Running distance races, particularly marathons (42.195 km) is a new lifestyle choice for Delhiites, who are in their 40s.
Surprisingly, many of those bitten by the marathon or distance running bug were hardly involved in any sort of physical activity or competitive sports during their teenage years or even in their early 30s.
But they are enjoying their new hobby to the fullest. Be it a housewife with two grown-up children or an employee of a multinational bank, each one has an interesting tale to tell.
Sanjay Panghal, a sub-inspector with Delhi Police, is among the most hardcore amateur runners in South West Delhi. He is so addicted to daily running that he hasn’t taken a break from running for a long time.
“I have been running for 1922 consecutive days until now (March 15),” said the 52 years old Delhi Police employee.
“I don’t take even a day off as my body has become addicted to intake of oxygen. If I don’t run, I feel lethargic.”
Local runners in South West Delhi have seen Sanjay Panghal running even late in the evenings although he usually runs from 6 am to 8 am.
“I normally start early and ensure that I log my running before I go to office,” explains the Delhi Police official who runs 10 km a day.
“Sometimes, if I miss my practice in the morning due to hectic schedule, I make it a point to run in the evening.”
Panghal took up running in 2017 inspired by a colleague. Since then, he has officially completed more than 50 full marathons across India.
At the Delhi Marathon last month, he achieved a new milestone by qualifying in the men’s 52-55 years age group for the prestigious 2024 Boston Marathon held annually in USA.
Panghal’s time of 3 hours, 15 minutes and 17 seconds was better than the Boston qualification time (his age group) of 3 hours and 25 minutes.
Panghal is a popular figure in the Delhi NCR running circle. He has also become one of the brand ambassadors of the Delhi franchise of an American running shoe brand.
To spread the culture of running, the Delhi Police official has been instrumental in setting up Dwarka Express Runners Club, which has more than 500 members in South West Delhi.
Monika Kadian, a housewife and mother of two grown-up children, is among several persons who have been motivated by Panghal to take up running and become healthy.
Suffering from depression after her brother passed away in 2017, Monika was leading a sedentary lifestyle. And, taking medicines to get rid of mental disorder.
“When my brother passed away, it was a huge loss to me and my family,” says Monika, recalling the tragic incident.
“I went into depression and took medicines for three long years.”
Gloomy situation at her home got her working husband, a college-going daughter and teenage son enveloped in quicksand.
Sometime in early 2020, Panghal turned out to be a messiah for the Kadian family. During a chance meeting at a function, he advised Monika to start running to come out of mental disorder.
Soon, running therapy marked a new chapter in Monika’s life. She claims she weighed 100kg at the time, which was a lot for her five-feet-six-inches frame. But the housewife clung on to the idea of running to feel better and started moving out of the house early in the morning.
“Initially it was tough for me to jog due to excessive body weight, but with the passage of time, I started enjoying the regimen of running.”
Monika said she quit medicine as her running progressed and reduced her body weight by nearly 16 kg.
“Believe me I didn’t do fasting to reduce weight. I enjoyed my meals,” the mother of two children reveals.
From being a non-runner to competing in two 12-hour stadium run competitions, the progress speaks volumes of her determination.
“I must have covered 70 km in 12 hours duration at the stadium run competition,” she recalls.
Last month, she officially ran her first marathon in Delhi. Despite a slow time — she clocked 5 hours and 58 minutes — Monika was excited.
“It was good fun. I enjoyed it,” she adds.
Monika’s next target is to run the 21km and do it fast.
“I’m not overweight anymore,” she says in a lighter vein. “I’m enjoying distance running and can do better in future.”
Som Dutt, an engineer in a private company, is another late bloomer. He took up distance running two years ago and enjoys his daily routine with a group of runners in Dwarka. He was also elated to improve his personal best over a distance of 42.195 km in February in the Capital.
“I clocked 3 hours and 44 minutes in the marathon, which was an improvement of 14 minutes,” Som Dutt adds.
“I ran the Delhi marathon at my own pace to avoid burnout in the closing stages of the race.”
Monika Sharma, a 47-year-old employee of a multinational bank in Delhi, faintly remembers when she last took part in a school road race.
“I think I ran one race,” she recalls.
She was more inclined to yoga in school and later became an avid judo player in college. “I competed in an inter-college judo competition but didn’t go beyond that,” the bank employee said.
However, in the winter of 2019, she was bitten by the running bug.
“Being in the corporate sector, wearing high heels was taxing on the knees,” she says. “But thanks to running, the pain in my knee has disappeared. Earlier, I had to keep my knee bandaged both at home and in office. But now I don’t have to.”
If amateur runners, having only a few running years under their belts, are to be believed, running a marathon is more demanding mentally than physically.
The gruelling marathon is the longest foot-race in the Olympic Games. The strength sapping distance event is supposed to impact the toughest of the competitors in the last six miles of the race.
According to KC Ramu, former international marathon runner and coach of the Indian Army team, the real marathon starts after 32km.
“Several top athletes find it difficult to finish the marathon race if they don’t stay focused in the last six miles of the marathon race,” the coach says.
But for her first marathon, Monika Sharma was well prepared for the challenging task.
“I was mentally prepared to tackle the problem that would arise in the last five to six miles of the race. I was lucky that my brain responded in a positive way,” she adds.
“My finishing time of 5 hours and 44 minutes was good as per my practice and I wasn’t exhausted.”
The amateur or the back-of-the-pack runners often run in groups and share and interact information related to distance running. Hence almost all the runners have invested heavily in their running shoes.
A runner like Sanjay Panghal has as many as 12 pairs of running shoes.
His latest running shoes are worth Rs 20,000. “I don’t wear the same shoes for two consecutive running days,” Panghal explains. “I believe a change in footwear while running helps to avoid injuries.”
While Monika Kadian has three pairs of good running shoes, Monika Sharma too keeps a track of the latest brand of running shoes in the market. “Buying good running shoes is a safe investment,” Monika Sharma adds.
Having passion for fitness and often competing in distance road racing, the so-called fitness freaks follow a simple diet plan. It is certainly “no to junk food”.
“When my kids are having Maggi noodles at home, I have no other option than to use my will-power as it’s tempting. I believe junk food is not good for me and I try to avoid it,” Monika Sharma says about being health conscious.
Dutt and Panghal say they keep fruits in bags whenever they feel hungry and eat bananas or other seasonal fruit rather than having meals from the roadside vendor.
“We also keep dates in the lunch box. Dates are the best source of energy,” Panghal adds.
Monika Kadian says that sometimes it is difficult to resist the temptation. “I do eat outside but only once in a while,” she adds.
While the elite marathon runners log more than 200km per week in practice and sometimes run below five-mile pace (male runners) over a distance of 15km to 20km, the back-of-the-pack or amateur runners usually prefer low mileage due to hectic office or household work.
“My daily run is 5km to 10km, while it’s 20km on the weekends as there is enough time to recover,” Monika Sharma explains as she has to work in the office from 9 to 5.
While Monika Sharma’s weekly mileage is 35km to 40km, Panghal has an average of 100km per week. Som Dutt logs in 90km per week.
“Every one of us has 24 hours at hand. If I can spare time for running, I am sure others can also do it,” Panghal says after one of his weekend runs before heading home.