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By Amit Mehta FitnessOn the trail with Rekha Sudarshan

On the trail with Rekha Sudarshan

She is a familiar presence on the Chennai runners as one of the most enthusiastic running evangelists on the block. As a childbirth educator, lactation specialist and the founding member of the running group, The Dream Runners, Rekha wears many hats successfully. The Dream Runners Half Marathon has become one of Chennai’s flagship events, and Rekha herself is known to run for many woman-centric causes.

We speak to this beloved member of the Indian running community on the benefits of running – especially for women – nutrition, training, and on the importance of giving every woman in India the confidence to give themselves the wings to fly.

Could you walk us through the milestones of your running journey?

Miles to go before I sleep!

I started running in 2008. My initial target was running 5K thrice a week. Then, I slowly graduated to running 10K and that seemed like a big achievement then! In 2008-9, running wasn’t as popular as now, and so official marathons were just a wish.

My first official run was a full marathon in 2012. An overnight decision taken to convert the 21K BIB to 42K and thus, I started my marathon journey.

I do only 3 full marathons a year, but I relish and enjoy each one of them.

My weekly schedule consists of 1 long run of 18K on Sundays, and two more days of tempo runs and track/hill runs.

You have been very successful in rallying a community under the banner of the Dream Runners. As a founding member, how did the idea take root and how has the community evolved since inception? 

Dream Runners was founded by a gentleman, Mr.Srinivasan. I, in addition to many of the senior members of the group, owe our running to him. He sowed the seed of road running into our mind, and once we hit the road, there was no looking back. Naysayers were plenty, who dissuaded us from hitting the tar, but we stuck to our interest and the fun time began.

As a founding member of Dream Runners I am mighty proud of how far we have come as a group. We were just a bunch of 5-6 people way back in 2008, and gradually more people started trickling in – not just by themselves but with their families. Now, we have mushroomed in many neighborhoods across the city and the numbers are only multiplying. It is a gratifying experience to see hundreds of families getting healthy under the banner of Dream Runners.

Our focus right from the beginning was very simple – Let’s get Chennai Healthy by Running.

Could you enumerate the physical benefits of running for women? Especially after the milestone of 30?

The 30’s and afterwards come with their own list of woes! Fear of reduced mobility, cosmetic issues, and the basal metabolism slowing down – the list just gets bigger by the day.

The benefits of running for this age group are manifold:

  1. Indian Women top the list in vitamin D deficiency and what better way to get the mild sunlight to do its beauty treatment on us than running in the mornings?
  2. Running strengthens the joints and does not tear them up and with proper guidance on strength and conditioning, running is one good way to keep our joints healthy. This will pave way to a better bone strength for us. Osteoarthiritis and osteoporosis can be kept at bay.
  3. The hormonal changes that take place during our every month menstrual cycle can be combated very well with running and the endorphins that it helps release.
  4. Every woman wants to be thin, and what better way than running to achieve healthy weight loss?
  5. Running helps produce a less potent form of estrogen, and this helps in reducing the risk of developing breast and uterine cancer.
  6. Running also helps in reducing the risk of late onset diabetes in women.
  7. The blood circulation that running stimulates helps in having healthy skin.

The psychological benefits of running are enormous, too. Especially in India, where women have to juggle responsibilities at work and at home, their own fitness ends up falling low on the list of priorities. Depression and other mental illnesses are on the rise in India, with women being the majority of sufferers. How can we channel the running movement to encourage women to take time for them and to use running as a way to alleviate anxiety and stress?

Women are their own bottle – neck. We have multiple roles to play but the axe always falls on our exercise time. There should be an attitude shift. I have said this in many forums “healthy families revolve around healthy women”.

If every woman understands this, then she can weave exercise into her daily routine. No better or simpler form of exercise than running.

If we as evangelists promote the benefits of running, at an age when many women are scared of losing their marbles, they would slowly cling onto this recreational form of exercise. Once they like it, they would love it, and then there would be no looking back.

Weight loss is cited as one of the top reasons why people take up running. We just launched a weight loss supplement – Minus, and we are trying to raise the awareness of losing weight in a healthy way with regular exercise and a proper diet – as opposed to crash diets which are counterproductive for health. There’s also the issue of negative body perceptions amongst women and the peer pressure of fads like ‘size zero’. What do you think needs to be done to educate women that a healthy body and a healthy mind should be the aim – not just reckless weight loss?

Health is different from Fitness. Health is when all the organs and the body as a whole is performing well. Fitness is the ability of the body to perform a physical activity. It’s ideal to have both. But health should not be at the cost of fitness.

Many women are confused between the two. An unrealistic expectation from themselves due to lot of outside factors pushes them to opt for the so-called cosmetic “norm”- to be thin.

To be thin at the cost of health is a blunder. If women can understand the difference between the two and work towards leading a healthy lifestyle by integrating exercise, healthy eating, good sleep hours, and some time in non-doing or meditation – then they have cracked the formula for a healthy life.

Women’s participation in races, though on the rise, is still not on par with their male peers. There are a lot of unique social factors in India that contribute towards this. How can we, collectively as a community, help lower the social inhibitions that women face when it comes to taking up running?

As a city dweller I have no complaints, and I am just a representative of a wider community. Compared to few years back when we started running, the environment is more conducive for women runners. The battle is in their mind and that once won, the puzzle is in place. As a community, if we can support them and give them the confidence that running is possible, the rest they will make it fall in place for them. For many women, running is still a “man” activity. If we can break that gendered thinking, then many roads will become more vibrant and colorful.

Infrastructure also plays a part here – badly lit roads, street harassment, lack of public toilets hamper female runners. What can we practically do to highlight these infrastructural challenges and work towards a solution?

It’s my dream and of many, to have running trails in each city or town which are amidst nature with water fountains. We would also love to have roads with proper toilet facilities, which are devoid of traffic and to be used only by cyclists and runners. Many cities in the US and Australia have them. However, this is a continent vs. a country, so this remains a dream.

But, if we as a running community put our heads and hearts together, this dream can become a reality.

At Unived Sports, we often tell athletes that a nutrition regimen is incomplete without the incorporation of proper supplementation of calcium, vitamin D3 and Coenzyme Q10. Can you tell us why supplementation is especially important for female runners?

A healthy food platter offers the essential nutrients. However, for better sports performance, fat burning and optimal health supplementation is essential. Recovery for a runner depends on the supplementation she takes, in addition to the exercises she does. Essential macro and micronutrients have to be included in every women runner’s meal plan to achieve long lasting injury free tenure with running.

You are a Childbirth Educator, a Lactation Consultant, and a mother. Can you tell us about the benefits of running for mothers – physical and psychological? Also, has running had an impact on the overall fitness of your family?

Pregnancy is a time when a women’s body goes through physiological and morphological changes. It is to be remembered that these changes persist for four to six weeks postpartum. Physical exercises can be resumed but this varies from one woman to another – these should be gradual. Lactation gets affected when there is too much aerobic activity, leading to lactic acid secretion which can inhibit milk production. Keeping all this mind, running is an excellent way to bounce back to normalcy but should be under trained hands and should be taken one day at a time.

Tell us about the process of organizing The Dream Runners Half Marathon 2014. What challenges did you face for the maiden edition? What’s in store for us for the 2015 edition?

Dream Runners is a group of professionals, homemakers, students and families with a common passion for running. We operate through a trust, where every single issue is brain-stormed, the best is taken out and delivered. Our systems and processes are in place and we operate on a very professional level. Our main motto in organizing DRHM is to give a quality event to all the participants and we are proud to say that the post event testimonials from the runners only highlight the same.

Every year, we work on a cause and the proceedings of the event are donated generously to the same. 2012 was our maiden edition. 2013 was dedicated to organ donation, and 2014 to the ‘Fight against Depression’ and this 2015’s run is for prosthetic legs.

Like any event that is organized, there are minor hiccups, but we take time to dwell on the feedbacks and correct them the following year.

Every DRHM edition teaches us something new, but overall it is a gratifying experience to give back to the society, which we all so happily consume from.

You have also been a pacer. Studies suggest that women make better pacers than men. Do you agree? If yes, what do you think are the contributing factors?

I have been a pacer only once in December 2014, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The feeling of bringing back a group of happy people to the finish line, to see them relive their dream of completing an official run, and to play a part in pushing them beyond their comfort zone is definitely a gratifying experience. Women’s patience and mental strength comes into play and these could be the contributing factors for research studies skewed in our direction.

Could you tell us about your own nutrition regimen and nutritional philosophy?

I believe in healthy eating. In the past decade, I have been through all kinds of “diets” and only ended up tired and exhausted. I feel healthy and fit now, and I owe it the combination of exercise, good rest and a good nutrition plan.

I have cut down on carbohydrates but have not deleted them form my list. Proteins form a big part of my meal plan. Proteins from natural sources are given importance. Vegetables and fruits are plenty on my daily list, and so is hydration.

Sweets are my weakness, but over the past two years, I have happily transcended them. I indulge in dry fruits and nuts when I have the craving. I do indulge in some ice-creams and chocolates and Indian sweets, but very rarely. I do take my multivitamins and my antioxidants daily.

My Nutrition Philosophy is very simple – at any point in time, my body should feel light and good, and I should feel healthy and good about myself.

What are you training for this year and what is your long term running dream?

I run 3 full marathons in a year and I train for them. I do strength and conditioning three days a week, alternate between tempo runs, interval training, sand running and hill running the other three days. Sundays are our long runs.

As a group, Dream Runners are very diligent in our training schedule, and our disciplined approach has awarded us many podium finishes. Training as a group helps, as we motivate each other.

My long term running dream is to keep running as long as possible, and not to let age and age related issues come in the way of my passion.

Any message for the Indian running community – especially women runners?

My request to all runners – men and women is – get the women in your life, especially those who are apprehensive about running, to run. Nothing can be more gratifying than to see this message percolating into each family and there by the community.

Remember – “Happy Healthy Families revolve around Happy Healthy Women”.

And I sign off with that message to the running Community.

Let’s make a difference and make India a healthy country .

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