Talking to some of Mumbai’s senior runners; how they got into running, what it means to be senior and running, their concerns, their approach.

A story in three parts:

Kutty Krishnan Nambiar (Photo: by arrangement)

Kutty Krishnan Nambiar (Photo: by arrangement)

Kutty Krishnan Nambiar remembers searching for something to stay active in when he shifted from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai.

He had just retired from employment.

“ I was in a situation where I had to do something,’’ he said.

Nambiar studied in Kozhikode, Kerala. He used to participate in athletics in school. Following his education, he worked initially with Air India in Mumbai and later with Air France in Abu Dhabi. There in his forties, the bug got him – he started running. It was no more than two to three kilometres a day. In 2003, grappling with the retired life in Mumbai and looking for something to stay engaged in, Nambiar picked running. Soon he was running four or five days a week, totting up four to five kilometres a day. At start, he was a bit nervous about running on the road. The worry faded when he found that running kept him physically fit and mentally happy.

While running in a park not far from his apartment complex in Andheri, Nambiar met Mumtaz Qureishi. The younger Qureishi talked the older man into seriously pursuing running. From a weekly mileage of 20-25 kilometres, Nambiar slowly hiked up his running to 40-50 kilometres. Alongside, his training became more systematic. Sample this – the 73 year-old regularly runs from Andheri to the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in South Mumbai, a distance in excess of 25 kilometres. On the way, he meets other runners, young and old. Nambiar described the predicament of being senior citizen in sport dominated by young people, light heartedly. “ I am like the old steam engine. The young run much faster. But they also wait for me,’’ he said of how he catches up with those doing the run from Bandra in the western suburbs to NCPA, the first Sunday of every month. Andheri, from where Nambiar commences his run, is further north of Bandra.

In the first phase of his post retirement interest in running, Nambiar ran many of the lesser known races in Mumbai. The city, widely considered India’s running capital thanks to the well known Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) which happens annually, has a plethora of smaller running events spread throughout the year. It was on these events that Nambiar cut his teeth as a senior citizen into running. In 2012 he ran his first SCMM in the half marathon category. Among other events, he ran the Vasai-Virar Mayor’s Marathon organized in the said region on the outskirts of Mumbai and much appreciated by the running community for the residents’ cheering.

Kutty Krishnan Nambiar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Kutty Krishnan Nambiar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

In January 2015, Nambiar ran his first SCMM-full marathon. Running slowly but determinedly, he finished it. He was very happy for himself. He just wished the race atmosphere had stayed so till the last runners crossed the finish line. By the time the slow runners got home, the finish line was devoid of cheering and anyone welcoming. “ Even the traffic resumed when I was still on the road,’’ Nambiar, said. Although he didn’t say it as such, it was apparent that this part of the SCMM experience had left him trifle sad for with the finish line into wrap up-mode by the time he reached, his timing wasn’t officially recorded. “ That’s okay, I am running for my satisfaction,’’ Nambiar said.

Running changed Kutty Krishnan Nambiar. There was the improved physical fitness and sense of well being. Bad habits vanished – in Nambiar’s case, his chain smoking. “ Had I not got into running, I would have been another old retired person. Running has given me a lot of confidence,’’ he said, February 2015 at his apartment in Andheri. His family never objected to his running at an advanced age. He was also lucky that his family physician approved of his decision to stay active and keep running. “ If I were to give credit to anyone for my running, I guess it would have to be the family doctor and Mumtaz Qureishi,’’ Nambiar said. Overall he has enjoyed the journey. Hailing from an age devoid of social media, he found himself doing well in running, an activity with considerable presence on social media. “ Somebody put me on Facebook. I didn’t know any of that before. Now I actually like it. People encourage you, congratulate you,’’ he said.

When running, Nambiar adopts a mix of running and walking. “ I am not running to race. I am there to finish what I am doing, eventually reach the goal. I wish to improve my timing. But I don’t want to struggle for it,’’ he said. His pace is slow and steady, mostly like fast walking. “ Once I cross the first five to six kilometres, I feel nice. I feel so nice after 10 kilometres. Sometimes I feel I am flying,’’ he said. Nambiar’s preferred nature of route was a linear one he can settle into and strike a sustainable rhythm.

For the 2016 SCMM, Nambiar wished to do the full marathon again. But before that, he wanted to try an ultra marathon.

From the 2014 SCMM (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

From the 2014 SCMM (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

He was toying with an idea Qureishi had set loose among his friends – run from Mumbai to Goa.

Nambiar felt he could try portions of it.

These days, early morning-Mumbai is incomplete without runners on the road.

SCMM changed Mumbai.

It is the flagship event in the city’s running calendar.

Over 2010-2015, the number of participants for its full marathon grew by 39.38 per cent, from 3103 runners to 4325. In the half marathon category, the increase was by 30.19 per cent, from 11,000 runners to 14,321. This annual race encouraged many people to embrace running in Mumbai.


                           SCMM 2010   SCMM 2011   SCMM 2012   SCMM 2013   SCMM 2014   SCMM 2015

Full Marathon      3103                 2800                2728                4127                  3600               4325

Half Marathon     11000               11213              13945             12808                14200             14321

Source: Procam

Neeta Ramakrishnan (Photo: by arrangement)

Neeta Ramakrishnan (Photo: by arrangement)

Neeta Ramakrishnan was tackling the blues of having left a hectic working life when the advertisement for the first SCMM appeared in late 2003.

She had been working at R&S Electronics, a company co-founded by her husband and well known as suppliers of quality audio visual equipment. When she left that job, the sudden onset of inactivity had been unnerving.

Despite having no formal background in sports, she was a generally fit person. She registered for the SCMM-half marathon. She didn’t know what it entailed. Running wasn’t as popular as it is now. In 2003, there weren’t many running groups; in fact there weren’t many runners on the road. Neeta trained by herself following a schedule that Procam, the organizers of SCMM, recommended. Four months later, in February 2004 (the first SCMM was in February), she completed the run in under three hours. “ After that I can say for sure I was back to being myself. Running gave me back my life,’’ she said.

Neeta is one of those SCMM veterans in the true sense, who have run most editions of the event (barring one or two owing to personal illness / inconvenience) and seen it change from a curiosity in the city to crowded running. She admitted that sometimes she felt she shouldn’t run it any more. But every time she finished it, she yearned for the next. In 2012, she ran her first SCMM-full marathon finishing third in her age category. Training with Giles Drego helped her graduate from the half to full marathon distance in two months, she said. In 2014, she finished third in her age category for the half marathon. She has also run at places other than Mumbai – in Hyderabad, Goa, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Satara. As podium finisher, she once collected a cheque for Rs 10,000. “ Trophies and cheques – it is a beautiful feeling. At school or any other juncture in life, I never went on stage to collect a prize,’’ she said reflecting on the moments running had gifted her in her senior years.

Neeta Ramakrishnan (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Neeta Ramakrishnan (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Neeta mentioned a few goals. She wanted to stay injury free as far as possible. “ My age does scare me. If anything happens it takes longer to get back to normal,’’ she said. She wanted to run a half marathon every two months; she was also open to trying an ultra marathon. “ An ultra will discipline me more. My mind will have to be more focused. That is a challenge. That is the attraction,’’ she said, adding, “ at the end of a run I am very happy with myself.’’ When we met her, Neeta Ramakrishnan was an energetic 61 year-old, talking about her life in running in a lovely, brightly painted old apartment with much music and films around.

Neeta’s emphasis on avoiding injury merits highlight.

Most of the senior runners we spoke to cited the need to listen to one’s body and push limits judiciously.

Besides change to the individual, aging always included the dimension of changing environment.

Arguably, that dimension is a bit extreme nowadays.

India is now an overwhelmingly young country.

According to the website of the National Commission on Population, by 2016, while the numbers of those below 15 years age of is projected to dip from 35 per cent to 28 per cent, the share of people in the age group of 15-59 years will rise to nearly 64 per cent by 2016. By then, the numbers of those over 60 years of age is projected to rise from seven per cent to nine per cent. That is nine per cent in an ocean of the remaining age groups. Even if you took 50 years as separating line, the 50-plus group will still be dwarfed by the young.

Runners on Mumbai's Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA run organized by Mumbai Road Runners (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Runners on Mumbai’s Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA run organized by Mumbai Road Runners (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Needless to say, the demographic transition the country is going through influences public and social life. The sheer size of youth makes sport inevitable in India. The market knows it. The sheer size of youth also makes sport partial to the characteristics of youth. Much before being enjoyable activity, sport is performance and spectacle of achieving. The market loves it so. Except, sport – as anyone who has been long enough in sport will tell you – is not only about raw performance or trading the old for the young. Sport embarks you on a journey; it speaks its own language, breathes its own life. You feel it as participant in activity. At its best, sport is an avenue to self discovery and self awareness. It is a valuable dimension to human existence. Senior runners likely find themselves on this quieter, lonelier more profound track quicker than others, for they are past distraction by market and society.

Well before his foray into distance running Shyam Sunder, now 69 years old, was competing and winning prizes in walking.

He took to running short distances participating in SCMM’s Dream Run and Senior Citizen Run. Now living with his son at Vashi in Navi Mumbai, Shyam Sunder is out at 6AM every day of the week either going for a brisk walk or a run. He kept to small distances but things changed when Swaminathan Subramanian, a long distance runner, spotted him and urged him to attempt a half marathon. Encouraging words from Swaminathan and M.K. Srivatsan, another long distance runner from Navi Mumbai prompted Shyam Sunder to attempt the half marathon in 2009. “ I was 65 years old when I attempted my first half marathon,” he said. He did it in 2:25 hours. The following year, he improved his timing to 2:16 hours. His timing kept getting better and in 2013 in a Chennai racing event he got his personal best of 1:57 hours.

Shyam Sundar (Photo: by arrangement)

Shyam Sundar (Photo: by arrangement)

Shyam Sunder has been a podium finisher in his age category in most of the events that he participated in. He is not into scientific training as is the trend among younger runners. “ I enjoy my run and I never push myself beyond my limits. That’s why I have been able to keep injuries at bay,” he said. He has devised his own method of training and often works backward from a running event. He also believes that opting for minimalist footwear helped him keep injuries at bay. “ I do my practice runs with regular shoes but switch to minimalist shoes during events,” he said.

During his younger, working years, Shyam Sunder played cricket. A student of IIT Chennai and VJTI Mumbai, he worked at IBM. “ In my thirties I did no activity. Later I took up walking,” he said. Shyam Sunder’s diligent approach to running, his love for recreational sport and his performance in events has prompted not only his son and daughter but also many of his neighbours and morning walk-friends to take up running. “ My son and daughter are convinced that running is what is keeping me happy and healthy,” he said.

He travels out of Mumbai to participate in running events but mostly to cities where he has family and relatives. He has thus run in Bangalore, Mysore, Chennai and Pune. He also participated in a three-mile run in Portland, Oregon when he was visiting his daughter who was then living in the U.S. Having run several half marathons, Shyam Sunder was contemplating running the full marathon in the 2016 edition of SCMM.


(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. They would like to thank all the runners who spoke to them as well as Procam, organizers of SCMM, for the data shared. Please note: timings and podium finishes are as mentioned by the interviewee.)


Runners on Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA run (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Runners on Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA run (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Mumtaz Qureishi described himself as a 45 year old-ordinary person from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, who works in the telecom industry in Pune. Every weekend he travelled to Mumbai to be with his family.

Qureishi has been a regular jogger for many years. In 2004 he registered for the full marathon at SCMM with little idea of what it entailed. That and his next SCMM full marathon of 2009, ended as unfinished business. In 2010, he completed his first full marathon, improving his timing to 4:16 hours in 2011. He prefers to run the full marathon and the ultra marathon. In Mumbai, he is best remembered for a 100km-run within the city. Later he did a 105km-run from Balewadi in Pune to Panvel on the outskirts of Mumbai. He credits these milestones in his life to a long list of friends in running and his coach, Giles Drego. We asked Qureishi what he thought of the senior lot.

“ The 3Ds (Daring, Discipline and Dedication) and patience, which are the basic qualities needed for running long distances are rarely found in my age group or groups younger still. You find these qualities in both of them (Nambiar and Patel). Actually I didn’t do anything for them. They always talked positively. I just told them, don’t bother about the timing. Doing a full marathon at your age, will itself inspire a lot of people like me. These two are more powerful and energetic runners than me and I still have much to learn from both of them,’’ Qureishi emailed. You could possibly stretch his response based on specific knowledge of two individuals, to include the senior lot as a whole. They have qualities that the younger lot don’t bring to the table. Qureishi confirmed the plan to do a Mumbai-Goa run. “ Since this distance requires more practice we will probably do it next year. And yes Kushru sir and Kutty sir will be running to make it more interesting, exciting and memorable,’’ he wrote.

Mahadev Samjiskar (Photo: by arrangement)

Mahadev Samjiskar (Photo: by arrangement)

Mahadev Samjiskar, 72, always believed in staying active.

His resolve to stay active was further strengthened when he saw his parents suffering in their old age.

After retiring from Indian Airlines in 2001, he took to brisk walking.

In 2003, he came across an advertisement in the newspaper about the first Mumbai Marathon (held in 2004).

“ I did not know the ABC of running but I decided to register for the half marathon,” he said.

Samjiskar finished the distance in 2:51 hours by resorting to brisk walking.

He continued his brisk walks and in September 2004 he attempted a hill run inside the city’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Thereafter, he took to running and his performance kept on improving year after year.

In the 2005 edition of SCMM, Samjiskar finished the half marathon with a timing of 2:10 hours.

His best in terms of timing was in the 2007 edition of SCMM wherein he completed the half marathon in 1:56:34 hours. He was fourth in his age category.

Of the 25 half marathon events that he has participated in, Samjiskar has been a podium finisher in many of these. In the 2009 edition of SCMM, Samjiskar was the winner in the age category of 65 and above. He was second in the 2011 SCMM. He came second in the 2012 edition of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. He remembers it as being a tough race because of the low temperature. In 2014, he won in his category at the Goa River Marathon; same year he also finished first in his age group under the open category at the TCS World 10k in Bengaluru. At the 2015 edition of SCMM, he finished the half marathon in 2:05 hours.

Samjiskar is not new to attempting things that defy his age profile.

When he was 63 years old, he had enrolled to train in karate.

Seven year later he got his black belt.

People around him including his family had been sceptical of his move to learn karate.

“ I enjoy karate. It has helped me a great deal in running,” Samjiskar said.

He felt karate was akin to cross training which is very essential for any sport.

Runners stretching on Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA run (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Runners stretching on Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA run (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

At the age of 65, Samjiskar went on a month long-Kailash Mansarovar trek. At the age of 67, he participated in an athletic event, in the 800 metre-run, 1,500 metre-run, 5,000 metre-run and the 5,000 metre-walk. At the time of writing this article, he was slated to attend the national championships in Haryana where he will participate in the above mentioned four events. Should he qualify there, he will head to Australia later this year. Samjiskar was very confident of qualifying. He had been training on synthetic track for the past few weeks.

Years ago, Samjiskar had suffered a major setback in his life. He lost his wife to a fire-accident, very early in his marriage. He had to take care of his three young children. His parents helped with that responsibility.

“ I went into depression after this episode. Then I read somewhere that books are great companions,” Samjiskar said. He joined Parle College to do a Bachelor’s in Economics. “ I was not able to study past SSC because of my financial position. Here was an opportunity to take up studies all over again,” he said. He finished his BA in 1978. The degree helped him get promotions at Indian Airlines.

Interestingly, Samjiskar’s first employment was with the navy. He left it following a transfer to Karanja Island. He then found a job with Indian Airlines as a typist and slowly climbed the ladder through his hard work and resolve, which is so evident in his running as well. He retired as an executive.

Samjiskar is a regular at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. He runs at least five days a week, interspersing the running schedule with swimming and karate.

He pays attention to the messages from his body. “ I listen to my body. I do not have the right to torture it,” he said.

For that reason he did not want to move up to the full marathon.

Khusru Patel (Photo: by arrangement)

Khushru Patel (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

When we met him at his house in Bandra, Khushru Patel was past 75 years of age.

Courtesy Mumtaz Qureshi, the Mumbai-Goa bug had got him.

According to the Internet, the distance involved is around 600 kilometres.

We asked Patel what he thought about it.

“ What’s there to think about it?’’ he replied laughing.

In January 2015, Patel ran his first official marathon; the full marathon of SCMM. He finished with an officially recorded timing of 6:14:49 hours.

It was a major transition for the former Air India staffer who began running seriously at age 47 but possessed the benefit of an active background in sports during his school and college days. The credit for getting him started years ago – he said – should go to a friend’s son who brought him the enrolment papers of the Mumbai Monsoon Marathon, an event older than SCMM. It had a 10km-run for those aged 45 and above. Patel had just ten days to sign up and do a few practice runs. The actual event was tough and he recalled a fellow runner, older and remembered only as Taraporevala, running alongside and egging him on. Patel finished tenth and earned one hundred rupees as prize money. Then somebody told him of the existence of the Masters’ category in athletics. As disciplines to participate in, he chose the 5000m and the 10,000m in running and the 20km-walk. It was the beginning of a career in running and walking at Masters category-events that saw him get podium finishes at national and international level.

Walking may seem a step down from running. “ For me, walking is tougher. There is more pressure on your arms and hips, you have to lock your knees, the pain factor is more and chances of disqualification while competing, are higher,’’ Patel said. On the other hand, he runs very slowly, loyal to the technique that defines running but at a pace that is about as same as his walking. In his opinion, walking, running, cycling and swimming are synergic and ideal for cross training. In the past therefore, he has competed in triathlons and duathlons. He remains a weak swimmer and had to wait until the organizers of triathlons treated each discipline equally, to be able to finish well. In the early days, local triathlons were partial to swimming. When Patel got into long distance running and the SCMM, he elected for the half marathon as space to be in. For the 2016-SCMM, he said, he will enrol again for the full marathon. This year (2015) aside from the occasional cramps tackled by due stretching, he didn’t face any problems. Having tasted the full marathon and sensed room for improvement, that’s where he wants to return. “ I want to bring my timing to under six hours,’’ he said.

Amid all this running, a major change happened. Patel loved to drink. He would enjoy a drink with somebody the night before and run the next morning, battling much lethargy in the run’s initial phase. Serious running (not to mention a near accident that a close relative who had had a drink with him got into) helped him give up hard drinks totally. Now, it is just the occasional beer or wine. “ It is amazing how much it changed my running and my timing,’’ he said.

Khusru Patel (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Khushru Patel (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Patel has much insight into what it means to be an older athlete in India. He recalled two instances. Years ago, when in his sixties, he participated in a two kilometre-walk held under the aegis of a sports meet exclusive to the Zorastrian community he belongs to. When he appeared on the field and limbered up, the young people around chanted, “ uncle, uncle…..’’ The competition started and all the cheering was for the young. As Patel edged ahead, a silence descended. Then one of his friends turned to the spectators and shouted, “ come on guys, he is over 60 years old!’’ That’s when they started cheering him. Patel won that day. He broke the existing record. Next year, he broke his own record!

In another event – a run; he was running, keeping himself focused by slowly catching up with young runners ahead. One of them always pulled away as he caught up. When he finally overtook the runner, the young man just stopped. Sensing that something had gone wrong, Patel ran back to him and inquired what happened. “ If an old man like you can pass me by, what’s the point in my running?’’ the youngster asked dejected. Like Taraporevala before, Patel then ran with the young man for some time and when he took off for the final stretch, he elicited a promise from the youngster that he will finish the race. Years later, he met the same young man at the close of another run. “ Do you remember me?’’ he asked. Patel took a while recollecting. “ I still remember what you told me that day,’’ the youngster said.

Patel thinks age is not an issue; there is encouragement out there for senior citizens. However, it is a different matter if you expect encouragement from the market as outlined by the world of products, money and sponsors. For them, only the young exist. Companies and product manufacturers don’t care for old athletes.

During his days with Air India, Patel used to run at all the overseas cities he flew to. He enjoyed doing that. After leaving Air India, he worked with SOTC and Cox & Kings. He had ageing relatives to care for. Yet for all he had to do in life, there was something infectiously positive in Khusru Patel’s perspectives on running. Asked how he approached his first full marathon, he said, “ I just decided to try. If it happens, it happens. If it does not, it is not the end of the world.’’ Patel’s preferred running route was straight and open and ideally some place new. Else, it gets monotonous. We quizzed him some more on what it is like to be old and running. Eventually he said, “ I think distances daunt the young. The senior guys are mentally tougher.’’ He narrated an incident stemming from his regular visits to Joggers Park in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra. A young man who had seen him run there many times asked how many rounds he ran at the park. “ Fifty,’’ Patel said. In the ensuing conversation, he asked Patel why he was pushing himself so hard. He said his friends often passed unkind remarks on the runner. “ What remarks?’’ Patel asked. “ They say one day this old man will collapse here only,’’ the youngster said anxiously. Patel laughed telling us this story. “ What better way to go than doing what you like,’’ he quipped.

Running and walking have taken a toll on his knees. They hurt sometimes. But the spirit perseveres. Patel’s run up to his first full marathon had been particularly rough. Just months before the event, he had to undergo a hernia operation. Recovering from it, he started training. His family was worried. But the day he ran, they were there at the finish line to welcome him.

Patel knew he will have to crank up his experience with distances before trying something as challenging as a Mumbai-Goa run, which demands daily medium to long distance running, back to back for maybe a month. Having reached the marathon distance, will he try an ultra marathon next? Patel smiled knowingly. An ultra is among logical progressions to attempting Mumbai-Goa.


(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. They would like to thank all the runners who spoke to them as well as Procam, organizers of SCMM, for the data shared. Please note: timings and podium finishes are as mentioned by the interviewee.)


Ramachandra Rao (Photo: by arrangement)

Ramachandra Rao (Photo: by arrangement)

Ramachandra Rao’s initiation into running happened way back in 1978 when he was living in the U.S.

Returning to Mumbai, he found that he could not keep up the activity.

“ Those days it was very odd to run on the streets. I ran for a couple of days and then gave it up,” said Rao, now 67 years old. India’s financial capital also left him with no time after his daily work at Ciba Geigy, a pharmaceutical company. Atop that he had his family responsibilities.

His second foray into running happened in 2010. By then he had moved to Kharghar in Navi Mumbai. He took to accompanying his wife on walks, covering distances of 5-6 km so. He found he could not resist running. Consequently there were those occasional days when he would run briefly for a few meters. He discovered that he enjoyed running and gradually, over time, increased the distance.

Runners on Marine Drive after their monthly Bandra-NCPA run (Photo: (Latha Venkatraman)

Runners on Marine Drive after their monthly Bandra-NCPA run (Photo: (Latha Venkatraman)

His first event was the Pune Half Marathon in November 2011. He completed it with a timing of 2:06 hours. Encouraged by this performance Rao decided to plunge headlong into more such events. But he could not run the half marathon at the 2012 edition of SCMM as registration for the same had already closed. He opted for the 4.3 km-Senior Citizen Run. In 2014, he finished the half marathon segment of the Vasai-Virar Mayor’s Marathon in less than two hours (1:55:38).

Having commenced his journey into distance running, Rao prefers the lone road to self improvement when it comes to training. He runs 4-5 days a week. He trains on his own doing the long runs on the weekends while interspersing the week day runs with interval training and time trials. His training regimen, often drawn up by himself, typically commences three months ahead of a running event. Most of his training was confined to Kharghar but M.K. Srivatsan periodically reached out to him to facilitate moving out of Kharghar for a run. “ He knew of my inability to go out of Kharghar for a run as I do not own a car,” Rao said.

A reserved person, Rao has nevertheless managed to inspire people to take up running and participate in running events. “Commander Om Prakash Sindhu approached me to inquire about running. We used to see each other during our walks but had never greeted one another,” Rao said, adding that he lent him tips on how to commence running and scale up to half marathon distance. “ He has since started running the half marathon at SCMM,” Rao said.

Both Rao and Shyam Sunder feature in the list of those with podium finishes in their respective age groups, at the 2015 SCMM.

Rao aimed to keep running.

He felt that racing was progressively taking the fun away from the activity.

Francis Xavier Fernandes (Photo: by arrangement)

Francis Xavier Fernandes (Photo: by arrangement)

A recent resident of Vashi in Navi Mumbai, Francis Xavier Fernandes, used to manage Bombay Book House, a book store started by his father way back in 1932. He joined the store in 1964 and ran it until 1999 when he took a decision to close down the business. He then took up a two-year part time course in interior designing and also acquainted himself with 3D Max and AutoCad.

Now 68, Francis has seriously taken to distance running. He has participated in the half marathon at SCMM and other running events. Francis used to be a heavy smoker. He kicked the habit in 1988. His entry into running was in 2010 when he enrolled for the 4.3 km-Senior Citizen Run at SCMM.

“ Initially I could not even run 15 metres without panting,” he said. He realised that it would be some time before the damage caused by years of smoking would diminish. He did not give up. He kept the momentum going taking his mileage to 30-35 km every week. Sometime in 2011, Francis’ sister alerted him about a free training program run by Nike Run Club (NRC) at one of the grounds near Mumbai’s iconic Marine Drive. Francis was then staying in Andheri. His coaches at NRC referred him to the Hal Higdon Training Program besides recommending core workout. His best timing in the half marathon so far is 2:28 hours.

Running has transformed Francis.

It has made him a very happy person, said his wife Estee.

Francis, like Shyam Sunder, was contemplating moving to the full marathon.

Mohana and Ganesh Krishnan (Photo: by arrangement)

Mohana and Ganesh Krishnan (Photo: by arrangement)

“ When people talk of senior citizens, the first concerns are typically doctor and hospital. Why should it be so?’’ Ganesh Krishnan asked.

Years ago, Mohana and Ganesh Krishnan used to be support team for Ganesh’s Bengaluru based-sister, Chandra Gopalan, whenever she ran at SCMM. From that, progressing to running at SCMM was not just natural, it was probably preordained for both had a background in sport lost somewhere in the typical patterns of settled life. Ganesh, born and brought up in Mumbai played football and hockey in college. Mohana, growing up in Kolkata, did her courses in Basic and Advanced Mountaineering and was once even short listed for an expedition to Mt Kamet. They began their journey to running, by walking – they walked from Sion to CST (one of the city’s main railway termini) to make sure distance won’t be a problem and the body is willing. In 2009, the couple started running seriously. That year they also enrolled with the Nike Run Club (NRC), a link they have preserved since. In 2010, they ran their first SCMM-half marathon. “ It has since been the half marathon all through,’’ Ganesh, 63, said. As of now, he and Mohana, 57, have run more than twenty formally conducted half marathons in various places.

Looking back to his younger days in football and hockey, Ganesh felt that running is more of a mental game. Your initiation these days may be through a group. But the activity itself, when taken seriously, tends to draw you out into a personal space. Further, from the perspective of a senior citizen, groups can be too competitive for the older individual wanting to sustain the activity longer, injury-free. “ Age teaches you not to be rash,’’ Ganesh said. He enjoyed his visits to NRC and various events where one met fellow runners. Over time you gravitate towards company that works for you based on one’s own personal matrix of what works and what doesn’t. “ For instance, before a race, many people ask – what is your target? I sometimes find that disappointing,’’ he said.

The Krishnans (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Ganesh and Mohana (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

For now committed to the half marathon, Mohana and Ganesh nevertheless outlined an engaging route to potentially running the full marathon. It helped put in perspective the fancy for the ultra marathon we found in some of the senior runners we spoke to. Ganesh, a biochemist by profession, described the approach. “ The half marathon and full marathon are mainly aerobic activities. Short sprints, in comparison, are mainly anaerobic. One has to develop one’s aerobic capacity in order to run distance races better. When the aerobic capacity is not well developed, a person tends to use the anaerobic capacity which is not sustainable especially in elderly runners. Aerobic capacity is developed by running slowly over longer distances. With time the same distance can be run faster aerobically. Ultras are run slowly and its distances exceed the distance of a marathon. Running ultra marathons help develop the aerobic capacity, which may then help in running a marathon better,’’ he said.

The couple may therefore try running an ultra marathon.

“ You have to have a lot of patience,’’ Ganesh said.

At the time of writing this article M.K. Srivatsan, 43, was in Kolkata.

We sought his observations on senior runners.

“ I have noticed that senior citizen runners have a very even-handed way of dealing with success and failure in their running. They don’t gloat too much when they do well; they don’t sulk too much when they have had a bad race. They are willing to be patient for results to come and they understand their body much better than the younger lot. As a result, they are less likely to develop major injuries as compared to the younger lot. They tend to encourage other runners a lot more and are usually modest about their own achievements. They are usually not too keen on experimenting with newer developments in the science of running. Emphasis is more on the fun element of running than on the competitive aspects. If they are competitive, it is with respect to their own previous best than with other fellow runners,’’ he replied by email.


                   SCMM 2010   SCMM 2011   SCMM 2012   SCMM 2013   SCMM 2014   SCMM 2015

Full Marathon     198                   168                  228                  348                   347                  400

Half Marathon     546                  805                  996                 1033                 1283                1375

Source: Procam

At SCMM, the number of runners aged 50 and above participating in the full marathon rose by 102 per cent from 198 in 2010 to 400 in 2015. The same for the half marathon rose by 151.8 per cent from 546 in 2010 to 1375 in 2015. This rate of growth exceeds the growth rate in overall enrollment seen for the full and half marathon over the same years, which were 39.38 per cent and 30.19 per cent respectively. As percentage of overall enrolment in the full marathon, the 50 and above-age group constituted 6.38 per cent in 2010, rising to 9.24 per cent in 2015. In the half marathon category, it increased from 4.96 per cent in 2010 to 9.60 per cent in 2015.

In other words, roughly 10 per cent of all those running competitively in the full and half marathon categories at SCMM 2015 were aged 50 and above. The actual number of Mumbai’s flying seniors would be more for it should rightfully include those who run casually and those who run seriously but eschew competition. As the devout may say, competing is an option, the active lifestyle isn’t.


(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. They would like to thank all the runners who spoke to them as well as Procam, organizers of SCMM, for the data shared. Please note: timings and podium finishes are as mentioned by the interviewee.)