Even medical complications will not keep this 90-year old Bengalurean from running the marathon on Sunday. Strapping on his spine secure belt, B R Janardan said he has been taking laps with his bicycle inside his colony in preparation, determined to at least finish the run, even if he cannot keep a good time.
Janardan, according to the organisers of the TCS World 10K Bengaluru 2023, is the second oldest participant registered so far in the senior male category. But Janardan is not new to the annual 10k marathon, in the last 14 years, except for the last two years, when he said he fell seriously ill due to Covid, he has been a regular.
"The irony is, I was not physically very active when I was younger. It was after retirement that I started to get on the bicycle for longer trips. It began out of necessity, but I slowly pushed myself to do more to build my stamina. Once I improved my stamina, I took to running and mountain trekking," said the retired Railway employee. Janardan said he ran his first marathon when he was 72.
"I still remember the date, January 8, 2005. I had gone to Madikere to participate," he added. Unfortunately, he could not finish that marathon. "Dogs attacked me and I was injured. Despite that I tried to run, but had to give up after 12km. But I was fortunate. The same year there was another full marathon organised by Lipton in Bangalore. I completed that one. I managed to run 42km in 5 hours 40 minutes."
Over the years, Janardan said he has participated close to 200 running events, including 16 full marathons. "I am aware that I will not be able to really run this time. I will only be jogging and I will definitely take more time. But I will finish the run for sure," said Janardan.
Podium finish is also not the aim for 69-year old Sharada Venkataraman, the oldest female participant this time round. Although initially, she said she took part in marathons with a competitive spirit, aiming to finish with a winning time, over the years, she learned to enjoy just the act of running.
"Sure, If I get to stand on the podium, I’ll be happy. But I am happy just to run too," said Sharada. She said started to run reluctantly, at the insistence of her son. Her son had registered both her and her husband, a retired Brigadier, for a marathon in 2006 when they were visiting him in Vermont, United States of America.
"My son was relentless when he trained us for three months for the marathon. And I was doing it more for him. But when we actually ran that marathon, something shifted within me. I told my husband, let’s continue running," said Sharada, who is also a recipient of a national award for teaching.
Back in Bengaluru, the couple took running seriously and hired coaches to train them run the proper way and for nutritional guidance. "The last 11 years, I am being guided by coach KC Kothandapani, who has been an immense help in improving my form," Sharada said.
The efforts paid off. Sharada started to make it among the first three runners regularly and was soon called the 'golden girl of Karnataka.' But life too started to give her more challenges. Her mother became bedridden, leaving her with more responsibilities. Her husband had to stop running because of a medical condition. And then Covid came, making it impossible for her to train every day.
"I kept going despite the difficulties. It was not easy, but I managed to find time for training. Covid was particularly difficult, I lost a lot of muscle mass due to lack of training. But I refused to give up. Thankfully, I had a very supportive family," Sharada, who has participated in over a hundred 10k events and over 50 half marathons.
First-timer Kirana Kumara, one of the physically-challenged participants at the Bengaluru marathon, said he has been finding solace in sports. After his accident two years ago, which cost him an arm, it was parashooting that gave him a new lease of life.
"I really looked forward to training daily in the morning and evening for parashooting,” he added. Ever since he heard about the marathon, he has been training himself to run too. "I don’t know how this will turn out to be. I am just going to participate and see what happens," said the 26-year old Kumara.
For wheel-chair bound 52-year old Vinutha Reddy this marathon is a ray of hope too. In December 2022, her life came crashing down when she had a brain stroke leaving her left side completely paralysed. But her husband, Amar Reddy is unwilling to let her slip into a void.
"You see, my wife and I were going to train for this marathon when she suffered from stroke. I was encouraging her to take up running to keep physically active. I had asked the organisers to let me push her wheelchair and run. Our daughter is a tennis player and my wife has accompanied her always when she goes for competition. Now suddenly she is lying all day in bed, feeling miserable. This marathon will be a great motivation for her. We have been practicing for the last one month, let’s see what happens," said the 55-year-old Yelahanka resident.
Perhaps this hope is what event ambassador and celebrated former American Olympic and World 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross meant when she said there's something special about running as a community.
Earlier this week, at a press conference, Richards-Ross had expressed hope that this event will inspire more people to go out and run and fall in love with running. "To see the growth of running in India, to hear that 27,000-plus people have signed up for it, it just shows the power of sport and the power of running," she said.