Running at 60: How Ashok Someshwar trained for 42 Marathons, and why he continues to run!

Surbhi DhawanRunner Diaries

Q. When and why did you start running ? What motivated you to keep doing it?

A. I was always interested in outdoor sports, but couldn’t engage in any earlier in life due to family finances and the focus being only on education. I grew up in Chembur, and whenever schools shut for vacations, I used to run a couple of kilometres early morning, along with the boys in my building. Once I started working, I got hooked onto hiking and rock climbing to strengthen my legs. I started running around 5 Kms every weekend. I was always in awe of athletes, especially the long-distance runners.

That’s also when the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon came up, and as much as I wanted to be part of the event, I could not muster the courage to register myself. Then in July 2005, a cloudburst happened in Mumbai which left us stranded in office for a day. The next day I trekked from my office at Prabhadevi to my home in Chandivali – a distance of approximately 20Kms – in a little over 4 hours. That is when I released that running/ walking a half marathon within the same time was a feasible option. I started training from the next month mostly on the Eastern Express Highway – initially 5-10 Kms, which I gradually scaled to 20 Kms.

Unfortunately, 15 days before the race I pulled a hamstring and was doubtful of even completing the race, but with a bit of physiotherapy and painkillers, I managed to finished the half marathon in 2 hours and 35 mins. This was January, 2006, and thus began my long association with the passion for running.

Q. Approximately, how many marathons have you completed so far?

A. I have participated in a total of 42 timed races: 4 races of 5km, 10 races of 10 km including TCS, ILFS, JNM and IIT, 1 race of 15 k
20 Half Marathons including SCMM, Kaveri, Auroville, Delhi Airtel, Vasai Virar, Powai Hiranandani and Thane Hiranandani. 7 Full Marathons including SCMM and Hyderabad.

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Q.  What was the first marathon you remember? How did that go and what were some key learning points form it? 

A. As I mentioned earlier, my first was the Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon, which was technically not a marathon, as a marathon is of a specified distance(42.195 km, and nothing less). The race from a newbie’s perspective went quite well, although it would have been much better had I not been nursing a hamstring injury at the time. I clocked 2:35 for a 21K, whereas I should really have clocked in the region of 2:10. That experience opened my eyes to the importance of structured training, and made me realize that I didn’t want to end my races in excruciating pain. Adopting a comfortable pace for training, especially for long-distance races is essential.

My first marathon distance was at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2011, where again two months before the event, I was afflicted with severe Sciatica, due to a disc bulge in the lower back. This threatened to put my running itself into jeopardy. I was actually advised by an orthopedic to undergo surgery if I wanted to continue running.

Since I had trained long and hard for this event, I felt it would’ve been a shame if I did not participate. So, I decided to run and quit if and when the pain crossed a threshold. I was good till the halfway mark, but after about 25 Kms it was s struggle right up to the finish. I completed the distance in 5:11, a far cry from the target of 4:35 that I had set myself up for. Nevertheless, there was a
satisfaction of completing the grueling distance despite the injury. The takeaway from this experience was concentrating
more on strength training and strengthening my core muscles.


Q. What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long distances or marathons?

A. For me, running has had multiple benefits, but the most rewarding thing is the people I have met and the friends I’ve made. I wouldn’t trade these connections for anything in the world. Some of them are very close friends today, whose running stories inspire me, hence looking back, running has taken me on a wonderful and fruitful journey. Fitness and good health are obviously other key benefits, as I rarely find myself visiting a doctor, and if I do it is mostly for my physiotherapy. I find long distance running meditative; it clears my head. It is a me-time that I’ve learnt to appreciate, and if I’m running early in the morning, I’m accompanied by the sound of birds, or rain which are music to the ears and food for the soul.

Q. What’s your favorite marathon track that you have run on? What’s so memorable about it?

A. The most enjoyable race that I have run is the Kaveri Trail Half Marathon at Mysore in 2010. The race is right inside the Ranganatithu Bird Sanctuary, and it is a trail run in the park – a route that’s very scenic and so pleasing to the eye. Runners for Life (the organizer) was so wonderful, that I’m waiting to do this race again. Apart from this, the Auroville Half Marathon in Tamil Nadu is also equally great. The route is within the pristine forests of Auroville. Both of these runs have one thing in common –  the route is in and around a natural verdant forest, which maker for a memorable experience.

Q. What do you think is the biggest misconception about marathons or runners, that you’d like to clear up?

A. The biggest misconception about marathon runners that most people have is that we are obsessed with running. I think, in order to excel in any field, obsession is a necessity. So, for those who strive to stay ahead in the marathon running sphere understandably have their lives taken over by running and its peripheral activities in some way or the other.

It’s quite possible that people who are not sports inclined find this boring, and sometimes even intimidating – but the vast majority like me just want to have a good time. I treat it like any other fitness activity, which becomes fun with like-minded people around.

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Q. What’s your training process for a marathon like? How did you prepare–both mentally and physically? A lot of our readers would love some tips!

A.  Over a long period of time, I have come to realize two training concepts: Chi Running which is about correcting the running form and another training method called the FIRST. I have recently read and inculcated Phil Maffetone’s heart-rate based training into my routine as well.

The training process should keep on evolving to suit your needs, depending on what works for you and what doesn’t. Daniel Vaz is a running coach and a dear friend with a plethora of knowledge about the science of running. He has always been my sounding board, as I share my training details with him. He is quick to point out flaws and suggest course correction. I owe him a huge part of my running. My training pattern goes roughly like this:

In the off season(March to June), I follow Phil Maffetone’s heart rate based training, which would mean all workouts need to be in the 10 HR beat band of my aerobic threshold. The pace is extremely slow and only the heart rate is monitored so as to not go above the aerobic thresh hold, which for me is around 124 beats per minute. From July on wards, I opt for the FIRST training method, which basically includes three quality work outs per week – mine being Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Therefore, my weekly training schedule looks like the following:

  • Monday: Rest or mild stretching.
  • Tuesday: Speed intervals at specified distances, pace and repeats. This is preceded by warm ups, stretches and running drills, and followed by slow jogs and static stretches.
  • Wednesday: Plyometrics, Full body workout, strength and core
  • Thursday: Tempo run at a specified pace and distance.
  • Friday: Plyometrics, Full body workout, strength and core.
  • Saturday: Long run at a slow pace around 15-16 kms.
  • Sunday: Long run 21 kms to 32 km depending on the schedule at a specified pace.

I am not a great fan of mileage and at this age four times a week is all I run. My weekly mileage during peak training period does not cross 65K.

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Q. You were also involved with organizing marathons and trekking trips. How has that experience been? What is it like to be on the other side – to not be a runner, but an organizer?

A. Being on the other side makes you truly realize what it takes to organize a marathon, keeping in mind the runners’ expectations, and staying as economical as possible while ensuring a great experience. I was and still am involved with Mumbai Road Runners, and one of the things I recommend everyone is to volunteer at our monthly runs. It gives you an opportunity to give back to the running community, and go back home with the smiles of gratitude from the participants. My experience in organizing treks and marathons (half marathons, to be specific) has been good and enjoyable. I have been organizing treks on a small scale with friends for a long, long time now!

People have generally been disciplined and appreciative of the efforts put in by the organizers and that makes everything worthwhile.
We organized half marathons for three years in succession at the pristine Sanjay Gandhi National Park – Mumbai, as well as a couple of other short-distance races as well, but these were before social media became a rage. Nowadays, there is no dearth of criticism for an event – no matter how nicely it is managed under the given circumstances, people are likely to overlook the effort put in, the uncertainty and difficulty that has to be dealt with at every step.

That being said, most of these events were organized on a non commercial basis, and hence they were a bit easier to handle. I am not experienced in organizing commercial events and that would be a totally different ball game with more stakes on the table.

Q. What are your top 3 priorities while organizing a marathon to help the runners have a great experience?

The top three priorities while organizing any race should be: a well defined (restricted or traffic-free) route with accurate distance measurements and kilometer markings; adequate hydration support through the route; proper precautionary measures in place for handling medical emergencies. With these three items taken care of, you’ll get happy runners. If you throw in ease of registration, good post-race breakfast and prompt intimation of results into the mix, that would be a cherry on top!

Q. What’re some upcoming marathons are you’re excited to participate in? 

A. In this current running season, I’m planning to run the IDBI Mumbai Half Marathon, The Vasai Virar Half Marathon, The Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon, The IDBI Delhi Full Marathon and the Kundalika River Half Marathon. It is an exciting season and I hope to enjoy myself in the above races.

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11. What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to our readers who are looking to start running or train for marathons? 

A. Runners can be classified into three distinct classes: the elites – who represent the state or the country, the amateur elites – who strive to top the amateur race categories & train rigorously to achieve their goal, and the third one – fitness-conscious runners, which is what  most of us (including me!) belong to. While I have completed a certification course in Marathon training, I do not feel qualified enough to dish out any advice to the first two groups of people. For the third category, my advice would be to run injury-free, concentrate on form, improve on your previous milestones, and most of all – enjoy being on the track!

For training, start slow and easy. If you hurry, you’d be risking an injury, which usually ends up putting off a lot of people – in which case you’ll miss out on something truly rewarding, so take your time on this one! Train safe and train sensibly. Avoid comparing yourself to other runner, since we are recreational runners and our main objective is to show up regularly, and maintain good health. Remember – the only competition you should be bothered about is the one you have against yourself.  Striving to be better and better each day, while exploring your physical and mental capabilities. Running does inculcate a sense of discipline, which is then extended to all other walks of life leading to an all round benefit. It is also a great way of meeting new people and making friends.

A 5K run four times a week and with two days of strength + core exercises is more than sufficient to stay fit. If you’re looking to try your hand at long-distance, my advise would be to increase the weekly mileage or the daily run-time by not more than 10 percent. Concentrate on the form, weight training and cross training, so that the monotony for the muscles is broken. The key is to be consistent. You can explore the internet for a beginner’s plan, and start. The less inclined can join a group of runners in their city, or find a coach. Happy Running!

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