Ramesh Kanjilimadhom

Name: Ramesh Kanjilimadhom

Age: 46

Occupation: Yet another computer guy

City: Kochi

Height: 5’5”
Weight: 57kg
Blood type: B+

Years I have been running: About 11 years of serious running
Total 10ks: 10-15 (Not sure)
Total 21ks:15-20 (Ditto)
Total 42ks: 54
Total 50Ks: 2
Total 75ks: None
Total 100Ks: 1
Other distance:

PBs across all distances:

10K: 39 mins or so (Have hardly ever “raced” a good 10K, so not sure)

HM: 1:27:14 (2013)

Marathon: 3:02:04 (2016)

50K: 4:21:57

100k: 12:57

History

Were you an active sportsman in your school and college days? Do share which sports you played/play and some information on your ‘sport/athletic’ background prior to running. Also, how (if) that has helped with your running.

I might be the exception that proves the rule here! My childhood friends are still skeptical and confused about my running, for, I have been a horribly non-athletic person in my younger days. The only sport (a debatable adjective) that I participated then was cricket, which as all of us know, doesn’t really make one really fit or athletic.

What drew you into running? How long has it been since you started?

My foray into running started with some prodding by my ex-boss. He explained to me the mystique of marathons and how he broke into tears at the end of his first marathons etc. It was intriguing enough that I signed up for a marathon in 2006 about 6 months earlier, not having run more than 10km before that. Sub-consciously, I think I started running also because of my elder brother getting diabetic at a young age – a candid, stern warning from the doctor helped get out the door.

What are some of your earliest running memories – could be the first taste of pain, joy, cramps, achievement..

I didn’t start off thinking that running would evolve into such a big part of my life, so many of the initial experiences were interpreted with quite a bit of amusement as most people do.  There are quite a few memorable incidents in the initial years – from not knowing what the finish time meant. While I was out on a run one day, one guy ran up to me and started talking about Boston Qualification, timings etc. (“I need to do a 3:15 to get to Boston – I’m hoping to do that at the Twin Cities in Minnesota this year”). I was thoroughly confused (“Why is he going to Minnesota if he wants to get to Boston?”), but was wise enough to keep my mouth shut. Later I asked my marathoner boss what this guy was talking about – heck, I didn’t know what “3:15” meant until he explained that it was 3 hours and 15 minutes finish time for a marathon. This was about a month before I was to run my first marathon, so it was good education.

With regards to running experiences, they weren’t as funny – yes, the pain after each longer run followed by the elation of completing the distance was certainly notable. The first marathon was an experience of its own. I had no idea how to run it, so I pushed and pushed and pushed until I broke down to a walk in the final miles – the joy, the pain, the agony, the proverbial “wall”, the finish line mecca, the feeling of satiation and salvation… I lived all that perfectly as in the textbook.

Running

You are one of the top recreational runners in India. Can you share some insight into your journey from start to where you are today? 

I’m a highly overrated runner – to be called “top recreational runner” by you, for instance, is giving undue credit to a mid-pack runner at best. The only claim to fame I have is my non-athletic background in my younger days and being able to run as many races as I’m able to these days.

When I started running, I never thought of running a race of any kind. Perhaps that’s why I run so many races these days – I don’t run to run a race, they just come and go. My journey of running evolution has been largely due to the great people I came to meet as part of taking running seriously. Great help, motivational stories, tips and encouragement from friends and co-runners went a long way in shaping up running as a lifestyle for me.

Have you ever had a coach? If yes, please share the influence s/he has had on your running? If not, please share how you have self-learned and coached yourself?

Never had a coach. Never thought about having one either because I didn’t have the kinds of goals from running that only a coach could help me reach. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends and acquaintances who have expertly given training advices and opinions. Internet has also been immensely helpful. I have been trying to learn from my own experiences mostly.

What does your typical training week look like?

A typical (or I’d say, “ideal”) training week would be a 5-6 day running week. The runs include a tempo, a hill run and a long run for sure, but others are optional. I want to be a little more regular on the speed work involving intervals, but I haven’t been that good about it. I try to average 80km a week, peaking at 100km a couple of weeks before a goal race.

I do try to incorporate some strength training as well, exclusively done at home.

How do you balance training with work and family responsibilities?

For a number of reasons, on any given morning my run is typically over by the time the kids wake up, so I really don’t miss much. My wife runs too, so that helps in the balancing act. I try to get the kids to run, but it’s difficult to train with them on week days.

Your favorite training routine?

For marathons, I’ve tried high mileage programs like Pfitzinger 18/70 with success, but lately, I have been loosely following the Hansons’ Training Program. It has the longest run pegged at 26K unlike most us other plans. Most importantly, it saves me time and hence it’s my favorite 🙂

Have you ever been injured? How have you dealt with it? What do you feel can be done to prevent injury?

My 10 years of running have seen quite a few injuries. I’ve had all of the main 5 runner’s injuries EXCEPT the IT band syndrome. During the initial years when I ran in shoes, I got injured a lot more frequently – Shin splints, Runner’s Knee, Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendinitis. Ever since I started running barefoot, the injuries have been almost nil. I say “almost” because last year I did get Anterior Tibialis Tendinitis due to my racing 3 marathons including an Ultra in a month.

In general, my rehab has been to stick to the standard RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) procedures. Most injuries occur due to “too much too soon” – be it pace, mileage, hills or any such variables. As I get older, I realize that stretching and strengthening are two “tough love” friends I need. Those two, combined with wise increase in mileage and pace with a proper training plan are the best ways to avoid injuries. Proper nutrition and sleep are also key, without which, we run tired, which makes us vulnerable to wrong form and wrong usage of our already fatigued muscles leading to injuries.

You ran the Dubai FM 2016 barefoot and clocked 3.02.04 – how long have you been running barefoot? Did you ever use shoes? What made you transition from shoes to no-shoes, how was the transition?

I’ve been mostly a barefoot runner for over 6 years now. If I’m not barefoot, I run in minimalistic footwear. I used to run in shoes before then. I did go to running stores in the US, get “evaluated” and got fit with the “right” running shoes. I quoted those words because they all seem debatable now.

My transition to barefoot running came as nothing but curiosity. A friend of mine who had IT Band Syndrome said she felt much better with a few barefoot/minimalist runs. Even though I didn’t have any particular injury at the time, I tried it out anyways and loved it. I took an easy transition to exclusive barefoot/minimalist running. There were some calf pains initially, but I felt better overall. In a couple of months, I was able to do 20km runs and not feel a thing on my joints.Having said that, I did overdo it later and got Top Of the Foot Pain (TOFP) that required a slight bit of scale back.

Since running barefoot – what are the changes you have noticed? In relation to speed, form, injury, strength?

The main change I noticed was the ease I felt on my joints after long and hard runs. I’m not qualified to say whether barefoot running is a cure for running injuries, but from my anecdotal experience, it has been a great choice. In terms of form too, I think it helps since the chances of striking midfoot are more when we become persistent, compulsive barefoot/minimalist runners. This gives you the ability to complete the hip rotation without a strong impact on your joints. Less injuries and better form translate to more strength and speed naturally.

What is your advice to younger runners who wish to run barefoot?

Having glorified barefoot running above, let’s not forget that barefoot/minimalist running isn’t for everyone. Some of us may not benefit from it even in the long term if we have foot problems, heel strike issues, possible heel spur etc. However, there’s only one way to find out if it’s right for you – just try it. Trying barefoot means running not more than a kilometer when you start. If all goes well (calves may hurt some, but that should go away in a few days), increase mileage (keeping the pace low) following the 10% rule (no more than 10% increase per week). Rest days are important to give enough recovery time for your feet as for the rest of your body.

Do you ever listen to music during the run?

No. Never did, most likely never will.

What is your typical pre-run and post-run warm-up/cool down stretching routine?

My warm-up is practically zilch. I consider my first mile a warm-up. Ideally though, dynamic stretches are great as warm-up routines. However, I see some races in India where they horribly overdo it with half an hour of stretching routines and you start your run tired.

I’m not as good as I should be about post-run stretching either. However, I do stretch my calves and hamstrings out. Typically further stretches of my quads, hips, upper body etc. are done in the evening when I have some time. I do try to do some yoga routines when time permits for overall stretching.

How many times have you run Boston? Can you share what it felt like to qualify, and also what it felt like to run Boston? Why is Boston so special to so many runners?

I’ve run the Boston Marathon four times and I’m running it a fifth time this April. My journey to Boston qualification was a multi-year process when I tried and failed a few times, experimented with different training plans and strategies to finally get there in 2009 for the first time. When you target a time for a race, you have to be quite disciplined in your training. (I’m guilty of breaking many rules of marathon training – I run too many races and I don’t follow any training plan to the tee. I always enjoyed the zen of running and the energy of the race day more than targeting a time and working towards it.)

When I ran Boston the first time, I thoroughly enjoyed it due to the crowds, primarily. The energy you absorb from people (co-runners and spectators) is nothing short of amazing. This has been my main draw in going back there each time.

I guess Boston is special to many runners because it’s a good challenge to qualify for the mid-packers. When you qualify, somehow you feel a pseudo-elitism of graduating to a better grade. However for me, the race itself holds an eternal charm, since it’s the oldest road running marathon open to the public.

What is your favorite race distance, if any?

Thanks to its unpredictability and challenge factor, the marathon (42.2km) is my most favorite distance.

Your top 3 running events in India?

  1. Hyderabad Marathon (by Hyderabad Runners)
  2. All races organized by Chennai Trekking Club
  3. Chennai Marathon (by Chennai Runners)

What are your running goals for 2016 and also your long-term running goals?

I really haven’t set any goals for 2016. I’d like to run a sub-3 hour marathon, but that’s unlikely to happen in 2016 (not that it helps to postpone it since I’m not getting any younger).

For the long-term, my goal is simple. I want to worry about which marathon to run when I’m 80. I’d give anything to be able to have a healthy, injury-free running life for as long as I live.

Ever thought about ultra-events such as WSER, Hardrock, Transvulcania and others in that basket?

I haven’t thought about any such crazy runs yet. That doesn’t mean I won’t consider them tomorrow.

Nutrition

You recently turned Vegan. Why is that? How long have you been Vegan? What are the changes you have experienced?

Turning vegan was another experimental step like barefoot, and I like it so far. I stumbled upon some articles about the negative effects of dairy to our body and they seem to make sense. I’ve been a vegan for about a year now I enjoy all foods better, have no bloating etc. I don’t want to be an evangelist about veganism either, but I think everyone should try it regardless.

Did you eat meat earlier? Meat to Vegan is a big change – your experience?

I have been a vegetarian since I was 14 years old and even before that, I rarely ate meat or fish. Even then, staying away from dairy (curd, cheese, butter etc.) was a challenge for adopting a vegan lifestyle.

What is your typical food diet like?

I am a rather “safe” eater. My diet is primarily Indian vegetarian foods – crushed wheat porridge or idli/dosa for breakfast, bran rice and vegetable curries for lunch, chapattis and vegetable curry for dinner. I try to consume fruits (as whole fruits or smoothies) and nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews) consistently. It may all sound very healthy and responsible but I am a devoted gastronome and do snack on whatever I can find, including junk food, on a regular basis.

How important is good food and nutrition? Anything specific you have experienced in this regard?

It’s an understatement to say good food and nutrition are important for everyone, even more so for runners, because the wrong food choices can have many negative effects on runners including performance impact, GI issues, weight gain, fatigue (and thereby injuries) and demotivation.

As for me, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to food until just over a year ago. I used to have the typical runner’s arrogance and believed that I could run everything off. It’s when I stopped refined sugar intake that I noticed the importance of right nutrition and how discernible the effect of right nutrition is. Again, I don’t want to be an evangelist, but I’d recommend everyone to try a month off from sugar and see how it affects you (hopefully positively).

Is there something specific you eat on days leading up to a race and also on race day morning?

I do the usual carbo-loading, trying to stay away from too much fat and protein, for the race week. Since Indian food is primarily carb-centric, it’s not hard to get all the good carbs. On race morning, I used to be pretty religious about eating well 4 hours before the start, but these days, I find it better to eat well the day before and just have something modest like a couple of slices of bread in the morning. I also stay away from fruits and other high fiber foods on race morning.

Do you consume any supplements? Which ones and what have you noticed with them?

I haven’t been using any supplements in the past, but of late, I’ve started with the Lean protein powder. It seems to take care of the muscle fatigue quite effectively. One item on my TODO list is to get a vitamin profile done and find what adjustments (perhaps even supplements) I need to do to my diet.

We believe that until recently you never used Gels? If true, how long has it been since you’ve been using gels – what have you noticed prior/after?

On the contrary, I have actually been an avid user of energy gels, but mostly just at the races. I have found them to be useful, but it has been hard to actually quantify the effect. RRunn’s gel has been pretty good, giving me a noticeable energy shot. I’ll experiment more to get the best results.

What food and supplement advise can you share with the younger running population?

I’m a constant learner when it comes to diet and nutrition. As mentioned above, I hadn’t given much thought to proper diet until recently, but I should have been there earlier. The only advice I can give to folks is to pay attention to your body while consuming your calories. “Food as a medicine” is the way to go. Go easy on sugar and fat. Evaluate yourself and supplement what’s lacking using natural alternatives as much as possible.

Spirituality

Running is a spiritual journey. Your thoughts?

I like the term “therapeutic” better. It’s an escape, an unwinding and also a time to reflect on a lot of things in life.

Has running barefoot led to any spiritual experiences? Do share..

Again, I wouldn’t call it spiritual, but that constant contact with earth actually makes you develop you sub-conscious mind a lot. You feel a lot “natural” at the same time, get instinctive about normal road hazards like potholes and sharp menaces.

Running is not always about timing – it is the ‘runners high’, the ‘experience & journey’ that is more important – your thoughts?

I subscribe to that theory one hundred percent. Even when you have a few competitive moments (with yourself) during a race, if you don’t enjoy your run just for running, you’re unlikely to do it for long. This is something I’ve noticed among the elite runners from East Africa. Most of them burn out by the time they hit their thirties and want nothing to do with running afterwards. The result is obviously not very good.

Soles of Cochin

What made you start the group?

I had never run with a group prior to Soles of Cochin. A friend of mine, Kumar (our beloved Kumarji) who moved back from to Kochi from abroad around the same time I did kept talking about it for a while. He is a great motivator to get new people to run and keep them at it. We both wanted to bring the joy of running to people, but it was not getting a start as we wished. Around then, I got hit by a car while running, breaking a leg. I had to get surgery to put a rod, plate and nails put in. This made me think hard about safety as an added advantage of group running. As we were pondering about it, we got a visitor from US, Mathew Mapram, a senior ultra runner. He is a true running evangelist and wanted to create a running culture in the state of Kerala that has a great athletic past. Between all these events and personalities, a few more friends joined and we started the group in July 2013 with our first run with about 6 of us. Never looked back since.

How large is the group now?

Since the group is highly popularized on social media, it’s not easy to find out the total membership. When there’s a local race, we have over 120 runners showing up. On a regular basis, about 30 of us partake in the group runs. Others train on their own and join the group occasionally.

It must be hugely rewarding to see so many great runners evolve at SOC – what are some of the guidelines, values and principals in the group?

The growth of our group has been purely organic. It seems anyone who comes in contact with any Sole instantly recognizes the passion that we carry. All of us represent it truly and that has been the biggest success behind our consistency. We participate in races in large numbers all around the country, travel as a group, all of us wait for the last one of us at the finish line and celebrate in style.

One of our founding principles is to get more people to run, challenge themselves and reach beyond the physical limits dictated by the society.We also like to keep it simple and not let it be commercialized. The group doesn’t discriminate runners on talent (speed), gender or age. The openness and lack of elitism make the acceptance to the average person a lot easier.

You are very passionate about the Spice Coast Marathon. Please share some insight into how the event came about, what makes it special, and why runners should travel to participate in it?

Spice Coast Marathon was the first attempt by an amateur running club in Kerala to conduct a marathon event. Just as the formation of the group, the idea came about from Mathew, who pushed and prodded us to conceive and execute the event. We got the marathon course certified by USATF, which made it a Boston Qualifier course.

The course we chose for this race is one that runs through about 600 years of living history. There are monuments and heritage artifacts that are some of the oldest remnants of the advent of foreign sailors to India. We showcase 42 landmarks on the course (even though there are many more) to represent every kilometre a marathon runner traverses.

Why should runners travel to run it? If the above points aren’t enough, you get to run on a scenic route, flat and fast, supported by eager volunteers with water, electrolytes, oranges, bananas and a lot of vociferous energy! The race is truly a runner’s race – for, by and of the runner.

Who are some of the top runners in the group and would you tip anyone specific to clock a sub 3 FM or alike?

We have a lot of great runners in the group, but we try to keep the competitiveness down to ourselves. When we get stuck with timing goals, we don’t enjoy the runs nearly as much. Since you asked, I could name a few runners Ajay, Ajith, Dinesh etc. to clock great times. Many others are coming up on their heels (no pun) too.

You have also been encouraging Women to join the group. How has that been – what are some of the challenges Women in our country face while running on the streets early morning. How do we address these challenges?

It’s an understatement to say it’s hard for women to run in India. Reflections of our male dominant culture can be seen even in this relatively calm sport. At Soles, we try to encourage as many women to run, paying special attention to their safety. Women are not left alone while running – they are either running as a group or others are at visible distance almost always.

I guess to bring in a change in the masses and their attitudes, we have to keep at it relentlessly. We cannot ignore safety at any point anyway, but hopefully it’ll become less threatening for women to run on our roads as we do more of it and it becomes an accepted practice.

India Running

Since you started running, to today, how has the entire running space evolved? What are some of the positives & negatives of this evolution?

I ran the Mumbai marathon for the first time in 2008. It was a strange experience because people were still getting used to long distance running events, even in a city such as Mumbai. Fast forward just 3 years and it was a whole different event in 2011. Mumbaikars had overwhelmingly embraced the race and it was a wonderful experience to see people coming out handing over goodies to runners, children giving hi-fives and cheering people on.

On pure recreational running front, there has been a revolutionary change in the last 5 years or so. This is obvious from the number of running events springing up all over the country, the availability of running nutritional products (even developed and made in India, hats off Unived!), shoes and apparel and even doctors and physios who understand and promote running. We are at the beginning of the change and being such a large sedentary population that we’ve been for years, I sure hope that we’ll this becoming a phenomenon that drastically changes our community health.

India now has over 200 running events in a year. Your thoughts?

Running events are generally a good thing, if they’re executed for the spirit of running, in my opinion. Most events in India seem to go for a “cause”. I understand some events being conducted for fundraising for a cause or charity, but often when we propose conducting a race to authorities here, the first question we get asked is about the cause. For us, the cause IS running. When this is forgotten, events get out of hand often. For instance, a race in Chennai recently went so bad that it ended up in the organizers being arrested. We should conduct races with careful planning with ample focus given to safety and runner’s welfare, without which, an event will become non-sustainable and a failure.

SCMM is touted as the country’s biggest event. Yet, many runners are opting out of it as they feel it is not true value – how can the event improve, what are your thoughts?

SCMM is certainly a big event. At Soles, we participate in it every year although I personally have chosen not to. I feel that the event evolved without the need to take care of runners as I had mentioned above. This is a shame and goes against my prediction that such events have no future. Frankly I’m disheartened to see the overwhelming importance given to this event that does not take care of its biggest asset – the runners. They have completed well over a decade of this race and many serious problems are still ignored. I could go on and on about it, but just to list some pet peeves:

  1. No value for the money (high registration fee with no T-shirt or goodie bag).
  2. No feeling of reward once you finish (you have to hunt for the medal with thousands of other runners).
  3. Lack of support on course by the organizers (plenty of water, but very few places with energy drinks and other nutrition). However, as said earlier, the residents of Mumbai come out in support of the runners with hydration and nutrition and while this is wonderful, it’s no credit to the organizers.
  4. Post-run food – less said the better.
  5. Crowd management at the finish – bottlenecking and complete mess.
  6. Clueless volunteers – they’re given almost no training.
  7. Focus on celebrity – it’s almost like the event is conducted for them.

I know that it’s not easy to conduct an event of this scale in a city like Mumbai. However, elsewhere in the world, such events are conducted flawlessly. Perhaps if the organizers watched how things work at New York or Chicago where over 55000 people run just the marathon alone, they can get some helpful hints.

There are many underprivileged  runners who do not have access to a coach, proper training, gear, or nutrition – but yet outperform those who do. Many suggest that if properly coached, India can products runners capable of achieving World records like the Kenyans – what can we as a group of ‘recreational runners’ do to support this initiative?

Recreational running seems to be an elitist sport these days – “elitist” as in people who are financially better off doing it more (perhaps due to the lifestyle diseases that seem to affect them more). This fact, even though it may seem a letdown, could actually be the biggest boon for the sport. As we create running groups, we could possibly corroborate on how to make a difference in competitive running and running as a sport in this country. At Soles, we do our bit by supporting some good runners (professional and amateur) with their needs. This, however is a drop in the bucket and we need to do much much more. Perhaps one day we all get to sit down and plan out a strategy for developing running more professionally, especially with those who can’t afford it, providing them the tools they need to become world class. We have to be careful though, lest it becomes similar to the statutory organizations that are corrupt with politics and money (for instance, Athletic Federation of India started out as Amateur Athletic Federation for promoting athletics in the country – even though they technically have the same role to play, they seldom do that).

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