Her mother, Vijayalakshmi, was worried when she heard about the distances Manisha Srivastava would run, having seen her collapse after just 70m in a 100m dash many years ago. Manisha’s mother-in-law, Prof Neelam Srivastava introduces her to her friends as her Dhaavak Bahu (the runner daughter-in-law).
When you hear 45-year-old Manisha Srivastava share this – her soft voice filled with pride – you know you are face-to-face with someone who has found peace. She may have run a lot but she has stayed rooted too.
Taking a break from packing her bags for the iconic Boston Marathon (April 17), the mother of two girls aged 20 and 16 says running helped her fill a gap that opened when she quit her job as HR professional. “Running is my pranayam – it helped me quieten the body and the mind,” she says during a conversation in her well-appointed Gurgaon apartment.
“I have no expectations from running. My low blood pressure vanishes when I run. And I achieve inner peace and happiness. I believe my biggest gain is in moderating the intensely competitive streak I had in me through school and college. As a topper most of my academic life, I wanted to go beyond competition since I did not want to prove myself all the time,” she says.
She completed her first half marathon inside two hours, her first marathon inside four hours and qualified for Boston when running just her second race over the distance. “The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2016 was not my fastest, finishing fifth in my category, but I got home with 26 seconds left for the Boston Marathon cut-off. I was thrilled and happy,” she says.
Manisha recalls running alongside an ultrarunner during the Pinkathon in Delhi last year. After she finished the half marathon in fourth place in 1:43:46, her pacer Murugan Kalimuthu told her that she could run faster. “He noticed that I was breathing normally and said I could go quicker over the distance but it is not in my system to be overly competitive,” she says.
She hasn’t forgotten the encouragement Alfredo Miranda, an engineer with a construction company, gave her on her maiden attempt at the full distance. “It was cold, dark and very scary. He not only slowed down to keep me company until daylight broke through but also used a torch to light the way,” she recalls. “In the same race, a volunteer re-energised my run, spurring me on.”
At a time when marathon runners in the country have dipped into specialised training, Manisha embodies the quintessential amateur spirit. She keeps her running simple to the core, hearing a variety of people but only following what she believes in. She says she has not specially worked on strengthening or cross-training or such value adds that marathoners adopt in their regimen. She swims and cycles but only because she enjoys the diversion.
A good illustration of her philosophy is her approach to hill running. “For me, if I can run with heavy or sore muscles, I know I can run uphill. I am not going to go looking around for hills,” she says when asked if she is preparing for a couple of challenging elevation gains past the 16-mile and 20-mile marks on the Boston Marathon course.
“Endurance is all that distance runners need,” she says. “And that comes only by running distances. So, I keep running when I can. Also, that helps me enhance the power of my breathing as well as get the muscles to gain the right memory. What’s more, I can eat all I want to because I know I can run and burn calories,” she says, her wide and clear eyes conveying her joy.
Perhaps Manisha’s realisation that running is only a part of her life and not life itself is what helps her keep things uncomplicated. “There are many other things in life. We must realise that if we exert ourselves too much, we can cause ourselves injuries, not just physical but also the emotional and chemical sort like weight gain, irritability, insomnia, excessive hunger and such,” she says.
The slightly-built Manisha’s earliest recall of running is not the best. As a frail – and, self-admittedly, physically inactive teenager, she collapsed when sprinting in a stadium in Deoria. “I told myself sport was not meant for me and focussed on education.”
Yet, since she discovered a different world by starting to run in a Delhi park when waiting for her daughters to finish their squash training, she has created some special images in her mind. She smiles when she recalls how her daughters told her that they were sure they would find her running no matter how long they trained.
She got her Boston Marathon invite on her birthday last year. You can be sure the Dhavak Bahu will add some more at the Boston Marathon, running as she would on her wedding anniversary.