Small-town girl Simta Sharma transforms herself into a bona fide runner

If Simta Kshitij Sharma met Simta Jhamb today, she may not recognise her younger self. A familiar face on the distance running circuit now, her idea of sport was defined by the kabaddi she could play in her school in Tohana in Haryana’s northern reaches. Some introduction to Karate as well. But that was about it for the grocery-owner’s daughter.

Indeed, today she is an inspiring figure in the running community.

Diagnosed with diabetes, Simta’s father-in-law provided the impetus to start running. Photo credit: Simta Kshitij Sharma

“As a small-town girl, I was staring at a normal life even when I went to Chandigarh for my graduation. I did not know the A-B-C of running till a few years ago but now I am grateful for it, running has been so good to me. It has helped me keep my health on track,” she says, having had to deal with bouts of epilepsy and hypothyroidism earlier in life. “There has been a drastic change in my health, thanks to running.”

Simta is a fairly recent entrant to the world of racing and her quest to run in new cities and meet new people has taken her to Vadodara (for a marathon and ultra-marathon), Rajkot, Hyderabad Bengaluru, Valsad and Delhi. She is becoming a familiar face on the podium in the road races around the country, missing some such finishes by a few seconds.

When she was a student at SNDT University in Mumbai, Yoga helped her get started on the fitness journey. And in 2011, a competitive run over 7km got her a podium finish and Rs 3000 as prize money. And though she found a running group, courtesy her boss, it was not until a couple of years later that she considered running more seriously.

Her father-in-law, Anil Sharma, a banker, had been diagnosed with diabetes and they started running together to enhance the exercise component in his life. While it helped him with anger management, she was winning a 10k event in Borivali and over the years improving her time as well. Along with her husband Kshitij and his father, Simta forms a premier running family in Mumbai.

“It is the easiest sport to take up. Anyone can pick it up. Running changed my life drastically as it contributed to my self-improvement and my confidence – both personally and professionally,” says Simta, a Quality Assurance Executive in an insurance broking firm in Mumbai. “A long run helps me resolve some tricky issues in the mind. In some cases, I find some answers and in some cases I find the lead to the answers.”

Through her experiences, Simta leant that it is important to know the route beforehand. Photo credit: Simta Kshitij Sharma

For all that, Simta comes across as someone who has gained from her successes as well as from the disqualification and DNF at the Vadodara Ultra in 2015 and 2016. “We learn every day and the quest is to get better, even if by a small bit, every day,” she says, recalling her experience at the picturesque Vadodara Ultra.

A few days after her first full marathon – Bengaluru Marathon in October 2015 – in just over four hours and a minute, she was running the Vadodara Ultra (55km). She finished the gruelling course, including testing uphill trails, rocky flats and some lush thorny foliage but only after she lost her way as she ran on the 25km course rather than the 55km course.

“I learnt it is important to know the route beforehand and not depend on volunteers or onlookers for directions at junctions,” she said. “I hitched a bike ride back to the point from where I resumed the race as I did not want to miss the cut off at either the 35km mark (six hours) or the finish (10 hours). I completed the course with 20 minutes to spare but was disqualified for using transport.”

She experienced her first DNF in the event in October 2016, pulling out after 33km because of cramps. “I was third behind two Kenyan runners at the 20km mark when I had cramps,” she says. “One must always listen to the body. If I pushed on to complete the Vadodara Ultra, I would have jeopardised my chances in the Chennai Marathon that was lined up for the following month.”

Being careful at the Bengaluru Marathon allowed Simta to perform better at the Chennai Marathon. Photo credit: Simta Kshitij Sharma

She says she runs to compete with herself. “Since I introspect a lot, I know there is a lot of scope to improve. I know I am mentally strong but I can improve my endurance with better training – especially with some hill-training,” she says, attempting tower runs involving staircase climbing to find that endurance.

Indeed, she has come a long way from the time she went to school in Tohana in Fatehabad district. Yes, Simta Kshitij Sharma has come a long way from the time Simta Jhamb gave her parents – a store-owner father and a home-maker mother – an idea about the distances she ran by naming villages in the vicinity rather than physical distances.

Indeed, running has transformed her. Beyond recognition.

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