Get to know the Thai Indian Runners, a group that has relentlessly kept pace with their goal of bringing together the Thai-Indian community.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
Most of us may have fitness goals that we try to achieve through running, but it’s often hard for us to, well, keep on track. With that in mind, the Thai Indian Runners group was created in mid-2016 as a platform to help motivate other runners to hit the finish line of their running goals. What began life as a mere Facebook page with pictures of runners in the Thai-Indian community, soon transformed into a group of 60 dedicated attendees by the end of 2016, and over 100 men and women at present.
When they realised that there was real interest in a platform for runners to meet and share knowledge, group founders Suradej ‘Dev’ Sumetpong, Vuthinand ‘Pappu’ Singhrakthai, and Thepanant ‘Anan’ Narang built the structure of the club from the ground up, with regular meetups, city runs, and even uniform T-shirts. Certified marathon runners and veterans of long and short-distance races over a variety of terrains, the founders have a collective – and literal – track record that speaks for itself, and when they approached the youth forum president of the Indian Association of Thailand (IAT), Nikorn Sachdev, he was only too happy to support the project. With the backing of the IAT president, Sarabjit Singh Sachdev, the other members of the IAT team, and IAT resources, the Thai Indian Runners grew into a bulwark for the community, where inspiration and motivation are both found and shared, and a healthier and more driven lifestyle is promoted through running.
In order to encourage inclusivity, there is no criteria for membership save a passion for running and an initial IAT membership fee. The group comprises Thai-Indians from all walks – or runs – of life, and of all ages, from 19-year-old Apinan Kumar to the 63-year-old IAT president. Guidance is provided to beginners, and those with plenty of mileage behind them impart their hard-earned tips and tricks of the trade. With their mission to not only promote fitness but to embrace challenge, the Thai Indian Runners are sprinting towards the future, which will include a marathon event and a Family Fun Run later this year for the whole Thai-Indian community, not just IAT members.
Dev, Pappu, and Anan took time out of their busy schedules to share the ways that running has transformed their lives, how the Thai Indian Runners are enriching the community, and the reality of that elusive runner’s high.
Suradej ‘Dev’ Sumetpong
48 years old, Business Owner
What was your impetus behind taking up running?
I was very active in sports and athletics in school, but after sustaining injuries while playing football, I had to find myself a new sport. I decided to take up running as it was an individual sport and I didn’t have to rely on anyone else. Running taught me discipline, which is something you need for any sport, and with it, I found my passion, which every sportsperson needs. On top of that, I’m privileged that it’s a decision that my wife and my family have been very supportive of.
How did the Thai Indian Runners inspire you in your running journey?
I became addicted to running because of the President of the IAT, Sarabjit Singh Sachdev. He made running easy for me. I ran my first 21km with him, although I did end up crashing during the 12th km. Despite that, friends from the running group helped me persevere in my training, such as my good friend Suthep Srisakulchawla, my daily running buddy, Surat Sachdev, and my brother-in-law, Kasame Chawla, with whom I eventually broke the mental 10km barrier. Running is primarily a mental exercise – even if your bodies are ready, your minds need to be prepared. Once we pushed ourselves to run the 11th km, the next ones came easily.
Another advantage of the group is meeting people who’ll push you further. Vikas Kawatra, for example, made sure that I finished my first marathon and he’s continually tested my limits with all sorts of crazy distance runs.
What advice would you like to give to the running community?
People are very reluctant to come out of their comfort zones, and it’s true that running is not easy. It requires a lot of hard work and a lot of pain during the first few months. But don’t give up. If you can beat your mind, your body can take you anywhere.
“If you can beat your mind, your body can take you anywhere.”
“My first runner’s high was 27 years ago, when I completed my first 10km without realising that my body could do it. Once the runner’s high kicks in, no one can stop you. The only question is how much further you can take it.”
VUTHINAND ‘PAPPU’ SINGHRAKTHAI
41 years old, Business Owner
“I started at zero, and I’m at the level I am today because of the people who allowed me to tag along during their runs”
What started your passion for running?
It began with a wake-up call. I used to be a champion sportsman during my school days, but afterwards, I got sucked into the work-to-couch cycle of the corporate lifestyle for 20 years. In 2015, I did a standard blood test but when the results came out, it turned out I had all sorts of cholesterol problems. My doctor advised exercise, so I followed the usual formula and hit the treadmill. But I’m a field person and not a studio person. I became depressed. I just couldn’t take it.
I saw some Facebook posts of friends who had been running outside in the park, and I asked if I could join them. They agreed, and the rest is history.
What role did other TIR members play in where you are now?
I got into a routine of running a certain distance, and I needed someone to take me further. That someone was Anan Narang, who told me to improve my skills and distances so I could compete at a higher level. My other inspiration was Kasame Chawla, my running buddy. Wherever I would run, he would run with me.
Although I owe my motivation to these two, the rest is all individual. That’s what running is about. It’s an addiction – once you start, you can’t stop. If your friend says they’re not running today, you need to be able to say, “to hell with that, I’m going to run.”
What, for you, is the goal of the Thai Indian Runners club?
I started at zero, and I’m at the level I am today because of the people who allowed me to tag along during their runs. The Thai Indian Runners are a platform for others to find that someone, like I did, who’ll pull them along. The whole objective is not to cater to expert runners – although they’re welcome as well – but for new runners to find inspiration and someone to run alongside them.
We continue to sacrifice our time and resources for the group because we all started with the privilege of others guiding us. This is how we can repay that privilege by helping the community become healthier and creating a good momentum within our society.
“My first runner’s high came unexpectedly when I ran an ultra-marathon. I ran for 10 hours non-stop. I was aware that I ran for five hours, but the other five hours I couldn’t even feel my body. I was lost in space.”
THEPANANT ‘ANAN’ NARANG
36 years old, Business Owner
“We are a tribe. We can speak the same language now; the language of running“
What inspired you to run?
My kids were basically what inspired me to get into running. I was never into sports. I buried my childhood in video games, TV, and fast food, and then I spent my university years partying and drinking. I finally woke up to my terrible lifestyle one day in my 20s when I got out of bed around noon after a hard night of partying and I realised that I was missing out on quality time with my kids. I had aches and pains all through my body and I knew I needed to change.
I started going to the gym but I got bored after a couple of years because my progress had plateaued, so I decided to start running. The treadmill caused aches in my knees, so I went to Benjakitti Park next to my house and I challenged myself to run half the round of the park, then the full round, then further.
Can you share with us a running lesson you’ve learnt?
The first lesson I ever learnt was that when you’re starting to run, you need to find company who are at the same level as you and who will push you forward. Luckily, when I was starting out, I had a few Thai friends who were running regularly in Lumpini Park and they invited me to join them. Everybody was slow, but we were there just to motivate each other.
Who were some of the people who motivated you to keep running?
There was a time where I wanted to give up because I wasn’t running properly and it was giving me a lot of pain. One of my friends, Veeratham Sachdev, who is part of this running group today, used to post a lot of his achievements as a triathlete on Facebook, and those posts inspired me to do better. I started reading a lot more about running and improved my form.
Suradej ‘Dev’ Sumetpong was the reason that I gained the confidence to run a full marathon. Although he didn’t know me, he shared his knowledge with me when he saw me running and he planted the idea of running a marathon. With his help, I was able to train for one and run it successfully.
What do you wish for the TIR club to achieve?
The group was created so that others like me would have contact with other runners who can not only run or train together, but discuss the distances they’re running, events they’re signing up for, and tips that worked and didn’t work.
We have about 100 people in the group and I know only four or five of them closely. But just being in the group, anyone can ask for and give advice because we are a tribe. We can speak the same language now; the language of running. We push each other further and help each other realise the truly amazing things we can achieve, such as when my friends and I signed up for our first half-marathon (21.1km) in 2015. Prior to that, I never thought we could make it but after preparing together, we all got through the finish line.
“My first runner’s high was the day I crossed the finish line of my first full marathon. In that moment, I did not feel anything around me: it was just me, my breath, and the finish line. I experienced running on a very spiritual level. It taught me to never give up.”
The Thai Indian Runners can be found at the following places:
Parks: weekly meetups in parks, either on weekdays or weekends, often at Lumpini Park and Benjakitti Park.
City Runs: one Sunday a month, a run is conducted on an 8-12km route around the city at the slowest runner’s pace, ending at some of Bangkok’s oldest hidden breakfast joints.
Special Events: for example, team relays, also called Ekiden, or a Running Clinic with a seminar from a certified coach on proper running form, injury prevention, and skill improvement. The latest upcoming event is a parade-like Bogie Run on the 25th of August at Lumpini Park.
Virtually: always reachable online, members often attempt running challenges regularly through social applications.
Visit their Facebook @Thaiindianrunners