Meet Nidhi Saraswat – The 29-year-old 100 Miler from Mumbai, India
The more I run . The more I love my body. Not because it’s perfect, far from it. But because with every mile, it’s proving to me that I am capable of more than I ever thought possible.unknown
She credits me and my husband for introducing her to the world of running way back in 2013 and how( I don’t run for more than a few minutes even today :(). And we obviously can’t wrap our heads around this heightened modesty that this girl wears up her sleeves. She is not just an intellectual powerhouse( I had the opportunity to work with her at a corporate setup), but an epitome of mental strength, dedication, and perseverance.
I must confess, that I am quite dumbstruck with what she has done with the sport of running at an age, where most of us feel happier romanticizing the idea of existentialism ( I am still though 😉 ). Her journey only reinstates the fact, that merely dreaming is never enough. Having the right intentions, and an unflinching eye on the goal, is the only way, one would ever get there.
Through this interview, I intend to bring to the fore, the most basic and fundamental ways to cultivate the passion of running that truly has the potential to set the soul on fire of the seeker. I hope her journey inspires you as much or more. Let’s begin.
Tell us more about you, your family background, everything that your life was before you became a ‘Runner’?
I was born and raised in Mumbai. We are a family of 5 that comprises of me, my parents, elder brother & sister in law. Despite being an active sportsperson throughout my life having participated in not only outdoor activities like javelin or discus throw but also in indoor games like chess ( I am a state-level chess player )and carrom, I always had disliked running. I could never come to terms with the level of training that is needed to become a ‘Runner’. It felt like torturing the body with such high-intensity physical activity.
Why and when did you start running?
To answer this, I would like to take you through the timeline of events that can best define my journey and the process that got me where I am today.
Unapologetic gluttony ( I am a big foodie by the virtue of being a North Indian :)) coupled with toiling away hours at work and no physical activity had led to an abrupt weight gain. Though I have never subscribed to the conventional standards of beauty and physical appearance, yet the ever-growing weight had started taking a toll on my mind and hampered my productivity at work. I began to disapprove of myself when I looked into the mirror. I had to undergo all possible medical tests just to be sure that my condition rooted in mere laziness and not anything serious medically.
The reality struck really hard when one of my friends met me after 2 years. She failed to recognize me, when I was whiling away time at a restaurant, waiting for her. That moment I decided to take control of the body, which no longer felt mine.
Despite starting slow, more often than not I found myself gasping for breath after walking just a few miles. And waking up early was another mountain of a challenge. But as they say, it takes 21days to build a habit, I pushed myself every single day for the first month to at least wear my running shoes and show up. Even if I didn’t walk, at least I could see the sky unfold dramatically at sunrise. And surprisingly enough, I was never alone on the road, even at unearthly hours.
I started waking up early without much effort within a few days. I also became comfortable walking 4kms in one stretch. I started learning pre and post-warm-up exercises to avoid fatigue. I somehow didn’t feel comfortable exercising in open space looking at my body. So I started waking up even earlier at 4.50 am to be in the garden by 5.15 am to have lesser people looking at me.
One fine day I woke up around 6 and decide to skip the walk for the day because I was late. Forced by my mom I reluctantly headed out having just 30 minutes to complete my workout. I was walking brisk and suddenly started jogging( first time ever) to complete my 4 km daily ritual.
Then on one of the weekends, I thought of testing my physical stamina – I started running and did my first 5k in 40min. The next day I did 7k in 50mins and that was it. I was on cloud nine already. Pushing my limits every day gave me that adrenaline rush to push harder and more.
I researched more about running and bought my first running shoes.
I registered for my first running event Pinkathon – I ran my first 10k in 79mins. I fell in love with running in such events where so many women came together to celebrate womanhood through their deep love and fierce passion for running.
I had lost 5kgs by this time, also combining a controlled yet balanced diet with running efforts. This was motivating enough for me to keep at the sport and the diet. I also started working out in broad daylight, unaffected by people looking at me.
Between Dec 2017 to Dec 2018, I had participated in 13 events of 10k runs.
I joined a local running group – Mira Bhayandar Runners – learned the importance of building core strength, stretches, etc.
I never run to get podiums or for timing. I run because I like myself when I run. It’s a life long passionate love affair – this I realized when I ran Pinkathon in 2018.
Do you think, body shaming is so deeprooted in our culture that working out with a heavy body in broad daylight made you conscious of yourself?
I think it was the demons in my own head more than the others. I was not comfortable with my own body and didn’t feel confident enough. In fact, I made friends on the road (mostly uncles and aunties of my parent’s age) who kept a track of my running, asking my whereabouts if they saw me after a gap and also motivated me to stay consistent.
Having said that, I have also encountered people who don’t understand that everybody needs to be respected or at least ignored with no special attention if one is trying to focus on oneself.
Our society still needs to learn to ACCEPT and RESPECT individuals for who they are.
It’s completely my decision if I want to lose weight, run, swim, dance or just stay in love with my heavy but cute body. I will do what I want to and not because somebody else thinks I should work on my body. NO.
What do you think one should do to get past the fear of judgment and get going?
Just keep doing what makes you happy, Don’t do anything to see results and that too immediately. We have spoilt our body for ages and we can’t expect a change overnight or even months. It’s a process – you WILL see the change. But be patient and rather enjoy your journey.
Don’t just workout to see a change in size, do it to feel the difference. Even I had this phase where I felt nothing is working even after putting in so much effort, time and energy. But to my surprise, I had started to feel lighter, fitter and more positive within the first 3 months with very minor change on the scale.
The initial few weeks or a month is a slow process. Once your body gets used to the new regime, the process becomes quicker and more efficient. Remember, you are not working out because you don’t love yourself, you are doing it because you care for yourself.
What has been your biggest achievement as a runner?
There are more than a few things, that I count as my achievement and self-discovery has been the most profound of all.
Running aids in my spiritual well being and helps me connect with my inner self. The shift from ‘what I can’ to ‘who I am’ has been a sort of awakening – that has transformed the way I perceived my existence.
Running ultra-distance in 2019 has been nothing short of a dream come true, that I had been visualizing from the day I started to train for it. However, joining the 100 Miler club may look like an extraordinary achievement on the outside I have traveled many more miles within, which is far more elevating.
Inspiring people around me to not just take due care of their bodies but also respect it mindfully has been the only intention I have ever had since I witnessed my own transformation. And that makes me happier and fills me up with a sense of fulfillment more than the act of running itself. My mom can jog for 5k any day with ease. My sister in law ran her first 10k a few months back. My colleagues, friends, and neighbors have picked up at least some form of physical activity and have become more mindful of their lifestyle as well.
This is what I owe to this magnificent world of running, and nothing can be greater than the contentment that I experience by contributing my best in the smallest way possible, to support the sport.
How does it feel to be a 100 Miler at age 28?
I still get goosebumps thinking about this experience. I have grown phenomenally not just as a runner, but as a person. I have become more disciplined and patient than I ever was. I have started respecting every emotion, irrespective of it being positive or negative since it’s only making me stronger and more confident.
My parents and family are happier than me. And seeing them happy and proud I feel ‘yes I have done a good job’😁
What motivated you to participate in Ultra( long-distance runs)?
I like to enjoy and live the run. Rather than completing a smaller distance in lesser time I prefer to run longer distances and soak myself in experiencing the surroundings, not really realizing the distance covered. The distance- (double & triple-digit numbers) is highly motivating and has encouraged me to participate in Ultra Runs.
What is the most challenging thing about these races?
Staying mentally focused and determined is the key to long-distance running. Running continuously not just for few hours but for days in extreme weather conditions( that range from 7 degrees in the morning to 32 degrees in the afternoon with gusty winds in the evening not allowing you to keep your eyes open) definitely can be very intimidating at the very thought of it. The rough patch of the roads to running on inclined ghats facing the sun with no shade to relieve the heat adds to the toughness of the route.
Staying hydrated while not drinking too much liquid to avoid multiple visits to the restroom is also a challenge. Everything has to be planned in the head. The mind and body have to be in sync and agreement.
Not allowing fatigue to overpower the will is a difficult task. Hence its said, that running is a mental sport.
Tell us more about your experience of the first 100-Miles that you did in Dec’2019.
How was the trail?
The Trail included ghats of Khandala to inclines of Lonavala, long stretches of fields with cactus and dry tall yellow grasses to crowded small towns along the highway.
What was the most challenging aspect of the run?
Since this was a group event, it was important for all to be together and complete the distance together as one team. Matching each other’s running pace (Runners would relate what I mean by this) and staying together was our pact. I had some amazingly strong females in my group, who have taught me some incredible things about running and life in general. Being the youngest in the team, I was pampered, loved and made to feel at home always.
How did you prepare?
A combination of strength training, core workout with different running forms like tempo, interval run, hills, and long runs formed my training plan. Weekend long runs were a must. Due to a shortage of time, I always had my training long runs by myself.
How many races had you run, before you decided to attempt 100 miles?
I had already run thirteen 10k runs & 1 half marathon before I decided to go for this. However, training for 6 months boosted the confidence in me. During the training period, I did six 25k, twelve 21k & one 10k per week.
Before 100miles, we had to clear the checkpoints within the cut off time ( 17th Oct’19 – 42k, 3rd Nov’ 19 – 65k, 23rd Nov’19 – 100k). And finally did 100miles on 14th Dec’19.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the training period?
The formal training started in March 2019. And I had a year mixed of highs and lows.
Training with long working hours was taxing. I was still coping up with my schedule but unfortunately, I got dengue in July’19 which was the peak period of my training. I wasn’t taking care of my body well and that’s why I couldn’t recover completely before I attempted 21k in August’19. It turned out to be the worst decision. With weakness, I got IT-Band issue in my knees, which threw me off track completely – I had to stop running for 3 weeks. This period was frustrating and I was dying each day not knowing if I will be able to get back to my form or even running.
With God’s grace and parent’s blessings, I started my training. Switched jobs in between. There was a lot I had on my plate – the pressure of proving myself again at a new corporate set up, traveling for long hours to get to work and back home, training. Phew! But then I realized that running was making it easier for me to plan & strategize, thereby making me more productive and energetic at work.
The epiphanies I have while running is always new and different each time I go out for a run. And that’s a feeling I would never want to let go.
What is the one thing that you think has helped you the most to deliver your best on the race day?
Dedication and Junoon( Passion) to do 100miles kept me going on the race day and also through the 6 months of most grueling and the toughest training process I had ever been through until then. I always held on to my belief in ” train-smart & race-less”.
What do you think, you had to compromise on, to be 100 % dedicated to this goal?
I would like to make a confession here that I was absolutely selfish for my goal for this entire 6 months. I had no time for my family or friends. But I am blessed to have such a beautiful family and understanding friends who not only understood & supported me but were very patient during the process. They always encouraged me to live my dream and were equally happy to see me achieving newer heights. I have achieved this, only because of everyone who believed and motivated me to keep going irrespective of various external factors that were not in my control.
I am grateful to the trust that each one of them laid on me – who thought a girl with no professional training and strong sports background would do this distance.
Have you ever had an injury? Any tips to avoid one?
Yes, I had a knee injury because I was doing too much in too little time ( 18k,22k,and 12k in 3 consecutive days led to an IT-band issue).
A good warm-up and post-run cool down is as important as a good paced run. Full body stretch, core, and strength training are must for injury-free runs. Clean eating and proper hydration are also important for good performance during a race.
Just Completing a race is not important, a true runner must have an injury-free run and be race-ready every moment.
Any tips on diet, nutrition or supplements that have helped you to train?
I never had any kind of supplements. 2 dates and I am good to run 5k :).
I have stopped having sugar for almost 1.5 years now, this also helped me in my weight loss.
What does running mean to you?
The feeling of Shunya( nothingness) is what I feel while running. The feeling that nothing else matters – it’s just me, my breathing and the sound of my strides. I live in the moment, syncing the environment within, not relating to the outside material world. I get to explore and know myself better. And most importantly I feel that I am still learning to live, to breathe, to see such a beautiful creation of God, to be humble and ready to accept life in all shapes form or taste (lemon or lemonade).
Running treats everyone equally – a common person or a CEO everyone is the same, we lose our acclaimed identity and each one has to complete his/her own distance at own pace and will be treated as ONE. You are no longer the feeble stubborn human being, you are one with the wind and with nature, where all that matters is the next step.
What inspires/motivates you to run and train regularly?
This feeling that I get motivates me to run regularly.
I run when I am happy
I run when I m not so happy
I run when I am hurt
I run to clear my thoughts
I run when I lose my confidence
I run when I think I can’t run anymore
I run to tell myself how much I mean to me
I run to feel the feeling I get post running
What is that one thing about it that you feel is unique to the sport?
Running has taken away my complexion, my curves, my toenails but in return, it gave me myself, I got to know more about myself all thanks to the time I spent with myself while running.
Hence I feel I won’t be able to find someone who would understand me as much as Running does😁 tough competition for my future better half. ( hope you are better than me and a Runner too)
Is there anything that you dislike about the sport?
I don’t feel accomplished after running events, because there are greater races, distances, events to participate. This I feel would be there for every sports or sportsperson. One always looks for what’s next – when, where. 🙂
What are your running goals for 2020? How do you plan to up your game or stay consistent?
Include speed in my training. Build up endurance. Try barefoot or minimalist running form. Run more intercity runs. Motivate more and more people to take charge of their health.
What advice would you like to impart to the beginners?
Just run. Time and distance don’t matter. Take one step at a time, enjoy the process and progress as well. Listen to your body and set realistic goals and then give your best to achieve it. Stay injury-free, follow a routine or somebody who inspires you. Trust your gut and go for it.
What do you do when you do not run ☺ ?
I read about running forms, different types of training plans, about elite runners, their inspiring stories and how did they start running.
Apart from this, I like to stay updated with the latest digital marketing trends and technologies. I do sketching & photography(while running too :)) And above all, I love sleeping and I like to call it a recovery before my next run😁😁
Where can we connect with you?
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