The 2020 edition of Boston Marathon, originally slated to be held in April and later rescheduled to September, was held as a virtual race over the period September 5 to 14. Runners who had qualified to run at the actual event and registered for the same, were given the option of running the virtual Boston Marathon. The Covid-19 pandemic prompted the organizers of the event, Boston Athletic Association (BAA), to convert it into a virtual race.
We spoke to some of the runners from India, who participated in the virtual race. To mention in particular are two points given the run happened in the shadow of pandemic and lockdown had hampered the regular training of runners. The timings reported are decent despite above said handicaps and at least in Pune and Bengaluru, running groups scouted a good location for the virtual run and backed it with hydration support, even some cheering.
The virtual Boston Marathon was an opportunity for Himanshu Sareen to run a marathon after more than a year. His last marathon was in April 2019. The Mumbai based-amateur runner was set to participate in the Tokyo Marathon, Barcelona Marathon and Boston Marathon in 2020. All these events were cancelled and Boston Marathon was converted into a virtual race. Had the actual race taken place, it would have been his third Boston Marathon.
Himanshu’s training in the months preceding the virtual Boston Marathon was focused on two aspects – general fitness and improving speed. “ My coach Ashok Nath drafted a multi-pronged training plan that incorporated speed, fitness and participation in virtual races,” Himanshu said.
For the virtual event, he chose to run close to his place of stay. “There are two roads of one kilometer each in my neighborhood. My plan was to run on these roads in a loop,” he said. The window for the virtual run spanned September 5 to 14; you could run anytime within these dates.
Running on September 13, 2020, Himanshu commenced his marathon a little after 6AM. Initially he had to restrict himself to a 500 meter-loop as overnight rains had resulted in puddles on one of the roads.
“ I ran quite strongly till the 26 kilometre mark. After that I slowed down as I was going too fast. Mumbai’s weather is not conducive for running fast. The second half of the run was tough,” he said. In the early phase of the run, he supported himself with water and energy drinks stationed along the loop. But soon some runners, the security guards of his building and his wife Shweta joined in to help; they handed out hydration. Himanshu completed his marathon in 2:58. He is now set to run the virtual New York City Marathon.
Bengaluru-based Syed Atif Umar had registered to run his first Boston Marathon this year. Like many others he had to eventually opt for the virtual race. Atif has been running for the last 10 years. He has participated in many races including marathons and the occasional ultramarathon.
He chose to run the virtual Boston Marathon on his treadmill. “ I created a playlist with 42 songs,” he said. He completed the marathon in 2:56:42, a new personal best for him. His previous best for the marathon was 3:01 early this year.
Pune-based runner, Tanmaya Karmarkar had planned to run at a pace of 4.40. She was going as per her pace plan but around the 14th kilometer, she started to feel sick after she consumed her second gel. Her pace progressively declined. Tanmaya switched to water and began to feel better.
A running group in Pune had chalked out a route for the virtual Boston Marathon runners. It entailed running along a flat 10 kilometer-loop. “ Weather was quite hot and humid. We had to keep pouring water on ourselves to stay cool,” she said.
According to her, the support of other runners and friends was invaluable. “ Many people went out of their way to help me. Even people I met for the first time were all out to support us – I am really grateful and touched by this gesture from fellow runners,” she said. She finished the run in 3:27:43.
Army doctor and recreational runner, Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaram, decided to run the virtual Boston Marathon in Pune. The city’s weather and the fact that a local runners’ group had organized support for those participating in the virtual Boston Marathon prompted him to travel to Pune from Delhi for the run.
He started the run at 4.30AM running along the earlier mentioned flat 10 kilometer-loop. After the first loop, he was paced by runners Krishna Sirothia and Kavitha Reddy. “ Although tired, I was happy I did not have any aches and was able to gather pace through the last miles to finish within my intended target,” he said. He finished the marathon in 3:47:43.
Septuagenarian Kumar Rao had trained moderately well for the virtual Boston Marathon. Running on his treadmill, he had a good run over the first 25 kilometers. But subsequently, some stomach discomfort and cramps forced him to mix the running with walking. “ After about 33 kilometers, I began to have difficulty in running tall. I changed my shoes. However it gave me just minor relief,” he said. He covered the distance in 4:24:36.
A notable aspect in Pune and Bengaluru was how runners approached the virtual run in a structured way, finding a good loop that they can run on and then backing it with hydration support and fellow runners to extend the occasional need for pacing and motivation. They even had bibs, banners and an element of cheering. In Pune, a group of runners decided to organize a support-run for those running the virtual Boston Marathon. Kavitha Reddy, one of the country’s best recreational runners, was among those helping out with this informal arrangement. “ It was a small gesture to make it a memorable run for those participating in the virtual Boston Marathon,” Kavitha said. Some of the runners helped in printing flex tapes to impart the feel of a real race. “ It was easy to manage the logistics for this run as the number of runners was small,” Kavitha said.
In Bengaluru, Pacemakers, a marathon training group, had been organizing training runs with hydration support for its runners periodically. In August, the group had organized a 21 kilometer-training run for its members. “ These runs were organized primarily to keep the runners motivated,” Deepti Karthik said. Five runners from the group were running the virtual Boston Marathon. The team at Pacemakers thought it fit to organize a similarly supported training run that would also cater to the Boston Marathon runners. “ A couple of runners from outside Bengaluru who were running the virtual Boston Marathon also joined in,” Deepti said. Members of Pacemakers volunteered to manage the hydration support. “ We followed all safety norms needed for this pandemic. We ensured that there was no contact during the handing out of hydration. Also, we chose a route with wide roads and minimum traffic to help maintain adequate physical distance between runners,” she said.
Running in Bengaluru, Deepti commenced her virtual Boston Marathon at 4:45AM on September 13, 2020. Weather was conducive with light drizzle throughout the duration of her run. But she had some stomach issues during the run. Runners were slated to run along a 5.6 kilometer-loop; the loop was later extended to 10.5 kilometers. “ Every 2.5 kilometers, there was a hydration station. Also, volunteers and even people to cheer you on made the entire experience a happy one,” she said. She finished the run in 4:13:31.
Bengaluru-based runner, Murthy R K, decided to run the virtual Boston Marathon near his place of residence at Kanakpura Road.
He had scheduled his run for September 12, 2020. Founder of Ashva Fitness Club, Murthy and his team created bibs and posters for the run. On September 12, Murthy ran the marathon, supported by many of his team members. But cramps during the run forced him to pause for breaks; he finished in 3:28.
Unhappy with his timing, Murthy decided to make one more attempt two days later, on September 14, the last day of the virtual Boston Marathon. He set out early and opted to run in a new residential area close to his home. He took a break every 10 kilometers. “ At the 36 kilometer-mark, I began to feel the cramps coming on. I just told myself I have only six kilometers to go,” he said. He finished the run in 3:10:09, a new personal best.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)