Perfect running buddies

Amrita Prasad
Sunday, 1 July 2018

We caught up with Pune’s first ‘Comrades Couple’, Taru and Chandan Kumar Mateti, who tell us about their experience, how they prepared for the big run and how one can enjoy running at any age

Couples who run together, stay together. If you are looking for inspiration, here’s one — Taru and Chandan Kumar Mateti, who took part in the 90 km (approx) ultra marathon at Comrades in South Africa recently — the first couple from the city to have completed the race. While Taru took 10:53:02 to cover the distance, her husband Chandan, an ex-Army officer and a former Black Cat Commando, finished the race in 11:17:00. Taru is also among the first five women from the city to have attempted this run. 

Chatting up the couple on reaching this milestone.  

How is Comrades different from other marathons across the globe?

Taru: Comrades Marathon is a 90 km run that takes place in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg annually. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultra marathon race with about 20,000 participants each year. The direction of the race alternates each year between the ‘up’ run (87 km) starting from Durban and the ‘down’ run (this year 90.184 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg. It is different in terms of volume as well as the challenge it offers you. Further, one has to qualify for this run by completing a specific distance under specified time in certified events. 
However, in India, most runners complete full marathon in under five hours to qualify. 

Chandan: It has a history and acclaim associated with it, besides the fact that it is to be run against a very tight cut-off time on a very trying terrain. 

Why is it called the ‘Ultimate Human Race’? 

Taru: Comrades Marathon is to be completed in 12 hours. Additionally, there are six timed cut-offs along the route that passes over five major named hills and many other smaller hills, so it is almost entirely a rolling route. Hence, besides the distance, there is the challenge of difficult terrain and strict time cut-offs. In the words of Comrades marvel Bruce Fordyce (South African marathon and ultra marathon athlete), this race ‘can inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and it brings out the best in all of us.’ This race has a power to transform, to inspire and to motivate, unlike any other. One really has to dig deep and draw strength from different factors. 

You participated in the marathon along with your spouse. How was this different from your other runs?

Taru: This is one race where we both have run the same long distance of 90.184 km. The training for this was very different and long-drawn. I trained with my coach Atul Godbole and ran four days a week for a total of about 1200 km from January to June. Chandan and I did a lot of discussion about the run with friends. We did many of our training runs together and altered our food and sleep pattern, social life, vacation time, and many other lifestyle factors for this. Fortunately, because we both were running, it was easier to make the changes. Completing this run together in our first maiden attempt makes us the first couple in Pune to have run the Comrades Marathon and that too at an age of 50+. It is a matter of pride for us.

Chandan: It was a big boon as Taru was running with me — I drew a lot of reassurance from her at the start line, and during the run, the thought that she was waiting for me at the finish, kept me going.  

Does age ever come in the way of achieving your goals? 

Taru: Although I often wonder how it would be if I had started running earlier,  I don’t think age becomes a deterrent if I train wisely. Yes, I do need more recovery time, I can’t run more than four days a week, too much speed gives me injuries, and there are some things that the younger lot do that I can’t. But age doesn’t dissuade me from achieving my goals.

Chandan: It is all in the mind! I started long distance running only in 2013 (I was only 53 years young). Although age does come with its own set of health and other problems, under proper guidance and mentoring, one can enjoy running. However, your goals have to be realistic and commensurate to your physical and mental capabilities and the time you can devote to it.

How do you think the feat will inspire other couples who run? 

Taru: An ordinary 50 plus couple like us who started running just five years ago has successfully completed the Comrades Marathon with decent timings with just four months of focussed training, apart from both of us participating in the ultra marathon last year, which proves that anyone can do it.
Chandan: We are the first ‘Comrades Couple’ from Pune. If you run as a couple/ family, you are able to derive maximum out of this sport. Convert your trips to outstations to ‘vacathons”. We hope our achievements act as a catalyst to others to take up this sport, not only as a couple but as families too.  

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