Limca book of Records have acknowledged Sunil Shetty and Sangeeta Shetty (residents of Raheja Vihar) for becoming the first couple to complete the 24-hour Bengaluru Ultra Marathon recently. In a candid interview to My Powai, the couple treads down memory lane and gives us a narration on what goes behind running long distances.
How did you both get into running?
I was working as a senior management professional in a MNC and was literally living out of a suitcase. My job demanded extensive travel and with that came irregular eating habits and inadequate rest. One day I casually stepped on the weighing scale and to my surprise, I was overweight and I realised if I continued with the present lifestyle, I’d be in serious trouble. Since I did not have too many sporty bones in my body I decided to take up running to control my weight. I started off on the treadmill and started enjoying it. In a few weeks time, Sangeeta too got interested in running and ever since then running has been a part of our lives.
What motivated you to get into professional running?
In a matter of a few months, we started averaging about 6-8 kms a day. While I started getting a lot of joy in running, the fact that I knocked off 24kgs in 15 months made me feel wonderful. Even then we were running on the treadmill and maybe on a few occasions when there was renovation work in the gym did we step out. On weekends we ran about 10kms but even then the thought of participating in a marathon was not on our radar. The first thought of participating in a race came through my building friends who suggested that i participate in a marathon. In those days, I was working for J&J and since the organisation was involved in the Mumbai marathon, I could register for the half marathon without too much of a problem. Thus I enrolled for my first competitive race in 2008.
Tell us about the experience of your first race?
Since I was comfortable running 15-16 kms during my build-up to the race without heavy panting, I was confident or maybe a touch complacent that I could conquer the half marathon easily. As Sangeeta was not participating, she was waiting for me at the finish line and I’d told her that I would complete the race in 2 hrs. To my dismay, it took me 3 hrs and I had to pull out every ounce of energy to cross the line. In fact walked the last 7 kms! It was so embarrassing that I told Sangeeta that I’d never run this distance again. Since I struggled to complete the race, I was not very excited that I had run the first long distance race of my life.
What were the lessons you learnt from your first race?
Honestly it was a reality check and I realised that one just can’t turn up for a race and complete it without any preparations. Moreover there is a difference between running on a treadmill and running outdoors.
In the following year you ran the full marathon, tell us about it?
We got back to our running schedule but started averaging 10kms against 8kms that we did before the race. As weeks and months passed, I thought to myself that it would be unfair if I’d give up without racing again. Thus I decided to do something different and enrolled myself for the full marathon and convinced Sangeeta to participate in the half marathon. We realised the importance of training and as there was no coaches or running groups in those days, we had to rely on the net to dig out information. We followed a few programs and also put our daily schedule and tried to stick to it with a lot of sincerity. Besides that we did 50% of our running on treadmill and the balance outdoor. I completed the full marathon in 6hours but struggled to the finish with the only consolation being that it was not as bad a struggle as the previous year. Sangeeta on the other hand ran her half marathon in 2hrs.40mins without too much of a struggle.
How did you progress on your timing?
Having completed the race, I was confident that I could do much better if I worked towards it. The research got more extensive on the net and I realised how lucky we were that no serious injury struck us considering that we did not have adequate knowledge on hydration, nutrition, carb-loading, protein intake importance of strength training, warm-up and stretching. We started adopting different training methods for speed, endurance, strengthening of legs, etc. Every subsequent year we improved on the timing to the finishing line and the struggle got less! Today I can clock a full marathon in 4 hrs and I think it’s pretty good at my age of 52.
When did you start running outside Mumbai?
After I quit my job 3.5 years ago and my daughter completed her school, we had a little more flexibility to venture into other cities. We made a conscious decision of participating only in runs that provided an exotic location or was very challenging. The Cauvery Trail marathon in Mysore is in a bird sanctuary and is beautiful. We loved the event just as much as the Hyderabad marathon that is the most difficult among the road races since one has to run through 7-8 flyovers. In 2012, we decided to participate in the Ultra marathon (75kms) in Bangalore. The race is very challenging as there is no road but a trail that is uneven with stones, shrubs, roots etc. With very little preparation possible as there are not any trails in Mumbai with the exception of National Park in Borivili, it was really an uphill task. Moreover the race starts at 5am and for about an hour it is pitch dark with runners having to use torch light to illuminate their path. We had enrolled in the over 45 category and were pleasantly surprised to be 1st in our respective races. In the subsequent year we enrolled for the 100 km race where Sangeeta came first and I came second and thereby became the first couple in India to complete a 100km race.
How did you train for the 24 hour race?
We did high intensity training with focus on mileage and as part of the training we participated in 2 twelve hour races. Every Sunday we did a 6 or 8 hour run and most of the long runs we ran in Raheja as we could stock our car with water, electrolytes, bananas, peanut-butter sandwich, etc to maintain the requisite level of hydration and nutrition in our body. Since it was a 24 hour run, we did a couple of ‘sleep deprive’ runs to train the body to run all night.
What was the experience of running for 24 hours?
Before the race we had run almost 1900kms in 5 months and so we were relaxed and confident of doing well. On the race day, we were well hydrated and loaded with adequate nutrition however the weather got a lot warmer compared to the previous few days. Since the race began at 5am Sangeeta decided to run with our other friends while I set off on my own. Being a 24 hour race, we have a lunch break, snack break and a dinner break besides a medical check-up every 2 hours after twelve hours. While we ran independently all through the day we ran together from 8pm onwards for 9 hours. While our priority was to complete the race without injuries, we had set goals; I had targeted 150kms and achieved 138kms while Sangeeta had targeted 125kms and achieved 120kms. While I topped the race Sangeeta came second. However what surprised the organisers most was that we looked fresh even after running 24 hours and were leaving for the airport directly from the venue to catch the 7am flight to Mumbai.
Besides running what else excites you?
We are foodies and love eating but we keep a check on the quantity. Apart from that we love travelling and going for long drives.
What would you advice to those who want to take up running?
From a health stand point, it’s a great activity and the cheapest one. All you need is a good pair of shoes and once you start seeing the results it gets more and more enjoyable. We were not fortunate to get professional or friendly advice when we started running but these days there are many running groups. We get invited by corporates to give motivational talks and would be ready to help anybody who approaches us.