The Whole Nine Yards - Jayanthi Sampath Kumar

44-year-old Jayanthi Sampath Kumar, an IT manager at Microsoft, participated in the Hyderabad full marathon, covering the total distance of 42 kilometres in less than five hours. However, this wasn’t just a regular marathoner running. What was stunningly different is that she ran the entire marathon clad in a saree and slippers! Jayanthi took up running about eight years ago. In 2015, she participated in the Hyderabad marathon and ran her first 10K race. After the usual teething troubles, Jayanthi took up running seriously in January 2016, and started training with Hyderabad’s runners. She zoomed her way into people’s hearts after running a marathon in a saree. We caught up with her to find out more.

Why did you choose to run in a saree?
In a conversation with my husband, I mentioned how my clothes occupy more cupboard space than his. That led to a New Year’s resolution of wearing a saree a day. Having grown up seeing my mother and grandmother wear a saree every day, I knew that it was something that could be done. What also helped was that I loved wearing sarees from various parts of the country. I also chose to run in a saree to support handlooms and encourage women.

What was the experience like?
It was great! And yes, many were curious. They wanted to take selfies with me (smiles).

Can you elaborate more on your support for handlooms?
I want to promote handlooms and encourage women. Running the marathon in a saree was a statement of my support. I am a cyclist and ride very often, and I notice a lot of plastic pollution happening around us. I am keen to curb that and want to use this platform to oppose it. For that, maybe I should run in a saree made of plastic wrappers that people throw away. Have you seen handloom being spun? Each thread is spun by hand, and represents the effort that artisans put into making these beautiful clothes. Sadly, it doesn’t get as much appreciation as it deserves.

And what about your unconventional decision to run in sandals?
I realised that I was most comfortable running barefoot. But over a long distance, the stones and pebbles were hurting my feet. So I went and found these minimalistic sandals through some running communities. It’s the closest I can get to running barefoot while still protecting my feet.

You have applied to the Guinness Book of World Records to have run the ‘fastest marathon in a saree’ Tell us more!
I informed them about my attempt. Alongside this, I had a cycle marshal help me take video and photographic evidence. My coach, Dr Vignan, was also there throughout, lending great support. The condition was that I finish the marathon in under five hours; I managed to complete it in that time.

You certainly seem to have a strong love for handlooms!
While India is home to the most handloom weavers in the world, the exquisiteness of their work stands in stark contrast to the impoverished lives many of them lead. The handloom industry is not only India’s pride, but also a source of employment for hundreds in the country. I have been interested in handloom for over a decade. So it wasn’t long before I began shopping almost exclusively from handloom exhibitions. I hardly shop from retail shops anymore!

You also want to spread awareness about the versatility of the saree. What is the idea behind this?
I chose the saree not just to show my support for handloom, but to make another point as well. Everyone should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in, and that can be a saree, too! I wanted to show that a saree need not be a restrictive garment in leading an active and fit lifestyle.

What was the training process for the marathon?
Running a marathon isn’t merely a matter of determination, but also requires intense training. In January last year, my family and I decided to have a fitter lifestyle, which included running and cycling. Soon I began training more intensively to run marathons, and ran a half marathon in August 2016. Then I ran a full marathon in Chennai in January, covering 42.2 kilometres in five hours and 28 minutes.

How did you decide which style of saree to wear for the race?
It began by wearing a saree to work every day instead of weekly, and thereafter progressed to training to run in the garment in April.The latter involved plenty of experimentation to figure out which saree and style worked best while running.  I saw YouTube videos and tried the Maharashtrian drape, Andhra styles, Tamil styles… There were considerations of the length (six-yard or nine-yard), how many pins and pleats were needed to make it stay in place. Finally, it was the Tamil Madisaar style which worked best.

What is your take away from this success?
That you can do anything you want, no matter what you wear (smiles).