Runnnn...Not Race!

You Don't Need to Run Marathons to Run for Health


"If you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast (or slow), or how far (or short). It doesn't matter if today is your first day, or if you have been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run." 

John Bingham

I have been running for the last 18 years and these days clock between 90-120 km/month depending on whether it is raining or not. Each time the topic of running comes up in a conversation or at a party, the first thing I am asked is, “So you run marathons?” And I reply, “I run, but I don’t race.” Most don’t get it, so I elaborate, “I run 3-4 times a week, but I don’t participate in races or marathons.” That then leads to the “why”!

I used to run half-marathons and they are great fun. But they are also pointless. If the whole idea of running for health is to live long, healthy, given that running is perhaps the single best form of physical activity there is, then what is important is to run, without the pressure and stress of participating in races, which take a lot away from you, starting with your time. Sure, if running marathons or half-marathons is part of your life’s bucket-list, got for it, but, just as you don’t need to participate in body building competitions to do strength training, you also don’t need to take part in marathons to run for health. 

Atmasvasth is about balance. Sensible eating without idiotic diets and physical activity, without killing yourself. 

Most people who don’t run have many many questions. So here are the the questions and their answers.

Why should I run?

If you’re read or heard my piece on walking, just take all those benefits and multiply them by a factor of 1.5 or 2 and those are the running benefits. There is no better physical activity. Period!

How do I start?

“And yet in the end, it comes down to just one elemental issue. The simple act of running! Putting on a pair of shoes, with shorts or a track-suit and a T-shirt, without any fancy equipment, getting out into the open, either in a garden or sports track or on the road and pounding the ground, one foot after another, on and on, emptying your mind of all unnecessary thought, zen-like, focusing on just one goal; running.”

I wrote this many years ago during my time as a Mumbai Mirror columnist and the words still hold good.

The best thing to do is to just start. The couch to 5K method is a good way. Or you can make it even simpler. Start walking first. Then every 4 1/2 minutes,  run for 30 seconds for a week or two. Then when you are more comfortable, make it 4 minutes of walking and 1 minute of running, and then after a week or two more, perhaps 3 1/2 minutes of walking and 1 1/2 minutes of running, until you reach 1 minute of walking and 4 minutes of running. Doing this for a total of 30-35 minutes, 2-3 times a week is more than enough. And then once you are ready for a little more, increase the 30-35 minutes to 45-60 minutes, once a week, preferably over a weekend. The trick is to count time and not kilometers. And since the body also needs to rest, after each day of running, just walk or do yoga or light strength training. 

What do I need?

Shoes make a difference. So it is best to experiment, until you find the right pair. I have gone through so many different types, including the 5-finger Vibrams that I have lost count, but I currently use the Nike ZoomFly, which you can order directly on the website and they ship it from Singapore in 10 odd days. 


It is a good idea to invest in a sports-watch that allows you to leave your phone at home. More than anything else, the watch tracks the amount you’ve run and also helps you with timing, especially if you are trying the walk-run-walk-run method. 

If it is exceptionally hot and humid, you may need to carry a small water bottle, but if you are running only 30-60 minutes at a time, then you can do without one. Carrying a water bottle, whether on a belt or in your hand upsets your balance while running…and while these are very useful over longer runs, they are not really needed for shorter runs of 30-60 minutes.

What is the best way to run?

There is no “best” way. Some will swear by front-foot running, some by hind-foot, some will focus on breath-control, some will bother about their arm movements…it doesn’t matter. First start running. Once it becomes part of your daily routine, you can try different methods of running and figure out what works best for you.

Do I need a running trainer or coach?

No. Perhaps if you want to run a half-marathon or marathon, then one may help with a training schedule.

Isn’t running boring?

I listen to music when running, currently using my AirPods Pro. And now with an Apple watch, I don’t even have to carry my phone. It’s funny….I don’t listen to anything when walking, but I need the tempo when running. Many others prefer it the other way around…being within their own thoughts while running and catching up on calls and podcasts while walking. 

For those interested, here is my Spotify running and workout playlist.

Do I need to see a doctor before starting to run?

No. Unless you want to run a marathon. 

Should I join a running group?

I wouldn’t. I prefer to run solo. The whole idea is to be with yourself. 

But there are some advantages to running in groups, especially when it comes to motivation and some hand-holding, so if that works for you…go for it. 

The important thing is to run…whatever gets you to do that.

Today is my run day, but I just don’t feel like it

Wear your shoes and running clothes. Go out. Start walking, if you do nothing else. Usually, once you start walking, after some time, you may feel like running a bit…but even if you don’t, at least you walked…

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Where do I run?

Anywhere outdoors. Gardens, roads, tracks. I run in and around Matunga on all kinds of roads. The smoother the concrete road, the better. Paver stone tracks and paved roads are the worst, because their unevenness can upset your balance. 

If you have access to a beach, then there is no better feeling than running along the edge of the water on the hard sand, barefoot. 

When do I run?

In hot weather and in countries more towards the Equator, running times are restricted to the periods around dawn and dusk, otherwise it just gets too hot. Around dawn in the mornings is better than the evenings, if you are using public roads, simply because there is much less traffic. If you are in a garden or on a track, then it doesn’t matter. It is best to check the sunrise time and then leave 20 minutes prior at first light, or even earlier, if the street-lighting is good. 

In more temperate and colder countries, it really doesn’t matter. I have  even run at noon with the sun overhead in Chicago, New York and other similar cities, with temperatures between 15 to 20 degrees Celsius…which would be unthinkable in a city like Mumbai.

What about treadmills?

Treadmills are unnatural, but necessary evils. If it is raining or you are in a hotel situated in a place where the roads are bad, then a treadmill is still better than nothing.

Doesn’t running mess up the knees and cause injuries?

Knee injury is a myth unless you already have a pre-existing injury. Quite a few studies have shown that as long as you don’t overdo it and listen to your body and stop if anything pains, there is no additional risk to the knees or any other part of the body. And whether you run on mud or concrete doesn’t matter. What matters is that the track should be even, without potholes. 

I am traveling….

This is the one excuse that most people come up with. “I started running, but then I went on a holiday…or I started traveling for work…and my schedules all got messed up, and now I find it difficult to restart”. 

You should carry your running clothes and shoes with you. Everywhere. I run wherever I go…once I land, I check with the hotel concierge or my local host, where the good running or walking spots are and take off in the morning. It is also a good way to experience the city or town. And if you are wary about running in a new city, then walk.

Use Google Maps to find the blues (water bodies, lakes, etc) and greens (gardens, parks, forest trails, etc) to guide you.

What about dogs…

What can I say! They are my biggest problem. They are territorial and on smaller, inside roads, can scare the hell out of you by barking and coming after you and chasing you down. When I come across a dog I have not seen before (and yes I try and remember them), I just stop 50-100 meters away and walk…past the dog and a little beyond and then re-start the run. I have dog stories that I can go on and on about.

Do I need to stretch before and after? Warm-ups?

Not really, unless you are training for a marathon and planning long runs. A brisk 2-3 minutes walk before staring the run, is a good enough warm-up. What I do is to run the first 500 meters at a slower pace and that’s that. I don’t do any cool-downs…they are not needed, but if you feel good about them, that’s also fine.

In short…run. 30-45 minutes, 3-4 times a week, with one slightly longer run on the weekend. You don’t have to make it complicated or bother about marathons or half marathons, nor do you have to overthink the process. To live long, healthy…just…run!

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