While most men run on in eternal hope of winning the coveted Boston Marathon qualification, a 35-year-old mother of two from Gurgaon, Haryana, pulled it off in her second marathon. Shailja Singh Sridhar, whose pace has ensured that she runs mostly among men, has won several races since she started running in 2013 as a challenge to herself, including podium finishes in the TCS World 10K Bengaluru, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and Pinkathon. Earlier this year, she was named an official pacer for the half marathon distance at the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon.
Though she does not practise, Singh Sridhar is a lawyer by qualification. A focused and goal-oriented recreational athlete, she supplements her running with yoga, cycling, swimming and gym. She has run two marathons, one ultra and 20 half marathons so far.
Singh Sridhar travels extensively, both within India and abroad, for races and takes her children—a 10-year-old girl and four-year-old boy—along when possible. She is now training for the Boston Marathon 2016 and also plans to run the Tokyo Marathon next year. Her aim is to take part eventually in all the six marathon majors.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Why, when and how did you start running?
I used to be a cycling junkie, having done many multi-day rides and races, but running was always a muted thought at the back of my mind. In 2013, I decided to sign up for a couple of long runs, just to test myself. That year I ended up doing halfs in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Amsterdam (the Netherlands). I got hooked enough to trade in my cycling cleats for racing flats. Having said that, I do wish I had more time for cycling than I have now.
Week in and week out, you head out and run. What keeps you going?
I run because it keeps me happy. Because I want to explore how far I can go. Because it allows me to eat and drink anything I want. Because I like to compete and win. Somewhere deep down in me, it helps me become a calmer, better, less neurotic person.
Your favourite running gear.
I get terrible chafing, so I am still figuring out what gear works best for me. Of late, I have been using adidas Spandex shorts. As for shoes, I use three different pairs—yellow, pink and green. Seriously. As far as the makes go, I use adidas Adios Boost 2 for racing and speed training, and Energy Boost for long runs.
Describe your training regimen.
My regimen depends on what I am training for, and what phase of the training I am in. So if I am in base-building stage, I will be doing a lot of “time on feet" runs without bothering about pace. If I am planning a shorter race, say a 10K, then I will be doing a fair bit of speed work. By and large, I run in the mornings three days a week, between 8K and 20K each. On other days, I go for weight, conditioning and yoga sessions. I am a little impulsive by nature and I often do exactly what I feel like, be it running or other training. But this is not the advice I would give others.
Is it difficult to get a Boston qualification (BQ) timing in just your second marathon?
Well, none of us are elite runners, so it’s really important to gradually build yourself up to longer distances and faster pace. The problem is amateur runners have this mystique built around the Boston Marathon, and they want to go from a 5K to a BQ in one year.
Without underplaying a BQ performance, I think most people can get there with the right build-up and preparation. Unless you chose your parents well and have really athletic genes, most of us would need to plod and plan our way through to get there. It took me three years of constant bite-sized improvements over every race to finally qualify for Boston this year.
Have you ever felt scared or nervous about running alone in the National Capital Region (NCR)? Have there been any scary incidents or close shaves?
One has to be careful in any city in the world, and the NCR is no exception. I am more nervous about some of the questions that get thrown my way. There was one just last week—“I heard you ran only the ‘half’ marathon. Why did you drop out half-way?" Normally I am fairly quick to respond, but this one had me stumped for a long time.
What changes have you made to your social life and diet since you started running?
The biggest change for me was to say no to late nights. I have struggled to say no to an invite for a late-night party or an evening out with friends, because I know I had a 30K in the morning. But over time, I have made peace with it. There are still a few times when I do go out, because I would go insane otherwise. Not to mention losing all my non-runner friends, who think I’m crazy.
What is the difference between running in India and overseas?
The big races in India are as well organized as anywhere else in the world, but I wish we had smaller scenic races that were equally well organized. There are a few now (like the Javadhu Hills Ultra, at Javadhu Hills, half-way between Bengaluru and Chennai) but I hope we’ll get to see more such races in India soon. Of course, I’m still waiting for the beer mile races to get started here.
Is there one person, living or dead, you would want to run with?
It has to be (Haruki) Murakami. I love his books, he runs and I just learnt he also has a 10,000-record vinyl collection, mostly jazz. What’s not to like?
On the Run is a monthly series that profiles the most enthusiastic Indian marathon runners.