Fitness and friendship on the run

Fitness and friendship on the run

They were living as strangers right under each other’s nose for years, and then a hobby brought them together

They were living as strangers right under each other’s nose for years, and then a hobby brought them together

The results are eye-popping. In fact, absurdly beyond expectations. To believe these two women would achieve those results, it would have taken the simple-mindedness of someone expecting a car with a three-cylinder, 800cc engine to accelerate to 100 km in less than three seconds.

Only that in Aditi Mukherjee’s case, a somewhat similarly unlikely “acceleration” was achieved — by the power of her feet. Born in 1980, not having run a stray metre before (“I never ran a day in my life”), Aditi put on her running clogs in 2019. Three years on, she is a marathoner, an ultramarathoner and a super-randonneur. Her friend, Bulbuli Swain, born in 1984, had her nose ahead of Aditi, having trained as a competitive boxer in her younger years.

But that advantage could not be encashed at the fitness counter, as a serious ligament tear on her right knee kept her out of the ring long ago, and subsequently marriage, family and career whisked her light years away from it.

When she started running in 2018, she was as good as a neophyte. Just like Aditi, Bulbuli is a marathoner; two ultramarathons old; a super-randonneur; and is learning to swim as best she can as she wants to participate in triathlons.

At the time of writing, Aditi and Bulbuli were travelling to Ooty to run in the fifth edition of OOTYULTRA — a 60k ultramarathon on April 3.

Now, let us step back to take in a larger picture:

K Harishankar, one of the founders of Chennai Runners, makes an observation about Coastal Runners that is unflattering and flattering at the same time. As a regular part of this ECR-focussed chapter of Chennai, he has his finger on its pulse.

The group is slack on attendance: only a few keep at it, sticking to the weekly routine. The vast majority follow a capricious personal schedule, turning up after a month, remarks Harishankar. “Sometimes, they drop off, and return after three months.”

However, the ones that are regular are freakishly committed to their running, and outrun expectations usually in short spans of time. While that applies to the whole group, Harishankar notes, it is strikingly true of four women runners — Rajapriya Sivakumar, Aditi Mukherjee, Bulbuli Swain and Saira Biju.

“These four women are very strong marathoners, out of which two are ultramarathoners (Bulbuli Swain and Aditi Mukherjee). They are going to do the Ladakh marathon very soon. Rajapriya Sivakumar has run many marathons across Europe, India, United States and Singapore. Saira Biju completed her first marathon at Chennai Runners’ annual run, organised this time at the Irungattukottai race track. Saira was not even dreaming of running a marathon. With these three women, she got on board,” explains Harishankar.

He believes that this strong team of four women can lead and inspire other women, and that their leadership skills are evident.

“Out of the four, two are coordinators of Coastal Runners. Rajapriya is one of those who started this chapter. Women tend to not come forward and take up running because they want other women to be there just for company, especially since it is early mornings. These four women will give other women considerable confidence to join.”

Saira, who is in her early forties, hints at how the friendship she shares with Aditi and Bulbuli has been the propelling force, helping her keep her running commitments.

“Running groups give one lifelong friendships. Aditi was living right opposite my building on Fourth Seward Road for seven to eight years without both of us being aware of each other’s existence. Bulbuli was living nearby. Now, if one of us does not feel up to putting on her running shoes, and wants to take a break, the other two would provide the motivation to get on to the road and start running. Now, it seems we run just to meet up with each other,” Saira elaborates.

Though Bulbuli was living “a three-minute walk away on Thiruvanmiyur Beach Road” for years, it took a running group for the trio to discover friendship.

They seem to be constantly providing each other with newer challenges. The fitness journeys of Bulbuli and Aditi follow a common course at best; and converge at worst.

They come across as “fitness twins”, with their fitness pursuits going much beyond garden-variety fitness.

“Bulbuli and I started cycling as we were doing duathlons too: because we want to do the Ironman sometime in our lives. We decided marathons were the way to go, because we were also cycling — heavy-duty cycling, you know, 200km, 300km, 400km and so on. We were also doing high speed races conducted by WCCG,” says Aditi.

Bulbuli reveals: “We are doing many other events in India: The season for cycling has started, and we are going on brevets. We have done multiple brevets, and we are still doing the brevets. Running is our core, and the idea of doing a triathlon got us into cycling. I am now practising swimming because I want to do a triathlon this October in Goa. In India, we have only two half-triathlon events: One in Goa, and the other in Konark, Odisha.”

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