Long-distance running is gaining acceptance for the health benefits, resulting in people training alone or in groups to prepare for road races held round the year. Among the hordes of happy feet on the city roads is Satish Gujaran, 56, showing the way to merge his fitness urge with fund-raising. After submitting his entry for a long-distance run far away from Mumbai, the Udipi-born, Mulund-based fitness enthusiast runs to the event venue (Surat, Satara, Aurangabad for example), raising funds along the way for a cause dear to his heart, then competes in the event to test endurance over different distances, from half-marathon, marathon and longer.
In the process, this ultra-marathoner (participants in road races over distances longer than the marathon mileage of 42.195 kms) is actually preparing his body and mind for the rigors of the world famous Comrades ultra-marathon, staged annually in South Africa between Durban and Pietermaritzburg over 89 kms. Reputed to be the toughest endurance event in the world due to the route at an altitude, Satish is a regular finisher there since debut in 2010, 10 successive years of finishing which earned him an accolade in the form of a green coloured chest number 29384, now permanently locked in his name.
He will hit the road again (Sunday December 8) for an easy run in comparison, the annual Vasai-Virar Mayor’s Marathon. No home run for Satish this time, for a change, he is a pace-setter (expert road runners who set a fast pace from the starting point for fellow competitors to aim for faster timings in marathon and half-marathon). “I am attempting to to involve the local people in healthy activity, like holding a run every weekend for prize money. I know the organisers well and they agreed to try it out.” He is heading a pack of pace-setters, each one an accomplished runner. Together, it is a joint effort to promote health benefits sparked by the VVMM spreading a running movement in faraway Virar, outside the city limits.
The first Indian to complete 10 Comrades runs this year (2010 to 2019) explains the thoughts which drove him to weave in fund-raising alongside road running. “Before 2010, I was doing only the 42 (marathon) when I came to know about the Comrades. I wondered if my marathoner body could last that distance (89kms). If you don’t try, you never know. After completing the Comrades five years in a row, I decided to do something beyond running for myself, by raising funds for a needy cause.” The first effort resulted in Rs 2 lakh (Satara), next was Rs 5 lakh raised by running from Mumbai to Aurangabad, followed by a marathon run there.
The ultra-marathoner on the road. – Satish Gujaran
The funds raised goes to Isha Vidya, run by Coimbatore-based Isha Foundation and involved with rural education for under-priviledged kids. Satish is contributing in return for helping him give up chain-smoking, after attending a seven-day Inner Engineering course conducted by the Foundation across India. He added: “I also wanted to push my body beyond 89kms, hence the idea of running to the marathon venue in another city in time for the event. A trial run from Mulund to Shirdi with training partners was my first such experiment, it took four days and the body handled it well.”
The next step was to approach marathon organisers. “The Surat Marathon people agreed to support my idea, in return I did build-up for the race via live Facebook posts during my run from Mumbai to Surat. They took care of my stay and arranged a support vehicle. I approached the Satara Marathon people, it is one of the toughest marathons in India, and raised about rupees two lakh. The next was Aurangabad Marathaon where rupees five lakh was raised. From 2005 when I started this running to run a marathon, I have done five fund-raising runs so far.”
The Comrades finisher confesses that the run from home to race venue is the toughest part. “Far tougher than running an actual marathon, because regardless of weather, road conditions and, highway traffic you need to keep going.” For company, he organises running groups of locals along the way. “I am expected to run off the highway into a village and meet a certain donor on the route, at times into panchayat offices or schools.” Unlike regular track athletes who shift to long-distance events, Satish took to road running as a way to kick a bad habit.
He explains: “I was a chain-smoker and wanted to quit smoking. Road running started in 2005 as a possible way to quit smoking. Till 2009 smoking and running kept happening with no solution in sight. Someone suggested I join a yoga class, I got to know about Inner Engineering course. After the first two days, apart from stopping smoking, it took me to another level. I did the seven-day course, they make you do yoga and work on your mind. Since then I have never smoked and running became easy.” He launched a start-up called RunWithSatish for enthusiasts ready to train for Comrades and works for Network Twenty-One as Director (Business Development) away from sport.