Running in Kolkata

Fitness was not the real motivation that made him start running on weekends, his school friends were. Rohit Elisha Pandey got transferred to his hometown, Kolkata in December 2013 after working in Jamshedpur for several years. One of Rohit’s friends from school told him that some of them have been engaged in running on alternate days along and around the Kolkata Red Road. If you have been to Kolkata, you would know that Red Road is the greenest and fanciest looking stretch of road in the heart of the city. During most mornings you can find sports enthusiasts, both young and old, exercising and practicing diligently around the maidan on that stretch.  

Rohit decided to go running one Sunday just to meet these school friends. It had been so long since he had met these friends and hanging out with them that Sunday was so energizing that he decided to show up again the following weekend. The excuse to meet friends helped him become disciplined about running. 

Rohit tries to make it to the roads every Sunday for one long running session. It’s easier to commit to running on Sundays mornings since it’s a day off from work commitments. The biggest challenge he believes is to force himself out of bed. But once you are done with that, everything falls into place and it feels surreal to experience nature’s grip on the early mornings, especially in the winters. And of course, the joy of completing a long run. That is indeed wonderful and gives him a sense of pride and achievement, considering that his is a desk job where he hardly gets to move around.

Rohit is part of a runner’s group called Kolkata Ultra (though he is able to join them only on Sundays) and the members are crazy about running. A couple of people in the group have completed a 100km run last year and this year they are preparing for 150! Many of them have already done a full marathon in different cities like Bangkok, Mumbai, Delhi and Singapore. The group is a small but growing one. All members help each other out in training and improving on distances and also exercising. One of the members is a trained yoga instructor and the group benefits from that too.

A new thing that the group has started is to get one to run a birthday run where the distance to be covered in kms is the same as his/her age. Rohit will be 42 this year and even though he is not sure if he will be able to do it, he is definitely excited about the possibility. “I will cross the bridge when it comes up”, he says. In addition to Kolkata Ultra, there are some other running clubs in the city.

Rohit definitely feels fitter these days because of this disciplined approach to running. He hasn’t even cut down on regular fried street side snacks. Knowing the road-side stuff that Kolkata has to offer, no one really can!

A key to preventing injury when running is to stretch and maybe even walk some distance to warm up.

Stretches are definitely important and 15-20 minutes can do wonders to prepare the body for the run. As for food, a banana is good enough. The evening before a long run, it does help to get some pomegranate and beetroot juice too. Hydration is surely important in both hot and cold weather. The hotter the weather, the more hydrated you should keep yourself. Rohit personally does not enjoy carrying any water bottles because it becomes an added burden. Rohit has been running for a few months and now he is able to cover 10 kms regularly though of course, he still needs to improve his breathing and speed. This is one area he is looking at improving this summer.

After his run, he recovers with some cooling exercises. Cooling down after a run is also important to preventing injuries. When he skips these cooling sessions he experiences knee pain for the next 24 hours. He believes that in order to prepare his body to sustain the running, he needs to invest time in some strength training and flexibility exercises during the week which currently he is not able to.

For new runners in Kolkata, his advice is to start running early in the morning when the Sun is mild and traffic is less crazy. Some stretches of roads in South Kolkata are better suited for running. But Rohit’s running route starts at a point on the Red Road, then around the Victoria Memorial, then all the way to the Kidderpore Bridge via the Eden Gardens and Princep Ghat stretches and goes around the Victoria Memorial one more time before ending again on the Red Road. Sometimes they add a few detours to the route to cover more distance. One interesting running stretch is the area behind Hastings, near the Navy base. Covering that track easily adds up to 3 additional kms. 

Other routes include the stretch across the race course towards Alipore, passing the Taj Bengal, the Zoo, the National Library, the Alipore Court and Burdwan road and back to Victoria. These tracks are to a large extent empty in the mornings and have even surfaces, thus making them pretty safe for running. The area in and around Salt Lake is also conducive to running.

Rohit has two running goals now: (1) Complete 10 kms within 45 mins and (2) Complete a full marathon (42 kms). But before that he needs to make his breathing and pace consistent which he believes will be the key to help him in achieving both these goals.

His advice to aspiring runners is to invest in good running shoes and to run with a partner. Listening to the body for the slightest pain can often prevent permanent injuries. New runners should also learn to breathe correctly right from the start. This helps with building lung capacity. Above all, enjoy the run, however short it might be. Take it a km at a time.

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Guest contributor: Rohit Elisha Pandey

Images: Rohit Elisha Pandey

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