Jyoti Gawate (Photo: courtesy Jyoti)

Jyoti Gawate, Jigmet Dolma, Rashpal Singh and Sher Singh will represent India in the marathon at the 2019 South Asian Games due in Kathmandu over December 1-10, an official statement disclosing the names of all athletes selected to the Indian squad, available on the website of Athletics Federation of India (AFI), said.

For Jyoti who hails from Parbhani in Maharashtra, this is her second outing at the South Asian Games. Earlier in 2016, she had been part of the marathon team for that year’s South Asian Games held in Guwahati. In 2011, she had taken part in the Asian Marathon Championships in Thailand and finished seventh among women with a timing of 3:17 hours. She was chosen for this event because of her win at the 2011 Mumbai Marathon. AFI had funded her trip and stay. The federation also sent her to participate in the SCO Marathon in China. “ I am aiming for timings closer to that of Tata Mumbai Marathon 2019,” Jyoti, who was scheduled to travel shortly to Kathmandu for the 2019 South Asian Games, said when contacted. At the 2019 edition of TMM, she had finished second among elite Indian women with a personal best timing of 2:45:48 (for more on Jyoti, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/02/04/jyoti-and-the-eight-minutes/).

This is the first time Jigmet Dolma is in the Indian team headed to a major event.  For the past several years, she has been part of the group of runners from Ladakh supported by Leh based-Rimo Expeditions, that travels every winter to the road races of the plains. Over time, she has worked her way up from amateur to elite category and been podium finisher at major marathons including the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM).  “ This is a fantastic development for Jigmet and Ladakh,’’ Savio D’Souza, Mumbai based-coach and former national champion in the marathon who has been involved with training Ladakhi runners, said.

Hailing from Igoo village in Ladakh, Jigmet used to run at block, school and state level. In 2012, she ran the half marathon at the Ladakh Marathon without any prior practice and emerged first. At the 2013 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (later TMM), she placed 17th in the half marathon. Same year, at the 2013 edition of the Ladakh Marathon, she finished first in the half marathon with timing of 1:50. In 2014, she improved her performance at SCMM to fourteenth position. Same year she retained her first position at the Ladakh Marathon. In January 2015, she ran her first full marathon at SCMM, ending second among women in the open category (timing: 3:45:21), her first podium finish in Mumbai. By 2017, she had graduated to finishing third among Indian women with timing of 3:14:38; two years later at 2019 TMM, she placed third among elite Indian women with timing of 3:10:43. Jigmet has never been shy of stating her wish to run for India one day. She along with fellow runner from Ladakh, Tsetan Dolkar, has been a familiar duo at various road races, particularly the annual Mumbai Marathon (for more on Jigmet, Tsetan and other runners from Ladakh, please refer the archives of this blog or type their names in the box allotted for search).

For Rimo Expeditions and Savio, Jigmet’s debut in the Indian squad – coming as it does after years of regular visits to road races – will mean a lot. “ As far as I know, after Rigzen Angmo, Jigmet is the first woman marathon runner from Ladakh to represent India,’’ Savio said. In the 1990s, Rigzen Angmo who hails from Skarbuchan village about 125 kilometers away from Leh, had been a regular podium finisher on the national circuit. Abroad, she won the Kuala Lumpur Marathon in 1994 and the Bangkok Marathon in 1995 (for more on Rigzen Angmo please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2015/09/28/the-spectator/). “ This is the dream we had in 2012, when we started the project of training long distance runners and sending them to races in the cities. It is heartening to see one of them make it to the Indian team. I am sure this will encourage more youngsters from Ladakh,” Chewang Motup, owner of Rimo Expeditions said of Jigmet’s selection. He also hoped that greater support would manifest for such projects.

Jigmet Dolma (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

All four marathon runners selected for the 2019 South Asian Games had been podium finishers at the fourth edition of the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon held on February 24, 2019. Rashpal Singh had won the race with timing of 2 hours 21 minutes and 55 seconds. Sher Singh had finished second among men with timing of 2:23:16 followed by Manavendra Singh (2:28:27). The three men were then training at the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune. Among women, Jyoti finished first with timing of 2:47:54. Jigmet placed second in 3:01:30 followed two seconds later by Tsetan Dolkar (3:01:32) who placed third.  The top two from both gender categories are now headed to Kathmandu for the 2019 South Asian Games.

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


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Kolkata-based ultramarathon runner Anjali Saraogi is comfortable training with gels and branched chain amino acids (BCAA) that help in reversing muscle loss, reduce muscle soreness and aid muscle recovery. That was her trusted recipe till Aqaba happened.

Jordan’s only coastal city – fans of Hollywood would remember it from David Lean’s masterpiece: Lawrence of Arabia – was location for the 2019 IAU 100 kilometer Asia and Oceania Championships held on November 23. In the run up to the event in Aqaba, Anjali’s training suffered setbacks caused by health issues. All the same, she aimed for a sub-nine-hour finish.

At the championships, she was cruising along very well when the blazing sun and strong headwinds started to take a toll. “ At the 60 kilometer-mark, I felt I was sinking and actually ended up sitting on a chair. That is completely unusual for me,’’ she said.

Abhinav Jha, one of the crew members of the Indian team, came to her assistance. “ He made a drink with honey and lemon. That revived me,’’ Anjali said. She stopped consuming gels, thereafter. Anjali went on to complete the race in nine hours and 22 minutes, a new national record for women in that category. She bettered her own previous national record of 9:40 hours, set at the IAU 100 k World Championships held in Croatia in 2018.

Anjali Saraogi (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

“ When exhaustion levels are high, it is best to opt for natural foods. You can never go wrong there,’’ Abhinav, Lieutenant Commander with the Indian Navy, said. The naval officer was originally part of the Indian team and slated to run the race. But he opted to stay out due to injury and instead, joined the team’s support crew. Hemant Beniwal, the stand-by runner, was called in to complete the team taking Abhinav’s place. “ As most of us are amateur runners, we are working on nutrition and hydration on trial and error basis. But in an ultramarathon, the best plan is your own plan,’’ Abhinav said.

In an ultramarathon, crewing can be challenging. The challenge stems from the difficulty in assessing the hydration and nutrition needs of runners. At the 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships held in Albi, France over October 26-27, Pranaya Mohanty avoided solid food for a long time and chose to stick to gel and salt tablets. But after a few hours of running he started to crave for solid food. “ I wanted either curd rice or dal rice. There was bread on offer but I prefer curd rice, dal rice or khichdi,’’ Pranaya said. The crew members arranged for the same.

At the event, Pranaya covered a distance of 211.956 km. He twisted his ankle in the eighteenth hour and was forced to slow down. He also suffered stomach distress and had to keep going to the rest rooms. “Binay Sah was also in bad shape. His nutrition plan did not go as per plan and he had to stop running,’’ Pranaya recalled. Fuelling for an ultramarathon event is not confined to the race alone. It starts months ahead along with the training.

Ultramarathon runner, Apoorva Chaudhary drew up her training plan for the IAU 24-hour World Championships with a target of covering 200 km. “ There are two vital elements in training for an ultramarathon – working with a target in mind and focussing on nutrition and hydration,’’ Apoorva said. She went on to cover a distance of 202.212 km, setting a new national record for 24-hour run (she surpassed her own record of 176.8 km set during the NEB 24-hour Stadium Run in New Delhi in December 2018). Apoorva not only put in all the mileage and strength training required, she also focused on nutrition. “ I prepared my body with a variety of foods – different kinds of solid foods, different gel brands,’’ she said. She also did training runs with very little hydration. “ I did a 30 km-training run without food and water just to prepare my body for a worst case scenario,’’ Apoorva said.

Priyanka Bhatt (Photo: courtesy Priyanka)

Priyanka Bhatt, who too was part of the Indian squad for the IAU 24-hour World Championships in Albi, trained with race day conditions in mind. “ I work with energy bars. Gels don’t suit me,’’ she said. Her training was focused on building endurance, running back-to-back distances that would be in the range of 130 to 160 km every week.

In August 2019, a camp was held for ultra-runners at Bengaluru. The camp helped runners with guidance on training, nutrition and hydration. Despite training with different foods and drinks, things can go wrong during a race, runners said.

At the 2019 edition of the Bengaluru Stadium Run, Apoorva’s nutrition did not go as per plan. At Albi, Apoorva’s nutrition plan went off well for the initial part of the race but thereafter it was difficult to retain food. “ I kept talking to myself to stay in a positive frame of mind. After the initial few hours, the effort to work on your pace, mileage target and nutrition intake is entirely a mind game. For the first 13 hours, I had a very strong run. After that I felt like crying. My ribs felt swollen. It was more a mental issue than a physical one,’’ Apoorva said. In fact, one of the most insightful articles following the 2019 24 hour-world championships in Albi was one on Camille Herron of the US, written by author Adharanand Finn and published in The Telegraph. While lovers of the sport worldwide noted her victory in the women’s category, the article brought out the suffering Camille underwent in the grueling race.

Both the ultra-running events – the IAU 24-hour World Championships held at Albi, France in October 2019 and the 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held at Aqaba, Jordan in November 2019, showcased significant improvement in ultra-running by Indians despite the sport being relatively new for the country. At Aqaba, the Indian team of nine runners (three women and six men) secured gold medal in the men’s team category and silver in women’s.  In addition, Deepak Bandbe won the individual bronze medal and Anjali Saraogi set a new national record for women in 100 km.

Pranaya Mohanty (Photo: courtesy Pranaya)

“ The team did very well. There was a big jump in performance. All the six male runners finished in sub-8.5 hours and two of the women in under-10 hours,’’ Peteremil D’Souza, member of the ultramarathon committee of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), said. The women’s performance was outstanding, Sunil Chainani, also member of AFI’s ultramarathon committee, said. Earlier at Albi, including Apoorva’s new national record, five athletes in all – three women and two men – had achieved new personal records. Among women, besides Apoorva, Priyanka Bhatt (192.845 km) and Hemlata (173.178 km) secured new PBs, while from the men, Pranaya Mohanty (211.956 km) and Kanan Jain (211.157 km) set new personal records. Also, five Indian runners – four men and one woman – covered distance in excess of 200 km at Albi.

According to Sunil, Indian runners are now looking at a multi-faceted approach to training that focuses not merely on building mileage but important aspects of nutrition and hydration as well. “ It is a new sport. We are constantly on a learning curve,’’ Abhinav said.

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


A book you come to love is a product of how good it is and what frame of mind you were in, when you picked it up. Here’s one of the most remarkable books I read in recent times:

At roughly 3500 kilometers, the Appalachian Trail is among the longest trails in the US. Jennifer Pharr Davis’s book The Pursuit of Endurance is about the little known craze of setting the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on long distance trails like the Appalachian and Pacific Crest. These are feats of extreme endurance. The best of the lot – Pharr Davis among them – average close to 50 miles (approximately 80 kilometers) of hiking a day for several weeks. In 2011, she set the unofficial FKT for the Appalachian Trail: 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes.

There are quite a few things that are beautiful about this book. It is not cast in a how-to-do-it fashion. Instead, it provides detailed portraits of some of the record holders – their background, their eccentricities, their approach to the trail, how many times they attempted new FKTs, how they succeeded – and through that provides a view, obliquely, of what it takes to do thru-hikes and FKTs. Each of these hikers is a personality distinct from the other. But there are some common strands. Approaching its subject so, the book makes these long distance hikes less of performance and more of a way of life. The protagonists are not angels; they compete, they scheme, they do many of the things you and I carry around in our heads as we try to get ahead of the rest. The difference is – they own up their nature. Pharr Davis’s book gives you a sense of competitors bared and to that extent, humanity restored.

That said, let me add – there is strategy and performance in this book. But it doesn’t hit you the way it does in a book written with the corporate side of running in mind. This is not stuff harking of ready; set, come on team, let’s go do it-sort of approach. This book is pretty down to earth. Sample this: I believed that consistent output over a prolonged period would be more efficient than short bursts of speed followed by lengthier rests. In other words, I wanted to hike, not run. I rationalized that walking would mean less impact on my joints, a reduced risk of falling and decreased recovery time; it just seemed like a more natural way to cover more than two thousand miles. In Pharr Davis’s book, strategy and performance are tempered by humility and honesty. Things go wrong on the trail and the paragraphs devoted to it hold nothing back about how setbacks and frailties unravel. That is exactly how it is when you are out hiking by yourself, pushing your limits. Although the Appalachian Trail has facilities for trekkers to halt and replenish along the way, a hike for FKT has none of the support found in regular ultramarathons. Once in several days, you rendezvous to meet with friend or family member to resupply and take stock of progress. Else, you are alone on the trail; wilderness and other hikers passing through, for company. Unlike city marathons and staged events where the human being assumes center stage, in wilderness, nature’s presence is larger than lone hiker can hope to be. That is also what makes these FKTs interesting. You cope with yourself and whatever happens for weeks. It teaches you nuggets rarely found in other books. For example – the difference between failure and stopping.

But the best aspect of this book was something else.

Thanks to the sort of world we live in with things in clearly identifiable silos, borderlands and transition zones have lost their attraction. Running means Usain Bolt and Eliud Kipchoge; it is distilled spectacle of performance with all else conspiring to support the act. You don’t have the luxury of controlled ambiance in hiking. To that extent, for some of us, the variables nature throws our way while hiking are distraction from aspiring for peak performance. For such perspective, hiking – like walking – is distinctly less glamorous than running. Yet for those loyal to the slow lane, one truth has been evident for long. You can go to the gym and shock your muscles into shape or as seen in the case of those doing physically strenuous jobs; you can embrace a life of physical toil and be in shape without seeking it, maybe even without knowing it. Similarly you can hike enjoying the solitude and the outdoors and having done it for long, develop a bank of endurance.  But say that in the world of running and you may find your audience peeling off because as I said earlier, we live in a world in which the value of overlapping borderlands is poorly appreciated. Endurance has become firmly identified with running, cycling, swimming, triathlon etc. It takes a story about some elite athlete from Africa and how he / she walked long distance to school as a child, to remind us of the miracles walking can accomplish. Not to mention – the independence and self-reliance, hiking and the outdoors instills in you.

Pharr Davis is unapologetic of her love for the outdoors and hiking. Born to a family that valued the outdoors, she grew up around camps. Later she lived the active life. According to Wikipedia, she has hiked over 14,000 miles (more than 22,530 kilometers) on six different continents. In 2008, she set the record for the fastest Appalachian Trail hike by a woman – 57 days and eight hours. In 2011, she set the fastest time for both men and women on that trail (mentioned earlier in this review); the record was broken in 2015 by the well-known ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek who covered the distance faster by three hours and 12 minutes. Juxtapose that improvement in timing on Pharr Davis popularly described as a long distance hiker and Jurek as an ultramarathon runner; it tells us something of the endurance levels of both. It tells us something of what hiking can be. You can’t help but commit some of Pharr Davis’s observations in the book, to memory: Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong. And: I felt I was also tapping into something primal that said I am beautiful because I endure.

I found this book on the shelves of Modern Book Centre, that wonderful bookshop in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Anoop, who oversees the shop, remembered my taste in reading and pointed it out to me. It is a great book to have and lovely antidote for sport in present times lost to measuring and achieving. Its narrative has the quality of an embrace; just what you wish for from nature when you veer off human hive and step on to the trail. It makes endurance, relevant.

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


Ashish Kasodekar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

A basketball player from school days, Ashish Kasodekar started participating in running events in 2013. He also forayed into long distance cycling. In August 2019, he became the first Indian to complete the 555k category of La Ultra-The High.

“ I believe that when people call you mad, you are on the right track. It means you are doing something nice for yourself,’’ Ashish Kasodekar said.

It was September 2019. We were at his office in Pune.

Weeks earlier, the unassuming travel consultant had become the first Indian runner to complete the 555 kilometer-category of La Ultra-The High, the challenging ultramarathon held annually in Ladakh. In retrospect, it had been a busy six years to where he was now, for Ashish commenced running at events only in 2013. Till then he had been a basketball player; someone who played competitively, was part of the state team and had played at the 1992 edition of Federation Cup. “ Team games teach you to relate to others and be positive,’’ he said. Basketball remains his first love and he is active in Masters Basketball. But alongside, there is this streak in endurance sport building up.

Born 1971, Ashish grew up in Pune, the middle sibling among three brothers. He took to basketball while at school itself. Following college, he worked with a travel agent for a year. Then he became General Sales Agent (GSA) for the Italian airline, Alitalia. He was happy to work for the airline; there was travel as part of work and the airline was a strong brand that sold without need for much marketing. “ I was getting into a comfort zone,’’ Ashish said. About seven to eight years ago, he therefore started his own travel consultancy – Edgeover Holidays. It is a proprietary concern; no partners, which is how he prefers it.  There was also a twist. Recognizing his need for personal time, he restricted clientele to friends. “ I don’t have any corporate clients. If you have corporate clients, it will interfere with the time you need to train for pursuits like endurance sports,’’ he said.

That conscious choice likely set in because around three years before he commenced his own business, Ashish participated in an adventure race in Pune called Enduro organized by Prasad Purandare. It was a team event – two men and one woman formed a team. “ I really enjoyed it,’’ Ashish said. The event also got him into a bit of endurance cycling; for Enduro, he borrowed his nephew’s bicycle. The attributes of the outing, distinctly different from a game of basketball, interested him. Basketball was competitive. Enduro was more about finishing. “ You have to learn to push yourself. It is a stronger body experience,’’ he said. Ashish found himself spending more and more time with people from his new found area of interest.

In 2011, there was a numerically special day: November 11, which folded neatly into 11/11/11, a series of ones.  Ashish decided to do something equally special for the occasion. He cycled from Pune to Goa on his Bianchi hybrid, reaching the coastal city in 21 hours. The following year, there was 12/12/12. For that, he walked 100 kilometers from Pune to Panchgani. In 2013, there was 11/12/13; this time he rode his Harley Davidson Iron 883 from Pune to Madurai and back, covering 2400 kilometers in 36 hours. In 2013, he also participated in his first running event. He did a 15k; it was executed with no prior training. In January 2014, he did his first half marathon in Mumbai. This time he trained for it. “ I really enjoyed that,’’ he said. In July-August of the same year, he participated in the London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) bicycle race. There were eight participants from India. None completed. However on the bright side, he had to train for LEL and that included a 1000 kilometer-ride from Pune to Hubli and back. Slowly but surely, endurance was creeping into his system and world view of things. In 2015, Ashish and Balakrishna Desai cycled from near the Gulf of Khambat in Gujarat to Khardung La in Ladakh. The project spanning sea level to one of the highest motorable passes around was called 0 to 18. They covered the distance in 24 days. Ashish used a friend’s MTB. In September 2015, he did his first full marathon; he elected to do it in Leh as part of that year’s Ladakh Marathon. Following this run, a friend asked him if he had heard of La Ultra-The High. Ashish hadn’t. But a spark was lit.

Photo: courtesy Ashish Kasodekar

In 2016, at the Mumbai Marathon, Ashish met the qualifying time for the Comrades ultramarathon in South Africa. To be eligible, you had to run the full marathon in less than five hours. However, post qualifying he didn’t train diligently for Comrades. In South Africa, he cleared all the stage cut-offs of the race in time and the on the final stretch relaxed. Just as he was reaching the stadium – the finish point – he heard the officials announce that the overall 12 hours cut-off had passed by. It was a wake up-call. “ That last 200 meters taught me a lot about what to do. It told me I had to take things seriously,’’ Ashish said. The previous year at the Ladakh Marathon, he had seen the event’s ultramarathon segment – Khardung La Challenge. When his Comrades attempt ended in that disappointing final stretch, Ashish decided to try the Khardung La Challenge.

In the run up to the race, he came down with chickengunya. On the other hand, he had arranged a tour package for 13 people to Ladakh for the year’s Ladakh Marathon. On recovering from his illness, he decided to proceed with the group. He reached Leh, four days ahead of Khardung La Challenge. At the bib collection point, the race organizers were checking the oxygen saturation level of participants. His turned out to be 99, pretty good. “ I said, let’s try this race. If anything goes wrong I can hop into the ambulance,’’ Ashish said. On race day, the flag-off from Khardung village was at 3AM. “ There was a point when I felt I may have to quit. I had arrived in Ladakh only some days earlier and I felt I wasn’t acclimatized well,’’ he said. A doctor in a passing ambulance checked his oxygen saturation level. It was 72. He asked Ashish to pause for 5-6 minutes. The level recovered to 85. This was just ahead of North Pulu. Ashish took it slowly thereon. Eventually he finished within the assigned cut-off of 14 hours. “ That race was a great boost for my confidence,’’ he said. Next day, at the Ladakh Marathon, he hired a cycle and pedaled 55 kilometers up and down with the runner’s group he had brought for the race. In 2017, He returned to South Africa and completed Comrades in 11 hours, 38 minutes. The changed perspective helped. He was now focusing on the target and training diligently. “ I am a good listener. I also accept tips,’’ he said. Following successful completion of Comrades, Ashish settled down to consider La Ultra-The High, 2017 edition.

Now over a decade old, La Ultra-The High has a course that straddles the Nubra valley-Leh-Tanglang La region; all of it, Ladakh. A union territory since August 2019, Ladakh has an average elevation of around 10,000 feet. While climate change is happening in Ladakh too, it has traditionally been a high altitude cold desert. By day, the clear skies of altitude, renders the sun a blazing orb. The combination of weather conditions and altitude makes La Ultra-The High, a tough ultramarathon. As runners depart the start line in Nubra, the first major challenge to overcome is Khardung La (17,582 feet).  Into the longer race categories, they also have to tackle Wari La (17,224 feet) and Tanglang La (17,480 feet); in the 555k category, the last two passes are repeated on the return.

“ I like to run in Ladakh,’’ Ashish said. He stayed at a home-stay for 10-15 days and then proceeded to attempt the 111k segment of La Ultra-The High. He finished 111k successfully; at 19:48 hours taken to complete the task, he was among the last of the finishers. The race was won by Tsering Stobgias in 12:32. Having collected his medal, Ashish hung around to see how the race was unfolding for those trying 222k and 333k. “ The main organizer of the event, Dr Rajat Chauhan, always spoke of 111k as baby run. I felt angry. I told him that I wanted to try 333k next. He said: hold on; you are getting excited,’’ Ashish said. That year there was only one finisher in 333k – Matthew Maday of the US. Ashish registered for the 333k. He didn’t wait to graduate through the 222k. That takes time; it also consumes that much more money.  In fact for the 333k, he had to seek crowd funding. It provided 70 per cent of the funds needed.

He commenced training in November 2017. In April 2018, he completed the 160k run at Garhwal Runs, which is positioned as stepping stone to La Ultra-The High. Closer to the event in Ladakh, he did a mix of run-walk from Manali to Leh. He ran around 30 kilometers every day on that passage through altitude. That year, five Indian runners participated in 333k, the first Indians to do so.  Ashish was among those who completed. “ Up to 222 kilometers it was good. Close to the finish I was dealing with delirium,’’ he said. He finished the race in 71:59:29 to place third. His support crew included Balakrishna Desai, Mangesh Shinde, Prasad Shett, Amit Kasodekar and Dhananjay Apte. The race was won by Munish Dev in 71:30:28. From 333k to 555k was natural progression.

Photo: courtesy Ashish Kasodekar

In 2019, the flag-off was in the rains. It was minus 12 when Ashish reached North Pulu. He was advised to change his attire. He borrowed. “ I was lucky there were athletes around who were willing to loan their spare clothing,’’ he said. The 2019 edition of La Ultra-The High was noted for its tough weather conditions. Ashish reached Wari La rather late but happy in the head.  In both 333k and 555k, the real challenge is Tanglang La. In 333k, it looms after Khardung La and Wari La have taken their toll on you. In 555k, the pass is done twice and the problem as Ashish pointed out, is that on the return leg tired runner loses elevation slower than before. He completed 555k within cut-off time to place third. He suffered no cramps, blisters or frostbite. “ Self-care was damn good,’’ he said. The time taken was 126:18:00. The race was won by Jason Reardon of Australia in 120:19:00; Matthew Maday finished second. Ashish’s support crew featured both his brothers – Anil and Amit Kasodekar; Arvind Bijwe, Hari Dammalapati, Venkatesh Kashelikar, Sushil Dhende and Swaroopa Bhadsavle.  This time Ashish experienced no hallucinations. “ We took good care of sleep, nutrition and hydration,’’ he said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For more on La Ultra The High, please refer this blog’s archives.)


Deepak Bandbe (This photo was downloaded from the Twitter feed of IAU)

Indian men’s team secures gold

Indian women’s team takes silver

Anjali Saraogi finishes fourth among women

Ultramarathon runner from Mumbai, Deepak Bandbe, finished third, winning the bronze medal, at the 2019 IAU 100 kilometer Asia & Oceania Championship held at Aqaba, Jordan, on November 23, 2019.

Deepak finished the race in eight hours, four minutes and 16 seconds. According to Peteremil Dsouza, member of the ultramarathon committee of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and who has accompanied the team to Jordan, Deepak’s performance is a new best for India. The previous national was 8:09:30 set in 2012 by Vinodkumar Srinivas. In the women’s category at Aqaba, Kolkata-based Anjali Saraogi finished fourth in a new national best of nine hours, 22 minutes (provisional figure), Peteremil said.

The timings of the other Indian runners are as follows: Hemant Singh Beniwal – 8:12:11, Vikas Malik – 8:22:34, Suraj Chadha – 8:27:20, Sandeep Kumar – 8:36:06, Tlanding Wahlang – 8:40:49 (all men) and Gunjan Khurana – 9:57:33, Darishisha Mukhim – 11:21:01 (from women).

Sunil Chainani, also member of AFI’s ultramarathon committee, informed that the Indian men’s team had secured gold in their category with cumulative timing of 24:40:00. Jordan (31:14:21) placed second. The Indian women’s team placed second in their gender category (30:40:33). The winning team in the women’s category was Australia (30:21:40).

IAU stands for International Association of Ultrarunners; it is the apex body for ultrarunning worldwide.

The overall winner of the championship at Aqaba was Hideaki Yamauchi of Japan. He crossed the finish line to win the gold medal in 7:11:42 hours. The silver medal finisher was Brendan Davies of Australia. He crossed the finish line in 7:49:16 hours, as per information on IAU’s Twitter feed.

The winners in the men’s category (This photo was downloaded from the Twitter feed of IAU)

According to IAU’s Twitter feed earlier on race day, at kilometre 95, Tatsuya Itagaki of Japan was leading in the men’s category followed by his fellow countryman Hideaki Yamauchi and Brendan Davies of Australia. The lead position changed after this juncture.

Similarly, in the Twitter update six hours into the race, India’s Anjali Saraogi was in fourth position among women. Gunjan Khurana, also of India, was in sixth position and Darishisha Iangjuh in seventh. Mai Fujisawa of Japan eventually won the women’s category in timing of 8:20:44. Finishing second was Amelia Griffith of Australia (8:57:02). Konoka Azumi of Japan finished third (9:03:22).

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


Saikhom Bishworjit (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The Indian story in Ironman triathlons had been one of completing it. In mid-2019, that changed, thanks to triathletes from the Indian Army’s Bombay Sappers. A finish in top ten and topping in age categories was achieved. Then in October, an Indian triathlete – once again from Bombay Sappers – won an Ironman event. This is the story of that journey and what a group of amateur triathletes did to make the podium finishes possible.

Manipur is a state in north east India.

At roughly three million people, Manipur’s population is a small fraction of India’s overall human numbers estimated at over 1.3 billion. Imphal East is Manipur’s second most populous district. According to Wikipedia, the district straddles average elevation of close to 2600 feet. It has warm summers and modestly cold winters. Naharup is a village in Imphal East. That’s where Saikhom Bishworjit was born in 1990, the eighth of nine siblings – all boys. His father, now no more, worked as a teacher; mother is a homemaker.  Two people appear critical in Bishworjit’s story. His elder brother Saikhom Mani – seventh among the siblings – is a national level triathlete. But it was “ Sushil’’ another triathlete from Naharup, who kick-started things; he organized a triathlon in the local pond. Based on his performance there, Bishworjit commenced swimming at the swimming pool in Imphal.

In 2004, when selections were held for a national sub junior level competition in the triathlon, Bishworjit finished first. At the subsequent meet held in Hyderabad, he placed fourth. Despite its small population, Manipur is a powerhouse in Indian sports. For decades India’s north east was plagued by militancy, poor connectivity to the rest of the country and a general sense of being overlooked. It resulted in economic development delayed and opportunities restricted. “ For us sports was avenue to get a government job,’’ Bishworjit said. Under the Indian system, promising athletes get employment, typically in government and with public sector enterprises. In such ambiance, fourth place may not have been personally encouraging for the youngster. After the Hyderabad event, Bishworjit dropped off the triathlon.  The person who got him back on track was his triathlete brother; in 2006, Mani joined the Indian Army’s Bombay Sappers. He began supporting Bishworjit’s training. In 2008, at the junior nationals held in Porbandar, the youngster placed fifth despite using an India-built basic bicycle for the cycling segment.

A sapper, also called pioneer and combat engineer, is a soldier who performs a range of military engineering duties.  The Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army has three groups of combat engineers under it – Madras Sappers, Bombay Sappers and Bengal Sappers. Of these, Bombay Sappers has its headquarters at Khadki, Pune. In 2009, Bishworjit shifted to Pune to be with his brother and train. Among the army’s several arms and regiments, Bombay Sappers is known to maintain keen interest in the triathlon (of late, personnel from the parachute regiment have also begun appearing on the scene, those familiar with the sport said).  Although not yet part of the army, thanks to his brother, Bishworjit was able to periodically train alongside the army’s triathletes. In 2010, after he secured fourth place at the senior nationals, he was formally accepted into the army. His longstanding wish to have a government job thus came true.

Raghunath Shivaji Mali and Biten Singh Laikhuram (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Recreational Triathletes)

However, there was gap between the worlds of triathlon as evolved within the army and as it prevailed outside. Oriented towards objective and clear plan of progression, the army’s typical long term goal is Olympics. Besides internal competitions; importance is given to military games, national competitions, continental meets and through all that, selection to represent country at the Olympics. But triathlon has a bustling world of events and competitions outside the fold of the Olympics.  There are the Ironman triathlons, leading all the way up to world championships. Further, the triathlon as essayed at the Olympics features short distances across all three disciplines – swimming, cycling and running.  An Olympic triathlon entails 1.5 kilometers of swimming followed by 40 kilometers of cycling and 10 kilometers of running. Ironman distances are more. Not to mention, beyond Ironman (half and full), there are events like Ultraman. As later events showed, the army was very aware of these events. But priority seemed Olympic dimension.

In October 2015, the World Military Games was held in Mungyeong, South Korea. Among disciplines therein was the triathlon; it was of Olympic dimension. Six triathletes of the Indian Army, including Bishworjit, participated. According to him, the team placed twelfth. The open water swim of the triathlon was held in the sea. Bishworjit remembers struggling to get going in the sea. It was his first time tackling the sea and sea swimming is very different from swimming in the pool or contained water bodies like ponds and lakes, which is what he was accustomed to. To get going at sea, you should know how to get past the oncoming waves.  He lost time negotiating the waves. In 2015, the National Games was held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Not making the cut to represent Services (the team which represents army, navy and air force) in the triathlon, Bishworjit represented Goa following a route athletes in such predicament are permitted to take. However, after the World Military Games in South Korea, small changes in training started to happen. The army’s triathletes who trained in Pune, traveled to Mumbai and the naval facility there to practise sea swimming.

Over the past decade, the triathlon has slowly but steadily gathered followers in India. A couple of factors may have contributed to it. First, in running, which is perhaps the most easily accessed sport for fitness, the base numbers grew enormously. Running’s growth has provided a stairway for amateur athletes to explore the world of related sports. Two other verticals in endurance sports, they quickly become aware of – usually as options to cross train – are cycling and swimming. Cycling as lifestyle activity – along with committed cyclists emerging therefrom – has picked up. Second, as the economy opened up in the 1990s and sectors like IT rose in importance, a workforce more mobile than before made its presence felt. People who spent time overseas and witnessed sports there or participated in it; wished for similar pursuits back in India. The amateur sports scene in India drew much impetus from this mobile workforce. In 2014 the Goa Triathlon made its debut with 90 participants. It was of Olympic dimension. Also taking shape during this period was Internet-based groups of sport aficionados. Recreational Triathletes was one such group. Three years old at the time of writing, the online community was approximately 1200 members-strong.

Like all groups, Recreational Triathletes is sum total of the ideas and work of its many active members. Its core team includes Zarir Baliwalla, Sharada Kulkarni, Anirban Mukherji and Rajkumar Charzal. It was Zarir (a Mumbai based-businessman, he featured earlier on this blog for his relay swim across the English Channel: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/06/29/a-relay-swim-across-the-english-channel/), who told us of Bishworjit. My meeting with Bishworjit was at the office of an IT company in Baner, Pune. MiniOrange is a security software company set up by Anirban Mukherji, who during his student days had been a swimmer competing at the national level. An engineer by profession and now a triathlete; before he located to Pune, he had worked in Mumbai and the US. According to Anirban, an obvious truth about Indians and the triathlon was there for all to see – from being nobodies in the triathlon; Indians had got around to finishing triathlons and Ironman events overseas. But that was it – finishing. A winner was yet to emerge from their ranks. “ We wanted to see an Indian win and had come up with this slogan: jana gana mana bajwa denge,’’ Anirban said of the thinking at Recreational Triathletes (jana gana mana is how India’s national anthem begins; reference herein being to national anthem played at medal ceremonies). At the Goa Triathlon, which had quickly become the premier event in the domestic triathlon calendar and where the faithful converged (participation touched 600 in four years’ time as per event website), one man Dr Pablo Erat – he is a Swiss entrepreneur  and much respected triathlete in his age category – had been winning consistently since 2014. Where were the Indian triathletes capable of changing that?

Nihal Baig (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Recreational Triathletes)

In March 2017, Rajkumar Charzal happened to participate in a triathlon in Pune. Encouraged by his ability to complete it, he enrolled for the Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman) at Langkawi, Malaysia. While he was preparing for the event, an archery coach he knew and who worked at the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune put him in touch with Mani, Bishworjit’s triathlete-brother.  From there to knowing Bishworjit was a short hop. Hailing from Imphal, Manipur, Charzal is a software engineer currently working with Barclays Global Service Centre in Pune. He had worked first in Bengaluru, been in Pune briefly, moved thereafter to Mumbai and then located back to Pune. “ I have been here since 2012,’’ he said. Charzal went on to successfully complete the Ironman in Langkawi. The whole episode also introduced him to the larger triathlon community in Pune. In 2017, Bishworjit participated in the Goa triathlon. “ The decision to participate was an army initiative. They already knew of the event,’’ Charzal said.

Bishworjit’s participation in the Goa triathlon was an eye opener for Recreational Triathletes.  The sequence followed in triathlon is swimming, cycling and running. Both Pablo and Bishworjit finished their swim and emerged out of the water around the same time.  Saddled with an average aluminum bicycle the army athlete struggled in the cycling segment. But he made up for it, in running. Pablo won the event in 2:07:26. Bishworjit placed second with 2:09:52. Vishwanath Yadav – also from the army – finished third in 2:11:00. Anirban, Charzal and others from Recreational Triathletes knew they had found the talent they were looking for. But to get the army triathletes regularly challenging Pablo and his ilk at events like Goa Triathlon and Ironman, a whole ecosystem they trained in had to be engaged and convinced of the merit in new direction. First however, there was something more immediate to address – the best of these new finds deserved a damn good bicycle for it was in cycling that Pablo made the difference.

In 2018, despite the unfinished business of catching up with Pablo, Bishworjit could not participate in that year’s Goa Triathlon. He was committed to representing the army at the national triathlon championships, where for the first time he placed first completing the Olympic distance genre in 2:09:46. He was now national champion. That year he also placed second in the South Asian Championships held in Nepal. Around this time, Recreational Triathletes decided to hold a time trial in Pune. They wanted to assess how well elite Indian triathletes, used to Olympic distances in the sport, would fare over the longer distances of Ironman 70.3 – 1.9 kilometers of swimming, 90 kilometers of cycling and 21.1 kilometers of running; the increased dimensions being mainly in cycling and running. To attract participants, they dangled a carrot or two. They promised to sponsor the top performers to participate in Ironman events abroad. Also featured as carrot, was afore mentioned bicycle; a proper tri-bike. “ The trials were held on the last Sunday of every months and it lasted a few months. Those appearing for the time trial had to cycle 50 kilometers and then run 10 kilometers; do it back to back. We also kept 4:15:00 as an informal cut-off time, a sort of benchmark for deciding the top performers,’’ Charzal said. According to him, the army’s triathletes needed no coaxing to participate. They warmed up to the idea quickly. Anirban however, did mention the need to put Recreational Triathletes in proper perspective for the army triathletes to comfortably engage. They had superiors to report to and convince for permission. Recreational Triathletes was an Internet based convergence of amateur triathletes. “ There was the angle of who we are, why we were conducting the trials and explanation around that, ’’ Anirban said.

Recreational Triathletes

Post time trials in Pune – Bishworjit (he placed first in the trials with net time of 4:09:42), Biten Singh Laikhuram and Raghunath Shivaji Mali, all from the army – were selected for participation in Ironman events overseas; Bishworjit and Biten were headed to Ironman 70.3 in Bahrain. Unfortunately bureaucratic delays crept in. When the required paperwork couldn’t be wrapped up in time, Recreational Triathletes tried to get them registered for the Half Ironman in Colombo, Sri Lanka instead. That too failed because of delayed paperwork. But the group didn’t give up and continued to explore options. Eventually everything fell in place for participation in Ironman 70.3 at Bintan, Indonesia. Mali and Biten were able to proceed for the event scheduled for August 2019; Bishworjit had to stay out as he had been selected to participate in the senior national triathlon championships, the dates of which clashed with the event in Indonesia. “ Ahead of the Bintan Ironman, the army coach who was familiar with training for Olympic distances enquired about the details of Ironman 70.3 and what aspects of training mattered for the format,’’ Charzal said. Late August, encouraging results came from Ironman 70.3, Bintan. Raghunath Shivaji Mali finished first in his age category (18-24 years). Hailing from Sangli, Maharashtra, Mali had previously placed first at the junior nationals in 2015 and later, secured third place at the 2017 National Games in Kerala. At the time trials held in Pune, he had placed third with net time of 4:21:56. Biten meanwhile placed eighth overall at Bintan (field of 733 triathletes) and first in his age category; it was the first instance of a triathlete from India finishing in top ten at such an event. According to Anriban and Charzal, there have been no previous reports of two Indian triathletes topping their age categories in the same Ironman event either. Not to mention – neither Mali nor Biten were regulars at Ironman distances. In India, they specialize in the smaller Olympic distance.

Starting with a first place finish at the junior nationals held in Indore, way back in 2010, Biten had been slowly climbing up the ladder. By 2014, he had placed sixth in the senior nationals; in 2016 he finished first at the Delhi invitational triathlon and in 2017, first at the Hyderabad invitational triathlon. At the Pune time trials of 2018 conducted by Recreational Triathletes, he had placed second with net time of 4:12:41. With the results in Bintan, he and Mali qualified for the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championships due in Taupo, New Zealand. Further, one of the top ten finishers at the Pune trials had been Nihal Baig of Mumbai (an IIT Mumbai alumni, he works as Risk Associate at MSCI Inc), who had already participated in Half Ironman events. Recognizing his keenness, Recreational Triathletes sponsored his trip to Nice, France for the Ironman 70.3 there. It was now countdown to Bishworjit’s return to Goa. In the months following the Pune time trials that return had become special, for news had emerged that Goa would be hosting India’s first Ironman 70.3 triathlon in 2019.

A fortnight before the Goa event, Bishworjit – he had placed second at the nationals in 2019 – received his clearance to participate. Besides more training done (including some alone), there was a major difference this time. Recreational Triathletes had got him a top notch tri-bike, an Argon E119. MiniOrange bore the bulk of the cost; around 100 members of Recreational Triathletes also contributed. On race day at the start line in Goa, was old friend and fellow competitor, Pablo. “ My objective was to compete with Pablo,’’ Bishworjit said. The athletes were dispatched for their swim leg in lots of five each. Pablo was in the first batch; Bishworjit was in the third. But when they emerged from the sea having completed the swim, three of them – Pablo, Bishworjit and Mahesh Lourembam were almost together. Mahesh had ranked fourth at the trials in Pune. A good swimmer from his school days, he had competed at the national level in sub junior and junior categories and earned podium finish multiple times. Later, adding the triathlon as well to his repertoire, he had placed third at the senior nationals of 2017.

Mahesh Lourembam, Bishworjit, Nihal and Pablo Erat (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Recreational Triathletes)

Runners are of different types. There is the highly focused sort, who brings to bear on their craft tons of discipline and methodical training. But there are also those treasuring running’s simplicity and primeval freedom; they transcend competition in human hive and cut a picture of peace, solitude and enjoyment.  Among the popular amateur athletic pursuits, triathlon typically smacks of focus and discipline. It is not without reason. A tough sport chasing higher and higher levels of human efficiency, details matter in it. During his 2017 shot at the Goa triathlon, Bishworjit’s transition to cycling had been less than perfect. “ In comparison, Pablo had it all worked out for maximum efficiency,’’ Anirban recalled. In 2019 however, in the transition to cycling, Bishworjit took off first. But at the 15th kilometer, with cramps slowly setting in, he was overtaken by Pablo. “ By the end of the cycling leg, Pablo had a lead of 12 minutes on Bishworjit. At this stage, we were disappointed,’’ Anirban said.  The third discipline – the half marathon – was composed of three loops of seven kilometers each. By the second loop, Bishworjit had Pablo in eyesight. At the 13th kilometer both met at the hydration point. “ Pablo told me to carry on,’’ Bishworjit said. Around kilometer-15, Nihal Baig overtook Mahesh. The final position was Bishworjit (4:42:44), Nihal (4:47:47), Mahesh (4:52:04) and Pablo (4:56:24). At last, an Indian triathlete had won an Ironman 70.3.

With their podium finishes at Ironman Goa, Bishworjit, Nihal and Mahesh also secured berths for the 2020 Ironman World Championships. Provided all goes well, at the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in New Zealand, these triathletes will be representing India – Bishworjit, Nihal, Mahesh, Biten and Mali. Recreational Triathletes has its work cut out. To begin with, they plan to sponsor about half a dozen bicycle trainers (equipment that renders the bike stationary and capable of being pedaled indoors). Bishworjit for instance, currently uses a very basic model. Training indoors is essential to excel in the triathlon. Anirban felt the triathletes would also require stepping up their mileage in running and execute nutrition strategies better. Bishworjit’s fuel intake during the Ironman in Goa had been frugal. Before swimming he had a gel, while cycling he had some water and a gel and during the run he had aerated drinks and some water. Across the table, the newly crowned Ironman of Goa laughed as he said this.

Anirban Mukherji and Rajkumar Charzal (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Both Anirban and Charzal believe Recreational Triathletes has only scratched the surface; there is more talent around. And critically, it is talent that cannot be viewed the traditional way with gaze partial to youth. Pablo who has been beating Indian triathletes is in his late forties. Of the five headed to New Zealand next year, Mali is the youngest, Bishworjit, the oldest (he will be 30 by then). The gap between the best Indian timings and the very best timings at Ironman 70.3 is sizable. The record for men (as per Wikipedia) set in 2018 at Ironman Bahrain, is 3:29:04 (Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway). The first question people asked this writer when told of the Indian podium finishes at Goa Ironman was: how competitive is the field? Do the best foreign athletes come to participate? These are fair questions. But in a sport where peak performance is happening even in middle age, one Ironman done is hardly indicative of Bishworjit and his compatriots knowing their potential. With good training, better equipment, correct nutrition and sustained participation at events, lot more of their strengths may be found. “ We don’t have a formal program for supporting the athletes yet; it is still one thing at a time,’’ Anirban said. Meanwhile in Pune, according to Anirban and Charzal, an atmosphere of positive engagement now prevails between the army triathletes, their coaches and the civilian triathletes. There is talk of organizing programs meant to train the trainers as next step. A journey seems commenced.

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


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

List of platinum category races announced

At least 2.5 million dollars in extra revenue will be made available for a comprehensive integrity program for road running in 2020, under a new funding scheme announced by World Athletics and the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) last June.

World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations / IAAF) has announced a schedule of more than 165 label road events that will be held in 2020, including the first platinum label races. Each race will contribute to the system approved by the World Athletics Council this year, by which the financial burden for out-of-competition drug testing is shared by all road race stakeholders – organizers, athlete managers and athletes.

Races will contribute according to their status: platinum marathons – 66,667 dollars, gold marathons – 15,000 dollars, silver marathons – 10,000 dollars and bronze marathons 5,000 dollars; platinum road races – 20,000 dollars, gold road races – 10,000 dollars, silver road races – 5,000 dollars and bronze road races – 2,500 dollars. The list of label events that will take place from January to September 2020 has been released; the press statement dated November 15, 2019, available on the World Athletics website said. More races will be added when their race dates are confirmed.

Their contributions, together with the fees managers pay for their athletes included in the testing pool – 500 dollars for gold status athletes and 1000 dollars for platinum – and the 1.5 per cent levy on prize money that athletes agreed to contribute, make up the bulk of the fund. In all, that means some 2.6 to 3.2 million dollars in funding will be available in 2020. The program, which includes out-of-competition testing, investigation and education, will be carried out by the Athletics Integrity Unit, the statement said. The list of gold and platinum status athletes for 2020, determined by their position in the world rankings, has also been released.

Under the previous system, the AIU and IAAF had funding to test just the first 50 athletes (the marathon and half marathon athletes) in the testing pool, which left an alarming shortfall in out-of-competition testing of athletes who compete on the rapidly expanding and increasingly lucrative road running circuit. World Athletics granted 103 races label status in 2017. That number grew to 114 in 2018 and 136 in 2019. The new platinum label races, first announced in 2018, will be introduced in 2020. Nine races have been granted platinum status thus far with up to three more late-season races to be confirmed early next year. The races announced as platinum so far are Tokyo Marathon, Nagoya Women’s Marathon, Seoul Marathon, BAA Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, Media Maratón de Bogotá, BMW Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.

Platinum label races are required to have at least three athletes with platinum status, per gender, and at least four athletes with gold status (or higher) start the race and compete with bona fide effort. The number of platinum status athletes for 2020 will be fixed at 30 per gender and determined in a two-phase process. The first, based on positions in the world rankings on 15 October 2019, will include the top 19 ranked athletes in the ‘marathon’ event group, the top three ranked athletes in the ‘road running’ event group (excluding any athletes who acquired platinum status in the ‘marathon’ group) and the top ranked athlete in the ‘10,000m’ event group (excluding any athletes who acquired platinum status in the ‘marathon’ and ‘road running’ event groups). The second phase will add seven more athletes, per gender, based on positions in the world rankings on 28 January 2020: the top four ranked athletes in the ‘marathon’ group, the top two in the ‘road running’ group and the top one in the 10,000m event group who had not yet achieved platinum status, the statement said.

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


Anubhav Karmakar (Photo: courtesy Anubhav)

New York City Marathon (NYCM) is one of the six World Marathon Majors. It has the highest number of full marathon-participants. There were over 53,000 runners in the 2019 edition. The NYCM course passes through the five boroughs of New York city. It starts near the approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island. The route then goes along four other bridges – Pulaski Bridge, Queensboro Bridge, Willis Avenue Bridge and Madison Avenue Bridge – before finishing at Central Park. Kenyan runner Geoffrey Kamworor was the winner of 2019 NYCM, covering the distance in 2:08:13. Among women Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya won the race, finishing in 2:22:38. We spoke to a few of the runners from India who participated in the marathon.

Anubhav Karmakar

Anubhav Karmakar was the fastest among runners from India at New York City Marathon this time. He finished the run in 2:41:07, a new personal record. It was however tad short of his target; 2:39-2:40.

“ My training was much better than the race,’’ he said. Anubhav’s training is focussed on improving in every race. He trained 15 weeks for NYCM.

At the start of the race, there was some confusion about where the start line mat was. “ There was no space to move because of the huge number of runners. Then I found my rhythm. But around the 15th kilometer, I had to take a loo break. That once again broke my rhythm,’’ he said.

NYCM, according to Anubhav, cannot be tackled with an eye on the clock because it is a challenging course. “ The bridges are fairly long, sometimes not so steep; sometimes steep. The second half of the race can be run only through feel,’’ he said.

Anubhav pushed hard in the last leg of the marathon. “ I did not feel strong through the race. But when I entered Central Park, I found my pace and went for a very strong finish,’’ he said. Anubhav believes he may have fallen short on nutrition during the race. “ I feel, I had a stronger finish at Boston Marathon earlier this year, although I have a new personal record at NYCM,’’ he said.

In the weeks ahead, he will be racing at Tata Steel Kolkata and Tata Mumbai Marathon. He has an entry to Boston again but his decision will depend on securing a berth at the London Marathon. “ I have also been accepted for Comrades but I have yet to freeze my decision to do the race. I thoroughly enjoy the marathon format and I don’t know if I want to break the momentum and go in for an ultra-marathon at this point,’’ he said.

Vijayaraghavan Venugopal (Photo: courtesy Vijayaraghavan)

Vijayaraghavan Venugopal

Vijayaraghavan Venugopal, 44, started running well before he became the CEO of Fast & Up, a sports nutrition company. He is known to follow a stringent training plan primarily aimed at sub-three-hour finish in the full marathon.

With Fast & Up on a trajectory of growth, the CEO’s schedule has been getting tighter with work and work related travel. “ My preparation for New York City Marathon went off fairly well, though work and travel took up a lot of my time,’’ he said.

At the 2019 edition of New York City Marathon, Vijayaraghavan finished the race in 3:16:07, outside his target of a sub-three-hour finish. “ Up until 30 to 32k I was on track for a sub-three-hour finish but lost the momentum thereafter. I did not have the energy to push for my targeted finish,’’ he said.

Had he maintained momentum till 35-36k, it would have been possible to push for said finish. When he realized that he wasn’t going to get his targeted finish, he took it easy. “ I started walking, though walking a distance of 500 meters felt like 5 kilometers,’’ he said.

Among the six World Marathon Majors, the New York City Marathon’s course is relatively tough. “ It is a technical course with five bridges. Each bridge has a different level of difficulty,’’ Vijay said.

According to him, a couple of factors at NYCM can be testing for runners. The wait before the start of the race can be tiring. Runners are required to arrive at the holding area three hours before the commencement of the race. Also, NYCM has the highest number of full marathon runners. Because of the sheer number of participants at NYCM, you are constantly running with a crowd of runners from start to finish. “ During the first two to three kilometers you are running with a huge crowd of runners, something you see in the half marathon segment of Mumbai Marathon. As the miles go by you run with new groups of runners,’’ Vijayaraghavan said.

At the same time, several other factors make NYCM one of the most coveted marathons. What truly stands out at the event is the massive spectator support with loud cheering. Further in 2019, the weather was quite good with temperatures in the range of 9-11 degrees Celsius. “ It was cold and windy but manageable. There was no rain either,’’ he said.

Analyzing his performance, Vijayaraghavan said his training probably fell short of what was required for NYCM. “ The last eight marathons went as per my plan. I trained well for NYCM but probably my training fell short of requirement,’’ he said. According to him, the key is to train specifically for a marathon.

Tad disappointed with his performance, Vijayaraghavan now wants to enroll for NYCM again to ensure a sub-three-hour finish. With his schedules getting busier, training and racing for a sub-three-hour marathon is a challenge that keeps him going.

Shailja Sridhar

During her school days in Lucknow, Shailja Sridhar never lost an opportunity to participate in sports. She kept her contact with sports alive in the years that followed too. Her foray into running happened seven years ago while she was residing at Gurgaon.

“ My friends asked me to enroll for Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2012. Prior to the race, I had done just two runs,’’ Shailja said. In 2013, she enrolled for the half marathon segment at Mumbai Marathon. That year, she also did the Amsterdam marathon. But training was negligible. “ Then I applied for Berlin Marathon through the lottery method. I got through. At this point I realized I must train. I contacted lifestyle coach Purnendu Nath for advice on training,’’ she said. She was able to finish Berlin in 3:52 hours.

Subsequently, she heard about Boston qualifier timings and that engaged her mind. “ One thing about running is that new goals keep emerging all the time. I started training for Boston qualifier levels. I read a lot about various training methods. I also traveled to Kenya to find out how elite runners train,’’ Shailja said.

New York City Marathon went off fairly well, according to Shailja. “ I went with zero expectation. I had no plan,’’ she said. Prior to NYCM, Shailja ran the full marathon at Bengaluru Marathon and Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. At the latter race, she finished in 1:35 and that gave her confidence for NYCM.

She finished New York City Marathon in 3:20, a new personal record for her. She was also the fastest among women runners from India at NYCM. This was her fifth World Marathon Major with London Marathon being the only one left for her, to complete.

Ramesh Kanjilimadhom (Photo: courtesy Ramesh; this picture is from the New Delhi Marathon)

Ramesh Kanjilimadhom

New York City Marathon was his third marathon in three weeks. On October 20, 2019, Kochi-based runner, Ramesh Kanjilimadhom, ran the Niagara Falls Marathon finishing it in 3:28:46. The marathon starts at Buffalo, runs along Niagara River and ends on the top of the falls. “ This one is truly an international marathon. It starts in the US and ends in Canada,’’ Ramesh said. He was completing this marathon for the fourth time.

A week later, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon finishing in 3:30:38. “ Marine Corps Marathon is my favorite. I was running it for the seventh time this year,’’ he said.

The following week he was at the start line of New York City Marathon. “ I had no time target for New York City Marathon. This was the third of my three marathons in three weeks. My training was not adequate,’’ he said. But the run went off quite well for him. He finished the marathon in 3:21:41 and his splits were evenly paced.

“ It was cold at the start of the race but it did not bother me. Later it was quite sunny,’’ Ramesh said.

New York City Marathon is a huge race with over 50,000 runners, all of them running the full marathon distance. Every participant ends up running with a large group of runners all through the 42 kilometers.

There are several hydration points along the route but because of the huge crowd of runners you may miss them. The fact that the next hydration point is not far off keeps you going, Ramesh said. Also, there are crowds of spectators all along the route except at the bridges. “ As you get off the bridges you can see the crowds along the route ahead,’’ he said.

Ranjini Gupta (Photo: courtesy Ranjini)

Ranjini Gupta

Bengaluru-based Ranjini Gupta went through a perfect training plan of 18 weeks in the run-up to New York City Marathon. The training plan was executed to perfection with intervals, tempo runs, fartlek and long runs including hill runs along with strength training. Hill runs were critical for NYCM, according to her.

“ I wanted to train well because the distance should not be a challenge. I initially did most of the runs at base pace and then ran at race pace closer to the event,’’ she said.

But she suffered hamstring tendonitis barely six weeks ahead of the race.  “ I had to do away from hill runs as they were aggravating my injury. I had to rework my training plan,’’ Ranjini said.

New York City Marathon starts on a bridge. “ As soon as I started running uphill, I felt the pain but I was mentally prepared to manage it well. I held my pace and when the pain got worse I would slightly ease my pace but not drop it drastically,’’ she said. She ended the race in 3:39:32 managing a negative split in the process. This was her fourth World Marathon Major with Boston and London Marathon next on the cards.

Sunil Chainani (Photo: courtesy Sunil)

Sunil Chainani

A member of the Ultra Running Committee of Athletics Federation of India, Sunil Chainani, had travelled to Albi, France, along with a nine-member Indian team for the 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships, held on October 26 and 27. Sunil was part of the support team.

Once done with his work at the championships, Sunil travelled to New York to participate in New York City Marathon.

A former national level squash player, Sunil’s training for the marathon was not adequate because of his tight schedule. “ I came to New York with no expectations whatsoever. I haven’t had a good marathon run in a while because of my Achilles injury,’’ he said.

Though his training was inadequate, Sunil put in a lot of time in strength training. New York City Marathon was his third World Marathon Major. He has run Berlin Marathon twice and Chicago once.

“ At New York, the weather was great and the atmosphere was fabulous. It was a perfect running day. My approach was to run easy. I did not want to put any stress in terms of timing,’’ Sunil said. He cruised along fairly well for much of the distance but started to get cramps in the last 7-8 kilometer-stretch. He then opted to walk and run the remaining distance. Sunil surprised himself with a personal record of 4:12:53 hours. He had improved his timing by 90 seconds.

“ I am pleased with my run. My confidence is back,’’ he said.

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


Eliud Kipchoge (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Eliud Kipchoge, Dalilah Muhammad named World Athletes of the Year; Brother Colm O’Connell awarded for contribution to coaching

Eliud Kipchoge and Dalilah Muhammad were named the male and female World Athletes of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2019, held at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on Saturday (November 23), an official statement available on the website of World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations [IAAF]), said.

“ Kipchoge, the winner of the award last year, added to his phenomenal marathon CV in 2019. In April he captured his fourth victory at the London Marathon with a 2:02:37 course record, the third fastest performance of all time. The 35-year-old Kenyan followed up in October by blasting through the distance’s two-hour barrier with a 1:59:40.2 performance at the Ineos159 Challenge in Vienna.

“ Muhammad, 29, broke the world record in the 400m hurdles twice this year, first with a 52.20 performance at the US Championships in July to eclipse a mark which had stood since 2003. Muhammad broke it again at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, clocking 52.16 in one of the championships’ most eagerly-awaited finals to claim the world title for the first time. Muhammad also won world gold in the 4x400m relay and won five of her seven races,’’ the statement said.

Among other awards, the award for achievement in coaching went to Brother Colm O’Connell, the Irish missionary who made Iten in Kenya synonymous with long distance running. “ During a coaching career that has spanned more than four decades, O’Connell, an Irish missionary who has lived in Iten, Kenya, since 1976, has coached 25 world champions and four Olympic gold medallists, including Wilson Kipketer and David Rudisha, the World Athletes of the Year in 1997 and 2010, respectively. Kipketer presented him with his award,’’ the statement said.

Letesenbet Gidey (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Letesenbet Gidey sets new world best for women in 15km

Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey smashed the world best for women in 15km at the Zevenheuvelenloop (Seven Hills Run) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, held on November 17.

According to the race report available on the website of World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations [IAAF]) Gidey, silver medalist in 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships, clocked 44:21, more than a minute better than the previous world best of 45:37 Joyciline Jepkosgei set in Prague two years ago en route to her first world record in the half marathon.

Twenty one year-old Gidey covered the last 10 kilometers in a stunning 29:12, the fastest 10-kilometre stretch ever produced under any conditions, the report said.

In a related report, BBC pointed out that the 15km is rarely run and is not a discipline at the world championships or the Olympics.

Geoffrey Kamworor’s world record ratified

The new world record in the men’s half marathon set by Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor at the 2019 Copenhagen Half Marathon in September, has been ratified, World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations / IAAF ) said in an official statement dated November 19, available on their website.

Kamworor had chopped 22 seconds from the previous record, coming tantalizingly close to breaking the event’s 58-minute barrier. The previous record of 58:23 was held by Zersenay Tadese; it was set in Lisbon in 2010.

Kamworor’s new record is 58:01.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Steeplechase, discus, triple jump – not glittering enough for Diamond League

Among the most grueling track disciplines out there, the 3000m steeplechase won’t feature in the 2020 IAAF Diamond League final.  Other disciplines in similar situation include discus throw and triple jump.

This follows the largest consumer survey by the League, which found that the top three most popular disciplines in the Diamond League are the 100m, long jump and high jump followed by pole vault, the 200m and 400m.  “ Popularity of athletes, head-to-head competitions and excitement of the individual competition were cited as reasons for the choice of the most popular events in the largest consumer survey into the disciplines hosted in the IAAF Diamond League. Representative online research carried out in China, France, South Africa and the USA; post-event surveys in Belgium, Great Britain and Switzerland and click-throughs on Diamond League social media videos during 2019 helped guide the Diamond League General Assembly, made up of all meeting directors, to decide which disciplines will be part of 2020 season,’’ an official statement dated November 6, 2019, available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said.

According to it, as a result of the research, and the decision taken earlier in the year that only 24 disciplines (12 male / 12 female) will form the core disciplines at all meetings, eight disciplines (4 male and 4 female) will not be contested during the 2020 Diamond League season. These disciplines are the discus, triple jump and 3000m steeplechase – three events that currently sit towards the bottom of the research conducted – and the 200m, which the Diamond League organizers felt would be too congested alongside the 100m, particularly in an Olympic Games year.

Following a detailed review of the schedule for the 90-minute broadcast window of the Diamond League, both the 200m and the 3000m steeplechase will be included in 10 meetings (5 male and 5 female) in the 2020 Diamond League season, including Oslo, Rome, and Doha. Two meetings will also feature discus and triple jump (1 female and 1 male). However, none of the four disciplines will feature in the Diamond League Final in 2020, the statement said.

“ Our objective is to create a faster-paced, more exciting global league that will be the showcase for our sport. A league that broadcasters want to show and fans want to watch. However, we understand the disappointment of those athletes in the disciplines not part of the 2020 Diamond League season,’’ the statement quoted IAAF Diamond League Chairman Sebastian Coe, as saying.

“ We want to thank the 10 Diamond League meetings which have found a way to include the 200m or the 3000m steeplechase (male and female) during the 2020 season and the four meetings hosting a discus competition or a triple jump competition. The Continental Tour, an enhanced global series of one-day meetings supporting the Diamond League, will integrate these eight disciplines to ensure athletes get opportunities to compete extensively and earn prize money. We will also work more closely with the athletes in these eight disciplines to help promote them and their events,’’ Coe added.

The highest scoring athlete in each of the eight disciplines named above will win a wild card into the World Championships. All disciplines will be reviewed at the end of the 2020 Diamond League season and decisions on the 24 disciplines for 2021 agreed.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The full list of events in each Diamond League meeting will be released shortly. All meetings also have the opportunity to feature additional disciplines outside the 90-minute international broadcast window to cater to their domestic fans and athletics, which will be carried by domestic broadcasters. All meetings, including the final in Zurich, are also looking at innovation around disciplines that can be taken into city centers to attract new fans to the sport.

Details of the Continental Tour will be released later this month.

According to the statement, Diamond League disciplines 2020 (12 male and 12 female) are 100m, 100m/110m hurdles, 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, 1500m, 3000m, long jump, high jump, pole vault, javelin and shot put.

Earlier this year the General Assembly, made up of all the Diamond League Meeting Directors, had agreed to bring together the very best one-day meetings in a high quality annual international circuit which gives athletes a compelling and rewarding reason to compete; a more consistent, action packed format for broadcasters; and provides fans with a persuasive reason to come back to the sport week in and week out to follow the star athletes as they gain points to qualify for an exciting end of season-final. At the General Assembly on 21 October it was agreed that 14 meetings and a final will make up the 2020 season, rather than the 12 plus a final originally envisaged, given the significant improvement that all meetings had achieved over the past two years and the signing of a title sponsor Wanda Sports, the largest sponsorship in athletics’ history.

Kenyan athletes disappointed

On November 8, the media reported that current world champions in the 3000m steeplechase, Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto and Beatrice Chipkoech, have expressed disappointment in the Diamond League’s decision. They said that the move could affect their career. At the Olympics, Kenya has been the most successful nation in steeplechase.

New world record in 5km-run

Kenya’s Robert Keter upstaged a quality field to win the Urban Trail Lille 5km on Saturday (November 9), taking seven seconds off the world record with his winning time of 13:22, the weekend round-up of road races (report dated November 10, 2019) available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said.

Lille is a city at the northern tip of France. According to the report, although the race organizers had hoped that Lille’s flat course may see a world record, such expectations were stacked higher well known athletes in the line-up, like world U20 5000m silver medallist Stanley Waithaka, world U20 cross-country champion Milkesa Mengesha and world indoor 3000m finalist Davis Kiplangat. The old mark was 13:29.

Nobody expected “ Keter to sprint away from the field in the closing stages to triumph in a world record time,’’ the report said. The new record is subject to the usual process of ratification. Keter was followed to finish line by Kenya’s Gilbert Kwemoi (13:28) and Stanley Waithaka (13:28), also of Kenya. In the women’s category, the winner was 17 year-old Mercy Jerop of Kenya who covered the distance in 16:21. France’s Fanny Pruvost, 23 years Jerop’s senior, was a distant second in 16:47.

As per the report, the 5km road distance was introduced as an official world record event in November 2017, with the inaugural record to be recognized after 1 January 2018 if the performances were equal to or better than 13:10 for men and 14:45 for women. “ If no such performances were achieved in 2018, the best performances of 2018 (13:30 by Bernard Kibet and 14:48 by Caroline Kipkurui) would be recognized on 1 January 2019. Seven weeks into 2019, Julien Wanders and Sifan Hassan bettered those marks in Monaco by clocking 13:29 and 14:44, times that have since been ratified as world records. Two months later, Edward Cheserek equaled Wanders’ mark at the Carlsbad 5000. Many athletes, however, have gone quicker than 13:22 before the 5km became an official world record event. The fastest time ever recorded for the distance remains Sammy Kipketer’s 13:00 clocking in Carlsbad in 2000,’’ the report said.

Lelisa Desisa, Ruth Chepngetich get 2019 AIMS Best Marathon Runner award

Lelisa Desisa (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

World marathon champions Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya are the male and female recipients of the 2019 ` Best Marathon Runner’ award from the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), a statement dated November 8, available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said.

“ Their achievements were given global recognition on Friday (8) in Athens, the birthplace of the marathon, at the seventh annual AIMS Best Marathon Runner (BMR) Gala. Desisa and Chepngetich were chosen by the AIMS athletes’ nomination committee as the outstanding candidates for the 2019 awards based upon their performances over the past 12 months,’’ the statement said.

Desisa won the 2018 New York City Marathon before winning the marathon at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 with timing of 2:10:40. Chepngetich is also a world marathon champion, having won in Doha with timing of 2:32:43. In the past year she also added wins at the Istanbul Marathon, the Dubai Marathon (in 2:17:08, the second-fastest time of the year), the Istanbul Half Marathon, the Seiryu Half Marathon and the Media Maraton de Bogota.

According to the statement, the Xiamen Marathon was presented with the AIMS Green Award, becoming the first Chinese race to win the accolade. The race organizers have demonstrated significant effort regarding climate change, waste reduction and environmental awareness. Since 2015, the Xiamen Marathon has donated more than 130,000 saplings to be planted, creating the ` Xiamen Forest of Love.’

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.

The Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef was the 2019 recipient of the AIMS Social Award in recognition of their charitable efforts. Since 2010 the Harmony Geneva Marathon has been in partnership with Unicef, supporting the program ` WASH: Water, Sanitation, Hygiene’ and their sustainable development goal of ensuring access to water sanitation for all. To date the race has financed the installation of 1000 water pumps in different countries. From 2020, the event will support UNICEF Malawi to provide solar water pumps – a reliable, sustainable, user friendly and green technology solution for rural communities. In addition, the race manages a clothes collection point in its marathon village in association with the organization Bilifou to benefit young people in Burkino Faso. This partnership has seen more than 1000kg of clothes collected. Other activities with disabled people and refugees are managed by the organization in order to include everyone in the event.

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


Photo: courtesy Nihal Baig

Mumbai-based triathlete, Nihal Baig, is not new to Ironman 70.3. The Goa edition of this triathlon – it was held in October 2019 – was his fourth outing in that line. He finished second overall including second place in his age category, 25-29 years.

Less than a month before Ironman 70.3 Goa, Nihal participated in Ironman 70.3 World Championships, Nice 2019. Prior to the event in Nice, he participated in Ironman 70.3 Bahrain and Ironman 70.3 Colombo. Of the three disciplines forming the triathlon, Nihal’s strength is in running. Earlier this year, Nihal had finished overall ninth and second in his age category of 18-24 years at Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM).

Here he recounts the training for Ironman 70.3 Goa and how things unfolded on race day.

During my B.Tech and M.Tech days at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai, I was part of the athletics team. I used to participate in races over distances ranging from 400 meters to 5000 meters.

I finished my M.Tech in 2016. But I did not stop running. I continued it on the IIT Mumbai campus thanks to my being alumni. I moved to exploring longer distances, starting with half marathons. Around this time I took up employment in Mumbai. I work as Risk Associate at MSCI Inc. I started cycling to work, a distance of about nine kilometers from where I stay. Over time, I started to go for long rides.

At that time, I had heard about the Ironman triathlon. I was keen to explore it and began learning to swim. In October 2017, I did my first half Ironman distance-triathlon in Hyderabad.

What attracted me to the triathlon was that I got to do three sports in it instead of the usual one. And triathlon is all about fitness and endurance. I love how I get to push myself in these three disciplines. I have a lot to learn. I will keep doing that and try to get better with time.

The Ironman 70.3, also known as Half Ironman, is one of a series of long distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation. Following the event in Hyderabad, I went on to do Half Ironman in Bahrain and Colombo.

Less than a month before Ironman 70.3 Goa (it was the first Ironman event in India) I took part in the Ironman World Championships, held in Nice, France on September 8, 2019.

Photo: courtesy Nihal Baig

I started my training for Nice Ironman in March focusing mainly on swim technique. I trained under coach, Ashutosh Barve. Our weekly training sessions were done at the pool at IIT Mumbai in Powai. Swimming is my weakest sport in triathlon.

I also had to do most of my cycling sessions indoors. I did a couple of outdoor sessions in Pune. My priority for Nice World Championships was building power and learning technical bike skills. After the World Championships, I had all of five weeks to train for Goa Ironman. Of these, the first week was lost to recovery. In the available time, I decided to concentrate on getting more comfortable riding in aero-position. I had struggled with using the aerobars on my bicycle in previous races.

Running is my strong sport. I put in a lot of volume though I was not able to do track sessions because of rain. I was also unable to do speed workout because of a hip abductor injury. I acquired the hip abductor injury ahead of the Nice World Championships. Few weeks before the event, it was quite unbearable. However I recovered considerably as the world championships drew close. The cycling segment was tough, very technical and hilly. There were many sharp turns along the route, not to mention much elevation gain packed into the 90 kilometer-distance. I finished the World Championships in 5:29:02.

I did my training runs for Goa at the IIT Mumbai campus. I am aware of the road conditions there. So it was not difficult training outdoors during monsoon. In Goa, on the day of Ironman 70.3, I woke up early to have my breakfast two hours before the start of the race. At 7:30AM, the race commenced. When we got into the water for the swim segment, we realized there was a lot of sideways current. We were getting thrown towards the rope. Also, it was so crowded that our limbs were getting entangled with the rope. For quite some time I was stuck in one place. The swim segment of 1.9 kilometers was split into two loops. During my second loop I fared better. I did get stuck but I was prepared. During the first loop my pace was 2.35 minutes per 100 meters. In the second loop, the pace improved to 2.12 minutes per 100 meters. I finished the swim segment in 45 minutes and 16 seconds against my target of 40 minutes.

From the swim to the bike segment, the transition distance was about 900 meters. We had to sprint to get to our bikes. But the crowd and volunteer support was so good. Many of them were calling out my name and cheering me. That helped me a lot. I was in a positive frame of mind when I got on to the bike. Suddenly, the disappointment of the swim seemed like a distant past.

I had got myself a Cervelo P4. During the cycling segment, I chose not to use any HR or power devices to track my effort. I just went by feel. We had to cover the distance of 90 kilometers in three loops. I pushed a lot on the bike segment. I stuck to a uniform pace for most part of the race though the road condition was not great. For about 30 kilometers at the end of the bike leg race, I rode with only one aerobar. But the cheering by volunteers and the crowds was awesome. I finished the cycling segment in two hours, 31 minutes and 57 seconds. Although I had done better at Colombo Ironman earlier this year, I would rate the cycling I did at Goa my best so far. Further, Colombo was a flat route with roads in much better condition. My training for Nice certainly helped me at Goa.

Photo: courtesy Nihal Baig

When I finished the swim portion, I was 15th in my age category and 118th overall. At the end of the bike segment, I was second in my age category and seventh overall.

I decided to go hard on the run segment. I was confident of maintaining my position. I started at 3:55 pace and when it started to get hot I slowed down slightly. My pace was between 3:55 and 4. We had to cover the half marathon distance of the run segment in three loops and in each of these loops we had to negotiate a steep and a long climb. At the start of the third loop, I was in fourth position. The person who was leading had to slow down as he had hit the wall.

I finished the Goa Ironman in 4:47:47, placing second overall and second in my age category of 25-29 years.

Going forward, my focus will shift to training for the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon.

(Nihal Baig spoke to Latha Venkatraman, independent journalist based in Mumbai.)