Kieren D’Souza describes running as an important part of his life. “It is the simplest thing I can do and yet it is complicated at the same time. If I don’t get out on the road every day, I feel disgusted with myself,” he says, revealing the paradox that he lives. “I am at peace with myself when I run. When I am down or angry, I set off on run and feel refreshed. It definitely relieves stress.”
His long lock of hair tied in a bun after a morning run, Kieren likens running to meditation. “I talk to myself when running. I experience peace within when I run. I can’t sit in a place, close my eyes and meditate. I don’t like going to church but I love going on a run. I like being with myself. I enjoy the experience of running,” he says, the five-year experience ringing clear.
He has already won two of the six ultra-marathon races he has competed in in the past three years but finishing second in the under-23 category in the Courmayeur Champex Chamonix – one of Europe’s hardest races over 101 km, with the trail rising to over 6100m height – in the Alps marks him as an ultra-marathon runners with the hunger to compete and climb the podium.
“I didn’t know much about the marathon until I was in first year of college,” he admits. “I was always into sports and signed up for a 12k inter-college run. I met a friend who used to run in school and we trained together for about three months. Even though I completed the 12k, I hated it. I told myself I would never do it again.
“Yet, like it happens to all runners, barely a few weeks later, I was looking for another race. I learnt about distance running and ultra-marathon. I found it interesting. I realised that people actually run distances beyond 100km. I was like ‘Wow! How can you do that?’ I tried getting better. I got hooked to it after I saw unlikely people who complete 42km. I got inspired,” he says.
“I didn’t have the right pair of shoes when I started. But you don’t need the most expensive shoes to run. There are so many who run barefoot and don’t get injured. I ran for four years with just two pair of shoes. I had an IT Band injury but it got sorted out on its own with some stretching exercises,” he says.
The self-taught Kieren manages to balance training and competition with rest and recovery. “The best thing is to have a coach so that there is a second opinion. Unfortunately I don’t have one. But I have been doing this for five years. I read a lot and acquire knowledge,’ he says, pointing to a clutch of inspirational books by runners and on running.
“I know myself and know how I react to certain things, how tired I get. It helps me understand my body a little better – when I can push myself or lay off and sleep. When I first started, I didn’t care about how much I was running, how long, how fast or what I did after that. It comes with experience, and each day of run I gain a wee bit more of it” he says.
Kieren is overcoming the disappointment of not being favoured by the lottery system that picks participants in the prestigious Western States Endurance Run in California. He now has his eyes set on the La Ultra in Ladakh where he is hoping to compete in the 222km race this September, the iconic Spartathlon that is run over 246km in Sparta, Greece, and on a few other races this year. “These are amongst the toughest Ultras in the world and I have qualified for them”, says Kieren. “Unfortunately I need to try for the Western States once again next year, so as to beat their lottery system.”
Running is the easier part of his sport, Kieren says. “The current challenge is get funds, get sponsors come on board so that I can compete in more international events,” he says. “I am trying to beat the belief that only a few sports can get sponsors. Yes, ultra-marathon running is in its infancy in India but the sport of running has more active participants than any other sport in the country.
“More than that it is one sport that can lead the masses to a more healthy life style. I am confident that I would be able to entice and bring on board more corporate sponsorship that will enable me to to participate in international events, put India more prominently on the ultra-running map of the world and thus encourage more feet on the road,” he says, signing off to be able to send that e-mail which may find him at least some of the Rs 5 lakh that he needs to chase his dreams