For Mariam Mathew, CEO of Manorama Online, people who run regularly show greater discipline and a willingness to accept challenges
It was a summer morning in 1996. Mariam Mathew, a B-school student then, shifted nervously around New York City’s Central Park amidst hundreds of people waiting to break into a run. Mathew, now 45, was “literally running for her first job”. It was a corporate run organised by Chase Bank for its employees and Mathew, a summer intern, was about to run with those who were going to decide her fate. Though she wasn’t new to running — she had started it for losing the extra kilos she had gained during her days as a management student in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — Mathew wanted to make no mistakes that day.
“Every time I thought I could not climb the little hills, I had to remember what was at stake and push myself,” says the chief executive officer of Manorama Online, a leading media company. She believes her determination and effort that day helped her secure the position of an associate at Chase.
All through her time in Manhattan, she ran regularly at Central Park. When she moved back to Kottayam, Kerala, in 2001, the one habit she didn’t give up was running. “When I started running in NY, I was a 20-year-old who believed in the strength and stamina of youth,” says Mathew. That idea changed after being outrun by far older runners in different races. “I realised that neither age nor fitness levels can be a judge of a person’s skills as a runner,” she continues. In Kottayam, she was more surprised to find seemingly unfit, casual runners perform better than the ones who trained regularly. “This changed my perspective. Running has taught me to not have preconceived notions about people,” says Mathew, who trains four to five days a week.
Running has not only helped Mathew, a mother of two, grow personally but it also shaped her ideas about work, competition, teamwork and fair play. On the personal level, it helps build her confidence. “When you go that extra mile and you tame that difficult terrain, there is a sense of achievement, that we can achieve our targets despite all the hurdles. Running clears my mind. A lot of new ideas come up during a run. When I have unresolved issues, they invariably come up when I am training and somewhere along the way, I manage to find a bunch of ideas to resolve them,” Mathew says.
Her work ethic and professional attitude are deeply influenced by the philosophy of her boss at Chase. “He used to emphasise on not just what one did in office but also what one did outside of it. He valued an employee who had more knowledge than was required for the job,” says Mathew, adding that she prefers to work with people who either play a sport or run. “Such employees usually have a sense of fair play, show greater discipline and willingness to accept challenges.”
Mathew’s day starts at 4 am — with either a treadmill session or a run outdoors. There are days when she runs up to 20 km. Kottayam’s slightly hilly terrain allows her to mix hill training with interval training and long runs. She also keeps aside days for the easy but equally important recovery runs.
Mathew’s happiest running moment came shortly after she returned to India and participated in her first half marathon, in Kottayam. “I got a great time and beat many people I considered fitter, stronger and better athletes. I realised then that long-distance running is all about mental strength — mind over heart — and that I had found that inner strength,” she says.
However, the switch for the runner from Central Park to ‘God’s Own Country’ wasn’t easy. In the early noughties, Mathew found just another woman runner in Kottayam. In the early days her training partner was her husband’s cousin, who owns a local manufacturing business. Now, several running groups have cropped up and Mathew has found plenty of support, inspiration and training partners through them. Despite that she still rues the small number of women who lace up. “Just like there are few women at round tables, in running, too, I find fewer women. I have to adjust my running schedule around family routines, which do not seem to affect most of the men I run with,” she adds.
Though she has been running since the mid-’90s, Mathew, a St Stephen’s alumna, has participated in only four half marathons till date. She signed up for more but because of scheduling conflicts, she had to cancel quite a few. Mathew has figured out a way to fix this. “My plan is to slowly start planning quick holidays around marathons so I can kill two birds at the same time,” she says.