Inspirational Runners

It’s all about experimenting!

A conversation with Kannan Sundararajan

You might have seen him last in the TCS 10k event where he spoke on the “next 48 hours” - an explainer session on how to keep the body prepared before the run. Presenting Kannan Sundararajan, fondly known as “Coach Kay,” as he talks about his Road Safety Awareness campaign through running, KaysFITAcademy and his Comrades marathon experience.

How did you start running?

I’ve been an athlete right from my childhood. In 2011, I was watching the London Marathon footage and I found that there were runners who finished their races in 2 hours 4 minutes and it seemed insane to me. This triggered the thought of wanting to do a full marathon in 4 hours. With a spur-of-the-moment 10 km run, I realised that running requires a different kind of fitness and so I began training. From there, these 6 years have been an interesting journey.

How did KaysFITAcademy start?

I realized that when I was working for corporates, even though I was working towards achieving exciting goals, I was partially achieving my own personal goals. During the last few years I have been engaged with fitness and running and I wanted to pursue training, coaching and teaching. There were days when 90% of my time went into thinking about it. I remember one day on my way to work, I called my wife and said, “I’m quitting my job.” with that, KaysFIT Academy was born.

Who is the target at KaysFITAcademy?

I teach both beginners and runners who want to get healthier, fitter and stronger. Every client has different strengths and limitations and they keep me excited and on my toes to design theirfitness routines. I always mustfind interesting ways to connect with them and motivate them. I also make sure that I well research andexperience before I suggest something to my clients.

How do you loop in children in the fitness equation?

Children are unfortunately left out in the world of running. I wanted to help children lay a solid foundation and liking for fitness. I teach badminton for kids and use running and regular strength conditioning and agility exercises as a way to improve their overall fitness levels. I’ve been training children from my apartment and the parents have noticed remarkable changes in their kids’ energy levels.

How was your Comrades experience?

I came to know about the Comrades when I read about a Zimbabwe runner who ran the 89 km and won the race with a finish time of 5 hours 29mins. I was mind-blown by that news and drawn towards the Comrades. I was inspired to run Comrades one day and in 2013, I finished my first 50km run at the Bangalore Ultra. I trained for the Comrades marathon for over 6 months but I ended up standing in the 2014 Comrades start line with an overtraining injury. I ran up to the halfway mark within the cut off and decided to quit the race with the fear of further worsening the injury. I went back in 2015 up run and 2016down run with my own plan and completed the race. Comrades provided me a unique experience, brought positive changes in and changed the way I look and respect others.

What is the best advice you would give your fellow runners?

Don’t try to get everything right, now! When I first started running I had no plan and I have no idea how things might turn out in a race. Then I started indulging in the sport to lean. I also find many runners complaining that they missed their personal best by a few seconds or minutes even though their performance was far better than others. People should definitely move out of that kind of thinking, because I’ve noticed that running gets better and better as you grow older.

Tell us about the road Safety awareness campaign

Last year in April, my wife and I responded to a road accident and helped the victim to be shifted to the hospital. He was alive at the end and that life changing experience was unique for us. That incident triggered a mission to spread awareness on the importance of first-aid & CPR training and also to promote safe road using habits. I came up with the idea of #424242running to combine my passion for running to running for this importance cause. With great support from my family and likeminded running friends, between 2-Jul-2016 to 16-Apr-2017, I had successfully completed the mission of running in the busy city roads 42 km every week for 42 consecutive weeks in 42 places covering ~1800 km. During the runs, I had interacted with the bikers, automobile drivers, pedestrians & children and distributed over 13,000 safety pledge cards.

This is just a glimpse of what Coach Kay is up to. Catch up on his stories here:

Ageless Runner

Mala Honnatti’s amazing adventures not only induces goose bumps, but bound to ignite a spark in each and every individual and her inspirational story is a must read for every aspiring runner/fitness freak.

A 64 year old former banker by profession, a running evangelist and an international marathon runner with 19 full and over 30 half marathons, a globetrotting runner who has run in Japan, USA, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, several podium finishes, Asian bronze medallist in 10000mtrs , brown belt holder in Karate…..hold your breath......list goes on to talk about her accomplishments in mountaineering ( veteran of about 24 expeditions since 1986 ), and….Everest Base Camp Marathon and….last but not the least in any way…. the mind blowing , bitterly cold Antarctica Ice Marathon with incredible weather conditions which is a testimony of one’s mental stamina and will power.

Mala is currently based at Gurgaon, keeping herself busy with fitness related activities and actively participating in Marathons, Marathon workshops and few other educational activities. She won first place at Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 in Senior veteran Category.

It was indeed an immense pleasure having to chat with someone like Mala Honnatti who is an extremely down to earth veteran woman marathoner and humble enough to enlighten us with facts on fitness and running.

Here are some snippets of an hour long scintillating chat with Mala Honnatti:

How and what got her into running?

Mala took up casual jogging as part of physical fitness whilst training for mountaineering. However she stomped into this fascinating running arena in her early 30’s when her sedentary job as banker was getting monotonous and she wanted to experiment with an adventure sport. She experimented on Karate in her early 30’s and had no equal partner those days as women of that age shy away from participating in anything labelled as male sport. She was very close to acquiring black belt when she had to move places on transfer and that channelled her into the path of yet another adventure sport- mountaineering which is when she took up casual jogging and was smitten by the running bug. She calls it “Out of world experience”, a “moving trance“ and “meditation in motion”.

What motivated her?

Few people run for fun, few to lose weight, few to get fit, few to show off on social media, but for her it was not just physical fitness, it was all about enhancing self esteem and feel one with consciousness, giving a sense of inner accomplishment thereby providing a sense of meaning to life.

How was the support from family, friends and society?

Initially Mala ran and did all other fitness activities without the knowledge of her family members and office colleagues. When it started getting exposed in the public domain like newspaper and magazines, Mala faced all sorts of mixed reactions, but less of appreciation and more of sarcasm and advise on not to do all those things. There was no social media, internet, coach, and knowledge at a click of button. It was a lonely battle of a single woman army.

How should we train for a marathon?

Fitness doesn’t come overnight. Hardwork, dedication and commitment are the essential ingredients and an unbeatable recipe to succeed in getting fit. Consistency in training is yet another important factor and most people give up early either due to lack of self-motivation or an injury and this unfortunately slows down the progress of an individual.

Strengthening and conditioning are backbones of an efficient runner. Strengthening workouts twice a week even at home coupled with interval, tempo and speed runs are sure shots to succeed. LSD (Long slow distance over weekends) helps in building not just physical endurance but also mental stamina.

What is her advice to recreational runners who have taken up this sport in their mid 30’s and later?

Age is just a number. Achieving one’s dreams is possible at any stage of life. Understand the rhythm of life, enjoy every moment and live in the present moment and do whatever your body lets you do. Do not let your inner negative voice take over the body’s capability to do a task. We must let the fear of not truly living outweigh the fear of pursuing one’s adventures, be it running or any other sport.

How should we react to an injury and how to avoid it?

Injury is part of the game. Take it in your stride and be patient. Allow time for the body to recover, strengthen and slowly come back strong. Lack of structured training, inadequate strengthening and sometimes overtraining can make one succumb to injuries. Mala says work on other parts rather than getting worried about an injury. For example, one can work on their upper bodies if their shin is injured and so on and so forth.

What kind of nutrition is required for an optimal performance?

Adequate hydration and electrolytes, appropriate energy intake and adequate protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamin and mineral intakes allow athletes to reap maximal benefits from training.

Mala grabs a high energy carbohydrate like dates and honey or a banana as part of pre work out, sometimes even rice. Low GI (Low glycemic index) carbohydrates are considered as better options pre workout, whilst High GI foods can provide instant energy during workout. Consistent intake of low carbohydrate diet can lead to greater reliance on fat as a source of fuel and is largely recommended these days.

Proteins are crucial in the immediate post workout phase especially after long distance running and consumption of protein with in 20 to 30 minutes after exercise increases muscle protein synthesis and hence is highly recommended. However Mala doesn’t depend on expensive protein shakes and she largely relies on naturally available proteins from dietary sources.

What’s her take on running for a social cause?

Running nourishes not just the body, but it gives a holistic approach of nourishing body, mind and soul, helping us to envisage, appreciate and be grateful to universe for all our abilities and accomplishments. Mala feels that everyone has right to education and supporting underprivileged children gives her immense satisfaction. She feels that right education to such underprivileged children would result in shaping up a better future and that they deserve our help, love and concern.

Last but not the least, what did running teach Mala?

Running is a “replica of life”. Patience, endurance, courage, peace and tranquillity, acceptance can all be acquired through running

Mala’s thoughts on goals:

Mala says “Life is to live and not restrict with any goals”. Keep things open and grab what life throws at you with an open mind and brave heart.

We wrapped up this enlightening chat, aptly with emphasis on a quote from Emil Zatopek “ If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”

Chennai's own Iron Man

It was a proud moment for all of us at Dream Runners, when one of our own became an International Iron Man for the third time. Raghul Trekker hails from a typical Indian family where education is given a higher priority to sports. He recalls fondly how he had to rebel at home to do local treks. He rarely participated in sport events during his school and college days. Because he studied to be a Marine Engineer he used to swim short distances. It was only in 2012, that he actually took up swimming earnestly and swam with state level athletes. Stamina was definitely not his forte during his early years.

Raghul has earned the Iron Man title thrice, twice in Malaysia (2014 and 2015) and once in Australia. The challenge requires the athletes to complete 3.8 KM swimming, 180 KM Cycling and run a full marathon distance of 42.2 KM within 16 hours. Raghul completed the same in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 26 seconds in Australia. Not an ordinary feat by any standards. His entry into sports and fitness is an inspiration not just for the committed fitness enthusiasts but also for those of us who sat on the sidelines during PT.

He currently trains under Lucie Zelenkova, an olympian triathlete and an Iron Man(rather Iron Woman) herself. She provided him with the online guidance that has helped him better his performance. To date, she remains Raghul’s motivator and inspiration. Raghul too, provides online coaching to many aspiring athletes and is of the opinion that though personal coaching is better, it is hard to address the needs of all in a huge group. Raghul actually quit his ‘Cushy’ IT job to become a professional athlete and a coach. He however emphasises that his coaching is not for beginners.

When I asked him if the attitude of parents towards sports has changed, he replied in the negative. He felt that India was still in its infant stages towards encouraging sports training for youngsters. Parents still discourage their children from becoming professional sportsperson and want an education as a backup career plan. Hopefully this attitude will change in the future.

India is not best equipped to provide training grounds for triathletes. Raghul trains at the Velacheri Aquatic Complex but the Iron Man challenge mandates swimming in natural waters such as rivers and lakes. He wishes that the ban on swimming in Chennai beaches would be lifted so more people can train in natural waters. His other concern is that there are no bike lanes in India and triathletes have to ride their bikes through heavy traffic and pollution. Not really an ideal training ground for the ‘Iron Man’ competitions. But again he hopes that in the future swimming and sports facilities in India will improve.

Raghul is highly competitive and one day wants to be Kailua-Kona champion. But there is a human side to this athlete too. In one local Iron Man competition, after the swimming and the cycling event he was placed in the second position, just 50M from the finish line. Suddenly saw the lead runner cramping up. Raghul stopped and helped the fellow athlete without worrying about his own timing. When I asked him if he would do the same in an international event, he said yes. Raghul has also raised funds for an NGO that helps with Children’s education.

Each Iron Man challenge is different. Though from Chennai, Raghul found it hard to run in the afternoon heat of Malaysia. At the same time he was very surprised to see the poor road conditions in Australia. The cold waters in Australia added to the complexity of the challenge. But his training and mental preparedness has helped in overcoming all such obstacles.

Raghul is an incredible inspiration, a human being with a social conscience. Ask him why he calls himself Raghul Trekker and you will understand why I have not mentioned his last name in this article.

Been there , Done that!

Is that the show-stopper line in your head, which prevents you from taking on any more challenges in life, leave alone your running career?

Having witnessed many runners ramp up quickly to a Full Marathon, do about half a dozen FMs across the country and some cross-border too, hit the proverbial wall little too soon, not finding enough fuel to burn the tracks any more, quietly slink into an oblivion any Sports Star would ever shudder to think of… wonder why?!

How does one keep the fire alive-not to speak of transitioning into the next orbit?

Read on to discover this one…!

Meet Lt. Col. Sundaresan- having spent 2 dozen plus years in the Indian Army, served the country in every nook and cranny, seen life and death at close quarters- in short seen it all, done more than what most of us civilians only see and hear in movies and motivational clips- has steeled himself to serve the martyred Jawans, whose pain and trauma, he has been privy to.

Check out a very inspiring and soul-stirring cause he is espousing and what better way to support the martyred Indian Army Soldier than this.…

1)Why did you choose running?

Having spent over two decades with the Indian Army and half a decade with Corporates post the Services stint, fitness has been a way of life for me.

I’ve always had a flair for long distance running. Started professional serious long distance running in Mumbai -2008.

Have completed- over 40 Half Marathons

-8 Full Marathons

-4 Ultra Marathons- 2 of which in Mumbai, 1 in Silvasa

--Comrades Ultra Marathon- South Africa- Petermaritzburg to Durban in 2016- 89 kms- 11 hr 52min

2)Whats your goal in this space?

My immediate goal is to help 50 martyred soldiers’ families- my way of continuing to serve the Nation, though indirectly, this time around- by reducing the pain in the lives of the families who have sacrificed their bread winner who served our glorious Nation.

I know many a heart-wrenching real life stories of my dear Jawans- and I know its worth every foot-strike I make in this journey I’ve set out to complete.

3) What gives you the compelling drive?

The number 50- and the 100 smiles I would generate at the end of it all.

50 marathon - 50 weeks - 50 Locations - to benefit 50 martyred soldiers’ families

11th Dec 2016 - Started with the Vasai Virar Marathon at Mumbai.

Every week one marathon has been the norm.

23rd Marathon in Gangtok

14 states have seen me treading the tracks.

Theme is – Run with the Soldier, Run for a Soldier- there is an fb page created to garner support for this cause.

50 lacs corpus to reach the families of 50 martyred soldiers

Yes , I propose to run the DRHM 2017, but will finish my Half Marathon before the Official start of DRHM 17 and join the Half Marathoners again to make it a Full Marathon run and knock off one more from my List of 50 FMs. This would be my 33rd consecutive FM in my current quest for 50 continuous weeks.

11- Dec 2016 – 19th Nov 2017- The journey from Zero to the 50th Run.

20th Nov 2017 –would be my 50th Birthday and that would be a significant milestone before I nudge my chronological milestone!

4) Did Army background play a part in shaping your running career?

Of course, it gave me two decades of phenomenal physical fitness training, and a natural flair for running. High on alert job- physically and mentally always on call –demanded I stay fighting fit for both strategic and actual warfare. And in no small measure Army training taught me the art of prioritizing-sift the vital from the mundane.

5) On a different note, how do you load up on your nutrition- any supplements to help your body recover and stay strong thru this weekly onslaught?

  • My Breakfast spread is a regular fare of Continental/ South Indian/North Indian
  • Lunch would invariably comprise Dal/Rice/Roti/Subzi
  • Lot of Rice and variants is how I sustain my energy levels
  • Dinner- Consisting of any vegetarian North/South India food
  • generous helping of fruits.
  • Supplements?!- wazzat?- never seen ‘em in my diet plan.
  • Junk food- if your body doesn’t protest and you are in perfect control of your mind, why not sneak a cheat meal for variety as a reward? ;-)

6) Your training plans should be as challenging as your mission- how do you manage to recover hyper fast within a week?!

  • Training is a continuous process
  • Mondays/Saturdays are strict rest days.
  • Eating generously- I must, every day.
  • Tuesday/Wed/Thursday any two days – recovery run of 5-7 kms
  • Morning and evening- strengthening sessions using body weight/stretching
  • Having acquired training through the American College of Sports Medicine as a Certified Marathon Trainer, I also do incorporate learnings from the same.
  • 5:15-5:20 is the average time to complete a marathon during these 50 weeks- so I enjoy my run as much as my training and recovery.

7) Whats your advice to recreational runners who have taken up this sport in their mid-30s and later?

  • Enjoy your run, I do an average of 5:15-5:20 for my Weekly Full Marathon though I ve done nearly an hour lower as my PB.
  • Increase your running volume
  • Get addicted beautifully to this enduring sport
  • Don’t get injured- if you do, rest, recover and spring back.
  • Have a moving goal post- don’t get bored- it could be a PB, Podium, Length of the race or any such moving goal post.
  • Take it easy, don’t race- stop yourself once in a while and rethink your goals
  • Never ever feast on Junk food- its not going to be easy to break temptation later.

Now, dear Runners , what’s your excuse to rest on your laurels- there are goals to be met and noble causes to be taken up-dime a dozen- pick up one and add zest to your running career!

Roads are lovely, dark and long…there are promises to keep…miles to run… before the next!