In late 2007, just after the birth of her daughter, Bangalore-based Anjana Deepak began running to get back to fitness. In the first few weeks, she ran slowly and mixed it with some brisk walking to cover around 3km every day. On the weekends, she met members of a running group called RunnerGirlsIndia, an all-women running club that caters to everyone from beginners to marathon runners.
“Now I can run alone comfortably, but when I started, having other running friends really boosted my desire to get out and run,” Deepak says. The 32-year-old Accenture executive had found a new love. Within a couple of months of starting, Deepak was running 9km at an easy pace on weekends, sometimes pushing it up to 12-13km. In February 2008, she registered herself for the Auroville half marathon in Puducherry on a whim.
“I wanted to see how I would do over a distance of over 21km.” By the time she finished the race, she had been bitten by what regular runners call “the runner’s high”.
On the run: Anjana Deepak started running to get fit after her daughter was born. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
“I got more and more excited about running,” she says. “It was thrilling to take up challenges, to see if I had the mental strength to run marathons.”
Deepak is now a veteran of four full marathons and multiple half marathons, and runs 6-8km four-five days a week when she is not training for a marathon.
Preethi Ashok, a Bangalore-based physiotherapist specializing in running and running-related injuries, says the secret to a successful and consistent running programme is to start slowly.
“The intensity varies from person to person,” Ashok says, “so you have to listen to your body and see what’s comfortable. As a general rule, if you’re just starting out or haven’t run for a long time, start with a few weeks of brisk walking or a run/walk combination to get your body used to the workload without getting fatigued.”
Ashok, who had worked at Manipal Hospital for almost five years before quitting in 2009, began running to understand the dynamics of the sport. Already an accomplished swimmer, she began with 2-3km runs, three or four days a week, switching to brisk walks between the runs whenever she started feeling fatigued. The next week, she increased her daily distance by a kilometre. In two months, she was running in a 10km running competition in Bangalore.
Ashok, who started running with a Bangalore-based group called Runner’s High, and is a member of the medical team for the Bangalore Ultra Marathon, says it’s better to start running with a group or a structured programme “because it’s very hard to motivate yourself on your own, and equally hard to gauge when you are overexerting”.
Sumanth Cidambi, a 40-year-old chief financial officer of Hyderabad-based CoOptions Corp., started running in 2005 after being diagnosed with diabetes. He was overweight, had a desk job, and a natural antipathy to being active. “When I started I could just about shuffle for a kilometre before getting breathless,” Cidambi says, “and for the first four-five months I just about managed my quota of half an hour of running to ward off diabetes, and that was it.”
In 2006, Cidambi shifted from Rochester in the US to Mumbai, began running on Juhu beach, and started enjoying it. Then he saw running groups training for the Mumbai Marathon, and jumped in.
He was soon running in half marathons and full marathons, and in March he became the first Indian to complete the Atacama Crossing—a 250km, seven-day, self-sustained ultra marathon through the world’s driest desert in Chile.
“Running is a dangerous drug,” Cidambi says. “High-intensity cardio releases an enormous amount of endorphine, which is a feel-good hormone. Once that high hits you, it can get, and in my case it has become, obsessive.”
Cidambi’s normal routine, when he is not training for a marathon, involves three days of running for 20 minutes, followed by strength training exercises targeted at the core and legs; and three days of long 10-12km runs, followed by a day’s rest. He spends at least half an hour every day stretching and doing basic yoga postures.
Long-distance man: Sumanth Cidambi (in red T-shirt) with the Hyderabad Runners group. P Anil Kumar/Mint
Running boosts the cardiovascular functioning of the body, improves bone and muscle strength, alleviates depression, slows the ageing process, helps maintain healthy bodyweight, and keeps multiple diseases at bay—but just covering the same distances at the same pace week after week is not enough.
“You need to have a balanced workout because just running does not make you stronger,” says Ashok. “Strength training is very important, and helps you get better at running, corrects the biomechanical imbalances in your body and fixes your posture.”
The running basics
Bangalore-based physiotherapist Preethi Ashok and Jaya Radhwani, senior physiotherapist at A+ Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Clinic, New Delhi, tell you the best way to begin running.
• Begin with 20-30 minutes of brisk walking for at least a week or more, depending on your physical condition. Slowly start around 100-200m of easy-paced running with the walk without overexerting yourself. You should not get completely breathless at the end of the session. Increase the running stretches and decrease the walking stretches as your body and lungs get better at handling the exertion.
• The running stride and posture is very important to get the full benefits of running without injuries. Stand tall and erect while running, looking ahead, with your back straight and your core slightly braced. Don’t swing your arms across the chest, keep your fingers lightly bunched in a fist, your elbows bent at 90 degrees, and focus on moving the arms parallel to each other. Keep the running stride short, but don’t shuffle. Land on the mid-foot, and drive your legs back up towards your butt—this will also ensure proper forward movement of the legs. Focus on keeping the movements smooth, and not bouncy.
• Always warm up with 5-10 minutes of brisk walking before running, and stretch the hamstrings, the quads (the front of the thighs), back and calf muscles. Consistently stick to running at least three-four days a week. Don’t overexert on one run, and give up and rest for four-five days after that. Also, don’t run for a week and then rest for a week. Increase your mileage by not more than 10% a week.
Get stronger, avoid injuries
Break up your routine into three days of running for at least half an hour, two days of strength training for the whole body, and one day of some other sporting activity such as cycling, swimming, squash or tennis, with a day of complete rest to help the body recover. You don’t need a gym, or even weights, to do strength training, though properly supervised weight training is great to build strength and endurance. Here are the most essential all-body workouts that activate all the major muscles in your body:
Loosen up: Thoroughly stretch after running.
The push-up: This is a basic exercise that many perform with incorrect form. Your entire body should be braced during a push-up, and the body should be in a straight line from the neck to the heel.?Keep?the?abdominal muscles tightened throughout the push-up, so that your stomach and back don’t sag. Your feet should be close without touching. Do at least three sets of 10 a day.
The plank: This is the starting position of a push-up, and possibly the best exercise to strengthen and stabilize the core muscles. Feel every muscle of your body tighten as you hold this position for 20-30 seconds without letting your stomach and lower back sag. Do three sets of 20-30 seconds each.
The squat: A fantastic strength booster for the legs and glutes (the muscles on?your?butt). Stand with legs shoulder- width apart, and toes pointing slightly outward. Keep your back straight as you push down into a squat, and keep your knees in a straight line with the toes. The knees should also not move beyond the toes. When squatting, pretend you’re about to sit on a chair— push your butt back and down, and push up to a standing position using your glutes and not just your quads. Do at least three sets of 10 a day.
—Preethi Ashok & Jaya Radhwani
Run longer and faster
Once you are comfortable with running at an easy pace for 20-30 minutes every day, introduce speed work and interval training to boost both speed and stamina, burn fat faster and improve fitness rapidly. Thorough stretching is important after each session.
Your running schedule should be like this:
DAY 1: 10-minute warm-up with brisk walk, easy 30-minute run at gentle pace.
DAY 2: Warm-up, then run at an easy pace for 10 minutes, and then do a “tempo run”—run at a faster pace than the easy daily jog, at around 70-80% of your maximum intensity, and cover as much distance as you can. Three kilometres is a good general distance for a tempo run. Find a fast pace with a longer stride than the usual pace that you can sustain over that distance, and stick to it for the duration of the run. Stretch.
DAY 3: ‘Fartlek’, Swedish for “speed play”, is what elite runners do to increase speed and stamina. It’s an unstructured training method that involves running short distances at varying bursts of speed in the middle of a normal, easy-paced run. There are no rules, so do as much as you can. For example, run at an easy pace for 200m, then run at tempo pace for 100m, slow to an easy pace for 50m, then sprint at maximum intensity for 50m, drop to tempo pace for the next 100m, drop to easy for the next 200m. Try about 20 minutes of ‘fartlek’ once a week.
DAY 4: Easy run or brisk walk for 20 minutes and strengthening exercises.
DAY 5: Long, easy run, aiming for 7-10km.
DAY 6: Rest
DAY 7: Other sports such as swimming, cycling, etc., and push-ups, squats and planks.