2019 IAU 24-HOUR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS / A NATIONAL BEST AND FIVE IN 200KM LEAGUE FOR INDIA

Apoorva Chaudhary (File photo: courtesy Sunil Shetty / NEB Sports)

Apoorva Chaudhary’s performance a new national best for women

Early days yet in the discipline, the Indian team’s participation at the 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships over October 26-27 at Albi in France was a case of improved outcome featuring new personal benchmarks and learnings.

In the men’s category, India finished in 13th position at the championships; among women, the team placed 15th. “ The team’s performance was reasonably good, overall,’’ Sunil Chainani, member, Ultra Running Committee of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), said. He had accompanied the team to Albi as part of the support crew.

Prior to the 2018 IAU 24-hour World Championships held in Taipei, only one Indian athlete – Ullas Narayana – had covered a distance exceeding 200 km. At the Taipei event that grew to two – Ullas and Sunil Sharma. This number grew further at Albi besides new mark set for women.

At the 2019 World Championships in Albi, among Indian women runners, Apoorva Chaudhary covered a distance of 202.212 km, creating a new national best. She beat her own record of 176.8 km set during the NEB 24-hour Stadium Run in New Delhi in December 2018.

Further, five athletes – three women and two men – achieved their personal bests at the Albi Championships. Apart from Apoorva; Priyanka Bhatt (192.845 km) and Hemlata (173.178 km) among women and Pranaya Mohanty (211.956 km) and Kanan Jain (211.157 km) among men, achieved new personal bests. Altogether five Indian runners – four men and one woman – covered distance in excess of 200 km at Albi.

According to Sunil, Pranaya twisted his ankle but continued to run despite the pain. For Kanan Jain, this was his first international event. Twenty one years old, he did very well for his age and limited exposure at the international level. Sunil Sharma ran very strong at the end of the race though he finished tad short of his personal record.

The 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships course at Albi, France (This photo has been sourced from the IAU website and is being used here for representation purpose)

Prior to the 2018 Taipei Championships, Ullas Narayana was the sole runner from India covering distance of over 200 kilometers. He had finished with 250.3 km to his credit had secured a bronze medal, India’s first international medal in ultra-running. Unfortunately at Albi, Ullas experienced some difficulties towards the last part of the race. He ran very strong for most of the race and was in 13th position till he had to stop during the last two hours due to cramps. Binay Sah too had to stop running half-way through the race after he felt unwell. “ In a 24-hour race, the possibility of things going not as per plan cannot be ruled out. Other international runners also faced similar issues,’’ Sunil Chainani said.

“ Two of the women runners – Apoorva and Priyanka – were outstanding. Our women athletes garnered much attention from international participants and coaches with their strong running,’’ he said.

At Albi, the runners were required to run in loops of 1.5 km as opposed to 400 meters. “ This had its advantages as well as disadvantages. The larger loop meant that participants did not have to stop often and there was space between runners. But the loop had many sharp turns,’’ Sunil said.

Overall, the Indian team’s performance has been encouraging. Focussed approach to training, nutrition and a camp for ultra-runners held earlier this year may have contributed to the improved performances. Still, there are lessons to take home from these international events. Going forward, a scientific approach to nutrition during the training phase is one element that needs to be looked into more seriously, Sunil said. Also, race strategy must be planned and executed well to improve performance, he felt.

“ In 2019, the presence of Tobias Lundgren, Swedish ultramarathon runner, as a member of the crew supporting the Indian team, helped a great deal in planning the race strategy,’’ Sunil said.

At the Albi Championships, ultramarathon runner from the US, Camille Herron, set a new world best of 270.116 kilometers in the women’s category, breaking her own previous record of 262.193 km. “ Herron’s performance was absolutely outstanding. She was just over eight kilometres short of the winner in the men’s race,’’ Sunilsaid. Aleksandr Sorokin of Lithuania won gold in the men’s race covering a distance of 278.972 km.

Among Indian runners in the men’s category, Ullas Narayana was at 40th position covering a distance of 229.717 km. Sunil Sharma placed 63rd covering a distance of 213.744 km. Pranaya Mohanty finished at 67th position with a distance of 211.956 km and Kanan at 68th with 211.157 km. Binay Kumar Sah finished at 178th position with a distance of 123.856 km covered.

The Indian team at the world championships in Albi (Photo: courtesy Sunil Chainani)

From Indian women runners, Apoorva Chaudhary finished 47th covering a distance of 202.212 km. Priyanka Bhatt finished 59th with a distance of 192.845 km. Hemlata finished 85th with a distance of 173.178 km and Shyamala Satyanarayana 106th with 154.577 km.

In the team championship, US took gold in both women’s and men’s categories. In the women’s category, the US team covered a distance of 746.132 km to secure gold. Poland took silver with a distance of 721.124 km. Bronze went to Germany with a distance of 696.846 km. In the men’s category, the US team covered a total distance of 799.754 km to win gold. Silver went to Hungary with 782.241 km covered while France (779.076 km) took bronze.

According to IAU, the 2019 edition was the biggest championship so far with 45 member federations participating in the event.

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