The marathon runners of the Pinkathon in Hyderabad were nearing the finish line. Most of the runners, mindful of the humidity, were dressed in shorts, track pants, sweat absorbing vests and running shoes. Standing out amongst the sea of runners was a lone woman — yes her long, flowing locks and attractive demeanour attracted instant attention but that’s not what left the onlookers with their mouths agape. In the sweltering heat, the woman was dressed in a handloom saree and was running barefoot with a cloth satchel slung across her body. Meet Sobha Viswanath who loves the feel of the earth beneath her feet and has fallen more in love ever since she ran a marathon in Bengaluru and later took part in the Coorg Barefoot Run in 2017.
The Coorg experience cemented her love for running barefoot in a saree. She remembers, “Though it was a 10k run, I could have run for 20km in that climate.” Yes, she got blisters on her feet but she shrugs them off, “It was totally worth the experience!” Concerns about sidewalks and roads disappear once you start running, though it takes time to get used to roads that abrade the skin on your feet or pebbles that break your stride.
Long before Sobha started running marathons, she was involved in organising them. The Thiruvananthapuram resident used to organise runs for cancer patients but at that point of time, her work was largely behind the scenes. “I started inviting friends to take part in those marathons and slowly formed a marathon group. It was then that I started following Milind Soman because one of my friends Aakash is friends with Milind. He used to send me photos and information on his runs” she reveals. Milind runs all his marathons barefoot and he turned out to inspire Sobha in a huge way. She says, “Milind is my biggest inspiration. I started to wonder why I too could not follow suit by running barefoot. I felt it would be more organic and a back-to-the-roots experience. I also read about the health benefits of running barefoot.” And most importantly, Sobha got to meet and run with her idol during the Coorg Barefoot Run— a fact that has her smiling from ear to ear.
Sobha has already clocked five 10k marathons in Bengaluru, Coorg and Hyderabad. She will not forget the Hyderabad one in a hurry, ‘I was running a 105 degree fever. I could not run but I walked and crawled to the finish point but most importantly, I finished the marathon. I never thought I would be able to complete it but I did,” she reminisces proudly.
After running a couple of marathons barefoot, Sobha is all gung-ho about the experience, “Out of the 24 hours we have, even if we walk barefoot for one hour, we can see the difference in our bodies.” That is about running the marathon barefoot, but why wear a saree? Incidentally, Sobha runs a lifestyle store called Weaver's Village in the capital that promotes handloom products. Wearing the saree while running is intended to show the world that women can wear a saree and still run a marathon and it is also her way of promoting handloom sarees. She says, “I hope to inspire other women by wearing a saree and running barefoot and I am happy that many women have decided to do just that. I want to show by example that a saree need not be an impediment to running. That's the spirit and encouragement that keeps me going.”
Running marathons across the country has huge perks too — Sobha has been able to widen her friends circle in leaps and bounds, “Wearing a saree is the biggest ice-breaker for any conversation to start and I am only glad to explain why I do it.”
Sobha adds, “See, I do not workout or jog or run or do any form of exercise before I run for any marathon. I always feel it is my passion for running that keeps me going. Running barefoot is tough and people say you have to train for a month before any marathon, but frankly I do not do it.” Here is obviously a lady with a will that will not wilt under any sun....