On The Run | Rahul Verghese

He fits running into his daily schedule just like he fits brushing his teeth. He might run to a friend’s house for a party if he’s not had his daily dose, carrying his clothes so he can shower and change at the venue. He’s got running’s most basic allure—that you can do it anytime, anywhere—ingrained in his DNA. Rahul Verghese, 52, a marketing professional with 25 years of experience in companies like Unilever, Nestlé and Motorola, began running when he was 40. What started as a means to fight boredom soon took over his entire life.

Now Verghese is a veteran of 46 full marathons and ultras across six continents, and runs Running And Living Infotainment, headquartered in Delhi, a company that handles every aspect of running, from giving virtual training and nutritional aid, and helping people to set up running groups or connect to existing ones, to organizing marathons across India. He shares his running story. Edited excerpts:

When and why did you get hooked to running?

I started running by accident during my first cold Chicago winter in December 2000. I ran my first marathon there in October 2001 and when I ran my second one there in 2002 and improved my timing by 41 minutes, I was hooked. My job required me to travel frequently and extensively and then I started running marathons in various countries, combining it with my work. 

What do you like and dislike about running in Delhi?

Delhi has lots of gardens, historical monuments, old parts of the city which are a treat to run through. Also green, forested areas like the Aravallis and more. 

What’s your favourite running gear?

Microfibre inner wear, water-bottle belt and water bottle, a headband. I use all kinds of shoes—Asics, Brooks, New Balance, Mizuno, or even Bata PT shoes.

What’s your running soundtrack?

Listening to the birds, checking out nature, and keeping my ears free of any electronic clutter.

What’s your training routine like leading up to a regular marathon?

I follow Hal Higdon’s (a US marathon legend and author of several books on running) intermediate marathon training schedule (an 18-week programme of graded runs), as well as basic strength training and stretching exercises.

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

Pre-race is bananas, fresh orange juice, maybe a toast and butter, or glucose biscuits. During the race it’s double concentrated Gatorade with rock salt and Tang to prevent cramping, especially on a humid or warmer course, and glucose biscuits. If it is an ultra, then some boiled potatoes with salt and some wafers too. Post-race, I’ll drink tender coconut water and cream, water, and then some cold, cold beer!

What’s the most challenging race you’ve run?

Doing the 89km Comrades Marathon (South Africa) in 2010 was a challenging experience. Making sure I was physically and mentally well prepared for that was a challenge as I started my training very late. At the 70km mark I felt absolutely fresh and I started picking up the pace as the finish line is officially closed at the 12-hour mark. I smiled there to myself, remembering how it took me four-five months of running to initially cover 5km without stopping. At the 80km mark, when I was approaching Durban, I almost took a toss on the expressway, stumbling over the catseyes on the road, and remembered to focus again and not let my mind and eyes wander too much. I saw a few people being taken off the road in stretchers at the 84km mark and again slowed and showed respect to the race.

It was only in the last 3km, when I could hear the music at the finish at the Kingsmead cricket stadium, that I started picking up pace again. I was told I was the second-ever Indian finisher, which sounded odd to me, but I was delighted to finish in 11:33 minutes.

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

The Antarctic Ice Marathon in November. If everything falls in place, it will be my 50th marathon and the seventh continent I’ve run in.

On the Run is a monthly series that profiles India’s most enthusiastic marathon runners.

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