At 37, she was diagnosed with early menopause. Hereditary conditions and a family history of other ailments added to her list of stress. After over nine years of mental and physical strengthening, today at 46, Smita Kulkarni from Pune runs half and full marathons all over the world. In conversation with Protima Tiwary, read on to know how a fit lifestyle transformed her life.
Growing up in Pune, share with us your childhood memories.
I come from a family of foodies, but active ones at that. Everyone I knew was either playing a sport or practicing yoga. I on the other hand would play a lot of cricket with the boys, kabaddi and volleyball in school. I remember practicing yoga with my father; but I used to detest it back then.
How did fitness become such a part of your lifestyle?
Fitness became a part of my lifestyle only in 1999. I had gained a few unwanted kilos while traveling with my husband on ship, and I knew it was time to get in shape. I started walking a lot, and started with basic body weight training exercises. I started reading a lot about fitness, and the books introduced me to the High Intensity Interval Training workouts that I incorporated into my fitness routine later.
I learnt how the best way to lose weight and improve strength, endurance and stamina together was through HIIT.
It was during all the intensive research that I found out how HIITs worked. Not only do you burn more calories during a HIIT workout, but the effect of all that intense exertion kicks your body’s repair cycle into hyper-drive, which means you burn more fat and calories in the 24 hours after a HIIT workout than you do after, say, a steady-pace run.
Did your regime change post marriage, kids?
I was active even during my pregnancy. I’d go for evening walks and do upper body training with light weights, and some squats too. I ate a lot and which is why I gained a lot of weight. My son was born in 2003. I got back to training soon after. Post-delivery, I got back to weight training. I joined pre-natal classes for ab exercises too. I also cleaned up my diet and concentrated on eating healthy greens only.
But in 2009 the unthinkable happened. I hit premature menopause at the age of 37. It was hereditary, and I was put on Hormone Replacement Therapy to avoid the side effects of menopause (osteoporosis, strokes, weight gain) But HRT is known to cause certain types of cancer (breasts and ovarian) and there was a history of breast cancer in my family (my mother is a survivor) I had to discontinue HRT, and that is when I put in all my energy, both physical and mental, into fitness. I started running, and soon got addicted to this “me-time.”
Tell us about your support system during this phase of your life.
My family and friends have been a great part of my fitness journey. I am blessed to have a supportive husband. My son is a football player and has accompanied me on a lot of runs and has also done a couple of 10K races with me.
How do you design your training regime?
My aim is to enjoy my chosen sport with minimum injury and run steadily throughout. I do not train for the timing. Keeping this in mind, my coach and I have designed a program where we train 3-4 times a week at 5:30 am, and two days are dedicated to the gym for strength and functional training. I also practice yoga every day. I do a couple of full marathons, a few half marathons and 10k races throughout the year. Today, my dream of being a marathoner at the age of 47 is coming true thanks to my coach Dr. Kaustubh Radkar.
And when it comes to food habits, I have never believed in fad diets, I’m too much of a foodie for that. I eat in moderation and I try to stay off junk food, aerated water and sweets as much as possible. And even if I do indulge, I see to it that I burn it off the next day. Only if I am training for a specific race do I take extra care of what I am eating.
Would you like to share a personal best with us?
My recent personal best was at the Berlin and Delhi Marathons where I ran a steady, strong race with consistent splits throughout the race.
Did you come across and bust any myths during your fitness journey?
Yes there are a couple that come to mind. The myth about running being bad for your knees – I found that as long as I do a total body strength workout at least twice a week, I will reduce my chances of injury and enjoy running.
The second one, ‘doing crunches will get you a flat tummy.’ It is actually holding your body as a plank that gives me a good core workout along with sensible eating for flat abs.
Here is a woman who shows how age is just a number, and if you believe in yourself, there is nothing that will bring you down. More power to you Smita. Keep inspiring.