2020 TMM / PODIUM MUSINGS

Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) is the biggest event in India’s calendar of running events. The 2020 edition was held on January 19. The weather on race day this year was perfect. However the number of runners was high. Soon after the 2020 TMM got over, we spoke to some of those who got podium finishes at the event.

Prahlad Singh. This photo is from the Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon (Photo: courtesy Prahlad)

Prahlad Singh

Originally a resident of Pali, Rajasthan, Prahlad Singh took up running as sport to focus on, after he joined the Indian Army.

He has been running regularly for the past four years. The 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon was his first attempt at the full marathon. “ I had a target of finishing in 2:30-2:32. I managed the first half of the race very well finishing in 1:16:51 but could not repeat the performance in the second half because of the crowd of runners. There were too many runners on the course,” he said. This year over 55,000 people were expected to participate across categories in TMM including 9660 runners in the full marathon, 15,260 in the half marathon and 8032 runners in the 10 km-race (actual numbers on race day are usually less than the numbers registered).

Prahlad finished in 2:35:32. He won the amateur category for men and also secured the top podium position in his age category of 30-34 years. Prahlad trains with his army colleagues. His coach is his teammate, Vijender Malik, who completed the full marathon in 2:54:50 to place third in his age group of 40-44 years.

Preity Rai (Photo: Chetan Gusani; photo provided by Preity)

Preity Rai

Twenty-two-year-old Preity Rai, a resident of Darjeeling, West Bengal, had previously participated in half marathon and 25 kilometer-races.

The 2020 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon was her first attempt at a full marathon. She had worked out a rough plan on how to tackle the race, a new distance for her. Her idea was to do the first half in one hour and 25 minutes. “ I started too fast and then had to slow down. About half way through the race, I found somebody racing ahead of me. That propelled me to push my way through,” Preity said.

Towards the end of her race she looked at her watch and found that three hours and 10 minutes were already past and she had 1.5 km still to cover. “ Volunteers on motorcycles encouraged me to speed up,” Preity said. She finished the race in 3:16:26, emerging overall winner among amateur women.

Preity participates in races primarily for the prize money. “ I was working in a showroom but the long hours impeded my training,” she said. She lives in Dilaram, Darjeeling, with her father. Her only other sibling, a sister, is married and stays away with her family. Preity plans to return to Mumbai to participate in the Maharashtra Police International Marathon to be held on February 9, 2020.

The Run Meghalaya team with friends in Mumbai (Photo: courtesy Gerald Pde)

Run Meghalaya

Going home with four podium finishes from the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon, was the six person team from Run Meghalaya. Tlanding Wahlang finished first in the 40-45 years age category of the full marathon for men. With timing of 2:39:09, he was winner by handsome margin. In the 45-50 years age category for men, Gerald Pde secured second place; he finished in 3:01:04. Swonding Mawlong (3:22:30) finished fourth in the 55-59 years age category for men. Snora Lyngkhoi (3:55:14) finished third in the 45-49 years age category for women while 72 year-old grandmother, Kmoinlang Wahlang (4:44:09) retained her first position in the 70-74 years age category for women. Last year, Kmoinlang had completed the race in 4:33:56. Except Gerald, all the runners are from Meghalaya’s Mawkyrwat region, which plays host to the annual Mawkyrwat Ultra. “ This time owing to funding issues we had a small team come to Mumbai. But the performances have been quite encouraging,’’ Gerald said. For Gerald, 2020 marked return to the Mumbai Marathon after a gap of eight years. In 2011, when he first ran it, he had covered the 42km-course in approximately three hours 23 minutes. In 2012, he brought that down to 3:03. “ Sunday’s 3:01 is a personal best,’’ Gerald said adding he seemed to have finally figured out what training and diet worked for him in long distance running. According to him, upcoming races for the runners from Meghalaya include the marathon in Kolkata and February’s Tata Ultra in Lonavala. At the latter, a team of six runners from Meghalaya is expected to participate. For more on Gerald Pde and Run Meghalaya, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/03/30/run-meghalaya/

Anjali Saraogi (left) with Tlanding Wahlang, ultra runner from Meghalaya who was also podium finisher in his age category at 2020 TMM (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Anjali Saraogi

Anjali Saraogi stood at the start line of the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon with barely two and half weeks of training done for the race. Less than two months earlier, in November 2019, the Kolkata-based long-distance runner had set a national record in 100 kilometers at the 2019 IAU Asia and Oceania Championships held in Aqaba, Jordan.

Beset with health issues, her overall training had suffered through much of 2019. Still, 2019 turned out to be a major year in Anjali’s running career with personal best (PB) timing of 3:14:33 at the Boston Marathon, a robust comeback in the Berlin Marathon after setbacks caused by health and injury and a national best in 100km at the 2019 IAU Asia and Oceania Championships.

“ I had not done any long runs for Mumbai Marathon. I had a target of 3:20-3:25. I was strong till the 22nd kilometer; after that I suffered,” Anjali said. She finished in 3:24:53, emerging first in her age category of 45-49 years and fourth overall among amateur women runners.

“ Mumbai Marathon is my favorite event in India. The atmosphere here is absolutely astounding with so many people on the streets, music bands and live music. The arrangements were excellent and the volunteers did awesome work,” she said. Anjali will be participating in a few running events over the next couple of months until her next major race – the 2020 London Marathon.

Thomas Bobby Philip (Photo: Chetan Gusani)

Thomas Bobby Philip

In 2019, Bengaluru-based amateur runner, Thomas Bobby Philip, had topped his age category for men at the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon, covering the 42 kilometer-course in 2:59:52. In 2018, he had placed second in his age category with timing of 2:57:17.

Bobby’s focus for a while now, has been maintaining the streak of sub three-hour finishes he has enjoyed in the past few years. As with chasing any target, there is an element of favorable circumstances converging for this to happen. The weather in Mumbai on January 19, 2020 – race day – was perfect. Unfortunately for Bobby, a week before TMM, he started experiencing cold, chest congestion and throat irritation. “ I was not keeping well. Things improved a bit by Thursday-Friday and I decided to proceed with my plans for Mumbai. But I wasn’t recovered fully,’’ he said. Result – he finished first in the age category of 50-54 years for men but with timing of 3:07:49. “ When you look at a race, there are two aspects – there is the quality of organization and your personal experience. At a personal level, I didn’t get that sub-three. But the race organization was done well. The overall experience was very good,’’ he said.

Notwithstanding Sunday’s outcome, Bobby believes that maintaining sub-three is a reasonable goal for him. He does not take part in many races. He has been relatively injury-free. “ If all goes well, there is nothing to stop me from pursuing sub-three as goal,’’ he said. Right now however, given the bout of ill health he faced ahead of 2020 TMM, his coach has advised him against participating in the next marathon he had signed up for – the 2020 IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon.  He will be giving that a miss and instead focusing on regaining his health. Once recovered, Bobby’s attention will revert to the annual calendar he has traditionally kept – Bengaluru’s TCS 10K in May followed by a bunch of half marathons to steadily work one’s way up to the annual TMM; and along with that, chasing sub-three. For more on Thomas Bobby Philip, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2016/03/10/in-the-right-sport/

Kavitha Reddy (Photo: courtesy Kavitha)

Kavitha Reddy

Given she is heading for the 2020 Tokyo Marathon, Kavitha Reddy chose to take the Mumbai Marathon of January 2020 as a training run. The Pune-based runner did not have a time target for the race. She also chose to do the half marathon instead of the full. “ I decided to go by feel. It was a good run. I was comfortable throughout the run,” she said.

Kavitha crossed the finish line in 1:36:11, a new personal best (PB) and securing the top podium position in her age group of 45-49 years. “ I deliberately decided to not race this one as I did not want to jeopardise my training for Tokyo Marathon,” she said. In October 2019, she had participated in the Chicago Marathon, where she secured a finish timing of 3:14:19 in the full marathon.

According to her, the arrangements this time in Mumbai were good but there were too many runners at the finish line. “ The finish line shouldn’t be the same for runners of various distances. The organisers need to segregate the finish line for 10 km and half marathon runners,” she said.

Mohamed Idris (This photo was downloaded from the runner’s Facebook page)

Mohamed Idris

“ The weather was fantastic. Coming from Chennai, I really felt it,’’ Mohamed Idris said of race day at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon. In 2019, he had topped his age category for men (50-54 years) in the half marathon with timing of 1:24:38. This year he covered the distance in 1:24:33 but placed second, three seconds behind the category winner. “ It was a good race. I was feeling strong. Running the half marathon in Mumbai is always a privilege,’’ he said. Someone known to race a lot every year, Idris has a few races coming up in Chennai. But he is making a change to his aspirations. “ I want to focus on the triathlon. I did one in 2010 and haven’t gone back to it since. I plan to attempt the newly introduced Melbourne Ironman in November this year,’’ Idris said. For more on Idris, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2016/12/30/life-retired-and-reinterpretted/

Nishu Kumar (Photo: courtesy Nishu)

Nishu Kumar

Twenty-four-year-old Nishu Kumar was a bit late to start his first full marathon at the 2020 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon.

“ I got caught behind a big crowd of runners at the start of the race,” Nishu, a resident of Vadodara, Gujarat, said. At 2020 TMM, Nishu had a target of 2:36 hours for finishing time. But he ran into a wall of runners at the end of the race too and completed the run in 2:42:55. He won top honors in his age group of 18-24 years and eighth position overall among amateur male runners.

Nishu got into running about five years ago and has mostly been running 10km and 21km races. He was into cricket during his school years and later took up sprinting, participating in 100 meter and 200 meter-races. He trains under ultra-runner Sandeep Kumar, who has represented India in a couple of international ultra-running events. Having finished his graduation in electrical engineering, Nishu wants to do his MBA in sports management.

Dnyaneshwar Tidke (Photo: Chetan Gusani; photo provided by Dnyaneshwar)

Dnyaneshwar Tidke

Towards the end of October 2018, Dnyaneshwar Tidke felt discomfort in his right knee after a training run. An initial diagnosis had indicated the problem as ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury. MRI scan later identified it as a meniscus tear and Dnyaneshwar had to undergo surgery in November 2018.

In January 2019, he started jogging slowly and over the next few days slowly increased his mileage. “ In February 2019, I did a 20 km run and felt quite comfortable. I decided to attempt the 2019 edition of Boston Marathon as I had already registered for the event,” But shortly thereafter, Dnyaneshwar met with a road accident resulting in a fractured scapula. He was out of action again.

“ I resumed my jogging in May. It was not easy as I had gained some weight due to lack of physical activity. It was a difficult phase for me. During my runs, I could feel niggling pains and aches,” he said.

Although he resumed his running, the overall volume was low. Despite that he got a podium finish in the 10k run at the 2019 Navy Half Marathon, held in November. A month later, he ran a half marathon in Pune and felt fairly confident to go into a full marathon.

“ At 2020 TMM, I had no target. I just wanted to go by feel. I ran the first half of the race comfortably in 1:29 hours. But during the second half I felt tired. I was low on energy,” he said. Dnyaneshwar finished in 3:06:56, getting third position in his age group of 45-49 years. “ It was overall a satisfactory performance as it was my first full marathon after surgery and fracture,” he said. For more on Dnyaneshwar, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2015/04/11/the-constant-runner/

Kamlya Bhagat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Kamlya Bhagat

We are back at Visava Restaurant opposite Panvel bus depot, a longstanding assembly point for hikers and for this blog, venue to catch up with Kamlya Bhagat and his story in running. It is the Monday following the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). According to Kamlya, he has run the half marathon at the event four times and ended up on the podium on all four occasions; twice first and twice second in his age category. The latest on January 19 saw him place second in the 35-39 years age category for men. Hailing from financially challenged circumstances and running to make additional money, Kamlya – he now works at a local school – races 3-4 times a month.

Race day this year began at roughly 2.30AM, which was the time he left home 10-12 kilometers away from Panvel town to join his friends driving to Worli in Mumbai for the half marathon’s start. They reached the venue around 5AM; Kamlya did a little warm-up and at the appointed time of 5.15AM commenced running. On his feet was his trademark improvised footwear – a pair of socks, each with an insole inserted inside. Kamlya had a good start. He recalled being out front for some time before a runner from a younger age group joined him. Together, they struck a fairly fast pace. Past 13 kilometers, Kamlya’s pace began to slacken. At around kilometer 16, a runner from his own age group caught up and progressively took the lead. Kamlya finished in 1:18:25 placing second in his age category. “ The race was good. The weather was apt for running and the new start time 15 minutes earlier than before worked well,’’ Kamlya said. The timing was an improvement over the 1:23:09 he registered in 2019, when he had placed second in the 30-34 age category. His personal best (PB) in the half marathon is 1:10, which he earned at a race in 2010 in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.

Going ahead, Kamlya will participate in the 2020 edition of Tata Ultra Marathon in Lonavala, where he will run in the 35km race. He ran at Tata Ultra in 2018 and 2019. Both times, he got a podium finish in the 35km race; he was first (2:34:50) in 2018 and third (2:30:44) in 2019. Running in the 35km segment, Kamlya is slowly addressing a long held fear that his competence in the shorter distances (where he earns his prize money) may be compromised if he transitions to the longer races. While training for 35km, he puts in a few runs of 30-32km. But he is still hesitant to touch 40km although he suspects he is developing a desire to eventually try a full marathon. He holds himself back because committing to the full marathon typically entails greater expense. “ It calls for good training and a better diet. I eat what is made at home. I have no special diet; I don’t go to the gym. So far, whatever racing I have managed is within the parameters of what I can afford,’’ he said. Still, having come as far as 35km, who knows what the future holds? Meanwhile he is on the lookout for minimalist footwear (size 8) for running; something like Vibram Five Fingers. “ Regular running shoes weigh me down,’’ he said. For more on Kamlya, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2016/01/19/kamlya-runs-his-first-scmm-and-gets-a-first/

Shilpi Sahu (Photo: courtesy Shilpi)

Shilpi Sahu

A barefoot runner, Shilpi Sahu commenced her race at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon, at a slow pace. She did so because of the big crowd of runners. “ Once midway I picked up speed as I felt quite good,” she said.

The Bengaluru-based runner had a target of 3:30 hours but well into the race she realized that she would not be able to achieve it. She finished the race in 3:32:21, a personal best (PB) for her. It fetched her the top podium position in her age group of 40-44 years and tenth place overall among amateur women runners. “ I also managed a four minute negative split,” Shilpi said. As a barefoot runner, she did find the road surface tough because of the ongoing metro construction work.

According to her, the organization of the race was very good but the use of plastic remained high. “ I hope TMM organizers think seriously about reducing single use plastic bottles for the 21 km, 10 km and the Dream run by at least 50 per cent and by 100 per cent at the venue. I saw many runners take a sip and throw away the bottle. In the process, there is plastic being dumped and water being wasted,” she said.

The refill option should be encouraged, she said.

Chitra Nadkarni (Photo: courtesy Chitra)

Chitra Nadkarni

At the Adani Ahmedabad Marathon held in November 2019, Mumbai-based Chitra Nadkarni had secured top podium position in the age category of 51 years and above with timing of 4:09:11.

For 2020 TMM, she decided not to have a timing target as the race she is focused on is the 2020 Tokyo Marathon to be held in March. “ At TMM, I decided to run between the 4-hour and 4:15-hour pacers. The 4-hour pacer, Anirudha Athani, was very good. I kept pace with him for most part but could not manage to do so during the last two to three kilometers,” Chitra said. She finished in 4:01:12; it fetched her top podium position in her age group of 55-59 years.

“ I had a good run but the post-race arrangements were bad. It was chaotic and crowded at the finish line,” she said. She will now head for the Tokyo Marathon – it is one of the six World Marathon Majors – to be held on March 1, 2020. “ I am looking forward to my six-star medal,” she said. For more on Chitra Nadkarni, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2017/04/08/starting-line-50/

Dr Arati Gaikwad (Photo: courtesy Arati)

Arati Gaikwad

Sometime in May 2019, Dr Arati Gaikwad felt a tingling numbness in her left leg. “ I could not get up from my bed the normal way. I had pain in my right hip and a tingling feeling in my leg. I knew that the tingling feeling was not a good sign. It meant some nerve was getting pinched,” she said.

Arati and her husband, Dr Pravin Gaikwad, pediatricians and amateur runners (Pravin is also a coach; he is prime mover at Navi Mumbai based-Life Pacers), decided to consult an orthopedic surgeon for correct diagnosis of the problem. Following x-ray and MRI, it was diagnosed as congenital spondylolisthesis of L4 over L5. This is a spinal disorder in which the vertebra slips forward on to the bone below it.

Arati was distraught as she had to stop running. “ The first half hour after waking up was torture for me. I was worried if this problem would completely impact my physical activity,” she said. Thankfully, she was allowed to go for walks.

Typically, this condition is diagnosed in the thirties. The fact that Arati’s condition came to the fore in her fifties is a measure of her fitness level. Arati has been quite focused on physical fitness since her medical college days and has been actively involved in endurance sport including running, triathlon, cycling and swimming for the past several years.

The recommended line of treatment for this condition was strength training, core workout, stretching and a healthy lifestyle. “ Initially, I had to do half hour of stretching while lying on the bed before I got up,” she said. With consistent strength training, Arati was able to mitigate her pain.

“ At the time of registering for Mumbai Marathon, I was not sure if I could run a half marathon. That’s the reason I registered for the 10km race,” Arati said. She finished the 10km race at 2020 TMM in 58 minutes and 20 seconds, securing top position in her age category of 50-54 years.

“ I decided to go by feel and I enjoyed the run immensely. At some point during the race, I was overtaking many runners,” Arati said. To feel confident for 2020 TMM, she had attempted the 10km race at the Navy Half Marathon and a half marathon race in Navi Mumbai in December. She secured age category podium positions in both these races. For more on Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2017/02/12/the-diligent-and-the-fun-loving/

Seema Yadav (Photo: courtesy Seema)

Seema Yadav

In October 2019, Seema Yadav was the first runner-up in the amateur women’s category at the 2019 edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. Already plagued by injuries, Seema’s condition worsened after the Delhi run.

In April 2019, Seema had run the Boston Marathon with several injuries. She finished the race with a personal best timing of 3:26:46 but had to go off running for a while and focus on healing. Through most of 2019, Seema was battling injuries in her glutes, hamstrings and abductor muscles. She also suffered from extensor tendonitis. Her training for TMM 2020 was far from adequate. Tracking the advice of her physiotherapist, it was also intermittent.

“ I had to take this run easy so as not to aggravate my injuries any further,” Seema, a resident of Faridabad, said, adding. “ I ran at a very comfortable pace. I did not push my pace at any point during the entire distance of 42.2 km.” She finished in 3:32:38, securing second position in her age group of 40-44 years and finishing overall 11th among amateur women runners.

Seema believes she has potential to do much better in terms of timing. She also pointed to the emergent difficulty in Mumbai, navigating one’s passage through a sea of runners towards the last part of the race. “ The number of runners for the full marathon also increased this time,” she said.

Sheran Mehra (Photo: courtesy Sheran)

Sheran Mehra

Sheran Mehra prefers to run the full marathon but her coach, Ashok Nath suggested that she opt for the half marathon in Mumbai and treat it like a training run for her upcoming race at the Tokyo Marathon.

“ I don’t like to run with targets. I just decided to go by feel. I started running comfortably and kept going on with a consistent pace,” she said. She was able to execute the second half of the race much better than the first half at TMM 2020. Sheran crossed the finish line in 1:43:24, a new personal best for her in the half marathon. She placed second in her age category of 45-49 years for women.

Sheran has been running for over 12 years. She was into sprinting during her schooling days at Bhopal and participated in district level events. “ I was active in sports through my school and college years,” she said. For a brief while sports came to a grinding halt because of injuries.

She resumed her fitness pursuit by joining a gym. “ My husband, Chandramohan Mehra, who is also a runner, is a fitness freak. Both of us were gym junkies,” she said. Her foray into running commenced when a colleague at her workplace prompted her to join him for a training run. “ I ran a distance of 7.5 km then. That’s how I got into running,” she said.

For many years she trained with Striders, a training group for long-distance running. Recently she also signed up with Bengaluru-based runner and coach, Ashok Nath. “ Initially, my focus was just running. Ashok Nath’s approach is more holistic. The accent is on overall fitness with adequate attention to strength training and nutrition,” she said.

She and her husband Chandramohan will be participating in the Tokyo Marathon in March this year.

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

SRINU BUGATHA: A COMEBACK STORY

Srinu Bugatha (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Meeting Srinu Bugatha, winner among Indian men at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon

At his hotel room, Srinu Bugatha and his training partner A. B. Belliappa studied the former’s splits.

Hours earlier on Sunday (January 19), Bugatha had emerged victor among elite Indian men at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). He had clocked 2:18:45. The course record for Indians held by fellow army runner Nitendra Singh Rawat is 2:15:48. Paced by two Kenyan runners, Bugatha had commenced his run hoping to have a crack at the course record. Mumbai’s annual marathon is not exactly record-friendly. Its course includes an uphill segment and the weather can be warm and humid. On Sunday however, the weather was supportive and early start for the amateur categories appears to have ensured relatively smooth progression for the elites. It could have been a day of new course record for the Indian elites. Overall for the race, Ethiopian runner Derara Hurisa did set a new course record of 2:08:09.

Armed with his findings from the splits, Bugatha turned to his mentor and motivator, Vickrant Mahajan seated nearby. He had run at fine pace for most of the way. By his own account till around 35 kilometers he was targeting the course record. But the Peddar Road uphill took a toll. Past that, his leg muscles felt tight. “ I was very slow over the last two kilometers,’’ he said, the realization overshadowing his sense of accomplishment.

“ Don’t forget, we nevertheless have several positives in there,’’ Mahajan reminded.

“ Still, it’s like getting out on 93 or 94,’’ Bugatha said resorting to cricket for metaphor.

A middle distance runner specialized in 5000m, 10,000m and cross country for most part of his career, the Bugatha of 2020 TMM is a comeback story. In 2018 he had placed third behind Gopi T and Nitendra Singh Rawat with timing of 2:23:56. His timing of 2020 is therefore a new PB (personal best). What makes it interesting is that those are the only full marathons he has run. He had been on the podium in half marathons and 25K runs but that 2018 podium in Mumbai was the only precedent in the full marathon before Sunday’s victory. In 2018, Bugatha was in the national camp for marathoners ahead of the Commonwealth Games. The training then had timing of 2:12 hours (Shivnath Singh’s still standing national record) in mind with weekly mileage sometimes hitting 220 kilometers. That proved tough for Bugatha to handle and he came off believing track events – the middle distance disciplines he was used to – were his forte.  He stopped running marathons. According to Mahajan (he is the person behind Superchampions Foundation), in April 2019, he chanced to give motivational talks at the Army Sports Institute (ASI), where Bugatha trained. Slowly Bugatha warmed up to him and started to share his thoughts. The subsequent drift back to the marathon, Mahajan said, was “ partly’’ Bugatha’s decision.

In December 2019, Bugatha participated in the 5000m at the South Asian Games in Kathmandu. As per information on the website olympicchannel.com, he placed fifth. At the 2019 Tata Steel 25K (an event where he has had several podium-finishes before) held on December 15, he topped among Indians with timing of 1:18:31. From December 18, 2019 onward he started training for TMM. In other words, the first place finish and PB of January 19, 2020 was the product of a mere month of preparations, in which time the longest training run he did was a 40km-run on January 2. “ Imagine what someone like him can do with proper training. I believe today’s win is the beginning of a journey,’’ Mahajan said on Sunday. Both he and Bugatha outlined the changes already put in place. A typical middle distance runner’s weekly mileage (that is, over six working days) aggregates to around 120 kilometers. As he geared up for TMM, weekly mileage went up to 180-200 kilometers, Bugatha said. Then, there has been the instilling of self-belief that targets like Shivnath Singh’s national record in the marathon are not beyond chasing; “ mental calibration’’ as Mahajan put it. Finally, there was the weeding out of distractions. For the past six months, Bugatha hasn’t been using a smartphone.

A. B. Belliappa (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Hailing from Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, Bugatha’s career in running started after he joined the Indian Army in 2010. “ I have been running for the last five years,’’ he said. After a long time spent tackling the middle distances, he said, he is now resolved to focus on the marathon. Joining him in the transition is his training partner, third place winner among Indian men in the half marathon at 2020 TMM and a familiar face at half marathons and 25K runs in India – Belliappa. On Sunday, Belliappa was racing after a phase of injury. Although targeting course record and since introspecting where he got it wrong, Belliappa’s finish in 1:06 hours wasn’t far off his PB of 1:04. Like Bugatha, he was thinking of focusing on the marathon now on. It seemed mutually supportive. Mahajan believed that a reasonable target in the marathon for Bugatha, 27, would be qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. Given qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics requires breaking the longstanding Indian national record in the marathon, the qualifying mark for 2024 will be likely stiffer. Mahajan said that there may be an attempt to qualify for Tokyo too; towards that end Bugatha hopes to participate in the Barcelona Marathon of March 2020.

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

LADAKH RUNNERS: A SUNDAY THAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER

Jigmet Dolma (left) and Tsetan Dolkar; after 2020 TMM (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Sunday could have been better for the runners from Ladakh visiting Mumbai every year for the annual marathon.

However even as podium finish eluded them at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), the team’s outing of 2019-2020 has been fruitful overall with Jigmet Dolma’s participation in the 2019 South Asian Games, Tsetan Dolkar’s triumph at the 2019 Vasai Virar Mayors Marathon (VVMM) and the duo’s fifth and sixth place finishes in the Indian elite women’s category at this year’s TMM.

The two runners’ performance at 2020 TMM is a repeat of tradition; not only are the timings close to each other (Jigmet -3:05:10; Tsetan – 3:05:14) but the splits are also very close right through. With PBs (personal best) of 3:01 hours and separated by mere two seconds, both have been on a quest to go sub-three. They came to Sunday’s race in Mumbai with a plan in place but unfortunately its execution wasn’t to the dot. “ Our strategy was to run the first 21 kilometers in about 1:27. But we were a bit slow and it became 1:30,’’ Jigmet explained. In a race, particularly when chasing a mark like sub-three, the seconds and minutes count. Otherwise, 2020 TMM was “ a good run.’’ They faced no difficulties, the weather was much better than what it was last time and their training had been good in the run up to race day.

Aside from Jigmet and Tsetan in the elite Indian women’s category of the full marathon, the team had one participant in the men’s marathon and the rest in the half marathon for both gender categories. This year, according to Jigmet and Tsetan (who this blog spoke to), they return without a podium-finish in any segment at TMM. In 2019, Jigmet (3:10:43) had finished third among Indian women and Tsetan (3:13:13) had placed fifth. On the bright side, there is improvement in the timing of both runners at TMM, from last year to now. Further within the space of their 2019-2020 outing, Jigmet’s timing at 2020 TMM is better than the timing she returned at the South Asian Games of December 2019 (3:07) while that of Tsetan is an improvement over her timing at VVMM (3:10:27), also from December 2019.

They now have the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon as last event to attend before heading back to Ladakh. They hope they are able to get that sub-three in Delhi. Asked if the mark seemed formidable, Jigmet said, “ it is not a big challenge. It is possible.’’

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

2020 TATA MUMBAI MARATHON (TMM) / NEW COURSE RECORD, ETHIOPIANS TAKE TOP HONORS

Elite runners at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon. Eventual winner Derara Hurisa of Ethiopia can be seen, right of center (Photo: Chetan Gusani)

Srinu Bugatha, Sudha Singh winners among Indian elite

Ethiopian athlete Derara Hurisa set a new course record at the 2020 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon, topping the men’s category with a finish time of two hours, eight minutes and nine seconds.

The previous course record was 2:08:35, set by Kenyan runner Gideon Kipketer in 2016.

Ayele Abshero and Birhanu Teshome, both of Ethiopia, also finished in timings better than the previous course record. Ayele, in second position, crossed the finish line in 2:08:20 and Birhanu, in third position, in 2:08:26.

In the women’s race, Ethiopian Amane Beriso was the winner with timing of 2:24:51. She missed the previous course record of 2:24:33, by 18 seconds.

Amane Beriso of Ethiopia who topped among women runners at 2020 TMM (Photo: Chetan Gusani)

In second position was Kenyan runner Rodah Jepkorir, who finished in 2:27:14. Haven Hailu of Ethiopia came in third in 2:28:56.

Barring the Kenyan runner in second position in the women’s race, it was an Ethiopian sweep of the top podium positions.

Among Indian elite runners, Srinu Bugatha and Sudha Singh were winners of the men’s and women’s races respectively.

Bugatha of Indian Army finished the race in 2:18:44. In second place was Sher Singh with timing of 2:24. In third position was Durga Bahadur Budha with timing of 2:24:03.

Srinu Bugatha at 2020 TMM (Photo: Chetan Gusani)

Defending champion Sudha Singh maintained her title with a winning finish of 2:45:30. Jyoti Gawate came in second with timing of 2:49:14. Shyamali Singh finished in third position in 2:58:44.

Jyoti Gawate had finished second in the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon with timing of 2.45.48, which was her best timing at the race. “ There was a change in the route and that resulted in a wide gap between the winner and me,’’ Jyoti said.

Across various categories of races, over 55,000 runners participated in the 17th edition of Mumbai Marathon, held on Sunday, January 19, 2020.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. Thanks to Chetan Gusani for permitting the use of his photographs.)

2020 TATA MUMBAI MARATHON / LAGAT, ALEMU SET TO RETURN

Flashback: elite runners at the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon (Photo: by arrangement)

Defending champions Cosmas Lagat and Worknesh Alemu will be back for the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), due January 19, 2020, a report dated January 4, available on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF), said.

In 2019, Kenya’s Lagat, breaking away from the rest of the pack at around kilometer 29 and running alone for almost a third of the race, had won in 2:09:15, the second fastest winning time in Mumbai. It was just 40 seconds outside the course record of 2:08:35, set by his compatriot Gideon Kipketer in 2016, the report said. To date only one man has won TMM back-to- back; Kenyan runner John Kelai did that with victories in 2007 and 2008.

According to the report, for the 2020 edition of the race, TMM organizers have signed up no less than 14 men who have run faster than 2:10:00, “ making it the strongest marathon ever to be staged in India.’’ Of them, nine have run faster than the course record during their careers and six have run under the super-elite benchmark of 2:07:00. The four fastest men in the field are all Ethiopians, led by Ayele Abshero who has a personal best (PB) from eight years back at the Dubai Marathon, of 2:04:23.

Ethiopia’s Alemu had won in the women’s category at TMM in 2019 with a PB of 2:25:25, which was also the second fastest winning time in the race’s history. She subsequently improved her best to 2:24:42 later in 2019 when finishing sixth at the Amsterdam Marathon in October, the report said. In 2020, Alemu heads a very strong women’s field that has eight women who have run under 2:28:00. The fastest woman in the field is another Ethiopian, Amane Beriso, who clocked 2:20:48 for a second place finish in the 2016 Dubai Marathon, placing her third on that year’s world list. She took a break from competitive running last year. The course record at TMM for women is 2:24:33, set by Kenya’s Valentine Kipketer in 2013.

In addition to the marathon – which has a total prize fund of US$ 405,000 – there is a half marathon, a 10km race, a Dream Run (5.9km), Senior Citizens Race (4.2km) and a Champions with Disability Race (1.5km). About 50,000 runners are expected to take part, the report said.

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

AN AQABA TO REMEMBER

Nupur Singh (Photo: courtesy Nupur)

Nupur Singh got into running in 2014. Two years later, she quit her job in Delhi and moved to the mountains to organize races. In November 2019 (as reported earlier on this blog), Indian ultra-runners did well at an international 100 kilometer championships in Jordan. In the same event, Nupur – she was not part of the official Indian team but running in the open category – finished in fairly good time.

On November 23, 2019, a team of ultra-runners representing India participated in the 2019 IAU 100 kilometer Asia & Oceania Championships at Aqaba, Jordan. The men’s team won the gold medal and the women’s team, the silver.

Mumbai’s Deepak Bandbe won the bronze medal and set a new national record in the men’s 100 km. Kolkata’s Anjali Saraogi set a new national record in the women’s 100 km; she finished fourth. The course on which, the race happened was a 10km-loop.

Alongside the Indian runners on that loop was another compatriot; Nupur Singh. She was running the same race but in the open category. She was not part of the Indian team. In fact, Nupur had resumed running only in July 2019 after a gap of three years. By November in Aqaba, it was only around four months since returning to running. Nupur finished the race in nine hours, 36 minutes and 15 seconds. She finished second behind British athlete, Joasia Zakrzwenski, the winner of the open race. Joasia finished in 8:25:50 hours. There were just two women in the open race in their gender category.

Nupur’s first race in three years had happened three months earlier – the AFMC Pune Marathon of August 2019, where she finished second overall among women. On October 6, 2019, she ran 60 kilometers at Solang Sky Ultra, which has cumulative elevation gain of 3570 meters and cut-off of 14 hours. She was the overall winner finishing the distance in nine hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds. Aqaba followed.

Photo: courtesy Nupur Singh

Nupur, 32, is from Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh. She took to amateur running in 2014. But she was not new to sports. “ I come from a conservative business family. My mother was the mayor of Lalitpur,’’ she said. She is the third among four siblings – two brothers and one sister. After an initial phase of schooling in Lalitpur, she did her senior years at Indore Public School. She was into a variety of sports such as swimming, tennis, basketball and cricket besides getting as far as the inter-school nationals in air-rifle shooting, wherein she secured a bronze medal. She moved to Pune to pursue graduation in architecture. As studies took precedence, sports got relegated to the background. Once done with studies, Nupur took up employment in Delhi. “ For three years, I was deeply involved with work with no room for any sporting activity,’’ she said.

In 2013, Nupur decided to take a break and went on a solo trek to Kedarkantha in Uttarakhand. “ This trek helped me get into the outdoors. I started trekking regularly. I also bought a cycle and started doing bicycle trips,’’ Nupur said. She spent a lot of time training to cycle from Manali to Leh, a trip that is hugely popular among amateur long-distance cyclists in India. After trekking and cycling, the next thing she got into was running. Nupur enrolled for the 2014 edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) and finished the race in two hours, pretty good time for a first time runner. It encouraged her to pursue running. Alongside the treks and bicycle trips continued.

In 2016, she quit her job in Delhi and moved to the mountains to organize races. She shifted to Bir in Himachal Pradesh. She joined hands with Vishwas Sindhu to co-found The Hell Race, which includes a clutch of races mostly held in the foothills of the Himalaya, besides routes in other ranges. That put a complete brake on her personal running plans. Organizing races under the Hell Race banner took up all her time. It involved traveling to various destinations, finding routes and marshaling the logistics required for the races plus other responsibilities.

Photo: courtesy Nupur Singh

In 2019, she decided to get back to running seriously. For that, she resolved to move away from The Hell Race but not from organizing races. Vishwas and Nupur decided to split The Hell Race. Of the many races organized under the banner, Nupur decided to take three and resume them with coach and ultra-runner Sandeep Kumar under the enterprise called Grand Indian Trails, also known as GRIT. “ We split on amicable terms,’’ she said. This new arrangement, Nupur hoped, would give her time for her own running. From the basket of races held previously under The Hell Race, the Deccan Ultra, Bir Billing Marathon and Coffee Trails are currently organized by GRIT. “ The best part of organizing running races is that both running and organizing are co-related. It needs discipline at my end to focus on both equally,’’ Nupur said.

In February 2019, she had met Sandeep Kumar at Deccan Ultra. The Deccan Ultra includes the Sahyadri peaks of Kalsubai, Alang, Kulang and Madan (Alang-Kulang-Madan is one of the classic hikes of the Maharashtra Sahyadri) in its route. Nupur decided to train under Sandeep in ultra-running. From Sandeep she learnt about IAU’s open category at the 100 km race at the Asia & Oceania Championships in Aqaba, Jordan. She applied for the same. Sandeep was part of the official Indian team heading to the championships. “ My training started in earnest only in September. Sandeep helped me with goal-setting, training plans, nutrition, recovery, running gear and race strategy,’’ Nupur said. Her preparations entailed all the elements required for an ultra-distance race – speed workout, core and strength workout and long runs. “ I could have done better in training. My weekly mileage was in the range of 100-150 km but my single day long run could not exceed 60 km,’’ she said.

At the race in Aqaba, Nupur’s first 50 km went off quite well. “ My target was to finish the first 50 km in 4:30 hours. I finished the distance in 4:15. At around 60 km, I had to slow down. I started to have stomach issues. At 70 km, I had to take a toilet break and then resort to some bit of walking,’’ she said. Headwinds were quite strong. Although the elevation was only 75 meters, repeated running on the 10 km route and the variations in temperature had an impact on many of the runners. “ The Indian crew was absolutely amazing. It is because of the crew members that I was able to finish the race quite well,’’ Nupur said. A lesson from the championship that Nupur takes home is that she needs to work on her nutrition. She recently shifted to being vegetarian. According to her, this choice has been helping her immensely in post-training recovery.

Photo: courtesy Nupur Singh

Two weeks after Aqaba, Nupur ran the SRT (Sinhagad-Rajgad-Torna) 53 km with cumulative elevation gain of 2350 meters and finished in the top position among women and sixth overall. She had a timing of 7:33:09 hours. At the time of her speaking to this blog, winter was beginning to set in and Nupur was scheduled to head back to Solang, where she has a base. This winter, she may attempt skiing. “ Last year, I learnt the basics of skiing,’’ she said. Sandeep believes Nupur has a good future in ultra-running. “ She trains wells, is quick to learn and works hard. Among women, she is one of the best in ultra-running in India,’’ he said. Going ahead, Nupur has her mind set on the Comrades Marathon (the downhill version) in South Africa, the IAU 100 km World Championships to be held in the Netherlands and the Asia Trail Master Races.

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

A TALE OF TWO RESULTS

Jigmet Dolma (left) and Tsetan Dolkar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Early December, Tsetan Dolkar topped the open category for women at the 2019 Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon (VVMM), among prominent running events in the Mumbai region.

VVMM is one of the races that the team of Ladakhi runners supported by Rimo Expeditions participates in, during their winter season spent running at various events in the plains. Tsetan is one half of the now well-known duo of herself and Jigmet Dolma; both Ladakhi runners who worked their way up the ranks to be currently included in the elite category at races like Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). They usually finish very close to each other.  At the 2019 IDBI Federal Insurance New Delhi Marathon, which served as basis for selecting the marathon team that headed to the 2019 South Asian Games (SAG), Jigmet and Tsetan were apart by just two seconds. Jigmet made it into the Indian team.

According to her, when they are running the marathon in Ladakh, the two may be together for as much as 40 kilometers. In the races of the plains where competition is higher, they stick together till past the 21 kilometer-mark – sometimes more – and then progressively strike out on their own. It’s a sight regular participants at TMM have become used to – if one from this duo passes you by, the other is never far behind. That’s why the racing they did in early December 2019 is important from the perspective of their evolution as runners.

In a departure from the past, at 2019 VVMM, Tsetan was running from start to finish without her friend and fellow competitor from Ladakh for company. Around the same time, at the 2019 SAG in Kathmandu, Jigmet was doing the same thing. Tsetan placed first in the open category for women at VVMM; Jigmet finished fifth in her first outing as part of the Indian team. “ It is an indication of the runners slowly maturing with experience.  When you run alone, you have to know how to keep race strategy going and set the pace accordingly. You have to do that by yourself,’’ Savio D’Souza, Mumbai-based coach who has worked with both these runners, said. Tsetan’s victory was notable for two aspects. First, her timing at 2019 VVMM was better than the time she took to complete the full marathon at 2019 TMM at the beginning of the year. Second, she crossed the finish line with significant lead over those following her. In 2019, while it did have an elite category for men, VVMM did not have a corresponding segment for women. The strongest woman runners in the field were those topping in the open category. “ After 21 kilometers, I missed Jigmet,’’ Tsetan said recalling her run at VVMM and the practice the duo had got used to. She completed the full marathon in 3:10:27. This wasn’t Tsetan’s first time on the podium at VVMM. Three years earlier, it had been a very different experience.

When the 2016 edition of VVMM happened, it was still early phase for the Ladakhi team and their annual winter-outing to India’s races. Realizing that the location of VVMM was away from Mumbai city, the team had traveled to Virar a day before the race and found a place to stay there for easy access to the start point. On race day however, just the opposite occurred. Finding their way to the start line took time and the Ladakhi runners commenced their race much after the rest of the field had taken off. Although Jigmet and Tsetan had their bibs with them, they didn’t have pins to fasten them to their T-shirts. So they clutched the bib in their hand and ran. In due course they caught up with the rest. They not only completed the run but also secured podium positions; Tsetan finishing ahead of Jigmet.  They collected their medals and prize money. But not long afterwards, fellow competitors lodged protests against the duo’s late start. The problem was – while you are allowed to start late, the Ladakhi runners had started too late. They exceeded the grace period. It was a very valid protest. “ We had to return the cheques. Those who complained had a point,’’ Savio said. The result of December 2019 reversed that misfortune. “ This time also we stayed in Virar. But we found a place close to the start line and on race day, reported on time,’’ Tsetan said, putting the result in perspective. December 2019, the cheque is hers to keep.

TMM is anchor for the Ladakh team’s annual outing. Mid-December 2019, the entire team was not yet in place. Given the political developments in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh’s new found status as union territory, there had been uncertainty over exam schedules for some of the young runners headed to Mumbai. The remaining members of the team were expected to join a few days later, Savio said. While the team has kicked off its 2019-2020 season on a good note with Tsetan’s win at VVMM and Jigmet’s debut at SAG, there is something else they have their eyes on. According to Savio, both Jigmet and Tsetan tend to improve as the season progresses. Typically their final event of every season is the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon held in February. At its last edition (February 2019), both Jigmet and Tsetan had touched 3:01 hours in the full marathon. That is the closest they have come so far to the three hour-mark. “ I am hoping that they get to three hours or below this season,’’ Savio said.

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