He ran his first marathon at the age of 52 (Delhi, 1985). By the time he was 75, Dr Ashish Roy had completed 82 such endurance runs. Now, the 80-year-old cardiologist is in the city to partake in his 115th marathon. “My family members frequently warn me that my legs will wear out because of this constant running. They tell me that I have created sufficient records and it’s time now to rest,” Dr Roy told MiD DAY.
In fact, the octogenarian suffered a spinal injury a year ago and underwent surgery that involved fixing six nails in his last two vertebrae, leaving him unfit for running. Undeterred, Dr Roy continued his regimen and within six months had successfully completed a half-marathon. “For over eight years I have had osteoarthritis in my right knee. I still run because running is like meditation for me; I feel at peace. I had been steadily improving my timings until I had the surgery,” he said.
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Dr Roy served in the Indian Air Force for 21 years and retired with the rank of Wing Commander. Since then, he has run marathons in around 20 countries, apart from India, and participates in about five such events every year.
In his college days, Dr Roy was a long-distance runner, and he joined the defence forces to fulfil his dream of representing India in the discipline. But work pressure never allowed him to pursue his ambition. “I started running in January 1983 just for physical exercise to keep my weight in check. The following year, Delhi hosted the first Rath Marathon, wherein I had to struggle to complete the race. It took me more than four hours to reach the finish line,” he said.
Now, he runs 12 kilometres daily, and around 18 on Sundays he makes it around 22 in winters. He complains that Indians have a very lethargic attitude towards fitness and hence are not very enthusiastic about participating in marathons. He believes that in India people organise marathons just for making money, but overseas these are regarded as community events. “At most of the marathons held abroad, everyone who completes a race is presented a medal. But in India, it’s a completely different story,” said Roy.
He is not very supportive of allowing young international athletes to be placed right in front at the starting point, as elite runners. “If a young and talented runner needs to be placed in the front then what about the remaining thousands who are standing behind him? Winning a few marathons at a young age gets them so many medals and media coverage in our country, but there are so many senior citizens like me who participate every year and are not even awarded a certificate,” he lamented.
In 1987, Dr Roy ran a marathon in 3 hours 10 minutes, and ever since has managed several astonishing feats. Now, owing to his age, it takes him about 6 hours to cover the same distance he would previously traverse in 3. Dr Roy assured us that he would complete Sunday’s event within seven hours. This will be his fifth appearance in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon.