Skip navigation

Category Archives: Uncategorized

The rise of the Kenyan Marathon Runner…
by Shayamal Vallabhjee – MD: The HEAL Institute (Twitter @shayamalv)

Its was over ten years ago that I set out to attempt my first ultra-marathon run – The Comrades Marathon; an 89.9 km race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. My preparation for this race was nothing short of spectacular (or so I thought). I was averaging between 100-120 km a week, most of those miles at midday, in the midst of the sweltering Durban heat in an effort to acclimatize. It was only at the end of the race that I realized I had made the mistake almost all novice runners make – we measure our training by the number of miles we run, rather than by the quality of those miles. Simply put, we very often train without a purpose.

Have you ever asked a runner what they were hoping to accomplish on a given run? Chances are, they would just stare back at you blankly. The truth is, if you don’t know what you training towards, how can you possibly infuse quality in to your training. Working with professional athletes has taught me the “Training with a Purpose” philosophy which is guaranteed to favor quality over quantity.
The years that followed, allowed me the opportunity to analyze, under the proverbial microscope, the lifestyle and training philosophy that has catapulted Kenyan running into the international spotlight. It was my time in the Rift Valley that helped me understand the importance of “Training with a Purpose”.

For many years, I have been traveling into the Rift Valley to understand what exactly it is that has given the Kenyan running regime the upper hand on the last two decades.
Lots of my research pointed towards socio-economics and the Kenyan way of life. In the Rift Valley, whether you a Boston winner, an Olympic Gold Medalist or a schoolboy, you will inevitably be training on the same track with each other. The lack of infra-structure was compensated by simply creating an environment that is best summed up by their philosophy – Good People Make People Better. All they did was ensured that they infused their training environments with quality, and let the reciprocal effect of that environment filter through. It was brilliant – simple, but absolutely brilliant.

For years, it was also believed that their early childhood training was instrumental in their success. Children walking or running to school had given them the added advantage over their sedentary counterparts is USA and Europe. This lead to some interesting research. A group of scientist tested the VO2 max of sedentary kids in Kenya but found nothing exceptional that pointed to them becoming world class athletes. Though, what they did notice, was that the almost 7-8km of walking a day resulted in a low BMI. A low BMI plus a high VO2 max score (these two are inversely proportional), will predispose you to being an athlete with extremely potential. They found that sedentary children who walked regularly, had a low BMI and a high VO2 max which put them in a category that could potentially run marathons in 2:18.

Here is something interesting for you to try…
A report recently compared 14 fully mature Kenyan marathoners with an average best time of 2:07:16. When you calculated their height (inches) to weight (pounds), they were in the region of 0.53. You can compare yourself by dividing your height (inches) by your weight (pounds). If you score is anywhere around 0,5, you might have a chance against them. If you in the region of 0,3 or 0,4 you are probably better off challenging them to a game of chess :-)

Kenyans have always been good runners. We’ve only just noticed because off their access to international competitions. Research into their success is an ongoing project that will continue to reveal more and more secrets, but until then, there is one thing we know for sure – the amount of walking they encompass into their lifestyle is a predictor for excellence in sport and a healthy life. So if wish to follow suit from the worlds leaders in running and living, put on your Stepathlon pedometer and starting marching….

Remember.. Run long. Run often. But never outrun the joy of running…….

Five Lessons the Stepathlon Challenge has taught me: 

by Shayamal Vallabhjee  – MD of The HEAL Institute (@shayamalv on Twitter)


Its been merely ten days since I embarked on the Stepathlon Challenge, an initiative by a friend and colleague, Ravi Krishnan – CEO of Stepathlon.

This isn’t the first challenge I’ve embarked on. As other ultra marathon runners would know, we seek our thrills from “pushing the limits’ and embracing the challenges most others shy away from. However, the Stepathlon Challenge has opened my eyes to a whole new set of learnings. Having worked with professional sportspeople all my life, I can confidently say that the ‘motivation to train’ is never an issue. In fact, we generally quantify the success of a session based on how long we spend ‘out of our comfort zone’  as opposed to the length of a training session.

When I registered my company into the Stepathlon Challenge (Team Healers), I initially thought it would be a walk in the park (literally & figuratively) After all, I’m fit and I run daily. How hard could 10000 steps a day be?

With only 10% of the challenge complete, I’ve already learnt so many important lessons that I’m convinced the Stepathlon Challenge will go down as one of the most important learning curves in my life.

Here are five important lessons I’ve already learnt:

1. Its amazing how little we move: Its common knowledge, and highlighted by books like Born to Run, The Lore of Running & Eat and Run, that movement is essential to life. When you register for the challenge, you are given a pedometer to track your steps. Two days into the challenge, I realized that if I remove my morning and afternoon workout sessions from my daily activity tracker, my movement patterns in the day are abysmal. In fact to quantify it, I average between 14 000 & 17 000 steps daily. If you remove my workouts, I barely make a 1000 in the day. Scarily, I was under the impression that I was active.

2. Its not about me: This is one of the most important lessons that entrepreneurs learn quickly. It had barely been a week into the challenge. I was flying and loving it. But when I logged onto the team tracker on the Stepathlon site, I had noticed that that others weren’t finding it that easy. Some of them barely touched 10 000 and that was at the back end of a busy day which included a workout. Their struggle was represented in the team average, which forced me to not only appreciate the fact that the Stepathlon Challenge isn’t only about me, but more importantly, it made empathetic towards their struggle. Needless to say, this opened the channels of communication between us and has now resulted in a rejuvenated organization.

3. Like anything, its best to plan: In a 100 day Challenge, its important to pace yourself. I think the most common mistake that most participants make, is that they are over-eager in the beginning. Lets face it. You cannot train for 100 days in a row. So if you rely on training to hit your 10 000 steps, you going to burnout very soon. The Stepathlon Challenge has taught me to bring structure into my day. How am I going to complete my 10 000 steps without a work out & more importantly, how am I going to break down this challenge over the course of a day?

4. Share your story and watch the support pour in: Everyone likes to put forth a persona of perfection. After all, no one likes to publicize their failures and struggles. But the truth is that, we are human – Being human means that failure is part of life and life is a string of challenges. When we create this persona of perfection, we alienate ourselves at a time when we need support the most. The Stepathlon Challenge taught me that by being honest about the struggle, we humanize ourselves. And their is no more a gospel truth than this… Humanity will respond to the plight of someone struggling. They will offer support and help which will make your journey attainable and that much more enjoyable.

5. Raise The Bar: For everyone who is actively participating in the challenge, you would have noticed that 10 000 steps a day isn’t going to cut it if you want to feature in the Top 10 Corporates. Thats the bare minimum. If you are as competitive as I am, you will have to ‘Raise The Bar’ – but remember:

  • Dont leave your team mates behind
  • Consistency is still the key to success, &
  • Nothing worth winning is ever easy


Kabaddi – From the LockerRoom
by Shayamal Vallabhjee (Follow of Twitter: @shayamalv)

Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi……….

India’s oldest sport is fast becoming its biggest attraction. This high octane mix of tag and wrestle, packaged & served in 45 minutes, is taking over the airwaves. With a higher TRP’s (Television Rating Points) in its first week than the FIFA World Cup Finals, Kabaddi definitely has the makings of India’s next sporting craze.

My company, The HEAL Institute, was in the midst of the action. As the Sports Science & High Performance Partner to the Bengaluru Bulls & the Jaipur Pink Panthers, we were tasked with addressing their physical conditioning and injury management.
The teams gathered for a pre competition training camp ten days prior to the league. The biggest challenge initially was to convince these athletes of the importance of science in performance enhancement. Having realized that the average Kabaddi tournament is three days long, we soon understood that in a league than span over 40 days, recovery was going to be the secret to success.

A Kabaddi match is divided into two halves of twenty minutes each. A team of seven players will generally have two raiders and five defenders. Over the span of forty minutes, each team will average between 35 – 40 raids of thirty seconds each. During a raid, a players heart rate will exceed 160 beats per minutes, he will be required to turn between six to eight times and lastly, recruit all his muscle fibers in an attempt to explode to safety.
This adrenaline packed thirty seconds will amount to more physical wear and tear than a 100m sprint, a triple jump or fast bowler delivering a ball in excess of 150km per hour.

The first ten days of the tournament provided me with what was a rude awakening. I had seen more ACL’s (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) ruptured in ten days than I had previously witnessed in 12 years of high performance sport. This was definitely not a sport for the feint hearted. Over the course of forty days, HEAL had managed over a dozen ACL tears, more than 15 ankle sprains, some serious concussion injuries (many of which required stitches), dislocated shoulders and innumerable muscle strains. Truth be told, I think that everyone involved had on some level under-estimated the level of physical conditioning required to perform at ProKabaddi level.

As the Sports Science Partner, our priority was to infuse science into the sport. Since recovery was always going to be the secret, we focused primarily on maintaining their physical conditioning & injury management. Monitoring diet, assessing hydration daily, massage, hydrotherapy & injury management amongst others formed the the crust of our protocols. In a sport that traditionally relied on physical prowess, I’m positive that science played a part in helping the Jaipur Pink Panthers secure the title.
The question is, what are we going to do different next year to ensure they retain the title?

Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi…

Staying Pain Free like a Pro – Case Studying Mahesh Bhupathi
By Shayamal Vallabhjee – MD – HEAL Institute (@shayamalv on Twitter)

Very often I’m asked, What is Sports Science? And my answer inadvertently is always, ‘its the difference between gold and silver.’ Its the scientific application that quantifies all those tiny variables that add up to the 0.5% that gives an athlete a competitive advantage in an already high performing environment. Sports Science is the answer to excellence.
But if I have to break it down a little further, its all about two things – injury management & performance enhancement. Its about managing pain (because there is always pain) and pushing limits. Simply because in my world – the world of professional sport – you are defined by the limits you set for yourself.

After 15 years at the pinnacle of high performance, I have seen it all – the tireless dedication, unwavering discipline, passion, hunger and will to overcome adversity that seems becomes second nature in the life of a professional athlete. Without it, success will forever elude you.
One athlete who has managed to exemplify such professionalism is Mahesh Bhupathi. The twelve time Grand Slam winner has enjoyed a career that has spun over twenty years.
I was fortunate enough to have spent over five years with him as the person tasked with managing his health – from nutrition & conditioning to injury management and scheduling.

When you look at a professional athlete, you are seeing a finished product. That single performance, irrespective of the result, is the back end of years of sacrifices. Success in professional sport is all about consistency & perseverance. Throughout my life, I have always ensured that I stick to the basic principles of training to ensure that my athletes stay injury free and improve on their personal bests.
These five principles are:
Progressive Overload: By gradually increasing your training stress, you will allow your body time to adapt in response to that overload. As a rule of thumb, never increase your workload by more than 10% weekly.
Individuality: Everyone responds differently to training stresses and recovery patterns. Its important to know this and understand this. If you listen to your body, you will know how hard to push and when to rest.
Specificity: Your body will adapt to the training you subject it to. Thats why in professional sport we say, ‘Practice like you play.’
Reversibility: Very simply put, the gains you make can easily be lost if you don’t train. Consistency!!! Consistency!!! Consistency!!!
Diminishing Returns: Everyone has experienced the phenomenal progress you make when you start training. Diminishing returns means that as you get fitter, those gains get smaller, not to mention you have to work twice as hard for them.

When I worked with Mahesh, we simply employed these principles in our training. A day in the life of a tennis professional will include anything from 2-4 hours on court, 1-2 hours in the gym, 1-2 hours of injury management (ice baths, massage, physiotherapy) & 6-7 structured meals that are designed to meet their specific energy requirements.

Mahesh is an extremely disciplined athlete who always pushed everyone around him. The aura around Mahesh was one that exemplified excellence, which reflected in his career. Its simply not possibly to enjoy a career that has span over twenty years without a high work ethic & discipline. I think the following quotes says it the best…
Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.

In October 2012, at the INK Conference in Pune, I told the story of a young man who had a love for water and dream of one day representing his country.
The story of young Supriya Mondal, a boy from a little fishing village outside Calcutta, left the curated audiences speechless, not because of my delivery, but because it was a story that embodied the courage of a sportsman.
Courage is the mark of success; it is for those who challenge the status quo and push the limits, sometimes to the point that the limits push back.
Supriya was no exception to the rule. He hailed from a remote village, to humble parents who struggled to fund his passion for swimming. With an annual family income of INR 48000 a year, paying 1 Rupee per day for swimming pool access was not a luxury they could afford. Undeterred by their circumstances, Supriya took to the nearby waters where he honed his skills, to the point that he not only won the Indian National 200 m Butterfly title but set a new course record in his age category.
It was truly the story of a child who refused to be deterred by adversity in his quest to fulfill his dream. A story of courage, discipline, perseverance & humility.
Its been two years since that conference. Two long, hard years which saw Supriya leave his village to settle in Bangalore under the watchful guidance of the Go Sports Foundation. The Go Sports Foundation supports and empowers athletes across numerous Olympic Codes, by allowing them access to professional expertise, high quality coaching and world class infra-structure – the bare minimum requirements to produce a champion.
Its foundations like these that have for long nurtured India’s talent and produced champions, the likes of Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom and many others.
In the recent Dubai International Aquatic Championships, Supriya Mondal achieved an ‘A’ qualification mark in the 200m Butterfly event with a time of 2:03.93s – a time that not only saw him win the event, but also secure a position in this years Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. Supriya Mondal is to date the only Indian athlete to qualify for the Youth Olympics – an achievement that bears testament to his hard work, courage, discipline and will to overcome adversity.
Supriya Mondal is indeed a true hero and an inspiration to the millions who continue to believe.
Surpiya – We Salute You!!!

Unlocking the Potential in Every Child

‘The music of a marathon is a powerful strain, one of those tunes of glory. It asks us to forsake pleasures, to discipline the body, to find courage, to renew faith and to become one’s own person, utterly and completely.’

There is nothing more tranquil than the serenity that accompanies running, the oneness of being and the retrospection within ones soul that is a by product of the solitude that is a necessity to master this aging art.
There is nothing rational about running. It is just an art or passion that manifests as a means to challenge our will to overcome adversity – the very fabric of our existence as humans.
For me, its been a source of creativity and the lifeline through which I channel those energies.
Some days are tough – hard on the body and harder on the mind. But when it gets tough, I usually think about those you would love the opportunity to do this simple art that I am about to take for granted.
That makes me run harder – for them
Cos I know they would have done the same for me.

To the runners of the world – Lets lace our shoes, take to the road and unite nations, one running step at a time….

An artist for me is someone who is willing to open themselves up to the anguish of uncertainty and the pleasure of the experience in order to create work that moves me to understand the peripheries of my thinking with fresh perspective.


Professor Roger Martin is the Dean of the Business School at Rotman University in Toronto.
Professor Martin’s model of Integrative Thinking is widely used in the business world today. As a pioneer in Integrative and Design Thinking, his contributions to the business community at large, are immeasurable.

I wrote this letter to Prof Martin (who I was introduced to through world renowned tennis coach Bob Brett), to explore the role of Emotional Intelligence in Integrative Thinking.
Prof Martin’s contribution to further developing this theory and my understanding of the science of design thinking and creation, was eye opening.

Here is a copy of my first letter to Prof Roger Martin.

Roger Martin Letter

Sport has always played an integral role in my life. It has nurtured me and thought me many lessons. It has opened many doors and fostered many relationships. Sport is the reason I am who I am.
I realize that it has given me the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for – the power to believe and the strength to make it come true.
My dream is to pass on this very same gift to every child.

INK provided me with a platform to voice this dream and gave me a family that can make it come true. For this, I’m eternally grateful.

These are a collection of my favorite quotes, gathered through a lifetime of experiences. For me, they make the soul smile…

1. If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.
Peace Pilgrim

2. She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.
Elizabeth Edwards

3. Everything matters more than we think it does, and at the same time, nothing matters as much as we think it does.
Samuel Butler

4. You life is your message to the world. Make sure its inspiring.

5. Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust

6. Sometime you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

7. It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.

8. Your dreams will always defeat reality if you give it a chance.