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BW Businessworld

In The Long Run

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Does running a marathon appear Greek to you? Yes? Wow. You got it right! Marathon is a town in Greece, the site of a battle, where a heavily outnumbered band of Athenians beat the Persians to pulp. A runner named Pheidippides ran 34 km from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory.

But that was 490 BC. Things have changed. Battle or no battle, people have taken to marathons like bees to honey. And it's not always about money — though India has hosted some of the richest runs in the world. Take for instance, Delhi-based Arun Bhardwaj. This 42-year-old runs 40 km every day. In 2010, he won a six-day race in South Africa covering a distance of 568 km at an average of 94.5 km a day. And that was just one of the 17 long races that Bhardwaj has run, across the world. Ultramarathon is an ultimate test of endurance and only a few can do it.

But even for you and me, who can aim for shorter races, the success mantra remains the same. "Only motivation can drive you," Bhardwaj says. "Motivation to compete with yourself."

Half a month ago, many in New Delhi got a share of that experience at the 21-km half marathon. Says vice president (project finance) at Infrastructure Development Finance Company, Nishant Bachkheti: "I prepared for two weeks, running 7-9 km a day, but playing tennis regularly did me good." It was the second race for Bachkheti, who puts his Mumbai experience before the one in Delhi. "With huge crowds on the streets and loud cheers, it's more fun there," he says. Come January 15, and the same crowd will be rooting for the 38,500 runners at the 9th Mumbai Marathon.

And whether they are running for fitness or  a sense of achievement or even to support a cause, they will need to do more training than chasing the local trains to put their best foot forward. Deckline Leitao, one of India's premier performance enhancement specialist and fitness trainer, has a few thoughts to share on how to prepare for this mega event.

"Running won't make you a marathoner; just as wearing a pair of gloves won't turn you into a boxer. You have to condition yourself, and have to take training seriously," Leitao says.

MISSION POSSIBLE: Ultramarathoner Arun Bhardwaj (left) prefers 500 km-plus races, but for the rest of us, quarter or half marathon is just fine (ABP)

1. STAY THE SAME: Don't make any last-minute changes to your diet or regime. They got you this far, let them carry you another 42 km

2. CARBO LOADING: Eat a snack or light meal 2-3 hours before flag-off

3. KEEP HYDRATED: Drink water before, during and after the race

4. BE EARLY: Arrive at least an hour before the start

5. BE PATIENT: Position yourself back in the pack and start slowly. Save energy for later

6. STEADY PACE: Be prepared for the crowd, love the atmosphere, but maintain your pace.

7. RUN-WALK STRATEGY: First timers should try alternating between jogging and walking

8. KEEP TO ONE SIDE: Do not obstruct others or stop suddenly

9. DRY CLOTHES: Have a change of clothes waiting for you after the finish

10. SMILE AT THE FINISH: Enjoy the moment and put on a happy face for the cameras!

And he has a point. Marathons involve slow continuous running, which can have adverse effect on knee joints and the spine, especially if one is overweight. "You should set your mind like a professional sportsman, not like a gym-goer. You have to train even if you don't feel like. This discipline will help you not just to complete the full race, but also to come out of it healthier and fitter. Also maintain a balance between sleep, food and exercise," says Leitao.

Know Your Body
Most of the first-timers at marathons get over-enthusiastic. Even at the Delhi marathon there were many who collapsed just from the sheer pressure they put on themselves. Says Kishore Rawat, 34, a media professional and a first timer: "Last year, my friends posted pictures of the marathon on Facebook. I was inspired. However, I didn't think too much about training properly. I had thought it's just running like in any other sport. But I was in for a rude shock." After the first three kilometres, Rawat started having cramps in his legs. But cheered on by friends and Bhaag DK Bose belted out by rock bands, he pushed harder. Another kilometre and he had to be carried off the track.

"Never overdo, whether it's the weights or the starting pace," says Leitao. "A holistic approach will help you out of injuries. Any activity for a prolonged period of time is unhealthy. Remember: You'll have to work after the run; your salary doesn't come from a marathon." For instance, many amateur runners don't consider taking a proper diet as a part of their preparation for a marathon.

But food is like fuel. It can give you better mileage and performance.

Know Your Fuel
Sumanth Cidambi, a CFO and an ultra-marathoner from Hyderabad, suggests one should consult a nutritionist before planning for a marathon. "Take electrolytes with water to replenish your body fluids during a run," he says. One needs more carbo loading before a marathon. Also, never try new food before running. And don't stuff yourself the night before. It takes at least 36 hours for the food you eat to be processed and become useable in a race. Skipping meals is not an option, either.

ROAD TEST: Fitness expert Deckline Leitao (right) compares running a marathon to driving a car (BW Pic By Subhabrata Das)

An expert's guide for weekly training
Monday: Do your longest run. If that is 10 km, go for it.

Tuesday: Take a break. Hit the gym or do lightweight exercises.

Wednesday: Run half of your best (5 km), but a faster pace. Thursday: Break again; aim only for aerobics.

Friday: Sprint for short distances. Walk slowly in between. Saturday and Sunday: Eat well, take rest and let the body recover

And last but not the least, consider age. Though some of the toughest ultra-marathoners in the country are 40 plus and there are people like The Turbaned Tornado Fauja Singh who is still smashing records at 100; an old car over the years needs better maintenance. "Recovery time also increases with age," says Leitao. "Small niggling or full blown pain in the knee, lower back or shoulder may become more common."

But nonetheless, more than just a boring long distance run, a marathon is a challenge worth winning. Ask Emil Zatopek. Half a century ago, after finishing all the three long-distance races at the Helsinki Olympics with golds, he had a word of advice for the wannabes: If you want to win something, run 100 metres; if you want to experience something, run a marathon. So, what are you waiting for? Move!

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-01-2012)