Leelamma Alphonso,the wiry 40-year-old runner with whom the city had come to identify during its annual mega congregation,is all set to end her illustrious career.
The long distance runner displayed hardly any emotion while confirming that she would be participating in the Mumbai Marathon for the last time. It also meant the Western Railway office superintendent will be missing out on completing a unique hat-trick of wins after winning the Indian womens full marathon in 2005 and 2006. Incidentally,Leelamma had won triple marathons in Delhi (1993,94,95),Thane (1995,96,97) and Allahabad (96,97,98).
After attending a novena at the church in Irula,Leelamma skipped the scheduled media meet on Saturday evening to spend time with her two daughters Elana,10,Florence,9,and husband-cum-coach Frank Alphonso. It all happened after I won in Singapore in December 2007. I lost my shoe at the 23-km mark and ran barefooted only to lose my toe nail. However,in the last 10 km I caught up with a Sri Lankan runner. Also,I was targeting a timing of 2 hours 15 minutes at Mumbai Marathon 2008 and had increased my workload to about 130 kms a week, said Leelamma,as she explained how things began to go awry for her in January last year.
I was quite confident of my chances of making it three-in-a-row at the event,but once I started jogging,I felt a sharp pain shooting up my leg and by Nariman Point,I couldnt even put my foot down. Naturally,I had to walk back to the starting point and collect my gear, said Leelamma. An X-ray scan later showed that she had a hair-line fracture in her right femur.
Advised complete rest,Leelamma,who started her career as a long distance runner,began light jogging sessions in July last. Unfortunately her knees began to trouble her in October,which seriously hampered her preparations for the big day on Sunday. Though she had been putting in the miles over the past two months,the tough athlete said she would be happy to finish in the top three slots.
However,Leelama is confident she would be running next month in the Hong Kong leg of the marathon. By then she feels she would regain some of her fitness.
Regarding calling it quits,the runner who hails from Kundara in Kerala says it will all depend on how she feels at the end of the year. If it turns out to be a case of the spirit willing but the flesh being weak,then she would join her husband in coaching the next generation of long distance runners for her employers.