Garima Dhamija’s, as a Human Resources professional with over two decades standing, loves to have many conversations but there is one recent chat with her father Satish Dhamija that she cannot forget.
“How do you run so much?” he asked her.
Her response was simple. “If you can work so hard as a 75-year-old, I can run distances, too.”
With her father watching from the sidelines, on Republic Day, the 44-year-old overcame doubt and pain caused by an injury to finish the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 2018. She speaks of this effort as the result of complete surrender to the situation. “Instead of fighting against the activity, I opened up to ‘what is’ and experienced it as it unfolded,” she says.
It was a new experience for her. By her own admission, she was the sort who would remain fixed about control, structure and activity. “That had served me well. But sidestepping from that pattern to surrendering was challenging and a bit scary. It helped me experience myself in a different way,” she says, attributing her shift to yoga and running.
Maintaining the work-family-life balance
Just as she is measured in her responses, packing a lot of thought, the mother of a teenager who is set to appear for her senior secondary school exams, Garima exercises care in choosing her races. “I have told myself that I can run two full-fledged races each year since training does take a lot of you,” she says.
Of course, maintaining work-family-life balance is never easy and calls for some effort before it is achieved. “It helps that I work in a family-owned consulting firm and can sometimes take on fewer projects or build stronger teams for the projects, but it does not always work. Yet, when you set a goal, everything else finds a way of falling in place, thanks to family support,” she says.
However, that does not stop her from enjoying herself at some other races each year. As someone who teaches business management in a number of institutions in the National Capital Region, she has drawn tremendous joy and satisfaction by pacing other runners over half marathons in the past couple of years. She remains humble about such efforts.
Joy of being a pacer
“I was moved beyond words when a runner told me after he completed a half marathon with a personal best time to record a video for his wife and daughter. I believe there is much gratification in sharing what I have picked up about racing,” she says. “As a pacer, you enjoy a comfortable run and, in the process, get 10 of the 15 runners on your bus to finish in time.”
Interestingly, Garima Dhamija refuses to believe sacrifice as a part of pacing. “There is a great trade-off and I can’t see it as a sacrifice. It is wonderful to be able to help runners push their limits on race day. There is a positivity when one performs to potential and takes the runners on one’s bus together over the line,” she says
Her ability to reflect intensely comes through when she speaks of the accountability and responsibility of a pacer as much as it does when she trains her thoughts on a dichotomy. “For someone who is not a very social person, I can be the best friends of each of the runners on my bus for the two and a half hours that we are on a mission,” she says.
“I am not a loner, but I like to run alone”
And, as someone whose only real connection with sport all those years ago was watch a game of tennis on television, Garima has come a long way in the span of five years from the time when a bunch of friends inspired her to run 5km so that she could join them each morning. She took a while to run 5km on the go but that has kept improving each year.
“I wanted to make my Airtel Delhi Half Marathon debut more than just a run. So, even as an inexperienced runner, I raised a substantial amount for charity. But, as a goal-driven person, I soon started wondering how I could improve as a runner,” she says. She has knocked off 40 minutes from the 2:31:20 she clocked in 2013, having dipped under two hours first in 2015.
She has also learned to deal with different landscapes and runs in a small group or alone. “If it were trails or forests, I love to run alone. But in cities, where there are traffic and buildings, there is not much to connect with. It can get lonely and probably be unsafe as well. So, I would always be some running buddies,” she says. “I am not a loner but I like to run alone.”
There is always peace
Garima says she takes recourse to yoga and running as her mechanisms to deal with anything that can trouble her. “Yoga when not feeling good and running in any case. Even when dealing with grief, a good, long run helps one get back to the realities of life. It is automatic, organic,” she says.
“Yoga has taught me to focus on my breath and, on a run, even if the mind is dealing with joys and sorrows, it always comes back to the breath. It is the best way to be in the moment and remain grounded without distractions,” she says. “At the end of such runs, there is always peace, a tranquil that cannot be described.”
Next stop: Boston
Running, she says, has given her a deep conviction in the ability to do anything. “If I can do distance running at this age, I am mentally ready to overcome any challenge. Two decades ago when my husband told me that he had bicycled from Manali to Khardung-La, I was awestruck. But now I believe that any challenge can be met,” she says.
That is exactly what she is in the midst of at the moment – qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She has run but two marathons and both have been overseas – in Ottawa, Canada and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. While she lowered her finishing time by five minutes in her second race, she is some still 20 minutes away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
Garima, her of a charming smile and intense focus, has a dream and she knows that it is achievable. And in doing that, she will inspire many others to believe in their own dreams.