Forget pubs, cafs, golf courses and cinema theatres. Dating, therapy, networkingit's all happening as you sprint to fitness
Two years ago, Genieve Bodiwala saw Sandesh Shukla, 31, at a runner’s bash in Mumbai and fell in love. “I knew I wanted to marry him at that moment. From then on, I plotted to make him fall for me," says the 32-year-old, who has participated in one marathon and 13 half marathons.
Genieve Bodiwala and Sandesh Shukla running on Juhu beach, Mumbai. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Shukla and Bodiwala, who got married in December, did a 4-hour trek and a short run on Yala beach, Sri Lanka, the day after their wedding to celebrate.
BONDING ON THE TRACK
Running, the new hangout activity, not only helps bring couples together but also keeps them together.
Rahul Tripuraneni and Jyothsna Reddy Bathula of Bengaluru go running together while their children play in a park. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
The couple decided to do something and zeroed in on running, since “Bangalore as a city is so pro-running". For more than six months now, they’ve been getting up early and running 5km together while their three- and six-year-olds play in the park. “We are fitter, more energetic and spend time talking to each other," says Bathula.
For many youngsters who are moving cities, running is a way to meet new people. Jay Ashar, 29, who works in the field of knowledge management, moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai. “Shikhsha Shah, a colleague from Hyderabad who had moved at the same time, asked me to join running and I did," he says. It was during the long training periods prepping for a marathon, and volunteering activities, that Ashar got to know Shah better. “I used to take a train from Dombivali to Powai on Sundays just to train with her. If it hadn’t been for running, Shikhsha would’ve remained a colleague. Now we’re best friends," he says.
THE CULTURE OF A GROUP
Giridhar Ramachandran, who has been studying social groups like running clubs at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, since 2013 as part of his doctoral research at the department of management studies, compares these groups to gali nukkads. These spaces, which have all but disappeared from the big cities, allowed people to meet, away from home and work. “Running clubs, a recent phenomenon, are the new nukkads," says the 40-year-old. “In these spaces we don’t play a specific role, of an employee or a spouse, but are just there." Ramachandran, who has interviewed people from various groups in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune, says these clubs work as support groups too.
Narayani Venkatesh Dixit, 40, experienced this first-hand when she took the painful decision of sending her two children to the US to stay and study with her ex-husband. “It was a hard decision for me and if I went to a family member looking for a shoulder to cry on, they would turn to me and ask, ‘Who told you to send them away?’" says Bengaluru-based Dixit. People in her running community at Protons Running were, however, supportive. They did not offer unsolicited advice or ask questions, but they were there whenever she needed help.
It was the same community which helped Dixit earlier last year, when she was looking for a job change. “I got a lot of referrals from my buddies. People connected me to their HR teams, to senior folks in their companies," she says. Two years into the sport, Dixit counts her running friends at Protons Running as her best friends.
Ramachandran has come across this high trust level in groups across cities—attributable perhaps to the fact that no one in the group is competing with another. “Everyone shares the same pain together and aims for the same goal, so they all open up to each other, support selflessly and form a strong bond," says Ramachandran.
Social running groups don’t just help people find jobs, they also help them expand their professional network.
Bhumika Patel (right) with her running buddies at IBM. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Professional advancement was an unexpected benefit for 34-year-old Anirudha Basu. He landed the job of chief operations officer in the start-up InvestmentYogi.com, all because he happened to run long distances with its co-founder and serial entrepreneur, Mamtha Banerjee, in a group, Hyderabad Runners. “It was during a normal, casual run at Jubilee Hills in 2012 when she broached the topic and asked me if I wanted to run her company since she had to shift to the US," he says.
He had already been vetted for the job and interviewed during the runs.
Banerjee had trained with him 3-4 hours, three-four times a week, since 2011. “She knew how I dealt with stressful situations. It was like we had had a very long interview," says Basu. Given a chance, he would place the same trust in someone he runs with.
Running long distances is also about teamwork. “When we travel together as a group to a different city for a marathon, there will always be people who will assume leadership positions," says 45-year-old Pankaj Rai, director of analytics, at computer maker Dell India. He runs with a Bengaluru-based, close-knit group called BHUKMP, an acronym for Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ultra, Kaveri Trail, Mumbai, and Puducherry, the six marathons the group does together in a year. He believes little things—like who pays for a group breakfast, a person’s attitude to a fellow runner who is exhausted in the middle of a run, or how someone decides on the budget for a hotel—tell you a lot about a person’s character.
Naveen Nagar, associate vice-president of operations and strategy at HCG Hospital, Sampangiram Nagar, Bengaluru, would recommend most of the runners from the group to his HR team. He has been training with Runner’s High, a 300-plus running group, for over three and a half years. “I know the personalities of most of the runners in the group, their knowledge, their dedication, generosity, kindness, and how they will react under pressure."
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