It was a routine medical check-up in office in 2017 that changed Rupa Das’s life. A senior manager in public relations and communications at CenturyPly, Rupa was told by the doctor that she had to lose weight or else her knees would be in trouble. “I asked him if there was a magical solution. He told me to consume a fitness drink and kheera,” says Rupa, who weighed 83kg back then. Within a few months of the check-up, Rupa started walking extensively, before slowly transitioning into running: “I used to be someone who’d keep snoozing the alarm at 8am every morning and look for a rickshaw even if I had to go a few metres. Suddenly, I was getting up at 4am and running three to four days a week.”
Rupa before and after losing 28kgs between 2017 and 2019
By 2019, Rupa had reduced her weight to 55kg and gained a lifelong passion for running in the process. “I used to be lazy, in fact, I’m still lazy. I wasn’t into sports growing up, but ever since I found running, I haven’t been able to stay away from it,” says Rupa, now 41. “When I started off, many people thought that I’d grow tired and give it up soon. Some friends and colleagues would tease me saying, ‘Your ankle definitely seems slimmer now’. But over time, they realised that I was serious,” smiles Rupa.
‘My son is the biggest advocate of my running’
Rupa with her son Archisman, who is her chief motivator when it comes to running
During the two years which saw Rupa’s body undergo a drastic makeover, her mother and her teenage son were her biggest sources of support. “My mother made sure that everything was ready at home, which meant that I could focus on my running. As for my son Archisman, he’d always motivate me and remind me to keep chasing my goals. Even today, he’s the biggest advocate of my running and the one who’s always pushing me to stay in shape,” narrates Rupa.
Rupa did not alter her diet significantly during her weight-loss period, but stayed mindful of burning more calories than she consumed. For the most part, she did not take any specialised advice or undergo any specific form of strength training – “I just put my foot down and ran”.
Having started off with 5km and 10km runs, Rupa slowly built her speed and stamina to attempt 21km at marathons. During the week, she would run near her residence in Santoshpur and head over to the Maidan, the Salt Lake Stadium or New Town during the weekends. Be it with friends or in solitude, in bright sunshine or in the midst of a drizzle, Rupa never compromised with her running. Not even during Covid-19, when the country went into lockdown. “Since I couldn’t run outside, I started doing laps of my terrace. Obviously, I wasn’t covering the same distance I was used to, but it was required to maintain my energy levels,” says Rupa.
‘I was asked to give up running to save my knees’
Rupa took to physiotherapy to revive her hopes of running after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis
A few months of circling her terrace had come to a screeching halt in July 2020 when Rupa felt an excruciating pain in her knees. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and multiple doctors told her that she had to “give up running to save my knees in the long-term”. But Rupa was not one to give up and even agreed to go under the surgical knife to keep her running alive. Eventually, she met Vikash Kapoor at Medica, who suggested that she take up physiotherapy. “After hearing my story and how I lost weight through running, even my physiotherapist wanted me to keep running and resolved to make it happen,” says Rupa.
After months of exercise, strength training and physiotherapy, Rupa was able to put on her running shoes once more last year. Currently, she is back to running 10km on a regular basis, and is working towards upping her game to hit 21km again.
“There are competitions scheduled in December and February where I’m aiming to run at full tilt,” says Rupa, who has run all across the country, and finds Mumbai to have the most advanced running culture with Hyderabad being the toughest terrain. “When you go for runs in Hyderabad, the terrain is what makes it challenging, due to the elevation. But when you have people cheering you on from the sidelines, you never think of quitting,” says Rupa, who is keen on improving upon her personal best timings (69 minutes for 10km; 2 hours and 52 minutes for 21km) this winter.
‘Kolkata Runners is an attempt to build a running community in Kolkata’
Rupa has also taken it upon herself to make others run. “Whenever I see someone struggling with weight and fitness issues, I show them my transformation pictures. I can safely say that I’ve pushed many people to take up running,” says Rupa, who has been running an Instagram page called Kolkata Runners since 2020. It is a space that started out with Rupa trying to break the narrative of “Kolkata being a sleepy, laidback city where not much running happens”. Today, it has become one of the most followed fitness pages about amateur athletes in Kolkata and consistently profiles some of the finest runners in the city. “Kolkata Runners is an attempt to build a running community in Kolkata and to get people together to become fitter, healthier and happier,” believes Rupa.
Rupa feels that running should be seen less as a sport and more as a lifestyle choice
When she is not running in her comfortably cushioned Brooks shoes or fine-tuning posts for Kolkata Runners, Rupa loves taking photographs and feasting on “holud biryani”, especially the Raan Biryani at Oudh 1590. Like many of her fellow runners featured on Kolkata Runners, Rupa sees running less as a sport and more as a lifestyle choice, something that is necessary to nourish the body and the mind. “People don’t have to run to become professionals or even to win tournaments. They should run to have fun, stay fit and understand their bodies better.”
Besides agility and freshness, running also brings perspective. “When you go faster than your surroundings, you learn to see things differently,” says Rupa. That is crucial for progress, for developing one’s personality, in the long run. Life, after all, is no sprint, but a marathon.