Air Marshal PV Iyer retired from the Indian Air Force 35 years ago, but the nickname Running Marshal is still in vogue. Over the past 46 years, he has run more than 120,000 kilometers, and at the age of 93, he runs 8 to 9 kilometers a day and works out in the gym five days a week. Most recently, he wrote a book, “Fit at Any Age,” about his fitness philosophy.
“I wasn’t a sports person when I was young,” Iyer said. “I’m an indoor person [interested in] Bridge and billiards. I didn’t start my fitness journey until I was 47 years old and the Air Force demanded of me. “
In 1976, the chief of the Air Force ordered that all Air Force personnel pass a medical examination. Running a mile in under seven minutes is one of the tests for Iyer’s age. When he started preparing for the exam, he realized that everyone has power, regardless of age.
Within weeks, Iyer was running at a good pace. After passing the test with ease, he continued to run every day. “If you run regularly, you won’t get tired from jogging,” he said. He puts his body through tougher challenges, drawing strength from the idea that our hunter-gatherer ancestors triumphed over predators.
In 1981, Iyer made a wide belt weighted with lead shot and jogged on the dune-like sandy banks of the Kanpur Ganga. “I do it twice a week for an hour. Imagine the strength it gives my legs.” A few months later, he won gold in the 5,000m at the inaugural Asian Athletics Masters in Singapore. In 1985, he organized a 270-kilometer ultra-distance run from Agra to Delhi, calling on people to join his fitness campaign. More than 300 people participated, and about 100 people finished the run.
Even on the day his daughters Indu and Mina got married, Iyer didn’t skip his daily run. He wakes up at 3am, finishes his run at 5am, and prepares to travel from the air force base in Avadi to his wedding venue in Chennai at 6am. He has been documenting his fitness journey, one volume a year. Now he has 45 such journals. “Although storing them is a challenge, they come in handy,” he writes in the book. “For example, if I get injured after a workout, I look back and check when I’ve had a similar injury in the past, what kind of running caused it and what I did to get over it.”
He recommends that fitness enthusiasts record their pulse rate in a journal every morning. Over the years, Iyer’s resting pulse rate dropped below 40. “It’s natural for athletes to have a lower pulse rate,” he said. Once, as he stood by at a hospital in Nagpur, a nurse took his pulse and ran to the doctor in panic. Iyer had to explain all of his exercise regimens to doctors.
Iyer also trained his mind. He speaks French and Russian in addition to English and six Indian languages. He taught himself French as a young officer in Srinagar, waking up at 4am on even the coldest mornings. He later earned the nickname “The Frenchman” as an interpreter for the intelligence bureau at Air Force Headquarters in Delhi.
While jogging during the Covid lockdown, he perfected his Telugu and Kannada. “I would put on headphones and listen to conversations in these languages,” he said. “There’s no limit to what our minds can do. You can learn a new language or musical instrument at any age.” His whole family loves the word game Boggle. “As long as there’s a party, we play,” he said. Besides his daughter, he has a son, Parameswaran Iyer, who is now the chief executive officer of NITI Aayog.
The book on fitness was his son’s idea. “His advice often comes in the form of compelling arguments,” Ayer writes in the book, which offers a joyful view of later life. “Old age is not a catastrophe or something to worry about, but evolution has designed it to allow us to live a pleasurable period of life filled with new experiences, activities, and achievements. … Get out of the competition.”
suitable for any age
go through Air Marshal PV Iyer
published by Bloomsbury India
price: 499 rupees; page: 200