“It’s never too late to start”. I’m sure we’ve all heard this phrase multiple times in our lives, or even said it to someone. But mostly it’s in passing, as a source of inspiration to the person we’re saying it to. Today FirstRun focuses on Pervin Batliwala who started running at the age of 50, when most people her age were reducing their physical activities. Batliwala worked at Hindustan Unilever for 32 years and retired in 2014, and recently completed the Comrades Marathon. Hers is a truly inspirational story.

When did you first start running?
I have been running for 10 years and started when I was 50. Before that I was into swimming, yoga and I used to go to the gym a lot. I was working with Hindustan Unilever Ltd and the company appointed Savio Dsouza, a winner of many marathons, to look after the fitness of the employees. I was 50 years at that time and started off with him by doing some stretching and walk-jogs at the Oval Maidan. After a while he introduced me to road running at Marine Drive. We were a small group of 6-7 runners. I did the dream run at the Mumbai Marathon, and next year started running half marathons at Mumbai and Delhi.

What about running kept you coming back?
Once I started running, I never stopped. Running has become a part of my life. I have done 24 half marathons and 4 full marathons and had several podium finishes in my age category.

How often do you run?
Depends on the race that I am training for. Usually it is 4 times a week. On other days it is either swimming or the gym.

Pervin running in the Goa River Marathon (Image: Venkatraman Pichumani)
Pervin running in the Goa River Marathon (Image: Venkatraman Pichumani)

When did you run your first marathon?
Mumbai in 2006 was my first half marathon and I would say my learning experience. At the start of the race, with Hindi music playing and the excitement around, I got carried away. I was so charged up that the first half of the race I did very fast. To make things worse, I did not have water or anything to eat on the way. At Babulnath I hit the wall and still continued till Chowpatty. My husband, Kushru who is also a runner, always comes to support me half way through the race. He insisted that I stop and have water, but I was possessed. Finally had to come to a standstill at Chowpatty. Could not move a step for the next 20-30 minutes. I had hit the ‘runners wall’. Then my husband suggested that we go home. But I insisted on walking to the finish as I wanted to return the timing chip and collect the money. In those days we had to return the chip on the same day in order to get back the money. I got my timing certificate and then Savio scolded me for having gone very fast in the first half and that is how I had goofed up the run. After this, I went on to the Delhi run the same year and got the first rank in my age category.

How do you train for your marathons?
I run 4 times a week and rest of the days is split between swimming and gym. For full marathons you have to put in a lot of mileage. Sunday is a long run day going up to 35 km, while Monday is time for a recovery run of 9 km. Wednesday is the speed workout or hill training, while Friday is upto 20 km of running.

What was your toughest race/marathon?
I have done the Leh-Ladakh half Marathon which is quite tough because of the altitude and less oxygen. I decided that I would do the Comrades in 2015 as I was retiring in November 2014. Savio suggested that I do the Comrades Marathon after retirement so that there would be enough time to train and rest & recover.

The Comrades Marathon is held every year in South Africa and is an Up Run one year and a Down Run the next year. The route has five Big Hills and numerous small ones. There are six cut off times during the race and the final cut off is 12 hours. You cannot continue the race if you don’t make it at any of the cut offs. The Up Run starts from Durban and finishes in Pietermaritzburg and vice-versa for the Down run.

It was an Up Run this year and I completed it in 11 hr and 34 min, covering a distance of 87.7 km. There were 23000 people who registered for the race. I was 15th out of 66 women in my age category i.e 60+.

At the Comrades (Image: Pervin Batlivala)
At the Comrades (Image: Pervin Batliwala)

Training for Comrades
Savio, my trainer and my guru, had prepared me for the full marathons. So my ultra marathon training started on a strong base. I had two colleagues, whom I call my gurus, who guided me and planned my training programs for the ultra race. Without the help of my three gurus, I could not have achieved what I did. I am blessed to have these three Gurus.

The training involved long runs, hill runs and treadmill runs with inclines. Every evening was stretching and foam rolling. Every Monday was rest day and massage. Did three Lonavala hill runs – 56, 65 and 56 km.

I must mention the super support that I got from my running team, Savio’s Stars. Each day I would put up my running schedule for the next day and there would be so many of my friends who would come forward to run with me. Some of them put up water, Enerzal and oranges at different points to make my run easy and comfortable. They went to the extent of making T-shirts, which said ‘Team Pervin’ and surprised me one morning. Some 20-30 of them ran with me wearing these T-shirts. The good vibes that they sent me on the race day and the excitement on the chat was amazing. Lastly, some of them gave me a grand welcome at the airport on my return.

Diet and health
Rupali Mehta, my dietician, who is a marathon runner (Boston, New York), guided me on my diet. Her diet was bang on. I got my strength by following her diet. When I first met her and she started scribbling the diet, I thought that maybe I was wasting my time with her. I wondered how I would follow all that she wrote down. But after going through her three page diet plan and taking each point at a time, I collected the required stuff and then all of a sudden things fell in place and all became very simple. She revised my diet after three months as that was my last month when I was supposed to taper. Just before the race she guided me on the last week’s diet and the race day morning diet and on the run diet. I have to thank her for her guidance and support.

Sleep and enough rest are very important for recovery during the training. I used to have a nap in the afternoon and early to bed at night. This helped a lot.

Main Image: Samuel Chettiar

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