Anjali Saraogi is a 46-year-old ultra marathon runner. Hitting 40 is when most athletes decide to retire from sport.
However, at 41, it was just the beginning for Anjali, who in 2015, on the insistence of her 21-year-old daughter, took part in a half marathon in Kolkata and finished third with a time of one hour and 55 minutes.
In the 40s, when the body’s physical capabilities take a beating and pushing the boundaries becomes a task, Anjali decided to take on bigger challenges – running ultra marathons. Ultramarathons are races that cover distances greater than the full marathon – 42.2 km. They are usually anywhere between 50km and 100km.
Pushing the limits
Growing up in the 70s, Anjali remembers being awestruck by Olympic marathon runners. The idea of running 42 km and at those speeds was mesmerising. However, it was only in the late 90s, after giving birth to her daughter that Anjali began jogging and running.
For 15-16 years, Anjali had gotten into a rhythm – walking, jogging, and running. In 2015, she remembers telling her daughter that running a half marathon that was to be held in the city would be a nice idea. However, she was scared and had over a hundred doubts – 21 km seemed so long, she had never trained for that distance nor did she have a trainer to help her.
Her daughter encouraged her to run the half-marathon, she came third and has not looked back since then. Anjali is a Fast&Up supported runner and also an entrepreneur running her own diagnostic centre in Kolkata.
The Ultramarathon life
“I like a challenge and when I sign up for a 100K, I know I am going to train hard. It is the discipline, and the commitment that I am making to myself that I am going to execute this,” says Anjali.
Her first ultramarathon was the Comrades 2017. It is the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon race. Measuring approximately 89 kms, the race takes place between the two South African cities – Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
About running her first ultramarathon, she says, “It was absolutely beautiful. It was a hard race because it was over many hills. However, I was running without knowing what was going to happen to my body because I had never run that distance before. Even during training, I had run only upto 60km, so it was easy for me to accept the pain because I didn’t know what was coming.”
“Regardless of your experience, your level, a hundred kilometres will hurt, hurt a lot and for a very long time,” she adds. However, she continues to dive into the challenge and take it head on.
“The toughest part of the race is between the 60th and 80th kilometre. That is the time when I rely on my supplements, reload, and adjust. It revives and pushes me till the 80 km mark. After 80, I am good because I know that I only have 20 km to go.”
Overcoming the hurdles
In July 2018, Anjali was preparing to take part in the 100 km World Championships in Croatia to be held in September. She came down with dengue. After having blood transfusions and not training for about a month and a week, Anjali’s desire to represent her country for the first time pushed her to take part in the race.
At Croatia, she was the lone woman in the six-member team representing India. She finished the race clocking 9 hours and 40 minutes. She was the second-fastest Indian in the up run and set the record for being the fastest Indian woman in a 100k.
After returning to India, she discovered lumps in her breasts. The lumps had to removed but due to her recent blood transfusions, the doctors asked her to wait for a couple of months. Even with the lumps, Anjali decided to participate in marathons and races.
In November 2018, she underwent surgery to remove the lumps. In January 2019, she was back to the races and took part in the Mumbai Marathon, in which she finished second in the amateur category and first in her age group category. The next month she took part in the Kolkata Marathon and clocked 3 hours 16 minutes and 54 seconds to win the race. She then went on to fulfil her dream of running the Boston Marathon in April 2019 where she finished in 3 hours, 14 minutes and 33 seconds, a personal best across all marathon races she has run so far.
“Life comes with highs and with highs come lows. We just have to accept it, deal with it and move on. Because there is no point in clouding ourselves with pity and crying because it is not going to change the situation,” says Anjali.
How does she do it?
Anjali trains 90km every week. Ten days before the race, she clocks more distances than the usual. A self-taught runner, she trains on her own, likes to be in seclusion before the races and get into the right headspace. She also does yoga, strength training, and walking at least three times a day.
She believes that right nutrition is key and swears by Fast&Up products that help her revitalise during the marathons.
On January 19, Anjali will take part in the Tata Mumbai Marathon and is looking forward to better her previous best timings.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)
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