Virendra Ojha, on Sunday, bagged a breathtaking accolade of completing the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, winning a bronze at the world’s oldest ultra marathon race. Ojha, a 1993-batch IRS officer presently posted as Commissioner of Income Tax in Mumbai, covered the 89.5km and the ‘Big Five’ hills between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in 10 hours and 38 minutes.
Comrades, first held in 1921, is among South Africa’s biggest sporting events and has a fearsome reputation thanks to over 1,000 metres of ascent. To become eligible for the race, a runner is required to complete a recognised marathon of 42.2 km within 5 hours. Ojha learnt about the race two years ago and began preparation.
“I got qualified to run last year but could not participate due to a last minute injury,” Ojha told The Indian Express over the phone from South Africa.
South Africa’s Bongmusa Mthembu won the race, completing it in 5:35:34. Ojha bagged the bronze, given to runners who complete the race between 9-11 hours. Of the nearly 17,000 participants, 13,485 completed the race and Ojha finished with the ranking of 5,667.
A veteran of many marathons, Ojha took up running shoes in 2005, and since then has completed 21 half marathons, three full marathons and the 54-km Endurathon. He has also taken part in several city-marathons including Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Vadodara and Delhi.
However, as the Comrades drew near, Ojha constantly wrote about the struggles on his blog. “The comrade training is very grueling. It changes your whole lifestyle. You don’t need (an) alarm clock to get up in the morning, you don’t need any device to measure your speed and distance. It trains your mind in a way that without any technological support you started knowing these units,” he wrote on May 19.
A month out, he was gripped by “injury anxiety”.
“There is no comparison between a traditional 42-km marathon and a 87-km ultramarathon. You require a whole new set of physical training and mental preparation. The extrapolation of my existing timings was not easy as so far I had run on a flat or semi-elevated route so far, but this route had five monstrous hills,” added Ojha, whose wife Ity Pandey, also a runner, is an IRTS officer of 1995 batch.
So what propelled him across the five hills?
“It is only the search of happiness that is deriving so many, across the globe, to witness and experience…(the) ultimate human race,” reads the blog.