Early this year, 49-year-old Stefaan Engels succeeded in his Guinness attempt of 365 marathons in 365 days. Around the same time, 42-year-old Neville J. Bilimoria was midway through achieving a personal record: 12 marathons in 12 months. While setting himself this target, Neville, a Chennai-based businessman, was oblivious to the Beglian's endurance feat.
Neville has overshot his goal and done 14 marathons in 14 months. Not in a mood to stop, he plans to take on more gruelling challenges, including a dawn-to-dusk and a 24-hour non-stop run.
When he took to long-distance running, Stefaan, diagnosed with asthma at an early age, was clearly defying his doctors' advice to shun activity that would place great demands on his lungs. On an almost parallel vein, Neville was being defiant of his friends' warning. “I was accustomed to hearing them say that the body can't take more than four or five marathons a year.”
Having bid adieu to competitive rowing, Neville wanted to replace it with an activity that would translate into health benefits. That's how he took to running. “I took it up for fitness in February 2010. Joining ‘Chennai Runners' motivated me to train for marathons,” recalls Neville. “I took only bite-sized challenges and gradually increased the running distances. In a few months, I was equipped to run full marathons.”
His pursuit of 12-in-12 glory began on August 24, 2010, with the Chennai MARG Half Marathon. Except for three, all the runs have been full or ultra marathons. He has run in marathons across the world, including the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon (January 21, 2011) the Sundown Night Marathon at Singapore (May 30, 2011), the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon (June 26, 2011), the San Francisco Marathon (July 31, 2011) and the Colombo Marathon at Negombo (October 2, 2011).
In all the 14 events, Neville went the distance. After every run, he trains harder to improve his performance. He keeps a careful record of his timings and ranking. He considers his performance in the 42.19-km Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon — where he clocked 03:52:03 and finished with an overall rank of 45 and a category rank of 28 — his personal best.
He singles out the Colombo Marathon as the most uphill run. “A trail marathon, it led to frequent confusion. A girl running in the marathon was hit by an auto driver. When I tried to help her, I was hit by another motorist — this was at the 29th kilometre. It was clear that I would end up in an ambulance. Another injured girl had to accommodated in the ambulance, and there was no room for me. As a result, I had to continue running despite a bad injury. On hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise.”
Running a 15-year-old enterprise that performs permanent residency visa-processing for a few Western countries, Neville has to find time for his marathons and training. “From January to November this year, I have run 2,400 kilometres. In addition, I cross-train intensely with my Ducati and Bianchi bicycles. Friends ask me if it is worth all this trouble,” he says.
Neville has no doubts plaguing his mind. Through the runs he promoted the ideals of Round Table India (he is the honorary tabler of MCRT 94). The dawn-to-dusk and 24-hour non-stop runs — planned for 2012 — will try to leverage the humanitarian work being undertaken by the organisation.
“Training for the marathons has made me extremely fit. My resting heart rate is 60 bpm. Fit after forty is how I put it,” explains Neville. “More important, I have inspired others to run to keep fit. In the MARG Chennai Runners Half Marathon at IIT — on November 6, 2011 — 16 of my friends ran in a marathon for the first time — this includes my wife Kamini.”