Around the 30th kilometre of his first marathon, Chinthaka Jayaweera began questioning his sanity. By the 35th it had begun to pour, he was freezing and his body was protesting heavily; “I was about to give up,” he says, “but then I saw my wife and younger daughter standing in the rain with signs of [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

To run and run

A late starter as a marathon runner, Chinthaka Jayaweera has his sights set on the Ironman challenge

Around the 30th kilometre of his first marathon, Chinthaka Jayaweera began questioning his sanity.

Chinthaka Jayaweera: A study in determination. Pic by Nilan Maligaspe

By the 35th it had begun to pour, he was freezing and his body was protesting heavily; “I was about to give up,” he says, “but then I saw my wife and younger daughter standing in the rain with signs of support and I just kept going.” He made it to the end of the marathon- 42.2 km- at the mark of 4 hours, 31 minutes and 54 seconds.

This was in May 2014. A year and a half later, he has run three more marathons and hopes to add a few duathlons and a triathlon to his list.

“You feel terrible while you’re doing it,” he explains. “But once you finish the sense of accomplishment is so great that you just want to do it again.”

Jayaweera is not your usual marathon runner. For one, he is now 44 – he only started running seriously when he was 42. He’s not one of the oldest (there are competitors in their late 70s) but he is unusual for starting to run relatively later in life.

That too, was inspired by a desire to become fit enough to climb Mont Blanc in the Alps. Jayaweera saw the ‘White Mountain’, Europe’s highest peak, while on holiday and wondered what it would take to climb it.

“A common consensus was that if you were fit enough to run a marathon you could make it up,” he remembers. “So, I took up running.”

This instinctive enthusiasm for challenges explains itself when you learn more about him. Jayaweera is Head of Group Internal Audit – Vice President for the Fortune Global 500 company A.P. Moller-Maersk, a Danish business conglomerate spread across more than 130 countries, specialising in the industries of transportation and energy.

He has been based in Copenhagen, Denmark since 2004. Prior to that, he worked with Maersk in Colombo.

Jayaweera studied at Mahanama College and Royal College in Colombo. He has been a consummate planner since his teens. At 18, he drew up his life plan for the next 17 years complete with flow charts and the works.

The original plan was to become a computer engineer; but his attentions were swayed by the CIMA course he had begun straight after the Advanced Level examinations (“it was eventually the back-up plan that worked for me”). He worked with KPMG for two years, later joining investment bank Vanik.

A strong desire for international exposure led him to Maersk.

Joining as Assistant General Manager for Finance in 1997, he was soon promoted to General Manager responsible for Finance, IT, Human Resources and Administration while serving as Company Secretary.

He was then appointed Country Manager of Damco, the logistics arm of the company. Jayaweera cemented his desire for international exposure by applying for a post at the head office in Denmark as a General Manager heading the business audit function.

He was then appointed (successively) Senior General Manager, Director with business control responsibility for Maersk Line and as Senior Director, part of the Maersk Line Global Finance Leadership team.

He was also the Finance Business Process Owner for the Maersk Line Global Finance Leadership team. He was appointed Vice President in 2012. Today, he is Head of Group Internal Audit at the company and says his work keeps him on his toes.

“My colleagues were supportive when I took up running,” he says. “For one they were much more athletic than I was!” Jayaweera freely admits to having “never been athletic.

I mean, I used to play cricket when I was young but everyone does that in Sri Lanka.” He took up cycling when he moved to Denmark, and used to regularly cycle up to the mountains.

A dream come true: Running the Copenhagen marathon

When he decided to take on Mont Blanc, he began preparing himself to run a marathon. Friends advised that he start with a half marathon (21.1 km) but Jayaweera was determined. He would somehow train himself to do a full one.

Building up from an endurance level of 5 km, he was soon training every other day. Slowly, with perseverance and gritted teeth, he built up his endurance levels.

Occasionally he floundered too-“when I made the switch from 12 to 17 km I was in bed for three days afterwards!” but kept going with encouragement from his family, friends and colleagues.

How did he find the time? By making time, he says simply. “You always have time to do what you want to do. It’s a matter of prioritizing and having the discipline to allocate time in your calendar.” For example, Jayaweera took to waking up at 3.30 a.m. on his running days.

He would study for around two hours (he’s currently completing an Executive MBA with TRIUM jointly issued by New York University Stern School of Business, London School of Economics and Political Science, and HEC Paris School of Management), and then change into his running gear. Come rain or freezing temperatures in the suburbs of Copenhagen, where he lives, he would begin his training sessions.

When the Copenhagen marathon finally arrived in May 2014 Jayaweera felt himself up for the challenge. He had not completed a full marathon, however.

The body begins to burn fat after the 28th km or so once all your carbohydrates have been expended, he says, so it is not advisable to complete the marathon distance during the training period.

This was why, 30 km into his first official marathon, he seriously questioned his sanity. “I thought ‘you’re never, ever doing this again’,” he grins now.

Thankfully, his family kept him going and he met the finish line-mind and body intact. “It’s very important to prepare yourself mentally for what you’re about to do,” he advises.

“Once you’ve expended all your energy it’s really about strength of character and determination. You have to dig deep because you’re on your own out there.”

Later that same year, Jayaweera completed his second marathon in Budapest, Hungary, improving his time slightly by a minute. Returning to Copenhagen he enlisted the services of a trainer to further improve his time.

When he ran the Copenhagen marathon again in May 2015, he cut down 33 minutes from his time and finished in 3 hours and 57 minutes.

When he ran again in October he managed to shave off some more minutes, finishing in 3 hours and 43 minutes. The desire to give up towards the end has disappeared now, he says. “I just feel faster, stronger and much better.”

The matter of age he brushes off. “Age is just a number. I’ve run with 70-year-olds — now that’s impressive. If you’re healthy physically and mentally, then you can do it.”

Next year, he has set a new challenge for himself: complete a duathlon, which involves 10 km of running, 60 km of cycling and then another 10 km of running.

He intends to train by selling his car and buying a bicycle. “I’m going to cycle to work,” he says. “So I’ll be cutting out some unproductive driving time.”

In 2017, he wants to take on a triathlon that will see him swimming, running and cycling in immediate succession. Jayaweera is not the greatest of swimmers right now, but once again he intends to train.

Is the triathlon his ultimate challenge? It’s not. In 2018, if his family ever agrees to it, he says he will attempt an Ironman.

This is one of the most challenging one-day sporting events in the world- a 3.86 km sea swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride and a 42.2 km marathon run, raced in that order and without a break.

So what was the view like from the top of Mont Blanc? You may have to ask someone else, because Jayaweera never ended up doing it.

It was too risky, he says. Mont Blanc records the highest number of deaths in the world and Jayaweera values everything he has too much to put it on the line – his two daughters (one would like to be a professional jockey, the other ice skates beautifully) and his wife, and all that he has accomplished so far.

“Besides,” he says animatedly, “I’ve discovered running and that’s what I want to pursue right now.”

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