Long-distance runner and author Amit Sheth says timing is of the essence, be it lunch or a marathon

Marathon running and a three course buffet make for strange bedfellows. But at The One in Le Meridien, businessman, author and long distance runner Amit Sheth demonstrates that the two are not so distinct after all. Both lend themselves to a certain letting go, but are best realised when passions are subdued.

In the city to speak at a promotional event for Delhi’s half-marathon next month, Amit, a 46-year-old Mumbai-based Gujarati businessman, details the comic origins of his not-so-old passion. “I started running just for fun at the age of 38. In my first marathon, I was probably the last person to finish and by the time I finished there were no people on the streets, no clock, no carpet.”

To gain control over his timings, Amit had to first control his diet. “It was very difficult initially,” he admits, to rein in on the glasses of wine before dinner and the bar of chocolate after. The problem of overeating is linked to not eating on time, especially for a businessman, he says. “A lot of businessmen ignore lunchtime because they are busy in one meeting or another. So around 3 o’clock they’ll eat an oversized lunch. If you skip meals your hunger will be immoderate.”

Amit pleads guilty to the same immoderation. “Last night I ordered room service. It wasn’t a runner’s ideal meal, but occasionally you have to live.” As punishment for this lapse, lunch has chosen Amit today, rather than the other way round. He eats a frugal vegetarian lunch comprising carrots, broccoli, cottage cheese and tortellini. Between spoonfuls, he reiterates the importance of moderation, this time by recalling wisdom gathered from a triathlete’s memoirs. “At any given meal, you should ideally eat two palmsful.”

While the substantial part of the last eight years has been devoted to running with a crowd, Amit occasionally steps back and motivates those reluctant to join in. “In our country, once you are past the age of 35 you stop doing everything. It need not be that way.” To battle this inertia, Amit wrote a book titled Dare to Run, a motivational memoir which also reflects on “the spiritual aspects of running, but in a way that is not preachy”. He is also enlisted frequently to speak at corporate offices, for both running and business operations are based on setting targets, and achieving or failing to achieve those targets, he suggests.

During marathons, Amit is often accompanied by his wife Neepa. “I started disappearing early in the mornings for my jogs, and returning home very happy. Naturally my wife got suspicious. So eventually she started accompanying me,” Amit explains. As the first Indian woman to run the Comrades Ultimate Marathon in South Africa in 2010 and the only woman pacer in the Mumbai marathon, Neepa is an accomplished runner in her own right.

The effects of this newfound discipline in Amit’s life go beyond wardrobe overhauls. Amit declares that at weekends when he is waking up to run, his friends are returning from a party. He would earlier be in those parties. “Sometimes they call me over for brunch at 2. I’ll die if I have to wait till 2 to eat. So you end up losing some friends. But you make new friends who are willing to eat dinner at 7.30 p.m.,” Amit says unsentimentally.

Returning to the topic of running, Amit refers to the gold spot during a marathon, where a runner feels reinvigorated and attempts, perhaps foolishly, to seize the moment. Is there a similar spot during a meal?

“We Gujaratis don’t wait for a gold spot,” Amit laughs, forgetful of his moderation speech from a little while back. Having lingered on his sparse lunch for some time, the Gujarati in Amit decides the meal must end like a marathon does — sweetly. In the absence of his favourite faluda, Amit makes peace with a chamcham.

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