Bharat Pannu (This photo was downloaded from the cyclist’s Facebook page)

Hirokazu Suzuki of Japan is first to the finish line

Indian cyclist Lt Col Bharat Pannu was placed third on the leaderboard at the close of the Virtual Race Across America (VRAAM), at 11PM Sydney Eastern Standard Time, June 28. He logged 4086.28 kilometers.

“ After 12 days of hard work, day in and day out, WE DID IT. Successfully finished vRAAM with a total mileage of 4086km! According to the provisional leaderboard – WE MADE IT TO THE PODIUM! Kudos to all the other riders and crew. vRAAM is a race to remember,” an update on Bharat’s Facebook page said. It is understood that official confirmation of race result is awaited.

The event’s Facebook page announced Hirokazu Suzuki of Japan as provisional winner. “ The overall provisional winner who completed the full 4542km course is Hirokazu Suzuki,” the page said. Suzuki cycled 4539.80km in 11 days, 23 hours and two minutes, the leaderboard showed. His time of finishing was given as 17:33 hours, June 28. In second place on the leaderboard was putters29 from the UK. He had covered 4148.40km by race’s close.

At the time of writing, the VRAAM leaderboard was yet to formally specify the time taken to cover whatever distance they did, for riders other than Suzuki. “ All results will be provisional until verified by FulGaz and VRAAM,” the race organizers had said on June 25, while disclosing revised race rules that set the distance for being a finisher at 3248km. Cyclists have attributed the revision of race rules to the event being tougher than expected thanks to increases effected in cumulative elevation gain, probably to compensate for the otherwise contained nature of cycling on a home trainer with required support at hand. According to the revised rules, the winner is “ the competitor who has ridden the farthest distance by the end of the race.’’

Hirokazu Suzuki has participated in RAW and RAAM before (RAW – Race Across the West – is a race over a shorter distance built into RAAM). In an interview with Suzuki during his VRAAM attempt, available on the YouTube channel of ohioraamshow.com, the Japanese cyclist said that riding a trainer for this many days is harder than riding outside. Asked whether he planned to participate in the next edition of RAAM, Suzuki said it would depend on his ability to put together the required budget. The record for the fastest time to finish in the physical format of RAAM is held by Austrian ultra-cyclist Christoph Strasser. In 2014 he covered the race’s 4860km-route in seven days, 15 hours, 56 minutes. Strasser has won RAAM six times.

Hirokazu Suzuki (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of RAAM and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

A post about Suzuki available on the Facebook page of RAAM said: “ He’s done the Race Across the West twice (DNF in 2015, finished in 6th 2016), he was in the 2017 24-Hour Worlds where he finished 9th in the 40-49 group with 392 miles, and the following year he gave it his all in RAAM as only the second from his nation to attempt solo RAAM — the first was Kaname Sakurai who raced four years consecutively in the late 1990s.” It further added, “ As with many of us, Suzuki’s saddle time in recent months has been indoors, “I rode a bicycle 7365 km (4576 miles) by May—all on the indoor trainer (Zwift and Fulgaz). I was thinking of giving up riding a bicycle, but when I heard about the VRAAM, I suddenly decided to resume training.” The disappointment of his RAAM DNF has evidently weighed heavy on Suzuki, “I thought my challenge was over, and I never thought I’d have a chance to get revenge like this. The preparation time is short, but I will do my best. I want to continue cycling.”

The virtual version of RAAM followed the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the real race, announced on April 3. The subsequent virtual race was hosted on FulGaz, an Australian cycling app. Participants pedaled on a home trainer at location of their choice, the distance they logged appearing on screen as movement across the US. RAAM – its route runs from the US west coast to the east – is one of cycling’s toughest endurance races. Bharat, who is a familiar face in ultracycling in India, had been training for RAAM for the past couple of years. His 2019 attempt was prematurely terminated following an injury he sustained while training in the US. The subsequent 2020 attempt appeared lost due to pandemic till it found an extra lease of life in VRAAM. The virtual race – like the real one – had a cut-off of 12 days. The total distance to cover in the real race is approximately 4800km. Bharat did VRAAM in Pune. He had a crew to support him; two of them – Major Sandeep Kumar and Arham Shaikh – took the opportunity to complete VRAW (the virtual version of RAW).

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


From the 2019 100k IAU Asia & Oceania Championships held in Aqaba, Jordan. The Indian women’s team had placed second (Photo: courtesy Sunil Chainani)

This is an article by invitation. Sunil Chainani, marathon runner closely associated with Indian ultra-running teams, writes about the advances Indian women have made in the sport.  

  • At the 2019 100 kilometer IAU (International Association of Ultrarunning) Asia & Oceania Championships, held at Aqaba, Jordan, Anjali Saraogi set a new national best for the distance. She completed the run in nine hours, 22 minutes, breaking her previous record of 9:40:35. At the same course, debutant Nupur Singh ran the 100k in 9:36:15.
  • At the 2019 24-hour World Championships, at Albi, France, Apoorva Chaudhary notched up a distance of 202.211 km, a national best for women in this category of ultra-running event.
  • At the same 24-hour World Championships, Priyanka Bhatt covered a distance of 192.845 km.

In April 2020, RunRepeat.com published a study on trends in ultra-running. The study, done jointly by RunRepeat.com and IAU, analysed over five million results from more than 15,000 ultra-running events spread over the past 23 years.

Among the key findings was an interesting point – women runners were found to be faster than male runners in distances exceeding 195 miles (313.82km). “ The longer the distance the shorter the gender pace gap. In 5Ks men run 17.9% faster than women, at marathon distance the difference is just 11.1%, 100-mile races see the difference shrink to just .25%, and above 195 miles, women are actually 0.6% faster than men,’’ the study said.

Nupur Singh (Photo: courtesy Nupur)

The number of women participating in ultra-running events worldwide had also increased. Overall participation of runners grew steeply, showing a 345 percent increase in the last 10 years. According to the study, currently in ultra-running events, women runners account for 23 percent participation, up from 14 percent, 23 years ago.

Although running as a sport has been around for long, the modern running movement started taking roots in India only by the twenty first century. First off the mark was the craze for the marathon. Till around 2007, ultra-running was a little known sport in India. Participation in greater numbers in this endurance sport has been fairly recent, coinciding with the country’s growing passion for running the marathon. As distance running took off in big cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, the stream of those attempting distances beyond the marathon started to rise, slowly but steadily. From only a handful of ultra-running events a decade ago, the Indian count of events in the space, have grown and we have almost 50 ultra events in the calendar now.

The number of women participating in ultra-running events has risen but continues to be low compared to global levels. Alongside, the standard of performance has improved rapidly, especially that of women. While an increasing number of women were running ultra-running events in India and participating in South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, the biggest ultramarathon in the world, very few were competing in international events till 2016. Unlike in other athletic events, there was no formal Indian participation at regional and world championships.

Priyanka Bhatt (Photo: courtesy Priyanka)

In 2017 India became a member of the IAU; the sport also came under the umbrella of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), the apex body for athletics in the country. In the same year, Indian teams participated in the World Trail and 24-hour Championships.

Till early 2018, even with lower cut-off standards compared to today, India found it tough to get more than one or two women to qualify for the national team. In the last two years things have changed and now we have women competing for places on the team.

Anjali Saraogi’s performance has been remarkable in the arena of ultra-running. She fought illness and injury to keep raising the bar and stay ahead of others several years junior to her. Anjali has repeatedly proved that ‘mind over matter’ is important in ultras. She has scaled great heights in the sport despite being based in Kolkata, a city which has much less of a running culture compared to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Anjali was the star of the Indian team that bagged the silver medal at the Asia & Oceania 100 k championships in Jordan in 2019 – the team came really close to getting gold as we finished in 30:40:33, just 19 minutes behind a strong Australian team. She set a National best of 9:22 at this championship, shaving 18 minutes of her own best time on a tough course where world class athletes were 45-60 minutes slower than their normal times. For Anjali, running is a passion. She believes that destination is but a natural outcome of being focused on the process and journey and her willingness to brave adversities have helped her immensely.

According to her, improvements in her running have always been a part of “following my heart.” Her advice to aspiring women runners is: you will face many challenges but every low is followed by a high. Sometimes, all that we need is patience, self-belief and honesty towards self. The result will be beautiful.

Anjali Saraogi (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Stadium ultras have gained substantial momentum over the past few years and within that the 24-hour stadium runs have witnessed a surge in the participation of women. Initially, our runners were more focussed on surviving the 24 hours with not much focus on timing. But this changed from 2017 when India sent out its first team for the IAU 24-hour World Championships in Belfast.

At the Belfast event, we had the first two Indian women cross the 160 km mark – Meenal Kotak with 160.328 km and Aparna Chaudhary with 169.245 km, which was a national best for 24-hour runs at that time. Aparna’s record lasted barely one year. Meenal broke it with her run of 175.48 km in Bengaluru in August 2018. This was then bettered by Gurgaon-based Apoorva Chaudhary, who ran 176.8 km in December 2018.

Apoorva’s improvement has been truly impressive – she bettered her own mark by an astonishing 15 percent at the IAU 24-hour World Championships, held at Albi, France, in October 2019 and became the first Indian woman to cross the 200 km mark. Equally inspiring was the performance of Priyanka Bhatt, who improved her July 2019 performance of 170 km by almost 23 km at the World Championships. Nine of the top ten 24-hour performances have been achieved between 2018 and now, and we can expect our women to keep raising the bar.

Apoorva attributes her improvement to increased mileage, better nutrition, adequate rest and increased focus on flexibility and strength training. “ I changed mentally by starting to visualize my performance on race day – replacing negative words with positive words. I set challenging goals and focused on achieving them,” she said.

Apoorva Chaudhary (Photo: courtesy Sunil Chainani)

Ultra running requires long hours of training. Given the traffic and weather conditions in our cities, such training is usually possible only early in the morning. Our women athletes face several challenges including work and family pressures, safety while running, lack of training partners and limited access to coaches, sports physiotherapists and nutritionists.

It is extremely heartening to see the emergence of new runners from across the country; competition for places in the Indian teams is getting tougher. Athletes are now training much more scientifically with additional focus on strength training and nutrition.

The performance of these amazing women has led to many more women believing in their abilities and we should hopefully see continued improvement in our standards in the coming years. Provided positive conditions, it is likely that in the next 1-2 years we could see the following marks being achieved by our women ultra-runners:

  • 100 K – 8:30-8:45
  • 24 H – 220-230 km

Listed below are the best performances achieved by our women in different category of races. Almost all the records have been set in the past 12 months and some of the runners from the 2017 and 2018 teams are now finding it tough to qualify.


  1. Anjali Saraogi (2017) – 8:38:23
  2. Gunjan Khurana (2019) – 9:47:42

100 K

  1. Anjali Saraogi (2019) – 9:22:00
  2. Nupur Singh (2019) – 9:36:15
  3. Anjali Saraogi (2018) – 9:40:35
  4. Gunjan Khurana (2019) – 9:57:33
  5. Darishisha Iangdoh (2019) – 10:19:28

(Note – the performance of Anjali, Nupur and Gunjan in 2019 was on a tough course in Jordan where world class athletes from Japan were 45-60 minutes slower than their personal best timings)

24 Hours

  1. Apoorva Chaudhary (2019) – 202.211 km
  2. Priyanka Bhatt (2019) – 192.845 km
  3. Apoorva Chaudhary (2018) – 176.8 km
  4. Bindu Juneja (2020) – 176.67 km
  5. Meenal Kotak (2018) – 175.48 km
  6. Hemlata Saini (2019) – 173.177 km
  7. Deepti Chaudhary (2020) – 171.23 km

(The author, Sunil Chainani, is a Bengaluru-based management consultant and runner. He is a member of the committee appointed by AFI that oversees the selection of Indian ultra teams and has been a support member of Indian teams that participated in recent international events. This article was edited by Latha Venkatraman. The findings of the RunRepeat.com-IAU study may be accessed on this link: https://runrepeat.com/state-of-ultra-running)


This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the film and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

For some of us, lockdown has meant back to basics; courting the life simplified.

To put it in terms of cinema, I found myself avoiding many of the special effects laden, gizmo-totting stuff of recent years lauded for the billions they minted at the box office. Suddenly it felt too much for my ageing processor. Probably because there was anyway COVID-19 around to depress me, I also avoided dystopian themes – be it dystopia by futuristic technology and fascism, or dystopia by stories of annihilation and extinction, some of which incidentally showcase virus attacks. No thank you – one virus is enough. Instead, clean, uncluttered frames of nature and human stories began to appeal. Plus, I found myself happily watching films meant for children; they seemed unabashedly original.

When I read the synopsis of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made on Disney-Hotstar, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into although I sensed the main protagonist with polar bear-partner had an inviting Calvin and Hobbes ring to it. I stared at the still photograph announcing the film for a while and then said, “ affirmative.’’ In I went into the world of Timmy Failure, a boy on the edge of entering middle school, living and breathing the life of a detective. He is very serious about the detective agency he runs from home in partnership with his polar bear-partner, Total; their agency is aptly called Total-Failure Inc. Timmy lives with his mother, who he is close to. Constantly seeing himself as professional detective running a sleuthing agency, he speaks the jargon, dreams of shifting into a bigger office and tells his mother who has a low paying job that his agency will hire her for ten times the salary. That is the Failure ecosystem and the incidents that unravel, form the film’s story. The film is based on Stephen Pastis’s book by the same name; Pastis has authored seven books in the Timmy Failure series.

I loved the movie for its wonderful mix of life and fantasy and its unapologetic portrayal of the same. That word – unapologetic – it is important because when you become middle aged like me and slowly shed the weapons and armour you accrued for living the adult life with its many exigencies (making sense being one), you fully appreciate the value of childhood. That was one phase when you could be yourself and not give a damn, which is the tussle dawning in Timmy’s life – he is on the verge of going to middle school and it could require sacrificing his detective business for the compulsions of normal life. Winslow Fegley plays the title role of Timmy and Ophelia Lovibond appears as his mother Patty (if you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, you will remember her as Kitty Winter from Elementary). Wallace Michael Shawn brings Timmy’s teacher, Frederick Crocus to life while Craig Robinson dons the role of his school counselor Mr Jenkins. The casting is perfect right down to Kei as Charles “ Rollo” Tookus, Timmy’s best friend. This 2020 film is directed by Tom McCarthy (he is a director, screenwriter and actor) whose previous work includes well known films like Up and Spotlight.

Let me restrict myself to saying just this much and suggest instead: watch the movie.

Try it.

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