2022 COMMONWEALTH GAMES / A SMASHING SILVER FOR SABLE IN STEEPLECHASE

Avinash Sable. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

India’s Avinash Sable showed the lion-heart he is, nearly snatching the gold medal from Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot’s reach, as he crossed the line for a well-deserved silver in a tightly contested men’s 3000m steeplechase at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

Kibiwot’s victory was hard earned and by the narrowest of margins; he clocked eight minutes, 11.15 seconds. Sable (8:11.20) finished right next to him, bettering his own national record in the process. Amos Serem of Kenya (8:16.83) secured the bronze.

The race started with much expected from the Kenyans. In their ranks was defending champion Conseslus Kipruto. He had won in the discipline at the 2018 CWG in Gold Coast, Australia with timing of 8:10.08. He was also world champion at the World Athletics Championships held in Doha in 2019 and bronze medallist at the recently concluded World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Shortly after the commencement of the race in Birmingham, Sable moved into the lead. The trio of Kenyans kept him company. But soon, the Kenyans took over; they set a fast pace (at one point hinting at a potential finish in less than eight minutes as per race commentary) and opened up a sizable gap with the rest of the field, barring Sable, who hung around in fourth position. Sable never let the Kenyans get far from him. Just doing so, was a new high in Indian athletics for the attitude it personified.

As the final lap approached, Sable began working his way up and by the time he took the bell had carved himself a slot in second position. He maintained it right through the water jump and the last hurdle, chasing Kibiwot down to the line forcing a verdict decided by a wafer-thin margin. It was as good a scare as the Kenyans, traditional kings of the steeplechase, could get.

Kipruto finished in sixth place; he timed 8:34.96. Abraham Kibiwot was silver medallist at the 2018 CWG; he has a PB of 8:09.25 set in 2016 (source: Wikipedia). Amos Serem was gold medallist at the 2021 World U20 Championships held in Nairobi, Kenya.

At the world championships in Oregon, Sable had finished eleventh in the steeplechase final with timing of 8:31.75. An icon in Indian athletics and someone with no close competitor in the country in his chosen discipline, Sable has improved his national record several times in the past few years. In June 2022, at an international meet in Rabat, Morocco, he had clocked 8:12.48. It stands improved in Birmingham to 8:11.20. Besides steeplechase, Sable also holds the national record in the half marathon – one hour, 30 seconds (1:00:30).     

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

A RACE TO REMEMBER

Kuanju Lin (Photo: courtesy Kuanju)

Kuanju Lin of Chinese Taipei was the gold medallist in the women’s category at the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships held in Bengaluru. It was her first time representing her country.

“ I don’t know what attracts me to running. But I feel happy, free and meaningful when I run,” Kuanju Lin said.

We were faces at the two ends of a video chat; she in Taiwan (Chinese Taipei); I in Mumbai, India. It was July 2022, sometime in the month’s third week. Earlier, over July 2-3, Kuanju had essayed a superb run at the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in Bengaluru. The venue was the city’s Sree Kanteerava Stadium and the participants had to run laps on the synthetic track for the assigned period of time. Kuanju, 35, covered 216.877km in 24 hours to place first among women.  

Kuanju lives in Banqiao, a district in New Taipei City. A special municipality, New Taipei City is Taiwan’s most populous city. Located in northern Taiwan, it encloses the city of Taipei, which is the country’s capital. On the map, the main island of Taiwan (where Taipei and New Taipei City are located) is distinctly hilly to the east. The vast majority of the country’s population resides in the plains to the west. Taiwan has a high density of population. According to Wikipedia, one third of Taiwanese citizens live in the Taipei-Keelung metropolitan area to which the cities of Taipei, New Taipei City and Keelung belong. Banqiao has the third highest population density in Taiwan. “ Its flat,’’ Kuanju said when asked about the topography of the place she lives in.     

During her school years, Kuanju disliked exercising. She studied design, craft, painting, singing and music. She took up running after she commenced working. “ A friend invited me to run. That’s how I got into running,” she said. Initially, she focussed on the marathon. The many marathons she ran included two World Marathon Majors – Tokyo Marathon in 2018 and Boston Marathon in 2019 – and the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon. Along the way, she achieved a personal best of 3:09 in the discipline at the 2021 Taipei Marathon. However, in due course, she moved to ultra-marathons. “ In the past I focussed entirely on the marathon. In 2015, I challenged myself to attempt a 100 km race,” she said. It was the Wulu Gorge Ultramarathon, held on Taiwan’s east coast. She covered 100 km in nine hours and 38 minutes. It fuelled her curiosity further; she wanted to know more about what attracted other runners to court hard challenges. Eager to find out how long she could run, she opted for a 24-hour run.

Her first 24-hour ultra-running event was as recent as in February 2022. She covered a distance of 180 km. “ I felt good about my mileage but my ankles hurt and swelled up,” she said. The event helped Kuanju to understand the dynamics of a 24-hour run and train accordingly. For the championships in Bengaluru, Kuanju focussed on strength training and long-distance running. “ I did two ultra-long training runs – one of 135 km and another of 95 km. In Bengaluru, I focussed on nutrition and hydration. I prepared some fruit, energy bar with nuts, electrolyte liquid and chocolate – I kept consuming that during my run,” she said.

Kuanju Lin (Photo: courtesy Kuanju)

Unlike a marathon, where elite runners run the length of the whole course, ultra-running events like the 24 hour-race typically involve a mix of running and fast walking. The prevailing weather plays a big role in how extended runs of this sort, play out. In a post-race article available on runnerstribe.com, Australian athlete Cassie Cohen (she was a participant in the Bengaluru event) highlighted the part weather plays: “ while on paper, my PB (204.92 km) was among the strongest in the field, I knew that didn’t tell the full story. The Indian and Chinese Taipei athletes had got their results in hot and humid conditions as we would experience on race day. I got mine in Canberra in near perfect cool conditions. PBs meant nothing once the flag was raised to start the race.’’  

New Taipei City has a climate that is characterized as ` humid subtropical.’ It features hot and humid summers and cool to mild winters. Bengaluru has a ` tropical savanna climate’ but it’s elevation (3020 feet) gifts it a generally moderate climate. In early July 2022, the city was getting showers and the weather was fairly pleasant by Indian standards. But humidity was high and this impacted the runners doing laps at Kanteerava Stadium, including some of Kuanju’s teammates who had to use ice to see themselves through the heat of the Indian afternoon. The Australians too suffered. In her detailed article, Cassie estimates that conditions touched 29 degrees and 70 per cent humidity.

For Kuanju, things appear to have played out tad differently. She was largely unfazed by Bengaluru’s humid weather. “ I felt comfortable most of the time though it was a bit warm. I am used to sunny weather,’’ she said. The first 12 hours went by pleasantly for her. “ I enjoyed the sun, the music and the cheering from the spectators. During the night hours, I walked because my right foot was aching. I wore earphones to listen to music. I resorted to singing along with my music. Encouragement from other runners also helped me to keep going,” she said. In retrospect, the main concern seems to have been the foot, to tackle which, she had to avail a brief intervention by the physiotherapist.

Those who watched the race in Bengaluru would likely recall two things. First, Kuanju had a near consistent pace. It was suitably slow for ultrarunning and steady. She kept going round and round with clockwork efficiency. Initially, her small size and light build may have inspired a different image, one of potential fragility. But as the day (July 2) progressed, it was increasingly clear that appearances can be deceptive; Kuanju’s steady pace was logging significant mileage. Second, her attire intrigued. Most of the runners sweated it out in shorts and vests. Kuanju wore a fluffy pink skirt over her leggings. While others were a picture of hard work and strain, she seemed to float along. Kuanju says she is fond of dressing up well for her races. “ When I started running, I used to get nervous. I relaxed myself by wearing accessories such as bows and cute things. Once, I wore a fluffy skirt for a race. There were many photographers and they kept clicking my photo. Also, runners and onlookers kept cheering me. That really helped improve my mood and reminded me to run enthusiastically and with a smile. Thereafter I used these accessories during runs,” she said. The fluffy skirt, according to her, is not just a cute accessory but something that lends positive energy.

On the morning of July 3 with only hours to go before the 24-hour mark, Kuanju was among few runners in the stadium still smiling and looking upbeat. In the final hours of the gruelling competition, top honours among women ended up a contest between Kuanju and Cassie Cohen. At 8 AM on May 3, when the race concluded, it was Kuanju securing gold; the Australian runner with 214.990 km logged was short by 1.9 km. Kuanju’s performance was a new national record for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). Coming into the race in Bengaluru, Kuanju had not expected to win. Cassie took the silver while her compatriot Allicia-Grace Heron (211.442 km) bagged the bronze. At the team level, Chinese Taipei secured bronze in both men’s and women’s categories. The strain of the race was visible on all the teams; more than one runner had to be helped to get on to the podium.

Kuanju Lin; from the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships held in Bengaluru (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The event in Bengaluru was the first time Kuanju represented her country. Back in New Taipei City, she works as a coach for boxing, cardio workout, fitness, spinning and TRX training. Her personal training for the ultramarathon is a combination of speed workout, progressive pace workout and long and easy runs with a day for rest during the week. “ Time management is a challenge. I need to calculate time for training, my job and the occasional break. Usually, I run over 400 km per month but if I am training for an ultramarathon, I need to run almost 600 km,” she said.

Although she topped the women’s race in Bengaluru cementing her position as an ultrarunner, she does not want to stop running marathons. “ I want to focus on marathon as well as ultramarathon running events,” she said when asked which distance she prefers. However, she is not chasing the World Marathon Majors. “ I don’t have the time or the money to pursue the Marathon Majors,” she said.

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

“ I FEEL I HAVE UNLOCKED MYSELF IN SOME WAY’’

Kabir Rachure, 2022 RAAM (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

July 2022. It’s a couple of weeks after the year’s RAAM. There was a change in the tenor of Kabir’s talk. Two successful finishes later, there was now mention of competing to win.

Riders from India would fare better at Race Across America (RAAM) if they acquire familiarity with the challenges posed, become better supported and progressively hit from the front foot instead of the backfoot as they normally do, Kabir Rachure, among India’s leading ultra-cyclists and a two time-finisher of RAAM, said.

In June 2022, Kabir successfully completed RAAM for a second time (11 days, 11 hours and 25 minutes); he also placed third in his age category. He plans to return to RAAM in 2024 and when that happens, he would like to cycle faster and approach the race with a view to win. The Navi Mumbai-based cyclist explained his reasons for the changed perspective.

To begin with, he had come off the experience of 2019 – when he finished RAAM in 11 days, 22 hours and 43 minutes – resolved to attempt it again. He felt there was ample scope to improve. In 2019, he didn’t have well developed strategies for nutrition and rest. “ I didn’t follow a proper sleep pattern,’’ he said. Early on in the race, the heat of Arizona took its toll. Despite training for the event, he had found himself progressively exhausted, experiencing a hazy view of the proceedings and unable to recall in detail, sections of the 3000 mile-route, he pedaled through. Further, in a race wherein rider tackles challenges in partnership with the support crew, there were some deficiencies in the latter. “ We took it lightly. Everyone wasn’t at 100 per cent. The correct balance wasn’t there. In 2019, although we completed the race, I wasn’t satisfied with our performance,’’ Kabir said. The team was determined that their next outing at RAAM should be with the required improvements, addressed.

Once you have been a finisher at RAAM, cyclist is lifetime-qualified to participate in the race. Kabir has this privilege, courtesy 2019. His idea was to go back to RAAM in 2020 but that year the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team would have gone back in 2021 but there were too many variables in the air, ranging from vaccination to quarantine conditions; not to mention – all preparations going for a toss should infection strike just before or during the race. For cyclist from India, each attempt entails a sizable financial investment. Given such uncertainty, Kabir and his team decided not to participate. There was also another reason. Kabir wished for a decently strong field; he wanted RAAM to be an instance of competing with the best and competing with many. In 2021, with the world only beginning to emerge from the shadow of pandemic, strong line-ups were hard to come by in races. The goal therefore was, 2022.

Photo: courtesy Kabir

In 2021, there was a virtual RAAM, which riders could participate in from anywhere in the world as long as they had Wi-Fi and trainers capable of hosting apps for competing digitally. Kabir didn’t take part in this. He felt, RAAM’s digital version wouldn’t be a complete substitute for the actual experience of the race. In the real world, cycling at RAAM includes challenges like mountain sections, the heat of Arizona, the weather conditions of Kansas, the punishing hours on the saddle, the sleep deprivation and the support crew actively working with rider to keep the journey going. The digital version, in comparison, featured limited sections of RAAM repeated like a loop. All of it executed from a room where support was easily accessed. “ The main challenge in virtual RAAM concerns being on a trainer – it restricts the natural variety of body movements possible in real world cycling. This lack of variety in movement, is tough on the body. It can be hard on your knees,’’ Kabir said.

For 2022 RAAM, Kabir dipped into his 2019 experience and trained differently. There was a time when he thought – like many did and continue to – that success in ultra-cycling events requires hours and hours of training piled on in the preparatory phase. With RAAM done in 2019 and an idea of what to improve had, Kabir structured his training for 2022 around quality, not quantity. “ This time around for RAAM, I trained 8-12 hours per week,’’ he said. He did the bulk of that indoors. He avoided some of the popular temptations in Indian cycling. “ I won’t say that if you do K2K (Kashmir to Kanyakumari) or the Golden Quadrilateral, you can complete RAAM. After the initial portion of K2K, the route is mostly flat. The only thing that is tough in K2K, is the traffic,’’ he said. RAAM in contrast, features varying topography and weather patterns. It doesn’t let you settle into one paradigm. “ RAAM is a different beast,’’ Kabir said.

Among the changes effected in training for 2022, the most significant one was that weekly total of 8-12 hours. “ Somewhere along the way, I have crushed the myth that you must train 25-30 hours per week,’’ he said, highlighting the importance of balancing training and recovery. However, Kabir admitted that he could shift more towards quality because he had the quantity already in place (thanks to many ultra-races and training for it, done) with one outing at RAAM to boot. For those new to ultra-cycling, he said, he would want long rides done because they help the rider know his / her body better. But the mileage must be ramped up carefully; slowly and steadily. “ I don’t want anyone hurting themselves,’’ Kabir said. In his case, years of cycling has ensured a litany of long rides done and with an idea of how his body behaves now in place, he could afford to trade quantity for quality in the run up to 2022 RAAM.

Roughly two months before RAAM, in April 2022, Kabir shifted to the high-altitude environment of Ladakh. From April 20 to May 20, he trained there. He cycled some 1200-1500 kilometres there including a dash up to Khardung La from Leh in less than three hours (two hours and 40 minutes according to him). Then, returning to Mumbai he flew out to the US on June 1 with about a fortnight left for the year’s RAAM to start. The benefits of training at altitude are well-known. Although many people believe that the rub-off effects of altitude, stay with the individual only for a few weeks, Kabir says that in his experience, right nutrition (essentially iron in one’s diet) can help prolong the benefits. The learnings from 2019 RAAM combined with a modified training regimen ensured that Kabir commenced 2022 RAAM in a strong frame of body and mind.

Kabir Rachure, 2022 RAAM (Photo: courtesy Kabir)

A notable absentee at 2022 RAAM was Christof Strasser. For years, the Austrian ultra-cyclist with multiple wins at RAAM to his credit, had been a regular participant. “ RAAM without Strasser does not feel the same,’’ Kabir said. Endurance cyclists like Christof Strasser and Marko Baloh (Kabir now has Marko’s signature preserved on his bike) have the capability to go into an attack mode compared to the defensive mindset of Indian riders. Kabir traces this attitude found overseas, to a state of being well supported and having nothing to lose. To illustrate it in simple terms, he quoted the example of Formula One. If someone participated with a car they bought with their own money, would they drive as aggressively as a Lewis Hamilton backed by Mercedes and enjoying a supply of cars from the company? When you have someone backing you and you are told to focus on your performance, you will perform better than if you were on our own, Kabir said. As luck would have it, for his 2022 RAAM attempt, two sponsors came aboard – Spiegel Bikes and Ultrahuman. He could therefore afford to imagine a bit differently. Face RAAM with a semblance of nothing-to-lose. Still the race threw up challenges.

Kabir brought with him to the US, four bikes for use in RAAM. He kept a time trial bike with aggressive geometry to cycle through Arizona. Although Arizona felt less warm than in 2019, there was no escaping the buckets of sweat the heat triggered. Kabir developed a terrible saddle-sore following which, the fast TT bike had to be given up. Any more time on it would have seriously endangered his prospects in the race. He ended up using a Spiegel San Merino for around 2700 kilometres and two models of Lapierre (including a Pulsium, which is a comfortable endurance bike) for 1600-1800 kilometres. If reworking the bicycle mix was an early challenge, then the wind in Kansas posed its own set of hardships later. A powerful headwind made cycling through Kansas difficult. At other times, crosswinds kept the bicycle constantly at a tilt and difficult to steer with one hand. It rendered periodic engagements with the support car (while still pedaling) for hydration and nutrition, tough to handle. One nasty fall and Kabir could end up retired from the race. But aside from these challenges, the race went off smoothly. He experienced little of the abject exhaustion he had felt in 2019. He finished RAAM in better time and better shape than in 2019; he also got a podium position in his age category. Upon examining the videos of others who finished ahead of him in 2022 and seeing the state they were in; Kabir feels he can push harder. He thinks he can match those performances. They are within achievable distance. In 2022 there was much energy he held in reserve. In retrospect, it was good; it helped him finish comfortably. But it would be a shame not to explore tapping that reserve. Maybe there is room to push further and discover another reserve beyond? A new perspective has taken root.

Kabir will return to RAAM next in 2024. In the immediate aftermath of 2022 RAAM, he thinks a bit of rest is in order as his body is craving for it. The purse also takes some time to recuperate. As he put it, expensive multi-day races like RAAM resemble sugarcane cultivation. Sugarcane needs a lot of water and once the water in the well has been used up, it takes time for it to replenish before another season of cultivation is possible. Same holds true for RAAM, rider and money. Until the purse is replenished, aspirations must stay modest. In November 2022, he will participate in the 24 hour-time trial slated to take place in Borrego Springs, Arizona. If all goes well, he will do a six hour-time trial as well. In 2023, he plans to try Race Around Austria. And in 2024, when RAAM looms afresh on his calendar, the best weapon in his armoury may lay in this observation post-2022 RAAM: “ I feel I have unlocked myself in some way.’’ According to him, it is like having battled some monster and suffered a great deal but also gained a lot.

Photo: courtesy Kabir

His sister, Sapana who oversees Kabir’s support crew is also not resting on the better performance of the team at 2022 RAAM. With Kabir now talking of winning, she is aware of what lay ahead.  According to her, Kabir currently has a pool of around 12 people to pick and choose from, for each competition he goes into. They are known well to him and given the number of races they have attended with him, are aware of Kabir’s requirements. Together, they cover a spectrum of support services ranging from driving the crew car to navigation to nutrition to physiotherapy and bicycle maintenance. Some are good for short races; some for longer ones. “ This time at RAAM, we were all on the same page,’’ Sapana said. Had it not been for the wind in Kansas, the time taken to complete would have been less. Sapana knows that in ultra-cycling competitions like RAAM, wherein rider and support crew must pull together, every additional effort Kabir puts in to improve must be matched on the crew side too. “ We plan to use the same people for the rides ahead. The two years to 2024 is good enough time to improve further,’’ she said.

As regards training ground for ultra-cycling, Kabir thinks that India is a fantastic place to train given the range of topography it has, including the Himalaya. Some states and union territories have a better mix in this regard – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Ladakh; and in terms of cities sporting such variety – Bengaluru, Pune, Nashik and Navi Mumbai. But as ever in India, in all these places there is a killjoy snapping at cycling’s heels – the explosive growth of automobile traffic.      

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is mostly based on a conversation with Kabir at Kharghar, Navi Mumbai in July 2022.)      

2022 WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP / ROHIT YADAV QUALIFIES FOR JAVELIN THROW FINAL

Rohit Yadav. This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page. No copyright infringement intended.

India’s Rohit Yadav has made it to the final of the javelin throw competition at the 2022 World Athletics Championship in Eugene, Oregon, USA. In the Group B qualification round, he achieved a distance of 80.42m, sufficient to place eleventh in the list of 12 athletes from Groups A and B, eligible for the final.

In Group A, Neeraj Chopra, the country’s strongest athlete in the discipline, qualified for the final with an impressive throw of 88.39m. He placed second on the list of finalists headed by Anderson Peters of Grenada who managed 89.91m. As per media reports, the qualifying mark was 83.50m; in results published, four out of the 12 athletes making it to the final, had throws exceeding the qualifying mark. The best 12 throws in the qualifying round ranged from 80.03m to 89.91m.

Rohit, 21 (age as per data on the website of World Athletics), is the son of Sabhajeet Yadav, well-known amateur runner. A farmer from Dabhiya village in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, Sabhajeet has several podium-finishes at city marathons to his credit. “ We are so happy that Rohit has made it to the final. He will get a chance to compete with leading athletes,” Sabhajeet said when contacted.

Sabhajeet Yadav (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

“ We woke up at 4 AM to watch the event on television. All of us, my wife, my two other sons and several boys from the village have been here since morning. We are quite thrilled,” he said, adding Rohit’s trip to Oregon for the world championship will be a valuable experience. Rohit is scheduled to participate in the 2022 Commonwealth Games as well.

The world of amateur running has played a role in Rohit’s ascent. Given income from farming is rarely steady and adequate, Sabhajeet participated in amateur marathons to augment his family’s resources. He won consistently in his age category and the prize money helped. During the annual Mumbai Marathon, he acquired a reputation for reaching the city by train, sleeping at the railway station, waking up in the morning, competing in the marathon and going back to his village, a place on the podium earned. The tough farmer was soon noticed by other amateur runners who rallied to his support. Foremost among them, was businessman, Bhasker Desai.

Rohan Yadav (Photo: courtesy Bhasker Desai)

Bhasker learnt of Rohit’s interest in the javelin throw, the promise he showed in the discipline and his training in Sabhajeet’s village with a home-made javelin. As Rohit moved up in performance and ranking, Bhasker funded the purchase of a top-notch, imported javelin for the young athlete to train with. “ This is a major high for me,’’ Bhasker said when asked of the athlete he supported reaching the world championship final. While he may have helped purchase a new javelin, Bhasker maintained that the credit for Rohit’s ascent should go to the athlete and his father. According to him, Sabhajeet has never wavered in his belief that Rohit would one day be at the Olympics. Equally important, Bhasker said, has been the role played by Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra. Rohit looks up to Neeraj as his mentor and the senior athlete’s presence has helped Rohit endure the competitive ambiance at major championships like the one currently on at Oregon, Bhasker said. In an audio message to Bhasker from the US after he qualified for the final, Rohit has said that notwithstanding the newness of figuring in such a big final, he will give his best.

What should interest, is that Rohit’s entry to the world championship final may be just the start of a longer story from Dabhiya. Rohit’s younger brother, Rohan, 16, has also taken to the javelin and, according to Bhasker, already touches distances beyond 72m. Spotted by the army as a promising talent, Rohan currently trains at their sports facility, Bhasker said.

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

2022 BADWATER 135 / ASHISH KASODEKAR COMPLETES THE RACE

Ashish Kasodekar (File photo: Shyam G Menon)

Pune-based ultra-runner, Ashish Kasodekar, completed Badwater 135 in 38 hours, 24 minutes and 26 seconds.

At the 2022 edition of the race, he was, as per results available on the event’s website, the thirty first runner to cross the finish line. The overall winner of 2022 Badwater 135, the 217-kilometre ultramarathon held annually in California, was Yoshihiko Ishikawa from Japan. He finished the run in 23:08:20. Yoshihiko had won the 2019 Badwater 135 setting a course record of 21:33:01.

Triathlete and ultra-runner, Ashley Paulson of the US, won the women’s race at 2022 Badwater 135, crossing the finish line in a new course record of 24 hours, nine minutes and 34 seconds. The previous course record was 24:13:24 hours set by Polish runner Patrycja Bereznowska in 2019.

The overall second place finisher at the 2022 edition was Ivan Penalba Lopez of Spain. He finished in 24:02:57 hours. Ashley Paulson was the third runner to finish.

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


A MORNING GIFT FOR THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Geeno Antony and his family at Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Thumba in Thiruvananthapuram has reason to celebrate.

On the morning of Sunday, July 3, while Kerala’s capital witnessed its usual share of morning walks and jogs, Geeno Antony finished third in the men’s category at the IAU 24H Asia & Oceania Championships, in Bengaluru.  

Geeno, who hails from Thumba, was part of the Indian men’s ultrarunning team which won the gold medal (team medals are awarded on the strength of the aggregate mileage of each team’s top three runners). Runners did repeated laps on the 400-metre-synthetic track of Bengaluru’s Kanteerava Stadium, for 24 hours, from 8 AM on July 2 to 8 AM on July 3.

Geeno logged 593 laps translating to 237.2 kilometres covered. “ The first half was tough for me. The second half was better,’’ he said. It was in the night hours of July 2 that Geeno moved up from fourth position to the third. But it was a lead by a fragile margin and he had Joe Ward of Australia snapping at his heels. The situation was different by next morning. The final results for men showed fourth placed Matt Griggs of Australia at 581 laps and Joe Ward (he finished fifth) at 551 laps.

Geeno’s family was present at the stadium to witness the Indian team’s performance. Employed with the Indian Army, Geeno may sometimes be seen doing his long runs on the bypass linking Kazhakkoottam and Kovalam, when on leave and visiting home in Thiruvananthapuram.  

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

“ THE GOAL IS ALWAYS TO BE IN THE OLYMPICS’’

Nadeem Khan, president, International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Nadeem Khan is the president of International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU). Over July 2-3, 2022, India hosted its first IAU event – the IAU 24H Asia & Oceania Championships. During his visit to Bengaluru in connection with the championships, Nadeem spared time to talk to this blog. Excerpts:  

How has the pandemic affected the world of ultrarunning and how is the recovery panning out?

It has affected quite a bit. Speaking from the point of view of the IAU, we did not have championships for two straight years. We don’t like cancelling events but it was important to cancel in these times given what the world was going through. And also, for the safety of athletes, officials and federations. Its bouncing back now. This event in Bengaluru is the first one we are hosting after the pandemic. So, it’s a big event for us. As you can see, some of the countries are not here because they are not allowed to travel right now or they have huge quarantines when they go back. As the year goes on, I am hoping that the world is going to open up a lot more. We are going to see a lot more athletes come back. A lot of the races under our labelling have started going back out again. They have begun organizing races and all of them are suffering from numbers because the athletes do not feel comfortable going out and running.  The hope is – as the year goes by, things are going to open up a little bit more and more athletes are going to start participating in these events.

In the early stages of recovery, one would assume there would be challenges in qualifying for events owing to the shortage of races….

Qualification is handled by the national federations. Every country has its own qualifying standards, whether it’s the time frame they will go back to or the performances; the minimum distances and times they will accept. I am sure some of the federations have made some allowances when it comes to that just because of the lack of events out there. It’s up to national federations to decide that.

Has the two years of pandemic and issues like long COVID, altered the traditional views we have on entry level fitness for sports requiring extreme endurance? Is there a case to revisit the established benchmarks?

A lot of our runners took a back seat and said, our health is important (much like people who had had previously taken their visits to the physician lightly, changed their approach due to the pandemic); let me re-evaluate my life and see where I am at. So, we see a lot of people re-evaluating where they are. I know most of them are aching to come back on the roads and start running ultras and things like that. We as an organization, just had our first online medical seminar. It was held a couple of months back. We got good participation. It was all about exercise, health, fitness, shoes – things on those lines. It was really critical that we put something out there particularly during the pandemic times. Hopefully, once the pandemic settles down, we can talk more about it and do some research seminars. So, I will say: to be continued, for that? (Nadeem said, issues like long COVID does interest as potential topics of research for in the end, “ lungs are a very important part of this sport.’’)

What is your take on India’s performance in ultrarunning? It is not long since the country became a member of the IAU.

I have seen ultrarunning in India from its infancy. I was there when they joined the IAU, I was there when they came to their first championship and I am here when they are organizing the first championship in India! So, it’s been interesting to see how they progressed over the years. One of the main things I have seen is the changed performance level and the perception of the selectors on how they pick their athletes. We got two very, very close events now – between the 24-hour continental championships here and the 100K world championships and one of your top runners, who is a 240K in the 24-hours is also your best 100K runner. But they picked him to run here. So, its strategy. Because there are chances of getting a medal here. They brought their best team out. So, the AFI (Athletics Federation of India) and other selectors are applying that mindset, which they usually adopt for track and field athletics. That is nothing but the very best for ultrarunning.

You have disciplines like the 100K and the 24-hour race which make ultrarunning containable in a certain sense and at the same lend themselves for potential inclusion in large sporting events like the Olympics. Is it something that the IAU is thinking of – would you like to see disciplines of this sort featured in the Olympics at some point?

That has always been the game plan. I have been on the council since 2008. Prior to being President of IAU I was the Director of Communications for eight years. Yes, the goal is always to be in the Olympics but we are also very mindful about which event has to go to the Olympics. It has to be media-savvy, it has to be popular, it has to grab attention. The media wants events that will cater to a worldwide audience. We feel that trail may be a very good option for that. We have combined forces with World Athletics and ITRA, the trail running organisation and WMRA (World Mountain Running Association). We are putting up a trail championship together, which this year happens to be in Thailand. World Athletics is going to be part of it. We hope that this will be the stepping stone in taking an ultrarunning event into the Olympics. The other events we have are the road events, track events such as 24-hour, 100K and 50K. Any one of these can also make it to the Olympics but just now we are hopeful that trail makes it. It is still a work in progress. We are a lot closer to it now than we were previously. There is still quite a bit of work to do to get into the Olympics.

From your standpoint how do you see the distinction between the marathon and the ultramarathon. Geographies that have traditionally birthed marathoners don’t seem to churn out ultramarathoners. The latter currently hail from various other parts of the world…

That’s great, isn’t it? That’s the inclusiveness of the sport. The ultramarathon is not exclusive to any area. My goal as president of IAU has always been to take the sport where it is not present. I would not have come to India if the bid (for the championship in Bengaluru) wasn’t good. The bid was excellent. Taking the sport to a new geography is also developing the sport. Though there is only an eight kilometre-difference between a marathon and an ultramarathon of 50 kilometres, they are miles apart when it comes to the popularity of the sport and things on those lines. The reason we started with the 50K is that we wanted to offer a launching pad, something for marathoners who were done with their marathon careers and wanted to move into something different and be competitive. We see a lot of African nations joining this discipline. The current record for 50K in both the genders are held by athletes from South Africa. There are some very fast events over there. Next year’s world championships in the 50K is being held in South Africa. I am hoping that’s going to jumpstart the sport in the continent. But there have been some amazing events there including the Comrades and the Two Oceans. I am hoping that the upcoming world championships will take the sport to a new level.

Right now, what are the priorities before IAU regarding the sport?

First is to get back safely after the pandemic. That’s a huge concern right now. At the end of the day, IAU events are organized by the community; we are very athlete-centric. So, we want to make sure that they get the platform they deserve in a safe and secure manner. Second, we want to develop the sport. We are organizing events on different continents and the goal is to continue that trend. We had an initiative some time back, wherein we took the sport to many parts of the world. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the momentum stopped. But we are picking up where we stopped and we are building that out again. The third goal is – how we get into the Olympics. Its not an immediate goal, it is an ongoing one. The upcoming trail championships will be a good testament on how our past efforts have worked out and where we can go in the future.

From day 1 of the IAU 24H Asia & Oceania Championships in Bengaluru; elites on the inside track. This photo was clicked just after the competition formally commenced (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Years ago, the sprint events used to be the central piece of running at major events like the Olympics. Now with the likes of Eliud Kipchoge around, the marathon has emerged as a fantastic showpiece of running. Sustaining oneself at speed for that much time and over that much distance is no small matter. Somebody like Aleksandr Sorokin is redefining the paradigm further by taking on traditionally held times in the 100K. Do you think that these endurance events have come to represent running better than the sprint events of yore?

It’s an age-old question, right? Its about the time. Back in the days, you had people like Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson – it was exciting watching them. I grew up watching them. I am not saying, that isn’t exciting anymore; it is super exciting. I have been at world championships where Usain Bolt’s race is going to happen and the stadium just fills up like crazy. Its exciting to see those athletes sprint across the line. And then, Eliud Kipchoge – how many of us were glued to the TV when he was breaking the two hour-barrier, right? It’s all about the time. I am sure if Usain Bolt were to step back on the track, some of the attention would be diverted that side. With our events, the interest has to be there for a longer period of time. Aleksandr Sorokin is friend of mine; I have seen him grow over the years as an athlete. I don’t think I have ever come across an ultra-athlete, who is redefining the sport like him. I mean, you can imagine someone break the record in the 24 hours; you can imagine someone else breaking the record in the 100K. You can never imagine the same person holding both the world records. He is really redefining the sport. He is putting our sport in the spotlight. People are going to take an interest in it. They are interested in what the human body can accomplish. (Nadeem also pointed out that what Sorokin is doing will inspire other athletes to try the same resulting in an ambiance in which they push each other to greater levels of performance. He sees growing the sport globally without it losing its intrinsic camaraderie and sense of community as among his goals, going ahead.)       

Ultrarunning is a very participatory sport. If you want to understand the mechanics and taste the experience, then, you have got to try the sport yourself. From an IAU point of view which would be the greater priority — taking the sport towards a structured ascent like going to the Olympics or popularising it laterally, gifting it a greater following?

If I was a wishful man, if I could be offered anything in the world, I would ask – why can’t I have both? Why can’t I go up and go lateral as well? It is true that it is getting to be a very popular sport. I find that they go hand in hand. If it becomes popular, people are going to take note and ask what is ultrarunning and how can we incorporate it into our mainstream athletics? I will use 50K as an example. We started with the world trophy races, wherein we had a bunch of races across the world. Then we had a final race in one location where all these winners from different races, ran. Six or seven years ago, we felt, this format is not working as we want it to but we have brought the sport to where we wish it to be. So, why not make it into 2world championships standard? Now, we have world championships in 50K. World Athletics has begun recognising the record in 50K as a world record. Same thing goes the other way around. If it grows vertically and gets into the Olympics, a lot more people would wish to participate.  

There was a mention that India may want to bid for the World Championships. Are there any criteria that countries like India need to satisfy?

I am here, participating in these championships but I am also an observer to see what is the potential of this sport in this country. That’s important because the support needs to grow worldwide and to grow it in a place like India where the population is pretty huge and people are getting involved into healthy lifestyle – that will be amazing. We are coming back here for the 100K Asia and Oceania Championships and in the meantime, we are going to evaluate this championship. I am going to have some discussions with AFI and NEB Sports and see where we can take this sport in this country. Obviously at this juncture we don’t have a bid or anything but it’s a discussion we need to have. From what I have seen so far, it’s been a great experience.

Between the Asia & Oceania Championships and the World Championships would it be required for India to host any intermediate championships to reach that level?

Absolutely not. We do ask the federations to organise at least a continental championship to get that experience but it is a recommendation rather than a mandatory requirement. If India puts an application forward it will be exciting. We will definitely look at it and see how we can evaluate it and develop the sport.

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

ULTRA AND LOVING IT

Ashwini Ganapathi; at Everest Base Camp (Photo: courtesy Ashwini)

“ It was the toughest race of my life, yet worth the suffering! I shall cherish those four weeks spent hiking and racing,’’ Ashwini Ganapathi said of her experience at the 2022 edition of the Everest Marathon in Nepal.

The sole woman participant this year in the event’s ultramarathon segment, she finished ninth in a field of 15 (with one DNF). According to Ashwini, as per the organisers’ communication, the time she took to cover 60 kilometres – 15 hours and 40 minutes – seems to be the fourth best by a woman from outside Nepal, to date. Across both genders, the overall winner of the ultramarathon was Arjun Rai Kulung of Nepal who covered the distance in seven hours and four minutes. Of the top ten finishers, six were Nepali runners; the remaining were one each from Poland, Romania, USA and India. Besides Ashwini, the only other Indian runner in the 60 km-race was Ashish Kasodekar. He placed 11th, a few seconds behind Ashwini.

For Ashwini, the opportunity to run in Nepal represented a convergence of personal priorities. In 2019, she had run the Khardung La Challenge and followed it up with the Ladakh marathon. She had podium finishes in both. Comfortable with altitude and hiking up there, she had always wanted to do the trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC). Combining it with an opportunity to run the Everest Marathon appealed.

In 2022, there was also an additional reason prompting her to make the choice. A few weeks prior to the race in Nepal, she had learnt of her selection to the Indian team for the 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships 2022 scheduled to be held in Bengaluru in early July. A stint at altitude appeared an ideal component of the training. The Everest Marathon happens on May 29, which is the date on which the world’s highest peak was first ascended by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. The event seemed well-placed in Ashwini’s training calendar for the championships in Bangalore. She consulted the officials in charge of the Indian team. They approved her participation in the Everest Marathon but reminded her not to push herself too much for she had to preserve herself for the championships.

While there were different packages on offer to participate in the Everest Marathon, in tune with her longstanding desire to do the EBC trek, Ashwini trekked solo and unsupported to EBC. “ I started my hike on 12th May and took the Gokyo Lakes route to reach EBC, covering 135 km, including four acclimatization and training days enroute. According to Wikipedia, the Gokyo Lakes, located at an altitude of 4700-5000 metres, form the world’s highest freshwater lake system. “ Climbing Gokyo Ri and crossing Chola Pass allowed me to further prepare for the race,’’ she said. Both the peak and the pass are at an elevation of over 5300 metres. One of the highlights of her EBC trek was that being a runner scheduled to participate in the Everest Marathon, upon reaching her destination, she got to stay at EBC, something typically enjoyed by climbers attempting Everest. During the two days of further acclimatization at EBC, the weather did throw up some concerns. There was snowfall and verglas, both of which made some of the runners worried about how the run would pan out.

Luckily, May 29 – race day – hosted good conditions. It was a clear day. “ Probably because they are so used to the environment, the local runners just shot off leaving the rest of us behind,’’ Ashwini said of the race’s start. The course was engaging and at around the 10th or 12th kilometre, there was a stiff climb. There was also a cut off at around 23.5 kilometres; that distance was required to be covered in five hours. Ashwini cleared it in approximately four hours and 20 minutes. Of the time she took to finish the race – 15 hours and 40 minutes – Ashwini said that she would have shaved-off some time had she pushed herself, which in this case, she had consciously decided not to. She dedicated her participation in the Everest Marathon to her mother, who has been ailing for the past few months.

From Everest Marathon; with Ashish Kasodekar (Photo: courtesy Ashwini)

Ashwini holds the national record in the 12-hour ultra-run. She set the record in February 2020, at Tuffman Chandigarh Stadium Run. She covered a distance of 111.78 km in the prescribed time period. Ashwini was active in sports during her school days, playing most sports and getting to state-level hockey tournaments. But during her time in engineering college, all sporting activity stopped.

In December 2014, she ran her first race, a 10 km-midnight event. Later, she came in contact with Pinkathon, a community that promotes running among women. Hooked to running, she signed up for several events in 2015. While scouting for races, she came across the Chennai Trail Marathon. She did a half marathon and followed it up with a full marathon in the following year. “ I was not focussed on timing at all. After my first marathon, I decided to go for structured training,” she said.

At the end of one of the marathons she ran, she realised that she could go on for some more distance. It prompted her to do her first ultra-running event, a 50 km-race at Yercaud Ultra. Soon after that, her first 12-hour stadium run happened at NEB Sports 36-Hour Bengaluru Stadium Run 2018. “ My aim was to just finish it. I covered a distance of 86 km,” she said. In the same year, she ran another 12-hour run at NEB Sports 24-Hour New Delhi Stadium Run. Here, she covered a distance of 93 km, finishing second among women.

At the 2019 edition of the 72km Khardung La Challenge in Ladakh, Ashwini finished second among women with a timing of 10:39:25 hours. She also completed the 90km trail race at Vagamon ULtrail in Kerala, emerging second runner-up. Running in Malnad Ultra in the same year, she set a course record in 110 km finishing it in 17.52 hours. She enjoys trail running and prefers it over other formats. In Dec 2019, she was the sole participant in the INS Shivaji Platinum Jubilee Celebration 75km run at Lonavala and finished fifth among 29 participants.

Indian ultra-runners were forced to pause their outdoor training when the country went into repeated lockdowns, starting with the first wave of COVID-19 in March 2020. Most ultra-runners used the time to step up their strength workout and focus on diet and rest, which are important elements of training. Ashwini was also forced to suspend her training every now and then.

In January 2021, running the 24-hour category race for the first time at the NEB Sports 24-Hour Bengaluru Stadium Run, Ashwini covered a distance of 180.8 km. Although, she missed the podium as she finished fourth among women, her performance came up for appreciation. In February 2022, Ashwini heard about Basar Running Ultra-Marathon Trail Experience (BRUTE) from two of her friends, Rajesh Narayana and Kushagra Sharma, who were organising the event. They got together to organise this ultra-running event, the first of its kind in Arunachal Pradesh. Basar is the headquarters of Lepa-Rada district of Arunachal Pradesh. Its average elevation is around 600 meters above sea level. There were 16 runners registered for 60 km, 10 runners for 30 km and about 300 for 5 km.

“ Five of us travelled from Bengaluru to the race venue. We took a flight from Bengaluru to Dibrugarh in Assam & after a arduous taxi ride, reached by evening. The organisers put us up in a homestay. Many of these homestays belonged to people who were associated with the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Gumin Rego Kilajo (GRK) that was involved in organising this event,’’ Ashwini explained. In the 60 km-race she had chosen, there were all of three women participating.

From Basar Running Ultra-Marathon Trail Experience in Arunachal Pradesh (Photo: courtesy Ashwini)

On Saturday, March 5, 2022, the runners were transported to the starting point of the race. The cut-off for Ashwini’s race was 10 hours. The route was a mix of forest trails, both uphill and downhill, village roads and a small portion through roads. Of the total course, about 60-70 percent was primarily trail. The runners had to cross two streams towards the end and also cross using suspension bridges. “ Running on these suspension bridges was quite scary as the bridge kept bouncing up and down with the runners stomping through it,’’ she said. It was quite a challenging route and some parts were a bit technical. “ I decided to take it easy and enjoy the run, chatting with villagers along the route and taking photographs. There were a few aid stations along the route where water was being served in bamboo. Also, villagers were serving us locally grown oranges and pitha, a local rice flour preparation steamed in bamboo. The villagers volunteered enthusiastically and cheered the runners. We passed through many villages along the route. I finished the race at 3:45 pm covering the distance in eight hours and 50 minutes. Although the cut-off for 60 km was 10 hours, the organisers indicated that no one would be stopped from running despite crossing the cut-off time as it was the first edition of the event,’’ she said.

Following the ultra in Arunachal, Ashwini was part of the IAU 6-Hour Virtual Global Solidarity Run. On 30th April,2022 she took part in the 12-Hour Stadium Run organised by NEB Sports, as part of training and qualification for the 24 hr-Indian Team. She covered 96 kms and finished second in the race.

With the EBC project done and now back in Bengaluru, Ashwini has returned to her training for the upcoming championships in July.

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

BENGALURU STADIUM RUN / A NEW NATIONAL RECORD IN WOMEN’S 100K

The podium finishers from the women’s 100K; Nupur Singh, Jyoti Gawate and Manisha Joshi (Photo: by arrangement)

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.

Amar Singh Devanda, Binay Sah and Sandeep Kumar (Photo: by arrangement)

“ 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.

Amar Shiv Dev (Photo: by arrangement)

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.

Podium finishers from the women’s 12-Hour run; Anju Saini, Ashwini G and Meenal Kotak (Photo: by arrangement)

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.)

2022 BOSTON MARATHON / RUNNERS SAY, DELIGHTED TO HAVE RUN IT

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

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 (Photo: courtesy Sharath)

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; from Big Sur, which she ran after the 2022 Boston Marathon (Photo: courtesy Kavitha)

Kavitha Reddy

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.

Srividya Ramnath (Photo: courtesy Srividya)

Srividya Ramnath

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.

Kiran Kapadia (Photo: courtesy Kiran)

Kiran Kapadia

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.

Sunil Chainani (Photo: courtesy Sunil)

Sunil Chainani

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.

Binita Choksi (Photo: courtesy Binita)

Binita Choksi

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.

Subhojit Roy (Photo: courtesy Subhojit)

Subhojit Roy

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.

Tanmaya Karmarkar

Tanmaya Karmarkar (Photo: courtesy Tanmaya)

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.

Zia Chaney

Zia Chaney (Photo: courtesy Zia)

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.

Kumar Rao (Photo: courtesy Kumar)

Kumar Rao

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.)