When Dayton resident Partha Mallikarjun decided to pick up long distance running at the age of 40, some of his friends questioned his sanity. Surely he was too old to pick up such a physically demanding hobby.
"Some said why do you want to run, there are better things you can do with your time," Mallikarjun said. "But I told them it was something that I always wanted to do. Running a marathon was one of my dreams. So I told my family and they were all for it."
A decade later at the age of 51, Mallikarjun just completed his seventh marathon on Nov. 20, when he ran in the Philadelphia Marathon. Mallikarjun completed the entire run in 4 hours 59 minutes, just short of his personal record of 4 hours 45 minutes set in his first marathon. He also is a coach and motivational speaker who promotes the benefits of running.
"The Philadelphia Marathon was a great experience for me and the athletes I coach," Mallikarjun said. "Every marathon is always an experience because each one is different, sometimes the weather is perfect and sometimes it's too cold or too hot. But the experience of running with thousands of other runners can't be beat. With a distance of 26.2 miles, it becomes more of a mental test to see if you can keep going to reach the finish line."
But ten years ago when he picked up the sport, Mallikarjun said running was just a matter of convenience due to the volume of races in the area.
"I found it easy to get involved with running and I was always interested in it as a way to stay fit, which is especially important after you reach middle age," he said. "One of my favorite sayings is help yourself to help others. There are so many benefits to being fit, like having more energy to work and spend time with your family. I consider the time I put into running as an investment, not as time spent.
"All it takes to start is just giving it ten minutes to begin with. Maybe you'll find it attractive enough to keep doing it over time and building up the distance."
Mallikarjun also coaches his runners from Asha for Education, a non-profit group dedicated to the education of underprivileged children in India. He said it usually takes a six-month training program before the runners are ready to participate in a marathon.
"Most people that join haven't been running for a long time or at all, so they have to set goals such as running a half-marathon to start," he said. "I think the mental aspect is the toughest part. It seems like a daunting prospect. Towards the end your body is telling you that it just can't run anymore. But they're running for a good cause, to raise money for the Asha program, so the mind says keep going because it's for a good cause."
Once completing their first extended run, Mallikarjun said his runners gain something more valuable than just the physical fitness component.
"You finish with a lot of mental toughness," he said. "The feedback I get is that they learn commitment and dedication. Everyone who runs agrees they have benefitted from it."
Mallikarjun said he typically runs 8 to 10 hours each week when training for a marathon. But he said long distance running is not part of some mid-life crisis, but something he plans on continuing into his golden years.
"I want to still be running when I'm 80," he said. "I encourage everyone to participate in some active sport because it's key to keeping yourself fit and it removes a lot of stress, which is important in these challenging times."