We are fully justified in calling Ashis Roy the marathon man of India. There are quite a few candidates for that honour; Fauja Singh, for one, comes to mind. As do Arun Bhardwaj and Savio D’Souza. But Fauja hasn’t run many marathons in India, Arun Bhardwaj is more of an Ultramarathon runner, and Savio D’Souza doesn’t run that many marathons these days. Dr. Ashis Roy on the other hand, has run 114 marathons in total and 31 marathons in India. That’s 1308 kilometres of marathons he’s run in India.
Fauja Singh started running marathons after he turned 80. Ashis Roy has had a bit of a head start over him as he ran his first marathon at the age of 52 and by the time he was 75, he had finished 82 marathons. His running track record is a national record for men in India. His first marathon was in 1985 and he ran his 100th marathon in 2010. Now at the ripe old age of 80, he has run his 114th marathon in Gurgaon today.
One nagging complaint a long distance runner faces from the family is, “Your legs will wear out. When you get old you will need a wheelchair when your spindly legs are reduced to dead ornaments.” There’s no better comeback to that then to point at marathon men like Ashis Roy. He had a spinal injury a year ago and underwent a spinal surgery to fix nails in his last two vertebrae.
“I have had osteoarthritis in my right knee for over eight years. Despite my injury and my physical problems, I still ran. I had to literally drag my right knee in the second half of today’s race and it got very difficult. I almost had tears in my eyes but did not want to abandon it. I had been improving my timings until last year when I had my surgery.”
Being a doctor who served as a cardiologist with the Air Force for 21 years, this man knows what he is putting his body through. He is the oldest active international sportsman in India. He has run marathons in around 20 countries apart from India and runs around five marathons every year.
“In my college days, I was a long distance runner. And I joined the armed forces, to fulfil my ambition to represent India in long distance running. But gradually due to work pressure, the ambition died. After I retired in 1978 as a wing commander, I settled into private practice. But from January 1983, I started running just as a physical exercise to reduce my weight. The following year, Delhi hosted the first Rath Marathon and it was my first taste of competition. I had to struggle to complete the race and I took more than four hours to cross the finish line.”
He runs 12 kilometres daily, and 18 kilometres on Sundays. In winter, he makes it around 22 kilometres on Sundays. He bemoans that Indians aren’t very hard working when it comes to running long distances or organizing long distance runs.
“Here, people organise marathons just for minting money but overseas it is a community affair. Everywhere in Europe and at some places in the US, it is a community affair and everyone who completes the race is presented a medal. But in India, it is a sorry affair,” said Roy.
Indeed it is. The Airtel Kolkata Marathon in 2010 only gave out certificates to those who finished in 3:30. For context, out of the 1800 runners in the Mumbai marathon in 2012, only about a 100 finished under 3 .5 hours. And the Amity Half Marathon in Kolkata is actually a One Sixth Marathon, being only 7kms long, but it continues to call itself a half marathon. Dr. Roy feels that our nation is predominately full of people who don’t want to work hard enough to run marathons and thus are besieged with diabetes and heart diseases.
In 1987, Dr. Ashis Roy ran a marathon in 3 hours 10 minutes. For context, Lance Armstrong ran his first marathon in 3 hours. Age is just a number.
“Anybody can run any time at any age.”- Ashis Roy. Our salutes to the man who is showing our nation just that. He has no plans to stop running any time soon.
Here’s an video of him, including an interview: