Having finished her marathon, Kranti Salvi was seated in the waiting lounge with Kenyan great Eliud Kipchoge as TV crews set up their camera rigs in the media room at Berlin. It was September of 2018 and Kipchoge, already running royalty by then, had just set the marathon world record. Mumbai resident Salvi, celebrating turning 50 that year, had decided to run her milestone marathon on Berlin’s fast and flat course. But she found herself exchanging small talk with Kipchoge in that quiet lounge because she ran Berlin wearing a sari, setting a Guinness record for being the fastest to complete a marathon in the nine yards. German TV networks were mighty keen to talk to her.
On Sunday, as a 21-km ‘Pinkathon’ in its ninth edition is run remotely across the country, to create awareness about breast cancer, 15 others from Mumbai will hit the roads in saris and sneakers, inspired by Salvi. A veteran of 15 full-distance marathons (42.195 km), including Berlin (3 hours 57 mins) and Boston (3:50), Salvi has decided to participate in Mumbai picking out yet another Khandeshi Silk.
“A bunch of us from Gurgaon will commemorate Rani Laxmibai’s birthday (November 19) belatedly by running 3 km, 10 km or 21 km in saris,” she says, stressing that what started out as a sartorial statement at Berlin is now simply a clarion call inviting women to not be deterred from running because of what they wear. Shoes are what’s most important in running, she insists.
Salvi has fashioned a nine-yard drape that is most comfortably suited to running, and has spoken of how women in rural Maharashtra carry out just about any task in the unfussy nouvari effortlessly. “Berlin Marathon organisers help you record the run in a native costume. I had watched women run in Mumbai decked out in saris, though over a short distance of 7 km. I decided to go the whole hog at Berlin including wearing the nathni (a traditional nose ring)… And a lipstick. Why not?”
She matched her red sari with a breathable running vest fashioned into a dressy blouse, and a light choker around her neck and shining studs. To avoid any chance of tripping, she tucked in the ends of the sari into long socks. A customised pouch that goes with the sari holds, apart from the usual water bottle, a bunch of safety pins for quick fixes and special vaseline tubes to apply in case of a rash due to the fabric rubbing against the skin. Still, the interest Berlin media showed in her surprised her, Salvi says.
On Sunday, the runners in sari will choose their own adornments.
Married to a Merchant Navy captain, Salvi says running is her entry into a world away from home and its responsibilities. “It’s not easy, no matter your family background.”
Salvi’s last run was the London Marathon in September, organised remotely due to the pandemic, along Marine Drive. The 52-year-old ended up inspiring her pacer Abbas Shaikh to finish the whole 42 km. “He’s a good pacer and initially I thought he would help me manoeuvre the Sunday evening crowd, because it was a novelty — running a marathon in loops. There were children playing on the promenade, I didn’t want to bump off any of them!”
Her fondest memory though remains finding herself face to face with Kipchoge, the divinity of marathons, that September of 2018. “I think I told him, ‘They (TV reporters) don’t actually know me. It’s just the sari’.”
Focusing on hydration and pacing ahead of Sunday’s run, like all her marathons, Salvi says, “Any major marathon day is like a wedding day for a runner. You are completely zoned into the run and finishing a run is special. There are a thousand worries until you actually start to run, and then that’s my territory.”
And when she is there, she adds, it’s easy to forget the sari.
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