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TCS World 10K Bengaluru: Getting started, getting running, getting fit with running expert Shayamal Vallabhjee

Vini Katyal
1.04K   //    06 May 2016, 13:10 IST


Shayamal Vallabhjee
Sports scientist and running expert Shayamal Vallabhjee

You talk about running as a sport in India, and there are more Indians slowly taking it up. But why is running not so popular or as welcomed as It is in western countries?

Contrary to popular belief, running isn’t a new, big sport in India. Its existed for more than three decades & some of our stalwart runners ran times that were comparable to the best in the world.

The running though has a seen a boom over the last ten years, with the number of running events in India having increased by 345%. Whilst other Western societies do have a more evolved running ecosystem, I believe that within the next 10 years, we will have more runners participating in the sport than any other country. With this will come the evolution towards excellence.

In terms of why it isn’t promoted as actively, I sincerely believe that the medical fraternity & orthopedic surgeons in particular have played their part in stunting the growth of the sport. At HEAL, I meet clients daily who were dissuaded from taking up the sport.

The lack of knowledge about the science of running amongst our doctors has contributed heavily to the poor stigma the sport has. Running as a sport isn’t the culprit & the sooner we realize this, the safer with sport will become because we will start actively working towards defining the safer parameters for participation.

You also mention that every child should be able to play his dream. How are you working towards this?

I’ve always believed that sport through the lessons it teaches, one has the power to change the moral fibre of a nation. Children who engage in sport learn the power of teamwork & discipline and are explicitly better equipped to handle pressure and bounce back from failure.

For these reasons, I’ve always promoted play amongst children. I’ve believed that it’s a child’s human right.


As a sports scientist, I’m actively advocating play by designing open source programs that teach foundational movement patterns to children. I also have a keen interest in talent identification & anti doping, a critical component of sport.

Lastly, I try to use my voice to bring awareness to the need for better playgrounds, facilities, infrastructure, coaching & selections procedures. Sport should also be an equal opportunity platform.

I’ve been blessed that through my work in sport I’ve visited more countries & towns than I can remember, not to mention have made friends of each of them. I guess I’m a living example of how sport can be the catalyst for opportunity - and I came from South Africa during an apartheid era. Imagine the power a free and fair system can yield.

Where do you see in the 124 countries table for the sport running and why?

Running is probably one of the oldest sports in the world, and definitely the sport with the largest participation presence. Its reach spans across genders and age barriers.

The best part about running is that is cheap & with the growing popularity of barefoot running, it's getting cheaper.

I’ve probably run in every one of those 124 countries. Its how I sightsee. But the amazing thing is that the culture of running exists everywhere - perhaps some less than others but it definitely existed.

For me, running has always been a form of meditation & I means of testing my upper limits. Truth be told, I think most runners either enter the sport to relax or challenge themselves. There is nowhere to hide. The work you put in & your results are directly proportional. It’s you & the road & when you cross that finish line, no one can take that away from you. You’ve earned that respect & accolade of being a marathoner.

Where do you see us in 10 years?

India in ten years will have the most active running population in the world. With the advent of technology, we may also be pioneering the next generation of research & technology that moves the sport forward. I’m already working closely with entrepreneurs whose vision on where the sport is going is beyond what the mind can conceive.

When I think of the next ten years - I’m so excited, Im like a kid in a candy store.

How easy it is for a child or an adult to take up running as a sport ?

Running is probably one of the most natural activities anyone can do. In fact as a child, the foundation of all play is based on the movement patterns in running. But as we get older, we seem to unlearn what came to us so naturally.

It’s actually quiet sad that running as a sport has been tainted by the perception that it is a dangerous activity. As a sports scientist, I can vouch for the fact that most injuries are related to poor conditioning & load management. If the same errors in loading were applied to others sporting activities, the risk of injury there would also be high if not higher. So to answer the question, it isn’t hard for anyone to start running again.

But I would advise individuals who are either obese, have cardiac conditions, above the age of 40 or have had a previous major injury or surgery to seek medical guidance prior to starting. For anyone starting, irrespective of their condition, they should monitor their training load, nutrition, sleep & hydration. Stick to the very basic principles of exercise science, and you will be well on your way to running your first half or full marathon injury free.

What are the typical mental blocks you find towards running?

When people start running, they become obsessed with pace & distance. They either constantly trying to get faster & run further or fear the fact that they not running as fast or far as others. It such negative downward spiral which is a tragedy because running as a sport is very meditative. If you embrace it & work within yourself, it can help you get stronger physically & mentally & unlock a treasure chest of creative thoughts.

To truly become a great runner, you have to do most of your mileage at around 55-65% of your maximum heart rate, which is very slow pace for most people. The secret is too try to achieve as much as you can with regards to pace & distance within this heart rate zone.

The problem is that people aren’t patient enough to work within this zone for the time that’s needed. Once you start running fast, it’s only a matter of time before you need to stop + you are in a different energy zone.

Running like anything in life requires a carefully thought out plan & the single minded focus to stick to it.

Breaking mental blocks

In all my years working with professional athletes, I have found the best method to stick to a plan is to dissect it down to simple steps that are easy to execute. When you break down your goals into simple, easy to hit targets, it’s easier to motivate yourself to achieve them.

This way you also trick the brain into thinking that achieving goals is easy, which builds confidence & discipline. Success and confidence are infectious. When you start achieving goals, the brain starts working harder to achieve more. Before long, you can create tough goals & the body will find a way to make then happen.

Can they be taught?

Yes. Follow the simple steps above and you should see some change.

What would be your daily routine say if you want to complete a full marathon and it is within a month?

If you haven’t trained or run a full marathon before & are looking to finish one within a month, you maybe in more trouble that your realize. Running a marathon is hard work & needs months of dedication & discipline.

A runner can start with an average weekly mileage of 20-25 km & increasing it by 10% weekly, build their way to a weekly mileage of 80-90 km per week. This should give you an indication of how many weeks you need to prepare for a marathon.

As a rule of thumb, You should be comfortably running 2-2,5 x the race distance in weekly mileage if you wish to complete a race with some ease.

If you are doing less than 80% of 2 x the race distance, you likelihood of injury is more than 40%.

Marathons are not easy work – but with committed, consistent effort, running one can become a reality.