Monday, June 9, 2008

An apt Role Model for Today's India

Met with Dr. Ashis Roy yesterday in Washington DC, where he is staying with his daughter's family on his visit to US.

Delhi based Dr. Roy is one of a kind! He is 75 years old and has completed 82 marathons so far, and has plans to notch up the hundred mark before he is 80! His next marathon will be at the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota on Saturday June 22nd.

When Indian nationals are a rare sighting at even a 5K or a 10K in the US, Dr. Roy's feat of completing 82 marathons seems totally out of this world!

I had come across his name in a newspaper article about his completion of the 82nd Marathon recently at the Delaware marathon. I contacted the author of the article to get Dr. Roy's contact information, and wrote to him last week. After a couple of phone conversations and email exchanges, we set up a "running date" this past Sunday.

It was a pleasure running with Dr. Roy. We had a long conversation about his life, the various marathons he has run, his experience at those Marathons, and about good running practices.

He has been a runner all his life, growing up in Shillong, Meghalaya, running and walking to faraway school from early age. He was a Ranji level Cricket player in his youth. He had joined the Indian Air force in 1957 with am ambition to represent India in long distance running at the Olympics. The plans to represent India in the 10,000m race at the 1960 Rome Olympics failed to materialize as work pressures took over.

After retiring from the Air Force as a Wing Commander in 1978, Dr. Roy started a private practice in Delhi, and had gained a lot of weight over the next few years.

A chance encounter with an ex-colleague who could not recognize Dr. Roy with all the weight he had gained, made Dr. Roy to take up regular running as a physical exercise to reduce weight. He ran his first marathon two years later, and has been going from strength to strength ever since.

He has accumulated amazing amount of knowledge about running through his long years of running. A beginning / intermediate runner like me got quite a bit of useful advice from him about good running, some of which I share below for the benefit of my readers:
  • Run slower and longer; taking a walking break breaks the rhythm and the warmth of the body. I ran 6 miles with him in 1 hour 19 minutes at a slower pace than usual and ended the run very strongly, feeling very comfortable.
  • It is advisable not to spit out saliva and instead to swallow it. Saliva is the fluid content in our body and we need to conserve it, not throw away.
  • Good running shoes - which provide good cushioning to the sole with Gel - are mandatory for long running career.
  • A total newcomer to long distance running is advised to run 5Ks and 10Ks for the first two years, and go for a couple of half-marathons before attempting the first marathon. I am right on track to follow this advice, having competed in a few 5Ks over the past three years, and now training for the first half-marathon in July. My first marathon might be at the end of this year. Or early next year.
  • The run should be preceded and followed by a good stretching work-out. When we ran yesterday, we stretched for a couple of minutes before the start, and spent around 15 minutes stretching after the end.
  • One advice to me and to the many Indians (and non-Indians) who have bellies of various sizes: Make sit-ups a standard part of your work out. He does a 100 sit-ups everyday as part of his training. That is the key to get rid of the belly fat!
Rather surprisingly, Dr. Roy swears by Indian Vegetarian food!

Some interesting links about Dr. Roy on the internet:

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