The Give Life Marathon is less than a week away. But, the runners began training two months ago. At 5 a.m., we discover the runners' world

It's 5.30 a.m., and I'm at Marina beach in track pants. It seems like a good time to be supercilious. “Such discipline,” I think, as I stroll toward the beach mentally patting myself on the back. “Such virtue.”

Then, I bump into Fr. Jegath Gaspar Raj, who's just finished a 21-km run. “You should see the beach at 4.30 a.m., which is when I start,” he smiles. “It's really beautiful then.” There's a flurry of activity from the left, and Chennai's Mayor M. Subramanian emerges from a car. As it turns out, he's also in track pants. “I generally get up at 4 a.m.,” he says. “I go for a walk… do yoga.”

Meanwhile, the space in front of the beach begins to buzz with runners of all ages and stages of fitness. They stretch, they walk, they jog… Enviably well-toned sports trainers turn up to supervise the proceedings. And, a banner suddenly appears, advertising free training for anyone who wants to run the upcoming Chennai Marathon. For an intense training arena at the crack of dawn, the atmosphere's astonishingly joyful.

Apparently, my staggering out of bed at 5 a.m. is far from impressive in the world of marathon runners. Especially, this lot. They've been training for almost two months to prepare themselves for the 21-km marathon (which is more accurately a half-marathon), scheduled for August 29, which begins and ends at Anna Square. That's six days of training a week, involving stretching, workouts and running. The marathon's being organised to raise funds for Give Life Charity. But, from the looks of it, the runners are gaining as much from the experience as the children will.

Selvanayagam, who, at the age of 55, can outrun people half his age (he'll certainly leave me gasping in the mud if we have a race!) says he's been running for the last five years. “I just wanted to hit the road. Hit the beach. Be outside,” he says, talking of how he also participated in the last two Give Life Marathons. “It makes a big difference working with these trainers,” he says, discussing how they have improved his technique and endurance. “They tell you how to maximise the use of your lungs and heart, how to strengthen your knees…”

He also explains how running changes your life. “It gives you tremendous confidence; the mental conditioning to overcome obstacles. After completing 21 km, I feel like I can do anything. I'm no more afraid, no more nervous…” He adds: “Of course, health wise, it's the ultimate medicine. Provided, it's done scientifically.”

That's where the trainers come in. Fr. Gaspar, of Tamil Meiyam, one of the organisers of the run, says they drew up a programme that systematically helped runners build muscular endurance. The training was free, and available to anyone who signed up. The city still seems to be intimidated by long distance running, though, for only about 60 people turned up. On the bright side, none of them dropped out, and the number of participants increases every year. Once you try it, you're likely to get hooked.

And, the euphoric runner's high is hard to beat.

“We have people aged between 18 and 60 running the 21-km this year,” says Gaspar. “It brings people together. It's inclusive. And, it proves anyone can run.” He adds that over the last two years, 8,000 children have been sponsored by the Give Life marathon. “It creates that social space so people get connected. There's lots of corporate support. Last year we fought swine flu, the long weekend and rain — and still ran with 60,000 people. This full week we will be campaigning — ‘rain or sun, just come…' We expect many more people this year.”

If you haven't been training, he suggests you try the Great Chennai seven-km run. There will also be a wheel-chair run of 500 mt. “Walk, run… take it as a fun experience. You're doing it for the city.”

GIVING LIFE…

Give Life is a publicly owned and audited charity. It provides holistic educational support to deserving children, providing — besides fees, uniforms and books — everything from a nutritional porridge breakfast to career guidance.

It has extended educational sponsorship support to 14,600 children for the academic year 2008-2009, nearly 8,400 children in June 2009, and hopes to reach out to more than 25,000 children by June 2012. The allocation for one child for one year is Rs. 2.500.

To support the charity, or for details, log onto http://www.givelife.in/ or call, 24994344 / 24990201.

BEFORE YOU RUN, REMEMBER…

*Stay off your feet as much as possible prior to the race

*Continue to drink fluids up to 15 minutes before the start of the race

*Eat your final snack no more than 30 minutes before you start running

*Pace yourself. Start out slower than what you hope to average, and then run the middle miles at your chosen (hopefully realistic) pace. Finish, rather than start, aggressively.

*Focus on positive thinking. If you've trained properly, nothing will stop you from achieving your goal of finishing the marathon. Nothing, that is, except a lack of confidence and / or a negative attitude at the starting line or during the race.

(Courtesy — http://www.marathontraining.com)