It’s been 25 years since Milind Soman shot to fame with the iconic Indipop music video, Made in India. From 1995 to 2020, he continues to hog the spotlight with Made in India—the only difference being the recent encore version is his heart-wrenching memoir that bares it all about what makes Soman tick. His relationships, addictions, his unconventional fitness regime and more.
The trained athlete’s easy-on-the-eyes supermodel looks apart, Soman has become the unofficial ambassador of health and fitness, marathon and long-distance running in India.
Soman earned the title of Ironman in 2015, a triathlon of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, at the age of 50. Two years later he became an Ultraman by achieving one of the world's most gruelling triathlons, a three-day multi-sport endurance challenge, completing a 10 km swim, 421 km bicycle ride, and 84km of double marathon. Most recently, Soman went free-driving in Iceland with a luxury watch brand he endorses—ensuring his chase for adventure and extreme sports. From an supermodel turned actor turned swimmer turned marathoner turned women’s fitness activist, Soman, reveals the story of his stunning and apparently seamless transition, all in one lifetime, in his recent memoir, Made In India, that was released on January 23, 2020.
In an exclusive chat with LF, Soman opens up about the athlete’s mind and shares not just anecdotes, but also nuggets of information on how to prepare the mind and body to run the perfect marathon. Those looking for some inspiration to get on their feet and run this marathon season, scroll down now.
What are the benefits of taking up running, especially long distance running or marathons?
Running a marathon opens your mind; it helps you reach the true potential where nothing can stop you. Timing is not important but the feeling is. So, don’t think, just run. That will bring great value to your life. But marathons will take a toll on your body. It is an extreme distance. Our bodies are naturally capable of running 30-35 kms, beyond that it faces ‘The Wall’—a physical and mental barrier.
That’s why marathon or long distance running is special, it pushes your body beyond what it is naturally capable of. However, to do so, training is imperative.
What are some must-have essentials for a marathoner?
Practice! To run a marathon your body needs to be conditioned. And that comes with regular practice and training. If I want to run 100 miles, I need to practice running 80-90 miles every week.
I am a strong proponent of yoga. It’s the most sophisticated exercise in the world because yoga helps your blood circulate to any part of the body with minimum effort. Everyone has weak areas, it could be the stomach, the heart, the lungs or the brain. To strengthen that you need oxygen and nutrition. Yoga is the best way to ensure that blood reaches the weak parts of the body.
Also, I try not to be competitive and I choose my pace. I want to maintain a certain level of fitness that I can run a marathon at any point of time. I have to go the distance and reach where I want to reach—when and how is up to me.
Does one need to follow a specific diet to be a successful marathoner?
The human body is so advanced that as long you have a balanced diet a fully-functioning body can get all the nutrition it needs. I don’t need a special diet to be a long distance runner. In the last 17 years as a runner, I have been told that I am protein deficient. My diet has remained the same and I’ve never felt the need to take supplements. It is important to have a balanced diet. Also, it's not true that a vegetarian diet doesn't give athletes the necessary amino acids and protein intake that is required. In fact, whatever nutrients the body needs, it can absorb from a vegan diet too. You just need to eat a lot more in this case. If you eat more vegetables, you end up eating clean which leads to less waste, less toxins and less pressure on the body. I don't believe in having any dietary restrictions. If I feel the need to indulge and binge-eat or give in to my sweet cravings, I exercise portion control, but I don’t take it off my diet. I have a sweet tooth, so I opt for jaggery, instead of refined white sugar.
How did you train for Ironman for Ultraman?
For Ironman, I trained for about 80 days. An American lady chalked out a training programme that entailed training for 35 hours a week, which was impractical. She redesigned it, but I still did not want to invest 25 hours in a week for training. Eventually, I designed my programme that was to train for 14 hours a week.
I had never cycled before! And I had to do 180 kms of that. Ironman was comfortable for me. In fact, after I did my cycling bit, I went to sleep for half an hour. I even had a beer because by then I knew nothing could stop me from finishing before the cut off time of seven hours.
Very few people sign up for the Ultraman—of the 150,000 people who become Ironman every year, only about 100 complete the Ultraman. I had decided that I wouldn’t train at all, just to see if I was maintaining the level of fitness that was needed to take up the challenge. They design these events in a way that anybody who has the will and necessary training can successfully complete. In fact, just a few months ago, someone with prosthetic legs also completed the Ironman successfully. And the oldest Ironman is 86 years or so!
What is the trick to balance your mental and physical stamina?
Mind is the weakest part of the body and needs the most training. While the body is busy managing various functions- controlling the lungs, heart, sugar levels, salt levels, blood circulation, body temperature, etc, it's the mind that plays tricks. If it sees a cigarette packet, which clearly states it will kill you, you will still smoke a cigarette. That’s how weak the mind is.
you can achieve your potential only when the mind starts respecting the body. It has to be a realisation, then a decision, then comes learning. And this discipline comes from sports. When you run or cycle, your mind and body begin to move in sync.
How have your mother and wife helped you evolve as a person?
My family is an unusual one. My mother taught biochemistry at a time when it wasn’t subject of choice. At the age of 60, she started trekking again. Last year, when she turned 80, we trekked about 350 kms in 20 days in Spain. My mother has taught me the concept of how to live, and that is the source of my fitness philosophy where it helps create a positive world for yourself and others around you.
Ankita, my wife is 26 years younger than me and that obviously brings a new perspective. She only gives me a closer perspective on what goes on in a millennial's mind.
Your most memorable run was…
I don’t like cities, I love to run in Lonavala. It’s quieter and the roads are beautiful. I liked the marathon track in New York. Of course, the track itself is beautiful but the way it’s designed helps you discover the city at your own pace, covering different parts of the city, music and bands playing along the way, and the way the city comes out to cheer you.
The most memorable run for me personally was the first full marathon I ran in Mumbai. I was running half-marathons for about five years by then. I take training that seriously. I was also told by some coaches not to run full 42 kms in practice before the main run, which at that point I didn’t understand why. Today I know, when your mind is stressed, you will get tired much quicker.
So, on the main day, I started running and everything was fine in the beginning. At the 20 kms mark, which was very comfortable for me always, I got a cramp in my calf. I kept going, but in another 10 km I cramped my other calf. By 38 kms, I was getting cramps all over my legs, and I collapsed on Marine Drive. A lady runner of about 55-56 years of age helped me with some basic medication from her pouch and encouraged me to finish. I was in a delirious state, but she dragged me up and kept running. I have no idea how I finished.
Images Courtesy: Milind Soman