Nitendra Singh Rawat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Jyoti Gawate and Nitendra Singh Rawat secured top honours at the 2022 edition of the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon held on March 27.

Nitendra completed the men’s marathon in two hours, 16 minutes and four seconds. Jyoti, an elite runner from Maharashtra, covered the distance in 3:01:19 to win the women’s race.

The event was an opportunity for athletes to qualify for the year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

The marathon-qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held in July-August 2022 in Birmingham is 2:18:40 for men and 2:38:19 for women. The same for the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China in September 2022, is 2:18:48 for men and 2:39:28 for women.

File photo / Jyoti Gawate (Photo: courtesy Jyoti)

Anish Thapar Magar got the second position in the men’s race, finishing 36 seconds behind Nitendra with a timing of 2:16:40. In third position was Anil Kumar Singh (2:16:46). In the men’s marathon, finishers up to the fourth, fifth and sixth place – Ashish Kumar (2:17:03), Belliappa A.B. (2:17:08) and Kalidas Laxman Hirave (2:18:12) – joined the podium finishers in the list of those qualified for the CWG and the Asian Games.

Among women who ran the marathon in New Delhi, ultramarathoner Nupur Singh, who recently got a podium finish at a trail ultramarathon event in Saudi Arabia (you can read about it here: https://shyamgopan.com/2022/03/23/nupur-singh-secures-a-podium-finish-in-trail-ultramarathon-in-saudi-arabia/), finished second with a timing of 3:16:01. In third position was Disket Dolma, runner from Ladakh, who finished in 3:22:04.

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


Commander Abhilash Tomy KC (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Commander Abhilash Tomy and is being used for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.)

He has five months to complete a full refit and sail a 2000 miles solo voyage to qualify for the GGR.

Well-known Indian sailor, Abhilash Tomy, will be participating in the 2022 edition of the Golden Globe Race (GGR).

The former naval officer, will sail in a UAE-registered sailboat named ` Bayanat’ which will race under the number 71, the year in which the United Arab Emirates was formed. The announcement was made at the ongoing Dubai Expo.

In 2018, Abhilash – he is the first Indian to sail solo nonstop around the world – was a participant in the 2018 GGR. Following a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean that damaged his boat and left him injured, he had to be rescued. At that time, he was sailing in the ` Thuriya,’ a replica of the ` Suhaili,’ which Sir Robin Knox Johnston had used to complete the first solo nonstop circumnavigation in 1968. The ` Suhaili’ was built in Mumbai; the ` Thuriya,’ in Goa. Following his rescue, Abhilash endured surgery and a challenging road to recovery.

In his Facebook post confirming participation in the 2022 GGR, Abhilash provided a synopsis of the 2018 accident and explained why taking part in the 2022 GGR “ is a big thing” for him. Excerpts: “ After 82 days we were lying in third position when the storm overtook us. My boat was dismasted and destroyed, and I suffered a huge fall which left me with multiple spine fractures. And with pretty functionless legs. The remoteness? Couldn’t have been worse. The Antarctic was the nearest continent. We were exactly between Australia and South Africa, and south of India.’’

The situation triggered an international rescue effort. Four nations contributed – Ireland (Irish sailor Gregor McGuckin, a fellow competitor in the race made a heroic effort to reach Abhilash), India, Australia (both countries dispatched their naval assets) and France (it’s fisheries patrol vessel ` Osiris’ was the first to reach Abhilash). The injured sailor was shifted to a small island in the French Sub-Antarctic Territories where he was provided primary medical care. He was brought to India on the 16th day of the accident.

Excerpts continued: “ An MRI revealed the fractures in the spine. Two days later I was operated upon. Titanium rods were inserted in my spine and 5 vertebrae were fused into one. My legs were so badly off that I had to learn to walk again. But I did learn to walk, and then got into a cockpit and got back to flying, and sailing! 3 and a half years later, I am heading back into the same race that almost got me killed. Wish me luck !”

Abhilash’s boat for the 2022 GGR bears the name of his sponsor – Bayanat, a G42 company specializing in AI-powered geospatial intelligence. According to a report on the GGR website, Bayanat has said that during the race Abhilash would aid in ongoing scientific work, “ including the collection of water samples which can be analysed for up to date insight on the presence of microplastics in the world’s oceans.” Additionally, a small section of the yacht will be painted with a special coating which will serve as a reflectance target for satellites, “ representing a one-of-a-kind opportunity to collect calibrated data during the race.”

As per the report dated March 22, 2022, available on the GGR website, Abhilash purchased a Rustler 36 in France, and named it “ Bayanat.” The boat was previously raced in the last Golden Globe by Philippe Péché with PRB sponsorship (he retired from the race on August 25, 2018 due to a broken wind vane and put in to Cape Town). “ He has five months to complete a full refit and sail a 2000 miles solo voyage to qualify for the GGR,’’ the report said adding that with Abhilash’s entry, the total number of competitors in 2022 GGR stood at 23 sailors from 13 countries.

GGR’s list of skippers for 2022 also includes Gaurav Shinde (originally from Mumbai), who will be representing Canada in the race. “ Such great news! Can’t wait to share the start line with this legend.” – Shinde responded on Facebook to the news of Abhilash’s participation, confirmed.

The 2022 GGR is scheduled to commence from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France, on September 4. “ Whilst the proven formula of the 2018 Notice of Race will remain substantially the same, there are some additions for this third running of the Golden Globe. Sailors must show prior ocean sailing experience of at least 8,000 miles and another 2000 miles solo before applying to compete. Two new film drop points have been added to the course: Cape Town and Punta del Este. An extra 2000 miles non-stop solo qualifying voyage in the GGR entered yacht, using only celestial navigation, is required on top of the previous minimum 8000 ocean miles and a further 2000 solo miles. Thus, a total experience of 12000 miles at the start of the race,” the GGR website said.

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


From the race in Saudi Arabia (Photo: courtesy Adventure III)

Indian ultra and trail runner, Nupur Singh, finished second among women and seventh overall in the 81-kilometre category of EcoTrail AlUla 2022 held on March 19.

In January 2022, Nupur Singh received an invite from Asia Trail Masters, a series of trail running races in Asia, to participate in EcoTrail AlUla 2022.

For much of 2021 Nupur had been battling a personal crisis; she lost both her parents to COVID-19. “ In January 2022 I was not in a good shape. I was completely off training for most of 2021 because of the situation at home,’’ she said.

The invitation from Asia Trail Masters propelled Nupur to resume her training.

“ I was very excited by the invite to EcoTrail AlUla. I wanted to come back to running,’’ she said. Nupur commenced her training in Manali, where she resides. “ It was snowing there. So, I shifted to Bir, where I trained for one and a half months. Here, the weather was a mix of cold mornings followed by hot afternoons,” she said. She also participated in Tuffman Stadium Run’s 6-hour relay race, opting for an afternoon slot of two hours, primarily to train herself for running in Saudi Arabia’s desert heat.

Nupur travelled to Jeddah from New Delhi and after an overnight stay there, moved on to Al-‘Ula, a city in North West Saudi Arabia, in the Medina Region of the country.

From the race in Saudi Arabia (Photo: courtesy Adventure III)

The 81 km race at EcoTrail AlUla is predominantly a trail course comprising deep sandy stretches for over 10-12 km, followed by rocky canyons with stretches of continuous ups and downs. The wide open desert landscape was interspersed with rock formations, date farms, architectural monuments and the occasional road for transitioning to different areas. The course also winds through Hegra, the archaeological site, marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire course has an elevation gain of 1200 meters.

“ Here, the mornings and nights are cold while the afternoons are quite hot. The race started at 6:10 AM on March 19, 2022, and the initial terrain was a mix of deep and paved sand. It was chilly and that helped me pick up a good pace. From the beginning, I had decided to run my own race and not push too much early on and to enjoy the course and my comeback. The most enjoyable part of the course for me was the canyon section; technical terrain with mountain views is what I love the most,” she said.

Saudi Arabia’s dress code ensured that women runners wore outfits that covered themselves fully. “ It was beautiful to see so many women taking part in the race and at aid stations,” Nupur said.

Nupur said she felt strong for most part of the race. “ I never felt low at any point. My nutrition and hydration went off quite well. It was a good come-back race for me,” she said. She finished in nine hours, 19 minutes and 25 seconds. It earned her the second position among women and an overall seventh place.

A second place-finish; on the podium with the other winners (Photo: courtesy Adventure III)

Her nutrition consisted of Unived gels, salt tablets, peanut butter, oranges and locally grown dates. For hydration, she had Unived recovery drink mixes and water.

In the 81 km category, there were a total of 67 participants of which 31 runners finished the race.

Nupur got into running in 2014. Soon afterwards she started organising races in the mountains. In November 2019, she participated in the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Jordan. She ran in the open category and finished in fairly good time behind British athlete, Joasia Zakrzwenski, the winner of the open race.

Following the race in Saudi Arabia, her aim now is to participate in qualifying races for the IAU 100 km World Championship to be held in August 2022 in Berlin, Germany and the IAU Trail Championship scheduled to be held in November 2022.

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


Reaching the small pass on the road from Pargaon to Junnar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

A bicycle trip we had planned a couple of years ago, eventually got underway in March, 2022. Hoping against logic, we imagined temperate weather; the lingering grace of winter’s extended exit. Nature had other plans.

Heat waves are not often heard of in Mumbai.

There is always the relief gained through location on the sea coast. But then, these are times of unusual weather. On March 16, 2022, newspapers reported that the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had issued a heat wave warning for Mumbai.

In its report, the Times of India explained, “ heat wave warnings are issued when the temperature of any coastal station reaches 37 degrees and the departure from normal is between 4.5 to 6.4 degrees. When both these conditions are met for a costal station like the city and when it persists for two days at more than one station, then a heat wave is declared for that region. If departures exceed 6.5 degrees, then severe heat wave conditions are issued by the weather bureau.’’ The report then quoted the IMD: Due to the advection of warm and dry winds from North West India, heat wave to severe heat wave conditions are very likely over parts of Konkan-Goa, including Mumbai, over the next three days. Due to the prevailing clear skies and low humidity values, the temperatures are expected to rise and similar conditions are likely to prevail for next two to three days over the region.

Savouring a patch of shade (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

“ Aha,’’ I thought with the satisfaction of having found the answer. My mind was dwelling on the afternoon of March 5. Early that morning, Prashant Venugopal and I had set out on a small, multi-day cycling trip from Navi Mumbai. We knew the timing was bad; ideally it should have been in December, January or February when the weather is relatively pleasant. But for much of January-February 2022, I wasn’t in Mumbai and given his work, Prashant has to schedule the required number of days, which takes time. Eventually, the trip was slotted to commence on March 5. The idea was older still. It took shape in 2019, not long after the two of us cycled from Mumbai to Goa (for more on that trip, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/12/29/on-a-bicycle-mumbai-goa/). By now periodically studying the map for interesting routes, we had noticed this giant circle possible around the Bhimashankar massif. With Malshej Ghat added, one could do it like a circle linking the coastal plains with the higher Deccan Plateau. Then a few things happened.

First, in the first quarter of 2020, India slipped into COVID-19 and lockdown. The following year too was spent in and out of COVID. Our trip went into hibernation. Second, we heard that portions of the route had become part of a BRM. Brevets are a different world. As the casual touring sort, we would never cycle as fast or as consistently as those participating in brevets do. But news of the BRM reminded us to try the route, in our own way. Third, over 2020-2021, Prashant’s niece came to study at a university near Bhimashankar. We thought of our fifty plus-selves dropping by one day on cycles to say hello but the very same musings provoked the question: why don’t we do the full route? We took it up seriously in February 2022, dates were decided towards the end of the month and after a quick check of the chain, drive train and disc brakes of my bicycle by Inderjeet of Evolution Cycles, we left home at around 5.30 AM on March 5. We had this hope that although it was unmistakably summer, the weather would be tolerable.

On the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road; late afternoon, day 1, Gorakhgad and Machindra to the far left

Our goal was to proceed from Nerul to Panvel and onward to Chowk, Karjat, Mhasa, Vaishakhare, Malshej Ghat, Junnar, Narayangaon, Chakan, Lonavala, Khopoli and eventually back to Nerul via Panvel. We made no arrangements for stay in advance and given the Mhasa-Vaishakhare stretch could see us bivouacking, we provided for some extra layers in the panniers besides regular stuff like snacks, first aid kit and bike repair / maintenance equipment. We thought of taking a tarp or a tent ground sheet along but finally dispensed with that; neither of us wanted to work overtime on fashioning a perfect ride. Take it as it comes.

Gorakhgad (background, centre) and Machindra pinnacle (to the left), as seen from the ashram in Dehri (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

By noon of the first day, on the Karjat-Murbad road, it was amply clear that we had underestimated the heat. Among the great achievements of civilization has been diminishing tree cover and this road seemed an excellent example of that. The land to the side of the road and the smaller roads meandering off inland had sprinklings of shade. But the main road itself was starved of tree cover good enough for you to stand under and feel cooled. Those big trees of yore – they are deeply missed. The result was a slow and steady progression of cyclist into dehydration. It wasn’t so much the lack of water, which we had in sufficient quantity. In my case, it was the loss of water and salts and the glare all around caused by exposed road and limited shade. To make matters worse, I love tea and soft drinks. Both, recommended as unsuited (perhaps the right description is: deceptively satisfying) for hot days, I downed in handsome quantities. It was a bad choice. I felt full and hollow at once and lacking energy. After a particularly bare stretch of blazing hot road, roughly an hour before Mhasa, I unhesitatingly rode into the fragile, thatched shelter of a tiny shop selling lemonade. It was sweet relief and there I remained for quite some time, waiting for Prashant and recalling a similar moment of God sent-relief on a hike to Prabalgad several years ago.

Our mountaineering club having acquired new tents, Abhijit Burman (Bong), Franco Linhares and I had decided to camp overnight on the hill’s apex, so that we could test the gear and also take in the unhindered sight of city lights in the distance. All that was good, except somewhere in the walk-in with tent, stove, fuel and provisions to cook food, Bong remembered that he had forgotten to take a matchbox. None of us smoked and that meant, there were no matches on Franco and I, as well. Suddenly we realized the value of a matchbox; the small thing separated us from a nice dinner and sleeping on an empty stomach. And we liked to eat. The evening was quickly fading to night, when we hurriedly retraced our steps to the nearby village. We worried that we may have to knock on people’s doors, be a nuisance. And what if they didn’t have matchboxes to spare? Luckily, ahead of the village, a lone old man appeared smoking a beedi. “ Maamaaa…,’’ Bong shouted in relief and happiness. He brought himself to a halt before the old man, bowed low and offered a heartfelt namaste. Never before in the history of the matchbox was a non-smoker so happy to see a person with smoke escaping his lips. The old man looked on amused. Bong narrated the blunder we had committed. The old man listened. He saved us, he let us have his matchbox. At the small roadside shack, I had three lemonades one after the other. Prashant had his share. Never before in the history of lemonade were two cyclists this happy to see a lemonade vendor. Thirst quenched and salts restored, we thanked the vendor and picked our way to Mhasa.

Sunrise on the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

At Mhasa’s Guruprasad restaurant, we evaluated our options. Enquiries along the way had shown that rest houses were limited on the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road. “ Go to Murbad’’ – that was everyone’s suggestion. On the other hand, we had thought of days one and two of the trip as its main attraction and within that, the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road was important. Cycling to Murbad and then returning to Mhasa next morning to be on that road, didn’t appeal. The waiter who served us lunch at the hotel indicated that his manager may know more and so Prashant took up the task of speaking to the manager to find out about places of stay. He recommended an ashram in Dehri village and connected us to the caretaker there. It was a restricted property and securing permission for stay was difficult. But eventually, Prashant got a yes. The journey from Mhasa to Dehri was more or less a repeat of the conditions experienced on the Karjat-Murbad road. It was hot, dry and not generous in shade. By evening we were in Dehri and the ashram, located right at the base of Gorakhgad; Machindra pinnacle to the side. Under the greener circumstances of monsoon or winter this would be a pretty place. Unfortunately, we were visitors in March. In summer, vegetation in the Sahyadri dries up and the hills acquire a dusty, light brown shade interspersed with the black of ancient volcanic rock.

Gorakhgad holds a special place in my life. It was one of the first Sahyadri forts I hiked to, back in 1997-1998. After my first hike in Sikkim, I had looked out for company to go hiking around Mumbai and my first friend in this regard was a young, very tall Sikh gentleman. We made an odd pair; as tall as Satinder was, I was short. Gorakhgad was the second or third fort I visited with him. Those days, Dehri had been just a bus stop with a couple of shops. Having arrived in the late evening bus from Kalyan (or was it Murbad?), we slept in the veranda of one of the shops and hiked up Gorakhgad early next morning. However, it was in the years that followed, spent hiking and climbing with Girivihar (Mumbai’s oldest mountaineering club) that I realized the full scale and wealth of the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road. From Gorakhgad to Jeevdhan, Naneghat and Bhairavgad a massive wall of hills signified the abrupt drop of the Deccan plateau to the coastal plains. The last time I was here was to hike up Dhakoba and onward to Durga Killa (you can read about it here: https://shyamgopan.com/2013/08/05/the-short-cut/). Simply put, Mhasa-Vaishakhare is a special road; one of the less celebrated gems although of late (especially following the early waves of COVID-19), there have been reports of many visitors going in, naturally triggering concerns alongside. Our stay at the ashram was comfortable. The caretaker’s family made us a tasty dinner. Our gratitude to them. As we took leave of the family to return to our room, a car load of trekkers who had taken a wrong turn, arrived on the premises asking if the path to Gorakhgad ran through the property.

From the road to Malshej Ghat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Early next morning, we pushed off for Vaishakhare and Malshej Ghat. The road was very good and distances marked directly on the tarmac indicated that it may have played host to road races. We cruised along, first in darkness and then, savoring a fantastic sunrise. A few kilometers before Vaishakhare, a man we met suggested that we take a short cut. We did so and ended up off-roading for a while. The path connected us to the road leading to Malshej Ghat. At the hotel we stopped for morning tea, a bus passenger traveling from Ahmednagar to Kalyan and halted there for breakfast, took much interest in our cycles and the small trip we were doing. He gave us an overview of the road to Junnar beyond Malshej. Tea had, we pushed off. Our next stop was another hour or more later – a cart and a van parked by the road to Malshej; the former offering tea and vada-paav, the latter functioning as a store selling packaged snacks. Both were managed by a local villager and his son. We had tea and vada-paav and enjoyable conversation with the father-son duo. Then, up the ghat road, we continued.

The small eatery called Hotel Malshej; Balu and his wife, who served us excellent food (Photo: courtesy Balu)

The mountain wall from day one now curved towards Malshej Ghat. The dyke-like Bhairavgad was an impressive sight to behold. Meanwhile we could see ranges coming into view on the opposite side of the road as well. Occasionally a motorcycle rider or the occupants of a passing car would give us a thumbs up for encouragement as we sweated it up Malshej Ghat (on the Internet, the average elevation of Malshej Ghat is given as 700 metres, around 2300 feet). We took periodic breaks, particularly at view-points with parking space created by the side of the road. Having learnt the importance of self-care from the previous day, we were also quite liberal with halts for hydration, especially lemonade. Around noon, we reached the entry to the final stretch; there was a lemonade stall, a fort-like structure and a patch of road with a fleet of cranes and many workers engaged in (what seemed like) strengthening the rock wall of the hill through which the road had been cut. Besides that, the workers removed lose rocks. We paused here for lemonade and some down time spent watching people and traffic. Early afternoon, we reached the side road leading to the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s (MTDC) resort at Malshej Ghat. But given Dehri had made us fans of the local cooking, instead of heading to the resort straight away, we dove into Hotel Malshej, a dhaba (small eatery) right at that corner. It was operated by Balu and his wife. They didn’t let us down. It was another encounter with tasty food; fresh, simple and beautifully made. We told Balu that we will be back for dinner.

Post lunch, we proceeded to the MTDC resort but ended up quite disappointed with their tariff, which despite it being off season, was high. The tariff showed no sign of being flexible. And they didn’t appear to require questioning the inflexibility because there were people driving in on their cars and SUVs, willing to spend that much for a room. What are two cyclists then? – I guess. We asked ourselves if the basic paradigm of a bicycle trip is to spend high for creature comforts or focus resources on the cycling. The answer was definitely the latter. So, we consulted Balu and he fixed us up at Hotel Nisarg a little distance away. It was a rather bleak lodge but liveable and with an evening stroll to a nearby meadow possible and dinner set up at Balu’s eatery, the hours went by quickly. Interestingly, the lodge’s biggest customer appeared to be the firm doing the work on the rock wall at Malshej Ghat. The officers of the company stayed there. There was a small temple near the lodge. Harishchandragad could be seen in the distance. There was however one emergent problem – the flow of traffic on the road was now steady and the number of vehicles, more. On top of it, the road here was in a bad state. It didn’t augur well for next day’s start.

On the road to Junnar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Hikers, climbers, runners, cyclists – they typically like an early morning start. The reason is simple. Unlike people traveling in the climate controlled comfort of automobiles, these activities involve physical strain. You therefore try to get at least some portion of the day’s work done before the heat sets in. It had been the same with us. We always aimed to commence cycling by 6 AM or earlier. Usually, it is a nice experience. That terrible irritant of Indian roads – traffic, is less and in places away from cities, you have a world at peace for bonus. Early next morning however, the cycling was a challenge. The road was gravely, the tarmac dipped sharply at the road’s edges and there were potholes. But the real nuisance was the traffic and the ocean of lights one saw in front. Probably because this is a hill section, trucks, cars, pick-ups, SUVs and vans plying on the road tend to have multiple lights. Their logic would be – the more the number of lights, the more the visibility. Oncoming vehicles therefore hark of a film shooting scene. There’s so much light; all one needs is a movie star dancing on the road. What they forget is, lighting technology has changed over the years. The average car or SUV of today has headlights significantly more powerful than what they used to be years ago. Adding more lights is overkill. For cyclist on the road, oncoming traffic awash in a battery of such lights is blinding. For an hour at least, I struggled to see properly. Dawn’s sunshine brought relief. Slowly the road condition too improved. We soon got past Pargaon and on to the hill road leading to Junnar. This road was a bit steep in parts but it was in excellent condition. There was very little traffic at that hour and hence, the road was quite enjoyable. It was peaceful.

We saw a well-dressed young woman, seemingly on her way to college, walking barefoot with her slippers in her hand. It was an odd sight. Prashant asked why she was walking so. She replied that her slippers were fancy ones unsuited for walking on the hill road. Maybe closer to her destination, she would slip them back on. The road climbed up to a lovely, small pass with a temple by its side. We parked our bicycles at the pass to hydrate and take in the view. It was an impressive landscape; a chain of hills and the lake created by the Pimpalgaon Joga Dam. As we stood there, we saw a cyclist on a light road bike, come up from the Junnar side. It was Santosh, jeweller and cyclist from Othur, out on his regular training ride. It was a study in contrast – he on an utterly light road bike free of load and us (an MTB and a hybrid) sporting panniers and hauling load. We exchanged notes and a brief conversation later, Santosh rode off elegantly as road bikers typically do; he essayed a smooth turn at the corner and disappeared down the road in the direction of Pargaon. We crossed the pass towards Junnar and were treated to a long, smooth descent. It was fun; that stint going downhill felt like a magic carpet-ride.  

Looking towards Malshej from the small pass on the road connecting Pargaon and Junnar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

After breakfast at Junnar, we attended to a major problem, on since day two of the ride. My shoes, veteran of several rides, were enduring a divorce; the upper had come off the soles completely. The first one separated so before the trip and I had it repaired in Navi Mumbai. The second one followed suit at Malshej. We located a cobbler just outside the Junnar bus depot. He stitched the whole thing up. Bless you sir. We set off for Narayangaon. In retrospect, all the attractions of this trip ended at Junnar. From Junnar onward, the route we had chosen was on a crowded main road or highway and therefore very reminiscent of India’s daily rat race-existence. We could sense in the environment, the distant presence of Pune, Maharashtra’s second biggest city and among India’s major industrial hubs. As traffic from all over merges and proceeds to such hubs, the local flavour recedes and an industrial blandness takes over. The return to urban life was viscerally felt in the lunch of day three – the thali we ordered at a dhaba along the highway had nothing authentic or regional. It tasted of everywhere. Several hours of cycling on characterless roads later, we reached Chakan.

Meeting Santosh; the small pass in the backdrop (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

By now the return to civilization was full blown. Its most visible ambassador was traffic moving nonchalantly towards you on the wrong side of the road. It seemed an institutionalized, normal practice. And it was dangerous, making for deadly roads. We turned into the road leading to Talegaon from Chakan and some ways off, decided to halt at the fairly upmarket Matrix Inn. While we discussed the tariff, we told the manager of the hotel that we were cyclists out on a multi-day trip and spending high wasn’t exactly what we wished for. He heard us out and offered a good deal; he also let us take our cycles to the floor we stayed on. It was an excellent stay. Next morning, the hotel even prepared an earlier than usual complimentary breakfast for us. There was sandwich, boiled egg, fruit and tea. Our thanks to the manager and his staff.

The early morning ride through Chakan was a gaze into the dim underbelly of GDP. The factories here contribute to the GDP that is bandied about as data for discussion in the financial circles of Mumbai and the government circles of Delhi. However, there is something bleak about how GDP is made; about Chakan’s early morning heavy traffic, the sight of buses transporting workers to various factories, people waiting at bus stops, the queues before factory gates and people walking along the road, mile upon mile, proceeding on foot to their places of work. And the sun isn’t up, yet. There was an Orwellian tinge to the picture; a sense of self succumbed to industrial order and redemption through money. It isn’t an uplifting sight and you cannot blame anyone for the lack of buoyancy in the frame. It is just us, our numbers and our predicament of life traded for means of survival. Spoken of as data and statistics and minus the human angle, GDP is sexy.

Day 3, lunchtime; our cycles at a dhaba between Narayangaon and Chakan (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

We wound our way to Talegaon, tucked into the traffic flow headed to Mumbai on the old Mumbai-Pune highway, watched paragliding over a cup of tea at Kamshet, breezed through Lonavala, descended to the coastal plains via Bhor Ghat and sat down for a ritual snack at Khopoli. The whole passage was as industrial as the morning mood of Chakan. A few hours later, Mumbai hit us in full force at Panvel. By afternoon on the fourth day (March 8), we were back in Nerul. In terms of daily mileage (approximate and measured on Google), Prashant estimates it was 95 kilometres covered on day one, 55 on day two, 90 on day three and close to 130 on day four. The cycles – a Trek 4500D MTB and a GT Traffic hybrid – held up well. The only instance of gear malfunctioning was a headlight (one of two used on the given cycle) that failed on day two. We tried repairing it in our lodge room at Malshej but to no success.         

The IMD’s warning, the Mumbai municipal corporation’s (BMC) advisory on heat wave and the related news reports not only put those hours on the Karjat-Murbad road and the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road in perspective, it also helped explain another aspect of the heat, which we had felt. Although the cycling beyond Malshej had been less enjoyable due to traffic and regular highways, the heat hadn’t been as punishing as it was in the phase before Malshej Ghat and the phase following Bhor Ghat on the return. That was unusual for summer – a comparatively tolerable Deccan and an unsettlingly warm coastal plain.

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


Bindu Juneja

27 Indian ultra-runners participate in IAU Virtual Global Solidarity Run

Twenty-seven Indian ultra-runners participated in the 6-Hour IAU Virtual Solidarity Run 2022 held on March 20.

Originally 28 Indian runners were scheduled to participate in the 6-hour run. Manoj Bhat had to drop out due to injury.

Among women Bindu Juneja reported the most distance logged within the stipulated duration – 63.3 kilometres. Sandeep Kumar covered a distance of 81.2 km, the highest in the men’s category. Geeno Antony had the second highest mileage – 68.37 km.

Sandeep Kumar

Running in Surat, Sandeep found the familiarity of the place psychologically easy prompting him to push for high mileage. In 2020, during the same run, Sandeep had covered 79.5 km during the 6-hour period.

“ It was quiet in the early morning but after 8 AM heat and Sunday traffic started to rise,’’ he said. With barely one hour left for the time to finish, he found himself beset with injury. “ But I decided to continue,” he said.

For nutrition and hydration, he had gels, electrolytes, coconut water, lemonade, banana, oats biscuits and peanut butter.

Sunil Chainani, Amar Singh Devanda, Bindu Juneja, Gorkha Ram, Velu P, Rakesh Saran and Om Prakash (Dany) Saran

Running in Bengaluru, Bindu Juneja had the company of five male runners from among those enlisted to run. “ We were to run in the outer loop of Kanteerava Stadium. Initially, the stadium staff were reluctant to allow us to run for six hours. We thought we would run for the first few hours there and then move out. But eventually, we ended up running in the stadium throughout,” she said.

“ I had a plan and followed it till the end. The weather was relatively good,” Bindu said.

For company, she had ultra-runners P. Velu, Amar Singh Devanda (the national record holder in 100 km and 24-hour), Gorkha Ram, Rakesh Saran and Dany Saran.

Asha Singh
Geeno Antony

Sunil Chainani, Bengaluru-based runner and formerly a member of the Athletics Federation of India’s ultra-running committee, also kept the runners company for the first three hours.

Asha Singh, running in a park in Lucknow, managed to cover a distance of 61.86 km during the stipulated time. Last week, she had participated in the 100 km race at Tuffman Stadium Run in Chandigarh. But the race was cancelled mid-way because of technical glitches in timing. There, she had covered a distance of 75 km before the race was called off.

During the 6-hour period, temperatures in Lucknow touched 36 degrees Celsius. Asha’s husband Bajrang Singh provided support to her during the run.

The Indian runners were given T-shirts by NEB Sports.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Indian ultra-runners to participate in IAU Virtual Global Solidarity Run 2022

Twenty-eight ultra-runners from India – nine women and 19 male runners – will be participating in the six-hour IAU/AFI Virtual Global Solidarity Run 2022 to be held on March 19 and 20, 2022.

Alongside the IAU Virtual Solidarity Run 2022, the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) Virtual Global Solidarity Run will also be held. In the AFI run, 13 runners – 10 men and three women – will be participating.

“ The IAU 6 Hour Global Solidarity Run has been an overwhelming success and popular amongst the ultrarunners. An event that was initiated to bring the IAU family together during the pandemic has become a source of hope and a beacon of optimism for the global ultrarunning community,’’ IAU statement said quoting IAU General Secretary Hilary Walker.

Women ultra-runners participating in the IAU event include Asha Singh, Deepti Chaudhary, Anju Saini, Preeti Lala, Ashwini G and Shashi Mehta.

Among men, Binay Kumar Sah, Sandeep Kumar, Sunil Sharma, Velu Perumal, Geeno Antony, Gorkha Ram, Om Prakash Saran, Amar Singh Devanda and Vipul Kumar will be representing the country.

AFI runners include Badal Teotia, Munish Dev, Parveen Kumar Sangwan, Rakesh Kumar Saran, Manoj Bhat, Satpal Rayka, Deepak Chhillar, Amar Shiv Dev and Santosh Gowda among men and Bindu Juneja, Aparna Chaudhary and Shikha Pahwa among women.

As per the instructions issued by AFI, the runners are mandated to commence their 6-hour virtual run at 5:30 AM and end at 11:30 AM on March 20, 2022. They are to run with a GPS tracker device and are expected to give a screenshot of the tracker every hour.

The virtual event will be overseen by Dr Rajat Chauhan and Santosh Padmanabhan.

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

Kipchoge, Kosgei emerge winners at Tokyo Marathon

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya won the men’s race at the Tokyo Marathon in a new course record of 2:02:40.

The time he took to cover the distance is as yet the fourth fastest in the history of the sport. Kipchoge’s performance was despite a wrong turn essayed by the lead pack just after the 10 kilometre-mark, an incident that would have affected the runners’ time and rhythm. The Tokyo Marathon was held on Sunday, March 6, 2022.

“ Kipchoge has now won 14 marathons overall, including nine World Marathon Major events and two Olympic marathons. With wins in Tokyo, London, Berlin, and Chicago, he joins Wilson Kipsang as the only men to have won four different WMM events since the series began in 2006. Only Boston and New York remain for Kipchoge to complete an unprecedented sweep,” the website letsrun.com said in its report on the Tokyo Marathon.

Second place in the men’s race went to Kenya’s Amos Kipruto (2:03:13). Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia (2:04:14) placed third. Although held in March 2022, the event was actually the delayed 2021 edition because that year’s race was postponed to be held in October 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then again postponed to March 2022.

In the women’s race, top honours went to world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya. She completed the race in 2:16:02, the third fastest time recorded yet for women. Ashete Bikere of Ethiopia (2:17:58) finished second while fellow Ethiopian, Goytom Gebrselase (2:18:18) placed third.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)