Obese? Fat? No!

Suva Marathon Club

Shedding those kilos and avoiding NCDs with the Suva Marathon Club

By Sadhana Sen

In early 2014, a group of ‘fairly decent’ runners living and working out of Fiji’s capital, Suva decided to pursue the idea of creating a platform to promote marathon running for Pacific islanders, and to use it to encourage healthy living practices.

Their motivation stemmed from concern at shocking statistics for obesity-related deaths, and the relationship between obesity and the increased risk of getting heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some types of cancers.

Today Pacific Islanders are amongst the most obese peoples in the world, with nine of the 10 most obese nations being from the Pacific.

Concern about these statistics led to the creation of the Suva Marathon Club (SMC) and the eventual hosting of the inaugural Suva Marathon in 2014.

The Suva Marathon Club, at the time largely a group of expatriates, had a vision to organise a world-class annual marathon in Suva to promote healthier lifestyles. Its core values;  a focus on aiding the local community as a whole while striving for good health for all, with passion, inclusivity, honesty, openness and integrity.

The Suva Marathon Club registered itself formally under the Charitable Trusts Act in 2019. The mission of the Trust was to provide a focal point for runners in Suva, the hundreds that join them for marathons throughout Fiji, and for those with a keen interest in long-distance and road running in all its forms.

Since its formation, the SMC has played host to the largest road races in the Pacific Islands: The Island Chill Suva Marathon, and the smaller-scale Munro Leys Marathon. It also organises regular smaller events throughout the year. At its height it has had some 2000 runners registered for the Island Chill full and half marathon (including serious runners from as far as Japan and India), together with 10 and five kilometre runs aimed at groups and families. 

Then came 2020, with the twists and turns that left most sporting bodies struggling, as competitions and events were cancelled. Empty gyms and stadiums were the new global norm.

As Fiji responded to the threat of COVID-19, the Club postponed its two major events, following in the steps of  marathons globally.

The postponements were in line with recommendations from government authorities and sporting bodies. With club events postponed, and lockdowns and curfews in place, members were encouraged to remain active and keep training within the confines of physical distancing and hygiene rules set by the Fijian Government. 

In August,  permission was received from the National Fiji Sports Commission to hold events again, and the club started its regular social Saturday runs along the seawall. Club runners and members began discussing options for their annual Marathon.

The Island Chill Marathon wasn’t a possibility, as its usual route along Suva’s Scenic Queen Elizabeth Drive was under major maintenance works. However riding on the euphoria around the televising of the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, which was shot in Fiji in September 2019, club members with an involvement in the race mooted the idea of a marathon along the rough terrain and road taken by the race.

This gave rise to Fiji’s toughest run, the inaugural Namosi Marathon 2020, to follow part of the route of the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji.

“Certainly not for beginners, this route is spectacular in its beauty and ruggedness, and is ideal for long-distance runners in Fiji looking for a challenge” Brian Hennessy, the 2020 President of the Suva Marathon Club (SMC) and himself a marathoner said.

The Namosi Marathon 2020, Fiji’s first trail running event, included a 42km marathon, 21km half marathon and a 10km race. The course followed a stretch of difficult track in the Namosi highlands used during the Eco-Challenge Fiji.

The races provided a real challenge for even the fittest of athletes, but also an opportunity for some 200 runners, young and old, small and big, from all over Fiji to experience the rugged beauty of Viti Levu’s interior (and in particular, Namosi’s undulating, scenic mountainous terrain) and shun some of those Covid-19 blues, while taking that important step to shedding the ‘obese Pacific Islander’ label.

“The full marathon gave our serious runners an incredible challenge and there were some pretty punishing hills along the last 10km of the course.” said Event Director Marita Manley at the time.

Many ignored the warning that they needed to be fit to run the route, and registered all the same. Organisers felt a pure sense of achievement as every one of the registered runners finished the event, even if some slowly walked to the finishing line.

Inspirational Shri ‘Mushroom’ Chand (centre in black)

My obesity journey

As I hit my early fifties, I met Suva Marathon Club members running along Suva’s sea wall, chatted to some and eventually was introduced to their Thursday 5 and 10 kilometre runs. With my menopausal, 80 kilograms of weight, together with my five feet five inches frame, being part of a set of fit and fabulous looking set of runners came with some consternation.

But determined to avoid the diabetes and hypertension that affect both my parents, I would drag myself to the Club runs, sometimes with my two boys and other times with just my frame for company. I would always be the last to finish my five  kilometre run and have one of the Club Champions, Marathoner Raj Prasad sent through by Club executives to wave me through every Thursday, as the Suva evening set in.

Sore and sweaty, with feet dragging for a few days after the run, I would still try and make it to Club runs. That runner’s euphoria was always worth it as you hit the finish line, and while I don’t believe I have lost much weight with runs that have become more irregular, I do feel a wonderful sense of well- being every time I hit the sea wall in Suva.

It certainly helps having for company encouraging veteran amateur runners in their sixties such as Wag Sing Yee and Shri Chand Mushroom and then the younger and sprinty Ana Padarath, Raj Prasad, Richard Naidu, Gina Houng Lee, Kris Prasad, Marita Manley, Brian Hennnesy and Stuart Gow encouraging you on.

Do not become that statistic that adds to the Pacific being the most obese region across the globe. You don’t have to be young and slim to hit the pavements or trails for your walks or runs. Every bit of  movement makes a difference.

Contact a running or walking club near you if you need motivation you cannot find by running on your own.  For those living or visiting Suva, you can contact  the Suva Marathon Club or see www.suvamarathon.org  for our Club events.

Check out the Suva Marathon Club on Facebook for upcoming events.

Sadhana Sen is a big Mama who as she aged took up running. When not trying to keep her big form fit she is a Communications Advisor and freelance journalist. She is also a Board Member of the Suva Marathon Club.

This article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of Islands Business.

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