Kenenisa Bekele (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Berlin Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Ethiopian marathon great Kenenisa Bekele has won the 2019 Berlin Marathon in near world record time.

On Sunday (September 29, 2019) Bekele, 37, covered the course at Berlin – rated the fastest among the World Marathon Majors – in two hours, one minute and 41 seconds, just two seconds shy of the world record. Kenyan legend Eluid Kipchoge had set the current world record at the same event last year with a timing of 2:01:39.

Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia took top honors in the women’s race. She finished in 2:20:14. Of the six podium positions in the men’s and women’s race at Berlin, Ethiopians won five. They swept the men’s event and took the top two positions in the women’s.

Birhanu Legese finished behind Bekele in 2:02:48 while fellow countryman Sisay Lemma finished in 2:03:36 hours. In the women’s race, Ashete Bekere was followed by Mare Dibaba who finished in 2:20:21. Sally Chepyego of Kenya finished in third place with a timing of 2:21:06.

Bekele’s run was the second fastest to date in the history of the marathon.

“ I am very sorry. I am not lucky. But I still can do this. I don’t give up,’’ BBC quoted Bekele as saying in its report on the event.

His previous best in the marathon was 2:03:03, clocked while winning the 2016 edition of the Berlin Marathon. The winning performance at the same event on Sunday comes on the back of mixed fortunes since 2017. He dropped out of the 2017 Dubai Marathon past the halfway mark; he finished second at the 2017 London Marathon, sixth at the 2018 London Marathon and dropped out about a mile from the finish at the 2018 Amsterdam Marathon. In February 2019, he had withdrawn from the year’s Tokyo Marathon due to a stress fracture that was taking time to heal.

One of the all-time greats of distance running and much respected for his running form, Bekele holds the current world and Olympic records in the 5000m and 10,000m. According to Wikipedia, he is the most successful runner in the history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships with six long course (12km) and five short course (4km) titles. At the 2009 IAAF World Championships held in Berlin, he became the first man to win both 5000m and 10,000m at the same championships.

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


This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the IAAF World Championships and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich struck gold in the women’s marathon at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships which got underway in Doha on September 27.

Running in hot and humid weather conditions, she covered the distance in 2:32:43. Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo took silver with timing of 2:33:46 while bronze went to Namibia’s Helalia Johannes, who finished in 2:34:15.

It was the first time a marathon was being run at midnight at a world championship. The choice of that hour was to beat the region’s warm weather. “ On this occasion the challenge was about endurance rather than speed as the race began in temperatures officially estimated at between 30 and 32.7 Centigrade, and humidity of 73 per cent,’’ a report about the race and the 25 year old-Kenyan athlete’s winning run, available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said. A related BBC report pointed out that of 68 runners who started the race, 28 pulled out owing to the weather conditions. Among those pulling out was Britain’s Charlotte Purdue and Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, winner at the 2019 Tokyo Marathon. The BBC report quoted Ethiopia’s marathon coach Haji Adillo Roba saying that they wouldn’t have run the race in such conditions in their country.

Ahead of the Doha championships kicking off, there were concerns that the women’s marathon may not be held as scheduled because of the prevailing warm weather. Eventually, the organizers decided to proceed with it. On September 27, the IAAF issued a press statement confirming the decision. “ The IAAF has today sent a letter to the entrants in the women’s marathon at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 confirming that the race will go ahead as planned this evening. The latest weather information confirms that the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature for tonight’s race will be at or below 30 degrees. This is within the range (28 to 30.9 degrees WBGT) that has been predicted and planned for in the past six months. Team leaders and team doctors were briefed about the conditions for the endurance events at the Technical Meeting yesterday. As of noon today, all 69 women who were on the start list two days ago remained scheduled to start the race (the final entry list of 71 athletes included two reserves),” the statement said.  Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is the recognized international standard for measuring heat, humidity and thermal stress conditions.  The IAAF Competition Medical Guidelines recommend that mitigation measures should be implemented in endurance events where the WBGT measure is over 28°C.

According to the statement, the IAAF and the Local Organizing Committee did everything possible to minimize the heat-related risks. Steps taken included running the endurance events at midnight, disseminating information to all member federations over the past six months, increasing the number of refreshment points along the course, over-scaling the medical plan for the endurance events, recruiting leading medical experts to be part of the medical team and maintaining communication between IAAF medical doctors and team doctors. It also informed that the IAAF Medical Delegate had reassured all competing athletes that the weather would be carefully monitored throughout the day and shared with the teams before the start of the race, to ensure the event is run at an acceptable level of health risk.

At the previous world championships held in London (2017), the women’s marathon had been a slow but keenly fought affair with Chelimo breasting the tape in 2:27:11, Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat placing second in 2:27:18 and Amy Cragg of the US finishing third with the same timing, 2:27:18. Earlier this year – in January – Ruth Chepngetich had topped the women’s segment of the 2019 Dubai Marathon, with finish time of 2:17:08, which is her personal best in the full marathon. She has a personal best of 1:05:30 in the half marathon and 31:12 over the 10 kilometers. Rose Chelimo has a personal best of 2:24:14 in the marathon; that of Helalia Johannes is 2:22:25.

The current Indian national record in the women’s marathon is 2:34:43 set by O. P. Jaisha at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

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


Jason Reardon (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page)

Ever since it started in 2010, La Ultra The High, held annually in Ladakh, has remained a tough ultramarathon. Depending on the distance tackled, it is one long haul at altitude, up and over high mountain passes and a variety of weather conditions. The 2019 edition saw the following distance categories: 55km, 111km, 222km, 333km and 555km. The longest distance category therein – 555km – was won by Jason Reardon of Australia. He completed the footrace in 120 hours, 19 minutes. Besides enduring Ladakh’s average elevation (much of it is over 9800 feet), the 555km-route takes you over Khardung La (17,582ft), Wari La (approx 17,400ft) and Tanglang La (17,480ft) with the last two passes repeated on the return. Jason had won the event’s 222km race the previous year. A keen sportsman, former member of the Australian Special Forces and someone who saw his share of life’s highs and lows, Jason responded to queries from this blog. Here, he speaks of his background in sports, what brought him to ultra-running and the two occasions he raced at La Ultra The High:

In your resume you have mentioned that you grew up playing state level sports from the age of eight. Can you give us an idea of the place and environment you grew up in and what sports you played in this early yet formative years?

I grew up in Canberra, one of the smaller cities of Australia. I have two sisters. Our dad worked while mum looked after us and drove us to all our sports. I played baseball from the age of eight, right through to life as an adult. I coached junior teams when I was 18. I also played a lot of football and a little bit of rugby league, rugby union, volleyball, netball and cricket. I first represented my local area in T-Ball at age eight, nine and 10. I then travelled around Australia as part of the ACT State team from the age of 10 to 18. I was a very active kid and my family was very supportive of all my sporting endeavours.

Australia is known as a power house in sports. As someone who grew up in that country can you tell us how sports / interest in sports is treated at school level? Can you give us a feel of the ambiance at school level as regards sports?

As mentioned, I was in one of the smaller cities, so we didn’t get the same advantages of the bigger cities. But we were always encouraged to join school teams. My school was small, so we only had cricket and netball teams primarily, although one year we did have a rugby union team and I joined that team. Little Athletics was huge though, this is very big in all Australian schools. So I have always been into running. I was a good sprinter because I played baseball. I did well in the 100m and 200m events. I also did a bit of cross country but surprisingly as a kid, it was not my best running event, not like today where I can run forever. So basically our school was very supportive of kids playing sports and doing athletics.

Jason Reardon (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page)

You coached junior sports from a young age. Which sports / disciplines did you coach at this stage?

I coached my club level under-12 baseball team. This gave me the chance to teach kids everything I had learned. My team was undefeated for the first season and in both the seasons I coached; we won the competition, losing only two games in two years

At the age of 24 you enlisted in the Australian Special Forces. By 25, you were a commando. How long were you in the military? Did this phase contribute in any way to the abilities / endurance you have since shown at ultra races?

Yes, I joined when I was about 24 and spent 18 months completing all the necessary training from basic recruit school all the way up to and beyond Commando Selection. After I passed selection, I needed to qualify in all the various specialties. I believe my upbringing and my passion and drive in all my sports prepared me for commandos, which then also prepared me for the ultra events. The commandos reinforced everything I had already learnt, growing up. Each step in my life made me more resilient and mentally capable of doing the next challenge and that journey is still continuing today.

You went through depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after the demise of your child while away on exercise. You have said that it caught up with you years later and you resorted to fitness and running to cope with the predicament. How exactly did fitness and running help you change? Was fitness and running your first choice for a way out from the situation you found yourself in or was it a mix you found, having tried other alternatives? 

I went to some very dark places; turning to drugs and alcohol and a very destructive life. This continued for about two to three years, about three years after my son died. I went through some situations where I almost died from risky behaviour and these experiences helped me see that I needed to change and to make that decision. I met with a doctor who treated me after a suicide attempt. We spoke and worked out my passion in life; it always revolved around fitness and sport. We made a plan together to start using antidepressants to balance my moods and behaviour but I was clear I did not agree with medication and I wanted to be off these as soon as I could. We decided that I would start back at the gym and start running to have something to focus on. I used these goals to focus all my negative and positive energy. I also agreed to see a specialist and just talk about my situation which I did a number of times. After a while this new focus on my health and fitness started making quite a positive impact and I was feeling a lot better. Within about nine months after slowly coming off medication, I was free from any type of antidepressants and managing my behaviour and mood just like any other person. I still have days where I feel upset and negative, but now I am aware of seeing this happening and able to take steps to make myself feel better and stay on track

From Enduro (This photo was downloaded from Jason Reardon’s Facebook page)

How did you discover your capacity for tackling ultra-distances? Was it evident to you from start or was it something you discovered progressively, working your way up through the shorter distances? 

In 2010 I moved to Sydney and started working at a gym. In 2013, I was involved in a motor vehicle accident in South East Asia. This resulted in a fractured pelvis, punctured lung, head trauma, broken foot and other smaller injures. On my return I was warned by medical professionals that I may never have my full capabilities back and be able to run and be as fit as I previously was. I took this as just another obstacle and challenge to make myself into an even stronger person. Less than a year later I tried out for the Australian 24 hour-obstacle racing team. I performed well in the gruelling test and was quite successful though I didn’t make the cut for the team. I decided to race the 2014 Australian championships where I beat the other guys in the Australian team and came first in the first ever 24 hour-Australian obstacle event. I seem to do this often, do well in the inaugural events. That’s where it all grew from. So by not making the cut for the team – it just gave me the drive and lit the fire I needed to start this ultra journey. I continued with obstacle course racing until 2017 when I made the switch to ultra trail running. Each year I have pushed myself further into bigger and harder events. Each event is a stepping stone to a new challenge that is tougher than the last. My first ultra trail event was 100km. Since then I have done distances including 50km, 100km, 130km, 222km, and my longest – 555km.

You have mentioned that it was after winning the Australian titles for 24 hour obstacle course racing that your love for endurance races really took root. Can you elaborate on these races; how does a 24 hour obstacle course race work and what is it like to endure one? What did winning the Australian titles in 2014 tell you about yourself?

My first endurance event – the 24hr Enduro – was a 24 hour-obstacle race. The course is set up like a race track; it’s a 10km circuit with a central pit area where all our food, spare clothes, warm and wet weather gear and support crew are. There are a number of obstacles around the circuit, including water crossings, rope climbs, crawling, tunnels, sandbag carries, and more. You have 24 hours to do as many laps as you can. The event gets extremely cold during the night and then during the day it can be quite warm, so you are exposed to high and low temperatures. At night it is also necessary to wear a wetsuit to keep from getting hypothermia, so for a few hours participants are wearing wetsuits which slows the pace down and restricts full movement which adds even more fatigue to the body. As with all endurance events you mentally go through highs and lows. Further, not having the correct nutrition plan can quickly deplete your mental strength and capability. So it’s important to have the nutrition right as well.

Support teams play a vital role in keeping you positive and keeping you on track when you feel like quitting. I have witnessed many times runners wanting to quit but their crews push them back on to the course. When the race is over the support crew is always thanked for doing so as at times some runners wouldn’t finish if they had not been pushed back in.

I entered this race with no option other than to win in my mind; to complete the event and complete it in first place to show the Australian team they had not given me the credit I deserved. So by achieving my goal and being very new to not only obstacle course racing but endurance events as well, it cemented my belief that I am capable of anything I put my focus on. Finishing the race gave me more self-confidence and the belief that each person’s mind is so powerful and plays a role in our achievements every day. It gave me the fire I needed to pursue my endurance journey and get to where I am now.

From La Ultra The High (Photo: courtesy Jason Reardon)

In 2018, you won the 222km race at La Ultra The High in Ladakh. What made you choose this race as event to compete in? Did you have any prior experience running at altitude; how did you prepare yourself for it? How was the race experience?

I was looking for a new challenge and with some other things coming up in my life at the time I was starting to lose my spark and feeling a bit depressed. I knew what to look out for and knew I was not in a good space mentally. I chose to do this race after watching YouTube videos and seeing the extreme conditions and thinking, wow this is an epic challenge. I had never run at altitude before. We don’t have many mountains in Australia, and our highest is just more than half the height of Khardung La, the first mountain pass in La Ultra. I was in Thailand training as a sponsored athlete at Unit 27 for most of 2018. This was mainly strength based training, so I was a lot stronger and weighed a few kilograms more (81kg) than the average runner, who is probably about 65-70kg. So my training was mostly aimed towards being strong not light and fast. I had bought an altitude tent for this event, but it was in Australia, so I used it for about two months but not before the event. They say that training in extreme heat and humidity is the next best thing to prepare for altitude. That’s what I did. I made the most of the environment I was in.

On the second day after reaching Leh I thought I’d go do some stair running at Shanti Stupa, thinking I would go up and down about five or six times. I remember starting to run and getting about 40m into the 400m long stair run and having to stop and walk, thinking my heart was going to explode. I only did one repeat that day and thought to myself this is incredibly tough. There is no way I will be able to run this race. I spent the next two weeks doing small runs on the flat and on the stairs; I went for a two day-hike and up to the high pass about two times. At the time the race was starting I was feeling a lot better and confident that I had acclimatized better. I was able to run fairly well at altitude though I decided not to run too much anywhere above 4900m. I developed some gastro issues after blitzing the first 110km in about 15 hours. The second half of the race took me 31 hours to complete due to being sick. I finished the 222km event with a smile on my face and thinking how amazing that part of the world is and how lucky I was to experience the night skies of the Himalaya.

From La Ultra The High (Photo: courtesy Jason Reardon)

In 2019, you enrolled for the 555km race at La Ultra The High. Doing so, you vaulted over the 333km race in between. What was your thought process behind such a shift? 

I believe that if you have the mental capability to finish an ultra, say 100 miles or more, it’s just using that same mind and thinking those same positive thoughts that will get you to the finish of a much longer event. So I trained hard, accepted the fact that this was going to be a tough race and prepared my mind for that. There were definitely times I wanted to quit. But with good support and the ability to turn those thoughts around by thinking about why I am doing this and what drives me, I was able to complete the distance even though it was more than double my previous longest run

You won the 555km race at La Ultra The High in 2019. Can you tell us in detail how this race unfolded for you? What are the aspects that were particularly challenging for you in La Ultra The High’s 555km race? Do you plan to come back and try improving your time?

For me the biggest challenge initially was being able to afford the cost. After that, it was the pain in my knee early on in the race. I had severe knee pain about 250km into the event. After resting for an hour and taking some pain killers this went away never to return, thankfully. The hallucinations were always there after day three, but not so hard to deal with, there were just negative thoughts in my head due to my past and PTSD. I would think and imagine things that weren’t real. But I kept reminding myself that it was exactly that, not real. And I managed to hold myself together for the entire five days. The cold, rain, snow and heat were no trouble as I was ready for that possibility but silently hoping there were not too many extremes, which was obviously not the case.

Next year I have other events I would like to do, but I am planning to bring some other runners to La Ultra to be able to experience the amazing mountains. So if I come back it will be as support and coach to others. I may do it again in a few years and I believe I can definitely improve my time if that’s my goal. Even by just slowly running the last 10km instead of walking I could knock an hour off my total time.

Jason Reardon; from La Ultra The High (Photo: courtesy Jason)

Ultra races often require support crew. How did you go about finding the right persons for your support crew? Do you have people who figure regularly on your support crew? What was your experience with the support crews of 2018 and 2019 at La Ultra The High? 

In 2018 Carly was my support crew and she had crewed me in various events prior to that including some 24 hour obstacle course races and 100km ultra events. She did a good job and helped me stay on track especially when I was sick and having to stop regularly to attend to that. For the 555 I had no support crew from back home. I put out a call on social media. Freni from West India answered and said she would love to be part of the event, so I took her on board. Rimple was my other crew but between them they had no prior experience. They did the best they could for the first 24 hours but cut offs were too close and I was getting frustrated as I got more and more tired. At the 222km-mark I got a whole new support crew, I actually got two teams. Both support leaders had crewed before and even raced. So they knew exactly what was needed and what was involved. From that point on, there was less pressure on me to assist them. So I was able to focus purely on just the running side. This freed up a lot of my energy and I was able to make the next few cut-offs in just enough time to set me up for the finish.

So basically I didn’t know any of my crew well. We had all met over there and had to work it out on the go. All my crew were amazing and every single one of them did the best they could with the knowledge they had. I’m glad for all the help from everyone and their generosity and support. Ultra communities around the world are amazing for this very reason. Everyone just wants to help and will go out of their way to do so.

How do you evaluate yourself as an ultra-runner in terms of your strengths and weaknesses? Have you got all the details from – training to nutrition and the tackling of various stages during a race – sorted out or are there still unknowns? What are the variables?

I think I’m doing okay. I’m fairly new to the sport. There is still so much to learn, I think you could do these events your entire life and every single race will teach you many new things about the environment, how your body responds physically and about your resilience and mental capabilities. If you were an ultra runner and thought you knew it all you wouldn’t get very far or stay at the top of your game for long. Nutrition is always a hard one as so many factors come into play. There are temperature changes and other things like altitude, your current eating habits, past eating habits, how you feel, the amount of exertion, and many more. This, for me, is the hardest part to get right in all my events so far. And I was lucky to get it right at La Ultra. The key is to train for your next event exactly how you plan to run it, including food, hydration, altitude, ascent and descent, just everything. Really sit down and work it all out and if that race is really important to you then work out every tiny detail.

Jason Reardon; from La Ultra The High (Photo: courtesy Jason)

What are you planning next?

I have a race in Turkey on 27th September: the Lycian Way 100km. Then following that in November, the Spartan Ultra – 50km obstacle course race and Alpine Ultra Victoria Australia 160km. In December, there is the Al Marmoom Desert Ultra 110km and in February 2020, the Tarawera 100km. I also have a few others I’m planning on doing including UTMB 2020 which is the ultra trail race of all races.

You are pushing your limits. At the same time, how do you handle your setbacks and DNFs; how do you handle your injuries?

If a race doesn’t go to plan I’ll just sit down and work out where it went wrong and how I can improve it next time. I had a DNF last year at the Lycian Way in Turkey which I am doing again on 27th September. I’ve learnt from it and am going back to improve on last time. With regard to injuries, if you look after your body, you won’t get them. I plan my training accordingly and have lots of rest. If I’m feeling exhausted or not right I’ll have a few days off from training and get back to it later when I’m feeling better. Lots of people over-train, thinking that the more they do, the better they will be, when in fact that’s terrible thinking to have. You really need to plan and not overdo any of it. Nutrition, sleep and rest play a big part in recovery. If you don’t get these right; then your running and weights won’t work for you, 100 per cent. Nutrition and rest should be number one priority; after that, exercise. If I feel an injury coming on I’ll just force myself to have a week or two of down time and focus on something else.

(This interview was done via email. The interviewers, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For a detailed account of the 2016 edition of La Ultra The High, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2016/09/16/the-captain-the-teacher-the-warrior-and-the-businessman/)


Nitendra Singh Rawat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

For ace marathon runner Nitendra Singh Rawat, the countdown to the 2019 IAAF World Championships due in Doha, is occasion to reflect.  On September 9, thanks to injury, he had put out a Facebook post announcing withdrawal from preparations for the event.

“ I don’t know where I am getting it wrong in my training,’’ Nitendra, who is among India’s best long distance runners, told this blog in Bengaluru, some ten days after that post on social media. At the Sports Authority of India (SAI) facility, his daily schedule remained pretty much the same as when everything was fine and he was training systematically. There was an early morning dose of training, rest, strengthening exercises by early evening and another round of training after that. All this with one difference – given injury, the work load was light. The schedule was mixed with cross training and periodic visits to a trusted physiotherapist in the city. “ It is something like active rest. I am hoping to nudge the work load slightly higher next week, maybe try some jogging or light running,’’ he said.

Nitendra had qualified for the Doha World Championships at the 2019 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), which he had won with a timing of 2:15:52 (he and Sudha Singh were the only Indian athletes qualifying so at 2019 TMM; Gopi. T made the mark at the 2019 Seoul Marathon). He had then headed to the 2019 London Marathon before settling down to a training schedule focused on Doha. “ I was doing well. The training during off season is very important when planning for major events,’’ Nitendra said. Then, the setback occurred. The injury started with discomfort in the hamstring. When exertion continues despite a muscle injured, other muscle groups that step in to compensate become affected.  The Facebook post had mentioned complete rest advised, following “ back hamstring and glutes injury.’’

The progression of injury sounded familiar. “ I was in the tapering phase of preparations for Doha and gearing up for the inter-state championships when I began sensing pain. The injury started to interfere with my training. I had no problem running for a long time. The issue was with interval training or if I stopped and resumed. I got to the point where normal movement started to hurt. There was a meeting to decide how athletes were faring. I told the authorities myself that I shouldn’t be in contention for Doha as I am injured. At such venues you have to try your best. You can’t do that if you are nursing injury,’’ Nitendra said.

Rest and recovery should heal the injury. However, looking ahead, he has to make some conscious choices. Athletes typically work back from goals. For all elite athletes the next big objective is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Its qualifying mark is tough. For the 2016 Rio Olympics, the qualifying time for male marathoners was two hours, 19 minutes. For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, that has tightened to 2:11:30. In other words, any Indian male marathoner qualifying by virtue of timing for the event (there is also additionally, selection based on ranking) would have set a new national record in the discipline. The existing national record is 2:12:00.

From an athlete’s perspective what is it like attempting to bridge the gap between current Indian performance and 2:12:00? Is it too formidable a challenge? “ When I was in England for the London Marathon, I shared my room with an elite runner from Italy. At the race, he improved his timing by a couple of minutes or so. There are multiple, helpful factors that converge on race day making such improvements possible. You train hard but those supportive elements also have to manifest. How, when and where that happens is beyond my capacity to explain,’’ Nitendra said.

Photo: courtesy Nitendra Singh Rawat

With little over three months remaining for 2019 to conclude, the next big event in his mind was the annual marathon in Mumbai. Among Indian elite runners, Nitendra is both the defending champion and the course record holder at TMM. It is an event that is close to his heart. But in the run up to Tokyo, the catch is this – although TMM is an IAAF Gold Label race, the course is a tough one (even among the World Marathon Majors, it is to Berlin and its fast course that everyone heads if they are pursuing a record or personal best). Viewed so, Mumbai may not be among most obvious options if you are chasing that stiff qualifying mark for the Olympics. You have to include other options too in the basket of races for consideration. Ideally for a marathoner seeking berth at the Tokyo Olympics of July-August 2020, the last big competition can be upto three months prior to the Olympics, not closer than that, Nitendra said. You have time till then. There is some conscious choosing and planning, he will have to do.

“ All that, after I overcome this injured phase. Healing and recovery is top priority for now,’’ Nitendra said. There was interesting sub text on that front too. Hailing from Kumaon in Uttarakhand, Nitendra believes that he gathers more injuries when training in cities. “ I am not saying that I don’t get injured in the hills. But it seems to me that I get injured less there,’’ he said. He hopes to get back to the hills but maybe somewhere else, not Kumaon; Kumaon is home and being close to home could be distracting for athlete in training. He also hopes that sometime in the future he gets to coach others, including good amateur runners.

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


Geoffrey Kamworor (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page)

Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor has set a new world record at the 2019 Copenhagen Half Marathon.

He finished the race in 58 minutes and one second (58:01), bettering the previous world record in the half marathon by 17 seconds. The earlier record (58:18) was held by Abraham Kiptum of Kenya; it was set at the Valencia Half Marathon last year.

The new record is “ subject to the usual ratification procedure,’’ the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) noted in its statement (dated September 15, 2019) on the subject.

The Copenhagen Half Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Kamworor is a known face in India having finished on the podium at past editions of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and the TCS World 10k.

What makes Kamworor’s performance doubly significant is that besides breaking the world record, his participation in Copenhagen appears to have been a conscious choice over competing in the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships to be held in Doha later this month.

“ It is very emotional for me to set this record. And doing it in Copenhagen, where I won my first world title, adds something to it,” Kamworor, 26, was quoted as saying in the IAAF report. In his tweet congratulating Kamworor, fellow Kenyan and world record holder in the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge said, “ a huge congratulations to @GKamworor! So proud to see you run this world record. Great planning, preparations, teammates, coaching and management is equal to record breaking.”

According to Wikipedia, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, hailing from the village of Chepkorio in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, first competed abroad in 2010. He was the 2011 World Junior Cross Country Champion. He later won the World Half Marathon Championships three times in a row from 2014 to 2018 (the championships were held in 2014, 2016 and 2018). He also won the World Cross Country Championships in 2015 and 2017.

He won his first World Marathon Major – the New York City Marathon – in 2017.

Among other events, he had podium finishes at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2011 (00:59:31), 2013 (00:59:30) and 2014 (59:07). In 2012, he won the TCS World 10k in Bengaluru, covering the distance in 28 minutes. He also won it in 2014 (27:45) and 2018 (27:59).

Copenhagen had been the scene of the first of Kamworor’s three world half-marathon titles.

Outside of his appearances at the World Half Marathon Championships, the 2019 Copenhagen Half Marathon was Kamworor’s first 13.1-mile race since November 2014, the IAAF statement pointed out.

According to it, five other men finished inside 60 minutes at the event. Bernard Kipkorir of Kenya placed second in 59:16 followed by Ethiopia’s Berehanu Wendemu Tsegu (59:22) and Kenya’s Edwin Kiprop Kiptoo (59:27).

In the women’s race, Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba (2018 Tokyo Marathon champion) finished first in 1:05:57. It was a personal best (PB) for her and the second fastest time at the event after the course record (1:05:15) set by Ethiopian born Dutch athlete, Sifan Hassan last year. That had been a new European record. Evaline Chirchir of Kenya (1:06:22) placed second and Dorcas Tuitoek (1:06:36), also of Kenya, third.

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


Scott Hawker (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete)

The Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is among the most coveted races in the international ultra-running calendar. It is a difficult race, run in the European Alps. The course length is approximately 171 kilometers and the total elevation gain amounts to 32,940 feet. It is also among the largest ultra-races of its type with hundreds of runners converging every year at Chamonix in France, for what is essentially a week-long festival of running with races over various distances. UTMB is the flagship race. Ultra-runner, Scott Hawker, secured a podium finish at the 2019 edition of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Scott has been rated among the leading trail runners from New Zealand. He has featured in the top bracket at well-known trail races. He placed third at 2019 UTMB, covering the distance in 21 hours, 48 minutes, four seconds (21:48:04). Scott spared time to respond to queries from this blog:

How do you normally plan your calendar every year? How many races do you typically participate in every year and do you follow any pattern like orienting the progression towards a major event? For example, if you are doing UTMB, do you structure the rest of the year such that you save yourself for UTMB?

Yes this year was all about UTMB. I raced less this year than in previous years. And I had a pretty quiet few months race wise leading into UTMB so I could focus on training and preparing as best as I could.

In one of your post-race interviews after 2019 UTMB, you have hinted at the return of an old injury in the early part of the race. Do you suspect you were overdoing things in the preceding years? You have also mentioned of struggling to get the right diet / nutrition in place. Can you give us an idea of these years, what was going wrong and how you corrected the situation?

The niggle / injury I’ve been dealing with for a couple of years is some sciatic nerve/ hamstring pain… with it being more nerve related it’s a little up and down. It hadn’t been an issue for a few months but reared its ugly head at UTMB after Saint Gervais.

My race day nutrition just wasn’t working for me in 2018, too many gels / chews and sweet items were causing a massive thirst and I basically ended up needing to drink too much fluid, which would then cause havoc in my stomach on downhills with the sloshing in the guts.

From 2019 UTMB (Photo: courtesy Scott Hawker)

How did you plan your approach to 2019 UTMB? How many events did you participate in prior to this in 2019 and which ones did you choose? Was your approach to the 2019 edition of the event, significantly different from how you approached it in 2017?

As mentioned above, I raced a lot less this year and the races I did do were shorter distance events than in previous years…

I ran in the HK100 in January, Mt Solitart Ultra 45km in April, the Retezat 28km Skyrace in June, Lavaredo Ultra Dolomites 87km in June, the Grossglockner Ultra 50km in July and then UTMB. The spacing between these races enabled me to recover well post-race and then kick back into training.

Going into UTMB this year, what was your pre-race expectation and strategy? How had you planned to run the race?

Pre-race I was hoping to sneak into the top 10 and maybe top five if on a good day… My plan was to stick around some runners who I felt would run a typically smart race. The pace in the beginning 10km was quite slow compared to previous years so I found myself in the top five athletes from early on.

In post-race interviews you have mentioned that the first half of the race was a struggle for you. What happened; what went wrong, what caused things to go wrong? How did the situation change in the second half; what made things change? 

Yes, the hamstring / sciatic pain came back and didn’t enable me to run freely in the opening 50km until Les Chapieux. I was walking down some of the descent resigned to the fact I was going to pull out as the race I was hoping for and what I wanted to achieve here, was gone. It was when my good friend Harry Jones came in to the checkpoint and said to try again as there was so much time to go that I decided to shuffle out of the aid station and try to get to Courmayeur. I was doing a nerve stretch I do a lot (every 10-12mins) and I think the super easy 5km descent was maybe enough to take some of the load off my hamstring. I was then able to start running without pain.

From 2019 UTMB (Photo: courtesy Scott Hawker)

The UTMB is run in the European Alps. You hail from New Zealand, home to the Southern Alps. Are there any challenges by way of terrain / weather conditions that you face running in the mountains of Europe or are the challenges faced more personal than related to environment?

The mountains in NZ are so similar to the mountains around Mont Blanc. I feel really at home in Chamonix. There’s probably a balance of environmental and physical challenges one faces at UTMB.

Can you give us an overview of your early life in New Zealand – which part of the country do you hail from, what is the topography there like, when did you get into running and most importantly, when did you get into ultra-running? Was there any specific instance / development that made you realize you will be good at ultra-running?

I played soccer when i was younger to a provincial and national level. As kids, my parents would take me and my brother hiking and on adventures. So I found a love for nature and the outdoors from a young age.

As a kid, I seemed to always be the fitter guy in the team and the one who was running later in the matches. Once I started doing multisport races in the mountains I realized I could move well through the mountains and combining that with good fitness – it was a good match for ultramarathon running.

What attracts you to trail and ultra-running? Can you give us an idea of your training – is it structured and supervised by a coach or has it been mostly a case of you discovering what works best for you?

The mountains, the solitude but also the companionship while training and racing with friends. Also it’s a sport I can share somewhat with my wife and daughter as part of the process, which is an amazing experience.

My coach David Roche from SWAP has been guiding me since March this year, he’s been monumental in helping me develop as an athlete and get to where I am now. The exciting part is we’re only getting started.

From 2019 UTMB (Photo: courtesy Scott Hawker)

As a runner, how long did it take for you to find sponsors? At what point in your running career did they start showing interest?

Around 2014 I picked up my first sponsors. I’m so thankful to be supported by such amazing brands as VIBRAM, CamelBak, Kailas and Naked Running Band.

At present your year is split into a first half spent training and racing in Australia and a second half devoted to racing in other parts of the world. How has this mix worked for you? Does that first half spent in Australia provide you with adequate opportunities and adequately diverse terrain to train in?

Being able to spend time in NZ and Australia and then the race season in Europe is a blessing. The mountains of Australia are so different from almost everything I’ve raced on in Europe so it’s hard to translate what I train in there to Europe but the trails are equally as beautiful and fun.

What is your plan going forward? Which other events do you have in mind for 2019 and 2020? Are there any changes you wish to attempt to your current paradigm of running in terms of type of events, nature of terrain and distances run?

I have 3 races remaining in 2019, the UTLO in Italy, the Mogan Ultra in China and then Maesalong Trail in Thailand. All these races are for fun and events my sponsors support. In 2020, I would like, at this stage to be back at UTMB but the rest of the calendar is undecided as yet.

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


Brigid Kosgei (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.)

Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei set a new course record in the women’s half marathon, at the 2019 Great North Run in UK. She covered the distance in one hour, four minutes and 28 seconds (1:04:28), shattering the previous record held by Mary Keitany (1:05:39 / also of Kenya) by more than a minute. The men’s half marathon at the event was marked by Britain’s Mo Farah winning his sixth consecutive title; he finished in 59 minutes, six seconds (59:06).

Kosgei’s course record is better than the existing world record – 1:04:51 – set by Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei at the Valencia Half Marathon in October 2017. However owing to technical reasons, the new mark may not qualify to be a world record. The problem lay in the Great North Run’s course. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) noted in its weekend round-up of road races, “ as a point-to-point course and slightly downhill, it’s not valid for record purposes, but that shouldn’t take away from the performance by the 25-year-old Kenyan who dominated the race from the outset.’’

According to it, IAAF regulations (for the performance to be ratified as a world record) require that the start and finish points on the course, measured along a theoretical straight line between them, should not be further apart than 50 per cent of the race distance. It is also required that the overall decrease in elevation between start and finish should not exceed an average of one meter per kilometer. “ The Great North Run is contested on a point-to-point course with elevation loss of 30.5m and a start / finish separation of more than 75 per cent,’’ the statement pointed out.

As per published media reports, Kenya swept the top four positions in the women’s half marathon at the 2019 Great North Run. Magdalyne Masai finished second, Linet Masai placed third and Mary Keitany, fourth. In the men’s race, Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola finished second while Abdi Nageeye of Netherlands placed third. Britain’s Callum Hawkins was fourth.

Prior to 2019 Great North Run, Kosgei was known best for her finishes at the Chicago and London marathons. She placed second among women in the 2017 Chicago Marathon, second in the 2018 London Marathon, first in the 2018 Chicago Marathon and first in the 2019 London Marathon. Going by information available on Wikipedia, Kosgei has finished in top two at eight of the nine marathons that she has run in her career.

The Great North Run is the largest half marathon in the world. It takes place every September in North East England. It was first staged in 1981. As of 2019, Kenyan men had been won the race 14 times; Kenyan women – 12 times.

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


Mt Shivling (6543m / 21,466 feet). It was after an expedition to Shivling in 2007 that Giripremi’s string of expeditions to 8000m peaks, started (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

Climbing an 8000m peak is a major project. A project to climb all the fourteen 8000m peaks is in a league by itself. Aside from the climbing, crucial aspects therein are – project structure, funding and management. Pune-based mountaineering club Giripremi and its senior mountaineer, Umesh Zirpe, have been tackling this challenge for a while now. Here’s a snapshot of how the engagement with 8000m came about and how they managed repeated expeditions to high altitude.  

Shivling, the 21,466 feet-high peak in the Garhwal Himalaya, is among the most beautiful mountains in the world.

It resembles a rugged pyramid. While ascents along steep ridge lines visible on the mountain’s popular pictures have won climbers the highest accolades in mountaineering, its regular climbing route moves up the mountain’s bulk that lay behind its well-known visage. But regular route or not, any climb on Shivling entails technical climbing. It is not an easy peak, modest elevation notwithstanding. In 2007, Pune-based mountaineering club, Giripremi, marked its silver jubilee celebration with an expedition to climb Shivling.

According to Umesh Zirpe, senior member of Giripremi, when the expedition returned to Pune after the climb, there were interactions with the public. At one such meeting, a woman held forth on her relative who had just been on a pilgrimage called Char Dham in the lower Himalaya. To her mind, Char Dham and attempting Shivling represented the same level of objective difficulty – it was all similar; all Himalaya. For Umesh, who had plans for more expeditions, the interaction was both reason to feel aghast and a lesson in marketing. Funding mountaineering expeditions has been traditionally difficult for civilians in India. It is an expensive sport entailing costly equipment, travel to remote places and eventually a method of team-work wherein the hard work of many will put a handful on coveted summit. It is also a fringe sport in India with proper awareness of climbing restricted to those who have been out in the mountains. In their ranks Shivling is hugely respected. Move away from that niche to larger world, and knowledge of technical climbing and other objective difficulties faced at elevation, fade. How do you raise funds for mountaineering if the public’s knowledge of climbing is limited?

South Col, Everest (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

The Indian state of Maharashtra (where Pune is) had a successful civilian expedition to Everest in 1998; it was called Tata Everest Expedition, named so after the main sponsor. One of the expedition’s two members reaching the summit of Everest – Surendra Chavan – was from Giripremi. By 2007, mountaineering in India was increasingly aware of objectives like the many challenging peaks of medium elevation in the Himalaya (overlooked through obsession with Everest) and the much prized goal among mountaineers worldwide of climbing the planet’s fourteen 8000m peaks. Not to mention – Seven Summits, the quest to reach the highest point on every continent. Umesh’s vision was to attempt good climbs, go for the 8000m peaks and promote mountain sports on a large scale so that it got noticed. To do any of this you need funds. Problem was – in the public’s perception height of peak was everything. Therein nothing beats Everest (8848m / 29,029 feet) although as guided ascent by its regular route, the mountain is not ranked a major challenge by climbers. Still, as the woman at the public interaction proved, the world was blind to mountaineering’s details. All it asked was: how high did you climb? Space probes journeying far from Earth sometimes exploit the proximity of celestial objects to propel themselves onward. It is called gravitational sling-shot, gravity assist maneuver or swing-by. Umesh knew after that public interaction, Giripremi would have to be sling-shot on its journey by Everest. The club should first summit Everest and bring mountaineering closer to the public, if they are to become interested in more such big projects. Right then, in Maharashtra’s mountaineering circles that approach seemed regressive. Especially since Giripremi had just returned from Shivling, a peak genuinely respected by climbers. But then marketing has its rules and those rules are decided by the market.

Umesh joined Giripremi in 1986. He was into rock climbing; he also did his mountaineering courses from government-run institutes in the Himalaya. When the Shivling expedition occurred he was already some 20 years old at the club. A tax consultant by profession, he had become one of Maharashtra’s most successful expedition leaders with major peaks climbed by his teams (eight of these expeditions were to 8000m peaks). He had also been conferred the state’s Shiv Chhatrapati Award. Giripremi is at present Maharashtra’s most accomplished mountaineering club by a wide margin. The journey started in 2007 when after Giripremi’s return from Shivling and that session spent listening to Char Dham, steps commenced for a club expedition to Everest. “ I decided that mountaineering required the hue of a brand; something that draws the attention of the public. We will tell the people what the sport is. I was certain that I wanted to leverage Everest to popularize mountaineering,’’ he told this blog, July 2019, at Giripremi’s office in Pune. The planned Everest expedition featuring 13 members was estimated to cost Rs 3.5 crore (1 crore = 10 million). The number of climbers was large for a reason. Umesh wanted to avoid that classic mountaineering endgame of only a handful reaching the top. It kept a few in the limelight; the others faded to backdrop.

Umesh Zirpe (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

The expedition budget initially shocked Giripremi. Back in 1998, a smaller budget for Everest had nearly gone unmet and the eventually successful expedition was a case of last minute bail-out by the leading Indian business conglomerate, Tata. Giripremi’s biggest budget till its Everest expedition was the just preceding trip to Shivling; that cost Rs 10 lakhs (1 lakh = 100,000). Umesh also wanted an altered approach to expedition. “ Usually in our expeditions a bunch of climbers did everything from beginning to end. By the time they reached the peak, they were tired. I didn’t want that, I wanted my climbers to be able to focus on their training and climbing,’’ Umesh said. He called for a meeting of mountaineers from Maharashtra. Around 125 people turned up to help the Everest expedition and spread word about the need for funds. In the fund raising campaign that followed, Umesh estimates that close to 25,000 people extended support. The campaign also had hooks built in. For instance, there was a trek arranged to the top of Kalsubai (5400 feet), Maharashtra’s highest peak. More than 470 people signed a banner kept on the summit; it would travel with the Giripremi team to Everest Base Camp. Specifically with regard to his climbing team, Umesh demanded commitment of two years from every member. Six people resigned their jobs to comply. The expedition members took to staying at the Giripremi office (while Umesh did not articulate it as such, others this blog spoke to said that this would have helped the team bond and know each other better). Aside from regular training, they also had sessions for meditation and breathing exercises. “ Roughly 80 per cent of funds for this expedition came from individual contributions. About 20 per cent was from company sponsorships,’’ Umesh said. It is a critical ratio. For in its progressive change over the years lay the contours of the machinery Umesh and Giripremi were putting in place. On May 19, 2012, eight members of Giripremi’s team reached the top of Everest. After the expedition, the attitude was one of objective met. For Umesh, it was launch pad for the next stage – attempt the planet’s fourteen 8000m peaks.

Last section before summit of Makalu (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

The next peak the club focused on was Lhotse (8516m / 27,940 feet). It is adjacent to Everest and given some members from the 2012 Everest expedition hadn’t been able to top out, this expedition was made a joint Lhotse-Everest expedition. The previous success on Everest helped. Company sponsorships were more. According to Umesh, the ratio of financing for the new expedition settled at 60 per cent from individual contributions and 40 per cent from companies. In mid-May 2013, up on Everest, the team’s progress was hampered by unexpected bad weather at Camp 4. Descending to lower camps and then returning in fair weather was not an option as the Sherpas accompanying the team made it clear that in such weather conditions a descent would be descent for good. There would be no coming back up. Given oxygen supply was dwindling alongside, Umesh volunteered to go down; it would spare bottles for the others. On May 17, three Giripremi climbers reached the top of Everest. Same day, Ashish Mane from the club, reached the summit of Lhotse. The club now turned its attention to Makalu (8485m / 27,838 feet). In the Makalu expedition which followed in 2014, Ashish Mane became the first Indian civilian to reach the summit. In 2016 Giripremi had successful expeditions to Cho Oyu (8188m / 26,864 feet / two persons summited) and Dhaulagiri (8167m / 26,795 feet / Prasad Joshi became the first Indian civilian to summit the peak). In 2017, Giripremi reached the top of Manaslu (8163m / 26,781 feet) with two members summitting. Then in May 2019, it planted ten club members on the top of Kanchenjunga (8586m / 28,169 feet). “ That leaves Shishapangma and Annapurna from the list of 8000m peaks accessible to Indians,’’ Umesh said. The remaining peaks are in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Giripremi plans to attempt Shishapangma in 2020.

Ashish Mane; he reached the top of five 8000m peaks besides being the first Indian civilian climber to summit Makalu (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

With this journey since the 2007 Shivling expedition, club member Ashish Mane has the distinction of reaching the top of five 8000m peaks (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Manaslu and Kanchenjunga). Others from the club with the distinction of summiting at least two 8000m peaks include Ganesh More, Dr Sumit Mandale, Bhushan Harshe, Anand Mali, Rupesh Khopade and Krushna Dhokale. From an organization perspective (which is the thrust of this article) there are trends to note. When you ask about Umesh in mountaineering circles, you hear him described as someone focused on what needs to be done and a manager of people who connects with others. By his own admission, he has gone out of his way to ensure that his team members are properly taken care of; at one point he even met a company CEO to secure employment for a climber so that the latter could continue training for one of Giripremi’s expeditions in peace. You sensed premium for loyalty in the operating ambiance. There are also other vignettes of the style of project execution and attention to keeping constituents happy. Giripremi has done social work in the Everest region. Project Shivaji was launched for the welfare of the Sherpa community in the Solukhumbu valley; Mt Everest is located in the northern part of Solukhumbu district. In 2012, a statue of the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji was installed at Gorakshep (16,942 feet), on the way to Everest Base Camp. Three years later, the club did relief work when Nepal was hit by a major earthquake in April 2015 (it did so at times of calamity in other parts of the Himalaya too – in Uttarakhand [2013] and Ladakh [2010]).

Still, what matters more from the perspective of repeating expeditions to major peaks is how well the project model transitions to stable funding. As subject, sustainable funding of expeditions has often been glossed over at India’s outdoor clubs. Good climbing clubs are a composite of considerable experience in the outdoors plus a convergence of people having different professional skills. With good leadership, mechanisms can be evolved and institutionalized to set up funds devoted for expeditions that a club can periodically dip into; at the very least, make the hunt for funds easier to handle. However, the traditional tendency at clubs has been to address expeditions as they arise. Once an objective is decided, the scramble for funds starts again, from scratch. At Giripremi, you notice departure from this attitude; you detect different pattern.

Prasad Joshi; first Indian civilian climber to summit Dhaulagiri (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

As of 2019, Giripremi had organized more than 40 expeditions to the Himalaya (source: information provided in a diary brought out by the club). Somewhere along the way, the resource base available for Giripremi to play with began to change. Arguably the toughest part of life by expedition is getting started; that is when inertia is highest. Once the ball gets rolling, it develops its own momentum. The growing confidence and familiarity with solving problems become lubricant for journey’s progress. Through the club’s earlier expeditions, including the ones to Shivling and Everest, Giripremi built up a stock of mountaineering gear. Once bought, this equipment is good for several expeditions. Consequently such capital costs slowly declined with each expedition. The club’s budget for Everest in 2012 may have been Rs 3.5 crore. But according to Umesh, Lhotse-Everest settled at around Rs 90 lakhs and Makalu at Rs 60 lakhs. The budget for Cho Oyu and Dhaulagiri was one crore rupees; for Kanchenjunga, a major peak with time consuming access, the budget was Rs 1.57 crore. These figures must be read alongside location of peak, logistics and expedition size.

Further the ratio in funding between individual contributions and corporate sponsorships changed more from where it was by Lhotse-Everest. For the Makalu expedition it was 50:50. “ Now, we are at around 20:80, with 80 being corporate sponsorship,’’ Umesh said. Without doubt the Pune environment has contributed to this pattern of progressively institutionalized funding. After the successful 1965 Everest Expedition sponsored by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), the early fulcrum of civilian mountaineering in India was Kolkata. The city and the state of West Bengal have many mountaineering clubs and they are known to have traditional strength in collecting funds through individual contributions. But well-oiled club machinery devoted to systematically targeting big budget 8000m peaks and repeating expeditions of that magnitude year after year (as Giripremi did) is rarely heard of. One likely reason for this – as per those familiar with the West Bengal mountaineering scene that this blog spoke to in Mumbai – was the lack of resource-rich clubs. West Bengal has a community that backs mountaineering and donates at the individual level to assist expeditions. But clubs backed by organizations / patrons with deep pockets, are few. Equally, once past the threshold of support by individual donors, expeditions don’t have a large base of companies to turn to, locally. As aggregators of people and resources, companies have the financial strength to sponsor expeditions on a scale individual contributions pooled-in, would find tough to match. Major companies (and companies in general) capable of vaulting civilian expeditions into the big budget league are more in western India.

Beholding peaks (from left to right): Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

At Giripremi’s 8000m expeditions, the drift to more and more company provided-funds was likely made possible by some structural changes in overall model. Around the time of the club’s Manaslu expedition, those working on the 8000m peaks project started an 8000-er club. By all accounts, in terms of economic background, this club is a notch above the regular outdoor club. “ Currently this small club has about 85 individuals and eight companies as members,’’ Umesh said. Members of this niche club get to hire equipment from the cachet of gear accumulated by Giripremi through sustained mountaineering. They can also avail facilities from another initiative commenced by Giripremi – the Guardian Giripremi Institute of Mountaineering (GGIM). In a national climbing ecosystem with leading government run mountaineering institutes located in the north, GGIM is Maharashtra’s first establishment in that role. The institute has a battery of services. As per its website, the institute – its advisory board has officials from the IMF and India’s mountaineering institutes – offers adventure courses, treks and hikes, mountaineering expeditions, tour of the Sahyadri for expats and adventure programs for companies. In August 2016, it launched a rescue co-ordination center for adventure enthusiasts landing in trouble in the state’s Sahyadri range. According to Umesh, Giripremi is a NGO while GGIM is a NGO under the Companies Act. GGIM is operated in league with the business group – Guardian Corporation; the latter’s involvement falls in the category of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). GGIM has tangible services to offer individuals and companies. In turn, that shared ecosystem, the goodwill it generates and the many people and companies it touches, is available to assist Giripremi’s expeditions. Not just that; as Umesh pointed out, GGIM has provided full time employment to some whose first love is climbing and the outdoors; they have been thus spared the need to struggle for livelihood in contexts they don’t fit in as well. One more point qualifies Giripremi’s funding model. Their backers are usually medium sized companies, not large ones. Umesh explained the reason. “ Large companies have more capital. But it is also true that decisions in such environments take time because the owners or really top officials, who decide on sponsoring expeditions, are far up in the hierarchy from the levels you get to speak to. On the other hand, at medium sized companies, this distance is less. You get to speak to owners. We typically speak to a basket of medium sized companies,” Umesh said.

Giripremi’s 8000m expeditions, essayed with Sherpa-support,  are not unquestioningly lauded by all in the climbing fraternity. For sure these expeditions are not in the same league as the alpine ascents, winter ascents and ascents up difficult routes done by some other countries. But it is a significant beginning and everyone this blog spoke to said, disagreements aside, credit must be given where it is due. Mumbai-based mountaineer, Rajesh Gadgil is a senior member of The Himalayan Club, one of the oldest and most respected institutions in mountaineering. “ I may have my differences of opinion in terms of what constitutes a great climb. But I cannot overlook a few important factors in the Giripremi story. First, they have been very consistent with their visits to the Himalaya. Second, they systematically groomed a new generation of climbers. Umesh is the expedition leader. His team belongs to a younger generation and that speaks volumes about how the club has operated, bridging generations. This is not a case of one group of people excelling and the club declining after they are gone. They have transmitted the enthusiasm onward. Third, they availed the same support systems as anyone else seeking to climb the high Himalaya. Yet, even as accidents occurred for others, Giripremi expeditions have returned safely from altitude, year after year.” Mountaineering circles recalled that there was a time long ago, when a set of tragic reversals in the Himalaya saw Giripremi reviewing its engagement with the world’s highest mountain range. The club eventually resolved to continue its expeditions to the Himalaya. The present track record follows that introspection, those this blog spoke to in Mumbai, said.

According to Umesh, the selection procedure followed for the Pune club’s 8000m expeditions is strict. A high level of physical fitness is demanded from participants. This is complemented by much training and preparation. “ Before each major expedition I travel to the location concerned to see for myself what the place is like and to develop a first hand idea of what safety and rescue measures we should have in place. We go in with Plan A, Plan B – like that. Finally, there is God’s grace,” Umesh said. Rajesh pointed out that steps like expedition members working and staying together at the Giripremi office would have introduced a degree of mutual familiarity in advance; something critical when it comes to intervening and assisting in hostile environments like high altitude. “ You typically listen to those you know. When you have known somebody for long, you trust their judgement,” he said. One classic occasion, when this mutual trust and respect becomes important is when people are told to descend for safety, much against their own wishes and perception of self. Timely descent from altitude has often saved lives.

On Kanchenjunga; approaching Camp 4 (Photo: courtesy Giripremi)

Umesh’s real legacy in Indian civilian mountaineering is most probably the systems and structures he evolved, which bring an element of sustainability – including sustainable funding – to mountaineering expeditions. Unfortunately even as he and Giripremi have emerged successful, the model they used may be a tough act to follow. Umesh’s journey started with Everest selected as objective for very practical reasons. At that time – Giripremi’s Everest expeditions happened in 2012 and 2013 – there were eyebrows raised in Maharashtra’s climbing circles over this continued pursuit of Everest, a much climbed peak and one associated strongly with commercial expeditions to boot. For mountaineers, the criticism was relevant. For the general public, it didn’t matter; in their eyes Everest was the pinnacle of mountaineering. To their credit, Giripremi successfully transitioned the public attention on their projects provided by Everest, to projects involving other peaks. However, by 2019, Everest, which kick-started the 8000m journey of Giripremi and Umesh, had fallen in public perception. There was yet again a season of high number of mountaineering deaths and most importantly a bulk of the blame was heaped on too many people lured to attempt the peak because the normal route is not very hard to do. If you can afford to pay the required money, guiding companies take you up. Queues built up at altitude when conditions turned adverse affecting climbers’ progress. Inexperienced climbers added to the mess. The long wait and exposure to the elements took its toll; people died. The media glare on Everest and the many stories told has meant the magic of Everest dimmed proportionately. The media has also brought to light the high levels of garbage collected and brought back from Everest at the end of each climbing season. It is likely that now if you say you are planning Everest, at least some may ask: can’t you spare it? Don’t you have another peak to try?

Simply put, it will be difficult to make Everest the sling-shot it was for Umesh and Giripremi.

What can you use other than Everest?

Time will tell.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with Umesh Zirpe in Pune. Further conversation for building context and adding shades to debate was provided by others hailing from Mumbai’s climbing circles.) 


Jinson Johnson (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose)

Jinson Johnson sets new national record in 1500m

Indian middle distance runner Jinson Johnson set a new national record in 1500m for men when he placed second in the discipline at ISTAF Berlin on Sunday (September 1, 2019).

Gold went to Joshua Thompson of the US. Cornelius Tuwei of Kenya placed third.

A specialist in the 800m and 1500m, Jinson clocked three minutes, 35.24 seconds in Berlin, media reports said. The earlier national record was 3:37.62, also in his name; it was set at a competition in Netherlands in June.

With Sunday’s second place finish, Jinson has qualified to participate in the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships due in Doha, Qatar, later this month, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) confirmed in a tweet.

According to Wikipedia, the Internationales Stadionfest (ISTAF) is an annual track and field athletics meet held at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. Since 2010, the event has been part of the IAAF World Challenge meetings, the second tier of global one day athletics events.

Jinson also holds the national record in 800m; 1:45.65 set at the National Inter-State Championships held in Guwahati in June 2018.

This photo was downloaded from the Facbook page of the IAAF World Championships and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich is world champion in women’s marathon

Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich struck gold in the women’s marathon at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships which got underway in Doha on September 27.

Running in hot and humid weather conditions, she covered the distance in 2:32:43.

It was the first time a marathon was being run at midnight at a world championship. The choice of that hour was to beat the region’s warm weather. “ On this occasion the challenge was about endurance rather than speed as the race began in temperatures officially estimated at between 30 and 32.7 Centigrade, and humidity of 73 per cent,’’ a report on the IAAF website about the 25 year old-Kenyan athlete’s run, said.

According to it, Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo took silver with timing of 2:33:46 while bronze went to Namibia’s Helalia Johannes, who finished in 2:34:15.

Earlier this year, Ruth Chepngetich had topped the women’s segment of the 2019 Dubai Marathon, with finish time of 2:17:08. She has a personal best of 1:05:30 in the half marathon and 31:12 over the 10 kilometers.

Sebastian Coe, president, IAAF (This photo was downloaded from the IAAF website).

Sebastian Coe gets second term as IAAF president, Adille Sumariwala reelected to IAAF Council

Sebastian Coe has been re-elected to a second term as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), a tweet from the apex body for world athletics, said on September 25, 2019.

He was elected unopposed.

Ximena Restrepo has been voted the first female vice president of the IAAF.

Joining her as IAAF vice presidents are Sergey Bubka, Geoffrey Gardner and Nawaf Bin Mohammed Al Saud.

The newly elected IAAF Council members include Hiroshi Yokokawa, Antti Pihlakoski, Anna Riccardi, Nan Wang, Adille Sumariwalla, Nawal El Moutawakel, Abby Hoffman, Sylvia Barlag, Alberto Juantorena, Willie Banks, Raul Chapado, Dobromir Karamarinov and Beatrice Ayikoru, further  tweets by on the subject by IAAF, said.

AFI announces national team for 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) selection committee has picked a 25-member national team including 16 men and nine women for the 2019 IAAF World Championships to be held in Doha, Qatar, from September 27 to October 6.

According to a statement from AFI (dated September 8), the team is as follows:

Men: Jabir MP (400m hurdles), Jinson Johnson (1500m), Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase), K T Irfan and Devender Singh (20km race walk), Gopi T (marathon), Sreeshankar M (long jump), Tajinder Pal Singh Toor (shot put), Shivpal Singh (javelin throw), Muhammed Anas, Nirmal Noah Tom, Alex Antony, Amoj Jacob, KS Jeevan, Dharun Ayyasamy and Harsh Kumar (4 x 400m men’s & mixed relay).

Women: PU Chitra (1500m),Annu Rani (javelin throw), Hima Das, Vismaya V K, Poovamma M R, Jisna Mathew, Revathi V, SubhaVenkatsan, Vithya R (4 x 400m women’s & mixed relay).

While 400m runner Arokia Rajiv is unavailable due to injury, the selectors decided to discuss the case of javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra who is undergoing rehabilitation program after an elbow surgery, at a later stage. The selection committee approved the names of sprinters Dutee Chand (100m women), Archana Suseentran (200m women) and high jumper Tejaswin Shankar subject to invitation from IAAF based on their world rankings. The committee also decided to conduct confirmatory trial for quarter miler Anjali Devi for selection in the team in individual women’s 400m. The trial will be conducted on September 21 at NS-NIS Patiala.

The AFI selection committee meeting, chaired by Olympian Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, was attended by AFI President Adille J Sumariwalla, Chief Coach Bahadur Singh, Bahadur Singh Saggu, Krishna Poonia, Praveen Jolly,UdayPrabhu amd Paramjit Singh. Former Chief Coach JS Saini and Deputy Chief Coach Radhakrishnan Nair were special invitees, the statement said.

This photo was downloaded from the Ladakh Marathon Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose.

Shabir Hussain, Jigmet Dolma take top honors in 2019 Ladakh Marathon

Shabir Hussain and Jigmet Dolma were winners of the men’s and women’s race respectively at the 2019 edition of Ladakh Marathon, held on September 8.

In the men’s race, Shabir Hussain breasted the finish tape in two hours, 56 minutes and 51 seconds. He was followed by Jigmet Norboo, who finished in 2:58:58. In third place was Manzoor Hussain with a timing of 3:04:37 hours.

Among women, Jigmet Dolma was the winner with a timing of 3:20:02 hours. Tsetan Dolkar placed second finishing in 3:22:37. In third place was Namgyal Lhamo, who clocked 4:09:38.

In the men’s half marathon segment, Suman Gurung won, crossing the finish line in 1:19:48 hours. Rajkumar Serma came in second with a timing of 1:20:51. Nawang Tsering finished third with a timing of 1:22:34.

In the women’s half marathon, the winner was Tashi Ladol (1:36:27). Stanzin Chondol (1:36:52) placed second and Disket Dolma (1:37:51), third.

Khardung La Challenge: Shabir Hussain, Christena Walter win

Shabir Hussain and Christena Walter were winners of the men’s and women’s race at the 2019 edition of the 72 kilometer-long Khardung La Challenge in Ladakh.

The race starts at Khardung village and about 60 kilometers of the route is above 4,000 meters.

Shabir Hussain finished the distance in six hours, 53 minutes and 34 seconds. Stanzin Norboo was the runner-up finishing just five seconds behind  the winner in 6:53:39 hours. In third place was Rigzin Norboo who finished the ultra-distance in 6:54:31 hours.

Among women, Christena Walter from Ireland was the winner finishing the race in 10:32:44 hours. In second place was Ashwini G, who finished in 10:39:25 hours. Rephica Becky Pde finished the race in third position with a timing of 11:36:50.

The event held on September 6, 2019 had a record number of 120 runners finishing the race within cut-off timing, the organizers of the event said.

Pau Capell (This photo was downloaded from Twitter feed of UTMB)

Pau Capell of Spain, Courtney Dauwalter of US, win 2019 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

Spanish long-distance runner Pau Capell and American Courtney Dauwalter were winners of the men’s and women’s race at the 2019 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).

UTMB is a single-stage mountain ultra-marathon; it is among the world’s best-known events of its type.

Pau Capell finished the 171 kilometer-UTMB course in 20 hours, 19 minutes and seven seconds.

Xavier Thevenard of France finished in 21:07:56 hours, nearly 49 minutes after Capell. Scott Hawker of New Zealand placed third with a timing of 21:48:04 hours.

In the women’s race, Courtney Dauwalter won with a timing of 24:34:26 hours. Kristin Berglund of Sweden finished in 25:34:12, an hour behind the winner. Spain’s Maite Maiora Elizondo ended in third position with a timing of 25:41:30.

In the overall ranking, Courtney’s position was 21.

In the 101 kilometer-CCC race (Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix), the overall winner was Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando Alzaga who finished the race in 10:28:49 hours. He was followed by Thibaut Garrivier of France who finished in 10:39:01. In third position was Jiri Cipa of Czech Republic. He finished the race in 10:45:37.

Courtney Dauwalter (This photo was downloaded from the Twitter feed of UTMB)

In CCC’s women’s race, Ragna Debats was the winner finishing in 12:10:33 hours. The runner-up was Amanda Basham of United States. She finished in 12:27:06. In third position was Camille Bruyas of France (12:34:26).

Spain’s Pablo Villa Gonzalez was the winner of the men’s race in the 145 kilometer-TDS race, completing it in 18:03:06 hours. In second position was Dmitry Mityaev of Russia (18:16:16) and in third position was Ludovic Pommeret of France (18:37:13).

In TDS women’s race, the winner was Audrey Tanguy of France (21:36:15). In second position was Hillary Allen of United States finishing in 21:52:46 hours and in third position was Kathrin Gotz of Switzerland (23:46:37).

Media technology at athletics events set to grow with 2019 Doha world championships

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), with its technology partners and suppliers, will be introducing an array of new cameras to provide innovative angles on the competition and behind-the-scenes pictures, at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships due in Doha from September 27, 2019.

In collaboration with long-standing timing partner Seiko, IAAF Productions will launch the world-first technology of Block Cam at Khalifa International Stadium. Two miniature cameras have been installed in each starting block which will provide a new dimension to the coverage of the 100m and sprint hurdles, broadcasting pictures of athletes’ faces in the moments before they hear the starting pistol and capturing the explosion of energy as the athletes leave the blocks, an IAAF statement said.

According to the statement, the suite of new cameras being used by IAAF Productions will also include body cameras placed on officials (in the call room and officiating on the race walks course), drones, rail and wire cameras on the back straight, a rail camera in the tunnel between the warm-up track and stadium, a super slo-mo remote camera in the discus cage and hand-held cameras for athletes to take on victory laps.

The 2019 World Championships will also see a quantum leap forward in graphic production and analysis, using the combined expertise of Seiko, Hawkeye, Angular Velocity and Deltatre.

These will display the maximum speed reached by sprinters during a race, their finishing speed, the speed of take off in long jump, triple jump and pole vault, the distance achieved in each of the three phases of the triple jump, and the speed and angle of release of the long throws.

“ We’ve embraced innovation throughout the Championships, showing more behind-the-scenes footage from the moment the athletes arrive at the stadium, through their whole journey to the end of the Event – and with more than 130 cameras inside and outside the stadium, we can’t wait to broadcast these unique Championships to a prospective audience of more than a billion people,’’ Lord added.

India’s Ministry of Sports to create National Centres of Excellence

The Ministry of Sports will create 20 National Centres of Excellence to prepare athletes for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics.

According to media reports, each such centre will offer funds for four to six specific sports. The Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Kiren Rijiju, has urged state governments and corporates to develop sports centres.

Twenty facilities of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) have been identified as National Centers of Excellence. The centres are in Patiala, Trivandrum, Chandigarh, Sonepat, Lucknow, Guwahati, Imphal, Kolkata, Bhopal, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Gandhinagar plus Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Indira Gandhi Stadium, Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium,  Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherjee Swimming Pool Complex, all in Delhi; National Water Sports Academy (Khelo India), Alleppey, National Boxing Academy (Khelo India), Rohtak and National Wrestling Academy (Khelo India), Aurangabad, media reports said.

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


Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman Markle

Sixty-three-year-old Pamela Chapman-Markle of the US broke the course record in her age category at the 2019 edition of Badwater 135. It was the fourth consecutive time she broke the age category course record at the ultramarathon. She finished with a timing of 34 hours and three minutes, bettering her own record of 34:30:53 hours set during the 2018 edition.

A nurse-anesthetist by profession, Pamela started racing at the age of 55. Her first race was a 100 miler. This interview provides an update to the last one we did, a year ago.

How was your running in the last one year? Was it good, satisfying; were there any setbacks?

It was indeed satisfying for me. My timing at races matters to me. There was nothing to really get depressed about.  I just work harder at training and come back with a vengeance. I did extremely well and am very blessed with how I have completed the races.

During this period you set new course records at several races. Can you detail some of them?

The new records are:

  1. 48 Hour (Across the Years) USATF age record of 153.271 (I was really sick and stopped nine hours early so I could have completed more miles ). I am repeating the 48 hour in November and hope to break the world record and break my 48 hour USATF Record.
  2. Badwater Cape Fear, Badwater Salton Sea, and Badwater 135 – these three races are considered The Badwater ULTRA CUP. You consider the total time you ran to complete all three races; the winner does it the fastest.   I was the female winner.
  3. Mad City 100K – overall USATF age group 100K national winner, 1st Masters, and 3rd overall female.
  4. Keys 100 – age course record
  5. Badwater 135 – new age group course record with a time of 34:03. I beat my record by almost 30 minutes.
  6. Six Days in the Dome – The Redux: 1st female, 2nd overall, 100K USATF Age Record, 12 Hour Age World Record – New USATF Record, 24 Hour USATF Record.

Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman Markle

Have you incorporated any new elements into your running? How has your recovery been in the last one year after these long ultra-races?

I have done seven ultra-races, so far this year. I have incorporated more interval running. I also try to go to the hills in Austin twice a month.  My recovery has been excellent.  I am blessed to recover as well as I do.

I have started to add one day of strength training in my weekly schedule.  I feel this will help me in recovery.  As far as nutrition goes, I am still trying to figure that out!  For recovery, I am increasing the protein and vegetables in my diet.  As far as racing, I am still trying to figure that out.  I have not found anything that prevents GI distress in me.  Solid foods seem to help after 50 miles.  I will be joyous when this is figured out!

Can you describe your run at the 100K Mad City Ultra races? 

I had a great run until the last 20 miles.  My stomach was not feeling well and I went without fuelling that entire time. I slowed myself down quite a bit.  It was really cold there. I froze which I feel slowed me a bit.

Can you throw light on your 100 mile run at the USATF Championships?

I won the 100 Mile USATF Age Group Race.  I found out after the race that I missed the world record by 11 minutes. So I am challenging it at Tunnel Hill in November this year.

Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman Markle

You have run Badwater multiple times. What brings you back to it; what makes you want to court it every year as a test of your ability?

I love Badwater in so many ways!  I feel it is a really difficult race to complete.  The challenge takes me back every year.  Not only is it the hottest part of the USA but the climbing from 282 feet below sea level to 8500 feet above and starting late at night to cover 135 miles is quite a challenge.  I really love the Badwater family and the people.

As someone who has run Badwater multiple times, are there any changes you notice to race conditions? Is Badwater warmer than before? At night during the race, is it colder than before? How was the 2019 experience?

For me – the weather in the 2019 experience was cooler than all the other times I have run the race; at night, and during the day.  The people who ran it for the first time had no idea that it was 10 degrees hotter in 2018.

You set a new course record this year. What made it possible? Did it have anything to do with your training or was it how you felt and performed during the race? Was there anything about the overall environment / race conditions that helped?

I believe I had a team that believed in my goal for Badwater.  They are a big part of why I set a new course record.  I fell and broke my nose at about mile 91 and had a slight concussion.  I was so nauseated and couldn’t hold anything down for the remainder of the race.  My team was awesome and forced me to take little sips of fluid until we finished.  My training is spot on now. This has been my fourth time running Badwater.  I will keep trying to better my time again and again!

When you choose your races do you have any preference in terms of weather and terrain? 

I would prefer hot road races but I hardly get to choose my weather or terrain.  I love mountain trail races but I do not live in the mountains.  I still try and race one or two a year.

I would love to start racing overseas.  India would be perfect for me.  I am going to investigate the runs and work some of them into my schedule hopefully in the next couple of years.

Photo: courtesy Pamela Chapman Markle

What are your plans going ahead?

I raced at Six Days in The Dome; 24 hours.  I beat the USATF record for 100K (10:47), I beat my USATF record in the 12 Hour (69 Miles) and this gave me the world age record. I PR’d my 100 miles time in 19:02, and won a USATF 24 hour record, running 118.76 miles.  I came in 1st female, 2nd overall racer.  I had a great race and know I can improve.  I did all this coming off only four weeks of racing Badwater 135.  My muscles were not fully recovered and I had pain from mile 25 on.  It was definitely a chore!  I ran with Zach Bitter and was able to be in the Arena when he won the World Record. That was so much fun! Then there is the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in September. No woman over 61 has ever completed this race and I intend to complete it. There is the Icarus 48 hours in Florida and Tunnel Hill 100 in November.  I plan to compete for world records at both.

(This interview was conducted by email. The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. For more on Pamela Chapman Markle please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/08/11/dont-take-a-back-seat-just-because-you-are-getting-older-pamela-chapman-markle/)