A clutch of finisher’s medals, neatly displayed on well-designed hangers, greets you as soon as you step in to the very warm and welcoming first-floor home of the woman who calls herself the gypsy-runner. Ritika Sundaram Rohatgi is someone who not only does not care to remember her personal best time but also is pleased that it does not crop up during the conversation.
Not very long ago, she was like many young mothers who want to lose pregnancy weight and get back to being fit. “I never had the feeling of being overweight and I was always sure I would get back to as close to my original fitness,” the 39-year-old says. “I started with power walking and then, on a whim, signed up for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2013.”
She woke up on the morning of the event but as she was getting ready to leave home for Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, she was riddled with doubts if she could complete 21km of running. “I had not trained for the half marathon. Come to think, I had not run longer than 7km,” she says confessing to a fear of not being able to finish the course.
Yet, after that, she wakes up every day reminding herself not to go through that again. “I do not want to get up and tell myself I can’t start or finish a race,” she says. Now, a dozen half marathons, 10 runs overs 10km and two trail runs later, Ritika Sundaram Rohatgi says there is no room for such thoughts any more.
Not even when she hurt her knee during her 30km run in the Shimla Ultra 2014 in Mashobra. “I had signed up for the Shimla Ultra without a thought after being encouraged by a friend. “It was an impulsive and wrong decision. The trail in Mashobra, with its inclines, was not for the untrained,” she says. “I limped my way for much of the race but completed the course.”
She picked up tendonitis and the infamous but common IT-Band injury. It entailed long hours of rest and several weeks with the physiotherapist. But she had been hooked to running, having felt beautifully alone in a sea of people during the TCS World 10k Run in Bangalore in May that year. Running had come to mean a great deal to her by then.
“It is my time away from everything else. I squeeze in 45 minutes between my children Kishaya and Vivaan going to school and my getting ready for work. Running is my outlet for all my emotions. It lets me let go of stress, tension, anger, frustration, angst. It has been my coping mechanism since September 2014,” she reveals.
That was the time she lost her 38-year-old sailor husband to a a cardiac arrest. “We had both signed up for ADHM 2014. Four days after he passed on, I put on my shoes and went for a run. I felt that it helped me let go. It gave me direction and channelised energy in a focused way. I started doing it every day,” she says. “I find it liberating. Feel good physically and emotionally.”
The girl who would bunk college to watch movies and sail around the world with her husband had to recalibrate her life. “I had to move on. There was no other way. Running helped me deal with the pain and do just that” she says, a coffee mug nestling in her left hand and using her right hand to gesture.
Ritika Sundaram Rohatgi knows she has done much right when her children tell her not to wear a pair of sneakers and not heels to their school for the parent-teacher meetings. “They tell me that they have told their teachers that I run the half marathon. And it is nice to hear their teachers speak about my running. It has become my identity. My children take pride in my achievement.”
Her enthusiasm has caught her children and they are always excited about taking part in events. Kishaya looks forward to the Pinkathon each year and loves the medal that she gets for finishing a 5km. Vivaan is excited about an obstacle race and Taekwondo. “I am glad they are in to something like this away from the television and mobile screens,” says the executive assistant to a top honco in a consulting firm. “As for me, the urge to do events has gone. I am fed up with the social media hype on events.”
Growing up as former Delhi cricket captain Venkat Sundaram’s daughter, sport was an inevitable part of life. She learnt swimming from the time she was eight years old. “We would live, breathe cricket, what with mother shutting the kitchen down during an India-Pakistan cricket match. We were encouraged to play, be it swimming or basketball, even on examination days,” she recalls of her childhood years.
“I am not that typical runner who is dedicated and focused. I will eat my chocolates and run without feeling guilty. I will not go on a diet of carbs and proteins. For, I love food too much. I have what I like to have that and then burn it off. Why starve oneself? I am not looking for bragging rights,” she says, explaining that she finds it okay to eat well provided one backs that up with exercise.
“To me, running isn’t about goals. I feel good when I run and sweat it out. It gives me my mojo for the day. I am not obsessed with running. I am not out to get glory,” she says. “I figure out solutions to a lot of things, especially if something is bothering me. But I have learnt not to stress about not running because there is always something else like swimming or gymming to do.”
She says she looks for consistency and her relationship with running is strong, despite breaks. She also prefers running alone despite being outgoing. “I was initiated into some running groups but I cannot make the sort of commitment that they demand,” she says, coming across as a dichotomy of an outgoing person who likes her ability to be alone in a crowd.
“At the start of the IDBI New Delhi Marathon last month, I saw Sachin Tendulkar and clicked a nice picture of his. I ran the half marathon, picked up my medal and refreshments, and went to my car. I remember meeting Tarun Walecha but only because our paths crossed,” she says, getting set to lay the table for the children.
“I have not kept track of my personal bests. I do not have a smart watch or have a fancy gizmo that drives me to keep chasing a personal best all the time. I fact I have never timed myself. All I know is that I will finish a race that I start. For, it is like summiting my own Everest again and again. And there is no better feeling than that,” she says.
Indeed, she is a traveller, writer, music-lover, foodie, mom and dad. The clutch of finisher’s medals is testimony to her also being a runner.