For Bengaluru marathoner Manoj Bhat, running is a spiritual experience


Manoj has been a long-distance runner for over a decade and has ran over 25 marathons and ultra marathons

Running, in most cases, serves a purpose: pursuing prey, escaping predators, catching trains or winning races. But, for some, running is the purpose. They travel from point A to B, participate in competitions and win medals. But these are, for them, mere consequences. These people enjoy running so much that they would do it at any cost for the sheer sake of doing it. For, it possibly helps them enter a state of flow. Manoj Bhat, 40, a seasoned marathoner from Bengaluru belongs to this section of runners.

On July 18, Manoj ran 100 kilometres on a one-kilometre road next to his house. He was participating in the Run to the Moon initiative that engaged fitness enthusiasts and raised funds for support staff of sports organisations. He ran from 1 am till noon with a few breaks, burning almost 5000 calories. Legs ached, sweat poured, body trembled but target achieved. “The next day, I wanted to run another 20 kilometres.”

Manoj’s obsession with running isn’t masochism; it is meditation. He recalls a 24-hour run from last year, at the end of which he cried, “feeling spiritual.”

“The range of emotions I went through in that race was unbelievable. I was in tremendous pain. I had to be stretchered off. Yet, I felt immense love and gratitude for everyone. It was like I witnessed God.”

Manoj took to long-distance running during his days at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Lucknow. He began running around a 2.5-kilometre path before hitting the gym. Gradually, he increased the number of rounds. By the time he left IIM, he covered the path 10 times.

After his return to Bengaluru, Manoj began participating in marathons (42.2 kilometres) and ultra-marathons. But he cherishes the arduous training hours more than the accolades that await him at the finish line. “There are people who primarily run to compete. I am not one of them. Even if I am participating in an event, the four or five months of training is more important for me than finishing first. I think if your process is right, you will get the desired result.”

The focus on process over result might be an oft-used sports cliche. But it isn’t claptrap. James Clear, in his New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits, writes, “True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It is not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

One of James’ four steps to “create a good habit” is to make the habit easy. Manoj’s advice to those who give up on their resolution to start running is similar. “The most difficult step is the first step from your bed,” he says, “You need to set realistic expectations. When you start, you don’t aim to run a 5K; just aim to run for two minutes every day. The point is to be consistent. Over two months, two minutes can become 20. It should be a slow, long-term change.”

Corporates occasionally seek Manoj’s running wisdom. He gives motivational talks titled, ‘Mind Over Muscle’. He can be reached via his Instagram page ultrabhat.

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