AT A GLANCE / NOVEMBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 World Athlete of the Year: nominations announced

The nominees for the 2020 World Athlete of the Year (male and female) have been announced.

According to two press releases dated November 2, 2020 and November 3, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, ten male athletes and ten female athletes have been nominated in their respective gender categories. “ The nominations reflect the remarkable range of exceptional performances that the sport has witnessed this year, despite the challenges that the global Covid-19 pandemic presented,’’ the releases said.

The nominees for the Male World Athlete of the Year are:

Donavan Brazier, USA – ran world-leading 800m times indoors (1:44.22, North American indoor record) and outdoors (1:43.15) – won all seven of his races over all distances;  Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda – broke world records at 5000m (12:35.36), 10,000m (26:11.00) and 5km on the roads (12:51) – was fourth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships on his debut over the distance, Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya – ran world-leading 3:28.45 over 1500m – undefeated in three 1500m races, Ryan Crouser, USA – undefeated in 10 shot put competitions – his 22.91m world-leading performance moved him to equal third on the world all-time list, Mondo Duplantis, Sweden – broke the world record in the pole vault twice (6.17m and 6.18m) and produced the highest outdoor vault of all time (6.15m) – undefeated in 16 competitions, Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda – won world half marathon title in a championship record of 58:49 – ran a world-leading 7:26.64 over 3000m, the fastest time in the world since 2007, Noah Lyles, USA – undefeated in five finals – ran a world-leading 19.76 over 200m, Daniel Stahl, Sweden – won 17 of his 19 discus competitions – threw a world-leading 71.37m, Johannes Vetter, Germany – won eight of his nine javelin competitions – threw a world-leading 97.76m, the second farthest throw in history and Karsten Warholm, Norway – ran a world-leading 46.87 in the 400m hurdles, the second fastest performance in history – undefeated in nine 400m/400m hurdles races and set world best of 33.78 in 300m hurdles.

The nominees for 2020 Female World Athlete of the Year are:

Femke Bol, Netherlands – undefeated in six 400m hurdles races – ran a world-leading 53.79 in the 400m hurdles; Letesenbet Gidey, Ethiopia – set a world record of 14:06.62 over 5000m – was second in the Monaco Diamond League over 5000m, Sifan Hassan, Netherlands – set a world record of 18,930m in the one hour run – set a European record of 29:36.67 over 10,000m, the fourth fastest performance in history, Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya – won the world half marathon title – twice broke the world half marathon record for a women-only race (1:05:34 and 1:05:16),  Faith Kipyegon, Kenya – undefeated in five races over all distances – ran world-leading performances over 800m (1:57.68) and 1000m (2:29.15), Laura Muir, Great Britain and Northern Ireland – undefeated in three 1500m races – ran a world-leading 3:57.40 over 1500m, Hellen Obiri, Kenya – undefeated in three races over 3000m and 5000m – ran a world-leading 8:22.54 over 3000m, Yulimar Rojas, Venezuela – undefeated in four triple jump competitions indoors and outdoors – broke the world indoor triple jump record with 15.43m, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Jamaica – undefeated in seven 100m races – ran world-leading 10.85 over 100m and Ababel Yeshaneh, Ethiopia – broke the world record in the half marathon with 1:04:31 – finished fifth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships.

“ A three-way voting process will determine the finalists. The World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family will cast their votes by email, while fans can vote online via the World Athletics’ social media platforms. Individual graphics for each nominee will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this week; a ‘like’ on Facebook and Instagram or a retweet on Twitter will count as one vote. The World Athletics Council’s vote will count for 50% of the result, while the World Athletics Family’s votes and the public votes will each count for 25% of the final result. Voting for the World Athletes of the Year closes at midnight on Sunday 15 November. At the conclusion of the voting process, five men and five women finalists will be announced by World Athletics. The male and female World Athletes of the Year will be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2020 on Saturday 5 December,’’ the first of the two press releases said. The male nominees were announced on November 2 and the female nominees, on November 3.

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

A TURBULENT MIND – MY JOURNEY TO IRONMAN 70.3

This image of the book cover was downloaded from the Internet and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright violation intended.

It was sometime in 2010 that Swetha Amit got her wake-up call. A journalist and writer in Mumbai, hers hadn’t been a disciplined lifestyle. She landed up in hospital. The diagnosis: ulcerative colitis.

The year 2011 was spent recovering and getting back to a healthy existence. Swetha’s husband, Amit Sridharan was training for the half marathon of the 2012 edition of the Mumbai Marathon. She joined the training program. Alongside, she worked on recasting her diet to a healthier option and completely quit eating out. The changes complemented the gym routine she had already in place since a few years earlier. That year – 2012 – she successfully completed the half marathon at the annual Mumbai Marathon.

Her transition to a healthy lifestyle helped her immensely. The very next year, she attempted the full marathon. “ It was a gruelling experience. We had no formal training plan. We just followed the Hal Higdon training plan available on the internet. Back then, we didn’t even GPS enabled devices and such,” Swetha said. Normally in running, transitioning to the full marathon is a journey in itself. Having dived into the full marathon rather early, Swetha nevertheless continued to run half marathons and races of varying distances. Training in Mumbai was fun; there was camaraderie among runners.

In 2017, Swetha moved to the US with Amit and their daughter, Samara. Amit had enrolled for a one-year programme at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. It took some time getting used to what the US had to offer. Swetha enrolled for creative writing courses at the university. She also decided to attempt the triathlon. Her journey from arrival in the US to participating in the Ironman 70.3 (half Ironman) is narrated well in her book, A Turbulent Mind – My Journey to Ironman 70.3. The book opens with the race day of Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz (California) on September 9, 2018.

For Swetha, there were many issues to contend with before race day. Open water swimming was one of them. The book provides an overview of her trepidations, attempting open water swimming in swim clinics and at triathlons of short distances. A fall from her bicycle that nearly prevented her from participating in one of the triathlons and, later, taking a major decision to not participate in an Ironman 70.3 that she had initially registered for – feature among challenges dotting the journey. Over time, she found good training support for all the disciplines of the triathlon, in California.

Swetha Amit (Photo: courtesy Swetha)

Speaking to this blog in October 2020, Swetha said that her next step would be to work towards attempting the full Ironman, which consists of 3.86 km of swim, 180.25 km of cycling and a full marathon. “Right now, I am in the process of rebuilding my base,” she said. The lockdown caused by pandemic meant no access to pools and gyms. Swetha kept up her fitness routine at home; she was sometimes helped in this by online sessions organised by Mumbai Road Runners (MRR), an informal running group, one of the largest of its sort in Mumbai. Meanwhile, pools and gyms have re-opened in California but the process of building endurance is lengthy and will take time, Swetha said. Compounding the process has been the recent spate of wildfires in California; it restricts outdoor activity.

Shwetha’s book about her personal journey to doing a half Ironman is easy to read. It is structured well; it is also written well. It isn’t a primer on how to train for the triathlon and attempt it. That’s not the motive of the book. It works differently – it should inspire those wanting to try the triathlon. I enjoyed reading it. Hopefully, so do you. Try it.

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

SEAN CONNERY (1930-2020)

Sean Connery; this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of The Untouchables and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Back in 1987-1988, a film festival in Thiruvananthapuram screened the Brian De Palma classic, The Untouchables.

It was unusual. A Hollywood film was a departure from the regular fare at such festivals. Having heard of the movie from an uncle much impressed by it, my cousin and I made sure to see it.

Born in the late 1960s, I grew up with no particular interest in Sean Connery’s James Bond, the role he is widely known for. His depiction of the spy created by Ian Fleming had spanned the years from 1962 to 1971. My generation’s introduction to James Bond was through Roger Moore’s version of the spy, progressing thereafter to Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Indeed the first Bond movie I saw was the 1974 release: Man with the Golden Gun. More years would go by before I saw Sean Connery on screen for the first time – incidentally as James Bond – in the 1983 film, Never Say Never Again. The difference between the suave Bonds then in flavor and the Bond of this film was instantly discernible. It had much to do with the persona and screen presence different actors brought to play. I could imagine what Sean Connery’s Bond from the 1960s and early 1970s may have been like. But the earlier films themselves didn’t appeal for as was the case with young people, my expectations from gadgets, stunt sequences and special effects were rooted in a newer generation and its imagination of James Bond.

The Untouchables blew such trivialities away. It’s was a timeless story of crime, corruption and the quest to bring a gangster to book; it connected across generations. The film was superbly directed and its casting seemed spot on. Robert De Niro was already a big star and his appearance as Al Capone in the film was the strongest reason movie aficionados had to see it. For Kevin Costner who played the lead role of Eliot Ness, this was the movie that made him a major league actor. Alongside the riveting story and scenes of the film (who can forget the shoot out at the railway station?), I came off remembering two characters – Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone and Andy Garcia’s George Stone / Giuseppe Petri. To me the enduring image of Connery is his Jimmy Malone. It was a powerful, no nonsense performance that fittingly earned him an Academy Award; it made him the only actor to have portrayed Bond who bagged an Oscar too in his film career. Since then, I was lucky to see Connery in a basket of films, among them – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Entrapment, Finding Forrester and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But it is Jimmy Malone that has weathered the years and survived in my mind. I recall two other roles as well. A fan of war movies, I keep revisiting the 1977 production A Bridge Too Far (directed by Richard Attenborough) which features Connery as Major General Roy Urquhart; I also recall the delight I felt in seeing him as Private Flanagan in the 1962 black and white film, The Longest Day.  

The glamor of Bond in his younger years and competent acting in his later years – this blend, which Connery came to represent, became an ideal to chase for screen personalities who followed. Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020. He was 90 years old. An actor with a distinct voice and accent, he will be remembered by many for the characters he portrayed on screen.

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

PETER MUIR IS NEW PRESIDENT OF UIAA, AMIT CHOWDHURY ELECTED TO EXECUTIVE BOARD

Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury (Photo: courtesy Amit Chowdhury)

Peter Muir from the Alpine Club of Canada is the new president of the UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation.

He is the fourteenth president of climbing’s apex body worldwide and the second person to occupy that position from Canada, a statement available on the website of UIAA said. The elections were held on October 24, 2020; it was the federation’s first ever online general assembly.

Amit Chowdhury of India was elected to the federation’s executive board.

The board is a top body within the organizational structure of UIAA.  “ The Board is elected for a four-year period and consists of the President, Vice-President, Secretary General, Treasurer and currently three other members. Together they carry out the decisions made by the General Assembly, control finances and support both the commissions and office staff,’’ the UIAA website said on the role of the executive board.

Chowdhury is the first Indian to be elected to the executive board. Before his election to the board this year, he was a member of UIAA’s management committee. Earlier still, Colonel H. S Chauhan (he was president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation [IMF] from 2011-2019) had served a tenure as member of the same committee. Chowdhury is a past vice president (2013-2017) and honorary secretary (2011-2013) of the IMF. Incidentally, he was also a candidate – one of three in the fray – in the October 2020 elections for the post of UIAA president.

Peter Muir will lead an executive board comprised of Lode Beckers (Belgium /elected in 2019), Zoljargal Banzragch (Mongolia /elected in 2019), Amit Chowdhury (India /elected in 2020), Mahmood Hashemi (Iran /elected in 2019), Martin Lascano (Argentina /elected in 2020) and Françoise Jaquet (Switzerland / elected in 2020).

According to the earlier mentioned UIAA statement, Muir succeeds Frits Vrijlandt, Royal Dutch Climbing and Mountaineering Club (NKBV), Netherlands as the federation’s president. “ Vrijlandt’s second and, as defined in the UIAA Articles of Association, final four-year term came to an end at this year’s General Assembly,’’ the statement explained.

While Muir was elected the federation’s new president on October 24, the other office bearers of the executive board will be decided at a meeting of October 30, Chowdhury said when contacted. Chowdhury had been serving as chair of UIAA’s safety commission since 2017. With his election to the executive board, he will be relinquishing his position at the safety commission, he said.

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

PERES JEPCHIRCHIR SETS NEW WORLD RECORD IN WOMEN’S HALF MARATHON

Peres Jepchirchir (This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir set a new world in the women only half marathon, sprinting to a close finish in the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships held in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday, October 17, 2020. She clocked 1:05:16. Second place went to Melat Kejeta of Germany, who finished in 1:05:18 (a new women only European record) while Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia finished third in 1:05:19 (a personal best).

Notably all three athletes improved upon the previous world record for the category (a report on the website of World Athletics said that the top six women finished in under-66 minutes and the top nine within 67). Plus, as per the race commentary, there were several personal bests in the timings returned by the top 30 finishers. It was only in early September that Jepchirchir had broken the women-only race world record in the half marathon clocking 1:05:34 for the distance in Prague, improving upon the previous record of 1:06:11 set by Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2018. Earlier still, at the 2016 edition of the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, UK, she had set a then world record of 1:07:31.

In the men’s half marathon in Gdynia, Uganda got its first individual medal at the event as 19 year-old Jacob Kiplimo provided a progressively fast finish to an initially slow race, covering the distance comfortably in 58:49. It was a new championship record and a national record for Uganda. Second place went to Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie (58:54); Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn (59:08) finished third. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei (59:21), on whom the pre-race arc lights had focused, finished fourth in his maiden half marathon. According to the race report by World Athletics, the first ten runners finished within 60 minutes, a first for the event and only the second time it has ever happened.  

The women’s half marathon was a fast race, surprising given what was initially expected from the course specially designed for a half marathon amid pandemic. The event was rescheduled from its original date in March and the course – a five kilometer-loop – was adapted to ensure any potential risks are kept to a minimum. “ The course takes in some of the main roads in the city center with a slight uphill section along Swietojanska Street, then the final stretch heads back down towards the sea with the finish line located on the main city beach in Gdynia,’’ a write-up dated October 13, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said. It wasn’t a flat, fast course all through; the type preferred for record breaking attempts. According to the race commentators, it had seven corners including a brief but slightly sharp downhill and a U-turn. Saturday’s timings in the women’s half marathon were despite this. On the other hand, weather conditions were very good.

It was also a race fraught with incidents. Very early itself a block of 10-12 runners, mostly from East Africa, shot off to be lead pack by a significant margin. The first five kilometers went by in 15:20; it was the first hint of likely world record breaking performance. Setting the pace at this stage was Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei. By 18:00 the first of the casualties caused by the blistering pace manifested with an Ethiopian runner coming lose off the pack and trailing. At 26:00, there were three Ethiopian runners tucked comfortably into the lead pack running at the shoulders of the Kenyans setting the pace. Notwithstanding the sizable gap between the leaders and the rest, there was active running right through the ranks for there were team positions at stake. At around 28:50, at the sharp corner at the base of the slightly steep downhill, the first incident occurred in the lead pack – defending champion Netsanet Gudeta seemed to skid slightly; she fell down. She picked herself up quickly and continued running but given the pace, a significant gap had already opened up between her and the lead pack. For her, it was race lost, right there. At the 2018 edition of the event, she had won in world record time of 1:06:11.

At about 40:01, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya began to accelerate. At 48:00, the lead runners entered the final lap. Around 50:15, the Ethiopians, who had been running efficiently at the shoulders of the Kenyans, appeared to move ahead; they formed two of the three runners (the other being Kenyan) forming the front wall of the lead pack. The strongest runner at this stage seemed to be Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia. At around 54:00, amid the bunching of runners in the lead pack, Yeshaneh and Jepkosgei came too close to each other; they stumbled and went down. At 1:00:00, it was Kenya’s Jepchirchir and Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia who were running stride for stride up front, closely followed by Kejeta of Germany. It was a tight trio with Yehualaw looking strong. At roughly 1:05:00, Jepchirchir surged past the Ethiopian runner who later suffered a minor stumble some 50 meters from the finish line costing her the second spot. The final race results played out as mentioned earlier.

Jacob Kiplimo (This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Unlike the women’s race, the men’s half marathon took time to gather pace. For much of the first half of the race, the lead pack was relatively big and separated from the rest of the runners by a series of not-so-significant gaps. The slow pace of this stage (puzzling given how fast the women had run and weather conditions continued to be good) was theorized to potentially favor a top notch track athlete like Cheptegei, who had come to the event after a couple of record breaking performances. Although this was his first appearance at a half marathon, in his training for the event, he had put in distances of up to 35 kilometers. Around 29:00 Cheptegei began to slowly pull ahead. But till 35:10, it was an unclear lead as at various points Cheptegei, Andamlak Belihu of Ethiopia, Kiplimo and South Africa’s Stephen Mokoka exchanged leads. By around 38:24, as Kandie took the lead, Cheptegei had slipped to tenth position although with bridgeable gap to the front. However at around 44:20, even as he had moved up to third place the runners in front were increasing the gap to levels where the commentators wondered whether the race was slowly slipping away from Cheptegei. The second half of the race was quite fast. By 45:24, Kiplimo had taken the lead and having settled into that slot (he lost it temporarily by a slender margin to Kandei at around 52:30), proceeded to steadily crank up the pace. Eventually, Walelegn too got past Cheptegei, producing the final results as they played out.      

The event featured ranking by team as well. “ Team results are decided by the aggregate of times recorded by the first three finishers of each team. The team with the fastest aggregate time will be judged the winner,’’ the write-up dated October 13, on the website of World Athletics, said. According to it prizes would be awarded to the top six individuals and the top six teams in both races. “ A US$50,000 bonus will be awarded to any athlete who breaks a world record,’’ the write-up said. In Gdynia, the top teams from the men’s category were Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda in that order. On the women’s side, the final pecking order was Ethiopia, Kenya and Germany. Starting August 2020, despite the impact of pandemic and lockdown on training and events, there has been a spate of new world records in distance running. Disciplines which witnessed such performances include the men’s 5000 meters and 10,000 meters, women’s 5000 meters, one hour-run for both genders and the women only half marathon,

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

LEADING ROCK CLIMBERS SPEAK UP ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On October 8, 2020, well-known free soloist Alex Honnold highlighted the need for action on the subject of climate change in an article published in Climbing. He begins the piece by pointing out how he spent half a dozen years imagining his project to climb the massive rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite, alone and with no ropes. After prolonged contemplation, he realized that the climb wouldn’t happen unless there was concrete action from his side.    

“ I see a real parallel to climate change. It’s the apex issue facing our generation—an issue that feels too big and too complex to act on. It’s all encompassing, impacting almost every other environmental issue that we currently face. And it’s incredibly urgent, with most scientists agreeing that as a global community we only have until 2030 to make meaningful changes before the worst effects of warming are permanently baked into our future. The scope of the problem is frightening, and the sense of dread that accompanies it can easily lead to apathy. That’s why I spent six years thinking about soloing El Cap, but not doing it—it seemed entirely too scary to act. But that lack of action didn’t serve me. Ultimately, I had to overcome my fear and start making concrete steps towards my goal,’’ Honnold writes in the piece, which argues against continued extraction of fossil fuels.

According to him, “ corporate interests have essentially privatized the profits of fossil fuel extraction while socializing the cost of pollution. These barriers can make it feel as though change isn’t possible on the individual level.’’ Further even as individual actions (travel less, eat less meat, have fewer kids, and vote) matters, the pressing need is to address fossil fuel extraction. Honnold argues that decreasing the funding for dirty technologies is the best way out. To this end he suggests that everyone choose their bank carefully. Banks loan the bulk of the capital they raise and within that world, lending for fossil fuel extraction has grown significantly after the 2016 Paris Agreement (on measures to control climate change). “ Being deliberate and choosing a sustainable bank is key,’’ he writes. To read the full article please click on this link: https://www.climbing.com/news/alex-honnold-climate-change-is-urgent-we-need-to-decrease-extraction-now/

Roughly a week after Honnold’s piece appeared, on October 14, 2020, another well-known climber Tommy Caldwell, published an article on climate change and the need for urgent action. Writing in Rock and Ice, he couched his arguments in the reality of climbing in the western United States, where ongoing climate change has annually sparked huge forest fires.  “ Right now, the American West is blanketed in smoke from forest fires, a direct result of our changing climate. Fire season is now longer and more intense. In years past, I’ve been evacuated from my home in Colorado twice due to the threat of fire. As a climber, I spend a lot of time hanging off granite walls from Yosemite to the Rockies. It’s from those unique vantage points that I’ve gained perspective on what’s happening to our climate,’’ Caldwell says, adding “ I’ve seen an increase in dangerous rockfall attributed to warming temperatures and I’ve watched as wintertime climbing routes disappear completely due to snowmelt. Ouray, Colorado, one of the most famous ice-climbing spots in America, is rapidly losing ice, which could render ice climbing there a thing of the past.’’

Caldwell appeared clear that change won’t happen unless the right people are voted to power. “ My kids, who are four and seven, are in for a much tougher world. I’m trying to do everything I can to prepare them but also to minimize the harshness that could become their reality,’’ Caldwell says. To read this article in full, please click on this link: https://rockandice.com/climbing-news/tommy-caldwell-trump-is-going-to-ruin-rock-climbing/

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

GIRO D’ITALIA: A BRIEF INSIGHT

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

This is an article by invitation. Nigel Smith is currently Head Coach of Kanakia Scott Racing Development. In this piece, he provides an overview of the Giro d’Italia, one of road cycling’s three Grand Tours. Nigel is a Level 3 Cycling Coach, accredited through his National Federation, British Cycling, in the UK. He is based in Mumbai.

The 2020 edition of the Giro d’Italia is currently well underway.

The unusual global situation has created an even more unusual race.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event’s regular calendar slot of mid-May was shifted to October. This created various knock-on anomalies whereby riders who, at the beginning of the year were focussed on the ` traditional’ Grand Tour calendar of Italy (May), France (July) and Spain (September), have found themselves having to totally re-align their training to a heavily back-loaded calendar of events. Additionally, the climatic challenges faced in Italy at this time of the year are not what riders typically expect, the wind and rain atop the `mere’ 1658m stage 9 finish at Roccaraso was clear to see. Rain and autumnal leaves swirled across the road, in contrast to the melting snow we sometimes see in May.

But how important is the Giro d’Italia? Where does it rank in relation to other races? What is its difficulty in relation to other stage races? What is its history?

Let’s first establish what a ` Grand Tour’ is in cycling parlance. A Grand Tour is a three-week stage race (actually held over 23 days as there are two rest days) consisting of 21 stages over various types of road terrain. There are usually (but not exclusively) 5-6 ` high mountain’ stages, 6-7 ` intermediate’ (rolling) stages, 5-6 ` flat’ stages and a couple of individual time trials (sometimes there’s a team time trial as well).

In road cycling, there are only three Grand Tours – the eldest and most famous is the Tour de France, first held in 1903 and the most widely recognised and followed bike race in the world. Italy’s equivalent, the Giro d’Italia, is only six years younger than its French cousin, first held in 1909. The third, and youngest, Grand Tour is Spain’s Vuelta a España; a mere 85 years old.

The teams that compete in the Grand Tours will always be the same 18-19 ` World Tour’ teams. These teams make up the equivalent `Premier League’ of teams and compete at all the prestigious one day races, stage races and Grand Tours. The start list is then usually bolstered by 3-4 local pro teams from the second tier ` Pro Conti’ division.

So, what of the Giro’s importance? To the fans, it is generally a close second to the Tour de France. To the riders, it’s a Grand Tour – they covet a Maglia Rosa (` pink jersey’ awarded to the leader) almost as much as a Maillot Jaune (` yellow jersey’, awarded to the leader of the Tour de France). But if you’re a ` Grand Tour’ specialist (example: in recent times the likes of Spain’s Alberto Contador, the British-Kenyan cycling ace Chris Froome and Columbia’s Egan Bernal) then winning three week stage races is what you’re paid to do and winning all three cements your name in the history books (only six riders have achieved it).

How hard is the Giro? It’s easily as hard as its two counterparts. The Giro has recently – over the past 10 years – tried to create its own ` niche’ by incorporating brutally hard (and now iconic) mountain passes. The Stelvio, The Mortirolo, The Gavia and The Zoncolan are all now sought out and conquered by amateur enthusiasts, just as the French L’Alpe D’Huez, Tourmalet and Mt Ventoux are every year. Each Italian climb has its own unique character, whether it’s the height of the Stelvio (2758m), average gradient of the Mortirolo (12.5kms at an average of 10.4 per cent!) or the maximum gradient of the Zoncolan (20 per cent).

While France has access to two main mountain ranges – the Alps and the Pyrenees, Italy borders the Alps across its northernmost regions and has its own range – the Dolomites in the country’s uppermost north east region.

To the Italians (fans and riders alike), the Giro will always be the most important race on the calendar. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 33rd edition in 1950 that a non-Italian (the Swiss, Hugo Koblet) won. Through the 1980s, the race was big enough to satisfy the aspirations of most Italian cyclists and produced some epic home-grown battles, notably the one between Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni, interspersed with non-Italians making their own history (the Frenchman Bernard Hinault won in ’80, ’82 and ’85 – one of the fabled ` six’ to have won all three grand tours).

Giro d’Italia (This 2018 photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purposes. No copyright infringement intended)

The race also has its share of controversy. In 1984, local favourite Francesco Moser finally won, beating French favourite Laurent Fignon to second place but only after accusations of drafting behind team cars and being pushed up the mountains; not to mention – the race’s highest summit stage, over the Stelvio, getting mysteriously cancelled due to (non-existent) snowfall (it was later claimed that Moser would lose too much time to Fignon over the Stelvio and so the organisers concocted a reason to avoid it).

In 1987, Ireland’s Stephen Roche invoked the ire of not only the partisan ` Tifosi’ (the name given to the Italian fans) but also the majority of his own team (the Italian Carrera Team) and especially his Italian team-mate (and Tifosi favourite) Roberto Visentini, by riding off the front of the bunch and gaining time on his own team-mate. He was to hold the advantage all the way to the finish, enduring taunts, abuse, physical punches and spitting.

More recently, who can forget Chris Froome’s superb 80km attack on stage 19 of the 2018 race to propel himself into the lead, which he held onto, thus claiming his first Giro victory and seventh Grand Tour (and becoming the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours).

Like the Tour de France, the Giro has looked to broaden its appeal and global reach by starting outside its own borders. Recently it visited Israel, Holland, the UK and Denmark to name four. However, just like the Tour de France showcases Paris in the final stage, the Giro always finishes in Milan against a backdrop of much Italian fanfare.

As the sport continues to find ways to extend its global reach and engage new audiences, we as fans can sit back and marvel at our favourite teams and some of the biggest names in the sport do battle over iconic stretches of road. It inspires us further to ride our bikes. We will always have our preferences and favourites in terms of events, but as long as I can tune into live cycling coverage for three weeks at a time, three times a year, I don’t mind where the racing comes from!

(The author, Nigel Smith, is the Head Coach of Kanakia Scott Racing Development. For more on Nigel please click on these links: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/06/16/there-is-no-reason-why-that-structure-cannot-exist-in-india/ &  https://shyamgopan.com/2018/12/22/if-a-rider-still-wants-to-be-part-of-the-team-the-door-is-open-nigel-smith-head-coach-scott-sports-india/)

AT A GLANCE / OCTOBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

New world records ratified

The new world records set in early September by Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) and Mo Farah (UK), have been ratified, World Athletics informed in a statement dated October 12, 2020, available on their website.

“ Jepchirchir’s 1:05:34 women-only world half marathon record and the one-hour world records from Hassan (18,930m) and Mo Farah (21,330m) are now official,’’ the statement said. Jepchirchir had produced her record-breaking run on September 5, 2020 at the Prague 21.1KM, an invitational-only elite half marathon held on a 16.5-lap course in Letna Park in the Czech capital. Hassan and Farah stormed into the record books at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels on September 4, the night before Jepchirchir’s race in Prague.

These records fall in the category of sterling performances reported amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled mass participation events and upset the staging schedule of competitions worldwide. The first major world record in athletics, in this context, was Joshua Cheptegei’s new mark in the 5000 meters track race for men, set on August 14, 2020. The Ugandan athlete covered the distance in 12:35:36. In October, Cheptegei rewrote the time taken for the track based-10,000 meters, when he set a new world record of 26:11:00. At the same event in Valencia, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in the 5000 meters for women, completing the race in 14:06:62.

Adille Sumariwalla is AFI president for a third time, Anju Bobby George is senior vice president

Adille J. Sumariwalla was elected president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for a third time at its annual general meeting, a press release dated October 31, 2020, available on the website of AFI, said.  Anju Bobby George, India’s only medalist in the World Athletics Championships, was elected as senior vice president. Ravinder Chaudhary and Madhukant Pathak were elected secretary and treasurer of the organization respectively.

In response to claims by some non-members about the legality of Sumariwalla’s nomination for his third term, AFI has clarified that he filed nomination not only as president of Maharashtra Athletics Association but also as outgoing AFI president, as allowed by AFI Constitution (Clause XXVIII.A.e) which specifies the president does not require representation either to sit in meetings or to contest election for the next tenure.

All positions in the AFI Executive Committee were elected unopposed, the release said.

According to it, Sumariwalla, who said that the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has had a cascading effect on a lot of areas in the sport, including the mental health of athletes and the earnings of the federation, has encouraged state associations to actively seek the help of their respective state governments to ensure that athletics competitions can resume sooner than later.

“ On the first day of the two-day annual general meeting, some key issues including age-fraud, doping and over-training were taken up. The house agreed that while AFI has taken many steps to curb age-fraud, state and district associations needed to be more proactive in ending the scourge of age-fraud that leaves athletes,’’ the release added.

Pocket Outdoor Media Acquires Big Stone Publishing

Outdoor enthusiasts, climbers and those into endurance sports in India would be familiar with publications like Climbing, Rock and Ice, Backpacker, Trail Runner and VeloNews. A recent acquisition in the publishing world has brought these titles under one roof.

Early October 2020, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) announced its takeover of Big Stone Publishing (BSP). Both companies are based in the US. POM has in its fold titles like Climbing, Backpacker, Women’s Running, Triathlete, Yoga Journal, Clean Eating, VeloNews and SKI. BSP’s list of publications included Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, ASCENT, Gym Climber and Dirt.

In a related statement available on the website of POM, its CEO Robin Thurston has said, “ this acquisition significantly strengthens our ability to engage with outdoor enthusiasts across all of the seasons and sports that live at the intersection of adrenaline and adventure. By merging Rock & Ice into Climbing, we’ll be better positioned to deliver exceptional content and cover all of the sport’s disciplines—trad, sport, gym, and alpine climbing—in ways not possible before. Similarly, Trail Runner broadens our running portfolio, adding the dominant title in the sport’s fastest-growing discipline.”

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

COVID-19: THE DAY AFTER IN RECOVERY AND RUNNING

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

For a while now, the world has been grappling with a pandemic necessitating lockdown, use of masks, physical distancing and other health protocols. Runners were among those affected by COVID-19. Experiences have varied. Some had a robust engagement with the virus; some others had a brush with it.

The general observation is that the recovery phase has to be dealt with carefully so as not to trigger any further health complications. Resumption of running or any sort of heavy training post COVID-19 has to be slow and cautious, doctors said. Runners have also been advised by their coaches to recommence training gradually, keeping in mind the varying degrees to which the virus has impacted people.

We spoke to a few runners who contracted COVID-19 about their journey through the infection and their return to physical activity. We also spoke to a couple of coaches for their suggestions on how runners, who recovered from COVID-19, may manage their return to running. For a complete overview, please read this article in conjunction with the piece by doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, available on this blog.

Dhruv Dubey (Photo: courtesy Dhruv)

July 3, 2020 – Dhruv Dubey remembers that date well. A recreational runner from Kolkata, he had set a personal mileage target of 3000 kilometers for 2020. In 2019, he had covered a distance of 2100 km. He felt the urge to increase the distance this year.

But the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced change of plans. Once the initial stringent lockdown was over, Dhruv explored running outdoors and managed to cover fairly good mileage during the months of May and June. But in early July, a setback occurred. On July 3 he got a fever. He waited for a couple of days but the fever did not subside. He began to lose his sense of smell. A test proved that he was COVID-19 positive. He was allowed home quarantine.

“ I had fever for about nine days. After my fever subsided, I had some lung issues. My lungs were affected. My VO2 max came down to 40 from my peak of 47 ml / kg/ min,” he said. Despite recovering from the infection, Dhruv continued to experience weakness. “ On July 26, I started my fitness regimen but felt very tired,” he said. He gave it some more days. By the time he was able to get back to some level of activity, almost a month had passed since the first onset of fever. “ I started with the home gym and then I slowly started running, attempting very short distances with many walk-breaks in between,” Dhruv said.

Slowly, he began inching up his running mileage. He also resorted to pranayama (practice of breath control in yoga). He felt the improvement with every passing day. “ My lung exhalation capacity improved,” he said. A vegetarian, Dhruv paid attention to his food intake and also took supplements, which aided the recovery. August was mostly focused on stepping out of the house, walking and light jogging. September was a better month in terms of his fitness workouts. His improving health has helped him get back to a training plan devised by his coach Ashok Nath.

“ I did an easy 21 kilometer-run last weekend. I was able to complete it without taking a walk-break,” Dhruv said, late September. He was able to complete the run in two hours, 32 minutes compared to his personal best of 1:58 for the half marathon distance. He believes his sustained focus on fitness, nutrition and overall health over the past few years helped him tide over COVID-19 and get back to running.

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

During the initial days of the lockdown in Mumbai, Kamalaksha Rao, 73, stayed indoors but kept up his workout regimen, including running inside his apartment. When the lockdown norms began to ease, he stepped out to run.

On the morning of July 11, 2020, he ran a distance of 21 kilometers. That evening he came down with fever and body ache. “ I took a pill but the body ache persisted for the next two days. I also began experiencing loss of smell. I went to a doctor, who suggested that I do a COVID-19 test,” Kamalaksha said. He tested positive.

Although the civic authorities suggested home quarantine for him, he decided to get admitted to a hospital as his granddaughter lives with him. “ I was in Vivanta Hospital, Malad, for six days. From there, I shifted to a COVID care center where I stayed for three days. I then shifted to my neighbour’s apartment, which was vacant. I stayed there alone for 11 days,” he said. Following this long stretch of time, he tested negative for COVID-19.

He commenced his physical activities with walking and slow jogging. “ COVID affects joints and muscles. I was told by doctors to keep moving. When I was at the COVID care center, the people managing it would ask everyone to keep walking,” he said. Kamalaksha also consulted a cardiologist as he wanted to get back to running. Following that he resumed running but at a very slow pace. Every Sunday he would increase the distance he was running. He also had a small goal he was gravitating to – he hoped to run 42.2 kilometers during the Virtual London Marathon of October 4, 2020. He planned to run close to his residence in Malad. On race day, Kamalaksha started his run at 4.40 AM. The septuagenarian ran the first half of the marathon and walked the next 21 kilometers. He had a target of finishing in eight hours. He finished in 7:20 hours. “ It was a self-supported run. I had carried a bag. During the run, I had two gels and two nutrition bars,” he said. He planned to do recovery walks over the next few days.

Rachna Bhatnagar (Photo: courtesy Rachna)

Rachna Bhatnagar, a resident of Kharghar in Navi Mumbai, took to recreational running about a year and a half ago. She joined LifePacers, a Navi Mumbai-based marathon training group and in the ensuing period ran many 10-kilometer-races. Through the lockdown period, Rachna kept up her home fitness regimen, which included a series of workouts. She contracted COVID-19 in the fourth week of June.

“ My husband got fever first. Then I got throat ache and headache. My son also got fever and experienced loss of taste and some breathing issues,” she said. All three of them tested positive and were admitted to a hospital. While at hospital, Rachna did suryanamaskar (yoga), starting with two sets a day. She increased the counts daily. She also walked for ten minutes daily and did some stretches. Ten days later, Rachna tested negative. “ After I came home, I did another test, which was again negative,” she said.

In the initial days, post-COVID-19, she experienced tiredness. “ In the early phase after recovering from the disease, if I did housework for ten minutes I needed to take 20 minutes rest. That’s when I increased fluids intake. In one week I recovered,” she said. She commenced walking and took to slow running interspersed with walk-breaks. “ I have slowly increased my distance. Now, I walk-jog for about 10 kilometers and jog-run for up to seven kilometers,” she said. According to her, managing recovery is the crucial element in the stage following disease and the body’s battle with the virus. “ It is essential to stay positive. I kept away from negative people and negative news. The whole recovery process is a mind game,” she said.

Arun Waghukar (Photo: courtesy Arun)

As of early October, Arun Waghukar, a runner from Kamothe, Navi Mumbai, was back at work. When we spoke to him for this article, he was still in the recovery phase after contracting COVID-19. “ I had a toothache and kept avoiding going to a dentist. But I finally had to visit the dentist as the toothache got severe. I had four sittings with the dentist. Three days later, after my last dentist session, I developed symptoms – body ache and fever,” Arun said.

With some pills prescribed by a doctor, his fever disappeared but the body ache persisted. He tested positive for COVID-19. An employee of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), he was admitted to the JNPT Hospital.

After he recovered, he started doing yoga and pranayama. “ I plan to recommence my running from October 20 by which time I would have finished one month after recovering from the coronavirus,” Arun said. He resumed work at JNPT on September 30, 2020. Early October, he was still doing an hour of yoga in the morning including sun salutations and various types of pranayama.

Arun commenced recreational running in 2015 and has been running half marathons mostly. In January 2020, he ran his maiden marathon at the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM).

A doctor with the Indian Army and a longstanding runner, Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaraman combines interest in the sport with a background in medicine. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in India, his daily work in Delhi – where he is based – included treating defence personnel who had contracted the infection. This was on since April-May. In September, he was doing a recovery run in Delhi after a virtual marathon when he sensed an element of tiredness that was more than what he normally felt after running 42.2 kilometers. “ I initially thought it may be because of the weather,’’ he said. A COVID-19 test showed that he was positive for the virus.

Col Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan)

Asked how an otherwise healthy individual like him contracted the virus, Muthukrishnan pointed out that the general benefits attached to running shouldn’t be brought into the frame as presumed layer of defence. “ The chances of getting the virus are probably the same for all now given it is there in the community. Further in my case, being a doctor I deal with COVID-19 patients. So the source could have been from anywhere, from travel to life in the community to work at the hospital,’’ he said. Soon after he tested positive, Muthukrishnan commenced ten days of quarantine. He was asymptomatic. In the initial phase of the quarantine period he took complete rest. To stay happy, towards the concluding portion of the quarantine, he did some mild indoor exercises; he also walked indoors. In the post quarantine test for the virus, he tested negative.

Muthukrishnan now wanted to get back to running. He started the process with an ECG to get an idea of heart rate and heart condition; he also did tests for inflammation markers. When this blog spoke to him in early October, roughly a week had gone by since completion of quarantine. In that while he had moved through days of only walking to a mix of walk-jog to about an hour of slow running. “ The initial days were trying. The disease leaves you a bit tired,’’ he said, adding, “ you cannot see COVID-19 as just another viral disease because first, we are still learning about it and second, studies show that it is capable of impacting the body’s organs including the heart. That makes it important to revisit the fundamentals of your health before you restart physical activity.’’

As he put it, given the still evolving knowledge about the disease, the return to running would be largely based on runner’s ability to listen to his / her body. Plus, through the period of illness, recovery and return to running, nutrition is critical. “ As runners, we have this tendency to eat such that we don’t put on weight. When you are enduring COVID-19, recovering from it and slowly getting back to running, that old logic can be counterproductive. You have to eat well, have a balanced diet,’’ Muthukrishnan said.       

Sanjay Motling (Photo: courtesy Sanjay)

Dr Sanjay Motling started running during his days as a research scholar in engineering, at Jadavpur University. According to him, in 2014, he participated in his first running event (a half marathon); in January 2020 he did his first full marathon – the Tata Mumbai Marathon. Currently a resident of Panvel near Mumbai, in September 2020, after the lockdown caused by COVID-19 was eased; he and his friend drove to a village at the base of the hills not far from Panvel, for a weekend run. During the rains and just after it, the place is pretty; it is a spot runners like to visit for their long runs. That night, back in Panvel, he developed a mild fever. Following intake of paracetamol, he felt fine. But next night the fever returned. The subsequent three days went by without any symptoms. On Friday, he reported for work. But that night, the fever came back. “ It was a mild fever, it never exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it was always below that,’’ Sanjay said. On Saturday however, he developed a minor cough. “ I felt something wasn’t good and decided to go for testing. On Monday, the test result showed that I was COVID-19 positive,’’ he said.

That day itself, he was admitted to a hospital. A day earlier, the friend with whom he had gone for the weekend run, was also admitted to a hospital having tested positive for the virus. Sanjay spent eight days in hospital. The first night there, he developed shivering. But the remaining days felt quite normal although he was on medication. For 4-5 days during this period he did yoga and breathing exercises. Upon discharge from hospital, he was advised to continue taking his medicines but a week into it, tests showed that his sugar levels were up considerably. The doctor recommended that the medicines be stopped. “ Aside from the first couple of days since discharge from hospital, I haven’t felt tired,’’ Sanjay said. When he could find the time for it, he did yoga; he also started going for walks. Early October he told this blog that he felt ready to restart his old training sessions in running. Sanjay’s friend has also recovered.             

Rahul Sangoi (Photo: courtesy Rahul)

A runner from Pune, Rahul Sangoi tested positive for COVID-19 but remained asymptomatic throughout. At his home, Rahul’s uncle tested positive prompting the rest of the family to test for COVID-19. “ I did not move out of the house for 15 days but I continued my home workouts,” Rahul said. He was prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics as a precautionary measure by his doctor. Rahul has been running for the past six years; he has participated in a few half marathons and full marathons. This year, he also ran 50 kilometers at Tata Ultra, as a means to prepare for Comrades, the ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. The 2020 Comrades was cancelled but stayed alive in the form of a virtual run.

In India, barring a few fortunate to be in the hills (or some such location away from cities) and those determined to run no matter what, most runners were housebound during the pandemic. The initial phase of the lockdown was strict and major sporting events were cancelled. Stuck at home, many introspected. “ The lockdown helped me acquire a clean diet. My job entails a lot of travel. In the days before the pandemic my food intake used to be improper due to the frequent traveling. During lockdown my diet improved. I also did workouts for six days a week,” Rahul said. In the process, he managed to knock off eight kilograms from his body weight.

Doctors Bindu and Vivek Nair have been dentists in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) for a long time. Bindu got into running about two years ago thanks to Trivandrum Runners Club (TRaCs). A resident of Vazhuthacaud in the city, her first run was approximately five kilometers long, from Kowdiar to LMS Junction and back. Three months later, she did a run of ten kilometers. Since then, Bindu has been running four days a week; she leaves home at 4.30AM and returns by around 5.30AM having covered the distance from home to Kowdiar to the local museum, botanical garden and zoo (a popular haunt for those into morning walks and jogs) and back.

Dr Bindu Nair (Photo: courtesy Bindu)

When COVID-19 reached India and the lockdown of March commenced, Bindu who wished to be utterly careful, stopped her running. She followed a routine of online exercises and Zumba, which she stuck to even after the lockdown eased. The regimen helped her shed 12 kilos from her body weight during the lockdown period. On September 22, a friend who wished to speak to her in person, visited briefly. Unknown to Bindu, the visitor had been experiencing mild symptoms. By evening, the friend came down with fever and chills. Three days later, on September 25, Bindu – she is normally healthy and free of ailments – experienced a mild headache. On September 26, she got a mild fever (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit) along with the chills. Realizing that it was perhaps time for comprehensive precaution, she took paracetamol and consulted her daughter Ambica, also a doctor. Bindu isolated herself. She had her rapid antigen test on September 28; it showed up positive for COVID-19 and she was admitted to the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.

The doctors advised complete rest. “ The first two days were okay,’’ Bindu said. She was administered hydroxychloroquine. The medicine can cause gastritis as side effect in some patients; Bindu had her share of it. Probably due to COVID-19, she also had lower back pain, fever and a clouded mind. This was a tough phase, lasting three days. “ Given we are both doctors, my husband used to send me reading material on the disease. But I couldn’t read it. My brain felt clouded,’’ Bindu said. The doctors treating her told her not to worry. They knew there would be such a phase. On the fifth day of her hospitalization, she had fever touching 101 degrees Fahrenheit. She was given paracetamol. That night she slept well. The next morning, she woke up drenched in sweat but feeling well otherwise and with the distinct feeling that the infection had been overcome. Subsequent tests for the virus proved negative. On October 7, roughly ten days after she was admitted to hospital, Bindu was discharged. She was told not to venture outside her house for the next seven days.

“ I didn’t have any lingering sense of fatigue,’’ Bindu said. The day after she got home, she commenced mild activity; cooking and cleaning in small doses. Pretty soon, a doctor also called recommending mild exercise to prevent clotting of blood. Clot formation has occurred in some individuals after COVID-19 infection. Taking that into consideration, the doctor wanted her to do mild exercise.“ I feel perfectly normal now,’’ Bindu said mid-October. In the recovery plan, she has been advised mild to moderate physical activity for the first month, more intense activity for the second and a return to running and whatever else she likes to do, by the third.    

Samson Sequeira (Photo: courtesy Samson)

Coaches speak

` Asymptomatic’ has been around in medical parlance for long. But it was COVID-19 that made it a household term. Samson Sequeira, coach at Run India Run, a Mumbai-based marathon training group, contracted the infection but showed no symptoms at all. He was asymptomatic. “ After our neighbor tested positive for COVID-19, we decided to test for coronavirus,” he said. That was how he learnt of being positive.

Although he confined himself indoors, Samson did not stop doing his workouts. As a coach, he has been advising his wards to be cautious in stepping up mileage as the threat of the virus is far from over. “ There should be no high intensity workout. I have been pushing for low intensity workout. Walk, talk, jog, run is my mantra,” he said. According to him, in these times, it is essential to keep fit, eat well and sleep well.

Dnyaneshwar Tidke (Photo: courtesy Don)

Ashok Nath (Photo: courtesy Ashok Nath)

Ashok Nath, Bengaluru-based coach and mentor, highlighted the importance of apprising the affected amateur athletes of what they are dealing with. As a disease with no vaccine yet, it is only natural for people to be scared of COVID-19. What they must be reassured of is that serious cases are a small percentage of the total number of people infected. The vast majority recovers. For the duration of full recovery, runners should assign top priority to their health and keep their competitive mindset parked at a safe distance. Once they get the green signal to resume training, they should ease into it with full awareness and respect for feedback from the body. He felt that in the interest of timely withdrawal should there be any discomfort, it would be best to avoid rigidly structured training programs. Be mindful. Only after a fortnight of such cautious approach and assessment thereon, should you think of resuming training. Even then, Ashok’s emphasis is on proceeding with “ feel’’ as opposed to “ paces,’’ till such time as the disease becomes a memory.

Caution was the watchword for Dnyaneshwar (Don) Tidke too; he is coach at LifePacers, Navi Mumbai. He felt that after adequate rest (two to four weeks) as required by the severity of infection, small modules of walk-jog for a couple of weeks followed by the same in slightly longer duration maybe the right way to revive one’s association with running. Further progress should depend on the runner’s fitness levels and response to recovery, he said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For the article by doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.com/2020/10/09/recovered-from-covid-19-and-planning-to-restart-running-keep-this-in-mind/)

RECOVERED FROM COVID-19 AND PLANNING TO RESTART RUNNING? KEEP THIS IN MIND

Pravin and Arati (Photo: courtesy the Gaikwads)

This is an article by invitation. Doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad are experienced pediatricians who have also been endurance athletes for a long time. In Navi Mumbai, they are co-founders of the runners group, LifePacers. This blog contacted them for inputs on how best a runner recovered from COVID-19 may handle his / her return to the sport. They paraphrased their response to questions sent, by first pointing out that COVID-19 is a new disease and since guidelines are still evolving, they should not be considered as mandates. The guidelines are based on expert opinion and available data.

In general, the quest for every runner when it comes to injury (an illness is similar to it) is to stay within the repairable realm and not provoke irreparable damage.  So, to begin with, even if used to an active lifestyle, asymptomatic patients should stop exercising for at least two weeks. This would anyway coincide with the isolation and quarantine period they are advised once they test positive. Mild activity to keep a sense of movement going is alright. Anything vigorous, which puts strain on the body or elevates heart rate needlessly, should be avoided. Exercising intensely may increase the risk of viral replication along with increased risk of myocardial involvement. Also, deep inhalation during exercise may help the virus to settle in the lower lobes of the lungs causing respiratory compromise.

Most active people turn to physical activity to boost circulation and feel better when they are feeling a bit low. But with COVID-19 in the equation, the results may not play out as hoped for. Being healthy, fit and strong may help you avoid some of the more severe symptoms of COVID-19 like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), but it doesn’t make you immune to some of the more insidious effects of the disease like myocarditis. A German study published in JAMA Cardiology, dealing with a sample of people who had formerly come down with COVID-19, showed 60 per cent of individuals to have myocarditis after two to three months of recovery. Eighteen per cent of these had been asymptomatic individuals.

Individuals who had been COVID-19-positive with any degree of symptoms should seek a physician’s opinion before resuming physical activity. Symptomatic athletes – recreational to professional – have been surprised by the potency of the disease. They have struggled to reestablish old workout regimens; some have had a lingering battle with lung issues, muscle weakness and unsettling anxiety about whether they would be able to match their old physical peaks.  The physician will decide depending upon the severity of infection endured, the treatment availed and the accompanying ailments the individual has. Herein, the biggest concern at present seems to be myocarditis (seven to twenty three per cent as per various studies).  Therefore, in symptomatic COVID-19 patients, the recommended tests before a return to active lifestyle may include Cardiac MRI, 2D Echo, ECG and Serum Troponin plus lung function tests in individuals who underwent extended ventilation support. As many recreational runners are above 40 years of age and a lot of them have obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even asthma, it’s advisable to get at least a 2D Echo done and get a cardiologist’s opinion before the workout regimen is restarted.

During this period, as the return to workout is planned, some form of movement, even fast paced walking – if the physician permits – will help to prevent the possibility of blood clots in the legs. Endurance runners tend to have lower heart rate. This makes pooling of blood in the legs easier; the tendency increases with COVID-19 infection. Further, individuals placed on ventilators and confined to bed, often lose between two and ten per cent of their muscle mass per day. Resorting to resistance training as the runner returns to his regular regimen would be a prudent step in this regard.

A general consensus seems to be the 50/30/20/10 rule as per the Joint Committee of the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. This is a four week-plan. After recovering from infection and ensuring that one is up to resuming physical activity, upon return to running, it is recommended that in the first week only 50 per cent of the previously followed peak mileage and pace be pursued. In the following week, depending on how the runner is feeling, the load may be raised to 30 per cent less from peak level; over the two weeks thereafter the gap with peak level may be further reduced to 20-10 per cent. All this, provided there is no adverse feedback from the body to the phased increase of workout.  In general, pay attention to how you feel. You need to be good at listening to your body. Chest pain and dizziness are the two symptoms where one should stop immediately and take a physician’s opinion. Shortness of breath and palpitations can also be due to the erosion of physical fitness caused by muscle loss and lack of training. Persistent muscle pain, unexplained fatigue, hitting peak heart rate unusually early in your run or having a hard time bringing the heart rate down – these must be evaluated by a physician.

(The authors, doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, are experienced pediatricians who have also been endurance athletes for a long time. They have their own clinic and are co-founders of the Navi Mumbai-based runners group, LifePacers.)