How many times have you sat in your cubicle tapping away late into the night only to emerge 9 hours later to see it has rained and the whole place is born anew? With our air-conditioned offices, opaque glasses and hectic work schedule, when do you connect with nature or more importantly, yourself? If you, like most of us, have been giving the excuse of no time and too busy, then this story is just for you. Rachana from Team Livingit connected with Meenal Kotak, who is passionate about running for the #IamLivingit series.
When the World Sleeps
At an ungodly hour of 3:00 am, a girl hits the street. She is joined by a friend and they two pick up the pace. Running across the deserted streets of Delhi, they complete their sprint and head home. They’ve covered 42.2 km. She gets ready and hits the road again. This time to reach her office at 9:00 am joining others just starting their day to clock in the demanding 9+ hours as usual. Meenal Kotak – chartered accountant by day and a passionate marathoner at all other ungodly hours, shows us the way.
“Juggling work and passion does get tricky. But it’s simple, if you’re able to compromise on your sleep. I am used to it by now,” she declares as you struggle to come to terms with it. What started as a chance run when her friend dragged her to a half-marathon has transformed into a full-blown passion making her one of the few women ultra-marathoners in India and in just three years.
Meenal Kotak – Finding Her Groove
Hard to believe, we press her “Which was your real first marathon?” “Oh, it was the same one my friend dragged me to – The 2013 Airtel Delhi Half-marathon. Till then, it had been the closed confines of the gym and treadmill.” Finishing the marathon comfortably in under 2 hours was no mean feat for a newbie and Meenal Kotak was hooked. In love with the outdoors, running became her stress-buster. She graduated to full marathons and was achieving podium positions by 2014.
However, injuries surfaced and set her back. There was a lull as she consulted doctors and was told to go slow on the pace. Enter, Alfredo Miranda, a super marathoner and an excellent guide and mentor for amateur runners. With detailed analysis and inputs from Alfredo, she decided to take it long and slow with long-distance running. Her next challenge was the 50km terrain of Bhatti Mines in Delhi where she achieved a podium finish. She had switched the pattern and it worked.
Around this time, she met Arun Bhardwaj, an ultra-marathoner and one of India’s first internationally acclaimed endurance racer. He encouraged her to step into the next league of ultra-marathons. Meenal was already smitten with running long distances.
In 2014, Meenal Kotak arrived with a bang on the Indian ultra-running scene with her record-breaking run in the 75 km Performax Bengalaru event.
She went on to participate in the 12-hour stadium run as part of the 24-hour race held in associate with Bangalore Mirror and was the best in her category clocking 89.6 km.
Her tryst with ultra-running was truly going miles.
“It sets you free,” she says. “I enjoy running without the pressure of pace and speed. As if fast-paced world wasn’t enough,” she exclaims. With ultra-running, you’re constantly pushing your limits and challenging yourself, you discover yourself and people around you anew. New friends, new memories make it a very fulfilling experience”. To illustrate, she cites her experience with the “Great India Run” conducted in July 2016.
It was an initiative by ProSportify Venture Ltd to promote long distance running in India. The run began from India Gate in New Delhi to culminate at Gateway of India in Mumbai in 20 days.
Meenal Kotak ran the New Delhi to Jaipur segment of 240 km.
“To share a little bit of what transpired while being on the Delhi-Jaipur leg of the Great India Run (being led by Arun Bhardwaj) a motley bunch of runners met (me with Jogi sir, Srikanth Reddy, Dinesh Heda, Ranjana Deopa, Nitin). Mostly unknown to each other at the start, but shared such a wonderful chemistry that by the time it was the end of our journey, we had forged a new bond in the 240 km of dust, heat, sun and humidity on the Highway,” she says.
It is this beauty of long-distance running that attracts her, the shedding of limits, leaving behind the fast-paced world, matching step for step and on the way discovering and bonding – sipping chaach leisurely at a roadside Dhaba or sharing a moment with school children as they run with you.
Every time she finishes, she feels complete. A new person in every sense!
As part of the event, at each of the intermediate cities, promo runs were conducted and Meenal was a part of those too at Delhi, Manesar, and Gurgaon. At each of these locations, people waited eagerly to join the promo runs and were so driven by the energy that they joined the runners for many miles into the Great India Run. “The energy was infectious,” she says. “Everyone should get into it – be it newbies or experienced runners” she asserts.
Baby Steps Turn to Miles
For newbies, she advises taking small steps. Start with an occasional walk moving on to walk-run and then finally to running. The more persistently you run, the better you will be at it and then you can select your forte, be it 5ks or 10ks or half or full marathons. Meenal explains that running is a lifelong passion and has to be carefully cultivated to bear fruit. Commitment and patience are key.
She has been active in this sport for three years. Not a very long term if you look at it as a number. But her words echo with confidence. “Running improves running. There’re no two ways about it” she declares. “No amount of strength training will help you if you don’t hit the tarmac”.
Events usually demand a certain mileage to your credit and hence when planning for events, you need to accumulate your mileage accordingly. She also stresses the importance of rest – be it yoga or foam rollers , the muscles need to relax.
Meenal herself sticks to a regular weekly running schedule, rain or shine, with a mix of long slow distance, tempo run, interval training interspersed with cross-training activities. Another thing that she absolutely doesn’t skip on is strength training.
While preparing for an event, she makes slight changes, running longer distances proportionally. Alfredo, being a seasoned runner and her trusted mentor, helps her create weekly training charts for the event. He also reviews her daily runs and provides critical feedback to keep her on target.
The Universe Conspires to Make Dreams True
Balancing a full-time, demanding career and her equally demanding passion might seem exhausting for most. But Meenal is very clear about these two very important aspects of her life. “The energy that I muster from my runs gets fully utilized in my profession,” she says. Then there is the third aspect of her life. She is married to Sachin who is a management consultant and leads an extremely busy schedule. “He has been extremely supportive of what I do and is constantly encouraging me through thick and thin,” she says. Ultra running has helped her discover newer facets in her friends and family.
Add to it, her friend and Navy Commodore Joginder Chandana who has an unstoppable appetite for logging miles and she has the perfect companion for her daily training runs.
Along with their passion for running, Meenal and Joginder are also united by their desire to go the extra mile doing something different. Together, the two of them have run a full marathon daily for 10 days. However, this was not just for the miles. They called the initiate “Miles to Smiles” where while they ran, each of their friends and family fed a poor soul each day of the run. This initiative soon gained momentum and motivated other well-wishers to join in. The entire experience left her overwhelmed.
In a similar vein, the duo got together to pay a unique tribute to the Indian Army. They ran 42 half-marathons from “Navy Day to Army Day” (4 th Dec to 15 th Jan) starting from SP Marg covering embassies in Chanakyapuri, India Gate, Race Course Road and finally heading to the Taj Hotel in southwest Delhi. They kept this initiative going even when out of town, running wherever they were, doing their bit to raise awareness and pay respect to our soldiers.
“What’s life without passion and what’s a breath that doesn’t remind you of unfinished tasks,” says Meenal. For her, this passion, these goals are what keep her going and give meaning to her life.
Running is a liberator, a chance to shut off the maddening crowd and immerse herself in nature. Running across the country, Meenal has also run on the icy trails of Antarctica. As she picks up her pace, watch her make her way across all the continents as she unleashes her passion and lives her dream Ultra-size.
Wishing Meenal Kotak all the very best!