OFF BEAT Dream Runners is a neighbourhood effort to stay fit. Prince Frederick finds out what inspires its members to run their daily miles

The Swaminathans are living their dream. Depressed about being overweight and unfit, they longed for hourglass figures and good health more than anything else. That’s when they discovered Dream Runners, a close-knit neighbourhood group that coaxes and, if necessary, bullies its members into following a strict running schedule. This informal group, which is made up of residents from areas proximal to the Elliot’s Beach, such as Besant Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur and Adyar, has produced many happy scripts and the Swaminathans’ reads like a fairytale.

“Through running and diet control, my wife Viji shed 27 kilos in a year. She is 63 kg, fit and off her blood pressure tablets. One of our daughters, Keerthana has lost over 25 kilos. After she began to run daily, she got better at her studies — this underlined the mind-body connection vividly for us. In her XII Std exams, she scored 91 per cent. Besides managing my weight, I have succeeded in keeping my sugar levels under control,” says S. Swaminathan, CEO of Woodpecker Furniture. “But for Dream Runners, we would not have come this far.”

The group derives much of its charm from two factors: all the runners are on back-slapping terms with one another and entire families are part of the group. “The daily runs enable us to connect with our friends as well as spend quality time with our families,” adds Swaminathan.

Members believe the group which was started on a whim four years ago by a bunch of fitness fanatics has managed to stand the test of time. It began as a neighbourhood initiative and has stayed within the neighbourhood it was launched to serve. “When a group grows unwieldy, the sense of community is lost. Dream Runners has grown from strength to strength, because it has stayed small enabling everyone to know everybody else. First and foremost, we are friends and that realisation drives all interactions. You can’t say ‘no’ to a friend, when he calls you to join the daily run out of concern for your health,” says Dinesh Victor, CEO of SIP Academy.

Viji Swaminathan explains how slackers are dealt with. When the calls are not returned, a battalion goes and knocks on their doors and takes them ‘captive’ to the road. The regular runs that begin at 5 a.m. are centered around the Elliot’s Beach, the KFI and Gandhi Nagar. The group follows a weekly running schedule.

Radha Rangaraj, relates how excuses are not tolerated. She says, “Most women in the group take care of elders and this can be a good excuse for staying away from the runs. When you offer this excuse, some woman will certainly tell you how she has managed to run daily despite a similar situation at her home.”

That’s the advantage of having a group governed by a sense of informality and camaraderie. We don’t want Dream Runners to grow bigger, but want it to inspire other neighbourhoods to start their own groups.”

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Dream Runners though originally meant to motivate fitness freaks has produced avid marathoners too. The group — which has around 35 members — has runners who constantly push themselves to a higher level. From taking part in marathons in Chennai and other parts of the country, they are working towards staging their first public half-marathon event.

The Dream Runners Half Marathon 2012 is scheduled for July 15. Deepak Bhaskaran, an IT consultant who found his way to fitness through this group following a bone-crunching accident, says the running loop covers Besant Nagar and nearby areas as a tribute to the people who have kept this initiative going for four years. While this run — which has an entry fee — is open to all, the running route is aimed at highlighting its local moorings. “Necessary permissions are being sought for the half marathon (21.1 km) and a 10 km run,” says Deepak. “Around 300 runners are expected to participate.”

Shahul Hameed, a CEO of a software firm, says, “Even runners from Bangalore have registered.”

Certificates, medals and finisher T-shirts are in store for the runners. Registration is open until July 8 at dreamrunners.in