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Global Running Day: How Indian runners cope with covid-19 and lockdowns

On the occasion of Global Running Day, Lounge spoke to three running enthusiasts about their experience

Running enthusiasts have found innovative ways to carry on doing what they love.
Running enthusiasts have found innovative ways to carry on doing what they love. (Istockphoto)

Global Running Day, which celebrates the sport of running, is held every year on the first Wednesday of June. The inaugural Global Running Day was first held on 1 June 2016, and since then it has become an important event for running enthusiasts. Even as the world continues to grapple with the deadly covid-19 pandemic, we ask three runners how they have coped and continued to engage with the sport they love since last March, when the uncertain life marked by lockdowns, social distancing, isolation, masks and hand hygiene started.

Vrinda Bhandari, Supreme Court lawyer

The Supreme Court lawyer had just returned to running in early 2020 after the birth of her daughter. Then the pandemic struck and all running stopped for the 31-year-old who was the fastest in her age category in the full marathon at the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018. With ageing in-laws and an infant at home, Bhandari’s first reaction to the lockdown was literally locking herself up within the flat so as to not risk infecting anyone. Instead of running she stuck to home workouts and running up and down three floors of stairs at her home in Noida.

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She first stepped out for a run in June. “I was very nervous. The emotion I felt was a mix of fear and uncertainty despite starting at 5:30am without anyone around me at all,” she recalls. “I rushed through my run and wrapped up in 30 minutes. But walking back into my flat, I felt happy and relieved. I was running again.” She started going for socially distanced tuns with four or five others in July. That meant waking up 30 minutes earlier than usual to feed her daughter. “As a working mother who runs, I don’t only have to strike a work-life balance but also carve out time for my baby. That means I sleep a little less on some days but I won’t have it any other way,” adds Bhandari, who wore a mask during the warm up, pulled it to her chin during the runs and put it back on for the cool down.

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On March 6 this year, she participated in the Aegeas Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon. She chose to run the virtual race because she didn’t want to take any unnecessary risk. “Back then Delhi had only a handful of cases but I still wasn’t comfortable being around crowds,” says Bhandari, who ran the half marathon in 99 minutes that day. Bhandari caught covid in mid-April and after several days of home workouts in isolation has recently started running again. “I am still running solo. I’d join a group soon as my plan is to increase mileage now,” she says.

Binay Sah, ultra runner and manager

In the first week of March 2020 Sah had qualified for the 100km world championships, which were to be held in the Netherlands later in the year. Little did the 39-year-old manager at Adidas know then that a pandemic and lockdown would wreck his dream of representing India at another international race. When the lockdown was announced he was consumed with fear and did not do anything but sit at home for two weeks. After that he went to the terrace of his house at Najafgarh and did some strength training and skipping.

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Few days later he started running around in circles on the terrace. On the first day he ran 2km and gradually increased the distance. By the seventh week, he was running 70-80km a week. “Though the lockdown had been eased by June, I found it too risky to go out. I also felt it was wrong of me to go out and run, while so many others were following the stay at home protocols. So, I continued strength training and running at home,” he says.

In mid-June Sah drove his parents to Dwarahat village near Ranikhet in Uttarakhand. He wanted to return to Delhi right away but he was asked to quarantine there for two weeks by village authorities. He noticed that there were fewer cases of covid-19 there, so he asked his wife to send him his workout clothes and shoes and started training there after his quarantine ended. In July he signed up for the International Association of Ultrarunners’ (IAU) 6-hour virtual run to be held in end-August. He decided to carry on living and training in the village and did the 6-hour run there.

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“When I’d go on my runs, curious village youth and kids would follow me. They only run a mile because that’s what they need to do for the forces’ tests. I spoke to them and showed them how running longer can be fun,” says Sah. He was joined by about 25 kids at different points during the run as he covered 73km during the in six hours.

This March, Sah, who runs and trains alone in forest areas near Najafgarh, ran 136.9km at the Tuffman Stadium Run in Chandigarh and qualified for the 24-hour IAU World Championship in Romania. For now, he is keeping his fingers crossed and praying that he gets to run on the world stage again this year.

Natasha Tuli, entrepreneur

Tuli, 45, is usually one of the first people to sign up for the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon and is so dedicated to this race that she once ran it with her arm in a cast supported by a sling. The Mumbai-based entrepreneur found a puppy outside her building in Bandra last March and she promptly adopted it. Few days after that the lockdown was announced and the only time she left home was to walk her dogs. What she also did while walking her dogs was to feed the stray dogs and cats in her neighbourhood. “The police saw me with my dogs and never stopped me once,” she says.

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Over time, few others joined her and helped her feed the strays, which meant that her walks got longer and covered more of Bandra. “My marathon dogs, some friends and I run and walk about 8-10km around Bandra feeding dogs and cats every day,” says Tuli, who always wears a mask while doing this and ensures that everyone else who is with her is also masked. With Mumbai still under lockdown, Tuli continues to feed rice, lentils and vegetable gruel to dogs everyday. “It’s 400 days and running,” says Tuli with a contented smile.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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