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"Run because you love the sport, don't get fixated on times" - learning the sport from marathon pacer Naina Mansukhani

Group exercise, diet and some valuable lessons on how to learn to love exercise.

Naina Mansukhani runner
Naina Mansukhani is a Nike+ Run Club pacer and helps marathoners keep their speed

Naina Mansukhani is a pacer with the Nike+ Run Club and helps runners keep up the pace. It may sound like a fairly straightforward job, but it involves far more than people realise, as we learned when we spoke to her.

How did her tryst with running start? It was through school, and quite incidental. “I began running when I was 10 years old. I was actually pushed into running a cross country run by my house captain because our house team was short on runners,” she says.

“I went for my very first run and I did fairly well, but what was truly motivating was the vibe; everyone was so encouraging, cheering each other and having such a lovely time; the icing on the cake was the gorgeous view of the sun rising from between the mountains.”

That marked the beginning of an enduring relationship. “After that, I ran every single day. The school coach began training me and eventually I set and broke many school records and represented my school, the district, the city and the state. I've stuck with the sport since. I've ran races in college even after I got into law school. I run to this day and enjoy every minute of it.”

There are some difficult parts, however. “Getting out of the bed in the early mornings is the toughest part, though!” she muses.

“Running is a part of me. It sets my day right, I enjoy it so much. The secret is to have fun! When I came to Mumbai from boarding school my coach Savio trained me at Priyadarshi Park and he never let me focus too much on the time taken by me to complete my run.”

There’s an important thing to be learned here. Many runners obsess over their times and improving them, and while they’re important, they aren’t the be-all and end-all of running – the important thing is to enjoy the activity.

“My coach taught me a very valuable lesson,” Mansukhani says. “...we run because it's fun and we love the sport, it's not always about getting fixated with time. When you enjoy your run you automatically get better as a runner.”

It’s also important to have support. “My coach, mother and friends motivate me the most. I do have some bad days where I feel like missing my run, but I have a great set of runner friends and a great coach, they never quit on me. They make sure I'm there.”

As a pacer, Mansukhani says, there is twice the accocuntability involved. “Being a pacer means that you have a responsibility towards the runners. We not only ensure that they finish on time but, we also protect their well-being throughout the run. To be able to guide them, I make sure that I work out and run consistently.”

The job also has a positive impact on Mansukhani’s own routine, fitness and life.

“I believe that, you lead by example, I make it a point to have a lot of fun when I'm running and runners do feel the positivity. I'm always cheering them through the run and we have the best time. I am now friends with a considerable number of runners who I have paced for. They all have such interesting stories about how running has touched their hearts and in turn I am also inspired.”

And with great running power, comes great responsibility.

“My key duty as a pacer is the wellbeing of the runners. I have the responsibility to make them finish on time and I also have to make sure that they finish well, without any problems or discomfort. The key duty is to never leave a runner behind,” Mansukhani avers.

The most exciting part about being a pacer is what it entails. Being a pacer means you have to be fit, motivating, inspiring, cheerful, emphatic, you have to be a good runner and be really fun. To me it’s exciting to have such duties.

“I've always loved Nike. I bought their products well before my association with them. Now I love the brand for so many more reasons, and it's exciting to pace for them because they are very considerate of us and always have some creative and fun running events coming up.”

What’s a pacer's routine like? Mansukhani is extremely disciplined herself, and keeps a regimented schedule.

“Right now, in the summers I run three times a week, hit the gym three times a week and swim three times a week. I enjoy Zumba so I incorporate it in my routine. My long runs are on Sundays and on other days I run from between 6-7kms each day. In winter the running increases, I run 5 times a week and hit the gym four times a week. My diet is spectacular and that helps me stay fit.”

And finally, she stresses on the importance of running groups

Having a run club is a great way to get people involved in running. You become friends with people of the same wavelength and runners are always encouraging each other.

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