It’s too bad the highest it gets is Kargil and the ocean lies beyond Kanyakumari, for if you let 43-year-old ultra marathoner Arun Bhardwaj, he will keep running. Arun, a resident of Dwarka, was in the Capital on Monday for a brief meet-and-greet with his family and friends, after braving icy winds and high altitudes in Kargil on way to the southernmost tip of India on the Boost Stamina Run.
It all really began when Adhiraj Singh, founder of Kolkata-based ‘The Sports Agency’, spotted a plaque on the side of the road in Jammu & Kashmir which read ‘From Kargil to Kanyakumari, India is one’, and Arun, known to him for several years, was the best person to execute the run and promote oneness in the country.
“The run was planned for October 1, sponsors were on board and vehicles were borrowed from friends and families,” says Adhiraj, adding that his own family, which is in the offloading business, lent two jeeps for the big run.
With a ten-member support staff on board, the run began in Kargil, and followed the path through Leh since it was “more difficult and picturesque”. Yet the last 21 days have not been incident-free. “We had a huge crisis in Tanglang La when one of our vehicles broke down after the engine was damaged by frozen water,” says Adhiraj, “Yet we made sure Arun’s run was not disrupted. Whatever happens because of our bad luck should not affect his run.” With Arun consuming close to 12 litres of water per day, the team made sure the supplies were accessible every few kilometres.
For his part, Arun maintained a steady speed so he could knock off as much distance of the 3,000-odd km he had to run so as to reach his destination within 60 days. “I had some difficulties at the high altitudes due to the terrain and the lack of oxygen. I would start panting after 10 km. Yet I maintained a target of 50 km per day,” smiles Arun, as if it was a walk in the park. “Otherwise I have been maintaining a target of 70 km per day. Yesterday I clocked 83 km which was my personal best so far.”
The response at many places has varied from awe to “Why is he doing this? Is he mad?” but Arun has successfully motivated several school children he has interacted to take up running. “My interaction with students has been very good as we have spoken about what diet to follow, fitness regimes and so on. It also motivates them when they see someone completing such a task,” he says, about a sport he himself took up as a way of inspiring his children. “I wanted my children to take up running and I thought what better way to motivate them than to do it myself,” says Arun about an activity which he took up in 2000 and has provided him with the opportunity to visit several countries. “Even though the running culture has picked up in India, at this point in time, I will not say ample sponsorship is available,” he says, justifying why it is not a viable option for his children to take it up full-time.
However, encouragement and opportunities have been ample in Arun’s life with even his employer, the Planning Commission, supporting him in taking time off to train and travel.
“My next mission will be to run from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat followed by traversing the Golden Quadrilateral,” says Arun.
When Arun reaches Kanyakumari at November-end, it will not just be his victory but for the entire team including Sahil Sen, Prerna Agarwal, Deepam Kohli and Hero Sen who have slept in gurdwaras, camped out in the open and recorded and updated his movements on social-networking sites. “We have all taken turns to run with him every now and then,” says 25-year-old Sahil, who was busy clicking pictures of Arun as he interacted with the crowd with the majestic India Gate in the background.