Nivedita Samanta, marathon runner

My name is Nivedita Samanta, I am a runner, I am trying to be an entrepreneur…

Yes (I think about air quality before running) I actually have an app on my phone that I see the night before I go running. Especially in the winter, the summer is not so bad – it is bad compared to international countries but you know, you have to do what you have to do.

In the winter though, I do restrict my running during the week to indoors, so I’m running more on the treadmill and just usually end up doing my longer runs outside because it’s just really hard to breathe in the smog. In the summer, it gets hot which is life, the heat – you can get used to it. It is polluted but it’s not so much in comparison to the winter. Starting November, December, January, February, I don’t run outdoors other than my Sunday long runs because it’s just really hard to do the Sunday runs on the treadmill.

But otherwise I’m usually doing it on the treadmill. The reason I started doing it was because maybe two years ago every time I came home after running I’d just be coughing and sneezing, I had to start taking anti-histamines.

I do take anti-histamines in the summer occasionally but that’s usually when there’s pollen in the air or something like that, but in the winter I need to take one every day. Even now, in spite of taking anti-histamines in the winter, you know, skin just breaks out and we just feel sick throughout the day. It’s almost like you’re coughing dirt out.

I’ve done two half marathon races in the winter, so that’s not to say we don’t compete in the winter. It’s just, you know, you just have to do it if you’re passionate about something and we just choose to do it this way. We’re probably going to die much before everyone else, but, you know, I don’t mind. I don’t know, what the effects are going to be, I’m probably going to feel it once I’m forty.

There are these scary studies, that say that being outdoors and running for 15 minutes is like smoking a pack of cigarettes in a day. So I don’t know really, I just know I feel more tired after my long runs in the winter.

It’s a different kind of tiredness, it’s almost, you know, your insides hurt. I realised it for the first time about two years ago, maybe because I was running more and being outside. But I do remember last Diwali. So you know the buildings there, I live close to that. I couldn’t see the building next to my house because of the smog and it was red, the day after Diwali, in the morning. I can show you some photos that I may have in my archive. But it was crazy, you woke up, you walked out onto your balcony and you couldn’t see the neighbouring building. It’s intense.

I don’t get the Delhi cough, and I think it’s because of the anti-histamines and I also try and take steam the day after my long run or the same day because I just feel it flushes things out. In the winter especially I go and take steam. It’s a great way to warm yourself as well. I go to a steam room that I have at the gym, it’s like a sauna.

I know a lot of my friends don’t necessarily have that in their gyms. They take a bucket of really hot water, put their heads over it and a towel over it and just breathe in and out. You can choose to put some essential oils that help clear things out, it’s a great way of drinking more water.

There’s also certain foods that are believed to soak in the pollution… molasses, so hard molasses, you consume that more in the winter because it’s (meant to be) a great way to just soak the bad things (out)… I haven’t tried it but I know a lot of people start eating differently in the winter to cope with pollution.

There are a lot of fitness and running groups that have Facebook pages that constantly, once a week, will post about what you should eat or drink to cope with the pollution, especially when you’re running outside. I know the yoga groups do it as well, so it’s quite likely that people who are more fitness oriented do that. I remember posting about it myself.

But in India people change their diets in the winter as well. You eat different kinds of food, so more paratha, vegetables are different also – it’s like you wouldn’t get nice carrots in the monsoon, because it’s not carrot season.

A lot of people wear masks and run, I haven’t found a reliable mask that’s manufactured in India, that one can use for fitness activity, but I have a bunch of friends that just get them from the West. Either the US or the UK and they run in them. They claim it helps them dramatically in breathing but I haven’t tried one. My family started using masks every time we went outside because my mum started sneezing every time the windows would be open or someone would walk inside through the door. So we started using them. They were helpful, very inconvenient but you know, helpful. We have air purifiers on, at home, all the time in the winter. When I say winter, you know it’s really early November until about February because that’s when the smog starts getting worse.

I think it’s mostly cloudy because the app seemed to indicate it’s not very polluted today. But I don’t know, yesterday was great. Yesterday there was AQI it was 50, that’s probably the highest that it gets in London but it was the lowest that it gets over here.

Here (compared to London) we’re struggling to breathe or just generally keep your eyes open.

I don’t know if it happens to you, it happens to me and a bunch of my friends so when it’s really polluted when we wake up the next morning our eyes feel really heavy, as if you can’t open them. I don’t know if it’s because of the pollution or you’re just tired. It’s interesting. But the air purifying industry is probably making a lot of money in the winter because everybody buys air purifiers. We have it on all the time, not so much now but every room has an air purifier because it just gets terrible.

I know at least in Delhi they’re pretty strict about the factory laws and I do know that they’ve been more vigilant lately. So, I think it’s fumes from the trucks and the cars and, the trains are mostly electric. It could be the airplanes too. But just a funny statistic, I was in Finland a couple of months ago and Finland’s entire population is 5 million for the entire country. Delhi has a population of 25 million so you know there you go, I think we’re just bursting at the seams of the city and it’s just more and more cars. I know my family has three cars, for three people. It’s not good but it’s convenient to have a car, especially for me, its safer for me to be out at night with my own car. So I think it’s a variety of reasons really but I think it’s mostly cars and trucks that come into the city every night to deliver goods and things.

It just envelopes you in that (black smoke from vehicles). I don’t know if they have stringent laws when it comes to trucks, they’re mostly using diesel. You know you can filter the diesel further to make it more environmentally friendly, at least that’s what I was reading.

But they don’t implement it (emissions standards for new cars approaching EU levels) as strictly as they probably should. I think the fining mechanism, there’s too much corruption. Maybe it’s changing but, I don’t know.

I think better public transportation will improve things. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of people have cars as well. Hopefully there will be fewer people because they’ll start realising that you don’t need to have more than one child maybe. Maybe we’ll still have this protected forest and maybe the government, you know we’re going to start protecting more areas like this.

I think we’re going to have really good public transportation where people won’t need to take cars to travel anywhere, it’s going to be so well connected that everybody will want to take it. Twenty years down the line, maybe there won’t be such a disparity of income in a country like India, where the rich (will) feel comfortable enough to mix with the poor and there won’t be that many poor people, if I’m being overtly optimistic, so everybody could afford to use public transportation. We have places like this with trails. I think we need to preserve areas like this for the future, for kids to know what it is to have trees and wild animals, and snakes and scorpions and things like that. I think twenty years down the line we’ll have blue skies because most of it will run on electricity. Move to solar power or something, generate electricity enough to cut down pollution.

So when I was working full time I use to go from Gurgaon to Connaught Place. It’s only a distance of about 24 kilometres but the traffic was intense. It would take up to an hour and a half to just drive and most people consider this driving against the traffic. Because nearly everybody is coming in from Delhi to Gurgaon and I was going the other way but it still took me an hour and a half. I’d leave home at 7.45 in the morning, it’s not crazy early but early enough. So I started taking the metro, luckily I had a direct line and it would take me 45 minutes, that included my walk to the metro station on both sides, so it was very convenient but it was very crowded, mainly because the colleges are to the north of Delhi and that’s where I was going.

But it was very convenient, you had air conditioning. You’ve still got space to stand and it’s convenient to have women’s only carriages – the first carriage is for women only so you feel comfortable enough, no one is going to grope you or anything. Having said that I have never really been groped in public, I’ve been one of the lucky few. Yeah the metro’s convenient because it runs until about 11 o’clock at night and there is enough security around for you to feel safe. As a woman that is something you have to constantly think about.

I’ve been trying not to drive into Delhi unless I absolutely should. That’s mainly because it takes much longer to drive, I have to worry about parking, so I just take the metro if it’s easy enough, if there’s maybe just two changes to the line- I would do it. But I don’t really go into Delhi unless it’s absolutely necessary – I go into Delhi to do my morning runs on Saturdays and Sundays and at that time there isn’t any traffic, but when I’m on my way back it’s intense again, so I think the pollution is because of the cars and the heavy vehicles on the roads and we just to need to figure out a way to combat that you know?