It wasn’t Eliud Kipchoge’s best outing. But that didn’t stop Kenyan runners from dominating the elite category of the 2023 edition of the Boston Marathon.
Defending champion Evans Chebet won the men’s race while Hellen Obiri, both from Kenya, won the women’s race. World record holder and the race favourite, Kipchoge, started strong but fell back at the 20th mile and had to settle for sixth position.
Chebet won the men’s race in two hours five minutes and 54 seconds. Hellen Obiri covered the distance in 2:21:38. It was her first victory at a race that is part of the World Marathon Majors. She had made her debut in the marathon in 2022, at the New York City Marathon, where she finished sixth. The 2023 Boston Marathon was only her second such event.
“ I live for the moments where I get to challenge the Limits. It’s never guaranteed, it’s never easy. Today was a tough day for me. I pushed myself as hard as I could but sometimes, we must accept that today wasn’t the day to push the barrier to a greater height,” Kipchoge tweeted the day after the event. He holds the world record in the marathon with a timing of 2:01:09.
Over 30,000 runners participated in this year’s Boston Marathon, held on April 17, 2023.
Less than a week later on April 23, 2023, the year’s edition of the London Marathon was held. The World Marathon Major saw some dramatic performances by top athletes.
Renowned middle-distance runner, Sifan Hassan, posted a stunning victory in the women’s race in her first ever marathon despite suffering an injury in the early miles. She finished in 2:18:34. The top three women runners were bunched together till the final 150 meters or so, which was when Hassan accelerated to finish first in her debut marathon. The strong finish was classic Hassan.
Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya won the men’s race at the London Marathon in 2:01:25, setting a new course record and coming very close to Kipchoge’s world record. In 2022, at the Valencia Marathon, he had marked the fastest debut in a marathon becoming the third man in history to break two hours and two minutes.
The Abbott World Marathon Major circuit entails running six marathons – Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, Berlin Marathon, London Marathon and Tokyo Marathon.
We spoke to a few Indian runners who participated in these two World Marathon Majors – the 2023 Boston Marathon and London Marathon.
Training for London Marathon, B J Vikram, a Bengaluru-based runner, was mindful of stepping up his mileage in the run up to the marathon. “I build my mileage gradually combining it with strength training,” he said, aware of the fact that increasing mileage suddenly often leads to injury. He is not new to sports. Vikram is a skater and has represented India in many championships.
Vikram commenced long-distance running about 10 years ago. He heard about Boston qualification from co-runners and obtained details about it. He qualified for Boston Marathon in 2019 but was able to run it in 2022 as the intervening years were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and running events around the world were either cancelled or postponed or limited to elite runners.
He started his World Marathon Major journey with Boston Marathon and went on to do Berlin Marathon with a sub-three-hour finish in 2022.
“ Five weeks before London Marathon, I did a few long, fast runs. I also did time-based runs instead of mileage-based runs,” he said.
Weather is always an issue in international marathons. To cope with cold weather, Vikram resorted to taking ice baths. These also help with quick recovery after hard training runs. Vikram finished London Marathon in 2:57:28.
Bengaluru-based runner Karthik Anand completed the six-star World Marathon Major circuit way back in 2019.
He was repeating Boston Marathon to help his wife Deepti to complete the World Marathon Major circuit. She was on her fourth race in the World Marathon series at the 2023 Boston Marathon.
“ My training for Boston Marathon was quite good. I was clocking on an average 100 km every week during the four-month training period. I interspersed my training with long runs, tempo runs and intervals,” he said adding that he mainly followed a training schedule curated by his coach K.C. Kothandapani, who also ran the 2023 edition of the race.
Karthik’s run went off quite well until the 34th kilometre when he began to suffer hamstring cramps. “ For about 400 meters I had to walk before I could resume jogging,” he said. Karthik, usually a sub-three-hour finisher, completed the race in 3:04:32.
For Subhojit Roy of Pune, the 2023 outing at Boston Marathon was his third time at the iconic marathon. “ I am not focused on the World Marathon Majors. If I get to complete the World Marathon Majors, it’s great,” he said.
In December 2022, Subhojit ran Valencia Marathon in 3:09:53. On February 26, 2023, he ran the New Delhi Marathon and secured a personal record of 3:06:47.
“ I took a week off after New Delhi Marathon and that left me with just six weeks of training for Boston Marathon,” he said. Subhojit was experiencing a left hip ache, which often surfaced after training runs. “ I was in a dilemma. If I train hard, I may risk worsening the injury,” he said. On the other hand, he couldn’t land at the start line of Boston Marathon without adequate training.
For Subhojit, the experience was worth it. “ This time around I handled the hills much better,” he said. Subhojit finished in 3:13:37, his best timing in his three outings at the Boston Marathon so far.
“ It was cold and damp. It was drizzling throughout and at the 28 km mark it poured quite heavily but I enjoyed the weather. My hip injury started to act up at around the 35th km. Nevertheless, I finished strong,” he said.
Subhojit trains under Nihal Ahamad Baig.
Vandana Arora was the fastest women runner from among Indians at the 2023 edition of Boston Marathon. For the Bengaluru-based recreational runner, the 2023 Boston Marathon was her third marathon in this calendar year. She ran the Tata Mumbai Marathon in January this year just after recovering from COVID-19 infection in December 2022.
But a month later at the 2023 New Delhi Marathon, she secured a personal record, covering the distance in 3:24:28.
The 42-year-old recreational runner started her six-star World Marathon Major journey four years ago with the New York City Marathon.
Training under Bengaluru-based Coach Ashok Nath, she was clocking a weekly mileage of 110-115 km, sometimes running twice a day, in the run-up to the New Delhi Marathon. Thereafter, her weekly mileage was lowered. “Ash’s (Ashok Nath) training is uniquely crafted for the various segments of the Boston Marathon course. I did some of my runs at 11 AM because I was scheduled to run around that time at Boston,” Vandana said.
The second part of the training, according to her, was brain training. “ Ash told me that one is often tempted to run fast at the start of the race as the course is downwards. He asked me to restrict my pace for the first 10 kilometres,” Vandana said. She ran as per his plan and completed with a 4-minute improvement in her personal timing. She finished the marathon in 3:20:54.
Bengaluru-based Deepa Nayak did this year’s Boston Marathon and London Marathon, back-to-back. “Normally, I wouldn’t advise runners to do back-to-back marathons. But I decided to take on this challenge personally,” Deepa said. She is a personal trainer and coach at Asics Running Club and Runners 360.
Her interest in running commenced in 2011 when she took up jogging for health reasons. In a couple of years, the interest deepened and she joined training groups. She got serious about running and after having joined Reebok Running Squad in 2015, she decided to take up the ACE certification course.
She heard about Boston qualification even before she heard about Boston Marathon. “I then learnt about the World Marathon Majors. At the 2020 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon, I qualified for Boston Marathon,” she said. She registered for the 2020 Berlin Marathon but the race was not held because of COVID-19 pandemic. She did Berlin Marathon in 2022.
Having missed registering for the 2022 Boston Marathon 2022, Deepa had to get a Boston qualifying time afresh to register for the 2023 edition. She ran the 2022 Jaipur Marathon and qualified for Boston with a finish of 3:22:49.
Post Berlin Marathon, Deepa took a break before she started training for Boston Marathon and London Marathon. “I had good training for a month in November 2022,” she said. In December, Deepa lost her father to cardiac arrest. “I came back from my hometown in Siddapur but was emotionally drained to do any training,” she said. She ran the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon without any training. Her running continued to suffer in the weeks after TMM. But she focused on strength training and nutrition. A week before she was to leave for Boston, Deepa fell ill. On the day, she was to take her flight out, her friend was admitted to hospital with cardiac issues. “Are these signs that I should not do Boston Marathon? I wondered,” she said.
Finally, she found herself at the start line of Boston Marathon but with very little mileage training.
“At Boston, the first 34 km went off very well but the last eight km was tough because of rain and cold weather,” she said. She finished the run in 3:22:40.
“I started to focus on London Marathon only after I finished Boston. My plan was to give it my best shot but if I fail, I wouldn’t fault myself,” Deepa said. She finished the marathon in 3:23:21. “I was quite surprised with my timings at Boston and London.
Having done three marathons in 2023, Deepa plans to do shorter distance races this year. “I am in the process of completing my nutrition certification. I also want to focus on coaching,” she said.
The 2023 Boston Marathon was Gitanjali Lenka’s first World Marathon Major. The Thane-based runner has been a podium finisher at events in India. She was the fastest runner among Indian women at the 2022 Comrades Marathon.
Gitanjali had two months training for Boston Marathon, despite losing a few days to a viral infection.
“The weather was a challenging factor. On Monday morning (day of the race), it started raining. It was very cold. My hands were frozen and I found it difficult to take the gels out. The route was also quite challenging. The route from 24th km to 34th km was very tough. But crowd support and cheering were excellent and kept the runners going,” she said.
Gitanjali finished the marathon in a personal best timing of 3:36:25.
She is now headed to her second World Marathon Major – Berlin in September 2023. She has already commenced training for the marathon. She trains under Ashok Nath.
The 2023 London Marathon was Ranjini Gupta’s fifth World Marathon Major. The Berlin Marathon was her first marathon in the six-marathon circuit, followed by Chicago Marathon in 2017, Tokyo Marathon in 2018 and New York City Marathon in 2019.
Ranjini’s training for London Marathon was quite good. In November 2022, she ran the half marathon at the Ahmedabad Marathon and finished it in 1:45:28. “My timing gave me confidence. I commenced my training for London Marathon in December. I had good months of training up to March and I was able to do speed workouts and long runs of 30 km and 32 km,” she said.
At London Marathon, weather was an issue. “ The rain started just when our race was starting. My shoes were heavy as they were wet. Also, roads along the course were narrow. But I was able to hold on to a 5:14-5:15 per kilometre pace,” Ranjini said. She finished the marathon in 3:41:58. “ I went to London with a lot of apprehensions,” she said. Though not close to her personal best (3:28), she was happy with her finish.
“ I will plan my marathon training after my registration for the 2024 Boston Marathon goes through,” she said. Boston will be the last of her six World Marathon Majors.
Sunmbul Rahman did not have any target for the 2023 London Marathon as she was fasting for the holy month of Ramzan. Yet, she surprised herself with a personal record of 3:48:30.
The Kolkata-based runner was not into sports during her school days at La Martiniere. She went through the motions of life and many years later faced a personal tragedy when she lost her husband to cancer. With two small children and restaurant that wasn’t doing too well, Sunmbul found her life spinning out of control. Sometime in 2011, she decided to join a gym for physical fitness. Coincidentally, the gym was organizing a 5 km walk. “ I took part in the walk and I surprised myself with a win,” Sunmbul said. That walk and the podium finish were triggers that propelled her into running. Soon, she found herself running the marathon. “ I also got into mountain climbing and have done four 6000 meter-plus peaks,” she said.
London Marathon was her second World Marathon Major, the first one being Chicago in October 2022. “ London Marathon for me, was an experience. I was fasting for Ramzan until two days before race day. It was a tough run with pouring rain, cold weather and huge crowds all along the course. Because I had to jostle through the crowds, I actually ended up doing 43.3 km,” she said. Her timing has helped her to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
“ For now, I have put a pause on my mountaineering activity. I want to finish the World Marathon Majors first,” Sunmbul said. Given interest in mountaineering, she may also look at ultra running, especially on trails.
Asha Singh and Bajrang Singh, the runner couple from Lucknow, have been running varied distances, including ultra-running events. Asha also represented India in IAU 24-hour Asia and Oceania Championships held at Bengaluru in July 2022.
The husband-wife couple trained well for Boston Marathon. They landed in the city a few days ahead of the event. “ On Sunday, a day before the marathon, we checked out the route. Monday morning was cold, rainy and windy. We had to put on layers,” Bajrang Singh said. By the time they walked to the start line their shoes got drenched in the rain.
“ When we started our run, the course was very crowded and we had to juggle our way through the crowds. Boston Marathon course is a series of rolling hills. We wanted to run together but Asha had a hamstring problem and she had to slow down her pace,” Bajrang said.
After the 25th kilometre, Bajrang Singh decided to go ahead. “ I ran really fast in the last mile of the race,” he said. Bajrang Singh finished in 3:51:40 and Asha in 4:04:19. “ We are quite happy with our performance here,” he said. They are scheduled to run the 80 km Tuffman Shimla Ultra at Mashobra on June 24, 2023.
“ We plan to do the Berlin Marathon this year if we manage to get into it. If not, we may do the 72 km Khardung La Challenge in Ladakh,” Asha said. Currently in the U.S., they are due to come back to India in June. “ We are right now at Charlotte in North Carolina. The undulating terrain helps us to train for the Mashobra event,” he said.
Pune-based Neelam Vaid has been running seriously since 2013. An ENT surgeon, Neelam has been climbing mountains in the Himalaya over the past few years. Having done her first marathon in 2014, she decided to go ahead and try the World Marathon Majors.
Training for the 2023 London Marathon was tough for Neelam. “ The heat and pollution in Aundh, where I stay, was quite high making long runs quite a challenge,” she said. Her training was inadequate. “ I missed runs and I often never reached my target pace,” she said. She trains under Coach Atul Godbole.
But her run at London Marathon was “amazing”. “ Words can’t describe the experience of running the London Marathon. Weather was bad. It was pouring at the start. My shoes were wet and my hands froze. But the crowd support carries you through from the first kilometre to the last,” she said.
London Marathon, according to Neelam, has the best crowd support among the World Marathon Majors that she has competed in – Boston Marathon and Berlin Marathon (both in 2022). “ Parts of the course are narrow and get crowded but the vibe from runners and crowds keeps one going,” she said. Neelam finished the marathon in 3:58:20, a new personal best and within the Boston Marathon qualifying time.
“ This was a special run for me. My brother Tarun Gulati also ran the marathon. Together, we raised 6000 pounds for Alzheimer’s Research UK, against the target of 5000 pounds,” she said.
After a short break, she plans to resume training for the 2023 Chicago Marathon, due in October this year.
Ashish Agarwal started running just about four years ago. The Nagpur-based tax lawyer led a largely undisciplined life leading to obesity. “ Some of my friends were into running. They asked me to start running. In August 2018, I enrolled for a 3 km run,” he said. In 2019, he ran a half marathon at the Pondicherry Marathon. The following year at Tata Mumbai Marathon, he did the full marathon.
The COVID-19 lockdown came as a boon as he could run in the morning and cycle in the evening. With running events resuming in 2022, Ashish was able to run the Jaipur Marathon. The benefits of working out during the lockdown period paid off as he was able to get a personal best timing of 3:38:25 at this marathon. In September 2022, he was able to do the Berlin Marathon.
He signed up for the 2023 London Marathon but three months prior to the event he met with an accident. “ Window shutters fell on my hands and I was required to go in for surgery. I stood at the start line of London Marathon without any practice,” Ashish, 41, said.
He finished the marathon in 4:01:47. “ This run was entirely a mental game. It turned out to be a good run. It was raining throughout. All along the route there were so many volunteers cheering,” he said. Qualifying for Boston is certainly on the cards, he said.
Way back in 2006 when India was just beginning its journey into recreational runner, Dr Kaustabh Radkar ran the New York City Marathon. In 2010, he once again ran the same marathon. A former national level swimmer, Kaustabh had, in the meanwhile, started his journey in the Ironman triathlon.
Even as he continued his foray into triathlon and running events, he decided to persist with his participation in the World Marathon Major circuit. After a long gap he ran the Berlin Marathon in 2017. Two years later, he ran the Chicago Marathon. When events resumed post-pandemic in 2022, he was able to do the London Marathon. Early March 2023, he did Tokyo Marathon.
“ At Boston, I just wanted to soak in the experience. It was raining and very cold but the crowds were out in full support,” Kaustabh said. He was due to do Texas Ironman five days later. “ My goal was to finish Boston Marathon comfortably as I had to do Ironman in less than a week,” he said. The Texas Ironman was his 34th Ironman triathlon.
With his run at the 2023 Boston Marathon, he earned his six-star World Marathon Major medal. By the end of that week, he had also finished his 34th Ironman.
Pune-based Mukesh Yeole commenced his six-star World Marathon Majors in 2017 when he ran the Berlin Marathon. A real estate developer, Mukesh started running in 2014 with a 10 km run.
Following the Berlin Marathon, he participated in the New York City Marathon in 2018. In 2019, he completed Tokyo Marathon and Chicago Marathon. In 2022, he did London Marathon.
At the 2023 edition of Boston Marathon Mukesh got his six-star World Marathon medal. The trains with Radstrong Coaching. Mukesh said that he enjoyed the Boston Marathon. “ It was a very nice environment in Boston, some rain, some wind. Support was very good,” Mukesh said. He completed the Boston Marathon in 4:16:31.
Having completed with the six World Marathon Majors, Mukesh now aims to do one international marathon every year.
A triathlete, Mukesh has enrolled for Tallinn 70.3 Ironman but is likely to skip it. “ I won’t be participating in this Ironman because of some urgent work,” he said.
The 2023 Boston Marathon was Deepti Karthik’s fourth World Marathon Major. In 2019, she had completed three World Marathon Majors – London Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon.
Following the years lost to the pandemic, Deepti was hoping to resume her running but an injury put paid to her plans. She enrolled for the 2023 Tata Mumbai Marathon and New Delhi Marathon 2023 but decided not to do these as she did not want to jeopardize the recovery. “ When I resumed my training, I had to start afresh but was able to do long runs,” she said.
Travelling to Boston one niggling worry remained, that of weather. Boston is known for fluctuations in weather. The 2018 Boston Marathon had challenging weather with temperatures dipping to the coldest in 30 years combined with rain and heavy winds. That year, Deepti’s husband Karthik Anand had participated in Boston Marathon.
“ We kept track of the weather. When we landed in Boston it was very hot. We did a short run. But by Saturday it cooled down and by night it started drizzling. We had registered for a 5 km-run held on Saturday. It went off well,” she said.
On the morning of race day, the drizzle continued. “ While I waited in the holding area, at around 11 AM, the rain ceased briefly and the sun came out. But along the course at around 18 to 25 km it started raining again. The route was challenging and I had to stick to a slow pace,” she said. Deepti finished the run in 4:30:55.
She is due to run the Berlin Marathon in September this year.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai)