We all seek to establish a unique identity for ourselves and for me it was running that gave me that identity. My story is incomplete without the numerous people I have met and the situations I have encountered, for which I am eternally grateful.

Running, or for that matter sports, did not come naturally to me. However, I spent my entire school-life in a boarding school in the Himalayas (Mussoorie), where sports like cross-country running was a compulsory inclusion in the curriculum. From being one of the last kids to finish a race to participating in my first Inter-school competition at the age of 10, I was finally motivated at the prospect of excelling in at least one sport.

Running at altitudes varying from 6000ft – 8000 ft, with the thin mountain air, freezing temperatures, steep slopes and hairpin turns are  a huge challenge and initially, like most others, I hated having to run up slope after slope every single day. However, as it got slightly easier with practice, I started enjoying running through the tall deodar-clad landscape with the view of the snow-capped peaks and the thrill of crossing the finish-line.

Post-school running was the only sport I could pursue since it could be done anywhere and everywhere without any other person and importantly, running give me the necessary endorphin kick and mental break during boards and entrance exams and it prevented me from putting on too much weight (a very big reason) !!!  Moreover, as most sportspersons would relate to, once you start relishing the rush of adrenalin, you don’t want it to ever get over. It becomes an addiction. In 2012, I took a New Year’s Resolution for healthy eating and running and that has stuck with me till date.

Being an introvert, it took me some time to make friends at college in MIT and hence, running was my best companion. By the end of the first semester I realised I knew a lot more about the Manipal landscape compared to my friends for each time I would google up a new route and run it. My first competitive run in Manipal was in 2014, organised by the NCC. 40 boys and 2 girls ran the 6km race. I was appalled by the shocking disparity, whether it was in the runs, or even athletic events where there was no category for Girls Athletics in the college fest, Revels.

 However, the crucial life-changing moment for me was the August 2014 cross country organised by Manipal Sports club and P.Ed Department. That day, I was again one of the 6 girls who participated but this time there was separate recognition for girls. It was there that I met the 7 best male runners of the college, most of them my seniors, but the respect, motivation and guidance that they gave me, gave me confidence and a vision to pursue running at a professional scale.

One rainy day in August 2014, I accidentally stumbled upon those 7 boys at Kamath circle. They had planned the first group run ever, and asked me to join. Having never run a 10 km, I was hesitant, but they pushed me to go for it, and we completed the TAMPI loop in pouring rain.

That day changed my life. I felt happy, a sense of accomplishment of shattering my own internal inhibitions and exploring the unchartered. 10 km became 15, 21, 25, 28 and finally 30 km. As a group, we saw the first rays of the sun at Railway bridge, ran at 4 am to witness the sunrise at Malpe and the sunsets at End point. While the small town of Manipal slept on Sunday mornings, there was this over-enthusiastic batch of slightly crazy runners winding through the roads to a new destination and to see a new sunrise. Thanks to a wonderful Physical Education Department, led by Dr. Kemparaj, we participated in the All-India Inter University National Athletic and Cross-Country Championship in 2014, 15 and 16, and continue to do so under the new batches. We took part in several marathons and triathlons in Bangalore, Mangalore and Hyderabad but kept coming back to our very own cross-countries organised in Manipal. Moreover, running, personally, helped me stay fit for other sports such as football, swimming and squash and mentally fit for exams. I was also fortunate to receive support from Adidas who most generously sponsored me running shoes, when they heard of our club. Running also helped me join the Student Council as the Joint Sports Sec where I was fortunate to make a small contribution to the overall sports and running culture of Manipal.

We ran to forget failures, to celebrate, to forget our exam tensions and to cherish friendships. Through running, I was fortunate to meet different kinds of people with so many different stories. Some got inspired. Most inspired me. Running has always been about enjoying the journey, learning from the challenges and not aiming for the destination, of never giving up, of falling, yet rising and running again. Running instilled in me desire to explore the world, unabated, for when we set out on all hidden trails and routes through Manipal, we just cherished the journey without knowing where we would end up. We were fortunate to meet countless kind-hearted strangers who would give us water and smiles on our way. Running healed us in ways and it transformed the lives of many who gave up their sedentary lifestyle and habits like drinking and smoking and joined us for a healthier way to stay happy.

We grew from a group of 8 to 15, 20 and even 50, with several girls from colleges like MIT, KMC, MMMC, SOAHS joining in and then with the help of Siddharth and Sandeep we took the initiative of forming an official club. That is where the journey began and in 2017 the first Manipal Marathon was organised. Thanks to the work of subsequent batches from all Manipal colleges, a concrete initiative could be taken and today, the heights that Manipal Marathon and Manipal Runner’s Club has achieved is something I could never have imagined when we first ran as a group. Today it is heartening to see so many girls having taken to running and fitness in Manipal and the level of professionalism that has set in. I went from an academically inclined student who was good at running in school, to a sports-inclined runner who was also pursuing engineering.

I remember, sitting in the Vice Chancellor’s office in December 2016 when we were planning the first edition of the Manipal Marathon and talking ways to increase participation from amongst our own students. I remember telling him a line I had read during my first run in Manipal organised by the NCC. I had seen a poster at one of the water stations. The girl holding it, kept reading out the words, “Run miles, Spread smiles.” That has stuck with me since then.

Kudos, to all those who have been a part of the journey. Here is a small shout-out to all of them and their contribution in spreading fitness, positivity and happiness.

Niranjan Kamath – the then, Sports Secretary and an amazing athlete, for initiating the idea of group-runs and being the inspiration for the group.

Kumar Shubham, Dakshesh Patani, Aayush Khanna, Anmol Singh Kular, Haren Pharswan, the lead co-founders of all the running initiatives and for increasing participation.

Siddharth Jain and Sandeep Nimmakyalu – The co-founders of MRC, Manipal Marathon who gave a concrete objective and foundation to the running club activities.

Enakshi Rajvanshi, Harsha Akula, Ankita Singh – the girls who carried

Dhaval Patel, Prakhar Anand, Gajendra Singh –for carrying the legacy of MRC and organising the Marathon

Ravi Shankar– the next-level runner who is carrying the torch far and wide and a huge support in organising running events during his tenure as Sports Sec.

Above all,

Dr. Kemparaj, Arul Diwakaran Sir and Girish Menon Sir – for their support, guidance and training without which we would have achieved nothing.

All the best to the current batch of MRC runners and to all the subsequent torchbearers. (Sorry for missing out on names)

This article was written by Ganga Shinghal

Categories: Experiences

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