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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)