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Rahul Mehta TCS

The Longest March

In the world of virtual marathons, TCSer Rahul Mehta fulfilled his dream of completing the 385km-long Dandi March Ultra Challenge

January 2022     |     876 words     |     3-minute read

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In, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi, in an act of Civil Disobedience, led his followers in a 390km-long march that lasted 24 days from March 12 to April 5 from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat to protest the salt tax. The Salt March or the Dandi March has come to be considered one of the most iconic moments in India’s struggle for independence. The stretch has now become a hub for ultramarathons and the Dandi March Ultra Challenge is held each year, with participants running, walking, or cycling the route that the Mahatma once tread.

Rahul Mehta, an employee with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), with his base location in Gandhinagar, had been dreaming about joining this ultra-run for years. However, taking the required 20-day break to participate in the event wasn’t an option for the associate consultant, who had to balance his passion for running with his job. The 2021 run, however, was a virtual one.

Marking 75 years since India’s independence, this year’s run could be completed from any part of the world so long as the participant logged in the required distance within the stipulated time. For Rahul, this was the golden opportunity he had been waiting for.

The (Mahatma's Dandi March) stretch has now become a hub for ultramarathons and the Dandi March Ultra Challenge is held each year, with participants running, walking, or cycling the route that the Mahatma once tread.

On a village road

Although he had gone home to Haryana during the lockdown, the marathoner had kept up with his training and had even completed the TCS New York City (NYC) Marathon 2020 in the virtual format. For this, he had run up and down a 3km stretch of road near his village, which is relatively free from traffic. Using the same tactic for the Dandi March Ultra Challenge, Rahul would run 15-16km each morning from 6.30am. This would take him around an hour to complete, post which he would return home and begin his workday. On weekends, he would run in the morning and evening. And at the end of 22 days of this rigorous regime, Rahul completed the 385km target.

“The first thing I did was upload my certificate on my WhatsApp status and send it to my Striders (fitness-training) group,” Rahul confesses, adding that he had been clocking in his hours every day as he ran. This gave him some much-needed virtual support as he ran down the stretch of empty road day after day.

A missing community

Marathons are as much about community as they are about the act of running. Fellow runners, volunteers and cheering supporters on the sidelines bolster the spirit and help runners push their limits. So, running a virtual marathon or ultramarathon with no real-time support was a challenge for Rahul.

He first realised this when he ran the virtual TCS NYC Marathon. To compensate for the lack of ground support in the form of first-aid stalls and stalls with food and water, Rahul kept his food and water supply in his scooter, which he parked at a parking spot near the road. He ran with a bottle of water and kept dates and chikki handy in case his blood sugar dropped from the long-distance running.

However, nothing could replace the support one gets from fellow runners or the crowd that helps one to keep going. What Rahul kept reminding himself throughout his first virtual marathon was that those who completed the 2020 marathon would get a chance to run the 2021 TCS NYC Marathon. Similarly, by repeating to himself that he may never again get a chance to complete the Dandi March Ultra Challenge, he kept up his commitment to finishing his daily average of 15-16km.

The other challenge he faced in the latter run was maintaining the stamina to continue running such long distances every day for an extended period. “The first four to five days were okay. But on the sixth day, I was really fatigued,” he recalls.

However, Rahul believes one can prevail when one perseveres. After a few more days of running, his body began to acclimatise, and he found it much easier to continue.

Post-Covid marathons

As a running enthusiast, who runs 10-15 half marathons a year since he began running in 2013, Rahul is now looking forward to getting back to running in the post-Covid world. While running in New York is a dream, he would like to get back to participating in multiple runs a year again.

Though the number of runs he participates in has dipped since the lockdown, Rahul has not given up on his fitness regimen. Before the lockdown, he would go for runs with the Striders three times a week, one of which was long distance. He continues to be a part of the TCS Fit4Life fitness events and practises yoga at home. When the harshest restrictions were lifted, Rahul continued to run, albeit on his own.

Fitness, Rahul believes, is the most vital aspect of life. “Health is everything,” he emphasises. “You can earn money, but you can’t enjoy that money if you don’t have health.” To those hesitant to begin their fitness journeys, the marathoner’s message is simple. Take the first step, start slow, and the rest will follow.

The author, Dyuti Basu, is a communication specialist with Tata Consultancy Services

Republished with permission from @TCS magazine

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