A postgraduate in psychology of sport and exercise, Keerthana Swaminathan has the sport of running to thank for the metamorphosis that she has undergone in the five years since she took to running.
“Two things happened because of running,” she says, unhesitatingly after clocking a personal best of4:14:35at the Mumbai Marathon recently, “First, I was able to make my relationship with my parents beautiful because we had a common passion. Then, I gained the respect of my peers who had mocked me when I started running to shed weight like my mother (Viji) did.”
There is a pause in conversation to let the enormity of what she says sink in before Keerthana delivers another telling point about running as an anger-management exercise. “I usually do not get angry with others but with myself for having let a situation develop the way it does. I once let someone behave quite badly with me and, angry with myself, I set off on a run. I went all-out and came back feeling as if a burden had been removed off my shoulders,” she says.
The 21-year-old agrees that she is already an evangelist for running. “The fact that a once-obese girl could run long distances, change her diet and train regularly has inspired some of my peers. They now come and ask me to train them. Others tell me about questions that cloud their minds and I tell them to take to running since it is the answer to all my questions,” she says.
Keerthana says there is no better compliment than being thanked for introducing the joys of running to someone. “A friend who moved from Loughborough to Boston told me that he relies on running to beat the loneliness that he feels there. A school-mate told me after completing a 10k in Chennai that she had looked up to me,” she says, making her undiluted happiness apparent.
Having run overseas in Dubai, Cardiff and Coventry, she has used running more as a tool to prevent stress rather than as its remedy. “For instance, I went for a run before each examination. I used it to blank my mind and focus better. A run always helped me keep stress away from any exam or dissertation, however tough it threatened to be,” she says.
She also discovered that it could help if the focus is on the process and not so much on the outcome. “I broke some mental barriers when running without a watch,” she offers as an illustration. “I overcame my block between 10k and 15k during a run when a friend of mine borrowed my watch. As coincidences go, I was without my watch when I ran my first 30k as well.
Keerthana also recalls the time she would be impatient when she did not get the desired result after putting in a solid effort. “Running taught me that I need to be patient and to accept the results as the best. It also let me have a greater self-awareness and thus has developed the ability to put things in perspective,” she says.
“For instance, I had set myself a five-hour-50-minute target for the 50k at the Bangalore Ultra 2016. Though I reached the half-way mark in two hours 32 minutes, I took 20 minutes longer than I visualised to complete the distance. However, I was not heart-broken or anything. Instead, I loved what I did and accepted it as the best I could do,” she adds.
Keerthana advocates employing a running coach since there would be a disciplined and structured training plan that can help focus on goals. “A coach can guide a runner with setting the tempo, gauging the pace and in choosing the distances for every run. More importantly, a coach can help enhance self-awareness, especially in identifying and dealing with aches and niggles,” she says.
“I run when I am frustrated or sad or happy. I just want to run more and more. For running is life. It came to my rescue and made me realise that patience is the real deal,” Keerthana says, recalling that running helped her integrate herself with her family better. “Instead of getting angry and withdrawing from conversations, I am now able to talk it out. It is beautiful.”
Indeed, she may not yet be 22 but this lanky lass from the southern megapolis has been on some journey, thanks to her chosen sport of running.