New Delhi: The journey that started with a three-kilometre run every day after the office has not ended even after five Guinness World records including a 4,000 km from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 87 days.
For Ajmer-born Sufiya Sufi, running is not just about breaking records but in fact, a therapy to take all the load off her shoulders, see the country, find connections with strangers, and just be "free" from 9-hour shifts. It is also about testing herself, knowing her body's limits, and then challenging them.
"I worked at the IGI airport in Delhi for a decade as a baggage handling officer. Though joining the aviation industry was always a dream, I realized that the robotic schedule was ruining my health and giving me no opportunity to be 'out there' in the real sense of the world. Slowly, I started taking part in marathons and ultimately hired a professional running coach. At that point, I knew tarmac would be my best friend," the 37-year-old tells IANS.
Just back after running the Manali-Leh circuit in a mere 97 hours -- becoming the fastest runner in the world in both male and female categories, the ultra-runner admits that it was one of the biggest challenges she faced. In fact, she did it twice so as to finish it under 100 hours. "When I attempted it in July for the first time, it took 113 hours owing to some medical issues. However, considering my body was already acclimatized, I attempted it again after 10 days and succeded."
Admitting that running as an adventure sport is yet to get its due in India especially as compared to other countries, Sufi, who has now added 'Runner' to her name officially, says it is a huge struggle to get it recognised.
With no support from the Central or state governments, this record clincher, who says her partner, a cyclist, has been a great motivation, adds: "One needs to be on the street constantly, and almost lives on them, funds are indispensable. Till now, we have been managing with crowdfunding. It is a new sport, and it is a lot of struggle to get recognised. I have not got support yet from the government but we are trying to get ultra-running recognition from the government and we have got sponsorships from private companies."
"You need to live on the streets for long months. We always try for it and we do get crowdfunding from platforms. Under Armour is a constant supporter. But sometimes they also struggle with it," she asserts.
And it is a sacrilege to ask her about the run she enjoyed the most. Sufi keeps silent for a few seconds and then says: "Each one has thrown a different challenge, and has been across varied places and altitudes. The weather has been diverse, my own health condition perpetually plays a role... In short, it has been a different fun each time."
Now all set to run across Qatar for the second time, the year 2025 will witness this pro-athlete do the 'Run Around the Globe' where she will run 30,000 km in 680 days and will be the first female runner to take this challenge. "I am preparing myself well, and extremely confident -- the two things you need the most."