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Updated: May 8, 2014 17:26 IST

Never too old, never too late

Preeti Aghalayam
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Women participants at MIOT Hospital's Pinkathon. Photo: V. Ganesan
The Hindu
Women participants at MIOT Hospital's Pinkathon. Photo: V. Ganesan

The Chennai Runners accept no excuses. You can be young or old. Supremely fit, or barely able to lace your shoes. Be good at marathons or prefer sprints. They just want you on the road, running with them. In this column, they guide us through the basics.

The Chennai Runners accept no excuses. You can be young or old. Supremely fit, or barely able to lace your shoes. Be good at marathons or prefer sprints. They just want you on the road, running with them. In this column, they guide us through the basics.

Spas offered discounted rates; restaurants marked down the price of meals and sales in stores were advertised city-wide on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8. But we found ourselves in Velachery — a burgeoning suburb where giant malls and T. Nagar-like stores have exploded alongside a lake. “What’s going on?” asked innocent bystanders as we pounded the road running, in bright orange Chennai Runners T-shirts and white Westin hats. “Westin Women’s Day Run” we yelled as we passed them.

It was the most satisfying way to celebrate empowerment — for in many ways that is what it is. A woman, running on the roads of Chennai, halting trucks with one hand and adjusting her watch with the other, is fast becoming a common sight. Forty women, with determined looks on their faces, running 5 km together early on a Saturday in Velachery; and 40 others, running in nearby Porur — this type of celebration is now par for the course in Chennai.

As a woman, there is invariably an invisible barrier that stops us from signing up for, what at first glance seems like absolute madness. Meeting in the dark on a random road at 5 a.m.? Running with a group of (mostly) men we don’t know? A run to celebrate an anniversary? A run to create awareness? A road race? It all sounds crazy and doubly so if you are a woman.

Perhaps this is where being in Chennai makes a huge difference. The Chennai Runners are accomplished runners, but they will smilingly, slow down, encourage a beginner, and patiently answer questions. They understand that you may be hesitant to run faster or longer, they appreciate that you may have your inhibitions. And they welcome women runners into their fold.

Although women are still a small fraction of runners on the roads today, the numbers have definitely swelled over the years. In 2009, when we called a ‘Girls Only’ run, it turned out to be a group of eight. Last week, the Anna University track was filled with women runners — beginners all (to avoid over-crowding we sent the regular running community on a different route). The various chapters of Chennai Runners — spread all over the city — now have a large number of women of all ages joining, and even leading various training runs. At any local running-related event today, women participants are a strong force.

With all this ‘buzz’ and highlight on women runners, perhaps it was only fitting that the biggest women’s running event of the country, the Pinkathon (founded by actor-super model Milind Soman), made such as splash here. The event saw an unprecedented 6,500 registrants.

Many of us have taken our first steps into fitness because of the simplicity and beauty of running; because it requires no ‘equipment’ or even special talent. The feeling when you pose for photos, with a running bib and finisher medal, even that slight soreness of the limbs that is more pleasure than pain…are indescribable. We invite the women of Chennai to embrace this sport, and to join us in our not-so-secret route to happiness.

The author is a Chennai Runner. She was also one of the city ambassadors for Pinkathon Chennai, organising member of The Wipro Chennai Marathon, and Associate Professor, IIT- Madras. Find her at the Facebook group ‘chennairunners’.

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