On The Run | Ram Viswanathan

Ram Viswanathan started running late, but he is rapidly making up for lost time. Less than a decade after he picked up the sport, the 49-year-old technical executive at IBM, Chennai, has already run 36 marathons, including nine in 2012. He is also the co-founder of Chennai Runners, a not-for-profit running group formed in 2006 which boasts of more than 1,500 members now. Viswanathan’s dream was to run an international marathon in his own city, and he fulfilled part of that dream when Chennai Runners organized the city’s first international marathon, The Wipro Chennai Marathon, on 2 December. Edited excerpts:

You only started running seriously in your 40s. How did that happen?

Around 2005, I had returned from the US and was desperately looking for some outdoor activities. I used to do inline skating before but that isn’t possible in Chennai given the road conditions. Then a casual conversation at the dining table with my son Raghav, 13 at that time, introduced me to a marathon happening in the city. He had picked it up from a poster in his school and that’s how I got started and since then it has been a good journey.

What are your favourite running routes in Chennai?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many options for long-distance runners in Chennai. I wish there were miles and miles of serene running tracks along the beaches or the various canals that abut Chennai. It is possible, but we don’t have them.

Having said that, we are indeed fortunate to have a “reserved forest" right in the middle of the city, which is my favourite running route. This is the entire stretch of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, Children’s Park and Raj Bhavan. I enjoy running in the beautiful environs of IIT, among deer, monkeys and centuries-old banyan trees.

What’s your running gear?

I tried minimalist Vibrams (shoes) but have now switched back to ASICS. I also wear a fuel belt, headband and carry a music player.

What’s your running soundtrack?

I listen to a variety of music and radio shows while running alone. I play Sanskrit shlokas, Carnatic music or fast Tamil/Hindi film songs. But these days, I listen to the National Public Radio (NPR) of the US.

What’s your regular training routine like?

I have three running mantras and try to stick to them as much as possible—no two consecutive days missed; 10km per run; and 50km per week. In 2012, I upped it to 60km a week for the Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

What kind of diet do you follow on race days?

Nothing special. I am a vegetarian and stick to my regular south Indian diet.

Tell us a little about the charity work you’ve been doing through marathons.

My desire is to run one marathon per year for charity.

Last year, we organized a marathon in Chennai and gave the net proceeds to Deepam, an NGO that works with less-privileged kids to impart computer and English skills. Last year I ran the Boston Marathon for ALS Research (an effort by Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, US, for new treatments and a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and raised over $7,000, or around 3.84 lakh). This year I’ll do the London Marathon for Cheshire Home charity and plan to raise £2,000 (around 1.76 lakh).

How do you balance your work and travel schedule with running?

The running gear is always in my suitcase and running actually helps me get over jet lag after long flights. Also, I try to squeeze in a marathon wherever I go on business.

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

I ran the innocuous-sounding Cinderella Trail Run marathon near San Francisco, US, in 2011. It wasn’t a fairy-tale marathon by any stretch of the imagination. It was a brutal trail run with a total elevation gain of 4,740ft through thick forest. I survived this one because I had company—a friend from Chennai had moved to San Francisco, and ran with me. I had friends running with me at the Comrades Marathon last year but failed to finish. It’s an 89km Ultra, and I ran through the beautiful hills of Durban, South Africa, but gave up around 54km. I just couldn’t move my legs and had difficulty even stepping into the rescue vehicle.

You’ve done three of the “Big 5". By when do you expect to finish the other two?

Big 5 has become Big 6 now, with the entry of Tokyo. I’m running the London Marathon this year and hope to run New York and Tokyo by 2015.

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