2019 LONDON MARATHON / TALKING TO SOME OF THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED

2019 London Marathon finisher’s medal. This photo was downloaded from the event’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation pupose. No copyright infringement intended)

A record number of runners – 42,905 according to the organizers – participated in the 2019 edition of the London Marathon.  The race was won by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge in the second fastest time in history.

For India, the 2019 edition was special as it saw an Indian athlete – Nitendra Singh Rawat – run in the elite category of the London Marathon. He finished 27th overall. It was also a race to remember for amateur runners. Mumbai-based Himanshu Sareen completed the six World Marathon Majors, with this run. As did Bengaluru-based runner and coach, K.C. Kothandapani and Karthik Anand, a runner from the same city.

This time around the organizers reduced use of plastic bottles by cutting the number of aid stations. At one of the aid stations, sports drink packed in seaweed pouches was on offer. An innovative product by a London-based start-up, the pouches are biodegradable. They can be discarded after use or consumed. The product drew much media attention for its abject relevance in making running events green and sustainable. But prior familiarity seemed to matter; certainly on race day when people attach premium to finishing and striving for personal best (PB). Some of the Indian runners this blog spoke to did not try the product as they wished to stick to options they were accustomed to.

Here’s what those we spoke to had to say of 2019 London Marathon:

Nitendra Singh Rawat (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page)

Nitendra Singh Rawat

Having risen to the top echelons of India’s marathon fraternity and set the course record at Mumbai Marathon, Nitendra Singh Rawat had been thinking of racing overseas at one of the World Marathon Majors.

He chose the 2019 London Marathon and applied to participate in the amateur category through the regular ballot process. “ I didn’t succeed. So I mailed the organizers explaining my backdrop and my wish to run in London. They got back seeking details. That’s how I was eventually accepted to run in the elite category at the event. The whole process from application to confirmation took a month or two,’’ Nitendra said.

According to Nitendra, the green signal to run in London landed a day ahead of the 2019 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). There was a hurdle to overcome – traveling to London and back is expensive. He needed funding. That January, he emerged winner among Indian elite runners at TMM. He asked Procam, organizers of TMM, if they would sponsor his trip to London. They agreed. “ I am very grateful to them for the support,’’ Nitendra said. He trained for the 2019 London Marathon in Ranikhet, home base of the Indian Army’s Kumaon Regiment, to which Nitendra belongs. “ I trained targeting a timing of 2:12-2:13,’’ he said. The timing mentioned, besides being an improvement on Nitendra’s existing personal best, is also in line with the general drift among contemporary Indian marathoners to catch up with the late Shivnath Singh’s longstanding national record in the discipline.

The 2019 London Marathon was a much talked of affair. The field was quite competitive. The stars of the show were defending champion and world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and the UK’s middle distance great Mo Farah, who just months earlier had won the 2018 Chicago Marathon. Giving them company was a battery of elite runners from Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere. Race day in London commenced rather cold. Conditions improved as the race progressed. According to Nitendra, he could maintain the pace he had trained for till about the thirtieth kilometer. Around 27-28 kilometers, he sensed tiredness creeping into his calves. Slowly it built up. Past 35 kilometers, the discomfort aggravated considerably. “ Running at that pace became difficult. I had to slow down,’’ he said.

Nitendra completed the race in 2:15:59 placing 27th overall. It wasn’t among his fastest races. His course record in Mumbai is 2:15:48. Besides, he had trained with 2:12-2:13 in mind. So a bit of disappointment is there.

Looking ahead, Nitendra wishes to run more races overseas. The reasons are simple and obvious – roads are better maintained abroad; weather conditions overseas are more hospitable to improve timing, the elite squad at major events is very competitive and being in their proximity is every long distance runner’s dream. “ You get to learn,’’ Nitendra said. Among the World Marathon Majors, Nitendra said, he would like to run next in Berlin. But the more immediate goal is to train and be ready for the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships due in Doha, Qatar in September.

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: courtesy Himanshu)

Himanshu Sareen

Barely 15 days after Himanshu Sareen crossed the finish line at Boston Marathon, he ran the 2019 London Marathon. “ There was no recovery time between Boston and London,’’ Himanshu said. At London Marathon, his last World Marathon Major, Himanshu had set an optimistic target as well as an acceptable target. The optimistic target was to achieve a sub-2:50; the acceptable target was 2:55.

“ Very early into the run at London I realized that I would not get a sub-2:50. It was too crowded. Unlike Boston, where the quality of runners is far superior, here you are running with runners of varying caliber. Overtaking is not possible,’’ he said. Himanshu finished the run in 2:55:09 hours. Favorable weather, flat route and awesome crowd support made the run enjoyable, he said.

“ I am happy to have ended the World Marathon Majors with this brilliant run,’’ he said. As per data available on the website of World Marathon Majors, Himanshu now holds the fastest time at each of the six events from among the 30 Indian amateur runners who completed the series.

Asked about the seaweed pouch at 2019 London Marathon, Himanshu said, “ it is a good experiment and has the potential to be a game changer in the gel and electrolyte market.’’ He tried it. “ The gummy bit felt the same as Lucozade gel. The seaweed casing part was a bit chewy and although it was consumable I discarded it because it was difficult to ingest while running fast,’’ he told this blog.

Kavitha Reddy (Photo: courtesy Kavitha)

Kavitha Reddy

“ It was a great run,’’ Pune based-amateur runner, Kavitha Reddy said of 2019 London Marathon. She she crossed the finish line in 3:23: 01, a personal best. “ My target was around that timing and I was able to achieve it,’’ she said adding that she consistently paced herself throughout the run.

“ It was a wonderful race. The energy level was high with people cheering loudly. The weather was perfect,” she said. The crowd support all along the course gave the race the feeling of a carnival. She was aware of the new hydration product that London Marathon organizers had introduced. But she did not try it. “ I normally carry my own water, gels and salt tablets. This time I took water from the aid stations,’’ she said.

This was her fourth World Marathon Major; she has completed New York, Boston and Berlin previously. She is scheduled to run Chicago Marathon later this year.

K. C. Kothandapani (Photo: courtesy Kothandapani)

K.C. Kothandapani

Bengaluru-based runner and coach, K.C. Kothandapani wanted to give his best at London Marathon 2019 as it was for him, the last of the six World Marathon Majors. His training for the marathon was quite good.

On the morning of race day, there was rain but during the run there was no rain. “ Our race was scheduled to start at 10:10 AM. We, including Karthik, his wife Deepti and Kavitha Reddy, reached about two hours before the start. During the first kilometer we were all together. My target pace was 5:01 per kilometer to achieve a 3:30 hour finish. I was well on target,’’ Kothandapani, who once worked with the Indian Air Force, said.

As the course started winding downhill, he ensured that he did not run too fast. Every seventh kilometer, he had a gel. His pace hovered in the sub-5 minutes per kilometer region. At the 17th kilometer, he lost one and a half minutes for a loo break. At the 40th kilometer, with just two kilometers to finish, he started to feel some strain in his left hamstring.  He slowed down slightly.

He finished the run in 3:28:43 hours, a personal best in recent times. “ I am very happy with my performance. I wanted to finish the World Marathon Majors on a high,’’ he said.

Cheering all along the route was excellent, Kothandapani said.

Among the six World Marathon Majors, Boston Marathon was the most memorable, he said. He ran Boston Marathon in 2015. He went back in 2018 to run the iconic marathon but midway through the course, ended up did not finish (DNF) because of adverse weather conditions.

“ I would like to go back to Boston and run it again. I would like to attempt it in 2021 when Boston Marathon turns 125 years,’’ he said adding that he would like to go for New York City Marathon in 2020 when it will be the 50th year of the event.

Karthik Anand (Photo: courtesy Karthik)

Karthik Anand

The 2019 edition of London Marathon was also Karthik Anand’s final event from the World Marathon Majors.

The Bengaluru-based runner ran his first World Marathon Major in September 2016 in Berlin. He followed it up with Tokyo, Chicago, Boston, New York and London. “At London, my target was to finish the run in 3:25 but I developed cramps at the 32nd kilometer and I had to walk the remaining ten kilometers to the finish,’’ he said. Karthik finished the run in 3:39:36 hours well outside his personal best. In February this year, Karthik had run the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon to a personal best timing of 3:24:35.

His training for London Marathon was good with mileage averaging 90 km per week interspersed with speed, tempo and long runs. Of the six World Marathon Majors, New York City Marathon is Karthik’s favourite. “ The crowd support here is the best. Also, I was pacing someone. So I enjoyed that run,’’ he said. Berlin Marathon is comparatively easy. So is Tokyo Marathon, where post-race organization is the best, Karthik said. He ran Boston Marathon, the toughest among the six, in 2018. It became the most difficult marathon for him because race day weather was brutal with heavy rains, strong winds and temperatures that were the coldest in three decades.

Deepti Karthik (Photo: courtesy Deepti)

Deepti Karthik

Deepti Karthik was introduced to running by her husband Karthik Anand, who was training with Pacemakers under coach, K.C. Kothandapani. She started running in 2011 and in 2014 she joined Pacemakers.

She got into running primarily for fitness. “ I did a lot of half marathons but my timing was not improving. That’s why I decided to attempt the full marathon,’’ she said.

In the last five months, Deepti has run three full marathons starting with Ajmera run in Bengaluru in December 2018 where she ended up on the podium with a timing of 4:25. She followed this up with IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon, where she finished in 4:23:15. In London, Deepti was able to knock off another 10 minutes from her timing and finish the race in 4:13:12.

“ After running the full marathon I realized that endurance is my forte,’’ she said.

Deepti now plans to attempt the remaining five World Marathon Majors.

Rajesh Nambisan (Photo: courtesy Rajesh)

Rajesh Nambisan

Having completed his quest of running full marathons on all the seven continents, Navi Mumbai-based runner, Rajesh Nambisan, is now on course to wrap up the World Marathon Majors.

In April 2019 when he crossed the finish line at London Marathon he was completing his fourth World Marathon Major, having already run at New York, Berlin and Chicago. Next month, Rajesh is scheduled to run the Comrades Marathon, the ultra-marathon that is held in South Africa. Last year, he completed the downhill version of Comrades Marathon. This year’s attempt will be to do the uphill version.

London Marathon was right in the middle of his training for Comrades. “ In consultation with my coach Dr Pravin Gaikwad, I decided to take London Marathon as a long tempo run. I did not want suffer any injuries so close to Comrades,’’ he said. The Comrades Marathon is slated for June 9.

“ There was no stress for me at London. The relatively flat course and the pleasant weather on race day helped me cruise along at an even pace,’’ he said. He completed the first half of the marathon in 2:06 hours and the second half in 2:10. His timing of 4:16:10 at London Marathon was his personal best. “ The cheering along the London Marathon route is so amazing that you can easily complete your run without any stress,’’ he said. Rajesh did not want to try the biodegradable seaweed gel pods that were on offer at London Marathon. “ I typically carry my own gel and hydration. I did not want to try something new during the race,’’ he said.

Once done with Comrades Marathon, Rajesh plans to move away from the ultra-marathon.

“ Running an ultra-marathon requires several hours of training. I would like to focus on shorter distances,’’ he said.

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