Pamela Chapman-Markle (Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman-Markle)

The 2018 edition of Badwater 135 saw 62-year-old Pamela Chapman-Markle win yet again in her age category for women. She finished the 135 mile-race (217.26 kilometers) in 34 hours, 30 minutes and 53 seconds, ending up in nineteenth position overall. Pamela was 19 years old when she survived cervical cancer. A nurse-anesthetist by profession, she hadn’t run any race till the age of 55. Seven years later, the US based-runner is at the top of the list as regards women over 60 running ultramarathons. Her accomplishments include breaking the course record for women in her age category at Badwater 135, three years in a row.

The Rocky Raccoon 100 is a 100 mile-trail race held at Huntsville State Park in Texas. This was Pamela Chapman-Markle’s first race, which she finished in 28:45 hours despite a stress fracture of the tibia, severe hyponatremia and freezing temperature.

Immediately, she started looking for another race to run. Her preference was for runs exceeding the length of a full marathon.

Thirty races later, over half of them 100 miles or longer, the results amaze.

She has participated in Keys 100 five times so far and has emerged winner in her age category all the five times. The event is an annual ultramarathon in Florida; the Florida Keys being a coral cay archipelago located off the southern coast of Florida. They form the southernmost portion of continental United States. `Key’ is derived from the Spanish word: cayo meaning a small island.

Brazil 135 is the brainchild of runner, Mario Lacerda. According to published reports, it was first run in early 2006. Ten years later, of the 50 runners from all over the world admitted to the 2016 edition of Brazil 135, Pamela finished fifteenth overall with a time of 43:41. She then improved her time at Rocky Raccoon to an age course record of 26:56 and followed it up breaking the Badwater 135 record for women over 60 by three hours. After turning 61, Pamela achieved a personal best for 100 miles at the Daytona 100, with a time of 21:29. Although pacers are allowed at many races, particularly for her age group, Pamela has run nearly every race without pacers for company. Her husband Spencer Markle, a non-runner, is all there is for support crew.

The string of success she had in 2016 was the turning point of Pamela’s running career.

In 2017, she qualified for Leadville 100 at the Austin Rattler. Then, she broke her own age course record at Badwater 135 by over five hours and achieved a podium finish as the third overall woman finisher. This was despite Pamela being the oldest female runner in the race.

Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman-Markle

In October she broke the age course record at Arkansas Traveler 100 by over two hours and followed that up lowering her own personal best with finish of 21:07 at Daytona 100. The latter was over 20 minutes faster than the all-time USA record for 100 miles by a female over 60. However it had happened at a course that was not certified by USA Track & Field (USATF), the national governing body for track and field, cross country running, road running and race-walking.

Pamela and her husband, Spencer, realized that she had the opportunity to become the fastest woman ultra-runner over 60 years of age in US history.

They selected USATF certified courses so that any record broken would be official. They set their eyes on the records for the 12-hour, 24-hour, 100k and 100-mile distances. The first to fall was the 24-hour record of 106.4 miles. Pamela took that to 109.17 miles. This happened over the New Year (2017-2018) at the Across the Years race in Glendale, Arizona.  Then she broke her own age course record in the 51-mile Badwater Cape Fear beach run finishing it in 9:49. In early April she finished fortieth overall out of 266 runners who started the Umstead 100 in North Carolina, completing it in 23:58.

In the first week of June, she traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota to run in the Fans Ultra Races. There she set a new 12 hour-record for women over 60, logging 65.2 miles. In July, 2018; Pamela ran the Badwater 135 ultra for the third year in a row. She broke the course record for women over 60, with her time of 34:30. She ended up in nineteenth position out of 99 runners. She was the oldest woman running the race. At the time of writing, the three fastest times ever by a woman over 60 at Badwater 135, stood in Pamela’s name. She set a course record in 2016; then broke that record by over five hours in 2017 and in 2018, bettered that again by over an hour.

A nurse-anesthetist with over 35 years of experience, Pamela typically handles 10-15 surgical cases every day at the Texas Medical Center, Houston, before turning her attention to running.

Not long after the 2018 Badwater 135, Pamela replied to questions this blog mailed across:

What prompted you to get into running and why did you opt for a 100 miler instead of going through the usual route of opting for smaller distances initially? What did you find so engaging about the ultramarathon?

I love running by myself. It gives me mental peace allowing me to get in touch, spiritually. I decided to run an ultramarathon at age 55. I went to sign up for the 50 mile and it was full so I decided to run the 100 mile. It was my first race. I had never run a race before. It was supposed to be a one-time, “bucket list”. After I finished this race, I learnt a lot and knew I could do it faster and more efficiently. I was hooked to 100 mile races or larger miles.

Were you interested in sports in your school / college years? Were you involved in any fitness related activities in the run-up to your first Rocky Raccoon 100?

Yes, I have always been interested in sports. I was a cheerleader in high school, worked out on my own in college and used to teach high impact aerobics, step, and stretch for a club for over 12 years, at least five classes a week after my regular job.

Do you have memories of how the first Rocky Raccoon 100 unfolded for you? Will you please share it? Did you face any problems on the course given it was your first race and a 100 miler to boot?

I had many problems in Rocky Raccoon 100 starting with hydration, food, and clothes. It was the coldest ever in Texas that day and the temperature was 30 degrees. I did not dress appropriately for this weather. I suffered a stress fracture in my right tibia 87 miles into the race. So I actually hobbled the additional 13 miles to the finish line. I also trained 34 miles a week, all of which was a huge mistake!

Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman-Markle

Of all the races that you have participated in which is your personal favourite? Which was the most challenging?

My personal favourite is Badwater 135. I have to say it is the most challenging also because of the extreme heat.

Older people into running – particularly those beginning to run at an older age – are wary of injuries. Your own first run – the Rocky Raccoon 100 – saw you tackle a stress fracture of the tibia. What has been your experience with injuries? How do you keep them at bay; how do you address them when they occur?

I feel I am stronger health wise since I have become an ultra-runner. My bone density is great, my VO2 max has improved. It has made me more careful with trail runs because my vision at night is not that good. I slow down and pick up my feet!

What, according to you, has been the decisive factor or factors that have helped you attempt these ultra-long distance foot races? Did you ever find yourself disadvantaged because you were a late starter in running, taking the plunge only at age 55? Do you think it may have worked to your advantage given it was a brand new world opening up in middle age?

The decisive factor that helped me attempt my runs has been this – I feel if I believe I can do it, then I can direct my body through mind control to do it. The disadvantage of being an older athlete is that Americans are clueless on how much more one has to work to compete. I love the people I have met from all over the world and they are so excited at the older athlete’s progress. I feel fortunate to be able to be where I am at this stage of my life. If I was younger, I might be faster. But then my heart might not be in it like it is now. I want ageing athletes to accomplish whatever they desire and not take a back seat just because we are getting older.

Can you throw light on your training program? What are the key elements of your training that you believe helped you to not only attempt races one after the other but also set course records for your age category?

I train about 75-100 miles a week. Most of my runs are slow. I work full time so I am tired but still run. I feel this has helped me greatly because I don’t go home and lie down on the couch. I eat only grass fed animals and organic fruits and vegetables. I am a low carbohydrate athlete.

What do you focus on in your diet and nutrition?

I have to get more protein, running as much as I do. I focus on organic foods and drug-free protein.

Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman-Markle

Your husband, Spencer, is your support crew. He is a non-runner. Can you describe how the journey into running ultramarathons has been, for both of you as a couple? Was the idea of you launching into a 100 miler at 55 years of age, easy to accept for the two of you? Seven years later, what do you make of this journey with one person running and the other, crewing?

I ran my first ultramarathon (Rocky Raccoon) before I met Spencer. I was training for my second ultra (Keys 100) and he offered to crew me! He is my biggest supporter. He always sees more potential in me than I see in myself. He knows what I need, and when to help me. He has not missed any since then. I am glad he is not a runner! He works out and rides a bike on my long runs but running is not his sport.

Apart from Brazil, which are the other destinations outside of the US you have traveled to, to run races?

I loved Brazil! I have not traveled out of the US but intend to soon. I am going to slow down my work schedule at the end of this year and increase my traveling around the world.

Going forward, what are your plans as ultra-runner? Media reports have mentioned your continued attachment to Badwater 135. Can you explain the reasons for that fascination and how long would you like to keep returning to Badwater? Do you feel similarly attached to any other race?

I am attached to Badwater 135! Reasons for that are – the race is well run, the people are family, the desert is different every year I run it! I am treated as an equal athlete regardless of age. I will keep returning to Badwater until I am 70! I love several of the races I have done. I am off to, Leadville in Colorado next week and look forward to that race. I would love to go out of the US and explore the world on foot. Second on my most fun races would probably be the, Keys 100. It’s hot, humid and an eye full of ocean!

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. This interview was conducted via email.)


Trans-Siberian Extreme route indicated in dots on the expanse of Russia. Photo: courtesy Team Amit Samarth

At the end of nine stages Amit Samarth soldiers on rock steady. Six stages remain. As he logs mileage longer than what he endured at RAAM, he knocks on the doors of new experience.

For a real estimation of what the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme means, one needs to appreciate the vastness in the adjoining image.

Those dots linking the route of the race from Moscow to Vladivostok signify a long journey.

That perspective is only one half of the picture.

You have to also factor in the requirement to cover that expanse in 25 days on a bicycle.

The 15 stage-race spans 9100 kilometers, multiple time zones and a variety of weather and terrain conditions. At the time of writing, the race was past stage 9. Another six remained. The trans-continental sprawl of Russia hit home when the Ural Mountains was crossed in stage 4 and the cyclists transitioned from Europe to Asia.

In Russia; cyclist and support crew from Nagpur: Devnath Pillai (extreme left), Amit Samarth (second from left), Chetan Thatte (second from right). Photo: courtesy Team Amit Samarth

Amit Samarth, the maverick doctor from Nagpur has hung in there finishing every stage diligently, typically placed fifth in a field of six cyclists at an average speed of 25.7 kilometers per hour. In the distance cycled so far, there have been four stages in excess of 500 kilometers; stage 3 was around 693 kilometers long, stage 6 and 7 were both around 619 kilometers while stage 9 was 557 kilometers long. So far the top three positions at the end of each stage has switched around between Russia’s Vladimir Gusev, Pierre Bischoff of Germany, Michael Knudsen of Denmark and Marcelo Florentino Soares of Brazil. Stage 7 was noteworthy for Gusev pulling out over medical issues. He was back for the next stage. The rules of the race allow a participant to leave the race twice and continue in a minor classification. The sixth cyclist in the fray is Patricio Doucet of Spain.

Amit’s progress has been steady so far. The only aberration appeared to be a time penalty he got (along with Marcelo) for a navigation error in stage 3. Amit is the first Indian to participate in Trans-Siberian Extreme. If he successfully reaches the finish line, he would be repeating what he did last year in his maiden participation at Race Across America (RAAM) – complete yet another monster race in his very first attempt. “ He is doing good,” Devnath Pillai, currently part of Amit’s support crew in Russia, said.

Photo: courtesy Team Amit Samarth

Between Amit and completion lay the fact that the second half of the race in Russia is uncharted territory for the Nagpur based-cyclist. His previous longest race is RAAM, which at around 4800 kilometers is just a shade over half the distance involved in Trans-Siberian Extreme. In an earlier conversation with this blog, Amit had mentioned that whatever unfolds beyond this mark in terms of how his body and mind behaves, would be new experience for him. To his credit, he seems to have managed the race well so far.

According to those close to Team Amit Samarth, sometime in stage 10, the racers will exceed the length of RAAM in terms of how much they cycled since start in Moscow. What should further engage those tracking the progress of the 2018 edition is that most of the shorter stages have already been done. Looming ahead are a couple of truly long stages exceeding 1000 kilometers; stage 13 for instance spans 1372 kilometers (that’s more than the distance by road from Mumbai to Chennai). Stage 10 from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk will be the first 1000 kilometer-plus stage. “ Fortunately we have a day off after that. It will help if he pedals through safely today and tomorrow. All the cyclists are tired. It’s their mental frame that’s going to take them to the finish,” Devnath informed early morning, Sunday (August 5).

The 2018 Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme will conclude in Vladivostok on August 17.

Update: Amit Samarth has completed the 1094 kilometer-long tenth stage from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk. The latter is one of the largest cities in Siberia. Interestingly, when the race started in Moscow on July 24, the six cyclists in the fray were two and a half hours behind India in time. At Irkutsk, they are two and a half hours ahead. As of Tuesday (August 8), five stages remained in the 15 stage-race with the thirteenth stage being a very long one.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on information available from Team Amit Samarth and the Facebook page of the race.)  


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

With a new meet record under his belt, javelin thrower Rohit Yadav finds himself looking at an opportunity to train under former world record holder, Tom Petranoff, in the US.

Rohit Yadav, the promising javelin thrower from Uttar Pradesh, is on the cusp of a new chapter in his life.

Returning to competition after a one year suspension for alleged use of a banned substance, he secured gold at the National Youth Athletics Meet of July 2018 in Vadodara. He hurled the javelin to a distance of 77.41 meters, a new meet record. At the time of ban, Rohit held the national record in under-16 age category; he was also among top athletes worldwide in that segment. He has since moved into the under-18 age category, also called `youth’ category. Both Rohit and his father Sabhajeet Yadav, the well-known amateur runner, have consistently maintained that the family has no idea how the banned substance got into Rohit’s system. It happened over the period of a training camp in Allahabad.

Sabhajeet is a farmer from Dabhiya. Both he and his son were rattled by the ban. A consequence of testing positive for the banned substance has been the duo’s eroded faith in training camps. In the run-up to the National Youth Meet in Vadodara, Rohit’s training was therefore done entirely at his village. There is no proper training facility in Dabhiya. There is no gym. Everything has to be improvised. In the initial years of Rohit’s career, even the javelin had to be improvised. Eventually the family bought a javelin from Patiala. Sabhajeet has been winner multiple times in his age category at the Mumbai Marathon and several other running events in the country. Things changed comprehensively on the javelin front in March 2018, when Bhasker Desai – he is a Mumbai-based businessman and amateur runner who has been Sabhajeet’s benefactor for long – sponsored a competition standard, imported Nemeth javelin for Rohit. Late July Bhasker, Sabhajeet and Rohit were together in Mumbai to address steps required for the youngster’s growth in his chosen discipline. Prominent in their talk was Amentum.

Rohit Yadav (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Amentum Sports is an upcoming sports management company that has elected to specialize in the emergent talent for javelin-throw in India. It has signed on several young athletes including Samarjeet Singh Malhi (senior category); Shivpal Singh (senior category), Vikas Yadav (youth / under 18), Runjun Pegu (women’s / under 20 category), Anand Singh (junior / under 20 category) and Sahil Silwal (junior / under 20 category). Also signed on is Rohit (youth / under 18). According to Siddharth Patil, a director of Amentum (he is founder of Coachkhoj, an outfit that connects talent in sports to relevant coaches), the company got interested in Rohit after the training camp episode, which cast him to a low point in life. As mentioned, Rohit was, at that time, both national record holder and among top ranked performers in his age category worldwide. Besides Siddharth, Amentum has three other directors – Aditya Bhargava, Vivek Gupta and Michael Musselmann, the latter a former Peruvian national record holder in javelin throw. Amentum is aligned with Throwing Zone Athletics a US company founded by former javelin throw world record holder, Tom Petranoff. His 1980 world record of 99.72 meters (further improved to 104.80 meters by the German athlete, Uwe Hohn, who now coaches star Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra), which raised worries around how throws could be contained in the confines of a stadium, was among reasons for the competition javelin to be redesigned. Now retired, Petranoff is inventor of the turbo javelin. Sold under the brand name Turbojav, it is used mostly for practice sessions indoors. It is safer than the regular javelin. Petranoff’s company also organizes special clinics and video based-instruction for those well into the sport of javelin-throw.

In the period following his ban, as Rohit trained in Dabhiya, Musselmann and Petranoff offered remote guidance. The training schedule was dispatched to Rohit via smartphone. He followed the instructions and sent back videos of his throws for analysis by Musselmann and Petranoff. At a chat this blog had with Bhasker, Sabhajeet and Rohit, the youngster said that he had managed a throw of 83 meters during one of his training sessions in Dabhiya. Data from training session at Dabhiya cannot be considered reliable; it does not have any external validation as would be the case at an event. However coming as it does from athlete well versed in the discipline, the training data may be taken as indication of potential. At the time of writing, the national record was 87.34 meters. Siddharth said that Petranoff believes Rohit can excel with systematic training and improvement to technique. Interestingly, one of the things he needs to do is put on some weight. An athlete with no visible fat on self, Rohit’s nutrition is said to have suffered partly due to the family’s apprehension over what to eat and what not to, in the wake of the doping ban. Musselmann has been coaching Rohit since July 2017. In a letter of recommendation (wherein he mentions 83 meters as Rohit’s best throw in training), Musselmann noted: Rohit is ahead of Neeraj at his age. Neeraj managed to throw 73-74 meters at 17, so he is four meters ahead of him. In order to succeed, Rohit will need to gain muscle and strength and improve his throwing, but this requires special nutrition and more advanced training, with better equipment such as javelins that cost a lot of money, shoes and weight lifting gear that is expensive.

Sabhajeet Yadav (left) and Rohit (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

One event Rohit’s well-wishers hope he will make it to later this year is the 2018 Youth Olympics scheduled to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. For that, the national selectors have to take note of his return to competition and the distances he has been throwing the javelin to in the youth category. Following Rohit’s success at Vadodara, he is rated number one in India in his discipline in the youth category and correspondingly, number three worldwide. Meanwhile according to Siddharth, plans are now afoot to get Rohit to the US to train with Petranoff. The latter believes Rohit is a one of a kind athlete. “ You seldom find an athlete so talented with such a work ethic,’’ he said. In a letter of recommendation Petranoff has addressed to prospective sponsors, he observed: His (Rohit’s) work ethic is epic. Rohit is hungry and just needs some help to get to the next level. Amentum’s annual plan for Rohit (covering the next two years) includes a phase of training and competing in the US under the guidance of Tom Petranoff, a phase of training and competing in Germany under the guidance of Petra Felke (the only woman to throw a javelin more than 80 meters, Felke became Olympic champion in 1988 and broke the world record four times between 1985 and 1988) and then training the rest of the year monitored by Musselmann and Petranoff. For immediate focus, this program targets attempting to break the world junior record currently held by Neeraj Chopra. Long term goals include the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games.

Alongside the effort to send Rohit abroad for training, options are also being explored to secure him a job in India; one that would have him on the rolls here but leave him free to train overseas. The move to train in US and Germany will take some time to happen for resources have to be put in place for it. A crowd funding campaign is on the cards to raise funds. “ Rohit also needs to become more familiar with English,’’ Bhasker said. But in javelin’s season of ascent in India ever since a phenomenon called Neeraj Chopra arrived on stage, nobody wants to leave any stone unturned for Rohit’s future. If you want to do something, this is the time.

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