Gurgaon: At their harshest, lockdowns the world over prevented people from stepping out for even basic exercise, which was confined to the four walls of their homes. For the riders, runners and walkers of Gurgaon, the challenge was to stay fit and active as safely as was possible. So, when Covid upended the rituals and rhythms of life, the indoors became their outdoors.
“The first question that came to our mind was — what can we do, and how do we maintain our fitness?” recalls Siddarth Choudhary of those days back in the first half of 2020. The founder of Gurgaon Road Runners (GRR), Choudhary believed then that it was impossible to keep to a fitness regime until one had hit the road or track.
But while life may have thrown the GRR family a curveball, they were more than ready to intercept it. And Choudhary, ever the optimist, saw the glass as half full. “Since I was leading a group, I thought, let’s work on body-fat optimisation because we can’t go outdoors to run. And how you do that is by controlling your diet, so I started working on a lot of diet plans,” he said. Alongside monitoring nutrition, members focused on high-intensity interval training like push-ups and squats.
“There were many things we could do, to work around the fact that we were indoors, and we managed it beautifully — in fact, people were able to get into their best shape,” Choudhary reveals, happily adding that even he has never felt better.
But it wasn’t just about sticking to an activity that had become a pleasant distraction over the years. It was also about providing moral support to friends and their families who were struck down by the virus. This was what the folks at Let’s Walk Gurgaon (LWG) sought to do when the outdoors became off limits. “At the end of the day, we are a community, and there is that bonding amongst ourselves. In those days, we knew families who were affected by Covid and we were in touch with them,” shared Arvind Dimri, a long-time and loyal LWG man.
“There were some of us who were living alone, and in fact one of our members did get the virus. She was quite serious but we were able to take her to hospital and get her admitted.” Dimri also figured that senior citizens and people living alone would need extra assistance during the lockdown. Therefore, when chemists were being overwhelmed with requests for medicines, he and his fellow cyclists chipped in by volunteering to deliver to their homes whatever was urgently required.
Fighting the itch
Yet, there was always the yearning to put on your running or walking shoes, to take that bike out. “Because of the pandemic, we weren’t allowed out of the house, we weren’t allowed to go for walks, forget about cycling,” remembers Ela Ghose, a member of SpinLife, a Delhi-NCR collective of cyclists.
Suddenly, one piece of equipment became something of a necessity. “What a lot of us did was get a bike trainer, a gadget on which you can mount your bike and ride indoors,” Ghose explains. “The more sophisticated ones actually allow you to ride routes all over the world, with resistance automatically increasing on your bike as you ‘climb’ a hill. There’s also a very popular indoor training programme called Zwift, and a lot of us started ‘zwifting’ together. These are virtual group rides where people would work out together from their own homes.”
The upshot was that from a place of domestic comfort, the outdoorsy made the most of the downtime. “Everybody who wanted to get fitter loved the plans,” shares Choudhary. “In fact, now when I tell people to do on-ground training, they say, ‘When we are getting 99% of the same result, we would prefer to continue doing it online, and to have live virtual sessions.”
Many SpinLifers are now in magnificent physical fettle. “People actually improved their fitness dramatically in that time — though I wasn’t one of those!” admits Ghose. “They did amazingly well and got stronger. And when they finally could return to the road, they were turbo-charged!”
Getting back, step by step
In August, the Gurgaon Road Runners resumed outdoor activities, all the while observing government safety regulations, ensuring social distancing is being followed and conducting thermal checks in bigger gatherings. Masks are off when running but back on when the group is together for, say, a stretching session.
At present, GRR is organising virtual runs but it will be a while before the marathons, the events the group is known for, are held. “We have waited for 18 months and can wait a few months more. Let things settle down properly,” reasons Choudhary.
As for LWG regulars, they have been congregating at 5am on Saturdays since September at a predetermined location, but with one precondition: only fully vaccinated members can join in. “The precaution we take is to ensure that everybody is keeping to all hygiene protocols,” Dimri stresses.
As a habit, many cyclists sport bandanas, which would double as masks. And Ajeet Pandey of Pedalyatri, a popular NCR group for devoted pedallers, feels that cycling is the safest outdoor activity for it lends itself best to the practice of physical distancing. “On trails, it is very easy to follow the protocols because even when riding in groups it is possible to maintain distance,” he claims.
It has certainly been a learning experience, if also a chastening one, from which plenty of positives can be gleaned. Dimri is not taking things lightly but is feeling relaxed about the here and now. And he speaks for others in the city for whom physical welfare equates to mental wellbeing. They now know that indoors is just as good as outdoors for staying fit and healthy.


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