"My domestic help inspired me to start running seriously": In conversation with marathon pacer Pooja Shah
"If my maid can make time in her schedule as a single mother, so can I."
Pooja Shah was always fond of exercise, but work left her with no free time to do so.
She found inspiration from unexpected quarters.
“I have always enjoyed physical activities and was into yoga and dancing on and off. However, this took a back seat after I started working and hardly had any free time. I really wanted to do something but wasn’t really moving. During this time, we had hired a new domestic helper. We learnt that she was a karate trainer and marathoner but was financially weak, a single mother and did small jobs like these to support her family and her passion.”
It was her attitude that rubbed off on Shah, and she took the decision to pursue her own aspirations too. “Her positivity and zeal was contagious,” she says, “and I decided to start running with her.”
After that there was no looking back.
“She could manage all her work, family responsibilities and ensured she had enough time to do what makes her happy and I thought to myself, if she could do it, so can I. It’s funny how inspiration comes from the most unlikely places and people, hits you right when you least expect it and changes you as a person.”
Shah has had a relatively recent introduction to the world of running.
“I’ve been running only since October 2015,” she says.
“While it is very new and exciting for me, it has become a very important part of my life. It brings in the feel good factor and I am a happier person than I used to be. I was always on the underweight side, was never that fit. However now, seeing that change in myself and my body is so rewarding, it’s addictive.”
“Also, I am celebrating my firsts. Be it the first half marathon, first 25k, completing my first 150 km in a month and so on! I set monthly targets based on pace and distance, so I’m usually chasing that.”
Pacing helps significantly in fitness, Pooja says. But it’s also a job with a lot of responsibility.
“Another thing that really helps me is discussing our training and daily runs with fellow pacers and runners I know. (In person and on Twitter – we are constantly sharing our runs and that it motivates each other to continue).”
I am inspired by my two mentors, Sebastian D’souza and Manoj Rane, senior NRC pacers who have helped me a lot. And of course, they both are fantastic runners! I wish to be like them, having them around and to get trained by them keeps me going!
“Besides that, being a pacer means shouldering a lot of responsibility. We lead a group of good 6-10 people who look up to us. We cannot run halfway and feel it’s a bad day or we’re not feeling it – we need to keep moving & motivating others, at the same time maintain the set pace for the day.”
The love and respect I get from them feels out of the world! It’s so rewarding when they tell us how we have helped and inspired them. Given this opportunity, I want to ensure I am doing it right.“
Shah is the most junior of all the pacers, at least chronologically.
“ Out of all the pacers, I guess I am the youngest one. Not by age but the time I’ve been running for. It’s been only 8 months so I keep motivating myself to do better every time for the poeple I am pacing. I put in a lot of effort before and after the Nike Run Club sessions, and work out 6 times a week.”
I’m always excited to be there, trying to get better every day and so are the runners. We have had people walking in who have never run before and then there are runners who can’t wait to get faster. They all come in with a lot of enthusiasm and it helps us pacers at times as well.” She also talks about developing friendships, and how that contributes to the runs. “We have great conversations and a fun time running together and sharing experiences.”
Elucidating what exactly it is that a pacer does, Shah tells us, “Our primary role is to lead the runners on an agreed pace. We ensure we’re a close knit group, moving well in the correct form and posture and complete the run strong. But it isn’t perfect as we would like it to be.” But roles go beyond just helping them do that.
“We need to ensure they are motivated to keep moving even after the initial kilometers so that no one lacks behind. At times some runners can’t keep up so we let them join the next group that has an easier pace. Besides that, many runners seek guidance on daily running plans, eating habits. And we’re there to advise them.”
And it’s a contributor to self-esteem!
“The most exciting part of this,” Shah says, “is to meet new runners every day, run and practice at a totally different pace in every session and the kind of love we get from the runners makes it all worth it! It makes you feel so good about yourself.”
A typical week for Shah looks like this:
Monday – Yoga + Rest
Tuesday – Yoga + Recovery Run (up to 6k )
Wednesday – NRC Home Run (5 to 9 K) + Strength Training
Thursday – Yoga + Tempo Run (6k )
Friday – Yoga + Cross Training (cycling) or rest
Saturday – NRC Interval training/Speed workout (5 – 10 km)
Sunday – Long run day (15 to 21 km)
If you’re not particularly a fan of running, or find it easy, it isn’t over. Motivation can be found easily.
“I guess a runner motivates non-runners and occasional runners to be more regular,” Shah says. “Knowing someone personally who runs can easily influence their peers to also get involved with this sport. That’s how I started and a number of my friends – and my boyfriend’s mother started running exactly like that.”
“Sports brands are doing their bit to push the running culture in the country and at the same time the number of events have increased. There are races that start from 3 km to a full marathon. Participating in your first race, running around thousands of people and that certificate or medal you earn probably pushes one to keep running.”
“I am so glad that running has picked up so well recently and it’s becoming a trend,” she concludes, saying that she is hopeful for the future of the sport.