Mumbai-based Pervin Batliwala, 57, loves to sleep. Till some years ago, her family knew her as someone who would not miss her afternoon nap or get up before 9am on weekends.
Nowadays, she is out of the house before the crack of dawn, on the streets before 6am, running 10-30km on most days.
On this particular Wednesday morning, at the Priyadarshini Park and Sports Complex where dozens of Mumbaikars converge to stretch, run and exercise, Khurshid Mistry, 48, is also in the midst of a gruelling training session. Mistry would have covered some 2km in a combination of fast runs or strides, interspersed with short breaks not lasting more than a few seconds each.
Both Batliwala and Mistry are preparing for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on 30 September. Mistry specializes in running sprints but dabbles in marathons as well.
Batliwala and Mistry are among the people who have shed preconceived notions about age being a factor in intense physical activity, by constantly pushing the boundaries of their own capabilities—and just running.
Typically, women between the ages of 40 and 49 run in the “veterans” category, those between the ages of 50 and 59 run in the “senior veterans” category and those 60 or older run in the “super veterans” category of marathon events. While Batliwala competes in the senior veterans category, Mistry runs in the veterans section.
For both, running was incidental. Batliwala was looking for “some activity”. She had been an active carom player, swimmer and had taken dancing lessons from Shiamak Davar. But when her company Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) hired Savio D’Souza in 2004 as a fitness instructor, she took to running seriously.
HUL hired D’Souza just before the second Mumbai marathon in 2005 to train its employees for it. D’Souza has also been training employees of Great Eastern Shipping Co. Ltd for the marathon for around six years. D’Souza saw the potential in Batliwala and nudged her to train for running “a bit more seriously”.
Many companies, like HDFC Securities Ltd and Cadbury India, for example, encourage their employees to run marathons. Each firm takes up a cause, pushes its employees—sometimes, also their friends and families—to run. These firms pay registration fees on behalf of their employees (about Rs.1,000) and contribute an equal amount on each employee’s behalf. This collection goes to the charities they support. According to the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon website, 154 companies participated in the corporate challenge in January, up from 131 a year before. These companies raised Rs.7.2 crore this year.
Mistry, a corporate communications professional at UTI Asset Management Co. Ltd, decided to run the 2008 Mumbai half marathon (21.1km) on a whim. In only two months, but with rigorous training, she came fifth in the veterans category that year. She participated just because UTI did, but the encouraging result provided the motivation to do more.
On a sabbatical in London in 2002, Mumbai-based Bhavin Jankharia realized he couldn’t run beyond 30 seconds to a minute. He also realized he was a bit overweight. He then joined a gym and took to running as a form of exercise. Like the two women, he started running half marathons in 2008 and now runs 50-60km a month as practice.
“Marathons now are a part of my life and I have been running for the past three-four years,” says the 47-year-old.
Batliwala had crossed 50 when she ran her first half marathon in Mumbai in 2006. She collapsed during the last leg, exhausted. She says that since it was her first time, she got “just too excited. I ran a little too fast in the first leg and I wore out too quickly. I have also learnt to drink the right amount of water to be hydrated.”
Starting to run at a later age can make a person more vulnerable to injury, as in Mistry’s case. After she ran the 2008 Mumbai half marathon, she realized that whenever she practised continuously for the longer races, she suffered injuries. “For four years, I did not run any half marathons because whenever I practised for marathons, I got injured,” she says.
In the meantime, though—and encouraged by her speed—when she stepped on to the tracks in late 2007, she decided to run sprints instead. Between 2008 and 2011, she participated in five state-level and four national-level championships—in the veterans category in 100m, 200m, 400m and relay races.
The key to staying fit
An important part of training is posture. “Most injuries while running come from an incorrect posture,” says D’Souza, Batliwala’s coach.
“Recovery sessions are important, apart from diet and core exercises,” adds Dinanath Maurya, Mistry’s coach, before switching on his stopwatch, which signals the start of one of Mistry’s 200m speed strides.
Unlike in the open category, where there are separate sections for Indians and foreigners, in the veterans and older categories, Indians compete with foreign nationals. That apart, Maurya doesn’t cut any slack for Mistry despite most of his students being almost half her age.
“I train to win. I want my students to win and not just participate in the race. If they come to me, I ask them why they want to train. If they say they just want to have fun, I turn them away politely,” he says. A day earlier, Mistry had run 10 sprints of 200m each at the same place, in heavy rain, at dawn.
All the hard work has borne fruit—Batliwala was first in the Mumbai half marathon in 2007 and in Delhi in 2006 and 2011. In the three Mumbai runs from 2010-12, she has been in the top 5.
Mistry initially started with Maurya in 2010 for sprints. But after taking part in the nationals meet (in Puducherry) in July 2011—and with no other track and field event in sight—Mistry and Maurya decided to train for the 2012 half marathon. Six months of hard work fetched her the third (and second among Indian women) position in the veterans category.
She also won the gold medal in 400m and silver medals in the 100m and 200m categories in Malaysia at the Johar Athletic Meet in 2009. In 2010, she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 400m sprints and 4x400m, 4x100m relay gold at the Brunei Masters Open Athletic Championships, and a gold at the Asian Meet in Malaysia.
Having conquered the half marathons, it’s time for higher goals—Batliwala is training hard these days to run the marathon (42.2km) in January in Mumbai; Jankharia hopes to do the same in 2014.