2023 TMM / MUSINGS

Chavi Yadav (Photo: courtesy Chavi)

Won a marathon but first love stays steeplechase

On the eve of the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), Chavi Yadav was a runner in the shadow of better-known names in the Indian women’s elite category. She had never run the marathon before. The race in Mumbai was to be her first. Hours later, she rewrote expectations. TMM had a new winner in the category of Indian elite women and it was Chavi.   

The Railways athlete was not new to racing. Chavi, 30, has been running since her senior school days, participating over the years in 800 metres, 1500 metres, 3000 metre steeplechase and 5K and 10K events. Her specialization is in the steeplechase. She has also been active in cross country races. Ahead of TMM, she had won in the 10-kilometre category at the National Cross Country Championships held at Kaziranga, Assam, over January 7 and 8, 2023. She covered the distance in 35:05 minutes. A week later she was at the start line of the Mumbai Marathon along with other Indian elite runners. “ My coach Sandeep Pundir asked me to train for the marathon. There was no targeted time to finish in,” she said. Chavi surprised everybody with a fine victory, covering the distance of 42.2 km in two hours, 50 minutes and35 seconds. Notwithstanding her win at TMM, her commitment to the steeplechase remains unwavering. “ At the moment I do not have any plan to train and run marathons. I want to focus on steeplechase and try to qualify for the Asian Games,” she said. She indicated that she may get back to the marathon after the 2024 Olympics. “ Right now, I don’t want to mess up my training for the steeplechase. Marathon entails a much longer time to recovery,” she said. Coming up is a trip to Bathurst, Australia, the venue of the World Athletics Cross Country Championships 2023, where Chavi will be representing India in the 10 km discipline. The event is slated to be held on February 19, 2023.

Man Singh (right), Gopi T (centre), Kalidas Hirave (left). This photo was downloaded from the Twitter handle of Tata Mumbai Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

A debut to remember

For Man Singh, it was the first marathon he was participating in. Hailing from Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand, until the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) he had been a regular in the 5000m, 10,000m and the half marathon. In the half marathon, he had been podium finisher before at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) and at a couple of editions of TMM. At the 2016 ADHM, he had completed the half marathon in 1:04:40. Attached to the Army Sports Institute in Pune, some months before the 2023 TMM, his coach M. D. Yunus suggested that he try his hands at the marathon with a view to eventually attempt qualifying for the upcoming Asian Games. Accordingly, two to three months before the event in Mumbai, Man Singh commenced his training for the marathon in Ooty. The hill station in Tamil Nadu (it is also a well-known military base) is a popular training ground for the country’s elite distance runners. Man Singh knew that he would be heading for warm, sultry weather in Mumbai, an aspect often cited about the Mumbai marathon besides it’s not so easy course. But a surprise was in the making. The cold wave that hit north India in January 2023 along with its impact on Mumbai, rendered local weather conditions quite hospitable for running in the otherwise warm and humid coastal metropolis. On race day in Maharashtra’s capital, Man Singh found the weather very supportive. “ On the whole I felt good,’’ he said about his first marathon. He admitted to finding the second half of the race, which took him to domain beyond the half marathon that he was used to, challenging. But he hung on as best as he could behind the race leader among Indian elites, Gopi. T. He completed the race 17 seconds behind fellow army runner Gopi, to place second among Indian elite athletes in the men’s category with a timing of 2:16:58. An outing five days later – this time a half marathon in Dhaka in Bangladesh – would prove tad disappointing for Man Singh who was yet to recover fully from his 42K-run at Mumbai. But that hasn’t dimmed his desire to try qualifying for the Asian Games. “ I hope to participate in the New Delhi Marathon in February,’’ Man Singh said.      

Kalidas Hirave (Photo: courtesy Kalidas)

A bit short of his PB but good enough for third place

Pune-based Kalidas Hirave is a recent entrant to the marathon. He started as a middle-distance runner and then progressed to the 10,000 metres, half marathon and the marathon. “ The 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon was my third marathon,” he said. In February 2022, he ran his debut marathon at the New Delhi Marathon and finished with a timing of 2:18:12, a personal best to date. In the same year, he ran the Pune International Marathon to finish with a timing of 2:22:21. Kalidas, an employee of Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), said his training in the run up to the Tata Mumbai Marathon had been quite good with a fair combination of mileage training and core workout. “ I trained with a target of two hours, 15 minutes as time to finish. On race day, I ran well until the 30th kilometre and stayed within the Indian elite group. After that I started to suffer cramps and had to slow down. The last 12 kilometres were quite tough and I managed to cover them by jogging,” he said. Kalidas finished in third position among Indian elite men, with a timing of 2:19:54. He now plans to run the New Delhi Marathon, scheduled for February 26, 2023, in an attempt to qualify for the Asian Games. “ I plan to resume my training from next week,” he said on January 22, a week after the 2023 TMM. Unlike the typical lot of Indian elite runners, hailing from the defence forces with careers focused on the sport and training in groups of competent runners, Kalidas trains independently under his coach.

Nihal Ahamad Baig (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

A second place with a new personal best for Nihal Baig

Pune-based Nihal Ahamad Baig had to decide whether he wanted to train properly and attempt the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon scheduled for February 26, 2023 or go ahead and take a chance at the 2023 edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), which was returning after a gap of two years. A winner at the 2022 Goa Ironman held in mid-November, Nihal was in recovery phase for the rest of November. “ I decided to go ahead and do TMM as a training run. Also, the atmosphere is so great in Mumbai,’’ he said. At the time he decided on running the TMM he had four weeks left to train. “ I trained with Manoj Yadav. I had a target of two hours, 35 minutes to finish in,” he said. On race day, he felt good and went along with Manoj, steadily overtaking many runners along the way. “ At 17-18 kilometres, we caught up with Nanjundappa who was in second place at that time. The three of us ran together until the 35th kilometre. Just ahead of the Peddar Road stretch, which is an uphill, I picked up pace. Nanjundappa followed me but Manoj started to lag behind. During the climb I could feel the tightness in my legs and had to slow down my pace,’’ Nihal said. At this point Nanjundappa overtook him and went ahead. Nihal continued to keep his pace down during the downhill stretch of Peddar Road too. But soon after that he started to push again. “ I could see Nanjundappa ahead of me but I was not able to get to him. Also, towards the last 2-3 kilometres the large number of 10K runners forced me to dodge through the lot, to get to the finish line. I may have lost at least 30-40 seconds doing that,’’ Nihal said. Nanjundappa went on to win the amateur men’s category of the marathon. Nihal finished second with a timing of 2:28:17, a personal best by three minutes. Manoj Yadav finished third. “ I am quite satisfied with my performance,’’ Nihal said adding that the pleasant weather helped him maintain a comfortable pace. “ Thankfully, the hamstring tightness and knee pain which I felt during the race eased after a couple of recovery runs post TMM,’’ he said. Nihal now has his eye on the New Delhi Marathon, which has a flat course and usually sports pleasant weather.

The team from Run Meghalaya (Photo: courtesy the team)

Meghalaya runners dedicate their participation at TMM to the memory of Daphika Pakyntein

For several years now, Run Meghalaya has sent a team to participate in the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). This year was no different. Fourteen runners arrived; half of them earned podium finishes, including Darishisha Iangjuh who placed third overall among women marathon runners in the open category and first in her age group. Others with podium finishes in the marathon included Marvin Kharkongor (third in 25-29 years, male), Tlanding Wahlang (first in 40-44 years, male), Jomsingstar Ramsiej (second in 35-39 years, male), Bandasharai Marwein (third in 25-29 years, female), Snora Lyngkhoi (third in 50-54 years, female) and Kmoin Wahlang (first in 70 years and above, female). According to Darishisha and Shaikupar Kharshing, who spoke to this blog, much of the training they did in the months of pandemic was on trails. By way of events in the run up to 2023 TMM, all they had to participate in, were a half marathon and a 10K towards the end of 2022. Both these events were held in Meghalaya. Notwithstanding such limitations, almost all the members of the team showed improved performance at Sunday’s TMM. Compared to their previous outings at TMM, the time they took to cover the course had shrunk. On behalf of the whole team, Darishisha and Shaikupar expressed their gratitude to Dr Kyrshan Lynrah who had consistently supported the team’s participation at the event in Mumbai. The Run Meghalaya team has dedicated their participation at 2023 TMM to the memory of their late team member Daphika Pakyntein. January 15, the day of the 2023 Mumbai marathon, marked the first anniversary of her demise.

Savio D’ Souza (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

A day of reward after more than two years of momentum and motivation, sustained

For coach Savio D’Souza, the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) was a good experience. Notwithstanding COVID-19 impacting the preceding years, his group had done its best to stay connected to running. “ Aside from a few months lost to lockdown, we had continued our regular training,’’ he said. As the pandemic swept through Mumbai, runners from the group, including Savio, were not spared. The important thing for those affected so, was to return to running gradually. “ We were confident that we would be able to resume running. We were also cautious in our approach,’’ he said underscoring the gradual progress to form that was resorted to. For two years – 2021 and 2022 – TMM wasn’t held citing COVID-19. To keep his runners motivated, Savio’s group held competitions exclusive to group members. There were friendly competitions spanning 10K, 15K, the half marathon and the marathon. In 2021 and 2022, around the usual date of TMM, the group held races to mark the occasion, Savio said. When TMM finally returned, it did so with an unexpected bonus. The weather on race day, January 15, 2023, was superb. It was cool for most of the hours of the race. “ It was the best weather the event has had to date,’’ Savio said. Coupled with these weather conditions, the efforts made by the group to sustain their motivation and interest in running during the years lost to pandemic, appears to have paid off. “ Our runners fared well. Many of them registered their personal best at 2023 TMM,’’ Savio said, adding that the team of runners from Ladakh he had been associated with for long, also did well.    

Jigmet Dolma (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Ladakh’s running team: Jigmet Dolma places fourth among elite Indian women; Disket Dolma, Tashi Ladol, Stanzin Chondol get age category podium places

“ Between the fifteenth kilometre and the twenty first, I became slow. I tried to regain my pace thereafter but couldn’t,’’ Jigmet Dolma said. A familiar face among top Indian women runners at the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) she had finished third in the elite category for Indian women in 2019. On January 15, at the 2023 edition of the event, she placed fourth (TMM wasn’t held in 2021 and 2022 due to COVID-19). Her result sheet reinforces her assessment. Of the four splits for which time was provided, the first was the fastest. After that, there was a slowing with average pace in the final two splits staying steady. In comparison, Chavi Yadav who won the race for Indian elite women, showed a near steady pace all through. But what the splits told seemed only one half of Jigmet’s run on Sunday. She completed the marathon in 3:03:31, which was faster than her timing at some of the previous editions of TMM (in 2019, when she placed third, she had clocked 3:10:43; in 2016, when she finished third in the open category her timing was 3:27:50) and not very far from her personal best of 3:01, set at the New Delhi Marathon in 2019.  In 2020, when she ended up fifth among elite Indian women at TMM, her timing was 3:05:09 . For the 2023 TMM, Jigmet’s journey to Mumbai had followed the regular path taken by the team of runners Ladakh sends annually to competitions in the plains. After the 2020 TMM, running had tapered globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By then a special police officer in Ladakh, Jigmet, after a few months of work, was allowed to devote time for her training in long distance running (fellow Ladakhi runner and another familiar face at TMM, Tsetan Dolkar was also now a special police officer). According to Jigmet, she kept her running alive during the pandemic months. Return to competitions commenced with the 2022 edition of the Ladakh Marathon. “ My timing wasn’t good but I finished first all the same,’’ she said. A week later, she ran a 10K at an event in Kargil. Then with the running team from Ladakh, she embarked on the annual journey to events in the plains; their first halt was the 2022 Vedanta Half Marathon, where she finished second in the open category for women. Next stop was the Tata Steel 25K in Kolkata. Compared to previous years at these events, Jigmet showed improved performance. Her participation at the 2023 TMM followed this. In 2023, the Ladakh team in Mumbai was made up of 11 runners and their coach. Of the 11, three runners secured podium finishes in their age category. They were Disket Dolma (3:23:34), who finished first in the 18-24 years age category for women; Tashi Ladol (1:25:22), who finished second in the half marathon in the 18-24 years age category for women and Stanzin Chondol (1:26:14), who finished third in the half marathon in the 18-24 years age category for women. Tsetan Dolkar (3:10:25) placed sixth in the elite category for Indian women.

The team of runners from Ladakh who were in Mumbai for the 2023 TMM (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

From Mumbai, the team will proceed to Delhi for the 2023 New Delhi Marathon. Although running may still be a young sport in Ladakh, the concept of a running team pioneered by Rimo Expeditions and its annual pilgrimage to events in the plains, has opened up possibilities and new ideas. One such case was that of Namgyal Lhamo. A friend of Jigmet from their school days and inspired by the latter, Namgyal ran her first marathon in 2014 in Ladakh. According to the team’s coach and manager, Tsering Stobgias, a few kilometers from the finish, Namgyal suffered an injury. She stomached the pain, held herself together and finished in second place. The injury later turned out to be a fracture. She rested for seven to eight months, healed and returned to running. “ The thing about Namgyal was that she always completed the marathon but wasn’t one of the fastest. Jigmet and Tsetan would be first and second and usually separated by a modest margin. Namgyal would come in after them but the gap from the leaders to her, was sizeable. Her strength was endurance,’’ Stobgias said. This has prompted an experiment in the team – Namgyal has been slowly foraying into the world of ultramarathons. In 2022, she was the winner among women at the year’s Khardung La Challenge, the popular ultramarathon in Ladakh. She covered the 72 kilometre-distance in eight hours, 27 minutes and 39 seconds. A marathon runner finishing first among women in the Khardung La Challenge was not new. Tsetan Dolkar had done so earlier but she elected to stick with the marathon. Namgyal on the other hand, wished to try more of the ultramarathon. Traveling with the team to the events of the plains, she then participated in a 50K trail ultramarathon at the Jumping Gorilla Mountain Trail Run Championship in Pune in January 2023 and placed second. Trail running was a new experience for her and it left her challenged. Although she admitted to finding greater comfort in running on roads, Namgyal returns to Ladakh with both the ultramarathon and trail running on her mind. She wants to see how well she can train for the ultramarathon and also adapt to the demands of trail running. Meanwhile, support for Ladakh’s running team has shifted from Rimo Expeditions (they organize the annual Ladakh Marathon and the Khardung La Challenge) to the Ladakh administration. “ We supported the team for almost ten years. Now the union territory administration takes care of it. The current sports secretary, Ravinder Kumar, has been very supportive. The athletes are hoping that the arrangement continues,’’ Chewang Motup, who owns Rimo Expeditions, said.      

Sabhajeet Yadav (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

For Sabhajeet Yadav, chilly Mumbai adds joy to yet another win

For many years now Sabhajeet Yadav, a farmer from Dabhiya village in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, has been running marathons across the country and earning podium finish. The prize money that he earned from these races helped him to augment his family’s income mostly coming from agriculture. In some of the earlier editions of the Mumbai Marathon, Sabhajeet had slept the night before the event at CSMT, the city’s main railway station, so as not to be late for the marathon, which commenced nearby. It was an approach and attitude that stunned many, particularly because he almost always bagged a podium finish. But all that has now changed. Bhasker Desai, a runner friend, started supporting him in signing up for races and purchasing running shoes. Bhasker continues to support him. Meanwhile, Sabhajeet’s second son, Rohit Yadav, who was in those years of Sabhajeet’s struggle an upcoming athlete in the javelin throw, has since excelled at his sport and come to represent India at international championships. He trains with the Sports Authority of India. Rohit Yadav now works with the Railways. None of that has however dimmed the inspiration Sabhajeet offers as an individual. This year, New Vasantashram Hotel, a boarding hotel near CSMT, decided to host Sabhajeet. At the 2023 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon, Sabhajeet was the winner in his age category of 65-69 years with a timing of 3:23:29. After the race, a beaming Sabhajeet pointed out that the unexpected cool weather was a major factor in his performance. He was all praise for that quirk of nature, which brought winter back to a city that has seen its share of cool weather diminish steadily over the years. “ I really enjoyed this year’s TMM,’’ Sabhajeet said.

K. C. Kothandapani (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Back to setting the pace; cautiously

For a long time now, the Mumbai’s annual city marathon has signified the finale of a year of training and running for Bengaluru-based PaceMakers. The group anchored by coach K. C. Kothandapani typically moves through a variety of events, the progression culminating in TMM. They had a fine outing at this year’s Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) with Nanjundappa. M emerging winner in the open category for men, covering the distance in two hours, 27 minutes and 41 seconds. Additionally, there were improvements in timing reported by others and quite a few debutants in the marathon doing well, Kothandapani said. This was his eleventh appearance at the event and the weather was among the finest he had experienced in Mumbai. A couple of years earlier in the world of running, things had been much different, Kothandapani recalled. In the wake of pandemic and lockdown, events around running came to a standstill. “ The more committed among our runners kept their running alive in whatever fashion they could,’’ the coach said. Later, when lockdown eased and the fight against the pandemic continued without resort to lockdown, PaceMakers and a couple of outfits it was close to, organized runs spanning 10K, 21K and 42K at places adequately away from Bengaluru city. It was a cautious return to running. Asked how athletes’ brush with COVID-19 had affected their performance, Kothandapani said that it appeared to vary from person to person. While many bounced back, there are a few still struggling. Sometimes it has also been a case of infection not formally diagnosed but sensed as tiredness, recovered from with rest and later suspected to be COVID-19 because there is a struggle to reach earlier levels of running. The pandemic added a new dimension to Kothandapani’s coaching. During lockdown, training via Zoom sessions set in as a practice. These sessions were devoted to strength training using body weight. Although humanity has since learnt to cope with COVID-19, the online training sessions – including those by Kothandapani – continue. Amidst this, the situation with regard to events changed in 2022. “ There were many events that year,’’ Kothandapani said. In some cases, multiple editions of the same event occurred in 2022 as means to compensate for editions lost to pandemic. Notwithstanding the sudden explosion of events, the approach in his group has been to return to the sport and to one’s earlier form, cautiously, Kothandapani said.

Vaijayanti Ingawale (Photo: courtesy Vaijayanti)

Ankle injury does not deter Vaijayanti Ingawale

A paediatrician, Vaijayanti Ingawale stopped running during the lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her fitness routine was restricted to workouts at home. She commenced her practice runs sometime in 2021 when things began to ease on the COVID-19 front. “ I enrolled for a 12-hour run at the Mumbai stadium run held in August 2021. I did very little running and mostly walked through the 12 hours,” she said. Later that year, she signed up for full marathon at the Goa River Marathon and completed it in 4:48:15. But thereafter, she ended up with an ankle and foot injury and had to go slow on training. Attempting a 60 km-race at the Ooty Ultra in March 2022, Vaijayanti aggravated her injury. “ I went to a doctor who advised me to go off running for three months,” she said. In August 2022, she signed up for a half marathon at Silvassa but decided to complete it with a combination of run and walk. Vaijayanti took the decision to sign up for the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) quite late; only just before the registrations closed. “ I had one month to train properly for the run,” she said. Her husband Deepak and son Ameya, a Thane-based ophthalmologist, also signed up for TMM 2023. “ We decided to take it easy. We started the run well and up until the 30th kilometre, I was comfortable. After that, I started to feel the ankle pain. For the last eight kilometres or so, I had to go slow,” she said. Vaijayanti finished in 5:24:50 hours to win in her age group of 65-69 years. “ My recovery has been good after the marathon,” she said adding that the unexpectedly chilly weather contributed to some very good performances all around.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)   

A MEMORABLE WIN FOR GOPI

Gopi T; after Sunday’s race (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

In colloquial Malayalam, the term `adipoli’ is used to denote a fantastic experience.

“ Today’s race was adipoli. There is the joy of participating in the Tata Mumbai Marathon after a break of a few years. Then there is the happiness of having earned a podium finish,’’ Gopi T, winner among Indian elite men at the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), said.

He covered the distance in a provisional time of two hours, 16 minutes and 41 seconds.

For the Indian Army runner, the outing of Sunday, January 15, was a comeback to good performance after a couple of years of no competitions owing to both the COVID-19 pandemic and a knee surgery.

Hopeful and motivated by the race result, Gopi was nevertheless realistic in his assessment. “ The weather was really good. One drawback – and it is personal – was that I felt some inadequacy in me given I was returning to competition after almost three years. There was lack of confidence in how things would end up. But with this podium finish, I feel happy and I can look forward to preparing for the Asian Games and other events ahead. The outcome at 2023 TMM will be a source of motivation,’’ he said.

According to him, the weather was kind. Cool weather prevailed for at least 30 kilometres. Towards the last bit, it began getting warm. “ But certainly, compared to the weather conditions I have experienced before at the Mumbai Marathon, this was much better. Like I said, the main negatives I felt revolved around my own rustiness and lack of confidence from not having competed in the preceding three years. There were mild cramps and that kept worrying me. Still, the way things evolved, I felt on the final stretch that the course record may be within reach.  The pacers were there till 32 kilometres. Had I been able to sustain the pace for the remaining portion, the outcome could have been even better. In retrospect, my inability to do so was a shortcoming,’’ Gopi said. The TMM course record for Indian men, of 2:15:48, is held by Nitendra Singh Rawat.

On Sunday, the initial pace in the race featuring elite Indian male athletes, was quite strong. Gopi said that till 32 kilometres he was doing a pace, which should have eventually given a total time of 2:13 to less than 2:15. In the last 10 kilometres, after the pacers left, things changed. “ I became slow. There was also that hill at around 35 kilometres; it added to the slowing down,’’ Gopi said. The impact of the early pace manifested as some tiredness in the later stages. According to him, if there was one more person around, he may have succeeded in maintaining the momentum longer. Further when training, he was targeting a slightly gentler time and the long runs done in training were not very long. In contrast, during the race, the strong pace lasted 32 kilometres and a great result would have been possible only if the same was sustained for the entire 42 kilometres. “ I will have to address my training. While preparing for Mumbai, my longest training run was 36 kilometres. Based on how the race played out, I will need to change that to at least 40. With such changes, I should be able to improve,’’ Gopi said.

For the near future, he is looking at two events. One is the New Delhi Marathon in February and the other is the Seoul Marathon in March. “ My goal is to do one of these. Seoul is my first choice,’’ he said. It was at Seoul in March 2019 that Gopi achieved his personal best of 2:13:39, which is also the closest any Indian runner has come to the longstanding national record of 2:12:00 set by the late Shivnath Singh in May 1978 in Jalandhar.  

Gopi T; from 2023 TMM (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Alongside, the qualifying mark for the Olympic Games has also been becoming more and more challenging for Indian marathoners. The selection parameters for the last Olympic Games were stiff. For the next Games in Paris (2024), the qualification time for the men’s marathon is tighter still at 2:08:10. However, one does not have to be wholly fixated on the qualifying time. “ If one can match the current national record and produce performances in the range of 2:11, 2:12 or 2:13, it will reflect in one’s ranking. In addition to eligibility by meeting the qualifying time, ranking is also considered. One can qualify that way. So, my main target now is the longstanding national record. Qualify for the Asian Games with a national record – that is the wish. The best place to try that would be Seoul,’’ Gopi said.

Indian marathon runners have been chasing Shivnath Singh’s national record for many years. Asked how achievable it seemed, Gopi said that the national record appears a realistic goal. Viewed from the perspective of speed, the Mumbai Marathon route is a tough one. As are the usual weather conditions. On a course that is friendlier to sustained pace with weather to match, it should be possible to strive for the national record. Also, unlike his preparation for Mumbai, which spanned around 35 days, there is about 40-45 days available for Seoul. The national record was definitely a formidable challenge some years ago. “ Then I touched 2:13 in Seoul and it drew closer. A lot of change is required, many changes in training. Training partners are few. Maybe training at the national camp under one of the coaches will prove effective. Maybe one needs to train abroad. But going abroad makes sense only as a group as otherwise, the athlete ends up doing everything oneself. So perhaps, working as a focused group in India is the viable option,’’ Gopi said.

The winner’s medal at 2023 TMM is a big motivation for him. Earlier at the 2022 Indira Marathon in Allahabad, his performance had been disappointing. That was his first outing since pandemic and surgery. “ I ran it with the intent of finishing, not competing. There were several deficits in performance, which I noticed there. Now with this podium finish, I am very hopeful. It proved that I could make a comeback after knee surgery. There was much pain, many adjustments and a lot of strengthening along the way. The win at TMM has given me fresh motivation,’’ Gopi said.  

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

2023 TMM / ETHIOPIA’S LEMI AND HAYMANOT SET NEW COURSE RECORDS

Hayle Lemi (Photo: Saurabh Bhattacharyya)

Gopi and Chavi are top finishers among Indians

Ethiopian runners took top honors at the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) held on Sunday, January 15.

The men’s elite category was won by Hayle Lemi of Ethiopia, who finished in a new course record of two hours, seven minutes and 32 seconds. His compatriot Anchialem Haymanot finished first among elite women, covering the distance in 2:24:15, another new course record.

Lemi was followed to the finish line by Philemon Rono (2:08:44) and Hailu Zewdu (2:10:23). In the women’s category, Rahma Tusa (2:24:22) finished second and Letebrhan Haylay (2:24:52) finished third.

Among elite Indian men, Gopi T (2:16:41) finished first followed by Man Singh (2:16:58) and Kalidas Hirave (2:19:54). In the elite Indian women’s category, Chavi Yadav (2:50:35) placed first; Arati Patil (3:00:44) placed second and Renu Singh (3:01:11), third.

Lemi, the overall winner of 2023 TMM, had won the 2016 edition of the Boston Marathon.

Anchialem Haymanot (this image was downloaded from the Twitter handle of TMM and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

The event in Mumbai was being held after a gap of two years owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to news reports ahead of the event, over 50,000 people were due to participate across categories ranging from elite and amateur marathons to the half marathon, the 10K and the dream run.

In the open category, the overall winners in the men’s marathon were Nanjundappa M (2:27:41), Nihal Baig (2:28:17) and Manoj Kumar Yadav (2:29:02). Overall winners in the women’s category were Sarswati Rai (3:14:26), Manisha Joshi (3:18:39) and Darishisha Iangjuh (3:22:29).

In the half marathon, the top three finishers among men were Murli Gavit (1:05:16), Ankit Deshwal (1:05:45) and Dipak Kumbhar (1:05:48). Among women, the winners were Parul Chaudhary (1:15:03), Nandini Gupta (1:24:09) and Poonam Sonune (1:24:56).

The 2023 edition of TMM will be remembered for its supportive weather conditions. For the major portion of the race, the weather was quite cool. Thanks to infrastructure projects commenced years ago yet to be completed in the city, the route of the half marathon was altered. This time the half marathon began in Mahim, proceeded towards Bandra and the Sea Link and then mostly followed the route of the previous years.  

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / JANUARY 2023

This photo of Bayanat (Abhilash Tomy’s boat for the 2022 GGR), taken near Tasmania, was downloaded from the website of GGR and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

2022 GGR / Abhilash Tomy moves up to second position

Indian sailor, Abhilash Tomy, earlier in third place in the 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR) has improved his position to second. As of January 21, 2023, the live tracker available on the website of the race showed him in second position in the southern latitudes of the Pacific Ocean. The race leader continued to be Simon Curwen of the UK; he was leading by a considerable margin. Kirsten Neuschafer of South Africa, previously in second place had slipped to third. However, given she had diverted from her course in the Indian Ocean to rescue Finnish participant Tapio Lehtinen – his boat sank suddenly – Kirsten has some adjustment in time to her credit. Thanks to this 35 hour-compensation, she had even briefly led the race (in technical terms). So, it couldn’t be known for sure how telling the physical alteration at sea between the second and third positions is, as regards current ranking in the race. On Abhilash, GGR’s update of January 20, said, “ He seems constantly faster in certain wind wave combinations and talks of a secret sail combination to give an edge. One thing is certain, he is back racing and knows Simon has a long way to go. It is never over till the fat lady sings.’’  For the rescue at sea, Kirsten was awarded Cruising Club of America’s ` Rod Stephen’s Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship.’ Updates on the GGR website showed availability of drinking water becoming a potential problem for some of the participants including Abhilash. GGR entails doing a solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat. Technology levels aboard have been pegged to what prevailed in 1968-1969, the year of the first GGR. The 2022 GGR commenced in Les Sables-d’Olonne in France, in September. At the time of writing, the race leaders were in the Pacific (having gone through the Atlantic and Indian oceans) and headed towards Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America.

2022 GGR / Abhilash Tomy in third place as lead pack nears New Zealand

Abhilash Tomy (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of GGR and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Indian sailor, Abhilash Tomy, who is a participant in the 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR), continues to be in the lead pack. On December 31, 2022, the live tracker showed him placed third overall, a position he has been maintaining for a while now. Simon Curwen of the UK was placed first, followed by Kirsten Neuschafer of South Africa. Unlike before, the distances between the trio had reduced considerably. All three boats were sailing in the waters between Tasmania and southern New Zealand.

Earlier, in an interview he gave the race organizers at Hobart Gate (a check point in the race), Abhilash said that he was relieved to cross the point in the southern Indian Ocean where he had suffered an accident during the 2018 edition of the race. That time, his boat was dismasted and an injured Abhilash had to be rescued. “ When I crossed that point where I had the accident, I felt light and that was a very physical experience. I felt something leave me,’’ he said. According to him, from the start of the race till that point, he had been tense. But things changed once he crossed the critical point. A visibly relaxed and happy Abhilash also told the GGR organizers at Hobart Gate that he had noticed much change in the Southern Ocean since passing through these parts ten years ago during his first solo, nonstop circumnavigation. There was plastic trash in the ocean and there appeared to be changes in the distribution of fish species. “ I saw a flying fish at 41 degrees south,’’ he said, adding that it pointed to warm currents real down south.

The lead pack including Abhilash, now head to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and Cape Horn beyond. The 2022 GGR, which features a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat, commenced from Les Sables d’Olonne on France’s Atlantic coast in the first week of September.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)        

DRAWN TO THE 24 HOUR-TT AND HOPING IT HAPPENS IN INDIA

Kabir Rachure; at the 2022 Borrego Springs WTTC (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

“ I got interested in the event mainly because of its name,’’ Kabir Rachure said.

He was talking of the annual Borrego Springs WTTC (World Time Trial Championships) held in the settlement of Borrego Springs in San Diego County, California. Both “ world’’ in the name and the fact that the event is a time trial, attracted. ` World’ had a ring of quality and things to learn from. As for time trial – it is all about speed, an attribute associated more with the shorter sprint disciplines in cycling and not, ultra-cycling.

A two-time finisher in Race Across America (RAAM) and a regular podium finisher at ultra-cycling events in India, Kabir’s forte is endurance. Ultra-cyclists are not usually associated with speed. But speed does play a role in ultra-cycling for both finishing races within stipulated cut-off time and the higher ground of emerging a podium finisher, demand speed from ultra-cyclist. It isn’t the same speed as showcased by sprint cyclist in a velodrome; it is the stuff of higher average speed maintained for long, which is still the stuff of speed. “ It is like comparing Usain Bolt and Eliud Kipchoge. Bolt may be the fastest. But Kipchoge is not only running fast; he is also doing that for 42 kilometres,’’ Kabir said, outlining the paradigm, which drew him to Borrego Springs in early November 2022 for the annual WTTC. Or to cite an example from within the world of ultra-cycling, think of the Austrian great, Christoph Strasser, winner of RAAM multiple times and current record holder for the fastest completion of the 4800 kilometre-race – seven days, 15 hours, and 56 minutes, set in 2014. That’s speed; sustained.

Kabir with his support team – his sister Sapana and Rutvik – at the 2022 Borrego Springs WTTC (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

Closer to ultra-cyclist’s interests, the WTTC at Borrego Springs tests endurance because its categories span six, 12 and 24 hours of cycling in the time trial format. Such long hours of pedalling fast represent a sweet spot, showcasing both speed and endurance. Not surprisingly, the WTTC Borrego Springs also serves as a RAAM-qualifier. “ If you cover 400 miles in 24 hours, you get a certificate that lets you participate in RAAM,’’ Kabir said. The Navi Mumbai-based cyclist reached Borrego Springs registered for the 24 hour-time trial competition and nursing a goal of covering 720-750 kilometres in the assigned time. Kabir knew what he would be up against. “ I didn’t want to fight anyone leading the race. Some of the racers had done more than 800 kilometres at such competitions before,’’ he said. His intention was more in line with discovering his capabilities and finding out where he stood in a competitive field.

The event was held on a loop of 29 kilometres. It had one stop sign and no traffic signals. Notwithstanding the lone stop sign, cyclists participating in the WTTC were given priority by the authorities so that they could go about accumulating loops. In fact, the whole town appeared supportive of the event. Kabir recalled traffic making room for the cyclists and accommodating them on the road. The weather was helpful; prevailing temperatures were not high. And unlike in RAAM, where the scale of the course is huge and cyclists are often separated from each other by considerable distance, in Borrego Springs, the loop of 29 kilometres kept the sense of community compact and permitted social interaction among the participating cyclists.

Kabir reached California a week in advance to ensure he recovered well from the jet lag of a long trip. He had a small support team, his sister Sapana and Rutvik; and two bicycles to tackle the time trial – a proper TT bike (the Spiegel Diablo) and a road bike (the Spiegel San Marino). Once in Borrego Springs, he cycled on the 29 kilometre-loop multiple times to get used to the surface, get an idea of the gradients, and understand which segments demanded effort and where it would be possible to save energy. Knowing the course was critical because the road’s texture included sand and scree. There was the need to try out both bikes, different pieces of equipment and figure out the optimum configurations. Given the race was scheduled to start at 5PM and continue for 24 hours, cyclist would be required to manage his passage through changing weather conditions. The right attire and how layering should be managed – these had to be worked out. He essayed five rides on the course to find out the combinations that would work well for him. From a few days prior to the race, he started to consume only safe and familiar foods to minimize the chances of any health disorders.

On race day, the TT went off largely alright for Kabir. He used the TT bike for the first 12 hours and the road bike for the remaining period. It made sense because although the TT bike is designed for speed, the riding posture on it is aggressive and therefore tough to sustain for extended durations. To the credit of both bicycles and their maintenance, Kabir faced no mechanical problems during the TT. “ There was not even a flat tyre,’’ he said. Towards the later stages of the TT, Kabir developed some knee pain. But he felt that 700 kilometres was within reach. Past 22 hours, the riders were shifted to a shorter loop built for speed with no gradients. Given the knee pain, Kabir decided not to push aggressively and play conservatively instead. Eventually, Kabir covered 428.4 miles (689.44 kilometres) at an average speed of 18 miles per hour (28.9 kilometres per hour). in the 24-hour category, Kabir finished twelfth out of 90 participants overall. Within the solo male category, he placed eighth in a field of 52. In his age group of 30-39 years, he placed fourth. “ I wasn’t happy with the mileage achieved because I felt that more than 700 kilometres was possible,’’ he said. The overall winner of the competition was Philipp Kaider of Austria; he covered 531.6 miles (855.53 kilometres) at an average speed of 22.5 miles per hour (36.21 kilometres per hour). Kabir is currently weighing the options of repeating RAAM in 2023. While there is always the challenge of improving his performance at RAAM, his body has been craving for rest. “ I may elect to take a break,’’ he said about his plans for RAAM. But he confirmed that a return to Borrego Springs attracts.

Kabir Rachure; in Borrego Springs (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

Kabir was not aware of a time trial similar to that of Borrego Springs – one that combines long hours, speed and endurance on a loop – in India. Asked if such an event would be helpful for the growing community of endurance cyclists in the country, Kabir said it would be. The big challenge according to him, is the Indian environment. There is heavy traffic and rising pollution. Borrego Springs appeared a community that appreciated the cycling in its midst. For the WTTC, the road used was a normal one (which authorities repaired and spruced up ahead of the annual race) and traffic was not suspended. What was noteworthy was how traffic accommodated the cyclists and gave them the space to cycle as part of the WTTC. In other words, these are vignettes from lands where the active lifestyle is not an exception to the rule but is part of everyday life or the very stuff of life. It is how people define existence. It is paradigms of this sort and imagination therein, which then dream up races and contests including RAAM and the Borrego Springs WTTC.

Ultrarunning in India has its share of races held in stadiums. Encouraged so, Indian ultrarunners and teams of ultrarunners have since done well in continental championships in the 24 hour-category. For a six-hour, 12-hour or 24 hour-TT of the Borrego Springs sort to be held in India, cycling needs a loop at the intersection of acceptable surface quality and supportive weather. “ In July 2021, when Christoph Strasser became the first person to ride more than 1000 kilometres in 24 hours, he did that on a course at an air force base in Austria,’’ Kabir said. In India, there are racetracks used for motoring that aren’t optimally used. They could be freed up for a few days for an annual TT event provided the loop is not so small that it enables drafting (tucking in behind a competitor to escape wind resistance) by cyclists. At events like Borrego Springs, drafting is not allowed. Those are however finer details. The fundamental question is – do we want such races?

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. The results quoted from the Borrego Springs WTTC are as published on the event’s website.)

FROM SECOND TO FIRST WITH A PB TO BOOT

Nihal Ahamad Baig; at the finish line of the 2022 Ironman 70.3 Goa (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

Nihal Ahamad Baig was overall winner of the 2022 edition of the Ironman 70.3 held in Goa. He completed the triathlon in a personal best (PB) of four hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds to place first.

In terms of break-up in performance across the triathlon’s three disciplines, Nihal finished eighteenth in swimming, ninth in cycling and first in running.

Second place overall went to Bishworjit Saikhom (4:37:21). Pankaj Dhiman (4:40:41) finished third.

The Ironman in Goa falls in the category of a Half Ironman aka Ironman 70.3 (70.3 miles or 113 km overall consisting of 1.9 km-swim, 90 km-bike ride and 21.1 km-run). In the previous edition of the race in 2019, Bishworjit (4:42:44) had placed first and Nihal (4:47:47), second.

Nihal who has been featured before on this blog, spoke to Latha Venkatraman, a few days after the competition in Goa in mid-November. The following is a description of Nihal’s passage to the event in 2022 and his experience on race day, narrated from the athlete’s point of view:

2022 Ironman 70.3 Goa / Back on land after the swim segment in the sea (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

Towards the latter part of 2021, my focus was on running with a little bit of cycling as well in the mix. Swimming was completely off as due to the pandemic swimming pools were shut.

Around the end of 2021, I started swimming in a lake as I was set to participate in the 70.3 Bergman Triathlon at Kolhapur in January 2022. That race went well (Nihal won this race). Thereafter, I was focused on the Berlin Marathon. I had registered for the race in Germany. Until early September my focus was on running. I cycled mainly for cross-training and I still wasn’t doing much swimming.

At the end of August 2022, I felt burnt-out from the training. I stopped training. I decided not to go for the Berlin Marathon, which was slated for end of September 2022. I was not enjoying my workouts. I thought it was prudent to stop training. But the burn-out did not disappear fast. For a week I stopped training completely. Yet I did not feel better. Then, I started swimming and began feeling okay. I was able to focus on my swimming. From the middle of September till the end of the month I swam regularly. After that I went home to Guntur in Andhra Pradesh for three weeks. I took my bicycle with me. I could not swim there because there is no pool. I did some strength training and cycling. I was there till October 25.

2022 Ironman 70.3 Goa / From the cycling segment (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

When I returned, I had just 20 days left for the Ironman 70.3 in Goa. There wasn’t much time. I started running, cycling and swimming. I also did a few key workouts. I was not specifically training for Ironman. I had been training throughout the pandemic doing one or the other of the disciplines constituting the triathlon. I was fit. I decided to attempt the triathlon in Goa on the strength of my fitness, which I had developed over the earlier months.

In terms of weather, it was hotter this time and humid. Last time in Goa, because of the continuous showers in the run-up to the race it was much cooler. But sea conditions were rough last time compared to this time when the sea was much calmer. In 2022, there were no currents. The conditions for swimming were better. I did the swim segment in much better timing compared to the last time.

However, weather conditions for cycling and running were harsher. The overall temperature was higher. This time there was significant change in the cycling route. There was a lot of rolling hills and some elevation to tackle. Most of the route was through highways, which made progress faster. That was offset by the elevation, which made things tough. Because of lack of adequate training, I could not push much in the cycling segment. At the same time, I did not lose much ground here. Pablo Erat from Switzerland was strong in the bike segment. He had a 15-minute lead on the bike. He was there in the 2019 edition of the race and had done well in the swim and the bike segments.

2022 Ironman 70.3 Goa / From the run (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

By the time I started running it was quite hot. The race started at 7:40 AM. I got to the running portion at 10:45 AM. The sun was out. Last time, it was overcast and slightly windy and that had helped. I knew that if I pushed too hard while running, I may hit a wall. I started at a conservative pace. When I started running, I was in seventh position overall. I was sure I would cover this gap. Pablo was ahead of me but with time he started to slow down. After the first loop, Bishworjit Saikhom, the previous edition’s winner, was ahead of me. During the second loop I was able to overtake Bishworjit at the eighth kilometre-mark. After overtaking Bishworjit, I was still second. Pablo was about 8-10 minutes ahead of me. I pushed slightly to see how well I would be able to cover the gap. When I was at around 10 kilometres, I saw Pablo slowing down considerably. At that point I knew that I would be able to take the lead soon. It happened at around 12.5 kilometres. At this point I knew that if I could hold my pace, I would win the race. I slowed down in the third lap due to a sensation of cramps around my inner thighs but by then I knew my pace was considerably better than others and so I won’t get passed.

Ironman 70.3 Goa is a tough event. I have done Bahrain Ironman, which boasts the fastest course in the world. In 2019 I did Colombo Ironman, which was as challenging as Goa though the bike route was pretty much flat. I am mentally in a good space now. I think I should start my training again. I want to focus on marathons and triathlons. I plan to train for both simultaneously. I haven’t done a full Ironman yet. I might do one soon but I haven’t decided when and which race to attempt.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

2022 GGR / FINNISH SAILOR RESCUED FOLLOWING MISHAP IN THE INDIAN OCEAN

Finnish sailor, Tapio Lehtinen (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Tapio Lehtinen Sailing and is being used here for representation purpose, No copyright infringement intended)

The 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR) saw a rescue operation at sea get underway over November 18-19.

Finnish sailor Tapio Lehtinen was the participant rescued; the location was in the southern Indian Ocean. Tapio’s vessel – the Asteria – flooded suddenly and sank. He had to shift to his life raft.

According to the first report of November 18 (available on GGR’s website), Tapio communicated distress at 0645 UTC that morning following which, the race organizers started coordinating with French and South African authorities. “ At 0852 UTC, Tapio also activated his life raft’s PLB indicating that he may have abandoned ship. The life raft also has a VHF radio and GPS packed inside. MRCC Cape Town contacted nearby commercial vessels to divert to his position, with the closest ship 250 miles away,’’ the report said. PLB stands for Personal Locator Beacon.

The GGR entrants nearest to Tapio were India’s Abhilash Tomy (sailing in the Bayanat) and South Africa’s Kirsten Neuschafer (sailing in the Minnehaha). They were 170 miles and 105 miles south-southwest of Tapio, respectively. Both sailors were informed of Tapio’s location. Abhilash, who was the first to receive the message diverted his course accordingly. Tapio’s communication indicated that he was “ able” and had the emergency grab bag containing food, water, and critical equipment with him. The report said, Tapio informed GGR officials that his yacht had flooded from the stern with water up to deck level in five minutes. He was in his survival suit and had boarded the life raft but with no glasses was struggling to write or read text messages.

Same day, with Kirsten successfully contacted and she being the participant closest to Tapio’s position, Abhilash was released from the rescue effort. However, he continued to sail close by and asked to be updated on the progress of the rescue operation. Meanwhile, South African authorities established communication with Captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra of the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier MV Darya Gayatri, to divert and render help. The ship was 250 nautical miles northwest of Tapio’s location.

As per the second report of November 19, Kirsten reached Tapio’s location at 0510 UTC that morning and picked up the Finnish sailor from his life raft. “ Tapio had an early visual on Kirsten’s yacht, but she could not see the life raft in the swell. Kirsten would hear him on the VHF but Tapio could not hear her voice. The GGR Crisis Management Team homed her onto Tapio’s position until they were close enough to see and hear each other to plan for recovery. Kirsten called the GGR Management team at 0805 UTC to confirm that she had retrieved Tapio from the life raft onto Minnehaha with a retrieving line,’’ the report said.

According to it, Tapio has since been shifted to the bulk carrier MV Darya Gayatri. As explained in the report of November 19: “ Kirsten called the GGR Management team at 0805 UTC to confirm that she had retrieved Tapio from the life raft onto Minnehaha with a retrieving line. After sharing a good glass of rum, they then proceeded to put Tapio back in the raft, pulled it towards the carrier, which he then successfully boarded via a rescue ladder.’’

GGR involves a circumnavigation of the planet. The 2022 edition of the race started from France on September 4.

Back in 2018, during the last edition of GGR, Tapio had been among the finishers. This time however, his race has ended in the southern Indian Ocean. As of November 20, GGR’s website said on Tapio’s page (every skipper has a write-up introducing him / her), of the incident causing his exit from the 2022 race, “ Asteria sank in 5 minutes with a strong unidentified water intake from astern. ‘’ A Facebook post by Tapio’s team (its English translation has been made available on the GGR Facebook page) said that the Finnish sailor woke up at around 8.30 AM on Friday (November 18) to a loud bang. At that point, the water was knee-deep in the boat’s saloon. More water flooded the engine compartment at the rear. The situation was dire. “ The most critical moment was when the pull knot of the life raft came loose. Fortunately, the weather was almost calm. I took a long leap into the water, grabbed the board and jumped in,’’ the post quoted Tapio as saying. He watched his yacht slowly sink, “ At the last moment, I stood up shakily in the life raft and put my hand in the cap as a last salute to my friend,’’ he said.

In the 2018 GGR, Abhilash Tomy had suffered accident and injury in the southern Indian Ocean following which, he was rescued in an operation involving Indian, Australian, and French authorities.

As of November 20, 2022, GGR’s live tracker showed Simon Curwen of the UK in the lead. He was followed by Abhilash in second place and Kirsten in third.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / NOVEMBER 2022

Abhilash Tomy (this photo, taken early November near Cape Town, South Africa, was downloaded from the Facebook page of GGR and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

2022 GGR / Unusual conditions in the Southern Indian Ocean; Abhilash fixes a windvane problem on the Bayanat

By the end of November, updates from the website of the 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR) included mention of unusual weather conditions in the southern latitudes popularly known as the Roaring Forties.

The portion of our planet between latitudes 40 and 50 degrees south feature strong westerly winds. In the Age of Sail spanning the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries when merchant ships executed the passage from Europe to the spice markets of South East Asia, they courted these winds. The Westerlies were also critical for crossings of the vast Pacific Ocean. The website of the US-based National Ocean Service explains the Roaring Forties so: “ The Roaring Forties take shape as warm air near the equator rises and moves toward the poles. Warm air moving poleward (on both sides of the equator) is the result of nature trying to reduce the temperature difference between the equator and at the poles created by uneven heating from the sun. This process sets up global circulation cells which are mainly responsible for global-scale wind patterns. The air descends back to Earth’s surface at about 30 degrees’ latitude north and south of the equator. This is known as the high-pressure subtropical ridge, also known as the horse latitudes. Here, as the temperature gradient decreases, air is deflected toward the poles by the Earth’s rotation, causing strong westerly and prevailing winds at approximately 40 degrees. These winds are the Roaring Forties.’’ 

The above phenomenon of air warming near the Equator, rising up and then descending at 30 degrees latitude is experienced in both the southern and northern hemispheres. However, the presence of major landmasses in the north prevents the wind from building up strongly. The southern hemisphere has comparatively less landmass in the said latitudes save portions of Australia, New Zealand and South America. As the latitudes converge in the southern hemisphere towards Antarctica and the South Pole, the Roaring Forties are followed by the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties; the adjectives at play conveying the nature of conditions felt. Over the past several years, there have been reports of the Roaring Forties shifting further south owing to global warming.

In its update of November 28, GGR said that while of late, the race leaders have improved their daily mileage with Kirsten Neuschafer of South Africa (currently in second place) even touching 219 miles in a day, such fast passages took a while to happen. Conditions in the Atlantic were not what the participants expected to get and the same appears the case as regards the Southern Indian Ocean. “ This year, an unusual Atlantic polar vortex is contributing to a weather anomaly which is pushing the usual strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties further south than usual. Some high-pressure systems are also lower than normal, pushing the roaring forties toward the furious fifties,’’ the GGR update said. This may slow progress toward Hobart as the fleet experiences more of a mixed bag of wind directions and strengths. “ The good news is that some of the intense low-pressure storms may also stay below their route to Hobart and later Cape Horn. Only time will tell, but sailing along the 40th parallel of latitude looks like a different ride this year,’’ the update added.

As of the evening of November 30, India’s Abhilash Tomy was placed third in the race; in first place was Simon Curwen of the UK. The leading three boats were all in the Southern Indian Ocean, way down south from the Indian peninsula, their line of sailing pointing straight towards Tasmania and Hobart. In his weekly satellite conversation with the race organizers on November 29, Abhilash said that he had faced a problem with the Bayanat‘s windvane. The servo pendulum shaft holding the rudder sheared off. He managed to repair it. He also admitted to a case of painful ribs following a slip and a fall onboard but said it was manageable. “ At least, its not getting worse, that is a good thing,” he said. the next major objective, Abhilash said, is to get past Amsterdam Island. “ I just want to cross that point. That is a big hurdle mentally for me,” he said. Back in 2018, following mishap and injury at sea, Abhilash had been rescued by a French fisheries patrol boat and brought to Amsterdam Island. The island, which is almost equidistant from Madagascar, Australia and Antarctica, is part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.

Abhilash Tomy (This photo taken by Aida Valceanu was downloaded from the Facebook page of GGR and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

2022 GGR / Abhilash Tomy in fourth place as race enters Indian Ocean

Abhilash Tomy, the lone Indian participant in the 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR), was placed fourth as the fleet of competing boats entered the sea off Cape Town, South Africa. On November 13, the race’s live tracker showed Abhilash’s Rustler 36 sailboat located straight below the southern tip of Africa, in fourth position overall. From here, competitors move into the southern Indian Ocean. British sailor Simon Curwen continues to be in the lead; he crossed the Cape Town photo gate on November 6. A report dated November 9 on the GGR website, said of Abhilash, “ His latest tweet suggests he is battling with the mind games of watching the leaders sail away and the others catching up.’’ When reported on this blog in October, Abhilash was in third position. The November 9 GGR report placed him fifth. A subsequent video of him and his sailboat, Bayanat, from near Cape Town (posted by GGR), mentioned that their progress had been delayed through getting stuck in a region of calm. The live tracker of November 13 showed that Abhilash had improved his standing to fourth. The race spanning several months is still in its early phase. While for some of the participants, the first stint of sailing through the Atlantic Ocean is now behind them, they have the southern Indian Ocean, the vast Pacific and a second sailing through the Atlantic ahead.

In the earlier-mentioned video from the Cape Town photo gate, available on GGR’s Facebook page, Abhilash has expressed unhappiness at how the race has unfolded. His main complaint appeared to be inadequate information regarding the weather and the location of other participants. According to him, participants had a different experience in 2018 (in which edition of the race, he did well till an unfortunate accident terminated his voyage in the southern Indian Ocean) and the 2022 edition, the way it was playing out, appeared more a “ rally’’ than a race. “ The key element is that there is no racing, it is just luck. If you are lucky, you get ahead,’’ he could be heard saying. Asked if the boat was in good shape, Abhilash replied, “ no problem.’’ He said that he intended to continue with the circumnavigation but may go silent. GGR entails a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat. The current edition of the race commenced on September 4. Technology levels permitted for participant sailors and their boats, have been largely pegged to what prevailed in 1968-69, when the first GGR was held. The first GGR was won by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who completed the solo non-stop circumnavigation in 313 days. Abhilash is the first Indian to do a solo, nonstop circumnavigation in a sailboat. He achieved that distinction in a voyage that started from Mumbai on November 1, 2012 and ended on March 31, 2013.

The top three finishers in the short trail race for men, at the first World Mountain & Trail Running Championships held in Chiang Mai (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended).

World Mountain & Trail Running Championships / Indian runners finish 64th and 77th

Indian runners placed 64th and 77th at the first World Mountain & Trail Running Championships held over 3-6 November, 2022, at Chiang Mai in Thailand. As per results available on the race website, in the short trail race, Sampathkumar Subramanian finished in 64th position covering the course in 4:23:40.  Kieren D’Souza placed 77th with timing of 4:43:24. With six runners not starting the race and one courting DNF (did not finish), 84 runners completed the race in the men’s category. The short trail race was won by Stian Hovind Angermund of Norway (3:08:29), followed by Francesco Puppi of Italy (3:11:47) and Jonathan Albon of Great Britain (3:13:05). Besides the short trail race, there was the long trail race, uphill mountain race and up and downhill mountain race plus a junior category in the last-mentioned discipline. This was the inaugural edition of the championships which combine mountain and trail events into a single weekend of off-road races. It was originally scheduled for November 2021 but got postponed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was organized by World Mountain Running Association (WMRA), International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) and International Trail Running Association (ITRA), along with World Athletics and Tourism Authority of Thailand. According to a January 2022 report in trailrunner.com, the new biennial event replaces the World Mountain Running Championship, World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship and Trail World Championship.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

IN KOCHI, A CHANT FROM THE MOUNTAINS

Varghese Varghese M

A dormitory. A pair of trekking boots. A chant. An unfinished business. Together, a story.

It was in January 2022 that Everest Base Camp (EBC) entered the life of Varghese Varghese M.

A lawyer by training and based in Kochi, he had no previous background in outdoor activity. But the idea of trekking to EBC, which his friend Shelly Joseph broached, attracted. To get himself physically fit for the trek, Varghese launched into a regimen of diet and exercises. Two months later, he weighed 75 kilos (lighter by 10) and was capable of jogging five kilometres in half an hour. “ On April 14, I set out for EBC,’’ Varghese said.

Part of a group of ten clients headed to EBC, upon reaching Nepal, he stayed in Kathmandu for two days. While the rest of the group proceeded from Kathmandu by road to Saleri, Varghese flew to Lukla and hiked to Ghat. The team joined him in Ghat. From Ghat, Varghese and his group, trekked to Namche Bazaar, where they halted for two days to acclimatize and rest. The whole trek was to be via Gokyo Lake and Cho La Pass. Following rest at Namche Bazaar and a visit to the Everest View Hotel in that while, the group headed to Dole. Here, something Varghese was well aware may happen but hadn’t quite anticipated, commenced.

He developed a headache. He also began feeling quite cold. By the time, the team reached Machermo, Varghese was very ill. His oxygen saturation level was down to 54 per cent. Ignored or left unattended, sickness brought on by high altitude can become a serious condition. The best medicine is to shed elevation. Pasang Gyalsin Sherpa, who hailed from Lukla and was the team’s guide, said that Varghese shouldn’t trek any higher. He arranged for a helicopter evacuation and Varghese was flown back to Lukla while the rest of the team continued to Gokyo Lake and EBC (5364 metres / 17,598 feet). “ Within 15-20 minutes of being in Lukla, my oxygen saturation recovered to 86 per cent,’’ Varghese said. The next day, in the same chopper that brought him to Lukla, Varghese managed a flight to see Gokyo Lake, Lobuche and Mount Everest. Having seen the world’s highest peak and the region he should have been in, from a helicopter, Varghese returned to Kathmandu and all the way south to Kochi. It was a sad end to his first outing in the Himalaya.

The Metro Pod in Ernakulam. (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

That was the story, narrated with a distinct tinge of disappointment, which I heard at The Metro Pod, the backpackers’ dormitory (near Maharaja’s College metro station) at KPCC Junction in Ernakulam, the central business district of Kochi. It was May 2022. A regular customer at the dormitory by then, I was intrigued by the sight of Varghese walking around in trekking boots. It smacked of a mind still elsewhere. We got talking and the story of the aborted trek to EBC tumbled out. Varghese owns The Metro Pod. Besides the boots, there were other signs on the premises of his first trek in the Himalaya. Atop the table at the dormitory’s reception, was a newly acquired medium sized Bluetooth speaker. It played the chant Om Mani Padme Hum in a loop. I haven’t visited Nepal. I distinctly remember settling into the sofa in the reception, listening to the chant and recalling happy days spent in Ladakh. Tucked away in India’s abject north, Ladakh’s ambiance had that chant for call sign. Cold mountain days and a glass of warm ginger-lemon-honey tea. Nothing like it! That was before Ladakh became a union territory, before COVID and before inflation and steep travel cost. For freelance journalist on shoestring budget, it made the chant cause for nostalgia. The whole experience – Varghese’s story, the chant and even some Buddhist prayer flags hung in the reception – lent The Metro Pod a backpacker-touch, something I hadn’t sensed in my earlier visits. Its clientele, as I had experienced it till then, was mostly working people (those in Kochi on business or simply passing through) and youngsters in town for exams.

Varghese and Pasang (Photo: courtesy Varghese)

The building that houses The Metro Pod was constructed in 1952 by Mani Varghese, Varghese’s grandfather. From 1957 to 2014-15, one of its tenants was the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC). They used it as the party’s state headquarters and later, the office of the district committee. Mani Varghese died in 1985. The ownership of the building shifted to Varghese’s father. Following his demise in 2011, Varghese assumed charge. A few years later, when the Congress party vacated the premises (the party’s state headquarters is now in Thiruvananthapuram), Varghese decided that apart from the shops on the ground floor, he wouldn’t give the main building on lease to anyone, anymore. Instead, he would do something himself. He also knew he didn’t wish to change the building’s external appearance or its interiors, radically. Any new enterprise would have to be within the existing old-world charm. That’s how Varghese dispensed with the idea of a full-fledged hotel and opted for an air-conditioned dormitory.

In retrospect, his timing was probably spot on. By the first and second decade of the 21st century, there was a new generation on the move in India that didn’t measure itself by social status and opulent displays of wealth, like the generations before it did. Clean, functional and affordable premises were good enough for this new lot to stay in. Kerala’s urban sprawl, its consumerism and the projects underway in the state (not to mention – its large diaspora) fetched visitors to the state who sought functional accommodation. Further, the recessed economic conditions triggered by COVID-19 and subsequent global developments, have only enhanced the relevance of no-nonsense, affordable accommodation everywhere. In Ernakulam, Varghese wasn’t exactly a pioneer in the air-conditioned dormitory segment. That tag should go to Peter’s Inn, located at the MG Road metro station (the two dormitories share a cordial relationship).

From the ABC trek (Photo: courtesy Varghese)

It took Varghese a year to renovate the innards of the old Thamarappilly Madaparambil Buildings into an air-conditioned dormitory. In February 2019, The Metro Pod opened its doors to the public. It has 132 beds. The first floor is a mixed dormitory; the second floor is exclusively for women. Four rooms for those wishing to stay in their own rooms, were planned for addition later. “ The new rooms should be ready in November,’’ Varghese said. It was October 2022. Weeks earlier, during a stay at The Metro Pod, I had asked Mani, the manager, where Varghese was. “ Sir is not here. He is back in the Himalaya,’’ Mani said. He whipped out his phone and enthusiastically showed me some photos he had received. Clearly, Varghese hadn’t been idle since our conversation in May.

His first attempt to reach EBC, which ended in retreat due to the potential onset of acute mountain sickness (AMS) had left Varghese very disappointed. Following that trip, he was supposed to visit Scandinavia but abandoned the plan for want of motivation. “ I was mentally low,’’ Varghese said. At the same time, EBC nagged like unfinished business. After reflecting on the experience, he decided to visit Nepal again in September 2022. Having witnessed what happened at Machermo in April, Shelly advised that Varghese get some medical tests done before launching into his second attempt to reach EBC. Dr Parveen Sultana, who had once been a guest at The Metro Pod, helped with the process. Another visitor to The Metro Pod who chipped in around this time was Srijana Dhar; she worked with the online travel company, Make My Trip. Familiar with high altitude trekking, she gave Varghese useful advice.

Taking a cue from conversations he had with Pasang, who had been his guide in April, Varghese decided that a prospective second attempt at EBC wouldn’t be with any group. Instead, it would be him, perhaps a friend, a porter-guide and enough time and flexibility in schedule to proceed at a comfortable pace. “ With a group you don’t have that freedom. If you are slow, you may end up inconveniencing others. It’s better to be on your own,’’ Varghese explained. His trekking partner for the second shot at EBC, was M. P. Ramnath. Currently a leading civil lawyer at the High Court in Kochi, years ago, Ramnath had won two national awards for best child actor (the films were Oppol and My Dear Kuttichattan). Back then, he was known as Master Arvind. The duo’s departure from Kochi was preponed to August-end to suit Ramnath’s convenience. They reached Kathmandu on August 30. Pasang was slated to anchor the Nepal leg.

Varghese and Ramnath at Annapurna Base Camp (Photo: courtesy Varghese)

The next day, the weather turned bad. It was projected to stay so for several days. It wasn’t possible to proceed by road or fly to Lukla. So, Varghese and Ramnath changed their plan. At Pasang’s suggestion (he had come to Kathmandu to arrange a porter-guide), they traded the trip to EBC for a shot at the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC / 13,550 feet) trek. The weather was better that side and the trek was open. Following a taxi ride to Pokhra, the duo and their guide started the trek from Tikhe Dunga. Thanks to the rainy season, there was plenty of leeches. But overall, ABC was an enjoyable trek. High points included beholding the Annapurna range and the beautiful Machhapuchhare peak from Tadapani, meeting a Nepali man who spoke Malayalam (the language spoken in Kerala) in Chhomrong and trekking to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (12,135 feet) from Dovan. There was also this instance of a youngster from Chennai struck by AMS. The youngster was heading to ABC and Varghese and Ramnath met him at Deurali on their way back from ABC. Given his previous rendezvous with high altitude sickness, Varghese had carried two oxygen bottles with him, as precaution. He loaned one of the bottles to the youngster to help him recover. The youngster was later evacuated by chopper, Varghese said.

From the EBC trek (Photo: courtesy Varghese)

The ABC trek went off well for Varghese. He didn’t feel any major discomfort. Best of all, at its end, he was feeling perfectly alright. For Ramnath, it was time to return to Kochi. Varghese hung on in Nepal to attempt EBC again. Before leaving Kochi, he had told his wife, Ramya (she and their children take care of The Metro Pod when Varghese is away) that he would do the EBC trek and come back. An opportunity to fly to Lukla on September 12 was lost after the flight got cancelled. On September 13, he teamed up with an Australian couple – Chris and Raechel – and flew to Lukla in a hired helicopter. After breakfast at the Yak Hotel owned by Pasang, Varghese hired Milan as porter-guide for the trek to EBC. The two started hiking that day itself to Monjo.

From the EBC trek (Photo: courtesy Varghese)

On this second attempt, the EBC trek played out better for Varghese. As on his first attempt, he was taking Diamox (acetazolamide – medication used to treat altitude sickness) but the major difference was – the ABC trek done earlier had helped him acclimatize and become comfortable with high altitude. He was attempting EBC after an ample number of days already spent at altitude. However, there were still moments of concern. On September 17, following their early arrival at Thukla, Milan recommended crossing the Thukla Pass and getting to Lobuche. That night at Lobuche, Varghese couldn’t sleep well. Next day at Gorakshep, the tiredness from lack of proper sleep was compounded by a mild headache. He had soup and managed to reach EBC and get back to Gorakshep but found himself thoroughly exhausted. The memory of his April-tussle with altitude sickness still fresh in his mind and desiring to ensure that things don’t get out of hand, the following day, he skipped the ritual visit to Kala Patthar (18,517 feet). Instead, he headed back to Lobuche at lower altitude and the next morning took a chopper all the way to Lukla and then another chopper to Kathmandu. He spent two days in the city and then boarded the flight to Delhi and onward to Kochi.       

When I met him in October, Varghese wasn’t wearing his trekking boots. He seemed relaxed and wholly – body and soul – at The Metro Pod. “ The mountains are addictive,’’ Varghese said, looking back at his unexpected dive into trekking and his three treks so far in 2022. Outside The Metro Pod, a motorcycle stood parked. It had brought an IT professional out on a break from work in Andhra Pradesh, all the way to Kochi. I had heard him speak of his journey in the dormitory room. In March 2020, Varghese had purchased a Royal Enfield Himalayan. That day in October when I took leave of him, Varghese wasn’t yet clear on what adventure to embark on next. But there was something around motorcycle and mountains, brewing. In mid-November, Varghese texted that his friend Shelly had bought a Royal Enfield Meteor for the duo’s planned trip to Khardung La in May 2023.      

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. All the photos used herein, except the one of The Metro Pod, were provided by Varghese.)