Crash Course to 5K

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An interesting information that I came across recently was that of the first lady to go across the world in a bicycle learning to ride it only two weeks before the trip. As apocryphal as it may sound, I refused to verify the authenticity for I loved the sheer audaciousness that the story carried with it. Not everything that is achieved need to be premediated or planned; somethings can always happen by chance. With little over a month to go for Coimbatore Marathon, why not a running or walking a 5K happen to you even if it was not one of the resolutions for 2018? Fancy it, read further
Let’s begin with a caveat. Your health is of utmost importance. Running is not a panacea for any existing ailments or complications. If you have been advised against walking or running by a medical practitioner or suffer from medical ailment which can be made worse by running or walking, adhere to the advise of your medical practitioner and seek their inputs. If cleared by your doctor, here’s a crash course to get your going in the next one month to participate in the Coimbatore Marathon.
Register for the event. Registrations for the event close by September 7th and it is advisable to register early to avoid disappointment. Also, by registering, your resolution gets even stronger with the financial commitment in place.
Sleep early and rise early. The most difficult distance to cover is often the distance from your bed to the shoe rack. It is always best to choose mornings over evenings, especially when you begin to run. The freshness of morning air easily gets you going. Running in the evening is often difficult due to vehicle movements, pollution, tired days, which require additional motivation to get started. The initial few days may present new challenges like feeling drowsy during morning hours and it is usually matter of time to get over it.
Get your friends and family on board Reach out to your friends and family and rope them in your adventure. The best, almost certainly, doesn’t come alone. If you do not find any, there are always Coimbatore Runners with whom you can give a start. It is perfectly fine to start and finish your run with them, even if you cannot adhere to their training programs. 
Download an app If you have a smart phone, download one of the many apps that are available today to help you keep record of distance, time and maintain a diary of activities. Many of them are simple yet addictive, and possibly help you in encouraging yourself. Should you prefer peace over complexities, you can still go with your simple notebook.
Well begun is half-done. The actual act of running or walking is definitely not a rocket science by any means. It is all about placing one foot after another and repeating them, till you feel like stopping. Take it easy and never exert any pressure beyond what you are able to. Do not get into running to prove anything to anyone. The journey is a reward by itself as you will soon find out. 
Baby Steps – Take small steps each day and progress gradually. You are your own judge of your capabilities. If it is 1 Km on day, do not rush to 2 Km or 3 Km on the next day. Just increase it by 100m on the next day and see how you feel about it. Similarly, do not try running the distance all out in a single stretch. Alternate running and walking and slowly increase the proportion of running.
Reward yourself – The race day brings in its own set of entitlements that you will make your run unforgettable. Then, there is nothing stopping you in rewarding yourself. A new apparel for the first five days of training or a new gadget for accomplishing a certain distance is not a bad idea to start with.
Look forward with excitement. Do not see the event as an examination but as a celebration of your effort over the next one month. Attending the pre-race event expo is another experience by itself, where you get a chance to meet runners in plain clothes and listen to their extraordinary stories. No matter the time of your finish, when you cross the finish line, each one of you will be a winner with a lovely medal that will have stories of one lifetime. 
Finally, participation in Coimbatore Marathon should only be a beginning in bringing in a new life style. The last minute preparations for school or college examinations often make us miss the flower for the fruit. The real joy in running is not about the participation in one event but making it a habit. The event certainly acts as a catalyst to set the new lifestyle. As Ajay Varma, finisher of the 89-Km Comrades Marathon in 2017, says, “My running started with the Coimbatore Marathon in 2013. I had registered for the 5K and in fact, tried to prepare for the event only the evening before. I had not looked back since.”

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, September 4, 2018 – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/quick-tips-for-a-5k-run/article24863875.ece)

 

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Running for 100 days

Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.

– widely attributed to Anton Chekov

Sports persons are often unfairly judged on what they do for few minutes on the event day, ignoring the hours of drudgery of their routine training that consumes most of their lives. In long distance running, while achievements like running a marathon or a half is widely celebrated, the simple act of getting up every morning and stepping out is rarely appreciated. It is for no reason that runners consider the distance between their bed and shoe rack as the most difficult distance to accomplish!
Tanvir Kazmi, a  renowned recreational long distance runner who has inspired many runners through his blog as well as being one of the finishers of the Comrades Marathon in 2010, found that many of the his fellow runners disappear soon after an event or two, especially during the summer months. Further, when they return back they are down with some injury or other. In 2014, he came up with a simple proposition – run a minimum of two Kms everyday for 100 days.

“It was a new experience for me too. There were tired days at work, travel, vacations and reasons aplenty to excuse oneself. This was a test of will power and I wanted to first try it on myself.”

says Tanvir, whose idea has now spread across India.

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TANVIR KAZMI Photo: Special arrangement

Started formally in 2015, the 100 Days of Running has attracted people from places all over India. The idea is simple – run everyday, minimum of 2K and no pressure on timing or pace.The number of participants have gone up from 48 in 2015 to over 10,000 this year with at least 25% of them running all the 100 days. Coimbatore has its own champions – 15 of them went on to finish all the 100 days and we hear from some of them about their experiences.

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ARUNAN Photo by Arun


Arunan Thlagavathi, 29
Arunan made his first attempt to run 100 days in 2017. However, it has to do be discontinued due to personal exigencies. This year, he was even more determined to finish and challenges at his work did not deter him from completing the 100 days. On asked about the most difficult days among the 100, he said, “One of the days, I had to report to work very early and could return back only at 11:00 PM. I realised that it is impossible to go home, change and go for a run. I asked my friend to drop me 2 Kms before home and I ran to home in formal clothes to ensure that I complete the distance for that day.”

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VENKATESAN R. Photo: ‘Lion’ Selvaraj

Venkatesan R., 70
Venkatesan started running with the Porur Racers, a running group based out of Chennai. He extensively credits the group for getting him to challenge himself through running. He found running to be the perfect way to keep himself active as well as healthy post his retirement. “In Coimbatore, running with the Sai Baba Colony runners helped me to complete this challenge with ease. I was also moved by their nice gesture to honour me on the final day.” says Venkatesan. On asked about the most difficult days, he humbly commented, “Luckily, I am retired and don’t have any work pressures. The only commitment that I have is attending weddings and on those days, I have to be up early and finish my runs before honouring them.”

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MANJU V. Photo by Palani


Manju Viswananthan, 39
For Manju, the 100 days challenge presented a transition from a walker to a runner. She started doing morning walks for keeping good health and found this challenge intriguing. It was her group U2 which brought her into this challenge. “Initially there were a lot of apprehensions on what it means for someone who has never been into sports to take up running. Once started, there was no looking back.” says Manju who found plenty of encouragement from the fellow runners in Sai Baba Colony. “There were days when I stepped out at 9:00 PM to go for a run and wondered what people would think of me. Once, you get over that fear, no distance, be it in running or life, is difficult to conquer,” says Manju, who has since gone on to finish a few 10K races during the 100 days.

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SURIYA C. Photo by special arrangement

Prof. Suriyaprakash C, 50
Suriya has been a regular runner for a while but his travel commitments often presented him with a challenge to keep up with his running schedules. He found the 100 Days of Running as the best way to force himself into discipling himself towards regular running. Despite his travel schedule, ranging from monsoon drenched Mumbai to hot climes of Pondicherry, he ensured that he kept up his running schedule. The biggest challenge was left to the higher altitudes. “I had already planned for a trip to Kailas-Mansarovar during this time period and it was a real challenge to run in the higher altitudes beyond 4000 metres. The serene atmosphere helped me though,” says Suriya who believes that running should be integral part of everyone’s life.

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SENTHIL KUMAR Photo by Arun

Senthil Kumar, 48
Senthil started running about two years back for fitness and had simple targets initially. He was always of the misconception that running will hurt his knees and never ran beyond 100 Kms per month. Joining the Coimbatore Runners at CODISSA was a turning point as they constantly encouraged him towards new goals. “The 100 run target was daunting initially but I thought it’s the best way to clock up miles in the process,” says Senthil who has run an incredible 1350 Kms in the process, highest among other finishers in Coimbatore. He is now raring to get more runners to take up this challenge next year.

Gayathri Babu, 42
A couch potato till 2016 – medical ailments forced her to quit her job and she started focusing her efforts in getting active. The first 500m of walk was herculean, to say the least. Her journey from counting tubes of pain relieving ointments ointments to counting miles is an inspiring story by itself. She was determined in her efforts and transitioned her walks to run in January 2018. Support from her family, doctors and fellow runners have been indispensable. “We are always evaluated by comparing oneself with others. Running helped me to focus on myself and get better every day. The icing on the cake was getting my first ever medal, that too at an age of 42, is certainly something that I would cherish.” says Gayathri, who is gearing up for a long run!

These are stories of few and there are many more who have gone on to make running a way of life.

 

 

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, August 11, 2018 – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/coimbatores-runners-who-met-the-100-days-of-running-challenge/article24655640.ece)

Training for Coimbatore Marathon

Mornings in August aren’t the same in Coimbatore. The pleasant weather, with an air of chillness emanating from the western ghats recently washed by the south west monsoon rains, is something to cherish and relish. While for some, it implies another hour of extra rest; for others, it is an opportunity to go for a morning walk or run, possibly followed by a hot cup of tea or coffee at one of their favourite joints. The Coimbatore Marathon, organised on the first Sunday of October over the past 5 years, has presented a perfect reason for people to step out and train for the event during this period. One cannot miss the bright red shirts of Coimbatore Marathon when going for a walk down the race course road, Codissia road or at Sai Baba colony.

Apart from being instrumental in organising the event, Coimbatore Runners, a voluntary group of recreational runners, also take the additional step of organising training runs for runners interested in participating in the 10K or 5K event. Their “Couch to 5K” program is widely popular with runners, who initially joined out of curiosity only to go on become regular runners, with some even finishing marathons. Uma Palaniappan and her husband, Palaniappan Annamalai are one such example.

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Uma Palaniappan. Photo Courtesy: Annur Runners

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Palaniappan Annamalai Photo Courtesy: Annur Runners

Uma and Palani joined the couch to 5K training program during the 2014 edition of Coimbatore marathon. Although regular walkers and practice yoga, both had very little background in sports which kept them away from running. They joined the group only to find that they actually run the 10K distance. Subsequently, in 2015, they participated in the Annur Half Marathon, where Uma was among the top 3 finishers in women’s veteran category. “The biggest prize that I have received in running are the wonderful friends who constantly encourage me to find my best,” says Uma. In 2015, both ran their first full marathon in Bangalore and it capped a fine transition of them to a complete runners. “I feel proud to say that we are able to set a good example for our daughter and son to take up active life,” says Palaniappan.

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Manjunath H V Photo Courtesy: Annur Runners

For Manjunath H.V., it was not only a change of lifestyle that prompted him for running, but also a change of place. After moving from Chennai to Coimbatore in 2012, it was difficult for him to settle down in a new place. Inspired by his colleague, he took up to running during the first edition of the Coimbatore marathon. “Running helped me find new friends and helped in settling down in Coimbatore, in addition to relieving stress and improving fitness” says Manjunath, who is now a runner and cyclist. He has since completed many full marathons and long cycling rides, including the 200K Brevets. His personal bests are always running with the group more than the solo runs. “In group, there is always someone to converse with, in various languages and topics, and you rarely get tired of running, irrespective of the distance,” says Manju

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Rani and Sudheer Photo: Special Arrangement

In 2016, Sudheer Elenkath and his wife Rani Sudheer had registered for the 5K event and had plans only to walk the distance. On hearing about training runs, they wanted to just check it out on the way to some other work. “On the first day, we covered the 2.5K around race course and actually ran some of the distance. We couldn’t believe that we can actually run!” says Sudheer who along with his wife has gone on to run the 10K in 2017 and now getting ready for the half-marathon. “Running is like a meditation. It helped us gain lot of confidence, meet diverse people and we are highly motivated to do more” says Rani from her experience in running with the group for the past two years.

Coimbatore runners organise these training runs voluntarily. “The only investment we seek from runners is their time and commitment. Our objective is to make sure that runners finish the event strongly and cherish the moments, and of course, the breakfast” says Ramesh Ponnuswami, co-founder of Coimbatore Runners and also the Race Director of Coimbatore Marathon. The training runs are oriented towards helping runners to achieve his/her potential.  “We do not push the runners to run in any speed. Everyone run in their own pace making marginal improvements all the time. The group is full of enthusiasm and we have extended our activities to strength training sessions to help us run injury free,” says Karthikeyan P, co-founder of the group, who leads the training runs in Sai Baba Colony.

Running is an education by itself; One can never know it all or know less of it. For each, the learning is different and it is best to experience one self. Training with the group helps in facilitating this learning. The sharing of information and personal experiences with each other helps in improving  oneself in running as well as life. Pull out that shoes and head towards the door before the day breaks.

Start Points:

Race Course Road – In front of Income Tax Office

Coidissia – Outside Jenny’s Club on the road leading to Codissia

Sai Baba Colony – Children’s park, opposite BSNL on Alagesan road

GV Residency – Outside the Vinayagar Temple

Saravanampatti – Outside Lisieux CMI Public School, Sahara City, Saravanampatty,

Kovaipudur – Q block park

Start Time: 5:45 AM

Contact: Coimbatore Marathon helpline number – +91 8939801188 or write to us at coimbatorerunners@gmail.com or info@coimbatoremarathon.com

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, August 1, 2018 – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/on-training-for-the-coimbatore-marathon/article24572866.ece)

 

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)

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