From 0km until 2016 to 4,000km/year now: My run roadmap

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The real challenge lies in staying the course and pushing through the first couple of weeks of severe pain — after that, the pain dissipates.

By Prasun Sonwalkar

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Published: Thu 29 Jul 2021, 11:18 PM

A health scare made me get into stride mode — gingerly at first… But as I kept at it, I realised running can change your life, in more ways than one

This is not one of those typical before-and-after stories, because I am a work in progress that has no end. It all began with a diagnosis of pre-diabetes in 2012, not taking it seriously for years because it didn’t feel any different, and reaching a tipping point in June 2016: the day my wonderful GP looked at my ‘very high’ test results, shook her head, and subtly told me off with the hint of a wry smile: “If you continue like this, I will have to put you on insulin.”

After decades of an irregular lifestyle, something had to give, much had to change. One can lead a perfectly normal life on insulin, but to my mind it meant the ultimate failure of effort to put the disease into remission, if not reverse it. Central to any effort to deal with it is losing weight and changing food habits.

That day, I walked out of the clinic a chastened man. You need a trigger to cut through the banality of cosy routine and embed change. The difficult journey to deal with the lifestyle disease had to begin, and it began the same evening with baby steps. I had won several trophies in table tennis in Goa in my teens, but sports, gymming or any regular physical activity had taken a distant backseat when journalism took over. Pushing away inertia and mental blocks, I walked for almost an hour, for the first time in decades.

By increasing pace and distance slowly by the day, in tandem with changes in diet, I soon noticed weight loss and felt better. After some weeks of brisk walking, I wondered if it might be possible to jog slowly for about 100m. It turned out to be so painful that it needed a visit to a podiatrist and a change of shoes. But as days went by, I tried to increase the distance and duration, eventually managing to slow-jog for a continuous 5 minutes in the walking hour, which progressed to 10, 15 and then 30 minutes in the walking hour, and more, until the app one day showed a total of 8km covered in the hour.

The sight of a middle-aged man trying to run on the streets of London must look weird; it prompted a range of reactions from pedestrians and others, but the world of running beckoned and I began enjoying it. The threshold of pain tolerance went up, accompanied by a rare feeling that I could not put in words. Many call it the ‘runner’s high’: the kinesthetic kick one gets while coasting on a steady, rhythmic run, hitting the right spots pain-free, grounded fully in the moment is almost akin to meditation, taking you into the zone where you feel the flow and lose a sense of time, with the mind uncluttered, almost blank, open to new impulses.

By mid-2017, I was doing around 12km at a pace of nearly 9km/hour, almost every day. On a wild impulse, I entered a half-marathon event in Windsor and went on a trial run, managing to run the 21km distance, but after 2 hours and 30 minutes of utter exhaustion, I couldn’t see why people put their bodies through the ordeal. The dread and pain soon lifted as endorphins and the prospect of actually being able to complete the challenge took over. When friends learnt of my new interest, it generated some mirth and the warning: “What’s wrong with you, be careful of your KNEES!” But after over four years of pounding the ground, my knees are no worse; in fact, there is new research that says running helps prevent knee damage.

I have since run the Paris Marathon, two Richmond Marathons, Reading Marathon and several half-marathons. The result is that today I am lighter by 21kg, my GP is happy and am off medication for over a year. Running is now a permanent feature of everyday life and plans include running in major events such as the Dubai Marathon and one in every continent.

From a lethargic, total antithesis of a runner, to one who now runs at least 15km/day, over 300km/month, my body went through various phases: it complained, threw tantrums and rebelled, but finally adapted to the new demands. The real challenge lies in staying the course and pushing through the first couple of weeks of severe pain — after that, the pain dissipates.

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