As he sets off on a 15-day Ahmedabad-Mumbai marathon for the environment, Milind Soman says he's getting better with age
"You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming" - Frank Shorter, American Olympic gold medalist for marathon
Who will vouch for this more than our very own marathon man? At 46, a sprightly Milind Soman still sprints like an antelope.
Soman, better etched in our memories as India's first male supermodel, is setting off today on his 580 Km 'greenathon' dash from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, spread over 15 days as part of a TV channel's fundraiser.
Never mind that he has never run anything more than a 100 kms at a stretch. His determination and the quadruple muscles on his legs should help him cruisethrough to the end of the lap.
Though he is unfamiliar with the insides of a gym, Soman keeps himself ship shape by running for two hours thrice a week.
Backpacking his kit for two manic weeks, Soman says the best way to prepare for an ultra-long marathon is to run as much as possible. "Last year I ran a 20 kms at a stretch often. But I would also rest well after that. So to run that much twice a day for two weeks, without much rest, is quite another matter," says Soman, who will have to run an average of 38 kms daily to touch the finish line on June 5, World Environment Day.
Having taken to the swimming pool in his toddler days, Soman began representing Maharashtra when he turned 10.
For four years - from age 19 to 23 - Soman bagged the national championship swimming titles. When he stepped into the glitzy world of modelling in 1989, swimming went for a toss. "I was mired in modelling and acting. But as I am an outdoors person, I was still trekking and doing some other activities."
A late bloomer to the evils of heavy smoking - started at 30 and quit a few years later - and having tided drinking binges for four years, Soman has now grown wise to the ways of his body. Yet figuring out the actual challenges of this event would be quite another matter.
"These are times when you don't know how your body will respond. This will be more gruelling than a full marathon. I'll be running in the hottest part of the country and that too, not through the green cover of forests, but on the burning tar roads."
As a child, Soman nurtured two wishes - to run a full 42 km-long marathon and climb Mount Everest. But he did not run until the first edition of Mumbai Marathon in 2003. "I began running half-marathons and it helped my fundraising for the multiple sclerosis society and others," says Soman, who has run the Mumbai and New York full marathons.
For those who wonder how he is setting out at 46 for something he hasn't done even in his youth, Soman says he hasn't grown old but has only turned ripe.
"I discovered something about myself when I did Fear Factor - Khatron ke khiladi 3, last year. For tasks that required endurance and concentration, I was doing them much better than before. I did notice that I wasn't as quick as before. But I feel stronger. I feel more solid. I am certainly in a much better cardiovascular condition now than I was at 25 when I won the national championship for swimming. The tendency of people skirting 30s and 40s is to feel lethargic or weak. But trust me, most of it is in your head. If you keep pushing and challenging yourself, your body will not betray your will."
Soman, who will be downing fruit and fluids every now and then, is not without his anxieties. "There is a limit to how much water-loss can be compensated. The body and mind require time to recuperate. I hope I don't suffer a breakdown. Since I know nothing about how strenuous this will be, it is a little nerve-wracking."
For 15 unrelenting days, Soman will live on food that is easy to digest. "I am going off non-veg because the body takes up a lot of energy to digest meat." The model will kickstart his day with a high-carb, high-energy breakfast comprising porridge, muesli, fruits and juices. Meals will include rice, dal, chapatis and veggies.
Running is almost like an out-of-body experience for Soman. "If you run regularly for 10 to 15 kms, you get into that space where it is like meditation. There is no confusion in your head, thoughts enter and leave and you let go of all your pent-up emotions. You reach a spiritual level because you feel the freedom to fully control your body. It becomes so effortless that you breathe smoothly without panting. You are lifted from a regular state of being to a state much more relaxing. It is a great place to be."
In a full 42-km marathon two years ago, Soman clocked 4 hours 50 minutes. Last year, he bettered it by accomplishing it in 3 hours 49 minutes. "But I don't even compete with myself, forget with others. I just like to challenge myself. I think running a full marathon is a pinnacle of physical achievement, as it requires every bit of your mental and physical strength."
Soman who shuttles between his event company, production house, fitness company and films, still manages to pinch out time to run 'all across Mumbai' and Lonavala, which he visits frequently. "To be fit is to be free. I run at any time, though I love running in the mornings or late nights. Earlier, I would do shoots and run back several kilometres home."
What does girlfriend Shahana Goswami think about his obsession? "She may think I'm nuts for running 600 kms - like a madman. But she will return from Spain just in time to meet me at the finish line. That is some motivation for me to keep going," he chuckle