Interview: India's marathon man, Thomas Bobby Philip
One of the few people who can truly claim that title, ‘Bobby’, as he is known to friends and admirers, works full-time with a former cellular giant, and his name is iconic in India’s running circles.
This year, he made history by being the first ever Indian to run the iconic Boston Marathon barefoot.
Sportskeeda spoke to Bobby in an exclusive interview:
You mention that you started running in 2011. What made you start?
My passion for running was developed accidentally, to train my daughter for a school sports event in 2009. We ran together for around 10 days, and later she stopped, while I continued the sport. While purchasing shoes, I was introduced to the Nike Run club, where I met a number of inspiring runners.
I would struggle to run 1km without a break, while almost everyone could run long distances at a stretch. My initial target was to run my first 10K without a break, and I achieved that with over 2 months of training during the Sunfeast 10K run in May 2009.
Slowly, I increased my intensity for the 10K distances and progressed on the endurance. I ran my first half-marathon at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in 2010 and completed that in 1h52mins. The club helped me recognize the importance of strengthening workouts when training for running.
With guidance from experienced and matured runners, I began focusing on longer distance runs. This helped me finish my first full marathon, again at the SCMM, in 3hrs49mins. After the completion of every race, I would wonder if I could improve further.
But over the years, with multiple training methods and guidance from my coach, Kothandapani, I have successfully improved.
In April 2012, I took my first step towards barefoot running. This further helped me with my goal of improving my running form. But training for barefoot runs had its own challenges, and with a very patient transition, my first barefoot 10K run was successful. I continued increasing my barefoot distance until I could run a half-marathon, and finally ran the SCMM full marathon barefoot. I frequently bandaged my feet to prevent blisters. With my success, I am enthusiastic about and promote barefoot runs within the running community, and many have shared similar success stories with the barefoot transition.
If you were not a runner prior to then, how was the learning curve and the training process for you?
I dedicated 2009 primarily to gaining endurance. So I progressively built up mileage from 400m to around 20K. 2010 was to further build up my endurance, and I would train for longer distances, sometimes up to 40 kilometres. Since 2011, I started scientific training methods: Interval, Tempo & Hill runs.
Every run was started with proper warm-ups and completed with cool-down sessions. This ensured an injury free running experience. In 2012, the PaceMakers group was introduced led by my Mentor Kothandapani. This streamlined the complete training experience, with variations in Intervals, Fartlek (a Swedish street training method), Tempo and Hill workouts. Every workout was concluded with strengthening and stretching. This only made us stronger and fitter, making improvements across years a reality.
I run 3 days a week, with Tuesday for Interval workouts, Thursday for Tempo or Fartlek or Hill workouts and the long runs on Saturday. My long-run distance varies from 15k to 35k on a really good day.
February through May, I dedicate to a focus on Intensity workouts for the 10Km event. June to September see an increase in endurance workouts for half marathons, and the rest of the year is spent training for the full marathon – I usually participate in one of these each year.
2015 was an exception – I ran two this year, the Boston and Big Sur Full Marathon events.
You mentioned previously that you run with your daughter. Do you make this a family activity?
My wife and daughter do join me for few of the events – they enjoy the experience as well. Once a month, we do go for an easy jog or walk, and get to spend time with each other. They do not train with the intensity I do, however.
Do you think a special diet of any sort is necessary, and do you follow one?
Yes, I am very particular about what I eat. I ensure a good proportion of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in my meals, along with the required minerals. I start my morning with a coffee, and possibly a sandwich or banana before my workout. Post my workout, I eat a few raisins, almonds, walnuts and similar dry fruits, and a glass of milk with muesli.
For breakfast and lunch I eat chicken, fish for dinner and a large amount of fruit between meals.
How does one keep the commitment to running going? How do you keep momentum and motivation up, and how do you recommend other runners do the same?
I know and interact with a lot of inspiring runners to keep me constantly motivated, and challenge me to improve consistently. Also proper training methodology by start with warm-ups and finish with cool-down workouts, and including Strengthening workouts during non running days, ensures a healthy running regimen. This has ensured consistent improvement and gives me the momentum to continue with the attempt.
What advice would you give new runners who are looking to enter the sport?
Start easy, and enjoy the process of running. Have a companion, join a running group, or get trained by a fitness and running coach. This fitness has given many a new life, myself included. There are also wonderful friends to be made whilst training.
What are some essential bits of your daily routine that make sure you optimise your energy?
Since the past year, I have been focusing on strengthening workouts to keep myself healthy all-round.
When did you first start traveling for marathons?
There are a lot of prestigious half-marathon events across the country at almost every major city, and I plan my schedule to experience many of them. My full marathons have all only been at the Standard Charted Mumbai Marathon in India. This year, however, I ran my first international events at the Boston Marathon and Big Sur Marathon in California.
What's next on the cards for you?
I want to promote the concept of barefoot running across the country. At a personal level, I will continue to focus on training well for 10K events, which in turn will help me improve on marathon training.
If personal finances permit, I would love to participate and experience one international event each year.
What recommendations do you have for runners to avoid getting 'bored' with the sport and training? How can they keep their fitness and still keep it 'fun'?
Strength training is as important as a running workout. During the past month, I have been running only 2 days a week and have included a day swim in my workouts. So a variety of running, swimming and strength training not only helps my body, but keeps my workouts interesting and exciting too.
Training in groups makes it mutually competitive and hence adds to the fun. Make your training plans, training venue or running events varied. Make friends, and each one will continue to inspire you.
Who are some of your inspirations for fitness?
My inspirations have been my local running friends whom I get to see or run with regularly. My coach and many of my running buddies across various cities, are my inspirations. Each one has amazing stories to share, and I am inspired.
Lastly, who's on your running playlist and why?
None. I personally prefer not to listen to music during my runs, although several people do. I have a lot of conversations with myself instead.