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‘It’s about taking out time for yourself’

At 54, Milind Soman wants the Pinkathon to give space to women to discover the joy of being fit, setting aside their inhibitions and feelings of guilt

At 38, he successfully completed his first marathon. At 47, he became a Limca Book record holder after running 1,500 km in Greenathon. At 50, he won the ‘Ironman’ title by completing a triathlon held in Zurich – which is considered one of the world’s toughest races. And now, at 54, he is leading India’s biggest women’s marathon — Pinkathon. For model-turned actor and fitness enthusiast Milind Soman, age is merely a number!

Pinkathon, the ‘women only’ marathon which was started in 2012, has evolved to be a movement over the years, with thousands of participants across various cities in India. The seventh edition of Bajaj Electricals Pinkathon Delhi 2019, presented by Colors, was flagged off by Soman — its co-founder and ambassador on September 8 in the city.

At the event, he speaks to Patriot about Pinkathon’s journey so far, how it transformed lives of thousands of women, importance of mental well-being along with physical fitness and more. Excerpts:

Pinkathon completed its seventh edition this year. How has the journey been so far?

It’s been really exciting as I am very much interested in health and fitness as a subject and to see the transformation happening amongst women. It was not my intention earlier.  As an event manager, I just thought there should be an exclusive space for women to run, but didn’t know what would come of it.

We started in 2012 and the kind of excitement we witnessed — not just the numbers but the enthusiasm from the women – who were not sportswomen or athletes and have never come out to run before, was incredible! They were really excited to have a space for themselves. And from there, we got so many stories. Those were stories of transformation of women – who have suddenly, at the age of 35 or 50 or even 70, discovered that whatever dreams they had or whatever they wanted for themselves, they can actually achieve it anytime in their lives.

And all they have to do was take out a little time for themselves, and not feel guilty about it. The biggest thing that happens is when a woman comes to participate here, she realises that it’s okay to take out time for herself. Otherwise women don’t take out time for themselves, out of guilt – that they are away from the family. And it’s mostly other women and society that makes them feel that way.  They feel good when they see thousands of such women making it a point to come out and run.

What was the biggest takeaway from this year’s Pinkathon?

Well, it’s always exciting. Just to see the level of energy that the women have. These are not athletes or sports people, most of them took part for the first time. That excitement is so intense that every time it’s a high! Every time you see it, you are like ‘Wow!’ And if thousands of women have started running and exercising regularly because of Pinkathon, then I, as well as the team, feel really good about it!

Being a fitness enthusiast, what tips would you like to give?

Well, it’s very simple. Pinkathon’s message is not really about how much distance you’ve covered or how fast you run – it’s about taking time for yourself. There are many levels – you can be fit to run 3 km or to run 100 km, but when it comes to your health it’s not only about physical health. It’s also about mental health and emotional well-being. And that comes from spending time with oneself.

People ask me all the time, ‘So you want women to be active?’ I feel they are always active – right from the time they wake up till the time they go to sleep. They are taking care of the house, their kids, husbands, in-laws, their career. But activity that is focused on the outside creates stress, whereas that focused on the inside releases stress. So, this is more conducive to become healthier and fitter. If one takes out just five minutes and does something for oneself, then they begin to understand its value and it becomes a priority.

I know women who started Pinkathon with 3 km and now they are doing 100 km – running from city to city. We had one woman here this time, who ran from Vrindavan to Delhi; and these are housewives who suddenly discovered their capability. And it’s not just physical capability, but mental capability and emotional strength as well. When we think of fitness and health, we mostly think of the physical one. But most diseases stem from mental illnesses like dissatisfaction, emotional stress.

There are various fitness regimes these days – yoga, zumba, aerobics and so on. How will one know what suits them the best?

You can choose the activity that you enjoy so that your mental and physical energies can work together. If I tell you to do an activity that you don’t like then your mind is somewhere else, but your body is doing it – so there’s a conflict.

For instance, I used to hate running, I only started it 17 years ago – I said I have to do at least a half marathon in my life. It felt so good after I finished running 21 km, which is something I never thought I could do at the age of 38.

When you see what you thought is tough is actually easy, it’s a great reaffirmation of your potential or capability. It’s you who is thinking you can’t do it. But you actually can. So, if you put a little bit of effort, you can get there. And then when you get that kind of a feeling, then it is something you don’t want to let go of. You want more and more of that feeling – it’s almost like a drug.

Was there a particular incident which made you realise the importance of fitness in life, like a wakeup call?

Not really, as I was always fit. I started swimming competitively at the age of nine at the national level in the juniors, and continued till I was 23. I was swimming almost 65 km a week, which is a lot! That gave me a good level of fitness.

But I stopped swimming in 1988, and started modelling. Everyone used to say I have a great body, and was famous for it. But I never exercised, never went to the gym, did not do any sport.  In 1995, when the song Made in India came out, everybody was like ‘Wow, who is this guy?’ People praised my body!

At one point in life, I mentally began to question, ‘What will I do at 38 or 40?’ So many people said it’s over – you can’t do this or that. But it’s not true. Running and simple exercises help you to maintain that belief that nothing is impossible. Your life is not over, and the potential is limitless.

Simple challenges help. Like, last week me and my wife climbed Kilimanjaro – which is the highest mountain in Africa. I had climbed it 21 years ago, when I was 33. I am 54 now, but it was easier for me this time because mentally I am much stronger than I was at 33.

Lastly, do you have cheat days?

I don’t have a rigid routine: I don’t diet at all, nor do I go to the gym. So, there’s nothing to cheat! There is a lot of mental discipline, which is almost instinctive. The most important thing you need to develop in yourself is the ability to choose right. It’s an ability that people have already but there are so many options and opportunities — it gets lost.

We know we need to be active, avoid junk foods, should not smoke or drink – but we do it. Today if you put a chocolate or a banana in front of me, I’ll take the banana. I won’t even see the chocolate. It’s like that. So, it’s not a restriction, it’s now an instinct!