Anil Ambani On Fitness
January 20, 2013 2 Comments
“I have been running long distance for many years. I do at least 100 km a week. On most mornings, I run alone before dawn, when the rest of Bombay is still sleeping. I don’t need an alarm to get up. No wake-up call, either. My body clock goes off at 3.30 or 4 a.m. and I get up and get out. I am in a kind of meditative trance when I run. And I run with my thoughts. Some of my brightest business ideas come to me when I’m running by myself.
I have heard about the loneliness of the long-distance runner, but I don’t know about it. When I am running, I am focused on my speed, my timing, and the distance I intend to cover. I don’t really care at that moment what is happening elsewhere. Sometimes I have people running with me for company. They are either faster or slower than I am. Or I run with friends at a pace that makes it easy for conversation. Sometimes I listen to music. It really depends on my mood at the time.
Running for me is a time of connecting with myself. It has become an addiction. If I don’t run three days in a row, I get withdrawal symptoms. I feel as if something is wrong. I run six days a week without planning which day to take rest. The morning I wake up and don’t feel like running, I inform my staff and cancel the run. Five days I run indoors on a treadmill for two hours, the sixth day it is always outdoors. This is my practice wherever I am. I started running for health reasons about three years ago(in 2004), then continued for fitness, and now it’s part of my life.
My father was the real driving force behind my getting into running. I was never a runner. I was not even the athletic type in school. It’s not that my parents never encouraged or pushed me. I was just not inclined towards competitive sports. Of course, I took part in games. I played table tennis, went tick-tick-tick-tick with the ball, and cricket, all Indians play cricket. I also did little swimming. But no bodybuilding and no sporting activities on the field.
When I took up running, my father said, “Look Son, you can buy any luxury you want in life, from clothes to food, from a home to a holiday, but you can never buy health. Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel good.” How right he was. At that time I weighed 105 kg and could not even walk 1 kilometer in an hour! But by running, I came down to 68 kg. I lost one-third of my body weight and became 36 kg lighter. To be able to run the Half Marathon, which is 22 km, in 1 hour 29 minutes and 11 seconds, is quite an achievement for a businessman I think.
People ask what I felt that day when I completed the Half Marathon and then, after a 15-minute break, I did the 7-km Dream Run in 29 minutes and 10 seconds. I felt exhilarated! An activity like this releases endorphins in the body and gets the neurotransmitter working. The saratonin levels rise. This gives you a huge high. When you are depressed, your saratonin levels fall. If you want a kick, you chew tobacco, and raise the saratonin levels. Three shots of Bacardi, and you feel even better! Running is my high.
Running the Marathon and completing it in good time without a struggle, without being carried off on a stretcher, was a challenge for me. I had the willpower, I made the commitment, I just told myself, “Karna hai!” Everything is a state of the mind. That apart, for me there was a sense of purpose, an achievement and pride in completing the race. Running is not my profession. I am not an athlete. Yet, there I was, a businessman running alongside professional sports persons.
Anybody can do it. All that it requires is taking out time and investing in a pair of running shoes. I took inspiration from President George Bush. Do you know he’s a runner? And that, at 57, he does the 5-kilometre run faster that I can? He goes to work at 7 a.m. And he makes time to run every day. He even has a treadmill on Air Force One. When he’s flying long distance, he runs! When he went to Europe, Bush ran for 90 minutes on the flight. When he was returning from China, he ran.
I thought, he’s the President of the US, and if he can make the time, anybody can! That was my start. Wherever I am, I now run. I do roadwork in Bombay and Delhi. When I’m travelling, I use hotel treadmills if I cannot go outside. Some countries, it is 5 degrees out on the road in the morning! I’ve ran on nature trails in the Krueger National Park in Nairobi. And I’ve ran up the staircases of multi-storey buildings and used the elevators to come down. I look to run in some form or the other. I search for ways to challenge myself.
I am not be a sports aficionado. I won’t be able to identify one tennis player from the next. But I am an outdoors person (not a beach bum!), I love going on treks and trails. I play polo. I go water-skiing with Adi Godrej. I believe he’s the fittest 60-year-old man in the world! He and I did the Kailash-Mansarovar Parikrama of 54-km in one day. Our Sherpa guides said it takes two days and three nights to complete it. We said, “One day!” They replied, “It’s not been done.” Adi and I replied, “Then come do it with us now!” And from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., without food, only drinking water, going from 14,000 feet to 20,000, we completed the trek!”
To run the Marathon, I really worked hard. My running intensity increased about six weeks before the event. And I went on a high carbo-low protein diet. I followed the hydration theory. I drank lot of fluids and changed my eating habits. I must have not eaten as much pasta in five years as I did in those four weeks before the race. And for three days before the event, I didn’t drink water, only nimbu pani.
Actually, my entire lifestyle changed three years ago when I took up running. I love food. And I can cook. But I’m not overly fond of eating. I dislike a huge choice. Give me two or three dishes in a meal and I’m happy. But it had better be good food. And my favourite meal for 25 years has been Pav Bhaji on the road! I go to Soli’s near Heera Panna at Haji Ali. I believe that the body is like a debit/credit account. What you put in accumulates and builds up. You have to learn to balance this account. If I overeat, then next day I burn off the extra calories on the road.
I’ve never gone on diets. Instead, I’ve learnt to change my lifestyle. Before noon, I only eat fruits and drink juices. I take no white products. No iodised salt, no refined flour, so sugar, no milk products. I prefer crushed rock salt. And instead of sugar, I use honey. It’s easier to break down honey. Milk is very hard to digest. I never mix cereals. No dal-roti sabzi-chawal for me. I either have a bajra or jawar roti. And I eat fruits before meals, never after, that goes against the principles of digestion. Also, I never mix sweet and sour fruits. So I don’t eat fruit salads. I sleep at 10 every night. And I don’t drink or smoke. Running is my high. It has changed my life.”