PETER MUIR IS NEW PRESIDENT OF UIAA, AMIT CHOWDHURY ELECTED TO EXECUTIVE BOARD

Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury (Photo: courtesy Amit Chowdhury)

Peter Muir from the Alpine Club of Canada is the new president of the UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation.

He is the fourteenth president of climbing’s apex body worldwide and the second person to occupy that position from Canada, a statement available on the website of UIAA said. The elections were held on October 24, 2020; it was the federation’s first ever online general assembly.

Amit Chowdhury of India was elected to the federation’s executive board.

The board is a top body within the organizational structure of UIAA.  “ The Board is elected for a four-year period and consists of the President, Vice-President, Secretary General, Treasurer and currently three other members. Together they carry out the decisions made by the General Assembly, control finances and support both the commissions and office staff,’’ the UIAA website said on the role of the executive board.

Chowdhury is the first Indian to be elected to the executive board. Before his election to the board this year, he was a member of UIAA’s management committee. Earlier still, Colonel H. S Chauhan (he was president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation [IMF] from 2011-2019) had served a tenure as member of the same committee. Chowdhury is a past vice president (2013-2017) and honorary secretary (2011-2013) of the IMF. Incidentally, he was also a candidate – one of three in the fray – in the October 2020 elections for the post of UIAA president.

Peter Muir will lead an executive board comprised of Lode Beckers (Belgium /elected in 2019), Zoljargal Banzragch (Mongolia /elected in 2019), Amit Chowdhury (India /elected in 2020), Mahmood Hashemi (Iran /elected in 2019), Martin Lascano (Argentina /elected in 2020) and Françoise Jaquet (Switzerland / elected in 2020).

According to the earlier mentioned UIAA statement, Muir succeeds Frits Vrijlandt, Royal Dutch Climbing and Mountaineering Club (NKBV), Netherlands as the federation’s president. “ Vrijlandt’s second and, as defined in the UIAA Articles of Association, final four-year term came to an end at this year’s General Assembly,’’ the statement explained.

While Muir was elected the federation’s new president on October 24, the other office bearers of the executive board will be decided at a meeting of October 30, Chowdhury said when contacted. Chowdhury had been serving as chair of UIAA’s safety commission since 2017. With his election to the executive board, he will be relinquishing his position at the safety commission, he said.

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

PERES JEPCHIRCHIR SETS NEW WORLD RECORD IN WOMEN’S HALF MARATHON

Peres Jepchirchir (This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir set a new world in the women only half marathon, sprinting to a close finish in the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships held in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday, October 17, 2020. She clocked 1:05:16. Second place went to Melat Kejeta of Germany, who finished in 1:05:18 (a new women only European record) while Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia finished third in 1:05:19 (a personal best).

Notably all three athletes improved upon the previous world record for the category (a report on the website of World Athletics said that the top six women finished in under-66 minutes and the top nine within 67). Plus, as per the race commentary, there were several personal bests in the timings returned by the top 30 finishers. It was only in early September that Jepchirchir had broken the women-only race world record in the half marathon clocking 1:05:34 for the distance in Prague, improving upon the previous record of 1:06:11 set by Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2018. Earlier still, at the 2016 edition of the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, UK, she had set a then world record of 1:07:31.

In the men’s half marathon in Gdynia, Uganda got its first individual medal at the event as 19 year-old Jacob Kiplimo provided a progressively fast finish to an initially slow race, covering the distance comfortably in 58:49. It was a new championship record and a national record for Uganda. Second place went to Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie (58:54); Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn (59:08) finished third. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei (59:21), on whom the pre-race arc lights had focused, finished fourth in his maiden half marathon. According to the race report by World Athletics, the first ten runners finished within 60 minutes, a first for the event and only the second time it has ever happened.  

The women’s half marathon was a fast race, surprising given what was initially expected from the course specially designed for a half marathon amid pandemic. The event was rescheduled from its original date in March and the course – a five kilometer-loop – was adapted to ensure any potential risks are kept to a minimum. “ The course takes in some of the main roads in the city center with a slight uphill section along Swietojanska Street, then the final stretch heads back down towards the sea with the finish line located on the main city beach in Gdynia,’’ a write-up dated October 13, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said. It wasn’t a flat, fast course all through; the type preferred for record breaking attempts. According to the race commentators, it had seven corners including a brief but slightly sharp downhill and a U-turn. Saturday’s timings in the women’s half marathon were despite this. On the other hand, weather conditions were very good.

It was also a race fraught with incidents. Very early itself a block of 10-12 runners, mostly from East Africa, shot off to be lead pack by a significant margin. The first five kilometers went by in 15:20; it was the first hint of likely world record breaking performance. Setting the pace at this stage was Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei. By 18:00 the first of the casualties caused by the blistering pace manifested with an Ethiopian runner coming lose off the pack and trailing. At 26:00, there were three Ethiopian runners tucked comfortably into the lead pack running at the shoulders of the Kenyans setting the pace. Notwithstanding the sizable gap between the leaders and the rest, there was active running right through the ranks for there were team positions at stake. At around 28:50, at the sharp corner at the base of the slightly steep downhill, the first incident occurred in the lead pack – defending champion Netsanet Gudeta seemed to skid slightly; she fell down. She picked herself up quickly and continued running but given the pace, a significant gap had already opened up between her and the lead pack. For her, it was race lost, right there. At the 2018 edition of the event, she had won in world record time of 1:06:11.

At about 40:01, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya began to accelerate. At 48:00, the lead runners entered the final lap. Around 50:15, the Ethiopians, who had been running efficiently at the shoulders of the Kenyans, appeared to move ahead; they formed two of the three runners (the other being Kenyan) forming the front wall of the lead pack. The strongest runner at this stage seemed to be Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia. At around 54:00, amid the bunching of runners in the lead pack, Yeshaneh and Jepkosgei came too close to each other; they stumbled and went down. At 1:00:00, it was Kenya’s Jepchirchir and Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia who were running stride for stride up front, closely followed by Kejeta of Germany. It was a tight trio with Yehualaw looking strong. At roughly 1:05:00, Jepchirchir surged past the Ethiopian runner who later suffered a minor stumble some 50 meters from the finish line costing her the second spot. The final race results played out as mentioned earlier.

Jacob Kiplimo (This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Unlike the women’s race, the men’s half marathon took time to gather pace. For much of the first half of the race, the lead pack was relatively big and separated from the rest of the runners by a series of not-so-significant gaps. The slow pace of this stage (puzzling given how fast the women had run and weather conditions continued to be good) was theorized to potentially favor a top notch track athlete like Cheptegei, who had come to the event after a couple of record breaking performances. Although this was his first appearance at a half marathon, in his training for the event, he had put in distances of up to 35 kilometers. Around 29:00 Cheptegei began to slowly pull ahead. But till 35:10, it was an unclear lead as at various points Cheptegei, Andamlak Belihu of Ethiopia, Kiplimo and South Africa’s Stephen Mokoka exchanged leads. By around 38:24, as Kandie took the lead, Cheptegei had slipped to tenth position although with bridgeable gap to the front. However at around 44:20, even as he had moved up to third place the runners in front were increasing the gap to levels where the commentators wondered whether the race was slowly slipping away from Cheptegei. The second half of the race was quite fast. By 45:24, Kiplimo had taken the lead and having settled into that slot (he lost it temporarily by a slender margin to Kandei at around 52:30), proceeded to steadily crank up the pace. Eventually, Walelegn too got past Cheptegei, producing the final results as they played out.      

The event featured ranking by team as well. “ Team results are decided by the aggregate of times recorded by the first three finishers of each team. The team with the fastest aggregate time will be judged the winner,’’ the write-up dated October 13, on the website of World Athletics, said. According to it prizes would be awarded to the top six individuals and the top six teams in both races. “ A US$50,000 bonus will be awarded to any athlete who breaks a world record,’’ the write-up said. In Gdynia, the top teams from the men’s category were Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda in that order. On the women’s side, the final pecking order was Ethiopia, Kenya and Germany. Starting August 2020, despite the impact of pandemic and lockdown on training and events, there has been a spate of new world records in distance running. Disciplines which witnessed such performances include the men’s 5000 meters and 10,000 meters, women’s 5000 meters, one hour-run for both genders and the women only half marathon,

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

LEADING ROCK CLIMBERS SPEAK UP ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On October 8, 2020, well-known free soloist Alex Honnold highlighted the need for action on the subject of climate change in an article published in Climbing. He begins the piece by pointing out how he spent half a dozen years imagining his project to climb the massive rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite, alone and with no ropes. After prolonged contemplation, he realized that the climb wouldn’t happen unless there was concrete action from his side.    

“ I see a real parallel to climate change. It’s the apex issue facing our generation—an issue that feels too big and too complex to act on. It’s all encompassing, impacting almost every other environmental issue that we currently face. And it’s incredibly urgent, with most scientists agreeing that as a global community we only have until 2030 to make meaningful changes before the worst effects of warming are permanently baked into our future. The scope of the problem is frightening, and the sense of dread that accompanies it can easily lead to apathy. That’s why I spent six years thinking about soloing El Cap, but not doing it—it seemed entirely too scary to act. But that lack of action didn’t serve me. Ultimately, I had to overcome my fear and start making concrete steps towards my goal,’’ Honnold writes in the piece, which argues against continued extraction of fossil fuels.

According to him, “ corporate interests have essentially privatized the profits of fossil fuel extraction while socializing the cost of pollution. These barriers can make it feel as though change isn’t possible on the individual level.’’ Further even as individual actions (travel less, eat less meat, have fewer kids, and vote) matters, the pressing need is to address fossil fuel extraction. Honnold argues that decreasing the funding for dirty technologies is the best way out. To this end he suggests that everyone choose their bank carefully. Banks loan the bulk of the capital they raise and within that world, lending for fossil fuel extraction has grown significantly after the 2016 Paris Agreement (on measures to control climate change). “ Being deliberate and choosing a sustainable bank is key,’’ he writes. To read the full article please click on this link: https://www.climbing.com/news/alex-honnold-climate-change-is-urgent-we-need-to-decrease-extraction-now/

Roughly a week after Honnold’s piece appeared, on October 14, 2020, another well-known climber Tommy Caldwell, published an article on climate change and the need for urgent action. Writing in Rock and Ice, he couched his arguments in the reality of climbing in the western United States, where ongoing climate change has annually sparked huge forest fires.  “ Right now, the American West is blanketed in smoke from forest fires, a direct result of our changing climate. Fire season is now longer and more intense. In years past, I’ve been evacuated from my home in Colorado twice due to the threat of fire. As a climber, I spend a lot of time hanging off granite walls from Yosemite to the Rockies. It’s from those unique vantage points that I’ve gained perspective on what’s happening to our climate,’’ Caldwell says, adding “ I’ve seen an increase in dangerous rockfall attributed to warming temperatures and I’ve watched as wintertime climbing routes disappear completely due to snowmelt. Ouray, Colorado, one of the most famous ice-climbing spots in America, is rapidly losing ice, which could render ice climbing there a thing of the past.’’

Caldwell appeared clear that change won’t happen unless the right people are voted to power. “ My kids, who are four and seven, are in for a much tougher world. I’m trying to do everything I can to prepare them but also to minimize the harshness that could become their reality,’’ Caldwell says. To read this article in full, please click on this link: https://rockandice.com/climbing-news/tommy-caldwell-trump-is-going-to-ruin-rock-climbing/

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

GIRO D’ITALIA: A BRIEF INSIGHT

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

This is an article by invitation. Nigel Smith is currently Head Coach of Kanakia Scott Racing Development. In this piece, he provides an overview of the Giro d’Italia, one of road cycling’s three Grand Tours. Nigel is a Level 3 Cycling Coach, accredited through his National Federation, British Cycling, in the UK. He is based in Mumbai.

The 2020 edition of the Giro d’Italia is currently well underway.

The unusual global situation has created an even more unusual race.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event’s regular calendar slot of mid-May was shifted to October. This created various knock-on anomalies whereby riders who, at the beginning of the year were focussed on the ` traditional’ Grand Tour calendar of Italy (May), France (July) and Spain (September), have found themselves having to totally re-align their training to a heavily back-loaded calendar of events. Additionally, the climatic challenges faced in Italy at this time of the year are not what riders typically expect, the wind and rain atop the `mere’ 1658m stage 9 finish at Roccaraso was clear to see. Rain and autumnal leaves swirled across the road, in contrast to the melting snow we sometimes see in May.

But how important is the Giro d’Italia? Where does it rank in relation to other races? What is its difficulty in relation to other stage races? What is its history?

Let’s first establish what a ` Grand Tour’ is in cycling parlance. A Grand Tour is a three-week stage race (actually held over 23 days as there are two rest days) consisting of 21 stages over various types of road terrain. There are usually (but not exclusively) 5-6 ` high mountain’ stages, 6-7 ` intermediate’ (rolling) stages, 5-6 ` flat’ stages and a couple of individual time trials (sometimes there’s a team time trial as well).

In road cycling, there are only three Grand Tours – the eldest and most famous is the Tour de France, first held in 1903 and the most widely recognised and followed bike race in the world. Italy’s equivalent, the Giro d’Italia, is only six years younger than its French cousin, first held in 1909. The third, and youngest, Grand Tour is Spain’s Vuelta a España; a mere 85 years old.

The teams that compete in the Grand Tours will always be the same 18-19 ` World Tour’ teams. These teams make up the equivalent `Premier League’ of teams and compete at all the prestigious one day races, stage races and Grand Tours. The start list is then usually bolstered by 3-4 local pro teams from the second tier ` Pro Conti’ division.

So, what of the Giro’s importance? To the fans, it is generally a close second to the Tour de France. To the riders, it’s a Grand Tour – they covet a Maglia Rosa (` pink jersey’ awarded to the leader) almost as much as a Maillot Jaune (` yellow jersey’, awarded to the leader of the Tour de France). But if you’re a ` Grand Tour’ specialist (example: in recent times the likes of Spain’s Alberto Contador, the British-Kenyan cycling ace Chris Froome and Columbia’s Egan Bernal) then winning three week stage races is what you’re paid to do and winning all three cements your name in the history books (only six riders have achieved it).

How hard is the Giro? It’s easily as hard as its two counterparts. The Giro has recently – over the past 10 years – tried to create its own ` niche’ by incorporating brutally hard (and now iconic) mountain passes. The Stelvio, The Mortirolo, The Gavia and The Zoncolan are all now sought out and conquered by amateur enthusiasts, just as the French L’Alpe D’Huez, Tourmalet and Mt Ventoux are every year. Each Italian climb has its own unique character, whether it’s the height of the Stelvio (2758m), average gradient of the Mortirolo (12.5kms at an average of 10.4 per cent!) or the maximum gradient of the Zoncolan (20 per cent).

While France has access to two main mountain ranges – the Alps and the Pyrenees, Italy borders the Alps across its northernmost regions and has its own range – the Dolomites in the country’s uppermost north east region.

To the Italians (fans and riders alike), the Giro will always be the most important race on the calendar. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 33rd edition in 1950 that a non-Italian (the Swiss, Hugo Koblet) won. Through the 1980s, the race was big enough to satisfy the aspirations of most Italian cyclists and produced some epic home-grown battles, notably the one between Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni, interspersed with non-Italians making their own history (the Frenchman Bernard Hinault won in ’80, ’82 and ’85 – one of the fabled ` six’ to have won all three grand tours).

Giro d’Italia (This 2018 photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purposes. No copyright infringement intended)

The race also has its share of controversy. In 1984, local favourite Francesco Moser finally won, beating French favourite Laurent Fignon to second place but only after accusations of drafting behind team cars and being pushed up the mountains; not to mention – the race’s highest summit stage, over the Stelvio, getting mysteriously cancelled due to (non-existent) snowfall (it was later claimed that Moser would lose too much time to Fignon over the Stelvio and so the organisers concocted a reason to avoid it).

In 1987, Ireland’s Stephen Roche invoked the ire of not only the partisan ` Tifosi’ (the name given to the Italian fans) but also the majority of his own team (the Italian Carrera Team) and especially his Italian team-mate (and Tifosi favourite) Roberto Visentini, by riding off the front of the bunch and gaining time on his own team-mate. He was to hold the advantage all the way to the finish, enduring taunts, abuse, physical punches and spitting.

More recently, who can forget Chris Froome’s superb 80km attack on stage 19 of the 2018 race to propel himself into the lead, which he held onto, thus claiming his first Giro victory and seventh Grand Tour (and becoming the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours).

Like the Tour de France, the Giro has looked to broaden its appeal and global reach by starting outside its own borders. Recently it visited Israel, Holland, the UK and Denmark to name four. However, just like the Tour de France showcases Paris in the final stage, the Giro always finishes in Milan against a backdrop of much Italian fanfare.

As the sport continues to find ways to extend its global reach and engage new audiences, we as fans can sit back and marvel at our favourite teams and some of the biggest names in the sport do battle over iconic stretches of road. It inspires us further to ride our bikes. We will always have our preferences and favourites in terms of events, but as long as I can tune into live cycling coverage for three weeks at a time, three times a year, I don’t mind where the racing comes from!

(The author, Nigel Smith, is the Head Coach of Kanakia Scott Racing Development. For more on Nigel please click on these links: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/06/16/there-is-no-reason-why-that-structure-cannot-exist-in-india/ &  https://shyamgopan.com/2018/12/22/if-a-rider-still-wants-to-be-part-of-the-team-the-door-is-open-nigel-smith-head-coach-scott-sports-india/)

AT A GLANCE / OCTOBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

New world records ratified

The new world records set in early September by Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) and Mo Farah (UK), have been ratified, World Athletics informed in a statement dated October 12, 2020, available on their website.

“ Jepchirchir’s 1:05:34 women-only world half marathon record and the one-hour world records from Hassan (18,930m) and Mo Farah (21,330m) are now official,’’ the statement said. Jepchirchir had produced her record-breaking run on September 5, 2020 at the Prague 21.1KM, an invitational-only elite half marathon held on a 16.5-lap course in Letna Park in the Czech capital. Hassan and Farah stormed into the record books at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels on September 4, the night before Jepchirchir’s race in Prague.

These records fall in the category of sterling performances reported amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled mass participation events and upset the staging schedule of competitions worldwide. The first major world record in athletics, in this context, was Joshua Cheptegei’s new mark in the 5000 meters track race for men, set on August 14, 2020. The Ugandan athlete covered the distance in 12:35:36. In October, Cheptegei rewrote the time taken for the track based-10,000 meters, when he set a new world record of 26:11:00. At the same event in Valencia, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in the 5000 meters for women, completing the race in 14:06:62.

Pocket Outdoor Media Acquires Big Stone Publishing

Outdoor enthusiasts, climbers and those into endurance sports in India would be familiar with publications like Climbing, Rock and Ice, Backpacker, Trail Runner and VeloNews. A recent acquisition in the publishing world has brought these titles under one roof.

Early October 2020, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) announced its takeover of Big Stone Publishing (BSP). Both companies are based in the US. POM has in its fold titles like Climbing, Backpacker, Women’s Running, Triathlete, Yoga Journal, Clean Eating, VeloNews and SKI. BSP’s list of publications included Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, ASCENT, Gym Climber and Dirt.

In a related statement available on the website of POM, its CEO Robin Thurston has said, “ this acquisition significantly strengthens our ability to engage with outdoor enthusiasts across all of the seasons and sports that live at the intersection of adrenaline and adventure. By merging Rock & Ice into Climbing, we’ll be better positioned to deliver exceptional content and cover all of the sport’s disciplines—trad, sport, gym, and alpine climbing—in ways not possible before. Similarly, Trail Runner broadens our running portfolio, adding the dominant title in the sport’s fastest-growing discipline.”

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

COVID-19: THE DAY AFTER IN RECOVERY AND RUNNING

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

For a while now, the world has been grappling with a pandemic necessitating lockdown, use of masks, physical distancing and other health protocols. Runners were among those affected by COVID-19. Experiences have varied. Some had a robust engagement with the virus; some others had a brush with it.

The general observation is that the recovery phase has to be dealt with carefully so as not to trigger any further health complications. Resumption of running or any sort of heavy training post COVID-19 has to be slow and cautious, doctors said. Runners have also been advised by their coaches to recommence training gradually, keeping in mind the varying degrees to which the virus has impacted people.

We spoke to a few runners who contracted COVID-19 about their journey through the infection and their return to physical activity. We also spoke to a couple of coaches for their suggestions on how runners, who recovered from COVID-19, may manage their return to running. For a complete overview, please read this article in conjunction with the piece by doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, available on this blog.

Dhruv Dubey (Photo: courtesy Dhruv)

July 3, 2020 – Dhruv Dubey remembers that date well. A recreational runner from Kolkata, he had set a personal mileage target of 3000 kilometers for 2020. In 2019, he had covered a distance of 2100 km. He felt the urge to increase the distance this year.

But the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced change of plans. Once the initial stringent lockdown was over, Dhruv explored running outdoors and managed to cover fairly good mileage during the months of May and June. But in early July, a setback occurred. On July 3 he got a fever. He waited for a couple of days but the fever did not subside. He began to lose his sense of smell. A test proved that he was COVID-19 positive. He was allowed home quarantine.

“ I had fever for about nine days. After my fever subsided, I had some lung issues. My lungs were affected. My VO2 max came down to 40 from my peak of 47 ml / kg/ min,” he said. Despite recovering from the infection, Dhruv continued to experience weakness. “ On July 26, I started my fitness regimen but felt very tired,” he said. He gave it some more days. By the time he was able to get back to some level of activity, almost a month had passed since the first onset of fever. “ I started with the home gym and then I slowly started running, attempting very short distances with many walk-breaks in between,” Dhruv said.

Slowly, he began inching up his running mileage. He also resorted to pranayama (practice of breath control in yoga). He felt the improvement with every passing day. “ My lung exhalation capacity improved,” he said. A vegetarian, Dhruv paid attention to his food intake and also took supplements, which aided the recovery. August was mostly focused on stepping out of the house, walking and light jogging. September was a better month in terms of his fitness workouts. His improving health has helped him get back to a training plan devised by his coach Ashok Nath.

“ I did an easy 21 kilometer-run last weekend. I was able to complete it without taking a walk-break,” Dhruv said, late September. He was able to complete the run in two hours, 32 minutes compared to his personal best of 1:58 for the half marathon distance. He believes his sustained focus on fitness, nutrition and overall health over the past few years helped him tide over COVID-19 and get back to running.

Kamalaksha Rao (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Hennur Bamboo Ultra)

During the initial days of the lockdown in Mumbai, Kamalaksha Rao, 73, stayed indoors but kept up his workout regimen, including running inside his apartment. When the lockdown norms began to ease, he stepped out to run.

On the morning of July 11, 2020, he ran a distance of 21 kilometers. That evening he came down with fever and body ache. “ I took a pill but the body ache persisted for the next two days. I also began experiencing loss of smell. I went to a doctor, who suggested that I do a COVID-19 test,” Kamalaksha said. He tested positive.

Although the civic authorities suggested home quarantine for him, he decided to get admitted to a hospital as his granddaughter lives with him. “ I was in Vivanta Hospital, Malad, for six days. From there, I shifted to a COVID care center where I stayed for three days. I then shifted to my neighbour’s apartment, which was vacant. I stayed there alone for 11 days,” he said. Following this long stretch of time, he tested negative for COVID-19.

He commenced his physical activities with walking and slow jogging. “ COVID affects joints and muscles. I was told by doctors to keep moving. When I was at the COVID care center, the people managing it would ask everyone to keep walking,” he said. Kamalaksha also consulted a cardiologist as he wanted to get back to running. Following that he resumed running but at a very slow pace. Every Sunday he would increase the distance he was running. He also had a small goal he was gravitating to – he hoped to run 42.2 kilometers during the Virtual London Marathon of October 4, 2020. He planned to run close to his residence in Malad. On race day, Kamalaksha started his run at 4.40 AM. The septuagenarian ran the first half of the marathon and walked the next 21 kilometers. He had a target of finishing in eight hours. He finished in 7:20 hours. “ It was a self-supported run. I had carried a bag. During the run, I had two gels and two nutrition bars,” he said. He planned to do recovery walks over the next few days.

Rachna Bhatnagar (Photo: courtesy Rachna)

Rachna Bhatnagar, a resident of Kharghar in Navi Mumbai, took to recreational running about a year and a half ago. She joined LifePacers, a Navi Mumbai-based marathon training group and in the ensuing period ran many 10-kilometer-races. Through the lockdown period, Rachna kept up her home fitness regimen, which included a series of workouts. She contracted COVID-19 in the fourth week of June.

“ My husband got fever first. Then I got throat ache and headache. My son also got fever and experienced loss of taste and some breathing issues,” she said. All three of them tested positive and were admitted to a hospital. While at hospital, Rachna did suryanamaskar (yoga), starting with two sets a day. She increased the counts daily. She also walked for ten minutes daily and did some stretches. Ten days later, Rachna tested negative. “ After I came home, I did another test, which was again negative,” she said.

In the initial days, post-COVID-19, she experienced tiredness. “ In the early phase after recovering from the disease, if I did housework for ten minutes I needed to take 20 minutes rest. That’s when I increased fluids intake. In one week I recovered,” she said. She commenced walking and took to slow running interspersed with walk-breaks. “ I have slowly increased my distance. Now, I walk-jog for about 10 kilometers and jog-run for up to seven kilometers,” she said. According to her, managing recovery is the crucial element in the stage following disease and the body’s battle with the virus. “ It is essential to stay positive. I kept away from negative people and negative news. The whole recovery process is a mind game,” she said.

Arun Waghukar (Photo: courtesy Arun)

As of early October, Arun Waghukar, a runner from Kamothe, Navi Mumbai, was back at work. When we spoke to him for this article, he was still in the recovery phase after contracting COVID-19. “ I had a toothache and kept avoiding going to a dentist. But I finally had to visit the dentist as the toothache got severe. I had four sittings with the dentist. Three days later, after my last dentist session, I developed symptoms – body ache and fever,” Arun said.

With some pills prescribed by a doctor, his fever disappeared but the body ache persisted. He tested positive for COVID-19. An employee of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), he was admitted to the JNPT Hospital.

After he recovered, he started doing yoga and pranayama. “ I plan to recommence my running from October 20 by which time I would have finished one month after recovering from the coronavirus,” Arun said. He resumed work at JNPT on September 30, 2020. Early October, he was still doing an hour of yoga in the morning including sun salutations and various types of pranayama.

Arun commenced recreational running in 2015 and has been running half marathons mostly. In January 2020, he ran his maiden marathon at the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM).

A doctor with the Indian Army and a longstanding runner, Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaraman combines interest in the sport with a background in medicine. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in India, his daily work in Delhi – where he is based – included treating defence personnel who had contracted the infection. This was on since April-May. In September, he was doing a recovery run in Delhi after a virtual marathon when he sensed an element of tiredness that was more than what he normally felt after running 42.2 kilometers. “ I initially thought it may be because of the weather,’’ he said. A COVID-19 test showed that he was positive for the virus.

Col Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan)

Asked how an otherwise healthy individual like him contracted the virus, Muthukrishnan pointed out that the general benefits attached to running shouldn’t be brought into the frame as presumed layer of defence. “ The chances of getting the virus are probably the same for all now given it is there in the community. Further in my case, being a doctor I deal with COVID-19 patients. So the source could have been from anywhere, from travel to life in the community to work at the hospital,’’ he said. Soon after he tested positive, Muthukrishnan commenced ten days of quarantine. He was asymptomatic. In the initial phase of the quarantine period he took complete rest. To stay happy, towards the concluding portion of the quarantine, he did some mild indoor exercises; he also walked indoors. In the post quarantine test for the virus, he tested negative.

Muthukrishnan now wanted to get back to running. He started the process with an ECG to get an idea of heart rate and heart condition; he also did tests for inflammation markers. When this blog spoke to him in early October, roughly a week had gone by since completion of quarantine. In that while he had moved through days of only walking to a mix of walk-jog to about an hour of slow running. “ The initial days were trying. The disease leaves you a bit tired,’’ he said, adding, “ you cannot see COVID-19 as just another viral disease because first, we are still learning about it and second, studies show that it is capable of impacting the body’s organs including the heart. That makes it important to revisit the fundamentals of your health before you restart physical activity.’’

As he put it, given the still evolving knowledge about the disease, the return to running would be largely based on runner’s ability to listen to his / her body. Plus, through the period of illness, recovery and return to running, nutrition is critical. “ As runners, we have this tendency to eat such that we don’t put on weight. When you are enduring COVID-19, recovering from it and slowly getting back to running, that old logic can be counterproductive. You have to eat well, have a balanced diet,’’ Muthukrishnan said.       

Sanjay Motling (Photo: courtesy Sanjay)

Dr Sanjay Motling started running during his days as a research scholar in engineering, at Jadavpur University. According to him, in 2014, he participated in his first running event (a half marathon); in January 2020 he did his first full marathon – the Tata Mumbai Marathon. Currently a resident of Panvel near Mumbai, in September 2020, after the lockdown caused by COVID-19 was eased; he and his friend drove to a village at the base of the hills not far from Panvel, for a weekend run. During the rains and just after it, the place is pretty; it is a spot runners like to visit for their long runs. That night, back in Panvel, he developed a mild fever. Following intake of paracetamol, he felt fine. But next night the fever returned. The subsequent three days went by without any symptoms. On Friday, he reported for work. But that night, the fever came back. “ It was a mild fever, it never exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it was always below that,’’ Sanjay said. On Saturday however, he developed a minor cough. “ I felt something wasn’t good and decided to go for testing. On Monday, the test result showed that I was COVID-19 positive,’’ he said.

That day itself, he was admitted to a hospital. A day earlier, the friend with whom he had gone for the weekend run, was also admitted to a hospital having tested positive for the virus. Sanjay spent eight days in hospital. The first night there, he developed shivering. But the remaining days felt quite normal although he was on medication. For 4-5 days during this period he did yoga and breathing exercises. Upon discharge from hospital, he was advised to continue taking his medicines but a week into it, tests showed that his sugar levels were up considerably. The doctor recommended that the medicines be stopped. “ Aside from the first couple of days since discharge from hospital, I haven’t felt tired,’’ Sanjay said. When he could find the time for it, he did yoga; he also started going for walks. Early October he told this blog that he felt ready to restart his old training sessions in running. Sanjay’s friend has also recovered.             

Rahul Sangoi (Photo: courtesy Rahul)

A runner from Pune, Rahul Sangoi tested positive for COVID-19 but remained asymptomatic throughout. At his home, Rahul’s uncle tested positive prompting the rest of the family to test for COVID-19. “ I did not move out of the house for 15 days but I continued my home workouts,” Rahul said. He was prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics as a precautionary measure by his doctor. Rahul has been running for the past six years; he has participated in a few half marathons and full marathons. This year, he also ran 50 kilometers at Tata Ultra, as a means to prepare for Comrades, the ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. The 2020 Comrades was cancelled but stayed alive in the form of a virtual run.

In India, barring a few fortunate to be in the hills (or some such location away from cities) and those determined to run no matter what, most runners were housebound during the pandemic. The initial phase of the lockdown was strict and major sporting events were cancelled. Stuck at home, many introspected. “ The lockdown helped me acquire a clean diet. My job entails a lot of travel. In the days before the pandemic my food intake used to be improper due to the frequent traveling. During lockdown my diet improved. I also did workouts for six days a week,” Rahul said. In the process, he managed to knock off eight kilograms from his body weight.

Doctors Bindu and Vivek Nair have been dentists in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) for a long time. Bindu got into running about two years ago thanks to Trivandrum Runners Club (TRaCs). A resident of Vazhuthacaud in the city, her first run was approximately five kilometers long, from Kowdiar to LMS Junction and back. Three months later, she did a run of ten kilometers. Since then, Bindu has been running four days a week; she leaves home at 4.30AM and returns by around 5.30AM having covered the distance from home to Kowdiar to the local museum, botanical garden and zoo (a popular haunt for those into morning walks and jogs) and back.

Dr Bindu Nair (Photo: courtesy Bindu)

When COVID-19 reached India and the lockdown of March commenced, Bindu who wished to be utterly careful, stopped her running. She followed a routine of online exercises and Zumba, which she stuck to even after the lockdown eased. The regimen helped her shed 12 kilos from her body weight during the lockdown period. On September 22, a friend who wished to speak to her in person, visited briefly. Unknown to Bindu, the visitor had been experiencing mild symptoms. By evening, the friend came down with fever and chills. Three days later, on September 25, Bindu – she is normally healthy and free of ailments – experienced a mild headache. On September 26, she got a mild fever (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit) along with the chills. Realizing that it was perhaps time for comprehensive precaution, she took paracetamol and consulted her daughter Ambica, also a doctor. Bindu isolated herself. She had her rapid antigen test on September 28; it showed up positive for COVID-19 and she was admitted to the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.

The doctors advised complete rest. “ The first two days were okay,’’ Bindu said. She was administered hydroxychloroquine. The medicine can cause gastritis as side effect in some patients; Bindu had her share of it. Probably due to COVID-19, she also had lower back pain, fever and a clouded mind. This was a tough phase, lasting three days. “ Given we are both doctors, my husband used to send me reading material on the disease. But I couldn’t read it. My brain felt clouded,’’ Bindu said. The doctors treating her told her not to worry. They knew there would be such a phase. On the fifth day of her hospitalization, she had fever touching 101 degrees Fahrenheit. She was given paracetamol. That night she slept well. The next morning, she woke up drenched in sweat but feeling well otherwise and with the distinct feeling that the infection had been overcome. Subsequent tests for the virus proved negative. On October 7, roughly ten days after she was admitted to hospital, Bindu was discharged. She was told not to venture outside her house for the next seven days.

“ I didn’t have any lingering sense of fatigue,’’ Bindu said. The day after she got home, she commenced mild activity; cooking and cleaning in small doses. Pretty soon, a doctor also called recommending mild exercise to prevent clotting of blood. Clot formation has occurred in some individuals after COVID-19 infection. Taking that into consideration, the doctor wanted her to do mild exercise.“ I feel perfectly normal now,’’ Bindu said mid-October. In the recovery plan, she has been advised mild to moderate physical activity for the first month, more intense activity for the second and a return to running and whatever else she likes to do, by the third.    

Samson Sequeira (Photo: courtesy Samson)

Coaches speak

` Asymptomatic’ has been around in medical parlance for long. But it was COVID-19 that made it a household term. Samson Sequeira, coach at Run India Run, a Mumbai-based marathon training group, contracted the infection but showed no symptoms at all. He was asymptomatic. “ After our neighbor tested positive for COVID-19, we decided to test for coronavirus,” he said. That was how he learnt of being positive.

Although he confined himself indoors, Samson did not stop doing his workouts. As a coach, he has been advising his wards to be cautious in stepping up mileage as the threat of the virus is far from over. “ There should be no high intensity workout. I have been pushing for low intensity workout. Walk, talk, jog, run is my mantra,” he said. According to him, in these times, it is essential to keep fit, eat well and sleep well.

Dnyaneshwar Tidke (Photo: courtesy Don)

Ashok Nath (Photo: courtesy Ashok Nath)

Ashok Nath, Bengaluru-based coach and mentor, highlighted the importance of apprising the affected amateur athletes of what they are dealing with. As a disease with no vaccine yet, it is only natural for people to be scared of COVID-19. What they must be reassured of is that serious cases are a small percentage of the total number of people infected. The vast majority recovers. For the duration of full recovery, runners should assign top priority to their health and keep their competitive mindset parked at a safe distance. Once they get the green signal to resume training, they should ease into it with full awareness and respect for feedback from the body. He felt that in the interest of timely withdrawal should there be any discomfort, it would be best to avoid rigidly structured training programs. Be mindful. Only after a fortnight of such cautious approach and assessment thereon, should you think of resuming training. Even then, Ashok’s emphasis is on proceeding with “ feel’’ as opposed to “ paces,’’ till such time as the disease becomes a memory.

Caution was the watchword for Dnyaneshwar (Don) Tidke too; he is coach at LifePacers, Navi Mumbai. He felt that after adequate rest (two to four weeks) as required by the severity of infection, small modules of walk-jog for a couple of weeks followed by the same in slightly longer duration maybe the right way to revive one’s association with running. Further progress should depend on the runner’s fitness levels and response to recovery, he said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For the article by doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.com/2020/10/09/recovered-from-covid-19-and-planning-to-restart-running-keep-this-in-mind/)

RECOVERED FROM COVID-19 AND PLANNING TO RESTART RUNNING? KEEP THIS IN MIND

Pravin and Arati (Photo: courtesy the Gaikwads)

This is an article by invitation. Doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad are experienced pediatricians who have also been endurance athletes for a long time. In Navi Mumbai, they are co-founders of the runners group, LifePacers. This blog contacted them for inputs on how best a runner recovered from COVID-19 may handle his / her return to the sport. They paraphrased their response to questions sent, by first pointing out that COVID-19 is a new disease and since guidelines are still evolving, they should not be considered as mandates. The guidelines are based on expert opinion and available data.

In general, the quest for every runner when it comes to injury (an illness is similar to it) is to stay within the repairable realm and not provoke irreparable damage.  So, to begin with, even if used to an active lifestyle, asymptomatic patients should stop exercising for at least two weeks. This would anyway coincide with the isolation and quarantine period they are advised once they test positive. Mild activity to keep a sense of movement going is alright. Anything vigorous, which puts strain on the body or elevates heart rate needlessly, should be avoided. Exercising intensely may increase the risk of viral replication along with increased risk of myocardial involvement. Also, deep inhalation during exercise may help the virus to settle in the lower lobes of the lungs causing respiratory compromise.

Most active people turn to physical activity to boost circulation and feel better when they are feeling a bit low. But with COVID-19 in the equation, the results may not play out as hoped for. Being healthy, fit and strong may help you avoid some of the more severe symptoms of COVID-19 like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), but it doesn’t make you immune to some of the more insidious effects of the disease like myocarditis. A German study published in JAMA Cardiology, dealing with a sample of people who had formerly come down with COVID-19, showed 60 per cent of individuals to have myocarditis after two to three months of recovery. Eighteen per cent of these had been asymptomatic individuals.

Individuals who had been COVID-19-positive with any degree of symptoms should seek a physician’s opinion before resuming physical activity. Symptomatic athletes – recreational to professional – have been surprised by the potency of the disease. They have struggled to reestablish old workout regimens; some have had a lingering battle with lung issues, muscle weakness and unsettling anxiety about whether they would be able to match their old physical peaks.  The physician will decide depending upon the severity of infection endured, the treatment availed and the accompanying ailments the individual has. Herein, the biggest concern at present seems to be myocarditis (seven to twenty three per cent as per various studies).  Therefore, in symptomatic COVID-19 patients, the recommended tests before a return to active lifestyle may include Cardiac MRI, 2D Echo, ECG and Serum Troponin plus lung function tests in individuals who underwent extended ventilation support. As many recreational runners are above 40 years of age and a lot of them have obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even asthma, it’s advisable to get at least a 2D Echo done and get a cardiologist’s opinion before the workout regimen is restarted.

During this period, as the return to workout is planned, some form of movement, even fast paced walking – if the physician permits – will help to prevent the possibility of blood clots in the legs. Endurance runners tend to have lower heart rate. This makes pooling of blood in the legs easier; the tendency increases with COVID-19 infection. Further, individuals placed on ventilators and confined to bed, often lose between two and ten per cent of their muscle mass per day. Resorting to resistance training as the runner returns to his regular regimen would be a prudent step in this regard.

A general consensus seems to be the 50/30/20/10 rule as per the Joint Committee of the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. This is a four week-plan. After recovering from infection and ensuring that one is up to resuming physical activity, upon return to running, it is recommended that in the first week only 50 per cent of the previously followed peak mileage and pace be pursued. In the following week, depending on how the runner is feeling, the load may be raised to 30 per cent less from peak level; over the two weeks thereafter the gap with peak level may be further reduced to 20-10 per cent. All this, provided there is no adverse feedback from the body to the phased increase of workout.  In general, pay attention to how you feel. You need to be good at listening to your body. Chest pain and dizziness are the two symptoms where one should stop immediately and take a physician’s opinion. Shortness of breath and palpitations can also be due to the erosion of physical fitness caused by muscle loss and lack of training. Persistent muscle pain, unexplained fatigue, hitting peak heart rate unusually early in your run or having a hard time bringing the heart rate down – these must be evaluated by a physician.

(The authors, doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, are experienced pediatricians who have also been endurance athletes for a long time. They have their own clinic and are co-founders of the Navi Mumbai-based runners group, LifePacers.) 

JOSHUA CHEPTEGEI AND LETESENBET GIDEY SET NEW WORLD RECORDS

Joshua Cheptegei. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei scripted a world record for the second time in less than two months, completing the 10,000 meters track race in 26:11:00 at the NN World Record Day event in Valencia on October 7, 2020. He bettered the previous record in the discipline held by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele; 26:17.53 set in 2005. On August 14, Cheptegei had taken down another of Bekele’s world records when he finished the 5000 meters at the Wanda Diamond League meet in Monaco, in 12:35.36. Cheptegei, is the tenth man in history to hold world records for the 5000 meters and 10,000 meters concurrently, a report on the latest development available on the website of World Athletics, said.

In the women’s category, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in Valencia, when she completed the 5000 meters on track in 14:06.62. She improved upon the previous world record of 14:11.15 that had stood in the name of her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba since 2008, the report from World Athletics, said. In November 2019, Gidey had been in the news for setting a new world record for women in the rarely run 15 kilometers. At the 15 kilometers race at the Zevenheuvelenloop (Seven Hills Run) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, held on November 17, she had clocked 44:21, more than a minute better than the previous world best of 45:37 Joyciline Jepkosgei set in Prague two years earlier en route to her first world record in the half marathon. Gidey is silver medalist in 10,000 meters from the 2019 edition of the World Athletics Championships.

Running in the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the half marathon appear to have got off to a brilliant start as global athletics recommences sports meets in the time of pandemic. Cheptegei’s 5000 meters world record from August, was a stunning reminder that notwithstanding COVID-19, lockdown and its cumulative impact on training schedules and events, athletics is alive and kicking. That performance had made him the world record holder in 5000 meters across both track and road. On February 16, 2020, he had clocked 12 minutes 51 seconds at the Monaco Run 5km. He shaved 27 seconds from the previous record of 13:18 set by Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto en route to his 10km world record in Valencia on January 12. Interestingly, although as an international athlete he is usually based in Europe, given world affected by pandemic, Cheptegei’s training for both races – the 5000 meters in Monaco and the 10,000 meters in Valencia – was done in Uganda. News reports said that after the blistering performance in Monaco, he had gone back to Uganda and returned to set the track ablaze again in Valencia.

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

Weeks after Cheptegei’s new world record in the 5000 meters, three world records tumbled over September 4 and 5, 2020. Britain’s Mo Farah and Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands set world one hour-records in their respective gender categories at the Wanda Diamond League exhibition meet at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, on September 4. Farah, a multiple world and Olympic champion set a new mark of 21,330m – bettering the 2007 mark of 21,285m set by Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie.  In her race, Hassan, the Dutch world 1500m and 10,000m champion, touched 18,930 meters in one hour, beating the previous mark of 18,517 meters set by Ethiopia’s Dire Tune in 2008. Around the same time, in Prague, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the women-only race world record in the half marathon. On September 5, she clocked 1:05:34 for the distance improving upon the previous record of 1:06:11 set by Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2018. In contrast to the performances amidst pandemic in long distance running from Jepchirchir, Cheptegei, Gidey, Farah and Hasan (spanning 5000 meters to the half marathon), the marathon hasn’t yet found the gear to break fresh ground. The London Marathon of October 4, held as an elites only affair with the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei in the field, was expected to see record breaking performance but it didn’t although it provided a couple of exciting, close finishes. It is also true that road events that managed to go ahead despite pandemic, have been very few in number compared to events hosted in the more contained ambiance of stadiums. Although the staging of the London Marathon as an elites only affair, would have brought fresh hope to road events, the momentum – amidst pandemic – has been better on the track side.

An interesting report in The Guardian pointed out that both Cheptegei and Gidey wore Nike Zoom X Dragonfly shoes for their latest record breaking performance. These shoes have spikes, carbon plate and special foam. The report said that Farah and Hasan too had worn Nike shoes capable of aiding speed when they set new world records. Although these shoe models have the approval of World Athletics, in general, advancement in shoe design has become a talking point in contemporary athletics (including the marathon), particularly in sterling performances. Also employed at these events was Wavelight pacing technology. A January 2020 article on the subject, available on the website of World Athletics, explained, “  Named Wavelight after the Mexican wave because of the similar fluid motion of the lights, the system will be used along the rail (inside of the 400m track) in which the lights will flash at an assigned pace for selected races. The innovation has two values: one to enable the athletes to better target a specific pace or target time and, secondly, to add greater value to the spectator experience.’’

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

2020 VIRTUAL LONDON MARATHON / THE INDIAN EXPERIENCE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

For the virtual format of the 2020 London Marathon, 45,000 runners ranging in age from 18 to 87 had signed up to run at various locations worldwide. As per the commentary from the physical race held around St James Park in London, outside the UK, participation in the virtual run was highest in the US, Taiwan and Hong Kong. India too had its share of amateur runners who registered for the virtual run of October 4. We spoke to some of them – including those who had featured in an article on this blog ahead of the virtual run – on how things panned out.     

In Mumbai, Himanshu Sareen had initially planned to take the virtual London Marathon as a training run with no targeted timing in mind. He had done the virtual Boston Marathon, a little over a fortnight ago and it seemed apt not to push. But 10 kilometers into the run of October 4 he realized that he could push his pace in pursuit of a better timing. This time around, he started his run at around 5.40 AM, earlier than he had for the virtual Boston Marathon. Rains during the night and continuing drizzle that morning helped keep the weather pleasant.

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: Shweta Sareen)

“ I started at a slow pace because in my mind this was not a race. After the first 10 kilometers, I decided to increase my pace,” Himanshu said. For the first 18 kilometers he ran in a 500 metre loop and then expanded that to a loop of about one kilometer till the 26th kilometer. “ The stretch between 26 and 35 kilometers is often tough for me,” he said adding that he in this phase he stretched his loop to about 10 kilometers. This worked well for him and he was able to maintain a good pace throughout. His wife Shweta was the sole person providing support for his run; during the virtual Boston Marathon several other runners and the security staff of his apartment complex had pitched in to help with hydration.“ As I was not planning to run the virtual London Marathon like a race, I did not inform anyone,” he said.

Himanshu finished with a provisional timing of 2:52:35. Although tad short of his personal best, Himanshu believes this is his best performance in running, to date. He is now due to run the Virtual New York City Marathon. He may consider the option of traveling to New York to run this virtual marathon.

Kamalaksha Rao (Photo: courtesy Kamalaksha)

Elsewhere in the city, Kamalaksha Rao was attempting the virtual London Marathon after recovering from COVID-19 infection.  “ I started my run at 4.40 AM. It was raining quite heavily then. The weather stayed pleasant for some time but soon the heat and the humidity began rising,” the 73 year-old said. He ran the first half of the marathon and walked the next 21 kilometers. “ I had a target of finishing in eight hours. I finished in 7:20 hours,” he said.

Kamalaksha had placed water bottles for hydration at two places along the loop he had chosen to run on. He managed to hydrate but at some point during the virtual marathon he realized that one of the bottles had gone missing. Thankfully there were shops along the route where he could buy bottled water. “ It was a self-supported run. I had carried a bag. During the run, I had two gels and two nutrition bars,” he said. He plans to do recovery walks over the next few days.

Mahesh Bedekar (Photo: courtesy Mahesh)

In neighboring Thane, Dr Mahesh Bedekar opted to run the virtual London Marathon primarily as motivation to keep the momentum of his regular runs, going. A gynaecologist, who runs his own hospital in Thane, Mahesh has been running for the past seven years. He has participated in many marathons and half marathons. Along the way, he also did five of the six World Marathon Majors – Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. He is yet to do the Boston Marathon but has managed to qualify for the event, in his age group of 45-49 years.

“ Normally, one needs to put in four to five months of training to run a marathon. We had only about two and a half months of time to train for the virtual London Marathon,” Mahesh said. Striders, his marathon training group, offered him a training plan keeping in mind the limited time available. He was accompanied by six other runners for the virtual London Marathon. They chose to run the distance in Thane, which offers undulating terrain. “ We started at around 4.30 AM. The rain helped keep temperatures at bay for the initial 25 kilometers,” Mahesh said.

Support was arranged at every five kilometers with the runners who volunteered for the task also lending some cheering. Mahesh finished the run in 3:33:08. His personal best is 3:15. “ It is quite challenging to run a marathon without the normal elements of a race,” Mahesh said.

In Bengaluru, Bhadresh Shivashankar was happy with the route chosen for a small group of runners attempting the virtual London Marathon. “ The weather was good and Pacemakers had arranged for a cyclist to accompany each of the runners,” he said. Pacemakers is a Bengaluru-based marathon training group built around coach K.C. Kothandapani.

From left: Harish Vasista, coach K.C. Kothandapani (Pacemakers), Gauri Jayaram (Active Holidays), M.Nanjundappa, Anubhav Karmakar and Bhadresh Shivashankar (Photo: courtesy Bhadresh)

The runners commenced their run at 5 AM. “ I managed well for the first 30 kilometers but the final stretch was tough,” Bhadresh said. He finished his run in 4:47:16. Running alongside was M. Nanjundappa, one of Bengaluru’s best amateur runners. Nanjundappa finished his run in 2:37:10, data on the London Marathon website showed.

Harish Vasista also ran the virtual London Marathon at the same venue. “ My running went as per plan. I started my run at 5.30 pace and then improved it slightly, on and off, till around 30 kilometers. Thereafter, my pace eased a bit,” he said. Harish finished his marathon in 3:48:11. He appreciated the support for the runners provided by Pacemakers and Active Holidays.

The physical race of the 2020 London Marathon – as held in the British capital – was restricted to elite athletes. It was only the second World Marathon Major (of the six in that league) being held this year; the rest got cancelled owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed a fallout of the pandemic has been the widespread cancellation of city marathons. In Mumbai, Kranti Salvi and her husband Pramod Salvi opted to run the virtual London Marathon as a means to stay motivated in times with no mass participation events. “ We had originally registered for the 2020 edition of the London Marathon and booked our hotel and air tickets. It was postponed to October and later the organizers converted the race for amateurs into a virtual event. That’s when we decided to register for the virtual version,” Kranti said.

Kranti and Pramod Salvi (sporting bibs on their T-shirts) with friends, Abbas Sheikh and the policeman who flagged off their run (Photo: Tashi Ongya)

The duo’s plan was to commence the run at 4.30 AM on October 4, 2020. They woke up to find heavy rains; the forecast indicated that the showers would continue for a few hours. “ We had made a lot of preparations for the run. We had printed banners and posters. Some friends were to come and cheer us as well,” she said. Kranti and Pramod decided to cancel the plan to run the marathon in the morning. Instead, they decided to give it a go in the evening.

“ By evening, I was quite tired from household work. We started the run at 5.30 PM from the NCPA end of South Mumbai’s Marine Drive promenade,” Kranti said, adding, “ we were a group of 4-5 runners at the start point. We decided to ask a policeman to flag off our run.” Their route was mostly along Marine Drive up to Chowpatty. Kranti wanted to do one loop across to Gateway of Mumbai. “ It was difficult running in the evening. Marine Drive was crowded. There were many people, children jumping and playing across the entire stretch. The weather was warm and humid and the air quality was bad,” Kranti said. Marathon runner Abbas Sheikh ran the entire distance with her. As per data on the London Marathon website, Kranti finished her run in 4:37:39 and Pramod in 5:31:08.

From left: Pawan Punjabi, Girish Bindra and Yash Shekatkar (Photo: courtesy Girish)

At its height, the lockdown in Mumbai had been quite strict. It was prolonged in some areas. For those returning to running after the consequent disruption to training, it meant that mileage build-up had to be done slowly. When lockdown measures commenced easing, Girish Bindra and his team of runners were in the process of slowly enhancing mileage when they learnt of the virtual London Marathon. “ On August 10, 2020, we registered for the virtual London Marathon. We had all of five weeks to train and that included the tapering period,” Girish – he is also a coach for Asics Running Club (ARC) – said. Joining him for the virtual run were Pawan Punjabi and Yash Shekatkar.

Soon after registering for the run, they stepped up their training. Still the preparation fell short of the ideal training required for a marathon. “ Although, it was a crunched training plan, there was a lot of learning in those five weeks,” Pawan said. According to Yash, on the Friday before the date of the virtual London Marathon (October 4, 2020) they finalized the route – it would be as loops on the service road that runs parallel to the city’s Eastern Express Highway.

On race day, the trio was to start the run at 4.30 AM. Unfortunately, there was heavy and it prompted them to delay their start. “ Eventually, we began our run at 4.55 AM. The downpour resumed and along the route there was much water logging,” Girish said. “ Within the first 45 minutes of the run, our shoes were soaking wet,” Yash added. However, the rain progressively eased off and thereafter the weather stayed pleasant.

From the virtual run; Arun Nambiar (on cycle), Harish Salian and Girish Bindra (Photo: courtesy Girish)

Many of the runners of ARC chipped in to assist the three runners. “ Support from our runner friends was incredible. At every three kilometers, we had access to sports drinks, salts and dates among others. The support and cheering were very well planned,” Pawan said. “ They also arranged for breakfast besides tea and coffee at the end of the run,” Girish said adding that all the safety norms pertaining to the pandemic were followed. Cyclist Arun Nambiar accompanied the three runners throughout on his cycle to lend support. Further, fellow runner Harish Salian ran the entire distance of the marathon as support, Girish said.

Girish finished his run in 4:03:48, Pawan in 3:59:08 and Yash in 3:58:51. For Yash, the timing he got in the virtual London Marathon was a personal best. Pawan fell tad short of his personal best of 3:54:51 set at the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon but is happy to have managed a sub-four-hour finish as he was returning to running after a shin splint problem. The trio will now attempt the half marathon distance in the virtual events of the Chicago Marathon, Amsterdam Marathon and New York City Marathon.

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

LONDON MARATHON: SHURA KITATA WINS IN NAIL BITING FINISH

Shura Kitata of Ethiopia. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Kipchoge dethroned

Brigid Kosgei defends her title

Close contests decide top two positions among men, and second and third positions among women

Shura Kitata of Ethiopia won the 2020 London Marathon, battling it out in an unforgettable sprint finish to cross the line in 2:05:41, on Sunday, October 4. Meters away from the finish line he was locked in a neck and neck tussle with Vincent Kipchumba of Kenya and appeared to fall back before finally surging ahead to win the race. Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia finished third.

Although Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the athlete billed as his closest competitor pulled out ahead of the race, world record holder and defending champion, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, was not his usual self. He seemed to struggle and came in much after the podium finishers; he finished eighth in 2:06:49. The 35 year-old Kenyan great was trying for his fifth London Marathon title; He had won the event previously in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019. The crown eventually went to 24 year-old Kitata, who two years earlier had finished second behind Kipchoge at the 2018 London Marathon. The course record for men in London is 2:02:37, set by Kipchoge in 2019.

Defending champion, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya won the women’s race covering the distance in 2:18:58. Her compatriot and 2019 marathon world champion, Ruth Chepngetich placed third, while Sarah Hall of the US finished second. The top ten women athletes finished within 2:28:30, the race commentators said; the qualification mark for the women’s marathon at the Tokyo Olympics due next year is 2:29:30. Kosgei’s performance in less than ideal conditions in London compares to the world record she holds of 2:14:04 – for women running in a mixed sex race – set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. The course record for women in London is 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe in 2003.

Going by the commentary, the early laps in the women’s marathon was fast but the pace reduced later. An hour and 33 minutes into the race, the commentators observed that the pace was close to world record requirements and yet not quite there.  Potential reasons spoken of included pandemic, cancellation of events, lockdown and the impact of these developments on athletes’ training, especially opportunities to train with others. Distance runners are known to periodically train in the company of fellow runners, an arrangement that allows them to push each other’s abilities. Further, race day in London followed a spate of heavy rains. The course was visibly wet and at one point during the women’s race, there was a hint of hail. Such conditions typically force runners to tread with caution especially at the corners, details which matter when it comes to performance in the elite category where every second counts.

Ruth Chepngetich (left) and Brigid Kosgei – both in orange vests at the 2020 London Marathon. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Notwithstanding the general pace, by 1:44 hours into the women’s marathon, Kosgei was clearly leading Chepngetich and a sizable gap had opened between them and Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekere (winner among women at the 2019 Berlin Marathon), who was in third place. The 35 kilometer-mark went by in approximately 1:55 hours.  By around 1:58, Lily Partridge and Steph Twell, among the top British contenders, had dropped off the race. By 2:04, even as Kosgei cemented her lead further, the gap was progressively reducing between Bekere and Sarah Hall following her in fourth place.  Around 2:12, Kosgei betrayed a smile as she neared the last lap; she eventually finished in 2:18:58. But it was Sarah Hall who turned in a truly inspiring performance. Having overtaken Bekere, she ran past Chepngetich in the last 100 meters or so to finish a brilliant second with new personal best to boot.     

Probably taking a cue from the women’s race, which was held first, the men’s race too maintained a momentum that was slower than what was expected of the talent crammed into it. At 44:50 the commentator said, “ it is not going to be as fast as we would have normally expected from Eliud Kipchoge.’’ At just past the half way mark, the pace was still steady and not yet showing signs of stepping up. In retrospect this may have played to the disadvantage of Kipchoge. He was older compared to those around him in the lead formation and as the defending champion and the only runner in history to have managed a sub-two hour-marathon, albeit unofficially, there was much riding on his shoulders. As the commentators pointed out, the slower pace wasn’t Kipchoge’s regular style. In the past he has displayed the habit of breaking away past the half way mark and striking out on his own. On Sunday, he appeared either struggling or hemmed in by the larger formation settled into a slightly slower pace with prospects of a sprint finish gradually opening up. On more than one occasion, the commentators pointed out that at a slightly higher pace in the early stages, Kipchoge may have shrugged off some of the runners keeping him company.  

 

An hour and 36 minutes into the race, Kipchoge discarded his cap and there was anticipation that he may be preparing to break free. Around 1:43, the lead runners were still huddled together; there hadn’t been anyone breaking free yet. “ This is relatively slow for the standard these men have run before,’’ the commentator said. By 1:51, Kipchoge had drifted to the back of the lead group; a slight grimace showed up on his face. Around 1:52:50, the commentator said that Kipchoge could possibly be in trouble in the race. By 1:53:46 there was a clear gap between him and the leading lot. “ There is something quite not working for Kipchoge today,’’ the commentator said. By 1:57:30 it was fairly certain that Kipchoge had lost the race and the people to watch out for were the runners nobody had focused on in the days preceding the event when top billing was assigned for a Kipchoge-Bekele face off. As the second hour of running commenced, the lead group stood whittled down to three Ethiopian runners – Kitata, Mosinet Geremew, Lemma and a lone Kenyan, Kipchumba.  Around 2:04, Geremew who had been the most fancied of the lot dropped back. “ There are casualties all around this two and a quarter kilometer-course,’’ the commentator said. It then boiled down to a potential sprint finish between the remaining three and Kipchumba seemed to gain the upper hand briefly before Kitata firmly surged ahead to breast the tape.  It was a final stage with much drama for in those waning moments, few expected Kitata to sustain a sprint given he had often led the pack from the front in the preceding laps and seemed ideal candidate to be tired.

In a post race tweet, Kipchoge said that after 25 kilometers his ear had got blocked and wouldn’t open anymore. “ But this is how sport is,” he said, pointing out that defeat should be accepted and the focus should now be on winning the next race. He hopes to return for the next edition of the London Marathon and the Olympics, Runners World reported in their article on what happened to Kipchoge.

The 2020 London Marathon was run on a specially selected course around St James Park. Athletes ran several loops. According to the race commentators, the said course was considered for the sub-two hour project Kipchoge had executed in 2019. That event finally took place on a special course in Vienna, wherein he achieved an unofficial time of 1:59:40 for the marathon. The London course was quite flat and therefore theoretically, fast. However because the run was happening on a special course due to the pandemic, even if a new course record was set in the 2020 edition, it wouldn’t be counted officially, the commentators said. The pacers for the men’s race on Sunday included Mo Farah.

Mo Farah doing duty as pacer at the 2020 London Marathon. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

The 2020 London Marathon will definitely trigger curiosity in terms of what the model – a blend of physical race and larger virtual participation – holds for the business of running worldwide. An estimated 45,000 runners were due to participate in the virtual format of the 2020 London Marathon. Outside of the UK, the highest number of runners participating in the virtual version of the event was in USA, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the race commentators said. At the physical race in London on Sunday, there were no spectators and only the elite athletes running loops on a secure course. As an event then accessed through television and digital media, the physical race showcased elite running as pure performance with no other distractions in the frame. In other words, there was no life around. It is possible that some viewers may have found such running a cold, clinical experience with only the commentary providing warmth. Under the circumstances this blend appears the most viable model (there is however the problem of shrinking free access to streaming and sometimes, overpriced access) and London may provide impetus for managers of events elsewhere in the world, to follow suit. Races in Valencia and Abu Dhabi have already been spoken of in this context particularly because there is a real thirst out there with elite marathoners for events to run at and qualify for the Olympics. The marathon at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, which was one of the opportunities to qualify so before pandemic struck and the 2020 Olympics got postponed to 2021, was held in very warm, humid conditions. Timings reported there, had been slow.

As is the norm these days, the London Marathon was also watched from the perspective of shoe technology and what advanced shoe design brings to the table at races. It was only the second World Marathon Major this year to physically happen, after the Tokyo Marathon in March. Kipchoge, who has in some ways been the face of new developments in shoe technology, was running the race in London in a version of the Nike Alpha Fly with his timing from Vienna – 1:59:40 – written at the back of it, the commentators said.

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