2:01:09, 30 SECONDS, 37 YEARS OLD

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

The numbers bewitch: 2:01:09, 30 seconds lopped off and the man does it at 37 years of age.

Olympic champion and world marathon record holder, Eliud Kipchoge, rewrote his marathon world record at the 2022 edition of the Berlin Marathon held on September 25, 2022. The 37 year-old Kenyan great covered the 42.2 kilometres-distance in two hours, one minute and nine seconds, chopping off 30 seconds from his previous world record of 2:01:39 set in Berlin in 2018.

Kipchoge ran the first half of the race in 59 minutes and 51 seconds and the second half in 61 minutes and 18 seconds. His first half pace raised hopes of the legend doing a sub-two-hour marathon but after that pace started to drop in the second half, the possibility of a sub-two was ruled out. For the moment, it leaves the unofficial sub-two he ran in October 2019 (1:59:40.2 at the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Austria), as an instance of human performance achieved under circumstances very different from that of a regular race.

In the women’s segment at Berlin, Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa smashed the course record by more than two minutes with a 2:15:37 finish. In the process, she became the third fastest woman marathon runner in the world. Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei holds the women’s world record of 2:14:14 set in Chicago in 2019. Paula Radcliffe, the earlier world record holder (2:15:25) is the second fastest after Kosgei. Going into the race, Assefa was not among those fancied to win; she had run only one major marathon before – the 2022 Riyadh Marathon, where she registered a timing of 2:34:00. In Berlin on Sunday, she produced a faster pace for the second half of the race.   

Tigist Assefa (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Berlin Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

In the men’s race, Kenyan runner Mark Korir finished in 2:05:58, almost five minutes behind Kipchoge. In third place was Tadu Abate of Ethiopia (2:06:28). In the women’s race, Rosemary Wanjiru of Kenya finished second in 2:18 and Tigist Abayechew of Ethiopia finished third with a timing of 2:18:03.

In its report, Runner’s World pointed out that Sunday’s world record breaking performance was Kipchoge’s 17th win from 19 marathon starts. Two of the 19 starts were demo races that were ineligible for records. At the 2013 Berlin Marathon, he had finished second and in 2020, he had placed eighth in the year’s London Marathon. Kipchoge has run four of the five fastest times in the marathon so far.

The course of the Berlin Marathon is flat; it has played host to many record-breaking performances in the discipline. Besides 2022, Kipchoge won in Berlin in 2015, 2017 and 2018. In its report, NBC Sports noted, “The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.’’ According to it, Kipchoge’s focus now is to be a three-time Olympic champion (he has been crowned twice – 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo; the next Olympic Games is in Paris in 2024) and also win the six World Marathon Majors (he is yet to run the city marathons of Boston and New York).

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


Gitanjali finishes fourth in her age category

Gitanjali Lenka (Photo: courtesy Gitanjali)

The 2022 edition of Comrades Marathon was held in August.

The ultramarathon, held annually in South Africa, was happening after a gap of two years lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participation of Indian long-distance runners in the event, has been increasing over the past few years. This year’s race was downhill starting from Pietermaritzburg and ending at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. The ultramarathon, measuring approximately 90 kilometres, usually alternates between uphill and downhill routes. This year’s downhill route measured 89.895 km.

Thane-based Gitanjali Lenka was the fastest finisher from among Indian women runners in 2022. Kartik Joshi from Indore was the fastest male finisher from India.

Gitanjali,50, finished the race in eight hours, 52 minutes and 58 seconds. This makes her the second fastest finisher among Indian women in the years since Indians began appearing at this ultramarathon. In June 2017, Kolkata-based Anjali Saraogi had completed the ultramarathon in 8:38:23, the fastest time yet by an Indian woman.

Among Indian men, Kartik Joshi was the fastest finisher this year with a timing of 7:51:56. He is the third fastest finisher among Indian male runners so far. Sandeep Kumar of Surat is the fastest finisher yet, having covered the course in 7:30:17 in the 2018 edition. Deepak Bandbe, the second fastest finisher, completed the race in 7:43:34 in 2019.

Besides the time she clocked, Gitanjali was also the fourth finisher in her age category of 50 to 59 years. She missed her age category-podium by a small margin. This was Gitanjali’s second outing at the Comrades Marathon. In 2019, she finished in 11:36:16 hours. The nearly three-hour improvement in her timing comes after a rigorous training schedule set for her by her coach, Ashok Nath.

Gitanjali attributed the improvement in her timing to her coach Ashok Nath’s training and nutrition methods. “ I followed my coach’s plan very meticulously. I could sense the difference between 2019 and this year, when I stood at the start line of Comrades. Back then, I was clearly nervous,” she said.

There were days when she would step out for a training run in the bright sunshine and growing heat of mid-morning as she had to complete her responsibilities at home. Through the lockdown of pandemic when many runners took a break from running, Gitanjali continued her training relentlessly.

She enrolled with Ashok Nath in February 2019, a few months before her first attempt at Comrades. A gritty runner, the main focus in Gitanjali’s training was to get her fit, Ashok said. “ For an ultramarathon, the reason for running such long distance is critical to keep going when the body says: stop. Getting Gitanjali to understand her purpose or reason was a focal point in the training,” he said.

“ Cardio is over-rated in an ultra and most err on the side of overdoing it. It is equally sheer fitness and mental strength that are crucial,” Ashok explained. In the three years of Gitanjali’s training – the intervening years between her first and second outing at Comrades – these two elements, fitness and purpose, were incorporated well, he added.

Gitanjali’s journey in running commenced in 2016 when she signed up for Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon. The run is held annually at the Hiranandani residential colony where Gitanjali resides. “ A couple of my friends would go for this run every year. I decided to sign up for the 2016 edition, choosing the 10 km distance. I had no clue about running or its attire,” she said. Gitanjali finished the run in 1:19:11. At the end of the run she realized that she finished easily without any strain despite the absence of any training while many others were “ huffing and puffing at the finish line”. Two months later, she signed up for another 10 km race, finished within one hour and landed on the podium.

She has found herself on the podium quite a few times since.

Prior to 2016, barring the occasional sports day outing while at school and college in Cuttack, Odisha, Gitanjali had not been involved in sports formally. But she was always focused on fitness through the years of her college life, marriage and later as a mother of two children.

Once she took to running seriously, she signed up with coach Haridasan Nair for training. During the many running events she attended thereafter, Gitanjali began familiarizing herself with details of the sport. Among other things she heard of Boston Marathon and the stringent qualifying timing required for the race.

Gitanjali had started running ultramarathons without actually running a marathon in a formal sense. Her running is marked by many podium finishes but along the way she was dogged by injury forcing her to pause her running for some time until she recovered from it.

Her training for Comrades 2022 commenced in April. “ I would wake up at 3:30 AM and get out at 4:30 for the training run. Initially, I stuck to a one-kilometre loop until daylight appeared and then stretched the loop as per my plan for the day,” she said. Her training included two days of strength workout. Her weekly mileage during the months of May, June and July was in the range of 150-160 km. “ In August, the focus was on speed running,” she said.

Comrades done; she is slated to go for the 2022 Berlin Marathon later in September. As for the Boston Marathon, having qualified for it, she is scheduled to participate in the 2023 edition of the race in April next year.  “ I would love to focus on ultra-running as ultras are my preferred distance,” she said adding that she, would however like to complete her pursuit of the World Marathon Majors.

Kartik Joshi (Photo: courtesy Kartik)

For Kartik Joshi, the 2022 Comrades was his first international running event. He had a comfortable run for much of the 89.895 km-long course in South Africa. “ I found the last 10 km quite tough. The wind was quite strong,” he said. He had a tough time on the nutrition front as he is vegetarian. “ Going forward I will have to figure out my nutrition if I am going to be running international events,” he said.

Twenty-year-old Kartik started running during his senior school days. “ During my school days I would often see the personnel at the Rustamji Armed Police Training College in Indore. I was inspired, seeing them run,” he said.

Seeing the police personnel run, Kartik was prompted to attempt running himself. “ On the first day I ran about 500 metres and spent the rest of the hour watching runners. A few of them were running slow but they kept going for a long time,” he said adding that he eventually chose to run long distances.

Kartik took up running in a serious fashion at the age of 15 and over the past five years have participated in a number of half marathons, marathons and ultramarathons. The ultramarathons that Kartik participated include Hennur Bamboo Ultra 250 km, 12-hour and 24-hour stadium runs, Backyard Ultra and Malnad Ultra.

He lost a year at school after his father Om Prakaesh Joshi went into coma due to health problems. Further in 2021, Kartik had to take up a job midway through his college education after his father suffered a heart attack. At 20, he is in the process of completing his degree and attempting an entry into the armed forces.

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


Abhilash Tomy; from the 2022 GGR (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

2022 GGR: Abhilash Tomy, now in fifth place, had a tough patch initially

Retired naval officer Abhilash Tomy, sole Indian participant in the 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR), had a trying first few days, the event’s website reported on September 18.

He had to combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), ostensibly stemming from his return to the race following the accident that halted his 2018 GGR attempt.

“ Abhilash Tomy holds 4th place and revealed during the film drop that after leaving Les Sables d’Olonne he suffered for 10 days with severe PTSD syndrome. He could not eat for those 10 days. Re-living his rescue and severe back injury inflicted during the 2018 edition of the GGR upset his ability to concentrate. This reaction surprised even himself. Now he is back into the 2022 edition with real focus and determination,’’ the update of September 18, posted on the website said. Simon Curwen (UK), Tapio Lehtinen (Finland), Pat Lawless (Ireland) and Abhilash were the first through the Marina Rubicon film gate.

According to the website of Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. During the 2018 GGR, Abhilash was caught in a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean that left his boat, ` Thuriya,’ badly damaged. An injured Abhilash (he suffered spinal injury) was later rescued via a multinational effort, including a ship dispatched by the Indian Navy.

The 2022 GGR got underway on September 4. As of September 26 morning, the bulk of the participants were positioned off the north western coast of Africa, in the Atlantic. Abhilash, sailing a Rustler 36 sailboat christened `Bayanat,’ was in fifth position.   

Abhilash is the first Indian to circumnavigate the planet in a sailboat, solo and nonstop. He achieved that distinction in 2013, as part of the Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project. Prior to Abhilash’s voyage, Dilip Donde (now a retired naval officer) had become the first Indian to do a solo circumnavigation. Sagar Parikrama was the brainchild of the late Vice Admiral Manohar Awati (Retd). For related articles please click on ` Sagar Parikrama’ under ` Category’ on this blog (it shows up on the panel to the right below the list of recent articles).

Aleksandr Sorokin (this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Aleksandr Sorokin sets new 24-hour world record at IAU European Championships

Lithuanian ultrarunner Aleksandr Sorokin set a new world record in the 24-hour-run at the IAU 24 Hour European Championships 2022 held over September 17-18 at Verona, Italy.

He ran a distance of 319.614 kilometres (198.599 miles) during the stipulated 24-hour period, smashing his own previous record of 309.399 km set in August 2021.

His average pace for the 24-hour period was 4:30 per km.

In the women’s race, Patrycja Bereznowska from Poland was the winner with a distance of 256.250 km. Stephanie Gicquele from France finished second with a distance of 253.581 km and Malgorzata Pazda-Pozorska from Poland placed third with a distance of 581.806 km.

In the men’s race, Andrzej Piotrowski from Poland finished in second place with a mileage of 301.858 km and Marco Visiniti from Italy placed third place with a distance of 288.437 km.

In team positions, Poland swept both the women’s and men’s titles. Among women’s teams, France was second and Germany third. In the men’s category, Lithuania placed second and Spain, third.

Vasai-Virar Marathon returns

The tenth edition of Vasai-Virar Municipal Marathon, a popular running event, is slated to be held on December 11, 2022.

The marathon, last held in 2019, was forced to miss two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upcoming edition will see a substantial increase in prize money while registration fees remain unchanged, a press release quoting Anil Kumar Pawar, Commissioner, Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation said.

The run is recognised as a national level sports event by the Athletic Federation of India and the running course has been measured and ratified by Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS).

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

2022 Golden Globe Race commences in France

The 2022 edition of the Golden Globe Race got underway on September 4.

According to reports posted on the event website, 16 skippers commenced their solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the planet that day from Les Sables-d’Olonne in western France.

Among them was retired naval officer, Abhilash Tomy, the first Indian to sail solo, nonstop around the planet in 2013. He had been a participant in the 2018 edition of GGR. That attempt had concluded with his boat getting badly damaged in a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean. An injured Abhilash was subsequently 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.

For his second attempt at GGR in 2022, Abhilash is sailing a UAE-registered sailboat named ` Bayanat.’ It is racing under the number 71, the year in which the United Arab Emirates was formed. The announcement in this regard was made earlier this year, at the Dubai Expo. The boat bears the name of Abhilash’s sponsor – Bayanat, a G42 company specializing in AI-powered geospatial intelligence. Abhilash purchased the Rustler 36 (a model of yacht) in France and renamed it.  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).

Prior to the start of the 2022 race on September 4, Abhilash required some repairs carried out fast. In a post titled “ The Jigsaw Puzzle” on his Facebook page, he wrote. “ We sailed into Les Sables d’Olonne on 16 Aug and were straight away lifted out of water. The boat needed a nose job after a collision at sea a day ago, and her mast too needed repairs. Given that we were just a little over two weeks from the start, it seemed like an uphill task, with quite a few wondering if we would make it across the line on 4 Sep. With all of Europe on a holiday, a solution looked virtually impossible. But we had to give it a good try.’’

Eventually the needed work was accomplished. “ Looking back, it all looks like a jigsaw puzzle. We found all the pieces and they all fit in well. It’s nothing short of a miracle. The Bayanat is now ready to sail around the world,’’ Abhilash wrote in the post, dated September 4.

As in the 2018 edition of the race, in 2022 as well, GGR participants have to sail using yachts similar to those used in the original 1968-69 race. Same goes for equipment too. They have to sail without the benefit of modern technology like satellite-based navigation systems.  As of September 9, Abhilash was placed tenth overall. On the race’s live tracker, the participants appeared bunched together off the north west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Ahead lay a long journey of several months.

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