Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. It is part of the World Marathon Majors. Entry to this elite list of marathons is mostly through qualification on the strength of timing.
At the 123rd edition of the Boston Marathon, 26,632 runners completed the race. As per the race website, this amounted to a finish rate of 97.4 percent.
Weather is one of the major factors impacting performance of participants here. This time around, initial forecasts did not augur well. However the scenario changed closer to race date.
The weather could not have been more perfect, some of the runners from India that this blog spoke to, said.
Over 50 runners from India participated in the 2019 edition of the marathon. “ It was a strong performance by runners from India,’’ Bengaluru-based runner and coach, Ashok Nath said. He was running his tenth Boston Marathon.
Excerpts from conversations we had with runners:
In India, Kolkata-based amateur marathon runner, Anjali Saraogi, often ends up on the podium in her age category in the races she participates in.
2019, at Boston, she was the fastest woman among Indian runners who participated in the iconic marathon held on April 15, 2019.
She finished the race in three hours, fourteen minutes and thirty-three seconds, achieving a personal best across marathon races she has run so far.
Anjali was on the verge of not running the race because the weather in Boston worried her. “ When I landed here a week ahead of race day, it was freezing cold with temperature around 1 degree Celsius,’’ she said. She went out for a training run but felt very cold. Her finger joints hurt. “ My feet and hands felt like stone. It was as though I was barefoot. My pacing went awry. I lost track of hydration,’’ she said.
She had her eye on the weather forecast, which kept changing but mostly appeared bleak.
Disappointed, Anjali decided that she would not run the marathon. But on Saturday, the weather showed signs of improvement.
On race day, when she left home there was torrential downpour. “ Visibility was low. I had loads of clothing on me,’’ she said. By the time she got to Hopkinton, the start point of the marathon, the downpour had reduced to mild drizzle.
“ Boston Marathon features fast runners because of the stringent qualification norms for entry. You have to run at the pace of the runners or you could be tossed around,’’ she said. Anjali was very troubled and stressed thinking about it. But after 32k, the roads open up. Also, the sun was out.
During the second half of the race, she cramped because of inadequate hydration. It stemmed from days ahead of the marathon lost to cold weather.
“ Boston is a hard race. There is not one moment of rest. It is continuously up and down. But the volunteers are so cheerful and helpful, they take the race to a different level,’’ Anjali said.
Her meticulous training helped her a great deal. Equally helpful was the marathon experience. “ The fast runners of Boston Marathon helped me achieve a personal best,’’ she said.
Anjali called Boston Marathon a glorious race. However, she is doubtful if she will repeat it given the logistics, travel expenses and most important of all – the unpredictable weather of New England.
When you browse the results of Indian runners at 2019 Boston Marathon on the race website, the name that tops the list is that of Anubhav Karmakar.
Anubhav crossed the finish line at Boston Marathon in 2:45:45.
His target was to finish within the range of 2:43-2:46 and he achieved it. Once a corporate employee, Anubhav is now a coach for endurance races and has set up his own outfit, Athloft, offering training for running, cycling, triathlon and duathlon.
At the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), Anubhav had finished third in his age category of 30-34 years with timing of 2:52:30.
Anubhav’s first foray into fitness was joining a gym but he found it unsustainable. He started running in 2013. Cycling engaged his mind more. He got into bicycle racing and slowly moved to the triathlon. He went on to do three half Ironman events.
It was in 2015 that Anubhav adopted a more structured approach to running. At the 2014 edition of Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), he had finished the full marathon in 4:22:53. In five years, he was able to chop off an hour and thirty minutes from that. Mid-April, 2019, he was at the starting line of Boston Marathon. He knew well that the course won’t be easy.
He commenced the race strong and continued to feel strong mid-way through the marathon. He did the first half very clinically, ensuring that he did not overdo. During the second half Anubhav decided to go by “feel.’’ He had heard about Heartbreak Hill, an incline that appears roughly around the 20 mile-mark on the route. Running through it was not that tough. But there were several other downhills, which proved to be difficult. “ It is difficult to pace yourself through the downhills,’’ Anubhav said.
Weather is a major challenge at Boston. On the morning of the marathon, there was heavy rain. Runners getting ready to leave for the start line had to carry a lot of waterproof stuff.
“ While we were on the bus traveling to Hopkinton, it was raining heavily. By the time we reached the start point the sun was out. I discarded my fleece jacket. After some time my gloves went off and soon after my arm warmers too came off,’’’ he said.
Anubhav finished strong. He topped the list of runners from India.
Mumbai-based Himanshu Sareen was running Boston Marathon for the second year in a row. In 2018, he completed the run in 2:58:50, a timing considered quite good as race day-weather was brutal with heavy rains, strong headwinds and temperatures that were the coldest in three decades.
Many runners had dropped out of the race because of the deteriorating weather. Despite the conditions, Himanshu’s timing was not very far from his personal best of 2:49 hours, which he achieved at the 2018 Tokyo Marathon.
At the 2019 edition of Boston Marathon, Himanshu finished in 2:54 hours. Having set a target of sub-2:50, he started the run well. He was able to complete the first half of the marathon in 1:23 hours but the downhills in the second half slowed him down a bit prompting him to take a minute’s break at one of the aid stations.
“ For the last six months I have not been going all out in races because of a recurring hamstring problem,’’ he said. Recently he started training with Bengaluru-based runner and coach, Ashok Nath. He has begun to see the benefits of Ashok’s method of training and is confident of the coach’s guidance playing out in races ahead.
Himanshu started running about six years ago. Sometime in August 2013, looking for a holiday, he decided to travel to Brisbane with a friend; the latter had enrolled to run a half marathon. Himanshu did all of the three practice runs for this event – 5k, 8k and 11k. He finished the actual race in 1:47:46. By Indian amateur running standards, this is good timing for a first run.
Himanshu succumbed to the running bug.
Within a short time he ramped up to ultra-marathon distances. In 2014, he ran the 250k Fire and Ice Ultra in Iceland. The very next year, he did an ultra-run in Zermatt, Switzerland and then followed it up with UTMB. “ After these experiments with the ultra-marathon, I decided to focus on the full marathon distance,” he said.
Boston now done and dusted, next week, Himanshu will be attempting London Marathon, another of the World Marathon Majors. When that is completed, Himanshu would have run and finished all the World Marathon Majors.
Himanshu has been running marathons in various continents including Antarctica. With running, he has been able to also fulfill his passion for traveling. So far, Himanshu has traveled to 70 countries.
In the early years of the Mumbai Marathon, Purushottam Kulawade, then a student staying at Sydenham College hostel, would walk over to Marine Drive to watch celebrity runners go by.
Enthused by the sport, he took to running. But in his first outing at a 10 kilometer-race in Pune, he ended up Did Not Finish (DNF). All the same, running continued; in 2009, he ran his first half marathon at Hyderabad and in 2010 his first full marathon at Auroville in Pondicherry.
A TCS employee, Purushottam now lives in Philadelphia. In 2018, he ran the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon in Pennsylvania. He got a personal best of 3:08:46 hours in that marathon. His entry to the 2019 edition of Boston Marathon was secured. But his training for it was not up to the mark as he was suffering from shin splints. He had set a target of 3:05 with the aim of bettering his personal best. His run went well but as it progressed the rising temperatures became a bother. “ I had not trained for such weather,’’ he said. He finished the run in 3:14:48.
Having completed Boston Marathon, Purushottam has just one of the World Marathon Majors left – Tokyo Marathon. That opportunity may come through in 2020.
For the last few years, one name has consistently figured among Indian runners attempting the Boston Marathon. The 2019 edition was Ashok Nath’s tenth outing at the event.
“ I started running Boston Marathon with no intention of doing it so many times. After I completed it seven times, I thought I might as well do it ten times as ten is a nice number,’’ he said. To run Boston Marathon he has to block the month of April for it. It rules out the possibility of participating in Rotterdam Marathon, London Marathon and Paris Marathon, he said.
“ There is something about Boston Marathon. As 80 percent of the entrants come through the qualifying route, you end up running with runners of high caliber,’’ he said. The entire city comes out to support the runners.
He also pointed out that weather was a concern. On the morning of the run, skies were cloudy and there was heavy rain. “ My shoes and socks were wet,’’ he said. But as time went by, the weather improved.
The Bengaluru-based runner and coach wanted to finish strong and therefore did not want to push too much, early in the race. “ I was supposed to pace somebody. For the first five kilometers, I was searching for this runner but I could not find him. I then continued running at my pace,’’ he said. Ashok finished the run in 3:10:09 hours.
The uniqueness of Boston Marathon may prompt Ashok to go for it again. He has time to decide until September when registrations open for the next edition. At one level, he also wants to shift to shorter distance obstacle races.
In June 2019, he will be attempting his fifth Comrades Marathon, the ultra-marathon in South Africa.
Sharath Kumar Adanur
Entry norms for Boston Marathon are tough and yet runners, who are able to achieve the qualifying time, come back time and again to attempt it.
At the 2019 edition of Boston Marathon, Sharath Kumar Adanur, currently a resident of Jamshedpur, was attempting the race for the second time in a row.
“ I would like to come back to Boston. It is a challenging run,” he said.
With near perfect weather prevailing, Sharath had a very good run finishing the marathon in 2:51:28. He emerged second fastest from among the runners from India. However, he fell short of his target of sub-2:50. “ I trained well but I feel I should have put in more downhill training,’’ he said.
Last year, he had finished Boston Marathon amid difficult weather conditions. Sharath covered the distance in 3:17 hours; he ended up with hypothermia. He wanted to return to Boston and enjoy the race.
On a quest to complete the World Marathon Majors, Sharath will be returning the U.S. to attempt Chicago Marathon, later this year. In 2017, he had completed New York City Marathon finishing the race in 2:57 hours.
For Seema Yadav, it was her first time running the Boston Marathon.
She was mentally prepared for challenging course and weather.
Standing in her corral at the start line, Seema could only feel a sense of elation at the fortune of getting a chance to run the world’s most iconic marathon.
“ It was like a dream run for me,’’ she said. Yet, the race was not without challenges. “ Every hour the weather was changing. From cloudy, rainy, cold weather to humid and hot conditions, you experienced everything in those few hours,’’ she said.
Seema was nursing injuries. Three weeks prior to the marathon, she suffered Illiotibial band (IT band) and Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) insertion injuries. Her training got hampered.
“ It was extremely painful. I could not bend my knee. If I bend my knee I would have shooting pain and my knee would lock,’’ she said. She visited the physiotherapist daily until she left for Boston.
But the pain remained. Having got entry to Boston Marathon through qualification, she did not want to give up.
“ During the run, the support from volunteers and local residents was so amazing that it helped me divert my mind from my pain,’’ she said. The pain kept worsening and Seema wondered if she should stop for a while but decided against it. She continued running.
“ So many thoughts were going through my mind as I ran. I kept repeating a mantra to help me calm down. A famous Hindi film song, Ruk Jana Nahi was also running through my mind. I was feeling so overwhelmed that I could come here and run this marathon in which 80 percent of runners are selected through qualification,’’ she said.
When she finished the race, she was in no position to stand. She was in severe pain; her blood pressure had also dropped. She was escorted to the medical camp where she spent some time before she began to feel better. Despite all these problems, Seema finished Boston Marathon in 3:26:46, a personal best.
A recent entrant into amateur running, Seema had finished overall fifth among amateur runners and first in the age group of 35-39 years at 2019 Tata Mumbai Marathon. Her timing was 3:30:01 hours.
At Boston Marathon, Tanmaya Karmarkar was among runners from India who completed the race in less than three hours, thirty minutes.
She finished the run in 3:29 hours, a personal best for her.
“ At the start line, I was completely drenched and cold. Soon it started to get so humid and hot,’’ she said. The second half of the run was a little tough for her.
Tanmaya has been running for the past four to five years. She has finished on the podium at some of the races she participated in, in India. A Pune resident, she trains under Ashok Nath. At Boston, her target was sub-3:30 and she was able to achieve it.
She completed the Berlin Marathon in 2018 and is scheduled to go for the Chicago Marathon later this year.
In the 2018 edition of South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, Sandeep Kumar became the fastest Indian to complete the 90 k ultra-marathon, in the downhill version of the event. He completed the run in seven hours, thirty minutes.
A podium finisher at many of the races that he participates in, Sandeep works as an engineer with L&T in Surat. His preferred terrain for running is trail.
Originally from Haryana, he forayed into long-distance running in 2014. “ When I started running, I had heard about the stringent qualifying time required for entry into Boston Marathon,’’ he said. April 2019, at Boston, his run went off very well.
In 2018, Sandeep had participated in the 30th IAU 100k World Championship held in Croatia. He has also represented India at World Championships in South Africa and China previously.
Sandeep’s training for Boston Marathon was impacted as he was called by Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to attend a certificate course for coaches (to train those in the under-16 age category) at Patiala. He lost two weeks in March, a month ahead of Boston Marathon. The positive side was that he topped the course and stands a good chance of being called for the next level.
In November 2018, Sandeep met with an accident that resulted in hip dislocation. Recovering from that, a month later, he set a course record in the 33k Chambal Challenge in Kota, Rajasthan, with a timing of 2:32:44 hours.
At Boston, the logistics to get to the start point can be quite an ordeal. Also, the fatigue of jet lag was weighing him down.
“ There was so much energy in Boston. I began to feel very positive. I initially started quite fast and then cut back on my speed. I ran four minutes per kilometer until 30k and then slowed down a bit,’’ he said. He finished the marathon in 2:56:07 hours, a personal best. He was one among five runners from India who secured sub-three hours finish this year at the event.
Subhojit Roy’s training for Boston Marathon went off fairly well.
However, he feels that it could have been better.
After running Chicago Marathon in 2018 where he finished in 3:15:25, he ran the full marathon at Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) in January 2019.
“ It was a mistake to run the full marathon in Mumbai. Also, I did not drink adequate water or consume gels. Race day was hot. It took me about two to three weeks to get back to training for Boston Marathon,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, the run at Boston was “ fantastic.’’ He finished it in 3:14:33, a personal best.
At Boston, Subhojit was to be paced by his coach but the two of them could not meet. “ I ended up running the first half faster than expected,’’ he said.
In his youth, Subhojit played badminton on a regular basis. As the years went by, the regularity declined and the sport became confined to weekends. Soon friends also disappeared for various reasons; some laid low by injury.
“ I realized that I have to continue my fitness regimen solo. I started running and towards the end of 2013 I enrolled for a race,’’ Subhojit said. He ran that race without any training.
He enrolled for more long-distance running events. With each race his efficiency kept improving. “ I was also committed a lot of mistakes. I learnt from them,’’ he said.
At the 2016 edition of Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), Subhojit ran the full marathon. He finished in 4:30 hours. The timing was not bad for debut but he had to walk the last 10 kilometers to complete the run.
A friend suggested that he attend a workshop conducted by Bengaluru-based runner and coach, Ashok Nath. “ I attended his workshop in 2016 in Mumbai and learnt a lot about the technique of running,’’ he said. He also realized that if he has to run a full marathon, he has to approach it seriously. He enrolled to train with Ashok Nath.
With guidance from the coach, he was able to correct his errors and systematically improve his timing. Participating in the 2017 edition of Berlin Marathon he finished the race in 3:22 hours; this enabled him to qualify for Boston Marathon. For his age group, the qualifying time required was 3:25 hours.
At the 2018 edition of TMM, Subhojit bettered that time to 3:20 hours and a month later at the New Delhi Marathon (NDM), improved it further to 3:16. “ I used the NDM timing to register for Boston as the margin was better,’’ he said.
The race experience in Boston was fantastic with great crowd support. “ When I finished I felt good. I would definitely like to go back to Boston,’’ Subhojit said.
When she crossed the finish line at 2019 Boston Marathon, Lata Alimchandani had reasons to be happy.
With this run, she completed all the six World Marathon Majors.
Her timing at Boston (4:04:43) was a new personal best (PB).
“ I could have finished the run in 3:59,’’ she said with a hint of regret. At mile 24, she saw a young woman runner being picked up by the medical team. She lost some time there. “ I also don’t run with my eye on the watch. Had I done that I could have finished in better timing,’’ she said. Nevertheless she is happy with the outcome and the new PB.
On the morning of race day, there was a lot of confusion over what to wear for the race. “ We got a message that it is going to be stormy and windy with heavy rains. I had to wear layers and cover my shoes in plastic. But by the time I reached the start line the weather had changed. There was a scramble to remove some of the layers,’’ she said.
The Boston Marathon course is tough. But the organization was excellent, she said. This was her seventh international run; she has run marathons at Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York, Tokyo and Boston.
She ran the Tokyo Marathon in March this year.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)