She had crossed the half-way mark on her maiden half-marathon when a bout of cramps affected Punam Belaani. She ambled for a good part of the next 5kms, determined to complete the course all by herself. But with 4kms to go, she found her friend Tanya Agarwal appear to pace her to the finish of the Millennium City Marathon in Gurgaon.
It was tough to decipher who was the happier of the pair but it marked a remarkable milestone in 37-year-old Tanya’s journey into running, dotted by learning and sharing. The mother of two does not forget to take her running shoes on her travels but if someone had told her two years ago that she would be running half marathons, she would have rejected that suggestion outright.
“Running is not my thing,” she would have retorted. And when her son was born in 2014 with a heart issue, needing quarantine at home, running hardly figured in her scheme of things. For someone whose father had encouraged her to go trekking, cycling or horse-riding or play hockey, staying indoors was quite a task.
“Running is not my thing,” she declared after her post-natal trainer made her run 4kms when she sought to lose some weight. Since Tanya had signed up for the Annapurna Base Camp trek in October 2014, a friend had experienced the challenge of long hours of climbing inclines suggested to ‘go on some runs’ to get physically stronger. She joined a running group called Runbugs ßand but the first 3km run was a disaster.
“Running is not my thing,” Tanya told herself, yet again.
Getting high and wanting more
She returned from the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek, physically stronger from the experience. On her return, some of her aversion to running had vanished. She ran a few days, didn’t resist it and then decided to sign up for a half marathon in Gurgaon on December 14. Innocent to the training methods that serious runners follow, her preparation for the half marathon consisted of just two long runs.
She set off with no coach but charted out a running schedule for herself. She would run 5kms on Tuesday, 8kms on Thursday and 12 to 14kms on Saturday. She had not heard of cross-training or sprint repeats and ran only on a whim. Yet, with her husband Aveg and children watching the event, she completed the run in two hours 17 minutes 38 seconds.
“The high you experience on completing your first half marathon is different. I hadn’t experienced that for a while. Of course, 2:17 is no accomplishment in the eyes of the world and it was not even a tick mark on one’s bucket list,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking of anything but to get by the run. I didn’t feel drained after the run. It wasn’t effortless but I wasn’t dying either. I wanted more.”
She learnt to set herself a goal. “A goal helps one believe in oneself. I was influenced by the thought of a sub-two-hour half marathon in April 2015. And running taught me not to give up and to turn in 100 per cent effort each week,” Tanya says, adding that she could not have done that without support from runners like Sandip Sud and Ankush Mendiratta.
Last November, she ran her maiden Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and finished eighth in her category (women 35-40 years), clocking one hour 54 minutes 39 seconds. “I had set myself the goal of a sub-two-hour finish and I was delighted that I could do that,” she says, reflecting on the elation she felt back then.
A time for herself
Tanya enjoys competing and would love to keep improving her time over the 21km distance but she does not lose sight of the fact that she is a recreational runner. “The goodness of it must stay good,” she says, espousing her love for fitness on her own digital platform, http://wellthy.fit/. “It is where I share my learnings.”
Interestingly, she admits that her passion for running throws up some challenges on other fronts. “A lot of times, it is imbalance and even though my husband is not fond of running, he is happy that I am happy. It is great to have a supporting partner. He looks after the kids when I am out on my run,” Tanya says when asked how she balances home life, her freelance work and running.
“Breaking away from home for a non-working mom was very important. Even on my most difficult days, I have been able to go blank when running. Blanking the mind is a natural spin-off of running and happens to most. Running is an anchor that allows me to be someone I am not all the time,” Tanya articulates, indicating that she enjoyed the ‘me-time’ when she was out running.
She says running has helped her get mentally stronger. “I am tougher than I was before. Nothing impresses me (as much) or disturbs me (as much). Now, I am not perturbed by others. I have evolved,” she says, waiting for her children to become a bit more independent before she starts running in events outside the National Capital Region of Delhi.
Running can be beautiful
When you hear her about some of her runs that she has been on, it is possible that you may someday want to experience that yourself. “Some of the really amazing runs are when you get to see the sun rise. There is a hill in Ghata village in Gurgaon where a huge sun is rising from the horizon right in front of you. Such runs give you the chance to experience nature at its most pristine,” she says.
“Similarly, the few runs that I managed around the Dal lake in Srinagar are among the most beautiful experiences. And one run that I haven’t forgotten was my second half-marathon in Delhi’s Sanjay Van. The forest offers the runner a tough, undulating trail and is quite spooky but the shade from the trees is downright gorgeous,” she says, painting pictures for you to imagine.
Tanya, who now dreams of taking part in the six Majors of Running, is a delightful story-teller. But as someone who undertaken the journey from running-isn’t-my-thing to swearing by running to such an extent that she went on a 25km run on her birthday, she is quite a story herself.