Jetlagged, but He Couldn’t Pass Up a Chance to Run the New Delhi Marathon

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Dr. Randeep Suneja in his running outfit prior to the Air New Delhi Tel half Marathon on November 23. He says he always packs a running outfit whenever he travels.

By Jawahar Malhotra

KATY: Though he had arrived at his brother’s house just a few hours earlier and was jet lagged, Randeep Suneja’s eyes popped when he picked up the Hindustan Times Saturday morning over tea with his family. “The Airtel New Delhi Half Marathon was scheduled to run the next day and my mind immediately started to wonder if I could participate,” Suneja said after he returned from his two week overseas trip, of which a week was in Delhi.

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A hydration station along the marathon route, with the actress Bipasha Basu, Vinod Khanna and others manning it

Suneja, a well-known respected cardiologist with a large practice in Katy, immediately picked up the phone to check but was disappointed with the response. “They told me that the registration was closed on October 31,” he was disappointed to learn, but his mind was racing for an answer. He knew a close professional colleague in Houston who had talked about having “a brother pretty high up in Air Tel, so I decided to give her a call in Houston” where it was 11pm of the night before.

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Randeep Suneja (right) and his brother Pradeep (center) with veteran film actor and MP Vinod Khanna.

She told Suneja she would call her brother right away and a few minutes later Suneja heard from him in New Delhi. “He said it would be really difficult, next to impossible as 32,500 people had already registered and security was tight following the Boston Marathon tragedy, but he would try to see if I could be registered,” recalled Suneja. Thirty minutes later, he got the call that his registration had been processed and that his credentials would be ready at the Le Meridien hotel on Jan Path, where he was invited for an exclusive VIP lunch.

Surprised, but elated by the news, Suneja went to the hotel “where I was treated like royalty’” he said. He feasted on a lunch of pasta, derigeur for carb loading before a marathon, with only another 100 guests, among who were the veteran Bollywood actor and current Member of Parliament, Vinod Khanna and many other celebrities like actress Vispasha Basu and actor Rahul Bose. “I asked Khanna for a picture with him and much to my surprise, he agreed,” said Suneja, whose brother Pradeep, a retired ENT surgeon, could not believe his younger brother’s connections had brought him in touch with celebrities and pomp.

The next morning, Suneja showed up at 5:45am on a chilly Sunday morning, November 23, at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in the Jangpura district. A few hundred people were doing a 20-minute warm up session and then the run started by 7am. The 13.1 mile (21.09km) route ran from the stadium all the way past India Gate, Vijay Chowk, Jan Path to the Jantar Mantar and back and thousands of people lined the streets to cheer the marathoners on. There were plenty of hydration stations handing out juices and water and peeled oranges with salt, unique to this marathon, porta-potties and plenty of security.

A passionate marathoner who has run in the Houston Marathon this January and will again next month, Suneja was surprised by the organization and efficiency of the Delhi race. “It was completely professionally planned out by Procera International, a worldwide marathon organizer and Air Tel, the cellular multi-national has sponsored it for the past nine years,” he said of the largest sporting event of its kind in India. What surprised him most was the prize money, which totaled $210,000, with 40 prizes awarded, 20 for men and 20 for women. The men’s race was won by Guye Adola of Ethiopia in 59.06 minutes and the women’s race by Florence Kiplagat, another Ethiopian in 1hr 10.04 minutes.

As busy as Suneja is with his medical practice, it is a wonder that he has had the time to train so passionately for a marathon. He finished the Delhi Half Marathon in 2 hrs 50 minutes, though he has finished the Houston Half Marathon in 2 hours 33 minutes. Still, he was elated by the rare opportunity to run in his hometown, all thanks to a Houston connection, and has come back with a deeper respect for the dedication of the younger Indian professionals towards healthy living.