Within a short while, this 25-year-old has notched up a series of podium wins, including a couple of national bests.
On December 5, 2021, Amar Singh Devanda, a long-distance runner from the Indian Air Force (IAF), won the 24-hour Ageas Federal Life Insurance Stadium Run in New Delhi, covering a distance of 223.20 kilometers.
Four months earlier, Amar, running the Bengaluru chapter of the 24-hour Ageas Federal Life Insurance Stadium Run, had covered a distance of 240.8 km, setting a new national best (on Indian soil) in the category. The overall national record for 24-hours is held by Ullas Narayana. Ullas had not only won the bronze medal at the men’s 24-hour IAU Asia & Oceanic Championships at Taipei in December 2018 but he also set a national record in this event covering a distance of 250.37 km.
Amar already holds the national record for the 100 km category. Running the 100 km race at the Tuffman 24-Hour Chandigarh Stadium Run in March 2021, he crossed the finish line in 7:32:43 hours. He had improved on the previous national best of 7:56:22 set in January 2021 by Surat-based ultra-runner Sandeep Kumar.
“ I trained well for the New Delhi stadium run of December 2021. I was excited about participating in this run. Some international runners were expected. Also, Ullas was running. This was a chance for me to meet him and some of the top runners,” Amar said following his win.
All the same, at 8.30 AM on December 5, 2021, as he stood at the start line of the 24-hour event in New Delhi, he wasn’t feeling fine due to an uneasy stomach. Nevertheless, he started his race and continued to run for about 10 hours, which was when a co-runner suggested a remedy for his problem. He took a break to execute her suggestion of having a spoonful of carom seeds (ajwain) with warm water, a remedy that helped him almost immediately. “ Barely 200 meters after I resumed, I started to feel better,’’ he said.
“ I just wanted to keep running at a steady pace and get to a winning finish. Already Damian Carr was 10 km ahead of me,” he said. Damian Carr was eventual the winner in the international category at New Delhi, covering a distance of 240 km. His mileage made him the overall winner of the 24-hour segment.
Amar finished the run in Delhi covering a distance of 223.20 km, 17 km short of his Bengaluru stadium run (held in August 2021) mileage.
“ In Delhi, many top runners quit the race mid-way. With each runner exiting the race, the competition became easier,’’ he said. He believes, one reason that prompted runners to exit was the bad air quality. The national capital had been facing days of extremely poor air quality prompting the authorities to take stringent measures.
He wonders if the absence of competition may have prevented him from stepping up his pace further as he was already heading for a win. “ Weather could have been better. It did get quite warm during the day,’’ Amar said.
With virtually no exposure to sports in his school years, Amar’s winning performance in the last few long-distance running events came as a surprise to him.
Growing up in Cheethwari village in Jaipur district, Amar did not participate in sports at the Shri Krishna Senior Secondary High School he attended. Once back from school, he was actively involved in farming and dairy activity. His family cultivated wheat, jowar, bajra and vegetables on the land and also carried out dairy farming.
“ I feel that farming and dairy activity helped build my endurance,’’ Amar said.
Post schooling, Amar enlisted to do his B-Tech at the Government Engineering College in Jhalawar. “ I was there for all of three months. I quit to join the Indian Air Force as a technical soldier,’’ he said.
“ At IAF, they encouraged us to participate in sports such as running, ultra-running and mountaineering. Among my first events in running was a 12 km cross country race at Jaisalmer, where I was posted. My coach told me to complete the race and then he would commence training me. I ended up winning the race. He was very happy,’’ Amar said.
A corporal in IAF, he commenced his journey into long-distance running in 2016. He has participated in a number of races organised by the defence services over the past few years. In 2019, he took part in a marathon in Bengaluru, organised by the Indian Air Force. He finished the race in second position with timing of 2:37.
The first time he participated in an open event was in December 2020 when he ran the 60 km ultra-race at Shivalik Ultra. Later that month he ran the 100 km race, The Border, which starts in Jaisalmer and ends in Longewala in Ramgarh, Rajasthan. Here, he ended up winner in the 100 km segment with timing of 10:47:21.
Amar Singh also participated in the 100 km race at NEB 24 Hour Stadium Run held in Bengaluru in January 2021. He covered the distance in 8:26 hours.
Guided by his IAF coach, Thakur Singh Bajetha, Amar has been able to focus on training, race strategy and nutrition.
Amar believes he will be able to do well in the 24-hour category. “ The 24-hour category is tougher than 100 km because you need to be mentally strong to sustain through the hours. At the August 2021 run in Bengaluru, I kept getting negative feelings. At the end of 18 hours, I felt I could not continue. My coach spoke to me and that helped,’’ he said.
He is open to participate in either or both the 100 km and the 24-hour category at the IAU events, which India represents.
At Bengaluru’s August 2021 run, he had set a personal target of 220 km but ended up creating a new national best on Indian soil with the help of a robust support crew.
In India, ultra-runners were forced to pause their outdoor running training when the country went into a stringent lockdown in March 2020. But most of the runners used the time to step up their strength training and focus on diet and rest, equally important elements of training.
“ I could not do any training during the initial lockdown period,’’ Amar said, adding, “ our routine work increased during that period.’’
Posted at Jalandhar then, he would occasionally step out for a 5 km run.
“ I was in peak training before the lockdown and had participated in a 160 km ultra-race organised by the air force, in February 2020,’’ he said.
Unknowingly, the forced rest caused by the lockdown, helped him to recover.
Apart from his occasional short runs, he took to cycling. Sometime in September 2020, he resumed his proper training, building up mileage week after week.
At the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon 2021, held in March, he was the winner in the half marathon.
A week later, he set a new national best for 100 km at the Tuffman 24-Hour Stadium Run, Chandigarh. The following week, he ran the IAU & AFI 6-Hour Global Solidarity Run, covering a distance of 74 km, third highest mileage among Indian runners.
He is currently in the process of figuring out the correct training, nutrition and hydration for ultra-running races.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)