Two Oceans Marathon

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The Two Oceans Marathon is one of the unique and popular marathons in the world. To begin with, it is more than a marathon – 56 Km in distance; and the attraction of the event is not on the difficulty of accomplishing the distance but on the beautiful scenic route. As is the norm in South Africa with most running events, they are stringent about the cut-off time for finishers – 7 hours from the gun shot and not a second more, which makes the event a challenging one too. Started in 1970 as a training run for the Comrades Marathon, it soon entered the marathon calendar of South Africa and became one of the most popular events in the world, with over 11,000 participants registering within the first two days of opening the registrations for this year’s edition. Organised every year during the Easter Weekend, the event was later expanded to include a half-marathon race, an international friendship run, trail runs, kids run and so on – there’s an event for everyone in the family – attracting over 35,000 runners from all over the world. This year, the event was held on March 31st and I happened to be one of the participants.

I arrived at Cape Town on March 28th in the backdrop of the acute water shortage that the city currently faces. Few minutes after my arrival, dark clouds gathered from nowhere and I was welcomed with thunderstorms and heavy rains that the city most wanted. Needless to say that the runners can claim some credit for that and the rains during the next two days. Considering the situation, the organisers had taken steps to ensure that the event does utilise any water from the city’s water resources and sought the assistance of runners to be mindful about the wastage of water. Runners were even asked to carry their own hydration packs that can be refilled in specified points.

My running weekend started with a visit to the Marathon Expo on March 29th. The routine affair of collecting the running bibs for both the marathon and the international friendship run, followed by window surfing of some of the irresistible products designed for runners that different brands have showcased in the expo – from alternatives to safety pins to clothing to shoes and what not! It was also an opportunity to meet runners from different parts of the world. The expo also featured talks by eminent runners including those with ‘Blue numbers’ – an honour for those completing 10 Two Oceans marathon. There were legendary runners who have done it even forty times!

The international friendship run on March 30th was certainly an unique feature for this event. Attended by people from different countries all over the world, with Germany, United Kingdom and Brazil having the highest number of participants. The organisers had thoughtfully arranged flags of all the countries and I had the fortune to carry the Tricolour. It was a 6 Km run through the beautiful promenade of Cape Town. Every country was cheered and welcomed by the spectators, including Australia, whose cricketers had an uneventful time a week earlier at Cape Town. At times, it looked like the best way to test one’s knowledge about flags of different countries. Somewhere, I felt that events like these bring people of different countries together more easily than the high powered summits attended by heads of state which invariably causes discomfort to the public of hosting cities.

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On March 31st, the two major events of the weekend were flagged off. The first of them was the Half-marathon participated by 16,000 runners at 5:50 AM followed by the main event, the Ultra Marathon at 6:30 AM. It looked like the organisers wanted the runners enjoy the route in the best possible way during broad daylight. To run in the main event, every runner must have run at least one marathon within 5 hours to be eligible for participation. This ensured that runners are aware of running etiquettes and respect each other, which is critical for smooth start of the run as well as running through narrow roads at many sections. There was not a minute during the seven hours when I could feel lonely in the course and yet not feel my way blocked by another runner.

The initial 30 Kms were fairly flat terrain where the only challenge was to conserve the energy for the second half of the run. The route takes us all the way towards East where one gets a chance to run alongside the Indian Ocean glistened by the morning sun. The routes goes through the suburbs of Cape Town, where the residents come out in big numbers to cheer the participants. It was from the 29th Km that the gradual ascend begins towards the Chapman’s Peak, where the English explorer John Chapman landed in South Africa. Situated at the coast of Atlantic Ocean, the road leading to the peak provides us with breathtaking views of the Ocean. Ideally, one would wish that the run ended here. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and one can even say that the real run began there!

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After reaching the top of the peak, a downhill run followed by a relatively flat terrain takes us close to the marathon distance. It was difficult to observe the contours as the focus was on the time and the distance to be covered. At about 46 Km, the next challenge was in store – a steep climb for couple of Kms followed by a steep downhill. This is the place where the race is won or lost for the lead pack and for the rest, it was a matter of hit or miss. At this stage, I feared that I might miss out the cut-off mark as I had started facing muscle cramps in my legs. The route took us through some of the green cover of Cape Town offering the much wanted cool shade when the Sun was rising over our heads. 

The theme for the event was “Run as One” and it was certainly implanted in the spirit of each runner. Seeing me struggle with cramps, one of the runners stopped to offer salt tablets; another experienced runner comforted me that I can still make it to the finish as long as I keep going. I was joined by an Aussie runner in what I would call as the mission impossible and we kept encouraging each other with undying hopes. The uncertainty persisted until the last Km when I was finally convinced that I can really make it to the finish line. The crowd around us makes sure that they celebrate in each one of our finishes. With 64 seconds to spare, I finished the race filled with thanks to my fellow runners and the wonderful Capetonians for what I am convinced as the “World’s Most Beautiful Race.”

Copyright ©2018 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, April 11, 2018 – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/running-in-the-two-oceans-marathon/article23492438.ece)

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Let’s Resolve to Run!

A new year brings in new beginnings, at least a new calendar to start with; unless you have preserved the 2007 calendar and choose to re-use it! Every New Year also opens a new set of resolutions which mostly gets buried even before the end of January. Many end up resolving not to take New Year resolutions, only to break it in the following year. Whatever may be the past, a beginning has to be made somewhere and a new year certainly gives us an opportunity to try something new; something better than the previous year.

A healthy body leads to a healthy mind is an old adage and worth recollecting, when we have to choose among multitude of resolutions. Invariably, it will be the most fundamental requisite for any other resolution that we undertake in the New Year. My recommendation towards a healthy body is to take up running as a regular routine for the upcoming year. Running is the simplest, easiest and least expensive fitness activity among various other choices. Over the past decade, no other fitness activity – gymnasiums, yoga centres, boot camps, zumba etc, – has found acceptance as much as running and the reasons are fairly obvious. Here are some of my tips to get you started!

  1. Start Walking – No one starts running from the very first day or the very first minute. Start walking and ask yourself ‘why walk when I can run?’ It would be only a matter of time when your feet starts running, and soon flying! It is absolutely not necessary that you have to see through the distance or time purely by running. Walking is also a pleasure; if not more than running.
  2. Time or Distance – Set yourself simple goals, either on the basis of time or on the basis of distance and gradually increase the targets. Ideally, running (with interspersed walking) for an hour or 5 Km should be a perfect and reasonable target to start with. Once achieved, don’t rush too soon to the next target. The rate of success that one achieves in early days doesn’t get replicated in later days.
  3. Join a Running Club – Nothing motivates you more than joining a group of like minded fellow runners. It has been a decade since I have been part of some running club or other and I can vouch for the support that the running clubs provided me in running, and even beyond it. Most running clubs are egalitarian in nature and are open to new and old runners alike regardless of one’s personal traits.
  4. Sign up for an event – Signing up for a running event invariably evokes memories of examinations of school/college days. Nevertheless, it is one great way to set a target and move towards it. No matter the distance or time, you will be a winner when you finish and rewarded suitably. If you are in Coimbatore, I would suggest you to run the Coimbatore Marathon on the first Sunday of October every year (the author is a member of the organising team). The only sore point is the ‘post-exam-style’ discussions on your timing, which is best avoided.
  5. Maintain a diary – A simple diary of activities is often the best way to keep you motivated. Start with a basic spreadsheet with date in Column A and just a word – ‘Running’ or ‘ Walking’ or ‘Others’ – in Column B to indicate your accomplishment on that day. You will soon find that scanning the sheet alone would motivate you for the following day(s). Personally, I started doing it back in 2005 and over the last 13 years, it is not an exaggeration to say that one can read my life through it. Unfortunately, it became too complicated in recent years which prevent me from sharing it.
  6. Social media – If you are on social media, there are plenty of runners who do wonderful posts that would be a great motivation for you to run. Their everyday runs, tips, experience, photographs and links to other resources help you in retaining motivation during the day. However, caution needs to be exercised in not getting dragged into the commercial sides of the so-called “influencers” or into the political and religious ideologies of these runners.
  7. Reward yourself – Rewards could be as simple as a sumptuous breakfast in your favourite restaurant after a Sunday morning run (ignore the calorie intakes, which often is more than the calories lost while running!). Buying yourself new attire, shoes, gadgets or planning a running-vacation, where you sign up for a running event in an exotic location and combine your vacation can be other choices as you take further steps.

I have consciously left out discussions on complex issues like getting a right shoe, attire, nutrition, strength training, cross training, stretching and many others that are associated with running at different levels. Although critical and necessary at some point of time, they are certain not to prohibit you from getting started or preventing you from running. The key is to get started and it is still simple and easy to do so.

The benefits from running differs from individual and for some, it has even helped them to stay off medication from lifestyle diseases. It is best left to the individual to find out what benefits he/she derives from the exercise. Never mind the incidental benefits, one is sure to just start running for the joy of it. The journey by itself is a reward. Let’s take the first step!

An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus (Coimbatore Edition). – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/how-to-stick-to-your-new-year-resolution-to-run/article22266386.ece

Copyright ©2017 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Venu Sir – A Tribute

It all started with a casual conversation during May 2009. VPS and Shahid had then started a “Chapter” of Chennai Runners; morning runs were started at MCC, Chetpet during weekdays, in addition to the ‘home ground’ at Alwarpet. A new runner had joined the group and started running with them. A regular walker until the age of 64, he had taken up to running with much apprehensions. To make him feel comfortable, VPS suggested to me to post a note on the Chennai Runners Google Groups to encourage him. I sent out a casual response to his mail on the group, completely unaware of whom I was trying to “Encourage”

Good one sir!

Mails like these make me have second thoughts about bunking the next day’s run! Keep going on and on!

Eight years have gone since that conversation and little did I realise, that it was a beginning of a special relationship. It is certainly an understatement to say Venugopalan or Venu Sir, as we affectionately called him, has been an inspiration and a pillar of support for many initiatives by Chennai Runners over the past eight years. There wouldn’t be many runners, young and old alike, in Chennai who had not been touched by his warmth and kindness. During the days when the google groups were active, he contributed immensely and his mails were a treasure of knowledge – well researched scientifically and applied by his own experience.
In July 2009, he was participated in the ECR Run, which I happened to anchor on behalf of the Chennai Runners.
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His kind words following the event certainly helped us to set the vision for the future,
the ECR event was very successful mainly because the entire core group of Chennai Runners (the International Marathoners) were in the centre of organising the event. We all SALUTE you for your selfless service. You are on your way to make ECR runs count at International level.
That was the first of the many running events that Venu Sir has been part of Chennai Runners, as a runner, volunteer as well as Pacer.  In 2014, I was assigned the task of finding pacers for Chennai Marathon for both the marathon as well as half-marathon categories. I wished to make the 6-hour bus driven by inspirational runners that would give the event a grandstand finish for the event. I hesitantly requested  Venu Sir, as he was in best of his running form and a potential winner in veteran categories. He was always there for the cause of encouraging runners and gladly accepted the offer. Along with Arun Krishnan and Hariharan, they formed one of the best pacing teams ever in any marathons. The picture at the finish line would stay in my memory for years!
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 In 2016, I invited him to address the STAR Runners and he gladly accepted to do so.
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His experiments in running is an example for anyone and everyone to emulate. He ran his first marathon at Auroville in 2011. I too participated in the event was totally exhausted at the 40th Km. It was there I saw a determined Venu Sir overtaking me and pushing me hard to the finish. From 4:55 in that event, he improved his timings for full marathon to 4:05 in Chennai Marathon 2013 and repeated it a month later at Mumbai in Januray 2014 with the same timing. He further went to finish at the top the runners above 70 years at Mumbai Marathon in January 2015.
He was never obsessed over podium finishes or prizes. His timings could have helped him secure a place in Boston marathon but he wasn’t the one to be fascinated by it. His disciplined approach to running, coupled with his ocean of knowledge on the subject served as both an inspiration and example for everyone to follow. He always had kind words of encouragement for those who took up to any activity related to running, be it organising or writing about it. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this blog owes its existence to him, as he was one of the regular readers and the highest contributor in terms of comments.
It is tough to admit that he would not be with us anymore. Over the past 177 days of running, I am sure every Chennai Runner has met him at least once and had the joy of being wished by him. The roads of Chennai is certain to be poorer without his presence in the morning. There would be a void which is almost impossible to fill in. As the running movement in Chennai gains from strength to strength, one man has certainly played his role and left behind memories for everyone to look back and reflect.
Personally,  I am indebted to him for the multitude of interactions and the support towards every endeavour of mine – running, organising, blogging or the STAR Runners initiative. His response to my very first mail sets out his expectations from me, which I hope to live up to in his memory!
I am honoured by your kind encouragement. I have great admiration for you and I value your raw enthusiasm, I can almost feel it though we have never met. You have a very long innings to play in bringing running as a way of life in India

Come out to Cheer….

On the eve of my attempt to run the 89 Km Comrades Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, I met an elderly gentleman, who had completed the event more than twenty times. Our discussion was largely centred on the event and he was helping me to ease my anxieties. He gave me one important piece of advise “All that you need to run is till the start of Durban town. The crowd will ensure that you finish the remaining 9 km before the cut-off time.” It was so true the following day as it appeared that the people of Durban have conspired to ensure that I finish and get my medal. Such was the ability of the people to change the destiny.

When it comes to sports, history is rarely made in empty arenas. The greatest of the sporting actions invariably owe their greatness to the support of the audience. They have made winning teams lose and losing teams win. Even in the age of television coverage of sports from every nook and corner of the globe, watching a sports action live has its own charm. For many, it provides them with a life-time worth experience. Nick Hornby writes in his memoir Fever Pitch, which was inspired by witnessing the title winning match between Arsenal football club and Liverpool football club in 1989,

So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.

While it is easy to understand the rationale behind people spending exorbitant money to watch a game of cricket or football, it is often difficult to comprehend someone going to watch a marathon entirely free of cost. Sometime back, I asked a friend of mine to come out and watch a running event that I was involved in organising. He cynically replied that he finds more meaning in watching paint dry than seeing folks put one foot after another for 42 long kilometres. A marathon runner certainly lacks the artistic appeal of Zinedine Zidane or the controlled aggression of Malcom Marshall. Looked unitary, a runner many not provide you with an excitement or enthusiasm, unless you know them in person. But, there is more to marathon.

A marathon is a spectacle by itself. One gets to see a diverse set of crowd, separated by age, gender, caste, creed, race, nationality or even the shape of their body; yet united by a single pursuit to see through the distance.  Other than the lead pack of runners who compete for prize money, the rest of runners run their own race. For them, the race day is the crowning moment of all their training efforts over many days and weeks. Every runner has a story and the marathon weaves their stories together. Watching the entire city move in one direction, towards one goal, instils the belief that anything is possible if we collectively move together. Kathrine Switzer, often credited to be first women finisher of Boston Marathon, once said,

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

Marathons have their share of fanatic crowds too. The “Wellesley Tunnel” created by students of Wellesley College in Boston by standing on either side of the Boston marathon route has become an integral part of the event. London marathon once surprised the participants by having celebrity sportspersons handle their water station. The Comrades marathon in South Africa is often a symbol of unity in a country torn apart by years of racial discrimination. Cheryl Winn, who won the race in 1982, says

“It showed the country what it could and should be.”

Closer home, the Mumbai Marathon brings the best of the spirit of Mumbai. In 2009, I participated in the Mumbai Marathon, which happened to be the first major event after the city was jolted by terrorist attacks in November 2008. For the city, it was moment to stand as one and move forward.

This Sunday, Coimbatore will be hosting its own Marathon. With over 13,000 participants, it promises to be biggest sporting event in Tamil Nadu outside Chennai. The marathon, started in 2013, is organised in aid of the Coimbatore Cancer Foundation and has been growing every year in terms of the participants. It is also an opportunity for residents of Coimbatore to come out and experience what marathons are all about. These runners are none other than friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues – ordinary people – collectively trying to do an extraordinary feat of completing the distance. Sportspersons rarely acknowledge or remember the audience by their first name. In marathons, runners will remember each one of their friends who came out to support them, however trivial it may look. For the crowd, it would be an experience that would be best left to witness than describe.

To close the loop on the friend I mentioned earlier, he did come out to watch a marathon in subsequent years and complimented, “Yes, there is something special in watching a marathon.”

An edited version of the blog above was published by The Hindu in the Metroplus edition of Coimbatore on September 29, 2017. The online version can be found here – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/come-out-and-cheer-the-runners-of-the-coimbatore-marathon/article19768671.ece

 

Age is just a Number…

Any conversation about old people and their passions in life will invariably lead us to the movie “World’s Fastest Indian,” a biographical picture based on the life of legendary Kiwi motorcyclist Burt Monroe, who set world records for under 1000 cc motorcycle at the age of sixty-eight. In one of the scenes, Anthony Hopkins, playing the role of Burt Monroe, frustrated by youngsters not allowing him to ride his motor cycle would say,

“I am half the age as some of those scared out there. Everyone wants us old men to curl up in some quite corner; and die. Well, Burt Monroe is not ready to finish up…”

Inspirational old men pursuing their passions aren’t uncommon in long distance running. In the early-2000s, the Internet was filled with stories of Fauja Singh and his exploits in running marathons (42.195 Km), after he turned ninety years of age. This in turn inspired many others to take up long distance running immaterial of their age. Over the next decade, when running events were on rise in India, we started seeing more examples closer home. Eighty-five year old B.R. Janardhan, from Bangalore, was regularly grabbing one of the top three spots in the annual 10K event held at Bangalore in the above-70 category until a few years back. Despite improving his timings, he is now unable to get ranked in the top-3 as there are more competitors above 70 years of age!

In 2013, L. Dhanapal, then fifty-eight years of age, saw the advertisement for Coimbatore Marathon. A regular walker then, he fancied attempting the 21.1K run and planned to walk the entire distance. Over the run, the encouragement from the volunteers prompted him to run for some time during the course, before finishing it in 3:40:00. He later heard about the Coimbatore Runners and after much apprehension, joined them for a morning run.

“Initially, I thought I don’t belong to them as they all looked professional in their fancy outfits; more so, they run and I walk”!

The initial conversation with Ramesh Ponnuswamy, co-founder of the group, made him lose his inhibitions instantaneously. During the first run with the group, he was surprised that the group members stayed together till the last runner finishes.

“Ramesh kept running back and forth to ensure that I too finish along with the group. This encouraged me to run regularly with the group.”

He became a regular runner with the Codissia chapter of the group and went on to finish the next two editions of Coimbatore Marathon with a best timing of 2:20:00. He has also run two marathons and is now confident that he can run half-marathon on any given weekend!

For seventy-year old Ratan Asawa, long distance running helps him to connect with the youth and feel younger than his age would suggest. In his younger days, he was a regular walker and played basket-ball, volley-ball and shuttle-badminton. A chance conversation with his nephew, who lives in Amsterdam and a regular marathon runner, got him hooked to the idea of taking up long distance running. It was around that time, the first Coimbatore marathon was announced. He was of the impression that the ‘longest’ in long distance running would be anywhere between 10 to 15 kilometres. Unaware that the distance for half-marathon was 21.1 km, he set out to run the distance and surprised himself by completing it in 3:04:00. Over the next three years, he completed the event twice with a best timing of 2:24:00.

“Running with Coimbatore Runners helped me to enjoy running even more. The runners helped me in finding the right apparel and made me feel comfortable by running slower. After seeing some of them wear hydration bags, I too got one and now find it useful to run and cover longer distances above thirty kms!”

says Ratan, who can be found doing his long runs in Thadagam road during weekends. He is looking forward to do a Marathon very soon and training for it regularly.

For P. Chandramohan (65), running helped him to redefine his life post-retirement. In 2010, as he was heading towards the sunset of his stellar career with Larsen & Toubro, he was evaluating multiple opportunities to keep him engaged post retirement. He was an active sportsman during his school and college days and represented his college, Coimbatore Institute of Technology, in Hockey, Cricket & Table Tennis. During his work life, he kept himself active by playing Badminton and regular walks up to a distance of 5 Km. He learned about Chennai Runners and was motivated by the various conversations on running in their public forums. In 2012, he attempted his first half marathon and impressed with a timing of 2:06:00.

After retiring in 2013, he moved to Kovaipudur and started the Kovaipudur Walkers and Runners club to encourage the residents to take up active life. He led by example and completed his first marathon in 2013. He has since completed the distance seventeen times with a personal best of 4:47:00! In the recently organised Hyderabad Marathon, he finished third in the marathon (above 65 years category).  To encourage more people into running, he also volunteers in organising running events and an active member of the organising team of Coimbatore Marathon. In 2016, he was instrumental in organising the all-woman running event in Kovaipudur which attracted participation of over 350 ladies.

“Age is just a number and not to be used as an excuse for a laid back life style. I have never felt bored all the 4 years since my retirement and I am able to face any adverse situation with confidence. A run in the morning keeps my spirits very positive throughout the day. Running with the enthusiastic Coimbatore Runners have always made me feel young”

Sivabalan Pandian, 58, may not be as old when compared to the other three runners above; nor has he retired from his professional life as a consultant to textile industries. He took up to running at the age of 52 to counter a host of medical ailments that he accumulated over his lifetime. Very soon, he discovered his passion for running and started taking part in half-marathons. Never obsessed with the timing of his runs, he soon started focusing on longer and ran his first marathon in January 2013. While he may be slow on his runs, he is a man in a hurry when it comes to running more marathons. He set himself a target of completing 100 marathons and achieved it by running the Dubai marathon in January this year. Since then, he completed a further 42 marathons to date, including running 10 marathons in 10 days in Italy in August.

He has travelled extensively across the world to participate in marathons  and has run in all Continents except Antarctica, where he plans to run soon.

“In spite of being diabetic, there is no need for me to take insulin shots. Running has helped me to become fit and feel more energetic at work, despite getting old. It is a great opportunity to meet and befriend runners from all over the world. I would confidently say that running has helped me to think positively and become more altruistic”

At an age when most would expect him to wind down from his regular work, running has helped him to set his sights higher and in new avenues. He hopes to start an old age home for needy people as well as a running academy in India very soon.

Coimbatore is increasingly becoming a favourite destination for many retirees and there is ample evidence that regular exercise keeps them physically and mentally fit. There are many inhibitions, unsolicited advices and fears among the elderly that can be overcome only through regular interaction with runners from different age groups.  As Anthony Hopkins says in the movie quoted above,

If you don’t go when you want to go, when you do go, you’ll find you’re gone.

Note: An edited version of this article was published in The Hindu – Metroplus on September 4th, 2017 – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/senior-citizens-on-how-they-began-running-and-what-its-done-for-them/article19619296.ece

The Independence Day Ride

In 2007, after finishing fourth in the prologue of Tour De France, Sir* Bradley Wiggins took a dig on the most popular television show in UK around that time, “It is nice to be recognised for actually achieving something in life as opposed to spending seven weeks in a house on TV with a load of other muppets.” Around the time when the modified version of that show is making news, Coimbatore Cycling, supported by Cycology, organised the 100 Kms Independence Day Ride for cyclists to help them to have an experience of their lifetime. “Riding the first 100 Km is an aspiration for every amateur cyclist. When organising the ride on an Independence Day, we make sure that amateur cyclists remember the day by achieving something special,” says Chakkravarthy Birur, one of the organisers.

Although this wasn’t my first 100K cycling ride, my lack of preparation was certain to provide me with an experience of a first time rider. I had originally planned to do a “mini” version of the ride covering about 50 Kms but my ride partner, Satish Kini encouraged me to go for the 100 Kms. A group of 25 riders started out at 6 AM in the morning of August 15th from Coimbatore Cycling group at Ramanathapuram area to challenge the 100 Kms. The group comprised of some of the best cyclists in Coimbatore who ease past the 100 Kms under 3 hours to first time riders who look forward for their first taste of long distance ride without any time constraint. The bicycles, and of course the participants, came in all shapes and sizes. There were the top-end carbon-frame bikes designed to cruise at 35-40 kmph to the simple ones whose speed is largely dictated by the energy levels of the riders.

I started out with my fellow riders, Satish Kini, H. Manju, V. Suresh and P. Karthi – all of them being fellow runners too.  The lovely morning weather was certainly a nature’s gift and something to be cherished; what more, it made our ride easier. The route for the day was fairly simple – a long ride on the Avinashi Road towards Salem up to 50 kms and return back. The early pace was set by Satish Kini, nicknamed the German for his no-nonsense approach to cycling, running and possibly every aspect of life. Reluctantly, we followed him, for we knew that he has his plans in place and will help us to finish the ride.

We skipped our routine tea break on long rides as the weather was conducive for a fast paced ride. The onward journey was largely downhill and the tail wind was assisting our smooth progress. The volunteer presence en-route made our ride comfortable with hydration and nutrition support. The roads looked pristine and were cleaned by the overnight rains. The return journey was a different game altogether and offered some challenges for the riders. It was a ride up towards Coimbatore with headwinds acting against our efforts. I had to let go my fellow riders one after other and wage some lone battles towards the finish. The first time I attempted to ride past 100 Km was way back in 2008 and since then, there were many occasions, I completed that distance, and even more. Nevertheless, each ride proves to be a challenge of its own and as memorable as the very first ride.

All the finishers were treated with a lovely badge celebrating their achievement and sumptuous food.  “We believe every finisher is a winner and there is nothing like coming first or last. Each rider rides to a best of his/her ability and deserves to be recognised equally,” says Sulaiman Bhimani, a former national-level cyclist and currently one of the key organisers in Coimbatore Cycling. There was also a 50 Km ride on the very same day to encourage beginners to take up long distance cycling.

Cycling can easily related to the concept of Independence – at personal as well as collective level. To begin with, regular cycling helps people to keep themselves physically fit. Second, the satisfaction of completing the distance (longer than walking or running) solely by one’s own effort instils a great level of self-confidence. At a social level, there are many examples of social change that has been achieved by promoting cycling in underprivileged communities. A 2014 study** of the Bihar Government’s initiative of providing free cycles to girl students found that the scheme has increased girls’ age-appropriate enrolment in secondary school by 32%.

As Ivan Illich would write in his seminal work Energy and Equity, in 1974, “A true choice among practical policies and of desirable social relations is possible only where speed is restrained. Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle.” There is plenty of merit in promoting cycling for a better human being and society as a whole.

Our celebration of the 71st Independence Day was certainly made memorable thanks to the efforts of the Coimbatore Cycling and fellow riders. As it is likely to be a routine affair henceforth, we hope to see more and more riders join the bandwagon and experience the joy of cycling. If you still have doubts, remember the day when you first attempted to learn how to ride a cycle – it’s as much fun now as it was then.

*He was knighted in 2012, after winning Tour De France 2012

** Muralidharan, Karthik, and Prakash Nishith, 2014, “ Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India

 

An edited version of this blog was published by The Hindu on August 19, 2017 in the Metro Plus – Coimbatore Edition. You can read it online here – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/coimbatore-cyclists-covered-50-and-100-kilometers-on-a-trip-along-avanashi-road/article19517496.ece

 

Training for Coimbatore Marathon

Legendry Boxer, Late Muhammed Ali once said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” Training to run a marathon, which largely comprise of drudged long runs, hardly excites anyone and contrary to the experiences of the running at the event. There is no one to cheer you on the run, the roads aren’t closed for traffic, no water points to hydrate and finally, no one awaits you with a medal, pongal and vada!

Coimbatore Runners, an informal group of recreational runners, brings something different when it comes to the training runs for the upcoming Coimbatore marathon to be held on October 1, 2017. Starting from the very first edition of the event in 2013, training runs have been integral part of the various initiatives taken by Coimbatore Runners towards the excellent organisation of the event. These training runs aren’t led by a professional coach who demands you to put in your best performance; but by runners who run for the joy of running and voluntarily help you to enjoy towards achieving your best.

While there is abundant literature about running available on the Internet and through various media sources, there is nothing even remotely closer to listening to a personal experience of fellow runners. One may read about a 95-year old man running a Marathon or an 85-year old woman participating in a triathlon; but they are just words as you never get to witness it in person. “When you run with Coimbatore runners, you see the runners, speak to them, run with them and experience the changes that running brings in them” says Manjunath, who was part of the training initiatives during the first edition on behalf of Coimbatore Runners. A quick profile of some of the trainers would tell us more about the training program.

Shanmugaraj, or Shan as he is affectionately called, used to be a Ball-badminton player during his school and college days playing for tournaments at district level. He got into running after hearing about it from his colleagues in 2013. He found an ocean of difference in the approach towards training for a marathon. “When training for Ball-Badminton, we were always obsessed about how our opponents would play and train to better them; in running, you always train for yourself as you aspire to better yourself.” He currently volunteers as the lead trainer on behalf of Coimbatore runners and supported by his friends during daily runs. He believes that injury-free running must be goal for every runner and helps them in achieving it.

Veeshal took up to running in 2014 after reading an article about Coimbatore Runners in The Hindu. It was actually the picture of the runners that attracted him to the group. He spotted one of his friends, whom he knew for sure wasn’t an “athlete” and wondered about the newly found celebrity status. His friend responded that he too would be a celebrity if he can wake up at 5:30 AM and report three times a week for morning runs. “The warmth and the camaraderie of the group on the very first day made me easily feel a part of the group. I felt confident to call myself a runner very soon.” He ran the 2014 edition and was eager to give back to the group which led him to be one of the trainers for the last two years. “Fitness is not just about physical fitness but also mental fitness. I enjoy running with back of the pack runners, casual chat about many issues, listen to different perspectives and make friends for life.”

Valliappan was a regular morning walker for most of his life and participated in the 10K event in 2013. His initial apprehension about running with Coimbatore runners were mostly about the “astronomical” distances covered during their morning runs. In 2014, he decided to join the training program for 10K event only to realise that he can actually run more and ended up running the half-marathon. He realised soon that it was just a mental block that was preventing him from going extra distance and, most runners weren’t any different from him. “Trainees who come with a very open mind about running soon realise that they can actually aspire to go farther distances. The key however is to enjoy the runs and stay injury-free.”

Saravana Kumar is possibly one of the coaches who can get closer to description of a professional coach. A state level athlete during his school and college days, he had adequate knowledge about sports and prior experience in training. However, He still believes that he is only a learner when it comes to long distance running. “Running is easier and simpler for anyone to get started. Once started, runners can choose to have their own goals and paths.” He feels that runners need not invest in expensive gadgets and accessories from the very first day. “Use basic and comfortable clothing and footwear to get started. Once you are with the group, you will get excellent advice on what to buy and what not to buy from diverse people.” The only thing that is expected from runners is the commitment to get started and continue.

The training program is currently held at Race Course road where the group meets four times a week. The details about the program and the contact person are available on the website http://coimbatoremarathon.com/site/trainrun. Inspired by the success of the training program in Race Course road, training runs are now organised at Codissia, Saravanampatti, Sai Baba Colony and Perks Arch road.

(An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu, August 14th 2017. You can read it online here – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/training-for-the-coimbatore-marathon/article19480184.ece)