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Life lessons from running Marathons

Patience, Progress.....

Running comes naturally to humans and all other animals. Prehistoric humans used to run to gather food as also to save themselves from the predator. These days people like to run away from problems and want to run into opportunities, some even want to run away from responsibilities while others run, just to be in the rat race.

Personal experience

We do many things only when pushed against the wall, like it is said about the liberalisation of Indian economy which started in 1991 (in the backdrop of the balance of payment crisis). This couldn’t be more than true in my case. Having spent first 6 years of my professional journey at Maruti in managing shop floor operations, I moved to the Corporate Planning function driving Strategic Initiatives. The role change not only brought its own set of challenges and excitement but also introduced me to a sedentary lifestyle. Among other things, this saw me gain a hefty 10 kgs in less than a year. One fine day when the lift of the office was not working, I took the stairs to reach to my office situated on 11th floor. It so happened that I gave up going by the lift from that very moment. I continuously worked to improve my timing – while on day one I took about 10 minutes, my personal best of 100 seconds for 11 floors came in less than a few months. Some other colleagues from office joined this form of workout.

I didn’t realise that this humble beginning of taking a step on the stairs would lead me to run marathons, a distance of 42.2kms.

It’s been almost 10 years now that I run almost every day (typically a distance of about 5-8kms on a weekday and 8-15kms on a holiday), except for the days that I have to undertake an early morning journey. My travel kit always includes a pair of sports shoes. While I started running for fitness, it has now become part of my life, just like breathing. The day I am not able to run seems to be incomplete. I run at least one marathon (42.2 km)/half marathon (21.1kms) in a year.

The high point came when I ran a half marathon with a stranger – both of us challenging each other while motivating each other to do better. I later came to know that stranger was none other than Anil Ambani. Similarly, I bumped into none other than Milind Soman in one of the Mumbai marathons...with Milind being playing the role of my mentor. 

Why Run

Long distance running not only improves the physical fitness (complete body workout burning lots of calories and helping keeping body toned) but more importantly makes us mentally tougher – teaches us to doggedly pursue a target against all adversity. Many people including myself have found it very useful to overcome the stressful life of working in a corporate. The 45 minutes of morning run serves as a good planning time for the day.

Some people now call running as a new golf, where you can intermingle with like-minded people, discuss ideas and become friends with strangers, while covering long distances on foot.

Typical journey from start to running marathon

Making a beginning is the most important step. The next is to sustain it. As per the golden rule of 21 – after you do your daily activities for 21 days nonstop, then it will become your habit. Hence the trick is to sustain running habit for 21 days. Once new runners have mastered reached the 5km mark they often begin training for longer races and then they progress to 10km & 21.1km (half marathon) races, finally graduating to a full marathon (42.2km). 

The full marathon, a 26.2-mile race got its name from Pheidippides, who is said to have run slightly less than 26 miles from the city of Marathon to Athens to announce Athenian army's victory over Persians. He apparently crashed dead on the ground  immediately after announcing the victory.

While burning thousands of calories while strengthening bones, heart, and muscles is clearly one of the major benefits, which drives people to run, one wonders why do so many people want to run a distance that could even someone?

All the marathon runners (including the budding ones) admit that the challenge and the possibility of a personal victory from achieving such a high goal inspires them to do this unthinkable task.

One is likely to encounter some pains and muscle pulls during the first few days of starting running (as with any other exercise). The trick here is to gradually scale up. Celebrity Japanese author Haruki Murakami gives similar advice in his bestselling book ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’). As per a rule of thumb, for building endurance, one should try and increase the distance covered by 10% per week.

Helping train others is one of the best ways to keep yourself in the game. I have helped train 7 friends in last 2 years, all of whom have started running marathons as well. The satisfaction that I get from seeing them come out of finishing line is immense.

Common misconception: Running damages knees

Some people say that running damages your knees. There's no evidence that regular running damages knees. Long-term studies have found that runners have less probability of knee osteoarthritis. Extra weight, however places damages the knees.

It is advised to run on level ground to lessen the torque on the knees.

Maintaining correct running posture & doing stretching exercises during warm up and cooling down definitely prevents possibility of injury.

About the Author

Ajay Arora (aroraajay@gmail.com is a qualified Mechanical Engineering graduate and post graduate in Management, having spent over twenty years in Corporate life leading Operations and New Projects. An avid reader and a traveler, he lives in New Delhi with his wife and two school going kids.