Bhaskar Desai
Bhaskar Desai

Bhaskar Desai: Never too old to run

This 62-year-old runs without music because he cherishes the crowds' cheering

He runs into fellow runners’ open arms when he meets them at the expo and describes himself as “a mindless but not always aimless" old man. Never shy of turning the joke on himself, the self-deprecating Bhasker Desai, 62, is a popular amateur runner with several podium finishes to his name. The Mumbai-based garment exporter has run 32 marathons, including 12 races, in 12 months. With a personal record of 3 hours, 41 minutes for a marathon, Desai has run the Boston Marathon, US, more than once. He is as enthusiastic about mentoring runners. Desai completed the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on 23 November in 1 hour, 41 minutes. Edited excerpts:

How did you start running?

It started in 2005 when my sedentary, corporate lifestyle and erratic, unhealthy food habits showed up as high triglycerides. Dying early was not a great option. Under medical advice, I started running 2-3km on a treadmill. A gym buddy asked me to try running the half marathon in Mumbai. I ran it in 1 hour, 45 minutes and knew I had found a new passion in my life. I ran my first full (one) in 2010.

Week in and week out you head out and run. What keeps you going?

There is no method to my madness; no science or system to my training. I run and see the world. Every race doubles up as my training for the next one. Life is about experiencing places, meeting people, making friends, connecting with different cultures…running is my catalyst to reach out towards this journey.

Your favourite running gear and soundtrack.

All the discounted running shoes available at the race expos. I use Dri-FIT, colourful running T-shirts and shorts. The hard breathing of runners and the crowds’ cheering work for me, I need no other music.

How does running 12 marathons in 12 months affect your body?

It was a romance I indulged in. A small challenge I set myself for fun. Starting with New York in November 2013 and ending with Istanbul last month, I saw 12 different places. It was a beautiful experience and I ran seven races under 4 hours. I didn’t suffer any fatigue or injuries, though I felt jetlagged at times.

Describe your run in Boston.

I was there on 15 April 2013. It was 25 minutes after I had finished that the ugly terror strike took place. I went back this year to pay my tribute. I had to. I owed it to the martyrs of the tragedy, to tell them I am so sorry but that their death will not be wasted, we shall fight terror and we will emerge winners.

What changes have you made in your social life and diet since you started running?

My direct family lives outside India. Running opened up a huge family of runners for me. That’s my wonderful extended family now. My diet still sucks but running is a semi-miracle. It helps me get rid of fats and toxins.

How do you recover after a marathon?

If I am racing on back-to-back weekends, I do not log a single mile between the races. It’s not what a running guru would prescribe for recovery, nor would he let you run races every alternate week.

How has running changed your life?

Running helps you evolve into a better man, you learn healthy social skills. Group running makes you sensitive to your buddies and their needs. You also meet some bad eggs and self-appointed gyaani gurujis (know-it-alls).

Your toughest race till date and why.

The race in Washington, DC, in 2011 was my most rewarding as I got my first Boston qualification that day. I was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro just a month earlier and was out of shape, dehydrated and cramped.

Which race will it be next?

I am certainly running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in January.

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

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