Kavitha Reddy (Photo: courtesy Kavitha)

Few races represent running like the Boston Marathon does.

As the 2022 edition of Boston Marathon returns to its April schedule, long-distance runners around the world are getting ready to travel for international road races. They hope the upcoming race – it is being held on the race’s traditional date – signifies the return of normalcy to running events worldwide after the calendar of races was upset by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Boston Marathon, in its 126th year, is scheduled to be held on April 18, 2022, its first rendezvous with Patriot’s Day in three years. Held every April, the event inspires hundreds of runners around the world to qualify for it and participate. The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and was held in a virtual format later in the year. The 2021 edition was held in physical format in October 2021 with Kenyan elite runners taking top honors.

This year, over 100 runners from India have found a place in the entry list and are travelling to Boston to participate in the event, which is a World Marathon Major and among the globe’s most iconic races. “Getting back to international running events is something to look forward to after two years of pandemic,” said Pune-based Kavitha Reddy. She couldn’t think of a better way to execute the return than to run the Boston Marathon.

Hemant Beniwal (Photo: courtesy Hemant)

Kavitha had participated and completed the Boston Marathon in 2018, the year the marathon encountered its worst weather in 30 years. Faced with howling winds, rains and snow and the weather deteriorating as the race progressed, many runners had to quit, including the African elite contingent.

Memories of the 2018 race continue to engage her as variations in weather conditions is an issue with the Boston Marathon. All the same, her training went off quite well especially in the final stages. She lost a couple of weeks in January 2022 to coronavirus infection. “When I got back to training after COVID, it was tough initially. But slowly I got my energy back,” she said. On March 13, 2022, she ran a half marathon at the Jaipur Marathon, finishing in one hour, 30 minutes and 47 seconds. Kavitha is one of the best recreational runners in India in terms of time efficiency.

Gurgaon-based Hemant Beniwal, is headed to Boston for his first attempt there. In 2019, he ran the Berlin Marathon, finishing it in 2:59:30, as per data on the Berlin Marathon website. “It is a privilege to run the Boston Marathon as the bulk of the runners are chosen on merit. Also, the energy level in Boston is incomparable to any other running event. The city celebrates every runner’s presence,” said Hemant. He had qualified for Boston Marathon in 2018 but did not make it. He attempted another qualifying run in 2021 to secure the timing required for his age group (35-39) and make the cut. This was even as the time for qualifying got tougher.

Hemant is also an ultra-marathoner. He represented India at the 2019 100 km IAU Asia & Oceania Championships held at Aqaba in Jordan. The Indian men’s team had secured gold at the event. Hemant finished the distance in 8:12:11.

Rajeev Singh (Photo: courtesy Rajeev)

Srividya Ramnath from Navi Mumbai has already done two of the World Marathon Majors – Chicago Marathon and Berlin Marathon. She has been training diligently for the Boston Marathon for the past four months, helped by a training plan designed by her coach, Ankita Gaur. “I resorted to speed runs even during my long runs and that approach has helped,” she said. She has been an age-category podium finishers in some of the events in India.

Rajeev Singh, also from Navi Mumbai, has run several international races. This will be his second outing at Boston, the first one having been in 2019. Rajeev has been running barefoot for about six years. But recently he shifted to minimalist footwear. “I have been running quite regularly. My preparation, I think, has been good,” he said.

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


Velu Perumal (Photo: Flashbulbzz Photography)

Ultra-marathoner, Velu Perumal, won the 90 km-OotyUltra road race held on April 3, 2022 in Tamil Nadu.

The ultra-marathon, held on the streets of Ooty, was challenging with substantial elevation gain and long stretches of downhill. But it was supported well by race organisers and volunteers, runners this blog spoke to, said.

Of the six runners at the start line of OotyUltra’s 90 kilometre-race, held on April 3, 2022, three finished the race. Velu Perumal was the winner followed by Preeti Lala from Mumbai and Vijayan Pillai from Kerala.

OotyUltra has four events – 90 km, 60 km, 30 km and 15 km. The 90 km race, which was by invitation, has a cumulative elevation gain of 2600 metres. There are extended sections of uphill and downhill, with the route touching Dodabetta Peak, winding through Kothagiri and ending at Tea Park.

The event was organised by KaysFIT Academy, founded by Kannan Sundarajan, known as Coach Kay in running circles; it was its fifth edition. In its physical form, Ooty Ultra was in its third edition, having lost two years to the coronavirus pandemic. Coach Kay, originally from Ooty, commenced running in 2011, starting with marathons. He later moved to ultra-marathons.

“It was quite a tough route, quite challenging, requiring us to put in a lot of effort,” Velu, the winner of the 90 km-race, said. He finished it in ten hours, 48 minutes and 31 seconds. Velu is a regular participant and podium finisher in many ultra-running events. He has also represented India in ultra-running events overseas held by IAU. The 31-year-old, who works with the Indian Army, has been coached by Subedar Pawan Kumar from Army Medical Corps.

Mumbai-based Preeti, who placed second among the three finishers, refers to the 90 km-race at Ooty Ultra as “ Indian Comrades.’’ Comrades Marathon is an ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. “This is a must-do event for those running the Comrades Marathon,” she said. She finished the race in 11:38:27. She was the only woman participant in the 90 km-category. Preeti is due to go to South Africa to take part in the Comrades Marathon, scheduled to be held in August 2022.

Vijayan Pillai, who came in third, managed to finish within the 12-hour cut-off; he clocked 11:52:55. Preeti and Vijayan ran together for a long distance but somewhere around the 84 km- mark Vijayan started to develop cramps and had to slow down. His first time at OotyUltra, Vijayan found the event well organised. According to him, the first part of the run led to Dodabetta Peak and on the return, took a deviation to Tea Park (also the eventual finish point). The second and third parts, “ followed a different loop but in opposite directions.” “The aid stations were well-placed and the volunteering was great. The youngsters, who were recruited to do the volunteering, did a great job,” he said. Vijayan commenced running eight years ago and over time got interested in ultra-running, particularly trail running.

Weather was quite good at the start of the race in Ooty but the afternoon stretch turned quite warm. “The hydration and nutrition support by the organisers and the villagers helped us get by during this tough period,” Preeti said. On offer were watermelons, energy drinks, curds, jaggery, bread and butter. The hydration points were positioned at intervals of 3-4 km along the route.

Vijayan Pillai and Preeti Lala (Photo: Flashbulbzz Photography)

Preeti has finished on the podium before, at ultra-running events. Running the 24-hour race at NEB Sports Mumbai Stadium Run in February 2021, she had emerged the overall winner with a distance of 193.60 km covered. It was the second best by an Indian woman in the category.

At OotyUltra, Dr C. Selvaraj chose to run the 60 km-race. He did it barefoot. This was his second ultra-running event, the first one being the Yercaud Hills Ultra, where he completed the 50 km-race.

“Running barefoot was tough during the hot, sunny hours. I had to run by the side of the road,” he said. Overall, the race was tough with a total elevation gain of 2000 metres, he said. A neurologist, Dr Selvaraj started running for health reasons. Over time, he grew more and more interested in long-distance running.

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