The Incredible “Everyday Elite” Runners of India

Everyday Elite: Sanjay Panghal

“There are legendary runners, and then there is Sanjay Panghal” #Panghal Xpress #pangale
We start off this years series on the Incredible “Everyday Elite” runners of India with the Phenomenal Running Icon Sanjay Panghal. Few can match the accolades, awards and championship titles amassed by him and his running group DXR in the last 5 years. No summary of his running trajectory can ever even come close to doing justice to his significant influence on the running game and in bringing in the glamour and panache connected to this “High Endurance Sport”.

An unparalleled and toptier runner, youthful and vibrant Sanjay Panghal is an IAF veteran, currently working as an Inspector in the Delhi Police. A devoted family man with three amazing kids and a lovely wife who has done as many spectacular runs with them as with his running buddies. Over his glittering marathon journey, Sanjay has time and time again achieved perfection in displaying his mastery over the sport by being outstanding, consistent, fast, and gutsy. Sanjay is known to reach exceptional physical peaks in training and in competition. He attributes the power of his mind and mental toughness in his success in achieving his running goals. As a top tier runner of the running fraternity, he believes in the philosophy of consistent training and planning. This has largely contributed to his winning mentality.

When Sanjay started running for his health, 5 years ago, he never imagined he would go on to become a trailblazing flag-bearer and much-beloved icon within the running community. His focus in the initial days of running for sport, was to be fit at age 46. He fondly remembers how keen he was at the Kabaddi and Volleyball tournaments during his stint with the Indian Air Force. However, at that time, it wasn’t easy for him to even get through the warmup without considerable physical effort and strain. He didn’t realize that what started out as a small run journey with a handful of his running buddies would have such a “life-altering” effect on his life path and, most importantly, make him fall in love with running as a sport. It all happened at the eventful time when he was posted at the Traffic unit with the Delhi Police and had little time to take care of his diet. This is when he consciously decided to take control of his health by starting a regular fitness routine. Even in his initial years as a runner, he would always stand out with his typical run style and form. He realised very early in his running attempts that when he set out to chase a running goal and would make consistent efforts daily, the hard work would help him realise his goals each day. He slowly embarked on a growth pattern of healthy habits and running soon became his passion. He boldly initiated consistent training and somehow was always keenly aware that his hardwork would reap him rewards. He started with small realistic goals and as his grit and willpower became stronger with running, he embarked on a remarkable journey where with each marathon he continued carving a niche for himself as a runner worth his mettle.

There has been no looking back since then for this prolific runner. His first trophy(1st Runners-up) was in an effortless 10K (#RunForRivers) at Mumbai, 5 years ago . He was in Mumbai for official work and decided, on a whim, to take part in the run. He finished with flying colours and returned with a well deserved podium and an unshakable confidence in his running prowess. The strength and accolades which followed this debut attempt was the confident jumpstart that his running journey required and the rest, like, they say, is history. Sanjay has emerged as a fiercely strong runner to reckon with, who has always been widely admired within the running community for his running legacy.

With a gold standard of quality and the depth of his concentration, he has triumphed in all the challenges that came his way in the last 5 years. Exhibiting a grit and determination to hone his killer instinct, he kept moving from one challenge to another and it was crystal clear that running was like a soothing elixir for him. He knew that every time he trained, he was advancing his own skill development which is essential for growth for any serious runner. Somewhere during this remarkable journey, his peers nicknamed him “Panghal Express” and it has continued till date. His gravity-defying leaps in skill and technique with each of his runs showed not just his competence and mastery over the sport but also made him an unstoppable runner to look out for. He exudes a towering but approachable personality and his guiding voice of excellence and good sense is “manna from heaven“ to all his fellow runners. With this attitude, he has grown leaps and bounds as a “ Frontrunner “ among  athletes and has more than 50 trophies/podiums that he has aquired during marathon journey. Some hallmark achievements however stand apart like the unimaginable Bronze podium at the World Highest Marathon, Ladakh Marathon 2022. With this achievement nobody could overlook his dimension of athletic excellence and influence on the sport.

 

 

Among his many jaw-dropping efforts at upping his running game was one such smashing performance at the Mt Abu Half Marathon 2019. Not only did he receive the top honours at this event, a first runners-up trophy but also turned the spotlight on himself as a “Titan” within the running community. Soon he approached almost folk-hero status and drew a Peter-Pan like admiration by cub runners and veterans alike. It became clear that joining Sanjay Panghal for any marathon, set the curve of excellence for any newbie runner wanting to prove his mettle. This same admirable ability to make tough spur of the moment decisions, in challenging runs, also saw him head the Delhi Police Cup Team which gave an outstanding performance by consecutively winning a Gold Podium at ADHM, back to back, 3 years in a row, 2018, 2019, 2022. He was at the helm, leading from the front of this award-winning team.

“Paying it forward “..“Action breeds action”

The time that Sanjay was embarking on his own running journey he simultaneously founded the running group DXR (Dwarka Xpress Runners) with his running buddy, Ajeet Yadav, another top tier, legendary runner. Being DXR leadership, Sanjay and Ajeet both knew from the onset that to keep running goals on track one needs to be part of a group where one can run together with others who show a similar growth mindset. Research has shown that runners who have group activities, recorded 78% higher active times that those who ran solo. They knew that the more plans runners made to meet up, they were more likely to show up for fitness activities and be consistent. Groups also pride the safety net cushion that helps one bounce back in the face of failure. The fear of failing is much less when working together in groups. These were key insights which led both of them to actively work towards building and strong army of DXR runners. This is the same strong running family that has been the catalyst in building a strong group of self supported runners.

Five years ago, they never thought that it would be the most game-changing decision that they would be taking. This talented and most humble duo has successfully made running the most sought after activity for any fitness enthusiast, in and around Delhi-NCR. Every group run meet that they plan in Dwarka New Delhi turns into a carnival of fun and admirable running feats of personal bests. The elements of pomp and colour at these events is a huge draw for runners who come from various parts of Delhi-NCR with their families to participate. With their characteristic wit and  fun-loving attitude they make pursuing running for a healthy lifestyle seem like an effortless activity. A clear win-win situation for all members , guaranteed.

 

Their unmatched contribution to the growth of this running group has helped to shape physical life and health of more than 3 5 0 + persons aged between 5 to 80 in just the Delhi – NCR region . Members who get placed in other parts of the world with each passing year and have had to move other cities, continue taking pride in being a part of the group. DXR loyalty is  evident in all members and you would see members donning the DXR Tee and Jacket at various National run events with great pride, some even claiming that it helps them achieve their personal  best on the running track. Team pride and selfless work for the running community are all hallmark traits of all DXR team members. DXR is thriving each day as a self supported running group because of the qualities that  are being passed on by the top leadership. Sanjay feels proud to acknowledge this as his biggest achievement that now the running group DXR has a somewhat legendary status within the  running community. Sanjay and Ajeet sure have a wonderful running family in the form of this vibrant group called DXR.

Sanjay, an enigmatic runner and a champion of his craft, is also deeply involved in Philanthropy. Other than making marathons accessible to all and keeping the morale of the self-supported group high by organising various events with minimal cost for members to participate, the group also spearheads various plogging runs to keep the Dwarka and Delhi-NCR area clean and green .This continued even during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. As the world around them changed drastically, Sanjay and Ajeet ,in their joint leadership capacity, turned the running group open as a platform to reach out and help communities in the Dwarka and Delhi-NCR regions to get the medical help that was required, especially covid related .The group also regularly conducts food drives to feed the needy homeless on the streets of Dwarka.

The group continues to thrive under their experienced leadership and the various events and challenges that are organised by them to keep all the members active and engaged with their fitness goals. Dwarka Xpress Runners celebrated their 5th year anniversary in 2022, October with great pomp and panache. In characteristic DXR style where a running event invariably transforms into a carnival of great strength and pomp. This event also saw the top leadership of DXR taking on the role of Race directors and the success that followed was understandable as it was an event organised by experienced runners for the benefit of the running community at very minimal costs.

Many young and seasoned runners are eager to share the track with Sanjay as he continues as a legendary ambassador, inspiring many to take on running a fitness sport. “The Panghal Express” is now the face of many premier national marathons events like HDOR, NDM, Super Sikh, Universal runners, Hindustan Marathon to name a few . The list is endless. He is a known figure in the “pacing” community for half and full marathons and many athletes around the country have finished many goal-oriented runs by joining his “pacing bus” It is a confidence he exudes not just in his own capability but also instilling the same in his followers. A newbie runner can just get goosebumps watching him run with his group in the wee-hours of the morning usually 5:30 am, pounding the tracks and working hard to finish his daily training.

There is no denying that, Sanjay sir as he is fondly addressed , is the pretty much the “God of running” for any newbie runner . When he comes down to the running track, he invariably commands that respect from everyone around him. Even after 5 years of running and achieving many accolades he reaches the running track with same humility, passion and enthusiasm as he had at the start of his running journey.

Another admirable quality of our “Everyday Elite” Sanjay is also how to stay aggressively focussed on his goals. Even while at the helm of a running group that is growing in leaps and bound every week you won’t see him lose focus of his own journey and individual goals. Not achieving one’s own goals because of lack of effort is just unacceptable to our “Everyday Elites” like Sanjay. Being top leadership of a vibrant and most popular running group in Delhi-NCR, Sanjay has had to deal with setbacks, other people’s opinion, his family commitments, unrest among team members,
Social media , pitfalls of fame, and many other related things. That, however, never takes his focus from why he embarked on this journey in the first place. He keeps his vision and stays true to his beliefs and never let anything from the outside world get inside his mind or head. That is the kind of mettle our “Everyday Elite” wear, just like an armour.

“The Goal is consecutive running , a certain mileage and remaining injury free”

As a prime example of “Everyday Elite” he understands that nothing will work unless he does and that there is no better time to start chasing your dreams than right now. It is clear to him that action breeds activity. He know if one takes initiative and trains consistently then one will surely succeed. He works endlessness with the community to show this in the most obvious way to his running group and his many fans. Being a front runner and visionary he knows that as he got closer to accomplishing his own goals through consistent effort, others too can replicate his run strategy and achieve the same success. It is this generosity in imparting knowledge, in a selfless, compassionate and humble manner, that makes our “Everyday Elite” stand head and shoulders above from other runners. This kind of need to push for consistency in his training in order to solidify his mettle as a strong runner, led Sanjay to embark on the unbelievable running streak journey. Redefining all the existing norms shown by other runners on run streaking, Sanjay demonstrated his own formula of streaking for assured success for any level of running athlete. He proudly claims that 8th of December, 2017 was his last day of rest from running. Once he started he didn’t want to stop. Not only is his contribution to making run streaking, running consecutive days for a set period, a recognisable sport, but he has also successfully put influence on “run streaking” in becoming an admirable and most sought after quality in any runner. Since then his weekly mileage is 100kms(approximately). Subsequently, he went on to accomplish more that 500 half marathons, an unbelievable feat and mind boggling achievement. It still remains a genuine
moment of human achievement within Indian running community.

Now its common place to see many athletes using this streaking technique in accomplishing their running goals and even train for any challenging upcoming marathon events. Sanjay seems to have chartered a roadmap on how an athlete can make oneself accountable to train towards one’s running goals.

Not only has our “Everyday Elite” completed tough runs through the harsh blazing sun, through heavy pouring rain, extreme cold temperatures and extremely high altitudes with poor oxygen levels but has gone to earn a folklore status and is considered unstoppable. Even at an unfortunately time when he was struck down with covid, he kept his minimum mileage from his indoor workout and was regular in sharing daily yoga and proper breathing exercises to his group members. He lowered his mileage and over time he regained his strength and was back soon being active. “Keep going no matter the circumstance” was his mainstay through this challenging time of his life.

Sanjay also is famous as the “Running Poet”, as his run posts usually are posted with typically candid and sublime, Urdu, prose and poetry. Many of his famous introspection runs, as he calls them, are runs after which he shares heartfelt poetry on relevant issues with some gravitas for his followers on strava, Facebook and Instagram. His posts are widely popular and and his poetry is as exceptional and awe-inspiring as his runs and has gained him huge following on social media. His engaged group of followers on Facebook ad Instagram are eagerly lapping up all his
sensational posts regularly.

It may seem to most that the path he has chosen for his run trajectory is out of most people’s comfort zone, Still, he wouldn’t stop. It is clear that running seems to be life itself for him. It would seem that he never lost sight of the impact of his potential streak journey and knew that it would be worth it. Some might say that he might be on a mission “to be the best”, and invariably all his fellow runners who accompany him, are also athletes who resonate a similar passion.He has been streaking now for 5 years and has shown that any goal is possible if one decides to be consistent. Giving up is never an option!

Showing the way and leading with example, Sanjay’s run workout schedule through the week is a very impressive one. A guaranteed game-changer for any runner to get faster and as well as last longer on the run track. He says it makes him feel invincible while following this routine. He is one of the few remarkable athletes who with their non-stop running streak have actually contributed to its popularity. His consistent and dedicated hardwork has brought it to the limelight and made it a mainstream phenomenon in running circles.

He may be busy accomplishing many firsts in his ultra-feats of running, but he always spares time to share tips and routines to novice runners. He believes that the biggest thing is not running consecutively but consecutively running with this mileage and remaining injury free through it all. In these five years he avoided and managed to give all fatigue/accidental injuries a miss. He attributes this to his“ Running Smart” routine. Smart running requires running with mind, Sanjay believes that body has limits not the mind. Most athletic elite are famously known to keep their training schedules as elusive as the holy grail but our “Everyday Elite” Sanjay has no qualms sharing with our readers his weekly run training schedule and he shares it with anyone with smarts to follow it.

His daily runs in a week are different everyday designed to keep challenging his body and ensuring a growth pattern for his fitness schedule. On Sundays there is long competitive run, where minimum 21K with good pace is done. Mondays is the special day he runs barefoot 10K which soothes the foot which have been subjected to Sunday gruelling. Tuesdays are carefully selected for a steady one hour Fasting 10K to give the body and soul some challenge in the form of hunger. Intermittent Fasting continues on Wednesday, with two small meals in 36 hours and a Chitchat/Buddy Run with peers to increase the endurance of body.Thursdays would see him doing a ‘Heart rate controlled’ 10K run which also focuses on aerobic running as well as landing style and breathing pattern. Fridays he keeps for speed workouts 10/12K Tempo/ Intervals/Slow Fast/ Progressive Runs, preparing for upcoming races.Saturdays are rest days where a 10K is just done with minimal efforts by mind and body. Apart from this 5 minutes pre-run exercise/workout and 20-30 minutes post run exercises are mandatory.

“Goal is to have the best running form” Advice for novice runners: “Compete with yourself.”
His advice to all cub runners to run to achieve fitness and compete with oneself and not with other athletes . He keeps emphasising the fact that to run with your body you have to run with the mind first. His advice is to focus on enjoying the running process and to reap its benefits to the maximum. Feeling pride, loyalty, and being humble, while showing grit are the key qualities he expects from newbie runner who joins to train with him and his running group. He understood from the onset the simple formula that is if one dedicates enough of themselves passionately then one could easily reach the top of one’s game. He makes any kind of run challenge seem possible. He shows that with definitive desire we can take action on that daily.

 

Our “Everyday Elite” Sanjay has shown that in order to receive success in running one will have to have to give something important in exchange. Loosely translated, It is one’s time, energy, and focus to running consistency with a goal-oriented focus. His own next run target is to qualify for Boston by performing at his top form at the Apollo New Delhi Marathon 2023.
Sanjay’s run journey seems to make us believe that when the journey gets tough, we have to keep pushing till the good parts start showing. Even today, he is acutely aware that there are better runners than him, and despite all his accolades, someone better would soon come along. Staying humble through these realisations is his hallmark trait. Top that with an unshakeable confidence in his ability, he is easily one of the most amiable and respected athletes within the running community.
Sanjay realises that ‘Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion’. This particular insight gave him the freedom to always try harder and dream a little bigger. He applies it in each and every aspect of his life, not just running. To overcome the barriers that most athletes create for themselves our “Everyday Elite” consciously leaves any fear and insecurity behind and has been creating a legacy of life lessons for the running community. Sanjay’s incredible runs and the challenges that he has embarked on are his legacy. A legacy of coming on the top through action and an unshakable belief in one’s capabilities.

 

 

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