Monday, 16 January 2012

From 136 kg to 2:17 in the Marathon in 11 months !

The ninth running of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon was held yesterday, and once again it was a joy to see the city come out and run, in all its vibrant colors. As Medical Director of the race, I am privileged to come across several stories of exceptional grit and determination. I would like to chronicle some of them, with the hope that they will serve to inspire thousands more.

I have realized that in endurance events, as in life, all it takes for man to achieve what seems impossible, is to know that it is possible. The 4 minute barrier for running the mile (1.6 km) was considered to be unbreakable for decades, but once Sir Roger Bannister broke it in 1954, it was done several times more, in that year itself. I do hope that some of these tales will make people revise their views of what they consider impossible targets.

The first story I would like to share is that of Nithiij Arenja. Before we go any further, I must make a disclaimer that Nithiij is a very close friend, which gives me the advantage of knowing the 'full story'.

Nithiij has struggled with his weight, ever since he was a young man studying in England, and at his peak (or should I say at his nadir) topped the scales at a whopping 160 kg. His weight has yo-yo'd over the last 15 years, but has mostly remained in the red zone. In February of 2011, he was 136 kg, when he decided that enough was enough, and he had to turn things around, for his health's sake and for the sake of his young family.

He went on a low cal, low fat diet and included a high volume of exercise in his daily routine. He had his 'Polar' wrist watch and heart rate monitor on at all times, which was a surrogate for the amount of calories he burned during the day. His aim was to create a deficit of over 500 cals daily. As expected, in the initial few months the pounds fell rapidly, and that spurred him on to increase his exercise volume even further. The next phase of inspiration to lower the weight even further were the comments and look of awe he got from people he had not met in a while (more than a few of which were young ladies, I might add). While all of this sounds fairly mundane, it's important to know how much good food means to Nithiij. He truly enjoys his food, (whether it's from a roadside dhaba or caviar and foie gras), and an occasional drink or two, or three.

As part of his exercise routine, he started jogging /walking on the treadmill in September 2011, and this proved to be a struggle initially. When there is a 100kg weight pounding on your knees, they will protest and they surely did. However, he did not let this setback pull him down, but on the contrary it spurred him to increase the distance. As he lost further weight, his ambition grew and on more than one occasion I have chided him on getting 'too greedy', and I am happy to say that he has proved me wrong. In November he ran more than 10 km at a stretch for the first time, and in the beginning of December I entered him for the Stan Chart Mumbai half Marathon, without his knowledge (being medical director of the race does have some privileges). I revealed this information to him only in the middle of December, since I was unsure myself of his ability to run 21 km. To complicate matters, he developed a bad flu at the end of the year, and was out of commission for over two weeks. Rather than make him give up the task, as it would do for most of us, it only made him more determined. To make it more meaningful, he decided to run for Indian soldiers who had been paralyzed in the Kargil war (read his appeal below and do suppor the cause).

On the eve of the marathon, I had a long chat with him and worked out a 'sensible' strategy, which would have him finish in 2 hr 45 min. Nithiij being Nithiij, wanted to do it in under 2:30, which I felt he was not ready for. Well to cut a long story short, I was on medical duty at Hotel Ambassador, and it was 8:15 am and the early wave of half-marathoners were coming through. Suddenly in the distance, I saw this black and yellow spandex covered thin man running towards me, and I looked at my watch in disbelief. There he was, looking pretty fresh, and kicked about the fact that he had proved me wrong- again. Nithiij finished in an amazing time of 2 hr 17 min, and is an inspiration to me and all those around him. Here is his official race timing and photos.

Oh, I forgot to mention one little detail- he is now 83 kg ! Thats a 53 kg weight loss in 11 months. Nithiij is happy to share his weight loss tips and efforts, should you like him to. He can be contacted at
Read below, his call for support for the soldiers' charity:


I am going to attempt the 21km Mumbai Half Marathon on the 15th of January and I am making this attempt for a cause I feel strongly for:

The paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre in Kirkee, Pune:

This is a Fauji institution set up for our soldiers medically disabled by spinal cord injuries. Most of them fought for us in Kargil and were badly wounded in war. I wish to highlight their need for financial support and run this 21km for their cause. This is a wonderful institution , please take a minute out and read this article:

Contributions can be made by cash/ crossed cheque in the name of "Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre" and I can have them collected and handed over to them after the run on the 16th at the Army Office in Mumbai.

Our soldiers deserve a second chance at life- So grateful for your support


  1. Amazing story..convey my personal congrats to Nithiij

  2. Oh Wow!! Inspirational story ! Well done Nithiij !

  3. Dear doc, that is a truly inspirational effort by Nithij...could not belive the 2 photos side by side!!

    it was great to see you that morning in the final Km..i completed in 2:05:18, was happy to shave off 7 mins from the previous practice run. I am now setting a goal to achieve 1:45 hrs by April 15th.

    Best regards,

  4. HI Anand,
    Thanks for your message, and congratulations on a great time. Do you have a plan in place for running sub 1:45? To be honest, its quite a task to reduce 20 min off your half marathon time in 3 months- unless you were not adeuately prepared for mumbai, or had a very bad run compared to your expectation. Happy running.