TURA, CHEPNGETICH WIN 2021 CHICAGO MARATHON

This image was downloaded from the Twitter handle of Chicago Marathon.

Ethiopia’s Seifu Tura and Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich won the men’s and women’s race respectively at the 2021 Chicago Marathon, held on October 10.

Chepngetich, the former half marathon world record holder and first runner-up at the 2020 London Marathon, took an early lead in the women’s race and stayed ahead until the end, to finish in two hours, 22 minutes and 31 seconds.

Emma Bates of the U.S finished in second position with a personal best timing of 2:24:20. In third position was Sara Hall, also of the U.S., finishing in 2:27:19.

This image was downloaded from then Twitter handle of Chicago Marathon.

In the men’s race, Tura won after breaking away from Galen Rupp of the U.S. and Kenya’s Eric Kiptanui. Tura’s winning time of 2:06:12 came amidst warm, humid conditions. Rupp crossed the finish line in second position in 2:06:35 and Kiptanui in 2:06:51 to place third.

American runner, Shalane Flanagan, finished in 2:46:39, securing 34th place among women runners. Flanagan had announced plans to run six World Marathon Majors in 42 days. The 2021 Chicago Marathon was her third since she started with the year’s Berlin Marathon held on September 26.

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

KENYA’S JEPKOSGEI, ETHIOPIA’S LEMMA WIN 2021 LONDON MARATHON

Joyciline Jepkosgei. This image was downloaded from the Twitter handle of London Marathon.

Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma emerged winners of the women’s and men’s race respectively, at the 2021 edition of London Marathon held on October 3, 2021.

Jepkosgei, 28, finished the race in a personal best timing of two hours, 17 minutes and 43 seconds. She warded off competition including from the race favorite Brigid Kosgei, to storm to victory.

Kosgei, the world record holder at 2:14:04 set at Chicago Marathon in 2019, had to settle for the fourth position.

In the women’s race, Degitu Azimeraw of Ethiopia finished second with a timing of 2:17:58. In third position was Ashete Bekere also of Ethiopia with a finishing time of 2:18:18.

In the men’s race, Lemma crossed the finish line in 2:04:01. He was followed by Kenya’s Vincent Kipchumba (2:04:28) in second position and Mosinet Geremew (2:04:41) of Ethiopia in third position.

2021 London Marathon; this image was downloaded from the Twitter handle of the race.

Defending champion Shura Kitata of Ethiopia finished in sixth position.

As reported by BBC, an estimated 80,000 persons took part in the 2021 London Marathon in person and via an app. More than 40,000 people participated in the physical race. “ It is 889 days since the colourful charity spectacular in front of cheering crowds last took place. A number of changes were in force this year to try to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. Those running in central London had to show a negative lateral flow test for Covid-19,” the report said.

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

HARI OM PASSES AWAY

Hari Om (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Ultra-runner and mountaineer, Hari Om, was among personnel from the Indian Navy who lost their lives in an avalanche near the Himalayan peak of Trishul in early October 2021.

At the time of writing, the bodies of four climbers – including Hari Om – had been retrieved. Search operations were on for another two expedition members, reported missing. According to the Indian Express (report dated October 2, 2021), a team of ten was caught in the avalanche.

Located in Uttarakhand, Trishul (7120m / 23,360ft), is among peaks that form the protective wall around Nanda Devi (7816m), the highest mountain wholly in India and noted worldwide for its magnificent setting.

Trishul (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

It is believed that back in 1907, when it was first ascended by mountaineers, Trishul was the first peak above 7000m to be climbed so. In 1951, the peak hosted the first Indian mountaineering expedition following the country’s independence from the British.

The early climbing route on Trishul was from within the Nanda Devi sanctuary. Given the sanctuary has been closed for long, the route currently used lay outside the sanctuary. To approach this route one has to proceed via the village of Sutol. While the old route, which was a relatively straight forward climb had given Trishul the image of being a doable 7000m-peak, the route used at present is not in that league. “ Compared to the old one, it is difficult,” an experienced mountaineer, who has been on the peak, said. None of these technical aspects, however affect the image of Trishul on a photograph. Seen from select angles, it remains among the most beautiful peaks in the Himalaya.

Hari Om at the 2016 edition of La Ultra The High (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

This blog met Hari Om for the first time in 2016 in Leh, at that year’s edition of La Ultra The High. He was part of the Indian Navy’s ultramarathon team, participating in the event; he went on to finish third in the 111km category of the race.

In May 2017, he was among climbers reaching the top of Mt Everest as part of an Indian Navy expedition to the peak. He was among those selected for the Nao Sena Medal (devotion to duty) in 2018.

For more on Hari Om, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/03/22/sailors-dream/

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

NOLS: GETTING BACK IN PHASES

N. Ravi Kumar, Director, NOLS India

NOLS is among the world’s biggest outdoor schools. Its headquarters are in the US; it has its India operations in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand. For years, practices evolved at NOLS have served as a benchmark for the outdoor industry especially the segment therein focused on outdoor education.

When the world slipped into the grip of COVID-19 in early 2020 (the disease was first reported in late 2019) and normal human life got disrupted, NOLS too was impacted. But characteristic of it, the school worked on new, safe means to conduct its courses and by early 2021 was back to operating many of its outdoor programs in the US.

N. Ravi Kumar, Director, NOLS India is currently in the US, working outdoor programs and first aid courses there. He spared time to answer a few questions on NOLS, NOLS India and outdoor programs in the midst of a pandemic. The exchange was via email.

Broadly speaking, how has the pandemic affected the operations of NOLS globally?

The impact has been significant. In spring 2020, NOLS was forced to shut down the following locations abruptly: India, Tanzania, Patagonia, Scandinavia, Mexico and all its locations in the US.

The school had to let go of a large portion of employees and retain only essential workforce to help with restart when things are under control.

When did operations resume and in which all geographies?

Spring 2020 everything was shut. In the fall of 2020, we did a few courses with COVID protocols in place and by spring 2021 we had most of our operations in the US going with limited course offerings. The response was very good. All courses were full in no time and we have had the least number of evacuations in the school’s history as everyone wanted to be out in the woods after a year of staying indoors.

This summer we had enrolment beyond what we could accommodate and had to cut back significantly due to staff shortage.

NOLS uses the expedition model to teach its courses. How has the structure of NOLS expeditions changed to handle the precautions and protocols required in these times of COVID-19? In one of our conversations, you briefly touched upon a multi-phased model that is being used. Can you give us an overview of this model?

Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and variants are an evolving hazard. The risk of contracting the illness, COVID-19, on NOLS field courses cannot be eliminated. But we have identified mitigation strategies based on guidance by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce that risk, which can be used in concert with testing and vaccines. With those strategies in place, we believe the risk can be managed appropriately.

The cornerstones on which, we have based our approach include informed consent, reducing the risk of virus transmission, hygiene with emphasis on hand washing or sanitizing to prevent flu-like illness and monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19.

NOLS has put in place COVID-19 risk management strategies for each of the outdoor activities it is associated with spanning land and water.

Our field practices are divided into phases depending on the documented vaccination status of course members. A course starting in Phase 1 will follow the recommended practices of that phase for the first ten days of the course. After ten days, if there are no significant breaches and if no one becomes symptomatic, we can reasonably assume that the risk of COVID-19 transmission within the group is reduced and the group can move to Phase 2. A course that is fully vaccinated can start the course in Phase 2, which is normal course operating routines with continued attention to hygiene. This is the broad paradigm.

Besides detailed protocols on hygiene, daily health checks, physical distancing, masking and cooking, the first phase features a few other key elements. For instance, in Phase 1, the tents used are of the sort that are roomier and capable of better ventilation. Models like the Mega Mid are finding increased use in the quest to have less confined, better ventilated shelters. Tarps, flies – they are staging a comeback. To provide adequate physical distancing, the number of persons per tent is kept low in Phase 1. Groups are also encouraged to use their shelters such that there is spare shelter capacity within the group, for flexibility. The Phase 1 model has the quality of a protective cocoon. If during this phase or at a later stage, somebody does show symptoms, then in addition to isolating that individual and preparing for further steps thereof, the Phase 1 model may be continued or returned to for the rest of the group.

The above is an overview. It is only meant to provide a broad idea of how things have changed.

WMI first aid courses are now an integral part of NOLS. How has the onset and spread of COVID-19 affected the WMI curriculum? Has measures around the avoidance, detection and field management of COVID-19 / infectious diseases become a part of contemporary WMI curriculum?

All WMI courses start with an hour-long class on infection control, right after introductions. The class covers a wide range of infections and devotes ten minutes to Covid related infections and how to mitigate the spread. This addition has forced the removal of the lightning class in WFA courses, and altitude illness. Now we direct students to watch videos on the topics as homework.

The WMI courses are full and busy. They even started running courses partly online and partly with classroom presence. We are still adapting to norms and restrictions in large classrooms and how we run practical patient care with minimum exposure to each other.

How did COVID-19 affect NOLS India? What is the short to medium term plan for India operations? Do you anticipate any changes to how you run courses here as a consequence of the pandemic?

NOLS has decided to close a few international locations for good. India is not one of them. I hope it continues so. Most of the students on our programs run in India, are from the US. Although the US itself has struggled to deal with the pandemic (even today the number of people succumbing to the disease is high) the combination of what happened in India and how it got portrayed, has been such that a proper perspective of the reality in India is absent in the US.

Hence the school has decided to take a conservative wait and watch approach as regards restarting India operations. It is imperative that when in India, our students should get proper medical care if required. We cannot restart when the health care system is overwhelmed or there are indications, it may be.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. The WMI first aid courses offered by NOLS are WFA, WAFA and WFR of which WFA is the shortest.)

2021 BERLIN MARATHON: ETHIOPIANS TRIUMPH

Guye Adola of Ethiopia (this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of Berlin Marathon)

In the first major road race with sizable participation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Berlin Marathon saw Ethiopian runners triumph in both the men’s and women’s race.

At the 47th Berlin Marathon, held on September 26, 2021, Guye Adola of Ethiopia won the men’s race in two hours, five minutes and 45 seconds, way. He finished ahead of race favorite Kenenisa Bekele but the timing was way behind the world record of 2:01:39 set by Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

In the women’s race, Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia won her debut marathon in 2:20:09 hours. It was an Ethiopian sweep on the podium for women. Hiwot Gebrekidan finished second (2:21:23) and Helen Tola third (2:23:05).

Two-time winner of the Berlin Marathon previously, Bekele finished third among men with a timing of 2:06:47. Kenya’s Bethwel Yegon finished second with a timing of 2:06:14. The near total sweep of podium positions by Ethiopian runners in Berlin follows a rather disappointing performance by the country in the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics.

Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia (this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of Berlin Marathon)

American marathon runner Shalane Flanagan, who had announced plans to come out of her retirement and attempt six World Marathon Majors in 42 days, finished Sunday’s Berlin Marathon in 2:38:32, securing the 17th position among women.

The 2021 Berlin Marathon was the first race with sizable participation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports said nearly 24,800 runners from 139 countries participated in the race.

Over the next 42 days, five Elite Platinum Label marathons are scheduled to be held. The upcoming races are London Marathon (October 2, 2021), Chicago Marathon (October 10), Boston Marathon (October 11), Amsterdam Marathon (October 17) and New York City Marathon (November 7).

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

AT A GLANCE / APRIL 2021

Tata Mumbai Marathon rescheduled

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

The organizer of the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) has informed that the event’s 2021 edition will require to be rescheduled.

In a statement dated April 17, 2021, Procam International said, “ the new date will be announced in due course after consultations with the Government of Maharashtra and relevant athletic bodies. ‘’

The race was set to take place on May 30, 2021. 

In a normal year, the event takes place in January.

India is currently in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19 infection. Among states, the case load is particularly high in Maharashtra; Mumbai is among badly hit cities.

The statement quoted Vivek Singh, Jt. MD., Procam International as saying, “ The Tata Mumbai Marathon has a special place in our hearts, and we thank everyone for making this iconic event a sporting phenomenon. As we navigate these challenging times, we want you to know that we are leaving no stone unturned to make the marathon possible this year. The Government of Maharashtra and our partners have been extremely supportive to ensure, that we have the best possible option, keeping in mind the safety and security for all involved.

“ By shifting our focus to a new date, we will continue to work closely with the state, national and international athletic bodies to identify a suitable date for the event, which is conducive to the safe conduct of the event for all stakeholders.”

According to it, the organizing team “ continues to remain motivated and committed to deliver the 2021 edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, in its truest sense.’’ All related details such as registration date, race course, and the events around the race will follow suit once the rescheduled date is announced, the statement added.

Further details about Tata Mumbai Marathon 2021, a World Athletics Road Race Elite Label, will be available on the website of the event.

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

16 MINUTES

Nihal Baig; from 2021 NDM (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

Two hours, 31 minutes and 33 seconds. In early March 2021 when Nihal Ahamad Baig topped the amateur segment of the year’s Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon (NDM) with said timing, it was an improvement in his personal best (PB) by approximately 16 minutes.

The last full marathon he had run was the 2019 Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), where he covered the 42.2 km-distance in two hours, 47 minutes and 30 seconds to place ninth overall in the amateur category and second in his age group (18-24 years). That year the winner among amateur runners at TMM had clocked 2:32:57. Although the 2020 edition of TMM was held as scheduled in January, Nihal had to sit that one out owing to a shin injury. The marathon in Mumbai was followed by the one in Delhi (2020 NDM) wherein the overall winner among amateurs clocked 2:35:10. A triathlete with successful finishes at Ironman events to his credit, Nihal’s major objective for the year was to participate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships scheduled for November in New Zealand. The project went for a toss, courtesy something tiny and as described in a 2008 article in Scientific American “ inhabiting the grey area between living and non-living’’ – a virus. Roughly two months after 2020 TMM and almost exactly a month after 2020 NDM, India slipped into lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. As humans sheltered indoors, outdoor sports ground to a halt. Initially, it was a sense of abject gloom and plans upset for those into the active lifestyle. Then, a different script began to play out. Nihal’s year gone by – as one looks back from the 16 minute-improvement registered at 2021 NDM – appears to have followed that script.

“ During my B.Tech and M.Tech days at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai, I was part of the athletics team. I used to participate in races over distances ranging from 400 meters to 5000 meters. I finished my M.Tech in 2016. But I did not stop running. I continued it on the IIT Mumbai campus thanks to my being alumni. I moved to exploring longer distances, starting with half marathons. Around this time, I took up employment in Mumbai. I work as Risk Associate at MSCI Inc. I started cycling to work, a distance of about nine kilometers from where I stay. Over time, I started to go for long rides. At that time, I had heard about the Ironman triathlon. I was keen to explore it and began learning to swim. In October 2017, I did my first half Ironman distance-triathlon in Hyderabad. What attracted me to the triathlon was that I got to do three sports in it instead of the usual one. And triathlon is all about fitness and endurance. I love how I get to push myself in these three disciplines,’’ Nihal had said in an article for this blog in November 2019, soon after he placed second in Ironman 70.3 Goa.

Nihal Baig (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

When lockdown unfolded in the first quarter of 2020, of the triathlon’s three disciplines, swimming went into profound hibernation as authorities ordered pools shut as part of pandemic protocols. For those pursing the sport as well as the triathlon, the closure of pools would have left a bank of energy to be addressed – namely divert it into other activities that were still possible. Nihal, restricted to the confines of his apartment, found his refuge in cycling. “ I am not generally a fan of intense training sessions. But in the first few months of lockdown when we all had to stay indoors, I did a lot of intense cycling on my trainer,’’ he said mid-March 2021, some ten days after NDM. Cycling is recognized cross-training for running. The hours spent on the home trainer, besides working the relevant muscle groups, contributed to improving cardio-vascular fitness. He also worked out at home to stay physically fit. Additionally, as the frenzied urban lifestyle slowed down with pandemic and Work from Home (WFH) took hold, there was both greater ownership of time, an improved sense of personal ecosystem and therein, the inadvertent use of such existence for general recovery by minds and bodies traditionally addicted to relentless activity. Downtime, rest, mindfulness – these things matter. Running is an impact sport. Cycling, pounds the joints less than running. The reduced impact of cycling suited Nihal who was recovering from shin injury. Slowly, the injury began to heal. Around end May-early June, he commenced regular jogging on a loop of roughly 1.5 kilometers, within the premises of his housing society in Powai, Mumbai. Thereafter it was a gradual drift back to the training of old albeit with no events on the horizon for focus.

Nihal Baig; cycling in Pune (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

“ Between swimming, cycling and running, I have always found running to be the most satisfying,’’ Nihal said. Given his last marathon had been in January 2019, he was keen to get back to running long distance. To satisfy the urge, he ran the virtual Boston Marathon in September 2020. He did this during a visit to Hyderabad, his hometown. Then he did something that fundamentally altered his training ecosystem. According to Nihal, he had all along been training alone in Mumbai. He wasn’t particularly attached to any group of runners or triathletes in the city. At the same time, he was aware of the need for a dose of intense training to improve his act and the deficit he experienced in this regard. Training with others can be helpful. The question was – how can he create an ambience offering better motivation; where would he find it? Nihal had noticed that intensity / commitment levels were more in Pune, Maharashtra’s second biggest city, approximately 150 kilometers away from Mumbai. With WFH rendering one’s location irrelevant when it came to office responsibilities, Nihal took advantage of the new trend to shift to Pune in October. There, training in the company of committed amateur athletes, his running and cycling gathered momentum. Two other things also influenced the decision. Thanks to its location at higher elevation (1840 feet / source: Wikipedia), Pune’s weather includes a winter. The place is generally less humid than Mumbai. Plus, its terrain is more varied than that of India’s financial capital; Nihal found himself cycling outdoors more often in Pune than he used to in Mumbai. “ Currently I have intense training sessions four days a week and long training sessions twice a week. I also do easy sessions in the evening. The training sessions are evenly divided between running and cycling,’’ Nihal said.

By late 2020-early 2021, as the first flush of pandemic subsided and lockdown rules relaxed, a trickle of sporting events reappeared in India and elsewhere in the world. Partial to running, Nihal itched to participate in a running event. He registered for the district cross-country championships in Pune; the race spanned 10 kilometers. Nihal secured third position, qualifying for the state championships (race length: 11km) in the process. At the latter, he failed to qualify for the nationals. But the timing from the district championships told him something – he covered the distance in 33 minutes, 29 seconds while his previous PB for the same distance was 35:30. “ I had the feeling that if I were to attempt a full marathon, I may be able to chop off eight to ten minutes from my PB. But it is difficult to extrapolate expectations for a marathon based on performance in a 10k. The marathon is four times longer, anything can happen,’’ he said. The cross-country experience of January 2021, encouraged Nihal to register for 2021 NDM. With an event to look forward to, he trained with greater focus from five to six weeks ahead of the competition. “ About 18 days before NDM I did a time trial over 25 kilometers. The timing I got in it was an hour and 28 minutes. I then felt that if all went well, aiming for 2:35 at NDM wouldn’t be unreasonable,’’ Nihal said.

Nihal Baig; on the podium after topping the amateur category at 2021 NDM (Photo: courtesy Nihal)

On race day in New Delhi, he kept a conservative pace for the first six kilometers and then went slightly faster. “ I could catch the leaders around the 10k mark and then we started pushing each other till 30k before they began slowing down. I stuck with the same pace till 37k but then I got a bad cramp which forced me to stop. I had to stretch and walk for about 30-40 seconds before I could recommence running,” he said. He was able to hold on to his pace and finish ahead of others in the amateur category. The timing – 2:31:33 was an improvement in PB by 16 minutes; it also fetched a position on the podium.

When the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in New Zealand was cancelled due to COVID-19, Nihal had opted for the event’s 2021 edition scheduled in Utah, USA. At that time, a year had seemed adequate for humanity to counter the virus. Early 2021; in hindsight, that smacked of over-optimism. With the world still in the clutches of the pandemic and international travel yet to become normal, Nihal is unsure whether he would be able to attend the event in Utah. Races closer to home appear more practical. “ I hope to participate in the 2021 TMM in May, if it is held as planned,’’ Nihal said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. For more on Nihal Baig, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/11/05/a-fine-bit-of-cycling-at-ironman-goa-and-a-podium-finish-to-remember-it-by/)

NEW NATIONAL BESTS AT STADIUM RUN IN CHANDIGARH

Amar Singh Devanda

Amar Singh Devanda, Gunjan Khurana set new national bests in 100km

Top four male finishers break existing 100km national best

Binay Sah, Deepti Chaudhary win 24-hour race

Amar Singh Devanda and Gunjan Khurana set new national bests in the men’s and women’s 100 kilometre-race respectively at the Tuffman 24 Hour Stadium Run held on March 13 and 14, 2021 in Chandigarh.

Amar Singh finished the distance in seven hours, 32 minutes and 43 seconds, a new national best. The previous national best of 7:56:22 was held by Sandeep Kumar; set at the NEB 24 Hour Stadium Run at Bengaluru in January 2021. At the Chandigarh Stadium Run, the top four male finishers from the 100 km-race broke this national best.

Gorkha Ram

Finishing behind Amar Singh was Gorkha Ram with a timing of 7:40:55, followed by Sunil Sharma (7:47:19) and Suman Kumar Mishra (7:51:57). It was only last week that Amar Singh, who works with the Indian Air Force (IAF), had won the half marathon race at the 2021 Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon.

Amar Singh took up running at the age of 18, during his training days at IAF. However, he is a recent entrant to the discipline of ultra-running. A corporal in IAF, he started out tackling the 10 km-distance before commencing training for the marathon. The 24-year-old participated in a number of races organised by the Services. Closer to the present, he ran the 60 km ultra-race at Shivalik Ultra and the 100 km category at Border 100 2020, where he ended up winner with timing of 10:47:21. He also participated in the 100 km race at the NEB 24 Hour Stadium Run held in Bengaluru in January 2021. “ I ran at marathon pace and burnt out. I finished the distance in 8:26 hours,” he said.

His coach from IAF, Thakur Singh Bajetha, advised him to reduce his pace for the Chandigarh run. “ Here, my target was to achieve a sub 8:10-finish. I reduced my pace and was able to run without any break till the end,” he said. This time around, his training, race strategy and nutrition were in properly place and it helped.

Darishisha Iangjuh and Gunjan Khurana

A week earlier, he had won the half marathon race at the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon 2021. Next on the cards for Amar Singh is the IAU & AFI 6-Hour Global Solidarity Run to be held on March 21, 2021. He is part of the Indian team for this virtual run.

For Gorkha Ram, who finished second in the men’s 100 km race, the Chandigarh run was his first competition outside of events conducted by the Services. A sergeant in the IAF, Gorkha Ram commenced running in 2015 but stayed focussed on events within the armed forces. At Chandigarh, the 36-year-old runner ran alongside his compatriot Amar Singh.

In the women’s 100km-race in Chandigarh, Gunjan Khurana covered the distance in 9:08:18, an improvement on the previous national best of 9:22:03 set by Anjali Saraogi at the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Aqaba, Jordan, in November 2019. Gunjan was also part of the team representing India at the event Jordan. The women’s team had secured silver at the championships. In second position behind Gunjan at Chandigarh, was Nutan with timing of 9:22:49. Darishisha Iangjuh finished third; her timing was 9:41:13. Darishisha’s previous best in the 100k was 10:19:28, also set in Jordan. 

Deepti Chaudhary (Photo: Sunil Chainani)

A year of intensive training helped Gunjan achieve her new personal best (now also the national best). “ I was able to train well through the year. However, I had a setback in December when I contracted COVID-19. My entire family came down with the virus. After I recovered, I could not immediately resume intensive training,” Gunjan, a resident of Surat, said.

She did several training-runs of 30 and 40km coupled with strength workout. In terms of a really long run, she was able to do just one as she lost all of December to recuperating from the infection. “ At the Chandigarh race, I ran strong for the first 60-70km. Also, the weather was perfectly suited to push for better timing,” Gunjan said. Her previous best in 100 km was 9:57:42, set at the earlier mentioned championships in Jordan in 2019.

In Chandigarh, the 100 km-race commenced at 5PM on March 13. Weather was mostly pleasant but participants in the 24-hour race had to cope with warm weather during the day. In the 24-hour category for men, Binay Kumar Sah was the winner with distance of 236.919km covered. Saurav Ranjan finished second; he covered a distance of 225.14km while Rakesh Kashyap secured third position with 203.85km to his credit. Among women, Deepti Chaudhary covered a distance of 178.935km in the assigned 24 hours. Kalpana Saha finished second with a distance of 173.95km to her name while Shashi Mehta finished third, covering 172.59km.

Binay Kumar Sah (Photo: Sunil Chainani)

A week before the 24-hour run in Chandigarh, Binay Sah ran the full marathon at the 2021 New Delhi Marathon (NDM); he finished with timing of 2:49:18. “ Much of my training was focussed on the 24-hour run. But after I did a long training run of 84 km on February 14, I switched to speed training for my marathon event at NDM. I reduced my weekly mileage, which was around 150-180km, to around 100 km, for the marathon,” he said. At the 24-hour run, his strategy was to run strong for the first 12 hours. “ My race started at 4PM. Until 8AM, I ran continuously as the weather was pleasant. Post 9AM and up to 1PM, I slowed down as it was quite warm. I took a short break and then picked up pace. During the last three hours, I resorted to fast paced running,” he said. According to him, in the last three hours, he covered a distance of 35 km.

Binay, 39, trains on almost all days. He employs a combination of running on track, road and mud. He couples this with yoga and gym training. An employee of Adidas, at the time of writing, he was working from office three days a week and working from home the remaining two days. “ Once I am back from work, I run for nearly two hours at a park or a stadium near my house. In the afternoons, I do yoga if I am at home and if I am at the office, I work out in my office gym,” he said.

In the 12-hour category in Chandigarh, the winner in the men’s segment was Ajay Yadav; he covered a distance of 114.12km. In second position was Abhishake Gupta (109.14km). Sushant (108.45km) placed third. In the women’s segment, Anshu Saini won covering a distance of 100.43km. Anjali (91.15km) finished second while Mamta Sharma (88.81km) placed third.
 

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. Photos by arrangement, where credits haven’t been mentioned.)

AT A GLANCE / MARCH 2021

2021 NDM / Srinu Bugatha at the finish line (Photo: courtesy NEB Sports)

2021 New Delhi Marathon / Srinu Bugatha, Sudha Singh win

Elite runners Srinu Bugatha and Sudha Singh won the men’s and women’s race respectively at the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon (NDM) 2021 held on March 7, 2021. However, both runners fell short of the qualifying mark for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games.

Srinu finished the marathon in two hours, 14 minutes and 58 seconds, a personal best (PB) according to published news reports, that was however short of both the Olympic qualification mark of 2:11:30 and the national record of 2:12:00. Shivnath’s Singh’s national record in the marathon was set way back in May 1978; it continues to daunt the best of Indian marathon runners. “ The race was good. I tried to go below 2:12 but in the end my wish was denied,’’ Srinu said, when contacted.

Sunday’s performance was after just three full marathons in Srinu’s career to date. According to him, the first big marathon he participated in was the 2018 Mumbai Marathon; two years later he won in the Indian elite men’s segment at the 2020 edition of the event. Roughly two months after that victory, India slipped into the lockdown caused by COVID-19. In the second half of 2020, as lockdown commenced easing, a trickle of road races trimmed to suit pandemic protocols, began to appear. At the 2020 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), held in November last year as an elites-only physical race, Srinu had finished second. Thereafter, he had focused on preparations for the 2021 NDM. On February 8, 2021, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) formally informed that the performance of athletes at 2021 NDM would be considered for selection / participation in the Tokyo Olympics “ provided they achieve the qualifying standard as fixed by World Athletics.’’ With a PB to his credit but Olympic qualification not had at 2021 NDM, Srinu now plans to run at least one more race overseas for another shot at the task. He has time till end-May to qualify.

2021 NDM / Sudha Singh at the finish line (Photo: courtesy NEB Sports)

From among elite women at 2021 NDM, Sudha Singh (2:43:41) secured the first place. But her timing was short of the Olympic qualifying mark for women – 2:29:30 as well as the national record of 2:34:43 set by O.P. Jaisha in August 2015. At 2021 NDM, second position in the elite men’s category went to Nitendra Singh Rawat (2:18:54); Rashpal Singh (2:18:56) finished third. In the elite women’s segment, second place was secured by Jyoti Gawate (2:58:22) while Jigmet Dolma (3:04:51) placed third. “ My training was inadequate because of the pandemic and lockdown. After the 30 kilometer-mark, I started to feel tired,” Jyoti who hails Parbani in Maharashtra, said when contacted. Her next race is the 2021 Tata Mumbai Marathon, slated for end-May. Jigmet, who is from Ladakh, said that Sunday’s race was good overall but an error she committed in her pacing cost her the timing she had hoped for. “ The weather, route and facilities – everything was good. I had set a target of finishing in below three hours. The race required us to do two loops of the assigned route. Unfortunately, I was a bit slow in the first loop. Although I did the second loop at the correct pace, it wasn’t enough to make up for the timing I lost,’’ she said.

In the half marathon category at 2021 NDM, Amar Singh Devanda was the winner with timing of 1:13:58. In second position was Dhananjay Sharma (1:15:33); third place went to Sangh Priya Gautam (1:16:35). The podium finishers among women in this category were Jyoti Chauhan (1:20:57) in first place, Pooja (1:28:39) in second and Tashi Ladol (1:30:13), third.

In the open category of the full marathon, Nihal Baig won the men’s race with timing of 2:31:33 while Nupur Singh won the women’s race covering the distance in 3:03:17. In the men’s race, Manoj Yadav finished second with timing of 2:33:25; Pramod Chahar (2:33:55) finished third. In the women’s open category, Prachi Raju Godbole finished second with timing of 3:03:44; Disket Dolma (3:18:56) placed third. Nupur’s timing of 3:03:17 was her personal best, an improvement by seven minutes. “ My training was good except in the last one month. The training helped me to do well today. Also, last week I had a focused nutrition plan. That helped me during the race as well as in the post-race recovery,” Nupur said.

IAU & AFI 6-Hour Global Solidarity Run witnesses good performance by Indian ultra-runners

The IAU & AFI 6-Hour Global Solidarity Run was held as scheduled on March 21, 2021.

The virtual run saw some good performances from Indian ultra-runners.

Sampath Kumar Subramanian covered the maximum distance among Indian runners chosen to participate in the event. He covered a distance of 81.98 kilometers in the stipulated six hours.

Velu Perumal, who won the 24-hour category at the NEB Sports Stadium Run held at Bengaluru in January 2021, covered a distance of 76.69 km. Amar Singh Devanda, who secured a national best in 100 km at the Tuffman Chandigarh Stadium Run held earlier in March 2021, covered a distance of 74.04 km.

Among women, Preeti Lala, winner of the 24-hour NEB Sports Mumbai Stadium Run, covered the maximum distance of 60.52 km. Ashwini Ganapathi covered 53.14 km distance during the stipulated period. Aparna Choudhary covered 51.06 km during the six-hour period.

Running at their respective locations, the participants dedicated the run to ultra-runner L.L. Meena, who passed away on February 10, 2021.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

BAA announces virtual Boston Marathon open to first 70,000 entrants

The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) has announced that it will offer a virtual Boston Marathon, open to everyone aged 18 or over, in celebration of the 125th Boston Marathon this fall. “ Held in addition to the in-person Boston Marathon scheduled for Monday, October 11, 2021, the virtual race will be open to the first 70,000 registrants,’’ a statement dated March 2, 2021, available on the event organizer’s website said.

“ We anticipate having a reduced field size for the in-person road race on Monday, October 11 but want to celebrate and honor the 125th running of the Boston Marathon through this virtual race,” Tom Grilk, President and CEO of BAA, was quoted as saying. “ For the first time in our history, most everyone will have the opportunity to earn a Unicorn finisher’s medal for every B.A.A. race in 2021—no matter whether they choose to walk or run,” he added. 

Registration for the virtual Boston Marathon will open through the BAA’s Athletes’ Village and will take place separately from the in-person registration. “ All participants will need to complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles in one, continuous attempt in order to earn their Unicorn finisher’s medal, but will not be limited to any time restrictions. Participants in the virtual 125th Boston Marathon also will receive a virtual toolkit with an official bib number, champion’s breaktape, start and finish line, and more,’’ the statement said.

In 2020, 16,183 runners from nearly 90 countries and all 50 U.S. states had finished the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience.

According to the statement, field size for the in-person Boston Marathon, scheduled to take place on Monday, October 11, has not yet been finalized but will be smaller than previous years in order to enhance participant and public safety. “ The BAA will strive to achieve a field size composition as close to previous years as possible, with approximately 80% of the field being comprised of qualified entrants and 20% being comprised of invitational entries, including charity program runners. Details about the in-person race, including registration dates, COVID-19 safety measures, and participant requirements will be announced in the coming weeks,’’ it said.

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

BEHIND A NATIONAL BEST

Sandeep Kumar (Photo: courtesy Sandeep)

At the 24-Hour Stadium Run organized by NEB Sports in Bengaluru on January 23 & 24, 2021, Sandeep Kumar, ultra-runner from Surat, won the 100 kilometer-race in seven hours, 56 minutes and 22 seconds, a new national best for the distance. Here is an overview of his journey in the sport:

In the days leading to the NEB 24-hour Bengaluru Stadium Run held on January 23 and 24, 2021, Sandeep Kumar’s plan was to attempt the 100 kilometer-category therein, as a training run. “ I  was not approaching this event as a race. My training was far from adequate. Also, I had been traveling on work across the country and so was not able to chalk out a good training program,” he said.

Before the Bengaluru event, Sandeep could manage two long runs as part of his training plan – a 71 km-run in Manali (through Solang and the Rohtang Pass) and a 60 km-run in Surat; the latter three weeks ahead of the stadium run. He managed decent training mileage for only a week. “ I planned to take this event as a training run. I wanted to support Abhinav,” he said. Like Sandeep, Abhinav Jha, a naval officer, is among India’s leading ultramarathon runners.

On the first day of the event in Bengaluru – Saturday, January 23 – the weather was fairly good. Participating in the 100 kilometer-category, Abhinav covered the distance in 7:57:35 hours. The timing was a new national best. The previous national best was 8:04 by Mumbai-based runner, Deepak Bandbe, who secured it at the 2019 IAU Asia & Oceania Championships in Jordan. The day after Abhinav’s run in Bengaluru the weather changed. It became very warm in the morning and afternoon hours. “ I started running at 5.30 AM on Sunday. I ran non-stop as long as my body allowed me to do so. In the early hours, the weather was good. But as the day grew warmer fatigue started to creep in. I also began to sense tightness in my quadriceps,” Sandeep said.

Photo: courtesy Sandeep

For his run, Sandeep had sought support from the team, which assisted Abhinav earlier. The naval officer, who had commenced his run at 5 PM on Saturday and finished it only a few hours before Sandeep started his attempt, pitched in to help. It was a heart-warming gesture; typically long runs exhaust athletes and dispatch them to rest and recovery. “ Abhinav mixed drinks for me. It helped me to hydrate well during the race. It was amazing that Abhinav helped out so not long after finishing his shot at 100 km,” Sandeep said. Also lending consistent support to Sandeep was Sunil Chainani, member of the committee overseeing ultra-running at the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and who has in the past accompanied Indian teams to events overseas.

Backed thus by a good team, Sandeep was able to pile on the miles. The 30 to 50 km phase went off well. “ I felt I was getting my energy back. From then on I paid attention to my nutrition. I just focussed on getting by, one hour to the next,” he said.

The Bengaluru stadium run was the first event on track for Sandeep. It was also a case of runner progressively getting back into the thick of action after enduring an uncertain period. Earlier in August 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, IAU had held a six-hour Virtual Global Solidarity Run for ultra-runners across the world. From India, 25 runners completed the run, held on August 29 and 30. Running in Surat, Sandeep had logged the maximum distance among Indian runners with a mileage of 79.53 km. It was an encouraging performance given the intervening months of lockdown caused by COVID-19 had been trying. In the initial phase of lockdown, norms had been strict; it forced Sandeep to stay indoors. For an ultra-runner, training mileage has to be high. The complete absence of running was very difficult to handle. “ The mind and body felt caged,” he said. He used to wake up very early to do short runs or opt to run late at night. Eventually, he took to meditation. It helped him weather those months.

For the IAU 6-hour Virtual Global Solidarity Run, Sandeep commenced general fitness training sometime in July 2020 and by early August 2020, he started run training. He chose to run in Surat as it was familiar training ground. His run went off well, helped by his training and the pleasant weather. Roughly a year before this virtual run, in 2019, Sandeep had been part of the Indian team at the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships in Jordan. However, the race that fetched Sandeep the attention of India’s ultra-running circles was the Comrades Marathon. Over 2017 and 2018, he had completed the uphill and downhill versions of this iconic race in South Africa in the best timings reported till then by an Indian runner.

Photo: courtesy Sandeep

Sandeep comes from a farming family in Haryana. His grandfather was in the Indian Army. Typically, the son should have followed the father’s footsteps but being the only son Ishwar Singh (Sandeep’s father) was vested with the responsibility of managing the farmlands owned by the family. During his schooling years at Sonipat, Sandeep Kumar engaged in a variety of sports – cycling, running, trail running – but mostly on his own and not on a formal basis.

In families that are into farming, it is general practice to recruit all available hands for farm related activities, especially when schools close for the summer holidays. Sandeep did his share of enduring the hard work. What must have been a chore at that point in time has probably proved beneficial to Sandeep in later years; ultra-running entails coping with hardship. But it would be still more years before he got seriously into running.

Through his years of study at the Government Engineering College, Sonipat, Sandeep did not involve much in sporting activity though he did take part in runs over distances of 3 km and 5 km without any prior training. On securing his degree in engineering, by way of campus recruitment he was offered employment at Larsen & Toubro (L&T) at Surat in Gujarat. “ After an initial stint in design, I was shifted to the execution department. Here, the work required walking 10 to 15 kilometers, visiting the various sites and departments,” he said. Sandeep joined a gym to strengthen himself for this assignment. “ I developed a muscular body. It was completely unsuited to long-distance running but at that time I had no clue I would go into running,” he said.

After five years in the execution department, Sandeep was transferred back to design. “ It was a desk bound assignment. Initially, it was a relief from all that walking about. But soon, sitting throughout the day started to stress me out,” he said. In 2011, he incorporated a one kilometer-walk as warm-up before his gym session every evening. The walk slowly became a warm-up run and in due course, a part of his daily routine. He also commenced doing trail runs of short distances.

In 2014, he participated in a 5 km run (an event) finishing it in 30 minutes. “ I was happy with my speed though at a younger age I have run faster. This performance motivated me to take up running,” he said. Running was also a source of strength; it gave him a sense of equanimity.

Photo: courtesy Sandeep

In 2014, Sandeep heard about the Surat Night Marathon, held in March. He enrolled for the half marathon. “ During my training for this run, the longest distance I ran was 16 km. During the race, I was able to run non-stop for about 15-16 km. After that I resorted to walk-run. The last 6 km was tough. I had no idea of hydration. I drank too many energy drinks and ended up with electrolyte imbalance,” he said. Sandeep finished the run in 2:02. His next major outing was the full marathon at the 2014 edition of Hyderabad Marathon. The training was again inadequate. He completed the race in four hours, 15 minutes, 48 seconds. “ During the Hyderabad Marathon, I realized that I enjoyed long distance running. I started reading up on running and understood that I should also focus on speed among other things,” he said. This time he got his preparation right. At his next outing, which was the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Sandeep finished in 1:31, a marked improvement in his timing in the half marathon.

Running is like living; there’s always room for improvement. Although he had been training well, over time Sandeep understood that his recovery was slow. “ I realized that I was not following a good diet. I had to reduce the intake of saturated fat and increase multi-grains in my diet for a lean body, which is critical for long-distance running,” he said. He believes his timings improved substantially after he tweaked his diet and incorporated nutritional foods. In the process he also gave up dairy products and in 2016 adopted a vegan diet.

Sandeep Kumar (left), in his role as race organizer (Photo: courtesy Sandeep)

In 2016, Sandeep enrolled for his first race in excess of the full marathon distance, a 55 km-run at the Vadodara Ultra. By now, he had also started offering tips to other runners and doing training runs with them. Sometime in 2016, a local runner had approached Sandeep Kumar for coaching for running ultra-distances. This runner had attempted the 2016 edition of the Comrades Marathon, an ultra-marathon of roughly 89 kilometers, held every year in South Africa. However, he had failed to complete it within the mandated finish time of 12 hours. He wanted to attempt the race again in 2017.

Up until then Sandeep had been largely focussed on the full marathon and had completed only one race that was in excess of the marathon distance – the 55K race at Vadodara Ultra. After the conversation with the above mentioned runner, the idea of attempting the Comrades Marathon began to assume shape in Sandeep’s mind. The runner agreed to help Sandeep with the visa process. At L&T, Sandeep was able to get leave as his new projects were scheduled to commence much after the race. He enrolled for the 2017 edition of Comrades Marathon. The ultramarathon held every year in May or June in South Africa, attracts a large number of ultra-runners from around the world. The contingent from India has been growing over the past few years.

For the 2017 edition, Sandeep trained mostly in Surat. He occasionally traveled to Dudhani near Silvaasa to do a long run of 60 km across hilly terrain; he did this a couple of times before the race. “ “I managed to get four months of training and notched up a total mileage of 2100 km,” he said. The training mileage was good. Yet there was trepidation on how the race would pan out.

From Comrades (Photo: courtesy Sandeep)

In South Africa, Sandeep started the race slowly but after the 40 km-mark found the going tough.  He kept moving. “ My legs felt very stiff and I wanted to give up several times. I persisted,” he said. During the last 12 km of the race, he rediscovered his momentum and sped all the way to the finish line. His finish time for the uphill version of Comrades Marathon was 8:24 hours, a new national best for men from India for that distance. “ When I finished the race, I felt on top of the world. I got hooked to ultra-running,” Sandeep said. The next year, he ran the downhill version of Comrades Marathon and finished in 7:30:17, another Indian record.

According to Sandeep, the diverse experience of enjoying natural beauty, traveling and getting to know different cultures, people and cuisines makes ultra-running appealing. As every ultra-run is a lengthy engagement, it lets him use all his knowledge about sports and mental skills. “ Ultra-running tests the character. It defines who I am; I talk a lot to myself during a run,” he said.

In 2018, for the first time ever, India sent a team of runners to the 100 km IAU World Championships in Croatia. For the sport of ultra-running in India, it was an important moment. Thanks to his performance at Comrades, Sandeep was among seven ultra-runners chosen to represent India at the championships. In 2019, he ran the Boston Marathon and finished the race in 2:56:07. He also ran the 43 km IAU Ultra Trail Championships in Portugal, not as part of the Indian team but in the open category. In the same year, he represented India in the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Aqaba, Jordan on November 23, 2019. The men’s team secured a gold medal and one of the team members, Deepak Bandbe, finished on the podium with a bronze medal. Sandeep’s performance in Aqaba was not up to his expectations. “ After 60 km, I developed severe cramps and had to slow down,” he said.

The victory lap; Abhinav Jha carries Sandeep Kumar on his shoulders (Photo: courtesy NEB Sports)

A year and two months later, his fortunes appeared different at the stadium run in Bengaluru. Notwithstanding the heat, Sandeep was able to manage his hydration well thanks to the volunteers helping him with his needs. Once he crossed 60 km, Sandeep realized that he would be able to continue running despite the stiff quads. According to him, he wasn’t chasing a national best or any such mark. However at around 75 km, it became apparent that his progress was in line with the national best set earlier by Abhinav; and if he managed things properly, that mark could be revised too.“ I know my body well. I can push for a good finish. I finished the race in good shape,” he said. January 23-24, 2021 remain special for ultra-running in India, in that within a span of several hours the national best for the 100K was rewritten twice – first by Abhinav Jha and then by Sandeep. A report on the IAU website by Shibani Gharat, highlighting the sportsmanship displayed, said that following Sandeep’s run, Abhinav carried the new national best-holder on his shoulders for a 400 meter-lap.

Away from participating in races, Sandeep has teamed up with ultra-runner, Nupur Singh, to organize ultra-trail races under the banner of Great Indian Trails or GrIT, a couple of road races, training camps and coaching under the banner of RunGineers. He is an IAAF level-1 athletics coach and ACSM certified trainer for the marathon. He is also an active promoter of veganism. Going ahead, he plans to focus on his own running and his roles as an event organizer and coach in ultra-running.

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