Ready to scale Boston Marathon’s ‘Heartbreak Hill’

- March 1, 2024
| By : Navneet Singh |

Jayanti Thapliyal, a 46-year-old staffer of Indian Defence Account Service, has been balancing work and family responsibilities with passion for running; her commitment paid dividends as she qualified for Boston Marathon in April

INSPIRATION: Jayanti Thapliyal pursues her love for marathon juggling between home and office

Way back in 2015, medical experts told Jayanti Thapliyal, a mother of a school-going child, that she wouldn’t be able to run unless she undergoes a minor knee surgery to get rid of pain that cropped up due to muscle imbalance. 

Scared of surgery, Jayanti decided to undergo a strength and rehab programme that lasted nearly two months. 

“The rehab was a bit expensive. But I was satisfied as it assured me of a good health and return to running,” the Delhi based distance runner spent her two months’ salary to get back to the running world.

Come April 15, the 46-year-old clerical staff of Indian Defence Account Service will compete at the prestigious Boston Marathon, the oldest foot race in USA, in her age group. 

“I’ve booked my air tickets,” she said proudly. “Will reach Boston a week in advance to get acclimatised to the 12-hour time zone difference between India and the USA.”

Last weekend (February 25), Jayanti competed in a half marathon (21 km) in Delhi and finished second in her age group (45 to 55 years). She clocked 1:36:41. Her personal best for a marathon is 3:30:48. 

“My half marathon time was satisfying. I’m happy with the progress,” she added.

Jayanti has been associated with middle and long-distance running for the past three decades and has won a couple of medals as a junior and in Masters category. Running has enabled her to withstand hardship of daily life beyond sports. 

Being a woman runner one has to overcome challenges as certain things remain the same, she said. 

Jayanti Thapliyal

“I had to dress like a boy during practice when I was a school student to avoid prying eyes,” she added. “I’m a working mother. Still, I have to take precautions when going out for a run.”

Jayanti’s parents, a middle-class family, were reluctant to send her to the playground for practice. 

“Initially my mother discouraged me as they wanted her children to do well in life. Sports was the last thing on their mind,” she recalled. “I just wanted to prove that I can do it to my classmates and the inner urge to do something pushed me outdoors.”

Having rural background helped. Jayanti was born in Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand. She could face hardships of city life when her family shifted to Delhi in the late 1980s. 

Being hardy and physically fit, she quickly caught the eye of her school teacher in Sarojini Nagar. She won school zonal races and was asked to attend coaching classes after school at the Delhi government-run Thyagaraj Sports Complex. 

“We had ordinary sneakers for practice as it was tough for parents to support three siblings, including two brothers,” Jayanti said of challenges she faced as a teenager.

Jayanti was 12 when she first competed in school athletics meet. She was a successful runner in junior category at national level. 

She also attended the national junior camp in 1994 and things got better in 1999 when she joined Indian Defense Account Service department through sports quota. “I was in class 10th when I got a job,” she said.

But a year after attending national camp for the 2004 Delhi World Half Marathon, her physical activities were temporarily halted. 

Reason: Firstly, she got married in 2005. Burdened with office work and not finding enough time was the second reason for no fitness.

Sedentary lifestyle took its toll on the young mother and she had cervical problem. “That was the time I released I’ve to go out and do some physical work,” she said of starting running again in 2009.

Getting back to fitness was a daunting task, but she gradually moved up the ladder and won couple of medals in track races ranging from 800m to 5,000m at Masters athletics competitions at the continental level. 

Encouraged by good performances, she moved the distance up and completed five marathon races, including one in Ladakh in 2022. 

She qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2021 but due to Covid-19 pandemic, she couldn’t get necessary documents to travel to the USA.

She wasn’t disheartened and made efforts again before successfully qualifying in her age group for the 2024 Boston Marathon. She is now ready for the challenging course in Boston.

Off the running circle, she has to attend to her ailing parents and spend time with her son—Hardik—who has his class 12th board exam. Besides, office-going husband Pradeep Thapliyal, a former national level football player. 

“Family support has made things easier. Otherwise, it’s difficult to log miles and stay fit,” the 46-year-old runner said. 

“I’ve to spend Rs 12,000 to 15,000 on a pair of good running shoes which last for three-four months.”

For practice, she has to get up early at 4 am. She hits the road by 5.30 am. Majority of the distance running is done in group. Conditioning and general training is done solo. 

The Boston Marathon has a special kind of challenge for competitors. At mile 20, the runners have to tackle Heartbreak Hill — a half-mile uphill section of the course. 

“I’ve heard the Boston Marathon course is quite challenging,” she said after one of her training sessions. “Well! I’ve to prove that I can do it.”