In his book ‘Marathon ‘, Hal Higdon, one of the most respected voices in the world of running, quotes a spectator at the Twin Cities Marathon in the US wondering what pushes ordinary men and women to put themselves through enormous pain and run 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 km).
The answer probably lies in words such as passion, courage and, as Higdon goes on to say, arrogance. And India, a nation hardly known for its sporting prowess globally and better known for its armchair sportsmen, is taking to marathon running like never before.With a growing number of events across the country, Indian marathoners, both professional and amateur, now have an itinerary to follow. From events in Leh and Shimla in the north to the Kaveri Trail Marathon and Auroville Marathon down south, there ‘s a reason to run across the length and breadth of the country. What ‘s more, an ever-increasing tribe of running enthusiasts is marking dates on the annual running calendar — much like the literati do with the ubiquitous lit fests across India.
Take, for instance, Rashmi Mohanty (40) from Gurgaon. A senior finance professional, she has travelled to Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and even Corbett National Park to compete in running events. “The thrill and adventure of running new courses is tremendous. I have turned my family vacations into ‘run-acations ‘, throwing in a race while travelling with the family,” she says.
“I love travelling for marathons because each run poses a unique challenge. The fun of training and speculating endlessly about the terrain and weather adds to the experience. We keep finding new ways to push ourselves,” says Barnali Das (40), a senior project advisor with the National Mission for Empowerment of Women. She says the journey to Mumbai (for the Marathon) by the Rajdhani is “almost ritualistic”, and “the drinks during the journey are planned as meticulously as the training schedule.”
Mumbai ‘s V Ramachandran (50), a company secretary, is another running addict. “Travelling for marathon is a great way of exploring new places, meeting different people and, most importantly, putting oneself through tough conditions,” he says. His good friend Giles Drego (56), a running coach and, interestingly enough, a former employee of a cigarette company, recalls the trip to the Goa River Marathon last year: “We went from Bombay to Goa by train, enjoyed the run, then went sight-seeing, spent time on the beach, ate fish and drank beer. The whole experience was wonderful.”
Most serious amateurs train and travel in groups. Drego and Ramachandran are part of a group that runs the 21-km distance from Bandra to Marine Drive on the first Sunday of every month. “By running and travelling together, we build great bonds of friendship and share our experiences. We discuss our diet, race strategies and even injuries,” says Drego.
It ‘s hard to not think of injuries when runners put themselves through the pain that Mumbai ‘s Rajesh Vadgama (45) does. An interior designer, he has made long-distance running his religion. Earlier this year, in April, he completed the Thar Desert Run, a distance of 100 miles (160 km), in 33 hours. Yes, 33 hours. In the gruelling heat of Pokhran, where the temperature was well above 45 degrees C. “I travel around the country to push myself on different courses. It ‘s a great way to challenge your body, test your endurance and experiment with yourself,” he says as a matter of fact.
Many credit the Mumbai Marathon for bringing the long-distance running culture into India. “We were inspired by the London Marathon and wanted to bring an event of such scale to India. When we first organised the Mumbai Marathon in 2004, we did not know it would turn into a mass movement. In a tropical country like ours, Indians have found running to be a simple and effective way of keeping fit.
Besides, “big events also have a positive rub-off with corporates and individuals partnering with charities,” says Vivek Singh, joint MD with Procam International, which also organises the Delhi Half Marathon.Rahul Verghese, head of Running & Living Infotainment which organises 30 runs across the country, says, "The Mumbai and Delhi marathons made running ‘sexy ‘. The film stars and cricketers helped generate interest in the event. Then corporates jumped on to the bandwagon, CEOs started running and eventually the management trainees too realised that this was a good thing to do. "