Her ponytail is wet and she is red-faced as she gets back to her Peddar Road home after pounding the roads by the Arabian Sea cuddling Mumbai. Parul Sheth is in time to see her daughter Sanjana off to school. At first glance, she comes across like them recreational athletes whose lives revolve around balancing work, family and their endless passion for running.
But Parul is preparing to make the most of a dream come true, a chance to run the iconic Boston Marathon on April 17. She will be one of the 14 runners from India who have qualified, having run the Rotterdam Marathon in three hours, 48 minutes and 42 seconds in April last year. Indeed, if one traces the running journey of the multi-tasking ace – architect, writer and mother, not necessarily in that order – the 44-year-old inspiration has a beautifully unique story to tell.
She has learnt a lot of things. Letting go is one; not worrying about what others may think is another; digging deep and dreaming bigger are others. It’s indeed admirable, her rise from a recreational runner to a repeat marathoner against the backdrop of her evolving relationship with her teenaged children, Arnav and Sanjana.
There can be no doubt that Parul’s relationship with her children is one of the most beautiful beneficiaries of her penchant for running. “Of course, I gained a lot from running but yes, my relationship with them has evolved significantly, thanks to running. It has given me everything and it gave me time to figure out myself. I have learnt a great deal and shared with them.
“When I got used to running and they got used to my going for runs. Through my running, they have understood the meaning of hard work, the meaning of achievement, the meaning of failure. They have been my backbone, my support,” she says, taking pride in watching them mature as youngsters even as she seeks to go well under the four-hour mark for the marathon consistently.
“With each race, each month, it gave us more to talk beyond the routine, the ordinary,” she says. “They see me put in the hard work and hear me crib, complain and cry. They have seen the highs and the lows of my running life. It got us closer. I made them a part of my training. Each race of mine became a shared achievement for us. They have now developed their independence.”
Of course, back in 2004, her son was only six and daughter three and she herself was way younger when she was thrown into a situation where she had to bring up the kids by herself. The passing away of her husband at the age of 35 left her in an unknown territory. “They were too young to know what was going on but it was an unknown territory for them too,” she says of her children.
“Five months after the life-changing event, running happened because my friends were running and proved to me that I could do it too. Not many Indians were running back then. I have been lucky that I have done the things I am doing and that things turned out the way they have,” Parul says, apportioning some time from her work to be able to speak with zevenworld.com.
She pauses only to dip a bit into nostalgia. When she speaks, you can sense the pride and joy in her voice. “My kids were proud of me when I ran my first half marathon in 2005. It was elevating when Arnav told me that he put his hand up and said ‘My mother ran the half-marathon,’ when his teacher had asked in class if any child’s parent had taken part in the run,” she recalls.
Parul, who set off as a casual runner and has graduated to a more serious marathoner now, says she has been lucky that she has been improving each year. “My transition to a full marathon became a bit of a joke. I would get back home and say I ran 15km and they would ask: ‘Just 15km?’ Even their perception of running changed,” she says.
“Of course, I was delighted when I completed the SCMM in 2005 – walking the last couple of kilometres,” she says. But the emotion took different contours when she sensed her son’s pride in answering his teacher in the affirmative. That emotion has evolved over the years. And when my book, The Running Soul, was launched, they were super proud of me,” Parul says.
Indeed, for someone who has an aura way beyond her 5’3” frame, Parul’s story is inspirational not just because her children relate to her running but also because she epitomises goal-setting and meticulously attaining the goals. Besides, her ability to recount experiences candidly and lucidly makes her shift seamlessly from being a story to a story-teller.