Kenenisa Bekele. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Top marathon runner, Kenenisa Bekele, will not be participating in Sunday’s London Marathon.

He has pulled out of the event owing to a calf injury, information available on the website of London Marathon, said.

In a related video, the Ethiopian athlete who holds the second fastest time yet in the discipline can be heard saying that he picked up a minor injury two weeks earlier. “ We had really good training and more or less at the end of two weeks, I really pushed a little bit hard in training and I had some feeling in my left calf; a little bit. I feel like over-trained and after my physio checking about this, we tried to solve it but it’s really difficult to get enough and it’s really impossible to race on Sunday. I am not ready because of not solving these minor issues,’’ he says, adding, “ I am really disappointed for my fans; people who waited for this race. I am really disappointed too. I will come back next year. For now, I will not race on Sunday.’’

World record holder, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and Bekele sharing the same field was supposed to be the main attraction of this year’s London Marathon. According to a press statement on the event’s website, Sunday would have been the first time Bekele raced since clocking 2:01:41 to win the 2019 BMW Berlin Marathon in September 2019. “ It has been a tough preparation time with lockdown when I couldn’t have my NN team around me. I was in good shape but then I picked up a niggle in my left calf after two fast training sessions too close together in the last weeks of preparation. I have been having treatment every day since then and I truly believed I would be ready but today it is worse and I now know I cannot race on it,’’ the statement dated October 2, quoted him as saying.

Hugh Brasher, Event Director of the Virgin Money London Marathon, has said, “ the world has been waiting to see this head to head between Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge but it will now not happen this Sunday. We know how disappointed he is and we wish him a speedy recovery. This was never likely to be just a two-man race as we had four of the top ten fastest marathon runners ever and six men in the field who have broken 2:05, including Mosinet Geremew and Mule Wasihun, second and third last year, and 2018 runner-up Shura Kitata.” All the three runners mentioned herein – Geremew, Wasihun and Kitata – are from Ethiopia. Kipchoge holds the current course record in London – 2:02:37 – set in 2019.

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


This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the film and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Very rarely has the demise of a judge assumed such proportions of loss and anxiety over what next, as the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.

RBG, as she was popularly known, was a champion of women’s rights and her work in the field, sustained for decades, was instrumental in ensuring gender equality before the law, in the US. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; in 1993 President Bill Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Her demise in September 2020 has left liberal political groups nervous given both the nature of conservative politics visible since the last US presidential elections and attempts to enhance the conservative element in the country’s Supreme Court. The latter assumes importance because in the system of checks and balances that is democracy, the judiciary plays a major role – it is often the final corrective force – and its dominance by any particular social, cultural or political flavor provides scope to change the character of a country temporarily. On the other hand, judges are human too.

Uniquely, the exploration of what makes judges what they are is as much fleshed out as the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in RBG, the 2018 documentary film on her, currently available on Netflix. It is an excellent film about a journey in law and women’s rights, commencing in times when American law firms rarely hired a woman lawyer and the approach of law reflected society’s treatment of women, as subservient to men. This was despite the constitution promising equality. Starting with the case of a woman air force officer denied housing allowance for no reason other than her gender; RBG worked her way through several cases – including those seeking gender equality for men – to help lay the legal framework for a more just society. The documentary sheds light on her personal life; family, the professional rapport she shared with colleagues holding opposing political views and her eventual rise in old age to the status of an icon, a strong supporter of equality. We learn of not merely the cases she won but also the cases in which her opinion was minority and she registered her dissent. The words of dissent help us understand her position. Don’t miss this film. There is no better time to watch it than now when world over, the gains of liberal politics and diverse society are being undermined by conservative forces. Not to mention – it doesn’t matter if the subject is from another country; when it comes to democracy, the experience of one democratic nation is lesson for itself and others.

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


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

Although scaled down to an elites only affair, this year’s London Marathon, due October 4, promises engaging action as it pits the world’s fastest marathon runner, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya against the second fastest, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and a host of other top runners. In the women’s race, world record holder, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya will be participating.

On September 29, The Guardian reported that race director, Hugh Brasher, believed records may fall on the fast course selected for the 2020 London Marathon provided weather stayed supportive. According to the report, all Kenyan and Ethiopian runners arrived for the race cleared COVID-19 tests, save a runner (Degitu Azimeraw) and a coach (Haji Adilo) – both from Ethiopia – who tested positive before boarding the flight to London. There are COVID-19 tests before athlete leaves his / her country, tests before checking into the hotel in London and tests ahead of actual race.

Kenenisa Bekele. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

This year’s edition of London Marathon, originally scheduled to be held on April 26, 2020, was postponed to October 4, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later, it was changed to an elites-only race. London Marathon is the second event to be held this year from the clutch of races constituting the World Marathon Majors. In March, the Tokyo Marathon was held as an elites-only race. The London Marathon course will also be markedly different this time with runners racing along a contained course around St. James Park. Participants will do 19.6 laps of this loop.

For the large number of amateur athletes who had signed up for the event, this year’s London Marathon will be accessible as a virtual event. Participants of the virtual 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon have 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to complete their marathon. They will have to enter their race details on the official race app, London Marathon said on its website.

Bhadresh Shivashankar; right, in yellow vest (Photo: courtesy Bhadresh)

Some of the amateur runners participating in the virtual event in India

In India, runners registered for the virtual London Marathon will be running in their own cities in small contained loops as lockdown norms still prevent any gathering of people.

In Bengaluru, Bhadresh Shivashankar will be running the virtual London Marathon at Hesaraghata, on the outskirts of the city. Bhadresh was on course to do the six World Marathon Majors having already run Berlin Marathon in 2018 and Chicago Marathon in 2019. This year, he had registered for London Marathon. Following outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide, he joined the ranks of those running the event’s virtual format. Bhadresh has been running for over 15 years now. Beset with health issues, he took to running when he was working in Dubai. Over the years, he has participated in many races of varying distances, including several marathons.

Harish Vasista (Photo: courtesy Harish)

“ On Sunday, I will be running on a loop of 15 kilometers at Hesaraghata. Support will be provided by the marathon training group, Pacemakers and Active Holidays, a travel company that organizes trips to run marathons,” he said.

Harish Vasista, also from Bengaluru, will be running the virtual London Marathon at the same venue as Bhadresh. Training with Pacemakers, Harish has been following his coach K.C. Kothandapani’s customized training plan. “ My training for the virtual run has been good although I could have done better,” he said. Harish too was on course to do the six World Marathon Majors, having already done New York City Marathon and Berlin Marathon. This year, he was to do London Marathon and Chicago Marathon. While London Marathon was postponed and later changed to the virtual format, Chicago Marathon’s 2020 edition has been cancelled. “ I plan to start at a slow pace for the first 20-22 kilometers. Depending on how I feel, I will step up my pace for the rest of the run,” he said. Weather in Bengaluru has been quite good these past few days.

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: courtesy Himanshu)

In Mumbai, recreational runner Himanshu Sareen will be running the virtual London Marathon barely a fortnight after he ran the virtual Boston Marathon.  He plans to run along the same route that he chose for Boston Marathon, a route close to his place of residence. Each virtual marathon appears to have its own unique approach to overall rules. The virtual Boston Marathon held over September 5 – 14 was amenable to the use of treadmill. The virtual London Marathon is not. Himanshu had initially thought of running 30 kilometers outside and 12 kilometers on the treadmill at home. He had arranged for a foot pod to ensure seamless transition. A foot pod is a device that is tied to the foot and is very accurate in measurement while running indoors as well as outdoors. He has since abandoned the plan and decided to keep his run fully outdoors.

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

Kamalaksha Rao, also from Mumbai, will be attempting his virtual London Marathon on a route close to his place of stay. “ I will be carrying water and some nutrition bars. There are shops along the route. I can buy water from these shops to replenish my supplies,” the septuagenarian said. Kamalaksha will be running at a very slow pace as roughly two and a half months earlier, in July, he had come down with COVID-19. Both Kamalaskha and Himanshu hadn’t originally registered for the London Marathon. They registered later for the virtual format. The virtual version of major running events has been finding acceptance in India. Amidst lockdown blues and life that continues to be hemmed in by COVID-19, it has provided goals that runners can focus on. Not to mention – in their own small way, amateur runners deprived the ambiance of running events by the pandemic, tweak these virtual events to create a microcosm of enjoyable event. During the virtual Boston Marathon for example, running groups in India had created special loops, banners and finishing tape, provided hydration support and even some cheering – all this with safety protocols in place.

A backdrop of inspiring performances despite virus hit-world

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

This year’s London Marathon is happening against the backdrop of an unexpected improvement in distance running by some elite athletes despite circumstances still plagued by COVID-19. The spread of COVID-19 worldwide, the lockdown it caused and the way in which it upset athletes’ training plans (not to mention, how the pandemic caused the 2020 Olympic Games to be postponed) were expected to impact athletic performance. While that may be the general trend, on August 14, Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda stunned the world when he scripted a new world record in the 5000 meters on track. Later, over September 4 – 5, three world records tumbled. Elite runners, Mo Farah of UK and Sifan Hassan of Netherlands set one hour-world records in their respective gender categories while Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the “ women-only race world record in the half marathon.’’

The attention now shifts to the London Marathon of October 4. Eliud Kipchoge, 35, holds the official world record in the men’s marathon: 2:01:39 set in September 2018 in Berlin. In October 2019, he was in the news for covering the same distance in 1:59:40 at a special event in Vienna (it did not count as a new record). Kenenisa Bekele, 38, has a personal best of 2:01:41 in the marathon, set at the 2019 Berlin Marathon. Brigid Kosgei’s world record in the women’s marathon is 2:14:04; it was set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

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


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Notwithstanding the central government’s recommendation, the final decision will be by the state governments

The central government has allowed select swimming pools to reopen as part of the phased relaxation of lockdown in India, the media reported on September 30, 2020.

This would be as part of Unlock 5, effective from October 1 and the reference to pools has been qualified as those used to train “ sportspersons.” It has been interpreted in swimming circles as meaning competition swimmers.

In its report on Unlock 5, the Hindustan Times wrote,“   Swimming pools being used for training of sportspersons will be permitted to open, for which the standard operating procedure (SOP) will be issued by Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (MoYA&S).” Notwithstanding the relaxation of lockdown norms by the central government, given the continued growth of COVID-19 infections, the final decision at ground level will be taken by the state authorities concerned.

In the world of sports, the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, first enforced in late March, had been felt most severely in swimming. While other endurance sports like running and cycling progressively regained a semblance of activity at both amateur and elite levels (races and events are still not permitted) with every move to relax lockdown, swimming continued inaccessible as pools remained shut. This had naturally put pressure on elite swimmers for who, every day of training lost, makes it that much harder to recoup their form and ranking in competition.

The inclusion of swimming pools meant for training “ sportspersons” in the latest unlock guidelines from the center, is the first green signal to swimming in a long while. But as mentioned, the final decision even with regard to reopening facilities for competition swimmers will be that of the state government. In Maharashtra for instance, the state’s Unlock 5 guidelines (announced September 30) continues to have swimming pools in the banned category. At the time of writing, there was no mention yet of local exemptions in line with the central government’s recommendation.

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


This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the film and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

In the initial portion of the 2020 documentary film All In: The Fight for Democracy, you see Stacey Abrams, politician, lawyer and voter rights activist speaking at a function after her loss by a slender margin to former Secretary of State of Georgia, Brian Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election.  The election was marked by accusations that Kemp resorted to voter suppression.

As a development in the US, the scene is arguably irrelevant to India although the US and India are among the world’s biggest democracies. But as a piece of articulation, what Abrams says in the film is priceless for its healthy blend of fact and emotion. Besides serving as spine for the documentary which deals with the suppression of voting rights in the US, the speech shines for its choice of words.  Her address has been spliced into parts that appear at various points in the narrative.

In the portion affixed near the beginning – it eases us into the film – she says, “ to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people and the state, boldly pin his hopes for the election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So let’s be clear – this is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I can’t concede that.’’ Later, towards the movie’s end, there is this portion, “ pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. You see, I am supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. You see, as a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.’’

As said, this film is rooted in the American context. At a time when political and economic inequality is a burning issue globally and the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining traction in the US, it shows us how the voting rights of the African American community (and other minorities) were hemmed in by a series of regressive laws and practices in the US, even after the country officially embraced democracy and diversity. Notwithstanding its story born in the US, the film holds much value for democracies everywhere, including India, the world’s biggest democracy. These are times when democracy is facing multiple challenges and the vast majority of us cannot even explain what is going wrong although we are dead sure of the rot by subversion. We know the fault isn’t democracy’s; the fault lay in how it got subverted by powerful forces. Yet many of us have begun dodging the subject and more dangerously, commenced justifying it and even trashing democracy for its inherent imperfection and lack of industrial efficiency. For nothing but the clarity resident in the words from her speech, Abrams appeared worth listening to in these times rendered murky by storms of mistruths and misinterpretations.

That said, this film is not about her; it is about the larger and older problem of voter suppression and the subject has been beautifully explored with the story of Abrams as contemporary backbone holding things together. The film exhorts us to value our democratic right to vote and back that simple act constituting the bedrock of democracy with considerable awareness. Above all, it warns us to be vigilant of the many ways in which the right to vote is systematically weakened by well entrenched forces seeking a world cast to their convenience.

The film is available on Amazon Prime. Don’t miss it; especially, if you live in a democracy.

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


This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the film and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, then, you wouldn’t want to miss the movie, Enola Holmes.

I hadn’t read any of Nancy Springer’s books and that meant no prior knowledge of her series featuring Enola Holmes – the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. Enola is Springer’s contribution to the Sherlock Holmes universe; the original world of Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentioned only his elder brother, Mycroft.

Springer’s series falls in the genre of pastiche. Wikipedia describes pastiche as “ a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.’’  The film based on the series, has young British actor Millie Bobby Brown in the title role of Enola Holmes; the actor is also one of the film’s producers.

In terms of narrative style, I felt the film borrows from the post Jeremy Brett versions of Sherlock Holmes, presenting us with a sister whose nature and operational style harks of Holmes by Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch. There is a lot of intelligence, action and a liberal dose of smart. It should go down well with the audience and age group the film is aimed at. Yet for all the smartness showcased, there is also a degree of vulnerability, the loneliness of growing up in a family of eccentric people; not to mention two elder brothers who have firmly traded emotional warmth for cold reasoning. The sister has to navigate her life pretty much on her own, something presented as ambiance essential to mold a Holmes.

The film occasionally loses its grip. But I shouldn’t judge or blame the film because an emergent problem with the universe of Sherlock Holmes is the existence of too many interpretations and related works that judgement comes easier than empathy. There is the true to the old, gold standard of Jeremy Brett and the more contemporary versions of Holmes portrayed by Johnny Lee Miller and Cumberbatch – you keep revisiting these like pilgrimage. It squeezes room in your mind for interpretations by others to breathe easy.

Two things in particular engaged about Enola Holmes. Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes had the same impression on me as Daniel Craig’s James Bond when compared to the actors who preceded him in that role. It is an interesting bit of casting. It left me wondering what would happen if Cavill continued as Holmes. Second, given the Sherlock Holmes saga is now very much off on its own trajectory distinct from how Conan Doyle conceived it originally, the sibling chemistry between Cavill and Millie Bobby Brown’s Enola appeared heartwarming and holding potential for the future. Going by Wikipedia’s page on the film, these hints of brotherly concern shown by Holmes appears to have invited a law suit, for display of emotion by Sherlock Holmes is restricted to works between 1923 and 1927 and the copyright for stories from that period still rests with the Conan Doyle Estate.

But as I said, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you would want to check out every new twist and turn and Enola Holmes is one. A sharp, independent youngster in an era yet to treat women as equal to men, Enola doesn’t disappoint. She has a life of her own. Sherlock Holmes merely looks on, a sort of just in case-protective shadow.

This 2020 film is available on Netflix. Check it out.

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


The winners of the 2020 Tour de France (this photo was downloaded from the event’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia has won the 2020 Tour de France.

According to a related CNN report, he is the youngest winner of the iconic race since 1904. He turned 22 on September 21, 2020, the day after the 2020 Tour concluded in Paris.

Coming into the 2020 edition of Tour de France, Pogacar wasn’t as fancied as his fellow countryman Primoz Roglic, who rides for Team Jumbo Visma.  En route to victory this year in France, Pogacar won three stages of the Tour; the clincher was his performance in the race’s penultimate stage which was a time trial in the mountains. Roglic finished second overall while the third place in this year’s Tour went to Australian cyclist Richie Porte of Team Trek-Segafredo. A report by the Associated Press, pointed out that the Slovenian sweep of the first and second positions at the Tour was the first such predicament since British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome took top honors at the 2012 edition of the race.

A rising talent, Pogacar served notice of his potential last year when he became the youngest winner of a UCI World Tour, triumphing in the 2019 Tour of California. He was 20 years old then. In his debut Grand Tour, he finished overall third in the 2019 Vuelta a Espana. “ After his remarkable third place in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, Pogacar was definitely someone that was felt could get on the podium; though his countryman Roglic was the favorite and Roglic’s team, Jumbo Visma, were seen as the strongest,’’ Nigel Smith, Head Coach of the India based-Kanakia Scott Racing Development Team and someone who tracks the Tour every year, said. Although Europe is the epicenter of global cycling in terms of events, talent and devotion to the sport, Slovenia – it is home to the top two cyclists from this year’s Tour – hasn’t traditionally ranked among Europe’s cycling powerhouses.  The situation is similar to how Slovakia wasn’t regarded as a cycling powerhouse “ when Peter Sagan was winning for fun,’’ Nigel said.

Going by media reports, Pogacar’s win has triggered the angle of a new generation rising in global cycling. “ The past two Tour winners, Pogacar and Egan Bernal, have been among the youngest in history,’’ Jeremy Whittle noted in his report on the 2020 race in The Guardian. “ The kids – from the irrepressible Pogacar to Van Alert and his teammate Sepp Kuss, to Marc Hirschi of Team Sunweb, Enric Mas of Movistar and Neilson Powless and Dani Martinez of Education First – have all made their mark,’’ he wrote. Asked for his view, Nigel said, “ Yes, you could say there has been a small shift in the age of successful riders; last year Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel had been winning all over the place, to name but two. It’s for a variety of reasons – sports science has improved; talent identification and youth development programs are much better and possibly, most importantly, the sport is much cleaner now.’’

Pogacar’s victory also puts the spotlight on his team: UAE Team Emirates; the Slovenian cyclist’s contract with them is till the end of the 2023 season. Top teams like those participating in Tour de France are a convergence of multiple abilities ranging from talent in cycling to money and resources. According to a September 20, 2020 report by Alaric Gomes in Gulf News, the team’s origin can be traced to Lampre-Merida founded in August 2016 by former Italian cyclist Giuseppe Saronni.  A while later, it was informed that its world team licence was being transferred to the Chinese company TJ Sport Consultation with the resultant entity set to become the first Chinese World Tour team in 2017.

At this point it was indicated that the project was being monitored by the Chinese government with a view to developing Chinese cycling and riders. However in November, TJ Sports’ application came under review by UCI’s Licensing Commission.  It was attributed to developments at TJ Sport causing delay in funding. The team then rebranded as UAE Abu Dhabi and the UCI confirmed a new World Tour licence in December. In February 2017, the team announced that airline major Emirates had become its sponsor with team name revised to UAE Team Emirates. The new team was launched in Abu Dhabi in January 2017, the report said. According to Wikipedia’s page on him, Saronni is currently an advisor to UAE Team Emirates.

In the past, cyclists from India have spoken of their desire to see a similar Indian experiment at the top races in cycling (for more on this, please click on this link:

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)


Anjali Saraogi; from the Asia Oceania 100K Championships in Aqaba, Jordan (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Kolkata-based ultra-runner, Anjali Saraogi, has won the AFI Ultra and Trail Running award for women, for the second year in a row, this time for 2019-2020.

Anjali’s performance at the 2019 IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Aqaba, Jordan, in November 2019, came up for mention at the awards function held in virtual format by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) on September 19, 2020.

In Aqaba, Anjali had completed the 100 km race in nine hours, 22 minutes and three seconds securing fourth place among women and breaking her own national record for that distance category.

Deepak Bandbe from Mumbai won the AFI Ultra and Trail Running award for male runner of the year (2019-20). He had won the bronze medal at the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships in Aqaba. He covered the distance in 8:04:16 hours, setting a new national record in that category.

Members of the Indian women’s and men’s team, who represented the country at the Aqaba event, were given cash awards for their performance. The men’s team had won the gold medal and the women’s team, silver, at the event. The gold medal winning men’s team members were given cash awards of Rs 10,000 each and the silver medal winning women’s team members received Rs 7500 each.

Nadeem Khan, president of the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) and AFI president Adille Sumariwalla participated in the virtual awards function. They pointed out that Indian athletes’ progress in ultra-running has been spectacular.

Deepak Bandbe (This photo was downloaded from the Twitter feed of IAU)

“ Over the last three to four years, the progress of ultra-running in India has been amazing,” Nadeem said. “ India is a growing market for us, an important market,” he added.

“ I am pleased to note the rapid progress of Indian athletes over the last few years,” Adille said. He emphasized the need to get back to events. AFI’s focus is on protecting athletes given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“ It’s a huge honour. My award belongs to every girl child in my country who will dare to dream and persevere to follow them,” Anjali told this blog after her second consecutive AFI award (for more on Anjali please click on this link:

Sunil Chainani and Peteremil D’Souza, both members of AFI’s committee that oversees ultrarunning, managed the meeting.

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


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The 2020 edition of Boston Marathon, originally slated to be held in April and later rescheduled to September, was held as a virtual race over the period September 5 to 14. Runners who had qualified to run at the actual event and registered for the same, were given the option of running the virtual Boston Marathon. The Covid-19 pandemic prompted the organizers of the event, Boston Athletic Association (BAA), to convert it into a virtual race.

We spoke to some of the runners from India, who participated in the virtual race. To mention in particular are two points given the run happened in the shadow of pandemic and lockdown had hampered the regular training of runners. The timings reported are decent despite above said handicaps and at least in Pune and Bengaluru, running groups scouted a good location for the virtual run and backed it with hydration support, even some cheering.

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: courtesy Himanshu)

The virtual Boston Marathon was an opportunity for Himanshu Sareen to run a marathon after more than a year. His last marathon was in April 2019. The Mumbai based-amateur runner was set to participate in the Tokyo Marathon, Barcelona Marathon and Boston Marathon in 2020. All these events were cancelled and Boston Marathon was converted into a virtual race. Had the actual race taken place, it would have been his third Boston Marathon.

Himanshu’s training in the months preceding the virtual Boston Marathon was focused on two aspects – general fitness and improving speed. “ My coach Ashok Nath drafted a multi-pronged training plan that incorporated speed, fitness and participation in virtual races,” Himanshu said.

For the virtual event, he chose to run close to his place of stay. “There are two roads of one kilometer each in my neighborhood. My plan was to run on these roads in a loop,” he said. The window for the virtual run spanned September 5 to 14; you could run anytime within these dates.

Syed Atif Umar (Photo: courtesy Syed Atif Umar)

Running on September 13, 2020, Himanshu commenced his marathon a little after 6AM. Initially he had to restrict himself to a 500 meter-loop as overnight rains had resulted in puddles on one of the roads.

“ I ran quite strongly till the 26 kilometre mark. After that I slowed down as I was going too fast. Mumbai’s weather is not conducive for running fast. The second half of the run was tough,” he said. In the early phase of the run, he supported himself with water and energy drinks stationed along the loop. But soon some runners, the security guards of his building and his wife Shweta joined in to help; they handed out hydration. Himanshu completed his marathon in 2:58. He is now set to run the virtual New York City Marathon.

Bengaluru-based Syed Atif Umar had registered to run his first Boston Marathon this year. Like many others he had to eventually opt for the virtual race. Atif has been running for the last 10 years. He has participated in many races including marathons and the occasional ultramarathon.

Tanmaya Karmarkar (right) with Amod Bhate (Photo: courtesy Tanmaya)

He chose to run the virtual Boston Marathon on his treadmill. “ I created a playlist with 42 songs,” he said. He completed the marathon in 2:56:42, a new personal best for him. His previous best for the marathon was 3:01 early this year.

Pune-based runner, Tanmaya Karmarkar had planned to run at a pace of 4.40. She was going as per her pace plan but around the 14th kilometer, she started to feel sick after she consumed her second gel. Her pace progressively declined. Tanmaya switched to water and began to feel better.

A running group in Pune had chalked out a route for the virtual Boston Marathon runners. It entailed running along a flat 10 kilometer-loop. “ Weather was quite hot and humid. We had to keep pouring water on ourselves to stay cool,” she said.

Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (left) with Kavitha Reddy (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan Jayaraman)

According to her, the support of other runners and friends was invaluable. “ Many people went out of their way to help me. Even people I met for the first time were all out to support us – I am really grateful and touched by this gesture from fellow runners,” she said. She finished the run in 3:27:43.

Army doctor and recreational runner, Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaram, decided to run the virtual Boston Marathon in Pune. The city’s weather and the fact that a local runners’ group had organized support for those participating in the virtual Boston Marathon prompted him to travel to Pune from Delhi for the run.

Kumar Rao (Photo: courtesy Kumar Rao)

He started the run at 4.30AM running along the earlier mentioned flat 10 kilometer-loop. After the first loop, he was paced by runners Krishna Sirothia and Kavitha Reddy. “ Although tired, I was happy I did not have any aches and was able to gather pace through the last miles to finish within my intended target,” he said. He finished the marathon in 3:47:43.

Septuagenarian Kumar Rao had trained moderately well for the virtual Boston Marathon. Running on his treadmill, he had a good run over the first 25 kilometers. But subsequently, some stomach discomfort and cramps forced him to mix the running with walking. “ After about 33 kilometers, I began to have difficulty in running tall. I changed my shoes. However it gave me just minor relief,” he said. He covered the distance in 4:24:36.

A notable aspect in Pune and Bengaluru was how runners approached the virtual run in a structured way, finding a good loop that they can run on and then backing it with hydration support and fellow runners to extend the occasional need for pacing and motivation. They even had bibs, banners and an element of cheering. In Pune, a group of runners decided to organize a support-run for those running the virtual Boston Marathon. Kavitha Reddy, one of the country’s best recreational runners, was among those helping out with this informal arrangement. “ It was a small gesture to make it a memorable run for those participating in the virtual Boston Marathon,” Kavitha said. Some of the runners helped in printing flex tapes to impart the feel of a real race. “ It was easy to manage the logistics for this run as the number of runners was small,” Kavitha said.

Deepti Karthik (Photo: courtesy Deepti)

In Bengaluru, Pacemakers, a marathon training group, had been organizing training runs with hydration support for its runners periodically. In August, the group had organized a 21 kilometer-training run for its members. “ These runs were organized primarily to keep the runners motivated,” Deepti Karthik said. Five runners from the group were running the virtual Boston Marathon. The team at Pacemakers thought it fit to organize a similarly supported training run that would also cater to the Boston Marathon runners. “ A couple of runners from outside Bengaluru who were running the virtual Boston Marathon also joined in,” Deepti said. Members of Pacemakers volunteered to manage the hydration support. “ We followed all safety norms needed for this pandemic. We ensured that there was no contact during the handing out of hydration. Also, we chose a route with wide roads and minimum traffic to help maintain adequate physical distance between runners,” she said.

Running in Bengaluru, Deepti commenced her virtual Boston Marathon at 4:45AM on September 13, 2020. Weather was conducive with light drizzle throughout the duration of her run. But she had some stomach issues during the run. Runners were slated to run along a 5.6 kilometer-loop; the loop was later extended to 10.5 kilometers. “ Every 2.5 kilometers, there was a hydration station. Also, volunteers and even people to cheer you on made the entire experience a happy one,” she said. She finished the run in 4:13:31.

Bengaluru-based runner, Murthy R K, decided to run the virtual Boston Marathon near his place of residence at Kanakpura Road.

Murthy R. K (Photo: courtesy Murthy)

He had scheduled his run for September 12, 2020. Founder of Ashva Fitness Club, Murthy and his team created bibs and posters for the run. On September 12, Murthy ran the marathon, supported by many of his team members. But cramps during the run forced him to pause for breaks; he finished in 3:28.

Unhappy with his timing, Murthy decided to make one more attempt two days later, on September 14, the last day of the virtual Boston Marathon. He set out early and opted to run in a new residential area close to his home. He took a break every 10 kilometers.  “ At the 36 kilometer-mark, I began to feel the cramps coming on. I just told myself I have only six kilometers to go,” he said. He finished the run in 3:10:09, a new personal best.

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


This image was downloaded from the film’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

It is often said in journalism that the best stories are those that were right before our eyes but missed being told and therefore stayed unknown till reported.

This line of perception works magnificently for the 2020 documentary The Social Dilemma.

We know its subject and core argument well but decline to examine them because we are too immersed in digital world to wish for an autopsy of that existence. You can blame the avoidance of close inspection on convenience, benefits (including monetary ones) accruing from networking, personal benefits outweighing concerns of damage – whatever you want. Fact is the avoidance of seeing our digital world as exactly what it is has created an even greater dearth of articulation around the problems it poses. It is a case of not desiring to talk and therefore, not possessing the means for it. All communication in this regard is still born or ritualistic.

Compounding the issue is the tyranny of life by business model. Business models bring their own compulsions partial to monetization and are often dismissive of humaneness and human interface. Not to mention, the generation bridging world without furious digitization and the one born to it, hasn’t arguably respected its intuition or spoken up enough. Later generations are therefore growing up with the phenomenon of digitization internalized; they are increasingly bereft of alternative perspective.

As some would argue, the core issue in the wake of world swept by technology and money is brutal dominance by one type of imagination. It has become such a plague that countering it is a massive challenge; the challenge begins with the very format for questioning dominance – it isn’t enough that you complain, you must speak the language of those inflicting the damage and present the case for correction in their idiom. This has for long been the gap between problem and solution; the ones experiencing the problems are wired one way, the ones authoring the problems and who are also expected to fix it, are wired another way. The gap has also eroded the merit of intuition, reducing what you feel in your bones to the status of an evolutionary discard. The only way out in this battle of competing convictions is if whistle blowers and other such concerned individuals in the technology-money establishment speak up. They know how their edifice works, what its wiring and jargon are. Getting such folks to speak up and anchor the documentary is this film’s biggest strength. You hear it from the horse’s mouth. Revelations like successful technology managers ensuring that their children have only limited access to mobile phones while the rest of the world bundled as market is encouraged to do the opposite, exposes the hypocrisy.

Not surprisingly, their articulation wouldn’t seem entirely complete in establishment’s eyes. The troubles dissidents nurse about the establishment and the absence of comprehensive solution they hint at betray potential dead end. We are too deep into the tunnel to withdraw; plus let’s not forget – the technology explosion provided real benefits too. So, where do we draw the line and how? Except in the case of one or two of those interviewed, solutions are not forthcoming. But that isn’t bad at all for the questioning and the reluctance to blindly toe establishment’s line that it inspires, are the missing link, the long awaited check. Will it work? Or will it be another call in the dark? Only time will tell. The Social Dilemma is one of the best documentaries in recent times about our digital, networked world and the problems it poses.

This is a very timely film; available on Netflix.

Watch it.

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