Challenging task for Indian marathon runners as pandemic disrupts Mumbai race

A file picture of IAAF Delhi Half Marathon
A file picture of IAAF Delhi Half Marathon
Navneet Singh

The prestigious Mumbai marathon, scheduled to be held next month, has been postponed due to escalating cases of the pandemic in India, an official associated with the Mumbai marathon race said on Monday.

Rescheduling the Mumbai marathon could be a setback for the elite Indian runners, aiming to achieve qualification time either for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in August or the Hangzhou Asian Games in September.

According to one of the athletes, it could be difficult to travel abroad to compete due to the pandemic. The best choice is thus to compete on Indian soil.

The men’s qualifying time for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games is 2:18:40 seconds while 2:18:48 seconds is the qualification standard for the Hangzhou Asian Games.

Army’s Srinu Bugatha has a bright prospect to crack the men’s marathon qualification time. Last year, Bugatha clocked 2:14:59 seconds in the New Delhi marathon. Since then, he hasn’t competed in any major races to prove himself.

The women’s entry standard for Commonwealth Games is 2:38:19 seconds while for Asian Games the qualification mark is 2:39.28 seconds.

“The Mumbai marathon in February was a good opportunity for elite Indian runners to qualify for Commonwealth Games or Asian Games on Indian soil," said a coach associated with distance running. "The postponement of the marathon race has squeezed the time period to qualify for multi-discipline event in August or September."

According to the coach, almost all the leading Indian runners were aiming to run a good race in the Mumbai marathon so that they could have a shot at the qualification standard for the Commonwealth or Asian Games.

“It takes a solid three to four months of preparation to compete in a major marathon race," he said. "It also requires something between four to six weeks to recover after running a good race. It takes another three to four months to race again at an optimum level."

Sudha Singh, a multiple Asian Games medal winner in track events, too tried her hand at competing in a marathon in 2021. However, the distance runner from Uttar Pradesh will return to her pet event---3000-metre steeplechase this year.

“I will not compete in marathon in 2022, but will concentrate on 3000m steeplechase,” Sudha said. “Preparing for a grueling race like marathon (42km approximately) isn’t an easy task. More challenging is to recover from one race and prepare for the next event.”

India’s Asian marathon champion T Gopi wasn’t able to make the cut for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Later in the same year, he couldn’t qualify for the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games in September.

While none of the Indian marathon runners could qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, five Indian runners, including two in women’s categories competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“Since there is no patronage for marathon events, all the top athletes have to train on their own," said a distance runner. "Majority of them are from the Army."

Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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