Michelle did not need to attempt running 6010km over six months to emerge as an inspirational figure in our firmament. She has already achieved enough and has, in her own way, encouraged many Indians to wear their shoes and discover the joys of running. She may not have caught the fancy of the powers that be but she continues to touch the lives of many as she churns the miles.
“I believe in setting challenges for myself. Running has given me a sense of purpose as I wanted to create an identity for myself, away from the normal or mundane. I asked myself what is it that I have done which hasn’t been linked to any of my relationships as a daughter, sister, wife or mother. Running is a means of expressing myself,” she says.
“Running, something I am passionate about is the journey that helped me discover myself. It has been the tool I have used to create an identity for myself. It has been a great learning experience. I used to doubt my abilities and was conscious about people’s perception of me. But now I am comfortable in my own skin. I don’t hesitate to go and get what I seek,” she says.
The first Indian to have completed the Four Desert Runs, she says running the Golden Quadrilateral is quite different. Besides the overall distance being tremendously more, running on the highway brings along different challenges. “I am still getting a bed to sleep in, water to shower and a balanced diet each day,” she says. “In the desert, you don’t bathe for six days since water is a premium. We value things that we take for granted in the city greater in the desert.”
At the time of writing, Michelle Kakade has completed 2077km in 67 days since she set off from the Gateway of India in Mumbai on October 21. “I don’t see it as 6000km. Each day I am due to run 35 to 40km. It seems easier. In all the runs I have done, while physical endurance is necessary, it has been my mental strength that has taken me through,” she says.
“I discovered the joys of running accidently. A little over a decade ago, I took part in a walkathon and that was the start of my journey. I then moved to the 10k, the half marathon and the marathon. The ultra-marathon was a natural progression. It suits my style of running since I am not a fast runner but have the stamina,” Michelle says.
“Besides, the course in a road race is much the same every year. Ultra runs have been in unique and far flung places which you would not visit as a tourist. No matter how much you train, it’s a different set up. The uncertainty of the course attracts me,” she says, a glint lighting up her eye as her mind traverses some of these exciting courses all over again.
Two months after she completed the world’s oldest ultra-marathon, the Marathon de Sables in Morocco in April 2010, she could not believe that she was surfing the net to look for more challenges. Having completed the holy grail of all ultra-marathon events, exhausted and with blisters on her feet, she wondered why she had signed up in the first place.
“Running is addictive,” she says. “The Four Deserts is a series and I intended to do all four as a Grand Slam in a calendar year. However, I didn’t realise that the Last Desert Run in Antarctica is not held every year. I completed the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China and Sahara through Egypt in 2011 and the Last Desert in 2012.”
The benefits of an active life are clear but in India, unless people get a wake-up call from the doctor, they don’t take their health seriously. “You need to assess your body, built up your fitness levels. Even if not running, take to walking cycling or swimming and stick to a routine. Half hour at least. Consistency is the key,” she says.
She may not have set out on her runs with the intention of encouraging others to take to sport but it would be understatement to say that Michelle Kakade, 46, mother of two, is an inspiration for a whole lot of Indians.