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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Jayanthi Sampath, The Sari Clad Marathon Runner, Reveals Fitness Secrets

  • IWB Post
  •  February 21, 2018

A woman running a marathon in a saree is surely one epic moment. Jayanthi Sampath Kumar ran the distance of 42 km, under 5 hours, wearing a sari and sandals – that was too much ‘wow’ in one sentence.

Over 20,000 runners were sweating it out to reach the finish line, in the 42-km marathon, but this Hyderabad-based engineer was instantly set apart from the crowd as she ran to promote handloom and make people choose it over the environment polluter – plastic.

And when you meet such a personality, you don’t sit and stew over the enigma, you go ahead and decode the mystery. So, shall we?

Well, our very own superwoman! Your love for handloom and, in particular, sarees stole the show. What is your most treasured handloom piece?

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I had always loved saris. About eight years ago I set a goal of owning at least one sari made in each state of India. I was a big fan of the handloom exhibitions in Shilparamam and used to look for different weaves of various states for a good collection. I had got silk saris too. But since turning vegan, I had made a sustainable choice to buy less. I decided that what I had was enough to last me a lifetime.

The idea of running the marathon in a sari was pretty unique. How did you come up with it?

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I saw an article forwarded in one of my running groups about a person creating a world record for the fastest half marathon run in a business suit. By this time, I had already been wearing a sari every day to work for almost 3 months.

I thought why not a marathon in a sari. I searched on the internet to see if there were any articles about women running a marathon in a sari, but none of them had run a full marathon.  I searched Guinness world records and found that they had a category called “fastest marathon in a sari” for which no record had been created. I decided to go for this goal.

This wasn’t your first marathon. But what preparations and training did you go through for running in a sari? What was your fitness regimen?

I was struggling through the runs. After each long run, I could not do another run for at least 3-4 days due to IT band pain. There were so many setbacks. I wanted to achieve 6:45 min/km without sari, so that I could get to 7:00 min/km in a sari. However every time I pushed on my running pace, I ended up with a pain in my IT band which led to pain in the knees. My left Achilles tendon was also not strong due to a previous injury in November 2016. Hence the recovery after every run was not easy.

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Who helped you with your training?

I had a yoga trainer (Santhosh Mamidala) who helped me with exercises to strengthen the IT band and instructed me to follow physiotherapy for strained muscles. Pain continued. However, I was not ready to give up.

At this time, I had participated in a Bike Run Biryani event in which I was the first woman to finish the Bike and the Run. During my run, I overtook a few of the male participants who had finished their cycling before me. I was getting better and better at the running. After the event, the event organizer Dr. Vignan (from Dr. Fitness) offered to coach all the participants for a month. I took this opportunity and discussed my plan to run in a sari with Dr. Vignan. He was very supportive, and we worked on a plan that would help ramp up the distance I ran every week, culminating in AHM 2017.

Okay, we got the sari part, but why sandals? Wouldn’t sport shoes be more comfortable?

I decided to experiment with barefoot running. The leg muscles felt so much better, but the stones on the road were hurting my feet. I even tried running in socks, but that did not help either. Dr. Vignan was very supportive of barefoot running and suggested minimalist sandals as an option. As I was looking for one, my friend and fellow cyclist Aniket Kore suggested that I go for Luna Sandals. My first run in the sandals was really encouraging. It felt just right.

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By the first week of June, I had completely switched to running in sandals. I had to retrain my body to run long distances not just in a sari but in sandals too. I had the aerobic capacity to run a half marathon, but a full marathon required a lot more training – especially to finish under 5 hours.

Had you conquered the pain by then?

The sandals helped. No, IT band issues, though my speed was lower. I could run at a pace of 6:45 or 6:30, but I was not able to push myself to the kind of pace that I was able to run with the shoes. The sandals slowed me down. I was not able to do any interval training runs.

However, for the long runs, they felt right. I got rid of the knee pain, too. My toenails were finally healing. I previously had black and dead toe nails from training for and running the Chennai marathon.

Indian women usually give up any form of exercise after a certain age. What message would you like to give them?

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Well, every minute they spend watching the television can be devoted to walking, you know. Everybody should learn to manage their time and use it effectively. They can walk inside the house. My mother used to set a goal for herself every day that ‘today I have to walk this many steps inside the house.’ And that is something everyone can do.

The article is based on Jayanti Sampath Kumar’s blog posts 1 and 2 and on a conversation she had with IWB. For more updates on her story, follow her Facebook page.

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