Two ultra-runners broke the national record in the women’s 100-kilometre race at the Ageas Federal Life Insurance 24-hour Stadium Run, Bengaluru, held over April 30–May 1, 2022.
Both Nupur Singh and Jyoti Gawate, finished with timing better than the previous national record of nine hours, eight minutes and 18 seconds, set by Gunjan Khurana at the Tuffman 24 Hour Stadium Run held on March 13 and 14, 2021 in Chandigarh.
Nupur finished the distance in 8:44:27 and Jyoti in 8:57:07 hours. The new national record now stands with Nupur Singh. Manisha Joshi finished third with timing of 9:11:01.
Nupur, an ultrarunner, was running her second 100 km race at Bengaluru. She had participated in the IAU Asia & Oceania 100 km Championships held at Aqaba, Jordan, in the open category and not as part of the Indian team. She had finished the race then in 9:36:15.
“ My plan, this time, was to finish in under nine hours. I intended to keep to a steady pace for the first four to five hours and that went as per plan. I did my first 50 km in four hours and 15 minutes. I took it slightly easy after that for a while,” she said. Aware that Jyoti Gawate was ahead of her, she again picked up her pace. Once she went ahead of Jyoti, she slowed down her pace to finish in a new record timing.
“ The weather was much better than I expected. The race started at 8 PM and it was quite warm until 10 PM. Later some drizzle helped cool down temperatures,” Nupur said, adding, “ I took 10 gels through the run. I also had oranges, beet juice and water.”
“ I think I could have done better but I did not want to push any further mainly because I want to be fit for the upcoming IAU 100 km World Championships, slated to be held in Berlin on August 27, 2022,” Nupur said.
For Jyoti Gawate, an elite marathon runner, this was her second attempt at an ultra-running event. She is yet to get used to running these extended distances. “ The maximum mileage in my practice was a marathon, which I did just a few days before this event. My first 50 km went off well,” Jyoti said adding that she is new to stadium running and is yet to get used to it.
Among men, Binay Kumar Sah finished first in 100 km with timing of 7:56:59. Sandeep Kumar came in second with timing of 8:04:21 and Amar Singh Devanda third, in 8:14:07.
No records were broken in the men’s 100 km. Amar Singh Devanda holds the record of 7:32:43 in this category, set at the Tuffman 24 Hour Stadium Run at Chandigarh in March 2021.
In the 24-Hour category, Amar Shiv Dev was the winner. He covered a distance of 218.8 km during the scheduled time. “ The conditions were tough. Running the first half was quite difficult as it was very hot,” he said. Subhash Chandra came in a distant second covering 172.8 km while Manendra Kumar Tripathi finished third with a distance of 169.6 km covered.
“ The heat was impacting our running. Many runners were taking frequent breaks. I kept running but fell ill and had bouts of nausea at least four times,” Amar Shiv Dev said.
Among women, Ritu Bhatia Gupta was the leader with mileage of 143.2 km followed by Aparna Choudhary at 139.6 km covered and Anuradha H.K. at 135.2 km.
In the 12-Hour category, Pritam Rai finished first among men with a distance of 109.6 km covered, followed by Mahesh M (107.2 km) and Sugourav Goswami (99.2 km). Among women, Anju Saini covered a distance of 104.8 km during the scheduled time to come in first. Ashwini G finished second with a distance of 96 km and Meenal Kotak (93.6 km) came in third.
In the absence of adequate training, Ashwini decided to take the 12-Hour run as a training run. Ashwini holds the national record of 111.78 km for 12-Hour run having set it at the 2020 Tuffman Stadium Run at Chandigarh.
“ I decided to take this run as a confidence building exercise. It was fun running along with many good runners. My run started at 8 PM. There were many runners on the track including the 100 km athletes, the relay runners,” she said. Ashwini has often consumed natural foods during her ultra-runs. This time around, she tried Unived gels, she said.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)
It was a Kenyan sweep at the 2022 Boston Marathon, which returned to its Patriot’s Day schedule after two years affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Over 30,000 runners participated in the 126th edition of the event in which Kenyans athletes won the men’s and women’s race.
Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya won the women’s race at Boston Marathon. Peres finished the race in two hours 21 minutes and one second. Evans Chebet, also of Kenya won the men’s race in 2:06:51. This year, the weather, a crucial factor at Boston Marathon, was very supportive.
This blog spoke to a few Indian runners who travelled to Boston to run the marathon. Most of them were happy to get back to racing. Boston Marathon is known for being a well-organised event with excellent arrangements and fantastic cheering. Many runners aspire to run the Boston Marathon multiple times as no other city marathon generates such a festive ambiance around running as this city in the US.
Sharath Kumar Adanur
Sharath was running the Boston Marathon for the third time.
In the days preceding the 2022 Boston Marathon, Sharath focussed on target-based training. His target was to finish the marathon in around two hours and 45 minutes. He had secured a personal best of 2:46:06 at the 2019 edition of Chicago Marathon. This time around Sharath trained with his friend Shreenivas Naik.
“ I was in good shape and landed in Boston a week ahead of the race. But I got a toothache and had to go on painkillers and antibiotics,” he said. Race day however took off well and he was on target until the 30th kilometre, when the hills commence. “ I started to go off target with the hills. I tried to salvage the situation but could not meet my desired timing,” Sharath said. He finished in 2:48:54. “ I am happy with my timing considering my toothache and the pills,” he said.
Sharath had run Boston Marathon in 2018, the year when weather was brutal, and in 2019. He had finished with a timing of 3:17 and 2:51 respectively.
Kavitha Reddy was returning to Boston with memories of the 2018 edition when heavy rains, strong winds and low temperatures made for one of the worst weather conditions to run in.
“ It feels good to be back to racing,” she said referring to the break of two years caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to cancelling or postponement of running events worldwide. Having trained well in the weeks ahead of the race, Kavitha reached Boston early to recover from jet lag and get used to the weather.
“ The weather on race day-morning was perfect. My run started well. At the start, the course was very crowded but the crowds of runners helped me check my pace. The first half of the race was on target,” she said. Boston’s initial course is downhill and runners are often tempted to go at a fast pace.
“ The real game starts when the hills commence. It is challenging to hold on to your pace in the hills. There are many rolling hills and our hamstrings and quadriceps take a beating,” she said.
Running the 2022 edition of Boston Marathon, Kavitha felt she was discovering the course afresh. During the 2018 edition of the event, surviving the brutal weather conditions had been upmost on her mind.
Kavitha, 47, finished the 2022 Boston Marathon with a personal record of 3:12:05, an improvement over her previous timing of 3:14:19 secured at the 2019 edition of the Chicago Marathon.
She followed up the 2022 Boston Marathon with Big Sur International Marathon, which was held on the following Sunday in California. “ I plan to run it as a fun run,” she had said before the event. She finished Big Sur in 3:51:34.
A resident of Navi Mumbai, Srividya Ramnath diligently followed the training plan of her coach, Ankita Gaur, for about four months.
She arrived in Boston early to get used to the conditions there. “ The first 25 kilometres of the race went by like a breeze. The tough stretch starts after that. The hills don’t stop. They keep coming relentlessly,” she said. After a long stretch of flat comes Heartbreak Hill, the steepest of the series of rolling hills along the Boston Marathon course.
“ I lost my speed in the hills. Mentally it was a challenge. In the last seven kilometres, I had to pull every ounce of energy,” she said. Srividya finished the race in 3:51:51, slightly off her personal best of 3:47:29, achieved at the 2021 Berlin Marathon.
“ I am definitely going to qualify and come back to Boston Marathon again. The experience was completely overwhelming. The arrangements were awesome and the route was beautiful. As for the cheering, it never stops,” she said. Despite rain on the previous day, on the day of the race, Boston had lovely weather. “ For a small stretch there was strong headwinds. Otherwise, the weather was God-send,” she said.
Srividya said she is in the process of understanding how she can improve her performance for her next attempt at Boston. She may require a relook at her strength training, agility workout and fuelling strategy.
The 2022 edition of Boston Marathon was Kiran Kapadia’s second time at this iconic marathon. He ran the 2021 edition, which was held in October.
“ This time around I enrolled with US-based Luke Humphrey Running. It is a different kind of approach. There are not many long runs, not more than 30 km but I have to run six days a week, primarily to get used to running on tired legs,” Kiran said. He landed in Boston with reasonably good training put in.
“ My race started at 10:45 AM. It was quite cold in the morning. At Boston, both the uphill and downhill stretches are tough, testing our quadriceps as well as hamstrings,” he said.
Running in the 60-64 years age-group, he finished the marathon in 3:45:51, an improvement over his previous Boston Marathon timing of 3:48:56.
For Sunil Chainani it was his first time at Boston Marathon.
“ It is fantastic to be able to think of doing an event, especially the Boston Marathon, after a break of two years,” he said. He thought he trained well, running through the months of February and March, but in retrospective he feels he could have put in more hill workouts.
“ I ended up with cramps in the last five kilometres. I should have done more downhill running,” he said. In the last stretch of the course, Sunil had to resort to walking.
The weather, according to him, was perfect for running. “ There was a little bit of headwinds along some stretches. The forecast was of colder weather but it wasn’t that cold,” he said.
He finished Boston Marathon in 4:25:49. With this marathon, he has completed four of the World Marathon Majors – Berlin, London, New York City and Boston. He is yet to do the Chicago and Tokyo Marathons.
“ The crowd support is absolutely unbelievable. The hydration, crowd support and the overall organising of the race were excellent, barring very small hitches,” he said.
Mumbai-based Binita Choksi had qualified for Boston Marathon at the 2020 edition of the New Delhi Marathon. With two years lost to coronavirus pandemic and subsequent travel difficulties, Binita found herself a berth in the 2022 edition of the iconic race.
A recreational runner for the past over 12 years, Binita put in just about two months of training for the Boston Marathon. “ At Boston Marathon, I was in the last wave. For the first 10 kilometres I had to weave through the crowds. At the end of the race my GPS device showed a distance of 44 kilometres,” she said. Once the crowd of runners thinned, she was able to pick up pace and run well for the rest of the distance.
“ The arrangements, the hydration support and the atmosphere were extremely good. I enjoyed my run thoroughly,” she said. Binita finished the marathon in 4:10:30.
In 2019, Pune-based Subhojit Roy ran the Boston Marathon, finishing it in 3:14:33, his personal best at that time. A month later he ran the TCS 10 km in Bengaluru. Soon after that, Subhojit went off serious training owing to an injury. In the following months, the stringent lockdown announced by the Indian government actually came as a boon as he was forced to go off running completely resulting in the injury healing.
“ By the end of 2020, I resumed serious training,” he said. He ran the marathon at the 2021 edition of the New Delhi Marathon. “ I ran this mainly because I wanted to see if I could come back to marathon running,” he said.
Although, Subhojit returned to marathon running, training kept getting interrupted with periodic surges in coronavirus infections in India that caused curbs in the movement of the public. He enrolled for the 2021 Amsterdam Marathon held in October but could not make it as he tested positive for coronavirus. He then participated in the Valencia Marathon in December 2021. Here, Subhojit achieved a personal best (PB) timing of 3:09.
Following the third wave of infections, Subhojit resumed his running and managed to get a little under two months of training before the 2022 Boston Marathon. He was helped in his training by runner and triathlete Nihal Ahamad Baig.
Travelling all the way to Boston is not always easy on runners because it means getting adjusted to new sleep schedules and weather conditions. “ Thankfully, I had a good sleep during the night before the marathon,” he said.
According to him, although, the Boston Marathon route is mostly downhill, the uphill stretches that commence during the second half of the route were relentless. “ Even after Heartbreak Hill, there are many small hills that keep coming,” he said.
Over the last 2-3 km, he took short walk-breaks. Subhojit finished the Boston Marathon in 3:16:37. Analysing his performance later, he realised that fast-paced downhill running, crucial to tackle the Boston route, was inadequate in his training. “Also, I had used a relatively new gel. After the 33rd kilometre, I felt full and could not take another gel. This was probably why I slowed down,” he said.
He was happy with his finish. “ My son and wife were there at the finish line. The race atmosphere in Boston is amazing. In is one reason why runners like to return to this marathon,” he said.
Pune-based Tanmaya Karmarkar was heading to the 2022 edition of Boston Marathon (her second outing to this marathon), with fairly adequate training done.
Happy to get back to a real road race, as opposed to the virtual ones of the pandemic months, Tanmaya decided not to push too much but stay comfortable through the race.
“ It was a good race. The weather was perfect. My performance was pretty much in line with what I expected,” she said. Tanmaya finished the Boston Marathon in 3:18:44, a new personal record. Her previous best was at the 2019 Chicago Marathon where she secured a timing of 3:23:32.
“ I fuelled well before the start of the race. But in the second kilometre itself I dropped my bottle. My water intake as well as gel consumption was lower than what I had planned for,” she said.
In December 2019, Zia Chaney ran a personal best (PB) of 3:47:34 at the California International Marathon. It helped her qualify for the Boston Marathon.
However, in the months following her run, the world slid into a pandemic that led to the cancellation and postponement of running events worldwide. Zia, a cancer survivor, had to wait for two years to make it to the entry list of the Boston Marathon.
“ I was really excited about getting accepted for the Boston Marathon and wanted to start my training immediately,” Zia said. She requested her coach Ashok Nath to offer her a light training schedule as she is prone to injuries. “ I was not running for a personal best; I wanted to finish strong,” she said. According to her, Ashok commenced her training with basic workout, strength and agility exercises and mileage-based running.
With barely three weeks left for Boston Marathon, Zia started to feel a sharp pain in her ankle. She tried dry needling but found no relief. “ I contacted Ash (Ashok Nath) and explained the pain to him. He asked me to stop running and instead do cross training such as elliptical, cycling and swimming,” she said. With rest, vitamins and cross training, Zia started to feel confident. “ I began to enjoy my training again,” she said.
When she reached Boston, she found the city completely alive in anticipation of the race. The weather on race day was quite good. “ It was very crowded at the start. Over 30,000 runners were running the marathon. The initial course is downhill but we could not run fast because of the crowd of runners,” she said. The support along the route was excellent with mile markers, aid stations, fuelling counters very well placed, she said.
Around kilometre-25, Zia started to get a pain in her hip. With every passing kilometre her pain kept worsening. It forced her to slow down. She finished the marathon in 3:56:33. “ I was very surprised with my sub-4 hour-finish,” she said.
In 2019, Kumar Rao ran the Boston Marathon and followed it up with Big Sur International Marathon less than a week later. After a two-year break, Kumar decided to run both the marathons in 2022.
“ For me, 2019 was a great year in terms of running. At Boston Marathon I ran a personal best of 3:59:33 and at Big Sur I finished in 4:03:25, securing second position in my age category of 70-74 years,” he said.
In November 2021, he travelled to France to run the Deauville Marathon and finished in 3:57. “ I could travel to France as the country only mandated vaccination,” he said.
His training for the Boston Marathon was on track until January 26, 2022 when during weightlifting, he hurt his back. He went off training for a week but when he returned to running, he started to experience pain all along his leg. “ Running became impossible. I consulted a doctor and found that I had suffered a spinal injury which resulted in sciatica,” he said. He lost five weeks of training because of this problem. With physiotherapy he was able to resume training mid-March.
At the 2022 Boston Marathon, he decided to run for two miles and take a walk-break for 30 seconds. He cruised along fine until the 25th kilometre. Then, he started to experience a leftward tilt in his body. Also, the walk-breaks increased. He finished the run in 4:20:54. He later found out that the leftward tilt was due to the spinal injury.
This was the third time that Kumar was running the Boston Marathon. “ The atmosphere in Boston is so amazing. I enjoy running there,” he said.
The following Sunday, he ran Big Sur International Marathon, finishing in 4:28:36, securing a fourth position in his age group. “ I now plan to take a break from running to address my spinal injury,” he said. As things stand, he is enrolled to run the 2022 edition of New York City Marathon.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)
A former Indian Army officer, Chandan Kumar Mateti started running in 2013 and over the years participated in events of varying distances including 50 km, stadium runs and both the versions of the Comrades Marathon, an ultra-marathon held annually in South Africa.
In December 2021 the Pune-based runner ran his first 100-kilometre event: The Hell Race-The Border 100. He was not new to ultra-distances but until then, had not touched the magic distance of 100 km.
Chandan writes about how he accomplished his first 100 km-run.
For the first three years my runs were restricted to short distances as my target was to complete a half marathon (21.1 km) in under two hours. This I achieved in due course.
In 2017, my wife Taru decided to run the Comrades Marathon, the ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. She had been training and had run a number of full marathons by then.
As I was funding the trip and also planning to travel to South Africa, I thought: why not give it a shot? However, I had to run a marathon first and complete it in under five hours to qualify. Just to test myself, in 2017, I participated in Mumbai’s 12-hour run and was able to cover a little over 60 kilometres, far short of expectation. I had some time for the qualifier full marathon (it was due in Dec 2017). So, I decided to attempt one more ultra-event and registered for the 50 km-category at Pune Ultra. I trained with Taru for this run and managed to finish it in 5:55 hours.
With that, I got hooked to ultra-running. I qualified for Comrades in 2018 and went on run both the uphill and downhill versions of the race.
I continued running 50 km distances. But now there was this newfound desire to run a 100 km ultra-distance event, mainly to find out if I can sustain myself for such long hours. To test physical and mental abilities, both of us enrolled for two 12-hour stadium runs (the first of them in February 2021 in Bangalore and the second one in Hyderabad in August of the same year). Having covered a distance of 85 km and 94 km respectively, I was confident that I could survive a 100 km run.
We opted to enrol for the The Hell Race-The Border 100, to run 100 km. Scheduled for 18 and 19 December, 2021 at Jaisalmer, it was an extremely challenging race. One would be running in the desert between Jaisalmer and Ramgarh, with temperatures varying from a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius to a minimum of 6 degrees. It had to be completed within a cut-off of 16 hours.
Preparing for 100 km
Taru had already run a 100K a few years ago. The experience and the training requirements were there for us to work with.
We started by increasing our monthly mileage to around 200-250 km from April 2021 onwards. This was going to help us run the 12-hour stadium run at Hyderabad in August. We also needed to do one ultra-distance training run of 50-60 km every month from August onwards – the first one was built into the 12-hour run at Hyderabad itself. We needed to add afternoon runs in high temperatures, because the Border Ultra was starting at 12 noon (when temperatures were expected to be over 30 degrees). So, we planned a few runs of 3-4 hours on some Sunday afternoons. Next, we would need to run through the night into the early hours of morning; for that, we incorporated some night runs of 5-6 hours, starting late night and going into the wee hours of the next day.
Next on the training agenda was being self-supported (as aid stations during the Border Ultra were 10 kilometres apart), especially for water – so we started training with hydration packs (something we had never done before). As single practice runs beyond 60 km was a major administrative challenge, we started doing back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays with the aim of getting used to running on tired legs.
As I was into a corporate job (post-retirement), timings and running schedules were getting haphazard. It meant we could not train with other running groups and buddies – so it was mostly me and Taru, running self-supported. This, in a way, helped us to mentally tackle the 100 km run.
My biggest concern was that I had developed vertigo and I had started getting attacks of severe dizziness and nausea during long runs. I had to abandon my 50K ultra in Pune halfway, due to a severe attack of the same. Similar attack during one of the night runs led me to cut down my planned training run from 50 km to 35 km. I realized there was nothing much I could do about it. I just decided to ignore it and stay focussed on training, taking things as they come.
The next concern was staying fit and reaching the start line injury-free. Therefore, alongside long runs, the focus was on strength training, yoga and icing two to three times a day. I always cut corners here. We tried out and realized that compression hoses and bottoms were of great help. We started training in them. I have a problem with my knees; so, I started `Sujok Therapy’ (activation of acupressure points) regularly, which I believe really helped me manage my pain.
For mid-run fuel, we found that dates and oranges (besides gels – we were using Leap Gels) worked for us. So, we started carrying salted dates with us, to consume en route, while oranges would be available at aid stations. Pre-race fuel for us was sweet potatoes and peanut butter sandwiches.
The 100 km-race
A major challenge we were going to face in this run was the weather. The race was starting at a time when temperatures spanned 30 degrees Celsius to six degrees. We would have to start lightly clothed and finish with warm clothing. This meant we had to carry layers of clothing and keep adding as the temperature dropped.
We started in our running Tee and carried a long-sleeved dry fit, one warm over-wear, one windcheater, bandana, mobile and our mid-run fuel. A down jacket, gloves, woollen cap, torch etc was kept in a tote bag which we could access at 50K.
My run strategy was: first 30 km – run 3 km and walk 100 metres. For the next 30 km – run 2 km and walk 100 metres. For the rest of the distance – run 1 km and walk 100 metres and take it as it comes.
I commenced the race well and was cruising along, comfortably maintaining my planned pace, when at the 50 km aid station, what I feared happened. I got an attack of vertigo and I could feel the spinning sensation. I rested for about 10 minutes until the feeling subsided. I had to take a call on what next, as it had turned dark and the runners were scattered across varying distances along the route. I knew I would have to run alone and be on my own. I decided to keep moving slowly. After all, the worst-case scenario would be that I would fall flat and be out of the race. I decided to cross that bridge when it comes and started running again.
My problem was that if I looked down even a bit longer, I would feel the vertigo hitting. Fortunately, we were running on good roads with minimum traffic and that helped me keep my head straight and neck steady.
The experience of running absolutely alone, in the middle of a moonlit desert, with just the seemingly never-ending black road snaking into oblivion in front of you, was an ethereal experience. At around 75 km or so, someone from behind, who was overtaking me, asked me if I was alright. He thought I was kind of weaving while running. While I told him I was fine, I realized I might be looking at another vertigo attack – so I immediately stopped, steadied myself and decided that from then onward, I would walk more and run less. I had sufficient time in my kitty and was pretty confident that I would make the 16 hrs cut-off, provided I didn’t collapse.
My motto during my Special Forces days came to my mind: “ who dares, wins.’’ So, I again decided to go for my planned time of completing the 100 km in 15 hours, and started cutting down on the walks and running more.
I finished my first 100 km in 15:59:04 hours. Now that I have completed my first 100 km, I am looking forward to running a 100 miler by the end of this year.
(The author, Col Chandan Kumar Mateti, is a retired army officer based in Pune.)
Few races represent running like the Boston Marathon does.
As the 2022 edition of Boston Marathon returns to its April schedule, long-distance runners around the world are getting ready to travel for international road races. They hope the upcoming race – it is being held on the race’s traditional date – signifies the return of normalcy to running events worldwide after the calendar of races was upset by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Boston Marathon, in its 126th year, is scheduled to be held on April 18, 2022, its first rendezvous with Patriot’s Day in three years. Held every April, the event inspires hundreds of runners around the world to qualify for it and participate. The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and was held in a virtual format later in the year. The 2021 edition was held in physical format in October 2021 with Kenyan elite runners taking top honors.
This year, over 100 runners from India have found a place in the entry list and are travelling to Boston to participate in the event, which is a World Marathon Major and among the globe’s most iconic races. “Getting back to international running events is something to look forward to after two years of pandemic,” said Pune-based Kavitha Reddy. She couldn’t think of a better way to execute the return than to run the Boston Marathon.
Kavitha had participated and completed the Boston Marathon in 2018, the year the marathon encountered its worst weather in 30 years. Faced with howling winds, rains and snow and the weather deteriorating as the race progressed, many runners had to quit, including the African elite contingent.
Memories of the 2018 race continue to engage her as variations in weather conditions is an issue with the Boston Marathon. All the same, her training went off quite well especially in the final stages. She lost a couple of weeks in January 2022 to coronavirus infection. “When I got back to training after COVID, it was tough initially. But slowly I got my energy back,” she said. On March 13, 2022, she ran a half marathon at the Jaipur Marathon, finishing in one hour, 30 minutes and 47 seconds. Kavitha is one of the best recreational runners in India in terms of time efficiency.
Gurgaon-based Hemant Beniwal, is headed to Boston for his first attempt there. In 2019, he ran the Berlin Marathon, finishing it in 2:59:30, as per data on the Berlin Marathon website. “It is a privilege to run the Boston Marathon as the bulk of the runners are chosen on merit. Also, the energy level in Boston is incomparable to any other running event. The city celebrates every runner’s presence,” said Hemant. He had qualified for Boston Marathon in 2018 but did not make it. He attempted another qualifying run in 2021 to secure the timing required for his age group (35-39) and make the cut. This was even as the time for qualifying got tougher.
Hemant is also an ultra-marathoner. He represented India at the 2019 100 km IAU Asia & Oceania Championships held at Aqaba in Jordan. The Indian men’s team had secured gold at the event. Hemant finished the distance in 8:12:11.
Srividya Ramnath from Navi Mumbai has already done two of the World Marathon Majors – Chicago Marathon and Berlin Marathon. She has been training diligently for the Boston Marathon for the past four months, helped by a training plan designed by her coach, Ankita Gaur. “I resorted to speed runs even during my long runs and that approach has helped,” she said. She has been an age-category podium finishers in some of the events in India.
Rajeev Singh, also from Navi Mumbai, has run several international races. This will be his second outing at Boston, the first one having been in 2019. Rajeev has been running barefoot for about six years. But recently he shifted to minimalist footwear. “I have been running quite regularly. My preparation, I think, has been good,” he said.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)
Ultra-marathoner, Velu Perumal, won the 90 km-OotyUltra road race held on April 3, 2022 in Tamil Nadu.
The ultra-marathon, held on the streets of Ooty, was challenging with substantial elevation gain and long stretches of downhill. But it was supported well by race organisers and volunteers, runners this blog spoke to, said.
Of the six runners at the start line of OotyUltra’s 90 kilometre-race, held on April 3, 2022, three finished the race. Velu Perumal was the winner followed by Preeti Lala from Mumbai and Vijayan Pillai from Kerala.
OotyUltra has four events – 90 km, 60 km, 30 km and 15 km. The 90 km race, which was by invitation, has a cumulative elevation gain of 2600 metres. There are extended sections of uphill and downhill, with the route touching Dodabetta Peak, winding through Kothagiri and ending at Tea Park.
The event was organised by KaysFIT Academy, founded by Kannan Sundarajan, known as Coach Kay in running circles; it was its fifth edition. In its physical form, Ooty Ultra was in its third edition, having lost two years to the coronavirus pandemic. Coach Kay, originally from Ooty, commenced running in 2011, starting with marathons. He later moved to ultra-marathons.
“It was quite a tough route, quite challenging, requiring us to put in a lot of effort,” Velu, the winner of the 90 km-race, said. He finished it in ten hours, 48 minutes and 31 seconds. Velu is a regular participant and podium finisher in many ultra-running events. He has also represented India in ultra-running events overseas held by IAU. The 31-year-old, who works with the Indian Army, has been coached by Subedar Pawan Kumar from Army Medical Corps.
Mumbai-based Preeti, who placed second among the three finishers, refers to the 90 km-race at Ooty Ultra as “ Indian Comrades.’’ Comrades Marathon is an ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. “This is a must-do event for those running the Comrades Marathon,” she said. She finished the race in 11:38:27. She was the only woman participant in the 90 km-category. Preeti is due to go to South Africa to take part in the Comrades Marathon, scheduled to be held in August 2022.
Vijayan Pillai, who came in third, managed to finish within the 12-hour cut-off; he clocked 11:52:55. Preeti and Vijayan ran together for a long distance but somewhere around the 84 km- mark Vijayan started to develop cramps and had to slow down. His first time at OotyUltra, Vijayan found the event well organised. According to him, the first part of the run led to Dodabetta Peak and on the return, took a deviation to Tea Park (also the eventual finish point). The second and third parts, “ followed a different loop but in opposite directions.” “The aid stations were well-placed and the volunteering was great. The youngsters, who were recruited to do the volunteering, did a great job,” he said. Vijayan commenced running eight years ago and over time got interested in ultra-running, particularly trail running.
Weather was quite good at the start of the race in Ooty but the afternoon stretch turned quite warm. “The hydration and nutrition support by the organisers and the villagers helped us get by during this tough period,” Preeti said. On offer were watermelons, energy drinks, curds, jaggery, bread and butter. The hydration points were positioned at intervals of 3-4 km along the route.
Preeti has finished on the podium before, at ultra-running events. Running the 24-hour race at NEB Sports Mumbai Stadium Run in February 2021, she had emerged the overall winner with a distance of 193.60 km covered. It was the second best by an Indian woman in the category.
At OotyUltra, Dr C. Selvaraj chose to run the 60 km-race. He did it barefoot. This was his second ultra-running event, the first one being the Yercaud Hills Ultra, where he completed the 50 km-race.
“Running barefoot was tough during the hot, sunny hours. I had to run by the side of the road,” he said. Overall, the race was tough with a total elevation gain of 2000 metres, he said. A neurologist, Dr Selvaraj started running for health reasons. Over time, he grew more and more interested in long-distance running.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)
Jyoti Gawate and Nitendra Singh Rawat secured top honours at the 2022 edition of the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon held on March 27.
Nitendra completed the men’s marathon in two hours, 16 minutes and four seconds. Jyoti, an elite runner from Maharashtra, covered the distance in 3:01:19 to win the women’s race.
The event was an opportunity for athletes to qualify for the year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
The marathon-qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held in July-August 2022 in Birmingham is 2:18:40 for men and 2:38:19 for women. The same for the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China in September 2022, is 2:18:48 for men and 2:39:28 for women.
Anish Thapar Magar got the second position in the men’s race, finishing 36 seconds behind Nitendra with a timing of 2:16:40. In third position was Anil Kumar Singh (2:16:46). In the men’s marathon, finishers up to the fourth, fifth and sixth place – Ashish Kumar (2:17:03), Belliappa A.B. (2:17:08) and Kalidas Laxman Hirave (2:18:12) – joined the podium finishers in the list of those qualified for the CWG and the Asian Games.
He has five months to complete a full refit and sail a 2000 miles solo voyage to qualify for the GGR.
Well-known Indian sailor, Abhilash Tomy, will be participating in the 2022 edition of the Golden Globe Race (GGR).
The former naval officer, will sail in a UAE-registered sailboat named ` Bayanat’ which will race under the number 71, the year in which the United Arab Emirates was formed. The announcement was made at the ongoing Dubai Expo.
In 2018, Abhilash – he is the first Indian to sail solo nonstop around the world – was a participant in the 2018 GGR. Following a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean that damaged his boat and left him injured, he had to be rescued. At that time, he was sailing in the ` Thuriya,’ a replica of the ` Suhaili,’ which Sir Robin Knox Johnston had used to complete the first solo nonstop circumnavigation in 1968. The ` Suhaili’ was built in Mumbai; the ` Thuriya,’ in Goa. Following his rescue, Abhilash endured surgery and a challenging road to recovery.
In his Facebook post confirming participation in the 2022 GGR, Abhilash provided a synopsis of the 2018 accident and explained why taking part in the 2022 GGR “ is a big thing” for him. Excerpts: “ After 82 days we were lying in third position when the storm overtook us. My boat was dismasted and destroyed, and I suffered a huge fall which left me with multiple spine fractures. And with pretty functionless legs. The remoteness? Couldn’t have been worse. The Antarctic was the nearest continent. We were exactly between Australia and South Africa, and south of India.’’
The situation triggered an international rescue effort. Four nations contributed – Ireland (Irish sailor Gregor McGuckin, a fellow competitor in the race made a heroic effort to reach Abhilash), India, Australia (both countries dispatched their naval assets) and France (it’s fisheries patrol vessel ` Osiris’ was the first to reach Abhilash). The injured sailor was shifted to a small island in the French Sub-Antarctic Territories where he was provided primary medical care. He was brought to India on the 16th day of the accident.
Excerpts continued: “ An MRI revealed the fractures in the spine. Two days later I was operated upon. Titanium rods were inserted in my spine and 5 vertebrae were fused into one. My legs were so badly off that I had to learn to walk again. But I did learn to walk, and then got into a cockpit and got back to flying, and sailing! 3 and a half years later, I am heading back into the same race that almost got me killed. Wish me luck !”
Abhilash’s boat for the 2022 GGR bears the name of his sponsor – Bayanat, a G42 company specializing in AI-powered geospatial intelligence. According to a report on the GGR website, Bayanat has said that during the race Abhilash would aid in ongoing scientific work, “ including the collection of water samples which can be analysed for up to date insight on the presence of microplastics in the world’s oceans.” Additionally, a small section of the yacht will be painted with a special coating which will serve as a reflectance target for satellites, “ representing a one-of-a-kind opportunity to collect calibrated data during the race.”
As per the report dated March 22, 2022, available on the GGR website, Abhilash purchased a Rustler 36 in France, and named it “ Bayanat.” The boat was previously raced in the last Golden Globe by Philippe Péché with PRB sponsorship (he retired from the race on August 25, 2018 due to a broken wind vane and put in to Cape Town). “ He has five months to complete a full refit and sail a 2000 miles solo voyage to qualify for the GGR,’’ the report said adding that with Abhilash’s entry, the total number of competitors in 2022 GGR stood at 23 sailors from 13 countries.
GGR’s list of skippers for 2022 also includes Gaurav Shinde (originally from Mumbai), who will be representing Canada in the race. “ Such great news! Can’t wait to share the start line with this legend.” – Shinde responded on Facebook to the news of Abhilash’s participation, confirmed.
The 2022 GGR is scheduled to commence from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France, on September 4. “ Whilst the proven formula of the 2018 Notice of Race will remain substantially the same, there are some additions for this third running of the Golden Globe. Sailors must show prior ocean sailing experience of at least 8,000 miles and another 2000 miles solo before applying to compete. Two new film drop points have been added to the course: Cape Town and Punta del Este. An extra 2000 miles non-stop solo qualifying voyage in the GGR entered yacht, using only celestial navigation, is required on top of the previous minimum 8000 ocean miles and a further 2000 solo miles. Thus, a total experience of 12000 miles at the start of the race,” the GGR website said.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)
Indian ultra and trail runner, Nupur Singh, finished second among women and seventh overall in the 81-kilometre category of EcoTrail AlUla 2022 held on March 19.
In January 2022, Nupur Singh received an invite from Asia Trail Masters, a series of trail running races in Asia, to participate in EcoTrail AlUla 2022.
For much of 2021 Nupur had been battling a personal crisis; she lost both her parents to COVID-19. “ In January 2022 I was not in a good shape. I was completely off training for most of 2021 because of the situation at home,’’ she said.
The invitation from Asia Trail Masters propelled Nupur to resume her training.
“ I was very excited by the invite to EcoTrail AlUla. I wanted to come back to running,’’ she said. Nupur commenced her training in Manali, where she resides. “ It was snowing there. So, I shifted to Bir, where I trained for one and a half months. Here, the weather was a mix of cold mornings followed by hot afternoons,” she said. She also participated in Tuffman Stadium Run’s 6-hour relay race, opting for an afternoon slot of two hours, primarily to train herself for running in Saudi Arabia’s desert heat.
Nupur travelled to Jeddah from New Delhi and after an overnight stay there, moved on to Al-‘Ula, a city in North West Saudi Arabia, in the Medina Region of the country.
The 81 km race at EcoTrail AlUla is predominantly a trail course comprising deep sandy stretches for over 10-12 km, followed by rocky canyons with stretches of continuous ups and downs. The wide open desert landscape was interspersed with rock formations, date farms, architectural monuments and the occasional road for transitioning to different areas. The course also winds through Hegra, the archaeological site, marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire course has an elevation gain of 1200 meters.
“ Here, the mornings and nights are cold while the afternoons are quite hot. The race started at 6:10 AM on March 19, 2022, and the initial terrain was a mix of deep and paved sand. It was chilly and that helped me pick up a good pace. From the beginning, I had decided to run my own race and not push too much early on and to enjoy the course and my comeback. The most enjoyable part of the course for me was the canyon section; technical terrain with mountain views is what I love the most,” she said.
Saudi Arabia’s dress code ensured that women runners wore outfits that covered themselves fully. “ It was beautiful to see so many women taking part in the race and at aid stations,” Nupur said.
Nupur said she felt strong for most part of the race. “ I never felt low at any point. My nutrition and hydration went off quite well. It was a good come-back race for me,” she said. She finished in nine hours, 19 minutes and 25 seconds. It earned her the second position among women and an overall seventh place.
Her nutrition consisted of Unived gels, salt tablets, peanut butter, oranges and locally grown dates. For hydration, she had Unived recovery drink mixes and water.
In the 81 km category, there were a total of 67 participants of which 31 runners finished the race.
Nupur got into running in 2014. Soon afterwards she started organising races in the mountains. In November 2019, she participated in the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Jordan. She ran in the open category and finished in fairly good time behind British athlete, Joasia Zakrzwenski, the winner of the open race.
Following the race in Saudi Arabia, her aim now is to participate in qualifying races for the IAU 100 km World Championship to be held in August 2022 in Berlin, Germany and the IAU Trail Championship scheduled to be held in November 2022.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)
A bicycle trip we had planned a couple of years ago, eventually got underway in March, 2022. Hoping against logic, we imagined temperate weather; the lingering grace of winter’s extended exit. Nature had other plans.
Heat waves are not often heard of in Mumbai.
There is always the relief gained through location on the sea coast. But then, these are times of unusual weather. On March 16, 2022, newspapers reported that the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had issued a heat wave warning for Mumbai.
In its report, the Times of India explained, “ heat wave warnings are issued when the temperature of any coastal station reaches 37 degrees and the departure from normal is between 4.5 to 6.4 degrees. When both these conditions are met for a costal station like the city and when it persists for two days at more than one station, then a heat wave is declared for that region. If departures exceed 6.5 degrees, then severe heat wave conditions are issued by the weather bureau.’’ The report then quoted the IMD: Due to the advection of warm and dry winds from North West India, heat wave to severe heat wave conditions are very likely over parts of Konkan-Goa, including Mumbai, over the next three days. Due to the prevailing clear skies and low humidity values, the temperatures are expected to rise and similar conditions are likely to prevail for next two to three days over the region.
“ Aha,’’ I thought with the satisfaction of having found the answer. My mind was dwelling on the afternoon of March 5. Early that morning, Prashant Venugopal and I had set out on a small, multi-day cycling trip from Navi Mumbai. We knew the timing was bad; ideally it should have been in December, January or February when the weather is relatively pleasant. But for much of January-February 2022, I wasn’t in Mumbai and given his work, Prashant has to schedule the required number of days, which takes time. Eventually, the trip was slotted to commence on March 5. The idea was older still. It took shape in 2019, not long after the two of us cycled from Mumbai to Goa (for more on that trip, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/12/29/on-a-bicycle-mumbai-goa/). By now periodically studying the map for interesting routes, we had noticed this giant circle possible around the Bhimashankar massif. With Malshej Ghat added, one could do it like a circle linking the coastal plains with the higher Deccan Plateau. Then a few things happened.
First, in the first quarter of 2020, India slipped into COVID-19 and lockdown. The following year too was spent in and out of COVID. Our trip went into hibernation. Second, we heard that portions of the route had become part of a BRM. Brevets are a different world. As the casual touring sort, we would never cycle as fast or as consistently as those participating in brevets do. But news of the BRM reminded us to try the route, in our own way. Third, over 2020-2021, Prashant’s niece came to study at a university near Bhimashankar. We thought of our fifty plus-selves dropping by one day on cycles to say hello but the very same musings provoked the question: why don’t we do the full route? We took it up seriously in February 2022, dates were decided towards the end of the month and after a quick check of the chain, drive train and disc brakes of my bicycle by Inderjeet of Evolution Cycles, we left home at around 5.30 AM on March 5. We had this hope that although it was unmistakably summer, the weather would be tolerable.
Our goal was to proceed from Nerul to Panvel and onward to Chowk, Karjat, Mhasa, Vaishakhare, Malshej Ghat, Junnar, Narayangaon, Chakan, Lonavala, Khopoli and eventually back to Nerul via Panvel. We made no arrangements for stay in advance and given the Mhasa-Vaishakhare stretch could see us bivouacking, we provided for some extra layers in the panniers besides regular stuff like snacks, first aid kit and bike repair / maintenance equipment. We thought of taking a tarp or a tent ground sheet along but finally dispensed with that; neither of us wanted to work overtime on fashioning a perfect ride. Take it as it comes.
By noon of the first day, on the Karjat-Murbad road, it was amply clear that we had underestimated the heat. Among the great achievements of civilization has been diminishing tree cover and this road seemed an excellent example of that. The land to the side of the road and the smaller roads meandering off inland had sprinklings of shade. But the main road itself was starved of tree cover good enough for you to stand under and feel cooled. Those big trees of yore – they are deeply missed. The result was a slow and steady progression of cyclist into dehydration. It wasn’t so much the lack of water, which we had in sufficient quantity. In my case, it was the loss of water and salts and the glare all around caused by exposed road and limited shade. To make matters worse, I love tea and soft drinks. Both, recommended as unsuited (perhaps the right description is: deceptively satisfying) for hot days, I downed in handsome quantities. It was a bad choice. I felt full and hollow at once and lacking energy. After a particularly bare stretch of blazing hot road, roughly an hour before Mhasa, I unhesitatingly rode into the fragile, thatched shelter of a tiny shop selling lemonade. It was sweet relief and there I remained for quite some time, waiting for Prashant and recalling a similar moment of God sent-relief on a hike to Prabalgad several years ago.
Our mountaineering club having acquired new tents, Abhijit Burman (Bong), Franco Linhares and I had decided to camp overnight on the hill’s apex, so that we could test the gear and also take in the unhindered sight of city lights in the distance. All that was good, except somewhere in the walk-in with tent, stove, fuel and provisions to cook food, Bong remembered that he had forgotten to take a matchbox. None of us smoked and that meant, there were no matches on Franco and I, as well. Suddenly we realized the value of a matchbox; the small thing separated us from a nice dinner and sleeping on an empty stomach. And we liked to eat. The evening was quickly fading to night, when we hurriedly retraced our steps to the nearby village. We worried that we may have to knock on people’s doors, be a nuisance. And what if they didn’t have matchboxes to spare? Luckily, ahead of the village, a lone old man appeared smoking a beedi. “ Maamaaa…,’’ Bong shouted in relief and happiness. He brought himself to a halt before the old man, bowed low and offered a heartfelt namaste. Never before in the history of the matchbox was a non-smoker so happy to see a person with smoke escaping his lips. The old man looked on amused. Bong narrated the blunder we had committed. The old man listened. He saved us, he let us have his matchbox. At the small roadside shack, I had three lemonades one after the other. Prashant had his share. Never before in the history of lemonade were two cyclists this happy to see a lemonade vendor. Thirst quenched and salts restored, we thanked the vendor and picked our way to Mhasa.
At Mhasa’s Guruprasad restaurant, we evaluated our options. Enquiries along the way had shown that rest houses were limited on the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road. “ Go to Murbad’’ – that was everyone’s suggestion. On the other hand, we had thought of days one and two of the trip as its main attraction and within that, the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road was important. Cycling to Murbad and then returning to Mhasa next morning to be on that road, didn’t appeal. The waiter who served us lunch at the hotel indicated that his manager may know more and so Prashant took up the task of speaking to the manager to find out about places of stay. He recommended an ashram in Dehri village and connected us to the caretaker there. It was a restricted property and securing permission for stay was difficult. But eventually, Prashant got a yes. The journey from Mhasa to Dehri was more or less a repeat of the conditions experienced on the Karjat-Murbad road. It was hot, dry and not generous in shade. By evening we were in Dehri and the ashram, located right at the base of Gorakhgad; Machindra pinnacle to the side. Under the greener circumstances of monsoon or winter this would be a pretty place. Unfortunately, we were visitors in March. In summer, vegetation in the Sahyadri dries up and the hills acquire a dusty, light brown shade interspersed with the black of ancient volcanic rock.
Gorakhgad holds a special place in my life. It was one of the first Sahyadri forts I hiked to, back in 1997-1998. After my first hike in Sikkim, I had looked out for company to go hiking around Mumbai and my first friend in this regard was a young, very tall Sikh gentleman. We made an odd pair; as tall as Satinder was, I was short. Gorakhgad was the second or third fort I visited with him. Those days, Dehri had been just a bus stop with a couple of shops. Having arrived in the late evening bus from Kalyan (or was it Murbad?), we slept in the veranda of one of the shops and hiked up Gorakhgad early next morning. However, it was in the years that followed, spent hiking and climbing with Girivihar (Mumbai’s oldest mountaineering club) that I realized the full scale and wealth of the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road. From Gorakhgad to Jeevdhan, Naneghat and Bhairavgad a massive wall of hills signified the abrupt drop of the Deccan plateau to the coastal plains. The last time I was here was to hike up Dhakoba and onward to Durga Killa (you can read about it here: https://shyamgopan.com/2013/08/05/the-short-cut/). Simply put, Mhasa-Vaishakhare is a special road; one of the less celebrated gems although of late (especially following the early waves of COVID-19), there have been reports of many visitors going in, naturally triggering concerns alongside. Our stay at the ashram was comfortable. The caretaker’s family made us a tasty dinner. Our gratitude to them. As we took leave of the family to return to our room, a car load of trekkers who had taken a wrong turn, arrived on the premises asking if the path to Gorakhgad ran through the property.
Early next morning, we pushed off for Vaishakhare and Malshej Ghat. The road was very good and distances marked directly on the tarmac indicated that it may have played host to road races. We cruised along, first in darkness and then, savoring a fantastic sunrise. A few kilometers before Vaishakhare, a man we met suggested that we take a short cut. We did so and ended up off-roading for a while. The path connected us to the road leading to Malshej Ghat. At the hotel we stopped for morning tea, a bus passenger traveling from Ahmednagar to Kalyan and halted there for breakfast, took much interest in our cycles and the small trip we were doing. He gave us an overview of the road to Junnar beyond Malshej. Tea had, we pushed off. Our next stop was another hour or more later – a cart and a van parked by the road to Malshej; the former offering tea and vada-paav, the latter functioning as a store selling packaged snacks. Both were managed by a local villager and his son. We had tea and vada-paav and enjoyable conversation with the father-son duo. Then, up the ghat road, we continued.
The mountain wall from day one now curved towards Malshej Ghat. The dyke-like Bhairavgad was an impressive sight to behold. Meanwhile we could see ranges coming into view on the opposite side of the road as well. Occasionally a motorcycle rider or the occupants of a passing car would give us a thumbs up for encouragement as we sweated it up Malshej Ghat (on the Internet, the average elevation of Malshej Ghat is given as 700 metres, around 2300 feet). We took periodic breaks, particularly at view-points with parking space created by the side of the road. Having learnt the importance of self-care from the previous day, we were also quite liberal with halts for hydration, especially lemonade. Around noon, we reached the entry to the final stretch; there was a lemonade stall, a fort-like structure and a patch of road with a fleet of cranes and many workers engaged in (what seemed like) strengthening the rock wall of the hill through which the road had been cut. Besides that, the workers removed lose rocks. We paused here for lemonade and some down time spent watching people and traffic. Early afternoon, we reached the side road leading to the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s (MTDC) resort at Malshej Ghat. But given Dehri had made us fans of the local cooking, instead of heading to the resort straight away, we dove into Hotel Malshej, a dhaba (small eatery) right at that corner. It was operated by Balu and his wife. They didn’t let us down. It was another encounter with tasty food; fresh, simple and beautifully made. We told Balu that we will be back for dinner.
Post lunch, we proceeded to the MTDC resort but ended up quite disappointed with their tariff, which despite it being off season, was high. The tariff showed no sign of being flexible. And they didn’t appear to require questioning the inflexibility because there were people driving in on their cars and SUVs, willing to spend that much for a room. What are two cyclists then? – I guess. We asked ourselves if the basic paradigm of a bicycle trip is to spend high for creature comforts or focus resources on the cycling. The answer was definitely the latter. So, we consulted Balu and he fixed us up at Hotel Nisarg a little distance away. It was a rather bleak lodge but liveable and with an evening stroll to a nearby meadow possible and dinner set up at Balu’s eatery, the hours went by quickly. Interestingly, the lodge’s biggest customer appeared to be the firm doing the work on the rock wall at Malshej Ghat. The officers of the company stayed there. There was a small temple near the lodge. Harishchandragad could be seen in the distance. There was however one emergent problem – the flow of traffic on the road was now steady and the number of vehicles, more. On top of it, the road here was in a bad state. It didn’t augur well for next day’s start.
Hikers, climbers, runners, cyclists – they typically like an early morning start. The reason is simple. Unlike people traveling in the climate controlled comfort of automobiles, these activities involve physical strain. You therefore try to get at least some portion of the day’s work done before the heat sets in. It had been the same with us. We always aimed to commence cycling by 6 AM or earlier. Usually, it is a nice experience. That terrible irritant of Indian roads – traffic, is less and in places away from cities, you have a world at peace for bonus. Early next morning however, the cycling was a challenge. The road was gravely, the tarmac dipped sharply at the road’s edges and there were potholes. But the real nuisance was the traffic and the ocean of lights one saw in front. Probably because this is a hill section, trucks, cars, pick-ups, SUVs and vans plying on the road tend to have multiple lights. Their logic would be – the more the number of lights, the more the visibility. Oncoming vehicles therefore hark of a film shooting scene. There’s so much light; all one needs is a movie star dancing on the road. What they forget is, lighting technology has changed over the years. The average car or SUV of today has headlights significantly more powerful than what they used to be years ago. Adding more lights is overkill. For cyclist on the road, oncoming traffic awash in a battery of such lights is blinding. For an hour at least, I struggled to see properly. Dawn’s sunshine brought relief. Slowly the road condition too improved. We soon got past Pargaon and on to the hill road leading to Junnar. This road was a bit steep in parts but it was in excellent condition. There was very little traffic at that hour and hence, the road was quite enjoyable. It was peaceful.
We saw a well-dressed young woman, seemingly on her way to college, walking barefoot with her slippers in her hand. It was an odd sight. Prashant asked why she was walking so. She replied that her slippers were fancy ones unsuited for walking on the hill road. Maybe closer to her destination, she would slip them back on. The road climbed up to a lovely, small pass with a temple by its side. We parked our bicycles at the pass to hydrate and take in the view. It was an impressive landscape; a chain of hills and the lake created by the Pimpalgaon Joga Dam. As we stood there, we saw a cyclist on a light road bike, come up from the Junnar side. It was Santosh, jeweller and cyclist from Othur, out on his regular training ride. It was a study in contrast – he on an utterly light road bike free of load and us (an MTB and a hybrid) sporting panniers and hauling load. We exchanged notes and a brief conversation later, Santosh rode off elegantly as road bikers typically do; he essayed a smooth turn at the corner and disappeared down the road in the direction of Pargaon. We crossed the pass towards Junnar and were treated to a long, smooth descent. It was fun; that stint going downhill felt like a magic carpet-ride.
After breakfast at Junnar, we attended to a major problem, on since day two of the ride. My shoes, veteran of several rides, were enduring a divorce; the upper had come off the soles completely. The first one separated so before the trip and I had it repaired in Navi Mumbai. The second one followed suit at Malshej. We located a cobbler just outside the Junnar bus depot. He stitched the whole thing up. Bless you sir. We set off for Narayangaon. In retrospect, all the attractions of this trip ended at Junnar. From Junnar onward, the route we had chosen was on a crowded main road or highway and therefore very reminiscent of India’s daily rat race-existence. We could sense in the environment, the distant presence of Pune, Maharashtra’s second biggest city and among India’s major industrial hubs. As traffic from all over merges and proceeds to such hubs, the local flavour recedes and an industrial blandness takes over. The return to urban life was viscerally felt in the lunch of day three – the thali we ordered at a dhaba along the highway had nothing authentic or regional. It tasted of everywhere. Several hours of cycling on characterless roads later, we reached Chakan.
By now the return to civilization was full blown. Its most visible ambassador was traffic moving nonchalantly towards you on the wrong side of the road. It seemed an institutionalized, normal practice. And it was dangerous, making for deadly roads. We turned into the road leading to Talegaon from Chakan and some ways off, decided to halt at the fairly upmarket Matrix Inn. While we discussed the tariff, we told the manager of the hotel that we were cyclists out on a multi-day trip and spending high wasn’t exactly what we wished for. He heard us out and offered a good deal; he also let us take our cycles to the floor we stayed on. It was an excellent stay. Next morning, the hotel even prepared an earlier than usual complimentary breakfast for us. There was sandwich, boiled egg, fruit and tea. Our thanks to the manager and his staff.
The early morning ride through Chakan was a gaze into the dim underbelly of GDP. The factories here contribute to the GDP that is bandied about as data for discussion in the financial circles of Mumbai and the government circles of Delhi. However, there is something bleak about how GDP is made; about Chakan’s early morning heavy traffic, the sight of buses transporting workers to various factories, people waiting at bus stops, the queues before factory gates and people walking along the road, mile upon mile, proceeding on foot to their places of work. And the sun isn’t up, yet. There was an Orwellian tinge to the picture; a sense of self succumbed to industrial order and redemption through money. It isn’t an uplifting sight and you cannot blame anyone for the lack of buoyancy in the frame. It is just us, our numbers and our predicament of life traded for means of survival. Spoken of as data and statistics and minus the human angle, GDP is sexy.
We wound our way to Talegaon, tucked into the traffic flow headed to Mumbai on the old Mumbai-Pune highway, watched paragliding over a cup of tea at Kamshet, breezed through Lonavala, descended to the coastal plains via Bhor Ghat and sat down for a ritual snack at Khopoli. The whole passage was as industrial as the morning mood of Chakan. A few hours later, Mumbai hit us in full force at Panvel. By afternoon on the fourth day (March 8), we were back in Nerul. In terms of daily mileage (approximate and measured on Google), Prashant estimates it was 95 kilometres covered on day one, 55 on day two, 90 on day three and close to 130 on day four. The cycles – a Trek 4500D MTB and a GT Traffic hybrid – held up well. The only instance of gear malfunctioning was a headlight (one of two used on the given cycle) that failed on day two. We tried repairing it in our lodge room at Malshej but to no success.
The IMD’s warning, the Mumbai municipal corporation’s (BMC) advisory on heat wave and the related news reports not only put those hours on the Karjat-Murbad road and the Mhasa-Vaishakhare road in perspective, it also helped explain another aspect of the heat, which we had felt. Although the cycling beyond Malshej had been less enjoyable due to traffic and regular highways, the heat hadn’t been as punishing as it was in the phase before Malshej Ghat and the phase following Bhor Ghat on the return. That was unusual for summer – a comparatively tolerable Deccan and an unsettlingly warm coastal plain.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)
The recent incident of a trekker stuck on a high rock face near Malampuzha and eventually rescued by army personnel, should be cause for reflection in Kerala.
Footage broadcast on TV showed a rescuer descending from the top of the rock face, collecting the 23-year-old who endured nearly two days without food and water (there was a small cavity he could sit in), and the duo then being slowly hoisted up. It seemed a fairly straight forward operation. By the evening of the rescue, there were TV debates asking why the local police lacked the required skills. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong end to start enquiring. What one must find is the source of the required skillsets and ask why climbing, the sport hosting many of those skills, never gained traction in Kerala.
In India, civilian presence in adventure sports like climbing was traditionally inhibited by the fact that they are expensive. When it came to the ability to afford gear and access prized terrain like the Himalaya (which unfortunately constitutes a sensitive border), the armed forces always scored. In the list of Indian mountaineering expeditions, one will therefore find a sizable military presence. In Indian media, rescuers are often described as trained in mountaineering.
Rock climbing in India, evolved differently from mountaineering. Here one half of the traditional impediments to adventure – accessibility – is less. Engaging rock faces are available in the ranges south of the Himalaya along with access less constrained by weather and security issues. Consequently, domination by military is absent. In their earlier years, India’s climbing clubs attempted some of these faces and features with what gear they possessed. Later club members pooled their resources and bought better climbing equipment. Nowadays, thanks to the growth in number of rock climbers and rise in disposable income, there are individuals owning a full set (a rack) of climbing gear.
From the perspective of rescue, civilian-rock climbing matters because notwithstanding difference in terrain tackled and variations to equipment thereby, many of the basic systems of mountaineering and rock climbing are similar. Besides south of the Himalaya, you are not dealing with snow and ice. In peninsular India, Maharashtra and Karnataka have produced good rock climbers. Maharashtra has a number of hiking and climbing clubs; some of their members climb rock regularly in the Sahyadri and have also done courses in mountaineering. Rescue related to the outdoors in Maharashtra, rarely sees the army called in; it is done by a combination of the clubs and local authorities. According to Umesh Zirpe, among the most respected expedition leaders from Maharashtra (he has led successful civilian expeditions to several 8000m peaks in the Himalaya), in the above-mentioned combination, as much as 90 per cent would be civilian volunteers familiar with hiking and climbing, working for free. The club Zirpe belongs to – Giripremi – was instrumental in starting South India’s only mountaineering institute in Pune. In 2016, the club and the institute launched the Maharashtra Mountain Rescue Coordination Centre (MMRCC). Today, the state has a 24×7 mountain rescue helpline that gets volunteers to respond in the event of a mishap, he said.
Arguably, the most crucial aspect in this ecosystem are the clubs and the treatment of climbing as sport; not as spectacle or something extraordinary. Done so and treated in a relaxed, unpressured fashion, learning happens. If one wants to be a good rescuer one has to be competent at the technical systems involved. This is not a macho accomplishment. It is basically comprehension of a given situation, knowledge of climbing gear and its maintenance and an understanding of system architecture. One gets good at this in direct proportion to how often one is practising the sport and which sub-category of climbing, one is interested in.
Bouldering for example, is minimalist; it dispenses with equipment (except for crash pad, chalk bag and rock climbing shoes) but teaches a lot about physicality and the grammar of movement. Sport climbing teaches more about systems but given climbing routes are prepared in advance, there is no need to delineate afresh a route on rock or set up anchors oneself. Traditional (trad) climbing – particularly multi-pitch – brings climber closer to the range of contexts and skillsets required for rescue. “ In multi-pitch trad climbing, one navigates on rock in a fashion that isn’t simply a continuous vertical progression. One may climb up, then correct by climbing down. Unlike sport climbing, there is more looking around. Plus, we get situations that require applying one’s sense of judgement,’’ Dinesh Kaigonahalli, among Bengaluru’s best-known senior climbers, said. While knowledge of multi pitch climbing provides the foundation, to be a rescuer there are specialized techniques to master additionally. Club culture and regular climbing expose us to the basics and the world of learning beyond.
This skills-led, civilian-based approach is also in tune with models reported overseas. For example, one of the world’s greatest big wall-climbing destinations is Yosemite in the US. It is home to massive rock faces cherished by many as an objective to climb. Occasionally, climbers get stuck or accidents happen. Rescue is done by Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR). As a direct offshoot of adventure activity being treated as sport, rescue machinery in several countries is managed by motivated civilians familiar with the sport and locality, and trained in rescue systems. This is unfortunately yet to happen in India at large, although as mentioned earlier, in states like Maharashtra, there is an emergent self-reliance in rescue.
In Kerala, trekking and climbing remained small. Given the eco-sensitivity of the Western Ghats and presence of wild animals, the state’s wilderness is officially protected (as it should be). Extended monsoon adds to the complexity; rock climbing needs dry rock. The state could have overcome this by opening up access to rock in less eco-sensitive areas and complementing the limited outdoor window with good indoor climbing infrastructure. That hasn’t happened as needed. Further, marketable soft adventure as is the case in tourism, is quickly understood in the state. When it comes to full blown trekking or rock climbing (or adventure in water and air), there is the tendency to initiate youngsters into the sport via agencies like the National Cadet Corps (NCC), which endorses the widespread notion that adventure is the domain of the armed forces. The paradigm was visible in TV programs around the rescue in Malampuzha as well; discussions featured police officers and ex-military personnel. This is despite the state of affairs overseas and the evidence of Keralites working in other states in India, who learnt to enjoy hiking and climbing as a responsible, civilian sport.
Wider knowledge of the proper techniques and etiquettes of trekking and climbing is the best way to avoid mishaps in the outdoors. Shorn of spectacle and treated as a sport (as done by responsible clubs), such awareness is disseminated easier. One gets to be in an ecosystem that is not only seriously pursuing the activity but is also sharing information on associated courses and workshops. Good club culture matters. If clubs end up serving vanity, alpha characters and internal politics (all, classic Indian problems), then they lose professionalism. Interestingly, one of the comments this author heard from a foreigner who spent time fostering outdoor culture in India, was how young Indians approached the outdoors like a caged beast set free. A direct product of conservative family and pressures at work, the behaviour breeds its own scope for accidents, he said.
Viewed through the prism of adventure, Kerala’s limitations are on show. Simple rescues have vaulted to the realm of madness by media and involvement of the armed forces. The solution is to treat adventure as an instinct within sport, base it in the civilian realm to which it naturally belongs and let a responsible club culture take roots. This will put in place a wider base of climbers, those competent in related first aid (there are first aid courses designed for people into outdoor sports and wilderness), and above all, a regimen of regular engagement with the sport for ultimately you are only as good as the last time you practised those skills. Ensuring that people stay in touch with their skills is a priority for Zirpe too, given the sizable share of volunteers in Maharashtra’s pool of talent for mountain rescue. “ We plan to conduct refresher courses,’’ he said.
The model of clubs should not be difficult for Kerala to emulate. Recreational running and cycling have become quite popular in the state and good clubs exist in those spaces. They invest in best practices, skills, dissemination of knowledge and provide support. That’s the way to go. But let’s be clear – notwithstanding the best we do, mishaps may still happen. A promising society learns from every incident without stifling the appetite to explore.