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Faith leads to freedom-the endurance story of Runner Samir Singh

PC: Vikram Bhatti

Samir Singh was destined to run. A run that had started at the age of 5, culminated at the age of 45. It was a run that stunned the world, a run that is and will remain as one of the most enduring stories of extreme human endurance, passion and freedom.

 Surrounded by hills and hillocks and barren lands, Samir Singh was born in the remote Kanaheda village. A mischievous child in his growing-up days, Samir loved to tease his friends and run away from there. They could never catch him and he was always the winner. He also relished his running capability when he chased his cows in the pasteur lands. The cows were fast but he was even faster. Thus, Samir discovered from that age that he could run with great speed but never thought that he would run such a race that would leave everyone spellbound.

The son of a farmer, Samir studied in a village school but in a sudden monsoon, the school building fell down. The building was never renovated and so Samir’s studies were never restored. He was happy, he had all the time to be in his ownself. His mischiefs increased, he turned to be a vagabond but the thing that remained constant was his run. That was the time when often at night, he ran several kilometres from his home to the nearby city just to catch the night show of an Amitabh Bachchan or a Mithun Chakraborty film. Those were indications of a big run that Samir himself was not aware of.

Hardships and poverty were part of his life. But Samir Singh dreamt, precisely he dared to dream. As he turned adolescent, Samir ran away from his home to reach ‘Bombay’. But once he landed there, he was bewildered. The hugeness of the city left him confused. Once he also thought of returning to his village but he was destined to do something big. He took up odd jobs and survived in the city.

PC: Vikram Bhatti

It was in the year 2004 that Samir first learnt that running was a sport. While working for a survey company, he happened to conduct a survey on Marathon. That was the first time he heard the word and started searching details about the race. One of his friends, Muhammad, guided him through online searches and data. Samir learnt some fascinating facts about the annual Standard Chartered Marathon of Mumbai and also found that there was big money in the event. But Samir himself admitted that his path still did not turn towards serious running.

Might be he was not turning himself towards running, but the magic of big money was giving him sleepless nights. And those sleepless nights eventually turned to be his practicing days. As the city slept, Samir raced through the lanes and by lanes and was gradually taking steps forward towards the most eventful run of his life.

In 2008, Samir Singh registered himself as a long-distance runner in Standard Chartered Marathon in Mumbai. However, on the day of Mumbai Marathon, he was surprised with the huge number of participants and was lost in the crowd. But he finished the race, though with an average timing.

Though his first Standard Chartered Marathon was not a memorable one, but Samir treasured the memory of running alongside the Kenyan runners. He read and heard stories about them but to see them running live was a different experience for him. The sheer perseverance of those runners moved him so much that he wanted to model himself on them. And thus, Samir Singh became a runner. The events of his life always hinted him to chase this dream, but it took 35 years for Samir to ultimately find the meaning of his life.

Samir started practicing rigorously and as a self-trained runner he exceled. He ran some marathon but as he started late, he realised that it was better to chase distance rather than time. So instead of participating in marathon, he started participating in ultra marathon. With extreme determination, he won a couple of ultra races in India including Vadodara-Mumbai Ultra (a 12-hour run). Samir also finished on top after having logged 107km in 2015 and 121km in 2016. His achievement landed him job as a coach to some young athletes.

PC: Vikram Bhatti

But Samir did not stop there. That small boy from a certain village of Madhya Pradesh, after 43 years of his life, dreamt of doing something unusual that no long distance runner had ever attempted. And then came the idea of running ‘100km into 100days’. He had heard about runners running 100km in one day but Samir did not want to end his dream in a single day. He wanted an elaborate dream, a dream that would live for many days, the days that would see his passion, the days in which he would savour success successively. Samir’s challenge reflected his extreme imagination, but at the same time it also reflected his simplicity. He chose 100×100 because it sounded like a round figure, unaware of the fact that it totaled up to 10,000km.

A devotee of Lord Krishna, Samir thought of visiting the Lord’s place for His blessings before starting his race. There he performed the ‘parikrama’ of Vrindavan, running an average of 75km per day. This was the first step towards the training for his challenge. For 5 months, Samir continued his practice in the pious land of Lord Krishna. And on 29th April 2017, Samir Singh, an ultra marathoner from India started one of the finest journey of human strength and that is to run 100km in 100 days. This extraordinary feat has never been attempted before by any long distance runner anywhere in the world.

Samir Singh’s unique challenge appeared as a mad endeavour to many. A man running from the wee hours of the morning everyday on the same route, was also a matter of curiosity to many. And this curiosity, one day, brought filmmakers Vandana Bhatti and Vikram Bhatti towards him. In their own words-“ Despite being from the running community, we had not heard of Samir before. One day, during our practice run at Juhu beach, Mumbai, we noticed him and were taken by this lanky runner, who was just bone and flesh, but had a remarkable running style.  He was also badly sunburnt and his body hair seemed golden. As we asked other runners, surprisingly a few knew about the challenge he had undertaken. We were thoroughly inspired and wanted to meet him on Day-47. We took a long walk at Juhu beach and he shared his story.”

PC: Seema Chaubey

Vandana and Vikram first understood the method of Samir Singh’s running. Everyday Samir was running 100 km but that was not at a stretch. He broke his daily run in two parts, first half comprising of 60-75km and then covering the remaining part in the evening. In between he took his lunch and rested a bit. The rests were on the side lanes or on footpaths. But he always kept his schedule flexible, depending on how his body was responding on that particular day.

The brother-sister filmmaker duo also had a detailed conversation about his diet. They found that Samir is a vegetarian who prefers simple food with little salt and turmeric, and without any spices at all. His lunch and dinner comprise of simple dal and rice, boiled potatoes and red gram, along with a vegetable and sometimes cottage cheese. Amongst fruits, he prefers apple but avoids banana and watermelon.

This simple living but extraordinary determination of Samir Singh, moved Vikram and Vandana and they decided to initiate a campaign for him. Through that campaign, they wanted to bring people of the world together to celebrate, salute and applaud this unsung athlete as he makes history. But their campaign was not getting an appropriate name as they scribbled and scratched on papers. They had little time as there was only 50 days left for them to promote Samir. And suddenly, Samir’s ‘faith’ in the Almighty struck to Vikram and he got the name ‘Faith Runner’. The ‘Faith Runner’ spread Samir’s story and inspired many people.

PC: Vikram Bhatti

People came in, joined him, some helped him, and some others discouraged him. And with all these, Samir spent running for 95 days.  But on the 96th day, his body did not permit him to run more than 45 km. He was hospitalized on that day but could not rest as he had piled up 55km. So on the 98th day, he ran the longest, covering 130 km.  However, on Day 99, his stomach broke down again and he missed his day’s challenge. This put him under more stress and on the 99th day, Samir’s determination suddenly jolted. His body was not letting him run and he even wanted to pull out before the last day.

But on 6th August 2017-the final day of his race- he woke up with a positive mind and set out for his running at 4:00am. There was no hurry for him as he was content with what he had achieved till that day. He knew that even if he could not meet his ultimate goal, his extreme endurance challenge of 100km x 100day was open to any current or future athlete to break. So, taking it easy, on the 100th day, Samir clocked his 100km in 11.19 hours and finished his race at around 5pm. He ran the last 100 meters at a meteoric pace, finally crossing the red ribbon, relieved, content, and with a joyous smile.

PC: Vikram Bhatti

Going by his Garmin data that he uploaded daily on his social media platform, he has covered a total of 9,964.19km in 100 days, which is short by 35.19km, or 00.0036th of 10,000km.

Samir now looks very lean and thin. He wants to go back to his village and meet his parents. But he knows that his parents will not like his weak stature. So he wants to recover by gaining some body weight. Also, he wants money and for that he has to start coaching his students again.  He is unemployed for almost 9 months since the time he went to Vrindavan for his training. But then, he stretches his arms and smilingly adds, “or maybe I’ll just sleep for two months”.

Samir Singh’s feat came at a perfect time-the time when India is facing disasters in the form of child death, flood and outrages. But it is also the time when the country is emerging as a powerful nation in its 71st year of Independence. Samir reflects the determination of new India, the zeal of young India where shackles are to be broken. Samir broke his poverty, his hardship, his adversity and took a free leap towards his freedom. A salute to one of the real sporting heroes of India.  

About Poulomi Kundu

PoulomiKundu started her career in 2000 as a freelance journalist in Hindustan Times. Soon after she was selected an intern in Zee News, Kolkata. After her post- graduation in English, Poulomi joined the leading television production house of eastern India, Rainbow Productions. She was a journalist in Khas Khobor, a Bengali news magazine programme in Doordarshan and also headed the post production department of another programme, Khas Kolkata. In 2004, Poulomi moved to Delhi as a creative writer in an advertising agency, Brand Stewards Pvt. Ltd. In 2005, she again shifted her base for a better opportunity and that in Mumbai. There she got the job in Raa Media Pvt Ltd. as an associate director of two programmes for Doordarshan-Yuva and Paisa Vasool. In the meantime, she also wrote features in DNA as a freelancer. Poulomi directs promotional videos, develops scripts for films for Corporate and NGOs. But an ardent sports lover, Poulomi always had an urge to contribute somewhere in the field of sports. Her love for sports started from an early age when she played gully cricket and football for local teams. Academics and professional hazards sometimes took her away from her passion, but it never died in her. She always nurtured the never-ending dream. So she materialized her dream in the form of ‘SPORTSAVOUR’. It is an online sports portal that serves sports with the tagline ‘For the indigenous, unconventional, unknown’.

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