Athreya Chidambi (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

We speak to Athreya Chidambi, runner of multiple distance categories but above all, a lover of trails.

The Auroville Marathon is a much loved event in the Indian calendar for amateur running. It is mostly on trails and unpaved roads. What makes it special is also something else. There is no timing chip. It is a minor difference from the regular running event but one that is profound if you are the sort declining life with blinds. Removing timing chip from the frame restores to running dimensions missed at races. Every year the Auroville Marathon gets its faithful seeking a paradigm apart from the killer competition of Indian cities. “ Auroville is one marathon I try to do every year,’’ the wiry, bearded man said. The fragility of his view was evident as he spoke. Right there in the café on Bengaluru’s MG Road, the table next to us was resonant with high decibel conversation of selling some product, moving consignments around and clinching deals before competition did. Can you be happy these days, doing something just for the love of it; without beating somebody? Good question.

With friends at Auroville Marathon (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

We play to win. In world dominated by the brain’s analytical and engineering faculties (a quality we increasingly bring to sport too), Athreya Chidambi aspired for a career in art. He was born in 1978 in Bengaluru, growing up thereafter in the city. As a school student he was active in sports – mainly basketball and football – but constant companion all along, was drawing and sketching. His father worked as a management consultant; his mother taught at the same school Athreya attended – Mallya Aditi. Following school, he joined Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat in the city to do a foundation course in art. But that inevitable child of the Indian rat race – the question: what employment prospects will you have? – wormed its way into his environment. None in his family had studied art and while successful artists exist, a career in art has never been without its share of ups and downs. Indian imagination on the other hand values security. So a tweak was made. He shifted to Melbourne in Australia to do a course in multimedia; that subject seemed safer bet for livelihood than pure art. However, his return to India coincided with the dotcom bust. “ It took a while to get a job,’’ Athreya said laughing. When it came, it was with a company called Thought Gun. He worked there for about a year and then joined in Mumbai as a web designer. It was during the two years he spent in Mumbai, that the first edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM / now called Tata Mumbai Marathon) happened. Curious, he participated in the event’s seven kilometer-Dream Run.

At the 2006 London Marathon; Athreya in `Serpentine’ vest (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

In 2004, Athreya shifted to London where his sister stayed. He had a “ working holiday visa.’’ London was a runner-friendly city. It had large parks and small hills that could be easily accessed by public transport. There were pavements to run on. People gave way to pedestrians. When one runner saw another, a “ hello’’ or “ good morning’’ was said. There were running events spanning distance categories ranging from five kilometers to multi-day events and they were spread throughout the year. Plus, you had access to a wide variety of clothes and equipment for running. January 2005, Athreya started training to run; he also signed up for a half marathon – it was called Three Forts Challenge – scheduled for May that year. Three Forts was held in a small town outside London. The run went off well for Athreya, he finished in two hours. “ I was very happy with it,’’ he said. Trusting his longstanding acquaintance with sport and not yet knowing the details and micro-details of progression in distance running, he decided to aim next for a full marathon. He signed up for the Budapest Marathon of October 2005. He isn’t sure what motivated him to vault from first half marathon to first full marathon so soon and so early in his running career. “ One of my seniors from school had done the New York Marathon. I suspect that may have prompted me to register for Budapest,’’ Athreya said.

In June 2005, Athreya joined London’s Serpentine Running Club. The club’s origin is linked to the London Marathon, one of the world’s top running events; its first edition was in 1982. To prepare and train for the 1983 edition of the event, a group of runners had formed a club, since well-known as Serpentine Running Club. Wikipedia describes it as a cross country running club that draws members from across Greater London. A member of Serpentine is called a “ Serpie.’’ Athreya found their outings helpful; they were quite structured with distances assigned and pacers allotted for each category. Besides regular runs, there were hill-running sessions every Saturday. Athreya got by on a mix of getting tips from coaches and figuring out things himself. It was trial and error. Luckily injuries were few. Aside from a minor brush with shin splints, there wasn’t anything major. In October he completed the Budapest Marathon in 03:22:38. However his good fortune didn’t sustain. At the next marathon he signed up for, an event in London, he got cramps. Then in April 2006, Athreya ran the London Marathon. “ Entry was by lottery and I just proved lucky. Two of my friends who had been in the UK longer, didn’t get it. I think I was just lucky,’’ he said. The London Marathon was an experience. “ I had never seen a crowd so big. Everyone comes out to cheer. Belonging to Serpentine, which is a major club, also helped; you are noticed and encouraged. At London, it is hard not to run even if you are struggling,’’ he said. He completed the London Marathon in 03:41:49.

Running at the Bengaluru Marathon (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

Besides the above mentioned races, during his stay in UK, Athreya also ran the Nike 10k, Luton Marathon, Watford Half, Hastings Half and Clapham Common 10k. For food on the table, he worked freelance. He traveled a lot in the UK; he also visited Hungary and Norway. In 2006, soon after the London Marathon he returned to Bengaluru. To keep his running alive, he initially trained near his house. Then, he joined Runners for Life (RFL). In Bengaluru, he set his eyes on the Bangalore Ultra, deciding to attempt the 78k category they had then. “ To my mind, there is difference between how the west approaches running and how India does. There, things are structured. Here it is more a case of being bitten by the bug, experimenting and carrying on. I got no formal education here on how to progress or effect transitions from one distance category to another. When it came to the ultra, I just decided to try it,’’ Athreya said. He planned his route to Bangalore Ultra with the Kaveri Trail Marathon (KTM) of September 2007, in between. It was designed by the organizers as a stepping stone to Bangalore Ultra. Athreya completed KTM with timing of 03:57:47. He found that he liked running on trails. You can take a road-run for granted because the surface is even. Not so, trails. “ On trails you have to watch every step. I also find that I recover faster from trail runs. After most of my road-running events, I am tired for three to four days. With trail runs, I recover in a day or two,’’ he said. Notwithstanding KTM, Athreya was laid low by a stomach bug during the Bangalore Ultra. He had to DNF (Did Not Finish) at around 50 kilometer-mark. “ For a long time I was dejected and depressed. Slowly I got over it,’’ he said. The reversal he suffered remained in the head as unfinished business. Next year he enrolled for the Great Tibetan Marathon (GTM), which used to be held in Ladakh. A week before the event he tore a ligament. He ran GTM wearing a brace, finishing the event at altitude in approximately 04:32:19 hours. Next on the agenda was to address that unfinished business at the Bangalore Ultra, the route to which lay through KTM. This time he DNF-ed at KTM (conditions were quite warm and he got cramps) but completed the 75 kilometer-category of Bangalore Ultra, successfully. He finished in 09:05:43.

At Kaveri Trail Marathon (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

Apart from some exceptions, the bulk of Athreya’s running has been in peninsular India. One likely reason for this was a factor he repeatedly kept observing the evening we met – Bengaluru may have become chaotic and its traffic, horrible, but it still has that weather, which is probably the best among big Indian cities for running. Like Auroville, which he frequents to run free of the tyranny of timing, two other events that surface consistently on Athreya’s annual list are KTM and Bangalore Ultra. In 2009, the year he got married, he ran the 75k category at the Bangalore Ultra. In 2010, he did the 100k covering the distance in 12:06:18. He also made a foray into a business that brought a touch of nature to people’s homes. For quite sometime now, Bengaluru with its mix of young people, educational institutions, software companies and well-traveled executives has been India’s city of ideas. After they got married, Athreya’s wife who worked at Infosys, quit her job. She and three others – Athreya among them – commenced a start-up that tapped the opportunity to grow plants in the balconies of houses; it was called For regular job, Athreya also worked at a company called Logica.

At TCS 10k (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

At Javadhu Hills Ultra (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

By now, Athreya’s distance running was well past the days of introduction to the sport. In 2011, he got into a 24 week-training plan for ultra-running, the first time he was doing so. That year he got his personal best at KTM – 03:14:24. It was followed by the 50k category at Bangalore Ultra, completed in 03:58:56. This phase of running was different for a few more reasons. For the first time, Athreya felt competitive in a race. By now he was also running Bengaluru’s annual 10k (associated originally with Sunfeast and later with TCS), covering the distance in around 40 minutes. He also trimmed his preferred ultra-distance to 50 kilometers; that’s what he has mostly stuck to since at the Bangalore Ultra and similar runs elsewhere. In 2012 Athreya joined Aditi Technologies.

There wasn’t much running in 2012-2013. In 2015, he ran the 50k category of the Javadhu Hills Ultra. Athreya explained why trail running suited him. First, he likes nature. “ I have always been an outdoors person; I am not the city type,’’ he said. Second, he is the sort who usually trains alone. He likes that solitude. “ I can’t take crowds. I typically train on my own. In Bengaluru, I normally train on a mud track near Ulsoor. The other place I train at is Nandi Hills. Traffic is less there and I get to do both road and trail-running,’’ he said. Third, he likes small races. “ They don’t end up extremely competitive like the races in cities. They remain a personal experience. Running has always been a personal experience for me. If I do better, it is for my own self. Trail running is hard initially. To get through distances all by yourself on trails, is mentally tougher than managing a city based-race where you have people egging you on,’’ Athreya said. He covered the 50k distance category at Javadhu in 04:16:21. In 2015 he quit Aditi Technologies and partnered his runner friend, Dharmender, to see if coaching runners attracted as profession. Dharmender, who used to work at KPMG effected that switch successfully. Athreya didn’t find it his cup of tea. But that phase indirectly helped for the regimen of coaching at Bengaluru’s Kanteerava Stadium and adhering to training plans, improved his performance particularly in the half marathon and 10k. In 2015, he ran the half marathon in Hyderabad in 01:26:33 and the annual 10k in Bengaluru in 39:30 minutes. By 2016, he had lowered the timing in 10k at this event to 37:41 and at another similar event, to 37:06 minutes.

At Malnad Ultra (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

In 2016 Athreya also made a departure from his 50k-fixation in ultra-runs, to attempt the 110 kilometer-category at Malnad Ultra. He knew the organizers and had been part of the team, which did the recce. Athreya wrote in his blog about why he chose this race: As most people progressed to running distances of 75k, 100k and 24 hours, I decided to stay at 50k. 50k had become my go-to race distance. I stuck to trail races and wanted to get better at the distance before I went back to doing ultras. And it did get better – I got stronger at the distance but I had got comfortable. I needed to get out of my comfort zone and see where I was at in terms of longer distances. The Malnad Ultra route was through coffee estates. To train for the event, he ramped up weekly mileage to roughly 100 km per week, peaking at around 120 km. He did several 40k runs around Nandi Hills and once, an 80k. He trained alone. On race day, Malnad went well for Athreya till around the 80k-mark. Then things started to go downhill. Amid the running, he had missed having lunch. By the time he reached the last 10 kilometers, he was tired and delirious. He finished in 13:45:55 hours. What doesn’t satisfy stays as unfinished business. Following Malnad, he ran the half marathon at Bengaluru’s annual marathon. In 2017, he came back to Malnad and did the 110k all over again (this time the course was slightly different with more elevation), completing it in 13:11:45 hours. Then as before, he ran the half marathon in Bengaluru, finishing it in 01:28:35. Same year he also did the 75k at Javadhu completing it in eight hours.

Running the Chennai Trail Marathon (Photo: courtesy Athreya Chidambi)

Another race Athreya ran in 2017 was the Chennai Trail Marathon. “ Many of us got lost while running that,’’ he said. Getting lost is one of the problems faced in trail-running. In trail-runs, the location is typically away from crowded city centers, people are few on the course and off it, markers may be inadequate and as happens sometimes – volunteers may give you directions but dropped off in wilderness, they may be as confused as you are. In some trail-running events, runners have to do the navigation themselves. If you are terribly competitive or seeking money’s worth, things going wrong can be an irritant. Racers sometimes come off cursing event organizers for what went wrong. I asked Athreya how he reacts to an incident of getting lost. “ For me, I guess, it is okay, part of the deal. I try to enjoy that also. I would probably go mad if it was a city that I got lost in. On trails, I have no expectations. If I get lost, I get lost. That’s one more way to know a place,’’ he said. In the running he has logged so far, Athreya has had several podium finishes in his age category, spanning both ultra-distances and the shorter ones. At the time of writing, what he wanted to try next was a 100 miler. “ I want to do it well, do it within a certain time,’’ he said. As for places he would like to run in, there was Kutch, Khardung La, Hong Kong and Nepal’s Annapurna circuit.

When people meet, they exchange visiting cards. Athreya’s was sky blue in colour with letters printed in white. The card introduced him as designer of useful experiences and illustrator. The reverse of the card was yellow with a sky blue circle at its center. Within the circle were a running shoe and the tag line: designer on the run. His website was no different. It declared unabashedly: this website combines my love for running and design.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with Athreya Chidambi. Timings at races are as mentioned by interviewee.)             


Rohit Yadav training with the new javelin at his village (Photo: courtesy Sabhajeet Yadav)

March 14, 2018.

“ Rohit is very happy,’’ Sabhajeet Yadav said about his son who has commenced training with a brand new javelin.

According to him, Bhasker Desai sponsored the Nemeth javelin; their friend Melvin made the necessary arrangements for sourcing the javelin and dispatching it. “ We collected it from Meerut yesterday,’’ Sabhajeet said.

Sabhajeet Yadav, a farmer from Dabhiya, Uttar Pradesh, is a well-known amateur runner with several podium finishes in his age category.

Rohit in action (Photo: courtesy Sabhajeet Yadav)

Rohit is a former gold medalist in javelin-throw at the World School Games.

Asked about the new javelin and how it felt in training sessions, Rohit said that it made a lot of difference.

For more on Rohit and his journey so far, please scroll down to the article immediately preceding this report or click on this link:

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


In Dabhiya, Rohit Yadav with the homemade javelin he started out with (Photo: courtesy Sabhajeet Yadav)

A promising young athlete, returning to sport after failing an anti-doping test, wants to procure a good javelin. This is an article on amateur runner Sabhajeet Yadav and his son Rohit, who was gold medalist in javelin-throw at the 2016 World School Games.  

March 1, 2018. Tucked away in the sports section of the morning newspaper was a report about a 29 year-old Indian athlete returned positive under anti-doping tests conducted by the newly set up Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). The sport in question – yet again javelin-throw – reminded of another incident less than a year ago.

A farmer from Dabhiya in Uttar Pradesh, Sabhajeet Yadav, 62, is known in the world of Indian amateur running as a consistent podium finisher in his age category. He counts on the prize money he gets from running as additional income stream. One of his personal projects has been training his son, Rohit, to become an athlete of repute in the javelin-throw. Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus is where this blog catches up with Sabhajeet. Having come for a marathon in town, secured a podium finish and with an hour to spare before train to UP departs, he would sit down for a chat and cup of tea. On some of these occasions, he had mentioned his desire to see Rohit participate in the Olympic Games.

Javelin-throw is one of the oldest disciplines at the Olympics. According to Wikipedia, it was part of the pentathlon at the ancient Olympic Games. In those days, it was judged for distance and target. Javelin-throw became part of the modern Olympics at the 1906 Intercalated Games held in Athens, an event that has stopped being counted as an official Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While we are used to seeing the javelin thrown with one hand, in the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, there was a phase when judging at competitions was based on the aggregate best a person could achieve throwing separately with the right and left arms. This practice featured at the Olympics just once, in 1912. After that, it faded. Three countries – Norway, Sweden and Finland – have dominated javelin-throw in the men’s category. They account for almost 50 per cent of the Olympic medals given out so far in the discipline, for men. Women’s javelin-throw was added to the Olympic program in 1932.

As interesting as the sport’s history, is the evolution of the javelin. For a long time, javelins were made of wood with a steel tip. In the 1950s, pole vaulter-turned javelin thrower, Budd Held of the US, introduced the `Held Javelin,’ which was hollow and aerodynamic. Its later models were made entirely of metal. These new javelins flew farther but they also tended to land flat, making for some landings that were difficult to measure accurately, Wikipedia says. Experiments to redesign started in the early 1980s. They were fueled by one more concern – the javelin was now being thrown by athletes so far that it threatened to exceed the dimensions of a normal stadium infield. In 1984, Uwe Hohn of East Germany (since unified with West Germany to become Germany) had set a record of 104.80 meters. The redesigned javelin, approved in 1986, saw its center of gravity moved forward marginally, the surface area in front of the center of gravity reduced and the same behind, increased. These innovations helped contain the distance traveled and ensure that the projectile landed stuck in the ground. Interestingly this design was also tinkered with in the competition to achieve longer throws. In 1991, the authorities outlawed javelins with serrated tails and reset records with retrospective effect.

According to his profile, available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Rohit Yadav was born in 2001. News of him training in his village appeared in the media some years ago in a report following Sabhajeet’s podium finish at the Mumbai Marathon. The report engaged as window to the family’s drive and ingenuity. Unable to afford a modern javelin, Rohit trained with a homemade one. In times when the javelin’s design and engineering are as important as athlete’s ability to extract a world class throw, a homemade javelin is inadequate means to train. “ I made that javelin from bamboo. I had a photo of a javelin to guide me. I did not follow any established specifications about size, weight or anything like that. The crudely made javelin was not good for the hands. Rohit used it for two years,’’ Sabhajeet said. The path Sabhajeet and Rohit took, of making their own javelin, would be what India calls jugaad. Happening in underprivileged circumstances, jugaad addresses a need with none of the finesse or elegance that marks well made, well designed products.  What shows through is refusal to be stopped. The underlying curiosity shouldn’t be dismissed. It was the same curiosity – albeit in a different, more sophisticated environment – that yielded the Held Javelin.

Sabhajeet Yadav (left) and Rohit; the javelin in Sabhajeet’s hands is the one bought from Patiala (Photo: courtesy Sabhajeet)

Prior to the 1950s, nearly all the best throws in the world had been with javelins made in Finland, using northern birch. Budd Held, who was studying engineering at Stanford University, observed one day that one of his Finnish javelins traveled farther than the rest. As per a detailed account available on the Internet, Held studied that javelin closely, took accurate measurements and discovered that the front section of the javelin was slightly larger in diameter than the tail section. The wood in the front section was also bit softer. All this was probably an oversight in manufacture but the improved travel resident in that single specimen and subsequent analysis of it, was what led Held to come up with his own design – the Held Javelin. Training with homemade javelin didn’t stop Rohit from graduating through the ranks. It helped him reach state level-events, where better javelins were available for athlete. “ We then bought a javelin for Rs 12,000 from Patiala,’’ Sabhajeet said. By July 2016, Rohit had secured a gold medal at the World School Games with a throw of 72.57 meters. In May 2017, he got silver at the second Asian Youth Athletics Championship held in Bangkok.

Then disaster struck.

In May 2017, the media reported that Rohit had failed a dope test conducted by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA); he had tested positive for the banned substance stanozolol and was set to be stripped of the silver medal he won in Bangkok. The news shocked Sabhajeet; it was keenly tracked by those in the amateur running community, many of who knew Sabhajeet. Eventually, Rohit was given a one year-ban. According to Sabhajeet, the ban is from May 21, 2017 to May 21, 2018. At the time of writing, Rohit’s best throw on record – as available on his IAAF profile – was 76.11 meters (for comparison, the national record is 86.48 meters set by Neeraj Chopra while the world record is 98.48 meters held by Czech athlete, Jan Zelezny). When we brought up the subject of Rohit a few months after he was banned from competing for a year, Sabhajeet was in tears, unable to handle the topic. He claimed his son was innocent and the family had no idea how stanozolol had got into him. Over time the setback appears to have got processed in the head. By the time we met him for a chat after the 2018 Tata Mumbai Marathon (where he earned a podium finish for the seventh time), Sabhajeet was more hopeful and imagining the way ahead once Rohit recommenced competing at events (he would have to work his way up all over again). The father-son duo’s plan is to attempt the qualifying round for the 2018 Youth Olympics scheduled to be held in October in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “ The qualifying round will be held two months ahead of the Games. If he qualifies he will be sent for the Games by the government. As of now, he will continue to train here in the village. If he does well and we get a reliable coach, then he will be sent for training,’’ Sabhajeet said.

One of the things Sabhajeet would like to have for his son’s journey ahead, is a modern, competition-standard javelin to train with. The best javelins are manufactured overseas. According to data on the Internet, leading names in the business include Nemeth Javelins (company founded by Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian athlete who was gold medalist in javelin-throw at the Montreal Olympics), Nordic Sport and OTE javelins. The javelin will have to be imported and Sabhajeet believes that the cost could be anywhere between Rs 80,000 to 100,000. Mumbai based-businessman and amateur runner, Bhasker Desai, has been Sabhajeet’s benefactor for several years. He has stepped in to do the needful. But the intervention, while addressing an immediate need, will have limited relevance because Rohit will move into the senior category in a couple of years’ time. There is disparity in specifications (mainly, weight) between competition javelins used in the senior category and the one, Rohit can use now.  A mechanism to support his journey in a more sustained fashion will need to be looked into.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are freelance journalists based in Mumbai. For more on Sabhajeet Yadav please click on this link:



Illustration: Shyam G Menon

This article deals with the transition from running comparatively modest distances like the half marathon, to running the full marathon. It is a mix of the coach’s perspective and the personal experience of a few runners who recently did their first full marathon. This is not a training manual. It is a compilation of observations and experiences.

At the expo preceding the 2018 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), a group of monks from the Coimbatore-based Isha Yoga Centre, awaited their turn to collect bibs for the run.

Young and dressed in saffron kurta and dhoti, some of them were transitioning to the full marathon after having run the half marathon for a couple of years. It wasn’t entirely their choice. One reason attributed for the transition was that slots for the half marathon filled up fast and the only option available was enrolling for the full marathon. Enrolment for TMM typically opens up in the latter half of July. Slots for the half marathon are prone to getting filled up within a week; entry to full marathon stays open for a longer period. TMM is among Asia’s biggest marathons in terms of participation; away from heavily attended segments like the Dream Run, meant to endear the event to its home city, the half marathon sees the most number of runners. The progression to full marathon (distance of 42.2 kilometres) from half marathon (distance of 21.097 kilometres) must rest on real reasons, running coaches aver. According to Satish Gujaran, Mumbai based-ultramarathon runner, who the team from Isha Yoga Centre looked to as coach and guide, the monks had a generally high level of fitness. That attribute weighed in when the team eventually decided to attempt the full marathon.

Suchita Varadkar (Photo: courtesy Suchita)

Suchita Varadkar, Mumbai-based coach, is often seen encouraging her wards at major running events. Sometime in the late 1980s, while still in college, she did a teacher’s training course in yoga, thereby making her foray into the world of fitness. Running, she said, is a workout entailing much impact. A marathon involves running for a long period of time and that means putting the body’s joints at risk. “ Therefore, the prime focus should be health,” Suchita, who was an athlete before she turned coach, said. With emphasis on sports limited at most schools and colleges, many Indians living in these times of running’s ascent in the country, get exposed to sporting activity late in life. Consequently running a marathon can be quite challenging. Planning followed by systematic training should preferably commence a year ahead of the event, coaches we contacted, said.

Mumbai-based marathoner Ashok Someshwar has been running for several years. A podium finisher at some events, Ashok believes the right way to progress would be to start with running five kilometres and then graduate to tackling 10 kilometres. “ It would be nice to participate in events featuring these distances frequently as the distances are not too long and recovery is faster,’’ he said. Once this process has been pursued for a year, training can commence for 10 milers (16 kilometres) and the half marathon. “ To be good at running a half marathon, it takes a few years. It would be advisable to continue running half marathons for at least two to three years. This should be combined with regular five kilometre and 10 kilometre-runs so that it is possible to set a target for the half marathon. Once a person has done half a dozen half marathons and is really comfortable with the distance – by this I mean racing and not just running – then, he or she is ready to plunge in to the full marathon, if and only if half marathons are finished comfortably,’’ Ashok said. According to Suchita, the progression should largely depend on fitness. However she added that there are runners, whose graph is quite sharp; they are able to shave off minutes, race after race. She pointed out the example of endurance athlete Chitra Nadkarni.

For recreational runners, running a marathon is an activity spanning a few hours. For this reason, running a marathon requires not only cardiovascular endurance but muscular endurance as well, Suchita said. Strength training with special focus on glutes and core is imperative. “ Ideally, a marathon should be completed within five hours. Running for any period beyond five hours is exposing oneself to too much dehydration, especially in Indian weather conditions,” Suchita said. In fact, according to some coaches, while a marathon may be only double the distance of a half marathon, the effort required is nearly four times.

Ashok Someshwar (Photo: courtesy Ashok)

Before the actual training for a marathon commences, base mileages have to be stepped up. The bare minimum training, according to Ashok, is at least five months, with the first month spent in building a decent mileage base. This should be in accordance with a training schedule of 16 weeks incorporating speed intervals, tempo runs and long runs besides strength training and core workouts at least twice a week. “ There should be a minimum of three long runs exceeding 32 kilometres built into this schedule,’’ Ashok said. Marathon training has to take into account many facets of fitness training – among them are aerobic and anaerobic efficiency, flexibility, nutrition and rest. Speaking to this blog in early 2016, well-known coach and athlete from Bengaluru, K.C. Kothandapani had said that his training for the marathon and shorter distances cover three aspects – base endurance, speed endurance and race strategy and pace. Every fourth week was an easy step-down week wherein training volume was reduced by 50 per cent (please click on this link for the article on Kothandapani:

Ashok’s journey to running long distances started in 2006 when he did his first half marathon at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (now TMM). He moved to full marathon after five years of running SCMM. Some of the friends he was training with had been running the full marathon. He was soon drawn to the idea of running the distance. “ I had been trekking for long and walking long distances was always a part of my life. This made me attempt the full marathon,’’ he said. Ashok drew up a plan with the help of coach, Daniel Vaz, who has been his mentor for a long time. He followed the plan diligently. “ I started training for the full marathon almost one year in advance for mileage-building and then followed a strict plan for six months.  I followed most of the rules of training. However I was a bit short on sleep due to office commitments,’’ Ashok said. At the time of writing, he had been running full marathons for seven years, interspersing it with half marathons and 10 kilometre-runs.

Swami Lavana running the 2018 TMM (Photo: courtesy Swami Lavana)

A seasoned runner, Satish was keenly aware of the preparation needed for a full marathon. With the Isha Yoga Centre team suddenly staring at the prospects of running a full, he had to foment a decision. “ I was at the ashram for only two days and during that time I provided them tips on how to train for the marathon. Later I guided them remotely. But they didn’t have adequate time to spare; they hadn’t also trained formally for sports earlier. What they did have going in their favour were two other factors – they were young and their fitness level was high. I felt they could try the marathon,’’ Satish said. When we met them at the 2018 TMM expo, Swami Lavana and his colleagues from Isha Yoga Centre expressed their eagerness to attempt the full marathon for the first time. Born Raghavendra Anisetty, Swami Lavana had initially secured his mechanical engineering degree and found employment at Toyota Kirloskar Motors. Six months later, he resigned and proceeded to do the Inner Engineering course from Isha Foundation. Moving deeper into the subject, he eventually became a monk at the Centre.

For most runners, transitioning to the marathon from shorter distances is logical next step. Mumbai based-Deepa Raut commenced running in 2014. Training sporadically, Deepa just went along with the flow. In her third year of recreational running, she was hit by the full marathon bug. From idea to actual event she had sufficient time to train systematically. In 2018 she chose to skip TMM and instead enrolled for the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, which is usually held five days after the Mumbai event. She trained under runner and triathlete Vivek Menon, who drew up a schedule for her based on her pace at previous running events. “ The first month of training was entirely focused on discovering my capacity,’’ Deepa said. She diligently followed Vivek’s plan, which incorporated speed workout and tempo runs. As her training progressed, Vivek kept tweaking the plan to push her limits. “ I guess I was able to push my limits because I used to be good in sports in school days,’’ Deepa said. Although coaching Deepa, Vivek’s trajectory was tad different. He has been running for seven years. From regularly running the half marathon, Vivek chose to move to the triathlon. “ It’s never about doing big distances. Finishing strong is key,’’ he said.

Vivek Menon (Photo: courtesy Vivek)

Vivek figured that training for the full marathon is relatively tougher and more intense compared to the Half Ironman (triathlon). Nevertheless, he decided to attempt the full marathon at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on January 26, 2018. He had also decided to participate in a Half Ironman at Colombo on February 25. Managing the training for both these disciplines entailed an extremely packed schedule. He switched between swimming, cycling and running. Strength training is integral to marathon training. Prone to injuries, Vivek opted to do pilates. Juggling all this amid regular Mumbai life isn’t a joke. Deepa’s strength training fell short of actual requirement. “ I could manage only 20 per cent of the required strength training,’’ she said. Lowering body weight to the requisite level is critical for marathon training, Vivek said. Nutrition assumes importance.

With wear and tear being high in marathon training, eating the right food is absolutely critical, Suchita said. Carbo-loading is important and at the same time some amount of protein – be it plant protein or animal protein – should be included in the diet. Also, snacking should be healthy. “ Any diet adopted, has to be sustainable,’’ she said. In that endeavour, cutting out refined sugar is the fastest way to drop weight and it helps in reviving energy levels, Vivek said. He also chose to stay away from parties to keep off alcohol as it can mess with sleep and hydration. Managing a full-time job, son and home, Deepa had a tough time time in this department too; she was not able to perfect her diet. For Swami Lavana, attention to nutrition was impossible as he cannot decide his meals at Isha Yoga Centre. Training for the full marathon takes away much of one’s personal time, Vivek and Deepa, both first time marathon runners, said. If structured training is critical to participate in the full marathon, tapering is equally important, Suchita reminded. During the tapering period, weekly mileages are lowered to the extent of 10-15 per cent and there are no tempo and speed runs. This helps recovery.

Satish Gujaran (right) with the team from Isha Yoga Centre (Photo: courtesy Swami Lavana)

At the start line of 2018 TMM, Swami Lavana was a bundle of excitement. “ My run started quite well. I was running fine till around 30-31 kilometre-mark. My pace was in line with my practice. But after that I started to feel discomfort in my thigh muscles and left knee. My pace then started to drop,’’ he said. He had to resort to doing stretches along the way. “ But in the last kilometre there was a different level of energy with all the clapping and cheering.  That prompted me to sprint to the finish line,’’ Swami Lavana said two weeks after TMM. He completed his first marathon in 4:27 hours, running the distance barefoot, clad in monk’s attire of long kurta and dhoti. “ There was some fear about running 42 kilometres before the run. But once I started, I found the experience so wonderful,’’ he said. His colleague, Swami Patu, completed his maiden marathon in a time of 3:48 hours. Having completed his first marathon, Swami Lavana now sees value in focussed training. With limited time on his hands, he will have to find ways to train. For Swami Lavana, running in monk’s attire has not been an issue. If it rains during a run, then running becomes a problem as wet clothes weigh you down, he said.

Deepa Raut (Photo: courtesy Deepa)

Deepa trained as best as she could for her maiden marathon. Still no matter how well runner plans, race day takes its own course. At 7 AM when the run commenced, temperatures in Dubai were around 14 degrees Celsius. “ Till about the thirteenth or fourteenth kilometre I was sleepy. My ears were shut because of the cold. Unexpectedly, the temperature shot up to 25-27 degrees Celsius by around 9:30 AM,’’ Deepa said. Up to the thirtieth kilometre, Deepa ran along with Darshita, a Dubai-based runner, who was also running her first full marathon. “ She was the one who pulled up my pace but after the thirtieth kilometre she started getting cramps. I decided to go along with her to ensure that she completes her maiden full marathon. Had I gone ahead, she would have quit the race,’’ Deepa said. Deepa finished in 5:23 hours, tad outside her target of five hours.

In the run up to the Dubai marathon, Vivek had trained well. He also helped other runners with training plans. But a week prior to the Dubai run, he broke his elbow. He could not straighten his arm. “ I had trained so much. My flight and stay were all booked. I decided to go along and see what I could do,’’ Vivek said. Running is done with the legs. But in the overall action of running, the arms play an important supportive role. We instinctively move our arms as we run. Vivek had his doctor put his arm in a cast before he left for Dubai. “ In Dubai, I commenced my run at a controlled pace. But around 12 kilometres my arm started to ache. It was way too early in the race. By the 21 kilometre-mark, it was too much to manage. Also, given sweating my cast started to get heavy. I stopped at an ambulance to see if the cast can be removed but the staff inside the vehicle did not have a cast cutter,’’ he said. At the 26 kilometre-mark, Vivek seriously contemplated DNF (Did Not Finish). Weighed by cast and his running form affected as a result, new problems set in. “ Because of the imbalance in my running my right ankle started to give me trouble,’’ he said. From this point onwards, Vivek resorted to a mix of running and walking. He finished the run in 5:01 hours, against his target of sub-four hours.

Chitra Nadkarni (Photo: courtesy Chitra)

Sometimes you hit your first full marathon en route to attempting something much longer. Endurance athlete Chitra Nadkarni is a podium finisher at most runs she has participated in, in India. Her recreational running career commenced in 2012 and in 2013 she attempted her first half marathon in Hyderabad. She then started thinking of doing Comrades, an ultramarathon of around 89 kilometres in South Africa. Even as she was training for Comrades, she ended up running her first full marathon in Amsterdam following it up with the full marathon at the 2015 Mumbai Marathon. “ Training for Comrades helped me do the full marathon,’’ she said. Once she finished her Comrades in mid-2015, Chitra started focusing on diet. She wanted to move on to the Half Ironman (triathlon) and realised that she was falling short in strength training. A full marathon, according to her, is very challenging. “ Mentally, it takes a lot and you are alone on the road for that distance,’’ she said. Many recreational runners opt to move to ultra-distances from having attempted the half marathon, skipping the full marathon in between or running it during the journey to ultra. By no yardstick does that dilute the challenge in a full marathon. The combination of full marathon distance and the need to complete it in respectable timing makes the full marathon an engaging problem to sweat over. Running a full marathon within a stipulated time frame can be quite challenging, runners we spoke to said.

Hence – the need to tackle that progression, slowly, steadily.

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


From the PNSMTI basic skiing course (Photo: courtesy Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu)

The Munsyari based-Pandit Nain Singh Surveyor Mountaineering Training Institute (PNSMTI), the country’s youngest institute of its sort has just wrapped up its basic course in skiing for the year. This was the third such course for the institute; it had previously held basic skiing courses in 2016 and 2017.

Commissioned on October 20, 2015 (the birth anniversary of Pandit Nain Singh Rawat), PNSMTI is still in its early days. It falls under the Sports Department of the Government of Uttarakhand. PNSMTI doesn’t have a proper campus yet but has commenced work with an annual skiing course. The institute is also free to organize / host outdoor management programs and leadership programs for interested companies.

From the PNSMTI basic skiing course (Photo: courtesy Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu)

“ Going ahead, we would like to have a bigger portfolio of courses,’’ Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu, Officer on Special Duty (OSD), PNSMTI, said. Reena is an accomplished trekker and mountaineer, who is also the first Indian woman to ski to the South Pole. Skiing is a subject close to her heart. Pandit Nain Singh Rawat, in whose memory the institute was established, is among India’s greatest explorers of the Himalaya (For more on Pandit Nain Singh please click on this link: ). He hailed from Johar valley near Munsyari, in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region.

From the PNSMTI basic skiing course (Photo: courtesy Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu)

PNSMTI’s skiing course accepts 30 students. The course is for two weeks and is held in February. The course fee is Rs 12,000; it is subsidized by the state’s sports department. The fee covers all costs including cost of training, equipment, boarding and lodging. Students come from Uttarakhand and other states. According to Reena, what makes the PNSMTI course unique is the ski slope they use. Located on Khalia Top near Munsyari, the slope is at an elevation of 11,500 feet making it among the highest ski slopes in the country that a student can hope to get trained at. “ The view from Khalia Top is spectacular. You can see Nanda Devi and its surrounding peaks, the Panchchuli range and other peaks of the Johar region,’’ Reena said.

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


Veteran mountaineer Harish Kapadia provides the audience an overview of the Himalayan Club’s history. As of 2018, the club was 90 years old. (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The 2018 annual seminar of the Himalayan Club stayed true to how the world of hiking and climbing has always been in Mumbai – it is a small, tightly knit world of those appreciative of these pursuits. Talks by two riveting climbers – Mick Fowler and Catherine Destivelle – anchored this year’s proceedings. Strung between these two presentations, were talks by Mark Liechty, David Breashears, Maya Sherpa and Vineeta Muni.

The two day seminar held over February 17-18, was inaugurated by industrialist Adi Godrej; the Godrej family has been longstanding benefactors of the club. Also present was Nadir Godrej. It was announced on the second day of proceedings that British mountaineer, Mick Fowler, known for his alpine style expeditions to attempt tough, unclimbed routes at altitude, had been made an honorary member of the Himalayan Club. As of 2018, the club was 90 years old. In all that time, only 28 people were selected for honorary membership.

Mick Fowler (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Both in his presentation and a brief chat he had later with this blog, Mick mentioned that he didn’t belong to that school which tries to secure success at any cost on an expedition. Failure is part of the game and it must be accepted. On more than one occasion Mick voiced his disapproval for drilling rock and installing expansion bolts (for placement of gear), something climbers are prone to do when a route is sketchy. It is bizarre to conclude that just because you couldn’t climb a route – using available holds – it can’t be done; particularly when younger generations are out-performing older ones. What should matter is – how you climbed an objective, he said. Mick’s choice of routes stands out for their high degree of technical difficulty and challenge. Asked how easy providing for potential failure is, given modern expeditions have several constituents including sponsors who invest for promised result, he admitted that it isn’t always an easy task. However, there are foundations and people providing grants, who look at mountaineering differently, valuing the challenge tackled more than the success guaranteed. This year’s Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lecture was delivered by Mick.

Far Out – the book by Mark Liechty. This image has been downloaded from the University of Chicago Press website and is being used here for representational purpose only.

Mark Liechty’s book, ` Far Out,’ won the club’s Kekoo Naoroji Book Award. Mark – through his acceptance speech following the prize ceremony – illustrated the context of the book and what it dealt with. As a quest to understand why and how the Himalaya came to mean what it did for the counter-culture movement, it is among few books out there to have tackled the subject and perhaps the only one enmeshing the quest with research. Shortly into his speech, Mark explained the book’s premise clearly, referring to an interview given by the actor and director of a recent Hollywood movie which alludes to the Himalaya in the mystical fashion the West is prone to. “ My guess is that many of you here have visited Kathmandu and I wonder how many of you found it to be “incredibly spiritual and marvelous,” – a place with “almost no Western influence,” a “deeply mystical and religious” place, a “most peaceful” city. How anyone could go to Kathmandu and not find a chaotic, noisy, polluted, crowded, underdeveloped city, I don’t know,’’ Mark said. Of course Kathmandu has its charms and the Nepalis are wonderful, gracious people. But the question that bothered Mark was – how is it that presumably reasonable people like that film crew could go to Nepal and find a place that arguably does not exist outside of their own imagination?

“ In a nutshell, that is the question I’m trying to answer in this book. After a lifetime of hearing comments like these, I wanted to know how and why Westerners have constructed not just an imagined Kathmandu, but an imagined Himalayan region marked by mystical alterity,’’ he said. As Mark dug deeper into these questions, he soon found that the kind of things the film crew was saying were anything but new. Rather, for most of the last 200 years Europeans and Americans had been imagining the Himalaya in similar, and sometimes almost identical, terms. “ Especially for counter-cultural figures—people unhappy with the secular, rational, capitalist West—the Himalaya was the last unknown place, and therefore the last place on which they could project their hopes, dreams, and fantasies for some other, uncontaminated, place,’’ he said. Mark, is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology and History and Coeditor, Studies on Nepal History and Society, University of Illinois, Chicago.

Maya Sherpa (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

You can’t think of American mountaineer David Breashears without Everest in the frame. He was the first American to summit the peak more than once. Among the world’s best known high altitude film makers, he was responsible for the IMAX movie on the mountain made several years ago, the shooting of which in 1996, happened the same season one of the biggest tragedies on the mountain (since famous as material for Jon Krakauer’s book: Into Thin Air) unfolded. At the seminar, his presentation dealt with the work around climate change that he is doing at Glacier Works, a non-profit organization he founded in 2007. While the organization’s work revolves around showing how climate change has impacted the glaciers of the Himalaya, David brought the issue closer home pointing out that as the world’s major ice caps melt leading to increase in sea level, Mumbai would be among cities potentially affected by it. He also shared his views on how commercial mountaineering has impacted the Everest environment, especially the location of camps along the main climbing route. A lot of cleaning up has been done but the scale of human presence on the mountain is not without accompanying impact.

Catherine Destivelle (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Catherine Destivelle’s presence at the seminar signified her first visit to India. She is one of the most iconic climbers in the history of the sport with a career that spans competition climbing to rock climbing and solo ascents to climbing on snow and ice in the big mountains. She opted for a combination of screening a film on three climbs in the European Alps that provided a window to her life and nature and replying to questions thereafter. Nepal’s Maya Sherpa came up the hard way. Having done her training, she was working in the country’s trekking industry when opportunities to climb manifested. With a handful of elite mountains – including K2 and Everest – already bagged, she confirmed that she is on a quest to climb all the fourteen 8000m peaks. Vineeta Muni’s presentation provided an overview of her long tenure in Indian mountaineering, including a trans-Himalayan hike done years ago in the company of others. A resident of Mumbai, Vineeta said that she owes much of what she came to know in life to her affection for the mountains.

The speakers answering questions from the audience. From left: Catherine Destivelle, Maya Sherpa, David Breashears, Vineeta Muni and Mick Fowler (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Later while answering questions from the audience, all the panelists agreed that anyone newly getting into climbing should train for the sport and not rush into it. They should allow things to evolve slowly, taking time for it. Knowing how to take care of oneself is important at altitude as failing to do so, potentially puts others too in danger. Both Catherine and Mick mentioned that they picked their friends in climbing, carefully.

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


David Breashears (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

David Breashears is among America’s best known mountaineers. He was the first American to climb Everest more than once. He is also a reputed film maker; he was the man behind the IMAX movie on Everest, which provided viewers a ringside experience of being on the peak. Several years before that, he had done the first live broadcast from Everest. Currently, David’s work largely revolves around Glacier Works, a non-profit organization he founded to spread awareness on the impact of climate change on Himalayan glaciers. His talk at the 2018 annual seminar of the Himalayan Club provided a snapshot of the work he was doing at Glacier Works. Among the visuals he showed were instances of old photographs shot by visitors to the Himalaya, replicated to the T after painfully locating the exact spot from where the original photograph was taken. Juxtapose new photograph on old; the story of glaciers melting and receding becomes clear. The same mountains, the same glaciers, the same valleys – then and now – the changes are striking. The newly shot images are technology-rich – they are panoramic and composed of multiple high resolution photographs. From the earlier generation of photographers – many of their works serve as archival material to compare contemporary images of glaciers with –  David was particularly appreciative of the contribution of Italian photographer, Vittorio Sella, whose stunning pictures of the Himalaya are held in high esteem. In the age of 24×7 media and mountaineering under its glare, few can surpass David’s knowledge of media in adventure and the outdoors. Outrigger caught up with him for a brief chat on the sidelines of the 2018 Himalayan Club annual seminar. Excerpts:

Years ago you had pioneered live broadcast from the top of Everest. Now you are using rich digital imagery at Glacier Works to drive home the impact of climate change at altitude. Can you tell us whether your relation with media and technology has transformed over the years or does it continue unchanged?

First it was a physical and tangible relation to media through film. You loaded your camera; we had the IMAX camera, 65mm film on the top of Everest. You were in contact with the media. I embraced the digital world very, very quickly for a couple of reasons. First of all, I could get much more information, more data, many more images, less expensively. I don’t have to buy film, process it and have prints made. I also became more mobile because I didn’t have all this film and film is heavy. It is also very useful to be able to review your work when you work the way I do. I happen to be away for lengthy periods of time and you can’t come back and find that the camera was scratching all the film. These are the practical things. The digital world has also given me so much more potential for the story telling I want to do. For example with that big 3.8 billion pixel-image (reference here is to a panoramic image of the Everest region he showed at the seminar), people have found it a fascinating way to explore Everest. I still love film for some purposes. But I can’t imagine now going back into the field with 50 rolls of film. It was transformative.

How about the contrast between your earlier work and what you are doing now? Previously your films brought the experience of Everest into theatres and the homes of people. Now you are using your abilities to spread awareness about the impact of climate change on glaciers, which is conservation oriented. Is there something of your own experience transforming you that is visible in this altered relation with the media?

The film experience is very special whether you are sitting in front of your TV, computer or you are at a theatre – because you have not only imagery, you have sound, dialogue, music and effects. And these things are very powerful in creating an emotion. However, when it comes to climate change, we are acting like journalists. We don’t want to play music and such. The information has to present itself and stand on its own. The other thing is, I have become very fond of our exhibits. We have had exhibits going around the world. I myself like going to exhibits; I like the experience of being at exhibits and finding out what someone else finds curious. When you are seeing in a theatre, you don’t experience something with someone else. You are looking at a screen; you may laugh at a joke with a friend or a whole theatre may laugh together. But in an exhibit space, people can turn to each other and say: what do you think of that? Or you overhear conversations or sometimes, say I am at an art exhibition, if someone is standing for a long time in front of a photographic print or a painting, then I go and I want to look over their shoulder and find what they find interesting. So although I have moved away from conveying information through film, I am most satisfied with using this current all-digital imagery of Glacier Works in print form in an exhibit. I don’t want someone sitting at home staring at it on a computer. Of course, that is where it gets its biggest audience. But I am an exhibit guy now. Live broadcast from Everest, I am ex-film, I went into exhibits and I will go back to films. But what we are doing now is hard and takes a tremendous amount of discipline. I didn’t want to mix up the discipline of that still photography and a high level of execution and compromise it by saying, let’s do a lot of video. We are small teams and we are focused on what we are there to do – the photography. I still miss film making.

You have spent many years in mountaineering; you also spent many years in the media. Of late, there has been a lot of media in mountaineering. The late Tomas Humar’s climbs for instance, were sometimes occasion for live reportage on social media. Are you happy with how the media has contributed to mountaineering or would you prefer to have seen it contribute differently?

I think there is great danger in having access to information that hasn’t been properly curated; instant access to information and the competition out there – whether it is Twitter, Instagram or Facebook or any form of social media. And the fact that things come out so quickly on traditional news. This is a very slippery slope. You create this audience that is always hungry for information in almost real time. But I do think there is no going back. It is very addictive, this need for information instantly. However I would still sit down and read long form articles about something. I know that several months from now after Elisabeth Revol and others have told their stories (David is referring here to the January 2018 rescue on Nanga Parbat in which French climber Elisabeth Revol was brought to safety but Polish climber Tomasz Mackiewicz couldn’t be reached), I want to read this in a good piece of reporting because I don’t think I got the best information yet. Sometimes you got to really get in there and get a lot of information from people.

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