Sunita Tummalapalli started running for fitness and today, she has several marathons and two ultra marathons to her credit

In the beginning, she ran for the ‘runner’s high’. Today, running is a way of life for Sunita Tummalapalli. With 13 marathons to her credit in the last three years, two of which were ultra marathons, Sunita wants to run one marathon a month all this year. “It seems like a crazy, daunting task but having run on different terrains in the last three years, I know what I’m doing,” Sunita tells us.

It’s hugely motivating when we learn Sunita started running at the age of 39. A mother of two sons aged 19 and 17, and a nine-year-old daughter, Sunita says marathons never crossed her mind before 2008. A Rebook certified fitness trainer, she ran as part of her fitness regimen for not more than five kilometres. “Once, I was part of a trekking expedition to the Everest base camp and there we came across marathon runners. I realised what a feat it is to be running at that high altitude where we could hardly breathe,” she recalls.

On returning to Hyderabad, she joined the Hyderabad Runners group. She took her time to gain speed and distance and attempted her first half marathon after three months. “All the strength training I did as a fitness trainer helped me develop strong core and back muscles. That helped,” she says.

Completing the half marathon gave her the confidence to think of a full marathon. “The transition from half to full marathon takes time. I trained for a year before I did my first full marathon in Auroville in 2010,” she says. The runner’s high she felt after the marathon prompted her to think of the next marathon. She completed marathons at Athens, Cincinnati and Paris among other runs.

There are marathons and there are ultra-marathons. Sunita took that step without delay. “Ever since I saw the marathon runners during the Everest trek, it was a dream to do the same. The first time I applied, I was told I wouldn’t be able to participate without prior experience in mountain running. After a lot of practice, I attempted the Everest marathon in 2011. That experience helped in running the ultra marathon Keplar Challenge (60km) in New Zealand,” she says.

Picture yourself running with the wind on your face on a narrow mountain ridge sloping downwards on both the sides. “I didn’t even have the comfort of leaning against the mountain like I did during the Everest run,” says Sunita. She ran on braving the windy weather conditions. “Those who ran after me faced worse winds; at one point, they had to go all fours.” The experience made her stronger and she confesses enjoying mountain runs more than road runs.

Now, she is focused on finishing 12 marathons this year. Having completed the Mumbai and Auroville marathons in January and February, Sunita will be participating in Corbett Marathon in March.

Meanwhile, she surprises us by disclosing she is a student of Kuchipudi at Deepika Reddy’s dance school. “I grew up in a small place near Kakinada where I didn’t have many opportunities. When I enrolled my daughter into the dance school, I thought why not learn dance myself. At this age, I am not looking at a stage performance but do it for the sheer joy of dance,” she smiles.

On the run

l For beginners, Sunita advises adopting a walk-jog-walk-jog strategy to enable the body to adapt to the change in physical activity.

l She dismisses the myth that running is bad for knees. “Running strengthens the knee muscles. Strength training helps one build muscles,” she says.

l Running makes one lead a healthy and disciplined lifestyle, says Sunita.

l She suggests an intake of a healthy diet of good carbs and proteins a couple of days prior to a marathon and a protein-rich diet after a marathon.

l Sunita co-founded the Helios fitness centre and is also a yoga instructor from Kapila Maharshi Research for Resources.