COVID-19: THE DAY AFTER IN RECOVERY AND RUNNING

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

For a while now, the world has been grappling with a pandemic necessitating lockdown, use of masks, physical distancing and other health protocols. Runners were among those affected by COVID-19. Experiences have varied. Some had a robust engagement with the virus; some others had a brush with it.

The general observation is that the recovery phase has to be dealt with carefully so as not to trigger any further health complications. Resumption of running or any sort of heavy training post COVID-19 has to be slow and cautious, doctors said. Runners have also been advised by their coaches to recommence training gradually, keeping in mind the varying degrees to which the virus has impacted people.

We spoke to a few runners who contracted COVID-19 about their journey through the infection and their return to physical activity. We also spoke to a couple of coaches for their suggestions on how runners, who recovered from COVID-19, may manage their return to running. For a complete overview, please read this article in conjunction with the piece by doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, available on this blog.

Dhruv Dubey (Photo: courtesy Dhruv)

July 3, 2020 – Dhruv Dubey remembers that date well. A recreational runner from Kolkata, he had set a personal mileage target of 3000 kilometers for 2020. In 2019, he had covered a distance of 2100 km. He felt the urge to increase the distance this year.

But the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced change of plans. Once the initial stringent lockdown was over, Dhruv explored running outdoors and managed to cover fairly good mileage during the months of May and June. But in early July, a setback occurred. On July 3 he got a fever. He waited for a couple of days but the fever did not subside. He began to lose his sense of smell. A test proved that he was COVID-19 positive. He was allowed home quarantine.

“ I had fever for about nine days. After my fever subsided, I had some lung issues. My lungs were affected. My VO2 max came down to 40 from my peak of 47 ml / kg/ min,” he said. Despite recovering from the infection, Dhruv continued to experience weakness. “ On July 26, I started my fitness regimen but felt very tired,” he said. He gave it some more days. By the time he was able to get back to some level of activity, almost a month had passed since the first onset of fever. “ I started with the home gym and then I slowly started running, attempting very short distances with many walk-breaks in between,” Dhruv said.

Slowly, he began inching up his running mileage. He also resorted to pranayama (practice of breath control in yoga). He felt the improvement with every passing day. “ My lung exhalation capacity improved,” he said. A vegetarian, Dhruv paid attention to his food intake and also took supplements, which aided the recovery. August was mostly focused on stepping out of the house, walking and light jogging. September was a better month in terms of his fitness workouts. His improving health has helped him get back to a training plan devised by his coach Ashok Nath.

“ I did an easy 21 kilometer-run last weekend. I was able to complete it without taking a walk-break,” Dhruv said, late September. He was able to complete the run in two hours, 32 minutes compared to his personal best of 1:58 for the half marathon distance. He believes his sustained focus on fitness, nutrition and overall health over the past few years helped him tide over COVID-19 and get back to running.

Kamalaksha Rao (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Hennur Bamboo Ultra)

During the initial days of the lockdown in Mumbai, Kamalaksha Rao, 73, stayed indoors but kept up his workout regimen, including running inside his apartment. When the lockdown norms began to ease, he stepped out to run.

On the morning of July 11, 2020, he ran a distance of 21 kilometers. That evening he came down with fever and body ache. “ I took a pill but the body ache persisted for the next two days. I also began experiencing loss of smell. I went to a doctor, who suggested that I do a COVID-19 test,” Kamalaksha said. He tested positive.

Although the civic authorities suggested home quarantine for him, he decided to get admitted to a hospital as his granddaughter lives with him. “ I was in Vivanta Hospital, Malad, for six days. From there, I shifted to a COVID care center where I stayed for three days. I then shifted to my neighbour’s apartment, which was vacant. I stayed there alone for 11 days,” he said. Following this long stretch of time, he tested negative for COVID-19.

He commenced his physical activities with walking and slow jogging. “ COVID affects joints and muscles. I was told by doctors to keep moving. When I was at the COVID care center, the people managing it would ask everyone to keep walking,” he said. Kamalaksha also consulted a cardiologist as he wanted to get back to running. Following that he resumed running but at a very slow pace. Every Sunday he would increase the distance he was running. He also had a small goal he was gravitating to – he hoped to run 42.2 kilometers during the Virtual London Marathon of October 4, 2020. He planned to run close to his residence in Malad. On race day, Kamalaksha started his run at 4.40 AM. The septuagenarian ran the first half of the marathon and walked the next 21 kilometers. He had a target of finishing in eight hours. He finished in 7:20 hours. “ It was a self-supported run. I had carried a bag. During the run, I had two gels and two nutrition bars,” he said. He planned to do recovery walks over the next few days.

Rachna Bhatnagar (Photo: courtesy Rachna)

Rachna Bhatnagar, a resident of Kharghar in Navi Mumbai, took to recreational running about a year and a half ago. She joined LifePacers, a Navi Mumbai-based marathon training group and in the ensuing period ran many 10-kilometer-races. Through the lockdown period, Rachna kept up her home fitness regimen, which included a series of workouts. She contracted COVID-19 in the fourth week of June.

“ My husband got fever first. Then I got throat ache and headache. My son also got fever and experienced loss of taste and some breathing issues,” she said. All three of them tested positive and were admitted to a hospital. While at hospital, Rachna did suryanamaskar (yoga), starting with two sets a day. She increased the counts daily. She also walked for ten minutes daily and did some stretches. Ten days later, Rachna tested negative. “ After I came home, I did another test, which was again negative,” she said.

In the initial days, post-COVID-19, she experienced tiredness. “ In the early phase after recovering from the disease, if I did housework for ten minutes I needed to take 20 minutes rest. That’s when I increased fluids intake. In one week I recovered,” she said. She commenced walking and took to slow running interspersed with walk-breaks. “ I have slowly increased my distance. Now, I walk-jog for about 10 kilometers and jog-run for up to seven kilometers,” she said. According to her, managing recovery is the crucial element in the stage following disease and the body’s battle with the virus. “ It is essential to stay positive. I kept away from negative people and negative news. The whole recovery process is a mind game,” she said.

Arun Waghukar (Photo: courtesy Arun)

As of early October, Arun Waghukar, a runner from Kamothe, Navi Mumbai, was back at work. When we spoke to him for this article, he was still in the recovery phase after contracting COVID-19. “ I had a toothache and kept avoiding going to a dentist. But I finally had to visit the dentist as the toothache got severe. I had four sittings with the dentist. Three days later, after my last dentist session, I developed symptoms – body ache and fever,” Arun said.

With some pills prescribed by a doctor, his fever disappeared but the body ache persisted. He tested positive for COVID-19. An employee of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), he was admitted to the JNPT Hospital.

After he recovered, he started doing yoga and pranayama. “ I plan to recommence my running from October 20 by which time I would have finished one month after recovering from the coronavirus,” Arun said. He resumed work at JNPT on September 30, 2020. Early October, he was still doing an hour of yoga in the morning including sun salutations and various types of pranayama.

Arun commenced recreational running in 2015 and has been running half marathons mostly. In January 2020, he ran his maiden marathon at the annual Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM).

A doctor with the Indian Army and a longstanding runner, Colonel Muthukrishnan Jayaraman combines interest in the sport with a background in medicine. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in India, his daily work in Delhi – where he is based – included treating defence personnel who had contracted the infection. This was on since April-May. In September, he was doing a recovery run in Delhi after a virtual marathon when he sensed an element of tiredness that was more than what he normally felt after running 42.2 kilometers. “ I initially thought it may be because of the weather,’’ he said. A COVID-19 test showed that he was positive for the virus.

Col Muthukrishnan Jayaraman (Photo: courtesy Muthukrishnan)

Asked how an otherwise healthy individual like him contracted the virus, Muthukrishnan pointed out that the general benefits attached to running shouldn’t be brought into the frame as presumed layer of defence. “ The chances of getting the virus are probably the same for all now given it is there in the community. Further in my case, being a doctor I deal with COVID-19 patients. So the source could have been from anywhere, from travel to life in the community to work at the hospital,’’ he said. Soon after he tested positive, Muthukrishnan commenced ten days of quarantine. He was asymptomatic. In the initial phase of the quarantine period he took complete rest. To stay happy, towards the concluding portion of the quarantine, he did some mild indoor exercises; he also walked indoors. In the post quarantine test for the virus, he tested negative.

Muthukrishnan now wanted to get back to running. He started the process with an ECG to get an idea of heart rate and heart condition; he also did tests for inflammation markers. When this blog spoke to him in early October, roughly a week had gone by since completion of quarantine. In that while he had moved through days of only walking to a mix of walk-jog to about an hour of slow running. “ The initial days were trying. The disease leaves you a bit tired,’’ he said, adding, “ you cannot see COVID-19 as just another viral disease because first, we are still learning about it and second, studies show that it is capable of impacting the body’s organs including the heart. That makes it important to revisit the fundamentals of your health before you restart physical activity.’’

As he put it, given the still evolving knowledge about the disease, the return to running would be largely based on runner’s ability to listen to his / her body. Plus, through the period of illness, recovery and return to running, nutrition is critical. “ As runners, we have this tendency to eat such that we don’t put on weight. When you are enduring COVID-19, recovering from it and slowly getting back to running, that old logic can be counterproductive. You have to eat well, have a balanced diet,’’ Muthukrishnan said.       

Sanjay Motling (Photo: courtesy Sanjay)

Dr Sanjay Motling started running during his days as a research scholar in engineering, at Jadavpur University. According to him, in 2014, he participated in his first running event (a half marathon); in January 2020 he did his first full marathon – the Tata Mumbai Marathon. Currently a resident of Panvel near Mumbai, in September 2020, after the lockdown caused by COVID-19 was eased; he and his friend drove to a village at the base of the hills not far from Panvel, for a weekend run. During the rains and just after it, the place is pretty; it is a spot runners like to visit for their long runs. That night, back in Panvel, he developed a mild fever. Following intake of paracetamol, he felt fine. But next night the fever returned. The subsequent three days went by without any symptoms. On Friday, he reported for work. But that night, the fever came back. “ It was a mild fever, it never exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it was always below that,’’ Sanjay said. On Saturday however, he developed a minor cough. “ I felt something wasn’t good and decided to go for testing. On Monday, the test result showed that I was COVID-19 positive,’’ he said.

That day itself, he was admitted to a hospital. A day earlier, the friend with whom he had gone for the weekend run, was also admitted to a hospital having tested positive for the virus. Sanjay spent eight days in hospital. The first night there, he developed shivering. But the remaining days felt quite normal although he was on medication. For 4-5 days during this period he did yoga and breathing exercises. Upon discharge from hospital, he was advised to continue taking his medicines but a week into it, tests showed that his sugar levels were up considerably. The doctor recommended that the medicines be stopped. “ Aside from the first couple of days since discharge from hospital, I haven’t felt tired,’’ Sanjay said. When he could find the time for it, he did yoga; he also started going for walks. Early October he told this blog that he felt ready to restart his old training sessions in running. Sanjay’s friend has also recovered.             

Rahul Sangoi (Photo: courtesy Rahul)

A runner from Pune, Rahul Sangoi tested positive for COVID-19 but remained asymptomatic throughout. At his home, Rahul’s uncle tested positive prompting the rest of the family to test for COVID-19. “ I did not move out of the house for 15 days but I continued my home workouts,” Rahul said. He was prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics as a precautionary measure by his doctor. Rahul has been running for the past six years; he has participated in a few half marathons and full marathons. This year, he also ran 50 kilometers at Tata Ultra, as a means to prepare for Comrades, the ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. The 2020 Comrades was cancelled but stayed alive in the form of a virtual run.

In India, barring a few fortunate to be in the hills (or some such location away from cities) and those determined to run no matter what, most runners were housebound during the pandemic. The initial phase of the lockdown was strict and major sporting events were cancelled. Stuck at home, many introspected. “ The lockdown helped me acquire a clean diet. My job entails a lot of travel. In the days before the pandemic my food intake used to be improper due to the frequent traveling. During lockdown my diet improved. I also did workouts for six days a week,” Rahul said. In the process, he managed to knock off eight kilograms from his body weight.

Doctors Bindu and Vivek Nair have been dentists in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) for a long time. Bindu got into running about two years ago thanks to Trivandrum Runners Club (TRaCs). A resident of Vazhuthacaud in the city, her first run was approximately five kilometers long, from Kowdiar to LMS Junction and back. Three months later, she did a run of ten kilometers. Since then, Bindu has been running four days a week; she leaves home at 4.30AM and returns by around 5.30AM having covered the distance from home to Kowdiar to the local museum, botanical garden and zoo (a popular haunt for those into morning walks and jogs) and back.

Dr Bindu Nair (Photo: courtesy Bindu)

When COVID-19 reached India and the lockdown of March commenced, Bindu who wished to be utterly careful, stopped her running. She followed a routine of online exercises and Zumba, which she stuck to even after the lockdown eased. The regimen helped her shed 12 kilos from her body weight during the lockdown period. On September 22, a friend who wished to speak to her in person, visited briefly. Unknown to Bindu, the visitor had been experiencing mild symptoms. By evening, the friend came down with fever and chills. Three days later, on September 25, Bindu – she is normally healthy and free of ailments – experienced a mild headache. On September 26, she got a mild fever (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit) along with the chills. Realizing that it was perhaps time for comprehensive precaution, she took paracetamol and consulted her daughter Ambica, also a doctor. Bindu isolated herself. She had her rapid antigen test on September 28; it showed up positive for COVID-19 and she was admitted to the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.

The doctors advised complete rest. “ The first two days were okay,’’ Bindu said. She was administered hydroxychloroquine. The medicine can cause gastritis as side effect in some patients; Bindu had her share of it. Probably due to COVID-19, she also had lower back pain, fever and a clouded mind. This was a tough phase, lasting three days. “ Given we are both doctors, my husband used to send me reading material on the disease. But I couldn’t read it. My brain felt clouded,’’ Bindu said. The doctors treating her told her not to worry. They knew there would be such a phase. On the fifth day of her hospitalization, she had fever touching 101 degrees Fahrenheit. She was given paracetamol. That night she slept well. The next morning, she woke up drenched in sweat but feeling well otherwise and with the distinct feeling that the infection had been overcome. Subsequent tests for the virus proved negative. On October 7, roughly ten days after she was admitted to hospital, Bindu was discharged. She was told not to venture outside her house for the next seven days.

“ I didn’t have any lingering sense of fatigue,’’ Bindu said. The day after she got home, she commenced mild activity; cooking and cleaning in small doses. Pretty soon, a doctor also called recommending mild exercise to prevent clotting of blood. Clot formation has occurred in some individuals after COVID-19 infection. Taking that into consideration, the doctor wanted her to do mild exercise.“ I feel perfectly normal now,’’ Bindu said mid-October. In the recovery plan, she has been advised mild to moderate physical activity for the first month, more intense activity for the second and a return to running and whatever else she likes to do, by the third.    

Samson Sequeira (Photo: courtesy Samson)

Coaches speak

` Asymptomatic’ has been around in medical parlance for long. But it was COVID-19 that made it a household term. Samson Sequeira, coach at Run India Run, a Mumbai-based marathon training group, contracted the infection but showed no symptoms at all. He was asymptomatic. “ After our neighbor tested positive for COVID-19, we decided to test for coronavirus,” he said. That was how he learnt of being positive.

Although he confined himself indoors, Samson did not stop doing his workouts. As a coach, he has been advising his wards to be cautious in stepping up mileage as the threat of the virus is far from over. “ There should be no high intensity workout. I have been pushing for low intensity workout. Walk, talk, jog, run is my mantra,” he said. According to him, in these times, it is essential to keep fit, eat well and sleep well.

Dnyaneshwar Tidke (Photo: courtesy Don)

Ashok Nath (Photo: courtesy Ashok Nath)

Ashok Nath, Bengaluru-based coach and mentor, highlighted the importance of apprising the affected amateur athletes of what they are dealing with. As a disease with no vaccine yet, it is only natural for people to be scared of COVID-19. What they must be reassured of is that serious cases are a small percentage of the total number of people infected. The vast majority recovers. For the duration of full recovery, runners should assign top priority to their health and keep their competitive mindset parked at a safe distance. Once they get the green signal to resume training, they should ease into it with full awareness and respect for feedback from the body. He felt that in the interest of timely withdrawal should there be any discomfort, it would be best to avoid rigidly structured training programs. Be mindful. Only after a fortnight of such cautious approach and assessment thereon, should you think of resuming training. Even then, Ashok’s emphasis is on proceeding with “ feel’’ as opposed to “ paces,’’ till such time as the disease becomes a memory.

Caution was the watchword for Dnyaneshwar (Don) Tidke too; he is coach at LifePacers, Navi Mumbai. He felt that after adequate rest (two to four weeks) as required by the severity of infection, small modules of walk-jog for a couple of weeks followed by the same in slightly longer duration maybe the right way to revive one’s association with running. Further progress should depend on the runner’s fitness levels and response to recovery, he said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For the article by doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.com/2020/10/09/recovered-from-covid-19-and-planning-to-restart-running-keep-this-in-mind/)

RECOVERED FROM COVID-19 AND PLANNING TO RESTART RUNNING? KEEP THIS IN MIND

Pravin and Arati (Photo: courtesy the Gaikwads)

This is an article by invitation. Doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad are experienced pediatricians who have also been endurance athletes for a long time. In Navi Mumbai, they are co-founders of the runners group, LifePacers. This blog contacted them for inputs on how best a runner recovered from COVID-19 may handle his / her return to the sport. They paraphrased their response to questions sent, by first pointing out that COVID-19 is a new disease and since guidelines are still evolving, they should not be considered as mandates. The guidelines are based on expert opinion and available data.

In general, the quest for every runner when it comes to injury (an illness is similar to it) is to stay within the repairable realm and not provoke irreparable damage.  So, to begin with, even if used to an active lifestyle, asymptomatic patients should stop exercising for at least two weeks. This would anyway coincide with the isolation and quarantine period they are advised once they test positive. Mild activity to keep a sense of movement going is alright. Anything vigorous, which puts strain on the body or elevates heart rate needlessly, should be avoided. Exercising intensely may increase the risk of viral replication along with increased risk of myocardial involvement. Also, deep inhalation during exercise may help the virus to settle in the lower lobes of the lungs causing respiratory compromise.

Most active people turn to physical activity to boost circulation and feel better when they are feeling a bit low. But with COVID-19 in the equation, the results may not play out as hoped for. Being healthy, fit and strong may help you avoid some of the more severe symptoms of COVID-19 like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), but it doesn’t make you immune to some of the more insidious effects of the disease like myocarditis. A German study published in JAMA Cardiology, dealing with a sample of people who had formerly come down with COVID-19, showed 60 per cent of individuals to have myocarditis after two to three months of recovery. Eighteen per cent of these had been asymptomatic individuals.

Individuals who had been COVID-19-positive with any degree of symptoms should seek a physician’s opinion before resuming physical activity. Symptomatic athletes – recreational to professional – have been surprised by the potency of the disease. They have struggled to reestablish old workout regimens; some have had a lingering battle with lung issues, muscle weakness and unsettling anxiety about whether they would be able to match their old physical peaks.  The physician will decide depending upon the severity of infection endured, the treatment availed and the accompanying ailments the individual has. Herein, the biggest concern at present seems to be myocarditis (seven to twenty three per cent as per various studies).  Therefore, in symptomatic COVID-19 patients, the recommended tests before a return to active lifestyle may include Cardiac MRI, 2D Echo, ECG and Serum Troponin plus lung function tests in individuals who underwent extended ventilation support. As many recreational runners are above 40 years of age and a lot of them have obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even asthma, it’s advisable to get at least a 2D Echo done and get a cardiologist’s opinion before the workout regimen is restarted.

During this period, as the return to workout is planned, some form of movement, even fast paced walking – if the physician permits – will help to prevent the possibility of blood clots in the legs. Endurance runners tend to have lower heart rate. This makes pooling of blood in the legs easier; the tendency increases with COVID-19 infection. Further, individuals placed on ventilators and confined to bed, often lose between two and ten per cent of their muscle mass per day. Resorting to resistance training as the runner returns to his regular regimen would be a prudent step in this regard.

A general consensus seems to be the 50/30/20/10 rule as per the Joint Committee of the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. This is a four week-plan. After recovering from infection and ensuring that one is up to resuming physical activity, upon return to running, it is recommended that in the first week only 50 per cent of the previously followed peak mileage and pace be pursued. In the following week, depending on how the runner is feeling, the load may be raised to 30 per cent less from peak level; over the two weeks thereafter the gap with peak level may be further reduced to 20-10 per cent. All this, provided there is no adverse feedback from the body to the phased increase of workout.  In general, pay attention to how you feel. You need to be good at listening to your body. Chest pain and dizziness are the two symptoms where one should stop immediately and take a physician’s opinion. Shortness of breath and palpitations can also be due to the erosion of physical fitness caused by muscle loss and lack of training. Persistent muscle pain, unexplained fatigue, hitting peak heart rate unusually early in your run or having a hard time bringing the heart rate down – these must be evaluated by a physician.

(The authors, doctors Arati and Pravin Gaikwad, are experienced pediatricians who have also been endurance athletes for a long time. They have their own clinic and are co-founders of the Navi Mumbai-based runners group, LifePacers.) 

JOSHUA CHEPTEGEI AND LETESENBET GIDEY SET NEW WORLD RECORDS

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

Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei scripted a world record for the second time in less than two months, completing the 10,000 meters track race in 26:11:00 at the NN World Record Day event in Valencia on October 7, 2020. He bettered the previous record in the discipline held by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele; 26:17.53 set in 2005. On August 14, Cheptegei had taken down another of Bekele’s world records when he finished the 5000 meters at the Wanda Diamond League meet in Monaco, in 12:35.36. Cheptegei, is the tenth man in history to hold world records for the 5000 meters and 10,000 meters concurrently, a report on the latest development available on the website of World Athletics, said.

In the women’s category, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in Valencia, when she completed the 5000 meters on track in 14:06.62. She improved upon the previous world record of 14:11.15 that had stood in the name of her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba since 2008, the report from World Athletics, said. In November 2019, Gidey had been in the news for setting a new world record for women in the rarely run 15 kilometers. At the 15 kilometers race at the Zevenheuvelenloop (Seven Hills Run) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, held on November 17, she had clocked 44:21, more than a minute better than the previous world best of 45:37 Joyciline Jepkosgei set in Prague two years earlier en route to her first world record in the half marathon. Gidey is silver medalist in 10,000 meters from the 2019 edition of the World Athletics Championships.

Running in the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the half marathon appear to have got off to a brilliant start as global athletics recommences sports meets in the time of pandemic. Cheptegei’s 5000 meters world record from August, was a stunning reminder that notwithstanding COVID-19, lockdown and its cumulative impact on training schedules and events, athletics is alive and kicking. That performance had made him the world record holder in 5000 meters across both track and road. On February 16, 2020, he had clocked 12 minutes 51 seconds at the Monaco Run 5km. He shaved 27 seconds from the previous record of 13:18 set by Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto en route to his 10km world record in Valencia on January 12. Interestingly, although as an international athlete he is usually based in Europe, given world affected by pandemic, Cheptegei’s training for both races – the 5000 meters in Monaco and the 10,000 meters in Valencia – was done in Uganda. News reports said that after the blistering performance in Monaco, he had gone back to Uganda and returned to set the track ablaze again in Valencia.

Letesenbet Gidey (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Weeks after Cheptegei’s new world record in the 5000 meters, three world records tumbled over September 4 and 5, 2020. Britain’s Mo Farah and Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands set world one hour-records in their respective gender categories at the Wanda Diamond League exhibition meet at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, on September 4. Farah, a multiple world and Olympic champion set a new mark of 21,330m – bettering the 2007 mark of 21,285m set by Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie.  In her race, Hassan, the Dutch world 1500m and 10,000m champion, touched 18,930 meters in one hour, beating the previous mark of 18,517 meters set by Ethiopia’s Dire Tune in 2008. Around the same time, in Prague, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the women-only race world record in the half marathon. On September 5, she clocked 1:05:34 for the distance improving upon the previous record of 1:06:11 set by Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2018. In contrast to the performances amidst pandemic in long distance running from Jepchirchir, Cheptegei, Gidey, Farah and Hasan (spanning 5000 meters to the half marathon), the marathon hasn’t yet found the gear to break fresh ground. The London Marathon of October 4, held as an elites only affair with the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei in the field, was expected to see record breaking performance but it didn’t although it provided a couple of exciting, close finishes. It is also true that road events that managed to go ahead despite pandemic, have been very few in number compared to events hosted in the more contained ambiance of stadiums. Although the staging of the London Marathon as an elites only affair, would have brought fresh hope to road events, the momentum – amidst pandemic – has been better on the track side.

An interesting report in The Guardian pointed out that both Cheptegei and Gidey wore Nike Zoom X Dragonfly shoes for their latest record breaking performance. These shoes have spikes, carbon plate and special foam. The report said that Farah and Hasan too had worn Nike shoes capable of aiding speed when they set new world records. Although these shoe models have the approval of World Athletics, in general, advancement in shoe design has become a talking point in contemporary athletics (including the marathon), particularly in sterling performances. Also employed at these events was Wavelight pacing technology. A January 2020 article on the subject, available on the website of World Athletics, explained, “  Named Wavelight after the Mexican wave because of the similar fluid motion of the lights, the system will be used along the rail (inside of the 400m track) in which the lights will flash at an assigned pace for selected races. The innovation has two values: one to enable the athletes to better target a specific pace or target time and, secondly, to add greater value to the spectator experience.’’

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

2020 VIRTUAL LONDON MARATHON / THE INDIAN EXPERIENCE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

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

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

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: Shweta Sareen)

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

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

Kamalaksha Rao (Photo: courtesy Kamalaksha)

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

Kamalaksha had placed water bottles for hydration at two places along the loop he had chosen to run on. He managed to hydrate but at some point during the virtual marathon he realized that one of the bottles had gone missing. Thankfully there were shops along the route where he could buy bottled water. “ It was a self-supported run. I had carried a bag. During the run, I had two gels and two nutrition bars,” he said. He plans to do recovery walks over the next few days.

Mahesh Bedekar (Photo: courtesy Mahesh)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LONDON MARATHON: SHURA KITATA WINS IN NAIL BITING FINISH

Shura Kitata of Ethiopia. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Kipchoge dethroned

Brigid Kosgei defends her title

Close contests decide top two positions among men, and second and third positions among women

Shura Kitata of Ethiopia won the 2020 London Marathon, battling it out in an unforgettable sprint finish to cross the line in 2:05:41, on Sunday, October 4. Meters away from the finish line he was locked in a neck and neck tussle with Vincent Kipchumba of Kenya and appeared to fall back before finally surging ahead to win the race. Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia finished third.

Although Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the athlete billed as his closest competitor pulled out ahead of the race, world record holder and defending champion, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, was not his usual self. He seemed to struggle and came in much after the podium finishers; he finished eighth in 2:06:49. The 35 year-old Kenyan great was trying for his fifth London Marathon title; He had won the event previously in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019. The crown eventually went to 24 year-old Kitata, who two years earlier had finished second behind Kipchoge at the 2018 London Marathon. The course record for men in London is 2:02:37, set by Kipchoge in 2019.

Defending champion, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya won the women’s race covering the distance in 2:18:58. Her compatriot and 2019 marathon world champion, Ruth Chepngetich placed third, while Sarah Hall of the US finished second. The top ten women athletes finished within 2:28:30, the race commentators said; the qualification mark for the women’s marathon at the Tokyo Olympics due next year is 2:29:30. Kosgei’s performance in less than ideal conditions in London compares to the world record she holds of 2:14:04 – for women running in a mixed sex race – set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. The course record for women in London is 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe in 2003.

Going by the commentary, the early laps in the women’s marathon was fast but the pace reduced later. An hour and 33 minutes into the race, the commentators observed that the pace was close to world record requirements and yet not quite there.  Potential reasons spoken of included pandemic, cancellation of events, lockdown and the impact of these developments on athletes’ training, especially opportunities to train with others. Distance runners are known to periodically train in the company of fellow runners, an arrangement that allows them to push each other’s abilities. Further, race day in London followed a spate of heavy rains. The course was visibly wet and at one point during the women’s race, there was a hint of hail. Such conditions typically force runners to tread with caution especially at the corners, details which matter when it comes to performance in the elite category where every second counts.

Ruth Chepngetich (left) and Brigid Kosgei – both in orange vests at the 2020 London Marathon. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Notwithstanding the general pace, by 1:44 hours into the women’s marathon, Kosgei was clearly leading Chepngetich and a sizable gap had opened between them and Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekere (winner among women at the 2019 Berlin Marathon), who was in third place. The 35 kilometer-mark went by in approximately 1:55 hours.  By around 1:58, Lily Partridge and Steph Twell, among the top British contenders, had dropped off the race. By 2:04, even as Kosgei cemented her lead further, the gap was progressively reducing between Bekere and Sarah Hall following her in fourth place.  Around 2:12, Kosgei betrayed a smile as she neared the last lap; she eventually finished in 2:18:58. But it was Sarah Hall who turned in a truly inspiring performance. Having overtaken Bekere, she ran past Chepngetich in the last 100 meters or so to finish a brilliant second with new personal best to boot.     

Probably taking a cue from the women’s race, which was held first, the men’s race too maintained a momentum that was slower than what was expected of the talent crammed into it. At 44:50 the commentator said, “ it is not going to be as fast as we would have normally expected from Eliud Kipchoge.’’ At just past the half way mark, the pace was still steady and not yet showing signs of stepping up. In retrospect this may have played to the disadvantage of Kipchoge. He was older compared to those around him in the lead formation and as the defending champion and the only runner in history to have managed a sub-two hour-marathon, albeit unofficially, there was much riding on his shoulders. As the commentators pointed out, the slower pace wasn’t Kipchoge’s regular style. In the past he has displayed the habit of breaking away past the half way mark and striking out on his own. On Sunday, he appeared either struggling or hemmed in by the larger formation settled into a slightly slower pace with prospects of a sprint finish gradually opening up. On more than one occasion, the commentators pointed out that at a slightly higher pace in the early stages, Kipchoge may have shrugged off some of the runners keeping him company.  

 

An hour and 36 minutes into the race, Kipchoge discarded his cap and there was anticipation that he may be preparing to break free. Around 1:43, the lead runners were still huddled together; there hadn’t been anyone breaking free yet. “ This is relatively slow for the standard these men have run before,’’ the commentator said. By 1:51, Kipchoge had drifted to the back of the lead group; a slight grimace showed up on his face. Around 1:52:50, the commentator said that Kipchoge could possibly be in trouble in the race. By 1:53:46 there was a clear gap between him and the leading lot. “ There is something quite not working for Kipchoge today,’’ the commentator said. By 1:57:30 it was fairly certain that Kipchoge had lost the race and the people to watch out for were the runners nobody had focused on in the days preceding the event when top billing was assigned for a Kipchoge-Bekele face off. As the second hour of running commenced, the lead group stood whittled down to three Ethiopian runners – Kitata, Mosinet Geremew, Lemma and a lone Kenyan, Kipchumba.  Around 2:04, Geremew who had been the most fancied of the lot dropped back. “ There are casualties all around this two and a quarter kilometer-course,’’ the commentator said. It then boiled down to a potential sprint finish between the remaining three and Kipchumba seemed to gain the upper hand briefly before Kitata firmly surged ahead to breast the tape.  It was a final stage with much drama for in those waning moments, few expected Kitata to sustain a sprint given he had often led the pack from the front in the preceding laps and seemed ideal candidate to be tired.

In a post race tweet, Kipchoge said that after 25 kilometers his ear had got blocked and wouldn’t open anymore. “ But this is how sport is,” he said, pointing out that defeat should be accepted and the focus should now be on winning the next race. He hopes to return for the next edition of the London Marathon and the Olympics, Runners World reported in their article on what happened to Kipchoge.

The 2020 London Marathon was run on a specially selected course around St James Park. Athletes ran several loops. According to the race commentators, the said course was considered for the sub-two hour project Kipchoge had executed in 2019. That event finally took place on a special course in Vienna, wherein he achieved an unofficial time of 1:59:40 for the marathon. The London course was quite flat and therefore theoretically, fast. However because the run was happening on a special course due to the pandemic, even if a new course record was set in the 2020 edition, it wouldn’t be counted officially, the commentators said. The pacers for the men’s race on Sunday included Mo Farah.

Mo Farah doing duty as pacer at the 2020 London Marathon. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

The 2020 London Marathon will definitely trigger curiosity in terms of what the model – a blend of physical race and larger virtual participation – holds for the business of running worldwide. An estimated 45,000 runners were due to participate in the virtual format of the 2020 London Marathon. Outside of the UK, the highest number of runners participating in the virtual version of the event was in USA, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the race commentators said. At the physical race in London on Sunday, there were no spectators and only the elite athletes running loops on a secure course. As an event then accessed through television and digital media, the physical race showcased elite running as pure performance with no other distractions in the frame. In other words, there was no life around. It is possible that some viewers may have found such running a cold, clinical experience with only the commentary providing warmth. Under the circumstances this blend appears the most viable model (there is however the problem of shrinking free access to streaming and sometimes, overpriced access) and London may provide impetus for managers of events elsewhere in the world, to follow suit. Races in Valencia and Abu Dhabi have already been spoken of in this context particularly because there is a real thirst out there with elite marathoners for events to run at and qualify for the Olympics. The marathon at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, which was one of the opportunities to qualify so before pandemic struck and the 2020 Olympics got postponed to 2021, was held in very warm, humid conditions. Timings reported there, had been slow.

As is the norm these days, the London Marathon was also watched from the perspective of shoe technology and what advanced shoe design brings to the table at races. It was only the second World Marathon Major this year to physically happen, after the Tokyo Marathon in March. Kipchoge, who has in some ways been the face of new developments in shoe technology, was running the race in London in a version of the Nike Alpha Fly with his timing from Vienna – 1:59:40 – written at the back of it, the commentators said.

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

KENENISA BEKELE WITHDRAWS FROM 2020 LONDON MARATHON

Kenenisa Bekele. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Top marathon runner, Kenenisa Bekele, will not be participating in Sunday’s London Marathon.

He has pulled out of the event owing to a calf injury, information available on the website of London Marathon, said.

In a related video, the Ethiopian athlete who holds the second fastest time yet in the discipline can be heard saying that he picked up a minor injury two weeks earlier. “ We had really good training and more or less at the end of two weeks, I really pushed a little bit hard in training and I had some feeling in my left calf; a little bit. I feel like over-trained and after my physio checking about this, we tried to solve it but it’s really difficult to get enough and it’s really impossible to race on Sunday. I am not ready because of not solving these minor issues,’’ he says, adding, “ I am really disappointed for my fans; people who waited for this race. I am really disappointed too. I will come back next year. For now, I will not race on Sunday.’’

World record holder, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and Bekele sharing the same field was supposed to be the main attraction of this year’s London Marathon. According to a press statement on the event’s website, Sunday would have been the first time Bekele raced since clocking 2:01:41 to win the 2019 BMW Berlin Marathon in September 2019. “ It has been a tough preparation time with lockdown when I couldn’t have my NN team around me. I was in good shape but then I picked up a niggle in my left calf after two fast training sessions too close together in the last weeks of preparation. I have been having treatment every day since then and I truly believed I would be ready but today it is worse and I now know I cannot race on it,’’ the statement dated October 2, quoted him as saying.

Hugh Brasher, Event Director of the Virgin Money London Marathon, has said, “ the world has been waiting to see this head to head between Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge but it will now not happen this Sunday. We know how disappointed he is and we wish him a speedy recovery. This was never likely to be just a two-man race as we had four of the top ten fastest marathon runners ever and six men in the field who have broken 2:05, including Mosinet Geremew and Mule Wasihun, second and third last year, and 2018 runner-up Shura Kitata.” All the three runners mentioned herein – Geremew, Wasihun and Kitata – are from Ethiopia. Kipchoge holds the current course record in London – 2:02:37 – set in 2019.

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

RBG

This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the film and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Very rarely has the demise of a judge assumed such proportions of loss and anxiety over what next, as the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.

RBG, as she was popularly known, was a champion of women’s rights and her work in the field, sustained for decades, was instrumental in ensuring gender equality before the law, in the US. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; in 1993 President Bill Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Her demise in September 2020 has left liberal political groups nervous given both the nature of conservative politics visible since the last US presidential elections and attempts to enhance the conservative element in the country’s Supreme Court. The latter assumes importance because in the system of checks and balances that is democracy, the judiciary plays a major role – it is often the final corrective force – and its dominance by any particular social, cultural or political flavor provides scope to change the character of a country temporarily. On the other hand, judges are human too.

Uniquely, the exploration of what makes judges what they are is as much fleshed out as the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in RBG, the 2018 documentary film on her, currently available on Netflix. It is an excellent film about a journey in law and women’s rights, commencing in times when American law firms rarely hired a woman lawyer and the approach of law reflected society’s treatment of women, as subservient to men. This was despite the constitution promising equality. Starting with the case of a woman air force officer denied housing allowance for no reason other than her gender; RBG worked her way through several cases – including those seeking gender equality for men – to help lay the legal framework for a more just society. The documentary sheds light on her personal life; family, the professional rapport she shared with colleagues holding opposing political views and her eventual rise in old age to the status of an icon, a strong supporter of equality. We learn of not merely the cases she won but also the cases in which her opinion was minority and she registered her dissent. The words of dissent help us understand her position. Don’t miss this film. There is no better time to watch it than now when world over, the gains of liberal politics and diverse society are being undermined by conservative forces. Not to mention – it doesn’t matter if the subject is from another country; when it comes to democracy, the experience of one democratic nation is lesson for itself and others.

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

COMING UP: 2020 LONDON MARATHON, REAL AND VIRTUAL

Eliud Kipchoge. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Although scaled down to an elites only affair, this year’s London Marathon, due October 4, promises engaging action as it pits the world’s fastest marathon runner, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya against the second fastest, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and a host of other top runners. In the women’s race, world record holder, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya will be participating.

On September 29, The Guardian reported that race director, Hugh Brasher, believed records may fall on the fast course selected for the 2020 London Marathon provided weather stayed supportive. According to the report, all Kenyan and Ethiopian runners arrived for the race cleared COVID-19 tests, save a runner (Degitu Azimeraw) and a coach (Haji Adilo) – both from Ethiopia – who tested positive before boarding the flight to London. There are COVID-19 tests before athlete leaves his / her country, tests before checking into the hotel in London and tests ahead of actual race.

Kenenisa Bekele. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

This year’s edition of London Marathon, originally scheduled to be held on April 26, 2020, was postponed to October 4, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later, it was changed to an elites-only race. London Marathon is the second event to be held this year from the clutch of races constituting the World Marathon Majors. In March, the Tokyo Marathon was held as an elites-only race. The London Marathon course will also be markedly different this time with runners racing along a contained course around St. James Park. Participants will do 19.6 laps of this loop.

For the large number of amateur athletes who had signed up for the event, this year’s London Marathon will be accessible as a virtual event. Participants of the virtual 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon have 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to complete their marathon. They will have to enter their race details on the official race app, London Marathon said on its website.

Bhadresh Shivashankar; right, in yellow vest (Photo: courtesy Bhadresh)

Some of the amateur runners participating in the virtual event in India

In India, runners registered for the virtual London Marathon will be running in their own cities in small contained loops as lockdown norms still prevent any gathering of people.

In Bengaluru, Bhadresh Shivashankar will be running the virtual London Marathon at Hesaraghata, on the outskirts of the city. Bhadresh was on course to do the six World Marathon Majors having already run Berlin Marathon in 2018 and Chicago Marathon in 2019. This year, he had registered for London Marathon. Following outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide, he joined the ranks of those running the event’s virtual format. Bhadresh has been running for over 15 years now. Beset with health issues, he took to running when he was working in Dubai. Over the years, he has participated in many races of varying distances, including several marathons.

Harish Vasista (Photo: courtesy Harish)

“ On Sunday, I will be running on a loop of 15 kilometers at Hesaraghata. Support will be provided by the marathon training group, Pacemakers and Active Holidays, a travel company that organizes trips to run marathons,” he said.

Harish Vasista, also from Bengaluru, will be running the virtual London Marathon at the same venue as Bhadresh. Training with Pacemakers, Harish has been following his coach K.C. Kothandapani’s customized training plan. “ My training for the virtual run has been good although I could have done better,” he said. Harish too was on course to do the six World Marathon Majors, having already done New York City Marathon and Berlin Marathon. This year, he was to do London Marathon and Chicago Marathon. While London Marathon was postponed and later changed to the virtual format, Chicago Marathon’s 2020 edition has been cancelled. “ I plan to start at a slow pace for the first 20-22 kilometers. Depending on how I feel, I will step up my pace for the rest of the run,” he said. Weather in Bengaluru has been quite good these past few days.

Himanshu Sareen (Photo: courtesy Himanshu)

In Mumbai, recreational runner Himanshu Sareen will be running the virtual London Marathon barely a fortnight after he ran the virtual Boston Marathon.  He plans to run along the same route that he chose for Boston Marathon, a route close to his place of residence. Each virtual marathon appears to have its own unique approach to overall rules. The virtual Boston Marathon held over September 5 – 14 was amenable to the use of treadmill. The virtual London Marathon is not. Himanshu had initially thought of running 30 kilometers outside and 12 kilometers on the treadmill at home. He had arranged for a foot pod to ensure seamless transition. A foot pod is a device that is tied to the foot and is very accurate in measurement while running indoors as well as outdoors. He has since abandoned the plan and decided to keep his run fully outdoors.

Kamalaksha Rao (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Hennur Bamboo Ultra)

Kamalaksha Rao, also from Mumbai, will be attempting his virtual London Marathon on a route close to his place of stay. “ I will be carrying water and some nutrition bars. There are shops along the route. I can buy water from these shops to replenish my supplies,” the septuagenarian said. Kamalaksha will be running at a very slow pace as roughly two and a half months earlier, in July, he had come down with COVID-19. Both Kamalaskha and Himanshu hadn’t originally registered for the London Marathon. They registered later for the virtual format. The virtual version of major running events has been finding acceptance in India. Amidst lockdown blues and life that continues to be hemmed in by COVID-19, it has provided goals that runners can focus on. Not to mention – in their own small way, amateur runners deprived the ambiance of running events by the pandemic, tweak these virtual events to create a microcosm of enjoyable event. During the virtual Boston Marathon for example, running groups in India had created special loops, banners and finishing tape, provided hydration support and even some cheering – all this with safety protocols in place.

A backdrop of inspiring performances despite virus hit-world

Brigid Kosgei (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of London Marathon and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

This year’s London Marathon is happening against the backdrop of an unexpected improvement in distance running by some elite athletes despite circumstances still plagued by COVID-19. The spread of COVID-19 worldwide, the lockdown it caused and the way in which it upset athletes’ training plans (not to mention, how the pandemic caused the 2020 Olympic Games to be postponed) were expected to impact athletic performance. While that may be the general trend, on August 14, Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda stunned the world when he scripted a new world record in the 5000 meters on track. Later, over September 4 – 5, three world records tumbled. Elite runners, Mo Farah of UK and Sifan Hassan of Netherlands set one hour-world records in their respective gender categories while Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the “ women-only race world record in the half marathon.’’

The attention now shifts to the London Marathon of October 4. Eliud Kipchoge, 35, holds the official world record in the men’s marathon: 2:01:39 set in September 2018 in Berlin. In October 2019, he was in the news for covering the same distance in 1:59:40 at a special event in Vienna (it did not count as a new record). Kenenisa Bekele, 38, has a personal best of 2:01:41 in the marathon, set at the 2019 Berlin Marathon. Brigid Kosgei’s world record in the women’s marathon is 2:14:04; it was set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

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

UNLOCK 5 EXTENDS RELIEF TO ELITE SWIMMERS

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Notwithstanding the central government’s recommendation, the final decision will be by the state governments

The central government has allowed select swimming pools to reopen as part of the phased relaxation of lockdown in India, the media reported on September 30, 2020.

This would be as part of Unlock 5, effective from October 1 and the reference to pools has been qualified as those used to train “ sportspersons.” It has been interpreted in swimming circles as meaning competition swimmers.

In its report on Unlock 5, the Hindustan Times wrote,“   Swimming pools being used for training of sportspersons will be permitted to open, for which the standard operating procedure (SOP) will be issued by Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (MoYA&S).” Notwithstanding the relaxation of lockdown norms by the central government, given the continued growth of COVID-19 infections, the final decision at ground level will be taken by the state authorities concerned.

In the world of sports, the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, first enforced in late March, had been felt most severely in swimming. While other endurance sports like running and cycling progressively regained a semblance of activity at both amateur and elite levels (races and events are still not permitted) with every move to relax lockdown, swimming continued inaccessible as pools remained shut. This had naturally put pressure on elite swimmers for who, every day of training lost, makes it that much harder to recoup their form and ranking in competition.

The inclusion of swimming pools meant for training “ sportspersons” in the latest unlock guidelines from the center, is the first green signal to swimming in a long while. But as mentioned, the final decision even with regard to reopening facilities for competition swimmers will be that of the state government. In Maharashtra for instance, the state’s Unlock 5 guidelines (announced September 30) continues to have swimming pools in the banned category. At the time of writing, there was no mention yet of local exemptions in line with the central government’s recommendation.

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

ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY

This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of the film and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

In the initial portion of the 2020 documentary film All In: The Fight for Democracy, you see Stacey Abrams, politician, lawyer and voter rights activist speaking at a function after her loss by a slender margin to former Secretary of State of Georgia, Brian Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election.  The election was marked by accusations that Kemp resorted to voter suppression.

As a development in the US, the scene is arguably irrelevant to India although the US and India are among the world’s biggest democracies. But as a piece of articulation, what Abrams says in the film is priceless for its healthy blend of fact and emotion. Besides serving as spine for the documentary which deals with the suppression of voting rights in the US, the speech shines for its choice of words.  Her address has been spliced into parts that appear at various points in the narrative.

In the portion affixed near the beginning – it eases us into the film – she says, “ to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people and the state, boldly pin his hopes for the election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So let’s be clear – this is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I can’t concede that.’’ Later, towards the movie’s end, there is this portion, “ pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. You see, I am supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. You see, as a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.’’

As said, this film is rooted in the American context. At a time when political and economic inequality is a burning issue globally and the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining traction in the US, it shows us how the voting rights of the African American community (and other minorities) were hemmed in by a series of regressive laws and practices in the US, even after the country officially embraced democracy and diversity. Notwithstanding its story born in the US, the film holds much value for democracies everywhere, including India, the world’s biggest democracy. These are times when democracy is facing multiple challenges and the vast majority of us cannot even explain what is going wrong although we are dead sure of the rot by subversion. We know the fault isn’t democracy’s; the fault lay in how it got subverted by powerful forces. Yet many of us have begun dodging the subject and more dangerously, commenced justifying it and even trashing democracy for its inherent imperfection and lack of industrial efficiency. For nothing but the clarity resident in the words from her speech, Abrams appeared worth listening to in these times rendered murky by storms of mistruths and misinterpretations.

That said, this film is not about her; it is about the larger and older problem of voter suppression and the subject has been beautifully explored with the story of Abrams as contemporary backbone holding things together. The film exhorts us to value our democratic right to vote and back that simple act constituting the bedrock of democracy with considerable awareness. Above all, it warns us to be vigilant of the many ways in which the right to vote is systematically weakened by well entrenched forces seeking a world cast to their convenience.

The film is available on Amazon Prime. Don’t miss it; especially, if you live in a democracy.

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