From A Couch Potato to Running the Marathon: A Personal Story
- By Magandeep Singh
When the maiden Mumbai Marathon was run in 2004, it was among India's first professionally organised and internationally recognised open long-distance running event. It has since grown to be among the biggest in the world, with more than 40,000 runners, most of them weekend runners, participating across various distance categories in the 2020 edition of the race. And if that does not convince you about the exponential growth in the popularity of running as a fitness sport in this country, then consider the following fact: india running.com, a website which tracks running events across the country, lists close to a staggering 400 races across various distances throughout the country. Yes, running has gradually evolved to become one of the most popular fitness pastimes across India.
There is no denying the fact that outside of walking, running is the cheapest and most accessible of fitness routines. But those are not the only reason why anyone should take up running. Here are a few more important ones: you can run anywhere; you don't need anyone to teach you running; you burn 50% more calories when running as compared to walking the same distance; running makes your heart, muscles and bones stronger; running makes you happier because it releases feel-good chemicals in the brain; running rejuvenates your energy levels and makes you sleep better...
If all these have indeed tempted you to dust your old running shoes and try jogging around your apartment building, we are here to help you get it right. We got two veteran marathoners to tell us the basics about running, the first one about his own personal experience taking up the sport at a relatively old age, and the second one about the things to get right before taking up running and then sustaining it.
I ran my fastest marathon recently, clocking a time just shy of three hours and forty minutes, almost half-an-hour faster than my previous one. I was equipped in the best running gear — shoes, shorts and shirt, etc., and while these would have surely helped me in attaining this time, the real work had happened in the months preceding it, when I trained relentlessly to achieve this dream goal.
It’s still nowhere close to what the elites run but coming from a background where I had never run more than 2kms at a stretch till about a few years ao, running a distance of 42.2kms, and that too within an enviably decent time has been quite the journey. Rewind to my times when I
would walk-run a 2km track, twice around on weekends, all in the name of, “I’m turning 30”. A few years of doing this and I enrolled myself in the first half-marathon. They turned out to be the most painful 2.5 hours of my life. I had never suffered so much at any activity ever and the recovery was slower and more painful still. That day I remember ordering enough food for a football team and sitting in the middle of it all, just to feel good about it. Yes, in retrospect, I realise the drama queen that I was; still am. The first thing I remember telling myself was this: I need to practise this better. Train hard to race easy; it was what my first coach told me and it’s something I have believed in. No point entering a race half-prepared for it; you spend half the race struggling to breathe and the other half cursing yourself why you entered with such shoddy preparation!
To me, practice is therefore the most crucial element. Next comes gear and one has to be comfortable in it. Never try anything new on a race day, is another adage to go by. And along with gear, nutrition, hydration and cool-downs have always been an integral part of my training. But how did I will myself to get up there to the start line in the first place? Frankly, I don’t know. It was part curiosity, part sense of challenge; either way , the end result was a humbling one. I learn so much from each race — about discipline, training, race plan and execution — that it becomes incentive enough to enrol and try harder at the next one. That said, running alone can get boring so it doesn’t hurt to (a) vary the routine now and then, with some swimming, cycling, cross-fit or strength training, and (b) carry some music along for the long slow sorties.
I was never the athletic type so whatever levels of fitness I have managed to achieve are most certainly doable for just about anybody. The only thing I will take some credit for is having been consistent, sometimes even to the detriment of my social standing. If I could sum up all the parties I left early or didn’t drink at (because of an early start the next day) I’ve certainly upset many-a-friend with my dogged determination to not back out from the challenge. The other thing I always did was to keep when sober, the promises I had made when drunk. This last one is a real toughie, especially when I told someone late one evening that I would be running 20kms the next day come rain or shine and, next morning, both came, along with a mild hangover, but I still managed to see the schedule through.
All in all, running isn’t as boring as people make it out to be; the trick is to find ways to keep it interesting and varied. And then, if nothing helps, find company. Nothing makes a trot better than having someone to accompany you through it all.
Besides being an avid marathoner, the author is a well-known Delhi-based sommelier and a writer on men’s fashion and style.
Running is one of those popular physical activities that take very little to get started with. As runners like to say, all you need is a pair of shoes and you’re good to go. This article is intended for complete beginners. If you have already been running for a while, then this isn’t for you. There’s no substitute for qualified medical opinion. Please consult your doctor before you get started on running.
By Dharmendra D
Before you get started on your running journey, here are a few things to check.
Is your waist size more than half of your height?
Say you’re 167-168 cm tall (5ft 6in or 66 inches – the average Indian male’s height). If your waist size is about 34in or more, then it is likely you are overweight (or perhaps even obese), which increases the risk of your getting injured.
Get a good pair of running shoes, unless you are one of those exceptional people who walk around or are active in their bare feet, for at least a few hours every day for over a year. If you are in the latter category, then you could try running barefoot. Don’t start running in spikes (football or running) unless you have done it before and only on a soft surface.
Something comfortable to wear that doesn’t ideally become transparent with your sweat! It doesn’t have to be made of a self-wicking fabric. Cotton will do just fine although some of those modern apparel are nice, too. While you could hope and pray for societal change, it is no suspense that India isn’t necessarily friendly to women, particularly in public spaces, even if they aren’t exercising! It is good to have as few distractions as possible.
Access to facilities
This may be a local ground, park or just the space around your apartment complex/residential area or the road in front of your residence, which has ideally little or no vehicular traffic for at least 30 minutes to an hour each day, and not at some unearthly hour. You are unlikely to go running if the traffic in front of your residence stops only between 2 and 4 am! While it is true that running is easy to get started with, it is also an impact sport. As a result, your body must be used to some form of pounding. To use an automotive analogy, you may have the engine (cardiovascular capacity) but not the chassis (musculoskeletal strength). This is why even competitive sportspeople take some time to get used to running although they are in great shape.
That should be pretty much most of your plan for the first four weeks. Just be running comfortably for about 15-30 minutes every alternate day. Once you have managed that, then you begin to set some goals. It is also perfectly fine if you want to stay that way for the rest of your life and not get started on a medal collection. Just staying active is its own reward. Keep things simple, at least till running becomes second nature to you. Avoid accessories like waistbands, armbands, etc. — most of which cause posture issues while you run. Just like an expensive car with parking assistance still needs you to do the parking and learn to drive, it is important for you to internalise running before investing in gizmos and expensive gear. However, if you do have some goals — say running a 5 or 10km event or even a half-marathon or full-marathon or certain time goals for the same distances, set aside time for training for such distances. You will need anywhere from 2-10 hours or more a week, to train for distances ranging from 5km to a marathon.
While it is beyond the scope of this introductory article to recommend a training plan, the minimum you should know is that training for any distance that goes beyond just the running — adequate recovery, strength training, and a nutrition plan are all essential components of a holistic training plan. It is also a good idea to run on alternate days for beginners to minimize injury risk, especially for people who haven’t been active throughout their lives. Also, the non-running days provide time to address the other important components of training that we just mentioned above.
One last thing: Remember unless your goal is to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics, you should run at your own pace and for only as much distance as you can do so, with minimal discomfort. Don’t get carried away by what other people are doing. Enjoy the time spent running and make it an activity to look forward to. Good Luck!
“Unless your goal is to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics, you can run at your own pace and for only as much distance as you can do so.”
How to Get Started
How active are you?
One final thing to assess:
How active you are physically. Here are a few things you could be doing already with ease, or at least with no prolonged discomfort.
Once you have satisfied yourself that you are good to go, here’s a simple plan to get you on your way to running: