Running for their lives
Though an erratic work life gave Cheetan Wadhwa a decent living, in the bargain he also got a 39-inch waistline and a quintal of bodyweight.
He was just 32. As much as he tried, Wadhwa just could not find the time and discipline to put himself through a regular workout routine.
Then one day Wadhwa took out his sports shoes and just went walking to the garden nearby. That 600m walk, with half of it being a run, provided him the impetus he had been long waiting for. He was hooked. He began to walk, run a little, walk, run a little more.
Five-and-a-half years later, Wadhwa is lean, fit, and a well-known name in the running community of Chandigarh as one of the driving forces behind the mushrooming of running clubs in the city.
“I started running with a motive to shed extra kilos. But because of my then work profile, I didn’t have time to exercise. So I thought of running as I could do it anytime, anywhere. This was how my tryst with running started,” says Wadhwa, who now works as a recovery agent for banks.
“Soon I started enjoying running and gradually it became a very important part of my life. Today, wherever I travel, running shoes is the first in my carry-on list.”
Wadhwa has now over 15 official (and many unofficial) half-marathons (21km) as well as three marathons (42km) to his credit.
“I make it a point to do all my local office related commute on a bicycle,” he says. “Exercise, especially running, has become an integral part of my life and I can’t think even a day without it.”
Taking a cue from the growing runners’ community in the metros, Wadhwa and his friends formed Chandigarh’s first running club—Chandigarh Runners Club—in July 2014. It started with a handful of enthusiasts but today has over 4,000 members from all walks of life.
In the last five years, the city has seen more running groups and clubs mushrooming with some regularly organising Sunday runs with over 200 runners.
“Around five years ago the city used to see one or two runs a year but now the scenario has totally changed. There is a vertical growth in running events being organised in and around Chandigarh,” says Ashok Giri, who is one of the founder members of the Chandigarh Distance Runners—a club with over 500 active members.
From baby steps to marathons
Giri too took to running with the sole aim of shedding extra kilos. Running marathons was never a target but gradually the 43-year-old switched over to long distance running. And now, his half-marathon count is 20 and marathon is 11, including two overseas.
“I started with a small stretch of daily run and then moved to 5-10km and later to half-marathon and marathons,” says Giri, who is a lawyer.
“When we started the club, most members were not from sports backgrounds so we didn’t have much idea how to train for long distances,” Giri says. “Gradually, with experience and inputs from fellow runners we designed our training schedule and kept on adding new things to it. But Sunday group runs are the key behind our success and a great motivation for new members to target marathons—half and full.”
The Sunday sessions of the Chandigarh Distance Runners starts with a ‘hill’ run of 21km on the first Sunday of the month. On the second, there is a 21km run in the tri-city (Chandigarh-Mohali-Panchkula) and on the third, the club has a High Intensity Interval Training—a circuit training session.
“On the last Sunday, we wrap up the month with a little relaxed schedule with a birthday run. After 21km, we cut a cake for all runners, whose birthday falls in that particular month. It adds some enjoyment and helps in bonding,” says Giri. “For the new members, we have 10-15km runs with the same schedule. Later on, they graduate to 21km.”
In between the Sunday runs, the group follows a five-day-a-week schedule.
“After a long run on Sunday, Monday is an off-day for recovery. We start weekly training with stairs on Tuesday which helps in building strength. Wednesdays we do cycling between 25-50km and on Thursdays we do interval strides. Friday is for strength (gym) and the sessions are for 35-50 minutes. We keep Saturdays off or do very light training,” says Giri.
A way of life
Before getting introduced to running, Jaspreet Kaur had two worries—being overweight and starting the day with a pill to control her thyroid. A mother of two, Jaspreet took to running in July 2017 and in a year she lost 18kg—from 74kg to 56kg—and for the last 10 months she has been able to go off thyroid medications as well.
“The results of running are unbelievable,” says the 39-year-old. “I try to motivate people that running or exercising is not only limited to losing weight or to be in shape. If you don’t have extra kilos that does not mean you need not exercise. You exercise to remain fit.”
Now a core member of Chandigarh Distance Runners, Jaspreet is regularly running half-marathons and ran her first marathon in Delhi last year.
To keep their members upbeat and break the daily running monotony, clubs keep on adding new challenges. For example, a Navratri run—nine days of running 9km every day.
“On June 4, we started with the Independence Day run for 73 days—to celebrate the 73rd Independence Day—and we finished on August 15. Over 200 members completed the schedule,” says Jaspreet, who ran 1,400km in the 100-day challenge last year.