One of my favorite quotations of all time is by the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. It goes something like this: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.”
I had never been particularly athletic growing up, and had focused on academics in both high school and IIT. While I did run cross-country in our PT class at school, and occasionally to Vihar Lake while at IIT, I was only a middle-of-the-pack runner. But I used to walk fast, and had been called a “pansy” at IIT for my style (think 20 km walks in athletics events!) While I took it good-naturedly, I think it must have nevertheless touched a nerve somewhere.
I didn’t run for several years after moving to the US after my B. Tech. After a few years, I got heavily into the party scene there, and was both spending too much money as well as wasting my weekends doing so.
In early 2003, I suffered from some health issues, and so decided that it was time to change my lifestyle to something a little healthier. In order to cut down on the partying, I took that first step described by Lao Tzu: I joined a local running club and ran up to 5 miles each Saturday morning. Soon I started taking part in some 5K and 10K races. The next year I ran the Bay to Breakers, an iconic 12 km race in San Francisco.
A couple of friends from the group had started running marathons. Also a colleague at work ran one. I decided that it might be a good challenge to take on, and also prove that I was no pansy in the process! And thus, I took the next step: I signed up for a 5 month group-coached marathon training program, in return for fund raising for a local HIV/AIDS non-profit.
I finished the San Francisco Marathon that year in just over 4 hours. At that point I had no idea whether I wanted to check it off my bucket list, or continue running further. But I decided to sign up for a marathon in Las Vegas later that year, combining it with a trip to check out the burgeoning dining/entertainment scene there.
The next year, I got accepted in the lottery for the New York City Marathon, and so I decided to get a little more serious and joined a long distance oriented running club with group coaching and different types of runs aimed at improving endurance and speed. I also started picking destination races, with Paris being my first international marathon — thereby combining three of my other passions — travel, culture, and food for the first time. I ran the Mumbai Marathon for the first time in January 2008 — there is no feeling comparable to running in your home city, on the streets you grew up walking on!
I also started picking destination races, with Paris being my first international marathon — thereby combining three of my other passions — travel, culture, and food for the first time.
My marathon times had improved to a point where I was within striking distance of a marathon runner’s ultimate goal — qualifying for the Boston Marathon. So I signed up for the flat and fast Chicago Marathon that October. Unfortunately, my training hit a glitch just after running Vancouver in May… I came down with my first major running injury — IT band Syndrome — and had to take a couple of months off running and undergo physical therapy. Luckily I recovered by July, just in time for a rigorous 3 month training program.
The Chicago Marathon that year also happened to be on October 12, the 36th anniversary of my father’s passing. My father had been a smoker and drinker, and he had died very suddenly of a massive heart attack. I had resolved then never to smoke. And while I have other vices, not smoking is one resolution I plan to keep until I die! My father had never lived to see my athletic prowess, so the date provided additional motivation to honour him by qualifying for Boston. I ran a great race and ended up finishing in 3:18:52, my fastest time to date, and thereby qualified for Boston by a minute.
I was turning 40 the next year, and wanted to celebrate it in a memorable way. So I decided to take on the challenge of running 12 marathons in 2009, including four of the five Majors: Boston, London, Berlin and New York City, and raised over $16,000 for a charity in San Francisco in the process.
I ran Boston a second time the next year, but decided to cut back to 2-4 marathons a year again. My bad habits also kicked in again and my marathon times started to suffer. After being laid off from my job at the end of 2011, I decided to take a year off work, for both a change of scenery and to travel the world. I visited a dozen countries in that year, and the travel bug had been firmly implanted!
After starting to work independently the next year, I had a flexible schedule, and so decided to do 12 marathons again in 2014, including one on the Great Wall of China, which has been the toughest marathon I have run to date.
So I decided to take on the challenge of running 12 marathons in 2009, including four of the five Majors: Boston, London, Berlin and New York City, and raised over $ 16,000 for a charity in San Francisco in the process.
I ran my 50th marathon in Mumbai in January 2015. I decided to set myself a new life goal of running 50 more marathons by age 50, which implied a rate of exactly one a month. 2 years later, I am happy to say that I am still on track to achieve it!
I also started focusing more on international destinations, picking places that I wanted to visit, either for the first time or again. Mumbai became an annual event, as I combined it with visiting family. I chose other destinations based on factors such as history, culture, or cuisine. I combined running the Copenhagen marathon with a visit to Noma, one of the world’s top five restaurants, and the Berlin Marathon with a trip to neighboring Poland and the Auschwitz concentration camp. Other cities I have run in include Amsterdam, Oslo, Mexico City, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo. By running Tokyo, I also finished each of the six World Marathon Majors at least once.
I ran my 75th marathon in Mumbai this year as a fundraiser for The Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai-based NGO that provides HIV/AIDS services. My IIT batchmates supported me in a big way, helping raise a significant portion of the Rs. 3 lakhs that I raised for the charity. And some batchmates surprised me with a banner at the finish line, and a reunion over lunch later
People keep asking me what keeps me running. There’s no one answer to it. Part of it is the Runner’s high and sense of accomplishment that comes with running a marathon. Part of it is working towards my life goal. Part of it is pursuing my passions of running and travel. But perhaps the greatest satisfaction comes from what I’ve been told my many of my friends… that my running and zest for life have inspired them to take it on themselves, and/or lead healthier, fuller lives. It’s with that knowledge that I plan to continue to keep on running, at least as long as I can!
I will conclude with another of my favorite quotations, by H. W. Longfellow:
“”Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”