MAHARASHTRA ALLOWS POOLS FOR COMPETITION SWIMMERS TO REOPEN

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Maharashtra has allowed the reopening of swimming pools meant to train competition swimmers.

“ As per the latest government guidelines, swimming pools used for training of state-, national and international-level sportspersons and located outside containment zones can operate from November 5,’’ a PTI report dated November 4, 2020 said. “ I am very happy and I know all swimmers across the state are very happy with this decision. We have been waiting for seven months and we can’t wait to get in the pool and start training,’’ Virdhawal Khade, national record holder and among best known competition swimmers from Maharashtra, said.  He expressed gratitude to the government for its decision.

Among sports, swimming had been one of the worst hit as lockdown and pandemic totally cut off access to pools. On September 30, 2020, the central government had allowed select swimming pools – qualified as those used to train “ sportspersons” – to reopen as part of Unlock 5, effective from October 1. The final decision was to be taken by the states. In subsequent unlock guidelines at the state level, Maharashtra had continued to remain cautious and avoided reopening pools. That is what has changed now. “ The state government’s decision will certainly be a relief for elite swimmers from Maharashtra. It will help them train and perform well at competitions,’’ former national record holder in swimming, Sebastian Xavier, currently stationed in Mumbai as Senior Sports Officer, Western Railway, said. Besides swimming pools meant to train elite swimmers, yoga institutes, indoor sports facilities such as badminton halls, tennis, squash courts and indoor shooting ranges have also been allowed to function from November 5, the PTI report said. Physical distancing and sanitization must be ensured, the accompanying guidelines said.

“ This means a lot,’’ Zarir Balliwala, President, Greater Mumbai Amateur Aquatics Association (GMAAA), said about the state government’s decision to reopen pools meant to train elite swimmers. He pointed out that competition swimmers had been without access to pools for the past 6-7 months. “ It makes us hopeful that by next April we may be able to get district level competitions underway,’’ he said. However between the decision to reopen and training getting underway in a systematic fashion for elite swimmers, there could be a teething phase. This is because prior to pandemic and lockdown, competition swimmers trained at pools of their choice, some of which were privately owned facilities. There is no guarantee that pools will cater to a limited number of competition swimmers. Their maintenance cost may be unsustainable at reduced traffic. Which pools elite swimmers should go to – this has to now emerge though discussion and consensus in the swimming community.

Pune based-open water swimmer Rohan More has crossed several channels and straits worldwide; he was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for 2017. An IT engineer, Rohan’s work hours varies in accordance with the hours of work of clients overseas. In the more relaxed and less regimented life before lockdown when pools offered various time slots to train, he could easily find a slot that suited him. He wondered if similar flexibility may be available in the new normal; he wasn’t also sure yet which pools in town may cater to elite swimmers under the new unlock guidelines. Still, the government’s decision to reopen pools meant for training competition swimmers is a promising start, he said.

Navi Mumbai-based Shubham Vanmali was among those who highlighted pretty early in the lockdown that the loss to swimmers from the closure of pools is hard to compensate. At heart it is access to water denied and water, besides being medium for swimming is also therapeutic. An accomplished open water swimmer with channel crossings to his credit, Shubham had turned to dry land exercises to stay fit. “ Such workouts, while useful cannot make up for the loss of access to water,’’ Shubham said.  After six months of no swimming, in October, Shubham gained access to a resort some distance from Khopoli that had an adjacent water body about 50-70 meters long, wherein the water was also flowing and not stagnant. He occasionally swam there. He also went to his native place – Kasa near Dahanu – and swam in rivers and lakes there. His initial moments in water were a reminder of what happened to endurance swimmer during lockdown. “ I could feel how heavy I was in the water. I was dragging so much surface area. My body was also stiff and therefore prone to injury. I swam slowly. I did stretches and exercises to rehabilitate my shoulders,’’ he said.

“ Personally I think it will be an uphill for all,’’ Zarir said of the road to fitness and peak condition that lay ahead for Maharashtra’s competition swimmers. But for now the feeling is one of relief and gratitude.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance 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.)

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.)

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.) 

2020 VIRTUAL LONDON MARATHON / THE INDIAN EXPERIENCE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

For the virtual format of the 2020 London Marathon, 45,000 runners ranging in age from 18 to 87 had signed up to run at various locations worldwide. As per the commentary from the physical race held around St James Park in London, outside the UK, participation in the virtual run was highest in the US, Taiwan and Hong Kong. India too had its share of amateur runners who registered for the virtual run of October 4. We spoke to some of them – including those who had featured in an article on this blog ahead of the virtual run – on how things panned out.     

In Mumbai, Himanshu Sareen had initially planned to take the virtual London Marathon as a training run with no targeted timing in mind. He had done the virtual Boston Marathon, a little over a fortnight ago and it seemed apt not to push. But 10 kilometers into the run of October 4 he realized that he could push his pace in pursuit of a better timing. This time around, he started his run at around 5.40 AM, earlier than he had for the virtual Boston Marathon. Rains during the night and continuing drizzle that morning helped keep the weather pleasant.

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: Shweta Sareen)

“ I started at a slow pace because in my mind this was not a race. After the first 10 kilometers, I decided to increase my pace,” Himanshu said. For the first 18 kilometers he ran in a 500 metre loop and then expanded that to a loop of about one kilometer till the 26th kilometer. “ The stretch between 26 and 35 kilometers is often tough for me,” he said adding that he in this phase he stretched his loop to about 10 kilometers. This worked well for him and he was able to maintain a good pace throughout. His wife Shweta was the sole person providing support for his run; during the virtual Boston Marathon several other runners and the security staff of his apartment complex had pitched in to help with hydration.“ As I was not planning to run the virtual London Marathon like a race, I did not inform anyone,” he said.

Himanshu finished with a provisional timing of 2:52:35. Although tad short of his personal best, Himanshu believes this is his best performance in running, to date. He is now due to run the Virtual New York City Marathon. He may consider the option of traveling to New York to run this virtual marathon.

Kamalaksha Rao (Photo: courtesy Kamalaksha)

Elsewhere in the city, Kamalaksha Rao was attempting the virtual London Marathon after recovering from COVID-19 infection.  “ I started my run at 4.40 AM. It was raining quite heavily then. The weather stayed pleasant for some time but soon the heat and the humidity began rising,” the 73 year-old said. He ran the first half of the marathon and walked the next 21 kilometers. “ I had a target of finishing in eight hours. I finished in 7:20 hours,” he said.

Kamalaksha had placed water bottles for hydration at two places along the loop he had chosen to run on. He managed to hydrate but at some point during the virtual marathon he realized that one of the bottles had gone missing. Thankfully there were shops along the route where he could buy bottled water. “ 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 plans to do recovery walks over the next few days.

Mahesh Bedekar (Photo: courtesy Mahesh)

In neighboring Thane, Dr Mahesh Bedekar opted to run the virtual London Marathon primarily as motivation to keep the momentum of his regular runs, going. A gynaecologist, who runs his own hospital in Thane, Mahesh has been running for the past seven years. He has participated in many marathons and half marathons. Along the way, he also did five of the six World Marathon Majors – Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. He is yet to do the Boston Marathon but has managed to qualify for the event, in his age group of 45-49 years.

“ Normally, one needs to put in four to five months of training to run a marathon. We had only about two and a half months of time to train for the virtual London Marathon,” Mahesh said. Striders, his marathon training group, offered him a training plan keeping in mind the limited time available. He was accompanied by six other runners for the virtual London Marathon. They chose to run the distance in Thane, which offers undulating terrain. “ We started at around 4.30 AM. The rain helped keep temperatures at bay for the initial 25 kilometers,” Mahesh said.

Support was arranged at every five kilometers with the runners who volunteered for the task also lending some cheering. Mahesh finished the run in 3:33:08. His personal best is 3:15. “ It is quite challenging to run a marathon without the normal elements of a race,” Mahesh said.

In Bengaluru, Bhadresh Shivashankar was happy with the route chosen for a small group of runners attempting the virtual London Marathon. “ The weather was good and Pacemakers had arranged for a cyclist to accompany each of the runners,” he said. Pacemakers is a Bengaluru-based marathon training group built around coach K.C. Kothandapani.

From left: Harish Vasista, coach K.C. Kothandapani (Pacemakers), Gauri Jayaram (Active Holidays), M.Nanjundappa, Anubhav Karmakar and Bhadresh Shivashankar (Photo: courtesy Bhadresh)

The runners commenced their run at 5 AM. “ I managed well for the first 30 kilometers but the final stretch was tough,” Bhadresh said. He finished his run in 4:47:16. Running alongside was M. Nanjundappa, one of Bengaluru’s best amateur runners. Nanjundappa finished his run in 2:37:10, data on the London Marathon website showed.

Harish Vasista also ran the virtual London Marathon at the same venue. “ My running went as per plan. I started my run at 5.30 pace and then improved it slightly, on and off, till around 30 kilometers. Thereafter, my pace eased a bit,” he said. Harish finished his marathon in 3:48:11. He appreciated the support for the runners provided by Pacemakers and Active Holidays.

The physical race of the 2020 London Marathon – as held in the British capital – was restricted to elite athletes. It was only the second World Marathon Major (of the six in that league) being held this year; the rest got cancelled owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed a fallout of the pandemic has been the widespread cancellation of city marathons. In Mumbai, Kranti Salvi and her husband Pramod Salvi opted to run the virtual London Marathon as a means to stay motivated in times with no mass participation events. “ We had originally registered for the 2020 edition of the London Marathon and booked our hotel and air tickets. It was postponed to October and later the organizers converted the race for amateurs into a virtual event. That’s when we decided to register for the virtual version,” Kranti said.

Kranti and Pramod Salvi (sporting bibs on their T-shirts) with friends, Abbas Sheikh and the policeman who flagged off their run (Photo: Tashi Ongya)

The duo’s plan was to commence the run at 4.30 AM on October 4, 2020. They woke up to find heavy rains; the forecast indicated that the showers would continue for a few hours. “ We had made a lot of preparations for the run. We had printed banners and posters. Some friends were to come and cheer us as well,” she said. Kranti and Pramod decided to cancel the plan to run the marathon in the morning. Instead, they decided to give it a go in the evening.

“ By evening, I was quite tired from household work. We started the run at 5.30 PM from the NCPA end of South Mumbai’s Marine Drive promenade,” Kranti said, adding, “ we were a group of 4-5 runners at the start point. We decided to ask a policeman to flag off our run.” Their route was mostly along Marine Drive up to Chowpatty. Kranti wanted to do one loop across to Gateway of Mumbai. “ It was difficult running in the evening. Marine Drive was crowded. There were many people, children jumping and playing across the entire stretch. The weather was warm and humid and the air quality was bad,” Kranti said. Marathon runner Abbas Sheikh ran the entire distance with her. As per data on the London Marathon website, Kranti finished her run in 4:37:39 and Pramod in 5:31:08.

From left: Pawan Punjabi, Girish Bindra and Yash Shekatkar (Photo: courtesy Girish)

At its height, the lockdown in Mumbai had been quite strict. It was prolonged in some areas. For those returning to running after the consequent disruption to training, it meant that mileage build-up had to be done slowly. When lockdown measures commenced easing, Girish Bindra and his team of runners were in the process of slowly enhancing mileage when they learnt of the virtual London Marathon. “ On August 10, 2020, we registered for the virtual London Marathon. We had all of five weeks to train and that included the tapering period,” Girish – he is also a coach for Asics Running Club (ARC) – said. Joining him for the virtual run were Pawan Punjabi and Yash Shekatkar.

Soon after registering for the run, they stepped up their training. Still the preparation fell short of the ideal training required for a marathon. “ Although, it was a crunched training plan, there was a lot of learning in those five weeks,” Pawan said. According to Yash, on the Friday before the date of the virtual London Marathon (October 4, 2020) they finalized the route – it would be as loops on the service road that runs parallel to the city’s Eastern Express Highway.

On race day, the trio was to start the run at 4.30 AM. Unfortunately, there was heavy and it prompted them to delay their start. “ Eventually, we began our run at 4.55 AM. The downpour resumed and along the route there was much water logging,” Girish said. “ Within the first 45 minutes of the run, our shoes were soaking wet,” Yash added. However, the rain progressively eased off and thereafter the weather stayed pleasant.

From the virtual run; Arun Nambiar (on cycle), Harish Salian and Girish Bindra (Photo: courtesy Girish)

Many of the runners of ARC chipped in to assist the three runners. “ Support from our runner friends was incredible. At every three kilometers, we had access to sports drinks, salts and dates among others. The support and cheering were very well planned,” Pawan said. “ They also arranged for breakfast besides tea and coffee at the end of the run,” Girish said adding that all the safety norms pertaining to the pandemic were followed. Cyclist Arun Nambiar accompanied the three runners throughout on his cycle to lend support. Further, fellow runner Harish Salian ran the entire distance of the marathon as support, Girish said.

Girish finished his run in 4:03:48, Pawan in 3:59:08 and Yash in 3:58:51. For Yash, the timing he got in the virtual London Marathon was a personal best. Pawan fell tad short of his personal best of 3:54:51 set at the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon but is happy to have managed a sub-four-hour finish as he was returning to running after a shin splint problem. The trio will now attempt the half marathon distance in the virtual events of the Chicago Marathon, Amsterdam Marathon and New York City Marathon.

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

ANJALI SARAOGI, DEEPAK BANDBE WIN 2019-2020 AFI ULTRA AND TRAIL RUNNING AWARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ It’s a huge honour. My award belongs to every girl child in my country who will dare to dream and persevere to follow them,” Anjali told this blog after her second consecutive AFI award (for more on Anjali please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2020/08/07/perfection-is-making-the-best-of-what-you-have/).

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

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

2020 VIRTUAL BOSTON MARATHON / POST RUN ROUND UP

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

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

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

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: courtesy Himanshu)

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

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

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

Syed Atif Umar (Photo: courtesy Syed Atif Umar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kumar Rao (Photo: courtesy Kumar Rao)

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

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

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

Deepti Karthik (Photo: courtesy Deepti)

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

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

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

Murthy R. K (Photo: courtesy Murthy)

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

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

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

IT’S TIME FOR THE VIRTUAL BOSTON MARATHON

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The Boston Marathon, held every year in April, inspires hundreds of runners around the world to qualify for it and participate. Its 2020 edition was cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first such cancellation in the history of the 124 year-old event.

In lieu of the real race, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) has offered the virtual Boston Marathon experience. Running the virtual Boston Marathon won’t fully compensate for missing the actual event and the ambiance it is famous for. It will be akin to a long training run, some of the runners we spoke to, said. The promise of a finisher’s medal is a positive in the package. Under the circumstances, the virtual run is the best alternative available.

Around the world, runners are planning to partake in the event in small groups with runs over short loops to maintain the protocols necessary for these times of pandemic. Training for the virtual event, some said, has not been close to levels seen ahead of real races. Participating in the virtual run is aimed at keeping motivation levels high. Meanwhile pending further notice, registration for the 2021 edition of the Boston Marathon has been postponed. The report concerned may be accessed on this blog under the post titled: At a Glance / September 2020.

Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan Jayaraman)

The 2020 edition of Boston Marathon was to be Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaraman’s first Boston Marathon outing.

An army doctor, Muthukrishnan had qualified for Boston Marathon three times. He was able to get a berth in the 2020 edition of the race. Boston Marathon has stringent entry norms and attracts some of the best amateur marathon runners from around the world.

Initially slated to be held on April 20, 2020, the race was postponed to September 14, 2020. But with mass participation events being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers opted to hold it as a virtual race, which can be run anytime during the period September 5 to 14.

A resident of Delhi, Muthukrishnan was able to train moderately well. “ But obviously, the training is not with a target in mind. Also, it has not been as strict as it would have been for a real race,” he said. Muthukrishnan will be travelling to Pune to do his Boston Marathon virtual run on September 13, 2020.

Tanmaya Karmarkar (Photo: courtesy Tanmaya)

Pune-based Tanmaya Karmarkar was to run her second Boston Marathon this year. With the event cancelled, she settled for running the virtual race. “ I have been doing training runs through this lockdown but structured training commenced only a month ago,” she said. She decided to run the virtual race as it would give her an opportunity to run an event in the absence of any physical races in the near future.

She along with a few Pune-based runners has chosen a route that offers a 10.5 kilometer-loop. Muthukrishnan will be joining these runners in Pune. Boston Marathon’s virtual event is open only to runners who had registered for the 2020 edition. They were required to register again for the virtual event.

The virtual Boston Marathon taking place from September 5 to 14, allows participants to run on treadmill or outside. The marathon has to be completed in six hours. Performance in the virtual marathon will not be accepted as qualification for Boston Marathon 2021.

Ashoke Sharma (Photo: courtesy Ashoke)

Ashoke Sharma, a Gurgaon-based recreational runner, was to run his first Boston Marathon this year. His training for the virtual event has not been as meticulous as it would have been for an actual race. The weather in Gurgaon was also far from conducive to do race pace training, he pointed out.

“ My aim is to complete the run,” he said. Ashoke will be travelling to Bengaluru to do the virtual Boston Marathon. He plans to run the marathon on a route charted by the Bengaluru-based marathon training group, Pacemakers. “ I think they have chosen a traffic-free route near the airport,” he said. Once done with Boston Marathon, Ashoke will be stepping up his training for the virtual New York City Marathon.

Like Ashoke, Wing Commander Parag Dongre (retd) was also set to run his first Boston Marathon this year. Parag had trained for the April race and then resumed training after lockdown induced-break, for September’s virtual event. “ In Pune, we lost some days of training because of another stringent lockdown spanning 15-20 days,” Parag said.

Parag Dongre (Photo: courtesy Parag)

“ Training runs are often done in the company of many runners but because of the physical distancing norms, we had to run alone. I have done a few 30 km and 35 km training runs all by myself,” Parag said.

At the time of writing, he was yet to decide on the date of his virtual Boston Marathon. Post retirement from the Indian Air Force, he works as a helicopter pilot for B.G. Shirke Construction Company. “ I am waiting for my duty schedule to come up before I decide my day for running,” he said.

“ My training has been okay though not as well as I would have liked it to be,” Deepti Karthik, a recreational runner based in Bengaluru, said. The 2020 edition of Boston Marathon was to be her first appearance at the race. “ The virtual Boston Marathon is obviously not the same as the real race. At best, it may feel like a long training run,” she said. Deepti will be running the virtual event on September 13, along with other runners of Pacemakers.

Deepti Karthik (Photo: courtesy Deepti)

“ Pacemakers has chosen a route near the airport for the virtual event. Runners will be running in a loop of 5.6 km,” she said.

Kumar Rao, also from Bengaluru, will however be running on his treadmill. “ I will be running on the treadmill on September 12. I use the Stryd footpod with Garmin 935 for accurate measurement of pace and distance,” he said.

His training for this virtual race was entirely on the treadmill at home. “ I am looking to improve on last year’s timing of 3:59:33 hours and the age group rank of 18,” he said adding that he would work on a 3:55 finish. He just completed 10 weeks of specific training for this marathon. His training volume has been around 75 to 85 km per week. Kumar has also registered for the virtual New York City Marathon.

Kumar Rao (Photo: courtesy Kumar Rao)

The pandemic related lockdown forced Kumar to train entirely indoors on his treadmill. He complemented it with home-based fitness programs including strength training. He plans to step outside for his training runs once he is done with the virtual Boston Marathon.

Murthy R K, also from Bengaluru, plans to run the virtual race on September 12. Murthy’s training for the run has been moderately good though not as good as it would have been for the real event. He plans to run the virtual race without any target in mind. Murthy had been training hard for several years to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He was able to obtain a berth for the 2020 edition of the race but unfortunately the event got cancelled due to COVID-19. Disappointed, Murthy decided to run the virtual race instead. “ I do not have any target in mind. Nevertheless, I plan to do a good run,” he said.

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