Image courtesy: © Upslope Productions LLP, www.upslope.in
Ultrarunning is on the uptick amongst Indian runners and in the past decade, there have been quite a few champions who have emerged, opines Sunil Chainani.
Till the mid-2000s, the concept of ultra-marathons was virtually unknown in India.
To put this in perspective, here’s a fact – the first Indian ultra-marathon was the “Bangalore Ultra” held in 2007, 86 years after the world’s first ultra-marathon was held (the 1st edition of the Comrades race, which is the oldest and largest ultra-marathon in the world).
A promising start…
The Bangalore Ultra was organised by Runners For Life (RFL) inspired by the running expertise of Madhu Avasarala who was
ably supported by Jagannath Raju (aka the trail guru) and Rajat Chauhan who offered medical support.
Post the 1st run in 2007, the awareness of ultra-marathons grew in the running community and over the next 3 years there was a steady growth of activity in this area – the Bangalore race became an annual feature and we had Indians signing up for the 2009 Comrades race. In 2010, Michelle Kakade became the 1st Indian woman to finish the Marathon Des Sables and 7 Indians finished the Comrades marathon with the best time of 10H:58M.
There were several early starters to this running phenomenon but one of the most prominent is Arun Bharadwaj who participated in the Asian 24H championships in 2002, Self-Transcendence 6 Days race in New York in 2003, 100K world championships in 2003 and the 24H Commonwealth championships in 2011.
Today, we have (literally!!) come a long way from when it started – the 2018 Malnad run had about 1,000 registrations and 190 Indians have registered for the 2019 Comrades run. Going a step further, we have several runners completing multi-day events covering vast distances.
In 2012, Milind Soman ran from Delhi to Mumbai and Arun Bharadwaj ran from Kargil to Kanyakumari in 61 days. In 2015, Michelle Kakade entered the Guinness book of records for her 6000 km Golden Quadrilateral run and Raj Vadgama did the 10000 km Bharathon. Most recently, a 68-year-old Sushil Bhasin became the first person in his age category to complete a 300-mile run.
Spreading its wings…In the early years of ultra-running in India, most runners came from the metros – but, we now see a large number of Ultrarunners from smaller towns like Surat, Shillong, and Nagpur. Some of our strongest runners come from the Defence Services and from high altitude regions in the North and Northeast of India.
For most runners who train in India, there are very few options for coaching for ultras. However, in the past 2-3 years, few groups have started to develop programs for specific races, but this is still in the early stages.
Since 2010, there has been a steady increase in the number of Ultra races in India, and now we have Ultra events in all corners of the country, with many locations offering a choice of events. While no formal list has been compiled, at last count there were at least 60 Ultras in India including events organised at high altitudes (e.g. La Ultra and Khardungla challenge), trail ultras like Vagamon and Malnad, Stadium runs in most big cities and Road Ultras like Hyderabad and Tata Ultra near Lonavala.
Increased awareness and running opportunities have led to a significant improvement in our running standards, and we are now sending teams for International Ultra Trail, 100km and 24 Hour championships. Some of our top trail runners have earned enough points to qualify for UTMB, and more Indians are attempting longer distances at tough races like La Ultra and Bhatti Lakes. A small but rapidly growing number of runners are now ‘racing’ Ultras – and our records are being broken almost every year. Our top runners are training harder and more scientifically. Getting selected into the Indian Men’s team has become extremely competitive, and even top runners know that their place cannot be taken for granted. In a few years, we can hopefully see similar competition for slots in the Women’s team.
Making a mark…
The past 10 years have seen a remarkable improvement in our achievements in Ultrarunning, and some of these are highlighted below:
- First set of Indians finish Comrades Up run
- Arun Bharadwaj finishes Badwater marathon
- 2012 – Bangalore Ultra holds India’s first 24 Hour run
- Ash Nath breaks 9-hour mark at Comrades
- Dan Lawson from the UK runs 226 km at Bangalore Ultra 24 H event
- Kieren Dsouza becomes the first Indian to finish Spartathlon
- Malnad Ultra launched –it is now India’s biggest Ultra
- Sandeep Kumar becomes the fastest Indian at Comrades and is closely followed by Anjali Saraogi
- Indian teams participate in World Trail and World 24 H championships
- Breeze Sharma becomes the first athlete to scale Mount Everest, complete Badwater and Brazil 135 mile Ultra in a year
- Deepa Bhat and Taher Merchant become first Indians to complete 60 km Everest Ultra
- Sandeep Kumar smashes his own record for fastest Indian at Comrades
- First Indian team in 100 km World Championship – Anjali Saraogi creates new Women’s national record for 100km
- Ullas Narayana wins first international Ultra medal for India with a bronze at Asia Oceania 24 Hour championship
- Inspired by Ullas, Indian Men’s team wins bronze at Asia Oceania 24 Hour championship
Some of the individuals who have contributed to the growth and improvement of Ultrarunning in India are:
- Arvind Krishnan and Arvind Bharathi (RFL)-they started the Bangalore Ultra, which sadly has been discontinued recently
- Kavitha Kanaparthi – Globeracers have been conducting some of the toughest Trail Ultras for almost a decade
- Rajat Chauhan – who conceived and launched La Ultra
- Amit Sheth – the prime catalyst for growth in Indian participation at Comrades
- Petermil Dsouza – who helped India join the International Association of Ultramarathoners(IAU) and participate in global events
- Nagaraj Adiga (NEB Sports) – who conduct several stadium runs and have sponsored many of our international teams
|Comrades – F||Anjali Saraogi||8:38:23||Up Run – 2017|
|Comrades – M||Sandeep Kumar||7:30:17||Down run – 2018|
|100 KM – F||Anjali Saraogi||9:40:35||Croatia – 2018|
|100 KM – M||Vinodkumar Shrinivas||8:09:30||Leipzig – 2012|
|24 H – F||Apoorva Chaudhary||176.80 km||New Delhi -2018|
|24 H – M||Ullas Narayana||250.371 km||Taipei-2018|
Ullas’s record puts him in the highest ranked ‘A’ category of international athletes.
Nadeem Khan, President of IAU, has this to say about Indian Ultrarunning – ‘The Indian national ultrarunning team epitomizes the notions of hard work, dedication, and camaraderie. Relatively new to international ultrarunning, the team representing the tricolour has made steady progression with a podium finish at the IAU 24 hour Asian & Oceania Championships. If the last 2 years are any indication the future for the Indian national team looks very bright with several new national records and podium finishes in the next several years.’