Shameek Sarkar
Shameek Sarkar

Shameek Sarkar | Marathon Monday

He couldn't finish the 2013 Boston Marathon because of the bomb attacks. This year, he made it

A decorated rower, Shameek Sarkar, 34, started running only because the rivers in Boston, US, are frozen during the harsh winters. A hard-core “Calcuttan", he is an accounts manager for a global information technology consulting firm and lives in Boston with his wife and two-and-a-half-year-old son. While most runners accumulate several hundred miles chasing the Boston dream, he got lucky. “The way I got in the first time was incredible. I know it is hard to believe, but someone from the sponsoring company gifted me an entry bib," says Sarkar. Last year, he ran for charity and was just a kilometre from the finish line when the bomb attacks took place. This year, he returned wearing a charity bib to address his, and Boston’s, unfinished business. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

Why, when and how did you start running?

An active sportsman since the age of 12, my sports career took a back seat as soon I entered the corporate world. Moving to Boston changed my life forever. Boston is famous for its passion and love towards sports. It is also the rowing mecca of the US and hosts the Head of the Charles Regatta, the biggest rowing event in the world. I picked up the oars again in 2009 and rowed my first Head of the Charles race the next year. Rowing stops in winters as the rivers freeze here. I started to feel the winter blues and that’s when a friend offered to get me a bib for the Boston Marathon 2011. Marathons are for insane people, I maintained. But maybe one time… just one time…and I started training. Now, I have run three full and four half marathons.

Your favourite running gear and soundtrack?

The Garmin (Forerunner) 610 GPS watch is my best friend when I am running or rowing. I enjoy inhaling in everything around with all of my senses…so no music.

What is your training regimen like?

I start training for marathons by late fall. I run thrice a week—a long run over the weekend, one tempo run mid-week and one speed workout on the tracks. The other days, I cross-train by rowing indoors or swimming.

You ran the Boston Marathon in 2013. Tell us about your experience.

For the residents of Massachusetts, the third Monday of April is referred to as Marathon Monday as the people of Boston step out in millions to cheer the runners as they run down Boylston Street. It’s also a day to celebrate the arrival of spring. I had run for a little over 4 hours and was only a kilometre away from the finish. I was about to finish my second Boston Marathon and was super excited. I was so looking forward to celebrate with my family, when the officials came down and stopped the runners. Initially we were told there has been a sort of explosion around the finish, but I thought some transformers had gone wrong. A chill went down my spine when they said it was a bomb. I managed to get hold of a phone and tried calling my wife, but could not get through to her. Those 15 minutes were probably the longest and the worst moments of my life. I was stuck there not knowing if I would ever see my family again. My wife and my son were in the VIP stand, right across the street from where it all happened. Finally I received a message that they were fine. They were so close that even today it’s a haunting feeling.

You returned to the starting line at Boston this year. What did it feel like to come back and complete the race?

Marathon Monday 2014 was an emotional day for Boston. We all remembered the tragedy from last year, but also were ready to celebrate Boston Strong. Everyone wanted to participate, either as a runner, volunteer or spectator. About 9,000 additional runners, millions on the street—for the first time, they had to turn people away from the finish line because it was packed. My family was waiting for me at the spot where I was stopped last time. I literally choked as I ran down Boylston Avenue.

Is there some personal goal that you have set yourself?

I want to run all major marathons. I also want to run the Mumbai marathon. I am looking forward to a sub-4-hour finish in the New York Marathon in November.

Your toughest race till date, and why?

My first marathon was the toughest. Three weeks before the race, I was doing my last long run. Midway through the run, I pulled my IT (iliotibial) band. Every time I tried to run it hurt. I took a cortisone shot and went to the start line. I wasn’t ready to give up without a try. I had just run a quarter of the race and the pain came back. I don’t know how I did it, but I kept running in spite of the pain. It was a silly thing to do, but I just kept going. I could not get out of bed for the next two days. Since that day, life looks much easier.

On the Run is a monthly series that profiles the most enthusiastic Indian marathon runners.

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