On The Run | Dharmendra

When 34-year-old Dharmendra, who uses only one name, moved to Bangalore and joined a running group called Runners for Life, he found the love of his life. A year back the former manager at KPMG quit his job to become a long-distance running coach. He’s run 15 marathons and uncountable half marathons, because he covers that distance in training, he says, at least 30 weekends a year. He tells us what powers his runs. Edited excerpts:

When and why did you get hooked to running?

I started running seriously in 2001, when I was a student at the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow. The campus is big and beautiful, and I loved playing football, but I was getting injured too often. So I started playing less football, and running more. There is a 2.8km running track on campus. My brother told me about the Cooper Test, which says if you can run 2.8km in 12 minutes or less, your fitness is above average. I found out that I could run the distance in a little less than 12 minutes, so I was very excited. I did the half marathon in Mumbai in 2004 without any extra preparations. I really struggled towards the end, but I did finish it, so I thought “what if I actually train for a marathon? How good will I be?" I started following running groups on the Internet for training advice. I did the full Mumbai Marathon in 2005.

Go-getter: Dharmendra. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

What I like about Bangalore is what I like about running in Bangalore. The weather is amazing. You can step out at 3 in the afternoon and run 10km.

What I don’t like is the lack of running spaces. We have to run on the road, and cars are obviously not going to give you space. We are still objects of curiosity when we run on the road. Sure, Bangalore has multiple small parks, and a couple of big parks, but the parks are completely packed on the weekends. People sauntering in horizontal lines six-people wide. We call that the “Arsenal offside trap".

What’s your favourite running gear?

I use New Balance shoes, occasionally Asics. That’s all I need.

What’s your regular training routine like?

Last year I took a sabbatical and went to the US for five months to train under a coach there to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I do speed-work on one day, Tempo pace on one day for 6-8 miles, and long distance on one day of the weekend. The mileage is dependent on where you are in the training phase. I train for 16 weeks for a race. I clock around 40 miles, including one long run of 10 miles, in the first week. By the 14th week, I’ll be running 80 miles in seven days, including a long run of 24 miles. And then I taper off dramatically in the last two weeks before the race.

What kind of diet do you follow on race days (pre-, during, and post-race)?

During the race, largely liquids—sports drinks, juice, water, and sometimes energy gels. I have toast with honey or just a few bananas before the race. Post-race I eat everything in sight.

What’s it like being a running coach?

Bangalore is the best city in India to be a running coach. I don’t think I could have made a living as a running coach six-seven years ago, but now I can, and I’m happy with it. As a coach and runner I have also seen that there’s great gender parity in running. At least in Bangalore, there are as many women running as men.

What is the dream marathon you’d like to run?

Boston—no doubt about it. My friends will tell you that I’m a nutcase for that. But it’s not just about running the Boston, it’s about getting to that level of performance.

What’s your next marathon?

California International Marathon in December.

On the Run is a series that profiles India’s most enthusiastic marathon runners. This is the second in the series. In the lead-up to the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on 30 September, On the Run will appear weekly.


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