Introduction

Lt. Col. Sundaresan R. (retd) has successfully completed his mission of running 50 Full marathons (42.2 kms) in 50 consecutive weeks over 50 locations/routes. The Theme of his mission was “RUN WITH A SOLDIER RUN FOR A SOLDIER”. He started his journey on 11 Dec 2016 at Vasai Virar Full marathon and ran his 50th Marathon in this series on 19 Nov 2017 in the Indian Navy marathon in Mumbai.  On 20th Nov he celebrated his 50th birthday.

Throughout his journey, spread over 23 states and UTs, he addressed corporate offices, educational institutions and running clubs spreading awareness about the Indian Army, Physical fitness, Marathons and Ultramarathons and his present mission of 50 Marathons. In the process he raised approximately 25 lakhs for families of martyred Soldiers.

The Indian Army Officer has served for 23 years in the Army in places like Poonch, Siachen Glacier, Doda, Srinagar, Nathu La etc. He has also worked in corporate offices for four years before taking on this mission.

He had started running marathons after 40 years of age. He is also a qualified marathon trainer from the American College of Sports Medicine. He has run in many marathons and ultramarathons events including the tough COMRADES ultramarathon in South Africa in May 2016, covering a distance of 89 kms over five mountains. He completed the course in 11 hours 52 minutes.

Interview Excerpts


“I (name) hereby solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India, as by law established and that I will, as in duty bound honestly and faithfully, serve in the regular Army of the Union of India and go wherever ordered, by land, sea or air, and that I will observe and obey all the commands of the President of the Union of India and the commands of any officer set above me, even to the peril of my life.”

This is the oath, an Army man takes before getting commissioned. The three crucial phrases here are, “go wherever ordered”, “observe and obey all commands” and “even to the peril of my life”. For us, the nation comes first always and every time. This is how the soldier stands apart from the rest.

With his experience of dealing with situations and challenges in hard-hitting times, the Army man is able to apply the same while battling in his personal/ social life also and deal with them efficiently.

 

During the course of our tenure we go through many operational challenges. Especially during counter terrorism operations, when an encounter starts, there is so much of action, that there is no time to think about life and death or being scared. Such thoughts don’t crop up. We just concentrate on the operation to finish the task. Every other thought can only be analysed during post mortem.

I have been posted to operational areas like Siachen Glacier, Poonch, Srinagar, Doda etc. In one of the close encounters with terrorists, which I was leading, we successfully eliminated two dreaded terrorists. When the operation began, there was heavy fire fight. There was no question of anybody getting scared. We were proactive and faced the situation bravely. There were no casualties to any of my troops. I was awarded “Mention in Despatches” for this operation, an award to recognize distinguished and meritorious service in operational areas and acts of gallantry.

Ask any soldier, the best of his tenures are in field areas, where there is real action. In fact, soldiers yearn to go for operations, forget talking about fear. It’s all about training and grooming.

 

I have been running marathons since 2008. Also 23 years of service in the Army has ensured our basic physical fitness and more. I generally set a goal for myself for a year. In 2016, I planned to do the Comrades Ultramarathon, a distance of 89 kms over five mountains in South Africa, within 12 hours. I completed it in 11 hours 52 minutes.

During one of the practice runs, a thought of celebrating my 50th birthday in 2017 by running 50 marathons came to my mind. Once the idea cropped up, I pondered over it, worked on it, planned and executed it. In fact frankly speaking, initially, I was not even aware, what I was putting my foot into. Once I decided about the marathons, I planned to take a step further ahead by raising funds and donating it to families of martyred soldiers. Since I have put in 23 years in the Army serving with soldiers, it was very easy for me to associate with the cause.

Running a marathon itself is no joke. There is too much of science involved in it. Even I did not know about it, till I learnt about it in a Certified marathon Trainer’s course, which I attended. After a marathon it takes time for the body to recover. Attempting 50 marathons week after week requires tremendous amount of fitness, perseverance and will power. So once I decided to do it, I had to keep the momentum on till the 50th marathon. In this mission, the time was so long, nearly a year, that anything could have gone wrong in terms of injury, illness or in terms of motivation. So I had to plan to be extra cautious, to have a proper diet, proper recovery and not injure myself during the entire course of journey.

 

In addition, the entire mission was managed by me single handedly. It generally involved planning and choosing locations for the run, coordinating, booking tickets, stay, managing finances, tying up with corporates/ educational institutions/running clubs for lectures and many such actions. So in addition to physical fitness, I had to concentrate on these aspects also.

 

I ran a full marathon every week. In all the places I travelled, I addressed corporate offices/ running groups etc. and gave a presentation on my mission. Once I could satisfactorily sensitise the issue of Martyrs’ families, people/ corporate offices donated.

However, raising money is not easy. There may be willing donors but it’s not easy to reach everyone. For the same cause, individuals/ corporates may be donating through various channels.

I was commissioned in 1990 and my first posting was in Poonch (J&K). In 1991, we lost my immediate senior officer in our Company, who was killed in action while checking intrusion along the line of Control. Even after 26 years, I cannot forget our association in our battalion, which will be life-long. Even today, his family members are in touch with our battalion.

At Doda, during counter terrorism operations, we lost a soldier. I had to do the unceremonious job of telephonically informing the family. It’s an experience by itself which I will never forget in my life.

 

After training, when I joined my unit as a commissioned officer, I was absolutely raw, totally clueless, with no knowledge about the practical aspects of working in a unit. The initial grooming as a young officer by my Company Commander (my mentor), made my roots strong which I could easily carry ahead throughout my tenure in the army. I was practically made to stay along with the jawans, eat and sleep in their bunkers. I performed the duties of all the appointments/ store holders to get a real feel of their practical problems and what they undergo. As I grew up, it was a continuous process of learning, but I consider the initial days of grooming as the most important days which has left a lasting effect on me.

Most of the public, in general, are not aware about the Indian Army, the operations that go on, the challenges, the casualties that take place etc. Their knowledge is limited to only a few news items that they get to see/ read from electronic/ print media. Every citizen acknowledges the selfless sacrifice of the soldiers. Their attitude is generally sympathetic.

While I restrict myself to speaking generic about the Forces, I make it a point to sensitise about the plight of families of martyred soldiers.

In many places, based on the topic of the lecture, I ensure that the questions are restricted within the framework of the topic. In addition, I speak about physical fitness, running marathons, ultra marathons and most of the questions are based on my running.

We were six siblings and my parents, all staying together in a two room house in Mumbai. I was the youngest and, of course, the brat of the house. Daily we used to sit and have our dinner together. The first time we got TV in our house was when I cleared my class X in 1983. We used to play a lot, go for outings together and despite meagre salary and eight mouths to feed, there wasn’t anything wanting at that time. Probably, these are a few factors that have kept our family closely knit and even today, we get together for every possible occasion.

I intend to write a book on my journey of 50 marathons in 50 weeks. Additionally, I have also received invitations to give a motivational talk on my mission of “RUN WITH A SOLDIER RUN FOR A SOLDIER”. I aim to address companies/ educational institutions and running clubs on the subject and raise awareness of physical fitness as much as possible.

My email id is sundaresan.50m@gmail.com

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