IT’S TIME FOR THE VIRTUAL BOSTON MARATHON

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The Boston Marathon, held every year in April, inspires hundreds of runners around the world to qualify for it and participate. Its 2020 edition was cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first such cancellation in the history of the 124 year-old event.

In lieu of the real race, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) has offered the virtual Boston Marathon experience. Running the virtual Boston Marathon won’t fully compensate for missing the actual event and the ambiance it is famous for. It will be akin to a long training run, some of the runners we spoke to, said. The promise of a finisher’s medal is a positive in the package. Under the circumstances, the virtual run is the best alternative available.

Around the world, runners are planning to partake in the event in small groups with runs over short loops to maintain the protocols necessary for these times of pandemic. Training for the virtual event, some said, has not been close to levels seen ahead of real races. Participating in the virtual run is aimed at keeping motivation levels high. Meanwhile pending further notice, registration for the 2021 edition of the Boston Marathon has been postponed. The report concerned may be accessed on this blog under the post titled: At a Glance / September 2020.

Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan Jayaraman)

The 2020 edition of Boston Marathon was to be Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaraman’s first Boston Marathon outing.

An army doctor, Muthukrishnan had qualified for Boston Marathon three times. He was able to get a berth in the 2020 edition of the race. Boston Marathon has stringent entry norms and attracts some of the best amateur marathon runners from around the world.

Initially slated to be held on April 20, 2020, the race was postponed to September 14, 2020. But with mass participation events being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers opted to hold it as a virtual race, which can be run anytime during the period September 5 to 14.

A resident of Delhi, Muthukrishnan was able to train moderately well. “ But obviously, the training is not with a target in mind. Also, it has not been as strict as it would have been for a real race,” he said. Muthukrishnan will be travelling to Pune to do his Boston Marathon virtual run on September 13, 2020.

Tanmaya Karmarkar (Photo: courtesy Tanmaya)

Pune-based Tanmaya Karmarkar was to run her second Boston Marathon this year. With the event cancelled, she settled for running the virtual race. “ I have been doing training runs through this lockdown but structured training commenced only a month ago,” she said. She decided to run the virtual race as it would give her an opportunity to run an event in the absence of any physical races in the near future.

She along with a few Pune-based runners has chosen a route that offers a 10.5 kilometer-loop. Muthukrishnan will be joining these runners in Pune. Boston Marathon’s virtual event is open only to runners who had registered for the 2020 edition. They were required to register again for the virtual event.

The virtual Boston Marathon taking place from September 5 to 14, allows participants to run on treadmill or outside. The marathon has to be completed in six hours. Performance in the virtual marathon will not be accepted as qualification for Boston Marathon 2021.

Ashoke Sharma (Photo: courtesy Ashoke)

Ashoke Sharma, a Gurgaon-based recreational runner, was to run his first Boston Marathon this year. His training for the virtual event has not been as meticulous as it would have been for an actual race. The weather in Gurgaon was also far from conducive to do race pace training, he pointed out.

“ My aim is to complete the run,” he said. Ashoke will be travelling to Bengaluru to do the virtual Boston Marathon. He plans to run the marathon on a route charted by the Bengaluru-based marathon training group, Pacemakers. “ I think they have chosen a traffic-free route near the airport,” he said. Once done with Boston Marathon, Ashoke will be stepping up his training for the virtual New York City Marathon.

Like Ashoke, Wing Commander Parag Dongre (retd) was also set to run his first Boston Marathon this year. Parag had trained for the April race and then resumed training after lockdown induced-break, for September’s virtual event. “ In Pune, we lost some days of training because of another stringent lockdown spanning 15-20 days,” Parag said.

Parag Dongre (Photo: courtesy Parag)

“ Training runs are often done in the company of many runners but because of the physical distancing norms, we had to run alone. I have done a few 30 km and 35 km training runs all by myself,” Parag said.

At the time of writing, he was yet to decide on the date of his virtual Boston Marathon. Post retirement from the Indian Air Force, he works as a helicopter pilot for B.G. Shirke Construction Company. “ I am waiting for my duty schedule to come up before I decide my day for running,” he said.

“ My training has been okay though not as well as I would have liked it to be,” Deepti Karthik, a recreational runner based in Bengaluru, said. The 2020 edition of Boston Marathon was to be her first appearance at the race. “ The virtual Boston Marathon is obviously not the same as the real race. At best, it may feel like a long training run,” she said. Deepti will be running the virtual event on September 13, along with other runners of Pacemakers.

Deepti Karthik (Photo: courtesy Deepti)

“ Pacemakers has chosen a route near the airport for the virtual event. Runners will be running in a loop of 5.6 km,” she said.

Kumar Rao, also from Bengaluru, will however be running on his treadmill. “ I will be running on the treadmill on September 12. I use the Stryd footpod with Garmin 935 for accurate measurement of pace and distance,” he said.

His training for this virtual race was entirely on the treadmill at home. “ I am looking to improve on last year’s timing of 3:59:33 hours and the age group rank of 18,” he said adding that he would work on a 3:55 finish. He just completed 10 weeks of specific training for this marathon. His training volume has been around 75 to 85 km per week. Kumar has also registered for the virtual New York City Marathon.

Kumar Rao (Photo: courtesy Kumar Rao)

The pandemic related lockdown forced Kumar to train entirely indoors on his treadmill. He complemented it with home-based fitness programs including strength training. He plans to step outside for his training runs once he is done with the virtual Boston Marathon.

Murthy R K, also from Bengaluru, plans to run the virtual race on September 12. Murthy’s training for the run has been moderately good though not as good as it would have been for the real event. He plans to run the virtual race without any target in mind. Murthy had been training hard for several years to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He was able to obtain a berth for the 2020 edition of the race but unfortunately the event got cancelled due to COVID-19. Disappointed, Murthy decided to run the virtual race instead. “ I do not have any target in mind. Nevertheless, I plan to do a good run,” he said.

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

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