I love running outdoors. I find it therapeutic and stress-busting. I know it is not the most potent and powerful form of weight control. I know there are a ton of things I could do instead including eating less to keep my Body Mass Index (BMI) at an acceptable level or build some muscle. Yet nothing gives me the short-term rush of running on sand or natural dirt or grass for 30-45 minutes. So I end up running a lot especially during stressful periods at work or in life.
I started running really late in my life. I bought a pair of shoes designed specifically for running only after I turned 26. I never ran regularly during my school or college days. There’s a million excuses I can give for this but the biggest one was the lack of a running culture in my Chennai social circles.
Color me extremely surprised then last week when I found out that the Wipro Chennai marathon was happening on Sunday, December 2nd and had attracted over 6000 participants. Here below is a post on the running and marathon cultures in Chennai and the dramatic change from a few years ago when the weather and carb-rich diets were convenient excuses to not run. The post includes quotes and actual audio from people involved in promoting running in Chennai and the marathon.
I caught up with Karthik Padmanabhan (one of the main organizers of the marathon and Chennai Runners and the guy in blue shirt in photo below with another organizer Ronak) and some other key players at the Express Avenue mall on the evening before the marathon. The large spacious atrium in the ground floor of the mall was taken over by the marathon. Corporate sponsors, bib distributors for 6500+ registrants, help desks and publicists dotted the edges as curious onlookers and enthusiastic runners made their way around the space. This may seem impossible but every booth was busy at all times.I am grateful to those who made time to speak with me.
Karthik was extremely generous with his time and introduced me to different runners who were also actively involved in organizing the event. My first conversation was with Bala. Bala was extremely passionate about running and running for a cause. He was also humble to a fault. Karthik told me about how Bala did 21 half marathons in 21 days last April and how he was also in the midst of running 12 in 12 days this month. Bala mentioned this like I’d talk about moving a table for my mom! Bala’s humility and the reasons behind his pushing himself to such limits were inspiring. Bala was running to raise awareness for social causes. In the past he has also run in memory of great runners whose lives were tragically cut short. Bala also speaks with passion and enthusiasm about running while also pooh-poohing any excuses about Chennai’s notorious weather. Bala is an original member of Chennai Runners and is a great mentor and inspiration for any one who wants to run regularly in Chennai. His experience plus passion make for a killer combo and I was ready to run a marathon up and down the stairs at the mall once I was done chatting with him.
Please do reach out to him for advice and mentorship.
The next person I spoke with was Ram Vishwanathan who was the founder of Chennai runners six years ago. Chennai Runners is the kind of group I wish I was a part of growing up. They are active inspirers who run regularly. Ram spoke to me about how active the group is and wanted to stress how they have serious runners in every part of Chennai. So wherever you are in the great city, you are likely to find a mentor or partner. Chennai runners have an active Google group and they can be reached easily here.
Having figured out by now that there are enough influencers and runners active in Chennai I set out to process the size and popularity of the event. There are over 3x as many participants in the Chennai marathon this year as in 2011 and about 8x as many as in 2010. Such quick growth obviously has some underlying reasons that the corporate world is trying to understand and leverage. Here below is a short two-minute conversation with a representative from one of the twenty plus sponsors of the event. She did not want her name to be used in my post but was very generous with her thoughts and on where she saw the marathon among the other marathons in the world and India.
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My next conversation was with Krishna Kumar who had returned to Chennai from the US a few years ago. Like many desis he was someone who soaked in the marvels of the wonderful American outdoors while in the US. I wanted to hear from him on whether he was able to replicate his running joys in the US back home in Chennai. While I expected his response to be one of a once-joyous runner disgruntled by the pollution and heat, his responses were very much the opposite. Here was someone who had moved back, reintegrated successfully and enjoyed running regularly in Chennai.
Here below is my three-minute conversation with him for the perspective of an expat who returns back home and runs –
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Lastly I spoke with ‘Tiger’ Ramesh Ponnuswami. ‘Tiger’ was a native of Coimbatore who gave me great perspective on how the city has grown in the last fifteen years and how he was trying to get a running culture going there as well. He was speaking in glowing terms about the seismic changes in the infrastructure and nightlife of a once-sleepy city and about how it was a matter of time before the fitness and running craze also set in. He presides over the Kovai runners association and is encouraging any one who is ever in Coimbatore to run and let him know about it! I was also mildly intrigued by his nickname. He promised me it had nothing to do with Tiger woods’ post 2009 and everything to do with how Tiger played golf prior :).
The passion, organization and runners on display made me very proud to be a native of Chennai. Chennai runners and the Wipro Chennai marathon are only going to get get bigger. They have great leaders, passionate runners and a large young population waiting to be led and inspired. So spread the word, tell your friends and start running. And if you are in Chennai just join Chennai Runners. You couldn’t ask for better role models! Just ask someone who was trying to run in the 90’s……