As marathons turn into massive fitness movement, Aruna Rathod speaks to expert runners to explore the best ways to prep for the next marathon in town.


The very first marathon was run by a Greek messenger, Philippides. He was sent from the battlefield of Marathon all the way to Athens (40 kms) to announce the defeat of the Persians in 490 BC. But unfortunately, he ran and soon after announcing the victory, died on the spot!

The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardised until 1921. It was only 88 years after the first men’s Olympic marathon, that an American woman, Joan Benoit Samuelson, won the first women’s Olympic marathon. A decade later, Oprah Winfrey finished the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon in the Washington, D.C., area in just under four-and-a-half hours, wearing bib No. 40 to reflect her age. Since then, running and marathons have grown simulatenously. And, with fitness being on the agenda of most urban women today, and running gaining popularity, marathons are gradually becoming an important part of the city calendar.

Taking this marathon spirit forward in a big way in India is the Pinkathon. The brainchild of Milind Soman (ex-super model), it sowed the first seeds of change, which has now come to become a movement all over the country. Soman believes that the first step in empowerment is taking control of your own health, respecting yourself and understanding and celebrating the values you bring to your family and society. He firmly believes, empowerment is not a gift of society, but a gift you give yourself. “When we first started, the participation of women was less than 10 per cent. There were about 2,000 participants in 2012. In 2013, we began in Benagluru, Pune and Delhi. This year, in Bengaluru, we had 3,500 women participants,” begins Soman.

However, the journey has not been without its share of initial hiccups. “Earlier women made a lot of excuses about running in the mornings such as having to perform pujas in the morning, preparing breakfast, sending children to school. However, I stuck to the 5.30 am start, and left it to those willing to join in.” And with time, more and women joined in. “I find that creating awareness is the biggest hurdle. An active lifestyle is a must. Pinkathon is growing bigger and my sincere wish is that it will be bigger than me. Now, I just attend the event, wear an ‘Ambassador t-shirt’ to promote the event. We have 400 ambassadors who promote the cause,” says Soman.

“I have been running for 14 years and it started more as an experiment. I enjoy running barefoot. I discovered the joys of running barefoot, many years ago at Lonavala. I had just finished a run and decided to run without my shoes, I felt really good, so, I decided to continue.
My active lifestyle began in school. I started swimming when I was nine years old. I won a silver medal and that motivated me. Modelling happened by chance. My weight has remained the same for the last 25 years at 79 kgs. Since, I was a kid, I wanted to run a marathon. I ran my first half marathon in 2004 and have never missed it ever since. I did the full marathon in 2009.In case of the Marathon, the distance is special. The 25 to 30 kms is easy if you are active and in good shape. Training is a must for those attempting 30 kms and over. And, the last 12 kms are the most important.Most runners take to running between the age of 30-40.”
“It was in the early ’70s that running caught on in India and now it’s a community activity. We all run as children, but as we age, the body slows down. In order to inject some action later, people want to suddenly start running. But since one has lost touch with running, the muscles are not equipped to take the strain. The cardio vascular system responds to the strain, but since there is no muscle, there is no support for the joints; resulting in injury as a result.”

“While running, it is most important to track your glycogen stores. One needs to start gradually, begin with half a kilometre, then 1 km. One needs to then graduate to 3 kms over a month. The speed and duration one needs to find out for oneself. If you are panting (you are too fast), as breathing should be normal while running. If you feel energised after running, it’s good, if you feel exhausted, it is bad. It means you need to get into shape.
Every day as you run, you must feel energised, and then add a little more distance. Basically, it comprises endurance at three levels—physical, mental and emotional. Running a marathon is like a lesson for life — don’t stop, keep going. Most marathons now see 60 per cent participation from women and 40 from men. The top 10 marathon runners are women. Women must get over their own minds, as I see that’s where the problem lies. And it’s not only in India but all over the world. In a UK poll, women said they don’t want to run because of guilt, shame and body shape.
I would encourage women to break the shackles of what you are taught. One needs to make time for exercise. The most important thing is to develop a strong immunity. Fitness is important but health is very important. One is healthy when one has a strong immune system. Running a marathon should be more of a celebration.


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