Chart a course

Chart a course

A heady cocktail of adrenalin and endorphins, and an unbeatable sense of accomplishment make running addictive. Despite the scepticism of critics who only see injured knees, hamstrings and backs, this indefatigable high sees runners go on relentlessly.

Rohan Patel, 31, who runs about 3-4km, four times a week, says: “It’s the best way to keep in shape. It makes you sweat, releases toxins and keeps you super fit with almost zero body fat, and is probably the best way to build stamina." Patel, who usually runs on tarmac, says running, as opposed to a gym, makes muscles work in tandem and gives you more flexibility and better muscle coordination.

“It’s simple, it’s inexpensive and it gives you the best cardiovascular boost," says Sanjay Nijhara, who practises orthopaedic pain management at the Delhi-based Toshi Orthopaedic Centre. However, the doctor warns runners to treat the sport with reverence, because without proper pre/post warm-ups, stretches and cool-downs, you can injure yourself.

Of course, there are some real issues with running too, and plantar fasciitis, or pain in the soles of your feet (usually because of flat feet or incorrect shoes), is the most common malady, says Prateek Kumar Gupta, consultant orthopaedic and sports surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. Ankles, knees and the lower back too often suffer from running injuries because of incorrect running shoes, hard or uneven surfaces, and the style of running. Shock recoil—when your feet absorb the shock of running—tends to cause havoc on your body too. The first step to counter this is to have a good pair of running shoes with sturdy soles which are light, flexible and fit perfectly—neither too tight, nor too loose.

Contrary to common belief, running is good for your bones. Done the right way and on the right surface, it helps prevent degeneration of bones, keeps knee joints well oiled, and even delays the onset of osteoporosis.

First-time runners are obviously advised to begin small in their neighbourhood park. To battle boredom, join a running group, and sign up for the regular marathons that take place in Delhi and Mumbai. Find new music, mix-and-match surfaces, and keep changing your running schedule—shuffling between different miles and tempo.

Dr Gupta puts in an extra word of caution for those who decide to start running in their 40s or 50s. “Look up your fitness history and if you’ve had injuries and diseases in the past, then take advice from an expert. When you find you aren’t as fit as you were in your youth, and take to pavement running or overexert yourself, you’re obviously asking for trouble," he says.

On the bright side, as long as you begin gradually, there is no age bar on running.

At 59, Vinod Kaul, former director of the Fashion Design Council of India, has crossed the 10km barrier. Since 2009, he has run three half marathons and normally runs short distances (3-5km) three times a week and long distances (15-20km) on weekends. Arvind Singh, 46, president of Asahi India Glass Ltd, went from never crossing 5km, to completing four half marathons in a year. “Running is a very humbling experience. Anybody who runs has the greatest respect for a fellow runner," Singh says. “And there’s a common understanding among the families that there is a streak of madness among all of us."


Here’s a lowdown on what works with different kinds of running tracks and why you should stay away from some of them


Versatile and forgiving running tracks in stadiums are the fastest surfaces for runners. Despite concerns about the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from synthetic tracks, studies have shown that softer track surfaces can lead to a 2-3% speed enhancement. Also recommended for those recovering from injury.

PROS: The evenness of the surface wins here. The biggest cause of injury is inconsistencies while running, which can strain ligaments, among other things. Synthetic surfaces are predictable, and have standard recoil, so you get recoil according to your needs. Always have a pair of shoes that fit perfectly.


The best option for bad weather days or odd hours, treadmills come with multiple inbuilt options for an optimal workout. Best for urban dwellers with irregular work timings. You can also make your running schedule bespoke, by opting for settings that work for you.

PROS: It is great for training and odd-time workouts. Its smooth surface is easy on the legs and you can add different programming to go uphill, downhill, vary the speed, etc.

CONS: It gets you to be a slave of numbers and actually can reduce the efficacy of a run if not done with a sensible schedule. It’s also expensive to own one. Common injuries are plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendon. Others like intermetatarsal neuroma (a thickening of nerve tissue), knee impingement and lateral hip pain are usually related to the incline.


Grass and mud trails through parks and forests are the best surfaces for running. Though this surface offers the best protection against shock recoil, it’s difficult to find long, even patches in urban India.

PROS: The chances of ligament tear are minimal, as compared to hard surfaces. It’s soft and easy on the legs in terms of impact and makes your muscles work harder. Flat grass is excellent for speed work.

CONS: Uneven surfaces, insects, seasonal variations, and grass of different heights don’t make for conducive tracks. Grass gets slippery during the wet season, and mud gets slushy, increasing the possibility of twisted ankles.


A mixture of gravel, tar and crushed rock, tarmac is what our roads are made of—and it is unavoidable for most urban runners.

PROS: Your foot gets a better grip. Tarmac is good for faster, short-distance running. In fact it is one of the fastest surfaces you can find, it’s easy to measure distances on it, and simple to maintain a steady rhythm.

CONS: Besides dodging traffic and potholes, this is also very unforgiving on your Achilles heels as it leads to Achilles tendonitis—feet rolling to the outside on uneven surfaces places lateral stress on the tendon. You may also suffer from this if you run excessively on the same side of a sloping or bumpy road.


Hard concrete pavements are anathema to runners. They may be the easiest to find, but they are the worst surfaces as they deliver the most shock to a runner’s legs.

PROS: The most easily accessible, and the best way to avoid traffic on main roads.

CONS: Shin splints are very common from running on hard surfaces, especially when you’re doing it for the first time, or after a long time. If you are slightly flat-footed you are more prone to shin splints. This surface is much harder than asphalt, and heel pains and plantar fasciitis are common injuries.

Experts: Dr Pushpinder Singh Bajaj, orthopaedic and sports surgeon, Bajaj Speciality Clinic, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi; Dr Prateek Kumar Gupta, consultant orthopaedic and sports surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi; and Rahul Verghese, proprietor of the start-up Running and Living Infotainment.

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