Issue :   
January 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       January 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:January' 2018


Tryst with marathon !

Purnima Sharma

North Pole camp Barneo With more than 101 marathons to his credit, Ram G n a n a d e s i k a n ' s tryst with running started more than 16 years ago.
And then, two years later, on Christmas Eve, after hearing about his little friend, five-year-old Alexandra Flowe, suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia, the US-based runner, who is originally from Chennai, made a vow that he'd run over a hundred marathons in his lifetime if she emerges from this disease unscathed. Flowe did -- and turned 20 years old last November.
Although not into superstition, Gnanadesikan is happy that because of this little girl, marathons -- a sport that offers a "great mind-body-spirit connection and brings about a great sense of community" -- have become an integral part of his life. A chat with Gnanadesikan who has run in all the continents -- except Antarctica -- on what marathons mean to him, and his work for social causes he has since been engaged with...
Q: Marathon running is generally portrayed as a rather glamorous sport. What's the real picture?
A: Marathon running is an amazing sport and the story of legendary Greek runner Pheidippides inspired the modern sporting event. A number of 'elite' marathoners participate in this modern sporting event and their goal is to win the event. They log a lot of training miles and have a vigorous training program. Their success brings them sponsorship deals from various companies and also other opportunities like representing their countries in the Olympics and such. There is also a group of slow runners that are simply interested in finishing the event and they are happy to get their finisher's medals. The concept of runners raising money for several charity organizations while going through marathon training has also become a phenomenon these days. I get goosebumps every time I cross the marathon finish line and it is a great feeling of accomplishment. No other sport has the same 'Mind-Body-Spirit' connection and running brings a sense of community. I am always amazed at the generosity and the support the running community offers. Being in a corral, waiting to start the event, always brings both a buzz and a sense of serenity. Everyone has their reasons for running and yet we all stand shoulder to shoulder in the same place.

North Pole marathon finish Q: How did it all begin for you?
A : Running came to me as a sort of calling one day. I co-founded Marrow Minded with some friends in 1998 to register minority donors, especially Asians on the US National Bone Marrow Registry.
I decided to run my first marathon when my friend Seema Chauhan, who was also the chairperson of MarrowMinded, died of Leukemia in February 2002. I wanted to do some thing to celebrate my friend's legacy. I have never run more than a mile before I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon in June 2002. I attended the marathon training program conducted by Team in Training, a division of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Coach Kevin Williams was my first coach and he recommended the run-walk marathon training program to me. Participants of the marathon training program would continue repeating certain intervals of the run-walk ratio during the entire duration of our weekly long runs. I chose a runwalk ratio of 5:2, each five-minute run interval was followed by a twominute walk interval. I would try jogging/running for a few miles in the first few weeks of my training and slowly built my training with help from our coaches.
The training began with three miles on our first Saturday team run and after a 16-week training program, we were able to run 20 miles, three weeks prior to the official marathon day. I enjoyed the experience of running my first marathon so much, so I went back to train for few more marathons.

Q: When you ran your first marathon, did you imagine that you'd do over a hundred which is quite a feat...

A: We organized bone marrow registration drives to help MarrowMinded's Seema Chauhan find a marrow donor, as a last option for a cure for her leukemia. She helped so many blood cancer patients in her life and running a marathon to celebrate her life and legacy was my biggest inspiration. Training to run 42km looked a tough thing to accomplish but it was much easier than bloodcancer patients going through chemotherapy and radiation.

Q: Had it not been for the promise you made, would you have done so many marathons?

A: I definitely would not have run as many as 101 marathons, if not for the commitment I made for a child with blood cancer. My plan was to run one marathon for Seema. But training with an organization like Team in Training changed all of that.

Q: Tell us about your meeting with Alexandra Flowe. Do you really believe that it was your 'mannat' that helped in curing her, or was her recovery a coincidence?

A: The best part about training with Team in Training was the mission connection we had during our training. Marathon participants for each training season have the opportunity to meet and interact with blood cancer patients to understand how our fundraising dollars are being spent. Five-yearold Alexandra Flowe was one of the patient heroes I met while training with Team in Training for the 2003 Dublin marathon. Her mom used to write a blog abut Alex and her treatment protocol. I stayed in touch with the family and read the blog on a daily basis. I was visiting a friend living in San Diego during 2004 Christmas holidays. I read Alex's blog on 2004 Christmas Eve, the day the big Tsunami affected most of South Asia. I felt distressed after reading about a child being at the hospital on a Christmas Eve. I felt sorry for Alex's mom and the rest of her family. I immediately knelt down and prayed for Alex to get better. I offered to run 100 marathons in my lifetime for her cure from cancer and it was definitely done on an impulse. I believe my prayers happened to be a coincidence in our vast universe. Six months after I made the commitment, Alex finished her last chemotherapy.

Q: You have since been working/running for charities?

A: The commitment I made on 2004 Christmas Eve changed my life. I continued to train with Team in Training until 2013 for various marathon events. I have also trained for marathons and raised funds for other charity organizations like YMCA UK, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Team AIMS, American Cancer Society, Team Iqraa, MarrowMinded and Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research. I also made a commitment to help children living in India and other countries by sponsoring them through global charity organizations.
visit them often to spend some time with them. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2009 and I visited Chennai every three months to help my mom and dad. My dad passed away in January this year after fighting Parkinson's disease for almost nine years. I am also running 'Gnanam Educational Trust', a non-profit foundation started in memory of my father and we are helping various education initiatives in Tamil Nadu state.

Q: How do you motivate other runners; and non-runners to take up running?

A: I am also a RRCA certified running coach. I am attached to Marathon Charity Cooperation and every year we train runners of all levels in our summer training program. I motivate other runners by sharing my story with them. Marathon training programs have changed in the last 20 years and many runners and walkers are able to accomplish their goal of crossing a marathon finish line. We also encourage runners to join our training program to prepare for half marathons (21Km/13.1 miles), 10 miles and 5Km. I focus on helping first-time runners in our training program by spending enough time to motivate each runner on our Saturday long runs.

Q: In India, interest in marathons is picking up too, but it still has a long way to go... Any plans of promoting it here?

A: It is encouraging to see marathon events of several distances started happening all over India. I have also met runners from India on some of my international marathon running events. One of my good friend and his wife are part of a major running group based in Chennai. I try to train with them during my Chennai visits. I have run the Chennai halfmarathon a few years back and really enjoyed it. I would do my best to work with local running organizations in India to promote the sport. But it seems like they are already doing am amazing job.

Q: Are you also part of the 'plogging' campaign?

A: I am not part of the plogging campaign at the moment but it is a great concept. It is encouraging to see people starting to promote 'plogging' in some of the major cities worldwide. Keeping the environment clean by picking up litter while running/jogging is fantastic. Organizations like 'Keep America Beautiful' have reached out to running group and we are promoting that in our training program.

Q: According to some studies, strenuous running may not necessarily be good for the heart...

A: There are a large number of running-related articles available online and some are based on some amazing research. I have completed 101 marathons, 67 half marathons and lot of other shortdistance events since 2002. I also have put in a lot of training miles each year and it has not affected my heart so far. My doctor is always amazed at my running stories during my regular checkups. Running has my cholesterol and blood pressure under control and it has made me a happy person. I am going to continue running as long as I can. I also hope to continue to help others as part of my running efforts.