2:01:09, 30 SECONDS, 37 YEARS OLD

Eliud Kipchoge (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Berlin Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

The numbers bewitch: 2:01:09, 30 seconds lopped off and the man does it at 37 years of age.

Olympic champion and world marathon record holder, Eliud Kipchoge, rewrote his marathon world record at the 2022 edition of the Berlin Marathon held on September 25, 2022. The 37 year-old Kenyan great covered the 42.2 kilometres-distance in two hours, one minute and nine seconds, chopping off 30 seconds from his previous world record of 2:01:39 set in Berlin in 2018.

Kipchoge ran the first half of the race in 59 minutes and 51 seconds and the second half in 61 minutes and 18 seconds. His first half pace raised hopes of the legend doing a sub-two-hour marathon but after that pace started to drop in the second half, the possibility of a sub-two was ruled out. For the moment, it leaves the unofficial sub-two he ran in October 2019 (1:59:40.2 at the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Austria), as an instance of human performance achieved under circumstances very different from that of a regular race.

In the women’s segment at Berlin, Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa smashed the course record by more than two minutes with a 2:15:37 finish. In the process, she became the third fastest woman marathon runner in the world. Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei holds the women’s world record of 2:14:14 set in Chicago in 2019. Paula Radcliffe, the earlier world record holder (2:15:25) is the second fastest after Kosgei. Going into the race, Assefa was not among those fancied to win; she had run only one major marathon before – the 2022 Riyadh Marathon, where she registered a timing of 2:34:00. In Berlin on Sunday, she produced a faster pace for the second half of the race.   

Tigist Assefa (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Berlin Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

In the men’s race, Kenyan runner Mark Korir finished in 2:05:58, almost five minutes behind Kipchoge. In third place was Tadu Abate of Ethiopia (2:06:28). In the women’s race, Rosemary Wanjiru of Kenya finished second in 2:18 and Tigist Abayechew of Ethiopia finished third with a timing of 2:18:03.

In its report, Runner’s World pointed out that Sunday’s world record breaking performance was Kipchoge’s 17th win from 19 marathon starts. Two of the 19 starts were demo races that were ineligible for records. At the 2013 Berlin Marathon, he had finished second and in 2020, he had placed eighth in the year’s London Marathon. Kipchoge has run four of the five fastest times in the marathon so far.

The course of the Berlin Marathon is flat; it has played host to many record-breaking performances in the discipline. Besides 2022, Kipchoge won in Berlin in 2015, 2017 and 2018. In its report, NBC Sports noted, “The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.’’ According to it, Kipchoge’s focus now is to be a three-time Olympic champion (he has been crowned twice – 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo; the next Olympic Games is in Paris in 2024) and also win the six World Marathon Majors (he is yet to run the city marathons of Boston and New York).

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

2022 COMRADES MARATHON / GITANJALI LENKA, KARTIK JOSHI FASTEST FINISHERS AMONG INDIAN PARTICIPANTS

Gitanjali finishes fourth in her age category

Gitanjali Lenka (Photo: courtesy Gitanjali)

The 2022 edition of Comrades Marathon was held in August.

The ultramarathon, held annually in South Africa, was happening after a gap of two years lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participation of Indian long-distance runners in the event, has been increasing over the past few years. This year’s race was downhill starting from Pietermaritzburg and ending at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. The ultramarathon, measuring approximately 90 kilometres, usually alternates between uphill and downhill routes. This year’s downhill route measured 89.895 km.

Thane-based Gitanjali Lenka was the fastest finisher from among Indian women runners in 2022. Kartik Joshi from Indore was the fastest male finisher from India.

Gitanjali,50, finished the race in eight hours, 52 minutes and 58 seconds. This makes her the second fastest finisher among Indian women in the years since Indians began appearing at this ultramarathon. In June 2017, Kolkata-based Anjali Saraogi had completed the ultramarathon in 8:38:23, the fastest time yet by an Indian woman.

Among Indian men, Kartik Joshi was the fastest finisher this year with a timing of 7:51:56. He is the third fastest finisher among Indian male runners so far. Sandeep Kumar of Surat is the fastest finisher yet, having covered the course in 7:30:17 in the 2018 edition. Deepak Bandbe, the second fastest finisher, completed the race in 7:43:34 in 2019.

Besides the time she clocked, Gitanjali was also the fourth finisher in her age category of 50 to 59 years. She missed her age category-podium by a small margin. This was Gitanjali’s second outing at the Comrades Marathon. In 2019, she finished in 11:36:16 hours. The nearly three-hour improvement in her timing comes after a rigorous training schedule set for her by her coach, Ashok Nath.

Gitanjali attributed the improvement in her timing to her coach Ashok Nath’s training and nutrition methods. “ I followed my coach’s plan very meticulously. I could sense the difference between 2019 and this year, when I stood at the start line of Comrades. Back then, I was clearly nervous,” she said.

There were days when she would step out for a training run in the bright sunshine and growing heat of mid-morning as she had to complete her responsibilities at home. Through the lockdown of pandemic when many runners took a break from running, Gitanjali continued her training relentlessly.

She enrolled with Ashok Nath in February 2019, a few months before her first attempt at Comrades. A gritty runner, the main focus in Gitanjali’s training was to get her fit, Ashok said. “ For an ultramarathon, the reason for running such long distance is critical to keep going when the body says: stop. Getting Gitanjali to understand her purpose or reason was a focal point in the training,” he said.

“ Cardio is over-rated in an ultra and most err on the side of overdoing it. It is equally sheer fitness and mental strength that are crucial,” Ashok explained. In the three years of Gitanjali’s training – the intervening years between her first and second outing at Comrades – these two elements, fitness and purpose, were incorporated well, he added.

Gitanjali’s journey in running commenced in 2016 when she signed up for Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon. The run is held annually at the Hiranandani residential colony where Gitanjali resides. “ A couple of my friends would go for this run every year. I decided to sign up for the 2016 edition, choosing the 10 km distance. I had no clue about running or its attire,” she said. Gitanjali finished the run in 1:19:11. At the end of the run she realized that she finished easily without any strain despite the absence of any training while many others were “ huffing and puffing at the finish line”. Two months later, she signed up for another 10 km race, finished within one hour and landed on the podium.

She has found herself on the podium quite a few times since.

Prior to 2016, barring the occasional sports day outing while at school and college in Cuttack, Odisha, Gitanjali had not been involved in sports formally. But she was always focused on fitness through the years of her college life, marriage and later as a mother of two children.

Once she took to running seriously, she signed up with coach Haridasan Nair for training. During the many running events she attended thereafter, Gitanjali began familiarizing herself with details of the sport. Among other things she heard of Boston Marathon and the stringent qualifying timing required for the race.

Gitanjali had started running ultramarathons without actually running a marathon in a formal sense. Her running is marked by many podium finishes but along the way she was dogged by injury forcing her to pause her running for some time until she recovered from it.

Her training for Comrades 2022 commenced in April. “ I would wake up at 3:30 AM and get out at 4:30 for the training run. Initially, I stuck to a one-kilometre loop until daylight appeared and then stretched the loop as per my plan for the day,” she said. Her training included two days of strength workout. Her weekly mileage during the months of May, June and July was in the range of 150-160 km. “ In August, the focus was on speed running,” she said.

Comrades done; she is slated to go for the 2022 Berlin Marathon later in September. As for the Boston Marathon, having qualified for it, she is scheduled to participate in the 2023 edition of the race in April next year.  “ I would love to focus on ultra-running as ultras are my preferred distance,” she said adding that she, would however like to complete her pursuit of the World Marathon Majors.

Kartik Joshi (Photo: courtesy Kartik)

For Kartik Joshi, the 2022 Comrades was his first international running event. He had a comfortable run for much of the 89.895 km-long course in South Africa. “ I found the last 10 km quite tough. The wind was quite strong,” he said. He had a tough time on the nutrition front as he is vegetarian. “ Going forward I will have to figure out my nutrition if I am going to be running international events,” he said.

Twenty-year-old Kartik started running during his senior school days. “ During my school days I would often see the personnel at the Rustamji Armed Police Training College in Indore. I was inspired, seeing them run,” he said.

Seeing the police personnel run, Kartik was prompted to attempt running himself. “ On the first day I ran about 500 metres and spent the rest of the hour watching runners. A few of them were running slow but they kept going for a long time,” he said adding that he eventually chose to run long distances.

Kartik took up running in a serious fashion at the age of 15 and over the past five years have participated in a number of half marathons, marathons and ultramarathons. The ultramarathons that Kartik participated include Hennur Bamboo Ultra 250 km, 12-hour and 24-hour stadium runs, Backyard Ultra and Malnad Ultra.

He lost a year at school after his father Om Prakaesh Joshi went into coma due to health problems. Further in 2021, Kartik had to take up a job midway through his college education after his father suffered a heart attack. At 20, he is in the process of completing his degree and attempting an entry into the armed forces.

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

AT A GLANCE / SEPTEMBER 2022

Abhilash Tomy; from the 2022 GGR (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

2022 GGR: Abhilash Tomy, now in fifth place, had a tough patch initially

Retired naval officer Abhilash Tomy, sole Indian participant in the 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR), had a trying first few days, the event’s website reported on September 18.

He had to combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), ostensibly stemming from his return to the race following the accident that halted his 2018 GGR attempt.

“ Abhilash Tomy holds 4th place and revealed during the film drop that after leaving Les Sables d’Olonne he suffered for 10 days with severe PTSD syndrome. He could not eat for those 10 days. Re-living his rescue and severe back injury inflicted during the 2018 edition of the GGR upset his ability to concentrate. This reaction surprised even himself. Now he is back into the 2022 edition with real focus and determination,’’ the update of September 18, posted on the website said. Simon Curwen (UK), Tapio Lehtinen (Finland), Pat Lawless (Ireland) and Abhilash were the first through the Marina Rubicon film gate.

According to the website of Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. During the 2018 GGR, Abhilash was caught in a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean that left his boat, ` Thuriya,’ badly damaged. An injured Abhilash (he suffered spinal injury) was later rescued via a multinational effort, including a ship dispatched by the Indian Navy.

The 2022 GGR got underway on September 4. As of September 26 morning, the bulk of the participants were positioned off the north western coast of Africa, in the Atlantic. Abhilash, sailing a Rustler 36 sailboat christened `Bayanat,’ was in fifth position.   

Abhilash is the first Indian to circumnavigate the planet in a sailboat, solo and nonstop. He achieved that distinction in 2013, as part of the Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project. Prior to Abhilash’s voyage, Dilip Donde (now a retired naval officer) had become the first Indian to do a solo circumnavigation. Sagar Parikrama was the brainchild of the late Vice Admiral Manohar Awati (Retd). For related articles please click on ` Sagar Parikrama’ under ` Category’ on this blog (it shows up on the panel to the right below the list of recent articles).

Aleksandr Sorokin (this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Aleksandr Sorokin sets new 24-hour world record at IAU European Championships

Lithuanian ultrarunner Aleksandr Sorokin set a new world record in the 24-hour-run at the IAU 24 Hour European Championships 2022 held over September 17-18 at Verona, Italy.

He ran a distance of 319.614 kilometres (198.599 miles) during the stipulated 24-hour period, smashing his own previous record of 309.399 km set in August 2021.

His average pace for the 24-hour period was 4:30 per km.

In the women’s race, Patrycja Bereznowska from Poland was the winner with a distance of 256.250 km. Stephanie Gicquele from France finished second with a distance of 253.581 km and Malgorzata Pazda-Pozorska from Poland placed third with a distance of 581.806 km.

In the men’s race, Andrzej Piotrowski from Poland finished in second place with a mileage of 301.858 km and Marco Visiniti from Italy placed third place with a distance of 288.437 km.

In team positions, Poland swept both the women’s and men’s titles. Among women’s teams, France was second and Germany third. In the men’s category, Lithuania placed second and Spain, third.

Vasai-Virar Marathon returns

The tenth edition of Vasai-Virar Municipal Marathon, a popular running event, is slated to be held on December 11, 2022.

The marathon, last held in 2019, was forced to miss two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upcoming edition will see a substantial increase in prize money while registration fees remain unchanged, a press release quoting Anil Kumar Pawar, Commissioner, Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation said.

The run is recognised as a national level sports event by the Athletic Federation of India and the running course has been measured and ratified by Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS).

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

2022 Golden Globe Race commences in France

The 2022 edition of the Golden Globe Race got underway on September 4.

According to reports posted on the event website, 16 skippers commenced their solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the planet that day from Les Sables-d’Olonne in western France.

Among them was retired naval officer, Abhilash Tomy, the first Indian to sail solo, nonstop around the planet in 2013. He had been a participant in the 2018 edition of GGR. That attempt had concluded with his boat getting badly damaged in a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean. An injured Abhilash was subsequently rescued.

At that time, he was sailing in the ` Thuriya,’ a replica of the ` Suhaili,’ which Sir Robin Knox Johnston had used to complete the first solo nonstop circumnavigation in 1968. The ` Suhaili’ was built in Mumbai; the ` Thuriya,’ in Goa. Following his rescue, Abhilash endured surgery and a challenging road to recovery.

For his second attempt at GGR in 2022, Abhilash is sailing a UAE-registered sailboat named ` Bayanat.’ It is racing under the number 71, the year in which the United Arab Emirates was formed. The announcement in this regard was made earlier this year, at the Dubai Expo. The boat bears the name of Abhilash’s sponsor – Bayanat, a G42 company specializing in AI-powered geospatial intelligence. Abhilash purchased the Rustler 36 (a model of yacht) in France and renamed it.  The boat was previously raced in the last Golden Globe by Philippe Péché with PRB sponsorship (he retired from the race on August 25, 2018 due to a broken wind vane and put in to Cape Town).

Prior to the start of the 2022 race on September 4, Abhilash required some repairs carried out fast. In a post titled “ The Jigsaw Puzzle” on his Facebook page, he wrote. “ We sailed into Les Sables d’Olonne on 16 Aug and were straight away lifted out of water. The boat needed a nose job after a collision at sea a day ago, and her mast too needed repairs. Given that we were just a little over two weeks from the start, it seemed like an uphill task, with quite a few wondering if we would make it across the line on 4 Sep. With all of Europe on a holiday, a solution looked virtually impossible. But we had to give it a good try.’’

Eventually the needed work was accomplished. “ Looking back, it all looks like a jigsaw puzzle. We found all the pieces and they all fit in well. It’s nothing short of a miracle. The Bayanat is now ready to sail around the world,’’ Abhilash wrote in the post, dated September 4.

As in the 2018 edition of the race, in 2022 as well, GGR participants have to sail using yachts similar to those used in the original 1968-69 race. Same goes for equipment too. They have to sail without the benefit of modern technology like satellite-based navigation systems.  As of September 9, Abhilash was placed tenth overall. On the race’s live tracker, the participants appeared bunched together off the north west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Ahead lay a long journey of several months.

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

2022 100K WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS / VIPUL KUMAR, JYOTI GAWATE SET NEW NATIONAL BEST

Jyoti Gawate (this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of IAU)

Haruki Okayama, Floriane Hot are 2022 world champions

India’s Vipul Kumar and Jyoti Gawate rewrote the national best in the 100K run by a sizable margin, in the men’s and women’s categories respectively, at the 32nd IAU 100km World Championships in Bernau-Berlin on August 27, 2022.

Covering 100 km in seven hours, four minutes and 52 seconds, Vipul was the 38th male runner to cross the finish line. He improved the previous national best of 7:32:43 – set by Amar Singh Devanda in March 2021 – by a handsome margin.

Vipul Kumar

Same was the case with Jyoti. A regular podium finisher at major marathons, who recently added the ultramarathon to her portfolio, she covered the 100 km in Berlin in 8:20:07, improving upon the previous national best of 8:44:27 set by Nupur Singh in April-May 2022.

Jyoti finished 41st among women. “ I am very happy for her. She has been trying to break the national record for marathon distance. This is a very good achievement,” Jyoti’s coach Ravi Raskatla said when contacted by this blog. Hailing from Parbhani in Maharashtra, Jyoti has been part of the national team in the marathon. The race in Berlin was the first time she represented India in an ultramarathon.

The top three finishers in the men’s category at Berlin (this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of IAU)

At the 100K World Championships the places on the podium for men was dominated by Japan and that for women, by France.

Haruki Okayama of Japan finished first among men and first overall, covering the distance of 100 km in six hours, 12 minutes and 10 seconds. His compatriot Jumpei Yamaguchi took silver in 6:17:20. Piet Wiersma of the Netherlands won the bronze medal with timing of 6:18:47.

In the women’s category in Berlin, gold went to Floriane Hot of France; she covered the distance in 7:04:03. Camille Chaigneau, also of France, placed second in 7:06:32. The bronze medal went to Caitriona Jennings of Ireland (7:07:17).

The top three finishers in the women’s category at Berlin (this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of IAU)

Among Indian women runners at the race, following Jyoti, Nupur Singh finished with a timing of 8:52:18 to place 57th among women. Gunjan Khurana with a timing of 9:17:15 placed 71st among women runners in the race.

On the men’s side, Om Prakash Saran finished in 7:25:44 (53rd finisher among men). His timing too an improvement on the previous national best. Contacted after the race, Om Prakash said that the weather was quite favourable and he was very happy with the nutrition and hydration support.

As per provisional data, in the team category for men, the top three teams were Japan, France and South Africa (in that order). The same for women was – USA, France and Japan. The Indian women’s team was placed 13th in its gender category.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. Please note: race data usually takes some time to settle. If there is any change to timings and team positions, it will be corrected suitably.)

2022 COMMONWEALTH GAMES / A SMASHING SILVER FOR SABLE IN STEEPLECHASE

Avinash Sable. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

India’s Avinash Sable showed the lion-heart he is, nearly snatching the gold medal from Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot’s reach, as he crossed the line for a well-deserved silver in a tightly contested men’s 3000m steeplechase at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

Kibiwot’s victory was hard earned and by the narrowest of margins; he clocked eight minutes, 11.15 seconds. Sable (8:11.20) finished right next to him, bettering his own national record in the process. Amos Serem of Kenya (8:16.83) secured the bronze.

The race started with much expected from the Kenyans. In their ranks was defending champion Conseslus Kipruto. He had won in the discipline at the 2018 CWG in Gold Coast, Australia with timing of 8:10.08. He was also world champion at the World Athletics Championships held in Doha in 2019 and bronze medallist at the recently concluded World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Shortly after the commencement of the race in Birmingham, Sable moved into the lead. The trio of Kenyans kept him company. But soon, the Kenyans took over; they set a fast pace (at one point hinting at a potential finish in less than eight minutes as per race commentary) and opened up a sizable gap with the rest of the field, barring Sable, who hung around in fourth position. Sable never let the Kenyans get far from him. Just doing so, was a new high in Indian athletics for the attitude it personified.

As the final lap approached, Sable began working his way up and by the time he took the bell had carved himself a slot in second position. He maintained it right through the water jump and the last hurdle, chasing Kibiwot down to the line forcing a verdict decided by a wafer-thin margin. It was as good a scare as the Kenyans, traditional kings of the steeplechase, could get.

Kipruto finished in sixth place; he timed 8:34.96. Abraham Kibiwot was silver medallist at the 2018 CWG; he has a PB of 8:09.25 set in 2016 (source: Wikipedia). Amos Serem was gold medallist at the 2021 World U20 Championships held in Nairobi, Kenya.

At the world championships in Oregon, Sable had finished eleventh in the steeplechase final with timing of 8:31.75. An icon in Indian athletics and someone with no close competitor in the country in his chosen discipline, Sable has improved his national record several times in the past few years. In June 2022, at an international meet in Rabat, Morocco, he had clocked 8:12.48. It stands improved in Birmingham to 8:11.20. Besides steeplechase, Sable also holds the national record in the half marathon – one hour, 30 seconds (1:00:30).     

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

AT A GLANCE / AUGUST 2022

Flashback / pack of elite runners from the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon (Photo: by arrangement)

Tata Mumbai Marathon is back

The 2023 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon will be held on January 15, as per the event’s website.

According to it (this is as of August 8, 2022), registration for the full marathon has opened. Registration for the half marathon starts from August 20; that of other categories is set to commence from August 26. The dates mentioned herein are as per information available on the event website.

The race is returning after a gap of two years – 2021 and 2022 – when it wasn’t held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event is India’s biggest marathon.

Eldhose Paul. This photo was taken from the Instagram page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Double glory for India in men’s triple jump as Eldhose Paul, Abdulla Aboobacker take gold, silver

India’s Eldhose Paul won the gold medal in the men’s triple jump at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK.

One of only two athletes to pass the 17m-mark in the contest, Paul had a best jump of 17.03m.

The other jump in excess of 17m belonged to Paul’s compatriot Abdulla Aboobacker Narangolintevid, whose best jump touched 17.02m, earning him the silver. India thus bagged both gold and silver medals in the triple jump. Paul’s best jump came in his third attempt; Aboobacker’s in his fifth. 

Bronze went to Jha-Nhai Perinchief of Bermuda (16.92m).

Praveen Chitravel, the third Indian athlete in the fray, finished fourth (16.89).

Earlier, in late July, Paul, having become the first Indian to qualify for the final of the men’s triple jump competition at the 2022 World Athletics Championships, had finished ninth. In Eugene, USA, he had produced a best jump of 16.79m, a distance significantly improved in Birmingham.

Arshad Nadeem. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

A well deserved gold for Pakistan’s Nadeem in men’s javelin throw

Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem won the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK with his best throw measuring 90.18m, a new Games record.

Anderson Peters of Grenada (88.64m) took the silver and Kenya’s Julius Yego (85.70m), the bronze.

Nadeem’s first throw measured 86.38m. A while later, his third throw rewrote that mark to a new personal best of 88m. Eventually, his best throw from the competition was a massive one measuring 90.18m. He was seen periodically clutching the taped elbow of his throwing arm; it seemed to be in pain. At the recently concluded 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, USA, Nadeem had placed fifth with a best throw of 86.16m. Anderson Peters, who successfully defended his title as world champion in Eugene, appeared a shadow of that self in Birmingham. He hovered in the low 80s for long before producing that throw of 88.64m. It briefly put him in the lead ahead of Nadeem before the latter unleashed his competition-winning 90m plus-throw. The Grenadian athlete was unable to improve further and had to settle for silver. In Eugene, his best throw had touched 90.54m. His PB is 93.07m.

Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago (82.61m) placed fourth. The two Indian athletes in the field D.P. Manu (82.28m) and Rohit Yadav (82.22m) finished fifth and sixth respectively. As per their profiles available on the website of World Athletics, Manu has a PB of 84.35m; Rohit’s PB is 82.54m.

Priyanka Goswami. This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page.

Priyanka Goswami gets silver in women’s 10,000m race-walk

Priyanka Goswami of India secured the silver medal in the women’s 10,000m race-walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK. Her timing – 43 minutes and 38.83 seconds – was a new personal best (PB).

The gold medal went to Jemima Montag of Australia who set a new games record of 42:34.30. Kenya’s Emily Wamusyi Ngii (43:50.86, an area record and a PB) took the bronze.

India’s Bhawna Jat (47:14.13), who finished eighth, also got a PB.

The race held under quite supportive weather conditions, saw an initial break-away group of around five athletes headed by Goswami, in the lead. Within this formation, Montag stuck to the third position behind Goswami and Ngii for a long time. However, close to the halfway mark she struck out on her own, set a fast pace and never looked back.

Sandeep Kumar gets bronze in men’s 10,000m race-walk

India’s Sandeep Kumar picked up the bronze medal in the men’s 10,000m race-walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

He covered the distance in a new personal best of 38 minutes, 49.21 seconds.

The gold medal went to Evan Dunfee of Canada – 38:36.37, a new Games record. Australia’s Declan Tingay took the silver in a new personal best of 38:42.33.

Annu Rani gets bronze in women’s javelin throw

Annu Rani of India picked up the bronze medal in the women’s javelin throw competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

She had a best throw of 60m.

The gold medal was secured by Kelsey-Lee Barber of Australia (64.43m).

Mackenzie Little of Australia took the silver (84.27).

Exciting finishes in women’s 800m and men’s 5000m in Birmingham

The concluding stages of the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK, saw a couple of exciting finishes in the middle and long distance-races. In the women’s 800m, Kenya’s Mary Moraa pulled off a brilliant victory to take gold in one minute, 57.07 seconds. England’s Keely Hodgkinson (1:57.40) and Scotland’s Laura Muir (1:57.87) secured the silver and bronze medals respectively. Moraa, who led in the first lap of the 400m-track, slipped back in the second till she was almost at the tail end of the small line of runners. Uniquely, she made no effort to fight back as the others overtook her. She resurfaced at the back of the pack but now in an outer track. Then, the claw-back commenced. She worked her way back up, closed the gap and eventually overtook Hodgkinson to collect a well-deserved gold. It was a superb piece of running. In retrospect, that fall to the rear of the pack shifted Moraa from the relatively crammed inside track to an outer one leaving her, at the final bend, with an unhindered passage to accelerate and go for gold. But was it what she wanted? Mary Moraa knows.

Hours later, the men’s 5000m race kicked off with all eyes on Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and two fast runners from Kenya – Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli and Jacob Krop. Initially, the race felt sluggish; it appeared the sort of situation that typically builds up to a sprint finish favoring those capable of speed. While Kimeli and Krop are known to specialize in distances ranging from 3000m to 10,000m, Kiplimo does that and is also the world record holder in the half marathon (57 minutes and 31 seconds). The wider range of distances in Kiplimo’s portfolio, which emphasizes endurance over speed, had naturally triggered speculation during the 5000m race in Birmingham on how well he may perform should things boil down to a sprint finish. However, as the concluding stages of the race approached, Kiplimo went past Kimeli, opened up a sizable gap and held on to it to take the gold in a season’s best of 13:08.08. Kimeli (13:08.19) and Krop (13:08.48) secured the silver and bronze, respectively. With gold in the men’s 10,000m bagged earlier, it was a classic double for Kiplimo.  

Murali Sreeshankar. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Murali Sreeshankar gets silver in long jump; Tejaswin Shankar bags bronze in high jump

India’s Murali Sreeshankar won the silver medal in the men’s long jump competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK.

In the final, his best jump measured 8.08m. The gold medal went to Laquan Nairn of Bahamas (also 8.08m). Nairn’s best jump was identical to Sreeshankar’s but he had the advantage of a better second-best jump – 7.98m. Sreeshankar’s second-best in the final was 7.84m. Jovan vaan Vuren of South Africa (8.06m) secured the bronze.

India’s Muhammed Anees Yahiya placed fifth with a best jump of 7.97m to his credit. Sreeshankar is the first Indian to get a silver in the men’s long jump at CWG. Back in 1978, at the CWG held in Edmonton, Canada, Suresh Babu had won the bronze with a jump of 7.94m.

The start list for the 2022 CWG final featured 12 athletes of who, 11 possessed PBs in excess of 8m. The best PB was Sreeshankar’s – 8.36m. Although his fifth jump brought him on par with Nairn as regards distance reached, overall, the final was a mixed bag for Sreeshankar with his other jumps in sub-8m domain and one (a good jump), deemed a foul by the narrowest of margins.  

Tejaswin Shankar. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Earlier at the event, India’s Tejaswin Shankar won the bronze medal in the men’s high jump. His best jump measured 2.22m. Hamish Kerr of New Zealand (2.25m) and Brandon Starc of Australia (also 2.25m) secured gold and silver respectively. A July 30, 2022-article in the Indian Express, soon after the 2022 CWG commenced in Birmingham, aptly summed up Shankar’s predicament. Although he met the qualification-mark, Shankar was initially denied a place on the national squad headed to Birmingham. He was included following a Court directive. Then he was told that his entry had been turned down by the event organizers. Later, with days left for the CWG, he was informed that he was accepted. Consequently, he arrived in Birmingham, his days preceding the competition lost to running around to get the paperwork for his journey done. The bronze was despite that. Tejaswin Shankar has a PB of 2.29m, which is also the national record.

This picture of Ferdinand Omanyala was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

“ I am happy I am changing the notion that Kenyans can’t sprint’’

For long identified with distance runners, Kenya added excellence in the sprints to its portfolio with Ferdinand Omanyala taking the gold medal in the men’s 100m at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK.

He clocked 10.02 seconds.

Defending champion Akani Simbine of South Africa (10.13) bagged the silver while Yupun Abeykoon of Sri Lanka (10.14) took the bronze.

A former rugby player, Omanyala has a personal best of 9.77 seconds. In a post-race interview available on the YouTube channel of Athletics Weekly, he said, “ I am happy I am changing the notion that Kenyans can’t sprint.’’ In its report on Abeykoon’s bronze medal-winning performance, Colombo-based newspaper Daily Mirror said, “ Abeykoon is the first Sri Lankan in 24 years to win a Commonwealth Games Medal in track and field events, after Sriyani Kulawansa won Silver in the Women’s 100m Hurdles and Sugath Thilakaratne won Bronze in the Men’s 400m at the Kuala Lumpur 1998 Games.’’

Omanyala’s triumph, a moment to remember Seraphino Antao

Ferdinand Omanyala is the first Kenyan to secure a gold medal in sprint at a major international event since Seraphino Antao’s two gold medals in the 100 yard and 220 yard-races at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. Converted to metres, 100 yards amounts to 91.44 metres. According to Wikipedia’s page on Athletics at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Antao timed 9.50 seconds for the 100 yards and 21.28 seconds for the 220 yards (201.168 metres).

Antao, who retired after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and later shifted to the UK, passed away in 2011. His parents hailed from Goa. An article on Antao, dated September 6, 2008 and available on the website of The East African, said, “ His father came over from Goa sometime in the early 1920s and settled in Mombasa. He met Antao’s mother, whose family had also come from Goa, they married and had five children. Seraphino Antao was born in 1937, and grew up playing football. He got into athletics almost by accident. In 1956, while working for the East African Railways, specifically the Landing & Shipping Company, he entered the company athletics competition and won the sprint events. Within six months he was competing in national events and was the Kenya and East African champion in several short races. He was part of the team that represented Kenya in the Cardiff Commonwealth Games in 1958 and the Rome Olympics in 1960. He then went on to be a world-class sprinter before retiring in 1964.’’ For more on Seraphino Antao and the above mentioned article, please click on this link:  https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/magazine/pioneer-in-kenya-s-athletics-seraphino-antao-a-champion-1291980).

The website goanvoice.org.uk has a detailed page on Antao with many articles compiled. In an interview to the East African Standard, dated February 1, 2003, wherein he cites the 1962 CWG races as the most memorable of his life, Antao adds that he clocked 20.9 seconds in the 220 yard-semi-final. The website also shows you a November 2004 report in Herald by Fredrick Noronha based on a conversation he had with Antao when the latter paid a visit to Goa (Antao’s roots are in Chandor). It said: “ The Antaos (from Chandor) were quite sports minded. Germano Antao was a big name in sports, and my cousin Effie Antao played football for Kenya. Pascoal Antao played for Salgaocars years back, and his son Trevor is also a good footballer,’’ he said in an interview. His sister, Iggy (Ignaciana) Antao, was also a good sprinter, while his brother Rosario was a long-jumper. Expat Goans may have represented the world in various sporting events, but Antao is probably the only one to do so well in athletics. For more on Antao from the website, please click on this link: http://www.goanvoice.org.uk/supplement/SeraphinoAntaobak.htm.

A quick Google-search in the wake of Omanyala’s victory in Birmingham showed that while the media mentioned Seraphino Antao in their reporting (which is how this writer too learnt of him), film footage of his running was little. In this context, the only video I came across on YouTube had been posted by Fred Menezes. It was from the 100 yards competition at the 1962 CWG and is shared below:

Seraphino Antao running at the 1962 CWG. This video was posted on YouTube by Fred Menezes and is being shared here for representation purpose.

Strasser is first to finish 2022 TCR

Christoph Strasser, Austrian ultra-cyclist, became the first participant to cross the finish line at the 2022 edition of the Transcontinental Race (TCR) in Europe. He covered 4578 kilometres in nine days, 14 hours and zero minutes, a report on cyclist.co.uk said. The race started in Geraardsbergen, Belgium and ended in Burgas, Bulgaria. The website said that at the time of reporting, Strasser’s successful completion awaited verification of his route by the race organizers.

According to Wikipedia, TCR is an annual self-supported ultra-distance cycling race across Europe with the route and distance for each edition generally varying between 3200-4200 km. The winners usually take 7-10 days. It is not a stage race and operates like a long individual time trial. Apart from sections of the route, some control points and the finish, the participants are mostly free to choose their own route, Wikipedia’s page on the event said.

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

A RACE TO REMEMBER

Kuanju Lin (Photo: courtesy Kuanju)

Kuanju Lin of Chinese Taipei was the gold medallist in the women’s category at the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships held in Bengaluru. It was her first time representing her country.

“ I don’t know what attracts me to running. But I feel happy, free and meaningful when I run,” Kuanju Lin said.

We were faces at the two ends of a video chat; she in Taiwan (Chinese Taipei); I in Mumbai, India. It was July 2022, sometime in the month’s third week. Earlier, over July 2-3, Kuanju had essayed a superb run at the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in Bengaluru. The venue was the city’s Sree Kanteerava Stadium and the participants had to run laps on the synthetic track for the assigned period of time. Kuanju, 35, covered 216.877km in 24 hours to place first among women.  

Kuanju lives in Banqiao, a district in New Taipei City. A special municipality, New Taipei City is Taiwan’s most populous city. Located in northern Taiwan, it encloses the city of Taipei, which is the country’s capital. On the map, the main island of Taiwan (where Taipei and New Taipei City are located) is distinctly hilly to the east. The vast majority of the country’s population resides in the plains to the west. Taiwan has a high density of population. According to Wikipedia, one third of Taiwanese citizens live in the Taipei-Keelung metropolitan area to which the cities of Taipei, New Taipei City and Keelung belong. Banqiao has the third highest population density in Taiwan. “ Its flat,’’ Kuanju said when asked about the topography of the place she lives in.     

During her school years, Kuanju disliked exercising. She studied design, craft, painting, singing and music. She took up running after she commenced working. “ A friend invited me to run. That’s how I got into running,” she said. Initially, she focussed on the marathon. The many marathons she ran included two World Marathon Majors – Tokyo Marathon in 2018 and Boston Marathon in 2019 – and the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon. Along the way, she achieved a personal best of 3:09 in the discipline at the 2021 Taipei Marathon. However, in due course, she moved to ultra-marathons. “ In the past I focussed entirely on the marathon. In 2015, I challenged myself to attempt a 100 km race,” she said. It was the Wulu Gorge Ultramarathon, held on Taiwan’s east coast. She covered 100 km in nine hours and 38 minutes. It fuelled her curiosity further; she wanted to know more about what attracted other runners to court hard challenges. Eager to find out how long she could run, she opted for a 24-hour run.

Her first 24-hour ultra-running event was as recent as in February 2022. She covered a distance of 180 km. “ I felt good about my mileage but my ankles hurt and swelled up,” she said. The event helped Kuanju to understand the dynamics of a 24-hour run and train accordingly. For the championships in Bengaluru, Kuanju focussed on strength training and long-distance running. “ I did two ultra-long training runs – one of 135 km and another of 95 km. In Bengaluru, I focussed on nutrition and hydration. I prepared some fruit, energy bar with nuts, electrolyte liquid and chocolate – I kept consuming that during my run,” she said.

Kuanju Lin (Photo: courtesy Kuanju)

Unlike a marathon, where elite runners run the length of the whole course, ultra-running events like the 24 hour-race typically involve a mix of running and fast walking. The prevailing weather plays a big role in how extended runs of this sort, play out. In a post-race article available on runnerstribe.com, Australian athlete Cassie Cohen (she was a participant in the Bengaluru event) highlighted the part weather plays: “ while on paper, my PB (204.92 km) was among the strongest in the field, I knew that didn’t tell the full story. The Indian and Chinese Taipei athletes had got their results in hot and humid conditions as we would experience on race day. I got mine in Canberra in near perfect cool conditions. PBs meant nothing once the flag was raised to start the race.’’  

New Taipei City has a climate that is characterized as ` humid subtropical.’ It features hot and humid summers and cool to mild winters. Bengaluru has a ` tropical savanna climate’ but it’s elevation (3020 feet) gifts it a generally moderate climate. In early July 2022, the city was getting showers and the weather was fairly pleasant by Indian standards. But humidity was high and this impacted the runners doing laps at Kanteerava Stadium, including some of Kuanju’s teammates who had to use ice to see themselves through the heat of the Indian afternoon. The Australians too suffered. In her detailed article, Cassie estimates that conditions touched 29 degrees and 70 per cent humidity.

For Kuanju, things appear to have played out tad differently. She was largely unfazed by Bengaluru’s humid weather. “ I felt comfortable most of the time though it was a bit warm. I am used to sunny weather,’’ she said. The first 12 hours went by pleasantly for her. “ I enjoyed the sun, the music and the cheering from the spectators. During the night hours, I walked because my right foot was aching. I wore earphones to listen to music. I resorted to singing along with my music. Encouragement from other runners also helped me to keep going,” she said. In retrospect, the main concern seems to have been the foot, to tackle which, she had to avail a brief intervention by the physiotherapist.

Those who watched the race in Bengaluru would likely recall two things. First, Kuanju had a near consistent pace. It was suitably slow for ultrarunning and steady. She kept going round and round with clockwork efficiency. Initially, her small size and light build may have inspired a different image, one of potential fragility. But as the day (July 2) progressed, it was increasingly clear that appearances can be deceptive; Kuanju’s steady pace was logging significant mileage. Second, her attire intrigued. Most of the runners sweated it out in shorts and vests. Kuanju wore a fluffy pink skirt over her leggings. While others were a picture of hard work and strain, she seemed to float along. Kuanju says she is fond of dressing up well for her races. “ When I started running, I used to get nervous. I relaxed myself by wearing accessories such as bows and cute things. Once, I wore a fluffy skirt for a race. There were many photographers and they kept clicking my photo. Also, runners and onlookers kept cheering me. That really helped improve my mood and reminded me to run enthusiastically and with a smile. Thereafter I used these accessories during runs,” she said. The fluffy skirt, according to her, is not just a cute accessory but something that lends positive energy.

On the morning of July 3 with only hours to go before the 24-hour mark, Kuanju was among few runners in the stadium still smiling and looking upbeat. In the final hours of the gruelling competition, top honours among women ended up a contest between Kuanju and Cassie Cohen. At 8 AM on May 3, when the race concluded, it was Kuanju securing gold; the Australian runner with 214.990 km logged was short by 1.9 km. Kuanju’s performance was a new national record for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). Coming into the race in Bengaluru, Kuanju had not expected to win. Cassie took the silver while her compatriot Allicia-Grace Heron (211.442 km) bagged the bronze. At the team level, Chinese Taipei secured bronze in both men’s and women’s categories. The strain of the race was visible on all the teams; more than one runner had to be helped to get on to the podium.

Kuanju Lin; from the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships held in Bengaluru (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The event in Bengaluru was the first time Kuanju represented her country. Back in New Taipei City, she works as a coach for boxing, cardio workout, fitness, spinning and TRX training. Her personal training for the ultramarathon is a combination of speed workout, progressive pace workout and long and easy runs with a day for rest during the week. “ Time management is a challenge. I need to calculate time for training, my job and the occasional break. Usually, I run over 400 km per month but if I am training for an ultramarathon, I need to run almost 600 km,” she said.

Although she topped the women’s race in Bengaluru cementing her position as an ultrarunner, she does not want to stop running marathons. “ I want to focus on marathon as well as ultramarathon running events,” she said when asked which distance she prefers. However, she is not chasing the World Marathon Majors. “ I don’t have the time or the money to pursue the Marathon Majors,” she said.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. Edited by Shyam G Menon.)

2022 CWG / GOLD FOR VICTOR KIPLANGAT IN MEN’S MARATHON

Liam Adams of Australia leading in the initial stages of the 2022 CWG men’s marathon. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Nitendra Singh Rawat finishes twelfth

Uganda’s Victor Kiplangat took gold in the men’s marathon at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) being held at Birmingham, UK.

The first Ugandan to win the CWG marathon, he covered the distance in two hours, 10 minutes and 55 seconds, a report on world-track.org said. Silver went to Alphonce Felix Simbu (2:12:29) of Tanzania and the bronze to Kenya’s Michael Mugo Githae (2:13:16).

India’s Nitendra Singh Rawat finished in twelfth position. He covered the distance in 2:19:22.

Despite Kenya participating, there was no Eliud Kipchoge (he holds the world record – 2:01:39) or anyone in that league, at Birmingham. Defending CWG champion, Michael Shelley of Australia (PB – 2:11:15) was also absent given he retired in 2019. He was CWG champion in 2014 (Glasgow) and 2018 (Gold Coast). It was therefore a modestly sized field – 19 runners – on Saturday (July 30) with equally modest personal bests. But it was a competitive field with athletes having PBs not significantly spaced from each other, promising thus a good contest.

Within minutes of the race starting, Liam Adams of Australia shot off into the lead with a group of about half a dozen in pursuit. Coming into the race, Adams had a PB from March 2020, of 2:10:48 according to data available on the website of World Athletics. As the first half hour went by, the chasing group split into two with two Tanzanian runners including Simbu (PB – 2:06:20), ahead of the remaining three, which included Kiplangat (PB – 2:05:09) and Kenya’s Jonathan Kipleting Korir (PB – 2:04:32).

The 15K mark went by with Adams still in the lead; he covered it in 46:03, which if sustained, pointed to a potential sub-2:10 finish. According to Wikipedia, the CWG record in the men’s marathon was set in 1974 at Christchurch, New Zealand, by Ian Thompson of England; he had a timing of 2:09:12, which was also a PB.  It makes the unbroken CWG record four years older than the unbroken Indian national record in the men’s marathon set by Shivnath Singh in 1978; he covered the distance in 2:12:00.

Past the 15K-mark at Birmingham, Nitendra Singh Rawat was in fifteenth place. As per updates on the website of Sportstar, he moved up to twelfth spot after 30 kilometres in the race. Liam Adams, race leader in the initial phase, finished a creditable fourth with timing of 2:13:23. Korir wrapped up the top five, covering the distance in 2:14:06, world-track.org said. According to the website, past 30 kilometres, Kiplangat and Simbu were evenly matched but the Ugandan runner managed to increase his pace and open up a lead. It was a lead that was sufficiently big for him to correct a wrong path he took late in the race without compromising his position in the final results.

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

“ I FEEL I HAVE UNLOCKED MYSELF IN SOME WAY’’

Kabir Rachure, 2022 RAAM (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

July 2022. It’s a couple of weeks after the year’s RAAM. There was a change in the tenor of Kabir’s talk. Two successful finishes later, there was now mention of competing to win.

Riders from India would fare better at Race Across America (RAAM) if they acquire familiarity with the challenges posed, become better supported and progressively hit from the front foot instead of the backfoot as they normally do, Kabir Rachure, among India’s leading ultra-cyclists and a two time-finisher of RAAM, said.

In June 2022, Kabir successfully completed RAAM for a second time (11 days, 11 hours and 25 minutes); he also placed third in his age category. He plans to return to RAAM in 2024 and when that happens, he would like to cycle faster and approach the race with a view to win. The Navi Mumbai-based cyclist explained his reasons for the changed perspective.

To begin with, he had come off the experience of 2019 – when he finished RAAM in 11 days, 22 hours and 43 minutes – resolved to attempt it again. He felt there was ample scope to improve. In 2019, he didn’t have well developed strategies for nutrition and rest. “ I didn’t follow a proper sleep pattern,’’ he said. Early on in the race, the heat of Arizona took its toll. Despite training for the event, he had found himself progressively exhausted, experiencing a hazy view of the proceedings and unable to recall in detail, sections of the 3000 mile-route, he pedaled through. Further, in a race wherein rider tackles challenges in partnership with the support crew, there were some deficiencies in the latter. “ We took it lightly. Everyone wasn’t at 100 per cent. The correct balance wasn’t there. In 2019, although we completed the race, I wasn’t satisfied with our performance,’’ Kabir said. The team was determined that their next outing at RAAM should be with the required improvements, addressed.

Once you have been a finisher at RAAM, cyclist is lifetime-qualified to participate in the race. Kabir has this privilege, courtesy 2019. His idea was to go back to RAAM in 2020 but that year the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team would have gone back in 2021 but there were too many variables in the air, ranging from vaccination to quarantine conditions; not to mention – all preparations going for a toss should infection strike just before or during the race. For cyclist from India, each attempt entails a sizable financial investment. Given such uncertainty, Kabir and his team decided not to participate. There was also another reason. Kabir wished for a decently strong field; he wanted RAAM to be an instance of competing with the best and competing with many. In 2021, with the world only beginning to emerge from the shadow of pandemic, strong line-ups were hard to come by in races. The goal therefore was, 2022.

Photo: courtesy Kabir

In 2021, there was a virtual RAAM, which riders could participate in from anywhere in the world as long as they had Wi-Fi and trainers capable of hosting apps for competing digitally. Kabir didn’t take part in this. He felt, RAAM’s digital version wouldn’t be a complete substitute for the actual experience of the race. In the real world, cycling at RAAM includes challenges like mountain sections, the heat of Arizona, the weather conditions of Kansas, the punishing hours on the saddle, the sleep deprivation and the support crew actively working with rider to keep the journey going. The digital version, in comparison, featured limited sections of RAAM repeated like a loop. All of it executed from a room where support was easily accessed. “ The main challenge in virtual RAAM concerns being on a trainer – it restricts the natural variety of body movements possible in real world cycling. This lack of variety in movement, is tough on the body. It can be hard on your knees,’’ Kabir said.

For 2022 RAAM, Kabir dipped into his 2019 experience and trained differently. There was a time when he thought – like many did and continue to – that success in ultra-cycling events requires hours and hours of training piled on in the preparatory phase. With RAAM done in 2019 and an idea of what to improve had, Kabir structured his training for 2022 around quality, not quantity. “ This time around for RAAM, I trained 8-12 hours per week,’’ he said. He did the bulk of that indoors. He avoided some of the popular temptations in Indian cycling. “ I won’t say that if you do K2K (Kashmir to Kanyakumari) or the Golden Quadrilateral, you can complete RAAM. After the initial portion of K2K, the route is mostly flat. The only thing that is tough in K2K, is the traffic,’’ he said. RAAM in contrast, features varying topography and weather patterns. It doesn’t let you settle into one paradigm. “ RAAM is a different beast,’’ Kabir said.

Among the changes effected in training for 2022, the most significant one was that weekly total of 8-12 hours. “ Somewhere along the way, I have crushed the myth that you must train 25-30 hours per week,’’ he said, highlighting the importance of balancing training and recovery. However, Kabir admitted that he could shift more towards quality because he had the quantity already in place (thanks to many ultra-races and training for it, done) with one outing at RAAM to boot. For those new to ultra-cycling, he said, he would want long rides done because they help the rider know his / her body better. But the mileage must be ramped up carefully; slowly and steadily. “ I don’t want anyone hurting themselves,’’ Kabir said. In his case, years of cycling has ensured a litany of long rides done and with an idea of how his body behaves now in place, he could afford to trade quantity for quality in the run up to 2022 RAAM.

Roughly two months before RAAM, in April 2022, Kabir shifted to the high-altitude environment of Ladakh. From April 20 to May 20, he trained there. He cycled some 1200-1500 kilometres there including a dash up to Khardung La from Leh in less than three hours (two hours and 40 minutes according to him). Then, returning to Mumbai he flew out to the US on June 1 with about a fortnight left for the year’s RAAM to start. The benefits of training at altitude are well-known. Although many people believe that the rub-off effects of altitude, stay with the individual only for a few weeks, Kabir says that in his experience, right nutrition (essentially iron in one’s diet) can help prolong the benefits. The learnings from 2019 RAAM combined with a modified training regimen ensured that Kabir commenced 2022 RAAM in a strong frame of body and mind.

Kabir Rachure, 2022 RAAM (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

A notable absentee at 2022 RAAM was Christof Strasser. For years, the Austrian ultra-cyclist with multiple wins at RAAM to his credit, had been a regular participant. “ RAAM without Strasser does not feel the same,’’ Kabir said. Endurance cyclists like Christof Strasser and Marko Baloh (Kabir now has Marko’s signature preserved on his bike) have the capability to go into an attack mode compared to the defensive mindset of Indian riders. Kabir traces this attitude found overseas, to a state of being well supported and having nothing to lose. To illustrate it in simple terms, he quoted the example of Formula One. If someone participated with a car they bought with their own money, would they drive as aggressively as a Lewis Hamilton backed by Mercedes and enjoying a supply of cars from the company? When you have someone backing you and you are told to focus on your performance, you will perform better than if you were on our own, Kabir said. As luck would have it, for his 2022 RAAM attempt, two sponsors came aboard – Spiegel Bikes and Ultrahuman. He could therefore afford to imagine a bit differently. Face RAAM with a semblance of nothing-to-lose. Still the race threw up challenges.

Kabir brought with him to the US, four bikes for use in RAAM. He kept a time trial bike with aggressive geometry to cycle through Arizona. Although Arizona felt less warm than in 2019, there was no escaping the buckets of sweat the heat triggered. Kabir developed a terrible saddle-sore following which, the fast TT bike had to be given up. Any more time on it would have seriously endangered his prospects in the race. He ended up using a Spiegel San Merino for around 2700 kilometres and two models of Lapierre (including a Pulsium, which is a comfortable endurance bike) for 1600-1800 kilometres. If reworking the bicycle mix was an early challenge, then the wind in Kansas posed its own set of hardships later. A powerful headwind made cycling through Kansas difficult. At other times, crosswinds kept the bicycle constantly at a tilt and difficult to steer with one hand. It rendered periodic engagements with the support car (while still pedaling) for hydration and nutrition, tough to handle. One nasty fall and Kabir could end up retired from the race. But aside from these challenges, the race went off smoothly. He experienced little of the abject exhaustion he had felt in 2019. He finished RAAM in better time and better shape than in 2019; he also got a podium position in his age category. Upon examining the videos of others who finished ahead of him in 2022 and seeing the state they were in; Kabir feels he can push harder. He thinks he can match those performances. They are within achievable distance. In 2022 there was much energy he held in reserve. In retrospect, it was good; it helped him finish comfortably. But it would be a shame not to explore tapping that reserve. Maybe there is room to push further and discover another reserve beyond? A new perspective has taken root.

Kabir will return to RAAM next in 2024. In the immediate aftermath of 2022 RAAM, he thinks a bit of rest is in order as his body is craving for it. The purse also takes some time to recuperate. As he put it, expensive multi-day races like RAAM resemble sugarcane cultivation. Sugarcane needs a lot of water and once the water in the well has been used up, it takes time for it to replenish before another season of cultivation is possible. Same holds true for RAAM, rider and money. Until the purse is replenished, aspirations must stay modest. In November 2022, he will participate in the 24 hour-time trial slated to take place in Borrego Springs, Arizona. If all goes well, he will do a six hour-time trial as well. In 2023, he plans to try Race Around Austria. And in 2024, when RAAM looms afresh on his calendar, the best weapon in his armoury may lay in this observation post-2022 RAAM: “ I feel I have unlocked myself in some way.’’ According to him, it is like having battled some monster and suffered a great deal but also gained a lot.

Photo: courtesy Kabir

His sister, Sapana who oversees Kabir’s support crew is also not resting on the better performance of the team at 2022 RAAM. With Kabir now talking of winning, she is aware of what lay ahead.  According to her, Kabir currently has a pool of around 12 people to pick and choose from, for each competition he goes into. They are known well to him and given the number of races they have attended with him, are aware of Kabir’s requirements. Together, they cover a spectrum of support services ranging from driving the crew car to navigation to nutrition to physiotherapy and bicycle maintenance. Some are good for short races; some for longer ones. “ This time at RAAM, we were all on the same page,’’ Sapana said. Had it not been for the wind in Kansas, the time taken to complete would have been less. Sapana knows that in ultra-cycling competitions like RAAM, wherein rider and support crew must pull together, every additional effort Kabir puts in to improve must be matched on the crew side too. “ We plan to use the same people for the rides ahead. The two years to 2024 is good enough time to improve further,’’ she said.

As regards training ground for ultra-cycling, Kabir thinks that India is a fantastic place to train given the range of topography it has, including the Himalaya. Some states and union territories have a better mix in this regard – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Ladakh; and in terms of cities sporting such variety – Bengaluru, Pune, Nashik and Navi Mumbai. But as ever in India, in all these places there is a killjoy snapping at cycling’s heels – the explosive growth of automobile traffic.      

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is mostly based on a conversation with Kabir at Kharghar, Navi Mumbai in July 2022.)      

2022 WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP / ANDERSON PETERS DOMINATES JAVELIN FINAL, SECURES GOLD

Neeraj Chopra. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Neeraj Chopra gets silver; Rohit Yadav finishes tenth

Defending champion Anderson Peters of Grenada, dominated the javelin throw final at the 2022 World Athletics Championship, securing the gold medal with a tremendous display that saw three of his throws land in 90m-territory.

His best throw from the final measured 90.54m.

Olympic gold medallist, Neeraj Chopra, settled for silver with a best throw of 88.13m. Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic won the bronze medal; his best throw measured 88.09m.  As per the competition commentary, Neeraj had come into the world championship yet to reach his best form but happy that he was beginning to find his groove. News reports following the final in Eugene, Oregon, USA, quoted the Indian athlete saying that he would try to do better at the next world championship due in Budapest in 2023.

Indian athlete, Rohit Yadav, who too had qualified for the javelin throw final finished in tenth place with a best throw of 78.72m. Media reports said, many of the Indian athletes who participated in the world championship will now move to UK for the 2022 Commonwealth Games scheduled to take place in Birmingham over July 28-August 8. A sizable Indian team is expected there.

In an excellent article (dated July 24, 2022) that summarizes the ascent of Anderson Peters and also offers insight into his rivalry with Neeraj Chopra, Nihal Koshie of Indian Express writes, “   The 2016 Under-20 World Championships in Poland is where Neeraj Chopra and Grenada’s Anderson Peters had their first big showdown. This was two years before Peters, who has studied in the United States since 2017, threw 81.95 metres to break the Mississippi State’s freshman record. At the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium, Chopra became the junior world champion and an overnight star. His 86.48 metres was a world junior record. Johan Grobler (80.59m) of South Africa was second and third, almost unnoticed in the frenzy in India, was Peters (79.65m). Peters had set a national under-20 mark but back then Chopra was anointed as the future star.’’

According to the piece, what makes Anderson Peters a force to reckon with is his ability to produce a big throw towards the end of a competition. Neeraj in contrast, is known for his big throws in the initial phase. At the final in Eugene too, although the Grenadian athlete was strong throughout, with three throws in excess of 90m, it was his last one – 90.54m – that turned out to be the best. To read the Indian Express article in full, please click on this link:  https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/sport-others/cricket-loving-fast-bowler-anderson-peters-beats-neeraj-chopra-to-take-javelin-gold-8048404/

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