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Home Fitness & Wellness I started running at 49. Six years later, I have run over...

I started running at 49. Six years later, I have run over a 100 races. | By Taru Mateti

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As the wife of an Army officer and the daughter of a Government employee, the only constant thing I had known since childhood was change- change in the way we lived, where we lived, the friends I made, the jobs I held. This constant inconstancy has led me to view life as a set of targets to be achieved. So, for me, the nagging question is what next, after every task I complete.

I am not a professional runner. It’s just something I am passionate about.

My upbringing was very modest. My father, like I said, was a government officer and my mother was a teacher. During my early years, the main philosophy that governed most of my early life was education. This is a familiar trope among most typical Indian middle-class families and mine was definitely no different. But education, I feel, helped shape a lot of how I think.

Stage activities like elocution and debates took precedence over physical activity because they were a part of the complete “grooming” one expects to receive from a school. My basic values were traditional- discipline, cleanliness, organisation, hard work, and the primitive ability to be able to tell right from wrong. I feel that this basic grooming formed a wonderful base for me for the days to come. I learnt to work hard from a young age and that has remained with me through everything I have pursued afterwards in life.

Quite early on, I realised that every time we changed bases- be it with my family or even after I got married to an Army officer, I needed to build my own life from scratch in a new place. I had to change jobs every single time. I got married a little over 30 years ago and back then, the only job that a woman could get on a slightly higher basis was a teaching job. Although I was an engineer, I very happily took up a teaching job because I wanted to keep my family together and in one place. Every time I had a new job, I worked harder and was duly rewarded.

One interesting experience that stands out actually came from one of the IT positions I held in the middle of all the teaching jobs. The boss asked me, “what more can you give to the company.” And that, in a sense, became the motto of my life. It trickled into every aspect of my life

When I entered running, that proactive sense of achievement immediately changed. Before I could put in any sort of effort into proving myself, the first thing I did was learn a lot from the achievers around me simply by observing. The people who run on a daily basis are always happy to help out and encourage any newcomer and that is a really good thing because, at the end of the day, the community is quite small and close-knit. Immediately on entering the circle, I learnt how to give back. Today, nearly six years since I started running, I will not call myself a coach but I do guide people as and when required. I also offer fitness sessions twice a week at an NGO called The Hope For Children Foundation and the girl children here.

I started running at the age of 49.

With Milkha Singh

Before that, the only sports I played in terms of passion were indoor sports- badminton (a huge passion to the extent that I could leave housework to play badminton) and aerobics. But when I indulged in these I balanced these along with my job which still remained by first priority. That is the difference between then and now.

I did not choose running. Running chose me. I just went out to run one day because I wanted to participate in a 10k Run in Pune. I used to be a regular at the gym and we used to have routine competitions among the members- they included, running, yoga among other things. So over time, I did well in everything except running. That remained an unconquered frontier which is why I decided to go for it.

I did not choose running. Running chose me.

Because of my aerobics stamina, I completed a 10k run on the first time. My timing was not very good but it was a block I had overcome. That also marked the first time I had completed and achieved something outdoors- the proper outdoors. That feeling was empowering and liberating in its own way. It was freedom.

When I wear my running shoes, I am totally lost in some other world. I become a different person. I got so passionate about running and fitness that my mind wavered at work. I found that rather than learning new things for work, I would happily let my mind be consumed with running.

When I wear my running shoes, I am totally lost in some other world. I become a different person.

But it took some time to completely stop working. While I was still at my job, I ran 3 Ultramarathons.

I took up running pretty late and it was a case of too much too soon for me initially. I ran with no regard for the general development of fitness. I started being extra cautious about my health. I took up Yoga and pilates to run longer and be physically better. Even so, for quite a few months, it was like being introduced to a whole new medical dictionary in terms of the injuries I picked up.

On the social front, these injuries led everyone to be concerned. My husband was a huge supporter and he himself started running long distance six months after I did. Other than him, there was a constant concern from everyone else and the inevitable question that came after that was, “why do you run so much.”

Running also brought with it a radical lifestyle change. From my side, my family was extremely anti-running such long distances. They were concerned about me taking up the challenge of such rigorous change so late in my life. They came to terms with it eventually and are now quite proud.

As for my husband, I do not think I could have achieved what I did without his support. Whether it is something as simple as buying my running registrations or something as significant as supporting me with water and liquids during my marathons.

I found a lot of support from my in-laws. My mother-in-law is my biggest fan today. But at the end of the day, we basically belong to a slightly conservative family especially when it comes to the way we dress. Since I started running, I have been wearing shorts and skirts and racer-backs and that was a massive change for my in-laws. 32 years ago when I was married, the boldest clothes I wore were jeans and a top. My father-in-law is now 86. And till today, they have never said anything to me about my clothes.

Most women do not have this kind of support and I am quite lucky I do.

Running made me lose inhibitions and gain confidence. At times, I go into a meditative state during a race and that is very powerful. Each run teaches you something new. Being from the generation I belong to, I have overcome physical flaws to embrace myself as I am. I have also learnt to evolve as a person and change my own outlook towards other women.

In terms of degree of difficulty, the most difficult race I have run is the Comrades Marathon last year. It is a roughly 90.2k race over hills with cut-offs. You have to reach specific points within specific times and complete the whole run in 12 hours. I completed it in 10:53:02- the fastest for a woman from Pune.

In 2014, I had run the Bangalore full-marathon. One and a half months prior to that I had run the difficult Hyderabad Marathon and had not quite recovered in time for Bangalore. I had not trained well and was injured. I suffered during the run in Bangalore and even though I got a podium finish, my timing was not that good. Difficult runs are not always about the run itself and the same can be said of life too.

As we grow, we change. According to circumstance, our passions and role models also change. But the person who has remained a constant inspiration is my mother. Today, everybody is in too much of a hurry. The environment is such that not many people are willing to invest the requisite time and effort to see something to completion.

Sometimes, it is okay to take time off to appreciate the finer things in life. All the experiences in life have only affirmed that belief.

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