I am a mechanical engineer by qualification, and like most people, I worked in the corporate world and my last job was in a software designing firm. Right from childhood, I wanted to run for marathons, but in those days there were not as many marathons as today. I waited for 20 years before I actually did a half marathon! This was almost nine years back, in 2009, when I was 42, and after that there was no looking back!

I ran my first three half marathons in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and improved my timing with every run. People were telling me that after 40 you age, but here I was improving my performance year on year. That’s when I also started encouraging other people to do what I did.

Till date, I have never incurred an injury during a run because I got the right kind of people on my journey, such as trainers, nutritionists and physiotherapists who were guiding me on what to eat, how much to train etc. at my age. So I was actually running less and training more to achieve the right kind of balance in terms of performance. That’s what I wanted to tell running groups, and they said to me ‘why don’t you coach us and tell us what you’re doing and help us.’ That’s how I got the name ‘Coach.’

The passion for running was since my college days but didn't really get opportunities in those days and then got busy with life

The journey from runner to trainer- the ‘Run with Me’ foundation

In 2013, Gurgaon Moms suggested that I do a training programme for women. That’s when I suggested the idea of doing the ‘Couch to 5 kms in 10 Weeks’ programme. Anyone who was not running or not fit enough, could easily do a 10-week programme and complete 5 kms – walking or running.

Pursuing the passion for training others, I helped set up a foundation called ‘Run with Me’ with some of my running friends, with which we wanted to support kids from underprivileged families. I had seen a lot of them running barefoot; running at events without even getting themselves registered, thus losing out on the cash prizes. The idea was to support these ‘elite’ runners from less fortunate backgrounds. I also wanted to get them a platform so they could get an education or jobs through sports quota, and be on their way to becoming national stars as athletes. Because I was enjoying running I wanted everyone to run with me!  That was the time I left my job and went into full-time training.

“Because I was enjoying running, I wanted everyone to run with me”

Tips for beginners

I gave a lot of interactive sessions at corporates and realised that people have a mental blockade that they just can’t run. I take them back to the days when they were kids, and used to just run for fun. I remind them that it’s not about running- it’s simply about finishing – one doesn’t have to run all the way. One can run, walk, run, walk alternately. One needs to take small beginnings.

It’s like I always say- ‘aatey me namak ke baraabar, running mila do apni walk ke andar.’ So start that way and gradually one will increase distance and duration gradually. One should not increase 10% of distance or duration in a week. People think that they can run one km one day and then two kms the next- that’s a classic case of too much too soon. One needs to simply rest and recover before running again.

Another vital aspect of running is training – running brings with it a bit of stiffness, so some flexibility or functional exercises are important.

I cannot emphasise enough the need for regular hydration during runs. We should be hydrating ourselves at regular intervals – every 1-2 kms, one should be sipping water and having energy drinks. Beverages like Zico are extremely useful. I also recommend a bite of banana at regular intervals because it gives potassium - the same is also found in Zico.

We need fast recovery because running is an endurance exercise, and as a marathon runner, we need a refuelling plan. I can run a full marathon in four hours but I can’t remain hungry for four hours. I can’t sustain on only water and energy drinks. I need something that’s fills my stomach so I don’t feel hungry. This is what Zico does.

“Beverages like Zico are extremely useful. I also recommend a bite of a banana at regular intervals because it gives potassium- the same is also found in Zico”

Memorable moments

I had gone for the Rohtak half marathon some time ago. A couple had come in from Mumbai. They came up to me to tell me that they had come for the event because I was doing it, and they would get to meet me! That was a truly a ‘wow’ moment for me.

The challenges

One day in September 2014, while running on Gurgaon-Faridabad roads, I realised that there was no safety support or water available. So we thought, let’s do some kind of hydration support here for two-three months till the time the Mumbai marathon happens in January.

We started with three water stations, with water and energy drinks. It was marvellous- support came from all quarters to sustain it! Everyone said to me, ‘we know that it is our right to get water and hydration support during marathons, but we never thought someone would come and support us during training camps.’ Such gestures help connect everyone together and imbibe a sense of community. Now we have extended the support to the Dwarka-Noida expressway and also across NCR – this is a unique concept in India thing that is only happening at these places.

The beginning of schoolofrunning.org

Sometime back in early 2017, I realised that there were a lot of people who came to parks only to walk and not run. These people were getting no recognition- they themselves didn’t recognise their own workouts! On the other hand, any runner doing their first three or five kms run, getting a medal, getting clicked and posting a selfie on Facebook was getting due recognition. I wanted to recognise walkers and I wanted to call out to them. I wanted to show walkers that they could walk and run- an alternative that was doable for them.

The community of walkers we saw was huge in terms of sheer numbers. And now they have all become runners. Right from the first event, we had some 10-15% walkers that all got converted into runners.

This increased number also meant that we needed (and still need) more trainers. Every condominium needed at least two-three trainers. We also needed better training systems. I had created a community platform schoolorfunning.org, where experienced runners could handhold beginners. I wanted such people, helping on a non-commercial basis, supporting beginners and taking them to the next level.

School of Running is a platform where beginners can get information on how to start the journey. It helps answer common concerns, such as how to run initially, the need for health check-ups and physiotherapists etc. I’ve heard so many times ‘ki agar mujhe ye saari cheezein pata hoti (If I had known all this before), I would’ve been a better runner. I could have been doing better in my performances.’

The road ahead

Today, globally, the half-marathon- 21 kms, is the favourite distance of runners. This is soon going to change to 10 kms, because a lot of new runners are coming along – the most recent example being the Vatika Half Marathon in May 2018. Out of 1,300 runners, we had 600, five-km walkers and runners. This is a change. People are becoming smarter- they want a good balance of life, profession and passion. With shorter runs, one spends less time, while still managing to get the same high. The family is also happy that one is back home sooner!

Also, we see that most metropolitan cities these days are much polluted, so people want to spend less time outdoors. But at the same time, we want to remain close to our passions- outdoor running or training. Destination runs are the ideal solution. I’ve seen a lot of growth in destination runs. In the past two years, I have organised a few new trail runs across NCR, Punjab and Himachal.

I also currently have a bi-monthly program called the ‘Fab 100 kms Challenge.’ In a month, one has to run a total of 100 kms. There are two conditions – one has to run or walk every day, minimum distance of two kms. Secondly, one can’t do more than 5 kms a day. Being a coach, I know what the threshold is for most beginners, so isse zyada karna nahi hai (must not do more than that). The moment one goes over or under, they are disqualified- so 99 or 101 kms means you’re out!

This event happens on even months of the calendar year. We’ve made a Google Sheet and every day, people have to log how much they’ve run that day. We are keeping it very, very easy for everyone- we want people to cheat! At least by allowing them some flexibility, they will pursue it. This is also a great program for employees at corporates because they will start taking up such initiatives.

I always say that running events, like marathons are the only places one will find equality and inclusivity at the same time. Because at the start and finish lines you, the college student, the CEO and the person from the nearest village are all the same. They are just talking to each other about running. Running builds a sense of community and camaraderie, rather than competition. I hope to help grow this community of ours as much as I can.