In the second feature of our series on ‘Meghalaya women in sport’, to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, TSR is profiling marathon runner Darishisha Iangjuh, who has an amazing story to tell…

When Darishisha Iangjuh ran her first Sohra Marathon, in 2014, she was new to long-distance running and had only trained in the two weeks prior. Not a lot of time at all, but she still finished second in the women’s half-marathon category.

That was just the beginning of her astounding career. Runners from Meghalaya’s South West Khasi Hills are renowned, at least locally if not also farther afield, for their performance, and Iangjuh’s striking ability to compete head-on with them caught the eye of Run Meghalaya, the organisation that put on the race.

Gerald Pde, a long-distance runner himself and lead architect of Run Meghalaya, encouraged Iangjuh to run more and that she did.

Darishisha Iangjuh (centre) at the end of the Sohra Marathon 2014

“I always loved sports in school, but at that time I didn’t try too hard in inter-school events because I didn’t realise that there were so many opportunities. Gerald helped me get started in running. He saw my strength in the Sohra half-marathon and then I ran in Guwahati and in Bangalore,” she told TSR for this feature. “In Bangalore I really felt like I could run and wanted to run even more races. At first I used to run only half-marathons but Gerald pushed me to take on the full. Sohra 2015 was my first full marathon, the second was in Bangalore and I’ve run two full Mumbai Marathons,” she added. Just last December Iangjuh competed in the Chennai Marathon and took first place with a time of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 26 seconds.

The 24-year-old ran in the open category in these races, not at the ‘elite’ level of such marathoners like Paula Radcliffe, who she mentions when asked about her inspiration. But her times have been good enough for her to have competed with those in the elite category’s top 10 in a few races and she’s hoping to break the three-hour barrier for a full marathon.

While Radcliffe is inspiring to runners all over the world, Iangjuh is herself an inspiration. Her name has been in the Meghalaya news when she claimed a podium place over the last few years, but what TSR didn’t know was that sport has changed her life in a remarkable way.

She studied at St Mary’s School until Class 8 but had to drop out in order to find employment to support her siblings. It was only several years later that she found her calling as a long-distance runner.

“When I started running some members of my family were happy, while others couldn’t understand it. They later realised, though, that it’s helping me take care of my family. When I started I didn’t even know about the financial benefits,” she explained, adding that she now works part-time for Run Meghalaya as well as at a family member’s guesthouse.

Read more from the Meghalaya women in sport series:

* Basketball player and coach Larihun Warjri

* Archer, judge, administrator Matsiewdor War Nongbri

* Football referee Merrylene Tongwah

Running has its own reward, though, and is not limited to monetary benefits.

“Once you start running you become motivated to continue again and again. I run three times a week, but for elite runners you have to run more. I will start on that soon. I usually run on the track at the JN Stadium and on the road. Running is the best exercise. It’s low cost, strengthens your muscles, bones and keeps you fit. I want to run as much as I can for as long as I live,” Iangjuh said.

When she began to get serious about running there were few others taking part, but she’s noticed that now more and more runners, especially women, are getting out there in the morning. However, one hindrance is safety, as she explains, “For some women running isn’t safe in the mornings unless you run in a group of people you know.”

When your TSR correspondent remarked that he had huffed and puffed through two 10km editions of the Sohra Marathon, our intrepid runner quipped that she considers such a distance as a “warm-up”. She didn’t say it condescendingly, it’s just that she loves to run. It’s hard to put into words, but the longer the distance the better for her; Iangjuh is looking to take part in the 72km Run Meghalaya ultra-marathon later this year as well as a 100km (that’s nearly two and a half times the distance of a standard marathon) race in Goa.

Photos contributed by Darishisha Iangjuh

Before that, however, she has to undergo medical checkups. Running may be good for your health, but, as in any sport, injuries can arise. Knee problems have troubled Iangjuh and these need to be checked. She also missed out on a year of running after requiring surgery on her appendix.

No regrets, though. Besides wanting women to feel safe enough to run in the street, Iangjuh would also like to see more sponsors come forward, private or through the government, to help develop running, but there’s so much she’s thankful for, especially the organisation that spotted her potential.

“Run Meghalaya has done a really great job and my running has improved so much. It’s because of them I’ve gotten to where I am now and I just want to keep on going,” she said at the end.

(TSR photos, except where otherwise stated)

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