On a warm Sunday morning, in the midst of a thicket of bamboo stalks, Dr. BS Ajai Kumar makes his way for a third lap in Cubbon Park, Bengaluru. While running might be a form of exercise for many, for the chairman and CEO of HealthCare Global Enterprises, it is a religion.
As a sports fanatic, Kumar had experimented with all forms of sports — from tennis to swimming to skiing. He decided to take up running in 1982 primarily because the only equipment required therein was a pair of good running shoes. “The first 15-20 minutes are a drag. But after that, when the endorphins kick in, it is a different kind of high,” says Kumar. And this explains why despite a hectic travel schedule for work, he is always up for an early morning jog even if he's returned home at 3 in the morning. “Contrary to popular opinion, running makes you feel less tired for the rest of the day. There have been days when I don’t run and on these days, I feel more lethargic and tired,” he adds. Kumar uses his runs to explore the cities he visits on business. He describes his most recent experience at Barcelona, “I ran at the Olympic stadium, which is fairly up the hill, and I didn’t feel tired. I couldn’t believe that at this age, I still have such stamina.” However, his time in Chicago by the lake in the cool October weather is his most cherished memory.
Kumar approaches the activity as a stressbuster and not just as a fitness routine. He describes his regimen, “I do not listen to music while running. It helps me organise, focus better and gives me to time to think. It is truly like a form of meditation for me.” And this proved to be quite the motivation for him to run competitively too. In 1990, he ran his first marathon as a student in Chicago, for which he trained himself. “I made the mistake of running too fast from the beginning. I was exhausted midway and I had to walk the rest of the marathon.” This was an experience that taught him how to pace himself when running marathons. Although he has stopped running competitively now, he has participated in seven Chicago marathons till date. “My best timing was 3 hours and 42 minutes, in 1999,” he reminisces.
Apart from having the obvious physical health benefits, Kumar strongly believes that running helps stimulate the brain. He says, “It is a good form of mental aerobics. It challenges the brain, and I think that helps me professionally especially in terms of time management.” Like any other sport, he swears by the discipline required to pursue running sincerely. “It has not only helped me become healthier, but also helped me become so much more disciplined. More than anything else, I learnt a lot about my own body.”
Having experienced the benefits of running, Kumar hopes to begin a programme for the elderly. Countrary to the usual belief that running might lead to injuries, he states that it actually helps strengthen the knees, ligaments and muscles. For the elderly in particular, physical activity is necessary to help them ‘feel good’ and to keep them active. He declares, “Age should be no barrier," as he makes his way for yet another round of the park.