KC Kothandapani (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

KC Kothandapani (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

We were at the big Nike shop on Brigade Road in Bengaluru (Bangalore) having a look at the shoes and apparel around, when a young salesman on the second floor mentioned of his new found interest – running.

As the conversation progressed, he invited us to a small room behind the sales floor with posters of running, including one from what appeared to be the Bengaluru chapter of the Nike Run Club (NRC). Prominent in the photo was the gentleman we had met just the day before at the city’s Kanteerava Stadium.

Krishnaswamy Naidu Chakrapani Kothandapani or K.C. Kothandapani as he is known had given us a true runner’s appointment – meet at 7.30 AM. It was pleasant in Bengaluru at that hour, adequate proof for why many runners – professional and amateur – choose the city to train in. There were people running loops on the track at Kanteerava Stadium. Towards one of the curved ends of the track, a group of people were engaged in stretching. A man, distinctly athletic in bearing, stood among them, a file of papers in his hand. We were looking for a person we hadn’t met before. All we knew was – he is runner and coach. It has to be the one with the papers, we concurred. We were right. The restaurant outside the stadium served as venue for conversation. He had breakfast with his fellow runners, then, came over to join us. A young runner concerned about a detail in his training requested a minute from “ Pani Sir.’’ Matter addressed the coach spoke to us; he spoke in a composed, measured fashion.

1982-83 Air Force team prior to taking part in the Inter Services Athletics Championship held in Kochi, Kerala (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)

The 1982-83 Indian Air Force team – Kothandapani in foreground, second from left – prior to taking part in the Inter Services Athletics Championship held in Kochi, Kerala (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)

K.C. Kothandapani is among the best known coaches for running in Bengaluru, probably India. He is often, a podium finisher in his age category at races in the city and elsewhere. At the 2016 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), he finished second in the full marathon in the 55-60 years age category, completing the race in 3:42:12. Fifty eight years old when we met him, he was born November 1957 at Saidapet in Chennai, the eldest of three brothers and three sisters. The family was Telugu speaking; Kothandapani’s father worked at the Mysore State Electricity Board, the progenitor of today’s swankier sounding BESCOM. Young Kothandapani’s education was in Karnataka. “ I used to play some games in childhood. Mostly cricket,’’ he said. He matured to be a fast bowler, good enough to play in the initial rungs of league level cricket. Upon completing his college education, Kothandapani had to immediately look for a job as his family was big and he was the eldest son. In 1976, he applied to the Indian Air Force (IAF), joining the service in 1977. The first chapter therein was a 52 week-long training program at Belgaum in north Karnataka. At the training centre, for the first six months, he took to boxing. Then, for the local games he was drafted to run the 800m. That was the beginning of his relationship with running.

Kothandapani nearing the finishing line at the 1987 Air Force Cross Country Championship, Mt Abu, Rajasthan

Kothandapani crossing the finishing line at the 1987 Air Force Cross Country Championship, Mt Abu, Rajasthan

After training at Belgaum, he was posted to the IAF station at Kanpur, which fell under the Air Force’s Maintenance Command. There he formally got coached to be a runner. In his first year at Kanpur over enthusiasm earned him running injuries. Recovery entailed systematic training. “ In my case, everything was there from day one,’’ Kothandapani said of how the armed forces approached sports and how that in turn left its mark on him as a coach known for systematic approach. In his early days in the Air Force, he ran the 800m and 1500m, getting podium finishes in these disciplines. These were typically distances, athletes ran with spikes. “ I never used to run in shoes at that time. I ran barefoot,’’ Kothandapani said. Realizing that the use of spikes diminished with distance he shifted out from the 1500m and 800m, to cross country races. At that time, the standard distance for cross country was 14 km (today it is 12 km). He learnt soon enough that barefoot and cross country can be testing on one’s soles. He began using shoes. From this shift onward till he took voluntary retirement from the IAF in 1998, he remained a cross country runner. Except for two occasions; the first of which happened in 1989, when he was posted at Jalahalli in Bengaluru and the Training Command suddenly required a replacement for a marathoner. As part of his training for cross country, Kothandapani used to run long distances on weekends. He stepped in as replacement. The marathon was a team event. Running his first marathon so, he came in third with a timing of 2 hours 49 minutes, his best so far. That position, combined with a colleague’s second place finish in the same marathon, helped Training Command beat Western Command to clinch the championship. Kothandapani ran a second marathon in the IAF in 1992, when he was posted in Allahabad. He finished this race with a timing of 3:12.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Kothandapani retired as a sergeant from the Air Force. Post retirement he worked for some time with a friend who ran a super market. For 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, his training as runner was erratic. Bengaluru’s well known TCS 10k, then called Sunfeast 10k, was the point of serious resumption. In May 2008, he ran at this event for the first time. In the years that followed Kothandapani would finish first in his age category, four times. Till 2008, Kothandapani had trained by himself. Things changed that year when the Nike Run Club (NRC) commenced in Bengaluru; it was the first NRC in India. Sometime in 2009, Kothandapani also suffered a personal tragedy. He and his wife Sujatha had two children – a son, Karthik, and a daughter, Deepshika, who now works with an IT firm. In 2009, Karthik passed away. “ I feel sad when I think about him,’’ Kothandapani said. Running helped the healing process.

“ Many of the committed runners of the city trained with NRC. Every Saturday and Sunday we reported to Kanteerava Stadium for training,’’ he said. It wasn’t long before Kothandapani with many years behind him as runner, became a part of the coaching team at NRC. One of the runners he met through NRC was Thomas Bobby Philip. Although he was new to running, Bobby was a motivated runner, keen to become good at the sport. Bobby and Kothandapani were often running partners. Bobby used to encourage the soft spoken Kothandapani to do something about the wealth of experience he had in running. Thus was born PaceMakers, a group of runners anchored by Kothandapani, training under his guidance. “ I must give full credit for this to Bobby. For one year I dodged him while he persisted with his suggestion. One running group which was doing 12 marathons in 12 months, asked Bobby to coax me into training them. Eventually it worked,’’ Kothandapani said. PaceMakers started off with 7-12 members. As of February 2016, it had 157 members. They run every week on Tuesday, Thursday and either Saturday or Sunday.  On Tuesday, they focus on interval runs on the 400m track at Kanteerava Stadium. On Thursday, it is tempo run, uphill run and fartlek. On Saturday or Sunday, it is a long run.

KC Kothandapani (foreground) and Thomas Bobby Philip (yellow T-shirt at the back) at the 2011 Bengaluru Ultra (Photo: courtesy Thomas Bobby Philip)

KC Kothandapani (foreground) and Thomas Bobby Philip (yellow T-shirt at the back) at the 2011 Bengaluru Ultra (Photo: courtesy Thomas Bobby Philip)

Kothandapani outlined the annual training calendar, which imaginatively uses Bengaluru’s much loved 10k and Mumbai’s SCMM as two main reference points with the Bengaluru Marathon typically scheduled for October, as a third in between. The first five months of training dwell on preparations for the 10k; the year thereafter deals with the half marathon at the Bengaluru Marathon before shifting focus to the full marathon at SCMM. Typically therein for each discipline, the first five weeks focuses on base endurance, the second five weeks blends endurance to speed endurance, the next four weeks concentrates on race strategy and pace and the last week is reserved for tapering, reducing the volume of training by 50 per cent. “ Every fourth week is an easy step-down week, when the training volume is reduced by 50 per cent,’’ Kothandapani said. He is quite particular about warm-up and cool down stretches. The warm-up starts with a four kilometre-run at slow pace followed by 15-20 minutes of dynamic exercises. At the end of the work-out, runners do a two kilometre-jog followed by stretches for about half an hour.

In 2009, Mumbai based-runner Mani Iyer had just finished his first half marathon. Introduced by a friend to Runners for Life (RFL), it was through RFL that he secured his contacts with experienced seniors. Many discussions used to happen on the RFL website; Kothandapani who was then a coach with NRC was a regular at these chats, providing tips and comments. “ He used to regularly share his workouts which included steps to be taken before and after running like warm-up, cool down and hydration.  For every new runner in the half marathon, sub- two hours was prized goal and Pani Sir in those days was a sub-100 minutes half marathon runner,’’ Mani said. Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) is among Mumbai’s best known running groups. On the first Sunday of every month they organize a run from Bandra to NCPA (Nariman Point) in the city, approximately half marathon-distance. For the second anniversary of this run on July 1, 2012, the group invited Kothandapani to join them. Mani recalled the morning of Saturday, a day before the Bandra-NCPA run. On Juhu beach, Kothandapani shared his knowledge on running. “ This was followed by almost an hour of warm-up. It was the most comprehensive warm-up I had done,’’ Mani said.

KC Kothandapani with a memento after the 2012 Bandra-NCPA anniversary run. Also seen are Giles Drego, Milton and Ram Venkatraman (Photo: courtesy Mani Iyer)

Kothandapani with a memento after the 2012 Bandra-NCPA anniversary run in Mumbai. Also seen are Giles Drego, Milton Frank and Ram Venkatraman of MRR (Photo: courtesy Mani Iyer)

On that 2012 trip, Kothandapani stayed with Bhasker Desai. Separated by a few years, Bhasker and Kothandapani sometimes found themselves running in the same age category.  “ We fondly call him Pani Sir. And he truly deserves and earns that suffix! He is not just a good runner, he is a fine gentleman, someone who leads his pack from the front. Yet he is humble and grounded, never making a noise, letting his work speak for itself. He has trained many good runners. Thomas Bobby Philip and Neera Katwal come to mind immediately, just to name two from his band of many,’’ Bhasker said.

Seventy seven years before the Sunfeast 10k run started in Bengaluru, a man was born in England, who would redefine the meaning of running for many picking up the sport in their later years. While Fauja Singh may be the oldest man around running a marathon, Ed Whitlock has timings that would stun any young runner. His Wikipedia page describes him as the oldest man to run a sub-three hours marathon, which he did at the age of 69. His timing was 2:52:47. At the age of 74, he ran the marathon in 2:58:40. He holds the world record for men in the 70-74 years age category with a full marathon run at age 73 in 2:54:48. The Wikipedia page includes a full marathon run in 3:15:54 in the 80-84 years age category. Born March 1931, Whitlock would now be 85 years old. “ I get much inspiration from him,’’ Kothandapani said. Having participated in many races in the domestic circuit, in 2015, Kothandapani travelled to the US to run the Boston and Big Sur marathons. The Boston Marathon is held every April on the third Monday (Patriots Day) while Big Sur in California, follows five days later. For Kothandapani, plans ahead include attempting the world’s oldest ultra marathon, The Comrades, in South Africa in 2017 (for more on The Comrades, please visit this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-comrade/).

Kothandapani during The Run of Raramuri Tribe, Bengaluru, 2014 (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)

Kothandapani during The Run of Raramuri Tribe, Bengaluru, 2014 (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)

We asked Kothandapani what qualities he liked in a runner. On top were the “ four Ds’’ – discipline, dedication, devotion and determination. Second was, remembering to give equal importance for nutrition alongside all the attention awarded for training. Third – adequate importance for rest. “ Sleep is important,’’ he said, adding, “ people are not taking proper rest.’’ He knows the ill effects of inadequate rest well, training people in a city that is the IT capital of India. Companies keep punishing, stressful schedules. It is a pattern of life every emerging Asian economy goes through; decades ago it was Japan, then Korea and the South East Asian economies, then China, now India. As people seek relief from this grind, the number of people trying the physically active lifestyle is growing. Kothandapani recommends that beginners stick to the simple basics first; do the basics for long before loading up on training. Fourth is the principle of specificity – the art of keeping your training relevant and appropriate for desired outcome. Finally and perhaps above all, Kothandapani said, “ be gentle on yourself. People must not take things too seriously. They must not obsess with a goal. You risk feeling dejected if you do so. You must take things sportingly.’’

That last bit stayed in mind.

As the young man at the Nike shop spoke about his running, we dipped into borrowed wisdom and suggested gently: take things slowly, enjoy your running.

Kothandapani at SCMM 2016 (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)

Kothandapani at SCMM 2016 (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)


Bangalore Ultra 2013

50k — 4:47:52 — First — Senior Men.


SCMM 2016 3:42:12 – Second – Senior Veteran Category (55 – 65 yrs)



SCMM 2015 – 3:42:57– Fourth – Senior Veteran Category (55–65 Yrs).

SCMM 2014 – 3:35:54 – Second – Senior Veteran Category (55–65 Yrs).

SCMM 2013 — 3:42:32 — Second — Senior Veteran Category (55–65 Yrs).

SCMM 2012 — 3:38:32 — Eleventh — Veteran Category (45–55 Yrs).

Air Force Athletics Championship, Allahabad, (95–96) — 3:12:00 — Second.

Air Force Athletics Championship, Bangalore, (87–88) – 2:59:00 — Third.

Half Marathon

Satara Hill Marathon — 2015 — 1:45:46 — Third — (55-64 Yrs)

Spirit Of Wipro Run – 2015 – 1:38:27.

Ajmera Thump Celebration Run — 2014 — 1:40:10 — Fourth— Senior Men

Airtel Hyderabad Marathon — 2014 — 1:39:49 — First — Super Veteran.

IBM Bluemix Monsoon Marathon — 2014 — 1:33:23 — Fifth — Open Category.

Mysore Celebration Run — 2013 — 1:38:00 — Third — Senior Men.

Airtel Hyderabad Marathon — 2013 — 1:44:25 — First — Super Veteran.

Ajmera Thump Celebration Run — 2013 — 1:42:12 — Third — Senior Men

Mysore Celebration Run — 2012 — 1:40:03 — Third — Senior Men.

Kaveri Trail Half Marathon

2010 — 1:35:20 –Second — Senior Men.

TCS World 10k Bangalore

2015 — 42:58 – First  — U 60 Yrs.

2014 — 44:00 – Fifth – U 60 Yrs.

2013 — 45:16 — First — U 60 Yrs.

2012 — 44:10 — First — U 60 Yrs.

2011— 44:00 — First  — U 60 Yrs.

Sunfeast World 10k Bangalore

2010 — 43:26 — Second — U 60 Yrs.

2009 — 46:43 — Third — U 60 Yrs.

Kaveri Trail Marathon ( KTM )

2009 10k — 42:43 — First — Senior Men.

16th Asia Masters Athletics Championship, Malaysia, Dec 2010

5000m — Sixth — 19:50.7 Sec.

34th National Masters Athletics Championship, Bangalore, June 2013

3000m Steeple Chase — First — 13:39.9 Sec.

5000m Run — Third — 23:08.4 Sec.

10,000m Run — Third — 45:26.4 Sec.

31st National Masters Athletics Championship, Tamil Nadu, Feb, 2010

5000m — Third — 19:50.4 Sec.

Urban Stampede 2010

4 X 5k — Mixed Category — First — 1:22.36 Sec.

Air Force Athletics Championship, Kanpur — (92–93)

3000m Steeple Chase — 00:10:17.19 Sec.

10,000m Run — Third — 00:36:11.00 Sec.

Air Force Athletics Championship, Agra — (81–82)

800m – Third — 00:1:59.0 Sec

1500m – Second — 00:4:12.0 Sec

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For more on Bhasker Desai please see https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/from-zanzibar-to-boston-the-bhasker-desai-story/ For more on Thomas Bobby Philip please see https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/in-the-right-sport/)    


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On the poster of `Race,’ actor Stephen James looks you straight in the eye.

A front shot of the signature Jesse Owens pose, it is an expression of absolute focus; the edge of his palm in line with his nose, splitting his face and creased forehead into two halves. Each half is defined by a raised eyebrow with an eye below preying on a distant object – a finish line. The palm, the creased forehead, the eyebrows, the eyes – they emphasise his concentration to the expense of all else.

What that poster conveys is the strength of Stephen Hopkins’s film. It tells an uncluttered, linear story that is almost a documentary on Jesse Owens. Denied melodrama, the film lets sport and its main protagonist, be noticed. Despite the light physical build of the classical athlete, his position in script is secure. The casting is balanced. The acting is right sized; a powerful actor like Jeremy Irons shines in his role but doesn’t squeeze others out. Amid the simmering race relations in the US of that time, the racist views of the Nazis and the growing danger in Nazism, sport shines through. There is the relation between Coach Larry Snyder and Owens. But I remember more other instances. There is a dialogue in the film, one that speaks the perspective of sport: when you are running there is no black and white; there is only fast and slow. In age of propaganda, we see the equation between Joseph Goebbels and filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl. When Goebbels uses a construction project to bait builder and sports official Avery Brundage, in Berlin to evaluate whether American participation is possible in a Nazi run-Olympics, we see the colour of money (a 1999 article on the Berlin Olympics, in The New York Times, mentions a 1938 letter from Germany in the University of Illinois archives, indicating acceptance of the bid by Brundage’s construction firm to help build the German Embassy in Washington). There is the amazement America’s black athletes have in discovering no separate quarters for them at Berlin’s Olympic village. Then there is that conversation between Owens and Carl “ Luz’’ Long, the German long jumper Owens beat to second position. Long reveals his disapproval of racism under the autocratic Nazis and his belief that the democratic US system is better causing Owens to say reflectively that he isn’t sure. The scene sums up the predicament of individual in collective, then and now. Race is a good film. See it.

However, a linear narrative denies as much as it shows. Owens is an athlete at times of racial discrimination in the US. Across the Atlantic, Germany consumed by notions of racial supremacy, views the 1936 Olympic Games awarded to Berlin, as an opportunity to showcase country under Hitler. America contemplates boycotting the Berlin Olympics to display its aversion for the Nazis’ racist policies and anti-Semitism even as transport buses on its own roads kept separate seats for African American people. Amid this, in 1933 and 1935 (as per the Internet) , Owens equals the world record in the 100 yard dash, becoming one of the top sprinters on the planet. Whether he should participate in the Olympics or not – easily answered in his athlete’s mind – becomes a vexing question for the African-American community. He is confused. It is a web of charged histories with athlete entangled. The film doesn’t delve deep into these trends shaping Owens’s times, even his life. Although eventual outcome is a film I found more watchable than what Bollywood served up on India’s best known sprinter, it must be said that in as much as the Indian film traded sport for the muscular nationalism loved by prevailing market, Hollywood embraced sport and breezed over history, including personal history. You suspect a more creative script may have accommodated those times better. I wouldn’t mind it even if the resultant film was called `1936.’ As sport becomes event management and event becomes the hunting ground of those seeking power, sport isn’t sure anymore what happened to it. That perennial question of individual in collective isn’t just a social, political or business question; it is a question in sport too, a question of what you lose in sport when you want sport on grand scale or want sport to prove a point.

Race ends showing Owens and his wife taking the freight elevator to attend a reception in his honour because coloured people aren’t allowed entry via the hotel’s main entrance. This is in the US, soon after he won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics. There is no hint, except as epilogue in text, of what followed. Owens returned to America from Berlin with no congratulatory message from the President of his own country. His sporting career ended early. Wanting to capitalize on his post-Berlin fame, he took up some commercial offers as a consequence of which, officials withdrew his `amateur’ status.  Denied participation in amateur events and unable to sustain his reputation, his commercial offers dried up. This forced him to run for spectacle, including racing against horses. He ran a dry cleaning business and even worked as a gas station attendant. He eventually filed for bankruptcy. In 1966 he was prosecuted for tax evasion. It was after this, that recognition and help came.

When you read this on Wikipedia, you realize how important it is for a biographical film to pick up those portions of a person’s life, which tell as much of his story as possible. In Owens case it is tough to do so for he packed much into his life, not to mention, his times was equally packed with social issues and political developments. How do you make a script of it all? Problem is – the moment one heard of a film on Owens, one thought of `Ray.’ The film on the singer-musician progressively built his character. You understood from where each brick came. The Owens of Race appeared parachuted into the movie, inhabiting it for a while and then disappearing with a scene, which is the last in the film but we know is the beginning of a tough phase for the athlete. If a man’s life is a reel of film, then Race with its linear narrative, has snipped and showcased the middle.

Owens merits a Ray.

That is still awaited.

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