Meet Thomas Bobby Philip, the first Indian to successfully run the Boston Marathon barefoot. In spite of having a full time desk job, this passionate runner makes sure that running remains the most important element in his schedule. Here is his journey.
“I consider my body to be a gift from God. We need to treat our bodies with proper love and care, and fitness is key for that. When you lead a fit and healthy live, you don’t have to restrain yourself. I can’t eat this, I can’t eat that – all these restrictions go away. And one of the easiest and most economical ways to staying fit is running. You don’t need to go to any specific place, there is no need for any additional equipment other than shoes, you just have to run,” says Thomas Bobby Philip, a man known for his passion for marathons.
In April 2015, 49-year-old Thomas became the first Indian ever to successfully run the Boston Marathon barefoot — the entire 26 miles — without any break.
Thomas’ amazing journey started with a simple decision to run with his daughter.
“Sometime in 2009, I had a health check-up and found that my cholesterol level was slightly high. This was followed by my daughter informing me that a sports event was coming up at her school. Just to keep her prepared, I started running with her. And then, with the everyday run, I started feeling an improvement in my health. While she stopped running after about 10 days, I continued. In the subsequent years, there was substantial improvement in my health. That’s how I got motivated,” he says.
Since then, Thomas, affectionately known as Bobby by his loved ones, participates in 10 km runs, half marathons and full marathons on a regular basis.
Thomas started running and training himself for marathons by joining a Bangalore-based club named Nike Run Club, where he got the chance to meet many inspiring runners. He was also fortunate to be introduced to a great coach who trained the group in strengthening workouts. “I was trained in the correct manner and that helped me be injury free. Starting with a good coach helped me a lot,” says Thomas, who used to struggle with 1 km runs in the beginning but slowly achieved his first target of a 10 km run without any breaks in about two months of training.
Thomas is an IT professional working in the field of telecommunications. In spite of a full time desk job, fitness regimes always have a place in his schedule. It’s either running or some other sort of exercise each day.
“To be a proper runner, just running is not enough. It needs to be combined with other fitness regimes like workouts. Only then can one be successful,” he points out.
His target is to run one full marathon every year. This requires a lot of focus and effort to achieve good timing. “My timing is extremely competitive,” says the passionate runner who completed his first half-marathon at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) in 2010 in 1 hour 52 minutes. His first full marathon, again at SCMM, took him 3 hours 49 minutes to complete.
While most of Bobby’s runs are in India, he has participated in two outside the country as well – in Boston and in California. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s best-known road running events.
“It was amazing. The highlight of the Boston marathon is that it has an eligibility criterion. So, very few runners are Boston qualified. And to represent the country in such an event is quite a good feeling. Running with the best runners in the world is an experience by itself,” he recounts.
To qualify, a runner must complete a standard marathon course. This course should be certified by a national governing body affiliated with the International Association of Athletics Federations. The run must be completed within a specified time period before the date of the Boston Marathon. Find out more about the qualifying standards here.
Thomas’ barefoot run was widely covered by the media, which helped him raise awareness about the same. Why barefoot running?
“The entire universe is barefoot. Only human beings, with their intelligence, have come up with the concept of cushioned shoes. There is no animal in the world that protects itself with anything on the feet. And it is not the correct method of running and walking, because humans don’t need that protection. The feet have to be naturally touching the ground,” he replies.
Thomas started barefoot running in April 2012. Transitioning to barefoot running was a challenge for him but he kept training and increasing his distance after his first barefoot 10 km run was successful.
Today, he wants to promote barefoot running among other runners as well.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Thomas moved to Bangalore about 12 years ago and has loved the city since then. “Bangalore weather is awesome – a perfect city for sports,” he says.
The Bangalore half marathon event where he achieved his personal best timing this year is the most memorable run for Thomas. While his previous best was 1 hour 29 minutes and 30 seconds for a half marathon, this year he completed the same in 1 hour, 25 minutes and 22 seconds.
While many of us, who are in regular full time jobs, have several excuses when it comes to not running or exercising, Thomas has a completely different outlook.
“Running is my priority. For me it is very important and this is known at my workplace as well. So I somehow manage the time. I make sure that I work overtime to make time for running.”
Ever since 2009, he has brought about a lot of changes in his eating habits too. His diet now includes healthier and more nutritious food with lots of fruits and juices.
About the recent surge in marathons taking place in India, Thomas says that it is good to see more events being organised to raise funds or awareness about certain issues.
“In return, runners are also getting many opportunities to participate in various events. Earlier they used to participate only a couple of times a year, and now they are participating 5-6 times.” He takes part in a charity based event once every year and raised almost Rs. 2.8 lakh for an NGO this year.
Thomas adds that runners should be a little cautious about not over participating and injuring themselves. They should also be very careful about how they treat injuries and recover from them.
“Make time at least once or twice in a week. We can go out for 45 minutes or an hour to spend some time on ourselves,” are his parting words of advice for aspiring runners.