Home Feature Eight Medals, Six Marathons, One Dream – The Tireless Reeti Sahai!

Eight Medals, Six Marathons, One Dream – The Tireless Reeti Sahai!



“You must be crazy running long distances all the time. I can understand someone doing it once or twice in a lifetime but to run 6 majors of world marathon – I don’t quite get it. What drives you to do that?”

Her reply was thoughtful – bordering on philosophical.
“The truth is that one day we wake up and realise there won’t be any more time to do the things we want to do. That’s when one says to oneself – do it now!”
I was talking to an exceptional Uttarakhandi, who has stamped her mark worldwide doing and living what she loves – running the marathons. I was talking to the lithe, attractive and articulate Reeti Sahai.
Reeti is the daughter of the distinguished army officer, Lt General Mohan Bhandari (Retd). She is a native of Ranikhet and studied at the Army Public School in Delhi. She is the first Uttarakhandi woman to complete six World Marathon Majors, “the big six” as they are called –Boston, Berlin, New York, Chicago, London and Tokyo – each more than 42 kms long. She has been awarded the “Six Star Medal” – representing each of the majors. Her name is also in the Guinness Book of World Records – along with a clutch of women who competed in and completed the six marathons.
The most remarkable thing is that Reeti started running marathons after she crossed 30 years of age – when everyone is supposedly past their prime.
Star struck, I asked her which was the most difficult of all the marathons she ran.
“All long distance runs are tough. However, if I have to pick one, it would be the Tokyo Marathon earlier this year. We weren’t allowed to carry even a bottle of water due to Covid protocols. The race went along high rise buildings, undulating terrain and faced strong cold winds. During the run, my tendonitis started to flare up. I was in pain, in agony – but my “bestest cheerleader” Rishi (her husband) cheered me on, screaming his lungs out.”

What are the necessary attributes of a long distance runner, I asked?

She replied that being focussed, inspired and having physical ability are absolutely necessary to run the gruelling race.

“A marathon isn’t a sprint or a dash, but a very long distance of 42.195 kms. The required endurance can only be developed over a period of time, not overnight. Mental ability is perhaps the most important ingredient in the whole deal. One’s body is taken over by the mind while running a marathon. The body can only be pushed to a certain extent- however it’s the mind which takes you across that finish line. Everyone who ever attempted to run a marathon knows that there’s some truth to the saying that running is 90% mental. It takes unbelievable discipline, self-motivation and drive. It’s YOU versus YOU and it’s less about the circumstances.”

She paused and continued, “When you’re in the last quarter of your marathon – you’re the only person telling yourself to kick it up a notch, test your limits, NOT to give up, to push harder. You are running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You are delirious. Running a marathon is a practical display of assertiveness of the mind over one’s body.”

Are people like her normal? Does she like the kind of food most of us eat – the butter chickens, samosas, paranthas, shahi paneer, dal, chappatis? Does she like eating sweets- ice cream, gulab jamun, baalmithai?”

She admitted that she is a foodie to the core,

“One of the many reasons I run is to eat what I want! And as and when I indulge, it’s about eating the wrong food in the right quantity. There are days when I’m craving for a gulab jamun or an ice cream and I go for it! I don’t count the calories that are going in, but the calories I burn running. Being an Uttarakhandi, I love baalmithai. I’m literally drooling thinking of it.”

She lets out a hearty laugh!

Considering that she is attractive and lives in a male dominated society, how difficult is it for a woman to run on Indian roads?

She was blunt and honest, “Every woman runner gets harassed in some way or the other. Throughout my running journey, I’ve been cat called, been followed by random bikers and cars, photographed because I run in shorts and running vests. I must admit I’m careful about when and where I run. It’s important to take as many precautions as possible – like running against traffic, in well lit areas, carrying a phone. I still encounter these hardships and move ahead carefully!

She has a message for all woman runners, “Don’t let the hostility of Indian roads scare you from enjoying your favourite sport. Lace up your running shoes and Get, Set, Go!”

She loves gardening, travelling (“I wish I could be on the move always”), and likes to read. But her favourite hobby is playing with her “sweethearts”- her two dogs.

“They complete my world,” she affirms.

Finally, I ask her about the biggest takeaway from running miles and miles, “Running has taught me that even though thousands may be applauding from the sidelines – it is only you who can finish the race. Isn’t that true of life as well?”

One cannot disagree with a winner with her kind of guts and determination.

(Kulbhushan kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)