Fit, fitter and fittest

Tania Roy
Tuesday, 7 May 2019

From being a bicycle-friendly city to inventing badminton, from being home to the world renowned Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute to shaping some great sports personalities — Pune has always encouraged health and fitness. Today, Punekars still climb the tekdi as part of their daily routine, but of late, the marathon and cycling craze has taken over the city.  Tania Roy catches up with some of the fitness enthusiasts, who are acing it

Subhojit Roy, a systems software architect at IBM, Pune, just completed his Boston Marathon. The 48-year-old clocked 3:14:33 and is already looking forward to his next Boston. Yes, that’s the magical appeal of the oldest marathon in the world and also one of the most challenging races. 

“A Boston Qualification is a hard earned title, but to get a BQ is not impossible. The Boston Athletics Association ensures an equitable and fair process for getting an entry. That said, it takes strong passion and consistent training to reach the start line at the historic Hopkinton Village,” says Roy, a running enthusiast, who started his full marathon journey in 2016 in Mumbai and since then his running graph is on an upswing. Roy has completed Berlin, Chicago and Boston, which are three of the six marathon events comprising the World Marathon Majors (WMMs). “I would like to participate in the remaining three,” he says.

“Personally, I feel that running a marathon (a distance of  42.2 km) is not about competing against others, but doing it for your own fitness. Of course, there are podium finishers, but even if you don’t secure a 1st, 2nd or 3rd place, at the end of the day, you are still a winner along with the thousands of others who run the race and achieve their personal goals,” he says. 

Living in Pune for more than two decades now, Roy has always been a fitness enthusiast. He used to play badminton, prior to taking up running. “You can get into running at any age,” he says, adding, “But it helps if you get coaching from an experienced marathoner. If you are not so fit, the coach helps you meet your fitness goals and if you are already fit, the coach helps you gain tactical knowledge.”

Pune offers plenty of opportunities for running enthusiasts. “Marathons are being organised throughout the year now. Furthermore, social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have helped popularise these events,” says Roy, adding, “Always run for fitness and more than the outcome, enjoy the process. Go slow and don’t try to increase pace or distance too quick,” says Roy. 

Kavitha Reddy, homemaker, is a familiar name in Pune’s running circuit. A podium finisher in most events, she has won several trophies and medals. She came through with flying colours in London Marathon too recently, completing it in 3:23:01. Ask her what are the best memories of her recent race and she says, “The energy and enthusiasm of the spectators and my consistency (in running).” 

Reddy has completed four World Majors, including New York, Boston, Berlin and London. “For amateur runners, Boston holds a special place because you have to ‘earn’ your entry to the race. Nowadays, a lot of Indian amateur runners have been participating in WMMs, which is a positive sign,” she says.  

Reddy started running at 38 and initially joined a running club in Pune. Till now, she prefers running with a group than going solo. “When running with a group you start running with people who are at your level and then when you see someone doing better, you try to improve. Running solo can get boring and you also tend to give up if you are practising alone. That said, each has its own advantages and disadvantages,” says Kavitha adding that she runs thrice a week and the rest she devotes to strength training, stretching and building her core. “If you have challenging goals and undergo rigorous training, you cannot run six or seven days a week. Rest is important,” she points out.

About the growing number of Pune runners participating in local, national and international races, she says, “It is good to see so many enthusiastic participants but my advice is: Don’t go too fast, too soon. Keep your fitness level in mind and build your endurance over time, and engage in mindful running. Also, every marathon needn’t be a race, some can be fun events where you can meet your friends and enjoy.”

Reddy, along with her family, is reaping the benefits of running. “I always say that the whole family benefits if the woman of the house is fit. I encourage them to be active and also carefully plan the meals,” says Reddy adding that her family has been very supportive. “Initially, running was a fun thing for me but when they saw me improving, they encouraged me,” she says. 

In the next few months, Reddy will be gearing up for her next WMM and rest assured, she will take the game a notch higher.   

Indian cycling, at present, is at a primitive stage and nowhere near to international standards. “However, a Bengaluru-based cyclist has taken the initiative to send some of the finest young talented cyclists to Belgium for training for a few months for getting better exposure to racing... Indians do have a presence now at the Asian level. Recently, Arvind Panwar won the seventh place in Time Trial in the Asian Championships. There has not been a single cyclist who has participated in the most famous Tour De France yet,” says Pune-based Prashant Tidke, an amateur cyclist and a partner at PG Joshi & Co, CA firm. 

Tidke started cycling at the age of 49. “I participate in almost all local races and a few intra-city races like Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, etc. I won National Veteran Championship at Ahmedabad in 40 plus age category in 2013 and 2014, and again in 2018 in 50 plus category at Bengaulru,” says Tidke adding, “I train early in the morning either solo or in a group combined with some strength training drills for speed and core once a week. I train for about four days a week.”

Cycling is a more expensive sports than running where there is always a temptation to upgrade your gears and bike, and that is also one of the reasons why running is more popular than cycling. “But it doesn’t mean that running is not an expensive sports. Those who pursue cycling just as a fitness activity can invest in basic bikes and gears,” he says.

Professional coaching is recommended for competitive cycling. “There are coaches in Pune who train cyclists or their team members but the numbers are few. Coaching being done mostly remotely, there are many options available for cyclists to opt for mentors nationwide as well as internationally. Plus you have a fast growing breed of Ironman enthusiasts in our country and coaches. But their training plan will be restricted to IM competitions only,” says Tidke, adding “Ideally, it is always better to pursue a long term goal and participate in a fewer races of reputation and focus more on training.”

Unfortunately, there is a lack of infrastructure in our country for cyclists, add to that the attitude of drivers towards cyclists. “In Europe and other countries,  vehicle drivers give priority to cyclists and there are also dedicated cycling lanes, which India lacks. Plus cyclists here do not follow basic safety guidelines like wearing a helmet, using appropriate cycling lights, wearing reflective vests, not plugging into earphones while riding and so on which make them vulnerable. If cyclists follow basic safety rules and ride on the left most part of the road, they will be less prone to accidents though not guaranteed,” concludes Tidke.

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