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Thursday, July 02, 2020

On rooftops, balconies and in their living rooms: Pune runners turn to virtual marathons

The circular track – which runs among row houses rather than the long stretches - was barely 270 metres. Soni had to keep his speed in check - he would have completed the distance in about six hours outdoors on the road or on the hilly slopes of Pune – but his enthusiasm was racing.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Pune | Updated: June 1, 2020 10:07:21 am
The Universal Runners, based in New Delhi, has organised two marathons during the lockdown. In Udaipur, Rajasthan, Dilip Soni of Mewari. (Representational Photo)

Milind Soni ran on his birthday — 50 km to mark his 50 years on earth. “All the family members, especially my two daughters, took turns to accompany me part of the way. I changed mask and shoes, drank water and was lucky to have stock of gels for instant energy. It was a happy event for me. As I finished, seven hours later, I heard a loud noise of friends cheering and applauding,” says Milind Soni, a Chartered Accountant working with Kirloskar Group.

It almost did not happen. Milind’s big day, May 11, fell amid Lockdown 3.0 and running outside was prohibited. Milind, who has been running for five years, decided to turn the internal road of his society in Kothrud into a terrain. It was barely 270 metres circular track that runs among row houses rather than the long stretches that marathoners love but Soni hit the road. He had to keep his speed in check — he would have completed the distance in about six hours outdoor on the road or hill slopes of Pune — but his enthusiasm was racing. “Running is my me-time. I am fulfilled and happy when I am running. It is not a workout time any more. Had I not run on my birthday, I would have been disappointed for a long time,” he says.

It isn’t only baking and playing a musical instrument that the lockdown has revived. A large number of people are running on balconies, stairways and rooftops, around kitchen gardens in their backyard, in car parks, lobbies and from the living room to the bedroom at home. As a result, the coronavirus has, possibly, created a new sub-genre of sports — the virtual marathons.

The Satara Stay-At-Home Marathon, which marked & celebrated the International Day of Marathon on April 10 boasted 1,700 finishers (runners who completed their target distance). The Pune Running organises a run called LSOM (Last Sunday of the Month) for which 350 people put on their sneakers at the end of April and the amount collected as registration fees were donated to Pune Police. The Universal Runners, based in Delhi, has organised two marathons during the lockdown, including one to mark Mothers’ Day. Speaking from Udaipur, Rajasthan, Dilip Soni of Mewari Runners says they celebrated the 480th birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap on May 25 with a virtual marathon of 480 km run by thousands of participates at home. They exceeded their target. Coming up, on May 31 is the Lockdown Marathon 4.0 organised by an Indore group called Indori Subah.

Some practices are familiar in online marathons — participants can choose categories of 5 km, 10 km or 15 km, among others, on the day of the marathon — and a few are novel — participants use apps on their phone to record speed, time and distance and upload these on the social media pages of the marathon. All marathons give the runners bragging rights and some even throw in e-certificates and medals. The longer 21km half marathon or the 42km full marathon are rare, primarily because the distances are short.

Why do people run marathons ? Prasad Patil, a Pune-based community wellness coach with a decade of marathon-running experience, offers a possible answer. “You don’t need to run a marathon for health. Five or 10 km would be enough for that but, then, why has running become a fad nowadays?. Running is a basic emotion of every human being. One hundred per cent of the people are runners as long as their mind is working. You are either running towards something or running away from something. All the time, morning to evening, you are running towards your dreams, aspirations or goals. Or, you are running way from fear, insecurities and burdens. When you start running physically, something happens to you, psychologically, mentally and emotionally. Running provide the pure distraction from stress, hence you feel happy joyful even in state of physical pain. That’s why people get addicted to the running,” he says.

In his bestselling book, titled Born to Run, American writer Christopher McDougall, gives an account of a near-mythical tribe of runners from the Colorado Canyons called the Tarahumara. “They (the Tarahumara) remembered running as mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves o beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscle into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain,” he writes in the book. According to him the cult of “dedicated runners” includes some of the world’s greatest minds, from Nelson Mandela, who ran in his prison cell, to Abraham Lincoln. Writer Haruki Murakami has written a book on his abiding passion, titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. “As long as I can run a certain distance, that’s all I care about,” he writes.

A homemaker, who lives in Sanivarpeth in Pune, values the camaraderie that running communities foster. “I was missing running during the lockdown. Our group has 150 members, of whom 35 are regulars. We meet every morning for a run or strength training. Previously, we though the Lockdown 1.0, of 21 days, will pass quickly and things will return to normal. The lockdown kept getting extended and we missed getting together for runs. My husband and I have been running for four or five years. When the LSOM was announced in April, we decided to participate,” she says. Accompanied by their 20-year-old son, she and her husband chose their terrace, which measures 15×20 metre. “We didn’t run in circles but to and fro in straight lines. We didn’t even realised when we completed 10 km. For the first time during the lockdown, we felt the kind of elation that exercising brings,” she says.

“A lot of people are hooked to running, so we thought to organise an event so that more people can run inside their house without breaking the lockdown,” says Avinash Deshmukh of LSOM, who ran in his 2BHK where he doesn’t get 10 m at a stretch. “Turning is a big problem. I run from my bedroom to my hall, but even the flooring in the bedroom is different from that in the hall. The former has wooden flooring while, outside, it is normal tile, which has to be accounted for,” he adds. No, he dd not get into the meditate zone that marathoners often speak about “because every few meters I had to make a U turn. We don’t like U turns, we like straight routes to run but it was fun”. He has run in different terrains, from Ladakh to Bengaluru, and the virtual LSOM enabled him to prove that “it was possible to run at home”.

Before runs, participants are advised on the new techniques, such as there shouldn’t be small children running around the house, furniture should be rearranged to reduce risk of injury and family members should be kept informed about the runners’ times and other requirements. “There are not many laps when you are running inside the house so many people fear that they will spoil the regular form that they have on the road. I tell them that form is not the priority right now as we are focussing on including some movement on the daily routine,” says Sameer Wagle, who runs 30 minutes alternate days. “A relative’s flat, opposite mine, is empty so I use that. From my bedroom through the lobby to the end of the second flat gives me an easy 30 m passage. That’s why I am enjoying my runs. It has been 40 days I have running and nobody from the first floor below mine has complained of disturbance. I have made sure I run with my shoes because, the first day I tried running barefoot, I realised that the gaps between the tiles start hurting the feet,” he adds.

Sandeep S Kate, Founder of the Satara Hill Half Marathon, who has run marathons across the world, was preparing for the Comrades Ultra Marathon, a gruelling ultramarathon of 89 km that takes place in South Africa, when COVID-19 spread across the world and forced events to postpone or cancel. “I was on the treadmill, one of the most boring places to run really, telling myself, ‘Let me see if I can do 21 km’. Once I did that, I got a lot of confidence and decided to try 42 km, the Full Marathon as my next goal,” he says. In that euphoria, he conceptualised the Satara Stay-At-Home Marathon. “I thought, ’If I can attempt to run a Full Marathon on my treadmill at home, maybe we can also inspire other people also to run indoors at home. We could promote people to start moving rather than being sedentary at home,” he says.

Runners began to register from countries such as Peru and Bangladesh as well corners of India. Sizad Mahmud, who lives in Dhaka, got to know of it through the Facebook page of a runners’ community in Bangladesh called ‘Run Bangla’. “We had back-to-back marathons lined up every week before the lockdown, so the Satara Stay-At-Home Marathon gave us a chance to fight the boredom and inactivity of the lockdown. I don’t have much open space on my apartment so I chose my rooftop to run,” says Mahmud, who was among the 125 runners from Bangladesh. He had to try a number of apps since running in a tiny space with GPS-activated apps gave very “weird readings”. In Lima, Peru, Elena Calle, who runs five days a week on the beautiful broadwalk facing the sea, had been in lockdown since March 16. “The isolation was very hard in the beginning for those of us who usually run freely,” she says. Teixeira heard of the Satara Stay-At-Home Marathon from a website and registered for 16 Km category. “I liked that the virtual race was commemorating the creation of the Marathon in the form of the International Day of the Marathon.. I ran inside the house, on a treadmill though I usually run on the first floor of my house,” she says.

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