Berlin Marathon is well-known for its fast course. For that reason it attracts a huge number of runners from all over the world. In the 2019 edition of the marathon, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won the race in the second fastest time yet in the history of the marathon – two hours, one minute and forty one seconds (2:01:41). It was just two seconds short of the world record set by Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge on the same course in 2018. The women’s race was won by Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia. She finished in 2:20:14. Across the races for men and women, Ethiopian runners took five of the six podium positions on offer. We spoke to some of the Indian runners who participated in Berlin Marathon 2019. Excerpts:
Kolkata-based runner Anjali Saraogi signed up for Berlin Marathon and then had to suspend her training towards the end of June 2019 following some health issues.
“ I could not train at all for Berlin. I tried to defer my entry but that was not possible. I then decided that I would attempt it mainly as a fun run,’’ Anjali said.
On September 1, 2019, she resumed her training after a gap of two months. On September 29, 2019, she was at the start line of the Berlin Marathon mainly aiming to do an easy run. “ I started 16 minutes after my assigned time to ensure that I run slowly,” she said. She finished the run in three hours, 23 minutes and 50 seconds.
Though it wasn’t her personal best, she was pleasantly surprised to turn in a performance way better than her expectations. “ Given my medical issues and what I have been through, this is super time for me. This timing means much more to me than my sub-3:15 finish at Boston Marathon earlier this year,’’ she said.
Anjali was the fastest among women runners from India at Berlin Marathon 2019.
She will be representing India at the IAU 100 kilometer Asia Oceania Championships to be held on November 23, 2019 at Aqaba, Jordan. “ I am now totally fit and hope to do well in Jordan,’’ she said.
Brojen Singh Nongmaithem
Brojen Singh Nongmaithem’s foray into physical activity commenced with running in 2011 as means to combat depression caused by a personal crisis he was facing then.
“ I started walking and jogging and found it interesting. In time I enrolled for a 5 kilometer-race,’’ Brojen, who hails from Manipur but lives in Bengaluru, said. He joined Nike Run Club, which had its training sessions at Kanteerava Stadium.
In 2012, he ran his first full marathon. To train for this marathon, he downloaded a program from Runners’ World. He then got introduced to Pacemakers, a training group under Coach K.C. Kothandapani.
Though, he got a slot to participate in the Berlin Marathon through the lottery system, he was unsure of going because his daughter was yet very small, just nine months old. He trained well for a period of 14-15 weeks but ended up with throat infection during the tapering period. Nevertheless, a week before Berlin Marathon, he ran a half marathon at the Spirit of Wipro in Bengaluru.
“ At Berlin, I was worried about the cold weather. But after I landed there I did a couple of short runs and felt good running in the cool weather,’’ he said.
During the race, he ran strongly until the 22nd kilometer but slowed down a bit thereafter because of the rain. He ended with a personal best of 3:19:15. “ Although my goal was to get to a 3:10, I am happy with my performance in Berlin,’’ he said adding that he would like to attempt achieving this target over the next two years.
For Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaraman, an endocrinologist at the Army Hospital in Delhi, the Berlin Marathon was an opportunity to improve his timing of 3:17 hours, set at the Tata Mumbai Marathon earlier this year. For Berlin, he had set a target of 3:15.
His training had turned out quite well. But after a long run on September 15, he felt strain in his calf muscles prompting him to go slow on the training and attend physiotherapy sessions alongside. “ I could not cancel my trip. I decided to go anyway and run easy,’’ he said.
Halfway through the course, he started to feel the strain again and had to take it easy.
“ Weather was great but the course was quite crowded. Also, many runners don’t go by corals. As a result, you end up overtaking many runners during the course,’’ he said. As Muthukrishnan had decided to not race, this aspect did not worry him too much.
He finished the run in 3:43:07 hours.
Berlin Marathon is seen as one of the fastest courses and prompts runners from across the world to participate in it. “ Runners from over 150 countries participated this time,’’ Muthukrishnan said.
According to him, the Berlin Marathon organizers’ attempt to introduce reusable cups for hydration did not go down well as many runners ended up throwing these along the route. This meant that for a while after every hydration point, runners had to be careful to avoid the discarded hard plastic cups.
“ Berlin Marathon is worth doing if you want to improve your timing,’’ he said but added that there are many turns along the route.
Muthukrishnan’s focus will now shift to training for Boston Marathon 2020. In the run up to that, he will be running Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2019, Tata Steel Kolkata 25k and Tata Mumbai Marathon 2020.
Standing at the start line of the 2019 Berlin Marathon, Dr Pravin Gaikwad, Navi-Mumbai-based paediatrician, runner and coach, decided to go by “ feel.’’ Take it as it comes based on how he responded to the run as it unfolded.
“ I managed to maintain my average pace of 5.12 from 17 to 40.5 kilometers. After that, my pace slipped by one second to 5.13 till finish,’’ Pravin said.
He tried to run along the “ blue line” for most part of the course but had to deviate from it at the hydration points. Pravin finished the run in 3:43:35 hours.
“ I am extremely happy with the run as I did not have any injuries or cramps at the end of the race,’’ Pravin said.
According to him, crowd support all along the route was quite good with lots of music. Due to the large number of participants, there is always a bunch of runners until the end of the race.
“ It is a bit difficult to pass the big runners from Europe but on the positive side, you can draft behind a runner of similar pace,’’ he said.
“ Some of the organization aspects of the Berlin Marathon should be adopted by Tata Mumbai Marathon, especially the blue line,’’ he said. The blue line is the racing line for elite marathoners and marks the shortest route between the start and the finish.
For Kumar Rao, Berlin Marathon was the last of the six World Marathon Majors that he had set out to complete.
He had registered twice earlier but could not run the marathon because of injury. “ I traveled to Berlin both times but did not run. Therefore, I am quite familiar with Berlin,’’ he said.
In the run up to the 2019 edition, he trained well but sometime in July he faced a bit of injury and had to stop running. “ I think, I did too many races,’’ he said. Earlier this year, he had run the Boston Marathon where he ended up with a personal best of 3:59:33.
Berlin Marathon was a chance to improve that timing to around 3:50.
“ I got back to running just four weeks before Berlin Marathon. On race day, for the first 23 kilometers I faced no problems. After that, I started to feel the IT (Iliotibial) band ache and also experienced peroneal pain. I had to slow down. Besides, I wanted to enjoy the run,’’ Kumar, 70, said. He finished strong with a timing of 4:05:22.
Having completed all the six World Marathon Majors, he rates Boston Marathon as the best for running because of the quality of participants. London was the best in terms of crowd support but narrow paths along the course posed a drawback.
“ The course at New York City Marathon is fantastic but tough and it’s a great feeling to finish at Central Park,’’ Kumar said. Berlin is a well-organized marathon and the route passes through some iconic places. Chicago is not visually appealing. “ I found Tokyo Marathon too regimented though it was a very well organized event,’’ he said.
Piyush Bhomia, runner from Mumbai, had applied for Berlin Marathon and Chicago Marathon through the lottery system. He ended up getting slots in both.
Until the Berlin Marathon, Piyush had run all of three full marathons – three editions of the Mumbai Marathon. He had to quickly decide how to handle two full marathons with just two weeks between them. Berlin Marathon was held on September 29, 2019. Chicago Marathon is slated for October 13, 2019.
“ I decided to race one and take the other, easy,’’ he said.
At Berlin, he targeted to finish the marathon in 3:30. His best timing for a marathon was 3:45:30, achieved during the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon.
“ The rain and strong headwinds hit me hard in Berlin and I started cramping after 35kilometers. I had to take breaks,’’ he said. Nevertheless, he finished with a new personal best timing of 3:40:05.
He found Berlin Marathon very well organized with a large number of volunteers and spectators all along the route. “ Another amazing aspect is that most runners are mindful of negative split so they run strongly until the last kilometer,” he said.
Piyush started running in 2010 after he shifted to Mumbai on work. Having played badminton and table tennis during his schooling years in Nagpur, he found sporting facilities few in Mumbai. Running was the only viable option left. His first registered run was in 2014, a 10k. Thereafter, he shifted to the half marathon distance. In 2017, he made a foray into the full marathon running the distance at what was then the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and finishing in 3:52:52.
He will be leaving for Chicago on October 10 to attempt his second World Marathon Major.
Asif Ahmed, 33, commenced his journey as a recreational runner about eight years ago after he shifted to Bengaluru on work. He wasn’t exactly new to running. At Shillong in Meghalaya, where he hails from, running was part of life. He also played football and cricket.
In Bengaluru, Asif took to running and started participating in events of various distances.
Berlin Marathon was his first international event. He trained well and was targeting a finish below three hours and ten minutes. His previous best for a marathon was 3:22:17, set at the 2018 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon.
“ Berlin is a fast course but weather conditions were not good. Because of rains and the subsequent fall in temperatures, I started to get cramps around the 28th kilometer and had to slow down a bit,’’ Asif said. He completed the race in in 3.16.09, tad short of his target but a personal best, nevertheless.
Having done his first World Marathon Major, he feels the whole concept is needlessly over-hyped. But among the six World Marathon Majors, he would like to try getting a slot for the London Marathon.
He is now slated to run the 80 kilometer category of Malnad Ultra, due to be held on November 2, 2019. “ I did Khardung La Challenge in 2017. I enjoy running ultras. If you want to enjoy running, ultras are the best bet,’’ he said.
A Bengaluru resident, Vandana Arora started running recently. Distraught with weight issues, asthma and depression, she earnestly pursued a friend’s suggestion to take up running.
“ I took to running seriously from 2017 onwards,’’ she said. She trains with Pacemakers under Coach K.C. Kothandapani. In 2018, she ran the New York City Marathon and finished the race in 4:11:15.
Her training for Berlin Marathon went off very well. “ I was happy with my training and my coach Pani Sir (Kothandapani) guided me well, especially considering my asthma problem,’’ she said.
At the New York City Marathon, she had got a bad attack of asthma.
“ At Berlin, I maintained my pace for the first half of the race. But when it started raining and it got colder I was worried if I would get an asthma attack. I slowed down my pace,’’ she said.
She completed the marathon in 4:00:15, missing a sub-four by just 15 seconds. She hopes to get her target of sub-four-hour marathon in her next race.
The 2019 Berlin Marathon was Pervin Batliwala’s fourth World Marathon Major. In the weeks ahead of the marathon, she had executed her training to perfection. She was also completely injury free.
“ My run went off very well. I could not improve my best timing for the marathon but I am very happy with my performance,’’ said Pervin, 64, a regular face on Mumbai’s running circuit.
Up until 30 kilometers, her run went off very well. “ It started raining and got quite cold. There were puddles along the route. My feet were quite cold. I decided to slow down a bit,’’ said Pervin. She finished in 4:18:51.
Berlin Marathon, she said, was organized quite well but post-run arrangements did not match up to those at New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon.
She is due to attempt Tokyo Marathon, her fifth World Marathon Major. In the interim, she will be running Goa River Marathon and a half marathon at Tata Mumbai Marathon 2020.
Suresh Seshadri, a journalist, commenced running sometime in 2006. These were mostly short runs. Suresh was yet to get into serious running then.
In 2007, he moved to Bengaluru. His office was located at The Lalit Ashok, a luxury hotel. After a colleague pointed out to him that the hotel’s fitness center could be availed free of cost, he started running on the treadmill and soon found his weight declining. Over time, he got introduced to the various aspects of running.
In 2010, he participated for the first time in a running event – a 10 kilometer run at Auroville. From there he worked his way up to full marathons; doing six of them in a period of one year. Then prudence got the better of him and he decided to restrict the number of full marathons to two every year from 2013 onward.
In 2015, he ran his first World Marathon Major – the Chicago Marathon. The following year, he completed New York City Marathon.
The 2019 Berlin Marathon was his third World Marathon Major. “ I had tried for Berlin three times earlier but got through this only for this edition,’’ he said.
His training for Berlin Marathon was not as good as he would have liked it to be. A runner using minimalist footwear, Suresh decided to attempt Berlin barefoot. “ I have mostly run in Vibram Five Fingers footwear. Most of my barefoot running has been while training and on the track, not on the roads,’’ he said.
Berlin, according to him, was a good choice to attempt going barefoot because of the quality of roads. But during the last 5-6 miles of the race he could not feel his feet because of the rain and cold weather.
“ I commenced the race quite well and right up to mile 12, I was on track for a sub-3.30 finish,’’ he said. But he lost the momentum when he took a couple of hydration and bio-breaks. He finished the marathon in 3:42:31.
He will be working towards completing the other World Marathon Majors – London, Boston and Tokyo. “ If I do Boston, I would definitely like to qualify for it and not go through the charity route,’’ he said.
Nimisha Vora was a track and field athlete during her schooling years. Years later, she took to long-distance running. “ I have been running for the last ten years,’’ she said.
Running the World Marathon Majors was not on her agenda. “ Thanks to Pervin (Batliwala), I got captivated by the idea,’’ she said.
In 2014, she ran her first full marathon – the Mumbai Marathon. In 2016, she ran the Amsterdam Marathon. Two years later, she applied for New York City Marathon and got through.
“ My training for Berlin Marathon went off very well, despite a few breaks that I had to endure because of my travel. My daughter plays golf and I travel with her,’’ Nimisha said. She trains with Savio D’Souza, one of Mumbai’s well-known coaches.
According to her, the race at Berlin went off well. “ The rain was spoilsport. It did not stop raining at all. There were so many puddles on the road and every time you step into a puddle it was like stepping into ice water,’’ she said. Nevertheless, Nimisha finished with a personal best timing of 4:19:26.
“ I really enjoy running. I have so many good friends among runners. And for me the reward is the process. Though timing is important, I am not focused so much on it. Running instils a sense of self-awareness and discipline,’’ she said.
Nimisha will be heading to the Japanese capital early next year for the annual Tokyo Marathon.
Chintan Vora has been running for several years yet calls himself a “ reluctant runner.’’ “ I run mostly run for health reasons,’’ he said.
In 2016, he and his wife Nimisha Vora ran the Amsterdam Marathon – she did the full marathon and he opted for the half marathon. He enjoyed this run thoroughly.
In 2018, he accompanied Nimisha to New York City Marathon. “ When I went there I realized that this race was something one must try,’’ he said.
Up until the 2019 Berlin Marathon, Chintan had not only not run a full marathon but also not attempted a distance beyond 30 kilometers.
He took to slow running and finished Berlin Marathon in 6:08:38. The weather, according to him, made it tough. “ It was raining and windy and my hands were cold,’’ he said. Finishing the run at Berlin was a satisfying experience. He is normally prone to walking towards the end of the race but at Berlin he ran the last 800 meters to finish on a “high”.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)