A little over two years ago, Dr. Seema Yadav went on her first serious road run with a group of friends she had met in the local gym in Faridabad. Now, despite limited experience of running and without formal coaching, this mother of a five-year-old is among the fastest amateur half marathon runners in the country, having stopped the clock at 1:35:02 at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017.
“To be honest, it could have been better. But then, I run because I love to not because I have to beat someone else in a race. Now I think I was born to run! It gives me peace of mind. It is a fact that no matter what one says, everyone can do with more peace of mind that we already have,” she says. “I have no regrets that I discovered it late. Everything has its own time.”
Seema Yadav added running to her bucket list late in 2015 when she saw a number of her friends and acquaintances take it up. “I asked a friend in Pune how to go about getting ready for the Airtel Half Marathon in 2016. Despite not being a gym person, I went to a gym for a few days. I found a few runners who had formed a squad that would run over the weekends,” she recalls.
She had run three races on her school’s sports day many years ago and recalls complaining to her father about a nagging ache. “I had been persuaded by my teachers to run 200m, 400m and 800m races and despite not having practiced, I finished among the top three. And though my father, a Naval officer, alleviated the pain with a gentle massage, I never imagined running again,” she says.
“Normal life – academics, marriage, motherhood – took over. Growing up in Bombay, I was part of a close-knit family with my parents and my younger brother. We were a simple family, happy within ourselves. It was only after the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2015 that I considered running. I remember I ran 7km with a group on January 31, 2016,” she recalls.
Seema Yadav’s running style impressed the bunch. After a 12km run one day, Mohit Bhutani, later to become a good friend, encouraged her to sign up for her maiden half marathon at the IDBI New
Delhi Marathon on February 28 that year. “I remember asking him ‘Are you mad? How can I run 21km?’ He said he was sure I could and asked me to just enjoy the 21km run,” she says.
It was at the end of that event, where she clocked 2:02:36 that she realised others had a better perspective of her running. “Of course, I ran well but I wondered why others were happy with my run. I was elated that I could run 21km without a problem. But they made me realise that I was a good runner,” Seema Yadav says.
“I ran my own way. There was no structure to my workouts. I ran when I felt like and for as long as I could. Then, there was another half marathon in Gurgaon in April 2016 and I completed that in 1:57:43. There was some elevation gain to deal with then and so I began to recognise that I was getting better.
“Greed took over and I ran my third half marathon in four months,” she confesses. “I did the Gurgaon Starry Nights Run in 1:54:54. On a humid night, I was the fastest among women runners. Some runners said I had run well and I could only thank them without realising what exactly they had meant.”
Seema Yadav believes that a key moment in her career came a couple of months later. “The Sanjay Van was meant to be a fun run but when Vishesh Prakash and Col. Arun Malik from the West Delhi Runners Group joined me on the final loop, everything changed. It started with a conversation and Col. Malik motivated me to push me myself hard over the last 2km.
“They introduced me to structured running. The Delhi Pinkathon was slated for September 4 and I was not keen on running the 10km event. Vishesh Prakash then called to say that he would get me to enter the half marathon and have Col. Malik pace me. I was preparing for a 1:45 half marathon and Col Malik, the best pacer I know, helped me to 1:45:26,” she says.
Eager to dip under 1:45 even before the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, she signed up for the Embassy of Mexico Marathon on September 18. “Aman Yadav was pacing the 1:45 bus. After 10km, I was the only one with him. He didn’t know me by face but had heard my name. We completed the half marathon distance in 1:43 despite the course being 2km short,” she says, determination writ large.
And in November, it did not surprise anyone who had tracked her journey that she clocked 1:40:55 in the Delhi's blue riband event and got a podium finish in her category. “I owe a great deal to the plans that Vishesh Prakash does for the WDR group and Col. Malik customises them for me,” Seema Yadav says.
Despite the planning and care, she has had her share of injuries – plantar fasciitis, pain in the hips, and IT band. But the woman whose parents nicknamed her Bubble has ensured that she keeps going on her journey to being better each time she sets out to race. “I run for myself and don’t compare myself to anyone. I look at others’ time splits only to improve,” she says.
Indeed, she has improved and how! She had a 1:35:39 in Pinkathon in September 2017 and followed that up with 1:35:02 in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. “I know I could have run better,” she says, wistfully. “I want to keep improving and someday represent India as a runner of quality. Of course, I was born to run. And nothing can take that realisation away from me.”
One of the things that has helped her on this journey is her association with yoga since 2003. “I did a one-year course. And while I do not teach, I practice yoga. It has the same effect on me as running and helps manage injuries. If in such a short span of time if I have gone from a 2:05 half marathoner to 1:35, it is thanks to yoga. It helps me push frontiers,” she says, eyebrows rising high.
For all that, running is what gives Dr. Seema Yadav her ‘me-time’. “There can be no doubt that it is important. You are nobody, not daughter, wife or daughter-in-law or even mother, but yourself. I don’t let the mind wander when I am running, concentrating on one thing – the Gayatri mantra or Om,” she says.
And, perchance, when the thought of quitting crosses her mind, she says she can hear Kishore Kumar’s exhort: ‘Ruk jaana nahin’ to go on. “The inner strength comes to fore and brings peace along,” Seema Yadav says, gazing into the distance, almost as if she is focussing intensely her long-term goal and unmindful of the fact that she is an inspiration within two years of her first run.