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, 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.
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.
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.
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.)