How Dr Santanu Dutta overcame obesity to become an ultramarathon champion

What do you do when a doctor tells you of an impending medical condition? When you realise that unless you make drastic changes in your lifestyle, you are only setting yourself up for years, or even decades, of medical interventions?

Eight years ago, Dr Santanu Dutta, a radiologist by profession was an obese person who was staring at diabetes and dyslipidemia. He had only two choices: go on medication for the rest of his life, or make a huge change.

Having just wrapped up the Comrades Marathon, a gruelling 90-km in South Africa, one can safely figure out what he chose.

The Comrades Marathon is an ultramarathon run annually in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race.

Of course, this has neither been easy nor quick, admits Dutta, 47, in a conversation with EastMojo. One does not learn to run before one learns to walk, and one does not learn to walk before one learns to crawl. “ I too initially started with 5 km, then progressed to 10 km. Gradually, with time, I increased the distance to 21 km (half marathon) before taking on 42 km, then 50 km, then 100 km and so on, just to challenge myself every time,” explains Dutta.

In August, he completed Comrades Marathon, the ultimate human race in South Africa and at this point, Dutta is right when he calls himself “a Radiologist by profession and an endurance athlete by passion.”

“I have done 2 Ironman triathlons in Malaysia and Australia, Comrades (90 km) in South Africa, multiple marathons around the world, more than 25 ultramarathon & full marathons in India including 172 km run from Guwahati to Tezpur, more than 100 half marathons,” he tells EastMojo.

But it is not as if one can simply run these distances without many preparations. Dutta explains the difference between a marathon and an ultramarathon, and how one prepares differently for both. “In ultramarathons, you tend to cut down speed and focus on endurance. The practice runs are slower but much longer,” he says.

However, there are many similarities too, especially in terms of preparation. “Strength training and nutrition are almost the same. On need lots of strength training and stretching for an ultramarathon with good nutrition and balanced diet, especially when it comes to protein intake,” he said.

And, Dutta says, that recovery is as, if not more, important than training. “Adequate rest, proper diet, stretching, and massage play a vital role in the recovery process. Cross-training with cycling and swimming also helps. Proper sleep is another important aspect for recovery,” he said.

While Dutta’s achievements are indeed amazing, he humbly points out that this is not a one-man team. “I have a support team. My wife is also into endurance running and supports me wholeheartedly. My friends and my running group members are also my support team.

But it is not as if such events are now limited to overseas. Dutta says that the ultramarathon scene in India is ever-increasing. “There are many familiar events in India. Events like Tata ultramarathon at Lonavala, Ooty ultramarathon are some,” he says.

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