“ IT IS A FINE LINE THAT SEPARATES LONELINESS FROM SOLITUDE’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Two Indians, who spent months at sea, share their insight on managing isolation. Captain Dilip Donde (Retd) recalled vignettes from his 2009-2010 voyage, circumnavigating the planet in a sailboat, solo and unassisted. Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi spoke of how she and her crew tackled isolation during their 2017-2018 circumnavigation. Both voyages were part of the Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project.

From midnight March 24, 2020, India was placed in a 21 day-lock down to check the transmission of COVID-19, the disease that first surfaced in China in late 2019 and within a few months graduated to be a global pandemic.

The lock down meant families, couples and those living alone confined to their houses. Isolation can be a strange experience. Our houses are homes because that is where we return to for secure rest and belonging after being out on work. It is a different sensation when that blend of in and out is replaced by a state of being in – housebound – permanently. Variety, often described as the spice of life, disappears in its familiar form and begs reinterpretation. The hours are felt as minutes and seconds; they sit heavy on your shoulders. Confined to limited space, your dwelling rises to meet you in myriad small details, all previously ignored because you weren’t there for long, like now. If you are staying alone, the solitary existence may corrode to loneliness. How do you cope with this?

Captain Dilip Donde (Retd) was quick to respond to the subject. “ It isn’t much different on a boat,’’ he said. In 2010, he had become the first Indian to complete a solo unassisted circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat, the INSV Mhadei. Seventy per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans and seas. It is a vast blue, big enough to isolate boats even when they are sailing under no strictures like completing a solo, unassisted circumnavigation in accordance with the rule books of the sport. Dilip who was serving in the Indian Navy then, didn’t have any prior expertise in meditation. Nor did he court such techniques on the boat to keep his act together.

What kept him engaged was the simple fact that when you are solo sailor afloat in a vessel at sea, ensuring that the vessel is in good condition and you are in good shape is pivotal to keeping the voyage alive. The sea is a dynamic, unforgiving medium, its dynamism ranging from its moods to its long term impact on the vessel you are in. You take care of the boat. The boat takes care of you. Such connection with the vessel in which you are afloat is viscerally felt at sea, even as the parameters of solo unassisted sailing allow you no human alongside for company.

“ There are plenty of things to do on a boat. There are repairs, maintenance work – they keep you fairly busy. You also need to rest adequately,’’ Dilip said. It is an observation many of us who have embraced routines under lock down – like cleaning the vessel we live in; our house – would easily identify with. Once the boat related-tasks were taken care of, Dilip read a book, watched a movie or cooked himself a nice meal. “ Basically, you slow down your life, slow down the pace of everything you do,’’ he said.

Contacted in early April, Dilip was home in Goa, locked down like the rest of India. He felt that there was similarity between the lock down experience ashore and what he had experienced at sea on his long voyages. Admittedly, there is one major difference. During a solo voyage on the vast blue, even if sailor is alone on his boat, the boat is moving. Your house on the other hand, is a very rooted entity that stays still in one place. You see the same views. That isn’t the case at sea, which is a convergent ambience of many natural elements in their free form. “ Every sunrise and sunset is different. Every day is different,’’ Dilip said. Still the fact remains that a voyage is a mix of diverse experiences and on those days of nothing but wide blue featureless sea, it is how you approach the stillness that matters.

Being alone on a boat does not have to automatically mean loneliness. “ It is a fine line that separates loneliness from solitude,’’ Dilip said. Loneliness comes with a sense of being mentally dragged down. Solitude on the other hand is different; it has the ring of something positive, something that you can work with. The key to coping with isolation, Dilip said, is changing that inevitable loneliness to solitude. Care for boat and care for self eventually become meaningful acts in solitude. At his home in Goa, Dilip has his mother for company during the lock down. “ On the boat, I was alone. I used to talk to the boat,’’ he said, adding, “ it is all in you.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Dilip’s voyage was part of the Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project. It was conceived by the late Vice Admiral Manohar Awati, an inspiring naval officer who retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command. The solo unassisted circumnavigation, which was Sagar Parikrama’s first major achievement, was followed by a solo unassisted non-stop circumnavigation by Commander Abhilash Tomy; that voyage spanned November 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013. In February 2017, the INSV Mhadei was joined by a sister vessel, INSV Tarini. Over September 10, 2017 to May 21, 2018, an all-woman crew from the Indian Navy successfully completed a circumnavigation on the Tarini. The crew was led by Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi. In terms of predicament, there is much that is similar between a crew out on circumnavigation and a family enduring isolation. Unlike journeying solo, one of the challenges here is handling multiple human beings in the confines of limited space. Since people react differently, it was very important for the crew to know each other, something their months of preparation and time spent working together on training voyages, gradually instilled.

“ Over time, we transformed to being more receptive of each other. Instead of talking more, you began to listen more. Eventually, we didn’t have to speak much to be understood,’’ Vartika said. According to her, an important aspect in such situation of crew aboard sailboat on voyage of several months, is remembering to honor each other’s need for personal space. It checks the ambiance from becoming too overbearing on self. As with solo sailing, routines addressing the boat’s need for repair and maintenance, count here too. That is unavoidable on a boat. “ It is extremely important to set a routine. If it isn’t there, you lose your sense of time. On a boat there are plenty of tasks and standard drills to do,’’ she said. At any given point in time, there has to be somebody keeping an eye on the boat and its surroundings. The crew takes turns to be on watch. Those not on watch, enjoy personal time. “ With crew around, the situation is different from solo endeavors in that we have to see each other for long and we have nowhere else to go. But remember – they are also the persons who will come to your assistance when you are in need of help,’’ Vartika said. She and her crew picked up the required skills during their training, which exposed them to potential situations and taught them suitable solutions. “ Any meditation and such – that was personal. Besides, what could be a better medium to meditate in than living amidst and listening to the ever changing sounds of the sea to soothe us mentally and emotionally,’’ she said.

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

SEBASTIAN COE: CURRENT SITUATION CAN BE AN OPPORTUNITY TO REIMAGINE SPORT

Sebastian Coe, President, World Athletics (this photo was downloaded from the World Athletics [then IAAF] website in February 2019. It is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

“ We should work with governments to re-establish sport in schools, rebuild club structures, incentivise people to exercise and get fit. This should and could be the new normal.’’

Sebastian Coe, President, World Athletics, has said that the predicament the world currently finds itself in can be an opportunity to look at sports differently.

In an open letter to the athletics community, dated March 27, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, Coe said, “ in sport we have a unique opportunity not to tip toe around things and tweak at the edges. We have the chance to think bigger, to rip up the blueprints and banish the ` that’s the way we’ve always done it’ mentality.’’ He felt that while the current priority is to tackle the pandemic, stay healthy and stay at home, in the long run, social distancing may actually bring the world closer as a community and sport can be right at its center.

“ The situation the world finds itself in today is a huge wake up call for all of us – as human beings, as businesses and as sport. We should capitalise on this and work out new ways of delivering events, create and plan new events that embrace the many as well as the few. We can use this time to innovate and extend our sport across the year. Rather than just focusing on one-day meetings and one-day road races at one end of the spectrum and 10-day extravaganzas at the other end, we should look at weekend festivals of running, jumping and throwing that take advantage of the Southern and Northern Hemisphere seasons. We should work with governments to re-establish sport in schools, rebuild club structures, incentivise people to exercise and get fit (I rather fancy more people are exercising this week – doing 15-minute exercise routines in their homes or going out for a daily walk – than they have probably done in the last month). This should and could be the new normal. We don’t have to do things the same way,’’ Coe said.

According to him the recent announcement by the Japanese Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) postponing the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was what athletes wanted. “ The focus of us all must be on the health and well being of ourselves, our families and our communities. And hard as this is for us in sport to say, sometimes sport needs to take a back seat,’’ Coe said.

The new dates for the Tokyo Olympics haven’t been announced yet. Once that is available, “ we will look at what, if any, impact that decision has on our World Athletics Championships Oregon 21,’’ he said. World Athletics, Coe noted, is currently focused on four priorities. First, it would like to get athletes back into competition as soon as possible, once it is safe to do so. “ We will continue to do whatever we can to preserve and create an outdoor season of one-day meetings in 2020, starting and ending later than usual, so athletes, when they are able and it is safe, will have access to competitions in every region. Diamond League events have been postponed up until June at this stage, as have Continental Tour Gold meetings, but we are mindful that our athletes need to compete at some point this year so they can benchmark their performances and adjust their training accordingly for an Olympic Games in 2021,’’ he said in the letter.

Second, World Athletics plans to expedite it’s review of the Olympic qualification process “ and release any changes to the process as soon as possible so athletes know where they stand. Last week all sports agreed to the IOC’s proposal that all athletes currently qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will remain qualified for next year’s event. In athletics the primary qualification avenue is by meeting the entry standards set out in March 2019. Once those places are allocated, the remaining athletes are drawn from the World Ranking list. As of today, all athletes who have met the entry standards for their event will remain qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. This is approximately 50% of the places. What is important now is that we develop a clear and fair process for the remaining athletes to qualify, given many events have been postponed. We will work with our Athletes’ Commission, our Council and the IOC to do this. We are also looking at how we can preserve an outdoor competition season this year with a series of one-day meetings on each continent that may begin as late as August and run to early October, so our athletes can get back in to competition as quickly as possible when it is safe to do so,’’ he said.

Third, there is the need to reorganize the global calendar of events, not just for the next two years which will see some major disruptions, but for the long term. We are committed to working with all sports to sort out the sporting calendar in 2021 and 2022 and this will take some time and compromises all round. We started a review of our own sport’s global calendar in February, bringing together a team from different aspects of our sport and from different parts of the world to review the range of events that happen every year on a national, regional and global level, ‘’ Coe said. According to him, World Athletics is looking to expand its one-day meetings and deliver high quality events in all parts of the world so that athletes do not have to travel across the world to compete and earn a living but can do so on their own continents and in their own countries.

Fourth, World Athletics has teams that are planning a new kids athletics programme; new events and competition formats, new partnerships to help get the world moving, new collaborations around sustainability, air quality and health and the use of new technology to highlight the talents of athletes and bring it home to millions of fans around the world.

The priority for all right now is to contain the pandemic, stay healthy and stay home. “ But where we can continue to drive our sport forward, we must,’’ Coe said, adding, “ the world will not be the same after this pandemic. It will be different and that could be a good thing. Going back to core human values, back to basics of what is important, redefining our purpose, is something we can all do on a human, business and sporting scale. We have heard a lot in the past week from governments, health care professionals, Prime Ministers and Presidents about social distancing and we are all practising it. But as I said at the beginning, although we may be separated physically during this period, my instinct is that ultimately this will draw us closer together, not further apart.’’

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

“ THE IMMUNE SYSTEM IS VERY RESPONSIVE TO EXERCISE’’

Dr Pravin Gaikwad (this photo was downloaded from the doctor’s Facebook page)

Dr Pravin Gaikwad is a well-known pediatrician in Navi Mumbai. He and his wife Arati, also a doctor, have been running a clinic in the Navi Mumbai suburb of Nerul for the past several years. The two are longstanding distance runners and triathletes. They have been frequent podium finishers in their age category at various events. In addition to being a doctor, Pravin heads coaching and mentoring at Lifepacers, a Navi Mumbai-based fitness group composed mostly of runners. On March 6, 2020, this blog spoke to Pravin on the importance of exercise and balanced lifestyle in maintaining good health, central to which is a strong immune system.

Is it possible to strengthen our immune system naturally? What should we do for that?

Very simply put, immunity is your defence against invading bacteria and toxins. It is the system involved in defending your body. There is still much to be known in this regard. The main organs involved include thymus, spleen, liver, lymph nodes, bone marrow; cells include T-cells, B-cells, some cytokine proteins, phygocytes – they are like scavenger cells, then those that are anti-inflammatory in function – there are so many things involved. Even the bacteria in the gut – microbiota – they help in immunity to a great extent. So, from a bird’s eye view, a lot of things are involved.

In Marathi, there is a saying: sainya pothavar chalta; it means an army runs on food. Similarly, the easiest way to strengthen immunity is nutritious food, naturally cooked and visually having a range of colors. There are of course more detailed technical specifications but the typical balanced diet we were all taught in school – in India we are fortunate that our ancestors have been following it for ages – if you follow that, the immune system will be good. Along with good nutrition, sleep is an important thing. If you compromise on sleep, you risk compromising your immunity due to factors like hormonal imbalance; so sleep and rest are vital. Third, physical activity is important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Stress is capable of compromising immunity and therefore ability to withstand stress – which physical activity can contribute to – helps strengthen immunity. Among things to avoid: smoking definitely impacts immunity. Alcohol beyond a limit also has the same effect. These habits have to be cut. Smoking is a big no; alcohol only in moderation if somebody wishes to have it. To my mind, these would be the natural ways of maintaining a healthy immune system – nutritious food, adequate rest and sleep, developing ways to withstand stress and avoiding bad habits.

Can you explain how regular exercise helps to fortify the immune system?

The immune system is very responsive to exercise.

The initial perception was that exercise causes problems in immunity. That view was based on studies of endurance athletes; it was found that their immunity can be a bit low. Later, it was found that immunity was better in these people while performing acute short term exercises. Research and data showed that generally less than 90 minutes of endurance activity a day, is definitely helpful. More than 90 minutes could also be useful but there are other angles to consider. Next would be the number of days. There is no mention that you should do this all days of a week. If you refer the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, what they say is: 150 minutes in a week plus two strength training sessions. That last recommendation – the strength training sessions – is something most of us neglect. My view of this is: the 150 minutes typically ends up as moderate physical activity because it will include warm-up and cool down. So the real overall time for exercise will exceed 150 minutes per week, I feel. You cannot increase your heart rate to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate just like that. It has to be gradual. Otherwise there will be repercussions of not warming up properly. So to sum up, regular physical activity genuinely helps in strengthening immunity. It serves as adjuvant (a substance that strengthens the body’s immune response) to strengthening the immune system.

When there is earlier mentioned physical activity of less than 90 minutes the count of anti-inflammatory proteins, cytokines, neutrophils, phygocytes, NK (natural killer) cells, cytotoxic T-cells, immature B-cells – all this goes up. After a certain time, it comes back to normal. But what is important is that a summation effect occurs (summation effect in medicine is described as the process by which a sequence of stimuli that are individually inadequate to produce a response are cumulatively able to induce a nerve impulse). Over a period of time, immunity is found to be better.

The basic concept of any disease is inflammation. Acute inflammation is useful to the body; chronic inflammation is not. Inflammation can be caused by three things. First is trauma, second is infection and third is allergy. Chronic inflammation is caused by stress. Acute inflammation is caused by acute exercise; that is beneficial, over a period of time it develop the ability of the body to withstand the stresses properly. The body becomes stronger. Ultimately, that is immunity. Then, there are different patho-physiologies. One is that thanks to the summation effect, the immune systems itself becomes more active and capable of adapting better. Another thing to mention here is the microbiota. One third of these beneficial bacteria are the same in you and me. Two thirds is different. Initially it was learnt that the more diverse the bacterial flora, the better is our immunity. Then it was found that athletes have more diverse bacterial flora. One reason for this is that once you are into regular physical activity you tend to address your nutrition intake better. Besides diverse bacterial flora, good diet also leads to optimum vitamin levels.

One of the effects of regular exercise is that it helps reduce instances of obesity. In obesity, the fat cells can contribute to chronic inflammation and chronic inflammation can compromise immunity. Another angle is that of ageing; with age, immunity reduces. The process is called immunosenescence. When you age, the immune system gets progressively dysregulated. It raises susceptibility to various diseases. When there is regular exercise, there is delayed immunosenescence through improved regulation of the immune system. There is something called telomeres in our chromosomes. With ageing its length reduces. However in the case of those with regular physical activity, their telomere length has a better chance of staying normal. That is part of the anti-ageing effects of regular physical activity.

If you exercise or you run – especially run – everything else falls into place. You automatically give up smoking; limit your alcohol intake, take care of your nutrition, sleep and body composition. Just being into fitness, puts the other components into place. Having a goal catalyzes it.

Dr Pravin Gaikwad (photo: courtesy Pravin)

You mentioned about the WHO prescribed norms for exercise. You have rich personal experience as swimmer, runner and triathlete. What would you say is the apt quantity and quality of exercise for an average individual?

I would definitely insist on strength training sessions; at least twice a week. As we age our growth hormone levels decline. Testosterone level declines. Your muscle mass is going to decline. The fat mass will increase. Ultimately, the muscle is a furnace. This means that with the same diet, the same exercise – aerobic without strengthening – you still gain weight. When you strengthen your muscles, not only do you get the popularly known advantages like reduced chances of injury, improved balance and improved bone density; you also slow down the growth hormone decline. Talking of growth hormone, sleep and growth hormone is related. When you have good sleep, there is good growth hormone secretion. All this gives you that anti-ageing effect, more energy and combined with better muscle mass, the potential for a higher level of activity. So do strength training at least two days a week. It should be for the whole body. It can’t be that you are a runner and therefore you strengthen only your legs. Aerobic physical activity can be anything – running, swimming, cycling. I think, 30-40 minutes of such activity – as WHO says, moderate physical activity – with warm-up and cool down and with heart rate rising to 80-85 per cent of maximum heart rate, is good enough.

Now, there are those who wish to challenge themselves. Let’s take the marathon as example. One study showed there was 2-18 per cent increase in sickness level – particularly respiratory tract infections – was found in marathon runners two months before a race and 15 days after a race. We are subjecting ourselves to multiple stresses during those months leading to a race. After running a marathon, there are a lot of chronic inflammatory changes which occur in the body. In my own case, after a marathon I usually do HSCRP (Highly Sensitive C-Reactive Protein) test. The figures are usually high. Then it settles down. I generally run only one full marathon a year. I rarely run half marathons but I do quite a few 10-kilometer runs. It is those speed runs that are more important from a health point of view. Fast for one minute, then slow for one minute – like that some 6-8 times in one particular run, that will be enough exercise. Running for two hours, three hours – that is not really required; it can cause chronic inflammation. Studies show that when you start exercising, in the initial stage, you are contributing to improving your immunity. As you elevate exercise, the risk increases. In heavy exercise, the risk can go up by two to six-folds.

How do you decide severity of exercise? If you take any of the amateur athletes who are pushing themselves, how can they know if they are exercising beyond acceptable limit or not?

Let us talk of the elite athletes. They do severe exercise. But their bodies have adapted gradually to that level of exercise. This is what amateur runners often miss. Good coaches don’t increase mileage by more than 10-20 per cent a week. Every fourth week, you try to incorporate a cutback-week. Follow these routine things. Let me give you the example of Comrades Marathon. I did Comrades in 2018; myself and my wife, Arati. We did not do Comrades back-to-back. I might do it once more when I turn 60. Given Comrades entails lengthy training of 4-5 months, if you are doing it regularly, you may be erring on the side of greater inflammation. Overtraining may also not give you enough sleep. So to return to your question of what qualifies to be severe: if you are not getting up fresh, if you are not sleeping well, if you don’t have enough energy for the day, if your appetite is less, if you are falling ill, if your immunity is declining – those are all signals from the body telling you to cut down. A new runner, for three years at least, he should not run a full marathon. Also remember – running is a muscle-shortening exercise. With age and with constant running – it’s going to affect your speed. Some of the elite runners in the later part of their life, become triathletes. Swimming has the ability to restore muscles to their original length. Plus it involves a different muscle fiber; it also improves breathing.

I think, accepting your declining pace helps you sustain the act of running and enjoy it for more years. Throw off your watches and measuring devices and run. Go with the flow. Except when training for a race, I don’t resort to these gadgets. The longevity of physical activity and fitness is more important than results delivered by great pace. Unfortunately we are fascinated by that pace.

You spoke of the importance of mixing fast and slow running for meaningful work out. There are many people who prefer not to run and are instead into walking. Can they too leverage this blend?

It can be done. In terms of evolution, we are born to run. Once we get used to a certain level of activity, it is normal for the body to learn to use less calories to deliver the same outcome. You do a particular activity, you get some benefits. But later, you don’t. I have been running for years in Navi Mumbai. In that time I have seen many people walking religiously in the morning. But some of them are also gaining weight. That’s because their bodies have got adapted to the routine. They are no longer getting the benefit of walking. You can get the benefit by challenging yourself. There are simple things you can do. For example, you can change the time of your walk; sometimes walk in the morning, sometimes walk in the evening. That way, the body gets a bit shocked. Second, change the terrain. Go to the hills for a change; the body gets challenged in a different way. You can try brisk walking. People try aerobic walking too; you walk like you run. Normal walking burns 4-5 calories per minute. Aerobic walking will burn 8-10 calories per minute. You can introduce the Fartlek concept in walking. Or keep an app that collects data about your walking, if data is a source of motivation for you. Anything that can be measured can be improved upon. I feel somebody who can walk for 30 minutes should be able to run. And if you have been running regularly for three months, you can become a runner. The point is – whatever physical activity you are engaged in, you should challenge yourself a bit. Plus, don’t forget strength training. That helps you walk faster too.

What kind of effect does stress have on the immune system?

Stress impacts the immune system. Stress is of two types. There is the psychological type. Then there is the physico-chemical type which encompasses environmental stress, food, toxins we inhale etc. The body has a tenacious ability to adjust to the challenges in the environment. But if your immune system is compromised or you are under so much duress that the resultant stress is beyond your capacity to cope with, then it can manifest as disease. It can give rise to chronic infections, auto-immune diseases, inflammations and even cancer. I remember a study on anti-depressants used in the treatment of cancer. They don’t address the cancer per se; they address the stress factor. Beta blockers are medicines used to tackle the higher levels of hormones like adrenalin that can be triggered by stress. Prolonged chronic stress can result in more pro-inflammatory cytokines and health conditions thereof.

Dr Pravin Gaikwad (Photo: courtesy Pravin)

How important is rest and recovery in the scheme of things?

Seven to nine hours of sleep will maintain your growth hormones properly. Memory consolidation also happens during sleep. This is important for children. There was a time when school used to be from seven in the morning till twelve noon. You come home and sleep. That consolidates memory. Evening you play. Then you study, eat and sleep. You find something similar in elite runners. They train twice a day. For them, their sleep consolidates their training. Amateur runners, who hold down jobs and pursue their passion, are probably at a disadvantage here. If you can catch a nap some time in between, it helps. It should also be mentioned in this context that use of alcohol and excessive use of mobiles disturbs sleep pattern. If you want good performance, eventually it is about TNR – Training, Nutrition and Recovery. Recovery is where our muscles actually get trained. Then they perform better. On partially trained muscles if you exert, they will be prone to injury. Rest and recovery are the same things. It is very important. I can give you an instance from personal experience. My personal best in the marathon is three hours 38 minutes, which I got at the 2017 Mumbai Marathon. Some days before the event I developed pain in my left calf muscle. So I stopped everything. After 15 days of rest, a Thursday night, I ran around six kilometers to see how the leg held. On Sunday, I got my PB. That forced rest of 15 days helped. The body always gives you a signal of how it is feeling. You just have to listen to it. I also strongly believe in the seasonality of endurance activities. We were typically expected to peak in the winter months because that is when most of the events were held. But now there is an event every weekend. People participate. I feel we should not. Constant racing is not going to improve your performance. You have to give your body time to recover.

Herein, on the nutrition front, one study found that 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour for a marathon or any activity beyond 90 minutes, helps reduce the post-race inflammation. Polyphenols – found in fruits – also help similarly. Banana and good carbohydrate intake is thus good for your recovery.

There is the observation that you are good in-season depending on how well you trained off-season. What do you recommend for the off-season?

Mileage has to be less. I would put emphasis on agility, strength training, nutrition and making sure your weight does not increase too much. Don’t compromise on sleep. One hour of physical activity in this period is good enough.

In terms of the quality of running you do in the off-season: take it easy – would that be correct?

Take it easy. But then don’t run easy every time. Do simple things like – open up your strides for 20 seconds, recover for a minute and then open up again. Do that six to eight times. Cool down. Or you can do Fartlek with your friends around; that is enjoyable. Keep long runs fewer in number than when you are training for a race. Similarly reserve tempo runs for the time you are training towards a race.

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

2020 TOKYO OLYMPICS POSTPONED

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2021 World Athletics Championships may be rescheduled to accommodate new dates of Olympics. 2021 World Aquatics Championships too exploring similar options.

Please see update at the end of the article as well; new dates have been announced. 

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been “ rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021,’’ an official statement dated March 24, available on the website of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said.

According to the statement, the decision followed a conference call between Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan and Thomas Bach, President, IOC. They were joined by Mori Yoshiro, the President of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee; the Olympic Minister, Hashimoto Seiko; the Governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko; the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission, John Coates; IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper; and the IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, Christophe Dubi.

“ In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,’’ the statement said.

It was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Speculation about the 2020 Olympics – whether it will be held on schedule or postponed – had been in the air for a while. While the IOC maintained that the Games would be held on schedule with indication of rethink emanating only recently, some sports bodies and athletes clearly said that prevailing conditions were not ideal. Further, Australia and Canada announced that they will not be sending their squads to the Games if it was to take place over July 24-August 9 as scheduled earlier.

News reports on the postponement of the Games pointed out that the two major disciplines of swimming and athletics will be having their respective world championships in 2021. The 2021 World Aquatics Championships is expected to be held in Fukuoka, Japan from July 16 to August 1 while the 2021 World Athletics Championships is due in Eugene, Oregon, USA from August 6-15.

In a separate statement dated March 24, 2020, available on their website, World Athletics, while welcoming the decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, informed that they have been in talks with the organizers of the 2021 World Athletics Championships to reschedule the event if required.

“ World Athletics welcomes the decision of the IOC and the Japanese Government to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021. It is what athletes want and we believe this decision will give all athletes, technical officials and volunteers some respite and certainty in these unprecedented and uncertain times, ‘’ the statement said. It added that World Athletics will “ continue to do whatever it can to preserve and create an outdoor season of one-day meetings in 2020, starting and ending later than usual, so athletes, when they are able and it is safe to, will have access to competitions in every region. This will help them benchmark their performances and adjust their training accordingly for an Olympic Games in 2021. In light of this announcement, we will also expedite our current review of the Olympic qualification system, in cooperation with the IOC, and release any changes to the process as soon as possible so athletes know where they stand.

“ World Athletics stands ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date for the Olympic Games in 2021 and has already been in discussion with the Organizing Committee of the World Athletics Championships Oregon 21 regarding the possibility of moving the dates of this highly popular worldwide event. They have assured us that they will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates, including dates in 2022.’’

FINA, the international governing body for swimming, has also said it will explore flexibility regarding the dates of the 2021 World Aquatics Championships. In a statement dated March 24, available on FINA’s website, the organization said that following the joint announcement by the IOC and the organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, concerning the postponement of the Games to 2021, FINA will work closely with the host organizing committee of the 2021 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, the Japan Swimming Federation and Japanese public authorities, to “ determine flexibility around the dates of the competition, “ if necessary and in agreement with the IOC.”

Update: New dates have been announced for the 2020 Olympic Games, recently shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tokyo Olympic Games will now be held over July 23-August 8, 2021 and the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5, 2021. This is as per a statement dated March 30, 2020, available on the website of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

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

A PHASE OF UNCERTAINTY

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

In mid-February 2020, the organizers of the Tokyo Marathon announced that the event would be restricted to elite athletes. This followed the outbreak of COVID-19 and its spread to multiple nations including Japan. Some days later, news appeared of the 2020 Seoul Marathon being cancelled.

At a press briefing of March 11, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. At the time of writing, the number of cases was over 220,000 worldwide. Nearly 9000 people had died. Among precautionary measures recommended has been restricting mass participation events. Contributing their bit to contain the disease outbreak, organizers of major marathons started announcing cancellation or postponement of events.

In the second week of March, the organizers of the Boston Marathon announced postponement of the event to September 14. Soon afterwards, London Marathon made a similar announcement, postponing the race to early October. Both these World Marathon Majors are usually held in April. Other major cancellations included the 56-kilometer Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa, Athens Half Marathon, New York Half Marathon. Several other marathons in Europe and the US have also been rescheduled. On March 16, the organizers of Swimathon Goa, an open water swimming race, decided to cancel the event. It was originally scheduled to be held over March 28-29.We spoke to some of those who had planned to attend the above said events; we also spoke to some currently training amid lack of clarity on what may happen to the event they are due to go for.

Deepti Karthik (Photo: courtesy Deepti)

Bengaluru-based Deepti Karthik was scheduled to run the Tokyo Marathon of March 1, 2020. Mid-February, the World Marathon Major, announced that it was restricting the race to elite athletes. Recreational runners were informed that their registration would be carried forward to the next year. Post 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) Deepti had stepped up her mileage in training aiming to go for the Tokyo Marathon. Notwithstanding the financial loss due to arrangements already made for travel and stay in Tokyo, once news of the cancellation sank in, Deepti decided to take a short break from her training.

She shifted her attention to the 2020 Boston Marathon. “ I was putting in a lot of mileage. I was running 80-85 km each week,” she said. But then, Boston got postponed. Forced to refocus her efforts and recalibrate her training schedule, she has now in her sights the TCS 10 K, slated for May 17, 2020 in Bengaluru. But past that event she is staring at a small pile-up on her plate. Deepti had also signed up for the 2020 Berlin Marathon. With the postponement of Boston Marathon, Deepti will now have to do two World Marathon Majors in two weeks.  Boston Marathon has been rescheduled to September 14 and Berlin Marathon is set for September 27.

Col Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan Jayaraman)

“ I have no choice but to run both the marathons. I guess I will take Boston Marathon as an easy run and go strong at Berlin. Boston has a tougher route while Berlin is flat,” she reasoned. If the situation does not worsen, Deepti hopes to resume her training for the two international marathons by early June. So far, she has completed three of the six World Marathon Majors – London, Chicago and New York City Marathon. This year a good number of recreational runners from India were slated to go for the Tokyo Marathon. The news of its cancellation came as a disappointment particularly because some of them were hoping to complete the World Major Marathon series in Tokyo.

Col Muthukrishnan Jayaraman, an endocrinologist with the Indian Army, was at the peak of his preparations for the Boston Marathon, when the year’s running calendar started to come apart. Now with news of the Boston Marathon being postponed to September, he is taking a break. “ I will go back to building my foundation and focus on strength training,” he said. “ My coach Ashok Nath has asked his mentees to do a self-assessment of their strong and weak points. Based on that we will have to work out our training plan,” he said. The army doctor hoped to resume his training in May and do one domestic marathon – either the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon or the AFMC Marathon in Pune, both scheduled to be held in August this year.

Apoorva Chaudhary is scheduled to run the 2020 24-hour Asia & Oceania Championships to be held in July in Bengaluru. Based in Delhi, Apoorva commenced her training sometime in mid-March. So far, thanks to the disease outbreak, her training has been muted. She plans to ramp it up from April though that would depend on how COVID-19 impacts the environment. “ I run solo and most of my training runs are done very early in the morning when there are few people on the road,” she said.

Anjali Saraogi (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Kolkata-based Anjali Saraogi had qualified for the inaugural Abbott World Marathon Major Age Group Championships, which was to be held as part of London Marathon. She is also one of the runners representing India at the 2020 IAU 100 km World Championships to be held in the Netherlands on September 12, 2020. With London Marathon getting postponed to early October, Anjali has decided to give it a miss as her main event is the World Championships. At the 2019 IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships, Anjali had set a new national best with her finish in 9:22 hours. “ I have decided to opt out of London Marathon as I will not be able to recover well after the World Championships and do justice to it,” she said. She plans to resume her training for the World Championships in April.

Sunil Chainani was in the midst of his training for Boston Marathon when the news of postponement came in. Now with the date of Boston Marathon moved to September 14, Sunil will have to participate in two marathons in a period of four weeks – Boston and Chicago. Chicago Marathon is slated for October 11, 2020. He has gone back to minimum essential training. “ I run for fun. Right now my focus is to stay fit,” Sunil, who lives in Bengaluru, said.

Zarir Baliwala (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

It was not long ago that Zarir Baliwala, Mumbai-based businessman and recreational endurance athlete, decided that he will focus on swimming for a change. He decided to temporarily stop running and cycling and get ready for the Goa Swimathon, scheduled over March 28-29. He had just made the decision in his mind when the Maharashtra government acting to contain spread of COVID-19, announced closure of Mumbai’s swimming pools till further notice. Zarir was forced to reassess. Subsequently, the organizers of Swimathon also announced the cancellation of the event in Goa. “ I will now go back to running and cycling,” Zarir said.

For many Indian runners and triathletes focusing on national events, the current phase represents the quieter part of the calendar. Major domestic events have concluded and the new season will commence in three months. However for runners attempting international events – especially events under the World Marathon Majors – the calendar has turned topsy turvy. Between September and November, there are now five World Marathon Majors: Boston Marathon, Berlin Marathon, London Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon.

Ashok Nath (Photo: courtesy Ashok Nath)

Bengaluru-based runner and coach, Ashok Nath had signed up for the 2020 Boston Marathon. Subsequently, he also qualified for the inaugural Abbott World Marathon Major Age Group World Championships to be held as part of the 2020 London Marathon. Having completed Boston Marathon multiple times, he opted to give its 2020 edition a miss and focus instead on the London Marathon. The new revised schedule has cast a fresh spin. He feels there is a manageable gap between Boston and London but the Berlin Marathon, given it is too close to the London event may have to be run another year – that is, for those planning to attempt more than one of these events.

“ The running season in India concludes by end-February and the focus shifts to rebuilding the basics until it is time to commence race specific training. The first major race on the new calendar is the TCS 10 K in Bengaluru, in May,” Ashok said. Following that, India’s season of long runs and the now revised schedule of international marathons will unfold. Depending on how the virus outbreak plays out it may cast a shadow on how you prepare for the year ahead. The critical word is immunity. In these times, training has to be within manageable limits so as not to compromise one’s immunity, Ashok said. “ Long runs will lower immunity. Is that the right thing to do in the current situation?” he asked.

Samson Sequiera (left) with Poonam Bhatia (Photo: courtesy Samson)

The Comrades Marathon, the ultramarathon held annually in South Africa, is among major events in the running calendar. It has been steadily gathering a following in India. The organizers of the event are scheduled to review the situation on April 17, 2020, an official Comrades Marathon press note said. Indian runners attempting the 2020 edition of Comrades Marathon have been pressing ahead with their training. “ Training for Comrades is going on full steam so that we are not found lacking the training mileages required,” said coach Samson Sequiera, who heads a large Mumbai-based marathon training and fitness group called Run India Run.

Training for Comrades Marathon is strenuous. It includes three or four long runs spanning distance of 45 km, 55 km and 65 km. According to Samson, runners are practising self-restraint. They are taking care of their hydration and paying attention to rest given the current situation caused by COVID-19. A total of 35 runners from Run India Run have registered for Comrades Marathon (downhill version) this year. In all, approximately 330 runners from India have registered to run the 2020 Comrades Marathon. The race is scheduled to be held on June 15, 2020.

Satish Gujaran (Photo: courtesy Satish)

“ Runners slated to do Comrades are quite confused on how to take their training forward. Normally, April is the peak month of training for Comrades. We are scheduled to do the longest run of 65 km during the second week of April,” ultramarathon runner, Satish Gujaran, who completed Comrades for the tenth time in 2019, said. He felt, it would be better if the organizers announce their decision early so that runners can stop training and go back to basic fitness routine.  “ One option is to scale the training down now and pick it up after April 15 depending on what the situation is on the pandemic,” Satish said.

According to Ashok, it would be prudent to cancel all sporting events including those two months away such as the Comrades Marathon and TCS 10 K. Given the training for these events happen now, postponing or cancelling them will prompt amateur athletes to stop race-training and focus on fitness-based training.

Septuagenarian Kumar Rao was well into his training for the Boston Marathon, when COVID-19 began upsetting schedules.  He was aiming for a 3:50-3:52 hour finish, an improvement over 3:59, his time to finish last year in Boston. “ I was doing 85-90 km per week. Now, I have decided to scale back. This week I plan to do 35 km. I will eventually settle for 60 km per week,” he said.

Kumar Rao (Photo: courtesy Kumar Rao)

It also appeared practical; apt for these times. “ Considering my age, I think it is better for me to scale down. Initially, I was cavalier about this and continued training. I even did a glycogen-depleted training run,” Kumar said. Boston wasn’t the only major race overseas, on his plate. He had also registered for the New York City Marathon. “ I may have to go to the US twice; once for Boston Marathon in September and then again for NYCM in November. If my wife agrees to come with me, I may stay back in the US with my son for the period between these two marathons,” he pointed out.

Although he shuttles between India and the US, Kochi-based recreational runner Ramesh Kanjilimadhom hadn’t signed up for any major international event in 2020. He did think briefly of running in Paris but then didn’t pursue it. He felt that the shifting of major races to the September-October period could make for a crammed fall season calendar, particularly in the US. On the bright side, provided the disease outbreak tapers, the additional choices emergent for the fall season may prove interesting to runners.

For now, a whole planet of major events in sport is at the mercy of the virus.

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

DOES THE MARATHON IN INDIA DESERVE SEPARATE OLYMPIC TRIALS?

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On February 29, 2020 as the US held trials to choose its marathon team for the Tokyo Olympics, the situation in India was vastly different. No Indian marathon runner had yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics via the most obvious and straightforward route – meeting the qualifying time (athletes can also qualify based on their ranking). Given end-May as cut off period for qualifying, three months remained.

What stood out in the scenario, were two factors. First, the qualifying time is stiff. For men, you have to break the longstanding Indian national record – two hours, 12 minutes – to qualify; in fact, go well past it. The best Indian marathon runner since Shivnath Singh is still more than a minute and 30 seconds behind the mark Singh set over four decades ago. In the case of women, the qualifying time for the Olympics is 2:29:30; the Indian national record is: 2:34:43. Second, unlike the Olympic trials of the US, there appeared none for the marathon in India, leaving top athletes to qualify at either the country’s premier marathons or if the dates don’t fit their training schedule or they are seeking a better course, then attempt qualifying at one of the races overseas.

So far, 2020 has proved a dicey year for mass participation road races abroad. Thanks to the ongoing Covid 19 coronavirus outbreak in multiple countries, events were trimmed or cancelled. At the time of writing, the latest casualty was the 2020 Paris Half Marathon, which stood axed. Prior to that, the Hong Kong Marathon of early February was cancelled, the Tokyo Marathon of March 1 was restricted to elite athletes and the Seoul Marathon of March 22 was cancelled. Athletes who had hoped to qualify for the Olympics at the cancelled events must find alternatives. Meanwhile, the trend of disease outbreak so far, has cast a shadow on the Olympics itself.

The two major marathons in India from the standpoint of Indian elite athletes are the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) and the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon. The latter through association with the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), is also called the National Marathon. Despite not having a fast course and having crowd management issues and questionable weather, TMM has produced timings by foreign athletes that are faster than the Indian national record for men and women. As regards the National Marathon, the course is flatter and the roads decent, save for a small cobbled section. But the route has several U-turns capable of breaking momentum.

While the existence of Shivnath Singh’s 2:12 removes room for excuses in India, you can sneak in the question: do we have a course that meets required guidelines and is yet suited for a shot at breaking 2:12? In 2020, this question assumes prominence for a couple of reasons. First, if you want to qualify for the Olympics then a male athlete has to complete the marathon in 2:11:30, a real step-up for Indian marathoners. If that timing is deemed important to chase, then a good enough course in a right enough place (where weather conditions are favorable), to set your best athletes up for the opportunity, makes sense. It has to also dovetail suitably into athletes’ training schedules and the qualifying deadline of a given Olympic season. Second, even as some road races overseas are getting cancelled due to the virus outbreak and air travel to less affected regions also appears risky, India has so far (as of early March 2020) remained less impacted by Covid 19. Yet for lack of well imagined domestic Olympic marathon trials, we have this situation of our marathoners counting on overseas events with fast courses to qualify. As mentioned, some of these events have got cancelled. Besides, participating in these races entail expense while accessing them depends on the continued viability of aviation routes amid reports of the virus’s economic impact on airlines. So what stops India from having its own Olympic marathon trials? A race featuring the crème de la crème of India’s marathon talent on a suitable course approved by required authorities? It seems all the more relevant in 2020 given the unique global situation Covid 19 has got the planet in.

To the extent this blog inquired with professional race organizers, such a race in India to qualify for the Olympics is logistically possible. The race infrastructure (course length, timing apparatus etc) has to be properly approved. In terms of support and recognition by sports bodies, the backing of the concerned national federation – in this case AFI – has to be there. We have the meteorological competence to select appropriate dates for Olympic marathon trials. As for closing down a set of suitable roads (a fast course) for the purpose, please remember: city marathons are typically run on Sundays, early in the morning (not hours of peak traffic) and if the field is restricted to elites capable of coming close to the national record, you would have a very limited number of participants with the whole course restored to traffic in two and a half hours or less. Is that too much to ask, once every four years?

Such an event does not have to be the definitive platform for selection to the Indian Olympic marathon team. What it does is – it adds to available options, especially in an extraordinary year like 2020, when avenues to qualify stand restricted due to virus outbreak and India remains less impacted region. Further if established as regular practice, for amateur and elite alike, `Olympic trials’ is as much goal to aspire for as the `best,’ `biggest,’ `richest’ or whatever other attribute you may assign a regular marathon. A case worth mentioning in this context is the American ultrarunner Jim Walmsley. He qualified for the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials based on results secured at the Houston Half Marathon. At the trials of February 29, running his first full marathon, Walmsley finished in 2:15:05, placing 22nd. He didn’t make the team but it shows what Olympic marathon trials can mean. Based on what Indian elite athletes told this blog, the onus of organizing such trials is with the authorities. They have to be interested enough in the marathon to make options available in an Olympic year.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. The qualification details for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics mentioned herein, is as available on Wikipedia. This article is by no means a definitive piece on the subject; it seeks to provoke thought – that’s all.)

OUR REFLECTION IN PETER

Peter Van Geit at the talk in Navi Mumbai (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

It was a small gathering, just outside the shop floor of a major sports goods retailer in Navi Mumbai. Maybe 15-20 people at best; a couple of them were the retail chain’s staff. But that didn’t stop Peter Van Geit from speaking passionately about what he had been doing the past several months.

A Belgian national and former employee of tech giant, Cisco, Chennai-based Peter is well known in the Indian outdoors. He was among prime movers at the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC), contributed much to promoting the active lifestyle, helped clean up the city’s beaches, did excellent relief work during the Chennai floods and then got villainized when an unexpected forest fire killed several trekkers in Theni. That last incident from March 2018 was a tense chapter.

At CTC, one of the activities Peter and others embraced was ultrarunning. They would run for a few days covering a couple of hundred kilometers. In 2018, Peter commenced a personal project. Over 75 days, he ran (the right term would be fast-hiked) 1500 kilometers along trails and across some 40 high mountain passes in Himachal Pradesh and the then state of Jammu & Kashmir. This venture followed an earlier one in Vietnam, wherein he ran close to 2000 kilometers over hilly terrain. Then in 2019, running from the Uttarakhand-Nepal border towards Himachal Pradesh and Zanskar, he crossed 120 passes. The number includes little known routes taken by shepherds, who incidentally are his frequent refuge for food and shelter on these trips. Later that year, in a foray to the Maharashtra Sahyadri and the Konkan coast, he ran or cycled linking some 200 forts. Active on social media with his travel posts, Peter has a fan base. In January 2020, when Peter was in Mumbai to speak at the Himalayan Club, this writer shared a suburban train journey with him. He was quickly recognized by co-passengers and selfies taken.

At two presentations I attended this year, there was a slide that always drew laughs. It showed a small child sitting naked on a beach. “ That’s me. I was minimalist even then,’’ Peter would quip. He says traveling light makes him fast. On the trail, that means less stuff hauled around as he manages to either reach known shelter or camp light at lower elevation having already got past the high crux. That’s utter contrast with the regular. Consider this: a typical photograph of Peter from the Himalaya shows him in running shorts, a small backpack, a thin T-shirt and a pair of running shoes. The backdrop is high altitude; steep, snow clad, at times glacier, clearly cold. Other speakers at the same venue may have just presented slides of them and others in similar environment clad in multiple layers, armed with gear and heavy backpack. That would be the Himalayan experience of most in the audience too.

In the mutual admiration society we are, people flock to similar others. Peter gets applause but you wonder – was he accepted into the tribe? Much of the establishment sitting in judgement came up in a more structured fashion with outdoor courses done and rigid views of what defines a particular sport. They seem organization-builders; lovers of hive and the politics of the hive if we were all bees. Corporate – you could say, for imagery. Peter seems an activity-lover, happiest outdoors, happy to be afloat afterwards in a people’s durbar. In his heart warming short film, Peter stumbles, slips, gets his face liberally licked by a buffalo, does some sketchy river-crossings. Those formally trained in outdoor techniques will question some of his actions. Yet there he was, up in the mountains, doing a hybrid of running and high altitude hiking, most of the time solo. Solo is something few Indians like. Indians are all about groups. Further, where most of us make a whole annual trek out of one pass, he was polishing off a pass a day. For now in India’s world of hiking-mountaineering and running, the Peter-way is an outlier.

Here’s another vignette – Peter is a runner but now nurses little appetite for the organized marathons, ultramarathons and stadium runs that the majority of runners favor. He likes to be away from cities and crowds. When out in the Himalaya, he lives and eats with shepherds and at houses along the trail; he likes that simpler life. He navigates with digital map and GPS co-ordinates on his smartphone used offline and set to battery saving-mode. On the Konkan coast, confronted with the fort of Suvarnadurg located on an island a kilometer out in the sea, he just swam across to access it. The central values of his excursions appear freedom, solitude and living the life he wants. Accessible and easy to talk to, Peter may impress as anything from celebration of the outdoor spirit to bull in a china shop unintentionally smashing our gear laden surrogate commando self-image, with his minimalist approach.

Peter, in a Mumbai suburban train, en route to a lecture (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

To be fair, Peter’s journeys in India fell in a list of projects headed to the body of work he achieved. Long before digital became commonplace in India, in 1997, a team of Indian women completed a trans-Himalayan trek from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh to the Karakorum Pass. They crossed 39 passes above 3000m, 15 passes above 2000m and covered 4500 kilometers in 198 days. In the years that followed, at least one seasoned outdoorsman anchored a project seeking to thread a hiking route from Ladakh to the Uttarakhand-Nepal border, replete with GPS co-ordinates for independent hikers to use. More than five years ago, when the Himalaya was yet to be run as Peter did, this writer spoke of the project in waiting to an Indian ultrarunner. Nothing happened. Over August-October 2018, a team of three young Indian mountaineers hiked from Ladakh to the Uttarakhand-Nepal border crossing 27 passes (please try this link for their story:  https://shyamgopan.com/2018/11/13/a-long-walk-traversing-the-western-himalaya/). Then over 2018 and 2019, in two tranches, Peter crossed around 160 passes in the western part of the Indian Himalaya, visited 200 forts in Maharashtra and made the journeys available as digital resource. His own project, Peter has said, was initially spurred by data from a blog by Bengaluru-based trekker Satyanarayana; in the blog Satya used to document with GPS logs, the passes he visited.

It was two years ago that Peter resigned his job, did an Airbnb with his house and embarked on a new life of running around. At the February 2020 talk in Navi Mumbai, he spoke of young Indians he met during his long stay in the country, who were stronger athletes than him but whose promise faded with marriage and corporate life. The young people in the audience laughed. Peter’s face remained expressionless. “ It is not a laughing matter. Life is short and you live only once,’’ he said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on Peter please try these links: https://shyamgopan.com/2017/02/28/i-dont-have-time-isnt-a-valid-excuse/; https://shyamgopan.com/2019/03/22/running-in-the-himalaya-75-days-1500-km-40-mountain-passes-talking-to-peter-van-geit/)