps.

I’ve never consulted a trainer, but some reading revealed the problem: I was eating too much after swimming, giving in to pleasurable, intense hunger. My five-chapati average during the weak-back era was pushing eight chapatis again.

It didn’t help that I prided myself at having three meals and no snacks — and the occasional round of three-four pegs of rum.

My little running diary indicates that by June 9, 2009, I could run 4 km at one go and walk an additional 3 km. Progress has been pretty rapid since, and my first unbroken 10-k run came up on November 21, 2009.

Though I may run no more than one 10-k run a week, my comfort zone is 6-7 km, four times a week. I know this will gradually improve. As for my weight, it’s down to 80 kg. I feel great surges of energy, but I’m no Akshay Kumar (who’s my age), never will be, and here’s why.

As I ran, I kept a non-negotiable in mind: I could not lose my first love. But I did make some changes.

For starters, I introduced starters. For someone who never cared for soups, salads and desserts, this was a big step.

I don’t like tea or coffee, so I begin the day with a glass of water.

Breakfast: A simple breakfast of an egg and two toasts (or two idlis, or two dosas) has never been enough. So, instead of one huge breakfast, I’ve learned to break it into two or even three. If I’m running that morning, I fortify myself with a glass of skim milk and 8-10 almonds (initially, yuck, but not so bad now). After a run, it’s time for that omelette, sometimes a three-egg-white masala omelette, sometimes a normal two-egg masala omelette. Either way, the eggs are accompanied by four toasts (or four chapatis), a couple of sausages or a small bowl of leftover fish, meat or chicken. The late-morning round three ends with a bowl of papaya (yuck).

On days I don’t run, I lighten breakfast: I might drop the eggs and almonds and milk. Sorry, I can’t drop the leftover meats.

Lunch: The multiple breakfasts help me drop eight chapatis to five. Instead of half a kg of meat or fish or chicken, I keep it to four-five pieces (if it’s chicken, a leg and a thigh — the hell with chicken breasts). What I have done is reduce the frequency of — but not abandon — red meat and pork, which I love, and up the intake of fish, which I love as well. I’ve also added salad to my lunch.

Evening: My biggest compromise has been to eat an apple a day.

Dinner: The biggest change. The apple reduces my appetite, so I eat four-five chapatis instead of eight. Dinner is pretty much like lunch, except I try to finish it by 7 or 8 pm. I wash this down with a glass of wine or peg of rum about five times a week.

Dessert: Always hated it, but over the past year, I’ve grown partial to tiramisu, which I might eat once or twice a week.

I remember something that Will Smith (the Hollywood star, who is really very fit, if you care to take a close look at his pecs and other specs) once said: I eat what I want because I run 10 km a day. That man is my hero.