Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Feeling free like a bird

Kochiite Ramesh Kartha has run 30 marathons in several countries. He talks about the joys and pleasures of running

By Shevlin Sebastian

Every morning at 6 a.m., Ramesh Kartha sets out from his apartment in Kakkanad for a run. He is wearing a white singlet and blue shorts and is bare foot. In earlier times, he would encounter growling dogs, slithering snakes, and the snide remarks of people. “They would shout, ‘Are you mad? Don’t you have anything else to do?’” he says. Ramesh ignored all this and continued on his run.

“I usually go to the NPOL (Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory), at Thrikkakara, make a loop there, come back on to the Seaport-Airport Road and turn right towards the new Info Park road,” he says. “I go through Info Park. It is an open area, although it is hilly at certain places and then I return home.” Ramesh carries a GPS watch to monitor his speed and the distance travelled: a minimum of 14 kms.

One reason behind Ramesh’s training is because he is a marathon runner. So far, he has raced in 30 marathons, of which several were in the United States of America, where he has participated in the prestigious Boston Marathon, the Walt Disney race in Florida and the Wineglass event in New York. He has also competed in Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, and in India: Mumbai, Pondicherry, and Mysore.

“I started running because the doctor told me to start doing exercise, as there is a history of diabetes in the family,” he says. “Later, I decided to have a goal: running marathons.”

His first race, in 2006, was in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. Organised by the US military, it is called the People's Marathon. About 25,000 people take part. “They have the best support system,” says Ramesh, an IT professional. “Every two miles there are water and energy drink stands.”

At the 34 km mark [full distance = 42 kms], Ramesh hit a physiological limit. “The glycogen levels go down,” he says. “Your body shuts down. I had become oblivious to the environment. I was finding it difficult to raise my legs. They felt like lead. But there were a lot of people cheering the beginners.” Finally, Ramesh crossed the finish line in a time of 3 hours 47 minutes. “This is a good time for somebody who has no athletic background,” he says.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of Ramesh's running is that he does it barefoot. And his reasoning is simple. “When you wear sneakers, there is a heavy amount of cushioning on your heels,” he says. “So when you run, because the heels are heavier, you tend to land on it all the time. This impacts the knees and the hips. But when you run without shoes, you tend to land on the balls of the feet, and only then is the weight transferred to the heels. So there is less jarring of the body.”

He also has a pair of shoes that is cloth-like, flat, and fits like a glove. “I wear this as a protection against splinters or broken glass lying on the road,” he says. Interestingly, when Ramesh shows his soles, the only difference is callused skin in some areas. “You don't get feet like elephants,” he says, with a smile. “Instead, you feel strength on your soles.”

But it has not been smooth sailing. A few times, he has been laid low by injuries: inflammation of the arch of the heel, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, and runner's knee, which is a pain under the kneecap.

“With the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) treatment, for the majority of cases, you can get well within two days,” he says. Ramesh is now busy getting reading for his next marathon in Washington in October. “There is no greater joy for me than when I am running on the road,” he says. “I feel free as a bird.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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