Ram Singh Yadav stole the pre-marathon show when he took hold of the microphone at a press conference and announced to a huge round of applause: “Agli baar jab Ram Singh maidan pe fully fit utrega, toh woh Shivnath ka record tod ke hi rahega”.
Mumbai (owing to its challenging course and weather) and Ram Singh (because he’s recovering from a leg niggle, and self-admittedly not at his fittest) are unlikely to change that status-quo this Sunday.
It is the general plateau hit by the current batch of Indian runners though that drives home the disappointment every January when the richest marathon arrives in Mumbai.
Amrik Singh, Ram Singh Yadav’s coach at the Artillery Centre in Hyderabad offers the following explanation.
“Everyone trains at different places and not together since there is no national camp. The best athlete from one location is never challenged by other opponents and they don’t know how much better they need to be.”
“There’s also no doctors early, so things like haemoglobin counts and heart-rate can’t be measured,” he adds.
Race Director at Mumbai, Hugh Jones, also a former international long-distance runner for Britain, says India’s not the most conducive places to nurture marathoners.
“India is hot, crowded, busy and a difficult place to train for endurance events. It’d be easier for runners if they had the endurance capacity, to train for the five or 10 km,” he stresses. “It’s also about the way it is approached. Marathoners are a lonely tribe in India. They probably feel a little more pressure because there isn’t the same running culture here like in East Africa.”
Despite the timings being rooted to a similar spot, the past 10 years have seen a significant improvement in the results when compared to 1994-2003.
“We have seen a number of below 2:20 performances by men runners in the past decade. This is the result of the Indian Army’s dedicated training centres. But there is still a long way to catch the rest of the world,” states Rahul Pawar, an expert on Indian athletics.
Jones goes further to mention that the course in Mumbai includes a hill which also takes a toll on the timings.
“If you see the course in Rotterdam, Dubai or Berlin, they’re all pretty flat. Over here the incline goes along a one kilometre stretch and moves to a height of about 40 meters,” he says.
“Since runners have to climb the hill twice I’d say that shaves off around a minute-and-a-half of what it would have been had that patch been flat,” he rounds off.