Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is now less than a year away.

The Games span July 24-August 9, 2020.

According to a report on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the event will break from tradition by having the Olympic cauldron not in the main stadium “ but on the waterfront at the Yume-no-Ohashi Bridge, near the urban sports cluster.’’ There will be a temporary cauldron in the stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies.

The Olympic stadium will be formally opened in December 2019. It has cooling systems given the Games will be held amid weather conditions expected to be warm.

Of particular interest to those tracking endurance sports, should be the description of the Olympic marathon route available in the report.

“ The marathon route starts and finishes at the stadium, passing the landmarks of Kaminarimon (the Thunder Gate, which is guarded by the deities of wind and thunder), the Imperial Palace, home of Japan’s new emperor Naruhito, Tokyo Station, the Zojoji temple, Tokyo Tower and the Nihombashi bridge.

“ But none of these milestones is expected to be as decisive as the hill that rises steadily from 37km to 41km on the course. It is not steep but it is relentless, rising 30m in elevation, from five meters to 35 meters on an otherwise almost flat course.

“ At that stage of the race, given the expected hot conditions, even a mole hill is likely to feel like a mountain to whoever is left in contention,’’ the report said.

Women athletes will hit the course on August 2, 2020; men on August 9.

“ The race walks will be held on the part of the marathon course that crosses the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace, using a one-kilometer loop for the 20km events and a two-kilometer loop for the 50km events,’’ the report said. The men’s 50km walk will have the earliest start among disciplines at the Games to escape the worst of the heat and the humidity.

According to the report, heat acclimatization strategy will be important for all endurance athletes.

So far, more than 3.22 million tickets for the event have been sold in Japan, the report dated July 24, 2019 said.

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


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The 2019 edition of Badwater 135 was won by Yushihiko Ishikawa of Japan. Two years earlier, in 2017, the race was won by Wataru Iino, a Japanese engineer and runner, posted on work to Chennai, India. Across men and women, as of 2019, Japanese runners had triumphed on four occasions at Badwater with Sumie Inagaki winning in the women’s category twice, back to back. Scan the results of another famous ultramarathon – Spartathlon; there are several Japanese runners among podium finishers over the years. Plus, who can forget Yuki Kawauchi’s gritty run at the Boston Marathon in 2018? Japan is a powerhouse in distance running, not that well known outside. Here’s a peek into an ecosystem for running in Asia’s Far East.

Most runners and fans of running study Africa.

The highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia are famous for the runners they create. Over the past few decades, podium positions at major races worldwide have gone to athletes from these countries. This dominance wasn’t always the case. Following his much appreciated book from 2013: Running with the Kenyans, author Adharanand Finn, turned his attention to the Japanese. The result was 2015’s The Way of the Runner. It dwelled on the running culture in Japan, a country that was churning out performances in long distance running next only to the Kenyans and Ethiopians. “ Before the running boom in the west; before the Africans, the Japanese completely dominated marathon running in the world,’’ Finn explains in an interview posted on YouTube by publishers, Faber and Faber in May 2015. According to that video, in 1965, around 11 of the top 12 runners in the world were Japanese.  Next year, it was 15 of the top 17.

“ They were dominating like the Kenyans dominate now, partly because they were one of the only countries running marathons on a large scale. It’s not very well known that Japan has got this obsession with running. Part of the reason for that is that the biggest races are all internal races. They have these huge long distance relay races which are called ekidens. They traverse quite large distances; from 200 kilometers, 300 kilometers….the longest one is around 1000 kilometers,’’ Finn says. Ekidens are very popular in Japan. The biggest ekiden – the Hakone Ekiden –spans two days and is a much watched telecast. “ Everybody watches it, even people who have no interest in running the rest of the year. This is real passion for running,’’ Finn says in the video, about the Hakone Ekiden. But because it is all happening within the country, ekidens are not that well known outside Japan.

According to Wikipedia:  The first ekiden was held in Japan in 1917 as a 3-day, 23-stage run from Kyoto to Tokyo for more than 507 kilometers, in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tokyo’s establishment as the nation’s capital (from its previous status as the shogunate Edo while Kyoto was capital city). Eki means “station” and den translates as “to convey”. It was the name given to the old Japanese transportation system for government documents and officials by relay of horses or men. At the heart of the modern relay race is a sash carried by each runner (it is slung from the shoulder and worn across the body) and passed on to the next. This sash is everything. You run to ensure that it is passed on. Should a runner fail to pass it on, then a whole team risks being disqualified. In turn the devotion to sash and runners trying their level best to not fail, are seen to directly complement team building and obliquely, evoke imagery of the warrior spirit. To put things in perspective, the Japanese take sports seriously. It assumes importance at high school level and by university the importance given to training and coaching is quite high. There are ekidens featuring high school and university teams.

Yuta Shitara, who placed second at the 2018 Tokyo Marathon in a remarkable late stage surge. In July 2019, the Japanese runner – he is a former national record holder – set a new course record at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Gold Coast Marathon)

Sample this observation in Wikipedia about the 2010 (86th edition) of the Hakone Ekiden: Of the 380 athletes representing the 19 universities, 328 have run under 14:40 for 5000 meters; 150 at 14:20 and 33 under 14:00. Stepping up to the 10,000 meter distance, the same sources show that these 19 Tokyo universities list over 190 runners with personal bests under 30:00. For comparison: as of 2019, the Indian national record for men in 5000 meters is 13:29:70 and for women, 15:15:89; in the case of 10,000 meters, it is 28:02:89 and 31:50:47. The Hakone Ekiden’s course starts in central Tokyo, goes out of the city and up the mountains to the base of Mount Fuji. The next day, the event reverses direction and runners race back. Wikipedia pegs the first day distance at 108 kilometers and the second day at 109.9 kilometers. Each day’s run has five sections. In a write-up on the Hakone Ekiden in January 2014 in The Guardian, Finn himself noted that the event’s 10 stages are close to half marathon distance with over the two days, 30 students running a “ half marathon-equivalent time of under 63 minutes’’ excluding timings on the race’s fastest sixth segment, which is mostly downhill. In the whole of 2013, only one runner in UK – Mo Farah – ran a half marathon in under 63 minutes, Finn wrote highlighting the quality of runners at the ekiden. It doesn’t stop there.

Suguru Osako; as of July 2019, he held the Japanese national record in the marathon – 2:05:50 – set at the 2018 Chicago Marathon (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page. It is being used here for representation purpose only. No copyright infringement intended.)

Large Japanese companies maintain ekiden teams. A February 2018 article by Martin Fritz Huber on Japanese runners, available on the website of Outside magazine, mentioned that some five dozen corporate teams existed, each having at least 20 full time, paid runners. That is a pool of 1200 elite long distance runners. There are leagues for these teams; there are corporate championships. The interest of corporates in ekidens has also opened another angle. Professional athletes survive on the strength of sponsorship, appearance fee and prize money. As Finn points out in the video, typically, if a professional athlete is injured or is past his / her prime, the challenges are many.  You have to make a new beginning, find new means to survive. At companies having ekiden teams, a good athlete gets backed by regular salary. When such an athlete retires from the sport, he / she settles down to a job in the office. Finally, going by what multiple sources on the Internet speak of the ekiden, the human drama associated with the event ranging from team spirit to ensuring the sash is passed on at all cost, make races interesting for telecast. Videos of ekidens show spectators lining up to cheer. In the case of ekidens featuring corporate teams, spectators include company employees and their families.

Wataru Iino,winner of the 2017 Badwater Ultramarathon, at the production facility of Daimler India Commercial Vehicles in Chennai, India (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

So how does this ecosystem translate into performance at elite levels? The earlier quoted observation from Wikipedia provides overview of performance parameters at university level. The Outside magazine article – the expert consulted therein was again Adharanand Finn – offered similar perspective with a major marathon for backdrop.  In 2018, Yuta Shitara secured second place at the annual Tokyo Marathon; he finished the race in 2:06:11. What impressed was that Japan had six runners in the top ten in the men’s category and altogether nine, including those outside the top ten, who ran quicker than 2:10 – all this from one race (the data is still there among archived race results, on the event’s website). When the author of said article looked up the fastest times in marathon history, he found that in contrast, only 17 American runners had managed sub-2:10. Restricted to record eligible-courses, the number shrank to 11. At several major races, Japanese runners finish in the top ten but amid highly competitive sport with narrative seeking African runners, they get overlooked. The world’s best timings reported by the Association of Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), is usually a list awash in names from Africa. Among a spattering of names from other regions, the Japanese also feature. In 2018, the fastest Japanese marathon runner was Suguru Osako; his third place finish at the Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:05:50 (at the time of writing it was Japan’s national record in the discipline) placed him 27th on the list. The current world record, set by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge in September 2018 in Berlin, is 2:01:39.

Yoshihiko Ishikawa, winner of the 2019 Badwater Ultramarathon (This photo, downloaded from the Facebook page of Northern Ireland Running, is from the 2017 Belfast 24 Hour World Championships. No copyright infringement intended)

As with any ecosystem, there are stories around the ekiden too. One such is about a man often described to have taken the longest duration yet to complete a marathon – 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds. In that time, Shizo Kanakuri got married, had six children and ten grandchildren. His story started in the early years of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia:  During the November 1911 domestic qualifying trials for the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, although the length of the course was probably only 40 km (25 miles), Kanakuri was reported to have set a marathon world record at 2 hours, 32 minutes and 45 seconds. He was thus selected as one of only two athletes that Japan could afford to send to the event. Kanakuri had to travel 18 days to reach Stockholm from Japan; first by ship and then by the Trans-Siberian Railway. He took five days to recover from the journey.

That year, the Olympic marathon was plagued by unexpected warm weather conditions. More than half the field suffered from hyperthermia. Kanakuri, already weak from his long journey and having issues with the local food; lost consciousness midway through the race. He was looked after by a farming family. Embarrassed by his failure he returned quietly to Japan without informing race officials. Swedish authorities recorded him as “ missing.’’ Although he competed at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp (where he completed the marathon in 2 hours, 48 minutes, 45.4 seconds to place 16th), it seems to have missed Sweden’s eye. Decades went by before Swedish authorities found out that he was alive in Japan. In 1967, Swedish Television invited him back to complete the race he had begun in 1912. According to Wikipedia, Kanakuri who is celebrated as “ the father of marathon’’ in Japan, played an important role in establishing the biggest of the ekidens – the Hakone Ekiden.

Yuki Kawauchi aka Citizen Runner and Civil Services Runner, at the 2018 Boston Marathon (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Boston Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.)

Given its reputation for discipline and industry, conformation would seem prized in Japanese culture including the culture around running. Ekidens are an important aspect of Japanese running culture; as are corporate teams. You would think they are unquestioningly followed as ideal progression for runner. That isn’t always the case. There are those who navigate differently. In the video, Finn mentions one such athlete – Yuki Kawauchi, among Japan’s best runners in recent years. Kawauchi worked at Kuki High School in Saitama Prefecture. He was not on any corporate team. In fact, Wikipedia mentions that after graduating, Kawauchi did not receive much interest from corporate running teams. “ He is one of the top runners and yet he has completely shunned the entire Japanese system. So he is very rebellious in that way and people love him for that,’’ Finn says in the 2015 video. Kawauchi – he is often called “ Citizen Runner’’ and “ Civil Services Runner’’ – is best remembered for winning the Boston Marathon in 2018, a year when the race had its coldest start in three decades and was run amid tough weather conditions. That said, news reports after the 2018 edition of the Boston Marathon said that Kawauchi was planning to quit his government job and shift to being a professional runner. Apparently he had been thinking of doing so since a ten day visit to London in 2017, for the IAAF World Championships. The move was seen as helping him improve his existing timing in the marathon and compete with the world’s best. He wished to use the prize money he got in Boston to effect the transition. In April 2019, a report in Japan Times said that Kawauchi had become a professional marathon runner.

Ekidens are now held outside Japan too. According to Wikipedia, they are held in Hawaii, Guam, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Singapore.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. He hasn’t seen an ekiden except on video; he hasn’t been to Japan. The above article is based on information available on the Internet. For an article on Wataru Iino, winner of the 2017 Badwater Ultramarathon, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2017/10/26/in-oragadam-a-badwater-winner/)     


Sunil Chainani (Photo: courtesy Sunil)

Ultra-running has picked up in India and the need of the hour is advanced guidance on running techniques, nutrition and prevention / management of injuries to sustain the present momentum.

A training camp for ultra-runners is being organized.

“ This is the first time that India’s ultra-running community has come together to hold an informal training camp for some of the leading ultra-runners of the country. It is being funded by friends of the running community,’’ Sunil Chainani, member of the Ultra Running Committee of Athletics Federation of India (AFI), said.

The camp will be held in Bengaluru from August 11 to 18. Anthony Kunkel, a US-based coach, will offer guidance to the runners. A nutritionist and a physiotherapist will also be a part of the camp.

A former national level squash player, Sunil took up running for fun. In 2003, he ran a half marathon and enjoyed it thoroughly. “ Those days there were very few shoe models available, purpose-built for running. I ran wearing a cotton t-shirt,’’ he said. Though he had started running long before the landmark Mumbai Marathon debuted in 2004, Sunil’s journey in running gathered direction only from 2006. Sometime that year, he participated in the Lipton Bangalore International Marathon.

In 2005, the group Runners for Life (RFL) came into being. “ It introduced the concept of strength training to runners,’’ Sunil said. In 2007, RFL started the country’s first ultra-running event, Bangalore Ultra. Sunil made his foray into ultra-running with this event and went on to run several editions, in the process extending the distance he tackled from 50 kilometers to 100 kilometers.

In 2011, he ran the uphill version of Comrades Marathon, the ultramarathon held in South Africa.

“ I am passionate about sports and have been involved in sports for several years now. I am happy to give back to the sporting world,’’ he said. He is now actively involved in co-ordinating for international ultra-running events.

According to Sunil, running too many races is not the way forward for recreational runners and runners of ultra-distances. The training camp, he feels, signifies the start of a properly structured approach. He feels Indian ultra-runners should be able to make a mark at the global level in three to four years.

A regular at Malnad Ultra, Sunil will have to give this trail ultra-running event held in the Western Ghats of South India, a miss this year as he is scheduled to run the New York City Marathon in November 2019. “ I would like to go back to South Africa to run the Comrades Marathon,’’ he said.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)


Yoshihiko Ishikawa (This photo, downloaded from the Facebook page of Northern Ireland Running, is from the 2017 Belfast 24 Hour World Championships. No copyright infringement intended)

Patrycja Bereznowska sets new women’s course record

Pamela Chapman-Markle sets new course record for her age category

Rajesh (Raj) Vadgama and Siva Balu complete the race

Japan’s Yoshihiko Ishikawa has won the men’s 2019 Badwater 135 in record time .

“ Our men’s 2019 Badwater Champion is Yoshihiko Ishikawa, setting a new course record in 21 hours 33 minutes and 01 second!,’’ the race organizers said in an official tweet.

The previous course record was held by Pete Kostelnick. In 2016, he completed the race in 21 hours, 56 minutes and 31 seconds.

The first woman to complete the 2019 edition of the race was Poland’s Patrycja Bereznowska; she was also second overall. Patrycja, 43, set a new women’s course record of 24 hours, 13 minutes and 24 seconds.

Third overall and second among men was Harvey Lewis of the US, who covered the distance in 26 hours, 11 minutes and 18 seconds. Gina Slaby of the US was the second female finisher (she was ninth overall, placing just two seconds behind the eighth place). They were neck and neck from Badwater Basin. She finished in 29:26:45.

Finishing seventh overall and sixth among men was Grant Maughan from Australia. The 55 year-old completed the race in 28:30:33. Pamela Chapman-Markle of the US finished fifth among women and 24th overall. The 63 year-old covered the distance in 34:03:47 bettering her own course record for the age category (60-69 years). In 2018, she had finished in 34:30:53.

Patrycja Bereznowska (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page.)

Badwater 135, promoted as the world’s toughest foot race covers a distance of 135 miles or 217 kilometers non-stop from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in California, USA.

The race starts at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, which is 85 meters below sea level. It ends at Whitney Portal at a height 2530 meters. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 4450 meters of cumulative vertical ascent.

Ishikawa 31, had earlier won the 2018 edition of Sparthathlon, a historical ultra-marathon held in Greece. He finished the 246 kilometer distance from Athens to Sparta in 22 hours, 55 minutes and 13 seconds.

In this year’s edition of Badwater 135, there were two Indian runners in the field – Mumbai’s Rajesh (Raj) Vadgama and Siva Balu from Chicago. Siva Balu, 39, completed the race in 44:12:39. Raj Vadgama, 52, covered the distance in 44:37:39. They placed 69th and 70th overall, respectively.

At the time of writing, there had been 16 DNFs (Did Not Finish) so far in the 2019 edition of the race.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)


Anjali Saraogi receiving her award (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Ultra-runners, Anjali Saraogi and Ullas Narayana, have won the ultra and trail running awards for 2018-19, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) said in a statement today (July 15, 2019).

Kolkata-based Anjali was conferred the female ultra and trail runner award for 2018-19. Ullas, who lives and works in Vancouver, was chosen for the award in the male category.

The Ultra & Trail Running Committee of AFI selected the winners, the statement said.

Anjali’s performance at the IAU 100 kilometre World Championships in Croatia in September 2018 was mentioned as women’s best performance in 100 k event. She had completed the run in nine hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds.

Ullas’s bronze medal win at the men’s 24-hour run at IAU Asia & Oceanic Championships at Taipei in December 2018 was adjudged the best performance among men in that discipline. He had covered a distance of 250.37 kilometres to win the bronze medal.

Apoorva Chaudhary’s performance at the women’s 24-hour run at the NEB Sports New Delhi Stadium Run in December 2018 was commended as a significant achievement in ultra-running for women. She had covered a distance of 176.8 kilometers, setting a new national best in the discipline.

Surat-based Sandeep Kumar’s performance at the downhill version of the Comrades Marathon in 2018 and Deepak Bandbe’s run in the uphill version of the same event in 2019 were also mentioned as significant achievements. Sandeep Kumar had completed the ultra-marathon in South Africa in seven hours, 29 minutes and 53 seconds. Deepak Bandbe finished the uphill run in seven hours, 43 minutes and 34 seconds.

The highest ITRA rating among Indian ultra-runners was “ 730 general cotation” for Kieren D’Souza.

It was on 15 February 2017 that AFI became a member of the IAU. This paved the way for ultra-runners from India to participate on the international platform of the IAU and ITRA (International Trail Running Association); at the World and Asia & Oceania Championships. Since 2017, the AFI has sent Indian ultra and trail runners to represent the country at the Trail World Championships, the 24 Hour World Championships, the 100 Km World Championships and the 24 Hour Asia & Oceania Championships.

Ullas Narayana at the 2018 IAU Trail World Championship (Photo: courtesy Kieren D’Souza)

It was at the 2018 IAU 24 Hour Asia and Oceania Championships held at Taipei, that India won its first individual and team medal at an international ultra-running event. Ullas Narayana won the bronze medal in 24 Hours and the Indian Team comprising Ullas Narayana, Sunil Sharma and Lallu Meena finished in third spot.

The sport of Ultra Running and Trail Running has been growing rapidly with at least 50 such ultra-running events being organized in the country. A large number of runners are also competitively taking part in international events such as the Spartathlon, Badwater, La Ultra The High, UTMB and Comrades. A couple of domestic ultra-events are drawing up to 750 participants under different categories, a related statement said.

India bids to host international championships

According to the statement, AFI and NEB Sports have invited IAU President Nadeem Khan and Vice President Robert Boyce to consider India as the next destination for holding an International Ultra Running Championship. “ India has bid for hosting the IAU 24 Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in 2020 and the IAU 100 Km Asia and Oceania Championships in 2021,’’ it said.

“ We have received India’s bid to organize continental-level events and I think the facilities we visited in Bangalore are really good. The final decision on hosting IAU 24 Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in 2020 and the IAU 100 Km Asia and Oceania Championships in 2021 in India will be taken by IAU council,’’ the statement quoted the IAU President as saying.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)


Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah / this photo was sourced from the website of Trans Am Bike Race)

The Trans Am Bike Race is an unsupported cycle race from one side of the United States to the other. The 2019 edition of the event was won by Abdullah Zeinab from Australia; he reached the finish line in record time. This is his story.

Melbourne is where Abdullah Zeinab’s story in cycling begins.

He grew up in Adelaide with his mother and grandmother but moved to Melbourne after finishing school, to attend university. In Melbourne, he started cycling to work; he rode a single speed and his commute was around five to six kilometers. “ I really began to enjoy it and started riding the bike on the weekends,’’ Abdullah said. Before this phase of cycling he had tried out several different sports, growing up. He didn’t really pursue any of them longer than a few months. One choice however, was to leave a lasting impact. When he was sixteen he started going to the gym with his friends. That was the first thing he became consistent with. Strength training provided him a foundation to attempt other pursuits from.

“ Eventually I bought a road bike and the same weekend I decided to ride to Adelaide where my mother lived. It was about 1000 kilometers away. I didn’t know what I was in for and the reality of the situation was a big shock. I had no long distance gear, no lights and nothing to charge my electronics, with. The ride really broke me and I remember crying every day for no particular reason. After six days I made it to Adelaide and strangely as I pulled into my house I thought to myself: I want to try it again and see if I can do it better. This was probably in the middle of 2015. Since than I have followed a pattern of cycling consistently for a few months, then taking a few months off; continuing like that,’’ Abdullah said. Back in those early stages of his interest in cycling, he figured things out on his own. He has never been part of a cycling club or group. He wasn’t into brevets. “ I just started riding by myself and slowly began to meet other cyclists,’’ he said.

Roughly three years before Abdullah got into cycling regularly, in February 2012, a race to circumnavigate the globe on bicycle, was kicked off from near the Greenwich royal observatory in south east London. There were nine participants. The event was called Quick Energy World Cycle Racing Grand Tour. The riders were free to choose their own route. But according to media reports, they had to satisfy one condition – they had to cover a minimum of 18,000 miles in the same direction with GPS tracking throughout. Ninety two days after they set out, the race produced a winner – Mike Hall, an engineer from Harrogate, North Yorkshire. It was a new world record. Reporting the win, The Guardian wrote: a cyclist has triple cause for celebration after he won a round-the-world race on his birthday and broke the world record in the process. Hall would go on to become an iconic figure in unsupported (or self-supported) ultra-cycling. In 2013, the year after that round-the-world race, he won Tour Divide, a 2745 mile (4418 kilometers) annual race traversing the length of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to the Mexico border. That year on, he was principal organizer of the Transcontinental Race, an ultra-cycling event in Europe. In 2014, he won the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, a 4200 mile (6800 kilometers) race spanning the breadth of the United States.

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah / this photo was sourced from the website of Trans Am Bike Race)

As you look at the world map, some countries give you a distinct sense of space as matrix of land area and population (overall numbers and dispersion). Australia with its great outback is one of them. The above said matrix, is often sought by adventurers and endurance athletes; it is aesthetic they dig. Fremantle is a port city at the mouth of the Swan River in south west Australia. It is a place familiar to those into sailing or tracking the sport. It is a halt on the world’s regular circumnavigation route. The closest major city is Perth. The annual Indian Pacific Wheel Race (IndiPac) starts from Fremantle. Its course extends 5500 kilometers – a line across the belly of the continent – to finish at the famous Sydney Opera House on Australia’s south east. Among participants in the 2017 inaugural edition of IndiPac, was Mike Hall. Unfortunately, it was his last bike race. Hall was in the final phase of the race and placed second overall, when he was hit by a car on the Monaro Highway, south of Canberra in the early hours of March 31. He died at the scene. It was a big blow for the race and for the world of ultra-cycling. Following the accident, all racers were pulled off the course. Its impact was felt the next year for although riders registered to participate, the race couldn’t be officially held due to concerns ranging from ongoing inquiry into the accident to road safety. However participants decided to cycle all the same. The 2018 edition of IndiPac was therefore unofficial and it produced an unexpected winner (in this case, given unofficial race; person finishing first).

A year earlier, in 2017, Abdullah had been among those involved with filming IndiPac. It gave him a ringside view of elite ultra-cyclists. The experience was a game changer. “ Filming 2017 IndiPac and being able to witness the extraordinary capabilities of the riders doing the event from such close quarters – that really captivated me. I was following Mike Hall and Kristof Allegaert very closely during that race. Just the way both those guys carried themselves under extreme fatigue was fascinating. It looked like they were on a casual Sunday ride. I told my girlfriend halfway through that I had to try this race one day. After that I couldn’t back out on my word,’’ Abdullah said. He got back from a holiday at the end of November and began training for the event’s 2018 edition. “ I gave myself approximately 12 weeks to really train for it,’’ he said. As mentioned, IndiPac 2018 – happening as it did in the shadow of Mike Hall’s demise the previous year – was unofficial. It was a case of cyclists registered to participate, deciding to proceed despite event being cancelled. Several days and 5500 kilometers later, the first finisher of that year’s unofficial IndiPac reached Sydney’s Opera House. It was Abdullah on his Trek Emonda.

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah)

“ IndiPac 2018 went really well for me. I ended up reaching the finish first out of all the riders who started. Filming and driving the whole route the year before gave me a massive advantage. Also being able to witness two of the best unsupported ultra-endurance cyclists in the world in 2017 was the ultimate classroom. I guess what worked well for me was creating an ambitious plan. I didn’t really know what my potential was and I didn’t really want to limit it by creating a safe schedule to follow. Instead I just roughly set out to do what the leaders from the year before did and stuck to that. To my surprise I was able to stick to it. That race really showed me just a small taste of what the human body is capable of. I was under-trained and didn’t have the conditioning on paper to back it up day in, day out. But I just rode every kilometer as if it was my first and last,’’ he said. Winning the unofficial IndiPac of 2018 called for an altered approach to what he was doing. “ Given the race ended up well for me, I thought I should try and pursue this type of riding a bit further by being more consistent with training and set a target for a new race,’’ he said.

According to Abdullah, at the finish of IndiPac, somebody came up to him and asked if he could imagine a race with double the elevation and another 1300 kilometers thrown in. “ He said that’s what Trans Am is. I guess at that moment the seed was planted in my head,’’ Abdullah said. He went home and rested well for about three months. Then he commenced training with some structure. Although the distance of Trans Am was intimidating, especially once he began to reflect on how hard some moments were during IndiPac, he decided to give it a go.“ So basically, three months after I finished IndiPac, I decided that I would do Trans Am,’’ Abdullah said.

Over the next eleven months, he did triple the training he had done for IndiPac. “ I had never really been consistent with training before. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to see what would happen if I was consistent. I focused on getting out at least five times per week on the bike which was a lot different to my IndiPac preparation wherein at times, I rode only thrice a week. I knew I could ride long hours so I focused on quality rather than quantity and gave myself more time to rest throughout the training. This was possible because I gave myself more time to prepare. All in all it was approximately 750 hours on the bike from start to finish,’’ Abdullah said.  As with IndiPac, he researched Trans Am, essentially figuring out how much he wished to travel per day and checking what services were available along the way – till he was comfortable enough to ride it. “ In terms of details of the research, it’s just knowing the opening hours of gas stations, supermarkets and if there is a hotel nearby,’’ Abdullah said.

Unsupported racing (or self-supported as some call it) requires cyclist to carry all that he / she may need. There is no support crew trailing cyclist in a car. You can eat and avail shelter and repair from outside sources but on courses like the long ones ultra-cycling courts, there are intervening spaces with no human habitation and those with facilities too frugal for the sort of support you seek. An element of self-reliance is therefore important. At the same time, if all that you elect to carry becomes too much, then the weight is bound to slow down progress. What to take becomes a product of research, self-awareness, experience and appetite for the unknown. Given he had done IndiPac, Abdullah had a gear list for such racing. What he needed to do was – research and work out how far he could carry the same stuff for Trans Am too. “ The only difference was I took a few extra pieces of clothing to keep me warm; like an extra set of gloves. Everything I had was distributed between the frame bag and the top tube bag with some spare tubes in a small saddle bag on the seat post. I had spoken with a few friends online who had done the race previously and they helped me understand the type of conditions we would be going through and the necessary clothing required,’’ Abdullah said. Here’s what he finally carried: rain jacket, wind jacket, base layer, gloves (two pairs), beanie and glasses; multi tool, tubes (five), patch kit, spare tyre, zip ties, electrical tape, 10,000 Ma battery pack, wall charger to plug USB ports into, charging cables, Etrex 30x and Wahoo Bolt for navigation. As for bicycle, he used a 2019 Specialized S Works Tarmac.

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah / this photo was sourced from the website of Trans Am Bike Race)

What did he have on his mind, going into Trans Am 2019?

“ First and foremost I wanted to improve on my previous performance at IndiPac. The Trans Am course has a lot more elevation gain. So I thought that if I could get close to the same average distance per day, I would have improved. Goals before the race and during it are different. I wanted to set a new record at Trans Am and do it the fastest anyone had done before. But once I was a few days deep, I really just wanted to make sure I got to the end in one piece,’’ Abdullah said. According to him, the Trans Am experience was great. “ For crossing a whole country I would say it worked out very well. I had some bad patches of weather but it was mostly just rain and some severe head winds. I was fortunate because some of the racers behind me had to go through snow. There is really no other option than to keep going. I wish I had rain pants and some other things to keep me warm but in the moment the only way out is to continue. From what I experienced so far with this type of riding it rarely goes 100 percent as you expect but you become better at accepting the situation for how it is. The moment you don’t is the moment it becomes harder than it needs to be,’’ Abdullah said.

At both Trans Am and IndiPac, which preceded it, there were several moments when Abdullah was unsure if he would make it; mainly due to physical pain. “ Especially with Trans Am I had some moments of excruciating physical pain and I was unsure if I would make the next town without injury,’’ he said. In such circumstances and generally in ultra-long endurance races, how you think matters. What does Abdullah tell himself through such races?

“ For me, I got nothing to lose. Winning or losing the race isn’t going to define who I am. Cycling is something I do but it’s not who I am. Success for me is giving 100 percent effort. I have achieved enough of the goals I have set out to accomplish to realize that the moment you achieve them is never what you think it will be. It is really the process that is special. Being able to enjoy the process to the highest degree possible is something I continually strive for. In a race like this I tell myself all sorts of things. It depends on the situation and what I am dealing with. To me there is no suffering in a race. It’s not a word I say to myself. If am finding it overwhelmingly difficult and I am struggling to deal with it; well cool… that’s just how it is. Specifically for races like Trans Am or IndiPac, the moment I identify with suffering or something being extremely difficult as a bad or good thing it becomes my slow downfall. You submit yourself emotionally to the ups and downs of good and bad, hard and easy or sad and happy. In my mind moments are just moments. Weather they are good or bad is dependent on your perception of them. I just say to myself it’s okay. You’re okay. Such a simple statement; but it offers me a path that kind of transcends the ups and downs and offers a more stable experience, which allows me to enjoy the whole ride versus being a mess for 50 percent of it and being ‘happy’ for the other 50 percent,’’ Abdullah said.

Abdullah Zeinab in Yorktown, after completing Trans Am 2019 (Photo: Chip Coutts / this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Trans Am Bike Race public group)

At Trans Am 2019, the cyclist from Melbourne, Australia, completed the course in 16 days, nine hours, 56 minutes. He not only won the race; he set a new course record. For Abdullah, who has so far banked on his resources and support from his family, to fund his participation at major races this was the second big win of his fledgling career in cycling. “ I hope now that I may be able to get help from sponsors. We will see,’’ he said. In photos and videos showing his finish at IndiPac 2018 and Trans Am 2019 – they are available on the Internet – one person you notice is his mother. She is there at the finish line. “ My mother has always supported me in anything I do, whether it be playing table tennis or riding a bike. She really is my biggest supporter and I wouldn’t be the person I am without her,’’ Abdullah said.

After Trans Am 2019, what’s next for Abdullah Zeinab? “ Honestly right now I am just enjoying the time off and relaxing as much as possible. I am trying not to think about what’s next too much because I know it will ruin my relaxation and reflection time. In a month or so I will begin to see what excites me,’’ he said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. The interview with Abdullah Zeinab was done via email. Trans Am Bike Race website: https://transambikerace.com/)


Dutee Chand (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page. No copyright infringement intended.)

Gold for Dutee Chand at World Universiade

Sprinter Dutee Chand struck gold at the World University Games (World Universiade) at Naples in Italy.

According to media reports today (July 10, 2019), the national record holder became the first Indian woman track and field athlete to secure gold at the event when she won the 100m dash in 11.32 seconds. Del Ponte of Switzerland placed second with a time of 11.33 second while Germany’s Lisa Kwa Yie finished third in 11.39 seconds.

Dutee’s national record in 100m stands at 11.24 seconds.  At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, she had won silver in both 100m and 200m. Dutee’s gold at Naples is the second such instance for India after Hima Das won gold in 400m at the World Junior Athletics Championships last year.

New court ruling means Caster Semenya cannot defend her 800m title at Doha World Championships

In the ongoing Caster Semenya vs IAAF story, the South African athlete will now not be able to defend her 800m title at the upcoming IAAF World Championships in Doha, as on July 30, a tribunal at the Swiss Supreme overturned an earlier order of the same court granting her temporary exemption from rules set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regarding athletes having differences in sexual development (DSD).

According to media reports, Semenya, responding through her PR agency, has said that notwithstanding the latest court ruling, she would continue fighting for her human rights and that of other similar athletes. Semenya’s lawyers have said that their appeal process will continue. The South African athlete has declined to take the hormone medication required to lower her testosterone levels to admissible limits.

In a statement posted on its website on July 31, IAAF said, “ the IAAF welcomes the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s decision today to revoke its Super-Provisional Order of 31 May 2019 after hearing the IAAF’s arguments. This decision creates much needed parity and clarity for all athletes as they prepare for the World Championships in Doha this September. In the remainder of the proceedings before the SFT, the IAAF will maintain its position that there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump gender identity, which is why the IAAF believes (and the CAS agreed) that the DSD Regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair and meaningful competition in elite female athletics.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 Tokyo Olympics: engaging route for marathon on the cards

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is now less than a year away.

The Games span July 24-August 9, 2020.

According to a report on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the event will break from tradition by having the Olympic cauldron not in the main stadium “ but on the waterfront at the Yume-no-Ohashi Bridge, near the urban sports cluster.’’ There will be a temporary cauldron in the stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies.

The Olympic stadium will be formally opened in December 2019. It has cooling systems given the Games will be held amid weather conditions expected to be warm.

Of particular interest to those tracking endurance sports, should be the description of the Olympic marathon route available in the report.

“ The marathon route starts and finishes at the stadium, passing the landmarks of Kaminarimon (the Thunder Gate, which is guarded by the deities of wind and thunder), the Imperial Palace, home of Japan’s new emperor Naruhito, Tokyo Station, the Zojoji temple, Tokyo Tower and the Nihombashi bridge.

“ But none of these milestones is expected to be as decisive as the hill that rises steadily from 37km to 41km on the course. It is not steep but it is relentless, rising 30m in elevation, from five meters to 35 meters on an otherwise almost flat course.

“ At that stage of the race, given the expected hot conditions, even a mole hill is likely to feel like a mountain to whoever is left in contention,’’ the report said.

Women athletes will hit the course on August 2, 2020; men on August 9.

“ The race walks will be held on the part of the marathon course that crosses the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace, using a one-kilometer loop for the 20km events and a two-kilometer loop for the 50km events,’’ the report said. The men’s 50km walk will have the earliest start among disciplines at the Games to escape the worst of the heat and the humidity.

According to the report, heat acclimatization strategy will be important for all endurance athletes.

So far, more than 3.22 million tickets for the event have been sold in Japan, the report dated July 24, 2019 said.

Mumbai trio complete English Channel swim

The quartet comprising Sudarshan Chari, Zarir Baliwala, Moiz Rajkotwala and Catherine Stefanuti, a South African swimmer based in UK, completed their planned relay swim across the English Channel on July 12, 2019 in 14 hours and 59 minutes. In a message after completing the swim, Zarir informed that since 1875, an estimated 817 teams have successfully done this swim ratified by CSA (Channel Swimming Association). For more on this story, please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.com/2019/06/29/a-relay-swim-across-the-english-channel/

Tlanding Wahlang (second from right) during the 100k stadium run in Bengaluru (Photo: courtesy Run Meghalaya)

Meghalaya runners claim 100k titles at Bengaluru stadium run

Tlanding Wahlang of Meghalaya won the men’s 100 kilometer-category, part of stadium runs held over July 20-21, 2019 at Bengaluru.

He covered the distance in eight hours, 21 minutes and 38 seconds. He was followed by Suraj Chadha who finished in 8:47:28 hours. In third position was Hemant Beniwal, who completed in 8:54:44.

In the women’s 100k run, Darishisha Langjuh of Meghalaya was the sole participant. She completed in 10:19:28 hours.

In the 24-hour run, Priyanka Bhatt and Sunil Sharma took top honors in the women’s and men’s sections respectively.

Priyanka covered a distance of 170 km in the allotted time. In second position was Shyamala S, who covered a distance of 167.6 k. Bindu Juneja finished third with 163 km covered.

Priyanka Bhatt (Photo: courtesy Priyanka)

Darishisha Langjuh (Photo: courtesy Run Meghalaya)

“ I had trained my mind and my body. Ultra-running is a mind game. Your body follows your mind. I kept telling myself that I have prepared well for this race and can do it,’’ Priyanka told this blog.

In the men’s 24-hour event, Sunil Sharma covered a distance of 215.6 km to place first. In second position was Ullas Narayana, who covered a distance of 212.8 km. Pranaya placed third 211.6 km covered.

In the 12-hour event, Aakriti Sanjeev Verma and Geeno Anthony were the winners in the women’s and men’s categories respectively.

Aakriti covered a distance of 98.4 km. In second position was Juby George, who logged 96.5 km and in third position was Deepti Chaudhary with 95.2 km to her credit.

Geeno Anthony covered a distance of 126.8 km. Velu P was second with 118.4 km and Binay Kumar Sah third with 115.6 km.

Japan sweeps podium positions in half marathon at World University Games

Japan won a third of the gold medals on offer on the final day of athletics action at the World University Games in Naples on Saturday (13), an official statement available on the website of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said.

The morning’s half marathon events – where Japan filled the top three spots in both the men’s and women’s races – set the tone for the rest of the day.

Akira Aizawa finished 12 seconds ahead of compatriot Taisei Nakamura to win the men’s title in 1:05:15 with Tatsuhiko Ito finishing third in 1:05:48. The women’s race was similarly close as 19-year-old Yuka Suzuki took first place in 1:14:10. Rika Kaseda and Yuki Tagawa were separated by just four seconds, clocking 1:14:32 and 1:14:36 respectively to finish second and third, the statement said.

Union Budget 2019: National Sports Education Board to be set up

In her budget speech in parliament today (July 5, 2019), India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that a National Sports Education Board for Development of Sportspersons will be set up.

“ Khelo India Scheme, launched in October, 2017, has created awareness of sports as an integral part of wellness throughout the country. The Government is committed to expand Khelo India Scheme and to provide all necessary financial support. To popularize sports at all levels, a National Sports Education Board for Development of Sportspersons would be set up under Khelo India Scheme,’’ the text of the minister’s speech (part A, point 65) available on the finance ministry’s website said.

Earlier in the 2019 interim budget presented in February, the government had raised the sports budget for 2019-2020 by Rs 214.20 crore to Rs 2216.92 crore. According to published news reports, this included a Rs 55 crore-hike in funding for the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to Rs 450 crore, an increase in allocation for the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) from Rs 2 crore to Rs 70 crore and a hike in the incentive fund for sportspersons from Rs 63 crore to Rs 89 crore. The support for Khelo India was also increased by Rs 50.31 crore to Rs 601 crore in the interim budget of February.

(1 crore=10 million)

Sifan Hassan (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page)

Sifan Hassan sets new world record

Ethiopian-Dutch middle and long distance runner, Sifan Hassan, has become the fastest miler among women to date.

At the Herculis EBS Diamond League athletics meet in Monaco, she covered the distance in 4:12:33 breaking the earlier mark of 4:12:56 set by Svetlana Masterkova of Russia, which had survived for 23 years, a statement available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said.

Britain’s Laura Weightman (4:17.60) finished second while Gabriela Debues-Stafford of Canada (4:17.87) placed third.

Hassan came into the event as the third fastest miler.

Born in Adama in Ethiopia, Hassan left the country as a refugee and reached the Netherlands in 2008, aged 15. She began running while studying to be a nurse, Wikipedia’s page about her, said.

This photo was downloaded from the event’s Facebook page.

Goa Trail Run to be held on August 18

The second edition of Goa Trail Run is scheduled to be held on August 18, 2019.

Organized by the Goa-based Adventure Breaks, the HDFC Bank Goa Trail Run’s route is on the Socorro plateau in Porvorim.

The event offers two races – 10 kilometers, a half marathon and a fun run of 7.5 kilometers. There are two age categories – open and veteran (above 45 years of age).

The organizer Adventure Breaks started out in 2014 with a Tower Run (a stair climbing race inside buildings) in Goa. “ We have conducted six tower runs in Goa -one every year – since, and two in Mumbai that were sponsored by the Tata Group at the World Trade Centre, Cuffe Parade, ‘’ Ashwin Tombat, Director, Adventure Breaks, told this blog recently.

In 2016, Adventure Breaks got into other non-motorized adventure sports (kayaking, sailing, ocean treks, rock climbing, cycling and sea swimming).  “ We got the idea for a trail run when we found this incredible plateau that is wilderness right in the middle of Porvorim, a suburb of Panaji, Goa’s capital city. It took us a few months to recce a route and, last year, we did a 7.5km trail run. About 100 people participated; nearly half of them were women, Ashwin said.

IAAF takes note of slide in global sports participation

Jon Ridgeon, CEO, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has committed the organization to doing its part to address a slide in global sports participation which is endangering the health of future generations and of organized sport, a statement on the IAAF website said.

In a keynote address at the Sports Decision Makers Summit in London on July 10, Ridgeon said he was shocked by some of the recent research on general sports participation among children and young people. He said the latest evidence, which showed that 81 percent of adolescents aged between the ages of 11 and 17 fell below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of physical activity to maintain good health, was a call to arms for all sports federations.

The WHO recommends that each person should do at least two and half hours of moderate activity a week (20 minutes a day), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (ten minutes a day).

Ridgeon urged other sports organizations to join the IAAF in fighting for the future health of the global population. “ We need to come together, not compete against each other, to collectively campaign for sport,’’ he said.

“ For our part we at the IAAF are committed to campaigning to governments, cities and local authorities to get them to understand the problem we are facing, and to help to change the current decline in community health.

“ I believe athletics is uniquely placed to make a difference. More people run than do any other sport on the plant. An estimated half a billion people around the world run regularly. Running, and walking, is accessible to almost anyone,’’ the statement quoted him as saying.

According to him, the IAAF has begun to address this issue with the inclusion of mass participation opportunities in its World Athletics Series events and the creation of its global Run 24:1 campaign, which encourages people all over the world to run a mile on the same day to promote the joy of running. “ We also want to create a real legacy in the cities around the world that host our World Athletics Series events,’’ he said.

Nanda Devi (Photo: Punit Mehta)

Nanda Devi East / bodies moved to Munsyari

All seven bodies found at the accident spot near Peak 6477 in the Nanda Devi region, have been brought to Munsyari by Indian Air Force (IAF) Cheetah helicopters.

They will be moved to Pithoragarh and Haldwani in bigger choppers, an official familiar with the ongoing operations said today; July 3, 2019. The bodies have not been formally identified yet. The accident occurred in the closing days of May.

Late evening June 23, the media had reported that a team of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), dispatched to recover the bodies of climbers believed to have met with an avalanche on Peak 6477 near Nanda Devi East, had collected seven bodies from the snow. According to a senior ITBP official quoted in the report, the bodies were found “ on the western ridge of the peak towards the Pindari Glacier.”  Peak 6477 is on the ridge continuing from Nanda Khat towards Nanda Devi East. It is on the outer wall of the Nanda Devi sanctuary; Nanda Khat is close to the Pindari Glacier.

On June 30, this blog was told that the IAF having identified a spot at 15,500 feet in the Lavan Valley, where a helicopter can land, had carried out a trial landing. ITBP and disaster management personnel were estimated to take 2-3 days to carry the bodies to this location on foot. From there, the bodies were to be airlifted to Pithoragarh. In a separate development, two media reports, one quoting the district magistrate of Pithoragarh and the other quoting a senior ITBP official, also said that the search for the eighth climber had been “ abandoned.”

It was in end-May that news broke of eight climbers (seven from overseas plus the team’s liaison officer from India), part of an expedition that had set out to attempt Nanda Devi East, reported missing following avalanche on Peak 6477. The expedition was led by well-known British mountaineer and mountain guide, Martin Moran.

In subsequent search operations, helicopter sorties by the Indian Air Force (with some of the surviving members of the expedition aboard to refine area of search) had sighted five bodies in the snow and ample evidence of avalanche.

Besides a large team composed of personnel from ITBP, State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) dispatched from the Munsyari side, the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) had also sent a team for recovery operations. The latter headed up from the Pindari Glacier side.

For more reports providing background, please refer the list of articles on this blog dating from end-May onward.

Update / July 6: The eighth climber, whose body wasn’t found, is expedition leader, Martin Moran, a news report from Nainital said. The remaining seven bodies have been identified. The report quoted the District Magistrate of Nainital, Savin Bansal. The bodies were identified after their photographs were dispatched to the respective embassies in Delhi. The body of the team’s liaison officer who hailed from Almora in Kumaon, was identified earlier in the week. Eight climbers had been reported missing late May following an avalanche near Peak 6477 in the neighborhood of Nanda Devi East.

This photo was downloaded from the event’s Facebook page.

Kenya’s Henry Togom, India’s Priti Lamba win Bengaluru 10k Challenge

Henry Kiprono Togom of Kenya took top honours at the IDBI Federal Life Insurance Bengaluru 10k Challenge held on July 7, 2019.

He finished the 10 kilometer-distance in 31:44 minutes.

He was followed closely behind by Mikiyas Yemata Lemlemu of Ethiopia, who finished in 31:57 minutes. Pramod Kumar of India placed third with a timing of 32:19 minutes.

This photo was downloaded from the event’s Facebook page.

Among women, Priti Lamba of India crossed the finish line in 37 minutes to secure the first position in the 10k race. Stellah Cherotich of Kenya came in second with a timing of 42.56 minutes followed by Farheen Firdose who had similar time but was microseconds behind the Kenyan.

In the five kilometer-race, Kunal Sangalge was the winner with a timing of 21:16 minutes followed by Srikant Nayak in 21:42 minutes. In third position was Adarsh S, who crossed the 5k finish line in 21:58 minutes.

Among women, Shloka Murthy came in first with a timing of 22:06 minutes. Kaveri Velankar finished second with a timing of 24:15 and Kasturi Velankar third with a timing of 27:25.

Yuta Shitara (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Gold Coast Marathon)

Yuta Shitara of Japan sets course record at Gold Coast Marathon

Japanese runner Yuta Shitara set a course record at the Gold Coast Marathon held on July 7, 2019.

The Japanese runner crossed the finish line of the men’s race in two hours, seven minutes and 50 seconds, bettering the course timing of 2:08:42 set in 2015 by Kenyan runner Kenneth Mungara.

The Gold Coast Marathon, in Australia, is an IAAF Gold Label road race.

“ With Shitara’s 2:07:50, Kenya’s Barnabas Kitum’s 2:08:02 and New Zealand’s Zane Robertson’s 2:08:19, the 2019 Gold Coast race provided the three fastest times on Australian soil,’’ IAAF said in a report.

Weather conditions were tough with strong headwinds and heavy rain.

In the same race, five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat set an American masters record in a marathon with a timing of 2:12:10, ten seconds faster than Meb Keflezighi’s timing set at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials.

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


El Capitan, Yosemite Valley (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

This is an article by invitation. Delhi based-climbers Mohit Oberoi and Kumar Gaurav were in California’s Yosemite Valley over April 24-May 19, 2019, to attempt The Nose route on El Capitan. In all, The Nose is 3000 feet (5.9 C1) and 32 pitches of climbing. Due to a combination of factors, after about 800 feet climbed, the Indian duo had to bail out. For Mohit, a pioneer in the field of rock climbing in India and now into his fifth decade of life on planet, El Capitan has been a longstanding dream. This is his account:   

“ So, how many more pitches to the Dolt Tower?’’

I posed the question to the figure laden with gear, extra rope and pack, coming down towards my right.

What started as a small dot had become a figure.

“ I think you have a few more to go,’’ came the reply, most words getting lost in the high wind.

My mind woke up to a shout from above: Taakkeeeee…..

I pulled in the rope hard and held on; Kumar on the sharp end.

Things were looking bleak.

The wind was blowing hard…the windbreaker fluttered hard. It felt like I was sitting on a motorcycle. It was 6.30 PM. It will be pitch dark in another 90 minutes. A 35 kilo-haul bag aka ` pig’ was hanging heavy on the rope. What the hell should we do?  The only way now seemed to be down. The wind had picked up, left us cold; climbing further appeared hard. We would need headlamps to climb in the dark. Not to mention, blood sugar was hitting super low levels. The valley floor was 800 feet below.

Okay Kumar let’s head down: I shout up to him. A reluctant Kumar started lowering himself down on the slope. The look said it all. But we have to `bail out’ in our best interest.

On El Capitan (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

It had been a dream since teenage years. Persistent dreams become itches. The itch started 35 years ago with articles from Mountain magazine, UK showing stunning  photos of El Capitan (El Cap) and the Mecca of rock climbing – Yosemite valley. Names like Jim Bridwell, Randy Leavitt, John Bachar, Ron Kauk, Mark Hudon and Max Jones – they were my childhood super heroes possessing the power to ascend blank cliffs 3000 feet high. The seed was born and I knew which side to face for my Mecca. Much Time passed. Fiftieth birthdays are magical; the number can turn a few screws around for a lot of people. I was looking at a postcard from Kiran (nine years) and Sachin (six years) – they were the children of my friends, Luca and Priya. The postcard with a photo of El Cap sent from Yosemite a few years ago and stuck on the fridge was daily reminder that El Cap was waiting. I needed to make my pilgrimage before I died. A date was set and a partnership deal sealed with Kumar Gaurav.

“ Hey do you want to go America?’’

I am not sure what Kumar, a 24 year-old Delhi based-climber thought about the offer from the blue. A shrug of the shoulder and a smile said it all. Few weeks later, we were in the queue in front of the American Embassy for our visa interview. We are climbers and we want to climb in the Yosemite Valley – that was what we told the young visa officer, who thought this was certainly a very valid reason to go to USA. A 10 year multiple entry-visa approved, we walked out.

I had to lose the many rolls of fat accumulated around the waist. The training to climb again the last few decades was spent running, swimming, doing triathlons and hiking. There hadn’t been much climbing. It was going to take some effort getting back into shape for climbing. I would have to do regular laps on the climbing wall / running, to build general strength plus trips to the rocks. Amid this, one thing was clear – it had to be a month-long visit. We had to give proper time for this climb; taking four weeks off felt very intimidating, both from the perspective of work and family.

Delhi-Singapore-San Francisco flight followed by a pick-up from dear friend Ishu and we landed in `Camp 4’ in Yosemite Valley. The idea was to spend maximum time in the valley. We had no other agenda. I was very clear about the objective of this trip: spend time in the valley…climb; run, hike, bike, dream, drink beer all, of it in the valley only.

At the campsite in Yosemite (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

The valley granite was very unique and for sure it was unforgiving. As mentioned in every guide book, article and blog, if you think you can come and crush at the same grades as your home crag you would be surprised, true to every word written. The first week was spent on climbing classics around Camp 4, reaching crags wherever we could on cycle; climbing routes ranging from single pitch to 5 pitches. I struggled on the 5.6-5.8s and Kumar on 5.9 /10 (he being a 5.14 sport climber I am sure this must have come as a surprise..!) Valley granite is mainly crack climbs of varying sizes, fingers to wide chimneys  – a lot of it is very slick due to ancient glacier polish or just because some routes were climbed so many times that they became really slick. Trusting the feet on such rock was a whole new dimension. I took a fall of 15 feet and realized that for this type of climbing we needed more time to get used to.

As with most climbers, we spent beautiful sunny days climbing the classics. The normal routine was to start at 9 AM and end at 7 PM every day. But The Nose route of El Cap, sometimes referred to as the “ greatest rock climb on Earth’’ was always at the back of our mind. We had to get on the Captain. If Yosemite Valley was the Mecca of rock climbing, then Camp 4 was the center of it all; it has been there as climbers’ campground since the 1950’s. Camp 4 has hosted the who’s who of the climbing world. At six dollars a night per person this was the cheapest place to be in the valley. However one could spend only 30 days in a year there and out of it only seven days could be had in the period from 1st May to 30th September, that being peak season. We got a permit for 14 days since we arrived on the 24th of April.

It was great to meet climbers from all over the world. A big Spanish team was in camp. We started to get information about The Nose route on El Cap from two young Americans, Kip and Joe who had bailed out from the “sickle ledge’’ just two days ago. They said they were too slow and carried too much weight, a phrase we heard a lot in the next couple of weeks. After a week of climbing, our thoughts moved to giving The Nose (it is 3000 feet high, 32 pitches) a go. Ideally everyone first climbs the first four pitches to Sickle Ledge, fixes a few ropes down to the ground for hauling the `pig’ up to the ledge and then carry on in a single push with an average time of three days to the top.

On El Capitan (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

We followed the same strategy. We decided to climb the first four pitches to the Sickle and then fix three 60 meter-ropes down to the ground. The German duo, Peter and Mark, start before us. There were also other parties at various stages on the route. Kumar led the first pitch and I was surprised to find him struggling. They say that the climbing on the Nose can be unique, weird and hard to describe. One has to experience it to understand what it is like. The plan was to “ French free’’ – it means to climb whatever can be freed and otherwise pull on fixed gear or fix own gear and pull on it. The idea being to maintain a quick pace, get to the belay stance and fix the rope for the second to “ jug up’’ (jumar) the rope. The leader can then haul the bag up or in our case the bag was very heavy for a very light Kumar to haul alone; either we would haul it together or I would use my body weight to haul. Hauling involved fixing a system on the anchors with a pulley / grab device, through which the rope passed and then, hand over hand, the climbers pulled the bag. The traversing nature of the first four pitches needed short pendulums on fixed gear, tension traverses and very interesting climbing on pin scars. While Kumar led I carried the pack with the spare rope and a haul line trailing from the harness. It was a beautiful sunny day with great views across the valley.

The wind generally picks up around 11 AM. It can be very unnerving as the gusts can take you unawares. The rope starts to go all over the place. We reached Sickle Ledge to find that the Germans had fixed ropes to descend to the ground, haul their bag up and sleep the night on the ledge. Kumar and I planned to fix ropes and descend to the ground. We didn’t have a haul bag, we needed to acquire / buy one. Satisfied with the day’s target achieved, we headed back to Camp 4. Our bicycles were locked near the base of El Cap. While most drive up to near the base we didn’t have a car. So we biked everywhere.

On El Capitan (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

We bought the haul bag from the mountain shop in the valley. It looked huge. It will contain eventually 22 liters of water in duct taped bottles and jerry cans, food for four days, sleeping bags, mats, stove and cookware, poop bags (it is mandatory to collect poop in poop bags and then carry them out in a poop tube back to the camp); this was apart from the climbing gear and ropes which would be easily another 20 kilos. The `pig’ once packed, weighed around 35 kilos, the majority of the weight being water as there was no water on the wall.  We planned to jug our fixed ropes to the Sickle and also haul the bag to it and leave it there. All this movement was to get our systems in place. I hadn’t really jugged ropes before. A quick reference to a how-to guide got me going. It actually felt easy and fun after a while.

The exposure on the wall can be debilitating. The more we moved up and down, the more we got used to it. We met Alex and Nani the two strong, ever smiling Spaniards who had climbed the rest of the Nose except the first four pitches. They had jugged up someone else’s rope to the Sickle and done the rest of the climb. They were now down to climb the first four pitches; not the most conventional way to climb the route. Our haul bag was eventually anchored to the fixed bolts on Sickle Ledge. Three bolt anchors generally marked the end of every pitch on the Nose. It saved climbers the trouble of making anchors and rigging a complicated haul system.

It was now a rest day. Moving camp from Camp 4 as our 14 day-permit got over, we shifted to another place in the valley. Thanks to the generosity of a valley local, we managed to camp in his backyard for the rest of the trip. This was divine intervention saving us the hassle of getting a car and driving out of the park every day or getting an expensive campground which was no less than 100 dollars a night.

At 7 AM we pedaled fast to get to the base to start our climb. We were already late as organizing the gear and breakfast took more time than usual. We reached the base to where our ropes were hanging to find two Spanish teams ready to climb and haul on our ropes! We were disappointed to see this. We told them that we planned to climb our ropes and then drop one of the ropes to the ground (a normal practice; the rope stays at the base till the team comes back to retrieve it).  Seeing the disappointment on their faces, Kumar asked one of them to climb our ropes fast and fix theirs. As we got ready, they finally fixed their ropes and we ascended ours to Sickle Ledge. It was already 9 AM and we are at least two hours behind schedule (this delay proved to be very expensive). The pitch above Sickle looked very broken up and hard to haul. Kumar climbed the initial easy section and then a hard move round the corner took him to a fixed bolt station. Advice from a fast and experienced party which overtook us suggested that we push the haul bag off the side and haul from the start of the next pitch. That turned out to be good advice. The Nose was certainly a very complex route. The first four to five pitches were not straightforward and knowledge of what to do and where played a critical role in efficiency and speed. This is a major factor to make quick progress on the route.

Kumar Gaurav (left) with two of the Spanish climbers – Alex and Nani – on Sickle Ledge (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

A short pendulum and tension traverse took us to a three bolt-belay station. Now the exposure seemed significant. The initial forays on the rock had made us immune to the exposure at least up to this height. Kumar led a pitch and we had now got into the start of the “ stove legs’’ which is a significant land mark on the climb. The stove legs are hand / fist / off width size-cracks which go up four pitches to the ` Dolt Tower.’ Our aim was to get to Dolt Tower as, after Sickle Ledge, this was the only ledge we could sleep on. Since we did not have a portaledge (portable foldable ledge made of aluminum tubes and nylon fabric to sleep on, which can be set up almost anywhere as long as anchors are available), we had to try and hit the Dolt or we had to hang all night on the bolt anchors as last option.

The stove legs can slow down parties like us who don’t have very good crack climbing experience. The cracks were the same size all through and needed a lot of cams and wires of the same size. Thus double and triple of each size required to be carried or have to be “ back cleaned” by the leader. Even the 5.8 pitches seemed hard with the added weight of gear (5-7 kilos); two ropes (lead rope and haul line), wind gusting away, fatigue from hauling, slick rock and exposure. The 5.8 started feeling like 5.10/11. We met many climbers blasting away to Dolt Tower 10 pitches up, without any haul bags and then coming down the same day; a good way to get used to climbing on the route and get familiar with climbing / route complication.  NIAD (Nose in a Day) climbers find themselves climbing with first timers like us who take 3-5 days and then slowly work on the route to eventually do it in 24 hours. Or like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, climbing it in two hours (!!) which is crazy (!!!) and totally insane.

It was now 6.30 PM and Kumar was leading on pitch eight. We were still two pitches away from the Dolt. Maybe an early start and not losing time to the Spanish team (who climbed behind us and slept on Sickle Ledge) would have helped. It seemed best to bail out as most parties do at the stove legs; a series of 60 meter-rappel anchors straight down lead to the ground. We started to head down, first lowering the haul bag to the anchor and then I lowering off. This took a lot of time. Then I took the haul bag on my tie-in loop of the harness, crushing my hips. But then it was better than the haul bag being lowered off. Tempers ran high as the low sugar level and dehydration hit us. We had not eaten anything and had less than two liters of water between the two of us the whole day. In such conditions, it’s easy to make a mistake. We started descending on head lamp lights with no ledges and finding the bolt anchors on a blank granite wall at night. One error could be fatal. We managed three rappels and then one error – the 70 meter-rope got jammed in the anchor above us. We couldn’t retrieve it. We continued with one 60 meter-rope, unsure if the rappel anchors were also at 30 meter-intervals. A guessing game began and we started to head down on a single 60 meter-rope. Luckily or perhaps I must say, sensibly, the climbers had equipped this route also for a 60 meter-rope (for idiots like us who managed to snag our rope!). We reached the ground at 11.30 PM, safe at last.

Mohit Oberoi (Photo: courtesy Mohit)

We opened the haul bag. While Kumar gorged on bars and trail mix and basically anything he could lay his hands on, I pulled out the sleeping bags and put some food in the stomach after nearly 16 hours. Then we both lay down under the tree at the base for a good night’s sleep. We woke up next morning and couldn’t see the rope which had got stuck; it must have been 400 feet up. We have to see if someone coming down is able to retrieve it.

Back at Camp 4 we met Peter and Mark (the German team which was ahead of us by a few days). They had exhausted themselves and bailed just above Sickle Ledge. Mark said he got really exhausted and did not find himself comfortable, climbing on such ground. His words resounded in my years:  it’s the Captain after all; it doesn’t go down easily. He laughed. The bail out rate is 50 per cent on The Nose; 500-600 parties attempt it every year, out of which 50 per cent bail out.

I was happy that we had got on to The Nose / EL Cap. Maybe I was under-prepared, not skilled enough or fit. But I think it was important for me personally to attempt to climb, instead of dreaming of it, endlessly and forever.

A VERY BIG THANKS TO: Annie; the ‘ROCK’ in my life. Abhi and Ikki, guys we have to climb this together one day. Thanks to Kush / Ishu Khandelwal; brother in San Francisco, who hosted us, climbed with us and inspires me to push myself out of the comfort zone. Sanjay Suri (brother from another mother!!) man you make it look so easy; you drove in this huge SUV from San Francisco and just drove us out of the valley…a VERY BIG THANK YOU. Curtis thanks for seeing us in Camp 4 and the hot shower and BBQ after two weeks was very welcome. Alisha, thanks for the logistics. Singapore Airlines was the way to go. Alex Cox dude thanks for hosting us and I hope you are using those bikes.

(The author, Mohit Oberoi, is a longstanding climber and businessman based in Delhi. He owns gear retailer, Adventure 18. For more on Kumar Gaurav please try these two links: https://shyamgopan.com/2015/01/31/the-kumar-gaurav-story/ and https://shyamgopan.com/2017/11/24/samsara-is-nirvana-the-many-sides-of-a-climb/ For further insight into some of the workings of Yosemite National Park, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/04/04/regulation-should-make-adventure-safe-not-restrict-it-talking-to-steve-swenson/)