Entering the housing colony in New Panvel, we asked for the house we wished to go to.
“ Tidke?’’ the woman said inquiringly, turning to face us from the conversation she had been having at the kitchen window of her neighbour.
“ Haan…over there, see the cycle? That door,’’ she said.
By now a big black dog had begun barking at our intrusion into the quiet environs. Two other dogs, closer by, raised an eye brow to glance at us and then went back to sleep. Reaching the door near the parked bicycle, we rang the door bell. A man dressed in track pant and T-shirt opened the door. He had the light build of a dedicated runner; his eyes seemed tired and peaceful at once. We were ushered into a frugally furnished, neatly kept room. Meet Mumbai running’s “ Don.’’
Dnyaneshwar Tidke was born in March 1974 at Malakoli village in Nanded in the Marathwada region of India’s Maharashtra state. His father Dhondiram Tidke was a farmer. Life was tough. Agriculture in these parts depended on timely rains and the monsoon had its vagaries. Dnyaneshwar studied up to the tenth standard at the village school. A generally quiet person, he was neither exceptional at studies nor was he pronouncedly into sports. Then something happened. He failed in the tenth standard. Although he cleared this hurdle in his second attempt, the failure and his subsequent ability to pass through hard work stayed engraved in his mind. When it came to his twelfth standard exams at school in Ahmedpur, Dnyaneshwar secured 96 per cent marks in physics, chemistry and mathematics, a high enough score to be admitted for chemical engineering at the Laxminarayan Institute of Technology (LIT) in Nagpur. College was his first time away from Malakoli. “ It was a different experience,’’ Dnyaneshwar said. He developed a penchant for physical activity. He frequented a gym. The college was on a hill. He used to run loops around it. Crucially he developed a craving for physical exertion and exhaustion. It was the beginning of the first half of Don’s life. Its credo – life’s problems solved by a simple solution founded in how he cleared his school exams and the physically active life that followed: if you can’t get something, then, hard work should help you get it. When you work hard you become tired. So, if you are tired it also means you did the required hard work to get what you want.
Following his BTech, Dnyaneshwar’s first job was as temporary lecturer for a year at the government polytechnic in Mumbra on the peripheries of Mumbai. Once the stint was over, he returned to Malakoli. In 2000, he got married. For the next few years he stayed put in Malakoli, in what he described as some sort of funk, the bright spot therein being a daily 10km-run with a swim thereafter in a distant village-pond. That faith in physical activity as means to find equanimity, groomed in college, was slowly evolving into a daily discipline. He would in between come from Malakoli to Kalina in Mumbai, where he stayed at a friend’s place and hunted for a job. The everyday running continued; this time it was from Kalina on the eastern edge of the city’s western suburbs, to Juhu beach on Mumbai’s west coast. Around this time, he worked for two to three months at a logistics company near the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Navi Mumbai, India’s premier container port. While there he saw the advertisement for the 2006 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). He enrolled for the full marathon with no proper idea of what it entailed. Luckily even as he enrolled for the marathon with insufficient grasp of the subject, he secured his first proper job – Assistant Production Officer with Modhera Chemicals, a company in Turbhe, Navi Mumbai, manufacturing specialty chemicals for the textile industry. The family moved to rented accommodation in Panvel, Navi Mumbai. He chose Panvel both for its proximity to where he worked and also its proximity to industrial zones, just in case he was forced to seek employment afresh.
Dnyaneshwar trained for his first SCMM, sticking to his daily 10km runs. Then, prompted by the 42 km-length of the marathon and its disparity with his daily runs, he ran 35 km three days ahead of the event. In a personal madness, likely traceable to challenges in high school and the habits he picked up in college, he didn’t want to merely run, he wanted to win. On race day, he reached the starting line late. Wanting to win, he commenced running without sparing time to pin his bib. He held it in his hand instead. Half way through, he was stopped by the police who mistook him to be an intruder running without the official bib. He showed his bib and continued. But no matter how hard he tried the pack leaders remained way ahead while Dnyaneshwar got progressively exhausted. He was still struggling to reach the half way mark, when he saw the leaders going in the reverse direction after the half way-turn. He noticed their pace and efficiency. Past the half way-mark, at Shivaji Park, Dnyaneshwar quit. His first SCMM was a DNF (Did Not Finish).
To confront the challenge of preparing for his next SCMM, he applied his longstanding credo – work harder. What he overlooked was that he was employed and working long hours. “ I used to get tired from work and then go for a run,’’ he said. This routine plus the daily running strained him. Then in a repeat of 2006, in 2007 too, just ahead of the year’s SCMM, Dnyaneshwar ran 35km to be ready for the marathon he badly wanted to do. Fortunately, he completed the race in 4:30 hours. But he found his energy dipping past the 30km-mark. He was in a trap, a vicious cycle. He didn’t want to run the half marathon; he wanted to run the full. He wanted to win and the only thing he knew to win was to work harder. The harder he worked, the more he got tired. The more he tired himself, the less he could run. In 2008, his timing at SCMM exceeded five hours. He was ill for almost a month before the run. He had none to advise him, no friends in running. Meanwhile, another problem was hot on his heels – he wasn’t eating properly. With too much running and long hours at work to somehow balance, he was ignoring food intake not to mention, nutrition. “ My thinking then was – to run a marathon well, you must run a marathon every day,’’ he said. Eventually medical complications caught up with him – among them, fall in his platelets count. Dnyaneshwar was hospitalized soon after the Mumbai marathon. To complicate matters, his elder son had been diagnosed with a heart problem.
Whatever the problems in his life, Dnyaneshwar’s recipe for cure remained the same – running. “ Exhaustion felt good. It cleared the head,’’ he said. In 2009, he missed registering for the SCMM. Although he didn’t run at the event, he stayed in training. Asked whether he consulted his doctor on how to recover, he said he resorted to self administered recovery. The hospitalization had however tempered the old blind faith in furious activity. He was being watchful. Overall across these years, a Dnyaneshwar-day went somewhat like this: wake up at 4.30AM; run till 7.30AM, leave for work at 8AM, be back home by 7PM. That was a typical day; repeat it every day. There have been atypical days too. When he commenced formal training with a coach, there were days when he got back home at 11PM before starting the crushing routine all over again. The most engagingly atypical one was this – he would run in the morning from his house in Panvel to Sanpada roughly 25km away. At a shop selling fruit juice in Sanpada, where he would have kept a change of clothes stashed, he would change and proceed to office. “ No matter what, everyday he will go for a run,’’ his wife, Surekha, said. At the 2010 SCMM, he got his first genuinely encouraging result. He finished the full marathon in 3:58, his first sub-four hours-timing.
Arguably, it was in 2011 that Dnyaneshwar’s life in running began to change. That year the second half of Don’s life started. Some 20 days before that year’s SCMM, while out on a practice run in Navi Mumbai, he met Praveen Kumar, a runner from Bihar. Praveen was in the city specifically to run the SCMM. He was being supervised by a coach. Dnyaneshwar talked to them and in the process got his first taste of formal, structured training for a marathon. Despite a dose of unexpected confusion in the following days for distraction (Praveen apparently went missing and was found only after the SCMM), Dnyaneshwar returned a timing of 3:21 at SCMM. He was also able to do this without any stop in between. “ I felt good,’’ he said. But through the preparation for the race and the running itself, he had aggravated a case of shin splints. Following this race, he chanced to post his timing on the website of Runners for Life. As runners took note of his timing and one runner spoke to the other, word reached Navi Mumbai Runners (NMR) of the promising runner in their midst. According to Dnyaneshwar, M.K. Srivatsan and Vignesh Eashwar of NMR put him in touch with the well known coach, Daniel Vaz, who recommended rest and icing for the shin splints. Later Dnyaneshwar joined one of Mumbai’s regular Bandra-NCPA runs and met Giles Drego, another coach. Eventually he settled for Savio Dsouza as coach, his first formal training arrangement for long distance running. As he stayed in Panvel far off from the city, he would meet his coach one day of the week and keep him posted of his activity, over phone, the remaining days. “ I learnt to give food and nutrition the required importance,’’ Dnyaneshwar said of lessons from this phase.
In August 2011, he raced under Savio’s guard for the first time at the Hyderabad marathon, returning a timing of 3:11. He placed third in the open category. It was Dnyaneshwar’s first podium finish. He got Rs 15,000 as prize money. “ It felt good,’’ he said. Then in December 2011, he ran at the Pune International Marathon completing it in 2:53, his first sub three hours-performance in the full marathon. It was also his personal best. However at the 2012 SCMM, his timing increased to 3:04. It was in part due to the congestion caused by half marathon runners as at some point their route merged with that of the full marathon.
Meanwhile a new set of problems arose. His parents had been ailing for some time. With only a younger sister for sibling and nobody to really take care of his parents in Malakoli, Dnyaneshwar moved them to Panvel. The circumstance prompted him to shift from rented premises to owned premises. To do so, he sold a portion of his land in the village and used the receipts to purchase a house. “ Amid all this, in 2012, my training suffered,’’ he said. Aside from SCMM, the only other event of note he participated in was a marathon in Mumbai’s Borivali National Park where he came first. At the 2013 SCMM, he returned a timing of 2:56, something he managed because he was allowed to run in the elite category and avoid the growing congestion of runners. Months later, in May 2013, both his parents passed away within a week of each other. In June 2013, Dnyaneshwar suffered a motorbike accident with injury to his left ankle. It forced him to rest for 2-3 months. Finding it difficult to sit still, he turned to swimming for relief. Dnyaneshwar rebounded from the accident with the Vasai-Virar marathon (3:12); the Goa half marathon (1:23), the 2014 SCMM full marathon, which he finished in 2:58, placing sixth in the amateur category and the Bangalore marathon where he placed sixth at 3:00. On the injury list, he dealt with a groin injury that year and a second motorbike accident.
Savio was national champion in the marathon from 1984 to 1988. We spoke to Savio for his assessment of Dnyaneshwar. “ When Dnyaneshwar approached me he was already clocking a timing of 3:15-3:20 hours in the marathon. I made a few changes to his workout for running such as adding speed workouts and increased distance among others. The training helped him. In the first event he participated in after he began working with me, he was able to complete the marathon in improved timing. He has the potential to improve further in terms of timing. I think he can touch 2:45-2:42 hours. He is a strong runner and works quite hard. Unfortunately he had a motorbike accident last year. After he recovered, he had to start his training all over again,’’ Savio said. Besides acquiring a sustainable running format through formal training, the other major change is that Dnyaneshwar has found friends. They gave him a nickname – Don. That’s how he is known in Mumbai’s running circles. “ I don’t know how that name came about. I suspect it is because of my pace, ‘’ he said laughing and alluding alongside to the popular Bollywood movie by that name with its famous dialogue saying it is not just hard to capture its hero, a don, it is impossible to catch him. The real highlight of 2014 was something else. A group of runners – among them a wealthy businessman – saw him run and broached the question: why not Boston? The qualifying time for Dnyaneshwar’s age group for the 2015 Boston Marathon was 3:15 and he had a finishing time at SCMM that was well within the limit.
“ I don’t have the money,’’ Don replied.
Both money and help have since arrived. When we met him on April 10, Don was set to fly to Boston on April 16 for the 2015 Boston Marathon, his passage put together by friends and well wishers in running, including that businessman. This is Dnyaneshwar’s first visit abroad. He said he had also spoken to Bhasker Desai, who ran the Boston Marathon thrice, for tips on how to prepare (for more on Bhasker Desai please visit https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/from-zanzibar-to-boston-the-bhasker-desai-story/). Most important, unlike the mad days of before when he ran hard close to race days, Dnyaneshwar was in the taper down phase of his preparation. “ For good result, systematic training is required,’’ he said, hard earned wisdom resonant in the words.
UPDATE / April 21, 2015:
According to race results available on the Boston Marathon website, Dnyaneshwar Tidke completed the full marathon in 3:00:57 hours.
He was ranked 404 among men in his age group of 40-44 years. His overall rank was 2839 and within the men’s category, 2679.
Don’s best timing to date for the full marathon is 2:53, which he achieved at the Pune International Marathon in December 2011.
The winner in Don’s age group at the 2015 Boston Marathon, Danilo Goffi of Italy, had a timing of 2:18:44, which translated to 15th place overall and 15th within the men’s category.
The top finisher overall in the men’s category, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, had a timing of 2:09:17. The top finisher overall in the women’s category was Caroline Rotich from Kenya at 2:24:55.
On the event’s website, as per numbers quoted under the category ` countries of citizenship represented,’ India had 19 runners enrolled of which, 18 started the race and 17, completed it. Corresponding figures for India under the category `countries of residence represented’ were 10, 9 and 8 respectively.
Altogether the 2015 edition of the event had 30,251 runners on its rolls. Of the lot, 98 per cent finished the race.
October 2015: Running the full marathon, Dnyaneshwar Tidke finished third in his age category (40-45 years) at the Sriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon 2015. His timing was 03:00:38.
(The authors Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon are independent journalists based in Mumbai. The timings quoted are as provided by the interviewee. Where photo credits have not been shown, the photos have been downloaded from the Facebook page of Dnyaneshwar Tidke and used with his consent. )