Lokesh Kumar Meena knows that his biggest support and recognition comes from home. Everything else matters little to this Indian ultrarunner based in the United States of America. Yet, he is delighted to get a call from India, acknowledging a run of his in what is possibly the fastest indoor marathon time by an Asian runner.
He completed 211 laps of 200m indoor track in the Thomas Jefferson Community Centre in Arlington to win the eighth Grant-Pierce Indoor Marathon with a time of 3 hours 13 minutes 19 seconds. The Association of Road Runners Statisticians has acknowledged to him that this was among the fastest times recorded for an indoor marathon by an Asian runner.
“To be honest, I did not know that my time would be talked about by statisticians. I was running to secure a podium finish and, if possible, to win the event,” he says, recalling his effort on June 24. He outkicked Matthew John Perkins to win a minute and 34 seconds ahead of the 39-year-old from Washington DC.
Now, running 211 laps inside an air-conditioned arena is not the easiest of tasks, given that running on the two curves on each lap can be more draining than running on straight roads.
Then again, Lokesh Meena is hardly the indoors sort. He prefers to run the trails, with fresh air as his companion. “It is like a visit to the temple. I feel closer to God and get to know more about myself. It reduces the scope of injuries and allows me to recover faster that I would after road runs. It is when I forget everything else. It is just me and the trails,” he says.
He frequently takes part in events that extend up to 50km,
As part of the Indian team in the Trail World Championship in Penyagolosa, Spain, he covered 62.9km before dropping out after nearly 10 hours and a quarter. “It was a learning since the trails in Europe are very different to the ones in the United States. Of course, it was disappointing not to be able to complete the 85km in 15 hours, but I am only determined to get better.”
Any run is also like meditation, he says. “I am thinking of solutions and I am preparing the to-do lists,” Lokesh Meena says the man who lives a few miles away from the Indian Embassy in Washington DC where he is Attache (OCI) in the Consular Wing. “It has helped me improve my efficiency and productivity at work. I am able to stick to deadlines better.
“I have become a more positive person, nurturing positive thoughts even if the circumstances sometimes do not favour me,” he says. “Of course, my eating has become clean. I do not indulge in junk food or aerated drink. Naturally, I am feeling a lot healthier than I was before I started running after the medical alarm bells rang in 2014.”
Simply stated, running changed his life. To begin with, he used it as a tool for weight reduction – going down from an ungainly 90kg to 65kg – and to battle high cholesterol and blood pressure. It has also been crucial in his emotional journey at a time when his third and youngest child, now five years old, was diagnosed with leukemia a year and a half ago.
Lokesh Meena quickly points out that his wife and their three daughters have been not only understanding but also encouraging him. “I would never have come this far with my running or my health had it not been for the support I have received from my family,” he says. “I am very grateful to my wife who has not complained about my running even a single time.”
From May 2016 to April 2017, he even signed up a coach to help him improve his road running skills, leading up to the Boston Marathon last year. “I did not think much of it and have embraced trail running,” he says. “To be fair, each run brings along something unique, not just with its challenges but also with the emotions that go with it.”
Unlike many young runners, he is prepared to bide his time for some of the iconic ultra runs. “I shall attempt Badwater and Comrades only after I turn 40,” he responds when asked if he nurses such aspirations. It is clear that he is waiting for his children to grow up a bit before he ventures longer distances. “I do not want to be too far away from home when I race.”
“I used to hate running when in school. I remember that the cricket coaches made us run a mile or so before a selection. I was dying by the end of the mile,” he recalls. “However, I guess it is my genes to log in long distances. My grandparents always spoke of walking long distances from their village in Dausa district in Rajasthan.”
Come to think of it, this member of the Indian diplomatic corps has himself come a long way. At 30 years of age, he covers long distances each week and at comfortable pace. The indoor marathon time may only get recognised by the Athletics Federation of India much later but his own journey as an endurance runner has already helped him gain recognition.
And someday, when his youngest daughter completes her four stages of treatment and wins her own battle, Lokesh Meena’s whole family that enjoys running will be immensely proud of one another.