LOOKING BACK AT BOSTON 2017

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

In American history, the battles of Lexington and Concord are important being the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. These battles, which took place on April 19, 1775, marked the outbreak of armed conflict between Great Britain and 13 of its colonies in British America. Same day, 86 years later, the first bloodshed of the American Civil War occurred, courtesy the Baltimore riot of 1861. According to Wikipedia, thirty three years after the Baltimore riot, in 1894, Frederic T. Greenhalge, the 38th governor of Massachusetts, proclaimed April 19 as Patriots’ Day to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord. Roughly two years since the practice of Patriots’ Day commenced in Massachusetts, the first modern Olympic Games were held over April 6-15 at Athens, Greece in 1896. The manager of the inaugural US Olympic team was John Graham, who was also a member of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), founded in 1887. Inspired by the Olympic marathon, he, with the assistance of businessman Herbert H. Holton, moved to establish a similar race in Boston.

One of the sub-stories in the larger narrative of the battles of Lexington and Concord is that of Paul Revere, a prominent and prosperous Boston silversmith who helped organize an intelligence and alarm system to monitor the British military. A prominent episode therein is Revere’s `Midnight Run.’ On the night of April 18, 1775, Dr Joseph Warren told Revere and William Dawes of British troops about to embark on boats from Boston for Cambridge and the road to Lexington and Concord. Revere rode out that night warning patriots along his route of the impending British move. In his book on the Boston Marathon, Tom Derderian (excerpts from the book are available on the Internet) has noted that Graham and Holton considered Revere’s route for the marathon. The problem was it wasn’t just Revere who rode out to warn patriots that night in 1775. There were others, including those he tipped off, who helped courier the warning. Further, the layout of roads had changed in the intervening years, the exact routes the patriot-couriers rode wasn’t known in detail and many of the routes weren’t long enough to satisfy the needs of a marathon. However the rail road west led to Ashland station and ran parallel to a road back to Boston. This, Derderian writes, was a logical choice and thus became the route of the marathon. In his book, American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols and Ideas (excerpts available on the Internet), Murry R. Nelson says that the marathon’s original course ran from Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland to Irvington Oval in Boston.

The biggest celebration of Patriots’ Day has remained the Boston Marathon (according to Murry R. Nelson, it was initially called the American Marathon), which has been run every Patriots’ Day since April 19, 1897. An exception was if April 19 turned out to be a Sunday. Then, the race was run the following day, a Monday. Since 1969, the race has been held on a Monday. In the first Boston Marathon of 1897, John J. McDermott of New York triumphed, winning the race in 2:55:10. Among the longest running presence at the Boston Marathon was that of John A. “ The Elder’’ Kelley, who ran his first race in 1928 and the last in 1992. His name is bound up with the incident from the 1936 edition of the race, when he passed the leader Ellison “ Tarzan’’ Brown on one of the last of the Newton hills, only to lose to Brown in the end. Writing on that race, Boston Globe writer Jerry Nason coined the still-used phrase: ` Heartbreak Hill,’ Murry R. Nelson says.    

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. It is now a part of the six major marathons of the running world – the other city marathons being those of New York, Chicago, Berlin, London and Tokyo. Amateur runners worldwide aspire to run at these events and the attraction for Boston is particularly high. This year too Mumbai had its share of those who ran at Boston. We sought impressions from three of them. Excerpts:

Running in Boston (Photo: courtesy Pervin Batliwala)

PERVIN BATLIWALA

I am very, very happy with my Boston performance.  I got a personal best of 04:16:13, cutting off seven minutes from my previous best timing.

I had planned my race in three stages:  1-26 km (pace 5.55-6.00/Km), 27-34 km (pace 6.15-6.20/km) and remaining 8 km on best effort basis. My expected time of finish was 04:17:40. The weather in the first 26 km was very hot.  The sun hit directly as the race started at 11.15 AM.  This portion had a lot of downhill with some uphill.  Everyone had cautioned not to go too fast as there are four big hills to deal with after those 26 km.  I started off fast but then settled down at 5.51-5.53/km, going down a bit fast and slowing on the ups. At 27 km I started cramping badly in the calf and hamstring. I had to stop at least 5-6 times to stretch and start slowly.  The final pace from 27-34 km became slow – 6.30/km.  During the 34 km stage I stopped at every single water station as it was hot and my mouth was absolutely dry.  I wasted a lot of time.  But the good thing was, I had no idea when I got over the four hills, especially the much talked about ‘Heartbreak Hill’ as my full attention was on the cramps and thirst. 35-42 km was really good.  I regained my rhythm and the cramps stopped as I had a lot of salt.  Got a pace of 6.00/km and finished very strong.

I have always enjoyed the hills.  This was a perfect setting for me.  The cheering was really, really good.  Not a dull moment through the 42.2 km. All arrangements were just perfect; starting from the bus pick-up at Bolyston, the refreshments at the starting point, the toilet facilities (so many that one did not have to wait in queue), the miles and kilometer markers and finally the finish. It was a super experience.

Photo: courtesy Pervin Batliwala

Before I left for the US, there was a big hype about my doing the Boston marathon.  But, I did not feel so.  I thought it was another 42 km race.  I was hyper about the trip, the planning of warm clothes, the race day attire, the stay and the shopping and that I would have to travel alone in the bus to the starting point and run alone.  That I was to run the prestigious Boston race was secondary.  I slept well the night before the race. The memorable moment was when I took the first step at the starting point.  I was filled with emotion and tears rolled down.  That was the time it dawned on me that I was running `The Boston Marathon.’  I was very happy and felt strong.

My training for Boston started a week after the Mumbai Marathon.  My trainer Sandeep advised me to go to my physio and check out if I needed any help.  Mondays and Fridays were rest days, Saturdays, Sundays featured back to back runs and Wednesdays saw speed runs plus hills.  Even the Sunday long runs were easy, with speed in the last few kilometers.  Every Monday I got a deep-tissue massage.  My colleagues helped me a lot during my training.  On every run I had at least 4-5 friends giving me company.  On Sunday long runs, they would plan and join me at different points so that I would never run alone.

My training was perfect.  I am sure I would not have wanted to do my training any differently.

Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni

CHITRA NADKARNI

I divide the race into two halves of 21 km each. The first half was fairly good. I was well within my pace. 27 km onward the race started unraveling for me. I really can’t pinpoint what went wrong; I was sapped of energy and couldn’t push myself to maintain my pace and my quads starting hurting. What hurts me most is that in the last 5 km my mind also gave up on me. I felt like walking…just finishing the race. For the last 2 km I took 16 minutes….my quads were painful and mentally I was tired. I could not conquer the hills; I feel the hills got the better of me.

I have run the Berlin Marathon. That was a flat course and the weather wasn’t this hot. Berlin I was in control of the race till 36 km and marginally slowed down post 36 km. The crowd at Boston is amazing. The cheering at both places was awesome and different. There were more people on the roads at Boston whereas there were more bands and more music on the Berlin track. The organization at Boston was flawless. The runners at both the events were fast and superbly fit.

Would I want to attempt Boston again to improve my performance? I think I would like to realize my wish of completing the six world majors first.

Photo: courtesy Kranti Salvi

KRANTI SALVI

In 2011, my son Chirag joined athletics training at PDP (Priyadarshini Park). I used to walk around till his training got over. That didn’t satisfy me. Looking at the tracks, I remembered my school days when I was a national level track athlete. I asked the coach whether I could join. He asked for which event. The Mumbai Marathon registrations were going on then. So I said, “ marathon!’’  I started training and registered for my first half marathon. I also attended the Nike Running Club (NRC) training session on Sundays at Marine Drive, that year.

My first half marathon at the 2012 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) was a unique experience. For rookies, the starting position was way behind. I had to zip and weave through the crowd for the first 10 km. At the finish line I wasn’t tired and didn’t get the runner’s high. I decided to do the full marathon at that moment. Next year, 2013, I ran a full and to my surprise won a podium finish in my category. Every year since then I’ve been running the full marathon at SCMM and it has been either a podium finish (among the top three positions) or a PB (Personal Best).

I’m happy with my performance at Boston because the timing – I completed the race in 3:51 – is another BQ (Boston Qualifier).  Yet I feel I could have done much better if I wasn’t having an upset digestive system. I was in self-doubt at the start line, whether I would complete the race or not. I couldn’t eat or digest the food that’s necessary for race week.

I would divide this race into three sections- the first seven kilometers, the next 23 km and the last 12.2 km. The race has variable gradient throughout the route. However, these three sections are important for watching your pace. The first downhill makes you start very fast with fresh legs and race spirit. If you can control your pace and relax during this first section, you can use your energy in the last one. The middle 23 km are somewhat steady and can be maintained at a steady pace. The uphill made me slow but I saved time while going downhill. I let gravity take me down every hill I passed after this section.

Photo: courtesy Kranti Salvi

One has to experience Boston to believe it. I have no words to talk about the cheering! Thousands of people, families and kids coming out of their houses and pouring their heart out to cheer the runners; the Wellesley College girls and boys with their kisses near Heartbreak Hill…you don’t even realize when you passed that hill! I had many memorable instances from the race. I heard people cheering me by my name: “ great going Kranti” or “ hey TomTomSports,’’ hundreds of times on the route when I was just flowing with the river of runners. Getting special attention in a race like the Boston Marathon was so empowering!

In Mumbai, I train on the tracks at PDP. My long runs on the road are limited due to lack of sufficient time in the mornings. So, I enroll myself for the races which fit into my training schedule.  That way I get the benefit of race pace-runs, which I doubt I’d be able to do otherwise on busy Mumbai roads. A guaranteed podium finish is a bonus 🙂 I train all through the year as I go to PDP with my son for his athletics. There wasn’t any particular plan for the Boston Marathon. I had read about the hills, and the unique route of Boston Marathon. However, I couldn’t give much time for hill training. I just did two long runs in the neighborhood of Malabar Hill where I live. I didn’t do any 20 miler runs even for this race. May be it’s the time limit; I have to stop my run and go back home to prepare breakfast for the family. On my long run day, I do whatever distance I can for three hours. It goes to even 28 km on a hot humid day. I feel I can achieve better timing in any marathon if I do a couple of long runs. The body does not understand a route, whether its hills or flat; it understands the effort and the strength required. To be prepared for the challenges of race day, I would focus more on strength and endurance.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. All the photos used along with this article are from the 2017 Boston Marathon.)

IFSC WORLD CUP RETURNS TO NAVI MUMBAI

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Please note: this article has periodic updates added to it both in the main text and towards the end, where it provides an overview of the 2017 World Cup series in bouldering. Scroll down for the latest on the 2017 World Cup series.

Navi Mumbai will host once again a World Cup in bouldering, part of the annual series held by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC).

The event is scheduled for June 2017 in Vashi. As before, the 2017 Indian edition is being anchored by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), Girivihar – Mumbai’s oldest mountaineering club and Meraki Sport and Entertainment. An official statement by the organizers (issued on April 21, 2017) did not mention the venue or the exact dates of the competition. Last year the World Cup was held at the CIDCO Exhibition Centre in Vashi. While the venue will be the same as last year, the dates are being finalized, a spokesperson for the organizers had said, when contacted. On May 3, the spokesperson informed that the venue has been booked and June 24 and 25 – earlier announced as provisional dates – have been confirmed as dates for the 2017 edition of the World Cup in Navi Mumbai .

The 2017 series, already underway, happens in the shadow of sport climbing being included as a discipline for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In 2016, India as host country, had fielded a large team to compete in the Navi Mumbai edition of the World Cup. However none of the Indian climbers made it past the first round. This time around, preparations are more comprehensive. Ahead of the event in June, a team of Indian climbers are being trained in Europe, where besides training under expert coaches, they will also participate in promotional competitions in Italy and Slovenia. While the team selection was done by IMF, the expense of this training is being completely borne by Girivihar, courtesy funds granted earlier by Tata Trusts, the statement said. The club has also launched a crowd funding campaign. The team of eight climbers proceeding to Europe had recently met the Minister of State for Youth Affairs & Sports, Mr Vijay Goel, in New Delhi.

The 2016 World Cup held in Navi Mumbai, received positive feedback with some including it among the best of that year’s competition series. It was additionally noteworthy for two factors – thanks to the event an imported bouldering wall of international standards became available in the Mumbai region; of the event’s two walls, one was locally fabricated and it met the competition’s needs handsomely. The Japanese had dominated last year at Vashi, winning four of the six podium finishes on offer. Kokoro Fujii and Miho Nonaka had topped the competition in  the men’s and women’s categories respectively.

Each IFSC World Cup can feature one or more of sport climbing’s three main disciplines – lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. The World Cup series resembles Formula One. Every competition concludes with a podium finish and the points accumulated at each World Cup are aggregated at the end of the series to announce the year’s top three winners for each discipline. Similarly at year end, overall winners are also announced spanning all three disciplines. As in 2016, Navi Mumbai will be hosting in 2017 too, a World Cup in bouldering. This discipline of climbing does not require the athlete to climb high. But the moves are very difficult. Gear involved is minimal. The athlete uses rock climbing shoes and a chalk bag. The floor is furnished with crash pads to cushion falls from the wall.

At the time of writing this report, World Cup events in bouldering for the 2017 season had already taken place in Meiringen, Switzerland and Chongquing, China. As of April 22, the top three athletes with maximum points yet in the series were: Men – Aleksei Rubtsov – 145 points (Russia), Kokoro Fujii – 137 (Japan), Jongwon Chon – 128 (Korea); Women – Shauna Coxsey – 180 (Great Britain), Janja Garnbret – 147 (Slovenia), Stasa Gejo – 102 (Serbia) and Miho Nonaka – 102 (Japan). In terms of national team ranking, the top three countries were: Japan – 618, Slovenia – 264 and France – 262. Two World Cups down, is early days in the competition series.

UPDATE:

SHAUNA COXSEY AND KEITA WATABE TRIUMPH AT NANJING, JAPAN ENHANCES LEAD

The women’s bouldering competition at the World Cup in Nanjing, China, held over April 29-30, 2017, was won by Shauna Coxsey (Great Britain), Janja Garnbret (Slovenia) and Miho Nonaka (Japan) in that order. Similarly, the winners in the men’s competition were Keita Watabe (Japan), Tomoa Narasaki (Japan) and Jernej Kruder (Slovenia). The top three athletes in the women’s section at this stage were Shauna Coxsey – 280 points (Great Britain), Janja Garnbret – 227 (Slovenia) and Miho Nonaka – 167 (Japan). The same for men were: Keita Watabe – 220 (Japan), Jongwon Chon – 183 (Korea) and Tomoa Narasaki – 169 (Japan). With Nanjing done, the top three national teams in the bouldering World Cup series were Japan (1008 points), Slovenia (452) and Great Britain (422).

JANJA GARNBRET AND ALEKSEI RUBTSOV WIN AT HACHIOJI

Janja Garnbret of Slovenia and Aleksei Rubtsov of Russia earned top honors at the IFSC World Cup in bouldering held over May 6-7, 2017 at Hachioji, Japan. In the women’s bouldering competition, the top three winners were Janja Garnbret, Akiyo Noguchi (Japan) and Miho Nonaka (Japan), respectively. In the men’s competition the top three winners were Aleksei Rubtsov, Tomoa Narasaki (Japan) and Keita Watabe (Japan). Post Hachioji the overall ranking among women for the ongoing 2017 World Cup series in bouldering are Shauna Coxsey (335 points), Janja Garnbret (327) and Miho Nonaka (232).  The top three athletes among men at the end of the Hachioji round were Keita Watabe (285), Aleksei Rubtsov (252) and Tomoa Narasaki (249). The top three national teams in the series were Japan (1372), Slovenia (568) and France (564).

VAIL CROWN FOR SHAUNA COXSEY AND JONGWON CHON

Shauna Coxsey of Great Britain and Jongwon Chon of Korea have topped the women’s and men’s categories respectively at the IFSC World Cup in Bouldering held at Vail, USA, over June 9-10, 2017. Coxsey was followed on the podium by Akiyo Noguchi of Japan who took second place and Miho Nonaka of Japan, who placed third. In the men’s section, Meichi Narasaki of Japan placed second while Yoshiyuki Ogata, of Japan finished third. With the results declared at Vail, the the top three athletes in the men’s category have got reshuffled and are separated by narrow margins. Keita Watabe of Japan continues his lead with 332 points followed by Jongwon Chon (326) and Aleksei Rubtsov of Russia (307). In the women’s category things are much different. Shauna Coxsey (435 points) extended her lead further. She was followed by Janja Garnbret of Slovenia (370) and Miho Nonaka (297). As regards national team rankings, Japan continues its massive lead with 1744 points overall in the ongoing bouldering world cup series. Great Britain (717) is placed second, followed by Slovenia (703). Next stop for the world cup in bouldering is Navi Mumbai in India, where the competition is scheduled for June 24-25, 2017.

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

ALL IN ONE’S HEAD

Bhupendrasing Rajput (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Khandesh is in the north-west corner of the Deccan Plateau.

When you come from North India, this region signals transition to Deccan. Cutting through Khandesh is the Tapi River. To the north lay the hills of Satpura. Most rivers in the Deccan flow east. The Tapi flows west. According to Wikipedia, the Tapi flows in a deep bed and therefore historically its waters were difficult to use for irrigation. The lands north of Tapi are fertile but most of Khandesh lay south of the river. Bhupendrasing Rajput was born 1969, in the Khandesh region; in Mandane village, part of Maharashtra’s Dhule district. “ In modern times, Khandesh is where the borders of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat meet,’’ he said. We were at a park in Hauz Khas, New Delhi. It was early April, 2017 – Mumbai had been hot when I left it; Delhi felt comparatively pleasant. The previous night it even rained. What’s happening to weather? – I thought.

Overall, the paradigm of life in Mandane was tough in more ways than one. The terrain is undulating. There is a small river near the village. “ The river has been dry since my childhood. When I was six or seven years old, I remember water being available in the village. After that, it has been generally dry,’’ Bhupendra said, illustrating the frugality within which, life and farming in these parts must operate. He was the fourth child among five brothers and two sisters. His father, a farmer, was also Gram Sevak; the executive officer of a Gram Panchayat. Mother was housewife. “ I too am a skilled farmer,’’ Bhupendra said. In fact, till fifth standard at school, he had attended to regular responsibilities in farming.

From a 12 hour stadium-run in January 2017 (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

Bhupendra studied up to fourth standard in Mandane. According to him, the village is still stuck at that level of local education. Even today it offers no scope for further study. Same has been the case with regard to transport connectivity. There was no bus to Mandane in Bhupendra’s childhood. There still isn’t; the road is a kilometer away. For his fifth standard, the boy attended school at Dondaiche, a town four to five kilometers away from home. From sixth to twelfth standard, he studied at Dhule. Not just Bhupendra, his siblings also shifted to Dhule. There, they rented a two room-house for stay and onward studies. The parents stayed back in Mandane. This meant, from a young age itself, the children tended to all details of survival, from cooking to washing and studying. The arrangement wasn’t easy on the pocket.

The year before the children shifted to Dhule, the family’s house in Mandane was burgled. The loss was significant. “ It left us financially weak. We were struggling and struggling,’’ he said. Amid this, the shift to Dhule and pursuit of studies had a reason. Bhupendra was a good student right from junior school. Till the tenth standard there was no concept of scholarship. His teachers took note of the family’s struggle and often waived fees. By the time he was in the ninth standard, Bhupendra was earning on the side to support his studies and the siblings’ stay in Dhule. His job was making copies of audit reports. “ Typewriting was a luxury. My job was to make three to four handwritten copies of these reports. I was paid one rupee per page,’’ he said. This work of making copies usually commenced around 9-10 PM. Next morning on his way to school, he would submit the work to his employers.

At the 2013 Bhatti Lakes Ultra; with Piyush Shah (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

In tenth standard, Bhupendra topped his school, meriting scholarship support for eleventh and twelfth standards. After twelfth, he found himself at the crossroad most students pass through in India – medicine or engineering? He gave up medicine as it was expensive. He was admitted to do his engineering at the college of engineering in Pune but traded that for a more affordable course in agricultural engineering at the Agriculture University in Rahuri near Shirdi. To help him through this phase, he had merit scholarships won in his twelfth standard, plus, he took tuitions. He also availed an education loan from Punjab National Bank (PNB). Bhupendra topped the university in his engineering course. “ My desire was to pursue post-graduate studies in the US. I had decent scores in GRE and TOEFL. I also got admission at the University of Illinois with 100 per cent scholarship. But for some reason, I was declined visa. I was rejected in all my three attempts.  I had to reconcile myself to that rejection,’’ he said. In September 1991, he joined Thermax Ltd in Pune, working for them in Pune and Mumbai.

From the 2015 12 hour-trail run in Aravalli (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

Through all this, sports had no significant presence in Bhupendra’s life. Back in Mandane, he used to play kabaddi. In middle school, he recalls doing the high jump. “ Probably, I needed to burn some calories; that’s all,’’ he said. What he does admit to doing consistently is – long walks. “ Long walks barefoot were a part of my life. Besides, I am also the kind of person, who once he gets the hang of something, goes on with it,’’ he said. Awareness of marathon set in much later, when he was posted to Mumbai on work with Thermax and one day, saw a city bus with the advertisement for the 2006 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) on it. “ The enrolment process then was to go to the office of Standard Chartered, fill in the form and drop it off with a hundred rupee note attached,’’ he said. Bhupendra registered for the half marathon. On race day, with no idea of what the marathon entailed and lacking the basic essentials to turn up properly attired for it, he ran the event in “ office pant, office shirt and office shoes.’’ He finished the race in two and a half hours. “ I just went with the crowd, I was borne along by it,’’ he said. After completing the run, he went to a photo studio in Chembur and had a picture taken for posterity. Post SCMM, one change happened. He started running two to five kilometers every day. “ The idea was to stabilize my performance in the half marathon,’’ Bhupendra said. He ran the SCMM half marathon again in 2007 and 2008, eventually managing a non-stop run with finish in just above two hours. At that point, he decided to graduate to the full marathon.

Bhupendra after his first SCMM in 2006. He ran it in office attire. This was the photo taken at the studio in Chembur (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

From what he said, one aspect of Bhupendra’s progression in running strikes you. He was in Mumbai, very clearly at that time the running capital of India. Places like Marine Drive in the city have hosted runners for years. SCMM was nudging through a running culture. Yet Bhupendra was bereft of any company in running. He was staying in Andheri those days and used to train at Joggers Park in Lokhandwala Complex, running daily “ with much energy.’’ “ My problem was that I had nothing to talk of with anyone, except running. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. The world around had no incentive to invite me for any socializing,’’ he said. Result – Bhupendra then and to date is not part of any running group. He negotiates running’s maze by himself. In 2008 Bhupendra moved back to Pune from Mumbai. But the full marathon plan stayed on course. With no significant change to his training schedule and logging the same modest mileages he used to put in daily, he went ahead and ran the full marathon of the 2009 SCMM. “ I completed the run in 4:46 or so. I never felt there was anything difficult about it. Of course, there was the occasional struggle in that run-walk, run-walk…but I always knew I would do it,’’ he said. A breeze rustled the dry leaves on the ground. Not far from the park bench we were seated on, a group of boys began playing football; the conversation at the bench periodically punctuated by the dull thud of ball landing close by.

Thar Desert Run; with Denis, Kavitha, Vishwas, Raj Vadgama and Aparna (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

If the 2006 SCMM triggered the practice of running daily in Bhupendra, the 2009 SCMM did more. He ran a plethora of races thereafter, among them – Kaveri Trail Marathon, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Baroda Half Marathon and TCS 10K. “ After the 2009 SCMM, it was a mania,’’ he said laughing. He didn’t distinguish between distances too – he welcomed 42 km; 21 km, 10 km alike. Post 2010, somebody introduced him to Facebook and through it he got introduced in turn to the world of trekking. “ I am now a crazy lover of the hills,’’ he said. Facebook was also avenue to something else. Vishwas Bhamburkar, a runner from Ahmedabad, posted on Facebook that he was interested in attempting the 135 mile-Brazil Ultra and wished to do a training run of 150 km around Pune. “ I was curious,’’ Bhupendra said. In September 2011 he joined Vishwas for the training run, starting one night at around 8-8.30 PM and going on till next evening. Well known ultra-runner Aparna Choudhary was the third person participating. By next evening, Bhupendra had logged 135 km without any problem. “ I observed that only some 40-50 km was real running. The rest was walking. I asked how this can be and Vishwas responded: that is how ultras are managed. It occurred to me, if this is the case, then ultramarathons are doable,’’ Bhupendra said. Following this training run, Bhupendra and Vishwas met again in Hyderabad for the Hyderabad Heritage Marathon of October 2011. Vishwas suggested that Bhupendra attempt an upcoming ultramarathon – the Bhatti Lakes Ultra organized by Globeracers. “ Once again it was a case of no training, somebody pushing and I being there,’’ he said.

With an officer of the Border Security Force (BSF) at the finish line of the 2017 Run of Kutch (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

From the 2014 Run of Kutch; with Breeze Sharma (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

The race was an eye opener. “ The Bhatti Lakes Ultra was a fantastic experience. Besides Vishwas and Aparna, among those I met were Aditya Bee, Gaurav Madan, Milind Soman and Raj Vadgama. It was a clean completion for me. I topped the 100 mile-category, finishing it in 27 hours, 28 minutes,’’ Bhupendra said. If Facebook introduced him to Vishwas and ultra-running, Globeracers offered him a basket of ultramarathons to attempt. “ Globeracers has really created good benchmarks in organizing ultramarathons not only in terms of mileage but also in terms of trails and locations,’’ Bhupendra said. He went on to run Globeracers’ 100 mile-ultramarathon in Thar Desert once, the 100 km-ultramarathon in Nilgiri once, the 100 mile-ultramarathon in Kutch four times, the 135 mile-ultramarathon in Uttarkashi four times, the 100 mile-category of Bhatti Lakes once and its 135 mile-category four times. Typically, runners are conservative at picking their events. They give their bodies time to recover from each race and hence space out the races. Bhupendra’s calendar would seem anything but that. Compounding the apparent madness would be the fact that he is regularly logging ultramarathon distances (although in training he was still sticking to modestly long runs). Needless to say, his share of Did Not Finish (DNF) piled up. The 2014 and 2015 Bhatti Lakes were cases of DNF as was Kutch in 2016 and Uttarkashi in 2012. According to Bhupendra, Kavitha Kanaparthi, who runs Globeracers, advised that he pause and introspect: maybe he needed time to recover?

From the GSR Coorg Ultra-80 in Sept, 2016 (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

It is hard to deduce what makes Bhupendra run so. A window to his mind is available in what keeps him going in the ultramarathons he participates in.  “ My sense of home is moving away from civilization. By civilization I mean, the urban cluster, the concrete jungle. As you move away from civilization resources become scarce – that is when you have a challenge to manage things,’’ he said. The nature of engagement herein can be further understood if you examine two points. First, among ultramarathons, Bhupendra says he prefers those that court trail or wild settings. The more the element of nature, the more he likes it. Second, as the afore said management of scarce resources kicks in, he is metaphorically in a return to childhood, when he and family had little to live on and they required to stretch resources as best as they could. Yet again, this may explain, in an oblique way, why he runs the way he does. It isn’t conclusive. What’s truly bizarre is that, according to him, his training regimen remains very modest even today. His daily mileage is still two to five kilometers, he claimed. For Bhupendra what matters most is – mind. “ I decide on running with my mind. Once the mind has decided on a run, I can carry on. I don’t give up unless things are totally beyond my control,’’ he said. So what was the factor getting out of control and forcing those DNFs?

2016 Himalayan Crossing (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

The culprit seemed to be, nutrition. “ At least three of those four DNFs happened because of low fluid and food intake while running an ultramarathon. Even when I was offered snacks to eat or fluids to drink, I wouldn’t take it,’’ he said. This was Kavitha’s observation too. Kavitha wrote in on what she had told Bhupendra after the 2016 run in Kutch, “during this race, I was not present though Bhupendra and I talked at length post-race. Pre-race, we always have a word about how he will approach the distance based on how much he has been able to train. Bhupendra is known for his perseverance and discipline. If he DNFs a race, it will be after considering many factors. Nutrition is the main factor in most of his DNFs. At that time I felt he was rushing the distances. He wasn’t also focused on training with a plan, as in testing the nutrition he will consume during a race and ensuring he eats whatever he intends to as per plan. During our conversation post-Kutch in 2016, I advised that he rest much of that year, training only to retain his base and build on it while he perfects his nutrition intake. My advice included running shorter distance races, building a bit of speed and choosing one big race for the remaining part of the year.’’ Bhupendra’s response to Kavitha’s suggestion of considering some time to recover was to partly embrace the opposite. “ I wondered – can it be proven that my DNF had nothing to with my body and everything to do with my own foolishness, my ineptness at handling things?’’

Cooling off during the 2012 135-miler in Uttarkashi (Photo: courtesy Bhuprendrasing Rajput)

The Kutch DNF happened in February 2016. Soon thereafter, Bhupendra opted to do the 2016 Himalayan Crossing organized by Globeracers; it was due in July. He was originally scheduled to be crew member for a runner from New Zealand and the way it was structured, the race was to be – perhaps for the first time in its history – a 338 km-single stage run in the Spiti Valley with maximum elevation en route touching 15,060ft. A month before the event, the New Zealand runner opted out. Bhupendra stepped in as runner. “ When he applied for Himalayan Crossing, I wasn’t sure if he was ready but being aware of his ability to stop if he feels that’s the right thing to do and not push on in the face of physical adversity, I accepted his application. I am usually tuned in to most runners’ psyche; that is, those who run with us regularly. I have turned them down too for some races. Accepting Bhupendra’s application was a decision based on his prior experience at races and his approach to them,’’ Kavitha said. Bhupendra was the sole runner that year and it is to Kavitha’s credit that she kept the event going despite such low enrolment. The route starting at Tabo and going over the Kunzum La (15,060ft) and Rohtang La (13,050ft) to Manali also included a couple of detours that were more like treks. Bhupendra completed it in approximately 78 hours. Not just that, in August (the Himalayan Crossing was in July) he successfully completed the 135 miler in Uttarkashi, in September he ran an 80 km-ultramarathon in Coorg, in October he completed the 135 miler at Bhatti Lakes, in November he ran the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon barefoot to a personal best of 1:40, in December he did the Bengaluru Midnight Full Marathon and 50km Summit 2, in January 2017 he ran a 12 hour-stadium run in Delhi and a 12 hour-trail run in the Aravalli and in February 2017 he completed yet again the 100 mile-ultramarathon in Kutch along with the New Delhi Full Marathon, which he ran to a personal best of 4:07.

With fellow runners at Ultra India 2012 (Photo: courtesy Bhupendrasing Rajput)

“ I did this focused on just one thing – let me prove that body recovery is not something utterly mandatory. The body knows how to deal with itself. I am not for a minute saying that you should ignore your body and run everywhere. I am only saying, body recovery is not something you should be bogged down with,’’ Bhupendra said. However he did make one major change at the ultramarathons he ran after the 2016 DNF in Kutch. He consciously decided to take adequate fluids and food while running; as further precaution he told event organizers to make sure that he ate and drank for deep into an ultramarathon, he may have drifted off into a zone forgetting what his body needs. “ Bhupendra is one runner who doesn’t believe in doubting himself as long as he has trained and his body is not ailing. It does not work for everyone, especially when they are not as mentally strong as Bhupendra. What works for him is his level of maturity and perseverance,’’ Kavitha said. If, as he says, the bulk of his running lay in the mind, then perhaps Bhupendra digs meditation? Wrong; he doesn’t do any meditation. What he does is – he does all the work at his house in Saket, by himself. A bachelor, he stays alone. He cleans, cooks, washes, takes care of all household chores. He employs none to help. “ I do this by choice. It is not by compulsion. Doing your own work at home is the best meditation anyone can have,’’ he said. Bhupendra’s father passed away in 2000. He had promised his father that he would make sure his sisters are settled well in life. One sister is married; the other hadn’t yet.

In August 2014, Bhupendra joined Driplex Water Engineering Private Limited and shifted to Delhi. The mix of tough childhood and an adulthood with plenty therein to remind him of what he had endured to reach where he did, has spawned an unorthodox outlook in Bhupendra towards what races he may do in future. Events cost money. He has no sponsors; he does not want sponsors either. He also does not want to throw a truckload of resources into running, for running is his passion and he sees no reason to spend indiscriminately on a passion. “ A lot of my walking in childhood was barefoot. I don’t promote barefoot running but beyond need for a pair of functional running shoes I don’t chase big brands. I will run, no matter what shoes I wear,’’ he said outlining his position in the realm of brands and sponsors. What can brands do with a man who sees through the gloss of marketing and says he will run anyway? He nurtured fancy for one costly event overseas – TransOmania. Otherwise, he appeared content racing within India. “ If I find it enjoyable, economical and feel ready for it, I will run overseas. But just because others have done it and therefore you should – no, I can live without that,’’ he said.

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

STARTING LINE: 50

Chitra Nadkarni (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Fifty is a milestone for most of us.

When you touch fifty, stock taking and bucket lists happen. It has its bright side. For one, it focuses energy on a new set of priorities, a quest to live the rest of one’s life truer to what one is.

Chitra Nadkarni was born Chitra Mallya in 1963. She lived her early years at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. The city was then a bustling center of India’s textile industry. Indeed some old-timers argue, it was the profusion of textile mills with their work running in day-night shifts that cemented Mumbai’s reputation as a city that never sleeps. Chitra’s father worked with the National Textile Corporation (NTC); her mother was a housewife. She was the youngest of three siblings, the others being a brother and a sister. As a youngster in school and college, she was into sports. She was a sprinter enjoying the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m and good enough at it to compete at inter-district competitions. Further, with the Shivaji Park swimming pool located in their neighborhood, Chitra’s mother made sure that all three children learnt swimming. However, when sports competitions began to require travel out of town, the parents grew trifle concerned and advised Chitra instead to focus on studies. She majored in psychology.

From the 2016 IDBI Half Marathon in Mumbai (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

At the age of 21, Chitra married Nitin Nadkarni. The couple has a daughter, Nameeta. For regular job, Chitra worked with Unit Trust of India (UTI). In all her years with UTI, she recalls one year when an annual sports-meet was held and it provided erstwhile athlete opportunity to revisit some of her old favorite sprint events as well as enjoy a bunch of games. In between, as family, there was a shift from Shivaji Park to Borivali and then back to Shivaji Park. On that return to Shivaji Park, in 1993, she decided to revive the physically active life and got back to swimming. Alongside, she also commenced aerobics. “ In 2003, I quit my job,’’ Chitra said. We were at her well-kept, beautiful apartment in Bandra West. Outside a typical Mumbai summer day was drawing to a close. So was yet another working day for the city; the roads near Lilavati Hospital had reverted to peak hour traffic with people driving back home from office. Both Chitra and Nitin were at home; Nameeta – now a veterinary surgeon – was away at work in another part of town.

Nitin quit his job with HDFC Bank when he turned 50. He didn’t want to work in a job past that age. In 2013, Chitra was due to turn 50. As the milestone approached, so did its accompanying baggage of introspection and reflection on life and environment. The old textile mills of the city had vanished. In their place, shopping malls and business districts had emerged. Chitra’s life too had changed – her father had passed away in 1989; her mother was no more, as was her mother-in-law. Her siblings were not based in Mumbai and her daughter had grown up. Suddenly there was space opened up. That old sports bug came to haunt. In all her relapses to the physically active life since marriage, employment and raising family, she hadn’t yet revisited running in a serious fashion. Why not resume running? – She thought. “ I believe I picked running just to get back to my childhood,’’ she said. Erstwhile sprinter, Chitra has much respect still for the sprint events. But she wasn’t aware of the `Masters’ category of competitions in which, veterans can participate in sprint disciplines. On the other hand, she had seen the annual Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). She decided that she would mark her fiftieth year on the planet with a half marathon run. With that in mind, in 2012, she resumed running. For coach, she found Giles Drego.

From a run; snapped on Carter Road in Mumbai (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

In October 2012, the annual edition of Mast Run was due in Mumbai. They had a 10km-segment, which Chitra enrolled for. She finished the race first in her category. With her original plan to run the half marathon segment of the 2013 SCMM, clashing with an overseas trip that the family had planned, she shifted her attention to Goa. Here we must pause and explain an interesting angle. After she returned to running, there is possibly not a race Chitra participated in, in the domestic circuit, where she did not end up on the podium. So, even if we fail to highlight it specifically, every race in India, featuring Chitra, mentioned in this article concluded in a podium finish for her. It would be convenient to attribute this to her past in school and college as an athlete. Yet aside from her tenure as athlete in college – prematurely ended when she traded sports for studies – there was no formal training in running. “ We had a good coach in college. But in school, there was no coaching,’’ Chitra said. After more than three decades of no running, Giles was the first coach she trained under. Embracing distance running wasn’t easy. One October, in the initial phase of her return to running, Giles asked her to run a 13 km-stretch of the Bandra-NCPA run (it is a half marathon) hosted on the first Sunday of every month by Mumbai Road Runners (MRR). “ I remember being worried about the distance. It was daunting,’’ Chitra said. Nevertheless she persisted with the training. In August 2013, she did the half marathon segment of the Hyderabad Marathon. Among marathons at Indian cities, the Hyderabad Marathon is reputed to have one of the tougher courses. “ After running the Hyderabad event, I started enjoying my return to running,’’ she said when asked about not just the resumption of running but also the transition to being a distance runner. By the time she completed the 2014 SCMM, she had managed to pull her half marathon timing into the sub-two hour realm. “ Chitra is a very disciplined and determined athlete who always gives her best. Every event that she participates in, she takes it seriously,’’ said Dilip Patil, recently retired as Deputy Commissioner (Sales Tax) and runner since the first SCMM in 2004. A seasoned veteran of several marathons, half marathons and ultramarathons, Dilip has trained with Chitra.

Chitra (centre) on the podium with Pervin Batliwala and Vaijayanti Ingawale after the 2016 Thane Hiranandani Half Marathon (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

In the world of running, podium finishes are like the telegrams of yore. Bullet points illustrating the outcome of a race, the names of those who won, travel around becoming part of background chatter. Soon Chitra was being talked about. “ These podium finishes mattered a lot to me. They really made me happy and provided encouragement. Not to mention – the winner’s cheques kept some money coming my way,’’ she said.  In due course, she joined the running group, Top Gear. The group had individuals who had run The Comrades in South Africa or desired to attempt it. It was in the company of Top Gear that Chitra started thinking of attempting The Comrades. At 89 km, The Comrades is an ultramarathon; it is longer than the regular marathon distance of 42 km. Up until that point, Chitra the distance runner had only gotten up to the half marathon mark. She hadn’t run a full marathon. For that, she selected Amsterdam as venue. Such choice of location is driven by another motive – she tries to keep some of her races a family outing. If a run can be combined with a holiday for her family, that works well. She is also clear that while she may be a podium finisher at races in India, she is very far from the podium at races abroad. The quality of talent in her age group at races overseas is much more competitive given the active lifestyle everyone there grows up with. In India, the active lifestyle is a deliberate choice. Sometimes, even if the active lifestyle was chosen, it is cast to hibernation, courtesy pressures of work and family. Running culture and running movements are still young in India. Back home in Mumbai, Chitra has the advantage of being in the vanguard of those from her age group foraying into distance running. The pool of competitors is still limited and their roots in the past lay in times when sport and physical activity for women was rarity. “ By the time, today’s youngsters – the ones currently running in the open category and those in the 30-40 age group – by the time they reach my current age, then this age group will heat up with real competition because they would all be hailing from a tradition of running,’’ Chitra said. At that point in time, here and overseas may start looking similar in terms of competition for the veteran category.

At The Comrades in South Africa (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

Amsterdam marathon done, Chitra ran the full marathon segment of the 2015 SCMM, the first time she was running a full marathon in India. Following that, all focus shifted to The Comrades. A portion of the training for this ultramarathon was based in the hill station of Lonavala, some distance from Mumbai. Here, many of those from Mumbai, attempting The Comrades, gathered. Among those assembled was Satish Gujaran, who had run The Comrades quite a few times. He recalled Chitra asking him about the course in South Africa and other details of the ultramarathon. “ She was very dedicated to the training and eager to learn. She put much effort into her work. She appeared a determined person, someone who wouldn’t easily give up,’’ Satish said of Chitra, from that time The Comrades aspirants converged in Lonavala. Chitra enjoyed the runs in the hill station. She remembered in particular a 56 km-practice run begun at past 2 AM and progressing in pouring rain. “ It was a magical experience. Just you, rain, running and fellow runners,’’ she said. Weeks later in South Africa, The Comrades turned out to be an equally enjoyable experience. Chitra who loved the cheering in South Africa, finished the ultramarathon with a timing that qualified her for the bronze medal category of finishers. Every year, The Comrades alternates between an uphill and a downhill course. The 2015 Comrades featured the uphill course. Chitra would like to taste the downhill too. But repeating The Comrades several times as some runners do – she isn’t into that. She would rather move on. As a matter of fact, she has already moved on even as the downhill course remains on the agenda. Post 2013, Chitra had resumed running, she knew swimming and she was no stranger to cycling – predictably the triathlon beckoned.

Chitra (centre) with Kaustubh Radkar (back row, second from left) and others, at the Bahrain Half Ironman (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

At the 2015 Comrades Chitra heard of Kaustubh Radkar, the Pune based triathlete. Kaustubh is a one time national level swimmer who pursued his higher studies in the US. During that period in the US, he not only trained further in swimming but also kicked off participation in a string of Ironman events. One of the most active triathletes from India, as yet, he has completed well over a dozen Ironman events besides completing an Ultraman (for more on Kaustubh Radkar please try this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/ironman-13-times-and-counting/). When Chitra decided to attempt a triathlon she turned to Kaustubh to be her coach in swimming and cycling. He sent her training schedules, which she diligently followed. There were also coaching camps in Pune and occasionally Kaustubh traveled to Mumbai to monitor his ward’s progress. “ I just wanted to challenge myself and see if I can do the triathlon,’’ Chitra said explaining why she made the diversion to triathlon. Her weak spot in the triathlon is cycling. “ I suck at cycling. I am not comfortable with the gear system – what gears to use when,’’ she said. So far she has successfully completed three triathlons – in Goa, Pune and Bahrain; the Bahrain event (a half Ironman) being replacement for a triathlon scheduled in Turkey but rendered dicey due to political developments. “ At some point, I want to try a full Ironman,’’ she said.

Chitra; during the cycling segment of the 2016 Goa Triathlon (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

The time we met her, the event looming large and imminent on Chitra’s calendar was the 2017 Boston Marathon. She was in training for it. Her coach in running was Suchita Varadkar. According to Suchita who has been a coach for 12 years, the pleasure in training Chitra is that she follows everything she is told to do, to the T. “ Nothing happens without my approval,’’ she said. Chitra chooses her events in consultation with Suchita and once she selects an event, she maintains her focus. When the Boston Marathon was selected as an event to attempt, Suchita advised her against participating in the 2017 SCMM. Chitra readily complied. “ She has done this many times in the case of other events too, so that the focus and training for a chosen event is not compromised through some distraction,’’ Suchita said. Further, according to her coach, Chitra, despite her many podium finishes does not court victories through participation at races where competition is weak. “ She goes for the genuinely competitive ones,’’ Suchita said. The group Suchita oversees is known as Frontrunners. When she is not around, Suchita is happy to entrust her wards with Chitra. “ She is a good support system for the whole group,’’ Suchita said. Chitra had qualified for Boston based on her timing in the full marathon at the 2016 SCMM. Earlier, she had earned an entry by lucky draw to the Berlin Marathon, famous world over for being one of the fastest courses, one where records get rewritten. With Berlin in the bag (she finished this race in 3:56) and Boston expected in a fortnight’s time, among Chitra’s personal wishes was attempting the world’s six major marathons – besides Berlin and Boston, they being New York, Chicago, London and Tokyo. She was also exploring the world of ultramarathons – fellow runner Pervin Batliwala had told Chitra of her experience running in Ladakh; not to mention tales of Spartathlon with its demanding stages, which intrigued her.

From the 2016 Goa Triathlon, which was Chitra’s first experience of swimming in the sea (Photo: courtesy Chitra Nadkarni)

“ I think she is catching up on lost time. If you look at her graph in running, it is sharp. Everything – including the triathlons – happened after 2013,’’ Suchita said. Chitra’s journey post 50 years of age hasn’t been without its challenges. So far, her biggest support has been her family, in particular her husband, Nitin. Registering for events, training well, traveling to events here and abroad – it all costs money. Nitin is not into running but he has financially supported Chitra in her new found role as competitive distance runner. “ All the funding has been from my dear husband,’’ she said. A consistent podium finisher at the Indian races she participates in, Chitra has had mixed fortunes with sponsors. She admits to being talkative; her friends – Dilip being one – second that. However by nature, she does not socialize a lot or court visibility. Her day’s running done, she typically retires home. In the currently prevailing sponsorship model imagined by marketing folks, the measurable return for support is mileage in the media. Visibility, socializing – all these are deemed positive attributes in athlete. The paradigm also requires athletes to be social media savvy. Further, sponsored athletes have to engage in activities the sponsor wants you to. Besides her natural reticence, Chitra believes that her Achilles Heel in the sponsorship game is her low appetite for social media. While it is possible to argue that you must wire yourself differently to merit the support contemporary world can offer, it is also true that it is your unique wiring which birthed in the first place, the talent now seeking sponsor’s support. At 50 plus, do you learn to be social media savvy or do you focus your limited energies to run as best as you can? In the kitchen-cum-dining area of her flat, cups of fresh coffee served for all, her disappointment with the prevailing sponsorship model was evident on Chitra’s face. It wasn’t a subject she liked probing because according to her, all she wants to do is run peacefully, free of controversy.

“ So far in my life in running, I have gone with the flow,’’ she said.

Chitra Nadkarni / Track Record as of early April 2017 (Abstracts)

IRONMAN70.3

(1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1 km run with periodic cut offs)

Bahrain Ironman 70.3 (Dec 2016)

Seventh position in Veteran Women Category

Timing – 7:05:12

OLYMPIC TRIATHLON

(1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run)

Tritheos Olympic Triathlon, Pune (Nov 2016)

First Place – Veteran Women Category

Timing – 3:54:57

Goa Olympic Triathlon (Feb 2016)

Second Place – Open Women Category

Timing – 3:29:04

ULTRA MARATHON

Comrades Ultra Marathon, Up Run / 87.7km with periodic cut offs

Durban, South Africa (May 2015)

Second Fastest Indian Woman and Finisher in Bronze Medal Category

Timing – 10:43:54

FULL MARATHON (42.195kms)

Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (Jan 2016)

First Place Age 50-55 Category (Women)

Timing – 3:54:46 (PERSONAL BEST)

BOSTON MARATHON QUALIFIER TIMING

HALF MARATHON (21.1kms)

Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (Nov 2015)

First Place Veteran Category (Women)

Timing – 1:46:33 (PERSONAL BEST)

10km

Keep On Running India, Mumbai (June 2016)

First Place Veteran Women Category

Timing – 00:50:48 (PERSONAL BEST)

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

A MIRROR OF A BOOK

It is a dozen years since Maria Coffey’s book Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow was published.

In 2013, she was there at the writer’s festival at Mussoorie’s Woodstock school. Her talk, remarkably different from others’ for the topic it covered, was ample reason to buy her book and read it. By the time I reached the counter selling books, the few available copies had already got picked up. It was a couple of years before I finally found a copy at a bookstore. Eventually, I read it. This is a book on a set of subjects, climbers would rather not talk about – death on the mountain, long absences from home and how friends and family cope with mountaineers’ obsession for distant ranges and high altitude. The reluctance to talk is understandable. It is proverbial triangle with slightly different actors. A man or woman invests in a comfortable pad with partner; even raises a family, yet there is no getting away from that other partner in the frame – the mountain.

The bulk of climbing literature is written by climbers for other climbers or the general public. Point is – it is always the mountaineer’s perspective that shines forth. The adulation we have for climbing flows back from climbers being privy to a coveted perspective (visual and experiential), to obtain which the vertical and its accompanying challenges have to be handled. That challenge is frightening, the successful outcome, impressive and the perspective sold, so compelling that the adulation is spared questioning. But frankly speaking, much as George Mallory quipped, “ because it’s there’’ to why he wanted to climb Everest, there is no good reason for anyone to put his / her life in danger and climb a peak. The world is right if it finds it madness. Mercifully, ` adventure’ comes to the rescue, making it a fashionable madness.

Just as a big expedition leverages the work of many to plant a climber or two on the summit of a peak, covering those two in glory and the rest in anonymity, anyone venturing to wilderness is there thanks to a network of human beings he / she encountered or befriended in life, some of who have sacrificed their happiness so that he / she may gain the experience sought. And as with expedition members consigned to anonymity, friends and family are often taken for granted. Veteran mountaineers and expedition leaders can sit and count the number of people they know, who died in the mountains. Over time, the dead and the maimed, become statistic. Some of the dead – the famous dead – get written about. But that is to highlight their lives, their climbs, what they were like in the mountains, why they loved being there; in other words, it’s all about them. How many of us know what it is like to endure a long separation with partner gone to the mountains or cope with tragedy if he / she didn’t come back alive? Or bring up children when husbands or wives are away for long or plain, dead? The other side of mountaineers’ lives – the people they leave behind at home, their version is rarely heard.

Maria Coffey’s book is important because she gives the quiet, unheard ones, voice. Doing so, a little known side of climbing comes to the fore. It’s a side you won’t normally hear from mountaineers’ mouths. The subject being such, a lesser writer would have made this book a collage of emotional responses. Maria Coffey strikes a balance; a lot of what she says is grounded in personal experience, conversations and extended interviews with others, not to mention much reading. The book gives considerable insight into how tragedies in climbing played out, particularly how they impacted and were dealt with.

Lest you conclude this is all about censuring mountaineers or deeming that obsession with climbing – irresponsible, let me hasten to add: there are instances in which children brought up amid long absence by one parent or growing up with one parent dead, have found themselves in the mountains and realized, you can’t fault the obsession. There are instances in which widows have remarried (at times to a friend of the deceased) and felt their new found happiness to be a gift from the one who passed away. There are instances in which the surviving partner has realized that there is an appetite for risk in his / her own personal make-up which is what made them love a mountaineer in the first place or makes them seek others cast similarly when one goes away. Who then, is to blame? It would seem, for all the stability we crave and celebrate, there is an edginess we secretly admire. The mountains are not only beautiful; they hold a mirror to our lives. So does this unusual book.

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