How far is too far?


By Papri Das

The industry was grief stricken last Sunday when Bharti Airtel’s 43-year old chief nodal officer and marathon runner Stephen Menezes met an untimely demise due to heart attack on the tracks while running the Run India Run-Total Sports and Fitness 10K Challenge in Mumbai.

According to a report in The Times Of India, Menezes had been suffering from high blood pressure for the last 10 years, which comes as a surprise since he was a familiar face in similar running events that involves pushing one’s physical limitations.

One can’t deny the growing popularity amongst executives in participating in sports and other physically strenuous activities that test their physical limitations. More and more executives are jumping on to the fitness bandwagon; sometimes spurred by the growing popularity of India’s recently crowned “Iron Man” - Milind Soman. Doctors and trainers are of the opinion that it is increasingly becoming more about setting records and competing than enjoying the activity. While Menezes’ case may be a standalone incident, it is an eye opener for many who push themselves too hard. The scenario begs to raise the serious question: How far is too far?

“On an average, a reasonably fit human being is cable of stretching their physical limitations to a certain extent, but it's a gradual process,” says Whatuwant Solutions founder Bharat Kapadia, who has been participating in marathons quite regularly for eight years now. “When I started, I hadn’t run even half a kilometer in my life. So when I decided to enter special training at the gym, the idea of running even five kilometers seemed like an achievement. I loved the training and the discipline it brought to my life and since then I have been improving my record by minutes every time,” he says.

Kapadia also points out how our mind plays a powerful role in this. “There are times when the body is ready for the challenge but the mind isn’t. This can prove detrimental to one’s body as well,” he says. “Fitness isn’t measured as what one can do, but how easily and quickly one’s body can return to normal after being pushed beyond its comfort zone,” he says, adding that the power of mind is often tested in this regard.

According to Kapadia, the mind often doesn’t differentiate between sweating it out for fun and an actual crisis and this leads to a rise in lactic acid within our systems. “Stretching after a long run or a stressing game of squash is very essential to bring our body to normal,” he informs.

His last recorded time for completing the 21km half marathon in January 2015 was 2 hours and 12 minutes as opposed to his first ever record of 2 hours 39 minutes. It clearly shows that patience and consistency is the key. Concurring with him is Grey Group India managing director and chairman Sunil Lulla.

“All of us who live life on the edge know fairly well that consistency is the key,” says Lulla, who is an avid Squash player and extensively takes part in several marathons. “Athletes and professional sportsmen undergo rigorous training to increase their ability to push beyond limits each time. Their records are a result of that training and not a feat achieved in a day. If a regular executive expects the same result, their body will simply not obey, or worse, will break down,” Lulla simply puts.

Lulla stresses that it's extremely important to build up this consistency before every major event that requires you to be at your physical best. “Well before a week of participating in a marathon, I practice running to get myself in the groove and also follow a strict diet,” Lulla says, adding that it prepares his body for the physical exertion that his body would experience during the marathon. “These days I have been traveling a lot, which leaves me very less time to practice running and play Squash etc. Therefore, every time I do play, I deliberately cut down on my time so that it doesn’t become sporadic.”

For some it may be a lack of consistency, but there are others who just can't help it and one such person is celebrated TV personality Cyrus Broacha. “I used to play Rugby earlier and now only lift weights almost obsessively, to the point that my family has given up on me,” says Broacha.

“Some people have this obsessive compulsion to keep at something until they are unable to carry on, and at the cost of sounding victimized, I am one of them,” he adds. Throwing light on the signs to identify that one is obsessed with a certain thing to an alarming level, Broacha says, “When people are unwilling to adjust their practice times, refuse to take any breaks and often get angry when interrupted, it’s a sign they are obsessive over it.”

When asked how he ensures that he doesn't take his obsession to a point where he may fall sick, he says, “I spend less time in the gym when I have work so I guess that's one way to keep me off it.”

Speaking of signs, Vizeum India managing director S Yesudas, who is a cycling enthusiast as well as a marathon runner, is also of the opinion that the body sends out clear signals when you push it too hard. "Inspite of these signals, if one decides to still push a bit more for the adrenaline, that push should be based on a very happy mind frame of "wanting" and not "having" to do. I also do pay attention to every little noise on my cycle as I know it's telling me something," he says. 

While stressing on the fact that it important to challenge yourself, Yesudas also throws in a word of advice. "Any of these physical activities are always a mind and body game. However what's essential is to enjoy the moment without stressing about the end goals and keep listening to your body," he says.

Lost Boy Production’s Vikas Gupta plays badminton and football quite regularly and believes the importance in maintaining one’s health through extra curricular fitness activities. “Living a lifestyle where most of our hours go either sitting in front of the computer or consuming fast food, it is essential to engage in some sport. It maintains your health and also keeps your mind fresh,” says Gupta, who strikes a fine balance between work and play.

“I make sure I don't over exert myself at work on the days that I play a sport. Sometimes people work for 16 hours a day and then expect to push themselves for four more hours in after work activities like sports. It is not a healthy practice,” he says, warning executives of their ‘wanting everything all at once’ attitude even towards sports.

In spite of having erratic work schedules, Gupta maintains his ‘me time’ on weekends. “It is hard to schedule your life amidst shootings and other official responsibilities. But I try to have 12 hours a day with some exceptions and on weekends I completely switch off for a couple of hours. It’s usually then that I indulge in sports,” shares the producer.

Often what pushes an otherwise perfectly healthy person over the edge is undiagnosed ailment and latent injuries, which is why both Gupta and Kapadia recommend a general health check up at regular intervals. Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon Dr Tushar R Jimulia has over a score of frequent visitors who regularly take part in extensive sports and athletic activities. “About a dozen of marathoners and executives who play sports often seek my help before they have a big event coming up. Moreover, two of my orthopedic friends are majorly into trekking and thus keep needing regular checkups before their trips,” says Jimulia, who was earlier with King’s Mill Hospital in Mansfield, UK.

Jimulia’s advice to executives is simple: Not to forget that their engagement in these activities is for fun and they can’t compare themselves to the professionals. “More often these business leaders and executives spend their early twenties and thirties in building their impressive portfolios. By forty when they have some time for themselves, they suddenly jump into extreme fitness regime, forgetting both their age and lack of any proper training over the years,” says Jimulia, assuring that it’s possible to push one’s physical boundaries after proper training within the limitations of age and other health factors.

“A proper health counseling is a must before anyone takes part in a serious sport. Our body is like a car with many gears. If one is to skip the first couple of gears and directly runs at fourth gear, it will naturally cause an accident. Similarly, those who want to participate in marathons must undergo basic training, then start their jogging, and move on to sprinting before building up their body to handle marathons,” signs off Jimulia.

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